Sunday, October 28, 2012

Speak Like a Saxon

Tomorrow morning, for example:

þær was wop wera    wide gehyred

Oh, my, this is fun and useful. After writing the other day that I'd begun, more than ten years ago, a long poem about Richeldis de Faverches, the Saxon lady who after receiving visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary  established the much-visited medieval shrine of Our  Lady of Walsingham -- a poem at least as long as this sentence, I might add -- and then had lost it, I went hunting around in my files to see if possibly, somewhere, somehow, I'd saved it.

Turns out I had, at least in part. So now I'm playing with it again, though what this exercise is swiftly turning into is more like research for an historical novel. I need to know things like, for instance, what a Saxon bucket would be pulled up with from a well -- rope or chain? This is important to both the sound and the sense of the first line of a part of the poem. The cadences of Old English are important to Richeldis' voice, though she doesn't narrate every section of the poem.

Random phrases which seem like things she and I could hang our hat or wimple on:

ðeos woruld is on ofste, and hit nealæcð þam ende
("This world is in haste, and it draws near its end.") 

It's a useful line for someone in the early 1060s, though presumably she couldn't have known, in the year of her visions, that five years later Norman French would have swept her language into the pigsties and tenant farms of the kingdom. Though again, I wonder about the surname de Faverches, which sounds more French than Saxon . . . it wasn't as though nobody had connections in France, even then . . .

All of these teem with possibility as well.

I think I totally need to start this project over, from the ground up. Clearly I have been building in the wrong place. If only some angels would come and write the poem while I sleep.


God eow gehealde

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