Poetry at the Post: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in 101 tweets by Eric Weiskott

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as translated by A.S. Kline

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (from original manuscript, artist unknown)
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (from original manuscript, artist unknown)

Soon as the siege and assault had ceased at Troy,
the burg broken and burnt to brands and ashes,
the traitor who trammels of treason there wrought
was tried for his treachery, the foulest on earth.

Last year while reading Beowulf and googling everything I could find on the topic, I landed on a “tweet translation” by Stanford medievalist (and “text technologies”) researcher Elaine Treharne, who neatly compressed Beowulf into 100 tweets( #BEOW100)  as a way of engaging her students in a look at “Beowulf from Then ’til Now.”

Intrigued by Treharne’s endeavor, I attempted to replicate her task by tweeting Song of Roland in 291 tweets (#SOR291). It was tedious and half way through, I almost gave up. I was constantly frustrated by forcing meaty text into 140 characters yet the process gave me an inside look into this medieval classic and made me understand how difficult it is to create a “really good translation.”

So, I thought I was done with all of this “tweeting the classics stuff,”  but via the marvels of the small world over the net, I was connected with medieval specialist Eric Weiskott who now plans to continue the “tweetization’ of medieval texts with his “translation” of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Look for #SG101 in the very near future.

Lady Bertilak at Gawain's bed (from original manuscript, artist unknown)
Lady Bertilak at Gawain’s bed (from original manuscript, artist unknown)

Having never read this 14th century chivalric romance. I’ll be adding Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, to the reading list in The Global Reading Group. Send me a note if you’d like to join. And, yes, we will be looking at Weiskott’s translation along with A. S. Kline’s and others. It should be a fun read!

And when this Britain was built by this baron rich,
bold men were bred therein, of battle beloved,
in many a troubled time turmoil that wrought.

Poetry at the Post: Farewell to Bath, Hello Susa!

Farewell to Bath
BY LADY MARY WORTLEY MONTAGU

(15 May 1689 – 21 August 1762)

To all you ladies now at Bath,
And eke, ye beaux, to you,
With aching heart, and wat’ry eyes,
I bid my last adieu.

Lady Montagu in Turkish dress by Jean-Étienne Liotard, ca. 1756, Palace on the Water in Warsaw
Lady Montagu in Turkish dress by Jean-Étienne Liotard, ca. 1756, Palace on the Water in Warsaw

Having just read Northanger Abbey, England, I was pleased to discover “Farewell to Bath” by Lady Montagu, a poem that captures my own feelings as I say farewell to Jane Austen’s Bath.

This poem was fun to read but I wanted to know more about the poet behind the poem. Who was Lady Montagu?

 Pope makes love to Lady Mary Montagu, 1852. Print from oil on canvas original at Auckland City Art Gallery
Pope makes love to Lady Mary Montagu, 1852. Print from oil on canvas original at Auckland City Art Gallery

Born in an aristocratic family in London, Lady Montagu educated herself via her father’s extensive library. Although she considered herself a poet, Lady Montagu is best remembered for her Letters from Turkey, written while living in Istanbul with her husband, the British Ambassador Edward Wortley Montagu. Given access to the private quarters of Islamic women, Lady Montagu was able to offer her readers a fuller—and quite interesting—picture of 18th century Turkey.

Lady Montagu was witty, intelligent, and quite outspoken. She rejected Alexander Pope’s romantic advances; openly took Jonathan Swift to task for his poetry; and introduced smallpox inoculation to England from Turkey.

A propos of distempers, I am going to tell you a thing, that will make you wish yourself here. The small-pox, so fatal, and so general amongst us, is here entirely harmless, by the invention of engrafting, which is the term they give it. There is a set of old women, who make it their business to perform the operation, every autumn, in the month of September, when the great heat is abated. People send to one another to know if any of their family has a mind to have the small-pox; they make parties for this purpose, and when they are met (commonly fifteen or sixteen together) the old woman comes with a nut-shell full of the matter of the best sort of small-pox, and asks what vein you please to have opened. She immediately rips open that you offer to her, with a large needle (which gives you no more pain than a common scratch) and puts into the vein as much matter as can lie upon the head of her needle , and after that, binds up the little wound with a hollow bit of shell, and in this manner opens four or five veins. (From Letters from Turkey)

Eventually she abandoned England—and her husband—to live abroad..and…well… I am digressing from Bath.

Now is the time to say goodbye to society balls, carriage rides and waters “Hot reeking from the pumps” as we travel back to ancient Persia and Greece.

Our next read in the virtual literary salon is The Persians by Aeschylus. Pride, grief and the folly of vengeance—all rolled up in a script of a mere 23 pages. We begin DECEMBER 1, 2014. Send a message to alicecatherinej@gmail.com to join. Free and open to all.

We have a great group of worldwide readers and although we meet online, at times there are surprising personal encounters. Two readers recently met for the first time at a book fair in Scotland while just last Sunday my neighbor—and also a Northanger Abbey reader—stopped by with this nice note a la Jane Austen.

jane austin 1jane austen 2

My heart is full I can no more—
John, bid the coachman drive.

Good-bye Bath, Hello Susa!

Poetry at the Post: Life in a Roman Villa, The Seuso Treasure

“The Roman Villa” by Mervyn Lagden

Not only sheepmen, weavers, craftsmen
Lie under the Cotswald turf…

Seuso Hunting Plate in the  Hungarian Parliament Building Photo by Derzsi Elekes Andor - Own work CC by SA 3.0
Seuso Hunting Plate in the Hungarian Parliament Building
Photo by Derzsi Elekes Andor – Own work CC by SA 3.0

The story behind the Seuso Treasure, fourteen Roman-era silver worth perhaps as much as $200 million, is prime material for a blockbuster movie. Discovered more than 30 years ago, this treasure has been involved in a series of sales and acquisitions, illegal intrigue and possibly three murders.

Lake Balaton, July 2014
Lake Balaton, July 2014

When Sotheby’s put this treasure up for sale in New York in 1990, three countries came forward to claim ownership: Croatia, Hungary, and Lebanon.

Archeological features, however, indicate that the silver most likely was part of a 4th century Roman Villa in the Balaton region of modern day Hungary. (“Contributions to the Archeology of the Seuso Treasure” by Zsolt Visy)

Part now of the upland the the tools they used…

Roman Ruins Lake Balaton Region, July 2014
Roman Ruins Lake Balaton Region, July 2014

Early this year, seven pieces of this ancient Roman silver treasure were repatriated to Budapest with the logistical help of the Hungarian Counter Terrorism Center.

Penates and coloured pavements, ivory pins
And fingers that held them—warm brown mesh
Under the roots and the rabbit gins,

Poetry at the Post-Budapest: The Herend Royal Garden & Marianne Moore

“Nine Nectarines and Other Porcelain” by Marianne Moore

through slender crescent leaves
of green or blue—or both

Stopping for afternoon tea at The Four Seasons Hotel on a steamy Budapest afternoon, I found coolness and calm in the restored 1906 art nouveau Gresham Palace. I also found porcelain.

The Herend Porcelain Manufactory was founded in 1826 and has been producing hand painted pottery pieces ever since.

Tea was served on porcelain in “The Royal Garden Pattern. ” This is a modern age variation of the Victoria pattern with a focus on the Peony. Purple is the traditional color for royalty and the tea was a nod to the regal after an afternoon enmeshed in the terrors of the Nazi and Communist years.

Sadly, as presented in Marianne Mooore’s hauntingly lovely poem “Nine Nectarines and Other Porcelain,” the peony like the “red/cheeked peach cannot aid the dead.”

Poetry at the Post, Day 3: “Ode” by Arthur O’Shaughnessy

Kensai Greem Cemetery, December 2005 Photo courtesy of Justin Cormack Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
Kensai Greem Cemetery, December 2005
Photo courtesy of Justin Cormack
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
“Ode” by Arthur O’Shaughnessy (1844-81)

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,

A British poet of Irish descent, O’Shaughnessy earned his living as an herpetologist at the British Museum. His real love, however, was not the frogs and snakes but literature, especially poetry.

For me, this poem is special because it reminds me of the importance of beginning new dreams. Instead of focusing on the past—its successes and failures– and the passage of time and generations, I like to think of the dream that is being conceived. (And, Yes! My dream is coming true! #lateantiquitystudiesBudapest2014)

For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.

Sadly, O’Shaughnessy died of a “Chill” at the age of 36. He is buried at Kensai Green Cemetery in London. For the full poem and a bit of fairy dust, visit http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/242554

May 25, 2014
May 25, 2014