Scops and Skalds

From the August/September 2015 Print Edition

Becoming a Poet in Anglo-Saxon England

by emily thornbury

cambridge, 338 pages, $99
My years of mandatory Latin began when I was eleven. Almost immediately I hated the language more than the mandatory tie and jacket that made me an easy target for bullying on the six public buses I rode each day. The first-year curriculum would have been recognizable to the school’s students of 1645: memorization of vocabulary, declensions, and conjugations—policed by weekly quizzes. In the second year we translated sentences from turn-of-the-century primers and spouted “correct” answers such as “Is it the case that a stylus has been given by me to you?” I particularly hated the ablative case—the attachment of a prepositional meaning to a noun that ended with certain letters. Just when I thought I had mastered every category of the ablative, our “masters” (yes, that’s what they were called in those days) would demoralize me by revealing yet another category. I still have nightmares about phantoms such as “the ablative of indifference” and “the ablative of intermittent desperation.” Continue Reading »

Japanese Maple in January

From the January 2013 Print Edition

All spring she brushed aside my arguments that it was cheaper and would make more sense to fill the yard with hardy Yankee stock. She bought her maple, junked the chain-link fence, and tried to start a lawn; our crabby flock of grackles grew too fat on seed to quarrel. While masons tamed the mud . . . . Continue Reading »

Farewell, Mr. Wizard

From the November 2011 Print Edition

I conjure NBC in black-and-white. You drop dry ice in water; fog is rising. You sell us Celsius and Fahrenheit. I lose you in a cloud of advertising” Winston, Esso, Zenith, Mr. Clean, those thirty-second breaks for Ovaltine” then smile at Bunsen burners and balloons, more ropes and . . . . Continue Reading »

No Man’s Island

From the November 2009 Print Edition

for JFK Jr. A strip of violet quivers in the haze” a near-mirage above the furrowed grays and blues of Vineyard Sound, an afterthought of windworn scrub the military bought and then abandoned. Peace returned except for sea retaking shoreline. Surf has swept away most tools of combat, but in . . . . Continue Reading »