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I think the term was ‘pelican daughters’, I said to Brassie. Have you read King


No, should I have?

Well, it’s where you see the trouble with familial ingratitude, and virtue having

to be its own reward, I expounded.  It’s the same with A Winter’s Tale. 

By the time some people view things clearly and they understand compassion

and forgiveness, it can be too late for any joy in this Vale of Tears.

Life is too short to bear grudges, she agreed.  People can be so gullible

and take everything at face value.

King Lear again, I agreed.  Anyway, I was intensely struck by a misericord a

few years back.  I wasn’t aware of the iconography, but I felt the symbolism


Vulning is the technical word.

What’s that? she asked.

Oh, it’s sacrificial wounding.  I read it in a description of a book

called Physiologus, about animals, created about 200 A.C.

Are you going to post another poem? she sighed.

Well, it is one that I wrote a long time ago, but maybe it needs an airing

in Holy Week.



A pelican bends her sinewy neck

towards a famished and clamorous brood.

Her ruffled breast is rent by one sharp peck.

She feeds her offspring with her own lifeblood.

Now phoenix-like, amid a flickering fire,

her neck is arched; her throat emits no cry.

The suckling of her children then conspires

to pierce her very heart and suck her dry.

And, as I look, the bird has disappeared.

Gross, engorged chicks ignore what she bequeathed.

And, one by one, these darlings that she’s reared

cannibalise their siblings, claws unsheathed.

But there’s another version that I’ve read:

how male bird, suffering insurrection,

struck by the chicks, twisted each little head.

Three days on, he witnessed resurrection,

having pierced and sacrificed his own blood,

in order to revive his own dear brood.