The Summons

Bill summons me across the room.
The book is small, its leather dry and warm.
His finger finds the page – Psalm 23,
he says. King James’s own. We confirm
he’s First and Sixth, and note his metric
journey through the valley of the shades.
Here’s the man who’s credited with the
Union of the Crowns, brushing up
his lonely Greek, and hunting for
the rhymes, while trembling clerics
debate the testament that comes
to bear his name. And both survive.

The library Bill curates is Scotland’s first
to place forbidden fruit, free, before the
people’s eyes. Walls shine chapel white –
enclosing paths which open minds,
and books, encaged within, await release.
Bill moves amongst the shelves. He puts
before me writers that I’ve never heard,
whose voices, never known, speak
from an age of innocence rebound.

So here is Johnson, prefacing his way
through all those Shakespeares, restoring
and creating bubbles for the bard.

And here’s the register of borrowers
from 1763.
A slanting hand, in ink now brown
as blood, describes the books and borrowers,
their dates and classes. Written down
to make a worthwhile PhD, this
treasure house reveals a solemn truth –
that ministers and teachers borrow books
and read, while weavers take one out,
but get back to making for their ends.

Innerpeffray Library
August 2019

2 thoughts on “The Summons

  1. I can smell the books! All those words for ministers, teachers, weavers, signing their names ‘in ink/now brown as blood’!


  2. There are some interesting effects, John, such as the varying rhythmical pattern which alerts the reader to a particular point, such as the huge significance of Johnson’s Prefaces to Shakespeare. I wonder if the poem might have referred to the problem the Hebraic rhythm of the Psalms gave to the English translators, the issue which summoned Sternhold and Hopkins to make their celebrated English version for singing in Churches and later printed in the BCP. Nevertheless, “The Summons” an enjoyable meditation on an old repository. Thanks for sending it.


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