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.

The Spanish Ulcer

Cadíz

Cádiz is the oldest city in Spain.  It was founded by the Phoenicians who called it Gadir, or Agadir, which was their name for an enclosure, or port.

The Romans called it Gades.  Later came the Arabs who called it Qádiz.  Most English speakers pronounce it incorrectly.  The accent is on the first syllable.

On this day, Feb 5th, 1810, Cádiz became the last chance saloon for the Spanish Cortes.  The government fled from Madrid ahead of the advancing Napoleonic armies.  They holed up in the last Spanish city, and held out for two years of siege.

Marshalls Victor and Soult failed to break the Spaniards.  The British and the Spanish mounted a number of daring counter attacks to relieve the siege.  The most famous was the Battle of Barrosa, where Patrick Masterson of the 87th Royal Irish Fusiliers captured an Imperial Eagle from the French, the first ever won by British forces.

But it was the actions of another Irish born soldier, Lord Wellington, that eventually relieved Cádiz.  The battle of Salamanca threatened to cut off the French and they were forced to retreat and regroup.

The war in Spain became known as the “Spanish Ulcer”.  It was the open sore that bled France and weakened her.  Spain was Napoleons Vietnam.  Army after army was sent to Spain.  Some died on the battlefield in the big war, la Guerra.  But more died in the little war, la guerrilla, a word invented by the Peninsular war.

Sometimes the lowest point, the last gasp, becomes the foundation for new growth.  From the ashes of disaster the Cortes sowed the seeds of eventual success.

 

The Girl of Cádiz; by Lord Byron

O, NEVER talk again to me
Of northern climes and British ladies;
It has not been your lot to see,
Like me, the lovely Girl of Cadiz.
Although her eyes be not of blue,
Nor fair her locks, like English lassies,
How far its own expressive hue
The languid azure eye surpasses!

Prometheus-like, from heaven she stole
The fire that through those silken lashes
In darkest glances seems to roll,
From eyes that cannot hide their flashes;
And as along her bosom steal
In lengthened flow her raven tresses,
You ’d swear each clustering lock could feel,
And curled to give her neck caresses.

Our English maids are long to woo,
And frigid even in possession;
And if their charms be fair to view,
Their lips are slow at love’s confession;
But, born beneath a brighter sun,
For love ordained the Spanish maid is,
And who, when fondly, fairly won,
Enchants you like the Girl of Cadiz?

The Spanish maid is no coquette,
Nor joys to see a lover tremble;
And if she love or if she hate,
Alike she knows not to dissemble.
Her heart can ne’er be bought or sold,
Howe’er it beats, it beats sincerely;
And, though it will not bend to gold,
’T will love you long, and love you dearly.

The Spanish girl that meets your love
Ne’er taunts you with a mock denial;
For every thought is bent to prove
Her passion in the hour of trial.
When thronging foemen menace Spain
She dares the deed and shares the danger;
And should her lover press the plain,
She hurls the spear, her love’s avenger.

And when, beneath the evening star,
She mingles in the gay Bolero,
Or sings to her attuned guitar
Of Christian knight or Moorish hero,
Or counts her beads with fairy hand
Beneath the twinkling rays of Hesper,
Or joins devotion’s choral band
To chant the sweet and hallowed vesper,

In each her charms the heart must move
Of all who venture to behold her.
Then let not maids less fair reprove,
Because her bosom is not colder;
Through many a clime ’t is mine to roam
Where many a soft and melting maid is,
But none abroad, and few at home,
May match the dark-eyed Girl of Cadiz.

 

Sunken Treasure

Shipwreck

Back in 1641 at a time when the English and the Spanish were getting along well a pair of English ships spent three years trading in the Caribbean.  The Galleons, Dover Merchant and Royal Merchant sailed back to Cadiz on their way home.  In the port of Cadiz there was a fire which damaged a Spanish vessel that was due to carry the payroll to the army in Flanders.  The English captain stepped in and offered to transport the gold and silver.

The two English ships were the worse for wear after a season at sea in the tropics.  There is no doubt that they were heavy with weed, and had bulging seams and rotten caulking.  Three years in the West Indies, under a punishing sun, can wreak havoc with planking and decking above the waterline.  They may also have been infested with ship-worm.  These days with modern steel ships, fibreglass and epoxy yachts we expect boats to be dry.  Leaks are something that must be fixed.  Traditional boat owners have a better sense of the realities of 17th century sailing.  Wooden boats must be filled with water on the inside if they are wintered on the dockside.  The timbers and caulking must be kept moist to prevent drying, which opens gaps in the seams.  I have sailed in a Galway hooker for the first outing of a season, to see cataracts of water cascade through the seams above the waterline as we heeled over in the wind.  Bailing and pumping out are part of the daily grind on a wooden ship.

Royal Merchant was leaking badly as they sailed through Biscay, being pumped out all the way.  Off Lands End the weather took a turn for the worse.  If your decks are leaking then rain and waves breaking on the deck add to your flooding woes.  The overworked pumps broke down and the leaking ship began to sink.  She went down off the Isles of Scilly, with the loss of 18 men.  The other 40 men managed to board the ships boats and were rescued by the Dover Merchant.

Royal Merchant was the most valuable ship ever to sink.  The salvage company that finds her stand to share in the region of one billion US dollars, once the legal teams figure out who owns the wreck.

Here is a poem about a sinking ship by Dora Sigerson Shorter.  Dora was one of the leading lights of the Irish literary revival and the explosion of Celtic Culture and 19th Century mysticism.  Given the context I think a closer reading may yield clues that it is not a Ship that is sinking, but something else.  But what?  Is this a poem in the vein of Yeats “September 1913” criticizing the bourgeoisie and the loss of direction in the struggle for Irish freedom?  Is it a paean for the stagnation of the art movement?  What is “the struggle” and who are “they” that shun it?  I would welcome your thoughts in the comments section.

The Sinking Ship; by Dora Sigerson Shorter

The ship is sinking, come ye one and all.
Stand fast and so this weakness overhaul,
Come ye strong hands and cheery voices call,
“Stand by!”

The ship is sinking in a summer sea,
Bless her but once for all she used to be,
Who rode the billows once so proud and free,
If you but loved a little, with a sigh,
“Stand by!”

Gone, all are gone, they neither hear or care,
The sun shines on and life is ever fair.
They shun the struggle, laughter lurks elsewhere.
The ship is sinking, passing echoes cry,
“Stand by!”

The little ships that pass her in the night,
Speed from the darkness in their eager fright.
From troubled dreams they take refuge in flight.
Why should they then, who know they too must die,
“Stand by”?

Then get you gone, desert the sinking ship,
O faithless friends, who on her pleasure-trip
Clung close with gentle words and smiling lip,
And still as ever on your own joys cry,
“Stand by!”

The ship is sinking, parting in a smile,
The sunset waters mark the last sad mile
In dimpling play and in a little while
The waters close, Death and his angels cry,
“Stand by!”