Eurydice the muse

Edward_Poynter_-_Orpheus_and_Eurydice

The great love story of Orpheus and Eurydice has been told many times.  It is a classic love tragedy and we see echoes of it in works like Romeo & Juliet.  Orpheus is given a magical lyre by his father Apollo and can charm the world with his music, bending anyone to his will.  When the love of his life, Eurydice, dies and goes to the underworld Orpheus descends to Hades and begs permission to bring his love back to life.  Hades and Persephone, charmed by his Lyre, agree to her return.  But Orpheus must lead her out without glancing back.  Unable to hear her footsteps his resolve breaks at the last moment and she is sucked back to the underworld.

HMS Eurydice was a British Navy ship which sank off the Isle of Wight on March 24th 1878, and represents one of the greatest peacetime disasters of the Royal Navy with the loss of 317 of the crew of 319.  The ship had one literary quirk being designed by Admiral George Eliot (not the writer).  Gerard Manley Hopkins, who returned to poetry with the “Wreck of the Deutchland” in 1875 at the direction of his superior was happy to pen “The Loss of the Eurydice” in 1878 to mark this event.

Eurydice continues to be a muse and her fate has become a theme for female poets.  The tale told from the perspective of Eurydice is of a woman escaping a relationship where Orpheus, with his magic lyre, held all the power.  In the painting by Poynter above Eurydice does not seem to be a willing participant.  Hades has been her liberation from Orpheus.  Eurydice becomes a symbol for women the world over who are escaping abusive relationships.

I give you two poems below, one from H.D. and another from Margaret Atwood.  I could also add Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive  “Go, walk out the door, don’t turn around now, you’re not welcome anymore”.

Eurydice; by H. D.

I

So you have swept me back,
I who could have walked with the live souls
above the earth,
I who could have slept among the live flowers
at last;

so for your arrogance
and your ruthlessness
I am swept back
where dead lichens drip
dead cinders upon moss of ash;

so for your arrogance
I am broken at last,
I who had lived unconscious,
who was almost forgot;

if you had let me wait
I had grown from listlessness
into peace,
if you had let me rest with the dead,
I had forgot you
and the past.

II

Here only flame upon flame
and black among the red sparks,
streaks of black and light
grown colourless;

why did you turn back,
that hell should be reinhabited
of myself thus
swept into nothingness?

why did you glance back?
why did you hesitate for that moment?
why did you bend your face
caught with the flame of the upper earth,
above my face?

what was it that crossed my face
with the light from yours
and your glance?
what was it you saw in my face?
the light of your own face,
the fire of your own presence?

What had my face to offer
but reflex of the earth,
hyacinth colour
caught from the raw fissure in the rock
where the light struck,
and the colour of azure crocuses
and the bright surface of gold crocuses
and of the wind-flower,
swift in its veins as lightning
and as white.

III

Saffron from the fringe of the earth,
wild saffron that has bent
over the sharp edge of earth,
all the flowers that cut through the earth,
all, all the flowers are lost;

everything is lost,
everything is crossed with black,
black upon black
and worse than black,
this colourless light.

IV

Fringe upon fringe
of blue crocuses,
crocuses, walled against blue of themselves,
blue of that upper earth,
blue of the depth upon depth of flowers,
lost;

flowers,
if I could have taken once my breath of them,
enough of them,
more than earth,
even than of the upper earth,
had passed with me
beneath the earth;

if I could have caught up from the earth,
the whole of the flowers of the earth,
if once I could have breathed into myself
the very golden crocuses
and the red,
and the very golden hearts of the first saffron,
the whole of the golden mass,
the whole of the great fragrance,
I could have dared the loss.

V

So for your arrogance
and your ruthlessness
I have lost the earth
and the flowers of the earth,
and the live souls above the earth,
and you who passed across the light
and reached
ruthless;

you who have your own light,
who are to yourself a presence,
who need no presence;

yet for all your arrogance
and your glance,
I tell you this:

such loss is no loss,
such terror, such coils and strands and pitfalls
of blackness,
such terror
is no loss;

hell is no worse than your earth
above the earth,
hell is no worse,
no, nor your flowers
nor your veins of light
nor your presence,
a loss;

my hell is no worse than yours
though you pass among the flowers and speak
with the spirits above earth.

VI

Against the black
I have more fervour
than you in all the splendour of that place,
against the blackness
and the stark grey
I have more light;

and the flowers,
if I should tell you,
you would turn from your own fit paths
toward hell,
turn again and glance back
and I would sink into a place
even more terrible than this.

VII

At least I have the flowers of myself,
and my thoughts, no god
can take that;
I have the fervour of myself for a presence
and my own spirit for light;

and my spirit with its loss
knows this;
though small against the black,
small against the formless rocks,
hell must break before I am lost;

before I am lost,
hell must open like a red rose
for the dead to pass.

-o0o-
Orpheus (1); by Margaret Atwood

You walked in front of me,
pulling me back out
to the green light that had once
grown fangs and killed me.

I was obedient, but
numb, like an arm
gone to sleep; the return
to time was not my choice.

By then I was used to silence.
Though something stretched between us
like a whisper, like a rope:
my former name,
drawn tight.
You had your old leash
with you, love you might call it,
and your flesh voice.

Before your eyes you held steady
the image of what you wanted
me to become: living again.
It was this hope of yours that kept me following.

I was your hallucination, listening
and floral, and you were singing me:
already new skin was forming on me
within the luminous misty shroud
of my other body; already
there was dirt on my hands and I was thirsty.

I could see only the outline
of your head and shoulders,
black against the cave mouth,
and so could not see your face
at all, when you turned

and called to me because you had
already lost me. The last
I saw of you was a dark oval.
Though I knew how this failure
would hurt you, I had to
fold like a gray moth and let go.

You could not believe I was more than your echo.

Missing hens

ChinaCock

“The China Cock” 1929 Georgia O’Keeffe

We let the hens go when we put the house up for sale.  I’m regretting that decision now.  In a time of #Lockdown I quite like the idea that you can have a constant supply of fresh eggs for very little work.

The Irish Green Party leader Eamon Ryan is encouraging everyone to try their hand at planting salads to supplement the food supply.  That might not be such a bad idea if supply chains from Spain become disrupted.

The last time we faced a situation like this was during “The Emergency”.  This is the name that was given by the Neutral Irish Government to the events that most people refer to as World War 2.  Food supply was a key issue for the young Irish Nation.  Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Éamon de Valera lamented in 1940: “No country had ever been more effectively blockaded because of the activities of belligerents and our lack of ships…”

Ireland was a net food exporter and it was vital for our economy that food exports reach our largest market in Britain.  But we relied heavily on imports for Coal, Fuel Oil, Bread Wheat, Citric Fruits, Tea, Coffee and luxuries such as chocolate.

Irish sailors of the mercantile marine referred to those years as “The long watch”.  Twenty percent of our merchant mariners perished in those years.  Initially the Irish ships joined in with the convoys organised by the British to protect their fleets.  But Irish losses led to a change in strategy.  The Irish vessels were painted large and gaudy with neutral markings and  sailed alone.  The strategy had mixed results.  Many German Captians respected the Neutral position of Ireland, but a few took a different view.  As Britain was the major beneficiary of Irish food exports many Germans viewed Irish shipping as a valid target.

My father was born in 1927.  He had vivid memories of working alongside his father in a rented allotment to supply the family with fresh vegetables during the war years.  He paid for his school books by bundling and selling onion thinnings (scallions) door to door.  Mature onions were dried on a flat roof, accessed by climbing out the window of their quarters in McKee Barracks.

To put in perspective how valuable food was they used to have a dish for breakfast called “Mock Tripe”.  Basically this is a dish of onions boiled in milk with salt and pepper.  What I find funny about this is that when you make “mock” dishes it is usually replacing a luxury dish with a cheap one.  The classic “Mock Turtle Soup” is a dish which replaces expensive turtle with the meat from the head of a calf.  But tripe is not and has never been luxury food.  It was not even on the ration book during the Emergency.  Why call a dish “mock tripe”?

Every time we visited my Grandmother we were treated to her speciality:  bread pudding.  A habit begun of necessity in the war years that she maintained all her life.  Stale bread was stored in a special enamel pail, soaked in water until she had enough for a pudding.  It was mixed with dried fruit, sugar and spices and baked in the oven.  Served with hot custard.

Mock Turtle, Gryphon, and Alice, Sir John Tenniel 1, colourised, public domain

The Mock Turtle from “Alice in Wonderland” with a distinctively calf looking head and hooves.

The Humble Herring

Image result for herring

I have to admit I was never a great fan of herring.  It’s those tiny pesky bones you get in small fish that annoyed me.  We had fresh herring regularly when I was a kid.  That was back in the days when eating fish on Friday was de-rigeur for Catholic families.

Herring was cheap.  So was Whiting, Mackerel and Cods Roe.  As a kid, at the elbow of my mother when she was shopping, you picked these things up.  So knowing it was cheap probably reduced its desirability in my young mind.

But more to the point, my mother would pan fry herrings or grill them and what made Friday special was deep fried fish and chips.  My favourite was deep fried smoked cod.

But herring was an engine of the Industrial Revolution, and in the time before we figured out canning it was one of the most important foods for armies.  So important that there was a Battle of the Herrings fought, on this day, in 1429.  During the Siege of Órleans a supply column was successfully defended from attack at the town of Rouvray to protect the vital supply of food to the English forces.

The English protector of the herrings was none other than Sir John Falstaff, made famous by the plays of Shakespeare.

Herrings were abundantly available in Northern Europe.  Until the modern era and the arrival of the Factory Trawler it seemed that they would never run short.  Herring stocks recover very quickly as they are a fast breeding fish.  The vast shoals were followed and harvested by great fleets of small fishing boats.  Fishermen derived their living from the abundance of this one fish.  Entire communities were engaged in the processing and preservation of the catch.

The fresh fish is still prized in Baltic countries where it is dipped in chopped onions and downed with a shot of aquavit or vodka.

But it is the fact that you can preserve the little oily fish easily that made them the staple of the working class populations.  First farm labourers, then soldiers and eventually poor industrial town populations relied heavily on this cheap and easily replenshed source of protein.

You can simply fillet them and salt them and store them in barrels.  That is probably what the English were defending at the battle of the herrings.  But you can also use a wide variety of other preservation techniques.  Pickling, fermenting and smoking of some variety turn into hundreds of local variants when you carry out some research.

So popular a fish it is of course celebrated in poem and song.  Here is the Clancy Brothers version of the highly popular “Shoals of Herring”

 

Shoals of Herring

First Gay Novelist?

Image result for james bayard taylor

James Bayard Taylor was born Jan 11th 1825.  A poet, a writer, travel writer, diplomat and a most fantastically travelled man.  Many of his travels were made on foot.  He explored the White Nile, he reported on the Californian Gold Rush and he was at the opening of Japan with Perry’s fleet.  Mark Twain was envious of the quality of Taylors German when they travelled together to Prussia.

A highly successful writer in his own lifetime he has seen a rebirth of sorts.  His book “Joseph and his friend: a story of Pennsylvania” is by many considered to be the first American Gay Novel.

Storm Song; by James Bayard Taylor

The clouds are scudding across the moon;
a misty light is on the sea;
the wind in the shrouds has a wintry tune,
and the foam is flying free.

Brothers, a night of terror and gloom
speaks in the cloud and gathering roar;
thank God, He has given us broad sea-room,
a thousand miles from shore.

Down with the hatches on those who sleep!
The wild and whistling deck have we;
good watch, my brothers, to-night we’ll keep,
while the tempest is on the sea!

Though the rigging shriek in his terrible grip,
and the naked spars be snapped away,
lashed to the helm, we’ll drive our ship
in the teeth of the whelming spray!

Hark! how the surges o’erleap the deck!
Hark! how the pitiless tempest raves!
Ah, daylight will look upon many a wreck
drifting over the desert waves.

Yet, courage, brothers! we trust the wave,
with God above us, our guiding chart.
So, whether to harbor or ocean-grave,
be it still with a cheery heart!

Failing Gracefully

Drip Rifle at Bandiana 2007

The Drip Rifle

In modern computer programming we speak of a “graceful failure” or a “graceful exit”.  It refers to a piece of coding which recognises a failure in a routine and closes the routine down with an error log that signposts a data quality analyst where to look for the problem.

Back in December 1915 the allied forces faced a different kind of an exit challenge.  Winston Churchill’s idea of knocking the Ottoman Empire, the sick man of Europe, out of the war with a knockout punch failed.  After 11 months of move and counter-move the allies acknowledged that the Turks were equal to the task of defending their homeland.

It was a campaign that illustrated how one bad step can follow another bad step embedding you deeper and deeper into an entirely unintended situation.  The plan was to force a fleet up the Bosphorus to Istanbul and force the surrender of Turkey under the Big Guns of the combined British and French fleets.

The actions of a single Turkish mine laying ship blocked the entry of the fleet.  When the navy sent in minesweepers they were shelled by Turkish shore batteries.  So the Navy needed to send in ground troops to clean out the shore batteries.  The Turks opposed the landings and the Dardenelles campaign descended into a hellhole of trench warfare.  Up close and personal trench warfare, with only the narrowest strip of no-mans land between the front lines.

When the Allies decided to evacuate lance corporal W.C. Scurry presented them with a piece of genius.  Scurry had arrived in Gallipoli only one month prior with the Australian Imperial Force.  He rigged up a delayed firing system using two mess tins and a bit of string.

The top tin was filled with water, the bottom empty and suspended from the top one.  A hole was pierced in the top tin and the water dripped slowly out, falling into the bottom tin.  When the bottom tin became heavy enough to pull the top tin down both tins fell and pulled the trigger string, firing the rifle.

By using different size tins, different hole positions, different size holes and different amounts of water it was possible to set up multiple different timings.

On the 20th of December, 2015, as the Newfoundland rear guard of the evacuating forces silently departed from the trenches they triggered the mechanisms on dozens of these rigs.  As long as the rifles kept firing the Turks believed the allies were still there.  The evacuation of 80,000 men was achieved with only a half dozen casualties.

Gallipoli was an unqualified failure, but one with a graceful exit.

 

 

After Court Martial; by Francis Ledwidge

My mind is not my mind, therefore
I take no heed of what men say,
I lived ten thousand years before
God cursed the town of Nineveh.

The Present is a dream I see
of horror and loud sufferings,
at dawn a bird will waken me
unto my place among the kings.

And though men called me a vile name,
and all my dream companions gone,
’tis I the soldier bears the shame,
not I the king of Babylon.

Serendipity II

1287 – St. Lucia’s flood: The Zuiderzee sea wall in the ...

When is a disaster not a disaster?  When you are on the silver lining side of the cloud!

Back in 1287 Amsterdam was a backwater fishing village on the wrong end of the large freshwater lake called the Zuiderzee.  The prosperous towns in the Netherlands lay on the river Vlie where the lake discharged into the North Sea.  Out there they could trade with the Germans, the Danes, the English, the French, the Norwegians and the Swedes.

On the night of St Lucia Day a North Sea depression set up a storm surge on top of a high tide.  On the 14th of December 1287 the sea smashed through the dunes and the boulder clay, obliterating the river Vlie and the towns on its banks.  The sea then surged into the lake and converted it to a salt water lagoon.  Some 50,000 to 80,000 Dutch and Germans died in the floods.

Backwater Amsterdam woke up to find itself positioned perfectly on a huge natural harbour with access to the North Sea.  By 1303 the village on the Amstel river had become a City.  It is today the most populous City in the Netherlands.

The Flying Dutchman (First Verse); by John Boyle O’Reilly

Long time ago, from Amsterdam a vessel sailed away,
as fair a ship as ever flung aside the laughing spray.
Upon the shore were tearful eyes, and scarfs were in the air,
as to her, o’er the Zuyder Zee, went fond adieu and prayer;
and brave hearts, yearning shoreward from the outwardgoing ship,
felt lingering kisses clinging still to tear-wet cheek and lip.
She steered for some far eastern clime, and, as she skimmed the seas,
each taper mast was bending like a rod before the breeze.

Away on a Pelican, home on a Hind.

Golden Hinde (replica), ship of Sir Francis Drake ...

After an abortive November departure for the Pacific Sir Francis Drake left Plymouth aboard  the Pelican on December 13th, 1577.  He was to return three years later on the same ship, now renamed “The Golden Hind” sailing into history as the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe.

He carried a drum emblazoned with his coat of arms on the circumnavigation and on his other adventures as Captain, Privateer, Pirate, Explorer and Admiral of Queen Elizabeth’s fleet.  Legend holds that he sent the drum home to his family seat and asked that it be held there against the day England was again in danger.  In which case the drum should be beaten to summon past heroes to the defence of the realm.  A replica of the drum is on display at Buckland Abbey in Devon.

 

Drake’s Drum; by Sir Henry Newbolt

Drake he’s in his hammock an’ a thousand miles away,
(Capten, art tha sleepin’ there below?)
slung atween the round shot in Nombre Dios Bay,
an’ dreamin’ arl the time O’ Plymouth Hoe.
Yarnder lumes the Island, yarnder lie the ships,
wi’ sailor lads a-dancing’ heel-an’-toe,
an’ the shore-lights flashin’, an’ the night-tide dashin’,
he sees et arl so plainly as he saw et long ago.

Drake he was a Devon man, an’ ruled the Devon seas,
(Capten, art tha’ sleepin’ there below?)
roving’ tho’ his death fell, he went wi’ heart at ease,
a’ dreamin’ arl the time o’ Plymouth Hoe.
“Take my drum to England, hang et by the shore,
strike et when your powder’s runnin’ low;
if the Dons sight Devon, I’ll quit the port o’ Heaven,
an’ drum them up the Channel as we drumm’d them long ago.”

Drake he’s in his hammock till the great Armadas come,
(Capten, art tha sleepin’ there below?)
slung atween the round shot, listenin’ for the drum,
an’ dreamin arl the time o’ Plymouth Hoe.
Call him on the deep sea, call him up the Sound,
call him when ye sail to meet the foe;
where the old trade’s plyin’ an’ the old flag flyin’
they shall find him ware an’ wakin’, as they found him long ago!