This ae nighte, this ae nighte…

OK, so I grew up with Tolkein.  On the bedrooms walls of most of my fellow students, wedged between the one of Che in a beret and the one of the man with the very long legs striding above the legend Keep On Truckin’, was a purple and yellow one of Gandalf. I remember the coarse texture of the paper, and the violence of the colours.

So the idea of poems being spells or incantations is kind of inbuilt. How could they be anything else? But of course, that may be just a ’70s thing.

I wrote a poem about a mouse many years ago, as one does. This is it, it’s only little:

A Conversation

The Mouse sits on my shoulder through the night.

Again, I sharpen quills and drag my books into the light.

But oh, the hours are long and I grow old.

Magic’s not wanted now, I whisper

Spells will be mocked and songs are out of season.

All the more need for you, my Wizardess.

All the more reason.

Of course the Wizardess is me – all characters in people’s poems are aspects of the poet, just as all characters in a novel are aspects of the novelist. And the mouse is a kind of play on muse – Mouse/Muse? No? That’s why he’s got a capital letter, because really he’s a character from Greek Mythology.

However did I survive to be this old, if I felt that old in those days?

I have a habit of picking up a paperback, reading a few pages and putting it back on the shelf. Since the house is stuffed with paperbacks going way back beyond Gandalf and Keep On Truckin’ it becomes a kind of random, inspiration-finding exercise. I tend to believe connecting snippets of information, ideas,  thoughts – like Marvell’s nectaren and curious peach – ‘into my hand themselves will reach’ – from the rows of crumbling, tea-coloured paperbacks on my bookshelves.

This morning I picked up and briefly perused Understanding Poetry by James Reeves. This is a very old book (Australia 90c, South Africa 75c, United Kingdom 6/-) and James Reeves must surely be deceased by now but it remains one of the best books about poetry ever for the newbie poet (so hate that word but Needs Must When The Devil Drives).

And this is what I found:

A poem, then, is an act, not simply a statement… it is an act of magic. And of the magic of the act rhythm is an essential part.

He then goes on to include the Cumberland Lake-Wyke chant, which was a chant used at the death rites over a corpse in the north of England, up till as late as the 17th Century. He shared it with me and so I’ll share it with you, just for the magic of it:

This ae nighte, this ae nighte,
Every nighte and alle,
Fire and fleet and candle-lighte,
And Christe receive thy saule.

When thou from hence away art past,
Every nighte and alle,
To Whinny-muir thou com’st at last;
And Christe receive thy saule.

If ever thou gavest hosen and shoon,
Every nighte and alle,
Sit thee down and put them on;
And Christe receive thy saule.

If hosen and shoon thou ne’er gav’st nane
Every nighte and alle,
The whinnes sall prick thee to the bare bane;
And Christe receive thy saule.

From Whinny-muir whence thou may’st pass,
Every nighte and alle,
To Brig o’ Dread thou com’st at last;
And Christe receive thy saule.

If ever thou gav’st silver and gold,
Every nighte and alle,
At t’ Brig o’ Dread thou’lt find foothold,
And Christe receive thy saule.

But if silver and gold thou never gav’st nane,
Every nighte and alle,
Down thou tumblest to Hell flame,
And Christe receive thy saule.

From Brig o’ Dread whence thou may’st pass, Every nighte and alle,
To Purgatory fire thou com’st at last;
And Christe receive thy saule.

If ever thou gav’st meat or drink,
Every nighte and alle,
The fire sall never make thee shrink;
And Christe receive thy saule.

If meat or drink thou ne’er gav’st nane,
Every nighte and alle,
The fire will burn thee to the bare bane;
And Christe receive thy saule.

This ae nighte, this ae nighte,
Every nighte and alle,
Fire and fleet and candle-lighte,
And Christe receive thy saule.

I won’t go through and translate every word, thereby spoiling it, but if you’re interested go to http://www.duntemann.com/likewakepage.htm. I would link it but the elves at WordPress scarily ‘disappeared’ my entire draft post when I tried to and it’s taken me half an hour of exasperatedly Googling message boards or whatever those dire things are, to wrest it from them. (Oh, now it’s gone and linked itself…)

 

Featured Image: Cyra R Cancel, Florida: Black Cat & White Mouse-Wizards

6 thoughts on “This ae nighte, this ae nighte…

      1. Teachers are saints-in-training. I taught religious ed classes to many grades over what seemed many years. Aye, the end of my cause for canonization right there, or a bad cover of “Killing me softly with his (spitballs).” Something like that, was it?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes. Waffling on about poems is one thing. Trying to teach forty rumbunctiously (spellcheck doesn’t like that) screaming children 👿 fractions when you can’t actually do fractions yourself is another. As I found out! 😺

        Liked by 1 person

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