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andrew sullivan is going away…here are my favorite(s) of his daily postings.    among many.

Aug 6, 2013 @ 11:14pm

Surprised By Grief

dustymontage3It’s not as if I have any excuse (you warned me plenty of times) but I’m shocked by how wrecked I am right now. Patrick, Chris and Jessie, thank God, have been holding down the fort on the Dish, because otherwise I’m not sure I could think about much else right now. How can the emotions be this strong? She was a dog, after all, not a spouse or a parent.

And yet, today, as I found myself coming undone again and again, I realized that living with another being in the same room for 15 and a half years – even if she was just a mischievous, noisy, disobedient, charming, food-obsessed beagle – adds up to a lot of life together. I will never have a child, and she was the closest I’ll likely get. And she was well into her teens when she died.

She was with me before the Dish; before my last boyfriend, Andy; before I met Aaron. She came from the same breeder as the beagle my friend Patrick got as he faced down AIDS at the end of his life. I guess she was one way to keep him in my life, so it was fitting that his ex-boyfriend drove me to the farm in Maryland to get her. I was going to get a boy and call him Orwell (poseur alert) but there were only girls left by the time we got there. I didn’t know what I was doing but this tiny little brown-faced creature ambled over to me and licked the bottom of my pants. She chose me. On the ride home, I realized I hadn’t thought for a second what to call a girl dog, and then Dusty Springfield came on the radio.

My friends couldn’t believe I’d get a dog or, frankly, be able to look after one. I was such a bachelor, a loner, a workaholic writer and gay-marriage activist with relationships that ended almost as quickly as they had begun. I thought getting a dog would help me become less self-centered. And of course it did. It has to. Suddenly you are responsible for another being that needs feeding and medicine and walking twice a day. That had to budge even me out of my narcissism and work-mania.

But I also got her as the first positive step in my life after the depression I sank into after my viral load went to zero in 1997. I know it sounds completely strange, but the knowledge of my likely survival sent me into the pit of despair. I understand now it was some kind of survivor guilt, and, after so much loss, I had to go through it. I wrote my way out of the bleakness in the end – as usual. But this irrepressible little dog also pulled me feistily out.

She was entirely herself – and gleefully untrainable. I spent a large part of our first years together chasing her around bushes and trees and under wharfs, trying to grab something out of her mouth. She’d find a disgusting rotten fish way underneath a rotting pier, wedge herself in there, eat as much as she felt like and then roll around in ecstasy as I, red-faced, bellowed from the closest vantage point I could get. There was the year that giant tuna carcass washed up on the sand and I lost her for a split second and nearly lost my mind looking for her until I realized she was inside the carcass, rendering herself so stinky it was worse than when she got skunked. But the smile on her face as she trotted right out was unforgettable. It was the same, proud, beaming face that appeared from under a bush in Meridian Hill Park covered in human diarrhea, left by a homeless person. Score!

Good times: the countless occasions she peed in the apartment, always under my blogging chair, driving me to distraction; her one giant chocolate orgasm, when she devoured two boxes of Godiva chocolates left on the floor by a visiting friend, ate every one while we were out at dinner, and then forced me to chase her around the apartment when I got home, as she puked viscous chocolate goo over everything, until I slipped in it too. Yes, she survived. The rug? Not so much.

She was also, it has to be said, always emitting noise. She had a classic howl, and when the two of us lived in a tiny box at the end of a wharf, she would bay instinctively at every person and every dog she saw come near. It’s cute at first. But after a while, she drove most of my neighbors completely potty. I tried the citronella collar, but she found a way to howl that stayed just below the volume that triggered the spray. Howling was what she did. There was no way on earth I was going to stop it.

But there was one exception to this rule. In my bachelor days, I’d stay out late in Ptown, trying to get laid, and often getting to sleep only in the early hours. I installed some floor-to-ceiling window blinds to block out the blinding sun over the water – so I could sleep late (this was before the blog). Dusty – usually so loud and restless – would wait patiently for me to wake up, and wedge herself between the bottom of the fabric of the blind and the glass in the window. That way, she kept an eye on all the various threats, while basking in the heat and light of the morning. And until the minute I stirred, despite all the coming and going around her, she uttered not a peep. In her entire life, she never woke me up. This is the deal, she seemed to tell me. You feed and walk me and house me on a beach all summer long, and I’ll let you sleep in.

It was a deal. She never broke her part of it; and I just finished mine.

(Photo montage by Aaron Tone.)


AUG 5 2013 @ 6:42PM


We spent the morning on the beach, Dusty and I. These last few days, this usually aloof and independent mischief-maker leaned into me. She sat on the sand, her body pressed against my leg, then allowing me to hold her longer than usual in my arms before she’d squirm and wriggle away. Aaron took her to their favorite breakfast take-out spot and ordered the egg-and-bacon burger she had lusted after but never eaten before. Today, it was all hers. But something she would have swallowed in one breath not so long ago, she looked at, nibbled, and let drop. Only strands of bacon tempted her and then, a chocolate chip cookie. No hesitation there.

Our usual vet was on vacation so we took Dusty to another animal hospital, where they were extremely kind. We waited a little outside, which is when Aaron took the above photo. Dusty was shivering a little and panting, but much less agitated than she usually is near a vet. Inside she was given a sedative as I cradled her in my arms. She relaxed as I petted and held her to my face, her tongue suddenly lolling out as the muscles all sagged. There was no reluctance any more. She gave up her fiercely guarded independence to me, in the end, and it touched me so deeply. She was ornery and feisty and selfish usually – only rarely letting her guard down. But now it was fully down; and she let me take care of her one last time.

This was not like waiting for someone to die; it was a positive act to end a life – out of mercy and kindness, to be sure – but nonetheless a positive act to end a life so intensely dear to me for a decade and a half. That’s still sinking in. The power of it. But as we laid her on the table for the final injection, she appeared as serene as she has ever been. I crouched down to look in her cloudy eyes and talk to her, and suddenly, her little head jolted a little, and it was over.

I couldn’t leave her. But equally the sight of her inert and lifeless – for some reason the tongue hanging far out of her mouth disfigured her for me – was too much to bear. I kissed her and stroked her, buried my face in her shoulders, and Aaron wept over her. And then we walked home, hand in hand. As we reached the front door, we could hear Eddy howling inside.

I don’t know how to thank all of you for your emails over the last 24 hours – as well as the thread that helped me understand this whole thing better, as this loomed in the future. Her bed is still there; and the bowl; and the diapers – pointless now. I hung her collar up on the wall and looked out at the bay. The room is strange. She has been in it every day for fifteen and a half years, waiting for me.

Now, I wait, emptied, for her.

Decoding Anglo-Saxon art

Rosie Weetch, curator and Craig Williams, illustrator, British Museum

One of the most enjoyable things about working with the British Museum’s Anglo-Saxon collection is having the opportunity to study the intricate designs of the many brooches, buckles, and other pieces of decorative metalwork. This is because in Anglo-Saxon art there is always more than meets the eye.

The objects invite careful contemplation, and you can find yourself spending hours puzzling over their designs, finding new beasts and images. The dense animal patterns that cover many Anglo-Saxon objects are not just pretty decoration; they have multi-layered symbolic meanings and tell stories. Anglo-Saxons, who had a love of riddles and puzzles of all kinds, would have been able to ‘read’ the stories embedded in the decoration. But for us it is trickier as we are not fluent in the language of Anglo-Saxon art.

Anglo-Saxon art went through many changes between the 5th and 11th centuries, but puzzles and story-telling remained central. The early art style of the Anglo-Saxon period is known as Style I and was popular in the late 5th and 6th centuries. It is characterised by what seems to be a dizzying jumble of animal limbs and face masks, which has led some scholars to describe the style as an ‘animal salad’. Close scrutiny shows that Style I is not as abstract as first appears, and through carefully following the decoration in stages we can unpick the details and begin to get a sense for what the design might mean.

Silver-gilt square-headed brooch from Grave 22, Chessell Down, Isle of Wight. Early Anglo-Saxon, early 6th century AD

Decoding the great square-headed brooch from Chessel Down

One of the most exquisite examples of Style I animal art is a silver-gilt square-headed brooch from a female grave on the Isle of Wight. Its surface is covered with at least 24 different beasts: a mix of birds’ heads, human masks, animals and hybrids. Some of them are quite clear, like the faces in the circular lobes projecting from the bottom of the brooch. Others are harder to spot, such as the faces in profile that only emerge when the brooch is turned upside-down. Some of the images can be read in multiple ways, and this ambiguity is central to Style I art.

Turning the brooch upside-down reveals four heads in profile on the rectangular head of the brooch, highlighted in purple.

Once we have identified the creatures on the brooch, we can begin to decode its meaning. In the lozenge-shaped field at the foot of the brooch is a bearded face with a helmet underneath two birds that may represent the Germanic god Woden/Odin with his two companion ravens. The image of a god alongside other powerful animals may have offered symbolic protection to the wearer like a talisman or amulet.

Decoding the great gold buckle from Sutton Hoo, Suffolk

Style I was superseded by Style II in the late 6th century. This later style has more fluid and graceful animals, but these still writhe and interlace together and require patient untangling. The great gold buckle from Sutton Hoo is decorated in this style. From the thicket of interlace that fills the buckle’s surface 13 different animals emerge. These animals are easier to spot: the ring-and-dot eyes, the birds’ hooked beaks, and the four-toed feet of the animals are good starting points. At the tip of the buckle, two animals grip a small dog-like creature in their jaws and on the circular plate, two snakes intertwine and bite their own bodies. Such designs reveal the importance of the natural world, and it is likely that different animals were thought to hold different properties and characteristics that could be transferred to the objects they decorated. The fearsome snakes, with their shape-shifting qualities, demand respect and confer authority, and were suitable symbols for a buckle that adorned a high-status man, or even an Anglo-Saxon king.

The five senses on the Fuller Brooch. Click on the image for a larger version

Animal art continued to be popular on Anglo-Saxon metalwork throughout the later period, when it went through further transformations into the Mercian Style (defined by sinuous animal interlace) in the 8th century and then into the lively Trewhiddle Style in the 9th century. Trewhiddle-style animals feature in the roundels of the Fuller Brooch, but all other aspects of its decoration are unique within Anglo-Saxon art. Again, through a careful unpicking of its complex imagery we can understand its visual messages. At the centre is a man with staring eyes holding two plants. Around him are four other men striking poses: one, with his hands behind his back, sniffs a leaf; another rubs his two hands together; the third holds his hand up to his ear; and the final one has his whole hand inserted into his mouth. Together these strange poses form the earliest personification of the five senses: Sight, Smell, Touch, Hearing, and Taste. Surrounding these central motifs are roundels depicting animals, humans, and plants that perhaps represent God’s Creation.

This iconography can best be understood in the context of the scholarly writings of King Alfred the Great (died AD 899), which emphasised sight and the ‘mind’s eye’ as the principal way in which wisdom was acquired along with the other senses. Given this connection, perhaps it was made at Alfred the Great’s court workshop and designed to be worn by one of his courtiers?

Throughout the period, the Anglo-Saxons expressed a love of riddles and puzzles in their metalwork. Behind the non-reflective glass in the newly opened Sir Paul and Lady Ruddock Gallery of Sutton Hoo and Europe AD 300-1100, you can do like the Anglo-Saxons and get up close to these and many other objects to decode the messages yourself.

Click on the thumbnails below to view in a full-screen slideshow

The Sir Paul and Lady Ruddock Gallery of Sutton Hoo and Europe AD 300–1100 recently opened after a major redisplay in Room 41. Admission is free.

Sutton Hoo

“They stretched their beloved lord in his boat, laid out by the mast, amidships, the great ring-giver. Far-fetched treasures were piled upon him, and precious gear. I never heard before of a ship so well furbished with battle tackle, bladed weapons and coats of mail. The massed treasure was loaded on top of him: it would travel far on out into the ocean’s sway.”

Beowulf (34-42)

Buried on an escarpment overlooking the estuary of the River Deben in East Anglia, the Sutton Hoo ship was discovered in 1939, just a few months before war broke out in Europe. (The original records of the excavation, in fact, were destroyed during the war and only pictures taken by two amateur photographers survive to provide evidence of the remarkable riveted outline of the ship that had been impressed in the sand.) The excavated materials were sent to London, where they remained in their original packing boxes until the end of the war, when restoration began.

Several of the burial mounds were explored the previous year at the request of the landowner, but they had been plundered long before and only a few artifacts and iron rivets were found. Enough was intriguing, however, for the dig to continue the next summer, when the undisturbed remains of a large burial ship were discovered beneath the largest mound. Almost ninety-feet long and fifteen-feet wide, with room for twenty rowers on a side, the buried ship and its treasure are one of the most important finds in British archaeology.

(A coroner’s inquest determined the artifacts to be the property of the landowner, who graciously donated them to the nation. Gold and silver that are buried with the intention of recovery, but which are not retrieved and for which the owner is not known, are declared treasure trove and belong, with recompense, to the Crown. Since there was no intention of reclaiming the burial items found at Sutton Hoo, which had been placed there deliberately, they were considered not to have been lost but abandoned and so were awarded to the owner of the land on which they were found.)

That Sutton Hoo is a royal burial can be seen in the objects discovered in the resplendent chamber constructed amidship. The interior seems to have had been covered with a rug or mat on which were placed the possessions of a pagan warrior king: his helmet and coat of mail, sword and shield, spears and a unique axe-hammer, as well as the magnificent gold-and-garnet purse lid, shoulder-clasps, and a great gold buckle. There also were two unique, but enigmatic, symbols of his power: a whetstone “scepter” surmounted by a small bronze stag on a ring and a mysterious iron stand that may have served as a standard for the king.

More mundane domestic items included buckets, tubs, and cauldrons; a collection of silver bowls from the eastern Mediterranean; wooden cups and bottles and a pair of large drinking horns, all with silver-gilt fittings; bronze hanging-bowls of Celtic design; an intricate hanging chain; as well as the remnants of folded woolen textiles, some of which had been dyed indigo (woad), red, and yellow.

Fashioned from a single piece of iron to which are attached deep ear and neck guards, the helmet was fitted with decorative foil panels of tinned-bronze that depict animal motifs as well as scenes from German and Scandinavian mythology. The crest is iron, inlaid with silver wire, with gilded-bronze terminals of stylized animal heads. The eyebrows, too, are of iron and silver wire with boar’s head terminals, beneath which is a row of small square-cut garnets. The nose, beetling mustache, and mouth of the iron face mask also are of gilt bronze.

The sword and shield once were equally impressive. The leather and linden wood shield have rotted away, and there is nothing except its iron boss, gilt fittings, and two magnificent animal figures: a dragon and a bird of prey, both of gilt-bronze decorated with garnets. The hilt of the sword has a beautiful gold and cloisonné garnet pommel and gold guards. The iron blade is heavily corroded but was pattern-welded, made from eight bundles of thin iron rods hammered together to form a pattern of parallel or herringbone lines in the metal. To this core, a cutting edge of carbon steel then was forged. Such patterned swords were highly prized and often passed as heirlooms from generation to generation. Beowulf uses Unferth’s sword, “the curious sword with a wavy pattern, hard of its edge” against Gendel’s mother, but it fails him, just as his own swordNægling of “ancient inheritance, very keen of edge,” breaks striking the Dragon.

But it is the smaller objects, the delicate fittings of the sword belt and scabbard, the zoomorphic gold buckle, and jewel-like shoulder-clasps and purse lid that are most exquisite. There was virtually nothing else like these pieces in Europe at the time, and their artistic virtuosity suggests a master goldmith working on a royal commission. The intricatebuckle, for example, is hollow and hinged at the back, the belt secured by three pins that project from the underside of the bosses. The other end is placed through the loop and held there by the tongue, which also is hinged. The unique pair of cloisonné clasps, which are made of gold, millefiori glass, and garnet, are curved to fit the shoulder, the two matching halves, decorated with intertwined boars, tightly hinged and joined by a gold pin. The purse lid is equally artistic, if not as elaborate, and decorated with animal and abstract designs. Inside were found thirty-seven small gold coins, each deliberately chosen from a different mint in Gaul.

There was no evidence of a body in the highly acidic soil, which has led to the assumption that the ship may have been a cenotaph, a monument commemorating someone whose body is buried elsewhere. Evidence of residual phosphates, however, suggest that there once was a body and that the grave is more likely an inhumation. If so, it may be that of Rædwald, king of East Anglia, who died in AD 624/625, the same approximate date of the latest Merovingian coins found there. Bede identifies Rædwald as the fourthbretwalda (“ruler of Britain”) to have overlordship (imperium) of the other kingdoms south of the river Humber. He succeeded Æthelbert, the first English king to be converted, in AD 616 and defeated Æthelfrith, the king of Northumbria, the same year. It was Rædwald, too, who reverted to paganism, says Bede, when he returned from the court of Æthelbert, dedicating altars in his temple both to heathen gods and the Christian one.

If so, his defiantly pagan burial preserved, hidden and undisturbed, some of the greatest treasures of Anglo-Saxon art.






“I have wrested the hilt from the enemies’ hand, avenged the evil done to the Danes.”


Beowulf (1669-1670)

On September 24, 2009, it was announced that on July 5 there had been an even more remarkable discovery of Anglo-Saxon treasure in Staffordshire, once the ancient kingdom of Mercia. The largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver artifacts ever discovered, scattered over an area of plowed field. The trove comprises some fifteen hundred pieces, including scores of sword hilt collars, pommel bosses, and fittings, as well as the remains of several helmets. The gold items alone, many filigreed and decorated with garnets, weigh about eleven pounds, more than three times the amount found at Sutton Hoo. The only non-martial items were several crosses, one of which had been folded for burial. There also was an inscribed strip of gold inscribed in misspelled Latin with a verse from Numbers 10:35, “Rise up, O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face.” Declared treasure, the hoard becomes Crown property. Once evaluated, the proceeds from the sale will be split between the discoverer and landowner, and the items themselves likely divided between the Birmingham Museum and others.



References: The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial (1986) by Angela Care Evans (British Museum), a popular guide published by the British Museum that conveniently summarizes the three volumes of The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial (1975, 1978, 1983) by Rupert Bruce-Mitford; Beowulf and the Finnesburg Fragment (1950) translated by John R. Clark Hall and C. L. Wrenn; Beowulf: With the Finnesburg Fragment (1996) edited by C. L. Wrenn and W. F. Boulton; The Audience of Beowulf (1951) by Dorothy Whitelock;Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics (1936) by J. R. R. Tolkien; The Anglo-Saxons (1982) edited by James Campbell, Eric John, and Patrick Wormald (Penguin); The Making of England: Anglo-Saxon Art and Culture, AD 600-900 (1991) edited by Leslie Webster and Janet Backhouse; Voyage to the Other World: The Legacy of Sutton Hoo (1992) edited by Calvin B. Kendall and Peter S. Wells; Beowulf: A New Verse Translation (2000) translated by Seamus Heaney.

click below for an article about the relationship between Sutton Hoo and Beowulf

Click to access saxon43.pdf

Sutton Hoo, where Raedwald lies

Image of Raedwald of Sutton Hoo

In times past, when Europe was non-existent and geography was plotted by knowledge rather than maps, Saxon kings moved from place to place by coastal navigation slowly. I should know: I stood on Albion’s shores and watched the raiders come as, indeed, I had seen the Romans before them. Silent rowers, etched in black on silvery waters, moving ever closer to the shore as we watched them from among the gorse and bracken.

Suffolk, named by the Saxons for the South Folk, stands testament to their legacy. As indeed does the whole of eastern England: East Anglia, the home of the East Angles. Here, in this place lay sleeping Raedwald, King of the East Angles; at peace at Sutton Hoo. Let me tell you more…

Today a brooding hough, spur or hoo on the sandlings by the Deben, the mounds at Sutton Hoo once stood proud like temples in the heathland there. When I stand and look now at the shallow ploughed out tumps in the wintry evening light, it fills me with sorrow to think that here, once, great kings imposed themselves on the landscape through death. And before death, of course, life… Life indeed!

Thirteen hundred years ago, the Deben estuary was a different place to now. Not so much a sheltered berth for yachtsmen, tourists and wealthy wives; instead one of the key routes into the East Anglian hinterland from the sea. Picture yourself, reader, arriving from Scandinavia and following the coast of Albion; the Deben, like the Orwell and others beckoned weary sailors to shelter from the dangerous murky sweep of the German Ocean, the great North Sea.

And here it was, all those centuries ago that the people we now called Saxons came to settle, eventually building a magisterial palace at Rendlesham nearby – a palace described by some I knew as “healaerna maest” – the most fabulous of all buildings. East Anglia, as I recall it, was a power base for the early English in these parts: a rich farming land yet with easy communication with friends in distant lands.

This quiet place, far adrift from the heart of England, was the home too of Raedwald, King of the East Angles, a man I remember well. I can see him now in his splendour on the mead bench, distributing rings and gifts to his favoured thanes. In the darkness of the night, he shone by the fire, bedecked in gold and garnets.

His wealth was beyond compare, matchless in these lands; he employed the finest craftsmen to make things for him which even today are almost beyond the wit of those so skilled to mimic.

This warrior lord stood highest in the hall, carrying with him an enormous whetstone, beautifully carved with the faces of his ancestors, as a symbol of his powers. His cloak was clasped with gold buckles inlaid with crimson garnets and finely cut millefiori glass. On his belt, his mighty sword hung by his side. Again gold and garnets glistered there,  while at the centre of his being, a great fire-like buckle interlaced with writhing snakes and weighing as much as a dog’s head, glowed like a hot iron in the smoke-filled room. Hu oa aepelingas ellen fremedon, we might say. How those noblemen wrought deeds of valour!

But now Raedwald’s image in my mind is just that: a memory in the mind’s eye. Yet thanks to providence, we can still today see Raedwald – if not in body then at least in the accoutrements of his power which were uncovered just 70 years ago as I watched in shadows the work of Basil Brown and his colleagues unearthing treasures which today are there for all to see at the British Museum in London.

How I smiled as Brown revealed the remains of the huge ship I saw being dragged up the hill from the Deben so many centuries ago. He did not see what I saw: the ship positioned in the sand and the body of the great king laid to rest with his prize possessions before being sealed within the ship by great oaken boards. He did not see the tears of men and women by the boat-side. He did not witness the last plank being nailed down and Raedwald’s eyes sealed for ever from the glowing sun of this world…

I recall how that ship laid on the hillside for many years before at last the wood began to bend and crack with the sun and the rain and the cold: a vessel stark on the hoo-top, silhoetted against the Suffolk Sky. I remember in my worry that Raedwald would not rest in eternal peace. Yet I need have no fear that the Saxons would not honour their dead.

I remember going back there again a few years later to see the vessel this time being covered in earth so that a great mound – an edifice to a great king – would rise on the Hoo surveying the great Deben and its safe landing places. On the land was a ship and then the ship became the land; Raedwald’s spirit lurked beneath his sandling home. In those days, this place had immense significance – and quite rightly so.

Raedwald was a true king: assertive of his place, protective of his possessions and lands, and, upon his death, commanding such respect and power that for thirteen centuries his body lay undisturbed: free from rabbits, sheep and even the attempted predations of grave robbers. Yet I knew Raedwald and I knew well how he would have laughed to see his worldly goods on display once more for all to see and marvel at.

Sutton Hoo is rightly seen today as one of the world’s great archaeological treasure troves. Yet I recall it when it was a calm inlet to a quiet hinterland. The captains and the kings are now gone again but the treasures of Raedwald will preserve his glorious memory until the ending of the world.

Wel bio paem ye mot aefter deaodaege. Drihten secean ond to Faeder faeymum freodo wilnian! Well will it be for he who after the day of his death may seek out the Lord and ask for peace in the arms of the Father.

Further information:

  • Sutton Hoo is today owned by the National Trust which has an excellent museum in the grounds
  • The Sutton Hoo Treasure is on display at the British Musuem in London, currently on display on the ground floor in an area through the gift display on the right having gone through the entrance
  • There is a special interest group for you to join: the Sutton Hoo Society.


Beneath a crescent moon I stood
Upon a meadow damp with dew
Beside the fluttering tree branched wood –
The roots run deep at Sutton Hoo.

I saw, or so it seemed to me
A solemn march of ancient ones
Across a field of time gone by
A sleeping king, a monarch gone
An oaken ship, a chanting throng
With steady pace they made their way
In twilight sorrow and dismay

A song to those who passed before
A song for those who’ve passed the door
A song for those who leave behind
A journey and a path to find
For in their gift of life they send
Our searching souls into this land
For none are born save those who seek
The darkness of this human sleep
In pain and grief we stand and stare
And learn our joy in deep despair
And do our will and raise our clan
To swell the dawning light of man
Beneath this spangled ocean sky
Tonight – we honour those who die

The vision fades, the seen unseen
The door is closed, the air is keen
But dimly through the fading trance
The tear-stained branches swing and dance –
The ghostly line is hid from view
But roots run deep at Sutton Hoo.

Roland Mann


Jewel encrusted  belt buckle found in the Sutton Hoo excavations - site of two 6th- and early 7th-century Anglo-Saxon cemeteries  - England

Jewel encrusted belt buckle found in the Sutton Hoo excavations – site of two 6th- and early 7th-century Anglo-Saxon cemeteries – England

AD 700 – Sutton Hoo.    "Sutton Hoo is a group of Anglo-Saxon burial mounds overlooking the River Deben in south-east Suffolk, England."

AD 700 – Sutton Hoo. “Sutton Hoo is a group of Anglo-Saxon burial mounds overlooking the River Deben in south-east Suffolk, England.”

British Kingdoms 600 AD

British Kingdoms 600 AD

Famous Anglo-Saxon helmet from Sutton Hoo ('original' condition)

Anglo-Saxon helmet from Sutton Hoo (‘original’ condition)


THE mellow year is hasting to its close:
The little birds have almost sung their last,
Their small notes twitter in the dreary blast
That shrill-piped harbinger of early snows;
The patient beauty of the scentless rose,
Oft with the morn’s hoar crystal quaintly glassed,
Hangs a pale mourner for the summer past,
And makes a little summer where it grows;
In the chill sunbeam of the faint brief day
The dusky waters shudder as they shine;
The russet leaves obstruct the straggling way
Of oozy brooks, which no deep banks define,
And the gaunt woods, in ragged, scant array,
Wrap their old limbs with sombre ivy-twine.

Hartley Coleridge

My November Guest
My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.
Robert Frost


Night with the eyes of a horse that trembles in the night.

Night with eyes of water in the field asleep is in your eyes.

A horse that trembles is in your eyes of secret water.

Eyes of shadow-water. Eyes of well-water. Eyes of dream-water.

Silence and solitude. Two little animals moon-bed.

Drink in your eyes. Drink in those waters.

If you open your eyes! Night opens doors of musk.

The  secret kingdom of water opens, lowing from the centre of
the night.

And if you close your eyes a river, a silent and
beautiful current fills you from within. Flows forward.
Forward darkens you.

Night brings its wetness to beaches in your soul.

The piece begins on a standard B-flat minor triad with a hovering third in the soprano line. As the first five measures progress, a subtle chord progression plays upon this tonic chord, consisting of ninth and eleventh chords, yet still maintaining the B3♭ pedal point. This use of tonic beneath moving dissonance paints an initial sensation of darkness and irregularity, and is maintained an octave lower in measures 6-15. Whitacre then immediately shifts the established current with a subito forte entrance by the women on a B♭ minor triad, echoed by the men two beats into the measure. The men and women continue the “call-and-response” tonic-beneath-dissonance progression as it modulates downward. Measures 25-26 echo the irregular opening in “silence and solitude,” and 26-27 feature a melodically-absent duet between the soprano and alto consisting of minor seconds and perfect fourths.

Figure 1: 14-part divisi chord on “eyes.”

In measures 28-52, Whitacre draws the listener by invitation on a crescendo to “drink in […] eyes […and] waters,” until one can finally “open your eyes.” In the single climax chord of “eyes,” divided sopranos, altos and tenors sing a tone cluster filling in all diatonic notes between A5♭ and E4♭ , while the basses support with the submediant, a G-flat major chord (see Figure 1).

This gradually deflates to measure 41, back to the “night,” the chord composed of another A-flat mixolydian scale and the bass on supertonic of the relative major.

Measure 42 relays the most notable melodic line, with a D5♭ down to C5 to A4♭ and up to B4♭, a common melodic sequence used in more popular music, such as in the pieces “Starlight Sequence” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Starlight Express” and “Once Upon A Dream” from Frank Wildhorn’s “Jekyll and Hyde.”

The piece collapses to the opening’s tonic/dissonant play, as the final chord rings out the echoed B♭ minor tonic chord.

Eric Whitacre

Composer and conductor Eric Whitacre had no formal music training until he was 18. Now, at 40, his choral works are enormously popular.

First Listen: Eric Whitacre, ‘Choral Music’

by Gail Eichenthal (KUSC)

June 6, 2010

I can’t possibly forget the first time I heard about the music of Eric Whitacre — it was moments after the inaugural concert at Los Angeles’ brand-new Walt Disney Hall, in 2003.  I’d had the honor of co-hosting an NPR live broadcast that night and was leaving the hall when I bumped into an old friend, the L.A. Philharmonic’s audio producer, Fred Vogler. Fred, in turn, introduced me to a friend of his, a young man named Eric Whitacre who looked exactly like a rock star — long dirty blond hair, a hint of stubble on his chiseled face.

“He’s one of the most frequently performed choral composers of our time,” Vogler said. I nodded politely, thinking, “Of course he is, Fred. And I’m Clara Schumann.”

Only a few weeks later, my son, a high-school choral singer, brought home a recording of “Water Night,” and I was mesmerized by its otherworldly beauty and chromatic harmonies that seemed to float in some mysterious musical landscape.  I learned that “Water Night” was Eric Whitacre’s music, and that, indeed, choirs around the world were singing it.

Whitacre, who just turned 40, proudly credits The Beatles and electronic music as influences, but this particular masterwork was also inspired by Whitacre’s gratitude toward a mentor, Bruce Mayhall. It was Mayhall who convinced Whitacre during a dark time to stay in music. This brilliant piece, written in less than an hour, is the very least Mayhall deserves.


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Joan of Arc

I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. And then it is gone. But to sacrifice what you are and live without belief, that's more terrible than dying.--

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October 2021



On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory