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Robert ([personal profile] frarjohn) wrote2010-12-15 02:03 pm
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Fata Apostolorum

I'm sorry for the break for the past few weeks - the end of the semester got pretty hectic. But the first semester of thesis is complete, and I get a month off to relax and read a whole myriad of stuff. To make up for the silence, have a poem I wrote for the Great Books class.

Spirit! Holy from both Father and Son
Descend to me from the highest heaven
And lift my speech to thy unbounded seat,
So that your majesty will gloried be.
I pray, let not my sinful tongue blaspheme 5
Against the power of the lordly God,
But let my heart be filled with the spirit
Of David's, repentance and contrition.
Render to me this tale – that of the fate
That the Apostles bore, their martyrdoms. 10

Listen! My morbid mind had grasped onto
My ruined state and fear of death eternal
Plagued my thoughts, when, inspired, I devised
This song. These noble men gave witness so
That we may learn the strength of faithfulness. 15
Twelve they were, men chosen by the Lord himself;
Assured of fame eternal they wandered
Lands across the Earth, preaching as they went.
The power and repute of the Master's
Servants spread across this small orb of ours. 20
No little glory is accorded to
Their names, their deeds, their fight against the Foe.
This holy group was directed by lot
To teach the Law of God among nations.

To Rome, the seat of grand empire, Peter 25
Went and met his death. For Nero, slave of
Evil, set his narrow traps for the brave knight.
Undaunted, the holy man was seizèd
And tortured by that wicked earthly lord.
His faith grew stronger as his life weakened -- 30
Unto his death he preached the Master's Word.
Paul as well, retainer to our Lord, faced
His murderers in that wealthy city.
Giving thanks to God, he won eternal life.
This Apostolic dignity is honored 35
Far and wide among all nations, peoples.

With the same spirit Andrew faced his fight
In the land of Achaia he tried
His strength against that bad king, Aegius.
He put his cares away, and his life down. 40
Unthinking of the might of arms arrayed
Against him, he considered not the joys
Of earth, but chose everlasting Heaven
And the eternal promise of life anew.

I have heard as well of Apostle John 45
Most belovèd, from that valiant cohort,
Of our Lord, after the world's creator
Sought out flesh in the womb of heaven's Queen.
His nobility and love were higher
Than any other man whose fate I know. 50
In Ephesus he preached without tire
Confounding pagan doctrine and teachers.
It was to he who was shown the world's end
On Patmos island, while in dire exile.
In death he found the bright reward of life. 55

Nor was his brother, James, tardy in his
Duty. Before Herod his soul from body
Was taken by the swinging Jewish sword.
Now his body lies venerated in
The far off home of the Iberians. 60

Philip evangelized to the Asians,
His speech was laudable and admirable.
He was hung by bandits from the neck,
On a Hierapolis gallow he gained life.

Bartholomew's heroic name is not 65
Unknown across the varied peopled lands.
A soldier strong in God he lived among
The Indians, it was the Astrages
In Albanopolis who gave him death
For refusing to submit to their idols, 70
Upright he stayed, with head to be severed.
The gladness of glory was his from then,
The richness that pales all worldly things.

Thomas as well dwelt in places Indian,
Through the sacred word he strengthened many 75
And shone the light of truth into their minds.
By miraculous power he brought Gad,
Brother of the king, and war-ready man,
Back from the dead before the multitudes.
For his people he laid his own life down, 80
A wave of sword-blows strong released his soul.

In hot Ethiopia Matthew preached the
Supremacy and lordly might of God,
Through faith the land was purged. Irtacus was
That cruel, vengeful tyrant, in wrath he 85
Commanded the saint's death with weapons dire.

Thaddeus and Simeon, soldiers bold,
Met the number of their days together.
In Persia the princes were set upon,
Suff'ring hate they found their true vict'ry. 90

James found, near Siloa's brook and Sion's
Hill, the doom decreed for him from on high.
Stout-hearted and happy he fell in death.

Thus that joyful band preached and died for God
Chief among the choir of saints they sing hymns 95
And for us poor sinners intercede with
Prayers towards the only Holy One.
And so I ask of you this favor great -
That you may pray for me, pray to that One
Almighty Father enthroned above all, 100
That His grace may fill up all of my soul.

The original Fata Apostolorum is an Anglo-Saxon poem by Cynewulf, and it's not much longer than mine - only 122 lines. I wrote this as an attempt to render that Old English verse into a Miltonian blank verse style (think Paradise Lost). I don't think I succeeded. Where Milton is dramatic (all those speeches!), I'm almost all narrative. One might say that if this poem was extended, then perhaps that might be overcome? But I think the problem in synthesizing the two is deeper. The unifying image of the original work is that of the Twelve Apostles as war-retainers to Jesus, who engage in battle against pagans, and in their deaths are accorded glory and honor worthy of a loyal thane. Milton doesn't really take that tone. His angels can be glorious in battle, but people are too spirit-wounded for that kind of glory to be a good indicator of what to do.

I may not have succeeded in what I set out to do - make a work that unifies the two styles - but my appreciation for both grew tremendously with the task completed.