Outline of the Work as a Whole I. The Changeling’s Mirror II. Interlude: The Island of the Mighty III. In the Earth Quick IV. Prose Synopsis: The Enchantments of Albion
On the pages of illuminated manuscripts of the later Gothic centuries a strange habit can be observed. Jesus Christ may be in the middle of the page, but the margins are covered with birds and beasts and little scenes from everyday life and grotesque caricatures of such scenes. These things were called babwyneries, that is, babooneries, or monkey-business. [...] if one tries to trace the baboonery to its source, one finds that it originated in England. Here it appears already at the classic Gothic moment, in the middle of the thirteenth century, and by 1300 it had become a universal English fashion —just at the moment when the religious representations on the same pages had become most exquisite, sophisticated and often most exacting in their emotional intensity. The polarity expressed in this will engage our attention later. As regards the marginal grotesques...
—Pevsner, The Englishness of English Art
The reader is meant to meet this passage as the playful opener to the second part of the work, the interlude ‘The Island of the Mighty’, flanked by two, less ludic, narrative blocks. This middle section seeks as a whole to build the wider world in which this version of the Arthurian story takes place, supplying a Pastoral and Georgic anti-epic of “small” things, nested within the epic. Cyclic Nature through which passes the linear narrative of the great figures of the heroes; the agricultural Labours of the Months, and a syncretistic, “asterisk-reconstruction” of a heathen ritual calendar, the Wheel of the Year, of the peasants: a microcosm of the island-kingdom of a fictional, but traditional, Arthurian Albion. The opening conceit pursued in the babooneries passage is that we are now reading some retelling of the ancient originally oral Matter of Britain as written down much later in an illuminated manuscript, just as, historically, the Arthurian legends were. Whereas in the first part the narrative took centre-stage, to be resumed in the third, this interlude seems to shift focus —a move a mediæval work would never have made— to what lies at the edges of the action, beginning even with the very borders of the manuscript-page. Here the marginalia, with their babooneries and bestiary, become, impossibly, the subject of the poem, invading and waylaying the main text, whilst the narrative, with which it should be concerned, hangs in abeyance.
Quod est superius est sicut quod inferius: et quod inferius est sicut quod est superius.
Now eye and ear err a moment. In the
What odd items edge these pages,margins,beckon from the borders? The Ba-
—Babooneries flaunt. booneries
Of the narrative, enough! Ignored margins,chocked cheek-by-jowl with the chief purpose,
reveal devices: the verges swarmso turn from the text to tarry idleamid the scribe’s sketches.
On the scraped parchment
round the writing, there wreathe framinggrisaille tableaus; designs and scenesblazoned about the black letter,over and under in the uncial quires:emblems circle on either sidein linked legendry, a limner’s doodlingfool-fantasies —or in fable-talk;the key to the code, correspondence:a ladder linking least to greatest,above and below bound by signatures.
Here an obscure master skilfully madeinterlacing illustrationsin painted panels: picturings suchas to beguile our gaze. This forgotten artist(minor maker, of a mannered school)drew drôlleries, his dreaming quill—in silver-point, then sepia tinctureculled from cuttlefish, or by cooking togetheroakgalls and iron with Arabic gums—wove the wormshapes.
Wire-drawn spiralvinescrolls advance —or reverse forwards—either-ended amphisbænæ;ink lacertines interlace links:rubrisher’s rusts rouged miniaturesilluminated in lavish coloursof crimson lake, copper verdigris,lapis-lazuli and leaf-of-gold.No spandrel space but it is spilling over-stuffed with inhabited historiation:the page-portals’ posts and lintels,topping titles, in tail-pieces,from capital headings to the colophon-leaf,these thresholds thrive.
Thronging creaturesnest initials; in narrow captions,coil clustering; from carpet-pagesinvade versals: cavorting apes
and gubber-tushed, gurning monkeysmoon meddlesomely from majuscule lettersor stalk on stilts. Stags chase huntsmen.Hags horse on grooms, or in the high welkinpilot kettles. Pigs soar aloftwith fish in the air. Feuding lindworms,reptilian-taloned, tongue-uncurling,beak-snouted beasts with bodies like ribbons,liripipes looping from their lips’ barbels,twist twaytorsos, entwining necks(a single cephalon serves four shoulders)to attack their tails; which turn to fronds,as their feet finial with foliationsgargoyles lurk in: the goblin-kindredsin their beastly bawdry. A Bestiary
Basilisks staring;those gold-guardians, gryphons rampant,or sergreant seeing they have sweeping wings:pennons of eagles from pelts of lions;hound-headed people; from hottest deserts,sunshade-footed sciapodes;these blink from their nipples: the blemmyæ,their face in their chests: faraway tribes.Amid pulling mouths and poking tonguesshanks-akimbo sheelanagigsare straddling boldly at the beard-strokers(an archer’s aiming... an arse his target);with snake-sneezers, the snail-jousters,the knuckle-gnawers and nose-thumbers,motley monsters —manticora,a-prowl hungry for human prey;the catoblepas, cockatrices,onocentaurus, ouroboros;mocking mongrels of Man and fish;taproot-tortured, tendril-spewing,the Jacks-in-the-Green, jailed in garlands:woodywoses; wyverns that duelthe yale and pard, and unicornsbut maidens tame —they manifest heretheir hybrid heraldries. Interlace;
He heeds them less keyfrets
who is lured through lattices of labyrinthinebraided brambles, embroiled in sproutingcrinkum-crankums of crossed briarslike withes wattled; through this weave our sight—tracery-tranced by trellis-layered
ringchains and ribs in ravelling knots,their shapes shimmering— must shuttle dazzled,fuddled by fretwork’s forks and puzzles,for as recursive patterns repeat and recallsomehow they seem both to seethe movingand writhe at rest; reach out and spire,and stir in starts, yet to our staring gazestay still-standing; steps forth retracethrough curlicues by counter-turningson retrodden trails, two steps backward,boggled by boscage; we are baffled by the clewthat threaded the maze. Enthralling stemssnaggle in snarling snaky suckers,grasp us grovelling in gripping coils,limb-leashing thorns lock their pinionsand we are entoiled in the trammels of the tanglewood.From blocked blunder in blind alleys,kimb-kamb stymied key-angled nooks,wood-bewildered, the way thwartedby strangling strands of striving branches,gnarled vignetting of gnawing roots,our eyes witness windows open:look now we light on levels beyondtimbered textures, trapping friezes,rick-rack fylfots whose roads meander;forests of filigree.
In figures-of-eight,honeycombed hollows:
on hubs the cusps Roundelscinch circlewise their cinquefoil lobes,rayed like roses. Horizons dawnin the spaliered spangles. Spy medallionsa cunning wright enriched with curiousknotwork niches, that nest rosettesfinely faceted with figural schemes,inked with images: illustrationsmime mortal life in miniatures Miniaturesthat catch as in crystal, compassing all,mappæ-mundi, the mind-landscapesof our rubricator. In registers heredetails deepen, like doors parting.Cartouches teem; in trompe-l’œil,are shown like shadows the shapes of Man-,Beast- and Birdkind. There are bustling scenesof worldly tasks: The Works and Days.Our regard is guided, as though a gate openedin the painted page. We pass inward,
where fictive phantoms unfold alive:survey visions, in view at once,of worlds in worlds.
A world in little:The Seasons’ cycle; there are suns and moons,wearing faces of worthy semblance;the Sun’s portrait, a powerful sovereignchaired in his chariot with champing steeds,heroic king, with rays like flames:heat-haloed lord. The heavens’ regentand source of Life, in solar splendour—golden godhead— goes west yet intriumph returns to the temples of stones.Full-faced the Moon is a fair Matron;in her charge the sway of this changeful world:high-horned her crown. Whole and waxing,her beaming smile with buxom dimplesthrobs down its thrills of thriving growth,crescent bounties —yet to crooked banes,madness and murrain from her milky vapour,in her fickle humours, as she fades wilting,her blessings wane, the blighting quarterwhen her silver sickle sends pestilence;mistress measuring monthly coursesof ardour and œstrus and the ocean swell,she fulfils her phases floodtide to ebb:at new a nymph, nubile Virgin;hooked, hollowcheeked, humped and gibbous,the wizened waniand: witch-favoured Crone.
Star-signs are stelled: through their stations suns, from house to house, haste in transit:observe this zone, the Zodiac’s belt,its sigils circling. The Solstice-feasts,the hours of Equinox, asterisk-marked,Cross-Quarter Days, The Calendar
this chronicle charts written in roundels whose rims and spokedclockwork-like cogs recall armillaor astrolabe’s orbits of ringsand wheels in wheels, the whirligigsof that greatest mill, the grinding heavens’turning spindle: thus Time’s axletreemetes out the months. Each mansion helmedby a star-steerer, in each storied spherethe manikins mimic The Labours
the Month’s Labours; of the Monthsas parents drudge, prattling youngsters,with toys and tag and tugs-of-war,
ply their pastimes. Children’s
Their play is short. gamesFrom childer-gaming, they grow to chores,harsh husbandry and home-making;as The Wheel of the Year whirls its cycletheir tasks are winding through turning seasons:Summer-sultry heat. The Seasons
Save the harvest:rainshowers reek; rank and clammyAutumn Equinox. Air is changing.The woods wither. Winds are mournful.Days are dwindling to the dead season.In raw darkness rime chains the ground,cold come again. Clay is frozen.Winter weathers are warmed by Springwhen lithe lenten unlocks the frost’sicy shackles. Earth enlivens.Buds burgeoning. Birds sing anew.Crops are planted. The corn ripens.The seas are sailed. The Sun’s shining.
Dogstar at dawn: dazing swelter—from sward-delving, to death of swine,through harvest-home, and hay-making,a calendar-table of common duties:these atomies perform the almanac’sround-running year. They wrest their yieldfrom acre, orchard; eke out their lives:beeskep and byre, amid beast and fowlin swink and sweat, swive and gender.Butterflies and birds; bats and vermin;the hodmandods (the house-bearer),the drumbledrones, drowsy chafers;the biting bugs, bots and weevils,ladybeetles and leatherjackets;moths and midges and mawkish grubs,
earwigs and emmets (attercop spinsterswait in their parlours to welcome guests):Nature’s menagerie from gnats to dragonsin stylised studies—stars to insectcreepy-crawlies— crowds around them(in a marge muster the mice and frogs;as their hosts battle herons are waiting).Planting and ploughing; their plots tended,
the fields feed them till they fatten the dungwith their dust in death; after days patternedby eternal returns. [...]