'Raven's Cry': Sonnet for Black Knight's Feast, Feb 19/05

Linda J. Doerksen
Halima al-Rakkasa, Shire of Cragmere, Tir Righ, An Tir
apprentice to Mistress Gudrun, Barony of Seagirt

The Sonnet

Oh, Dawn's bright chill brings croaking cry
And alerts the mind to approaching day;
From deepest rooky wood dost fly
Black-winged omen on its way;
Yet raven does not sully sky
When virtue's Strength is Raven's pay.
'Pon Odin's shoulders dost not lie
Both Thought and Mem'ry, wisdom their say?
Can fortunes told with midnight sigh
Be equal told, both yea and nay?
Our feathers seeming black do tie
Our hearts to hearts where ravens lay.
Not woe nor sorrow drives this flight
But friendship dear and clear and bright.

Notes on sonnet's Referrals:

1) Ravens tend to waken early and noisily
2) "rooky wood": forest area with ravens
3) "omen": ravens, crows and other similar black birds are seen as bearers of omens, usually for ill
4) "raven does not sully sky": some medieval Christians felt that the sky was contaminated when the ill-boding raven or crow crossed it
5) "virtue's strength": heraldically, ravens represented strength
6) "Odin... Thought and Mem'ry": two of Odin's companions were ravens that sat one on each shoulder who imparted wisdom to him
7) "fortunes told": ravens and crows were said to be able to tell the future
8) "feathers seeming black": ravens were thought not to feed their young until their black feathers had grown in and were recognizably kin; until then, the young fed on dew
9) "Not woe nor sorrow": black birds were considered ill-omened
10) "friendship": again, because of Odin's companions, ravens represented staunch friendship

Note on Style:

The form is a sonnet in the style of Wm. Shakespeare; allusions are littered throughout, beyond those noted.

Note on Presentation:

The choice of a black ground with metallic lettering is a nod to Brussels Manuscript 9085; is is an important source for the basse dance, once belonging to Margrite d'Autriche (Marie of Hungary). The vellum pages are black with lettering in gold and silver.
The cardstock is acid-free, archival quality, with Winsor & Newton drawing ink. Gold is 23 carat XX Italian leaf; silver is composite leaf.


Though the contest is for calligraphy and illumination, I did not feel right about using another's words; so I did some reading on ravens, and chose as my theme the friendship of Ravensley people.

The silver-on-black choice came from my explorations in historical dance (as noted above).

The silver ink decidedly did not want to flow through my pens (or anyone else's, for that matter), so I diluted it. That, of course, made it translucent to an unacceptable degree. I added a goodly amount of W&N permanent white gouache to give it opacity, and liked the results. (2 eyedropper squeezes of ink, 2 of water, 4 "cubes" of gouache)

While I practiced with the dip pens, I also tested various sizes of lettering and spacing. I chose a textura quadrata style of lettering for its common name "Blackletter". The cardstock happened to be an archival type.

The initial "O" was gilded with 4 layers of gold, to get as much depth as was reasonable. The initial "r" of the three mentions of "raven" were leafed with a silver composite; I did not "seal" the silver because I did not want to lose its reflective qualities (it will be interesting to see how long it holds its brilliance).

If I should do similar project, I'd refill the pen more frequently; the pigments settled out quite quickly, something I did not notice while I worked. And I'd practice the upper case letters a few more times so that they could be made with a smoother stroke.

The silhouette and my maker's mark are in the straight ink applied with a brush. (Maker's mark is the Arabic H with a crescent cradled in the lower arm.)

Sources for sonnet, abbreviated and annotated:

Ashwin, Freya; The Leaves of Yggdrasil;
p 206 gave the names of the ravens of Odin: Muninn and Huginn.
Cooper, J. C.; An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols; Thames and Hudson, NY, NY, 1978; p 137-8:
talking bird as prophecy;
ambivalent nature (good and evil; wisdom and destructive war);
Odin/Woten's ravens (Hugin = Thought; Munin = Memory).
Shakespeare, William; Macbeth;
Act 3, Scene 2: "Light thickens; and the crow Makes wing to the rooky wood"
Medieval Bestiary: Raven; http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast251.htm:
"Ravens refuse to feed their young until their feather grow and become black, and the parents can recognize them as their own. Before the young have feathers, they feed on dew."
Armorial Gold Heraldry; http://www.heraldryclipart.com/heraldry-symbolism.html:
"CORBIE (THE RAVEN): The Raven was considered a symbol of virility or wisdom by many medieval cultures. An ancient Norse saga describes the use of Ravens by ocean navigators as guides to land, and Norse mythology describes Ravens as scouts for Odin. The Gaelic name for the raven is 'Bran,' also the name of a Celtic God; Bran offers initiation, protection, and the gift of prophecy. To the ancient Germanic tribes, Ravens were a symbol of sacrifice, for they were known for "receiving and rejoicing over sacrificial victims." The Raven was associated to thought and memory, and thus was a source of wisdom and prophetic knowledge, most particularly where such knowledge concerned omens of war. Like their relatives the crows, Ravens were known throughout Europe as death birds and other world messengers especially if you were doomed to die in battle. It is said that dead warriors on the battlefield were called 'feeders of ravens' in Skaldic verse. The all-powerful Viking leaders however, were known to bear the sign of the Raven upon their banners as a token of victory. Esteemed by the Romans and an ensign of the Danes, the Raven denotes prophetic counsel and is the sentinel of successful endeavours. A bearer using this device may have done so to commemorate a great battle or noted experience where a family member was killed. To the Christians, the Raven was a symbol of the Jews, of confession and of penance."
http://www.druidry.org/obod/lore/animal/raven.html; Susan Morgan Black:
"Edgar Alan Poe, who described them as ". . . grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous creatures.""; "To Egyptians, ravens represented destruction and malevolence. However, Arabs call raven Abu Aajir - the Father of Omens."