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.

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

 

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