Glossary U

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Universal Elements of Poetry


ubi sunt - Latin verse form meaning "where are they". A lament for the passing of all things. Of note would be Francois Villon's three eight-line stanzas and four-line envoy Ballade des dames du temps jadis. Look for the ubi sunt phrase "mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?" "where are the snows of yesteryear"

Dictes-moy où, n'en quel pays,
Est Flora, la belle Romaine;
Archipiada, ne Thais,
Qui fut sa cousine germaine;
Echo, parlant quand bruyt on maine
Dessus riviere ou sus estan,
Qui beauté eut trop plus qu'humaine?
Mais où sont les neiges d'antan!

Où est la très sage Héloise,
Pour qui chastré fut et puis moyne
Pierre Esbaillant à Sainct-Denis?
Pour son amour eut cest essoyne.
Semblablement, où est la royne
Qui commanda que Buridan
Fust gecté en ung sac en Seine?
Mais où sont les neiges d'antan!

La royne Blanche comme ung lys,
Qui chantoit à voix de sereine,
Berthe au grand pied, Bietris, Allys;
Harembourgis, qui tint le Mayne,
Et Jehanne, la bonne Lorraine,
Qu'Anglois bruslèrent à Rouen;
Ou sont-ils, Vierge souveraine?...
Mais où sont les neiges d'antan!

Prince, n'enquerez de sepmaine
Ou elles ont, ne de cest an,
Que ce refrain ne vous remaine:
Mais où sont les neiges d'antan!

Tell me where, tell me in what land
Is Flora, bonny Roman lady?
Where Archippa, where Thais fair,
Who was her cousin? O tell me!
Now where will be Echo, who babbled
Back at you o'er rivers and ponds,
And whose beauty was more than human?
O where are gone the snows of yore?

Where is Heloise chaste and wise,
For whom unmanned and made a monk
Was Abelard in Saint-Denis?
For love of her he suffered so.
In the same way where is the queen
Who gave command that Buridan
Be bagged and thrown into the Seine?
O where are gone the snows of yore?

What befell the lily-white queen
Who sang with her voice like a bird’s;
‘Big Feet’ Bertha, Beatrix, Allys,
Arembour, who ruled o’er Maine;
And the sweet Joan from Lorraine,
Whom the English burned at Rouen?
Where are they all, Sovereign Lady?
O where are gone the snows of yore?

My Prince, seek not endlessly to know
Where they are now, why time has passed;
But only remember this chorus:
O where are gone the snows of yore?

Then from Old English epic poetry there is The Wanderer, which is another lament of one hundred lines in alliterative verse about a lonesome "over-the-hill" warrior who longs for the heat of the battle and times gone by:

Oft him anhaga
are gebideð,
metudes miltse,
þeah þe he modcearig
geond lagulade
longe sceolde
hreran mid hondum
hrimcealde sæ
wadan wræclastas.
Wyrd bið ful aræd!

Swa cwæð eardstapa,
earfeþa gemyndig,
wraþra wælsleahta,
winemæga hryre:

Oft ic sceolde ana
uhtna gehwylce
mine ceare cwiþan.
Nis nu cwicra nan
þe ic him modsefan
minne durre
sweotule asecgan.
Ic to soþe wat
þæt biþ in eorle
indryhten þeaw,
þæt he his ferðlocan
fæste binde,
healde his hordcofan,
hycge swa he wille.
Ne mæg werig mod
wyrde wiðstondan,
ne se hreo hyge
helpe gefremman.
Forðon domgeorne
dreorigne oft
in hyra breostcofan
bindað fæste;
swa ic modsefan
minne sceolde,
oft earmcearig,
eðle bidæled,
freomægum feor
feterum sælan,
siþþan geara iu
goldwine minne
hrusan heolstre biwrah,
ond ic hean þonan
wod wintercearig
ofer waþema gebind,
sohte seledreorig
sinces bryttan,
hwær ic feor oþþe neah
findan meahte
þone þe in meoduhealle
mine wisse,
oþþe mec freondleasne
frefran wolde,
wenian mid wynnum.
Wat se þe cunnað
hu sliþen bið
sorg to geferan
þam þe him lyt hafað
leofra geholena:
warað hine wræclast,
nales wunden gold,
ferðloca freorig,
nalæs foldan blæd.
Gemon he selesecgas
ond sincþege,
hu hine on geoguðe
his goldwine
wenede to wiste.
Wyn eal gedreas!

Forþon wat se þe sceal
his winedryhtnes
leofes larcwidum
longe forþolian:
ðonne sorg ond slæð
somod ætgædre
earmne anhogan
oft gebindað.
þinceð him on mode
þæt he his mondryhten
clyppe ond cysse,
ond on cneo lecge
honda ond heafod,
swa he hwilum ær
in geardagum
giefstolas breac.
Ðonne onwæcneð eft
wineleas guma,
gesihð him biforan
fealwe wegas,
baþian brimfuglas,
brædan feþra,
hreosan hrim ond snaw
hagle gemenged.

Þonne beoð þy hefigran
heortan benne,
sare æfter swæsne.
Sorg bið geniwad
þonne maga gemynd
mod geondhweorfeð;
greteð gliwstafum,
georne geondsceawað
secga geseldan;
swimmað oft on weg
fleotendra ferð
no þær fela bringeð
cuðra cwidegiedda.
Cearo bið geniwad
þam þe sendan sceal
swiþe geneahhe
ofer waþema gebind
werigne sefan.

Forþon ic geþencan ne mæg
geond þas woruld
for hwan modsefa
min ne gesweorce
þonne ic eorla lif
eal geondþence,
hu hi færlice
flet ofgeafon,
modge maguþegnas.
Swa þes middangeard
ealra dogra gehwam
dreoseð ond fealleð;
forþon ne mæg weorþan wis
wer, ær he age
wintra dæl in woruldrice.
Wita sceal geþyldig,
ne sceal no to hatheort
ne to hrædwyrde,
ne to wac wiga
ne to wanhydig,
ne to forht ne to fægen,
ne to feohgifre
ne næfre gielpes to georn,
ær he geare cunne.
Beorn sceal gebidan,
þonne he beot spriceð,
oþþæt collenferð
cunne gearwe
hwider hreþra gehygd
hweorfan wille.
Ongietan sceal gleaw hæle
hu gæstlic bið,
þonne ealre þisse worulde wela
weste stondeð,
swa nu missenlice
geond þisne middangeard
winde biwaune
weallas stondaþ,
hrime bihrorene,
hryðge þa ederas.
Woriað þa winsalo,
waldend licgað
dreame bidrorene,
duguþ eal gecrong,
wlonc bi wealle.
Sume wig fornom,
ferede in forðwege,
sumne fugel oþbær
ofer heanne holm,
sumne se hara wulf
deaðe gedælde,
sumne dreorighleor
in eorðscræfe
eorl gehydde.
Yþde swa þisne eardgeard
ælda scyppend
oþþæt burgwara
breahtma lease
eald enta geweorc
idlu stodon.

Se þonne þisne wealsteal
wise geþohte
ond þis deorce lif
deope geondþenceð,
frod in ferðe,
feor oft gemon
wælsleahta worn,
ond þas word acwið:

Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago?
Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa?
Hwær cwom symbla gesetu?
Hwær sindon seledreamas?
Eala beorht bune!
Eala byrnwiga!
Eala þeodnes þrym!
Hu seo þrag gewat,
genap under nihthelm,
swa heo no wære.
Stondeð nu on laste
leofre duguþe
weal wundrum heah,
wyrmlicum fah.
Eorlas fornoman
asca þryþe,
wæpen wælgifru,
wyrd seo mære,
ond þas stanhleoþu
stormas cnyssað,
hrið hreosende
hrusan bindeð,
wintres woma,
þonne won cymeð,
nipeð nihtscua,
norþan onsendeð
hreo hæglfare
hæleþum on andan.
Eall is earfoðlic
eorþan rice,
onwendeð wyrda gesceaft
weoruld under heofonum.
Her bið feoh læne,
her bið freond læne,
her bið mon læne,
her bið mæg læne,
eal þis eorþan gesteal
idel weorþeð!

Swa cwæð snottor on mode,
gesæt him sundor æt rune.
Til biþ se þe his treowe gehealdeþ,
ne sceal næfre his torn to rycene
beorn of his breostum acyþan,
nemþe he ær þa bote cunne,
eorl mid elne gefremman.
Wel bið þam þe him are seceð,
frofre to Fæder on heofonum,
þær us eal seo fæstnung stondeð.

Often the solitary one
finds grace for himself
the mercy of the Lord,
Although he, sorry-hearted,
must for a long time
move by hand [in context = row]
along the waterways,
(along) the ice-cold sea,
tread the paths of exile.
Events always go as they must!

So spoke the wanderer,
mindful of hardships,
of fierce slaughters
and the downfall of kinsmen:

Often (or always) I had alone
to speak of my trouble
each morning before dawn.
There is none now living
to whom I dare
clearly speak
of my innermost thoughts.
I know it truly,
that it is in men
a noble custom,
that one should keep secure
his spirit-chest (mind),
guard his treasure-chamber (thoughts),
think as he wishes.
The weary spirit cannot
withstand fate (the turn of events),
nor does a rough or sorrowful mind
do any good (perform anything helpful).
Thus those eager for glory
often keep secure
dreary thoughts
in their breast;
So I,
often wretched and sorrowful,
bereft of my homeland,
far from noble kinsmen,
have had to bind in fetters
my inmost thoughts,
Since long years ago
I hid my lord
in the darkness of the earth,
and I, wretched, from there
travelled most sorrowfully
over the frozen waves,
sought, sad at the lack of a hall,
a giver of treasure,
where I, far or near,
might find
one in the meadhall who
knew my people,
or wished to console
the friendless one, me,
entertain (me) with delights.
He who has tried it knows
how cruel is
sorrow as a companion
to the one who has few
beloved friends:
the path of exile (wræclast) holds him,
not at all twisted gold,
a frozen spirit,
not the bounty of the earth.
He remembers hall-warriors
and the giving of treasure
How in youth his lord (gold-friend)
accustomed him
to the feasting.
All the joy has died!

And so he knows it, he who must
forgo for a long time
the counsels
of his beloved lord:
Then sorrow and sleep
both together
often tie up
the wretched solitary one.
He thinks in his mind
that he embraces and kisses
his lord,
and on his (the lord's) knees lays
his hands and his head,
Just as, at times (hwilum), before,
in days gone by,
he enjoyed the gift-seat (throne).
Then the friendless man
wakes up again,
He sees before him
fallow waves
Sea birds bathe,
preening their feathers,
Frost and snow fall,
mixed with hail.

Then are the heavier
the wounds of the heart,
grievous (sare) with longing for (æfter) the lord.
Sorrow is renewed
when the mind (mod) surveys
the memory of kinsmen;
He greets them joyfully,
eagerly scans
the companions of men;
they always swim away.
The spirits of seafarers
never bring back there much
in the way of known speech.
Care is renewed
for the one who must send
very often
over the binding of the waves
a weary heart.

Indeed I cannot think
why my spirit
does not darken
when I ponder on the whole
life of men
throughout the world,
How they suddenly
left the floor (hall),
the proud thanes.
So this middle-earth,
a bit each day,
droops and decays -
Therefore man (wer)
cannot call himself wise, before he has
a share of years in the world.
A wise man must be patient,
He must never be too impulsive
nor too hasty of speech,
nor too weak a warrior
nor too reckless,
nor too fearful, nor too cheerful,
nor too greedy for goods,
nor ever too eager for boasts,
before he sees clearly.
A man must wait
when he speaks oaths,
until the proud-hearted one
sees clearly
whither the intent of his heart
will turn.
A wise hero must realize
how terrible it will be,
when all the wealth of this world
lies waste,
as now in various places
throughout this middle-earth
walls stand,
blown by the wind,
covered with frost,
storm-swept the buildings.
The halls decay,
their lords lie
deprived of joy,
the whole troop has fallen,
the proud ones, by the wall.
War took off some,
carried them on their way,
one, the bird took off
across the deep sea,
one, the gray wolf
shared one with death,
one, the dreary-faced
man buried
in a grave.
And so He destroyed this city,
He, the Creator of Men,
until deprived of the noise
of the citizens,
the ancient work of giants
stood empty.

He who thought wisely
on this foundation,
and pondered deeply
on this dark life,
wise in spirit,
remembered often from afar
many conflicts,
and spoke these words:

Where is the horse gone? Where the rider?
Where the giver of treasure?
Where are the seats at the feast?
Where are the revels in the hall?
Alas for the bright cup!
Alas for the mailed warrior!
Alas for the splendour of the prince!
How that time has passed away,
dark under the cover of night,
as if it had never been!
Now there stands in the trace
of the beloved troop
a wall, wondrously high,
wound round with serpents.
The warriors taken off
by the glory of spears,
the weapons greedy for slaughter,
the famous fate (turn of events),
and storms beat
these rocky cliffs,
falling frost
fetters the earth,
the harbinger of winter;
Then dark comes,
nightshadows deepen,
from the north there comes
a rough hailstorm
in malice against men.
All is troublesome
in this earthly kingdom,
the turn of events changes
the world under the heavens.
Here money is fleeting,
here friend is fleeting,
here man is fleeting,
here kinsman is fleeting,
all the foundation of this world
turns to waste!

So spake the wise man in his mind,
where he sat apart in counsel.
Good is he who keeps his faith,
And a warrior must never speak
his grief of his breast too quickly,
unless he already knows the remedy -
a hero must act with courage.
It is better for the one that seeks mercy,
consolation from the father in the heavens,
where, for us, all permanence rests.

Then much later John Keats (1795-1821) wrote the Horatian Ode To Autumn with this same theme:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; Conspiring with him how to load and bless With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run; To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees, And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells With a sweet kernel; to set budding more, And still more, later flowers for the bees, Until they think warm days will never cease, For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor, Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind; Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep, Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep Steady thy laden head across a brook; Or by a cyder-press, with patient look, Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

WHERE ARE THE SONGS OF SPRING?
AY, WHERE ARE THEY?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,-- While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue; Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn Among the river sallows, borne aloft Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies; And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn; Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft; And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.


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Appendix