Sunday Scrawl #1

For a long time now, my two main hobbies have been writing short stories and taking lots of photographs. It therefore makes perfect sense to me to start a photo prompt challenge of my own. Here are the rules:

Sunday Scrawl Logo

  1. Below, you will find this week’s photo prompt!
  2. Responses to the prompt can vary from prose/poetry writing to more photographs – there are no limits and no word counts.
  3. There are no tangible prizes for this challenge, but I will be reblogging the top entries!
  4. Feel free to use the photo below or the “Sunday Scrawl” icon to illustrate your responses (although I’d love to see some of your own illustrations, too)!
  5. Please remember to include a pingback to this post in your response.
  6. To enter, click on the blue froggy link at the bottom of this page!

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You can view my response to the prompt here.

The Sunday Scrawl

Hi everyone,

For a long time now, my two main hobbies have been writing short stories and taking lots of photographs. It therefore makes perfect sense to me to start a photo prompt challenge of my own. I will post my first challenge this Sunday, and hope you’ll join me in writing a response to it.

You can post absolutely anything in response to my challenges, from poetry and short stories, to photos of your own. If you want to know more about “The Sunday Scrawl” challenge, you can visit its page here.

Thanks for reading; I’m looking forward to hearing from you next week!

Sunday Scrawl Logo

Nobody’s Fault

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July 2017

When I were five, I started the system.

Five days a week, for a bunch o’ times tables.

I ‘ave a go now, but can’t even list em’:

Got no use to a guy who fixes cables.

 

When I were eleven, knew it weren’t over.

Nine ‘till three fifteen, each bloody day.

Spent my last few years hungover,

N’ when I was done, couldn’t wait to be away.

 

When I were sixteen, didn’t get better.

Got some gig with a mate o’ me dad.

Nine ‘till five, said ‘at written letter…

But at least I weren’t no undergrad.

 

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January 2017

When they were eighteen, they left home.

‘Ad to leave to make their millions,

‘At’s what they said, as they got their loan.

Nine thousand a year? Cost ‘em billions.

 

When they was twenty-five, they worked

At minimum wage, not twenty pound an hour.

They was ‘ungry tired and overworked,

Fightin’ for the right to a shower.

 

When we was fifty, we was broke.

They got them jobs with their qualifications,

But them loans? What a joke.

Nobody’s fault! But this damn Nation’s.

Change

The first thing that came into my mind as I looked at today’s photo prompt from Creative Writing Ink, was a short, little poem I wrote just before I started university. Poetry’s never been my strongest form of writing, probably because I simply enjoy writing prose so much more, but I had a go, and this poem was later published in a young writers’ anthology, so I figured it might be worth sharing.

Change
Creative Writing Ink 06/07/17

There’s something strange about this crazy world;

I wanted to sit back as it unfurled,

But now I’m trapped in these churning waters,

Stuck watching as the confusion slaughters.

I don’t know who I am or where to go:

Do I stand out or join the pressing flow?

I need a guide to help me through the dark,

Because I’m here and want to leave my mark.

Everything’s changing; everything’s new,

But I guess that’s life, and you feel it, too.

“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”: Poem Review

A few weeks back, I wrote a poem review for “Pearl”, which is a short, Christian poem originally written in Middle English. As I mentioned then, the anonymous poet who wrote “Pearl”, has had three other texts attributed to them: “Patience”, “Cleanness” and “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”. The latter of these is much longer, and also happens to be the most famous, which is why I thought I should see what all the fuss was about.

“It has often been said that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (c. 1380) is one of the two great long poems in Middle English, the other being Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde (c. 1385). Yet the experience of the two poems in the history of English Literature could hardly be more different.”                                 – Bernard O’Donoghue.

The name ‘Chaucer’ is level to that of ‘Shakespeare’; his work in Middle English is said to be revolutionary, forever influencing English Literature. However, whilst Chaucer’s works have purposefully been preserved throughout the centuries, experts going to great lengths to preserve manuscripts, along with copying out the words to keep a record of them, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” has survived by complete chance. Because there was no name attributed to the poem, it was not deemed important at the time, which is why so many anonymous works from this period were lost. It just so happened, however, that a single manuscript of the poem resurfaced in the nineteenth century, after which point it was printed for the first time, and began to grow the huge readership which it has today.

Gawain
The O’Donoghue translation (the one I read).

Small disclaimer: whilst I read “Pearl” in the original Middle English, I didn’t dare attempt this with “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”; the issue is not only the age of the terms and the lack of a standardised spelling of the time, but is due to the fact that the North-Western dialect adopted by this poet did not become the dominant English dialect. There are therefore some terms that are completely unrelated to modern English, making them impossible to translate without considerable amounts of expertise, or many hours dedicated to Middle English dictionaries.

The poem itself is fascinating; it is set in the court of King Arthur, and depicts the journey of one particular knight, Sir Gawain, who faces many challenges as he attempts to prove himself to his kingdom. Without giving too much away about the plot, I will say that one of the challenges that Gawain faces, is that of seduction; he attempts to resist the advances of one beautiful woman, who consistently attempts to seduce him, demanding kisses from him behind her husband’s back. It is this event that has labelled the poem a Medieval, or Arthurian, romance, and provides an interesting twist to the plot as the values of the knight, including chivalry and compassion, are put to the test.

Indeed, the interactions between Gawain and the Lady make up a good part of the poem, yet they are juxtaposed to the harsh scenes of hunts, which the Lady’s husband has embarked on. This makes an interesting contrast, as Gawain and the Lady enjoy fine food by the fire, and then the Lord races through the undergrowth in pursuit of some wild beast. The poet has here been commended on their ability to question the roles between the interior and the exterior, as, upon reflection, it becomes clear that whilst there is a hunt outside the castle, there is also a hunt inside, as the woman pursues Gawain. In fact, the Lord is arguably safer away from the castle, than Gawain is within it, as the latter doesn’t stand even as nearly as good of a chance of escaping. What this could be suggesting, is that we overestimate the dangers of the wild, and that, in fact, we pose much greater dangers to ourselves, than the outside world ever could. This makes an interesting contrast to the much earlier Beowulf, which is said to have been composed between 700AD and 1000AD. This poem depicts the dangers of the outside, the monster Grendel causing chaos in a castle, much like the Green Knight causes chaos in Arthur’s castle. However, Grendel is purely monstrous, unrefined and bestial. His equivalent in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, the Green Knight, who interrupts Arthur’s festivities to challenge Gawain, is sophisticated, seemingly more honourable than many of the knights present. The poem thus subverts these older values, and asks us to question where the danger truly is: is with the wild animals outside, or is with ourselves?

Another interesting thing about the poem, is how it presents human nature. As Gawain rides out to face his trials, he brandishes a pentangle symbol on his shield, which the author explains in full, and which I have attempted to replicate on the diagram below:

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These are the values expected to be held by the knights of Arthur’s court, although, interestingly, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” holds the only reference to this symbol, which is surprising considering the detail that it entails. What this symbol does suggest, however, is that the knights held stable, stationary identities, always adhering to these values, because, due to the structure of the pentangle, if they lost one value, the others would no longer align, and they would be left with nothing, at all. Their only option was then to either be perfect, or to entirely imperfect; arguably, this would provide a fair amount of pressure.

I enjoyed my time reading “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, and would certainly recommend it more than I would “Pearl”, although I must add that, if you do decide to give this fantastic, although somewhat underrated, poem a go, it would be better to read the O’Donoghue translation, or else some other translation, rather than attempting to decipher inauspicious language of the original Middle English.

Sir Gawain

“Pearl”: Poem Review

PearlGenerally speaking, poems are quite difficult things to review. They can be extremely emotive and personal, their meanings subjective to the reader’s perspective and background. To review such a personal thing can therefore seem harsh and unfeeling. Despite this, however, there are some poems, such as epic poems and poems which act as stories and myths in themselves, that are today read through, not the lens of a modern day poem, but as a separate form of writing. Milton’s Paradise Lost, for example, is a twelve book epic poem, and can be reviewed and critiqued, regardless of the typical sensitivity associated with a modern day poem. This said, of course, Paradise Lost is still very personal to Milton, as he used the words and sounds that they made, to create a kind of tonal music within the poem, which reflects his reliance on these different sounds, after his loss of sight.

There are other poems which may be considered in similar, analytic forms, such as the less renowned poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The author of this fourteenth century poem is unknown; all we do know, is that they wrote in Middle English, were, due to significant references, probably of the Christian faith, and that they likely did not only write Sir Gawain, but also three other, smaller poems: PearlCleanness and Patience. Although it has not been stated, by any surviving manuscripts, that these poems did belong to the same author, renowned critics have, over the years, all agreed that they probably did; the writing style, themes and patterns of writing are too similar to have been written by different poets. In this review, however, I will focus on the less famous poem, Pearl, which interested me for several reasons; for one, it demonstrates a metaphorical embodiment of the objectification of women, demonstrating the age of the patriarchy; for another, it explores the possibilities of a dream-like heaven world, considering not only the glorification of heaven, but also the economics of this Paradise.

Pearl begins by depicting a father who has been put “in thys del and gret daunger” (Part V), here meaning, ‘in grief and distress’, due to the loss of his pearl. He searches his garden for this jewel, whilst alluding to its beauty and perfection, for it was a “pryvy perle wythouten spot” (Part I), or ‘pretty pearl without a spot’. As the tale continues however, it becomes apparent that the man’s “pearl” is in fact his daughter, who died when she was an infant. Although the poet uses darker language at this point, interweaving the theme of death alongside the father’s primary narrative, the father supposes that “uch gresse mot grow of graynes dede” (Part I), or that new plants must grow from the dead, and that good may still come from bad. This prefigures the next few parts to the poem, as the father falls into a dream-like trance on top of his daughter’s grave, and wakes up in a what he calls “Paradise”. As the poem proceeds, he meets a queen of the Paradise, who he later realises to be the daughter he lost. She introduces herself as a queen, and welcomes him, but bids him to stop weeping for her, as God had saved her. She continued to explain that God had made her his queen, and that she thus had become a royal of Paradise.

The father, however, has issues understanding what his daughter is telling him, as he is focused on the human and the literal, forgetting that the supernatural defies the boundaries of human knowledge. She insists, for example, that she lives as Jesus’ wife in Paradise, which is the city of Jerusalem. The literal father has many issues with his, first complaining that she could surely not be worthy of such a position, when she had died as such a sPearl2.jpgmall girl, and had therefore had not had time in her life to be loyal to God. The daughter tries to explain that God excuses the innocent, and sees them as equal to the righteous through multiple parables, but then her father suggests that there must be worthier women than her, who could be Jesus’ wife. The daughter then explains that Jesus has a total of 140,000 wives, but that they do not fight or have competitions between them, for they are all worthy in the eyes of God. She even goes as far as to say, “bot uchon enle we wolde were fyf” (Part XV), here claiming that she wishes that every new wife were five new ones, as she alludes to the common phrase, ‘the more the merrier’. The father, whilst apparently not understanding how this many wives could cooperate equally, then complains that his daughter cannot live in Jerusalem in heaven, because Jerusalem was in Judea on Earth, to which his daughter simply says that there may be more than one of a thing at one time, and that God recreated the city for them to enjoy in Paradise. What the father unveils through this system of questioning, is the functioning economics of heaven, although he does not recognise them as such, for he only sees them as impossible and illogical.

This links to another theme which the poem seeks to highlight: dualism. This is the belief, first explored by Plato, that the body and soul are two divisible entities, which not only ensures that the soul will survive after the death of the physical form, but also suggests that the soul preexists the body. Plato even went as far as to suggest that the body was an obstacle to the supernatural duties of the soul, as it was weighed down and distracted by bodily desires, such as the need for food and sleep. This idea is explored in multiple passages in Pearl, but is most vividly demonstrated by the passage that reads, “fro spot my spryt ther sprang in space; / My body on balke ther bod in sweven. / My goste is gon in Godes grace / In aventure ther mervayles meven” (Part II). What this is essentially saying, is that the spirit (or soul) is separated from the body so that it can pursue its “aventure”, or ‘quest’ in heaven. This can only happen, however, once it is severed from the body and thus, according to Platonian thought, is released to pursue its true purpose.

The other thing that I wanted to highlight regarding the issues raised in Pearl, was the language of precious stones, and, in particular, pearls. The father objectifies his daughter to the role of a pearl as he searches for her, and yet this turns out to not be an insult to women, but a compliment, as Christ is later compared to a pearl, and pearls are described to adorn Paradise, present almost everywhere the father travels on his adventure into heaven. This is emphasised by the final two lines of the poem, which read: “he gef uus to be his homly hyne / Ande precious perles unto his pay.” (Part XX), which means ‘May He grant us to be his lowly servants and precious pearls to be his liking’; whilst the term ‘pearl’ may have originally seen as a way of objectifying women, it here becomes clear that to be Christ’s ‘pearl’, should be the ultimate goal of humankind; they want to be pearls without spots, just as God wants us to be humans without sins.

Although my own religious beliefs lean towards atheism, Pearl was still an interesting poem; this was my first encounter of the Middle English language, and it took me a long time to work through this poem, if only because I constantly found myself rereading sections and looking the majority of the words up in a dictionary. Nevertheless, the ideas considered here are unusual, and therefore intriguing. Not many poems attempt to describe heaven in such precise terms, considering its symmetry and beauty. The poem also indicates that the author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, along with the other smaller poems attributed to this same poet, was a Christian. Like Paradise Lost, therefore, it may be fair to say, that whilst such epic poems cannot be assessed in the same ways that we judge modern poetry, there is nevertheless a personality to them that is interjected by the writer. Whilst some poets use their work to explore their emotions, fears and desires, this writer used their work to explore the possibilities of their faith, and to promote its importance amongst their readers.