One summer day when the sun was soft
I slipped on a sheepskin shawl and - walking
wide eyed with wonder through the world
wearing the habit of an unholy hermit
that May morning on Malvern Hill -
thought I felt a faery-jolt befall me.
I was weary with wandering so went to rest
on a broad bank by the brook-side - to lay
down, lean and look on water - but the
stream's wet strain of merry slumber swayed
me asleep, and I began a marvellous dream
of being in a wilderness I'd never seen before.
Looking East to the sun, my eye fastened on
a magnificent tower - stout on a hilltop
and in the deep dale below, a dark dungeon
whose deep ditches were a terrible sight to
Between these two was a wondrous field
full of folk and all manner of men from
commoner to king - working and wandering
at the world's command.
Some honest ones put to the plough - planting
sowing and sweating hard to win what wasters
by their gluttony destroy - and some with
proud countenance coming disguised, dressed
in the garb of deceit.
Many put themselves to prayer and penance
for the love of God, living strict and straight
lives in the hope of bliss in a heavenly hereafter
like anchorites and hermits cloistered in cells
not coveting the pleasures of flesh or loitering
lecherously along life's path.
Some opt for commerce to accomplish success
it seems, as in our sight such men thrive. And
some mirth-making like minstrels, getting
gold with their glee and guiltless - I believe.
But japers and janglers, the children of Judas
revel in fantasies and make themselves fools
unwilling to work though having the wit to.
What Paul preached of them I need not
On diddlee listening to dee Simon Armitage's re-rendering of the Middle English alliterative romance, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, I decided to seek joy with William Langland's Piers Plowman, dive in and dabble in alliterative meter, as one does. To give you an idea of the weirdly original - lines 30-33
And somme chosen chaffare; they cheveden the bettre
As it semeth to oure sight that swiche men thryveth;
And somme murthes to make as mynstralles konne,
And geten gold with hire glee giltlees, I leeve-
Dear Reader -
Some opt for commerce to accomplish success
it seems, as in our sight such men thrive. And
some mirth-making like minstrels, getting
gold with their glee and guiltless - I believe.
Project manager of the imagination and overseer in a fictional reality who'll work if one's muse shares elswhere.
Heaney had the same idea when he birthed Buile Suibhneg in Wicklow as Sweeney Astray.
It is logical to assume alliterative meter - strictly speaking - is the one linguistic undermesh we all share, possess and profess to be our native poetic, in the sense of it's scansion being the one most closely mapping our speaking. The one metrical pattern to measure and co-ordinate with when bluffing down our poetical path through this brief flash of life called consciousness, mon cushla Mor datum - my spiritual core.
Meter O tricky matter with fixed understanding of accent and stress in our language. I say tOmato, you say tomAto and they say the tomatO yiz discover in Dublin
"is a whirly whack hurling of poetry there."
On first meeting PJ Brady - Cavan man, actor and poet who has - for the last 20 years in a mesmeric one man show - starred as Kavanagh in a ninety minute monolouge speaking only Patrick's words - I sought what lore had
unaware I was incorrectly pronouncing Ka/va/nAgh as an a/na/pEst, placing a strong stress on the final of the three syllables, and worthy of a verbal bufoonary award. I did not initially understand or even recognise that the native spoken voice speak KAv/an/agh a dactyl. DAct/yl/ic - the primary stress on the first, not third syllable. Naturally, PJ shook his head not knowing I meant KAv/an/agh of the dactyl - and five minutes of repeating KavanAgh - on the verge of jacking in the mantra - he grasped my quest referred to KAv/an/agh of the dactyl and man he can be like himself - once I wrote it down.
The misunderstanding occured as my ear didn't discern where the native speech places stress on the word Kavanagh. Indeed I was unable to pronounce it correctly for a few months of being here, such was the complex vocal subtlety used to render it in speech. To PJ's ear I sounded like a man from Barnsley with no native speech asking for directions to "the beach" in Madrid when he should say "la playa." We were effectively speaking two different words. Mine to his ear was babble, his to mine not, containing as it does the original vocal gene on which the name - as it is rendered now - is spoken. Only in print was Kavanagh shared between us, prior to me acquiring the nack of saying it correctly.
Kavanagh's native tongue had evolved into talking English over the course of a linguisticaly unique historical path - Yeats could claim - is an authentic cultural trace, link and contemporary route to the entirely oral art we profess a connection to. Our original watermark of the poetic oomphalos the mind of all human stirs at and returns to.
Yeats - champion dreamer and arch poet - could say a net or set of acoustic instruction manuals and roadmaps of intricate and perfectly original design routing to our true poetic, lie covert beneath the debris and fall out of the island history, superficially concealing them from view to the eye of those ignorant of the island's history.
This poetic is still in active song and charts it's society, whose myth - 400 years after a cultural bleitzkreig began, irrecovably showering the native way of existence into sudden mortal decline - connects us to Homeric practice via a living root our founding godfathers in the graeco roman english cannon, unfortunately did not recognise, ignored and actively set about destroying.
At this Tudor point of our poetics trajectories, one island had a 1000 year written tradition, much of it recorded in manuscript from the dawn of writing on it, 1500 years ago - at a time when all contracts between individuals in society were - in the absence of print - solely verbal - whilst one had men like Sidney and Spencer - poets of England in renaissance and the first brutual flush of it's imperial bloom, asserting a savage and virgin beauty.
A full comprehension of this orally ordered society is impossible. Much of our quotidian doings are contracted or undertaken in print. From a simple e mail to our job itself, so inhabiting the rationale and talking with any authority on Homer or Amergin depends if the ghost we profess of speaks through us. If we recognise our fundamental whisper or hear inherent and logical signs in the society were writing is unknown. We from literate society can not fully understand. Only project a mental construction and guess with varying degrees of straight facedness how to humanly connect with Homer?
Chase a shadow of the goatherd king we claim as our spirit guide whose silent voice - we hope - will speak to and through us. Paint his eye and discover what sound behind the veil noises to uncover the one evolutionary route to our vocal art we hope still connects. Praying his and our conduit to myth running before the time memory was printed, do so as one.
And although the last of those unlucky enough to have been at the final quick severing from their millenia old tradition during the Tudor upheaval are now forgotten to all but a few, these men do connect to a pure orality and represent the spirit of Homer in a way Sidney, Spencer, Raleigh and the fellow founders hallowed in our graeco-roman cannon do not.
On one side a composite Elizabethan courtier poet. On the make, an ear tuned to wooing ladies and tongue swearing by the myth of his poet god he claims is Homer. On the other SIDE an annonymous courtier poet of Ireland, crusty, steeped in his 1000 year written tradition, composing verse in archiac rules of prosody perfected four hundred years previously and in a language exclusive the poetry and whose higher streams and most difficult meters not all found, but with ten centuries sheer weight of alumni numbers who all cite Amergin as their main mythical man to claim a supernatural relation with. The island's real Homer.
Four poets, at least three of action, 2000 years apart. Raleigh from his nations virgin first crop who can not claim a directly live histoical hot wire to prove supernatural connection - though anchors proudly in our canon. Himself a set founder and full critical support. Pot shots at the Lords of verse are discouraged. They played a part and we want our myth unstirred, so - we say little.
Sir Sidney Spencer wrote in times when violent death, killing and a ruthless approach to business cast a pall of general horror over the period of kamakaze-like implosion of the island's civil structure, renting asunder our final link to a bronze age system of society which evolved untroubled in a - by dark age standards - tranquil paradox. The final piece of Goidelic existence unground and unaffected by the Roamn empire or its collapse. The critical mass point before a balloon bursts, is it's greatest capacity and the propensity of humanity to route to anarchy on a regualr basis is evident.
One we map only with hindsight, by piecing together the human motives which caused the centre to cease holding itself and collapse in disorder.
The poet steeped in ancient practice facing Sir Walter, linking to Homer, believes Amergin is as close as one gets to being Homer - his actuality running back could almost converse with Appollo.
A man any poet - one assumes - would recognise Amergin's reality of the Homeric way. Our Bard - as he clearly is - a living experiment of what happened when a culture from the Homeric age stayed intact and survived, far from the calamaties of our graeco-roman mythic oomphalos one could describe as the poem gene guaranting we pass our linguistic DNA test . The closest one has to a textual explanation of what poetry is, how it works and why. Poetry as a live entity we execute in our pratice, the desire for one's poetic reality to be.
Naturally there is much disagreement on what relevance Amergin or Homer have. To some none. My argument is we connected to Homer 1000 years after his death so he can not connect to us as Amergin does, his tradition only being dead less than 400 years. 6 centuries short of the 1000 needed before he can really teach, us poetry hu?
The the new breed of Raleigh and Co did not speak the native language, or consider bardic culture a living poetic tradition worth further inquiry. Not godfathers of our cannon whose desire for tolerence and divirsity extended to bardic poets.
And whilst we throw an eye back to this time 400 years ago - when the collpase came - we laugh about the cliche that a native speaker from our island is born linguistically lucky - as if poetry is a part of our physical code - I suspect there is a grain of somethng we can't entirely discount or hold as an unquenchable poetical fantasy.
But in these days of enforcable diversity and tolerance, pertaining to a genetics of poetry needs sensitive and careful wording for the voice of discourse to tread in and think of exploring culturally fragile boundaries which may erode under a Hagiographic intelligence which critically outweighs our Homeric Tudor saints of poesy, but we go boldly on.
All who have expert knowledge of Kavanagh through text agree on witnessing PJ's mesmeric invention of Kavanagh - the benefit for those who uphold his vision of an Innerskeen genius living alone - on a set beneath spotlight with minimal props of poverty - a desk, hat and vocal veracity.
The Irish vernacular places it's primary stress on a different vowel than the English one does when speaking his name. Irish voices stress the first syllable of his surname
"KAvanagh" - rendering him spoken - a dactyl - not KavanAgh as an anapest. This means the premise of agreement that the graeco-roman scansion method of our language is uniformly shared, is an aporia. A non-starter concept on reality, those who believe in do so by travelling past existence, to explain why metrical verse is an oft misapprehended topic - the domain only of senior anorak-mad knowing ones clad to search alphabets ad infinitum?
Because we puzzle our depth with the implement of myth - we who fleet lost - human nature suggests, will share our experience in verse with all thus.
"An anapest - KAvanagh. Can you hear it getting louder and louder, stressing in words like, wait - make and bake? Can you hear if I shout it breaking down to collapse and dissolve the belief in a past never lived? What box of one-treasure tricks at the end of a rainbow day-away, desperate to stress the one sonic-blast of blown solid loudness no instrument but mine projects?"
Divinity riddle intelligibly - incoherence confuse to slip through our students who grasp what sense a boffin wielding his instrument of graffiti at a whiteboard won't catch - that one's metrical relevent pattern is discerned by none but the self. Stay in shadow and face the well mirrored pool of an erupting ear.
"Dear me what a dreary event to turn up for,"- learners think at the grove - "a star role underperforming. We're desperate for a disco go melody of bell knelling ending our session with this resident bard, bore and blusterer bungling up hand outs or lurching through lectures to tea break and cessation of duty."
Come cache of dreamers dactyl elsewhere - disperse up a rung and drift with Tristan, Schwitters - Kurt - Tzara and Raven Casey - thunderjet blackbird thrusting through space with ear, eye and ability. Patrick - practiced inventor whose myth was reality - .
There is deep disagreement between all gang band and clan. Graeco-roman meters of antiquity - whose terminoloy all use - are quantitive and the syllables in this ancient verse system are not measured by counting the number and ratio of stressed syllables in verse - unlike the accentual stress prosody used to measure pattern in our speech - but by measuring the length of them. The amount or - quantity - of time it takes to speak syllables of Homeric verse. Greek and Roman no spoken in a why eye ee by gum all rite sing song of a yer wha stressing Dublin twang shoehorns quantitive lingo of space age prosody into...
The metrical foot of bluffers and experts alike - the idiot-proof iamb - one short syllable - mora - followed by one long syllable - 2 moras....in light. In our accentual-stress prosody an iamb has nothing to do with sound length, but represents one unstressed syllable...in.... followed by a stressed one.....light
.....in light....spoken, is an iambic truth of reality proving the concept in both the Greek sense of it being a short syllable followed by a long one and the English sense of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one - it is an iamb. When reversed - light in - a trochee. The longer syllable first. The stressed syllable. The shorter syllable second - unstressed.... be/ing... is a trochee.
Greek meter routes to a length of time it takes to raise the leg 90 degrees and lower it again, as we arty types stomp in uniform beat to our song, verse or tale in a poetry arena. The initial raising of one leg to 90 degrees represents one long syllable and the return down - 2 short rapid syllables. A slight jar, jolt or split when returning through the 45 moment. A poetic - measure of movement through time. A dactyl. One long syllable and two shorter ones - WhAck wa wa. thing.
Imaged clear in an illustration of the literal meaning of this Greek word and prosodic term dactyl.
In English the words....light in a.... scan as a dactyl. It is a foot whose measure is a long syllable followed by two shorter ones. Greek for finger, which - in graeco-roman metrical terms -makes perfect sense and is vision, sound and logic combined - the bone-division of one's finger. An easy picture.
And the fun and complications start when we transfer this term over to our prosody. English being a stressed language, our dactyl refers not to syllable length, but to one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. The three syllables -
Light/ in/ a - are a dactyl, in both the greek Greek understanding of a long syllable - light - then two short ones - in a - and in our prosody. A stressed syllable - light - followed by two unstressed ones - in a.
Confused? This system is a native way of measuring perfectly the quantitive and unstressed language it evolved from - Greek first and then Latin. One can clearly read, hear and see the measures of Latin, which makes for a uniform scansion of the text, regardless of the speaker, but in our language, where we place stress on words differs from place to place. I say KavanAgh, you say KAvanagh.
It's validity as a shared and commonly understood set of rules poets can measure by - hinges on place of stress. So KavanaAgh is measured/scanned in English prosody as an anapest. Two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable - a/na/pEst - Ka/va/nAgh
KAvanagh scans dAct/yl/ic in Irish - dactyl - one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables, whAck wa wa -KA/van/agh. Totally reversing Ka/va/nAgh as an anapEst. This seemingly minor irrelevance of where two different voices emphasise the A in Kavanagh is difficult to convey in print, but it's actuality represents a subtle sonic annomoly between two groups of English speakers that illustrates the key tenets of the whole business of English prosodic scansion.
Only hearing this acoustic event enough times to the degree The only way to understand is to hear experience it, which bonkers the intellect enough to haul up a white flag or red rag of agreement on the man behind the mechanic making his boiler blow poetry of what is....
The renaissance courtiers of Tudor England who birthed modern English language verse, holding holy prosodic instruction books of technical terms from a non-native Greek and Roman metrical system - 2000 miles distant and 1000 years dead at it's closest living point. We imported, wholesale, our weapon of myth from Greece circa 500 BC, rather than develop our own alliterative div friendly system of learning to rote knowledge in ones memory. Disecting nursery rhymes in sombre gravitas, stirring in laughter.
Henry VIII was the first monarch to rule Britain after a long and protracted time of brutal civil war when the powers on the island were too busy fighting amongst themselves to concentrate on something so ambitious and fivilous as court poetry - in the sense Hal's literary minded pals and pawns agreed was a muse. A civilised polis where men of culture and learning blather out the meaning of thought in a native conversational art.
We did not plump for mangled middle English, the language of the lower orders, but a tongue few natives know. A treasure chest of tales, boo hoo and bravado mixed and connecting us via one workshop late starter in self-belief who looks for love to stop blowing his chance of finding the high thermal wind of sheer expression - life getting on with him, letting the husk of history blow lost, laughing and coming to rest with his love. Can you here it the diddlee dee dum?
We looked to Greece and decided to connect - by invention - an Anglo-Saxon cultural heritage with the linguistic ideas we decipher from written traditions long expired.
Latin, being the lingua franca of the Tudor age - coupled to a belief that our native tongue spoke no magic and the literary allure of a far off exotica - lulled us to it. We were sirened to frenzy by sheer weight of myth. Four hundred years of make believe, propogation and grafting later, few choose to consider the true route to our poetic template closer to home (Cauldron of Poesy text from the Irish tradition - composed by one or many poets with centuries of quantum linguists behind them and centuries more ahead. See the link to Ireland's True Poetic on the right.)
So brainwashed - when our flawless native poetic is aired, we professing a "serious" interest in verse do not hear it's authenitic and logical sound, preferring instead to turn deaf in the hope a slippery philisophical foot from the Parnassian teat with no simple rubric or uniform agreement about how measuring a truth of poetry works, fits our wish for fictions to live.
What better way to claim our poetic culture is legitimate than to suckle on a Homeric dactyl as proof we're his historic progeny, when we went about - at that time - the entirely new business of agreeing our native datum from an adopted blueprint we drew the poetic and ouevre of a nation from scratch with. An innovative act of immitation, with no claim to authenticity - unlike Amergin, his equivalent from the Goidelic oral tradition of poetic legislators.
The premise that graeco-roman prosody is more accurate than our own is a fallacy - as the mark of the graeco-roman poetic we decide to agree equally on - our alliterative lingo don't slip easily into. This faith pays belief into our foot fund over centuries of prayer to exist - is amongst many - a bouyant delusion that accentual-verse scansion is rigid science rather than abstract principle.
A flexible system without hard or fast rules we create our own indiviual prosodic method with - and which wafflers to wavelength professors in the sonic arts interpret differently, depending on where one's talk stresses the trall la la on Kavanagh, in alliterative lines - unbustable bombs of iambic proportion.
Blame Aristotle for the confusion, as his work Poetics was one blathered as the ultimate technical text on the theoretical reality - mechanics of poetry - when I was first introduced to him at the start of my study. I found him sombre yet deeply penitrable. It's no wonder - we moan - people think prosody is a nugget of knowledge few have found enough of to go on about it when they are describing the underlying talk of what's dull but important.
It is logical we grove dwellers ditch Aristotle's complex Poetics and consume Horace's Ars Poetica instead as the touchdown guide to the real sound in prose. I discovered he read as Heaney, straightforward, sensible and obviously written by a man dabbling in the dark dance of diddlee dee and fully engaging with reality and art - as Wystan Hugh said for the penny to drop now I realise Aristotle is a talker of poetic theory, not a practitioner of verse. He telling us how to write it is like a poet telling the digger how to use a spade or Dr. Who a time machine.
Hook to Horace, his ratio is joy born of experience on a journey of learning in travels around the alphabet he taught is the truth of poetic reality - reletive and sensibly understood by all. Horace wrote
Poets wish either to profit or delight.