Poetry

Poems by E.C.Gardiner

 

Poems on this website have appeared previously in: Ally (California, USA),  The Anglo-Welsh Review, The Big Little Poem (postcard) Series, Caret, The Critical Quarterly, Island (British Columbia, Canada), Lancaster Poetry Festival Anthology, Liberal Education, Outposts, Outposts New Poets Supplement, Poesis, The Use of English, and in the collection Notes on Spontaneous Cases (Platform Poets, Durham).  In a review of Notes an American critic commented: “The most intriguing aspect of this collection… is the unique and masterful manner in which [this poet] so completely assumes a varied voice… the rare skill to alter the technical elements of his writing to suit each particular poem. This is high praise.”

A number of these poems have been performed in concerts designed as “meeting points for literature, music, and theatre”. Several of these compositions, with music by Edward Lee, have been recorded at Thameside Studios, London, and issued as the CD Gargoyle.

Fenland Fugue was first broadcast on 7 April 2019 on Riverside Radio, read by Pete  Handley. The poem features also in Edward Lee’s extended words and music composition Guthlac. The version available here is slightly amended from those productions.


Re-tellings

 

Stories from John Gowers’s Confessio Amantis (Confessions of a Lover), first manuscript 1390.

John Gower’s Confessio Amantis appeared first in a manuscript of 1390.  The Confessions of a Lover in its entirety consists of some 33, 000 lines in eight Books – one for each of the seven Deadly Sins and one which is an excursus on the philosophy of morality. Many of the stories themselves are re-tellings of stories from elsewhere, drawn heavily from classical works and Ovid’s Metamorphoses  in particular. The tales of love, of various outcomes, illustrate varieties of amorous experience, and all conclude in ‘lessons’ which the lover Amans can be instructed in by his confessor, Genius (a priest of the goddess of love, Venus).

John Gower (?1330-1408) was a man of very considerable learning. He is known for three major works in particular: Mirour de l’Omme, in French; Vox Clamatis, in Latin; and Confessio Amantis, in Middle English. For the last thirty years of his life he lived at the priory of St Mary Overie’s in Southwark, London. His elaborate tomb, in Southwark Cathedral, displays an effigy of Gower himself, resting his head upon the three volumes of his most famous works. 

The lines of Confessions are composed throughout in octosyllabic rhyming couplets. Whilst such a measure may well aid the memorising of lines for recitation, there are drawbacks to such a construction when attempting to make a re-telling of the Confessio’s tales in a fluent version of contemporary English. There is, first, the obvious danger of producing doggerel verse; into which the octosyllabic form can so easily descend. There is the matter of 14th century vocabulary and pronunciation, together with the matter of syntactical inversion – as this small sample will show: ‘and she Pauliné hight’ for ‘and she was called Pauline.’ The accented é (as in Pauliné) causes problems throughout in any attempt to render Gower’s lines since they add syllables which are redundant in today’s language. A few examples at random will illustrate: herté (heart), lové (love), bothé (both). That means any word-for-word transliteration of lines where such words occur will not fill the syllabic measure required. To compound the matter some lines would end up two, or even on occasion three, syllables short. And yet, somehow, one must not resort to irrelevant padding to make the measure.

Re-told here are just four of the 141 tales in Gower’s work. All four come from Book 1. The story of Acteon and that of Medusa are cautionary tales to illustrate the dangers of sight – thin eyé for to keep and warde – and the need to guard against being seduced by what is seen. Both the tale of Mundus and that of Florent illustrate the Deadly Sin of Pride; the first an illustration of Hypocrisy, the second that of Inobedience.

I began making my re-tellings of Gower’s telling of the tales purely as an exercise, to see if they could be re-set as versions spoken in modern English without deviation (where possible) from ordinary syntactical form whilst retaining the verse measure. That meant avoiding the dangers identified above. I did permit myself one licence, however; on many occasions I allowed or even chose to use a half-rhyme where Gower’s rhyming is always full.

Having met, as best I could, these challenges to myself, the versions were simply put away. Some years later my friend and long-time collaborator Edward Lee read them and immediately saw them as a spoken script, specifically as a staged presentation. Indeed a marked script for a stage production was produced, with music specially to be composed by Edward, and the introduction onto the stage of John Gower himself (a device Shakespeare used in Cymbeline, where Gower acts as the Chorus to the play). Other matters intervened for both of us and that project was never realised.

E.C.G.