Friday, 30 September 2011

A Twilight Song: The Lea Rig

This song is by Burns, of course; its supremely jolly tune can be heard all over youtube, but I'm partial to this version. It has seemed appropriate over the last few sunny days of September, with their fiery twilights.

When o'er the hill the eastern star
Tells bughtin time is near, my jo,
And owsen frae the furrow'd field
Return sae dowf and weary O;
Down by the burn, where birken buds
Wi' dew are hangin clear, my jo,
I'll meet thee on the lea-rig,
My ain kind Dearie O.

At midnight hour, in mirkest glen,
I'd rove, and ne'er be eerie, O,
If thro' that glen I gaed to thee,
My ain kind Dearie O;
Altho' the night were ne'er sae wild,
And I were ne'er sae weary O,
I'll meet thee on the lea-rig,
My ain kind Dearie O.

The hunter lo'es the morning sun;
To rouse the mountain deer, my jo;
At noon the fisher seeks the glen
Adown the burn to steer, my jo:
Gie me the hour o' gloamin' grey,
It maks my heart sae cheery O,
To meet thee on the lea-rig,
My ain kind Dearie O.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The lark to its nest, the stream to the ocean

I love this song, which was written by 'A. C. Macleod', i.e. Annie Campbell Macleod, i.e. Lady Wilson, who collected the tune of the Skye Boat Song while being rowed across Loch Coruisk. I'm informed that 'Mhairi bhan og' means 'Mary my fair'.

Mhairi bhan og, my ain only deaire,
My winsome, my bonnie wee bride,
Let the world gang and a' the lave wi' it
Gin ye are but left by my side.
The lark to its nest, the stream to the ocean,
The star to its home in the west,
And I to my Mary, and I to my darling,
And I to the ane I love best.

Time sall not touch thee, nor trouble come near thee,
Thou maunna grow old like the lave,
And gin ye gang, Mary, the way o' the weary,
I'll follow thee soon to the grave.
A glance o' thy e'en wad banish a' sorrow,
A smile, and fareweel to a' strife,
For peace is beside thee, and joy is around thee,
And love is the light o' thy life.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Our evening is over us; our night whelms, whelms, and will end us

This is such an amazing poem.

Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves

Earnest, earthless, equal, attuneable, ' vaulty, voluminous, … stupendous
Evening strains to be tíme’s vást, ' womb-of-all, home-of-all, hearse-of-all night.
Her fond yellow hornlight wound to the west, ' her wild hollow hoarlight hung to the height
Waste; her earliest stars, earl-stars, ' stárs principal, overbend us,
Fíre-féaturing heaven. For earth ' her being has unbound, her dapple is at an end, as-
tray or aswarm, all throughther, in throngs; ' self ín self steedèd and páshed—qúite
Disremembering, dísmémbering ' áll now. Heart, you round me right
With: Óur évening is over us; óur night ' whélms, whélms, ánd will end us.
Only the beak-leaved boughs dragonish ' damask the tool-smooth bleak light; black,
Ever so black on it. Óur tale, O óur oracle! ' Lét life, wáned, ah lét life wind
Off hér once skéined stained véined variety ' upon, áll on twó spools; párt, pen, páck
Now her áll in twó flocks, twó folds—black, white; ' right, wrong; reckon but, reck but, mind
But thése two; wáre of a wórld where bút these ' twó tell, each off the óther; of a rack
Where, selfwrung, selfstrung, sheathe- and shelterless, ' thóughts agaínst thoughts ín groans grínd.

Second-Best Virtue, and Malmesbury

I learned today that Edmund the Martyr, the king of East Anglia killed by the Vikings in 870, supposedly had a brother named Eadwald, who became a hermit at Cerne in Dorset. I think the Anglo-Norman monk-chronicler William of Malmesbury, writing 250 years later, may be the only evidence of his existence, and this is how he reflects on Eadwald's life:

He was tired, so men said, of the delights of the world, in which misfortune had overtaken both him and his brother. For it often happens that the noble spirit is warned by the disasters of life to turn its attention more towards God, who knows not how to be disappointed or to disappoint. No doubt the highest virtue is to want the good for its own sake, but the second level of virtue is to be able to be compelled to do it, so that, in my opinion, people think as highly of Paul, who was driven to the good by the lashes of the whip, as of Peter, who willingly and without delay ran towards his master when he called him.
William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, ii.84, trans. David Preest (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2002), p.123.
William's own abbey of Malmesbury was dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, so the two saints' contrasting qualities may have been something he had considered before. Malmesbury - which at one time contained the second-largest library in Europe - is in ruins now, of course:

But the abbey church was converted into the parish church of the town, and in the south porch survive these stunning Norman carvings of the Apostles:

This depicts Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit descending on them. Here's St Peter, always the most recognisable:

They date, I think, from c.1180, so they weren't there in William's time (he wrote the Gesta Pontificum c.1125).

(NB: the Burne-Jones window at the top, also from Malmesbury, wasn't there then either...)

William, a prolific historian, was also a generous-minded one. He sought out all kinds of information for his great histories of the English kings and bishops, from chronicles and charters to the evidence of his own eyes and the words of trustworthy men; but he was scruplously fair, and never liked to tell unsubstantiated stories, or to repeat gossip. He tells one story of three priests who divined, by opening the Gospel-book at random, what their futures would be. Two were destined for success - one to be a bishop, the other an abbot - but the third man's future was a harsh one. But William does not disclose what the third man read; instead he says:

Although I once heard it, I have been happy to forget it, since it is no part of a free-spirited man to jeer at the troubles of others.
How many historians would say the same!

Monday, 26 September 2011

Turn ye to me

This is a song called 'Turn ye to me', by John Wilson (1785-1854), a Scottish poet who wrote under the pseudonym Christopher North (and who was, I see, a Magdalen man). You can hear the lilting tune here. Apparently "Mhairi dhu" means "Mary dear" - but I can't vouch for that or anything; my Gaelic is of the non-existent variety.

The stars are shining cheerily, cheerily,
Horo, Mhairi dhu, turn ye to me.
The sea mew is moaning drearily, drearily,
Horo, Mhairi dhu, turn ye to me.

Cold is the stormwind that ruffles his breast
But warm are the downy plumes lining his nest
Cold blows the storm there,
Soft falls the snow there,
Horo, Mhairi dhu, turn ye to me.

The waves are dancing merrily, merrily,
Horo, Mhairi dhu, turn ye to me.
The seabirds are wailing wearily, wearily,
Horo, Mhairi dhu, turn ye to me.

Hushed be thy moaning, lone bird of the sea;
Thy home on the rocks is a shelter to thee;
Thy home is the angry wave,
Mine but the lonely grave
Horo, Mhairi dhu, turn ye to me.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

A Harvest Hymn: 'To Garners Bright Elected'

Today felt very autumnal, and so here's a harvest hymn. It's usually sung to one of Arthur Sullivan's insane-though-wonderful hymn tunes, in this case 'Golden Sheaves'. The words are by William Chatterton Dix; verse 3 is my favourite.

1. To thee, O Lord, our hearts we raise
in hymns of adoration,
to thee bring sacrifice of praise
with shouts of exultation.
Bright robes of gold the fields adorn,
the hills with joy are ringing,
the valleys stand so thick with corn
that even they are singing.

2. And now, on this our festal day,
thy bounteous hand confessing,
Upon thine altar, Lord, we lay
the first fruits of thy blessing.
By thee the souls of men are fed
with gifts of grace supernal;
thou, who dost give us earthly bread,
give us the bread eternal.

3. We bear the burden of the day,
and often toil seems dreary;
but labour ends with sunset ray,
and rest comes for the weary.
May we, the angel reaping over,
stand at the last accepted,
Christ's golden sheaves, forevermore
to garners bright elected.

4. O blessèd is that land of God
where saints abide forever,
where golden fields spread fair and broad,
where flows the crystal river;
the strains of all its holy throng
with ours today are blending;
thrice blessèd is that harvest song
which never hath an ending.

A picture from the nicest harvest service I ever went to, which took a very literalist approach to decoration.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The Walls of Walsingham

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham, a modern feast commemorating a medieval site of pilgrimage. In 1061, on the eve of the Norman Conquest, an Anglo-Norman noblewoman called Richeldis had a vision instructing her to build a replica of the Holy House in Nazareth, at Walsingham in Norfolk. She did so, and the place became a popular site of pilgrimage - though I feel it's necessary to mention what Langland says about it:

Heremytes on an heep with hoked staves,
Wenten to Walsyngham--and hire wenches after:
Grete lobies and longe that lothe were to swynke
Clothed hem in copes to ben knowen from othere,
And shopen hem heremytes hire ese to have.

[A heap of hermits with hooked staffs
Went to Walsingham, and their women with them:
Great lazy louts who were loath to work
Clothed themselves in copes to look different from others
And called themselves hermits so they could do what they liked.]

Not that Walsingham attracted worse pilgrims than anywhere else (think of the pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales!), only that by being a bit closer than Rome or Jerusalem, it may have attracted the lazy as well as the truly devout. Nonetheless, it was the site of an Augustinian priory, which now looks like this:

The ruins of the great medieval abbeys after the Reformation must have been a powerful physical reminder of the world which had been so violently ripped apart - as the Anglo-Saxons wondered at Roman ruins and called them the works of giants, so the people of the 16th century must have been deeply affected by the stone shells of what had once been matchless centres of learning and culture. One anonymous poet wrote thus, touchingly, about the ruins of Walsingham:

In the wrackes of Walsingham
Whom should I chuse
But the Queen of Walsingham
To be guide to my muse?

Then thou Prince of Walsingham
Grant me to frame
Bitter plaintes to rewe they wrong
Bitter wo for my name.

Bitter was it oh to see
The seely sheepe
Murdered by the raveninge wolves
While the sheephards did sleep.

Bitter was it oh to vewe
The sacred vyne
While the gardiners plaied all close
Rooted up by the swine.

Bitter, bitter oh to behould
The grasse to growe
Where the walls of Walsingham
So stately did shewe.

Such were the works of Walsingham
Where she did stand
Such are the wrackes as noe do shewe
Of that holy land.

Levell levell with the ground
The towres doe lye
Which with their golden, gliitering tops
Pearsed once to the sky.

Where weare gates no gates are nowe,
The waies unknowen,
Where the press of peares did pass
While her fame was far blowen.

Oules do scrike where the sweetest himnes
Lately were songe,*
Toades and serpents hold their dennes
Where the palmers did throng.

Weepe, weepe O Walsingham,
Whose dayes are nightes,
Blessings turned to blasphemies,
Holy deeds to dispites.

Sinne is where our Ladie sate,
Heaven turned is to hell,
Sathan sittes where our Lord did swaye,
Walsingham oh farewell.

* cf. Shakespeare: 'Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang'.

(I've written about similar ruins at the abbeys of Crowland, Canterbury, and Ramsey. Perhaps one day I'll post about another great tragedy of the Reformation, the destruction of so many medieval monastic libraries...)

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Senators in the Starry Regions

This is a quotation I came across today in a life of the Anglo-Saxon royal nun, St Edith of Wilton (d.984). Her hagiographer, Goscelin, writing in c.1080, had his information about Edith straight from the nuns of Wilton, and he records traditions which were preserved in the abbey regarding Edith's personal devotions (which I might post about tomorrow). This is the wording he uses to say that she was particularly devoted to the Apostles:

"She chose for herself as her plenipotentiary intercessors those senators in the starry regions, those members of the heavenly Upper House, the apostles, as being the fellow country-men and women and friends of God, and with the confidence and importunity of the Canaanite woman she harassed the Lord through them."

Translated in Writing the Wilton Women: Goscelin’s Legend of Edith and Liber confortatorius, ed. Stephanie Hollis, with W. R. Barnes, Rebecca Hayward, Kathleen Loncar, and Michael Wright (Turnhout, 2004), p.34.

I love that - "the heavenly Upper House!" I don't have access to the original Latin, so I don't know if a little of this is the translator's (very admirable) whimsy, but it is very much in Goscelin's style. It seems appropriate for today, the feast of St Matthew the Apostle.

I can't resist mentioning that I've written before about Goscelin's love for Wilton and my belief that his work may have influenced C. S. Lewis. His lives of saints are extremely interesting, and it's partly thanks to him that we have information about Anglo-Saxon saints, like Edith, who would otherwise be difficult to trace.

These pictures are from the church of Kingsdown, near Faversham in Kent. They're Victorian, but the reason they look so medieval is because the church - which is beautiful but very remote and which, when I went there a few weeks ago, was inches thick in dust - was designed in its entirety by Edward Welby Pugin (the son of Augustus). In face and hair they deserve comparison with the Anglo-Saxons depicted in the Pugin church at Ramsgate, but they are in fact apostles: from the top, Matthias, Bartholomew, Thomas, James the Great, Simon, and James the Less.

I'm just showing off that I looked up all their attributes ;)

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A Better Resurrection

I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numbed too much for hopes or fears.
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimmed with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.

My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall--the sap of spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.

My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perished thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.

Friday, 16 September 2011

A Medieval Love Poem: White as Whale's Bone

This is a poem from Harley 2253, one of the most famous collections of medieval lyrics. The pun in the first line is made possible by the fact that Middle English 'wayle', etymologically linked to Old Norse val 'choice', means 'one chosen for virtue' or 'a paragon of excellence' (here's proof I didn't just make that up; it's also in the OED under wale n.2). I can't imagine you could get away with calling a woman a 'wayle' as a compliment nowadays, but rest assured, it is supposed to be a good thing...

1. A wayle whyt ase whalles bon,
A grein in golde that godly shon,
A tortle that min herte is on,
In tounes trewe,
Hire gladshipe nes neuer gon
Whil Y may glewe.

2. When heo is glad
Of al this world na more Y bad
Then beo with hire myn one bistad,
Withoute strif.
The care that Icham yn ybrad
Y wyte a wyf.

3. A wyf nis non so worly wroht;
When heo ys blythe to bedde ybroht
Wel were him that wiste hire thoht,
That thryuen ant thro!
Wel Y wot heo nul me noht;
Myn herte is wo.

4. Hou shal that lefly syng
That thus is marred in mournyng?
Heo me wol to dethe bryng
Longe er my day.
Gret hire wel, that swete thing
With eyen gray.

5. Hyre eye haueth wounded me, ywisse,
Hire bende browen that bringeth blisse.
Hire comely mouth that mihte cusse,
In muche murthe he were;
Y wolde chaunge myn for his
That is here fere.

6. Wolde hyre fere beo so freo
Ant wurthes were that so myhte beo,
Al for on Y wolde yeue threo
Withoute chep.
From helle to heuene ant sonne to see
Nys non so yeep
Ne half so freo.
Wo-se wole of loue be trewe, do lystne me.

7. Herkneth me, Y ou telle,
In such wondryng for wo Y welle,
Nys no fur so hot in helle
Al to mon
That loueth derne ant dar nout telle
What him ys on.

8. Ich vnne hire wel ant heo me wo;
Ycham hire frend ant heo my fo;
Me thuncheth min herte wol breke atwo
For sorewe ant syke.
In Godes greting mote heo go,
That wayle whyte.

9. Ich wolde Ich were a threstelcok,
A bountyng other a lauercok,
Swete bryd!
Bituene hire curtel ant hire smok
Y wolde ben hyd.

As you can see, the rhyme-scheme of this poem, although smoothly handled, varies apparently without reason in verses 6 and 9; it's been suggested that the verses have somehow got out of order at some stage in the manuscript copying, and that perhaps verse 7 (beginning 'Herkneth me', a common opening to a poem) was originally supposed to come first.

A very literal translation is available here, but here's my version:

1. A wale white as whale's bone,
A grain of gold that goodly shone,
A turtle-dove my heart is set on,
Among all others, truly;
Her happiness will never pass away
While I can make songs.

2. When she is glad,
I ask no more in all this world
Than with her to be placed alone,
Without any trouble.
The sorrow that besets me
I attribute to a woman.

3. No woman is so worthily wrought;
When she gladly to bed is brought
Lucky he who knows her thought,
That wonderful one!
Well I know she does not want me;
My heart sorrows.

4. How may a man joyfully sing
Who is so mired in mourning?
She will me to my death bring
Long before my time.
Greet her well, that sweet thing
With grey eyes.

5. Her eyes have wounded me, truly,
Her arched brows which bring bliss;
He who might her fair mouth kiss
Would be full of joy!
I would change my lot for his
Who is her companion.

6. If her partner would make so free
And things were as they ought to be
For that one girl I would give three
Without haggling.
From hell to heaven and sun to sea
There is none so wise
Nor half so generous.
He who will be true in love, listen to me.

7. Listen to me, I tell you,
I suffer in such distress of woe,
There is no fire so hot in hell
As for the man
Who loves secretly and dares not tell
What the matter is.

8. I wish her well, and she me woe;
I am her friend and she my foe;
It seems to me my heart will break in two
For sorrow and distress.
In God's blessing may she go,
That pale beauty.

9. I wish I were a song-thrush,
A bunting or a lark,
Sweet bird!
Between her kirtle and her smock
I would like to be hidden.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

O gin I were a baron's heir

This is a pretty little song by William Holder; here's the jolly tune on youtube.

Oh, gin I were a baron's heir,
And could I braid wi' gems your hair,
And make ye braw as ye are fair,
Lassie, would ye lo'e me?
And could I tak' ye to the town,
And show ye braw sights many a ane,
And busk ye fine in silken gown,
Lassie, would ye lo'e me?

Or should ye be content to prove,
In lowly life unfading love,
A heart that nought on earth could move,
Lassie, would ye lo'e me?
And ere the lav'rock wing the sky,
Say, would ye to the forest hie,
And work wi' me sae merrily,
Lassie, would ye lo'e me?

And when the braw moon glistens o'er,
Our wee bit bield and heathery muir,
Will ye na greet that we're sae puir,
Lassie, though I lo'e ye?
For I ha'e nought to offer ye,
Nae gowd frae mine, nae pearl frae sea,
Nor am I come o' hie degree,
Lassie, but I lo'e ye.

And since people seem to find this page looking for a translation, here it is:

Oh, if I were a baron's heir, and I could braid your hair with gems, and make you as smartly dressed as you are beautiful, lassie, would you love me? And if I could I take you to the town, and show you many fine sights, and dress you splendidly in a silken gown, lassie, would you love me?

Or would you be content to prove your unfading love in a lowly life, with a heart that nothing on earth could move; lassie, would you love me? And before the lark takes to the sky, tell me, would you go to the forest? Would you work with me so merrily? Lassie, would you love me?

And when the bright moon glistens over our little bit of shelter and the heathery moor, will you not cry because we're so poor, lassie, though I love you? For I have nothing to offer you - no gold from the mine, no pearl from the sea, nor am I come from a noble family, lassie, but I love you.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The Feast of the (Stubborn Anglo-Saxon) Cross

Today, September 14, is the Feast of the Cross, and so here's a story about a cross which I absolutely love, from the annals of Waltham Abbey. Waltham Abbey, in Essex, is the reputed burial site of Harold Godwinson, who was its patron; but before he came along, their patron was a certain Danish nobleman named Tovi 'the Proud'. Tovi was a wealthy and powerful member of the Danish aristocracy in Cnut's England, so this story must have taken place sometime between 1018 and 1035.

Waltham Abbey's own historian, writing in the 1170s, describes how a blacksmith at the village of Montacute (then called 'Ludgersbury') in Somerset had a dream in which an angel told him to climb a nearby hill and dig, and he would find a cross buried there. On his wife's advice, the smith ignored this dream (never a good idea), so the angel came a second and a third time, and the third time it roughed him about a bit, leaving finger-marks visible in his arm; this convinced him that he'd better start digging, and so he did. The rest of the village went up the hill to help him, and there they uncovered a remarkable treasure-trove: a life-size figure of Christ on the cross, carved in a kind of black marble, and with it a little bell and a Gospel-book.

They sent for Tovi, who owned the land thereabouts, and asked him what to do. He thought that these miraculous finds had to be taken to some appropriate place, but couldn't decide where would be best. This is how they worked it out:

He rose early and after the celebration of divine service, surrounded by a band of leading men he decided, with the consent of all these men, to leave the smaller cross there in the local church, and take the other relics around to places where they knew it would please God. They put them in a wagon to which they harnessed twelve red oxen… Finally the clergy and all the people prayed that God would give the spirit of wisdom to Lord Tovi that he might send these present relics to wherever God willed. Tovi then promised them to Canterbury, the seat of the archbishop at that time, to Winchester, Glastonbury, and London, as well as to other places in England where there were seats of bishops or abbots.

But it's not as simple as that:

The cart stood still as if rooted there, and it could not be moved either by the pulling of the oxen or the pushing of the men. Remembering at last an abode of his which he was very fond of at Reading, he prayed to Christ with many tears that He be pleased to grant the removal of the relics to that place… But the wagon stood still; it was pushed, it was pulled, yokes of oxen were added to the animals in front, but it did not move. Those who were there looked on in astonishment, convinced that this was not happening without the providence and will of God.
The high and noble Tovi continued with prayer after prayer. In naming places he moved from the more important churches to those of less importance, but he was not heard because God in His profound wisdom decreed those relics for another place which He deemed more worthy of the benefit of the gift. At last he remembered a lowly hut which he had begun to build in a woodland region which is now called Waltham, a pleasant place surrounded by luxuriant woods, provided with a river full of fish which is called the Lea; its picturesque, fertile meadows made it a delightful spot. It was quite close to London and near the River Thames of which the Lea is a tributary. His original estate which he had already begun he decided to extend within a wider boundary if God willed that the relics be transported to this place. Marvellous to say! more marvellous to believe! when he had mentioned the name of Waltham the wagon instantly moved, so that you would have thought that the cart was pushing the oxen rather than the oxen themselves pulling the cart. The hearts of the faithful were stirred with joy, and following the image of the crucified one behind their happy leaders, they rejoiced in the successful outcome which God had wrought and in the gift bestowed upon the weary.
The Waltham Chronicle: an account of the discovery of our holy cross at Montacute and its conveyance to Waltham, ed. and trans. Leslie Watkiss and Marjorie Chibnall, Oxford Medieval Texts Series (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), pp.15-19.

I like the idea of Tovi listing place after place, getting more and more frustrated, until at last, finally! he hits on Waltham. The abbey of Waltham was established to look after the cross (so the story says; it probably already existed in some form) and thereafter the cross and figure of Christ remained at the abbey and were a pilgrimage destination. A later story said that figure miraculously bowed its head when Harold Godwinson prayed before it on the eve of Hastings, and that after his death its head remained ever bowed in grief (God was on the English side at Hastings, whatever the Normans said...). Of course, the cross disappeared at the dissolution of the monasteries, so this can't exactly be verified.

But a good story, a nice illustration of a Danish nobleman working for the English church, a great source of pride for Waltham - and all because of some stubborn oxen.

Friday, 9 September 2011

The full tide of our happiness

It's the end of the summer now, but here's a rather belated poem on a summer holiday - or rather, an August honeymoon - by Coventry Patmore.

The Rosy Bosom'd Hours

A florin to the willing Guard
Secured, for half the way,
(He lock'd us in, ah, lucky-starr'd,)
A curtain'd, front coupé.
The sparkling sun of August shone;
The wind was in the West;
Your gown and all that you had on
Was what became you best;
And we were in that seldom mood
When soul with soul agrees,
Mingling, like flood with equal flood,
In agitated ease.
Far round, each blade of harvest bare
Its little load of bread;
Each furlong of that journey fair
With separate sweetness sped.
The calm of use was coming o'er
The wonder of our wealth,
And now, maybe, 'twas not much more
Than Eden's common health.
We paced the sunny platform, while
The train at Havant changed:
What made the people kindly smile,
Or stare with looks estranged?
Too radiant for a wife you seem'd,
Serener than a bride;
Me happiest born of men I deem'd,
And show'd perchance my pride.
I loved that girl, so gaunt and tall,
Who whispered loud, ‘Sweet Thing!’
Scanning your figure, slight yet all
Round as your own gold ring.
At Salisbury you stray'd alone
Within the shafted glooms,
Whilst I was by the Verger shown
The brasses and the tombs.
At tea we talk'd of matters deep,
Of joy that never dies;
We laugh'd, till love was mix'd with sleep
Within your great sweet eyes.
The next day, sweet with luck no less
And sense of sweetness past,
The full tide of our happiness
Rose higher than the last.
At Dawlish, 'mid the pools of brine,
You stept from rock to rock,
One hand quick tightening upon mine,
One holding up your frock.
On starfish and on weeds alone
You seem'd intent to be:
Flash'd those great gleams of hope unknown
From you, or from the sea?
Ne'er came before, ah, when again
Shall come two days like these:
Such quick delight within the brain,
Within the heart such peace?
I thought, indeed, by magic chance,
A third from Heaven to win,
But as, at dusk, we reach'd Penzance,
A drizzling rain set in.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

My heart's a coward though my words are brave

Qui primavera sempre ed ogni frutto. - Dante
Ragionando con meco ed io con lui. - Petrarca

"Love me, for I love you" - and answer me,
"Love me, for I love you" - so shall we stand
As happy equals in the flowering land
Of love, that knows not a dividing sea.
Love builds the house on rock and not on sand,
Love laughs what while the winds rave desperately;
And who hath found love's citadel unmann'd?
And who hath held in bonds love's liberty?
My heart's a coward though my words are brave
We meet so seldom, yet we surely part
So often; there's a problem for your art!
Still I find comfort in his Book, who saith,
Though jealousy be cruel as the grave,
And death be strong, yet love is strong as death.

Monday, 5 September 2011

It is na, Jean, thy bonnie face

We've come back to Robbie Burns already! This is much less obscure that the Scotch songs I've posted so far, and not exactly in need of me to promote it - but all the same, I love this.

It is na, Jean, thy bonnie face,
Nor shape that I admire;
Altho' thy beauty and thy grace
Might weel awauk desire.

Something, in ilka part o' thee,
To praise, to love, I find,
But dear as is thy form to me,
Still dearer is thy mind.

Nae mair ungenerous wish I hae,
Nor stronger in my breast,
Than, if I canna make thee sae,
At least to see thee blest.

Content am I, if heaven shall give
But happiness to thee;
And as wi' thee I'd wish to live,
For thee I'd bear to die.

The almost-unrelated picture is Dicksee's 'The End of the Quest'; I just found it and will probably be using it to illustrate pretty much every post from now on. You have fair warning.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The Boatman

This song is called 'The Boatman' and it was translated from the Gaelic by Thomas Pattison, a poet from Islay. It was published in this gorgeous book, The Gaelic Bards and Original Poems, and this page has a picture of the author. Here's his introduction to the poem:


The number of boatmen, fishers, and half-sailors in the Western islands, is out of all proportion to the rest of the inhabitants; especially on the margin of the thousand creeks and inlets and arms of the sea that calmly nestle in the land. When night is falling on the long and winding loch that leads to a murmuring fishing village, the heavy sound of oars is heard incessantly along the silent shores; or in the summer twilight, when the wind is favourable, many and many sailing-boats may be seen gliding silently, as ghosts, over the smooth, hill-sheltered floor of the fresh western sea-way. Then the far-carried sound of voices comes to the wanderer on the bank, and reminds him, as he looks into the dim gloaming whence they issue, of the mysterious paths that are on the great ocean. Sometimes wild storms overtake the fisher, and anxious hearts wait for him at his home. Sometimes a fierce mountain squall leaps like a wild beast upon him, as he passes by in his careless security, and drives him far away from his warm and blazing hearth; or, as I have known more than once to happen, overturns his frail bark, and sinks him in the hissing, tumbling waters. Where the fishers have large boats they go a great distance, and remain for weeks away. Very frequently they take a voyage or two abroad, and all of them are at least half, and many of them thorough-bred, sailors. The fishing population and the agricultural population differ a good deal in their dress, and a little even in their appearance; of course their associations are dissimilar. The fishermen are a very much respected class, however; and no doubt they think a good deal of themselves. It is of one of them the following very popular song treats. This "Man of the Boat" had gone over the sea, and was like never to return. He had left some one behind him, who mourned his absence greatly.

How often hunting the highest hill-top,
I scan the ocean thy sail to see:
Wilt come to-night, love? Wilt come to-morrow?
Or ever come, love! to comfort me?

My soul is weary ; my heart is breaking ;
With frequent tear-drops mine eyes o'erflow.
Wilt come to-night, love? May I expect thee?
Or, sighing sorely, the door put to?

I question fondly thy friends, and ask them.
Where last they saw thee? where thou art now?
But each one, jeering, some answer gives me,
That sends me homeward with burning brow.

They call thee fickle, they call thee false one,
And seek to change me; but all in vain.
No; thou'rt my dream yet throughout the dark night
And every morn yet I watch the main.

Dost thou remember the promise made me —
The tartan plaidie — the silken gown —
The ring of gold with thy hair and portrait?
That gown and ring I will never own.

For not a hamlet — too well I know it —
Where you go wandering, or stay a while,
But all its old folk you win with talking,
And charm its maidens with song and smile.

And yet I dare not deny I love thee;
And not a month, — oh, nor yet a year,
But thee for ever,— since first in childhood
I stroll'd beside thee, and thought thee dear.

My friends they warn me, and oft advise me,
To let thy false vows forgotten be:
As vain their counsel, as if they order'd
Yon little streamlet roll back the sea.

So here I wander, a tearful mourner —
A stricken cygnet, with music-moan,
That sings her dirge-note by grassy fountain,
When, all forsaken, she dies alone!

In Songs of the North the song has this Gaelic refrain:
Fhir a bhata na horo eile,
Fhir a bhata na horo eile,
Fhir a bhata na horo eile,
O fare thee well, love, where'er thou be.

with the note: "Fhir a bhata" (pronounced 'Ear a vata') means 'O Boatman'. Na horo eile is merely a call.

And here it is being sung:

Friday, 2 September 2011

Medieval People in Modern Stained Glass: Pugin Edition

This is a rather upmarket version of 'medieval people in modern stained glass', because instead of the usual efforts of anonymous Victorian artists, we are concerned today with the work of Augustus Welby Pugin. Pugin, a Catholic convert and one of the leading figures of the Gothic Revival in England - most famously, he designed the Palace of Westminster - settled in Ramsgate, on the coast of Kent, in 1844. He designed a church there, right next door to the house he had built for himself (the house has recently been restored, beautifully, and you can stay there). And I went to visit it and took some photos.

Every detail of the church, which was served by a community of Benedictine monks, was planned with meticulous care. It reflects Pugin's interest in the revival of medieval craftsmanship and artistic design, as well as his own personal piety and devotions: for instance, the name-saints of his family members and friends feature prominently, as does a devotion to the Sacred Heart. And so, since the church is St Augustine's, the monastery across the road is St Augustine's Abbey, and Augustine was Pugin's name-saint - and, most importantly, Augustine arrived in Kent in the bay overlooked by the church - it's not surprising that the church features a large and impressive window depicting the story of Augustine's arrival. (I've previously posted about depictions of this story in modern stained glass at Minster-in-Thanet, Norwich and Canterbury, and I posted about Bede's telling of it here). The window, set in the Pugin family chapel - a chantry chapel, really, that truly medieval thing - is large and imposing, with rich colours. Here's the whole:

I'm afraid I failed to photograph the first two scenes, the usual 'non Angli sed Angeli' encounter with the English slave-boys in Rome and Pope Gregory giving Augustine the commission to convert the English. But there's a particularly charming depiction of the landing at Ebbsfleet:

Note that the land is labelled: 'Thanet'. Augustine proceeds to preach to King Ethelbert:

St Augustine and his monks process to Canterbury...

...and then say Mass at the church of St Martin's in that city, which pre-dated Augustine's arrival; it had been a Christian church in Roman times, and was used by Queen Bertha as her private chapel. She is the female figure in the background:

I like this window very much - especially those colourful tiles, and the little flames of the candles on the altar.

Next, Ethelbert's baptism by Augustine:

More delightful tiles! And the laying of a foundation stone of a church:

This strikes me as an unusual addition to the story, and although it was perhaps included to make up the round number of eight scenes, it is of course symbolic of the (re)founding of the English church. Building and rebuilding churches was one of the earliest things the Gregorian mission did, but since the first Canterbury churches to be given to them were pre-existing buildings, I wonder if this scene represents the laying of the foundation stone of the monastery of St Peter and St Paul, which was later, after Augustine's death, to become St Augustine's Abbey. This would have an obvious significance to the monks who served Pugin's church - the Canterbury St Augustine's is today in ruins (alas!), and the Ramsgate St Augustine's must have been intended as a kind of rebirth, an heir to its ancient heritage. The monastery at Ramsgate was the first Benedictine monastery to be built in England after the Reformation; the monastery at Canterbury the first Benedictine monastery in England, full stop. No wonder its foundation had particular importance here.

To illustrate the personal resonances of this window, beneath which is Pugin's effigy and tomb (designed by his teenage son after Pugin's early death), consider these two pictures:

This, in the style of medieval donor depictions, shows Pugin himself with St Augustine and the church he built (complete with the planned spire, which was never actually added), with his family crest and the distinctive symbol of the black martlet. Running along the bottom of the Augustine window are three more panels like this of his three wives, each with her patron name-saint - here's one, in a beautiful grey gown and cloak, with St Anne:

This is getting long, but to return briefly to the Anglo-Saxons - Ethelbert and Bertha reappear in their own windows elsewhere in the church:

Nearby is the Anglo-Saxon bishop John of Beverley:

There's a lovely window on the north wall of the church, depicting three female saints in star-strewn robes:

I couldn't get a very good picture of it, sadly, but the figure on the right is my own favourite Mildred of Thanet, another local saint, with her deer. (If you were wondering, the other two are St Gertrude and St Mechthilde).

Let's finish with this lovely window of three northern saints, Bede, St Wilfrid, and St Cuthbert (holding the severed head of St Oswald). These are of course three of the greatest saints of the Northumbrian church, and thus a suitable complement to the depictions of Augustine, Mildred, Ethelbert and Bertha - champions of southern Christianity. However, they're also appropriate because Bede, Wilfrid and Cuthbert were the names of three of the first monks to live at St Augustine's in Pugin's time.

A close-up of Bede, because, well, he's Bede:

I like depictions of Bede as a younger man - before he was Venerable!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

More on the Viking Siege of Canterbury...

... and the 1000th anniversary thereof. Following up on my previous post, the programme of lectures and events is now available here. I'm particularly pleased to see the special Evensong in honour of St Alphege, because I've posted before about how wonderful the regular annual commemoration of St Thomas Becket is at Canterbury (just so cool), so you can be sure they'll do this well. And the lectures should be excellent - there is so much of interest in the subject of the Vikings in England, and it's something so few people know about! Well, I would say that; but there really is...

If you've found this post because you would like to know something about the context for the 1011 Viking siege of Canterbury and the reign of Ethelred the Unready, let me suggest the following posts:

The story of Archbishop Alphege

Anselm and Alphege

The Battle of Maldon

The St Brice's Day Massacre

Ethelred and Edward the Confessor

and passim...