Monday 11 July 2011

Hour by Hour, grain by grain

One of my favourite words in Italian is clessidra, meaning hourglass, from the Greek klepsydra, meaning water clock.

Well, this is now my favourite clessidra: Marc Newson’s Ikepod Hourglass. It is a 60-minute counter, measuring 265 x 300 x 3 mm, and the ‘sand’ is carbon or nickel plated nanoballs.

For some other photos and a review see here. While my heart says that I have to have one, my head (and other half) says, Lear-like: never, never, never, never, never.

Friday 8 July 2011

K P Clarke, Chaucer and Italian Textuality (OUP, 2011)

K P Clarke, Chaucer and Italian Texuality, Oxford English Monographs (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011) has just been published.

Below is from the OUP website:
  • Examines Chaucer and his Italian sources with a strong emphasis on Italian manuscripts
  • Seeks to understand Chaucer’s Italian sources as they were read by Chaucer himself, within a manuscript context that accommodates many layers of meaning on the page
  • An appendix of the Mannelli glosses published in one place for the first time
When Chaucer came into contact with Italian literary culture in the second half of the fourteenth century he was engaging with a productive, lively and highly varied tradition. Chaucer and Italian Textuality provides a new perspective on Chaucer and Italy by highlighting the materiality of his sources, reconstructing his textual, codicological horizon of expectation. It provides new ways of thinking about Chaucer’s access to, and use of, these Italian sources, stimulating, in turn, new ways of reading his work. Manuscripts of the major works of Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch circulated in a variety of formats, and often the margins of their texts were loci for extensive commentary and glossing. These traditions of glossing and commentary represent one of the most striking features of fourteenth-century Italian literary culture. These authors were in turn deeply indebted to figures like Ovid and Statius, who were themselves heavily glossed and commented upon. The margins provided a space for a wide variety of responses to be inscribed on the page. This is eloquently demonstrated in the example of Francesco d’Amaretto Mannelli’s glosses in Decameron, copied by him in 1384. This material dimension of Chaucer's sources has not received sufficient attention; this book aims to address just such a material textuality. This attention to the materiality of Chaucer's sources is further explored and developed by reading the Prologue to the Wife of Bath’s Tale and the Clerk’s Tale through their early fourteenth-century manuscripts, taking account not just of the text but also of the numerous marginal glosses. Within this context, then, the question of Chaucer's authorship of some of these glosses is considered.

Table of Contents:

1: Chaucer and Ovid: The Latin and Vernacular Heroides
2: Boccaccio as Glossator
3: Reading Boccaccio in the Fourteenth Century
4: Chaucer as Glossator?
Appendix One
Appendix Two

Readership: Students and scholars of medieval literature

K. P. Clarke, Sykes Research Fellow in Italian Studies, Pembroke College, Cambridge

Kenneth Clarke studied Italian and History of Art at Trinity College, Dublin and the Alma Mater Studiorum, at Bologna, and went on to do his doctorate in medieval English at University College, Oxford. He is the Sykes Research Fellow in Italian Studies at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he currently teaches medieval Italian and English literature.

Thursday 7 July 2011

Bernard O’Donoghue, Farmers Cross (Faber, 2011)

Flying over Farmers Cross, Cork; Photo credit: © Donncha O Caoimh, via here

Bernard O’Donoghue (born in Cullen, Co. Cork, 1945) has just published his fifth collection of poetry Farmers Cross (sixth if you count his Selected Poems by Faber in 2008) and it is a work of beauty, of sadness, of delicate memories polished by continual, countless recollection. Much of O’Donoghue’s poetic voice is poised between the Ireland of his childhood and the England of the greater part of his life, his education and his career as a fellow in Oxford, where he teaches medieval literature as well as twentieth-century poetry. This inbetweenness makes for a powerfully observed poetic of belonging and non-belonging, of the outsider and the local, with an eye for detail that no local could see but to which no outsider would have access.

The collection’s title poem, ‘Farmers Cross’, explores events immediately following the death of his father and his mother’s decision to return to England. A cheque signed on the day he died, paying for his subscription to the Irish Farmers Journal, was returned marked ‘Not honoured: signatory deceased’. While his mother ‘took to farming like a native’, his father ‘hated farming: every uphill step | on the black hill where he’d been born and bred.’ Farming for him was a cross, unwillingly inherited. She was good at it, despite her city upbringing (‘as if she’d not grown up by city light’), and has a strong sense of the honour, dignity, and sacrifice of the work. Its rewards, for her, are reaped in the next life: ‘she always said the front row in Heaven | would be filled exclusively by farmers’. But no matter how good she was at farming, no matter how much of a native she resembled, she had married into it, and when her husband died, her connection with the farm was lost. The townland of Farmers Cross is where the airport in Cork was built, on a hill and prone to fog. It is from here that his mother leaves for good, as ‘the lights | fought a losing battle with the fog’. Its atavic identity as a farm persists over its subsequent use as an airport: ‘they’d | always said it was a hard farm to work’. Farmers Cross, then, becomes the point of departure as well as the point of return for the poet, both in his imaginative and real geography.

The ground worked in Farmers Cross is not just that in the Cork of O’Donoghue’s childhood but that which he came to work himself over the years: the poetry of the middle ages. There is a translation of Piers Plowman (B Prologue 1—37), a man who knew the land, a poem all about getting into that front row in Heaven. There is a translation of Dante’s Purgatorio 2. 61—81, Virgil and Casella, which opens: ‘«Voi credete | forse che siamo esperti d’esto loco; | ma noi siam peregrin come voi siete’, rendered as: ‘I think you must believe | that we know all about arrangements here; but we are outsiders, just the same as you are.’ That esperti d’esto loco (echoing of course Inferno 26. 98 and the ‘expertise’ of another great traveller, Ulysses) becomes a very vernacular ‘arrangements’, while peregrin moves from ‘pilgrim’ and ‘stranger’ to the somewhat starker ‘outsider’, echoing a theme very much being explored in Farmers Cross. The theme of the traveller, the outsider, is not explored via the figure of (Dante’s) Ulysses but instead an older, and altogether stranger figure in the Old English poem ‘The Wanderer’. O’Donoghue effortlessly allows the poem’s universality to compellingly apply itself to the present (pp. 28—9):
Cities lie in ruins; populations lie dead,
their bodies heaped by the crumbling walls.
Some die in battle, but more are victims
of assaults from the skies. Some are left
for scavengers to come under cover of night
to steal what they can. Few have the honour
of dignified burial by friend or relation.

Compare the Old English:

Wōriað þā wīnsalo,———walden licgað
drēame bidrorene,———duguþ eal gecrong,
wlonc bī wealle.———Sume wīg fornōm,
ferede in forðwege,———sumne fugel oþbær
ofer hēanne holm,———sumne se hāra wulf
dēaðe gedǣlde,———sumne drēorighlēor
in eorðscræfe———eorl gehȳdde.

Bruce Mitchell, the great Old English scholar, described the Wanderer’s philosophizing as ‘strong in feeling, high in dignity, and wisely reflective’: I can think of no better description of Bernard O’Donoghue’s Farmers Cross.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

The Survival of Letters: Faddan More Psalter on Display

The Faddan More Psalter—discovered in a bog in Co. Tipperary in July 2006—after extensive technical examination and restoration, has gone on display in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin. Its discovery was the subject of an Archaeology Ireland special, as well as a wonderful documentary on RTE television. Two leaves have now gone on display, as well as the book’s cover—itself a remarkable survival—whose technical examination has revealed the presence of papyrus. The precise meaning of such an extraordinary discovery is still being teased out and will be for some time to come.

They have included a short film on the discovery and highlights of its conservation, and the displays carry some material on the huge task of preserving what remains and understanding it. For example, due to some of the inks used, the parchment has disappeared while the letters themselves have survived, like a kind of 8th-century insular alphabet soup.

The National Museum have released two publications to mark this exhibition; The Faddan More Psalter: Discovery, Conservation and Investigation and Reading the Faddan More Psalter: An Introduction while the documentary is also available for purchase.

If you are in Dublin this summer, this is a must see, the kind of survival no one dared hope for nor thought they would ever see in their lifetime.

Monday 4 July 2011

Máire Flavin, mezzo-soprano

Listen to Máire Flavin, an Irish mezzo-soprano, at the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition 2011. Beautiful voice and a great performance. She eats up the stage and has a wonderful presence. A star in the making, clearly.

She sings Clara Schumann’s Lorelai; Henri Duparc, Chanson triste; Manuel Rosenthal, La souris d’Angleterre; and Philip Martin’s setting of The Lake Isle of Innisfree.


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