April 9, 2018

Prayse and disprayese

‘The disfiguring of names is a serious business, though it is often very comical in Joyce’s work and in other places where the Irish penchant for theatricality manifests and amuses itself; yet it is traditionally an office reserved for the Irish bard who was both feared and admired for his ability to “nail a name” on a friend of foe. Terrence Des Pres explains the historical link between naming, satire, and bardic disfigurement in a discussion of Yeats and the ancient, bardic rat-rhymers, suggesting that “the blemish of a nickname” was one of the Gaelic bards’ best defenses against an enemy:
As late as the seventeenth century a famous bard (Teig, son of Daire) challenged his own patrons (the O’Briens) by threatening to “nail a name” on them with his “blister-raising ranns”. ... To “nail a name on a man” could ruin his tribal standing, destroy his reputation and the honor on which his personal worth depended. (Terrence Des Pres, Praises and Dispraises: Poetry and Politics, the Twentieth Century (1988), p. 42)
‘Des Pres explains that “mockery, invective and magical injury” were often involved in cursing of this sort (42), and that the potency or believed potency of the relevant rhymes, verses, and incantations endowed the rat-rhymers with a certain fame: “Irish bards were often more famous for their cursing than for their more constructive powers, their duties and privileges as ministers to the tribe” (38).’

—Claire A. Culleton, Names and Naming in Joyce (1994)

‘Irenius: There is amongest the Irishe, a certen kinde of people called the bardes, which are to them insteade of Poetts, whose profession is to sett forth the prayses and disprayese of men in theire Poems or rymes; the which are had in soe high regarde and estimacon amongest them, that none dare displease them for feare to runne into reproach through theire offence, and to be made infamous in the mouthes of all men. For theire verses are taken up with a generall applause, and usuallye sonnge att all feaste meetings, by certen other persons whose proper function that is, which also receave for this same, great rewardes, and reputacon besides.

‘Eudoxus: Doe you blame this in them, which I would otherwise have thought to have ben worthie of good accompte, and rather to have ben mayntayned and augmented amongest them, then to have ben disliked? for I have reade that in all ages Poetts have bene had in specyall reputacon, and that me seemes not without greate cause; for besides theire sweete invencons, and most wyttie layes, they are alwayes used to sett forth the praises of the good and vertuous, and to beate downe and disgrace the bad and vicyous. Soe that many brave younge mindes have oftentymes, through the hearinge the prayses and famous Eulogies of worthie men songe and reported unto them, benn stirred up to affecte the like commendacons, and soe to stryve unto the like desertes. ...

‘Irenius: It is most true that such Poettes, as in theire wrytinge doe labor to better the Manners of men, and through the sweete bayte of theire nombers, to steale into the younge spirittes a desire of honor and vertue, are worthy to be had in greate respecte. But these Irish bardes are for the most parte of another mynde, and soe far from instructinge younge men in Morrall discipline, that they themselves doe more deserve to be sharplie decyplined; for they seldome use to chuse unto themselves the doinges of good men, for the ornamentes of theire poems, but whomesoever they finde to bee most lycentious of lief, most bolde and lawles in his doinges, most daungerous and desperate in all partes of disobedience and rebellious disposicon, him they sett up and glorifie in their rymes, him they prayse to the people, and to younge men make an example to followe.

‘Eudoxus: I mervayle what kinde of speaches they cann finde, or what face they cann put on, to prayse such lewde persons as lyve so lawleslie and licensiouslie upon stealthes and spoiles, as most of them doe; or howe can they thincke that any good mynde will applaude the same?

‘Irenius: There is none soe bad, Eudoxus, but that shall finde some to fauor his doinges; but such licentious partes as these, tendinge for the most parte to the hurte of the English, or mayntenance of theire owne lewd libertye, they themselves, beinge most desirous therto, doe most allowe. Besides these evill thinges beinge deckt and suborned with the gay attyre of goodlie wordes, may easilie deceave and carry awaye the affeccon of a younge mynde, that is not well stayed, but desirous by some bolde adventure to make profe of himselfe; for beinge (as they all bee) brought up idlelie, without awe of parents, without precepts of masters, without feare of offence, not beinge directed, nor imployed in anye coorse of lief, which may carry them to vertue, will easilie be drawen to followe such as any shall sett before them: for a younge mynde cannot but rest; yf he bee not still busied in some goodnes, he will finde himselfe such busines as shall soone busye all about him. In which yf he shall finde any to prayse him, and to geve hym encorragement, as those Bardes and rymers doe for little rewarde, or a share of a stollen cowe, then waxeth he moste insolent and halfe mad with the love of himselfe, and his owne lewde deedes. And as for wordes to sett forth such lewdenes, yt is not hard for them to geve a goodlie glose and paynted showe thereunto, borrowed even from the prayses which are proper unto vertue yt selfe. As of a most notorius theife and wicked outlawe, which had lyved all his tyme of spoiles and robberies, one of theire Bardes in his praise findes, That he was none of those idle mylkesoppes that was brought up by the fyer side, but that most of his dayes he spent in armes and valiant enterprises; that he never did eate his meate before he had wonne yt with his sworde; that he laye not slugginge all night in a cabben under his mantle, but used commonly to kepe others wakinge to defend theire lyves, and did light his Candle at the flame of their howses to leade him in the darknes; that the day was his night, and the night his daye; that he loved not to lye woinge of wenches to yealde to him, but where he came he toke by force the spoile of other mens love, and left but lamentacon to theire lovers; that his musicke was not the harpe, nor layes of love, but the Cryes of people, and clashinge of armor, and that fynally, he died not wayled of manye, but [made] many wayle when he died, that dearlye bought his death. Doe you not thinke, Eudoxus, that many of these prayses might be applied to men of best desert? yet are they all yeilded to moste notable traytors, and amongest some of the Irish not smallye accompted of. For the same, when yt was first made and soung vnto a person of high degree, they were bought as their manner is, for fortie crownes.

‘Eudoxus: And well worth sure. But tell me I pray you, have they any arte in their composicons? or bee they any thinge wyttye or well favored, as poems shoulde bee?

‘Irenius: Yea truly; I haue caused diuers of them to be translated unto me that I might understande them; and surelye they savored of sweete witt and good invencon, but skilled not of the goodly ornamentes of Poetrie: yet were they sprinckled with some prettye flowers of theire owne naturall devise, which gave good grace and comlines unto them, the which yt is greate pittye to see soe good an ornament abused, to the gracinge of wickednes and vice, which woulde with good usage serve to bewtifie and adorne vertue. This evill custome therefore needeth reformacon.’

—Edmund Spenser, A vewe of the present state of Ireland: discoursed by waie of a dialogue betwene Eudoxus & Irenius (1596) (via Corpus of Electronic Texts, University College, Cork)

“’Tis not War we Want to Wage
With THomond THinned by outrage.
SLIGHT not Poets' Poignant spur
Of RIGHT ye Owe it hOnor.

“Can there Cope a Man with Me
In Burning hearts Bitterly,
At my BLows men BLUSH I wis,
Bright FLUSH their Furious Faces.

“Store of blister-Raising Ranns
These are my Weighty Weapons,
Poisoned, STriking STRONG through men,
They Live not LONG so striken.

“SHelter from my SHafts or rest
Is not in Furthest Forest,
Far they FALL, words Soft as Snow,
No WALL can WARD my arrow.

“To QUench in QUarrels good deeds,
To Raise up WRongs in hundreds,
To NAIL a NAME on a man,
I FAIL not—FAME my weapon.”

—Douglas Hyde, from a poem by Teige Mac Daire, from the Irish, a translation in the meter of the original (The Golden Treasury of Irish Songs and Lyrics (1907), edited by Charles Welsh)

(‘At the commencement of the seventeenth century, most of the senachies in the kingdom were engaged in a poetical controversy respecting the claims to superiority between the great northern family of O'Neal and the great southern one of O'Brien, a subject on which several thousand verses were employed. These have been collected, and are termed by Irish scholars, ‘the Contention of the Bards;’ the contest arose out of a composition of Teige Mac Daire's, who was retained as poet by Donogh O'Brien, the fourth Earl of Thomond, and was answered by Louis O'Clery, poet to O'Neal. Rejoinder and reply almost innumerable ensued, and the majority of the bards of that period became involved in the dispute.’ —Thomas Crofton Croker, Researches in the South of Ireland (1969) (via Corpus of Electronic Texts))