Saturday, December 06, 2008

Saturday Poetry

When I post Saturday Poetry, I try to find poetry that's different, interesting, relevant.

Well, it's December and I hate the Christmas season. So I don't want to post any Christmas poetry. So what else happens or happened in December?

From Brainy History, lots of stuff happened on December 6th:

In 1992, SF 49er Jerry Rice catches NFL record 101st touchdown
In 1957, AFL-CIO votes to expel Teamsters (readmitted in October 1987)

In 1732, 1st play in American colonies acted by professional players, New York City
In 1492, Haiti is discovered by Columbus, at Mole Saint Nicolas
And in 1160, Jean Bodel's "Jeu de St. Nicholas," premieres in Arras.

Well, Brainy History screwed that up--scholars believe Bodel was born about 1165 - 1167. But December 6th is the feast day of St. Nicholas, and the prologue references that day, so the date of the premiere (but not the year) is correct.

"The Play of Saint Nicholas" is a miracle play, in that "Musselmen" (Muslims) are converted en masse through a miracle performed by St. Nicholas.

From Robert Levine's English department page at Boston University, here is some of Eugene Green's translation of Jean Bodel's Le Jeu de St. Nicholas:

The Preacher

Listen up, listen up, ladies and gents
--'cause God Almighty is keeping your souls--
For your own good, don't screw up!

I'm aiming to speak to you all tonight
Of St. Nick the true confessor
Who's turned over many an outrageous trick.

Those knowing who he is have been often struck,
As perusing his life, to find

That a king of pagans sometime ago
Had Christians neighbors, almost cheek by jowl.
Every day gone by brought another scrap. 10

Day one the pagans launched an attack
Just at the time the men of the Church
Had no idea of the fight coming on.

At once tricked and surprised,
Many died or had to give up.
The enemy Christians quickly flaring out,

The pagan pursuit turned up a sage in a chapel
Kneeling in prayer, before him a carving
Of venerable St. Nick. The felons
Seized him, the curs, and soon 20
Mocked him enough and knocked him around.

Then they took the carving and sage,
Ringed him tight and held him close,
Till they had him down before their king,
Himself aroused by the victory.
It took no time to lay out the tale,

For the king to know the Christian's fate.
"Old geezer," said the king to the sage,
You put your faith in this piece of wood?"

"My lord, indeed, for this is Saint 30
Nicholas' statue, the saint I most love.
To him I pray and cry that no one
Who speaks from the heart will
Be lost to him for good and all.

And he's the great guardian
Who triples and profits
Whatever one asks him devoutly to keep."

--"Old sack, I'll have you stuck,
If he doesn't triple and guard
What I own; I put it to him 40
To save your rotten skin."

So the king had him locked up,
His neck in an iron sling;
Then he had his coffers opened
And laid the statue right on top.

At which he said, "If anyone
Steals it and if he can't
Bring it back, it'll be
The Christian who'll have to pay."

Thus he had the business done 50
Until thieves had wind of it;

One night, some three hatched a plot
To grab the carving and steal away.
And when they made off
God soon stirred them to find
some sleep: a drowsiness fell

So strong they had to take rest,
Somewhere, I guess, in a shed they had.

But to the point of Nick's miracle,
I'll go on to what the book says. 60

When the king heard and saw
That he'd lost the carving,
He understood that he'd been had.

He ordered that the sage be brought to him;
Eyeing him now, the king then said:
"Old bag, you think I'm tricked!"

The sage could barely answer the charge,
So hard his guards twisted his arms,
One way pushed, pulled the other.

The king ordered his death, 70
A hateful end, execrable pain.
"Oh king, in God's name, a brief delay!"
Not now or tonight!" the Christian said,

"Just time to see if St. Nicholas
Will come and rescue me."

Reluctantly the king agreed.

And here the book says that
He had him collared again,
In his cell praying till dawn,
In tears as he called his saint. 80

Not forgetting his sage,
Saint Nicholas was underway;
He'd come as far as the sleeping thieves,
Stirring them up where they lay.

And now when they saw him,
They at once were moved
To do what he willed.
And he, without delay,
Made them return the statue
In all haste right where 90
They'd first seen it,
Just where it had been.

So when the king had discovered
The miracle's truth,
He had the Christian sage
Summoned, freed of his bonds.
Baptised himself, he stood
As godfather for his men;
He soon became good and wise,
And never more committed a crime. 100

My friends, we can read the saint's life-
Tomorrow's his day, his feast.
Yet there's no need to marvel
If ever you've had a bad break;
For all of you will see us show,
For sure, some clear examples
Of Nick's great feats
As I've told you just now.
This miracle of St. Nick's
Is the story of our play. 110
Then, quiet everyone and give us an ear.

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