Anglo-Saxon Cryptography: Secret Writing in Early Medieval England

At the very end of an eleventh-century manuscript copy of St Augustine’s Confessions, an Anglo-Saxon scribe wrote “Fknktp Lkbrp χρp prfcpnkB rfddp”. Rather than garbled gobbledegook, these words were written in a simple but popular code: the vowels have been replaced by their neighbouring consonants in the alphabet: a=b; e=f; i=k; o=p; x=u. 

The scribe’s words actually read: “Finito libero Christo [the Greek letters χρ is a well-known abbreviation for Christ] preconio reddo”, which is Latin for something along the lines of: “The book is finished, I give a laudation to Christ in return”. Apparently, this scribe was happy that his job was done and rendered thanks to Christ in an encoded message.

The same motivation seems to underlie another encrypted colophon at the end of an eleventh-century Gospel-book made in England: “DFPGRBTKBS AMΗN”:

The first two words of this colophon read “DEO GRATIAS” [thanks be to God]; the last word is “AMEN”, with a Greek capital Eta instead of the E (and a weird M and N, which I haven’t been able to identify).

Thijs Porck, Anglo-Saxon Cryptography: Secret Writing in Early Medieval England

(colophon — 1: an inscription at the end of a book or manuscript usually with facts about its production; 2: an identifying mark used by a printer or a publisher.)

T. S. Eliot in New York, 1958

In the spring of 1958 the (relatively) new Mr and Mrs Eliot travelled to America for a month so that T. S. Eliot could introduce his new wife, Valerie to his family. They sailed from Southampton to New York aboard the Media before flying to Texas for lecture engagements and then on to Cambridge, via New York, to spend time with various members of the Eliot family. 

Introducing Mrs. Eliot
Photo taken 4/19/58, waiting to enter New York sound.

Eliot’s note on the reverse.

World War I Poetry by Women: Mary Gilmore

     by Mary Gilmore

Out in the dust he lies;
Flies in his mouth,
Ants in his eyes …
I stood at the door

Where he went out;
Full-grown man,
Ruddy and stout;
I heard the march

Of the trampling feet,
Slow and steady
Come down the street;
The beat of the drum

Was clods on the heart,
For all that the regiment
Looked so smart!
I heard the crackle

Of hasty cheers
Run like the breaking
Of unshed tears,
And just for a moment,

As he went by,
I had sight of his face,
And the flash of his eye.
He died a hero’s death,

They said,
When they came to tell me
My boy was dead;
But out in the street

A dead dog lies;
Flies in his mouth,
Ants in his eyes.

More on this poet in Behind Their Lines.

Mary Gilmore

Edward Thomas’s Watch

Stopped at 7.36 a.m., Easter Monday 9th April 1917, by the blast that killed him.

Also, you can see the ripples from the force of the shell on his notebook’s pages:

The complete notebook has been digitized by the University of Oxford:

Edward Thomas’s War Diary.

World War I Poetry by Women: Charlotte Mary Mew

May 1915
by Charlotte Mew

Let us remember Spring will come again
To the scorched, blackened woods, where the wounded trees
Wait with their old wise patience for the heavenly rain,
Sure of the sky: sure of the sea to send its healing breeze,
Sure of the sun, and even as to these
Surely the Spring, when God shall please,
Will come again like a divine surprise
To those who sit today with their great Dead, hands in their hands
Eyes in their eyes
At one with Love, at one with Grief: blind to the scattered things
And changing skies.

More at Behind Their Lines.

Charlotte Mary Mew

World War I Poetry by Women: Marian Allen

by Marian Allen

Out in a gale of fallen leaves,
Where the wind blows clear through the rain-soaked trees,
Where the sky is torn betwixt cloud and blue
And the rain but ceases to fall anew:
And dead leaves, in bud on your April flight,
Will whisper your name to the wind to-night
And the year is dying in which you died
And I shall be lonely this Christmas-tide.

Hyde Park, October 1917

   Marian Allen and Arthur Greg

Allen wrote this poem six months after the death of her sweetheart, Captain Arthur Tylston Greg:

Shortly after the First World War was declared in August of 1914, Arthur Greg left his law studies at Oxford and eagerly joined the British army. Serving with the Cheshire Regiment near Ypres, Belgium, he was seriously wounded when shot in the jaw in the spring of 1915. 

Recovering from his injuries, Greg rejoined the military and applied to the Royal Flying Corps. By April of 1917, he had been certified as a pilot and returned to France to join the 55 Squadron. Less than one month later, on April 23rd of 1917, returning from a bombing mission on an ammunition factory, Arthur Greg’s squadron was attacked by German aircraft…. Greg’s plane was shot down, and although he crash-landed near St. Quentin, both he and his mechanic died of their wounds.

More here: Behind Their Lines.

What Writers Really Do When They Write

An artist works outside the realm of strict logic. Simply knowing one’s intention and then executing it does not make good art. Artists know this. According to Donald Barthelme: “The writer is that person who, embarking upon her task, does not know what to do.” Gerald Stern put it this way: “If you start out to write a poem about two dogs fucking, and you write a poem about two dogs fucking – then you wrote a poem about two dogs fucking.” Einstein, always the smarty-pants, outdid them both: “No worthy problem is ever solved in the plane of its original conception.”

George Saunders: What Writers Really Do When They Write

                                      Gertrude Stein