Saturday, August 21, 2010

Where The Tollund Man Meets the Vitruvian Man




The Tollund Man by Seamus Heaney and Vitruvian Man by John Glenday are two memorable poems.

In The Tollund Man, by Seamus Heaney, a poetic commentary develops on the fate of a man whose mummified remains, dating from the Early Iron Age (400 BC), were found in a peat bog near Tollund, Denmark. 

The remains of the Tollund Man are housed today in Silkeborg Museum and a possible explanation of the Tollund Man’s death- ritual sacrifice? - is provided on this web site.
The circumstances of the death, and the findings associated with it are fascinating.

The poem The Tollund Man attempts to decipher the essence of the hanged man and of the possible events surrounding his death:

In the flat country near by
Where they dug him out,
His last gruel of winter seeds
Caked in his stomach,

Naked except for
The cap, noose and girdle,
I will stand a long time.
 A poetic forensic analysis, if you will, attuned to the dark movements of gods and goddesses lurking in the depths of the bog:

Bridegroom to the goddess,

She tightened her torc on him
And opened her fen,
Those dark juices working
Him to a saint's kept body


The depth of the bog, a realm of menacing but germinating forces, is possibly a proxy for a lyrical identity – one of peat moss, marshes and stubborn childhood memories steeped in enchantment and the vivid recollection of people and places.

The poem Vitruvian Man from the volume Grain by John Glenday, attempts to measure up “the circumference of the soul” using a Da Vinci compass (provided by the  famous drawing).

Thus, within the span of the poem we find a possible sizing of a poet’s ethos. 

A caveat, though. Leonardo’s commentaries included with the drawing are written in mirror writing

Such may be the case with the metaphors encasing John Glenday’s poetry – as words glide on shimmering coats of meaning towards a surprising and climactic finale.

Friday, August 20, 2010

On Mangurstadh, Poetic Geography & the Poetry of John Glenday



John Glenday (b.1952) is the author of the poetry book Grain (published in 2009 by Picador).  This book was short-listed for the 2010 Griffin poetry prize.

Grain is a book of serenity. 
The kind of serenity that is steeped in an acute sense of loss and a solemnity that appears to come to us from afar, from horizons rendered barren by flames and whose substance is now simply sheltered light and soot, blandly falling on syllables, in sepia tones.

The Glenday-ean poetic geography is taught on the map of the rhythm that pervades the verses – grave, balanced, caged within the boundaries of a lyrical disposition that wraps around each word like a Roman toga.

If I decipher these poems correctly, I believe that John Glenday’s poetry asks of us to let ourselves be swayed by its quietude and its meter:

This is my formula for the fall of things:
we come to a river we always knew we’d have to cross.
It ferries the twilight down through fieldworks

of corn and half blown sunflowers.

(The River)


Reading through the book I have taken in the briny air (or at least this is how I imagine it) of the shores of the Outer Hebrides, evoked by the title of the poem Mangurstadh.

Caught like a seashell in the palm of my hand was the perfume of old Norse words: Noust – the title of a poem in this volume which means “a place of shelter, either natural or man made, where a boat may be hauled out in bad weather”.

I would suggest that the subliminal effect of scattered Norse syllables is part of the state of apparent calm that inhabits the poetic space in Grain.

 A wonderful article on this book, by Stephen Ross, can be found here ->link

My favorite poem in the book is Vitruvian Man – (an allusion to Leonardo’s famous drawing). Here is a quote from the poem:

There was a time I tried picturing
the circumference of the soul
but the best I could manage

was a shimmery, milk-blue sun….
(Vitruvian Man)

But more on John Glenday’s “Vitruvian Man” and on another famous man from an area of poetic and geographic proximity in my next post. 

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