søndag 31. desember 2017
I woke up this morning remebering the faint outlines of a dream whose only feature that stayed with me was an imagined reading of poetry by the late Derek Walcott, my favourite poet of any language. This dream left a yearning in me to hear his voice read poetry, and after looking for videos and recordings I came across this hauntingly beautiful reading of his poem Star, the first of his poems that I learned by heart.
Although I find this poem suitable for any time of the year, and for any year, there is something about its quietly sought-out yearning for normalcy, plainness, the ordinary, which resonates perhaps particularly strongly now at the tail end of 2017, a year that has seen so much reversal of precariously sustained progress in our constant quest for the peace of plain days that are denied the majority of us. This year, the poem also resonates particularly strongly with me because of my own trajectory that has taken me through a lot of work, great personal grief, exhaustion, and the conclusion of a three-year engagement as a PhD candidate. I look back at a year that has been filled with both sadness and personal accomplishments, and some treasured moments of intense happiness, and I long for a year that is less chaotic, that is more calm, and that does not leave me as tired and as confused as 2017.
If, in the light of things, you fade
real, yet wanly withdrawn
to our determined and appropriate
distance, like the moon left on
all night among the leaves, may
you invisibly delight this house;
O star, doubly compassionate, who came
too soon for twilight, too late
for dawn, may your pale flame
direct the worst in us
with the passion of
- From the poetry collection The Gulf, 1970
torsdag 28. desember 2017
Early on the feast of the Holy Innocents (technically yesterday), there were two swans feeding in the lake righy by the house where my grandparents used to live. We had seen these swans, together with four others, a couple of days ago in flight up the valley where my parents live, and then again, though possibly not the same ones, at a different part of the lake shortly after that. It was a beautiful sight to see them dive for food and then float nonchalantly on the surface, defying the cold and the ice that slowly spreads in shards across the lake. It reminded me of the poem The Wild Swans at Coole, by William Butler Yeats, which I include towards the end of this blogpost.
The Wild Swans at Coole
(courtesy of this website)
mandag 25. desember 2017
One of the many traditional preparations for the Christmas celebration here in Norway, is the brewing of the Christmas ale. In my family, and in families throughout my native village, this is usually started three-four days before Christmas Eve, so that the flavour settles properly in time for the main feast (which in Norway is on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day). The Christmas ale usually goes by the name "sukkerøl", sugar ale, as it is very sweet. It is brewed on a syrup made from boiled juniper twigs, which is then mixed with water that has been boiled. The mixture then cools down a bit, and then we add a malt syrup, sugar water that has boiled but cooled down, and yeast. Some also use hop instead of malt.
The ale is then kept at a certain temperature for the yeast to do its work, and it is then left overnight to ferment a bit. The purpose of the sugar ale, however, is not to make strong ale, and for that reason we stop the fermentation on the evening after we started the process, meaning that we only let it ferment for about 24 hours. We then put it on glasses and bottles, which is done by putting a plastic hose into the ale container and the ale is then tapped. This is the part where I feel most like an alchemist when brewing.
This year we ran into an unexpected problem, as my father - who is the main hand in the hole brewing process - had accidentally shortened the hose, so that we couldn't get it all the way to the floor. There needs to be a certain fall between the ale level and the bottle for the tapping to go smoothly, and this year - as can be seen below - we had to improvise. In the end, when the level had sunk from about twenty to ten litres, we were left with no other option than to pour the ale onto glasses and bottles through a funnel covered by a cloth to keep out the dregs - an option that we usually seek to avoid as it is both heavier work and less precise.
In the end, however, we were left with around twenty litres of ale. We had consciously reduced the volume a bit, because we rarely manage to drink all of if in the course of the Christmas season, not even when we give to neighbours and guests. Today being Christmas Day, I have already tasted several bottles of the ale, and I'm happy to say that we've managed to hit the right flavour this year too.
tirsdag 19. desember 2017
One of my greatest challenges so far in working with the manuscript fragments of the university library of Southern Denmark, is a collection of seven strips of fragments surviving on the spine of a very thick book. The thickness of the spine has, thankfully, made my task much easier than it otherwise would have been, as that made it necessary for the binder to use thicker strips with more surviving texts. However, most of the strips have been torn from the manuscript pages vertically, providing a cross-section of the texts where the texts only survive by a few words (and sometimes those words are complete). As I'm still working on this particular case, and as it has been a very exciting challenge, I'm going to write about it more completely in a future blogpost. The present blogpost, however, will serve more as an appetiser, showing the most completely surviving string of text, and the only one which has been cut horizontally rather than vertically.
Syddansk universitetsbibliotek, 534.11
This fragment comes, as can be seen, from the top of the spine, and as it is cut horizontally we can make out the text "[pere]unt nostri crimini umbracula. Hodie seculo maris stella [est]". This text is from a sequence, a chant that is sung during the mass. This particular sequence is performed on the feast of of Saint Stephen (December 26). The nature of the chant tells us that the medieval manuscript was either a sequentiary, a missal, or a gradual, which are the types of books containing texts for the mass.
As stated, this little strip of text is the most complete survival of the seven fragments found on this spine. I have at this stage identified several of the remaining fragments, but a lot of work remains to be done with the rest, and I hope to be able to report exciting news in this regard after the Christmas holiday.