In the medieval period the viewer of the Signs of Plenty was expected to submit intellect and will to the spiritual authority of Church, Tradition, and Scripture. The splendor of the renditions of familiar scenes from the biblical story was meant to move all people upward to the supra-mundane region where faith would fill the mind and gratitude the heart. At the end of the 12th century, the Order of Time (ordo temporis) still guided the medieval order of things: Ordained by the creator for the duration of his creation, Hegel's spurious infinity, the temporal order's three stages were extolled by each panel as the pattern for the history of the whole world; and this pattern was to be discerned, in miniature, in each human soul's innately given potential for growing in virtue, especially hope, faith, and love. The warrant for the Order of Time was to be found in the testimonies of biblical allegories as put forward by Augustine in his City of God.

Both the literate and the unlettered contemplated the images depicting biblical scenes that revealed Time's sacred story. Sunday and Holyday they listened to sermons raising their own lives to the level of signs unfolding to the slow beat of the repetitive rhythms of Western Christianity's liturgical year. The literate could also read each image's circumscription with its instruction on how to interpret its meaning within the typological, i.e., figurative schema. A few of the learned may have known scripture well enough to tell which passages undergird the panels' cosmic, yet anthropocentric, arrangement in its doctrinal completeness. The Order of the Virtues, popping up in gussets between panels, merges antiquity's main classical virtues with Christian doctrine. Each image has its own circumscription and, taken together, they define the Order of Time as humankind's slow, irreversible progression from receiving the gifts of life, growth, and compassion in the beginning, to the divine pronouncement of the dreaded just sentence on Judgment Day.

Today, the panels' reader is no longer instructed and constrained by authoritative interpretation. He is free to accept the work's challenge and respond with his own cognitive and affective ways as best he can. The web's hypertext features permit analytical readings that give unprecedented access to information and open up new possibilities for serious scholarship.- The first time reader may want some pointers on how to proceed. She or he are invited to experiment along the lines of a method used by Wallace Stevens (*see footnote) in his poem 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. Stevens, thinker and poet, displays in his poem a modern phenomenological method based on the knowledge that a thing only appears to our senses as a thing, and not just as blurry sense data, when it has a recognizable name. He uses the conjunction of name and thing as a kind of pretext for the mind's innermost cognitive powers to screen visible and invisible patterns from a dual, i.e., elliptical, focus. In tandem, intelligence and imagination discern patterns produced by the mind's heeding the oscillations attending the interchange of properties of name and thing. Reflecting on the experience later, the poet gives communicative form to experiential realities hitherto hidden. On rare occasions, this truth-seeking method is mid-wife to a poem that reveals, in new guise, the code of algorisms which underwrite the mind's conscious experience. Senses and intellect, imagination and memory, intuition and empathy, all combine in the great desire to know world and self in truth. Readers who are intrigued by this integral method of inquiry can acquire it for their own use if they really wish to do so and get ready to practice on blackbirds and panels.

As jeux d'esprit, Stevens' method has been adapted in the 13 stanzas below.


Among seventeen golden panels,
The only moving thing
Is the eye of the viewer.


I am of three minds,
Like the Order of Time
In which there mingle three ages.


Tossed to and fro we whirl in tempests.
A small part of the pant-o-mime
brought here to a standstill.


You and I
Are one.
The other and I and you
Are to be one.


I do not know which comes first in my affections,
The voice while speaking or
Memory's echo, when
Time's sound image subsides
And new sense shines through panels.


How remote are the pictures
In life's cathedral windows when
The shadow crosses
Over and someone asks who is that
big blackbird?


O dreamers of Islam,
Why do you imagine canaries of precious metal?
Do you not see the tree's blackbirds
The women around you?


I know noble accents,
And light-filled rhythmic pulses; and my
Ignorance of the
Blackbird is hidden in these panels.


When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It left its footmarks on a circular cloud
On the horizon.



At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bells of St. Andrew
Ring out profanations.


The blackbird saw me ride
A Greyhound bus
Whose shadow made me shudder;
My eyes chasing the afterimage
Of a flock.


The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.
The panels shine.


Cold, the snowcovered
Blackbird fluffs its feathers, awaiting the
Invasion of night.


Footnote: "Any truth can be manifested in two ways: by things or by words. Words signify things and one thing can signify another. The Creator of things, however, can not only signify anything by words, but can also make one thing signify another. One lies in the things meant by the words used-- that is the literal sense. The other is the way things become figures of other things, and in this consists the spiritual sense."

Thomas Aquinas in "Quaestiones quodlibetales" VII. 14

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