Of Maps and Mercy


The Ebsdorf Mappa Mundi, c. 1235.

The T S Eliot Prize for 2009 was won by Philip Gross for The Water Table. This collection of poems was inspired by the Bristol Channel. According to one reviewer, the collection draws out “connections with mystery, depth, and the man-made world.”

This prestigious award will doubtless introduce a wider readership to Philip Gross’s poetry. You may be interested to find out more about the poet by visiting his website:

http://philipgross.co.uk/index.htm

The following extract is from Philip Gross’s earlier collection, Mappa Mundi, which takes its name from the medieval map of the world. This snippet – a kaleidoscopic blend of myth and modernity – encourages me to read more.

Mappa Mundi

In the land of mutual rivers,
it is all a conversation: one flows uphill, one flows down.
Each ends in a bottomless lake which feeds the other
and the boatmen who sail up, down, round and round
never age, growing half a day older, half a day younger
every time… as long as they never step on land.


In the land of hot moonlight
the bathing beaches come alive at midnight.
You can tell the famous and rich by their silvery tans
which glow ever so slightly in the dark
so at all the best parties there’s a moment when the lights go out
and you, only you, seem to vanish completely.


In the land where nothing happens twice
there are always new people to meet;
you just look in the mirror. Echoes learn to improvise.
So it’s said… We’ve sent some of the old
to investigate, but we haven’t heard yet. When we
catch up with them, we might not know.

Philip Gross

The Quality of Mercy

There has been much in the media this week about mercy. Certain of Portia’s lines from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice have inevitably been much quoted. This play is possibly more contentious now than when it was written, as the anti-Semitic undercurrent creates understandable controversy. If we look at Portia’s speech in isolation, we see an example of masterly courtroom rhetoric and a definition, both solemn and beautiful, of mercy as a human virtue. Portia contends that mercy is not something to be limited or restrained. It is, rather, as replenishing and as freely available as the rain. It brings as much good to those who are merciful as to those who receive mercy. Portia insists that the real stamp of a ruler, whose power is undisputed, is to show mercy, as in so doing the ruler exceeds the expectations of man’s laws and attains god-like greatness.

PORTIA
The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.

The Merchant of Venice
Act 4, Scene I

I look forward to your comments and any suggestions you may have for texts to feature on the blog.

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