What a Headache!

After I narrowly avoided a migraine this evening, my thoughts naturally turned to Scottish poet William Dunbar. Dunbar, who wrote during the reign of James IV (1473-1513), was a prolific poet whose works include “On His Heid-Ake.”

Dunbar begins by explaining that “yester nicht” (last night) his “heid did yak” (head ached) to the extent that he could not “mak” (create [poetry]) the next day. (NB: I am putting aside the question of authorial intent and following the apparent convention of assuming that in this case, the speaker is the poet.) More specifically, he states that the headache was a migraine. It feels like it is “perseing [his] brow as ony ganyie” (piercing his eye like an arrow,” and he “scant” can “luik” at “the licht” (can hardly look at the light), feelings that a modern day migraine sufferer also may experience. He tries to write, but he has trouble; he is “unsleipit” (sleep-deprived) and “dullit in dulnes and distres” (made dull by heaviness and distress). He is deprived of his “curage” (spirit), which cannot be revived even by “mirth . . . menstrallie . . .  play, / . . . din . . . danceing [or] deray [disorder].”

Of course, in the course of explaining why he is unable to write a poem, he writes a poem, demonstrating that  what seems to hold one back can actually motivate one to proceed in an unanticipated direction. After all, without the migraine Dunbar still could have written a poem, but it would not have been the one he ended up writing.


Thanks to The Dictionary of the Scots Language for help with a few of the Middle Scots words.



Obligatory Post on The Walking Dead Season 6 Finale

SPOILER ALERT (obviously)


As you surely know by now if you’re reading this post, this past Sunday’s The Walking Dead season 6 finale, “Last Day on Earth,” left many, if not most, fans disappointed, frustrated, or blinded by rage. Some bemoaned the amount of disbelief one would need to suspend to accept the fact that all the major characters, including Alexandria’s best fighters, found themselves outside the city walls at the same time and that Michonne and Daryl were captured so easily. Others had grown impatient with how drawn out the Saviors’ capture of the RV was or questioned the necessity of including Carol and Morgan’s story line (although some were intrigued by the horsemen they encountered). The plethora of commercials did not help. The most infuriating element, of course, was the fact that Jeffrey Dean Morgan‘s much-anticipated arrival as Negan culminated in . . . a cliffhanger. We will need to wait six months to learn whose unfortunate head was on the receiving end of Lucille.

I found myself far less upset than (it seems) everyone else on the planet. In addition, I haven’t been interested in trying to figure out who Negan’s victim is. Have I set my bar for television shows that much lower than my bar for books? Perhaps. I wonder, though, whether I’ve been watching the show differently from others.

Consider, if you will, the difference between literary fiction and genre fiction. This topic comes up in my AP Literature classes when we discuss Free Response Question 3, which reminds students that they may respond to the prompt using a novel or play from a list of suggested works or “one of equal literary merit.” We discuss why Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey are not “of equal literary merit” to Invisible Man and King Lear. The former two are driven by plot and can be read relatively quickly; the latter two take a more complex approach to language and must be read more slowly. The former two would not provide students with much to work with when composing the type of essay required by the College Board; the latter would. That’s not to say there are’t any gray areas, but that’s another discussion for another time.

Why this tangent on literature? Even when I am not preparing lessons–even when I am on the beach–I enjoy reading literary fiction, as well as literary non-fiction. Some people enjoy mysteries; others enjoy romances; still others, like me, happen to enjoy literary fiction. I wonder if my focus on language, as opposed to plot, influences the way I watch television or movies. While others wanted to know who Negan’s victim was, I was looking for “cool, English major things,” like in a previous episode in which a character nicknamed “Jesus” was sitting to Rick’s right. (“Jesus sitting at Rick’s right hand? What does that suggest about Rick?” I asked my ever-patient husband.) If I had a problem with the latest episode, it was that it didn’t provide me with as much to work with as others have.

What do you think? Have your reading habits shaped your viewing style? What about the reverse?





Published in: on April 9, 2016 at 1:54 pm  Leave a Comment