Category Archives: figures of thought

Baby Steps

It’s #WhanThatAprilleDay16 today,  a celebration of ‘oold bokes yn sondrye oold tonges’ and languages which are Old, or Middle, or Ancient, or Dead.  To learn any of those languages takes baby steps, something I’ve seen a lot of in recent years watching our daughter, and all her little cousins, learning to walk.  Once they are up on their feet, they want to run, even when their legs are still wobbly.  So the imagery in the second and third stanzas of the poem below, written in the dying days of Middle English, leapt out at me, and I hope it will leap across 500 years to you too.  Scroll down for text and translation.

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poesie and poetrie

poesie and poetrie, both nouns

Glending Olson, in his 1979 essay ‘Making and Poetry in the Age of Chaucer’, showed that poetry in the later Middle Ages predominantly meant writing about ‘classical lore’ (p. 278), often writing metaphorically and allegorically, an activity with moral and philosophical purpose.  This definition of poetrie is confirmed in Sarah Kay and Adrian Armstrong’s 2011 discussion of verse and poetrie in Knowing Poetry: Verse in Medieval France from the ‘Rose’ to the ‘Rhétoriqueurs’ (pp. 9–13).  Kay and Amstrong define poetry as ‘a style of writing that relies on figural complexity, and is potentially expressive of philosophical meaning […] The features that typify poetrie are the use of classical myths, sustained personification, or forms of extended metaphor: devices constitutive of what we might call allegory’ (p. 9).  Poetry doesn’t thus refer to verse form (Christine de Pisan can write poetry in prose, for example) but to a particular type of content and mode. Continue reading

A Thought-Fawn

As I’ve had to press the pause-button on my research in the last couple of weeks (blame gift shopping, school holidays, and the in-laws for Christmas), I’ve been reading Lavinia Greenlaw’s A Double Sorrow in fits and starts.  I’m writing a short article on this poem and its inspiration, Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, for The English Review, a magazine for sixth-formers published by Philip Allan.  This is a commission, and I am delighted to have been asked – it’s an excuse to write on something I would never have been brave enough to choose myself.  Reading Greenlaw’s poem has been very moving in its own right (sending me right back, in unexpected ways, to strong memories of my earlier love-struck and lovelorn self) and returning me to Chaucer yet once more.

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May: Three Ways (Part 2)

This is part two of my experiment looking at two different Middle English poets translating a brief seasonal description from Guido of Colonna’s thirteenth-century Latin prose account of the history of the destruction of Troy: ‘the month of May was adorning the fields of the country with various flowers, and the trees, growing green with new leaves, were giving promise of fruits to come by the profusion of their blossoms…’ (trans. Meek). Part one explored John Clerk’s version in the Gest Hystoriale of the Destruction of Troy.  Scroll down to find John Lydgate’s version (with a Modern English translation) of the same description of May in his Troy Book.

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May: Three Ways (Part 1)

This week’s selection at least manages to be topical: some descriptions of May and Spring (for more lovely descriptions, see the Clerk of Oxford’s post).  This is a little test-post for an idea I had about looking at various verse translations of the same source text in order to focus on poetic praxis.  Guido of Colonna’s thirteenth-century Latin prose account of the history of the destruction of Troy was translated several times into Middle English poetry: into alliterative verse by John Clerk of Whalley (now called the Gest Hystoriale of the Destruction of Troy), into four-stress couplets (now called the Laud Troy Book), and into decasyllabic couplets by John Lydgate in his Troy Book.

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Love and Systrophe

Here’s a love poem for Valentine’s Day: scroll down to find a text and Modern English translation.  The poem (DIMEV 3279) is from MS Digby 86 (see fol. 200r), a late thirteenth-century West Midlands trilingual miscellany written by an anonymous scribe for his own use.  It is, in essence, a list or catalogue of many of love’s different and contrasting qualities.  I think many students might, if pushed, venture that the repetition of love is throughout the poem would be an example of anaphora.  Anaphora is the repetition of the same word or phrase in several successive clauses (in prose) or the repetition of the same word or phrase at the start of several successive lines (in poetry).  Yet calling this anaphora loses sight of the fact that in this poem the lexical repetition is not a rhetorical scheme operating at the level of two or three clauses, sentences or lines in a longer piece of text but rather it defines the whole poem.

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