Sunday, March 22, 2015

From Ireland to Greece to Ireland, solidarity

Oh, how they laughed.
I'm reminded of an old Chinese proverb, "You don't use good iron to make nails, or good men to make soldiers".

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Yesterday morning I am listening to music on the radio when the programme's host announces that the next recording is the work of Shostakovich. Not my favourite composer, so I have the remote control ready to switch stations if necessary, but the introduction has my attention.
The music is from the soundtrack of a Russian film called "The Gadfly" which is based on a novel by one Ethel Lilian Voynich. Strange name, I'm thinking - and haven't I heard that surname before?
I learn that Ethel was born in Cork, the daughter of a philosopher and mathematician named George Boole who developed a system known as Boolean logic. I'd heard that expression before, without having a clue what it was about, and I was left wondering about the surname and its connection to Ireland. Later I found out that George was English, born in Lincoln, and appointed Professor of Mathematics at Queen's University, Cork, in 1849. So Ethel's Irishness was of birth, not of ancestry.
Ethel took an interest in Russian politics and became an associated with the Narodnik movement. She met Michael Voynich through the movement and they set up home together in 1895, and she became Ethel Voynich. "The Gadfly" was published in 1897. It became very popular in Soviet Russia, though she only learned of this much later in a conversation with a Russian diplomat. She was then able to collect the royalties on the Russian edition.
Now, Michael Voynich; he was actually Polish not Russian, real name Michał Wojnicz. After settling in Britain he gave up revolutionary politics and became a bookseller. He was naturalised and adopted the forename Wilfrid. Bookseller - when I learned this I remembered where I'd heard the name, on a TV programme about a mysterious text called the Voynich Manuscript.
The manuscript, Ethel, George Boole, and Mary Everest, Ethel's mother, are all subjects of articles in Wikipedia. Boolean Algebra has its own article.

Shostakovich's "Gadfly" music wasn't so bad after all.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Whatever happened to my poetry season? I've been negligent, distracted.
I'll round it off with this affecting - for me anyway - poem by Padraig Ó hÉigeartaigh*. It is a lament for his drowned son. The English is by Thomas Kinsella.

My sorrow, Donncha, my thousand-cherished,
under this sod stretched,
this mean sod lying on your little body
-- my utter fright!
If the sleep were on you in Cill na Dromad
or some grave in the West
it would ease my sorrow, though great the affliction,
and I'd not complain.

Spent and withered are the flowers scattered
on your narrow bed.
They were fair a while but their brightness faded,
they've no gloss or life.
And my brightest flower that in soil grew ever
or will ever grow
rots in the ground, and will come no more
to lift my heart.

Alas, beloved, is it not a great pity
how the water rocked you,
your pulses powerless and no one near you
to bring relief?
No news was brought to me of my child in peril
or his cruel hardship
--O, I'd go, and eager, to Hell's deep flag-stones
if I could save you.

The moon is dark and I cannot sleep.
All ease has left me.
The candid Gaelic seems harsh and gloomy
--an evil omen.
I hate the time that I pass with friends,
their wit torments me.
Since the day I saw you on the sands so lifeless
no sun has shone.

Alas my sorrow, what can I do now?
The world grinds me
--your slight white hand, like a tree-breeze, gone from
my frowning brows,
and your little honeymouth, like angels' music
sweet in my ears
saying to me softly: "Dear heart, poor father,
do not be troubled."

And O, my dear one! I little thought
in my time of hope
this child would never be a brave swift hero
in the midst of glory
with deeds of daring and lively thoughts
for the sake of Fódla
--but the One who framed us of clay on earth
not so has ordered.

*Or Patrick O'Hegarty in its English version. Fódla, or Fódhla, is one of many poetic names for Ireland.The original Irish can be found here.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

I like this entry in Neil MacAlpine's "Pronouncing Gaelic Dictionary", first published in 1832 -
"H, h, this letter is not acknowledged in our Alphabet; but to keep the Gaelic in character with us, who are the BRAVEST and most singular people in the WHOLE WORLD, (as the SCOTS TIMES says,) it is used, not only in every word, but almost in every syllable expressed or understood."

Another entry begins -
"TAPADH ... heroic feat, achievement; thanks, success; tapadh leat thank you, Sir, or Madam - literally may you be a hero or heroine, (the thing uppermost in Donald's noddle) ..."