2018 Smackdown Poem – The Legend of My Mistress’s Ass

Not sure if this makes me a good apprentice, a bad apprentice, or some of both. Mistress Ceridwen was running the Gyrth Oldcastle Memorial Poetry Smackdown this year. In previous years, multiple poems have been written about her, and they seemed to focus on her butt.  So, as one can imagine, her sweet and innocent apprentice/protegee is confused about all the attention being paid to her mistress’s ass.

There are two kind of inside jokes that make the poem make a bit more sense.  The first is, well, Master Giacomo being Giacomo.  He likes to torment Ceridwen.  Kind of a lot.  He’ll say, “Hey Ceridwen!,” “flash” her, and she has kind of an involuntary shriek reaction.  (Flash is in scare quotes because he’s got braies on—he’s not actually being indecent in the middle of the event.)  The other is that when Ceridwen was Baroness of Windmaster’s Hill, a squire named Dan was referring to rapier fighters as “skinny butt boys” (referring to a certain attitude).  She protested that she wasn’t like that, and he stuck his foot right in his mouth when he said, “Oh, no, Your Excellency!  There’s nothing skinny about your butt!”

The Legend of My Mistress’s Ass

A humble apprentice am I.

My mistress is noble and kind,

A lady in poetry skilled.

None better could you ever find.


One summer day sunny and fair,

I went with her donkey to town

On errands she sent me to run,

To visit the shops up and down.


And soon was he laden with books

Of poetry, stories, and song

No matter how heavy the load,

He faithfully plodded along.


I marveled as we went along

How many did stop on the way

And called out, “Hey, that’s a nice ass!”

Or patted the donkey that day.


When Giacomo saw us go past,

He called out, “Hey, Ceridwen, look!”

He lifted his tunic up high.

I shielded my eyes with a book.


But then when he saw who I was,

Embarrassed he cast his eyes low.

He said, “I saw Ceridwen’s ass

And wanted to give her a show.”


I said, “Not to worry, good sir.

Your message I’ll go and relay

And tell her about the small thing

You wanted to show her today.”


We walked by the tournament field.

One fighter stepped forward to call,

“Your donkey is sturdily built.

That ass isn’t skinny at all!”


When finally I returned home,

The donkey had well earned his rest.

Unloading his burdens I said,

“My mistress’s ass is the best!”



Sievers Analysis of Ealdgyth’s Lament

In my last post, I went through my poem “Ealdgyth’s Lament” and identified the Sievers types for the meter.  I learned a couple things that I think will be useful for future poems.

First off, I’m using type A an awful lot. That’s not necessarily a problem, but it does result in two-half lines with the same type. One thing that seems to be tripping me up with varying the half-lines is that two half-lines can be different in terms of strict meter but the same Sievers type.  For example, the line:

English armies (A) / ambushed his forces (A)

“English armies” is trochaic dimeter, the most obvious version of type A. “Ambushed his forces” is messier if you try to assign modern scansion to it. It’s a dactyl followed by a trochee. But, because you can have multiple unstressed syllables together, it still falls under type A.

This is another spot where the rhythm of Old English poetry is hard to hear. It’d be really obvious if I wrote a whole poem in trochaic or iambic octameter that it was far too regular for Old English poetry. But it’s harder to hear that variations between Sievers types are still basically the same.  (At least, assuming Sievers was right about how the Anglo-Saxons categorized their poetry. There’s no Anglo-Saxon equivalent to the Prose Edda, which provides detailed directions on how to write Norse/Icelandic poetry, so scholars have to work backwards from the poems to figure out what the rules were. And there’s debate on whether he got it right or overcomplicated things, that I really need to look into.)

To revise that, I might change the second half-line to “ambushed his men,” which would make it an E rather than an A.

I also had several half-lines that don’t fit into Sievers types at all, because they only have one group of unstressed syllables. “Twice widowed,” “His crown claimed,” “waiting in dread,” and “to the Welsh king” are all examples of this.

Fortunately, these aren’t hard to fix. “Twice a widow” is an A, as is “Claimed was his crown.” “Claimed was his crown” also keeps the stress on both C syllables. “To the Welsh king” also isn’t too tricky, because the Anglo-Saxons had a kenning for king to fit pretty much any alliteration or meter you need. Friend-lord, ring-giver, folk-king, and a bunch more. So, “To Wales’ ring-lord” would be type C. “Waiting in dread” could become “Waiting tearfully” or “Waiting in anguish” (both type A).

My overall takeaway from this exercise is that if I want a poem that sticks closely to the stress patterns found in Old English poetry, my ear is not up for the task. I need to actually write the first draft, analyze it line by line, and make little changes from there, at least for a long poem that tells a story. I may try writing a riddle poem starting with the meter—make a bunch of half-lines in various Sievers types that fit the thing I’m describing, and see if I can piece them together into something I like.  And, of course, I need to get my hands on more scholarly articles about Old English verse. I’m curious how Sievers came up with the types, as well as what the alternate theories are.

Fun with Sievers Types

I took an absolutely amazing Anglo-Saxon poetry class at Pennsic, taught by Mistress Fiana of Clare. “Why Poets Should Use the English Style” explained *in persona* how Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse works and why it’s well suited to writing in modern English. She managed to talk about the differences between Old English and Modern English in persona by referring to Old English just as Englisc and Modern English as “our common tongue” and explaining that it’s got a mix of English, French, Latin and other languages.

One of the cool things about the class was that the handout had exercises for creating half-lines and building them into verses.  It explained the alliteration first, then had you come up with some alliterative phrases. Then, it got into the stress patterns, which are divided up into 5 types, called Sievers types after the guy who identified them. In that exercise, you create a half line or two for each Sievers type.  Then, you start putting your half-lines together, making sure they follow the rules of alliteration as a full line.

In the Anglo-Saxon poetry I’ve written so far, I’ve taken the meter pretty loosely. I’ve stuck strictly to “two stressed syllables in each half-line” because the alliteration is based on those stresses, and if it doesn’t alliterate in the right spot, it’s just not Anglo-Saxon verse. But I sort of let the unstressed syllables fall where they would, and didn’t actually check whether they fell into the Sievers types.

One of the things I decided to do after Pennsic to up my Anglo-Saxon poetry game was to take a previous poem, analyze it by Sievers type, and see how I did.

In one of his translated songs on the album Trouvere, Master Efenwealt Wystle has the great line “May God help me with scansion.”  I’m pretty sure that needs to be my prayer too. One of the things I love about Anglo-Saxon verse is that the meter is irregular. Writing in, say, iambic pentameter without sounding ricky-ticky doesn’t necessarily come naturally to me.

But the tricky thing about a loose stress pattern is that it’s not actually “anything goes” and being a little bit irregular makes it tougher to tell if you’ve got it right.  If you read a ten-syllable line, it’s usually really easy to tell if it’s iambic pentameter or not. And if it’s not, you can tell exactly where it goes off the rails.

With Anglo-Saxon verse, each half-line needs to fit into one of five patterns, and it should really *not* share a pattern with the other half-line in its line.  You *can* do it, but it’s considered not great poetically.  It’s kind of a cop-out, probably about like rhyming a word with itself.

Because there’s a very broad set of patterns it’s much harder to “hear” than regular meter. So, I went through my poem Ealdgyth’s lament, line by line, and identified the Sievers types. The following poem, which gives an example of each Sievers type and tells a little story, was really helpful. (I got it from Old English Metre: A Brief Guide by Daniel Paul O’Donnell.)

Anna Angry (A)

And Bryhtnoth bold (B)

In keen conflict (C)

Drive Don backwards (D)

Each one with edge (E)

One variation that’s important is that types A, D, and E can have anacrusis – an unstressed syllable preceding them.  So, you could have “When Anna angry” or “To drive Don backwards” and those would still be valid.

So, here’s Ealdgyth’s Lament with the Sievers types (and X’s where I just got the meter wrong).  The next post will talk about what I learned from this exercise.

Widowed and weeping – (A) / woeful my lot – (E)

Ever an exile – (A) / endless my sorrow – (A)

Widowed and weeping – (A) / woeful my lot – (E)

In trials tearful –  (C) / twice widowed – (X – missing an unstressed syllable)

Of kingdoms broken (A w/ anacrusis) / a queen again – (B)

Harold my husband (A) / at Hastings slain (B)

His crown claimed (X – missing an unstressed syllable) / his kingdom falling (A with anacrusis)

Bravely my brothers (A)  / brought me to shelter (A)

Fearful was our flight (E) / fleeing from London (A)

To a stout city (C) / safe behind walls (E)

Armies advance (E) / onward in conquest (A)

Sorrow surrounds us (A) / safety is fleeting (A)

Can walls withstand (B) / William’s forces? (A)

I wake weeping (C) / waiting in dread (X – missing an unstressed syllable)

Loud lamenting (A) / but not for my lord (E with anacrusis)

A husband I hardly knew (A with anacrusis) / How shall I mourn him?(A)

Once I was wed (E) / to the Welsh king (X – missing an unstressed syllable)
Eager he allied (A)/ with Aelfgar my father (A with anacrusis)

Brief was my bliss (E) / broken in war (E)

English armies (A) / ambushed his forces (A)

Hacked off his head (E) / to Harold sent it (A with anacrusis)

His kingdom sundered (A with anacrusis) / among kinsmen divided (A with anacrusis)

I was not eager (A) / again to wed (B)

Pawn and peace-weaver (A) / passed between men (E)

I weep for my fate (E with anacrusis) / fearful, uncertain (A)

For the child I carry (A with anacrusis) / his kingdom taken (A)

Where will we wander (A) / weary exiles? (A)

Seeking safety (A) / searching for a home (E)


Poeta Atlantiae

Okay, so I could’ve sworn I posted these back in May, but here are the two poems I entered in the Poeta Atlantiae competition (and won!). The theme was “Endings” and the contest required two different period forms, so I went with my two favorites: an Anglo-Saxon alliterative poem and a sonnet.

Ealdgyth’s Lament

Widowed and weeping / woeful my lot

Ever an exile / endless my sorrow

In trials tearful / twice widowed

Of kingdoms broken / a queen again

Harold my husband / at Hastings slain

His crown claimed / his kingdom falling

Bravely my brothers / brought me to shelter

Fearful was our flight / fleeing from London

To a stout city / safe behind walls

Armies advance / onward in conquest

Sorrow surrounds us / safety is fleeting

Can walls withstand / William’s forces?

I wake weeping / waiting in dread

Loud lamenting / but not for my lord

A husband I hardly knew / How shall I mourn him?

Once I was wed / to the Welsh king
Eager he allied / with Aelfgar my father

Brief was my bliss / broken in war

English armies / ambushed his forces

Hacked off his head / to Harold sent it

His kingdom sundered / among kinsmen divided

I was not eager / again to wed

Pawn and peace-weaver / passed between men

I weep for my fate / fearful, uncertain

For the child I carry / his kingdom taken

Where will we wander / weary exiles?

Seeking safety / searching for a home


Anglo-Saxon Verse

The poem is Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse (the same verse style as Beowulf). It has a fairly loose meter, with two stressed syllables in each half line. The number of unstressed syllables varies from line to line. Rather than rhyming, it has alliteration, with one or both of the  stressed syllables in the first half-line alliterating with the first stressed syllable of the stressed syllables in the second half-line, usually the first.

The rules for Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse are a little different than modern alliteration. First, the focus is on the stressed syllables, whether they come at the beginning of the word or not.  For example, “fighting forever” looks like it alliterates, using the “f” sound at the beginning of both words.  But, since “forever” is accented on the second syllable,, it doesn’t.  “Finding misfortune,” on the other hand, would be considered alliteration in Anglo-Saxon verse. The other bit of weirdness is that all the different vowel sounds are considered to alliterate with each other. So, you could alliterate not only “axes and apples,” but also “axes and elephants” or “axes and ice cream.”

Anglo-Saxon verse also uses kennings—compound words or phrases used to metaphorically rename an object or concept. Kennings are useful in alliterative verse, because they allow objects to be renamed to fit the alliterative structure.  “Peace-weaver,” which I used in this poem, is a kenning that refers to a woman married to an enemy in order to secure peace.

Another common figure of speech in Anglo-Saxon verse is ironic understatement that uses a negative to emphasize a positive. (A modern example would be “not bad looking” to mean handsome.) I pictured Ealdgyth being distraught at being expected to marry the man responsible not only for her husband’s death, but who also may have had some hand in her father’s exile, so I used “I was not eager / again to wed” to emphasize that.

Events in the Poem

This poem is inspired by the Norman Conquest in 1066. Harold Godwineson, the recently crowned king of England, was killed in battle with William of Normandy’s forces, paving the way for William to claim the English crown. Since my persona is Anglo-Saxon, the Norman Conquest fits very nicely with the theme of “Endings.”

I wanted to explore this from the perspective of William’s queen, Ealdgyth. She married King Gruffudd ap Llewellyn, the first and only king of Wales, in approximately 1057. Her father, Aelfgar, had been exiled for treason, and the marriage cemented his alliance with the Welsh king.  Her husband was killed when Harold Godwineson invaded Wales in 1063, and the kingdom of Wales was broken up. Some time between 1063 and 1066, Ealdgyth was later married again, to Harold. When Harold was killed, her brothers took her from London to Chester, a walled city near Wales which was the last to fall to William. It’s not known what happened to her after she went to Chester.  It’s also not entirely certain which of Harold’s children, if any, she bore.  Harold had a common-law wife (married according to pagan traditions rather than Christian ones) prior to his marriage to Ealdgyth, and had several children with her. To muddle things even more, she was also named Ealdgyth, called Edith the Fair or Edith the Gentle Swan. It’s been speculated that Harold’s son Harold was Queen Ealdgyth’s son.

I was struck by the rather depressing symmetry of Ealdgyth’s life. She had two husbands, both kings who were killed in battles that spelled either dissolution or conquest for their respective kingdoms. Wales was divided into three kingdoms, while England came under Norman rule.


Cavendish, Richard. “The King of Wales is Murdered,” History Today, 8 August 2013: http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/king-wales-murdered

Delahoyde, Michael, “Anglo-Saxon Culture.” Washington State University. http://public.wsu.edu/~delahoyd/medieval/anglo-saxon.html

Ealdgyth 2, Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England: http://pase.ac.uk/jsp/pdb?dosp=VIEW_RECORDS&st=PERSON_NAME&value=15095&level=1&lbl=Ealdgyth

Hartley, Cathy. A Historical Dictionary of British Women. London: Routledge, 2003. Accessed via Google Books: https://books.google.com/books?id=uY2B224NwmYC

O’Donnel, Daniel. “Old English Metre: A Brief Guide.” University of Lethebridge. http://people.uleth.ca/~daniel.odonnell/Tutorials/old-english-metre-a-brief-guide

The End of the War

Just yesterday, the children laughed and played

Bright pennants fluttered in the summer breeze,

And merchants sold the wondrous things they’d made

While fighters rested under shady trees


Now tents come down and carts are packed en masse

With cloth and canvas, shoes and swords and shields

With nothing left behind but trampled grass

In patches spread across the empty fields


Ten thousand travelers clog the weary roads

To lands diverse and distant as they wend

The wagons scarce can bear their heavy loads

While bleary eyes look toward the journey’s end


Though we must leave, however far we roam,

The wheel turns round, until it brings us home


One of the best known poetic forms in English is the sonnet: fourteen lines of iambic pentameter. The Shakespearean sonnet divides those fourteen lines into three quatrains and a couplet, with the rhyme scheme abab cdcd efef gg.

It’s called the Shakespearean sonnet because Shakespeare’s sonnets are the best known and are considered the epitome of the form, but it didn’t originate with Shakespeare.  Sonnets originated in Italy in the thirteenth century, and the poet Giacomo da Lentini is generally credited with inventing them (Brand and Pertile, 11-12). The most famous of the Italian sonnet writers is Petrarch.

In the sixteenth century, Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey translated a number of Petrarch’s sonnets and wrote many of their own, introducing sonnets to England.  Their sonnets appeared in Tottel’s Miscellany, whose first edition was published in 1557. This was the first printed collection of English poems. It was extremely popular, and was reprinted several times. (Holton and MacFaul)

Surrey is credited with inventing the abab cdcd efef gg rhyme scheme. Petrarchan sonnets in Italian used more complex rhyme schemes (either abba abba cde cde or abba abba cdc cdc), which are better suited to Italian than to English. For example, Surrey’s sonnet “Description of Spring, Wherein each thing renews, save only the Lover” uses this rhyme scheme:

The soote season, that bud and bloom forth brings
With green hath clad the hill and eke the vale;
The nightingale with feathers new she sings;
And turtle to her make hath told her tale.
Summer is come, for every spray now springs;
The hart hath hung his old head on the pale;
The buck in brake his winter coat he flings;
The fishes flete with new repairèd scale;
The adder all her slough away she slings;
The swift swallow pursueth the flies small;
The busy bee her honey now she mings;
Winter is worn that was the flowers’ bale.
And thus I see among these pleasant things
Each care decays, and yet my sorrow springs.

In the late sixteenth century, sonnets were extremely popular, and lots of poets were writing sonnet sequences. Sir Philip Sydney’s Astrophel and Stella, a collection of over 100 sonnets, was published in 1591, and Spenser and Drayton, as well as many others, also produced sonnet collections (Bevington, 1660).   

Shakespeare’s sonnets were actually published after the end of SCA period, in 1609.  However, we know he was writing sonnets in the 1590s, as Francis Meres referred to Shakespeare’s “sugared sonnets” in 1598, noting that they’ve been privately circulated among his friends (Bevington, 1660).

Shakespeare frequently used the sonnet format of three quatrains and a couplet to methodically develop an idea through the quatrains and then either summarize it or turn it on its head in the couplet (Bevington, 1664).  This sudden turn is called a volta, and in Italian sonnets it usually appears at the ninth line.


Bevington, David (ed.) The Complete Works of Shakespeare. 4th ed. Longman: New York, 1997.

Brand, Peter and Lino Pertile. The Cambridge History of Italian Literature. Cambridge University Press: London, 1996. (Google Scholar: https://books.google.com/books?id=3uq0bObScHMC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false, accessed May 25, 2016).

Holton, Amanda and Tom MacFaul (ed.). Tottel’s Miscellany: Songs and Sonnets of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, Thomas Wyatt, and Others. Penguin: New York, 2011. (Google Scholar: https://books.google.com/books?id=9jOzeRwyPKMC&printsec=copyright&source=gbs_pub_info_r#v=onepage&q&f=false, accessed May 25, 2016).

Another Poem – Even Through Flame


This was my entry for the bardic competition at Atlantia’s Spring Coronation.


Even through Flame

A peasant girl who cannot write

No noble lord or gallant knight

But God commands and I shall go

To save my country from her foe

My faith I’ll keep, my voices heed

And serve my Lord in word and deed

At Vaucouleurs, I make my plea

For armored knights to escort me

To Chinon where the Dauphin stands

And bring God’s aid into his hands

You mock and jeer at what I say

But still my voices I’ll obey

To prove the words I say are true

God’s message I present to you

The Dauphin’s forces fall this day

And lose their battle at Rouvray

In two days’ time, a message read

Confirms for you the things I’ve said


We ride to Chinon swiftly now

And I before the Dauphin bow

Though in the crowd he seeks to hide

My voices point me to his side

To prove that God has sent me here

I whisper secrets in his ear

That none could know, save God and he

This gives him cause to trust in me

To Orleans he sends me then

To break the siege and aid his men

I pray and raise my banner high

The armies clash and soldiers die

Nine days of battle fiercely fought

With steadfast faith is victory bought

God keeps His pledge, we turn the tide.

We break the siege and onward ride

To Reims our holy mission bring

To free our land and crown our King


What I have promised, I have done

Many great victories France has won

But at Compeigne, an ambush laid

Am I abandoned and betrayed?

My voices silent to my need

An archer drags me from my steed

I’m thrown into a tiny cell

Alone within a private hell

Unanswered questions, doubt and fear

For why should God have brought me here?

At last my voices speak at length

To succor me and give me strength

For all the trials I’ve yet to face

I ask for God to give me grace


From prison into court I’m led

For trial by those who wish me dead

All English judges who presume

To act as God and seal my doom

With subtle questions to ensnare

And oaths they wish to have me swear

With threats of torture they’d compel

And threaten me with death and hell

Unless I break my every vow

Deny my voices here and now

Tell secrets I have sworn to keep

I am afraid, but will not weep


When in their tricks I am not caught

They have me to the scaffold brought

Pages are placed into my hand

With words I cannot understand

But I must sign or die this day

I know not what the pages say

In faltering fear I sign the page

But in their eyes I still see rage

In four days’ time, the truth I learn

No matter what, they’ll see me burn

They steal the dress I’m told to wear

And leave my soldiers’ clothing there

I see that I was wrong to sign

To leave the truth I knew as mine

I dress myself in soldier’s clothes

Armed with my faith to meet my foes

And I recant from all their lies

To seek the fire that purifies

My secrets I shall never tell

Although you make me walk through hell

The saints have called to me by name

I’ll stand steadfast, even through flame


(8-syllable rhymed couplets, traditional form for French lais. Lais are primarily a 13th and 14th century form, while Joan lived in the 15th century. I thought a simple verse form, without a lot of metaphor or ornamentation was appropriate to represent Joan’s point of view, as a peasant girl who was praised for her simplicity and humility.)

Poetry Smackdown

My favorite thing at Atlantia’s Kingdom Arts & Sciences Festival has got to be the Gyrth Oldcastle Memorial Poetry Smackdown.  A room full of smartass poets ragging on people from history and on each other.  It’s hilarious.  This year, I actually entered.  The format was two poems: an entry fee poem praising baronage, barony, king, queen, or kingdom; and a smack poem poking fun at a historical poet from a list.  This is my smack poem, in which I give Shakespeare some grief for screwing up the historical details of his plays, ripping off everything from everyone, and making up words.

Bashing the Bard

A Smack Poem for the A.S. 51 Gyrth Oldcastle Memorial Poetry Smackdown

By Lady Adriana Michaels

The crowning jewel of all the written word

The writer who puts others all to shame

Has stolen every story that he’s heard

And carelessly misspells his own damn name


Plays fast and loose with history as he wilt

With clocks in ancient Rome to strike each morn

Young Hamlet at a college not yet built

And Aristotle quoted ere he’s born


He makes up words to suit each poem’s need

With meanings mashed and stretched to make them fit

Producing scores of headaches as we read

And struggle vainly to make sense of it


But his worst crime, should he be charged upon it,

Has been inspiring me to write this sonnet


Since Shakespeare is famous for his sonnets, I thought that was the most appropriate verse form to use when ragging on him. Traditionally, a sonnet is fourteen lines of iambic pentameter, with the rhyme scheme abab, cdcd, efef, gg, and my sonnet follows this pattern. I did use an extra syllable in the couplet at the end in order to use a feminine (two-syllable) rhyme, but Shakespeare’s Sonnet 20 does the same thing throughout.


Clarke, Charles and Mary Crowden, “Words Shakespeare Coined,” From The Shakespeare Key. http://shakespeare-online.com/biography/wordscoined.html

Pressley, J. M., “Shakespeare’s Source Material.” http://www.bardweb.net/content/ac/sources.html


“Shakespeare’s Plays Were Full of Anachronisms.” https://www.copyediting.com/shakespeares-plays-were-full-of-anachronisms/#.WLMHC28rKpo

Theriot, Lisa. “Sonnet More Like Shakespeare — Five Things He Does You’re Probably Not Doing.” http://www.ravenboymusic.com/sonnet-more-like-shakespeare-five-things-he-does-youre-probably-not-doing/

Dandelion Garters

With the wool I dyed with dandelions last year, I made a pair of knitted garters.  When I do garters, I knit them in the round on two needles.  It’s like double knit, except that you just move the purl stitches over to the other needle instead of actually purling them.  Knitting Women has an overview of the technique.

Why do I knit garters like this?  The short answer: The Attack Laurel told me to.  Long answer: She briefly mentions knitted garters on her Extreme Costuming page. I wanted to make some, so I asked her about them, including how fine gauge the ones she’d seen were. She emailed me back and mentioned the knitted garters at the MFA, which she said were probably done on 0000 or 00000 needles, knit in the round on two needles.  If you look at the picture, you can see that the pattern is on both sides, which definitely suggests to me that this was the technique used.  (If they were knit flat, you’d have a weird looking reverse side, which would be the wrong side of the colorwork.)  They could also have been knit in the round the usual way, with 4 or 5 needles, but I think that would be really awkward for something this narrow.

The garters I made are not nearly as fancy or as fine gauge, although I would like to do fancy colorwork garters at some point.