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Gnomic Stanzas -- Anonymous

(Poem #333) Gnomic Stanzas
Mountain snow, everywhere white;
A raven's custom is to sing;
No good comes of too much sleep.

Mountain snow, white the ravine;
By rushing wind trees are bent;
Many a couple love one another
Though they never come together.

Mountain snow, tossed by the wind;
Broad full moon, dockleaves green;
Rarely a knave's without litigation.

Mountain snow, swift the stag;
Usual in Britain are brave chiefs;
There's need of prudence in an exile.

    Mountain snow, hunted stag;
Wind whistles above the eaves of a tower;
    Heavy, O man, is sin.

    Mountain snow, leaping stag;
Wind whistles above a high white wall;
    Usually the calm are comely.

Mountain snow, stag in the vale;
Wind whistles abowe the rooftop;
There's no hiding evil, no matter where.

Mountain snow, stag on the shore;
Old man must feel his loss of youth;
Bad eyesight puts a man in prison.

Mountain snow, stag in a ditch;
Bees are asleep and snug;
Thieves and a long night suit each other.

Mountain snow, deer are nimble;
Waves wetten the brink of a shore;
Let the skilful hide his purpose.

Mountain snow, speckled breast of a goose;
Strong are my arm and shoulder;
I hope I shall not live to a hundred.

Mountain snow, bare tops of reeds;
Bent tips of branches, fish in the deep;
Where there's no learning, cannot be talent.

Mountain snow, red feet of hens;
Where it chatters, water's but shallow;
Big words add to any disgrace.

Mountain snow, swift the stag;
Rarely a thing in the world concerns me;
To warn the unlucky does not save them.

    Mountain snow, fleece of white;
It's rare that a relative's face is friendly
    If you visit him too often.

    Mountain snow, white house-roofs;
If tongue were to tell what the heart may know
    Nobody would be neighbours.

    Mountain snow, day has come;
Every sad man sick, half-naked the poor;
    Every time, a fool gets hurt.
-- Anonymous
Translated by Anthony Conran.

I have been accused (not without cause, it must be said) by various
members of the list (Hi Vikram!) of having 'a passion for obscure Celtic
twilight thingies'. While I think that that particular characterization
is a bit harsh, I must confess to a soft corner for balladry and
alliterative verse, chansons de geste and Homeric epics - in short, the
repertoire of the archetypal wandering minstrel.

I also like today's offering for its demonstration of 'how poetry
began', so to speak. Think about it: what was originally just a
collection of proverbs [1] is cast into a specific form to aid
memorization [2]; structure and pattern follow, and before you know it,
you have a poem.


[1] The word 'gnome' means aphorism or saying; etymologically, it's
related to 'gnostic' and even 'know'.
[2] Keep in mind that Northern poetry (by which I mean both Germanic and
Celtic verse) remained an exclusively oral tradition until the early
Middle Ages, by which time it was already dying out.

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