Imagine being a pea?

Syria

An evacuated Syrian girl looks out of the broken window of a bus.

In this summer heatwave I appreciate the sentiment of Robert Graves, born this day 1895.  An English writer, son of an Irish poet of the Gaelic Revival.  Robert is best known for his novel “I, Claudius”.

 

Give us rain; by Robert Graves

‘Give us Rain, Rain,’ said the bean and the pea,
‘Not so much Sun,
Not so much Sun.’
But the Sun smiles bravely and encouragingly,
and no rain falls and no waters run.

‘Give us Peace, Peace,’ said the peoples oppressed,
‘Not so many Flags,
Not so many Flags.’
But the Flags fly and the Drums beat, denying rest,
and the children starve, they shiver in rags.

Susurrus

Seashell

It’s hard to find the right word to describe the shushing plashing sound of breakers rolling on a beach, the sound of the ocean that we seek in a shell.  Susurrus is commonly used, but is defined in the dictionary as a murmuring sound.  It is onomatopoeic I suppose, and that helps.

Onomatopoeia is a difficult word to spell, so easy to make a mistake with it in a literature exam.  It is when we make words that sound of the thing.  Most societies have a word for a snake that begins with the ssssss sound made by a snake slithering over dry ground.  It probably began life as a warning, because snakes are dangerous to man.  Serpent(e) in romance languages, Slang in germanic languages.

Cuckoo is another good example of onomatopoeia. A bird named for its call.

The poet and short story writer Stephen Vincent Benét, born 120 years ago on this day, found no such word to describe the ocean sound, or he probably would have used it.

A Minor Poet: by Stephen Vincent Benét

I am a shell. From me you shall not hear
the splendid tramplings of insistent drums,
the orbed gold of the viol’s voice that comes,
heavy with radiance, languorous and clear.
Yet, if you hold me close against the ear,
a dim, far whisper rises clamorously,
the thunderous beat and passion of the sea,
the slow surge of the tides that drown the mere.

Others with subtle hands may pluck the strings,
making even Love in music audible,
and earth one glory. I am but a shell
that moves, not of itself, and moving sings;
leaving a fragrance, faint as wine new-shed,
a tremulous murmur from great days long dead.

Happy Birthday Hart Crane

Melvilles tomb

A libation of Baleine salt at Melville’s Tomb.

Born this day in the final year of the 19th Century Harold Hart Crane did not reach the age of Christ and departed this world aged only 32.  Never an easy poet and he never had an easy life.  He struggled with twin demons of drink and sexuality.  His search for an uplifting counterpoint to T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” resulted in poor critical reviews and a slide into depression.

On a steamship from Mexico to New York he made advances to a male member of the crew and was badly beaten.  He leaped into the Gulf of Mexico and his body was never recovered.  At Melville’s tomb did he foresee his own end?

 

At Melville’s Tomb; by Harold Hart Crane

Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge
the dice of drowned men’s bones he saw bequeath
an embassy. Their numbers as he watched,
beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.

And wrecks passed without sound of bells,
the calyx of death’s bounty giving back
a scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,
the portent wound in corridors of shells.

Then in the circuit calm of one vast coil,
its lashings charmed and malice reconciled,
frosted eyes there were that lifted altars;
and silent answers crept across the stars.

Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive
to farther tides . . . High in the azure steeps
monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.

2nd Marne

Light tank

British and French troops with a Renault FT-17 tank in July 1918

100 years ago on this day the German Imperial Army attacked the French in a last desperate attempt to win the Great War.  The French were well prepared and absorbed the first attack.  Then three days later they launched a counter offensive that destroyed the German forces.

The German army found itself in a fighting retreat for 100 days, backtracking over the sites of their victories in 1914 until their eventual surrender.

The 1st Battle of the Marne (The miracle of the Marne) denied the Germans a rapid victory and condemned soldiers to four years of trench warfare.  The 2nd Battle of the Marne lifted the war out of the trenches at last.

If you want to book end  World War 1, and compare the strategies, tactics, forces, morale, weapons etc at the beginning of the war, and at the end of the war then study these two battles.  It took four years and the lives of millions of fighting men to learn the lessons that made 2nd Marne possible for the French.

 

Eternal sunshine of the Irish Summer

Athlassel Drone

The above photo is a drone shot taken of Athlassel Abbey in Golden Tipperary.  On the left of the shot is the river Suir and on the right you can see the green area that is what remains of the fish ponds built by the Monks as a fish farm.

In between the grass is burnt dry as a bone, the effect of weeks of a heatwave, unbroken by the rain that usually falls in July in Ireland.

Elsewhere the dry conditions have been turning up interesting archaeological findings.  At the world famous Boyne valley site of Newgrange the perfect outline of an entirely undiscovered Henge has magically appeared due to ancient post holes holding just a little more moisture than the surrounding ground.

Newgrange 2 2

Usually invisible; the combination of a long dry summer, and the widespread availability of drones have brought a whole new set of possibilities to the Newgrange site.  At first guess the henge is thought to date from 2,500 years ago, some 500 years after the construction of the passage tombs.

The finding is an incentive to drone fliers to get out there and exploit the conditions.  There are more sites waiting to be discovered.

In the meantime we will sit here and swelter, and wish we were more used to coping with this weather.  The Spaniards are better prepared as you can see.  Photo from the Guardian this week of a girl cooling off in a fountain.  With a hosepipe ban in place and dire warnings from Irish Water for the coming September we can only look on jealously.

Fountain

Ramona Street on a Hot Summer Day; by Betsy Franco

You can hear the whack
of a tennis ball against the plastic bat.
You can smell Ms. Lowry’s
honeysuckle bush
that grows along her fence.
You can lick an ice cold popsicle
from Petey’s ice-cream truck.
You can feel Joey’s sprinkler water
tingling on your skin.
There’s no place I’d rather be
than Ramona Street
on a hot summer day!

 

 

Happy Birthday Julius Caesar

Caesar

Gaius Julius Caesar was born in 100 BC, making him 2118 today.  We know this because of the calendar he gave us.

A populist politician in the mould of the brothers Gracchus and his own Great Uncle Gaius Marius.  Caesar wanted to move power from the Senatorial class and absentee landlords and spread the wealth to the working classes of Rome, the Plebs and the Legionnaires.

In the process he set in motion the events that led to the collapse of the Republic and the creation of an Empire.  Caesar has given a lasting lesson to the democracies and republics of the world.  Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.

Cassius speaks to Brutus

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
“Brutus” and “Caesar”—what should be in that “Caesar”?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?
Write them together, yours is as fair a name;
Sound them, it doth become the mouth as well;
Weigh them, it is as heavy; conjure with ’em,
“Brutus” will start a spirit as soon as “Caesar.”
Now, in the names of all the gods at once,
Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed
That he is grown so great? Age, thou art shamed!
Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods!
When could they say, till now, that talked of Rome,
That her wide walks encompassed but one man?
Now is it Rome indeed, and room enough
When there is in it but only one man.
O, you and I have heard our fathers say
There was a Brutus once that would have brooked
Th’ eternal devil to keep his state in Rome
As easily as a king.

Yer matey’s a bottle of fun.

Matey

The impact of advertising is that I can’t read this poem.

I can only sing it in my head.  Har har me matey.

A Life on the Ocean Wave; by Epes Sargent

A life on the ocean wave,
A home on the rolling deep,
Where the scattered waters rave,
And the winds their revels keep!
Like an eagle caged, I pine
On this dull, unchanging shore:
Oh! give me the flashing brine,
The spray and the tempest’s roar!

Once more on the deck I stand
Of my own swift-gliding craft:
Set sail! farewell to the land!
The gale follows fair abaft.
We shoot through the sparkling foam
Like an ocean-bird set free; —
Like the ocean-bird, our home
We’ll find far out on the sea.

The land is no longer in view,
The clouds have begun to frown;
But with a stout vessel and crew,
We’ll say, Let the storm come down!
And the song of our hearts shall be,
While the winds and the waters rave,
A home on the rolling sea!
A life on the ocean wave!

Big Dog

Castelveccio

Can Grande translates as “Big Dog”.  Interesting name for the Scaliger family who ruled Verona with an iron fist in the middle ages.  Can Grande II della Scala was also nicknamed Can Rabbioso or “The Rabid Dog”.

It was he who built Castelveccio and the Castelveccio bridge to protect himself and his family from the people he exploited so heavily that they fell into penury.  The castle turned out to be a wasted effort because in classic Italian style Can Grande found his end at the point of his brothers knife.

How much you can learn from an obscure reference in a line of a poem.  What did we ever do before Google?  Happy Birthday Richard Aldington who did his own “googling” in the British Museum.

 

In the British Museum; by Richard Aldington

I turn the page and read:
“I dream of silent verses where the rhyme
glides noiseless as an oar.”
The heavy musty air, the black desks,
the bent heads and the rustling noises
in the great dome
vanish …
and
the sun hangs in the cobalt-blue sky,
the boat drifts over the lake shallows,
the fishes skim like umber shades through the undulating weeds,
the oleanders drop their rosy petals on the lawns,
and the swallows dive and swirl and whistle
about the cleft battlements of Can Grande’s castle…

Gondola

Cork Bus Driver’s Dogging Den

Cork

Just another normal evening, you think, as you board the bus in Iniscarra at the end of another sweltering day in the Irish heatwave of 2018.

July in Ireland, you can usually get relief, as the weather breaks and rain falls again once the state exams are over.  Not this year.  Irish Water has declared a state of emergency, hosepipe bans, asking people to ease up on the showers, baths are a big no-no.

Two sweaty and tired lads knocking off from their summer job climb onto the bus.  It is not full.

Near the front is a lad who appears to be a little touched.  He is singing to himself.  Back from him is a good looking young girl.  She is heading into Cork for a night on the tiles.  Dressed to the nines.  Hair and makeup all done.  Black fingernail polish.  She looks a bit ridiculous in broad daylight, not yet 5pm, but she will look amazing tonight in the club.  For now though she must be melting in all that makeup.

Down the back is a parody of the stereotype of an American tourist.  Grossly overweight, shorts and polo shirt, wearing hat and sunglasses, backpack, camera round the neck, map spread out wide over his bare knees.

The two lads settle in for the 40 minute trip to Cork.  The driver guns the engine and goes into rally driving mode down the narrow winding country road.

Sadly this bus is not destined to complete the journey.  In the Lee Valley a car is attempting to pull out of a side road and the Bus driver careens into it.  Then the fun begins.

Instead of doing the thing required by the law, you know, stopping at the scene of an accident, the driver takes off.  In dramatic style he swings up a side road and begins a madcap speed chase through the Irish countryside.  Behind the poor divil in the smashed car does his best to follow, but the Bus driver has no trouble shaking off his pursuer.  You see, the bus driver knows these roads, very well, as we shall see.

The bus driver pulls into a remote site where he can park the bus.  He declares to his passengers “I had to leave the scene of the accident, because I would have caused a traffic jam.  This bus can’t go any further, the axle is damaged.  If you wait a while we will get a replacement.”

The passengers are looking around at the uninviting site surrounding them.  Should they stay on the bus or wait in the parking area outside?

The man who was singing to himself at the front of the bus looks round and finds a comb on the floor.  He picks it up and proffers it to the heavily made up girl.  “You dropped your comb” he says.

“No” she replies “It’s not mine”.

“But you can have it” says the man.

“No thanks” she replies politely, realising that the guy is a bit special.  Otherwise she would probably have flipped him off by now.

“But you have long hair” says special guy, “you would need to comb it a lot”.

Makeup girl decides to sit outside.

The guy at the back asks the bus driver “Hey, buddy, how long will we have to wait?” confirming for everyone that he is indeed an American.

The Bus Driver has no idea.

The passengers drift out into the blazing 30 degree heat of another stifling day.  It is not a pretty vista.  They are in some kind of area for cars to pull in.  There are some large concrete blocks, the type the Council use to prevent Travelers from parking caravans and setting up an unapproved halting site.  It is an unkempt, ugly site, what you might expect in an industrial city suburb, but perched out here in the countryside.

There is a field beside the pull in area.  The grass is burned brown by the heatwave.  In the field is a dead horse, flies buzzing lazily over the corpse.

There are two cars already in the car park.  It is hard to see into one.  The other contains a shirtless guy with a dog on his lap.  The guy seems annoyed by the arrival of the bus.

The passengers file out and find concrete blocks to sit on.  The two young lads and the girl are immediately into their smartphones, rearranging meeting times around the delay.

The two cars at the site start their engines and pull away.  Silence descends.  There is the song of birds, the cheeps of shrews and grasshoppers.  The bus driver remains on the bus and his five passengers sit in the sun like so many marine iguanas on the rocks of the Galapagos, absorbing energy directly through their skin.

A car arrives.  The passengers are hopeful.  Is this some emergency response by Bus Eireann?   A rapid response team to rescue stranded passengers?

The car pulls up.  A woman opens the drivers door, leans out and vomits.  She closes the door and pulls away.  The pool of vomit remains, providing a balancing contrast to the carcass of the dead horse in the field.

The lads are looking at each other and cracking up.  You could not make this up.

Another car pulls up, neatly avoiding the pool of vomit.  A middle aged man steps out of the car.  In his hand is a smartphone.  On the smartphone they can clearly see that he has a Tinder page open.  The man scans the area and looks annoyed.  He pauses for no more than a minute, re-enters the car and drives away.

Now it sinks in.  The shady parking area.  The concrete bollards.  The remoteness of the area.  The lads parked up.  Tinder.

The bus driver has parked them in a hookup site, and when the sun sets it is in all probability a dogging site!  The bus driver found it unerringly.  He has been here and more than once.  If they could see what these concrete bollards have seen…….

The replacement bus arrives.  It is a city bus, not the usual coach used in the countryside routes.  The passengers are whisked away, leaving behind the damaged bus, the driver who fled the scene of an accident, the dead horse, the pool of vomit and the memories held by those concrete cubes.

 

 

Keys to the earth.

ships-1917

Ships by Lyonel Feininger (1917)

July 1st and half the year is down.  I sit here sweltering in a heatwave, condemned to inactivity by an injury to my ankle.  This year Ireland has become a sunburnt country.  Oh what I would give for a day on the sea, rolling over the waves beneath a full sail, air conditioned by spray and spume.

So instead I man my Mindship and head out across the oceans of imagination.  On my journey I found Dorothea Mackellar, a household name in Australia for the second stanza of her poem “My Country”.

I love a sunburnt country, 
A land of sweeping plains, 
Of ragged mountain ranges, 
Of droughts and flooding rains. 
I love her far horizons, 
I love her jewel-sea, 
Her beauty and her terror 
The wide brown land for me!

Today is her birthday, in the year 1858.  The title of today’s post is taken from another Mackellar poem below.  I love the notion that Ships are the keys to the earth.  That means that instead of being walls between nations the Seas and Oceans are doorways.

The Open Sea; by Dorothea Mackellar

From my window I can see,
where the sandhills dip,
one far glimpse of open sea.
Just a slender slip
curving like a crescent moon—
yet a greater prize
than the harbour garden-fair
spread beneath my eyes.

Just below me swings the bay,
sings a sunny tune,
but my heart is far away
out beyond the dune;
clearer far the sea-gulls’ cry
and the breakers’ roar,
than the little waves beneath
lapping on the shore.

For that strip of sapphire sea
set against the sky
far horizons means to me—
and the ships go by
framed between the empty sky
and the yellow sands,
while my freed thoughts follow them
out to other lands.

All its changes who can tell?
I have seen it shine
like a jewel polished well,
hard and clear and fine;
then soft lilac—and again
on another day
glimpsed it through a veil of rain,
shifting, drifting grey.

When the livid waters flee,
flinching from the storm,
from my window I can see,
standing safe and warm,
how the white foam tosses high
on the naked shore,
and the breakers’ thunder grows
to a battle-roar…

Far and far I look—Ten miles?
no, for yesterday
sure I saw the Blessed Isles
twenty worlds away.
my blue moon of open sea,
is it little worth?
at the least. it gives to me
keys of all the earth.