Susurrus

Seashell

It’s hard to find the right word to describe the shushing plashing sound of breakers rolling on a beach, the sound of the ocean that we seek in a shell.  Susurrus is commonly used, but is defined in the dictionary as a murmuring sound.  It is onomatopoeic I suppose, and that helps.

Onomatopoeia is a difficult word to spell, so easy to make a mistake with it in a literature exam.  It is when we make words that sound of the thing.  Most societies have a word for a snake that begins with the ssssss sound made by a snake slithering over dry ground.  It probably began life as a warning, because snakes are dangerous to man.  Serpent(e) in romance languages, Slang in germanic languages.

Cuckoo is another good example of onomatopoeia. A bird named for its call.

The poet and short story writer Stephen Vincent Benét, born 120 years ago on this day, found no such word to describe the ocean sound, or he probably would have used it.

A Minor Poet: by Stephen Vincent Benét

I am a shell. From me you shall not hear
the splendid tramplings of insistent drums,
the orbed gold of the viol’s voice that comes,
heavy with radiance, languorous and clear.
Yet, if you hold me close against the ear,
a dim, far whisper rises clamorously,
the thunderous beat and passion of the sea,
the slow surge of the tides that drown the mere.

Others with subtle hands may pluck the strings,
making even Love in music audible,
and earth one glory. I am but a shell
that moves, not of itself, and moving sings;
leaving a fragrance, faint as wine new-shed,
a tremulous murmur from great days long dead.

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Happy Birthday Hart Crane

Melvilles tomb

A libation of Baleine salt at Melville’s Tomb.

Born this day in the final year of the 19th Century Harold Hart Crane did not reach the age of Christ and departed this world aged only 32.  Never an easy poet and he never had an easy life.  He struggled with twin demons of drink and sexuality.  His search for an uplifting counterpoint to T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” resulted in poor critical reviews and a slide into depression.

On a steamship from Mexico to New York he made advances to a male member of the crew and was badly beaten.  He leaped into the Gulf of Mexico and his body was never recovered.  At Melville’s tomb did he foresee his own end?

 

At Melville’s Tomb; by Harold Hart Crane

Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge
the dice of drowned men’s bones he saw bequeath
an embassy. Their numbers as he watched,
beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.

And wrecks passed without sound of bells,
the calyx of death’s bounty giving back
a scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,
the portent wound in corridors of shells.

Then in the circuit calm of one vast coil,
its lashings charmed and malice reconciled,
frosted eyes there were that lifted altars;
and silent answers crept across the stars.

Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive
to farther tides . . . High in the azure steeps
monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.

2nd Marne

Light tank

British and French troops with a Renault FT-17 tank in July 1918

100 years ago on this day the German Imperial Army attacked the French in a last desperate attempt to win the Great War.  The French were well prepared and absorbed the first attack.  Then three days later they launched a counter offensive that destroyed the German forces.

The German army found itself in a fighting retreat for 100 days, backtracking over the sites of their victories in 1914 until their eventual surrender.

The 1st Battle of the Marne (The miracle of the Marne) denied the Germans a rapid victory and condemned soldiers to four years of trench warfare.  The 2nd Battle of the Marne lifted the war out of the trenches at last.

If you want to book end  World War 1, and compare the strategies, tactics, forces, morale, weapons etc at the beginning of the war, and at the end of the war then study these two battles.  It took four years and the lives of millions of fighting men to learn the lessons that made 2nd Marne possible for the French.

 

Eternal sunshine of the Irish Summer

Athlassel Drone

The above photo is a drone shot taken of Athlassel Abbey in Golden Tipperary.  On the left of the shot is the river Suir and on the right you can see the green area that is what remains of the fish ponds built by the Monks as a fish farm.

In between the grass is burnt dry as a bone, the effect of weeks of a heatwave, unbroken by the rain that usually falls in July in Ireland.

Elsewhere the dry conditions have been turning up interesting archaeological findings.  At the world famous Boyne valley site of Newgrange the perfect outline of an entirely undiscovered Henge has magically appeared due to ancient post holes holding just a little more moisture than the surrounding ground.

Newgrange 2 2

Usually invisible; the combination of a long dry summer, and the widespread availability of drones have brought a whole new set of possibilities to the Newgrange site.  At first guess the henge is thought to date from 2,500 years ago, some 500 years after the construction of the passage tombs.

The finding is an incentive to drone fliers to get out there and exploit the conditions.  There are more sites waiting to be discovered.

In the meantime we will sit here and swelter, and wish we were more used to coping with this weather.  The Spaniards are better prepared as you can see.  Photo from the Guardian this week of a girl cooling off in a fountain.  With a hosepipe ban in place and dire warnings from Irish Water for the coming September we can only look on jealously.

Fountain

Ramona Street on a Hot Summer Day; by Betsy Franco

You can hear the whack
of a tennis ball against the plastic bat.
You can smell Ms. Lowry’s
honeysuckle bush
that grows along her fence.
You can lick an ice cold popsicle
from Petey’s ice-cream truck.
You can feel Joey’s sprinkler water
tingling on your skin.
There’s no place I’d rather be
than Ramona Street
on a hot summer day!

 

 

Happy Birthday Julius Caesar

Caesar

Gaius Julius Caesar was born in 100 BC, making him 2118 today.  We know this because of the calendar he gave us.

A populist politician in the mould of the brothers Gracchus and his own Great Uncle Gaius Marius.  Caesar wanted to move power from the Senatorial class and absentee landlords and spread the wealth to the working classes of Rome, the Plebs and the Legionnaires.

In the process he set in motion the events that led to the collapse of the Republic and the creation of an Empire.  Caesar has given a lasting lesson to the democracies and republics of the world.  Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.

Cassius speaks to Brutus

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
“Brutus” and “Caesar”—what should be in that “Caesar”?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?
Write them together, yours is as fair a name;
Sound them, it doth become the mouth as well;
Weigh them, it is as heavy; conjure with ’em,
“Brutus” will start a spirit as soon as “Caesar.”
Now, in the names of all the gods at once,
Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed
That he is grown so great? Age, thou art shamed!
Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods!
When could they say, till now, that talked of Rome,
That her wide walks encompassed but one man?
Now is it Rome indeed, and room enough
When there is in it but only one man.
O, you and I have heard our fathers say
There was a Brutus once that would have brooked
Th’ eternal devil to keep his state in Rome
As easily as a king.

Yer matey’s a bottle of fun.

Matey

The impact of advertising is that I can’t read this poem.

I can only sing it in my head.  Har har me matey.

A Life on the Ocean Wave; by Epes Sargent

A life on the ocean wave,
A home on the rolling deep,
Where the scattered waters rave,
And the winds their revels keep!
Like an eagle caged, I pine
On this dull, unchanging shore:
Oh! give me the flashing brine,
The spray and the tempest’s roar!

Once more on the deck I stand
Of my own swift-gliding craft:
Set sail! farewell to the land!
The gale follows fair abaft.
We shoot through the sparkling foam
Like an ocean-bird set free; —
Like the ocean-bird, our home
We’ll find far out on the sea.

The land is no longer in view,
The clouds have begun to frown;
But with a stout vessel and crew,
We’ll say, Let the storm come down!
And the song of our hearts shall be,
While the winds and the waters rave,
A home on the rolling sea!
A life on the ocean wave!

Big Dog

Castelveccio

Can Grande translates as “Big Dog”.  Interesting name for the Scaliger family who ruled Verona with an iron fist in the middle ages.  Can Grande II della Scala was also nicknamed Can Rabbioso or “The Rabid Dog”.

It was he who built Castelveccio and the Castelveccio bridge to protect himself and his family from the people he exploited so heavily that they fell into penury.  The castle turned out to be a wasted effort because in classic Italian style Can Grande found his end at the point of his brothers knife.

How much you can learn from an obscure reference in a line of a poem.  What did we ever do before Google?  Happy Birthday Richard Aldington who did his own “googling” in the British Museum.

 

In the British Museum; by Richard Aldington

I turn the page and read:
“I dream of silent verses where the rhyme
glides noiseless as an oar.”
The heavy musty air, the black desks,
the bent heads and the rustling noises
in the great dome
vanish …
and
the sun hangs in the cobalt-blue sky,
the boat drifts over the lake shallows,
the fishes skim like umber shades through the undulating weeds,
the oleanders drop their rosy petals on the lawns,
and the swallows dive and swirl and whistle
about the cleft battlements of Can Grande’s castle…

Gondola