The Lessons of Gurnemanz

 

From Parzifal by Wolfram von Eschenbach, Twelth Century poet and Minnesinger, for whom Wolfram in my novel The Marriage of True minds is named. Gurnmanz teaches the young foolish Parzifal the ways of knighthood. 

'And thus I begin, do thou hearken—From true shame shalt thou never flee,

A shameless man, bethink thee, what place in the world hath he?

As a bird that moulteth ever so his honour doth fall away,

And hereafter he hath his portion in the fires of Hell for aye.'

'So noble methinks thy bearing, a folk's Lord thou well mayst be;

If high be thy birth, and yet higher the lot that awaiteth thee,

Then see that thy heart hath pity for the poor and needy man

And fight thou against his sorrow with free gifts as best thou can,

For a true knight must aye be humble—A brave man who need doth know

Full often with shame he battles, and sore is that strife I trow,

For him shall thy help be ready—(Who lighteneth his brother's need

From Heaven he winneth favour as rewarding for righteous deed.)

For in sooth his case is harder than theirs who as beggars stand'

Neath the window, and succour seeking, for bread shall stretch forth the hand.

Thou shalt learn in a fitting measure both rich and poor to be,

Who spendeth as lord at all times no lordly soul hath he—

Yet who heapeth o'er-much his treasure he winneth methinks but shame,

But give thou unto each their honour, so best shalt thou guard thy fame.'

I saw well as thou earnest hither that thou hadst of my counsel need—

Yield not unto ways discourteous but give to thy bearing heed,

Nor be thou so swift to question—Yet I would not that thou withhold

An answer good and fitting to the speech one with thee would hold.

Thou canst hear and see, I wot well full five shalt thy senses be,

An thou use them aright, then wisdom it draweth anear to thee.

'In thy wrath remember mercy, and slay not a conquered foe,

He who to thine arms shall yield him take his pledge and let him go;

Unless he such ill have wrought thee as sorrow of heart doth give,

An my counsel thou fain wouldst follow, then in sooth shalt thou let him live.'

'Full oft shalt thou bear thy harness—When thy knightly task is sped

Thy hands and face thou shalt cleanse them from the rust and the iron red,

For such is in truth thy duty, so thy face shall be fair and bright,

And when maiden's eyes behold thee they shall deem thee a goodly sight.

Be manly and of good courage, so shalt thou deserve thy fame;

Hold women in love and honour, it shall be to thine own good name;

And be ever steadfast-minded as befitteth good man and true,

An with lies thou wouldst fain deceive them much harm can thy dealings do.

If true love be repaid with falsehood then swift shalt the judgment be,

And a speedy end to all honour and renown shall it bring to thee.

As beneath the stealthy footsteps of the thief the dry stick breaks,

And the slumbering watcher, startled, to his danger swiftly wakes

So false ways and dealings crooked in their wake bring but strife and woe;

Prove this by true love, for true women have skill 'gainst the hidden foe,

And their wiles can outweigh his cunning—An thou winnest from women hate,

Then for ever art thou dishonoured, and shame on thy life shall wait.'

'So take thou to heart my counsel—And more would I tell to thee;

Husband and wife united as one shall they ever be,

As the sun that this morning shineth, and this morn that we call to-day,

So the twain may be sundered never but one shall be held alway.

As twin blossoms from one root springing e'en so shall they bloom and grow;

With wisdom receive my counsel that its truth thou hereafter know.'

 

Translated by Jessie L. Weston

 

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A Good Book

“I was inspired by the marvelous example of Giacometti, the great sculptor. He always said that his dream was to do a bust so small that it could enter a matchbook, but so heavy that no one could lift it. That's what a good book should be.”


― Elie Wiesel

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The Coming of Dusk

"At times I believe that my feet have been set upon a road which I shall go on following, and that slowly the centre of gravity of my being will shift over from the world of day, from the domain of organizing and regulating universal powers, into the world of Imagination. Already now I feel, as when at the age of twenty I was going to a ball in the evening, that day is a space of time without meaning, and that it is with the coming of dusk, with the lighting of the first star and the first candle, that things will become what they really are, and will come forth to meet me."

Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), Shadows in the Grass

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Courts And Jesters

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Review of THE MARRIAGE OF TRUE MINDS by Stephen Evans

 

There are a myriad questions one would wish to ask the author of THE MARRIAGE OF TRUE MINDS, but the overarching one is: Were you aware you were retelling the Easter story in a twenty-first century context?

Don't get the wrong idea, gentle reader, this book is slick and wickedly funny. Its sequence of vivid backdrops is injected with what purports to be fast-paced dialogue, but is actually a stream of interlaced monologues, cutting to the quick of the human heart. It is a filmic novel, as perhaps befits the work of a seasoned playwright and, on the face of it, screams out for translation to celluloid (or whatever it is the industry uses nowadays.) Whether such treatment could ever do justice to this complex-cut and multi-faceted gem is doubtful. It is a measure of Evans' genius that a creation stiff with Byzantine allusions, recurring motifs, classical and philosophical metaphors, can stand alone as a tale of pure comic lunacy.

The action opens when former environmental barrister Nick Ward is arrested for releasing a hundred live lobsters into the indoor pool at the home of the Mayor of Minneapolis. He then has the Department of the Environment fill it with non-chlorinated water and ice to illustrate the effects of global warming on arctic marine life. At the hearing, Nick is delivered into the hands of his ex-wife, Lena (once also his legal partner.) He still considers himself married to her and the stress of divorce appears to have magnified the instability of a sensitive mind.

By dint of psychic manipulation of the proceedings, Nick ends up in Lena's custody for the duration of his sentence to community service, pending a psychiatric evaluation. This involves exercising dogs at a local animal shelter. Here he becomes awakened to the plight of the furry inmates who are 'euthanised' within a few days of being rescued if new owners cannot be found. Nick gets particularly attached to an Irish Wolfhound named Wolfram and when the dog's turn comes to be put down concocts a nail-biting and comically ingenious plot to save him, thus throwing into relief the colossal dilemma for the couple who run the sanctuary.

Meanwhile, Nick's passive handling of the domestic situation (an oxymoron that well describes his ex-wife's predicament) is gradually fretting Lena away from Mogadon Man, Preston Winter, her current squeeze. Nick is accident-prone and inclined to create chaos by his very presence so that Lena always feels pulled into responsibility for him. Although all the old contentions within the marriage are revived and Nick still proves impossible to live with, they come to a kind of existential truce.

On the day of Nick's assessment of competence to testify, there are hilarious scenes of confusion in the courtroom. Wolfram plays a part here, as does Sancho, an English sheepdog puppet, Nick's alter ego, who expresses himself more demonstratively than his tersely fluent handler. (“He's the best person I know. ...Real is trickier than people realise.”) Things are not going well and, in an attempt to prove that his animal activism is the product of a rational mind, Nick contrives to get hold of the bailiff's gun. In sheer frustration he threatens to do away with himself.

“What we need here is a good death... It's our method. Our proposal. Our solution... Inconvenience deserves a death sentence... But let's not hide it in an animal shelter or slaughterhouse or nursing home or prison cell or concentration camp. Let's get it out in the open where we can see once and for all exactly what we are responsible for.”

Deemed unfit to defend himself, Nick is referred to an institution until such time as he has recovered 'normal' behaviour on an appropriate therapy programme.

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But there is a triumphal denouement in store where Eden garners the marginalised and dispossessed. It fits well with the story's interwoven themes. While it is off-the-wall as high as a kite, it is profoundly logical and we are led to ask the question who is really insane here? The protagonist or society? If, as the book maintains, one definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result, then the history of our race surely proves that it is a behavioural mean of the human condition, the fallout of our expulsion from the Garden. The reader also might feel that the reasons for divorce point up the differences in psychology between men and women more than anything else. The whole scenario calls for an innocent scapegoat. This shores up the status quo and enables all concerned to preserve their conceit of themselves.

Nick haunts the narrative like a mesmerised child craning to engage with a mystifying adult world. He has no apparent game-plan and claims to be piloted by visions. Underlying all, the secret snigger of the jester is a little unnerving, until it dawns upon the reader that it springs from glee at his adroitness in turning disaster and the randomness of fate into something coherent. That is his intrinsic gift to Life. To describe it as cunning is miles wide of the mark. The child's vision is both pristine and penetrating and affects by osmosis all who come into contact with him. In reality, Nick is the one holding everything together to the point of exhaustion.

It seems churlish to criticise so accomplished a piece, but the tension is occasionally misjudged. For instance, I suspect the scene where the dogs are about to be gassed, which assaults without warning, is meant to shock, but perhaps it is better to allow your reader to absorb the tension rather than leaving him pole-axed on concrete and obliged to do a re-run! 

This novel cannot easily be slotted into a genre. It is a dazzling mix of comedy, magic realism, roman à clef, literary parable. The Shakespearian device of telling a story within a story is employed at a children's party with spellbinding effect and is the most compelling and finely-crafted part of the book. Evans would make a consummate spinner of children's fables, forged with a ring of timeless truth.

His premise that we imagine who we love (insistence on the subjective case, but the objective knock-on is implicit) is resonant of the words of Our Lord, the shadow and substance of all types, and poses the same reflexive and heart-searching question: Who do you say that I am?

 

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Copyright

© Copyright Rosy Cole 2009 and 2015

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Thank you, Rosy for reading and commenting.
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