Celebrated Lovers

westwoolf

Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf

Most famously known for her love affair with Virginia Woolf  the socialite, poet, garden designer and novelest Vita Sackville-West was born on this day in 1892.  Below is a recently discovered poem that was written originally in French for another of her lovers, Violet Trefusis.

Vita was the inspiration for the character Orlando in Woolf’s eponymous novel.

Of course, just in case there is any confusion, Vita is no relation of Bilbo or Frodo Baggins, not even through the line of the Sackville-Baggins.  However J.R.R. Tolkien did move in the same society as the aristocratic Bloombury set and would undoubtely have known of Vita Sackville-West.  Perhaps they did not get on and he gave half her name and her hyphen to his most dislikable hobbit.

In a strange turn of coincidence one of the lead characters in the Lord of the Rings is played by Orlando Bloom.

 

Lost Poem; by Vita Sackville-West

When sometimes I stroll in silence, with you
Through great floral meadows of open country
I listen to your chatter, and give thanks to the gods
For the honest friendship, which made you my companion
But in the heavy fragrance of intoxicating night
I search on your lip for a madder caress
I tear secrets from your yielding flesh
Giving thanks to the fate which made you my mistress

There and back again!

Hobbit

On this day in 1937 the Hobbit was published.  Without the Hobbit we would not have Lord of the Rings, and without LOTR what would the world be?  Would we have the Wheel of Time, the Song of Ice and Fire, Tigana, Shannara, The Chronicles of Thomas Convenant, Raymond E. Feist’s Midkemia?

How many worlds, how many lives, how many adventures were given permission because in 1937 a publisher took a flyer on a silly book about a very short chap with hairy feet?

Well done to George Allen and Unwin, publishers with imagination.

 

Bath-Song; by J.R.R. Tolkien

Sing hey! For the bath at close of day
that washes the weary mud away
A loon is he that will not sing
O! Water Hot is a noble thing!

O! Sweet is the sound of falling rain,
and the brook that leaps from hill to plain;
but better than rain or rippling streams
is Water Hot that smokes and steams.

O! Water cold we may pour at need
down a thirsty throat and be glad indeed
but better is beer if drink we lack,
and Water Hot poured down the back.

O! Water is fair that leaps on high
in a fountain white beneath the sky;
but never did fountain sound so sweet
as splashing Hot Water with my feet!

The road home

footprints

For all those who are travelling home for Christmas here is a song from Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit.  Christian or not may you have a merry Christmas:

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.
Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

 

Frosty Morning

robin-on-icy-grass

The first real hard frost of the year came last night. Winter has tightened its grip. But this is Ireland and “Hard Frost” for us is a joke for others. My brother in Canada laughs at our weather forecast which casts warnings of doom and destruction over temperatures that in Calgary would be considered a soft day.

It is 11:15 and the frost has melted and the roads should be safe.

Tonight is Cinema night. I am taking the boys to see the Hobbit: Battle of the 5 Armies in 3D. My daughter is going to the Hunger Games: Mockingjay part 1 with her friends. I am not allowed in that cinema.

I love the cinema. So many great memories of my own childhood, eating sticky toffees with my brothers and sisters and escaping into that great big screen filled with the wonders of the universe.

We used to go to local suburban cinemas to see old movies or low budget films.  All those cinemas are gone now, converted into carpet warehouses or bingo halls.

For the new release blockbuster movies we went into Dublin City Centre.  Some of those cinemas have survived, albeit following re-modelling into multiplexes.  They had fancy names such as the Savoy, the Ambassador and the Plaza.  They were the height of luxury with crushed velvet armchairs, acres of curtains over cinemascope screens that seemed to go on forever.  We were always on the ground floor in the stalls, and dreamed of the days when we might afford to sit on the balcony and eat Milk Tray chocolates instead of toffees and boiled sweets.

Queues were a vital part of the experience.  The stress and tension, wondering if you would get a ticket.  That sense of fear, wonder and delight enhanced the experience.

In many ways the Cinema experience is quasi-religious.  It is a rite, with its own rituals.  You go into that dark space and are transformed by the experience of the film, to emerge a different person.

The Cold Heaven; by William Butler Yeats

Suddenly I saw the cold and rook-delighting heaven
That seemed as though ice burned and was but the more ice,
And thereupon imagination and heart were driven
So wild that every casual thought of that and this
Vanished, and left but memories, that should be out of season
With the hot blood of youth, of love crossed long ago;
And I took all the blame out of all sense and reason,
Until I cried and trembled and rocked to and fro,
Riddled with light. Ah! when the ghost begins to quicken,
Confusion of the death-bed over, is it sent
Out naked on the roads, as the books say, and stricken
By the injustice of the skies for punishment?

Bending the Bow

Bowgirls

The Gastraphetes, or belly bow, was an ancient Greek forerunner of the crossbow.  There is a story that the bow was invented to allow women to participate in the defence of a Greek city.  By placing your belly on the yoke at the base of the bow you could use your body weight to load the weapon.  As a result it requires far less strength and technique to fire the gastraphetes than it would to fire a standard bow.  By inventing an easily cocked bow, the city was able to double its defensive capability.

Greeks have a great tradition of associating the bow with women.  The Goddess Artemis is commonly shown wearing hunting gear and carrying a bow and a quiver full of arrows.  The Goddess of Childbirth, Virginity, protector of young girls and instrumental in female diseases.

The legendary female warrior tribe of the ancient world, the Amazons, are frequently depicted bearing bows and arrows.

During the Persian wars the light bows of the Persian troops were unable to penetrate the heavy bronze shields and armour of the Greeks.  The Phalanx armed with Pylon and Spear became the standard weaponry of Greek Hoplites.  Bows and Arrows were seen as the weapons of cowards and women.

When warned that the arrows of the Persians were so numerous they would darken the sky the Spartan general Dieneces celebrated that his soldiers would get to fight in the shade.

Roll forward a 1500 years or so and we come to the middle ages and courtly romances.  In the cycle of Robin Hood stories we have one of the strongest female heroines, the Maid Marian.  Again, strongly associated with the bow and arrow.

Indeed Archery was seen as one of the “suitable” sports for women in the Olympics, being introduced in 1904.

So we come to the Hobbit 2:  Desolation of Smaug, which introduces Tauriel, the bow wielding captain of the sylvan elf guard.  In the same year we saw the release of Catching Fire, the 2nd instalment of The Hunger Games series, featuring the bow wielding Katniss Everdeen as the heroine.  It seems the association between heroine and the bow remains as strong as ever.

On Children:  by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.