Poets

Brunanburh, Beowulf & Egil Skallagrimsson

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Brunanburh! Brunanburh! Brunanburh! This antique name was once attached to an Anglo-Saxon fortification, in whose locality was fought one of the most important battles in British history (937 AD). A massive showdown, it saw King Athelstan of England face off against a grand alliance of Scots, Vikings & the ‘Northern Welsh’ of Cumbria & Galloway. This confederacy had been galvanized into action by a young Viking prince called Analf Guthfrithson. Normally based in Dublin, Analf had momentarily managed to unite the entire Viking world behind him in an attempt to wrestle back their former control over England which had been lost to Athelstan’s grandfather, Alfred the Great. Despite such powerful forces arrayed against them, the Battle of Brunanburh was a comprehensive victory for the Saxons, since which day the borders of Britain’s three nations have been more or less constant. One could fairly admit that the Battle of Brunanburh was the moment when the British Isles were truly born.

The first mention of Brunanburh in the annals comes within the pages of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, that wonderful storehouse of early English history without which the Dark Ages would have been much, much darker. The entry for 937 is actually one of the most famous pieces of Anglo-Saxon poetry, the first & best of a series composed throughout the 10th century. Most entries in the ASC are written in rather mundane prose, but the rendering of certain events in poetry would naturally amplify their cultural importance. It is only through the Pegasus-flight of the poetic voice that humanity may truly record the incredible passions felt in the most turbulent of times. A fine example is the poetry of Wilfred Owen, without whose words our ability to feel the sensations inspired by the trenches of World War One would be much diminished. Similarly, the composer of the Brunanburh poem manages to reflect with consummate skill the spirit of battle, basing his words upon what appears to be genuine eye-witness accuracy.

In this year King Aethelstan, Lord of warriors,
Ring-giver to men, and his brother also,
Prince Eadmund, won eternal glory
In battle with sword edges
Around Brunanburh. They split the shield-wall,
They hewed battle shields with the remnants of hammers.
The sons of Eadweard,
It was only befitting their noble descent
From their ancestors that they should often
Defend their land in battle against each hostile people,
Horde and home. The enemy perished,
Scots men and seamen,
Fated they fell. The field flowed
With blood of warriors, from sun up
In the morning, when the glorious star
Glided over the earth, God’s bright candle,
Eternal lord, till that noble creation
Sank to its seat. There lay many a warrior
By spears destroyed; Northern men
Shot over shield, likewise Scottish as well,
Weary, war sated.
The West-Saxons pushed onward
All day; in troops they pursued the hostile people.
They hewed the fugitive grievously from behind
With swords sharp from the grinding.
The Mercians did not refuse hard hand-play
To any warrior
Who came with Anlaf over the sea-surge
In the bosom of a ship, those who sought land,
Fated to fight. Five lay dead
On the battle-field, young kings,
Put to sleep by swords, likewise also seven
Of Anlaf’s earls, countless of the army,
Sailors and Scots. There the North-men’s chief was put
To flight, by need constrained
To the prow of a ship with little company:
He pressed the ship afloat, the king went out
On the dusky flood-tide, he saved his life.
Likewise, there also the old campaigner
Through flight came
To his own region in the north–Constantine–
Hoary warrior. He had no reason to exult
The great meeting; he was of his kinsmen bereft,
Friends fell on the battle-field,
Killed at strife: even his son, young in battle, he left
In the place of slaughter, ground to pieces with wounds.
That grizzle-haired warrior had no
Reason to boast of sword-slaughter,
Old deceitful one, no more did Anlaf;
With their remnant of an army they had no reason to
Laugh that they were better in deed of war
In battle-field–collision of banners,
Encounter of spears, encounter of men,
Trading of blows–when they played against
The sons of Eadweard on the battle field.
Departed then the Northmen in nailed ships.
The dejected survivors of the battle,
Sought Dublin over the deep water,
Over Dinges mere
To return to Ireland, ashamed in spirit.
Likewise the brothers, both together,
King and Prince, sought their home,
West-Saxon land, exultant from battle.
They left behind them, to enjoy the corpses,
The dark coated one, the dark horny-beaked raven
And the dusky-coated one,
The eagle white from behind, to partake of carrion,
Greedy war-hawk, and that gray animal
The wolf in the forest.
Never was there more slaughter
On this island, never yet as many
People killed before this
With sword’s edge: never according to those who tell us
From books, old wisemen,
Since from the east Angles & Saxons came up
Over the broad sea. Britain they sought,
Proud war-smiths who overcame the Welsh,
Glorious warriors they took hold of the land.

 Leaving aside for a moment the quest for the battlefield’s location (Burnley), I would now like to turn our digressional attention to a certain Egil Skallagrimsson. This guy is a true Icelandic legend, a warrior-poet of the 10th century who is the movie-star of the anonymously-penned 13th century Egil’s Saga. For me, he is the leading contender for authorship of the poem that was used by the Anglo-Saxon Chroniclers for 937 AD.

 

Egil was a widely praised poet – he composed his first at the tender age of three – & could well have been commissioned by Athelstan to compose a triumphant piece of propaganda. We know the poem was more or less contemporary to the battle, finding itself inserted into the ASC at least as early as 955, when it was written into the so-called “Parker Chronicle” ( Whitelock 1955). Egil was the best poet of his time & the poem is clearly the best in the Chronicle. Alistair Campbell (1938) notices how the original version of the poem contained many, ‘non-west saxon & archaic forms’ & declares, ‘who the poet was is impossible to say.’ He does, however, go on to describe the spirit of the poet, as in;

Although he owes much to his predecessors, the poet of the Battle of Brunanburh is by no means without merits of his own. He uses the conventional diction neatly & cleverly, & never becomes swamped in phrases… the two feelings which breathe through the poem are scorn & exhultation, & they are perfectly expressed. Lastly, despite the wealth of poetic diction at his command, he can be, at times, astonishingly simple & direct; the chief example of this is the description of battle from 20 to 40, where there is little repetition, & nearly every half-line advances the narrative… the poets subjects are the praise of heroes & the glory of victory… his work is a natural product of his age, an age of national triumph, antiquarian interest, & literary enthusiaism

 

My gut, litological instinct tells me that Egil was the author of the poem, based undeniable facts such as;

A – Egil fought at Brunanburh

His presence at the battle is without question & recorded extensively in the saga of his life by Snorri Sturlsson

B – Egil stayed at Athelstan’s court

A year or two after the battle, Egil returned to Athelstan’s court, & I believe it was at this time in & in the post-Brunanburh climate that the poem was produced. Although giving very little detail of Egil’s visit to Athelstan, the Saga definitely places him there, as in;

During the second winter that he was living at Borg after Skallagrim’s death Egil became melancholy, and this was more marked as the winter wore on. And when summer came, Egil let it be known that he meant to make ready his ship for a voyage out in the summer. He then got a crew. He purposed to sail to England. They were thirty men on the ship. Asgerdr remained behind, and took charge of the house. Egil’s purpose was to seek king Athelstan and look after the promise that he had made to Egil at their last parting.

        It was late ere Egil was ready, and when he put to sea, the winds delayed him. Autumn then came on, and rough weather set in. They sailed past the north coast of the Orkneys. Egil would not put in there, for he thought king Eric’s power would be supreme all over the islands. Then they sailed southwards past Scotland, and had great storms and cross winds. Weathering the Scotch coast they held on southwards along England; but on the evening of a day, as darkness came on, it blew a gale. Before they were aware, breakers were both seaward and ahead. There was nothing for it but to make for land, and this they did. Under sail they ran ashore, and came to land at Humber-mouth. All the men were saved, and most of the cargo, but as for the ship, that was broken to pieces.

        When they found men to speak with, they learnt these tidings, which Egil thought good, that with king Athelstan all was well and with his kingdom… in that same summer when Egil had come to England these tidings were heard from Norway, that Eric Allwise was dead, but the king’s stewards had taken his inheritance, and claimed it for the king. These tidings when Arinbjorn and Thorstein heard, they resolved that Thorstein should go east and see after the inheritance.

So when spring came on and men made ready their ships who meant to travel from land to land, then Thorstein went south to London, and there found king Athelstan. He produced tokens and a message from Arinbjorn to the king and also to Egil, that he might be his advocate with the king, so that king Athelstan might send a message from himself to king Hacon, his foster-son, advising that Thorstein should get his inheritance and possessions in Norway. King Athelstan was easily persuaded to this, because Arinbjorn was known to him for good.

Then came Egil also to speak with king Athelstan, and told him his intention.

‘I wish this summer,’ said he, ‘to go eastwards to Norway and see after the property of which king Eric and Bergonund robbed me. Atli the Short, Bergonund’s brother, is now in possession. I know that, if a message of yours be added, I shall get law in this matter.’

The king said that Egil should rule his own goings. ‘But best, methinks, were it,’ he said, ‘for thee to be with me and be made defender of my land and command my army. I will promote thee to great honour.’

Egil answered: ‘This offer I deem most desirable to take. I will say yea to it and not nay. Yet have I first to go to Iceland, and see after my wife and the property that I have there.’

King Athelstan gave then to Egil a good merchant-ship and a cargo therewith; there was aboard for lading wheat and honey, and much money’s worth in other wares. And when Egil made ready his ship for sea, then Thorstein Eric’s son settled to go with him, he of whom mention was made before, who was afterwards called Thora’s son. And when they were ready they sailed, king Athelstan and Egil parting with much friendship.

Egill engaging in holmgang with Berg-Önundr; painting by Johannes Flintoe.
Egill engaging in holmgang with Berg-Önundr; painting by Johannes Flintoe.

C – The poem is Bookish

 Where JD Niles notices that scholars have, ‘drawn attention to the poem’s studied artistry, including its use of syntactic variation, studied antithesis, aural patterning, and an array of rhetorical figures that may be patterned on Latin models,’ Campbell (1938) tells us, ‘the poem is remarkably ‘correct’ in metre : that is to say, its half-verses are constructed with regard to the limitations, & bound together by alliteration with regard to laws, which are found in the earlier Old English poetry… the diction is almost entirely composed of elements to be found in earlier poems…. a large number of word s & expression which forcibly recall the older poetry.’ We must also observe that the poem does not rhyme, with Campbell stating, ‘as a final instance of the conservative nature of the versification of the Battle of Brunanburh, the absence of rhyme must be mentioned.’

I am a poet myself, & I understand the very tidings of poetic construction. Scholars have observed how the Brunanburh poem is packed full of direct lifts, or half-lifts, from the corpus of Anglo-Saxon literature. To my mind, although Egil would have been fluent in Old English, he may not have been so observant in its literature. To remedy this, during the composition of the Brunanburh poem I believe he made use of Athelstan’s library, in order to paint his epic, panygerical pastiche. Where Campbell tells us ‘it is evident that the Battle of Brunanburh shows no changes in the structure of the half-line : all its types can be paralleled in the older poetry, & practically all of them in Beowulf,’ in the poem, 21 half-lines occur identically in other OE poems, such as

 

eorla dryhten (Beowulf)

on lides bosme (Genesis)

wulf on wealde (Judith)

 

While 23 half-lines are nigh identical, as in;

 

faege feollan (Beowulf) = faege gefealled

on folcstede (Judith) = on dam folcstede

bone sweartan hraefn (Soul & body) = bonne se swearta hrefen

 

D – The poem is Skaldic

In the 10th century,  the Icelandic poets – the Skalds – were the best in Europe, & their professional services were sought by many a wealthy king. That the Brunanburh poem has Skaldic roots is supported by JD Niles, who tells us;

By Old English standards, there is something unconventional about the poet’s voice as well. Granted that the distribution of praise and blame is central to the purposes of early Germanic poetry, still nowhere else in Old English is there such a quintessential poem of boasting and scorn. Athelstan’s triumph is celebrated not by a sober account of his actions, but by exultant allusion to the enemy blood spilled on the field and the number of enemy kings and noblemen cut down. The poet’s bloody-mindedness is matched by his emphasis on the losers’ shame. The survivors take to their ships xwiscmode ‘humiliated’ (56b), while the victors proceed home wiges hremge ‘gloating in battle’ (59b). The satiric element that runs through the poem is most prominent in the threefold repetition “hreman ne £>orfte. . .Gelpan ne J)orfte. . .hlehhanne Jjorftun,” 39b, 44b, 47b (“he had no need to gloat. . .He had no need to boast. . .they had no need to laugh”). The poet here makes sardonic reference to the grief of the aged Scottish king Constantine, who not only lost his son on the battlefield but was unable to recover the young man’s body.

The poet’s brusque indifference to carnage may remind one of the hard, cold tone that is characteristic of skaldic verse more than it calls to mind the heroic spirit of Beowulf or Maldon, let alone the melancholy and philosophical mood in which both the Beowulf poet and the poet of the Wanderer contemplate the spiraling tragedies of earthly mutability.

If Brunanburh has affinities to other early medieval verse, they are to such a poem as the Battle of Hafsfjord rather than to anything in Old English, as Kershaw has pointed out (vii). Both these poems celebrate a decisive battle by which a king established authority over the whole of his realm. In the Norse poem the king is Harald Fairhair, and his opponents are a coalition of Norwegians who opposed his expanding power in 872. Even more than the author of Brunanburh, the Norse poet takes delight in the image of boats manned by fleeing survivors, who in this poem are pelted with stones from behind while the wounded hunch shame-faced under the rowing-benches:

In Hafsfjord as in Brunanburh, the poet follows the customary mode of panegyric and calls attention to the distinguished ancestry of the victorious party: “konungr enn kynstóri,” 1.2 (“the king of noble lineage”). He also alludes in conventional fashion to the din of battle: “ísorn dúõu,” 2.4 (“swords clashed”), “hlömmum vas á hlífum,” 3.4 (“shields clanged together”). Brunanburh resembles nothing else so much as Hafsfjord drawn out to a more substantial and dignified length by an author who had at his command the full resources of Anglo-Saxon poetic speech and used those resources to honor his English king. In commenting on the “elliptical, allusive , non-narrative style” of the six encomiastic poems that are embedded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Opland suggests that this group of poems emerged due to the influence of the court poetry of the skalds (173). Leaving the other five Chronicle poems aside, since (with the possible exception of the poem on the capture of the Five Boroughs) they do not seem much like Brunanburh except in being occasional pieces, there is reason to think that the Brunanburh poet had at least passing acquaintance with the Norse language and skaldic poetic models. Several of the points of influence have been reviewed by Dietrich Hofmann (165-67); these consist of cnear ‘warship’ (35a) as a loanword, sceard ‘deprived’ (40b) used in a manner suggestive of Old Norse idiom, guöhafoc ‘war-hawk’ (64a) as a kenning for ‘eagle’, and – with less certainty – eorlas (31a) in the Norse sense of ‘jarls’. Other points worth identifying are the following.

There are a number of echoes between the Brunanburh poem & the poetry said to have been composed  by Egil himself, as given in the saga.;

 

A

The warriors revenge

is repaid to the king

wolf & eagle stalk

over the kings sons;

Hallvard’s corpse flew

in pieces into the sea

the grey eagle tears

as Travel-quick wounds ES

 

They left behind them, to enjoy the corpses,

the dark coated one, the dark horny-beaked raven

and the dusky-coated one,

the eagle white from behind, to partake of carrion,

greedy war-hawk, and that gray animal

the wolf in the forest. ASC

 

 

B

There the North-men’s chief was put

to flight, by need constrained

to the prow of a ship with little company:

he pressed the ship afloat, the king went out

on the dusky flood-tide, he saved his life. ASC

 

 

My mother said

I would be bought

a boat with fine oars

set off with Vikings

stand up on the prow,

command the precious craft,

then enter port ES

 

 

C

The field flowed

with blood of warriors, from sun up

in the morning, when the glorious star

glided over the earth, God’s bright candle,

eternal lord, till that noble creation

sank to its seat. There lay many a warrior

by spears destroyed ASC

 

there before sunset we will

make noisy clamour of spears ES

 

 

 D

They split the shield-wall,

they hewed battle shields with the remnants of hammers.

The sons of Eadweard, it was only befitting their noble descent

from their ancestors that they should often

defend their land in battle against each hostile people,

horde and home ASC

 

I have wielded a blood-stained sword

and howling spear; the bird

of carrion followed me

when the Vikings pressed forth;

In fury we fought battles,

fire swept through men’s homes,

we made bloody boodies

slump dead by city gates ES

 

 

E

They split the shield-wall,

they hewed battle shields with the remnants of hammers. ASC

 

I raise the ring, the clasp that is worn

on the shield-splitting arm ES

 

 

F

 

In this year King Aethelstan, Lord of warriors,

ring-giver to men, and his brother also,

Prince Eadmund, won eternal glory

in battle with sword edges

around Brunanburh.  ASC

 

The wager of battle who towers

over the land, the royal progeny,

has felled three kings; the realm

passes top the kin of Ella. ES

 

A modern Day Skaldic Poet
A modern Day Skaldic Poet

5 – Egil was writing court poetry at that very time

Between arriving in Scotland & spending time with Athelstan (as given above) Egil found himself in York with Eric Bloodaxe, & ended up writing a substantial poem there. He’d got himself into a bit of bother alongside a certain Arinbjorn & ended up writing the poem to save their skins. The saga tells us;

 

Then they went in. Arinbjorn went before the king and saluted him. The king received him, and asked what he would have.

        Arinbjorn said: ‘I lead hither one who has come a long way to seek thee in thy place, and to be reconciled to thee. Great is this honour to thee, my lord, when thine enemies travel of their own free will from other lands, and deem they cannot endure thy wrath though thou be nowhere near. Now show thyself princely to this man. Let him get of thee good terms, seeing that he hath so magnified thine honour, as thou now mayst see, by braving many seas and dangers to come hither from his own home. No compulsion drove him to this journey, nought but goodwill to thee.’

        Then the king looked round, and saw over men’s heads where Egil stood. The king knew him at once, and, darting a keen glance at him, said: ‘How wert thou so bold, Egil, that thou daredst to come before me? Thy last parting from me was such that of life thou couldst have from me no hope.’

        Then went Egil up to the table, and clasped the foot of the king. He then sang:

 

                                ‘With cross-winds far cruising

                                I came on my wave-horse,

                                Eric England’s warder

                                        Eager soon to see.

                                Now wielder of wound-flash,

                                Wight dauntless in daring,

                                That strong strand of Harold’s

                                        Stout lineage I meet.’

 

        King Eric said: ‘I need not to count the crimes on thy hands, for they are so many and great that each one might well warrant that thou go not hence alive. Thou hast nothing else to expect but that here thou must die. This thou mightest know before, that thou wouldst get no terms from me.’

        Gunnhilda said: ‘Why shall not Egil be slain at once? Rememberest thou no more, O king, what Egil hath done to thee—slain thy friends and kin, ay, even thine own son to boot, and cursed thyself? Where ever was it known that a king was thus dealt with?’

        Arinbjorn said: ‘If Egil have spoken evil of the king, for that he can now atone in words of praise that shall live for all time.’

        Gunnhilda said: ‘We will hear none of his praise. O king, bid Egil be led out and beheaded. I will neither hear his words nor see him.’

        Then said Arinbjorn: ‘The king will not let himself be egged on to all thy dastardly work. He will not have Egil slain by night, for night-slaying is murder.’

        The king said: ‘So shall it be, Arinbjorn, as thou demandest. Egil shall live this night. Take thou him home with thee, and bring him to me in the morning.’

        Arinbjorn thanked the king for his words: ‘We hope, my lord, that henceforth Egil’s cause will take a better turn. And though Egil has done great wrong against thee, yet look thou on this, that he has suffered much from thee and thy kin. King Harold thy father took the life of Thorolf, a man of renown, Egil’s father’s brother, for the slander of bad men, for no crime at all. And thou, O king, didst break the law in Egil’s case for the sake of Bergonund; nay further thou didst wish to doom his death, and didst slay his men, and plunder all his goods, and withal didst make him an outlaw and drive him from the land. And Egil is one who will stand no teasing. But in every cause under judgment one must look on the act with its reasons. I will now have Egil in keeping for the night.’

        Then Arinbjorn and Egil went back to the house, and when they came in they two went into a small upper room and talked over this matter. Arinbjorn said: ‘The king just now was very wroth, yet methought his mood rather softened before the end, and fortune will now decide what may be the upshot. I know that Gunnhilda will set all her mind on marring your cause. Now I would fain that we take this counsel: that you be awake through the night, and compose a song of praise about king Eric. I should think it had best be a poem of twenty stanzas, and you might recite it to-morrow when we come before the king. Thus did Bragi my kinsman, when he was under the wrath of Bjorn king of Sweden; he composed a poem of praise about him in one night, and for it received his head. Now may we also have the same luck with the king, that you may make your peace with him, if you can offer him the poem of praise.’

        Egil said: ‘I shall try this counsel that you wish, but ’twas the last thing I ever meant, to sing king Eric’s praises.’

        Arinbjorn bade him try.

        Then Arinbjorn went away, and had food and drink carried to the upper room. Egil was there alone for the night. Arinbjorn went to his men, and they sate over drink till midnight. Then Arinbjorn and his men went to the sleeping chambers, but before undressing he went up to the room to Egil, and asked how he was getting on with the poem.

        Egil said that nothing was done. ‘Here,’ said he, ‘has sate a swallow by the window and twittered all night, so that I have never got rest for that same.’

        Whereupon Arinbjorn went away and out by the door leading up to the house-roof, and he sate by the window of the upper room where the bird had before sate. He saw that something of a shape witch-possest moved away from the roof. Arinbjorn sate there by the window all night till dawn. But after Arinbjorn had come there, Egil composed all the poem, and got it so by heart that he could recite it in the morning when he met Arinbjorn. They watched for a fit time to go before the king.

         King Eric went to table according to his wont, and much people were with him. And when Arinbjorn knew this, then went he with all his followers fully armed to the king’s palace while the king sate at table…. then Egil advanced before him and began the poem, and recited in a loud voice, and at once won silence.

 

‘Westward I sailed the wave,

Within me Odin gave

The sea of song I bear

(So ’tis my wont to fare):

I launched my floating oak

When loosening ice-floes broke,

My mind a galleon fraught

With load of minstrel thought.

 

‘A prince doth hold me guest,

Praise be his due confess’d:

Of Odin’s mead let draught

In England now be quaff’d.

Laud bear I to the king,

Loudly his honour sing;

Silence I crave around,

My song of praise is found.

 

‘Sire, mark the tale I tell,

Such heed beseems thee well;

Better I chaunt my strain,

If stillness hush’d I gain.

The monarch’s wars in word

Widely have peoples heard,

But Odin saw alone

Bodies before him strown.

 

‘Swell’d of swords the sound

Smiting bucklers round,

Fiercely waxed the fray,

Forward the king made way.

Struck the ear (while blood

Streamed from glaives in flood)

Iron hailstorm’s song,

Heavy, loud and long.

 

‘Lances, a woven fence,

Well-ordered bristle dense;

On royal ships in line

Exulting spearmen shine.

Soon dark with bloody stain

Seethed there an angry main,

With war-fleet’s thundering sound,

With wounds and din around.

 

‘Of men many a rank

Mid showering darts sank:

Glory and fame

Gat Eric’s name.

 

‘More may yet be told,

An men silence hold:

Further feats and glory,

Fame hath noised in story.

Warriors’ wounds were rife,

Where the chief waged strife;

Shivered swords with stroke

On blue shield-rims broke.

 

‘Breast-plates ringing crashed,

Burning helm-fire flashed,

Biting point of glaive

Bloody wound did grave.

Odin’s oaks (they say)

In that iron-play

Baldric’s crystal blade

Bowed and prostrate laid.

 

‘Spears crossing dashed,

Sword-edges clashed:

Glory and fame

Gat Eric’s name.

 

‘Red blade the king did wield,

Ravens flocked o’er the field.

Dripping spears flew madly,

Darts with aim full deadly.

Scotland’s scourge let feed

Wolf, the Ogress’ steed:

For erne of downtrod dead

Dainty meal was spread.

 

‘Soared battle-cranes

O’er corse-strown lanes,

Found flesh-fowl’s bill

Of blood its fill.

While deep the wound

He delves, around

Grim raven’s beak

Blood-fountains break.

 

‘Axe furnished feast

For Ogress’ beast:

Eric on the wave

To wolves flesh-banquet gave.

 

‘Javelins flying sped,

Peace affrighted fled;

Bows were bent amain,

Wolves were battle-fain:

Spears in shivers split,

Sword-teeth keenly bit;

Archers’ strings loud sang,

Arrows forward sprang.

 

‘He back his buckler flings

From arm beset with rings,

Sword-play-stirrer good,

Spiller of foemen’s blood.

Waxing everywhere

(Witness true I bear),

East o’er billows came

Eric’s sounding name.

 

‘Bent the king his yew,

Bees wound-bearing flew:

Eric on the wave

To wolves flesh-banquet gave.

Brunanburh

 

‘Yet to make more plain

I to men were fain

High-soul’d mood of king,

But must swiftly sing.

Weapons when he takes,

The battle-goddess wakes,

On ships’ shielded side

Streams the battle-tide.

 

‘Gems from wrist he gives,

Glittering armlets rives:

Lavish ring-despiser

Loves not hoarding miser.

Frodi’s flour of gold

Gladdens rovers bold;

Prince bestoweth scorning

Pebbles hand-adorning.

 

‘Foemen might not stand

For his deathful brand;

Yew-bow loudly sang,

Sword-blades meeting rang.

Lances aye were cast,

Still he the land held fast,

Proud Eric prince renowned;

And praise his feats hath crowned.

 

‘Monarch, at thy will

Judge my minstrel skill:

Silence thus to find

Sweetly cheered my mind.

Moved my mouth with word

From my heart’s ground stirred,

Draught of Odin’s wave

Due to warrior brave.

 

‘Silence I have broken,

A sovereign’s glory spoken:

Words I knew well-fitting

Warrior-council sitting.

Praise from heart I bring,

Praise to honoured king:

Plain I sang and clear

Song that all could hear.’

 

King Eric sate upright while Egil recited the poem, and looked keenly at him. And when the song of praise was ended, then spake the king: ‘Right well was the poem recited; and now, Arinbjorn, I have resolved about the cause between me and Egil, how it shall go. Thou hast pleaded Egil’s cause with great eagerness, since thou offerest to risk a conflict with me. Now shall I for thy sake do what thou hast asked, letting Egil go from my land safe and unhurt. But thou, Egil, so order thy going that, after leaving my presence and this hall, thou never come before my eyes, nor my sons’ eyes, nor be ever in the way of myself or my people. But I give thee now thy head this time for this reason, that thou camest freely into my power. I will do no dastardly deed on thee; yet know thou this for sure, that this is no reconciliation with me or my sons or any of our kin who wish to wreak their vengeance.’

Then sang Egil:

 

                                ‘Loth am I in nowise,

                                Though in features loathly,

                                Helm-capt head in pardon

                                From high king to take.

                                Who can boast that ever

                                Better gift he won him,

                                From a lordly sovereign’s

                                Noble-minded son?’

 

        Arinbjorn thanked the king with many fair words for the honour and friendship that he had shown him. Then they two, Arinbjorn and Egil, went back to Arinbjorn’s house. After that Arinbjorn bade horses be made ready for his people. He rode away with Egil, and a hundred fully armed men with him. Arinbjorn rode with that force till they came to king Athelstan, where they were well received. The king asked Egil to remain with him, and inquired how it had gone between him and king Eric. Whereupon Egil sang:

 

                                ‘Egil his eyes black-browed

                                From Eric, raven’s friend,

                                Welcomed. Wise help therein

                                        Wife’s loyal kin lent.

                                My head, throne of helmet,

                                An heritage noble,

                                As erst, from rough rainstorm

                                        To rescue I knew.’

 

I know thats quite a large extract, but its all pretty interesting stuff. I’ve put it in early to show  how there is so much to the Brunanburh case as yet to be uncovered. Up until now, the best academics in the field halted before the Brunanburh poem’s author & declared him ‘unknowable.’ However, by simply suggesting that it could be Egil , suddenly all the strands of evidence suddenly coalesce & make him the clear favorite.

More evidence can be seen when immediately after the battle, Egil is writing militaristic, kenning-heavy praise poetry to Athelstan, as in;

‘Land-shielder, battle-quickener,
Low now this scion royal
Earls three hath laid. To Ella
Earth must obedient bow.
Lavish of gold, kin-glorious,
Great Athelstan victorious,
Surely, I swear, all humbled
To such high monarch yields.’

But this is the burden in the poem:

‘Reindeer-trod hills obey
Bold Athelstan’s high sway.’

Then gave Athelstan further to Egil as poet’s meed two gold rings, each weighing a mark, and therewith a costly cloak that the king himself had formerly worn.

 

This giving of rings even fits in with the ASC poem’s, ‘In this year King Aethelstan, Lord of warriors, ring-giver to men.’  So, using this platform as an investigation, I wondered if it could be at all possible that Egil Skallagrimsson could also have penned the great Old English epic – Beowulf. In support let us examine the following ‘flags.’

 

Egil
Egil

 

1 – Beowulf uses Icelandic folk motifs

In the introduction to Beowulf, edited by CL Wren & WF Bolton, we read the following passages;
The saga of the historical & well-authenticated Icelandic hero Grettir… attributes to him two fights against supernatural beings – the one closely resembling Beowulf’s fight with Grendel, & the other that which he had with Grendel’s mother in the demon-haunted mere. The resemblances are too close to be fortuitous; & one must suppose common folklorist elements lying behind both – since the late thirteenth-century Grettissaga cannot be supposed to have ‘borrowed’ these ideas from Beowulf, which was not known in Iceland.

What this tells us is that the author of the Icelandic Grettissaga was using the same motifs as the author of Beowulf, a situation which has baffled the academics. Peter A Jorgensen (Grendel, Grettir & Two Skaldic Stanzas: Scripta Islandica 24 / 1973) writes, ‘the most striking parallels are to be found in Beowulf’s battle with Grendel in the beleaguered Heorot, in which the hero eventually kills the intruder by tearing off its arm, & in Grettir’s fight with a monster in the harassed house at Sandhaugar, where the marauder is dispatched in the identical manner.’

If we see these folk-motifs as purely Icelandic, then we may assume that the author of Beowulf had access to Icelandic material – & thus most probably Icelandic.

2 – Haeft-mece / Heptisax

Where Wren/Bolton tell us;

There was evidently something important about a long-handled sword in the folk material which lies behind a fight with Grendel’s mother: for in Beowulf we find the unique haeft-mece & in Grettissaga an otherwise unrecorded instrument called a heptisax plays a part in the fight of Grettir against the female monster.

Jorgenson writes that most convincing;

is the occurrence of the much-discussed nonce word heptisax, found both in the second stanza & in the alleged prose expansion of the verses, corresponding to its generally accepted counterpart in Old English, the hapax legomenon Haeftmece (in Beowulf line 1457). It seems highly improbable that the word should occur only once in all of the extensive battle descriptions in Old Icelandic prose &, by chance, at precisely the same point in a narrative where the corresponding English text employs the cognate form.

There is a difference between the two poems, for in Beowulf it is the eponymous hero who uses the haeftmece, while in the Grettissaga it is the monster who wields the heptisax. In his paper Jorgenson concludes that, ‘the material to which the skaldic verses are eventually indebted stems from the same legend which also became part of the Beowulf epic.’ Again, we may suggest that the Beowulf author had access to Icelandic material – & was thus most probably Icelandic.

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3- Compensation

In Beowulf, where Hrothgar pays compensation for the death of Beowulf’s warrior, Hondscioh, at the hands of Grendel, there is a parallel in Egil’s Saga. Here, Athelstan grants Egil two chests of silver as compensation for the death of Throrolf.

4 – The Dates fit

Egil was clearly around in the mid 900s, a period when the English had a great respect for the Danes. Nicholas Jacobs (Anglo-Danish relations, poetic archaism & the Date of Beowulf:Poetica 8 1977) writes; ‘From 927 onwards the Danes constitute a widely accepted element in English society, & an English poem complimentary to them is conceivable at least Down to the resumption of raids in 980.’  Roberta Frank (Skaldic Verse & the Date of Beowulf), remarks, ‘no linguistic or historical fact compels us to anchor Beowulf before the tenth century; if we do so, it is more from our emotional commitment to an early date rather than from hard evidence. Our one secure terminus is the palaeographic dating of the manuscript to around the year 1000.’

Where Walter Goffart estimated that Beowulf could not have been written with these historical details before 923 (Johnston Staver, Ruth (2005) :Placing Beowulf on a Timeline –  A Companion To Beowulf), Jacobs gives us a probable terminus ad quem of the poem when he writes, ‘the first reference by a skald to an event associated with one of the Scyldings of Beowulf occurs around 965 when Eyvindr Skaldaspillir calls gold ‘the seed corn of Fyrisplains’ alluding to the story.‘  Eyvindr was the court poet of Hakon the Good, the English-speaking foster-son of Athelstan, who may well have heard the poem at first hand. His epithet skáldaspillir means literally ‘spoiler of poets’ – which could mean plagarist.

This means that the poem was written between 923 & 965. Returning to Frank for a moment, she tells us ‘the political geography of Beowulf fits comfortably into the period between Alfred & Aethelweard,’ & also suggests the presence of the Geats in Beowulf is a 10th century skaldic theme; ‘The fact that the Geats held together as a people into the eleventh century does not pinpoint the date of Beowulf, but it does suggest that they were as known & topical in the tenth century as in any preceding one – & perhaps more so.’

Conclusion

All this post is meant to do is scrape a little  topsoil off the Egil-wrote-Beowulf theory. The thing is, he was the greatest poet of the age, he did spend time at the Royal English Courts, the Beowulf poem does contain Icelandic motifs & the poem seems to have been composed in his lifetime. This definitely makes him a serious contender not to be dismissed with ease.

The Loss of Hope

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Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Thomas Gray

***

STROPHE

Who visits the graves today?
Those who tend the tombstones?
Grief is ever finite
Lasts as long as grievers breathe
As long as cystine charts them with life –
‘Til gone, & all who know them,
When stones drift in the weather.

Yesterwhile, not long ago,
I found myself verteux
As poets sometimes do
In early May when insects
Breed not yet, when foliage fragrant,
Thick leaves praising summer’s birth
Unbrumal in the morning.

As we wander’d Edina
Her modern-age virus
Rampant, wall to corner,
Hurling tenements higher
Daily, plastic gentrification
Makes me shake from my shoulders
Silica dusts of ‘progress.’

Where Warriston Road bends
Oer the Water of Leith
Scamble down & over –
This is a place for poets!
Forgotten corner of a city
Tumbledown cemetery
Pierc’d by searcing sunlight

Cenanthy beds of holly
Ferns & wild nettles swarm
Sun dapples through leafroof
Like sealskin polarascopes
Ivy explosions cloistering trunks
Birds oerwhelm the traffic’s blur
All is holy today!

Flesh absorbs the stench of death
Despite washing for days
Flatscrubbing soap to air
Corpses haul’d on Dalit backs
Parts lacking, lost somewhere by the rails
Thro’ dense, thorny undergrowth –
Death is tension releas’d!

***

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ANTISTROPHE

To smell to a turf of fresh earth is wholesome for the body;
No less are thoughst of mortality cordial to the soul
Thomas Fuller

Stones form bridges over streams
Stones face down in Earth’s dry dust
Stones lament six cruel deaths
Of siblings in infancy –
Wandering Warriston noting names-
Euphemia Schreuder
Somerville Macpherson

Lizzie Ogilvie Guililard
Faithful for sixty years
To sweet Richard Ramage
Shipbuilder from Leith
Alexander Wilson’s monolith
Contractor from Granton
With notions grandiose

I reach a sanctuary
Sent from the saints, & Delphi,
Spent in spirit & stone
Handsome saxicavous shrine
Where anchor & star-pointed crown
Banner tombs to sisterhood
The Hopes are buried here!

Fly imagination!
From prolusion’s catalyst!
Play the stage assembling
Charles Hope & Lady Charlotte
Your daughters sleep indebted to thee
Who gave them names insignate
Life’s throwstring threads to lead

Beyond the age of breathing
Above the putrilage
Jane Melville, Louisa
Sophia, Octavia,
Prepenicillian princesses
Stone-etched in fixidity
Eight decades broaches worn.

Libitina enters space
Priestesses at her hem-line
Perfect moment’s poetry,
‘Excuse me, please, young ladies,
Have you seen how long these sisters lived,
‘My’ they replied, ‘surprising
For such unhealthy times.’

***

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EPODE

And so beside the silent sea
I wait the muffl’d roar
No harm from him can come to me
On oceans or on shore
John Greenleaf Whittier

Forgotten songs once lauded
Lamented Lizzie Boyle –
Those who sang her praises
Were clean gone long ago –
Made Hope, not by consanguinity
But conjugal chargee
The sisters’ brother, James

My notebook brushes nettles
Clearing the headstone’s face
Where ‘Faithful unto Death’
His sostenuto daughters
Read Elizabeth Montgomerie
& Charlotte Mary,
Names outdug from moss-trench

Another resquiescat
David Boyle, bright advocate
Born Eighteen Thirty-Three,
Died sixty-three years later;
His wife, Letitia, four days after
But down in Brighthelmstone
Mysteries uprisal!

Was it death by broken heart
Or grimy suicide
She was in her fifties
Cancer or coincidence?
Whatever the occurrence this verse
Returns distant spirits
From dyspathy to love!

With Christ which is far better
Three young brothers endure
Briny sleeps eternal
Gallivanting gallivats,
Augustus, James Arthur, John Loius
Five year course of funerals
Not one made twenty three

Lives cleft in rock of ages
How father must have wept
& wail’d on Eden’s loss
Yon Victorian facades
Who remembers now the loss of Hope
Drown’d at sea… Drown’d off
Lagos

Condolences Typhoean!

Damian Beeson Bullen

Walter Scott’s Epic Voice

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Portrait of Sir Walter Scott

 Hark, from yon misty cairn their answer tost:
    “Minstrel! the fame of whose romantic lyre,
     Capricious-swelling now, may soon be lost
Sir Walter Scott – The Vision of Don Roderick

The concept of the Accertamento Grande is essentially a process of re-reading the poetry in existence & trying to establish some kind of order or preferment, the most pristeen models through which we can teach our future poets & bards. As an example of the process, I would like to restore a quite a forgotten poem to the public consciousness. It was composed at the height of the Napoleonic phrenzie, in the summer of 1811, by Sir Walter Scott. Coincidence or not, the poem was divided into the same Spenserian stanzas as those the young Lord Byron was dividing his Childe Harolde’s Pilgirmage, a poem which he gave to his publishers on returning from his European tour in that same year of 1811.

Let us now examine looking Scott’s ‘Vision,’ from a certain angle, that is the way he managed to fashion a sumblime & excellent rendition of the poetic voice first used by Homer. The rest of Scott’s poetic output is rather insipid: the verse-ballads, while selling extremely well they contain little of the true juices of Parnassus. Of this poet, Walter Bagehot describes an artist who, ‘had no sense of smell, little sense of taste, almost no ear for music (he knew a few, perhaps three, scotch tunes, which he avowed that he had learnt in sixty years, by hard labour & mental association) & not much turn for the minutiae of nature in any way. The effect of this may be seen in some of the best descriptive passages of his poetry, & we will not deny that it does (although proceeding from a sensuous defect), in a certain degree, add to their popularity. He deals with the main outlines & great points of nature, never attends to any others, & in this respect he suits the comprehension & knowledge of many who know only those essential & considerable outlines.’

$_35

Not the most complimentary of words – yet as we shall see Scott’s ‘Vision’ at times matches the solemn grandeur of Homer & Dante & especially Milton, whose meter was caught by Scott’s ear & transferred into his own poem. This, ‘The Vision of Don Roderick,’ was printed at Edinburgh by James Ballantyne & Co. in 1811, before Napoleon’s march on Moscow & at a time when he held most of Europe in his clutches – only the Iberian peninsular was proving to be a problem, with the Spanish revolting against Napoleon’s brother’s rule, assisted manfully by the Portuguese & British with the whole confederation led by the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley. The poem was written to celebrate this great moment, when the British were holding their own against a megalomaniac, led by a true hero in the vein of Achilles or Aeneas. The chief contents are based upon an episode in Ginés Pérez de Hita’s Guerras civiles de Granada, a book which Scot devoured as a boy. The mimesis stored for years in his memory banks suddenly had a channel through which to pour, the force of which elevated Scott’s poetic voice from rustic piper to Olympian bard. Scott’s own introduction reads;

The following Poem is founded upon a Spanish Tradition, bearing, in general, that Don Roderick, the last Gothic King of Spain, when the invasion of the Moors was depending, had the temerity to descend into an ancient vault, near Toledo, the opening of which had been denounced as fatal to the Spanish Monarchy.  The legend adds, that his rash curiosity was mortified by an emblematical representation of those Saracens who, in the year 714, defeated him in battle, and reduced Spain under their dominion.  I have presumed to prolong the Vision of the Revolutions of Spain down to the present eventful crisis of the Peninsula, and to divide it, by a supposed change of scene, into, THREE PERIODS.  The FIRST of these represents the Invasion of the Moors, the Defeat and Death of Roderick, and closes

with the peaceful occupation of the country by the victors.  The SECOND PERIOD embraces the state of the Peninsula when the conquests of the Spaniards and Portuguese in the East and West Indies had raised to the highest pitch the renown of their arms; sullied, however, by superstition and cruelty.  An allusion to the inhumanities of the Inquisition terminates this picture.  The LAST PART of the Poem opens with the state of Spain previous to the unparalleled treachery of BUONAPARTE, gives a sketch of the usurpation attempted upon that unsuspicious and friendly kingdom, and terminates with the arrival of the British succours.  It may be further proper to mention, that the object of the Poem is less to commemorate or detail particular incidents, than to exhibit a general and impressive picture of the several periods brought upon the stage. EDINBURGH, June 24, 1811.

Wellington
Wellington

Here we have an epic tri-parted echo of Dante’s Divine Comedy.  Strangely, Scott thought the poem was a mere ‘Drum and Trumpet performance’ (letter to William Hayley, 2 July 1811), but this reminds us of Virgil, who wanted to throw the Aeniad into the flames, before being persuaded to preserve his epic for the Roman people. In the ‘Vision’, Don Roderick, the last Visigothic King of Spain, descends into an enchanted cave to learn the outcome of the Moorish invasion. This also has echoes of Virgil who sent Aeneas into the underworld to see prophesies upon the Roman Republic.

Scott’s handling of an epic sweep through Spanish history propels his wordsmithery to heights he never before or after got close to. Here are some examples of Scott’s work; a passage from his famous ‘Lay of the Last Minstrel’ & Marmion, followed by a stanza from the ‘Vision.’

They bid me sleep, the bid me pray,
They say my brain is warp’d & wrung
I cannot sleep on Highland brea,
I cannot pray in Highland tongue
But were I now where Allan glides
Or heard my native’s Devan tides
So sweetly would I rest & pray
That Heaven would close my wintry day. Last Minstrel

Not far advanced was morning day,
When Marmion did his troop array
To Surrey’s camp to ride;
He had safe-conduct for his band,
Beneath the Royal seal & hand,
And Douglas gave a guide;
The ancient Earl, with stately grace,
Would Clara on her Palfrey place
& whispered in a  undertone… Marmion

So passed that pageant.  Ere another came,
    The visionary scene was wrapped in smoke
  Whose sulph’rous wreaths were crossed by sheets of flame;
    With every flash a bolt explosive broke,
  Till Roderick deemed the fiends had burst their yoke,
    And waved ‘gainst heaven the infernal gonfalone!
  For War a new and dreadful language spoke,
    Never by ancient warrior heard or known;
Lightning and smoke her breath, and thunder was her tone. Vision

There is no doubt we get a different sensation from reading the first two stanza than the third. They seem different voices, but what has happened is that Scott is speaking with the immortal tones of the epic voice. Similarily, the voice Milton used in his Paradise Lost was different to those used in his Nativity Ode or his Lycidas; Virgil’s Aeneid is different from his pastoral Eclogues & Dante’s Vita Nuova is different from his Divine Comedy. The separating factor is the poet has altered his output in the same way a comedian may don the guise of several different characters during a performance.

A scene from the Aeneid
A scene from the Aeneid

I shall now elucidate more of Scott’s usage of traditional epic themes through stanzas taken from the ‘Vision;

The Epic Hero

Lives there a strain, whose sounds of mounting fire
    May rise distinguished o’er the din of war;
  Or died it with yon Master of the Lyre
    Who sung beleaguered Ilion’s evil star?
  Such, WELLINGTON, might reach thee from afar,
    Wafting its descant wide o’er Ocean’s range;
  Nor shouts, nor clashing arms, its mood could mar,
    All, as it swelled ‘twixt each loud trumpet-change,
That clangs to Britain victory, to Portugal revenge!
The Invocation

But we, weak minstrels of a laggard day
    Skilled but to imitate an elder page,
  Timid and raptureless, can we repay
    The debt thou claim’st in this exhausted age?
  Thou givest our lyres a theme, that might engage
    Those that could send thy name o’er sea and land,
  While sea and land shall last; for Homer’s rage
    A theme; a theme for Milton’s mighty hand
How much unmeet for us, a faint degenerate band!

Tribute to Older Epics

Ye mountains stern! within whose rugged breast
    The friends of Scottish freedom found repose;
  Ye torrents! whose hoarse sounds have soothed their rest,
    Returning from the field of vanquished foes;
  Say, have ye lost each wild majestic close
    That erst the choir of Bards or Druids flung,
  What time their hymn of victory arose,
    And Cattraeth’s glens with voice of triumph rung,
And mystic Merlin harped, and grey-haired Llywarch sung?
 

Here, Milton is alluding to the poem Y Gododdin, etched by the 7th century bard Aneirin. On its discovery in the 18th century, a startled Lewis Morris proclaimed to Edward Richard (1758);

Who do you think I have at my elbow, as happy as ever Alexander thought himself after a conquest? No less a man than Ieuan Fardd who hath discovered some old MSS. Lately that nobody of this age or the last ever dreamed of. And this discovery is to him & me as great as that of America by Colombus. We have found an epic poem in the British called Gododin, equal at least to the Iliad, Aeneid or Paradise Lost. Tudfwlch & Marchlew are heroes fiercer than Achilles or Satan

The Plea for Immortality

For not till now, how oft soe’er the task
    Of truant verse hath lightened graver care,
  From Muse or Sylvan was he wont to ask,
    In phrase poetic, inspiration fair;
  Careless he gave his numbers to the air,
    They came unsought for, if applauses came:
  Nor for himself prefers he now the prayer;
    Let but his verse befit a hero’s fame,
Immortal be the verse!–forgot the poet’s name!

Epic Geographical Sweeps
“Explore those regions, where the flinty crest
    Of wild Nevada ever gleams with snows,
  Where in the proud Alhambra’s ruined breast
    Barbaric monuments of pomp repose;
  Or where the banners of more ruthless foes
    Than the fierce Moor, float o’er Toledo’s fane,
  From whose tall towers even now the patriot throws
    An anxious glance, to spy upon the plain
The blended ranks of England, Portugal, and Spain.

Supernatural Agents

  Grim sentinels, against the upper wall,
    Of molten bronze, two Statues held their place;
  Massive their naked limbs, their stature tall,
    Their frowning foreheads golden circles grace.
  Moulded they seemed for kings of giant race,
    That lived and sinned before the avenging flood;
  This grasped a scythe, that rested on a mace;
    This spread his wings for flight, that pondering stood,
Each stubborn seemed and stern, immutable of mood.

Fixed was the right-hand Giant’s brazen look
    Upon his brother’s glass of shifting sand,
  As if its ebb he measured by a book,
    Whose iron volume loaded his huge hand;
  In which was wrote of many a fallen land
    Of empires lost, and kings to exile driven:
  And o’er that pair their names in scroll expand –
    “Lo, DESTINY and TIME! to whom by Heaven
The guidance of the earth is for a season given.” 

Heroic Speeches

  That Prelate marked his march–On banners blazed
    With battles won in many a distant land,
  On eagle-standards and on arms he gazed;
    “And hopest thou, then,” he said, “thy power shall stand?
  Oh! thou hast builded on the shifting sand,
    And thou hast tempered it with slaughter’s flood;
  And know, fell scourge in the Almighty’s hand,
    Gore-moistened trees shall perish in the bud,
And by a bloody death shall die the Man of Blood!”

Catalogues

From Alpuhara’s peak that bugle rung,
    And it was echoed from Corunna’s wall;
  Stately Seville responsive war-shot flung,
    Grenada caught it in her Moorish hall;
  Galicia bade her children fight or fall,
    Wild Biscay shook his mountain-coronet,
  Valencia roused her at the battle-call,
    And, foremost still where Valour’s sons are met,
First started to his gun each fiery Miquelet.

There are many other stanzas throughout the poem, WHICH YOU MAY READ IN FULL HERE. One of them in particular has the true epic ring;

As that sea-cloud, in size like human hand,
    When first from Carmel by the Tishbite seen,
  Came slowly overshadowing Israel’s land,
    A while, perchance, bedecked with colours sheen,
  While yet the sunbeams on its skirts had been,
    Limning with purple and with gold its shroud,
  Till darker folds obscured the blue serene
    And blotted heaven with one broad sable cloud,
Then sheeted rain burst down, and whirlwinds howled aloud:-

Here we have the best example amongst the Romantic poets of the Epic – or Heroic – simile. This is an elaborate piece of showcasing, a wonderful learned little ornament that adds dignity & variety to a poem. Another example would be Milton’s;

                              He stood & called
His Legions, Angel Forms, who lay intrans’t
Thick as Autumnal Leaves that strow the Brooks
In Vallambrosa, where th’Etrurian shades
High overarch’t imbower

That Scott mentions Milton a couple of times in his poem & has fashioned a similar sounding epic voice tells us that Scott would have had a copy of Paradise Lost before him as he wrote. This is only natural, for all new poetry should contain the waters of pParnassus, to which is added a poet’s own personal outpourings of fortified poesis. That Scott had Milton before him can be truly discerned from the following two stanzas – where we have Napoleon as the satanic anti-christ attempting to storm Spain, which is portrayed by Scott as another Eden.

Who shall command Estrella’s mountain-tide
    Back to the source, when tempest-chafed, to hie?
  Who, when Gascogne’s vexed gulf is raging wide,
    Shall hush it as a nurse her infant’s cry?
  His magic power let such vain boaster try,
    And when the torrent shall his voice obey,
  And Biscay’s whirlwinds list his lullaby,
    Let him stand forth and bar mine eagles’ way,
And they shall heed his voice, and at his bidding stay.

  “Else ne’er to stoop, till high on Lisbon’s towers
    They close their wings, the symbol of our yoke,
  And their own sea hath whelmed yon red-cross powers!”
    Thus, on the summit of Alverca’s rock
  To Marshal, Duke, and Peer, Gaul’s Leader spoke.
    While downward on the land his legions press,
  Before them it was rich with vine and flock,
    And smiled like Eden in her summer dress; –
Behind their wasteful march a reeking wilderness.

One of the key components of an epic is its narrator, & Scott plays the role to an almost perfection – perhaps the poem gets lost a little in the middle. The epic voice is an elaborate creature which must be sustained throughout an entire production. Scott’s was a rush job, & unfortunately the poem shows moments of melancholia & dullness –  but the attempt is a noble one & there are genuine moments of clear magnitude, which if sustained throughout the rest of his ouvre, would have placed him at the top of the Romantic tree. With Calliope at the helm, however, despite her brief visitation, Scott’s blood-drenched poem possesses a wonderful music & portrays at all times that ever-present focus of Scott’s powers which produced the ‘Drum and Trumpet’effect he wrote of, which has become in his hands an epic voice. Scott maintains his pitch & rhythm all the way through his poem with perfect uniformity – an excellent performance. It is a little Iliad of regions, wars, & heroes, & should rightly belong to the class of poems called Epyllia, or ‘little epics.’  We are whisked about European history like a ravishing whirlwind, from William Wallace at the Scottish Wars of Independence, with Scott often distilling massive sweeps of time & space into a couple of lines at most.

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage by Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1823.
Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage by Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1823.

With the Vision, Scott is moving his imagination out of Britain onto the European – again a precursor for Byron’s Childe Harolde, whose scenes of continental travel fired the imaginations of a book-buying public trapped on their island by Napoleon’s European blockade. Byron would then go on to fashion his own epic voice, which manifested itself best in his rambling & operatic Don Juan, yet Scott’s ‘Vision’ has primacy & it also raised 100 guineas for the war fund. Written when the real struggle for Europe was about to begin, I believe this piece of poetic propaganda would have inspired the hearts of British Soldiers at the time – I don’t think any man reading it at the time would have failed to have been moved militarily to match the feats of the great heroes of whom Scott’s epic voice had sang.

The Madness of Merlin

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Those whom the gods destroy, they first make mad
Euripides


In recent years, in other places, I have demonstrated that King Arthur really did once exist, when from the obscure seed that was his life sprung up the legion of legends that constitute the Arthurian myth. If our great king existed, then, is it not also possible that the other members of his pantheon are also real? This leads us to Merlin, the spell-singing court sorcerer of Camelot, whose vitality supported by a wide array of sources. The Welsh chronicle known as the Annales Cambraie tells us.

573 AD: The battle of Arfderydd between the sons of Eliffert and Gwenddolau son of Ceidio; in which battle Gwenddolau fell; Merlin went mad.

A medieval Welsh triad sums up the battle perfectly;

The three frivolous causes of battle in the Isle of Britain.
…The second was the action of Arderydd, caused by a bird’s nest, in which 80,000 Cambrians were slain…

The battle of Arfderydd & Merlin are tied together in a number of old Welsh poems. They tell the story of a great civil war among the native Britons,  climaxing at the battle of Arferydd. After the battle Merlin lost his mind then ran off to be a hermit in the Caledonian Wood. A sterling effort in finding the battle site was made by the great nineteenth century Scottish antiquarian, William Forbes Skene. His ‘Notice of the site of the Battle of Ardderyd or Arderyth‘ in the PSAS of 1864-65 shows this often brilliant scholar at his very best.

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Where, then, was this battle fought? We ought, in the first place, to look for it in one of the great passes into the country; & a curious passage in Fordun gave me a clue to the probable situation. In his notice of Saint Kentigern, he describes, evidently from some older authority, his meeting in the desert a wild man, who informs him that his name was Merlin, & that he had lost his reason, & roamed in these solitudes because he had been the cause of the slaughter of so many men : ‘qui interfecti sunt in bello, cunctis in hac patria constitutis satis moto, quod erat in campo inter Lidel et Carwanalow situato.  The last part of the Latin means, ‘fought on the plain between Liddel and Carwannok.’ Liddel, as is well known, is the name of the river which flows westward through Liddesdale, & joins the Esk about nine miles north of Carlisle. Near the junction is the border between England & Scotland, & from thence the flat & mossy district, called the Debateable Lands, bounded on the east by the Esk, extends to the Solway Firth

This nugget of information was the catalyst for Skene, who now begins to hone in on the battlefield, near Longtown in Cumbria, where a small settlement called Athuret immediately raised his heckles. Taking the train down from Edinburgh, Skene found a place to stay in Longtown, whose landlady was quite shocked to see anybody staying in the area at all. Skene continued;

About half a mile from Longtown is the church & rectory of Arthuret, situated on a raised platform on the west side of the River Esk, which flows past them on a lower level; & south of the church & parsonage there rise from this platform two small hills covered with woods, called the Arthuret Knowes. The top of the highest, which overhangs the river, is fortified by a small earthen rampart, enclosing a space nearly square, & measuring about 16 yards square. On returning to Longtown, I asked the old guard whether he knew of any place called Carwandlow. He said that Carwinelaw was the name of a stream which flowed into the Esk from the west about three miles north of Longtown, & also of a mill situated on it, & that beyond it was a place called the Roman Camp.

At this point Skene visited the ‘camp,’ which is today known as the Moat of Liddle. He thought it a magnificent native strength, & was taken aback by its splendid views, including the knowes at Athuret in the distance. He went on;

Between the fort & Carwhinelaw is a field extending to the ridge along Carwhinelaw, which is about half a mile off… The old farmer of the Upper Moat, who accompanied us, informed me that the tradition of the country was that a great battle was fought here between the Romans; & the Picts held the camp, in which the Romans were victorious; that the camp was defended by 300 men, who surrendered it, & were all put to the sword & buried in the orchard of the Upper Moat, at a place he showed me. This part of the tradition is curious, as the Triads mention the Gosgord of Drywon-ap-Nudd at Arderyth which consisted of 300 men.

The name of Erydon, which Merlin attaches to it as a name for the battle, probably remains in Ridding at the foot of the fort, & I have no doubt at all that the name Carwhinelaw is a corruption of Caerwenddolowe, the caer or city of Gwenddolowe, & thus the topography supports the tradition.

This is all breathless work, & leaves us moderns with a few scanty crumbs to discover. The only object of interest I could scrape up myself concerned another fortification, a mile or so to the North of the Moat of Liddel, where; ‘there is a slight eminence called Battle Knowe by Prioryhill farm near Canonbie. It feels like a burial mound & tradition says that a battle was fought here & human bones have frequently been dug up but no authentic information can be obtained to confirm the supposition. (Ordnance Survey Name Book 1858)

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Having discovered battlefield where Merlin went mad, let us now practice the very modern art of Psychoanalysis on his mind. By studying the old poems & stories surrounding Merlin, it is clear he had paranoid schizophrenia, the modern terminology of a condition as old as humanity itself. Joan of Arc heard voices & in the first Book of Samuel, Saul shows all the classic symptoms of a lunatic. The following are extracts from a report by the World Health Organisation in 1992.

Paranoid schizophrenia is the most common type of schizophrenia in most parts of the world. The clinical picture is dominated by relatively stable, often paranoid, delusions, usually accompanied by hallucinations, particularly of the auditory variety, and perceptual disturbances. Examples of the most common paranoid symptoms are:
Delusions of persecution, reference, exalted birth, special mission, bodily change, or jealousy; Hallucinatory voices that threaten the patient or give commands, or auditory hallucinations without verbal form, such as whistling, humming, or laughing;
Hallucinations of smell or taste, or of sexual or other bodily sensations; visual hallucinations may occur but are rarely predominant. Thought disorder may be obvious in acute states, but if so it does not prevent the typical delusions or hallucinations from being described clearly. Affect is usually less blunted than in other varieties of schizophrenia, but a minor degree of incongruity is common, as are mood disturbances such as irritability, sudden anger, fearfulness, and suspicion.

Merlin appears the medieval tale Lailoken and Kentigern, which states: “…some say {Lailoken} was called Merlynum.” This name change leads us to the 9th Century Historia Brittonum of Nennius, which states that in the late 6th century, ‘Talhaiarn Tataguen was famed for poetry, and Neirin, and Taliesin and Bluchbard, and Cian, who is called Guenith Guaut, were all famous at the same time in British poetry.’ Nobody has ever established the further identity of Bluchbard, but the ‘Luch’ embedded in the name links it to the ‘Lok’ within Lailoken. Thus Lailoken the Bard easily becomes Luch the Bard, then Bluchbard. Perhaps, perhaps not, but there’s enough in there to believe it so.

Moving on from digressive conjecture, in the tale of Lailoken & Kentigern, Merlin is depicted as seeing visions & hearing voices, the classic symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. On one occasion a voice from heaven says; ‘because you alone are responsible for the blood of all these dead men, you alone will bear the punishment for the misdeeds of all. For you will be given over to the angels of Satan & you will have communion with the creatures of the wood.‘ We probably all have experienced a moment in public when a person of obvious insanity wanders around screaming wildly & talking to themselves. Lailoken and Kentigern reports the same thing of Merlin, who used to interrupt the services of his clergy by shouting out prophecies. It also has Merlin seeing bright visions of ‘martial battalions’ lighting up the sky shaking their lances ‘most fiercely’ at him, & then dragged off into the woods by an evil spirit. In another text, the Itinerarium Kambriae of Giraldus Cambrensis, he is said to have lost his mind just before the battle of Arferydd when he saw a monster in the sky.

On Thursday 11th September 2008 The Independent ran a fascinating story about the son of Patrick Cockburn, a foreign correspondent. His name was Henry, who told the paper; ‘do I have schizophrenia? My mother and father and the dreaded psychiatrist definitely believe I am schizophrenic. They have grounds for their belief, such as my being found naked and talking to trees in woods. Yet I think I just see the world differently from other people.’ Patrick added, ‘Jan and I soon became familiar with the distorted landscape of the strange world in which Henry was now living. The visions and voices, though the most dramatic part, were infrequent. He spoke vaguely of religious and mystical forces and was extremely ascetic, adopting a vegan diet and not wearing shoes or underpants.’

Henry certainly sounds like a modern day Merlin. When the mind is being bombarded by extra-sensory stimuli, there is only one true way to ‘let of the steam,’ & that was summed up nicely by Henry;  ‘my main strength was art, and it was through art that I understood my world.‘ Among the all the arts poetry is perhaps the oldest, yet its beauty is that anyone can write a poem. The writing of them is seen by modern psychology as a therapeutic tool to aid schizophrenia. In the  Journal of Poetry Therapy (June 2010), Noel Shafi writes; ‘a patient exhibited negative symptoms including social withdrawal. Under clinical observation she successfully wrote renkus describing her everyday life & seasonal feelings. After 13 months of renku therapy the therapist observed improved social functioning &decreased negative symptoms in the patient.’

This brings us neatly to the ‘therapeutic’ poetry of Merlin himself. While he was in the woods, fuelled by the typical poetic salve that is insanity, Merlin composed a number beautiful poems, of which 6 still survive. In them solid traces of schizophrenia can be found. They also show the skill of an accomplished bard, the first step on the ladder to becoming a Druid. Inbetween is the Ovates, the title given to a bard after twelve years of intense poetic training. On attaining this second rank, the bard will develop visionary powers, being able to see into the future & commune with long dead ancestors. It must have been a total nightmare experience for Merlin once he lost control of his visionary mind. He was not the bearded wise-man of Arthurian mythology, but a man in need of series help.

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Throughout his poetry we can detect the possible reason behind Merlin’s madness, the catalyst that sent him over the edge. It begins with the tradition of Gwendydd being his twin sister, which is given in the aptly titled, ‘The Dialogue Between Myrddin and His Sister Gwenddydd’ from the Red Book of Hergest.

Myrddin
Since the action at Arderydd and Erydon
Gwendydd, and all that happened to me,
Dull of understanding I am–
Where shall I go for delight?

Gwenddydd 
I will speak to my twin brother Myrddin, 
wiseman and diviner, 
Since he is used to making disclosures 
When a girl goes to him.

The tone of the first stanza is sullen & reflective. We can work out why from the following stanza from the Black Book of Carmarthen;

Sweet appletree that grows in the glade!
Their vehemence will conceal it from the lords of Rydderch,
Trodden it is around its base, and men are about it.
Terrible to them were heroic forms.
Gwendydd loves me not, greets me not;
I am hated by the firmest minister of Rydderch;
I have ruined his son and his daughter.
Death takes all away, why does he not visit me?
For after Gwenddoleu no princes honour me;
I am not soothed with diversion, I am not visited by the fair;
Yet in the battle of Ardderyd golden was my torques,
Though I am now despised by her who is of the colour of swans.

So here we have Merlin talking to the trees. It also introduces Rydderch Hael into the story, the King of Strathclyde who had married Merlin’s sister. With the line, ‘I have ruined his son and his daughter,’ we have a clue as to why Merlin went mad. If Rydderch is his brother-in-law, then the children in question were his nephew & niece. In the next line he says that ‘death takes all away,’ which hints that it was Merlin himself who killed them. No wonder his sister ‘loves him not!’ The emptiness of the last few lines portray his soul in dejected reclusion. His lord Gwenddoleu is dead & his mind is full memories of when he was wearing the ‘golden torques.’  The pathos of the piece gives us an excellent insight into Merlin’s mind at the time of his madness. He is obviously suicidal, a thread which the Dialogue poem expands on;

Myrddin
Great affliction has fallen upon me,
And I am sick of life–

I feel heavy affliction.
Dead is Morgenau, dead is Mordav,
Dead is Moryen, I wish to die!

Could Merlin, by surrounding himself with nature & solitude, be seeking reaffirmation with a forgiving god in the woods. Not wanting to disturb him too much, I think we should leave Merlin in the soft, safe confines of his Caledonian Woods. We find him talking to a little piglet & bidding him hide from the ‘dogs of Rhydderch,’– who were out to get them both – that classic delusion persecution, where conspiracies are found at every turn.

Listen, O little pig! happy little pig,
Do not go rooting on top of the mountain.
But stay here, secluded in the wood.
Hidden from the dogs of Rhydderch the Faithful.
I will prophecy–it will be truth!

There has always been a certain sense of the insane about the poet. John Clare spent years in an asylum churning out new cantos of Don Juan. TS Elliot composed his seminal Wasteland while undergoing psychological treatment at a clinic in Switzerland, while William Blake was blatantly as mad as a hatter. Of Baudelair, Jeremy Reed, in his Madness- the Price of Poetry (1989) wrote; ‘Baudelair was a prey to neurosis, his life is the record of an individual seeking to interpret incipient madness through the refinement of an aesthetic sensibility.’ So I guess Merlin & his madness are in pretty esteemed company, & I suppose you do have to be a bit mad to be a poet in the first place!


POEMS BY MERLIN 

(& links)

The first three are found in the thirteenth-century Black Book of Carmarthen, with the others appearing in manuscripts from later centuries.

Yr afallennau – The Apple Trees
Yr Oianau – The Greetings
Ymddiddan Myrddin a Thaliesin – The Dialogue between Merlin & Taleisin
 Cyfoesi myrddin a gwenddydd ei chwaer – The Dialogue between Merlin & his Sister
 Gwasgargerdd fyrddin yn y bedd – The diffused song of Myrddin in his grave
 Peirian Faban – Commanding Youth

The New Divan

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I have just begun the transcreation of a book called A New Divan, recently released by Gingko. It had been inspired by the 200th anniversary of a collection of poems by Goethe, itself inspired by works of the medieval Pesian poet, Hafiz. I had no idea either existed, & thoroughly enjoyed my education into the texts at the recent Edinburgh International Book Festival, of which you can read more of here.

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The main premise of A New Divan is to mirror Goethe’s subjects & themes using an international array of poets, whose creations would then be translated into English by another set of pets. Like a poetical UN. Intrigued, I requested a review copy from Gingko, which duly arrived yesterday. Running through the poems gave me the distinct impression that the collection was unfinished – that to match a production by Goethe, & the musical poetics of Hafiz, a single synthesizing mind had to work the ‘notes’ to order. With yesterday also being my last day reviewing at the Edinburgh Fringe, & with a full month’s worth of poesis stored in my creative antechambers, the catalyst had been sparked. I felt almost like Hammer did when hearing Hafiz in the original Persian for the first time, now compelled to translate it into German.  I felt almost like Goethe did on hearing Hammer’s translation for the first time, now compelled to create a western reply to Hafiz.

Hafiz, Herr Goethe, wait for me!
Forming triplet fraternity,
By chance, or not by chance, I heard,
Entrancing dances of the word,
Rose Voice of East, rose Voice of West,
Where voices lay choice words to rest,
I’ll pluck them up, I’ll dust them down,
Then cap them with my laurel crown.

The vast majority of Goethe’s Divan is cast in octosyllabic metre, with simple but effective rhyme schemes. This of course I had to emulate, into which mould I would try & replicate the literary trickery of high-brow Persian poetics. Ultimately its the spirit of Goethe we are trying to please here, and I’m sure he’d be quite averse to Free Verse. Its still early days of course,  but a project worth pursuing, the resulting piece, then, drawn from A New Divan, I shall name THE New Divan. Some of the fruits of my efforts thus fare are printed below.

Damian Beeson Bullen


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CLARA JANES: The Song of the One Who Pours the Wine

As Shiraz roses sheer upclimb
These pages thro’, so hear the chime
Sung by the Holy Fool that stands
Beside the well at dusk – these hands
Reveal the decorated cup,
As if, from it, Jamshid did sup,
Containing worlds within wine-pools
Where ripple stars, submerging jewels,
Revealing patterns unimpair’d
By fauna & by flora shar’d,
A human heart or pulseless stone?
Upon a palm leaf focus hone
In some garden botanica,
Such as the one in Padua,
When famously illustrated
The metamorph you’ll see outspread!

As formula, in chimes, upswells
From caravans & tiny bells;
All things must change, all time must pass,
But even so, as higher class
Of thinker contemplates these things,
All fixed must be in place on strings –
Prayer beads of love & science.

Pour me another cup forth-hence,
Permitting detailed inspection
Of all that swims in reflection,
I’ll read the Cosmos as a sacred text,
Accepting what I’ll see I must acknowledge next.

Keeping electrons in a trance,
By atom procharge made to dance,
Like the limitless extension
Of the waves in curv’d connexion;
Deep secrets of this circuitrie
Reveals the links twyx atomie,
When object & subject between
Sees space collapsing mezzanine.

All this is held by such perfume
Exhaled by Shiraz rose in bloom,
Love is the scent-sway, & does etch
The first & best alphabet, which
Declaring in Persopolis,
This Human grace forever is!

Yet, falls the dusk, the Holy Fool
Sings by the well’s radiant pool,
The poet plucks from blazing flames
A flicker of all things, all names,
That brand my hands, together we
Repeat his arcane sorcery;

Nature, my one joy is to connect!


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JAN WAGNER: Ephesus Ghazal

With tyrants who cavort like gods,
Our days cut-short at shortest odds,
Of these severe was one in faith,
His painters perpetrate a wraith,
With shaggy face & eyes like sleet,
Lads seven underneath his feet,
Prepar’d for freedom, so they hid
Themselves before Dawn lifts its lid.
Cavebound, the dog curl’d at their feet,
That loved them all with love complete,
While they first slept the Emperor
Gave rocks in cartloads the order,
‘Block up the entrance!’ Still they slept,
Dispersing trances, by them crept
Long centuries on centuries,
So deep that sleep it seems death is
Enmesh’d with slumbers – angel’s hand
As gentle as a grazing land,
Did turn them… dreadful, delicate;
Depending on which way the foot
Did point – to Heaven, down to Hell –
Limbs rolling as lads dreamlands dwell.

Eroded rocks, awoke hungry,
Thinking new morn was what they see
Just one night old; so sent to town
Their youngest, keenest, skills a crown,
Who found a bakers where once stood
The court, the baker’s face of blood
Drain’d white, straining for friends, in fear –
The proffer’d coin engrav’d, a clear
Depicted face, some king long dead,
“He was the emperor,” someone said,
A whole town came to gawp & glare
At this young marvel standing there,
Whose uncles & great-grandchildren
Were lang syne dust, distant aeon
In which he tried to grow a beard,
The townsfolk thought this very weird,
Tho’ simmering their pots were set,
They shrank Ephesus’ parapet,
To distant dots, even before
The millet cook’d; they wanted more
To see the cave, & when they did,
The other six no longer hid,
A clan of seven spread from death,
Who’d somehow shar’d eternal breath!


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FADHIL AL-AZZAWI: Paradise on Earth

I see it as I leave the inn
The dark of night, an evil djinn
Pursues me close, each step I take,
These steps shall shudder as I shake
Dogs furious, a-bark behind
Like hunt-track wolves, outflung from mind,
I must drive this road’s solitude,
I must sing madly, loud & crude!
Dervish disguis’d as angel slips
Out from the mosque, threats on his lips,
Waving his stick thro’ air at me,
Hey, you are losing your life!” he
Screams, “You have lost your life,” Adam,
Did you not know its forbidden
In this world to drink Eden’s wine?
But in Paradise, hey, that’s fine!
Go drink that wine, its bountiful
& free, search for the beautiful
Eyes, bountiful houris, gratis.

Oh master of my days, where is
This place, lord tell me where we are.

He points his stick up to a star,
“There,” utters he, “Eternity,”
Twinkling… blazing… “Up there!” says he,
Fluttering as the falcons rise
Evanishing in splendid skies!

I do not move, stricken with doubt,
I dare not move, Hafiz steps out
Arriving as he always does
As of-a-sudden surprises,
“My friend!” he laughs, “Why worry so?
Their walls are high & you have no
Wings there to fly – no – let us make
This mortal rock an angels’ lake ,
Look at these mountains rising up,
For when the flood oerflows the cup,
These seas, these oceans, all aswirl
With fish & gorgeous whales which whirl
About this Godufactured Earth,
Where even serpents maintain worth,
We must remember to release
Snakes from their cages, whom, in peace,
Shall twine around those fine branches
Of our tree – happy, glorious –

What more will we need than that?


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REZA MOHAMMADI: Smoke

Unto the man I would return
Who once inside my shirt did burn.

At each lip’s precipice I fret
To find the voice I once did set
Down-dangling from a cigarette.

I ask the card-turn to unshroud
The revelations thro’ the crowd
That sweeps aside bird, plant & cloud.

Carry off, great Lord, this flower,
To tables fill’d by my mother,
& to the house of my father,

& to the fish of the rivers
Whom, three times a day, take lovers,
Suicide’s soft deliverers.

I’m six years old, care to buy bread?
What am I doing here, I said.

Carry my soul to the tented
Gypsy mystic, tinted, scented,
Take it to be finger-printed.

I’ll never leave this street, y’know,
That named a missile long ago.

You’ll see I only came to buy
Some rolls of bread – you’ll see that I
Have seen exactly six years by.

Before the next man join’d my thread
Morning stopp’d gorging on his head,
& like this poem’s folding, he
Was thrown, was caught, within old me.

Hey! This much wind my shirt won’t stand,
We should not let this much cloud land.

The blacken’d body’s shrapnel flew
Right back to eat, snack, feast on you.

Why should I be God’s kick’d up dust,
I flow like ink from His fingers.

The broken lighters of his feet
Flicker & flare in mine like heat.

His heart a wet, spent ciggarette,
His mother’s lashes crudely set
Inside his pocket, food for worms,
With sister’s hair that fistfull squirms,
& those barb’d eyelids of his wife.

I wish somebody in his life
Had told him moons dont burst in flame
When clad in clothes by top brands made.

The one runs from me as he ran
From his ma’s table & her pan,
Thus I would like to tell him this,
How poet’s metamorphosis
Grows on lips like little roses
Caus’d by earth – which decomposes!

Even the river dodges me,
Even the doves take flight to flee
& all the Judas trees within
Are made of debris from this bin;
How was your face made up, I said,
What shade the scarf swath’d round your head?
Black-sooted in black suit I stand,
A dandelion in one hand,
Addresses I can’t call to mind,
As on moth-wings descends dusts fine,
Dusts upon petals de-scend-ing –
Now I’m forgetting everything.


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FATEMEH SHAMS: Electrocardigram

My back she aches again today,
Three months ago they mov’d my heart
& ledg’d my vital spine apart,
Then wedg’d it in the vertebrae,
Now each musk-fragrant breath depends
On one thin vein that empties blood,
From darkness to new heart’s blood wends
My idiotic bruise of vein.
My wanton whore of heart, the pain
My back endures nobody should.
My ECG supplies, these days,
My news, headlines from past suck’d out –
A woman used to laugh about
Her love for one man & his ways,
When lavish hearts love’s healths endow,
Form windows facing long exile,
These bunch’d red muscles bled servile,
I wish it were a mirror, now!

The medic team with smiles aflock
Chirps “We had to move it a bit,
& from today we must admit
By beating hearts please set your clock,”
Alarmic systems rotten grown,
My lover new has ask’d last night
“Are all our words & movements known?”
I thought he quizz’d me for to see
How paranoid & how crazy
I was, my shadows hid from sight,
For years my shadow’s eyes did hide
In dresses – cities far & wide,
The final shadow ran its part
& in his fist a bleeding heart –
The doctors are the shadow’s foes
& paranoia diagnose
Expertly well, & for exile
Prescibe a perfect potion’s phial,
Moving the heart to think & feel
In times when no heart’s scar could heal.


Jaan Kaplinski

JAAN KAPLINSKI: The Great Axe

Knew everybody since childhood,
He’d dreamt he was a shaft of wood
By axehead topp’d, his foes to fight
To chop off heads & branches smite!
He grew & chopp’d & splinters flew,
Heads fell & everybody knew
He was the sharpest one of all,
Most pitiless of axeheads’ fall,
Him from the toughest shell was cast
The special spirit naught could rust,
Let no-one ken the truth display’d,
He was just normal, iron-made,
Of brittle rust was he afraid,
Standing alone before mirror
He would check, those new red stains were
Upon his blade? He tried to wash
Away the rust stains with blood fresh
From wounds, but not enough to hide,
Until his peace one day defied,
Smashing the mirror angrily,
He fell inside some phantasie
Beyond the Looking Glass’s ledge,
Near marshes large by forest edge,
& realised his place was there,
In that swamp’s pool, & full aware
He transformed could be back into
A fist of mud-brown bog ore goo!


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The Poetry of Muhammad Ali

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Clay standing over the defeated Sonny Liston

The warrior poet is one of the more remarkable figures in history. In the English-speaking world, their zenith came with the horrors of World War One, when Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen & others veered away from patronising the soldier’s noble death with high-blown lyricism, & got down to expositing the true danger & desperation of combat. Fifty years later the world encountered a different kind of warrior poet, the boxer called Cassius Clay / Muhammad Ali who like a high-ranked bardic-trained Gaulish druid passed judgement on the age of Civil Rights.

I am America.
I am the part you won’t recognize.
But get used to me:
Black, confident, cocky.
My name, not yours.
My religion, not yours.
My goals, my own.
Get used to me.
Muhammad Ali


download.jpgLAST NIGHT I HAD A DREAM

Last night I had a dream, When I got to Africa,
I had one hell of a rumble.
I had to beat Tarzan’s behind first,
For claiming to be King of the Jungle.
For this fight, I’ve wrestled with alligators,
I’ve tussled with a whale.
I done handcuffed lightning
And throw thunder in jail.
You know I’m bad.
just last week, I murdered a rock,
Injured a stone, Hospitalized a brick.
I’m so mean, I make medicine sick.
I’m so fast, man,
I can run through a hurricane and don’t get wet.
When George Foreman meets me,
He’ll pay his debt.
I can drown the drink of water, and kill a dead tree.
Wait till you see Muhammad Ali.
Written by Muhammad Ali | Create an image from this poem
There live a great man named Joe
There live a great man named Joe
who was belittled by a loudmouth foe.
While his rival would taunt and tease
Joe silently bore the stings.
And then fought like gladiator in the ring.

 


CLAY COMES OUT TO MEET LISTON

Clay comes out to meet Liston
and Liston starts to retreat,
if Liston goes back an inch farther
he’ll end up in a ringside seat.
Clay swings with his left,
Clay swings with his right,
Look at young Cassius
carry the fight
Liston keeps backing, but there’s not enough room,
It’s a matter of time till Clay lowers the boom.
Now Clay lands with a right,
What a beautiful swing,
and the punch raises the Bear
clean out of the ring.
Liston is still rising and the ref wears a frown,
For he can’t start counting
till Sonny goes down.
Now Liston is disappearing from view,
The crowd is going frantic,
But radar stations have picked him up,
Somewhere over the Atlantic.
Who would have thought
when they came to the fight?
That they’d witness the launching
of a human satellite.
Yes the crowd did not dream,
when they put up the money,
That they would see
a total eclipse of the Sonny.

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The boy could fight too – sheer poetry in the ring, but he actually created a great deal of interesting, funny verse. Inspired by the barber-shop banter he heard in his youth, & driven through a supra-arrogant ‘I’m the greatest’ persona based upon a wrestler called Gorgeous George, the world became hooked on every word the young Cassius said – & he knew it, touching an entire planet thro’ his simple lyricism enabled by his global persona. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”


ALI V JOE FRAZIER

Ding! Ali comes out to meet Frazier
But Frazier starts to retreat
If Frazier goes back any further
He’ll wind up in a ringside seat

Ali swings to the left
Ali swings to the right
Look at the kid
Carry the fight

Frazier keeps backing
But there’s not enough room
It’s a matter of time
Then Ali lowers the boom

Now Ali lands to the right
What a beautiful swing!
And deposits Frazier
Clean out of the ring

Frazier’s still rising
But the referee wears a frown
For he can’t start counting
Till Frazier comes down

Now Frazier disappears from view
The crowd is getting frantic
But our radar stations have picked him up
He’s somewhere over the Atlantic

Who would have thought that
When they came to the fight
That they would have witnessed
The launching of a coloured satellite!

 


After becoming involved with the controversial ‘Nation of Islam’ group in the 60s, Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali, which will stick unto eternity. His legacy is being forgotten by the millennial generation, unfortunately, as is his poetry. But there is a clear case that for while he was at the peak of his powers, more people heard, were touched by, & recited back his poetry than other individual on the planet before or since. Maybe not a better poet than Shakespeare, but definitely, during his hey-days, bigger!


ON THE ATTICA PRISON RIOTS OF 1971

He said breedom – Better Now

Better far— from all I see—
To die fighting to be free
What more fitting end could be?

Better surely than in some bed
Where in broken health I’m led
Lingering until I’m dead

Better than with prayers and pleas
Or in the clutch of some disease
Wasting slowly by degrees

Better than a heart attack
or some dose of drug I lack
Let me die by being Black

Better far that I should go
Standing here against the foe
Is the sweeter death to know

Better than the bloody stain
On some highway where I’m lain
Torn by flying glass and pane

Better calling death to come
Than to die another dumb
Muted victim in the slum

Better than of this prison rot
If there’s any choice I’ve got
Kill me here on the spot

Better far my fight to wage
Now while my blood boils with rage
Lest it cool with ancient age

Better vowing for us to die
Than to Uncle Tom and try
Making peace just to live a lie

Better now that I say my sooth
I’m gonna die demanding truth
While I’m still akin to youth

Better now than later on
Now that fear of death is gone
Never mind another dawn.

 

 

This poem was recited on air while in Ireland & depicts a hostage protest for better conditions which led to 29 prisoners being shot by soldiers. After reading the poem, Muhammad Ali related the struggle of the Afro-Americans for freedom and justice to the struggle of the Irish against British imperialism


THE LEGEND OF MUHAMMAD ALI_89882124_89882123.jpg

This is the legend of Muhammad Ali,
The greatest fighter that ever will be.
He talks a great deal and brags, indeed.
Of a powerful punch and blinding speed.
Ali fights great, he’s got speed and endurance.
If you sign to fight him, increase your insurance.
Ali’s got a left, Ali’s got a right;
If he hits you once, you’re asleep for the night
Written by Muhammad Ali | Create an image from this poem
To make America the greatest is my goal
To make America the greatest is my goal,
So I beat the Russians, and I beat the Pole,
and for the USA won the medal of gold.
Italians said: “You’re Greater than the Cassius of old´´.
We like your name, we like your game,
So make Rome your home if you will.
I said I appreciate your kind hospitality,
But the USA is my country still,
‘Cause they’re waiting to welcome me in Louisville.


Ali ‘the poet’ must also go down on record as the author of the shortest poem in the language. According to  Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, the shortest poem in the English language was Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes by Strickland Gillilan, which went, ‘Adam / Had’em.’ Ali beat this hands down with his sexy & supercilious, ‘Me / We.’ Yes, Muhammad Ali, you truly were the greatest.


READ THE GODS OF THE RING

The brand new Conchord by Damian Beeson Bullen

The Requiem of Anna Akhmatova

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Anna Akhmatova’s Requiem is a perfect piece

Of mid-20th Century epyllia


Anna Akhmatova is one of the greatest ever Russian poets, essayists & translators. During the climate of Stalinist oppression, between 1935 and 1940 she composed she composed the bulk of her long narrative poem, Rekviem. It was whispered line by line to her closest friends, who quickly committed to memory what they had heard. Akhmatova would then burn in an ashtray the scraps of paper on which she had written Rekviem. If found by the secret police, this narrative poem could have unleashed another wave of arrests for subversive activities. The poem would be published for the first time in Russia only during the years of perestroika, in the journal Oktiabr’ (October) in 1989. Mixing various genres and styles & forms, the poem’s scatteredness reflects the disintegration of self and the world that the old Russian order was experiencing- Anna had aristocratic blood.


Not under foreign skies
Nor under foreign wings protected –
I shared all this with my own people
There, where misfortune had abandoned us.
[1961]

INSTEAD OF A PREFACE

During the frightening years of the Yezhov terror, I
spent seventeen months waiting in prison queues in
Leningrad. One day, somehow, someone ‘picked me out’.
On that occasion there was a woman standing behind me,
her lips blue with cold, who, of course, had never in
her life heard my name. Jolted out of the torpor
characteristic of all of us, she said into my ear
(everyone whispered there) – ‘Could one ever describe
this?’ And I answered – ‘I can.’ It was then that
something like a smile slid across what had previously
been just a face.
[The 1st of April in the year 1957. Leningrad]

DEDICATION

Mountains fall before this grief,
A mighty river stops its flow,
But prison doors stay firmly bolted
Shutting off the convict burrows
And an anguish close to death.
Fresh winds softly blow for someone,
Gentle sunsets warm them through; we don’t know this,
We are everywhere the same, listening
To the scrape and turn of hateful keys
And the heavy tread of marching soldiers.
Waking early, as if for early mass,
Walking through the capital run wild, gone to seed,
We’d meet – the dead, lifeless; the sun,
Lower every day; the Neva, mistier:
But hope still sings forever in the distance.
The verdict. Immediately a flood of tears,
Followed by a total isolation,
As if a beating heart is painfully ripped out, or,
Thumped, she lies there brutally laid out,
But she still manages to walk, hesitantly, alone.
Where are you, my unwilling friends,
Captives of my two satanic years?
What miracle do you see in a Siberian blizzard?
What shimmering mirage around the circle of the moon?
I send each one of you my salutation, and farewell.
[March 1940]

INTRODUCTION
[PRELUDE]

It happened like this when only the dead
Were smiling, glad of their release,
That Leningrad hung around its prisons
Like a worthless emblem, flapping its piece.
Shrill and sharp, the steam-whistles sang
Short songs of farewell
To the ranks of convicted, demented by suffering,
As they, in regiments, walked along –
Stars of death stood over us
As innocent Russia squirmed
Under the blood-spattered boots and tyres
Of the black marias.

index 2

I
You were taken away at dawn. I followed you
As one does when a corpse is being removed.
Children were crying in the darkened house.
A candle flared, illuminating the Mother of God. . .
The cold of an icon was on your lips, a death-cold sweat
On your brow – I will never forget this; I will gather

To wail with the wives of the murdered streltsy
Inconsolably, beneath the Kremlin towers.
[1935. Autumn. Moscow]

II

Silent flows the river Don
A yellow moon looks quietly on
Swanking about, with cap askew
It sees through the window a shadow of you
Gravely ill, all alone
The moon sees a woman lying at home
Her son is in jail, her husband is dead
Say a prayer for her instead.

III

It isn’t me, someone else is suffering. I couldn’t.
Not like this. Everything that has happened,
Cover it with a black cloth,
Then let the torches be removed. . .
Night.

IV

Giggling, poking fun, everyone’s darling,
The carefree sinner of Tsarskoye Selo
If only you could have foreseen
What life would do with you –
That you would stand, parcel in hand,
Beneath the Crosses, three hundredth in line,
Burning the new year’s ice
With your hot tears.
Back and forth the prison poplar sways
With not a sound – how many innocent
Blameless lives are being taken away. . .
[1938]

V

For seventeen months I have been screaming,
Calling you home.
I’ve thrown myself at the feet of butchers
For you, my son and my horror.
Everything has become muddled forever –
I can no longer distinguish
Who is an animal, who a person, and how long
The wait can be for an execution.
There are now only dusty flowers,
The chinking of the thurible,
Tracks from somewhere into nowhere
And, staring me in the face
And threatening me with swift annihilation,
An enormous star.
[1939]

index 3

VI

Weeks fly lightly by. Even so,
I cannot understand what has arisen,
How, my son, into your prison
White nights stare so brilliantly.
Now once more they burn,
Eyes that focus like a hawk,
And, upon your cross, the talk
Is again of death.
[1939. Spring]

VII
THE VERDICT

The word landed with a stony thud
Onto my still-beating breast.
Nevermind, I was prepared,
I will manage with the rest.

I have a lot of work to do today;
I need to slaughter memory,
Turn my living soul to stone
Then teach myself to live again. . .

But how. The hot summer rustles
Like a carnival outside my window;
I have long had this premonition
Of a bright day and a deserted house.
[22 June 1939. Summer. Fontannyi Dom (4)]

VIII
TO DEATH

You will come anyway – so why not now?
I wait for you; things have become too hard.
I have turned out the lights and opened the door
For you, so simple and so wonderful.
Assume whatever shape you wish. Burst in
Like a shell of noxious gas. Creep up on me
Like a practised bandit with a heavy weapon.
Poison me, if you want, with a typhoid exhalation,
Or, with a simple tale prepared by you
(And known by all to the point of nausea), take me
Before the commander of the blue caps and let me glimpse
The house administrator’s terrified white face.
I don’t care anymore. The river Yenisey
Swirls on. The Pole star blazes.
The blue sparks of those much-loved eyes
Close over and cover the final horror.
[19 August 1939. Fontannyi Dom]

IX

Madness with its wings
Has covered half my soul
It feeds me fiery wine
And lures me into the abyss.

That’s when I understood
While listening to my alien delirium
That I must hand the victory
To it.

However much I nag
However much I beg
It will not let me take
One single thing away:

Not my son’s frightening eyes –
A suffering set in stone,
Or prison visiting hours
Or days that end in storms

Nor the sweet coolness of a hand
The anxious shade of lime trees
Nor the light distant sound
Of final comforting words.
[14 May 1940. Fontannyi Dom]

index 4.jpg

X
CRUCIFIXION

Weep not for me, mother.
I am alive in my grave.

1.
A choir of angels glorified the greatest hour,
The heavens melted into flames.
To his father he said, ‘Why hast thou forsaken me!’
But to his mother, ‘Weep not for me. . .’
[1940. Fontannyi Dom]

2.
Magdalena smote herself and wept,
The favourite disciple turned to stone,
But there, where the mother stood silent,
Not one person dared to look.
[1943. Tashkent]

EPILOGUE

1.
I have learned how faces fall,
How terror can escape from lowered eyes,
How suffering can etch cruel pages
Of cuneiform-like marks upon the cheeks.
I know how dark or ash-blond strands of hair
Can suddenly turn white. I’ve learned to recognise
The fading smiles upon submissive lips,
The trembling fear inside a hollow laugh.
That’s why I pray not for myself
But all of you who stood there with me
Through fiercest cold and scorching July heat
Under a towering, completely blind red wall.

2.
The hour has come to remember the dead.
I see you, I hear you, I feel you:
The one who resisted the long drag to the open window;
The one who could no longer feel the kick of familiar
soil beneath her feet;
The one who, with a sudden flick of her head, replied,

‘I arrive here as if I’ve come home!’
I’d like to name you all by name, but the list
Has been removed and there is nowhere else to look.
So,
I have woven you this wide shroud out of the humble words
I overheard you use. Everywhere, forever and always,
I will never forget one single thing. Even in new grief.
Even if they clamp shut my tormented mouth
Through which one hundred million people scream;
That’s how I wish them to remember me when I am dead
On the eve of my remembrance day.
If someone someday in this country
Decides to raise a memorial to me,
I give my consent to this festivity
But only on this condition – do not build it
By the sea where I was born,
I have severed my last ties with the sea;
Nor in the Tsar’s Park by the hallowed stump
Where an inconsolable shadow looks for me;
Build it here where I stood for three hundred hours
And no-one slid open the bolt.
Listen, even in blissful death I fear
That I will forget the Black Marias,
Forget how hatefully the door slammed and an old woman
Howled like a wounded beast.
Let the thawing ice flow like tears
From my immovable bronze eyelids
And let the prison dove coo in the distance
While ships sail quietly along the river.
[March 1940. Fontannyi Dom]

The Poetry of Louise Connell

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Music & poetry have always been easy bedfellows, teasing each other with magic to create something wholly cosmic, wholly beautiful. Singers like Bob Dylan & Jim Morrison were choral bards whose words meant as much as the melody – to hypnotise with the tune, to penetrate the soul with the vision. Alas, in recent years, across the music scene, the lyrics of songs have been slowly descending into a sewer of indifference, with A&R folk more interested in social media stats than talent. How sparklingly wonderful is the appearance, then, of a young singer-songwriter who really cares about what she is singing.

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Louise & her band in Edinburgh

A few weeks ago I quite randomly found myself in the Voodoo Rooms one Tuesday evening listening to a young lady & her band. The lady has a name, Louise Connell, a quite bonnie & thickly-accented lassie from Airdrie. A shy performer, Louise has an ethereal voice which soothes the listener’s receptability, fooling us into mentally relaxing as she tosses her songs of spinning shuriken into our psyche. Louise, you see, is a poet. It took me a while to realise – the aforementioned thick accent is difficult to penetrate sometimes – but as the gig went on, & the words & phrases Louise chooses became steadily more transparent, I began to screw down, transfixed, into my seat, resting chin betwyx finger & thumb. It was as if the spirit of John Keats had manifested itself into this gentle & honey-tongued goddess from the Central Belt; but with an edge, for Keats could never have sung the opening lyrics of Connell’s self-penned Maria;

The wine glass slithers down the wall
The cooker’s on but the room is cold
Maria, where’s the girl who swallows lies,
And coughs them up as smiles?

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—-

Louise has just released an album, a collection of three EPs called Squall Echo Rale. The songs vary in style & entertainment, but it is in the lyrics that I have found the most pleasure. Louise writes from the other side, presenting us with the flawless dichotomy of silken-sheeted songcraft & spine-raking wordplay. The album consists of 18 set-piece songs, the second of which, Rope, reveals the true genius of Connell’s craft. Less song, more an abstract play, it begins with an impressive cynghanedd-laden couplet which reads, ‘I’m forging quite a career in suppression / Whether passive agression or a spineless silence.’ Let us also examine the opening to the fourth song, Ilo, a love paean delivered with calm lucidity, a majestic capsule of poetic insight & phraseology.

———

Spending my day’s trying to claim
No one was seeing any of me
Like I was total, embryonic potential
And zero kinesis
I’d feel my hand at the switch
With my mouth forming, “I lo…”

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Wandering through the rest of the lyrics for Squall Echo Rale, we have several songs of introspective romance-odes – there seems to be a broken relationship in the mix somewhere. A little of Baudelaire’s desperate Paris pops up from time to time; in Fruit, for example, we learn ‘There’s no garden, There’s no orchard, Fruit is trampled,’ while No Visitors contains the cooly observed, ‘She may be sunken treasure but no one’s ever / been holding their breath.‘ In Crossed the Line, my favorite tune on the album, we see Connell complying with the convention of the sonnet-turn, or something quite akin to it at least. Compare the standard chorus with a one-off later version & observe how Connell digs deeper into her muse-cave.
—–

I could have been a genius
But I crushed the brains out of my skull
I could have been a lover
But soft love would make my skin crawl
I could have been a monster
But the screams would fester in my mind
I could have been a good friend
But I always crossed the line
I always crossed the line

And I could have been a genius
If you’d tested me in my native tongue
I could’ve loved you gently, if it ever seemed much fun
I could have been a monster;
sure, I could have the person for you
But friends was just another game
that I was meant to lose
Like life’s a game I’m bound to lose

In ‘Get to Know Me,’ Connell takes on the gratuitous role of a male suitor, who ‘didn’t realise her father was a man of your stature / you intimidate me, sir.’ I mean, who in the music world actually does that? We also have track 17, Viscous Fear, a moody masterpiece which contains this a capella chorus, sang enchantingly;
——-
A nursery rhyme for the other side
A microcosm of my life
Coats a hundred glass slides
I creied eyelashes with my tears
My viscous fear
An eyelash tear
My viscous tear
—-
Louise Connell is a shiny jewel on the UK music scene, one to restore faith in songwriting’s ability to constantly reinvent itself & also remain true to itself. She also possesses a keen ear for melody, which she infuses into her lyrics with the ease of a summer’s walk. I wonder whether Connell will one day separate the words from her music, but one expects the extrication to be too bloody, too painful. For now, let us see her craft as a composite whole; the music coaxes the words to life, & the words invigorate the music. To listen to Connell sing her songs is a highly reccommended & sublime joy.

Divine Poetry

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Edinburgh-based Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert possesses one of the most unique & lucid poetical voices in modern Britain. Here follows his self-penned monograph upon the art & his own place in the firmament


The teachers at school always said to my parents, ‘he could do it if he wanted to,’ but no-one ever asked me, what it was that I wanted to do or indeed why my thirst for academia was so absent. Or indeed why it was that I was so seldom there. I got moved up a group when I was in the first year at upper school. There was never a lesson ever that enthralled me enough to want to be there. Going to school was an abject lesson in confronting fear on a daily basis. I had a learning disability that I was too scared to discuss. Naturally, my inner world reflected my outer world. I was a slight kid and fighting was something I just didnae do. I was soft as fuck. However, it wasnae the threat of physical violence that scared me, it was the constant insinuation of Calvert ya puff, ya queer, ya Quentin. I once sat down and tried to explain it to my Dad just, how much it was getting to me. He didnae know what to do or what to say. So I never talked about it again.


PROPHECY
(1997)

I searched The Boundaries Of Life’s Curses.
The Misfortunes That Fell Around Me.
Relentless Forces Of Change.
That Grappled Me To The Ground.
Each Time I Hit The Ground
A New Gift Approached.

Reaching Out With My Heart To
To Heal The Conditioned Insanity
Knowing That Change
Would Release The Chains
Of Enforced Working Class Spiritual Poverty.
Through The Choice Of Reinvention.
I Welcomed My New Incarnation
Of Clairvoyant And Healing Medium.
The Light Began To Grow.

Understanding The Magician.
Welcoming Enchantments.
Guiding Angels
And Crystal Family.
Healing Springs.
Healing Forces.
Healing Courses.
Healing Sources.
Healing Touch.

One By One She Unfolded.
Petals Of Expansion
Of Kindness.
Of Warmth
Of Heart.
❤

Prepared By The Battle
With The Force Of Darkness.
I Came Out The Wounded Healer.
Forgiving The Good Witch.
Then Questing The Grail.
Opened The Channel
That allowed.
Guru’s
Shiva.
Past Masters.
Channelled To The Increasingly Conscious Soul.

Choosing To Throw Away Armour
Choosing To Let Love Grow.
Greeting The Banshees.
That Would Exorcise
The Burdon Of My Tortured Soul.

Letting My Pain Go ❤.
Opening My Eyes To See Sweet Angels Grow.
Becoming The Empress
That I would Always Know
In Lives.
Past.
Present
And The Ones That Are Still To come.
We Would Always Meet.
And Become Together.


I realised at 13. Whats the fucking point. I knew then that I had a tough time with spelling, and the constant visions of people being tortured and mutilated didnae help matters. I know now, that the vision thing was a direct result of a brain injury and a near death experience from being knocked over by a car on the way to school when I was 11. School never did me any favours, looking back its not hard to understand why I resented it so much. This is why I left School with poor grades. I was soft as fuck, thick and probably damaged beyond repair in world where repair seemed impossible. So like everything else, It was a case of carrying on regardless. I left School with GCSE Grade 4. I went back to night school when I was 18 to do O level English, and passed with a Grade 3. That was the last time I attempted an exam, and yes the teachers that told my parents that “he could do it if he wanted to” were right. I just had a few pressing issues that needed to be understood and worked out first. If Dance had have been on the curriculum, I would have been hooked. If consciousness and the basic understanding of self-healing had been an option I would have got an A grade. Because that is what I was needing.

The first time I ever spoke to anyone about the mental disability that I had been dealing with since adolescence, was when I had settled in Edinburgh. It was all Spiritually guided and its synchronicity most definitely was a Godsend. Before that time my only outlet I had was through poetry. I began writing my experience in 1992 after having my first Angel Visitation. The Angel told me to write and in doing so, I would find a release that was safer and more effective than cutting myself, using hard drugs or throwing the towel in completely. The Angelic instruction to start writing was the beginning of the path that would Heal me. So inspiring “ From Pain To Peace. The Poetic Journey Of A Working Class Shaman.”

The reason I resigned from a cushty 9-to-5 was to pursue a calling. that came through a Kundalini awakening in 1994. I heard the Earth scream. “Help Me!

“How?” I Replied.
And then…
it happened.

The reality of conscious healing frequency and the truth of coexisting dimensions. the many lifetimes I had lived and the reality of Clairvoyance. Whoooosh. The challenge had been set, to prove that this stuff was real and to answer the distress call from Mother Earth.

This is where my inner reality reflected Mother Earths reality. As much as the calling was to save the Planet That We Live On. It was also a calling for me to understand and Heal my unspoken trauma and the debilitating effects that I had been dealing with silently. This is when I coined the term, “Healing The World is easier than healing our selves” Instinctively I knew that the answer was to Heal oneself and quite naturally, the Earths Healing would happen as a result. Together We Could Heal The World. But it has to start with healing oneself. In doing so, The Earth Mother heals as a result.

I mean. What greater incentive could there be?
The Power Of The Pen.
Is Mightier Than That Of A Sword.

Facebook and Grammarly have been key in building confidence. Indeed it was through my documentation of festivals that I got invited to review for The Mumble, back in 2014. My first Fringe as a reviewer. Thrust in at the deep end and succeeding beyond my wildest expectation. I overcame my fear of not being able to spell. The Mumble has been one of the best teachers I have ever had and having an Editor certainly instilled confidence. Having really clever girlfriends has been important too, but then that’s another story.

Indeed it is the reason that I am a Spiritual Healer and teacher of Rei Ki now. Once the devastating effects of the brain injury had healed, which I achieved at 36, I could finally actually convey what it was that was stopping me from having the confidence to write anything other than poetry. I guess like everything else grammar, punctuation and spelling didn’t matter when writing a poem. Once I had healed my past and the effect it was having on me, I could heal my intellect. This is when the writer formed. I had a story to tell, because I had found the solution. to the learning disability, I had when I was kid. I just needed to find the vocabulary.


david-bowie-9222045-1-402.jpgBOWIE
2008

My First Memory Of David.
When Ahmed Voragee Bought Boys Keep Swinging.
We were about twelve years of age at the time.
He lived across the back Gunnel
Of the Yorkshire bricked Terrace House
That I was brought up in
We bonded over a love of Gary Numan.

Ahmed did a brilliant impersonation of Elvis Costello
Circa Olivers Army.
There was a soft porn midden down the back
That we visited after tea.
To read stories from ancient copies of Razzel and Parade.
Get Hard and not know what to do with it.

That all changed when Kathryn Worsley
Showed me what to do with it.
When listening to Changes Two by Bowie
On the prized record player I bought From Andrew
My Big Sisters Fella.

Adam Ant And Two Tone Ska
Had a part to play.
I was a confused kid with Two Tone Tonic Trousers.
An Harrington Jacket
With Adam And The Ants chalked on the back.
And my Dad not letting me go to Princeville Working Mens Club
With a red lipsticked stripe across my face.
Well if Adam Ant could do it.
Well, Why couldn’t I.
Only his was white.

ziggy-stardust-david-bowie-meaning-song.jpg

Then Ashes To Ashes had me hooked.
And Ziggy Stardust saw everything.
He was looking from a poster on my wall
With Boy George and The Human league
Offering to support boys that looked great in make up.
And Marc Almond made it cool to be a puff
In Bradford.

Celebrity was never far away
Although I was never Gay.
Everyone I went to school with
Told me I must be.
Apart from the girls who wanted to shag me.

Because I could Dance and shoplift my music
I had a currency without money
Untill I got rumbled and taken to court
that was the end of my criminal years
The ones that I had to abort.

But by that time I had the lot!!!!

Home taping on Jengas Mums Hifi
Bought the tickets for
Duran Duran
Spandau Ballet
and Culture Club.
The New Romantics They Had me hooked.
Toyah, Japan, Landscape, Hazel O Conner
And Gary Numan
Tick and Tock and Shock.
And then robotics became my game.
As David Bowie sang about Fame.
And Love became the drug
And Music my sanctuary.

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7” !0” 12”
Picture Disc
The smell of virgin fruity Vinyl
A bygone age
But David Bowie still remains vital.
And the make up I began wearing at 14.
I still adorn at 48

No longer new.
But still a Romantic.
And the music that informed me.
That style and substance
Got me through the working class Struggle
David Bowie Kept it real

And then music became free
At The Click of a Button
Now That was a Moonage Daydream
Because If at 14 I had it.
Shoplifting wouldnae have been an option.
I could have done it on line.
Without a Fine.

Lee Ann Roripaugh: Tsunami vs. the Fukushima 50

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Lee Ann Roripaugh’s new collection effortlessly evokes the brutal powers of nature untrammelled & human emotions devastated by disaster


I thoroughly enjoy a themed collection of poetry, the Vishnu Upanishads, Ted Hughes’ Crow, even John Maserfield’s Salt-Water Poems & Ballads; so went into the reading of Lee Ann Roripaugh’s Tsunami vs. the Fukushima 50 with an appreciative bias. There is a certain nuance to the form which I enjoy when done well – it is not easy to make a themed collection hold a reader’s attention, for oftentimes a poet will get lost in the cul-de-sac housing schemes of their inspirations. However, ‘Tsunami’ actually transcends the form, a thought-splintered foray into the plosive destruction & pitiless aftermath of the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake & tsunami, which led to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

pulverized cities flung back
to water like sprinkled furikake

her radio-waved wake
an awful flower blossoming

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Roripaugh tells the story through a personified tsunami, its effect on nature, & the human fall-out of tragic events both water-slaughtery & wrought by the radioactive chaos after Fukushima. As a poet, her wordplay is practically phenomenal, combining mimesi in startling combinations, like a talented skald getting drunk in a European court, coining exciting new kennings from the play-stuff of their exotic surrounds. In her opening poem, for example, we see the ‘annihilatrix’ ‘Mechatsunami’ described as ‘shellacked wings unclung / from stacticky black elytra.‘ I mean that is just a stunning couplet.

I’ve seen many terrible things:
cages filled with withered songbirds,
horses left to starve in their stalls,
an abandoned puppy that grew
too big for the chain around its neck

As the collection unfolds we are treated to a delicate diaspora of delights; lovely lists explore subjects like the Goblin Market of Rossetti; a soul captivated by nature paints what it sees with a vivid serenity; the terrible aspects of human loss rip thro’ our mentalities with a single spin of a shuriken-phrase. The following passage is a perfect example of Rosipaugh’s ability to weave the epic waste of life & liberty into her visionary free verse;

at first, I concentrated very hard
on trying to see my feet, to know
if I was a ghost or not, but when
sneakers filled with foot bones
began to surface in the Pacific,
I stopped thinking these thoughts

leeRoripaugh (1).jpgMy favourite poem in the collection was ‘Hulk Smash’ a cinematic & pathosean dirge thro’ a father’s pathetic quest to find his missing daughter in ‘a toxic garbage dump’ where he searched for her ‘every month / in the five-hour increments / allowed by radiation guidelines.‘ In the age of Netflix, this is what modern poetry should really be doing, making us all mind movies, & Roripaugh activates the mental mechanisms sublimely. When the collection is knitted together, the overall effect is rather like the Lusiads of Luís Vaz de Camões, an epyllionic journey full of constant stimuli, where at one point we may lament ‘the gwa gwa gaw of frogs / stopped from invisible ponds‘ & at another hear a young lassie called Hisako declare;

it’s not like I ever asked
to come here and live
in this drafty prefab box
of corrugated metal
with my silent old granny

By the end of the book, I felt I had just been the weightless passenger on Roripaugh’s precious back as she free-soloed one of the minor slopes of Parnassus. Will she attempt one of the trickier faces? I do hope so, because her talent is unique. I cannot think of a poet since that of the anonymous composer of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s ‘Brunanburh’ entry for 937 that has been able to condense so much of the aforementioned kenning quality into their lines. Roripaugh is also a master of moods, whose multiple shades spiral with voluminous variety as the story & stories are told. This is a book of high innovation on a level that you’re not quite sure where, but you know its happening – an excellent, excellent piece.


Tsunami vs. the Fukushima 50

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