Invocation of the Muse

Once I wrote a song of Mary
Six in feet, its truth contrary.
Now verse I draw from quiver rude;
O grace, let me a poet prove.

In praise I sharpen blunted pen
To cry the Virgin's praise again.
But, oh, that words would harmonize
In style with that which I do prize.

Vile, brief and rude though writing be,
In praise of you, it's oratory.
And all the writer bums become
Like tongues of angels, cherubim.

If all the world turned into quills
And atoms scribes, for all their skills
This host could not her praise reveal
Nor even match the Virgin's heel.

As many scribes as there are leaves,
Rocks, pebbles, groves or dripping seas
Could not the Virgin worthily
Describe in all eternity.

If scribes were numbered with the stars
That twinkle in the face of Mars
Or drops of rain that on earth fall,
The matter's weight would crush them all.

To praise, therefore, love urges me
The Virgin in her majesty;
And mildly she calls me to stand,
The offered reed to take in hand.

But I that pen accept with fear;
To her dictation I adhere,
Incapable of finding sense,
With her support my sole defense.

My reed is blunt and rather slow;
My love lukewarm, my thinking low.
A student rude, I take my seat
To write that which she says is meet.

--Walter of Wimborne, O.F.M. (fl. 1260s), Marie Carmina, stanzas 1-8 [incl. 5a and 5b], ed. A.G. Rigg, The Poems of Walter of Wimborne (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1978), pp. 188-89; trans. A.G. Rigg (stanza 4) and Rachel Fulton.

On the Inexpressibility Topos invoked here, see Irving Linn, "If All the Sky Were Parchment," Publications of the Modern Language Association (PMLA) 53 (1938): 951-70.


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