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Robin Hood’s Bay Cardigan: Week 11 – 6 July

The Herring Mart and fishermen’s huts

There’s an Old English poem, Deor, each stanza of which ends with the phrase Þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg. (“Þ” is the Old English letter thorn, used for a “th” sound that doesn’t use the vocal chords, as in the word thorn. It was used alongside the letter eth, or “ð”, which has a voiced “th” sound as in the word either. Try saying thorn and either aloud and you’ll see what I mean.) The line means roughly, “That has been overcome, this also may”. It had a particular significance for JRR Tolkien, who translated it as, “Time has passed since then, this too can pass”.

Foxglove

The poem’s been in my mind recently as Scotland prepares to come out of lockdown. Every day brings a new sign of a return to normality. Shops are reopening, or being made ready. The boats in the marina, rocking idly in their moorings these many weeks, are now hives of activity, as bald men in overalls freshen the paintwork, batten down mainbraces and splice scuppers, or whatever it is nautical people do. The town’s seagulls have a particularly rapacious look, like gangsters planning a heist, as they wait for the tourists to come flocking back; in Wick, “gullible” takes on a whole new meaning. Already the anxious days of April seem like another lifetime. But, unlikely as it seemed back then, everything does indeed pass; time marches on, and while physicists may have proved that time is an illusion, as a wise man once observed that doesn’t make them late for meals.

Even knitting a gansey doesn’t last forever, although sometimes it feels like it might. The Robin Hood’s Bay cardigan is almost there: the knitting at least is over, it’s been washed and blocked and s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d to its proper dimensions. Now all that remains is the surgery to make it into a cardigan. When I look at it I feel it’s something of a high point in my knitting career; that maybe now I should, like Prospero, break my needles, and bury them certain fathoms in the earth, and deeper than did ever plummet sound I’ll drown my sorrows kittens books.

More Creels

Incidentally, speaking of Old English poems, there’s no getting around the fact that they are, on the whole, on the gloomy side. Even if an Anglo-Saxon scribe had tried to write a limerick it would probably have ended up something like this: “There once was young man from York/ Who died in the wastelands eaten by wolves/ Such was his wyrd/ So pass all the world’s joys/ Into eternal darkness and despair”. Who’s had it worse: us or the Anglo-Saxons? They had plague and Vikings to contend with; we’ve had the Brexit referendum, [insert the names of a US president and a British prime minister of your choice here] and New Zealand losing the cricket World Cup final; now we have a pandemic. It’s a close call. But I guess the message isn’t their bleak worldview, but rather their grudging light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel-ish-ness, which we can at least take inspiration from: Þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg. Or, if you set it to music, Let the good times roll…

9 comments to Robin Hood’s Bay Cardigan: Week 11 – 6 July

  • Sharon Gunason Pottinger

    Beautiful! The cardi and the poem and Margaret’s photos.

  • Sharon in Georgia

    Beautiful cardigan. Another home run.

    I found your blog just as the US went into lockdown and immediately went to the archives and began reading from the beginning. Since I am a little OCD, I don’t wish to just repeat what others have said. Anyway, while reading your blog, I completed my second gansey and am now working on my 3rd with stash for 3 more waiting. Thank you for making the last 4 months a LOT more pleasant.

    • Gordon

      Hello Sharon, so glad you found us! And thank you for getting in touch; we can usually see when we get new readers – the website is pretty niche, to be fair – and it’s lovely to know who our fellow travellers are.

      Cheers, Gordon

  • =Tamar

    The Anglo-Saxons seem a gloomy lot, but we have so little left from them, who is to say that they didn’t have some lighter works that weren’t preserved? Or a lighter context for what has been saved? “Blow, blow ye wind and rain, Ah that my love were in my arms and I in my bed again” _could_ be the equivalent of those “I should have stayed in bed” cartoons.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, yes, I sometimes wonder what an Anglo-Saxon sitcom would have looked like if they’d invented television? (Probably as much of a culture clash as my other brilliant idea: Crime and Punishment – the Musical! On ice!)

      Now I think if it, there’s probably a reason why an artistic career was denied to me…

  • Eve

    Our family cultural highlight 9 year old sitting next to her father in silence watching Das boot waiting for the first song he’d told her it was Das boot Ein Musicale. At 26 she has still not forgiven him!

    • Gordon

      Hi Eve, he sounds like just my kind of guy! It’s hard to think of many great movies that wouldn’t be improved by Debbie Reynolds bursting out of a cake, or Donald O’Connor dancing up the wall – The Godfather and Citizen Kane spring to mind, or Alien…

  • Love your take on the Anglo Saxon poems. Yes, that is exactly how they would have approached a joyful work. And ‘thaet ofereodes, thisses swa maeg’ has been my mantra since undergraduate days.

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