Happy Birthday Joy Davidman

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Joy Davidman & C.S. Lewis

Born on this day in 1915 to a New York Jewish family Helen Joy Davidman was considered a child prodigy, graduating with a masters from Columbia aged 20. The poem below was written in 1936 in the period when she became an atheist and Communist, supporting the Republican cause in Spain.

In the 1940’s she and her first husband, William Lindsay Gresham, began researching religions seeking meaning in their lives. They looked at Judaism and even experimented with Dianetics, L. Ron Hubbard’s system that would become Scientology. Ultimately they were attracted to Christianity, in particular by the writings of C.S Lewis.

Divorcing Gresham after he had a affair, Davidman moved to the UK, and ended up marrying C.S. Lewis. The marriage was largely one of convenience, their relationship was professional and they collaborated in work. When her Visa ran out Lewis offered to marry her to keep her in the UK. He wrote of her;

She was my daughter and my mother, my pupil and my teacher, my subject and my sovereign; and always, holding all these in solution, my trusty comrade, friend, shipmate, fellow-soldier. My mistress; but at the same time all that any man friend (and I have good ones) has ever been to me. Perhaps more

Snow in Madrid; by Joy Davidman

Softly, so casual,
lovely, so light, so light,
the cruel sky lets fall
something one does not fight.

How tenderly to crown
the brutal year
the clouds send something down
that one need not fear.

Men before perishing
see with unwounded eye
for once a gentle thing
fall from the sky.

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Not Shakespeare

john-ford-playwright

Elizabethan England was awash with playwrights.  Nowadays everything appears to distill down to only one.  In his day Kit Marlowe was the greater writer.  John Ford was a slightly later contemporary.  A prolific playwright and a great poet, he was born 22 years after Shakespeare in 1586 and his most productive period was in the Jacobean and Caroline eras under James I and Charles I.  He first published 2 years after the death of Elizabeth.

As with many of his era we have no birth cert, but he was baptised on this day, so that’s close enough.

Beauty’s Beauty: by John Ford

Can you paint a thought? or number
every fancy in a slumber?
Can you count soft minutes roving
from a dial’s point by moving?
Can you grasp a sigh? or, lastly,
rob a virgin’s honour chastely?
No, oh no! yet you may
sooner do both that and this,
this and that, and never miss,
than by any praise display
beauty’s beauty; such a glory,
as beyond all fate, all story,
all arms, all arts,
all loves, all hearts,
greater than those, or they,
do, shall, and must obey.

Synge happy birthday

Currach

Rowing the beer to the island.

Born this day 1871 John Millington Synge wrote the poem below which describes how the keg of porter had to be rowed to the island of Beg-Innish though the Atlantic waters where the gannets fish.

Beg-Innish in gaelic simply means “small island”.

In 1977 Guinness made the iconic ad “Tá siad ag teacht” (They are coming) describing the same journey.  Still evocative after all these years, you can find it on Youtube.

The rowing boat they use in the still above is a traditional Irish Currach.  A high riding fragile shell made of ash frames covered in tarred canvas.  It is one of the oldest types of craft in continuous use.  Originally made with tanned ox-hide, and similar in construction to a coracle.  The Currach is a surprisingly good craft on the open ocean.  It was the workhorse of the fishermen of the Irish west coast for hundreds of years.  The design reflects the lack of large timber available, due to the scouring effect of Atlantic storms.

Light as a large canoe, the fishermen lift it over their heads and carry it up the beach to dry out after a day of fishing.  The image of fishermen with their currach brings to mind a scarab beetle and the circularity of life and death.  Many legs beneath a shiny black carapace.

 

Beg-Innish ; by John Millington Synge

Bring Kateen-beug and Maurya Jude
to dance in Beg-Innish,
and when the lads (they’re in Dunquin)
have sold their crabs and fish,
wave fawny shawls and call them in,
and call the little girls who spin,
and seven weavers from Dunquin,
to dance in Beg-Innish.

I’ll play you jigs, and Maurice Kean,
where nets are laid to dry,
I’ve silken strings would draw a dance
from girls are lame or shy;
four strings I’ve brought from Spain and France
to make your long men skip and prance,
till stars look out to see the dance
where nets are laid to dry.

We’ll have no priest or peeler in
to dance in Beg-Innish;
but we’ll have drink from M’riarty Jim
rowed round while gannets fish,
a keg with porter to the brim,
that every lad may have his whim,
till we up sails with M’riarty Jim
and sail from Ben-Innish.

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Birthday of Giants

BeckettHeaney

Ireland has in total 8 Nobel laureates.  They break down by category as follows:

Literature:  4,  Peace: 2,  Physics: 1,  Physiology or Medicine: 1

It is hardly a surprise that Ireland excels in literature.  Irish mythology divides the society of the Tuatha Dé Danann into three tribes, the Tuatha (nobility) the Dé (priests) and the Danann (bards).  In medieval Ireland the communal body of  lore was protected by the Filí (court poet historians) and the Bards (itinerant poets, story tellers and minstrels).   These individuals were highly respected and honoured.  There are dreadful cautionary tales told of the fate of lords who failed to honour a bard properly.  No sword cuts as deeply as a well crafted satire.

The claim to fame of my own clan, the MacFhlannchaidh (Clancy) is that we were filí to the Dalcassian Sept.  We were the brehons (lawyers), historians, poets, diplomats, ambassadors and scribes.  Basically the civil service of the time.  The Dalcassians were one of the most powerful tribal groups in Ireland.  they successfully rebuffed attempts by the Normans to invade their lands.  Two American presidents, J.F.K. and Ronald Reagan trace their heritage back to the Dál gCais.

The Irish literature winners are W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney.

The last two were born on the same day, April 13th.  Happy birthday to half of all Irish Nobel Prize winning literature laureates.

Ascension; by Samuel Beckett

through the slim partition
this day when a child
prodigal in his own way
returned into the family
I hear a voice
it is excited it comments
on the football world cup

forever too young

meanwhile through the open window
over the air in a word
heavily
a sea swell of the faithful

her blood spurted in abundance
on the sheets on the sweet peas on her bloke
he closed the eyelids with filthy fingers
on the green eyes big with surprise

she lightly roams
over my tomb of air

 

Rite of Spring; by Seamus Heaney

So winter closed its fist
and got it stuck in the pump.
The plunger froze up a lump

in its throat, ice founding itself
upon iron. The handle
paralysed at an angle.

Then the twisting of wheat straw
into ropes, lapping them tight
round stem and snout, then a light

that sent the pump up in a flame
it cooled, we lifted her latch,
her entrance was wet, and she came.

Birthday Art

Lobster

Lobster Fisherman at Dusk; Paul Henry

Two birthdays marked today.  The image above is a painting by Paul Henry (1876 – 1958), the Irish artist who captured the landscapes of the West of Ireland with his spare, pared back, post-impressionist style.

The poem is by Mark Strand (1934 – 2014), the Canadian born poet and American academic at Columbia U.

Eating Poetry ; by Mark Strand

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

I am a new man,
I snarl at her and bark,
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.

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.

 

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.