Auld Lang Syne

Friday, December 7, 2012

Four words and a discussion on "Flyting"

I am a word freak. No doubt about that. Some people quilt or knit in front of the TV. I prefer finding interesting words and figuring out how to use them in poems and other writings. Today, looking up some information on my ancestor, Scot poet, William Dunbar, I discovered 4 words and came up with a poem analysis of a famous poem in which he is a participant (see below flyting).


1. Gleg (adjective)  means sharp-witted or intelligent
From that comes gleg-gabbit which means smooth-tongued.

OK so now I'm intrigued. Gleg might find its use in some poems where a rhyming word is needed, particularly in an ars poetica wherein I am striving to unveil the poetic process itself. Can you imagine how I might use gleg-gabbit that way? Hmmm. I'm starting to get itchy-fingered here and start writing that poem.

Certainly I'd love to be thusly described. Am I gleg-gabbit? Have I the quality of gleg?

2. Makar (noun)  means poet or bard. The qualities of a makar include quickness of expression, concision of expression (there go the darned adverbs and adjectives!). A makar creates quality, controlled, formal poems.

OK the intrigue grows. Am I in any way to be included in this illustrious group? Am I up to the poetic legacy of my ancestor who is legendary as a makar? I want to be known thusly. I really do.

3. Aureation (noun)

From gold. Means "to make golden." This is a device in rhetoric or poetry that involves a gliding or heightening of diction in one language by the use or introduction of terms from another. Consider this poem in which I use a French idiom to heighten the music of the wind's bluster. I use the idiom (It's a blustery day) as the title and immediately define it in the first line, first phrase:

Le vent souffle en bourrasques

It’s a blustery day, my head full of cotton
clouds and blue skies, lies
you once told have blown away like leaves
that died in November. Now we lie
under a maple, listening to the sap run
against our beating hearts. Tell me sweet
that you will stay. Le vent souffle en bourrasques
my darling; hold me close and stay.

Some critics believe aureation is an abomination, an unnecessary boasting of one's gleg as it were. Some critics think aureators are just showing off. What do YOU think? [talk among yourselves and then comment!]

4. Flyting (noun) is a kind of poem used in medieval times (when Dunbar was writing a performing his poetry) as a way to "roast" or insult another person, in Dunbar's case even King James of Scotland. His poem The Rose and the Thristle, Dunbar is calling out the monarchy for its self-centerdness and its excesses. Luckily for him, the King was flattered. 

The word, flyting, comes from flyta (meaning provocation) and flitan (meaning quarrel) and refers to a ritual poetic exchange of insults. Dunbar was a master of flyting. But he was not alone in his mastery.

In the dual poem (The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie) there are two exchanges. Dunbar opens the verbal, poetic battle with a three-stanza address to his commissar, heaping lofty scorn on the poetic pretensions of Kennedy.  Kennedy shoots back in three stanzas of his own, an address (very pointed and personal) to Dunbar, admonishing him to bide his wheesht. Undaunted, Dunbar unleashes a sustained poetic attack  in no fewer than 25 stanzas; Kennedy counters with an equally sustained reply, topping Dunbar's 25 with 38. And so the battle rages on and on, with each taunting, insulting and provoking the other in turn.

There is a great show of outrageous verbal glegness by both makars ending with with a showy verbal exchange in which are found the doubling and tripling of rhymes and intense alliterative language.

Evill farit and dryit, as Denseman on the rattis... (The Flyting, l.51)
Structurally, Dunbar uses the standard eight-line ballade stanza for his major attack, but his opening stanzas use the variant rhyme scheme ababbccb.

It is this variant that Kennedy employs throughout in both of his replies. The lines are pentameter, 5 feet of meter, 10 syllables in all.
It is interesting to study the content of the insults in this flyting: There are seen definite strategies of mock character assassination. Accusations even involve the capital crimes of theft, treason, and heresy [sounds a bit like what is going on in political circles and among talk-show pundits like Limbaugh and Hannity et al]. At certain points in the poem, there appears a potentially dangerous sense of political frisson. Kennedy actually describes the Dunbar coat of arms as a noose replete with "Hang Dunbar" written underneath. 
Most of the insults thrown by Dunbar are matched in kind by Kennedy, balancing the poem as to its overall structure. The insults are graphic and personal. Both cast doubt on the other's poetic skill; Kennedy states that while he ascends Mt. Parnassus to imbibe the insiprational waters, Dunbar goes in early spring to a farm pond and drinks of frogspawn.

Dunbar characterizes Kennedy as speaking in a rough and barbarian-style dialect, as well as being physically hideous and shriveled, and as being poor and hungry. Kennedy is no slouch in the insults department either, suggesting Dunbar was a dwarf, descendant of Beelzebub and having no control of his bowels, even to the point of nearly sinking a ship in which he was traveling. 
Anthologies often print Dunbar's portion alone, but the battle between the two makars was evenly matched. According to some, Dunbar may be stronger in his bombast, while Kennedy seems to exercise tonal subtlety. Even if no actual images of either man have survived, this flyting may indeed be the portraiture of these two well-armed gleg-gabbit makars.

Thus ends my afternoon of verbal delight. I am feeling full and satisfied. I hope that you take time to gleg this post and comment in your very best manner!

Carol B, hopeful gleg-gabbit makar 


  1. Lela Northcross WakelyDecember 7, 2012 at 5:17 PM

    I would enjoy a good lampoon or a flyting of Congress just about now. They need it, if they would pay heed, which I doubt, more's the pity for America.

  2. a flyting seems to be in order indeed... but then they would get to flyte back and that would be UGLY