Friday, 16 March 2012


Any day the Badger doesn’t have to zoom away and involve himself in Busy Work, we have our evening in the morning and chat in bed for a long time before we get up.

Today our conversation ranged over many matters.  While he was making a cup of tea downstairs I crawled into the attic space through the hatch in the eaves to survey the muddle that needs sorting out there, and dragged the various stored items into our bedroom for perusal and to give me access to face the Cleaning That Must Be Done.

Then, back in bed with a cup of tea we talked about our spice shelves delivered yesterday by a man who helpfully makes sets of shelves of any dimensions required.  The Badger said he is interested in making things so always feels curious about the mode of manufacture involved in such artefacts.  And I asked him in what language the word “make” originates, because the word “manufacture” has obviously a Latin root and it intrigued me finding “make” and “manufacture” side by side in the same sentence.  The Badger said he thought it probably came from the German “machen”.    Then we considered the other meanings of make – for example in the medieval song I syng of a mayde þat is makeles, in which makeles (makeless) means “matchless” in the sense of “peerless”.

And when the Badger later got up and oozed off into the world, I carried on thinking about that song and its beautiful second verse:
He came also stylle þer his moder was as dew in aprylle, þat fallyt on þe gras.
(He came all so still, there where his mother was, as dew in April that falleth on the grass)

It’s about Jesus’s coming into the world, uniting the being of the cosmic and heavenly Christ, the identity of the Godhead, with the human flesh of Mary.

And I stopped on the word “stylle,” which intrigued me because it’s a big word, having no adequate parallel in modern English.

It’s with us yet in German – Stille nacht, heilige nacht, that we translate as Silent night, holy night; and in the description of the Amish as Die Stille im Lande (the quiet folk of the earth).

“Silent” is only part of what is meant by the Middle English stylle and the German stille.  Full of peaceful, quiet, calm, restful – stylle means all of that.  And a person who is stylle will correlatingly be mindful – noticing, hearing, really present to any encounter.  The nearest we have lingering in modern English to summon the sense of stylle, is the adage “Still waters run deep.”

He cam also stylle . . .  There’s an old Spiritual, Steal away to Jesus.  “Steal” in that sense has some relation to this word stylle

He cam also stylle . . . It is saying, He stole into this world . . . as simply and unobtrusively as the dew that you cannot see falling, cannot see it at all until its presence accumulates on the grass.  Though you can feel the dew of the morning in the air all around.

It’s there again in Elijah’s experience of the Spirit as a still, small voice – elsewhere translated as a silent, thin sound.  Interesting.  In Middle English (that’s medieval English) there’s also a word smal, meaning slender or narrow – Chaucer describes the arm of a young girl as “smal” (heheh – my spellcheck hates these words and keeps rendering stylle as “style” and smal as “small”).  Slender.  Delicate.  The Spirit breathes into us as a stylle, smal voice.  Quiet, restful, calm, full of peace, unobtrusive, hard to pin down or define, slender, delicate, fine.

Sometimes people leaving reviews for my Hawk & the Dove novels criticise them for incorporating into the monks’ speech phraseology that seems modern.  They think I’ve got it wrong.  What they mean is that I should use eighteenth century idiom (if I went any further back they just wouldn’t be able to understand it).  But I didn’t get it wrong, I thought about every sentence, every phrase, every word – that’s how I write.  In my novels set in the medieval monastery, I have tried to capture the quality of earthiness and immediacy of medieval speech, and the down-to-earth, cheerful, almost casual conversational speech of monastics.  Sometimes that means using phraseology that seems anachronistic because it creates the right feel for both the time and the context.  But I love language – love Middle English, and exploring the landscape of language, tracing my finger along the roots of words to where they disappear into the earth where they grew.

In the book my publishers are currently considering for publication (that would be Book 7 of the Hawk & Dove series), the word bradawl occurs.  I spent a long time – maybe an hour or so – finding out about how and when and from where “awl” and “bradawl” had come into our language before I let it loose in my book.

But stylle is a beautiful word.  That will stay with me all day.


365 366 Day 76 - Friday March 16th   

 Assorted buttons, as you can see.  Put together with other things to make up a craft kit and Freecycled.


Ganeida said...

Oh Pen! I found a Jewish translation of that Isaiah quote that renders it as the thin sound of silence. Loved it. Used it on another blog. I'm always rather Glad God muddied the Babylon waters & we got lots of different languages. So much more fun to be had!

Ember said...

:0) Yes! Tracing the connections of the human family.

Elin said...

Both words you talk about feel very natural to me, the Swedish words would be stilla (stylle) with similar meaning as well both being still and silent, quiet, calm etc and make/maka. We call spouse make (man) or maka (woman). Socks can be 'omaka' (unmatched).

maria said...

Good morning Pen and so good to 'read' you again!

It is interesting that you will talk about this Spanish, we have Castilian Spanish and then we have the muddled, modern version of the language that is spoken today.

The purist have such a hard time accepting either or...but such is life :)

Good to have you back...I have missed your writing immensely :)


Ember said...

Hi Elin - that's very interesting. The Vikings greatly enriched the vocabulary of England. Yorkshire, the part of England my family comes from, used to be divided into three parts - the North Riding, West Riding and East Riding, and the word "Riding" came from the Norse "thriding" - thrid being the Norse word that evolved into the English "third" - so Yorkshire was divided into three parts, each being a third of the whole.
My maiden name was Stephenson, which derives from our Viking heritage, and if you put my father down in Norway you wouldn't tell him apart from the Norwegians. He grew up in Scarborough in Yorkshire - and again the "Scar" part of Scarborough is a Norse word.

Hi Maria - lovely to hear from you again too - I always look for your blog to see what you've been up to. x

Anonymous said...

Hi there, Pen. Long-time reader of yours here!

As a Tolkien fan, I adore the archaic words he tosses into his imaginative fiction, e.g. ‘ lathspell’, (meaning ‘bad news’, as opposed to ‘godspell’, which means ‘good news’).

I’m also a big Hawk and Dove fan! I love the way your monks talk. The medieval atmosphere in your books is completely convincing, yet your monks also sound very often like contemporary folk. This works because the themes in your novels are timeless and span any age, and your characters are so rich and alive, yet also firmly rooted in their own time.

I read ‘The Long Fall’ back in 1993 and it is truly one of my favourite books EVER. Such a beautiful, realistic relationship and such a powerful, moving depiction of loss and bereavement. I was so delighted to see the new volumes, and chuffed that it seems there is more to come! I’ve just finished ‘The Hour Before Dawn’. I didn’t think I could love two monks as much as I adored Peregrine and Tom, but I do believe that William might just outstrip them all in my affections. ;) And I hated him as much as Tom did when we first met him in ‘The Wounds of God’!

Also, Brother Conradus. WHAT A SWEETHEART. I also love Theo and Francis.

I’ve also read ‘The Road of Blessing’ (twice) and was very challenged and blessed by it. It’s a spiritual gem, really it is.

Blessings on you!


Ember said...

Philippa. Thank you so much. Just now I have that kind of downheartedness that comes from being really a little TOO tired - and reading what you say here just lifts me up. It is a balm to the spirit when someone gets it - understands the story, the people, the underlying thought. I am so very grateful that you took the trouble to stop by and write as you did. Thank you.

Fourwheeler said...

Hi Ember,
I too find Middle English fascinating, however, I'm very much at the 'standing at the edge and admiring from the point of very little knowledge' stage, based largely on owning a copy of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in the original ME. I find I can only read it a page or two at a time because it seems to demand being read aloud or not at all - does that make sense?

Ember said...

Hi Fourwheeler :0)

Indeed - you can feel the words in your mouth! Even once literacy increased beyond the privileged few, I think reading aloud continued as a social norm. In fact I suspect it was only the advent of radio that undermined it. And then television and record/cassette/CD/iPod players have been the nails in the coffin, and done for casual musicianship in similar manner.
My daughter and her husband read aloud to each other. I must ask them if they ever tried Chaucer.

Anonymous said...

Tell your publisher to stop considering...they must just publish it :-D

Any idea why your blog no longer has the option to email when someone else has posted to a post?

Ember said...

:0) That's not the kind of thing a writer can say to a publisher, unfortunately! Only the sales figures can say that to a publisher!

No I didn't know that option had gone away - have other people noticed that facility has gone, or only Deborah?
Google blogger does seem to come and go a bit with its facilities. The last few days if I wanted to edit a post I had to go the long way round because the shortcut icons had vanished. Maybe it's undergoing some inner turbulence?

Pilgrim said...

Still. still with Thee when purple morning breaketh....another beautiful hymn that was sung by male quartets when I was young. Can find on youtube...good funeral song....

Ember said...

:0) Thanks, Pilgrim!