I’m off to the University of Sussex tomorrow to take part in a workshop on Middle English Literary Theory: Keywords and Methodologies, organised by Katie Walter and James Wade. I’m giving a short talk on two words of Middle English literary theory, poesie and poetrie. This talk builds on an earlier blog post on the same subject.
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.
I’ve been exploring the lenvoye this week, both as a form and as a technical term. In medieval French poetry, an envoi is the final stanza of a ballade in which the poem is sent on its way to its audience or addressee. It’s borrowed into late medieval English poetry by Chaucer, and the lenvoye quickly becomes several different things at once. It can be part of a poem in which an author speaks directly to his audience (in contrast to the narrative subjectivity so well described by A C Spearing). It can be a final section of a poem, more elaborate in form than that which precedes it. It can be a place for the author to speak to or about the work as a whole, offering a commentary or conclusion.
In my youth, there was a craze for saying ‘Not!’ at the end of your sentences. We all started doing this after watching Wayne’s World. This usage has made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary, defined as not ‘used humorously following a statement to indicate that it should not be taken seriously (usually because the idea expressed is untrue or unlikely to happen), or sarcastically to negate a statement made immediately before.’ Recently I remembered this bit of teen-speak when reading some fifteenth-century poems by John Lydgate which make use of a poetic equivalent of the Wayne’s World ‘Not!’
I think that the book I am working on will become more and more focused on lesser-known poetic experiments in Middle English. Because these curious creatures don’t often fit into standard accounts, they have often been unduly overlooked. Scroll down for an extract (with a translation) of a real hidden gem, describing a lover’s thoughts on a cold winter’s night. This is from a poem often attributed to Lydgate (though it seems very unlike anything else he wrote) and is often called A Lover’s New Year’s Gift.
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.