The Caged Bird

Image result for the caged bird

Here is a story from Persia and three American poems that reference the tale.

The great 13th Century Persian poet called Rumi visited a village where a merchant asked   “Master Rumi, my favorite possession is my bird.   But her wings and head droop every day, and no longer is my house filled with her sweet song. I have brought medicine and healthy food, yet nothing seems to banish its illness. Will you come to my house and see this bird?”

Rumi saw into the man’s heart.   It was hardened all around like stone, for the merchant was desirous only of his own gain. “This man’s heart is imprisoned in a cage,” he thought to himself. The merchant led the poet to his fine house and there by the window stood a large cage with a lovely plumed bird inside.   True to the merchant’s words the bird appeared to possess little vitality as though ill.   Then Rumi began to sing a song and as his soothing words fell upon the ears of the bird, first it began to twitter then at last began to join its voice to the melody of the poet. Then it let off abruptly and returned to its former state.

Rumi said to the merchant, “the bird is unhappy because it longs for its freedom.”   To which the merchant replied, “I will give the bird anything that it asks for that is within my power, but I cannot grant its freedom. I am traveling tomorrow for India and will return in forty days. Ask the bird if there is something that I can bring to it from its homeland.”

The poet whispered quietly to the bird who immediately began to flap its wings and burst into a short song.   The merchant was overjoyed to see his favorite possession restored to health.   Rumi then told the merchant that the bird would be fully restored if he were to do the following: While he was in India, he should visit the nearby forest where birds similar to his own live, and announce to them that one of their sisters is captive within his home.

Several weeks later, when the merchant was in India, he hurried out to the nearby forest.   He announced to the birds there, “one of your sisters lives captive in a cage at my home.”   No sooner had the merchant spoken these words, then one of the wild birds fell senseless to the ground from one of the boughs of the trees.

When he returned home to his village he approached the cage and speaking softly to the bird told it of the misfortune that he had encountered in the forest. “I have sad news for you my friend, for when I told the others of your captivity, one of your sisters fell immediately to the ground dead.”

As soon as these words were spoken, the bird collapsed and fell to the bottom of the cage. The merchant was aghast. “What misfortune is this! Now my bird is dead too!” he exclaimed. Sorrowfully, he plucked the dead bird from the cage and placed it by the window sill. At once, the bird revived, flew out the window and perched on a branch far out of reach of the merchant. “What is the meaning of this?” he cried.   Then, through the power bestowed by the poet the bird began to speak and the merchant understood its language. “You brought not sad news to me, but the way to my freedom,” said the bird, “for my forest sister showed by her action what I had to do in order to free myself.   O man, may your heart be set free to fly from the cage of your greed before it perishes in its captivity.”

Then the bird flew away, free at last.

Born on this day in the year 1849 in Maine USA Sarah Orne Jewett knew nothing of why the caged bird sings.  Her Canary is like a pretty but ofttimes petulant slave, kept safe and well fed by the master, but demanding the little luxuries of life. Despite growing up during the US Civil War and seeing emancipation first hand she experienced it as a WASP with none of the concerns of inequality, poverty, lack of education, opportunity or outright discrimination.

How different is the reply from Paul Laurence Dunbar in his poem “Sympathy” below.  He finishes with the iconic line “I know why the caged bird sings”. Dunbar was born in 1872 after the Civil War, after emancipation.  He was born in Ohio to parents who were Kentucky slaves before slavery was abolished.  Born free, but knowing so much about inequality.  Dunbar experienced the false promises of the Reconstruction Era and the gradual decline of Black Civil Rights into the Jim Crow laws.

The Dunbar line became the title of Maya Angelou‘s 1969 autobiography.  Born in 1928 Angelou is one of the most popular poets in the world today, and yet she also experienced the deep rooted inequality of the United States.  A century after emancipation the Civil Rights movement was still struggling for the rights of the slaves now free for 100 years.

A Caged Bird; by Sarah Orne Jewett

High at the window in her cage
the old canary flits and sings,
nor sees across the curtain pass
the shadow of a swallow’s wings.

A poor deceit and copy, this,
of larger lives that mark their span,
unreckoning of wider worlds
or gifts that Heaven keeps for man.

She gathers piteous bits and shreds,
this solitary, mateless thing,
to patient build again the nest
so rudely scattered spring by spring;

and sings her brief, unlisted songs,
her dreams of bird life wild and free,
yet never beats her prison bars
at sound of song from bush or tree.

But in my busiest hours I pause,
held by a sense of urgent speech,
bewildered by that spark-like soul,
able my very soul to reach.

She will be heard; she chirps me loud,
when I forget those gravest cares,
her small provision to supply,
clear water or her seedsman’s wares.

She begs me now for that chief joy
the round great world is made to grow,
her wisp of greenness. Hear her chide,
because my answering thought is slow!

What can my life seem like to her?
A dull, unpunctual service mine;
stupid before her eager call,
her flitting steps, her insight fine.

To open wide thy prison door,
poor friend, would give thee to thy foes;
and yet a plaintive note I hear,
as if to tell how slowly goes

the time of thy long prisoning.
Bird! Does some promise keep thee sane?
Will there be better days for thee?
Will thy soul too know life again?

Ah, none of us have more than this:
If one true friend green leaves can reach
from out some fairer, wider place,
and understand our wistful speech!

 

Sympathy; by Paul Laurence Dunbar

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
when the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
and the river flows like a stream of glass;
when the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
and the faint perfume from its chalice steals —
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
for he must fly back to his perch and cling
when he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
and a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
and they pulse again with a keener sting —
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
when his wing is bruised and his bosom sore, —
when he beats his bars and he would be free;
it is not a carol of joy or glee,
but a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
but a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings —
I know why the caged bird sings!

 

Caged Bird; by Maya Angelou

A free bird leaps on the back of the wind
and floats downstream till the current ends
and dips his wing in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage
can seldom see through his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.

Right to Bare Arms

Image result for bare arms

On this day, August 18th, 1920 Tennessee became the last of the 36 states required to ratify the 19th Amendment to the American Constitution, giving Women the Right to Vote.

The constitution was ratified in 1788 and it only took 132 years for Americans to give women a vote.  Of course a vote and equality are very different things.  The unratified equal rights amendment sought to have men and women treated equally under the law.  Initially proposed in 1923 it has never been ratified.  It almost got over the line in the 1970’s when a conservative womens group hamstrung the amendment to protect their alimony and avoid military service.  So to this day men and women in the USA are not equal.

Slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment in 1965 during the U.S. Civil War.  The Civil Rights Act in 1964, 100 years later, was passed to attempt to right some of the wrongs in US society such as the Jim Crow laws, segregation and discrimination.

School shootings are nothing new in the USA.  They have been happening since the 1840’s but a whole new type of school shooting incident kicked off in 1979.  Irish punk band The Boomtown Rats were in a US radio station when the news came in that 16 year old Brenda Spencer shot and killed the principal and janitor and wounded 8 children and a police officer in Cleveland Elementary San Diego.  A reporter managed to make contact with Brenda and asked her why she did it.  Her response was “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day.”

Bob Geldof and Johnnie Fingers wrote the song “I don’t like Mondays” and every teenager in Ireland and the UK became aware of the phenomenon of the school shooting.

There have been mass shootings since then in many countries including the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, France etc.  In EVERY SINGLE CASE the event led to a change in the laws.  Pardon me, not every single case.  The Cleveland Elementary shooting did not lead to a change in the US laws.

These days a school shooting where only 2 people die would not get 5 minutes air time in the USA.  There were 28 recorded school shooting events up to May 7th of 2019.

In terms of absolute records the Beslan school massacre where 334 died will hopefully never be bested.  But that was a terrorist attack rather than a school shooting.  Top of the death poll in the USA remains the Bath school disaster of 1927 when a Michigan school board treasurer firebombed his farm and the school in an act of revenge because he was not elected as township clerk.

In the modern era of nihilistic mass murder the Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook shootings lead the posse.

If you look at the list of School Massacres by Death Toll on wikipedia you could make the case that USA is only an “also ran” in the tables.  The key difference with the USA is the reaction against any change to the 2nd Amendment rights.  States can, do and have made changes to gun licencing laws in the USA.  Indeed many opponents of the gun lobby make the case that it is states that SHOULD make the changes.  There is a strong lobby in the USA for states rights and to limit the power of the federal government.

This should be nothing unusual to Europeans who are members of the European Union.  Nation states in the EU are very protective of their unique voices within the union.  Here in Irealand we become very worked up when voices in France and Germany suggest that our corporate taxes are too low.

It took 132 years for American women to get a vote.  It took 100 years from the Civil War for Black Americans to secure meaningful laws, and that has not yet translated into equality of opportunity.  Change is slow, painfully slow.  But change does come.  The USA will never give up the right to bear arms, but without doubt change will come about to limit who can bear arms, how many arms and what type of arms.  I expect that when people read this blog post in 100 years they will say “any day now”.

PS if you did read this my sincere apologies.  It is a very badly written rambling flow.

Alliteration

Alaric_Alexander_Watts

The alliterative Alaric Alexander Watts

Defined as the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words.  A perfect example of alliteration is given in a poem by Alaric Alexander Watts.  Born on this day in 1797 into the world dominated by the Napoleonic Wars.  He died in 1864 at the height of the U.S. Civil War.

In his lifetime Europe was in a constant state of war.  The greatest force for peace in the history of the world is the European Union.  Because of this I find it strange, incredible, that anyone who knows anything about history would want to dismantle the European Union.  But today the British People, the Russians and the USA are all working very hard to dismantle the European Union.

The British are taking themselves out of Europe.  Putin is trying to exert pressure on Eastern Europe to extend Russian influence back into former East European Communist Economies.  Donald Trump has sent Mike Pence on a scouting mission to see if he can tip countries like Poland, Hungary, Romania or Bulgaria out of the Union.  They are trying to find cracks to prize the union apart.

Why?  What is to be gained by a return to conflict and constant war?  Do they all hold shares in Arms Manufacturing companies?

 

The Siege of Belgrade; by Alaric Alexander Watts

An Austrian army, awfully arrayed,
boldly by battery besieged Belgrade.
Cossack commanders cannonading come,
dealing destruction’s devastating doom.
Every endeavor engineers essay,
for fame, for fortune fighting – furious fray!
Generals ‘gainst generals grapple – gracious God!
How honors Heaven heroic hardihood!
Infuriate, indiscrminate in ill,
kindred kill kinsmen, kinsmen kindred kill.
Labor low levels longest, lofiest lines;
men march ‘mid mounds, ‘mid moles, ‘ mid murderous mines;
now noxious, noisey numbers nothing, naught
of outward obstacles, opposing ought;
poor patriots, partly purchased, partly pressed,
quite quaking, quickly “Quarter! Quarter!” quest.
Reason returns, religious right redounds,
suwarrow stops such sanguinary sounds.
Truce to thee, Turkey! Triumph to thy train,
unwise, unjust, unmerciful Ukraine!
Vanish vain victory! Vanish, victory vain!
Why wish we warfare? Wherefore welcome were
Xerxes, Ximenes, Xanthus, Xavier?
Yield, yield, ye youths! Ye yeomen, yield your yell!
Zeus’, Zarpater’s, Zoroaster’s zeal,
Attracting all, arms against acts appeal!

Happy Birthday Julia Ward Howe

Julia_Ward_Howe-_History_of_Woman_Suffrage_volume_2_page_793

Julia Ward Howe was born May 27th 1819.  Abolitionist, advocate for social justice in general and womens’ suffrage in particular.  Best remembered as the author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” which are lyrics she penned to the already popular song  “John Brown’s Body”.

The John Brown song was a collection of often bawdy verses cobbled together by Union soldiers.  John Brown is the famous abolitionist who was captured at Harpers Ferry in his attempt to raise the slaves of Virginia to rebellion.  He was hanged for treason.  On the day of his hanging he wrote prophetically:

I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away; but with Blood. I had, as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done.”

Folk history holds that there was also a Union sergeant by the name of John Brown, and you can guess what kind of verses are assigned to a sergeant by troopers.  So the market was rife for a cleaned up version of an already popular song.

John Browns Body actually began life as a hymn.  In the Christian meeting of the 19th and 19th century “Call and Response” hymns were popular games, and the faithful could add their own verses to a framework.  “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” remained the heart of this song.  It began life as “Oh Brothers will you meet me, on Canaan’s happy shore.”

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;

He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:

His truth is marching on.

 

(Chorus)

Glory, Glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

His truth is marching on.

 

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,

they have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;

I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:

His day is marching on.

 

(Chorus)

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

His day is marching on.

 

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:

“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal”;

Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,

Since God is marching on.

 

(Chorus)

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Since God is marching on.

 

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;

He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat;

Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant, my feet!

Our God is marching on.

 

(Chorus)

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Our God is marching on.

 

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,

with a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.

As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,

While God is marching on.

 

(Chorus)

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

While God is marching on.

The Old Ship Inn

The-Old-Ship-by-Humphrey-Bolton

Brighouse in Yorkshire is about as far from the Sea as you can get in Northern England.  It is a town lying on the spine between Yorkshire and Lancashire.  So if you ever travel there you may be amused to find a pub called the Old Ship Inn, far far from the sea.

The history of the Pub will surprise you even more, and will take you round the world and to the US Civil War.

The Old Ship Inn is so called because in 1926, named the Prince of Wales,  it was renovated from the timbers of the broken up Royal Navy 101 Gun HMS Donegal.  In 2007 the Prince of Wales was renamed the Old Ship inn.

HMS Donegal herself was a first rate ship when launched in 1858.  She was a screw driven sail rigged battleship at the very end of the age of sail.  She, along with every other wooden battleship, became obsolete on the day the CSS Virginia and the USS Monitor clashed in the US Civil War in the 1862 Battle of Hampton Roads, the first clash of ironclads.

It was the US Civil War that made the HMS Donegal famous.  Six months after the capitulation of the South the last combatants of the war arrived in Liverpool.  The CSS Shenandoah was raiding Union Commerce Shipping in the Pacific when she learned of the surrender.  Rather than return to the USA and risk imprisonment the crew sailed to Britain.

Shenandoah was the only Confederate Ship to circumnavigate the globe.  In her one year campaign the CSS Shenandoah captured or sank 38 ships.  Her crew were the last combatants of the war.   In Liverpool the captain of the Shenandoah surrendered his flag to the HMS Donegal.  6th November, 1865, on this day.