Poetry identification - beast of blood and bone
April 23, 2019 6:05 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for some help identifying the poem in the first two minutes of this programme. It sounds like a Middle(?) English poem that has been partially translated to my untutored ear which may be preventing me from successfully googling fragments of it. The repeated "Beast of blood and bone" is similar to the Middle English poem "Foweles in the Frith" but it's not that.
posted by atrazine to Writing & Language (9 answers total)
You could ask the presenter.
posted by zamboni at 6:15 AM on April 23, 2019

Unfortunately not super useful to your attempts to identify, but I very much doubt that this is a middle english lyric, partially translated or not. Various searches I attempted (for both keywords and proximity words, in a variety of modern and ME spellings) on the Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse database produced no good leads. While that collection of texts is of course not exhaustive, the fact that no hits come up there, nor in any of the google search phrases I could think of, suggests that if it is a ME poem, it's probably a pretty obscure one, or the translation is a REALLY loose one.

My guess is it's a modern (or relatively modern) composition that is playing intertextually with ME vocabulary and alliterative structure (especially in the hart/hound/haggard stanza), and is gesturing towards poems like "Folwes in frith." The fact that nothing comes up in google when I search ANY of the lines suggests it's not by a particularly well-known poet (or that my Google skills really suck...which is also a possibility).

I think zamboni's suggestion to contact the producer or presenter of the program is probably your best bet.
posted by Dorinda at 8:39 AM on April 23, 2019

You know, it's beautifully presented to sound other than it is but that poem is in English with a few cryptic archaisms and funky pronunciations.
(It kind of set my teeth on edge with the mishmash of unconnected cultural signifiers)
posted by glasseyes at 10:54 AM on April 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

The presenter's also on Twitter.
posted by zamboni at 1:12 PM on April 23, 2019

If it's one of the writers mentioned in the show summary, I think it's probably steve ely from one of these books:


at least I hope there are not too many others who share that particular style.
posted by queenofbithynia at 2:48 PM on April 23, 2019

Thanks, all. In retrospect I should have thought of "Modern English but with archaic words thrown in" before "Middle English but partially translated to modern". I've asked Charles Foster, of whom I'm a big fan in any case, if he knows and will ask producers if he doesn't.

Best answer to queenofbithynia because having read a few samples of Steve Ely's work now, I'm almost sure it's him.

(It kind of set my teeth on edge with the mishmash of unconnected cultural signifiers)

Curious, which ones? My knowledge of pre-modern English literature is basically Beowulf and Canterbury Tales but I also speak Dutch and know some Frisian and Yiddish, and sometimes a word that is now archaic in English is still used in other West Germanic languages so I can usually get the sense of quite a lot of Middle and Old English but I haven't got the cultural background knowledge to know which signifiers don't really go together properly.
posted by atrazine at 2:53 AM on April 24, 2019

Hi atrazine, I wrote this all out and felt it seemed a bit beanplatey so I meant to come back and edit before posting but forgot till now, so sorry for being tardy. It's interesting what you say about Frisian, I heard a radio programme once about how fishermen from Northumberland were shipwrecked on the coast of Frisia during WWll and found when speaking their own dialect they could communicate easily with the local people. Also there's that Eddie Izzard clip where he tries speaking to a Frisian farmer in 'Middle English' to buy a cow, semi-succesfully. Anyway my original comment is below, sorry it's so long and ranty

Oh, the accent is Yorkshire-ish but not specific (there's no such thing as an unspecific Yorkshire accent I've never heard an unspecific Yorkshire accent but because the poem uses for instance, 'bleend' for blind the accent is thrown out of whack) but the pipes are Northumbrian. It's making a generic 'Northern' impression out of two culturally discrete areas which really jars if you know the areas. The respective accents are totally totally different.

My knowledge of pre-modern English literature is basically Beowulf and Canterbury Tales Me too! Plus Scottish and Northumbrian ballads. I'm only a general reader but i know the North East of England and I like accents, so I notice them. What you say about archaic words still being used in other West Germanic languages is true of various English dialects as well. (Here's a link to something about the Northumbrian accent, they call it Geordie but strictly speaking Geordie refers more to the urban version and Northumberland is a big place.) I wrote the verses out and noticed how simply they transposed into plain modern English word for word with no difference in word order. I think if they'd even been in modern dialect that wouldn't have happened, let alone Middle English, which tends to have some French in it. Even Fowles in the Frith which is only 5 lines doesn't do that, you have to re-order the 4th line to make it sound modern.

The verse uses three different words for forest, weald, holt, hirst. Hirst I didn't know. But the verse uses these different words for alliteration's sake and not for any slight differences in meaning or connotation, I think, because weald surely brings up a different set of feelings and images than holt, for instance, which is at odds with it being a natural place for wolves to be! And why is there an old bear on the hearth? Or does he mean a naked old man? If you can't tell the intended meaning between bear and old naked man from context, I think there is a lack of poetic coherence happening.

I'm so sorry for going off on one like this but that verse hit me right in the hobbyhorse once I started to have a close look at it! and I was already tutting about the Northumbrian pipes/ Yorkshire accent disparity. I think as a sound piece for radio it's masterful - moody and evocative - but only as long as you don't examine the constituent parts too closely.
posted by glasseyes at 3:34 AM on April 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

If I was going to wildly speculate about the provenance of the verse I'd guess the poet was commissioned to write it patterning it on Fowles in the Frith, the commissioning editor (a Southerner) then rolled all over it to fit in better with their own ideas of Generic Northern, and that's why there's no obvious author credit on it because the writer didn't want their name attached to a damaged piece of work. Such are the joys of making creative work for large corporations.
posted by glasseyes at 3:45 AM on April 29, 2019

Thanks for the followup glasseyes!
posted by atrazine at 2:28 PM on May 26, 2019

« Older Why am I so upset by my friend not sharing a...   |   Movie/TV scenes (on the web) with Awful, Awkward... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.