Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe

City

As a writer Poe is more about the macabre than about horror.  His skill is to paint brooding and ominous mental pictures replete with gloomy portent.  He explores the darkest recesses of our deepest fears and does it in style.

Born two years to the day after Robert E. Lee, Poe could, in different circumstances, have become a general on the Union side of the conflict.  He enlisted as a soldier in 1827 and was rapidly promoted to rank of Sergeant Major.  From there he bought out his enlistment as a soldier and entered Westpoint as a military cadet.  Poe did not graduate Westpoint.  Instead he had himself expelled on purpose, and pursued his writing career.

Robert E. Lee graduated from Westpoint the year before Edgar Allan Poe entered the college.  Both of them were artillery men.  Poe’s third volume of poems was published thanks to contributions from his fellow Westpoint cadets and contains a dedication to them.

Poe died at age 40, in 1849, a broken wreck of a man, probably from alcoholism. His family had a bad relationship with alcoholism.  For Poe this appeared to be exacerbated by the fact that the women he loved had a habit of dying on him.  His father abandoned the family with Poe was a baby and his mother died of Tuberculosis.  He was adopted by the Allan family and had a very up and down relationship of spoiling and over-discipline.  At age 26 he married his 15 year old cousin, Virginia.  She died after a five year battle with tuberculosis in 1847.  The darkness of his writing is a mirror of the demons that haunted his life.

 

 

The City In The Sea: by Edgar Allan Poe

 

Lo! Death has reared himself a throne
in a strange city lying alone
far down within the dim West,
where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
have gone to their eternal rest.
There shrines and palaces and towers
(time-eaten towers that tremble not!)
resemble nothing that is ours.
Around, by lifting winds forgot,
resignedly beneath the sky
the melancholy waters he.

No rays from the holy heaven come down
on the long night-time of that town;
but light from out the lurid sea
streams up the turrets silently-
gleams up the pinnacles far and free-
up domes- up spires- up kingly halls-
up fanes- up Babylon-like walls-
up shadowy long-forgotten bowers
of sculptured ivy and stone flowers-
up many and many a marvellous shrine
whose wreathed friezes intertwine
the viol, the violet, and the vine.
Resignedly beneath the sky
the melancholy waters lie.
So blend the turrets and shadows there
that all seem pendulous in air,
while from a proud tower in the town
Death looks gigantically down.

There open fanes and gaping graves
yawn level with the luminous waves;
but not the riches there that lie
in each idol’s diamond eye-
not the gaily-jewelled dead
tempt the waters from their bed;
for no ripples curl, alas!
along that wilderness of glass-
no swellings tell that winds may be
upon some far-off happier sea-
no heavings hint that winds have been
on seas less hideously serene.

But lo, a stir is in the air!
The wave- there is a movement there!
As if the towers had thrust aside,
in slightly sinking, the dull tide-
as if their tops had feebly given
a void within the filmy Heaven.
The waves have now a redder glow-
the hours are breathing faint and low-
and when, amid no earthly moans,
down, down that town shall settle hence,
Hell, rising from a thousand thrones,
shall do it reverence.

Happy Birthday Pablo Neruda

Marmandes

Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto was born this day in 1904.  He ‘borrowed’ his pen name from a Czech poet, Jan Neruda.  A brilliant poet, a nobel laureate, nationalist and politician.  He was murdered under orders of Augusto Pinochet by a doctor treating him for cancer.  Pinochet staged a Coup D’état against the legally elected government of President Allende.

Pinochet was able to do this because he was supported by the US Government and received direct support from the CIA.  That’s American democracy for you!  Democracy for Americans who live in the United States, just not for all Americans, unless it is the right kind of democracy.

Enough with the politics, July is the month of tomatoes.  I planted Marmandes this year.  See the photo!

 

Ode to Tomatoes: by Pablo Neruda

The street
filled with tomatoes
midday,
summer,
light is
halved
like
a
tomato,
its juice
runs
through the streets.
In December,
unabated,
the tomato
invades
the kitchen,
it enters at lunchtime,
takes
its ease
on countertops,
among glasses,
butter dishes,
blue saltcellars.
It sheds
its own light,
benign majesty.
Unfortunately, we must
murder it:
the knife
sinks
into living flesh,
red
viscera,
a cool
sun,
profound,
inexhaustible,
populates the salads
of Chile,
happily, it is wed
to the clear onion,
and to celebrate the union
we
pour
oil,
essential
child of the olive,
onto its halved hemispheres,
pepper
adds
its fragrance,
salt, its magnetism;
it is the wedding
of the day,
parsley
hoists
its flag,
potatoes
bubble vigorously,
the aroma
of the roast
knocks
at the door,
it’s time!
come on!
and, on
the table, at the midpoint
of summer,
the tomato,
star of earth,
recurrent
and fertile
star,
displays
its convolutions,
its canals,
its remarkable amplitude
and abundance,
no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness.

 

Happy Birthday Richard Aldington

 

Oleanders

Overshadowed by his contemporaries, Aldington nevertheless had an impact on imagism as a movement and influenced writers such as T.E. Hulme, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot and he worked with D.H. Lawrence and Ford Maddox Ford and met with W.B. Yeats.  He minded Eliot’s pets when that poet was away so if you ever go to the musical “Cats” there is a little bit of Aldington in there.  Maybe he named Bomballerina?

He fought in WW1, was wounded, may have suffered from PTSD before it had a name and is buried in Poets corner in Westminster Abbey.

Aldington studied japanese poetry structures and brought the forms into popularity in England in his search for Avant Garde approaches to the art.  He visited the British Museum to study the collection of oriental manuscripts and from one of these visits crafted this beautiful image.

At 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…

Happy Birthday Harold Norse

Harold-Norse-in-1972-001

Harold Norse in 1972

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Leuctra when the Theban general Epaminondas led the Boeotian League to victory over the Spartans under King Cleombrotus I and smashed forever the hegemony of the Lacedaemonians in Greece.  That’s a lot of complicated words and history in one sentence.   I covered the importance of this battle in my post entitled “The death of Sparta” and spoke about the innovative use of echelon formation, so if you click on the title of this post the tags will link you to that post at the end of this one, if that’s your thing.

The reason I refer to Leuctra today is because of the Sacred Band of Thebes.  This was an elite regiment of 150 pairs of male lovers.  They were the best and bravest, the shock troops of the Theban army.

Plato said of them:  if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their beloved, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonour, and emulating one another in honour; and when fighting at each other’s side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world. For what lover would not choose rather to be seen by all mankind than by his beloved, either when abandoning his post or throwing away his arms? He would be ready to die a thousand deaths rather than endure this. Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger?

Which brings me to Harold Norse, a poet of the Beat movement, a homosexual who found himself entirely adrift in an age when he was seen as “queer”.  In his poem “Island of Giglio” he dreams of the Greek tolerance of one man’s love for another.  He dreamed of a world where a man could be a man outside of the very narrow confines of 1950’s Western “Manliness”, the image of man determined by the ad agencies of Madison Avenue and Senator McCarthy’s committee on un-American Activities.

In his way Harold Norse was far more of a man than most of his male contemporaries.  He fought the fight that gave permission for men to be sensitive, loving and emotional individuals.  We all benefit from that.

In the poem below Norse lays out the ways in which the culture of America of the 1950’s steals his sex and his personality. I wonder what Harold would think about Donald Trump’s desire to “Make America Great Again”?

 

I am not a man; by Harold Norse

I am not a man. I can’t earn a living, buy new things for my family. I have acne and a small peter.

I am not a man. I don’t like football, boxing and cars. I like to express my feelings. I even like to put my arm around my friend’s shoulder.

I am not a man. I won’t play the role assigned to me – the role created by Madison Avenue, Playboy, Hollywood and Oliver Cromwell. Television does not dictate my behavior.

I am not a man. Once when I shot a squirrel I swore that I would never kill again. I gave up meat. The sight of blood makes me sick. I like flowers.

I am not a man. I went to prison for resisting the draft. I do not fight when real men beat me up and call me queer. I dislike violence

I am not a man. I have never raped a woman. I don’t hate blacks. I don’t get emotional when the flag is waved. I do not think I should love America or leave it. I think I should laugh at it.

I am not a man. I have never had the clap.

I am not a man. Playboy is not my favorite magazine.

I am not a man. I cry when I’m unhappy.

I am not a man. I do not feel superior to women.

I am not a man. I don’t wear a jockstrap.

I am not a man. I write poetry.

I am not a man. I meditate on Peace and Love.

I am not a man. I don’t want to destroy you.

 

 

 

 

Oh Canada

Washington_1772

A young George Washington

It is a national holiday today in Canada, as Canada day fell on a Saturday.

But today is a fitting holiday for Canadians in any case.  It is a little known event in history, but July 3rd is the anniversary of the only military surrender by George Washington.  He lost the battle of Fort Necessity to the French Canadians.

The action led to wider escalation of the French and Indian war in the Americas, and broader conflicts in the Seven Years War in Europe.

Gettysburg

Littlesorrell

On this day in 1863 the Battle of Gettysburg began.  For a brief time it looked like the Confederacy  could break out of Virginia and bring the war to Northern soil.  After Gettysburg the South was on a permanent retreat.  The Battle represented the high water mark for the Confederate States, and for Robert E Lee.

Shortly before Gettysburg at Chancellorsville, Stonewall Jackson lost his life to friendly fire.  Robert E Lee lost his right arm, his best General and leader of his cavalry.  It was the lack of intelligence from the replacement, Jebb Stewart, which led to the accidental meeting of North and South at Gettysburg.

Four and a half months after the battle a dedication was held to consecrate the Soldiers National Cemetery.  Abraham Lincoln came along and made a short speech, which has gone down in history as one of the finest orations ever made.  It serves as a model for all politicians since.  Ten sentences.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war.

We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Farewell to June

Royalty - Queen Elizabeth II State Visit to Ireland

May 2011 visit by Queen Elizabeth acknowledged at last Irelands WW1 legacy

As June 2017 draws to a close in broken showers and typical Irish summer weather I give you a poem about closing and June from the Poet of the Blackbirds.  By rights Ledwidge is a war poet, but it became unfashionable in post revolutionary Ireland to admit to a career in the British Military.  It took 100 years before the Irish nation could honour those Irish who responded to the call of John Redmond and spilled their blood on Flanders fields.

In a neat stroke of marketing Francis Ledwidge was cast as a poet of field and stream, of nature and songbirds.  His Lament for the Irish patriot Thomas MacDonagh was given pride of place while his poems from the French and Turkish trenches in which he fought were swept under the carpet.  Sadly even Poetry is not immune from politics.

June: by Francis Ledwidge

Broom out the floor now, lay the fender by,
and plant this bee-sucked bough of woodbine there,
and let the window down. The butterfly
floats in upon the sunbeam, and the fair
tanned face of June, the nomad gipsy, laughs
above her widespread wares, the while she tells
the farmers’ fortunes in the fields, and quaffs
the water from the spider-peopled wells.
The hedges are all drowned in green grass seas,
and bobbing poppies flare like Elmo’s light,
while siren-like the pollen-stained bees
drone in the clover depths.  And up the height
the cuckoo’s voice is hoarse and broke with joy.
And on the lowland crops the crows make raid,
nor fear the clappers of the farmer’s boy,
who sleeps, like drunken Noah, in the shade.
And loop this red rose in that hazel ring
that snares your little ear, for June is short
and we must joy in it and dance and sing,
and from her bounty draw her rosy worth.
Ay! soon the swallows will be flying south,
the wind wheel north to gather in the snow,
even the roses spilt on youth’s red mouth
will soon blow down the road all roses go.