Pirate Word of the Day – Moko

Lady Blade Blog

From the Dictionary of Nautical, University, Gypsy and Other Vulgar Tongues first published in 1859.

Look, a moko with a tail. Look, a moko with a tail.

Moko: a name given by sportsmen to pheasants killed by mistake in partridge shooting during September, before the pheasant shooting comes in. They pull out their tails, and roundly assert they are no pheasants at all, but Mokos.

(What does Moko taste like? A lot like pheasant I’d imagine.)


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The Pearl-Poet’s Saint Erkenwald

Pardon my long delay in writing about this poem.  It had nothing to do with the poem itself, which is the shortest and perhaps the most uplifting.  It’s theme squares completely with the theology of Pearl, and draws from the legends of the Church Fathers.  In the poem, a body of a long deceased person is discovered incorrupt.  Bishop Erkenwald of London–the successor of Bishop Wine (what a name!)–arrives on the scene to investigate the miracle.  Yet another miracle occurs when the soul comes back to the body for a short time in order to explain his story.


The translator of this work, Casey Finch, has an excellent introduction, where he rightly notes that a similar story concerning St. Gregory the Great forms the basis for this poem.  Essentially, St. Gregory remembers the many virtues of the Emperor Trajan and sheds tears over the fact that he died a pagan, because he was such a just man.  Finch writes that St. Gregory’s prayers were successful, but declines to give the whole story: Trajan is released from the pains of hell, but not permitted to enter paradise, while St. Gregory receives a punishment for praying for a damned soul.  (This is the version of the story found in The Golden Legends by Jacobus de Voragine.)

However, the corpse in Saint Erkenwald explains that he lived over four thousand years ago and was beloved as a just judge.  So loved was he by the people for his justice, that they outfitted his corpse as if he were a king; yet, his justice availed naught without the blood of Christ.  Therefore, at that moment, he suffered in hell.  Erkenwald felt such an effusion of pity that he sheds tears over the body.  The next moment, the judge thanks Erkenwald because his tears counted as a baptism and resulted in him ascending to heaven.

Clearing out Hell

As much as I love the idea of Christ snatching one more soul from hell, I wonder whether such a soul would actually go to hell.  St. Catherine Emmerich’s vision of the harrowing of hell showed three places in the underworld: 1) The fiery hell where the reprobate dwelled, 2) Abraham’s bosom, which contained the souls who awaited the coming of Christ in order to open the gates of heaven for them; and 3) a kind of purgatory, which held righteous pagans ignorant of the true Faith whom God slowly releases from that place.  Saint Erkenwald is more legalistic in its vision in that one needs to be baptized in order to be saved.  But, the catechism does say that God is not bound by His sacraments and may apply the fruits of His Passion to whomever He pleases.  At the same time, baptism is more sure.  Though we hope that very many pagans before the time of Christ were saved, we cannot know for certain which ones were.

But, there is a fundamental difference between Trajan and the judge.  The judge lived remote from the time and place of Christ, while Trajan lived during the Christian Era and held Christianity to be a capital crime.  (Though, he did tell authorities not to seek out Christians, but to respond only to denunciations and to test whether they were credible.)  Trajan had a chance for conversion that the judge never had.  And for this reason St. Erkenwald’s tears were more efficacious–though, I do not believe that the judge was in hell, but rather he thought that he was in hell.


Dressing the judge in gold and fine clothing for his virtues was perhaps the nicest touch in the poem.  This shows that human praise stands far less in value than the praise we must seek from God.  Yet, at the same time, the judge’s strict adherence to justice moved God to give him the opportunity of receiving mercy shortly after the conversion of England.

Stay tuned for an article on the Pearl-Poet’s most famous work: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight!

Thoughts on the Great Book of Amber

My thanks go to Feidor S. LaView for reminding me of the Amber Chronicles of Roger Zelazny, whom he regards as one of the prominent influences on his writing.  My introduction to the Amber Chronicles came by way of the Science Fiction Book Club.  Though their description of the series intrigued me, it took stumbling recently onto the collected novels in Barnes & Nobles for me to finally purchase it.  At $25 for a collection of ten novels, The Great Book of Amber stands as one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.


At the time of writing this, I have finished two novels and have started the third.  This series does several things well.  First, Zelazny employs an interesting concept for his parallel worlds.  Amber is the true world, while all the other worlds are shadow worlds pointing to Amber.  (Anyone else find this blatantly Platonic?)  The lack of reality in the shadow worlds allow our heroes to use magic within them but not in their home world of Amber.  By the way, our main characters are princes of Amber, whose longevity and physical abilities are comparable to Greek heroes and gods.  Are they immortal?  As of now, we know not whether any have died of old age, but two have been killed and the father of our heroes seems to be wasting away in seclusion.  The disappearance of their father without clear instructions as to who was to lead in his absence prompted the princes and princesses to vie for the crown.

Among the princess, Prince Corwin acts as the story’s main protagonist.  Neither exactly a traditional hero nor an anti-hero, Zelazny does a brilliant job of making us identify with him.  First, he’s lived countless centuries in exile on our home world, not knowing that he’s a prince of Amber.  At the very beginning of the action, this makes him know as little about the intrigues surrounding Amber as we do.  He also has rather American sensibilities due to his centuries long exile in our world.  In particular, he is inclined toward mercy–unlike others of his brothers.  Corwin discovers his brother Eric to be a mortal enemy and a chief contender for the crown.  He decides that he cannot let Eric succeed.  Thus begins his quest for the crown.  A very well-rounded and interesting character.


The swordplay, political intrigue, word play, and literary allusions add delight to the reader’s experience of these novels.  Zelazny has an expertise in making the swordplay intense.  His facility in using correct fencing terms for each movement adds to the realism of the duels.  Parts of the novel become very cerebral as Corwin attempts to gain the throne without dying and to discover the purposes of his brothers.  The author’s style displays some excellent use of similes and literary allusions; e.g. “I could not hate thee, Eric, so much, had I not loved Amber more”–an obvious allusion to Richard Lovelace’s To Lucasta, Going to the Wars.

Well, there you have the reasons I love this series, my dear readers.  Also, the obvious influence of Raymond Chandler on the prose and conversations is pretty cool.  It somehow manages to fit very well in fantasy.  Fans of the fantasy genre can’t do without giving these novels a shot!

30 Days of Painting, Day 20: Soybean Field

Michelle Joelle is painting a series of pictures over 30 days. Be sure to check them out. This is one of the best ones.

Stories & Soliloquies

Welcome to 30 Days of Painting, my month long commitment to completing one painting project per day in the hopes of becoming more comfortable with the brush.

Day 20: Soybean Field

Today I went back to my roots and gobbed acrylic paint on a canvas at will. What I miss most when I’m doing a water color is the ability to layer, layer, layer. I decided to really go for it, and try to paint a soybean field with some shadows on it.

The first layer was pretty simple:

photo 1

Then I started to change up the colors a bit and add details. The soybeans took for-ev-er, but I really like how they came out:

photo 2

Then I added the final touches, and I really regret that tree sticking up on the left. I could probably fix it, but I’m afraid I’ll just make it worse at this point. There always…

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Apology for not Finishing Cleanliness

As you have gleaned from the title, I did not finish that monster of a poem called Cleanliness.  It’s 1812 lines cover everything from the Fall to the liberation of the Hebrews from Babylon.  The point seems to have been to prove how God hates uncleanliness more than any other sin.  However, the Pearl-Poet makes a terrible case for this by lumping together all kinds of sins into this argument.  His argument quickly devolves to “God hates sin more than any other sin,” which holds no significance.  Hopefully, St. Erkenwald will be a much better poem.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

St. Mary Magdalene

But, many spiritual writers have said that God hates sins of the flesh more than any other kind of sin.  Moderns scoff at this notion–saying that such sins are normal and consensual sex never hurt anyone.  I agree that sins of the flesh are common, but they do hurt the people that do them.  St. Paul admonishes us to avoid especially sins of the flesh because we sin in our own bodies.  If the essence of all sin is malice, then no other sin quite makes people hate their own selves as lust.  And what of the opposite sex, which becomes objectified in the minds of the lustful person?  Might not lust be the origin of all misandry and misogyny?

Another reason for God to hate lust can be seen in the comparison of the ideal union of man and wife to lustful unions.  How deeply have people throughout time been cut to the heart by unfaithful lovers?  How many children brought up without the benefit of their father or even both parents?  How many children discarded and destroyed by abortions, infanticides, and exposure to the cruel elements?  Can it be any wonder that God hates lust and impurity when it leads to so much pain, objectification, and murder?  God created the sexes to enjoy a joyful union, intimacy, and children–not to feel malice toward one another and hate children.  Lust perverts one of God’s most beautiful gifts, leads to all kinds of sins, and the perpetrators end up hating themselves.

Tristan and Iseult: a romance which did not have a happy beginning or ending because it was impure.

Tristan and Iseult: a romance which did not have a happy beginning or ending because it was impure.

Yet, I suppose more people are led astray by the illusion of happiness presented by lust than any other sin.  This is perhaps why God describes the Prodigal Son as having spent his inheritance on prostitutes: despite the fact that God hates impurity so much, He is ready to forgive all sins no matter how grave–even instantly ready.  So, one should never despair of their salvation.

Well, there you have my own mediation on impurity.  If not evincing more knowledge of Scripture than Cleanliness, it is at least shorter and more logical.

The Pearl-Poet’s Patience

Forgive me, my dear readers, for running a day late on this post.  Hopefully, the delay will make this post all the better!  With the poem Patience, the first thing one notes, especially having just read Pearl, is that it lacks the same precise construction.  The first and last lines repeat each other exactly, and themes are repeated throughout the poem; but, the craftsmanship falls short of the level of Pearl.  One gets the impression that this poem is more a meditation of the poet on the virtue of patience, which he claims to need because of the sufferings brought on by poverty.

Medieval Town

In order to aid his meditation, he uses the story of Jonah to illustrate the advantages of patience, especially how the sufferings we experience call for patience.  It is impossible to avoid suffering, because suffering purifies the soul and is often mandated by God for this purpose.  The avoidance of suffering, like how Jonah tried to avoid God’s mission, only brings more suffering.  Worse, one ends up having to do what one wished to avoid anyway.

Both Pearl and Patience highlight something I enjoy about his depiction of religious men: they can be terribly flawed and wayward, even though possessing great faith.  The father in Pearl wishes to enter heaven before its proper time and shows a Pelagian streak.  (Not that he is a Pelagian.  He just sees grace in too worldly a fashion.)  Jonah, as shown by sleeping on the boat during a terrible storm and permitting himself to be thrown overboard, has great faith in God.  While in the whale, Jonah makes a heartfelt confession of his waywardness in refusing the mission to Nineveh, and it seems as though he’s done complaining once the whale coughs him up.  Yet, as soon as he sees the Ninevites repent upon his preaching and the tree which offered him good shade wilting, he starts whining about his misfortunes and wanting to die.  God has to constantly correct Jonah and drag him into doing the right thing.

Jonah and the whale

In this way, God manifests Himself as exemplar of patience, because of His patience with us sinful and stubborn people.  The Pearl-Poet expands God’s speech to Jonah at the end in order to highlight all the types of people in the city of Nineveh with whom He has patience.  The poem ends with the same line as it begins: “Patience, though displeasing, is proof of goodwill.”  Surely, God has the greatest goodwill towards us, and we are called to imitate it.

The next poem I discuss will be Cleanliness on Friday.  The poem essentially praises the virtue of chastity.  I wonder whether it can touch the heart of modern man, who tends not to care a fig for this virtue?

On the Medieval Poem Pearl

This 14th century poem written by an anonymous author from the West Midlands region of England traverses 1212 lines of exquisite verse, describing the anguish of a bereaved father and a vision of his daughter in heaven.  As far as I know, no other poem employs theology so well in its verses, and few are as well constructed.  The first and last lines of each stanza repeat one topical word until a new canto begins.  There are twenty cantos with five stanzas each, adding up to the perfect number of 100.  Each stanza contains twelve lines, and the whole poem numbers 1212 lines.  (Pretty neat, I think.)  This Middle English verse is heavily rooted in the Old English alliterative tradition–similar to Piers Plowman by William Langland; however, its Middle English is substantially more difficult.  I soon stopped trying to read the original West Midlands dialect, and Casey Finch does a wonderful job of translation.


The main theme of the whole poem finds itself itself in the first and last lines of the poem: “Pearl, O pleasure for a prince” and “As precious pearls Our Lord to please.”  This establishes God’s love and the will of God as the central theme of the poem.  (I write theme above rather than themes, because St. Thomas Aquinas holds that God is completely simple, hence God’s love and God’s will must be one and the same in God.  Anyway, let’s get on with the analysis!)  How do we fulfill God’s will?  By knowing that God loves us and preserving our original innocence as far as we can.  God made us pure pearls without a spot in baptism, and we must do our best to remain pure, knowing that God continuously refines our souls even though we fall into sin simply because He loves us.


The father challenges this idea of salvation by grace alone in the vision he attains of his daughter in paradise.  Mysteriously, he is able to recognize a full grown woman as his daughter, even though his daughter died at the age of two!  He becomes shocked to learn that his daughter, without having done any good deeds, was rewarded by God making her his queen and bride.  Moreover, other women, who struggled their whole life long, received an equal reward with her!  To answer her father’s objections, his daughter skillfully uses the Parable of the Workers in the Vinyard to show that good works cannot merit heaven.  The performance of good works and penance rectify the will, but God is the one who saves each soul by His Blood shed upon the cross.  Rather than virtue, it is primarily innocence which God desires: innocence which can only be granted by God–even if preserved in cooperation with our will.

kells Christ Pantocrator

This reflects back on the nature of the pearl.  A jewel is desired not for its usefulness, but simply for its beauty or the pleasure it gives the owner in beholding it.  The imagery of the pearl hearkens to the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price, for which the merchant sold everything he had to obtain it.  The pearl here symbolizes heaven, but what would heaven be without God?  God makes heaven heaven.  Therefore, God may be likened to the pearl in this parable as all our striving tends toward the attainment of the Beatific Vision.  At the same time, we must become holy and pure as God is holy and pure for us to merit paradise, which can only be merited through God’s will and power.  How fortunate it is that, just as God is a precious pearl to us, we are pearls infinitely more precious to Him!  For which, God paid the ultimate price on the Cross of Calvary.

Christ and His Saints

My brief discussion of the main theme of the poem only scratches the surface of this beautiful and tightly composed work.  One could spend a lifetime investigating the numerous themes in this poem, and many have done just that!

Stay tuned for my thoughts on the Pearl-poet’s work Patience this Monday.