Category Archives: History

Seditious verses of the royal Master of Music

One of Britain’s most influential composers and a favourite of the royal court, Sir Arnold Bax had another life as a would-be Irish nationalist poet, writes Petroc Trelawny

Seditious verses of the royal Master of MusicSir Arnold Bax wanted to die in Glencolumcille, Co Donegal. “I fancy that my last vision in this life will be the still brooding, dove-grey mystery of the Atlantic at twilight,” he said. He was seduced by the remote settlement, the savagery of the sea in winter, the rugged cliffs that stretch away from the houses, the live music he heard in Paddy John McNelis’s pub.
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Trad players were gathering outside another pub when I visited the Co Donegal village last month, recording a BBC radio documentary. Bax’s beloved beach was filled with sunburnt families, many of them day-trippers from Derry and Belfast whose journeys had been much simpler than his tortuous route via the Donegal Light Railway. The heat was breaking records, the sea absolutely flat, but it was not hard to imagine the potential fury of the waves, crashing hundreds of feet up the face of Glen Head. The natural beauty, and the sympathetic welcome Bax received from the villagers ensured that he returned year after year, later writing: “I came to know the people as I never knew any other community.”

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Read “A Dublin Ballad: 1916” by Dermot O’Byrne

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Listen to “Tintagel”, by Arnold Bax (1883-1953)

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On Rabindranath Tagore, the actual first songwriter to win the Nobel Prize for Literature

By Angad Roy

TagoreA few months ago, my neighbour asked me, ‘Do you have beds in India?’ Last week, a white friend asked me, albeit jokingly and drunk, ‘Did you have some spicy curry for dinner before you came?’ Do these two examples, among many, reveal a symptomatic Western perception of India as defined by its extremities – poverty, spicy food, idolatry of cricket heroes? Is cultural India merely a frenzied collection of colours and Bollywood melodrama? Does there remain a colonial hangover demarcating India as an exotic populace of the enchanting and far-away East? Is this why in October 2016, a Bengali writer as significant to literature as Joyce, Eliot or Proust, was forgotten by the New York Times and the Guardian, when they described Bob Dylan as the ‘first songwriter to win the Nobel Prize for Literature’?
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Rabindranath Tagore is the anti-colonialist in question, reverently coined by his devotees and by my Bengali family as the ‘Bard of Bengal’. He was the first non-European to win the prize in 1913, for his collection of poems in Gitanjali and, as such, he possesses an elevated status in my country. Walking down the bustling streets of Kolkata, you hear his poetry blaring from major traffic intersections and pandals which dot the metro landscape during the festive season. You can see his face and words printed on posters behind street-hawkers selling fake Nike clothes and in most Bengali households, where his portrait sits alongside statues of Ganesha and Shiva in the omnipresent puja room.

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Read “My song has put off her adornments” from Tagore’s Gitanjali: My song has put off her adornments
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We will be reading and discussing “The Poetry in Popular Music” on October 26. Please bring your own favourite examples and post them first on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly.

See the SCHEDULE PAGE for submissions to-date.

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Elizabeth Bishop, Ezra Pound and the Madhouse

Elizabeth Bishop, Ezra Pound and the Madhouse“This is the house of Bedlam,” begins Elizabeth Bishop’s lovely strange poem, “Visits to St. Elizabeths”: “This is the man / that lies in the house of Bedlam.”
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Ezra Pound was a patient at St. Elizabeths psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C., from December 21, 1945, to May 7, 1958. Here is a partial list of the poets who visited him: A. Alvarez, John Berryman, Elizabeth Bishop, e. e. cummings, James Dickey, T. S. Eliot, Robert Lowell, W. S. Merwin, Marianne Moore, Charles Olson, Stephen Spender, William Carlos Williams. Visiting hours were from 2:00 to 4:00 PM every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, and when the weather was fine he would sit in the garden. Often the memoirs and recollections of those who visited him mention that he was eating fruit, and that his shirt was loose. He talked about translations, gave rules for poetry. Perhaps there is nothing more charismatic than a poet in a madhouse.

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Read the complete poem Visits to St. Elizabeths.”
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We will be reading and discussing Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry on September 28. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems thus far.

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CLASSIC POETRY/Women’s History: “To all virtuous Ladies in general” by Emilia Lanier (1569-1645)

By Clio2  

Classic_PoetryA contemporary of William Shakespeare, Emilia (or Aemilia) Lanier (or Lanyer) was by no means the first English woman poet, but she is credited as the first woman to publish a whole volume of original English poetry under her own name.
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What follows is from the dedication to this volume, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, which appeared in 1611.
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Her life was difficult and complicated. Born into what we would consider the professional stratum of society, she associated with members of the aristocracy but could never hope to cross the barrier of class.
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Born Aemilia Bassano, she was educated as befitted her position: daughter of an Italian musician attached to the English royal court. As a young woman she spent time in the households of Susan Bertie, Countess of Kent; Margaret Clifford, Countess of Cumberland; and Margaret’s daughter, Lady Anne Clifford.

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Elizabeth Bishop’s “Sonnet”

Introduction by Lloyd Schwartz

Elizabeth Bishop's SonnetElizabeth Bishop’s “Sonnet” is often taken to be her last poem. It was published in The New Yorker on October 29, 1979, three weeks after she died. And it feels like a posthumous poem, with its images of release from illness, from emotional conflict, from being “a creature divided.” In fact Bishop had written it more than a year earlier, then with surprising speed finished another poem, “Pink Dog” — a bitterly ironic, grotesquely comic “samba” set in Rio at Carnival time, in which she advises a “poor bitch,” a hairless scavenger with scabies (her chilling mirror image, another creature out of place among the Cariocan revelers), to “Dress up! Dress up and dance at Carnival!” The New Yorker rushed this mardi-gras poem into the February 26 issue, while “Sonnet,” acquired months before, would have to wait another eight months to see the light of day.
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Yet in some ways “Sonnet” really is the later poem. Bishop began drafting “Pink Dog” in Brazil as early as 1963, under the title “Goodbye to Rio” — one of the first signs that she had started to think about leaving Brazil, where after more than a decade the sweetest life she’d known was beginning to sour. “Sonnet” is the very last poem that she both started and also completed. It’s the closest thing we have to her final poetic testament.

Sonnet

Caught — the bubble

in the spirit level,

a creature divided;

and the compass needle

wobbling and wavering,

undecided.

Freed — the broken

thermometer’s mercury

running away;

and the rainbow-bird

from the narrow bevel

of the empty mirror,

flying wherever

it feels like, gay!

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We will be reading and discussing Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry on September 28. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems thus far.

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Elizabeth Bishop, Fighting The New Yorker Over Extra Commas and Steaming Cowflops

By DWIGHT GARNER

Elizabeth Bishop, Fighting The New Yorker“What I think about The New Yorker,” the poet Elizabeth Bishop wrote in 1940 to her mentor, Marianne Moore, “can only be expressed like this: *!@!!!@!*!!”
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Bishop was 29 at the time, not so long out of Vassar, and had just published her first poem in the magazine. Moore was nearly 60 and had just had a poem rejected by its editors. Bishop’s fit of typographical pique was her way of expressing sympathy.
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Over the next four decades, until her death in 1979, Bishop would publish nearly all of her best poems — fastidious, plainspoken, uniquely potent — in The New Yorker. She helped define what a New Yorker poem, in the best sense of that phrase, was. She was their gold standard. In turn the magazine helped define her.
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We will be reading and discussing Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry on September 28. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems thus far.

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A Possible Keats

Fleur Jaeggy
A Possible KeatsJohn Keats (1795-1821) was seven years old and in school at Enfield. He was seized by the spirit of the time, by a peculiar compulsion, an impetuous fury—before writing poetry. Any pretext seemed to him a good one for picking a fight with a friend, any pretext to fight.
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Fighting was to John Keats like eating or drinking. He sought out aggressive boys, cruel boys, but their company, as he was already inclined to poetry, must have provided some comic and burlesque treats. For mere brutality—without humor, make-believe, or whimsy—didn’t interest him. Which might lead a person to extrapolate that boys aren’t truly brutal. Yes, they are, but they have rules and an aesthetic. Keats was a child of action. He’d punched a yard monitor more than twice his size, and he was considered a strong boy, lively and argumentative. When he was brawling, his friend Clarke reports, Keats resembled Edmund Kean at theatrical heights of exasperation. His friends predicted a brilliant future for him in the military. Yet when his temper defused, he’d grow extremely calm, and his sweetness shone—with the same intensity as his rage had. The scent of angels. His earliest brushes with melancholy were suddenly disrupted by outbursts of nervous laughter. Moods, vague and tentative, didn’t settle over him so much as hurry past like old breezes.
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From These Possible Lives by Fleur Jaeggy, translated by Minna Zallman Proctor.

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The Invisible Poems Hidden in One of the World’s Oldest Libraries

A new technique is revealing traces of lost languages that have been erased from ancient parchments.
RICHARD GRAY
The Invisible Poems HiddenFor centuries they have gathered dust on the shelves of a library marooned in a rocky patch of Egyptian desert, their secrets lost in time. But now a collection of enigmatic manuscripts, carefully stored behind the walls of a 1,500-year-old monastery on the Sinai Peninsula, are giving up their treasures.

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The library at Saint Catherine’s Monastery is the oldest continually operating library in the world. Among its thousands of ancient parchments are at least 160 palimpsests—manuscripts that bear faint scratches and flecks of ink beneath more recent writing. These illegible marks are the only clues to words that were scraped away by the monastery’s monks between the 8th and 12th centuries to reuse the parchments. Some were written in long-lost languages that have almost entirely vanished from the historical record.
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But now these erased passages are reemerging from the past. In an unlikely collaboration between an Orthodox wing of the Christian faith and cutting-edge science, a small group of international researchers are using specialized imaging techniques that photograph the parchments with different colors of light from multiple angles. This technology allows the researchers to read the original texts for the first time since they were wiped away, revealing lost ancient poems and early religious texts and doubling the known vocabulary of languages that have not been used for more than 1,000 years.
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Good-Bye

Elizabeth Bishop [unpublished]
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Good-Bye-imageGood-Bye-text
Dated by Vassar “[1931–34]” (Vassar 64.3); published in
Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box. Due to the state of the manuscript, some words are barely legible (and are enclosed in slashes in the transcription). In line 4, Alice Quinn offers “curly”; in line 11, “you’re” has been read as “your”; no satisfactory interpretation of the word in line 13 has been found; in line 19, Quinn also offers “slick”; in line 20, Quinn offers “negotiate.”
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We will be reading and discussing the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop on September 28. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems thus far.

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ELIZABETH BISHOP’S MISUNDERSTOOD “BRAZIL”

By Benjamin Moser

ELIZABETH BISHOP_S MISUNDERSTOOD “BRAZIL”Half a century has passed since the Life World Library was launched, in 1961. Today, its volumes languish in Internet bookstores, begging for takers at less than a dollar. They are cheapened by their age, their association with the mass-market Time Life brand (“Mysteries of the Unknown,” “Home Repair and Improvement”) and its suburban, middle-brow readership, though that might be too strong a term: one wonders how many people actually read these picture books. But the Life World Library was once wildly popular, and not without ambition and quality, as the author of the volume on Brazil proves.
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This was no less than Elizabeth Bishop, who, by the time she came to write it, had been living in Brazil for a decade. Her eccentric aristocratic spouse, Lota de Macedo Soares, gave her entrée to the highest political and artistic circles: in the twentieth century, no foreign visitor of similar rank was as well-placed, or stayed as long (fifteen years). Because Brazil was everywhere in her work, and because the Life World Library contains her longest statement on the subject, the book has been granted a degree of scholarly attention seldom lavished on its fellows.
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Making it even more intriguing are the clouds of censorship that swirl above it. These are emphasized by Lloyd Schwartz, the editor of “Prose,” a collection of Bishop’s writing, which appeared last year. Bishop “famously disliked how the editors changed what she wrote,” Schwartz says. Moreover, her original final chapter was “completely different” from the published chapter, which “deals with what the United States and Brazil have in common, and in it she praises Brazil’s more effective way of dealing with issues of race.” Schwartz therefore chose to publish a version “taken mainly from her own typescript at Vassar.”
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We will be reading and discussing the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop on September 28. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for the list of featured poems thus far.

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