Wednesday, March 21, 2018

World Poetry Day

Today is the feast day of St. Benedict-- the holy hermit, who became the founder of Western Monasticism, the man who saved civilisation by running away from it. I ought, in very truth, to be doing a post on himself, especially as I am intrinsically in sympathy with such an approach towards a decadent era. However, I have put it off too long, and cannot write a post worthy of such a saint at this late date. Instead, I draw your attention to the fact that it is World Poetry Day.

Generally speaking, a holiday established by UNESCO would not normally top my list of things to celebrate, however, if you indulge me in a quote from their website, as to why they promote such a thing:

"The observance of World Poetry Day is also meant to encourage a return to the oral tradition of poetry recitals, to promote the teaching of poetry, to restore a dialogue between poetry and the other arts such as theatre, dance, music and painting, and to support small publishers and create an attractive image of poetry in the media, so that the art of poetry will no longer be considered an outdated form of art, but one which enables society as a whole to regain and assert its identity."

That is all very much to the good, and I cannot help but applaud and advocate such an approach to poetry, and publishing. And so, purely in the interest of treating poetry as a not outdated art form, I present the most recent of my efforts:

No storms won through the Door of Storms.
Long we had languished for want of snow,
For want of rain, for touch of wet:
The wetless winter had run too warm.
Too warm the all too golden the sun
On foothills, withered, blanched of green,
And snowless mountains, dried to stone,
while whiteless winter days ran on.

And we whispered, in dread, of drought.
Thirsted for winter, for bright of frost,
For fall of dew, and blessed wet,
While fronts of weather faded out.
We prayed, though foolish hope ran low
Until, in pity for our thirst,
And snowless mountains and withered hills,
God moved His hand, and sent us snow. 

I am strongly of the opinion that poems should stand on their own two feet, nor require explanation. However, given that the majority of the country-- and, indeed, a good deal of the Western Hemisphere-- has suffered a long and bitter winter season, this praise of late snow might seem odd. However, here on the West Coast, and most particularly in California, there was mostly no winter to speak of. The weather was appallingly warm. Storm after storm hit the ridge off the coast, and shot north or south, leaving us high and dry. We had suffered through five years of severe drought, thankfully ended by a good, wet winter last year, so the extended perioud of warm, dry weather reawakened the fear of its return.

And then, March came. And so, at long last, did rain and snow. We have had several large storms, and a surprising amount of snow for so late in the year. It might not quite be a miracle March, but it is close enough that people are trotting the phrase out. I flatly refuse to call the poem Miracle March, but I was hoping to get a sense of reprieve that.

Saturday, January 6, 2018


Happy Feast Day, all of you!

In honour of this feast-- the day in which Christ manifested himself to the Gentiles; the day in which wise men from the East, after a journey of faith, adored their hither to unknown God in the form of an Infant; the day, in short, upon which we are all called to trust in God's manifestations in our own lives, to seek Him with love and trust-- in honour of this day, I post for following carol. As is usual for the sort of posts I've been doing, this is an older carol-- sung in Middle English:

I am recommending you go to this website for the lyrics, not because I am too lazy to post them myself, but because it is an interesting post, which is definitely worth looking at.

I also want to draw your attention to the old tradition of the Chalking of the Doors. It is a tradition we've never done in my family, but I've always found quite fascinating, and this is the first year that I have chalked my own doors (even though I am neither a priest nor the father of the house). 

Friday, January 5, 2018

12th Night

Today is technically the last of the twelve days of Christmas. Epiphany is a feast in its own right, and the season of Epiphany will last until Septuagesima. In honour of the it being the last day of Christmas, you are getting this very hearty rendition of The Seven Joys of Mary, sung by Great Big Sea. It is a song I love very much... though these are not the traditional seven joys of Catholic devotion-- and I honestly have no idea how the sixth joy in the song snuck it.... that is one of the sorrows of our lady. But it is a great song, nonetheless. So without further eloquence:

Today is also the feast day of St. Edward the Confessor, the last of the Anglo Saxon kings of England. He is possibly one of the inspirations for the character of Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings - not so much because he was an exiled king, who returned to claim his throne (there are plenty of other kings who did the same) but because he was the first English king to be credited with having a healing touch-- the hands of the king are the hands of the healer. Here is an interesting article* about that medieval concept, with quotes from Shakespeare and Tolkien, so how can you go wrong?

And it being the last day of Christmas, properly speaking, and it being the feast day of an early medieval saint, you are getting one more song posted-- mostly as an excuse for me to share a bit of trivia: during this period of history, Church music was shifting from plainchant to something called organum. It was not yet the somewhat more sophisticated music form known as polyphony, and there was a strong element of improvisation that went with it-- which I find really delightful. The wikipeda entry has citation flags on it, however after poking around a bit, I think it is a fairly decent rough-and-ready explanation. And since this style seems to have been around during the days of Good King Edward, I am posting an example of it here (because we all know how much I like my chant!):

 *Once you get past the Monarchist plug at the beginning. I have sympathies for the Monarchist position-- and, indeed, I think my temperament is the sort that is naturally drawn to it-- but the few Monarchists I have met usually take themselves far too seriously, and unlike Brother Andre here, tend to treat all other forms of government as intrinsically disordered. And anyone who disagrees with them as suspect.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The 11th Day of Christmas

Is the feast day of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, if you live in the United States. It is a fairly modern feast day, but the rest of the saints were either people I had never heard of-- St. Defrosa, or St. Hermes-- or saints with funny names -- St. Ferreolus of Uzes, and Bl. Thomas Plumtree-- and none of them have any particular Christmas tradition associated with them. So, if we go with St. Elizabethe, this gives me a chance to showcase an American carol for a change. I Wonder as I Wander is an old Appalachian carol - or rather, a modern carol based on a much older fragment of a carol

You are also going to get Tennessee Earnie Ford... mostly because it is hilarious, and wasn't supposed to be: 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

To The Professor!

This post is later than I meant because I was being a hobbit-- here meaning that I put food and drink, and doodling and comfort before blogging. 

And as it is the Professor's birthday, it is well that it should be so.... So, without further ado: To the Professor!

I sort of wanted to do another old carol for today, in honour of Tolkien as a Medievalist. However, it did occur to me that these posts have drawn heavily on those sorts of carols, and that it might be an idea to do something a bit more modern. Only I wasn't sure how to go about that, as I mostly hate modern Christmas music. (It being very little in the line of either Christmas nor music.) Poking around for a bit after dinner, I came across this rather lovely Spanish Christmas song. It fist the bill for modern, but there are some lovely, occasionally Tolkien-ish lyrics, and as an added bonus, one of the singers is Bryn Terfel, a Welsh baritone, with a delightfully dwarvish voice. 

This, of course, made me curious to see if there were any Welsh carols I could post. Tolkien, after all, was fond of Welsh, and it was one of the primary influences for his Sindarin language. Well, I did find one, an oddly ancient sounding one, also by Bryn Terfel, and I cannot find a translation of it. The only things I've been able to determine, is that the title means on Christmas morning. But I like it anyway, and so you are getting it as well.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Day Late.... Or Not?

Yesterday’s post was shorter than I wanted it to be. According to the Eastern Rite calendar, January 1st is also the feast day of St. Basil the Great, and there is a hymn in his honour that I wanted to post. I’ve heard the tune before, on a recording of Christmas music for piano, but, if I remember correctly, it had been credited as a New Year’s carol, and I had never really thought much about it. I stumbled across a group of wee Greek children singing it while looking for a New Year song that wasn’t another wassail. I really wanted to post a version of it, but I knew exactly what I wanted: something hearty, preferably with men’s voices, preferably unaccompanied (though if the music did not overwhelm the singers, I would consider it) and (a long-shot, I grant you) in English, or at least, with an English translation to go with it. I wasn’t really expecting to find something that hit all those marks, but after an hour or more of looking, I couldn’t find anything that really fit… and I was sort of appalled at the number of hammer dulcimer covers that exist of the tune! So I gave up on that idea, and decided to come back to it next year…. If I remembered.

Well, this morning, I went looking for a list of saints whose feasts are today, as sort of an inspiration for today’s post. Imagine my surprise when St. Basil’s name came up…. The same St. Basil. It turns out, Eastern Catholics celebrate the feast day on the 1st, but we Westerners celebrate it on the 2nd. This gave me a second chance to go looking… and lo and behold! I found the following cover. It is translated and re-set to its original tune by Scottish singer/songwriter, Thomas Beavitt. How is that for a happy meeting of East and West?

If you would like to know more about St. Basil’s Day customs, you should look at this website. I am intrigued that there is a tradition nearly identical with the Scottish tradition of firstfooting.

Monday, January 1, 2018

And God Bless You and Send You a Happy New Year

Here's a hearty farewell to last year, and an even heartier welcome to the New One! As per custom, I stayed up until midnight, and went out to welcome the new year in with pipes. My habit is to play an Italian Christmas song - Canzone di Zampognari - followed by a Scottish and Irish tune - Scotland the Brave and Minstral Boy, not so much because they are particular favourites, but because they are reasonably well known - and finishing up with a traditional Christmas carol - by preference, Adeste Fideles, although this year, for some reason, I transitioned to The Little Drummer Boy instead. Then, of course, one has to play Auld Lang Syne, so I did, and went in for a bit of whisky... and as these festivities occurred at my sisters' house, and they being a bit more early-to-bed than I am myself, we all bid each other a good night and made for our beds.

Here is a New Year's carol from Orkney. I vacillated for a while over which version to post. Nowell Sing We Clear do the longer version and I like it very well indeed. However, this shorter, live version amuses me, and I really like the idea the people still hang about pubs and sing like this, so you this one instead:

And since I am enough of a historian (albeit, a very amateur one) that I like to give sources for my posts, whenever possible, I am also posting this little account of the collection of the song: