Happy Birthday Julius Caesar

Caesar

Gaius Julius Caesar was born in 100 BC, making him 2118 today.  We know this because of the calendar he gave us.

A populist politician in the mould of the brothers Gracchus and his own Great Uncle Gaius Marius.  Caesar wanted to move power from the Senatorial class and absentee landlords and spread the wealth to the working classes of Rome, the Plebs and the Legionnaires.

In the process he set in motion the events that led to the collapse of the Republic and the creation of an Empire.  Caesar has given a lasting lesson to the democracies and republics of the world.  Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.

Cassius speaks to Brutus

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
“Brutus” and “Caesar”—what should be in that “Caesar”?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?
Write them together, yours is as fair a name;
Sound them, it doth become the mouth as well;
Weigh them, it is as heavy; conjure with ’em,
“Brutus” will start a spirit as soon as “Caesar.”
Now, in the names of all the gods at once,
Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed
That he is grown so great? Age, thou art shamed!
Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods!
When could they say, till now, that talked of Rome,
That her wide walks encompassed but one man?
Now is it Rome indeed, and room enough
When there is in it but only one man.
O, you and I have heard our fathers say
There was a Brutus once that would have brooked
Th’ eternal devil to keep his state in Rome
As easily as a king.

Advertisements

Yer matey’s a bottle of fun.

Matey

The impact of advertising is that I can’t read this poem.

I can only sing it in my head.  Har har me matey.

A Life on the Ocean Wave; by Epes Sargent

A life on the ocean wave,
A home on the rolling deep,
Where the scattered waters rave,
And the winds their revels keep!
Like an eagle caged, I pine
On this dull, unchanging shore:
Oh! give me the flashing brine,
The spray and the tempest’s roar!

Once more on the deck I stand
Of my own swift-gliding craft:
Set sail! farewell to the land!
The gale follows fair abaft.
We shoot through the sparkling foam
Like an ocean-bird set free; —
Like the ocean-bird, our home
We’ll find far out on the sea.

The land is no longer in view,
The clouds have begun to frown;
But with a stout vessel and crew,
We’ll say, Let the storm come down!
And the song of our hearts shall be,
While the winds and the waters rave,
A home on the rolling sea!
A life on the ocean wave!

Big Dog

Castelveccio

Can Grande translates as “Big Dog”.  Interesting name for the Scaliger family who ruled Verona with an iron fist in the middle ages.  Can Grande II della Scala was also nicknamed Can Rabbioso or “The Rabid Dog”.

It was he who built Castelveccio and the Castelveccio bridge to protect himself and his family from the people he exploited so heavily that they fell into penury.  The castle turned out to be a wasted effort because in classic Italian style Can Grande found his end at the point of his brothers knife.

How much you can learn from an obscure reference in a line of a poem.  What did we ever do before Google?  Happy Birthday Richard Aldington who did his own “googling” in the British Museum.

 

In 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…

Gondola

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.

The history of my stupidity

Clamped

In a week when I injured my leg jumping from a wall and went on to get my car clamped I have to celebrate my own humanity, the flaws in myself, my own stupidity.  I present a portrait of both myself and my car sporting immobility boots.

So I can have not better companion than Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish Nobel Laureate who was born on this day in 1911.  Born in what is today Lithuania in what was then the Russian Empire, but speaking Polish, Milosz has that quality common amongst writers who struggle between their national and linguistic identities.  You will see it in Irish, Indian and African writers who write in English.  The disassociation between language and race promotes a focus on the weight of words, how words can shape meaning and identity.

Milosz was happy to resolve his identity by a refusal to identify.  To the ire of various activists he refused to be either Polish or Lithuanian.

Milosz went on to become a citizen of Nazi Poland.  He refused to become a supporter of the short lived Warsaw uprising, holding to his determination of what he was not.

Then he was a comrade of Stalinist Russian Poland and eventually became the polar opposite; a citizen of the United States of America.

As to my own stupidity….volumes could not cover it.  I could fill a library.

The history of my stupidity; by Czeslaw Milosz

The history of my stupidity would fill many volumes.

Some would be devoted to acting against consciousness,
like the flight of a moth which, had it known,
would have tended nevertheless toward the candle’s flame.

Others would deal with ways to silence anxiety,
the little whisper which, though it is a warning, is ignored.

I would deal separately with satisfaction and pride,
the time when I was among their adherents
who strut victoriously, unsuspecting.

But all of them would have one subject, desire,
if only my own — but no, not at all; alas,
I was driven because I wanted to be like others.
I was afraid of what was wild and indecent in me.

The history of my stupidity will not be written.
For one thing, it’s late. And the truth is laborious.

Happy Birthday Paul Laurence Dunbar

PLDunbar

A prolific writer during his too short 33 years Dunbar was born June 27th, 1872.  He was a child of the hope that characterised the reconstruction period in the US following the Civil War.  He was an intellectual and suspicious of the “negro dialect” writing that was so popular in his day.  He preferred to express himself in proper English rather than in Uncle Tom pickaninny cant.

His influence was enormous and he inspired some of the greatest writers of the Harlem Renaissance.  More recently Maya Angelou acknowledged his influence in the title of her poem “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” from a line in Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy”.

We Wear the Mask: by Paul Laurence Dunbar

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
it hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,
this debt we pay to human guile;
with torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
and mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be overwise,
in counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
we wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
to thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
beneath our feet, and long the mile;
but let the world dream otherwise,
we wear the mask!

Happy birthday Vikram Seth

Vikram_Seth,_in_Oxfordshire

On a day when US policy comes to the fore for stripping refugee children from their parents this poem seems appropriate.  Any country that makes a business of incarceration is on a wrong path.  Nobody should ever profit from locking someone away.

In the past, in Ireland, we paid the Church to lock away our fallen women, to take their children and to sell them into adoption.  The Church made sure we shamed generations of pregnant girls into a life of slavery.  We paid the Church to lock away our insane, and they found more insane here than in any other country.  We paid the Church to lock up rowdy boys who got in a bit of trouble with the law.  Those boys were abused both physically and sexually.

Locking people away should be a costly and painful exercise.  It should not be easy.  It should never be a norm.  Prisons create crime as much as crime fills prisons.

 

All you who sleep tonight: by Vikram Seth

All you who sleep tonight
Far from the ones you love,
No hand to left or right
And emptiness above –

Know that you aren’t alone
The whole world shares your tears,
Some for two nights or one,
And some for all their years.