Sunday, August 24, 2008

Language Panic

I have sometimes wondered about the metrics of Tolkien's elven languages. How are you supposed to scan the poetry? Is it sprung, syllabic, quantitative? Well, someone decided that it was quantitative:
Kirya veasse lirin, Vaiyannar hildion erya
or Valinor marton wilien mí tarmenel auta
Ilmarin, erya ande et Mardellon hortina ráner
tar tuonen, sí vor marien Falmando ter orme,
Silmaril or lumbor kalman, san tultane hildi
an Númendor elen hirien, kala yánen Elenna
tol vingisse ve lóte estáron, tinwe Earendil.

Yes, that is dactylic hexameter complete with elisions and everything. And it's an account of the voyage of Earendil modeled on the Aeneid. (I don't know Quenya, but I recognize enough of the roots to know that the first three words are "A ship [something] I sing.") I started reading it, and my brain went into hexameter autopilot. It was a surprising sensation, closing a linguistic circuit that was never meant to be. Quenya actually goes quite smoothly into dac-hex, but I've never seen it done before. I guess there aren't that many Quenyist/Latinists in the world, sad to say. Sheila is among their happy number, though! Here are her Quenya poems:

Nainie nilden
Linde Noldova

And her Sindarin translation of Tennyson: Lend a dinen

Added: Ask and you shall receive! Two attested forms of elvish metrical verse: the linnod, which is like the second line of an elegiac couplet; and a heptameter line. Still no idea what Galadriel's song is supposed to sound like.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Ready, set, write!

Sheila has begun another poetry contest. This time the form is: the cento.

My entry:
The Return
(a Hopkins cento)

I will appear, looking such charity,
It will flame out like shining from shook foil.
Yes I can tell such a key, I do know such a place,
Where springs not fail.
Or ancient mounds that cover bones
Spring, that but now were shut
To the stars, lovely-asunder.

I did say yes
With the sea-romp over the wreck,
And find the uncreated light.
And I have asked to be
Lower than death and the dark,
An ark for the listener, for the lingerer,
For him who ever thought with love of me.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Recipe for Happiness

From Laudator Temporis Acti, this eye-opening post on macarisms.

('Macarism' is just Gringlish for 'beatitude.' Which is Linglish for blessedness.)

Take special note of the "paradoxical macarisms"!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The very short mimes of the snow gods

From Works and Days, a Latin tongue-twister and scribal exercise:

mimi numinum nivium minimi munium nimium vini muniminum imminui vivi minimum volunt

Which is something like, "The very short mimes of the snow gods do not wish at all that the very great burden of distributing the wine of the walls will be lightened in their lifetime." The good blogger Orwhalyus adds that it is "virtually unreadable in Black Letter script." I can imagine.

In a similar vein, I've always liked this line from Ennius: O Tite tute Tati tibi tanta tyranne tulisti! (O you tyrant Titus Tatius, what dreadful things you have brought upon yourself!)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Note to self: never sleep in a fairy ring!

This poem by Yeats is a masterpiece of the "parallel" style I tried my hand at in "Roman April." Four stanzas of repeated syntax, words, and images, with rhyme and meter as well. It's as tightly patterned as Celtic knot-work.

The Man Who Dreamed Of Faeryland
WB Yeats

He stood among a crowd at Dromahair;
His heart hung all upon a silken dress,
And he had known at last some tenderness,
Before earth took him to her stony care;
But when a man poured fish into a pile,
It seemed they raised their little silver heads,
And sang what gold morning or evening sheds
Upon a woven world-forgotten isle
Where people love beside the ravelled seas;
That Time can never mar a lover's vows
Under that woven changeless roof of boughs:
The singing shook him out of his new ease.

He wandered by the sands of Lissadell;
His mind ran all on money cares and fears,
And he had known at last some prudent years
Before they heaped his grave under the hill;
But while he passed before a plashy place,
A lug-worm with its grey and muddy mouth
Sang that somewhere to north or west or south
There dwelt a gay, exulting, gentle race
Under the golden or the silver skies;
That if a dancer stayed his hungry foot
It seemed the sun and moon were in the fruit:
And at that singing he was no more wise.

He mused beside the well of Scanavin,
He mused upon his mockers: without fail
His sudden vengeance were a country tale,
When earthy night had drunk his body in;
But one small knot-grass growing by the pool
Sang where -- unnecessary cruel voice --
Old silence bids its chosen race rejoice,
Whatever ravelled waters rise and fall
Or stormy silver fret the gold of day,
And midnight there enfold them like a fleece
And lover there by lover be at peace.
The tale drove his fine angry mood away.

He slept under the hill of Lugnagall;
And might have known at last unhaunted sleep
Under that cold and vapour-turbaned steep,
Now that the earth had taken man and all:
Did not the worms that spired about his bones
proclaim with that unwearied, reedy cry
That God has laid His fingers on the sky,
That from those fingers glittering summer runs
Upon the dancer by the dreamless wave.
Why should those lovers that no lovers miss
Dream, until God burn Nature with a kiss?
The man has found no comfort in the grave.

Yeats wrote this in 1891, when he was 26 years old. I wonder if Tolkien ever read it? It reminds me of Tolkien, anyway - the "gay, exulting, gentle race" on their "woven world-forgotten isle"; the golden and silver light that could be from the Two Trees of Valinor. The man in the poem is afflicted by something like Tolkien's "longing for elves." Every time he tries to get back to his mortal affairs - love, money, revenge, and finally death - he is baffled by a dream of immortality, first elvish and finally heavenly.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Tunes for Assumption Day

Once, it is said, on an isle in an age long past,
The sky was very dark at night and the stars shone clear,
And the people looked in holy awe at times
On the lights that turned the high court of the year,
And knew the signs. "It goes to Walsingham", they said,
Hushed, for overhead, chill miles across the sky
The white track, glorious of converging light,
As though showering trees lined a path on the height,
Ran over the road to the shrine of the Lady who does not die.
- Meredith, 16 and drunk on Hopkins

Snow-white! Snow-white! O Lady clear!
O Queen beyond the Western Seas!
O Light to us that wander here
Amid the world of woven trees!

- JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Up through an empty house of stars,
Being what heart you are,
Up the inhuman steeps of space
As on a staircase go in grace,
Carrying the firelight on your face
Beyond the loneliest star.
- GKC, Ballad of the White Horse

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Per amica silentia lunae - how do you do these things, Virgil?

"The Medievals were right - he is a magician." So said Belloc (I can't remember where) upon reading a line from Book II of the Aeneid: a Tenedo tacitae per amica silentia lunae. Belloc was right. Virgil is a magician. I was casually poking around in the First Eclogue a few nights ago, and when I read the last lines I jumped out of my chair, trying to say something, trying almost not to cry. I felt like I had to tell someone how awesome Virgil is, and I duly cornered my sister the next day and subjected her to a enthusiastic rant (revenging myself for her rants about Chopin - just kidding, ma soeur!). Virgil can take an idea which amounts to, "When pigs fly..." and give you something spooky and beautiful like this:

Ante leves ergo pascentur in aethere cervi

(Before the light deer graze in the aether)

That's more like Garcia Lorca than like Milton. But it was the last two lines that really took the top of my head off. They hold the very essence of evening.

et iam summa procul villarum culmina fumant
maioresque cadunt altis de montibus umbrae.

(And now, far off, from the highest housetops the smoke rises
And greater fall from the high mountains evening's shadows.)

If you have once taken Latin and then let it get rusty, it is worth going back just for the sake of reading Virgil. Get Clyde Pharr's Aeneid, the one with the vocabulary at the bottom of every page. It makes things as easy as possible.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

Oh! well, that won't be hard at all! Argh... One step at a time, though. At the moment I am using as much of my time as I can to read "The Lord of the Rings" again. It's been a while. The surprise and suspense have gone, sadly - I wistfully remember myself at twelve refusing to continue reading for days after Gandalf died, and being nearly too frightened to read through Shelob's Lair. And the incredible rush of joy I experienced when Aragorn unfurled the banner on the black ship! Now, ten years and three oft-watched movies later, I go back to notice things about Aragorn that I never noticed, to savor favorite lines... I'm not entirely sure what I'm looking for. Halfway though the book, I can say that I've learned three things so far: 1. I have never quite appreciated how human Aragorn really is. 2. Everyone on the good side seems almost careless in the way they trust to "good fortune" and signs and the promptings of their hearts... but it works out for them. 3. I'm more of a hobbit than a shieldmaiden. And that's just fine.

(Note: I made the "No Admittance" sign for my grandma's 80th birthday party last week. It was also my cousin's birthday, so we threw a double party at which it snowed food and rained drink. Nobody vanished, though.)