Happy Birthday William Stanley Merwin

Merwin

If there is a prize for poetry he has not won then it is probably not worth winning, excepting the Nobel prize for literature, which may well yet be his.  Merwin was born in the same year as both my parents, on this day in 1927.  His poetry seems so much younger than my parents ever were.

The Ships are made ready in silence: by W.S. Merwin

Moored to the same ring:
The hour, the darkness and I,
our compasses hooded like falcons.

Now the memory of you comes aching in
With a wash of broken bits which never left port
In which once we planned voyages,
they come knocking like hearts asking:
What departures on this tide?

Breath of land, warm breath,
you tighten the cold around the navel,
though all shores but the first have been foreign,
and the first was not home until left behind.

Our choice is ours but we have not made it,
containing as it does, our destination
circled with loss as with coral, and
a destination only until attained.

I have left you my hope to remember me by,
though now there is little resemblance.
At this moment I could believe in no change,
the mast perpetually
vacillating between the same constellations,
the night never withdrawing its dark virtue
from the harbor shaped as a heart,
the sea pulsing as a heart,
the sky vaulted as a heart,
where I know the light will shatter like a cry
above a discovery:
‘Emptiness.
Emptiness! Look!’
Look. This is the morning.

 

Advertisements

Crowded field

29th.png

A very auspicious day today, very popular with the celebrity birthdays.  It is a crowded field, but for me it will always be Pompey day.  Not only was he born today but he also got leave from the senate to celebrate his third triumph today in 61 BC.  The Senate celebrated Pompey for his war against the pirates, which made him fantastically rich.  He was already rich when he started, but this was the icing on the cake.

He also slipped in at the end of Lucullus’ war against Mithridates VI in the East and claimed the win for himself.  Cheeky!

This was undoubtedly the high water mark of Pompey’s career.  In 59 BC Pompey harnessed his significant senatorial weight to the wealth of Crassus and the populism of Caesar to form the first triumvirate.  From this point the trajectories in the careers of Caesar and Pompey were a reflection of each other as the Elder statesman declined and the young pretender rose in prominence.

 

 

Happy Birthday William Empson

One of the foremost literary critics and perhaps the top critic of the 20th century Empson is most famous for his 1930 “Seven Types of Ambiguity” written when he was just 22 years of age.  He appeared bound for academic life when he won a scholarship to Magdalene College Cambridge in 1925.  He studied Mathematics and English and focused on English when he won a Fellowship.

Then disaster.  A servant found condoms in his possession and claimed to have caught Empson with a Woman!  Horror.  That kind of thing was simply unacceptable in Cambridge.  I mean it was all very well to be a homosexual in Cambridge in the 1920’s , but to be in the company of a WOMAN?  He lost his fellowship and moved to the Orient to teach.

Here is a poem from the master.  It is an Aubade, which is a poem set at or celebrating the dawn or the early morning.  This one sounds awfully like he was still cavorting with women.

Aubade; by William Empson

Hours before dawn we were woken by the quake.
My house was on a cliff. The thing could take
Bookloads off shelves, break bottles in a row.
Then the long pause and then the bigger shake.
It seemed the best thing to be up and go.

And far too large for my feet to step by.
I hoped that various buildings were brought low.
The heart of standing is you cannot fly.

It seemed quite safe till she got up and dressed.
The guarded tourist makes the guide the test.
Then I said The Garden? Laughing she said No.
Taxi for her and for me healthy rest.
It seemed the best thing to be up and go.

The language problem but you have to try.
Some solid ground for lying could she show?
The heart of standing is you cannot fly.

None of these deaths were her point at all.
The thing was that being woken he would bawl
And finding her not in earshot he would know.
I tried saying half an hour to pay this call.
It seemed the best thing to be up and go.

I slept, and blank as that I would yet lie.
Till you have seen what a threat holds below,
The heart of standing is you cannot fly.

Tell me again about Europe and her pains,
Who’s tortured by the drought, who by the rains.
Glut me with floods where only the swine can row
Who cuts his throat and let him count his gains.
It seemed the best thing to be up and go.

A bedshift flight to Far Eastern sky.
Only the same war on a stronger toe.
The heart of standing is you cannot fly.

Tell me more quickly what I lost by this,
Or tell me with less drama what they miss
Who call no die a god for a good throw,
Who say after two aliens and one kiss
It seemed the best thing to be up and go.

But as to risings, I can tell you why.
It is on contradiction that they grow.
It seemed the best thing to be up and go.
Up was the heartening and strong reply.
The heart of standing is we cannot fly.

Happy Birthday Uncle Shelby

Shel

Put another log on the Fire, A boy named Sue, Sylvia’s Mother, The Ballad of Lucy Jordan, the soundtrack to the film Ned Kelly, in musical terms his output is phenomenal.  His poetry is fantastical and his cartoons are mind-blowingly absurd.  Born on this day in 1930 and passing away aged only 68 Shel Silverstein crammed three or four ordinary lives into his exceptional lifetime.

He caused much confusion to readers writing children’s poetry on the one hand and cartoons for Playboy magazine on the other.  He also wrote for stage and screen.

 

Hug o’ war; by Shel Silverstein

I will not play at tug o’ war.
I’d rather play at hug o’ war,
Where everyone hugs
Instead of tugs,
Where everyone giggles
And rolls on the rug,
Where everyone kisses,
And everyone grins,
And everyone cuddles,
And everyone wins.

plan

 

 

Happy Birthday Eavan Boland

Eavan

The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me: by Eavan Boland

It was the first gift he ever gave her,
buying it for five five francs in the Galeries
in pre-war Paris. It was stifling.
A starless drought made the nights stormy.

They stayed in the city for the summer.
The met in cafes. She was always early.
He was late. That evening he was later.
They wrapped the fan. He looked at his watch.

She looked down the Boulevard des Capucines.
She ordered more coffee. She stood up.
The streets were emptying. The heat was killing.
She thought the distance smelled of rain and lightning.

These are wild roses, appliqued on silk by hand,
darkly picked, stitched boldly, quickly.
The rest is tortoiseshell and has the reticent clear patience
of its element. It is
a worn-out, underwater bullion and it keeps,
even now, an inference of its violation.
The lace is overcast as if the weather
it opened for and offset had entered it.

The past is an empty cafe terrace.
An airless dusk before thunder. A man running.
And no way to know what happened then—
none at all—unless ,of course, you improvise:

The blackbird on this first sultry morning,
in summer, finding buds, worms, fruit,
feels the heat. Suddenly she puts out her wing—
the whole, full, flirtatious span of it.

Arnemuiden

carrack_161043578_250

On this day in 1338 a French fleet of galleys attacked a flotilla of five large carracks out of England.  The English were carrying a large wool cargo purchased by Edward III to trade in the Netherlands.

England made good money in the middle ages exporting wool to Europe.  Flanders was the hub of cloth production in Northern Europe.  They converted the raw wool bales into fine cloth carrying out the carding, spinning, dyeing and weaving before passing it onwards for a hefty profit.

The huge French fleet swept down on the English at Arnemuiden in Flanders when they were unloading the cargo.

The English fought back bravely.  John Kingston, captain of the flagship, the Christopher, had three cannon and a handgun on board.  It is the first recorded use of artillery in a European naval battle.

Carracks are sailing vessels, easily outclassing galleys in the open sea, but no match for them in a tight harbour.  The huge French fleet overwhelmed the English, seized the ships and cargo and slaughtered the prisoners.  This was the opening naval action of the 100 years war.

 

Winding Wool: by Robert William Service

She’d bring to me a skein of wool
And beg me to hold out my hands;
so on my pipe I cease to pull
And watch her twine the shining strands
Into a ball so snug and neat,
Perchance a pair of socks to knit
To comfort my unworthy feet,
Or pullover my girth to fit.

As to the winding I would sway,
A poem in my head would sing,
And I would watch in dreamy way
The bright yarn swiftly slendering.
The best I liked were coloured strands
I let my pensive pipe grow cool . . .
Two active and two passive hands,
So busy wining shining wool.

Alas! Two of those hands are cold,
And in these days of wrath and wrong,
I am so wearyful and old,
I wonder if I’ve lived too long.
So in my loneliness I sit
And dream of sweet domestic rule . . .
When gentle women used to knit,
And men were happy winding wool.