Cailleach

Augusta,_Lady_Gregory_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_19028

The Cailleach was a celtic goddess associated with creativity and with natural events such as weather and tides.  The Cailleach appears as an old woman, a mystical and knowledgeable hag.  The poem below demonstrates how many of the ancient Celtic deities later came to be Christianised.  The Hag of Beara is often referred to as a wise old mendicant nun.  There can be no better symbol for Augusta Lady Gregory then the Cailleach.

Born this day in 1852 Lady Gregory was the creative impetus behind the foundation of the Irish National Theatre, the Abbey.  She was a leading figure of the gaelic revival, the nationalist Irish movement of the Arts that moved hand in hand with the cultural, political and military struggles for Irish Independence.

Lady Gregory preserved many ancient poems and stories, recording them by hearing them told in Gaelic, documenting them and translating them.

The Irish Cream Liqueur Drink “Coole Swan” is named after the W.B. Yeats poem; The Wild Swans at Coole”.  Yeats wrote the poem at Coole Park, Gregory’s home.

The Hag of Beare; (Trans) Augusta Gregory

It is of Corca Dubhne she was, and she had her youth seven times over,
and every man that had lived with her died of old age, and her
grandsons and great-grandsons were tribes and races. And through a
hundred years she wore upon her head the veil Cuimire had blessed.
Then age and weakness came upon her and it is what she said:

Ebb-tide to me as to the sea; old age brings me reproach; I used to
wear a shift that was always new; to-day, I have not even a cast one.

It is riches you are loving, it is not men; it was men we loved in
the time we were living.

There were dear men on whose plains we used to be driving; it is good
the time we passed with them; it is little we were broken afterwards.

When my arms are seen it is long and thin they are; once they used
to be fondling, they used to be around great kings.

The young girls give a welcome to Beltaine when it comes to them;
sorrow is more fitting for me; an old pitiful hag.

I have no pleasant talk; no sheep are killed for my wedding; it is
little but my hair is grey; it is many colours I had over it when I
used to be drinking good ale.

I have no envy against the old, but only against women; I myself am
spent with old age, while women’s heads are still yellow.

The stone of the kings on Feman; the chair of Ronan in Bregia; it is
long since storms have wrecked them, they are old mouldering
gravestones.

The wave of the great sea is speaking; the winter is striking us with
it; I do not look to welcome to-day Fermuid son of Mugh.

I know what they are doing; they are rowing through the reeds of the
ford of Alma; it is cold is the place where they sleep.

The summer of youth where we were has been spent along with its
harvest; winter age that drowns everyone, its beginning has come upon
me.

It is beautiful was my green cloak, my king liked to see it on me;
it is noble was the man that stirred it, he put wool on it when it
was bare.

Amen, great is the pity; every acorn has to drop. After feasting with
shining candles, to be in the darkness of a prayer-house.

I was once living with kings, drinking mead and wine; to-day I am
drinking whey-water among withered old women.

There are three floods that come up to the dun of Ard-Ruide: a flood
of fighting-men, a flood of horses, a flood of the hounds of Lugaidh’s
son.

The flood-wave and the two swift ebb-tides; what the flood-wave brings
you in, the ebb-wave sweeps out of your hand.

The flood-wave and the second ebb-tide; they have all come as far as
me, the way that I know them well.

The flood-tide will not reach to the silence of my kitchen; though
many are my company in the darkness, a hand has been laid upon them
all. My flood-tide! It is well I have kept my knowledge. It is Jesus
Son of Mary keeps me happy at the ebb-tide.

It is far is the island of the great sea where the flood reaches after
the ebb: I do not look for floods to reach to me after the ebb-tide.

There is hardly a little place I can know again when I see it; what
used to be on the flood-tide is all on the ebb to-day!

Leda

IMG-20190509-WA0001

The latest addition to my family, my grand-niece Leda.

My first concern is that she not get too friendly with Swans.  Last time that happened a pretty little girl was born, and married Menelaus the Mycenean King of Sparta.  Helen of Sparta is not how we remember her, for Paris, son of Priam, stole her away to his home city.  And so we remember her as the face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Illium.

Illium was the ancient name for the city of Troy, so Helen of Troy was daugher of Leda.  But who was the father of this child with the dreadful fate?  It was Zeus himself, who raped Leda, in the guise of a male swan.

And the brother of Menelaus?  The dread Agamemnon King of Mycenae itself, ruler of all the Achaeans as the Greeks called themselves in those days.  From this followed ten years of war.  Ajax and Achilles, Hector and Aeneas, wily Odysseus and his Trojan Horse.  Death and destruction as the Gods themselves engaged in the battle of the great Homeric Epic.

Calling a daughter Leda can come to no good I say.  But I am Cassandra and they shall not listen.

Leda and the Swan; by W.B. Yeats

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
by the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
the feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
but feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
the broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
Being so caught up,
so mastered by the brute blood of the air,
did she put on his knowledge with his power
before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

cecil-ffrench-salkeld-leda-and-the-swan

Birthday of Giants

BeckettHeaney

Ireland has in total 8 Nobel laureates.  They break down by category as follows:

Literature:  4,  Peace: 2,  Physics: 1,  Physiology or Medicine: 1

It is hardly a surprise that Ireland excels in literature.  Irish mythology divides the society of the Tuatha Dé Danann into three tribes, the Tuatha (nobility) the Dé (priests) and the Danann (bards).  In medieval Ireland the communal body of  lore was protected by the Filí (court poet historians) and the Bards (itinerant poets, story tellers and minstrels).   These individuals were highly respected and honoured.  There are dreadful cautionary tales told of the fate of lords who failed to honour a bard properly.  No sword cuts as deeply as a well crafted satire.

The claim to fame of my own clan, the MacFhlannchaidh (Clancy) is that we were filí to the Dalcassian Sept.  We were the brehons (lawyers), historians, poets, diplomats, ambassadors and scribes.  Basically the civil service of the time.  The Dalcassians were one of the most powerful tribal groups in Ireland.  they successfully rebuffed attempts by the Normans to invade their lands.  Two American presidents, J.F.K. and Ronald Reagan trace their heritage back to the Dál gCais.

The Irish literature winners are W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney.

The last two were born on the same day, April 13th.  Happy birthday to half of all Irish Nobel Prize winning literature laureates.

Ascension; by Samuel Beckett

through the slim partition
this day when a child
prodigal in his own way
returned into the family
I hear a voice
it is excited it comments
on the football world cup

forever too young

meanwhile through the open window
over the air in a word
heavily
a sea swell of the faithful

her blood spurted in abundance
on the sheets on the sweet peas on her bloke
he closed the eyelids with filthy fingers
on the green eyes big with surprise

she lightly roams
over my tomb of air

 

Rite of Spring; by Seamus Heaney

So winter closed its fist
and got it stuck in the pump.
The plunger froze up a lump

in its throat, ice founding itself
upon iron. The handle
paralysed at an angle.

Then the twisting of wheat straw
into ropes, lapping them tight
round stem and snout, then a light

that sent the pump up in a flame
it cooled, we lifted her latch,
her entrance was wet, and she came.

Happy Birthday Rupert Brooke

Rupert_Brooke

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.

Happy Birthday George Bernard Shaw

george_bernard_shaw_2

Born in Synge Street, Portobello, Dublin on this day in 1856 Bernard Shaw makes it onto my page more as a playwright as he was not really a poet.  I know of only one poem that he wrote and that is satirical.  in 1924 and 1925 a writer by the name of Herbert Langford Reed published two anthologies of Limericks.

Langford took a poetic form that was widely employed to tell rude jokes with sexual innuendo and cleaned it up for publication.  The result is a lot of sanitized and frankly unremarkable pieces of doggerel.  Shaw’s limerick is the perfect critique of the work of Langford Reed.

Shaw himself is rightly seen as a giant of the literature world.  How many writers get their own adjective?  When you describe something in the manner of Bernard Shaw you call it “Shavian”.  It may also be employed as a noun to identify a fan of Shaw.

A prolific writer of brilliant, intelligent and witty drama, rightly a Nobel Laureate.  Shaw was less successful with his pursuit of the 20th Century novel and turned down opportunities to pen librettos for opera with Elgar.  He was a friend of the Irish Literary Revival, a member of the Protestant ascendancy, albeit at the poorer end, he connected with William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory, George Russell, James Joyce and was friend and inspiration to Sean O’Casey who became a playwright after seeing “John Bull’s Other Island” the play that made Edward VII laugh so hard he broke his chair.

When John Millington Synge passed away Yeats and Lady Gregory offered the post as director of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin to Shaw, but he declined.

Although he never returned to live here he maintained his links with Ireland throughout his life and in his will he bequeathed the rights of several of his plays to the National Art Gallery in Dublin.  One of the plays, Pygmalion, was given a musical overhaul by Lerner and Loewe in 1956 and became the smash hit musical “My Fair Lady” making the art gallery wealthy in the process.

Contemporary with Oscar Wilde and both leading lights on the London theatre scene at the very height of its prominence.  Shaw was the later arrival, Wilde already a celebrated star before Shaw emerged on the scene.  It is said that Shaw admired all Wilde’s work until “The Importance of Being Ernest” which he detested.

Shaw was a mixed bag.  For all you find to love in him you will find plenty to dislike.  He was a eugenicist, an anti-vaxxer, he admired aspects of fascism and Hitler, met Stalin and described him as a Georgian Gentleman, was opposed to anti-semetism and his views on religion and spirituality are confusing, conflicting and contradictory.  His sexuality is a matter for debate, he was painfully shy and celibate until age 29 and did not marry until age 42 to a woman of his own age.

 

Langford Reed saved the limerick verse: by George Bernard Shaw

Langford Reed saved the limerick verse,
From being taken away in a hearse.
He made it so clean
Now it’s fit for a queen,
Re-established for better or worse.

Happy Birthday Edward Plunkett

Edward_Plunkett,_18th_Baron_Dunsany

Better known under his pen name; Lord Dunsany, his full name and title was Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany.  A leading light on the Irish literary scene Plunkett worked with Lady Gregory and William Butler Yeats and was a prime mover in the Celtic revival.  Like James Stephens he took inspiration from Irish folklore for many of his works and he is best remembered for his seminal fantasy novel “The King of Elfland’s Daughter”.  Some fantasy writers consider him on a par with Tolkien, but the general public have not voted as confidently with their shillings.

Prior to WW1 he was considered one of the greatest writers living in the English speaking world.  He was pistol shooting champion of Ireland and Ireland’s chess champion even holding the Grand Master Capablanca to a draw in a simultaneous exhibition match.  He served in the Boer War and in WW1, where he was refused the front because of his value as a trainer.  He was injured during the 1916 rising in Dublin, fighting on the British side.

Born, on this day in 1878

 

Night: by Lord Dunsany

Night falls on the lone
sahara, and spark by spark
Arabs I have not known
light fires in the dark.

Of the specks of ash in the smoke,
which atom knows
from what fire it awoke,
or whither it goes?

In the wilds of Space, in the dark,
spiral nebulae
twirl spark upon spark,
whereof one are we.

Who can say for what task
they arose, or whither they slip?
And all the Spirits I ask
stand, finger on lip.

Happy Birthday Richard Aldington

 

Oleanders

Overshadowed by his contemporaries, Aldington nevertheless had an impact on imagism as a movement and influenced writers such as T.E. Hulme, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot and he worked with D.H. Lawrence and Ford Maddox Ford and met with W.B. Yeats.  He minded Eliot’s pets when that poet was away so if you ever go to the musical “Cats” there is a little bit of Aldington in there.  Maybe he named Bomballerina?

He fought in WW1, was wounded, may have suffered from PTSD before it had a name and is buried in Poets corner in Westminster Abbey.

Aldington studied japanese poetry structures and brought the forms into popularity in England in his search for Avant Garde approaches to the art.  He visited the British Museum to study the collection of oriental manuscripts and from one of these visits crafted this beautiful image.

At the British Museum; by Richard Aldington

I turn the page and read:
“I dream of silent verses where the rhyme
Glides noiseless as an oar.”
The heavy musty air, the black desks,
The bent heads and the rustling noises
In the great dome
Vanish …
And
The sun hangs in the cobalt-blue sky,
The boat drifts over the lake shallows,
The fishes skim like umber shades through the undulating weeds,
The oleanders drop their rosy petals on the lawns,
And the swallows dive and swirl and whistle
About the cleft battlements of Can Grande’s castle…

Happy Birthday WB Yeats

Yeats

WB Yeats by Louis Le Brocquy

In the world of poetry there is an insufficiency of superlatives to describe WB Yeats.

His epitaph reads:

Cast a cold Eye

On Life,  on Death

Horseman pass by.

 

When you are old; by William Butler Yeats

WHEN you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Ginsberg is Beat

Fruit

Hey daddy-o the rising sun glints chrome shine flash on the moving city street and high the calendar shines from a building glass window where the sunshine is the key at June too

and makes me think happy birthday of thee, June 3

Allen Ginsberg who spells your Jewish/Bhuddist/Krishna name like a surname

instead of like barbarians who stood at Constantinople’s gates where WB Yeats sailed when Ireland became no country for him.

And what of you?  How is your New Vision? Does the beat go on, and on and on and on to the break of om?

 

 

A Supermarket In California: by Allen Ginsberg

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the
streets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.

In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit
supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!

What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles
full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes! — and you,
Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?

I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the
meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops? What price
bananas? Are you my Angel?

I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you, and
followed in my imagination by the store detective.
We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting
artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier.

Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does
your beard point tonight?
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel
absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to
shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely.

Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in
driveways, home to our silent cottage?
Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you
have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and
stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?

Beattruck.jpg

Happy Birthday Countee Cullen

countee-cullens-quotes-2

African Americans had a brief flowering of liberty and creativity in the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War in the USA.  This was brought to a sharp end by the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the passing of the Jim Crow laws.

In the 1920’s there was a cultural, social and literary flowering of creativity by the grandchildren of the reconstruction era negroes.  Known at the time as the New Negro Movement it is now called the Harlem Renaissance.  Countee Cullen was one of the leading lights of this movement.

This poem is interesing to me because it is so evocative of the WB Yeats “He Wishes for the cloths of heaven”.  While Yeats wrote of the lovers angst Cullen’s poem speaks of discrimination and racism.  Here we are today 100 years on from the Harlem Renaissance and it seems that the struggle for equality for African Americans has seen little advance.  Despite the Civil Rights movement, the Black Panther Party, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X the USA still appears to be dangerous ground on which to be a black person.

For a Poet; by Countee Cullen

I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth,
And laid them away in a box of gold;
Where long will cling the lips of the moth,
I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth;
I hide no hate; I am not even wroth
Who found the earth’s breath so keen and cold;
I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth,
And laid them away in a box of gold.