Ab Initio Mundi*

*ever since the beginning of the world

At first the darkness reigned o’er all that was,
Until a little point of light emerged.
That grew and grew regardless, as it surged
Ahead and climbed to greater heights because

It was controlled by heaven, on the whole,
Nor did it want to stop, for it was fun
To demarcate the limits of the sun—
Until one’s worn, or boredom takes its toll.

But we can’t live upon or in the sun;
Therefore we need to capture planet earth,
To have a place for human beings’ birth
Before civilization had begun.

Now there’s the place where hate and war were born
After civilization had begun,
And all of us were well warned by the sun,
Yet peace agreements were too often torn.

Still, our Creator knew we needed food
To stay alive to carry out his will,
Which he indeed intended for us still—
Although our last response was not too good.

So he provided, in abundance, crops
And meat and such for us to try and taste,
And saw to it that nothing went to waste:
A system where all greed and hunger stops.

Of course, the people would not keep it so,
Insisting that they knew it better yet,
And started to expend much blood and sweat
While arguing in circles to and fro.

Then all began to grow more serious.
Man took control of real, important things
And ruled the realm with power, just like kings,
Until their plans became nefarious.

Yet, somehow there, a woman holding high
The torch of truth and strong determination,
Reminded us of God’s will, how and why
To fight this terrible degeneration.

Thus, all you foolish godless ones, beware!
The time is come to make the final choice,
So speak now with a strong and steady voice:
“The love of God” or “woe, his wrath.” Don’t err!

 

 

Ælfthryth

The first Saxon Queen of England (died 1000 AD), the second wife of King Edgar the Peaceful

When first mine eyes beheld that lovely form,
A thrill which I could not prevent at all
Beset at once my senses like a storm,
And turned my quiet comfort to a pall.

Be gone, o ecstasy at once, I pray,
And leave me be content in silent pain
Of loss and lonely life this graying day:
Why stir in me that phantom hope and bane?

Or could it be that I am once again
Bedeviled, down and lusterless and wrong,
And should recover courage, grace—and feign
Elation like a rising lark in song?

I know not where this time to go and hide:
Should I then find again in shame my guide?

 

 

“L’Audace, toujours de l’audace!”*

Right after having hung a pretty birdhouse,
So that it faced the window real close by,
I saw a little bird—it was a titmouse—
Come checking, chirping, for a shelter dry.

The little guy could barely be two inches,
But had enough audacity for ten:
With sharpened beak he chased away two finches,
Then nobly took possession there and then.

Well pleased he summoned next his helper mate;
Together, he and she began to build
With twigs and moss a worthy home estate,
While I was charmed, amused, engrossed and thrilled.

And thus, the moral of this winsome tale:
Audacity can make a foe turn pale.

 

*favored saying of General George Patton (“Audacious, always be audacious!”)

 

Leo Zoutewelle was born in 1935 in The Netherlands and was raised there until at age twenty he emigrated to the United States.  After retiring in 2012  he has written an autobiography and two novels (unpublished).


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16 Responses

  1. Peter Hartley

    Leo – Very moving, and I imagine hate and war had to await the coming of civilisation in order to be effectively organised and conducted. There’s nothing like good planning if you want to carry out a bit of mutually destructive (internecine) strife is there? And being civilised we’ll already know the outcome before we start, which is always very helpful. A good bit of poetry this, and very readable.

    Reply
    • Leo Zoutewelle

      Thank you Peter, yes we know the outcome, and it is MAD (1960s?) in short form.

      Reply
  2. James A. Tweedie

    Leo, if not audacious, you are certainly ambitious in these three poems. Pale finches, singing larks pretending to be elated, a (tit)mouse that flies, a riff on the first chapter of Genesis followed by the briefest summary of the Bible I have ever seen, and, as a bonus, a name (previously unknown to me) that I would love to see in a crossword puzzle or use in a game of hangman!

    I think I like the audacious titmouse best, especially the stanza that reads,

    Well pleased he summoned next his helper mate;
    Together, he and she began to build
    With twigs and moss a worthy home estate,
    While I was charmed, amused, engrossed and thrilled

    ending with an exhaustive string of lovely, entrancing, entertaining, and elevating adjectives.

    As regards the war between the tits and the finches (and the subsequent feng shui furnishing of the tit’s boudoir) I would, no doubt, have been watching something on TV while missing the real drama unfolding outside my window.

    Thanks for the reminder to slow down, keep my eyes open, and enjoy the world!

    Reply
    • Leo Zoutewelle

      “the briefest summary of the Bible” – I loved that and you are exactly right! And I was gratified reading your last sentence. Thank you, James.

      Reply
  3. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    What a magnificent array of poetry, Leo. “Ab Initio Mundi” is smoothly and beautifully done, and the age old message has never been more timely.
    I am thoroughly intrigued by “Ælfthryth”. Last year, I read a friend’s thesis for her Masters in Medieval Women in British History featuring Ælfthryth. Apparently, scholars have had to piece together very limited knowledge in order to gain a bigger picture of England’s first queen. Oh, the pitfalls and price of lust and betrayal. Your portrayal of this wicked stepmother through the eyes of her beguiled husband says it all with brevity and poetic panache.

    I absolutely love “L’Audace, toujours de l’audace!”. It captures the essence of the ruby throated hummingbirds in our backyard perfectly. Their sheer audacity ensures they’re the rulers of their realm even though they’re so tiny. After reading your poem, I’ll put it down to short bird syndrome. Great stuff!

    Reply
    • Leo Zoutewelle

      Thank you, Susan. I am not sure if you know that at least in the US the titmouse is the official name for a songbird which is also very small. I enjoyed reading your comment!

      Reply
  4. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Thank you, Leo. I’ve just looked up the titmouse and noted that there have been probable sightings near me. I’m on the look out. I love bird life and adore photographing these feathered gems. I wrote this little poem a couple of days ago which might explain how I feel about them:

    An Avian Kyrielle

    Their lilting trills fill twilight skies,
    their aerial flair delights my eyes,
    their wings fan dreams with certainty –
    through birds I glimpse eternity.

    They hop the trembling treetop trail,
    they skim the breeze, they surf and sail;
    resplendent in God’s livery –
    through birds I glimpse eternity.

    They lift my heart when life is grim,
    they’re feathered blessings, heaven’s hymn;
    they’re hope’s celestial artistry –
    through birds I glimpse eternity.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Susan, what a lovely credit to bird life! So short, perhaps, but so symbolic.

      Reply
  5. Margaret Coats

    Leo, you are right, that “final choice” is supposed to divide us, as either the seed of the woman or the seed of the dragon. You did get from the beginning of the world to the last judgment in a rapid manner–nonetheless so competently and tunefully written that one is pleased to accept your pattern for history.

    About history, I wonder who is your first king of England? I hold that Alfred the Great was indeed king of England, even though he started out as king of Wessex, and even though he never managed to control the entire territory, due to the Danes. His daughter, an earlier and better Aelfthryth, is one of my favorite historical personages. This is certainly a vexed question of whom one can call the first king of England, since many of them held other titles, in their own time and in the judgment of historians, including poets!

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Margaret (and Leo) – I have Egbert or the unpronounceable Ecgberht as the first Saxon king recognised as sovereign of all England, antedating Alfred by a hundred years or so.The reason I mention him is because he figures at the top of a list of kings and queens of England printed on a (pure) Irish linen tea towel hanging on my bedroom wall when I was six, which was itself a good few years prior to the Norman invasion (so it MUST be right).

      Reply
      • Margaret Coats

        Yes, my ancient American wall poster also says Egbert was first king of England! Aren’t these informative sources great at simplifying spelling?

  6. Leo Zoutewelle

    Thank you Margaret, for your interesting comments. First-off, I want to clarify that I have no special expertise in old English history. I simply ran across the name of Ælfthryth accidentally one day, which intrigued me no end and I decided to write a poem with that name (without any pretense of historicity). Blessings,
    Leo

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Leo, I was wondering because you say above your Aelfthryth poem that she was the first Saxon queen of England. Where did Edgar’s two earlier wives come from, and the wives of men who were kings of England before Edgar? I mentioned Alfred the Great in particular because his queen was certainly Saxon. After doing further research, I found that Aelfthryth the wife of King Edgar is now sometimes called the first queen of England simply because she is the first king’s wife for whom records of a coronation ceremony exist! This seems unfair to Queen Ealhswith (Alfred the Great’s wife), who was just as royally born as Aelfthryth. It may also be unfair to King Egbert’s wife (see comment of Peter Hartley above, authoritatively confirming Egbert’s kingship over the English). Even the name of Egbert’s queen was not recorded, and it seems a nameless king’s wife cannot have been queen!

      Reply
  7. David Watt

    Leo, you have given us a varied and entertaining mix of poetry. For me, the highlight of each sonnet is the third stanza.

    The audacious titmouse reminds me of our cheeky cockatoos, daring magpies, and persistent parrots. The titmouse would probably give them a run for their money.

    Reply
    • Leo Zoutewelle

      I just noticed that my answer to your comment did not make it. I’m so sorry but I want you to know I appreciate your comment. After reading yours I went to check the third stanzas of my poems, which was an interesting experience. Thank you, David!

      Reply

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