A hateful son

apocalypse

Now that the Covid-19 media apocalypse is upon us here in Ireland I am taking a moment to think about the boy who gave us the name for next month.

The painting above is the Benjamin West 1795 “Death on a pale horse” which depicts the Biblical four horsemen of the apocalypse, Pestilence, War, Famine and Death, riding successively horses coloured white, red, black and pale.

In the ancient world disease killed more armies than battle, and was a constant companion of any assembled army.  Famine followed in the wake of every army as they stripped the land bare of food, like a plague of locusts.  Death of course is the bride of war.

So it is interesting to look at the parallels between the apocalyptic horsemen and the earlier Greco-Roman depictions of the Roman Mars (for whom we name March) and his Greek origination as the God Ares.

Homer, in the Illiad, quotes Zeus as calling Ares the god most hateful to him.  Such a thing to say to your own son!

The Greeks, for all their warlike tendencies, had a suspicion of unbridled passion.  They saw Eros (uncontrolled love) as a form of madness.  In Ares they saw the passion needed to succeed in battle, but they also saw the brutality.  Untamed aggression was achieved by letting slip the reins of mental discipline.

Like the later four horsemen Ares travelled in a gang of four.  Himself, the God of war, accompanied in his chariot by his two sons Phobos (Fear) and Deimos (Terror) and his daughter/lover Enyo (Discord).  Indeed it was Enyo who started the Trojan war.  But that’s a different story.

Ares had four sure-footed, gold bridled, immortal horses who pulled his chariot; Aithon, Phlogios, Konabos and Phobos (same name as his son).

The Greeks saw Ares as a destabilising force, and saw war as a necessary evil, both to be avoided if possible.  Ares is often ridiculed or embarrased in Greek mythology.

Rome took a different line.  Rome placed Mars in the top 3 of their Gods.  The Romans viewed War as the means to Peace and they treated their god of war with reverence and dignity.  Instead of being incestuously linked to Discord like Ares the Roman Mars is married to Nerio, the Goddess of Valor.

So we can see that the four horsemen of the bible have more in common with the Greek god of war than they do with the Roman Mars.

And now back to the painting.  In a twist of fate it carries its own apocalyptic tale.  When the first American Academy of art burned down a volunteer fireman cut the painting from its frame and saved it from the conflagration.

Populist poetry

Image result for the stranger harlen coben jennifer saunders

Watching “The Stranger” last night and this little snippet was inserted, a motto to live by from the wall of a Café and a eulogy at the grave.

Poetry can be so versatile.  Most importantly poetry is emotion distilled, it’s the pure spirit, and when it gets you it kicks like a mule.

Inventory; by Dorothy Parker

Four be the things I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe.

Four be the things I’d been better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.

Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.

Three be the things I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.

Call me Ishmael too.

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Ishmael Reed was born Feb 22nd 1938.  In his studies he was influenced heavily by the Beat Poets and the poets of the Harlem Renaissance.  His novel Mumbo Jumbo is listed as one of the 500 most important books in the western cannon.  That’s a long list and you probably have not heard of Reed before.  I suspect you will hear from him again now you have read this.

 

I Am A Cowboy In The Boat Of Ra; by by Ishmael Reed

The devil must be forced to reveal any such physical evil
(potions, charms, fetishes, etc.) still outside the body
and these must be burned.’ (Rituale Romanum, published
1947, endorsed by the coat-of-arms and introductory
letter from Francis cardinal Spellman)
I am a cowboy in the boat of Ra,
sidewinders in the saloons of fools
bit my forehead like O
the untrustworthiness of Egyptologists
who do not know their trips. Who was that
dog-faced man? they asked, the day I rode
from town.

School marms with halitosis cannot see
the Nefertiti fake chipped on the run by slick
germans, the hawk behind Sonny Rollins’ head or
the ritual beard of his axe; a longhorn winding
its bells thru the Field of Reeds.

I am a cowboy in the boat of Ra. I bedded
down with Isis, Lady of the Boogaloo, dove
deep down in her horny, stuck up her Wells-Far-ago
in daring midday getaway. ‘Start grabbing the
blue,’ I said from top of my double crown.

I am a cowboy in the boat of Ra. Ezzard Charles
of the Chisholm Trail. Took up the bass but they
blew off my thumb. Alchemist in ringmanship but a
sucker for the right cross.

I am a cowboy in the boat of Ra. Vamoosed from
the temple i bide my time. The price on the wanted
poster was a-going down, outlaw alias copped my stance
and moody greenhorns were making me dance;
while my mouth’s
shooting iron got its chambers jammed.

I am a cowboy in the boat of Ra. Boning-up in
the ol’ West i bide my time. You should see
me pick off these tin cans whippersnappers. I
write the motown long plays for the comeback of
Osiris. Make them up when stars stare at sleeping
steer out here near the campfire. Women arrive
on the backs of goats and throw themselves on
my Bowie.

I am a cowboy in the boat of Ra. Lord of the lash,
the Loup Garou Kid. Half breed son of Pisces and
Aquarius. I hold the souls of men in my pot. I do
the dirty boogie with scorpions. I make the bulls
keep still and was the first swinger to grape the taste.

I am a cowboy in his boat. Pope Joan of the
Ptah Ra. C/mere a minute willya doll?
Be a good girl and
bring me my Buffalo horn of black powder
bring me my headdress of black feathers
bring me my bones of Ju-Ju snake
go get my eyelids of red paint.
Hand me my shadow

I’m going into town after Set

I am a cowboy in the boat of Ra

look out Set here i come Set
to get Set to sunset Set
to unseat Setto Set down Set

usurper of the Royal couch
imposter RAdio of Moses’ bush
party pooper O hater of dance
vampire outlaw of the milky way

Dear Mr. Vernon

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Molly Ringwald was born February 18th, 1968.  A member of the bratpack which churned out a raft of John Hughes movies in the 1980’s and probably best remembered as the Princess in the Breakfast Club.

 

The Essay from the end of the movie:

Dear Mr. Vernon,

we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole saturday in detention for whatever it is we did wrong, but we think you’re crazy for making us write an essay telling you who we think we are.

You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.

But what we found out, is that each one of us is a brain,

and an athlete,

and a basketcase,

a princess,

and a criminal.

Does that answer your question?

Sincerely yours,

The Breakfast Club.

 

Cue Simple Minds “Don’t you forget about me” as the Breakfast Club 5 ride into the sunset.

 

Cycling Suffragettes!

Bikergirls

Victorian Biker Girls (Sophie Bryant not shown)

In the long and arduous fight for womens rights the simple act of owning a bicycle was considred radical in Victorian times.  One of the first women in the United Kingdom to own a bicycle was the Dublin born Sophie Bryant.  Born Sophie Willock, a native of Sandymount, February 15th 1850.

At the age of 19, living in London, she married Dr William Hicks Bryant, a man 10 years her senior, who died within a year of the marriage.  Thus liberated as a respectable widow with the ability to make her own decisions she went completely off the rails.  Stark staring feminist mad.

Apart from buying a bicycle she also became a teacher. When the University of London opened its doors to women she became one of the first women to be awarded a first class degree.  As a mathematician she earned her doctorate of science and became only the third woman to be elected to the London Mathematical Society.

When Trinity College Dublin opened its doors to women they marked the occasion by awarding Bryant the first honorary degree given to a woman.

She wanted votes for women, but said that first women should be educated.  She devoted much of her life to that cause and the institutions founded and managed by her made an enormous contribution to that end.

She died doing what she loved, in Chamonix in the French Alps, climbing mountains at the age of 72.

Zermatt To The Matterhorn; by Thomas Hardy

Thirty-two years since, up against the sun,
seven shapes, thin atomies to lower sight,
labouringly leapt and gained thy gabled height,
and four lives paid for what the seven had won.

They were the first by whom the deed was done,
and when I look at thee, my mind takes flight
to that day’s tragic feat of manly might,
as though, till then, of history thou hadst none.

Yet ages ere men topped thee, late and soon
thou watch’dst each night the planets lift and lower;
thou gleam’dst to Joshua’s pausing sun and moon,
and brav’dst the tokening sky when Caesar’s power
approached its bloody end: yea, saw’st that Noon
when darkness filled the earth till the ninth hour.

Bloody Valentines Poem

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The Church stories about St. Valentine are a mish-mash of the lives of up to three different clerics who were martyred at any given time.  This is reflected in the relics of St Valentine, with bones from him in Santa Maria Cosmedin in Rome, Whitefriar St. Church in Dublin and St John Duns Scotus in Glasgow.

The most widely accepted version of the story is that he was a Bishop of Terni who was imprisoned on a visit to 3rd Century Rome during the reign of Claudius Gothicus.  The judge, Asterius,  had a blind adopted daughter and Valentine invoked the power of Christianity to cure her.  Asterius then had all his family converted and released his Christian prisoners instead of feeding them to the lions.

On his way home Valentine continued evangelising and was again arrested and this time he was beaten to death with clubs.

While in captivity he penned the first ever Valentines Poem to the formerly blind girl who of course could not read.  She brought it to Asterius who was horrified by the low quality of the poetry he had unleashed upon the world.  In a desperate attempt to right his wrong he had Valentine beaten to death.  But too late.  The story of the tormented poem to unrequited love circulated in the girls schoolyard and then every girl wanted one.

As a result generations of awkward callow youths have been condemned to the practice of translating their inchoate emotions into execrable verse ever since.

Amongst genuine Roman scholars the events described are referred to as “The Crisis of the 3rd Century” and they represent the beginning of the decline and fall of Roman Classical Poetry.

 

Happy Birthday Eleanor Farjeon

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Born this day in 1881 Farjeon is best known as a childrens writer.  She is also the author of the Hymn “Morning Has Broken” set to an old Gaelic air, which was made famous by Cat Stevens, in 1971, six years after Eleanor passed away.

But she saw the men march off to war more than once and this is a very adult poem I give you.  Eleanor was good friends with the poet Edward Thomas who died in 1917 at Arras, and remained a lifelong friend of his widow, Helen, publishing their correspondence in 1958.

 

Now that You Too Must Shortly Go; by Eleanor Farjeon

Now that you too must shortly go the way
which in these bloodshot years uncounted men
have gone in vanishing armies day by day,
and in their numbers will not come again:

I must not strain the moments of our meeting
striving for each look, each accent, not to miss,
or question of our parting and our greeting,
is this the last of all? is this—or this?

Last sight of all it may be with these eyes,
last touch, last hearing, since eyes, hands, and ears,
even serving love, are our mortalities,
and cling to what they own in mortal fears:—
But oh, let end what will, I hold you fast
by immortal love, which has no first or last.

The Humble Herring

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I have to admit I was never a great fan of herring.  It’s those tiny pesky bones you get in small fish that annoyed me.  We had fresh herring regularly when I was a kid.  That was back in the days when eating fish on Friday was de-rigeur for Catholic families.

Herring was cheap.  So was Whiting, Mackerel and Cods Roe.  As a kid, at the elbow of my mother when she was shopping, you picked these things up.  So knowing it was cheap probably reduced its desirability in my young mind.

But more to the point, my mother would pan fry herrings or grill them and what made Friday special was deep fried fish and chips.  My favourite was deep fried smoked cod.

But herring was an engine of the Industrial Revolution, and in the time before we figured out canning it was one of the most important foods for armies.  So important that there was a Battle of the Herrings fought, on this day, in 1429.  During the Siege of Órleans a supply column was successfully defended from attack at the town of Rouvray to protect the vital supply of food to the English forces.

The English protector of the herrings was none other than Sir John Falstaff, made famous by the plays of Shakespeare.

Herrings were abundantly available in Northern Europe.  Until the modern era and the arrival of the Factory Trawler it seemed that they would never run short.  Herring stocks recover very quickly as they are a fast breeding fish.  The vast shoals were followed and harvested by great fleets of small fishing boats.  Fishermen derived their living from the abundance of this one fish.  Entire communities were engaged in the processing and preservation of the catch.

The fresh fish is still prized in Baltic countries where it is dipped in chopped onions and downed with a shot of aquavit or vodka.

But it is the fact that you can preserve the little oily fish easily that made them the staple of the working class populations.  First farm labourers, then soldiers and eventually poor industrial town populations relied heavily on this cheap and easily replenshed source of protein.

You can simply fillet them and salt them and store them in barrels.  That is probably what the English were defending at the battle of the herrings.  But you can also use a wide variety of other preservation techniques.  Pickling, fermenting and smoking of some variety turn into hundreds of local variants when you carry out some research.

So popular a fish it is of course celebrated in poem and song.  Here is the Clancy Brothers version of the highly popular “Shoals of Herring”

 

Shoals of Herring

The Eternal Sea

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Politics is the “sea that consantly rages with turmoil and revolution”, and is interpreted by Biblical Theologians as the medium from which the anti-christ will come “I looked and saw a beast coming up from the sea” (Revelations 12:13).

Most people have become far more au fait with this quote which is taken from a poem recited by the priest Father Brennan in the film “The Omen”

When the Jews return to Zion
and a comet rips the sky
and the Holy Roman Empire rises,
then You and I must die.
From the eternal sea he rises,
creating armies on either shore,
turning man against his brother
‘til man exists no more.

Yesterday in Ireland we had a General Election.  Today the votes are being counted.  Storm Ciara rages across the country and knocked out our electricity for an hour.  It has just come back, but it does all feel a bit ominous and biblical.

I’ll take a break from all the madness and watch Italy host France in Rome in 6 nations rugby.  Rome, isn’t that where the Omen began?

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