Friday, September 18, 2015

Poem: White Magic by Dorothy Sayers

Rhiannon in The Mabinogion
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I haven't posted a poem for a little while, and thought that today, while I'm trying to get caught up on some reading, might be a good moment to post some poetry. Lately, Dorothy Sayers's poem Desdichado has been getting a bit of love on various blogs--Hanna shared it at Book Geeks Anonymous recently, for example. It is a gorgeous piece of work, and one of my favourites, and I'll dust it off and share it here too someday. But in case Desdichado has already crossed your path: Did you know that it originates in a whole collection of Sayers's verse, entitled Catholic Tales and Christian Songs?

And that you can read it RIGHT NOW online?

Today I want to share one of my other favourites from this collection--White Magic, which draws on a lovely dreamlike tale from The Mabinogion for its imagery and is generally gorgeous and courtly and so medieval it makes my bones ache.

White Magic

And while he sat there they saw a lady, on a pure white horse . . . coming along the highway that led from the mound; and the horse seemed to move at a slow and even pace . . . And he took a horse and went forward. And he came to an open, level plain, and put spurs to his horse; and the more he urged his horse, the further was she from him. Yet she held the same pace as at first . . . "Lady," said he, "wilt thou tell me who thou art?" "I will tell thee, Lord," said she. "I am Rhiannon."
--The Story of Pwyll Prince of Dyfed.

Looking out of my window high
Sursum cor!
I saw a merry chase go by,
E sus le cor!
I saw the merry chase go by
Before the sun was in the sky--
Sursum corda, sursum cornua,
Up, hart and horn!

The quarry went upon an ass
Sursum cor!
That soft and slowly forth did pass,
E sus le cor!
So soft and slowly forth did pass
His little hoofs upon the grass,
Sursum corda, sursum cornua,
Up, hart and horn!

And smiting with the scourge and spur,
Sursum cor!
Came king and priest and labourer,
E sus le cor!
Both priest and king and labourer,
The queen with her ladies after her,
Sursum corda, sursum cornua,
Up, hart and horn!

They sweep beside the water-mill,
Sursum cor!
An hundred yards betwixt them still,
E sus le cor!
An hundred yards betwixt them still
As they come hunting round the hill,
Sursum corda, sursum cornua,
Up, hart and horn!

And they may ride till they crack their breath
Sursum cor!
To track that quarry down to death,
E sus le cor!
They never will ride down to death
The Wizard-Man from Nazareth,
Sursum corda, sursum cornua,
Up, hart and horn!

2 comments:

Jamie W. said...

I had a Latin quiz today and, while studying, was having trouble with the nominative and accusative plural of cornu. Lo and behold, my favorite blogger posts a poem which gets cornua fairly stuck in my head!

Oh, and lovely poem, too.

Suzannah said...

...Vintage Novels Knows What You Need.

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