Fiffaru, the Disaster Lyre

This is the story of the Five Calamities of Fiffaru, the Disaster Lyre.

In 2019, my friend Mattheus Dupuy showed up to a local practice with a Germanic lyre. He let me noodle on it, and I instantly fell in love. After letting me borrow his lyre for a bit, he offered to help me build an Oberflacht lyre using instructions from Michael J. King — my first woodworking project! In a day of woodworking, we managed to get the crosspiece cut, the body shaped, and over half of the soundbox hollowed out. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, the router slipped and cut a large curve in the back before we noticed. This was the First Calamity. After talking about hollowing the whole thing out and slapping on a backpiece, we broke for the day.

The half-hollowed lyre, with the hole near the bottom solid section.

The lyre sat in my garage for nearly two years. With the plague marching the lands, I didn’t have access to the tools to finish it, and over winter I didn’t have a warm space to work on it, either. Then warm weather hit, vaccinations were imminent, and I felt the need to get this sucker done. I had an electrical drill, a coping saw, and pure stubbornness. I had neither a workbench nor wisdom. Despite this, over a weekend I managed to get the majority of the body cut out via strategic drilling and very difficult sawing. Unfortunately, as I started to hollow closer to the lyre’s arms, the lyre cracked where the two arms met. This was the Second Calamity.

Right before it cracked (yes, I was using a cardboard box to drill into)

I decided to peg and glue the headpiece when this happened, to provide stability (since I didn’t have a proper dowel to peg it with, I sliced up an old bamboo knitting needle). I spent a long time trying to find the best glue for the job, but I couldn’t find any recommendations, so I settled on standard wood glue. After finishing the headpiece, I glued the break, clamped it all tightly, and left it for a week or so.

Because I had limited tools and the structure had already been compromised, I decided to simply even out the hollowing and not even attempt to make the front and back boards flush with the frame.

The finished frame and soundboards, ready for gluing

I used wood glue to attach the soundboards, pressed the whole thing with some handweights, and let it dry.

Around this time is when I discovered the Third Calamity: mismatched holes. I had planned for a six-string lyre. Mattheus gifted me a bridge of bog oak for six strings, as well as a horn tailpiece, which I drilled for six strings. But I did my math wrong, and drilled only five holes in the headpiece, with no space to cram in a sixth. Luckily, I could skip one slot on the bridge, and I was able to fit a seventh hole on the tailpiece so that the strings could still be roughly equally-spaced. Thus, the lyre became a pentatonic lyre by accident.

This was not the only issue involving the pegs. I didn’t drill the whole way through, as I didn’t want them to be visible from the back; however, I made some of the pegs too shallow, and the leftmost one in particular had trouble going in. So, I decided to deepen some of the holes — and promptly went through the back on the leftmost. I managed to not do that on the other four, but this was still the Fourth Calamity.

Before stringing, I wanted to apply a finish. However, I couldn’t find any reccomendations for a finish that were newbie-friendly and non-combustible (hi, linseed oil!), so I decided to just use a mix of mineral oil and beeswax, which I already had on hand for wooden chopping boards.

Finally, it was time for stringing! I had purchased a bunch of guitar string sets, so I chose the best selection of nylon strings from those. I was a little at a loss for how to attach the tailpiece, but other lyres I had used employed either fishing line, fake sinew, or plastic-wrapped wire. I had some of the latter available, so I strung it up, but upon tensioning the strings this snapped, being sliced through by the horn tailpiece (the Fifth Calamity). I tried a few fixes, then took some files to the holes and smoothed them out. I no longer trusted the wire, though, so I wrapped part of the tailpiece holes with silk thread and fingerloop braided a tie. It held.

Fiffaru’s final form!

By this point, I had decided to name the lyre Fiffaru, which translates to Five Calamities (from fif and fær, which pluralizes to faru). Despite being the Disaster Lyre, it sounds pretty good! While I don’t have a performance video of this, please enjoy the first recorded noodling upon it:

 

Overall, I’m quite proud of Fiffaru, and its name is rather tongue-in-cheek. This was my first woodworking project, and my first instrument! At the end, I have a pretty beautiful instrument that sounds nice and will hold up well as it’s dragged to events, and because of the calamities I now have a dedicated pentatonic lyre. It’s an overall win!

Finally, in addition to the plans from Michael J. King, I found a few additional websites useful:

A Plaid

Singles with penny to show width
(Some of the) skeined yarns

In 2019, I decided I wanted to weave a plaid for the first time, using handspun. I had spun the yarn earlier that year, using some gifted roving in dark brown and cream as well as light brown and green that I purchased from the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. I spun it very finely and ended up with quite a large amount of yarn!

I decided to warp up a twill on my tapestry loom, using it like a two-beam loom.

Read more

First Calligraphy

Layout and practice

I was so excited to do calligraphy for the first time! I calligraphed a beautiful scroll blank by Adelaide Halfpint inspired by the Ormesby Psalter (1250-1330).
While I had practiced a similar script (Batarde), I practiced the script from the Ormesby Psalter for this scroll, meaning that I learned a new hand for my first calligraphy! I used standard scroll text, as I didn’t want to hyperfocus on my own words the first time I calligraphed something.

 

Scroll being presented in court. Photograph by Kolfinna Valravn.

 

Poeta Atlantiae 2021

I was once again tempted by a prompt for the Poeta Atlantiae Competition: to write two poems in different forms that existed before 1600, one each responding to these prompts:

  • A poem celebrating the journey : One poem must meditate on the experiences and/or lessons learned of a long voyage or time away.
  • A poem for coming home: One poem must evoke the emotional experience of coming home at last after a long journey.

This spoke deeply to my soul, and so I submitted the posts below, containing text, videos, and documentation, to the competition. It was an illustrious field with many beautiful pieces submitted by outstanding poets, so I was deeply touched to be named the Poeta Atlantiae for this entry.

A Poem from the Populace for Hakon hábrok

When Hakon hábrok was placed on vigil to consider joining the Order of the Chivalry, I joined the Worthies to speak as a member of the populace. I was deeply honored to be asked to deliver this speech, and since Hakon is also a bard, I had to give it in verse. The verse itself is fairly loose Old English alliterative verse; I played with both line-length and alliterative structure to best suit the message.

Text

From Ealawynn Maeru,        alias Ela –
Gracious greetings,     guests and friends.
Peers do plead   their pieces of wisdom,
but I proclaim proudly          for the populace.
What should the chivalry     show us in deeds?
What weighs more worthy  than wielding arms,
swift swords       swinging ably,
all adversaries     overwhelmed in battle?
No – a knight      must be more—
prowess is purely         part of the whole.
So what should the chivalry show us in deeds?
Listen, with silent lips and unlocked ears.
Contemplate, consider,        and consult counsel;
weigh wisdom    and wield caution.
Ignore self-interest;     favor insight—
then speak, and lead.
This calling of chivalry is an arduous quest.
Many folk fail     this formidable task.
But Hakon hábrok       holds these!
Contemplation, counsel,      consideration, and discernment:
if these uncommon attributes      are the essence of chivalry,
then I call Hákon hábrok      “knight.”
Elevate him         to that order promptly.
The populace praises it        as proper and just.

Video

Coral Branch Scroll Text for Lucy of Wigan

When Korrin Valravn asked me to write the text for Lucy of Wigan’s Coral Branch (AoA-level arts award), I lept at the chance, as Lucy is a dear friend.

Korrin had already selected the exemplar (a copy of Dante’s Inferno, MS Vat. lat. 4776, fol. 13r;  Canto 4, ll. 64-87). This is a version of the Inferno with intensive planned glossing by Jacopo della Lana that had come up in conversation with Lucy when talking about glossing on legal texts. Glossing my own poem would be weird for a scroll, though, so Korrin brilliantly suggested I write a story to take the place of the glossing. To preserve the structure of the glossing and the layout of the exemplar, I decided that the story would incorporate lines of the poem.

The poem itself is hendecasyllabic meter (eleven syllables per meter) in terza rima (a rhyme scheme of ABA, BCB, CDC, etc.), which is the same structure as the Inferno. The prose interpolates lines of the poem in place of each glossed line in the original. Each section is approximately the same length as its respective gloss, which I achieved by taking a rough count of words in the exemplar and editing myself heavily. While the three animals in the poem (leopard, lion, and wolf) are pulled from the first canto of the Inferno, I twisted them towards Aesop’s Fables while also pulling heavily from forest episodes in chivalric romances. I also included an oblique reference to Dungeons and Dragons, as Lucy and I play together.

Poem

Hear, how midway in the journey of our lives,1
great merit and worth were discovered that we,
King Anton and Queen Luned, must recognize.

In Atlantia’s northern lands, fair and free,
dwells Lucy of Wigan in Roxbury Mill,
where with modesty she makes marvelously

her diverse delights with dedicated skill.
To list them all is a task most punishing
she creates with fiber and food — and more still!

Knitting and naalbinding, weaving and sewing —
sparing time for a dance, for Lucy loves balls —2
then to the garden, as greens need gathering.

Oft from her kitchen tempting fragrances call:
desirable dishes waft deliciousness,
while smooth libations sate all friends in her halls

Her subtlest arts remain; these are priceless:
We exclaim her judgment, mirth, and courtesy,
but the greatest of all her gifts is kindness.

Now induct her into that high company
of the Coral Branch! It is justly called for,3
and done by our hand and our Royal Decree,

For Lucy we laud, adulate, and adore,
in Anno Societatis Fifty-Five
on April the Tenth at Valencia Court.

Prose

Hear, how midway in the journey of our lives,
of that time when Lucy of Wigan was seized with a need to adventure, setting forth from the safety of her manor.

In Atlantia’s northern lands, fair and free,
Lucy set forth down the straight way into dark woods, until she came upon a leopard trapped in vines. Parched and near dead, it begged her to share her cordial, but Lucy knew a sip would not sustain the leopard — so she cut it free. It thanked her for her kindness, and she went onward. Soon she came to a lion weeping under a willow-tree. Once a prisoner, it had paid for its freedom with its mane. She could not bear its distress, so she sat—

Knitting and naalbinding, weaving and sewing
with her diverse skills creating a new mane for the lion. Fastening the mane around the lion’s neck, she assured it of its handsomeness, with or without a mane. She left him gladly preening into a pond. As night grew closer, she came upon a starving wolf lying in the path. It whimpered pitifully, and Lucy was reminded of her own stomach rumbling when

Oft from her kitchen tempting fragrances call,
enticing her to taste the fine fare before it was finished. Kneeling, she offered a meat pie to the hungry wolf, who gladly took it. Soon it fell asleep, and she went onward. At last, she found herself in a grove where starlight reflected from every surface, for each leaf was of silver, bronze, and gold, and each branch of amber, diamond, and coral.

“Her subtlest arts remain; these are priceless,”
a sweet voice sang out; a luminescent figure stood in the middle of the grove. “You entered a forest, thick-crowded with troubles.4 Though you could have passed without a trace, you stopped for each creature that needed you, helping as you could.

For Lucy we laud, adulate, and adore;
A poet among poets would not have words to describe all you have done for those you have helped. You have done many works, with fiber, food, and flower.” The forest glowed gently around the figure, who plucked a twig of coral from a nearby tree. She extended it to Lucy, who knew then that the moon had come down to test and reward her. “But moreover, you were kind.” 

Footnotes

1 Hear, how midway in the journey of our lives: This line is taken almost exactly from the first line of the Inferno, which begins (depending on the translation) with “Midway upon the journey of our life.”
2 Lucy loves balls: This is a joke that started at the first Pennsic Lucy went to, where she was very excited about the number of dances in the evening. We’ve all rather leaned into it.
3 of the Coral Branch! It is justly called for: This line and the following verse had to be changed, as to get me to attend Court for my Pearl, Korrin told me that Lucy was receiving her Coral Branch a week before she actually did. I had written the poem to include the date and the previous event, so I had to revise a few of the lines. Luckily, they were fairly straightforward to revise, and actually improved the final verse!
4 a forest, thick-crowded with troubles: This line is an adaptation from Canto 4, l. 64 of the Inferno (a line from the exemplar), which is sometimes translated as “a forest…thick-crowded with ghosts.”

Final Scroll

Calligraphy and illumination by Korrin Valravn

Resources

Dartmouth Dante Project. Dartmouth College. https://dante.dartmouth.edu/

Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities. The World of Dante. http://www.worldofdante.org/inferno1.html

Poems for Two Court Barony Scrolls

I was honored to write the scroll text for Baroness Catalina Riquel de Luna and Baron Jean Maurice le Marinier’s court barony scrolls, presented at Kingdom Arts and Sciences Festival 2021. Korrin Valravn planned two beautiful maps for them, inspired by Dutch map from the 1570s. To match, I wrote two sonnets inspired by Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft, a Dutch poet from the 16th/17th centuries. His sonnets followed the rhyme pattern ABBA ABBA CCD CCD, and mine did the same. I was particularly pleased that I was able to include all the required information (dates, event, and heraldic blazon) within the poems themselves.

For Baroness Catalina

On March the Sixth, A.S. Fifty-Five, we hear
of service, strength, and grace at the edge of the sea
that guided barony, people, and crown most diligently:
the siren who sings of the rainbow over water.
Her righteous voice shimmers in salty air
for many years, serving Marinus surely.
Now is respite, reprieve, and relief from duty,
but Anton and Luned, King and Queen, declare:
“Catalina Riquel de Luna, your monarchs choose
you as Baroness of Our Court. Now use
and display with pride and privilege a coronet baronial.
Grant also arms: ‘Or, four pallets gules,
on a chief vert, three melusines argent.’ Thus ruled
at Atlantian Kingdom Arts and Sciences Festival.”

For Baron Jean Maurice

Hear from Queen Luned and Anton the King
of watery dangers, beauties, and beasts so bountiful
and a sailor and warden steadfast, brave, and faithful.
An excellent ship the Mariner was trusted with guiding.
Now finished, deserved shore-leave is softly calling
and he descends from ardent duty without proper label.
Loathe are we to have him leave Our table,
and thus his fervent service We must be rewarding.
On the Sixth of March, A.S. Fifty-Five, decree
Jean Maurice le Marinier “Baron,” and guarantee
the privilege to use and display a coronet baronial
and grant him arms: “Purpure, a seahorse contourny
Between three fleurs-de-lys Or.” Thus we agree
at Atlantian Kingdom Arts and Sciences Festival.