This is Liam Guilar's Blog, mostly about poetry, mine and other people's, and anything else of interest. Over the years it has unintentionally developed into an online poetry resource, check the names in the sidebar but Bunting, Yeats, Pound, Joyce, Tennyson and the medieval poets get fair coverage. Lady Godiva and Me is a sequence of poems that linked Lady Godiva, both the historical Godgifu and the legendary Lady G, to a character growing up in the city of Coventry after the second world war.
You can see a short film about the collection Here.
Further information, full length articles and sample poems are available on my website Here .
What are the differences between early Medieval poets and Modern ones? Part 1
My working theory is that I can learn about Laȝamon and his process by rewriting his text. The process is steadily illuminating aspects of his work that I would not notice if I were approaching it from a literary critical/historical/academic perspective.
One of the major differences between Laȝamonas a writer and his modern descendants can be seen in the way he retells the story of Rowena. What he did, and what I feel obliged to do, are very different.
But first an important general point.
Medieval authors often appear inconsistent. Sometimes this might be the result of inaccurate copying. Sometimes, however, I think it points towards a much more interesting difference in their practice.
In Geoffrey of Monmouth, Ambrosius launches into a diatribe about the sins Vortigern has committed. It’s excessive in length. It’s also inaccurate. What he says doesn’t match up with the story we’ve just read. Ambrosius accuses Vortigern of betraying both Constantine and Constans, the father and brother of Ambrosius and Uther.
The second charge is indisputably true. But nowhere in Geoffrey’s text, describing the brief career and death of Constantine the father, is there any mention of Vortigern. Constantine is knifed by a Pict.
If this diatribe had been written by Robert Browning we might see this as a subtle way of suggesting hatred has unhinged Ambrosius. But inconsistency seems not to have bothered Geoffrey or his subsequent translators.
Wace, following Geoffrey, has Constantine stabbed by a Pict, who had been in his service but had begun to hate the King: ‘I do not know why’. But when he comes to Vortigern’s death, Wace repeats the accusation that Vortigern has slain both father and brother. He refers to it twice. Once ‘in text’ and once in words that he gives to Ambrosius. Had he flicked back a few pages, he could have checked and seen that this is wrong.
Laȝamon does the same. He expands and dramatizes the initial treachery, giving the Pict a name and lines to speak. He describes the assassination. Wace’s ten lines became 21 long lines (or 42 short lines in Madden’s edition).
The scene obviously caught his imagination. He makes no mention of Vortigern.
When he gets to Vortigern’s death, Laȝamon leaves out the long speech. No Robert Browning effect here. Instead, Ambrosius makes a grim joke about keeping warm. Then Laȝamon follows Geoffrey and Wace in repeating the accusation that Vortigern killed both father and brother.
Either they couldn’t check what they’d read, which is unlikely; they had forgotten what they had written, which in Laȝamon’s case seems improbable, or it wasn’t important.
Considering why it wasn't important, points towards an essential difference between Medieval and Modern writing which will be the subject of the next post.
But you can discover it for yourself by considering how you would film the scene where Rowena murders Vortimer?
A Presentment of Englishry is published by Shearsman UK and is available from The Book Depository and Amazon. Signed copies are available from www.liamguilar.com