VoLTA Volta means "turn" in a number of Italic languages, and in poetry the volta is the place where a distinct turn of thought occurs. A common characteristic of Italian (Petrarchan) sonnets, the volta in these usually occurs in line 9, between the octave and the sestet, marking both the rhyme change and the move toward resolution. English sonnets often exhibit a volta as well, though it may occur between any quatrain.
"VULCAN BEGAT ME" Sir Thomas Wyatt (1557) The answer to this translation by Sir Thomas Wyatt of a Latin riddle is handily provided in Tottel's Miscellany, as it bears the legend "discripcion of a gonne [gun]." However, this poem is more than merely descriptive; it is also contemplative regarding the explosive nature of firearms—and of love.
The poem begins with the gun's parentage: vulcan, the divine Roman blacksmith and god of fire, is named as the father, while Wyatt's pun on Mother Nature ("Nature my mother," l. 2) confirms maternity. However, interposing between the father and mother is the gun's tutor, Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and war. Thus, the gun is crafted by the blacksmith out of natural materials and put to use not only by the user's knowledge of its handling but also by the context of warfare.
As with any infant, the amount of nutritional input is disproportionate to the waste output, and so the "Three bodies" which "are my food" (l. 3)—namely, the sulphur, charcoal, and saltpeter which together make gunpowder—produce four "children dear" of the weapon's own: "Slaughter, wrath, waste and noise" (l. 4). The reference to the gun's "strength" being "in nought" by extension must refer to the gaping mouth of the barrel, which consumes and produces the above. The introduction to this "infant" is followed by a question (ll. 5-6): Who would wish to be friends with a monster? The closing couplet answers this by giving the reader power: We may be either "friend," in which case "I may thee defend," or "enemy," whereby "I may thy life end" (l. 8).
Structurally, the poem is a Tuscan strambotto (eight lines, rhyming abababcc), the brevity of which form greatly appealed to Wyatt, who used it often. The singsong rhyme of the strambotto form lends itself to flippancy, as do riddles, yet here that lightheartedness sits alongside a sense of gravity which stems from the poem's reminding the reader of their own mortality: the choice between taking a life or losing one's own hangs in the balance of a couplet. Such a balance would have been a daily occurrence to Wyatt as a courtier in the scene of Henry VIII, whose jealousy and temper were both easily provoked.
Critics have also noted that the early Tudor perception of women as potential adulterers is also evident in the poem's organization. As "Vulcan" noticeably precedes both the goddess "Minerva" and feminized "Nature," so masculinity symbolically precedes femi ninity in the poem, just as it did in actuality. Henry Vlll's brutality in part stemmed from his desire for a male heir (or, rather, his disappointment at producing female heirs). From this perspective, the poem signifies success: the gun's voice is unmistakably male, as is its environment (the battlefield), and it produces "children dear" of its own. Ironically, this instrument of death produces life, which is a reproduction of itself, and therefore death. Life and death, represented by levity and gravity, do not exchange places so much as fuse into a unity that Wyatt declares inseparable.
Daalder, Joost, ed. Sir Thomas Wyatt: Collected Poems.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975. Rebholz, R. A., ed. Sir Thomas Wyatt: The Complete Poems. Harmondsworth, U.K., and New York: Penguin, 1978.
WACE (1115-1183) Most of what is known about Wace is drawn from information supplied in his poems. He was born on the island of Jersey, and he was taken as a boy to mainland Normandy. He claims to have studied for many years in the Ile de France, but circumstantial evidence suggests he was back in Normandy while still a young man. He was a clerc lisant (an ecclesiastical official with duties including writing and reading aloud) in Caen from the 1130s. It was here that he earned the title Maistre, a title he attaches to his name 10 times in his own work. Some time later, he was also made a canon of Bayeux by Henry II. Various attempts have been made to ascribe additional names to Wace, including Robert, Richard, and Matthieu, but these rest on little authority.
Wace is the author of five surviving Anglo-Norman poems, two of which are very substantial in scale. His earliest known pieces are three devotional poems, including hagiographies of St. Margaret and St. Nicholas and a poem entitled La Conception Notre Dame. These were followed by his best-remembered poem, Roman De Brut (1155), which was the first major translation of the Arthurian legends into French verse, and which had a strong influence on Arthurian romance for nearly two centuries. Nearly 15,000 lines long, it is notable for introducing many new features to Arthurian literature.
Around 1160, Wace began work on a chronicle of the dukes of Normandy, entitled Le Roman de Rou. He continued to work on this poem until the mid-1170s, when he abandoned it. While the Roman de Brut has remained popular to this day, the ambitious Roman de Rou began to lose a wide readership relatively early. Nevertheless, Wace's innovative narrative style focusing on dramatic scenes and limited psychological realism were very influential, particularly among French authors of romance. See also hagiography.
Le Saux, Francoise H. M. A Companion to Wace. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer,2005.
J. D. Ballam wallace, the Blind Hary (ca. 1475) The beginning of The Wallace, composed in Middle Scots by Blind Hary around 1475, introduces an exclusivist nationalistic discourse in which the English are represented as the traditional enemy of Scotland. Blind Hary reflects the contemporary political situation at a time when James III was interested in securing alliances with England to strengthen his position with other powerful noble rulers. He stirs nationalistic blood with a reminder that the Scots will honor their "ald enemy," those of Saxon blood (the English), and that God is punishing them for their pride by making "thar mycht to par" ("power diminish," l. 14). It is as much a reaffirmation of Scottish independence as a manifesto against the English. Blind Hary bases his argument on the Scottish experience in the Wars of Independence
(1296-1328 and 1332-57) and applies it to the time in which he was writing. The past serves to explain the present. William Wallace becomes the voice of Scottish nationalism through his combativeness and hatred for the English.
From the very beginning, Hary merges the protagonist's thirst for revenge with the national cause. Wallace is represented as a tragic hero who endures the loss of most members of his family at the hands of the English. His personal sorrow is equated with his suffering for Scotland (ll. 181-184). The personal and the national will form an inseparable goal in the hero's mind. From then on, his words and his behaviour do not correspond to that of a youthful warrior but to that of an experienced leader, an indispensable requisite to lead his nation against Edward I. Wallace's nonnatural-istic representation is closer to hagiography than to a romance hero.
Wallace's knightly deeds are dependent on the national cause as well. The main reason to fight is personal vendettas, yet, this is integrated within Scotland's struggle for freedom, which is an essential feature of Blind Hary's ideological discourse. In the battlefield, the Scottish leader is depicted as a very strong and revengeful knight. As in John Barbour's The Bruce (ca. 1375), to which Blind Hary is indebted, the hero's personal ambitions are subservient to the national cause.
When treating female characters, Wallace's conduct is profoundly altered. In book 4, Wallace's lover betrays him after the English offer her a reward. Up to this point, the hero killed English enemies and Scottish traitors mercilessly—but he forgives his lover. Blind Hary creates a complete image of the protagonist not only during combat but also in social interchanges with ladies. Wallace dissociates the epic world of war from the courtly world of social relationships to emerge as the perfect romance hero.
Wallace's image is also reshaped along the lines of the European courtly tradition when he meets his future wife. Her description follows the conventions of courtly love. At the same time, however, a reference to her Scottish origin accentuates the nationalistic dialectics once again (Book 5, ll. 604-609). When the English kill her, Wallace's revenge acquires political connotations. Not only does he avenge himself, but he also expels the English from Lanark in Lanarkshire. Blind Hary presents a lover's tragic story as a suitable tool for the liberation of Scotland. Even the most explicitly courtly scenes are integrated within the nationalistic literary project.
The employment of dream visions and prophecies offers an allegorical framework. Wallace's personal quest after revenge dilutes within the collective defence of the country. His face-to-face combats and sporadic skirmishes are politically and allegorically redefined in the milieu of Scotland's fight for freedom. God himself supports and approves of Wallace's bloodthirsty way of action, which elevates the Wars of Independence to the realm of allegory—so much so that when Wallace is thought to be dead (Book 2, l. 252) and his body is washed (Book 2, l. 267), biblical typology is inescapable. Blind Hary imagines his hero as a Christ-like figure with his passion and resurrection. William Wallace the man dies, and the legendary liberator of Scotland is born. Christological symbolism relocates the narrative in the domain of religious iconography.
Blind Hary structures the allegorical pattern of the text according to his nationalistic beliefs. The pseudo-mythical figure of Thomas of Erceldoune tells the audience that Wallace is the elect to liberate Scotland when he was believed to be dead (Book 2, ll. 346-350). The Scottish authority of Thomas supplants the customary classical auctoritas (authorities) of the past. After this, it is Saint Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, who confirms his role as a national leader in book 7. The holy figure also takes the warrior to the presence of the virgin Mary, who explicitly designates him as her chosen one (Book 7, ll. 95-97). While the intervention of Saint Andrew synthesizes political issues and allegorical significance, Mary elevates Wallace's mission to the domain of anagogy. As a Christ-like incarnation, his quest to set his country free will typologically bring to the audience's mind Jesus Christ's sacrificial death to save humankind to the extent that the protagonist's death follows the pattern of hagiographies and the passion of Christ.
In Book 12, when Wallace goes back to Scotland, the arch Scottish traitor Sir John Menteth, like Judas, sells him to the English. Blind Hary refuses to relate the knight's torture, stating merely that Wallace's end was "displesans" [distressing], so he would not relate it. The dramatic effect of this rhetorical device is successful: The audience is left to imagine the brutality of the English actions. Yet the sense of sadness and defeat will suddenly change. Mimicking the structural disposition of saints' legends, Wallace's death is reconstructed as a joyful tribute to his accomplishments. Torture and death precede the hero's real victory in the other world, culminating with his entrance in heaven (Book 12, ll. 1285-1288).
Goldstein, R. J. The Matter of Scotland. Lincoln and London:
University of Nebraska Press, 1993. Jack, R. D. S. "Discoursing at Cross Purposes. Braveheart and The Wallace." In Renaissance Humanism—Modern Humanisms, edited by W. Gobel and B. Ross, 41-54. Heidelberg: Universitatsverlag, 2001. Walsh, Elizabeth. "Hary's Wallace: The Evolution of a Hero." Scottish Literary Journal 11, no. 1 (1984): 5-19.
WALLACE, WILLIAM (ca. 1270-1305) William Wallace was the most important early patriot in the fight for Scottish independence, and was immortalized in the 15th century poem The Wallace. The first record of William Wallace appears in May 1297, where he is listed as killing William Heselrig, the English sheriff of Lanark (Lanarkshire), an episode that sparked the Rebellion of 1297. Wallace and his followers raided far and wide, attacking the English on sight. On September 11, 1297, Wallace engaged the British army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, winning a great victory. He then spent the winter raiding across the border in Northumbria.
In 1298 the English king Edward I returned from war in France to personally lead an invasion of Scotland. On July 22, 1298 at the Battle of Falkirk, the British heavy cavalry and archers devastated Wallace's ranks of schiltroms (spearmen). Wallace survived with only a small contingent. The following year he went to France seeking aid from Philip Iv, but instead he endured captivity. Upon his release in 1303, Wallace returned to Scotland and resumed raiding.
William Wallace was finally captured in or near Glasgow on August 3, 1305. He was tried three weeks later in London and found guilty of treason. Wallace received the traditional sentence: He was drawn, hanged, and quartered, with portions of his body sent to Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling, and Perth. He immediately became a national hero, a reputation sealed by Blind Hary's poem.
See also Blind Hary, Robert I the Bruce.
Fisher, Andrew. William Wallace. Edinburgh: John Donald, 1986.
Gray, D. J. William Wallace: The King's Enemy. London: Robert Hale, 1991. Mackay, James. William Wallace: Braveheart. Edinburgh: Mainstream, 1995.
"WANDERER, THE" Anonymous (before 1072)
"The Wanderer" is recorded on folios 76b-78a of the Exeter Book and consists of 115 lines of Old English alliterative verse. It is generally considered an elegy, as it focuses on the wanderer's sadness and loneliness as well as his mourning of a lost life or, in this case, a lost way of life.
The poem tells the story of a former warrior, called an eardstapa (wanderer), who has lost his lord and comrades—no longer part of the comitatus—and is now wandering alone. In vain, he tried to find comfort in another lord. The wanderer, who achieved a form of stoic wisdom after his many years of loneliness, first describes the feeling of his solitary journey, only to mourn the transitory nature of the world and humans. ultimately, he concludes, everything is destined to decay except for the heavenly kingdom, humanity's only hope of eternal shelter, in which security stands.
The poem can roughly be divided into two parts. one part describes the fate of a solitary wanderer, first focusing on this wanderer's personal experience and then moving to a general statement concerning all lonely wanderers. The second part depicts humanity's entire existence. This deep concern with the fundamentals of human existence and experience is a typical feature of wisdom literature with which the second half of the poem is often associated.
The poem begins with a generalization of a wanderer's situation, reflecting the speaker's own circumstances; this continues until he speaks for the first time.
He tells of the sorrow he has to endure due to his solitary state, though he keeps his sad thoughts inside. Lines 19-29a give the wanderer's personal history. Since he lost his friends and his lord a long time ago, he tried to seek another lord.
The text continues with a description of the experiences of all lonely voyagers. Realizing his loss, the wanderer recalls all the joys that have vanished. He falls asleep and dreams of the times when he was still in the service of his lord, but awakens to the realization that only sea birds keep him company. At this point the wanderer expands the theme to the whole of existence. Some scholars argue that with the change of subject, a new speaker is introduced. Since the poem shifts into the area of wisdom literature, it is often assumed that the following passage is spoken by an anonymous wise man. Apart from the change of tone, the reappearance of the personal pronoun i is the only piece of evidence to support this assumption.
The speaker goes on to define a wise person, but he does so through the negative—that is, listing what a wise one's characteristics should not be. The wanderer next speaks about the destruction of human artifacts, recalling the style found in The Ruin. Some scholars suggest this passage refers to doomsday, but the non-Christian motifs, such as the Beasts of Battle who carry away the nobles, indicate otherwise. The next speech starts with an ubi sunt motif, asking where past joys have gone. The speaker reminds the audience that nature will endure while human-made creations fall; only the person who seeks the grace of God will find security. The second part of the poem implies a strong contrast between this world and the heavenly kingdom.
one of the major concerns of past scholarship has been the number of speakers. It is now generally accepted, though not unchallenged, that the first seven lines of the poem serve as an introduction. The wanderer's monologue would therefore begin in line 8 with the first mention of the personal pronoun ic [I]. A second monologue begins in line 92, after the introduction of one who has "thought wisely." Whether this is a new speech or a speech within the speech of the wanderer, who might have become a wise man himself, is still subject to debate. The end of the speeches is in line 110, followed by a conclusion that sees the heavenly king dom as the only place of security. Another possibility is to see the whole poem as the wanderer's monologue.
A great deal of scholarship has considered the question of religion in connection with "The Wanderer." The poem shows elements of both the Christian and non-Christian. The lord-retainer relationship, especially in the dream sequence, and elements such as the Beasts of Battle are typical features of Germanic poetry. Yet many of the stylistic elements give the poem a Christian tone. Passages like the one in which the poet states that wisdom comes with years of experience are reminiscent of homiletic works (e.g., ll. 64-72). So does the ubi sunt motif, which is widely used in homilies. Many scholars conclude that "The Wanderer," like Beowulf or The Battle of Maldon, is a blend of Germanic and Christian elements.
Due to the poem's theme, scholars often associated it with the works of Boethius. The poet's descriptions of the decaying world and the hardship that humans have to endure are typical elements of a Boethian poem, as is the confidence that God will lead everyone to a good end.
"The Wanderer" is often related to the poem "The Seafarer," with which it has several features in common. Like "The Wanderer," "The Seafarer" is divided into two main parts. One refers to the life of the speaker, in this case the seafarer, and the other refers to life in general. The decay of the world of men as well as the search for bliss and joy in God are also themes of that poem. Thus, similar to "The Wanderer," the poem's second part is to be regarded as a part of the genre of wisdom literature. It is these aspects that make both these poems into typical representatives of the elegy genre.
Beaston, Lawrence. "The Wanderer's Courage." Neophilolo-
gus 89, no. 1 (2005): 119-137. Cross, J. E. "On the Genre of The Wanderer." Neophilologus
45 (1961): 63-75. Dunning, Thomas P., and Alan J. Bliss, eds. The Wanderer.
London: Methuen, 1969. Fowler, Roger. "A Theme in The Wanderer." Medium Aevum
36 (1967): 1-14. Leslie, Roy F., ed. The Wanderer. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 1966.
Prins, A. A. "The Wanderer and The Seafarer." Neophilologus 48 (1964): 237-251.
Torben R. Gebhardt
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