This post is written in honour of the Third Annual Hoccleve Recovery Day. As the International Hoccleve Society’s website explains, this day celebrates all sorts of academic and personal recoveries and returns (just as Thomas Hoccleve’s wits returned to him on November 1st). The book I am writing aims to recover ‘lost’ technical terms and reconstruct ideas about poetics that were current in Britain in the later Middle Ages. Potential loss and possible recovery play an important part in the way fifteenth- and sixteenth-century poets think about metre. As a sixteenth-century printer put it, if you print a poem in the author’s original spelling you recover ‘the native grace and first mynd of the wryter’. This is because the author’s spelling encodes the rhythms and metrical patterns as first intended, which later transmission can unwittingly remove.
A sneak preview of part of a work in progress, though I promise you that other blog posts will be very soon on their way (including all you might ever want to know about the caesura in Middle English poetry). I’ve been enjoying the school holidays with my daughter and this blog has therefore been a little neglected. I have, though, been working on a side project: a translation into Modern English prose of The Kingis Quair, an early fifteenth-century dream vision written by James I of Scotland.
Tomorrow I’m off to London to attend the Biennial London Chaucer Conference. I’m speaking on Saturday morning in a session on ‘Literary Technologies’. The title of my short paper is ‘The Techne of Verse-Making: Poetry’s Termes in Middle English’. It discusses verse-technology and verse-terminology in fourteenth and fifteenth century English poetry, looking especially at balades and lenvoys. I look at the ‘Lenvoy de Chaucer’ at the end of the Clerk‘s Tale, at Lydgate’s Fall of Princes, and at The Kingis Quair.
In spare moments this week I’ve been rootling around in more “minor poetry”, more “shorter works”, looking at different verse forms. This time I’ve been reading the shorter works of Robert Henryson. Robert Henryson was a notary public and schoolmaster living in Dunfermline, born perhaps about 1430 and dead by 1500. The extracts below are from a poem called ‘The Thre Deid Pollis’. The poem is attributed to Henryson in one manuscript, but to Patrick Johnston, another notary public, in another manuscript.
Here’s a wonderful short poem (scroll down for text and translation) by the Middle Scots poet William Dunbar (born ?1460, died ?1513) which gives us a late medieval account of a migraine. Dunbar was a cleric, poet and courtier in the service of James IV of Scotland. I’ve been skimming through his works recently, partly for tutorials on late medieval poetry and partly because he uses so many different verse forms and stanza forms in his poems (which makes him a good subject of research for my book).