Aethelflied Battles Maldon: Part 4

AKA Release valves are vital.

In the last week I have had to start my transcription over. Thankfully I only had a few words and lines translated here and there so I wasn’t losing too much by way of actual translations. But it is disheartening to discover on line 120 that you skipped line 20 all the way back on the first page and so need to rip everything out and start over (No I’m not a perfectionist, I don’t know what you’re talking about).

This led to more tasty beverage consumption than was probably advisable. Next thing I know there are social media posts regarding drinking and translating with the line:

“Shut up Seadude / Shit’s what we’ll pay you.”

As an argument for why drunk translations ought not happen. That line is arguably accurate by the way, both in verse style and meaning. That still doesn’t make translating the whole poem into competing frat parties a good idea.

Or does it?

There comes a point in every project, for me anyway, where you need a release. You need something to bring it around from being torture to being fun and entertaining again. You need something to help you slog through. You get slap happy and your options are A. Make fun of it. or B. kill it with fire. When working on Beowulf: The Event there were several moments of this. My entire plan of make a bunny and read it’s fake entrails was done as a stress relief for my first competition piece.

Now am I saying you should publish your out there translations? Perhaps. Unfortunately or not by publishing that one line I’ve now retitled that entire section, which is the one I’ll be taking to perform. And now I’m tempted to translate the whole section like that as this project goes on.

On the one hand, publishing release valve pieces can be fun. You get people to laugh and connect with the piece in ways they may not have before.

On the other hand? You run the risk of that being the sort of work you’re known for. This is the sort of thing that’s memorable. It’s also the sort of thing  that’ll ruffle feathers from Very Serious Scholars. Which is perfectly fine if you don’t care about those things.

Me? I need to not light everything on fire more than I need to pretend that these works weren’t the pop culture of their day. So I’m going to continue to publish and post little bits like that. You may not. There’s no shame either way.

When in doubt just remember: Shakespeare is made of comic relief and dick jokes. You’re allowed to laugh at period pieces.


Aethelflied Battles Maldon: Part 3

AKA Live for the light bulb.

Today I translated my first line without looking at a dictionary or other translation. This was the first moment of thinking I could actually do this and not crash and burn in two months. It was lovely, it was exhilarating, it was confidence inspiring. It made me go through the rest of the poem I had transcribed and pick out the words I do know and write them out too.

Obviously I’m going to go back and check my work. I don’t trust my brain that much. But still! Progress! I am thankful that Old English resembles modern German (which I have a background in) enough that certain words and inflections carried through. I am thankful that, while English mutated when it stole grammar and words from every other language, it retained some words. Or at least retained them closely enough to be able to pick them out. Eorle meaning Earl or lord for example, wæter meaning water, folc means folk or people, that sort of thing.

If nothing else this project is giving me a deeper appreciation of the English I do speak and write on a daily basis. And an understanding of just how true the joke that English didn’t evolve, it just mugged other languages and riffled through their pockets for loose grammar actually is.

Old English? Makes sense. The spelling makes sense, the pronunciation makes sense, the grammar is easier than modern English. I’m feeling an inexplicable fondness for the dipthong ( Æ ) and thorn ( þ ). They’re just so pretty. Why did we ditch them?

… stupid Normans.

Aethelflied Battles Maldon: Part 2

Last time we talked about the plan of attack and the cost in terms of time that goes into a project like this. Today we’re going to look at sources. Namely, how to choose them. I am still gathering my sources which is why these posts are still abstract rather than ‘I am going to light this poem on fire. I will invent a time machine, go back and ruin all the nibs of the original poet’s pens so no one will ever hear of this monstrosity’. Not that I am at that point yet mind you. I’m still cursing translators more than the original piece. MOVING ON.

Finding Sources.

So you’ve picked your piece for translation, had enough tasty beverage to convince yourself this is a brilliant and fun idea, now what?

Chances are you’ve already read your piece, maybe a couple different versions, before you decided to do your own translation. Now comes time to pick out which versions and which original transcription you’re going to work with. You want reputable sources, not someone who, well, is doing exactly what you’re doing. At least not as your primary source. So how can you tell if you’re looking at a basement translation or a reputable one?

Check your source’s sources. Who do they cite? A reputable source will have citations. Good ones. A lot of them. And they won’t be shy about showing their sources. Check and see if you can get your hands on anything your original source cites. If your source only has one citation, and doesn’t give your further reading? I’d shy away from them.

Check your source’s credentials. Is the author Dr McTranslatyface, Professor of whatever-you’re-studying at Such-and-such University? Then they are probably reputable. Are they someone going by a made up name on the internet posting things on their blog with no peer review? Then you don’t want to trust them implicitly and really should check their work. Hi, I’m a random made up name blog person! CHECK MY WORK!

Check where your source was published. University Press labels tend toward reputable, peer reviewed academic journals, publishing companies known for publishing high quality old texts? All good places to start. That’s not to say you should discount your source if you find it online! There’s a lot of good free stuff online! But remember to evaluate your source’s sources and your source’s credentials when considering using them.

You’re going to hear this all the time: Wikipedia is not a reputable source. I disagree. Should you believe everything you find on wiki? No. Please don’t. However, good wiki articles will have what at the bottom? Sources. These sources are what you want. Wiki in and of itself is not a source, it’s more like a meta-source. A blurb, a gateway drug. Start there, but don’t end there.

Consider your source’s publication date. Is your source older than you and not a primary source? Do some more digging, make sure they’re still relevant. Make sure new research hasn’t discredited their theories and translations. Yes that is possible with language and translations, languages evolve, new texts surface that change how we look at other extant works, someone has a break through that changes context, ect. Old sources can still be great! Just have newer research to back them up when possible. This may not be possible if the piece you’re looking at is particularly obscure, in which case? Best of luck to you, go forth and add to the research on that piece.

Consider what type of source you’re looking at. Is it primary? Secondary? Tertiary? Primary sources are going to be the text itself, no one else’s translation or interpretation. You will probably not get your hands on this. If you have high quality pictures or scans of the original? Luck you! You have a primary source! Primary sources are the most accurate as they are the piece or thing you’re looking at. But if you don’t know how to read it or have a clue what you’re looking at? It won’t do you much good.

Secondary sources are what we’re going to tend toward working with. These are translations from the original, either literal or edited, ect.

Tertiary are things like textbooks. They condense what multiple secondary sources say about your piece and give a brief over view. Wiki is a tertiary source. Essays on social context are a grey area but I tend to lump them in tertiary. Think on you favorite topic from history and remember how your high school history book treated it. This is why you don’t want the majority of your sources to be tertiary. Go take a look at their sources and work backwards from there.

The exception to this for me? Language and technical texts. If it’s an instructional text then that’s a whole different monkey to wrestle with. And that my dears is outside the purview of this (wordier than anticipated) post.

Reading Tablet Weaving Patterns

This is a subject that has, over the last two days, become near and dear to my heart. Mostly because I wove 6 inches and couldn’t for the life of me figure out why the pattern wasn’t working.

I am weaving this:

Go look at it. No really, it’s pretty. This is a threaded in pattern not double face (I’ll explain the difference in a minute) from Mim’s Muddle. Her full pattern library can be found here:

Pattern Library

Her patterns are fairly simply written out. Each colored square corresponds with a hole in a card. The color coding shows you when color of yarn you’re putting through that hole. Each column (up and down) is one card. So the pattern that I’m working with is a three color, 12 card pattern.

With me so far? Ok.

The S and Z’s along the bottom of the pattern tell you how the card is threaded, S or Z. S means the thread is entering on the left side of the card and exiting the right side (like the middle line in the letter S), Z is threaded right to left (like the middle line in the letter Z).

Mistake Number 1 I made with this pattern: See card 8? See how it’s threaded identically to card 7? Yeah I didn’t. I threaded it identically to card 9. Which is not the same. Don’t be like me. Double check your pattern while you’re warping. 

So now you’ve got your pattern warped using whichever method pleases you (Check here for a refersher). How do you make the pattern go from colored squares to the actual patterned band?

In this instance of threaded in patterns it’s the turning pattern. Turn your attention to the second graph, the one right below the pattern. Notice how along the left there’s 4X? That’s the number of times you turn the cards. Notice how the first row has an F in each box? That means you turn all the cards forward four times. See how the second row has FFBBBFFBBBFF? That means you’re turning the first, middle, and last two cards forward four more times and the remainder are going backwards four times. Simple right?

Mistake Number 2 I made with this pattern: look below that chart. See the tiny 4F? Yeah?  I didn’t. That means you turn all the cards forward four more times. So the actual turning pattern has another row. Which explains why my band looks like confetti not the pattern. Don’t be like me, read your whole pattern before weaving. 

That’s it. That’s how you read threaded in patterns. Double face is different. For the purposes of this discussion we’ll be talking about just using two colors of yarn. With double face every card is threaded the same. Two of color A, then two of color B. What makes the pattern is the turning sequence ONLY. An excellent discussion on how to do this can be found here:

Trust me, without seeing it in person that link is the best explanation I can give  you. Double face is one of those things that sounds insanely complicated until you manage to do it, then it’s dirt simple.

That all being said? I fixed the two mistakes I recognized I was making my band looks awesome! On the backside. Somehow I’m weaving upside down. I don’t even know anymore, but this is what it is. Some times you just need to know when to shrug and roll with what on earth your yarn is doing.

Project Update

Currently I am working on getting a dress done for Mudthaw, that’ll give me two fancy court dresses, one in linen and one in wool, that’ll be trimmed and embroidered so I don’t feel like a ragamuffin standing behind the thrones. This one is green linen (100% linen, I splurged) and will have wool trim around at least the sleeves. I may have to settle for just having embroidery around the hem or nothing around the hem at all. The underdress is going to be very bright white that I’m edging in the same green linen as my over dress.

The trim itself is natural white wool with a stripe of yellow/gold that I dyed myself using turmeric down the center. Any embroidery is going to be done in yellow/gold. Apparently my colors are green and gold. I can live with this.

Aethelflied Battles Maldon: Part 1

Of gods know how many.

This will be an ongoing series discussing and illustrating the challenges of translation. Not only a translation of language but a translation of verse. I decided that since I am doing this crazy thing I may as well show other aspiring translator/poets just how much work goes into a project like this.

This being part one most of what we’ll be talking about (rather, I’ll be writing you’ll be reading about) are the challenges inherent in doing this as well as my plan of attack as it were. But first: Why? Why on this green earth would anyone want to do this? This is bats in the attic crazy if you aren’t getting either A. Money or B. a degree for this kind of work. And those two reasons generally aim for a more academic prose translation which is both easier to do and more accessible to an unfamiliar audience (read: sells better).

I have two reasons. One far outweighs the other but I’d be falsely modest if I didn’t at least mention reason two.

Reason One: Soul.

I am doing this because (in my opinion) prose translations take the heartbeat out of the work. It slaps words on the page, ripped of their feel and impact, and sets heartrending cultural work firmly in the realm of academia. That’s not what these pieces were. These are the battle cries of our forefathers, the catchy pop songs of our ancestors. What prose translation with no poetic attempt does is take something like Take Me to Church by Hosier and describes it thusly:

“The one I love is dark humor, she laughs at funerals. Though others disprove [of her] I feel I should have paid her tribute sooner. She is the last true voice of the divine, every Sunday becomes darker with new poisonous words [from false holy men]. Others tell us that we’ve been sick since we were born, traditional churches offer no comfort or forgiveness. She tells me to worship privately. The only heaven I expect to see is when we are alone. Amen.”

Compare that to this:

One, while it gives an idea of what the words say, is flat. It’s a textbook. It’s dry unless you know where the gut of the original are. That is what I see in text books. That’s what I see as the biggest challenge to falling in love (or at least awe) with old poetry.

What I am attempting to do by translating Battle of Maldon from Old English into modern English then into the closest I can get to it’s original verse is to put that heartbeat back. Give us not only the words but the feel. Put the soul back.

This is not to say that academic translation is wrong. 

Not at all! Without academic translation we’d have nothing but poems that are impenetrable to anyone but a dedicated scholar of whichever culture the poem is from. We’d have work, gorgeous, moving, inspiring work, that would be even more inaccessible to people with a passing interest. Academic translation is a gateway drug. Without it we’d never have the level of interest ancient pieces deserve.

Reason two: To say I did it.

This one is the lesser reason and pretty self explanatory. There’s just something very fulfilling (I imagine, this is my first attempt) about taking on a project of this size and finishing it. I imagine I’ll be running around my teeny apartment, notebook raised above my head in victory, when I actually finish this. I may in fact shove that self same notebook under the nose of anyone who holds still long enough, shouting “LOOK AT IT! I DID A THING!”

Now then. On to the challenges in doing something like this.

Let me make this clear: Unless you already speak the proper dialogue of the language, are proficient in the verse form in question, and have 3 or 4 reference translations lying around (preferably at least one with the original text facing), this is not a weekend project. Even if you have all those things? Edits take time. With all of that you might be able to get a short sonnet done. And if this is a weekend project? I love, hate, and am in awe of  you and this series is not for you. I mean I’ll welcome your advice and whatever black magic you work to get verse translations done so fast, but this is mostly intended for people making the same poor life choice I have.

Challenge one: Language.

This is obvious. You wouldn’t need to translate it if the piece was already in the language you wanted it to be. So hopefully you’re choosing a language you either speak, read or are otherwise proficient in.

I did not.

I am learning Old English while translating Maldon.

Don’t be like me. Be smart. Pick a language you already have a background in.

If you are being like me and choosing a brand new language find other people who know it. Find people who are willing to proof read. Find people who will tell you what that weird ass word is. Then ask them what their favorite sources are. Study those sources. Get a good dictionary and understand that if you’re translating a specific dialect one word may mean something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than what your dictionary says it does. We do this in modern English. Example: “That bites.” Does it mean that is a creature that will bite you? Is it an object that will cut/pinch you? Or does it mean “that is terrible and I sympathize with your unhappiness in this situation”? Context is the only way to know. Good luck.

Challenge two: Verse.

The poem you are translating was written in a verse form designed for the original language. It was not designed for modern English and modern English sentence structure is crap at verse forms it wasn’t intended for. The sooner you accept and become zen about this the less likely you will be to set your sources on fire, delete any mention of this project, and deny your source poem ever existed.

Your best bet is to study your verse form first. Figure out how to bend modern English into it. Write a few original poems in your chosen form before attempting a translation. Make sure you have a very solid grasp on how this style works, what makes the heart beat in the metric form, how you can fudge grammar to play nicely, and when to just accept that modern English sucks for this and throw words on the page and trust your audience will follow your meaning.

Again, I did not.

I have written exactly one poem in Saxon verse (upon further study I also did that wrong) and am using this opportunity to conduct an in depth study of Old English poetry while translating this piece.

Don’t be like me. Be smart. Learn your verse form first.

Challenge three: Sources.

Unless you are a well known scholar/conduct dark rites to the gods of access/have lots of money you will not get your hands on the original piece. This means you need to trust other people who have seen the original that they copied it correctly. If you’re using a transliteration from the original alphabet to the language in English characters that is another layer of trust. For example: Elder futhark has nothing for the letter Y. Therefore if a Y is needed you have to substitute something else. Joy is different from Joe.

Therefore it is best to use multiple sources. Not just for the translations but for the original text itself. This can also be hairpullingly frustrating if you’re working with a lesser known piece that not very many people have taken a crack at. If you’re translating Beowulf, 1. Congrats you have a plethora of sources (stay away from Tolkein’s prose. I’m still bitter), 2. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! *ahem* right. Moving on. Make sure to consider availability of translations from different scholars, grab as many verse translations as you can, and stock up on your tasty beverage of choice. Trust me, you’ll need it when you find out translator A threw away a perfectly good kenning because he didn’t get that bonehouse is more evocative than body and that modern audiences would be able to figure out that wave steed means ship.

I am doing this. I am smart. Be like me. Perhaps with less beer and swearing. At least pretend you cursed at your sources less.

Challenge 4: Audience.

All of this means nothing if you keep this to yourself. Who is your audience? Are you doing this in hopes of getting published? In which case I applaud your hope and wish you the best. Are you doing this for performance?

If so remember that your audience will more than likely not be made up of people who know the verse form. You’re dealing with a modern audience who, while most of us will be deeply impressed with the amount of work and time you put into this, won’t be in a position to give feed back beyond entertaining or boring. Keep this in mind. Your original source piece is amazing, you are in love with it, otherwise you would have lit it on fire back in month two, take us with you. Let us love it nearly as much as you do.

This? This is the challenge with any piece destined for performance. And that will only be solved with practice and time.

I’m working on this. And if I can do it, you can too.

We got this.

Something completely different!

A few years back I wrote a pattern for a knitted shawl. While this isn’t what I normally post here my original link has since expired and so here is the new home for the Impossibly Large Impossibly Simple shawl.

Size 13 (or 15) circular needle
About 230 yards (with optional crochet bind off) of sport weight yarn
Crochet hook

Gauge unimportant

Cast on 5 stitches

Row 1: Knit 2, yarn over, knit 1, yarn over, knit 2
Row 2 and all even rows: Knit 2, purl to last 2, knit 2
Row 3: Knit 2, yarn over, knit 1, yarn over, knit 1, yarn over, knit 1, yarn over, knit 2
Row 5 and all remaining odd rows: Knit 2, yarn over, knit to center stitch, yarn over, knit 1, yarn over, knit to last 2, yarn over, knit 2

Continue as established until there are 143 stitches

Dropping row: Knit two, yarn over, knit 2, drop one repeat to center stitch, Yarn over, knit 1 yarn over drop 1, knit 2to final two stitches, yarn over, knit 2

Next row: knit 2, purl to last two, knit two.

Crocheted bind off (optional): Slip crochet hook through first stitch, hook second stitch through, hook third stitch through, chain stitch 9, crochet 2 off the needle, chain 9Repeat to end.

Blocking is optional- shawl shown done in Berroco Cotton Twist and unblocked.