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The Burning of the Book

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the voyage of st. brendan

Books were Brendan’s love. At number one,
Amazing Tales, a vast compendium.
Within, he found the Mathematic Salmon,
the Manticore, the breath-defying Dragon.

The dog-head folks, called Cynocephali,
a godless bunch who play the banjolele.
The Arctic tribes who worship tiger seals,
their ice-hickle cities on wagon wheels.

The whale  Jasconius, its mountain-back
all porcupined with oak, and elm, and ash.
And Inexpressible Isle, its ruined fort
with butterfly judges, Heart’s Grief Court.

In time, this diet of ripe and rum detail
weighed on Brendan: he sickened, grew pale.
He craved, instead, a simple common sense
in keeping with his Rule of abstinence.

“These things,” he cried, “are figments, folderols.
The truth is here, at hand: a linnet’s carols,
Kerry mountains, Christ upon his hook.”
And Brendan made a fire, and burnt his book.
Source: Poetry (May 2017)

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This poem originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Poetry magazine

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The Burning of the Book

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