Happy Birthday John Keats

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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.”

Happy 103rd birthday Dylan Thomas

Raven

What strikes me most about the poetry of Dylan Thomas is how he speaks of simple daily things but elevates them to religious heights through the power of his words.  That’s pure poetry.

 

October Wind ; by Dylan Thomas

Especially when the October wind
With frosty fingers punishes my hair,
caught by the crabbing sun I walk on fire
and cast a shadow crab upon the land,
by the sea’s side, hearing the noise of birds,
hearing the raven cough in winter sticks,
my busy heart who shudders as she talks
sheds the syllabic blood and drains her words.

Shut, too, in a tower of words, I mark
on the horizon walking like the trees
the wordy shapes of women, and the rows
of the star-gestured children in the park.
Some let me make you of the vowelled beeches,
some of the oaken voices, from the roots
of many a thorny shire tell you notes,
some let me make you of the water’s speeches.

Behind a pot of ferns the wagging clock
tells me the hour’s word, the neural meaning
flies on the shafted disk, declaims the morning
and tells the windy weather in the cock.
Some let me make you of the meadow’s signs;
the signal grass that tells me all I know
breaks with the wormy winter through the eye.
Some let me tell you of the raven’s sins.

Especially when the October wind
(some let me make you of autumnal spells,
the spider-tongued, and the loud hill of Wales)
with fists of turnips punishes the land,
some let me make you of the heartless words.
The heart is drained that, spelling in the scurry
of chemic blood, warned of the coming fury.
By the sea’s side hear the dark-vowelled birds.

 

300 men and 3

Oath

Oath of the Horatii, ancestors of Horatius Cocles.

In the Irish song “A nation once again” is a reference to 300 men and 3 men, two legendary acts of bravery.  The 300 are the Spartans at Thermopylae who gave their lives to slow the Persian advance into Greece.

The 3 are less famous, Publius Horatius Cocles, Spurius Lartius and Titus Herminius Aquillnus, the three Romans who held the Tibur bridge against the army of Clusium in 509BC, giving the Roman Army time to demolish the crossing and save the city.

Horatius himself was a decendent of the Horatii, Roman Triplets who fought a 3 on 3 combat against three Alban triplets to save the carnage of a full scale battle.

XXVII

Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the gate:
‘To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods,

There is a lot of debate, and has been since ancient times, about the verity of the tale.  Historical records suggest that the Etruscan King of Clusium defeated Rome in the battle.  The heroic defence of the bridge may have been a PR exercise to whitewash a defeat.

LXX

When the goodman mends his armour,
And trims his helmet’s plume;
When the goodwife’s shuttle merrily
Goes flashing through the loom;
With weeping and with laughter
Still is the story told,
How well Horatius kept the bridge
In the brave days of old.

The Heroic tale of Horatius regained popularity in the Lays of Ancient Rome by Thomas Babington, Lord Macauley, published in 1842.  Today happens to be the birthday of Macauley!

Two years after publication Horatius was reflected in “A Nation Once Again” written by Thomas Davis.

Winston Churchill wrote that that while he stagnated in the lowest form at Harrow  he gained a prize open to the whole school by reciting the whole twelve hundred lines of the Macauley poem.  It is long, so I am not pasting in in here, but if you want to read it here is a link:  http://www.englishverse.com/poems/horatius  

Poor Death

ingmar-bergman-film-seventh-seal-analysis-meaning

 

 

 

Death be not proud : by John Donne

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
for, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
and soonest our best men with thee do go,
rest of their bones, and souls delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
and dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
and poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
and better then thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
and death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

 

Come,let us pity not the dead:  by Drummond Allison

Come, let us pity not the dead but Death
for He can only come when we are leaving,
He cannot stay for tea or share our sherry.
He makes the old man vomit on the hearthrug
but never knew his heart before it failed him.
He shoves the shopgirl under the curt lorry
but could not watch her body undivided.
Swerving the cannon-shell to smash the airman
He had no time to hear my brother laughing.
He sees us when, a boring day bent double,
we take the breaking-point for new beginning
prepared for dreamless sleep or dreams or waking
for breakfast but now sleep past denying.
He has no life, no exercise but cutting;
While we can hope a houri, fear a phantom.
Look forward to No Thoughts. For Him no dying
nor any jolt to colour His drab action,
only the plop of heads into the basket,
only the bags of breath, the dried-up bleeding.
We, who can build and change our clothes and moulder,
come, let us pity Death but not the dead.

How Green was my valley?

Aberfan_disaster,_October_1966

Last weekend we had ex-Hurricane Ophelia.  This weekend we are being battered by storm Brian.  The north Atlantic jet-stream is feeding us our annual diet of gales and storms to blow away the autumn leaves and cleanse the land for the winter ice.

It’s nothing new, for all the talk of climate change.  Perhaps we have made it worse, perhaps not.  Ireland experienced a stronger storm back in 1961 when Hurricane Debbie struck.

In 1966 it was relentless rain combined with unsafe practices of the National Coal Board (NCB) in Britain that resulted in the Aberfan disaster.

The NCB broke regulations when they placed a spoil tip from the coalmine on a hillside peppered with natural springs.  The tip then broke further regulations by being overused.  It should have been shut down but was not.  In Sept/Oct of 1966 South Wales experienced three weeks of almost relentless rain.  The combination of the rain from above and the springs below liquefied the spoil.

On the morning of Oct 21st, 1966 the children of Aberfan sat at their desks at 9am and were beginning the roll call.  It was the last school day before the mid-term break.  The coal tip slipped, liquefaction occurred and the wall of shale, stone and muck became slurry that flowed in a wave down the mountain.

The ‘dark glistening wave’ broke into the village of Aberfan and engulfed the school.  Half the students were killed.  Twenty eight adults and one hundred and sixteen children died.

The good news is that some of the senior managers in the NCB were promoted for their excellent handling of the PR side of the disaster.  They did trojan work supporting the future of Coal in Britain.  No employee of the NCB was ever disciplined for the breaches that caused the disaster.   Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

“How green was my Valley then, and the Valley of them that have gone.”  Richard Llewellyn (1939)

Where was God? : by Ron Cook.

Where was God that fateful day
At the place called Aberfan.
When the world stood still and the mountain
Moved through the folly of mortal man.
In the morning hush so cold and stark
And grey skys overhead.
When the mountain moved its awesome mass
To leave generations of dead.
Where was God the people cried
Their features grim and bleak.
Somewhere on their knees in prayer
And many could not speak.
The silence so still like something unreal
Hung on the morning air.
And people muttered in whisper tones
Oh God this isn’t fair.
The utter waste of childhood dreams
Of hope and aspirations.
A bitter lesson to be learnt for future generations
But where was God the people cried.
The reason none could say
For when the mountain moved its awesome mass.
God looked the other way.

 

Vandalised

Seattle-vandals

Cathage celebrates two really bad days on this anniversary.  Firstly the Carthaginians under Hannibal lost the Battle of Zama on this day in BC 202, and then in AD 439 the Romans lost the city to the Vandals under Genseric.

Genseric, king of the Andals and the Alans,  went on to sack Rome itself, from which we get the modern term “Vandal”.  The Vandals pillaged the city but did not destroy it or set it on fire.  They broke a lot of glass windows, painted walls with graffiti and left with a lot of electronics, TV’s and other valuable consumer goods.  That last bit might be a lie.

From the tribe “Andals” we get Andalucía in southern Spain.  We also get the term popping up in G.R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.  Jorah Mormont is apparently an Andal.

Furthermore Game of Thrones has a city called Qarth.  The original name of Carthage under the Phonecians was “The New City” or Qart-hadast.

Finally, just to clear up any confusion, the Hex key was not invented by the tribe of Alans.  The clue is in the spelling.  They are Allen Keys, not Alan keys.

 

Eulogy for Ophelia

Ophelia.jpg

She came from warm southern waters and wasted our island with her wrath.  Then she flounced away to the north, leaving a trail of death and destruction in her wake.  We expected a lot of hot air, but she blew us away with her powerful delivery.  We cowered before her.  We quaked beneath her wrath and worshiped her as the modern day Morrigan.  She took three lives and passed on, her lust for death satiated.

 

Hamlet Act V Scene 1: A Churchyard

First Clown sings, as he digs a grave:

In youth, when I did love, did love,
Methought it was very sweet,
To contract, O, the time, for, ah, my behove,
O, methought, there was nothing meet.

But age, with his stealing steps,
Hath claw’d me in his clutch,
And hath shipped me intil the land,
As if I had never been such.

A pick-axe, and a spade, a spade,
For and a shrouding sheet:
O, a pit of clay for to be made
For such a guest is meet.

O, a pit of clay for to be made
For such a guest is meet.
One that was a woman, sir;
but, rest her soul, she’s dead.

Happy Birthday Paul Engle

Poet, teacher, critic and best known for leading and promoting the Iowa Writers Workshop.  Kurt Vonnegut, a member of the workshop, described Engle as follows:

“The former head, Paul Engle, is still around, is a hayseed clown, a foxy grandpa, a terrific promoter, who, if you listen closely, talks like a man with a paper asshole.”

I’m not really sure if this is meant to be complimentary, critical or a bit of both.  In any case I really like this poem.

 

Twenty Below: by Paul Engle

 

Twenty below, I said, and closed the door,
a drop of five degrees and going down.
It makes a tautened drum-hide of the floor,
brittle as leaves each building in the town.
I wonder what would happen to us here
if that hard wind of winter never stopped,
no man again could watch the night grow clear,
the blue thermometer forever dropped.

I hope, you answered, for so cruel a storm
to freeze remoteness from our lives too cold.
Then we could learn, huddled all close, how warm
the hearts of men who live alone too much,
and once, before our death, admit the old
need of a human nearness, need of touch.

Happy Birthday Harry Hooton

Harry.jpg

Born in Doncaster in 1908 on this day.  He emigrated to Australia aged 16 under a migrant scheme run by the Dreadnought Trust.  From his earliest days, working as a farm laborer, he developed a strong empathy for the lot of the working man.  Later in life his politics moved away from unionism and socialism to anarchism.

It is Great to be Alive; by Harry Hooton

This is an obvious imitation of Walt Whitman, is it?
Well, and wouldn’t that be better than another in sickly rime?
Perhaps you would prefer as more exquisite
some other fellow’s footprints in the sands of time,
or the past perhaps present future of Eliot’s pleasant slime….
But this is not an imitation of anyone: listen to me, I am alive!
Whitman and Longfellow are dead; Eliot doesn’t know he is;
I am for the Great-not the great poet, no matter how true he is;
I say that every man alive is great, no matter who he is,
for it is great to be alive!

The lowest man on earth is a hero and a god with me:
Whoever he is, he is greater than any or all of his fellows;
Means more to me than all the crowned or bald heads of europe;
Cleaner than any dust from greece,
warmer than the bones in westminster abbey;
Greater by far than all that has been before him,
and dwarfed only by what is to come after him….
Whoever he is, he is the One on whose shoulders the world rests;
the One at whose command material empires rise in ministration –
Not some artist or philosopher or emperor, but any man.

What is his social value, his justification?
Well, what is life’s justification?
If he can neither work nor plan, fiddle nor rime,
if he can’t provide occupational therapy for sick psychiatrists,
if rulers ever learn from him to abjure war, and need no gunman,
there would still be justification for his existence, in his sheer existence.
For life, in the saint and sinner, sane and insane, wise and otherwise –
Is its own justification.

Every man is inferior to every other man-in some respects;
And every man is superior to every other man-in other respects.
We can’t live without holding someone else up,
and we can’t live without someone holding us up.
One man is just as good as another, in fact better –
And in fact better than a million men; because you can’t make world wars out of one man,
and that’s all you can do with the latter.
But every man is great only in what he makes, in his subject matter
In the only things that really matter.

The plumber can’t bake, the builder can’t plumb, and the architect has them both beat;
The three are awed by the mathematician, who defers to the man with the axe;
They all yield to the artist who accepts them with all that lives and breathes;
And the all go to work and war-and must accept the superiority of a lunatic who is mad in a world which is terrifyingly sane.
There is no man living who can not find on some one thing higher authority –
That is if we accept those terribly important people who string words together
and think themselves so much better than men who merely stick bricks together;
As we expect other people with similar theses,
such as elephantine labourers who would pull social theories and theorists to pieces,
and such as anyone who seeks to rule over the living, and is in that one fact-dead!

Well then, if there must be lords and masters,
let us rule matter with every man alive;
If we must have slaves, let us enslave machines.
Let us be gods, and selfish –
Let the prostrate worshippers of the past be someone else-ish;
Let us be, and be worshipped ourselves.
Let the painter forgive his painting,
the poet redeem his poem,
and the dead bury the dead…

My poems are revolutions, of the builders, the living great,
searching with god-like hunger new matter to animate –
And of cities steeled in silence, now growing articulate;
Of things, machines, our creatures, raching in lever and rod
to touch the hands of their creators, praying to us as god….
True it is I echo-the mighty shouts of these hordes;
Yes, and an imitator-of impetuous powerful words;
Plagiarist of Whitman, of all the Sons of Man –
For they have heard me in the future, as I do those to come –
Yet greater than Christ or Whitman, than ash from any tomb –
Greater than any history, than ink from any pen,
For you my poems scan,
who despair of your social value, who are despised by men:
You are alive, you are human-by life you are made divine!
You are the revelation-one mightier poem than mine!

Demagogues

On this day in 1895 two controversial world leaders were born.

Zog

Ahmet Muhtar Zogolli was born to a wealthy landowning family in Albania.  He was appointed a district governor ahead of his older half brother, perhaps because of his mothers royal connections.  He signed the Albanian declaration of independence from the Ottoman Empire and was instrumental in creating Albania as a parliamentary democracy.

He was elected first president of Albania in 1925.  In 1928 he turned Albania into a Kingdom and appointed himself King Zog I, King of the Albanians.  He was not recognized by European royalty who looked down upon self appointed kings, but he was well regarded in the Turkish/Arabic world.

Zog relied heavily on loans from Italy to prop up the Albanian Economy.  His military was run by Italian officers.

In classic Albanian style there were 600 blood feuds against him, and he survived 55 assassination attempts.  His Son and Heir, Leka, was born in April 1939.  At the same time the Italians moved on Albania.  Zog cleaned the gold out of the Central Bank, packed up his wife, child and the cash and fled the country.  He spent the rest of his life living in faded grandeur as a King in exile.

juanandevaperon

The other was Juan Perón, thrice elected President of Argentina, husband to Eva Perón nicknamed Evita, star of the Rice & Webber Musical.

Perón was raised from the entrepreneurial classes in Argentina, with roots in Sardinia.  He was sent to Catholic boarding school and joined the military.  He enjoyed a successful career as an officer and was sent to Mussolini’s Italy to study mountain warfare, for which the Italian Alpini were famous.  He was in Italy in 1939 when Mussolini was invading Albania.

In Europe Perón closely observed the governing structures of Fascim, Military dictatorship, Communism and Social democracy and concluded that the latter was the best form of government.  He preferred social democracy to liberal democracy, a view I share myself.

For everyone who expresses positive opinions on Perón you will find three people who hate him.  Throughout his career he focused on three principles.  Government should be democratic, alleviation of poverty and dignity of work.  Again, I happen to be aligned with him on these.

His three presidencies were interspersed with periods of military dictatorship.  His life was frequently at risk and he had to flee the country and live in exile.  The capitalists hated him because he fought against the exploitation of workers.  The conservative Catholics hated him for passing laws permitting divorce and legalising prostitution.  The socialists and the communists hated him because they felt he was too supportive of the entrepreneurial and capitalist system.  The military dictators hated him as a successful military officer who would not back their coups d’état or support the rule of military Juntas.  All sides contending for rule accused him of corruption, living a life of luxury through embezzlement of the public purse.  Meanwhile he was loved by the people, because he fought for them.

Don’t get me wrong here, I know Perón was no angel.  He was anti-education and I have a major problem with that position.  He was in a constant war with third level institutions.  Slogans abounded on the streets such as “Promote democracy- kill a student” or “Shoes not Books”.  His politics made for some very strange bedfellows.  He was on good terms with Che Guevara and Salvador Allende.  But he was a realist about US involvement in the overthrow of Allende and support for General Pinochet.  He warned the Argentinian People that this could happen to him.  He was also accused of having an affair with a 13 year old girl, on which accusation he commented “13?  I am not superstitious”.

He did his best to steer Argentina down a middle path in the cold war, attempting to maintain relations with both USA and Russia and gaining favour with neither regime.  His motivation was to maintain Argentinian independence.

He made Argentina the strongest economy in Latin America, despite overt attempts by the USA to undermine his reform government.  But Perón avoided turning his nation into another Cuba, or Chile.

A complex politician it is interesting to compare his career with that of Zog, who was a perfect example of someone who profited from rule.  Perón worked all his life for his country, despite the hatred and criticism he faced.  I believe he will go down in history as a good politician and a true patriot and that history will remember him well.

He was desecrated in death, his mausoleum raided and his hands cut off with a chainsaw.  His ceremonial personal effects were stolen.