Sunday, August 31, 2008
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Friday, August 29, 2008
Leek is just one of the many referents to a sword in the Eddas. In fact, there's an entire convention of word usage found in Norse literature of which the leek/sword metaphor is only a simple example. For those not up on their Norse lit, this device is called a kenning, and it provides fascinating, sometimes confusing, reading. Fortunately, great translators do much of the hard work for me, and I'm left with mostly the fascination as I read in modern English. Here's an example from the Poetic Edda, The First Poem of Helgi Hundingsbani, stanza 7 as translated by Carolyn Larrington. I'm reading two translations simultaneously, so below that is Henry Adams Bellows' version of the same stanza.
To the men it seemed that he was a prince,
they said to one another that a good year had come;
the noble lord himself came from the tumult of battle
to bring a shining leek to the young nobleman.
The warrior throng a ruler thought him,
Good times, they said, mankind should see;
The king himself from battle-press came,
To give the prince a leek full proud.
Kennings, though, are often much more complex than a simple substitution such as leek for sword. After reading a while, it gets easier to recognize and then to appreciate kennings. I can only imagine what it must have been like to listen to the complicated, prose example (below) given in the Wiki article and understand it without the research I require to do the same.
Ulls of war-leek! We carried the seed of Fyrisvellir on the mountains of hawks during all of Hakon's life; now the enemy of the people has hidden the flour of Frodi's hapless slaves in the flesh of the mother of the enemy of the giantess.
The mental process of decryption must have been an integral part of the tale's effect. I'm fortunate to have gotten to the point that friend of the wolves means to me a warrior who slays many (thereby leaving much carrion for the wolves). As my familiarity with kennings and the mythology and the customs of these people grows, I am curious to return to earlier reading, especially Y Gododdin, in which I anticipate new worlds to open, both in meaning and in effect.
I'm also beginning to appreciate this literature (read in a deceptive form in high school) as the general expression of a larger culture. Kennings are at their most complex, their height, in Norse and Icelandic literature, but only a peek into the Northern European literatures and pre-Christian culture. I'm getting a feel for the immigrations of Germanic people to the north and west. I also see how once the Celts had migrated to Ireland, Wales and northward to western Scotland, there was a great deal of traffic between the Celts and the Norse. There are loan words from English and Irish in the Poetic Eddas, for example. If only we had literature of the Picts, we'd likely see the same pre-Christian exchanges with northern and eastern Scotland. The Orkneys and Shetland, Isle of Man, the Western Isles, of course, were occupied by Scandinavians, and their footprints are all over that region.
The kennings, by painting images, by engaging me in the riddle, by invoking my knowledge of myths and customs, have the power of putting me in the seat of the native listener nearby the great fire at the middle of the mead-hall. Often, as a consequence of all this, I have, as I'm reading, an irresistible urge come over me, that is, to drink a lager!
For a last taste of this engaging literature, here are six stanzas (from Larrington) near the end of Second Poem of Helgi Hundingsbani, Poetic Eddas. This scene in which the valkyrie Sigrun sleeps with her dead lover must be one of the most poignant in literature. Briefly, Sigrun has returned to the burial mound of Helgi, and she says to him:
First I want to kiss the lifeless king,
before you throw off your bloody mail-coat;
your hair, Helgi, is thick with hoar-frost,
the prince is all soaked in slaughter-dew,
Hogni's son-in-law has clammy hands.
How, lord, can I find a remedy for this?
You alone, Sigrun, from Sefafell,
cause Helgi to be soaked in sorrow-dew;
you weep, gold-adorned lady, bitter tears,
sun-bright southern girl, before you go to sleep;
each falls bloody on the breast of the prince,
cold as dew, burning hot, thick with grief.
We ought to drink this precious liquid,
though we have lost our love and our lands;
no man should sing a lament for me,
though on my breast wounds can be seen;
now the lady is enclosed in the mound,
a human woman with us, the departed.
Sigrun made up a bed in the mound.
Here I've made you, Helgi, a bed all ready;
descendant of the Ylfings, now free from care
in your arms, lord, I'll sleep,
as I would with the prince, when he was living.
I say that nothing could be less expected,
neither early nor late at Sefafell,
that you should sleep in the arms of a dead man,
white lady, in the tomb, Hogni's daughter,
and you alive, and royally born.
It is time for me to ride along the blood-red roads,
to set the pale horse to tread the path in the sky;
I must cross the bridge in the sky-vault,
before Salgofnir awakens the victorious people.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Also, Emily, after much anticipation, has begun posting. For vivid anectodes of travel abroad, check out Emily's blog, Darkling Plain.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
A bicycle is out of the question, but a couple months ago as an alternative, we bought a motorcycle for my partner to commute to work. He can't ride it every day, but he does as often as possible. We bought it for a number of reasons. First of all, it's fun. Second, it produces less pollution. Third, it prevents us putting mileage on the truck. Last, it saves gas, which we care about both for the money it saves us and for energy conservation.
Well, finally, we got our first mpg reading off the motorcycle. We've had it two months already, and the darn thing didn't need a fill-up so we couldn't calculate.
The result was 94mpg!
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Even the locals cannot articulate the sky, the immense, the tireless way one must be, in thought, in relation. Stretches of Interstate 70 induce vertigo, a crisis of perspective that spills a person across wheat like the familiar dead skunk that drifts in then out again every few miles. And if you think of here from there, will you remember the sound of six giant combines pushing through wheat? The chaffy haze scattering light, the careful talk of men with questions of their own--of humidity and lightning, the urgency of harvest. Is there anything more beautiful? The slow flight of cattle egrets following combines. There in the just cut field they land and step, and poised like pure white signs they insist you look again.
Sun rises over its eastern harbor
as if coming from some underworld
and crossing heaven, returns again to western seas,
nowhere its six sun-dragons could ever find rest.
It’s kept up this daily beginning and ending forever,
but we’re not made of such ancestral ch’i,
................................so how long can we wander with it here?
Flowers bloom in spring wind. They never refuse.
And trees never resent leaf-fall in autumn skies.
No one could whip the turning seasons along so fast:
the ten thousand things rise and fall of themselves.
Hsi Ho, O great
Sun Mother, Sun Guide—how could you drown
.................................in those wild sea-swells of abandon?
And Lu Yang, by what power
halted evening’s setting sun?
It defies Tao, offends heaven—
all fake and never-ending sham.
I’ll toss this Mighty Mudball earth into a bag
and break free into that boundless birthchamber of it all!
Li Po (701-742 AD)
translator: David Hinton
Monday, August 25, 2008
My white morning glory blooming quietly.
These fantastic snake gourds have begun to appear along the length of two hundred feet or so of vine. So far, there are only around six of them, but I was beginning to think there would be none! In hope and then growing trepidation, I watched hundreds of flowers bloom and produce nothing and then finally...a few.
Stunning blue-gray leaves of leeks spearing up through the pink impatiens. The bright red stems to the left are Swiss Chard. In the Poetic Eddas, a sword is sometimes called a "leek." My leeks are in semi-shade and not as tall and true as they should be, but the resemblance is still there. Notice that if a leek blade was a sword, it would be fullered. It's interesting that Viking Age swords were fullered blades.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
This happened this last week on the 13th. I watch news on the internet, but I missed this story. How could I have missed it? Seems something like this should have been high profile all over the net. It wasn't. Thanks to Pico at Wild Chihuahuas for linking it.
I'm not sure what to say about another political killing so soon after the shootings at the Unitarian Church in TN. I can accept that people hold radically different views from mine, but not that they resort to violence.
Is it the Republicans making them crazy or are crazies attracted to the Republican party? Either way, what does that say about the GOP and their philosophies?
I send my condolence to the family of Bill Gwatney and to the thousands of people whose lives he benefited as Chairman of the Democratic Party in Arkansas.
Friday, August 22, 2008
[Beowulf's last words, spoken to young Wiglaf, the only one of his retinue to stand with him against the dragon that killed Beowulf.]
"You are the last of us, the only one left
of the Waegmundings. Fate swept us away,
sent my whole brave high-born clan
to their final doom. Now I must follow them."
[A portion of the messenger's report of Beowulf's death]
"...................His royal pyre
will melt no small amount of gold:
heaped there in a hoard, it was bought at heavy cost,
and that pile of rings he paid for at the end
with his own life will go up with the flame,
be furled in fire: treasure no follower
will wear in his memory, nor lovely woman
link and attach as a torque around her neck--
but often, repeatedly, in the path of exile
they shall walk bereft, bowed under woe,
now that their leader's laugh is silenced,
high spirits quenched."
The Geat people built a pyre for Beowulf,
stacked and decked it until it stood four-square,
hung with helmets, heavy war-shields
and shining armour, just as he had ordered.
Then his warriors laid him in the middle of it,
mourning a lord far-famed and beloved.
On a height they kindled the hugest of all
funeral fires; fumes of woodsmoke
billowed darkly up, the blaze roared
and drowned out their weeping, wind died down
and flames wrought havoc in the hot bone-house,
burning it to the core. They were disconsolate
and wailed aloud for their lord's decease.
A Geat woman too sang out in grief;
with hair bound up, she unburdened herself
of her worst fears, a wild litany
of nightmare and lament: her nation invaded,
enemies on the rampage, bodies in piles,
slavery and abasement. Heaven swallowed the smoke.
[The last lament of Beowulf's people.]
So the Geat people, his hearth companions,
sorrowed for the lord who had been laid low.
They said that of all the kings upon the earth
he was the man most gracious and fair-minded,
kindest to his people and keenest to win fame.
A client gave us three, small cucumbers, so I peeled them, cut off their ends and tasted each for bitterness. I found one bitter end, but the rest of the cucumber seemed fine. I sliced those. From my garden, I pulled onions. They are two years old, though the biggest was only about the size of a golf ball. I used five of these small onions. I sliced them thinly, not paper thin, but thinly, broke them into rings and added them to the cucumbers. Also, from the Brandywine tomato plants, still bearing perfect fruit like there's no tomorrow, I picked three, fat, juicy, red ones, cut them into chunks and tossed them into the bowl with the cucumbers and onions. After that I drizzled red wine vinegar over everything, then stirred it up. I filled the bowl with filtered water until it just covered all the chopped vegetables, then added more red wine vinegar until I liked the taste. Last, I salted it all, peppered it and stirred again. It's in my refrigerator, now, soaking. Should be ready by tomorrow. If you two go to church on Sunday, bring a plastic container with you, and I'll share enough out for you to have with your lunch.
Love, your daughter.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Read the rest of the article here:
Abstinence-Only Education Just Says No to the Truth: Teen Girls Suffer the Consequences
Please teach your children about safe sex and advocate for other young people. The government isn't going to do it for us. Protect your sons and daughters from unwanted pregnancies and life-threatening diseases. Give them a good start by providing them with knowledge and confidence to make informed decisions and control their lives.
From Collected Poems, 1932-1952, If I Were Tickled by the Rub of Love...about love (the sticky kind), I suppose, but as much about mortality. That's Dylan, always complicated, always outrageous. Audio of this poem, recited by Dylan Thomas, here.
IF I WERE TICKLED BY THE RUB OF LOVE
If I were tickled by the rub of love,
A rooking girl who stole me for her side,
Broke through her straws, breaking my bandaged string,
If the red tickle as the cattle calve
Still set to scratch a laughter from my lung,
I would not fear the apple nor the flood
Nor the bad blood of spring.
Shall it be male or female? say the cells,
And drop the plum like fire from the flesh.
If I were tickled by the hatching hair,
The winging bone that sprouted in the heels,
The itch of man upon the baby's thigh,
I would not fear the gallows nor the axe
Nor the crossed sticks of war.
Shall it be male or female? say the fingers
That chalk the walls with green girls and their men.
I would not fear the muscling-in of love
If I were tickled by the urchin hungers
Rehearsing heat upon a raw-edged nerve.
I would not fear the devil in the loin
Nor the outspoken grave.
If I were tickled by the lovers' rub
That wipes away not crow's-foot nor the lock
Of sick old manhood on the fallen jaws,
Time and the crabs and the sweethearting crib
Would leave me cold as butter for the flies,
The sea of scums could drown me as it broke
Dead on the sweethearts' toes.
This world is half the devil's and my own,
Daft with the drug that's smoking in a girl
And curling round the bud that forks her eye.
An old man's shank one-marrowed with my bone,
And all the herrings smelling in the sea,
I set and watch the worm beneath my nail
Wearing the quick away.
And that's the rub, the only rub that tickles.
The knobbly ape that swings along his sex
From damp love-darkness and the nurse's twist
Can neer raise the midnight of a chuckle,
Nor when he finds a beauty in the breast
Of lover, mother, lovers, or his six
Feet in the rubbing dust.
And what's the rub? Death's feather on the nerve?
Your mouth, my love, the thistle in the kiss?
My Jack of Christ born thorny on the tree?
The words of death are dryer than his stiff,
My wordy wounds are printed with your hair.
I would be tickled by the rub that is:
Man be my metaphor.
Monday, August 18, 2008
As I look at the choices, I don't see the charisma among them that Obama projects, but that's not unusual in a VP, now is it? Hilary Clinton stands out from the crowd in that regard. She's a force to equal Obama. Few believe she was ever considered, but since none of us KNOW, she's as good a guess as any. The only person we're sure he WON'T pick is John Edwards!
Kathleen Sebelius, Governor of KS, remains on everyone's guess list. A Democrat who won in a bleeding red state, she could bring that asset with her, as well as, women's votes. Her father was Governor of Ohio, which gives her influence there.
In June, I mentioned Claire McCaskill, Jim Webb and Christopher Dodd, but their names aren't lighting up as much.
Ted Strickland, Governor of OH, once mentioned, says "If drafted I will not run, nominated I will not accept and if elected I will not serve. So, I don’t know how more crystal clear I can be."
Joe Biden, Senator from DE, has been mentioned. He comes with foreign policy experience as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
Evan Bayh, Senator from IN, was (is) a supporter of HRC and may help gather Hilary's votes. He also gives Obama a chance to win a red state. Seems a bland choice, but it's VP, eh!
Sam Nunn, former Senator from GA, brings foreign policy and national security experience. Because Nunn is out of office, he dodges evaluation of his recent voting record, an uncomfortable situation for voters, indeed.
In addition to these possibles, which were on the list in June, one has been added, that's Tim Kaine, Governor of Virginia. He's a Roman Catholic, and he speaks fluent Spanish, which both seem like huge plusses for an Obama campaign. Although, his greatest asset is that Karl Rove doesn't like him! Go Kaine!
Just as an afterthought, Colin Powell's name has been mentioned. He's a Republican, but he has endorsed Obama, and he would bring military and foreign policy experience to the ticket. Some people say he was "for" the Iraq war, but it's much more complicated than that, and saying he was "for" the war is a misrepresentation. He does, however, currently support continued presence of U.S. troops in Iraq. Powell has too much baggage. He won't get loaded on the plane in time to make the trip to Washington.
Once the VP is chosen, don't forget to check out their positions on the issues. The link to OntheIssue.org is always on my sidebar.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Thursday, August 14, 2008
It has broken us, it has crushed us, it has drowned us, O King of the star-bright Kingdom; the wind has consumed us as twigs are consumed by crimson fire from the sky.
-Irish, 8th-9th century
-Irish, 9th century
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Here is Jimmy Carter's address to the nation on the subject of energy conservation, and a blog I wrote a while back concerning that speech. Below is an editorial that appeared in August 13th's Wichita Eagle by columnist Thomas Friedman. He describes the experience and provides the statistics of the accomplishment of the Danes, world leaders in renewables.
If you have ever visited one of these European cities, you immediately noticed that everyone rides a bicycle or a tram. Friedman notes they even ride in the rain. It's no exaggeration. Many people only own a bike, and it's the only way to get to work and the market. They take their kids to school on bikes. They ride when it's cold, and they ride in the rain. In Amsterdam, where the vast majority of people ride, the bicycle parking lots are acres and acres and completely packed. Also in Amsterdam, bicycles have the right of way. Pedestrians and cars beware!
Bikes and the electric tram in Amsterdam.
Bikes, bikes and more bikes in Amsterdam. Everyone owns a bike.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: DANES ARE ENERGY SMART
I was riding in a car back to my hotel in Copenhagen, Denmark, at the 6 p.m. rush hour. And, boy, you knew it was rush hour because 50 percent of the traffic in every intersection was bicycles. That is roughly the percentage of Danes who use two-wheelers to go to and from work or school every day.
What was most impressive about this day, though, was that it was raining. No matter. The Danes simply donned rain jackets and pants for biking. If only we could be as energy smart as Denmark.
Unlike America, Denmark, which was so badly hammered by the 1973 Arab oil embargo that it banned all Sunday driving for a while, responded to that crisis in such a sustained, focused and systematic way that today it is energy independent. (And it didn't happen by Danish politicians making their people stupid by telling them the solution was simply more offshore drilling.)
What was the trick? To be sure, Denmark is much smaller than the United States and was lucky to discover some oil in the North Sea. But despite that, Danes imposed on themselves a set of gasoline taxes, carbon-dioxide taxes and building-and-appliance efficiency standards that allowed them to grow their economy -- while barely growing their energy consumption -- and gave birth to a Danish clean-power industry that is one of the most competitive in the world today.
Denmark today gets nearly 20 percent of its electricity from wind. America? About 1 percent.
And did Danes suffer from their government shaping the market with energy taxes to stimulate innovations in clean power? In one word, said Connie Hedegaard, Denmark's minister of climate and energy, "no." It just forced them to innovate more -- like the way Danes recycle waste heat from their coal-fired power plants and use it for home heating and hot water, or the way they incinerate their trash in central stations to provide home heating. (There are virtually no landfills in Denmark.)
There is little whining about Denmark having $10-a-gallon gasoline because of high energy taxes. The shaping of the market with high energy standards and taxes on fossil fuels by the Danish government has actually had "a positive impact on job creation," added Hedegaard. "For example, the wind industry -- it was nothing in the 1970s. Today, one-third of all terrestrial wind turbines in the world come from Denmark." In the past 10 years, Denmark's exports of energy efficiency products have tripled. Energy technology exports rose 8 percent in 2007 to more than $10.5 billion in 2006, compared with a 2 percent rise in 2007 for Danish exports as a whole.
"It is one of our fastest-growing export areas," said Hedegaard. It is one reason that unemployment in Denmark today is 1.6 percent. In 1973, said Hedegaard, "we got 99 percent of our energy from the Middle East. Today it is zero."
Frankly, when you compare how America has responded to the 1973 oil shock with how Denmark has responded, we look pathetic.
Because smart taxes and incentives spurred Danish energy companies to innovate, Ditlev Engel, the president of Vestas -- Denmark's and the world's biggest wind turbine company -- told me that he simply can't understand how the U.S. Congress could have just failed to extend the production tax credits for wind development in America.
Why should you care?
"We've had 35 new competitors coming out of China in the last 18 months," Engel said, "and not one out of the U.S."
Thomas Friedman is a columnist with the New York Times News Service and author of the best-seller "The World Is Flat."
#1 I agree, if St. Ronnie didn't kill all of President Carter's energy programs we would be free of these middle eastern nuts.
#2 And who was spearheading the idiotic effort to portray Carter's attempt at energy self-sufficiency as misguided and un-American? Why, it was none other than Ronald Reagan himself! Sadly, the GOP kept on doing that, instead of admitting that perhaps Carter was on to something...
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Monday, August 11, 2008
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Long ago I started to learn about this idea in a book titled Wiki of Walpi (©1954). I checked, and it's unavailable from Amazon.com, but you can find copies of it from antique book dealers, like the one I linked. I still have my copy (pictured) from when I read it as a little girl. Its pages are fragile from age, but I started taking care of it rather early in life, so there's no major damage; all the pages are there, including the breathtaking illustrations. I don't know what attracted me to this book when I was little. I remember reading it when its words and long sentences were still challenging. I must have been six or so. It doesn't have snappy Dr. Seuss rhythms. It has a lot of words on each page, and many pages without pictures. In all, today's child wouldn't look twice at it, but I remember loving it and identifying with young Davo. It was my first experience with these marvelous expressions, "she shook her head East and West" and "he shook his head North and South." I distinctly remember not understanding the meaning of that at all, then puzzling it out when I was older.
It was the Utah arches story that made me remember the book and pull it from my shelf of most treasured, fantastical, beloved books. In the book, Davo is a pale-skinned boy, "bahana," among dark-skinned people, Navajo. Therefore, when he was born, his mother shook "her head East and West." He suffers because he can't play under the hot, Arizona sun (at Walpi) like the other children. He learns to live in the cooler times of the day, "the shadows," when the sun can't burn his skin. On a trip with his father, he meets a medicine man who offers him a salve for his skin that allows him to play in the sun. At first the old man won't tell him where to find the leaves he uses to make the medicine, but changes his mind so that the knowledge won't die with him.
"Where is this place?" Davo asked.
"There where the earth is a rainbow of color. There where the sky is a bridge of stone."
"Where the earth is a rainbow of color...and where the sky is a bridge of stone," Davo repeated the words in such a way that he would remember them for all time.
When Davo runs out of the medicine, he returns to the village for more, but the man has died. Davo refuses, though, to live again in shadows and resolves to find the magic leaves himself in the place the old man told him about. While traveling with his father's flocks of sheep, he eventually does.
He looked up to the sky. There a sight made his heart leap. High above him a bridge of stone arched toward the sky! Across the arch the setting sun splashed crimson, gold and purple!
"The leaves! I found them under an arch of stone streaked with sunset colors," Davo cried breathlessly. "Father, it was like a rainbow bridge."
The story ends with Davo as a hero, because not only do the magic leaves make a good salve for his skin, he mixes them in a tea to cure a sickness that threatens the Navajo. After Davo saves the pueblo, "all of the people were shaking their heads North and South."
Of course, the collapse of Wall Arch might have suggested this book to me, but it was Paul Henderson's words, "They all let go after a while," that really made me think of Wiki of Walpi, especially the old medicine man, who died. Yes, people actually died in children's books way back when, not often, but it happened. Like I said, I read this book when I was just a tot, and I imagine it was one of my first images of death. I'm glad, too. There isn't any hullabaloo about death. Davo only discovers the old man is gone because "where Masi's hogan had stood, there was nothing but a mound of earth--a mound of earth with a few timbers on top." The people tell Davo, "He has gone to mix his magic medicine in the Land Beyond the Sunset."
If someone could arrange that my death is observed that way, I'd appreciate it. Thanks.
Friday, August 8, 2008
And bold in battle as well;
Bravely and gladly a man shall go,
Till the day of his death is come.
The sluggard believes he shall live forever,
If the fight he faces not;
But age shall not grant him the gift of peace,
Though spears may spare his life.
-Translation by Bellows (1936)
Thursday, August 7, 2008
"She was watching CSI, burst into tears," Mr. Rivergarth will explain to the coroner, "then she was gone. I suspected something was wrong when she laughed at the rolling head, but it wasn't all that unusual; I once found her swooning with love over a tomato. She was especially gleeful over semicolons."
"Remember me?" Dylan Thomas wrote to a friend in Indiana. "Round, red, robustly raddled, a bulging Apple among poets. Hard as nails made of cream cheese, gap-toothed, balding, noisome, a great collector of dust and a magnet for moths, mad for beer, frightened of priests, women, Chicago, writers, distance, time, children, geese, death, in love, frightened of love."
No, I'll set this aside for a few days and see how it goes. Definitely not ready to be intimate with Dylan. Definitely not.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Cattle die, and kinsmen die,
And so one dies one's self;
But a noble name will never die,
If good renown one gets.
Cattle die, and kinsmen die,
And so one dies one's self;
One thing now that never dies,
The fame of a dead man's deeds.
Sunday, August 3, 2008
So I read Y Gododdin tonight, then I sat down and read Beowulf, in addition, because I wanted a refresher, especially about mead which is prominent in Gododdin. I first read Beowulf in college, freshman year, English Literature. I have since read it a couple more times. (Much of the encounter with the dragon was copy-pasted by Tolkien into The Hobbit, by the way.) I don't read it for any other reason than that it is an awesome story. It's one of those tales that the more you know about life, the more you find of life in its story.
This time around I was specifically looking for references to the symbel rite. They were there, fully elaborated by the writer, indicating that they were not, in his mind, accessories to the story, but integral to the culture of the time and the rationale of events. Years ago, before I knew much about paganism, in general, and symbel, specifically, these passages had no meaning for me. Tonight, they were diamonds.
My copy of Beowulf is contained within The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 4th ed. This volume provides a nice editorial to each work, as well as, useful footnotes. (E. Talbert Donaldson is the editor for the The Middle Ages section and the translator of this Beowulf.) It really is a joy to read. He doesn't, unfortunately, mention anything about the symbel, although the rite constitutes hearty chunks of the Beowulf text. Without mentioning the rite, though, he sensitively discusses an integral aspect, well worth quoting as one statement of a sophisticated, pagan-warrior spirituality.
Beowulf is testing his relationship with unknowable destiny. At any time, as he is fully aware, his luck may abandon him and he may be killed.... But whether he lives or dies, he will have done all that any man could do to develop his character heroically. It is this consciousness of testing Fate [Wyrd] that probably explains the boasting that modern readers of heroic poetry often find offensive. When he boasts, Beowulf is not only demonstrating that he has chosen the heroic way of life, but is also choosing it, for when he invokes his former courage as pledge of his future courage, his boast becomes a vow; the hero has put himself in a position from which he cannot withdraw.
Courage is the instrument by which the hero realizes himself. "Fate often saves an undoomed man when his courage is good," says Beowulf...
This is the heart of the symbel, the boast and the vow, spoken before the "lady" (who bears so many meanings they would require a book to discuss them all) who offers mead to the warrior. I didn't keep notes, but there are, at least, three instances of the full-blown symbel in Beowulf. Honestly, the entire story can be read as celebrating the principles of a pagan warrior exemplified in symbel and deed and of his philosophy, more than the ideals of young, bold men, but an ethos which dealt, also, with man's mortality.
But concentrating on the symbel, in section IX, Beowulf boasts of his swimming at sea, "In any case it befell me that I slew with my sword nine sea-monsters. I have not heard tell of a harder fight by night under heaven's arch, nor of a man more hard-pressed in the sea-streams. Yet I came out of the enemies' grasp alive, weary of my adventure." Immediately after, he describes the horror of Grendel and then vows, "But I shall show him soon now the strength and courage of the Geats [Beowulf's race], their warfare....The folk's guardian had heard from Beowulf a fast-resolved thought." The queen appears now to legitimize (witness? hallow? consecrate?) the symbel.
There was laughter of warriors, voices rang pleasant, words were cheerful. Wealhtheow came forth, Hrothgar's queen, mindful of customs, gold-adorned, greeted the men in the hall; and the noble woman offered the cup first to the keeper of the land of the East-Danes, bade him be glad at the beer-drinking, beloved of the people. In joy he partook of feast and hall-cup, king famous for victories. Then the woman of the Helmings went about to each one of the retainers, young and old, offered them the costly cup, until the time came that she brought the mead-bowl to Beowulf, the ring-adorned queen, mature of mind. Sure of speech she greeted the man of the Geats, thanked God that her wish was fulfilled, that she might trust in some man for help against deadly deeds. He took the cup, the warrior fierce in battle, from Wealhtheow, and then spoke, one ready for fight--Beowulf spoke, the son of Ecgtheow: "I resolved, when I set out on the sea, sat down in the sea-boat with my band of men, that I should altogether fulfill the will of your people or else fall in slaughter; fast in the foe's grasp. I shall achieve a deed of manly courage or else have lived to see in this mead-hall my ending day." These words were well-pleasing to the woman, the boast of the Geat. Gold-adorned, the noble folk-queen went to sit by her lord.
Notice that the queen "thanked God" in this overtly pagan rite. That's typical during that time and the whole-hearted confusion survives to modern days. There's a "preacher" in Colorado (of Colorado Springs persuasion, sadly), encouraging people to pray for rain during Obama's Dem. nomination acceptance speech, which is to be held outdoors in Denver. If it sounds like witchcraft, that's because it's based on the same pagan principles. Charles Guignebert said it well enough in his book, Ancient Medieval and Modern Christianity (1961), "...Western peoples in the early centuries of the Christian era never really understood the Christian dogmas, nor have they understood them since....The Western peoples have, strictly speaking, never been Christians," and "Christians in name, but bearing the impress only of the Christian legend and nourished upon formulas passively repeated, these men--the vast majority of professed Christians--remained actually pagans...."
As for Y Gododdin, I haven't come across any editorials--yet--implying that the entire poem, practically from the first word to the last, is one long celebration of the symbel pledges offered and honored by the three hundred warriors who rode off to battle, pretty sure they weren't coming back alive. The historical time frame is right for it, though. Events in Y Gododdin, composed by Aneirin in Old Welsh, are supposed to have occurred around 595-600 A.D. At least one event in Beowulf, in Old English, is dated at around 520 A.D. Christianity was nominally introduced by the Romans, but had not penetrated very far north during this time--think Hadrian's Wall. Ninian initialized a mission to the Picts around 400 with limited success. Columba had more success in 563. Comparing these dates, you wonder Christianity is mentioned at all in either composition.
Aneirin's song is a collection of homages to three hundred warriors who set out from Edinburgh (Eidin) to fight overwhelming odds in the south against folks we might call Englishmen. Y Gododdin is a loose composition compared to Beowulf, which tells a story in logical sequence, and, thus, the Gododdin lacks the exposition of ideals we find in Beowulf, but not the ideals. There are fewer references in Y Gododdin to our lady, who suggests we're dealing with the symbel rite, but she's not entirely absent. Another aspect of Y Gododdin, besides the maiden reference, that points solidly to the symbel is the appearance of the drinking horn, typical in the Scandinavian mead ritual.
from verse 16
he passed the drinking-horn round in his palace. The first brewing of bragget was his;
from verse 47
A chain of iron about both ankles, caused by mead, by horn, by Catraeth's raiders.
As for references to mead drinking, in general, the poem would be much less in meaning and length if they were omitted. The Cult of Mead seems to be at its height in Y Gododdin. It not only seals the vows of these men, it provides their reward (reference to the afterlife? maybe...) and emboldens them for battle.
from verse 2
Diademed, to the fore at all times, breathless before a maid, he earned mead.
Rent the front of his shield, when he heard the war-cry, he spared none he pursued.
He'd not turn from a battle till blood flowed, like rushes hewed men who'd not flee.
(These translations are by Joseph Clancy, by the way, copied from the online text of Y Gododdin. There's another online text by a different translator, but I haven't finished that version yet. It's substantially different, although there's still a lot of mead!)
from verse 3
He would spare neither mail-shirt nor shield; none could, on mead he was nourished,
Ward off the stroke of Cadfannan.
from verse 11
They drank mead, gold and sweet, ensnaring; for a year the minstrels were merry.
from verse 13
A man went to Catraeth at morn; he guzzled mead-suppers at midnight.
A disaster, keening of comrades, his campaign was, hot-blooded killer.
from verse 97
He was grim in combat and before he was covered with clods of earth
Edar earned the right to drink his mead.
One gets the idea (and this goes on and on, verse after verse). The concept of mead emboldening the warrior, which we read so boldly in Y Gododdin, is not altogether absent from Beowulf. Near the end, when Beowulf faces the dragon, a single warrior finds the courage to aid his king. The other men have abandoned Beowulf and wait for the outcome, but "Wiglaf spoke, said many fit words to his companions--his mind was mournful: "I remember that time we drank mead, when we promised our lord in the beer-hall--him who gave us these rings--that we would repay him for the war-arms if a need like this befell him...."
Wiglaf gave his word, consecrated it with mead, most likely offered by a lady, and when the time comes, it is his memory of that vow which gives him courage. Maybe I'm stretching, but I think it can be said that "on mead he was nourished," as in the language of Y Gododdin. You might say he was also ensnared, obligated by the vow given while drinking mead. Like Donaldson said about Beowulf, "When he boasts, Beowulf is not only demonstrating that he has chosen the heroic way of life, but is also choosing it, for when he invokes his former courage as pledge of his future courage, his boast becomes a vow; the hero has put himself in a position from which he cannot withdraw." To use a quote of a quoter (because the book I'd love to get my hands on starts at around $230), Eric Wódening quotes Bauschatz from The Well and the Tree: World and Time in Early Germanic Culture, "symbel is the ritual drinking feast at which the participants try to place themselves into the flow of Wyrd through the binding of words and deeds. In other words, it is a means by which the deeds of now are linked to those of the past."
What man has not boasted or made vows while drinking his mead? Many of which he was later obligated to honor? That's the crux, then, isn't it, honoring the vow. I think the men at Edinburgh spent a year drinking mead, preparing to face their deaths and gain immortality, pagan immortality, the enduring fame of their honor and courage.
Despite this, my thoughts have wandered a different and more twisted path. Dale - Sings is a natural reading, as I noted above, but I also deconstructed the title to read Dales - ings. I must explain.
I don't own an OED, unfortunately, but I have a fine dictionary, and it tells me that -ing is a suffix of nouns formed from verbs; good enough, but not quite what my brain seized upon. It also tells me that -ing is a "native English suffix meaning "one belonging to," "of the kind of," "one descended from" and sometimes having a diminutive force, formerly used in the formation of nouns: farthing; shilling; bunting; gelding; whiting."
It wasn't purely by chance that my mind wandered this way, forming a noun (a thing) from the title Dalesings. On the contrary, it was our shared, English surname, which ends with a closely related suffix -ling, "a suffix of nouns...denoting one concerned with (hireling, underling) or diminutive (princeling, duckling)."
So while Dale Sings, and I know he will, these are also Dale's Things, those things "belonging to," "of the kind of," "descended from" and "concerned with" Dale.
Erratic thoughts? Definitely, just the kind of thing that keeps my head spinning at night. Be glad you're not me.
Saturday, August 2, 2008
Friday, August 1, 2008
Tom Petty, back with his original band, Mudcrutch, and Mike Campbell from the Heartbreakers, still with him--bless the guitarmen! Benmont Tench, also from Heartbreakers, is on keys.
Tom, as poet, arranger and vocalist, doesn't ever skip a heartbeat, is as authentic, original, relevant and brilliant as ever, if not more so, on his new CD. This is not an album to be picked apart for a playlist; all the tracks are worthy. Listened to as a whole, it's a spiritual rush.
Mudcrutch reviews: Rolling Stone, BlogCritics, Modern Guitars.
- Mudcrutch Lyrics