This tale, of a couple of battles in 1185, was purportedly written in the years shortly after the battles. Internal evidence points to an origin shortly following the actual events. The manuscript, however, was not discovered until documents from the monastery of St Saviour in Yaroslavl’ turned up in 1788-92. Amongst them was this text.

The only trouble is that this original perished in a fire at the time of the Napoleonic Wars. The text we now have is a copy – one of several were made for prominent people of the period. The most famous is the copy made for the Empress Catherine the Great. There are one or two textual areas that lack clarity, however.

Nevertheless it is a great piece of work.

It is a relatively short piece of work: the copy I am using has only twenty-two pages of text – many notes, invaluable footnotes and an excellent introduction (and translation by Robert C Howes).  All in included the Tale consists of 747 lines of verse.

There is a translation by Vladimir Nabokov also available.


Like many such campaigns it does not stand up as a particularly heroic one. But then, are not the majority of traditional songs of loss, upset, distress? The minor key, the lyricism of distress: these seem to be the memorable elements of western culture. I would extend that… but then, upon reconsideration what hasn’t western culture touched, affected, in some way? You have to look long and hard to find the unalloyed element in any cultural records.

Take the Tale of Igor – we have elements here from Byzantium, and, if certain studies prove correct, as they seem to be, also a healthy dose of Scandinavian influence.

Also, take the Polovetsians – who the campaign is against; they were Eurasian nomads, who influenced the cultures of Hungary, Bulgaria and the Balkans. They allied themselves at one point with the Kimchak, a Turkic people. The mix must have been quite potent: blue-eyed, blond haired nomads supposedly originating from southern Siberia/ east China areas. And smaller, dark-haired Turkic peoples.

The Tale is as follows:

Chapter 1 

                  – the narrator asks: should this be a song of sorrow?

He calls upon the traditional bard of the Russian Kiev peoples, Boyan, and asks how he would have done it in his songs of the early years of princely wars.

The Polovetsian wars had a long history.

Chapter 2 – Igor Prepares for the Campaign

The narrator continues his debate about how Boyan would have done it. There are two openings he thinks Boyan would have used:

It is a storm that carries the falcon across the broad plains;

Flocks of ravens flee to the Great Don


Horses neigh beyond the Sula;

Glory rings out in Kiev.

Trumpets blare in Novgorod:

Banners flutter in Putivl’.

And Igor waits his dear brother Vsevolod.

These are the old fashioned ways, he seems to say.

Chapter 3 The Campaign Begins

Igors’ younger brother Vsevolod, the Wild Ox, suggested the campaign to Igor. He responded affirmatively. Vsevolod’s own men, he said, were bristling and ready; Igor mustered his men; but celestial omens were bad, dark hid the sun.

He refused to heed them.

They approached the River Don, and Igor husbanded his troops like a mother bird. There are many animal similes, but, more touching, there is also wide use of the folk image of the helpful animals, of the rivers, and the earth, that help.

Chapter 4: First Day of Battle. A Night of Rest and Another Battle.

It was their fifth day out and then they encountered the enemy.

Igor’s men sowed the field… with their arrows.

This first encounter was a victory; they carried off slaves, and booty by the bucket full.

They captured all the symbols of honour, the horse-tail whisk etc etc

On the second engagement, though the Polovetians had martialled themselves better. Igor was surrounded. He saw his brother fighting valiantly.

And the narration breaks off.

Chapter 5: Memory of the Wars of Oleg Styatoslavich 

This is an important chapter: it gives the context for the Campaign. Oleg was an ancestor of Igor – and that is important. There were two cousins amongst the many local prices ruling the regions of Kiev Russia: Oleg, and Vladimir.

Oleg was a warrior, the instigator of the wars with the Polovetsians. Vladimir became the peacemaker; his reputation as the epitome of the Christian Prince held high for centuries.

Under Oleg and Boris, however, the stability of the region broke down, civil war became rife:

And then throughout the Russian Land,

Seldom did the plowmen

Shout to one another.

But often did the crows caw,

Dividing among themselves the corpses.

And the jackdaws would speak with their own tongue,

As they flew out after prey.

Chapter 6: The Defeat of the Russians and the Great Sorrow of the Russian Land

The battle lasted from morning to evening, from evening to morning.

On the third day the banners of Igor fell.

But this wasn’t just the loss of a fight, it was the loss of men whose place in the community was vital; and the ones left behind in the centres of Russia were too old to take up the burden of ruling again. In-fighting became common once more, brother trying to oust brother.

Obida (wrong, injustice, offence) has risen up

In the army of the grandson of Dazhbog(Polovetsian ancestor)

As a maiden she stepped forth

Into the Troyan land;

With her swan’s wings

She splashed the Blue Sea by the Don

….banished the times that were fat

Igor had awakened the evil that their father Svyatoslav

The awesome Grand Prince of Kiev,

Had lulled by his might

The tragedy was that Svyatoslav had won renown for himself and his people from the Greeks, Germans, Venetians, Moravians. And now all that was now in peril.

Chapter 7: Dream of Svyatoslav and his Talk with the Boyars

Igor’s father awoke from a dream, which he told to his Boyars: he was being dressed in his funeral robes by Polovetsians; he was placed in his tomb.

The Boyars passed it off as a dream of grief at the loss of Igor.

But now shame has replaced glory

And thundering violence has stunned freedom


On the River Kayala

Darkness shrouded the light.

And the Polovetsians spread

   Across the Russian Land

Like a brood of leopards

Chapter 8: The Golden Word of Syvatoslav and His Appeals for Princely Unity

It begins with a lament for Igor and Vsevolod.

What follows this, however, are reprimands for the neighbour princes who did not respond to the call, did nothing to help the campaign: fourteen princes are chided in turn by the Grand Prince Syvaloslav.

This leads directly into

Chapter 9: The Song of Vselav

Vselov was a hero of old who stirred up the country in his attempts to seize Kiev and Novgorod for himself. His campaigns were many, and chequered. This chapter balances the previous chapter with war campaign against wise ruling throughout each these periods.

Chapter 10: The Lament of Yaroslavna

This is a thoroughly delightful piece – apart from the subject matter. Yaroslavna was Igor’s (second) wife. The Lament takes the form of four apostrophes of natural elements, the ‘mightiest natural forces of the Russian Land’.

At dawn she calls on the cuckoo in flight to help her

                  she calls on the wind

                  she calls on the river Dneiper

                  she calls on the sun

Chapter 11: Igor’s Escape

A Polovetsian, Ovlar, helped Igor escape his capture. Once again there is a call on the animals and elements to help: the ermine of the rushes to hide him; the white duck of the water; the grey wolf; the falcon. He is hidden by the mist.

But Gzak and Konchak pursue him. The river Donets addresses Igor, helps him as a golden-eye duck on the water, as a seagull on the waves, as a black duck in the winds.

Where, in history of these campaigns the border river Stugna had drowned Prince Rostislav, it helped Igor.

Although Igor got away they still had his son captive. What should they do with him? They resolve to marry him to one of theirs, thereby bridging their conflicts.

Chapter 12: Final Praise for Igor and his Men

Here all shame at their stirring up terrible times for Russia are forgotten as Igor is welcomed home – not as a conquering hero so much, but as a true prince of Russia, bringing peace again. For, the bards of old said: what is the head without the body; or the body without its head? 

One important sub-theme in the Tale is that of the narrator. He starts off very much to the fore telling us what he intends for the telling of the tale. Similarly he ends up in the last chapter telling us about the old bards again, how they would have handled the Tale, and by implication connecting himself to their tradition.

The question he is putting us is: how is he going to do it differently from the old bards? And the answer is crucial: with the impartiality of his position – he can extol the deeds of the warriors, but he can also, through the Grand Prince, bring out the shame over glory of their deeds, the dangers to the community of their deeds. This is the central chapter, the turn in the tale. It is crucial because it ties in both ends, as well as the reason of the change of mood of the piece.

The narrator gives us the Tale, but also deconstructs the tale.

Put like that it makes this sound like a modern forgery, at the least. But no, many narrators of tales draw attention to themselves; writers of epics include themselves and their (mostly pecuniary) plight within the text. We see this in Chaucer, the poems of Dunbar; it is subtly done in Beowulf where the very artificial structuring of the story is his usp, unique selling point. Because all these are the bard’s/narrator’s selling points to their patrons, or future patrons.


There is a part in the early chapter where, when talking of the old bard Boyan, the narrator says he would be, darting as a nightingale about the tree of thought/ flying in your mind against the clouds,/ as you wove a song of glory….(ll 40-42).

This had me wondering – there is a great deal of bird imagery in the piece, but, this one: darting as a nightingale about the tree of thought –could this be an equivalent of a memory system in use? 

This tree of thoughthas all its connotations with Yggdrasil. The identity of Boyans and his bard companion Khodyna, have been speculated upon, and it is suggested that there could well be old Viking roots here. These rivers were their trade roots. But also the Lament of Yaroslavnahas a close resemblance to a piece composed by a Viking bard in Byzantium previously to this. Whether this Lament is based on that, or by the same person…..

The squirrel that runs up and down Yddrasil, between Hel, and Asgard – could this be an ancestor?

This tree of thought, though: we know old shamanic practices amongst the nomadic tribes, the central Siberian hunters, used the tree as the path into the other world, to be climbed to find answers and visions for their people. 

Could this tree be the repository of all the knowledge: memories, songs, tales etc etc, of one’s people? That the tree mirrors the growth and strength and health of a people; it also shows which offshoots are healthy, and which have failed. To look at a tree, assess a tree, would be to ‘read’ it, to be able to discern the environmental impact on it. 

A tree as a body of remembered, cultural, icons.

The rags on the wishing tree; the votives on the healing tree.

From the garden of Eden, to Golgotha.

What It Is

Posted: July 23, 2021 in Chat

for Mark Waldron

It doesn’t matter that I don’t like it.

There it was, my release, relief, my raffish
take on it all, the day’s doffed toffee-nose.

There you go, you say. Words, eh? Always on the sniff
for an implication. Well, I resign, re sign,

and refuse to rescue any of it. And the sea
gives me that look a sailor gets when he forgets

to wear whale-skin, seal-skin, a bit of otter.
And I know I’m done for.

                                             ‘Nobody ever gets out alive.
or,  ‘at five,’ as my boss might say. And gives me his look.

And I can’t refuse his kind implications, how he values
me and my company, wants me with him. Bless.

I can’t resign, but maybe re-design, or re-negotiate,
the parameters of our especial profligate relationship. 

Should I tangle tongues, both forked and knived – not spooned, though – 
and set table for a special dinner, those just deserts?

But can never remember which fork’s for what. And that spoon….

And the ferry slithers out, and the last flight lowps hame,
and the road chokes with red lights, shifting slowly

around the mountain. I wonder what I did to upset
the day. Did I forget to say that special something in her coral

morning ear that’d fit the lock, smooth-turn the key,
and spring hinges to a more favourable day

in the infinite possibilities she nurses in her night-womb?
Well, if it’s me here, then me there will be having a ball;

and maybe tomorrow we can meet up, and laugh about it all. 

Spider Fantasies

Posted: July 15, 2021 in Chat


Swinging through his rigging, 
on watch for the next catch – 
Ahab and his whale.

                                           Or Anne Bonney, 
rounding the Horn with a crew to feed 
not yet born.

Haunting trade winds, homing cargoes
air-flows that bring home 

the fly to its rest 
indoors through windows, doors, 
on clothes

                                         Bringing home 

bounty to the elaborated 
hopes and hammocks 
of wide-strung webs.


A spider sipping condensation
off the window as we cook
cleared a spyhole out
onto the night.


Eight-pointed dark star on paintwork
eating up all in-comers –
dark hole of their deaths.

On the 7th day of the 7th month, every year, is the Tanabata Festival in Japan.
Why only then?
It is all based a story from early Japan.

This is the story, one of the many, connected with the Milky Way in the night sky. In Japan it is known as the River of the Sky.

It is the story of two lovers, Orihime and Hikoboshi, who represent the stars Vega, and Altair. They are only allowed to meet on the 7th day of the 7th month, every year, at the River of the Sky.
It is a based on poems in the Manyoshu volume, ‘Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves’.  It can be traced back, in turn, to an old Chinese tale, The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd. The corresponding Chinese festival is the Qixi Festival, of the 7th of the 7th.

The Weaver Girl,  was, of course, a princess, and… was she weaving the pattern of the stars and constellations? Her father grew concerned that in her lonely profession she was not able to meet any young men. He invited the cowherd (who herded the cows of heaven?), to meet her.

The meeting went very well, and in time they fell in love. They were able to marry.
On marriage, however, they neglected their duties.
It was thought best for all if they were separated, and only allowed to meet once a year. On meeting, though, they found themselves on opposite sides of the Sky River. Orihime wept so much and so hard that a flock of magpies took pity, flew down and made her a bridge with their wings.

If it rains on the seventh day of the seventh month, though, the magpies may not be able to come.

Tonight he takes his one journey of the year
             Over the Heavenly River, passing Yasu Beach –
He, the love-lorn Oxherd longing for his maid,
Whom he can never see but once a year,
Though from the beginning of heaven and earth
They have have stood face to face across the Heavenly River

 Tonight, this seventh night of the seventh moon – 
Strangely it thrills my heart.

(excerpted from: Japanese Love Poems, Selections from the Manyoshu. Edited by Evan Bates, Dover Publications Inc., 2005)

People write messages, poems, prayers, and hang them from trees on this day.

Astronomically, on this date, the distance between Vega, part of the Harp constellation, and Altair, The Eagle constellation, is bridged by a group of stars called The Coathanger, more properly Brocchi’s cluster.
This arrangement forms a straight line with a few dotted stars above this in the centre.


Is this the bridge Hikoboshi crosses?


Posted: June 30, 2021 in Chat
Tags: , , , ,

Well, we thought we’d get this book. A bit of fun, a laugh, entertainment – entertainment is priority at the moment.So we sent off for it. It arrived the other day. It’s de-contaminated now, and so I relished the thought of opening it.

The book?
Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases.

Ok, the full title:
The Thackery T Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases
published by PanMacmillan in 2003.
Note that date – it is very important.
Especially when we get to page 182.
For those who have the book, I’ll give them time to dig it out, and find the page.

The book is in mock turn-of-20th century style, with illustrations both baroque, grotesque, and eccentric. All in black and white. Most effective, that way.

The book examines different diseases; an alphabetical examination of the bizarre.
It has, for instance, and opening at random… Buscard’s Murrain, subtitle Wormwood.
Each disease is introduced giving country of origin, then First Known Case, then Symptoms. This is followed by History, then the all-important Cures. This is then followed up by who submitted the information, Endnotes, and Cross References.

It is, as you see, all very plausible.
Buscard’s Murrain, we discover, was from ‘Slovenia (probably)’, and first noted in 1771, in Bled.
It takes up to three years before showing itself.
Dr Samuel Buscard, on examination of deceased sufferers found their brain tissue contained ‘worms’.
This was later discredited evidence – the good doctor had examined the brain tissue with a corkscrew, and made the worm-forms by accident.
And so it goes on.
Who was the entry submitted by?
Ah, here we have it. By Dr China Mieville.
Ring any bells?

Yup, the book is a complete spoof.
It was published in 2003 by NightShade Books, then by PanMacmillan in 2004. Some entries appeared in earlier iterations, for example Shelley Jackson, “The Putti’, in 1996.
This book has not been updated.
The real writers are Jeff Vandermeer (‘The Void’), and Dr Mark Roberts.

Oh, and, probably not to be read whilst eating.
Which is also a Warning that ought to be on films. We noticed this with the quantities of vomiting going on whilst we have been eating late dinners.

But what of page 182?
This is where it gets very spooky.
There is a disease here, whose subtitle is, Wangji-Cunzai or “forgetfulness-of-Being”
which is priceless in itself.

This particular disease attacks the uncovered parts of the human body, and turns those parts, eventually, to powdery snow. Which blows clean away. Cures, you see, are hard to find, due to lack of subjects. Texts on the disease were published in 1959, China.
The entry here was submitted by Dr G Eric Schaller.

It is thought to be a disease contracted through the word or text. Prohibited texts, therefore, include:
The Xiaping Annual Agricultural Report for the year 1959.
The Ticket that Exploded (Turkish version) by William S Burroughs
works from the Old Algonquin Bookstore in Denver, and

The Thackery T Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases


So what’s spooky?
The actual title of this disease.

The Wuhan Flu.

Remember: published 2003/4.

Let’s not get all conspiracy-theory, here, though.

The Einstein of science-fiction, according to some.

2021 marks the centenary of his birth, 1921.
The Polish Parliament declared 2021 Stanisław Lem Year. (Wikiław_Lem)

He was born in Lwow, then Poland, a much disputed region, now part of the Ukraine, as Lviv, and of a Jewish family. 
Religion, however did not play much of a part in their lives. He said himself, later, for moral reasons … the world appears to me to be put together in such a painful way that I prefer to believe that it was not created … intentionally…ław_Lem

And who could argue with that.

It’s not what religion meant to them, but what others made it mean for them.
He survived the War on forged papers. Wiki tells us : During that time, Lem earned a living as a car mechanic and welder,[11] and occasionally stole munitions from storehouses (to which he had access as an employee of a German company) to pass them on to the Polish resistance.[19] (ław_Lem)

Under Soviet rule he managed a full medical education, only to find the sight of blood…. 
He was a polyglot, a language devourer, and educationally hungry, devouring fields of knowledge outside of medicine – which, he knew, would land him a life-time service in Army medical corps.

He became an expert in early AI studies, and what Wiki terms ‘the sociology of science’
His own web page writes of 
Such staggering polymathic curiosity over such a vast range of material, all of it explored with lucidity and charm


Stanislaw Lem?
Think of the film, Solaris (the 1972 one, not the later travesty) directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.
His books have a sophistication that a great many sci-fi novels do not. Even the Strugatsky brothers fail, there. 

His opinion of American writers was mostly scathing. He excepted Philip K Dick – although, stylistically Philip K Dicks’ books were/are ‘not good’. I used to sigh with exasperation when opening one yet-to-read: the turgidity of language, as he felt his way through to admittedly, unknowns, the un-thought of.
Now, writers like Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, of the period he was most active in his writing of science fiction, had intelligence, style. I’m sure readers could come up with many writers that I am myself unfamiliar – it is such a huge field of writing.

It is amazing how much Lem got right, or even predicted. This ranges across artificial intelligence, the theory of search engines (he called it “ariadnology”), bionics, virtual reality (“phantomatics”), technological singularity and nanotechnology.

Simon Ings “New Scientist”

Ok, so let’s distinguish here, between ‘hard’ sci-fi, and ‘soft’.
Stanislaw Lem could well be called the Einstein of ‘hard’ science-fi – his imagination works mostly on material aspects, structures, developments.

So, I have only just launched myself into one of his first published books, Return From the Stars, (1966).
So as not to Spoil too much, let me just give a brief synopsis so far: our narrator has just returned from a ten year space mission, to find that one hundred and twenty seven years have elapsed on Earth.
And things have changed. Drastically.

After a debriefing and up-dating session at the Luna Space Centre we encounter him as he returns to Earth for the first time.
We encounter the term Betrization. It is a process all undergo at birth, and prevents the worst kinds of behaviour. No one can kill another. The same for animals.
How and who does the aggressive work, then? Robots, naturally.
But what are the other implications of this process? A world without aggression of any kind?

It is quite a thick book, and I am only just beginning.
Don’t hold your breath, but read it and the others yourselves.

For the period, mid 1960s, in Eastern Europe, the imagining, detailing – everything has been thought through – are astounding.
Wiki tells us: Translating his works is difficult due to Lem’s elaborate neologisms and idiomatic wordplay. 

As ‘soft’ sci-fi, the sci-fi of people, you could say, he falls behind. In this book are racial and gender stereotypes to make our contemporary toes curl a little.
He tries; he delves into the sociology of cities, mass societies. He constantly tries with psychological changes, developments, but he does not shift perspectives sufficiently to truly tangle with the issues.


How did Stanislaw Lem cope under the Cold War regimes?
He worked in the sciences, and wrote such astoundingly well-researched science-research books. As well as his science fiction – they got under the censor radar by not openly challenging the system (he wrote very early works in line with Socialist Realism that he later castigated), and were considered unimportant by the system.
By the time of the 1980s Solidarity Protests and consequent Martial Law, he and his family were able to move to West Berlin, then Vienna. They returned to Poland in 1988.
He had also toured the West, lecturing in America, England, Europe, enough to get a feel of the rancid redundancy of the much vaunted Capitalist systems.

Philip K Dick stated that Stanislaw Lem was dubious, the name a pseudonym for a collection of people. I suspect he was picking up here on the man’s wide range of interests and activities, his achievements in various fields.

In his later years he concentrated mainly on science-based projects, books, and what was termed ‘futurology’. The New Scientist quotation, above, gives good grounding for that.

His science Fiction books – in no particular order:

His Master’s Voice
Mortal Engines
Return From the Stars
Tales of Pirx the Pilot
The Cyberiad
The Invincible
The Star Diaries

He also wrote a collection of Reviews and Introductions for Non-Existent Books, and crime novels, one without a murderer, as well as copious science books.

He died in his eighties, in 2006, his wife ten years later.
Like many writers who started pre-information era proper he did not use a computer; he bought his son an early Apple, but that’s as far as he went.
He was also dubious about the internet; it swallowed you up in low-grade information, he stated.

In 2017 Flemish poet Miriam Van Hee won the Ultima Prize.

Of course, she has won prizes before this : Jan Campert Prize; Dirk Martens Prize; Herman de Connick Prize etc.

But with the Ultima Prize Flemish Culture Award went a bronze statue, and 10,000 euros.
This prize affirmed her status.

She is also a participant in the Puzzling Poetry trilingual innovative app :

She was born in Ghent in the 1950s, studied Slavic Studies at university, and taught Russian in schools.
She has translated from the Russian such writers as Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, Joseph Brodsky, into Dutch.


Her first books were met with a little puzzlement, and then categorised : Neoromatic, they said. This was not it, no. A sense of bleakness, exploring of isolation and loneliness, became predominant.
This changed later, and her work took on a new vibrancy, outwardness.

I have misrepresented here. The earlier books were realist, dealt with real subjects. That, of course, is indeed bleak. The world is nowhere near as settled and human-friendly as we think it is.

Her work has sought out places of healing, of peace from our turmoil of experiences that living is.

Her use of language and imagery have marked her out from her peers. Among Flemish writers of her time we have what has been termed the baroque style. Her language was the plain style, the everyday, ‘conversational’ style.

She has much, I find, in common with the Dutch poetry Rutger Kopland. He was also misnamed on first publication as a ‘nostalgic writer’.
If we take his An Empty Spot to Stay : that is what I always wanted to be/ an empty spot for someone to stay – alongside her own earlier writings, we find a similarity of questing style, quiet, ultimately sane, an undeceived awareness. But also an acknowledgement of emotion, and an unwillingness to allow emotion too great a say: a search for balance.


A phrase we find repeated from those earlier poems is ‘not afraid.’ We find it in Brussels, Jardin Botanique:

… it’s going
to rain, you think, and that you aren’t afraid.

and again, in Sycamores at Nimes Station:

they were growing old and would die
as we would but without fear…

The language betrays us.
There is no drama, no system of valuing here, other than the everyday sensibility we all employ.
The denied fear, with what seems such an easy gesture, is the existential fear, nonetheless, it is THE fear. How can we not be afraid of death?

The rain?
Did we leave the washing out?
No, this is the periphery, a sideways approach, to universal fears.

How can we not be afraid?
We are alive. Now. That is another time. This is the time for life.
That is the subtext.

In the Brussels poem someone asks, about transience:

whether you write to counter that
and if not, is it therapeutic then

Ah, yes the easy questions that demand easy answers. Living is a complex experience. Thinking can make it seem… accessible to thought; but it is not, except in fragments. For living is multi-cognitive.
Elsewhere she writes to the effect that she writes, as if to answer this earlier question, to integrate experiences and sense of self in the world, together.

All quotes are from Judith Wilkinson.

I have written elsewhere with reference to Rutger Kopland, that there does seem a strong phenomenology slant to his writing. I find it here also.
They both employ the ‘conversational’ tone; they both are quiet, ruminating, writers, and both are focussed on the here and now.

It is often said that Rutger Kopland had a anti-metaphysical sensibility.
This did not stop him reading and quoting St Augustine. The trick is to be, and remain, open.

Death is a constant, because it is… inscrutable?… to both writers.

Miriam Van Hee has a lovely poem, Summer End On The Leie, which begins, saying:

this is what a painter would see….

to counter, later:

how do you paint that you’ll never
walk here again, struggling
while your father holds you by the hand

And how that last image conveys so very much. It is, yes, a visual image, but it is also an experience, that struggling child with all her wants, annoyances, moods and excitements tumbling together.

Life, the here-and-now, are not just what is before us, it is how we react to it, what we bring to it, and what we’ll take away. The here-and-now is the focal point, only, of who knows how many dimensions of experience.

There is a still centre to these poems, a carefully discovered spot from where the writer can choose and manipulate words and language, mood and sensibility, to produce such multi-layered writing.


So how does she achieve her effects?
She eschews all format other than line-integrity and stanza form. There are no upper case letters, no stops; the only punctuation allowed are commas, to emphasise/clarify meaning.
And yet the lines are strongly metrical; there is the echoic whisper of assonance. 

The line follows thought, and breaks where thought moves. It takes great craft, skill, to arrange the line like this. The thought is often ruminative, considering a past action or event – after all, whatever we are aware of is a past event. To register a real now in a meaningful and full way still entails a future action of recording. All records are of past events. 

Anne Marie Musschoot in her essay With A View of the Landscape, the Poetic World of Miriam Van Hee, writes of the search for interiority in her writing. It is as though part of an equation with ‘out there’. The search for self space is very much in keeping with the European experience in the time of closed frontiers, entrenched political confrontation – to encapsulate, part of the Cold War experience for those on or near the front lines.

This can also be found in her use of language, avoiding rhetoric and big concepts. Her language persuades as all language does, is always rhetorical to a degree, but she asks us to listen and to also prompts us to think. The essay says: ‘Great’ feelings are expressed simply and unassumingly, in a manner averse to pathos and reduced to everyday proportions, in language closely resembling natural speech.  
That is, not street speech : the brag and self-promotion of ‘street’, nor the ‘social glue’ of like-sounds, phrases, but communication that is loaded with gender, culture, one’s time, one’s experience and response to one’s time.

She is often considered a ‘domestic’ writer, concerned with home, children, limited environment. There is always, as we noted above, the other part of her equation. The ‘distance’, and the longing are part of the exploration, mapping, of self’s space in collective society. This in itself is an act of refusal that is also a positive act of valuing. 

An interview in stellarmarispoetry

The four elements – earth, water, air and fire – keep playing their game; every new landscape offers a treasure: you remembered / all those sunsets / behind the dark forests / breath-taking / sunsets. Apart from the different landscapes, she also ‘touches’ the earth’s origins: the earth’s crust moved and continents / they rose as tall, rebellious children, / they crashed / on others and out the fire / rose mountains, heavy and mad.

We also read in this article:
besides,/the word apricot disappeared and Moscow,/
which I would very much want to read as a reference to Inger Christensen’s Alfabet (published 1981), along with referencing the status of opennness of her study-centre, heart, of Slavic Europe and Asia. 
The fall of the Berlin Wall, the opening of Russia, coincided with an opening up in her work.

So, is she a poet of resistance?

If we consider the Russian poets she has translated, then we can see that all were poets of resistance, poets of personal value in mass society.

Miriam Van Hee’s choice of non-punctual, upper-case avoidance, writing style, echoes the approach by East European poets in the Cold War. There – see Zbigniew Herbert, for example – the style challenges the monolithic power-structures imposed upon them. By inverting the grandiosity, style, structures of discourse, of the Socialist Realist ideology, they sought to undermine its energy-sources, their tentacular reaching into lives.
Miriam Van Hee grew up in that environment, in the midst of the post-War world of the Soviet experiment, and its human costs, and of the West’s at times maniacal responses and posturing.

Also, the path Miriam Van Hee has travelled in her books bears many similarities in tone and response to that of the East German writer Elke Erb.
Elke Erb has relentlessly sought out the self-value, not just of herself, but for each of us. She has also sought to identify power-structures in society, cultures, social interactions, and to refuse and defuse them, whether they be gender-based, economic (which, of course, are all inter-connected), political etc.

I argue that both experienced similar journeys towards wholeness, and away from vacuous but vicious social and political constructs.

Other voices are always given equal weight in Miriam Van Hee’s poems, the ‘I’ does not declaim or dominate. There is a searching out of the workings of democracy in this.

If we look again at the Summer End On The Leie, it begins:

this is what a painter would see :
the bleached grassy bank, chestnuts
and lime trees….
On the other bank a walker, and his
thoughts, how do you paint those

from where we’re seated you can’t see
the water itself and I’m still wondering how you
paint distances…..
……………… and how you capture the past
when you still walked there yourself

how do you paint that you’ll never
walk there again…….

Is there a teasing-out of who, and how that who, holds the definite interpretations? In effect, the accepted translation of experience and reality? In other words, who determines the power-relations between people, between personal and public, between personal knowledge and accepted knowledge?

In The Pyramid of The Sun (Teotihuacan) she writes of how the singular personal act of climbing the pyramid reveals further and further views. Of what? Of how the pyramid is part of bigger complex, how other pyramids show further off, how houses and dusty roads appear : ‘a kind one connectedness’.
The poem ends:

you thought of the birds again, you’d
always been in awe of them, the way
they’d spread their wings at the last moment,
to set sail in the sky

A form of transcendence? Of the ability of the singular human experience to experience a kind of ‘freedom’?

In Kriekerijstraat, Sint-Amandsberg , she writes:

there are gardens that have escaped someone’s
watchful eye…..

(Kriekkerijstraat, is the part of Ghent the writer grew up. If you look it up on Google Maps you find an incredibly clean, litterless, un-graffitti’d area. Astonishing. Like somewhere that has indeed ‘escaped someone’s watchful eye’)

If my argument has validity, then it may be possible to read those early books, the snowed-in landscapes, the isolated and shut-down discourse, as empathetic responses to the Cold War human experiences of cultures she found sympathy with early-on. Enough to pursue three year’s of highly concentrated study, and many, many years teaching, and translating.


The fullest current resource for the writing of Miriam Van Hee, in translation, is the generous selection of Judith Wilkinson, and available on Poetry International.
The site also has a great introduction to the writer, and lists availabilty. There is also a generous bibliography:

The Shoestring Press selection of her work, Instead of Silence (1997), has long been out of print.

The translator, Judith Wilkinson does certainly need mention, though.

Her own website:

in Flanders.

Well, leaky roofs were, if not the norm, then, an expected annoyance.

Take the case of George Chastellain, appointed chronicler and celebrator of the ducs de Burgundy, Philip the Good, and successor, Charles the Bold.
This spanned the period 1419 to 1477.
George Chastellain was active in his role between 1450s to 1470s.

It is the latter part of his life we have most incidental details.
In 1455 he moved into a ducal property in Valenciennes, of the Flemish/French border. The move was permanent.

There is nothing material of that period left, now. WW2 saw to that; the city had to be almost wholly rebuilt after the War.


What we have, was pieced together from various written sources by Graeme Small, in his book :
George Chastellain and the Shaping of Valois Burgundy, (The Royal Historical Society/Boydell Press, 1997).

In his earlier career, setting out into his literary life, he had work performed before the best writer of the time, Charles D’Orleans, resettled from a quarter century of ‘enforced’ English residence.
The work presented, The Azure Throne, was warmly received, both by duke Philip the Good, as well as Charles D’Orleans.

The residence, we are told, was situated in central Valenciennes as-was. The building (‘le lorgis Jorge’) overlooked the Escaut canal at the back, whilst the front had a courtyard. Oh, and a well. How easily we forget these basic necessities.
It was situated ‘close to’ the house of the grand receiver, and on the other, er… an oat loft. OK.

The building had a cellar, and chapel. Standard, then.
The ground floor was a ducal stables. Also there was a kitchen down there. Hm.

The actual rooms, chambers, etc, were up a staircase, which had doors leading off.
The staircase led up to a gallery. Here were the main rooms.
This gallery, however, was sort of like a cloister, open to the weather. In time he had to have installed wooden frames to stop the wind.

Off this draughty passage,’ writes Graeme Small, ‘lay several rooms…. Among these rooms were ‘le grant chambre de George Chastellain’, and one further, private room…. Built at Chastellain’s request, this was his ‘comptoir’ … where he wrote….

This was not a property for a family to live. George Chastellain did not marry, although he did have an acknowledged child, Gonthier.
Gonthier was brought up by his mother. By the time of his ‘majority’ his father had already died. His successor, Jean Molinet, elected to support the claims of Gonthier to applications for ducal support.

The times had changed, however. Charles the Bold was a very different character to Philip the Good. He was ‘the Bold’, but this also meant merciless, fearless. He was a warrior duke, and died in battle. He was expansionist, and his time was an unsettled time.


Here was George Chastellain at Valenciennes, away now, from the ducal court, as well as his ambassadorial missions to the royal court.
But Valenciennes was at an important meeting place en route between the two. Missives and ducal and court callers came constantly.
He wrote his great Chronicles here.

These Chronicles were lost, forgotten for centuries, until rediscovered.
… first edited by Buchon in Les chroniques nationales 1827 and re-edited by Kervyn de Lettenhove.:

These Chronicles, as well as George Chastellain’s surviving written works: political poems, ballades, formal poems, pieces written to other writers, allegorical plays etc became the main source material, or should we say, spring-board, for the huge and famous work
The Waning of the Middle-Ages,
by Johan Huizinga.

Here we read of the all-round sensual experience of the times: the noises – of parades, animals, people in general; the smells: no toilets, remember, and living close to animals, as here; the colours – this was the time of Jan Van Ecyk: look at those costumes.
The gorgeous costumes, and furnishings of the Arnolfini portrait, give us a glimpse into the period, the Italian connections, and supposedly portrays their residence in Bruges.
This was also the period, and environment, for the great works of Flemish composer Johannes Ockeghem (

Interestingly, when George Chastellain was taken on as chronicler of the Duke of Burgundy, Jan Van Eyck was also on the payroll. From the records of their recorded pay, George Chastellain’s the highest of the two.

George Chastellain was one the earliest of what became known as the Grands Rhétoriqueurs (étoriqueurs).
They were many, in time, and what may of begun as a latinate chronicling and court entertainments, evolved as writer responded to writer. We had eventually a force, and their fascination with “copia“, verbal games and the difficulties of interpretation link them to such Renaissance figures as Erasmus and Rabelais. (étoriqueurs)

Such literary movements set off their own trajectories.
They were succeeded by rejection, and counter-claim for prominence, by Pierre de Ronsard’s La Pléiade.
But also both were rejected by the example of Francois Villon and his anti-rhetorical, ultra-realist writings.
Hong Kong Free Press:

Founded in 2015, Hong Kong Free Press is an impartial, non-profit, English-language newspaper. Run by journalists, backed by readers and completely independent, HKFP is governed by a public code of ethics.

Our mission: We aim to be the most independent and credible English-language news source in Greater China. We seek to amplify the voices of the voiceless, not the powerful and will monitor the status of Hong Kong’s core values and freedoms. The HKFP team is fully committed to reporting the facts, without fear, favour or interference.

In a dream just before waking, I was asked/tasked to make a piece of writing that had three levels of meaning.
I cannot recall who the asking person was, the situation, or any other details.
What I do remember is the line I began with:

As I passing by the evening gate

And then, of course, I woke.

Eventually I managed to reconstruct the short piece. Then tinkered with it, found its form.
And came up with this:

As I was passing evening’s gate
an old man fell, and his out-of-date
groceries and softening potatoes rolled
over the busy pavement.

And as I stooped to lift, an awning 
in the creaking wind was warning:

   Leave him be, Christian man;
   your belief’s too weak to raise him.
   Help will come. 

                                But, when will,
I replied irritably, that be? 
The day’s getting on, 
and keeping time never was 
your best invention.

   If he is to die there, then he will.

I reached down, he reached up – 
already some goods had gone.
What is your name? he asked.

I answered only this,
                                      If, I said. 

Did I do it? Three layers?
The main question, though, is: is it presentable? Or have I once again shown myself up in public?
Well, why not.

Some time ago I was playing around with classical forms, I thought I’d try my hand at Hendecasyllables.
They are classical measures, and not really suitable for stress-based language forms, like English. Quite a bit of licence has to go into transposing.
You are apt to think, with license, ‘why not go for more’, but no, licence has to be used sparingly.

The form used was: u|/u|/uuu/u|/u|, or trochee/trochee/dactyl/trochee/trochee – some forms have a choriamb: u||u for the dactyl

To be fretting unendingly over this thing.
Does it make any difference? Change this, that thing?
Nothing can, there‘s just too much in there that’s tangled,
pulling backward; the built-in and weighted, turgid.
Much too much for just me to accomplish any
changes. What, then? And there it is again: fretting.

Subject open, there’s always some hash tasking
somewhere. Even when none of my business.
Always this, then? A temperamental set-up?
Same old vectors that ply their same trade, scam, of
expectations, promissary payments?

Now, with this piece I want you to think/feel ‘I could do better than that.’ and then have a go. Try it.
Then post it up, and let us know so we can read it and maybe all get a bit better at it.