Sunday, May 20, 2018

Havelok the Unlikely Hero

So, we left our hero a mere child at the mercy of the fisher-thrall Grim and his wife Leve.  Things were not looking good for him; he was bound and gagged (so he couldn't even try to save himself by appealing to their better natures, if any) and the couple were gloating over the bounty that was to come their way after killing him off.  Indeed, Leve handled him with particular roughness, throwing him on the floor, where his head hit a rock.  But Havelok started shining in the darkness, and the couple saw a sign on his shoulder, so they figured he was the Rightful Heir and threw their lot in with him.  Eventually, the family fled with Havelok when the usurper Godard feigned ignorance and disapproval of his prior instructions and promises to Grim.

Grim founds Grimsby and provides quite well for the family and Havelok; he is a good fisher of fish, as it were.  But after 12 years, it occurs to Havelok that maybe it's time for him to pitch and start contributing to the household:

Hauelok was war þat grim swank sore
For his mete, and he lay at hom:
Thouthe, “ich am nou no grom;
Ich am wel waxen, and wel may eten
More þan euere Grim may geten.
Ich ete more, bi god on liue,
Þan grim an hise children fiue!
It ne may nouth ben þus longe,
Goddot! y wile with þe gange,
For to leren sum god to gete;
Swinken ich wolde for mi mete.
It is no shame forto swinken;
Þe man þat may wel eten and drinken,
Þat nouth ne haue but on swink long,
To liggen at hom it is ful strong.
God yelde him þer i ne may,
Þat haueth me fed to þis day!
Gladlike i wile þe paniers bere;
Ich woth, ne shal it me nouth dere,
Þey þer be inne a birþene gret,
Al so heui als a neth.
Shal ich neuere lengere dwelle,
To morwen shal ich forth pelle.”

(ll. 788-810)

I'm not quite sure how old Havelok is at this time.  Godard confines him and his sisters in a tower for three years; when Godard criticizes their wailing, Havelok is the one who speaks for the group. Godard then slits the girls' throats while the brother stands watching; he kneels and begs for his life and promises to flee Denmark and give up all rights to the throne.   (Not very heroic, but he's a small child.)  Godard spares him for the moment, apparently briefly moved by pity, but then reaches out to Grim to kill the boy for him.

The roughly contemporareous French lay says Havelok is seven years old when Grim sees the boy's miraculous flame and flees with him.

Developmentally, I suppose a child younger than seven (possibly even a very mature four-year old) might have the ability to beg for his life and make suitable promises, but remember that Havelok has been imprisoned for three years.  Given the overall neglect and cruelty of their incarceration, it seems unlikely that he'd have had much opportunity to improve his vocabulary, rhetoric, etc.  So seven is probably Havelok's youngest plausible age in the poem at the time he's transfered to Grim's custody, because he could have mastered the necessary language skill basics by age four when he was imprisoned.

If so, he'd be 19 now at the time when his work ethic kicks in.


Not long afterward, there's a famine in the land.  He goes off to Lincoln, clad in an old sail cloth (!), to survive.  After 2 days' involvuntary fasting, he answers a call for porters:

Hauelok shof dun nyne or ten,
Rith amidewarde þe fen,
And stirte forth to þe kok,
[Þer the herles mete he tok,]
Þat he bouthe at þe brigge:
Þe bermen let he alle ligge,
And bar þe mete to þe castel,
And gat him þere a ferþing wastel.
(ll. 871-78)

If I'm understanding this correctly, our hero gets the gig by shoving 9 or 10 of his rivals down into the mud and leaving them there.

Saturday, May 19, 2018


So, I bought a USB floppy drive to see if I could recover a few files from my old floppies.  Unfortunately, the ones I most wanted were inaccessible on two different computers.

I'd been hoping to find my paper from Flieger's Arthurian Legends class, since I rather uncharacteristically don't seem to have kept the hard copy, as well as some short movies I'd made in an animation class back in 1995 or 1996.  I have a floppy helpfully labeled "Self-extracting Compact Pro archives of Director movies: juggler, runner, 7-11, & concert hall" and another labeled "Demo - 3 movies / self-extracting projector files." (I'd been proud of the juggler animation and unreasonably pleased with a fairly simple animation inspired by Lem's short story "How the World Was Saved.")

But I think I've spent enough time, money, and effort attempting to retrieve these items -- already wildly disproportionate to even their subjective value to me.  I'll give myself 24 hours to reconsider, but I think it's time to give all 22 floppies the heave-ho.

Havelok the Dane

Slowly making my way through this poem.

I've reached the point where a second untrustworthy guardian makes a fisher-thrall an offer he can hardly refuse:  “Kill my ward and you’ll be free and rich, plus I’ll take the moral fall for it.”  Gosh, what's the catch?

“Grim, þou wost þu art mi þral,
Wilte don mi wille al,
Þat i wile bidden þe,
To-morwen [i] shal maken þe fre,
And aucte þe yeuen, and riche make,
With-þan þu wilt þis child[e] take,
And leden him with þe to-nicht,
Throw this child into the sea”.
Þan þou sest se Mone lith,
In-to þe se, and don him þer-inne,
Al wile [i] taken on me þe sinne.”
(ll. 527-36)

Some other lines that struck me at the time of reading:

Just how young was his little girl?  She couldn't speak with mouth!

Of his bodi ne hauede he eyr
Bute a mayden swiþe fayr,
Þat was so yung þat sho ne couþe
Gon on fote, ne speke wit mouþe.
(ll. 110-3)

OK, so she was so young she had not learned to walk, or to speak.  Got it.  But the way of expressing it really pleases me for some reason: She could not yet go on foot, but perhaps she could crawl.  Check.  Then it's followed by the concept she could not yet speak with mouth.  That amuses me for some reason (the implied idea that perhaps she could communicate in some other way at this stage).

Just how faithless was this ill-chosen guardian?  For his oath he didn't give a straw!

He let his oth al ouer-ga,
Þerof ne yaf he nouth a stra;
(ll. 14-15)

I love seeing this linguistic pattern ("he didn't give a __") which surely remains current as long as human nature remains what it is.  I think one can still use the word "straw" here, though many other options are of course available.

Nice alliteration

And wo [so] diden widuen wrong,
Were he neure knicth so strong,
Þat he ne made him sone kesten,
And in feteres ful faste festen;
(ll. 79-82)

And it feels like it could almost work in modern English - fetters, fully make fast, fasten - but I couldn't find any way to pull it off non-risibly.  
Current status: almost 25% of the way through (line 733 of 3001).

Thursday, May 17, 2018

μπισκότο (per Tara D)

Feeling a little gloomy, so I'll list my key accomplishments today:

  • picked up a new pair of glasses and contact lens prescription renewal;
  • got a colleague started on a last-minute presentation he's being pressured to do, without getting drawn in to do any of the work (bonus: with the materials I gave him, he went from desperation and despair to more or less full-on optimism about pulling this off by Tuesday);
  • bought a chocolate chip cookie for a random stranger who was dithering about whether or not to buy one;
  • talked another colleague off the ledge for now by assuring her that it was ok to do only the urgent stuff at this time and let the other stuff go by for a bit (which is true);
  • knocked out one of two urgent projects.
I think the cookie purchase was by far the most satisfactory.  It had the element of surprise and delight, the sudden joyous turn of eucatastrophe; indeed, for the recipient, a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur.  Plus, baked goods were two for $5 so I got myself a pear scone in the bargain.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018


From Stephen C Winter's blog post about meeting Saruman on the road (via Tom):
Now all that is left for [Saruman] is degradation and yet he refuses to repent. As W.H Auden once wrote, “We would rather be ruined than changed. We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the present and let our illusions die”. 
Auden's words would seem to ring true in many spheres, not merely those involving Saruman-style degradation.  One broader application is the saying "Ships in harbor are safe, but that's not what ships are built for" (John Shedd, qtd by Susan Jeffers) – a lesson I have to repeatedly re-learn and always fail to master.  A perhaps more narrowly theological application might be seen in CSL's The Last Battle, with the dwarves who are damned by their refusal to be "taken in." It's a wonderful duality: they don't want to be "taken in" – meaning deceived – and therefore are literally not "taken in" to paradise.  In effect, they accept eternal ruin rather than changing their minds.  Or then again, perhaps further afield, consider CSL's idea from Mere Christianity, where the Christian's hoped-for minor fixes turn out to be a radical reconstruction and redesign that leave nothing unchanged and un-transformed.  Which of course is also seen in The Great Divorce, especially in the episode involving the "little red lizard" of lust which is – with the Ghost's very reluctant and agonized permission – killed, and resurrected into "the greatest stallion I have ever seen, silvery white but with mane and tail of gold." (MacDonald, as teacher and guide, characterizes it as the "richness and energy of desire").

My introduction to Auden must have been in 10th grade, shortly before we moved back to the States, when my English teacher Mrs Stephan challenged the class to fill in the blank: "Lay your sleeping head, my love,  / Human on my ________ arm".   As she had doubtless intended, none of us guessed how the poet had filled out the line.*

From annotations in my Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, I read at least six poems or excerpts in college ("O where are you going?" from Five Songs; "The Wanderer"; "Lullaby"; "Musée des Beaux Arts"; "In Memory of W. B. Yeats"; and "In Praise of Limestone").  Of these, "Musée des Beaux Arts" remains by far the most familiar.

And of course, "Funeral Blues" became familiar to me and perhaps one or two other people through its prominent placement in Four Weddings and a Funeral.  (Although for me, that movie is memorable mostly because of the conversation I didn't have after it.)

Which I suppose is all just a long and roundabout way of saying that it now appears I need to read Auden's The Age of Anxiety.

FN* Last time I blogged about this, I remembered two blanks.  At least I'm consistent about the year and the teacher's name!

Sunday, May 06, 2018


There's nothing quite like trying to work things out in a long blog post, and then finally hitting "Publish" to find that all your work has been lost.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Special Effects

I'd never seen this bird before -- a lovely deep, dusky indigo songbird. (I've done my best to normalize the colors before posting, but unfortunately, I shot it in "vivid" mode so the colors are inaccurate.)

Eastern Grosbeak

Here I tried to capture the luminescence of moon behind clouds, an effect I seem to recall seeing in some Asian pottery:

moon in clouds

The frog was very patient for its close-up, but was curiously difficult to capture in the available light:

frog at night

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Postcards from Paradise


strutting down the branch

heron, stalking


gator in log pose


gator in C-pose


We'd never seen an anhinga nesting before; the blue around the eyes is very striking.  I assume it's special breeding plumage.
female anhinga, nesting

gator tracks

We saw a water snake among the mangrove roots; first swimming, then making its way on the mud in a curiously tentative approach.


orbital spider

reddish egret




great blue heron
Last night, we saw a civilian boat surrounded by fire and police boats.  It was a little hard to tell in the gloaming, but the roof looked a bit scorched to me. It was still there this morning, so I went gawking.

A Wreck, But Not of the Hesperus


at least it's pelicans overhead, rather than vultures...

starfish and shadow