European Diary: Courtyard of the British Library, 1:00 p.m., Monday; May 31, 2004; London, England

Just visited the Ritblat Gallery where we saw a first draft of “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen with Siegfried Sasson’s remarks penciled in. Thought I was going to bawl or faint. Also, Finnegan’s Wake, the oldest extant complete copy of the New Testament (Codex Sinaiticus) culled from the collection of the Monastery of St. Catherine at the foot of Mount Sinai – it is any wonder I’ve always wanted to go there? (See below) Also saw the Gutenburg Bible, the Magna Carta, the First Folio, as well as the bill for Blackfriars and pages from Leonardo’s notebooks.

It was an emotional experience but very powerful physically as well. It made me want to study again, so I can join the British Library and man-handle the manuscripts: HOT INK-ON-VELLUM ACTION!

We need to go to Heathrow soon and take the short flight to Amsterdam and slightly longer one to Riga. Not looking forward to suffocation-by-airplane-seat. Told S. I should have fashioned a traveling garment out of a fitted sheet. She suggested a book: “The Sweatpant Chronicles: 17 Countries in One Pair of Sweatpants.”


The initial and terminal poems from “The Sinai Elegies”:

The temple

Once the Temple at Sinai stood fixed in my mind in the shimmering heat

Of the white desert in the stillness of midday. No figure

Marred the emptiness, no bird broke the held breath

Of the sky. The Temple stood silent in the midst of silence.

Like the structure itself, stone shorthand for its own architecture,

This vision stood scrip to the gold of a greater truth.

Like the Incan runner holding speech in a knotted string,

I bore sanctuary in the folds of a luminous dream.

I hurled myself across the erring oceans, rejoicing

At each failure, each mistake I made I blessed,

For every ill wind that ran my ship aground

Marooned me closer to the terrible desert.

And the Temple stood fixed in my mind. The nights were hot

With desire, the roads blazed with it. The names of things

Were strong in my ear, the year long in its shadow. But now,

O, now the Temple is gone. I am lost in the tide of days.

Kingdom come

Now, the Temple at Sinai stands fixed in my mind in the deepening

Dark of the lengthening night with the timbre of starlight,

Possessing the desert like a held breath possesses the body,

Defining by degrees what it is and is not.

The stars revolve with the vault of Heaven, turning like a great

Stone lid. Intangible and infinite space seems

Palpable; Time, finite. This is the instant the anointed voice

Spoke and ceased. And this is the moment right after.

And I no longer care that there within its walls, where a crude

Lamp burns gold, stands the basin of polished

Stone the cut rose floats in and that,

Should I withdraw it from the Water,

The Rose revoke my Exile and my name unfold within me.

Let my Name unfold within me and my body turn to dust!

I have learned nothing but that something remains.

Let thy kingdom come down like water.

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