Poetry Friday – Jerome by Stephen Mitchell

For you today, a wonderful poem and the engraving by Albrecht Durer that inspired it.

[Image]
          JEROME
 
In Durer’s engraving
you sit hunched over your desk,
writing, with an extraneous
halo around your head.
You have everything you need: a mind
at ease with itself, and the generous
sunlight on pen, page, ink,
the few chairs, the vellum-bound books,
the skull on the windowsill that keeps you
honest (memento mori).
What you are concerned with
in your subtle craft is not simply
the life of language–to take
those boulderlike nouns of the Hebrew
text, those torrential verbs,
into your ear and remake them
in the hic-haec-hoc of your time–
but an innermost truth.  For years
you listened when the Spirit was
the faintest breeze, not even the
breath of a sound.  And wondered
how the word of God could be clasped
between the covers of a book.
Now, by the latticed window,
absorbed in your work,
the word becomes flesh, becomes sunlight
and leaf mold, the smell of fresh bread
from the bakery down the lane,
the rumble of an oxcart, the unconscious
ritual of a young woman
combing her hair, the bray
of a mule, an infant crying:
the whole vibrant life
of Bethlehem, outside your door.
None of it is an intrusion.
you are sitting in the magic circle
of yourself.  In a corner, the small
watchdog is curled up, dreaming,
and beside it, on the threshold, the lion
dozes, with half-closed eyes.
                               by Stephen Mitchell
 
I love the way Mitchell starts us out centred on St. Jerome and then moves us around the room a bit.  Next, we’re in Jerome’s mind, working over his translation.  Then we move outside his window and our senses spring to life with sights, smells, sounds.  And then back into the study (“the magic circle/of yourself”), ending with the wonderful lion. 
 
 And the language!  The “boulderlike” nouns, the “torrential” verbs, and then the “hic-haec-hoc of your time–” (you remember, Jerome was translating the Scriptures–all of the Bible!–into Latin, the “vulgar” or common language).  And I love the alliteration of ” could be clasped/between the covers of a book”, the life of language”, “the skull on the windowsill.”  And you will find more.
 
There is so much here that I love: the bringing to life of Durer’s engraving; the understanding of Jerome and what he was about; the beautiful flow of the lines.  I hope you will enjoy it too.
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4 Responses to Poetry Friday – Jerome by Stephen Mitchell

  1. Jingle says:

    awesome sharing …Glad that you know poetry, poets that much.
    keep it up.

  2. Mamabear, JD says:

    My husband chose Jerome as his Confirmation name when he converted, and as I read more about him I was tickled by the accounts of his hot temper. My husband has a very quick temper, perfect fit! I popped over from LMLD, so glad I did.

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