BurnedThumb

Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer


laec


  • I Have Brought You to the Ring

    a chamomile bed in full flower

    I think that’s the end of summer. The children are going back to school on Wednesday, andour youngest grandchild will be among them, which will be the end of an era. The swifts have gone, and the starlings are beginning to show winter plumage, and the pinks of willowherb and thistle have been replaced by the first red berries on rowan and hawthorn. We have had the potatoes and the first courgette, and there are beans lengthening on the poles. There are still bees on the borage and butterflies on the buddleia, but there are spiders in the house and there was condensation on the windows for the first time this morning. The year is turning, and I am back at my desk, getting back to work.

    We went to Edinburgh for the start of the Festival to see the Grit Orchestra, and it has developed a few more thoughts on culture and tradition first inspired by a short on-line course I took dealing with the archive at Tobar an Dualchais, which I want to develop over the next few posts. There is a crossover with the thinking I was doing on healing and recovery earlier this year, and the work I am still trying to do on the Nine Herbs Charm, via the concept of ‘Lǣc’. I wrote about it a while back

    ‘Lǣc’ is the important stuff you do when you aren’t ‘working’ – what my Church used to call ‘servile’ work’ – all the life admin, busywork, earning a living, mundane day to day stuff. ‘Lǣc’ is ‘recreation’ spelled re-creation as the self-help books do, holiday spelled ‘holy day’ as they used to do in the Middle Ages, the difference between ‘relieving symptoms’ and ‘healing’.

    It’s a bit more than healing, though. It’s a communal activity, with a link to the sacred. It is demanding, and needs ‘duende’ – when I first read about it I thought of the Zen art of archery, or the tea ceremony, and the ‘lek’ where grouse and capercaillie meet in forest clearings to strut their stuff. And this brought me to the Eightsome Reel and the William Wallace quotation in the title, from before his country-defining victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. It occurs to me that this art, this culture, is serious stuff:

    To sing here you will need

    to open the heart,

    the lungs and voice,

    and meet it square.

    You can’t sing from hiding,

    nor drunk or afraid.

    You can’t sing this softly

    like chocolate in the sun.

    You must give yourself

    to the fight with all your strength.

    It will take all you’ve got.

    It will feel like death.’

    The Outcry from The Wren in the Ash Tree, in Haggards

    Now that summer is over, I am here, at the ring. Now to see if I can dance!


  • February Happenings

    terracotta pot with blue iris

    When you see these flowers in bloom you know that spring can’t be far off. I’ve ordered my seeds, but not sowed any yet, nor written any new poetry, but there are some special circumstances. So far February has been a very busy month, with book editing, a trip to London to see the Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts exhibition in the British Library (I’ve seen the Beowulf manuscript! I’ve seen a letter written by the scholar and bishop Alcuin to Charlemagne!), a trip to Liverpool with most of my family to celebrate my sister’s sixtieth birthday, and my daughter having a major operation, and living with us while she recovers.

    hazel catkins fully open

    I have been trying out the paces of the new camera. It can do a lot – it can practically talk to me – but it can’t do close ups so well. I’m going to need a macro lens for the flowers, and maybe a long range one for birds – this is getting expensive! but it is worth it for the way it makes me see things in more detail and in their proper context.

    I’m hoping to translate this into new and rather different poems. I’ve been reading Vahni Capildeo’s Venus as a Bear, and it is like fireworks going off in my brain – the connections between words, lines, subjects and responses are not sequential but sensual, mostly visual, like mind maps. There are plays on sounds and language and visual as well as semantic connections, and you could almost read them in any direction. I am fairly sure that I couldn’t do anything like that – I get lost too easily. But after reading those poems my brain was ready for what happened next.

    I am in the middle of reading Leechcraft by S Pollington, alternately impressed by the depths of his scholarship and startled by the limits of his actual experience. His identifications of plants refer to many learned sources, but I’m not sure he has ever seen any of them in his life, and he doesn’t seem aware of the many vernacular healing traditions recorded in Europe. But then I came across an exhaustive analysis of the many uses of the word ‘laec’ which became ‘leech’ and was later sometimes used as a synonym for ‘doctor’.

    Pollington says that this was not the way the word was used in Old English, and quotes many sources where the word is used to mean ‘healing’, ‘exercise of skill’, ‘play’ or ‘a rite of sacrificial offering’. I once heard Patrick Stewart use the word ‘laiking’ for being variously ‘truanting from school’, ‘on holiday’ and ‘out of work’, and when I pushed this, something fell into place. ‘Laec’ is the important stuff you do when you aren’t ‘working’ – what my Church used to call ‘servile’ work’ – all the life admin, busywork, earning a living, mundane day to day stuff. ‘Laec’ is ‘recreation’ spelled re-creation as the self-help books do, holiday spelled ‘holy day’ as they used to do in the Middle Ages, the difference between ‘relieving symptoms’ and ‘healing’. It’s no wonder that industrialists and politicians like to confuse it with idleness and amusement, because it’s the stuff that can’t be bought and sold, and no-one else can do it for you.

    This provided the link between my random musings about colour, craft, tradition and memory, the sense of self and the bond with community. I’m off on a poetic journey, but before I go, I’ll leave you with another spring-time picture from my garden.

    white and purple hellebores



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