An End. A Beginning.

Cashel

Fabulous day yesterday.  We sat out for the evening watching the sun go down over Cashel.  Thanks to   Eamon Brennan Photos.  Today it brings the curtain down on the month of May.  What wonders will June bring?  What adventures and travels?  It’s not too late to seek a newer world.

Ulysses; by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

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A prayer for early commuters.

Begin

For everyone going home, who needs to rise early again tomorrow and do it all over again.

Begin ; by Brendan Kennelly

Begin again to the summoning birds
to the sight of the light at the window,
begin to the roar of morning traffic
all along Pembroke Road.
Every beginning is a promise
born in light and dying in dark
determination and exaltation of springtime
flowering the way to work.
Begin to the pageant of queuing girls
the arrogant loneliness of swans in the canal
bridges linking the past and future
old friends passing though with us still.
Begin to the loneliness that cannot end
since it perhaps is what makes us begin,
begin to wonder at unknown faces
at crying birds in the sudden rain
at branches stark in the willing sunlight
at seagulls foraging for bread
at couples sharing a sunny secret
alone together while making good.
Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin.

Air crash investigation

Today an Egypt Air flight went missing on its journey from Paris to Cairo.  We now presume it is in the sea.  “Experts” suspect a terrorist act.  It is unlikely to be a story with a happy ending.  I could go on a rant about terrorism, the pointlessness of causing random death, the theft of lives.  I could, but it would be just as pointless.  It amounts to nothing more than slactivism.

So instead I’ll give you a poem about drowning which I find very funny in a black kind of way.  Life is too short for misery and moaning.  Laughing feels better.  Laugh in adversity.  Laugh at the absurdity of the small mindedness of those who believe that their murder death kill will make any difference to the flight of a swallow.

 

This is a photograph of me: by Margaret Atwood

It was taken some time ago
At first it seems to be
a smeared
print: blurred lines and grey flecks
blended with the paper;

then, as you scan
it, you can see something in the left-hand corner
a thing that is like a branch: part of a tree
(balsam or spruce) emerging
and, to the right, halfway up
what ought to be a gentle
slope, a small frame house.

In the background there is a lake,
and beyond that, some low hills.

(The photograph was taken
the day after I drowned.

I am in the lake, in the center
of the picture, just under the surface.

It is difficult to say where
precisely, or to say
how large or how small I am:
the effect of water
on light is a distortion.

but if you look long enough
eventually
you will see me.)

A Sailors Life for me

First Fleet

Following the War of Independence in America the British Crown was denied a dumping ground for its convicts sentenced to transportation.  On 13th May 1787 a fleet of 11 ships was sent to a new dumping ground, Australia.  This is known as “the first fleet”.

The fleet consisted of 1,420 when it left Portsmouth in May 1787.  The number had fallen to 1,336 by the time the fleet arrived in Botany Bay in January 1788.  20 children were born along the way.  So I was curious about the statistics.  What was the most dangerous position to hold on the fleet?

Marines, their Wives and Children did best on the trip.  Beginning with 247 Marines and 46 wives and children, they lost only 3 along the way and with 9 births they increased their number overall.

Female convicts began with 193 and lost only 4 along the way, which is a 2% death rate.

Of the 14 convict children who departed 3 were lost, a staggering 21% death rate, the highest on board of any group.  Then 11 new convict babies were born on the voyage, so the overall number of convict children actually rose to 22.

Senior officials & ships officers had a 7% death rate, losing 1 of their original compliment of 15.  This is the same death rate as applied to male convicts, who lost 39 out of the 582 who left Portsmouth.

The fleet set out with 323 sailors and lost 54 along the way.  Being a sailor was a dangerous job in the 18th century.  That was 17% death rate.

A Sailor’s Song: by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Oh for the breath of the briny deep,
And the tug of the bellying sail,
With the sea-gull’s cry across the sky
And a passing boatman’s hail.
For, be she fierce or be she gay,
The sea is a famous friend alway.

Ho! for the plains where the dolphins play,
And the bend of the mast and spars,
And a fight at night with the wild sea-sprite
When the foam has drowned the stars.
And, pray, what joy can the landsman feel
Like the rise and fall of a sliding keel?

Fair is the mead; the lawn is fair
And the birds sing sweet on the lea;
But the echo soft of a song aloft
Is the strain that pleases me;
And swish of rope and ring of chain
Are music to men who sail the main.

Then, if you love me, let me sail
While a vessel dares the deep;
For the ship ‘s my wife, and the breath of life
Are the raging gales that sweep;
And when I ‘m done with calm and blast,
A slide o’er the side, and rest at last.

 

 

Coup d’Etat

Trump

Currently reading Margaret Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale”.  It is oddly prophetic in describing how the USA is subverted by Christian Fundamentalist Military who suspend the constitution and replace democracy with a police state.  The events set out by Atwood involve a rise in Islamic fundamentalism (remember this was written back in the 1980’s before anyone ever heard of Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden.)

An assassination of the President of the USA and an attack on the Capitol wipes out the Government in one fell swoop.  The question is of course who instigated the attack?  Was it the Islamic fundamentalists or was it the Christian fundamentalist right wing?  The events are a mirror of what happened in Germany in the 1930’s.  Hitler did not have enough seats in the parliament to form a government.  He began by eliminating his main rivals, the Communists.  The Reichstag building was burned down and the event was blamed on the communists who were eliminated from parliament.  Hitler then cut a deal with the Catholic right wing to suspend government by passing the Enablement Act.  Stormtroopers prevented Social Democrat moderates from entering the parliament building for the vote.  Democracy was destroyed by a minority group of bullies.

Atwood uses this as a model for her own military takeover of the USA.  Does it sound plausible that the hard right wing could suspend democracy?  Just look at the rise of the Tea Party republicans!  The rise in Islamic fundamentalism has generated a polarising influence in US politics.  The result is a candidate like Donald Trump who speaks of banning muslims from entry to the USA and building a wall across the Mexican border.  In times of fear and uncertainty voters seek simple answers from strong leaders.  What they get are demagogues and dictators.

The 9/11 attacks targeted the world trade centre, the Pentagon and the White House.  What would have happened if the President had been killed?  US democracy is in a precarious position.  The Handmaid’s Tale is like a manual for suspension of democracy.  It seems to me that some of the hard right have been studying up on it.  No wonder they want the book removed from required reading lists in US schools.

Maybe allowing the US population to own all those guns is not such a bad idea?  What do you think?

 

 

Cinco de Mayo

Mexico.jpg

Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican celebration of the unlikely victory of the Mexican army over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.  The whole affair was a fuss over an unpaid bill.  The French would have done better to await repayment of their debt.  Wars are expensive.  Wars against already bankrupt nations are the height of foolishness.

For the day that’s in it here is a poem from my favourite Spanish poet  (not a Mexican though).  Make music, not war!

Las Seis Cuerdas:  Federico García Lorca

La guitarra,
hace llorar a los sueños.
El sollozo de las almas
perdidas,
se escapa por su boca
redonda.
Y como la tarántula
teje una gran estrella
para cazar suspiros,
que flotan en su negro
aljibe de madera.

My attempt at translation:

Guitar,
you make dreams cry out.
The sobbing of lost souls
escapes from your round mouth.
And like the tarantula
you weave a great net
to capure the sighs,
which float in your dark
wooden coffer.