Today is Friday, the day of Freya, the Goddess of Love. And Valentine’s Day is coming up. So something dealing with the days of the week seems appropriate.
Here we go… a poem I’ve written on this very subject.
WEEKDAY OF THE CONQUEROR
To begin our vika, the day of the Sunna
Lighting the path, the lord of the sky
Then realm of the dead, marked by the Móna
The silver orb, it floats slowly by.
Tyr’s time now comes, the fighter god
Off to battle, off to war;
Now Odin’s day, the ravens’ lord
God of wisdom, wolf and war
And Thor, his day, the lightning-strike
In enemies inspiring fear
Freya, goddess, last, Odin’s wife
Most lovely fair of all Æsir.
At week’s end, then comes Saturn, ’twas
The lord of time, but that was Rome
No time this day, by William’s cause,
Is this day so far from its home.
An impostor; the King of Time’s
Confusion has been done.
Cursen week; cursen tongue.
And some comments on it.
The poem is composed of six couplets, running through the first six days of the week, followed by four lines about Saturday, the last day of the week, and then three rather confused lines about how the week has been cursed.
The poem is essentially about how the Germanic and Latin cultures mixed and melded to form the English language as we know it today. The poem takes a stance against this meld. It says that the English language, exemplified by our names for the different days of the week, has been corrupted by the infusion of Latin (via the Normans).
This is clearly a historical simplification, but the basic idea isn’t meaningless. Th poem says that culture is a good. Before William the Conqueror invaded (quite a bit before, really), there was the Germanic culture, and the Roman culture. They were both rather fascinating. By mixing together, though, they became, by comparison, boring and sterile. They lost the parts that made them unique, and retained that which was by comparison universal. They became homogeneous.
Eventually, if present trends continue, all humanity will share a common culture. If that happens, we will have lost something, something that probably can never be regained.
But something was also gained in this transaction. Long before ol’ William invaded, England had been Christianized. This was, in my opinion, quite clearly a Good Thing ™. And it could not have happened without the interaction of cultures. Christianity could not have spread in the first place without the Roman Empire, which connected all the different peoples around the Mediterranean into one great nation. (Note that this, too, is reflected in the poem. The word “cursen” sounds like “cursed”, but it is really a shortened version of the word “Christian”.)
It doesn’t seem, then, like it would have been possible for Christianity to enter England without changing more than just their pagan religion. And the changing of language is a very natural process (though it can be on occasion forcibly imposed). So it seems foolish to lament that the world is a melting pot, on its way to homogeneity. This trend will, in fact, probably work for the advantage of Christianity.
And, while it still seems unfortunate to me, the fact is we still have preserved of Old English the most important result of any language – literature. We still have Beowulf, and Pearl, and all the rest. So it’s acceptable, I guess, to lose one culture and gain another, so long as you retain the memory of that culture, and that culture’s literature. You even seem to gain something – variety.
For now we have literature written in both Old English, and Middle English, and Modern English. And Latin, and Spanish, and French, and Italian. And in every other language on earth. That does indeed seem better to me than having only Old English and Latin as possible languages.