High water mark

Severus210AD

Septimus Severus died on this day, in Eboracum, Britannia, (modern York, England), in 211 AD.  Under his reign the Roman Empire attained its high water mark as he extended borders in Asia, Africa and in Britain.

Had he survived for just one more year the History of Britain could have been quite different.  In 210 AD Severus laid the foundations for the complete conquest of Caledonia. He repaired Hadrian’s Wall.  Then he moved north and carried out extensive repair work on the Antonine Wall and secured the Scottish Lowlands between Hadrian’s Wall and the central belt from the Firth of Clyde to the Firth of Forth.

He then advanced up the east coast of Scotland, constructing forts along the way.  He advanced through modern Dundee, Aberdeen and around the Firth of Moray near Inverness.  The local clans refused to meet the legions and engaged in guerrilla tactics.  Even so it became clear by the winter of 210 that the Clans would have to make peace with these invaders, who seemed relentless.

How different would the history of Britain have been had Caledonia been romanised?  Clan structures, which endured to the rebellion of Bonny Prince Charles would have been replaced with a Roman administrative structure.

But Severus fell ill and withdrew south to Eboracum where he died.  The momentum of the campaign was lost.  His son, Caracalla, re-initiated the campaign, but within a short time sued for peace with the Caledonian tribes.  The Romans withdrew south of Hadrian’s wall and never again ranged north in conquest.

It would be nice, from a Celtic perspective, to depict this as a victory of Celtic passion over Roman organisation.  The truth though is that the Celts had the sense to steer clear of the legions.  They saw what happened in Britain.  So they withdrew to the mountains, woods and bogs.  They left the Romans to fight the cold, the wet, the relentless damp, the plagues of midges that rise on any sunny day.  Against these enemies the Romans had no defence.

 

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Groundhog eve

Spring

Guess what just sprung?

Yes it is Feb 1st, Feast of Brigid, the Celtic Goddess of Fertility, or St Brigid if you are a Christian revisionist.  Celtic festival of Imbolc, thought to drive from “i mBolg” which means “in the belly” where all the spring lambs, calves and babies are.

Outside my window I hear a colt nickering in the field next door, full of the joys of the burgeoning summer.

Spring And All: by William Carlos Williams

By the road to the contagious hospital

under the surge of the blue

mottled clouds driven from the

northeast —

a cold wind. Beyond, the

waste of broad, muddy fields

brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

 

patches of standing water

the scattering of tall trees

 

All along the road the reddish

purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy

stuff of bushes and small trees

with dead, brown leaves under them

leafless vines —

 

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish

dazed spring approaches —

 

They enter the new world naked,

cold, uncertain of all

save that they enter. All about them

the cold, familiar wind —

 

Now the grass, tomorrow

the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf

One by one objects are defined —

 

It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

 

But now the stark dignity of
entrance —

Still, the profound change

has come upon them: rooted they

grip down and begin to awaken

Happy Birthday John Gould Fletcher

 

MiniDriver

The Irish storm season is in full swing and gale follows gale follows Storm Eleanor across Ireland.  So it is fitting that today is John Gould Fletchers birthday, born on this day in 1886.  First Southern US poet to win the Pulitzer prize, he was a member of the british Imagist movement which rejected Victorian sentimentalism and harked back to the dispassion of what they considered to be classical values.

 

Tide of Storms : by John Gould Fletcher

Allegro con fuoco

Crooked, crawling tide with long wet fingers
clutching at the gritty beach in the roar and spurt of spray,
tide of gales, drunken tide, lava-burst of breakers,
black ships plunge upon you from sea to sea away.

Shattering tide, tide of winds, tide of the long still winter,
what matter though ships fail, men sink, there vanish glory?
War-clouds shall hurl their stinging sleet upon our last adventure,
night-winds shall brokenly whisper our bitter, tragic story.

 

How Green was my valley?

Aberfan_disaster,_October_1966

Last weekend we had ex-Hurricane Ophelia.  This weekend we are being battered by storm Brian.  The north Atlantic jet-stream is feeding us our annual diet of gales and storms to blow away the autumn leaves and cleanse the land for the winter ice.

It’s nothing new, for all the talk of climate change.  Perhaps we have made it worse, perhaps not.  Ireland experienced a stronger storm back in 1961 when Hurricane Debbie struck.

In 1966 it was relentless rain combined with unsafe practices of the National Coal Board (NCB) in Britain that resulted in the Aberfan disaster.

The NCB broke regulations when they placed a spoil tip from the coalmine on a hillside peppered with natural springs.  The tip then broke further regulations by being overused.  It should have been shut down but was not.  In Sept/Oct of 1966 South Wales experienced three weeks of almost relentless rain.  The combination of the rain from above and the springs below liquefied the spoil.

On the morning of Oct 21st, 1966 the children of Aberfan sat at their desks at 9am and were beginning the roll call.  It was the last school day before the mid-term break.  The coal tip slipped, liquefaction occurred and the wall of shale, stone and muck became slurry that flowed in a wave down the mountain.

The ‘dark glistening wave’ broke into the village of Aberfan and engulfed the school.  Half the students were killed.  Twenty eight adults and one hundred and sixteen children died.

The good news is that some of the senior managers in the NCB were promoted for their excellent handling of the PR side of the disaster.  They did trojan work supporting the future of Coal in Britain.  No employee of the NCB was ever disciplined for the breaches that caused the disaster.   Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

“How green was my Valley then, and the Valley of them that have gone.”  Richard Llewellyn (1939)

Where was God? : by Ron Cook.

Where was God that fateful day
At the place called Aberfan.
When the world stood still and the mountain
Moved through the folly of mortal man.
In the morning hush so cold and stark
And grey skys overhead.
When the mountain moved its awesome mass
To leave generations of dead.
Where was God the people cried
Their features grim and bleak.
Somewhere on their knees in prayer
And many could not speak.
The silence so still like something unreal
Hung on the morning air.
And people muttered in whisper tones
Oh God this isn’t fair.
The utter waste of childhood dreams
Of hope and aspirations.
A bitter lesson to be learnt for future generations
But where was God the people cried.
The reason none could say
For when the mountain moved its awesome mass.
God looked the other way.

 

Eulogy for Ophelia

Ophelia.jpg

She came from warm southern waters and wasted our island with her wrath.  Then she flounced away to the north, leaving a trail of death and destruction in her wake.  We expected a lot of hot air, but she blew us away with her powerful delivery.  We cowered before her.  We quaked beneath her wrath and worshiped her as the modern day Morrigan.  She took three lives and passed on, her lust for death satiated.

 

Hamlet Act V Scene 1: A Churchyard

First Clown sings, as he digs a grave:

In youth, when I did love, did love,
Methought it was very sweet,
To contract, O, the time, for, ah, my behove,
O, methought, there was nothing meet.

But age, with his stealing steps,
Hath claw’d me in his clutch,
And hath shipped me intil the land,
As if I had never been such.

A pick-axe, and a spade, a spade,
For and a shrouding sheet:
O, a pit of clay for to be made
For such a guest is meet.

O, a pit of clay for to be made
For such a guest is meet.
One that was a woman, sir;
but, rest her soul, she’s dead.

Lefort disaster

Lefort wreck

Wreck of the Lefort by Ivan Alvazovsky

On this day in 1857 the Russian ship of the line Lefort was lost in a squall en route from Tallinn to St Petersburg. She went down with 756 crew, 53 wives and 17 children.  Press reported that there was 1 survivor.

Rated for 84 guns she carried 95 which would make her top heavy.  The board of enquiry noted that her cargo was not balanced properly so she did not have enough ballast low down in the hull to help the ship right herself.  When the squall struck she leaned hard over.  There was speculation that the gun ports were open to provide ventilation, in which case they would have allowed the water to flood in as she heeled.  This is exactly how the Mary Rose is thought to have floundered.

A shipping disaster in a far away sea a long time ago comes sharply into focus when your own son is travelling on a ferry on the very anniversary en route from Helsinki to Tallinn, through the same waters, with a storm warning in place.

Excerpt from “The Loss Of The Eurydice”; by Gerard Manley Hopkins

9

Too proud, too proud, what a press she bore!
Royal, and all her royals wore.
Sharp with her, shorten sail!
Too late; lost; gone with the gale.

10

This was that fell capsize,
As half she had righted and hoped to rise
Death teeming in by her portholes
Raced down decks, round messes of mortals.

11

Then a lurch forward, frigate and men;
‘All hands for themselves’ the cry ran then;
But she who had housed them thither
Was around them, bound them or wound them with her.

 

A poem for Summer’s end.

Brecon

Sun Setting over Wales from Brecons

XXXIX (from Last Poems); by A.E. Houseman

When summer’s end is nighing
and skies at evening cloud,
I muse on change and fortune
and all the feats I vowed
when I was young and proud.

The weathercock at sunset
would lose the slanted ray,
and I would climb the beacon
that looked to Wales away
and saw the last of day.

From hill and cloud and heaven
the hues of evening died;
Night welled through lane and hollow
and hushed the countryside,
but I had youth and pride.

And I with earth and nightfall
in converse high would stand,
late, till the west was ashen
and darkness hard at hand,
and the eye lost the land.

The year might age, and cloudy
the lessening day might close,
but air of other summers
breathed from beyond the snows,
and I had hope of those.

They came and were and are not
and come no more anew;
And all the years and seasons
that ever can ensue
must now be worse and few.

So here’s an end of roaming
on eves when autumn nighs:
The ear too fondly listens
for summer’s parting sighs,
and then the heart replies.