Tuesday, 24 June 2008

More on finding poetry ... and search tricks

I mentioned recently having been searching for a poem for years.  Googling "identify a poem" shows it's a common problem, one made difficult by the general tendency to remember (or misremember) poems as fragments without attribution. The trad advice used to be to write to the Poetry Society, but now the Internet is a good option. One of the best-looking forums for this purpose is at the @eMule.com Poetry Archives, which has a very busy Lost Poetry Quotations section (check out also the spinoff groups with the same format at MyPoetry.net).

By coincidence, at the Poetry Archives I ran into a post by Lily about an unidentified "poem that mentions St. Francis".

St. Francis...thou and all the saints are here...while one man knows that all creation is but a rose...smells (?) like a rose and has the rose's thorn...

This takes me to my other recommended option, Google Books. As I also mentioned previously, there is the impediment of fragmentary results in books only provided in snippet view. A guess at a few keywords - Francis creation "rose's thorn" - clearly takes us into the right territory but finds isolated snippets like this:
and while one man loves birds and flowers
St. Francis,
you and the company of saints are here,
while one man knows
With Belloc's Lord High-Bo I mentioned the strategy of jigsaw-style correlation. Another Google trick you can use is a more systematic 'sideways' search, looking for adjacent material by searching on distinctive strings at the edges of that already found. In this case, doing new searches on "and while one man loves" and "here, while one man knows". Proceeding in this wise rapidly recreates the otherwise inaccessible full text of the poem, which turns out to be The Saint by Humbert Wolfe - see the comments for the text.
- Ray

1 comment:

  1. The Saint
    by Humbert Wolfe

    Saint Francis of Assisi, do you remember
    the sacred mountain, greeen above the lake,
    where first the vines and then the olives clamber,
    and the flowers, so lulled with beauty, never wake —
    gold, crimson, blue
    on the long drowsy terraces you loved and knew?

    Still in the lake the painted island-town
    to the brown shelter of its Minster creeps,
    and still the kerchiefed boatman, bending down,
    scarce stirs the burnished water with his sweeps,
    and from the hill
    the monastery bells affirm your gospel still.

    Your gospel of the birds and of the flowers,
    how every petal God has deigned to paint
    has by its mere enamel all the powers,
    and more than all the beauty of the saint,
    and how the swallow
    worships with arrow-flight that prayer is feign to follow.

    Your gospel of acceptance that transposes
    God, and this earthly beauty He has made,
    finding the resurrection
    in the roses and all the angels in a single blade,
    and having heard the twelve Apostles in the voice of a bird.

    And, as with beauty, so with ugliness,
    asking the mire that your feet had trod
    with its long patience to redeem and bless
    the soul's impatience, when the feet of God
    pass by, as though
    He cared not what He crushed and did not even know.

    With ugliness, or what so seemed, and sin
    that is no more than beauty's other side,
    your gospel, like your Master, entered in
    and by acceptance proved what sin denied -
    that wickedness
    is part of the soul of God, and calls to him no less.

    You sought no cloister, but the rose-white briar
    of perfect understanding and its pardon
    built walls, that shut out envy, hate, desire,
    or changed them into flowers in your garden,
    since all were part
    of the burden of man, and therefore of your heart

    Still on your sacred mountain the cold lances
    of the moon ring the target of your mere,
    and while one man loves birds and flowers, St Francis,
    you and the company of saints are here,
    while one man knows
    that all creation is simple as a rose,

    fades like a rose, and has the roses’s thorn,
    but sees behind the fallen petal the bud,
    and understands, although his heart is torn,
    there was and is salvation in blood,
    while anyone
    lies down to sleep, accepting everything beneath
    the sun.