Eskimo Days


Depression is a terrible illness not so much because it renders people sad, with feelings of emptiness and worthlessness to the point of being suicidal.  What is so bad about depression is the lethargy of the mind that blocks the sufferer from taking affirmative action to deal with the condition.  You can fight diseases or cancers, you can defy chronic illnesses and battle to live life on your terms.  But melancholy is entropic drawing away energy, order and purpose.  It prospers by eroding the will.  It is amazing how many sufferers manage to rouse themselves for long enough to end it all by taking their lives.

Taking your life is, after all, an action, and a very final one.  It demands a firm commitment to a purpose.  The pain of depression must be phenomenal to rouse the sufferer to such certain closure.

Sylvia Plath was one such, who wrested with the blackness of the mind.  In her poem, Kindness, she speaks of the two things that kept her alive, her children (two roses) and the Blood Jet of Poetry.

Children and depression go hand in hand for many new mothers.  Imagine the utter sense of being out of your depth that is experienced by any new parent being combined with post-partum depression.  And yet, as Plath attests, often in her work, babies give you a purpose, a powerful impetus to survive and grant them care and protection.  Babies are natures anti-depressants.

And so to the Eskimo Days, when we grow old, and toothless, and can no longer chew raw seal.  Depression in the aged is a cruel taskmaster.  Old people live more in the past, as the weight of their accumulated memories overbalances any future potential.  Depression strips them of their ability to store up new memories, and makes it harder and harder to hold onto the old ones.

When a baby cries because it has dirtied itself we are driven by our natural inclinations to protect the poor cute helpless thing and clean it and look after it.  When an aged crone cries with discomfort it takes people with a very special degree of compassion to empathise with them.  Besides, a smack of a crutch can bring up a nasty welt.

So depression wraps a particularly icy talon round the hearts of the aged.  Those claws cut deep.

Candles; by Sylvia Plath

They are the last romantics, these candles:
Upside-down hearts of light tipping wax fingers,
And the fingers, taken in by their own haloes,
Grown milky, almost clear, like the bodies of saints.
It is touching, the way they’ll ignore

A whole family of prominent objects
Simply to plumb the deeps of an eye
In its hollow of shadows, its fringe of reeds,
And the owner past thirty, no beauty at all.
Daylight would be more judicious,

Giving everybody a fair hearing.
They should have gone out with the balloon flights and the stereopticon.
This is no time for the private point of view.
When I light them, my nostrils prickle.
Their pale, tentative yellows

Drag up false, Edwardian sentiments,
And I remember my maternal grandmother from Vienna.
As a schoolgirl she gave roses to Franz Josef.
The burghers sweated and wept. The children wore white.
And my grandfather moped in the Tyrol,

Imagining himself a headwaiter in America,
Floating in a high-church hush
Among ice buckets, frosty napkins.
These little globes of light are sweet as pears.
Kindly with invalids and mawkish women,

They mollify the bald moon.
Nun-souled, they burn heavenward and never marry.
The eyes of the child I nurse are scarcely open.
In twenty years I shall be retrograde
As these drafty ephemerids.

I watch their spilt tears cloud and dull to pearls.
How shall I tell anything at all
To this infant still in a birth-drowse?
Tonight, like a shawl, the mild light enfolds her,
The shadows stoop over the guests at a christening.

Vernal Equinox


March approaches equinox.  Indeed today, March 20th, is when the day equals the night. 

There are various ways of measuring the “rebirth” of the year.  Our most common in the modern world seems to be the Winter Solstice, when the nights are at their longest and days at their shortest.  Once we have passed that point and the sun shines a little longer every day it seems that the worst is over.

For the Celts the “Cross-quarter days” were significant.  So Imbolc (Feb 1st) the feast of St Brigid, was seen as the start of spring.

For many primitive peoples the spring equinox was more important.  This is why Easter is a time of rebirth in many religions, Christian and pre-Christian.  At the Spring equinox day and night battle and the Sun emerges victorious, to grow stronger than the night with each passing day.

The victory of the Sun God became the victory of the Son of God in Christianity, when the Crucified Christ rose from the dead.

Since I started rising with the farmers and commuting to work in the early hours I can understand the significance of the equinox.   Spring bears a heavy workload of ploughing and planting and there are simply not enough hours in the day.  Each day gives you a little more time, and it feels you are winning.

Soon we will enter summertime and I will be plunged back into early morning darkness for a time.  The evenings will be brighter.  Light at 6am is useful for farmers, but not for many others.  Most of us get the value from the longer evenings.

I’d say that guy in Thurles who rises at 6 every morning to walk his dog so he doesn’t have to pick up the shit is feeling very exposed at the moment.  I’d bet good cash that he can’t wait for the hour to go back so he can skulk in the shadows for a while longer.

Anyway, here’s an ode to another early riser.

THE WINDHOVER  (To Christ our Lord): by Gerard Manley Hopkins

I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.


Niyi Osundare
Came across an interesting poem about the impact of Sugar on peoples lives.  Sugar was the killer app of its day.  Fortunes were made on it.  But the millionaires who thrived on this sweetest of substances built their empires on the pain and misery of fellow human beings.

Slavery is a terrible wrong.  It is a great sorrow that slavery exists today all over the world.  Not only in the places you might expect.  Highly paid diplomats in embassies in Western nations are guilty of keeping household slaves.  It is happening in cities like London, Washington and Dublin this very day.  They employ their diplomatic immunity to avoid national law.  This is merely symptomatic of the culture that exists in their home nations.

Last year a group of homeless and vulnerable men were found enslaved in a traveller camp in England.  Thousands of girls are enslaved in western nations by the sex trade every year.  If countries like England, Ireland and the USA cannot eliminate slavery what hope is there for war torn impoverished nations like Liberia, Ivory Coast, Sudan and Somalia?

Here’s an idea to serve two aims – western obesity and type 2 diabetes on the one hand and slavery on the other.  Let’s introduce a tiny tax on all sugar production, and put it to use in a global fight against slavery.

Ode to the Sugar Cane: by Niyi Osundare

Rasp-throated one,

How many oceans groaned under your feet

On your journey to this land

What winds abetted your prowl

How large your sail of leaves

What idiom broke your silence to a stolen soil?

Your pidgin prattle; grating grammar

Of your mastertongue when

History stammered through

Your text, mouth crowded with missing vowels

The segmented stanza of your song,

Its juicy joints, eloquent rings multi-

Plying like the green gossip of talkative moons

The syrupy drawl of your orders

Chaffy echoes of extracted lives

Sticky fingers at the water’s edge

And the mansions which festered on your sweetness

The bitter joy of their rooms

Banks which farmed their fortunes

In the swineyard of your lust.

You sun-slaying, blood-chewing

Bone-sucking runner on shoeless shores

You pallid phallus of empire

Of rapier thrusts drilling through

The innocence of bewildered twilights

Whips whistled to please your ears

Bent backs pronounced your height

Your armada sailed on oceans of sweat

Shallow-rooted cousin of the millet

Brother of the elephant grass

Though roughly rich, your clumpy tribe

Your I-land of strangered selves

Your archipelago of floating husks

Drifting theatre of dreams in flight

Stiltdancer, your shadow,

Chattel hands flailing in the wind

Blacker than the feverish fear of sunset fires

Cutlassed into courtesy, imperial fronds bow

To earth, ever so mindful of the fragile distance

Between dripping wounds and the open sore

Rasp-throated one

Where did you put the sky

Where did you leave the sea

What did History whisper in your ears

The last time you met in the green furrows?

Harriet Beecher Stowe


A little exercise for International Womens Day tomorrow:  Nominate your “most influential woman” in history.

A teacher and an active abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe might seem an unlikely choice.   As a response to the 1850 passage of the second Fugitive Slave act she wrote a story instead of a diatribe.  She presented her argument in an insightful way, based on real life stories, through the eyes and mouths of the slaves themselves. An early advocate of #tainment

Uncle Tom’s Cabin first appeared as a 40-week serial in The National ERA, an abolitionist periodical, in  June 5, 1851, issue. Because of the story’s popularity, the publisher encouraged Stowe to turn it into a book.

In the first year 300,000 copies of the book were sold in the United States; one million copies were sold in Great Britain.

In 1855, three years after it was published, it was called “the most popular novel of our day”

It was widely pirated with illegal print copies in circulation all over the world.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best-selling novel of the 19th century and the second best-selling book in the USA of that century, following the Bible. By 1857, the novel had been translated into 20 languages.

Reactions were both literary and physical.  Objectors published their own books, drove out booksellers who sold Uncle Toms Cabin and amongst the threatening letters sent to Stowe was one including a package containing a slave’s severed ear.

Ten times as many Americans of that time saw the story as a stage play or musical than read the book.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the most-filmed book of the silent movie era.

12 Years a Slave (1853), bestselling narrative of free negro Solomon Northrup published soon after Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852).  The movie of the book won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2014.

The novel heavily influenced later protest literature.  Two books which owe a large debt to Uncle Tom’s Cabin include The Jungle by Upton Sinclair and Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.

The American civil war started in 1861, and effectively ended slavery.  Stowe may not have started the Civil War, but she created an atmosphere in the North to pursue the war to its end.

She is my vote as the most Influential woman of the 19th Century