From Guillemont to Ginchy

16th

Not a photo of Tom Kettle

102 years ago on September 9th, 1916, the Irish 16th Division took the French villages of Guillemont and Ginchy from the Germans in an action that formed part of the Battles of the Somme.

Somewhere between those villages Tom Kettle died in a hail of bullets.

An intellectual, Barrister, Politician, Visionary and devoted Christian he is best remembered for the last three lines of the sonnet he penned to his daughter four days before he died.

To My Daughter Betty, The Gift of God; by Tom Kettle

In wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown
to beauty proud as was your mother’s prime,
in that desired, delayed, incredible time,
you’ll ask why I abandoned you, my own,
and the dear heart that was your baby throne,
to dice with death. And oh! they’ll give you rhyme
and reason: some will call the thing sublime,
and some decry it in a knowing tone.

So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,
and tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,
know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,
died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,
but for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed,
and for the secret Scripture of the poor.

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Band of Brothers

Crispins

Happy St Crispin and Crispinian's Day
And now let's hear it from Henry of England, fifth of his name.

WESTMORLAND. O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!

KING. What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin, Westmorland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enough
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmorland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Perils of translation

Pomegranate

I came across this translation of a poem:

YOUR FACE AND THE TOLLING OF BELLS; by Ayten Mutlu

it was just like spring to laugh with you
and to touch the chimes of your face
lecherous and tranquil like a naked pomegranate

your face was the intimations of forenoon

at the meeting place of autumn
in the closed seas of your face
the birds flew like poisoned arrows
the summer blindfolded at the bottom of a wall

what is left of your face, a rusty shadow
the receding forest, the flower in mourning
pieces of broken glass the colours of spring

how do birds get accustomed to losing a sky?

ah, I’m late in getting to know the rain
like a naked pomegranate I am defeated and offended
where like the deteriorating autumn your old face
vanished with the tolling of the bells
(Translated by Suat Karantay)
(The Turkish PEN, 1995)

You can translate a poem but can you translate the meaning?  From this poem I will take one symbol, the “naked pomegranate”.  Coming from Ireland we have no symbology associated with this fruit.  It made an appearance every year at halloween as an exotic,  something out of the ordinary.  Most Dubliners called it a “Wine Apple”.

In more recent years the pomegranate has been more widely available and has crept in to a more regular role as an ingredient or a garnish in cookbooks.  But it has no deep meaning for us.

If you speak to people educated in the classics they may remember the tale of Persephone, daughter of Demeter, who was whipped off by Hades to his kingdom where she ate six seeds of a Pomegranate and hence we are condemned to 6 months of growth and 6 of death and winter was born.  This Greek tale begins to hint at a deeper symbology to the fruit.  The fact that the seeds represent a calendar, a marker of time or age.

The symbology of the pomegranate in the middle east runs very deep.  Because the tree is evergreen it was used as a symbol of immortality by the ancient Persians.  I can imagine middle eastern children playing a game of counting the seeds of a fruit to represent the years of their life.

Iranian mythology celebrates the ancient hero Esfandiyar who is easily a match for the DC Comics or Marvel superheros.  In one tale he eats a pomegranate and gains super strength like an ancient version of Popeye with his spinach.

The pomegranate appears in ancient Jewish architecture as a symbol of fertility and prosperity.  The fruit was one of the seven species brought by the 12 spies to Moses as proof of the fertility of Canaan.  It has been used as a teaching tool by Rabbis who say the fruit contains the number of mitzvot, 613.

Islam adopted the Jewish symbology of fertility.  Muslims consider the tree one of the four holy fruits along with dates, figs and olives and they depict it in representations of the garden of Eden.

In modern day Turkey as part of new year celebrations a pomegranate is cracked on the floor in a blessing ritual for prosperity in the coming year.  At wedding a bride may be asked to throw a whole pomegranate on the floor and will bear as many children as the seeds that fall out.

The Prophet Mohammed told his wives to eat the fruit so they would bear beautiful children.  From this hadith arises the notion that the fruit is a symbol of beauty.

So when the Ayten Mutlu speaks of a naked pomegranate in her poem she brings a rich weight of symbology of the fruit as a marker for beauty and for the hope of a new beginning and the disappointment of the declining of a life in the winter of years.

Unless you come from the Middle East, or do a lot of research into symbology, it is very difficult to grasp the meaning the poet is trying to convey.  Language and culture erect barriers that are very difficult for the translator to surmount.  Google can translate words, it takes a poet to translate meaning.

Ayten Mutlu is a Turkish Academic, Poet, Writer and Women’s rights activist.  Born this day in 1952.

Miura Anjin

Fluyt

A 16th Century Dutch Fluyt

Born on this day in 1564 William Adams was the first Englishman to reach Japan, and one of the few westerners to become a Samurai.   Immortalised by James Clavell in the novel (and TV series) Shogun.

When his father died he was aged only 12 and was apprenticed to a shipyard, where he learned the skills that later allowed him to build Western Style ships for the Shogun of Japan.

He served in the Royal Navy in the war against Spain, as Master of a supply ship during the fight against the Armada.  In 1598 he joined a flotilla of five Dutch merchant ships on a trading exploration voyage to Japan.  They predated the foundation of the Dutch East India Company.

Adams was hired as “Pilot Major” of the fleet, a navigator.

They were hunted and harried by both Spanish and Portuguese in their voyage, who wanted to protect their monopolies in Africa, South America and the Pacific Islands.

One ship of the five made it to Japan, carrying only 23 men who were sick or dying.  Of these only 9 recovered their health.

Portuguese Jesuits, already in Japan tried to have the Dutch and English Protestant sailors killed as pirates.  The Japanese had other plans for them.  They invited the Dutch to open a trading post at Nagasaki in competition with the Portuguese.

Adams built a fleet of Western Ships for the Shogun which allowed the Japanese to expand their trade in Asia.  While Adams was honoured with Samurai status and given a large farm complete with the retainers to maintain it, he was never permitted to return home.

He married a Japanese girl and had a second family, his original wife and children being in England.  As a Samurai he was “reborn” and given the name Miura Anjin.

The missing Menorah

Titus.png

On this day in AD 70 the siege of Jerusalem ended with the destruction of the Second Temple by Titus, son of Vespasian, at the head of a Roman army.

According to the historian Josephus the Menorah of the temple was taken as spoils of war and brought back to Rome.  It was carried in the Triumphal Procession of Vespasian and Titus and is recorded on the Arch of Titus.

Using the spoils taken from Jerusalem Vespasian constructed the Templum Pacis, the temple of peace in the Forum of Vespasian.  The Menorah was stored in the temple for hundreds of years until the sack of Rome by the Vandals in 455 AD.

The Vandals brought the Menorah back with them to their capital in Carthage, in the Roman African province, modern day Tunisia.

One hundred years later the Vandals had become soft from living on the fat of the land.  Their armies were no longer the terror of the western Mediterranean.  Emperor Justinian of the Eastern Roman Empire sent his favourite general, Belisarius, to retake Africa for Rome.  In 533 AD Belisarius defeated the armies of King Gelimer and his brothers.

According to the historian Procopius the Menorah was found amongst the treasures of the Vandals and was taken to Constantinople.  It was displayed in the Ovation given by Justinian to his victorious general.  Gelimer was prostrated before the Emperor, and was allowed to live out his life on a Roman estate.

According to Procopius Justinian gave the Menorah back to the Jews in Jerusalem.  On the one hand it is hard to believe that such an ardent Christian emperor would have given this treasure to people he regarded as little short of heretics.  On the other hand he may have looked at the fate of the Second Temple, Rome and Carthage and wondered if he really wanted to keep the Menorah in his capital.

Whatever the truth this is the end of the tale for the Menorah.  It is never seen again.  Some say it is hidden in the Vatican City and the Vandals never found it.  Others say it was looted from Jerusalem when the Persians sacked the city in 614 AD.  Some think it was in a ship that sank in the Tibur when the Vandals were leaving Rome and that it lies at the bottom of the sea outside Ostia.  Others think it was still in Jerusalem during the Crusades and was taken by the Knights Templar.  Whatever the truth it is a tempting theme for a “Da Vinci Code” style adventure, or a new quest for Indiana Jones.

Psalm III : by Allen Ginsberg
To God: to illuminate all men. Beginning with Skid Road.
Let Occidental and Washington be transformed into a higher place, the plaza of eternity.
Illuminate the welders in shipyards with the brilliance of their torches.
Let the crane operator lift up his arm for joy.
Let elevators creak and speak, ascending and descending in awe.
Let the mercy of the flower’s direction beckon in the eye.
Let the straight flower bespeak its purpose in straightness — to seek the light.
Let the crooked flower bespeak its purpose in crookedness — to seek the light.
Let the crookedness and straightness bespeak the light.
Let Puget Sound be a blast of light.
I feed on your Name like a cockroach on a crumb — this cockroach is holy.

 

To poets: Learn to sail!

Good poet, bad sailor Percy Bysshe Shelley was born August 4th in 1792 and died a month short of his 30th birthday leaving a stunning legacy of poetry.  How much richer would the world have been had he practiced decent seamanship?

The Gulf of La Spezia is known locally as the Golfo dei poeti in commemoration of the disaster.

Rusticated is an obscure word used almost exclusively in Oxford and Cambridge universities.  It means to be expelled, or “sent down” from the college.  There is no higher accolade for a great artist, to break free of the bounds of established academia and be expelled for radicalism.  In Shelley’s case it was for publication of a pamphlet on Atheism.  If you look up a definition of the word “Rusticate” it almost invariably comes with an example which references the expulsion of Shelley.  In a sense he is responsible for the preservation of that meaning of the word.

From The Arabic, An Imitation :by Percy Bysshe Shelley

M.pngy faint spirit was sitting in the light
of thy looks, my love;
It panted for thee like the hind at noon
for the brooks, my love.
Thy barb, whose hoofs outspeed the tempest’s flight,
bore thee far from me;
my heart, for my weak feet were weary soon,
did companion thee.

Ah! fleeter far than fleetest storm or steed,
or the death they bear,
the heart which tender thought clothes like a dove
with the wings of care;
in the battle, in the darkness, in the need,
shall mine cling to thee,
nor claim one smile for all the comfort, love,
it may bring to thee.

 

Happy Birthday Maxine Kumin

Snowwhite

The true feminist knows that the fairy tale wedding is just a beginning.  In the aftermath of those tales how many of those tall, dark and handsome narcissists could you genuinely tolerate for more than a few years.  Dina Goldstein addresses the idea in her scathing set of “Fallen Princesses” photos.

Academic, feminist, horse breeder and mother of three Maxine Kumin was born Maxine Winokur on June 6th 1925.

The poem below is interesting as my daughter just told a joke on the same theme.  How do you drastically shorten a Shakespeare play?  “Oh Romeo, oh Romeo, hast thou found Jesus?”

 

Purgatory : by Maxine Kumin

And suppose the darlings get to Mantua,
suppose they cheat the crypt, what next? Begin
with him, unshaven. Though not, I grant you, a
displeasing cockerel, there’s egg yolk on his chin.
His seedy robe’s aflap, he’s got the rheum.
Poor dear, the cooking lard has smoked her eye.
Another Montague is in the womb
although the first babe’s bottom’s not yet dry.
She scrolls a weekly letter to her Nurse
who dares to send a smock through Balthasar,
and once a month, his father posts a purse.
News from Verona? Always news of war.
Such sour years it takes to right this wrong!
The fifth act runs unconscionably long.