Translation of the Old English “Ruin” in Presence–Audio

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.

lake park mound

 

 

state natural area poems #2a: warnimont bluff fens

[this first installment reflects that i was not permitted access to the actual site–for my own safety and the safety of the rare and delicate plant communities that inhabit the bluffs]

 

your calcareous fens too rare

the dnr won’t let us find you–

i respect the hell out of that

 

Warnimont Bluff Fens–home to a thriving community of state-threatened False Asphodel

warnimont bluffs

warn 2

Thanks again, Milwaukee County, for caring for this land for us.

New Project for the Pandemic Era…

To maintain sanity, encounter the natural world in my area, and keep the literary instincts moving if not honed, I’m going to start a new project here and on Twitter. (Yes, I’m on Twitter now at @riyeff–those who know me personally will be shocked, I’m sure!)

I’m going to visit the State Natural Areas of Milwaukee County and the four adjacent counties to practice social distancing but also maintain an intimate connection to the natural spaces around my neck of the woods. Then to try to forge some kind of virtual connection with anyone who’s interested, I’ll take a photo and make an impromptu three-line poem (not a haiku unless by accident), posting them here and on Twitter. Maybe other folks will share theirs from other natural areas?

That’s the idea; we’ll see where it goes…

Poetry Reading at Haggerty Museum of Art October 24th, 2.00 pm

If you’re in the Milwaukee area and want to support the arts, please attend a reading that  Dr. Tyler Farrell and I will be offering at the Haggerty Museum of Art on Marquette University’s campus. It’s a great space, and free and open to the public! I’m particularly excited about this reading as I’ll be reading from my translation of Dom John Lydgate’s Troy Book (the great and massive fifteenth-century poem about the Trojan War) for the first time in public.

Here are the bios, plans, and contact info for the venue:

Tyler Farrell is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the English department at Marquette University and teaches writing, poetry, drama, Irish and British Literature and film. He also leads two study abroad programs, one to London in J-session and the other to Ireland in Summer. He has published three books of poetry with Salmon: Tethered to the Earth(2008), The Land of Give and Take (2012) and will be reading primarily from his most recent collection, Stichomythia(2018). Farrell is a fan of poetry and art and always feels the wonders that art forms can bring to us. Go poetry!

Jacob Riyeff is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the English department at Marquette University. In addition to teaching, he is a translator, poet, and scholar of medieval literature. Jacob’s publishing projects mainly center on the poetry of the Benedictine monastic community down thru the ages, and his books include a translation of the tenth-centuryOld English Rule of Saint Benedict (Cistercian Publications); a translation of the collected poems of Dom Henri Le Saux (aka Swami Abhishiktananda), In the Bosom of the Father (Resource); and his own poetry collection, Sunk in Your Shipwreck (Resource). He will be reading from his collection and a couple new poems.

For more information, contact Lynne Shumow at lynne.shumow@mu.edu

 

 

Tea Poems (from “Sunk” Collection)

A short poem for the weekend from my collection, Sunk in Your Shipwreck. Good tea has been one of the most constant companions thru-out my life, from early days going to the Teachery up in Madison, WI on Willie Street, to the long days and evenings I spent sipping at Dushanbe Teahouse in Boulder, CO over two years, to the visits to Red Blossom Tea in San Francisco, to everywhere else I’ve been. Good loose-leaf tea is it: the texture of its leaves, the color of its liquor against white clay, the smells that just don’t stop, the copious array of flavors is like nothing else. Black’s all right, but Dragon Well, Big Red Robe, Cloud Mist—that’s where it’s at.

Here’s a tiny suite of poems on tea culled from two lonely but beautiful nights from years past. (The text follows the audio file.) Happy long weekend—drink some tea!

 

Tea Poems

 

I. Dushanbe Tea House—Boulder, CO 2001

The seats are strangely cool

tonight, the tea is not:

its yellow-green mass

coddled in white clay.

New sounds splash on the air,

and still there’s quiet inside.

 

II. 3rd Street and Highway 101—San Rafael, CA 2005

Alone, I watch my step walking

a familiar street in San Rafael.

 

The air tonight is oolong tea—

glowing lights wrap me up

and tangled blankets shape the horizon.

 

The stars of evening shine and I

see them, knowing a moment’s peace.

 

Chaucer’s “Truth: A Ballade of Good Counsel”

While my first literary love is Old English poetry, I am a fan of Middle English too. In my new collection, I have a few translations of poems from Geoffrey Chaucer. I like to remind folks in general, my students, and myself from time to time that Chaucer did things aside from The Canterbury Tales (as great as they are).

So here’s one of his shorter lyric poems, “Truth,” done in the forme fixe of the ballade, a French verse form that was popular in the 14th and 15th centuries. Contemporary English poets (Chaucer himself and John Lydgate preeminent among them) liked to use it too, and later English-language poets have continued the tradition. I’ve retained the verse form over literal meaning, to preserve the musicality of Chaucer’s original. (In my translation I also omit the “envoy,” the final stanza that is addressed to a particular person, to “universalize” the poem–for better or worse.)

I like especially his image of the futility of “kicking the point of an awl.”

The texts follow the audio file of my reading of the Middle English and translation.

 

Truth: Balade de Bon Conseyl

by Geoffrey Chaucer

 

Flee fro the prees and dwelle with sothfastnesse;

Suffyce unto thy thing, though it be smal,

For hord hath hate, and climbing tikelnesse,

Prees hath envye, and wele blent overal.

Savour no more than thee bihove shal,

Reule wel thyself that other folk canst rede,

And trouthe thee shal delivere, it is no drede.

 

Tempest thee noght al croked to redresse

In trust of hir that turneth as a bal;

Gret reste stant in litel besinesse.

Be war therfore to sporne ayeyns an al,

Stryve not, as doth the crokke with the wal.

Daunte thyself, that dauntest otheres dede,

And trouthe thee shal delivere, it is no drede.

 

That thee is sent, receyve in buxomnesse;

The wrastling for this world axeth a fal.

Here is non hoom, her nis but wildernesse:

Forth, pilgrim, forth! Forth, beste, out of thy stal!

Know thy contree, look up, thank God of al;

Hold the heye wey and lat thy gost thee lede,

And trouthe thee shall delivere, it is no drede.

 

 
Truth: A Middle English Ballade of Good Counsel by Geoffrey Chaucer 

 

Flee the crowd and dwell securely in trueness.

Let your own suffice, though it not be much,

for greed leads to hate and grasping to coldness;

the crowd leads to envy, and wealth deceives such

as hold too tightly everything they touch.

Rule yourself well, that others clearly see,

and have no doubt: the truth shall set you free.

 
Don’t try to amend all that is amiss,

trusting that Lady who spins like a ball;

true rest lies in spurning busyness.

There’s no sense in kicking the point of an awl

nor in the crock’s struggle against a wall.

Rule yourself, you who rule others’ deeds,

and have no doubt: the truth shall set you free.

 

Take what is sent to you in obedience;

struggle, for this world surely begs a fall.

We have no home here, only wilderness.

Go forth, pilgrim! Go forth, beast, from your stall!

Know our true home and thank the God of all.

Hold your course and follow your spirit’s lead,

and have no doubt: the truth shall set you free.

New Book of Poems!

I am very excited to announce the publication of my first poetry collection, Sunk in Your Shipwreck: A Palmer Stammering. It’s now available thru Resource Publications and Amazon.

The book includes poems from the last ten years or so, a number published in journals and magazines but plenty of unpublished material too. I’ll be posting some readings in the coming weeks, but here is the description from the back cover for now:

Sunk in Your Shipwreck is a collection of poems that employs the trope of the pilgrimage to structure its meanderings, especially (in murky and unfaithful ways) echoing the great medieval English poem, Piers Plowman. Moving through a poem from beginning to end is itself a kind of pilgrimage in the mind and on the tongue. The poems here reflect a late modern palmering, a movement from place to place and time to time and back again, movement through language and silence, inner and outer states, contemplative and active, starting and stopping, a longing for a constant or a destination in a life of uncertain circumstances and goals. In this verse peregrination, the palmer seeks out an illuminating and sustaining vision to form and transform common surroundings and moments of human life, a pursuit that is hopeful and darkly radiant by turns.