Happy Birthday Claude McKay

Mackey

A Jamaican poet who came to the USA to be educated, McKay was horrified by the racism prevalent in the United States.  He became one of the leading lights of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920’s and his work is passionately pro-negro, anti-racist and yet a man of contradictions.

Early in his life he embraced atheism and communism, possibly courted by the potential for the equality of his race in the new order sweeping the world.  Ultimately he became disillusioned with communism and became a critic.  In his later years he became a Roman Catholic.

He was also appalled by the presentation of negroes as a hypersexual threat in Europe.  He denounced racist articles in the British Press in 1920.  European avant-garde  art at the time had a fascination with African primitive art and representations of fertility and sexuality.  Picasso famously incorporated African masks in Les Demoiselles D’Avignon in 1907. McKay himself posed for André Lhote and later wrote about the experience in terms of the relationship of the European white supremacist and the oppressed Afro-Caribbean.  Yet when he wrote of the Harlem Renaissance he was criticized by his contemporaries for reinforcing racial stereotypes by depicting the culture of drugs, alcohol, sexuality and prostitution in the dark underbelly of the movement.

What is clear from his body of work is that he was a passionate and motivated campaigner for the rights of black people.  He promoted “Black Lives Matter” long before most black people were socially or politically aware.

In 1977 the Jamaican Government named McKay as the national poet.

Enslaved: by Claude McKay

Oh when I think of my long-suffering race,
For weary centuries despised, oppressed,
Enslaved and lynched, denied a human place
In the great life line of the Christian West;
And in the Black Land disinherited,
Robbed in the ancient country of its birth,
My heart grows sick with hate, becomes as lead,
For this my race that has no home on earth.
Then from the dark depths of my soul I cry
To the avenging angel to consume
The white man’s world of wonders utterly:
Let it be swallowed up in earth’s vast womb,
Or upward roll as sacrificial smoke
To liberate my people from its yoke!

 

Advertisements

Happy Birthday Gerard Manley Hopkins

PeterRabbit8

It must be rough to be a poet of the scale and stature of John Ashbery, to have won every award worth winning, to rise to the very height of your profession and then to find each year that your birthday is best remembered for a master of your craft who died before you were born.  Hopkins was born on this day in 1844 and died in 1889.  Ashbery was born in 1927 and celebrates his birthday under a weight of Hopkins credits.

If that’s not bad enough Beatrix Potter was also born on this day in 1866 which is why Peter Rabbit gets the picture credit.  As a gardener of course I am no friend of Peter Rabbit, nasty large eared rat with a short tail that he is.  I’m with the Farmer on this one.

I love Hopkins because I think he was one of the first writers who grasped the song of word, how the word itself can craft the poem.  James Joyce brought this understanding to prose but Hopkins gave it to Poetry.  The power of words has increasingly been recognized in fields of study such as neurolinguistic programming and nominative determinism.  This poem is an excellent example of how he plays with the word sounds to capture the echo of birdsong through the wood.

The Woodlark; by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Teevo cheevo cheevio chee:
O where, what can tháat be?
Weedio-weedio: there again!
So tiny a trickle of sóng-strain;
and all round not to be found
for brier, bough, furrow, or gréen ground
before or behind or far or at hand
either left either right
anywhere in the súnlight.
well, after all! Ah but hark—
‘I am the little wóodlark.
. . . . . . . .
To-day the sky is two and two
with white strokes and strains of the blue
. . . . . . . .
Round a ring, around a ring
and while I sail (must listen) I sing
. . . . . . . .
The skylark is my cousin and he
is known to men more than me
. . . . . . . .
…when the cry within
says Go on then I go on
till the longing is less and the good gone

Tut down drop, if it says Stop,
to the all-a-leaf of the tréetop
and after that off the bough
. . . . . . . .
I ám so véry, O soó very glad
that I dó thínk there is not to be had…
. . . . . . . .
The blue wheat-acre is underneath
and the braided ear breaks out of the sheath,
the ear in milk, lush the sash,
and crush-silk poppies aflash,
the blood-gush blade-gash
flame-rash rudred
bud shelling or broad-shed
tatter-tassel-tangled and dingle-a-dangled
dandy-hung dainty head.
. . . . . . . .
And down … the furrow dry
sunspurge and oxeye
and laced-leaved lovely
foam-tuft fumitory
. . . . . . . .
Through the velvety wind V-winged
to the nest’s nook I balance and buoy
with a sweet joy of a sweet joy,
sweet, of a sweet, of a sweet joy
of a sweet—a sweet—sweet—joy.’

Happy Birthday Cat Stevens

cat-stevens-teaser-and-the-firecat-inside

1948 born Steven Demetre Georgiou, son of a Swedish mother and a Greek-Cypriot father.  His stage name was Cat Stevens.  I grew up listening to him.  When I learned to play the guitar it was to learn his songs.

His father was Greek-Orthodox, his mother a Baptist and he attended a Catholic school.  Always a man searching for the spiritual something that is very clear in his lyrics.  He found his own spiritual home in the Quran and is now called Yusuf Islam.

He has many great songs and great lyrics.  This one has an environmental message and asks a question we should never forget.  It reminds me of this quote:

Canada, the most affluent of countries, operates on a depletion economy which leaves destruction in its wake. Your people are driven by a terrible sense of deficiency. When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.”……Alanis Obomsawin of the Abenaki in “Who is the Chairman of This Meeting?” by Ralph Osborne, Toronto, 1972.

 

Where do the children play: by Cat Stevens

Well I think it’s fine, building jumbo planes
Or taking a ride on a cosmic train
Switch on summer from a slot machine
Yes, get what you want to if you want ’cause you can get anything

I know we’ve come a long way
We’re changing day to day
But tell me, where do the children play?

Well you roll on roads over fresh green grass
For your lorry loads pumping petrol gas
And you make them long and you make them tough
But they just go on and on and it seems that you can’t get off

Oh, I know we’ve come a long way
We’re changing day to day
But tell me, where do the children play?

Well you’ve cracked the sky, scrapers fill the air
Will you keep on building higher ’til there’s no more room up there?
Will you make us laugh, will you make us cry?
Will you tell us when to live, will you tell us when to die?

I know we’ve come a long way
We’re changing day to day
But tell me, where do the children play?

Happy Birthday Petrarch

christ-on-the-sea-of-galilee

Eugene Delacroix : Christ on the sea of Galilee

Born on this day in 1304 Petrarch is called by some the father of the Renaissance, by others the father of Humanism and by still others as the father of the Sonnet.  It takes a great man indeed to father so many illustrious children.  Mountaineers consider him the first Alpinist as he is the first person recorded to ascend a mountain (Mont Ventoux) for recreation alone.

A latin scholar he encouraged other scholars to scour the libraries of the world for the writings of ancient Greece and Rome.  He acquired a copy of Homer’s Odyssey but lamented his lack of Greek saying that “Homer was dumb to me and I was deaf to Homer”.  He had more success with his discovery of a cache of the letters of Cicero, who is our key primary source for the political and judicial goings on in the late Roman Republic when Cicero wrote of the day to day doings of Julius Caesar, Pompeii, Brutus, Cassius, Cato, Marc Anthony et al.

As a writer he was a contemporary and a correspondent of Boccaccio.  His writings had a major impact on the evolution of the modern Italian language.  His use of the poetic form of the Sonnet had an enormous impact on the world of poetry and especially on the works of Shakespeare.  Sonnets are somewhat easier to rhyme in Italian than they are in English, but here is a translation of one of his poems.  It sits nicely in this blog site as it is a classic “Mind Ship” as he uses the metaphor of a storm battered ship to personify the ravages of age.

La vita fugge, et non s’arresta una hora; by Francesco Petrarch (Trans A.S. Kline)

Life flies, and never stays an hour,
and death comes on behind with its dark day,
and present things and past things
embattle me, and future things as well:
and remembrance and expectation grip my heart,
now on this side, now on that, so that in truth,
if I did not take pity on myself,
I would have freed myself already from all thought.
A sweetness that the sad heart knew
returns to me: yet from another quarter
I see the storm-winds rattling my sails:
I see no chance of harbour, and my helmsman
is weary now, and my masts and ropes are broken,
and the beautiful stars, I used to gaze on, quenched.

VR is future tourism.

Newgrange

When I was a teenager I was lucky enough to be trucked around Europe by my parents.  We visited attractions such as the Tower of London, the Eiffel Tower, Peniscola in Spain, Chamonix Mt Blanc, Seville Cathedral, the Alhambra, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the British Museum, Stratford upon Avon, Nimes Amphitheatre, the Pont-du-Gard etc etc.

Later, as a young adult I visited the Parthenon, Ephesus, the Palace of Minos at Knossos, Mycenae, Venice, the Vatican Museums, St. Peters Basilica, Il Duomo in Florence, the leaning tower of Pisa, Pompeii etc etc ad infinitum.

The last times I was in London, and Paris, and Rome and I saw the length of queues for the major tourist attractions I pitied those who have not seen them yet.  The queue for the Vatican Museums (I don’t remember any queue in 1986) was about 4 hours, just to get in the front door!

Tourism is killing the very attractions that stimulate tourism.  There is a sea of humanity trekking to tourist sites and filling them up with……tourists.  So many tourists that you can no longer see the attractions, let alone appreciate them.

Many, if not most, of these tourists have little real interest in the attractions, other than ticking off some box on a virtual bucket list, taking a selfie and posting it on Facebook.

In some circumstances this sea of humanity is causing physical damage to the attractions.  Last time I visited the Alhambra I was told (very sensible I thought) to take the backpack off my back and wear it on my front, to prevent the bag from banging the delicate tile mosaics.

Sensitive sites like the Galapagos islands are under serious environmental threat.  Governments the world over are struggling with the balance between protecting heritage and permitting access to it, with all the attendant economic advantages.

The future is VR.  Not Victoria Regina, but Virtual Reality.  We can allow all area access to our most fragile heritage sites using the wonders of both Virtual and Augmented reality technologies.  Virtual reality will allow us to tour sites in an immersive way using a VR headset without having to visit the attraction.  Augmented reality allows us to tour real places and imagine what they looked like in the past.  We can experience the New York Wall Street of the 17th Century as we stroll down the modern street of today.

By visiting the Coliseum in Rome without ever leaving your home you incur no flights, no taxis, no carbon footprints.  The challenge facing the worlds great heritage sites will be a balancing act.  How to monetize worldwide VR access is step 1.   How to price the remaining restricted access to the sites is step 2.

One example that tourism operators might like to consider is Newgrange in Ireland.  This iron age passage tomb is in extreme demand for one day a year, the winter solstice.  On that morning, if the sky is clear, the site is transformed from passage tomb to ancient timepiece.  Access to this rare event is by lottery.

Using VR we can reopen access to sites that have already been closed such as the prehistoric cave paintings of Lescaux and Altamira.  The future is now.

 

 

A Grain of Sand:  Robert William Service

If starry space no limit knows
And sun succeeds to sun,
There is no reason to suppose
Our earth the only one.
‘Mid countless constellations cast
A million worlds may be,
With each a God to bless or blast
And steer to destiny.

Just think! A million gods or so
To guide each vital stream,
With over all to boss the show
A Deity supreme.
Such magnitudes oppress my mind;
From cosmic space it swings;
So ultimately glad to find
Relief in little things.

For look! Within my hollow hand,
While round the earth careens,
I hold a single grain of sand
And wonder what it means.
Ah! If I had the eyes to see,
And brain to understand,
I think Life’s mystery might be
Solved in this grain of sand.

Happy Birthday WB Yeats

Yeats

WB Yeats by Louis Le Brocquy

In the world of poetry there is an insufficiency of superlatives to describe WB Yeats.

His epitaph reads:

Cast a cold Eye

On Life,  on Death

Horseman pass by.

 

When you are old; by William Butler Yeats

WHEN you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

What the Hades?

pomegranate.jpg

Sylvia Plath did not come up on the English Leaving cert exam yesterday.  To the relief of about 70% of Irish students they did feature Eavan Boland.  Disaster avoided for now.  But one of these days some evil death god of an examiner will set an exam that features no female poets and when that happens the moaning and wailing will be heard for many, many years.

The Pomegranate ;by Eavan Boland

 

The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere. And have.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
the underworld, the stars blighted. Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past whitebeams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
winter was in store for every leaf
on every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed.
And for me.
 
It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate! How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and
the noise of stone and the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry. I could warn her. There is still a chance.
The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world. But what else
can a mother give her daughter but such
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.
She will enter it. As I have.
She will wake up. She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips. I will say nothing.