Leap Day

 

FEBRUARY 29; by Jane Hirshfield

An extra day —

Like the painting’s fifth cow,
who looks out directly,
straight toward you,
from inside her black and white spots.

An extra day —

Accidental, surely:
the made calendar stumbling over the real
as a drunk trips over a threshold
too low to see.

An extra day —

With a second cup of black coffee.
A friendly but businesslike phone call.
A mailed-back package.
Some extra work, but not too much —
just one day’s worth, exactly.

An extra day —

Not unlike the space
between a door and its frame
when one room is lit and another is not,
and one changes into the other
as a woman exchanges a scarf.

An extra day —

Extraordinarily like any other.
And still
there is some generosity to it,
like a letter re-readable after its writer has died.

Teutonic Order

Teutonics

In terms of fame the Teutonic order of Knights tend to come third after the Templars and the Hospitallers.  Certainly in the Crusades of the Holy Lands they maintained only a modest presence.

The key focus for the Teutonics was the pagan tribes of the Baltic in the areas now populated by Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Russians and Finns.  Their mission was to bring these peoples to God and they did this at the point of a lance.

Understandably the Baltic tribes did not just lie down and accept their fate.  The Northern Crusades were long, drawn out, bitter affairs.  Progress was measured in yards.  Campaigning was possible in the normal Spring/Summer season when grass was available to feed horses.  In a quirk of climate much of the fighting took place in the winter.  Frozen rivers and lakes in this area of the world make veritable highways through the dense forest and scrub.

So it was that in the winter of 1336 a force of Teutonic Knights besieged the Samotigian hill fort of Pilénai.  Accounts hold it that the defenders of the fort alone numbered 4,000 not counting women and children.  The Teutonic Knights must have numbered many thousands because the inhabitants of Pilénai realised that they could not defend themselves from the besieging army.

In a grand gesture of defiance the Lithuanians set fire to their own fort to deny it to the Crusaders.  Then, on this day, Feb 25th 1336, they committed what is the largest mass suicide in history.

 

A Song of Suicide; by Robert William Service

Deeming that I were better dead,
“How shall I kill myself?” I said.
Thus mooning by the river Seine
I sought extinction without pain,
When on a bridge I saw a flash
Of lingerie and heard a splash . . .
So as I am a swimmer stout
I plunged and pulled the poor wretch out.

The female that I saved? Ah yes,
To yield the Morgue of one corpse the less,
Apart from all heroic action,
Gave me a moral satisfaction.
was she an old and withered hag,
Too tired of life to long to lag?
Ah no, she was so young and fair
I fell in love with her right there.

And when she took me to her attic
Her gratitude was most emphatic.
A sweet and simple girl she proved,
Distraught because the man she loved
In battle his life-blood had shed . . .
So I, too, told her of my dead,
The girl who in a garret grey
Had coughed and coughed her life away.

Thus as we sought our griefs to smother,
With kisses we consoled each other . . .
And there’s the ending of my story;
It wasn’t grim, it wasn’t gory.
For comforted were hearts forlorn,
And from black sorrow joy was born:
So may our dead dears be forgiving,
And bless the rapture of the living.

 

Frosty Moonlit Night

Moonwindow.jpg

So last night we had a power cut.  I got a phone call at the train station to pick up some burgers and chips for dinner, because we had no electricity, no oven, no grill and no lights.  So I arrived back to a peaceful house bathed in candlelight, no TV, no noise but human speech.  It’s actually quite nice from time to time to take a break from electricity.

The interlude was not long, but it was fun.  Later in the night the moon rose.  Moonlight would have been useful when the power went out.  Instead the moon lingered below the horizon until the power was restored.  Going to bed later in the evening there was little need to turn on lights to see.  The pale monochrome nightworld unfolded in the white light of our satellite.

It’s funny how photos can never seem to capture moonlight properly.  Moonlight photos are weak affairs that do not capture the magic of the moment.  Early this morning the setting moon was still bright in a clear starry sky.  It was practically a glare.  Temperature -4 degrees C, a nice sharp frost. Good for the garden.

 

A Frosty Night; by Robert Graves

Mother

Alice, dear, what ails you,
Dazed and white and shaken?
Has the chill night numbed you?
Is it fright you have taken?

Alice

Mother, I am very well,
I felt never better,
Mother, do not hold me so,
Let me write my letter.

Mother

Sweet, my dear, what ails you?

Alice

No, but I am well;
The night was cold and frosty,
There’s no more to tell.

Mother

Ay, the night was frosty,
Coldly gaped the moon,
Yet the birds seemed twittering
Through green boughs of June.

Soft and thick the snow lay,
Stars danced in the sky.
Not all the lambs of May-day
Skip so bold and high.

Your feet were dancing, Alice,
Seemed to dance on air,
You looked a ghost or angel
In the starlight there.

Your eyes were frosted starlight,
Your heart fire and snow.
Who was it said, “I love you”?

Alice

Mother, let me go!

Countdown

Michael-Lowry

Michael Lowry TD poses in front of his extension.

7 days to the Irish General Election.  The canvassing is in full swing.  The head shots adorn the lampposts.  The lies and promises, the criticisms and condemnations flow over the airwaves.  The game is afoot.

The game is also afoot in Brussels where David Cameron is pulling a ‘three shirter’ as he tries to hammer out a deal with Europe that he can pass in a UK referendum.  We Irish, who love the EU, have given our governments much grief over EU referendums.  This will be a fraught few months for the Conservative government.  The looming possibility of a ‘Brexit’ is generating turmoil in currency markets.  Of course this flux is ably exacerbated by currency traders, who profit from uncertainty.

Of course we have the ambient background noise of the US presidential nomination washing across the Atlantic.  Super Tuesday is looming on March 1st.

 

February; by Hilaire Belloc

The winter moon has such a quiet car
That all the winter nights are dumb with rest.
She drives the gradual dark with drooping crest,
And dreams go wandering from her drowsy star.
Because the nights are silent, do not wake:
But there shall tremble through the general earth,
And over you, a quickening and a birth.
The sun is near the hill-tops for your sake.

The latest born of all the days shall creep
To kiss the tender eyelids of the year;
And you shall wake, grown young with perfect sleep,
And smile at the new world, and make it dear
With living murmurs more than dreams are deep.
Silence is dead, my Dawn; the morning’s here.

Scatterings

Scattery.jpg

Scattery Island lies in the Shannon Estuary between Clare and Kerry, just off the coast near Kilrush in Co. Clare.  It was here that one of the “12 Apostles” of Ireland, St. Senan, founded his monastery.

Senan is reputed to have driven a great monster from the island.  His monastery was for men only and women were forbidden from the island.  To this day it is considered unlucky for single girls to tread on St. Senans Bed, the reputed burial place of the saint.

Senan is well regarded by the nautical community in the area.  A pebble from the island is said to be protection from drowning.  Many local sailors have a pebble fashioned into an amulet to wear around their neck.

A boat builder is said to gain luck for his vessel if he sails it round the island in a path opposite to the sun.

There are many holy wells in the area named for Senan, I know there is one on the island, and another in Kilkee.  Holy water from these wells is often carried by local fishermen on board, and is used by local priests in the annual blessing of the boats.

 

blessing the boats; by Lucille Clifton

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

Sea Change

HMS_Dreadnought

On this day, 110 years ago, the world changed.  The Royal Navy launched HMS Dreadnought.  With this single act every other battleship on the planet became obsolete.  It is difficult today to imagine the impact a single weapon had on the world.

The navies of the world ordered dreadnoughts and an arms race began.  All battle-ships extant were now labelled “pre-dreadnoughts”.

Conceived by Jacky Fisher, first Sea Lord of the Admiralty, this ship was different to all that came before.  Primary differences were in her steam turbine engines and her gunnery.  She was the first capital ship to be powered by steam turbines, and was immediately the fastest ship of the line in the World.  Added to this was the advantage of mounting only 12 inch guns.

Before Dreadnought navies were experimenting with various mixes of heavy, medium and light caliber guns.  They often had blind spots for their larger ordnance.  A good example of this is the USS Maine which had deck section cutaways to allow large guns to traverse, but did not have all round fire capability.

Dreadnought has clean decks which allow the big guns to sweep and elevate at will.  She is a ship designed as a mobile platform, intended to fire on the move at moving targets.

 

In WW1 the Fischer philosophy proved itself correct.  A ship with 12 inch guns could destroy a flotilla of enemies armed with 8 inch guns before the smaller ships could even close to firing range.

But the reign of the battleship was short.  In WW2 the Bismarck was lost to a torpedo from an obsolete biplane.  The Italian navy was destroyed in Taranto by british aircraft and most famously, the US capital ships were lost in Pearl Harbour to Japanese carrier based aircraft.

The great 12 inch guns were no match in range, power and accuracy for bombs and torpedoes dropped by aircraft.  In defending ships from attack by aircraft the big guns were useless.  They were replaced by a plethora of pom-poms, ack-ack, ‘Chicago Pianos’, Flak and heavy machine guns.

Channel Firing ; by Thomas Hardy

That night your great guns, unawares,
Shook all our coffins as we lay,
And broke the chancel window-squares,
We thought it was the Judgment-day

And sat upright. While drearisome
Arose the howl of wakened hounds:
The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,
The worms drew back into the mounds,

The glebe cow drooled. Till God called, “No;
It’s gunnery practice out at sea
Just as before you went below;
The world is as it used to be:

“All nations striving strong to make
Red war yet redder. Mad as hatters
They do no more for Christés sake
Than you who are helpless in such matters.

“That this is not the judgment-hour
For some of them’s a blessed thing,
For if it were they’d have to scour
Hell’s floor for so much threatening….

“Ha, ha. It will be warmer when
I blow the trumpet (if indeed
I ever do; for you are men,
And rest eternal sorely need).”

So down we lay again. “I wonder,
Will the world ever saner be,”
Said one, “than when He sent us under
In our indifferent century!”

And many a skeleton shook his head.
“Instead of preaching forty year,”
My neighbour Parson Thirdly said,
“I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer.”

Again the guns disturbed the hour,
Roaring their readiness to avenge,
As far inland as Stourton Tower,
And Camelot, and starlit Stonehenge.

Clonmel Tragedy

Clonmeltower

SS Peter & Pauls’ Church Clonmel, Co. Tipperary.

Tragedy unfolded in the early hours of this morning on the quiet streets of Clonmel in Tipperary.  The situation is described as “Bizarre” by local Gardai.  The body of a young man was found at the foot of the bell tower of Saints Peter & Pauls’ Parish Church.

Described as wearing “some kind of hoodie” the deceased had lethal blades strapped to his wrists.  The young man carried no identification and the Gardai are appealing for information from the public.  Anybody who was in the area between the hours of 2 and 4 am on Feb 6th are asked to contact the local Garda station.

They are particularly interested in the whereabouts of a cartload of straw which has gone missing from the grounds of the Church.