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Thursday, 26 September 2013

Tolkien, Auden, Sheen and The Pearl Poet All in One Post

As I am  borrowing the latest publication from  J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fall of Arthur, and finally beginning to read it, I shall comment on this amazing poem later.

Tolkien's writings have formed the imagination of several generations of readers and cinema buffs, of course. But, the genius of his writings escapes most eyes. He is truly one of the last centuries' greatest philologists. Recall, also, that he was one of those scholars who worked on the Jerusalem Bible.

Having the joy of teaching the Arthurian myths to classes of eager students long ago, I have studied the various works concerning Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot, including the Mabinogion. Of course, my studies in David Jones would have been another connection to the corpus of works.

I have a strange academic background at the doctoral level, as I took the courses at ND for a Medieval Literature Degree as well as the Modern Poetry and Literature Degree, as I could not make up my mind which to follow for a career. Then, after all my exams and beginning my thesis, I ended up in Theology at Bristol. As it happened, the overlaps proved invaluable. I think I am one of the few people who has actually read some of the arcane Middle English poems and Breton lais which would have been the stuff of Tolkien's daily study. However, his amazing talents lie in earlier poetry, from the Anglo-Saxon and Norse periods, which I studied a bit, but did not pursue as a specialty. Of course, who does not love all of these great poems and epics, even in translation? W. H. Auden, another great scholar, said that Tolkien's poem in The Return of the King, concerning the Battle of Pelennor Fields was the best example of the ancient genre. Quite a compliment from one of the best poets of the 20th Century......

 Here is a section

We heard of the horns in the hills ringing, 
the swords shining in the South-kingdom. 
Steeds went striding to the Stoningland 
as wind in the morning. War was kindled. 
There Théoden fell, Thengling mighty, 
to his golden halls and green pastures 
in the Northern fields never returning, 
high lord of the host. Harding and Guthláf 
Dúnhere and Déorwine, doughty Grimbold, 
Herefara and Herubrand, Horn and Fastred, 
fought and fell there in a far country: 
in the Mounds of Mundburg under mould they lie 
with their league-fellows, lords of Gondor. 
Neither Hirluin the Fair to the hills by the sea, 
nor Forlong the old to the flowering vales 
ever, to Arnach, to his own country 
returned in triumph; nor the tall bowmen, 
Derufin and Duilin, to their dark waters, 
meres of Morthond under mountain-shadows. 
Death in the morning and at day's ending 
lords took and lowly. Long now they sleep 
under grass in Gondor by the Great River. 
Grey now as tears, gleaming silver, 
red then it rolled, roaring water: 
foam dyed with blood flamed at sunset; 
as beacons mountains burned at evening; 
red fell the dew in Rammas Echor.
The Lord of the Rings
Song of the Mounds of Mundberg, The Return of the King Book 5, Chapter 'The Battle of the Pelennor Fields'.

His review of that book from 1956 may be found here.

As I tell friends, one of the reasons I loved the Medieval studies so much was that all the nice students were in Medieval and the nasty ones in Modern.  Hmmm. And, as another aside, I still have one of my 1970s calendars of Tolkien, by the Hildebrandt brothers, one of whom, Greg, some of you may recognize as the painter of the famous portrait of Ven. Fulton J. Sheen. This calendar is the only one I have left, although I bought them each year in the seventies for several years.

Here is a sample of one of my favorite poems below. I shall get back to the Tolkien later. For some history on the Arthurian texts, check out this site here. By the way, a person has to be a little crazy to take an entire class on The Faerie Queene.

A selection from The Perle.




'O perle', quod I, 'in perle3 py3t,
Art þou my perle þat I haf playned,
Regretted by myn one on ny3te?
Much longeyng haf I for þe layned,
Syþen into gresse þou me agly3te.
Pensyf, payred, I am forpayned,
And þou in a lyf of lykyng ly3te,
In Paradys erde, of stryf vnstrayned.
What wyrde hat3 hyder my iuel vayned,
And don me in þys del and gret daunger?
Fro we in twynne wern towen and twayned,
I haf ben a joyle3 juelere.'That juel þenne in gemme3 gente
Vered vp her vyse wyth y3en graye,
Set on hyr coroun of perle orient,
And soberly after þenne con ho say:
'Sir, 3e haf your tale mysetente,
To say your perle is al awaye,
Þat is in cofer so comly clente
As in þis gardyn gracios gaye,
Hereinne to lenge for euer and play,
Þer mys nee mornyng com neuer nere.
Her were a forser for þe, in faye,
If þou were a gentyl jueler.




'Bot, jueler gente, if þou schal lose
Þy ioy for a gemme þat þe wat3 lef,
Me þynk þe put in a mad porpose,
And busye3 þe aboute a raysoun bref;
For þat þou leste3 wat3 bot a rose
Þat flowred and fayled as kynde hyt gef.
Now þur3 kynde of þe kyste þat hyt con close
To a perle of prys hit is put in pref.
And þou hat3 called þy wyrde a þef,
Þat o3t of no3t hat3 mad þe cler;
Þou blame3 þe bote of þy meschef,
Þou art no kynde jueler.'A juel to me þen wat3 þys geste,
And iuele3 wern hyr gentyl sawe3.
'Iwyse', quod I, 'my blysfol beste,
My grete dystresse þou al todrawe3.
To be excused I make requeste;
I trawed my perle don out of dawe3.
Now haf I fonde hyt, I schal ma feste,
And wony wyth hyt in schyr wod-schawe3,
And loue my Lorde and al his lawe3
Þat hat3 me bro3t þys blys ner.
Now were I at yow by3onde þise wawe3,
I were a ioyful jueler.'





'Jueler', sayde þat gemme clene,
'Wy borde 3e men? So madde 3e be!
Þre worde3 hat3 þou spoken at ene:
Vnavysed, for soþe, wern alle þre.
Þou ne woste in worlde quat on dot3 mene;
Þy worde byfore þy wytte con fle.
Þou says þou trawe3 me in þis dene,
Bycawse þou may wyth y3en me se;
Anoþer þou says, in þys countré
Þyself schal won wyth me ry3t here;
Þe þrydde, to passe þys water fre --
Þat may no ioyfol jueler.

'I halde þat iueler lyttel to prayse
Þat leue3 wel þat he se3 wyth y3e,
And much to blame and vncortayse
Þat leue3 oure Lorde wolde make a ly3e,
Þat lelly hy3te your lyf to rayse,
Þa3 fortune dyd your flesch to dy3e.
3e setten hys worde3 ful westernays
Þat leue3 noþynk bot 3e hit sy3e.
And þat is a poynt o sorquydry3e,
Þat vche god mon may euel byseme,
To leue no tale be true to try3e
Bot þat hys one skyl may dem.





'Deme now þyself if þou con dayly
As man to God worde3 schulde heue.
Þou sayt3 þou schal won in þis bayly;
Me þynk þe burde fyrst aske leue,
And 3et of graunt þou my3te3 fayle.
Þou wylne3 ouer þys water to weue;
Er moste þou ceuer to oþer counsayle:
Þy corse in clot mot calder keue.
For hit wat3 forgarte at Paradys greue;
Oure 3orefader hit con mysse3eme.
Þur3 drwry deth bo3 vch man dreue,
Er ouer þys dam hym Dry3tyn deme.''

Deme3 þou me', quod I, 'my swete,
To dol agayn, þenne I dowyne.
Now haf I fonte þat I forlete,
Schal I efte forgo hit er euer I fyne?
Why schal I hit boþe mysse and mete?
My precios perle dot3 me gret pyne.
What serue3 tresor, bot gare3 men grete
When he hit schal efte wyth tene3 tyne?
Now rech I neuer for to declyne,
Ne how fer of folde þat man me fleme.
When I am partle3 of perle myne,
Bot durande doel what may men deme?'





'Thow deme3 no3t bot doel-dystresse',
Þenne sayde þat wy3t. 'Why dot3 þou so
For dyne of doel of lure3 lesse
Ofte mony mon forgos þe mo.
Þe o3te better þyseluen blesse,
And loue ay God, in wele and wo,
For anger gayne3 þe not a cresse.
Who nede3 schal þole, be not so þro.
For þo3 þou daunce as any do,
Braundysch and bray þy braþe3 breme,
When þou no fyrre may, to ne fro,
Þou moste abyde þat he schal deme.

Deme Dry3tyn, euer hym adyte,
Of þe way a fote ne wyl he wryþe.
Þy mende3 mounte3 not a myte,
Þa3 þou for sor3e be neuer blyþe.
Stynt of þy strot and fyne to flyte,
And sech hys blyþe ful swefte and swyþe.
Þy prayer may hys pyté byte,
Þat mercy schal hyr crafte3 kyþe.
Hys comforte may þy langour lyþe
And þy lure3 of ly3tly fleme;
For, marre oþer madde, morne and myþe,
Al lys in hym to dy3t and deme.'