The long dark night.

Winter-Solstice-Stonehenge

Winter Solstice at Stonehenge

In 2019 December 22nd is the shortest day of the year, and the longest night.  Tonight the Sun dies and tomorrow it is reborn.

This is the night of Druantia, the white goddess, the Celtic tree goddess, the moon goddess, the triple goddess of Birth, Love and Death, the muse of the Celtic poets. Queen of the Druids, Wiccans and Neo-Pagans.  Virgin, drudge, whore, muse, hag and crone. Daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, fertile cornocopia or barren spinster.  She is the queen of the faeries and she is personified as a Wren.

In Celtic Druidic tradition the “Hunting of the Wren” was a ritual to see out the old and see in the new as the darkest day of winter passed.  The Christian Church in Ireland worked hard to eliminate the Celtic practice of Goddess Worship.  They made the wren into a traitor, who revealed the hiding place of St. Stephen who was then stoned to death.

 

To Juan at the Winter Solstice; by Robert Graves

There is one story and one story only
that will prove worth your telling,
whether as learned bard or gifted child;
to it all lines or lesser gauds belong
that startle with their shining
such common stories as they stray into.

Is it of trees you tell, their months and virtues,
or strange beasts that beset you,
of birds that croak at you the Triple will?
Or of the Zodiac and how slow it turns
below the Boreal Crown,
prison to all true kings that ever reigned?

Water to water, ark again to ark,
from woman back to woman:
So each new victim treads unfalteringly
the never altered circuit of his fate,
bringing twelve peers as witness
both to his starry rise and starry fall.

Or is it of the Virgin’s silver beauty,
all fish below the thighs?
She in her left hand bears a leafy quince;
when, with her right hand she crooks a finger, smiling,
how many the King hold back?
Royally then he barters life for love.

Or of the undying snake from chaos hatched,
whose coils contain the ocean,
into whose chops with naked sword he springs,
then in black water, tangled by the reeds,
battles three days and nights,
to be spewed up beside her scalloped shore?

Much snow if falling, winds roar hollowly,
the owl hoots from the elder,
fear in your heart cries to the loving-cup:
Sorrow to sorrow as the sparks fly upward.
The log groans and confesses:
There is one story and one story only.

Dwell on her graciousness, dwell on her smiling,
do not forget what flowers
the great boar trampled down in ivy time.
Her brow was creamy as the crested wave,
Her sea-blue eyes were wild
but nothing promised that is not performed.

Between Poperinge and Ouderdom

Image result for edmund blunden

Busseboom, famous place, lies between Poperinge and Ouderdom.  Can’t place it?  How about if I say it lies in Flanders, north-west Belgium near the French border.  In World War 1 Busseboom was in the support area behind the Western Front and Ypres.

Perfect place for a concert party.  Edmund Blunden fought at Ypres, at the Somme and at Passchendaele.  His poetry was encouraged by Siegried Sassoon who seems to have been a great man for encouraging others to express their horror in verse.  Sassoon was the muse of the War Poets.

Blunden survived the war, physically, but the mental scars remained with him all his life.  He could never scrape off the sticky mud of Flanders Fields.  He went on to a successful career in writing and academia, and was nominated a number of times for a Nobel prize in literature.

October 31st has come and gone in 2019, one hundred years beyond the Great War.  What have we learned?  Brexit remains on the cards.  The British Parliament persists with the madness of departing from the European Union; the greatest source of peace in the history of mankind.  The British people want to go back to the good old days when you could kick a man to death in a dark tunnel beneath the carnage of the Western Front.  In doing so they dishonour the memories of Blunden, Sassoon, Brooke, Graves and Owen.

Happy Birthday Edmund Blunden, born November 1st, 1896.

Concert Party: Busseboom ; by Edmund Blunden

The stage was set, the house was packed,
the famous troop began;
our laughter thundered, act by act;
time light as sunbeams ran.

Dance sprang and spun and neared and fled,
jest chirped at gayest pitch,
rhythm dazzled, action sped
most comically rich.

With generals and lame privates both
such charms worked wonders, till
the show was over – lagging loth
we faced the sunset chill;

and standing on the sandy way,
with the cracked church peering past,
we heard another matinée,
we heard the maniac blast

of barrage south by Saint Eloi,
and the red lights flaming there
called madness: Come, my bonny boy,
and dance to the latest air.

To this new concert, white we stood;
cold certainty held our breath;
while men in tunnels below Larch Wood
were kicking men to death.

Goths of Rome

Goths

Two Goths pose with a smiling girl dressed in black.

These days if you find Goths in Rome they are likely to be nihilistic teenagers with pale skin, dressed head to toe in black.  If they seem over emotional they may be emos rather than goths.  Tribes of teenagers sacking the city of Rome may seem absurd but in ancient days the Gothic armies were probably heavily manned by teenage warriors.

The first and most famous invasion was the “Sack of Rome” by the Visigoths under Alaric.  When people speak of “Barbarians at the Gates” it is a direct reference to the Sack in 410 AD.  Not the first sack of Rome, but the first since the attack by the Gauls under Brennus some 800 years earlier.

Once breached Rome fell prey to many new opportunists.  The Vandals carried off any portable wealth that the Visigoths left when, led by Genseric, they sacked the city 455 AD.

The Goths rounded off the “4 Sacks of Ancient Rome” in 546 AD when the Ostrogoths under Totila sacked the city.

The Ostrogoths also tried in 537 AD when Belisarius occupied the City in his reconquest of Italy for Emperor Justinian.  Belisarius was Justinian’s favourite general, victor over the Persians at the battle of Dara, victor of the Vandals, the man who saved Constantinople from the Nike riots, when the people of new Rome rioted because of the shortage of good running shoes. OK, maybe that’s a lie.  The Greek for victory is Nika, from the Goddess of victory, Nike.  The password for the rioters was the word they shouted at the chariot races, so they were the Nika riots (victory riots).  When Phil Knight decided to make running shoes he decided to call them after the Greek Goddess of Victory, and as a point of information the final e in Nike is pronounced as it is in all Greek female names such as Phoebe, Penelope, Ariadne and Chloe.

It was on this day in 537 that the Siege of Rome by the Ostrogoths began.  There was no Ostrogothic sack of Rome in 537, which kind of gives a hint to how the siege will end.  Strangely enough I am currently reading Robert Graves “Count Belisarius” and by coincidence I reached the Siege of Rome on exactly the anniversary of the Siege of Rome.

As a novel Count Belisarius is not a patch on I Claudius which is a masterpiece.  The account of Belisarius reads far more like a history book than a novel.  Unlike with Claudius the author fails to bring the characters to life as living breathing people.  It is an interesting and very accurate account of events, but it struggles as a novel.

Bellisarius

Imagine being a pea?

Syria

An evacuated Syrian girl looks out of the broken window of a bus.

In this summer heatwave I appreciate the sentiment of Robert Graves, born this day 1895.  An English writer, son of an Irish poet of the Gaelic Revival.  Robert is best known for his novel “I, Claudius”.

 

Give us rain; by Robert Graves

‘Give us Rain, Rain,’ said the bean and the pea,
‘Not so much Sun,
Not so much Sun.’
But the Sun smiles bravely and encouragingly,
and no rain falls and no waters run.

‘Give us Peace, Peace,’ said the peoples oppressed,
‘Not so many Flags,
Not so many Flags.’
But the Flags fly and the Drums beat, denying rest,
and the children starve, they shiver in rags.

Frosty Moonlit Night

Moonwindow.jpg

So last night we had a power cut.  I got a phone call at the train station to pick up some burgers and chips for dinner, because we had no electricity, no oven, no grill and no lights.  So I arrived back to a peaceful house bathed in candlelight, no TV, no noise but human speech.  It’s actually quite nice from time to time to take a break from electricity.

The interlude was not long, but it was fun.  Later in the night the moon rose.  Moonlight would have been useful when the power went out.  Instead the moon lingered below the horizon until the power was restored.  Going to bed later in the evening there was little need to turn on lights to see.  The pale monochrome nightworld unfolded in the white light of our satellite.

It’s funny how photos can never seem to capture moonlight properly.  Moonlight photos are weak affairs that do not capture the magic of the moment.  Early this morning the setting moon was still bright in a clear starry sky.  It was practically a glare.  Temperature -4 degrees C, a nice sharp frost. Good for the garden.

 

A Frosty Night; by Robert Graves

Mother

Alice, dear, what ails you,
Dazed and white and shaken?
Has the chill night numbed you?
Is it fright you have taken?

Alice

Mother, I am very well,
I felt never better,
Mother, do not hold me so,
Let me write my letter.

Mother

Sweet, my dear, what ails you?

Alice

No, but I am well;
The night was cold and frosty,
There’s no more to tell.

Mother

Ay, the night was frosty,
Coldly gaped the moon,
Yet the birds seemed twittering
Through green boughs of June.

Soft and thick the snow lay,
Stars danced in the sky.
Not all the lambs of May-day
Skip so bold and high.

Your feet were dancing, Alice,
Seemed to dance on air,
You looked a ghost or angel
In the starlight there.

Your eyes were frosted starlight,
Your heart fire and snow.
Who was it said, “I love you”?

Alice

Mother, let me go!