Bly’s words are a serendipitous echo, as I’ve been musing on the same things lately - silence, transmission, connection.
I began this train of thought, especially about words, and about how we connect to the past, during visits to the National Library of Iceland in 2014 and 2015. The woodcuts pictured above are my initial response to the manuscripts I was working with in September 2015. Through handling and studying those historic objects, through the very fact of their existence in the here-and-now, I felt connected to the past in a way that was very affecting. The books themselves, no less than the words they contained, transmitted something from the past. It's in our nature to try to understand the implications of our lives, and make meaning out of our momentary presence in the Universe. As a visual artist, my goal is to contribute to our understanding of these things, or at the very least, serve as an amplifier of silence, and a transmitter of experience, memory and spirit.
In July I will continue my research at the Snorrastofa historic archive in Reykholt. Scholars come from around the world to study Icelandic manuscripts that were written, or at least compiled, by Snorri Sturluson in the early 1200s. Snorri's words will transmit loud and clear from the past, I have no doubt. Especially from the amplified silence of a library that sits right on the edge of a vast wilderness, essentially unchanged (I hope) from what Snorri would have seen. I am excited and honored.
Here is a section on Speech and Understanding from Snorri's Skáldskaparmál, with a 1916 translation by A. G. Brodeur. (See more Icelandic Eddas and Sagas with side-by-side translation at this website here.)
Mál heitir ok orð ok orðtak ok orðsnilli,
Speech is called words and language and eloquence,
tala, saga, senna, þræta,
talk, tale, gibing, controversy,
söngr, galdr, kveðandi, skjal, bifa,
song, spell, recital, idle talk, babbling,
hjaldr, hjal, skvál, glaumr, þjarka, gyss,
din, chatter, squalling, merry noise, wrangling, mocking,
þraft, skálp, hól, skraf, dælska,
quarrelling, wish-wash, boasting, tittle-tattle, nonsense,
ljóðæska, hégómi, afgelja.
idiom, vanity, gabbling.
Heitir ok rödd, hljómr, rómr, ómun,
It is also termed voice, sound, resonance, articulation,
þytr, göll, gnýr, glymr, þrymr, rymr,
wailing, shriek, dash, crash, alarm, roaring,
brak, svipr, svipun, gangr.
creaking, swoop, swooping, outburst.
Vit heitir speki, ráð, skilning,
Understanding is called wisdom, counsel, discernment,
minni, ætlun, hyggjandi, tölvísi, langsæi,
memory, speculation, intelligence, arithmetic, prophesy,
bragðvísi, orðspeki, skörungskapr.
craft, word-wit, preëminence.
Heitir undirhyggja, vélræði, fláræði, brigðræði.
It is called subtlety, wiliness, falsehood, fickleness.