Monday, June 25, 2007

Free poetry downloads

A busy Monday, so no substantial posts. I did find time to rearrange some of the links in the blue sidebar, breaking out the review site links from those which take you directly to purchase or download pages. In the latter category is the link to my Lulu storefront, where aside from print and ebook versions of Storyteller you'll also find my two collections of mostly SCA- and Welsh-related poetry. The download versions of these are currently free, so help yourself if you're interested.

Tomorrow I hope to have time to post on another medieval subject. In the meantime, I'm trying to imagine northeast Britain in October while Denver swelters in our first 95+ degree heat of the summer...

It's good for the tomatoes, though!

Friday, June 22, 2007

No Post Today...

...because I've been writing instead. I'm getting close to the end of Hawk - 83% complete according to my planning spreadsheet - and felt the need of a couple of long weekends in order to build up momentum, so I took today off. Fortunately, I have plenty of annual leave stockpiled and an understanding boss, and so far it's been worth it.

Old English, btw, is fun - I'm finally getting some use out of all that German I took in college!

Have a good weekend, all.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Happy Midsummer!

Today is the June solstice, the longest day of the year (or the shortest, if you're in the southern hemisphere). The word solstice comes from the latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still) - the day when perceived northern or southern movement of the sunrise/sunset points stops and reverses itself. This would have been the way most people noticed the date before the introduction of accurate timepieces. Because the difference from one day to the next is slight around the solstices, they may have been celebrated over a period of days in ancient times. Of course, if you wanted to be exact, you could always erect a few standing stones...

I think I'll close with a quote from Storyteller. "There are two points of balance in the turning year: midsummer and midwinter, when the sun reaches its highest and lowest points. As in the brightest, longest days we can foresee the decline into darkness, so in the pit of darkness we can look upwards and foresee the light. In hope and in despair are each the seeds of the other: in the year, and in the life of a man."

Happy solstice!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bards and the Irish Laws - Part III

I'm quoting from another source today, Liam Breatnach's Uraicecht Na Riar - The Poetic Grades in Early Irish Law. This is yet another out-of-print publication from Dublin Institute For Advanced Studies. This text doesn't seem to be available on CELT either, though some of its relatives are.

Only one thing was required of a bard: natural ability. ("A bard, then: without the prerogative of learning, but intellect alone.") By contrast, to qualify as a fili required both ability and study, and ideally proper family background as well. The classification of the filid implies that the various grades could be progressively attained by a course of study sufficient to acquire the knowledge and facility required of that grade. For example, the lowest grade fili, the fochloc, was required to master the four forms of the dian meter and to know 30 tales. The next grade, the macfuirmid, was required to master setrad and know 40 tales. And so it went, up to the ollam, who composed in the anamain form and knew 350 stories, as well as much other "lore" besides. Uraicecht Na Riar does not give the years of study required for all of this, but later documents suggest it could take up to twenty.

To quote from Breatnach (pp 87-89), "[a]n essential feature of the seven grades of poets is that they are the successive stages in a progression which an individual may make in his own lifetime ... The distinction between one grade and another is one of the extent of the poet's learning ... Nowhere, however, do we find mention of the bards progressing from grade to grade." None of the seven grades of filid or the seven (or eight, or sixteen) grades of baird, not even the lowest, are regarded as pupils, because each has his "honor-price, retinue, and powers of protection, which indicates that he is a person of independent legal standing ... Progress up through the grades is dependent on increasing one's learning. He does however have, as it were, a license to practice. That a specific metre, with its corresponding reward is assigned to him ... shows clearly that he practised as a poet ... 'he who does not compose does not learn.'"

On that note, I will temporarily conclude this series of posts, in order to go away and compose. To quote another Irish source (of which more later), "he is not a poet who does not have stories." And I have more to tell.

ADDITION: PART IV: Bards and the Irish Learned Tales

(Note: references cited are listed in the sidebar.)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Bards and the Irish Laws - Part II

The fili or poet (plural filid) was the only lay professional who had full nemed ("privileged") status. His most important function was to praise and to satirize, reflecting early Celtic society's preoccupation with honor and fame. Early Irish literature contains a number of references to the power of a poet's satire to raise facial blemishes on its target or even to kill. Conversely, one of the duties of the the chief poet, or ollam, was to remain in the king's presence in order to protect him from sorcery. The poet was also frequently credited with the power of prophecy, accomplished according to various rituals (compare the prophecies attributed to early Welsh bards such as Taliesin and Myrddin).

The poet received a fee (duas) for each poem he composed, the rate of payment depending on his poetic grade and the form of the composition. For the anamain, or most difficult form, attempted only by the ollam, the payment was a chariot, while the least prestigious form or dian merited only a three-year-old dry heifer and a cauldron. An Irish triad says that the three "whose coffers are of unknown depth" were "a king, the Church, and a great poet." However, standards must be met: if the poet was fraudulent "through overcharging or through inadequacies in the subject matter of his poem," he could lose his privileged status. He was, however, entitled to his fee even though his composition suffered from the fault of rudrach or "monotony."

The law-texts list seven grades of fili, ranging from the ollam or chief poet, who had an honor-price equal to that of the king of a tribe and was accompanied by a retinue of 24 persons, to the lowest grade fili or fochloc, who had an honor price equivalent to a yearling bullock and a two-year-old heifer, and was accompanied by two people. The comparable seven grades of bard, or lower-status poets (16 grades in some texts!) had half the honor-price of the equivalent grade of fili. The essential differences between the two orders, as mentioned before, were the bards' lack of professional training and poetic pedigree.

Next: the training and repertoire of a poet.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Bards and the Irish laws - part I

My reference for this series of posts is Fergus Kelly's A Guide to Early Irish Law, which like so many useful academic texts is now out of print. Note to the reader: If you come across any book which treats on an obscure topic that interests you, buy if immediately! Far too many of the useful books in my reference library which I bought eight or ten years ago are now out of print, and available, if at all, as second-hand copies at inflated prices. Buy these gems while they are available, and remember: you can never have too many books. (Too few bookcases, however, may be a problem...)

Surviving law texts are much more abundant for Ireland than for Wales, and the core material in many of them dates back to the 7th and 8th centuries, as opposed to the 9th - 10th century Law of Hywel. This does not, however, make the researcher's job easier; on the contrary, the abundance of exemplars means we have many more disagreements among them. In addition, lawyers seem to have been plentiful in ancient Ireland, and the resulting classifications of things and people - such as bards and poets - is intricate to a degree. The main distinctions, however, are "1) between those who are nemed 'privileged', and those who are not nemed, and 2) between those who are soer 'free' and those who are doer 'unfree'." Poets and bards - there is a distinction - are among the "men of art", those who are nemed because of their knowledge and skills rather than their political power or wealth.

Among the "men of art", it is only the poet who has full nemed status. The two main categories of poets recognized were the fili and the bard. Both of these groups were divided legally in seven or more subgroups, of which more presently. The chief differences between the two, however, were their degree of education and their pedigree. Poetry was a hereditary profession: "a poet is expected to be the son and grandson of a poet." On that basis, few of us would qualify today!

Next: the filid.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Looking ahead

Check out the design concept for the new book's cover in the sidebar. The hawk image is another jewelry design by Urweg, who produce the museum replica brooch on the Storyteller cover. I like the intertwining elements, which remind me of some of the later Pictish designs.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Writing Across the Year

Another silent weekend on the blog, another active weekend with Flight of the Hawk. Summer is starting to warm up here in Denver; on the other hand, my protagonists are now well into their autumn. It seems that whenever I start a writing project -- even if it's originally in sync with the season -- I presently find myself having to imagine summer's heat at midwinter, or vice versa. Somehow writing never proceeds at the same pace as the exterior world's seasons. And even if it does for a while, by the time you come back to polish and revise, it's out of sync again.

Storyteller, of course, covered a year, from one year's Beltane to the next. A good period of time, and appropriate to a Celtic mythology-based tale: so often the Mabinogi speaks of "blwyden y heno" -- "a year tonight," the period it takes for the magic to work. Hawk, on the other hand, covers six months -- Beltane to Samhain, the bright half of the year. How to keep synchronized? I don't think there is a way. Like the Fairy Realm, where a few days may pass while as many years go by on Middle Earth, the time of the imagination forever proceeds at a different pace. The writer can only try and follow.

The next book, I think, will start in the spring -- but that is another story.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Bards and the Law of Hywel - Part III

The first two sections of this post on Bards and the medieval Welsh laws have touched on the two highest classes of bards, the pencerdd and the bardd teulu. These are both bards attached to the King's court, and therefore of high status. The third class of bard mentioned in the Law of Hywel is the cerddor or minstrel. The Law has much less to say about the cerddor, and what it does say paints a different pattern.

The cerddor is not an officer, and has no specific rights and privileges more than those of any other free man. We know that he is likely to be that, at least, for the three arts a villein is not entitled to learn without his lord's permission are "clerkship and smithcraft and bardism." Like the master-smith, the pencerdd is entitled to the amobr-payment of the daughters of his subordinates, the cerddorion, on the occasion of their marriage.

The cerddor, however, can better his lot by education. The Law says, "Every harp pencerdd is entitled to twenty-four pence from the young cerddorion who want to give up the horsehair[-strung] harp and be competent cerddorion and to solicit." Furthermore, this payment is to be paid by "each cerddor after he leaves his instruction" - in effect, a payment for the master's teaching. The above passage hints at different levels among the cerddorion, as is only to be expected. Still, there is little sign of the highly organized grades of bards and poets that existed in Ireland at this period.

But that is a separate subject. For now, best wishes for the weekend - I'll be writing, not blogging!

Next: Bards and the Irish Laws

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Writing Progress

I'll be posting more on bards soon, possibly later today, but in the meantime I thought I'd give you a short update on my writing progress.

My current book, The Flight of the Hawk, takes up where Storyteller left off, and follows my narrator Gwernin and his friend Neirin on a trip to the north of Britain. Their mission: to investigate the rumors of unrest between the various Kings and kingdoms, and do what they can to encourage peace. At least, that was the idea ... but the two young bards find plenty of other adventures along the way, ranging from the expected (girls, beer...) to the supernatural, and from the amusing to the potentially fatal.

At this point I've written about 75% of the first draft, and have one more major plot strand to resolve. I'm hoping to have the rough draft complete by the end of July, so I can let it "rest" while I go to Pennsic War. After that comes proofreading and tweaking, and the cover art if it isn't finished already (I have a good idea what I'll be using). I'm still hoping to release the book around about the 1st of November - the beginning of the Dark Half of the Year, when bards and storytellers cease their traveling and settle down beside the fire to tell their tales...

Monday, June 4, 2007

Bards and the Law of Hywel - Part II

The bardd teulu, or Bard of the Household, was one of the fourteen officers of the court. His privileges and entitlements were many, and are enumerated in the Law.

As one of the King's officers, he was entitled to his land free of payment, and his horse when he attended the King. When he accompanied the King on his circuit, the Bard lodged with the Captain of the retinue, and at the three special feasts of the year he had a seat next to Captain, "so as to have the harp put into his hand." At the feasts he received his woolen clothing from the King and his linen clothing from the Queen; he was also entitled to the Steward's old clothes -- and his old clothes went to the Doorkeeper!

When the King led his warband into a strange company, the Bard was entitled to a cow or ox from the booty, after the King had chosen his third share. It was also his duty to sing something called The Sovereignty of Britain during the sharing out. When the Bard traveled with other bards, he was entitled "to two men's share."

During the feasting, after the pencerdd or chaired bard had sung, the Bard was to sing "three songs of some other kind." It was also his job to sing for the Queen "without stint" whenever she wanted a song, but that "quietly, so that the hall is not disturbed by him."

He was entitled "to a whalebone throwboard from the King and a gold ring from the Queen," presumably when he took up his post. In addition, he was obliged to give a gold ring to the Chief Justice on some unspecified time.

His sarhaed, or honor price, was "six kine and six score pence". His worth (to be paid to his kindred if he was killed unlawfully) was "six kine and six score kine with augmentation."

Next: The Cerddor or minstrel.

Friday, June 1, 2007


I was hoping to post on bards again today, but too much work landed in my inbox. Hopefully I'll have another installment monday - in the meantime, have a good weekend!