Processional (upon seeing Dürer’s woodcut of Roswitha)
By Dürer’s hand, I saw her kneeling down
Before the Emperor: Roswitha — she
Who from the Saxon convent plied her pen
Against the pagan Terence and to praise
Saint Agnes and to tell Thais’ woe.
Nine-hundred years away, the forests cold
Rose up about her cloister. Noble maids,
Daughters of chiefs and kings, left gold and claims
To titles, wealth and tribal lands and went
To sit at common table, simple food
Their fare, and fast and vigil. Icy streams
Could not flow clearer or more chaste. This one
Beneath the veil knew the austerity
So solemn and so awful, when the choice
Was not seen in degrees but asked for all:
Body and soul and will — such was the age.
And such the calling. Face as sure as flint
Set to Jerusalem, she shared the life
Of virgin sisters, selfsame in their minds,
Discarding worldliness, unmastered, free.
Her poetry and plays stood on my lips.
And in a vision earth for me became
Uncyclical, its battered vanity
Pale by the long procession of the saints,
Church militant, in triumph, piercing night.
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Take for instance Mary; she
shocked by some divine insistence.
Yet the experience of God,…
Of what do they dream
— the white-robed monks?
with half-shaped forms
When time was yet unmade nor seasons wrought,
Beginning’s birth unborn and unbegun,