Saturday, January 19, 2008


Fresyng Fell

Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) wrote an essay on Getting Up on Cold Mornings. In it he complained:
Some people say it is a very easy thing to get up of a cold morning. You have only, they tell you, to take the resolution; and the thing is done. This may be very true; just as a boy at school has only to take a flogging, and the thing is over.
This is a cold morning in St. Paul, Minnesota, where the temperature is -10 degrees. Of course it is no hardship to get up in a heated house. I keep the thermostat at a comfortable 62 degrees. These temperatures are in Fahrenheit.

But throughout most of human history it was very uncomfortable to get up in an unheated or poorly heated room in the dead of winter. Eric Thomson drew my attention to some literary descriptions of waking on a cold morning. The first is from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Passus IV 1-13, here in a translation and text from the edition of J.R.R. Tolkien and E.V. Gordon, revised by Norman Davis (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967):
Now the New Year draws near, and the night passes,
the day takes over from the night, as God commands;
but fierce storms wakened from the world outside,
clouds bitterly threw the cold to the earth,
from the north with much bitterness, to torment the naked;
the snow, which nipped cruelly the wild creatures,
came shivering down very bitterly;
the wind blowing shrilly rushed from the high (ground),
and drove each valley full of very large (snow)drifts.
The man who lay in his bed listened very carefully,
although he locks his eyelids, he sleeps very little;
by each cock that crew he was reminded of the appointed day.
Before the day dawned, he quickly got up,
for there was light from a lamp which shone in his bedroom...

Now neʒez þe Nw Ʒere, and þe nyʒt passez,
Þe day dryuez to þe derk, as Dryʒtyn biddez;
Bot wylde wederez of þe worlde wakned þeroute,
Clowdes kesten kenly þe colde to þe erþe,
Wyth nyʒe innoghe of þe norþe, þe naked to tene;
Þe snawe snitered ful snart, þat snayped þe wylde;
Þe werbelande wynde wapped fro þe hyʒe,
And drof vche dale ful of dryftes ful grete.
Þe leude lystened ful wel þat leʒ in his bedde,
Þaʒ he lowkez his liddez, ful lyttel he slepes;
Bi vch kok þat crue he knwe wel þe steuen.
Deliuerly he dressed vp, er þe day sprenged,
For þere watz lyʒt of a laumpe þat lemed in his chambre...
The second passage is from another Gawain — Gavin Douglas (1475?-1522), The Proloug of the Sevynt Buke of Eneads, i.e. the prologue to his translation of the seventh book of Vergil's Aeneid, lines 124–144. I can't find a version in modern English, and my knowledge of Scots isn't sufficient for me to make an adequate one, so I'll quote the original followed by glosses (some contributed by Eric Thomson, some from the online Dictionary of the Scots Language, some my own guesses). Despite my ignorance of the language, even I can tell that this is splendid poetry, and I would love to hear it recited by someone familiar with the pronunciation.
124 Fast by my chalmyr, in heich wysnet treis,
125 The soir gled quhissilis lowd with mony a pew,
126 Quhar by the day was dawyn weil I knew;
127 Bad beit the fyre and the candill alyght,
128 Syne blessyt me, and in my wedis dyght;
129 A schot windo onschet, a litill on char,
130 Persavyt the mornyng bla, wan, and har,
131 Wyth clowdy gum and rak ourquhelmyt the ayr;
132 The sulye stythly hasart, rouch and hair,
133 Branchis bratlyng, hasart, and blaknyt schew the brays,
134 With hirstis harsk of waggand wyndill strays,
135 The dew-droppis congelit on stibbill and rynd,
136 And scharp hailstanys mortfundeit of kynd,
137 Hoppand on the thak, and on the causay by:
138 The schot I closit, and drew inwart in hy;
139 Chyvirrand for cald, the sesson was so snell,
140 Schupe with hayt flambe to fleym the fresyng fell.
141 And, as I bownyt me to the fire me by,
142 Baith up and downe the house I did aspy;
143 And seand Virgill on ane lettron stand,
144 To wryte onone I hynt my pen in hand...

124 fast = close; chalmyr = chamber, bedroom; heich wysnet treis = high wizened trees
125 soir gled = brown kite (bird); quhissilis lowd = whistles loud; mony a pew = many a cry
126 quhar by = whereby; dawyn = dawning; weil = well
127 bad beit the fire = ordered the fire stirred; candill alyght = candle lit
128 syne = next; blessyt me = blessed myself; wedis = weeds, clothes; dyght = dressed
129 a schot windo onschet = opened a hinged window; litill on char = little ajar
130 persavyt = perceived; bla = bleak; har = grey
131 gum and rak = mist and fog; ourquhelmyt = overwhelmed
132 sulye = soil; stythly hasart, rouch and hair = stiffly grey, rough, and hoary
133 bratlyng = rattling; hasart = grey; blaknyt = blackened; schew = show, appear; brays = braes, hillsides
134 hirstis harsk = harsh or rough ridges; waggand = moving to and fro; wyndill strays = withered stalks of grass
135 dew-droppis = dew-drops; congelit = congealed, frozen; stibbill = stubble; rynd = rime, hoar-frost
136 scharp hailstanys = sharp hailstones; mortfundeit of kynd = petrified by nature
137 hoppand = hopping, bouncing; thak = thatch; causay = causeway
138 schot = window; closit = closed; in hy = in haste
139 chyvirrand for cald = shivering for cold; sesson = season, time of year; snell = bitter, severe
140 schupe = arranged; hayt = haste; flambe = flame; fleym = expel; freysing fell = cruel cold
141 bownyt me = took myself; by = near
142 baith = both; aspy = look
143 seand = seeing; lettron = lectern
144 onone = at once; hynt = took

Edward Frederick Brewtnall (1846-1902), And Dick the Shepherd Blows His Nail

The title of Brewtnall's painting is a quotation from Shakespeare's Love's Labours Lost, Act V, Scene ii.

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