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It is a long standing tradition that writers and the melancholy -and the two are often combined in the same human- turn to literature in times of mournful need. I know that I certainly do it, and if my preferred depression-times reading features rather more graphic novels than pretentious poetry, the works of Pratchett instead of Wordsworth, the point is still the same. Human creative endeavour has a way of easing the most painful of periods.
Except. Except when one’s mood, one’s sad song of oneself, is not created by the events of life, but instead by tiny monsters in the brain. One can read as many adventures of first-Sergeant-later-Captain-later-Duke Vimes as one wishes, but disease is a twisted, horrible thing that no amount of escapism can cure.
I generally avoid this sort of personal blather on For I Have tasted the Fruit, as it is generally more suited to the emocracy of Livejournalstan. Yet I wish to speak about it here. Here, I discuss everyone’s favourite medieval period, and regularly -well, back when my posts were regular- translate medieval and occasionally classical poetry. And the sentiments expressed in many of my favourite Anglo-Saxon pieces are, one would think, perfectly suited to this sort of mood.
The murnende mod of the woman in Wulf and Eadwacer; the weeping poet who laments the fall of the great past in The Ruin; the sea-weary soul of The Seafarer, with his ice-and-rain-soaked birds of prey: these are powerful images, powerful pieces of poetry, and one would think, expect, that reading them would make one’s own problems seem distant or petty- or, at the least, offer the consolation that such emotions are part of the broad spectrum of human experience.
I am sure that they do. Perhaps bound editions of the more misery-wracked of our period’s poetry could be bound and offered to depressives in psych wards. Read The Wanderer and appreciate loneliness, or Wulf and Eadwacer to help cope with abusive, ambiguous relationships. Unfortunately, when a key source of one’s stress is the very act of studying the period, one can stare at these carefully constructed words all day… and all one gets in return is a sense of growing unease.
I have not been able to write in months. I cannot remember the last time I set fingers to keys for anything longer than a status update- this post is approaching four hundred words, and the effort required to write it is exhausting. I am posting it today, a Monday, because the theme is so very medieval. I constantly find myself wondering- did Bede feel this kind of exhausted despair? Did Boethius? Is one of the much-vaunted ‘consolations’ of philosophy that it keeps one focused and energised? Because I have to say, as much as I try, my own scholarly efforts make me feel weak and inept, not focused and sharp.
Perhaps it is the summer. For all the misery some of the old English poets expressed, for all the hardship the icy-feathered eagle must endure, at least they did not have to survive the heat of Australia’s most hateful season.
This is another retroactive post, written from the future. I really need to stop doing this. I am writing just before one am on the seventh of June, but this post is destined for the fourth. While I am here, I really ought to come clean: I have had writer’s block. I have a plan, and have been percolating this paper in my head for a solid week now- and yet I cannot write. I sit down to write, and nothing comes forth. I scrawl plans and make notes and then stare at the blank page and sigh, and mutter about doing it tomorrow, and watch television on my computer. I do not blog, because if I can blog, I can write, and then I feel guilty about two things, and then it piles and piles and leans and–
enough. I think you understand why I missed today’s post. Not to worry, because it is here now.
I was poking around the internet trying to look up the poem intended for this coming Wednesday (9/6), and stumbled upon the Linguistics Research Centre at the University of Texas. Not only did I find the text I was looking for -and a reference to an edition I preferred- but it also turns out that the LRC has several online courses for early Indo-European languages! Such joy I felt!
There are texts for Old Irish, and Old English, Old French, Latin, Classical and New Testament Greek. Oh, it is wonderful. University quality teaching, for free, online, with easy access for all. I wish I had found this site earlier. Even more exciting, the texts are not limited to those I just listed, oh no. One can find online tutorials for Latin or Classical Greek or Old Norse all over the internet.
No, the best aspect about this site are the languages no-one ever expects to see on the internet: Tocharian, the easternmost of all Indo-European languages. I had not even heard of this until I studied Old Irish last year. Old Church Slavonic! It takes all my willpower not to try learning this immediately. Hittite– again, until last year I had assumed that Hittite was an Semitic language. There are several others as well, if your language interests are better met by other distant cousins on the Indo-European family tree.
I could only be happier if Classical Hebrew and Finnish were on the site as well, but they are not IE languages- and besides, we must not be greedy. Not with all this treasure heaped before us, ready for an intellectual feast. The site includes the beginnings of an Indo-European Lexicon for those of you who (like myself) love to know the origins of things.
I wish I were able to be more coherent in this post, to say something insightful. Yet all I can do is stare at this website, and mutter about essays which are due, a thesis still to research and write, and languages I am already studying to understand. “Here,” I say instead, “share my pleasure in the dead tongues spoken by extinct cultures.”