Adele and Gilbert



Canto III: Inside the Beguinage

 Hooded Forms and Clustered Beguines: Inside the
 Beguinage 1

“An elder beguine greeted me
Then took me by the hand
And led me to the hearth’s low fire
To warm before its brands.

“The hearthside lay within a recessed
Alcove lined with stones,
Which radiated warmth that thawed
My body to the bone.

“The cozy alcove seemed to have
A climate of its own
And glowed with warmth reflected by
The hearth’s embedded stone.

“The chapel hall was planted thick
With candelabra groves,
Where weeping tapers took to root
And blossomed to a glow.

“The candlelight’s mild golden mist
Immersed the chapel hall,
Distilling to an aureole
Upon its ashen walls.

“But outward, at the corners, where
The walls were edge to edge,
’Twixt arcing swaths of light, were swaths
Of baleful darkness hedged.

“Within the darkened crooks, there hovered
Cryptic hooded forms,
Each crouching, wrapped in silence that
Enclosed the nooks they swarmed.

“The aural cream of candlelight
Was mingled and imbued
With musty whiffs of earthy musk,
A censer’s fumes subdued.

“Within the musk-infuséd glow,
Posed beguines robed in white,
A’cluster into bevies, faces
Waxing scarlet, bright.

“A low and whirring current of
Expectant tension gripped
The whispered conversations humming
Off the beguines’ lips.

“The clustered beguines, one by one,
With unconvincing ease,
Stole glances at the hearthside as
My heart began to seize.

“I felt the flash of darting eyes
Undress my mounting fears,
Which rose the more they fixed on me
Their subtle, thieving leers.

“Each beguine’s eyes did jealousy
And malice keenly dress,
Conveyed to me along with smirks
And sneers their casts confessed.

Tainted Wine in a Blasphemous Cup: Inside the Beguinage 2

“The matron of the Beguinage,
Libation held in hand,
Approached and proffered heated wine
To sip before the brands.

“She handed me a golden grail,
Which cupped a musty wine
Whose etching bore a myriad
Of mystic words and signs.

“The clouded vintage bore the taint
Of moldy earthen smut,
But, parched, I sipped it eagerly
Until I quaffed the glut.

“The more I sipped the tainted wine,
The smoother grew its taste
Until I didn’t sense the scum
With which it had been laced.

“Between the quenching sips, my gaze
Embraced the cup’s designs,
Which deft and practiced hands had wrought
By subtly warping lines.

“The swirls, disarming, leveraged my
Simplicity and pride
To prompt me to permit them to
Escort mine eyes as guide.

“The swirls created icons meant
To swamp the nous with awe;
As planned, my wit was overcome
 By what it was I saw.

“My passive eyes were led to letters,
Linked about the grail,
Which spelled out ‘canaan, nahash, seraph’—
Other snakes as well.

“A serpent crowned with halos wound
Its way around the grail,
With letters spelling ‘Gnosis’ etched
In Greek upon its scales.

“Three coils were looped about its length,
Which held three different scenes:
The first, austere; the next, sublime;
The hindmost etch, obscene.

“Within the foremost coil, God
The Father’s hand inscribed
Commandments for the guidance of
A wayward, wandering tribe.

“Inside the midmost coil, Christ,
Impassioned on the cross,
In sorrow wept, observing chancels
Sprouting from the dross.

“The hindmost coil was looped to close
 Upon the serpent’s tail
And trebled in its scope the space
The other two entailed.

“The circuit was divided into
Separated bands
By smaller serpents slithering
A border ’cross the spans.

“Above the topmost border bowed
A novice weighed with chains,
Who wore a tattered habit smudged
With swill and vulgar stains.

“His eyes were cast upon the fields
Of blasphemy and sin
That lay beneath the segment where
The novice had been penned.

“Betwixt the border, bodies of
A brethren interlaced
In wild, grotesque contortions, forming
God’s disfigured face.

“The brethren were exalted beghards,
Robed in silk attire,
Transfigured by their halos, which
Were etched as rings of fire.

“The tessellated face looked down
Upon the field below
And showered with grace abounding the
Approval it bestowed.

“Beneath the second border was
A set of satyrs shown
Engaged in every form of sin
The righteous would disown.

“I cannot bring myself to voice
The words that would describe
The aberrant and base conceits
Perverted hands inscribed.

“So evil were the images
That, senseless, I released
From trembling hands the goblet,  
Splashing dregs on my pelisse.

“I watched the matron fetch a cloth
I thought she’d use as sop
But, stunned, observed her roughly smear
The filth ere it could drop.

“Aghast, I stood in utter shock,
Obsessing on the sins,
My hands cupped ’round the voided space
Where blasphemy had been.

“Without a word, the matron took
The cup and left the hall,
And frigid air swept, howling, through
The door of her withdrawal.

“Somnambulant, the matron didn’t
Bother to reclose
The chapel’s clapping portal, leaving
All to be exposed.

Of Shadows and Shadowy Forms: Inside the Beguinage 3

“A hidden whip-hand flayed the hall
With flails composed of air,
Which snapped the beguines’ habits ere
They swept the altar bare.

“The suddenness with which the flails
Chastised the chapel hall
Delivered beguines senseless, and
They quivered, held in thrall.

“The horror-stricken beguines clutched
Together in a mass,
Too stunned to shut the door against
The flagellating blast.

“The north wind’s whipping currents caused
The candles’ flames to slant
And briefly cast their glowing blush,
Like batting eyes, askant.

“The candle’s fleeting glances briefly
Lit the darkened crooks
Where wall met wall and shadowed forms
Crouched, hidden in the nooks.

“The forms were hooded beghards
Wearing mottled russet robes
Who seemed to shrink away from light
When light their persons probed.

“Each hooded aspect shimmered in
A different arc of light,
Dependent on the blinking candles’
Heights and lines of sight.

“One’s flattened nose receded here,
Another’s brow lay back,
And yet another’s jawline jutted
Outward, hanging slack.

“Yet, each reflecting pair of eyes
Seemed strangely to project
Rectangular and slitted pupils,
Loathsome in effect.

“Anon, the north wind’s scourging pace
Redoubled with a gust
That swept away the candles’ flames
But billowed pungent musk.

“Beyond the hearthside alcove, leaden
Darkness filled the hall,
Excepting where the hearth cast forth
A shaft that pierced the pall.

“The gleaming shaft of glimmered light
Illumed upon a wall
A fresco of the blesséd Virgin
Weeping in Her shawl.

“The blast that snuffed the candles’ lights
Deflected round the ’cove,
Where, midst the calm of glowing warmth,
My guileless spirit hove.

“It hovered whilst my shadow’s gloom,
Which lay upon the wall
Opposed to fire, aligned with pitch
Encompassing the hall.

“My shadow, though impalpable,
Seemed weighted with regret,
Embraced by light from gentle flames
That foiled the silhouette.

“I saw it when I cast about
To seek the hidden source
Of footsteps soft’ approaching on
A dark and windswept course.

“Ere long, the north wind ushered in
A dainty pair of feet,
Which carried forth a phantom to
The alcove’s warm retreat.

Sœur Agnes: Inside the Beguinage 4

“Just then, a cherished visage dove
Within the pool of light,
Which splashed about its pillaged features
Hues revealing blight.

“I hadn’t seen Sœur Agnes since
The springtime when thou left
And, shaken, gazed on ravaged beauty
Victimized by theft.

“The cherub’s face I’d known before
Had blanched an ashen shade,
Except for sunken crescents where
Her sockets had decayed.

“A crosshatch quilt of scaly hide
Defaced her furrowed brow,
And desiccated flakes of flesh
Trespassed her wilted jowls.

“I spied another feature that
Augmented my alarm:
The streaks of blood that stained her habit,
Glistening and warm.

“Her eyes bespoke a resolution
Wavering of fear,
As if a recent shock had left
Her courage in arrears.

“She drew beside me, pressing close,
And then, with batting eyes,
Revealed a soulful sorrow, which
Near’ left me paralyzed.

“She grasped my hands with swollen palms,
Her teary eyes remote,
Then placed them on her venter, which
Had ripened to a bloat.

“My gaping lips hung speechless, and
Removing trembling hand,
I pleaded with mine eyes for her
To make me understand.

“She pressed her parched and trembling lips
Against mine anxious ear
And softly sobbing, whispered weakly,
Just so I could hear.

“A patch of goose-flesh rose about
My neck then quickly spread
Across my breast then down my limbs
Whilst, breathlessly, she said,

“‘Adèle, thy soul’s imperiled by
A dark and wicked art,
Which, ere the sun has risen, shall
Have rent thy soul to parts.

“‘This springtime past an evil hand
Descended on this house
And stroked it to a passion that
Mere virtue couldn’t douse.

“‘Tonight the evil hand returns
To ply again its charm
As leverage—that the caution of
Thy virtue be disarmed.

“‘And if thy virtue stands as proof
Against a charm so vile,
Beware the proffered cup of wine
That’s laced to dull thy guile.

“‘And if the charm and tainted wine
Should fail to warp thy wit,
The evil hand will flex its power
To make thy flesh submit.’

“Whilst Agnes spoke the last, I felt
My heart a beat elide.
‘Dear God,’ I said, ‘you’ve come too late;
The potion’s been imbibed.’

“My plight aroused Sœur Agnes to
Engage an inner strength,
Which mounted and transformed her fear
To fortitude at length.

“The while, her eyes reflected fear
Then certainty then hate
Then cold resolve to circumvent
The instrument of fate.

“So steeled, she said, ‘pray follow me;
We cannot tarry here.
The philter’s power, within the hour,
Shall warp thy senses queer.’

“That said, she wrapped her arms about
My fright-enfeebled frame
Then bore my weight against her bulk
Whilst, desperate, she explained,

“‘The Matron left to rouse the wretched
Prophet whose vile seed
My womb transformed to innocence
From evil bitterweed.

“‘His henchmen hide inside the hall
Within the darkened bends
To mask their looming presence
And the evil it portends.

“So cling to me and let us use
The darkness as a lee
To shelter us from watchful eyes
Whilst silently we flee.’

“We left the alcove’s glowing warmth
And dove within the gloom
Then dodged around shaft of light
That made the fresco bloom.

“The sinews that had braced my shanks
Began to slack then melt,
And rather than their buttress, just
Their quivering was felt.

“I closed mine eyes and whispered Psalm
One nineteen’s final verse
Whilst howling gales of winter wind
Impeded our traverse.

“We veered in staggered patterns ’cross
The creaking wooden floor,
Our clumsy movement muffled by
The gale that rushed the door.

“’Twas only Agnes’ strength of will
That let her bear my weight
And draw my quaking, leaden mass
To spite my pending fate.

“The moments passed like hours before
We reached the clapping door
And turned in hope of finding that
Our flight had been ignored.”


Excerpted from Adèle and Gilbert © 2022

About this poem

The poetry in the post is an excerpt taken from a long narrative poem titled Adèle and Gilbert. The poem is a work of historical fiction set in gothic France. The narrative involves two young loves who were separated by circumstance. Each having reason to believe the other dead, over the course of twenty years, they travel separate pathways to a chance reunion on the doorsteps of a church in an obscure village. In a series of confessions, Adèle and Gilbert depict the calamities that befell them during their travels. Afterward, they unite to confront a specter risen from Adèle’s past. The poem is preceded by a prose introduction in which a fictitious super narrator provides the poem’s fictional provenance and other information pertinent to the poem. The poem includes a prose introduction, a prelude, thirty-nine cantos, and a coda. The poetry provided in the post is excerpted from Canto III. In Canto II, part of which is excerpted and posted elsewhere on this site, Adèle received erroneous news of Gilbert’s death. The next morning, she went to seek out Gilbert’s spirit at a stream that had served them as sanctuary since childhood. There, she met a scarlet-clad beghard who attempted to persuade her to visit the beguinage later that night. After returning home, Adèle experienced a vivid daydream, which she took to be a divine prompt to accept the beghard’s invitation. After an eventful passage, Adèle entered the beguinage, where the events depicted in Canto III take place. Adele provides the narration, as quoted by Gilbert to the reader. 

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Submitted by carton78 on December 14, 2022

Modified on April 30, 2023

10:21 min read
336

Quick analysis:

Scheme Text too long
Closest metre Iambic tetrameter
Characters 11,242
Words 2,068
Stanzas 92
Stanza Lengths 1, 2, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 1, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 1, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 1, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 1

D. S. Fly

D. S. Fly is a garage poet who wanted to be a storytelling poet from the time he read the Classics Illustrated version of the Iliad to write a book report in Junior High School. (That effort did not turn out well.) more…

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2 Comments
  • karlcfolkes
    Good classical storytelling; and the 8-6-8-6 measure gives this narrative poem a delightful flow.
    LikeReply1 year ago
  • teril
    You are a great storyteller. Your rhymes are easy and pull the story forward. Your images are vivid. Your excerpt leaves me wanting more: What will happen to them as they escape out into the night?
    LikeReply1 year ago

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"Adele and Gilbert" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2024. Web. 15 Jun 2024. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/146577/adele-and-gilbert>.

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