Thursday, October 03, 2013

Tuesday Poem - on a Thursday from Edinburgh

Bessie Bell and Mary Gray
(Child 201 Ballad, also known as 'The Twa Lassies'

   O Bessie Bell and Mary Gray,
   They were twa bonnie lasses;
They biggit a bower on yon burn-brae,
   And theekit it o'er wi' ashes.

They theekit it o'er wi' rushes green,
   They theekit it o'er wi' heather;
But the pest cam frae the burghs-toun,
   And slew them baith taegither.

They thought tae lie in Methven kirkyard,
   Amang their noble kin;
But they maun lie in Stronach haugh,
   To bieck forment the sin.

And Bessie Bell and Mary Gray,
   They were twa bonnie lasses;
They biggit a bower on yon burn-brae,
   And theekit it o'er with rashes.

This version of the ballad was sourced from a little book edited by Charles Sinclair,  Scotland's Bloody Ballads, Goblinshead Press, 2011 - there are at least three of these small books produced (for the tourist trade) and they are examples of innovative souvenirs; transportable, interesting and so much better than keyrings and the like.  Hats off to Goblinshead Press!

I was watching the BBC4 programme, Handmade in Britain, last night about the history of English embroidery, which was extremely fine in the Middle Ages. The English had two stitches which enabled them to produce wonderful work; the split stitch which allowed for shading and very subtle, expressive details and underside couching, which used linen to anchor fine gold or silver thread, making it more flexible. What has this to do with Bessie Bell and Mary Gray? Well, the ballad tells of two friends who die from the plague. The plague also wiped out half the population of London, where most of the embroidery industry was based. This effectively ended the Opus Anglicanum - 'English Work' - which had produced such wonderful artworks.

They were plundered for the precious jewels and pearls, deliberately destroyed during the Reformation and deteriorated through time so few examples of Opus Anglicanum remain. But the ones that do are stunning. Apprenticeships took seven years and work was closely scrutinised by the Broderers Guild.

All rather a far cry from Bessie Bell and Mary Gray - but there's a link there!

A less tenuous link is the Tuesday Poem hub - find yourself in different poetic worlds and times beginning with a love poem, 'If We Could Speak Like Wolves' by Kim Moore, edited this week by Kathleen James.

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