Reading Padraic Fallon

  1. Fallon (1905-1974) came from lovely County Galway and was drawn to Dublin by George Russell (AE) to take part in the Irish Literary Revival. Heaney wrote of him “His sensibility has weathered in Galway the rainy light that was familiar to both Rafferty and Yeats; it has been tutored by a landscape at once elemental and historical; a landscape that holds the walled demesne and the tower as well as the bog-face and the stone wall…”

I came across this poem entitled YESTERDAY’S MAN which contained the following lovely and intriguing stanzas:-

Lines of verse too left littering

After poems that never got away,

A pen drawing, very odd, the storm God Zu

Trusses in his fowl form to a carrying pole;

(From him the wren-walk on St Stephen’s Day)

 

Copied I suppose, to prove a point,

(Akkadian seal, Babylonian cylinder?) How

Much at home I am in this mad world

Suddenly and again! And here somewhere

You the girl enter

 

Anonymously, in two wooden stanzas, into which

You have entirely disappeared. Words, words,

That’s all you are, girl who never

Was a lover. And I likened you,

Body I could see through, to a catapult

The poem concerns itself with writing poetry and the poet looking through his notebooks and considering lost loves, regret and all in a stormy atmosphere. I like the variation between detail , here about the paraphernalia of writing and the vagueness…”here somewhere”. The latter representing ageing disorientation.

More on Fallon may be found at preview.co.uk where Seamus Heaney has written an appreciation and quotes some lines about Lands End.

 

 

 

 

Arthur Symons- Cornish Connections

Arthur Symons biography > My poetic side

Cornish Wind

There is a wind in Cornwall that I know
From any other wind, because it smells
Of the warm honey breath of heather-bells
And of the sea’s salt; and these meet and flow
With such sweet savour in such sharpness met
That the astonished sense in ecstasy
Tastes the ripe earth and the unvintaged sea.
Wind out of Cornwall, wind, if I forget :
Not in the tunnelled Streets where scarce men breathe
The air they live by, but wherever seas
Blossom in foam, wherever merchant bees
Volubly traffic upon any heath:
If I forget, shame me! or if I find
A wind in England like my Cornish wind.
This poem by Symons is perhaps a reminder that his parents were Cornish Methodists, his father, a preacher who once was a Minister at St Ives as well as at other parishes in the Duchy. I particularly like the line about “the ripe earth and the unvintaged sea” which by contrast brings evokes Homer’s Wine Dark Sea https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wine-dark_sea_(Homer). Then there is the a reference to merchant bees, perhaps because they transport pollen but then there are robust Cornish nlack bees (https://www.merchantsmanor.com/cornish-black-bees/).

There is an interesting review in the TLS of his Selected Early Poems and also his Spiritual Adventures by Kate Hext (January 12 2018) which begins with a poem which describes  the poet in sad old age at dinner. It was published by John Betjeman in 1940.


ON SEEING AN OLD POET IN THE CAFE ROYAL, by JOHN BETJEMAN

 

I saw him in the Café Royal,
Very old and very grand.
Modernistic shone the lamplight
There in London’s fairyland.
‘Devilled chicken. Devilled whitebait.
Devil if I understand.

‘Where is Oscar? Where is Bosie?
Have I seen that man before?
And the old one in the corner,
Is it really Wratislaw?’
Scent of Tutti-Frutti-Sen-Sen
And cheroots upon the floor.

There is a delightful exposition of Tutti Frutti Sen Sen and other commercial items in poetry by the late Clive James at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/articles/69678/product-placement-in-modern-poetry

Waking with Rosa

Wenn du erwachst

Wenn du erwachsts
Baum der in dir Wächst
traumgrün
Hinter deinen Liden
schlummern Zinnsoldaten
singt der Friedenvogel
Wenn du erwachst
breent die Stadt
die Toten sind wach
und erwarten dich

When you awake

When you awake
Trees grown within you
green as dreams
Under your eyelids
tin soldiers slumber
the bird of peace sings
when you awake
the city is burning
the dead are awake
and waiting for you

Zinnsoldaten by Michael Gogol on Amazon Music - Amazon.com

More poems by Rosa Ausländer may be found at https://allpoetry.com/Rose-Auslander

 

Discovering a new poet- Ciaran Carson

The town where I live has many barber shops, betting shops (gambling dens) and fortunately many charity shops. Since the end of lock-down, as part of the recovery process I have been raiding the latter and especially one which has a rich supply of poetry books. Taking advantage of my reduced price filter coffee at 50p per cup, I thumbed through, “Poems of the Decade”  in which I happened upon two remarkable poems about historic battles by Ciaran Carson.

Here is the start of a poem about Gallipoli from a collection called The War Correspondant.

Take sheds and stalls from Billingsgate,
glittering with scaling-knives and fish,
the tumbledown outhouses of English farmers’ yards
that reek of dung and straw, and horses
cantering the mewsy lanes of Dublin;

take an Irish landlord’s ruinous estate,
elaborate pagodas from a Chinese Delftware dish
where fishes fly through shrouds and sails and yards
of leaking ballast-laden junks bound for Benares
in search of bucket-loads of tea as black as tin;

The full poem may be found at https://genius.com/Ciaran-carson-the-war-correspondent-annotated

My knowledge of Gallipoli comes from a visit during a minitrek in the early seventies and in addition the outstanding film with Mel Gibson https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gallipoli_(1981_film) 

However, this poem is remarkable with the tumbledown and dilapidated nautical images. There is a clear underlying structure but the surreal images build throughout this poem. I particularly liked the word “mewsy” and there are clear political references in the poem. The situation along with the following poem “Balaklava” show the desperation of war and both battles show the limits of British Imperialism. There is a strange surrealism to the lines-

elaborate pagodas from a Chinese Delftware dish
where fishes fly through shrouds and sails and yards

These somehow reflect the weirdness and disorientation of the context. The Delft reference reminds me too of another favourite poet, Derek Mahon. Yet there is also an association as the poem progresses of Kipling. Then there is a reference to horses which were present in the cramped situation. They were there to move the heavy guns of the Anzac forces. 6100 horses were ready to disembark but only a few were actually put ashore. A search reveals-

After Gallipoli many moderate nationalists began to lose faith in the idea that supporting Britain in the war would assure Home Rule. … But it was in August that Irishmen arrived at Gallipoli in large numbers as part of Allied commander Sir Ian Hamilton’s plan to break the stalemate and go on the offensive.

Sadly in discovering this new poet, I also found how recent was his passing in October of last year https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ciaran_Carson

 

“Bronte Territories” by Melissa Hardie-an Appreciation

The Brontë sisters with their brother, Branwell, in a painting by him called the Gun Group Portrait.

Wandering down Chapel Street in Penzance, you cannot fail to recognise that you have entered that part of town where history feels close-by. The sea in the distance, the church and the chapel architecture is impressive, the Turk’s Head Tavern and the baroque wonder of the Egyptian House, the Portuguese consulate and almost opposite the house where George Eliot stayed waiting for calm weather for her voyage to the Scillies. Reading Melissa’s book is like taking a similar peregrination through lost corridors of time to recover a sense of the rich liveliness of Penwith’s past. Welcome to the psychogeography of Bronte’s Territories.

The Brontes are still much in the news. The Irish Times, just two weeks ago, were reporting on the O.U.P. computer analysis of Wuthering Heights apparently confirming it to be the work of Emily and not, as had been suggested, that of her brother Branwell. Iconoclasm may be in vogue. However, a square in Brussels – the city where two of the Bronte sisters studied French – is to be named in honour of the literary siblings. Other authors make claim to curious events in Shropshire in the early years of the 19th century drew the parents of genius together. It is to the intellectual and feminine furore of Penzance and its inspiring hinterland that Hardie’s work appropriately returns us.

In a key chapter on the literature and legend of Cornwall from 1760 much mention is made of the intriguing and taciturn figure of Joseph Carne, a geologist of great renown and an energetic banker. His personality was such that he combined a skill with numbers with a strong Methodist belief and mixed in a variety of literary circles. Nearby Falmouth was a key port for the Packet boats recorded in the poetry and memoirs of Byron and Southey. It too was the home of the Quaker family of Foxes who founded the Cornwall Polytechnic Society in 1832. Carne was a friend and shared their Non-Conformist beliefs. Hardie shows how Carne encouraged his daughter in her geological studies and mentions the doctors, engineers, vicars and scientists whose cultural sources were enriched by contacts which included Bretons, Huguenots, Hessians as well as a significant Jewish community. She reminds us that in reading Davy, for example, we encounter not just a socially beneficent scientist, a traveller and a poet. This is the endowment the Branwell sisters took to Haworth.

It is interesting to consider that within this Cornish background at this period there were a number of competing beliefs and attitudes. There were the mythical beliefs fostered from folklore- piskies and stories in the expiring Cornish language. There was the old religion of Rome not far beneath the surface. Yet there were also new discoveries especially in medicine and geology that fostered a scientific empiricism. This can be seen in figures such as Davies Gilbert to whom this book gives due prominence- a polymath, mathematician, engineer and President of the Royal Society and a wonderful diarist to boot. William Temple much later stated, “The Church exists primarily for the sake of those who are still outside it. It is a mistake to suppose that God is only, or even chiefly, concerned with religion.” It was the evangelical zeal of the Wesley brothers and their belief in education, temperance combined with stunningly beautiful hymns. It was also a challenge to superstition. It is often said it averted revolution which France and later Peterloo portended.

Melissa Hardie shows us the other supportive factors that came into this heady mixture and sustained the Branwells and flowered in the Bronte’s work. These are twofold; the societies and the family or kinship links. The Penzance Ladies Reading group who carefully studied together a stunning variety of literature from the classics of the Ancients to the contemporary travel writings. Not forgetting the subversive eloquence of Lord Byron, a gentleman with Cornish links through the Trevanions. The founding of libraries and collection of artefacts had practical even economic benefits. The Royal Cornwall Geological Society studies into metallic intrusions assisted the efficiency of mining. Local banks provided the capital for further developments in the industry as well as the magnificent Wesleyan Chapels that the Carnes, Branwells and Battens founded and fostered.

The author has researched both land and legacy extensively. Her approach is frequently imaginative and sometimes speculative. This is a strength because she is also at pains to inform the reader of the limitations of the evidence. Footnotes and suggested reading in themselves are useful but the illustrations are worthy of pondering- several works of art in themselves. They add significant detail. This patient work by Melissa supported by other members of the resplendent Hypatia Trust must be counted as filling a deep fissure, or as we might say in Cornwall, a zawn in Bronte Studies.

See also from the Guardian –

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jun/29/bronte-grandfather-smuggling-past-financed-books-charlotte-emily-anne

 

Mein Herr Marquis- The Laughing Song

 

Mein Herr Marquis, ein Mann wie Sie
Sollt’ besser das verstehn,
Darum rate ich, ja genauer sich
Die Leute anzusehen!
Die Hand ist doch wohl gar zo fein, hahaha.
Dies Füsschen so zierlich und klein, hahaha.
Die Sprache, die ich führe
Die Taille, die Tournüre,
Dergleichen finden Sie
Bei einer Zofe nie!
Gestehn müssen Sie fürwahr,
Sehr komisch dieser Irrtum war!
Ja, sehr komisch, hahaha,
Ist die Sache, hahaha.
Drum verzeihn Sie, hahaha,
Wenn ich lache, hahaha!
Ja, sehr komisch, hahaha
Ist die Sache, hahaha!

Sehr komisch, Herr Marquis, sind Sie!
Mit dem Profil im griech’schen Stil
Beschenkte mich Natur:
Wenn nicht dies Gesicht schon genügend spricht,
So sehn Sie die Figur!
Schaun durch die Lorgnette Sie dann, ah,
Sich diese Toilette nur an, ah
Mir scheint wohl, die Liebe
Macht Ihre Augen trübe,
Der schönen Zofe Bild
Hat ganz Ihr Herz erfüllt!
Nun sehen Sie sie überall,
Sehr komisch ist fürwahr der Fall!
Ja, sehr komisch, hahaha
Ist die Sache, hahaha
Drum verzeihn Sie, hahaha,
Wenn ich lache, hahaha!
Ja, sehr komisch, hahaha,
Ist die Sache, hahaha  etc.

English Translation

 

My Lord Marquis, a man like you
should better understand that,
Therefore I advise you to look more
accurately at people!
My hand is surely far too fine, hahaha.
My foot so dainty and small, hahaha.
In a manner of speaking
My waist, my bustle,
The likes of things you’ll never find
on a maid!
You really must admit,
This mistake was very funny!
Yes, very funny, hahaha,
This thing is, hahaha.
You’ll have to forgive me, hahaha,
If I laugh, hahaha!
Yes, very funny, hahaha
This thing is, hahaha!

Very comical, Marquis, you are!
With this profile in Grecian style
being a gift of nature;
If this face doesn’t give it away,
Just look at my figure!
Just look through the eye-glass, then, ah,
At this outfit I am wearing, ah
It seems to me that love
Has clouded your eyes,
The chambermaid image
Has fulfilled all your heart!
Now you see her everywhere,
Very funny indeed, is this situation!
Yes, very funny, hahaha
This thing is, hahaha.
You’ll have to forgive me, hahaha,
If I laugh, hahaha!
Yes, very funny, hahaha
This thing is, hahaha!

Thoughts on history in the making

We seem currently to be going through a period of iconoclasm which has an interesting history itself. One of my favourite plays is “Forty Years On” by Alan Bennett. It often seems to me that British, and particularly English, society resembles some sort of minor public school. Hence I can easily hear John Gielgud intoning Ecclesiastes 44-1:-

Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us. 2The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through his great power from the beginning. 3Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms, men renowned for their power, giving counsel by their understanding, and declaring prophecies: 4Leaders of the people by their counsels, and by their knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent are their instructions.

Now, when I googled this a moment ago, I discovered that the first six words of the title refers to a book written some 75 years ago by Agee and Evans with photographs of tenant farmers and their dreadful plight in the depression. The verse from Ecclesiastes was obscured and immediately raises the question about how the meaning of the past can be changed or indeed obscured. It also raises the questions about for whom history might be written, recorded or commemorated.

However, before examining the text, consider the last sentence….” meet For the people, WISE and ELOQUENT are their instructions”. Well it would be nice if the present incumbents of the senior management team were wise and concerned for the people and by no means can the repetitive bumbling be described as eloquence.

(Incidentally, I remember hearing that controversial Cornishman D.M. Thomas remarking once that we had moved from reading Isaiah to watching dire television in two generations!)

Now before we start praising famous men, let alone building statues to them, we also need to consider women and children. The statue which really brought pimples to the skin and still does was near the Friedrichstrasse in Berlin which shows those children going to the West in the Kindertransport and those from whom they have been sundered, facing the death camps in the East. Then, also very moving is the statue by Kathe Kollwitz. This sculpture is under an oculus and exposed to the rain, snow and cold symbolising the suffering of civilians during World War II. It is a pieta- a woman with her dead child. She had lost her son, Peter on the battlefield in the First World War.

At this point I should like to recommend a book and close with a couple of quotations which I think are worth pondering. The book is by Rachel Hewitt and is called “A Revolution in Feeling” It deals with the changes of feelings during the 1790s. To quote from the dust jacket;” Every society in every age, feels differently, and from the seismic shifts of the 1790s Britain emerged the contours of our contemporary attitude to need, longing and emotion”.

Now from that complex but original thinker Walter Benjamin, This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

WALTER BENJAMIN, Theses on the Philosophy of History

Here we return to eloquence again, a reminder that style in historical writers engage our interest from Hazlitt-

The history of mankind is a romance, a mask, a tragedy, constructed upon the principles of POETICAL JUSTICE; it is a noble or royal hunt, in which what is sport to the few is death to the many, and in which the spectators halloo and encourage the strong to set upon the weak, and cry havoc in the chase, though they do not share in the spoil.

WILLIAM HAZLITT, Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays

Finally

Finally, I listened to a radio programme last night about refugees in camps across the Channel in France desperate to escape persecution and many of them, children in conditions cramped as in a slave ship. What are we going to do to alleviate their situation?

When German trains saved Jewish kids - EXBERLINER.com

Käthe Kollwitz's sculpture 'Mother with her Dead Son', Neue Wache ...

Notes

On Iconoclasm https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byzantine_Iconoclasm

There may be elements of magical thinking in relation to monuments as clearly their destruction does not entail the erasure of the past or the racist structures still in existence. It might be argued that in their removal they can become instrumental towards that aim. Some may also consider that they are works of art which raises further questions about aesthetics – content and form etc.

 

 

Gwyneth Lewis-Sea Virus

Sea Virus

I knew I should never have gone below
but I did, and the fug of bilges and wood
caught me aback. The sheets of my heart
snapped taut to breaking, as a gale
stronger than longing filled the sail
inside me. To be shot of land
and its wood smoke! To feel the keel
cold in a current! To see the mast
inscribing water like a restless pen
writing a fading wake! It’s true,
I’m ruined. Not even peace will do
to keep me ashore now. Not even you.

I was first attracted to Gwyneth Lewis’s work by a poem in Ruth Padel’s collection, 60 Poems for the Journey of Life where her attractive poem, The Flaggy Shore may be found. Clearly she is much interested in marine matters.

The poem has a tension and an elegance about it. It will appeal to anyone interested in messing about in boats but has an edge about it too. Much of the imagery is erotic even sexual. The word fug strikes and catches you back as she says in the next line. It is overpowering and yet speeds you along with considerable force like a dangerous attraction. The word “shot” adds to this general sense of menace and yet also implies the freedom experienced as the liberation of inspiration. The image of the pen as a sail-a simile- reminds of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khyyam –

“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

It also reminds of the words written on Keat’s Grave-

The best-known use of a similar phrase is on the gravestone of John Keats: Here lies one whose name was writ in water. (‘Writ‘ is a poetic form of ‘written‘.) This means his fame was transient; it passed away quickly. Then there is Catullus-

1 Nulli se dicit mulier mea nubere malle My woman says that she prefers to be married to no one
2 quam mihi, non si se Iuppiter ipse petat. but me, not even if Jupiter himself should seek her.
3 dicit: sed mulier cupido quod dicit amanti, she says: but what a woman says to her passionate lover,
4 in vento et rapida scribere oportet aqua. she ought to write on the wind and swift-flowing water.

The poem then is about the possible effects of being driven along by the poetic imagination. The last line has an awesome direct remark to the reader. For some poets their trade requires passion even to the point of not counting the cost. Shelley in his boat springs to mind!

The past uncovered- an aircraft in the sands

Extract from the Daily Mirror

The emergence of this wrecked Beaufighter after more than 75 years struck me as interesting for a variety of reasons. Rather as memories emerge from traumatic periods in the past. It seems to me that much of the current political debate over Brexit and other matters is connected with unresolved conflicts from the past. Also there is the contrast or juxtaposition between the terrible last moments in the cockpit, as the engines failed, and the discovery of the wreck by the arrival of the dog bounding across the sands so many years later.

Thinking of the variety of persons lost from Leslie Howard, the Film-star in 1943, Antoine St Expupery in July 1944 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antoine_de_Saint-Exup%C3%A9ry) and the disappearance of Jazz Band leader Glenn Miller in December 1944, I came across this famous poem by W.B.Yeats.

An Irish Airman Forsees His Death

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public man, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

This  great poem exposes what sometimes is forgotten – the treatment of the Irish in the shady forgotten history of British imperialism. Kiltartan by the way is not far from Galway.

Nanki-Poo in the Rose Garden

Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.

So writes T.S. Eliot in Burnt Norton, the first of the Four Quartets. It makes one wonder what memories can be recalled of this particular Rose Garden. A slightly strange venue to choose surely? Maybe the door ought not to have been opened? Most will recall the unfortunate and strange meeting that heralded the unfortunate Coalition  Indeed, it was another Special Adviser, Julia Goldsworthy who was to finally conclude, “Many Liberal Democrat activists would have found the Rose Garden love-in between David Cameron and Nick Clegg “sick-inducing”. Perhaps it was to give a green tinge to distract from 260 miles or more of carbon emissions.

It is not just the receding hairline of Cummings that brings G and S’s Mikado character of Nanki-Poo to mind. This histrionic and grumpy individual needs a trickster or Jungian alter ego. Remember it is Nanki-Poo who sings-

The flowers that bloom in the spring,
Tra la,
Breathe promise of merry sunshine —
As we merrily dance and we sing,
Tra la,
We welcome the hope that they bring,
Tra la,
Of a summer of roses and wine,
Of a summer of roses and wine.
And that’s what we mean when we say that a thing
Is welcome as flowers that bloom in the spring.
Tra la la la la,
Tra la la la la,
The flowers that bloom in the spring.

This indeed is the Topsy-Turvy World where the Rose Garden becomes the stage for attic antics. Incidentally, Topsy-Turvy is an excellent film directed by the redoubtable Mike Leigh about the making of the Mikado.

The Mikado is relevant here too in more serious ways- it is about a fiercely autocratic society. There is the haughty nobleman, Pooh-Bah.There is making the punishment fit the crime. In Leigh’s film there is drug addiction- there is social distancing and the overwhelming distance brtween performance and the dark and stark reality. In both there is meiosis, a drastic understatement of the situation. Which brings us back to today’s performance attempting to come up smelling of roses.

Durward Lely as Nanki-Poo