Thursday, February 11, 2010

Stone Mottos

Two days ago at Costco we noted the rollout (as I think it’s called) of Spring: mounds of earth and gardening kits and bags of fertilizers piled on high. This morning in the hush of silence produced by the snowfall of the past two days thought continues in that same direction, and with a nudge from the fountain inscription found on Siris this morning, I was reminded of our favorite stone inscription. We chanced across it once  in the narrow interior garden of some foundation or museum in Georgetown, Washington, DC a hundred summers ago. We’ve never forgotten it—and have never seen the motto used by anyone anywhere since. It marked a circular plate held aloft by a slender stone column amidst dense greenery, half obscured, and said:
OH YE MAKER OF THE WHEEL
THAT GEARETH THE HEAVENS
AND TOURNETH THE STARRES
IN A RAVISHING SWAY.
If anyone can identify the author of these words, I would appreciate getting the word.

2 comments:

  1. I know it! It's the beginning of a poem from Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy -- Book I, Meter V, to be exact. In particular, I think it's somebody's abbreviated Modern English version of Chaucer's Middle English version in Boece -- it's not quite Chaucer's version, but close:

    Oh thou maker of the whele that bereth the sterres,
    which that art fastned to thi perdurable chayre,
    turnest the hevene with a ravyssyng sweighe
    and constreinest the sterres to suffren thi law.

    The 'geareth' instead of 'beareth' is an interesting switch; if you're right that it was a 'g' rather than a 'b' it's a happy misremembering -- there's something very poetically striking about the maker of the wheel that gears the stars as opposed to the wheel that bears the stars.

    I have a poem that is a (very un-Boethius-like) rendering of the same beginning of the same poem.

    In context the poem is actually rather interesting: it starts out as if it were a praise of God and turns out to be a complaint. In it, the narrator is complaining about God rather than praising him: God rules the stars, the sun, the moon, and the rest of the natural world, making them obey His law, so why can't make human beings follow the divine laws? But the beginning is so striking in its own right that it almost stands as a praise of God on its own.

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  2. Ah, what a delight! Thanks, Brandon. Just knew that someone in Ghulfdom would be deeply enough versed in ars poetica to provide an answer! The younger generation gives us hope!

    The word on the inscription was definitely gears. Brigitte agrees. We saw it together and then, using a sheet from Brigitte's purse, I copied it verbatim. Indeed, the word struck us too, at the time, and we speculated and decided that the verse must have been framed in a time after the invention of clockwork. Now we know that the word was an "update."

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