The National Catholic Review
Moira Linehan

     Who were they?—the monks who made this book,
the scribes and artists, once fishermen and farmers,
this son or that a father had given as tithe,

the orphans—left as infants, as children—
who stayed the rest of their lives, and those few
suffused with a sense of a calling. Men
who wore goatskins over their tunics, sandals
in the extremes of heat and cold. The Rule
stressing obedience, order infused
throughout the day: when to pray, to work. Fast
on Wednesdays and Fridays. Conversation
kept to a minimum. Diet, as routine:
vegetables, peas, beans, a small loaf of bread.
Milk and butter. Beer. Those close to the sea,
seal meat and fish. Scholars able to say
four such men copied these gospels, Hand
A, B, C, D, they call them, making the part
suffice for the whole. Who were they? If The Rule
had to remind them to read what they wrote—
yes, errors in text passed down book to book—
what’s the fission, what’s the fusion that explains
such abundance amidst the austere:
two thousand initial letters enlarged
and colored, then embellished with flourishes
of tendrils and spirals, interlacing knots,
serpents undulating around and through,
not one design in this book repeated?

Moira Linehan was the winner of America’s Foley Poetry Contest in 2010. She is the author of If No Moon (Southern Illinois University Press).

Comments

ROBERT KILLOREN | 10/18/2012 - 12:26pm
PS... I really enjoyed the poem. It is very beautiful. I am also much attuned to it since I am a Benedictine Oblate. 
ROBERT KILLOREN | 10/18/2012 - 12:21pm
I have a question. How is the poem changed if it is written as in the following sample?

the orphans—
left as infants,
as children—
who stayed the rest
of their lives, and those
few suffused with a
sense of a calling. Men
who wore goat
skins over their tunics,
sandals
in the extremes of
heat and cold.
The Rule
stressing obedience, order
infused
throughout the day:
when to pray, to work. Fast
on Wednesdays and Fridays.  

The order and length of lines is based on a particular "reading" of the verses, but could be differently parsed by someone else. It's kind of like Emily Dickinson versus Walt Whitman - long line vs short line. Both however try to capture the rhythm of the spoken word to help draw out even more meaning from the words themselves and  their context. 

So to my question. Is the choice of verse in pentameter, free verse, or the short bursts of Dickinson or say some of Pablo Neruda's poems.

Here's a line from Neruda's "Poesia" that reflects what I am trying to say/ask. 


y vi de pronto
el cielo
desgranado
y abierto,
planetas,
plantaciones palpitantes,
la sombra perforada,
acribilladapor flechas, fuego y flores,
la noche arrolladora, el universo.
Neruda has many poems that are shaped like the more conventional longer line ranging from 10 - 15 syllables. So is there a connection between form and substance in the choices poets make. Why did you pick a pentameter? Why a scattering of iambs, stroches, dactyls, etc? Or do some poets just favor longer lines and others shorter lines, and it really doesn't make a difference? For me the shorter lines that imitate more closely the cadence that the poet hears is easier to read, but if I get into long stretches of Shakespeare I get used to the longer verse too.

Anyone care to speculate, discuss? 

Recently in Poem