Somebody Loves Me

Two somebodies went together and replenished my favorite tea.
Thank you JAB and KGB!!
Did you see how many bags?  240
You know what that means, don’t you?
I’m prepared to offer you a proper spot of tea. 
My teapot and cozy are on standby status.
Party, anyone?

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~  

The kitchen project is humming, about 1/3 done. 
If I had known I would get such a lift from clean cupboards,
I would have started finished them earlier.

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Adeste Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful) is a favorite carol.  It was the first carol we learned in Latin.  A few years later I discovered Athanasius, who fought valiantly for the deity of Christ.  Every time we sing “Ver—–ry God, Begotten, not created” I get choked up and say a prayer of thanks for Athanasius, God’s gift to the early church. 

In addition to Athanasius, I will think of translations when we sing that verse.  This, from Mysteries of the Middle Ages by Thomas Cahill:

This early exaltation of Mother and Child already demonstrates
the innovative Christian sense of grace, no longer something
reserved for the fortunate few–the emperors and their
retinues–but broadcast everywhere, bestowed on everyone,
“heaped up, pressed down, and overflowing,” even on
one as lowly and negligible as a nursing mother.
In the words of a famous Latin hymn,

“God…is born from the guts of a girl.”

The hymn is “Adeste Fideles,” composed in the eighteenth
centry (in a very medieval spirit) by John F. Wade.
The full text of the cited quotation is
“Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine
Gestant puellae viscera”
The second line was unfortunately translated
in the nineteenth century by Frederick Oakley as
“Lo! he abhors not the Virgin’s womb.”
p. 103

Lavransdatter and Learning

Buried in the end notes of Thomas Cahill’s Mysteries of the Middle Ages:

There is no single work that gives one a more intense and extensive understanding of the Middle Ages than Sigrid Undset’s astonishing three-volume novel Kristin Lavransdatter, set in Norway in the first half of the fourteenth century and covering the life of one woman from birth to death.  It has recently been republished (1997-2000) by Penguin in a much improved translation by Tiina Nunnally.  If an interested reader were to undertake but one more study of things medieval, Undset is your woman.  Her other medieval novels, The Master of Hestviken, a tetralogy and Gunnar’s Daughter, are almost as masterful.

This is the kind of thing which delights me on several levels.  When anyone enthuses about a book I love, I am ready to curl up into a ball and start purring.  When other books are mentioned in the same breath, I mark them on my ever expanding list of books to read.  But it is a particularly sharp jab of joy to learn something and soon after see a reference to it and recognize it. “Hey! We’ve just met!”  I’ve written about this synthesis here and here.

The process of learning can be compared to Velcro strips.  The loops of new information need little hooks to connect with.  This is a great reason to read a broad scope of material.  Every thing you learn is a new growth of little Velcro hooks that will snag some idea floating around.  In the absence of hooks, of connections, whatever you are learning won’t stick to you. 

I had the most hilarious Velcro moment while reading this sentence in Huizinga’s The Autumn of the Middle Ages, originally written in Dutch in 1919.  

“Beneath the medieval-satirical dress here is fully formed the mood of a Watteau and of the Pierrot cult, only without moonlight.” 

A month ago I would have read that sentence, shook my head and shrugged in ignorance.  Pierrot cult, without moonlight?  However, I’ve been listening to Professor Robert Greenberg’s How to Listen To and Understand Great Music, where he explained and played several portions of Arnold Schönberg’s 1912 composition Pierrot Lunaire [Moonstruck Pierrot].  Pierrot, a clown figure from French Pantomime, shows up in the music, poetry and art of the early twentieth century.  Europeans understand the connotations of Pierrot in the same way that we know what Uncle Sam or John Doe means.  Who knew there’d be a connection between such disparate studies?

Pablo Picasso’s Pierrot


finished one book, I’m starting three. 

Three books, three introductions. 

K. Le Guin’s opening paragraph to Buffalo
Gals and Other Animal Presences
resonated with me.  I, too, prefer to read the introduction after I’ve read the book, a behavior
I’ve never heard spoken of before.  Any
one else do this? 

Having done introductions before, I
have found that many readers loathe them,
reviewers sneer at them, and critics
dismiss them; and then they all tell
me so.  As for myself, I rather like
introductions, but generally read them
after reading what they were supposed to introduce me to.  Read as extra-ductions,
they are often interesting and useful. 
But that won’t do.  Ductions must be intro, and come first, like
salad in restaurants, a lot of  cardboard
lettuce with bits of red wooden cabbage soaked in dressing, so that you’re disabled for the entrée.


Cahill’s latest book in his Hinges of History series, Mysteries of the Middle Ages, The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art
from the Cults of Catholic Europe
, is a lush, beautiful book.  The type, sidebars, illustrations, yea, even
the paper announce: this book is special. 
I’m unsure of his premises and am feeling a bit reserved about the book.  But these words warmed me:


All across Europe,
a pilgrimage in company with others was a life-defining event and one of the
principal satisfactions of a well-tuned life. […]  I invite
you on a pilgrimage, dear Reader.  Come
along with me (and many others) to places
we have never seen before and to people we could  otherwise never have expected to know. We are surely
sundry folk, as Chaucer would have
called us, and we shall meet sundry folk even more exotic than ourselves.  “By
adventure”—by happenstance—we have fallen into


Tuchman’s introduction to A Distant
Mirror, The Calamitous 14th Century
  provided the best reason I’ve
ever read for learning historical dates– in one short sentence.  Oh man, this revved my engine.

Dates may seem dull and pedantic to
some, but they are fundamental because
they establish sequence—what precedes and what follows—thereby leading toward an understanding of cause and effect.

Here’s a sequence I’ve pondered, one I’ve never seen mentioned in
print.  What does The Fall of Constantinople
to the
Ottoman Empire in 1453 have to do with
Luther’s Reformation of 1517?  Have you
ever wondered why Martin Luther died from natural causes at the age of 62, when
many reformers/heretics were burned at the stake before and after him?  Charles V wanted to deal with Luther, but the
Ottoman Turks were knocking at the door of
Hmm.  So the threat of Islam gave
the Reformation a small period of incubation. 
I talked to a missionary to Turks living in
Germany and posited this
theory.  He nodded vigorously and said
that the connection is something many Moslems are aware of.


Kristin Lavransdatter

This photo was taken from the campground where we just spent two days with my husband’s folks.   We spent one day mushrooming (boy-howdy, did we get the morels) and one day bass fishing.

Curt and I have an understanding:  I bring a book and read until the fishing is hot.  Then, and only then, will I fish.  Otherwise, he gets to run the boat, cast away, reel in to his heart’s content.  Better yet, he doesn’t have to untangle lines.  We’re both content and get to be together doing what we love.  We soak up the quiet, punctuated by the plop of a  fish jumping, the quiet hum of the trolling motor or the gossipy chuck-chucking of a chukar on the bank.

My book fascinated and occupied me.  I first heard of Kristin Lavransdatter reading a book list; I took note when Elisabeth Elliot named it her favorite novel.  Set in medieval Norway, it tells the tale of a young woman who grows up her father’s favorite child, but refuses his choice of husband preferring a morally unsuitable man.  [I read the first book of the trilogy, The Bridal Wreath.]  Well.  This is a tale of universal application – girl loves the wrong boy. 

What I appreciated about this book is the same thing I liked in Anna Karenina. It is an honest portrayal of love, lust, sex and everyday life after the roll(s) in the hay.  The wages of sin is death, but we’re dishonest if we pretend that the advance draw isn’t delicious.   Sigrid Unset does an excellent job revealing the deceit, the subtle changes in thinking, the isolation and the separation that follow Kristin on the path she takes.

And sometimes in church, and elsewhere too, she would feel a great yearning to take part in all that this meant, the communion of mankind with God.  It had ever been a part of her life; now she stood outside with her unconfessed sin. (p.166)

When I was a girl at home ’twas past my understanding how aught could win such power over the souls of men that they could forget the fear of sin; but so much I have learnt now: if the wrongs men do through lust and anger cannot be atoned for, then must heaven be an empty place. (p.174)

It is painful to see the tight knit love between Kristin and her father Lavrans snag, tear and unravel.

You have wrought sorrow and pain to many by this waywardness of yours, my daughter — but this you know, that your good lies next to my heart. (p.211)

“Father,” said Kristin, “have you been so free from sin all your life, that you can judge Erlend so hardly–?” “God knows,” said Lavrans sternly, “I judge no man to be a greater sinner before Him than I am myself.  But ’tis not just reckoning that I should give away my daughter to any man that pleases to ask for her, only because we all need God’s forgiveness.” (p.226)

People in the midst of self-gratification seldom think of the effect their actions will have on other people, or how many people they will affect. 

“Much have I done already that I deemed once I dared not do because ’twas sin.  But I saw not till now what sin brings with it — that we must tread others underfoot.” (p.259)

In the end, Kristin gets what she wants – minus the joy.  What she thought would fulfill her doesn’t satisfy.

I Love My Job

I had a spurt of growth last night.  While I was reading on my side of the bed, everything came together in a tangible and tingling synthesis.  I almost woke my husband so he could share the tingles; but he’s heard Hildegard this and Dante that, Lewis said this and Sayers said that enough while his eyes are open; I didn’t want to disturb his dreams of finding the great tamarack. 

I had just gulped in a Teaching Company Course on the High Middle Ages in which I learned about Frederick II Hohenstaufen [what a great name!] and here old Hohenstaufen “stupor mundi” (wonder of the world) makes an appearance in Dorothy Sayers’ introduction to The Inferno.  It was like bumping into a guy in the Safeway produce section the day after a party where you first met.

Back in December, I determined to read a Charles Williams book this year but hadn’t a clue where to start.  Charles Williams was a close friend and mentor to C.S. Lewis; my previous attempts to read Williams were DOA.  In Sayer’s last paragraph of her introduction she acknowledges her debt to Charles Williams’ The Figure of Beatrice.  Score!  It’s in my Amazon shopping cart.

But the real tingles came reading the first 70 pages of Peter Leithart’s book Ascent to Love.  In the first chapter Leithart takes a stroll through medieval literature and examines the treatment different writers give to the differences between pagan and Christian outlooks.  It recapped our year of study in five gorgeous pages, referencing The Fairie Queene, Beowulf, The Song of Roland, Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight and the Canterbury Tales.  I don’t knit, but it was like gathering up a flat piece of knitting into a recognizable sweater.  Or perhaps it was more like putting the last piece into a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. [I have been known to hold on to a piece so I get that pleasure, she says with a reddening face.]  It fits!  It connects!  It jives!

I. Get. It.  !!!!!  It is a glorious life.

Until this morning.  My husband woke up very early and was bouncier than Tigger.  He started a load of wash, walked around the house at a fast clip, opened and shut closet doors carelessly, and actually chuckled the second time I hit the snooze button.  As I left on my walk, I tossed Ascent to Love in my 16 yr. old son’s direction.  Read the first chapter, I instructed.  It will pull the whole year together – it’s Just … Incredible.  When I returned my son said, Mom, what was so great about this?  It was Boring.

Sigh.  We still have work to do.


A Lonely Distant Shout

This from Johan Huizinga (pronounced HOY-zeen-guh)
in The Autumn of the Middle Ages p.4

Just as the contrast
between the summer and winter
was stronger then than in our present lives,
so was the difference
between light and dark,
quiet and noise.
The modern city hardly knows
pure darkness
or true silence anymore,
nor does it know
the effect of a single small light
or that of a lonely distant shout.


The Sword and the Circle

When I decided to learn more about the Arthurian legends I had a choice between Thomas Malory’s lengthy Le Morte D’Arthur or Rosemary Sutcliff’s trilogy written for children.  Mark Twain is quoted as saying that “the reading of any two chapters of Le Morte D’Arthur would put even the Knights of the Round Table to sleep.”

Heh, heh.  It’s no agony to choose, for apart from time limitations, I believe that Sutcliff is one of the most gifted writers of children’s books.  She has been steeped in the old literature (yes, even Malory); she comes as close as a modern author can to replicating the cadences and word pictures of the great medieval poets.  Her turns of phrases (he drew a breath of quiet), the kennings (compound expression used in place of a noun, i.e. hunger-water for saliva), the pulsing verbs (horses went bucketing along the road) and in particular the vivid similes are quite extraordinary. 


Meanwhile, on a day of late summer when the air shimmered like a midge cloud with the heat… p.89

…the wind howled like a wolf pack in the long dark nights.  p. 103

Then the woman who had come up behind him gathered round her, and one took off her own smock and slipped it over her head, and another wrapped her in her cloak, for she was as naked as a needle. p.151

And the love between Tristan and Iseult would not let them be, dragging at them as the moon draws the tides to follow after it… p.183

I [Iseult]  must end what has been between my Lord Tristan and me, not leave it flying like a torn sleeve. p.191

So much separates us from medieval thought; many stories are thus inaccessible.  Some are plain cheesy. There, I said it. Others ate around the edges of my heart, to quote my friend Di.  My favorite is Gawain and the Loathely Lady.  It  touches the tender psyche of women, most of whom are insecure about their appearance.

In short, King Arthur gets in a bind; an ugly, deformed, misshapen hag (Lady Ragnell) saves Arthur in exchange for one wish.  She asks for one of his Knights of the Round Table to marry her.  He’s devastated to have to honor his word.  All the married knights praise God they don’t qualify to serve their king this time.  Gawain takes one for the team, really for his king, and offers to marry her.  He is kind-hearted and determined to make the best of it.  On their wedding night he steels himself to be a true husband in the biblical way, ahem, and when he arrives at the bed, lo! she is changed into the babe of all babes.  

Lady Ragnell tells him that his kindness broke half of the spell and now he must choose whether to have the babe at night and the hag at day, or vice versa.  He bounces between the options and then asks her which she would prefer.  In asking her preference, he breaks the entire spell, because he allowed her to choose.  The next day the court is astounded at the beautiful woman who is his wife.

It’s a sensitive story, well-told, but it leaves lingering questions.  The puzzle Arthur could not solve without the hag’s help was this: What is it that all women desire?  The correct answer is: Their own way.  Gawain profited from giving Lady Ragnell her own way.  Does Genesis 3 come to mind when you read this?  While the story doesn’t indicate that this will be the pattern of their marriage, the thought of a marriage where I always got my own way is terrifying.   Hmmmm.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  has always left me a little on edge.  Really, it’s such a strange story.  I didn’t get the point and was left shrugging my shoulders. 

This time, reading J. R. R. Tolkien’s alliterative translation was pure delight. Maybe as I age I can find beauty in works without demanding that they conform to my modern sensibilities.   Reading Sir Gawain was as delicious as reading and listening to Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf.  They really are companion books.

Do you know the story?  Sir Gawain, a knight of the Round Table, enters a be-heading (!) game with a Green Knight.  He finds himself at a warm castle at Christmas, knowing he is engaged to meet and be beheaded by this Green Knight on New Year’s Day.  His host tests him with another game in which the host’s wife enters Sir Gawain’s bedroom and offers herself to him.  Three times he refuses, but the last time he accepts a gift from her.  The rest of the story, gentle reader, is in the book.

In the introduction, Tolkien writes:

The story is good enough in itself.  It is a romance, a fairy-tale for adults, full of life and color; and it has virtues that would be lost in a summary, though they can be perceived when it is read at length: good scenery, urbane or humorous dialogue, and a skilfully ordered narrative.


Let us be grateful for what we have got, preserved by chary chance: another window of many-colored glass looking back into the Middle Ages, and giving us another view.

I feel like the lady in Costco, passing out samples, persuading you to come, buy and eat.  Here are some morsels:

The fair head to the floor fell from the shoulders,                    
and folk fended it with their feet as forth it went rolling.           
                                        p.39 this just makes me laugh!

 After the season of summer with its soft breezes,
when Zephyr goes sighing through seeds and herbs,
right glad is the grass that grows in the open,
when the damp dewdrops are dripping from the leaves,
to greet a gay glance of the glistening sun.                                
                                        p.43 more lush seasonal descriptions follow

soups they served of many sorts, seasoned most choicely,
in double helpings, as was due, and divers sorts of fish;
some baked in bread, some broiled on the coals,
some seethed, some in gravy savoured with spices,
and all the condiments so cunning that it caused him delight.
                                           p. 57  what a feastly description!

*     *     *     *     *        

Quick story:  I was teaching a literature class and mentioned Sir GAH-win.  After some discussion, one of my students erupted, “OH! Sir Guh-WAYNE!  I didn’t know who you were talking about!”  

At that point, I realized that I had never heard the Sir Gawain’s name spoken!!   My student  hadn’t either.  I’ve listened to a Teaching Company tape and the lecturer said GAH-win. Now we know!

*    *    *    *    *    *

A bonus find:  A lovely site on alliterative poetry called Forgotten Ground Regained.  Paul Deane offers his 1999 translation of parts of Sir Gawain.  If you like poems, check out  A Cry to Heaven (after Psalm 6). The site is worthy of time to explore.  Great fun.

Awarding a Burden of Woe

I am held captive, wrapped in the beautiful robe of Old English poetry. 

This morning I read Doer’s Lament.  Doer (“the brave one”) is a court-singer who has been replaced by a new minstrel. He rehearses historic adversities and ends each stanza with the refrain

That evil ended.    So also may this!

Here is one section:

  He who knows sorrow,     despoiled of joys,
Sits heavy of mood;    to his heart it seemeth
His measure of misery     meeteth no end.
Yet well may he think     how oft in this world
The wise Lord varies     His ways to men,
Granting wealth and honor     to many an eorl,
To others awarding     a burden of woe.

Do you like riddles?  Here is one for you entitled Book-Moth.  It foreshadows Hamlet’s humor.

A moth ate a word.     To me it seemed
A marvelous thing     when I learned the wonder
That a worm had swallowed,     in darkness stolen,
The song of a man,     his glorious sayings,
A great man’s strength;     and the thieving guest
Was no whit the wiser     for the words it ate.


Hey, all you word birds: do you have an “aha” moment when the meaning of word became clear to you?  Do share them; I love words and I love aha moments.

I remember:

window = wind hole
to make manifest (make clear)  = comes from hitting palm (hand, manus) against forehead,
                                                    the action you make when you  “get it”

Here are some words which have tickled me in my medieval history reading:

Canterbury = Kent town (Augustine of Kent)
vassal = Celtic word for boy
cardinal = hinge of door (hinges of the great papal door)
sheriff = shire reeve

Janie once again has inspired me – this time to list new vocabulary I learn in my reading. If I wasn’t sure-certain about a word, I looked it up.  What a great thing, because the author of this college textbook uses these words regularly. 

vicissitude = changeable
hegemony = preponderant influence, authority, especially one nation over others
jejune = lacking nutritive value, dull, unsatisfying
lugubrious = mournful
compurgation = to clear completely, clearing of accused person by oaths
fisc = a state or royal  treasury
febrile = or or relating to fever, feverish
autarky = self-sufficient, policy of establishing a self-sufficient and independent national economy
abnegation = denial, especially self-denial
nexus = connection, link, a connected group or series
tautologies = needless repetition of ideas, statement or word
efflorescence = period or state of flowering, blossoming, culmination
turpitude = depravity, inherent baseness
apotheosis = deification, quintessence, the perfect example
eremitic = a recluse or hermit, especially a religious recluse
cenobitic = member of a convent, from koinos, common + bios, life

When I looked up the last two, I found this quirky poem.  Does anyone understand the last two lines?  Will you make them manifest to me, please?

    O Coenobite, O coenobite,
Monastical gregarian,
You differ from the anchorite,
That solitudinarian:
With vollied prayers you wound Old Nick;
With dropping shots he makes him sick.
Quincy Giles

Old Nick = the Devil.
you = cenobite, one from a group
vollied prayers = simultaneously discharged, from a group
dropping shots = anchorites besides being alone were on mountain tops
he = anchorite
him = Old Nick]