Randomness on a Sunday evening

Kind of a Poetry Sunday. 

Lament for Flodden*

I’VE heard them lilting at our ewe-milking,
Lasses a’ lilting before dawn o’ day;
But now they are moaning on ilka green loaning–
The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away.

At bughts, in the morning, nae blythe lads are scorning,
Lasses are lonely and dowie and wae;
Nae daffing, nae gabbing, but sighing and sabbing,
Ilk ane lifts her leglin and hies her away.

In hairst, at the shearing, nae youths now are jeering,
Bandsters are lyart, and runkled, and gray:
At fair or at preaching, nae wooing, nae fleeching–
The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away.

At e’en, in the gloaming, nae swankies are roaming
‘Bout stacks wi’ the lasses at bogle to play;
But ilk ane sits eerie, lamenting her dearie–
The Flowers of the
Forest are a’ wede away.

Dool and wae for the order sent our lads to the Border!
The English, for ance, by guile wan the day;
The Flowers of the Forest, that fought aye the foremost,
The prime of our land, lie cauld in the clay.

We’ll hear nae mair lilting at our ewe-milking;
Women and bairns are heartless and wae;
Sighing and moaning on ilka green loaning–
The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away.

Jane Elliot (1727-1805)

I’m sitting here ripping a whole bunch of CDs (which I picked up at the library annual sale) to my iPod. My tastes definitely run to the eclectic side–jazz from Harry Connick Jr. to Lena Horne to Miles Davis, some R&B, lots and lots of folk and bluegrass, some country (though I have always leaned toward the older stuff excepting some really great stuff in the early and mid 90s, and I’ve been an Alabama and Judds fan since I was a kid–not to say I love it all; years of listening to Conway Twitty woo Loretta Lynn in song left me not really a fan of their duets, though I love her solo stuff). I love religious choral music, too, the more classical the better–hence the University Presbyterian Church Cathedral Choir CD I picked up of pieces from Bach, Brahms, Rutter, and others.

At the same t
ime, I suddenly had a desire to reread Rob Roy, which I haven’t picked up since the big to-do over the Liam Neeson movie. I don’t remember reading it for class; I think I must just have been in a Sir Walter Scott mood back then and decided to read the book before I ever saw the movie. I highly recommend the book; don’t bother with the movie.

Picking up Rob Roy made me want to read a few shorter pieces by Scott, which I was pretty sure I had in one of three volumes of poetry from the Harvard Classics set**–also picked up at a nice price at a library book sale!–and in searching for Scott ran across two women poets of the later 18th century, Alison Rutherford Cockburn (1712-1794) and Jane Elliot (1727-1805). 

What was it about writing in Scots at that time? It’s basically a completely foreign dialect, as foreign from standard British English as modern American slang is, I would think.

I didn’t know the work of either Cockburn or Elliot before today. Both of these women’s work predated Scott, and in my evening musings that didn’t involve invoking Google, which of course could lead me to all answers, wondered if their Scots poetry influenced Scott. Or was it just a pervasive style, perhaps employed by the English, in the way that many white writers wrote slave dialect for so many years? 

(At least, I didn’t Google until I decided to put links into this entry. And then I went with the option of the the truly lazy–turn to Wikipedia, which, though not all that reliable, at least seems plausible for my purposes.) 

Elliot’s version of the poem is a tribute to the fallen men of Ettrick Forest in Selkirk (Scotland) who fell at the battle of Flodden, which I’m not familiar with, but Wikipedia says it was a battle in Northumberland in 1513. Cockburn’s lyrics were set to the same traditional tune, but apparently it’s debatable whether it refers to the same battle (according to my Harvard Classic edition), the fall of her husband’s fortunes, or a lost love (the two latter being Wikipedia’s suggestions). As you can probably tell due to my quoting it above, I think I prefer the Elliot version, perhaps most because of the heavy use of Scots. You just couldn’t use that nowadays and expect to communicate with your reader–at least, for a U.S. audience. Makes me wonder how much more easily it might be understood in any of the Commonwealth countries, especially eastern Canada and anywhere in Aus
tralia that might have a strong Scot region.

This also brings up the question of the heavy Scots in anything by Scott. I’ll have to reread and decide again what I think, because I remember it being very hard to read. But that was before I visited Scotland and got to know a few people who speak a little more like that, though not in complete Scots. It makes me want to study Gàidhlig again and go back to Scotland. (The latter is on my agenda for next year;

, start saving up, because here’s your chance for a tour guide! 🙂 )

Anyway, these are the kinds of things I think of while ripping a Boyz II Men cd (ah, high school memories! *sniff*) and thinking of starting Rob Roy again on a Sunday evening. And neither the music or the books are at all from this time period.**** Which makes me think of really bad movies. What was that one called that used a rock soundtrack… A Knight’s Tale? What say ye all? I hated it and turned it off in the first 10 minutes, but I’ve been told it’s because I didn’t understand what they were going for. I maintain that it’s just that it was a bad movie. 🙂

If you’re interested in either of the poems, you can read them in full here and here

* I wanted to indent every 2nd line, but I couldn’t figure out how to do a hard space or a tab. HTML annoys me. I know there’s a code for a hard space, but I don’t want to go looking it up at midnight.

**Flipping through all these old books***, I’m starting to have an allergy attack! I sure hope my books haven’t gotten moldy in this climate, because I think that would devastate me. But these Harvard Classics were printed in 1910, so I think it’s just plain age. The same thing would happen when I was back in the stacks for too long at my college job, working for the Special Collections*** department of the library.

***Which makes me remember that I need to find a better way to preserve two relatively ancient family Bibles I just inherited. They were delivered to me in ziplock bags. Which cer
tainly aren’t acid-free, although they do seal out the air. I’m thinking an archival box for each of them. Anyone have any experience with preserving old books like this? I should call my old boss.

****I take that back. My next CD purchase, long overdue, will have to be One Voice, by Gladys Knight and the Saints. Oh my goodness. I love good gospel music, and I love beautiful hymns, and things brings them both together with an artist who I also love. And this is totally where Mormon music should be going–learn to go at a beat faster than a funeral dirge!