The Monoglyphs of Yvsūssuē

Simon Whitechapel

Boswell Syme tells of some monks who ate Henbane roots for supper by mistake: “One rang the bell for matins at 12 o’clock at night; of those who attended to the summons, some could read, others fancied that the letters were running about like ants, and some read what they did not find in their books.”

         Brian D. Morley’s commentary on Plate 38 (Hyscyamus aureus et al) of Barbara Everard’s Wild Flowers of the World (1978).

The monastery of Yvsūssuē  had been sacked uncounted times by soldiers or banditti, for it lay by fixed design in a pass between two oft-warring kingdoms and the tides of conquest and retreat flooded over it now east, now west, scouring its pardish stones for loot and bullying, and entirely unmonking it two sackings in three. It attracted no powerful patrons in the capitals of either kingdom, accepted no high-born scions therefrom for training, had no especial fame or reputation therein, but had outlasted dynasties now in one, now in t’other, and would outlast them again.

For unmonked it would be remonked, like the bowl of a summer-parched pool filling with autumn rains. Banditti ostracized by their confrères and traders wearied of their commerce would recall quiet tales of the peace it offered, and would have but to drink water wherein a lichened stone had lain overnight to read and learn the theogonies, theodicies, and theophthories of its scriptures. Aye, its scriptures were its lifeblood, flowing down the centuries, and had they been destroyed with an unmonking, the monastery were dissolved at last. But the monastery was rarely set afire, for bundles of moss and lichen were heaped throughout its scribaria and libraries, certain to send up far-seen warning-plumes for east or west, and all papyral texts were carved also on stone here and there on the walls of the pass, lectible by fingertip to him lowered thereto on ropes.

Nor did soldiers recognize much worth in the monastery’s books, for the monachal script wherein they were written invoked naught save laughter or disdain in the uninitiate, comprehending as it did but a single character in a single mode. Yet draughts of lichen-water unsealed the inner ear, whereby the lector by eye or fingertip heard the syllable droned on the creation of each monoglyph by the scribe or sculptor. Thus the creed of the monastery survived to insist down the centuries on the ultimate transience of all hope, all life, all matter, and to teach meditations wherein the monks saw first the mote of the body against the vastness of the Earth; next the mote of the earth against the vastness of the Universe; last the mote of the universe against the vastness of Eternity; and in this way achieved an enviable and lasting æquanimity, proof against all vicissitudes of temporal fortune.

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