… and a law unto itself. Having given mine over to the acquisition of facts, academic analysis, and sleeplessness, the arrival of a poem was unexpected. It is always fascinating to see what turns up; on this occasion there is a slightly inverted relationship to the day thoughts, as the poem is about going to sleep, but the reproachful tone is a considerable surprise.
but I can see why poets might feel that their poetry comes from outside themselves, and blame their muses, or, occasionally, the Person from Porlock. Even the small verses which arrive at the point of my inexpert pencil can be beyond all accounting. Today’s required me to look up the specific gravity of human arms and legs. And write that value into the verse.
If it’s my subconscious speaking, what in the world is it/she doing in there?
I’ve just had an ill-omened poem in seventeen lines.
They have reached W now. Hurray!
In another vein, I found this little treasure.
I expect everyone else knows about Tan, but I didn’t. Grandpa’s story had great charm, and Night of the turtle rescue was brief and bold (and tough). But I think my favourite was Distant rain, about the reciprocal gravity of unread poems; close to my heart.
lxvi : Have a dream
… apparently induced by propping myself up, covers to chin, listening to the house for an hour as it rattled and creaked in the squalls. It seems it was quite a cheerful dream, though the only wrack of it left behind was strange enough to grow a not-sonnet. I’ve called it Superstition.
I procrastinate before jumping, but, once in, the water is fine.
Returning to Treharne’s lovely fat anthology, I’ve reached the Old English Judith. It took a while to read this relatively short poem. I’m not fluent enough to cope on my own, but have to crib from the parallel translation, which requires protracted eye-swivelling between pages (ow!). Also, there is not always a one-to-one verbal correspondence between each line of the two renderings, so if it isn’t obvious which OE word means what, one must have recourse to a dictionary. Luckily there are several online, though not always easy for a novice to find what is required.
Worth the bother? Oh yes. Especially if you like alliteration and onomatopoeia and polysyllables. And sounding the final e.
bealde byrnwiggende bold mail-coated warriors
hloh ond hlydde, hlynede ond dynede he laughed and got loud, roared and clamoured
wundenlocc braided hair
Obviously from now on part of my morning routine will involve doing my wundenlocc; but top favourite today was hildenædran. Turns out that nædre means snake or viper, so perhaps we should say ‘a nadder’ rather than ‘an adder’. Also turns out that hildenædran are war vipers = arrows. Got to love those Anglo-Saxons.
And the poem? Well, there’s a splendid dramatic irony as the Assyrians booze themselves drunk and incapable, while Judith, decorated with bracelets and rings, is brought to the intending rapist’s bed; and yes, a certain admiration, as she coolly arranges Holofernes’ neck so she can take a really good swing at him. So I read Judith once, and then went to Michael Drout’s Anglo-Saxon Aloud website, following the written poem again while he pronounced it, with the thespian relish those lovely vowels deserve.
For reasons too complicated to go into, this has been my latest read:
I had a disdainful nose in the air before I began, but to my annoyance soon began to chuckle (oh dear, I must be a girl after all). The elaborate typographical jokes were a slight pain, but Kuenzler is rather good on the sausage dog so long that his back end was always doing something completely different from the front end. And on the Dingley Dell wedding with man-sized squirrel. Also rather good on the uncle who, trying to please his new fashionista girlfriend, has smartened himself up, and refuses to go to the playground in case he gets his suit dirty, to the horror of his niece:
“Was this the man who had driven across the Sahara Desert in his underpants because his shorts were holding the engine together? …”
Then today was bleak indeed, and raw; the flat sky dribbled a few mean little flakes and it was a good day to stay in, knitting lethargically, daydreaming, and reflecting on the vagaries of literature. And in idleness I had a snow poem; all eight lines of it. The insufficiency of the fall required no more.
(I’m guessing here.)
It takes two minutes to write the first four lines.
It takes an hour and a half to write the next five and a half lines.
It takes three hours to revise the nine and a half lines.
It takes three days to find the correct epithet for line 7.
It requires a currently indefinite period to decide what to do about the half line. Options:
- Rewrite it to become a whole line (but will that weaken it)
- Take a half line out somewhere else and join up the two remaining halves
- If so, which half line should be axed and how can the disjointed be conjoined?
- Think of some extra statement and incorporate the half line into it so that there is an even number – say twelve lines
- … but what’s wrong with odd numbers and anyway I like asymmetry
- Say sod it and keep the half line to give it prominence and clunk
- Put the nine and a half lines in the bin
Since I really like three of the lines and the half line this debate may take some time. Indeed, six months on I am still searching for a vital word in another short poem. No Complete Works to be published any time soon, I think. And then it may only have eleven pages.
See, it all comes down to motivation. Ignoring the watering, the guinea pigs, the dinner, the dust, and a letter from the local council which requires me to reply, I parse slowly through the next Old English poem, consulting two online dictionaries and two paper glossaries and propping myself up with Treharne’s parallel translation, mouthing aloud like a 45 rpm single being played at 33. And I’m still battling with the inflected endings. For word-fanciers, the rewards are considerable.
maðm (treasure) seemed strangely familiar until I found and remembered Tolkien’s mathoms
breostcofa (breast chamber, heart)
Occasional phrases are beginning to pop into meaning without dictionary, sometimes carried to sense by their cadence:
fæst is þæt eglond fenne beworþen (that island is secure, surrounded by fens)
ne swete forswelgan ne sar gefelan (not taste sweetness nor feel pain)
bihongen hrimgicelum; hæl scurum fleag (hung about with icicles; hail showers flew)
Occasionally a word knocks me back because of modern English’s Romance language inheritance. I know it means ‘splendidly adorned with gold’ or perhaps ‘proud’ or ‘stately’, but when I read ‘wlonc’ … it just comes out as wlonc.