The Twa Corbies

Now for something completely different. It's all about me, or rather, my surname.

Corby means raven in mediaeval Scottish and English dialects. Ravens are scavengers (yep, that sounds about right). In fact there is a mediaeval poem/song called The Twa Corbies. There are lots of versions; here's one in modern English:

As I was walking all alone,
I heard two corbies make a moan,
The one unto the other said,
Where shall we go this day to dine?

Behind that old earthen dyke,
I see there lies a new-slain knight,
And none do know that he lies there,
But his hawk, his hound, and his lady fair.

His hound is to the hunting gone,
His hawk to fetch the wild fowl home,
His lady's taken another mate,
So we can eat our dinner sweet.

You'll sit upon his neck bones,
While I pluck out his eyes of blue,
With his locks of golden hair,
We'll patch our nest when it grows bare.

Many a one for him is grieving,
But none shall know where he is gone,
Over his bones when they are bare,
The wind will blow forever more.

Which proves we Corbies have had a morbid interest in dead bodies for centuries.

13 comments:

Matthew Delman said...

FYI ... the Monty Python theme song is now playing in my head.

I love English poetry from before Latin/French started influencing the language. My favorite poem written in similar language is Gawain and the Green Knight.

And why does it not surprise me that Corbies have possessed a fascination with dead bodies for so long? :)

Gary Corby said...

If I recall correctly without checking, the greatest expert ever on Gawain and the Green Knight was a guy called Tolkien.

Sorry about the Monty Python meme. I'm actually more of a Goon fan. Spike Milligan was a genius. A weird genius, but still.

Matthew Delman said...

Oh it's not a bad thing. Monty Python is one of the better themes to have playing in my head.

Merry Monteleone said...

Interesting, Gary. I know a few people who know what their last name translates to, but that's the first time I've seen one find a medieval poem about it.

Mine's obvious - mountain lion. I can only trace my family line back to a small town in Sicily (which could mean I have any one of a number of ethnicities mixed in there, considering the conquered history of the island). I have read that the name originated in Albania - currently there are quite a lot of people with the name Monteleone from all over Italy and Sicily.

T. Anne said...

I like how you went there. I'll have to write my name on a piece of paper and stare at it for hours now. Thanks Gary.

Stephanie Thornton said...

That is a super cool poem- it reminds me of this raven in Kutna Hora.

http://www.outsideprague.com/kutna_hora/KHimages/khora1.jpg

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I hopped over from Stephanie's blog. My son is obsessed with Greek history and Architecture. I'll have to show him your blog. Cool poem! :-)

scaryazeri said...

That is always an interesting fact.
My current last name stands for a posh car, which I will probably never afford to have...and my maiden name stood for a King's assistant of some sort. Like an advisor, I guess.

You have finally beat me on the blog! 85 and I am on 83! :) I notice sad things like this, I know it makes me pathetic. :)

Gary Corby said...

Welcome Shannon! Lovely to see you here.

Stephanie, that's one very cool raven! You should do a post about ossuaries. There are some great ones around.

I'm sure you're posh enough without the car, Scary.

Good luck with the staring, Anne; I'm sure you'd come up with something brilliant. I love the elegance of your front page btw on your author web site.

Merry, the other thing about your name is it presumably traces back to a time when Europe had mountain lions, which is sort of cool. Sicily was a huge melting pot for millenia; you could be descended from a zillion Romans and Greeks, and even Carthaginians and Phoenicians. It's a pity there isn't some machine where you can press a button and it works all this out.

Loretta Ross said...

Great post! Poor knight! His dog and bird and girlfriend have all moved on and no one's interested in him but the scavengers!

My last name, fwiw, is also Scottish and translates to "high place". I am Scots, Irish, English, French, German, Cherokee and probably Norse. In other words, I'm American, which is a euphemism for "mutt". ;)

Gary Corby said...

Hi Loretta, I think that probably describes almost everyone these days.

Yes, I noticed too the knight's girlfriend didn't spend much time grieving.

Carrie said...

Well there you go. Neat past history. Aw shucks, some guys get all the breaks. ;)

Gary Corby said...

I'm sure your past would be just as exotic Carrie, if only you knew the gory details. Who knows what's hidden?