Happy Birthday Robert Herrick

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You know him best for his poem “To the virigins; to make much of time” (Gather ye rosebuds while ye may) which is classed as a Carpe Diem poem (seize the day – live now – grab fun while you still can).

Born on this day August 24th, 1591 in Cheapside, London he lived through the turmoil of the English Civil War.  A royalist and a prolific poet he fell on hard times under the Commonwealth, as did most artists.

He was smart enough to pen verses to celebrate the birth of the royal children and found favour with the Crown following the restoration.  Upon petition he was granted the Vicarage and living of Dean Prior.

 

Delight in Disorder; by Robert Herrick

A sweet disorder in the dress
kindles in clothes a wantonness;
a lawn about the shoulders thrown
into a fine distraction;
an erring lace, which here and there
enthrals the crimson stomacher;
a cuff neglectful, and thereby
ribands to flow confusedly;
a winning wave, deserving note,
in the tempestuous petticoat;
a careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility:
Do more bewitch me, than when art
is too precise in every part.

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They have no lot in our labour.

Image result for english remembrance service

Each year on remembrance Sunday all over England, and throughout the former British Colonies, services are held for the fallen.  People sport the poppy they bought to support military families in times of need.  They recite the words of a dirge written in 1914 by Laurency Binyon, who was born on this day in 1869.

The words people always remember are the line “They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old”.  You can understand the power of this line for those who saw their colleagues die on the field of battle.  Each year they return for the service and each year another one of their old mates has passed away, and they lurch towards the grave under the weight of age and infirmity.

It is a sentiment captured in “The Green Fields of France” lyrics:

And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind,
In some loyal heart is your memory enshrined,
And though you died back in 1916,
To that loyal heart you’re forever nineteen

Today though I am moved by another line in this poem : they have no lot in our labour of the day-time.  Some people might read this line as meaning “Lucky them to have escaped the drudgery of the working round – they got off.”

Not me.

I read this line through the Marxist lens that we are what we do.

If we have chosen the position in life in which we can most of all work for mankind, no burdens can bow us down, because they are sacrifices for the benefit of all; then we shall experience no petty, limited, selfish joy, but our happiness will belong to millions, our deeds will live on quietly but perpetually at work, and over our ashes will be shed the hot tears of noble people.”  Marx, Reflections of a Young Man (1835)

At the core of Marxism is the tenet that we should own our labour.  Capitalism is a system designed to wrest resources from the weak and accumulating them for the strong.  Capitalists steal your productivity for their enrichment.

Nowhere is this more evident than on the field of battle.  The rich men of the world use their power to bend politics to their will.  When this results in war it is the small, the weak, the uneducated who are sent to the front lines.  The small man has nothing to gain from war and everything to lose.  By risking his life in battle he risks all the coming years of his working life, all the output of that work, all the benefit for his spouse, his children, his grandchildren.  They have no lot in our labour of the day-time.  War is the sharp end of the capitalist system.

 

For the Fallen; by Laurence Binyon

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
there is music in the midst of desolation
and a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
they fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old:
age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
we will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
they sit no more at familiar tables of home;
they have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
they sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
to the innermost heart of their own land they are known
as the stars are known to the Night;

as the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
as the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
to the end, to the end, they remain.

Bank Holiday Sunday Morning

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Sitting here in the kitchen on a sunny Sunday morning of a Bank Holiday and I am wandering the wide spaces of the world with deft strokes of my fingertips.

And here I found Billy Collins, the Irish-American poet with a poem about Irish-Dutch cows, if they are Holsteins, or Dutch-Irish cows if Friesians, or they could be a US bred strain of Holstein-Friesians imported back into Ireland.  He didn’t say.

Cows it seems are not like people.  We bring in a Friesian, or a Limousin, a Belgian Blue or a Scottish Angus.  We set it on the land and it eats the green grass of Ireland and magically becomes an Irish steer, an Irish Bull, or an Irish Cow.

We don’t point at it in the field and shout “Go back to Hungary”, or “We don’t want your type of cattle round here”.

Ireland is sometimes personified as a cow.  In his lament for Thomas McDonagh, Francis Ledwidge uses this analogy very powerfully.  And of course the greatest ancient epic in Ireland, central to the tales of Cúchulainn and the Cycle of Tales of the Knights of the Red Branch is the Cattle Raid of Cooley.

Afternoon with Irish Cows

 

Happy Birthday Peter Reading

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“Eschew baggage for the expedition is brief” he said and Peter was right, because in this day and age 65 years is a brief expedition.  Reading was described as the laureate of grot and as a bleak poet.  Seems to me he was a poet with good eyes and ears who conveyed what he saw accurately, incisively and didn’t give a shit if you were offended by it.  My kind of poet.

Most of all his poems are hilarious, very funny if very dark also.  He is a master at exposing the absurdity of the human condition and pointing out the bullshit we use to make ourselves look important.

He worked for over 20 years as a weighbridge operator at an animal feed mill.  It is a repetitive and boring job and it freed his mind to think and to create.  Volume after volume of poetry flowed out of that dross.  Then a new boss arrived and told Peter he had to wear a uniform to work and you can only imagine the tirade of flagrant abuse eminating from this usually quiet man that led to him being sacked.  I like this story because Peter is a poet who strips away the crap that people surround themselves with.  Imagine telling such a man to wear a uniform so he can better weigh truckloads of calf nuts and chicken feed!

 

 

Soiree; by Peter Reading

One funny thing about loving someone
is how much you’ll put up with – her parents’
conversazione for example,
or being sweet to those fools she works with
who smoke inferior cigars and think
it’s savoir vivre, and drag me back to drink
inadequately and long past my bedtime,
and put on records (God!) stuff like Ray Conniff.
And all their damn fool questions ‘tell me Peter,
what do you write about?’ (cunts like you mate).
‘Peter, you interested in history?’
(Mate, I ain’t even interested in
the present.) Still I’m here because I love her.

The New Colossus

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In 1883 Emma Lazarus wrote a beautiful sonnet entitled “The New Colossus”.  It was a work of art forming part of a fundraising drive to construct the pedestal on which to mount the Statue of Liberty.  When the pedestal was constructed in 1903 the poem was cast onto a plaque where it can be read to this day.

That was back in the days before the Immigration Act of 1924 when America welcomed immigrants with open arms, those same immigrants who made America what it is today.

That was back in the days before the children of those immigrants decided to close the doors and build walls and repel immigrants with openly carried arms.

Under the presidency of Donald J. Trump we see babies ripped from the arms of their mothers and left to die in concentration camps. Call them what you like, they are camp in which people are concentrated for processing.

 

The New New Colossus; by Donal Clancy and Emma Lazarus

Just like that brazen giant of Greek fame,
with conquering limbs astride from land to land;
here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
is the imprisoned lightning, and she named
Mother of Homeland Security. From her beacon-hand
glows world-wide warning; her stern eyes command
the air-bridged harbor that twin towers once framed.

“Keep, ancient lands, your sorry peoples!” cries she
with silent lips. “Give me not your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
the wretched refuse of your murdering rout.
Keep these, the homeless, tempest-tost from me,
I lift my lamp beside the sign “Keep Out!”

El-Khatun

Bell

Winston Churchill, Gertrude Bell and T.E. Lawrence

Born on this day, July 14th in 1868 Gertrude Bell is one of the most remarkable women in history. Writer, traveller, mountaineer, archeologist, historian, journalist, red-cross worker and most importantly she was a highly insightful political analyst.

Bell also translated the Persian poet Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāzī, better known as Hafez in her book “Poems from the Divan if Hafiz” (1892).

She was a witness to and reporter of the Armenian Holocaust when the Ottomans committed a genocide wiping out 1.5 million Armenians.  She saw Armenian women traded in the marketplaces by the Turks and Kurds as groups of the men, boys and old aged were dragged off and murdered in the desert.

Bell is one of the very few representatives of the colonial powers who is remembered with any fondness in the middle east.  She was instrumental in the establishment of the boundaries of Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.  Her intimate knowledge of tribal groupings, loyalties and alliances paved the way for the division of the middle east.

Bell had a unique advantage over the French and British men involved in the process.  As a woman she had access to women.  Her Arabic title : al-Khatun is derived from Imperial Ottoman Harem politics and refers to a court lady who is highly politically astute.  A lady who works for the benefit of the state and who has the ear of the Sultan.  She was the Sheherazade to King Faisal in the creation of Iraq.

Mark Sykes (of the Sykes-Pichot Agreement) was said to have hated Bell.  She was also unpopular with the Zionists because she opposed the establishment of a Jewish state in Arabic lands.  She wrote of the Balfour declaration;  “It’s like a nightmare in which you foresee all the horrible things which are going to happen and can`t stretch out your hand to prevent them“.

This is enough for me. (Poems from the Divan of Hafiz: Translated by Gertrude Lowthian Bell)

VI

A flower-tinted cheek, the flowery close
of the fair earth, these are enough for me.
Enough that in the meadow wanes and grows
the shadow of a graceful cypress-tree.
I am no lover of hypocirisy;
of all the treasures that the earth can boast,
a brimming cup of wine I prize the most.

This is enough for me !

To them that here renowned for virtue live,
a heavenly palace is the meet reward;
to me, the drunkard and the beggar, give
the temple of the grape with red wine stored!
Beside a river seat thee on the sward;
it floweth past, so flows thy life away,
so sweetly, swiftly, fleets our little day.

Swift, but enough for me !

Look upon all the gold in the world’s mart,
on all the tears the world hath shed in vain;
shall they not satisfy thy craving heart?
I have enough of loss, enough of gain;
I have my Love, what more can I obtain?
Mine is the joy of her companionship
whose healing lip is laid upon my lip.

This is enough for me !