Happy Birthday Thom Gunn

Thom Gunn

I could write a lot about the biggest show in the USA down in Texas.  The American media should get an Oscar and a handful of Pulitzers for turning a storm into a thousand stories of human suffering.  They managed this disaster much better than Hurricane Katrina.  What you want is a low body count but powerful images of uprooted lives caused by homes being flooded or slabbed.  Plenty of affirming narratives of ordinary folk helping each other out, instead of those awful stories that were made up about the murders and rapes in the Louisiana Superdome.

Yes indeed cynic that I am I believe the US media organs learned good lessons about reporting from Louisiana.  At the same time we see a federal government that responded correctly, support without interference, Trump got this one right.

Also in the news Kim Jong Un just upped the ante by straddling Japan with a Missile.  That cannot sit.  Watch this space.

More importantly this is the birthday of a great poet.  He is the only person I have come across to date where cause of death was given as “Acute polysubstance abuse”.  Usually you just hear of “drug overdose”, but that’s for heavy metal rock stars, a poet demands something more…elegant, subtle, sophisticated?

Tamer and Hawk; by Thom Gunn

I thought I was so tough,
but gentled at your hands,
cannot be quick enough
to fly for you and show
that when I go I go
at your commands.

Even in flight above
I am no longer free:
You seeled me with your love,
I am blind to other birds—
the habit of your words
has hooded me.

As formerly, I wheel
I hover and I twist,
but only want the feel,
in my possessive thought,
Of catcher and of caught
upon your wrist.

You but half civilize,
taming me in this way.
through having only eyes
for you I fear to lose,
I lose to keep, and choose
tamer as prey.

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Excuse my dust

MrsParker

Born on this day in 1893 Dorothy Parker, writer & poet is possibly best known for her famous wit.  Her one liners are sharp as a knife.  Lines like “A girls best friend is her mutter” or “The cure for boredom is curiosity, there is no cure for curiosity”.  Her wit developed at an early age when she lost her mother and her father remarried.  She refused to call her stepmother anything civil and referred to her as the housekeeper.

She joked that she married to cover up her Jewish background and avoid anti-Semitism.  She was an avid anti-fascist and became aligned with left leaning politics in the 1930s. She was blacklisted in Hollywood in the 1950s McCarthy era as a communist.

“Excuse my dust” was her suggestion for her epitaph.  When she died in 1967 she bequeathed her estate to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. After his death her estate passed on to the NCAAP.  In 1988 they claimed her ashes and erected a memorial garden to her in their Baltimore headquarters.

One Perfect Rose : by Dorothy Parker

A single flow’r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet –
One perfect rose.

I knew the language of the floweret;
‘My fragile leaves,’ it said, ‘his heart enclose.’
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.

Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.

 

Battle of the Cabbages

FamineWarhouse

The Famine Warhouse, Ballingarry, Tipperary.

In March 1848 the train station in Thurles, County Tipperary opened in Ireland.

In the same year the Young Irelander Rebellion took place in a country riddled by the Great Potato Famine.  The rebellion was a failure.

The largest action of the rebellion was the Battle fought in the village of Ballingarry between a group of 47 armed police constables and a gang of rebels let by William Smith O’Brien.  The police, seeing themselves outnumbered, took cover in Mrs McCormacks house, taking her children as hostages.

The rebels were unable to oust the police from their stronghold and a siege ensued.  As the day wore on word came that reinforcements were on the way from Cashel to support the police, and the crowd dispersed.  Because of the field they occupied during the siege the rebels were mocked by calling it the Battle of Widow McCormack’s Cabbage Plot.

The battle took place on this day, July 29th, 1848.  William Smith O’Brien remained in hiding for a few days and on August 5th he made his way to Thurles to make his escape by train.  He was recognised in the train station and was arrested.

Sentenced to death by hanging for treason a huge petition was raised to commute his sentence.  He was deported along with the other Young Ireland leaders to Tasmania.  He failed to escape and served his sentence in full, finally returning to live in Brussels for much of his life.

His fellow Young Ireland rebel Thomas Francis Meagher did succeed in his escape to America.  There he raised an Irish Brigade to fight for the Union in the Civil War.  Apparently, when she read about this in the newspaper Queen Victoria wanted to know why one of Her Majesty’s Prisoners was leading troops in Virginia instead of rotting in a cell in Port Arthur.

Happy Birthday Hilaire Belloc

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A prolific writer in politics, travel, religion and war Belloc is best remembered for his children’s poetry.  In truth his poems appeal far more to the parents than they do to the kids.

Belloc was also a sailor, he raced with the French team, and the Dermod McCarthy book “Sailing with Mr Belloc” details his cruising around Britain.

Born on this day in 1870, just outside Paris.

 

Matilda Who Told Lies, And Was Burned To Death; by Hilaire Belloc

 

Matilda told such Dreadful Lies,
it made one Gasp and Stretch one’s Eyes;
Her Aunt, who, from her Earliest Youth,
had kept a Strict Regard for Truth,
attempted to Believe Matilda:
The effort very nearly killed her,
and would have done so, had not She
discovered this Infirmity.

For once, towards the close of day,
Matilda, growing tired of play,
and finding she was left alone,
went tiptoe to the Telephone
ond summoned the immediate aid
Of London’s Noble Fire-Brigade.

Within an hour the Gallant Band
were pouring in on every hand,
from Putney, Hackney Downs, and Bow.
With Courage high and Hearts a-glow,
they galloped, roaring through the town,
‘Matilda’s House is Burning Down!’

Inspired by British cheers and loud
proceeding from the frenzied crowd,
they ran their ladders through a score
of windows on the ball room floor;
and took peculiar pains to souse
the pictures up and down the House,
until Matilda’s Aunt succeeded
in showing them they were not needed;
and even then she had to pay
to get the Men to go away.

It happened that a few Weeks later
her aunt was off to the theatre
to see that interesting play
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray.
She had refused to take her niece
to hear this entertaining piece:
A Deprivation Just and Wise
to Punish her for telling lies.

That night a fire did break out-
You should have heard Matilda shout!
You should have heard her scream and bawl,
and throw the window up and call
To people passing in the street-
(The rapidly increasing heat
encouraging her to obtain
their confidence) – but all in vain!
For every time she shouted ‘Fire! ‘
they only answered ‘Little Liar!’
And therefore when her aunt returned,
Matilda, and the house, were burned.

 

Happy Birthday George Bernard Shaw

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Born in Synge Street, Portobello, Dublin on this day in 1856 Bernard Shaw makes it onto my page more as a playwright as he was not really a poet.  I know of only one poem that he wrote and that is satirical.  in 1924 and 1925 a writer by the name of Herbert Langford Reed published two anthologies of Limericks.

Langford took a poetic form that was widely employed to tell rude jokes with sexual innuendo and cleaned it up for publication.  The result is a lot of sanitized and frankly unremarkable pieces of doggerel.  Shaw’s limerick is the perfect critique of the work of Langford Reed.

Shaw himself is rightly seen as a giant of the literature world.  How many writers get their own adjective?  When you describe something in the manner of Bernard Shaw you call it “Shavian”.  It may also be employed as a noun to identify a fan of Shaw.

A prolific writer of brilliant, intelligent and witty drama, rightly a Nobel Laureate.  Shaw was less successful with his pursuit of the 20th Century novel and turned down opportunities to pen librettos for opera with Elgar.  He was a friend of the Irish Literary Revival, a member of the Protestant ascendancy, albeit at the poorer end, he connected with William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory, George Russell, James Joyce and was friend and inspiration to Sean O’Casey who became a playwright after seeing “John Bull’s Other Island” the play that made Edward VII laugh so hard he broke his chair.

When John Millington Synge passed away Yeats and Lady Gregory offered the post as director of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin to Shaw, but he declined.

Although he never returned to live here he maintained his links with Ireland throughout his life and in his will he bequeathed the rights of several of his plays to the National Art Gallery in Dublin.  One of the plays, Pygmalion, was given a musical overhaul by Lerner and Loewe in 1956 and became the smash hit musical “My Fair Lady” making the art gallery wealthy in the process.

Contemporary with Oscar Wilde and both leading lights on the London theatre scene at the very height of its prominence.  Shaw was the later arrival, Wilde already a celebrated star before Shaw emerged on the scene.  It is said that Shaw admired all Wilde’s work until “The Importance of Being Ernest” which he detested.

Shaw was a mixed bag.  For all you find to love in him you will find plenty to dislike.  He was a eugenicist, an anti-vaxxer, he admired aspects of fascism and Hitler, met Stalin and described him as a Georgian Gentleman, was opposed to anti-semetism and his views on religion and spirituality are confusing, conflicting and contradictory.  His sexuality is a matter for debate, he was painfully shy and celibate until age 29 and did not marry until age 42 to a woman of his own age.

 

Langford Reed saved the limerick verse: by George Bernard Shaw

Langford Reed saved the limerick verse,
From being taken away in a hearse.
He made it so clean
Now it’s fit for a queen,
Re-established for better or worse.

Happy Birthday Cat Stevens

cat-stevens-teaser-and-the-firecat-inside

1948 born Steven Demetre Georgiou, son of a Swedish mother and a Greek-Cypriot father.  His stage name was Cat Stevens.  I grew up listening to him.  When I learned to play the guitar it was to learn his songs.

His father was Greek-Orthodox, his mother a Baptist and he attended a Catholic school.  Always a man searching for the spiritual something that is very clear in his lyrics.  He found his own spiritual home in the Quran and is now called Yusuf Islam.

He has many great songs and great lyrics.  This one has an environmental message and asks a question we should never forget.  It reminds me of this quote:

Canada, the most affluent of countries, operates on a depletion economy which leaves destruction in its wake. Your people are driven by a terrible sense of deficiency. When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.”……Alanis Obomsawin of the Abenaki in “Who is the Chairman of This Meeting?” by Ralph Osborne, Toronto, 1972.

 

Where do the children play: by Cat Stevens

Well I think it’s fine, building jumbo planes
Or taking a ride on a cosmic train
Switch on summer from a slot machine
Yes, get what you want to if you want ’cause you can get anything

I know we’ve come a long way
We’re changing day to day
But tell me, where do the children play?

Well you roll on roads over fresh green grass
For your lorry loads pumping petrol gas
And you make them long and you make them tough
But they just go on and on and it seems that you can’t get off

Oh, I know we’ve come a long way
We’re changing day to day
But tell me, where do the children play?

Well you’ve cracked the sky, scrapers fill the air
Will you keep on building higher ’til there’s no more room up there?
Will you make us laugh, will you make us cry?
Will you tell us when to live, will you tell us when to die?

I know we’ve come a long way
We’re changing day to day
But tell me, where do the children play?

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.