Saturday, 13 June 2009

Poaching Poetry

More from English Social History

I gather the really big thing about Chaucer -- and even more about Shakespeare -- was that they wrote in English, not Latin, not French, but in a common language of the land, something there had not been before. I never was much into Chaucer, mainly cause I couldn't understand a word of the Canterbury Tales. Much like when we were assigned a Shakespeare play to study, I dutifully read it, then waited the next day for the teacher to tell me what I'd read. Still, I could appreciate this poem, particularly after understanding that it was not meant to rhyme, but to be alliterative. Trevelyan uses it to demonstrate that just because country folk were surrounded by the country every day, they could still appreciate the beauty.

In the monethe of Maye when mirthes bene fele,
And the sesone of somere when softe bene the wedres,
Als I went to the wodde my werdes to dreghe,
In-to the schawes my-selfe a schotte me to gete
At ane hert or ane hynde, happen as it myghte:
And as Dryghtyn the day droue from the heuen,
Als I habade one a banke be a bryme syde,
There the gryse was grene growen with floures -
The primrose, the pervynke, and the piliole the riche -
The dewe appon dayses donkede full faire,
Burgons and blossoms and braunches full swete,
And the mery mystes full myldely gane falle:
The cukkowe, the cowschote, kene were they bothen,
And the thrustills full throly threpen in the bankes,
And iche foule in that frythe faynere than other
That the derke was done and the daye lightenede:
Hertys and hyndes one hillys thay gouen,
The foxe and the filmarte thay flede to the erthe,
The hare hurkles by hawes, and harde thedir dryves,
And ferkes faste to hir fourme and fatills hir to sitt
And he statayde and stelkett and starede full brode,
Bot at the laste he loutted doun and laugt till his mete
And I hallede to the hokes and the herte smote,
And happened that I hitt hym be-hynde the lefte sholdire
Dede as a dorenayle was he fallen.

Now you know what it's like to sit on the Metro surrounded by young Geordies nattering away, except there are no swear words in this poem. There is a popular road race around here where the former organiser used to write the entry form in Geordie. I could just about figure it out by reading it out loud, or at least read it with my lip moving. If I run across a copy -- and I'm sure I've kept a few -- I'll share them. And now, the translation of the above, which I think does a superlative job of appreciating nature. I really does sound olde England-y:

In May, when there are many things to enjoy, and in the summer season when airs are soft, I went to the wood to take my luck, and in among the shaws to get a shot at hart or hind, as it should happen. And, as the Lord drove the day thorugh the heavens, I stayed on a bank beside a brook where the grass was green and starred with flowers - primroses, periwinkles, and the rich pennyroyal. The dew dappled the daisies most beautifully, and also the buds, blossoms, and branches, while around me the soft mists began to fall. Both the cuckoo and pigeon were singing loudly, and the throstles in the banksides eagerly poured out their songs, and every bird in the wood seemed more delighted than his neighbour that darkness was done and the daylight returned. Harts and hinds betake themselves to the hills; the fox and polecat seek their earths; the hare squats by the hedges, hurries and hastens theither in her forme and prepares to lurk there. The hart paused, went on cautiously, sharing here and there, but at last he bent down and began on his feed. Then I hauled to the hook [ie the trigger of the cross-bow] and smote the hart. It so happened that I hit him behind the left soulder...he had fallen down, dead as a door nail.

So, 'Dead as a Door Nail' has been with us since the mid-1300's.... whatever that means.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Personally I am glad you translated.