Definition of incunabulum in English from the Oxford Dictionary:

noun plural incunabula
• An early printed book, especially one printed before 1501.

Early 19th century: from Latin incunabula (neuter plural) ‘swaddling clothes, cradle’, from in- ‘into’ + cunae ‘cradle’.

What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”
Cosmos, Part 11: The Persistence of Memory (1980)
Carl Sagan, Cosmos



When we began the world was made
of hands and eyes – fingers and winks.
We wove a sense of what the light
revealed and the dark consumed by dancing
our extremities in plain sight, waving
our meaning, daubing our understanding
onto walls and growling out a soundtrack like
the wolves and bears.
      Then words were licked into life by tongues
      stirring in their bone and water beds.
      Ululation into utterance, one day, one night
      when sudden light or no light at all
      twisted noise into a loop of syllables;
      or something was born by breath in the heat
      of loving after the fire had died; or something
      out of grieving congregated in a mouth a drift
      of stones that rattled into meaning and spat
      sense that all could share and say again and again.
Then the scribes tugged our pictograms from walls
and with those tongues pushing out a bottom lip,
they penned them slowly, rush-lit night and day,
across the calfskin, line upon line. Golden ciphers,
language wrapped in arabesques, concealed in
foliate compartments, locked into floral curlicues
and stalked by fantastical beasts across the vellum.
      All our words licked now by gall and gum, by
      iron salts and lampblack, a cultivation so sublime
      that each word lifted sits in the mouthlike a fig
      plucked from the highest branch. Princes
      and priests turn the juices on their tongues and tell
      the kneeling penitents how good they taste.
      O believe! Have faith! You only need to hear
      our words beneath a vaulted ceiling and transaction,
      intercession are assured. Your hollow syllables turned
      into a fall of bells, all your raw vernacular stacked
      like bricks inside the architecture of a hymn.


About Dick Jones

I'm a post-retirement Drama teacher, currently working part-time. I have a grown-up son and daughter, three grandchildren and three young children from my second marriage. I write - principally poetry but prose too, both fitfully published. My poetry collection Ancient Lights is published by Phoenicia Publishing (www.phoeniciapublishing.com) and my translation of Blaise Cendrars' 'Trans-Siberian Prosody and Little Jeanne from France' (illustrated by my friend, the artist, writer and long-time blogger Natalie d'Arbeloff) is published by Old Stile Press (www.oldstilepress.com). I play bass guitar & bouzouki in the song-based acoustic/electric trio Moorby Jones, playing entirely original material. https://www.facebook.com/moorbyjones?ref=aymt_homepage_panel http://www.moorbyjones.net/) https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=MOORBY+JONES spotify:artist:07MDD5MK9MnRGSEZwbsas9 I have a dormant blog with posts going back to 2004 at Dick Jones' Patteran Pages - http://patteran.typepad.com - and I'm a radio ham. My callsign is G0EUV
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4 Responses to POET BLOGGERS 2018 # 6: INCUNABULA

  1. sackerson says:

    I’m sure I know the “incunabula” word from one of the Sherlock Holmes stories. I can’t for the life of me think which one.
    As for the future… I’m reminded of the things Will Self has said about “codex culture” and the future of literature.

    • Dick Jones says:

      As a Holmes completist, I ought to know, but don’t! Thanks for the Will Self, Dom. I used to think that he was a modish prat, but was converted by his Beeb meditations.

  2. Beth says:

    I love this, Dick.

  3. Dick Jones says:

    Thank you, Beth!

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