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 !

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Happy Birthday Wordsworth

williamwordsworth1

Wordsworth facepalm predates Picard

For any who hold to the power of nominative determinism William Wordsworth is a fine example.  Who can give more weight to words than a poet?  Born with the name Wordsworth it is a natural segue into poetry.

What Wordsworth is best known for is his love and appreciation of nature and especially of his native Cumbria.  Much of the popularity of the Lake District as a tourist destination can be attributed to the poet.

In these dark #Brexit days as the UK retrenches into insularity it is interesting to note that Wordsworth’s first publication was in “The European Magazine”.  He went on a walking tour of Europe.   He was an admirer of revolutionary France until the Reign of Terror separated him from his lover and his child.   Clearly a man who would vote to Remain.  Wordsworth suffered the negative impact of a hard border.

But if William Wordsworth remains relevant today it may be as a canary in the coalmine for the impact of mankind on nature.  Long before the landscape of England was ravaged by industrialisation Wordsworth was a Cassandra predicting how mankind would harm our world.  The advent of the anthropocene has made him even more relevant.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
and are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
for this, for everything, we are out of tune,
it moves us not.– Great God! I’d rather be
a Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
so might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

 

Alliteration

Alaric_Alexander_Watts

The alliterative Alaric Alexander Watts

Defined as the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words.  A perfect example of alliteration is given in a poem by Alaric Alexander Watts.  Born on this day in 1797 into the world dominated by the Napoleonic Wars.  He died in 1864 at the height of the U.S. Civil War.

In his lifetime Europe was in a constant state of war.  The greatest force for peace in the history of the world is the European Union.  Because of this I find it strange, incredible, that anyone who knows anything about history would want to dismantle the European Union.  But today the British People, the Russians and the USA are all working very hard to dismantle the European Union.

The British are taking themselves out of Europe.  Putin is trying to exert pressure on Eastern Europe to extend Russian influence back into former East European Communist Economies.  Donald Trump has sent Mike Pence on a scouting mission to see if he can tip countries like Poland, Hungary, Romania or Bulgaria out of the Union.  They are trying to find cracks to prize the union apart.

Why?  What is to be gained by a return to conflict and constant war?  Do they all hold shares in Arms Manufacturing companies?

 

The Siege of Belgrade; by Alaric Alexander Watts

An Austrian army, awfully arrayed,
boldly by battery besieged Belgrade.
Cossack commanders cannonading come,
dealing destruction’s devastating doom.
Every endeavor engineers essay,
for fame, for fortune fighting – furious fray!
Generals ‘gainst generals grapple – gracious God!
How honors Heaven heroic hardihood!
Infuriate, indiscrminate in ill,
kindred kill kinsmen, kinsmen kindred kill.
Labor low levels longest, lofiest lines;
men march ‘mid mounds, ‘mid moles, ‘ mid murderous mines;
now noxious, noisey numbers nothing, naught
of outward obstacles, opposing ought;
poor patriots, partly purchased, partly pressed,
quite quaking, quickly “Quarter! Quarter!” quest.
Reason returns, religious right redounds,
suwarrow stops such sanguinary sounds.
Truce to thee, Turkey! Triumph to thy train,
unwise, unjust, unmerciful Ukraine!
Vanish vain victory! Vanish, victory vain!
Why wish we warfare? Wherefore welcome were
Xerxes, Ximenes, Xanthus, Xavier?
Yield, yield, ye youths! Ye yeomen, yield your yell!
Zeus’, Zarpater’s, Zoroaster’s zeal,
Attracting all, arms against acts appeal!

Celebrated Lovers

westwoolf

Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf

Most famously known for her love affair with Virginia Woolf  the socialite, poet, garden designer and novelest Vita Sackville-West was born on this day in 1892.  Below is a recently discovered poem that was written originally in French for another of her lovers, Violet Trefusis.

Vita was the inspiration for the character Orlando in Woolf’s eponymous novel.

Of course, just in case there is any confusion, Vita is no relation of Bilbo or Frodo Baggins, not even through the line of the Sackville-Baggins.  However J.R.R. Tolkien did move in the same society as the aristocratic Bloombury set and would undoubtely have known of Vita Sackville-West.  Perhaps they did not get on and he gave half her name and her hyphen to his most dislikable hobbit.

In a strange turn of coincidence one of the lead characters in the Lord of the Rings is played by Orlando Bloom.

 

Lost Poem; by Vita Sackville-West

When sometimes I stroll in silence, with you
Through great floral meadows of open country
I listen to your chatter, and give thanks to the gods
For the honest friendship, which made you my companion
But in the heavy fragrance of intoxicating night
I search on your lip for a madder caress
I tear secrets from your yielding flesh
Giving thanks to the fate which made you my mistress

Happy Birthday George Harrison

George Harrison

While Lennon and McCartney churned out an enormous volume of songs George Harrison wrote less in number but no lesser in quality.  His are some of my favourite Beatles songs;  Old Brown Shoe, Something, While my guitar gently weeps and Here comes the sun.  This one below reads more like a poem than a song lyric, and it is worth listening to to get a flavour for Harrison the Sitar player.  George was the youngest Beatle and was born on this day in 1943.

George was only 15 when he joined the Beatles and was only 16 when they went to Hamburg to play their first residency.  The trip was cut short because Harrison was deported because he was too young to play the clubs on the Reeperbahn.

Within you, without you;  George Harrison.

We were talking, about the space between us all
and the people, who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion
never glimpse the truth, then it’s far too late when they pass away.

We were talking, about the love we all could share
when we find it, to try our best to hold it there, with our love
with our love we could save the world, if they only knew.

Try to realize it’s all within yourself, no-one else can make you change
and to see you’re really only very small
and life flows on within you and without you.

We were talking, about the love that’s gone so cold
and the people who gain the world and lose their soul.
They don’t know, they can’t see, are you one of them?

When you’ve seen beyond yourself
then you may find peace of mind is waiting there
and the time will come when you see we’re all one
and life flows on within you and without you.


Fountain of youth

OLAY

About 80% of the cosmetics industry is based on selling a version of the fountain of youth.

María Rosalía Rita de Castro, the Galician poet, was born on this day in 1837.  Writing in Galego, the Galician language, whe was one of the leading lights of the highly nostalgic Galician romantic movement.

The theme of the poem below is the need to dream of eternal life because the despair of inevitable age, death and the void are too stark to face.  We know we delude ourselves, but we are happy to do so.

The concept of a fountain of youth is very old.  Herododus, the father of history, wrote about it, and every time mankind has explored a new land we have hoped to find there some secret to eternal youth.  Eternal life is not something you want, without eternal youth.  Someone who made that mistake was poor Tithonus, the better looking brother of king Priam of Troy.  He was so good looking he attracted the attention of Eos, Goddess of dawn.  Eos begged Zeus to make Tithonus immortal and Zeus did so.  But the youth aged and then became and old feeble man.  Eventually Eos shut him away in his room, and there he made scratching sounds until Eos turned him into a cicada.

The cosmetics industry sells 2 basic concepts.  For brevity we can call them “Eternal Youth” and “Up for it”.  The latter is focused on the market for women who want to find partners.  When women are at the most fertile part of their monthly cycle, most likely to get pregnant, the body naturally displays this with visible cues for potential mates.  Lips plump up.  The skin clears up and glows.  Breasts become fuller.  Pupils of eyes expand.   All these cues are replicated by the cosmetics industry to make you look your best for your big night out.

This is not to say there are no cosmetics for men, but lets face it, the big money is in the female market.

So “Up for it” dominates the market for 20 something females.  “Eternal youth” dominates the market for females, and for males, as soon as you spot that first grey hair, that first wrinkle or crows foot, that first laugh line that no longer leaves the face when you cease to smile.  The big money in cosmetics is in “eternal youth”.  And when it comes to selling this proposition there is a whole lot of snake oil out there masquerading as science.  There is an entire industry out there known by the term of cosmeceuticals.  According to de Castro below we know the dreams are just dreams, but we are happy to fool ourselves.

Dicen que no hablan las plantas; de Rosalía de Castro

The plants don’t speak they say, nor springs, nor birds,
not the rumour mongering wave, nor the twinkling stars,
so they say, but it’s not true, for always as I pass
they mutter and call out:
There goes that mad dreamer
believing in a fountain of youth, a land eternal,
but soon, very soon, her hair will grey,
and she will tremble, stiffen, a frigid winter meadow.

-Here are grey hairs on my head, there are frost meadows,
but I continue dreaming, poor deluded sleepwalker,
the eternal spring of my life dries up
perennial rebirth of fields and souls,
ages or burns away.

Stars and springs and flowers, don’t mock my dreams,
not needing them, how can you appreciate what is is to live without them?

From Apollo to Pavlova flieth the swan.

Cygnus

When Apollo entered the world, sacred swans circled the island seven times for it was the seventh day of the month. At once Zeus lavished many gifts upon his son including a golden miter, a chariot drawn by swans, and a lyre since legend has it at birth Apollo said, “Dear to me shall be the lyre and bow, and in oracles I shall reveal to men the inexorable will of Zeus.”

Apollo is the Greek God of music and poetry, arts and archery amongst other things.  Swans were held to be sacred to him.  The most common swan in Europe was the mute swan, not quite mute, but not a renowned singer.  But legend held it that at the moment of death the Swan, finding itself moving closer to an afterlife with Apollo, would erupt into a beautiful funeral song.

So it is that we give the term swan song to a final performance.  One last great moment before retiring to anonymity.

The wild swan’s death-hymn took the soul
Of that waste place with joy
Hidden in sorrow: at first to the ear
The warble was low, and full and clear; …
But anon her awful jubilant voice,
With a music strange and manifold,
Flow’d forth on a carol free and bold;

The words of the Poet Laureate of Britain and Ireland, Alfed Lord Tennyson above inspired the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns to write Le cygne which is the central theme to the ballet, The Dying Swan which was performed by Anna Pavlova from 1905.  The Russian ballerina toured Australia and New Zealand in the 1920’s and sparked off a 90 year row between the two nations.  The argument was over which country invented the eponymous Pavlova dessert.  Oxford English Dictionary ruled in 2010 that based on analysis of cookbooks the dish originated in New Zealand.

And so to Gernald Stern, who celebrates his birthday today, sharing it with another great American poet; Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Swan Song; by Gerald Stern

A bunch of old snakeheads down by the pond
carrying on the swan tradition — hissing
inside their white bodies, raising and lowering their heads
like ostriches, regretting only the sad ritual
that forced them to waddle back into the water
after their life under the rocks, wishing they could lie again
in the sun

and dream of spreading their terrifying wings;
wishing, this time, they could sail through the sky like
horses,
their tails rigid, their white manes fluttering,
their mouths open, their sharp teeth flashing,
drops of mercy pouring from their eyes,
bolts of wisdom from their foreheads.