Dame Julian of Norwich

Because of our moving house with its difficulty of finding space and time for new writing I am using spare moments to continue my translation of Dame Julians book. Being someone else’s finished work it is no more than translation into modern English from the early text as edited by Georgia Ronan Crampton, Rochester University.

I thought it might be interesting to show my working, so beginning in chapter 53 I have set out Julian’s writing, breaking it into separate lines at each punctuation and clause. At full stops I usually make a double line break so the text appears versified. Then, as I work through, I copy each ‘verse’ into two identical ones and first do a straight translation of words that differ from Modern English. I then make other changes to fit our present day way of reading and, where suitable adjust the wording to make as poetical flow as possible while keeping the meaning. This leaves the Middle English version and the Modern English together as a comparison.

Saturnalia

‘During my week the serious is barred,
no business allowed,
drinking and being drunk,
noise and games and dice,
appointing of kings,
feasting of slaves,
singing naked, clapping of tremulous hands
and the occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water.’
–           Cronos, in ‘Saturnalia’ by Lucia of Samosata, 167-175 AD.

When curtained night is closest drawn
and daylight hours are short,
the Yuletide solstice warns of frost
and summer days are long since lost,
and gloves and scarves are bought.

When autumn’s leaves are blown away,
when longest night means shortest day,
and winter deepens, cold and grey,
and dark clouds veil the dawn,
then, in our coldest, darkest times
we light our days with song;
our glasses raise among the show
of holly, fir and mistletoe,
to cheer the days along.

And did you see our seedtime feast?
and in those measures hide your yeast,
and see the harvest grain increase,
and wine-press autumn’s later lease,
a glowing, golden song?

Saturnalia’s grinning orgy,
the High Lord of Misrule,
the prancing, dancing Feast of Fools,
our mingling right and wrong?

Our pagan village feasts and fétes
that close-pursed lips and high-held hates
see as our faults and so mistakes
the courage in our song?

And did you see our courage then?
your children singing in the dark?
And did you give your heart to them
who loved the One they did not know;
and bowed to You they could not see
and gave another name to You?

Did you not know Me then,
my children, singing in the dark?
I who made your solstices, your moons,
who threw the wheeling stars,
the tides, the seasons, day and night.

You who sang the seasons,
named turning stars and constellations,
saw life’s spring and summer,
its autumn and its winter
the zodiac in life’s zoè,
its seedtime, its harvest,
did you not know Me
and give me many names?

I AM your Father, I AM Mother,
your Sister, your Brother;
I AM Love and I AM laughter.
When My erring son or daughter
turns away and strays to danger.
Though I grieve and there is anger.
Yet in Me there is no turning,
no wrath nor fierce burning,
simply longing and a yearning
watching for My child’s returning.

Though you nailed me to a tree,
from death I’ve broken free,
and follow you through hell
to bring you home.

 

Made in the Image

Cneius Pompeius was the first of our countrymen to subdue the Jews. Availing himself of the right of conquest, he entered the temple. Thus it became commonly known that the place stood empty with no similitude of gods within, and that the shrine had nothing to reveal.
Tacitus, Histories, Book 5, chap. 9

When Cneius Pompeius entered as conqueror
into the Holy of Holies, did he find nothing there?
No Godlike image? No fragment of wonder?
no token of the invisible God?
an empty room?

Did nothing in that empty, holy shrine,
ask the great question of our common daily tasks,
those shared hopes of yours, and mine, and his;
the great perhaps that there might be
something there that speaks beyond desire,
beyond you, beyond me, beyond him,
that knew his name?

No ark, no cherubim, no tablets of the Law,
hidden or lost since that first temple,
destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar
half a thousand years before?
Did holiness remain?
or any thing?

No ark, no cherubim, no tablets of the Law,
Was that image in the seige-towers?
The battering rams?
the hand to hand facing with the enemy?

And were his gods in the victory parade,
passing like a sword through vanquished, sullen-lined streets?
Or in the holy place beyond the double veil?
The Holy of Holies of the only God of this strange race?

Pompey returned to his daily soldier round,
to his home’s embrace, his wife, his children,
and was His image there?
Did he recall in the empty shrine
that image of God seen there,
in himself,
and in the little things of home?

Two thousand years have passed, and more,
since Pompey came as conqueror
into the Holy of Holies.
Did he find nothing there?
No Godlike image? No fragment of wonder?
no token of the invisible God that asks,
as we are asked now,
in our homes, our daily tasks,
our homely shrines, where we,
wives, husbands, children,
each made in the image of God –
are asked to see,
and love and be loved.

Why do we bicker, in and with His image,
with weapons forged of words,
of sighs and glaring eyes,
with those whom we should love?
How, faced daily with His image,
should we do anything but love?

First Causes

I threw a pebble in the pond,
The ripples spread so gay
And bouncing back from bank and frond
I heard the ripples say,

‘Before the pebble there was nought,
No ripple, nor no flood,
And had we not the pebble caught
The world would be but mud.’

I laughed aloud and heard the air
Call echoes from the wood,
‘No life ‘till we, the echoes fair,
Took flight and found life good.’

The stars go round and men grow old,
And many say that we
Arose from chaos long ago,
Self-willing and so free.

‘And there is nothing more we need;
Before us there was none,
And only to ourselves we heed,
Until our time is done.’

But yet an echo in my heart,
A ripple in my blood,
Tells of a whole of which I’m part,
And bears the name of GOD.

Dark & Light

Dark within darkness, cloud within a cloud,
when every way is hidden and comfort is a shroud,
when shadows deepen blackly
in the byways of the night
and thoughts flow slow and thickly
and truth hides out of sight.

As sun can blind the eyes with a burst of umbral pain;
a central spot so dark and an image that remains
blotting earth and sky – all loss, and nothing gain.

Darkest in the cloud within the darkest cloud
where shadows deepen blackly
when thoughts flow slow and sickly
and every way is hidden and comfort is a shroud
in the byways of the night when truth is out of sight.

I see you in the shadow by the love you cannot see
by the tears of love and grief that nailed me to the tree.
What blinds you to me?

See the glad giver who gave so much for love,
who, for all Man, died at your hand
that you might see and understand.

See and understand, believe I am.
I so loved the world that all that I have done
is so you may believe that you and I are one.

Dark with excess of light, my love,
as by a naked sun,
then know that I am here, my love;
and in my darkest hour, my love,
my glad gift lit my heart, my love
and eased my pain.
I saw you by that light, and all my loss was gain

And though you cannot see I hold you in my sight,
your darkest hour and mine both glow in one bright light.