Man overboard

Ferry

In May 1927 Joe Lynch fell overboard from a ferry in Sydney Harbour.  He was drunk and his pockets were filled with beer bottles which helped drag him down.

This happened while the Sydney Harbour bridge was under construction and the only way to cross Port Jackson was by boat.

Joe was a cartoonist who worked with Kenneth Slessor for Smith’s Weekly magazine in Sydney.  The pair also worked together for Punch magazine in Melbourne for a time.  The night he died Lynch left work and met his brother Guy, Guy’s wife Marge, and Frank Clancy, another Irish Australian journalist who worked for Labor Daily.  They were boozing hard and loaded up with bottles when they boarded the ferry Kiandra at Circular Quay.  Somewhere along the way Joe leaned too far back over the rail and slipped away beneath the Harbour waters.

That might have been the end for Joe Lynch, an embarrassing end quickly forgotten.  But eight years later his old pal Kenneth Slessor had a bit of an epiphany as he listed to the watch bells ring from the Warships in the Harbour.  He penned his most famous, and one of Australia’s greatest poems.  Kenneth was born on this day in 1901.  Happy Birthday Kenneth Slessor.

Because of Slessor Lynch has become the most famous, and possibly the most preposterous, drowning in Sydney Harbour.

Below the poem you will find a photo of a war memorial in Devonport, Auckland, New Zealand.  It was sculpted by Guy Lynch using Joe Lynch as his body model.  It depicts a Kiwi soldier of WW1 coming off duty, and is nicknamed “The Untidy Soldier”.  This statue is the subject of “The Digger and the Faun” a poem by Michele Leggott.  So Joe Lynch is immortalised in poetry twice!  Not a bad memorial.

 

Five Bells ; by Kenneth Slessor

Time that is moved by little fidget wheels
is not my time, the flood that does not flow.
Between the double and the single bell
of a ship’s hour, between a round of bells
from the dark warship riding there below,
I have lived many lives, and this one life
of Joe, long dead, who lives between five bells.

Deep and dissolving verticals of light
ferry the falls of moonshine down. Five bells
coldly rung out in a machine’s voice. Night and water
pour to one rip of darkness, the Harbour floats
in the air, the Cross hangs upside-down in water.

Why do I think of you, dead man, why thieve
these profitless lodgings from the flukes of thought
anchored in time? You have gone from earth,
gone even from the meaning of a name;
yet something’s there, yet something forms its lips
and hits and cries against the ports of space,
beating their sides to make its fury heard.

Are you shouting at me, dead man, squeezing your face
in agonies of speech on speechless panes?
Cry louder, beat the windows, bawl your name!

But I hear nothing, nothing…only bells,
five bells, the bumpkin calculus of time.
Your echoes die, your voice is dowsed by life,
there’s not a mouth can fly the pygmy strait –
nothing except the memory of some bones
long shoved away, and sucked away, in mud;
and unimportant things you might have done,
or once I thought you did; but you forgot,
and all have now forgotten – looks and words
and slops of beer; your coat with buttons off,
your gaunt chin and pricked eye, and raging tales
of Irish kings and English perfidy,
and dirtier perfidy of publicans
groaning to God from Darlinghurst.
Five bells.

Then I saw the road, I heard the thunder
tumble, and felt the talons of the rain
the night we came to Moorebank in slab-dark,
so dark you bore no body, had no face,
but a sheer voice that rattled out of air
(as now you’d cry if I could break the glass),
a voice that spoke beside me in the bush,
loud for a breath or bitten off by wind,
of Milton, melons, and the Rights of Man,
and blowing flutes, and how Tahitian girls
are brown and angry-tongued, and Sydney girls
are white and angry-tongued, or so you’d found.
But all I heard was words that didn’t join
so Milton became melons, melons girls,
and fifty mouths, it seemed, were out that night,
and in each tree an Ear was bending down,
or something that had just run, gone behind the grass,
when blank and bone-white, like a maniac’s thought,
the naphtha-flash of lightning slit the sky,
knifing the dark with deathly photographs.
There’s not so many with so poor a purse
or fierce a need, must fare by night like that,
five miles in darkness on a country track,
but when you do, that’s what you think.
Five bells.

In Melbourne, your appetite had gone,
your angers too; they had been leeched away
by the soft archery of summer rains
and the sponge-paws of wetness, the slow damp
that stuck the leaves of living, snailed the mind,
and showed your bones, that had been sharp with rage,
the sodden ectasies of rectitude.
I thought of what you’d written in faint ink,
your journal with the sawn-off lock, that stayed behind
with other things you left, all without use,
all without meaning now, except a sign
that someone had been living who now was dead:
At Labassa. Room 6 x 8
On top of the tower; because of this, very dark
and cold in winter. Everything has been stowed
into this room – 500 books all shapes
and colours, dealt across the floor
and over sills and on the laps of chairs;
guns, photoes of many differant things
and differant curioes that I obtained…

In Sydney, by the spent aquarium-flare
of penny gaslight on pink wallpaper,
we argued about blowing up the world,
but you were living backward, so each night
you crept a moment closer to the breast,
and they were living, all of them, those frames
and shapes of flesh that had perplexed your youth,
and most your father, the old man gone blind,
with fingers always round a fiddle’s neck,
that graveyard mason whose fair monuments
and tablets cut with dreams of piety
rest on the bosoms of a thousand men
staked bone by bone, in quiet astonishment
at cargoes they had never thought to bear,
these funeral-cakes of sweet and sculptured stone.

Where have you gone? The tide is over you,
the turn of midnight water’s over you,
as Time is over you, and mystery,
and memory, the flood that does not flow.
You have no suburb, like those easier dead
in private berths of dissolution laid –
the tide goes over, the waves ride over you
and let their shadows down like shining hair,
but they are Water; and the sea-pinks bend
like lilies in your teeth, but they are Weed;
and you are only part of an idea.
I felt the wet push its black thumb-balls in,
the night you died, I felt your eardrums crack,
and the short agony, the longer dream,
the Nothing that was neither long nor short;
but I was bound, and could not go that way,
but I was blind, and could not feel your hand.
If I could find an answer, could only find
your meaning, or could say why you were here
who now are gone, what purpose gave you breath
or seized it back, might I not hear your voice?

I looked out my window in the dark
at waves with diamond quills and combs of light
that arched their mackerel-backs and smacked the sand
in the moon’s drench, that straight enormous glaze,
and ships far off asleep, and harbour-buoys
tossing their fireballs wearily each to each,
and tried to hear your voice, but all I heard
was a boat’s whistle, and the scraping squeal
of seabirds’ voices far away, and bells,
five bells. Five bells coldly ringing out.
Five bells.

 

Untidy.jpg

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Commission Number 1

Irish_Stamp_John_Barry

Born on this day in 1745 in Tacumshane, County Wexford, Ireland.  John Barry was the son of a poor tenant farmer.  He was raised on stories of the butchery of the Irish by the English under Cromwell.   Evicted by their English landlord they went to live in Rosslare with an uncle who owned a fishing skiff.  Barry carried a hatred of the British with him for the rest of his life.

Barry signed up as a cabin boy and worked his way up through the ranks and across the Atlantic to the American Colonies.  He was a successful merchant captain sailing between Philadelphia and the Caribbean.  He commanded many ships including the Barbados, the Patty and Polly, the Industry, the Page and the Black Prince.

He lost his brother Patrick “lost at sea on a French frigate the limey’s sunk.”  His hatred of the British deepened further.

In 1776, prior to the declaration of Independence, he was awarded a commission in the Continental Navy by John Hancock.  He went on to command the Delaware, the Lexington, the Raleigh and the Alliance.

So successful was Barry that the British offered him the huge sum of £100,000 and command of any Royal Navy Frigate if he would defect.  Captain Barry responded that not all the money in the British treasury or command of its entire fleet could tempt him to desert his adopted country

After the war, in 1797 Barry was issued Commission No.1 in the US Navy by George Washington and became thereafter “Commodore Barry” and “Father of the American Navy”.

In placing Barry at the head of the Navy I have special trust and confidence in [his] patriotism, valor, fidelity and abilities” President George Washington

 

 

St Patrick by Harry Clarke

St Patrick

St Patrick depicted on Stained Glass Window by Harry Clarke.  Commissioned for St Michaels Church Ballinasloe.  Harry Clarke was born on St Patrick’s Day in 1889. He was a leading figure in the Irish Arts & Crafts movement, an illustrator but best remembered for his work in stained glass.

He worked on illustrations for Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Pope’s The Rape of the Lock.

Plagued by ill health he moved to Davos in Switzerland seeking a cure for TB.  He died, aged only 41.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Excerpt) : by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
‘Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!
All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.
About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night;
The water, like a witch’s oils,
Burnt green, and blue and white.
And some in dreams assurèd were
Of the Spirit that plagued us so;
Nine fathom deep he had followed us
From the land of mist and snow.
And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root;
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.
Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

Earworm: Big River

Mark & Jimmy

Mark Knopfler & Jimmy Nail

From Jimmy Nail and Mark Knopfler:  Big River on Youtube

Jimmy Nail, born James Michael Aloysius Bradford on this day in 1954, actor, singer and successful song writer.  A native of Newcastle upon Tyne his song, Big River, has become an unofficial anthem of that city.  Happy Birthday Jimmy.

Big River: by Jimmy Nail
Walking on cobble stone, little bits of skin and bone
jumping on a tram car for a ride.
I can remember then, I was just a boy of ten
hanging around the old quayside.
Now all the capstans and the cargo boats
and stevedores are gone
to where all the old ships go
but memories just like the seas live on
 ’cause that was when coal was king
the river a living thing
And I was just a boy, but it was mine
The coaly Tyne.
 –
(Chorus)
For this was a big river
I want you all to know that I was proud.
This was a big river, but that was long ago
that’s not now, that’s not now.
My father was a working man
he earned our living with his hands
he had to cross the river every day.
He picked up a union card out of the Neptune yard
mouths to feed and the bills to pay.
Then came a time for him to sail across the seas
and far away
finally when the war was won
you brought him home and home he stayed
and when his days were done, under a golden sun
you took him back to where he longed to be
back to the sea
(Chorus)
For this was a big river
I want you all to know that I was proud
This was a big river, but that was long ago
that’s not now, that’s not now
that’s not now.
The Neptune was the last to go,
I heard it on my radio
and then they played the latest number one.
But what do they do all day?
What are they supposed to say?
What does a father tell his son?
If you believe that there’s a bond between our future
and our past
try to hold on to what we had
we build them strong, we built to last
 ’cause this is a mighty town
built upon solid ground
and everything they tried so hard to kill
we will rebuild
(Chorus)
For this was a big river
I want you all to know I’m so very proud.
This was a big river, but that was long ago
That’s not now
and this is a big river
and in my heart I know it will rise again
the river will rise again.

BEHEPA 14

Venus

Image of Venus from Venera 14 probe.

The title of this post is in Cyrillic, and any Russian speakers will tell you it says “Venera 14” (translates as Venus 14) , the Venus lander that took 4 months and 1 day to travel from Earth to Venus, where it landed on this day in 1982.

On the surface, in temperatures of 465 °C and crushed by 94 earth atmospheres of pressure the probe functioned for 57 minutes, relaying information back to an orbiting module.  It survived for 25 minutes longer than the design requirement.  On Venus that was considered a good day.  On Earth the team celebrated.

It took the Soviet Union 18 missions to Venus before they made a successful landing.  If the exploration of Venus has taught us anything it is to Fail well.  Every failure is another step to success.

To Failure; by Philip Larkin

You do not come dramatically, with dragons
that rear up with my life between their paws
and dash me butchered down beside the wagons,
the horses panicking; nor as a clause
clearly set out to warn what can be lost,
what out-of-pocket charges must be borne
expenses met; nor as a draughty ghost
that’s seen, some mornings, running down a lawn.

It is these sunless afternoons, I find
install you at my elbow like a bore
The chestnut trees are caked with silence. I’m
aware the days pass quicker than before,
smell staler too. And once they fall behind
they look like ruin. You have been here some time.

Calumny and obloquy

RobertEmmetArmyGreen

Robert Emmet was born March 4th 1778, when Washington and his troops were wintering and drilling in Valley Forge.  He was 11 years old at the outbreak of the French Revolution.  At age 15 he entered Trinity College Dublin, where he became involved with politics and debating.  Expelled from Trinity at 19 years of age for his political activism he fled to Napoleon’s France.

A rebellion by the Irish under Wolfe-Tone failed in 1796 because a French fleet were denied a landing in Bantry Bay by gales.  A subsequent uprising in 1798 was doomed due to a vigorous counter insurgency program by the British in 1797, by coordination failures and by very limited support from the French, nothing on the scale of the Bantry Bay fleet.

Robert Emmet was a most unlikely rebel leader.  He was no Wolfe-Tone.  His rebellion in 1803 was poorly organised and had to be sparked early because of an explosion in one of his secret arms depots.  The rebellion that took place in Thomas Street, Dublin was described as more of a riot than a rebellion.  The rebels failed to take a weakly defended Dublin Castle.  When the rebels began to pike Dragoons in the streets Emmet was horrified and called off the rebellion.

He could have escaped then, but returned for his sweetheart Sarah Curran.  This endeared him to the “Doomed Romantic” zeitgeist of popular Victorian culture and Emmet was celebrated in verse, on stage and in opera.

To ensure conviction at trial the British bribed Emmet’s Barrister; Leonard McNally who cursed his family for seven generations when he took a traitors pension from the Crown.

For most Irish though, it is his speech from the dock that remains as his greatest legacy.  He may have been a terrible revolutionary but Robert Emmet could write a good speech.  The title of this post is from words in his speech, which have largely fallen out of modern usage.  Though words have changed the structure of speeches has not.  Emmet used his speech to undermine the legitimacy of British Rule in Ireland.  His call for his epitaph to be withheld became largely academic, as his body was lost.  His relatives feared to claim it after then hanging in case they were arrested.  It was subsequently misplaced, so now we don’t know where to place his epitaph!

The full text can be read here:  Emmet’s Speech from the dock

When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and not till then, let my epitaph be written.”

Longfellow

Longfellow

This post is about a poets birthday, an Irish rebel, and a diving bird.

Today is the birthday of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, most famous of the New England “Fireside Poets”, born on this day in 1807.  Longfellow is best known for his (very) long lyrical/romantic verse tales such as the Song of Hiawatha and Evangeline.  They are poems that had a role in the days before the invention of TV.  They occupied a long winters night with a well told tale set to verse.

The song of Hiawatha tells the story of a fictional Ojibwe warrior named Hiawatha and his tragic love for the Dakota squaw Minnehaha.  Now here is where things get weird.  Here is a photo of the Irish rebel Eamonn DeValera taken in 1919.  He is wearing the headdress of the Ojibwe-Chippewa tribe, who made him an honorary member, in Spooner Wisconsin.

Devalera

During the rebellion the Irish leaders were referred to by nicknames.  This avoided their real names being overheard by spies.  Micheal Collins was nicknamed “The Big Fellow” and DeValera, who was tall and lanky, was nicknamed “The Long Fellow”.  Longfellow writes Hiawatha about Ojibwe warrior.  Irish rebel nicknamed Long Fellow is made an honorary Ojibwe warrior.  That is just bizarre.

DeValera survived the executions of the 1916 rebellion because he held entitlement to American citizenship from his birth in New York.  He toured the USA in 1919/1920 to raise funds for the rebellion and to secure recognition for the cause of the Irish Free State.  Post-Treaty he broke from Collins and led the IRA rebels in a doomed civil war which split the country for three generations.  He went on to found Ireland’s largest political party, served as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and as President.  The classic terrorist – rebel – freedom fighter – elderly statesman cursus honorum.

Finally we come to the diver.  Divers are a breed of bird in the British Isles that are usually called Loons in North America.  The smallest diver, the red throated, develops the signature red throat feathers during the breeding season “when ocean by the sun is kissed”.  So it is clear that the interlocutor of this Longfellow poem is a Red Throated Diver.  The poem is shorter than the great lyric beasts that Longfellow is famous for, but sits well here on “Mindship” as it touches on themes of ships lost at sea.

RedThroatDiver

The Sea Diver: by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

My way is on the bright blue sea,
my sleep upon its rocking tide;
and many an eye has followed me
where billows clasp the worn seaside.

My plumage bears the crimson blush,
when ocean by the sun is kissed!
When fades the evening’s purple flush,
my dark wing cleaves the silver mist.

Full many a fathom down beneath
The bright arch of the splendid deep
My ear has heard the sea-shell breathe
O’er living myriads in their sleep.

They rested by the coral throne,
And by the pearly diadem;
Where the pale sea-grape had o’ergrown
The glorious dwellings made for them.

At night upon my storm-drench’d wing,
I poised above a helmless bark,
And soon I saw the shattered thing
Had passed away and left no mark.

And when the wind and storm were done,
a ship, that had rode out the gale,
Sunk down, without a signal-gun,
And none was left to tell the tale.

I saw the pomp of day depart–
The cloud resign its golden crown,
When to the ocean’s beating heart
The sailor’s wasted corse went down.

Peace be to those whose graves are made
Beneath the bright and silver sea!
Peace – that their relics there were laid
With no vain pride and pageantry.