Saturday, 22 September 2012

Profile: John Elinger

John was born in 1935, and lives in Jericho, Oxford. 

 He has published two collections of poems, Still Life and Operatic Interludes. 

 In  2009 he won the first prize in a national competition with The Cooling Towers of Didcot, and has been (highly) commended in several other poetry competitions.

In the same year, he was appointed as the Visiting Poet at the University of Augusta, Georgia, in the USA. 

 He is preparing a third collection of poems about Oxford (with illustrations supplied by the painter, Katharine Shock), to be published in 2013. 

He prefers formal to free verse; and is interested in the poetry of ideas, as much as that of feeling.  Many of his poems confront the reality of old age and the approach of death.  

'His craft and form are surpassed only by the depth of thought.' (Philip Holland)" 

Poem for Performance

The Alfred Jewel

                                    'Þaes ofereode, Þisses swa mæg' (Deor)

                        'Alfred had me made.'  The Anglo-Saxon king
                        (who burned the cakes and beat the Danes)
                        the only king or queen called 'great'
                        in English history, ordered this jewel
                        from his craftsmen to accompany a book,
                        his Pastoral Care, as a pointer-cum-bookmark.
                           Those days are gone; these too will pass.

                        Or did he?  Scholars doubt that a king
                        as great as Alfred would ever allow
                        his name to appear naked, untitled,
                        as here - although there are some coins
                        minted at Oxford where Alfred's name
                        also appears without any title.
                           Those days are gone; these too will pass.

                        One possible answer is found in the Preface to the book,
                        where Alfred addresses each of his bishops
                        by name and status, starting with himself:
                        'King Alfred greets …'  Some argue that the Jewel's
                        text is a postscript to the Preface, obviating
                        a second title, since the two were to be inseparable.
                           Those days are gone; these too will pass.
                        But I prefer by far the idea
                        that the missing pointer (mark the socket)
                        was made of precious metal and inscribed
                        with the missing title - and may even turn up one day
                        to complete the message, and make a metrical verse-line.
                        'Alfred had me made - the English nation's king.'
                           Those days are gone; these too will pass.

                        Where should we search?  The Somerset marshes
                        near Athelney are where the Alfred Jewel
                        was discovered - close to the monastery the monarch had founded.
                        Its Abbot was called John, a German scholar,
                        one of the team of Latinists who had translated the book
                        Alfred wished to send to every see in his kingdom.
                          Those days are gone; these too will pass.

                       The Alfred Jewel's unanswered questions
                        tease careful scholars and casual visitors,
                        perplex the poet and surprise historians:
                        who is the figure with flowers in his hands?
                        Alfred himself? or perhaps Saint Cuthbert?
                        or God in his glory above a glassy sea?
                           Those days are gone; these too will pass.

                        The past is a storehouse of precious things:
                        curious fragments and confusing questions,
                        stories and objects, strangeness and sameness.
                        Museums remind us of the mysteries of time:
                        everything changes, everyone dies.
                        Our age will vanish, as Alfred's has done.
                           Those days are gone; these too will pass. 

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