portion of the artwork for Robert Aquinas McNally's poetry

Beholding a Fourteenth-Century Plutarch in the Long Room, Trinity College, Dublin
Robert Aquinas McNally

An eagle lands heavily on my shoulder, strokes my hair with his beak. I know these Latin lines under glass, the opening of Theseus’ tale, smell now the chalk dust of undergraduate afternoons, Professor MacDonald stumping back and forth on a bad leg, gesturing widely about Greece and Rome, quoting Homer and Ovid and Virgil, the dactyls leaping easily from his tongue as young eagles trading aerie for air. The page’s margins are wide, deep blue, possessed by design and deer, lions, symbols of the sky gods detailed with the close-in intimacy of miniatures, and the words, the words, are penned precisely, between small lines, in clear Roman letters, the long Latin vowels singing. So one man hunched over parchment in a stone room, in Italy, wearing wool and tonsure, smelling of his own sweat and incense from High Mass just said, the elevation bells still echoing in the farthest fold of the valley, his fingers colored from day upon day of inky quillwork, and he copied and he copied, the Black Death raging outside, filling the horse carts with corpses and the streets with keening, and he copied day upon day, his quill thrust deep in the round open inkpot and the Latin. His mind burned, it burned with beauty and antiquity, and it passed on, it leapt centuries, to MacDonald stumping and waving his arms and telling us young ones, with soft longing, of the loveliness of Lesbos and its loving women.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 43 | Spring 2014