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Wassail

Cheers!

Sometimes a word said and a glass of wine drunk will start you thinking.

So it was with me and the word “wassail,” a Danish term which means “be of good health”.  The word entered the English lexicon in the 5th century with the Saxons, Hengist and Horsa, who came to help the British Celts fight the Picts. Horsa died fighting and Hengist stayed. The story goes that Rowen, daughter of Hengist, offered a golden cup filled with wine to the Brititsh King Vortigern, saying,

“Lord King, Wassail!”

The word was new to Vortigern, the wine was pleasing, and so to was Rowen. They marry and the next thing you know, Hengist is the very first king of England, or at least of Kent, where the Saxons and their cousins the Angles settled.

In time the wassail was remembered as the wine and not the toast, and now it is drunk and not often said.

I dwell too long on wassail. What do other countries use for toasts?

In France they say, Bonne sante. The French being the French and idiosyncratic don’t pronounce the first e and accent the second “e” to make the long eeee sound.

In Spain and the Spanish speaking countries of the western hemisphere, they say “Brindar.” Literally, meaning “offer” but that doesn’t express the thought, which is a hope that the recipient of the toast may receive all that is good and necessary. Brevity, the mark of a good toast and good sense.

“Expresar un bien deseado a alguien o algo a la vez que se levanta la copa con vino o licor antes de beber.”

In Russian, they say “Prosit!” but they say it Cyrillean, просит, which is hard to say, meaning I beg or pray.

In German, they also say, “Prosit” or “Ein Prosit” which translates as “Cheers!”

Cheers, my friends, it all means the same.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

forest-couple-1280

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Wassail

Let us bring back that ancient English salutation – Wassail!

To thee, Wassail!

Wassail, like so many English words, came from another land.

The word is not Celtic or Roman, but Anglo-Saxon, a greeting Wæs þu hæl, meaning “be thou hale” – “be in good health;” Wæs hæl, shorter still, “be healthy.”

The phrase entered 5th century Britain with the Angles and Saxons. Legend has it they were led by brothers Hengist and Horsa. Horsa died in fighting, and Hengist lived on to become the first English king of Kent.

Sixth century British monk Gildas the Wise first gives us the tale.

King Vortigern made the foolish mistake of inviting the Saxons to Britain to help him fight the fierce Picts in Scotland. The Saxons came and stayed. Hengist offered his daughter Rowen as bride to the British king.

rowen.fw

Chronicler Holinshed, who Shakespeare would source for many of his plays, gave us this story:

A great supper therefore was prepared by Hengist, at the which it pleased the king to be present, and appointed his daughter, when euerie man began to be somewhat merrie with drinke, to bring in a cup of gold full of good and pleasant wine, and to present it to the king, saieng;

Lord King, Wassail.

Which she did in such comelie and decent maner, as she that knew how to doo it well inough, so as the king maruelled greatlie thereat, and not understanding what she ment by that salutation, demanded what it signified. To whom it was answered by Wassail, what it signifieth. Hengist, that she wished him well, and the meaning of it was, that he should drinke after hir, joining thereto this answer,

Drinke haile.

Wherevpon the king (as he was informed) tooke the cup at the damsels hand, and dranke.

Holinshed Chronicles, The Third Chapter.

… Waes hael continued on into Chaucer’s time as Middle English, but as a greeting.

Even Shakespeare alluded to the word in Macbeth and Hamlet, but as play on words, on both occasions speaking of the king’s good health and his subsequent demise.

Lady Macbeth:
Will I with wine and wassail so convince
That memory, the warder of the brain,
Shall be a fume, and the receipt of reason
A limbeck only: when in swinish sleep
Their drenchèd natures lie as in a death,
What cannot you and I perform upon
The unguarded Duncan?

Having killed two kings with a drink it was perhaps fitting that the salutation should fall into disfavor. But, it is time to bring it back. It sounds so alliterative and fairly rolls off the tongue. It rhymes with “lass” and “hale”.

And when said with a cup of wassail or two, it becomes a merry word.

Wassail!

le même homme

Africa 1956 –  Algeria, South Africa, Angola, Congo, Sudan,  all over the continent, Africans are shedding their colonial ties, searching for their own identity, and finding their own voice.

Aimé Césaire (né à Martinique), était un poète de monde et homme politique français, qui a écrit apropos de la décolonisation de l’Afrique, la libération de l’esprit. On se souvient des mots de Rousseau, “L’homme est né libre et partout il est dans les fers.”

Et la voix prononce que l’Europe nous a pendant des siècles gavés de mensonges et gonflés de pestilences,
car il n’est point vrai que l’œuvre de l’homme est finie
que nous n’avons rien à faire au monde
que nous parasitons le monde
qu’il suffit que nous nous mettions au pas du monde
mais l’œuvre de l’homme vient seulement de commencer
et il reste à l’homme à conquérir toute interdiction immobilisée aux coins de sa ferveur
et aucune race ne possède le monopole de la beauté, de l’intelligence et de la force
― Aimé Césaire, Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, 1956

Notebook of a Return to My Native Land

And the voice says,
for centuries, Europe has stuffed itself with lies
and now is swollen with pestilence,
for it is not true
that man’s work is finished
that we have nothing in the world to do
that we parasitize the world
that it is enough for us to pace ourselves as the world
rather that man’s work has just begun
and it remains for man zealously to conquer every ban that holds him back,
for no race possesses a monopoly of beauty, intelligence and strength

 

cliff_2

Demain dès l’aube, Victor Hugo

moonlight

Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885) recalls a visit to his daughter Léopoldine Hugo’s grave.

Demain dès l’aube

English translation

Tomorrow, at dawn, at the moment when the land is light,
I will leave. You see, I know that you wait for me.
I will go by the forest, I will go by the mountain.
I cannot stay any longer, far away from you.

I will walk eyes fixed on my thoughts,
Seeing nothing outside, not hearing a noise,
Alone, unknown, back hunched, hands crossed,
Sad, for the day for me will be like night.

I will not look for the golden evening that falls,
Nor the faraway sails descending upon Harfleur.
And when I arrive, I will put on your tomb
A bouquet of green holly and heather in bloom.

Original French

Demain, dès l’aube, à l’heure où blanchit la campagne,
Je partirai. Vois-tu, je sais que tu m’attends.
J’irai par la forêt, j’irai par la montagne.
Je ne puis demeurer loin de toi plus longtemps.

Je marcherai les yeux fixés sur mes pensées,
Sans rien voir au dehors, sans entendre aucun bruit,
Seul, inconnu, le dos courbé, les mains croisées,
Triste, et le jour pour moi sera comme la nuit.

Je ne regarderai ni l’or du soir qui tombe,
Ni les voiles au loin descendant vers Harfleur,
Et quand j’arriverai, je mettrai sur ta tombe
Un bouquet de houx vert et de bruyère en fleur.
beach_sit

What’s a Grecian urn?

It is an old joke told in Vaudeville days:

What’s a Grecian urn?
25 bucks a day unless he owns the restaurant.*

Keats_urn

“La beauté est la vérité, beauté vérité, c’est tout
Vous savez sur cette terre, et seul ce que vous devez savoir.

The low-brow joke is made the funnier by its understood reference to John Keats’ poem Ode on a Grecian Urn whose last two lines are often quoted for the purpose of enjoying the mysteries of life without understanding them.

Ode sur une Urne Grecque

Ô toi! encore mariée vierge de la calme,
Ô toi! enfant recueillie du silence et du temps lent,
Sylvestre historien, qui peut ainsi exprimer
Un récit fleuri plus doucement que notre rime:
Quelle légende frangée de feuilles hante ta forme
Des divinités ou des mortels, ou des deux,
Dans les Temples ou les vallons d’Arcady?
Quels sont les hommes ou les dieux?
Quelles vierges résistent?
Quelle poursuite folle? Quelle lutte pour échapper?
Quelles pipes et timbrels? Quelle extase sauvage?

Les mélodies entendues sont douces,
mais celles qui ne sont pas entendues
Sont plus doux; par conséquent,
vous, les tuyaux mous, jouer sur;
Pas à l’oreille sensuelle, mais, plus proche,
Pipe à l’esprit des dieux d’aucun ton:
Juste la jeunesse, sous les bois, tu ne peux pas partir
Ton chant, jamais ces bois ne peuvent être nus;
Amant audacieux,
jamais, tu ne peux jamais embrasser,
Bien que gagnant près du but, ne vous affligez pas;
Elle ne peut pas disparaître,
bien que tu n’as pas ta béatitude,
A jamais tu aimeras et elle sera belle!

…à qui tu dis,
“La beauté est la vérité, beauté vérité, c’est tout
Vous savez sur cette terre, et seul ce qui vous devez savoir.

*Greeks immigration to New York City was the result of a general Turkish genocide of of the Christian Ottoman Greek population (and Armenians) during World War I and the Greco-Turkish War of 1919–1922. The Greek Turkish conflict has been a long one. In 1824, fellow poet Lord George Gordon Byron died at the young age of 36 in what is now Greece, where he had gone in support of the Greek struggle for independence from Ottoman Turkey. Predeceasing him in death was Keats, who died of tuberculosis on 23 February 1821 in Rome. He was twenty-five years old.

je t’écoute

je t’écoute ~
quand tu ne dis rien du tout ~
j’entends tout

pas mon idée

peut-être je ne que suis romantique, pour dans un grand, grand amour, il y a une inévitable éclatement, une profonde tristesse que personne ne peut surmonter.

maybe I’m the romantic, in a great, great love there, there is an inevitable break up, a great unhappiness that neither one ever gets over it.

Nothing could be further from the truth

It is a fact, strange and universal, that each of us believes that everyone should think and feel as one, but nothing could be further from the truth.

C’est un fait étrange et universelle, que nous croyons que tout le monde devrait penser et se sentir comme un, mais rien ne serait être plus éloigné de la vérité.

Ihr sagt, “Jeder als Einer denken und fühlen sollte, aber nichts ist weiter von die Wahrheit.”

crowd-pigeons_2

The act of translation proves the impossibility of becoming one with either the author or the reader. Still, we try. The search for truth draws us near, but never quite there.

Jamais la vérité, mais près.

Faith should not conquer, it should console.

Simple Gifts

stemplefall-leaves

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come ’round right

 


C’est un don d’être simple, c’est le don d’être libre

C’est le don de descendre là où nous devrions être,

Et la traduction n’est jamais juste,  ni facile

Ni ce qui, que je veux qu’il soit

Tour, tour sera notre joie,

Tour, tour, tant que on vient à droite