The Duc de Berry’s Hours
after Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, by Limbourg Brothers (France), c.1412-1416
The calendar in the Très Riches Heures
du Duc de Berry shows the year. For time
extends beyond the day’s hours, to the play
of holiday and season. There is blue
and red and green and gold on Earth, in cloth,
in cup and plate, in January’s gifts.
The sky’s in blue and gold. The duke is too.
In February, there is snow. The sky’s
in Pisces and Aquarius. A man
is chopping wood. The sheep are in their pen.
Come March, there’s plowing. On the castle keep,
a dragon perches. Folk are at the work
of tending to the vines. And then come April,
the woods are in leaf. A gay company
stands in the meadow: gold, magenta, blue.
In May, these folk are mounted. They’ve arrived
at the Hôtel de Nesle with its blue roof.
The sky of June’s in Gemini and Cancer –
they’re making hay. And in July, the sheep
are in the fold to be shorn. August is
a time for falconry, as in the field
go scythe and wagon working. Come September,
we harvest by Saumur or eat a grape.
October’s sowing. In November, swine
obey the swineherd under Scorpio.
Then, come December, with a pack of hounds,
we’ll see a wild boar run to ground. The year
has played out in the Book of Hours and brought
us back to Christmas. Off beyond the trees
stands Vincennes. People do their work. The rich
perform the task of gentleness, afoot
or mounted in their blue and gold, as those
they rule work in the fields. The air above
maps out the zodiac. Another year,
another harvest. And the sky is clear.
John Claiborne Isbell
Since 2016, various MSS of John’s have placed as finalist or semifinalist for The Washington Prize (three times), The Brittingham & Felix Pollak Prizes (twice), the Elixir Press 19th Annual Poetry Award, The Gival Press Poetry Award, the 2020 Able Muse Book Award (twice) and the 2020 and 2021 Richard Snyder Publication Prizes. John published his first book of poetry, Allegro, in 2018, and has published in Poetry Durham, threecandles.org, the Jewish Post & Opinion, Snakeskin, The HyperTexts, and The Ekphrastic Review. He has published books with Oxford and with Cambridge University Press and appeared in Who’s Who in the World. He also once represented France in the European Ultimate Frisbee Championships. He retired this summer from The University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley, where he taught French and German and coached men’s and women’s ultimate. His wife continues to teach languages there.
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