July 12, 2024

Is There a Caladrius in the House?

         My husband and I are both down with covid, so this seems like the right time for a post on the caladrius.  We don’t know all the details of what a caladrius looks like, but we do know it’s a bird with pure white feathers.  Sometimes it seems to look like a dove, but at other times it’s got longer legs and beak like a small heron or egret, and sometimes it’s practically a duck.  But the important thing about it is its magical power.  When someone is ill, the caladrius perches on their sickbed and inspects them.  If the patient is doomed, the caladrius turns its head away and all hope is lost.  However, if the patient can be saved, then the caladrius gazes in their eyes and draws their sickness into itself.  It then flies up to the sun, where the germs (or whatever) are burned away, leaving both the patient and the caladrius pure and healthy once again.
        The caladrius was discovered by the ancient Romans but was enthusiastically embraced by the bestiary-writers of the medieval era.  Of course, most of them never had the chance to see an actual caladrius because they’re very rare and the only people who could actually keep one around were kings.  Still, there are lots of great illustrations of the caladrius at work.  The first ones are the classic iconography: a man is shown lying in bed with the bird sitting at his feet.  Often the man is wearing a crown, and you know you’re a king when you wear your crown even when you’re lying sick in bed.  Heavy is the head, indeed.  (Even though the crown is very common, I’ve got only one in today’s selections because I was going for variety.)  As for the caladrius, sometimes it’s depicted looking at
the patient, and sometimes it’s turned away.
  Some scholars have speculated that whether or not the caladrius is optimistic in its prognosis is correlated to how dire and dismal things actually were in the area at that time in history.  (I think this would be a fabulous topic for a thesis I don’t intend to write, but if you do, please let me know your results!)  I love how miserably ill the king looks in the first image - and I’m not just being cruel and heartless to laugh at his expression, because I know he’ll recover fully.
         However, sometimes the artist includes both options in the picture, no doubt sort of like the little diagram in the instruction sheet of the covid test that shows the difference between positive and negative results.  I like how in image three the patients have the facial expression appropriate to their diagnosis.
        My next little collection shows things  a little differently.  In the first one (image five) it looks like a doctor - or perhaps the Keeper of the Caladrius - has brought in the bird to examine the patient.  In image six the patient looks a bit corpse-like, but his wife(?) is smiling at him, weak with relief, as the caladrius flies up toward the sun, bearing the man’s illness away with it.
        As for image seven, I included it because I love the way the caladrius and the patient are staring at each other.  The bird seems to be smiling slightly, but the man looks like he doesn’t appreciate the scrutiny.  He ought to be grateful, as the alternative is shown right there in the same panel, with a different colored background in a sort of “Sliding Doors” scenario.
        And image eight is here because I was trying to find more wood block print illustrations of the caladrius.  Most of the ones I found just show a completely generic-looking bird, not doing anything distinctive.  That style of illustration occurs in many of the hand-illuminated bestiaries, as well, in which surprisingly often the caladrius isn’t even white, which is its one distinctive physical feature.  So I’ve ignored all of those pictures, because they’re no fun.  This wood block print, on the other hand, is much more detailed and skillful than the others in the book and I suspect the printer happened to have it around from another project.  This patient is clutching a crucifix, and since the bird has turned its back, that’s really the only option left to him.
        As for our plague house, I don’t think we need a caladrius.  Obviously it would be lovely to have the sickness instantly drawn out of us and carried away to the sun, but I feel pretty confident that we’ll pull through eventually in any case.


[Pictures: Caladrius, illumination from Bestiary, 1226-1250 (Image from Bodleain Libraries);

Caladrius, illumination from Bestiary, 1236-1250 (Image from British Library);

Caladrius, illumination from Bestiary, 1200-1225 (Image from Bibliothèque nationale de France);

De Charadrio, wood block print from Tou Hagiou Patros (Physiologos) by Saint Epiphanius, 1587 (Image from Biodiversity Heritage Library);

Caladrius, illumination from Bestiary, 1275-1300 (Image from Bibliothèque nationale de France);

Caladrius, illumination from Bestiary, 1225-1250 (Image from Bibliothèque nationale de France);

Caladrius, illumination from the Peterborough Psalter and Bestiary, 14th c. (Image from Cambridge University);

Caladrius, wood block print from The noble lyfe & natures of man by Laurence Andrew, 1521 (Image from Internet Archive).]

July 8, 2024

Saint George Strikes Again

         I previously did a post about Saint George slaying the Dragon, which you should go ahead and see here: St George’s Day.  In it I have a wide variety of wood block prints of the scene, ranging from around 1504 to 1941.  But in the more than ten years since that post, I’ve collected a bunch more prints on the theme, so here’s another collection.
        Knights killing dragons has long been a very popular theme for artists, with Saint George being the most popular one of all.  The iconography tends to be fairly standardized: George is most often riding a horse and plunging his lance down the throat of the dragon on the ground below.  Often the damsel in distress is shown in the background.  Sometimes you can see George’s shield or pennant with his cross on it, although of course in most wood block prints it’s black-and-white instead of red.
        Today’s first three examples are all very standard, but they have some interesting details.  Number one, by Albrecht Dürer, has the princess peering out from behind a boulder, plus some bones scattered around the ground to demonstrate just how dangerous the dragon is.  I love its feet and long tail corkscrewing away into the distance.  The dragons are often quite small, as in today’s second piece, but Dürer’s dragon is as large as the horse, which is quite respectable.  As for the second piece, it shows the princess safely away on a clifftop, praying for the knight’s victory, but the most interesting thing about this one is the background.  Wood block prints of this era seldom have dark backgrounds, but this one does a great job using the characteristics of relief printing for a nicely speckled dark ground and a patterned background that is reminiscent of the the patterns in hand-painted illuminations.  These first two are both from the early sixteenth century, so you can see by the comparison why Dürer was considered such a master!
        As for the third piece, it’s quite small and rough, with flaws in the image where the wood block presumably was cracked and damaged.  The dragon, however, is kind of adorable, with wide, happy eyes and a big grin.
        The next examples are also quite crude.  Here are a series of three woodcuts from an eighteenth century chapbook, and they show three stages in Saint George’s battle: he rides up and greets the princess as the dragon rushes in from the left.  The center is the standard iconography as George delivers the fatal thrust, and then the third image shows George having cut off the dragon’s head to bring back as a trophy.  There’s a continuity error where his horse has changed color, and I think it would have looked better if it were black all along for a punch of contrast.
        Next to those is a modern ikon in an interesting skritchy carving style.  I like the saint’s halo and the glow of little lines making a sort of halo around the entire horse.  The dragon is another funny one, but it’s got its tail around the horse’s leg so if it can survive just a few minutes longer it might bring George down!
        The last two pieces today are the most dramatic of all.  I particularly love the dragon in piece #6.  He looks like he’s actually giving George a serious fight, having broken off the lance and spewing smoke.  He’s got an interesting forked tail, as well.  As for the knight, he doesn’t seem to be wearing armor or using a saddle, although he’s got quite the extravagantly plumed helmet.  And the final piece puts a modern twist on the whole thing by mounting Saint George on a motorcycle.  To balance that touch, the rest of the composition is very traditional, although carved in a rough expressionistic style.  I love this twist on the traditional version.
        As I said in my previous post on this topic, I’d rather see happy healthy dragons than glory in the violence of slaughter, but if I set aside my love of dragons and remember them as the representations of evil that they used to be, I’ll leave you once again with the quotation from G.K. Chesterton: Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.


[Pictures: Saint George, woodcut by Albrecht Dürer, 1504-5 (Image from The British Museum);

Saint George on horseback, wood block print by anonymous Italian artist, 1519 (Image from The Met);

Saint George of England, frontispiece of The most illustrious History of the Seven Champions of Christendome by Richard Johnson, 1661 (Image from Yale University Library);

Three woodcuts from “The Life and Death of St. George,” 18th c., from Chapbooks of the Eighteenth Century by John Ashton, 1882 (Images from Internet Archive);

Ikon, wood block print by Michael Aggelaki (Image from eikastikon);

Saint George and the Dragon, wood block print by Guiseppe Scolari, 1550-1600 (Image from Art Institute Chicago);

Victory. Saint George on motorcycle, woodcut by Igor Koutsenko, 21st c? (Image from Saatchi Art).]

July 3, 2024

Frances Gearhart's Block Prints

         The Gearhart sisters lived together in Pasadena, California, where they never married and often collaborated.  The youngest, Edna, was a painter, poet, and author, while the middle sister, May, was most known for etchings.  But for this blog I’m focussed on the oldest sister, Frances (USA, 1869-1958) who did block prints.  Frances was largely self-taught, but she apparently took a summer class with Morley Fletcher and was influenced by her sisters, who studied with Arthur Wesley Dow.  She certainly was also influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement and the exhibitions of Japanese block prints that were making a splash in the art world at the time.  You can see a little more about this background in a previous post that features another of Gearhart’s woodblock prints: Gearhart’s Sky.
        Although she made some black and white prints, Frances Gearhart became famous for her color wood block prints.  The vast majority of her pieces depict landscapes of California, which means there are certainly a lot of recurring themes: sky, mountains, ocean…  There are also some recurring themes in her composition, and I start with two common compositions.  One is a low horizon with a large sky and interesting clouds over the landscape.  Gearhart does beautiful skies, with bold clouds and subtle colors.  In the case of this first piece, the low landscape shows a meandering river leading to a lake or arm of the ocean between distant mountains which melt into the clouds and sky.  The colors are especially beautiful.
        The second piece is an example of another common motif: magnificent trees in front of a beautiful vista.  In this case we’re looking down to the sea.  You can see clearly in this one how Gearhart uses the Japanese style of painting watercolor ink onto her blocks in gradients.
        The third piece splits the compositional difference by adding a dramatic tree to the large-skied view across a bay.  This time the weather is overcast with rushing, busy clouds gathering.  The muted colors are masterfully selected to evoke incoming rain.
        Another characteristic of Gearhart’s work is that her landscapes don’t usually include people or even signs of people.  However, there are exceptions, and this fourth piece includes a very dramatic bridge.  The California landscape requires some spectacular engineering to make it accessible to humans, so in some sense the fact that Gearhart can show us all the other beautiful views implies the existence of roads and bridges to get her there.  Personally, I don’t usually like to include people in my landscapes, either, but I do love this bridge, which springs from the sides of the streams much like the trees that Gearhart loves.  The background is only faintly evoked, but the rocks and ripples of the foreground are much bolder.
        Next up is a mountain view which demonstrates another trick that Gearhart often uses.  The final, darkest block of the piece is not black but dark blue, which gives an interesting effect.  Also interesting in this piece is that the distant mountain is almost more detailed than the foreground, at least in terms of the number and complexity of colors.
        The final piece has a different color palette, warmer and higher-contrast.  The yellow sky and yellow greens combine with the very black shadows to look like afternoon of a hot, still day.
        Although Gearhart depicted California throughout the year, I’ve picked some images that seem very summery to me, and make me want to get out and take a hike!


[Pictures: This Joyous World, wood block print by Frances Gearhart, 1928;

Above the Sea, wood block print by Gearhart, ca. 1932;

Rain Tomorrow, wood block print by Gearhart, ca. 1930;

Below the Bridge, wood block print by Gearhart, 1920;

High Country, wood block print by Gearhart, ca. 1927;

A Shrine to Pan, wood block print by Gearhart, ca. 1930 (All images from Harold Leitenberg’s page on Frances Gearhart).]

June 28, 2024

Words of the Month - Every Word in its Humour

         For about 2000 years medicine in Europe and the Middle East was dominated by humorism, which is the theory of four humors (and isn’t funny at all).  The dominant version held that the human body contained four humors, or fluids, that determined characteristics of health and temperament.  When these humors were in proper proportion the body and emotions were healthy, but all kinds of physical and mental illnesses were caused by humors getting out of wack.  Although the theory of humorism was disproven in 1858, the preceding two millenia gave the concepts enough time to make an impact on the English language.  These humors are blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm.  Let’s take a look at how each of them has seeped into the language.
        blood - An ancient word from all the way back in Old English, blood is not the word Greek and Latin doctors and philosophers were using.  The word in Latin is sanguis, which gives us sanguine, meaning “cheerful, hopeful, confident,” because that was the temperament associated with an excess of the humor blood.  (In Greek this humor was haima, which gives us tons of medical words such as hemorrhage, hemoglobin, and anemia, but I can’t think of any that are specifically related to the theory of humorism.)  Blood was thought to be hot and wet in nature, so a cold-blooded person who lacked the emotions that should be associated with blood was clearly unnatural.  On the other hand, the French person with sang-froid , who also has cold blood, is considered admirable.  That might be because in French sang meaning “blood” is a homophone with sens meaning “sense” (and it was often spelled that way in the 17th century), which may have affected the connotations of the phrase into someone who keeps a cool head.
        yellow bile - Bile comes from Latin by way of French, reaching English in the 1660s.  Yellow bile was hot and dry, and associated with a personality that was short-tempered, bitter, and angry.  That’s why bile can mean “anger and bitterness” when people spew bile, and why a bilious disposition is peevish.  Moreover, the Old English word for bile is gall, which is why having a lot of gall originally also meant bitterness or anger.  (The sense of “impudence” is more recent, from about 1882.)  Gall may also be the origin of felon, from Latin, as one who has a lot of gall, or bitterness.  In Greek the humor was xanthe chole, from which we get choleric, meaning “easily angered, hot-tempered” (ca. 1580).  It’s also the root of the disease cholera, thought to be caused by an excess of yellow bile.  Speaking of yellow, we get the word jaundice from Old French for “yellow.”  The condition of jaundice is actually caused by the yellowish pigments of bile, but the theory of four humors is why looking at something with a jaundiced eye means an attitude of bitterness and hostility.
        black bile - Of course this also includes the word “bile,” but in English the metaphoric senses of bile mostly seem to refer to the angry yellow variety.  In Greek, black bile is melaina chole, and you can probably see right away that this gives us (by way of Latin and Old French) melancholy, which is the temperament associated with this cold dry humor.  The spleen was believed to be the source of black bile, and thus the source of melancholy and gloom.  However, this bile word, too, has shifted toward the peevishness of yellow bile, and nowadays if someone “vents their spleen” the implication is anger more than depression.
        phlegm - Medically speaking, the humor phlegm is not the same as the modern medical definition of phlegm, but the metaphoric uses come straight from the humor.  A phlegmatic person is calm, lethargic, and apathetic.  Our word phlegm is from Greek by way of Old French, and it comes from phlegein “to burn,” which is odd, since according to humorism phlegm is cold and wet.
        humor - This word entered English in the 14th century, originally meaning “fluid or juice of an animal or plant.”  (This moistness is related to humid.)  It was the theory of humorism that extended the meaning from “fluid” to “mood, state of mind” by around 1520.  The meaning  “funniness, amusing quality” arrived around 1560 and probably came from the sense of “whim, caprice, brief state of mind” which may also be where we get the verb humor meaning “indulge a whim” (around 1580).  (And by the way, the H was originally silent in English.)
        temperament - The four humors are also often called the four temperaments, from the Latin word for “proper mixture, in correct proportion.”  In other words, your temperament is your mixture of humors.  This comes from the older verb temper “to mix in proper proportions,” from which we also get the noun temper meaning a specifically choleric state of mind (a bad temper) around 1825.
        One other word I came across that English got from humorism is repercussion.  Literally meaning “the act of driving back,” it appeared in English in the early 15th century referring to a medical treatment intended to drive back excess humors.  The metaphoric sense came later.
        If you want to go all the way back to Proto-Indo-European, the root *ghel- meaning “to shine” plus “yellow and green colors” is the ultimate root of many of today’s other words including choler, gall, jaundice, and yellow itself.  Meanwhile, another PIE root *bhel-, which also meant “to shine” led to phlegm (because of the “burning” definition in Greek) and black (being the color of things that have been burned.)
        For today’s illustrations I’ve got five sets of temperaments, which I’ve arranged by humor so you can compare how they’re portrayed.  Sanguine often includes music, goats, and wine.  Choleric includes swords, lions, and fire.  Melancholy is usually portrayed with the head down or resting on the hand, along with miserliness (moneybags) and often tools of scholarship such as books or geometry instruments.  And phlegmatic often includes turtles and water.
From Hippocrates to Ben Johnson and beyond, the idea of the four humors and their effect on people’s personalities and behaviors was a firm fixture of both science and popular culture.  References to the humors and their effects abound in art, literature, and medicine, and recognizing them will help you understand a lot.  As for today, I hope you’re able to stay in a good humor.


[Pictures: Four Humors, wood block prints from Minerva Britanna by Henry Peacham, 1612 (Images from Internet Archive);

Four Humors, hand colored woodcuts from German Calendar, 1498 (Images from National Library of Medicine);

Four Humors, wood block prints from Iconologia by Cesare Ripa, 1603 (Images from Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg);

Four Temperaments, series of 4 engravings by Virgil Solis after Georg Pencz, 1530-62 (Images from The British Museum) ;

Four Humors, hand colored woodcuts pasted into a scrapbook by Gallus Kemli, 15th century (Image from Zentralbibliothek Zürich).]

June 24, 2024

When the Living is Easy

         Here we are just past the summer solstice, and of course I need to share some summery relief block prints!  First up is a summer solstice bonfire, although it’s so rough that you have to look twice to make out the figures gathered in the clearing.  Are they druids?  They may be robed, but there’s a seated audience at the lower left which seems slightly out of keeping with druidic ceremonies.  But whoever the people are, the fire lights up a plume of smoke and sparks rising dramatically in the dark forest.
        Today’s second piece represents a summer forest, although I have to confess I wouldn’t really see that without the title to guide me.  I might think these were two flowers, or if I realized they were trees I might think they were in autumn color.  But to me the most summery thing they evoke is ears of corn, which is one of my favorite things about summer!
        One more nighttime view: these women and children are enjoying the evening coolness along the Sumida River.  This is actually a triptych and you can see the three separate pieces that join to make the scene.  My favorite part of it is the black, white, and grey background with its silhouetted boats and bridge, and all the twinkling lights in the verandas.
        The evening may be cool, but this hot summer day is saturated with sunshine.  Even the river looks warm and lazy, although the bees are no doubt as busy as ever.  Unusually for me, my favorite thing about this piece is the colors.
        In contrast, this next midsummer scene captures a thunderstorm brewing.  The sky is fully black at the top, and you can see the dark shadow of that cloud overtaking you in the foreground.  You might want to run to reach the farmhouse before the storm breaks - but it’s probably too oppressive to run.
        I couldn’t feature summer scenes without the beach, so next up is a view of quite a sophisticated picnic on the beach.  They have a fancy picnic basket and carafe, and even a bouquet to add some class.  Maybe it’s just the way their faces are carved, but I fear they may be quite a snooty bunch!  In any case, the wood engraving with its tiny fine crosshatchings and stippling gives the whole thing lots of fine texture.
        Today’s final piece represents June from a series of the twelve months.  I don’t have badgers in my area, so I don’t particularly think of them as summery, but certainly the selection of flowers are busting out all over.  This one makes me think about what I would choose to put in each piece if I were to do a calendar series.  What do you most associate with June, or with the summer solstice?



[Pictures: Summer Solstice Fire, woodcut by Werner Drewes, 1930 (Image from Smithsonian);

Summer Forest (Natsu no mori), color woodblock print by Shiogoshi Yoshinori, 1957 (Image from Art Institute Chicago);

Enjoying the Evening Cool Along the Sumida River, triptych of woodblock prints by Kitagawa Utamaro, c. 1797-8 (Image from The Cleveland Museum of Art);

Bees Take Flight, woodcut by Nick Wroblewski (Image from NickWroblewski.com);

Midsummer Vermont, wood engraving by Asa Cheffetz, 1936 (Image from Philadelphia Museum of Art);

Summer Day, wood engraving by M. Lois Murphy, ca. 1937 (Image from Smithsonian);

June, linocut by Jenny Portlock (Image from JennyPortlock.art).]

June 19, 2024

Block-Printed Familiars

         Today I have for you two pieces that feature magical women with magical companions.  Both pieces were featured in the Annual Exhibition of the UK Society of Wood Engravers (2022, I think).  The on-line gallery includes only minimal information about each piece, which is too bad, because I’d love to learn the stories behind them, especially for this first one by India Rose Bird.  Entitled “Conversation with a Familiar,” does this refer to a specific story or a specific character?  Or has the artist made up this scenario entirely?  There are all kinds of magical touches in this night scene.  In addition to the woman and the bird, there’s the cauldron with its mysterious vapors, there are two dryads for protection and companionship, and there are symbols making borders along the top and bottom.  It’s the familiar who seems to be doing the talking in this moment, and of course I’d love to know what they’re saying!
        The second piece is less mysterious in that it’s clearly showing Baba Yaga with her chicken-legged house.  I like the touches of mushrooms growing out of the house as well as the ground, and I love that she’s reading a book (as befits an Ex Libris).  As for familiars, this magical woman has plenty.  She seems to be communing not only with a black bird, as in our first block print, but also an owl, a black cat, and a frog down below.
        This is a theme that’s pretty well guaranteed to strike my fancy, which is why it’s interesting that, now that I think of it, I haven’t done exactly this myself.  I have done a fair handful of pieces that include people and creatures in some sort of magical relationship, and I’m always mulling more ideas in this vein.  Although the mood and tone of these two pieces today are quite different, I like them both very much, and they get me thinking once again about what I might imagine next.


[Pictures: Conversation with a Familiar, wood engraving by India Rose Bird, c. 2022;

Ex Libris M. Gashi-Butler, wood engraving by Vladimir Kortovich, c. 2022 (Images from Society of Wood Engravers).]

June 14, 2024

The Brown Dwarf of Rügen

 
        It’s been quite a while since I featured a fantasy poem, so today we have “The Brown Dwarf of Rügen” by John Greenleaf Whittier.  It was first published in 1888 with a note that the “hint” of the tale came from a German collection of fairy tales in 1816.  I don’t know how much of the detail Whittier made up, but it’s a fairly straightforward theme.  As with many narrative poems of the era, it’s a bit long to include the whole thing, but here’s most of it.

And in the town of Rambin a little boy and maid
Plucked the meadow-flowers together and in the sea-surf played.

Alike were they in beauty if not in their degree:
He was the Amptman’s first-born, the miller’s child was she.

Now of old the isle of Rügen was full of Dwarfs and Trolls,
The brown-faced little Earth-men, the people without souls;

And for every man and woman in Rügen’s island found
Walking in air and sunshine, a Troll was underground.

It chanced the little maiden, one morning, strolled away
Among the haunted Nine Hills, where the elves and goblins play.

She came not back; the search for her in field and wood was vain:
They cried her east, they cried her west, but she came not again.

“She’s down among the Brown Dwarfs,” said the dream-wives wise and old,
And prayers were made, and masses said, and Rambin’s church bell tolled.

Five years her father mourned her; and then John Deitrich said:
“I will find my little playmate, be she alive or dead.”

He watched among the Nine Hills, he heard the Brown Dwarfs sing,
And saw them dance by moonlight merrily in a ring.

And when their gay-robed leader tossed up his cap of red,
Young Deitrich caught it as it fell, and thrust it on his head.

The Troll came crouching at his feet and wept for lack of it.
“Oh, give me back my magic cap, for your great head unfit!”

“Nay,” Deitrich said; “the Dwarf who throws his charmëd cap away,
Must serve its finder at his will, and for his folly pay.

“You stole my pretty Lisbeth, and hid her in the earth;
And you shall ope the door of glass and let me lead her forth.”

“She will not come; she’s one of us; she’s mine!” the Brown Dwarf said;
The day is set, the cake is baked, to-morrow we shall wed.”

The Dwarf obeyed; and youth and Troll down the long stairway passed,
And saw in dim and sunless light a country strange and vast.

Weird, rich, and wonderful, he saw the elfin under-land, —
Its palaces of precious stones, its streets of golden sand.

He came unto a banquet-hall with tables richly spread,
Where a young maiden served to him the red wine and the bread.

He looked; he clasped her in his arms; he knew the long-lost one;
“O Lisbeth! See thy playmate — I am the Amptman’s son!”

She leaned her fair head on his breast, and through her sobs she spoke:
“Oh, take me from this evil place, and from the elfin folk!

But Deitrich said: “For five long years this tender Christian maid
Has served you in your evil world and well must she be paid!

“Haste! — hither bring me precious gems, the richest in your store;
Then when we pass the gate of glass, you’ll take your cap once more.”

No choice was left the baffled Troll, and, murmuring, he obeyed,
And filled the pockets of the youth and apron of the maid.

They left the dreadful under-land and passed the gate of glass;
They felt the sunshine’s warm caress, they trod the soft, green grass.

And when, beneath, they saw the Dwarf stretch up to them his brown
And crooked claw-like fingers, they tossed his red cap down.

And soon from Rambin’s holy church the twain came forth as one,

The Amptman kissed a daughter, the miller blest a son.

        In trying to cut out unnecessary bits for length, I omitted a few of the bits I don’t like as much, such as an unsettling vagueness about age… are these little children or young adults?  (If Lisbeth is to be 16 when she emerges, she must have been 11 when she was stolen, but some of the descriptions make her sound much younger.)  But the elements I like a lot are the descriptions of the magical underground world with its long stairway, dim sunless light, and streets of golden sand.  My favorite image is that the door to this world is made of glass, which seems both odd and improbable, and clearly quite enchanted.  I also cut out the lines where our hero set a cross of stone by that glass door so that the trolls could no longer go in and out through the Nine Hills.
        I wouldn’t call this a masterpiece, either in content or execution, but it is a serviceable entry in the grand encyclopedia of fairy lore, illustrating a number of common elements in mythology and folklore, including the catching of the dwarf's cap, which is a trope I enjoy.
        (Also, a fun note is that at its original publication in children’s magazine St. Nicholas, this poem appeared right next to one of the installments of a serialized story by Frances Hodgson Burnett about a little girl named Sara Crewe!)


[Pictures: A dwarf king seducing a human woman, wood block print from Straßburger Heldenbuch, c. 1480 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Illustrations of “The Brown Dwarf of Rügen” from St. Nicholas, January 1888 (Images from Internet Archive).]