First Gay Novelist?

Image result for james bayard taylor

James Bayard Taylor was born Jan 11th 1825.  A poet, a writer, travel writer, diplomat and a most fantastically travelled man.  Many of his travels were made on foot.  He explored the White Nile, he reported on the Californian Gold Rush and he was at the opening of Japan with Perry’s fleet.  Mark Twain was envious of the quality of Taylors German when they travelled together to Prussia.

A highly successful writer in his own lifetime he has seen a rebirth of sorts.  His book “Joseph and his friend: a story of Pennsylvania” is by many considered to be the first American Gay Novel.

Storm Song; by James Bayard Taylor

The clouds are scudding across the moon;
a misty light is on the sea;
the wind in the shrouds has a wintry tune,
and the foam is flying free.

Brothers, a night of terror and gloom
speaks in the cloud and gathering roar;
thank God, He has given us broad sea-room,
a thousand miles from shore.

Down with the hatches on those who sleep!
The wild and whistling deck have we;
good watch, my brothers, to-night we’ll keep,
while the tempest is on the sea!

Though the rigging shriek in his terrible grip,
and the naked spars be snapped away,
lashed to the helm, we’ll drive our ship
in the teeth of the whelming spray!

Hark! how the surges o’erleap the deck!
Hark! how the pitiless tempest raves!
Ah, daylight will look upon many a wreck
drifting over the desert waves.

Yet, courage, brothers! we trust the wave,
with God above us, our guiding chart.
So, whether to harbor or ocean-grave,
be it still with a cheery heart!

日本

Image result for land of the rising sun

The Japanese kanji characters in the title are the syllables Ni – pon or Ni – hon.

They refer to a place where the sun emerges, translated now to “Land of the Rising Sun”.

The naming of Nippon makes sense when contextualised in a world where China was the centre of the universe and all things not China are described relative to the centre.  Specifically the name appears in court papers of the Chinese Sui dynasty of the late 6th early 7th Century AD.  Japan, to the East of China, lies in the direction from which the sun rises over China.

While Mandarin Chinese retained the Japanese pronounciation, it became corrupted as you travelled further South.  In the Shanghai Wu becoming something like Chi-pon.  Further south in Cantonese and Malay it evolved into Ja-pan.

The European traveller Marco Polo returned to Italy with tales of an Island nation called Cipangu and Italian pronounciation would render this as Chi-pan-go.  It is a corruption of the term Nippon Koku; the Japanese term for “State of Japan”.

When the Portuguese ventured East they arrived in the areas around their Pearl River colony of Macau in Southern China where the locals used the “Cha-pan” pronounciation of the Kanji characters.

 

Poem by Jakuren 寂蓮 (1139-1202)

does the reflection
at the bottom of my thin rice gruel
feel it has been fed?

Matchday

Image result for ireland japan

Today the Cherry Blossom meets the Shamrock in the Rugby World Cup.

Eight years ago this would have been a shoo-in for Ireland.  Today Japan represents a clear and present danger to Irish ambitions.  Nobody makes the mistake of underestimating the team from the land of the Rising Son, least of all the team from the land of the setting sun.

I write this as I wait for the kick-off.  I hope when I read it back later I can say that I was over concerned.  Come on Ireland, let’s go.  #ShoulderToShoulder #TeamofUs #EveryoneIn #COYBIG #RWC2019Shizuoka

Shizuoka City is famous for its views of Mount Fuji.  Here is a different view of Fuji from Madden Bridge by Utagawa Hiroshige from his series 100 famous views of Edo.  What I love about this print is how it is a pictorial puzzle.  The turtle, initially looking like it is flying, is framed on three sides by the handled pail from which it is suspended, and on the forth side by a railing of the bridge.  The turtle, an oriental symbol of longevity upon a bridge known as the 10,000 year old bridge.  The series of 100 prints map pilgrimage routes in Japan.  A custom in Japan was to buy a fish, eel or turtle from a seller on a bridge and release it into the river for good karma.

For good Karma today I promise if Ireland win I will write a celebratory Tanka.

Image result for turtle fuji japanese print

 

Tanegashima

On this day in 1543 a group of Portuguese travelling on a Chinese Junk were blown off course and became the first Europeans to land in Japan.  They anchored at the island of Tanegashima.  While on the island they demonstrated their firearms to the local lord Tanegashima Tokitata who was clearly an astute and entrepreneurial individual.

Tokitata immediately purchased two matchlock  arquebuses from the Portuguese and had his smith break them down and reverse engineer them.  The smith was able to replicate all the parts except for the helical drill to create the hollow barrel.  The technology did not exist in Japan and the Portuguese travellers did not bring that technology with them.

Tokitata arranged for a return visit and next time the Portuguese brought their own smith who demonstrated the technique to the Japanese.  As a result the musket was introuced to Japan.  It quickly revolutionised the Japanese battlefield.  Tanegashima prospered on the manufacture and sale of muskets.  Sales averaged 30,000 per year over the following 10 years.

The Japanese went on to customise and develop firearms on a track independent from other nations, and introduced innovations not found elsewhere.  For instance a lacquer rain cover on the firing lock to allow firing in the rain.

The arrival of firearms changed Japanese society.  A farmer could be trained to become a soldier in a few weeks, whereas traditional Samurai spent decades learning the craft of sword, bow and staff.  The Sengoku period saw 35 years of internecine chaos fuelled in part by the arrival of firearms.  This was brought to a conclusion in 1600 by the Battle of Sekigahara when Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu emerged as the dominant shogun and established the 250 years of stable peace of the Edo period of Japan.

The other great technology introduced by the Portuguese to Japan was fried food.  The technique was unknown in Japan before the Europeans arrived.  To this day Tempura is known in Japan as the “Portuguese Method”.  As with the firearms the Japanese experimented using local ingredients and created something quite different from the original introduction.

Image result for beautiful tempura morsels

 

Seibo

Nagasaki

Born this day in 1884 Seibo Kitamura was the sculptor of the Nagasaki peace statue which is located in Nagasaki Peace Park, ground zero for the atomic bomb.

His right hand points to the sky from where the bomb fell.  His left is extended in a gesture of peace.  His right leg is in a meditative pose, reflecting the eyes, close in prayer for the dead. His left leg prepares to stand, to help the people.  A plaque on the statue reads as follows:

After experiencing that nightmarish war,
that blood-curdling carnage,
that unendurable horror,
Who could walk away without praying for peace?
This statue was created as a signpost in the
struggle for global harmony.
Standing ten meters tall,
it conveys the profundity of knowledge and
the beauty of health and virility.
The right hand points to the atomic bomb,
the left hand points to peace,
and the face prays deeply for the victims of war.
Transcending the barriers of race
and evoking the qualities of Buddha and God,
it is a symbol of the greatest determination
ever known in the history of Nagasaki
and the highest hope of all mankind.

— Seibo Kitamura (Spring 1995)
Nagasaki should never have been bombed.
When the Japanese commanders saw the devastation at Hiroshima on August 6th and confirmed that it was a nuclear weapon, they should have stopped the war.
Instead Admiral Soemu Toyoda, Chief of the Naval General Staff, estimated that no more than one or two additional bombs could be readied, so they decided to endure the remaining attacks, acknowledging “there would be more destruction but the war would go on”.  American code breakers read these signals and the order to drop a bomb on Nagasaki was given.
On August 8th the Soviet Union announced an end to their non-aggression pact with Japan and began invasion of Manchuria on August 9th.
Even after Nagasaki was bombed on August 9th it took 6 further days before the Japanese agreed a surrender.
I believe if wars were fought as envisaged by Erich Maria Remarque in All Quiet on the Western Front we would have far fewer wars:
Kropp on the other hand is a thinker. He proposes that a declaration of war should be a kind of popular festival with entrance-tickets and bands, like a bull fight. Then in the arena the ministers and generals of the two countries, dressed in bathing-drawers and armed with clubs, can have it out among themselves. Whoever survives, his country wins. That would be much simpler and more just than this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting. (3.42)
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Happy Birthday Thom Gunn

Thom Gunn

I could write a lot about the biggest show in the USA down in Texas.  The American media should get an Oscar and a handful of Pulitzers for turning a storm into a thousand stories of human suffering.  They managed this disaster much better than Hurricane Katrina.  What you want is a low body count but powerful images of uprooted lives caused by homes being flooded or slabbed.  Plenty of affirming narratives of ordinary folk helping each other out, instead of those awful stories that were made up about the murders and rapes in the Louisiana Superdome.

Yes indeed cynic that I am I believe the US media organs learned good lessons about reporting from Louisiana.  At the same time we see a federal government that responded correctly, support without interference, Trump got this one right.

Also in the news Kim Jong Un just upped the ante by straddling Japan with a Missile.  That cannot sit.  Watch this space.

More importantly this is the birthday of a great poet.  He is the only person I have come across to date where cause of death was given as “Acute polysubstance abuse”.  Usually you just hear of “drug overdose”, but that’s for heavy metal rock stars, a poet demands something more…elegant, subtle, sophisticated?

Tamer and Hawk; by Thom Gunn

I thought I was so tough,
but gentled at your hands,
cannot be quick enough
to fly for you and show
that when I go I go
at your commands.

Even in flight above
I am no longer free:
You seeled me with your love,
I am blind to other birds—
the habit of your words
has hooded me.

As formerly, I wheel
I hover and I twist,
but only want the feel,
in my possessive thought,
Of catcher and of caught
upon your wrist.

You but half civilize,
taming me in this way.
through having only eyes
for you I fear to lose,
I lose to keep, and choose
tamer as prey.

Blood Moon

Bloodmoon

We have a lunar elipse tonight in the small hours of the morning.  If the skies remain clear we will see a blood moon.  All the astronomy photographers will be hoping to get the shot of a lifetime.

Maybe it’s an omen for a pending disaster.  As things stand Scotland are in line for a disaster.  They are losing to the USA at half time in the Rugby World Cup.  Having weathered the Japanese typhoon last week it would be quite a disaster for the Scots to trip up against the USA.

Or maybe not, because as I write the Scots have gone ahead.  No miracle on the cards for the USA today.

The Donkey; by G.K. Chesterton

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.