Genesis, by Francis Carsac

By Francis Carsac
Translated from French by A.Z. Foreman

The ship circled the planet for the seventh time: vast desolate expanses, tremendously stirless mountains, empty plains. A lifeless and absolutely sterile world, it seemed, much like its only moon which had already been visited. There remained the seas.

The ship landed, and the exploratory pod disappeared into the surge of indefatigable waves licking the beach's pale sand. A few hours later, the captain recorded the sensor reports: no trace of life, however small, could be detected in the wind-churned mass of liquid. The ocean nonetheless contained — in appreciable quantity — complex carbon compounds actinically synthesized under the young sun's rays.

The astronaut recorded in his log: "Star Z-221 — 44-767. Planet 3. Sterile. After spectroscopic examination of the sun it is safe to conclude for certain that the stage where life might have arisen has already passed. Other planets in the system are either too far or too near the sun. Average mineral wealth. System of no interest. Not to be revisited."

He carefully emphasized the final words.

"Great Thyophan," he sighed "those bumptious morons on the General Galactic Committee should understand once and for all that no expedition has ever once encountered life this far from the center! There must be something these stars at the periphery just don't have. Meanwhile the Exploration Service is sending poor guys like us out for months and years to do the work of biologists!"

On the beach, something seemed to be moving in the surf. Could the auto-analyzer have been mistaken? He stepped out to check, without his suit —which would be useless in this nontoxic atmosphere — with a simple respirator on his face. Sterile air, at any rate. Absolutely sterile. He took a few steps onto the beach, thinking: these will be the first and the last footprints ever to mark this sand. All that was floating in the spume was a mucus of organic compounds in which the detector could not, even at close range, discern any sign of life. Then, his mind now at ease and full of contempt, he spat into the sea.


Pour la septième fois, l’astronef fit le tour de la planète : de vastes étendues désolées, des chaînes de montagnes formidablement immobiles, des plaines vides. Un monde sans vie, absolument stérile, semblait-il, comme son unique satellite, déjà visité. Restaient les mers.

L’astronef se posa, et, dans le déferlement inlassable des vagues qui léchaient le sable pâle de la plage disparut la torpille d’exploration. Quelques heures plus tard, le chef de bord enregistra le rapport des appareils : pas la moindre trace de vie n’avait pu être décelée, si infime soit-elle, dans cette masse liquide qu’agitait le vent. Cet océan contenait pourtant, et en quantité appréciable, des composés carbonés complexes, synthétisés par l’action actinique des rayons du jeune soleil.

Au journal de bord, l’astronaute consigna : « Étoile Z-221 – 44-767. Planète III. Stérile. L’examen du spectre de son soleil permet de conclure avec certitude que le stade où la vie aurait pu apparaître est déjà dépassé. Quant aux autres planètes, elles sont ou trop loin ou trop près du soleil. Richesses minérales moyennes. Système sans intérêt. À ne pas revisiter. »

Soigneusement, il souligna les derniers mots.

« Grand Thyophan, soupira-t-il. Ces imbéciles prétentieux du Comité Central Galactique devraient bien finir par comprendre que jamais aucune expédition n’a rencontré de vie si loin du Centre ! Il doit manquer quelque chose à ces soleils de la Périphérie. Et nous, pauvres bougres du Service d’Exploration, on nous expédie au loin pendant des mois et des années, pour faire le travail des biologistes ! »

Sur la grève, quelque chose sembla bouger, dans le ressac. L’analyseur automatique se serait-il trompé ? Il sortit pour vérifier, sans scaphandre, inutile dans cette atmosphère non toxique, un simple respirateur sur le haut de la face. Un air stérile, en tous cas. Absolument stérile. Il fit quelques pas sur la plage, pensant : les premiers et les derniers qui se marqueront jamais dans ce sable. Dans l’écume flottait seulement une glaire de composés organiques dans laquelle le détecteur ne put, à bout portant, déceler trace de vie. Alors, la conscience tranquille et plein de mépris, il cracha dans la mer.

A Fragment of a Lost Occitan Aeneid

A nigh-forgotten (and now anonymous) epic singer in Occitania around the 10th-11th centuries set himself the task of translating Virgil's Aeneid into Lyric Occitan. Only a small fragment of his work survives.

Chant lays de guerra  e l’ome guerrejan
Lo prims de Troya  q'en fayditz sobrastratz,
Son azil quist en lo sol Italian.
Molt fo per mar  e terra trabalhatz
Sotz lo poder  dels speritz celestiaus.
Car fetz aici amb malcor immortal
Junon cruzela  que li volc major dan....

Such a pity the rest was lost

Voices of Earlier English: John Donne's Will

The Will
John Donne

Before I sigh my last gaspe, let me breath,
Great love, some Legacies; here I bequeath
Mine eyes to Argus, if mine eyes can see;
If they be blinde, then, Love, I give them thee;
My tongue to Fame; t'Embassadours mine eares,
To women or the sea, my teares;
Thou, Love, hast taught mee heretofore
By making mee serve her who'd twenty more,
That I should give to none but such as had too much before.

My constancie I to the planets give,
My truth to them who at the Court doe live;
Mine ingenuity and opennesse,
To Jesuites, to buffones my pensivenesse;
My silence t'any who abroad hath beene,
My mony to a Capuchin.
Thou, Love, taught'st me, by appointing mee
To love there where no love receiv'd can be,
Onely to give to such as have an incapacitie.

My faith I give to Roman Catholiques,
All my good works unto the Schismaticks
Of Amsterdam; my best civility
And Courtship to an Universitie;
My modesty I give to souldiers bare;
My patience let gamesters share.
Thou, Love, taughtst mee, by making mee
Love her that holds my love disparity,
Onely to give to those that count my gifts indignity.

I give my reputation to those
Which were my friends, mine industrie to foes;
To Schoolemen I bequeath my doubtfulnesse,
My sicknesse to Physitians (or excesse);
To Nature, all that I in Ryme have writ,
And to my company my wit.
Thou, Love, by making mee adore
Her who begot this love in mee before,
Taughtst me to make as though I gave when I did but restore.

To him for whom the passing bell next tolls,
I give my physick bookes; my writen rowles
Of morall counsels I to Bedlam give,
My brazen medals unto them which live
In want of bread, to them which passe among
All forrainers, mine English tongue.
Thou, Love, by making mee love one
Who thinkes her friendship a fit portion
For yonger lovers dost my gifts thus disproportion.

Therefore I'll give no more; but I'll undoe
The world by dying; because love dies too.
Then all your beauties will bee no more worth
Then gold in mines where none doth draw it forth,
And all your graces no more use shall have
Then a sun-dyall in a grave.
Thou, Love, taughtst mee, by making mee
Love her who doth neglect both mee and thee,
T'invent, and practise this one way, t'annihilate all three.


10: planets: so named because in the Ptolemaic system they appeared at times to be in backward orbits. (Fun fact: Donne was born and died within Galileo's lifetime.)

11: Courtiers, like modern politicians or the Church of Scientology, often found it expedient to be economical with the truth.

12: ingenuity: ingenuousness; unvarnished honesty.

13: Jesuits: were in Protestant England portrayed as masters of wiliness, secret plots, and half-truth telling.

14: You know the kind, right? People who have just gotten back from abroad and can't bring themselves shut up about how they've been to a foreign country.

15: Capuchin: Franciscan Friar Minor who has taken a vow of poverty. Leaving your money to a Capuchin is a bit like leaving your bacon cheeseburger to a Haredi Rabbi.

19-20: i.e. I leave my religion for Catholics to convert to, and I give my good works to the Protestant separatists and extremists who prefer to live in the Low Countries (the "sola fide" types who don't think good works are required for salvation.)

21: Civility: urbanity. Courtship: people skills, social awareness. Academics were seen as buried in their special recondite learnings, and at the same time boorish, awkward, unversed in the ways of what is known even on campuses today as "the real world."

26: Disparity: incongruity, overambition, presumption.

30: Doubtfulness: constant questioning of the kind cultivated at university disputations, controversialism.

39: Bedlam: Bethlehem Hospital, where the mentally ill were not only confined but often displayed as entertainment for profit.

42: English tongue — the English language in the late 16th century was a bit like Hungarian in the early 21st, in that nobody outside the country had much practical reason to learn the language, and very few did. Why would you need English when anybody in England of real importance would know French and/or Latin? As John Florio put it "What think you of this English tongue?.....It is a language that will do you good in England but, pass Dover, it is worth nothing."

Written On Somebody's Paper Napkin

Mad paper, go, and on the firewood burn
Spew these rough lines out in a cough of smoke.
I've had enough of you. We can't return
To this. Destruction is the masterstroke.

As ink turns ash, and words turn not a thing,
Affirm what blowhard poets liked to doubt:
That like this earth all supple sonneting
Won't mean one damn when all the lights go out.

Ask in a violet flame like burning fat:
Can lines gleam in a detonated sun?
Or poets claim immortal this or that
When all the cosmos is a shining gun?
Can you believe yourself in shrieking "But
It's enough to have once been"? I am done.

Voices of Earlier English: Milton's Special Pleading

T[his] poem invites readers to imagine that the poet pins this sonnet to his door to protect his property during a military attack. Milton, like most of London in 1642, probably did expect the King's forces to attack the city. Milton therefore frames the poem as a plea for special protection for poets in time of war. In its gesture, the poem alludes to Alexander the Great, who is said to have spared the house of the poet Pindar during his invasion of Thebes. 
— Luxon, Thomas H., ed. The Milton Reading Room
This seems like a good one to illustrate the sound effects of 17th century English poetry that may be rendered inaudible in modern accents.

First, an audio recording in a reconstruction of a somewhat conservative early-to-mid 17th century London accent:

On his Doore When the Citty expected an assault (written ca. 1642)
John Milton (b. 1608)

Captain or Colonel, or Knight in Arms,
Whose chance on these defenceless dores may sease,
If ever deed of honour did thee please,
Guard them, and him within protect from harms,

He can requite thee, for he knows the charms
That call Fame on such gentle acts as these,
And he can spred thy Name o're Lands and Seas,
What ever clime the Suns bright circle warms.

Lift not thy spear against the Muses' Bowre,
The great Emathian Conqueror bid spare
The house of Pindarus when Temple and Towre

Went to the ground: and the repeated air
Of sad Electra's Poet had the power
To save th' Athenian Walls from ruine bare.


L1: This line nicely illustrates the problem, or at least the limitation, of using a reconstruction as a basis for phonaesthetic literary judgments. It is quite impossible to know what sound the <kn> of <knight> would have corresponded to in Milton's own reading voice. He may have pronounced it as [kʰn]. He could equally have had some other realization such as [tʰn], [n̥n] or simply [n̥]. Milton's work tell us nothing of his speech, and the only (flimsy) clue is that rhymes of the type sea/away, seat/meet (which are plentiful among many of his contemporaries) are conspicuous by their total absence in his work. His target speech may have been conservative in its vowel inventory, and the possibility exists that <kn> was still [kʰn] in his English, as it apparently was in the speech of his old teacher Alexander Gil (who did leave behind considerable documentation of his English.) Assuming for my purposes that Milton's English, or at least his target English, contained [kʰn], this line would contain a triple alliteration: captain/colonel/knight, reinforced by the vowel of the first and last syllables. 
Both captain and arms likely contained the same stressed vowel. 
If read in any modern standard accent, not only is the alliteration reduced and the vocalic bracketing obliterated, but the loss of the medial syllable in colonel alters the rhythm and makes it impossible to even scan the line as a pentameter. Then again, the speech a great many of Milton's contemporaries would also produce only a two-way alliteration. 

L2: Chance, again, could have the same vowel as arms, and echoes the previous line.

L4: Possible wordplay on the rhymewords arms/harms which might be pronounced as homophones even in educated speech. (Dropping of initial /h/ was not stigmatized at all before the 1750s, and did not become a provincial stereotype until the 1800s.)

L5: Another possible triple /k/ alliteration: can/requite/know. Here can and charms reinforce each other vocalically, echoing the effect of arms and captain in L1. So too does requite echo knight. The <kn> sound was rare, and relatively few English words had it. Its relative salience suggests a callback from Knows the charms to knight in arms. The whole auditory motif of L1 is recapitulated here, marking the beginning of the octave's second half.

L8: Warms is a perfect rhyme here. A more innovative "modern" variant with a lower and more rounded vowel also existed (and is in fact first attested by a phoneticist two years before the composition of this poem.)

L9-10: Spear/spare. In the (relatively innovative) pronunciation of Early Modern English I use in my recording, these are homophones. They may not have been in Milton's target English. Milton does not interrhyme the reflex of Middle English /air a:r/ with words from Middle English /ɛ:r/, and treats e.g. fair/dear/are/near as rhyming ABAB. Wordplay involving the two need not depend on complete homophony, of course. It might have been contrastive, rather like the pun in the film title Meet the Fockers does not depend for its effect on identity of Modern English /ɒ ʌ/. 

L10: The two words great and Emathian are more tightly linked than in modern accents, as the <th> in the latter was likely pronounced /t/ as in Thomas. It is hard to say what the value of the stressed vowel in Emathian was, assuming that a learn'd word like this necessarily had a single stable pronunciation in the first place. It's a toss-up between /æ/ and /ɛ:/. Given that the word Emathia has such strong Latinate associations, in the absence of other clues, it seems a plausible assumption that Milton might have used whatever pronunciation of this word was current in his Latin. In the contemporaneous English pronunciation of Latin, it seems that <a> in stressed antepenultimate syllables was normally "tense" when the following two syllables had vowels in hiatus. This would favor /ɛ:/. I thus choose /ɛ:/ in much the way Ash Ketchum chooses Pikachu.

L14: As in Emathian the <th> in Athenian was probably still /t/. The stressed /e:/ and (presumed) /ɛ:/ of Great Emathian are echoed (in reverse) with Save th'Athenian. Possible wordplay on ruin/rueing.  

Voices of Earlier English: Michael Drayton's Lunacy

Me reading in a reconstruction of London English ca. 1600

Me reading in the modern accent I originally learned English in

On His Lunacy
Michael Drayton

As other men, so I my selfe do muse
Why in this sorte I wrest invention so,
And why these giddy metaphors I use,
Leaving the path the greater part doe goe.
I will resolve you: I am lunaticke,
And ever this in mad-men you shall finde,
What they last thought of when the braine grew sicke
In most distraction they keepe that in minde.
Thus talking idely in this bedlam fit,
Reason and I (you must conceave) are twaine;
Tis nine yeeres now since first I lost my wit;
Beare with me then, though troubled be my braine.
    With diet and correction men distraught
    (Not too farre past) may to their wits be brought.

Voices of Earlier English: Mark Twain on Party Unity

An attempted impersonation of what Mark Twain's reading voice may have sounded like. Notable features of northern area of Missouri along the Mississippi river in the 19th century include the merry—Murray merger, an early tendency to push cardinal /æ/ even farther front, some distinctive vowel reduction processes, and some variable rhoticity.

I met a certain other clergyman on the corner the day after the nomination. He was very uncompromising. He said: "I know Blaine to the core; I have known him from boyhood up; and I know him to be utterly unprincipled and unscrupulous. Within six weeks after that, this clergyman was at a Republican mass meeting in the Opera House, and I think he presided. At any rate, he made a speech. If you did not know that the character depicted in it meant Mr. Blaine, you would suppose it meant — well, there isn't anybody down here on the earth that you can use as a comparison. It is praise, praise, praise; laudation, laudation, laudation; glorification, glorification, canonization. Conceive of the general crash and upheaval and ripping and tearing and readjustment of things that must have been going on in that man's moral and mental chaos for six weeks! What is any combination of inflammatory rheumatism and St. Vitus's dance to this? When the doctrine of allegiance to party can utterly up-end a man's moral constitution and make a temporary fool of him besides, what excuse are you going to offer for preaching it, teaching it, extending it, perpetuating it? Shall you say, the best good of the country demands allegiance to party ? Shall you also say it demands that a man kick his truth and his conscience into the gutter, and become a mouthing lunatic, besides?
— From "Consistency", read at the Hartford Monday Evening Club on 5 December 1887.

Voices of Earlier English: Sir John Davies Swears By Cock

A Lover Speaks By Cock
Sir John Davies (b. 1569)

Faith, wench, I cannot court thy sprightly eyes,
With the base Viall placed betweene my Thighes
I cannot lispe, nor to some Fiddle sing,
Nor run uppon a high strecht Minikin.
I cannot whine in puling Elegies,
Intombing Cupid with sad obsequies.
I am not fashioned for these amorous times,
To court thy beutie with lascivious rimes.
I cannot dally, caper, daunce and sing,
Oyling my saint with supple sonneting.
I cannot crosse my armes, or sigh ay me,
Ay me Forlorne: egregious Fopperie.
I cannot busse thy fist, play with thy hayre,
Swearing by Jove, Thou art most debonaire.
 Not I by Cock, but shall I tel thee roundly,
Harke in thine eare, zounds I can fuck thee soundly.

2 base viall] Bass viol; bass vial; base vile
4 Minikin] treble string of a viol; sweetheart
10 Oyling] flattering
11 Crosse my arms] stereotyped pose of whiny-ass lovers
13 buss] to oh-so-politely kiss
15 by Cock] common minced form of "by God." But the vulgar sense of "penis" existed then as well. 

Voices of Earlier English: Chidiock Tichborn Faces Death in Prose and Verse

The Catholic Chidiock Tichborn (/tʃɪdɪk tɪtʃbɔɹn/) was free to practice his religion for part of his early life after the succession of Elizabeth I. But in 1570, the Queen was excommunicated by the Pope, and she in turn took it out on Catholics. Catholicism was criminalized once again England. In 1583, Tichborn and his father were arrested and questioned about the "popish relics"  Tichborn had brought back from abroad without informing the authorities. Though released without charge this time, three years later accusations of "popish practices" were again laid against the family. That same year, Tichborn joined the Babington plot to to assassinate Elizabeth and replace her with the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots. When the plot was foiled, most of the other conspirators fled on foot, but Tichborn had an injured leg and was forced to remain in London. On August 14th he was arrested, and later tried and sentenced to death in Westminster Hall. While in custody in the Tower on Sept 19th, Tichborn wrote a letter to his wife Agnes, containing his most famous poem. The following day Tichborn was executed with six other conspirators. On a specially erected scaffold in St. Giles’ Field, he was hanged to the point of near-death and then disemboweled alive. 

In a speech delivered from the scaffold, Tichborn claimed to have been a pawn, a low-level patsy who fell in with the wrong crowd and got in over his head. This is not entirely unbelievable, since the conspiracy itself went to the highest levels, with encrypted messages passed between Sir Anthony Babington and Mary, Queen of Scots, which were intercepted by by Robert Poley, a double agent working for the Elizabeth's secretary and spy-handler Francis Walsingham. 

 Tichborn was likely no older than 23 years old at the time, and possibly a good deal younger. 

Chidiock Tychbornes Elegie, written with his owne hand in the Tower before his execution

My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
My feast of joy is but a dish of paine,
My Crop of corne is but a field of tares,
And al my good is but vaine hope of gaine.
The day is past, and yet I saw no sunne,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

My tale was heard, and yet it was not told,
My fruite is falne, & yet my leaves are greene:
My youth is spent, and yet I am not old,
I saw the world, and yet I was not seene.
My thred is cut, and yet it is not spunne,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

I sought my death, and found it in my wombe,
I lookt for life, and saw it was a shade:
I trod the earth, and knew it was my Tombe,
And now I die, and now I was but made.
My glasse is full, and now my glasse is runne,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

2 dish] a meal
3 tares] weeds
4 good] wealth, holdings
7 told] i.e. told to completion
8 womb] here meaning "guts" a reference to the manner of his execution. (Cf. Nicolas Grimald "so plaines Prometh his womb no time to faile", Spenser "in his wombe might lurke some hidden nest of many dragonettes, his fruitful feed.) Also perhaps a reference to his birth as a Catholic.

Tichborn's speech from the scaffold:

Countrymen and my dear Friends, you expect I should speak something; I am a bad Orator, and my text is worse: It were in vain to enter into the discourse of the whole matter for which I am brought hither, for that it hath been revealed heretofore, and is well known to the most of this company; let me be a warning to all young gentlemen, especially generosis adolescentulis. I had a friend, and a dear friend, of whom I made no small account, whose friendship hath brought me to this; he told me the whole matter, I cannot deny, as they had laid it down to be done; but I always thought it impious, and denied to be a dealer in it; but the regard of my friend caused me to be a man in whom the old proverb was verified; I was silent, and so consented. Before this thing chanced, we lived together in most flourishing estate; of whom went report in the Strand, Fleet street, and elsewhere about London,
but of Babington and Titchbone? No threshold was of force to brave our entry. Thus we lived, and wanted nothing we could wish for; and God knows, what less in my head than matters of State? Now give me leave to declare the miseries I sustained after I was acquainted with the action, wherein I may justly compare my estate to that of Adam’s, who could not abstain one thing forbidden, to enjoy all other things the world could afford; the terror of conscience awaited me.
After I consider’d the dangers whereinto I was fallen, I went to Sir John Peters, in Essex, and appointed my horses should meet me at London, intending to go down into the country. I came to London, and there heard that all was bewrayed; whereupon, like Adam, we fled into the woods to hide ourselves, and there were apprehended. My dear countrymen, my sorrows may be your joy, yet mix your smiles with tears, and pity my case.

Voices of Earlier English: Ben Jonson Buries his Son

Ben Jonson's son died in the London plague epidemic of 1603.

On My First Sonne
Ben Jonson

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sinne was too much hope of thee, lov’d boy,
Seven yeeres thou’wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
O, could I loose all father, now. For why
Will man lament the fate he should envie?
To have so soone scap’d worlds, and fleshes rage,
And, if no other miserie, yet age?
Rest in soft peace, and, ask’d, say: here doth lye
BEN JONSON his best piece of poetrie.
For whose sake, hence-forth, all his vowes be such,
As what he loves may never like too much.

Child of my right hand] the Hebrew name "Benjamin" traditionally translates as "Right Hand's Son" i.e. the fortunate side. (The original sense in the Bible was probably "Son of the South").

5 Lose all father] lose all fatherliness.

9-10 doth lie...Ben Jonson his...poetry] Both father and son were named Ben Jonson. The syntax of this sentence is ambiguous to good effect. The beauty is that it is unclear just who is doing the lying, or laying, of what.

12] i.e. "His vows be that he will never again like too much anything that he loves." The verb like is probably to be understood in the sense of French plaire, Spanish gustar or Russian нравитьсяWith the arguments being the reverse of the modern verb. The subject is that which pleases and the object is the one who is pleased. Cf. "It likes me much better when I find virtue in a fair lodging" (Sidney) or "His countenance likes me not" (King Lear). It could be read in the modern sense, too, with the subject of "like" left unexpressed. Both the newer ("I like pizza") and the older ("Pizza liketh me") types co-existed in the English of Ben Jonson's time.

Voices of Earlier English: Milton's Paradise Lost

Because Milton is fun. And because Paradise Lost in particular is still too often treated as if it were meant only for the eye.

Read in a moderately conservative elite London accent ca. mid 1600s.

Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav'nly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,
In the Beginning how the Heav'ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos: or if Sion Hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa's brook that flow'd
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th' Aonian Mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime.
And chiefly Thou, O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all Temples th' upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for Thou know'st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad'st it pregnant: What in me is dark
Illumin, what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great Argument
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justifie the wayes of God to men. 

Voices of Earlier English: William Harrison on Why Foreigners Can't Learn English

The English language in the 16th century was a bit like Icelandic or Danish in the early 21st, in that very few people outside the British Isles had much practical reason to learn the language, and of those foreigners who bothered trying, fewer still ever really learned it well. Why, after all, would you need English when anybody in England of real importance would know French and/or Latin? As John Florio put it "What think you of this English tongue?.....It is a language that will do you good in England but, pass Dover, it is worth nothing." John Donne, in The Will (written sometime in the 1590s) says " them which passe among/ all forrainers, mine English tongue." i.e. nobody on the continent will speak any English to you, so why don't you take my English with you for the road. 

William Harrison (b. 1534) in this passage from his Description of England (1577) describes how adept Anglophones are at learning other languages, whereas foreigners seldom manage to learn to speak good English. To Harrison, the reason why is obvious: English is just harder than other languages, whereas if you speak English that naturally makes it easier to learn other languages. Hard to disagree, no? English could never replace Latin and French as a lingua franca. The very idea is absolutely silly. 

I think of this passage in Harrison whenever I hear people spewing asininities about how English is just a really easy language to pick up (with "not a lot of grammar") and is therefore a natural choice as the world's lingua franca.

This also is proper to us Englishmen, that sith ours is a meane language, & neither too rough nor too smooth in utterance, we may with much facilitie learne any other language, beside Hebrue, Greeke & Latine, and speake it naturallie, as if we were home-borne in those countries; & yet on the other side it falleth out, I wot not by what other meanes, that few forren nations can rightlie pronounce ours, without some and that great note of imperfection, especiallie the French men, who also seldome write any thing that savoreth of English trulie. 
It is a pastime to read how Natalis Comes in like maner, speaking of our  affaires, dooth clip the names of our English lords. But this of all the rest dooth breed most admiration with me, that if any stranger doo hit upon some likelie pronuntiation of our toong, yet in age he swarveth so much from the same, that he is woorse therein than ever he was, and thereto peradventure halteth not a litle also in his owne, as I have seene by experience in Reginald Wolfe, and other, whereof I have justlie marvelled.

In my reading I have opted for an extremely conservative cultivated pronunciation of the kind that might be more befitting of Serious Matters. I introduce distinctions that only a minority of speakers at the time would produce. Write /wreɪt/ and right /riçt~reɪt/ are not yet homophones (Harrison's would have been the last generation to pronounce the W in write, judging by its disappearance from phonetic descriptions after John Hart.) A significant raising of historical /a: ɛ:/ in all contexts (except pre-rhotically) would still have been still a minority pronunciation, and probably current more among speakers a good deal younger than Harrison. Words like of, is, was, thus, us, this, has, with, as well as morphemes like -ous are still subject to voicing assimilation: [ɔf, ɪs, was, ðʊs, ʊs, ðɪs, has, wɪθ] before voiceless consonants and in pausal position, and [ɔv, ɪz, waz, ðʊz, ʊz, ðɪz, haz, wɪð] before vowels and voiced consonants. (In later English, most of these lost their assimilatory alterations, and one or another of the two forms was fossilized. The voiceless variant survives in modern thus, us, this, and the voiced variant in is, was, has.) 

Original Poem: Survivor

They suffered through the winter months, with food
denied them like hot fire. They could not leave
the treeline for the firing-line. To live
they walked the woods as young men chained to blood
of comrades dying when they had survived.
Only their feet still spoke with blood through snow.
Only the bullet still knew where to go
when the war ended and the spring arrived
great as justice from a sick deity.
It was enough for Viktor to go down
the road from the human town toward the town
where he had left the thing he used to be
and get himself the lasting answer. No
only the bullet still knew where to go.

Voices of Earlier English: Edmund Waller's Voice on Earlier English

Though quite popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, Edmund Waller's poetry is little read today. I could not resist including this poem of his (published in 1668, but written perhaps a decade earlier) in a series about historical Englishes, with a recording in a reconstructed accent, in an era when English has become the world's lingua franca and Latin is known only to a nerdy antiquarian few. Ironic on so many levels within levels. Like an irony matryoshka doll.

Of English Verse
Edmund Waller

    Poets may boast as safely-vain
Their work shall with the world remain;
Both bound together, live, or die,
The Verses and the Prophecy.

    But who can hope his Lines shou'd long
Last in a daily-changing Tongue?
While they are new, Envy prevails,
And as that dies, our Language fails.

    When Architects have done their part,
The Matter may betray their Art;
Time, if we use ill-chosen Stone,
Soon brings a well-built Palace down.

    Poets that lasting Marble seek,
Must carve in Latine or in Greek;
We write in Sand; our Language grows,
And like the Tide our work o'reflows.

    Chaucer his Sense can only boast,
The glory of his Numbers lost,
Years have defac'd his matchless strain;
And yet he did not sing in vain;

    The Beauties which adorn'd that Age,
The shining Subjects of his Rage,
Hoping they shou'd Immortal prove,
Rewarded with success his Love.

    This was the generous Poet's scope,
And all an English pen can hope
To make the Fair approve his Flame,
That can so far extend their Fame.

    Verse thus design'd has no ill Fate,
If it arrive but at the Date
Of fading Beauty, if it prove
But as long-liv'd as present Love.

Voices of Earlier English: A reading from the King James Bible

A reading from the King James Bible, published in 1611

Song of Songs 2

1 I Am the rose of Sharon, and the lillie of the valleys.
2 As the lillie among thornes, so is my love among the daughters.
3 As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sonnes. I sate downe under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweete to my taste.
4 Hee brought me to the banketting house, and his banner over mee, was love.
5 Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples, for I am sicke of love.
6 His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doeth imbrace me.
7 I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the Roes, and by the hindes of the field, that ye stirre not up, nor awake my love, till she please.
8 The voice of my beloved! behold! hee commeth leaping upon the mountaines, skipping upon the hils.
9 My beloved is like a Roe, or a yong Hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh foorth at the windowe, shewing himselfe through the lattesse.
10 My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my Love, my faire one, and come away.
11 For loe, the winter is past, the raine is over, and gone.
12 The flowers appeare on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree putteth foorth her greene figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my faire one, and come away.
14 O my dove! that art in the clefts of the rocke, in the secret places of the staires: let me see thy countenance, let me heare thy voice, for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.
15 Take us the foxes, the litle foxes, that spoile the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.
16 My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lillies.
17 Untill the day breake, and the shadowes flee away: turne my beloved and be thou like a Roe, or a yong Hart, upon the mountaines of Bether.

Voices of Earlier English: Selections from Shakespeare's Sonnets


When I consider every thing that growes
Holds in perfection but a little moment.
That this huge stage presenteth nought but showes
Whereon the Stars in secret influence comment,
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheared and checkt even by the selfe-same skie:
Vaunt in their youthfull sap, at height decrease,
And weare their brave state out of memory,
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay,
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wastfull time debateth with decay
To change your day of youth to sullied night,
And all in war with Time for love of you
As he takes from you, I ingraft you new.

1 moment] this word has been greatly semantically narrowed in modern English. One should read here tones not merely of temporality, but also of power, import, direction and force of movement. The etymological siblings momentum, momentous and even movement give some of the flavor.
3 presenteth nought but shows] a play of polysemy. The phrase on its own suggests "displays nothing beyond what is apparent" where "but" at the time could take the force of modern "except that which". Shows of course here are more directly metaphorical performances. The idea that "all the world's a stage" for all that Shakespeare is given singular credit for it, was a commonplace of the Renaissance with long standing.
5 Increase] mostly the denotative meaning of the verb has remained the same. But literary use in poetry of the period "increase" connotations of growth and flourishing, as well as of reproduction (c.f. "from fairest creatures we desire increase")
6 cheered] "encouraged, given confidence, heartened, urged on" checked "slowed, detained" (c.f. "sap check'd with frost")
7 vaunt] when intransitive this verb meant both "brag, boast, make a show of oneself" and "exult, rejoice in triumph."
8 brave] "superior, splendid, excellent" (c.f. Francis Bacon "Iron is a brave commodity where wood aboundeth." Shakespeare was, however, given to punning on this word with the still-present meaning of courage e.g. "Wear my dagger with the braver grace.")
State] "condition".
Wear] to be understood in both the sense of being clothed, and wearing away.
9 Conceit] "perception, poetic figment"
11 Wasteful] "ruinous" as well as "excessive."
Debateth] a word of great polysemy in the English of the time which has been semantically narrowed in centuries since. It did have the meaning of "disagreement, argument" but not necessarily in a formalized or public way. Other meanings that have since been more totally lost from the word include: "Discussion, speak about" in a more dialectic sense and also "engage in physical combat" especially in the sense of resolving a disputed matter via trial by combat.
14 ingraft] this is a loaded term. The general shape of the meaning is: to insert either an idea or an object, into someone or something else so that it grows as part of the mind or body it is inserted into. It has overtones in its usage not only of the grafting of horticulture, but also of "implanting" ideas into the mind of another. There is clear play on the alternate adjectival meaning of "deeply-rooted, engrained" (also spelled engraffed in this sense in our orthographically regularized editions c.f. King Lear "the imperfections of long-engraffed condition.")


Devouring time blunt thou the Lyons pawes,
And make the earth devoure her owne sweet brood,
Plucke the keene teeth from the fierce Tygers jawes,
And burne the long liv’d Phœnix in her blood,
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet’st,
And do what ere thou wilt swift-footed time
To the wide world and all her fading sweets:
But I forbid thee one most hainous crime,
O carve not with thy howers my loves faire brow,
Nor draw noe lines there with thine antique pen,
Him in thy course untainted doe allow,
For beauties patterne to succeding men.
Yet doe thy worst ould Time dispight thy wrong,
My love shall in my verse ever live young.

7 sweets] pleasures, nice things
10 antique pen] an old pen, but also one that is gaudy and has awful taste


Why didst thou promise such a beautious day,
And make me travaile forth without my cloake,
To let bace cloudes ore-take me in my way,
Hiding thy brav’ry in their rotten smoke.
Tis not enough that through the cloude thou breake,
To dry the raine on my storme-beaten face,
For no man well of such a salve can speake,
That heales the wound, and cures not the disgrace:
Nor can thy shame give phisicke to my griefe,
Though thou repent, yet I have still the losse,
Th’offenders sorrow lends but weake reliefe
To him that beares the strong offenses losse.
Ah but those teares are pearle which thy love sheeds,
And they are ritch, and ransome all ill deeds.

2 travail] both travail and travel are implied here. The two words' spellings are interchangeable in Elizabethan orthography and were at the time homophonous. 
4 bravery] i.e. splendor, outward beauty
8 heals the wound] there is a possible pun here. For some speakers in Shakespeare's London, heals would have sounded identical to ails.


Let me not to the marriage of true mindes
Admit impediments, love is not love
Which alters when it alteration findes,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever fixed marke
That lookes on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandring barke,
Whose worths unknowne, although his higth be taken.
Lov's not Times foole, though rosie lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickles compasse come,
Love alters not with his breefe houres and weekes,
But beares it out even to the edge of doome:
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

4 alters...finds] love that is changed when the beloved changes (i.e. ages) is not true love
bends with...remove] to change one's state when one's beloved is gone
5 mark] shipping beacon 
8 whose worth's unknown] whose nature and substance (and also value) is beyond human comprehension. 
his height be taken] its altitude is scientifically or mathematically calculated. "To take height" was a normal technical term in astronomy and navigation. 
9 Time's fool] something for Time to laugh at, as a king would laugh at the fool at court. 
12 to the edge of doom] until Doomsday. i.e. not "til death do us part" but till the end of the world. 
13 upon me proved] proved against me. This is the language of legal challenge.   


My mistres eyes are nothing like the Sunne,
Currall is farre more red, then her lips red,
If snow be white, why then her brests are dun:
If haires be wiers, black wiers grow on her head:
I have seene Roses damaskt, red and white,
But no such Roses see I in her cheekes,
And in some perfumes is there more delight,
Then in the breath that from my Mistres reekes.
I love to heare her speake, yet well I know,
That Musicke hath a farre more pleasing sound:
I graunt I never saw a goddesse goe,
My Mistres when shee walkes treads on the ground.
And yet by heaven I thinke my love as rare,
As any she beli’d with false compare.

Philological notes:

Raising of ME /ɛ:/ (PEAL) to /e:/ without fully raising ME /ɔ:/ (POLE) to /o:/ (I have the vowel occasionally pushing up toward /o̞:/ as a possible transitional step.) A lopsided system of this type is strongly implied by John Florio's Italian-English dictionary of 1611. 

ME /a:/ (PALE) realized as unstable /æ:~ɛ:/, partially merged with the reflex of ME /ai/ (PAIL).

I have the MOUND and MIND vowels realized as /ɔʊ/ and /ɛɪ/ following Roger Lass, Jespersen and Wolfe, all of whom make a strong case that these diphthongs had not yet centralized to /ǝʊ bǝɪ/. Others argue, usually on theoretical grounds, for a much earlier /ǝʊ ǝɪ/.

Voices of Earlier English: John Milton wants some holy payback

In 1655, 2000 Waldensians were massacred (and another 2000 forcibly converted to Catholicism) in Piedmont by the Catholic troops of Charles Emmanuel II.

Conservative elite London accent ca. mid 1600s.

On the Late Massachre in Piemont
John Milton

Avenge O Lord thy slaughter'd Saints, whose bones
  Lie scatter'd on the Alpine mountains cold,
  Ev'n them who kept thy truth so pure of old
  When all our Fathers worship't Stocks and Stones,
Forget not: in thy book record their groanes
  Who were thy Sheep and in their antient Fold
  Slayn by the bloody Piemontese that roll'd
  Mother with Infant down the Rocks. Their moans
The Vales redoubl'd to the Hills, and they
  To Heav'n. Their martyr'd blood and ashes sow
  O're all th' Italian fields where still doth sway
The triple Tyrant: that from these may grow
  A hunder'd-fold, who having learnt thy way
  Early may fly the Babylonian wo.

Voices of Earlier English: John Donne Hates Lawyers

One of the earliest attestations in English of the word "dildo." In making my recording, I imagined Donne having modified his accent consciously to try and imitate the speech of others, thus e.g. varying between /ɛ:/ and /æ:/ for words like name.

A Satire
By John Donne

Sir, though (I thanke God for it) I do hate
Perfectly all this towne, yet there’s one state
In all ill things so excellently best
That hate towards them breeds pity towards the rest.
Though poetrie indeed be such a sinne,
As I thinke, that brings dearths and Spaniards in;
Though, like the pestilence or old-fashioned love,
It ridlingly catch men, and doth remove
Never till it be sterv'd out; yet their state
Is poore, disarm'd, like papists, not worth hate.
One (like a wretch which at barre judged as dead
Yet prompts him which stands next and could not reade,
And saves his life) gives ideot actors meanes
(Starving himselfe) to live by'is labored sceanes,
As in some organs puppits dance above
And bellows pant below which them do move;
One would move love by rimes, but witchcraft’s charms
Bring not now their old feares, nor their old harmes:
Rammes and slings now are seely battery,
Pistolets are the best artillerie;
And they who write to lords rewards to get—
Are they not like boys singing at doores for meat?
And they who write because all write have still
That excuse for writing, and for writing ill;
But hee is worst who, beggarly, doth chaw
Others’ wits’ fruits, and in his ravenous maw
Rawly digested doth those things outspue
As his owne things; and they’re his owne, ’tis true,
For if one eate my meate, though it be knowne
The meate was mine, the excrement’s his owne.
But these do mee no harme, nor they which use
To out-swive dildoes, and out-usure Jewes;
To'out-drink the sea, out-sweare the Litanie;
Who with sinnes’ all kindes as familiar bee
As confessors, and for whose sinfull sake
Schoolemen new tenements in Hell must make;
Whose strange sinnes canonists could hardly tell
In which Commandment’s large receit they dwell.
But these punish themselves: the insolence
Of Coscus onely breeds my great offence,
Whom time (which rots all, and makes botches poxe,
And plodding on must make a calfe an ox)
Hath made a lawyer, which was (alas) of late
But a scarce poet. Jollier of this state
Than e'er new-benefic'd ministers, he throwes
Like nets or lime-twigs, wheresoe’er he goes,
His title'of barrister on every wench,
And wooes in language of the Pleas and Bench:
‘A motion, lady.’ ‘Speak, Coscus.’ ‘I’ve beene
In love e’er since tricesimo'of the Queene.
Continuall claimes I have made, injunctions got
To stay my rival’s suit, that hee should not
Proceed.’ ‘Spare mee!’ ‘In Hillary Terme I went;
You said if I returned this ’Size in Lent,
I should be in remitter of your grace;
In the interim my letters should take place
Of affidavits.’ Words, words, which would teare
The tender labyrinth of a soft maid’s eare:
More, more, than ten Slavonians scolding; more
Than when winds in our ruin'd abbeyes rore.
When sick of poetry and possessed with Muse
Thou wast, and mad, I hop'd; but men which chuse
Law-practice for meere gaine, bold soule, repute
Worse than embrothel'd strumpets prostitute.
Now, like an owlelike watchman, hee must walke,
His hand still at a bill; now he must talke
Idly, like prisoners which whole months will sweare
That only suretiship hath brought them there;
And to every suitor lye in everything
Like a king’s favorite—yea, like a king;
Like a wedge in a blocke, wring to the barre,
Bearing like asses; and, more shameless farre
Than carted whores, lye to the grave judge; for
Bastardy abounds not in kings’ titles, nor
Simonie and sodomy in churchmen’s lives,
As these things do in him: by these he thrives.
Shortly (as the sea) hee will compasse all our land
From Scots to Wight, from Mount to Dover strand;
And spying heires melting with gluttonie,
Satan will not joy at their sinnes as hee:
For, as a thrifty wench scrapes kitchen-stuffe,
And barrelling the droppings, and the snuffe
Of wasting candles, which in thirty yeare
(Relique-like kept) perchance buyes wedding geare;
Peecemeale he gets lands, and spends as much time
Wringing each acre as men pulling prime.
In parchments then, large as his fields, hee drawes
Assurances, bigge as gloss'd civill lawes,
So huge that men (in our time’s forwardnesse)
Are Fathers of the Church for writing lesse.
These hee writes not; nor for these written payes,
Therefore spares no length; as in those first dayes
When Luther was profest he did desire
Short Pater nosters, saying as a fryer
Each day his beads, but, having left those lawes,
Adds to Christ’s prayer the ‘power and glory’ clause.
But when he sells or changes lands, he impairs
His writings, and (unwatcht) leaves out ‘ses heirs’,
As slyly as any commenter goes by
Hard words or sense; or in divinity
As controverters in vouch'd texts leave out
Shrewd words which might against them cleare the doubt.
Where are those spread woods which cloth'd heretofore
These bought lands? Not built, nor burnt within doore.
Where the old landlord’s troops and almes? In great hals
Carthusian fasts and fulsome Bacchanalls
Equally I hate: meanes blesse; in rich men’s homes
I bid kill some beasts, but not hecatombs.
None starve, none surfet so. But, oh, we allow
Good workes as good but out of fashion now,
Like old, rich wardrobes. But my words none drawes
Within the vast reach of the huge statute-lawes.

Voices of Earlier English: H.P. Lovecraft's Only Good Poem

An attempt to give an idea of what Lovecraft's reading voice and accent might have been like, using the few contemporary descriptions of Lovecraft's speech, as well as his social background, his upbringing, his linguistic self-conceptions, and the regional dialect history of American English. A few things are all but certain, such as the fact that his speech would have been non-rhotic, would have the TRAP-BATH vowel split, would have diphthong raising, would have had non-velarized pre-vocalic /l/, and a couple dozen other features. Others are more tenuous.

The Messenger (p. 1929)
By H. P. Lovecraft

To Bertrand K. Hart, Esq.

The thing, he said, would come that night at three
From the old churchyard on the hill below;
But crouching by an oak fire’s wholesome glow,
I tried to tell myself it could not be.
Surely, I mused, it was a pleasantry
Devised by one who did not truly know
The Elder Sign, bequeathed from long ago,
That sets the fumbling forms of darkness free.

He had not meant it—no—but still I lit
Another lamp as starry Leo climbed
Out of the Seekonk, and a steeple chimed
Three—and the firelight faded, bit by bit.
Then at the door that cautious rattling came—
And the mad truth devoured me like a flame!

Voices of Earlier English: Sidney's "Leave Me O Love"

Moderately conservative aristocratic English accent, ca. late 1570s

"Leave Me O Love"
By Sir Philip Sidney

Leave, me, O love which reachest but to dust,
And thou, my mind, aspire to higher things.
Grow rich in that which never taketh rust;
Whatever fades, but fading pleasure brings.
Draw in thy beames, and humble all thy might
To that sweet yoke where lasting freedomes be;
Which breakes the clowdes, and opens forth the light,
That doth both shine and give us sight to see.
O take fast hold; let that light be thy guide
In this small course which birth drawes out to death,
And thinke how evill becommeth him to slide,
Who seeketh heau’n, and comes of heav’nly breath.
Then farewell world; thy uttermost I see:
Eternall Love, maintaine thy life in me.