Mistress of sonnet

Edna

Edna St Vincent Millay in Magnolia: Arnold Genthe

Happy Birthday Edna St. Vincent Millay.  A prolific writer, third woman to win the Pulitzer for poetry, sixth person and second woman to win the Robert Frost medal.  Quite possibly the finest sonnet writer of all time, a dangerous thing to claim against the likes of Shakespeare and Petrarch.

The penniless, pretty, red-headed Vassar graduate came to prominence in 1912 when her poem “Renascence” was placed 4th in a poetry contest in The Lyric Year, and the higher placed winners admitted that it was the better poem.  The 2nd prize winner even offered his winnings to Millay.

So many are her sonnets that many are named simply by their first line.  So this one is called “Here is a wound that never will heal, I know”.

Sonnet ; by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Here is a wound that never will heal, I know,
being wrought not of a dearness and a death,
but of a love turned ashes and the breath
gone out of beauty; never again will grow
the grass on that scarred acre, though I sow
young seed there yearly and the sky bequeath
its friendly weathers down, far Underneath
shall be such bitterness of an old woe.
That April should be shattered by a gust,
that August should be levelled by a rain,
I can endure, and that the lifted dust
of man should settle to the earth again;
but that a dream can die, will be a thrust
between my ribs forever of hot pain.

 

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FELIZ CUMPLEAÑOS ANDRÉS SEGOVIA

segovia4

Born today in the year 1893 Andrés Segovia Torres, 1st Marquis of Salobreña and virtuoso of the guitar.  Here is a link to one of his pieces:  Capricho Arabe

“The guitar is the easiest instrument to play” he said, “and the hardest to play well.”

Challenge for tonight is to hit the link and listen to the poetry of the guitar at the hands of a master.

 

Canary Wine

Malmsey

In Elizabethan England the prize wine on the market was Malmsey, a fortified wine from the Canary Islands in Spain. It is  a wine celebrated in the writings of Shakespeare.  Indeed the popularity of the sweet white fortified wine predates Elizabeth’s reign.  The Duke of Clarence, brother to Edward IV, was killed by being drowned in a barrel of Malmsey in 1478 during the wars of the Roses.

Made from the Malvasia grape, thought to have originated in Greece, the vines thrived on the volcanic soils of the Canary Islands.  In those days only a fortified wine could survive the long sea voyage from Spain to Britain.  Indeed prolonged maturation in the cask on board ships at sea actually improved the quality of these wines.

In Shakespeare there are multiple references to “Sack” and “Sweet Sack”.  These are the sweet fortified whites that were popular.  Some from Jerez, but the best from the Canaries.  The name “sack” causes some confusion as the French term “sec” means dry, but these wines are clearly sweet.  It appears to be a derivation from “sacas” a Spanish word used in past times to refer to exports.

The Poet Laureate of England in 1630, Ben Johnson, petitioned for the salary of the post to be raised.  His wish was granted and a tierce of Canary was added for good measure.  A tierce was a large barrel, equivalent to 42 Imperial Gallons or just about half a standard modern bottle of wine per day for the year.  Just the right amount to lubricate the pen of a good poet.

The supply of this vintage ran into difficulty in 1666 when the Canary Islanders rebelled against the London based Canary Island Company and smashed all their wine casks, so that the streets flowed with wine.  The British company responded by banning imports from the Canaries and moving production to Madeira.

The tierce of Canary became a tierce of Madeira until the appointment of Henry James Pye to the post in the 1790’s.  Pye was appointed for political and not poetic reasons.  His work was scorned in his own lifetime and ever since.  The barrel of wine was converted into a stipend of cash, probably because he was suffering under a weight of debt.  Pye received €27 a year to churn out bad doggerel.

But how bad can his poetry be?  Oh let me promise you it is execrable.  What is worse is that it is mostly interminably long.  It reminds me of the Woody Allen joke about the 2 Jewish women in a holiday resort in the Catskills.

Woman 1:  The food this year, it’s not so good.

Woman 2: And the portions, so small.

If you are going to serve bad fare, at least make the portions mercifully small.  So here is a small portion of the work of Henry James Pye, the worst English Poet Laureate, born this day in 1745.  Read it and weep.

The Snow-drop; by Henry James Pye

Hail earliest of the opening flowers!
Fair Harbinger of vernal hours!
Who dar’st unveil each silken fold
ere Sol dispels the wintry cold,
and with thy silver leaves display’d
spread lustre through the dreary glade.
What though no frgarance like the rose
tincturing the Zephyr as it blows,
thy humble flowers from earth exhale
to scent the pinions of the gale;
What though no hues of gaudy dye
strike with their dazzling charms the eye,
nor does thy sober foliage shew
each blended tint of Iris’ bow;
Yet in thy meek unsullied grace
imagination’s eye shall trace
the glowing blossoms that appear
proudly to paint the vernal year,
and smiling Maia’s blushing dyes,
and jocund Summer’s cloudless skies,
and Autumn’s labors which succeed
to bid the purple vintage bleed,
our hopes anticipating see
led on in radiant train by thee.

Nominative Determinism

Originally the concept of nominative determinism arose as a humorous feedback thread in New Scientist Magazine as readers observed how authors names reflected their research topics.  Polar explorations by Daniel Snowman,  a urology article by Splatt and Weedon.

This was a build from joke books of my youth.  “The Tower of Pisa” by Eileen Over.  “Legal Jurisprudence” by Argue and Phibbs.  “Treating Tennis Injuries” by Savage, Racquet and Ball. There are lot of those:  Funny books and authors  

Erik the Red, who founded the Viking colony on Iceland wanted to keep the island for his own people.  To dissuade other Norsemen from following he gave his colony an unattractive name.  His son, Lief Eriksson, did the opposite in an attempt to encourage colonists to settle in his new discovery, Greenland.

Some people have begun to take nominative determinism more seriously.  Some pointed to the fact that many names originated in the middle ages when people were named for their trade, and families stayed within a trade.  Thatchers roofed houses.  Wrights made wheels.  Smiths beat metal.  Fletchers made arrows.  Is there a genetic disposition to excellence in a field of endeavour?

A family that has genetically poor eyesight will not survive long in the lacemaking trade.  Do genetic traits in agility, intelligence, strength etc contribute to our aptitude for certain careers?

Then there is the environment.  The child of a musician is raised in a world of music practice, has a learned knowledge of what harmonies work well, grows up playing with musical instruments.  Learning to read music comes easier than learning to read language.  Smiths know the techniques for tempering steel, learned over many generations and passed orally from Father to Son.  Fletchers know how to make good glue.  Dyers know the recipes for pigments that stain cloth but do not fade rapidly in sunlight.  Tanners are used to the smell of piss and shit.

So in the modern world, when we are socially mobile, does our heritage still carry cues to our abilities.  Is nominative determinism a real thing?

For me the funniest example of nominative determinism is given in Joseph Heller’s novel Catch 22.  With a surname of Major a vindictive father stepped in when his wife was comatose after childbirth and named his son Major Major Major.  The child is drafted into the US Air Force in WW2 as Private Major Major Major.  It is only the work of a short time and standard military bureaucracy before the Private is promoted, by clerical error, and assigned as Major Major Major Major.

Miniver Cheevy; by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
And he had reasons.

Miniver loved the days of old
When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
Would set him dancing.

Miniver sighed for what was not,
And dreamed, and rested from his labors;
He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
And Priam’s neighbors.

Miniver mourned the ripe renown
That made so many a name so fragrant;
He mourned Romance, now on the town,
And Art, a vagrant.

Miniver loved the Medici,
Albeit he had never seen one;
He would have sinned incessantly
Could he have been one.

Miniver cursed the commonplace
And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;
He missed the medieval grace
Of iron clothing.

Miniver scorned the gold he sought,
But sore annoyed was he without it;
Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,
And thought about it.

Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
And kept on drinking.

 

Happy Birthday Bruce Dawe

dawefox

Aged 88 and still going strong.  Happy birthday Bruce and may you enjoy many more.

Homo Suburbiensis : by Donald Bruce Dawe

One constant in a world of variables
– A man alone in the evening in his patch of vegetables,
and all the things he takes down with him there

Where the easement runs along the back fence and the air
smells of tomato-vines, and the hoarse rasping tendrils
of pumpkin flourish clumsy whips and their foliage sprawls

Over the compost-box, poising rampant upon
the palings …
He stands there, lost in a green
confusion, smelling the smoke of somebody’s rubbish

Burning, hearing vaguely the clatter of a disk
in a sink that could be his, hearing a dog, a kid,
a far whisper of traffic, and offering up instead

Not much but as much as any man can offer
– time, pain, love, hate, age, ware, death, laughter, fever.

Valentines Treats

AinSakri

The Ain Sakhri Lovers: British Museum The oldest image of lovers we have.

 

Valentine ; by Carol Ann Duffy

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

Here.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.

Lethal.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.

Flowers

A hymn for the defeated

FraVIre

Better remembered as a sculptor William Wetmore Story was born on this day in 1819, so next year he will celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth.  When I saw this poem it immediately called to mind the image above.  If ever a photograph can capture the moment when victory turned to defeat this is it.  Look at those French faces.

Io Victis :by William Wetmore Story

I sing the hymn of the conquered, who fell in the Battle of Life,
the hymn of the wounded, the beaten, who died overwhelmed in the strife;
Not the jubilant song of the victors, for whom the resounding acclaim
of nations was lifted in chorus, whose brows wore the chaplet of fame,
but the hymn of the low and the humble, the weary, the broken in heart,
who strove and who failed, acting bravely a silent and desperate part;
Whose youth bore no flower on its branches, whose hopes burned in ashes away,
from whose hands slipped the prize they had grasped at, who stood at the dying of day
with the wreck of their life all around them, unpitied, unheeded, alone,
with Death swooping down o’er their failure, and all but their faith overthrown,

while the voice of the world shouts its chorus, its paean for those who have won;
While the trumpet is sounding triumphant, and high to the breeze and the sun
glad banners are waving, hands clapping, and hurrying feet
thronging after the laurel-crowned victors, I stand on the field of defeat,
in the shadow, with those who have fallen, and wounded, and dying, and there
chant a requiem low, place my hand on their pain-knotted brows, breathe a prayer,
hold the hand that is helpless, and whisper, “They only the victory win,
who have fought the good fight, and have vanquished the demon that tempts us within;
Who have held to their faith unseduced by the prize that the world holds on high;
Who have dared for a high cause to suffer, resist, fight, if need be, to die.”

Speak, History! who are Life’s victors? Unroll thy long annals, and say,
are they those whom the world called the victors — who won the success of a day?
The martyrs, or Nero? Spartans, who fell at Thermopylae’s tryst,
or the Persians and Xerxes? His judges or Socrates? Pilate or Christ?