Wiking Seafarer, Saxon Chieftain and Charles Dickens.

Tonight my dreams were rather helter-skelter and obviously mostly relating to my activities the day and evening before. But in the early a.m. I had a clairvoyant vision, or rather a flash-vision. Someone said: ‘I (or we) will send one to kill you’.

Well – great, thanks for telling. But it is of course really nothing new, as this has been on the agenda for the last decade and then some.

But evidently I am very heedful of warnings like that – nocturnal or not. After all the mob are real clever, they are doing gods work and can walk on water. Surely not to be trifled with!

However it makes me feel real good to recognize that Danish citizens now have a thoroughly competent, rightful and honourable – perhaps even honest? – M.O.J.

But it’s now late in the p.m., and it’s a very nice day here in downtown Copenhagen. Bright and sunny, although a bit windy and chilly.

In a recent post (link 1) I told a little about some of the ‘1.50-dollar-books’ found in the most recent dutch book-sale in the Heilig-Geist Church House here in central Copenhagen.

But I only managed to mention the lesser part of the acquisitions that day. Hence a few more comming up:

1. LITERATURE AND A CHANGING CIVILISATION. By Philip Henderson. London, 1935, John Lane, 180 p. Original cloth.

This small book is really quite unassuming. In fact so much that I almost passed it by – which however would have been a bloody shame. Because Mr. Henderson seems to be a very sensible guy indeed.

He appears to be replete with common sense and also an ability and a desire to think fairly and squarely and independently?

Of course I can only give a few small specimens of his brilliant little book. But in fact, almost no matter what page you happen to open on you are surprised by the authors common sense and acute observations.

Chapter II ‘Feudalism and the Church’ (page 18) begins like this:

‘By the end of the seventh century the Anglo-Saxon pirates had been settled in Britain for about two hundred years.

‘The legends that they had brought with them were of the same order as the legends brought by the Greeks into Aegean, telling of the exploits of supermen and heroes against giants and monsters.

‘Like the Greek legends they were sung to the harp in the hall of the chief, or baron, by wandering bards called scops. They differed from the Greek legends, however, by the heavy grey skies, the bogs and fens of their northern landscape, and by the prevalent mist through which shapes of horror loom and seem to cloud and confuse their very language.

‘But after the Christianisation of the Anglo-Saxons at the end of the sixth century, latin became the language of learning among them, and such men as Bede of Northumbria wrote with a clear and noble simplicity that is free from the heavy weather of their poetry, though the terror of the harsh northern landscape is still there.

‘Thus in Bede’s account of the conversion of Northumbria to Christianity, one of the nobles at Aedwin’s court speaks as follows:

“So, O king, does the present life of man on earth seem to me, in comparison with the time which is unknown to us, as though a sparrow flew swiftly through the hall, coming in by one door and going out by the other, and you, the while, sat at meat with your captains and liegemen, in wintry weather, with a fire burning in your midst and heating the room, the storm raging out of doors and driving snow and rain before it.

“For the time for which he is within, the bird is sheltered from the storm, but after this short while of calm he flies out again into the cold and is seen no more.

“Thus the life of man is visible for a moment, but we know not what comes before it or follows after it. If, then, this new doctrine brings something more of certainty, it deserves to be followed.”

‘It should be mentioned, perhaps, that though Bede wrote in Latin, he was the disciple of the Irish monks settled in Jarrow, and his early training was partly Celtic.

‘But while cloistered scholars were leading lives of extreme simplicity in grey stone monasteries by the sea and in the greenest and most delightful parts of the country, writing ecclesiastical histories, lives of the saints and epics of part wars and marvels, the working population of Britain continued man’s eternal struggle with the earth and the sea.

‘Familiar as we are with the idealisation of the sea in English poetry, there are few poems which give us the stark reality as well as the strange lure of sea-life so well as the Anglo-Saxon SEAFARER.

With a bitter breast-care I have been abiding:
Many seats of sorrow in my ship have known!
Frightful was the whirl of waves when it was my part
Narrow watch at night to keep on my vessel’s prow
When it rushed the rock along. By the rigid cold
Fast my feet were pinched, fettered by the frost,
By the chains of cold. Care was sighing then
Hot my heart around; hunger rent to shreds within
Courage in me, me sea-wearied! This the man knows not,
He to whom it happens happiest on earth,
How I, carked with care, in the ice-cold sea,
Overwent the winter on my wander-ways,
All forlorn of happiness, all bereft of loving kinsmen,
Hung about with icicles; flew the hail in showers.
Nothing heard I there save the howling of the sea,
And the ice-chilled billow, ‘whiles the crying of the swan!
All the glee I got me was the gannet’s scream,
And the swoughing of the seal, ‘stead of mirth of men;
‘Stead of the mead-drinking, moaning of the sea-mew.
(Stopford Brooke’s translaltion) (Note 1)

‘But while another monk in another Northumbrian monastery was celebrating the deeds of the Danish heroes of Gothland in THE LAY OF BEOWULF, which tells of the victory of the Franks over the Goths between 512 and 520, the Danes themselves came down on the north-east coast of Britain in one of their terrible raids, burning, killing and destroying and rudely breaking in upon the quiet cloistral life that had sheltered Bede, Alcuin and the author of BEOWULF.

‘But these wars in their turn produced a crop of epics of which the fragment of THE BATTLE OF MALDON that has survived, celebtaring the defeat of the East Saxons by the Danes in 993, can be described as part of a rough ILIAD.

‘The poem, record of defeat though it is, is full of gaiety and a wild joy in battle, for when the Saxon chief is mortally wounded he breaks into a laugh and thanks God that he has been allowed to strike great blows before his end.’

To another age entirely, that of the industrial revolution, the following observations pertains (page 83):

‘The novels of Charles Dickens, good bourgeois though he was, partially revealed the appalling squalor in which the lower stratas of the population were sunk.

‘Having himself known what poverty could mean, the terror of once more relapsing into that state became the mainspring of his enormous creative industry, though the root causes of that poverty, buried in the viciousness of the whole enonomic system, are largely obscured in his novels by the sticky mess of sentimental ‘cosiness’ and raucous humour which recommended him to the vast middle-class reading public of his day.

‘Though one can recognise Dickens as an extremely powerful writer, he is, for a generation nurtured on Bernard Shaw, D.H.Lawrence and Aldous Huxley, of all the Victorians the most difficult to read.’

Would have liked to bring a few more samples, but this has to suffice for today.

I was planning to likewise tell a bit about two more, small books:

2. ÜBER RUHESTÖRER – JUDEN IN DER DEUTSCHEN LITERATUR. By Marcel Reich-Ranicki. München, Piper, 1973. 103 p. Pocket-book format.
(Link 2)

3. THE LITERARY CRITICS. A STUDY OF ENGLISH DESCRIPTIVE CRITICISM. By George Watson, Penguin Books, England, 1962. 248 p. Pocket-book format.
(Link 2)

Both of these titles, incidentally, seem to be of much the same quality-stock as the before mentioned. But due to an appointment I have to leave them to next time.

Thanks for your time and be safe!

Note 1.
Perhaps the seamen’s plight of the wiking seafarer wasn’t that much different from that of the North Sea fishermen working on the open sea more than a millineum later?

For instance a cousins of my maternal grandfather was a lifelong fisherman at the North-Western coast of Jutland. For many years he was also captain of the local lifeboat.

My fahter, that worked in a nearby general store in the 1930’s, has told me that no matter how cold and how severely it was freezing he would never wear gloves. That may easily have meant a 3 mile ride in open horse cart in, say, minus 10 to 20 degree celcius.

I think that a hardness of this kind is perhaps most readily explained by him having spent days and years on the open sea since childhood?

(Indicentally he is pictures with other locals in one of Emil Nolde’s pictures from the Danish North Sea coast).

Link 1.
http://www.gamleboeger.dk/2019/02/21/la-chanson-de-roland-des-normands/ (febr.21/22.)

Link 2.
https://blocnotesimma.wordpress.com/2019/03/12/eliot-arnold-and-reich-ranicki/

(11.Mar.2019/rev.28.Sep.2019)

Crossposted on http://www.gamleboeger.dk and
https://blocnotesimma.wordpress.com

Tweets on http://www.twitter.com/gamleboeger

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