The Macbeth of animals

bear

Say my name!

Actors performing in Macbeth will never, out of superstition, say the name of the play.  Instead they call it “The Scottish Play”.

In similar vein the wizards of the Harry Potter novels refer to their great enemy as “You know who” or “He who must not be named” because to speak the name Voldemort gives it power.

There is a tradition in Celtic society of refusing to give power to a beast by giving it its name.  If a village was terrified by an animal, real or mythical, they would name it “the beast” or “the monster” until it was slain.  Only when dead could they give name to the beast.

Which brings us to the Bear.  You may think you know the bear but in truth you do not.  So terrifying was the bear to primitive society that people would not speak it’s name.  Instead they called it simply “the brown one”.

So successful was this refusal to say the name of the beast that we no longer know the name.  “Bear” simply means “brown one”.

The Two Bears; by Hafiz

Once
after a hard day forage
two bears sat together in silence
on a beautiful vista
watching the sun go down
and feeling deeply grateful
for life.

Though, after a while
a thought-provoking conversation began
which turned to the topic of
fame.

The one bear said,
“Did you hear about Rustam?
He has become famous
and travels from city to city
in a golden cage;

He performs for hundreds of people
who laugh and applaud
his carnival stunts.

The other bear thought for
a few seconds
then started
weeping.

 

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Earthrise

Earthrise

The photo of the Earth taken by Major William A Anders from the Apollo 8 capsule slingshoting around the Moon is called “Earthrise”

It changed the way we look at the world.  Captured in the lens are the lives, loves, dreams, hopes and worries of all but 3 of the entire human race, on that day, Christmas Eve 1968.

To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold – brothers who know now they are truly brothers.” ….Archibald MacLeish

Seen in this way, a delicate ark of humanity, an oasis of life in the vastness of space really makes you think.

What is to be gained by man waging war on man?  We should be working shoulder to shoulder to reach out to the stars.

How can we exist on such a vulnerable sphere and allow it to be polluted, abused, over-expolited and poisoned by our own activities?

Why do short term greed, selfishness, personal ambition and crass materialism drive a society which should be planning for the long term survival of the human race?

If you need a resolution for 2019:  work in what small way you can to reduce the impacts of mankind on Planet Earth.  Badger your politicians.  Reject plastics and chemicals.  Eat less meat.  Opt for energy from renewable sources.  Invest your pension in ethical funds.

You, Andrew Marvell; by Archibald MacLeish

And here face down beneath the sun
and here upon earth’s noonward height
to feel the always coming on
the always rising of the night:

To feel creep up the curving east
the earthy chill of dusk and slow
upon those under lands the vast
and ever climbing shadow grow

and strange at Ecbatan the trees
take leaf by leaf the evening strange
the flooding dark about their knees
the mountains over Persia change

and now at Kermanshah the gate
dark empty and the withered grass
and through the twilight now the late
few travelers in the westward pass

and Baghdad darken and the bridge
across the silent river gone
and through Arabia the edge
of evening widen and steal on

and deepen on Palmyra’s street
the wheel rut in the ruined stone
and Lebanon fade out and Crete
high through the clouds and overblown

and over Sicily the air
still flashing with the landward gulls
and loom and slowly disappear
the sails above the shadowy hulls

and Spain go under and the shore
of Africa the gilded sand
and evening vanish and no more
the low pale light across that land

nor now the long light on the sea:

And here face downward in the sun
to feel how swift how secretly
the shadow of the night comes on …

Seibo

Nagasaki

Born this day in 1884 Seibo Kitamura was the sculptor of the Nagasaki peace statue which is located in Nagasaki Peace Park, ground zero for the atomic bomb.

His right hand points to the sky from where the bomb fell.  His left is extended in a gesture of peace.  His right leg is in a meditative pose, reflecting the eyes, close in prayer for the dead. His left leg prepares to stand, to help the people.  A plaque on the statue reads as follows:

After experiencing that nightmarish war,
that blood-curdling carnage,
that unendurable horror,
Who could walk away without praying for peace?
This statue was created as a signpost in the
struggle for global harmony.
Standing ten meters tall,
it conveys the profundity of knowledge and
the beauty of health and virility.
The right hand points to the atomic bomb,
the left hand points to peace,
and the face prays deeply for the victims of war.
Transcending the barriers of race
and evoking the qualities of Buddha and God,
it is a symbol of the greatest determination
ever known in the history of Nagasaki
and the highest hope of all mankind.

— Seibo Kitamura (Spring 1995)
Nagasaki should never have been bombed.
When the Japanese commanders saw the devastation at Hiroshima on August 6th and confirmed that it was a nuclear weapon, they should have stopped the war.
Instead Admiral Soemu Toyoda, Chief of the Naval General Staff, estimated that no more than one or two additional bombs could be readied, so they decided to endure the remaining attacks, acknowledging “there would be more destruction but the war would go on”.  American code breakers read these signals and the order to drop a bomb on Nagasaki was given.
On August 8th the Soviet Union announced an end to their non-aggression pact with Japan and began invasion of Manchuria on August 9th.
Even after Nagasaki was bombed on August 9th it took 6 further days before the Japanese agreed a surrender.
I believe if wars were fought as envisaged by Erich Maria Remarque in All Quiet on the Western Front we would have far fewer wars:
Kropp on the other hand is a thinker. He proposes that a declaration of war should be a kind of popular festival with entrance-tickets and bands, like a bull fight. Then in the arena the ministers and generals of the two countries, dressed in bathing-drawers and armed with clubs, can have it out among themselves. Whoever survives, his country wins. That would be much simpler and more just than this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting. (3.42)
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Emily Dickinson: Scientist

Hangnail

On the Birthday of Emily Dickinson I am delighted to learn that she was a fan of science.  Like another great write, Roald Dahl, she will tell you to vaccinate your child.

Many of the anti-vaxx brigade see themselves as people of faith.  They cleary never learned the lesson that God helps those who help themselves.  If you believe in God why is it so difficult to believe that he created in us the ability to understand the scientific precepts of our world?  Why is it so difficult to believe that God would have created in us the ability to heal ourselves through science?

If you don’t believe in God you belive the same thing, not through blind faith, but through reason.

Either way, why would anyone ignore the best evidence of science in favour of irrational actions motivated by hearsay and anecdote?

Fear.  That’s why.  Try to live a life devoid of fear.

 

Faith; by Emily Dickinson

“Faith” is a fine invention
when gentlemen can see –
but microscopes are prudent
in an emergency.

Carpe Diem

Born in the Consulship of Cotta and Torquatus (65BC) the poet we now know as Horace lived through the greatest era of Roman History.  In the year he was born Pompey Magnus was at the very height of his power.  He was fighting Tigranes in Armenia and Mithridates the Great.  Julius Caesar was Consul in Horace’s second year of life, and Cicero was consul in his third year.

He lived through the two Civil wars that defined the boundary between Republican Rome and Imperial Rome.  Too young to participate in the Civil War of Julius Caesar.  He found himself on the wrong side in the Octavian civil war at the Battle of Philippi (42BC) where he was on the losing side with Brutus and Cassius.

Luckily Horace was favoured by Maecenas, Octavians right hand man and an avid patron of the arts.  Horace became an Imperial court poet under Augustus.  He was in the inner circle during the creation of the Roman Empire.  He saw the young Octavian rise to become Princeps and then Augustus.

So, as it is your birthday, Happy Birthday Horace.  Seize the day!

 

Ode I-XI “Carpe Diem”; by Quintus Horatius Flaccus

Ask not Leuconoë for we never know
what fate the gods grant, your fate or mine.
Waste no time on futile Babylonian astrological reckonings.
Better by far to suffer what comes
whether Jupiter grants us more winters or if this, our last
is stripped away like those cliffs by the Tyrrhenian sea.
Be wise, mix the wine, life is short, temper your long term ambitions.
Time is envious of this moment, even as we speak: Seize the day, trust not to tomorrow.

Grandfather Africa

Tatamkulu Afrika translates from Xhosa as Grandfather Africa.  It is the nom de plume of Mogamed Fu’ad Nasif who was born in Egypt on this day in 1920.  His initial publications were under what he called his Methodist name; John Carlton.  This was the name given to him by his Foster parents in South Africa after his Egyptian father and Turkish mother died of the flu.

That would have been the global pandemic Spanish flu which took people in the prime of their lives and left behind the aged and infirm and the small children.

He went back to the land of his birth in WW2 and fought in the North African campaign, was captured in Tobruk.

After the war he moved to South West Africa, now modern Namibia, and became Jozua Joubert when fostered by an Afrikaans family.

In 1964 he converted to Islam and became Ismail Joubert.

He moved to Cape Town and was active in protests against the whitewashing of District 6 under the apartheid regime.  His Egyptian/Turkish heritage permitted Joubert to classify as a white.  He refused.

Grandfather Africa was given to him as an honorific, as the Indians named Mohandas Gandhi “Bapu” and “Mahatma”.  But he was not the pacifist the Indian was.  He was imprisoned along side Prisoner 46664 for 11 years for terrorism, so maybe we should say that his was a Chimurenga name?

Egypt, Libya, Namibia and South Africa, the name fits.

afrika1

 

Nothing’s Changed; by Tatamkulu Afrika

Small round hard stones click
under my heels,
seeding grasses thrust bearded seeds
into trouser cuffs, cans,
trodden on, crunch
in tall, purple-flowering,
amiable weeds.

of my lungs,
and the hot, white, inwards turning
anger of my eyes.

Brash with glass,
name flaring like a flag,
it squats
in the grass and weeds,
incipient Port Jackson trees:
new, up-market, haute cuisine,
guard at the gatepost,
whites only inn.

No sign says it is:
but we know where we belong.

I press my nose
to the clear panes, know,
before I see them, there will be
crushed ice white glass,
linen falls,
the single rose.

Down the road,
working man’s cafe sells
bunny chows.
Take it with you, eat
it at a plastic table top,
wipe your fingers on your jeans,
spit a little on the floor:
it’s in the bone.

I back from the glass,
boy again,
leaving small, mean O
of small, mean mouth.
Hands burn
for a stone, a bomb,
to shiver down the glass.
Nothing’s changed.

Poets and their legacy

Poets

Joyce Kilmer and Osbert Sitwell

Two war poets were born on this day.  Joyce Kilmer, born 1886, was a well known poet before he shipped for France.  He died in July 1918 at the 2nd battle of the Marne.  Best known for his poem “Trees” he has been widely quoted and as widely ridiculed.  His “War Poems” are paeans of sacrifice where he celebrates death and compares troopers to Christ on the Cross.  Well known but no longer well respected.  If you want to read his poetry you will not find it on this site.

Osbert Sitwell was born in 1892 and joined the war in 1914.  He began his poetry career in the trenches and his poems are anything but a celebration of that hell.  He went on to become a well known and highly respected writer.  Well connected in English society and inheriting a baronetcy himself, he moved in illustrious circles in his lifetime.

Today Kilmer is famous, a household name, although often parodied and mocked.  Sitwell, who has heard of him?  His name has faded.  A solid but unremarkable poet.

Fame is a fickle mistress.

This Generation: by Sir Osbert Sitwell

Their youth was fevered – passionate, quick to drain
the last few pleasures from the cup of life
before they turned to suck the dregs of pain
and end their young-old lives in mortal strife.
They paid the debts of many a hundred year
of foolishness and riches in alloy.
They went to the death; nor did they shed a tear
for all they sacrificed of love and joy.
Their tears ran dry when they were in the womb,
for, entering life – they found it was their tomb.