Friday, 16 June 2017

Why should I

Why should I then, with dull forhead and talent,
with rude invention and barren empty brain,
with bad harsh speech and lewd barbarous tongue,
presume to write where thy sweet bell is rung,
or counterfeit your precious words so dear?
No, no, not so, but kneel when them I hear:
for what comparison is there 'tween midday and night,
or what comparison is there between darkness and light,
or what the comparison is between black and white,
far greater difference between my pointless words
and thy quick-witted sweet song in your own style,
so wisely wrought with never a word in vane;
my wavering wit, my knowledge feeble in every way,
my mind misty, these may not fail to fall.
A straw for this ignorant, blabbering imperfectly
beside thy polite laureled terms;

Quhy suld I than, with dull forhede and vayn,
With ruide engine and barrand emptive brane,
With bad harsk speche and lewit barbour tong,
Presume to write quhar thi sueit bell is rong,
Or contirfait sa precious wourdis deir?
Na, na, nocht sua, bot knele quhen I thame heir.
For quhat compair betuix midday and nycht,
Or quhat compare betuix myrknes and lycht,
Or quhat compare is betuix blak and quhyte,
Far gretar diference betuix my blunt endyte
And thi scharp sugurat sang Virgiliane,
Sa wyslie wrocht with nevir ane word in vane;
My waverand wit, my cunnyng feble at all,
My mynd mysty, thir ma nocht myss ane fall.
Stra for this ignorant blabring imperfyte
Beside thi polyte termis redemyte;

vayn - literally 'vein', but with a secondary meaning of talent or ability. Some sources have 'wane' but both words can be used to mean the same thing [Van(e, Vain(e. Also: wan(e, vayn(e, waine, wayn(e, vene, vein, veyne, wen.] I wonder if this is related to the phrase 'in the same vein'/ 'in a similar vein'?

ruide - untutored, dull, ignorant. With a primary meaning of 'rough or unformed'.

engine - mind, mental ability, natural capacity or talent. In my last post I translated it as genius.

compair - a comparison of two things, obviously, but mostly just to point out that yes, it is spelt differently in the three uses of it here (compair/compare). This seems to be the same in all the texts I've seen. I thought maybe there might be a subtle difference in the meaning or grammar (eg compare/comparison) but of the three instances, the spelling that has a different structure ('quhat compare is') is the one that is repeated, not the odd one out. However, I did try and reflect this in my translation of the lines). Douglas is comparing opposites: day/night, dark/light, black/white. He's saying that however great the difference is between these opposites, there is a far greater difference between his 'unworthy' translation and that of Virgil's original.

myrkness - darkness, clouded. Think of 'murky' ( or Mirkwood!) . This appears to come straight from the Old Norse: myrkr "darkness,"  Interesting fact - on the 28th of March, 1652, there was a total eclipse of the sun that plunged the country into darkness ( for a matter of minutes). This so shocked everyone that the incident was referred to as 'Murk Monday' ("Scottish History Without the Boring Bits").    

endyte - style, composition. 'Indite' is an archaic way of saying 'write'. It frequently gets misused for 'indict' - to accuse of a crime, because it sounds the same. Apparently it all stems from the Latin 'dictare' - to declare. If in doubt, blame Latin. The OEM also says 'inditement (n.)
1560s, "action of writing prose or verse," from indite + -ment. Perhaps modeled on French enditement (12c.)' which fits because many Scots words come from French words (eg. 'gardy loo'!) due to the Auld Alliance and the historic shared interests between Scotland and France.  

at all -   in all respects, in every way. I had trouble understanding this construction at first, but then I remembered that we still use 'at all' today, albeit in a slightly different form, eg. I don't like that at all. It adds emphasis to a negative statement.

stra for - 'stra' is literally 'straw'.  Used here +for as an expression of contempt. Similar to 'not worth a straw'

redemyte - wreathed, crowned, adorned. From the Latin to encircle or crown(redimire). Nothing whatsoever to do with 'redeemed' (L. redimere).

Online Etymology Dictionary
Dictionary of the Scots Language
The Poetical Works of Gavin Douglas - John Small ed.
University of Toronto Libraries
Scottish History without the Boring Bits - Ian Crofton, pub. Birlinn Books 2015


Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Fame, honour, praising

Fame, honour, praising, infinite thanks
to you and your sweet-sounding ornate fresh style,
most reverend Virgil, prince of Latin poets,
gem of genius and flood of eloquence.
Thou peerless pearl, patron of poetry,
rose, chronicler, palm of victory, worthy of receiving laurels and all glory,
choice garnet, chief flower and cedar tree,
lantern, lode-star, mirror and paragon,
master of all masters, sweet source and flowing well,
far and wide and everywhere thine heavenly bell is rung;
I mean your skilfully crafted works,
so pithy, vigorous and full of life, 
pleasing, perfect and felt in every way,
as something that is held before your very eyes;
in every volume that it pleases you to write,
far surpassing all other styles,
like to the rose in June with her sweet scent
the marigold or daisy does excell.

Lawd, honour, praysyngis, thankis infynyte
To the and thy dulce ornat fresch endyte,
Maist reuerend Virgill, of Latyn poetis prynce,
Gem of engyne and flude of eloquens.
Thou peirles perle, patroun of poetry,
Roys, regester, palm, lawrer, and glory,
Chosyn charbukkill, chief flour, and cedyr tre,
Lantarn, laid stern, myrrour and A per se,
Maister of masteris, sweit sours and spryngand well,
Wyde quhar our all rung is thyne hevynly bell;
I meyn thy crafty warkis curyus,
Sa quyk, lusty, and maist sentencyus,
Plesand, perfyte, and feilabill  in all degree,
As quha the mater beheld tofor thar E;
In every volume quhilk the lyst do wryte,
Surmontyng fer all other maner endyte,
Lyke as the roys in June with her sweit smell
The mary guld or dasy doith excel.

perle -  Pearl. Natural Scottish pearls have been sought after for centuries due to their lustre and colours (grey, cream, white, lilac and pink). British pearls were mentioned by Roman writers, as well as Scottish writers and poets throughout the 12th to the 17th centuries. The Crown of Scotland features 68 freshwater pearls around the rim at the base.

roys - Rose. There's no indication of the type of rose Douglas is referring to, other than its 'sweit smell', but I like to think that he was referencing the tangling roses that can be found in hedgerows and old railway cuttings across Scotland, with flowers in white, palest blush, or deep pink. They appear in May through June, and seem to last only for the briefest moment, just enough to scent the air, and then drop their petals in the breeze. It's the sort of scent you want to bottle, and is appreciated all the more for having such a short season. When Douglas compares Virgil's works to the rose, marigold and daisy, he is saying that the rose is better because these other two flowers grow for more months of the year. We are so used to having flowers available all year round, that sometimes it's easy to forget that in the past, everything had a season. Douglas also calls on a tradition of the rose in poetry; his fellow poet, William Dunbar, writes of "the fresche Ros of cullour reid and quhyt" where all nature acclaims the rose. Shakespeare describes Titania's bower being draped with the wild rose, eglantine, and Robert Burns speaks of the "red, red rose, that's newly sprung in June..."

charbukkill - Carbuncle. "Early 13c., 'fiery jewel,' from Old North French 'carbuncle'...literally 'little coal'. Originally of rubies, garnets, and other red jewels." A jewel that gleams as bright as a glowing ember. I chose garnet over carbuncle for the obvious reason that 'carbuncle' today has negative connotations, bringing to mind tumours and boils and hideous buildings, rather than a mysterious stone of ancient heritage.

 laid stern -  The Pole Star. This one gave me so much trouble. For ages, I thought that the 'laid stern' corresponded to the 'lantarn' in the first part of the line, and then got mixed up with lights being laid on the stern of boats...Eventually, I realised that it actually meant lodestar, and thus 'a leading light', which would fit in with the lantern and mirror of the rest of the line. Sailors in the past would navigate by fixing their position using the horizon and the pole star.

A per se - Back to your schoolbooks, my children! In the dim and distant past, when learning was by rote and Latin ruled supreme, children reciting the alphabet would  include 'per se' ('by itself') after single letters that could stand as words on their own (A, I, O). They would also recite the 27th letter of the alphabet, the &. This would sound like 'and per se and', which over time, got corrupted into 'ampersand'. Because 'A per se a' came before the rest of the alphabet, in the 15th and 16th centuries, this came to mean something or someone who was pre-eminent.

feilabill - Perceptible. Literally 'feelable', able to be felt. Due to the use of the long 's', I accidentally mixed this up with 'sellabil' (also a genuine Scots word!) and spent quite some time debating the relative merits of 'able to be felt' and 'worthy of price'. Of course, I could have just looked it up, but that would have been too simple...

mary guld - Marigold. These were one of the flowers associated with the Virgin Mary. It was commonly found in fields and gardens, and the petals were used in cooking and in medicine. The dried petals were sometimes used as a substitute for saffron.

dasy - Daisy. Daisies are one of the first flowers that we learn to recognise, stringing them in crowns, necklaces, or lengthy garlands. The name comes from Old English daeges eage, "day's eye" - referring to the way the petals open in the daytime and close over in the evening.

The Book of Prefaces - Alasdair Gray
Online Dictionary of the Scots Language
Scottish Natural Heritage
University of Toronto Libraries
A Shakespearean Botanical - Margaret Wilkes
Just My Type - Simon Garfield
Historic Rose Journal
Online Etymology Dictionary
World Wide Words

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Here begins the work

Here begins 
The work of Virgil, prince of Latin poets
In his twelve books of the Aeneid
Compiled and translated from the Latin,
In our Scots Language
By a right noble and worshipful clerk
Master Gavin Douglas:
Provost of Saint Giles Kirk in Edinburgh
And Parson of Lynton in Lothian,
Who afterwards was Bishop of Dunkeld.

Heyr Begynnys
The wark of Virgyll prynce of Latyn Poetis
In his twelf bukis of Eneados
Compilit and translatit furth of Latyn
In our Scottis Langage
By ane richt nobill and wirschipfull clerk
Master Gawyn Dowglas
Provest of Sanct Gylys Kyrk in Edinburgh
And Person of Lyntoun in Louthiane
Quhilk eftyr was Bischop of Dunkeld

kyrk - kirk, church. One of the Scots words derived from Scandinavian language, such as kist (chest) and kirn (churn). Similar to (and related to) the Old English form cirice. 'The Kirk' is used to refer informally to the Church of Scotland and is found in events like the Kirking of the Parliament (still led by the minister of St Giles) and the Kirking of the Council services performed in some Scottish towns. A 'kirk session' is the body of elders and the minister of a church who decide issues that affect the congregation in the Church of Scotland.

The Aeneid/Eneados

The Aeneid of Virgil
Translated into Scottish verse
Gavin Douglas
Bishop of Dunkeld

This project is going to chart my reading and interpretation of Eneados - Gavin Douglas's 1513 translation of Virgil's Aeneid from Latin into Middle Scots. This includes the twelve prologues that he wrote for each of the books, as well as one he wrote for the 'thirteenth book' written by Maffeo Vegio in the sixteenth century. I've been lucky enough to handle a 1710 edition in the collection of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. Burns was familiar with the work of Douglas; he even uses a quotation from the prologues to introduce Tam O Shanter: "Of Brownyis and of Bogilis full is this Beuk."

I'm interested in the words and language that Douglas uses, both in his prologues and in his translation, and what this language can tell us about life in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. To this end, I'll not only be providing a basic translation of the prologues, but also my notes on any unfamiliar words or phrases I come across. Hopefully you'll find them as interesting as I do.