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Behind the Mask: 2 Anons

All Saint’s Day 2018

Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition, defines “anonymous” thusly:

1. with no name known or acknowledged

2. given, written, etc. by a person whose name is withheld.

The anonymous authors of these two poems from the sixteenth century are, I believe, in the second category: writers who wished to remain anonymous, for reasons unknown, reasons perhaps good, but reasons personal, even private.

That their literary creations have survived down the centuries, despite, or even because of, their Anonymity is a feat to be celebrated. I applaud the anonymous voice, especially in today’s world where each sham of a syllable shrieks from an unmasked face of grotesque hatred. The Saints are not happy and neither am I.

The Anonymous Writer of the Middle Ages and early Renaissance was often an individual of the priesthood or the aristocracy. There was no middle class, only the rich and the poor. For the most part, the poor did not write because the poor did not read, a dreadful circumstance that Johannes Gutenberg and the moveable type of his printing press began to correct sometime in the 1450s.

By 1455, Gutenberg had printed the Bible — just in time — because Herr Gutenberg badly needed the money.

The invention of the printing press was arrived at through methodical and costly printing experiments by Gutenberg and through Machiavellian financing by a wealthy investor, Johannes Fust. The start-up costs, or capital investment, for the machine that would alter the world were . . . significant. The two men did not agree on the precise objective of the loan. Herr Fust wanted a safe, quick return on his 800 guilders. Herr Gutenberg sought the perfect refinement of his momentous creation.

The two men became not merely estranged but enraged. The lawyers then got involved. It was a simple case of a punctual payoff for the financier versus the professional paragon pursued by the inventor. Fust won the court battle, but history shows that Johannes Gutenberg won the legacy:

a Forty-two Line Bible with his name. The masterpiece of the Lord thereby also became the masterpiece of Johannes Gutenberg.

Gutenberg sold the now-historic Forty-two-Line Bible to pay off Fust, but this financier was vindictive and greedy. He wanted not merely money, but control of the moveable type for the Bible; the moveable type for Gutenberg’s other printing opus, a Psalter; and other printing equipment that would assure the future success of Gutenberg. Fust won those tangible assets, along with the 800 guilders that initiated this revenge lawsuit.

Fust then proceeded to print his own Psalter, with the assistance of a former employee of Gutenberg who went over to the Enemy to obtain a by-line on this Book of Psalms which were, in truth, the works of the Lord.

Financier Fust got the gold mine and Genius Gutenberg got the shaft.

History, of course, records Johannes Gutenberg, and not Johannes Fust, as the man who changed the history of man. And those records are in concordance with the ripeness of the will of the Inventor whose works became lawyer fodder way back in the 1450s.

To write, and publish, anonymously probably emerged as a safe strategy, a guarded means by which to pen your thoughts and at least enjoy the sight, and sounds, of them without threat of financial ruin from a potentate or powerful person who became a ferocious litigant. “Lawsuits” of the Medieval and Renaissance Eras were swift and brutal. No appellate courts back then. The axe fell fast! Consider the fate of Sir and Saint Thomas More.

During those epochs, lawyers, or barristers, cost plenty pounds of flesh to any and all involved. The reign of King Henry VIII brought debacles, legal and otherwise, for England, those ill-fated wives and the monarch himself while he desperately searched for his legitimate male heir.

A sense of security, and stability, aids any writer in the artistic realm. The works of William Shakespeare were largely produced while he nestled safely in the patronage of Queen Elizabeth 1 and then of King James 1. Blessed with royal beneficence, the Bard somewhat daringly played with his literary boundaries by criticizing his Queen.

One unvarying theme of Shakespearean plays is the secure and stable society assured through the peaceful transfer of power from one ruler, or monarch, to the next one. The lack of a successor, and progeny, through Queen Elizabeth I troubled the Bard to no end.

Anonymity is a safe shelter during hazardous times. The writings of these two individuals date from approximately 1600 in England. The time and the place are decidedly Renaissance, an age when the concept of the individual began to triumph. Those days could nonetheless feel very dark, with plague and persecution: religious, personal, and professional.

These poems by Anonymous 1 and Anonymous 2 are from The New Oxford Book of Sixteenth Century Verse, chosen and edited by Emrys Jones.

The names of these writers are anonymous but their words speak with delightful definitions of love and reality in acknowledged ways that are amusing and uplifting, even inspirational. Witty, touching, wonderful, these poems can bring light to the night — or day — of any anonymous modern man or woman.

Anonymous 1

“How to Obtain Her”

The more ye desire her, the sooner ye miss;

The more ye require her, the stranger she is;

The more ye pursue her, the faster she flyeth;

The more ye eschew her, the sooner she plyeth.

But if ye refrain her, and use not to crave her,

So shall ye obtain her if ever ye have her.

Anonymous 2

“Were I as base”

Were I as base as is the lowly plain,

And you (my love) as high as heaven above,

Yet should the thoughts of me your humble swain

Ascend to heaven, in honour of my love.

Were I as high as heaven above the plain,

And you (my love) as humble and as low

As are the deepest bottoms of the main,

Whereso’er you were with you my love should go,

Were you the earth (dear love) and I the skies,

My love should shine on you like to the sun,

And look upon you with ten thousand eyes,

Till heaven waxed blind, and till the world were dun.

Whereso’er I am, below or else above you,

Whereso’er you are, my heart shall truly love you.


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