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.

Advertisements

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.

 

Completely un-PC

Born Dec 5th in 1869 it is little surprise that this poem of Ellis Parker Butler would not pass muster in the PC world we live in today.  I had a good laugh today listening to Matt Cooper on Today FM Drivetime interviewing an American author who wrote a book on the coddled generation of the USA.  He explained about one group of easily offended individuals who are members of Protected Interest Groups.  Cooper asked if they were offended by the acronym of their designation and the author cracked up laughing.  He had never realised that these so easily offended folk were calling themselves P.I.G.s.

Happy birthday Mr Butler.

 

A Culinary Puzzle; by Ellis Parker Butler

In our dainty little kitchen,
where my aproned wife is queen
over all the tin-pan people,
in a realm exceeding clean,
oft I like to loiter, watching
while she mixes things for tea;
and she tasks me, slyly smiling,
“Now just guess what this will be!”

Hidden in a big blue apron,
her dimpled arms laid bare,
and the love-smiles coyly mingling
with a housewife’s frown of care —
see her beat a golden batter,
pausing but to ask of me,
as she adds a bit of butter,
“Now just guess what this will be!”

Then I bravely do my duty,
guess it, “pudding,” “cake” or “pie,”
“dumplings,” “waffles,” “bread” or “muffins;”
but no matter what I try,
this provoking witch just answers:
“Never mind, just wait and see!
But I think you should be able,
dear, to guess what this will be.”

Little fraud! she never tells me
until ’tis baked and browned —
and I think I know the reason
for her secrecy profound —
she herself with all her fine airs
and her books on cookery,
could not answer, should I ask her,
“Dearest, what will that mess be?”

Bad Verse

Mortal Refrains

Born this day in the year 1847 Julia A. Moore is considered by the literary world to be the female version of  William McGonagall which is to say she is the queen of bad poetry.

She wallowed in poetry written on the death of children, but any decent disaster could coax a few lines of execrable verse from her pen.

Brought to fame by a mischievous editor, James F. Ryder, who circulated her book as a joke, she achieved no small notoriety.  A review of the book The Sweet Singer of Michigan Salutes the Public from the Rochester Democrat gives a good flavour of the reception of her work in literary circles.

Shakespeare, could he read it, would be glad that he was dead …. If Julia A. Moore would kindly deign to shed some of her poetry on our humble grave, we should be but too glad to go out and shoot ourselves tomorrow

Moore became widely known and staged readings of her poetry to a backing of orchestral music.  She was mockingly cheered and praised by many and thought the laughing and jeering was directed at the orchestra.  When she realised the truth she made the following statement to her audience:

You have come here and paid twenty-five cents to see a fool; I receive seventy-five dollars, and see a whole houseful of fools.

The point about Moore is that she was published and republished.  Her books sold.  There is an important lesson here.  If you can’t be good perhaps you should strive to be really, really bad.  Because there is nothing in mediocrity.  And amongst all those who laughed I guarantee there were many who saw nothing wrong with Moore’s verses, and enjoyed them as a form of chicken soup for the soul.

 

Dear Love, do you remember? : by Julia Ann Moore

Dearest one, do you remember,
As we sat side by side,
How you told me that you loved me,
Asked me to be your bride.
And you told me we’d be happy,
Through all the years to come,
If we ever would prove faithful,
As in the days when we were young.
Oh! how well do I remember,
The kind and loving words,
And now as I sat dreaming,
The thoughts my memory stirs.
But the days have passed before me,
And the scenes of long ago,
But I can never forget the
Days that have passed o’er.

Oh! how clearly I remember
The days when we were young,
How we would tell to each other
Of happy times to come,
And as we would sit together,
That dear loved one and I,
Oh, sat dreaming of the future,
And childhood days gone by.

Dearest love, do you remember
The first time that we met —
Our youthful days have gone, love,
I hope you love me yet,
Now we are growing old, love,
Our heads will soon be gray,
May we ever love each other
Till from earth we pass away.

 

 

Sons of Érin

PP

An image instantly recognisable to everyone who grew up in Ireland.  Patrick Pearse in this iconic photograph, the hero shot!  He is our national messiah, the sacrificial lamb who was slain so our nation could be born.  Born on this day in 1879.  Teacher, Poet, Writer, Orator, Barrister and the Military Commander of the Easter Rising in 1916.  Pearse was executed in May 1916.

His brother Willie was executed the very next day for his part in the Rebellion.

Patrick wrote the following lament through the eyes of his Mother.  It is Ireland’s version of the Bixby letter from President Abraham Lincoln to the mother of five fallen union soldiers of the Civil War.

 

The Mother; by Patrick Henry Pearse

I do not grudge them: Lord, I do not grudge
my two strong sons that I have seen go out
to break their strength and die, they and a few,
in bloody protest for a glorious thing,
they shall be spoken of among their people,
the generations shall remember them,
and call them blessed;
But I will speak their names to my own heart
in the long nights;
The little names that were familiar once
round my dead hearth.
Lord, thou art hard on mothers:
We suffer in their coming and their going;
And tho’ I grudge them not, I weary, weary
of the long sorrow-And yet I have my joy:
My sons were faithful, and they fought.

 

Willie & Pat

Willie & Patrick Pearse

Growth and Death

Ferguson

Harry Ferguson was born on this day in 1884.  He was born into a world of horse powered agriculture.  Two great leaps forward occurred in agricultural practices during WW1 and then again in WW2.

Ferguson began his career in engineering with aircraft.  He was the first Irish man to build a plane and the first to fly a plane.  He moved from aircraft to tractors just before the outbreak of the Great War.  All through the war he was developing ideas for ways to attach a plough to the tractor.

In the early 1920s he presented his ideas on the three point linkage to that other great Irish engineer, Henry Ford.  Together they created the Fordson.  Ferguson went on to build his own tractors and incorporated his designs into David Browns and Massey Fergusons.

When the second great agricultural leap forward came during WW2 it was powered by tractors designed by Harry Ferguson.  His work revolutionised agricultural production and allowed for the radical improvements in output per acre that originated during WW2.  By the end of the war Britain was able to feed itself.

After the war these innovations were rolled out to the world and sparked the prosperity of the “Swinging Sixties”.

Harry Ferguson never saw the 1960’s.  He died at the beginning of the decade after years of legal battles with Henry Ford II over the illegal use of his patents.  The legal battles cost him half his fortune and all his health and was unsuccessful in restricting Fords use of his work.

If Ferguson represents an era of Growth we can see in the poem below that Williams has experienced an era of Death, Murder, Famine and Dictatorship.  Born in 1936, on this day, Charles Kenneth Williams lived through those swinging sixties.  But he saw the rise of tin pot dictator after dictator pillage country after country in Asia, Africa, South & Central America.  Much of it carried out under the cloak of U.S. Foreign Policy.

Today on the news we see thousands of troops sent to the US Mexican Border.  Donald Trump is addressing voters for the upcoming mid term elections.  He uses the language of the demagogue.  He sounds like another tin pot dictator.  He says his troops will shoot at any migrants who throw stones.  He says that the Democrats want to invite “Caravan after Caravan” of migrants over the border.  When Republicans speak about Democrats they describe them as Communists or Socialists.  From here in Europe the Democrats come over as far right liberals.  We would see them as right wing extremists.  It is hilarious to describe a club of multi-millionaire politicians as socialists.  It is, frankly, an insult to socialism.

The future of the planet lies in sustainability.  Humans must live within our means or we will become extinct.  Politicians who, like Donald Trump, deny climate change are doing so because they are trading personal greed against public good.  They know the world is full of short term thinking greedy people.

The failure of democratic American style politics to plan beyond the next election is the major barrier to long term sustainable planning.  When Harry Ferguson was designing his first tractors during WW1 American saw itself, and was, the saviour of the Western World.  Roll the clock forward 100 years and today, 2018 the USA is the worlds greatest problem.

 

Zebra; by Charles Kenneth Williams

Kids once carried tin soldiers in their pockets as charms
against being afraid, but how trust soldiers these days
not to load up, aim, blast the pants off your legs?

I have a key-chain zebra I bought at the Thanksgiving fair.
How do I know she won’t kick, or bite at my crotch?
Because she’s been murdered, machine-gunned: she’s dead.

Also, she’s a she: even so crudely carved, you can tell
by the sway of her belly a foal’s inside her.
Even murdered mothers don’t hurt people, do they?

And how know she’s murdered? Isn’t everything murdered?
Some dictator’s thugs, some rebels, some poachers;
some drought, world-drought, world-rot, pollution, extinction.

Everything’s murdered, but still, not good, a dead thing
in with your ID and change. I fling her away, but the death
of her clings, the death of her death, her murder, her slaughter.

The best part of Thanksgiving Day, though—the parade!
Mickey Mouse, Snoopy, Kermit the Frog, enormous as clouds!
And the marching bands, majorettes, anthems and drums!

When the great bass stomped its galloping boom out
to the crowd, my heart swelled with valor and pride.
I remembered when we saluted, when we took off our hat.