Sunday, January 03, 2021

Well-trodden ground


The Christmas lull in new posts hasn't been entirely down to Christmas revels. I've been rewriting and adding to a number of older posts, especially these:

William Shakespeare (kind of): 1 Henry VI
Sir Walter Scott's novels, a brief guide
Scott's Ivanhoe:
Scott's Anne of Geierstein:


In the course of working on these posts I've of course been reading, and with great delight: the Henry VI plays and Scott's Waverley

But this is all well-trodden ground for me, and I've also been yearning for less familiar things. So I've been dipping gradually deeper into Peter Philpott's latest poetry book, Telling the Beads (2020), and since I don't seem to have anything else to share, this seems like a good place to note down one of Peter's structuring sources, the pagan month-names recorded by Bede in his De temporum ratione 15, with their approximate modern equivalents. 

(The Anglo-Saxon names below have seemingly been creatively reverse-engineered from Bede's latinized forms; I'm not sure who should take the credit for that.)

Æftera Gēola      (After-Yule)    = January
Sol-mōnaþ          (Mud-Month, cake month (?))  = February
Hrēþ-mōnaþ        (Month of the goddess  Hrēþ (Rheda in Bede's text). Nothing else is known of her.)   = March
Ēostur-mōnaþ      (Month of the goddess Eostre. Survives in the modern word "Easter") = April
Þrimilce-mōnaþ   (Month of three milkings (per day, as Bede explains)) = May
Ærra Līþa             (Before-Lithe (=midsummer)) =June
Þrilīþa                   (Three-Lithe . . . intercalary days at midsummer?)
Æftera Līþa          (After-Lithe) = July
Weod-mōnaþ        (Weed-month) = August
Hālig-mōnaþ         (Holy month) = September
Winterfylleth         (Winter full (i.e. full moon) -- the first full moon of winter, Bede explains) =October
Blōt-mōnaþ          (Month of blood-sacrifice) =November
Ærra Gēola           (Before-Yule) = December
More intercalary days at Yule? 

Elsewhere Bede mentions Mōdraniht (Night of the Mothers) as a (sacrificial?) feast on the day we call Christmas Eve.

These twelve months seem to have been lunar, hence about 29.5 days each, hence totalling just 354 days, which could account for intercalary days (?) at midsummer and yule. 

Further information:


One of other key inputs to Telling the Beads, Peter tells us, is Bertolt Brecht's poetry collection Die Hauspostille (1927; it has been given the English titles Manual of Piety and Devotions for the Home). Here's the beginning of one of the best-known poems (and the final one in the collection), "Vom armen B.B.":

Of poor B.B.     

I, Bertolt Brecht, came from the black forests.
My mother bore me into the city
while I was in her womb. And till my dying day
the chill of the woods will lie there inside me.

In the asphalt city I’m at home. From the beginning
supplied with every last sacrament:
with newspapers – and tobacco – and with brandy.
To the end, suspicious, lazy, content.

I’m amicable with the people I meet. I don
a bowler hat in just the way they do.
I say: they’re animals with a quite peculiar smell.
And I say: so what – I am too.

Translation by Martyn Crucefix. The full text is here:

Peter says he's most familiar with Brecht's poems in translations by Amos Weisz. 
Here's Amos Weisz's "poor b.b.":

Here's an extract from "The Ballad of the Pirates" (Ballade von den Seeräubern). 

Across a violet horizon
Caught in the ice by pale moonlight
On pitch-black nights when mist is rising
And half the ship is lost from sight
They lurk like wolves between the hatches
And murder for the fun of it
And sing to keep warm in their watches
Like children drumming as they shit.
Oh heavenly sky of streaming blue!
Enormous wind, the sails blow free!
Let wind and heavens go hang! But oh
Sweet Mary, let us keep the sea!

They take their hairy bellies with them
To stuff with food on foreign ships
Then stretch them out in sweet oblivion
Athwart the foreign women's hips.
In gentle winds, in blue unbounded
Like noble beasts they graze and play
And often seven bulls have mounted
Some foreign girl they've made their prey.
Oh heavenly sky of streaming blue!
Enormous wind, the sails blow free!
Let wind and heavens go hang! But oh
Sweet Mary, let us keep the sea!

Extract from the full translation (not sure who did it) that I found on Amanda Kendal's blog:

Here's a bit of "Legend of the Dead Soldier" (Legende vom toten Soldaten):

They filled him up with a fiery schnapps
To spark his sluggish heart
And shoved two nurses into his arms
And a half-naked tart.

He’s stinking so strongly of decay
That a priest limbs on before
Swinging a censer on his way
That he may stink no more.

In front the band with oompah-pah
Intones a rousing march.
The soldier does like the manual says
And flicks his legs from his arse.

Their arms about him, keeping pace
Two kind first-aid men go
Or else he might fall in the shit on his face
And that would never do.

(Translation by John Willett. The full text is here: .)


But it occurs to me that though I've dipped into two of the major sources of Telling the Beads I haven't quoted any Peter Philpott's own text, so here (since it's the appropriate time of year) is the "month" part of After-Yule:

(7) After Yule

Let's start by making a good old mess
fill up our mouths with sweetness still
the sun has told us she will return

start in this world please not some other
humble & contaminated is how we live
the urge is to keep alive not pure

greyness a good vast screen -- pro
ject upon whatever strikes -- oh
fudge it & make it, this is poesis

you don't find the blessed things
you make them up from the same
old words trailing their rot behind

drifts of dead leaves still slobbering
fraying into indescribable dust
savour it & worship it -- new life

will spring whatever we do (most
ly -- and that may be everything)
whatever end we aim ourselves at

"Another economy flux: the evidence richer growing emerges, omnivorous little all."

more never imagined
freed finally informs

ruined world constraint
sometimes re-emergent pronouns

new constraints
ridiculous subjects

                                -- maybe

                                                -- guess

                                                   no reason postponed
                                                   no purpose choosing

                                                   not imagined things
                                                   freed finally beauties


Peter describes the format in his introduction:  "Each month begins with a text composed of a poem (in a simple strophic form to be used for that month), and then an oracular sentence and a further short poem in an open field form. These latter two programmatically employ vocabulary taken from Wound Scar Memories" [an earlier collection].  

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