Tuesday 29 January 2013

Three Thoughts: 'Estrangement'

Three texts I read recently, which have one word in common.

Charles Fairfax Murray, 'The Last Parting of Helga and Gunnlaug'


An anonymous fifteenth-century carol, from the manuscript Cambridge University Library MS. Additional 5943:

Wolde God that hyt were so
As I cowde wysshe bytuyxt vs too!

The man that I loued altherbest
In al thys contre, est other west,
To me he ys a strange gest;
What wonder est thow I be woo?

When me were leuest that he schold duelle,
He wold noght sey onys farewelle;
He wold noght sey ones farewell
Wen tyme was come that he most go.

In places ofte when I hym mete,
I dar noght speke, but forth I go;
With herte and eyes I hym grete;
So trywe of loue I know no mo.

As he ys myn hert loue,
My dyrward dyre, iblessed he be;
I swere by God, that ys aboue,
Non hath my loue but only he.

I am icomfortyd in euery side;
The coloures wexeth both fres and newe;
When he ys come and wyl abyde,
I wott ful wel that he ys trewe.

I loue trywely and no mo;
Wolde God that he hyt knywe!
And euer I hope hyt schal be so;
Then schal I chaunge for no new.

In 1418 this manuscript belonged to a man named John, a Carthusian monk at the priory of Hinton, Somerset; it also contains a version of the poem ‘Ecce ancilla domini’, which features a line about another memorable 'guest'.  Unusually, in the manuscript a different hand has gone through and added feminine pronouns in place of each 'he' in this poem, between the lines of every verse.

[Would to God that it were so
As I could wish betwixt us two!

The man that I loved of all the best
In all this land, from east to west,
To me he is a strange guest;
What wonder is it though I be woe?

When most I wanted him to dwell,
He would not say once farewell;
He would not say once farewell
When time was come that he must go.

In places oft when I him meet,
I dare not speak, but forth I go;
With heart and eyes I him greet;
So true of love I know no mo. [other]

As he is my heart's love,
My dearest dear, blest may he be!
I swear by God that is above,
None hath my love but only he.

I am comforted on every side;
The colours wax both fresh and new;
When he is come and will abide,
I'll know full well that he is true.

I love him truly, and no mo;
Would to God that he it knew!
And ever I hope it shall be so;
Then shall I change him for no new.]


William Watson (1858-1935)

So, without overt breach, we fall apart,
Tacitly sunder — neither you nor I
Conscious of one intelligible Why,
And both, from severance, winning equal smart.
So, with resigned and acquiescent heart,
Whene'er your name on some chance lip may lie,
I seem to see an alien shade pass by,
A spirit wherein I have no lot or part.

Thus may a captive, in some fortress grim,
From casual speech betwixt his warders, learn
That June on her triumphal progress goes
Through arched and bannered woodlands; while for him
She is a legend emptied of concern,
And idle is the rumour of the rose.


From Persuasion, ch.8:

From this time Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot were repeatedly in the same circle. They were soon dining in company together at Mr Musgrove's, for the little boy's state could no longer supply his aunt with a pretence for absenting herself; and this was but the beginning of other dinings and other meetings.

Whether former feelings were to be renewed must be brought to the proof; former times must undoubtedly be brought to the recollection of each; they could not but be reverted to; the year of their engagement could not but be named by him, in the little narratives or descriptions which conversation called forth. His profession qualified him, his disposition lead him, to talk; and "That was in the year six;" "That happened before I went to sea in the year six," occurred in the course of the first evening they spent together: and though his voice did not falter, and though she had no reason to suppose his eye wandering towards her while he spoke, Anne felt the utter impossibility, from her knowledge of his mind, that he could be unvisited by remembrance any more than herself. There must be the same immediate association of thought, though she was very far from conceiving it to be of equal pain.

They had no conversation together, no intercourse but what the commonest civility required. Once so much to each other! Now nothing! There had been a time, when of all the large party now filling the drawing-room at Uppercross, they would have found it most difficult to cease to speak to one another. With the exception, perhaps, of Admiral and Mrs Croft, who seemed particularly attached and happy, (Anne could allow no other exceptions even among the married couples), there could have been no two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison, no countenances so beloved. Now they were as strangers; nay, worse than strangers, for they could never become acquainted. It was a perpetual estrangement.

Saturday 26 January 2013

Golden Mornings

Today's sunny morning prompts me to post this hymn, which comes from the Oxford Book of Carols and falls into the genre of 'post-Christmas carol', a bit like the 'January Carol', which I found in the same book.  It was newly written for the OBC by 'A. F. D.' (which, I am informed, denotes Percy Dearmer), adapting a traditional text, 'The Golden Carol'.

They saw the light shine out afar
On Christmas in the morning;
And straight they knew it was the star,
That came to give them warning:
Then did they fall on bended knee,
The light their heads adorning,
And praised the Lord, who let them see
His glory in the morning.

For three short years he went abroad
And set men's hearts a-burning;
That mission turned the world to God
And brought the night to morning:
He bore for man repulse and pain,
Ingratitude, and scorning;
He suffered, died, he rose
At Easter in the morning.

O ever thought be of his grace,
On each day in the morning;
And for his kingdom's loveliness
Our souls be ever yearning:
So may we live, to Heaven our hearts
In hope for ever turning;
Then may we die, as each departs,
In joy at our new morning.

Lift up your heads, rejoice, and dance,
Forget the days of mourning!
The waves of light advance, advance,
The fire of love is burning.
Farewell to hate and stupid fears,
To ignorance and sorrow!
He who was with us through the years
Shall bring us to the morrow.

The note on this carol in the OBC is enlightening:

There are two tunes to which the name of 'Golden Carol' is found attached, with a pair of indifferent verses, in some publications of about sixty years ago [i.e. the 1860s]. The name 'Golden Carol' was loosely used and was sometimes applied to 'The First Nowell'; but the real text of the Golden Carol is in a different metre, fifteenth-century in its earlier form, and its tune is lost. The two tunes, which we are calling 'Golden Mornings' and 'Golden' are, however, fine and distinct traditional tunes; and the verses attached to them seem to contain phrases of an original text which may have been sung to them. These phrases have therefore been retained in this new text.

The fifteenth-century text is Now is Christemas ycome, 'indifferent' itself in quality as medieval carols go; the other tune, 'Golden', the editors attached to 'As we rode down the steep hillside' by Frank Kendon. This is one of those 'fine and distinct traditional tunes':

As you see, the history of these 'Golden Carols' is a little convoluted - but for my money Dearmer's last two verses are worth all the rest of them put together!

Thursday 24 January 2013

Dunbar's Advice to Academics

This is a poem by the fifteenth-century Scottish poet William Dunbar, offering counsel to scholars and 'clerks' on the right attitude to learning and study. In one manuscript this poem is accompanied by the note (in Latin) 'what Dunbar said at Oxford'; there's debate about whether Dunbar ever visited Oxford, but whether he did or not, the advice is generally applicable...

To speik of science, craft, or sapience,
Of vertew, morall cunnyng, or doctryne,
Of jure, of wisdome, or intelligence,
Of every study, lair, or disciplyne -
All is bot tynt or reddy for to tyne,
Nocht using it as it suld usit be,
The craft excersing, considering nocht the fyne.
Ane peralous seiknes is vane prosperité.

The curius probatcioun logicall,
The eloquence of ornat rethorye,
The naturall science filosophicall,
The dirk apirance of astronomy,
The theologgis sermon, the fablis of poetrye -
Without guid lyff, all in the selfe dois de,
As Mayis flouris dois in September drye.
Ane peralows lyff is vane prosperité.

Quhairfoir, ye clerkis grytast of constance,
Fullest off science and of knaleging,
To us be mirrouris in yowr governance,
And in owr dirknes be lampis in schining,
Or thane in frustar is yowr lang lerning;
Gyff to yowr sawis your deidis contrar be,
Yowr maist accusar is your awin cuning.
Ane peralows seiknes is vane prosperitie.

If Dunbar will permit me to offer a translation:

To speak of knowledge, learning, or sapience,
Of virtue, moral knowledge, or doctrine,
Of law, of wisdom, or intelligence,
Of every study, lore, or discipline -
All is but lost, or ready to be lost,
Not using it as it should used be,
To exercise the skill, and consider not the end;
A perilous sickness is vain prosperity.

The curious experiments logical,
The eloquence of ornate rhetoric,
The natural science philosophical,
The obscure appearance of astronomy,
The theologian's sermon, the fables of poetry -
Without good life, all in the self does die,
As May's flower does in September dry.
A perilous life is vain prosperity.

Therefore, ye clerks greatest of constancy,
Fullest of science and of learning,
To us be mirrors in your governance,
And in our darkness be lamps shining,
Or else in vain is your long studying.
If to your souls your deeds contrary be,
Your worst accuser is your own learning.
A perilous sickness is vain prosperity.

The refrain of this poem may at first sight be a little puzzling - why should 'vain prosperity' be a particular temptation of the academic life? In Dunbar's time, as today, clerks (of Oxford and elsewhere) were never likely to be wealthy people; and Dunbar, who knew his Chaucer, would certainly have remembered the threadbare Clerk of the Canterbury Tales, who 'al be that he was a philosophre, Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre'. It makes most sense if you interpret prosperity as success, in whatever endeavour, not necessarily including wealth - so the advice is not to get carried away with one's own cleverness. 'Yowr maist accusar is your awin cuning' - what a warning!

Saturday 19 January 2013

Wulfstan's Worcester

For the past two years on this date I've written at some length about Wulfstan of Worcester, the Anglo-Saxon bishop who survived the Norman Conquest and whose feast is today.  He's an intriguing figure: there are lots of delightful stories about him, and I collected my favourites here.

I have no more stories to share right now, but I do have pictures, from a visit a few days ago to Wulfstan's cathedral at Worcester. Worcester is full of interesting things (it describes itself as "possibly the most interesting of all England's Cathedrals", a claim which made me raise an eyebrow before I went there - there's such a lot of competition! - but I may now have been convinced...) Not the least of its charms is that Wulfstan and its other Anglo-Saxon saints are highly honoured pretty much all over the cathedral - from the guidebooks to the stained glass. This always makes me happy - it makes a visit like a game of 'spot the Anglo-Saxon', and regular readers will know how much I enjoy that.

It was a misty day when I arrived at Worcester, but the sun was beginning to shine:

That brooding statue is Edward Elgar, and we'll get to him in a minute. Let's have a few more photographs of the cathedral in the morning mist:

By the time St Wulfstan came to Worcester there had already been a cathedral here for several centuries. The see was established in 679 or 680, in the days when Worcester was part of the kingdom of the Hwicce. This is a little less than a hundred years after the arrival of St Augustine in Kent, and about twenty years after the Synod of Whitby; from the first, both Canterbury and Whitby were involved in the new diocese at Worcester. The first man chosen as bishop, Tatfrith, had been a pupil of Abbess Hilda at Whitby, but he died before he could be consecrated; he was replaced by Bosel, who was bishop for ten years or so before ill-health forced him to step down, and he was replaced by Oftfor, another former pupil of Hilda's and of the learned Theodore of Tarsus, eighth Archbishop of Canterbury.

And after Oftfor, we get to Egwin - the one with the fish. (The fish story, short version: in penance Egwin shackled himself and threw the key in the river; then he walked in chains to Rome, and when he got there he was brought a fish which had been caught in the Tiber - with the key to his chains miraculously inside it. This makes Egwin particularly memorable, and I talked about him in my post about Evesham.)

After St Egwin, who died in 717, the next famous bishops of Worcester came along in the second half of the tenth century, beginning with St Dunstan. Dunstan was only Bishop of Worcester for two years (from 957-959); he became Archbishop of Canterbury in 960. But his successor, Oswald (the grandson of a Viking), held the see for thirty years, part of the time while also being Archbishop of York. Oswald and Dunstan, with Bishop Æthelwold of Winchester, were the three great churchmen of tenth-century England. They founded or reformed a large number of monasteries, including Worcester - under Oswald, Worcester became a community of Benedictine monks rather than secular clergy, and it remained so until the Reformation. (Wikipedia tells me the monks of Worcester were driven out on 18 January 1540 - the eve of St Wulfstan's day. What a day for it all to come to an end!)

Among other things, Oswald was famous for his custom of washing the feet of the poor every day during Lent (as is now done on Maundy Thursday). He died on February 29 in the year 992, having just arisen from this foot-washing. From the first he was regarded as a saint, and a number of early lives were written about him. That he was well-remembered at Worcester is suggested by Wulfstan's reaction when he was responsible for knocking down the church Oswald had built for his monks:
When the bigger church, which he had himself started from the foundations, had grown large enough for the monks to move across to it, the word was given for the old church, the work of St Oswald, to be stripped of its roof and demolished. Wulfstan stood there in the open air to watch, and could not keep back his tears. His friends mildly reproved him: he should rather rejoice that in his lifetime so much honour had accrued to the church that the increased number of monks made larger dwellings necessary. He replied: “My view is quite different. We unfortunates are destroying the works of saints in order to win praise for ourselves. In that happy age men were incapable of building for display; their way was to sacrifice themselves to God under any sort of roof, and to encourage their subjects to follow their example. But we strive to pile up stones while neglecting souls."
William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, ed. and trans. Michael Winterbottom and R. M. Thomson, Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford, 2007), vol.1, pp.437-9.

St Oswald is almost as prominent at Worcester as Wulfstan is, and we'll see lots of him in this post.

Inside the cathedral:

Before I say anything else, I want to show you this window:

It's just the most wonderful thing, and I would love it even if it didn't contain so many of my favourite medieval people. It dates to 1937, and was designed by Geoffrey Webb and given by Frederick Goodman, 'a Worcester native and for many years Archdeacon of Arctic Alaska'. The design is based on the idea of Christ as the true vine, growing out of the Annunciation at the bottom, and with two 'garden' scenes on either side - the expulsion from Eden and Christ meeting Mary Magdalen after the Resurrection. It's worth looking at every part individually. Here are the three lowest scenes, beginning with the expulsion from Eden (look at the angel's wings!):

The Annunciation:

The text at the bottom is from the Song of Songs, 4:16: 'perfla hortum meum, et fluant aromata illius', '[Awake, O north wind, and come, thou south,] blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out'. The thick trunk of the vine emerges from the delicate lily, and there are little snowdrops too, and a trinity of purple flowers.

And Christ with Mary Magdalen (note the birds swooping around him):

Then in the centre of the window, Christ:

To his right:

In keeping with the tree theme, there are birds and squirrels and other things running all over this window, as here:

St Peter has a squirrel:

(Compare to the squirrel at Evesham!) Bosel's cathedral was dedicated to St Peter, and Oswald's to the Virgin, which is why the two saints are combined here.

The upper part of the window contains the saints who were particularly important in the medieval history of Worcester. Thus, the vine grows through St Benedict, for the sake of Oswald and his Benedictine monks:

Benedict's raven, though one of his regular attributes, fits well with the bird theme here.

That blue is just so beautiful.

Next to Benedict is Theodore of Tarsus (though he doesn't look very Greek!), holding a book to remind us of his famous learning, and determinedly ignoring whatever animal is gnawing at his part of the vine.

On the other side of Benedict is St Hilda, also with a book:

And a full-length shot so you can see how lovely her robes are:

Above Hilda is St Egwin, with two birds (but no fish!):

This very much reminded me of Evesham, with the rounded flowers and gold-trimmed mitre, though he looks so young here!

Oswald, with his church, and a squirrel:

And Dunstan, with his tongs and devil!:

(The story of Dunstan and the devil can be found here).

And finally, right at the top, in pride of place, is Wulfstan:

The glorious thing about this window is that it's so colourful that its lights flood all the space around.

Directly opposite the window is the chantry chapel where young Prince Arthur, the eldest son of Henry VII, was buried in 1502, after his death at the age of fifteen. If you are up on your English monarchs, you will know that Arthur's early death changed the whole course of British history; if he had not died, Henry VIII might never have become king, and the Reformation might never have happened (or at least, have happened differently). There's something very poignant about the figures of these Saxon saints casting their bright lights over Arthur's tomb, when it was his death which brought about the greatest gap between our world and theirs:

This is inside the chantry chapel, which is a miracle of carved stone:

But much of it is as battered as this altarpiece:

This is the window reflected in the top of Prince Arthur's tomb. Below, it is reflected even more brightly in the brasses atop the tomb of one of Arthur's household, who was buried near the prince:

Arthur's is not the only royal tomb in the cathedral. Here, in front of the high altar, is where King John is buried, because he wanted to be near to (what were then) the tombs of Wulfstan and Oswald:

The tombs of medieval kings survived where medieval saints did not; but after the destruction of their tombs at the Reformation Wulfstan and Oswald were buried nearby, so they may still be around here somewhere.

A longer view:

Apart from the Goodman window, there are numerous other depictions of Wulfstan within his cathedral. Here he is in a thirteenth-century carving, in the north choir aisle, presenting his church to God:

I can't resist also posting these two carvings which were in the same place - the Annunciation and a wonderful Nativity:

The animals are keeping the baby warm, not trying to eat him...

Not far away there's another window which depicts Oswald and Wulfstan - I'd guess a nineteenth-century one:

Each has one scene below to illustrate his life - or rather, in Oswald's case, his death, with the ewer on one side for washing the feet of the poor:

The people behind him go on eating, oblivious to his sudden fall.

Wulfstan's scene depicts a remarkable moment from his legend: that after the Norman Conquest, when he was asked to resign as bishop, he stuck his staff into the tomb of Edward the Confessor. No one else could remove it, and by this miracle Wulfstan, like King Arthur, proved that he was the only man for the job.

The stained-glass Wulfstan casting his colourful light on Prince Arthur's tomb seems almost like a gentler manifestation of this story.

The Worcester saints also appear in this window, which is a memorial to Edward Elgar:

It's based on Newman's 'Dream of Gerontius'; the angels at the top are singing 'Praise to the Holiest in the Height'. And below are Worcester's saints and some musical people, Cecilia and Gregory (holding a bit of Gregorian chant):

And Egwin has a fish!

Finally, elsewhere, these must also be our two Saxon bishops too, though without any really distinguishing features:

Much as I enjoy spotting Anglo-Saxons in stained glass, the real place to find Wulfstan at Worcester is in the crypt. This is the most evocative remnant of the cathedral he built; almost everything above ground is later than Wulfstan, but this was begun with his new building in 1084, and the columns and their capitals date to his time:

Here, you are standing in an eleventh-century monastery. It was here when John of Worcester was writing his history, when Orderic Vitalis and William of Malmesbury came to visit Worcester's great library, when King John came to venerate Wulfstan, when Prince Arthur was buried; and now.

Not much later is the chapter house, begun in the early twelfth century, with its central column like a sinuous palm-tree:

So this is Worcester, Wulfstan's work.

And I'll close with more little stained-glass scenes from the cloisters, which look like this:

Look away now if you don't care about 'medieval people in stained glass'! For there are many. These windows are full of people and scenes from the history of English Christianity, arranged chronologically and loosely themed; this for instance depicts Northumbrian Christianity:

I like Lindisfarne in the bottom left-hand corner. Among other highlights of Anglo-Saxon history, there's Bede:

Here are Bosel, Egwin, and the kings who supported them:

(The kings are Æthelred of Mercia and Osric, king of the Hwicce.) And Oftfor preaching to some Saxon children, I assume:

Click to enlarge and see the rather lovely crucifix...

In my second post on Evesham's stained glass we saw a variety of depictions of the vision of the swineherd Eof, which led to the founding of Evesham, and there was one here too:

A pleasingly ghostly vision, but not quite as nice as the version in St Lawrence's, Evesham.

There's a whole series about Alfred the Great, but I'll just show you the scene which depicts the Treaty of Wedmore, the peace-treaty Alfred made with the Danish army in 878. Thus, it shows a Viking (Guthrum), complete with horned helmet - always a fun thing to come across in a stained-glass window:

Guthrum appears to be signing the treaty, which is historically dubious, but then so are Vikings in horned helmets...

Dunstan and Oswald:

Scenes from the life of Oswald - first his early visit to Fleury, where he learned about monasticism, and with his supporter Æthelwine:

The architecture of Fleury is particularly nice in the background.

This is Oswald installing Winsin as first prior of Worcester, i.e. the establishment of the monastery, and the coronation of King Edgar:

Dunstan and King Edmund at Glastonbury (Dunstan's monastery), and Oswald building at Worcester:

And Oswald's death, while washing feet:

King Edgar and a rather scary-looking Bishop Æthelwold:

Oswald and Wulfstan, both holding their churches:

With this we move on the eleventh century - Edward the Confessor, looking unusually youthful, and William the Conqueror looking, well, like a conquering hero:

Wulfstan with Lanfranc (there was no sign of Anselm, which is a shame - he, not Lanfranc, was the one who respected Wulfstan and sought his opinion as "the one sole survivor of the old fathers of the English people", according to Eadmer):

Wulfstan building Worcester Cathedral, and the incident with Edward the Confessor's tomb:

(Turquoise vestments, Wulfstan?)

Wulfstan doing general saintly things:

Wulfstan with Harold Godwinson, who was a friend of his:

I don't know why Harold looks so cheerful; he didn't have much cause to be that happy at any time in his short reign!  Some time after Harold's death at Hastings, Wulfstan healed his (fascinatingly rebellious) daughter Gunnhild of a tumour, out of his old affection for her father.

And here's Wulfstan with Lady Godiva (Godgifu), a pious and perfectly respectable Saxon noblewoman, who was a benefactor of Evesham and another of Wulfstan's friends:

Moving on a little, we have the canonisation of Wulfstan in 1203 (William of Malmesbury thought his canonisation shockingly delayed) and King John at Wulfstan's tomb:

Henry II and Thomas Becket:

Thomas Becket's murder, and Henry II receiving his penance for it:

This doesn't have anything to do with Worcester as far as I know, but I'm always interested in depictions of Becket.

Edward I at Wulfstan's tomb:

And some literary figures, just for fun - Chaucer and Wycliffe:

I've never seen an image of Chaucer where he doesn't look vaguely sceptical, and so it is here...

Langland (who was a Worcestershire man, and so deserves his place):

William Caxton:

I liked this depiction of the cathedral:

And this tribute to the Book of Common Prayer:

Then there were various 17th- and 18th-century people, until we come to Reginald Heber:

He doesn't have any Worcestershire connections, as far as I know, but I like his hymns, so I took a photo.

The last window (we've now reached the third side of the cloisters) turns to the Victorians, with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert:

And Charles Dickens, who appears to be acting out a scene from Oliver Twist:

I didn't really mean to end with Charles Dickens, who again has nothing to do with Worcester.  So here's the last I saw of the cathedral, sunset over the town, from a train: