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.

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Through the lens of a master

Avedon

Born on this day in New York in 1923, Richard Avedon helped to set the standard for beauty in the Western World with his fashion shoots and his portraiture.  He grew up in a family where both his parents were involved in the fashion industry.  Avedon developed an interest in photography at an early age.

He believed photography captures the personality and soul of the individual.  It is his ability to project personality with his images that makes him so famous.

And it is not only the models, the politicians and the rockstars.  With his collection  “In the American West” he captured the spirit of those at the foot of the ladder in the USA of the 1980’s.  Faces tinged with sadness, despair, hopelessness.

American West.jpg

And sometimes he turned his camera onto the rich and famous and in their eyes he captured an image of the truth behind all the fame, the glitz and the glamour.  Those are the best.  They are like poems in the form of image capture.  Instead of a subject looking out at you from the page, showing off a dress or an image of something they wish to convey you are drawn into the photograph and you can see, deep down, the truth.

richard_avedon_marilyn

The Coyote Who Fasts

Nezahualcoyotl

When the Spanish conquered the New World they did a pretty thorough job of erasing anything good, positive or civilized from pre-Columbian American culture.  The goal was to say that Americans were savages, Spanish were Civilized Christians and the culture of the latter should erase the culture of the former.

From time to time it is possible to catch a glimpse of something else.  If you look very very carefully you can find traces of the rich tapestry and layered civilization that existed before Cortes arrived in Mexico.

Nezahualcoyotl (the coyote who fasts) was a philosopher king, poet and warrior who ruled about 50 years before the Spanish conquest.  His deeds and his poems were passed down through oral traditions.  When the native Indios learned to write they set down the history of Nezahualcoyotl on paper.

We get a picture of a wise and thoughtful king who would have been celebrated in any Western realm.  He ruled the Acolhua people from his capital of Texcoco.  One of his main preoccupations must have been to keep his people independent of the influence of the larger and more powerful Mexica.

As a child his father was killed by the powerful neighbouring Tepanecs, closely related to the Aztecs, who took control of Texcoco.  The young Nezah was taken to the great city of Tenochtitlan where he was educated by the Mexica, learing about their legal and administrative systems.

He worked over the years to build the alliances that put him at the head of an army of 100,000 troops.  On the battlefield he displayed strategic and tactical genius.  His victory resulted in a new ruling order in the Valley of Mexico, the triple alliance of Texcoco, Tenochtitlan and Tlacopan.

He then demonstrated that he was not just a warlord.  He made his capital into a center of justice, learning and creativity.  Spanish friars later described his capital as the “Athens of the West”.  He assembled a library, built fine water gardens and held a court of “wise men”.  He established strong legal systems and the rule of law.  In lake Texcoco he constructed a dyke to separate fresh water from brackish.  He constructed aqueducts to transport the fresh water to his capital.

He rejected the blood thirsty human sacrifice driven religions of his neighbours, which were such a powerful propaganda tool for Christian conversion by the Spanish.   Instead he constructed a temple which was an empty space for an unknown and unknowable God.  He did not permit any sacrifice and worshiped by the burning of incense.  It was clearly in the interests of Spanish propaganda to sideline the legacy of such an evolved philosopher.

The following poem gives a sense of the man.  Given that it was written 100 years after he lived, and that it was originally Nahuatl, translated to Spanish and subsequently translated to English I have taken some liberties with it.  For instance in the second verse I have assumed that the “Eagles stained red” were battle standards, things we know well from the Roman legions and Napoleonic French Corps.  Also in the same verse I say the Princes are scythed down.  The pre-Columbian Americans had no wheat or barley.  They had no scythes to harvest grain.  But I am trying to convey the metaphor for the battlefield as a harvest of lives and the metaphor of the scythe just works.

Finally today is given as his birthday so he gets onto my “Poets’ Calendar”. Born April 28th, 1402.  Read the poem below and take note that this was written around the time when Europe was so civilized that the English burned Joan of Arc at the stake for heresy.

 

A poem by Nezahualcoyotl (Edited heavily by Donal Clancy)

He makes the Eagles and Ocelots dance with him.
Come to see the Huexotzinca.
On the dais of the Eagle he shouts out,
loudly cries the Mexica.

On the battlefield we raise toasts with the divine liquor of war,
where the eagle standards are stained red,
where tigers howl,
where precious stones rain from fine armour,
where rich plumed headdresses wave like fields of grain,
where princes are scythed down.

There is nothing like death in war,
nothing like the flowery death
so precious to Him who gives life.
Far off I see it. My heart yearns for it!

And they called it Teotihulcan
because it was the place
where the lords were buried.

Thus they said:
‘When we die truly we die not because we will live,
we will rise, we will continue living, we will awaken,
this will make us happy.’

Thus the dead one was directed when he died:
‘Awaken, already the sky is rosy,
a new dawn has come,
hear the flame-coloured guans sing,
see the fire-coloured swallows and the butterflies fly.’

Thus the old ones said that who has died has become a god,
they said: ‘He has been made a god there’
meaning ‘He has died.’

Even jade is shattered,
even gold is crushed,
even quetzal plumes are torn.
One does not live forever on this earth.
We endure only for an instant.

Will flowers be carried to the Kingdom of Death?
Is it true that we are going, we are going?
Where are we going, ay, where are we going?
Will we be dead there or will we yet live?
Does one exist again?

Perhaps we will live a second time?
Thy heart knows; just once do we live.

Like a quetzal plume, a fragrant flower,
friendship sparkles.
Like heron plumes, it weaves itself into finery.
Our song is a bird calling out a melody,
how beautiful you make it sound!
Here, among flowers that enclose us,
among flowery boughs you are singing.

The earth is a grave and nothing escapes it,
nothing is so perfect that it does not descend to its tomb.
Rivers, streams, springs and waters flow,
but never return to their joyful beginnings.
Eagerly they rush onto the vast realms of the rain god.
As they widen their banks,
so they carve their own burial urn.

The bowels of the earth are filled with detritus,
once flesh and bone,
once animate bodies of men who sat thrones,
judged cases, presided in council,
commanded armies, conquered provinces,
possessed treasure, destroyed temples,
exulted in their pride, majesty, fortune, praise and power.
Vanished are these glories,
just as the fearful smoke vanishes that belches forth from
the infernal fires of Popocatepetl.
Nothing remains of them but the words of a poem.

Birthday of Giants

BeckettHeaney

Ireland has in total 8 Nobel laureates.  They break down by category as follows:

Literature:  4,  Peace: 2,  Physics: 1,  Physiology or Medicine: 1

It is hardly a surprise that Ireland excels in literature.  Irish mythology divides the society of the Tuatha Dé Danann into three tribes, the Tuatha (nobility) the Dé (priests) and the Danann (bards).  In medieval Ireland the communal body of  lore was protected by the Filí (court poet historians) and the Bards (itinerant poets, story tellers and minstrels).   These individuals were highly respected and honoured.  There are dreadful cautionary tales told of the fate of lords who failed to honour a bard properly.  No sword cuts as deeply as a well crafted satire.

The claim to fame of my own clan, the MacFhlannchaidh (Clancy) is that we were filí to the Dalcassian Sept.  We were the brehons (lawyers), historians, poets, diplomats, ambassadors and scribes.  Basically the civil service of the time.  The Dalcassians were one of the most powerful tribal groups in Ireland.  they successfully rebuffed attempts by the Normans to invade their lands.  Two American presidents, J.F.K. and Ronald Reagan trace their heritage back to the Dál gCais.

The Irish literature winners are W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney.

The last two were born on the same day, April 13th.  Happy birthday to half of all Irish Nobel Prize winning literature laureates.

Ascension; by Samuel Beckett

through the slim partition
this day when a child
prodigal in his own way
returned into the family
I hear a voice
it is excited it comments
on the football world cup

forever too young

meanwhile through the open window
over the air in a word
heavily
a sea swell of the faithful

her blood spurted in abundance
on the sheets on the sweet peas on her bloke
he closed the eyelids with filthy fingers
on the green eyes big with surprise

she lightly roams
over my tomb of air

 

Rite of Spring; by Seamus Heaney

So winter closed its fist
and got it stuck in the pump.
The plunger froze up a lump

in its throat, ice founding itself
upon iron. The handle
paralysed at an angle.

Then the twisting of wheat straw
into ropes, lapping them tight
round stem and snout, then a light

that sent the pump up in a flame
it cooled, we lifted her latch,
her entrance was wet, and she came.

Birthday Art

Lobster

Lobster Fisherman at Dusk; Paul Henry

Two birthdays marked today.  The image above is a painting by Paul Henry (1876 – 1958), the Irish artist who captured the landscapes of the West of Ireland with his spare, pared back, post-impressionist style.

The poem is by Mark Strand (1934 – 2014), the Canadian born poet and American academic at Columbia U.

Eating Poetry ; by Mark Strand

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

I am a new man,
I snarl at her and bark,
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.

10-4

G_W_Russell_Bathers

Bathers, G.W. Russell

April tenth can be written as 10-4.  Anyone who ever used a CB radio or a walkie talkie knows that this is an acknowledgement code, a response to a message which means “message received and understood”.  The manner in which messages are received and understood is an interesting semiotic.  It gives us clues to “tribal” affiliations.

Some examples might be:

Hooah = US Army and Cavalry,  Oorah = US Marines (USMC),  Hooyah = US Navy,  Aye Sir = US Navy, Aye Aye Sir = Royal Navy / USMC, Roger/ Copy/ Wilco = Trained radio operators – especially maritime, Romeo = Australian version of Roger, Sir Yes Sir = usually grunts in basic training.

Today is also the birthday of George William Russell, one of the leading lights of the Irish Literary Revival.  I am not a great fan of his poetry, but I do love his paintings.  I find his poetic style to be a bit over-garnished, but he does have an ear for the Irish cadence and the unique nature of Hiberno-English syntax.  He was a mystic and many of his poems are filled with allusions to mysticism and turgid with symbology.   He would understand the significance of the semiotics above, and would be careful to use the right ones.

Willam Butler Yeats and his fellow members of the Golden Bough shared Russell’s love of the obscure forces that shape our supposed history.  Russell himself used a symbol as a pseudonym, writing as AE, or more properly ᴁ.

This poem is about an ostensible Celtic goddess, Danu or Dana.  Ostensible because there is no record of the Goddess, but she is extrapolated from the “People of the Goddess Dana”, the Tuatha Dé Danann in the Irish Language.  Danu is a Hindu river goddess.  Proto Indo-European language roots associate Danu with rivers across Europe, the most obvious being the Danube.  In the more modern Ireland we have a singer, Dana (Rosemary Scallon) who was our first winner of the Eurovision song contest, and we also have a traditional Irish music group called Danú, from Dungarvan.   They have a guitarist with a beautiful name and a better pedigree.  Dónal Clancy is son of Liam, one of the Clancy Brothers.

Dana ; by George William Russell

I am the tender voice calling “Away,”
whispering between the beatings of the heart,
and inaccessible in dewy eyes
I dwell, and all unkissed on lovely lips,
lingering between white breasts inviolate,
and fleeting ever from the passionate touch,
I shine afar, till men may not divine
whether it is the stars or the beloved
they follow with rapt spirit. And I weave
my spells at evening, folding with dim caress,
aerial arms and twilight dropping hair,
the lonely wanderer by wood or shore,
’till, filled with some deep tenderness, he yields,
feeling in dreams for the dear mother heart
he knew, ere he forsook the starry way,
and clings there, pillowed far above the smoke
and the dim murmur from the duns of men.
I can enchant the trees and rocks, and fill
the dumb brown lips of earth with mystery,
make them reveal or hide the god. I breathe
a deeper pity than all love, myself
mother of all, but without hands to heal:
Too vast and vague, they know me not. But yet,
I am the heartbreak over fallen things,
the sudden gentleness that stays the blow,
and I am in the kiss that foemen give
pausing in battle, and in the tears that fall
over the vanquished foe, and in the highest,
among the Danaan gods, I am the last
council of mercy in their hearts where they
mete justice from a thousand starry thrones.

 

Debauchery

(c) Dillington House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

John Wilmot portrait by Peter Lely

After years of religious oppression under Cromwell and the puritans Britain was ready to release its pent up frustrations with gusto in the Glorious Revolution.  The restoration of Charles II to the monarchy in 1660 opened the doors to theater, dance, music and art.  Into this world stepped the famous libertine John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester.

Born April 1st 1647.  His father was a famous brave dashing cavalier and smuggled the young Charles out of England.  John had an up and down beginning to his career.  “Debauched” in Oxford, aged 13.  He tried to elope with a rich wife and was imprisoned in the Tower.  He volunteered to fight in the Navy and redeemed himself with heroism in battle.  His wit made him highly entertaining and favoured at court.  His pranks got him in trouble and rose to the level of treason and got him banned from court.

A famous rake in his day, the poem below gives a sense of his style.  He lived and wrote about overt sexuality.   He died aged only 33.  He is described as being drunk for 5 years in the company of what Andrew Marvell called “The Merry Gang”.  This was a gang of noble young blades who engaged in a feast of debauchery in the Court of King Charles.  It is thought that Wilmot died suffering from a variety of venereal diseases including Syphilis and Gonorrhea.

Because of his  lax moral character Wilmot was largely ignored in the Victorian era when poetry had a great flowering.  It was not until the 1920’s that he was re-admitted to polite society.

A Song Of A Young Lady To Her Ancient Lover ; by Lord John Wilmot

Ancient Person, for whom I
all the flattering youth defy,
long be it e’er thou grow old,
aching, shaking, crazy cold;
but still continue as thou art,
Ancient Person of my heart.

On thy withered lips and dry,
which like barren furrows lie,
brooding kisses I will pour,
shall thy youthful heart restore,
such kind show’rs in autumn fall,
and a second spring recall;
nor from thee will ever part,
Ancient Person of my heart.

Thy nobler parts, which but to name
in our sex would be counted shame,
by ages frozen grasp possest,
from their ice shall be released,
and, soothed by my reviving hand,
in former warmth and vigour stand.
All a lover’s wish can reach,
for thy joy my love shall teach;
and for thy pleasure shall improve
all that art can add to love.
Yet still I love thee without art,
Ancient Person of my heart.