Thursday 19 March 2015

Writing a Leich

By THLaird Colyne Stewart, March AS 49 (2015)

Wanting to write a poem about my squire-brother, HE Berend van der Eych, I first wanted to choose a proper genre. Berend, having a Dutch persona, would have grown up hearing the work of the minnesingers. I therefore chose to go with German poetics and settled on the priamel as my genre. Priamel were a type of German poem that threw around a lot of seemingly unrelated ideas until tying them together at the end. So the lines of this priamel throw out a lot of details about different stuff, but in the end we learn that it is all stuff that Berend has done.

While the genre of the poem is the priamel, the form I used is called leich. The leich was a lyric form, similar to the French descort, which was widely used between circa 1200 and 1350. Poems written as a leich were designed to be sung. It could use irregular stanza forms and could be non-repetitive (or it could use a standard stanza form and repeat verses). Regardless of its regularity or irregularity of stanzic form, it was isostrophic (which meant all stanzas conform to the first stanza). They generally had a lot of short rhyming units and could use different types of rhyme.

So I built a stanza form of two 8-syllable lines, followed by two lines of 7-syllables, two lines of 6-syllables, and ending with a line of 10-syllables. This is not a standard stanza form; I wanted to be able to enjoy the freedom of having the option of having an irregular stanza form. Due to the irregular line lengths I did not settle on any specific meter. The lines were rhyming couplets (AABBCC) while the last line (D) would rhyme with the last lines of the following stanzas. I decided to go with four stanzas, and split them equally in half (so two stanzas per half). I did include a little tiny bit of repetition by having the first three 10-syllable lines start with the same word (which I also decided to render in capital letters). I mainly used end-rhyme, though there is some alliteration in there too.

A knife so sharp it cuts the sun,
Bright glinting on the helmet done,
The hound baying at his heel,
The forks forged from shining steel,
Acorns grow in a field,
Rodent spread on his shield,
AND in his harness ventures forth to fight;
Soap he renders out of the fat,
Pounding rivets, pummeled, hammered flat,
The quill held in calloused hand,
Letters wrought, the small, the grand,
Mixing ink in white shell,
Pounding on training pell,
AND learning values from his worthy knight.

Reading all books that come to hand,
Behind the thrones of Royals stands,
Carves the meat in feasting hall,
Fearing not the weather’s squall,
Brewing beer, and sweet wine,
Walking through both oak, pine,
AND aids his squire-brothers as he can;
Teaching both in hall and the field,
His worth of measure well revealed,
Cooking over pit of fire,
Being knightly he ‘spires,
All these works by one soul,
Done not for writ or scroll,
THESE are the things that make a mighty man.

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