The Anglo-Saxons got ear wax out same as the rest of us (sans Qtip)
Warms my heart, the thought of it. Some warrior, in his downtime back in the ranks, helmet off, little finger reaming his ear out.
Don’t need Game of Thrones to make the medieval real. Just need Bosworth & Toller. (Though when the first of the new season airs I’m there.) Next is look up nosepicking. I mean, they must have, right? a word for it?
What I been working on. With a deadline pushing. Speaks tonight to my condition too, a bit lone a bit ferocious. So a bite from Unlikeness Is Us, fourteen carried o’er from the Old English, to come from Gaspereau fall 2017.
As if one had made the people an offering.
They will receive him if he comes in violence. Unlikeness is us.
The wolf is on an island. I am on another.
Mine is secured and surrounded by marsh.
The men on that island are glad at war—
they’ll receive him if he comes in violence. Unlikeness is us.
I have borne a wolf on thought’s pathways.
Then it was rainy weather and I sat crying.
When the war-swift one took me in arms,
the joy he gave me, it was that much pain.
Wolf—my Wolf—thoughts of you
sicken me. How seldom you come
makes me anxious, not my hunger.
Listen, overseer, to our miserable whelp wolf bears to woods.
Easy to make two what was never one; our song together.
Lēodum is mīnum swylce him mon lāc° gife.
Willað hȳ hine āþecgan° gif hē on þrēat cymeð. Ungelīc is ūs.°
Wulf is on īege, ic on ōþerre.
Faest is þæt ēglond, fenne biworpen. (5)
Sindon wælrēowe weras þǣr on ige;
willað hȳ hine āþecgan gif hē on þrēat cymeð. Ungelīce is us.
Wulfes ic mīnes wīdlāstum wēnum dogode°.
Þonne hit wæs rēnig weder ond ic reotugu sæt. (10)
Þonne mec se beaducāfa bōgum bilegde,
wæs mē wyn tō þon, wæs mē hwæþre ēac lāð.
Wulf, min Wulf, wēna mē þīne
sēoce gedydon, þīne seldcymas,
murnende mōd, nāles metelīste. (15)
Gehyrest þu, ead wacer°, uncerne earmne hwelp bireð wulf tō wuda.°
Þæt mon ēaþe tōslīteð þætte nǣfre gesomnad wæs,° uncer° giedd geador.
More commonly “Wulf and Eadwacer.” A woman speaks. She’s pregnant and her people are hostile to the father of the child. Not much else is settled about the poem. Wulf may be a raider from another clan; is their encounter a rape, as has often been thought? That makes her longing for him awfully hard to account for. Something more mutual then. Still though the poem is riven with her ambivalence – she wants him to come, and wants him not to come, and the doubleness in her thought sickens her.
Her ambivalence streaks the poem with ambiguities. A refrain, Ungelīc is ūs, as odd in composition and placement as Stein’s “The difference is spreading.” A female speaker whose relation to the masculine warrior ethos is intimate but aslant and has, for us, only a few interpretive helpmates in the Anglo-Saxon corpus (primarily “Her Case”). Verbs that appear nowhere else in the literature and must be defined in a context as nearly unprecedented as they are. A scribal practice of leaving names uncapitalized that makes it difficult to discern person from epithet from animal. When is wulf a wolf and when is it her Wulf? An oral tradition, not long left behind, in which the utterance “wulf” could function without trouble as both. The scribe, following his lowercase practice, could preserve this ambiguity, but a modern editor has to decide.
I take ead wacer as an epithet, not a name, which plucks out the third party usually thought to be involved – a husband cuckolded by the raider Wulf. That’s extra, a late entry throwing off a poem exquisitely balanced dramatically. Her people and her own mind are opponent enough. Other readers have doubted this third party too: one has, for instance, read the compound as an epithet for Wulf himself, “joy guardian.”
In this translation, which is literally anachronistic, ead wacer is the one who gehyreþ the spoken poem, the wacer of the written poem, the listener, the reader. Not that we’re her imprisoner exactly – but if we weren’t here, she wouldn’t be, either. She’s been hurt into a consciousness so sharp it tears the fabric that gives it voice. Tears the air or page that binds her to, as it divides her from, her first and last interlocutor, us.
lāc. Offering or gift, especially in a ritual sense. A sacrifice; in some contexts a message.
āþecgan. The verb appears to mean “receive” in the sense of food, with a suggestion of killing, destruction, consumption.
ungelīc is ūs. Literally, “(it) is different (with) us” or “(it) is different (between) us.” Disagreement whether the difference is between the speaker and Wulf, or between speaker-and-Wulf and the speaker’s people, or both.
dogode. Possibly the past tense of an otherwise unrecorded dogian, meaning something like “to suffer” or “to follow,” maybe here in imagination (Marsden). Some amend to hogode, past tense of hogian, “to consider, to dwell upon” (Muir). My translation draws from both senses.
ead wacer. Most take this as proper name, that of the speaker’s husband. Ead, “riches, prosperity, joy, property.” Wacher, “watcher.” A possessive spouse and enemy to Wulf. However, because the scribe does not use capital letters to distinguish names, the compound can also be taken as an epithet; one reader reads the compound as an epithet for Wulf himself: “joy guardian” (Marsden). I’ve translated something I hear near the core of the phrase, a sense of being thronged by eyes all round. Note that she calls on the watcher not to see but to hear. She will rip him if she can out of his crowning sense function.
bireð wulf tō wuda. The verb, “bears,” may be in either the present or the future tense. Is she crying wolf here or naming her Wolf? Which is it carries, or will, her newborn whelp to the woods and to what end?
Þæt mon ēaþe tōslīteð | þætte nǣfre gesomnad wæs. Literally, “The man easily tears apart what was never joined.” The line doesn’t alliterate. Muir: “[It] has the ring of a gnomic utterance, and may well be an Anglo-Saxon rendering of the biblical ‘Quod ergo Deus coniunxit, homo non separet’ [Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate] (Matt. 19:6), which might account for its not following an accepted alliterative pattern.”
uncer. First-person dual genitive – “of us two.” Ours as in yours and mine.
Image atop, a belt buckle recovered from Sutton Hoo burial site. Shining instance of orþoncbendum, inborn shaping, cunning clasping, what I am more and the more finding in these poems. Sneaky snakework of this mind.
Delighted to share with you a translation just now out in the wonderful journal Asymptote. I love this journal, its global intention attention & compass. Check out this map of their scope and multiplicity.
My little poem is a pre-modern throwback in an issue otherwise on translation’s front edge. (Okay, there’s some Tzara, too, but he’s still.) Grateful they thought to find room for it. Thematically it does I guess fit an issue called “People from the In-between.” It’s got people at a loss, unbridgeable textual gaps, and runes – runes how to make meaning from which is all dispute.
Well see what you think it’s here. With floating footnotes, and the Old English, and me reading said Old English badly, should you wish to go there.
Whole issue’s rad. Especially worth your time and heart, the special feature on “literature from banned countries,” i.e. those seven or six singled out by the present US administration’s unconscionable incoherent & never mind that they’re unconstitutional travel bans. I’m having a little trouble finding the special section as a cluster, but here’s the headline piece, then you can just wander over borders, as surely mostly we should be.
Wander or sojourn or flee as our luck has it. I avoid the word “privilege” as calcified but I am luck-filled. Many on the map above are not. Many pressed against borders are getting fucked by the stick of the world. May you come to places of rest. You should have, & it’s in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, Trumpwad, so you’re a signatory, you should have a place to live that’s safe for you to love & work & love more & live & die meaningful lives and deaths.
Didn’t expect to go there. (As I say always to my students, boringly to them, let the track of your writing startle you.) Got to get to work on something blah & bureaucratic, plan for the annual fundraising drive for the Zen centre I somehow ended up on the board of, & what why me. But reading this article in The New Yorker has shocked the living shit out of me.
These women and girls and men are moving up Africa along the old slave-trading routes. And what they endure on the journey and when they arrive, if they do arrive, seems to this far away safely sheltered reader impotently empathizing no less than what the slaves did in olden days when they were fuelling the economic growth of the Americas.
Got more on this. For instance bringing it to my nonfiction workshop’s notice, and putting it beside Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, and his effort to broaden a indictment of systemic American racism into a critique of global inequality, including climate change. That’s for another post. God and damn it’s all connected. Where to snip the thread? Thank you friend. May I call you friend? If you’ve read this far.
Asemic writing is writing you can’t read. Semic writing is writing you can. (A back formation, there’s no such word.) I am at play, finessing the difference, with aasemic writing.
A joy of asemic writing is that it draws all the promise of meaning-making, all the whole multifoliate interpretive apparatus, into activity, w/o resolution or conclusion. It’s Steinian indeterminacy, in not the syntax but the graphemes. It’s the made mark as blastocyst, as stem cell, as potential to become. Is it a Deleuzian plateau? Maybe, still sweating that concept out.
So the aasemic script I’ve been playing with is neither indeterminate nor determinate. (GOD you can take this non-dualist thing too far, mm? how’s this not just centrist squish?) It starts with a journal page transcribed in a projective hand – descender a plunge, cross-stroke a jailbreak. Then I wave or shiver it over the photocopier light bar as it slides under, gathering data in.
All this is lead in to say, The New Post-Literate has posted a few, and that makes me happy, cuz they’re the first bits of Overject to be published, other than here, which don’t count. Here’s the link.
And here are a few other recent offerings there I think especially cool.
The home page of The New Post-Literate where it’s all to be found.
A lot of my trouble w/ academic parlance comes from trying to translate Buddhist vocabulary and values to a non-Buddhist circumstance. Most of the rest of it comes from being a lazy and a lousy Buddhist. (The latter’s 90%.)
Feste to Viola, Twelfth Night, “I am [a] corrupter of words.” After they’ve just rung their changes on live, stand, lie. I compared the move on lie to a triple-axle – Viola to Feste, “yo watch this move” – and one of my students found a sextuple axle in it, bam. Post-structuralism, its insights, e.g., words’re banana peels, dates back at least to Shakespeare, if not to Jesus? “On this rock I build my church,” that’s a pun, Jesus is making a funny, I told them, explaining the finger joints of a dactyl, by way pterodactyl. Petros (Peter), petra (rock). Long live the rhizome. Weed shoot that cracks the rock.
Last week I had the pleasure of reading in the epic recital of Beowulf at Bellingham’s local meadery, Honey Moon, þæt wæs good fun. The opening lines wouldn’t quit me after so I kept messing with them. Here’s the result.
My first movie. Crude stuff, okay, but what I’m keen on? Putting images I’ve made by hand in motion and putting sound and voice to them. Doubt I’m done exploring that.
Check out, while I’m channeling the pre-mod, Benjamin Bagby’s astonishing recreation of these same lines. My Old English is too crappy for me to know for sure, but I think he’s probably the Olivier, the Brannagh, of the scop set.
A hard spell. More than a bit PTSDy after my surgery – anxiety waves, wanting to cry lots, panic in the grocery store. Halloween freaked me the fuck out, roving packs in darkened streets and shouts and bangs at all sides.
The trauma’s been here many years, but hasn’t surfaced like this in a while … all the work I’ve done, it’s done some good. But maybe no surprise a minor surgery (hernia repair) brought it back? A knife’s an insult the body knows of, unconsciousness or no, and frozen there, can do nothing about. And this knife in especial was working not very far, in Mitchell’s translation of Rilke’s of Apollo’s of original fire, from that dark centre where procreation flared.
A line from ago I never used and suddenly remember: “Shouts in the street were pieces of me in the mouths of dogs.”
Rousseau had it, I’m sure of it.
[A] word to speak, the least trifle to perform, appear an intolerable labor; everything alarms and terrifies me; the very buzzing of a fly makes me tremble. (Confessions)
This morning I went to the Farmers’ Market and saw Rich and Kendall, also Sean, a former student, and chatting was nice, good. I was looking for herbs to plant in my newly landscaped (or still landscaping) front yard but found instead some apple cider and a chocolate croissant. This afternoon I went to the grocery store and got a flu shot and an anxiety pulse. Tomorrow I’ll drive out to Cloud Mountain Farm and look again for herbs, also fruit trees, apple, plum, frost peach.
My workouts have become meditation by other means – access to inward, when I’m otherwise too distracted or resistant to tune in. So it’s good to be back on the treadmill. Not running, yet, but walking hard up a steep pitch, hard enough for a heartmind opening.
Today it was this. (And tears came in a jag. Which no one can see, nor will anyone, even, if a sob comes loose. Workout a perfected disguise.) There’s a core wound. You can hold it as what’s given to you to hold. Or you can keep living out of it and creating craziness.
This post is actually about a question of genre. Because I can write about this stuff, directly, apparently, in a blog post. And it’s not impermissible either in nonfiction, in memoir. A bit edgy, maybe, but hardly forbidden. But in poetry … no, you can’t do that in poetry, put it in an image, please.
Don’t want it in an image. Want the banal exposed awkward inarticulacy with which it came to me. Because that’s my subject. So fuck peach blossoms and fuck the objective correlative. Here’s what I wrote in my journal when I got home –
– and here’s the notecard I did, yes, transpose it to:
I look about in vain for precedents. Loads of treacly banal sentiment dumps in verse, sure. But I mean legit artistic practices drawing straight from how you speak to yourself about your own feelings and what you do with them and they with you. George Oppen makes concrete poetic objects out of carefully configured abstract surfaces set at colluding angles –
The sad marvels;
Of this was told
A tale of our wickedness.
It is not our wickedness.
– but his concerns are moral and ontological not psychological (“The self is no mystery …”). In many of Frank Bidart’s poems the speaker wrestles semi-articulately with a tormented inner life –
An adult’s forgiveness of his parents
born out of increasing age and empathy
which really forgives nothing,—
but is loathing, rage, revenge,
yet forgiveness as well—;
– but the poem gets its charge from the distance cut open by a persona.
Is what I want, direct speech of and from an emotional life without resort to irony or persona, just inadmissible in poetry? Why permissible in memoir, but not in poetry, when in so many other respects, they’re known to overlap? And where lives the voice, anyway, that says impermissible?
I wonder how I’ll feel about my little notecard when a few days have passed.
I can say this. It belongs, in intent, to Overject as a whole, which means to translate every feature it can of its source text, a minor didactic Old English poem, into the current moment. For that poem is, I have come to feel sure, a trauma document, full to brim with opacities, deferrals, fractures, hapless power moves, inadvertent tender disclosures.
This too I’ll say, writing it has mattered, as writing about it has mattered.
Before you decide my little notecard belongs in the dustbin of banalities, read it for the thoughts and feelings between its phrases and clauses. Those are the ones I took the most care to articulate.