I was extremely excited when Kolfinna Valravn asked me to write the text for Valgard av Mors’ Laurel scroll, and even more excited when I found out she was basing it on the Franks Casket (full details here!). I knew that Mors is an amazing smith (making the Franks Casket, with its depiction of Wayland the Smith, even more appropriate), but she had a few additional suggestions: skulls are good, and make it metal. In addition, the space we had was quite tiny, which I love – I love space constraints that require me to write something perfect for the individual in as few words as possible. Since we were in my happy home of Anglian artifacts, I of course had to write alliterative verse; since I had been reading more alliterative verse in the last few months, I had a much better sense of where I could bend the constraints of the form in the process. Once I latched on to an opening phrase and a few specific images, the poem sprung almost fully-formed, only needing some minor editing and adjusting to make sure the flow was as perfect as possible.
So things kept happening to get in the way of my properly apprenticing to Ollam Lanea (rainstorms, commitments, a pandemic), so when we finally were able to set a firm date, I lost my mind a little and decided to make her a gift for The Occasion. I decided to make her a book. Not any book — a book that contained two of her pieces, two of mine, and some other important items. Since I chose poems that incorporated our languages, I decided they had to be properly glossed. This is literally my third piece of calligraphy ever, my second with a proper pen, and I learned to bookbind over the summer by half-watching a dozen random YouTube videos. And because I knew Lanea would get a kick out of it, instead of documentation, I wrote a library catalog entry. I told you I lost my mind.
The Catalog Entry
Teach Folcadáin Bó Caitlin MS Ripton A.i
|Date||Inconsistently dated to both ~800 and 2021 (?)|
|Title||The Apprentice’s Manuscript|
|Content||The present volume contains 4 poems and some additional back matter (a short verse and a single sentence). Two poems, On Kings (ff. 2r-8v) and Song of Amergin (ff. 24r-29v) have been glossed by the original scribe. The glossing of On Kings indicates that the scribe was familiar with the language and attempted to keep a poetic translation in the gloss. However, they also excluded words that were the same in both texts, making it difficult to reconstruct the gloss’s original form. Inaccuracies in the glossing of Song of Amergin indicate that the scribe was not familiar with the language; E. Meredith (2021) has suggested that the scribe was attempting to combine two texts with only the vaguest understanding of Celtic languages.
Decoration: 5 illuminations, of a horse between three lozenges (f. 1r), a bird (f. 16r), a raven on a pall between three Brigid’s crosses (f. 17r), a great black dog (f. 23r), and a golden winged shoe (f. 30r). There are additional small decorations throughout, most significantly a decorated O on f. 18v.
Irish, Old (?)
|Physical Description||Materials: Pergamenata, Noodler’s Eel Black, Koh-I-Noor watercolor, FineTec gold and silver.
Dimensions: approximately 90 x 70 mm. No indication of trimming.
Foliation: ff. 32. There is one modern foliation sequence in the manuscript in pencil.
Layout: written in one column of four or eight lines to a page. All four-line pages contain glosses in a different language.
Script: Half-uncial. While the hand has similarities to the Book of Kells, as do some of the illuminations, the number of errors and uneven lines indicate an inexperienced scribe deeply in over their head.
Binding: Rebound in the first quarter of the 21st century by an enthusiastic amateur using green silk thread, cardboard, linen, leather, and PVA glue.
|Origin, provenance||Unknown; bears indicators of both 8th/9th-century Hiberno-Saxon traditions (especially Northumbrian) and 21st-century Nacirema techniques from Piscataway Nation territory.|
When I found out that Iselda de Narbonne was going to receive her Laurel, I may have demanded to make her mantle. I don’t know. It’s all a little fuzzy.
Due to life, the timeline on construction got a little tight, so the foundation seams were all machine sewn. However, every single visible stitch was hand-sewn, and the applique and beads were done entirely by hand. The fabric and thread is 100% silk. Every fabric used is a two-tone that shimmers when in motion, some more subtly than others. The pearls are glass Swarovski pearls.
I was asked to say something about the mantle as it was presented to her, but initially all I could think of was “A badass bard deserves a badass mantle, and I hope this makes you cry.” However, inspiration struck two nights beforehand, so I wrote her a poem that I read:
From sweet soil sprouts the laurel,
But limbs and leaves with labor grow
dewy drupes. Devotion and time
Furnished fruits fair to the ear,
Foliate and flourishing, brought forth
Verdant voices in choral concordance.
Now a mantle marks the mastership attained
Proclaims to peers: perceive this Laurel
with seeds of song to sow and nourish.
Amang ic seowede nihtlang ic sticode me foroft.
Æt þære wæfersyne wundormentles, þīn wopdropum ic ahope.
The last two lines, in Old English, translate directly to “While I sewed through the night, I stabbed myself often. At the spectacle of the wonder-mantle, I hope for your tears.” In other words, “I hope it makes you cry.”
Before Gideon ap Stephen was Laurelled at Ymir 2020, Mistress Rosalind asked me to translate the poem she had written to release Gideon from his apprenticeship into Old English. I happily did so — I love translations and find it a great challenge! Below is the text that I sent her; I also sent her a (very rough) recording for pronunciation. While I usually don’t use ċ (/ch/) or ġ (/j/) in my translations as they are entirely a modern conceit for transcription, I included them here to help indicate the pronunciation differences from c (/k/) and g (/g/) for performance.
|Gideon ap Stephen great of heart||Gideon ap Stephen great in breostsefan|
|A word-warrior for the Knowne World||Cyneword-ċempa for þære cuþre worulde|
|Famed for ferocity in defense of humble folk||Rof for reþnesse in randġebeorh eadmede-folces|
|Awesome of hair a voice ocean-deep||Seldlic in feaxe stefn ġeofon-sidu|
|In prose and poetry you have shown your prowess||þurh wordcræft ond woþcræft þin ġewald þu ġeseþe|
|Our path together of time and travel||Ure gomenwaþu to-gædere on geongum ond byrum|
|Late night counsel creation and craft||Nihtlangum leoþurunum listum ond sceaftum|
|We, your mentors you, a man of our houses||Wit, þin rædboran, þu, reord-berend unċer inhireda|
|Now ends your oath of fealty to us||Nu endaþ þin aþ to us of heldan|
|We take back the belt once gladly bestowed||Wit oþfeorraþ þone fetel fore fuslice ġelacodon|
|But our heart-bond can never be broken||Ac ure breostsefa-bend ne abirsteþ næfre|
|Translation||Translator’s Notes Regarding Particular Choices|
|Gideon ap Stephen great in breostsefan||Breostsefa = mind or heart, literally “the mind in the breast”|
|Cyneword-cempa for þære cuþre worulde||Cyneword-cempa = champion of fitting words|
|Rof for reþnesse in randgebeorh eadmede-folces||Randgebeorh = protection such as that afforded by a shield|
|Seldlic in feaxe stefn geofon-sidu||Seldlic = rare, strange, wondrous, extraordinary, having unusual good qualities
Sid = wide, broad, spacious, and is specifically usually applied to the ocean, world, and universe
|þurh wordcræft ond woþcræft þin gewald þu geseþe||Syntax of second half-line is “your prowess you show”
wordcræft = the art of speaking and writing
woþcræft = the art of poetry or song
gewald = power, mastery (I chose it for the latter meaning)
|Ure gomenwaþu to-gædere on geongum ond byrum||Syntax of second half-line is “of travels and times”; I chose to make plural because there was presumably more than one
Byre has many meanings, but I particularly like the translation of “an event, a favourable time, an opportunity”
|Nihtlangum leoþurunum listum ond sceaftum||Syntax of second half-line is “craft and creation”
nihtlang = night-long
leoþurun = counsel conveyed in verse (I thought this meaning was appropriate!)
list = art, skill, cunning, craft, artifice
|Wit, þin rædboran, þu, reord-berend uncer inhireda||Wit = dual for Mistress Rosalind and Master Dunstan
reord-berend = fig. person/man, lit. voice-bearer/one gifted with speech
in-hired = family, household, house (I liked the triple meaning)
|Nu endaþ þin aþ to us of heldan|
|Wit oþfeorraþ þone fetel fore fuslice gelacodon|
|Ac ure breostsefa-bend ne abirsteþ næfre||Repeating breostsefa from the beginning|
In early 2019, Master Eldred Ælfwald requested that Lady Kaaren Valravn create his court baron scroll (scroll information here). In turn, she asked Lord Ishmael Reed to write an original poem and me to translate the poem into Old English. Ishmael wrote the poem in the style of the 14th-century alliterative revival, which I then translated into Old English alliterative verse.
The prompt for Poeta Atlantiae in 2019 was too good to pass up: choose two poetic forms that are from locations at least 500 miles from each other. I chose the ghazal, from Persian and Arabic traditions, and alliterative verse, from Old English tradition. Kaaren Valravn kindly did last-minute calligraphy of both poems for my entry’s display, for which I am eternally grateful.