Happy Birthday Petrarch

christ-on-the-sea-of-galilee

Eugene Delacroix : Christ on the sea of Galilee

Born on this day in 1304 Petrarch is called by some the father of the Renaissance, by others the father of Humanism and by still others as the father of the Sonnet.  It takes a great man indeed to father so many illustrious children.  Mountaineers consider him the first Alpinist as he is the first person recorded to ascend a mountain (Mont Ventoux) for recreation alone.

A latin scholar he encouraged other scholars to scour the libraries of the world for the writings of ancient Greece and Rome.  He acquired a copy of Homer’s Odyssey but lamented his lack of Greek saying that “Homer was dumb to me and I was deaf to Homer”.  He had more success with his discovery of a cache of the letters of Cicero, who is our key primary source for the political and judicial goings on in the late Roman Republic when Cicero wrote of the day to day doings of Julius Caesar, Pompeii, Brutus, Cassius, Cato, Marc Anthony et al.

As a writer he was a contemporary and a correspondent of Boccaccio.  His writings had a major impact on the evolution of the modern Italian language.  His use of the poetic form of the Sonnet had an enormous impact on the world of poetry and especially on the works of Shakespeare.  Sonnets are somewhat easier to rhyme in Italian than they are in English, but here is a translation of one of his poems.  It sits nicely in this blog site as it is a classic “Mind Ship” as he uses the metaphor of a storm battered ship to personify the ravages of age.

La vita fugge, et non s’arresta una hora; by Francesco Petrarch (Trans A.S. Kline)

Life flies, and never stays an hour,
and death comes on behind with its dark day,
and present things and past things
embattle me, and future things as well:
and remembrance and expectation grip my heart,
now on this side, now on that, so that in truth,
if I did not take pity on myself,
I would have freed myself already from all thought.
A sweetness that the sad heart knew
returns to me: yet from another quarter
I see the storm-winds rattling my sails:
I see no chance of harbour, and my helmsman
is weary now, and my masts and ropes are broken,
and the beautiful stars, I used to gaze on, quenched.

Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe

City

As a writer Poe is more about the macabre than about horror.  His skill is to paint brooding and ominous mental pictures replete with gloomy portent.  He explores the darkest recesses of our deepest fears and does it in style.

Born two years to the day after Robert E. Lee, Poe could, in different circumstances, have become a general on the Union side of the conflict.  He enlisted as a soldier in 1827 and was rapidly promoted to rank of Sergeant Major.  From there he bought out his enlistment as a soldier and entered Westpoint as a military cadet.  Poe did not graduate Westpoint.  Instead he had himself expelled on purpose, and pursued his writing career.

Robert E. Lee graduated from Westpoint the year before Edgar Allan Poe entered the college.  Both of them were artillery men.  Poe’s third volume of poems was published thanks to contributions from his fellow Westpoint cadets and contains a dedication to them.

Poe died at age 40, in 1849, a broken wreck of a man, probably from alcoholism. His family had a bad relationship with alcoholism.  For Poe this appeared to be exacerbated by the fact that the women he loved had a habit of dying on him.  His father abandoned the family with Poe was a baby and his mother died of Tuberculosis.  He was adopted by the Allan family and had a very up and down relationship of spoiling and over-discipline.  At age 26 he married his 15 year old cousin, Virginia.  She died after a five year battle with tuberculosis in 1847.  The darkness of his writing is a mirror of the demons that haunted his life.

 

 

The City In The Sea: by Edgar Allan Poe

 

Lo! Death has reared himself a throne
in a strange city lying alone
far down within the dim West,
where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
have gone to their eternal rest.
There shrines and palaces and towers
(time-eaten towers that tremble not!)
resemble nothing that is ours.
Around, by lifting winds forgot,
resignedly beneath the sky
the melancholy waters he.

No rays from the holy heaven come down
on the long night-time of that town;
but light from out the lurid sea
streams up the turrets silently-
gleams up the pinnacles far and free-
up domes- up spires- up kingly halls-
up fanes- up Babylon-like walls-
up shadowy long-forgotten bowers
of sculptured ivy and stone flowers-
up many and many a marvellous shrine
whose wreathed friezes intertwine
the viol, the violet, and the vine.
Resignedly beneath the sky
the melancholy waters lie.
So blend the turrets and shadows there
that all seem pendulous in air,
while from a proud tower in the town
Death looks gigantically down.

There open fanes and gaping graves
yawn level with the luminous waves;
but not the riches there that lie
in each idol’s diamond eye-
not the gaily-jewelled dead
tempt the waters from their bed;
for no ripples curl, alas!
along that wilderness of glass-
no swellings tell that winds may be
upon some far-off happier sea-
no heavings hint that winds have been
on seas less hideously serene.

But lo, a stir is in the air!
The wave- there is a movement there!
As if the towers had thrust aside,
in slightly sinking, the dull tide-
as if their tops had feebly given
a void within the filmy Heaven.
The waves have now a redder glow-
the hours are breathing faint and low-
and when, amid no earthly moans,
down, down that town shall settle hence,
Hell, rising from a thousand thrones,
shall do it reverence.

Rot away Thackeray

On the day of his birthday today I wish William Makepeace Thackeray to go and rot in hell.  One of the most celebrated writers of the Victorian era he was the equal of Charles Dickens in his day.  He thought of himself something of an expert on Irish affairs.  A rabid anti-catholic bigot, under the nom de plume of Hibernis Hibernior he was the chief architect of the British image of Irish people in Punch Magazine.

It was Thackeray who created the image of the sly yet stupid Irish man.  He portrayed us as lazy, brutish, feckless, drunkards, violent, criminal, apeish primitives.  The stereotype of the Irish person he created dragged on for over 100 years, and is still simmering under the surface for certain groups in Britain, amongst Ulster Unionists, British Nationalists, UKIP supporters, Hard Brexiteers.

In particular when the Irish were at their lowest ebb, during the potato famine, Thackeray and his paymasters did not pull their Punches.  Much of his “poetry” is spoken through his imagined voice of Irish protagonists.  I refuse to print it here, or reference it.  I hope it fades away and dies.

His novel “The Luck of Barry Lyndon” was filmed by Stanley Kubrick and is one of my favourite movies.  This is all down the the genius of Kubrick, not to Thackeray.  If you are a fan of Billy Makewar Hack-away then this is not the place for you.

The fenian Guy Fawkes.

Happy Birthday Pablo Neruda

Marmandes

Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto was born this day in 1904.  He ‘borrowed’ his pen name from a Czech poet, Jan Neruda.  A brilliant poet, a nobel laureate, nationalist and politician.  He was murdered under orders of Augusto Pinochet by a doctor treating him for cancer.  Pinochet staged a Coup D’état against the legally elected government of President Allende.

Pinochet was able to do this because he was supported by the US Government and received direct support from the CIA.  That’s American democracy for you!  Democracy for Americans who live in the United States, just not for all Americans, unless it is the right kind of democracy.

Enough with the politics, July is the month of tomatoes.  I planted Marmandes this year.  See the photo!

 

Ode to Tomatoes: by Pablo Neruda

The street
filled with tomatoes
midday,
summer,
light is
halved
like
a
tomato,
its juice
runs
through the streets.
In December,
unabated,
the tomato
invades
the kitchen,
it enters at lunchtime,
takes
its ease
on countertops,
among glasses,
butter dishes,
blue saltcellars.
It sheds
its own light,
benign majesty.
Unfortunately, we must
murder it:
the knife
sinks
into living flesh,
red
viscera,
a cool
sun,
profound,
inexhaustible,
populates the salads
of Chile,
happily, it is wed
to the clear onion,
and to celebrate the union
we
pour
oil,
essential
child of the olive,
onto its halved hemispheres,
pepper
adds
its fragrance,
salt, its magnetism;
it is the wedding
of the day,
parsley
hoists
its flag,
potatoes
bubble vigorously,
the aroma
of the roast
knocks
at the door,
it’s time!
come on!
and, on
the table, at the midpoint
of summer,
the tomato,
star of earth,
recurrent
and fertile
star,
displays
its convolutions,
its canals,
its remarkable amplitude
and abundance,
no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness.

 

Delmore Schwartz RIP

Considered in his youth to be one of the most gifted lights on the literary scene the young Schwartz was lauded by TS Eliot, Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams.  His father died young, at only 49, leaving a sizeable inheritance.  Unfortunately Harry Schwartz picked the wrong person as executor of his will and his children saw little of his money.

Delmore died on this day in 1966, alone in the Columbia Hotel in New York, depressed, alcoholic and only 52 years of age.  His body lay for two days in the morgue before he was identified.  A bright flame that burned out too soon.

-o0o-

Calmly We Walk through This April’s Day ; by Delmore Schwartz

Calmly we walk through this April’s day,
Metropolitan poetry here and there,
In the park sit pauper and rentier,
The screaming children, the motor-car
Fugitive about us, running away,
Between the worker and the millionaire
Number provides all distances,
It is Nineteen Thirty-Seven now,
Many great dears are taken away,
What will become of you and me
(This is the school in which we learn …)
Besides the photo and the memory?
(… that time is the fire in which we burn.)
(This is the school in which we learn …)
What is the self amid this blaze?
What am I now that I was then
Which I shall suffer and act again,
The theodicy I wrote in my high school days
Restored all life from infancy,
The children shouting are bright as they run
(This is the school in which they learn …)
Ravished entirely in their passing play!
(… that time is the fire in which they burn.)
Avid its rush, that reeling blaze!
Where is my father and Eleanor?
Not where are they now, dead seven years,
But what they were then?
                                     No more? No more?
From Nineteen-Fourteen to the present day,
Bert Spira and Rhoda consume, consume
Not where they are now (where are they now?)
But what they were then, both beautiful;
Each minute bursts in the burning room,
The great globe reels in the solar fire,
Spinning the trivial and unique away.
(How all things flash! How all things flare!)
What am I now that I was then?
May memory restore again and again
The smallest color of the smallest day:
Time is the school in which we learn,
Time is the fire in which we burn.

Happy Birthday Richard Aldington

 

Oleanders

Overshadowed by his contemporaries, Aldington nevertheless had an impact on imagism as a movement and influenced writers such as T.E. Hulme, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot and he worked with D.H. Lawrence and Ford Maddox Ford and met with W.B. Yeats.  He minded Eliot’s pets when that poet was away so if you ever go to the musical “Cats” there is a little bit of Aldington in there.  Maybe he named Bomballerina?

He fought in WW1, was wounded, may have suffered from PTSD before it had a name and is buried in Poets corner in Westminster Abbey.

Aldington studied japanese poetry structures and brought the forms into popularity in England in his search for Avant Garde approaches to the art.  He visited the British Museum to study the collection of oriental manuscripts and from one of these visits crafted this beautiful image.

At 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…

Happy Birthday Harold Norse

Harold-Norse-in-1972-001

Harold Norse in 1972

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Leuctra when the Theban general Epaminondas led the Boeotian League to victory over the Spartans under King Cleombrotus I and smashed forever the hegemony of the Lacedaemonians in Greece.  That’s a lot of complicated words and history in one sentence.   I covered the importance of this battle in my post entitled “The death of Sparta” and spoke about the innovative use of echelon formation, so if you click on the title of this post the tags will link you to that post at the end of this one, if that’s your thing.

The reason I refer to Leuctra today is because of the Sacred Band of Thebes.  This was an elite regiment of 150 pairs of male lovers.  They were the best and bravest, the shock troops of the Theban army.

Plato said of them:  if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their beloved, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonour, and emulating one another in honour; and when fighting at each other’s side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world. For what lover would not choose rather to be seen by all mankind than by his beloved, either when abandoning his post or throwing away his arms? He would be ready to die a thousand deaths rather than endure this. Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger?

Which brings me to Harold Norse, a poet of the Beat movement, a homosexual who found himself entirely adrift in an age when he was seen as “queer”.  In his poem “Island of Giglio” he dreams of the Greek tolerance of one man’s love for another.  He dreamed of a world where a man could be a man outside of the very narrow confines of 1950’s Western “Manliness”, the image of man determined by the ad agencies of Madison Avenue and Senator McCarthy’s committee on un-American Activities.

In his way Harold Norse was far more of a man than most of his male contemporaries.  He fought the fight that gave permission for men to be sensitive, loving and emotional individuals.  We all benefit from that.

In the poem below Norse lays out the ways in which the culture of America of the 1950’s steals his sex and his personality. I wonder what Harold would think about Donald Trump’s desire to “Make America Great Again”?

 

I am not a man; by Harold Norse

I am not a man. I can’t earn a living, buy new things for my family. I have acne and a small peter.

I am not a man. I don’t like football, boxing and cars. I like to express my feelings. I even like to put my arm around my friend’s shoulder.

I am not a man. I won’t play the role assigned to me – the role created by Madison Avenue, Playboy, Hollywood and Oliver Cromwell. Television does not dictate my behavior.

I am not a man. Once when I shot a squirrel I swore that I would never kill again. I gave up meat. The sight of blood makes me sick. I like flowers.

I am not a man. I went to prison for resisting the draft. I do not fight when real men beat me up and call me queer. I dislike violence

I am not a man. I have never raped a woman. I don’t hate blacks. I don’t get emotional when the flag is waved. I do not think I should love America or leave it. I think I should laugh at it.

I am not a man. I have never had the clap.

I am not a man. Playboy is not my favorite magazine.

I am not a man. I cry when I’m unhappy.

I am not a man. I do not feel superior to women.

I am not a man. I don’t wear a jockstrap.

I am not a man. I write poetry.

I am not a man. I meditate on Peace and Love.

I am not a man. I don’t want to destroy you.