[Click on the images for a bigger, better view.]
Have you heard of The Shambles? It's the Yorkshire version of ambling, twisting, turning, narrow, cobbled streets of medieval York.
However, there's also an actual lane called The Shambles, which is considered to be one of the best preserved medieval streets in Europe. It even has a mention in the Doomsday Book (commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1086). The street that you can visit now has been modernized since then with buildings from the 14th and 15th centuries. (Modern is as modern does, eh?)
The name, Shambles, is Anglo-Saxon in origin; shammel meaning shelves, and stands for the shelves that were commonly found in most open-front shops.
The street had many butcher's shops, their homes, and also slaughterhouses. The meat was hung up on meat-hooks for sale on the outside of the shops with smaller pieces set out in shop window shelves for display. Lacking a sanitation system, the pavements of the street were raised on either side of the street to provide a channel for washing off the blood and offal that naturally ended up on the street.
The winding lanes, which surround The Shambles, are so narrow in spots that if you walk down the lane with your arms outstretched, you can touch the buildings on either side of the lane. This is not a design by a drunk architect, a resettling of buildings over time, or the building McMansions in tiny spaces. Medieval towns were deliberately built like this.
In The Shambles, the overhanging timbered fronts of houses were close-set on purpose to protect the wattle-n-daub walls below and also to prevent the meat from spoiling due to inclement weather.
So there you have it. The next time you visit York, be sure to include this spot in your itinerary of places to see.
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
[Click on the images for a bigger, better view.]
Monday, July 28, 2014
In his blog, Food History Jottings, Ivan Day tries to dispel many of the myths and outright falsehoods that written about the history of British food. Ivan's website, Historic Food, chronicles his life and all his activities of being a celebrity chef.
In his own words, Ivan Day is an independent social historian of food culture and also a professional chef and confectioner. He runs practical courses on all aspects of British and Italian food history at his home in the English Lake District. He is also the author of a number of books and many papers on the history of food and has curated many major exhibitions on food history in the UK, US, and Europe.
It was by a lucky coincidence that I came across Ivan's blog on a medieval meal at Gainsborough Hall. After reading it, I asked his permission to quote and paraphrase parts of his post and also use his images here. So all the quoted text and images are copyrighted to Ivan Day.
Here're some excerpts from his work for KBS, the South Korean equivalent of the BBC, on authentic English medieval food and dining. For their show A Food Odyssey, KBS didn't wish for the popular versions already available from many sources, but were looking for someone with well-cemented historical research credentials, who was a celebrated chef to boot.
"My aim was to accurately recreate an ambitious medieval meal in a high status household, so we chose to film at Gainsborough Hall in Lincolnshire with its wonderful great hall and kitchen complex. I enlisted the help of the outstanding re-enactment group Lord Burgh's Retinue, who regularly work at the hall. [...] At Gainsborough we filmed a high table sequence led by Paul with full Plantagenet dining ritual, from Latin grace and blessing to washing of hands with an ewer and basin. The table and buffet was dressed correctly for the period and there were demonstrations of carving, sewing, and correct service."
The roasting range in the kitchen of Gainsborough Hall, above, was "probably being used for the first time in four hundred years as it was intended, for roasting a full range of meats and poultry for a high status meal. A goose sawce madame, four rabbits, four mallards, a woodcock, and other game birds roasted on the hand-turned spits."
Here're some pictures of some of the foods that were served at the feast.
A chastelet, a pie made in the form of a castle with different fillings in each tower, awaits a spectacular flambé with brandy before being brought to the table.
An early fifteenth century gingerbread coloured with red sanders wood is ornamented with box leaves pinned on with cloves.
The pièce de resistance: A soteltie waits to be taken to the top table. This was originally made by Ivan's incredibly gifted friend and colleague Tony Barton for his 2003 exhibition, Royal Sugar Sculpture at the Bowes Museum.
Friday, July 25, 2014
The ancient Library of Celsus is located in the Anatolian city of Ephesus, now part of Selçuk, Turkey. It was built by and named for the Roman Senator Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus. Construction on the library began in 117 CE and was completed in 120 CE. The Romans were among the earliest peoples to build public libraries for scholars and common people to come in and peruse the texts. The collections boasted a wide range of topics and local and internationally sourced texts, in the original or copied by scribes.
[Click on the image for a better look.]
Posted on: 7/25/2014 08:57:00 AM
Copyright 2007–2014 Keira Soleore (keirasoleore.blogspot.com)
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Anyone who has visited Bath, England comes away with loving memories of a city rich in history and beauty. As Samuel Johnson [1709–1784] wrote: "Let me counsel you not to waste your health in unprofitable sorrow, but go to Bath and endeavour to prolong your life." For seventeen centuries, the City of Bath has hosted visitors from all walks of life believing exactly that. There's this fan of Bath, H.V. Morton, who in 1927 wrote: "I like Bath. It has quality. I like Bath buns, Bath Olivers, Bath chaps, Bath brick, Bath stone (which to my London eyes is the beautiful sister of Portland stone), and watching the Bath chairs dash past." Honestly, do you see any denizen of a Bath chair (AKA wheelchair) wanting to dash about the steep hills of the city?
Please visit the Risky Regencies blog is see the rest of my post on the City of Bath.
This is my second post for the Riskies. The first post is here all the way from April 2008. I'm so chuffed to be writing for them. The Riskies was the first blog I visited when I started my Internet adventures in 2006. That it dealt with the Regency period of British history and featured authors writing romance stories set in that time period were definitely its biggest draws. I since have stayed on as a reader all these years because of the personalities of the authors writing the blog. So do join me there.
Monday, July 21, 2014
This summer, the Seattle Public Library is challenging its adult readersto read widely across the romance genre. To aid this process, the library blog has created a hand-dandy detailed checklist of subgenres and sub-subgenres.
The subgenres included are: contemporary, historical, paranormal, inspirational, romantic suspense, young adult, new adult, and a miscellaneous section.
The contemporary subgenre, for example, includes these sub categories: Straight Contemporary, Cowboy, Cop, Military, Sports-centered, Tattooed, Pets and Vets, Small Town, Firefighters, Medical, LGBTQ, and Multicultural/multiracial. You can also write in your own.
When I looked at the historical sub-subgenre categories, at first glance, I thought it was very inclusive: Regency, Rome, Middle Ages, Victorian, World War II, 1950s, Men in Kilts, Asian, Flappers, and Pioneer/Cowboy/1800s American West. Some might consider this sub-list to be not very inclusive since, for example, LGBTQ and Tudor among others are not listed and neither are many international categories, such as Egyptian, Middle Eastern, etc.
Then again, some readers might consider the list to be a little too inclusive, since historical romances are considered to be stories set in time periods prior to the Great Wars.
Since I was on the fence there on what exactly went into the historical romance bucket, I threw out the question to the authors, readers, editors, and agents on my Twitter list to see what people thought of this. Here are some of their responses:
@IsobelCarr I think Mad Men, Masters of Sex, & tons of BBC/PBS shows have shown ppl like 40s-60s as "historical"
@Miranda_Neville WWII & later seem really popular in hist fic - or mainstream fic
@esisogah will say that I know of several hist rom that are Downton insp. from NY publishers
And there were other such responses. What it seems is that while publishers of other fiction are pushing the boundaries on historical fiction, there's no consensus on what romance publishers are willing to publish.
Readers are television viewers, too, and at least in that medium they are branching out of the strictly "Before the Great Wars" line for historical dramas. So there's very likely a demand for romance novels set in those same time periods that are not currently being catered to by the publishing industry.
As we move further and further into the twenty-first century, we will even see the 1970s-era culture coming under the historical umbrella. (Ahem, that means, I will officially become historic. My children already consider me prehistoric.) I wonder if and when romance publishers will follow suit.
[Edited 7/25/14: The new rules for the RITA award by the Romance Writers of America states that historicals are those written about time periods prior to 1950.]
Friday, July 18, 2014
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
As part of Wendy Crutcher's 2014 TBR Challenge, here are my brief comments on Word Wizard: Super Bloopers, Rich Reflections, and Other Acts of Word Magic by Richard Lederer.
Lederer enjoys setting language issues to verse to better illustrate his point. "In letter play, beheadment is the lopping off of the initial letter of a word."
The prelate did relate a tale
Meant to elate both you and me.
We stayed up late and ate our meal,
Te Deum sang in key of e.
This is sheer brilliance, and there are many instances of brilliance throughout the book. Sidney Sheldon calls Lederer "The True King of Language Comedy." And I concur. I have been a long-term fan of his Anguished English books. So a few years ago, when the opportunity arose to attend a talk by him, I jumped to it with alacrity. Turned out, he was just as funny in person as in his books. Sometimes people are good in one forum (speaking or writing), but rarely in both.
He charmed the entire room with his anecdotes, witty replies to questions, and his hilarious dramatization of the difference between lay and lie. Then in a funny "contradiction" to his demonstration, he recited his poem, titled Take the Money Enron:
The difference between lay and lie
Has fallen into deep decay.
But now we know from Enron's shame
That Lay and Lie are just the same.
He was the consummate showman that day with the urge to teach and to explain. That persona also comes through in this book Word Wizard as well. The book is a collection of his best and most popular pieces. Here are some highlights.
Bloopers: Lederer considers himself a watcher of word-botchers. Lederer says, "These masterpieces of mangled messages are far funnier than anything I could fabricate from whole cloth, even cloth with a lunatic fringe." For example, this is a headline in a small-town newspaper: "Grandmother of eight makes hole in one"—would this be a murdering grandmother or a golfer? Another example from a student essay: "The equator is an imaginary lion that runs around the world forever." Gray Davis, governor of CA once famously said, "My vision is to make the most diverse state on earth, and we have people from every planet on the earth in this state." Lederer chastises him, "Oh, how the mighty have fallen—usually on their mouths." One last example from a student essay: "Romeo's last wish was to be laid by Juliet."
Verb Tenses: English is fraught with some of the most irregular verb tenses of any language. For example, a woman asked a Boston cab driver where she could get scrod. "I didn't know that the verb had that past tense," muttered the cabbie. Another example from A Tense Time with Verbs:
The verbs in English are a fright.
How can we learn to read and write?
Today we speak, but first we spoke;
Some faucets leak, but never loke.
Today we write, but first we wrote;
We bite our tongues, but never bote.
Lederer believes that "When a reader performs aerobics of the mind and push-ups of the brain to explore a linguistic concept, language play becomes language power." So here are some word patterns to add to your vocabulary.
Kangaroo Words: smaller, sub words that are synonyms to the main word and with letters in the same order. For example, diminutive and minute, flourishing and lush, blossom and bloom.
Spoonerisms: oops, slips of the tongue that occur in conversation. For example, loving shepherd and shoving leopard, punny phony and funny pony, speeding rider and reading spider.
See a clever, heeding rabbit
Who's acquired a reading habit
Sitting on his money bags
Reading many bunny mags.
Homonyms: clusters of words that are spelled differently but sound exactly the same. For example, a naked grizzly is a bare bear, a pony with a sore throat is a hoarse horse.
One night a knight on a hoarse horse
Rode out upon a road.
This male wore mail for war and would
Explore a wood that glowed.
Anagrams: a new word created out of the same letters of another word. For example, I, a magnate gateman who patrols these portals with your kind permission, have the impression that you brand me a blabbing, babbling funfair ruffian, a has-been banshee, a tearing ingrate, infield infidel, and errant ranter.
Trigrams: three anagrams of the same word. For example, alerting, altering, and relating; do you observe the obverse of the very verbose?; he will be busy mastering emigrants streaming into the tent.
Making the case for Lost Words, "the winking out of words of our youth." For example, "Back in the olden days, life was a real gas, a doozy, a dilly, and a pip; flipsville, endsville, the bee's knees, the cat's whiskers, the cat's meow, and the cat's pajamas; far-out, nifty, neat, groovy, ducky; beautiful, fabulous, super, terrif, sweet, and copacetic. We'd cut a rug in some juke joint and then go necking and petting and smooching and spooning and billing and cooing and pitch woo in flivvers, tin lizzies, roadsters, hot rods, and jalopies in some passion pit or lovers' lane."
Lederer's love of reading blossomed at a very early age and since then, through books, he has conversed with "thousands of people, ancient and contemporary, learned and light, who have set their humanity to paper and crafted language into literature." He considers himself privileged to have had access to all of this knowledge, for as Ben Franklin once said at a dinner party in Paris, "A lonesome man on a rainy day is one who does not know how to read."
Thursday, June 19, 2014
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
As part of Wendy Crutcher's 2014 TBR Challenge, here are my brief comments on The Girls' Book of Wisdom: empowering, inspirational quotes from over 400 fabulous females edited by Catherine Dee.
This book is where the thoughts of hundreds of women over the past two centuries have come together to share their experiences, their wisdom, and, yes, their dreams. The hope of the book is that girls reading it will be inspired to look at themselves and the works with new eyes, with new awareness.
The book covers twenty five topics across a wide spectrum of daily life, such as confidence, creativity, adventure, style, believing, leadership, moods, friends, self reliance, freedom, and giving back. The book ruefully acknowledges that knowing is not doing, but it hopes that it does light a bright fire throughout the book that makes the contents sufficient encouragement for girls to come forward and enact their passions.
The book opens with a chapter on Beginnings. How do you begin your day—with anticipation, a lets-see attitude, a determined conviction that it is going to be wonderful or ...? The advice from various women is that it is important to decide to be appreciative of every moment of every day, be it basic chores, the known, and the unexpected. "Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow." —Mary Jean Irion, writer and teacher.
About Self-Awareness, the book asks: Do you know what you are thinking about, feeling and saying, and what and who impresses you? Knowing who you are is essential to your life. It allows you to make smart decisions about your life and accomplish what you want in life. Professor and software engineer, Marsha Kinder, advises: "Don't let others define you and tell you what you like or don't like, or what you or can't do."
Believing in yourself is the way you can achieve your goals. Believe in your abilities and trust that you can figure a way out of adversity. "The body achieves what the mind believes," according to sailor and rower Amy Fuller. Isn't that succinct and beautiful? Believe in your ability to do it and you will rise up to the challenge and do it. Evelyn Underhill, a Victorian mystic, is even more exact: "It looks impossible until you do it, and then you find it is possible."
This segues right into Success. "Ninety eight percent of success is in the head and the heart," said swimming Cathy Ferguson. Another swimmer, Nicole Haislett, support this: "Ultimately, success is not measured by first-place prizes. It's measured by the road you have traveled: how you have dealt with the challenges and the stumbling blocks you've encountered along the way. Akin to Believing, business exec Rosa Diaz says, "You must visualize yourself as a success in order to be successful."
And what is the secret of Success? It's not brilliance, but plainly and simply Hard Work. "Winning isn't about miracles on ice, it's about the training," says Olympics figure skater Michelle Kwan. Lisa Loeb, singer and songwriter, believes: "It would be magical to believe in fate, but I don't know if I do. I believe in working hard and being open to situations and opportunities."
Editor Catherine Dee posits: "The power of Laughter lies in its ability to improve your state of mind." Such a simple thing, really, laughter, and yet, we do so little of it. If we could notice humor in the mundane and high comedy in the unusual, life would not only be bearable but also enjoyable and desirable. Recently deceased poet and activist, Maya Angelou, once said, "Laugh as much as possible, always laugh. It is the sweetest thing one can do for oneself and one's fellow human beings." Laughter begets happiness and happiness is contagious.
There are many, many such bon mots by noteworthy women in this book. It is a fabulous young-adult book, but also a wonderful book for adults to return to, time and again.
Saturday, May 24, 2014
Friday, May 23, 2014
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
As part of Wendy Crutcher's 2014 TBR Challenge, here are my brief comments on The Prophet by the Lebanese poet and philosopher Kahlil Gibran.
The Prophet has been continuously in print since 1923. My copy is the 120th such printing. Having read it, I feel so blessed to have been born in a time period when something like this was written and available for me to read.
The book is a series of 26 prose poetry essays. The prophet, Almustafa, has lived in the city of Orphalese for 12 years, waiting for the ship to arrive that will return him to the home he has always longed for.
When his ship finally arrives and he's about to depart, the seeress, Almitra, requests him: "Now therefore disclose us to ourselves, and tell us all that has been shown you of that which is between birth and death." At this Almustafa wonders: "Shall the day of parting be the day of gathering? And shall it be said that my eve was in truth my dawn? [...] If this is my day of harvest, in what fields have I sowed the seed and in what unremembered seasons?" And then he proceeds to tell them in words what he knows they already know in their thoughts and in their souls.
He talks to them about: love, marriage, children, giving, eating and drinking, work, joy and sorrow, houses, clothes, buying and selling, crime and punishment, laws, freedom, reason and passion, pain, self-knowledge, teaching, friendship, talking, time, good and evil, prayer, pleasure, beauty, religion, and death.
I am certainly not qualified to analyze this work in its entirety—I don't even understand it all. So I'm going to offer you little sips of this boundless ocean of knowledge, the parts that reverberated with me and that I comprehended.
Of Good and Evil
We always worry about appearing weak instead of strong, of bad instead of good. We worry about the face we present to the public and of people's perception of us. He addresses that thusly: "You have been told that even like a chain, you are as weak as your weakest link. This is but half the truth. You also as strong as your strongest link. [...] That which seems most feeble and bewildered in you is the strongest and most determined. [...] You are good in countless ways, and you are not evil when you are not good." So Almustafa says don't value only what you perceive are the good things about you and discount what you perceive are the bad. Learn to appreciate both, because both are your strengths and both are your weaknesses.
"To measure you by your smallest deed is to reckon the power of the ocean by the frailty of its foam." Isn't that gorgeous imagery? And then here's what I find completely beautiful and inifinitely encouraging: "And though in your winter you deny your spring, yet spring, reposing within you, smiles in her drowsiness and is not offended." This brings to mind something that Albert Camus wrote in his essay Retour à Tipasa (1952): "Au milieu de l'hiver, j'apprenais enfin qu'il y avait en moi un été invincible. (In the midst of winter, I learn finally that there is within me an invincible summer.)"
With small children of my own, I was deeply interested in his thoughts on children. What he had to say is especially relevant in today's culture of helicopter parenting and tiger moms. "You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls. You may strive to like them, but seek not to make them like you."
There's that tired phrase: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This is how Almustafa puts it: "Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror." You are beautiful. In the absolute. Internalize it, own it.
Of houses he wrote that your place of dwelling should not be a place of comfort. That's shocking, isn't it? After all, home is synonymous with comfort for many of us. And yet, he says: "Have you only comfort [...] that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes [...] a master? Verily, the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul." When we surrender our souls to comfort, we become sluggish, dependent, unthinking, un-striving. We become less, rather than more. Instead, his vision of a house is thus: "[It] shall not be a glistening film that covers a wound, but an eyelid that guards the eye." A house should nurture the striving passion of the soul, not hide what you may perceive are your failures and hurts.
What he has to say about marriage is not anything new or on the scale of an epiphany. And yet it has great impact in its concise sparseness. "Love one another, but make not a bond of love. Let there be spaces to your togetherness. [...] Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone." In other words, don't cleave to the other person. A marriage doesn't create a single unit, two halves of a whole. Rather, each person remains an individual and the joy is in the recognition of that and the sharing of that.
Don't we all wish for this?—"It is well to give when asked, but it better to give unasked, through understanding." Well, we wish to be in position of the givee, if you will, not necessarily seeing ourselves as the giver in that equation. Especially from our loved ones, we wish that they would give us our heart's desire or even the ordinary kindnesses without our having to ask for every one of them. But Almustafa turns that desire around. Why wouldn't you want to be in the position of being the giver of this largesse? For as he sees it: "All you have shall some day be given [away]; Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors'."
I am awed by this all. There's so much, much more in that work to mine for goodies, nuggets and tracts to treasure. I am sure I shall be reading it many more times, and each time, I shall come away having learned something new.
Friday, May 16, 2014
Monday, May 12, 2014
According to Merton College, the oldest piece of paper in Oxford University dates from 1335. It had been discovered in the nineteenth century but had been lost in the archives due to inadequate record-keeping. In addition, it had gotten mixed up in a large collection (think: thousands) of medieval documents. Luckily, conservators Jane Eagan and Andrew Honey found it during their preparation of items for the college's spring library exhibition, Merton 1264, to commemorate the college's 750th birthday this year.
Since paper-making wasn't introduced to northern Europe until the late fourteenth century, the paper itself is suspected to have come from Italy, France or Spain, or perhaps even the eastern Mediterranean.
What does the document say? "It is one of a number of supporting documents attached to the account roll of John de Viliers, bursar in 1334-5, and comprises a list of luxury foodstuffs, including rice, sugar, spices, and dried fruit."
Below images are copyrighted by the Merton College of Oxford University and used with permission. Click on each image to see if you can decipher any words. Look for gynger and raysins.
Friday, May 9, 2014
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
The Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye has become famous for its secondhand and antiquarian bookstores. Currently, there are about thirty major bookshops in that small town. Some of the bookstores are listed here.
The town is also home to the well-known Hay Festival. Hay is, in Bill Clinton's phrase, "the Woodstock of the mind." The festival runs from May 22 to June 1 this year. The full program is available here.
Here's a description of the festival: "Hay gathers people together to think about the world as it is and to imagine how it might be. It's a big conversation about discovery and intellectual adventure. We share stories and ideas with great international writers and thinkers, film-makers, historians and novelists, philosophers, environmentalists, poets and scientists. And at night we like to party with the greatest comedians and musicians. It's a bunch of mates hanging out in a field with time to think, finding the inspiration to re-imagine the world. Let’s celebrate the power of language and the pleasure of debate."
Monday, May 5, 2014
"Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating." So saying, John Cleese lays down the methods you can incorporate into your life to invite creativity in. You can't guarantee anything, but this handy-dandy how-to guide is a way to inspire creativity within yourself.
Before getting into the details, what is an open versus a closed mind needs to be clarified. "We need to be in the open mode when pondering a problem, but once we come up with a solution, we must then switch to the closed mode to implement it. Once we’ve made a decision, we are efficient only if we go through with it decisively, undistracted by doubts about its correctness." Thus, the open mind phase is the creativity phase and the closed mind phase is the implementation or action phase.
Writing is an inherently creative activity, and thus writers need to operate in the open mode all through their period of production. Paradoxically, writers dread entering that zone. Once there are in it, though, they usually enjoy themselves, but they love it best after they've exited that mode. Writers, famously, don't like to write, but like to have written. If, however, creativity is a learned skill, then the more you practice it, the easier it'll get to descend into the creative mode.
Without further ado, here are the five steps...
Creating the Oasis
1. Space — "You can’t become playful, and therefore creative, if you’re under your usual pressures, which would dictate a closed mode. Seal yourself off. Make a quiet space for yourself where you can be undisturbed."
2. Time — "It’s not enough to create space; you have to create your space for a specific period of time." To add to that Johann Heisinger says, "Play is distinct from ordinary life so as to its locality and duration. It's secludedness, it's limitedness."
Using the Oasis
3. Time — "Give your mind as long as possible to come up with something original, and learn to tolerate the discomfort and anxiety of pondering time and indecision."
4. Confidence — "Nothing will stop you being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake." Alan Watts adds, "You cannot be spontaneous within reason. You have to risk doing and saying silly, illogical drivel."
5. Humor — "The main evolutionary significance of humor is that it gets us from the closed mode to the open mode quicker than anything else. It is an essential part of humor. Laughter bring relaxation and humor makes us playful, and neither make the important and serious things any less important or serious. They allow you to puncture egotism and ceremonious pomposity to get to the underlying creativity."
A corollary to the presentation is that a problem is more likely solvable if you simply stick in the discomfort zone of unsolvability for a long enough amount of time. Thus, you need all five of the above steps in order to have the tenacity to find a solution or write that fight scene or that final symphonic movement.
Friday, April 25, 2014
According to social historian of food culture and professional chef Ivan Day, "The roasting range in the kitchen of Gainsborough Hall, probably being used for the first time in four hundred years as it was intended, for roasting a full range of meats and poultry for a high status meal. A goose sawce madame, four rabbits, four mallard, a woodcock and other game birds roast on the hand turned spits.
[Image copyrighted by Ivan Day. Used with permission.]
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
A while back, a Facebook meme was going around about putting up a poem of a poet assigned to you by a friend and tagging others and assigning poets. I was assigned Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney. He was considered one of twentieth century's greatest of great poets. In addition to his own œvre, his translation of the Anglo-Saxon prose in verse Beowulf is known to be the definitive transcription.
Beowulf is longest epic poem in Old English with more than 3000 lines. It was composed by an unknown Anglo-Saxon poet in ~700 CE from stories that originated in 500 CE. However, the only surviving manuscript (located in the British Library) is from 1000 CE. In the nineteenth century, Beowulf began to gain prominence among scholars of Old English. However, it was only in 1936 that Oxford scholar J. R. R. Tolkien brought recognition to it as a serious work of art. Heaney's translation sealed its reputation by bringing in into the realm of the accessible and thereby making it popular and readable.
Many of the characters in the poem are actual historical figures of pre-Anglo-Saxon times. While the characters in the poem definitely follow the old religions, the poet, who wrote it all down, was definitely Christian. So an imposition of Christianity on undoubtedly Pagan rituals, events, and thoughts is obvious.
From the British Library: "Beowulf is a classic tale of the triumph of good over evil, and divides neatly into three acts. The poem opens in Denmark, where Grendel is terrorising the kingdom. The Geatish prince Beowulf hears of his neighbours’ plight, and sails to their aid with a band of warriors. Beowulf encounters Grendel in unarmed combat, and deals the monster its death-blow by ripping off its arm. There is much rejoicing among the Danes; but Grendel’s loathsome mother takes her revenge, and makes a brutal attack upon the king’s hall. Beowulf seeks out the hag in her underwater lair, and slays her after an almighty struggle. Once more there is much rejoicing, and Beowulf is rewarded with many gifts. The poem culminates 50 years later, in Beowulf’s old age. Now king of the Geats, his own realm is faced with a rampaging dragon, which had been guarding a treasure-hoard. Beowulf enters the dragon’s mound and kills his foe, but not before he himself has been fatally wounded. The poem closes with the king’s funeral, and a lament for the dead hero."
A few of my favorite passages from Seamus Heaney's translated work:
So. The Spear-Danes in days done by
And the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns.
The fortunes of war favored Hrothgar.
Friends and kinsmen flocked to his ranks,
Young followers, a force that grew
To be a mighty army. So his mind turned
To hall-building: he handed down orders
For men to work on a great mead-hall
Meant to be a wonder of the world forever; 70
It would be his throne-room and there he would dispense
His God-given goods to young and old—
Grendel makes his presence known...
Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark,
Nursed a hard grievance. It harrowed him
To hear the din of the loud banquet
Every day in the hall, the harp being struck
And the clear song of a skilled poet
Telling with mastery of man’s beginnings,
The arrival of Beowulf...
The leader of the troop unlocked his word-hoard;
The distinguished one delivered this answer:
"We belong by birth to the Geat people
and owe allegiance to Lord Hygelac.
In his day, my father was a famous man,
A noble warrior-lord name Ecgtheow.
He outlasted many a long winter
And went on his way. All over the world
Men wise in counsel continue to remember him.
We come in good faith to find your lord
And nation’s shield, the son of Halfdane.
Give us the right advice and direction.
We have arrived here on a great errand."
The man whose name was known for courage, 340
The Geat leader, resolute in his helmet,
Answered in return: "We are retainers
From Hygelac’s band. Beowulf’s my name.
If your lord and master, the most renowned
Son of Halfdane, will hear me out
And graciously allow me to greet him in person,
I am ready and willing to report my errand."
Friday, April 18, 2014
What a graceful dancer. Madagascar's Verreaux's sifakas is dancing here in the Berenty Nature Reserve. It is a medium-sized primate in one of the lemur families. The fur is thick and silky and generally white with brown on the sides, top of the head, and on the arms. The face is black and hairless and the long tail is used as a balance when leaping from tree to tree. Its body is so highly adapted to an arboreal existence that on the ground its only means of locomotion is hopping (which is highly unusual).
[Image copyrighted by livescience.com.]
[Image copyrighted by Kevin Schafer of arkive.org.]