These lines were composed for the Pelican scroll of Mistress Gwyneth Banfhidhleir, O.P., of the Middle Kingdom. Her scroll was commissioned from me (text) and Steve of Tirnewydd (calligraphy and illumination) ten years after her elevation. Notes follow.
Great nobles of Our Kingdom, know Our Word–
Eikbrandr King and Runa Queen decree
By all Our Populace must now be heard
What doom to Gwyneth Banfhidhleir shall be.
The captain of a doughty band though few,
Whom she inspires in skilful cookery
To do what erst they knew not they could do,
And folk wide scattered o’er the Dragon’s land
She makes one company in service true.
So to reward that ever-eager hand
Whose praise resoundeth in Our ears full oft,
Now Gwyneth, do We give you Our command
To seek your noble seat, your apron doffed,
As Pelican, the merit of your zeal.
Your sister raised this day, join her aloft.
We do commend your faith to that ideal
That’s best upheld by deeds—‘tis a rare art
To serve our dreams forth tangible and real,
And give your many gifts with modest heart,
As a great voice in a chorus may sound
And seldom rise to take the solo part.
Thereto commands the Middle Kingdom Crown
Whose pow’rs draconian none can gainsay
The said Gwyneth: proclaim her just renown,
A Pelican in its piety display
Which honours she shall nevermore lay down
Till Sky be fallen and great Earth shall drown.
~~ Given Fifth of September, A.S. 44
Mistress Gwyneth–my friend Ginny–asked me to create a text for this scroll in the summer of 2019. I interviewed her at Pennsic XLVIII for details of her experience as a Pelican and of her elevation. She has generously allowed me to publish the text, although as of December 31, 2020, she does not yet have the scroll in her hands because of the pandemic.
I’ve posted poems before that seemed to fountain out of my pen. Some were finished the same day they were begun, or the next day. Under Siege was one of those, as was Master Peter. This is not one of those poems. From the initial interview to completion was over 11 months.
Gwyneth favors Italian verse and had asked for the form to be terza rima. I was excited to do it because terza rima is one of the great medieval forms; Dante used it for the Divine Comedy. But Italian has many fewer ending sounds–and therefore many more rhyming options–than English. The patterns of accents in the words are different, too. And there were things I had to say, things that could not be left out. And I had to write precisely 30 lines so that they would fit neatly onto the page that Steve, the artist, was already creating.
All of these challenges and constraints combined to make the writing process slow and painstaking. I started, got stuck, came back to the text, sought my Laurel’s advice, got stuck again, put it aside, came back, got stuck, sought another Laurel’s advice…it was a long process. If it had been a personal piece, I might have let it lapse unfinished. But one of the advantages to accepting a commission is that, once promised, the thing has to be done. And so, at last, it was, I hope to the credit of all involved.