Poet's Lecture Inspires Sixth Form Creativity
As I stepped out of the car upon arriving near Lincoln Cathedral’s coffee shop, half an hour early and counting, a man walked past me. It had been the sunniest Tuesday for weeks; a light wind permeating the evening air which was still fresh with sunlight, rendering the Cathedral’s stone golden. He wore a dark suit, with a dark shirt (striped, vertically), and a dark scarf, eyes averted downwards, his face half in concentration and half taciturn; this was a man from Huddersfield, who wrote poetry and translated medieval literature for our intake. He would be speaking, with a voice still retaining in its gentleness and eloquence hints of his West Yorkshire origins, about his new work, The Death of King Arthur, a transliteration of the Alliterative Morte Athure, a work to which no author is attributed, but one which provides a basis for much Arthurian legend we know today. His voice (something which had intrigued me since studying his work as part of the GCSE Anthology, in the narrative sense at least), after we had waiting patiently upon entering the Wren Library, spoke of many things; he diffused the atmosphere with humour, recounting anecdotes, and addressing his interest in the subject to which he had devoted three years of work. He was in fact returning to the Wren Library, one which, among circa ten thousand items and two hundred and sixty medieval manuscripts, holds the Thornton Manuscript, famous for containing single versions of rather important poems, for example the Alliterative Morte Arthure itself. He had visited to see for himself the original manuscript, something which he stressed the importance of – read, worn and ‘dog-eared’, to see the original author’s handwriting was to relive the past, to bring it to the present, something which is achieved incredibly in his translation; he admired the medieval scribe who laboured by candlelight, and through the interpretation evokes his spirit, nigh six hundred years after the author’s death.
His enthusiasm for the task is largely what has inspired my own poem, Armitage’s Alliterative Arthure; my motivation encouraged by his words, as well as the style in which the legendary King’s demise is described. Armitage joked about the transgression of alliteration into his day-to-day dialect, something which piqued my curiosity further. It is a style which shares roots in the oral tradition, along with the great classics the Iliad, the Odyssey, and more relevantly perhaps, Beowulf; the art of bestowing onto generations myths and legends, histories and traditions, via spoken storytelling. The latter’s art far predates scripture, and the basis for Armitage’s work is simply a physical manifestation of a legend long-spoken before being written. Armitage’s role, as he stood atop a podium reading extracts and relating his own experiences that came as a result of working on the book, evoked imagery within my mind of said oral tradition, of the acoustics of the poetry at hand as well as the simple, hereditary art of sharing knowledge from one person to a crowd via the voice. I arrived at the lecture with a keen interest in medieval poetry, and Armitage himself, and an even keener interest in the legend of England’s ‘once and future King’; the existence of which lacks wholesome proof, but which in the hearts of those who read The Death of King Arthur, and who hear the 21st century bard re-tell the lore, is undeniably true. I heard a combination of history and literature, and the reaffirmation of King Arthur’s presence in the contemporary; not something which could be conceivably lost, but something which is absolutely supplemented by Armitage’s involvement. All being well, this will not be the last Armitage lecture I attend, with his teaching at the University of Sheffield, and my hopefully going there in the new academic year; something for which I certainly count myself fortunate. By all means, I would seek his lectures out regardless, as this proved to combine interest, enjoyment, and most of all, inspiration for my own work, something which I have no doubt was universal among those present.
Armitage's Alliterative Arthure:
I listen longingly as bursting bold and brave,
In my mind Alliterative Arthure again audaciously appears.
Tactfully translated and told now once again.
Vivid, en vie, his advent announced, the legend familiar lent
To the audience, by the taciturn translator Simon Armitage.
And now through Simon speaking this King is vividly voiced and revived,
As he reaches the scene regally atop his hypothetical horse
Brandishing Excalibur – it is the human Arthur, afore archived attained,
Eulogised in The Death of King Arthur,
Apprised by the attentive at the Wren library.
I experience as those – who via bard before brought to bear witness,
And the thespians past transported to hold testimony – and who by oral tradition
Had had remembered and recounted to them, and had received, the tale of
England’s most famous King; wise, well-known, waging war far and wide.
In the name of Christ crusading against the Sultan of Syria, reinforced Romans,
And Genoa’s giants; by his side Sir Florent of France and Sir Cador of Cornwall.
The powerful saga prominent, crafted passionately and protracted,
Lovingly transliterated, in the lexis of lore, from a language lost,
It is related to us in modern-made mode – atop a pedestal performed,
As had been heretofore in ancient hearth and hall.
Such was the rhythm, with which Simon the Converter charmingly communicates,
That both Arthur’s plight and his own – commenced three years thence –
Resonated resound, and so real that we do not doubt the ‘once and future’ King’s life.
The re-teller reiterates the romance, stresses the sovereign’s strength as a saviour,
Messianic and moving, yet still a man with mortal mind,
Graced by God, still however with his humanity highlighted.
The message of the far from ephemeral figurehead,
That the conveyor courts in the adapted account,
Was brought to us along with anecdotes of parkas and Bennetts,
And closed with the author’s script, on a single side in a small, signed copy.
Richard, Year 13