The Second Scrivener – Mike Bannister

The George Crabbe Memorial Poetry Competition
2009 Crabbe Memorial Competition – First Prize
Adjudicator: Clive Scott

…on a height they kindled the hugest of all funeral fires… Heaven swallowed the smoke. (Boewulf, Tr. S.H. 1999)

Someone other started this, before my time;
at Evesham and Crowland Isle he kept
the Chronicle, told by heart the Homilies,
the Book of Beasts, entire; could say and sing
this hero’s tale in several different ways,
combed out its tangle on his poets’ loom,
weaving history, years past. Call him Wiglaf.

He inter-leaved the chalky hides,
incised it, got it down as elegy, the glorious
death of a warrior-king, seed of the sheaf,
who, like our first gold barley god, arrives
across the sea, lifts a curse, lays waste
the hell-hound and his dam, pays in his own
heart’s blood for heavy twists of gold.

Almost two thousand lines were dry
when Wiglaf died of time; his poem less
than half complete, for me to find fading
in a cell of flint, at Dummoc, where the winds
moan and waves consume the land. Expedient
with repairs and emendations, by reed-fire
on winter nights, I capture the cadences.

By goose quill, palm and paring blade,
four thousand words are brought to book, quiet
as bees in winter. And in another year, at Eastertide,
I am prepared for the firelit hall. The Linden harp
is plucked, people look up. I give my voice
to time, and the unforeseen millennium;
“Listen! The flame of Danish kings in days
gone by, the daring feats”
(Beowulf Trans.. K.C.H. Line1982)

Copyright © Mike Bannister 2009

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