The Long Text
After a vision during severe illness, Julian of Norwich
c. 1343-1416, wrote Revelations of Divine Love. An early
version extended over years into a more elaborate work
known as The Long Text.
They say she kept bees, that men bartered meat
for prayers and honey. They say she had a cat.
They say Christ came to her bed once, as intimate
and certain as death. And if she chose a cell, it was
to anchor his tenderness. If she took up knitting,
it was to go time after time into the same stitch,
to revisit that night like a widow reliving her wedding,
memory augmenting what could not bear to be lost.
They say she revered the sky because at his end
it splintered and grew dark. The first time she put
her shewings into words, it was a few sheets of vellum.
Twenty years on, she needed sacks of oak apples for ink.
They say she made one-ing into a verb, that hers
was the first book by a woman in English,
though she is known by the name of a man.
Many things get lost in churches. What is the word
after all, but an alias for the love that drew crowds
to the space in her cell we’d call a window, those sailors
trudging from docks to beg protection from waves
and pestilence. Then she’d tell them falling and rising
are the same when seen from the seeing of love,
that ‘if there is on this earth a lover of God who is always kept safe,’
she knew ‘nothing of it.’ But yes, she would entreat blessings
on their sweethearts and babies. Her own child, they say,
was taken by the plague. Possibly her husband too.
We all have our ways of coping with grief. They say
her cell was pungent with mugwort, sage, lavender.