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Posts Tagged ‘snails’

Snail’s Pace

October 24, 2013 | by


I’m told foxes are all the rage right now. Specifically, that “foxes are the new owls.” Owls, of course, were the new squirrels, and I forget what preceded that, but it all started with birds. And birds, as we know, are, in our post-Portlandia world, beyond parody. But the seemingly arbitrary celebration of anointed fauna is nothing new. In the Middle Ages, it would seem, scribes were enamored of knights and snails.

The British Library blog notes, “as anyone who is familiar with thirteenth- and fourteenth-century illuminated manuscripts can attest, images of armed knights fighting snails are common, especially in marginalia.” But why? Throughout history, scholars have floated theories ranging from resurrection allegory, to class struggle, to mockery of the Lombards (apparently the targets of much medieval badinage). At the end of the day, no one knows for sure. What is certain is that the gallery of images on the site is fascinating, and peculiar indeed.

Said the philosopher and theologian Albert the Great,

If thou wilt forejudge, or conjecture things to come … Take the stone which is called Chelonites. It is of purple, and divers other colours, and it is found in the head of the Snail. If any man will bear this stone under his tongue, he shall forejudge, and prophesy of things to come. But notwithstanding, it is said to have this power only on the first day of the month, when the moon is rising and waxing, and again on the twenty-ninth day when the moon is waning.

In the spirit of that Dominican (albeit a few days early), I shall make so bold as to prophesy something: I see no reason why knights and snails, representing either marauding Lombards or rebellious serfs, shouldn’t be the foxes of F/W 2014. You read it here first.



A Snail’s Pace

July 31, 2012 | by

Edward Lear, self-portrait as snail.

When John Ashbery reviewed Elizabeth Bishop’s Complete Poems in 1969 for The New York Times, his review was accompanied by an illustration: two giant snails stretching from under their shells to touch one another. Ashbery never mentions the mollusks in his review, but beneath the image is an excerpt of Bishop’s prose poem “Giant Snail.”

“I give the impression of mysterious ease, but it is only with the greatest effort of my will,” Bishop’s mollusca persona muses, and one senses how very likely a proxy it is for the poet herself.

Bishop is not the only writer to have found solace or some of herself in a snail. Her coil-shelled critter was an homage to a paean by her mentor Marianne Moore. Moore’s “To a Snail” is a discourse on poetics that culminates “in the absence of feet” and “the curious phenomenon of your occiptal horn.” Moore seized on the snail’s self-sufficiency and endless ability to contract, praising its “grace” and “modesty.”

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