Secret league of Vernians

Verne

Jules Verne

 

Today is the birthday of Elizabeth Bishop, the poet born in 1911.  She was born on the birthday of no less an author than Jules Verne, who was born this day in 1828.  Verne was a father of Science Fiction writing and his legacy is treated almost as a religion by some.  These are the Vernians, the true believers who think Jules Verne’s books are scientific manuals rather than fantastic stories.

Vernians have been prominent in film.  In the 2008 version of “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” the lead characters use an annotated copy of Verne’s novel to retrace his steps.  Vernianism also has a part to play in Back to the Future III.  Doc Brown and the love of his life, Clara Clayton, are committed Vernians.

Now get this:  Clara Clayton is played in the movie by Mary Steenburgen, born in 1953, ON THIS DAY.  Coincidence?  I think not!

The Bight: by Elizabeth Bishop

At low tide like this how sheer the water is.
White, crumbling ribs of marl protrude and glare
and the boats are dry, the pilings dry as matches.
Absorbing, rather than being absorbed,
the water in the bight doesn’t wet anything,
the color of the gas flame turned as low as possible.
One can smell it turning to gas; if one were Baudelaire
one could probably hear it turning to marimba music.
The little ocher dredge at work off the end of the dock
already plays the dry perfectly off-beat claves.
The birds are outsize. Pelicans crash
into this peculiar gas unnecessarily hard,
it seems to me, like pickaxes,
rarely coming up with anything to show for it,
and going off with humorous elbowings.
Black-and-white man-of-war birds soar
on impalpable drafts
and open their tails like scissors on the curves
or tense them like wishbones, till they tremble.
The frowsy sponge boats keep coming in
with the obliging air of retrievers,
bristling with jackstraw gaffs and hooks
and decorated with bobbles of sponges.
There is a fence of chicken wire along the dock
where, glinting like little plowshares,
the blue-gray shark tails are hung up to dry
for the Chinese-restaurant trade.
Some of the little white boats are still piled up
against each other, or lie on their sides, stove in,
and not yet salvaged, if they ever will be, from the last bad storm,
like torn-open, unanswered letters.
The bight is littered with old correspondences.
Click. Click. Goes the dredge,
and brings up a dripping jawful of marl.
All the untidy activity continues,
awful but cheerful.

Fishtrap

LobsterPot

Easy to get in, very hard to get out.  That is the principle of the fish trap.  The photo above shows how this is done in a traditional lobster pot.  The fish can swim in from the top down into the heart of the trap to eat the bait.  Once the bait is eaten the fish swims around the perimeter looking for a way out.  But that is the trick, the exit is in the middle, not at the edge.

What has this to do with anything?  The fishtrap sums up every software company ever.  They make it easy to get in and very very difficult to get out.

An example is mobile phones.  Anyone who has ever tried to move from one technology to another will understand the pain.  When you join a mobile phone company they do everything they can to make it easy for you to import your data to their system.  All your phone contacts, all your social media and as many files as they can get from you.  They provide you with plenty of space at setup to store your photos and documents.

It is a different story when you try to leave.  If you move from Apple ios to Windows, or from Windows to Android, or from Android to Chrome etc you will find every barrier thrown in your path to prevent a seamless move.  Like the Hotel California “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”.  Or as Maurice Sendak said “Oh please don’t go, we’ll eat you up we love you so!” (Where the Wild Things Are).

When you decide to invest in a technology for the next 18 months to 2 years it is a wise researcher who looks at the exit costs.

To this day I have a list of mothballed contacts locked up in Apple cloud storage that has been there since I last owned an iPhone – I think that was 2014.  I have a stack of photos that I hope I can retrieve at some later date.

I would like to sign up with a technology company that did not treat me like a plump fish to be landed on their plate.  I am not a net profit, a cash flow, an income line or a revenue stream.  I don’t love their marketing lure or their sales hook.  I want a fair exchange.  I’ll swim with you a while, but when it’s time for me to leave I don’t want to have to escape your grasping claws.  Let me go gently and I just may return one day.

 

The Fish: by Elizabeth Bishop

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
– the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly-
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
– It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
– if you could call it a lip
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels- until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

For the love of poetry?

Leaving Certificate Exam, English literature paper is sat today in Ireland.  All those lucky students are now scanning their notes for the last time to remember the nugget that will land them an extra few points.  Have you tended your garden of knowledge well?  What was it that Iago said about Virtue and Figs?

“Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens to the which our wills are gardeners.”             Othello, Shakespeare

Each year students in their tens of thousands play dice with the poetry syllabus.  They are given eight poets to study.  Eight wonderful poets with beautiful rich compositions.  Eight leading lights to brighten the dark corridors of your existence.  What do students do?  Study all eight?  No way.  They play dice, and gamble on how few they can study and land a question they can answer.

This year the poets are Paul Durcan, Elizabeth Bishop, T.S. Eliot, Eavan Boland, Sylvia Plath, John Donne, John Keats and Gerard Manley Hopkins.  Durcan, Bishop and Eliot came up last year, so unlikely to resurface.

There is usually a woman, so Plath is hot favourite.  There is always an Irish poet, so Boland is a favourite.  Fingernails are being chewed to the quick as the minutes tick by!  What do those mermaids have to do with the musical “Cats”?  Oh God, my teacher told me this……………..

 

The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock; by T.S. Eliot

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;

Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin —
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?

 

And how should I begin?
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,

 

Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it towards some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,

Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
That is not it, at all.”
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—

And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—

Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.