Lady Gregory’s Birthday

Lady_gregory

March 15th the Ides of March and that fateful day for one Julius Caesar in the year 44 BC.  After the death of Caesar his adopted nephew, Octavian, rose to power in Rome and became the first Emperor.   The senate awarded him the title “Augustus” in 27 BC, meaning “The illustrious one”.

In 1852 on Roxborough Estate in Galway a young girl was born to to Frances Persse and was named Isabella Augusta Persse.  She grew up and married Sir William Henry Gregory and became Lady Gregory.  She Co-founded and Managed the Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s National Theatre with William Butler Yeats, Edward Martyn, John Millington Synge etc.

Lady Gregory was a prolific playwright but her greatest legacy to Ireland was as a folklorist.  She learned the Irish language and established a school on her estate.  Then she collected and published a huge body of folk material.  She was the Irish version of the Brothers Grimm.

Here is one of her translations, a sinful, sexual and blasphemous piece of beauty:

Donal Óg; Anonymous 8th Century Irish poem.

Translation by Isabella Augusta (Lady Gregory)

 

It is late last night the dog was speaking of you;
the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh.
It is you are the lonely bird through the woods;
and that you may be without a mate until you find me.

You promised me, and you said a lie to me,
that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked;
I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,
and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.

You promised me a thing that was hard for you,
a ship of gold under a silver mast;
twelve towns with a market in all of them,
and a fine white court by the side of the sea.

You promised me a thing that is not possible,
that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish;
that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird;
and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland.

When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness,
I sit down and I go through my trouble;
when I see the world and do not see my boy,
he that has an amber shade in his hair.

It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you;
the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday.
And myself on my knees reading the Passion;
and my two eyes giving love to you for ever.

My mother said to me not to be talking with you today,
or tomorrow, or on the Sunday;
it was a bad time she took for telling me that;
it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.

My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe,
or as the black coal that is on the smith’s forge;
or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls;
it was you that put that darkness over my life.

You have taken the east from me; you have taken the west from me;
you have taken what is before me and what is behind me;
you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me;
and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!

 

Happy Birthday Samuel Ferguson

Ferguson

Born in Belfast in 1810 Ferguson was a barrister and public servant, but also a poet and Irish antiquarian.  He studied Irish history and mythology fifty years before the Irish Literary revival led by Lady Gregory and William Butler Yeats.

He began writing poetry to pay for his education as a barrister, because his father flittered away the family money.

Ferguson married Mary Guinness of the Guinness Brewing family, and daughter of Robert Rundell Guinness, founder of Guinness Mahon bank.  He lived, and died, in Howth, a pretty fishing village north of Dublin.   But he was buried in Donegore, a tiny village in County Antrim.  I feel there must be an interesting story behind that choice of final resting place.

Many of his poems were written in both Irish and English.  Even in English you can hear the beautiful lyricism of the Gaelic come through.  His work has a sing song quality that could be adapted to music and indeed many of his poems read like ballad lyrics.

This poem Cean Dubh Deelish is Irish Gaelic Ceann dubh deiliúsach which translates as saucy dark head or impudent black hair or something endearing along those lines.

Cean Dubh Deelish; by Samuel Ferguson

Put your head, darling, darling, darling,
your darling black head my heart above;
O mouth of honey, with thyme for fragrance,
who, with heart in breast, could deny you love?

O many and many a young girl for me is pining,
letting her locks of gold to the cold wind free,
for me, the foremost of our gay young fellows;
But I’d leave a hundred, pure love, for thee!

Then put your head, darling, darling, darling,
your darling black head my heart above;
O mouth of honey, with thyme for fragrance,
who, with heart in breast, could deny you love?

Lovers

Lovers by Marc Chagall

Happy birthday Stephen Spender

Ballyfermot

Classroom in Ballyfermot, Dublin, 1968.

A friend of W.H Auden and personally acquainted with the leading lights of the Bloomsbury Set, W.B. Yeats, Louis MacNeice, Raymond Chandler, Dylan Thomas, Sartre, Eliot and Virginia Wolfe.  Yet few have heard of Spender, who was a voice for social protest and the cause of the working classes.  Though less known than his contemporaries he had sufficient nous to be quoted by the likes of Ronald Regan.

Born on this day in 1909, happy birthday.

An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum; by Stephen Spender

Far far from gusty waves these children’s faces.
Like rootless weeds, the hair torn round their pallor:
The tall girl with her weighed-down head. The paper-
seeming boy, with rat’s eyes. The stunted, unlucky heir
of twisted bones, reciting a father’s gnarled disease,
his lesson, from his desk. At back of the dim class
one unnoted, sweet and young. His eyes live in a dream
of squirrel’s game, in tree room, other than this.

On sour cream walls, donations. Shakespeare’s head,
cloudless at dawn, civilized dome riding all cities.
Belled, flowery, Tyrolese valley. Open-handed map
awarding the world its world. And yet, for these
children, these windows, not this map, their world,
where all their future’s painted with a fog,
a narrow street sealed in with a lead sky
far far from rivers, capes, and stars of words.

Surely, Shakespeare is wicked, the map a bad example.
with ships and sun and love tempting them to steal —
for lives that slyly turn in their cramped holes
from fog to endless night? On their slag heap, these children
wear skins peeped through by bones and spectacles of steel
with mended glass, like bottle bits on stones.
All of their time and space are foggy slum.
So blot their maps with slums as big as doom.

Unless, governor, inspector, visitor,
this map becomes their window and these windows
that shut upon their lives like catacombs,
break O break open till they break the town
and show the children to green fields, and make their world
run azure on gold sands, and let their tongues
run naked into books the white and green leaves open
history theirs whose language is the sun.

Spender

Stephen Spender

Chi-Rho

ChiRho

Diocletian stabilised Rome in the third century by establishing the Tetrarchy.  His system of four rulers, Senior (Augustus) and Junior (Caesar) in both Eastern and Western halves of the Empire allowed Rome a respite from internal conflict.

Almost as soon as he died the stability of his system began to fray.

Diocletian was also very set against Christianity and was responsible for some of the worst persecutions of Christians in the Roman Empire.

Constantine was not a Christian himself, but his Mother Helena certainly was.  We must evaluate her role in the preparations for the battle of Milvian Bridge on Oct 28th 312 CE.  On the night before the battle Constantine instructed his troops to mark their shields with the Chi Rho symbol, the first two letters in the Greek name for Christ.

According to the Christian Church this was because Constantine had a vision from God.  My interpretation is that he probably had a visitation from the Christians of Rome.  Many of his troops were already Christian converts who could not be open about their faith in the Diocletian era.

Many of his rival’s troops were also Christian.  We could question how many of the troops led by Maxentius refused to engage once they encountered the Chi-Rho banner, the promise of freedom to practice their faith.

I believe that Constantine, through the negotiations of his Mother, was able to swing the battle in his favour by declaring his “acceptance” of Christianity.

Constantine won the day and went on to become Constantine “The Great”, founder of the Byzantine Empire.  The system set up by him endured for another 900 years.

Sailing to Byzantium; by WB Yeats
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees,
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Dublin Lock-Out

In August of 1913 two workers were killed in Dublin, when the police baton charged a union rally in Sackville St (Now O’Connell St).  At the time Dublin workers were some of the worst treated people in the “civilized” world.  They were plagued with low wages, no rights, no tenure.  They competed for jobs in a system beset by bribery and corruption.  Dockside jobs were awarded from pubs where applicants were expected to buy drinks for the foremen.

James Larkin came to Dublin originally representing the UK based National Union of Dock Labourers.  The NUDL were not prepared to engage in a full scale dispute with the highly organised and powerful Dublin Employers group led by William Martin Murphy.  Larkin established the Irish Transport and General Workers Union.  Murphy had full support of the Catholic Church and the Police and accused the union leaders of fostering Socialism and Atheism.  He also controlled most of the media.

From August 1913 to January 1914 the Dublin employers broke the ITGWU with the Lock-Out.  They sacked any worker suspected of joining a union.  They also blacklisted them, preventing them from finding work elsewhere.

It was a charming episode in the history of Irish Employers.  They broke the union and in the process they broke the people and the economy of the city.  Most of the workers ended up taking the only employment they could get, they joined the British Army and died in the trenches of Flanders.

The ITGWU was rebuilt after the war and rose to become a powerful agent for change in Ireland.  We now live in a world where workers rights are enshrined in law.  Many workers cannot see the need for a union.  Employers continually lobby their position to government and push for changes in law and policy to their advantage.  Workers need a voice to lobby on behalf of workers.  Workers need unions.

If you want to see what the world looks like without unions, take a look inside Amazon.Com Guardian Article on Working in Amazon

The following poem was penned by Yeats at the height of the Dublin Lock-Out violence.  Yeats supported the cause of the workers and despaired a the treatment they received at the hands of employers.  Although the primary trigger for the poem was the Hugh Lane bequest the theme of Catholic Bourgeois Capitalism is evident throughout.

September 1913; by William Butler Yeats

What need you, being come to sense,
But fumble in a greasy till
And add the halfpence to the pence
And prayer to shivering prayer, until
You have dried the marrow from the bone;
For men were born to pray and save;
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Yet they were of a different kind,
The names that stilled your childish play,
They have gone about the world like wind,
But little time had they to pray
For whom the hangman’s rope was spun,
And what, God help us, could they save?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Was it for this the wild geese spread
The grey wing upon every tide;
For this that all that blood was shed,
For this Edward Fitzgerald died,
And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,
All that delirium of the brave?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Yet could we turn the years again,
And call those exiles as they were
In all their loneliness and pain,
You’d cry `Some woman’s yellow hair
Has maddened every mother’s son’:
They weighed so lightly what they gave.
But let them be, they’re dead and gone,
They’re with O’Leary in the grave.

First Woman MP

countessmarkievicz-stamp

The first woman to be elected as an MP to Westminster was Constance Markievicz.  At the time, Dec 28th 1918, she was in prison for sedition.  It was not her first spell in prison, as she was jailed after her participation in the Irish Rebellion of 1916.

She joined the Irish Citizen Army due to her dual motivations for womens’ suffrage and care of the poor.  She came from a proud tradition of care for the needy.  During the Famine Lissadell House was a refuge for the starving.  Said to have designed the citizen army uniform and written their anthem she is accredited with the following fashion advice for the would be female rebel.

Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank and buy a revolver.

In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievicz; by William Butler Yeats

The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.
But a raving autumn shears
Blossom from the summer’s wreath;
The older is condemned to death,
Pardoned, drags out lonely years
Conspiring among the ignorant.
I know not what the younger dreams –
Some vague Utopia – and she seems,
When withered old and skeleton-gaunt,
An image of such politics.
Many a time I think to seek
One or the other out and speak
Of that old Georgian mansion, mix
pictures of the mind, recall
That table and the talk of youth,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.

0

Dear shadows, now you know it all,
All the folly of a fight
With a common wrong or right.
The innocent and the beautiful.
Have no enemy but time;
Arise and bid me strike a match
And strike another till time catch;
Should the conflagration climb,
Run till all the sages know.
We the great gazebo built,
They convicted us of guilt;
Bid me strike a match and blow.

Frosty Morning

robin-on-icy-grass

The first real hard frost of the year came last night. Winter has tightened its grip. But this is Ireland and “Hard Frost” for us is a joke for others. My brother in Canada laughs at our weather forecast which casts warnings of doom and destruction over temperatures that in Calgary would be considered a soft day.

It is 11:15 and the frost has melted and the roads should be safe.

Tonight is Cinema night. I am taking the boys to see the Hobbit: Battle of the 5 Armies in 3D. My daughter is going to the Hunger Games: Mockingjay part 1 with her friends. I am not allowed in that cinema.

I love the cinema. So many great memories of my own childhood, eating sticky toffees with my brothers and sisters and escaping into that great big screen filled with the wonders of the universe.

We used to go to local suburban cinemas to see old movies or low budget films.  All those cinemas are gone now, converted into carpet warehouses or bingo halls.

For the new release blockbuster movies we went into Dublin City Centre.  Some of those cinemas have survived, albeit following re-modelling into multiplexes.  They had fancy names such as the Savoy, the Ambassador and the Plaza.  They were the height of luxury with crushed velvet armchairs, acres of curtains over cinemascope screens that seemed to go on forever.  We were always on the ground floor in the stalls, and dreamed of the days when we might afford to sit on the balcony and eat Milk Tray chocolates instead of toffees and boiled sweets.

Queues were a vital part of the experience.  The stress and tension, wondering if you would get a ticket.  That sense of fear, wonder and delight enhanced the experience.

In many ways the Cinema experience is quasi-religious.  It is a rite, with its own rituals.  You go into that dark space and are transformed by the experience of the film, to emerge a different person.

The Cold Heaven; by William Butler Yeats

Suddenly I saw the cold and rook-delighting heaven
That seemed as though ice burned and was but the more ice,
And thereupon imagination and heart were driven
So wild that every casual thought of that and this
Vanished, and left but memories, that should be out of season
With the hot blood of youth, of love crossed long ago;
And I took all the blame out of all sense and reason,
Until I cried and trembled and rocked to and fro,
Riddled with light. Ah! when the ghost begins to quicken,
Confusion of the death-bed over, is it sent
Out naked on the roads, as the books say, and stricken
By the injustice of the skies for punishment?

Sunken Treasure

Shipwreck

Back in 1641 at a time when the English and the Spanish were getting along well a pair of English ships spent three years trading in the Caribbean.  The Galleons, Dover Merchant and Royal Merchant sailed back to Cadiz on their way home.  In the port of Cadiz there was a fire which damaged a Spanish vessel that was due to carry the payroll to the army in Flanders.  The English captain stepped in and offered to transport the gold and silver.

The two English ships were the worse for wear after a season at sea in the tropics.  There is no doubt that they were heavy with weed, and had bulging seams and rotten caulking.  Three years in the West Indies, under a punishing sun, can wreak havoc with planking and decking above the waterline.  They may also have been infested with ship-worm.  These days with modern steel ships, fibreglass and epoxy yachts we expect boats to be dry.  Leaks are something that must be fixed.  Traditional boat owners have a better sense of the realities of 17th century sailing.  Wooden boats must be filled with water on the inside if they are wintered on the dockside.  The timbers and caulking must be kept moist to prevent drying, which opens gaps in the seams.  I have sailed in a Galway hooker for the first outing of a season, to see cataracts of water cascade through the seams above the waterline as we heeled over in the wind.  Bailing and pumping out are part of the daily grind on a wooden ship.

Royal Merchant was leaking badly as they sailed through Biscay, being pumped out all the way.  Off Lands End the weather took a turn for the worse.  If your decks are leaking then rain and waves breaking on the deck add to your flooding woes.  The overworked pumps broke down and the leaking ship began to sink.  She went down off the Isles of Scilly, with the loss of 18 men.  The other 40 men managed to board the ships boats and were rescued by the Dover Merchant.

Royal Merchant was the most valuable ship ever to sink.  The salvage company that finds her stand to share in the region of one billion US dollars, once the legal teams figure out who owns the wreck.

Here is a poem about a sinking ship by Dora Sigerson Shorter.  Dora was one of the leading lights of the Irish literary revival and the explosion of Celtic Culture and 19th Century mysticism.  Given the context I think a closer reading may yield clues that it is not a Ship that is sinking, but something else.  But what?  Is this a poem in the vein of Yeats “September 1913” criticizing the bourgeoisie and the loss of direction in the struggle for Irish freedom?  Is it a paean for the stagnation of the art movement?  What is “the struggle” and who are “they” that shun it?  I would welcome your thoughts in the comments section.

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!”

Mirror Mirror

Titian_Venus_Mirror_(furs)

Titian:  Venus with a mirror
As you trowel on the ol’ slap tonight in preparation for your big rosemantic night of the year, bear in mind that you are engaged in one of life’s key rituals. What BBDO call “Sexing Up” in their Ritual Masters study.

In MCCP we found that, for women anyway, the moment of truth, the key win of the night, the high point, is that final check in the mirror. You know that moment, in the hallway, the door is open, the taxi is waiting, you turn to the mirror and there you see her, your radiant self, the special you, gorgeous. Yes, you are worth it!

Most men don’t realise that this is make or break time. If the date with the mirror is good, the night is a hit. If the date with the mirror goes wrong the poor guy is left dazed and confused, wondering what he said that put her in the bad mood. Truth is he was never even in with a chance.

For many women a girls night out is far better than a date. You have the added benefits of getting ready together, helping each other to look good, going out with people who understand the trouble you have gone through to look this good. They have a clue about fashion too.

Preparation starts days before going out. Some call and talk about the evening ahead; teenage girls photo message pictures of their outfits for approval and reassurance. People eat and drink luxury foods, forget diets and treat themselves.

The music you listen to as you get ready has the power to put you in a certain mood. It’s amazing we have lots of “driving down the road” music compilations and “love” compilations, but wouldn’t it be great to have a “putting on the ritz” compilation record?

Lots of brands participate in the sexing up ritual, starting days in advance with restaurant and event bookings, clothes shopping, waxes, hair colours, plucking, exfoliating. On the day we have shaving of all sorts of body parts, men and women, tooth whitening, brushing, flossing. Makeup (insert tech piece here). Deodorant, anti-perspirant, spray on smelly stuff, nail varnish, eye drops, alcohol, over the counter drugs, recreational drugs, contraceptives etc etc. Sexing up is a brand marketing wet dream.

Bottom line: when “sexing up,” people are transforming from their normal to most confident selves. They use special products to make themselves feel special.

Was it better in the good old days, when a man could get by on his dreams?

HE wishes for the cloths of heaven: William Butler Yeats

HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Horseman pass by.

My first cousin, Liz Kay, passed away this week after a long battle with cancer.  Her mother, Ann, was one of my Fathers sisters.  She also died of cancer, leaving a young family.  I grew up knowing my cousin as Lillian McKenna.  Then we were told to stop calling her Lillian, that her name was Elizabeth.  This then became Liz.  That seems to happen with a lot of Irish names.  My father started life as Patrick.  As a young man everyone knew him as Pat.  As he aged he became Paddy.

 

Liz was a model to anyone suffering from a long illness.  To the very end she remained upbeat and positive.  She treated her illness as an intruder into her life, a monster eating away at her, but not part of her, not her.  She fought it.  She fought with diet, medicine, positive attitude, any weapon available to her.  In the end she died, but I don’t think she was ever defeated.

 

She brightened the world for all those around her.  She always behaved like a lady.  She radiated positive energy, smiling and interacting with everyone.  In the absence of her light the world is just that little bit of a darker place.

 

On Another’s Sorrow; By William Blake

 

Can I see another’s woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another’s grief,
And not seek for kind relief?

Can I see a falling tear,
And not feel my sorrow’s share?
Can a father see his child
Weep, nor be with sorrow filled?

Can a mother sit and hear
An infant groan, an infant fear?
No, no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!
And can He who smiles on all
Hear the wren with sorrows small,
Hear the small bird’s grief and care,
Hear the woes that infants bear —

And not sit beside the next,
Pouring pity in their breast,
And not sit the cradle near,
Weeping tear on infant’s tear?

And not sit both night and day,
Wiping all our tears away?
Oh no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!
He doth give his joy to all:
He becomes an infant small,
He becomes a man of woe,
He doth feel the sorrow too.

Think not thou canst sigh a sigh,
And thy Maker is not by:
Think not thou canst weep a tear,
And thy Maker is not near.

Oh He gives to us his joy,
That our grief He may destroy:
Till our grief is fled an gone
He doth sit by us and moan.