Category Archives: Illustration

“From off his horse the Emperor now descends”

Grandes Chroniques Roland. Eight Stages of The Song of Roland in One Picture.
Grandes Chroniques Roland. Eight Stages of The Song of Roland in One Picture.

from La Chanson de Roland

trans. Dorothy L. Sayers



From off his horse the Emperor now descends;

On the green grass he kneels with bended head,

Then to the sunrise he lifts his face addressed

And prays to God with heartfelt reverence:

“Father most true, this day my cause defend!

Thou that to Jonah Thy succour didst extend

In the whale’s belly, and safely draw him thence,

And after, spare the king of Nineveh;

Thou that didst save Thy servant Daniel

From torments dire within the lions’ den,

And the Three Children amid the fire protect,

Lord, be thy love this day my present help;

And, if it please Thee, grant that ere this day’s end

Roland my nephew may fully be avenged!”

His prayer is done; rising, he stands erect;

The sign of power he makes on brow and breast.

Now to the saddle once more the King has leapt,

Joz’ran and Naimon to hold his stirrup bend;

He takes his shield, his sharpened spear as well;

Comely his body and straight and nobly held,

His face is frank, his looks are confident;

Forward he rides, firm in the stirrup set.

To van, to rear, the braying clarions swell;

Olifant’s voice resounds above the rest;

The thought of Roland draws tears from all the French.


Johannes Ockeghem

illuminated opening from the Chigi codex featuring the Kyrie of the Missa Ecce ancilla Domini by Johannes Ockeghem


“He [Ockeghem] alone of all singers is free from all vice and abounds in all virtues.”—Francesco Flori

The Franco-Flemish composer Johannes Ockeghem succeeded Guillaume Dufay as the most celebrated composer of his period, and was praised for the “extraordinary sweetness and beauty” of his music.

Relatively few of Ockeghem’s compositions have survived, among them fourteen masses that were the most important of their time. The earliest of these masses were composed on the accepted pattern of the cantus firmus (an existing melody used as the basis for the polyphonic composition). Ockeghem later experimented with the pattern, freeing the cantus firmus from its usual tenor part; and he became the fist known composer to use melodies from his own songs as the cantus firmus in a number of his masses. Several of Ockeghem’s masses do not even rely on a cantus firmus, but are freely constructed from rhythmic and melodic fragments.

Guillaume Dufay

Guillaume Dufay (left), with contemporary composer Gilles Binchois
Guillaume Dufay (left), with contemporary composer Gilles Binchois


In the succession of medieval composers I have enjoyed so far, I seem to have made personal connections with every other one. Hildegarde von Bingen I adored; the representatives of the Notre Dame school—Perotin and Leonin—not so much; Guillaume Machaut I loved. So I wondered about Guillaume Dufay.

I bookmarked numerous pieces, but did not find any particularly compelling until my attention was captured by his beautiful motet Nuper Rosarum Flores. I was all the more intrigued when I learned it was composed for the 1436 consecration of the Basilica de Santa Maria de Fiore. This massive brick dome—which was then in the last stages of completion—was a feat of medieval technology, accomplished by Filippo Brunelleschi.

What just happened to be on my library book shelf?—Ross King’s excellent Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture.

I love connections like this!

Interestingly, it has been argued that the proportional structure of the motet was inspired by I Kings 6:1-20, which gives the dimensions of Solomon’s temple.



Guillame de Machaut

Guillame de Machut
Guillame de Machut


Guillaume Machaut, a medieval French poet whose work was admired and imitated by Geoffrey Chaucer a century later, was also a composer in the ars nova style. He composed in a wide range of styles and forms, including secular songs, but he is most renowned for the Messe de Nostre Dame, the earliest known complete setting of the Ordinary Mass by a single composer.

Mauchaut was born around 1300 in the Region of Reims, and probably took his surname from the nearby town of Machault. He served in a number of royal households, including that of John I, his daughter Bonne, her sons Jean de Berry and Charles, and Charles II of Navarre.

manuscript of music by Guillame de Machut
manuscript of music by Guillame de Machut



from Beowulf

Beowulf the King. Lynn Ward. 1939.
Beowulf the King. Lynn Ward. 1939.


from Beowulf

translated by Frederick Rebsamen


 Mark carefully

this lesson of anguish—old in winters

I warn you by this.          It is wondrous to see

how almighty God          in his endless wisdom

grants unto man          a mind to rule with

kingdom and meadhall          to keep until death.

At times the Measurer          maker of us all

brings moments of pleasure          to those proud man-thoughts

gives to that war king          worldly power-goods

hall and homeland          to hold for his own

renders him ruler          of regions of the earth

a broad kingdom—he cannot forsee

in his own unwisdom          an end to such wealth.

He dwells in happiness          no hindrance bothers him

no illness or age          or evil reckoning

darkens his mind          no deep serpent thoughts

edge-hate in his heart—but all thisloan-world

bends to his will          welcomes him with gold

till high thron-ethoughts          throng into his mind

gather in his head.          Then the guardian sleeps

the soul’s warden—it slumbers too long

while a silent slayer          slips close to him

shoots from his bow          baleful arrows.

Deep into his heart          hard under shield-guard

strikes the arrowhead—no armor withstands

that quiet marksman          cold mind-killer.

What he long has held          too little contents him

greed grapples him          he gives no longer

gold-patterened rings          reckons no ending

of borrowed treasure-years          bright earth-fortune

granted by God          the great Measurer.

The last of splendor          slips into darkness

the loaned king-body          cracks upon the pyre

swirls away in smoke—soon another one

steps to the gift-throne          shares his goldhoard

turns that treachery          to trust and reward.

Guard against life-bale          beloved Beowulf

best of warriors          win for your soul

eternal counsel—care not for pride

great shield-champion!          The glory of your strength

lasts for a while          but not long after

sickness or spear-point          will sever you from life

or the fire’s embrace          or the flood’s welling

or the file-hard sword          or the flight of a spear

or bane-bearing age—the brightness of your eye

will dim and darken.          Destiny is waiting

and death will take you          down into the earth.


This is one of my favorite passages of Beowulf, in which the Danish king Hrothgar joyfully meets Beowulf after Beowulf’s victory over the troll-wife. But rather than delivering the effusive praise one might expect, Hrothgar warns Beowulf with ‘bountiful words’ against the entrapment of pride. I highly recommend Rebsamen’s vigorous translation of this anonymous Anglo-Saxon poem. ‘Each one among us shall mark the end of this worldly life. Let him who may earn deeds of glory before death takes him—after life-days honor-fame is best.’

Quiet, Please

"One More Step, Mr. Hands..." N.C. Wyeth.
“One More Step, Mr. Hands…” N.C. Wyeth.


Quiet, Please

Samantha Little


“Quiet, please!” says the librarian.

I nod and pass with a softened tread

Through the quiet ranks of books, and then

Choose one that I have not yet read.


“Quiet, please!” said the librarian,

But pirates leap on the shining deck,

Clamber over briny ropes, and then

Sing raucous ballads about a wreck.


“Quiet, please!” said the librarian,

But the jungles crash beneath the stamp

Of the rajah’s elephant, and then

Follows a procession with stately tramp.


“Quiet, please!” said the librarian,

But the horse’s hooves sound loud and clear,

The scaly dragon roars flames, and then

Knight George has freed the folk from fear.


“Well, well,” says the librarian,

“You have been nice and quiet today.”

I nod and smile politely, then

Claim, “It’s not as quiet as they say.”

Lindisfarne Gospels {The Story of Art}

page from the Lindisfarne Gospels. 700.

“The various Teutonic tribes, the Goths, the Vandals, the Saxons, the Danes and the Vikings, who swept through Europe raiding and pillaging, were considered barbarians by those who valued Greek and Roman achievements in literature and art. In a sense they certainly were barbarians, but this need not mean that they had no feeling for beauty, no art of their own. They had skilled craftsmen experienced in finely wrought metalwork, and excellent woodcarvers… They loved complicated patterns which included the twisted bodies of dragons, or birds mysteriously interlaced…

“The monks and missionaries of Celtic Ireland and Saxon England tried to apply the traditions of these northern craftsmen to the tasks of Christian art… [T]he most amazing monuments to their success are some of the manuscripts made in England and Ireland during the seventh and eighth centuries.”

Ernst H. Gombrich, “Chapter 8: Western Art in the Melting Pot,” The Story of Art, 15th edition

The Fairies Have Never a Penny to Spend

'Bear the Changeling Child to my Bower.' (A Midsummer Night's Dream.) Arthur Rackham.


The Fairies Have Never a Penny to Spend

Rose Fyleman


The fairies have never a penny to spend,

They haven’t a thing put by,

But theirs is the dower of bird and of flower

And theirs are the earth and sky.

And though you should live in a palace of gold

Or sleep in a dried-up ditch,

You could never be poor as the fairies are,

And never as rich.


Since ever and ever the world began

They have danced like a ribbon of flame,

They have sung their song through the centuries long

And yet it is never the same.

And though you be foolish and though you be wise,

With hair of silver or gold,

You could never be young as the fairies are,

And never as old.

The Starlight Night

"The stars that nature hung in Heav'n, and fill'd their lamps with everlasting oil, to give due light to the misled and lonely Traveller." (Comus) Arthur Rackham.


The Starlight Night

Gerard Manley Hopkins


Look at the stars! look, look up at the skies!

O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!

The bright boroughs, the circle-citadels there!

Down in dim woods the diamond delves! the elves’-eyes!

The grey lawns cold where gold, where quickgold lies!

Wind-beat whitebeam! airy abeles set on a flare!

Flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare!

Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize.


Buy then! bid then!—What?—Prayer, patience, alms, vows.

Look, look: a May-mess, like on orchard boughs!

Look! March-bloom, like on mealed-with-yellow sallows!

These are indeed the barn, withindoors house

The shocks. This piece-bright paling shuts the spouse

Christ home, Christ and his mother and all his hallows.


An abele is a white poplar.