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‘Henry Harclay’s Ordinary Questions’

It was known
that Alexander
had fixed gates
across the chasm
east of the Caspian sea
that enclosed
those almost people
who performed
and the rest.

And it was known
if even one
got through
those gates
(made by the
welding of two
it would be
a signal
of end times
of final reckoning
and judgement.

who had studied
with Scotus in
Paris noted
that Tartars
Magyars and
Mongols had
worked their way
through that
passage for
seven centuries
at least.

The end times
were a long
time coming.

Tim Dooley teaches at the Poetry School.

“‘Henry Harclay’s Ordinary Questions’ is a poem that will be included in my new collection, Weemoed, which will be published by Eyewear in October and which is one of this Winter’s Poetry Book Society recommendations. The Poetry School has recently negotiated reading rights for its tutors and MA students at the Warburg Institute in Bloomsbury. I’ve taken advantage of this to do some reading about the development of Europe in the middle ages. I came across a book of essays called The Edges of the Medieval World (edited by Gerhard Juritz and Julian Kreen published by the University of Central Europe). Among the subjects dealt with were the hazy ideas Europeans often had of those that lived beyond their borders. I was amused by an observation made by Henry Harclay (who was chancellor of Oxford University in the early 14th century and a sceptical secular theologian). It seemed very relevant to the rhetoric around migration in our own time. The poem I developed from his comment seemed to fit well with others in Weemoed that have to do with the persistence of the past in the present.”

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