‘In Manus Tuas Domine,’ knightly words muttered from his lips, sword crossed, battle rite at the night, ready to part, hit and slip at whatever comes from the infernal dark. The knight, unfazed as a rock, faces the unknown and lost. Behind his eyes is a soul that refuses to shy; sword-straight, point never lost, plunged into the glen that arches into the dark. Our mighty hero is laureled by its branches, each growing green lips, while pointers around his faulded hips are let slip. The gallant steed places hooves on Cowslip as his rider’s silvered body reflects the light—beautiful like Miriam’s lips. His helmet’s buckled, its feathery plume of pink—hard for it to be lost! The flume of bold scars the landscape’s dark. Strapped to his back is a shield, printed with a suit of sables—not black, but not dark against the eventide; brushstrokes speak of him defying The Lost. Head full of maxims, teaching the importance of never letting the guard slip, he sinks into the sea of ink with retribution on the lips. Can you imagine him reciting the lines upon such brazen lips? Cries for God, Harry and Saint George, as he ducks, weaves and deftly slip drawn swords and loosed arrows—lost. Some time, in some place, the knight will fall, his body will be lost, cast into the eternal night for a death in the dark. To him, it matters not— ‘a fulfilled wish’ muttered from his dying lips.
In Manus Tuas Domine is a Latin phrase which, when translated into English, means ‘Into thy hands O Lord, I commend my spirit’. Though, ironically, this phrase has died in the memory of English speakers, it survives within the painting that inspired this poem.
When I saw Briton Riviere’s ‘In Manus Tuas Domine’, I wasn’t awestruck by the image of a knight on horseback itself. While fabulously painted, the main figure of the painting was secondary to what he represented. Within each brushstroke, Riviere had captured an idea, a message: That making sacrifices, even sacrificing oneself, in the pursuit of overcoming an inner demon or a fear, is the highest demonstration of character…
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© Thomas Gallimore Barker, 2021
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