the art

"ond þe þæt selre geceos, ece rædas; oferhyda ne gym"
Beowulf

"choose what is better, the eternal wisdom; heed not the blinding pride"

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Old English Genesis 1-12

Us is riht micel ðæt we rodera weard,
wereda wuldorcining, wordum herigen,
modum lufien! He is mægna sped,
heafod ealra heahgesceafta,
frea ælmihtig. Næs him fruma æfre,
or geworden, ne nu ende cymþ
ecean drihtnes, ac he bið a rice
ofer heofenstolas. Heagum þrymmum
soðfæst and swiðfeorm sweglbosmas heold,
þa wæron gesette wide and side
þurh geweald godes wuldres bearnum,
gasta weardum.


For us, it is the Great Truth, 
that we praise 
in the Words 
And that we Love 
the Practice 
of the Celestial Guardian, 
the Tribe's Glory-King.

He is the Great Wealth,
our Chief, the Great Creator,
the Lord All-Powerful.

No Origin was made for Him.
No End comes to Him,
the Lord of Eternity.
And over the Thrones of the Sky,
He is always in Power.
In the Exalted Power,
with Truth and with Force,
He holds the Sky's Chest,
Made from His Strength
For his Shining Offspring,
The Protectors of a Ghost.



Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Vulgate: Gen. 1.11

et ait germinet terra herbam virentem et facientem semen et lignum pomiferum faciens fructum iuxta genus suum cuius semen in semet ipso sit super terram et factum est ita



And he said, 
The land should inseminate green grass
And the living seed, 
And the wood 
that bears fruit 
so it makes its same flesh, 
just as one seed 
is spawned 
in itself
over the land.   

And so it was made.  


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

from the Metamorphoses, Book X

nec Tantalus undam
captavit refugam, stupuitque Ixionis orbis,
nec carpsere iecur volucres, urnisque vacarunt
Belides, inque tuo sedisti, Sisyphe, saxo.
tunc primum lacrimis victarum carmine fama est              
Eumenidum maduisse genas


Nor did Tantalus reach for water,
and the orb of Ixion ceased,
and the vultures,
always tearing at the tendon
of our Promethean misery,
for a moment,
even they stopped.

The Belides left their inane jars.
You, my dear Sisyphus,
you could rest,
for once,
you sat atop your rock.
It was then the first time,
Fame, conquered in song,
and the Furies,
they wept.  

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Vulgate: Gen. 1.8-1.10


And God called the plane the sky and the second day was made with evening and with morning.
But God said: Allow the waters, which are in one place under the sky, to assemble and allow the desert to appear.
And so it was done.
And God called the desert earth and the bodies of the water he named oceans.
And God saw that it was a good thing.

vocavitque Dues firmamentum caelum et factum est vespere et mane dies secundus dixit vero Deus congregentur aquae quae sub caelo sunt in locum unum et appereat arida factumque est ita et vocavit Deus aridam terram congregationesque aquarum appellavit maria et vidit Deus quod esset bonum


Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Vulgate: Gen 1.1-1.7


At the beginning, God created the sky and the land.
But the land was senseless, hollow, and shadows lived over the void's face.
And the spirit of God was carried over the waters.
And God said: Light shall form.
And light was formed.
And God saw the light and that it was good.
And he separated the light from the shadows.
And he called the light Day, and he called the shadows Night.
So there was an evening and a morning.
Day one.
God also said: a plane shall form in the middle of the waters and it separated the waters from the waters.
And God formed the plane and it separated those waters from beneath the plane from those above. And so it was done.

In principio creavit Deus cælum et terram terra autem erat inanis et vacua, et tenebræ erant super faciem abyssi : et spiritus Dei ferebatur super aquas. Dixitque Deus : Fiat lux. Et facta est lux. Et vidit Deus lucem quod esset bona : et divisit lucem a tenebris. Appellavitque lucem Diem, et tenebras Noctem : factumque est vespere et mane, dies unus. Dixit quoque Deus : Fiat firmamentum in medio aquarum : et dividat aquas ab aquis. Et fecit Deus firmamentum, divisitque aquas, quæ erant sub firmamento, ab his, quæ erant super firmamentum. Et factum est ita. 

prima luce: at dawn

Englisc Songcraeft has focused my otherwise wandering attention span toward small but useful reflections on old literature.  But my poor website has been greatly impoverished by his creator's neglectful hand.  For a time, I even considered banishing the wretched thing into obscurity.  "DELETE" I used to chant, over its tearful screen.  There are reasons I cannot explain for retaining my frail and sorry website.  I will say that along the way it has provided some amusement, not always good spirited, to my friends and has sparked conversations that have, at least, helped me to reflect on the work.  From my wanderings and digressions, +grant robertson has found sufficient amusement for the both of us.

But if this website, this sad orphan, is going to remain, it needs to start doing its fair share around here; "earn its keep," as they say. So I have given it a goal, something to stay focused on and to work for.  Into the foreseeable future, Englisc Songcraeft will be dedicated to a new, and revised, english translation of Jerome's Vulgate (the NRETJV, if you will).  The desire is simple: a translation that is faithful to the original, but still graceful and, above all, enjoyable to read.  

For centuries after its production, the Vulgate captivated readers across languages and political boundaries.  But today, we encounter the Bible in one of two predominate contexts: 1) evangelically, that is, for spiritual or moral reasons, and 2) historically, in that we imagine and consider the circumstances of its origin.  Returning to Jerome will offer critical insight into the centuries following the fall of Rome and preceding the printing press. It was an era of immense change.  It saw the rise of the merchant class, the institutionalization of religion, and the birth of the nation state.  Latin remained the lingua franca for a millennium and the Vulgate stood at the core of the literary and cultural tradition.

I hope the project will be edifying for me, amusing to others and, if nothing else, interesting to read by a few.  I leave it up to the anonymous mass of the digital populace to render a verdict.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Medieval Meets World: Natural Beauty/Acheiropoieta

Medieval Meets World: Natural Beauty/Acheiropoieta: Agate from Roger Caillois, The Writing of Stones Natural beauty is harder to define than you'd think. And I should read Kant and fin...

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Riddle 66: the Exeter Book

Ic eom mare þonne þes mindan geard,                          I am greater than this middle yard,
læsse þonne hond wyrm, leohtre þonne mona,              less than a hand worm, brighter than the moon,
swiftre þonne sunne. Sæs me sind ealle                        quicker than the sun. All of the oceans, the flooding,
flodas on fæðmum ond þas foldan bearm,                     are in my embrace and in my bosom
aregrene wongas. Grundum ic hrine,                             green meadows. I touch at the ground,
helle underhnige, heofonas oferstige,                            deep beneath the hell, rise far above heaven,
wuldres eþel, wide ræce                                                and to the glorious homeland I reach out
ofer engla eard; eorþan gefylle,                                     over the yard, to fill the earth,
ealne middangeard ond merestreamas                           all of the middle world and the ocean roads,
side mid me sylfum. Saga hwæt ic hatte.                      wide, by myself. Say my name.

translated by Reid Hardaway

Scholars seem to think that this is one of the less cryptic Old English riddles and there is something of a consensus of 'what' the poem is referring to.  But I'm not so sure.  What/who do you think is the 'I' in the poem? Feel free to leave a comment with your answer - and maybe we can break some new ground in the OE scholarship.

This is picture of the actual Exeter manuscript.  The large letters on
the left page say, "Widsith spoke".  See if you can pick out
 any other 'englisc' words.



Saturday, July 14, 2012

From the Old English Precepts

"Seldan snottor guma sorhleas blissað"

Seldom will the wise man find joy without sorrow.



Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ovid, Liber Primus

Siquis in hoc artem populo non novit amandi,
Hoc legat et lecto carmine doctus amet.

- Ovid

If any of the people know nothing about
love-making,
Read and learn from this poem,
and follow the wisdom of love.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Vote for the greatest translator of Homer's Iliad

Who is the greatest translator of Homer's Iliad?



Because our culture was founded in the image of his mythological vision, translating Homer, and retranslating Homer, will be a practice that we always find intellectually rewarding and emotionally exciting.  I do not believe that these new translations serve the purpose to make Homer more accessible to us.  Rather, we are so profoundly indebted to his influence, that we constantly yearn to make ourselves more accessible to him.  In this unbearable state of wish fulfillment, we will always be translating Homer in an attempt to offer a better translation of our own existence in nature.

Here is a piece of ancient greek pottery with the image of a
 lyric bard. Notice the demonic dance he inspires in those
 around him.  This kind of 'power,'  which excites joy
 as opposed to pain in its subjects, could hardly be
tolerated by aristocrats like Plato, who required
 the stability of a class system  and the
 repression of exuberantly
 sensual pleasures.  
With this in mind, the question of his particular identity is mostly irrelevant.  In Plato's Ion, the poet's inspiration has no definition, a seemingly endless chain of bolts which fades away beyond the eye's furthest discernible horizon.  The poet attaches him or herself to a tradition of art that he or she is able to embody, but has no ability to explain.

The Greek "ekstasis" literally means out of stillness, or away from balance.  Plato considered the poet's ability not so much a skill, but a transcendent state, a disruption of life's equilibrium which thrusts the poet, and quite unexplainably the audience, into a wild being of intellectual and emotional ecstasy.  Trying to understand this effect on the observer would become the basis of Aristotle's Poetics and the foundation for western literary criticism.

Below are samples from each of the translations referred to in the above survey. Take the time to compare and contrast the language of each selection. If you find a sample you particularly enjoyable, find some biographical information on the author and consider his personality and the general conventions of the time period he was writing in.

Then, please feel free to cast your vote.  Of course, if you think I am missing an important translator, leave a comment; if your suggestion gets +5, I will add it to the above list.

For the experts, if you think you can do better, verba scientiae always welcomes personal translations of Homer into the english - they will be displayed for our entire community and then they will be indexed, for the entire globe to view at no charge.  Verba Scientiae is guided by one principle, knowledge should be free for all.

The scene I have chosen for comparison occurs at the end of Book XIII.  Zeus prohibits the Gods from interfering in the war, which leads to a series of Trojan victories on the battlefield. Camping at the edge of Greek territory, the rows of massive fire pits emblazon the night's skyline, like red comets hanging just above the planet's crust.

George Chapman, publishes The Complete Works of Homer in 1616,

When the unmeasured firmament bursts to
disclose her light,
And all the signs in heaven are seen, that
glad the shepherds heart;
So many fires disclose their beams, made
by the Trojan part.
Before the face of Ilion, and her bright
turrets showed
A thousand courts of guard kept fires, and
every guard allow'd
Fifty stout men, by whom their horse eat
oats and hard white corn,
And all did wishfully expect the silver-
throned morn.
__________

Alexander Pope, publication of his Iliad is completed in 1720,


When not a breath disturbs the deep serene,
And not a cloud o'ercasts the solemn scene,
Around her throne the vivid planets roll,
And stars unnumber'd gild the glowing pole,
O'er the dark trees a yellower verdure shed,
And tip with silver every mountain's head:
Then shine the vales, the rocks in prospect rise,
A flood of glory bursts from all the skies:
The conscious swains, rejoicing in the sight,
Eye the blue vault, and bless the useful light.
So many flames before proud Ilion blaze,
And lighten glimmering Xanthus with their rays.
The long reflections of the distant fires
Gleam on the walls, and tremble on the spires.
A thousand piles the dusky horrors gild,
And shoot a shady lustre o'er the field.
Full fifty guards each flaming pile attend,
Whose umber'd arms, by fits, thick flashes send,
Loud neigh the coursers o'er their heaps of corn,
And ardent warriors wait the rising morn.
__________

Stephen Mitchell, publishes The Iliad in 2011

So, with elated hearts, they sat up all night
on the battlefield, and their watch fires blazes all around them.
As, in the night sky, around the light of the moon,
the stars emerge, when the air is serene and windless,
and the stars shine bright, and the heart of the shepherd rejoices:
just so, before Ilion, the watch fires the Trojans had set
blazed midway between the ships and the river Xanthus.

A thousand watch fires were burning upon the plain
and around each, fifty men sat in the glow of the firelight,
and the horses stood alongside the chariots, munching
white barley and oats, and waited for dawn to arise.
 __________

This Link takes you to a comprehensive list of the translations of Iliad, many of which are followed by the corresponding text,

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Aelfric's Old English Genesis, Part I


Eac swylce seo næddre wæs geapre ðonne ealle ða oðre nytenu ðe God geworhte ofer eorðan. And seo næddre cwæð to ðam wife: "Hwi forbead God eow ðæt ge ne æton of ælcon treowe binnan Paradisum?" Þæt wif andwyrde: "Of ðæra treowa wæstme ðe synd on Paradisum we etað: and of ðæs treowes wæstme þe is onmiddan neorxnawange, God bebead us ðæt we ne æton, ne we ðæt treow ne hrepodon, ði læs ðe we swelton." Ða cwæð seo nædre eft tō ðam wife: "Ne beo ge nateshwon deade, ðeah ðe ge of ðam treowe eton. Ac God wat soðlice ðæt eowre eagan beoð geopenode on swa hwylcum dæge swa ge etað of ðam treowe; and ge beoð ðonne englum gelice, witende ægðer ge god ge yfel." Ða geseah ðæt wif ðæt ðæt treow wæs god to etenne

Moreover, the serpent was more deceitful than all the other beasts that God had prepared over the earth; and the serpent spoke to the woman, "Why did God refuse you, bidding you not to eat of all the trees within Paradise?"  The woman answered, "Of these fruit trees in Paradise we eat, and of this fruit tree, here in the center of eternity, God asked us that we not eat, that we not touch the tree unless we should perish."  Then the serpent spoke again to the woman, "No, you will not die, not at all.  But God truly knows that your eyes will open on the day you eat of the tree, and you will be like an angel, knowing both the good and the evil.  Then the woman saw that it was good to eat of the tree.

translation by Reid Hardaway


Aelfric was an Anglo-Saxon monk from the late 10th century. An accomplished scholar, he wrote in the vernacular, as well as Latin.  He composed homilies, grammars, hagiographies, biblical commentaries, and translations of scripture.  The Old English selection of Genesis from above is ascribed to Aelfric.

This page is taken from an 11th century manuscript
which contains some of Aelfric's translations.
Aelfric composed in the native Anglo-Saxon because he was committed to the cause of literacy and enlightenment for the English people.  Interestingly, he did worry that his translations of the Heptateuch would inspire the natives to literally imitate the rituals of the ancient Israelites.  I imagine Aelfric was particularly concerned with the Hebrew Bible's consistent endorsement of blood sacrifice and he felt that, given the Germanic inheritance of the Anglo-Saxons, the local English might be keen on resurrecting gruesome rituals from their pagan past, appealing to these new Christian translations as a convenient justification.

Yet, he was finally convinced of the inherent value of writing in the vernacular.  Five centuries ahead of the Reformation, Aelfric translated parts of the Bible into the local tongue, and he did this with the expressed purpose that it should be understood by every Anglo-Saxon in England, either through reading, or more probably through listening.  Such an impulse might sound a bit too egalitarian for an Anglo-Saxon.  But Aelfric was working within a scholastic tradition formalized by King Alfred.  For a civilization that is often referred to as barbaric, the late Anglo-Saxons were, in reality, committed to expanding literacy and education.

The above selection begins at Genesis 3:1.  While this might be the most familiar passage in all of literature, Aelfric makes some very interesting decisions which reflect tendencies that are, in my opinion, uniquely Anglo-Saxon.  The most obvious is the use of OE englum, when the serpent tells Eve that she will be like an "angel" after eating the fruit.  Of course, every Anglo-Saxon reader would have also read "english"; the words are clearly related etymologically, but in this case they are actually the same.  The dative plural of engel, "angel," and the dative plural of engle, "english," are both englum.  Is the serpent, then, suggesting to Eve that if she eats of the apple she will 'truly' be like 'the english'?  Stay tuned for Part II of this special series, Aelfric's Old English Genesis.

Here is a link to the British Library digitized copy of Cotton MS Claudius B IV, an 11th century manuscript which contains the Old English Hexateuch and number of translations ascribed to Aelfric of Eynsham.  Cotton MS Claudius B IV

Monday, April 23, 2012

the top five greatest translations, in history

George Chapman, Homer's Iliad

Arthur Golding, Ovid's Metamorphoses

C.K. Scott Moncrieff, Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu

David Rosenberg, Genesis, the J author

John Dryden, Vergil's Aeneid

Here are the top five translations in history, according to verba scientiae.  Disagree?  You are welcome to make an alternative suggestion in a comment below.  If your comment gets 5 or more +1s, your suggestion will officially become one of the greatest translations ever, replacing one of the current top 5 greatest translations,

guidelines - in order to be an eligible suggestion, you must provide a link to where the translated work can be read -

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Luna and the leaves



A 16th century text by the English poet John Lydgate.  Try to read the English!
I think everyone should take some time to look at early manuscripts and consider how fortunate we are, as a culture, to have these landmarks of history.  Even well-educated people, too often I believe, are dismissive of early texts because they think one can only encounter a more primitive mind from a more barbaric age.  From my research, I am convinced of the opposite.  These early texts, often, preserve the best of us.  They represent a profound and sincere desire on the behalf of our predecessors to retain knowledge and make it accessible to future generations.


Looking at these manuscripts, and these beautiful illuminations, I am sure you will come to the conclusion that the minds of the authors and scribes are far from primitive.  


"A collaboration between ARTstor and the Bodleian Library to produce 25,000 images from 35mm filmstrip negatives and positive slides.Luna


To my left is a beautiful page from a 15th century Italian translation of Pliny's Natural History.  Pliny's writings were read throughout the Renaissance - the Natural History, in particular, was important as it reinforced the desire within this classical 're-birth' to shift the focus from the vague abstractions of the heavens toward the sublime potential of the world we actually live in.   

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Old English Poetry: The Seafarer


Forþon nu min hyge hweorfeð ofer hreþerlocan,
min modsefa mid mereflode
ofer hwæles eþel hweorfeð wide,
eorþan sceatas, cymeð eft to me
gifre ond grædig, gielleð anfloga,
hweteð on hwælweg hreþer unwearnum
ofer holma gelagu.

For now my mind turns from my body, 
and my soul turns toward the river of the sea,
over the whale's country my soul turns further, 
over that region of the earth, coming again to me 
rapacious and greedy, alone the bird yells,
sharpening the heart, irresistibly, on the whale-road, 
over the flood's wave.

translation by Reid Hardaway


The Seafarer is a beautiful and strange poem.  Of the Exeter manuscript's four major elegies, the Seafarer is unique in its faculty of language and depth of expression.  The poem is a concise and potent meditation on mortality and the frailty of man in nature.   

Ezra Pound estimated that the poem was one of the finest in the 'English' language.  Read his translation here, 'The Poetry Foundation'

I encourage you to post your thoughts or criticisms below, especially if you have studied Old English.
This is an image of the Seafarer from the Exeter Manuscript.
  I think the script is beautiful.  
Anglo Saxon ship burials were under mounds of dirt so large that they can be seen for miles.