Happy Birthday Rupert Brooke

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Described by none other than W.B. Yeats as “the handsomest man in England” Brooke is the quintessential war poet.  A product of Rugby school and Cambridge University, a confused bisexual, steamy good looks, went skinny dipping with Virginia Wolfe, associated with the Bloomsbury set of poets.  He had a nervous breakdown in 1912 and toured the world as part of his recovery process.  He may have fathered a child with a Tahitian woman along the way.

When the first world war began Brookes poems “The dead” and “The Soldier” captured the mood of the nation and brought him to the attention of Winston Churchill, first Lord of the Admiralty.  He was commissioned as a naval officer and sailed for Gallipoli.  He died of an infected mosquito bite before the fleet reached Turkey.  He is buried on the Greek Island of Skyros.

Here is a funnier and less heroic poem from the pen of someone who is way too godlike for his own good.

A Channel Passage; by Rupert Brooke

The damned ship lurched and slithered. Quiet and quick
My cold gorge rose; the long sea rolled; I knew
I must think hard of something, or be sick;
And could think hard of only one thing — YOU!
You, you alone could hold my fancy ever!
And with you memories come, sharp pain, and dole.
Now there’s a choice — heartache or tortured liver!
A sea-sick body, or a you-sick soul!

Do I forget you? Retchings twist and tie me,
Old meat, good meals, brown gobbets, up I throw.
Do I remember? Acrid return and slimy,
The sobs and slobber of a last years woe.
And still the sick ship rolls. ‘Tis hard, I tell ye,
To choose ‘twixt love and nausea, heart and belly.

Make Ireland Gr8at Again

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I want to save this iconic photo for my own memories.  This is how Ireland prepared to receive the Haka from New Zealand in Soldiers Field, Chicago on Nov 5th 2016.  In a tribute to Anthony Foley the Ireland and Munster stalwart who died on Oct 16th 2016, the Irish squad lined out to form the Number of Foley’s jersey.

Ireland broke a 111 year old duck to win the game 40 to 29.

Tomorrow we play the All Blacks again in Dublin.  A second win would be legend!

 

 

 

The Haka

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Poetry appears in the funniest places.  Today the All Blacks (the New Zealand Rugby Union International Team) played, and beat Scotland in Murrayfield.  Before each game the All Blacks perform a Maori ritual battle challenge commonly called the ‘Haka’.

There are many Hakas and the one performed by the All Blacks is more properly called the ‘Ka Mate’.  In the sporting world there is no more frightening display of aggression, physicality and sheer danger.  The Haka is intended to make the enemy quail in fright and run before battle even begins.  It works.  Many teams have psychologically lost the game before the first ball is kicked.  For every team in the world the All Blacks are the team to beat.  Scotland have never beaten them, nor have Ireland, although the province of Munster can proudly boast of a win against the giants of Rugby.

The words of the Ka Mate sound less threatening in translation, but on the pitch you don’t hear the translation.  You get the full Maori version, complete with thigh slapping, chest banging and tongue sticking.  The form of the Haka has varied over time, and each All Black captain has the option to put his own mark on the display.

Here is a very special version, with a Munster team fielding four All Blacks who gave as good as they got from the team.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13fGHSqHTwA

The text of the Ka Mate celebrates the survival of one Maori chief who was hidden in a pit by a friendly neighboring chief during a tribal war, and rose again to see off his enemies. Here is the original Maori text of the poem, and a translation.

Ka mate, ka mate
Ka ora’ Ka ora
Ka mate, ka mate
Ka ora Ka ora
Tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru
Nāna i tiki mai whakawhiti te rā
A Upane! Ka Upane
A Upane Kaupane
Whiti te rā

I die, I die,
I live, I live
I die, I die,
I live, I live
This is the hairy man
Who caused the sun to shine again for me
Up the ladder, Up the ladder
Up to the top
The sun shines
Rise

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Springbok Mandela

In 1994 Nelson Mandela led the ANC to victory in the elections that changed South Africa.  He had no reason to love the Whites who locked him away for 27 years.  The title of this post is his prison number.  While in prison Mandela read the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley.  It gave him the mental courage to continue his struggle.  He read the poem to other inmates to keep them motivated.

My greatest memory of Mandela is how, in 1995, he donned the Springbok shirt.

The Springboks were the bastion of white supremacy, the symbol of Apartheid.  Other, lesser, leaders of the ANC might have refused to attend the rugby world cup.  Mandela embraced it.  He shared his love of Invictus with Francois Pienaar, the Springbok captain.  South Africa won a celebrated victory against a seemingly unbeatable All Black squad featuring Jonah Lomu at the peak of his game.

Mandela presented the cup to Pienaar, wearing the Springbok shirt, symbolising the union of black and white.  “If you want to make peace with your enemy you have to work with your enemy.  Then he becomes your partner“….Nelson Mandela

 

Invictus; by William Ernest Henley

 

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

 

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.

 

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.