Tag Archives: Latin

A Memorable Phrase (2)

A couple of weeks ago, in “A Memorable Phrase”, I wrote about how such a phrase could generate thoughts and ideas leading to the creation of a poem.  Another of my poems was inspired by the phrase “Noli me tangere”.  Explaining the gestation of this poem, however, is slightly more complicated – due to the fact that, initially, I had no idea what “Noli me tangere” meant!

I can’t recall how or when I first encountered the phrase, but it was definitely long before the onset of the internet.  Nowadays, of course, if you are curious about the meaning of any phrase or saying, you can just type it into a search engine and hey presto!  That means of instant knowledge was not available to me, at the time.  Had I been a proficient Latin scholar, the meaning would have instantly disclosed itself to me; but I was hopeless at Latin at school, and so remained in ignorance.  Over a period of time, the phrase started to hint at images and ideas, which I began to form into a poem.  The sort of images I was conjuring with were exotic and sensual.  I suppose “tangere” suggested “tangerine” to me and – somehow or other – I connected it to Paul Gaugin’s paintings of Tahitian women.  Gaugin often gave titles to such paintings in broken Tahitian, and I was convinced –  erroneously, as it turned out – that he had entitled one of these paintings “Noli me tangere”.  At some point, whilst I was still in process of completing the poem, I managed to find out that the phrase translated as “Don’t touch me” or “Touch me not”, and I then incorporated that meaning into the poem.  It was only after the poem was completed that I discovered there was a long cultural history  relating to the phrase.  It was, apparently, the phrase attributed to Jesus, talking to Mary after the Resurrection, and many paintings by famous artists explore the subject.  My poem makes no reference to that theme, which may perplex some readers; but I think it works in its own right, suggesting images and feelings that had their own meaning for me, at the time.

Noli me Tangere:

One of those phrases,
emitting a resonance,
glimmering, gleaming.
I knew not its meaning,
but felt it entrance,
heard it breathing.

“Touch me not.
Touch me not.
My skin seeps softly.
My blood is hot…”

Relentless whispering
unsettled the night;
tormenting, impinging
on dawn’s early light.

Entangled, threshing,
musk of tangerine.
Her presence flickering,
haunting my dreams.

Our bodies rhythmically,
tangentially come and go.
Linked, hypnotically,
in sinuous tango.

“Touch me  not.
Touch me not.
I come from a land
that time forgot …”


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