Happy Birthday Chinua Achebe

Achebe

Featuring on today’s Google Doodle for his 87th Birthday Chinua Achebe (RIP, 2013 age 82) was a Man Booker Prize winning Novelist and also a Poet, Professor, Ambassador, Chieftain and all round African Renaissance man. His first novel, ‘Things Fall Apart’ is the most widely read novel in African literature.

 

Refugee Mother And Child :by Chinua Achebe

No Madonna and Child could touch
that picture of a mother’s tenderness
for a son she soon would have to forget.
The air was heavy with odours

of diarrhoea of unwashed children
with washed-out ribs and dried-up
bottoms struggling in laboured
steps behind blown empty bellies. Most
mothers there had long ceased
to care but not this one; she held
a ghost smile between her teeth
and in her eyes the ghost of a mother’s
pride as she combed the rust-coloured
hair left on his skull and then –

singing in her eyes – began carefully
to part it… In another life this
would have been a little daily
act of no consequence before his
breakfast and school; now she

did it like putting flowers
on a tiny grave.

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Happy birthday Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Ship in port

 

Today I choose a poem by Aldrich, born today 1836,  which captures the sense of adventure that used to exist in every sea port of the world in the age of sail.  Any young adventurer could run away to sea and find himself storm-tossed across the globe with risks of wealth, danger, romance and death.  A suitable topic for this blog, a true Mindship theme.

Outward Bound became the name of a youth training movement in Britain during the 1940’s, now known as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.  I have no proof that the name Outward Bound came from the Aldrich poem, but I suspect it may have.  The founders were certainly interested enough in poetry.  Their motto “To Serve, To Strive and not to Yield” is taken from Ulysses, the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

 

Outward Bound: by Thomas Bailey Aldrich

I leave behind me the elm-shadowed square
And carven portals of the silent street,
And wander on with listless, vagrant feet
Through seaward-leading alleys, till the air
Smells of the sea, and straightway then the care
Slips from my heart, and life once more is sweet.
At the lane’s ending lie the white-winged fleet.
O restless Fancy, whither wouldst thou fare?
Here are brave pinions that shall take thee far —
Gaunt hulks of Norway; ships of red Ceylon;
Slim-masted lovers of the blue Azores!
‘Tis but an instant hence to Zanzibar,
Or to the regions of the Midnight Sun;
Ionian isles are thine, and all the fairy shores!

 

Happy Birthday Roger McGough

mcGough.jpg

A beat poet from Liverpool, born this day 1937.  A man who worked with the Beatles, writing dialogue for their movie Yellow Submarine.  I love the brutal northern honesty and truth of his poetry.  His approach to death is both real and funny.

 

Soil; by Roger McGough

we’ve ignored eachother for a long time
and I’m strictly an indoor man
anytime to call would be the wrong time
I’ll avoid you as long as I can

When I was a boy we were good friends
I made pies out of you when you were wet
and in childhood’s remembered summer weather
we roughandtumbled together
we were very close

just you and me and the sun
the world a place for having fun
always so much to be done

But gradually I grew away from you
Of course you were still there
during my earliest sexcapades
when I roughandfumbled
not very well after bedtime
but suddenly it was winter
and you seemed so cold and dirty
that I stayed indoors and acquired
a taste for girls and clean clothes

we found less and less to say
you were jealous so one day
I simply upped and moved away

I still called to see you on occasions
but we had little now in common
and my visits grew less frequent
until finally
une coldbright April morning
a handful of you drummed
on my fathers waxworked coffin

at last it all made sense
there was no need for pretence
you said nothing in defence

And now recently
while travelling from town to town
past where you live
I have become increasingly aware
of you watching me out there.
patient and unforgiving
toying with the trees.

we’ve avoided eachother for a long time
and I’m strictly a city man
anytime to call would be the wrong time
I’ll avoid you as long as I can

The Old Ship Inn

The-Old-Ship-by-Humphrey-Bolton

Brighouse in Yorkshire is about as far from the Sea as you can get in Northern England.  It is a town lying on the spine between Yorkshire and Lancashire.  So if you ever travel there you may be amused to find a pub called the Old Ship Inn, far far from the sea.

The history of the Pub will surprise you even more, and will take you round the world and to the US Civil War.

The Old Ship Inn is so called because in 1926, named the Prince of Wales,  it was renovated from the timbers of the broken up Royal Navy 101 Gun HMS Donegal.  In 2007 the Prince of Wales was renamed the Old Ship inn.

HMS Donegal herself was a first rate ship when launched in 1858.  She was a screw driven sail rigged battleship at the very end of the age of sail.  She, along with every other wooden battleship, became obsolete on the day the CSS Virginia and the USS Monitor clashed in the US Civil War in the 1862 Battle of Hampton Roads, the first clash of ironclads.

It was the US Civil War that made the HMS Donegal famous.  Six months after the capitulation of the South the last combatants of the war arrived in Liverpool.  The CSS Shenandoah was raiding Union Commerce Shipping in the Pacific when she learned of the surrender.  Rather than return to the USA and risk imprisonment the crew sailed to Britain.

Shenandoah was the only Confederate Ship to circumnavigate the globe.  In her one year campaign the CSS Shenandoah captured or sank 38 ships.  Her crew were the last combatants of the war.   In Liverpool the captain of the Shenandoah surrendered his flag to the HMS Donegal.  6th November, 1865, on this day.

Plump, plumb, plum.

HayamiGyoshu

Tea Bowl & Fruits by Hayami Gyoshu

Plump comes from a dutch word meaning blunt, not sharp, rounded.  It now means full with fruits or overweight with people.  It has become something of an insult, equating with being fat.  You can plump up cushions or pillows to make them fuller and more rounded.

Plum, the fruit, may be plump, but the origin of their name is not dutch.   It seems that the ancient Greek proumnon (prune) evolved into Plum by the time it reached here as Old English.

A plumb may be shaped like a plum, but the word derives from the latin for lead; plumbum.  A plumb is a lead weight attached to a line used in building to measure if a vertical is true.   It is also used in sailing to measure the depth of water beneath a vessel.

 

This Is Just To Say: by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Happy Birthday John Keats

Greek vase.jpg

 

Ode on a Grecian Urn: by John Keats (born 1795)

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,— that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”