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Catacombs_S__Sebastiano_Rome1

What are you chasing, my green-eyed friend, with your net
through these dark, deep catacombs? The gnomes who came
before you have mined all the gold, and if pleasure
be your aim, you’ll find no blooming lilies here.

Why you ask and who you are I dare not know, yet
Pythagoras warned me that angles of shame
are a cute tight squeeze, so I’ll admit the treasure
I seek is the end of pain. That much is clear.

Heigh, ho! From the ville of seven hills I come to
carve new epithets and find you two have blocked
my way. You’ve swallowed carpe diem like a fish;
how about we try instead, release the day!

Dimittam die, Horace? Full-sighted as you
ever were. ‘Tis true. Assenting to be rocked
by passion, yes, but to be squished into a niche
we none of us should wish. This gnome’s had her say.

How well you play humility, dear Kassia!
The women of my day, too much of heeding old
aunts lost their ear for nuance, drove us menfolk to
the Sophist hills, their sisters fared not well at all—

But, wait! I, Simonides, friend of Mnemosyne,
have heard from gnomes Arabian that poets
who moan and do not otherwise pay their dues will
deep into shafts of mediocrity fa-a-a-a-ll…

And so the discourse of the gnomes goes on
perpetual intelligence in epic
verse & song. Pain loves to howl in sad refrain, but
Joy is love’s true keeper of the flame.

~~~

If words were chemistry sets, I’d have blown myself to smithereens years ago. Facts, in my opinion, are a silicone polymer, and meant to be played with, like Silly Putty. So in these seven stanzas, I have pummeled, bent and stretched history, as required, to illustrate two cool poetic concepts: gnomic poetry and La Pregunta.

The Greek word gnōmē, pronounced like the fabled race of mine guardians and their ceramic equivalent, comes from the root of gignōskein, to know. A couple thousand years ago, they were short moral lessons, set to verse as mnemonic devices. Another translation of gnōmē is “opinion”, and so you might say this poem is a concourse or gathering of opinions…underground, to allow for the Nordic variety.

I’ve allotted quatrains to a few of the best known gnomic poets, including Kassia, the 6th century Byzantine and only female of the bunch, and Pythagoras, who is said to have written gnomic poetry in his formative years.

La Pregunta was a style of poetic debate practiced in the 14th and 15th century Spanish courts. Using Q & A format, a question or challenge was posed by one poet, and the second poet had to answer intelligently, matching the rhyme scheme and meter. Fumblers were expected to bow out gracefully, though given the era, more than a few probably avenged their bruised poetics outside the court walls with swords.

© Elaine Stirling, 2013
Image: Catacombs of San Sebastiano, Rome, from Wikipedia

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