Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Last year I posted a piece that referred to the mysterious Voynich Manuscript.
Now I learn that a publisher has purchased the right to publish a limited run of the MS. More information here.
The carbon dating of the MS to between 1404 and 1435 rules out the possibility that the alchemist John Dee (1527-1609) "the Welsh Wizard" was the author, with or without associates such as Edward Kelley "d'Imany" (born 1555). I admit to disappointment that it can't be connected to such intriguing individuals.
Much more on the Voynich Manuscript can be found here.

Monday, July 18, 2016

"The Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

"I don't mean to sound naive and think everybody will come round if they are spoken to nicely, but I think a lot of people who say these nasty things are lonely or drunk and they feel powerless. Social media makes claims it can't deliver on - you're going to be in touch with the Prime Minister! Well, the Prime Minister doesn't read your tweets. But there are some very nasty people out there."
(Mary Beard)

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Oh, their mothers are so proud of them.


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Every little hurts, as someone once said.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

(Edwin Morgan)

innumerable worlds and worlds unmade,
half-made, the universe immense, displayed,

half-hidden, hidden, infinite, arrayed

with lights or lying back in hungry black
till knots unknot and darkest packs unpack
and pouring creatures run through every crack:

oh yes they do! why should we think it dead,
that vast ubiquitous flicker overhead?
The staff of life may not be only bread!

Why would the lord of life confine his writ
to this one ball of water, flesh, and grit?
You say it's special? Ah but transcending it

are specks we see, and specks we cannot see
but must imagine, in that immensity.
It is reason sets imagination free.

Configurations still unfigurable,
visions and visitations still invisible,
powers to come, still impermissible -

these give the slip to my incarceration.
Chains and a cell are but one suffering station.
Multiple worlds need multiple incarnation.

- But earthly powers were called for, and were shown.
There is a sequence when the torch is thrown:
smoke, screams, a little ash and bone.

I was puzzling over the meaning of the last verse, until I remembered that Bruno was burned at the stake for heresy. I'm sure that the first two lines are Bruno's. I'll try to confirm this.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

I copied this charm from a book of Highland (Gaelic) verse in translation. This particular translation is by Alexander Carmichael and was reported as being from his "Carmina Gadelica", but I have yet to find it there.


Let me dip thee in the water,
Thou yellow, beautiful gem of power!
In water of purest wave,
Which pure was kept by Bridget.

In the name of the Apostles twelve,
In the name of Mary, Virgin of virtues,
And in the name of the High Trinity,
And all the shining angels,
A blessing on the gem,
A blessing on the water, and
A healing of bodily ailments to each suffering creature.

This charm is of interest to me because the same practice of charming away illness with a stone is reported in the kirk session records in the parish where my family was living at the time. I quote the records here, spelling unchanged, emphasis added.

“John Young, in the Valleyfield, delated for charming, summoned, called, and appearing, interrogated as to his charming, declared as follows—viz., that being some time ago called to cure a certain sick person, he used these words: ‘ Little thing hath wronged thee, nothing can mend thee but Father, Son, and Holie Ghost, all three, and our sweet Lady. In etemitie let never wax, but away to the waine, as the dew goes of yeard and stane. I seek help to this distressed person in thy name.’ He likewise acknowledged that he used the same words in curing of a woman in the Blaire, who was for years thereafter weell; and that by the same words he cured Robert Bruce in the Shyres miln,—and the disease these persons had, he said, was a splen, which he siemed to the session to understand as of a disease put upon them through envy and splen. And being interrogat if he used any gestures or postures whiles he was pronouncing these words, he could not deny but that first he rubbed his own hand upon a bare stone, and rubbed the breast, stroaking it 3 times, of the person affected, and siemed to say that he prescribed the use of some herbs to the patient. The session did unanimously conclude him guilty of charming; whereupon being again called, the minister did endeavor to hold out the evill of his way, telling him that his cures were not effected without the help of the devill, and not only to forbear the same in tyme comming, but to mourn before God, and to seek mercie through Christ for using of the divel's prescriptions, and that the witches and warlocks used God's words and made mention of the name of God and Christ in theire services; and he being removed, the session did think fit to advise with the presbetrie how to carrie with him.”
28 August 1693.

(from David Beveridge, "Culross and Tulliallan", vol.ii, p.19)

Some other examples of curing stones and associations (?) with Celtic saints.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Alexander the Great, the plonky who conquered the world.

(Raymond Carver)

Reading a life of Alexander the Great, Alexander
whose rough father, Philip, hired Aristotle to tutor
the young scion and warrior, to put some polish
on his smooth shoulders. Alexander who, later
on the campaign trail into Persia, carried a copy of
The Iliad in a velvet-lined box, he loved that book so
much. He loved to fight and drink, too.
I came to that place in the life where Alexander, after
a long night of carousing, a wine-drunk (the worst kind of drunk–
hangovers you don't forget), threw the first brand
to start a fire that burned Persepolis, capital of the Persian Empire
(ancient even in Alexander's day).
Razed it right to the ground. Later, of course,
next morning–maybe even while the fire roared–he was
remorseful. But nothing like the remorse felt
the next evening when, during a disagreement that turned ugly
and, on Alexander's part, overbearing, his face flushed
from too many bowls of uncut wine, Alexander rose drunkenly to his feet,
grabbed a spear and drove it through the breast
of his friend, Cletus, who'd saved his life at Granicus.
For three days Alexander mourned. Wept. Refused food. "Refused
to see to his bodily needs." He even promised
to give up wine forever.
(I've heard such promises and the lamentations that go with them.)
Needless to say, life for the army came to a full stop
as Alexander gave himself over to his grief.
But at the end of those three days, the fearsome heat
beginning to take its toll on the body of his dead friend,
Alexander was persuaded to take action. Pulling himself together
and leaving his tent, he took out his copy of Homer, untied it,
began to turn the pages. Finally he gave orders that the funeral
rites described for Patroklos be followed to the letter:
he wanted Cletus to have the biggest possible send-off.
And when the pyre was burning and the bowls of wine were
passed his way during the ceremony? Of course, what do you
think? Alexander drank his fill and passed
out. He had to be carried to his tent. He had to be lifted, to be put
into his bed.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

"Carol Ann Dunn was born and raised in Liverpool but has lived in Leeds for over 30 years, working as a teacher and trainer across West Yorkshire. A singer of both traditional and choral music, she began writing poetry and ballads on a course at Maddy Prior's Stones Barn and does so on subjects that are important to her, such as this one."

All the above and the following lifted from the Morning Star.

(Carol Ann Dunn)

The fans had come to Sheffield
To see their idols play,
Their chants were loud but happy
On that fatal April day.

The fans were all excited,
convinced their team would win;
Police had packed them tighter
And ever tighter in.

The crush grew suffocating
And fans soon realised
A tragedy was happening
Before their very eyes.

Though pressed against the railings
Like cattle in a pound,
Some fans were helping others
Climb out to safer ground;

Though they could hardly breathe,
They hoisted children high,
Passed them along to safety
Then stayed behind to die.

Police would blame them later:
‘The fans were drunk’ they lied;
That rag the Sun abused as scum
The innocent who died.

The inquest (well, the first one)
Claimed ‘Accidental Death’;
An insult on an injury
That took away our breath.

Now Merseyside united,
The red side with the blue;
As purple as a bruise,
One colour from the two.

Through all their bruising battles
They were bloodied but unbowed;
They brought us a new unity,
They did our city proud;

They showed us our true colours
These loved ones of the dead,
To find some kind of peace of mind,
To help put pain to bed.

Will we walk with these families,
Now that the end’s in sight
For justice for the ninety six?
Will we? Too fucking right.

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

(Nizar Qabbani)

If I were promised safety,
if I could meet the Sultan
I would say to him: O my lord the Sultan!
my cloak has been torn by your ravenous dogs,
your spies are following me all the time.
Their eyes
their noses
their feet are chasing me
like destiny, like fate
They interrogate my wife
and write down all the names of my friends.
O Sultan!
Because I dare to approach your deaf walls,
because I tried to reveal my sadness and
I was beaten with my shoes.
O my lord the Sultan!
you have lost the war twice
because half our people
has no tongue.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

"Burt's Letters from the North of Scotland" published 1754 though written 1726.
I'm reading a reprint of this work at the moment, and something I read had me puzzled -

"The Irish Tongue was, I may say lately, universal in many Parts of the Lowlands; and I have heard it from several in Edinburgh, that, before the Union, it was the Language of the Shire of Fife, although that County be separated from the Capital only by the Frith [sic] of Forth, an Arm of the Sea, which from thence is but seven Miles over; and as proof they told me, after that Event (the Union) it be became one Condition of an Indenture, when a Youth of either Sex was to be bound on the Edinburgh side of the Water, that the Apprentice should be taught the English Tongue."

The political Union of England and Scotland took place in 1707. I find it hard to believe that the population of the whole of Fife, or even much of Fife was Gaelic speaking at that time. There may have been some Gaelic speakers in remote districts, but that is all I'm willing to accept until presented with further evidence.

Monday, April 18, 2016

I lifted this from Chris H's blog, as I threatened to do. The search to identify the author goes on. My old grandad, Edward McGinn, was one of these men, usually getting passed over because he refused to buy a day's work with a "backhander". Many of the stevedores who hired the dockers had a pub or a shebeen where men had to go for a start, and were expected to cough up for a pint while they waited. At the end of the working day it was back to the boozer to collect the day's earnings, and, of course, sup a couple of pints to "slake the dust".
This poem is reckoned to be from c.1910.

(George Milligan)

Before the great world’s noises break
the stillness overhead,
For toiling life begins the strife –
The day’s grim fight for bread.
Where Mersey’s mighty greyhounds speak
The wealth or England’s stocks,
Stand, mute and meek, the men that seek
A Day’s Work at the Docks.

Behold them now – a motley throng,
Men drawn from every grade:
Pale, florid, puny – weak and strong,
All by one impulse swayed.
One impulse – bread; one impulse – work!
How hope at each heart knocks
As mute and meek, they crush to seek
A day’s work at the docks.

‘Stand back! Stand back!’ A hoarse voice storms,
With curses muttered lower,
The straining ring of human forms
But closes in the more.
Well fed, you foremen scarce can know
How want the judgement mocks,
When, mute and meek, men eager seek
A day’s work at the docks.

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Friday, April 15, 2016

Idris Davies' poetry has featured onthese pages before, and, no doubt, will again.
Gwalia means 'Wales', Gwalia Deserta is the name of a collection of Davies' poems.

(Idris Davies)

Do you remember 1926? That summer of soups and speeches,
The sunlight on the idle wheels and the deserted crossings,
And the laughter and the cursing in the moonlight streets?
Do you remember 1926? The slogans and the penny concerts,
The jazz-bands and the moorland picnics,
And the slanderous tongues of famous cities?
Do you remember 1926? The great dream and the swift disaster,
The fanatic and the traitor, and more than all,
The bravery of the simple, faithful folk?
‘Ay, ay, we remember 1926,’ said Dai and Shinkin,
As they stood on the kerb in Charing Cross Road,
“And we shall remember 1926 until our blood is dry.”

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A friend posted this poem and it inspired me to initiate a poetry season. The poem was published in 1921.
Does Siegfried Sassoon need an introduction? Suffice to say that he was from a privileged background, but was radicalised by his experiences in World War 1. What he witnessed confirmed the German general's estimation of the British Army as "lions led by donkeys".

Siegfried Sassoon

Something goes wrong with my synthetic brain
When I defend the Strikers and explain
My reasons for not blackguarding the Miners.
" What do you know? " exclaim my fellow-diners
(Peeling their plovers' eggs or lifting glasses
Of mellowed Chateau Rentier from the table),
" What do you know about the working classes?"

I strive to hold my own; but I'm unable
To state the case succinctly. Indistinctly
I mumble about World-Emancipation,
Standards of Living, Nationalization
Of Industry; until they get me tangled
In superficial details; goad me on
To unconvincing vagueness. When we've wrangled
From soup to savoury, my temper's gone.

" Why should a miner earn six pounds a week?
Leisure! They'd only spend it in a bar!
Standard of life! You'll never teach them Greek,
Or make them more contented than they are!"
That's how my port-flushed friends discuss the Strike.
And that's the reason why I shout and splutter.
And that's the reason why I'd almost like
To see them hawking matches in the gutter.

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