William Dunbar’s Lament For The Makers – 2

detail from “The Triumph of Death” (c.1562) – Pieter Bruegel, the Elder (1525-1569), in the collection of the Museo del Prado, Madrid

continuing from yesterday

AG: Well there are two things I wanted to derive from this. Did everybody follow along the sense of the poem (William Dunbar’s “Lament For The Makers”)? Did… For the complicated words, Middle English words, there were obviously little footnotes on the bottom of the page and on the side of the page so you can look those up. The only one, rare one, that I noticed that was not noted – “That Scorpion fell has done infeck/ Maister John Clerk, and James Afflek”– “infect” or “poison” (so that was in line fifty-seven or so, page seventy-three) – And a better translation than we have here – on the fourth line of page seventy-three, third line – ” Themself from Death may not supplee” – ” Themself from Death may not deliver” – “Death may not help” (‘help” or “deliver” my be better, or sound better anyway). And then in the second stanza, line eight, ” The flesh is bruckle”, they have “pale” – or “The flesh is brittle” also – “bruckle”/”brittle” was the suggestion, I think, from the old Oxford anthology. ” As with the wynd wavis the wicker” – the “wicker” is a willow twig, a willow branch (willow tree), as when the wind waves the twigs in a.. What else is there? Those are the main.. Well, also, on line forty-five, “I see that makaris..” – ” I see that makaris amang the lave” – the rest (“lave” is “rest”, “remainder” or “rest” we could translate it as, I guess. And ” facultie” , in the third line of that stanza – “Spirit”..” Sparit is nocht their facultie” – “faculty” there would be “profession”, their vocation or profession (that is, the poets aren’t spared, those of that profession aren’t spared, or that work – it’s not translated here that’s why I was noting that).

So there were two things I wanted to derive from this. First, that the poem is really personal, because he’s just talking about his old friends, or old teachers, or writers that he liked, or writers that he heard of through manuscripts. So that, in that scene, it’s a little bit like the modern poet Frank O’Hara‘s poetry in that the poem is personal and he’s talking about his own personal life and his own personal influences. He’s also tracing a lineage of who his teachers were, but it’s very home-made, in the sense that it’s local (these are all people that have written things that are in specialized anthologies and they’re not like big Shakespeares or anything like that but they are his friend-poets, or people he’s read about, people he’s heard of. Like “Blind Harry and Sandy Traill” (whoever they are! – of course somebody knows who they are) – Blind Harry, Sandy Traill,Patrick Johnston, John Clerk, and James Afflek”. So, actually, you could write a lament for all your, your old friends who, you know, O-D’d, or stumbled off the Brooklyn Bridge (which is what I did). In other words, to have the chutzpah (nerve) to write about my own friends as if they were the immortal makers of Dunbar, or the names in the Bible (you know, the books of lineage in the Bible, all the generations in the Bible. So you can.. actually.. if you take the names of your own friends, or streets, or details of your own existence, anonymous though they be, un-immortal and unhallowed as they be, not even..not even stars on television, or even the comic books, but just stars in your own brain, the stars of your own consciousness, you can write then romantic poems about the heros of your own soul. You don’t have to wait for public approval of your street, your house, your own body (your own toes), your own friends or your friends’ poetry, but, you’ve got to be smart that the names and persons that you choose do have some kind of resonance in them in some corner of the universe, you know, that’s not too stupid a corner. There’s got to be some smarts about it some way or other – oh..a witty name for a street, like Root Street – “I went down to Root Street/sucking on my lollipop”, or something like that. It has to have.. there has to have some kind of resonance, some kind of internal evidence of genius.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately eight and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately fifteen-and-a-half minutes in]

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