Quod sumus hoc eritis

Bernt_Notke_Danse_Macabre

Danse Macabre in St Nicholas Church, Talinn, Estonia

Danse Macabre, Gather Ye Rosebuds, Ozymandias, Death the Leveller.  For a time we live.  The fleeting glories of our short lives are nothing but the crowing of a cock on a dungheap.  Next time someone puts you under pressure telling you how important the deadline is and how it simply MUST be met just whisper to them “Vitae summa brevis” – brief the sum of life.

What do you choose to leave behind in 50 years time, if your choice is that you stayed in the office for 16 hours to deliver that crucial report, or you sat on your childs bed and read a story?  Who will remember that night in 50 years time, your needy boss, or your nostalgic, well adjusted child?

 

Vitae Summa Brevis; by Ernest Dowson

Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam; Horace

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
we pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
our path emerges for a while, then closes
within a dream.

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.

 

Teutonic Order

Teutonics

In terms of fame the Teutonic order of Knights tend to come third after the Templars and the Hospitallers.  Certainly in the Crusades of the Holy Lands they maintained only a modest presence.

The key focus for the Teutonics was the pagan tribes of the Baltic in the areas now populated by Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Russians and Finns.  Their mission was to bring these peoples to God and they did this at the point of a lance.

Understandably the Baltic tribes did not just lie down and accept their fate.  The Northern Crusades were long, drawn out, bitter affairs.  Progress was measured in yards.  Campaigning was possible in the normal Spring/Summer season when grass was available to feed horses.  In a quirk of climate much of the fighting took place in the winter.  Frozen rivers and lakes in this area of the world make veritable highways through the dense forest and scrub.

So it was that in the winter of 1336 a force of Teutonic Knights besieged the Samotigian hill fort of Pilénai.  Accounts hold it that the defenders of the fort alone numbered 4,000 not counting women and children.  The Teutonic Knights must have numbered many thousands because the inhabitants of Pilénai realised that they could not defend themselves from the besieging army.

In a grand gesture of defiance the Lithuanians set fire to their own fort to deny it to the Crusaders.  Then, on this day, Feb 25th 1336, they committed what is the largest mass suicide in history.

 

A Song of Suicide; by Robert William Service

Deeming that I were better dead,
“How shall I kill myself?” I said.
Thus mooning by the river Seine
I sought extinction without pain,
When on a bridge I saw a flash
Of lingerie and heard a splash . . .
So as I am a swimmer stout
I plunged and pulled the poor wretch out.

The female that I saved? Ah yes,
To yield the Morgue of one corpse the less,
Apart from all heroic action,
Gave me a moral satisfaction.
was she an old and withered hag,
Too tired of life to long to lag?
Ah no, she was so young and fair
I fell in love with her right there.

And when she took me to her attic
Her gratitude was most emphatic.
A sweet and simple girl she proved,
Distraught because the man she loved
In battle his life-blood had shed . . .
So I, too, told her of my dead,
The girl who in a garret grey
Had coughed and coughed her life away.

Thus as we sought our griefs to smother,
With kisses we consoled each other . . .
And there’s the ending of my story;
It wasn’t grim, it wasn’t gory.
For comforted were hearts forlorn,
And from black sorrow joy was born:
So may our dead dears be forgiving,
And bless the rapture of the living.