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

fredag 28. september 2012

January Flood

Due to heavy rainfall the Ouse and other Yorkshire rivers are now heavilyflooding and for the past four days the water levels have risen significantly, causing a lot of chaos in York and elsewhere. It is not unusual for the Ouse to overstep its banks - quite the contrary - but the masses of water currently sweeping through the city are extraordinary. I have myself seen the Ouse flood - and I have found some primal excitement beholding the spectacle - but from photographs put up by friends in York, I understand that this flooding exceeds everything I've experienced myself.

The principal concern in such matters is of course the individuals affected by the Yorkshire deluge and I wish them all the very best. Yet at the same time I can't help feeling a bit sad for not being there to see this for myself. To me there is something deeply fascinating about water - probably owing to my Western Norwegian upbringing - and I find few things as spellbinding as river scorning its boundaries.

When I studied in York last year I witnessed two floods myself, but - as stated - none of them so great as what is happening now. The January flood, for instance, was less of a violent affair, almost casual, but of course serious in its own sedate way. In this blogpost I'm presenting yet another poem, chiefly because I do not possess any original material on the current event, and partly because I have too little time for long, researched blogposts.

January Flood

The Ouse, January 2011

As if to take revenge the river came -
So full with earth it could not keep it in -
To repossess what man long since had claimed
With steel and stones in monetary whims.

As if to take revenge, as if to scorn
What man took pains to raise from grass and clay
The river spews out what the rain had torn
From out the fields and folds and washed away.

The river came, drunk, dull in a sluggish speed;
Like some old force grown fat from wasted years
It came, pathetic, pleased with prospective fears;
It passed and left its vestiges of greed.
- November 17-20 2011

mandag 24. september 2012

Joseph Brodsky in York

In a previous blogpost I wrote about my writer's tryst, where I spent time working with my MA thesis this summer. Of course, no work can be properly done without the sufficient amount of leisure so in-between work I relaxed with a book of verses by Joseph Brodsky, well, two actually. These books were selected translations in Norwegian, beautifully crafted, and I was of course immediately taken with Brodsky's elegy for W. H. Auden, particularly because it evokes my beloved city of York, Auden's birthplace. This poem is a part of a sequence titled In England and it is taken from Collected Poems in English, a book in the series Oxford Poets by Carcanet (2001). The poems in this book have been translated either by Brodsky alone or in cooperation with others. It is not specified which alternative applies for In England.

York: In Memoriam W. H. Auden

The butterflies of northern England dance above the goosefoot
below the brick wall of a dead factory. After Wednesday
comes Thursday, and so on. The sky breathes heat;
the fields burn. The towns give off a smell of striped
cloth, long-wrapped and musty; dahlias die of thirst.
And your voice - "I have known three great poets. Each
one a prize son of a bitch" - sounds in my ears
with disturbing clarity. I slow my steps

and turn to look round. Four years soon
since you died in an Austrian hotel. Under the crossing sign
not a soul: tiled roofs, asphalt, limestone,
poplars. Chester died, too - you know that
only too well. Like beads on a dusty abacus,
sparrows sit solemnly on wires. Nothing so much
transforms a familiar entrance into a crowd of columns
as love for a man, especially when

he's dead. The absence of wind compels taut leaves
to tense their muscles and stir against their will.
The white butterflies' dance is like a storm-tossed ship.
A man takes his own blind alley with him wherever he goes
about the world; and a bent knee, with its obtuse angle,
multiplies the captive perspective,
like a wedge of cranes holding their course
for the south. Like all things moving onward.

The emptiness, swallowing sunlight - something in common with
the hawthorn - grows steadily more palpable
in the outstretched hand's direction, and
the world merges into a long street where others live.
In this sense, it is England. England, in this sense,
still an empire and fully capable - if
you believe the music gurgling like water -
of ruling waves. Or any element, for that matter.

Lately, I've been losing my grip a little: snarl
at my shopwindow reflection; while my finger
dials its number, my hand lets the phone fall.
Closing my eyes, I see an empty boat,
motionless, far out in the bay.
Coming out of the phone booth,
I hear a starling's voice - in its cry alarm.
But before it flies away the sound

melts in the air. Whose blue expanse, innocent of objects,
is much like this life here (where things stand out more in the desert),
for you're not here. And vacuum gradually
fills the landscape. Like flecks of foam,
sheep take their ease on bottle-green waves
of Yorkshire heather. The corps de ballet of nimble
butterflies, taking their cue from an unseen bow,
flicker above a grass-grown ditch, giving the eye

no point of rest. And the willow herb's vertical stalk
is no longer than the ancient Roman road,
heading north, forgotten by all at Rome.
Subtracting the greater from the lesser - time from man -
you get words, the remainder, standing out against their
white background more clearly than the body
ever manages to while it lives, though it cry "Catch me!" -

thus the source of love turns into the object of love.

mandag 17. september 2012

Translations by Helen Waddell

and abstinence crowns all our care
with martyr-laurels for this day
- Veni Coronaberis, a garland for Helen Waddell, Geoffrey Hill

One of the books I picked up during my last trip to York was a volume of Medieval Latin lyrics translated into English by Helen Waddell and published in 1929. To me this was a phenomenal treasure as I have a great interest in Medieval literature in general and Medieval poetry in particular. In this blogpost I would like to share with you a small selection of short poems from my newly-acquired volume.

Helen Jane Waddell (1889-1965) was born in Tokyo to a missionary family and received her education at Victoria College and then at Queen's University in Belfast. From there on she embarked on a remarkable life of letters that earned her a wide-standing and long-lasting reputation. A formidable Medievalist she mastered both fiction and non-fiction and published several significant books: Her study of the performers of Medieval Latin poetry, The Wandering Scholars (1927), was an immediate success and so was her novel Peter Abelard (1933).

Despite her academic brilliance she was not strictly accurate in her translations and she rendered her English versions in a language reminiscent of the bardolatry of the 19th century, giving the lyrics a stilted quality even more noticeable to a modern ear. This is not, however, to say that she was a bad translator, for translation is always an art of compromise and fraught with contemporary expections the translator must take into account. I do not myself speak Latin, nor do I read it very well, so I am not in a position to point out Helen Waddell's various inaccuracies, but I have given here the original texts parallel with her renditions in order to give people of Latinity a little challenge.

The Translations:

From an MS. of St Rémy at Rheims

Pulchra comis annisque decens et candida vultu             Young and gold-haired, fair of face,
dulce quiescenti basia blanda dabas.                              Thou gav'st me tender kisses in my sleep.
si te iam vigilans non unquam cernere possum,                If waking I may never look upon thee,
somne, precor, iugiter lumina nostra tene.                       O Sleep, I pray you, never let me wake!

From an MS. of Beauvais

Te vigilans oculis, animo te nocte requiro,            By day mine eyes, by night my soul desires thee,
victa iacent solo cum mea membra toro.              Weary, I lie alone.
vidi ego me tecum falsa sub imagine somni.          Once in a dream it seemed thou wert beside me;
somnia tu vinces, si mihi vera venis.                     O far beyond all dreams, if thou woulds come!

From an MS. of Beauvais

O blandos oculos et inquietos                         O lovely restless eyes, that speak
et quadam propria nota loquaces!                   In language's despite!
illic et Venus et leves Amores                          For there sits Beauty, and the little Loves:
atque ipsa in medio sedet Voluptas.                Between them dwells Delight.

From an MS. of Monte Cassino

Ad Paulum Diaconum Written to Paul the Deacon at Monte Cassino

Hinc celer egrediens facili, mea carta, volatu                    Across the hills and in the valley's shade,
per silvas, colles, valles quoque prepete cursu                 Alone the small script goes,
alma deo cari Benedicti tecta require.                             Seeking for Benedict's beloved roof,
Est nam certa quies fessis venientibus illuc,                     Where waits its sure repose.
hic olus hospitibus, piscis hic, panis abundans;                They come and find, the tired travellers,
pax pia, mens humilis, pulcra et concordia fratrum,         Green herbs and ample bread,
laus, amor et cultus Christi simul omnibus horis.              Quiet and brothers' love and humbleness,
                                                                                             Christ's peace on every head.

Hrabanus Maurus

Ad Eigilum de libro quem scripserat                     To Eigilus, on the book that he had written

Nullum opus exsurgit quod non annosa vetustas      No work of men's hands but the weary years
expugnet, quod non vertat iniqua dies.                    Besiege and take it, comes its evil day:
grammata sola carent fato, mortemque repellunt.    The written word alone flouts destiny,
preterita renovant grammata sola biblis.                  Revives the past and gives the lie to Death.
rupe, suo legem cum dederat populo.                     God's finger made its furrows in the rock
sunt, fuerant, mundo venient quae forte futura,        In letters, when he gave his folk the law.
grammata haec monstrant famine cuncta suo.       And things that are, and have been, and may be,
                                                                             Their secret with the written word abides.

Sedulius Scottus

Apologia pro vita sua                                             Written as scholasticus at Liége

Aut lego vel scribo, doceo scrutorve sophiam:        I read or write, I teach or wonder what is truth,
obsecro celsithronum nocte dieque meum.               I call upon my God by night and day.
vescor, poto libens, rithmizans invoco Musas,          I eat and freely drink, I make my rhymes,
dormisco stertens: oro deum vigilans.                      And snoring sleep, or vigil keep and pray.
conscia mens scelerum deflet peccamina vitae;        And very ware of all my shames I am;
parcite vos misero, Christe Maria, viro.                  O Mary, Christ, have mercy on your man.


The following notes are largely based on Helen Waddell's own from 1929.

Pulchra comis: This poem is found in the 9th-century Royal MS. 15. B. xix. The poem was attributed to Virgil by the scribe, while Aldhelm of Malmesbury attributed it to Ovid.

Te vigilans oculi/O blandos oculos: These two poems comes from an anthology of the late 9th or early 10th century whose MS. was lost as a consequence of the Revolution.

Ad Paulum Diaconum: 12th-century tradition attributed the lyric to Charlemagne. Paul the Deacon, at some point a monk at Monte Cassino, did end up in Charlemagne's service for a while, but that is probably the only kernel of truth in this tradition. Although Charlemagne's love of poetry is more or less an established fact, it is not known that he himself attempted the art. Paul the Deacon is most famously known as the author of The History of the Lombards.

Ad Eigilum de libro quem scripserat : Hrabanus Maurus (776-856) was given the nickname Maurus by Alcuin after a disciple of Benedict, the father of monasticism. In 842 he resigned from his position as abbot of Fulda, but after seven years of living in solitude with his books he was summoned by Louis the German and became archbishop of Mainz in 847. The rest of his life was marked by theological strife against the heretic - and one might yield to that beast Anachronism and say proto-Calvinist - Gottschalk who preached the predestined damnation of men.

Apologia pro vita sua: Sedulius Scottus (fl.848-74) was, as his name tells, originally from Ireland. He came to Liège sometime before 851 where he became a scholasticus and gained a reputation as a poet and a scholar. He is not to be confused with Coelius Sedulius, author of Carmen Paschale.

tirsdag 11. september 2012

Many sundry meats

And eet manye sondry metes, mortrews and puddynges,
Wombe cloutes and wilde brawen and egges [with grece yfryed].
- Piers Plowman, William Langland

He was deep in thoughts of bacon and eggs and toast and butter when he felt something touch him.
- The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien

One of the recurring features of this blog is my exploration of British cuisine which I undertake partly to challenge the firmly rooted negative stereotypes it suffers from. The pith of the problem is indubitably that British hygiene is widely considered to be wanting and that this reflects on the food in unfortunate ways. Now there are issues to be had with hygiene in the British Isles - for instance the facts that they have separate taps for hot and cold water and like to carpet every inch of their floors - but the food deserves to be lauded far more often than it is. This August I returned once again to York and I made sure my diet consisted of things old and new, things salt and sweet and things with these common denominators: neither were particularly healthy, all of them were tasty.

Blackadder: Now; Baldrick, go to the kitchen and make me something quick and simple to eat, would you? Two slices of bread with something in between.
Baldrick: What, like Gerald, Lord Sandwich, had the other day?
Blackadder: Yes -- a few rounds of Geralders.
- Blackadder, S03E02


The sandwich is one of the greatest culinary concepts ever invented and it is a great shame it is not as ubiquitous in Norway as it is in the UK. When I studied in York in 2011 I made a habit of dropping by Sainsbury's on my way to class and pick up one of the many sandwiches displayed there for breakfast. The sandwich has many incarnations and there seems to be no consensus as to what type of bread to use, nor what they may contain. Some features are of course fairly universal such as lettuce while others are reserved for one particular combination.

This picture is taken on a southbound train from Aberdeen via Edinburgh. The sandwich consists of lettuce, tomato, cheese, ham and pickles, a combination I have grown very fond of. However, the main reason for picking this particular sandwich, I think, was the name, since it reminded me about the Middle English dream poem
Piers Plowman.

This pork sandwich with apple sauce and sage stuffing - one of my absolute favourite foodstuffs in York - was purchased at Uppercrust on Lendal Street, a very small, charming shop with a very amiable staff and a nice selection of fillings.

One of the sweet ladies behind the counter added this piece of crackling to my sandwich. That was very nice indeed.

Technically this is a ciabatta, but since ciabatta essentially is Italian for sandwich I find it safe to include it here. This tasty delight was also purchased on Lendal Street, but in a different sandwich shop whose name I sadly have forgotten. I was informed about this place by one of my former flatmates of York last year and this time I followed her preferences and purchased this nice white goat cheese and pepper ciabatta.

This is a mango chutney sandwich bought at Pret-a-manger, a British chain of sandwich shops. It was delicious and the chutney blended very well with the ham and cheese. If I ever had my doubts about mango chutney up to this point, this sandwich did away with all that.

And of course, being in Britain, I washed it all down with some Yorkshire tea at the Three Legged Mare, a pub on High Petergate that does not serve food and therefore allows you to bring your own.

For ye han harmed us two in that ye eten the puddyng,

Mortrews and oother mete - and we no morsel hadde.
- Piers Plowman, William Langland

Pub food

When visiting York I took great advantage of my friends who lived there and one of them, poor girl, had to endure my presence for a whole week (which she bore with great composure). To rectify this major imposition I treated her to pub food a couple of times, one of the things we are both major fans of.

This pork burger with bacon was purchased at The Old White Swan, a beautiful pub situated on Goodramgate in a building from the late Middle Ages. We ate there twice and I feel comfortable saying that this is one of my absolute favourite pubs. How can it not be, the pub has a Tudor room?

Another of my favourite pubs is The Hole in the Wall on High Petergate and it remains a favourite for two reasons. First of all its selection of food is delicious and very reasonable, secondly it was the first pub I ate at when I came to York as a student. This time around I tried a horseradish burger which was a pleasing experience. I have through the years established a certain liking for horseradish, which of course is necessary for a burger like this: the taste of horseradish was really dominating.

 (...) I don't know the recipe; but it is biscuitish, keeps good indefinitely, is supposed to be sustaining, and is certainly not entertaining, being in fact very uninteresting except as a chewing exercise.
- The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien

The Brits like their carbohydrates. They like them very much, as illustrated by this plate of battered chicken with barbecue sauce, bacon and sides purchased at The Hornblower in Ripon. Fortunately I like them too and I could thoroughly enjoy this meal, although I have to admit chicken needs not be battered at all.

[Britain]has broad fields and hillsides which are suitable for the most intensive farming and in which, because of the richness of the soil, all kinds of crops are grown in their season. It also has open woodlands which are filled with every kind of game.
- The History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth


Rhubarb! Rhubarb! Rhubarb!
- Captain Rum, Blackadder S02E03

During my stay this August I suddenly became aware of one of the greatest differences between Norway and England when it comes to food: the English national culinary repertoire is simply much more varied than the Norwegian one. By this I mean that there is a greater number of fruits, meats and vegetables used in manufactured foodstuffs (i.e. food you can buy at the supermarket) than the case is in my home country. While Norwegian cordial, for instance, is based around a handful of fruits, English cordials cover a much wider range of tastes. This also reflects in ice cream, as illustrated by the two scoops above, one with blueberry, one with rhubarb.

 Cokes and hire knaves cryden, "Hote pies, hote"
Goode gees and grys! Go we dyne, go we!
- Piers Plowman, William Langland

Pies are perhaps even more emblematic of British cuisine than the sandwich and I am very enthusiastic about them. This particular specimen is a vegetable pie I was treated to while I lodged at a couple of friends for the last four days of my sojourn. I especially like this pie because it is decorated with a woodwose, and it was delicious.

I should of course not omit this risotto which, although not English in any way, was made by the friend I
first stayed with and was so tasty it deserves an effusive mentioning in this blogpost.