Jubilate Agno

Christopher Smart (image taken from his Wikipedia entry)

This site is inspired by the line from the eighteenth-century English poet Christopher Smart (1722-1771) which lies at the heart of this quotation from his long poem ‘Jubilate Agno’:

Let Hushim rejoice with the King’s Fisher, who is of royal beauty, tho’ plebian size.

For in my nature I quested for beauty, but God, God hath sent me to sea for pearls.

Let Machir rejoice with Convolvulus, from him to the ring of Saturn, which is the girth of Job; to the signet of God – from Job and his daughters BLESSED BE JESUS.

For there is a blessing from the STONE of JESUS which is founded upon hell to the precious jewel on the right hand of God.

Smart wrote ‘Jubilate Agno’ over a period of four years (1758/9-1763), while incarcerated in a lunatic asylum. It was not published until 1939, and not in its correct order until 1954. It follows the antiphonal pattern of classical Hebrew poetry, with Let verses answered by For verses. The work is a hymn of praise, with erudite and allusive references to literary, philosophical, Biblical and personal themes. The poem is in four ‘fragments’, and these verses come from Fragment B, numbered B30 and B31. ‘Hushim’ means one of the sons of Dan (Genesis 46:23). ‘Machir’ was the son of the patriarch Massaneh (Joshua 17:1). According to Karina Williamson and Marcus Walsh:

B31, written on 7 August, the Feast of the Name of Jesus, prompts one of Smart’s most complicated exercises in allusion (the choice of ‘Convolvulus’ is not fortuitous). The linking idea is that of divine blessing, symbolized by ‘girth’ (i.e. girdle or cincture, hence the association with ‘ring’), as in the proverb ‘ungirt, unblessed’. Smart’s specific reference is to God’s exhortation in Job 38:3 (’gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee’), but the girdle is a common biblical symbol for righteousness and faithfulness. The girdle/ring association leads on to the ’signet’, which is a symbol of God’s blessing in Jeremiah 22:24. The ‘Stone’ refers both to the biblical designation of Jesus as the corner-stone of the true faith, and to the patristic identification of him as the ‘pearl of great price’ (Matthew 13:46).

Christopher Smart: Selected Poems, ed. Karina Williamson and Marcus Walsh, Penguin Books, 1990.

The full text of ‘Jubilato Agno’ can be found at http://www.pseudopodium.org/repress/jubilate (though for the ‘definitive’ version one should use the Williamson and Walsh edition cited above). The quotation is in Fragment B, 1.

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