All entries for February 2007

February 28, 2007

R. Brinley Jones. ‘A Brief History of the Welsh Language’.


Jones notes that the term, ‘Welsh’, has Saxon origins and comes from a word meaning ‘foreigner’. However, the Welsh word for itself, Cymraeg, means ‘language of the kinsmen’ (18). Cymraeg is a Celtic language in a Indo-European lineage. It belongs to the Isular Celtic languages rather than the Continental Celtic languages and it is, ‘a branch of the Brittonic group’ (akin to Cornish and Breton) rather than Goidelic (referring to Irish, Gaelic and Manx) (18).

The language emerged in the late sixth century when Latin was the language of administration – this was Old Welsh. Later came Middle Welsh ( twelfth to fourteenth century) which was used in literature to tell stories and romances. There were also:
• complicated legal texts;
• ‘mystical, devotional and religious works’;
• ‘histories, grammars, medical texts’;
• ‘copies of earlier poetry and new court poetry’;
• ‘poetry in the cywydd form’;
• and ‘considerable translation from Latin and French’e.g. the tales of Charlemagne (20).

The thirteenth and fourteenth centuries marked the time of the writing of The Mabinogion and the emergence of the poet, Dafydd ap Gwilym. This was the beginning of the Early Modern Welsh which culminated in the publication of the complete Welsh Bible in 1588. It was this Bible edition that, ‘provided a vehicle of expression for prose writers and poets; it crystallised the very best in the Welsh idiom and vocabulary and, in the absence of an Academy, a University and a royal Court, it was the sanction of the highest standard’ (22). Dr John Davies was to publish a grammar in 1621 and dictionary in 1620 and these became, ‘ a permanent model of the best Welsh’ (22).

There were some modification to the language though. For example, ‘colloquialisms of the free metre popular poetry of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, , in the form of carols, folk-poetry, ballads, versified drama, found their way, through the printed word, into the language of all Wales’ (22). Significant writers were: Morgan Lwyd, Ellis Wynne, William Williams Pantycelyn, Goronwy Owen and Daniel Owen.

The nineteenth century brought purists like John Morris-Jones who, ‘rescued the language from some of the extravagances which had appeared’ (23).

The revived national consciousness at the turn of the century coincided with the beginning of a period of outstanding Welsh scholarship during which a substantial amount of earlier prose and poetry has been edited… and the copiousness of the language has been revealed. This national consciousness has also created an interest in learning the language and, fro this purpose, attempts have also been made to standardize the an acceptable spoken Welsh as an interim model; such a model is called Cymraeg Byw (Living Welsh) and it meets the demands of the new audio-visual methods of language teaching. (24)

The vocabulary of the Cymareg has a number of influences:
• Latin e.g. castell (castle)– castellum, ystafell (room) –stabellum, ffenestr (window) –fenestra;
• Christian practice and education e.g. angel – angelus, allor – altare, disgybl (pupil) – disciples, eglwys (church) – ecclesia;
• Irish from immigrants: brechdan (bread and butter) – brechtán, croesan (jester) – crossán;
• Old English: capan (cape) – cappa, cusan (kiss) –cyssan, llidiart (gate)– hlidgeat;
• French: siambr – chambre, tŵr – tur, swrcot – surcot;
• Middle English: awgrym (suggestion) – augrim, dawns – daunce.

In addition to borrowing words, Cymraeg has also borrowed meanings. Often Welsh people were bilingual for religious, clerical jobs and so spoke Welsh and Latin or French: ‘The result was that Welsh borrowings and native words not only translated their Latin, French and English counterparts but very often acquired the semantic range of such words’ (28). E.g. cyfreddin meant ‘common’ in Cymraeg but in Biblical translation it came to mean ‘unclean’ as, ‘it absorbed the semantic range of Latin communis’ (28).

R. Brinley Jones. ‘A Brief History of the Welsh Language’. The Welsh Language Today. Ed. Meic Stephens. Llandysul: Gomer, 1973. 18-31.

Glanville Price. ‘Minority Languages in Western Europe’.

San Sebastien

Price begins by making a differentiation between, ‘those languages which, though characteristic of a minority in one country, are a majority language elsewhere, and those languages […] which are nowhere the dominant language in the state’ (1). In the first character he places:
• French in Switzerland;
• Dutch in northern France;
• German in the South Tirol;
• and Danish in South Scleswig in Germany.

In the second category, Price places:
• ‘the four remaining Celtic languages’: Welsh, Breton, Irish and Scottish Gaelic;
• Basque spoken in Spain and parts of France;
• Catalan spoken in Catalonia in Spain, Andorra, the Rousillon in France and in Alghero in Sardinia;
• Occitan or Provençal;
• Romansh or Raeto-Romance spoken in Graubünden or Grisons in Switzerland;
• Frisian and West Frisian spoken in Friesland in Holland;
• Farose, ‘the Scandinavian language of the Faroe Isles’;
• Sardinian in Italy;
• Manx;
• and Scots (2).

Price sees a number of factors at work in the consideration of the situation of minor languages like those listed above. These are:
• ‘the total number of speakers’;
• ‘the intensity factor’;
• ‘the degree of official recognition they enjoy’;
• ‘the use of languages in education and the mass media’;
• ‘the success or otherwise of attempts to create a standard literary language’ (3).

Price’s mention of the need for a development of a literary language is most interesting to me:

Languages such as Welsh, Irish and Gaelic, have over the centuries evolved accepted literary standards and even if these are further removed than one might wish from contemporary spoken usage, the fact that an accepted literary language exists takes the question out of the sphere of controversy. Some other languages lack such literary norms, wither because (as with Basque, Breton or Romansch, fro example) these have never existed or because – as with Occitan in particular – the literary tradition has been broken. Consequently, if there is to be an accepted literary language, it must be deliberately created, for until this is done each writer must inevitably use his own judgement (or worse follow his own whim) and chaos ensues. (14)

How interesting that Price desires a ‘pure’ literary language. This view is so much against my own which sees the whims that make Price so anxious as interesting experiments that stretch the boundaries of language. Price admires West Frisian speakers who set up a committee to standardise the language and he praises individuals who have set down ‘orthographical and grammatical standards’ such as V.U. Hammershaimb in the case of Faroe and Pompeu Fabra for Catalan. Price is disturned however by the case of Occitan which was broken down by different speakers into dialects. Price describes the need for standardisation as ‘not pedantic but strictly practical’ (15).

Glanville Price. ‘Minority Languages in Western Europe’.The Welsh Language Today. Ed. Meic Stephens. Llandysul: Gomer, 1973. 1-17.

February 27, 2007

Catriona O' Reilly on Gwyneth Lewis

“Gwyneth Lewis’s ‘Zero Gravity opens with a remarkably distinguished sixteen-part title sequence. The poem is subtitled ‘A Space Requiem’ and commemorates three events, the space-voyage of an astronaut cousin, the arrival and departure of a comet, and the death of a close relative. Lewis’s formal skill is in evidence as she brings these occurrences into a meditative tension in which the astronaut’s still-miraculous endeavour is compared to the unkowability of a woman’s death:

Her voyage is inwards.

Now looking back

is a matter of passing events.

She makes for the dark

of not being human.

“The poem’s strength lies in its intelligence and unflinching emotional honesty, which is too rigorous to permit easy consolations. In Section 11 Lewis writes:

Its vapour trails

mimicked our voyage along ourselves,

our fire with each other, the endless cold

which surrounds that burning. Don’t be fooled

by fireworks. Its no accident that leave

fails but still tries to rhyme with love.

“Among the many impressive features of Lewis’s work is a directness which is tempered by instinctive formal ability and an engaging quirkiness of vision. Her unsentimental animal poems are a fine example of this, particularly the unassuming but remarkable little poem ‘Prayer for Bandy’ which in its impact must rival anything Theodore Roethke produced. Lewis is unafraid to deploy a whole spectrum of feeling and has all of the technical gifts to do it. Her wit in such poems as ‘Will and the Wall’ is sophisticated and immensely enjoyable, as is her frequent use of the couplet, employed to fine effect in the satirical ‘hermits’:

It drives me wild,

so crowded are these blessed isles

with would-be saints who all deny

the flesh in more outrageous ways.

I want to be indifferent as stone.

I demand to be holy all on my own.

“Zero Gravity is a worthy successor to Lewis’s first English-language collection, Parables and Faxes. We await her third with impatience.”

From O’Reilly, Caitriona: ‘Reviews: Possibilities of Vision’. PN Review (Manchester) (25:4) [March-April 1999] , p.79-80. Literature Online.

Bibliography – Gwyneth Lewis

Gwyneth Lewis

Evans, Geraint: “Crossing the Border: National and Linguistic Boundaries in Twentieth-Century Welsh Writing” Welsh Writing in English: A Yearbook of Critical Essays , (9), 2004, 123-35. (2004)

Lewis, Gwyneth. Gwyneth Lewis in America (Interview with Katherine Gray). New Welsh Review. Vol. 70. 8-13.

Lewis, Gwyneth. Negotiations (Interview by Ian Gregson). Planet: the Welsh Internationalist. Vol. 173. 50-56.

Lewis, Gwyneth.: On writing poetry in two languages Modern Poetry in Translation (7) 1995, 80-3. (1995

Lewis, Gwyneth. Tenuous and Precarious: The Comic Muse Poetry Review. (Fanfare for the Comic Muse). 88.3 (Autumn 1998).

Lewis, Gwyneth.: “Remembering R. S. Thomas.” Times Literary Supplement, 6 Oct. 2000, 29. (2000

Lloyd, David: “English - Parables & Faxes by Gwyneth Lewis” World Literature Today (70:2) Spring 1996, 408-409. (1996)

McElroy, Ruth.: ”’For a mothertongue is a treasure but not a God’: Gwyneth Lewis and the dynamics of language in contemporary Welsh poetry.” Journal for the Study of British Cultures (12:1) 2005, 39-53. (2005)

O’Reilly, Caitriona: Reviews: Possibilities of Vision PN Review (25:4) March-April 1999, 79-80. (1999)

Poole, Richard.: “Gwyneth Lewis in conversation.” PN Review (23:3) 1997, 50-5. (1997)

Poole, Richard. Gwyneth Lewis talks to Richard Poole Poetry Wales . Vol. 31:2 (1995), 24-9.

Price, Angharad: “Travelling on the Word-Bus: Gwyneth Lewis’s Welsh Poetry” PN Review (25:5) May-June 1999, 49-51. (1999)

Rees-Jones, Deryn. Editorial (on Welshness and Englishness). Poetry Wales. Vol. 32.1 (October 1996).

Rhydderch, Francesca: ”’Cur dwbl [y] galon’ (The Double Beat of the Heart)” New Welsh Review: Wales’s Literary Magazine in English , (11:1 [41]), 1998 Summer, 18-20. (1998)

Ward, JP. Editorial . Poetry Wales. Vol. 14.1 (Summer 1978). 3-4.

Williams, Nerys.: Gwyneth Lewis: taboo and blasphemy Poetry Wales (38:3) 2002, 23-8. (2002)

Web Resources on Gwyneth Lewis

Gwyneth Lewis

General Information
Contemporary Writers
Poetry Book Society
Welsh Literature Abroad

A Wooden Spoon for the WRU
Field Visits
Happy Flamingo
Nervous Breakdowns
What’s in a Name?

Articles by Gwyneth Lewis
A giant of poetry
Beating the Black Dog
Caught Between Two Cultures: An Article in The Guardian
I can never know if I did the right thing
The Cruel Sea

Gwyneth Lewis

Articles About Gwyneth Lewis
Ruth McElroy on Gwyneth Lewis for Planet
Swept Away

How to Knit a Poem
Not England
Poetry Please
Reading from Two in a Boat on BBC Radio
The Verb
Twenty Minutes
Word of Mouth

Poems In Literature Online
For these links you need an Athens password.
Spit it Out
Pluck .

'Dolphin' by Robert Lowell

Robert Lowell

My Dolphin, you only guide me by surprise,
a captive as Racine, the man of craft,
drawn through his maze of iron composition
by the incomparable wandering voice of Phèdre.
When I was troubled in mind, you made for my body
caught in its hangman’s-knot of sinking lines,
the glassy bowing and scraping of my will. . . .
I have sat and listened to too many
words of the collaborating muse,
and plotted perhaps too freely with my life,
not avoiding injury to others,
not avoiding injury to myself—
to ask compassion . . . this book, half fiction,
an eelnet made by man for the eel fighting—

my eyes have seen what my hand did.

(From Collected Poems )

February 16, 2007

Dave Hickey on Grover Lewis and Larry McMurty

Writing about web page

Grover was, after all, the most stone wonderful writer that nobody ever heard of and blind as a cave bat in the bargain. He had been since birth, so he had to wear those wonky glasses. So, when he really ticked me off, I comforted myself with imagining Grover and his old running mate, Larry McMurtry, back at North Texas State in the fifties, as campus pariahs: two skinny, four-eyed geeks in goofy forties shirts scuttling along the sidewalk head to head, toting copies of The Evergreen Review and plotting their mutual apotheosis—in the aftermath of which they would both be famous authors, claiming any female who fell within their view.

See the full article here .

We had grown up with the myth of the open range, with that unreflective, visceral cowboy hatred for fences, and, just for that moment, the fences were down. The institutions that strung them were in disgrace, and the borders were open: the president was a crook; the generals were losers; corporate culture was in disarray; and the universities were irrelevant. So there was a sense of making it up as you went along, with new rules in a new place, where, if you wished, you could bring your Deleuze and your Stratocaster, too. And there was plenty of sleazy fame to go around—except that, back then, it was still the colossal joke that Warhol intended it to be, still marketing and not yet a religion.

February 14, 2007

Frida Kahlo's Masquerade

Kahlo - Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace

“For Frida Kahlo beauty was inextricably bound up with masquerade. In her self-portraits [...], whatever the degree of pain implied, by tears or wounds, her face remains severe and expressionless with an unflinching gaze. At the same time the mask-like face is surrounded by luxuriant growths, accoutrements, ornaments and familiars – a monkey, a doll, a hairless dog. The ornament borders on fetishism, as does all masquerade, but the imaginary look is that of self-regard, therefore a feminine, non-male and narcissistic look. There is neither coyness nor cruelty, none of the nuance necessary to the male eroticization of the female look. The masquerade serves the purpose of displacement from a traumatic childhood of the subject herself, ever-remembered, ever-repeated.

“Throughout Kahlo’s work there is a particular fetishization of nature, an imagery of fecundity and luxuriant generation which is clearly the defence against her knowledge of her own barrenness, one of the products of her childhood accident. Veins, fronds and vines often merge in the body itself. There are three modes of self portraiture: the body damaged, the body [157] masked and ornamented, the body twined and enmeshed with plants. In some paintings even the rays of the sun are incorporated in the web. Fruit in still lifes become part of the body, flesh-like, or skulls with vacant eyes. It is as though in compensation for her barrenness, and a defence against trauma, are condensed in pullulating images of cosmic and natural vitality sometimes counterposed with images of barrenness itself, of lava rock and broken ligneous forms.

“In a sense, nature is being turned into a complex of signs. Similarly the body itself becomes a bearer of signs, some legible, some esoteric. Masquerade becomes a mode of inscription, by which the trauma of injury and its effects are written negatively in metaphor. It is as if the intensity of the trauma brings with it a need to transfer the body from the register of image to that of pictography. The faces are read as masks, and ornaments as emblems and attributes. The discourse of the body is itself inscribed with a kind of codex of nature and cosmos, in which sun and moon, plant and animal, are pictograms. At the same time this pictographic effect de-eroticizes the imagery.” (157-158)

Mulvey, Laura and Peter Wollen. ‘Frida Kahlo and Tina Modotti’. Art in Modern Culture: an Anthology of Critical Texts. Ed. Francis Franscina and Jonathan Harris. London: Phaidon, 1992. 145 – 159.

Kahlo and Religious Icons


Lowe notes that Kahlo often uses the ex-voto, a representation of a supernatural event as a means of giving thanks to God:

The ex-voto mixes fact and fantasy, depicting the image of divine intervention to commemorate the miraculous recovery from a sickness or accident. It pictures two registers of reality: the earthly – an incident recorded with journalistic verity – and the divine, in the form of a patron saint shown floating above the victim. This fusion of the real and imaginary was enormously appealing to Kahlo, and it was this aspect of the ex-voto that she appropriated for her work. (61)

Kahlo also uses retablos of figures such as the Mater Dolorosa (Mother of Sorrows). Lowe notes that the Mater Dolorosa was thought, ‘ to guard against sorrow or pain, or at the hour of death’ (61). Lowe goes as far as to say that she thinks that Kahlo, ‘identified with the Mtaer Dolorosa, who is often depicted shedding tears of sorrow for her lost son’ (61)


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