Transliterations 1: J.L. Williams and Andrew Melville's 'In Eclipsin Solis Anno 1597' ('On the Eclipse of the Sun in the Year 1597')

Steven Reid. Principal Investigator, and J.L. Williams

This month's feature marks the beginning of a series of 'transliterations' - reworkings and reimaginings into modern English or Scots of poems written by the Delitiae poets - that the project has commissioned in partnership with StAnza, Scotland's international poetry festival, which takes place this year from 4-8 March. 1

During 2012 and 2013, StAnza collaborated with the School of Computer Science at the University of St Andrews and a university spinout company called Qraqrbox on a project to produce a 'Digital Poetry Trail of St Andrews', a website which they hope will eventually feature all the poets who have lived, worked or studied in St Andrews, and which can be accessed here. The trail links audio files of poets reading to a location in the town, and QR codes (graphics that contain web-links and related information which can be accessed by scanning them with a QR code reader, a freely available piece of software for camera-equipped smartphones and tablets) at the locations mentioned. Thus anyone can take a stroll around St Andrews and, using their smart phones, listen to the poetry readings 'in situ' at the various locations. Free apps for iPhones and Android phones are available on the website at qraqrbox.com, and a handout with a map and a list of the locations will also be available from the StAnza festival desk at the 2015 festival.

Virtually all the poets who are being translated as part of the project were educated or taught at St Andrews, and the project's contribution to this website includes 'transliterated' versions of poems by several poets, who will be the focus of upcoming features. Up first is this re-imagining by J.L. Williams of Andrew Melville's account of an eclipse in 1597, which occurred when he was still principal of St Mary's College (he held office between 1580 and 1607); he was also rector of the university between 1590 and 1597. The original Latin text and translation by the project team can be found here. She pairs this with an entirely new poem, inspired by the original.

J.L. Williams' first collection, Condition of Fire (Shearsman, 2011), was inspired by Ovid's Metamorphoses and a journey to the Aeolian Islands. Her second collection, Locust and Marlin (Shearsman, 2014), was nominated for the Saltire Society 2014 Poetry Book of the Year Award. She has been published in journals including Magma, Stand, Poetry Wales, Edinburgh Review and Fulcrum. Her poetry has been translated into Dutch, Spanish, French and Greek. She plays in the band Opul, is Programme Manager at the Scottish Poetry Library, and has her own website: www.jlwilliamspoetry.co.uk.

This poem is also available as part of the 'St Andrews Digital Poetry Trail' here, where you can listen to J.L. Williams read an excerpt from the Latin original and her versions of the text. A QR code for the poem can also be found on the trail at St Mary's College.

Through Man Does Woman Shine
on the eclipse of the sun in the year 1597

It is midday when that woman, shamed,
flings her dirty robes at your face.

Everyone is afraid. In the cities we cower,
humans and bulls. Even the herons shudder.

A woman whose brilliance is yours, sun,
mooning the universe!

How dare the slut expose light's secret,
denying the world Christ's justice!

With fiery teeth, chaw the shroud
as we wring gloom from our eyes.

Torch our memory of her pale valleys,
the silvered pouch of her river.

Mists smoke under your bright reign.
Our hearts, red apples, bake on the bough.

May the dragon not whip the stars to sea-froth,
may the heavens resist the chaos of our birth.

If the moon again dares reveal her true self,
may every star shine for you!

Through Darkness We Realise Shining
on the eclipse of the sun in the year 2015

The people in the old film called me.
In the silvery light their hands and lips said
Behold, you will join us in death.

I have never been so afraid.

Those I passed on the streets were ghosts,
the pity I felt for the whippets and pigeons
shattered the lantern inside me.

In this strange new night, the lizard's tongue
flicked as slowly as an angel's.

My religious beliefs fell like ash in the hearth,
the last hot red coal turned grey.

I stood on the bank of the murky river,
smelling, to my horror, nothing. No rotting leaves,
no loose blood, no salt of a hundred fishes.

What appeared in the form of love
could hardly penetrate the darkness.

You joined me on the bank of the river
and scent returned with light; the pale new grass,
the apple blossom, straw burning in the field.

Through drifting smoke I saw your face,
sun in each tear on your cheek.

Every time the darkness returns,
may we realise this shining.


Notes:

1. See our 'News' item for 2 February 2015 for further details.