To Snayles

do you know snails
i have thought they are Puritan

not given to frippery
or at least deliberate
demolishing the breakfast fungus then
placing one foot after –
another pilgrim’s progress

or perhaps aliens

foreigners lost and blind
groping their hopeless way
back to the caravan
burdens shifting as they crawl
another step
another step

or shortlived
adventurers who can’t sit still
while the swift sun arcs to evening again
for the days assigned to snails are few


Speaking of snails, one of my favorite parts of Bartholomaeus Anglicus’ encyclopedia De Proprietatibus Rerum (translated from Latin into Middle English by John Trevisa) is this:

And heere I speke of bestes þat haueþ hornes of kynde of bon. For snayles haueþ certein hornes neisshe and glemy but þay beþ nought propreliche hornes but þinges yȝeue to snayles for help and socour. For snayles beþ feble of sight and gropeth and secheþ here weyes wiþ þilke hornes. And if he meteþ wiþ any hard þyng, he draweþ in his hornes and closeþ hemself wiþinne here schelles [for snayles vsen here schelles] instede of houses and of castelles.

Roughly updated into more familiar English:

And here I speak of beasts that haveth horns of kind of bone. For snails haveth certain horns soft and slimy but they are nought properly horns but things given to snails for help and succour. For snails are feeble of sight and gropeth and searcheth their ways with these horns. And if they meet with any hard thing, they draweth in their horns and closeth themselves within their shells [for snails use their shells] instead of houses and of castles.

I like this because you can almost watch Bartholomaeus’ brain working in between the lines. I can’t remember if the first sentence signals a new topic or the end of one, but it’s as if B. suddenly thought, “Crap, snayles have hornes too. Need to make a quick distinction,” and then thought, “Now that I brought this up I guess people will be wondering why snayle horns aren’t proper horns – will explain that asap,” and then, “if I mention the horns without mentioning shells this will seem weird. Everyone mentions the shells.”


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