Blog of the farthest west

Piers plowman translation, continued . . .

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Piers Plowman was written in the latter half of the 14th century. It was published (if that is the right word) in manuscript form. Over fifty copies of these original Ms's survive. They come in three standard forms, called text A, text B, and text C, in order of earliest to latest versions.

The version of the passage I read (and have copied here) is from the introduction to C.S. Lewis's Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Lewis identifies the passage as lines 149-153 of Piers Plowman text C. In my earlier posts I cheated a little and replaced the ezh character () with the more web-friendly digraph 'gh'. The quoted lines from Piers Plowman actually looked like this:

piersPlowman.png

I had a feeling that there was typesetting error here, that the ezh should have been a yogh (ezh.png should have been yogh) It turns out that ezh vs. yogh is hard to determine; G is derived from yogh so it seems that a 'gh' should substitute for a yogh. However, ezh in combination with certain other letters is a soft x, and many english words which today are pronounced with a silent 'gh' are closely related to german words where the place of the 'gh' is taken by a 'ch', which sounds a lot like a soft x. It happens that the English "might" is cousin to the german "macht".

Why the digraph at all? Why did we get rid of the perfectly usable ezh and yogh? The answer is the French. The Norman French to be exact. The old english letters yogh and ezh, along with ash, thorn, and eth have no corresponding letter in the French alphabet, so the Norman French drove these letters out of the English alphabet.
While researching the ezh-yogh question I found quite a few middle english and Piers Plowman web resources. It turns out that the B text, not the C text, is considered the standard version for technical and esthetic reasons, and happily there exist several versions of the B text on the web; one in a plain transcription to the modern alphabet, one in translation to modern english, and an actual hi res scanned copy of a B text Piers Plowman Ms. The lines Lewis quoted are a little different in the B text. They read:

And also the plante of pees, moost precious of vertues :
For hevene myghte nat holden it, so was it hevy of hymself,
Til it hadde of the erthe eten his fille.
And whan it hadde of this fold flessh and blood taken,
Was nevere leef upon lynde lighter therafter,

Here are the lines from the text B Ms.:
pp_lines_152-156s.png

If all the Manuscripts are done in a similar hand, the ezh versus yogh question may never be answered.

Piers Plowman is unrhymed and has no steady rythm. The poetry comes from the alliteration. There should be no less than two words that begin with the same sound on each line. Given these restrictions, here is my final attempt at at translation into modern english:

Love is the plant of peace and most precious of virtues:
So heavy Heavan had no might to hold it,
For it fell to earth.
Lighter then lynden-leaf thereafter was love,
From taking on fully the flesh and the blood.

The Wikipedia article on Piers Plowman is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piers_PlowmanA modern translation of Piers Plowman is at http://www.courses.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/special/authors/langland/pp-pass1.html

A middle english version of Piers Plowman is at http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-old?id=LanPier&tag=public&images=images/modeng&data=/lv1/Archive/mideng-parsed∂=0

A hi res scanned copy of the B ms is at http://image.ox.ac.uk/show?collection=corpus&manuscript=ms201

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Written by Terry

May 29, 2006 at 6:43 am

Posted in Literature

Piers Plowman Remix

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Working on a translation of the Piers Plowman passage:

Loue is the plonte of pees and most preciouse of vertues;

For huene holde hit ne myghte so heuy hit semede,

Til hit hadde on erthe ghoten hym-selue.

Was neuere lef up-on lynde lyghter ther-after,

As whanne hit hadde of the folde flesch and blod ytake.

 

Here's my first attempt at a better translation:

 

Love is the Plant of Peace, most valued of Virtues;

So heavy it seemed that heaven had no might to hold it,

And it fell to Earth.

Was never leaf upon lynden-tree lighter thereafter,

When love had taken on fully the flesh and the blood.

Written by Terry

May 26, 2006 at 7:18 pm

Posted in Literature

Ezra Pound, Canto I

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Since I’m on a poetry kick, here’s old Ezra’s Canto I:

AND then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and
We set up mast and sail on that swart ship,
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, and winds from sternward 5
Bore us out onward with bellying canvas,
Circe’s this craft, the trim-coifed goddess.
Then sat we amidships, wind jamming the tiller,
Thus with stretched sail, we went over sea till day’s end.
Sun to his slumber, shadows o’er all the ocean 10
Came we then to the bounds of deepest water,
To the Kimmerian lands, and peopled cities
Covered with close-webbed mist, unpierced ever
With glitter of sun-rays
Nor with stars stretched, nor looking back from heaven 15
Swartest night stretch over wretched men there.
The ocean flowing backward, came we the to the place
Aforesaid by Circe.
Here did they rites, Perimedes and Eurylochus,
And drawing sword from my hip 20
I dug the ell-square pitkin;
Poured we libations unto each the dead,
First mead and then sweet wine, water mixed with white flour.
Then prayed I many prayer to the sickly death’s-heads;
As set in Ithaca, sterile bulls of the best 25
For sacrifice, heaping the pyre with goods,
A sheep to Tiresias only, black and a bell-sheep.
Dark blood flowed in the fosse,
Souls out of Erebus, cadaverous dead, of brides
Of youths and of the old who had borne much: 30
Souls stained with recent tears, girls tender,
Men many, mauled with bronze lance heads,
Battle spoil, bearing yet dreory arms,
These many crowded about me; with shouting,
Pallor upon me, cried to my men for more beasts; 35
Slaughtered the herds, sheep slain of bronze;
Poured ointment, cried to the gods,
To Pluto the strong, and praised Proserpine;
Unsheathe the narrow sword,
I sat to keep off the impetuous impotent dead, 40
Till I should hear Tiresias,
But first Elpenor came, our friend Elpenor,
Unburied, cast on the wide earth,
Limbs that we left in the house of Circe,
Unwept, unwrapped in sepulchre, since toils urged other. 45
Pitiful spirit. And I cried in hurried speech:
“Elpenor, how art thou come to this dark coast?
“Cam’t thou afoot, outstripping seamen?”
And he in heavy speech:
“Ill fate and abundant wine. I slept in Circe’s ingle.

Written by Terry

May 26, 2006 at 6:56 pm

Posted in Literature

Langland on the Incarnation

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From Piers Plowman:

Loue is the plonte of pees and most preciouse of vertues;

For huene holde hit ne myghte so heuy hit semede,

Til hit hadde on erthe ghoten hym-selue.

Was neuere lef up-on lynde lyghter ther-after,

As whanne hit hadde of the folde flesch and blod ytake.

Translation (after Lewis):

Love is the plant of peace and the most precious of powers,

For Heavan could not contain it,

Until it had poured itself out on the Earth.

After that, no leaf on a lynden tree was lighter than it,

When it had taken flesh and blood from the clay.

Written by Terry

May 24, 2006 at 7:28 pm

Posted in Literature

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George MacDonald was a Christian minister in Victorian times. He wrote many stories for children, including a very odd novel called At the Back of the North Wind. The hero of the story is a young boy named Diamond. He is visited by Death in the form of a beautiful woman. In a fever he visits her at her home in back of the north wind. He recovers from his fever and some days later his grateful mother takes him for a picnic on the seashore. When distracted by the wind and the sound of the surf Diamond, without really realizing it, begins to describe the land in back of the north wind. The result is this free-form poem, full of the symbols of death (narrow, barrow, dust, clay, etc.) but nonetheless very peaceful and hypnotic. Hard to believe it was written in the 1850’s.

I know a river whose waters run asleep run run ever singing in the
shallows dumb in the hollows sleeping so deep and all the swallows
that dip their feathers in the hollows or in the shallows are the
merriest swallows of all for the nests they bake with the clay they
cake with the water they shake from their wings that rake the water
out of the shallows or the hollows will hold together in any weather
and so the swallows are the merriest fellows and have the merriest
children and are built so narrow like the head of an arrow to cut
the air and go just where the nicest water is flowing and the nicest
dust is blowing for each so narrow like head of an arrow is only
a barrow to carry the mud he makes from the nicest water flowing
and the nicest dust that is blowing to build his nest for her he
loves best with the nicest cakes which the sunshine bakes all for
their merry children all so callow with beaks that follow gaping
and hollow wider and wider after their father or after their mother
the food-provider who brings them a spider or a worm the poor hider
down in the earth so there's no dearth for their beaks as yellow
as the buttercups growing beside the flowing of the singing river
always and ever growing and blowing for fast as the sheep awake
or asleep crop them and crop them they cannot stop them but up they
creep and on they go blowing and so with the daisies the little
white praises they grow and they blow and they spread out their
crown and they praise the sun and when he goes down their praising
is done and they fold up their crown and they sleep every one till
over the plain he's shining amain and they're at it again praising
and praising such low songs raising that no one hears them but the sun
who rears them and the sheep that bite them are the quietest sheep
awake or asleep with the merriest bleat and the little lambs are
the merriest lambs they forget to eat for the frolic in their feet
and the lambs and their dams are the whitest sheep with the woolliest
wool and the longest wool and the trailingest tails and they shine
like snow in the grasses that grow by the singing river that sings
for ever and the sheep and the lambs are merry for ever because the
river sings and they drink it and the lambs and their dams are quiet
and white because of their diet for what they bite is buttercups
yellow and daisies white and grass as green as the river can make
it with wind as mellow to kiss it and shake it as never was seen
but here in the hollows beside the river where all the swallows
are merriest of fellows for the nests they make with the clay they
cake in the sunshine bake till they are like bone as dry in the wind
as a marble stone so firm they bind the grass in the clay that dries
in the wind the sweetest wind that blows by the river flowing
for ever but never you find whence comes the wind that blows on
the hollows and over the shallows where dip the swallows alive it
blows the life as it goes awake or asleep into the river that sings
as it flows and the life it blows into the sheep awake or asleep
with the woolliest wool and the trailingest tails and it never fails
gentle and cool to wave the wool and to toss the grass as the lambs
and the sheep over it pass and tug and bite with their teeth
so white and then with the sweep of their trailing tails smooth
it again and it grows amain and amain it grows and the wind as it
blows tosses the swallows over the hollows and down on the shallows
till every feather doth shake and quiver and all their feathers go
all together blowing the life and the joy so rife into the swallows
that skim the shallows and have the yellowest children for the wind
that blows is the life of the river flowing for ever that washes
the grasses still as it passes and feeds the daisies the little
white praises and buttercups bonny so golden and sunny with butter
and honey that whiten the sheep awake or asleep that nibble and bite
and grow whiter than white and merry and quiet on the sweet diet fed
by the river and tossed for ever by the wind that tosses the swallow
that crosses over the shallows dipping his wings to gather the water
and bake the cake that the wind shall make as hard as a bone as dry
as a stone it's all in the wind that blows from behind and all in
the river that flows for ever and all in the grasses and the white
daisies and the merry sheep awake or asleep and the happy swallows
skimming the shallows and it's all in the wind that blows from behind

Diamond’s revery ends here. Oh, and the book also includes a natural history of the angels. And MacDonald also lets us know what the figures in stain-glass windows get up to when the night is dark and the church is empty.

Written by Terry

May 24, 2006 at 4:37 am

Posted in Literature

Blog of the farthest west

with 3 comments

I've tried blogging a few times before, but it hasn't worked out. The problem was spam, spam, spam, spam. Comment spam. I really don't want to blog if I can't entertain comments and it is simply too much work to police them.

We'll see how this wordpress hosted blog works out. 

Written by Terry

May 24, 2006 at 4:07 am

Posted in Uncategorized