The Young Shakespeare (3): Shakespeare’s First Travels

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1575: Shakespeare Taken Out of School


What comes up must come down, & in 1575 it is supposed that John Shakespeare began to tighten his belt, pulling his eldest son out of school. Rowe tells us; ‘the narrowness of his Circumstances, and the want of his assistance at Home, forc’d his Father to withdraw him from thence.’ Personally I think there’s more to the story than a simple financial one, but its difficult to prove. Whatever were the reasons, confirmation of Shakespeare’s premature departure from grammar school is found in a pleasant eulogy made by Shakespeare’s fellow playwright, Ben Jonson, which reads, ‘and though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek, from thence to honour thee I would not seek.’ Later on in the 17th century, Thomas Fuller adds ‘he was an eminent instance of the truth of that rule, poeta non fit, sed nascitur; one is not made, but born a poet. Indeed his learning was but very little.’ Shakespeare would thenforth consider himself without a higher level of schooling, for in his dedication to the Lucrece poem he considers them, ‘untutored lines.’


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Shakespeare at Kenilworth

We may be able to place Shakespeare in Kenilworth palace, not far from Stratford, in July 1575. The queen was visiting & her train were the Children of the Chapel, a troupe of child actors led by William Hunnis. The outlandish celebrations, especially Hunnis’ device of the Lady of the Lake, would turn up once more in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, where Oberon;

Sat upon a promontory
& heard a Mermaid on a Dolphin’s back
uttering such dulcet & harmonious breath
That the rude seas grew civil at her song
& certain starres shot madly from their spheres
to hear the sea-maids music

This description matches a section in George Gascoigne’s ‘The Princely Pleasures, at the Court at Kenilworth’ (1576), where at the Station of the song of Protheus: a water pageant begins with Protheus appearing on a dolphin float with a musical consort inside: “the Dolphyn was conueied vpon the boate, so that the Owners seen to bee his Fynnes. With in the which Dolphyn a Consort of Musicke was secretly placed, the which sounded, and Protheus clearing his voyce, sang his song of congratulation.” Whether Shakespeare witnessed it first hand, or no, its presence in Shakespeareana is assured.


1575: Shakespeare Leaves Stratford


In 1575, two events conspired to propel the eleven-year-old Shakespeare out of his hometown. The first echoes the modern truanting teenager, whose idle, juvenile sporting lands them in trouble with the local authorities. In the case of Shakespeare, without the anchor of a schoolday got in with the wrong sort & conducted a spot of poaching that landed him in hot water. According to Rev. Davies our young bard, ‘was much given to all unluckiness in stealing venison & rabbits, particularly from Sir Thomas Lucy, who had him oft whipt, & sometimes imprisoned, & at last made him fly from his native county to his great advancement.’ For the rest of his life Shakespeare would remain a poacher of sorts, essentially walking into the literature canon of the known world & taking what he liked in order to toss it into whatever dramatic soup he was cooking up at the time.

A transchispering remembrance of these incidents with Sir Thomas bubble to the surface in both Henry IV pt.2 & the Merry Wives of Windsor, in which a certain vain & self-delusional character known as Justice Shallow seems very much modelled on Lucy. Where Shallow says his coat-of-arms depicted ‘luces’, i.e the fish called pikes, so did the Lucy’s of Charlecote. This was not the first time that Lucy would inspire Shakespeare’s words, as discern’d from Rowe’s account of the poaching episode,

He had, by a Misfortune common enough to young Fellows, fallen into ill Company; and amongst them, some that made a frequent practice of Deer-stealing, engag’d him with them more than once in robbing a Park that belong’d to Sir Thomas Lucy of Cherlecot, near Stratford.For this he was prosecuted by that Gentleman, as he thought, somewhat too severely; and in order to revenge that ill Usage, he made a Ballad upon him. And tho’ this, probably the first Essay of his Poetry, be lost, yet it is said to have been so very bitter, that it redoubled the Prosecution against him to that degree, that he was oblig’d to leave his Business and Family in Warwickshire, for some time, and shelter himself in London

Rowe is here segueing into one story two known facts about Shakespeare’s early life, that he (i) left Stratford after getting into trouble & (ii) settled in London. Between these events I believe that Shakespeare did a lot more living. The trail begins in 1575, when Lancashire-born Simon Hunt gave up his post as Stratford schoolmaster in order to enroll at the English College in Douay, France, & train as a militant Jesuit. The First Douay-train’d Jesuits had arrive in England in 1574, cavorting from priest-hole to priest-hole, giving masses in secret to all the favuorable nests of papistry, the visit of whom seems to have struck Hunt to his holy Catholic core. Accompanying him to France was a Stratford youth, Richard Debdale of Shottery, & also, we shall here conject, Shakespeare. His early blossoming in the poetic arts, such as the Familist ballads & the satire pinned at Charlecote, marked him out as a special talent. This faculty for the Muses would have defined him as the perfect student for a certain Douay Jesuit called Edward Campion, who described the impecabillity of writing poetry (but not love poetry) during one’s youthful studies, while at the same time becoming intimate with, ‘the majesty of Virgil, the festal grace of Ovid, the rhythm of Horace, & the buskined speech of Seneca.’


1575: Shakespeare Travels to London


As they travell’d south towards the English Channel, Hunt & Shakespeare would have slept in an English inn or three, of which Fynes Moryson, who was acquainted with the inns of Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, asserts in his Itinerary of 1617;

The world affords not such Inns as England hath, either for good and cheap entertainments at the guest’s own pleasure, or for humble attendance on passengers… as soon as a passenger comes to an Inn the servants run to him, and one takes his horse and walks him till he be cold, then rubs him and gives him meat, yet I must say they are not much to be trusted in this last point without the eye of the master or his servant to oversee them. Another servant gives the passenger his private chamber and kindles his fire, the third pulls off his boots and makes them clean. The Host or Hostess visits him, and if he will eat with the Host, or at a common table with others, his meal will cost him sixpence, or in some places but fourpence (yet this course is less honourable, and not used by gentlemen) : but if he will eat in his chamber, he commands what meat he will according to his appetite, and as much as he thinks fit for him and his company, yea, the kitchen is open to him to command the meat to be dressed as he best likes: and when he sits at table, the Host or Hostess will accompany him, of courtesy to be bid sit down: while he eats, if he have company especially, he shall be offered music, which he may freely take or refuse and if he be solitary, the Musicians will give him the good or if they have many guests will at least visit him

Another Elizabethan traveller, William Harrison, in his Description of England, describes inns lodging up to 300 folk & their horses, with some towns having more than 12 inns. Competition such as this ensured the provision of clean & comfy accommodation accompanied by very fine food & wine. Between these oasi, travel along Elizabethan highways was a most precarious venture. Dodgy roads & bridges & the occasional robber plagued the journey, with organized gangs operating all around London. Shakespeare may even have remembered such a scene, when in Henry IV he depicts;

FALSTAFF
I am accursed to rob in that thief’s company: the
rascal hath removed my horse, and tied him I know
not where. If I travel but four foot by the squier
further afoot, I shall break my wind. Well, I doubt
not but to die a fair death for all this, if I
‘scape hanging for killing that rogue. I have
forsworn his company hourly any time this two and
twenty years, and yet I am bewitched with the
rogue’s company. If the rascal hath not given me
medicines to make me love him, I’ll be hanged; it
could not be else: I have drunk medicines. Poins!
Hal! a plague upon you both! Bardolph! Peto!
I’ll starve ere I’ll rob a foot further. An ’twere
not as good a deed as drink, to turn true man and to
leave these rogues, I am the veriest varlet that
ever chewed with a tooth. Eight yards of uneven
ground is threescore and ten miles afoot with me;
and the stony-hearted villains know it well enough:
a plague upon it when thieves cannot be true one to another!


1575 : Shakespeare Visits London


As they travelled to France, with what wonder did Shakespeare first view the smoky skyline of London in his first approach from the north. It was love at first sight for for a fellow who would soon enough be calling the city home. Towering over all was the original Saint Pauls Cathedral – which would perish in the Great fire of London of 1666. The rest of London was made mainly out of timber, which of course fuelle’ that dramatic & devastating inferno. This packed city was still more or less crammed within its 15 centuries old Roman Walls, although villages peppered the countryside which would one day join up together in a seamless concrete heap.

In 1575, the profession to which Shakespeare’s destiny was intrinsically bound was in a sorry state indeed. The previous December, the puritan-dominated London common council had banned all public dramatic performances from the city, announcing;

Sundry great disorders & inconveniences have been found to ensue to this City by the inordinate haunting by great multitudes of people, specially youth, to plays, interludes & shows, namely occasion of frays & quarrels, evil practices of incontinecy in great inns, having chambers & secret places adjoining to their open stages & galleries, inveighing of maids, specially orphans & good citizens children, to privy & unmeet contracts, the publishing of unchaste, uncomely & unshamefast speeches & doings. Withdrawing of the Queen’s Majesty’s subjects from Divine service on Sundays & Holy days. 


1575 : Shakespeare Reads George Gascoigne’s ‘Posies’


While in London, Hunt took Shakespeare to Saint Paul’s Cathedral, one of only three places in the country where one could legally buy books. It was as they browsed through the printed wonders on offer that Shakespeare stumbled across George Gascoignes ‘Posies,’ released that year. Hunt bought the book for his budding wee poet, in which pages we find Gascoigne’s definition of a sonnet as being, not of the Italian model, but that made famous by the Bard himself, which consists of; ‘Fouretene lynes, every lyne conteyning tenne syllables. The first twelve to ryme in staves of foure lynes, by crosse metr & the last two rhyming togither, do conclude the whole.’

Gascoigne’s Poesies would also influence both Romeo & Juliet & Pyramis and Thisbe – the play-within-a-play of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Roger Prior (Gascoigne’s Poesies as a Shakespearian Source N&Q 245 2000) has shown how the aforemention’d plays seem particularly influenced by Gascoigne’s description of a masque celebrating the marriage in 1572 of two children of Anthony Browne, the 1st Viscount Montague. In addition, Gascoigne’s poem ‘The Refusal’ seems to have given the premise behind the rivalries of both Demetrius & Lysande, & Hermia & Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


1575-76: Shakespeare Attends the English College in Douay


Like many British schoolchildren, myself included, their first trip abroad was some kind of school trip to France. Shakespeare was no different, even if his teacher was on the run to become a militant Jesuit. Douay was to be a fertile bedsoil in which our poetical prodigy suddenly found himself; heated & passionate rhetoric would have abounded on all sides, infiltrating our wee bard’s psyche with the rhythmic pulsations of intelligent conversazione. The academic atmosphere he found himself among is perfectly described by a grandee at the English College, Rev. Gregory Martin, who described how at mealtimes;

The reader from the pulpit reads aloud the portion of the old Testament which occurs in the Roman breviary at the time… so that the whole bible is easily gone through in one year. Twice a day at the end of each meal they will have the usual explanation of a chapter; only it is done more perfectly than formerly, not merely on account of the pains which Richard Bristow takes, and his knowledge which was always very great, but also because of the increased authority and maturity which is implied in the degree of doctor in divinity lately conferred on him.

That the creative sponge of Shakespeare’s young mind was occupied by Douay is suggested by Cardinal Allen, who stated, ‘we preach in English, in order to acquire greater power and grace in the use of the vulgar tongue’. Of all those listening in 1575, there was one wide-eyed boy in a corner who was acquiring that very ‘greater power & grace’ by the minute. Also boarding at the English College in 1576 while studying at the Jesuit College of Anchin, was a certain Robert Southwell, a distant cousin of Shakespeare’s as seen by the following family tree, which also shows their distant connection to the Earl of Southampton, a future patron & dedicatee of Shakespeare’s poetry.

One of Southwell’s works, entitled St Peter’s Complaint, contained a dedication changed by the Jesuit press at the College of St. Omer from, ‘your loving cousin, R.S.’ to ‘my worthy good cousin Maister W.S.’  As he lived his life Shakespeare kept his early Jesuit connection on the lowdown, showing oblique knowledge of the writings of Southwell, along with the prominent Jesuits Edmund Campion & Henry Garnet. He also seems to allude to the Jesuit martyrdoms in sonnet 124, in which he referred to the ‘fools of time, which die for goodness and who have lived for crime.’ Then, in 1611, just as Shakespeare was wrapping up his writing career, John Speed, in his ‘The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain,’ while denouncing the Jesuit Robert Parsons accusation against proto-protestant martyr John Oldcastle, alluded to him and William Shakespeare as “this papist and his poet”.  Next comes the possession by Jesuit seminaries of early copies of Shakespeare including the First Folio found in 2015 at the library in St.-Omer that came from clearly came from the local college of Jesuits, & a quarto of Pericles owned by the same colelge in 1619. 


1576: Shakespeare Returns to England


Cuthbert Mayne

After a six-month stint at the English College, the intellectual capacity of our young bard would have been swollen no end. This period was one of the first stages of a unique course of education which just so happened to create one of the greatest poets to have ever lived. His time abroad would have helped mould a mind capable of such epic feats of linguistics that would, later in his career, expand his native tongue with hundreds of loan-words from foreign languages, including French. His departure from Douay, as we shall soon intimate, was with a certain Cuthbert Mayne, who had qualified as a Bachelor of Theology on the 7th February 1576. Two months later, on the 24 April 1576, Shakespeare turn’d twelve. The following day, Cuthbert Mayne set out for England with another priest called John Payne; & let us hyperfact Shakespeare in that small party also. On arrival in England, Mayne spent a short period in Cornwall, while Payne went to the South East. It is possible that Shakespeare went with Payne to stay with Anne, widow of Sir William Petre, and daughter of Sir William Browne, sometime Lord Mayor of the City of London, Their chief places of refuge were at Ingatestone, Essex, in whose house was a “priest hole”, & also in London. It should be no coincidence, then, that Essex was a major Familist centre in the 1570s. There is, however, definitive evidence for Shakespeare & Cuthbert Mayne having travelled to Lancashire together, which we shall look at in the next post.


1576: Theaters Spring up Across London


Before that trip to Burnley, in the year that Shakespeare made his first return to the capital, three theaters were built just outside the city limits of London (a fourth, the Curtain, would be built in 1577), where bureaucratic regulations did not apply. The first to be erected was the Newington Butts Playhouse, a mile south of the Thames, which stood roughly on the east side of Walworth Road near the junction with New Kent Road. The landlord was Richard Hickes, one of Queen Elizabeth’s bodyguards – the Yeomen of the Guard – most of whom were secret Familists. Hickes sublet the theatre on the 25th March 1576 to a certain Stratford man called Jerome Savage, described by his contemporary, Peter Hunningborne, as a, ‘verrie lewed fealowe’ who ‘liveth by noe other trade than playinge of staige plaies and Interlevde.’ Very much a man of the vernal Elizabethan theatre, Savage also ran a troupe of actors for the Earl of Warwick, known as Earl of Warwick’s Players.

Three weeks after the Newington Butts Playhouse began its life, a second permanent playhouse was erected at Shoreditch, called rather appropriately the ‘Theatre.’ Later that year, the third London dramahouse was built by court composer & master of the Children of the Chapel acting troupe, Richard Farrant. The location was Blackfriars, upon a section of the site of the monastery dissolved by Henry VIII. Circular & made of wood, these theaters could comfortably hold several thousand people, who would drop a penny into a box (2 for a cushion) as they entered. Later on, this box would be taken to a room, the contents emptied & leading to the phrase ‘Box Office’ of modern theater. The atmosphere created by the circular auditorium, & the closeness of the audience, manifested itself into something akin to that of a modern football match – theater was now popular entertainment, when the lowest & the highest born would rub shoulders together for a couple of hours of fantasy & drama. Just as today, they would had their opinions as to what they were watching – some of the poorer actors & productions had abuse & rotten vegetables hurled at them.

On Shakespeare’s return to England, he may have even attended one of these theatres for the first time, especially Newington Butts with its uncanny Stratford connection. I mean the first theatre in London & that periods chief playwright heralding from the same small township – on one hand quite a coinicidence, but on the other possible destiny, as the oppurtunities given to the young Shakespeare to experience the theatre woudl have fed his muses marvellously. As an early witness, he would have seen slightly over-the-top plays full of life & colour.

There is a list of props given by Blagrave (January 6, 1575) utilised by performers at the court, which gives us a good idea of what props were used in that period, being: ‘Monsters ; Mointains ; Forests; Beasts; Serpents; Weapons for war, as Guns, Dags, Bows, Arrows, Bills, Halberds, Boarspears, Fawchions, Daggers, Targets, Pllaxes, Clubs; Heads and Head pieces; Armour counterfeit; Moss, Holly, Ivy, Bays, Flowers; Quarters; Glue, Paste, Paper, and such like; with Nails, Hooks, Horsetails, Dishes for Devils’ eyes. Heaven, Hell, and the Devil and all: the Devil, I should say, but not all. ; ^I2, 14s. 4d.’ By 1580, Anthony Munday would berate the theatrical world with, ‘this unhonest trade of gain hath driven many from their occupations in hope of easier thrift. What success they have had, some of them have reported, finding the proverb true, that ill-gotten goods are ill spent.’ To a man who would go on to epitomise the theater itself, the reputation of actors & acting would have attracted the meagre-born William just as the luxurious lives of modern pop-stars inspire our young folk these days to learn the guitar.

The Young Shakespeare (2): Shakespeare’s First Poems

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1525: Shakespeare’s Family Lands


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In 1525, Richard Shakespeare, our poet’s grandfather, possessed lands at a place called Wroxall, between Coventry & Birmingham. Eight miles to the north of Wroxall lies the manor of Meriden, known to have belonged to the Earl of Derby, who possessed, according to Thomas Aspden;

The ancient seats of Lathom and Knowsley, with all the houses, lands, castles, and appurtenances in Lancashire, Cumberland, Yorkshire, Cheshire, and many in Wales ; also the manor of Meriden, in the County of Warwick, with the old seat in Cannon Row, Westminster (afterwards called Derby Court), and also the advowson of the Parish Church of the Holy Trinity, in the city of Chester.

It is only a loose connection, but we can positively determine how the ‘antecessors’ of Stanley & Shakespeare were neighbours.


1552: Edmund Spenser Born


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Edmund Spenser was born to Lancastrian parents, but down in the nation’s capital. Spenser’s father, John, originally from the Burnley area (like me), had moved to London to seek work, appearing in the Merchant Taylor’s school annals as a free ‘journeyman, clothworker.’ In the Spenserian epoch, East Lancashire was simply teeming with Edmunds & John Spensers, the two names alternating from generation to generation, as seen in a will made by Margaret Spenser of Hurstwood in 1605;

Mary, Margaret, and ffrances Nutter daughters of the said Henry, Edmund Spenser son and heir of John Spenser, deceased, ” to him ” all my manure or worthinge,” Henry Spencer base son of John Spenser, Nicholas Towne and Grace Towne now his wife ” “one churn one Masheknoppe” ” Mary Spenser daughter of John Spenser deceased, Richard Cowcrofte to whom I am Aunt, Henry Cowcrofte of Birchecliffe, John Spenser, of Hurstwood, Ellinor now his wife, Edmund Spenser son of the said John Spenser

In the gorgeous wee hamlet of Hurstwood, near Burnley, there is a Tudor building known as ‘Spenser’s House’ still standing today. In and around Hurstwood, & at Extwistle-and-Briercliffe in Burnley, the Spensers, formerly Le Spensers, had long held property. In the Gentleman’s Magazine of August 1842, Dr Craik cites the research of a certain FC Spenser of Halifax, who declared;

The poet always spelt his surname with an s; and it appears from the registers that it was spelt in the same manner by the family at Hurstwood; not only in the reign of Elizabeth, but for a century afterwards; while even at Kildwick, near Skipton, only about ten or twelve miles distant, it is spelled with a c, in the manner as did, and do, the Spencers of Althorpe.


1557: John Shakespeare Marries Into The Arden Family


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Mary Arden

Shakespeare’s father turns up in Stratford on June 17, 1556, brought to court by a certain Thomas Such for the recovery of £8. He is described as, ‘John Shakyspere of Stretforde, in the county of Warwick, glover.’ After three hearings that summer, the case was eventually dismissed when Thomas Such, ‘did not complete the action he embarked on.’ A year later he marries Mary Arden in Stratford-upon-Avon, whose family were staunch Catholics under a Catholic queen, Mary Tudor. The excellent essay, To Be or Not to Be (Catholic, That is),’ by Daniel Wackerman shows how Shakespeare’s maternal grandfather, Edward Arden, ‘was said to have secretly kept his own catholic priest, disguised as the family gardener,’ adding that Shakespeare’s mother, ‘made specific mention of the Blessed Virgin Mary in her will, a practice long out of fashion for all save Catholics in 16th-century England.’ It seems the old faith would never really leave their son, William, whom according to the Rev. Richard Davies, the rector of Sapperton (1695), ‘dyed a papist.’


1558: Familists


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Mary Tudor died in November 1558. During her time as queen she had reversed her father’s establishment of the Protestant Church of England & ruled as a Catholic, burning a whole heap of Protestants along the way. Her sister & successor Elizabeth would re-establish her father Henry VIII’s ‘Church of England,’ which at a stroke sent Catholic families such as the Ardens into secret worship once again. In the middle of this religious schizophrenia that was western Christendom in the 16th century, one sect fluttered about like a butterfy in a hurricane, preaching peace & unity of faith. The Familists were a radical, non-sectarian religious group known as the ‘Family of Love,’ who embraced both Catholics AND Protestants – the perfect alternative for the schismatic psyche of the Tudor state.

Non-Conformist religious obsessives though they were, the Familists embraced alternative views to those of the established church, views which were in a sense, an attempt to introduce Reason into religion and more reasoned forms of religious observance to those required by the established church. As such, the early familists can perhaps be viewed as among the precursors of the coming Enlightenment. Familism began to take hold in England during the 1550s, led by a certain Christopher Vittels, who had been a disciple of the Dutch Familist leader, Henry Niclaes. Worshipping in secret, the Familists would conceal their true beliefs while putting on a show of conformity for the outside world. If they were ever outed, they would stringently deny it, realizing it was better to briefly lie & stay alive in order to continue the worship of God, rather than let pride lead them to the bonfire.


1560: John Shakespeare Signs his Catholic Spiritual Testament


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Henley Street

In the 18th century, in the rafters of the house on Henley Street, Stratford, was found ‘The Sacred Testament,’ a handwritten personal dedication to the Catholic faith, signed by Shakespeare’s father himself. That our bard at some point in his life encountered the Testament seems quite likely, based upon the strikingly similar parallels between Article I of the Testament and the Ghost’s words in Hamlet;

I may be possibly cut off in the blossom of my sins, and called to render an account of all my transgressions externally and internally, and that I may be unprepared for the dreadful trial either by sacrament, penance, fasting, or prayer, or any other purgation whatever
Testament

Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,
Unhousel’d, disappointed, unanel’d,
No reckoning made, but sent to my account
With all my imperfections on my head:
Hamlet

In the Testament, where John Shakespeare beseeches, ‘all my dear friends, parents, and kinsfolks,’ the pluralization of parents means the testament must have been made before 1561, the year when John’s father Richard, died.


1564: Birth of William Shakespeare


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In April 1564, just as the season of spring was beginning to flood the British Isles with scent & colour, a certain Mary Shakespeare has just given birth to a boy. Holding her hand is her husband, John Shakespeare, excited at the prospect of their baby, but nervous as to whether he would survive the rigors of infancy. Their first two swaddling baby girls had pass’d away before they could walk, & it would have been with doubtless trepidation when ‘Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakspere’ was scribbl’d in the Baptismal record of Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church on the 26 April 1564. It turned out that John & Mary had no need to worry, even when three months later the plague struck Stratford. By the end of the year over 200 people had been buried, about one fifth of the population of the town, but thro’ fate or fortune baby Will survived the outbreak, & would eventually grow up into one of the finest young men in the kingdom.


1566: Sir John Townley imprisoned for Catholicism


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‘This countri as yett is verie backward in religion’ wrote Thomas Mead, ‘they that have the sword in there handes vnder her maiestie to redresse abuses among vs, suffer it to rust in the scabarde’. He was talking about Lancashire, probably the most staunchly Catholic county in England. Lancashire was a superstitious, underpopulated region, where almost all of the gentry refused to accept the new religion imposed on them by Henry VIII & his daughter Elizabeth. They were more than willing to pay fines to the state rather than join a parish congregation onto which a Genevan vicar had been foisted. Of these nobles, the most prolific offender was Sir John Townley of Towneley Hall, whose gorgeous mansion was situated in the most serendipitous grounds just to the south-east of Burnley.

Anybody who did not attend the regular Anglican services was termed a recusant, & Sir John was to be imprisoned several times for his open defiance, paying over £5000 in fines throughout his lifetime in order to avoid attending the Protestants. He would worship the Old Faith in secret at Towneley Hall – now a museum & art gallery – where one can still see the secret chambers where the Catholic priests were hidden. The hall also possesses a beautiful painting of Sir John Towneley sitting with his family, which is imbibed with the following inscription, dated to 1601.

This John, about the 6th or 7th year of her Majesty that now is, for professing the Apostolic Catholic Roman faith, was imprisoned first at Chester Castle, then sent to the Marshalsea, then to York Castle, then to the Blockhouses in Hull, then to the Gatehouse in Westminster, then to Manchester, then to Broughton in Oxfordshire, then twice to Ely in Cambridgeshire; and so now of 73 years old, and is bound to appear and keep within 5 miles of Townley his house; and who hath, since the statute of 23 Elizabeth, paid into the exchequer 20 the month and doth still, so that there is already paid above £5,000. A.D. thor.


1568: The English College Founded in Douay


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The small town of Douay lies on the River Scarpe, twenty miles south of Lille in northern France. A flourishing, medieval conurbation; it had become stuffed full of English Catholics in exile, hoping to save their country from the ‘heathen’ protestant church. In1559 the town established a university, with its first chancellor being the exiled Dr. Richard Smith, former Fellow of Merton and regius professor of divinity at Oxford.

In 1568 a bunch of Lancastrian Catholics make a sideways attempt at bringing their country back under the fold of the Vatican. The plan was to train up hundreds of Jesuit priests in Douay, who would return to England as the vanguard of a spiritual reconquista. The brains behind the scheme was a certain Lancastrian Catholic called William Allen, while funding for the college also came from Lancashire, where a gentleman called Thomas Hoghton diverted profits from his Alum mines to France. In a flash Douay was filled with cardinals, scholars & would-be priests, a hectic band whose sole purpose was to reclaim English spirituality in defiance of Protestant law. There would be blood, but there would be prayer.


1568: John Shakespeare Becomes Chief Bailiff of Stratford


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Shakepseare’s Poppadom

The first decade of William’s life saw his father grow in influence & affluence all about their home town. In July 1565 he was elected one of the 14 alderman of Stratford, becoming chief bailiff between the autumns of 1568 & 1569. It was on his watch that the Stratford corporation paid for its first ever set of travelling actors to perform in the town, the Queen’s Players. One can imagine the very young Shakespeare observing the theatrical spectacle for the first time, a lightning bolt of electricity which would sear his soul with the sheer wonder of it all.


1569: Death of Robert Nowell


Another member of the Lancastrian Catholic community was Robert Nowell, a half-brother of Sir John Townley. Upon his death in 1569, to satisfy the requirements of the will both Sir John & Robert’s full brother, Alexander Nowell, distributed linen and woollen cloth among the poor of the parish-dwellers of Burnley. Among the ‘poor kynsfolkes’ who benefited from other parts of the will were Lyttis Nowell of Castle Parish in Clitheroe, who had married a certain Lawrence Spenser. Another Spenser to benefit would be our young poet down London, for Robert Nowell was also the headmaster of the Merchant’s School in which the young Spenser was attending. The 19th century antiquarian J McKay writes of the will;

At folio 25 there is an entry of ‘Gownes geven to certeyn poor scholler (s) of the scholls aboute London, in number 32, viz., St. Paul’s, Merchant Taylor’s, St Anthony’s Schole, St. Saviour’s Gramar Schole, & Westminster Schole. Cost of cloth, with making, xixll. Xs. Vijd.’ First on the list of the scholars of Merchant Taylors’ who recieved these gifts stands our fledgeling epic poet ‘Edmunde Spenser.’


1570+: Spenser enters Familist Circles


Grindleton c.1960

Throughout the 1570s, the writings of the de facto Familist leader, Henry Niclaeus, were translated by Christopher Vettels & disseminated throughout England. The brains behind the move, according to popular feeling at the time, were the Jesuits, whom the Welsh clergyman Meredith Hanmer (1543–1604) declared did ‘shaketh hands’ with their ‘brethren’ the Familists, a ‘detestable’ society of ‘like antiquity… who say that God is hominified in them & they deified in God.’ That a certain Dutch poet, Sir Jan van der Noot, was among their number can be discerned through his 1576 book, ‘Das Buch Extasis,’ which contains many Familist elements. In 1569 we gain the first hint of Spenser’s own connection to the group, for as a young man he became the English translator of der Noot’s ‘Theatre for Wordlings.’ Spenser admitted to such in 1591 when he reworked & reprinted the verses under his own name, stating them as being ‘formerly translated.’ Van der Noot’s use of embletic woodcuts throughout the 1570s would also inspire Spenser’s series which decorate the months of his Shepheard’s Calendar. We may also observe that in the extreme vicinity of Pendleside – where a Lawrence Spenser who died in 1584 seems to have been the poet’s grandfather – the hamlet of Grindleton was home to one of only two known nests of Familists in the north of England.


1570 : Shakespeare Starts School


Of Shakespeare’s schooling, Nicholas Rowe (1674-1718) writes, ‘his Father…. had bred him, ’tis true, for some time at a Free-School.’ This statement comes from Rowe’s introduction to his 1709 edition of Shakespeare’s plays in which he acknowledges, ‘the most considerable part of the passages relating to this life,’ were given him by the actor Thomas Betterton (1634-1710), who had made, ‘a journey to Warwickshire on purpose to gather up what remains he could, of a name for which he had so great a veneration.’ Founded in the 14th century, Stratford Grammar School is still standing today, kept in a good condition by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. In 1568, according to the chamberlain’s accounts of the town for that year, we see money being spent on ‘repairing the scole,’ ‘dressing and sweeping the scole-house,’ ‘ground-sellynge the old scole, and taking down the sollar over the school,’ which means Shakespeare’s schooling had begun just after a big paint job. He would have started attending from about the age of 6, force fed a diet of endless Latin repetitions with a heavy emphasis on the Roman writers Ovid, Plautus & Seneca. He would also have been made to learn Greek in order to study the scriptures in their original form, being drilled in the Bible until it became second nature to him. Shakespeare even gives us an accurate glimpse into his own schooldays, one expects, when in The Merry Wives of Windsor the headmaster tests the knowledge of a pupil named, appropriately, William.

Sir Hugh Evans
Show me now, William, some declensions of your pronouns.

William Page
Forsooth, I have forgot.

Sir Hugh Evans
It is qui, quae, quod: if you forget your ‘quies,’ your ‘quaes,’ and your ‘quods,’ you must be preeches. Go your ways, and play; go.


1574: John Shakespeare is Doing Rather Well for Himself


John Shakespeare’s profession, as tradition holds, was a butcher (Aubrey), a glover (official records), a wool merchant (Rowe), or most likley he was employed in all three. By 1574, enough money had been made to pay Edmund & Emma Hall £40 for two freehold houses, complete with lovely tudor-style gardens & orchards. Also in the property portfolio, the family home was still at Henley Street, while the Shaksepeare’s were still the owners of properties which Mary had inherited. John Shakespeare was also beginning to enquire about acquiring a coat of arms for his family. Coats of arms were expensive, costing between £10 and £30. As a comparison the schoolmaster in Stratford-upon-Avon was paid a salary of £20 a year. It was clear John had money.


1574 : Shakespeare Writes For The Familists

15891

When Joseph Walford Martin described certain Elizabethan references as being, ‘explicit in their charge that Familist at least incline toward Rome,’ we may now plant a hyperbasis of the pro-Catholic Shakespeares, in fear of persecution but hardly wanting to conform to the Anglian church, beginning to dabble with this new-fangled ‘Familism’ in the early 1570s. It is, then, in the year of John Shakespeare’s greatest financial prosperity that the first works of William Shakespeare were recorded for posterity. He was ten at the time, an age where massive minds such as his should have been revealing their first glimmers of genius. Only four years ago, in 2016, a certain chess player called Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu became the youngest ever International Master (the level below Grandmaster) in history, at the age of 10 years, 10 months & 19 days. It makes sense that the greatest ever writer in the English language would have shown some intimations as to his talent at an early date. If we see creative output as vegetation, Shakespeare’s would be something akin to the vast & ancient yew tree found on the Whittinghame Estate, East Lothian; with a tangled canopy of green & a root system spreading half a mile or more. Such roots run deep, & when analyzing the Shakespearean metaphysic, we must assume that his own would have ran stretched into startlingly far corners.

Starting young explains the brilliance of Shakespeare’s ouput – he would always have to find new ways to express similar sentiments, pushing him to ever better manipulations of language. At the very beginning of his career there are two ballads printed in 1574 which reflect Shakespeare’s grammar school knowledge of the Bible. Accredited to a certain W.S., each contains a number of rather neat, but not amazingly written stanzas. The ballads are packed full of semi-quotations from the bible, & it seems to be a learning tool straight from the cloisters of grammar school academe. Printed in Cologne, they made their way to Germany & into the hands of the Familist Hendrik Niclaes, who printed these along with many of his own poems that year, such as his Exhortatio, Evangelium Regni & Epistola. Margaret Healy highlights some of the influence that Niclaean teaching had on Shakespeare;

We might look again in this context at the line in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 124, which seems to designate religious martyrs (those who ‘die for goodness’), rather unheroically, as ‘fools of Time.’ One’s inner spiritual state was crucial, outward appearance was mere show (it is intriguing to recall the line in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 102, ‘I love you not less, though less the show appear’, in relation to this). H.N. believed that through Christ & the Resurrection every man could become spiritually regenerated & godded with god or ‘deified’ (an odd word, which appears in A Lover’s Complaint, line 84).

Almost 450 years later, only single copies of the ballads remain, housed in the Bodleian library at Oxford. The first two stanzas from each poem are given here, when the author, W.S., is named in the Latin statement; Per W.S. Veritatis Amatorem. Anno. 1574. Reading through these ballads, one can feel the youth of their composer, while also sensing the indescribable talent burgeoning with the promise of beautiful verses yet to come. Note the appearance of the initials of Henry Niklaes (HN).

A new balade or songe of the Lambes feast

I Hearde one saye:
Coma now awaye /
Make no delaye:
Alack / why stande yee than?
All is doubtlesse
In redynesse /
There wantes but Gesse /
To the Supper of the Lamb.
For Hee is now blest // in verye deede /
Thats found ad Gest // in the Mariage-weede.

THE Scriptures all /
Perfourmede shall
Bee, in this my Call /
Voyced-out by H.N. (than):
I am Gods Love /
Com from above /
All Men to move /
To the Supper of the Lamb.
For Hee is now blest // in verye deede /
Thats found ad Gest // in the Mariage-weede

Another, out of goodwill

The Grace from God
the Father hye /
Which is of Mightes most a /
The Mercye eake from Christ our Lorde /
And Peace from the holye Gost a /
Com to All // That now shall /
In Love with us agree a /
And consent // With whole Intent /
To the Loves Soscietee a

LOVE the Lorde above al-thinge /
Is the first Precept by name a:
Love thy Neyghbour as thy-selfe /
The seconds lyke the same a.
Thus wee see // Love to bee,
Written with Gods-his owne Hande a /
Toe geeve us Light // And guyde us right /
Eaven out of that darke Lande a.

It has been long-observed how the writings of the Familist, Justus Lipsius, had a profound effect on our bard’s political thought, especially his 1584 translation of the treatise De Constantia. In that text, when Lipsius quotes Petronius’ ‘the whole world is a stage-play’ we get the seedlings of one of Shakespeare’s most famous passages, As You Like It’s;

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

Elsewhere in Shakespeare’s work he embodied not just a wonderful realism but also the stirrings of a reasoned and progressive challenge to the irrationalism of established orthodoxies. Falstaff’s catechism, exposing the futility and meaninglessness of honour, war and war mongering is a lovely example of this:

Well, ’tis no matter; honour pricks
me on. Yea, but how if honour prick me off when I
come on? how then? Can honour set to a leg? no: or
an arm? no: or take away the grief of a wound? no.
Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? no. What is
honour? a word. What is in that word honour? what
is that honour? air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it?
he that died o’ Wednesday. Doth he feel it? no.
Doth he hear it? no. ‘Tis insensible, then. Yea,
to the dead. But will it not live with the living?
no. Why? detraction will not suffer it. Therefore
I’ll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon: and so
ends my catechism.


THE YOUNG SHAKESPEARE

1- Did He Even Exist?

2 – Shakespeare’s First Poems

3 – Shakespeare’s First Travels

An Advertisment for THE MALTIAD

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I had gotten the feeling it was a now or never moment. On the eve of a new national lockdown in the United Kingdom I caught the last scheduled flight between Edinburgh & Malta. At twenty past six in the morning! This meant getting up at 3 AM & making my way from Leith Links to Edinburgh Airport, all the time following the results of the intriguing Presidential election in America. By the time the plane took off I was already becoming resigned to four more years in Flumpland.

Four more years! Four more years!
All optimism disappears
I’d rather vote for Britney Spears
Its four more years in Flumpland!

An hour’s sunrise later I found myself looking out of the small window at the south-snaking rivers of the continent, over which hung ribbons of mist & dew. Two hours more passed atop the white rolls heaven, before breaking out into open skies a few minutes shy of Sicily. What a perfectly timed moment it was as I spotted below me the three islands of Favignana, Levanzo & Marettimo – formally known as L’Isola D’Aegadi. It was in 2007, on an extended visit to the furthest out to sea of the three, Maretimmo, that the Maltiad drew its first breaths. The background was a Mediterranean wintering in the style of the Romantic poets, accompanied by my lovepartner at the time, a farmer’s daughter from Dumfries called Glenda. I had persuaded her to give up her house in Edinburgh, which we had shared for two years, & have an adventure far away from the cold of a Caledonian winter.

READ THE MALTIAD: SONNETS & SIEGES

After spending two & a half months in Sicily, mainly on Marettimo, we then decided to explore Malta til the spring. We arrived in this glorious jewel of an archipelago one late January morning from the port of Marzemi. There then followed two months of residence between Malta & her sister island, Gozo, the poetical product of which are Calypso’s Cave, the Maltese Falcons the last four of sieges to be found in the Maltiad. The other siege, that of Gozo in 1551, has just been composed on my second winter’s visit to the island, in late 2020, as were the vast majority of the sonnets.

In 2007 I had kept a group-email type Blog, in which my Maltese experiences were poured into & stored for posterity. I give the following as an example;


GONZO GOZO

The Maltese sure know how to party & I have now got one hell of a hangover. Lent starts in a couple of days, & the Maltese have been raving since last Friday – AND ARE STILL GOING! They have a mad carnival on Gozo – carne vale means without meat – & for the next forty days that’s what they are supposed to do. There is a town on Gozo called Nadur & basically half the Maltese population turn up (200,000), rent the pads that are normally filled up in summer & unleash their libidos in all directions. There’s a constant procession of dj-floats & costumes from about 8pm to 6am – EACH NIGHT! Got dressed up as a blood-soaked serial killer on Saturday, but unfortunately I got drunk & subsequently lost he group – no wonder I didn’t get too many responses when I asked for directions. I did manage to find Glenda & our party in the end – a mixture of Maltese, Serbians & Glenda’s mate, Festa – & have just woken up from a two-day sleep. I’m trying to get my head back together again as I had set off writing the Maltiad – a number of poems for Malta which I’m trying to squeeze in before leaving.

I am beginning to tire of the sonnet form a little now. A year of intense composition in one form has seen me grow deep roots into rosy-bedded sonnet-lore, but at the same time, as familiarity breeds contempt, I feel ready to try new modes of poetic composition. One of my first new efforts is set in Calypso’s Cave, near where we are staying. In the Odyssey, the hero gets enchanted by a sea nymph called Calypso & forced to be his sex-slave for seven years. It seem’d a suitable place to share the seven-century-old customs of Valentine’s day, & we made a midnight picnic there, lighting the lovely pad with candles & knocking back the wine, perch’d high over the moonlit magic of Ramla Bay. As we snogged to the sounds of the sea, this was surely going to be my most romantic Valentine’s night ever.

Marsalforn
20/02/07


READ THE MALTIAD: SONNETS & SIEGES


Fast forward t0 2020, by the time I landed in Malta that early November morning, the urban votes were beginning to pour in across America for Joe Biden, rendering obsolete my hastily dashed off high altitude quatrain. What was not obsolete, however, was my affection for, & devotion to, the art of poetry. Back in Malta after fourteen years, I was a different poet to the thirty-year old who left here in April 2007. I would this time be utilising the National Libraries of Malta & Gozo – two fine institutions curated by three very friendly, noble & eager-to-help gentlemen. In Gozo, a Knights Hospitaler called Chris Galea, & in Valletta – Louis Cini & Donald Briffa. Asking the latter was he Scottish, he replied no, his mother was going to call him Adolf but was dissuaded by certain nuns, & a substitute name was quickly given! Both libraries were cereberally conducive to academic endeavour, & there was something wonderfully traditional about being in the Valetta version especially. This was the old library of the Grandmasters, which you could at one time access directly from the palace. Entering it for the first time is a moving experience – wall to wall with old books stretching into the cathedral heights of its ceiling, & of course wooden catalogue boxes & the dewey decimal, system accompained by reams of beaurocratic forms filled out in triplicate!

The product of my two working winters in the archepelago is The Maltiad: Sonnets & Sieges. It is, of course, divided into two sections. The sonnets are divided into geographical regions & constitute a walkable – or driveable – circuit for any future tourist to these islands who enjoys reading a poem where it was set. Their subjects are a combination of meandering happenstance, for as Wordsworth himself wrote – in the very year that Napoleon invaded Malta-; ‘it is the honourable characteristic of Poetry that its materials are to be found in every subject which canm interest the human mind.’

There is also a grand sequanza – that is to say a family of 14 sonnets – in which I have collated a number of the famous Maltese proverbs. The form I have chosen is definitely not maltese, being the kural form of the classical Tamil poets such as the Thirukural of Thiruvalluvar. However when dealing with aphroisms, I have found the form to fit so readily perfect again & again. In essence it is simply a couplet of four words on the first line & three on the second.

Sellers have single eyes
Buyers one hundred

Most of the sonnets, including the proverbs, may also be found in my Silver Rose odyssey, an epic poem’s worth of sonnets, 1400 strong. They fit into the schema betwen my trips to Sicily & Greece. Posessing pretensions of epos, I have also composed an Iliadic piece entitled Axis & Allies in which two of the Maltese sieges are incorporated – those of 1565 & 1941-42. The 20-line form utilised by these sequences I have personally designed & named the ‘tryptych,’ & is used in all 900 stanzas of Axis & Allies. Of the remaining poems, Calypso’s Cave is, admittedly, not much of siege – but recognizing poor Odysseus was kinda besieged, I allowed it into the mix – Sonnets & Sieges just sounds so good.

Since the last time I was in Malta & Gozo I had also become something of a historical detective, attempting solutions to famous mysteries such as the true identity of King Arthur. I’ve called the discipline CHISPOLOGY, after the principle of Chinese Whispers, or the ‘Arab Phone’ to the French. Never one to miss a chispological challenge, I have come up with at the very least plausible answers to two of the great Maltese antiquarian questions – what is the etymology of Malta & where is Calypso’s Cave. I have touched on the answers in two of my sonnets, but feel a little more depth may be supplied at this point

The name Malta is said to derive from the Latin Melite, whose origin scholars have placed in two camps – either from th Phoenician mlṭ, meaning “refuge,” or from Ancient Greek melítos, meaning “honey.” Let us instead acknowledge that according to Greek myth, Heracles mated with a nymph called Melite.

Melite bare to Heracles in the land of the Phaeacians. For he came to the abode of Nausithous and to Macris, the nurse of Dionysus, to cleanse himself from the deadly murder of his children; here he loved and overcame the water nymph Melite, the daughter of the river Aegaeus, and she bare mighty Hyllus.
Apollonius Rhodius

Hyperia was the island home of the Phaecean people before their resettlement on Scheria. One of the oldest historians to write about Malta, De Soldanis, states that Malta was ‘Iperia’ & the Phaeceans were the ‘Faeci.’ The key passage is;

Soon after the trouble with Ilium the Phoenicians took the island of Iperia or Malta after they had expelled from there the Faeci

The reason for their exodus from Hyperia under King Nauthilous was pressure from the neighbouring Cyclops. All this is given in the Odyssey, from the lips of the Phaeceans themselves.

Athena went to the land and city of the Phaeacians. These dwelt of old in spacious Hypereia hard by the Cyclopes, men overweening in pride who plundered them continually and were mightier than they. From thence Nausithous, the godlike, had removed them, and led and settled them in Scheria far from men that live by toil.

According to another very old writer, Thucydides, among the “earliest inhabitants” were the Cyclopes. Joining all the dots basically makes shape rather like Malta, & suggests this particulary Melite was named after the lovepartner of Heracles – remember their was once a huuuuuge temple to Heracles in the south of Malta, surrounded by a 3 mile wall.

My other chispological discovery is also connected to the Odyssey – that of Calypso’s Cave. Indeed, the close proximity of the Phaecean & Calypso elements in the text suggest some kind of common origin.  The most enduring location of the island cave where Odysseus spent seven years as what amounts to a sex-slave to a goddess, is on Gozo, at Ramla Bay, but of course there has been many other contenders. In 1790, Richard Colt Hoare wrote;

The identity of the habitation, assigned by poets to the nymph Calypso, has occasioned much discussion & variety of opinion. Some place it at Malta, some at Gozo, & others elsewhere. At all events, we may now seek in vain, either at Malta or Gozo, for those verdant groves of alders, poplars, & the odoriferous cypress; for those meadows, clothed in the livery of eternal spring; for those limpid & murmuring streams, with which Homer adorns the abode of Calypso

My own contribution to the debate is that yes, theGozitans wer right to preserve a folk memory of Calypso on their island, but no, it wasn’t at Ramla where she kept Odysseus as a sex-xlavwe for seven years. Instead, the extremely ancient temple of Ggiantija at Xeghra is the original Calypso’s Cave, & a factochispp took place over time which moved it a couple of miles to the coastal cave at Ramla. However, there is no evidence of some kind of religious sex thingy going on there, but there is a lot of evidence for that kind of thing happening at Ggigantijia, such as fertility goddess statuettes & a temple shaped like ovaries. The egg-like rooms could even have been used in some kind of orgiastic ceremony – but that’s pure speculation on my part.

The longest piece in the collection concerns the Siege of Gozo, 1551, which also has a place in the Conchordia Folio. This is my collection of musical plays in which the dramatic elements are often given a Shakespearean linguistical twist. In this particular conchord I have formalised the speech patterns into cantos of five equal ten-lined speeches of iambic pentameter, like the Odes of John Keats. Its form has its origing in the chaunt royale of the trouadours. Between these dramatic scenes I have placed traditional dances & composed settl’d lyrics for the normally extemporized Maltese singing art of ghana. I have supplied no melodies or music, but having stuck rigidly to the metrical rules – quatrains of 8-7-8-7 syllables, with a rhyme scheme of ABCB – I am sure most of the traditional ghama melodies may be attached to my words. At all times I had G.A. Vassallo’s dictum ringing in my ears, whic states, ‘any poem, written in Maltese, that did not employ the octosyllabic verse is, at least in its form, spurious… & will never become popular.’ I was also inspired in my work with the ghana by another Maltese author & linguist, Guze Aqulina, who stated; ‘some quatrains contain fine images that, handled by a skilled writer, could be woven into verse that was better expressed & more varied in texture.

For the Maltese I hope that reading through these poems will grant just a portion of the pleasure I had in writing them. Malta & Gozo might be small islands, but they have continental-sized depths & have dipped their sisterly toes into every sub-stratum of history since the dawn of Human consciousness. They are also exceedingly fortuitous in possessing scenes of unrivalled natural beauty, & are peopled by sentinel beings of warmth, kindess & gentle jocundity. To any accusation that I am not Maltese I would reply that I take my art as seriously as the early medieval Icelandic skalds, who touted their literary wares at all the courts of Europe. Whether my work will ever be extolled like theirs, I leave to taste & time, but hope to be remembered at least as an English poet who revelled in the near-perfect conditions that one needs to write poetry, in which Malta, & Gozo especially, possess in abundance.

San Julian
03/12/2020


READ THE MALTIAD: SONNETS & SIEGES

TWO SUICIDES

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A Sonnet Sequanza

The Tragic Early Loves of Ted Hughes

***

NEWHAM COLLEGE (1956)

Where was it, in the Strand? A display
Of news items, in photographs.
For some reason I noticed it.
A picture of that year’s intake

Fulbright Scholars

That night was nothing
But getting to know how smooth your body is
The memory of it goes through me like brandy

Little soft places little puss
I wish you were still here
Or rather I wish I was still there
I would kiss you slowly from toe up

I neglected you
One of my most tormenting thoughts
Is that I didn’t suck & lick & nibble you
All night long

Kiss you for me Sylvia
& again & again
& fall asleep kissing your arm


SPANISH HONEYMOON (1956)

Swaying so slender
It seemed your long, perfect American legs
Simply went on up. That flaring hand,
Those long balletic, monkey-elegant fingers.
And the face – a tight ball of joy.

St Botolph’s

I have met a first rate American poetess
She really is good
Certainly one of the best
Female poets I ever read
& a damned sight better than the run of the good male
Her main enthusiasm at present is me
& she thinks my verses are as good as I think they are
& has accordingly despatched about twenty five
To various immensely paying American Mags

She is Scorpio : Oct 27th
Moon in Libra
Last degree of Aries rising
& has her Mars smack on my sin
Which is all very approprioate


HUGHES’ MUSE (1957)

Your frenzy made me giddy.
It woke up my dumb, ecstatic boyhood
Of fifteen years before. My masterpiece
Came that black night on the Grantchester road

The Owl

Marriage is my medium
We work & walk about
& repair each others writings

She is one of the best critics I ever met
Understands my imagination perfectly
& I think I understand hers
It’s amazing how we strike sparks

When we’re fed up of that
We walk out into the country
& sit for hours watching things

We sit by the river & watch water voles
& when they come near, Sylvia
Goes almost unconscious with delight


BIRTH OF FRIEDA (1960)

I saw it with horrible premonition.
You were alone there, pregnant, unprotected
In some inaccessible dimension
Whare that creature had you, now, to himself.

Portraits

The contractions began almost at once
Stronger & stronger & more & more painful

The midwife was a little Indian woman
Adamant for natural, drugless childbirth

She showed me the black hair on top of the babys head
& showed it to Sylvia in a mirror, very merrily

The head appeared like a mushroom
Then all at once it slid clean out
Looking exactly like a pink translucent balloon
Smeared all over with a whitish cream
Goolike wet fur

A little girl
It gave a little sneeze
& mutter’d to itself
& began to move its fingers


FABER RECEPTION (1960)

To hold the reins of the straining attention
Of your imagined audience – you declaimed Chaucer
To a field of cows

Chaucer

At the Faber party
Sylvia talked quite a lot
To McNeice & Spender

Spender was drunk
Silly-giddly like Mabel Brown
At her 9-year old birthday party

McNeice was drunk & talked
Like a quick fire car salesman

I talked to Elliot – he’s been ill
His wife was supporting him
She is so Yorkshire you could smile

I scarcely spoke to Auden
He was overpowered by the blue-haired hostesses
That seem to run these meetings


BABY FRIEDA (1960)

I was a nursemaid. I fancied myself at that.
I liked the crisi of the vital role.
I felt things had become real. Suddenly mother,
As a familiar voice, woke in me
.
Fever

Little Freida is wrestling in her pen
She is very self sufficient in entertaining herself
Gnawing a rusk, smiling round
Humming to herself now & then
Watching for the hours

The other day I looked into the bedroom
Hearing her croon
& there she was leaning over the top bar of her crib
Chin on her folded arm – standing
Ever since then shes been pulling herslf upright

First thing in the morning
As I take her into the bedroom
She bursts into laughter at the sight of Sylvia
With a real gurgling laugh


COURT GREEN (1962)

After all these there marcht a most faire Dame,
Led of two grysie villeins, th’one Despight,
The other cleped Cruelty by name

Spenser

The cherry trees are loaded with purple blossom
Just on the point of exploding

Sylvia’s been loading her flower beds with seeds
& I’ve been sowing the vegetable garden
Martial rows of beans & peas
Appearing almost immediately

Freida of course is the great blossom
Baby Nick is completely different from her
He has a most complicated side
Frieda’s is just a 1000 kilowatt radiance
His gives the impression of being a sage

I think Sylvia’s happier here
Now the good weathers come
Than she’s been since I’ve known her


ENTER ASSIA (1962)

Every heartbeat a fresh throw of the dice –
A click of Russain roulette: Strange
To be lying on my bed
Contemplating my heart as it knocked me to pieces.

The Lodger

She got to know all sorts of curious details
I put it down to clairvoyance
Which works at full power where other women are concerned
Yes its just like her to employ a snoop

Sometimes she wants a legal sepeartoion
Sometimes a divorce at once
I’ve left her in Ireland
While I attend to one or two small things
I shan’t be back at court green until Oct 1st
By then shell probably be wanting a divorce

In her manner shes changed Extraordinaraily
Become much more as she was when I first knew her
& much more like her mother, who I detest


SEPERATIONS (1962)

I listened, as I sealed it up from myself
(The twelve-hour ice-crawl ahead).
I peered awhile, as through the keyhole
Into my darkened, hushed, safe casket
From which (I did not know)
I had already lost the treasure.

Robbing Myself

Now the storm center of it recedes into the distance
I can only be relieved that I’ve done it
The one factor that nobody
But quite close friends can comprehend
Is Sylvia’s particular death-ray quality

In many of the most important ways
She’s the most gifted & capable
& admirable woman Ive ever met
But impossible for me to live married to

Now we’re separated were better friends
Than weve been since we first met
The main grief for me is that a life
That had all the circumstance for perfection
Should have been so intolerable


FITZROY ROAD (1963)

My body sank into the folk-tale
Where the wolves are singing in the forest
For two babes, who have turned, in their sleep
Into orphans
Beside the corpse of their mother

Life after Death

On monday morning at about 6am
Sylvia gassed herself

She asked me for help, as she often has
I was the only person who could have helped her
& the only person so jaded by her states

She seem’d to be getting in good shape
She was writing again
She was making enough money
Winning commissions & good reviews

Then a series of things, solictor’s letters, etc
Piled up, she flared up…

The doctor put her on heavy sedatives…

& in the gap between one pill & the next…

She turned on the oven


ASSENKE (1963)

We didn’t find her – she found us.
She sniffed us out. The Fate she carried
Sniffed us out
And assembled us, inert ingrediaents
For its experiment.

Dreamers

As things are, it is bad for all of us.
If you come to me David suffers
If you go to him, you suffer
& does he stop suffering
I don’t see how it can make him happy again
Just to hand yourself over to him
As a prisoner or a body
Even against your will

I have concentrated all my life now
On these two children
& on what you & I might do
& you say you want nothing but that
So its up to you to act as you do feel
There’s no other way of solving this


TROUBLE AT MILL (1965)

She wanted the silent heraldry
Of the purple beach by the noble wall.
He wanted Cabala the ghetto demon
With its polythene bag full of ashes.

Folktale

Sweetmouth, sweet little aseek, sweet love
Love sweetness & sweets
Now you are truly & wholly & entirely winningly better

Our evening on Primrose Hill
Should have been the norm
Not a freak occasion

On Thursday morning you were ready
To tell me to disappear
& on the Friday were so affectionate

All our difficulties blow up out of these long absences
& of your occasionally tactless doings
You’ll have to admit that
& out of mine sometimes

Everything with me is as it was Assia


ASSIA GASSES HERSELF (1969)

When her grave opened its ugly mouth
why didn’t you just fly,
Why did you kneel down at the grave’s edge
to be identified
accused and convicted?

The Error

I’ve gone through these last weeks in a daze
Everything has become horrible to me
I cannot believe how I never knew
What was happening to her

Our life together was so complicated with old ghosts
But we belonged together so deeply & completely
That her repeatedly testing me
Saying that we’d better separate for good
Were just like a bad habit

I’m certain she did it on one of those crazy devlish moods
She didn’t even ring any of her friends

I feel my life now has gone completely empty
Assia was my true wife & the best friend I ever had
It was with me every minute of the day & night


REGRETS (1969)

Your own hands, stronger than your choked outcry,
Took your daughter from you. She was stripped from you,
The last raiment
Clinging round your neck, the sole remnant
Between you and the bed
In the underworld

The Descent

Through this last ghastly year
I have lost every single battle
Im half inclined to suspect CROW (the figure of death)
The quicker I get it finished the better

Assia — I thought some atonement
Could be made for Sylvia
But this house made sure
We were dragged into the utmost nightmare

This last horror has maybe taught me one thing
Sylvia’s death thew my whole nature negative
I now see the senseless cost of that
For others as well as myself
& I must in some way set everything behind me
If I’m to carry on at all

The Aegean Edicts (3) : Finishing an Epic Poem

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The wine that led to this morning’s hangover

Today I ended Axis & Allies. I’m happy to now declare myself to the world as an epic poet. Whether I’m any good I shall leave to all our posterities. I began the day drunk but determined; packed a wee bag of food from last night’s campfire – a jacket potato & some chilli left overs – emptied the remnants of the wine into a plastic bottle & began my hike. It was tough at first, but step by step I began to wake up, assisted very much by a dip in the Jesus Falls. I spent an hour just reviving there, watching a beautiful dragonfly sit on a rock, then go for a wee fly, then return to the same spot, then repeat the whole hypnotic sequence again.

I then began my climb up the Gria Vathra – to the source of the river Gria. At first the path was easy, but it soon broke out into open rock climbing. It was a fond moment, for when I began Axis & Allies in 2001 I used to go scrambling up the wee cliffs at Happy Valley, Tunbridge Wells, while composing A&A.

A sketch of me, early 2001 just before I began to study for A&A

I’d actually started two years ago, when I’d invented the Tryptych form in Brighton one October evening, composing two stanzas for my Waterloo poem, composed the following Summer. Here’s the first of them which still stands as the invocation to A&A.
Invocation

There is a glade in an ancyent forest
Where glittering pools of molten azure
Assail ripe sense… insliding, moonbeam-bless’d,
Soul bathes in blissful dreamtimes gleaming pure;
Attended by
My nine naked maidens,
Vulvaean lullaby lilting thro’ love gardens.

She harps a song, she summons stars,
She waltzes round the waters,
She treats these sainted battlescars,
She paints a floating lotus,
She strums her summergold guitars,
Loxianic daughters!
How lovely & how livid floods thy light,
What verses & what wonders must I write?

They ring & weave thro’ tryptych tones,
Sing rich enchanted chime,
Soft music hones their mystic moans,
& so… my all must rhyme…
With hopes of flashing heroes up Parnassus slopes we’ll climb!

Finishing the first 10,000 lines, Summer 2002

After completing Waterloo, it was while travelling on a train between Bognor & Arundel, just after the floods of 2000, that I was hit by the concept of a 10,000 line epic on World War Two – 500 tryptychs in total. The bulk of these were composed in & from my base in Tunbridge Wells the following year. My composition period ran through the events of 9-11, which I also wrote tryptychs, about along with some about the birth of Rome & others on my first tour of India.

By 2006 I was then knitting all the parts together – from Troy to the modern day – & completed these on the islands of Marettimo & Malta in the early parts of 2007. From there I had four major bursts of creativity in 2008, 2011, 2016 & finally, the final 37 stanzas composed on my recent tour of the Aegean.

The last stanza was completed at the Gria Vathra itself, where I made the above film in which the very last line of poetry came to me. I was also visited by the spirit of my grandmother – it was an overwhelming, tear-draining sen sation. I think she was proud of me, as if she was attending my graduation ceremony. Here is that final stanza in full;

With groggy noggin, nine o clock, drunk still,
My steps besober’d up Poseidon slopes,
Wild dragonflies in escort hill to hill,
A spirit free from toil that here elopes
With muses nine
Naked in pools & falls
Inviting me to dine on melons, wine & rolls.

With breakfast done the climb began
Force following the shadow
Of something more than that young man
Who started this years ago
From path to rock I laughed & ran
The joyous gigalo
‘This way,’ say Clio & Calliope
Perch’d on steep stone, strumming ukelele.

He dove into that perfect pool
With bed of Autumn leaves
Sat on a stool of granite cool
He elegant recieves
One final line of poetry, what tapestry he weaves.

It was an apt place to finish. Legend has it that Poseidon crawled out of the sea to perch upon Mount Saos – which towered high above me on the climb – in order to watch the Fall of Troy across the Aegean Sea. A metaphor perhaps, for an epic poem to rival the Iliad, if I may be so bold.

So what next? Well, I have started to put the 100 cantos online, where you can also find an abridged version I made available to buy in book form. But the poem is now ready to be read in its entireity. 900 tryptychs divided into 100 cantos. I hope to have it all available for perusal soon enough, & Greece seems the perfect place to do it.

Damian Beeson Bullen

The Aegean Edicts (2): Reconstructing the Samothrakian Mysteries

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The Argonauts sail towards the isle of Samothrake: Electra’s island grows larger, guarding the secret of the Thracian rites of the Kabeiroi and other gods… Thyotes the priest meets the Argonauts and bids them welcome to the land and to the temples, revealing their Mysteries to his guests. Thus much, Samothrace, has the poet proclaimed thee to the nations and the light of day; there stay, and let us keep our reverence for holy Mysteries. The Argonauts, rejoicing in the new light of the sun and full of their heavenly visions, seat themselves upon the thwarts and depart from the island 

Valerius Flaccus: Argonautica


O Samathraki, what a joy! Where have you been all my life. I got here via Thessalonika on an A/C coach for 30 euros to the port of Adrianopolous. Then it was a 14 euro ferry to the island, which on the approach really feels like you are crossing over to Arran. I’ve been staying at the municipal campsite for almost a fortnite: its like a musical festival in the woods by the sea, but without any music stages or stalls – its quite the young team but they all think I’m in my 30s so I’ve blended in well enough!

Samothraki is an island of oak trees, pebbly beaches & waterfalls; & in these twelve days I’ve managed to climb most of Mount Saos -the highest mountain in the Aegean – an eight hour mission, just halting shy of the 1.611 metres ‘Fengari’ (moon) summit, followed by some canyoning in the rocky gullies back to Therma. My favorite pasttime, tho, is the morning ritual of walking to Therma, having some coffees, then spending an hour in the hot sulphuric springs, from where I’d buy fresh bread & take the meandering back roads to the campsite. Very conducive for literary thought!

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My adhoc campsite ( a work in progress)

So why Samothraki? Well, I was drawn here by a profound personal identification with Orpheus – possibly the first poet AND musician in history. A pilgrimage to one of his old haunts should provide much materielle for an Aegean edict, & so it has proved. So let us begin with what we know about Orpehus, & with me being a bona fide euhmerist, that means he would have been most definitely real.

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He first came to prominence among the Rhodope Mountains of Thrace, now mostly in modern Bulgaria, strumming his magical creations on an equally magical lyre. Pindar called him the Father of Songs, his voice being so sweet and powerful that he could charm wild animals, divert rivers & even lull the rocks to sleep. He was also said to be one helluva wise king, accredited with teaching humankind a long list of subjects such as healing, prophecy & astrology. Diodorus Siculus gaves a good account of him;

Since we have mentioned Orpheus it will not be inappropriate for us in passing to speak briefly about him. He was the son of Oeagrus, a Thracian by birth, and in culture and son-music and poesy he far surpassed all men of whom we have a record; for he composed a poem which was an object of wonder and excelled in its melody when it was sung. And his fame grew to such a degree that men believed that with his music he held a spell over both the wild beasts and the trees.

And after he had devoted his entire time to his education and had learned whatever the myths had to say about the gods, he journeyed to Egypt, where he further increased his knowledge and so became the greatest man among the Greeks both for his knowledge of the gods and for their rites, as well as for his poems and songs.

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A single literary epitaph, attributed to the sophist Alcidamas, credits him with the invention of writing. He was also the official bard of Jason on his quest for the Golden Fleece, & it is probably through him the story was recorded for posterity. A more positive literary accreditation comes thro’ Diogenes, who claims Orpheus to be the author of a cosmogony on the course of the sun and moon & a poem on the generation of animals and fruits. Then there are the Orphic hymns, of which Pausanius writes;

His hymns are known by those who have studied the poets to be both short & few in number. The Lycomedes, an Athenian family dedicated to sacred music, have them all by heart, & sing them at their solemn mysteries. They are but of the second class for elegance, being far excelled by Homer’s in that respect. But our religion has adopted the hymns of Orpheus, & has not done the same honour to the hymns of Homer.

At Dutch Bobs campsite, with Dylan from Dublin and the three Georges

With Orpheus as my inspiration, & Samothraki my base, let us search thro’ the annals for the moments which they tally, beginning with the following interesting passage by Diodorus Siculus;

Some historians, and Ephoros is one of them, record that the Daktyloi Idaioi were in fact born on the Mt Ide which is in Phrygia and passed over to Europe together with Mygdon; and since they were wizards, they practised charms and initiatory rites and mysteries, and in the course of a sojourn in Samothrake they amazed the natives of that island not a little by their skill in such matters. And it was at this time, we are further told, that Orpheus, who was endowed with an exceptional gift of poesy and song, also became a pupil of theirs, and he was subsequently the first to introduce initiatory rites and Mysteries to the Greeks.

We get the idea here of Orpheus being taught a series of ‘initiatory rites and mysteries’ which had come to Samothraki via Phrygia, in modern-day Turkey. It is the purpose of this Edict to attempt at least a partial reconstruction, or reimagining if you will, of the long-lost, highly secret Samothracian mysteries, of which Diodorus Siculus said;

The details of the initiatory rite are guarded among the matters not to be divulged and are communicated to the initiates alone; but the fame has travelled wide of how {the Kabeiroi} appear to mankind and bring unexpected aid to those initiates of their who call upon them in the midst of perils. The claim is also made that men who have taken part in the mysteries become both more pious and more just and better in every respect than they were before.

The chief object of the Samothrakian mystery rite is to make somebody ‘more pious and more just and better in every respect than they were before.’ The initiate will also have some kind of protection laid on by the Kabeiroi whenever these dieties are summoned to help. We also learn from Diodorus that Orpheus was an initiate into the Samothrakian Mysteries, being taught it by the Kabeiroi themselves;

On top of Mount Saos with Bonb n Dylan

In the course of a sojourn in Samothrake they [the Kabeiroi] amazed the natives of that island not a little by their skill in such matters. And it was at this time, we are further told, that Orpheus, who was endowed with an exceptional gift of poesy and song, also became a pupil of theirs, and he was subsequently the first to introduce initiatory rites and mysteries to the Greeks.

What Orpheus learnt on Samothraki would form the basis of early Greek religion – so pretty seminal stuff really. There is a nice section in the third century BC ‘Argonautica’ by Apollonius Rhodius, which shows Orpehus in connection with the rites.

The Argonauts beached this ship at Samothrake . . . Orpheus wished them, by holy initiation, to learn something of the secret rites, and so sail on with greater confidence across the formidable sea. Of the rites I say no more, pausing only to salute the isle itself and the Powers [the Kabeiroi] that dwell in it, to whom belong the mysteries of which we must not sing.

Again we sense the superstitous fear of recanting the rites; some folk got struck by lightning & stuff, so, the fear was genuine. Luckily for me I’m in no position to retall the Mysteries as they were, but only as I conject. I’m relying on getting something wrong, or missing something out, to survive my personal sojurn on Samothraki. But anyway, without further ado, lets see if we can reconstuct at least some of the essence of what the Samothakian Mystery was all about.

The physical evidence of the Mystery ceremony can be found at the Sanctuary of the Great Gods on Samothraki, a sprawling religious pan-centurial site which contains the three sacred precincts which the initiate had to move through in order to complete the Mystery procession. These were the preliminary Myeses, the Telete & the Epopteia. One schol of thought states that after a prosective initiate had been prepared in the Sanctuary’s Sacristy, the Myesis took place in the Anaktoron’s main hall, followed by the Telete in the inner adyton at the building’s north end. Once this concluded, the mystai (initiates) could proceed to the Hieron where they acquired the higher degree, the epopteia. Another school of thought prefers to place the initiation in the recently excavated Hall of Choral Dancers.

I visited the Sanctuary this morning, getting there at 8 to have the place to myself & get into the zone. They key element to the visit was discovering teh theatrical circle of the entry complex that connected to the old city – Paleopili – whose cyclopean walls stretch up mount Saos – extremely beautiful. From here the initiates would descend along the paved sacred way into the holy valley for the Mystery itself. It was on such an occasion that Alexander the Great’s father, Philip II, met his mother, Olympias. With the Mystery procession being divided into three seperate parts, we are looking for the general outline to three different aspects of the Samothrakian Mystery. These are actually findable, tho’ contained in scattered texts.


THE FRATRICIDE
Myeses

In his ‘Exhortation to the Greeks’ the second century AD Christian writer, Clement, pretty much divulges the theatrical contents of the first part of the mystery.

If you would like a vision of the Korybantian Orgies, this is the story. Two of the Korybantes (Kabeiroi) slew a third one, who was their brother, covered the head of the corpse with a purple cloak, and then wreathed and buried it, bearing it upon a brazen shield to the skirts of Olympus. Here we see what the Mysteries are, in one word, murders and burials! The priests of these Mysteries, whom such as are interested in them call ‘Anaktotelestes’, add a portent to the dismal tale. They forbid wild celery, root and all, to be placed on the table, for they actually believe that wild celery grows out of the blood that flowed from the murdered brother .

If we are to recreate a mystery, some people, a number undetermined, need to be presiding over proceedings & call themselves the Anaktotelestes. We also need to tell a stoy of two brothers turning on another brother, then carrying his head on a shield to Olympus – possibly in penitence or perhaps as a votive offering. I’m not so sure we need to include the celery, but there’s enough detail there to paint a good opening section of this intiatory tryptych.

THE PENIS of ZAGREUS
Telete

Its an interesting feature of the Greek language that if you rearrange the letters of EPOS – Epic of the testosterone-fuelled Illiad kind – you get PEOS. Continuing with the penis theme, the Cabeiri were famous for recovering the phallus of Zagreus, which had been dismembered by the Titans, & establishing it in the shrine of their Mysteries. This piece of theatre should then constitute the second sction of the tryptych – so where there was a head on a shield in the first part, there is a penis in a casket in the second, kinda thing. Its very much like the grail ceremonies ascribed to 12th & 13th century Templars, & there could very well be a connection.

Zagreus was worshipped by later followers of Orpheus & seems to be a Dionysian figure, born of the union between Zeus & Persephone. The story goes that he had his tackle hacked off by the Titans, only for it to grow back at a later date. Herodotus himselef gives us some great background.

The Korybantes are also called by the name Kabeiroi, which proclaims the Rite of the Kabeiroi. For this very pair of fratricides got possession of the chest in which the virilia of Dionysos [Zagreus] were deposited, and brought it to Tyrrhenia [i.e. Lemnos], traders in glorious wares! There they sojourned, being exiles, and communicated their precious teaching of peity, the virilia and the chest, to Tyrrhenians for purposes of worship.

So here we have an account of the Kabeiroi worshipping the penis of Zagreus/Dionysis which was placed in a chest. The second part of our mystery should tell the story of how they found the chest & the penis. Simple Mystery Play stuff, really, straight from the Towneley manuscript.

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HERMES & PERSEPHONE
Epopteia

The final part of the ceremony involves a story between Hermes & Persephone, which if we connect with the orgiastic nature of the Mysteries leads to only one workable plausablity. This would be something like Hermes & Persephone getting it on big time & then the initiates joining in the party. Herodotus tells us;

The Athenians, then, were the first Greeks to make ithyphallic images of Hermes, and they did this because the Pelasgians taught them. The Pelasgians told a certain sacred tale about this, which is set forth in the Samothrakian Mysteries

The Athenians received their phallic Hermae from the Pelasgians, and those who are initiated in the mysteries of the Cabeiri will understand what I am saying; for the Pelasgians formerly inhabited Samothrace, and it is from them that the Samothracians received their orgies.

Looking elsewhere in the classical ouevre, we find a sacred legend spoken of by Cicero, which states that Hermes was the son of Coelus and Dies, and that Proserpine desired to embrace him. So we can now create a general outline of the entire Samothrakian Mystery.

Part 1: Two brothers – the Kabeiroi – kill a third & carry his head to Olympus on a shield.
Part 2: The Kabeiroi discover the castrated penis of Zagreus & place it in a chest.
Part 3: Persephone seduces Hermes & all the initiates join in & form an orgy.

This would the followed by the initiate becoming initiated, ie taken under the wing of the Kaberoi. Aristophanes intimates that the mysteries were particularly calculated to protect the lives of the initiated. Herales & Alexander the Great were both big fans & put their successes down in no small part to their initiations into the Samothrakian Mysteries. An example of the Kabeiroi protecting an initiate can be found in the vita of our very Orpheus;

There came on a great storm and the chieftains the Argonauts had given up hope of being saved, when Orpheus, they say, who was the only one on ship-board who had ever been initiated in the Mysteries of the deities of Samothrake, offered to these deities prayers for their salvation. And immediately the wind died down Diodorus Siculus

BOOZE

Alcohol is the definitive lubricant to orgiastic behaviour, & it seems the Samothrakian ritual orgy was no different. In the lost play, Cabiri, by Aeschylus, the two gods welcomed the Argonauts to their island and initiated them in a drunken orgy. So we’re gonna need booze, & lots of it!

CAST

Now then, who will be playing out the mystery for our initiates. Well, besides the presiders of things, the Anaktotelestes, we’re gonna need three Kabeiro & a three nymphs. The 5th Century BC mythographer Akousilaüs the Argive, calls Kadmilos the father of three Kabeiroi, who in turn are the fathers of the Nymphs called the Kabeirides. Pherecydes states that there were three Nymphai in total, and that sacred rites were instituted in honor of each triad.

According to Herodotus, the Cabeiri who were worshipped at Memphis in Egypt resembled the dwarf-gods (Pataïkoi) whom the Phoenicians fixed on the prows of their ships. So maybe that means our Kabeiri will need to be a little short, or even boys, which is gonna be a bit weird at an orgy, right? That the Kaberoi were boyish is suggested Pausanias.

The Amphisians also celebrate Mysteries in honour of the Boy Kings as they are called. Their accounts as to who of the gods the Boy Kings are do not agree; some say they are the Dioskouroi, and others, who pretend to have fuller knowledge, hold them to be the Kabeiroi.

The Korybantes

Pherecydes also tells us that the Kyrbantes/Corybantes had taken up their abode in Samothrake. Strabo has a lovely passage about the Korybantes

They poets invented some of the names by which to designate the ministers, choral dancers, and attendants upon the sacred rites, I mean Kabeiroi and Korybantes and Panes and Satyroi and Tityroi. 

The Tityroi, by the way, were flute-playing, rustic daimones in the train of the god Dionysos. A future director could chuck them in alongside some satyrs if they wished, but our main focus are the Korybantes, of whose activities at the sacred rites Strabo saying they were;

Subject to Bacchic frenzy, and, in the guise of ministers, as inspiring terror at the celebration of the sacred rites by means of war-dances, accompanied by uproar and noise and cymbals and drums and arms, and also by flute and outcry

We can now see the Korybantes as a backing band / dancing troupe. There is an ode said to have been composed by Orpheus himself which really brings the Korybantes to life;

‘Tis yours in glittering arms the earth to beat, with lightly leaping, rapid, sounding feet; then every beast the noise terrific flies, and the loud tumult wanders through the skies. The dust your feet excites, with matchless force flies to the clouds amidst their whirling course.

We also have accounts by later classical authors which any future director or choreographer of this recreated Mystery should get their head around. Nonnius provides some poetical & brilliant details, who is followed by Strabo, whose equally poetical description should also be taken into account.

The helmeted bands of desert-haunting Korybantes were beating on their shields in the Knossian dance, and leaping with rhythmic steps

The oxhides thudded under the blows of the iron as they whirled them about in rivalry, while the double pipe made music, and quickened the dancers with its rollicking tune in time to the bounding steps.

Lions with a roar from emulous throats mimicked the triumphant cry of the priests of the Kabeiroi Nonnius

The instruments… are mentioned by Aiskhylos for he says… ‘stringed instruments raise their shrill cry, and frightful mimickers from some place unseen bellow like bulls, and the semblance of drums, as of subterranean thunder, rolls along, a terrifying sound Strabo

DEMETER

It is now time to introduce the Earth Goddess, Demeter, into the mix. Pausanias tells us:

I must ask the curious to forgive me if I keep silence as to who the Kabeiroi are, and what is the nature of the ritual performed in honour of them and of the Meter (Mother).

Demeter is an interesting addition to the Mystery, & thro’ her we get a little more, tho quite garbled, information. Pausanius again;

Demeter came to know Prometheus, one of the Kabeiroi, and Aitnaios his son, and entrusted something to their keeping. What was entrusted to them, and what happened to it, seemed to me a sin to put into writing, but at any rate the rites are a gift of Demeter to the Kabeiroi.

Here the names are wrong – Prometheus & Aitnaios – but they are two males together like the Kabeiroi should be. From here we can ascertain that Demeter entrusts them with an object, which has to be the penis of Zagreus. It is also interesting that the rites are a gift, so we kinda have to mention that & have the Kabeiroi say thanks – probably in some kind of opening prologue.

So here’s the final outline of the Mystery, which Id like to actually compose while I was on the island.

Cast

Three Kabeiroi
Three Kabeirides
Demeter possibly, tho she may just be invoked
Persephone
Hermes

There will also be the presiding Anaktotelestes & nine Korybantes to provide the music, when, ‘subject to Bacchic frenzy, and, in the guise of ministers, as inspiring terror at the celebration of the sacred rites by means of war-dances, accompanied by uproar and noise and cymbals and drums and arms, and also by flute and outcry.’

Part 1: Demeter introduces the Mystery. Two brothers – the Kabeiroi kill a third & carry his head to Olympus on a shield.
Part 2: The Kabeiroi discover the castrated penis of Zagreus & place it in a chest. The wine starts to flow in the name of Zagreus/Dionysis.
Part 3: Persephone seduces Hermes & all the initiates join in & form an orgy. Demeter is thanked.

THE VENUE

To finish, where would be the best place to put on this Sweet Little Mystery. Well, Samothraki of course, & its famous site of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods. The most famous artifact ddiscovered there was the 2.5-metre headless marble statue of Nike, now known as the Winged Victory of Samothrace, dating from about 190 BC.  It was discovered in pieces on the island in 1863 by the French archaeologist Charles Champoiseau, and is now in the Louvre in Paris. The Winged Victory is featured on the island’s municipal seal.

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The Sanctuary of the Great Gods is to be found at Palaeopoli (“old city”), the ruins of which are situated on the north coast of Samothraki. Considerable remains still exist of the ancient walls, which were built in massive Cyclopean style. The museum was closed when I went along, but I wondered if they still had the bowls mentioned by Diodorus Siculus

The Argonauts, they say, set forth from the Troad and arrived at Samothrake, where they again paid their vows to the Kabeiroi and dedicated in the sacred precinct the bowls which are preserved there even to this day

The Aegean Edicts (1): The Tomb of Achilles – early clues

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Sat on a rock, reading Homer, eating grapes

Literary essays from a pilgrimage to Troy


With the world some weird kind of pagan ritual lockdown, I thought it a better time than most to head off the beaten tracks & go searching for the fabled burial mound of Achilles & his best pal, Patrocolus. Since Schliemann digging Troy out of Hisalrik Hill in the 19th Century, the idea that Achilles fought & died in the Troad moves from phantasy to possibilty – the next two stages are plausable & probable, but we’re not there yet.
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Emily seeing me off on my travels at the Smithson Farm, Burnley
So, leaving rainy Edinburgh behind I caught a train to Burnley for a pleasant couple of weeks family time – the first in months with train after train from Edinburgh being cancelled on me. Then it was off to Manchester airport & a 6AM flight – I spent the overnighter chatting to a homeless guy who sleeps there, recently turfed out on the streets again about the same time medical staff were ordered to pay hospital parking again!
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Greek graffiti – Thessalonika
Anyway, I’m leaving the UK to get away from all that, so off I tripped to Thessalonika on a plane full of mask-wearers. I stayed in the steep old town a couple of days – full of hundreds of street cats who apparently are fed by all & sundry & get routine visits from the vets. From there I went to Sithonia, the middle finger of the Chalkidki peninsular, with Mount Athos – the holy mountain – rising gloriously across the bay. I’d set off walking at 6.30 AM, at sunrise, & got as much as I could in while the sun wasn’t yet blazing – its reached the late thirties most of the week. IMG_20200725_094952.jpg
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First campsite – VouVouro
There’s also a lot of blooming steep bits! Anyway, as soon as I’d get tired I’d settle at the nearest campsite – VouVouro was nice & also the latest one – Paradise Beach – a few k north of sea-girt Sitra, where I am writing this now over some strong double greek coffees & uploading the video below. Trust me, Paradise, is, well Paradise, & they even let me DJ on the beach after I imposed my audition on them – they were loving my skills!
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Mount Athos at sunrise
The video basically has me blethering on about a series of clues latent within Book 23 of the Iliad – Patroclus tear-stained funeral & mourning games – which give some interesting pointers for a would-be investigation into the site, being;

THE BEACHED SHIPS

‘The Acheans withdrew to the Hellespont’

In recent years a theory has arisen that Besika Bay – to the west of Troy – is where the Greeks landed their ships. Homer clearly states it was to the north, by the Hellespont. Two stalwart contenders for the tomb have been the burial mounds of Kum Tepe & Kesik Tepe, both facing the Hellespont. However, archeaology at the sites has only ever gone back as far as the 6th Century BC, meaning the real tomb is out there, elsewhere.
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Kesik Tepe

THE TURNING STONES

There is a dead tree stump, an oak or a pine, rotted in the rain, & it is flanked by two white stones. The road narrows at this point, but the going is good on both sides of the monument, which either marks an ancient burial or must have been put up as a turning-post by people of an earlier age.

Homer is here describing the mid-way point of a chariot race. The turning post will be long gone, of course, but the two white stones might well stand in the same spot still. Homer also describes the turning-point as being ‘far away on level ground,’ giving us further detail.

THE GULLY

Antilochus, that veteran campaigner, saw a place where the sunken road grew narrow. It ran through a gulley…

Between the beach & the turning point Homer is describing a narrowing of the road.

THE BARROW OF ILUS

There is one final clue found in Book 24, in which Priam goes to plead with Achilles to stop dragging his son Hektor’s body about & leaving it the dogs. On the way we learn that once the old king of Troy & Hermes (in disguise) ‘had driven past the great barrow of Ilus & stopped their mules & horses for a drink at the river.’ So that’s plenty of info to start visualizing what to look out for when I get to the area. Also helpful is the fact that the Bronze Age coastline was apparently much closer to Troy than it is today, making my job that little bit easier. I’ll also be studying the rest of the Iliad for my clues – I’m reading it backwards at the moment actually, I find the first few books a bit heavy & stifling, & I want to retain my excitement about the project, to be frank. _38790313_turkey_troy2_300map.gif I shall finish the first of my Aegean Edicts with a couple of sonnets from my time so far in Greece. In the morning I am heading to Alexandroplis & from there by ferry to the island of Samothrace, arriving at sunset & within spitting distance of the Troad. Its good timing really, the Greek government this week has gone mask crazy making folk wear them in hotels & hostels & all public space. I think a rugged island away from all the world’s worries is the best place to be right now.

Sitra 29-07-20


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OVER THESSALONIKA

There is a heat they call the burn of Greec Beginneth in July, by Autumn screams Out in the day we English pray for peace In shady spots as lava spurts & steams.

In the labyrinth of Saloniki Street cats handsomely treated as they prowl Door to friendly door thro sweet, unsneaky Hunts for meaty morsels; fresh, fair & foul.

Adventuring against the mid-day sun Sauntering slow slopes up to Genti Koyle Hat soak’d in sweat, what buenavista won, From Mount Olympus, between sea & soil

The coast drove east to Chalkidiki’s hand, Three-finger’d, into blue Aegean fann’d!


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SITHONIAN SUN

I found myself in Paradise a few K shy of Sarti I’d headed there solely beacuse it rhymes with ‘wild love party’ A wee secluded nudist beach with pyres of burnish’d driftwood So thought I’d stay a gracious while as Thracian poets should Across the soft, Singitic Gulf Mount Athos rose redeeimng All souls who gazed upon its point immortally updreaming As monkish men swam out to heaven seven times a day Libating skinsalt to exalted Thetis in the spray I gazed on Aphrodite & I swoon’d before Athean & then I saw Cassandra I’ll die happy cos I seen her; The infinite projectison of her body set me blushing Into a catacoombe of lust, libido wolves uprushing, Then in the rockshade softening I drank my surf-cool wine Watching Cassandra frolicing, voluptuous, divine.

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.’

 

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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 Young Shakespeare (1): Did He Even Exist?

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Discovering the fascinating truth

Beneath Shakespeare’s missing years


‘God comes first,’ declared Heinrich Heine, ‘but surely Shakespeare comes next,’ & at some moment in our own lifetimes there might come the dawnflash when we truly understand the profound genius of a mind which conjured such a sequence of brilliant plays they shall remain in our collective consciousness forever. More than any other individual, Shakespeare’s natural creativity has improved & modernized the English tongue; while at the same time his uncanny penchant for the dramatic artform invented, fermented & cemented a theatrical tradition still thriving to this day. In the Elizabethan era, the art of English ‘biography’ was very much in its infancy. A first proper attempt to record actual details of Shakespeare’s life was made in the 1660’s, when John Aubrey included a gossipy sketch in his, ‘Short Lives.’ Another half-century would pass before anybody else tried to flesh out the bones of Aubrey’s brief work, when the poet-laureate-to-be, Nicholas Rowe, allocated to himself the task of modernizing Shakespeare’s language into the English of his day. There are other titbits & accounts scattered throughout the living memory of the Bard, such as this account by John Ward, the vicar of Stratford-upon-Avon and physician, whose Notebook for 1662-1663 reads;

I have heard that Mr. Shakespeare was a natural wit without any art at all. He frequented the plays all his younger time, but in his elder days lived at Stratford: and supplied the stage with 2 plays every year and for that had an allowance so large that he spent at the rate of £1000 a year as I have heard.

Combining Rowe, Ward & Aubrey gives us the tangible phantom of the historical Shakespeare, which is in essence moulded only upon a scrappy handful of unlikely anecdotes & second-hand memories. Into these we can stitch a few dozen ‘official’ details, such as; his marriage to Anne Hathaway; the christening records of their three children; legal affidavits; & his famous will. In official spheredom, six of Shakespeare’s signatures have been raked up from the ashes of historical bureaucracy, the last of which scratched loosely to his will. Remarkably, this final document of Shakespeare’s life contains the only known universally accepted handwriting we possess in his hand. Even then, this sample consists of only the four letters of ‘by me,’ or even ‘by mr;’ a scanty relic of our greatest writer’s gargantuan wordsmithery.
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Shakespeare’s signatures
In 1616, at the age of 52, Shakespeare died & was buried in Stratford. Seven years after this native entombment ,thirty-six of his plays were printed together for the first time in a rather large tome known as the First Folio. This brilliantly influential book contains a woodcut engraving which provides us with the definitive image of the Bard; a balding & bearded man, nestling quite unegregiously in his middle-age. Unfortunately, by some obtuse glitch there exists today a rather large & angry mob of academics who, with growing defiance, absolutely & positively deny that William Shakespeare ever composed his own plays. There are two principle reasons for this chronic conclusion of the Antishakespeareans: the first is a complete lack of any manuscripts in Shakespeare’s hand. Maybe; but none of the great playwrights of the period left behind any actual manuscripts of their plays: in a time without copyright, these precious reams of paper were jealously guarded & then destroyed by the theatres. It was far better for a play to dwell in the memory of an actor or three, than to fall into the hands of a rival company. The second objection to Shakespeare’s existence comes from an intellectually snobbish attitude prevalent throughout the halls of academe, which assumes that literary genius may only be taught & never be acquired through natural means. From this vulgar stance comes the conclusion that an uneducated country yeoman could not have acquired the intellectual capabilities to produce such a fantastic treasury of writings that constitute Shakespeare’s majestic oeuvre. This, then, is the case against, which has not been enough to convince the majority of scholars, & the rest of the world at large, that Shakespeare the man was not also Shakespeare the author. Such defenders of his noble name are known as Stratfordians, while pitted against them are the non-believers, who go by the name of ‘non-Stratfordians,’ or my own slightly catchier Antishakespereans. Of this bitter & increasingly fractious academic battleground, the modern scholar Leo Daugherty, postulates, ‘most of the “warfare” emanates from scholars and critics deeply entrenched in ideology far more than in commitment to good evidence.’ The ‘ideology’ mentioned by Daugherty manifests itself as an intellectual world shaking collective & disbelieving heads at Shakespeare’s meteoric rise, combining voices in an open declaration that the works of Shakespeare must have been created by some university-educated nobleman & not the Swan of Avon. This has seen the promulgation of a series of candidates onto which has been deflected more than a century of critical scholarship. Like any of our great world mysteries, a crazed wild-fire has broken out among the pages of our normally rational academics, smouldering charcoal embers which are distorting the truth about Shakespeare to this day.
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Did Marlowe fake his own death & write plays in Shakespeare’s name?
Contenders include Christopher Marlowe, despite the fact he was stabbed to death in 1593; which would have made it rather difficult for him to have penned a play such as the Scottish-influenced Macbeth, written to celebrate the succession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne in 1603. A year after this event – in 1604 – Edward De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, also died. This starbright gentleman is the main focus of most anti-Shakespearean scholarship, but he simply could not have written plays such as the Winter’s Tale, Cymbeline & Coriolanus – he was dead. Coriolanus, for example, contains the fable of Menenius as drawn from the ‘Remaines’ of William Camden, which were published in 1605. There is also the 1598 pacing of De Vere among the great writers of the age alongside Shakespeare, by their contemporary Francis Meres.

The best for Comedy amongst vs bee Edward, Earle of Oxforde, Doctor Gager of Oxforde, Master Rowley, once a rare scholler of learned Pembrooke Hall in Cambridge, Maister Edwardes, one of Her Maiesties Chappell, eloquent and wittie Iohn Lilly, Lodge, Gascoyne, Greene, Shakespeare, Thomas Nash, Thomas Heywood, Anthony Mundye, our best plotter, Chapman, Porter, Wilson, Hathway, and Henry Chettle.

Despite this glaringly obvious separation of Edward De Vere & Shakespeare, by an eye-witness even, the Oxfordians – as this largest sect of Antishakespereans are more commonly known – have been fiercely advancing the Earl of Oxford’s candidacy for decades. En route, wherever they meet with sound evidence which shows De Vere could never, ever, have been William Shakespeare, like tigers cornered in a cave they will thrash out with increasingly bewildering conspiracies to negate the challenge to their theories. Somewhere into this mix of baseless conjecture is sometimes toss’d a love child of Queen Elizabeth, & I am sure in one strand of the Oxfordian theories Shakespeare was said to have been his own father.
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Shakespeare’s birthplace
The vita of William Shakespeare is more famous for what it does not contain than what it does. One of the enduring Shakespearean conundrums revolves around the seven-year period between 1585 & 1592, the so-called ‘Lost Years,’ a wilderness of remembrance in which our budding bard might as well have been living on the moon! All we know is that at the beginning of 1585, when his twins were baptized in Stratford, Shakespeare seems nothing but a simple family man. Seven years later, however, he is setting London alight with the first resonant tromp-blasts of his miraculously brilliant plays. The occasion was a rather popular performance of ‘Henry VI’ at the Rose Theatre, dated to the 3rd of March, 1592. Takings for the performance were £3 6sh 8d, outdoing Christopher Marlowe’s Jew of Malta, played in the Rose only the previous week, by almost a full pound. Shakespeare had become the starry darling of the London literary scene, but what journey had he made from rural Stratford for him to have ever become so? Of this curious puzzle, Bill Bryson writes, ‘There is not a more tempting void in literary history, nor more eager hands to fill it.’ The thing is, looking through the kaleidoscopic lens that is the Chisper Effect, a figure quite like Shakespeare can be easily identified. It is time for a fresh investigation. On first encountering this contentious arena, my instinct was to say I believed what it said on the tin, that Shakespeare had written his own plays. Having looked at a great deal of the available evidence, I am rather inclined to agree with my first instinct, for with a wee waft here & there, when those paper trails of history that have been blown about by the blustery gales of many centuries settle in just the right order, all of a sudden they form a series of cogent patterns to illuminate a path through the murky mists of Shakespeare’s history. Some of the key patterns center upon a certain Lancastrian nobleman called William Stanley, who became the Sixth Earl of Derby in 1594. His feudal demesne was not in Derbyshire, however, but Lancashire, whose ‘capital’ was the palatial stately home at Knowsley, on the outskirts of Liverpool.
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William Stanley – the 6th Earl of Derby
In Shakespeare’s day the Derbys were the second family of England, direct descendants of the first Tudor king, Henry VII, through Mary, one of the two sisters of Henry VIII. The elder sister, Margaret, had married into the Stewart line of Scottish kings, whose great-grandchild would eventually inherit the English crown as King James I. Before that momentous occasion of national unification, the Stanleys were the ideological focus of many a plot throughout Elizabeth’s childless reign. But, being shrewd operatives & canny northern lads, this noble family never once challenged the hegemony of the Tudors, remaining content enough to lord it over their private kingdom in the North. Instead of plotting for the throne, the Stanleys were content to patronise the dramatic arts, running private troupes of player to perform up & down & all across the land. They even had a private playhouse built at Knowsley, which would have attracted Shakespeare like a moth to a dramaturgical flame. As we proceed through this chispological dig, we shall unearth a great deal of evidence supporting Shakespeare’s connection to William Stanley, including an unstitching of the story of the sonnets. As a wee taster, let us place the Bard in the vicinity of Knowsley, where he encountered the human inspiration for the money-obsess’d character of Shylock in the Merchant of Venice. His name was Thomas Sherlock, a coin-counting churchwarden in the Lancashire parish of Prestcott, bordering the Stanley’s estate at Knowsley. The Churchwardens Accounts of Prescott read; 1581: imprimis, receyved bye me, the sed Thomas Sherlock at the handes of the olde churche wardens, ouer theire accountes the last year as appereth bye this booke 1584: item, paid to Thomas Sherlocke for the repairinge of the olde slate upon the sowth syde of the church In his younger years Stanley, as we shall call him from now on, undertook an epic tour of Europe just at the commencement of the Shakespearean ‘Lost Years.’ According to the ‘History of the House of Stanley,’ by John Seacome, the good folk of Lancashire were addicted to his ‘whole travels, martial exploits, and bravery abroad, which this county (especially) gives us many large accounts, as well in story, as song, and frequently made themselves merry therewith.’ The thing is, if we were to place Shakespeare in the company of Stanley on his continental tour, it is singularly remarkable how much of the Shakespearean oeuvre begins to fit snugly into the minute nooks & crannies of the Stanleyan Grand Tour. Actualizing Shakespeare in the entourage of Stanley begins within the rustic pipings of an obscure ballad called ‘The Garland of William Stanley.’ Anonymously penned, it was printed in the 18th century, a ‘garland’ or collection of stanzas telling the story of Stanley’s Continental wanderlust. The poetry of the Garland is not the finest, falling far below the standard of even the most ordinary of broadside ballads; but what it lacks in beauty of language is more than made up for by geographical & historical content. The story it tells is more a montage of three separate journeys; Stanley’s first in 1582-1584 with his tutor Richard Lloyd, the second between 1585-87 with Shakespeare, & a third in the early 1590s, just before he became the Sixth Earl. will-st.jpg The Garland explains how Stanley conducted a twenty-one year tour of the Continent (a clear exaggeration) via France, Spain, Italy, Rome & the mountainous Alpine parts of southern Germany known as ‘High Germany.’ Stanley then went to North Africa, visiting Egypt, Algeria & Morocco, before sweeping back north to meet the famous Elizabethan magus, John Dee, at the court of the Russian Emperor. Another grand sweep would see Stanley returning to the Mediterranean once again, in order to tour the Near East. After conducting the obligatory a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, before finding himself imprisoned in Constantinople for blasphemy against Mohammed. After his release at the behest of an infatuated Turkish woman, Stanley moved up to the frozen north, where he became stranded upon the island of Greenland. Fortuitously rescued by a whale-ship, he would eventually be dropp’d off in Holland, from where he boarded a boat for England & his homecoming at Lathom Hall. I think it hardly a coincidence that in the majority of places Stanley visited in the Garland we can site one or more of Shakespeare’s continental scenes.

France

Love’s Labour’s Lost – Navarre All’s Well that Ends Well – Roussillon, Marseilles

ITALY All’s Well that Ends Well – Florence Two Gentlemen of Verona – Verona, Milan, Mantua Romeo and Juliet – Verona and Mantua The Taming of the Shrew – Padua The Merchant of Venice – Venice Othello – Venice Titus Andronicus – Rome Coriolanus – Rome, Corioli, and Antium Anthony & Cleopatra – Misenum Much Ado about Nothing – Messina The Winter’s Tale – Sicily The Comedy of Errors – Syracuse

HIGH GERMANY The Winter’s Tale – Bohemia Measure for Measure – Vienna

To NORTH AFRICA Twelfth Night – Illyrian coast

NORTH AFRICA Anthony & Cleopatra – Egypt Tempest – Between Tunisia & Sicily

GREECE Timon of Athens – Athens A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Athens

THE LEVANT Othello – A sea-port in Cyprus The Comedy of Errors – Ephesus Pericles – Pentapolis, Lybia, Tarsus, Antioch, Tyre Troilus and Cressida – Troy, Turkey

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Shakespeare’s Continental Scenes
The artstuff of poetry grows naturally out of accumulated materielle, to which is added an individual poet’s personality & technique. The living matter they create should be seen as the fragrant flowers of a bush, the roots of which are buried deep under the earth. By following these roots to their sources of nourishment, we can slowly create a picture of the poet’s unseen life, the one that lives beneath the surface of the page. If Shakespeare had accompanied Stanley, the sheer wealth of scenery & culture that Europe contains should have found an eventual memorial among his plays. When the English poet Lord Byron visited the Continent in the early 19th century, his composition of a long poem called Childe Harolde’s Pilgrimage is more or less a record of his travels. In the same fashion, it is through the Chisper Effect that we can see how the plays of Shakespeare are a metacreative journal of his travels with Stanley. Doctor AW Titherly concurs with such a notion by stating, ‘Shakespeare’s geography, being ubiquitous in its range, is evidentially inconclusive, except in so far as its abiding realism manifestly betrays extensive travel experience as distinct from mere book-learning.’ In the 16th century The ‘Grand Tour’ of the continent was partaken by young English aristocrats wanting to complete their education by visiting foreign ‘academes.’ they also delighted in wandering the natural beauties of the Continent; whether it be the scenic scenes, or the bosom of some pretty damsel. That Shakespeare accompanied Stanley should appease the Antishakespeareans, for foreign travel alongside a man of noble birth would have furnish’d Shakespeare’s brain with all the courtly mores, continental languages & classical scholarship our poet would ever need to create his masterpieces. As we journey alongside William Shakespeare & William Stanley, in the absence of any external evidence of their Grand Tour, it is thro’ the internal evidence fermenting inside Shakespeare’s copious corpus that we are able to trace the route of the most important adventures in the history of the English language.  Looking into the Italian plays in particular, one cannot help but notice Shakespeare’s attention to both topographical & cultural detail. By placing Stanley & Shakespeare together readily explains how the Bard would have gained such an impressive, one can only say love, for Italy. But I am getting ahaed of myself – its time to start at the very beginning, & show how Shakespeare came under the Stanleys’ aquiline wings in the first place…

THE YOUNG SHAKESPEARE

1- Did He Even Exist?

2 – Shakespeare’s First Poems

3 – Shakespeare’s First Travels

4 – Shakespeare’s Burnley

Letters from Crete IV: Formal Free Verse

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The time is 3.30 AM Cretan o’Clock. I am currently having a mild asthma attack on account, no doubt, of a series of cats which hover about our Agios Ioannis home waiting for scraps. Making love to m’lady on the outside bed & thus releasing a snowstorm of dander didn’t help things, while the altitude hangs like a Sword of Damocles over my lungs. Another bone of contention is the massive battle I’ve been having with the native mosquitos, & after two hours of carnage I’ve decided to just go out onto the verandah & type an essay through the night. There is a fresh-laid coffee by my side. The goat’s bell is tinkling.

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The subject shall be my recent endeavouring with Free Verse. A Parnasssian at heart, formal versification has been my mantra for many years, but I am not completely ignorant to realise that Free Verse has enjoyed, & is still enjoying, a sustained period as the standard. In recent times I have been deliberating that a Pendragon of this particular epoch should formalize & codify the nuances within Free Verse. There was once a time when the highways had hardly any traffic regulation, when Ford Model Ts career’d all over the place with motorized abandon. Such a lawless state is similar to the one in which Free Versifying finds itself today.

Ever since Whitman elongated his lines, voyeurs of fashion began to look upon the form-poem as a faded, rattling jurassic, & turned to the new, to the fresh, to the exciting vogue of vers libre. ‘I would as soon write free verse as play tennis with the net down,’ piped Robert Frost whimsacally in 1935, by which time the political tide had turned, so to speak, & Free Verse poets were more & more taking up seats in the Senate.

I have personally had the odd dabble with Free Verse since my inception as a poet, including one huge vomiting of material in 2003, a piece entitled Bohemia, which contains one my favorite pieces.


 

THE LOST POEM

I wrote a poem once,
At Hatfield, not far from the scene of disaster
My friend was driving there one sunny day
Smoking reefers & talking about life’s changes

We ended up in a funky metal scrapyard
One of those places you never thought existed
Like when you were younger & joked
About where all the lost odd socks went
But this place was the real deal,
Full of Volkswagon carcasses,
Camper vans & Beetle hulks
& a couple of greasy mechanics,
chilling with the sun

While my friend looked at a ninety-nicker bumper
I was suddenly inspired to write a few desolate lines
About the decaying Earth & the dwindling fuel reserves
& finished it off with an arty kind of twist
About discovering an old photograph of myself
Holding a pretty young lady, she was wearing beads
Sat upon the beach of, perhaps, San Remo
It never happened like that, but all poems need an end

While my friend looked at a ninety-nicker bumper
I was suddenly inspired to write a few desolate lines
About the decaying Earth & the dwindling fuel reserves
& finished it off with an arty kind of twist
About discovering an old photograph of myself
Holding a pretty young lady, she was wearing beads
Sat upon the beach of, perhaps, San Remo
It never happened like that, but all poems need an end

So I stashed it away,
A single sheet of paper folded several times
Constantly forgetting to type the blighter up
Until it turned up in a book I was reading
Livy’s remarkable Early History of Rome
I’d packed it to study on my mission round the Baltic
Where trawling about the soft streets of Stockholm

Wondering what the hell the plastic cows were for
Every time I picked it up the sheet fell out the pages
Constantly reminding me that I should make it safe
It would only take a second, but I never took the time…
I found myself having one of those moments
The sun setting sublimely as I ate my evening meal
Upon the forecastle of the hotel boat I was staying on
The splish-splosh of the waves & a gust of sea breeze
Blew out the sheet as I turned a page
To float on the air like a falling feather
Time was standing still but the paper started F
A
L
To slip thro the narrowest of cracks tween the L boards
To be found one day in the distant future I
By somebody breaking up the hold for scrap N
G
I was gutted at first,
Like the time my girlfriend ran off with a German
But as I ponder’d home to my cabin empty handed,
Past painted memorials of the age of sail
I had a remarkable epiphany
At last my poem had a proper end!


 

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The grey-bearded Adonis

The Lost Poem is pure free verse. No rhyme, no rhythm to speak of, with a piece of aesthetic ‘concrete’ wordplay to boot. Thirteen years after penning the piece, I feel obliged to consider Free Verse now in a formal way, to record its invented ‘species’ just as the Welsh Bards recorded their native forms. In recent weeks I have completed my first survey into the possibility of formalizing 24 Free Verse Forms (FVF), a number identical to the official Welsh metres as codified by Einion Offeiriad & Dafydd Ddu Athro. As exercise is always superior to theory, I utilized these FVF throughout the composition of my ‘Sylvermane: The Last Wolf of Scotland.’ The majority of the FVF were taken from poets of the last few decades, which like stars in the sky I have named after their ‘discoverer,’ or in some cases the actual poem itself. On analysis of my efforts, I have come to the conclusion that although most are quite satisfactory, certain FVF didn’t quite hit the mark, & should be replaced by others at a future reassessment. A dozen, however, have passed my own critical standards, which I would definitively like to offer to the senate of posterity. The poetry they contain is from  Sylvermane.

 

I The Hugo: After the poem ‘April in Cerignola’ by Richard Hugo.

This is Norway, esteemed. The sun is mean
all summer, but underneath the Watchers
gaze on trollskin forests, trunks support
Valhalla on columns of adamantine granite,
misty mountains stitched with river silver,
lynxes prowl by wolverines, brown bears
& tremendous gangs of wolves, among
whom prospers, exhausted, Sylvermane.

II The Respiro: After the collection ‘Journey Across Breath’ by Stephen Watts, translated as ‘Tragitto nel respiro,’ by Cristina Viti.

Upon ancient Cruachan,
Long-lost hill-fort, mossy
gums, rings of gorse, Hipp
olytes’ spear, amber-heade
d, shaft thrust in cavern so
il : Millennia before; in thi
s den tonight a she-wolf e
mpties slowly her womb f
or Old White, these pricele
ss births AT LAST! AT L
AST! & manifesting the di
vine, four wonderful pups;

III The Tomlinson: A staccato stanza From Charles Tomlinson’s ‘Ode to San Francisco.’

The Red Dawn spreads
& did suffuse
sufficient pinks
horizon turns
milky white
a splodge of paint
hits holy canvas
from Culbin’s rooves
early birds
gawp in awe
bauble orchards
ivy creeps gladly
up sunlit walls

IV The Thorpe: After the poem ‘Putting the Boot In’ by Adam Thorpe.

Malcolm waits
for full-faced moon

he loved hearing tales
of Cruachan’s Carlin

he comb’d the locks
of Morag, by rivers

he heard the thunder
stun green-robed Watchers

‘Fetch me, my love,
my bier & my bow

rough-clefted arrows
& strings so supple’

V The Aygi: After the poem ‘Playing Finger Games’ by Gennady Aygi.

Malcolm welcom’d heartily – the Hunter Poet, whose fresh-spirited lines, in these very halls, have been repeated by lesser-breathing bards – they had stood proudly before the Campbells of Glenorchy – of these, Sir John of Bredalbane had made Kilchurn a barracks – it stands, knifepoint sharp, at the bare throat of cattle-tracks

VI The Wheatley: After the poem ‘A Skimming Stone, Lough Bray’ by David Wheatley

Unseen forces
lift the lid of sleep
twitching limbs, raising heads
lick her mouth
belly’s filling
blood-flow growing thicker.

Months pass by
happy playtimes
burgeoning hierarchies settle
ears flatten
tails between legs
pointing straight at Sylvermane.

VII The Barnstone: After the poem, Family, by Willis Barnstone.

Two years fly by & the pack
Is changing fast, Sylvermane
his brother
& his sister
after the season of snows
tension rises with the sun
day of fangs & claws
broke oer Cruachan
it was a mighty match-up ‘til the last
when Sylvermane saw sense & slinked
away, alone
a refugee

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VIII The Tempest: A wild, stormy, random & meandering form used by Kate Tempest in her ‘Let Them Eat Chaos.’

Angry winds batter land

Climate change

Climate
Changing

Sun dimmer than memory remembers

Music

Of

The

Spheres
Intermingles melodical
Conducting feebly bleating sheep

IX The Gaer: From the poem ‘The Hill Fort (Y Gaer) by Owen Shears.

Since the day she was taken
fuscous darkness stains the mountains
despite gloriously daybreaking worlds

Sylvermane ensared by sadnesses
torturous sensations of stagnancy
of life forfoughten – he paws loosely

Raven swoops by, depress’d by
His doomdrunk dolour, pitying
His gait’s subsidence… a fly drifts by

X The Insom: After the poem ‘Insomonia; By Sydney Lea.

The pack has grown perilously small;
Beside the alpha mates,
in perfect genuflection,
only her parent & brother for protection
& Goldenfang’s nulliparous womb,
‘Let us try again for the Spring’
She nuzzles her beloved
The famous Old White whose thunder-howls pierce

the Trossachs’ sculptured stillness, since him born
his Fur always grey, but his name
was given under noble circumstances –
His mother watched him as a pup
sat stone-still on stones below peaktops hidden
by tottering cumuli, where flashes of cyan sky
erupted in the whiteness of the whitest cloud,
jaws gape open… an old, old soul

XI The Concrete: The universal term for poetry that has both meaning & ashthetic qualities.

birds

XII The Kazantzis: From the collection, ‘The Rabbit Magician Plate’ by Judith Kazantzis

Flipping in her iron-forged talons
she brings back fish for the feasting
Sylvermane coughs up bones

Days pass, stength increases,
cunning accumulates & speed
accelerates as teeth gnaw sharper

Night falls, as was the custom
wolves set off in single file
silently treading, & softly

The scent is caught upon the tracks
red deer, hot blood throbs thro’ veins
churning with bestial intent

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From chaos, then, comes order, or at least a semblance of order. Times & tides & of course tastes will change again, that is certain, & new modes of poetic creation will come into play & Free Verse will become confined to fringes along with all the other forms that had been invented, utilized & then put out of fashion by newly-forged forms. The old forms do not go to a graveyard, however, but to a library of mechanisms able to be accessed by the student poet, or the practitioner who feels their soul connected to a particular form. Where we have our Sonnetteers, let us also have our Freeverseers. For the latter, the directorial words of Ezra Pound, one of the leading exponents & standard bearers of free verse, should suffice;

I think one should write vers libre only when one ‘must,’ that is to say, only when the thing builds up a rhythm more beautiful than that of set metres, or more real, more of a part of the emotion of the ‘thing’, more germane, intimate, interpretative than the measure of regular accentual verse; a rhythm which discontents one with set iambic or set anapaestic

In this essay I have made the first tentative steps into organising free verse & bringing the mould into the accepted family of forms. Of course, Free Verse by its nature has needed tidying up a bit, given a close shave, & supplied with the proper lessons of decorum as given to any dilettante, but as with all young rebels, the form must bow to the inevitable & realise it is just a minor prince in a wider nation of princes. The Risorgimento has come.

Agios Ioannis
14/07/17