The Poets

April 28, 2015

Of Scottish Literature

Braveheart was an excellent movie, and for the most part was well directed by Mel Gibson. For those of you who have not seen the movie, it's about the Scottish hero and warrior William Wallace and the struggle he and his people underwent while at war with England in the 14th century. Though the movie itself was one of the best that I've seen, being one of my favorites, some of the historical claims that it made were modestly inaccurate.

One such claim was that prior to Wallace the Scots had no country of their own, hence the conflict with England and their struggle for independence. Wallace proclaims in Braveheart that (referring to the conflicts the Scots were undergoing with the English), "Now is our chance. Now. If we join we can win. If we win, well then we'll have what none of us has ever had before: a country of our own."

In fact, Scotland had been a country of their own since 843 AD- 427 years prior to Wallace. What the movie failed to mention was that prior to the
Scottish Wars of Independence there had been a long succession of kings; and that it wasn't until 1286, when Alexander III died without a rightful heir to take the throne (his 3-year-old granddaughter, Margaret the Maid of Norway, died before she could take it up), that Scotland slipped into a dire state of internal chaos which the English took aggressive advantage of.

That said, it was through the course of studying the events that led up to the Scottish Wars of Independence that I came across a poem that is considered "the oldest fragment of Scottish literature" that has survived to date. The poem is a lament over Alexander's death and a plea to Christ to prevent the motherland from succumbing to her troubled state without a king. Not only is it beautifully written, it was also written in dialect.

It was on the night of March 19th, 1286, that Alexander III, traveling horseback along the coast of Fife, near Kinghorn, was tossed from his steed and died there from wounds that he sustained. Scotland, without her righteous king and a rightful heir, would soon find herself plunged into some dark days to come ... hence the poem below (followed by one of many modern rendering of the old dialect).

The Original Fragment

Quhen Alysandyr oure Kyng wes dede,
That Scotland led in luwe and le,
Away wes sons off ale and brede,
Off wyne and wax, off gamyn, and gle:
Oure gold wes changyd in to lede.
Cryst, borne into Vyrgynte,
Succoure Scotland and Remede
That stad perplexyte.

Modern Translation

When Alexander our King was dead
That Scotland led in love and loyalty
Away were son[g]s of ale and bread
Of wine and success(?), of gaming and glee
Our gold was changed into lead.
Christ, born into Virginity,
Succor Scotland and remedy
That state['s] perplexity.
Lamentfully beautiful, right? Moreover, interesting both because of the dialect infused into it (led in luwe and le) and also because of the choice spelling of words (Vyrgynte). Anyhow, I hope you liked the poem and the brief story behind it. And about the movie, Braveheart, I highly recommend checking it out- it's an intense movie riddled with war and struggle and infused with romance and notions of freedom. Good flick ...

April 27, 2015

Sweet Disdain


Diogenes was quite himself
When Alexander came-
In fact, the Cynic hardly cared
For Alexander's fame.

When Alexander asked the rogue
How he might help his plight,
The Cynic said with sweet disdain:
Depart, you're in my light.


Of the Poem

The poem is based on an encounter that occurred between Alexander the Great and Diogenes of Sinope. There are a few varying accounts that elaborate on that meeting, and all of them are quite amusing. According to Plutarch's rendering, on a visit to Corinth, Alexander found himself thronged the entire time by its philosophers and statesmen. To his curiosity, all but one sought his presence, the philosopher who he had heard so much about ... Diogenes of Sinope. The story goes as follows:

"Thereupon many statesmen and philosophers came to Alexander with their congratulations, and he expected that Diogenes of Sinope also, who was tarrying in Corinth, would do likewise. But since that philosopher took not the slightest notice of Alexander, and continued to enjoy his leisure in the suburb Craneion, Alexander went in person to see him; and he found him lying in the sun. Diogenes raised himself up a little when he saw so many people coming towards him, and fixed his eyes upon Alexander. And when that monarch addressed him with greetings, and asked if he wanted anything, "Yes," said Diogenes, "stand a little out of my sun."It is said that Alexander was so struck by this, and admired so much the haughtiness and grandeur of the man who had nothing but scorn for him, that he said to his followers, who were laughing and jesting about the philosopher as they went away, "But truly, if I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes."

I had been recently reflecting on this encounter and thought it would be fun to put it into verse ... hence the poem. Let me know what you think ...

April 23, 2015

Final Jeopardy!

Last night's Final Jeopardy question was: American Poetry. I blogged on this in July of 2010. Do you know the answer?

April 09, 2015

I Walk Alone

"I walk alone, absorbed in my fantastic play, —
Fencing with rhymes, which, parrying nimbly, back away;
Tripping on words, as on rough paving in the street,
Or bumping into verses I long had dreamed to meet."

April 07, 2015


William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (my favorite of the two) ushered in the English period of the Romantic movement in poetry and literature with their publication of Lyrical Ballads in 1798.

The simplicity of their poetic diction, the enduring imagery and vividness that permeates their works, along with the mystical and sometimes ominous subjects their musings revolve around, has made their poetry both incredible and incredibly accessible and relatable to the layperson. These two poets have produced works that are not only beautiful and mesmerizing, but also honest and bold enough so as to reach out and touched gently on the Woeful and Dreadful in ways that are, in literary terms, beyond reproach. These poets are, in short, Homeric monuments.

Wordsworth, who was born on this day in 1770, was the first poet of the Romantic period in England that I read, and I was drawn to him immediately! His Lucy poems are eerily intriguing, steeped in total mystery and riddled with an acute sense of melancholy and lament (far from the mere pastoral musings of a naturalist poet that many have predicated upon him). His poem, Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802, which describes the beauty of a serene London morning from the quite perspective of the Westminster Bridge, is one of my favorite poems of all time- and probably one of his more popular ones.

Of his more popular works, I find it remarkable (and very embarrassing the more I contemplate it) that though I'm a fan of the works of Wordsworth, I only recently became acquainted with what's deemed one of his finest poems, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, also simply known as Daffodils.

To commemorate his date of birth, I'd like to share that poem with you. The rhyme scheme is simple: ababcc per stanza; the meter, a smooth eight syllables per line (iambic tetrameter); and the imagery, sublime. Trust me, you'll dig it. Let me know what you think.


I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden Daffodils;
Beside the Lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.


The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:-
A Poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company:
I gazed---and gazed---but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.

As of April 9th, 2010