Enter a Pilgrim

Allenby

On this day, Dec 11th, 100 years ago, 1917, General Allenby entered Jerusalem.  In doing so he became the first Christian to take effective control of the city since Bailan of Ibelin surrendered the city to Saladin  in 1187.  (Excluding a limited negotiated return by Frederick II in the 6th crusade 1229-1244).

Allenby clearly understood the deep significance of his arrival in the holy city.  For this reason he elected not to enter in triumph as a conqueror.  Instead he entered as a pilgrim.  He walked in via the Jaffa gate in what was a low key affair, as depicted by the photo above.

I contrast this with the recent decision by Donald Trump to overturn decades of US foreign policy and order the removal of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Trump has done exactly what Allenby sought to avoid.  He made a clear political statement favouring one community over all others.

The result of Donald Trump’s announcement is widespread rioting in the Middle East, not only in Palestine but also extending into neighbouring countries.  The usual flag burning is taking place outside US embassies all over the muslim world.

This manic and destructive act neatly focuses US media attention away from his tax bill, which rewards the super-rich at the expense of the middle class and poor Americans.  So what if a few muslim youths are shot, buildings torched and the people of Israel face a violent backlash?  The important thing is that US Oligarchs can look forward to even greater expansion of their wealth.  And let’s not forget, Trump is one of them.

 

 

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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 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…

Farewell to June

Royalty - Queen Elizabeth II State Visit to Ireland

May 2011 visit by Queen Elizabeth acknowledged at last Irelands WW1 legacy

As June 2017 draws to a close in broken showers and typical Irish summer weather I give you a poem about closing and June from the Poet of the Blackbirds.  By rights Ledwidge is a war poet, but it became unfashionable in post revolutionary Ireland to admit to a career in the British Military.  It took 100 years before the Irish nation could honour those Irish who responded to the call of John Redmond and spilled their blood on Flanders fields.

In a neat stroke of marketing Francis Ledwidge was cast as a poet of field and stream, of nature and songbirds.  His Lament for the Irish patriot Thomas MacDonagh was given pride of place while his poems from the French and Turkish trenches in which he fought were swept under the carpet.  Sadly even Poetry is not immune from politics.

June: by Francis Ledwidge

Broom out the floor now, lay the fender by,
and plant this bee-sucked bough of woodbine there,
and let the window down. The butterfly
floats in upon the sunbeam, and the fair
tanned face of June, the nomad gipsy, laughs
above her widespread wares, the while she tells
the farmers’ fortunes in the fields, and quaffs
the water from the spider-peopled wells.
The hedges are all drowned in green grass seas,
and bobbing poppies flare like Elmo’s light,
while siren-like the pollen-stained bees
drone in the clover depths.  And up the height
the cuckoo’s voice is hoarse and broke with joy.
And on the lowland crops the crows make raid,
nor fear the clappers of the farmer’s boy,
who sleeps, like drunken Noah, in the shade.
And loop this red rose in that hazel ring
that snares your little ear, for June is short
and we must joy in it and dance and sing,
and from her bounty draw her rosy worth.
Ay! soon the swallows will be flying south,
the wind wheel north to gather in the snow,
even the roses spilt on youth’s red mouth
will soon blow down the road all roses go.

Britannic

hmhs_britannic

100 years ago today the largest ship lost in WW1 sank.  The Royal Navy Hospital Ship HMHS Britannic ran into a mine and was lost with 30 lives.

Sister ship to Titanic, and one of the Olympic Class vessels.  Built in Belfast, Ireland, by Harland & Wolfe, for the White Star line.  She was pressed into service for the war.  Britannic is the largest shipwreck in the world and sits on the sea floor in the Greek Aegean.

 

The Sinking Ship; by Dora Sigerson Shorter

The ship is sinking, come ye one and all.
Stand fast and so this weakness overhaul,
Come ye strong hands and cheery voices call,
“Stand by!”

The ship is sinking in a summer sea,
Bless her but once for all she used to be,
Who rode the billows once so proud and free,
If you but loved a little, with a sigh,
“Stand by!”

Gone, all are gone, they neither hear or care,
The sun shines on and life is ever fair.
They shun the struggle, laughter lurks elsewhere.
The ship is sinking, passing echoes cry,
“Stand by!”

The little ships that pass her in the night,
Speed from the darkness in their eager fright.
From troubled dreams they take refuge in flight.
Why should they then, who know they too must die,
“Stand by”?

Then get you gone, desert the sinking ship,
O faithless friends, who on her pleasure-trip
Clung close with gentle words and smiling lip,
And still as ever on your own joys cry,
“Stand by!”

The ship is sinking, parting in a smile,
The sunset waters mark the last sad mile
In dimpling play and in a little while
The waters close, Death and his angels cry,
“Stand by!”

Spanish Flu

Alfonso XIII

Alfonso XIII

What’s in a name?  Diseases are often named after places, and who wants to be remembered for a disease?  Early outbreaks of Syphilis in Europe for instance occured during a French invasion of Italy in 1494.  The French promptly called it the “Italian” disease and blamed it on Neapolitans.  The Neapolitans blamed it on the French soldiers and called it the “French” disease.  The truth is that the strain probably came from the New World, transmitted to Europe by the men who sailed with Christopher Columbus.  Which would make it the Spanish disease.  Or the “Indian” disease since Columbus thought he had found a Western route to India.

Spanish flu was confirmed in the USA in March 1918 in Fort Riley, Kansas.  There is much debate now about the origin of the flu.  What is certain is that it exploded all along the Western Front at the end of World War 1 in the crowded and unsanitary conditions in which troops commonly live.

One theory is that it migrated from the herds of pigs that were kept penned nearby to feed troops.  Another theory arises from a forgotten piece of war history.  Thousands of Chinese coolies were recruited by the allies to provide labour along the western front.  There was an outbreak of H1N1 virus in China around the same time.  Did it originate in Europe and spread to China or vice versa?

In France, England and Germany the wartime propaganda machine was in full swing.  There was no reporting of deaths from flu as this might encourage military action by the enemy.  However Spain was outside of the conflict.  When the Spanish king Alfonso XIII became ill with the flu the pandemic was reported widely, giving the impression that it was rampant in Spain.  As a result it became known as the Spanish Flu.

Now a truly international poet.  Wilhelm Albert Włodzimierz Apolinary Kostrowicki.  Born in Italy to a Polish family he was wounded in WW1 fighting for France and died of the Spanish flu.  He coined the terms “Cubism” and “Surrealism”.

Le Pont Mirabeau; Guillaume Apollinaire

Under Mirabeau Bridge the river slips away
And lovers
Must I be reminded
Joy came always after pain

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

We’re face to face and hand in hand
While under the bridges
Of embrace expire
Eternal tired tidal eyes

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

Love elapses like the river
Love goes by
Poor life is indolent
And expectation always violent

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

The days and equally the weeks elapse
The past remains the past
Love remains lost
Under Mirabeau Bridge the river slips away

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I