Archive for the ‘ Poetry ’ Category

Three hyperlinked, annotated and translated Medieval English lyrics

(ca. 1300)

Whan I thenke thynges three
Ne may I nevere blithe be:
That oon is that I shall awey;
That other is I ne wot which day;
The thriddle is my moste care
I ne wot whider I shal fare.

Ne = no, not, neither or acts as general negative of verb it precedes.
Wot = I know. This is the irregular first person present of witen = to be certain, to know..
Thriddle is found in no Middle or Early Egnlish dictionary I can find, but its meaning is obvious from the context.
Evidently popular in its time, this poem is attested on at least five manuscripts, including the collection of New College Oxford and the Arundel collection at the British Library.
Text Notes:

The orthography of the three poems in this post was regularized by Robert D. Stevick in One Hundred Middle English Lyrics (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing, 1964). The three poems here are numbered there, respectively, 21, 64 and 36.
Hyperlinks are to the University of Michigan’s very valuable (albeit unfinished) online Middle English Dictionary.

Translation [by DK Fennell]

Three things so disturb my thoughts
and prevent my happiness.
One is that I’ll cease to be,
Another: I know not when,
The third gives me greatest fear
I don’t know where I’ll go.


Go, litel ryng  to that ilke swete
That hath myn herte in hir demeyne,
And loke thou knele doun at hir feet
Bisechyng hire she wolde not desdeyne
On hir smale fyngers thee to streyne,
Than I wyl thee seye boldely:
“My maister wolde that he were I.”

Ilke = aforementioned, or, when used with definite article or demonstrative adjective (as here) the same. Here, however, it functions as an intensifier. The modern English anagram like, which means similar rather than the very one, evidently has a different Middle English origin.
Swete = sweet, as in contemporary English. And likewise it can act as a nominalized adjective: “Sweet one.” It was often associated with associated with the most precious of religious symbols: the Virgin, the blood of Christ, etc. Oddly, the homophone swete is a noun meaning perspiration and symbolically used to describe man’s punishment from the Fall.  Man’s mortification is complete in this noun, for it also means “life blood.”
Myn my. There are twop forms for most personal adjectives: my  myn, thy / thynhir / hires, etc. When it immediately precedes the noun it modifies my is generally used, except occasionally when the noun begins with a vowel, as here. In other cases myn is commonly used.

Loke – lookLoken means to use one’s eyes. Here it is used in the sense of “see to it.”
Hir – her. Part of the pronomial pair hirhires.
Demeyne – exclusive possession; private land. Demesne is one of the key property concepts that entrenced the overclass in the feudal system. It meant that part of one’s real property that those lower were excluded from. Peasants who workedlands enfeeoffed to them by their lord were not entitled to the the use of any of the lord’s demesne. Lords themselves obtained their fee from the king. Lands retained for the king’s sole benefit were known as royal demesne.
Desdeyne – disdain; hold in ctempt. Imported with the Normans from Old French desdeignier (modern French dédaigner.
Streyne – to encircle. The word is very similar to other roots often confused in Middle English. Here it likely is a variant of streinen, meaning to fasten, tie, bind up and more figuratively to enclose (i.e., fence in) and bind (as if by an oath).
Wyl – desire; want

From manuscript in Royal collection, published in Rossell Hope Robbins, Secular Lyrics of the Xivth and XVth Centuries (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962)..

Note the clever A-B-A-B-B-C-C rhyme scheme. 

Translation [by DK Fennell]
(“To the Ring”)

Go, little ring, to that dearest sweet,
Who has my heart in her domain,.
And see to it you bow at her feet,
While begging her not to disdain,
That you on her fingers remain,
Then I would have you say boldly,
“My master would rather be me.”

(post 1300)

Al nyght by the rose, rose
Al nyght by the rose I lay;
Durste I noght the rose stele,
And yet I bar the flour awey.

Rose (n.) – rose. (plant of the genus Rosa, and especially its flower). As a symbol of great beauty it became a heraldic emblem of great families (cfr. War of the Roses). In the Middle Ages “rose” could refer to a person of great beauty, of great valor, or of great goodness (especially the Virgin). 
Rose (v.) -past tense of risen –  to rise and also to awake, to become alive. It carries the sense of excitement and readiness.
Durste – from durren – Io be courageous, to dare,  but also to be able to.
Lay – past tense of lien = to be recumbent, to lie down.
Noght – variant of  nought = not (adv.) nothing. (n.).

Bar – past tense of baren = to carry. With awei / awey (as here), imeans to carry away in the sense of  to steal.
Flourflower, both in the literal sense, and, in the figurative sense of maidenhead (the source of flowering).
From manuscript in the Rawlinson Collection of the Bodleian Library of Oxford University. It was published in Robbins, Secular Lyrics, cited above.
Text Notes:

The orthography of the three poems in this post was regularized by Robert D. Stevick in One Hundred Middle English Lyrics (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing, 1964). The three poems here are numbered there, respectively, 21, 64 and 36.

Translation [by DK Fennell]

All night by the rose, awake,
All night by the rose I lay..
I dared not steal the rose,
Yet I take the “flower” away.


Three by Yeats


He Wishes his Beloved were Dead
from The Wind Among the Reeds
(London: E. Mathews, 1899)
by William Butler Yeats

Were you but lying cold and dead,
And lights were paling out of the West,
You would come hither, and bend your head,
And I would lay my head on your breast;
And you would murmur tender words,
Forgiving me, because you were dead:
Nor would you rise and hasten away,
Though you have the will of wild birds,
But know your hair was bound and wound
About the stars and moon and sun:
O would, beloved, that you lay
Under the dock-leaves in the ground,
While lights were paling one by one.


The Old Men Admiring Themselves in the Water
from In the Seven Woods: Being Poems Chiefly of the Irish hHroic Age
(Dundrum, Ireland: The Dun Emer Press, 1903
by William Butler Yeats

I heard the old, old men say,
‘Everything alters,
And one by one we drop away.’
They had hands like claws, and their knees
Were twisted like the old thorn-trees
By the waters.
I heard the old, old men say,
‘All that’s beautiful drifts away
Like the waters.’


from The Green Helmet and Other Poems
(Churchtown, Dundrum: Cuala Press, 1910.)
by William Butler Yeats

I had this thought a while ago,
‘My darling cannot understand
What I have done, or what would do
In this blind bitter land.’
And I grew weary of the sun
Until my thoughts cleared up again,
Remembering that the best I have done
Was done to make it plain;
That every year I have cried, ‘At length
My darling understands it all,
Because I have come into my strength,
And words obey my call’;
That had she done so who can say
What would have shaken from the sieve?
I might have thrown poor words away
And been content to live.

A Valentine to Eternal Love

Perspectives of Three Early English Modernists


Midnight Lamentations
from The Earth for Sale (London: Chatto & Windus, 1928)
by Harold Monro

When you and I go down
Breathless and cold,
Our faces both worn back
To earthly mould,
How lonely we shall be!
What shall we do,
You without me,
I without you?

I cannot bear the thought
You, first, may die,
Nor of how you will weep,
Should I.
We are too much alone;
What can we do
To make our bodies one:
You, me; I, you?

We are most nearly born
Of one same kind;
We have the same delight,
The same true mind.
Must we then part, we part;
Is there no way
To keep a beating heart,
And light of day?

I could now rise and run
Through street on street
To where you are breathing—you,
That we might meet,
And that your living voice
Might sound above
Fear, and we two rejoice
Within our love.

How frail the body is,
And we are made
As only in decay
To lean and fade.
I think too much of death;
There is a gloom
When I can’t hear your breath
Calm in some room.

O, but how suddenly
Either may droop;
Countenance be so white,
Body stoop.
Then there may be a place
Where fading flowers
Drop on a lifeless face
Through weeping hours.

Is then nothing safe?
Can we not find
Some everlasting life
In our one mind?
I feel it like disgrace
Only to understand
Your spirit through your word,
Or by your hand.

I cannot find a way
Through love and through;
I cannot reach beyond
Body, to you.
When you or I must go
Down evermore,
There’ll be no more to say
—But a locked door.


Hymn To Priapus
from Look! We Have Come Through! (New York: B.W. Huebsch, 1928)
by D.H. Lawrence

My love lies underground
With her face upturned to mine,
And her mouth unclosed in a last long kiss
That ended her life and mine.

I dance at the Christmas party
Under the mistletoe
Along with a ripe, slack country lass
Jostling to and fro.

The big, soft country lass,
Like a loose sheaf of wheat
Slipped through my arms on the threshing floor
At my feet.

The warm, soft country lass,
Sweet as an armful of wheat
At threshing-time broken, was broken
For me, and ah, it was sweet!

Now I am going home
Fulfilled and alone,
I see the great Orion standing
Looking down.

He’s the star of my first beloved
The witness of all that bitter-sweet

Now he sees this as well,
This last commission.
Nor do I get any look
Of admonition.

He can add the reckoning up
I suppose, between now and then,
Having walked himself in the thorny, difficult
Ways of men.

He has done as I have done
No doubt:
Remembered and forgotten
Turn and about.

My love lies underground
With her face upturned to mine,
And her mouth unclosed in the last long kiss
That ended her life and mine.

She fares in the stark immortal
Fields of death;
I in these goodly, frozen
Fields beneath.

Something in me remembers
And will not forget.
The stream of my life in the darkness
Deathward set!

And something in me has forgotten,
Has ceased to care.
Desire comes up, and contentment
Is debonair.

I, who am worn and careful,
How much do I care?
How is it I grin then, and chuckle
Over despair?

Grief, grief, I suppose and sufficient
Grief makes us free
To be faithless and faithful together
As we have to be.


A Dream
from Primavera: Poems by Four Authors (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1890)
by Stephen Phillips

My dead love came to me, and said,
‘God gives me one hour’s rest,
To spend with thee on earth again:
How shall we spend it best?”

‘Why, as of old,’ I said; and so
We quarrell’d, as of old:
But, when I turn’d to make my peace,
That one short hour was told.




from Poems 4
(Boston: Little, Brown, 1974)

by Alan Dugan

God, I need a job because I need money.
Here the world is, enjoyable with whiskey,
women, ultimate weapons, and class!
But if I have no money, then my wife
gets mad at me, I can’t drink well,
the armed oppress me, and no boss
pays me money. But when I work,
Oh I get paid!, the police are courteous,
and I can have a drink and breathe air.
I feel classy. I am where the arms are.
The wife is wife in deed. The world
is interesting!, except I have to be
indoors all day and take shit, and make
weapons to kill outsiders with. I miss
the air and smell that paid work stinks
when done for someone else’s profit, so I quit,
enjoy a few flush days in air, drunk, then
I need a job agian. I’m caught in a steel cycle.


Truth is … a breath

Our current misbegotten Lords of Misrule, like all ignorant, absolutist omphalopsychites, hold the view that empirical facts are evanescent but Truth, as it occurs to them, is immutable, such that all values, ideals, ethics and laws can be derived from it. The Father character in Six Characters in Search of an Author (whose lust for his daughter-in-law makes him uncomfortably topical), agrees with this point of view: “But a fact is like a sack which won’t stand up when it is empty. In order that it may stand up, one has to put into it the reason and sentiment which have caused it to exist.” And that is what our current Truth-Handlers are managing for us by contextualizing “facts” and even inventing alternate ones..

By contrast, our greatest Realist, Stephen Crane, one who could see the grim details of objective reality despite official Gilded Age wishful thinking, believed the converse.

“Truth,” said a traveller

from The Black Riders and Other Lines (No. XXVIII)
(Boston: Copeland & Day, 1895)

“Truth,” said a traveller,
“Is a rock, a mighty fortress;
Often have I been to it,
Even to its highest tower,
From whence the world looks black.”

“Truth,” said a traveller,
“Is a breath, a wind,
A shadow, a phantom;
Long have I pursued it,
But never have I touched
The hem of its garment.”

And I believed the second traveller;
For truth was to me
A breath, a wind,
A shadow, a phantom,
And never had I touched
The hem of its garment.

The Champions of Absolute Truth, as we are seeing, connive at conformity, intellectual apathy, benightedness and intolerance—all of which, sooner or later, have to be enforced by an iron grip and eventually violence of one sort or another. (I suspect the brutal deportation regime we are seeing is merely a foreshadowing of wider and more frequent resort to brutality. But perhaps it is just the instinct of this sort of people.) The view that Truth is not the providence of one person or sect, however, is conducive to tolerance, mutual respect, social justice, and, ultimately, democracy in its truest essence. None of these attributes can live in the former described regime, and that is why they are being systematically swept from our public life.

Most of us  probably deep down knew all of this before these perilous times. What I have learned over the last year is darker than this: It is, that those who supported the Absolutists knew what they were destroying. Indeed, the destruction of tolerance, mutual respect, social justice and democracy was probably why they supported the Absolutists and their vision, not the other way around. They seek the certain social cohesion in enforced conformity, not the bonds of liberal give-and-take.

Watching this band follow their leader reminds me of the lines of Whitman from the poem called “Thought” when it first became part of The Leaves of Grass in the 1867 edition.

Of obedience, faith, adhesiveness;
As I stand aloof and look there is to me something profoundly
affecting in large masses of men following the lead of those
who do not believe in men.

Apolitical optimist that he was, Whitman chose the ambiguous “affecting” to describe his “thoughts” on this view. We who have seen in History’s panorama the post-Reconstruction South, the anti-union violence of the North, the Red-Baiting which not only broke people’s careers and others’ hope but also led us into countless wars where we killed and were killed can be less equivocal. The right reaction should be “profoundly disturbing,” as it is right now.


Periodic Poetry: Oliver, “When Death Comes”

When Death Comes 

from New and Selected Poems
Volume 1
(Boston: Beacon Press, 1992)

by Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the Hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.


To catch a thief …

The Trump posse doesn’t have much to recommend itself, but it sure is loaded with irony.

Trump, who cannot otherwise explain how he could not achieve a plurality of the vote (he missed by about 3 million), has laid it to the feet of those who engaged in voter fraud.

And to prove it he has promoted one Gregg Phillips, who has been diligent in rooting out, as he said, “thousands of duplicate records and registrations of dead people.”

Today the AP reports that Mr. Phillips himself may have a unique insight into these “duplicate records” inasmuch as he himself is registered in 3 different states:

The AP found that Phillips was registered in Alabama and Texas under the name Gregg Allen Phillips, with the identical Social Security number. Mississippi records list him under the name Gregg A. Phillips, and that record includes the final four digits of Phillips’ Social Security number, his correct date of birth and a prior address matching one once attached to Gregg Allen Phillips.

I guess we should pay more attention when Trump starts braying about alleged illegalities. He’s likely to have a close advisor who is an expert.