Cavafy Birthday

Cavafy

Born in Alexandria, Egypt to Greek parents on this day in 1863 Constantine Peter Cavafy is 100 and a half years older than me.  Below is a poem inspired by the Odyssey an enduringly favourite theme of mine.  It reads a little clunky because of course it is a translation from the Greek.

The theme is important and a lesson in a philosophy for life.  All life is a journey to a destination, the ultimate destination.  Make sure you stop and listen to the birds, smell the roses along the way.  Don’t rush headlong into your coffin and then complain that you missed out.

Ithaca; by Constantine P. Cavafy

When you set out for Ithaca
ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon – do not fear them:
such as these you will never find
as long as your thought is lofty, as long as a rare
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon – you will not meet them
unless you carry them in your soul,
unless your soul raises them up before you.

Ask that your way be long.
At many a Summer dawn to enter
with what gratitude, what joy –
ports seen for the first time;
to stop at Phoenician trading centres,
and to buy good merchandise,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,
sensuous perfumes as lavishly as you can;
to visit many Egyptian cities,
to gather stores of knowledge from the learned.

Have Ithaca always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don’t in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to give you wealth.
Ithaca gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn’t anything else to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca hasn’t deceived you.
So wise you have become, of such experience,
that already you’ll have understood what these Ithacas mean.

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Topless towers burnt down

Sophia_schliemann_treasure

Was this the face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium? asked Christopher Marlowe in Dr Faustus.

Ilium, the city of Troy, canvas of heroes.  On the fields of Troy Homer introduced us to Ajax, Agamemnon, Menelaus, Priam, Hector, Paris and a cast of thousands.  Achilles the almost invincible and his lover Patroclus.  Cassandra who saw the future but was cursed never to be believed.  The wily Odysseus, AKA Ulysses and his 20 year journey home.  The seeds planted in Troy have germinated and multiplied to inspire a wealth of literature from ancient to modern times.

The Julii Caesares, who gave us Caesar and Augustus, claimed descent from the hero Aeneas who fled from burning Troy with his bride, a daughter of Priam.  Virgil made a career of that tale in the court of the First Emperor of Rome.

It was ostensibly on this day, April 24th in the year 1184 BC that Troy was sacked and burned by the Greeks.  For many that was as far as the myth went.  Then Heinrich Schliemann, a German Businessman, decided that there was no smoke without fire.  So he read Homer as a travel guide instead of as a legend.  He followed the clues and lo and behold he found the ancient city.  Burned, exactly as described.

He bedecked his wife in the jewelry he found there and put her on display for high society to see.  Then he followed more clues and found the tomb of Agamemnon at Mycenae.  A new form of archaeology was born and led to many discoveries all over the world.  Today the science has evolved to the point where Satellite images from earth orbit are being used to search for ancient sites.

 

No Second Troy; by William Butler Yeats

Why should I blame her that she filled my days
with misery, or that she would of late
have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
or hurled the little streets upon the great,
had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
that nobleness made simple as a fire,
with beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
that is not natural in an age like this,
being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?

Birthday Birthday

Joyce

Publishing a book is, according to some authors, like giving birth to a baby.  You release it into the world and cut the umbilical of control over your work.  Now it is out in the world to be interpreted by others.  It is no longer your vision and yours alone.

On this day in 1922, on his 40th birthday, James Joyce had Ulysses published.  Sylvia Beach published it in Paris because no good Irish Catholic press would dirty itself with this filth.  She received the first three copies from the press on Feb 2nd 1922.

A serialised publication of the Nausicaa episode led to an obscenity trial in the USA in 1921.  Copies imported in the post were burned by the US postal service.  Ultimately it took another legal case in the USA to rule that the book was not pornography.  United States V One Book called Ulysses eventually admitted the novel to the USA in 1934.  The novel was banned in Britain until 1936.  It was not available in Ireland until the 1960’s.  It now comprises mandatory reading for any degree in English.

Joyce’s reaction to all this is best conveyed in his poem, Gas from a Burner, in which he lampoons the printer John Falconer, who destroyed sheets of his earlier short story collection “Dubliners”.   It also takes a swing at George Roberts, publisher at Maunsel & Co.

The final part of this poem is a concerted and intentional blasphemy.  He has the printer keep the ashes of the burnt pages in an urn, and has his foreman daub a crucifix on his bum with them in a parody of the Ash Wednesday rite of the Catholic Church when the ashes of the palms from the previous Palm Sunday rite are used to signify the penance of Lent.

Gas from a Burner: by James Joyce

Ladies and gents, you are here assembled
To hear why earth and heaven trembled
Because of the black and sinister arts
Of an Irish writer in foreign parts.
He sent me a book ten years ago
I read it a hundred times or so,
Backwards and forwards, down and up,
Through both the ends of a telescope.
I printed it all to the very last word
But by the mercy of the Lord
The darkness of my mind was rent
And I saw the writer’s foul intent.
But I owe a duty to Ireland:
I held her honour in my hand,
This lovely land that always sent
Her writers and artists to banishment
And in a spirit of Irish fun
Betrayed her own leaders, one by one.
‘Twas Irish humour, wet and dry,
Flung quicklime into Parnell’s eye;
‘Tis Irish brains that save from doom
The leaky barge of the Bishop of Rome
For everyone knows the Pope can’t belch
Without the consent of Billy Walsh.
O Ireland my first and only love
Where Christ and Caesar are hand and glove!
O lovely land where the shamrock grows!
(Allow me, ladies, to blow my nose)
To show you for strictures I don’t care a button
I printed the poems of Mountainy Mutton
And a play he wrote (you’ve read it I’m sure)
Where they talk of bastard, bugger and whore
And a play on the Word and Holy Paul
And some woman’s legs that I can’t recall
Written by Moore, a genuine gent
That lives on his property’s ten per cent:
I printed mystical books in dozens:
I printed the table-book of Cousins
Though (asking your pardon) as for the verse
‘Twould give you a heartburn on your arse:
I printed folklore from North and South
By Gregory of the Golden Mouth:
I printed poets, sad, silly and solemn:
I printed Patrick What-do-you-Colm:
I printed the great John Milicent Synge
Who soars above on an angel’s wing
In the playboy shift that he pinched as swag
From Maunsel’s manager’s travelling-bag.
But I draw the line at that bloody fellow
That was over here dressed in Austrian yellow,
Spouting Italian by the hour
To O’Leary Curtis and John Wyse Power
And writing of Dublin, dirty and dear,
In a manner no blackamoor printer could bear.
Shite and onions! Do you think I’ll print
The name of the Wellington Monument,
Sydney Parade and Sandymount tram,
Downes’s cakeshop and Williams’s jam?
I’m damned if I do–I’m damned to blazes!
Talk about Irish Names of Places!
It’s a wonder to me, upon my soul,
He forgot to mention Curly’s Hole.
No, ladies, my press shall have no share in
So gross a libel on Stepmother Erin.
I pity the poor–that’s why I took
A red-headed Scotchman to keep my book.
Poor sister Scotland! Her doom is fell;
She cannot find any more Stuarts to sell.
My conscience is fine as Chinese silk:
My heart is as soft as buttermilk.
Colm can tell you I made a rebate
Of one hundred pounds on the estimate
I gave him for his Irish Review.
I love my country–by herrings I do!
I wish you could see what tears I weep
When I think of the emigrant train and ship.
That’s why I publish far and wide
My quite illegible railway guide,
In the porch of my printing institute
The poor and deserving prostitute
Plays every night at catch-as-catch-can
With her tight-breeched British artilleryman
And the foreigner learns the gift of the gab
From the drunken draggletail Dublin drab.
Who was it said: Resist not evil?
I’ll burn that book, so help me devil.
I’ll sing a psalm as I watch it burn
And the ashes I’ll keep in a one-handled urn.
I’ll penance do with farts and groans
Kneeling upon my marrowbones.
This very next lent I will unbare
My penitent buttocks to the air
And sobbing beside my printing press
My awful sin I will confess.
My Irish foreman from Bannockburn
Shall dip his right hand in the urn
And sign crisscross with reverent thumb
Memento homo upon my bum.

Happy birthday Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Ship in port

 

Today I choose a poem by Aldrich, born today 1836,  which captures the sense of adventure that used to exist in every sea port of the world in the age of sail.  Any young adventurer could run away to sea and find himself storm-tossed across the globe with risks of wealth, danger, romance and death.  A suitable topic for this blog, a true Mindship theme.

Outward Bound became the name of a youth training movement in Britain during the 1940’s, now known as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.  I have no proof that the name Outward Bound came from the Aldrich poem, but I suspect it may have.  The founders were certainly interested enough in poetry.  Their motto “To Serve, To Strive and not to Yield” is taken from Ulysses, the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

 

Outward Bound: by Thomas Bailey Aldrich

I leave behind me the elm-shadowed square
And carven portals of the silent street,
And wander on with listless, vagrant feet
Through seaward-leading alleys, till the air
Smells of the sea, and straightway then the care
Slips from my heart, and life once more is sweet.
At the lane’s ending lie the white-winged fleet.
O restless Fancy, whither wouldst thou fare?
Here are brave pinions that shall take thee far —
Gaunt hulks of Norway; ships of red Ceylon;
Slim-masted lovers of the blue Azores!
‘Tis but an instant hence to Zanzibar,
Or to the regions of the Midnight Sun;
Ionian isles are thine, and all the fairy shores!

 

Happy Bloomsday 2017

Bloomsday

The day has dawned bright and sunny and warm and augurs well for feather boas and straw boaters.  Dust down your butchers shop delivery bicycle with the large wicker basket on the front.  Break out your dickey bow and your silver handled cane.  Hunt out a monocle and a fedora.  Throw your self back to 1904 once again when Leopold Bloom perambulated his way about Dublin in his reenactment of the trial of Odysseus.  It is a day to be Homeric!

 

Ulysses; by Alfred Lord Tennyson

 

It little profits that an idle king,
by this still hearth, among these barren crags,
match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
unequal laws unto a savage race,
that hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
life to the lees. All times I have enjoy’d
greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
that loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
vext the dim sea. I am become a name;
for always roaming with a hungry heart
much have I seen and known,- cities of men
and manners, climates, councils, governments,
myself not least, but honor’d of them all,
and drunk delight of battle with my peers,
far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am a part of all that I have met;
yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
forever and forever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
to rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
were all too little, and of one to me
little remains; but every hour is saved
from that eternal silence, something more,
a bringer of new things; and vile it were
for some three suns to store and hoard myself,
and this gray spirit yearning in desire
to follow knowledge like a sinking star,
beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
to whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
this labor, by slow prudence to make mild
a rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
subdue them to the useful and the good.

Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
in offices of tenderness, and pay
meet adoration to my household gods,
when I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
there gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me,
that ever with a frolic welcome took
the thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
free hearts, free foreheads, you and I are old;
old age hath yet his honor and his toil.

Death closes all; but something ere the end,
some work of noble note, may yet be done,
not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
the long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
‘t is not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite
the sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
to sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
it may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
and see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
we are not now that strength which in old days
moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
one equal temper of heroic hearts,
made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Happy Bloomsday

James Joyce

Here is a photo of James Joyce rockin’ the guitar.  Bet you didn’t know he could do that!  Joyce also won a medal in the Feis Ceol, Ireland’s premier music competition, as a Tenor.  He only came second.   Beaten by some guy called John McCormack.  He was a dab hand at the poetry too, as attested below.  Of course nowadays everyone associates him with the prose he wrote.

Today is Bloomsday, when the literary world celebrates the day which provides the backdrop for Ulysses.  Dublin comes alive with delivery bikes, Edwardian clothing and lookalikes.  Reading events are staged to celebrate his works.

Wasn’t like that when the dirty bird was still alive I can tell you.  Back in the 1930’s he would have been whipped naked through the streets over the ashes of his burning books.  Filth!  Sure it’s only pornography without the pictures.

 

 
Now, O now, in this brown land
Where Love did so sweet music make
We two shall wander, hand in hand,
Forbearing for old friendship’ sake,
Nor grieve because our love was gay
Which now is ended in this way.

A rogue in red and yellow dress
Is knocking, knocking at the tree;
And all around our loneliness
The wind is whistling merrily.
The leaves — – they do not sigh at all
When the year takes them in the fall.

Now, O now, we hear no more
The vilanelle and roundelay!
Yet will we kiss, sweetheart, before
We take sad leave at close of day.
Grieve not, sweetheart, for anything — –
The year, the year is gathering.

James Joyce

An End. A Beginning.

Cashel

Fabulous day yesterday.  We sat out for the evening watching the sun go down over Cashel.  Thanks to   Eamon Brennan Photos.  Today it brings the curtain down on the month of May.  What wonders will June bring?  What adventures and travels?  It’s not too late to seek a newer world.

Ulysses; by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.