Not Shakespeare

john-ford-playwright

Elizabethan England was awash with playwrights.  Nowadays everything appears to distill down to only one.  In his day Kit Marlowe was the greater writer.  John Ford was a slightly later contemporary.  A prolific playwright and a great poet, he was born 22 years after Shakespeare in 1586 and his most productive period was in the Jacobean and Caroline eras under James I and Charles I.  He first published 2 years after the death of Elizabeth.

As with many of his era we have no birth cert, but he was baptised on this day, so that’s close enough.

Beauty’s Beauty: by John Ford

Can you paint a thought? or number
every fancy in a slumber?
Can you count soft minutes roving
from a dial’s point by moving?
Can you grasp a sigh? or, lastly,
rob a virgin’s honour chastely?
No, oh no! yet you may
sooner do both that and this,
this and that, and never miss,
than by any praise display
beauty’s beauty; such a glory,
as beyond all fate, all story,
all arms, all arts,
all loves, all hearts,
greater than those, or they,
do, shall, and must obey.

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The Majestic General

Galtieri.jpg

The Falklands War was caused by US foreign policy.

On April 2nd the last Argentinian military junta, led by General Leopoldo Galtieri, invaded (or re-possessed) the Falkland islands (or Las Malvinas) depending on your perspective.

As a result of the invasion the Military Junta became “The Last” military junta.  Most of those surviving generals are still in jail for war crimes committed during “the Dirty war”.

Also as a result of the invasion a floundering Conservative party in the UK were able to turn their fortunes around, secure a strong majority in the next election and inflict the people of the United Kingdom with eight more years of rule by Margaret Thatcher and 15 years of Tory rule.

What is little known and rarely spoken of is why Galtieri felt he could do what he did.  The USA hated the Social-Democratic government of Juan Perón.  They were unable to shake the faith of the people in Juan, but when he died and his wife Isabel took over the CIA moved.  From 1974 CIA sponsored and trained “Death Squads” began to target Perónists, Union Leaders and Socialists.  In 1976 the CIA supported a military Coup which replaced democratic government with a brutal military Junta.

In 1981 Galtieri visited Washington where he was received as the darling of the Reagan administration, Richard Allen, the National Security Adviser dubbed him the “Majestic General”.  On the ground Galtieri signed off on a deal to support “Contras” or “Sandanista”  rebels in Nicaragua.  These were American funded and trained thugs who were paid to tear apart a socialist regime that had the audacity to teach peasants to read instead of picking fruit for US corporations.  They were not “rebels” in any way, shape or form.

As reward for his training and support of the Contras Galtieri was supported by the Reagan administration in staging a coup to take leadership of the regime from General Roberto Viola.  After four months in office Galtieri realised that the only thing falling faster than the Argentine economy was his popularity.  He needed a rallying cause to get the people behind him and his leadership.  So he decided to invade the Falkland Islands.

He did not take this action without the approval of the US government.  But the USA got this one wrong.  They mistakenly thought the British would let the islands go.  Once Margaret Thatcher made it clear that the Islands would be retaken the US government found itself in a pickle.  They could maintain their support for Galtieri and lose Britain or vice versa.

The CIA then carried out an assessment and believed that the British would lose the Falklands war.  They even had plans in place to airlift the surviving Falkland Islanders to Scotland.  So they stood aside and watched from the sidelines.  Britain won.

How many British people are aware that the responsibility for the death of British Soldiers lies at the feet of the Government of the USA?

Canary Wine

Malmsey

In Elizabethan England the prize wine on the market was Malmsey, a fortified wine from the Canary Islands in Spain. It is  a wine celebrated in the writings of Shakespeare.  Indeed the popularity of the sweet white fortified wine predates Elizabeth’s reign.  The Duke of Clarence, brother to Edward IV, was killed by being drowned in a barrel of Malmsey in 1478 during the wars of the Roses.

Made from the Malvasia grape, thought to have originated in Greece, the vines thrived on the volcanic soils of the Canary Islands.  In those days only a fortified wine could survive the long sea voyage from Spain to Britain.  Indeed prolonged maturation in the cask on board ships at sea actually improved the quality of these wines.

In Shakespeare there are multiple references to “Sack” and “Sweet Sack”.  These are the sweet fortified whites that were popular.  Some from Jerez, but the best from the Canaries.  The name “sack” causes some confusion as the French term “sec” means dry, but these wines are clearly sweet.  It appears to be a derivation from “sacas” a Spanish word used in past times to refer to exports.

The Poet Laureate of England in 1630, Ben Johnson, petitioned for the salary of the post to be raised.  His wish was granted and a tierce of Canary was added for good measure.  A tierce was a large barrel, equivalent to 42 Imperial Gallons or just about half a standard modern bottle of wine per day for the year.  Just the right amount to lubricate the pen of a good poet.

The supply of this vintage ran into difficulty in 1666 when the Canary Islanders rebelled against the London based Canary Island Company and smashed all their wine casks, so that the streets flowed with wine.  The British company responded by banning imports from the Canaries and moving production to Madeira.

The tierce of Canary became a tierce of Madeira until the appointment of Henry James Pye to the post in the 1790’s.  Pye was appointed for political and not poetic reasons.  His work was scorned in his own lifetime and ever since.  The barrel of wine was converted into a stipend of cash, probably because he was suffering under a weight of debt.  Pye received €27 a year to churn out bad doggerel.

But how bad can his poetry be?  Oh let me promise you it is execrable.  What is worse is that it is mostly interminably long.  It reminds me of the Woody Allen joke about the 2 Jewish women in a holiday resort in the Catskills.

Woman 1:  The food this year, it’s not so good.

Woman 2: And the portions, so small.

If you are going to serve bad fare, at least make the portions mercifully small.  So here is a small portion of the work of Henry James Pye, the worst English Poet Laureate, born this day in 1745.  Read it and weep.

The Snow-drop; by Henry James Pye

Hail earliest of the opening flowers!
Fair Harbinger of vernal hours!
Who dar’st unveil each silken fold
ere Sol dispels the wintry cold,
and with thy silver leaves display’d
spread lustre through the dreary glade.
What though no frgarance like the rose
tincturing the Zephyr as it blows,
thy humble flowers from earth exhale
to scent the pinions of the gale;
What though no hues of gaudy dye
strike with their dazzling charms the eye,
nor does thy sober foliage shew
each blended tint of Iris’ bow;
Yet in thy meek unsullied grace
imagination’s eye shall trace
the glowing blossoms that appear
proudly to paint the vernal year,
and smiling Maia’s blushing dyes,
and jocund Summer’s cloudless skies,
and Autumn’s labors which succeed
to bid the purple vintage bleed,
our hopes anticipating see
led on in radiant train by thee.

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.

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.

Farewell to June

Royalty - Queen Elizabeth II State Visit to Ireland

May 2011 visit by Queen Elizabeth acknowledged at last Irelands WW1 legacy

As June 2017 draws to a close in broken showers and typical Irish summer weather I give you a poem about closing and June from the Poet of the Blackbirds.  By rights Ledwidge is a war poet, but it became unfashionable in post revolutionary Ireland to admit to a career in the British Military.  It took 100 years before the Irish nation could honour those Irish who responded to the call of John Redmond and spilled their blood on Flanders fields.

In a neat stroke of marketing Francis Ledwidge was cast as a poet of field and stream, of nature and songbirds.  His Lament for the Irish patriot Thomas MacDonagh was given pride of place while his poems from the French and Turkish trenches in which he fought were swept under the carpet.  Sadly even Poetry is not immune from politics.

June: by Francis Ledwidge

Broom out the floor now, lay the fender by,
and plant this bee-sucked bough of woodbine there,
and let the window down. The butterfly
floats in upon the sunbeam, and the fair
tanned face of June, the nomad gipsy, laughs
above her widespread wares, the while she tells
the farmers’ fortunes in the fields, and quaffs
the water from the spider-peopled wells.
The hedges are all drowned in green grass seas,
and bobbing poppies flare like Elmo’s light,
while siren-like the pollen-stained bees
drone in the clover depths.  And up the height
the cuckoo’s voice is hoarse and broke with joy.
And on the lowland crops the crows make raid,
nor fear the clappers of the farmer’s boy,
who sleeps, like drunken Noah, in the shade.
And loop this red rose in that hazel ring
that snares your little ear, for June is short
and we must joy in it and dance and sing,
and from her bounty draw her rosy worth.
Ay! soon the swallows will be flying south,
the wind wheel north to gather in the snow,
even the roses spilt on youth’s red mouth
will soon blow down the road all roses go.

Capture of Ned Kelly

Armour

On this day in 1880 the famous Australian Bushranger Ned Kelly was captured at Glenrowan.  What immortalized Kelly above other outlaws was the suit of armour he cobbled together from bits and pieces of metal.  All his gang were dressed in the armour but only Kelly survived the shootout with the police at Glenrowan.

Son of Irish convict Red John Kelly a man from Tipperary , the County where I live, Ned Kelly won the hearts of the ordinary people.  They represented smallholders, the downtrodden, victimized by the police and all that was wrong with the British Imperial system.  Kelly was already a folk hero before his capture and there was a groundswell of opinion to pardon him.  The crown saw the world differently and Kelly was hanged.

He represents the Australian psyche, a rebel spirit, a frontier mindset, a reluctance to slavishly bind to rules and laws, a desire to kick at the traces of British overlordship.  Many of the original Australian settlers were convicts and their descendants who had more in common with Kelly than with the Crown.  He ranks with other Aussie heroes like Jack Duggan the “Wild Colonial Boy”, and those of song and story like Clancy of the Overflow and the Man from Snowy River.

This brings me to a funny association, because one of my favourite poets is Shel Silverstein who also wrote some great songs.  Here is “Blame it on Ned Kelly” from the 1970 movie starring Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.  Lots of people I love all involved in the same project.