Happy Birthday Tenzing Norgay

tenzing

Tenzing Norgay, first man photographed on top of Mount Everest.  Norgay was perhaps born on this day in 1914, three years to the day before John F. Kennedy.  In 1953 on the same day, Norgay and Edmund Hillary were the two first men to successfully ascent the highest mountain in the world.

Norgay had no ability with a camera so the only photograph of the event was of Norgay, taken by Hillary.

Norgay knew he was born in May (from the growth of crops) in the year of the rabbit (1914).  When he summited Everest on May 29th he adopted that date as is birthday.

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A hymn for the defeated

FraVIre

Better remembered as a sculptor William Wetmore Story was born on this day in 1819, so next year he will celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth.  When I saw this poem it immediately called to mind the image above.  If ever a photograph can capture the moment when victory turned to defeat this is it.  Look at those French faces.

Io Victis :by William Wetmore Story

I sing the hymn of the conquered, who fell in the Battle of Life,
the hymn of the wounded, the beaten, who died overwhelmed in the strife;
Not the jubilant song of the victors, for whom the resounding acclaim
of nations was lifted in chorus, whose brows wore the chaplet of fame,
but the hymn of the low and the humble, the weary, the broken in heart,
who strove and who failed, acting bravely a silent and desperate part;
Whose youth bore no flower on its branches, whose hopes burned in ashes away,
from whose hands slipped the prize they had grasped at, who stood at the dying of day
with the wreck of their life all around them, unpitied, unheeded, alone,
with Death swooping down o’er their failure, and all but their faith overthrown,

while the voice of the world shouts its chorus, its paean for those who have won;
While the trumpet is sounding triumphant, and high to the breeze and the sun
glad banners are waving, hands clapping, and hurrying feet
thronging after the laurel-crowned victors, I stand on the field of defeat,
in the shadow, with those who have fallen, and wounded, and dying, and there
chant a requiem low, place my hand on their pain-knotted brows, breathe a prayer,
hold the hand that is helpless, and whisper, “They only the victory win,
who have fought the good fight, and have vanquished the demon that tempts us within;
Who have held to their faith unseduced by the prize that the world holds on high;
Who have dared for a high cause to suffer, resist, fight, if need be, to die.”

Speak, History! who are Life’s victors? Unroll thy long annals, and say,
are they those whom the world called the victors — who won the success of a day?
The martyrs, or Nero? Spartans, who fell at Thermopylae’s tryst,
or the Persians and Xerxes? His judges or Socrates? Pilate or Christ?

This Sporting Life

Joe Dolan

Last Saturday was a night at the dog track in Mullingar with some college buddies and other middle aged guys for a Stag party to consign the last man standing to the wonderful institution of marriage.  In the course of the night I was recommending that a couple of the guys look up this poem.  Pertinent as it is also set in Mullingar.  It is both the saddest and the funniest poem I know about sport.

Sport; by Paul Durcan

There were not many fields
in which you had hopes for me
but sport was one of them.
On my twenty-first birthday
I was selected to play
for Grangegorman Mental Hospital
in an away game
against Mullingar Mental Hospital.
I was a patient
in B Wing.
You drove all the way down,
fifty miles,
to Mullingar to stand
on the sidelines and observe me.
I was fearful I would let down
not only my team but you.
It was Gaelic football.
I was selected as goalkeeper.
There were big country men
on the Mullingar Mental Hospital team,
men with gapped teeth, red faces,
oily, frizzy hair, bushy eyebrows.
Their full forward line
were over six foot tall
fifteen stone in weight.
All three of them, I was informed,
cases of schizophrenia.
There was a rumour
that their centre-half forward
was an alcoholic solicitor
who, in a lounge bar misunderstanding,
had castrated his best friend
but that he had no memory of it.
He had meant well – it was said.
His best friend had to emigrate
to Nigeria.
To my surprise,
I did not flinch in the goals.
I made three or four spectacular saves,
diving full stretch to turn
a certain goal around the corner,
leaping high to tip another certain goal
over the bar for a point.
It was my knowing
that you were standing on the sideline
that gave me the necessary motivation –
that will to die
that is as essential to sportsmen as to artists.
More than anybody it was you
I wanted to mesmerise, and after the game –
Grangegorman Mental Hospital
having defeated Mullingar Mental Hospital
by 14 Goals and 38 points to 3 goals and 10 points –
sniffing your approval, you shook hands with me.
‘Well played, son’.
I may not have been mesmeric
but I had not been mediocre.
In your eyes I had achieved something at last.
On my twenty-first birthday I had played on a winning team
the Grangegorman Mental Hospital team.
Seldom if ever again in your eyes
was I to rise to these heights.

Happy Birthday Hilaire Belloc

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A prolific writer in politics, travel, religion and war Belloc is best remembered for his children’s poetry.  In truth his poems appeal far more to the parents than they do to the kids.

Belloc was also a sailor, he raced with the French team, and the Dermod McCarthy book “Sailing with Mr Belloc” details his cruising around Britain.

Born on this day in 1870, just outside Paris.

 

Matilda Who Told Lies, And Was Burned To Death; by Hilaire Belloc

 

Matilda told such Dreadful Lies,
it made one Gasp and Stretch one’s Eyes;
Her Aunt, who, from her Earliest Youth,
had kept a Strict Regard for Truth,
attempted to Believe Matilda:
The effort very nearly killed her,
and would have done so, had not She
discovered this Infirmity.

For once, towards the close of day,
Matilda, growing tired of play,
and finding she was left alone,
went tiptoe to the Telephone
ond summoned the immediate aid
Of London’s Noble Fire-Brigade.

Within an hour the Gallant Band
were pouring in on every hand,
from Putney, Hackney Downs, and Bow.
With Courage high and Hearts a-glow,
they galloped, roaring through the town,
‘Matilda’s House is Burning Down!’

Inspired by British cheers and loud
proceeding from the frenzied crowd,
they ran their ladders through a score
of windows on the ball room floor;
and took peculiar pains to souse
the pictures up and down the House,
until Matilda’s Aunt succeeded
in showing them they were not needed;
and even then she had to pay
to get the Men to go away.

It happened that a few Weeks later
her aunt was off to the theatre
to see that interesting play
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray.
She had refused to take her niece
to hear this entertaining piece:
A Deprivation Just and Wise
to Punish her for telling lies.

That night a fire did break out-
You should have heard Matilda shout!
You should have heard her scream and bawl,
and throw the window up and call
To people passing in the street-
(The rapidly increasing heat
encouraging her to obtain
their confidence) – but all in vain!
For every time she shouted ‘Fire! ‘
they only answered ‘Little Liar!’
And therefore when her aunt returned,
Matilda, and the house, were burned.

 

Happy Birthday Petrarch

christ-on-the-sea-of-galilee

Eugene Delacroix : Christ on the sea of Galilee

Born on this day in 1304 Petrarch is called by some the father of the Renaissance, by others the father of Humanism and by still others as the father of the Sonnet.  It takes a great man indeed to father so many illustrious children.  Mountaineers consider him the first Alpinist as he is the first person recorded to ascend a mountain (Mont Ventoux) for recreation alone.

A latin scholar he encouraged other scholars to scour the libraries of the world for the writings of ancient Greece and Rome.  He acquired a copy of Homer’s Odyssey but lamented his lack of Greek saying that “Homer was dumb to me and I was deaf to Homer”.  He had more success with his discovery of a cache of the letters of Cicero, who is our key primary source for the political and judicial goings on in the late Roman Republic when Cicero wrote of the day to day doings of Julius Caesar, Pompeii, Brutus, Cassius, Cato, Marc Anthony et al.

As a writer he was a contemporary and a correspondent of Boccaccio.  His writings had a major impact on the evolution of the modern Italian language.  His use of the poetic form of the Sonnet had an enormous impact on the world of poetry and especially on the works of Shakespeare.  Sonnets are somewhat easier to rhyme in Italian than they are in English, but here is a translation of one of his poems.  It sits nicely in this blog site as it is a classic “Mind Ship” as he uses the metaphor of a storm battered ship to personify the ravages of age.

La vita fugge, et non s’arresta una hora; by Francesco Petrarch (Trans A.S. Kline)

Life flies, and never stays an hour,
and death comes on behind with its dark day,
and present things and past things
embattle me, and future things as well:
and remembrance and expectation grip my heart,
now on this side, now on that, so that in truth,
if I did not take pity on myself,
I would have freed myself already from all thought.
A sweetness that the sad heart knew
returns to me: yet from another quarter
I see the storm-winds rattling my sails:
I see no chance of harbour, and my helmsman
is weary now, and my masts and ropes are broken,
and the beautiful stars, I used to gaze on, quenched.

Bucket List #5

Renault4

This is not a photo of my first car, but it is a photo of a beige Renault 4 with a sunroof.  My first car was a beige Renault 4 with a sunroof, but it also had matching dents on each front corner, and a chiaroscuro quality imparted by the proliferation of rust.

How does it qualify for my bucket list?  Well, it was a rust-bucket!

My Renault 4 came to me by way of my Sister, Síle, who decorated it with the two matching dents by knocking down first one pillar and then the other on the driveway of her house in Newbridge.  She bought the car second hand from the Burkes, who owned a garage in Tipperary.  That might explain why a Renault 4 came to be fitted with a sunroof.  It also had a go-fast stripe, and I suspect they did something to the engine to give it a bit of power, but maybe that was just an illusion imparted by the stripe.

There is a magic and a nostalgia associated with your first car.  It is usually a piece of rubbish, but it is a very important piece of rubbish.  Your first car is probably the most expensive and most important thing you have ever owned up to the point where you get your second car, or a house, or an engagement ring.

Your first car represents your freedom as a young adult.  Your ability to strike out at great distances without begging rides from parents or siblings, without the need to rely on public transport.

It is a space of your own.  If you have a car you can take a girlfriend for a date in said car.  Louise learned how to drive in it, and there was no worry that she might scrape a door or a wing as there might have been with later cars, of which we will say nothing.  Before you know what is happening a girlfriend can become a wife, much to the confusion of her brothers who would not be caught dead in a car like that!

You could bring friends to rugby matches as far afield as Malahide, Greystones, Clonskeagh and Churchtown.  You could give rides to Glénans trainees for holidays in Bere Island, Baltimore or Collanmore Island, instead of having to hitch rides from other members.

When the last exams finished you were able to bring a gang of friends to Rutland Island in Donegal for a week in Murf’s holiday home.  They could then have a great laugh about the acceleration qualities of a Renault 4 engine going uphill in a headwind with five big lads on board.

You could nip up the Wicklow mountains for Sunday hikes, or head off to Dingle or Glenbeigh for a rainy Irish summer holiday.  The possibilities were endless.

It was a gateway to adventures.  My Renault 4 carried dinghies, ribs  and sailboards on the roof.  It had a great cargo space, especially when you dropped the back seats.  It held lots of sailing equipment, hiking equipment, camping gear, washing machines and plenty of second hand furniture.  When we bought a house it was furnished with bits and pieces of second hand furniture bought from the small ads in the Irish Press and carted back in or on the Renault 4.

Because it was rusty and a bit battered there was none of the concern that you might scratch it, or leave a stain on the seats, or get a chip in the paintwork.  I didn’t worry that the seawater would add more rust.  I didn’t mind if puppies shat or puked in the back.  It was a workhorse, not an ornament.  It enabled my adventures rather than decorating my existence.

In its final years the rust holes became larger and larger.  On rainy days it was advisable to wear plastic bags on your feet because of the spray coming up through the floor.

Then one day it stopped.  Dead.

A friend of my Sister came up from Kildare and towed it away to see service in its final days as a hen house.

When I look back at the sum of my experiences in that battered old rust bucket I pity any teenager or 20-something who is gifted a brand new vehicle as their first car.  You will never understand the unadulterated joy to be had from owning a total piece of crap, bought and paid for with your own money.

Chickencoop

The Lure of Fish

SONY DSC

It is the time of year when the Salmon rivers in Ireland and Scotland begin opening for the season.  Scotland in particular makes a big splash of the opening of the rivers.  Whiskey is poured as a libation before the first flies of the season are cast.

Then it is all about the records.  First fish of the season, largest salmon of the day/ week/ month/ river/ region.  There are never larger fish caught than the ones that got away.  The life of a fisherman is a life of imagination, what might be and what might have been.  The fish you actually caught are almost a throwaway to fortune, because they only represent the thin edge of what might one day be.

I recall standing in front of a large board of lures like the one above in a fishing shop in Dublin.  I asked the shopkeeper which lures were the best for catching trout.  He replied that he didn’t know about catching trout, but he could tell me which were the best lures for catching anglers.

THE SONG OF WANDERING AENGUS: by W.B. Yeats

I WENT out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;

And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.