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


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