In the latest issue:

Loathed by Huysmans

Julian Barnes

Too early or too late?

David Runciman

Short Cuts: Five Victorian Marriages

Tom Crewe

Society as a Broadband Network

William Davies

Indefinite Lent

Thomas Jones

In 1348

James Meek

The Yorkists

John Guy

At the Movies: Pasolini’s ‘Teorema’

Michael Wood

Whitehall Spookery

Neal Ascherson

Poem: ‘The Bannisters’

Paul Muldoon

Clarice Lispector

Rivka Galchen

Marius Petipa

Simon Morrison

At the Foundling Museum: ‘Portraying Pregnancy’

Joanne O’Leary

Gordon v. O’Connor

Rupert Thomson

Revism

Joe Dunthorne

Poem: ‘The Reach of the Sea’

Maureen N. McLane

Diary: Where water used to be

Rosa Lyster

How to set up an ICU

Lana Spawls

An Instance of NecromancyJonathan Aaron
Close
Close
Vol. 24 No. 1 · 3 January 2002
Poem

An Instance of Necromancy

Jonathan Aaron

417 words

In his ‘Autobiography’, Benvenuto Cellini (1500-71) tells of summoning demons in the Roman Colosseum with the aid of a priest adept in the black arts. The next night, in hopes of clearer communication with the underworld, they return and call up the demons again.

This time his spells produce
a larger, more unruly crowd from hell.
The priest looks pleased, a little anxious, too.
‘Benvenuto,’ he says, ‘ask them again.’

Cellini repeats his request: Unite me
with Angelica, who’s stuck in Sicily
under the watchful eye of her suspicious mother.
Two other friends, plus an innocent

shopboy from his studio brought along
to soften the devils’ hearts,
nervously attend to the perfumes
and incense needed to keep the whispering

spirits at a distance. ‘They’re saying,’
the priest explains, ‘that you’ll find yourself
where she is in about a month.’
But now things take a nasty turn:

the infernal creatures, far more of them
than the priest had meant to summon,
start to advance, flexing their claws
and stingers, flapping their wings.

Thoroughly spooked, these being
‘the most dangerous of all
the denizens of hell’, the priest tries
talking to them ‘softly and gently’,

but he’s wasting his breath.
Four ‘enormous giants’ have arrived.
A terrible buzzing racket is getting louder
The whole Colosseum is bursting into flame.

Showing, in his words, ‘marvellous
bravery’, Cellini rallies his cowering
companions. Then, to their astonishment,
they hear the pealing of matin bells.

As the heights of the famous ruin take shape
in the oncoming dawn, the devils murmurously
disperse, some casting angry backward
glances, others looks that say

they know too well where they are.
Cellini and the rest abandon their smoke pots
and bouquets of magic herbs. Holding on to each other
like schoolchildren, they hurry from the stadium,

already laughing at the risk they’ve run,
looking forward to breakfast or spending the day
in bed, Cellini, as usual, eager to finish
yet another bauble for the future

to marvel at. His shopboy anxiously
points out that a couple of devils he saw earlier
are traipsing along ahead,
now on rooftops, now on the unswept street.

Which is where Cellini leaves them marooned
on an early morning in 1534,
two imps who could pass for chimney sweeps
standing open-mouthed, amazed

at how the sun flows on stucco and stone, how the air
carries with such tenderness and force
the aroma of baking bread, the yapping of dogs,
the voices of people talking to each other.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences