Santa Claus is Coming to Nicaea

Remember how the subtitle for this blog is ‘Politics and Poetry’?  And it’s basically all politics?  Well, this is not really *good* poetry, but what is a girl to do when someone complains about the lack of Christmas Carols celebrating Saint Nicholas (that’s Santa Claus to you) punching Arius (the heretic) at the Council of Nicaea?

I admit, the scansion is less than perfect.  It’s difficult to fit any really sound theology into lines of 5 or 7 syllables.  (And unsound theology has similar numbers of syllables to good theology, as it turns out.)  Also, technically, the bit about the Creed is ahistorical, because that happened *because* of Arius, not before him.  But I suspect that anyone who cares enough to nitpick… is exactly the right audience for this.

(I promise I’ll get back to the Victorian State Election results soon.)

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Sonnet: Plato’s Cave

My friend Lea stated categorically that Plato’s Cave was not a sonnet.  So of course I had to prove otherwise…

A group of people chained up in a cave
Watch flick’ring shades, projected on a wall
And tell each other stories, bright and brave
Of creatures, places, objects, great and small.
You cannot blame them if they should mistake
In guessing what these shadows might reflect
These liberties imaginations take
When viewing through glass darkly, indirect.
And yet these shadows tell us of our world –
Or, to speak truly, what our world should be
If we could turn to see it and embrace
Its bright perfections, now in darkness veiled –
But with the bright lens of philosophy
We see what may be, mirrored, face to face.

Sonnet: Quadrivium (or, Horatio’s Studies)

This poem was written in response to Orson Scott Card’s decidedly homophobic retelling of Hamlet. It had not previously occurred to me that Horatio had this intense, unrequited love for Hamlet, but for some reason, I woke up the morning after reading the above article with the first quartet of this sonnet in my head, and had to write the rest.  And now, in my mind, I can’t read their relationship any other way.

I’m afraid I got a bit carried away with the whole Trivium / Quadrivium thing. Just in case there is anyone reading this who doesn’t know much more about this than me, students in medieval time were expected to learn the Trivium (Logic, Grammar, Rhetoric) before going to University, where they studied the Quadrivium (Geometry, Astronomy, Music, Arithmetic). And after that, you could study Philosophy. If you were good. 

Also, I got a bit carried away with my own cleverness, which you probably noticed.  But, actually, I do think it’s one of my better poetic efforts, which goes to show that even Orson Scott Card’s most horrifying statements have their uses…

No, scratch that.  Let’s blame this on Shakespeare.  He is a far superior source of inspiration.


Ah, Hamlet, Wittenberg seems far away,
For us the dons have rung their final bell.
I was your Trivium, when we did play;
You my Quadrivium, and I studied well:

I found in you geometry applied,
I knew each point and angle of your span.
I studied heavenly bodies at your side –
And learned well what a piece of work is man.

The sound of your slow breathing in the night
Was melody that only I could hear.
I counted as the sum of my delight
Each heartbeat, strong, iambic, by my ear.

Though heaven and earth hold greater things for thee
Thou’rt all my dreams, all my philosophy.

Acrostic: Nightmare

This is mostly an experiment, to see if I could make an acrostic and an ABCABCABC rhyme scheme work. 

No respite after work and weary day
I lie awake, awaiting morning’s light
Gazing with sleep-starved eyes into the deep
Hoping for kindly sleep, already prey
To whirling thoughts, to formless, foolish, fright.
Monstrosities pursue me – horrors creep,
And cruel disaster smiles to block my way.
Run down by my mind’s hounds, I dread the night
Exhaustion rides me – yet I fear to sleep.

Sonnet: His Mistress Replies to Sonnet 130

In fact, I wrote this back in 1995 or thereabouts, inspired by Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin and the character who wrote a sonnet a day ‘to keep his hand in’.  I tried taking psychology lecture notes in sonnet form for a while, but it didn’t help.  Anyway, this was one of my better efforts.  It’s a reply to this sonnet by Shakespeare.


My poet’s pen is sharper than nine swords;
I thought true love should muzzle unkind truth.
What right have you to mock me with these words?
For nor are you some godly-handsome youth!
It’s true I find your closing lines are sweet;
What woman would not wish to be called rare?
But wilful Will, admit that ’tis not meet
To slight the colour of your lady’s hair!
Your style of loving sonnet is unique;
A compliment, you tell me, to my wit.
Still, it’s not pleasant to be told I reek;
Good Will, will you not flatter me a bit?
Yet my goodwill you have, for this is true:
Imperfect like meets like when I meet you.

Book review: Dante’s Paradiso, in translation by Dorothy Sayers

I’ve just finished reading Dante’s Paradiso. As in – literally just finished. I walked into the computer room, book in hand, reading the last few pages of notes, because I couldn’t wait to share the last few lines with you all…

Thither my own wings could not carry me
But that a flash of understanding clove
Whence its desire came to it suddenly

High phantasy lost power and here broke off
Yet, as a wheel moves smoothly, free from jars
My will and my desire were turned by love,

The love that moves the sun and other stars.

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Book review: Dante’s Purgatorio, in translation by Dorothy Sayers

So. Purgatory, then. I hope this will be coherent – but I’m worried that if I wait too long to write it, I’ll be distracted by Paradise (what a lovely sentence to take out of context), and won’t be able to do it justice.

I started this book with oddly mixed feelings. My own expectation, from having read the Inferno and Dorothy Sayers’ commentaries, was that I’d really enjoy it – in fact, I’d been impatient to get through the last half dozen or so Cantos (Canti?) of Inferno, so I could find out what the next bit was like – and yet numerous people had told me that Purgatory was less interesting, and even Sayers said that many people didn’t get past Inferno (and, I might add, she had no high opinion of such people!), so I wasn’t sure how I’d like it.

But, in fact, I think I liked it more than its predecessor. Inferno was interesting, certainly, but it lacked the theological fascination of Purgatory, at least for me. Perhaps this was a product of not having been brought up Catholic – Purgatory was not a concept I knew well, so it had an extra interest for me. Also, of course, circumstances combined to make the experience of reading it strangely topical and profound – while I may joke about Australia being Purgatory, I cannot deny that something visceral and indescribable was added to my reading when I noted the smoke in the air as I read about the smoky circle of Wrath, or read about the fire in the circle of Lust near the top of the mountain straight after reading of the bushfires in the Victorian Alps, or walked out of the office into a cool change just as Dante walked through the fire into the cool of the Earthly Paradise. And while Sayers tells me, and I believe her, that Dante could not have known about the Southern Cross when he described the constellations, I couldn’t help seeing them whenever the four stars in the sky were mentioned. I can’t tell you how all this affected my understanding of the book; I can tell you, though, that I believe it is more deeply lodged in my memory as a result – experiential learning, as one might say.

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Book review: Dante’s Inferno, in translation by Dorothy Sayers

Here’s what I learned from reading The Divine Comedy: Hell, as translated by Dorothy Sayers: Purgatory is Australia! No, really, it is: in Dante’s literal (but not allegorical, as Miss Sayers would quickly point out) scheme of the universe, Hell is entered through a Dark Wood in the Northern Hemisphere, from which one descends deeper and deeper inside the earth to the bottom of the pit – the frozen 9th circle of Hell, where a morose Satan gloomily gnaws on the most perfidious traitors of all.

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Sonnet: To Melbourne

City of many seasons, many moods
Of winter heatwaves and of summer floods
Who would change dull, fixed, seasonality
For your infinite, sweet, inconstancy?
No human art can ever guess your will
Nor nights nor dawns predict the day ahead
It tells us nothing if your skies are red
You are too whimsical for all our skill.
So, lovingly, your livery I don:
Sunscreen, umbrella, T-shirt, gumboots, coat –
And smile at forecasts, taking little note
As gaily you send hail… or wind… or sun.
Let others sigh for Climate’s ordered laws:
I’ll live my life under no skies but yours.

Sonnet: Blanket-Monster, or the Faithfulness of Cats

She stalks her foe on silent, night-black paws,
Eyes wide and black to catch each hint of light;
Alert ears, focused whiskers, sharpened claws;
Still. Waiting for her summons to the fight.
The slightest blanket-twitch and she is there!
Fierce, fearless, she protects against the beast.
Man’s ancient enemy caught unaware –
Quickly subdued by nimble paw – deceased.
For man’s best friend cannot defeat this foe;
Slow, gullible, he does not know its face.
And man, ever ungrateful, bellows ‘No!’
And in her loyal protection sees disgrace.
Yet faithfully her nightly watch she’ll keep:
Bast’s daughters in their duty do not sleep.