Cadwyn o gerddi sy'n dathlu bywyd John Mandeville ac yn rhoi llais iddo - cymeriad o'r Oesoedd Canol a ddaliwyd rhwng daear ffisegol a symbolaidd, a rhwng byd crwn ac un y mae Jerwsalem yn ganolbwynt iddo.
A sequence of poems that celebrate and give voice to John Mandeville, caught as he is between physical and symbolic geographies, between a world that is round and one that has Jerusalem at its centre.
In Mandeville Matthew Francis explores questions of faith, reality and how language makes, un-makes and re-forms the reader's world. He takes as his tap-root text the 14th century pilgrims' guidebook and digest of travellers' tales ‘The Travels of Sir John Mandeville’. This was a very influential but suspect text compiled from several earlier narratives by a historically untraceable Anglo-Norman knight.
Matthew Francis transforms the rambling reference book into a narrative series of 40 poems describing a single protracted journey. This proceeds from 'our islands on the world's edge', through the relatively familiar pilgrim routes to the Mediterranean, Egypt and Jerusalem, then into fantastic realms of the Indies and Cathay to the very gates of Paradise and home to write what: ‘is true, or as good as, or once was.’
Why does Francis choose to speak through this shadowy figure to a modern audience which knows that barnacle-geese do not gestate on the hulls of ships and that nowhere, not even in: ‘the highest place in the world/ Almost touching the moon' will they find ‘the garden of Adam and Eve'? Partly, perhaps, because those readers still love to suspend disbelief, `desire to hear of unfamiliar things' and enter created worlds. Mandeville knows that the world is round and can be circumnavigated but also 'knows' that the site of the Resurrection is ‘the gold pin piercing the centre of the world' - as we live in a stable, material world which we know is hurtling through space and composed of atoms whose structure is mainly void.
Francis takes us through Mandeville's widening experiences and sensations - the physical realities of travel - from the 'up-and-down of a wooden ship' then along darkening paths becoming ‘the memory of a path/ and branches happen in your face at the last moment', through the strangeness of things losing their proper names to foreign tongues and into his new identity as a traveller whose 'home' is the ever-changing ‘straggle of walkers and riders' on the road south.
Francis balances brilliantly the fantasy and the realism of his narrator. He may tell us of the Phoenix and of giant ants which mine gold, but his personal sensations are so vivid that we go with him every step of the way.
The poem 'of Relics' speaks from within a mediaeval consciousness which believes 'there is light in these objects and pardon for your sins' while aware that some must be false, but whose mere description has virtue. His expression of these 'spiritual shinings', ‘the leaping-out of what God locked in’ speaks of both the power of faith and of a poet's imagination.
Mandeville moves through a world of divine signs, sometimes clear - as the cross within a banana - more often ambivalent. He is on a spiritual quest as well as a material journey but its lessons remain mysterious - the only 'real' thing left in the Temple of Jerusalem is the site of a dream. After Galilee, we move into truly uncharted lands haunted by ancient magic, where diamonds grow as well as peppers. Sometimes we are given both the story and what it felt to be inside it: assassins weep for a Paradise, amazons play with their children, a tartar dies alone in his yurt.
Mandeville, in his farewell, speaks of his words as the travellers and makes us aware that it is the poet's words alone which have taken us on this journey which he invites us to continue.
This truly delightful book and its entertaining guide give us a fascinating insight into what it is to travel, to wonder and to believe.
It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgment should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.
Gellir defnyddio'r adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatâd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.