The Testament of Cresseid: &, Seven Fables

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9780571249664: The Testament of Cresseid: &, Seven Fables

The greatest of the late medieval Scottish makars, Robert Henryson wrote in Lowland Scots, a distinctive northern version of English. He was profoundly influenced by Chaucer's vision of the frailty and pathos of human life. His greatest poem, and one of the rhetorical masterpieces of the literature of these islands, is the narrative "Testament of Cresseid", set in the aftermath of the Trojan War, which completes the story of Chaucer's "Troilus and Criseyde", offering a grim and tragic account of its faithless heroine's rejection by her lover Diomede, and her decline into prostitution and leprosy. A work of unreconciled Shakespearean intensity, the "Testament" has been translated by Seamus Heaney into a confident and yet faithful modern English idiom which honours the poem's unique blend of detachment and compassion. A master of narrative, Henryson was also a comic master of the verse fable; his burlesques of human weakness in the guise of animal wisdom are traced with delicate comedy and irony. Seven of the Fables are here sparklingly translated; their burlesque freshness rendered to the last claw and feather. "Seven Fables and The Testament of Cresseid" is an extraordinarily rich and wide-ranging encounter between two poets across six centuries.

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About the Author:

Seamus Heaney was born in County Derry in Northern Ireland. Death of a Naturalist, his first collection, appeared in 1966, and since then he has twice won the Whitbread Book of the Year. District and Circle, was published in 2006 and was awarded the T. S. Eliot Prize. In 1995 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction
Little enough is known about Robert Henryson, ‘a schoolmaster of Dunfermline’ and master poet in the Scots language: born perhaps in the 1420s, he was dead by 1505, the year his younger contem­porary William Dunbar mourned his passing in ‘Lament for the Makars’. In a couplet where the rhyme tolls very sweetly and sol­emnly, Dunbar says that death ‘In Dunfermelyne . . . has done roun [whispered]/ To Maister Robert Henrisoun’, although here the title ‘Maister’ has more to do with the deceased man’s status as a univer­sity graduate than with his profession as a teacher or his reputation as the author of three major narrative poems – The Testament of Cresseid, The Moral Fables and Orpheus and Eurydice – as well as a number of shorter lyrics including the incomparable (and probably untranslatable) ‘Robyn and Makene’.
The honori.c title is an early indication that Henryson was a learned poet, even though his learning, according to one distinguished editor, would have been considered very old-fashioned by the standards of contemporary Continental humanism. ‘In so far as the terms have any meaning,’ Denton Fox writes in his 1987 edition of The Poems, ‘Henryson belongs . rmly to the Middle Ages, not to the Renaissance.’ Yet he belongs also in the eternal present of the perfectly pitched, a poet whose knowledge of life is matched by the range of his art, whose constant awareness of the world’s hardness and injustice is mitigated by his irony, tender­heartedness, and ever-ready sense of humour.
Most important of all, however, is Henryson’s ‘sound of sense’, the way his voice is (as he might have put it) ‘mingit’ with the verse forms, the way it can modulate from insinuation to instruction, from high-toned earnestness to wily familiarity – and it was this sensation of intimacy with a speaker at once sober and playful that inspired me to begin putting the not very dif.cult Scots language of his originals into rhymed stanzas of more immediately accessible English.
But why begin at all, the reader may ask, since the Scots is not, in fact, so opaque? Anybody determined to have a go at it can turn to Denton Fox’s edition or to the Henryson section of Douglas Gray’s conveniently annotated Selected Poems of Robert Henryson and William Dunbar. Reading his work in this way may be a slow process – eyes to-ing and fro-ing between text and glossary, getting used to the unfamiliar orthography, ears testing out and taking in the measure of the metre – but it is still a ful. lling experience. And yet people who are neither students nor practising poets are unlikely to make such a deliberate effort.
I began to make the versions of Henryson included in this book because of a combination of the three motives for translation identi.ed by the poet and translator Eliot Weinberger. First and foremost, advocacy for the work in question, for unless this poetry is brought out of the university syllabus and on to the shelves ‘a great prince in prison lies’. But Weinberger’s other two motives were equally operative: refreshment from a different speech and culture, and the pleasures of ‘writing by proxy’.
Re-reading Henryson some forty years after I had . rst encountered him as an undergraduate, I experienced what John Dryden called (in his preface to Fables, Ancient and Modern) a ‘transfusion’, and the fact that Dryden used the term in relation to his modernisation of Chaucer made it all the more applicable to my own case: what I was involved in, after all, was the modernisation of work by one of a group of Scottish poets who shared Dryden’s high regard for the genius of ‘The noble Chaucer, of makers . ower’, and who brought about a signi. cant .owering in the literary life of Scotland during the .fteenth and early sixteenth centuries.
None of them, however, showed a greater degree of admiration for their English forebear or was more in.uenced by his achievement than Robert Henryson. Not only did he write The Testament of Cresseid, in which he explicitly acknowledges his indebtedness to Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, but in The Testament, Orpheus and Eurydice and the fables, he employs the rhyme royal stanza, the form established by the English poet for work of high seriousness, although it must be said that Henryson made it a .t vehicle for much homelier modes and matter.
Chaucer’s Troilus deals with that Trojan protagonist’s love for Cressida (as Shakespeare names her in his dramatisation of the story) and with Cressida’s subsequent betrayal of Troilus when she abandons him and goes off with the Greek hero Diomede. Henryson takes all this as read but refers to another source which carries the story further, to the point where his Cresseid (stress on second syllable) is abandoned in her turn by Diomede. After an introduction of several attractively con. dential stanzas which present the poet as an ageing man in a wintry season, no longer as erotically susceptible as he would wish, we are quickly in medias res, in the Greek camp with the cast-off heroine who now goes about ‘available’ to the rank and .le ‘like any common pick-up’.
Subsequently she manages to return home to her father Calchas, where she begins to recuperate in isolation, but then – disastrously – she rebukes Cupid and Venus, the god and goddess of love, blaming her comedown on them:
O false Cupid, none is to blame but you,
You and your mother who is love’s blind goddess.
You gave me to believe and I trusted you,
That the seed of love was sown in my face – and so on. And then, in a manner of speaking, all heaven breaks loose. A convocation of the planets occurs and the poet starts upon a long set-piece of characterisation and description as he in­troduces the gods who are the geniuses of the different planets, a passage which allows him to demonstrate rather splendidly his store of classical and medieval learning.
This interlude may hold up the action, much as a masque will in a Shakespearean play, or an Olympian scene in classical epic, but it is still thoroughly of its time – a pageant, a sequence of tableaux, reminiscent of those that rolled their way through medieval York and Chester at Easter, showing how the inhabitants of the Christian heaven were also crucially involved in the affairs of mortals on earth – not least those who, like Cresseid, had incurred the divine wrath.
Immediately then, as a result of the gods’ judgement, Cresseid is stricken with leprosy and doomed to spend the rest of her life as a beggar in a leper colony, a fate which allows for another great set-piece, her lament for the way of life and the beauty she has lost; yet it is also a fate which will bring her in the painful end to an encounter with her former lover Troilus, as he returns in triumph from a victory over ‘the Grecian knights’. This is one of the most famous and affecting scenes in literature, a recognition scene (as Douglas Gray observes) all the more powerful for containing no recognition:
Than upon him scho kest up baith hir ene –
And with ane blenk it come into his thocht
That he sumtime hir face befoir had sene.
Bot scho was in sic plye he knew hir nocht;
Yit than hir luik into his mynd had brocht
The sweit visage and amorous blenking
Of fair Cresseid, sumtyme his awin darling. Upon him then she cast up both her eyes And at a glance it came into his thought That he some time before had seen her face But she was in such state he knew her not; Yet still into his mind her look had brought The features and the amorous sweet glancing Of fair Cresseid, one time his own, his darling.
Swiftly then the tale concludes. Troilus is overcome by an invol­untary .t of trembling and showers alms of gold into Cresseid’s lap, then rides away, leaving her to discover his identity from the lepers. After which she utters another love lament, then takes pen and paper to compose her testament, bequeathing her ‘royall ring set with this rubie reid’ to Troilus, and having settled all earthly affairs, expires in grief.
Some said he made a tomb of marble grey
And wrote her name on it and an inscription
In golden letters, above where she lay
Inside her grave. These were the words set down:
‘Lo, fair ladies, Cresseid of Troy town,
Accounted once the .ower of womanhood,
Of late a leper, under this stone lies dead.’ It is customary to contrast Henryson’s grave handling of this tale with Chaucer’s rather more beguiling treatment. Both strike a wholly mature note, but the Scottish poet’s is more richly freighted with an ‘ample power/ To chasten and subdue’. Weight of judgement, a tenderness that isn’t clammy, a dry-eyed sympa­thy – these are the Henryson hallmarks, attributes of a moral understanding reluctant to moralise, yet one that is naturally and unfalteringly instructive. Henryson is a narrative poet whom you read not only for the story but for the melody of understanding in the storytelling voice. If Hugh MacDiarmid had been asked half a millennium later what be meant by saying that the kind of poetry he wanted was ‘the poetry of a grown man’, he could have pointed straight to The Testament.
This was also the poetry of a man whose imaginative sympathy prevailed over the stock responses of his time. To his contempor­aries, Henryson’s entitlement as a poet would have depended to a considerable extent on his intellectual attainments, his education in astronomy and astrology, in matters legal and literary, but from our point of view he proves himself more by his singular compassion for the character of Cresseid. Available to him all along was the rhetoric of condemnation, the trope of woman as the daughter of Eve, temptress, ...

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Descripción FABER FABER, United Kingdom, 2010. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Main. Language: English,Scottish . Brand New Book. The greatest of the late medieval Scottish makars, Robert Henryson wrote in Lowland Scots, a distinctive northern version of English. He was profoundly influenced by Chaucer s vision of the frailty and pathos of human life. His greatest poem, and one of the rhetorical masterpieces of the literature of these islands, is the narrative Testament of Cresseid , set in the aftermath of the Trojan War, which completes the story of Chaucer s Troilus and Criseyde , offering a grim and tragic account of its faithless heroine s rejection by her lover Diomede, and her decline into prostitution and leprosy. A work of unreconciled Shakespearean intensity, the Testament has been translated by Seamus Heaney into a confident and yet faithful modern English idiom which honours the poem s unique blend of detachment and compassion. A master of narrative, Henryson was also a comic master of the verse fable; his burlesques of human weakness in the guise of animal wisdom are traced with delicate comedy and irony. Seven of the Fables are here sparklingly translated; their burlesque freshness rendered to the last claw and feather. Seven Fables and The Testament of Cresseid is an extraordinarily rich and wide-ranging encounter between two poets across six centuries. Nº de ref. de la librería AA99780571249664

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Descripción FABER FABER, United Kingdom, 2010. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Main.. Language: English . Brand New Book. The greatest of the late medieval Scottish makars, Robert Henryson wrote in Lowland Scots, a distinctive northern version of English. He was profoundly influenced by Chaucer s vision of the frailty and pathos of human life. His greatest poem, and one of the rhetorical masterpieces of the literature of these islands, is the narrative Testament of Cresseid , set in the aftermath of the Trojan War, which completes the story of Chaucer s Troilus and Criseyde , offering a grim and tragic account of its faithless heroine s rejection by her lover Diomede, and her decline into prostitution and leprosy. A work of unreconciled Shakespearean intensity, the Testament has been translated by Seamus Heaney into a confident and yet faithful modern English idiom which honours the poem s unique blend of detachment and compassion. A master of narrative, Henryson was also a comic master of the verse fable; his burlesques of human weakness in the guise of animal wisdom are traced with delicate comedy and irony. Seven of the Fables are here sparklingly translated; their burlesque freshness rendered to the last claw and feather. Seven Fables and The Testament of Cresseid is an extraordinarily rich and wide-ranging encounter between two poets across six centuries. Nº de ref. de la librería AA99780571249664

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Descripción Faber and Faber, 2010. Estado de conservación: New. 2010. First trade paper edition. Paperback. Robert Henryson was profoundly influenced by Chaucer's vision of the frailty and pathos of human life. His greatest poem is the narrative "Testament of Cresseid", set in the aftermath of the Trojan War, which completes the story of Chaucer's "Troilus and Criseyde". This work features the translated Seven of the Fables. Translator(s): Heaney, Seamus. Num Pages: 208 pages. BIC Classification: 2AB; DCF; DSBB; DSC. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 197 x 129 x 15. Weight in Grams: 238. . . . . . . Nº de ref. de la librería V9780571249664

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Descripción Faber and Faber. Estado de conservación: New. 2010. First trade paper edition. Paperback. Robert Henryson was profoundly influenced by Chaucer's vision of the frailty and pathos of human life. His greatest poem is the narrative "Testament of Cresseid", set in the aftermath of the Trojan War, which completes the story of Chaucer's "Troilus and Criseyde". This work features the translated Seven of the Fables. Translator(s): Heaney, Seamus. Num Pages: 208 pages. BIC Classification: 2AB; DCF; DSBB; DSC. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 197 x 129 x 15. Weight in Grams: 238. . . . . . Books ship from the US and Ireland. Nº de ref. de la librería V9780571249664

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Descripción Faber & Faber. Paperback. Estado de conservación: new. BRAND NEW, The Testament of Cresseid and Seven Fables, Seamus Heaney, Seamus Heaney, The greatest of the late medieval Scottish makars, Robert Henryson wrote in Lowland Scots, a distinctive northern version of English. He was profoundly influenced by Chaucer's vision of the frailty and pathos of human life. His greatest poem, and one of the rhetorical masterpieces of the literature of these islands, is the narrative "Testament of Cresseid", set in the aftermath of the Trojan War, which completes the story of Chaucer's "Troilus and Criseyde", offering a grim and tragic account of its faithless heroine's rejection by her lover Diomede, and her decline into prostitution and leprosy. A work of unreconciled Shakespearean intensity, the "Testament" has been translated by Seamus Heaney into a confident and yet faithful modern English idiom which honours the poem's unique blend of detachment and compassion. A master of narrative, Henryson was also a comic master of the verse fable; his burlesques of human weakness in the guise of animal wisdom are traced with delicate comedy and irony. Seven of the Fables are here sparklingly translated; their burlesque freshness rendered to the last claw and feather. "Seven Fables and The Testament of Cresseid" is an extraordinarily rich and wide-ranging encounter between two poets across six centuries. Nº de ref. de la librería B9780571249664

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