Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Quote of the Day: Peter Brown

I haven't done a quote of the day in a while--so perhaps quote of the year?  Anyway, here it is from the always-quotable Peter Brown:

"The miracles of Gregory of Tours are poetry in action."

(Peter Brown, "Relics and Social Status in the Age of Gregory of Tours," in Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity, 226)

This is a sentence delivered mid-paragraph--so easy to overlook buried as it is.  But it stopped me in my tracks.  It struck me as somehow significant, disclosing something important not necessarily about Gregory of Tours but how miracles may have been understood in late-antique Gaul.  Or, better yet, how WE can try to understand the significance of miracles in late-antique Gaul.  But what this significance is is not quite clear.  Or maybe that's the point:  poetry is pregnant with multiple possible meanings, though often employing a particular "theme."  It is not practicing poetry or the practice of poetry, but the poetry of practice.

Is it that poetry condenses so much meaning in so few words as the miracle aligns the quotidian and the extraordinary, condensing social codes and alliances alongside supernatural ones?  Is it that poetry leans against the boundaries of language to speak the unspeakable, while miracles lean against the boundaries of actions to do the undoable?  Or is it in the choreography of these elements?  Or is it the usurpation of the old connection between poet and prophet, the prophet as poet (Isaiah) and the poet as prophet (Ovid)?  I wonder.

No comments: