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.

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Feliz cumpleaños Rafael Alberti

One of the Spanish poets of the “Generation of ’27” the flowering of Spanish poetry in the inter-war period which has been called the Silver age of Spanish Poetry.  Cernuda, Lorca and Guillén were all members.

Alberti left Spain at the end of the Civil War (1936-39) and refused to return until Franco died.  He moved to Paris and shared an apartment with Pablo Neruda until the Germans occupied Paris.  He died aged 96 and his ashes were scattered in his favourite place in the world, the bay of Cádiz.

Here is an ode to that city.

Cuba Dentro de un Piano

Cuando mi madre llevaba un sorbete de fresa por sombrero
y el humo de los barcos aun era humo de habanero.
Mulata vuelta bajera.
Cádiz se adormecía entre fandangos y habaneras
y un lorito al piano quería hacer de tenor.
Dime dónde está la flor que el hombre tanto venera.
Mi tío Antonio volvía con su aire de insurrecto.
La Cabaña y el Príncipe sonaban por los patios del Puerto.
(Ya no brilla la Perla azul del mar de las Antillas.
Ya se apagó, se nos ha muerto).
Me encontré con la bella Trinidad.
Cuba se había perdido y ahora era verdad.
Era verdad, no era mentira.
Un cañonero huido llegó cantándolo en guajiras.
La Habana ya se perdió. Tuvo la culpa el
dinero…
Calló, cayó el cañonero.
Pero después, pero ¡ah! después…
fue cuando al SÍ lo hicieron YES.

Ship of Death

Schooner

Here is a verse composed by Henry Van Dyke Jr “For Katrina’s Sundial”

Time is
Too slow for those who Wait,
Too swift for those who Fear,
Too long for those who Grieve,
Too short for those who Rejoice,
But for those who Love,
Time is not

There is a huge bank of sundial poetry and mottoes.  Many of the epigrams are in latin.  Most are about time, how we use it, how short it is, how our lives are fleeting things.  I also like this poem from Van Dyke where he uses the ship as a metaphor for the life of a person.   Ships as symbols for death are not uncommon.  Perhaps the clearest examples we have are from Pharaonic and Viking burials.  I attach a couple of good examples at the bottom.

Van Dyke was born on November 10th, so I am belatedly wishing him a happy birthday.

 

 

Gone from my sight: by Henry Van Dyke

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, ‘There, she is gone’

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me – not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says, ‘There, she is gone,’
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, ‘Here she comes!’

And that is dying…

Death comes in its own time, in its own way.
Death is as unique as the individual experiencing it.

 

Khufu

Model of the Khufu Solar Barge found in his tomb.

 

Viking ship, Oseberg, a 9th century burial ship, Vikingskiphuset (Viking Ship Museum), Bygdoy peninsula, Oslo, Norway, Scandinavia, Europe

The Oseberg Burial Longboat

Happy birthday Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Ship in port

 

Today I choose a poem by Aldrich, born today 1836,  which captures the sense of adventure that used to exist in every sea port of the world in the age of sail.  Any young adventurer could run away to sea and find himself storm-tossed across the globe with risks of wealth, danger, romance and death.  A suitable topic for this blog, a true Mindship theme.

Outward Bound became the name of a youth training movement in Britain during the 1940’s, now known as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.  I have no proof that the name Outward Bound came from the Aldrich poem, but I suspect it may have.  The founders were certainly interested enough in poetry.  Their motto “To Serve, To Strive and not to Yield” is taken from Ulysses, the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

 

Outward Bound: by Thomas Bailey Aldrich

I leave behind me the elm-shadowed square
And carven portals of the silent street,
And wander on with listless, vagrant feet
Through seaward-leading alleys, till the air
Smells of the sea, and straightway then the care
Slips from my heart, and life once more is sweet.
At the lane’s ending lie the white-winged fleet.
O restless Fancy, whither wouldst thou fare?
Here are brave pinions that shall take thee far —
Gaunt hulks of Norway; ships of red Ceylon;
Slim-masted lovers of the blue Azores!
‘Tis but an instant hence to Zanzibar,
Or to the regions of the Midnight Sun;
Ionian isles are thine, and all the fairy shores!

 

The Old Ship Inn

The-Old-Ship-by-Humphrey-Bolton

Brighouse in Yorkshire is about as far from the Sea as you can get in Northern England.  It is a town lying on the spine between Yorkshire and Lancashire.  So if you ever travel there you may be amused to find a pub called the Old Ship Inn, far far from the sea.

The history of the Pub will surprise you even more, and will take you round the world and to the US Civil War.

The Old Ship Inn is so called because in 1926, named the Prince of Wales,  it was renovated from the timbers of the broken up Royal Navy 101 Gun HMS Donegal.  In 2007 the Prince of Wales was renamed the Old Ship inn.

HMS Donegal herself was a first rate ship when launched in 1858.  She was a screw driven sail rigged battleship at the very end of the age of sail.  She, along with every other wooden battleship, became obsolete on the day the CSS Virginia and the USS Monitor clashed in the US Civil War in the 1862 Battle of Hampton Roads, the first clash of ironclads.

It was the US Civil War that made the HMS Donegal famous.  Six months after the capitulation of the South the last combatants of the war arrived in Liverpool.  The CSS Shenandoah was raiding Union Commerce Shipping in the Pacific when she learned of the surrender.  Rather than return to the USA and risk imprisonment the crew sailed to Britain.

Shenandoah was the only Confederate Ship to circumnavigate the globe.  In her one year campaign the CSS Shenandoah captured or sank 38 ships.  Her crew were the last combatants of the war.   In Liverpool the captain of the Shenandoah surrendered his flag to the HMS Donegal.  6th November, 1865, on this day.

Happy Birthday William Stanley Merwin

Merwin

If there is a prize for poetry he has not won then it is probably not worth winning, excepting the Nobel prize for literature, which may well yet be his.  Merwin was born in the same year as both my parents, on this day in 1927.  His poetry seems so much younger than my parents ever were.

The Ships are made ready in silence: by W.S. Merwin

Moored to the same ring:
The hour, the darkness and I,
our compasses hooded like falcons.

Now the memory of you comes aching in
With a wash of broken bits which never left port
In which once we planned voyages,
they come knocking like hearts asking:
What departures on this tide?

Breath of land, warm breath,
you tighten the cold around the navel,
though all shores but the first have been foreign,
and the first was not home until left behind.

Our choice is ours but we have not made it,
containing as it does, our destination
circled with loss as with coral, and
a destination only until attained.

I have left you my hope to remember me by,
though now there is little resemblance.
At this moment I could believe in no change,
the mast perpetually
vacillating between the same constellations,
the night never withdrawing its dark virtue
from the harbor shaped as a heart,
the sea pulsing as a heart,
the sky vaulted as a heart,
where I know the light will shatter like a cry
above a discovery:
‘Emptiness.
Emptiness! Look!’
Look. This is the morning.

 

Crowded field

29th.png

A very auspicious day today, very popular with the celebrity birthdays.  It is a crowded field, but for me it will always be Pompey day.  Not only was he born today but he also got leave from the senate to celebrate his third triumph today in 61 BC.  The Senate celebrated Pompey for his war against the pirates, which made him fantastically rich.  He was already rich when he started, but this was the icing on the cake.

He also slipped in at the end of Lucullus’ war against Mithridates VI in the East and claimed the win for himself.  Cheeky!

This was undoubtedly the high water mark of Pompey’s career.  In 59 BC Pompey harnessed his significant senatorial weight to the wealth of Crassus and the populism of Caesar to form the first triumvirate.  From this point the trajectories in the careers of Caesar and Pompey were a reflection of each other as the Elder statesman declined and the young pretender rose in prominence.