And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

onsdag 29. mai 2013

Translating Yeats


May 29th is the anniversary of the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, a momentous watershed in late medieval history. The Byzantine Empire had long been gradually receding against the expansion of Ottoman Turks, and in 1453 the final deah-blow was delivered with the capturing of the capital and death of the last emperor, Constantine XI Palaiologos. The history of the Byzantine Empire is a fascinating series of events, often treated by Western Europeans as marginal to the events of Catholic Christendom and consequently less known outside medievalist circles than, say, the history of England or the Papacy. However, the Byzantine Empire was its own centre and a looming entity in the history of the Near East.

There has always been a fascination with Byzantium in the Western mind, treated often as something alien, wildly different. One man who was very intrigued by the strangeness and mystery of the Byzantine Empire was William Butler Yeats, whose two poems on Byzantium evokes the sort of romantic mystification that has clouded more than explained the nature of the Empire and its history. These are both beautiful poems, and for this occasion I will present my favourite of the two - Sailing to Byzantium - together with my own translation into Norwegian. The translation will be followed by a literal rendition so as to show just in what ways I have twisted the original text in order to maintain the meaning, and what compromises the translation has required.

The City of Constantinople as described by John Mandeville,
From MS. Harley 3954, 15thC (East Anglia)
Courtesy of British Library

Sailing to Byzantium

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
– Those dying generations – at their song,
The salmon‐falls, the mackerel‐crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing‐masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
That is no country for old men. The young In one another's arms, birds in the trees —Those dying generations—at their song, The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas, Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long Whatever is begotten, born, and dies. Caught in that sensual music all neglect Monuments of unageing intellect. An aged man is but a paltry thing, A tattered coat upon a stick, unless Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing For every tatter in its mortal dress, Nor is there singing school but studying Monuments of its own magnificence; And therefore I have sailed the seas and come To the holy city of Byzantium. O sages standing in God's holy fire As in the gold mosaic of a wall, Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre, And be the singing-masters of my soul. Consume my heart away; sick with desire And fastened to a dying animal It knows not what it is; and gather me Into the artifice of eternity. Once out of nature I shall never take My bodily form from any natural thing, But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make Of hammered gold and gold enamelling To keep a drowsy Emperor awake; Or set upon a golden bough to sing To lords and ladies of Byzantium Of what is past, or passing, or to come. - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20310#sthash.OAEavJht.dpuf
That is no country for old men. The young In one another's arms, birds in the trees —Those dying generations—at their song, The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas, Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long Whatever is begotten, born, and dies. Caught in that sensual music all neglect Monuments of unageing intellect. An aged man is but a paltry thing, A tattered coat upon a stick, unless Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing For every tatter in its mortal dress, Nor is there singing school but studying Monuments of its own magnificence; And therefore I have sailed the seas and come To the holy city of Byzantium. O sages standing in God's holy fire As in the gold mosaic of a wall, Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre, And be the singing-masters of my soul. Consume my heart away; sick with desire And fastened to a dying animal It knows not what it is; and gather me Into the artifice of eternity. Once out of nature I shall never take My bodily form from any natural thing, But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make Of hammered gold and gold enamelling To keep a drowsy Emperor awake; Or set upon a golden bough to sing To lords and ladies of Byzantium Of what is past, or passing, or to come. - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20310#sthash.OAEavJht.dpuf
That is no country for old men. The young In one another's arms, birds in the trees —Those dying generations—at their song, The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas, Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long Whatever is begotten, born, and dies. Caught in that sensual music all neglect Monuments of unageing intellect. An aged man is but a paltry thing, A tattered coat upon a stick, unless Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing For every tatter in its mortal dress, Nor is there singing school but studying Monuments of its own magnificence; And therefore I have sailed the seas and come To the holy city of Byzantium. O sages standing in God's holy fire As in the gold mosaic of a wall, Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre, And be the singing-masters of my soul. Consume my heart away; sick with desire And fastened to a dying animal It knows not what it is; and gather me Into the artifice of eternity. Once out of nature I shall never take My bodily form from any natural thing, But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make Of hammered gold and gold enamelling To keep a drowsy Emperor awake; Or set upon a golden bough to sing To lords and ladies of Byzantium Of what is past, or passing, or to come. - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20310#sthash.OAEavJht.dpuf
That is no country for old men. The young In one another's arms, birds in the trees —Those dying generations—at their song, The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas, Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long Whatever is begotten, born, and dies. Caught in that sensual music all neglect Monuments of unageing intellect. An aged man is but a paltry thing, A tattered coat upon a stick, unless Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing For every tatter in its mortal dress, Nor is there singing school but studying Monuments of its own magnificence; And therefore I have sailed the seas and come To the holy city of Byzantium. O sages standing in God's holy fire As in the gold mosaic of a wall, Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre, And be the singing-masters of my soul. Consume my heart away; sick with desire And fastened to a dying animal It knows not what it is; and gather me Into the artifice of eternity. Once out of nature I shall never take My bodily form from any natural thing, But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make Of hammered gold and gold enamelling To keep a drowsy Emperor awake; Or set upon a golden bough to sing To lords and ladies of Byzantium Of what is past, or passing, or to come. - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20310#sthash.OAEavJht.dpuf

Philosophers in Macedonia and tournaments in Constantinople,
From MS. Harley 3954, 15thC (East Anglia)
Courtesy of British Library

Å segle til Bysants

Dét er ikkje eit land for gamle menn. Dei
unge, arm i arm, fuglane i tre
– forgjengelege ættledd – i deira lei,
til song, kvar sølvsprengd sjø, kvart elvekre,
fugl, fisk og fe i ei stor sommar-rei
gjev pris til fødd, til skapt og døyande.
Av desse tonar fanga, kvar ei slekt
vil gløyme alt om tidlaust intellekt.

Ein kall er helst ein ubetydeleg ting,
ein rivna frakk oppå ein staur, so sant
då ikkje sjela klappar høgt og syng
for kvar ei kjøtleg rift i baug og spant.
Dei lærer ikkje song, men ser ikring
sin stordoms reisverk bygd på kvar ein kant;
og derfor seglar eg og søkjer glans
I keisaren sin helga by: Bysants.

De prestar som står i Guds helga loge
som mosaikken i ein gullgjord mur,
kom frå den helga logen, piler frå bogen,
og lær mi sjel å meistre moll og dur.
Kom et mitt hjarta opp; sjukleg av hugen
og bunde til eit døyand' kreatur
Det veit'kje kva det er; lat meg ta del
I den store æva sitt narrespel.

Når naturen slepp meg vil eg ikkje ta
min kropp frå noko som naturen hev,
men frå emalje, gull so tynt som blad,
ja slikt dei greske gullsmedane gjev
ein keisar som vil ut av svevnen dra;
ell' som vert sett på gullkvist og der kved
til vyrde menn og kvinner i Bysants
om kva som kjem, som er og eingong fanst.

Psellos and his pupil the Emperor, Byzantine mosaic c.800
Courtesy of Wikimedia

To Sail to Byzantium

That is not a country for old men. The
Young, arm in arm, the birds in trees,
- Those transient generations - in their direction
To song each silver-laden sea, each river-trout,
Fowl, fish and livestock in one big summer-throng
Give praises to the born, the created and the dying.
By these tones made captive, each family
Will forget all about timeless intellect.

And old man is rather an unimportant thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
The soul don't loudly clap and sing
For each a fleshly wound in prow and frame.
They do not learn song, but see around
The structures of their greatness on every side
And therefore I sail to seek splendour
In the emperor's hallowed city: Byzantium.

You priests who stand in God's hallowed fire,
As the mosaic of a golden wall,
Come from the hallowed fire, arrows from the bow,
And teach my soul to master majors and minors.
Come eat up my heart; sickened by the will
And fastened to a dying creature
It knows not what it is; and let me take part
In the great deception of eternity.

When nature releases me I will not take
My body from anything that nature has,
But from enamel, gold as thin as leaves,
Yes such the Grecian goldsmiths will give
An emperor who wants to depart from sleep;
Or which is set upon a golden bough and there chants
To high-born men and women of Byzantium
Of what will come, what is and what once was.

Byzantine mosaic allegedly depicting the soul in the body and outside the body
Courtesy of Wikimedia



torsdag 23. mai 2013

An Oxford Epigram


Songs, sonnets, epigrams the winds uplift,
And whisk them back to Evans, Young, and Swift.
- The Dunciad, Alexander Pope


One of the books I mentioned in the previous blogpost was a collection of verse pertaining to Oxford. In this book I came across a lovely little epigram of anonymous provenance about Abel Evans (1679-1737), who entered St John's college in 1692 and became a clergyman in 1700. Evans was a controversial figure in the contemporary religio-political climate, and also in the university system, in great part thanks to a speech criticising the college president which cost him his chaplaincy in 1707. The epigram in question plays quite nicely with Evans' penchant for controversy.

St. John's College, Oxford
Courtesy of Wikipedia


On Dr. Evans Cutting Down a Row of Trees at St. John's College, Oxford

Indulgent Nature on each kind bestows
A secret instinct to discern its foes:
The goose, a silly bird, avoids the fox;
Lambs fly from wolves; and sailors steer from rocks.
Evans, the gallows as his fate foresees,
And bears the like antipathy to trees.

This row of trees was drawn by Alfred-Louis Brunet-Debaines (1845-1939)


I know of two slightly different versions of this epigram found in different anthologies of quotations. In Elegant Extracts 1816: 882, instead of "Evans" it reads "The rogue", while in Joe Miller's Jests: 176, the text contains "The thief".


References

Pursgrove, Glyn and Ricketts, Alistair (eds.), Oxford in Verse, Perpetua, 1999

Sambrook, James, ‘Evans, Abel (1675–1737)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004









søndag 19. mai 2013

My Oxford Library


Last week I spent a few days in Oxford for a conference called Performing Medieval Texts, where I presented a paper. There will probably be further blogposts on this particular subject later on. However, for now I only aim to show you the books I bought during my Oxford sojourn. As regular readers and friends will know very well at this point, I'm a voracious bibliophile and I often end up buying a lot of books when I'm travelling in the UK (my book hunts in York have been told in some detail here, here and here) and Oxford should prove no exception to this rule, as can be seen below. This time, however, I had to execute immense self-restraint, and I avoided bookshops on purpose lest I should take out of them more than I could carry back home to Norway. This proved to be only of some avail as giftshops in several Oxford museums have a quite nice selection of books in addition to the usual baubles and trinkets. This did of course make me very happy, as I came across some nice gems here and there.



From Oxford Castle


Oxford Castle has a tower dedicated to Saint George, and for this reason the above book has found its way to the museum giftshop. I was particularly delighted to find this book, as I consulted it briefly during my MA thesis and found it to be a very informative and well-composed piece of work, and was one of the key texts I used when writing my blogpost on the cult of Saint George.


From Blackwells



Prior to my arrival I did some research on local bookshops and a friend told me Blackwells had the best poetry selection. Although it is strongly rivalled by the selection at Waterstones, the selection of poetry at Blackwells did not disappoint. Oxford in Verse proved to be a delightful travel companion, and will be a source of many quotations in blogposts to come, while Jan Morris' book is a delightful city biography which I look forward to explore more thoroughly in the future.


From The Ashmolean



The above books are not particular to Oxford, as is quite evident, but I had a hard time resisting when I found them in the giftshop at The Ashmolean. Marco Polo's travels could be found due to the museum's Asian collections, one of which explored the exchange between Asia and Europe. As for Blake's collection of poetry, I am a great admirer of both his art and his poetry, so I could not pass by this opportunity.


From The University Church of St Mary the Virgin




My last purchases were made at The University Church of St Mary the Virgin close to The Bodleian. The first book is an instalment in a lovely series on medieval architecture, and as I'm very fond of the green man - or the woodwose - I bought it with little hesitation. Bill Leonard's book was likewise an easy purchase. Since I'm a big fan of the Lewis series - and to a lesser extent of Morse - this had been my main exposure to Oxford prior to my arrival, and I had rewatched a number of episodes in preparation. I look forward to peruse it more diligently.

mandag 6. mai 2013

Then came faire May


Woodcut for Ægloga Quinta of The Shepheardes Calender (1579), image from luminarium

The month of May is synonymous with merriment and joy in the Western European consciousness, and this association has a long tradition in folklore. In this blogpost I will present how my favourite poet, Edmund Spenser, presents the month of May in two of his most important works, The Shepheardes Calender and The Faerie Queene. Regular readers will recognise my love for Spenser's poetry, as this has been a subject for several blogposts, which can be found here, here and here.

First up is an extract from Spenser's poetic debut, The Shepheardes Calender, which studiously emulates Virgil's Eclogues, but in a completely modern manner. The deceptive simplicity and straightforwardness of the twelve-part poem hides a political acuteness which I will not get into here, and this was a key aspect of pastoral poetry. In the poem's fifth eclogue - or conversation - the two shepherds Piers and Palinode allegorically debate the religious division in England at that time. Piers is the spiritual part of the conversation, modelled on William Langland's Piers Plowman. Palinode is his worldly counterpart. Since this is a blogpost about May, however, I will only give you an excerpt pertinent to the topic, while the rest of the poem can be read here.

IS not thilke the mery moneth of May,
When loue lads masken in fresh aray?
How falles it then, we no merrier bene,
Ylike as others, girt in gawdy greene?
Our bloncket liueryes bene all to sadde,
For thilke same season, when all is ycladd
With pleasaunce: the grownd with grasse, the Wods
With greene leaues, the bushes with bloosming Buds.
Yougthes folke now flocken in euery where,
To gather may bus-kets and smelling brere:
And home they hasten the postes to dight,
And all the Kirke pillours eare day light,
With Hawthorne buds, and swete Eglantine,
And girlonds of roses and Sopps in wine.
Such merimake holy Saints doth queme,
But we here sytten as drownd in a dreme.


The next excerpt is from the Cantos of Mvtabilitie, which were most likely intended as a part of Spenser's epic Faerie Queene, and they are sometimes referred to as the seventh book. This excerpt comes from canto VI, which can be read in its entirety here.

Then came faire May, the fayrest mayd on ground,
Deckt all with dainties of her seasons pryde,
And throwing flowres out of her lap around:
Vpon two brethrens shoulders she did ride,
The twinnes of Leda; which on eyther side
Supported her like to their soueraine Queene.
Lord! how all creatures laught, when her they spide,
And leapt and daunc't as they had rauisht beene!
And Cupid selfe about her fluttred all in greene.



References
For the information included above, I have used the following editions:

Spenser, Edmund, The Faerie Queene, edited by Thomas P. Roche Jr., Penguin, 1987

Spenser, Edmund, The Shorter Poems, edited by Richard McCabe, Penguin, 1999