Category Archives: literature

The Dream of Rood and Cyn(e)wulf and Other Critical Essays * Louis Rodrigues (1998)

I have been reading several of Rodrigues’ booklet with Anglo-Saxon texts in translation. Judging the title I expected this to be another such one. Inspite of that title, the “critical essays” are not about other scholars’ works about Anglo-Saxon texts. Rodrigues writes about poetry of Salvador Espriu and Robert Graves, Catalan poetry, Galician poetry, humour in Indian literature and more. The Anglo-Saxon essays are of course about “The Dream Of The Rood” and “Cyn(e)wulf” and Some modern English verse rendings of The Ruin (both available in other booklets) and one about “Margaret of Antioch – pseudo-saint and martyr”. Not a very interesting booklet for me…
1998 Llanarch, isbn 1861430639

Godenschemering * Marcellus Emants (1921)

Since I don’t read literature, I didn’t know about the poem “Twilight Of The Gods” by Marcells Emants (1948-1923). When on a Dutch phorum the text was mentioned and I asked my girlfriend about it (who is much better informed about these kind of subjects) she said that she bought an overstock copy from the local library a while ago, but she hadn’t read it yet. Godenschemering is a long poem divided in five songs and deals with Germanic mythology. In my hands I have a 1966 printing with a very long introduction by M.C. van den Toorn. Emants wrote the poem and the first edition was published in 1883. There weren’t too many people well-informed in Northern mythology those days, but at least one critic wrote about the ‘flaws’ in the poem at length. Emants reacted to the critics in the foreword of the second and revised edition of 1885. After this Emants kept revising the text, sometimes slightly, sometimes drastically, in the coming editions of 1910, 1916 and 1921. My 1966 printing is a reprint of the final version, but the introduction speaks about the revisions and the person of Emants at length. The most striking revisions concern the introduction of rhythm in the lines. Herefor Emants sometimes had to make drastic changes. He came to a structure (of which I can’t remember the terms) of alternitally a stressed and an unstressed syllable and this five times per line (a “jambe” of five). This reads very irritatingly and I immediately remembered why I never read poetry! Also Emants introduced “alliteration” (repeating letters) in some parts, a literary trick that I enjoy better.
Then we come to the Northern mythology. Emants used different Eddic poems, such as the one about Balder’s dream, Balder’s death, the Lokasenna, the abduction of Iduna, Ragnarok, etc. He mixed them, changed the order, left things out and came up with new details. During his life Emants was gravely underestimated for his work. People said that he misunderstood the myths and that he misused them. The introducter to my printing sees some strange happening, such as the over-dramatisation which proves in too romantic descriptions of Frigga kissing Odin or a crying Thor; but highly appreciates what Emants has done with his sources. Obviously he understood them very well, because he was really able to play with it, do his own thing and in most cases, the new elements really fit in. Emants came up with ‘kennings’ of his own, new descriptions and names for characters, new details to stories, etc. and only the people really knowing the Eddas well, will be able to see what is new and what is used from the sources. Because Emants had a certain story in mind, his version sometimes becomes crooked and for example the role of Loki’s mother Laufeya is much larger than in the original texts. Nanna dies when she hears about Balder’s death, instead of dying at his funeral, to mention another example. Loki is the main character in Godenscherming which fits in the pessimistic worldview that Emants developped in his later life. The poem was even reworked to a play with the title Loki.
On one hand I liked to see what influence the Nordic myths have had on Dutch literature and with Van den Toorn I appreciate some elements of Emants work. On the other hand, when the story becomes unfamiliar to me, I found it really hard to understand what everything was about, because of the weird writing-style. Highly literary, I am sure, but I had a hard time trying to understand was is conveyed in the odd sentences. For those of you who can read Dutch and want to get an idea for yourself. The text is available online. So far for the first literary review on Monas.nl…

A Celtic Miscellany * Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson (trans.) (isbn 0140442472)

Here we haven an anthology of Celtic literature. Jackson made a bunch of subjects in which quotes from Celtic literature are put. This literature varries from seventh to the eighteenth century and from all Irish, Scottish, Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, Cornish and Breton literature. The subjects are hero-tale and adventure, nature, love, epigram, ‘celtic magic’, description, humour and satire, bardic poetry, elegy and religion. The quotes can be a few lines, but also several pages. The nice thing about a book like this, is that you get a lot of Celtic literature so you will have a good idea of the styles and forms of Celtic literature after reading this book. But the book only gives the sources of the quotes as “Irish; traditional folk song”, “Welsh; traditional verse; seventeenth century?” or in the best case “Welsh englyn; David Jones of Llangwyfen; eighteenth century.” I don’t think this is enough information to find the text where the quotes are taken from.
Then a personal note. Celtic literature can sometimes be very beautiful with fantasyfull descriptions and dreamy ways of putting things, but I find that very often this style is very tiring and even boring. Some sections of the book I read through very quickly, others at a more modest pace. It is quite strange to see how even in very early texts there are already many references to Christianity, but of course, the Celtic islands embraced Christianity pretty early in history.
A nice book to read some time, but don’t expect too much of it.