In June 2013 Seamus Heaney came to St Andrews to give an illustrated reading of some of his poems that are translated from, and inspired by, medieval literature. This reading was part of a conference called ‘The Middle Ages in the Modern World’, which was held to celebrate the University’s 600th anniversary. Sadly, it turned out to be Heaney’s last public appearance outside of Ireland. Here you can listen to Heaney read from, and talk about, his translations of Beowulf, of Robert Henryson’s poems, and the Middle English ‘Names of the Hare’. Heaney also reads a poem by William Dunbar, probably a graduate of St Andrews University. For more on Heaney’s translation of Hernyson’s poems, see the final item in the ‘For Teachers’ tab of this site.
Pete Seeger and the ubi sunt motif
31 January 2014, following the death of Pete Seeger, Chris Jones appeared on Radio 3’s The Verb, talking to Ian McMillan about the medieval poetic ubi sunt device in relation to Seeger’s song ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Chris’s piece starts at 34:06 into this piece. A blog on the topic is also hosted at Research@StAndrews.
The Flyting of Kennedy and Dunbar
The fifteenth-century poet William Dunbar was probably a graduate of the University of St Andrews. One of his most famous poems is a ‘flyting’ between himself and a friend, the poet Walter Kennedy. A ‘flyting’ was a kind of medieval poetic duel, in which poets strove to out-insult each other. In places this poem is quite rude and, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, provides the first recorded instance of no less than two well-known four letter words!
On 8 March 2013, Chris Jones and Robert Crawford re-created the flyting at a sell-out performance at StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival. Their colleague, the medievalist Rhiannon Purdie presided over the flyting, introducing the event and explaining its background. Robert played Kennedy and Chris played Dunbar, standing in at the last minute for poet Don Paterson, who had fallen ill. At the end of the event the audience voted on who had ‘won’ the flyting. The popular vote was for Robert/Kennedy; Chris is still smarting from this humiliation and will one day wreak his revenge.