In the Feast Hall
By Lady Teleri the Well-Prepared, at the behest of Lady Deirdre O’Bardon, Poeta Atlantiae. A poem on the themes of cooking, feasting and entertainment, in the style of the Wandering Scholars, on the occasion of the Trial by Fire in June 2014.
In the feast hall, we make merry
As the cooks are getting weary
We call with cheer
For meat and beer
Finished with a tart of cherries
Sitting in good company
Night is lit with bonhomie
And food so fine
A meal, divine
Tempting all to gluttony
Dishes always new and varied
Fish and fowl and egg and dairy
It all goes out
On time, no doubt
Platters heavy servants carry
Candles in the dark are shining
Voices raised in song combining
I say to thee
That’s where I’ll be
In our feast hall, gladly dining.
This is very very loosely based on the Golliardic poems of the 11th-13th centuries. These poems, written by the rising clerical class coming out of the universities, covered many topics: moralizing or satirical verses, love lyrics, dramas, and songs of drinking and gambling. The most famous manuscript associated with the Golliards is the Codex Buranus, a 13th century manuscript containing poems from the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries in both Latin and German. The manuscript was discovered in the mid-19th century, and in 1935, a very small portion of the poems were set to modern music by Carl Orff as the famous “Carmina Burana.”
The poems are of no fixed form. Later in period, poetic templates develop - virelai, rondeau, sonnet, many more - that dictate the meter and rhyme scheme. At this time, however, it was common for a poet to determine their own form for a stanza. As these were songs, the general form of the first stanza would usually be repeated.
A quick reading of some of the poems, in Latin and in English translations meant to scan as the originals, reveals a lot of feminine rhyme on longer lines, with half-lines ending in masculine rhyme interspersed. Some variation in line length and rhyme type seemed to me (again, at first reading) to be more common than, say, octosyllabic rhyming couplets. So I took for my stanza form AABBA, where the A’s were feminine rhymes and the B’s were masculine.
I even managed to keep the A’s the same for two stanzas - I’ve noticed in the past that Romance language poetry often keeps a rhyme for an entire poem at a time, although I don’t know how common that is in the Golliardic poems. I took the “-ery” rhyme from the first stanza and placed it in the third as well. I wanted to sort of “spread it out” over the poem, rather than put it into the first and second stanzas, to give the whole thing a more coherent feel.
I did use approximate rhyme in a few places, because feminine rhyme is hard! [Stanza 1, cherries; Stanza 2, company/bonhomie/gluttony; Stanza 3, varied.]
The meter got borked in Stanza 2. The three syllable rhyme words (company/bonhomie/gluttony) throw everything off. I could either pad the front of the line with unstresses to get eight syllables per line (my first draft), but on rewrite, I let a syllable drop and started the line with a stress instead. The missing syllable is an unstress at the end of the line, and in recitation, I don’t think it’s missed. (Those words are all spoken in a falling cadence: COMpany, BONhomie, GLUTtony. So they fit the general character of a feminine rhyme, but do so while shorting the line by a syllable. Weird, huh?) Changing from trochaic to iambic was definitely more jarring, when read aloud, than just letting the eighth syllable silently disappear.
Theme-wise, the Golliards had many poems devoted to the joys of the tavern. I’ve turned it ‘round to apply to the joys of the SCA feast hall, which are similar but not the same. They seemed to be more concerned with praising wine than food, but a comic song about a roast swan demonstrates at least some attention paid to good eats.
NB: In Stanza 3, Servants are carrying heavy platters; platters are not carried by heavy servants. My husband suggests a reword to "Heavy platters, servants carry" but I kinda like the internal rhyme...