Longfellow

Longfellow

This post is about a poets birthday, an Irish rebel, and a diving bird.

Today is the birthday of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, most famous of the New England “Fireside Poets”, born on this day in 1807.  Longfellow is best known for his (very) long lyrical/romantic verse tales such as the Song of Hiawatha and Evangeline.  They are poems that had a role in the days before the invention of TV.  They occupied a long winters night with a well told tale set to verse.

The song of Hiawatha tells the story of a fictional Ojibwe warrior named Hiawatha and his tragic love for the Dakota squaw Minnehaha.  Now here is where things get weird.  Here is a photo of the Irish rebel Eamonn DeValera taken in 1919.  He is wearing the headdress of the Ojibwe-Chippewa tribe, who made him an honorary member, in Spooner Wisconsin.

Devalera

During the rebellion the Irish leaders were referred to by nicknames.  This avoided their real names being overheard by spies.  Micheal Collins was nicknamed “The Big Fellow” and DeValera, who was tall and lanky, was nicknamed “The Long Fellow”.  Longfellow writes Hiawatha about Ojibwe warrior.  Irish rebel nicknamed Long Fellow is made an honorary Ojibwe warrior.  That is just bizarre.

DeValera survived the executions of the 1916 rebellion because he held entitlement to American citizenship from his birth in New York.  He toured the USA in 1919/1920 to raise funds for the rebellion and to secure recognition for the cause of the Irish Free State.  Post-Treaty he broke from Collins and led the IRA rebels in a doomed civil war which split the country for three generations.  He went on to found Ireland’s largest political party, served as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and as President.  The classic terrorist – rebel – freedom fighter – elderly statesman cursus honorum.

Finally we come to the diver.  Divers are a breed of bird in the British Isles that are usually called Loons in North America.  The smallest diver, the red throated, develops the signature red throat feathers during the breeding season “when ocean by the sun is kissed”.  So it is clear that the interlocutor of this Longfellow poem is a Red Throated Diver.  The poem is shorter than the great lyric beasts that Longfellow is famous for, but sits well here on “Mindship” as it touches on themes of ships lost at sea.

RedThroatDiver

The Sea Diver: by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

My way is on the bright blue sea,
my sleep upon its rocking tide;
and many an eye has followed me
where billows clasp the worn seaside.

My plumage bears the crimson blush,
when ocean by the sun is kissed!
When fades the evening’s purple flush,
my dark wing cleaves the silver mist.

Full many a fathom down beneath
The bright arch of the splendid deep
My ear has heard the sea-shell breathe
O’er living myriads in their sleep.

They rested by the coral throne,
And by the pearly diadem;
Where the pale sea-grape had o’ergrown
The glorious dwellings made for them.

At night upon my storm-drench’d wing,
I poised above a helmless bark,
And soon I saw the shattered thing
Had passed away and left no mark.

And when the wind and storm were done,
a ship, that had rode out the gale,
Sunk down, without a signal-gun,
And none was left to tell the tale.

I saw the pomp of day depart–
The cloud resign its golden crown,
When to the ocean’s beating heart
The sailor’s wasted corse went down.

Peace be to those whose graves are made
Beneath the bright and silver sea!
Peace – that their relics there were laid
With no vain pride and pageantry.

 

 

 

 

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Dumb diversions.

Everyday is a schoolday.  Today I learned about a Bull.  That’s Bull with a capital B, as issued by the Pope.  It is called a Bull because the latin for the seal, which authenticates its origin, is a “bulla”.

The Bull I learned about today was issued by Pope Nicholas V in 1452.  It was called Dum Diversas.  This Bull supplied the authority of the church for Catholics to engage in the slave trade.  “We grant you [Kings of Spain and Portugal] by these present documents, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property and to reduce their persons into perpetual slavery.”

It was a bid to  incite a new crusade, to save Constantinople from the Turks and to sweep the last of the Iberian muslim kingdoms into the sea.  No great crusade emerged and Constantinople fell the the Ottomans the following year.  Their most Catholic Majesties of Spain soldiered away until they reconquered Al-Andalus in 1492.

Subsequently great empires were built on the backs of the slave trade.  First the Spanish in the Canary Islands, then the Portugese in West Africa.  They were followed by the Dutch, the French, the British and the Belgians.  Fortunes were made, colonies created, new lands were brought to the plough.  Out went a river of blood and back came the fruits of their labour, Coffee, Tea, Tobacco, Sugar, Molasses, Rum, Cotton, Rubber, Spices, Silk and the dangerous fruits of the mining industries, Gold, Silver, Lead, Copper, Tin, Diamonds.

Yup, those Popes knew a thing or two when it came to economics.  And look at all the souls that were saved.  Why practically all those slaves went on to become good Christians.

The Quadroon Girl;  by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Slaver in the broad lagoon
Lay moored with idle sail;
He waited for the rising moon,
And for the evening gale.

Under the shore his boat was tied,
And all her listless crew
Watched the gray alligator slide
Into the still bayou.

Odors of orange-flowers, and spice,
Reached them from time to time,
Like airs that breathe from Paradise
Upon a world of crime.

The Planter, under his roof of thatch,
Smoked thoughtfully and slow;
The Slaver’s thumb was on the latch,
He seemed in haste to go.

He said, “My ship at anchor rides
In yonder broad lagoon;
I only wait the evening tides,
And the rising of the moon.”

Before them, with her face upraised,
In timid attitude,
Like one half curious, half amazed,
A Quadroon maiden stood.

Her eyes were large, and full of light,
Her arms and neck were bare;
No garment she wore save a kirtle bright,
And her own long, raven hair.

And on her lips there played a smile
As holy, meek, and faint,
As lights in some cathedral aisle
The features of a saint.

“The soil is barren,–the farm is old,”
The thoughtful planter said;
Then looked upon the Slaver’s gold,
And then upon the maid.

His heart within him was at strife
With such accurséd gains:
For he knew whose passions gave her life,
Whose blood ran in her veins.

But the voice of nature was too weak;
He took the glittering gold!
Then pale as death grew the maiden’s cheek,
Her hands as icy cold.

The Slaver led her from the door,
He led her by the hand,
To be his slave and paramour
In a strange and distant land!