Thursday, 26 February 2015

Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away".

By Percy Bysshe Shelley


This poem was chosen by my friend Catherine Richardson, whose own blog is  http://borderlineaspie.blogspot.co.uk/. She explains why: 

"I don't know if this is my favourite poem, but it makes me think about how something so powerful and fearsome can, in the end, fade to nothing but ruins. How so much time had passed that the narrator hadn't even heard of Ozymandias the 'King of Kings', that he must learn of him from a distant traveller.

In a way it's reassuring to think that even the largest problems in life will one day be long-forgotten, but on the other hand the same can be said for our achievements (both personal and those of humanity). Recently I was talking with my flatmate whose parents lived under the dictatorship in Spain.  We talked about how those memories and the impact it had on their lives are currently fresh in their minds and passed down to the next generations, but one day the impact of Franco will be long-forgotten.

In a way when the topic first came up not long after I arrived here, I felt like the narrator: someone from a 'different land' who didn't know much about what had happened. Even in the present day there is still so much going on in the world now, that has a great impact on many people's lives, like Ozymandias during his reign, but we're unaware of so much of it."

Monday, 23 February 2015

The Journey Of The Magi

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling and running away, and wanting their liquor and women, And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for Birth or Death?
There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt.
I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

By T.S.Eliot



I was introduced to this poem about a year ago by a friend up a ski-lift in France (of all the places). It struck me at once.  Maybe it's easier to feel the force when you're freezing amidst unending snow in the dead of winter. Maybe the grumbling but heartfelt tone makes it chime more with my own sense. Even if you're an optimist sitting by a warm beach, the clarity and strength of the images is enough to put anyone right there hearing the old Wise Man, feeling the chill in your bones, and also, in the end, the unconquerable unease that follows the Nativity.

After the birth of Christ the whole world was changed forever, as History records, although it would take many years for the world to know it. In a staggeringly individual sense for both me and T.S.Eliot the world changed forever in our own age. My life will be (and his was) forever haunted by the birth, the life, the death and the resurrection of Christ. Like the Magus, after a long and hard journey, I can never be complacently at ease again in a world of everyday pleasure that does not have Him at its centre. However strange the world may find that.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

The Dwarves' Song from 'The Hobbit' - Extended Edition





A very talented family (under the name Calamvi de Profundis) have produced a long version of  'The Misty Mountains Cold', the Dwarf Song from The Hobbit movies, but using all Tolkien's original verses from the book.  It's beautiful to listen to and the video is excellent as well. I wish my family were this musical.

The singing scene in the 1st Hobbit Movie was one of the highlights of the whole trilogy, a powerful, evocative moment that pushes Bilbo towards going on the whole quest.  But it was sadly short, with only two verses of Tolkien's original song. This video restores the whole thing in the same style.

Tolkien wrote innumerable poems and songs for the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and it's always great to actually hear any of them sung as songs, rather than just read them on the written page.

In Tolkien's younger days he dreamed about creating a mythology for his beloved England, but one that he would begin and like all true mythologies, would be developed by many hands and minds to follow him, and in turn inspire art of all kinds: songs, stories, paintings, theatre that he had never dreamed of. I hope Tolkien would have been very pleased with this small part of his vision coming to life.

Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away ere break of day
To seek the pale enchanted gold.

The dwarves of yore made mighty spells,
While hammers fell like ringing bells
In places deep, where dark things sleep,
In hollow halls beneath the fells.

For ancient king and elvish lord
There many a gleaming golden hoard
They shaped and wrought, and light they caught
To hide in gems on hilt of sword.

On silver necklaces they strung
The flowering stars, on crowns they hung
The dragon-fire, in twisted wire
They meshed the light of moon and sun.

Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away, ere break of day,
To claim our long-forgotten gold.

Goblets they carved there for themselves
And harps of gold; where no man delves
There lay they long, and many a song
Was sung unheard by men or elves.

The pines were roaring on the height,
The winds were moaning in the night.
The fire was red, it flaming spread;
The trees like torches blazed with light.

The bells were ringing in the dale
And men they looked up with faces pale;
The dragon's ire more fierce than fire
Laid low their towers and houses frail.

The mountain smoked beneath the moon;
The dwarves they heard the tramp of doom.
They fled their hall to dying fall
Beneath his feet, beneath the moon.

Far over the misty mountains grim
To dungeons deep and caverns dim
We must away, ere break of day,
To win our harps and gold from him!

Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old...

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Errantry

A Poem. To be read fast. 
(to the tune of Modern Major-General if you prefer)

There was a merry passenger
a messenger, an errander;
he took a tiny porringer
and oranges for provender;
he took a little grasshopper
and harnessed her to carry him;
he chased a little butterfly
that fluttered by, to marry him.
He made him wings of taffeta
to laugh at her and catch her with;
he made her shoes of beetle-skin
with needles in to latch them with.
They fell to bitter quarrelling,
and sorrowing he fled away;
and long he studied sorcery
in Ossory a many day.
He made a shield and morion
of coral and of ivory;
he made a spear of emerald
and glimmered all in bravery;
a sword he made of malachite
and stalachite, and brandished it,
he went and fought the dragon-fly
called wag-on-high and vanquished it.
He battled with the Dumbledores,
and bumbles all, and honeybees,
and won the golden honeycomb,
and running home on sunny seas,
in ships of leaves and gossamer,
with blossom for a canopy,
he polished up and burnished up
and furbished up his panoply.
He tarried for a little why
in little isles, and plundered them;
and webs of all the attercops
he shattered, cut, and sundered them.
And coming home with honey-comb
and money none - remembered it,
his message and his errand too!
His derring-do had hindered it.

Errantry by J.R.R. Tolkien

This is a wonderful poem that Tolkien wrote in 1930, as described in History of Middle Earth Vol.6 'The Treason of Isengard'. It was read at a literature club called by its undergraduate members 'The Inklings', the name that in later years C.S.Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkien would give to their own private group of friends. It was amended through many versions, and in the end turned into the Poem 'Earendil' that in LOTR Bilbo wrote in Rivendell. 

The poem was written in a unique meter of trisyllabic assonances, three in each four lines, with the end of the 1st line rhyming with the start of the 2nd line, and the end of the 2nd and 4th line rhyming with each other.  Even Tolkien found this so hard he never wrote another poem using it again..

Monday, 2 February 2015

Babi Yar

No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A drop sheer as a crude gravestone.
I am afraid.
Today I am as old in years
as all the Jewish people.
Now I seem to be an Israelite
Here I plod through ancient Egypt.
Here I perish crucified, on the cross,
and to this day I bear the scars of nails.
I seem to be Dreyfus
The Philistine is both informer and judge.
I am behind bars. Beset on every side.
Hounded, spat on, slandered.
Squealing, dainty ladies in flounced Brussels lace
stick their parasols into my face.
I seem to be then a young boy in Byelostok.
Blood runs, spilling over the floors.
The bar-room rabble-rousers
give off a stench of vodka and onion.
A boot kicks me aside, helpless.
In vain I plead with these pogrom bullies.
While they jeer and shout,
"Beat the Yids. Save Russia!"
My mother's being beaten by a clerk.
O, Russia of my heart,
I know you are international to the core.
But those with unclean hands
have often made a jingle of your purest name.
I know the goodness of my land.
How vile these anti-Semites-without a qualm
have pompously called themselves
the Union of the Russian People!
I seem to be Anne Frank
transparent as a branch in April.
And I'm in love, and have no need of phrases,
But only that we gaze into each other's eyes.
How little we can see or smell!
We are denied the leaves, we are denied the sky.
Yet we can do so much -- tenderly
embrace each other in a darkened room.
"They're coming!"
"No, fear not - those are sounds
Of spring itself. She's coming soon.
Come then to me. Quick, give me your lips."
"Are they smashing down the door?"
"No, it's the ice breaking ...
Wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar.
The trees look ominous, like judges.
Here all things scream silently,
and, baring my head,
slowly I feel myself
turning grey.
And I myself am one massive, soundless scream
above the thousand thousand buried here.
I am each old man here shot dead.
I am every child here shot dead.
Nothing in me shall ever forget!
May the "Internationale," thunder and ring
when the last anti-Semite on earth
is buried forever.
In my blood there is no Jewish blood.
But in their callous rage, all anti-Semites
must hate me now as a Jew.
For that reason I am a true Russian!

By Yevgeny Yevtushenko

For Holocaust Memorial Day 2014

This is a beautiful poem from the Soviet Union and one of my favourite growing up.  On September 29–30, 1941 Nazi Einsatzgruppen and local police murdered over 30,000 Ukrainian Jews in the pit called Babi Yar on the edge of Kiev. 

In August 1961 Yevgeny Yevtushenko was went out to Babi Yar and was shocked that not only was there no monument on the site, but that there were trucks emptying rubbish onto the land tens of thousands of massacre victims were buried beneath. Overcome by emotion he wrote Babi Yar in four or five hours that day.  It was a protest against both the loss of the massacre, the Soviet denial that the Jews had been especial victims of the Nazi horror, and the continuing anti-semitism in the USSR.