S H E M T O V A R D U T I E L
(Carrión de los Condes, Soria, late thirteenth century – c. 1369)
from The Battle of The Pen and the Scissors
I. Writer, You Hold
Writer, you hold a flame in your hand,
or is it the blade of a sword or a spear—
the tree of knowledge of good and evil,
or a staff to make wondrous signs appear?
II. To Praise the Pen
Are there words enough in all of song
to praise the pen? And is it an error
to bring to mind what long was lost
and then preserve it as though it were myrrh?
It has no ear with which it might hear,
or mouth with which to offer answers;
and yet the pen, in a single stroke,
at once does both—observes and remembers.
III. Tomorrow I'll Write
At night he says: “Tomorrow I'll write,”
but there's nothing at all to back up his words;
the heaven's frost laughs in his face,
and the cackling of mocking ice is heard.
Don't pride yourself on tomorrow's prize,
when you have no notion of what it hides.
IV. Enter the Scissors
A body fully drawn and rotted through,
like clothes eaten by moths—but this one's written:
a man with his hand in wisdom brought it forth,
forming hole after hole in its skin.
V. Work I Was Cut Out to Do
I'm precious to every soul and man,
and lacking matter am only form.
I'm purest spirit—my body's nothing,
riding clouds and wings of the wind.
VI. The Pen Fights Back
If only someone would shut you up,
or that might be your wisdom's will;
for hope deferred you'll finish writing
just makes the heart and soul feel ill.
Your languor casts us into a torpor—
then leaves us holding shreds of paper.
n e x t
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