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Poetry

He caught the fever that reaped a harvest

Saturday, 2 February, 2019

Poetry provides visions and so does fever. The great C.P. Cavafy combines the two here.

Kleitos’s Illness

Kleitos, a likeable young man,
about twenty-three years old—
with an excellent upbringing, a rare knowledge of Greek—
is seriously ill. He caught the fever
that reaped a harvest this year in Alexandria.

The fever found him already worn out morally
by the pain of knowing that his friend, a young actor,
had stopped loving and wanting him.

He’s seriously ill, and his parents are terribly worried.

An old servant who brought him up
is also full of fear for Kleitos’ life;
and in her terrible anxiety
she remembers an idol she used to worship
when she was young, before she came there as a maid,
to the house of distinguished Christians, and turned Christian herself.
She secretly brings some votive cake, some wine and honey,
and places them before the idol. She chants whatever phrases
she remembers from old prayers: odds and ends. The fool
doesn’t realize that the black demon couldn’t care less
whether a Christian gets well or not.

C.P. Cavafy (29 April 1863 – 29 April 1933)

*Translated from Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard


Take down the love letters

Wednesday, 23 January, 2019

The poet and playwright Derek Walcott was born on this day in 1930 in Saint Lucia, an island country in the eastern Caribbean. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992 “for a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment”. How does Walcott’s verse rate? The poetry critic William Logan summed it up with faint praise: “No living poet has written verse more delicately rendered or distinguished than Walcott, though few individual poems seem destined to be remembered.” This one is, we feel.

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott (1930 – 2017)

Letters home


Neutrality Loathsome in 2019

Tuesday, 1 January, 2019

Rainy Day wishes all its readers, near and far, a healthy New Year! Health is wealth. Happiness and prosperity will follow if the health holds. It’s as simple as that.

In 2019, there will be no time for here for weasel words and their loathsome users. That’s why we’re kicking off the New Year with Neutrality Loathsome by Robert Herrick. So, whether we’re talking Chinese thievery, Venezuelan thuggery, Iranian tyranny, liberal virtue signalling, #MSM hypocrisy or related forms of abhorrent behaviour, it’s going to get called out here this year.

Neutrality Loathsome

God will have all, or none; serve Him, or fall
Down before Baal, Bel, or Belial:
Either be hot, or cold: God doth despise,
Abhorre, and spew out all Neutralities.

Robert Herrick (1591 — 1674)


Carpe diem for 2018

Monday, 31 December, 2018

The departing 2018 brings to mind Horace’s Ode 1.11, which contains that much-quoted Latin phrase — Carpe diem (“Seize the day!”). Writing to his friend Leuconoe, Horace tries to convince him to avoid thinking about tomorrow and to forget, too, about asking astrologers to peer into the future. Instead, he encourages Leuconoe to “seize the day!” — to make every day count and to stop relying on the hope that tomorrow will bring something better. Ode 1.11 admonishes us to remember that we are not promised tomorrow, and the related Latin expression memento mori (remember that you are mortal) carries some of the same connotation as carpe diem. For Horace, awareness of our own mortality is key in making us realize the importance of the moment. In other words: Remember that you are mortal, so make the most of today.

Ode 1.11

Ask not — we cannot know — what end the gods have set for you, for me;
nor attempt the Babylonian reckonings Leuconoe.
How much better to endure whatever comes,
whether Jupiter grants us additional winters or whether this is our last,
which now wears out the Tuscan Sea upon the barrier of the cliffs.
Be wise, strain the wine; and since life is brief, prune back far-reaching hopes.
Even while we speak, envious time has passed:
Seize the day, putting as little trust as possible in tomorrow.

Horace (65 BC – 8 BC)

Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi
finem di dederint, Leuconoe, nec Babylonios
temptaris numeros. ut melius, quidquid erit, pati.
seu pluris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam,
quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare
Tyrrhenum. Sapias, vina liques et spatio brevi
spem longam reseces. dum loquimur, fugerit invida
aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.


The secret ministry of frost

Sunday, 21 October, 2018

The year of the endless summer continues. Autumn was simply steamrollered out of the way by a summer that had hijacked spring and then refused to negotiate with the seasons. Still, change is in the air. The mornings are chillier and the secret ministry of frost is sending out feelers at night. That phrase, “the secret ministry of frost,” was coined by the English poet, literary critic, philosopher and theologian Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who was born on this day in 1772. Coleridge also minted “suspension of disbelief” and lots of other great phrases (“a sadder and a wiser man”, “water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink”), many of which can be found in his major works, especially The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan.

In his poem Frost at Midnight, the narrator is speaking to his infant son, asleep by his side. It begins, “The Frost performs its secret ministry / Unhelped by any wind,” and the last ten lines have been cited as a perfect example of the kind of verse that’s uniquely Coleridge: as natural as prose, but superbly poetic.

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the night-thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Icicles


Grazing at large in meadows submarine

Monday, 15 October, 2018

“It was the kind of Sunday to make one ache for Monday morning,” wrote Joan Didion in South and West: From a Notebook. Monday has a questionable reputation but not everyone complains about the day. On Monday, 26 April 1784, the notable English poet William Cowper dined on a flatfish of the genus Hippoglossus from the family of right-eye flounders and was very pleased with the result.

Language note: “wast” is an archaic spelling of the second-person singular simple past form of be, and the adjective “minikin” means small; insignificant.

To The Immortal Memory Of The Halibut, On Which I Dined This Day, Monday, April 26, 1784

Where hast thou floated, in what seas pursued
Thy pastime? When wast thou an egg new spawned,
Lost in the immensity of ocean’s waste?
Roar as they might, the overbearing winds
That rocked the deep, thy cradle, thou wast safe —
And in thy minikin and embryo state,
Attached to the firm leaf of some salt weed,
Didst outlive tempests, such as wrung and racked
The joints of many a stout and gallant bark,
And whelmed them in the unexplored abyss.
Indebted to no magnet and no chart,
Nor under guidance of the polar fire,
Thou wast a voyager on many coasts,
Grazing at large in meadows submarine,
Where flat Batavia just emerging peeps
Above the brine, — where Caledonia’s rocks
Beat back the surge, — and where Hibernia shoots
Her wondrous causeway far into the main.
— Wherever thou hast fed, thou little thoughtst,
And I not more, that I should feed on thee
Peace, therefore, and good health, and much good fish,
To him who sent thee! — and success, as oft
As it descends into the billowy gulf,
To the same dreg that caught thee! — Fare thee well!
Thy lot thy brethren of the slimy fin
Would envy, could they know that thou wast doomed
To feed a bard, and to be praised in verse.

William Cowper (1731 – 1800)

Halibut


Believe in miracles

Thursday, 11 October, 2018

Healing wells were traditional shrines dedicated to the miraculous powers of water, which is the fons et origo of life itself. They were incorporated by Christianity and country people still make pilgrimages to the holy wells to seek relief for a variety of ills from rheumatism to cancer. A great many wells are supposed to cure eye problems and it’s customary for the petitioner to leave a token piece of clothing, usually hung on a bush or a tree, so that the healing power of the water can act through it.

Believe that a farther shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.

The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney (1939 – 2013)

At the holy well


Reader! make time, while you be

Wednesday, 3 October, 2018

Sir Fukle Greville’s death in 1628 followed an attack by a servant, Ralph Hayward, on 1 September that year. Hayward appears to have been unhappy with the terms of his master’s will and stabbed Greville in the stomach while he was assisting him to fasten his breeches. Fukle Greville died of gangrene on 30 September, after physicians had replaced the damaged natural fatty membrane around his intestines with animal fat.

Apart from his closest friend, the gifted Sir Philip Sidney, Fukle Greville was the main courtly writer of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. His works include the poetic dramas Alaham and Mustapha, the sonnet sequence Caelica and five verse treatises: An Inquisition upon Fame and Honour, A Treatise of Humane Learning, A Treatise of Wars, A Treatise of Monarchy and A Treatise of Religion. Throughout his writings, Greville’s main concern is with the dangers of power and intrigue in an absolute monarchy, and in his sombre opinion, the individual is powerless in the face of political corruption. The careerist and artist Greville survived dangerous times and ended up convinced of the degeneracy of human nature. This view is encapsulated in a remark of his in a letter to Sir John Coke dated 1 February 1613: “I know the world and believe in God.”

You that seek what life is in death

You that seek what life is in death,
Now find it air that once was breath.
New names unknown, old names gone:
Till time end bodies, but souls none.
Reader! then make time, while you be,
But steps to your eternity.

Fulke Greville (3 October 1554 — 30 September 1628)

Fukle Greville


A Monster at Our Table

Sunday, 2 September, 2018

Derived from the Latin monstrum, the English word monster suggests something awful, evil, because a monster is generally physically or psychologically hideous and morally objectionable. Monsters are often hybrids of humans and animals, but the word can also be used figuratively to describe someone with similar characteristics, such as a person who does cruel or horrific things.

A Monster at Our Table

A monster sat down at our table
And ate up all of our bread
We watched his jaws crush the crusts
Immobilized by revulsion and dread

He talked about the weather and sport
But the topics withered under his breath
We nodded at convenient intervals
And silently prayed for his death

The monster got up from our table
And waddled away towards his lair
We sprinkled Holy Water behind him
To protect what we loved about there.

Eamonn Fizgerald

A Monster at our tabl


Four Things Make Us Happy Here

Friday, 24 August, 2018

The English poet and cleric Robert Herrick was baptised on 24 August 1591. He is best known for Hesperides, a book of poems, which includes the carpe diem verse “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time”, with the first line “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may”.

Four Things Make Us Happy Here

Health is the first good lent to men;
A gentle disposition then:
Next, to be rich by no by-ways;
Lastly, with friends to enjoy our days.

Robert Herrick (baptised 24 August 1591 — buried 15 October 1674)


Bos Taurus bossing

Monday, 13 August, 2018

The genus of wild and domestic cattle is called Bos, from the Latin bōs: cow, ox, bull. Arguably, the best known Bos Taurus breed is the black Angus from Scotland.

Bos Taurus

The Black Angus Bull

Out there in the paddock I hear the black bull
He never stops bellowing when the moon is full
I wonder does the moon affect him in some strange way
For I’ve never heard him bellow in the light of the day
The full moon does affect people ’tis said
It has an unsettling effect in the head
And if a mental weakness in humans the full moon can find
Why not it too affect the animal kind
He has his herd of cows with him yet I do wonder why
He bellows all night when the moon’s in the sky
During the hours of day he is always so quiet
And I’ve never heard him bellow on a dark night
But he never stops bellowing when the moon is full
Out there in the paddock the black Angus bull.

Francis Duggan