As it continues snowing here in southeastern Wisconsin, it is a prime season for reading Old English poetry, which seems so at home in the cold and frost and dreary skies.
So, I thought I’d send a short Old English poem out into the world. I translated this little poem (mircro-poetry before micro-poetry!) in my chapbook that St. Francis University Press put out several years ago. Its editorial title is “A Proverb of Winfrid’s Time” and is found in an early-tenth-century manuscript copy of St. Bonfiace’s (born “Winfrid”) letters. It’s the earliest independent verse proverb in the English language that we know of. Text and audio below.
Oft daedlata dome foreldit,
sigisitha gahuem, suuyltit thi ana.
Present Day English:
The idle man puts off glory
and fruitful deeds—then dies alone.
If you’re interested in some poetic translations of less frequently translated Old English poems, and some originals, you can pick up a copy of the chapbook on Amazon here.
On this Marian feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, I thought I’d offer a reading of Dame Gertrude More’s poem “To Our Blessed Lady, the Advocate of Sinners.”
A short prayer-poem set in common metre, “To Our Blessed Lady” was composed by the Benedictine nun Gertrude More in the early seventeenth century and is edited in my fourth book, Dame Gertude More’s Poems & Counsels on Prayer and Contemplation.
Benedictines paved the way of Marian devotion thru-out the early and high middle ages, and here’s Gertrude, co-foundress of Stanbrook Abbey, carrying on the tradition.
I always say I’m excited to announce a new book. But this time I’m even more excited than normal. Gracewing in the UK has done me a great favor in bringing out a book that pulls out all the stops. O Shining Light: Old English Meditations for Advent and Christmastide is the first stand-alone, poetic translation of the Old English Advent Lyrics, a poem that opens the Exeter Book. (The Exeter Book is the first anthology of English poetry, copied down in the southwest of England sometime in the later tenth century.) You can get a copy here!
The Advent Lyrics are a set of short meditations on the “O Antiphons” sung at Vespers leading up to Christmas, and several others. (O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is based on the O Antiphons too.) The early English poet gave us a heartfelt, brooding, and celebratory poem. At the same time, it can be hard for modern readers to see what he is doing clearly at first blush, so we’ve included commentary that breaks open the poetic and theological riches of the poem too. Guides for individual and group reflection too make the book perfect for devotional Advent reading.
I’m particularly delighted because of the following features: my wife Mamie and I collaborated on the Introduction and Commentary; Daniel Mitsui provided illustrations inspired by Anglo-Saxon manuscript illustrations that frame the poem thru-out; Br. Paul Quenon, a terrific poet, photographer, and Cistercian monk, provided a welcoming and astute foreword; and the crew at Gracewing set the work in splendid typeface imitative of Anglo-Saxon script. It’s a poet’s (this poet’s) dream book.
Oh, and for anyone who might want to hear the original poem read aloud, I have posted audio files of myself reading the lyrics here. You can follow along in your book, just like when we were kids! 🙂
An essay of mine bringing together my interest in the Benedictine monastic tradition with my concerns about the pervasive (and pernicious) influence of Big Tech has just been published in The Windhover.
In the essay, I bring to bear on our screen-saturated consciousnesses two key, foundational insights of the western monastic tradition: the daily practice of calling to mind one’s own death (Rule of St. Benedict 4.47) and the call to treat all things like “the vessels of the altar” (Rule of St. Benedict 31:10).
In light of these and other teachings of the monastic tradition, I suggest that “If we were to tend to our own attention with care and concern, we might individually and collectively find ourselves again, find the stable parts of who we are, and begin to build something new with the technological advances that we have surrounded ourselves with . . .” Doing so would bring us into accord with Benedict’s prescription to “let peace be your quest and aim” (Rule of St. Benedict Prologue.17).
The Windhover doesn’t make its contents fully available online, so if you have an interest, please do help support a literary journal open to a variety of Christian perspectives and that publishes solid poems, fiction, and essays by buying a copy here.
I just finished co-leading a retreat on bringing insights from the Upanishads to bear on Christian contemplation with Fr. Cyprian Consiglio “at” New Camaldoli Hermitage. Our first attempt at a Zoom retreat–a few tech snags, but such a delightful and invigorating experience.
Thanks to Fr. Cyprian, the Hermitage and its staff, and everyone who participated–I appreciate your time and sharing with all of us in ways I can’t say. Stay in touch and press on!
In the midst of all our troubles in the States and around the world at the moment, this may seem frivolous, but the liturgical year presses on with the vicissitudes of history. Today is the feast of St. Petroc, a relatively obscure sixth-century saint of Cornwall. (Not on the universal calendar, but his feast is still in the current Martyrologium Romanum.)
I did work on St. Petroc at UW-Madison under the wonderful medievalist Dr. Sherry Reames and ended up writing my first long poem on his life. It’s basically a verse adaptation of his Latin prose life, and you can see it here if you’re in need of a momentary retreat/diversion.
I’m delighted to (belatedly) announce that my translation of the Old English poem “The Ruin” appears in the newest issue of Presence, a great journal run by great people.
I read the poem in the audio file below, but here’s some basic context too:
“The Ruin” is a poem found in the tenth-century Exeter Book, which is the first anthology of English poems and a great treasure of English speakers’ literary inheritance. The poem is spoken by an Anglo-Saxon as he stands before what seems to be a Roman ruin in Britain, and he meditates on the transience of culture and human life as he marvels at what the ruin suggests about the creative energies that once existed where he stands. In my translation, I take this scene and “update” it to a Euro-American standing in front of a Middle Woodland burial mound in Milwaukee, WI’s Lake Park, with the same kind of brooding on transience etc.
The picture below shows the Lake Park mound (the green slope between trees with the stone marker on top) and the audio provides a reading of part of the original Old English and of the whole Modern English translation.
I hope you enjoy what was an immensely rewarding project for me.
The sisters at Stanbrook Abbey reminded me this morning that it’s Dame Gertrude More’s birthday today–March 25, 1606!
Though she was a totally enclosed, contemplative nun, her friends and her spiritual father all said that she was a very personable, energetic, and friendly woman. Always wanting to talk and joke–even with her great respect for silence in the Benedictine tradition too. Reminds me of many monastics I know!
If you’re on the hunt for down to earth but still intensely profound writing on the mystical life, Dame Gertrude is a good bet. Here‘s a link to my new book of her shorter works.