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.

 

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A tale of two horses.

LeeGrant

It is a fancy of mine that these two famous horses stood flank to flank, hitched to a post outside the McLean House in the village of Appomattox Courthouse on this day in history,  April 9th  1865.

The Civil war began with the Battle of First Bull Run in 1861 on the McLean farm so Wilmer McLean said that the Civil War started in his backyard in 1861 and ended in his parlor in 1865.  In the photo on the left is Ulysses S. Grant with Cincinnati, his most famous mount of the Civil War, a giant at 17 hands.  On the right is Robery E. Lee mounted on Traveller, his most famous mount of the war.  These were the horses ridden by the two Generals on that fateful day.

By the etiquette of the time Lee should have presented his sword and horse to the victor and walked back to his soldiers following the surrender of his Army of Northern Virginia.  Instead Grant began the long slow process of reconciliation by allowing Lee to retire with full honours.  Lee rode back to his troops on Traveller, armed with his sword.  He also rode back with the good news that the Union army were arranging to deliver food to his starving troops.  Food exchanged for rifle muskets.

Traveller (originally named Greenbriar), a grey colt of 16 hands, was purchased by Major Thomas L. Broun, who sold him to Lee.  Greenbriar “was greatly admired in camp for his rapid, springy walk, his high spirit, bold carriage, and muscular strength. He needed neither whip nor spur, and would walk his five or six miles an hour over the rough mountain roads of Western Virginia with his rider sitting firmly in the saddle and holding him in check by a tight rein, such vim and eagerness did he manifest to go right ahead so soon as he was mounted.”

Their sleepless, bloodshot eyes were turned to me.
Their flags hung black against the pelting sky.
Their jests and curses echoed whisperingly,
as though from long-lost years of sorrow – Why,
You’re weeping! What, then? What more did you see?
A gray man on a gray horse rode by.

Passage from Traveller, a novel by Richard Adams

 

From Frederick Dent Grant’s notes on his fathers horses:

After the battle of Chattanooga, General Grant went to St. Louis, where I was at the time, critically ill with dysentery contracted during the siege of Vicksburg. During the time of his visit to the city he received a letter from a gentleman who signed his name “S. S. Grant,” the initials being the same as those of a brother of my father’s, who had died in the summer of 1861.  S. S. Grant wrote to the effect that he was very desirous of seeing General Grant but that he was ill and confined to his room at the Lindell Hotel and begged him to call, as he had something important to say which my father might be gratified to hear.

The name excited my father’s curiosity and he called at the hotel to meet the gentleman who told him that he had, he thought, the finest horse in the world, and knowing General Grant’s great liking for horses he had concluded, inasmuch as he would never be able to ride again, that he would like to give his horse to him; that he desired that the horse should have a good home and tender care and that the only condition that he would make in parting with him would be that the person receiving him would see that he was never ill-treated, and should never fall into the hands of a person that would ill-treat him. The promise was given and General Grant accepted the horse and called him Cincinnati.

 

 

 

 

Shiloh

Bivouac_1

In 1862 on the 6th and 7th of April the Northern Armies of Tennessee and the Ohio led by Ulysses S Grant and Don Carlos Buell met the Southern Army of the Mississippi commanded by Albert Sidney Johnston and General PGT Beauregard.  The battle that ensued was the bloodiest battle in the History of the USA to that point.  It is known in the North as the Battle of Pittsburgh Landing and in the South as Shiloh.

It was a battle of fog and confusion fought in a swampy hell of forest, brush and wetland.  Nobody on either side had a clear picture of what was going on.

The battle of Shiloh, or Pittsburg landing, has been perhaps less understood, or to state the case more accurately, more persistently misunderstood, than any other engagement between National and Confederate troops during the entire rebellion. Correct reports of the battle have been published, notably by Sherman, Badeau and, in a speech before a meeting of veterans, by General Prentiss; but all of these appeared long subsequent to the close of the rebellion and after public opinion had been most erroneously formed  — Ulysses S. Grant

I am not going to give a big history of the Battle of Shiloh in this post, there are many books written on the subject.  For me there are a few important lessons.

  1.  Shiloh is in microcosm a prediction of the outcome of the Civil War.  The South fought on passion and secured some victories with bravery and élan.  The North assessed the larger picture, assembled its greater strength and won in the end.
  2. The action at the Hornets Nest/Sunken Road demonstrated that the rifle musket with the minié ball , the most common weapon of both sides, favoured the defender.  The war was characterised by the trench, and should have served as a lesson to Generals of the Great War.
  3. Like Napoleon at Marengo Grant had the ability to see through a defeat and assess the potential for a reversal. Sometime after midnight in the early hours of 7th April, Sherman encountered Grant standing under a tree, sheltering himself from the pouring rain and smoking one of his cigars. Sherman remarked, “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” Grant looked up. “Yes,” he replied, followed by a puff. “Yes. Lick ’em tomorrow, though.”
  4. War is hell.  “I saw an open field, in our possession on the second day, over which the Confederates had made repeated charges the day before, so covered with dead that it would have been possible to walk across the clearing, in any direction, stepping on dead bodies, without a foot touching the ground.”  — Ulysses S. Grant

As a side note from Shiloh I always liked this story told by General Grant’s son, Frederick Dent Grant :

At the battle of Shiloh the Confederates left on the field a rawboned horse, very ugly and apparently good for nothing. As a joke, the officer who found this animal on the field, sent it with his compliments, to Colonel Lagow, one of my father’s aides-de-camp, who always kept a very excellent mount and was a man of means. The other officers of the staff “jollied” the colonel about this gift. When my father saw him, he told the colonel that the animal was a thoroughbred and a valuable mount and that if he, Lagow, did not wish to keep the horse he would be glad to have him. Because of his appearance he was named “Kangaroo,” and after a short period of rest and feeding and care he turned out to be a magnificent animal and was used by my father during the Vicksburg campaign.

And now a poem by a fellow blogger on WordPress:

Shiloh; by Tim Shey
Brutal deathdance;
my eyes weep blood.
Pharisees smile like vipers,
they laugh and mock their venom:
Blind snakes leading
the deaf and dumb multitude.
Where are my friends?
The landscape is dry and desolate.
They have stretched my shredded body
on this humiliating tree.
The hands that healed
and the feet that brought good news
they have pierced
with their fierce hatred.
The man-made whip
that opened up my back
preaches from a proper pulpit.
They sit in comfort:
That vacant-eyed congregation.
The respected, demon-possessed reverend
forks his tongue
scratching itchy ears
while Cain bludgeons
Abel into silence.
My flesh in tattered pieces
clots red and cold and sticks
to the rough-hewn timber
that props up my limp, vertical carcase
between heaven and earth.
My life drips and puddles
below my feet,
as I gaze down dizzily
on merciless eyes and dagger teeth.
The chapter-and-versed wolves
jeer and taunt me.
Their sheepwool clothing
is stained black with the furious violence
of their heart of stone.
They worship me in lip service,
but I confess,
I never knew them
(though they are my creation).
My tongue tastes like ashes:
It sticks to the roof of my mouth.
I am so thirsty.
This famine is too much for me.
The bulls of Bashan have bled me white.
Papa, into your hands
I commend my Spirit.
-o0o-
Published in Ethos
February/March 1997
Iowa State University
-o0o-
Genesis 49:10 : “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.”

The Majestic General

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The Falklands War was caused by US foreign policy.

On April 2nd the last Argentinian military junta, led by General Leopoldo Galtieri, invaded (or re-possessed) the Falkland islands (or Las Malvinas) depending on your perspective.

As a result of the invasion the Military Junta became “The Last” military junta.  Most of those surviving generals are still in jail for war crimes committed during “the Dirty war”.

Also as a result of the invasion a floundering Conservative party in the UK were able to turn their fortunes around, secure a strong majority in the next election and inflict the people of the United Kingdom with eight more years of rule by Margaret Thatcher and 15 years of Tory rule.

What is little known and rarely spoken of is why Galtieri felt he could do what he did.  The USA hated the Social-Democratic government of Juan Perón.  They were unable to shake the faith of the people in Juan, but when he died and his wife Isabel took over the CIA moved.  From 1974 CIA sponsored and trained “Death Squads” began to target Perónists, Union Leaders and Socialists.  In 1976 the CIA supported a military Coup which replaced democratic government with a brutal military Junta.

In 1981 Galtieri visited Washington where he was received as the darling of the Reagan administration, Richard Allen, the National Security Adviser dubbed him the “Majestic General”.  On the ground Galtieri signed off on a deal to support “Contras” or “Sandanista”  rebels in Nicaragua.  These were American funded and trained thugs who were paid to tear apart a socialist regime that had the audacity to teach peasants to read instead of picking fruit for US corporations.  They were not “rebels” in any way, shape or form.

As reward for his training and support of the Contras Galtieri was supported by the Reagan administration in staging a coup to take leadership of the regime from General Roberto Viola.  After four months in office Galtieri realised that the only thing falling faster than the Argentine economy was his popularity.  He needed a rallying cause to get the people behind him and his leadership.  So he decided to invade the Falkland Islands.

He did not take this action without the approval of the US government.  But the USA got this one wrong.  They mistakenly thought the British would let the islands go.  Once Margaret Thatcher made it clear that the Islands would be retaken the US government found itself in a pickle.  They could maintain their support for Galtieri and lose Britain or vice versa.

The CIA then carried out an assessment and believed that the British would lose the Falklands war.  They even had plans in place to airlift the surviving Falkland Islanders to Scotland.  So they stood aside and watched from the sidelines.  Britain won.

How many British people are aware that the responsibility for the death of British Soldiers lies at the feet of the Government of the USA?

Official Executioner

Rillington

Albert Pierrepoint born on this day in 1905.  His father and his uncle were executioners, part time hangmen.  As a child Albert wrote in a school exercise “When I leave school I should like to be the Official Executioner”.  He achieved his goal.

He began his career as executioner in Dublin.  He was assistant executioner to his uncle in the Hanging of Patrick McDermott in Mountjoy Gaol in 1932.

In the course of his career he hanged over 400 people.  His total was boosted by the war.  Pierrepoint carried out the executions of 200 war criminals in Germany between 1945 and 1950.

William Joyce (lord Haw Haw) the Irish born Nazi propagandist was one of his “customers”.  Pierrepoint also had the distinction to hang both the wrongly convicted  Timothy Evans and the rightly convicted serial killer John Christie for the murder of Evans wife in an illegal abortion.  The events were portrayed in the film “10 Rillington Place”

Pierrepoint also hanged the last man to be executed in Ireland, Michael Manning (1954) and the last woman to be hanged in Britain, Ruth Ellis (1955).  He resigned in 1956.  The British Home Office asked him to reconsider as he was the “most efficient and swiftest executioner in British history”.

Despite working as a hangman for over 20 years Pierrepoint observed that hanging was not a deterrent.

And now some selected verses from “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” by prisoner C33, the pen name adopted by Oscar Wilde after his release from prison.

I

He did not wear his scarlet coat,
For blood and wine are red,
And blood and wine were on his hands
When they found him with the dead,
The poor dead woman whom he loved,
And murdered in her bed.

Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

II

The loftiest place is that seat of grace
For which all worldlings try:
But who would stand in hempen band
Upon a scaffold high,
And through a murderer’s collar take
His last look at the sky?

It is sweet to dance to violins
When Love and Life are fair:
To dance to flutes, to dance to lutes
Is delicate and rare:
But it is not sweet with nimble feet
To dance upon the air!

IV

There is no chapel on the day
On which they hang a man:
The Chaplain’s heart is far too sick,
Or his face is far too wan,
Or there is that written in his eyes
Which none should look upon.

So they kept us close till nigh on noon,
And then they rang the bell,
And the Warders with their jingling keys
Opened each listening cell,
And down the iron stair we tramped,
Each from his separate Hell.

Out into God’s sweet air we went,
But not in wonted way,
For this man’s face was white with fear,
And that man’s face was grey,
And I never saw sad men who looked
So wistfully at the day.

I never saw sad men who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
We prisoners called the sky,
And at every careless cloud that passed
In happy freedom by.

Man overboard

Ferry

In May 1927 Joe Lynch fell overboard from a ferry in Sydney Harbour.  He was drunk and his pockets were filled with beer bottles which helped drag him down.

This happened while the Sydney Harbour bridge was under construction and the only way to cross Port Jackson was by boat.

Joe was a cartoonist who worked with Kenneth Slessor for Smith’s Weekly magazine in Sydney.  The pair also worked together for Punch magazine in Melbourne for a time.  The night he died Lynch left work and met his brother Guy, Guy’s wife Marge, and Frank Clancy, another Irish Australian journalist who worked for Labor Daily.  They were boozing hard and loaded up with bottles when they boarded the ferry Kiandra at Circular Quay.  Somewhere along the way Joe leaned too far back over the rail and slipped away beneath the Harbour waters.

That might have been the end for Joe Lynch, an embarrassing end quickly forgotten.  But eight years later his old pal Kenneth Slessor had a bit of an epiphany as he listed to the watch bells ring from the Warships in the Harbour.  He penned his most famous, and one of Australia’s greatest poems.  Kenneth was born on this day in 1901.  Happy Birthday Kenneth Slessor.

Because of Slessor Lynch has become the most famous, and possibly the most preposterous, drowning in Sydney Harbour.

Below the poem you will find a photo of a war memorial in Devonport, Auckland, New Zealand.  It was sculpted by Guy Lynch using Joe Lynch as his body model.  It depicts a Kiwi soldier of WW1 coming off duty, and is nicknamed “The Untidy Soldier”.  This statue is the subject of “The Digger and the Faun” a poem by Michele Leggott.  So Joe Lynch is immortalised in poetry twice!  Not a bad memorial.

 

Five Bells ; by Kenneth Slessor

Time that is moved by little fidget wheels
is not my time, the flood that does not flow.
Between the double and the single bell
of a ship’s hour, between a round of bells
from the dark warship riding there below,
I have lived many lives, and this one life
of Joe, long dead, who lives between five bells.

Deep and dissolving verticals of light
ferry the falls of moonshine down. Five bells
coldly rung out in a machine’s voice. Night and water
pour to one rip of darkness, the Harbour floats
in the air, the Cross hangs upside-down in water.

Why do I think of you, dead man, why thieve
these profitless lodgings from the flukes of thought
anchored in time? You have gone from earth,
gone even from the meaning of a name;
yet something’s there, yet something forms its lips
and hits and cries against the ports of space,
beating their sides to make its fury heard.

Are you shouting at me, dead man, squeezing your face
in agonies of speech on speechless panes?
Cry louder, beat the windows, bawl your name!

But I hear nothing, nothing…only bells,
five bells, the bumpkin calculus of time.
Your echoes die, your voice is dowsed by life,
there’s not a mouth can fly the pygmy strait –
nothing except the memory of some bones
long shoved away, and sucked away, in mud;
and unimportant things you might have done,
or once I thought you did; but you forgot,
and all have now forgotten – looks and words
and slops of beer; your coat with buttons off,
your gaunt chin and pricked eye, and raging tales
of Irish kings and English perfidy,
and dirtier perfidy of publicans
groaning to God from Darlinghurst.
Five bells.

Then I saw the road, I heard the thunder
tumble, and felt the talons of the rain
the night we came to Moorebank in slab-dark,
so dark you bore no body, had no face,
but a sheer voice that rattled out of air
(as now you’d cry if I could break the glass),
a voice that spoke beside me in the bush,
loud for a breath or bitten off by wind,
of Milton, melons, and the Rights of Man,
and blowing flutes, and how Tahitian girls
are brown and angry-tongued, and Sydney girls
are white and angry-tongued, or so you’d found.
But all I heard was words that didn’t join
so Milton became melons, melons girls,
and fifty mouths, it seemed, were out that night,
and in each tree an Ear was bending down,
or something that had just run, gone behind the grass,
when blank and bone-white, like a maniac’s thought,
the naphtha-flash of lightning slit the sky,
knifing the dark with deathly photographs.
There’s not so many with so poor a purse
or fierce a need, must fare by night like that,
five miles in darkness on a country track,
but when you do, that’s what you think.
Five bells.

In Melbourne, your appetite had gone,
your angers too; they had been leeched away
by the soft archery of summer rains
and the sponge-paws of wetness, the slow damp
that stuck the leaves of living, snailed the mind,
and showed your bones, that had been sharp with rage,
the sodden ectasies of rectitude.
I thought of what you’d written in faint ink,
your journal with the sawn-off lock, that stayed behind
with other things you left, all without use,
all without meaning now, except a sign
that someone had been living who now was dead:
At Labassa. Room 6 x 8
On top of the tower; because of this, very dark
and cold in winter. Everything has been stowed
into this room – 500 books all shapes
and colours, dealt across the floor
and over sills and on the laps of chairs;
guns, photoes of many differant things
and differant curioes that I obtained…

In Sydney, by the spent aquarium-flare
of penny gaslight on pink wallpaper,
we argued about blowing up the world,
but you were living backward, so each night
you crept a moment closer to the breast,
and they were living, all of them, those frames
and shapes of flesh that had perplexed your youth,
and most your father, the old man gone blind,
with fingers always round a fiddle’s neck,
that graveyard mason whose fair monuments
and tablets cut with dreams of piety
rest on the bosoms of a thousand men
staked bone by bone, in quiet astonishment
at cargoes they had never thought to bear,
these funeral-cakes of sweet and sculptured stone.

Where have you gone? The tide is over you,
the turn of midnight water’s over you,
as Time is over you, and mystery,
and memory, the flood that does not flow.
You have no suburb, like those easier dead
in private berths of dissolution laid –
the tide goes over, the waves ride over you
and let their shadows down like shining hair,
but they are Water; and the sea-pinks bend
like lilies in your teeth, but they are Weed;
and you are only part of an idea.
I felt the wet push its black thumb-balls in,
the night you died, I felt your eardrums crack,
and the short agony, the longer dream,
the Nothing that was neither long nor short;
but I was bound, and could not go that way,
but I was blind, and could not feel your hand.
If I could find an answer, could only find
your meaning, or could say why you were here
who now are gone, what purpose gave you breath
or seized it back, might I not hear your voice?

I looked out my window in the dark
at waves with diamond quills and combs of light
that arched their mackerel-backs and smacked the sand
in the moon’s drench, that straight enormous glaze,
and ships far off asleep, and harbour-buoys
tossing their fireballs wearily each to each,
and tried to hear your voice, but all I heard
was a boat’s whistle, and the scraping squeal
of seabirds’ voices far away, and bells,
five bells. Five bells coldly ringing out.
Five bells.

 

Untidy.jpg