So much has happened…

…and I’ve blogged about none of it! I’ve been pretty busy. Just last month I got certified as a live weapons marshal and feastcratted for the first time ever. Then, last weekend, I had the honor of winning Golden Lily’s bardic competition. 🙂 The first winner chosen was a bard who wrote a lovely song and delivered an excellent performace, but he was Trimeran and thus couldn’t commit to coming back and running the competition next year, which is one of the duties of the winner, so as I was runner-up, the title passed to me. The theme was “The Weather of Spring” and the poem I recited was an untitled, tongue-in-cheek response to the prompt. As it references Greek mythology, I chose iambic trimeter for the rhythm of my lines, as this was the meter that they typically used for less serious works.

Is it the flowers or Zeus
Responsible for spring?
For with the warm weather
A golden shower brings
An excess of humor
A face that swells full ripe
Full of the golden seed
That stretches the skin tight
With the unasked for child
Of the breeding season
Savage punishment in
Nature’s lovely treason
The whole length of my throat
Now a shredded sore hose
Head of rag, nose of rose
Cavities of my skull
Battered by unseen blows
And the worst of it is
Tis difficult to know
Whether this torment is
Fathered by the bloom, or
By great Olympus sent
For like fair Leda I
truly did not consent
To be invaded by
this airy golden rain
Though some do welcome spring
To me it brings but pain

I think it ends nicely here, but I also wrote a bonus stanza which I didn’t recite, but am nonetheless fond of. (The last four lines need work but I gave up fiddling with it when I decided not to include this in the final version.) 😛

Think upon Athena
Surely a child of May
Given that she sprang forth
From head divine that day
His phlegm her origin
His tears not sprung from mirth
His wheezing her labor
His mighty sneeze her birth
Indeed it does make sense
that thus is wisdom born
Needed for the late year
Beginning as a thorn
That drives us to madness
Though in further season
We greet it with gladness
Pollen does not well suit
But pays for suffering
We love the summer fruit
Born of relentless spring

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Fabliau

For Dreamstone A& S competition this year, I entered a poem to fit the French “Feast of Fools” theme, and won the Scholars Choice Prize! (It may have been because my entry was the only one that was theme appropriate, but hey, I’ll take it!) 😉 The fabliau was a genre of medieval poetry, most popular in France in the 12th-14th century, which dealt with bawdy subject matter and were generally humorous and silly. Fabliaux were usually based on common folktales that were in circulation throughout Europe at the time, and in French were formatted into octosyllabic rhyming couplets with a total poem length of 100-200 lines on average. I had a friend comment upon seeing the manuscript that my poem was rather long, but at 103 lines, its actually on the shorter side for a  fabliau. I based mine on a European folktale, The Snow Child. This folktale already had a fabliau written about it, but in French (L’enfant de Nieve), which I can’t read, so I felt pretty free in writing an English version without fear of inadvertent plagiarism. To make it a little more original, I added a twist ending and a punch line to the end of the tale to make it my own.

 

The Snow Child

 

Once there was a merchant free .

Lived him there in fair Picardy,

And had him there a fair sweet bride ,

Whose chaste modesty was his pride.

They loved each other both full well,

Though it must be said, truth to tell,

After a time found their love hard,

For their life was oft sore marred,

By the journeys he needs must take,

To tend the trade and riches make.

Long and far afield he must go,

To make their future fortune grow.

For this it was all well and good,

But true it must be understood,

When a fire is unattended,

Often that is swiftly mended,

By a wife who finds on her own,

The warmth that she has not at home.

Thus it was on one fine day,

As he returned in the month May,

From a two year trip to the west,

He found indeed that he was blest,

With a red cheeked and rosy son,

Who of years had not even one.

When in his face his wife did spy,

The ire that grew in his black eye,

She swift began to him proclaim,

That miracle last winter came,

To her as she walked out one night,

To view the gentle snowfalls sight.

As she looked up into the sky,

Gave she a huge and mournful sigh.

Into her mouth a snowflake fell,

And caused her belly soon to swell,

As in her large began to grow,

This magic child of winter snow.

Indeed, said he, how blessed we are,

Upon us shines a lucky star,

That our family might still increase,

Though I travel and never cease,

My jouneys for our fire and meat,

I can return to a babe sweet.

And so it was the merchant came,

To raise the child that bore his name,

Until the boy was near full grown,

As if he was his very own.

His son he had of years fourteen,

But in life was like a bough green.

Because of this the trader said,

To the woman he hath wed,

Now that he is nigh a man made,

Tis time that he learn well to trade,

And so our horse I will equip,

That we may make a merchant trip,

To season him in worldly way.”

And once he did her fears allay,

They left apace that very week,

Together did the south coast seek,

Till he found an Italian port,

That dealt in trade of blackest sort.

Found the merchant a slaver there,

And sold to him his son and heir.

Making himself a profit thus,

He counted his shaming a plus,

And returned him home most well pleased,

With the vengeance he had seized,

From his wayward straying wife,

And thought him then well set in life.

Then he trumped his wife’s story well,

To her he did sweet retell,

Her own story, a winter’s tale,

Then told of how, in great detail,

In the southern sun one hot day,

Her son did sadly melt away.

But his success was not complete,

Indeed he found himself well beat.

He found him there upon return,

Another name for him to learn.

For in his abscence most prolonged,

Another child had come along.

He had himself a daughter now,

And again his wife did disavow,

Charges of her dishonesty.

For as she walked along the sea,

Sighing her sadness to the scree,

She tired as her hunger fierce grew.

She worried not, for she well knew,

That truely there can be no fault,

In swallowing a grain of salt,

To allay her strong hunger pain,

But knew not she would soon gain,

Another child, bonny and new,

For the salt was magical too.

At this the cuckold could say naught,

And felt that he was truely caught,

For now he could very well see,

She had achieved the victory.

Once more his anger did grow large,

And unto her he did so charge:

To you, wife, I do needs must tell,

That if you ever loved me well,

When next that heaven sent white mote,

Unto you doth swift approach,

Tremble upon your open lip,

My love, do not swallow—just spit!

Fail-time Lesson!

Last week, I had another bow failure, this one on the range at Gulf Wars. Happily, this wasn’t a catastrophic failure, but was sad nonetheless. The bow had been shooting really well and I was pretty happy with it. This failure happened at the upper limb nock, actually. As you can see, I had chosen to go with the period appropriate longbow side nock, but as I don’t have any antler or horn to work with at the moment, I hadn’t tipped it with the period appropriate horn. The pressure of the string downward on the nock actually split the limb in half lengthwise, rendering it useless. The bow itself is still intact and that’s probably the least dangerous way a bow can break in use, but it was still a sad day. I didn’t even know that could happen! Lesson learned: In the future I would not recommend anyone using the period side nock style unless reinforcing with a horn tip. I’m aware of some non reinforced Native American style bows that have the side nocks and do just fine, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. On the upside, yay for proof positive of the practical purpose of horn nocks!

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***UPDATE***

As per request, here’s a photo of the bow before it became all broken and sad. This was at our baronial championship shoot. I shot in a terribly mediocre manner,  but with enthusiasm. The bow itself performed well. I’m actually holding the bow too high at center, because I put my nocking point on in a hurry five minutes before we were supposed to hit the range.  😛 #procrastinator4lyfe

bowtimes

Jueju: The Last Rose

Here’s the final form of the Lushi that I wrote for the Rose competition at Tournament of Foxes last year. I won’t go into a great deal of explication, as I’m currently mid-read on a book that was a serendipitous bookstore find, The Art of Chinese Poetry, that will be informing some modification on my attempts at a method of writing “faithful” (insofar as one can in a non-tonal language) original jueju/lushi in English. It corrects a couple important fallacies in the scholarship I was drawing on, though does confirm a lot of other points as well, so I won’t have to scrap everything, just rework it a bit.

The Last Roses

For the last time, I meet you in the rose garden.

Though seasons pass, quickly for all men,

To next spring, is a journey of ten thousand li,*

For these roses, will not bloom again

Anyways, on to the poem itself. I’m actually pretty pleased with this poem, as I was able to adhere to the strict formal rules while at the same times creating the thought/mood/affect that I wanted. The theme was roses, so of course I set the scene in a rose garden, used a traditional rhyme scheme of AABA, and followed the rules I’d laid out in an earlier post to build a five character (character meaning “major concept word” in this sense) line. I also followed the two character/ceasura/three character format, which looks a bit odd to my no doubt Western eyes, but reads nicely. Chinese formal poems like this tend to be square on the page, where the trend for English poems is to flow downwards. Hence:

The Last Roses

For the last time,

I meet you in the rose garden.

Though seasons pass,

quickly for all men,

To next spring,

is a journey of ten thousand li,

For these roses,

will not bloom again

^ has a more “appealing” layout that looks entirely different, and radically altered page flow, but reads exactly the same aloud. It conveys a mood that is more fluid and less formal. The above layout is (to me at least) reminiscent of how Pound poems look on the page, in that respect.

*a li is a unit of measurement that at various points in history has ranged from 1/3 km to 1/2 km. The unit “ten thousand” is often colloquially used in Chinese to indicate a number too large for measurement. Therefore, used in this sense, the phrase “ten thousand li” refers to an impassable or impossible distance. For example, a folk tale may state that a hero travels ten thousand li to reach a mythical land.

Warsong: Bryn Madoc’s Children

It’s been a long time since I’ve updated, I have been busy busy busy with regular life things on top of all the SCA things on my to do list. 🙂  A work trip to South Carolina didn’t help much, either. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing SCA things! Here’s a warsong for my barony that I wrote while I was bored at work one day. My friend Mathias, who has an excellent singing voice, unlike myself, performed it at our Barony’s 12th night celebration this January. Ideally this would be for two singers, male and female, with the first and last stanza’s sung in concert, with the rest alternating between the two. The 4th and 5th stanzas have dirty versions, with “dance” being substituted for the offcolor verb of your choice. 😉

Bryn Madoc’s Children 

Bryn Madoc’s children, purple and gold
Covered in glory when stories are told
We’ll take the black road, we’ll take the white road
We’ll take the south road that leads us to war 

Son of Bryn Madoc, doughty and strong
My heart beats in time to the war marcher’s song
I’ll take the high road, I’ll take the wide road,
I’ll take the straight road that leads me to war 

Bryn Madoc’s daughter, honest and brave
My foes fall back from my spear and my glaive
I’ll take the sharp road, I’ll take the fierce road,
I’ll take the red road that leads me to war 

Son of Bryn Madoc, bonny and bright
I’ll fight all the day and dance all the night
I’ll take the hard road, I’ll take the rough road,
I’ll take the rock road that leads me to war

Bryn Madoc’s daughter, southron’s delight
I’ll fight all the day and dance till first light!
I’ll take the wet road, I’ll take the salt road,
I’ll take the sea road that leads me to war 

Son of Bryn Madoc, never will yield
Steadfast stands my sword and my shield
I’ll take the hot road, I’ll take the dry road,
I’ll take the sand road that leads me to war 

Bryn Madoc’s daughter, quick to the fray
My kinsmen and I shall carry the day
I’ll take the cold road, I’ll take the snow road,
I’ll take the ice road that leads me to war 

Bryn Madoc’s children, faithful and true
We’ll not shirk when our service is due
We’ll take our lord’s road, we’ll take our queen’s road
We’ll take our king’s road that leads us to war

Chaucer puppet plays!

As per a request, I am posting links to two puppet plays that I wrote for a Chaucerian themed event. They are directly adapted from two of the Canterbury Tales, and are fairly faithful. One, based on the Nun’s Priest’s Tale, was for children, and the other, based on the Miller’s Tale, was performed that evening for adults. They were a hit, even though I really didn’t practice enough before I performed them. What can I say, kids love cute stuffed puppets and adults love dem dirty jokes! 😉

Miller’s Tale Puppet Show:

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0Bwz6qErvNvYLbE9WUnpmTmNYX28/edit?usp=sharing

Nun’s Priest’s Tale Puppet Show:

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0Bwz6qErvNvYLam1wMVdIQ1pJdFE/edit?usp=sharing

Writing a English Lushi (and/or Jueju)

There is an upcoming contest at Tourney of the Foxes with the theme of “Roses”, and I’ve decided I wanted to enter a poem. I mused a while, and decided I wanted to attempt to write a rose poem in a Chinese style. It appealed to my sense of appropriateness, as most modern ornamental garden roses are hybrids of Chinese roses. Then, I realized I didn’t really know what that entailed, as Japanese poetry forms are much more popular. So, I looked it up! I wanted a form that had strict enough rules to give me a challenge, give me a framework to work in, and also “feel” recognizably Chinese. I rejected fu, as it’s a form that’s highly ornamental and thus not my style, and ci, because a ci poem requires the work to follow patterns based upon lyrics to traditional songs. Which is super neat, but basically, to even begin to understand how to write a ci poem, I’d have to learn Chinese, and I’ve got too much on my “To Learn” plate as it is. The lushi and jueju forms, however, are much more my cup of tea. Both are composed very similarly, have an appealing economy to them, and have a fairly similar structure. I’ve linked the Encyclopedia Britannica articles for definitions of the forms, but I’m not one hundred percent sure of their accuracy. The sources I’ve found online seem to all differ on what the precise rules are (rhyme scheme for the jueju being AABA or AABB, for example) but all agree that the lushi is 8 lines of 5, 6, or 7  characters/syllables/words (pretty much the same thing in Chinese, where the vast majority of words are monosyllabic and written with one character). However, I found this article, A Critical Study of the Origins of “Chüeh-chü” Poetry by Charles Egan, which seems pretty legit, and I will be drawing upon this heavily. It’s worth a read, if you are into literary criticism. For my purposes, I’ll summarize what I’ll be taking from it to influence construction of English Lushi/Jueju:

1) Rhyme on even numbered lines

2) Confirmation that lines were of fixed length (5,6,7 etc)

3) Lines in a couplet arrangement

4) The lines contain a caesura before the final trisyllable (or triword, tricharacter, etc). Possibly trochee line endings?

5) Tonal pattern, referring to an alternation of stressed/unstressed. Tone in Chinese is imperfectly replicated in English, but iambs will be used to approximate this.

6) The conflation of natural imagery with personal mental states

7) A preference for dense words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc) and avoidance of empty words (grammatical particles, adverbs, etc)

8) Parallelism in the second and third couplets (only applies to lushi). To quote Egan’s explanation, “In a parallel couplet, words in the first line are complemented with corresponding second line words that have similar syntactic function but contrasting meaning. Each line is independent, yet tied to the other through a series of equivalences.” For example, “Red flame lights the empty sky/ Green water darkens the swollen earth.” Parallelism does not have to necessarily be this rigid, but for a quick example direct opposites are easiest to compose. I really like this as a technique, for reasons which are off topic, so I will behave and not go into them. 😛 Suffice it to say for an accurate attempt at a lushi, parallelism must at least be attempted. Parallelism sometimes appears in jueju, but is not a requirement of the form.

Next I’ll discuss the issue of how to actually translate the 5 (or 7, etc) character/word/syllable line structure into English. The easiest way is to simply write 5 syllable line quatrains or octets and call it a day. However, I find this method unsatisfactory. English has so many multisyllabic words one ends up either being constrained in expression or nuance. “Brittle” has a different shade of meaning than does “frail”, “terrible” introduces a different feeling than “bad”, but if you use the longer word, the extra syllable may eat into your allowance for other ideas you wanted to express. This can be a fun exercise in challenging composition, but Chinese writers are not fettered by these multisyllabic words, so an English jueju written in this manner is going to be much less “dense” than a comparable Chinese poem. In this manner, I feel that you are sacrificing the spirit of the lushi for the letter, as it were. Professor Jonathon Stalling has invented a method for composing jueju which limits composition to only monosyllabic English words and prioritizes the use of “full words” (nouns, etc) heavily over empty ones (particles of speech), and uses a chart to aid composition, basically a simple table that can be filled in with the desired monosyllabic words, a neat trick which is a big help when setting up parallelism. Here is the pdf for the instructions for an annual contest run for child poets which very neatly explains his system. Here is the website for the contest, which has posted example poems, winners from previous iterations of the contest. Disclaimer: He invented this system, full credit to him, etc, so on and so forth.  The thing I like most about his system is the use of the table, which make it easier to visualize that Chinese characters are word “blocks” that convey meaning through arrangement and word order. However, poems composed with this method give the impression of caveman talk. To use a rather tongue in cheek example, composed by the illustrious Master Lorenzo:

Me love you long time

You been here four hour

You go home right now

My wife get home soon!

Hilarious? Yes. And, if recomposed to follow the caesura rule discussed earlier:

You, me, love long time

Four hour, you been here

Right now, home you go

My wife, get back soon!

It actually settles into a rhythm that is not half bad. It sounds pretty decent, actually. The quibble I have with this method is that it is “caveman talk”, rather unsophisticated. If you look at many examples of jueju and lushi translated into English, like the following jueju by Jing Changxu or the examples in the Egan article, they are distinctly more elegant:

“Spring Lament”

Hit the yellow oriole perch,
Curb its singing on the branch.
The song broke my dream,
And kept me from Liaoxi!

In the translation, strict syllable and even character/word rule adherence is abandoned in order to incorporate parts of speech, the more empty words like “the, on, and” that are generally rendered unnecessary in Chinese because they are implied by word order and arrangement, but needed in English in order to form a complete grammatically functioning sentence with elegant flow. Yet, these translations abandon much of the structure of the original, in terms of meter, rhyme, the caesura, and so on. Understandable, given the limitations of direct translation. However, when composing an original composition, one has less of an excuse for this. I have been meditating on a method for composing a more faithful approximation of Chinese lushi/jueju. From this point on, this will be more me thinking aloud than authoritative instruction, and is admittedly tentative, and may be perhaps too complicated to be practical, but I shall make an attempt. One would start by composing a poem using the Stalling method, though it would be my personal preference to allow the inclusion of multisyllabic words. This compromises metrical accuracy for the sake of thematic variety, but I think more is to be gained than lost by doing this. The Stalling method then gives you the bones of the poem, as it were. Think of this as how the poem would look on the page, if was to be written in ideograph form. Think of these as the images and ideas you want your poem to hold/convey. To make less work for yourself later on, it would be best if you already have the rhyme scheme set at this point. For this, example, I went with an AABA rhyme scheme:

Autumn field gives harvest dry
Red flame lights empty sky
Green wheat darken swollen earth
Ending bring life silent cry

From this point, place a caesura, so that each line ends with three syllables. Conveniently, this was mostly already done:

Autumn fields give, harvest dry
Red flame lights, empty sky
Swollen earth, green wheat dark
Ending bring life, silent cry.

Rearranging the third line disrupts parallelism, but as this is only mandatory for lushi, this is acceptable.  Next, give the lines grammatical structure to eliminate the “caveman” effect, while attempting to maintain an iambic structure, pre caesura.

Autumn fields gave us, harvest dry
Firelight red gave us, crimson sky
Swollen earth gave us, greening wheat
Ending life gave us, voice to cry

At this point, the poem went completely out of my control, it went in a weird direction, and this was not the end result that I wanted, though I don’t hate the poem. When read aloud, it sounds distinctly western, as well. Somehow every line now has the equivalent of 6 ideographs? I don’t even know what this meter is, but it’s not iambs.  Perhaps monosyllabic vocabulary cannot be dispensed with for the right sound? I will have to think on this. And try more poems, which will hopefully not careen out of control. Sometimes poems be pushy, y’all.