Archive for the Themes Category

The ‘Scape

Posted in Inspiring Things, Life, Old English Poetry, Themes with tags , , , , on July 29, 2011 by mm

Hey-ho, back again. This post is a spontaneous post, motivated by recently looking through some photography blogs. I must say, one of the (non-literary) things in life that I find most inspiring has to be landscape photography–can’t get enough of it. The grand scale of this Earth is so staggering, so awe-inspiring…and if you can’t get out into it for yourself, looking at pictures can do the trick.

Taking a glance through recent Freshly Blogged posts, I came across this entry in the blog McAlisterium, and I was immediately struck by the images therein. The bleak, carven landscape of Loch A’an presents just that sense of scale that sends a shiver down my spine. The rolling of the hills, the sharp upthrust of broken cliff-peaks, the smooth flowing in of the water to cover the shore. You see? It’s total poetry.

So I thought I’d give that post a plug. Nicely done, thou blogger. It’s nice to revel in the glory of nature.

In fact, now that I think about it, yet another Old English passage comes to mind. You knew it was coming, didn’t you? I confess, so did I. But don’t think that this post was just another excuse to translate some Beowulf. Think of it as a complement to the landscape. They are the words of an ancient someone who, perhaps, felt some of the same awe and admiration for the mythic, inspirational power of the Landscape:

                                                 Þǣr wæs hearpan swēg

                      swutol sang scopes.      Sægde sē þe cū‏þe

                      frumsceaft fīra      feorran reccan,

                      cwæð þæt se ælmihtiga      eorðan worhte,

                      wlitebeorhtne wang,      swā wæter bebūgeð,

                      gesette sigehrē‏þig      sunnan ond mōnan,

                      lēoman tō lēohte      landbūendum,

                      ond gefrætwade      foldan scēatas

                      leomum ond lēafum,      līf ēac gesceōp

                      cynna gehwylcum      ‏þāra ðe cwice hwyrfa‏þ.


Nice. Now the translation, which, I admit, is rather rough here, due to the inadequacy of Modern English to capture in so few words the art of its ancestor. It tries its best though, and so will I:

                                           “There was the music of the harp

                      The sweet song of the scop.   He who knew spoke

                      Of the creation of men      telling from afar,

                      He quoth that the Almighty      wrought the earth

                      The glory-bright plain,      surrounded with water,

                      He set triumphant      the sun and moon

                      Gleaming as light      for land-dwellers,

                      And adorned      the surface of the ground

                      With trees and leaves.      Life he also shaped

                      Each in its kind:      those who stir with life.”


The scop returns again, as you can see. He seems to be everywhere, doesn’t he? No, not really, just in the passages I choose to quote here. Whatever the case, here we have a lyric presentation of the creation of the world.

The “Almighty” is, presumably, God. Note that He also “shapes” things–līf ēac gesceōp–in addition to “wrighting” things (a shame that such a word didn’t survive…).

The progression of imagery in the poem also appears significant, each half-line of creation building upon the previous: the earth (world) > surrounded by water > sun and moon overhead > shining light down > upon those who live on the land > which is covered with leaves and trees (literally “limbs”, but translating it as “limbs and leaves” brings to mind something rather more violent) > where Life (emphasized here) dwells.

I’ll leave it at that. Truly a weaving of words, and, I think, a fitting description of the muse-like quality of the landscape. Read it, and then maybe go outside.

Beowulf for the Soul

Posted in Life, Old English Poetry, Themes, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on July 25, 2011 by mm

H’lo ‘gain.

It’s been a bit of time since the last time. For a bit there I was worried that I wouldn’t be back. Well, we’re back now. All of us. Don’t worry, you.

The reason for the gap here has unfortunately been Sickness. Ach, how I hate it. It drains the will from your will and the spirit from your spirit, as they say. As I say. I made that up. Being sick also has the unfortunate side effect of making me rather cranky, and that’s bad. A cranky scop is a useless scop, as I say. However, the fact that sickness makes me cranky is actually quite appropriate. Take a look at the German word for “sick”: krank. And when you’re really kranky you have to go to the Krankenhaus, where they store all the cranky people so they can’t damage society any further. Huh. I didn’t quite get there this week, so I’m here instead.

And since I’m here, I might as well offer some literary material. I’m reminded yet again of yet another passage from Beowulf–a poem which, as you can see, applies to nearly every aspect of life. Keep it right next to your Homer and your Milton and your Bible up there on the shelf. You do have a Bible, right? Of course you do. You wouldn’t understand Beowulf if you didn’t, what with Cain and the Flood and all. . .Okay I’ll stop.

Now listen to the sage words of Hroþgar the king as he warns Beowulf of what to be worried about in life. Because living, as it were, can very easily make you dead:

                                            Nū is þīnes mægnes blǣd

                     āne hwīle;      eft sōna bið

                     þæt þec ādl oððe ecg      eafoþes getwǣfeð,

                     oððe fȳres feng,      oððe flōdes wylm,

                     oððe gripe mēces,      oððe gāres fliht,

                     oððe atol yldo;      oððe ēagena bearhtm

                     forsiteð ond forsworceð;      semininga bið

                     þæt ðec, dryhtguma,      dēað oferswȳðeð.

Ah, savor it for a moment. . .hmm. . .okay translation:

                                                “Now, the glory of your power

                     Is only for a time;      soon after it will be

                     That sickness or the sword will deprive you of strength,

                     Or the grasp of fire,      or the whelm of water,

                     Or the grip of blades,      or the flight of spears,

                     Or terrible old-age;      or the brightness of the eyes

                     Will fade and darken;      suddenly it will be

                     That Death will overcome you, warrior.”

Apply? Of course this applies. It said sickness didn’t it? Sickness or the sword. Both very dangerous. Mhm. Anyway, this passage exemplifies one of the deepest tenants of what we’ll call the spirit of Anglo-Saxon culture: “you’re young now, boy, but oh, ohoho you just wait.” I’m oversimplifying for comedic effect, of course, but I think the point comes across pretty well (I think. . .hmm, how many times have I used “I” in this post? I’m beginning to sound like the President): “Make good of the time you have, because all your muscle, all the glory of your power (!!!), will be overcome by death.”

This is what I think about when I’m feeling sick. Forget chicken-noodle soup, this is Beowulf for the soul.

It makes me feel all epic.