May 11 2017

Morning with the Dead of North Dublin

Morning with the Dead of North Dublin

Some scattered thoughts:

I don’t know whether all boys have the same liking for horrors which I am conscious of having possessed—I only know that I liked the churchyard, and deciphering tombstones, and watching the labours of the sexton, and hearing the old world village talk that often got up over the relics.

–Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu,
The House by the Churchyard (1863), “Prologue”

 

The dead of Dublin #cemetery #Dublin

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On my first morning in Dublin,
I went to meet the dead.
On the day before Walpurgisnacht,
I heard rain fall on slabs on stone.
I smelled the grass of Glasnevin,
And from the cooing of pigeons nestled among the crypts
I heard the ghosts cry out.
The nearby magpies, meanwhile, seemed to mock me,
Or were they mocking the dead who dared reach out
And communicate with cowboy Chris?
De Valera is there, still stoic and serious,
And Michael Collins is still smiling as wide as the day he died.
And those who fell when famine came gave their thanks
By sending me sunny days in merry May
That made my journey all the more joyous.

Look about you, and say what is it you see that does not foretel famine—famine—famine! Doesn’t the dark wet day, an’ the rain, rain, rain, foretel it? Doesn’t the rotten’ crops, the unhealthy air, an’ the green damp foretel it? Doesn’t the sky without a sun, the heavy clouds, an’ the angry fire of the West, foretel it? Isn’t the airth a page of prophecy, an’ the sky a page of prophecy, where every man may read of famine, pestilence, an’ death? The airth is softened for the grave, an’ in the black clouds of heaven you may see the death-hearses movin’ slowly along—funeral afther funeral—funeral afther funeral—an’ nothing to folly them but lamentation an’ wo, by the widow an’ orphan—the fatherless, the motherless, an’ the childless—wo an’ lamentation—lamentation an’ wo.”

William Carleton,
The Black Prophet: a Tale of Irish Famine (1847), Ch. II.

 

Sun and rain among the dead, #Cemetery #Ireland #Dublin

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Apr 29 2017

Ireland in the Merry Month of May

Ireland in the Merry Month of May

Some final notes before I ship off to Dublintown:

The tourist busy season begins in May and reaches its peak in July and August.

On the mythology of May, starting with Robert Graves:

Five (V) was the number sacred to the Roman Moon-goddess Minerva. The month extends from April 15th to May 12th, and May Day, famous for its orgiastic revels and its magic dew, falls in the middle. It is possible that the carrying of sallow-willow branches on Palm Sunday, a variable feast which usually falls early in April, is a custom that properly belongs to the beginning of the willow month….[1]

The hawthorn, then, is the tree of enforced chastity. The month begins on May 13th, when the may is first in flower, and ends on June 9th. The ascetic use of the thorn, which corresponds with the cult of the Goddess Cardea must, however, be distinguished from its later orgiastic use which corresponds with the cult of the Goddess Flora, and which accounts for the English mediaeval habit of riding out on May Morning to pluck flowering hawthorn boughs and dance around the maypole. Hawthorn blossom has, for many men, a strong scent of female sexuality; which is why the Turks use a flowering branch as an erotic symbol. Mr. Cornish proves that this Flora cult was introduced into the British Isles in the late first-century B.C. by the second Belgic invaders; further, that the Glastonbury Thorn which flowered on Old Christmas Day (January 5th, New Style) and was cut down by the Puritans at the Revolution was a sport of the common hawthorn. The monks of Glastonbury perpetuated it and sanctified it with an improving tale about Joseph of Arimathea’s staff and the Crown of Thorns as a means of discouraging the orgiastic use of hawthorn blossom, which normally did not appear until May Day (Old Style)…. [2]

Christmas was merry in the middle ages, but May Day was still merrier. It was the time of beribboned Maypoles, of Collyridian cakes and ale, of wreaths and posies, of lovers’ gifts, of archery contests, of merritotters (see-saws) and merribowks (great vats of milk-punch). But particularly of mad-merry marriages ‘under the greenwood tree’, when the dancers from the Green went off, hand in hand, into the greenwood and built themselves little love-bowers and listened hopefully for the merry nightingale. ‘Mad Merry’ is another popular spelling of ‘Maid Marian’, and as an adjective became attached to the magician Merlin (the original ‘Old Moore’ of the popular almanacks) whose prophetic almanacks were hawked at fairs and merrimakes. Merlin was really Merddin, as Spenser explains in the Faerie Queene, but Robin Hood had taken his place as the May Bride’s lover, and he had become an old bearded prophet. The ‘merritotter’ is perhaps called after the scales (representing the Autumn equinox) in the hand of the Virgin in the Zodiac, who figured in the Mad Merry Merlin almanack: devoted readers naturally identified her with St. Mary Gipsy, for true-lovers’ fates tottered in her balance, see-sawing up and down….[3]

The main theme of poetry is, properly, the relations of man and woman, rather than those of man and man, as the Apollonian Classicists would have it. The true poet who goes to the tavern and pays the silver tribute to Blodeuwedd goes over the river to his death. As in the story of Llew Llaw: ‘All their discourse that night was concerning the affection and love that they felt one for the other and which in no longer space than one evening had arisen.’ This paradise lasts only from May Day to St. John’s Eve. Then the plot is hatched and the poisoned dart flies; and the poet knows that it must be so. For him there is no other woman but Cerridwen and he desires one thing above all else in the world: her love. As Blodeuwedd, she will gladly give him her love, but at only one price: his life. She will exact payment punctually and bloodily. Other women, other goddesses, are kinder-seeming. They sell their love at a reasonable rate—sometimes a man may even have it for the asking. But not Cerridwen: for with her love goes wisdom. And however bitterly and grossly the poet may rail against her in the hour of his humiliation—Catullus is the most familiar instance—he has been party to his own betrayal and has no just cause for complaint.[4]

From Frank O’Connor:

‘May Day’, so lovely that we have all tried our hand at translating it, exists only in one obscenely inaccurate transcript of which Kuno Meyer and Gerald Murphy have tried vainly to make linguistic sense. In spite of the fact that Meyer ascribed it to the ninth or early tenth century and Murphy to the eighth or ninth, I feel certain it was written by the author of the previous poem, scarcely earlier than the eleventh century, and that what Kenneth Jackson calls its ‘curious style’ is the deliberate archaism of an excellent scholar, who not only played with new metres, but omitted definite articles and the conjunction ocus.

Gairt cuí cruaid den
‘Is fochen sam saír!’
Suidid sine serb
I mbí cerb caill chraíb.

Cerbaid sam sruth snuad;
Saigid graig luath linn;
Lethaid fat fraích folt;
For-beir gort fann finn.

Fubair os scéith sciach;
Im-reith réid rian rith;
Cuirithir suan sál;
Tuigithir bláth bith.

Berait beich bec nert
Bert bonn bochtai bláth
Berid slabrai sliab,
Feraid seng sian sáith.

Seinm crot, caille ceol
Co ngrenn seol síd slán;
Sethair den do dinn;
Dethaid loch linn lád.

O’Connor’s translation:

The harsh, sturdy cuckoo calls, ‘Welcome, beautiful summer.’ The expanse of the heather’s hair spreads and the pale weak corn thrives.

The budding of the hawthorn threatens the deer; the sea tide runs smoothly; the sea goes to sleep and blossom covers the earth.

Bees of small strength carry a load of plucked blossom; the mountain sustains the cattle; the lean one sings a song of plenty.

The music of the wood is like harp-playing, a perfect peace of melody. The house is cleared of garbage, the flooded pool drops. [5]

From Jeffrey Gantz:

The first day of May, called Beltene, marked the beginning of summer; this feast has since given rise to May Eve[,] Walpurgisnacht and May Day. Beltene was a less important day, and consequently, less information about it has survived; the name seems to mean ‘fire of Bel’ (Bel presumably being the Irish descendant of the continental god Belenos) or ‘bright fire’, and there is a tradition that cattle were driven between two fires on this day so that the smoke would purify them. In any case, the rites of Beltene were probably directed towards ensuring the fertility of land and stock. The Welsh hero Pryderi is born on the first of May, and this fact coupled with the unusual circumstances of his birth (the concurrent birth of colts, the otherworld visitor) suggests that Beltene was also a day when the real and the fantastic merged.[6]

Owen Barfield on why the month of May is always “merry”:

Thus, when a Roman spoke of events as auspicious or sinister, or when some natural object was said in the Middle Ages to be baleful, or benign, or malign, a herb to possess such and such a virtue, an eye to be evil, or the bones of a saint to be holy, or even, probably, when Gower wrote:

The day was merry and fair enough,

it is true that these things were described from the human point of view, but the activity was felt to emanate from the object itself.[7]

Some May miscellany:

‘And now, Sally, I’m safe in bed. Stir the fire, my old darling.’ For although it was the first week in May, the night was frosty. ‘And tell me all about the Tiled House again, and frighten me out of my wits.’[8]

A shaven space of lawn one soft May evening. [9]

When I answered that I did not know, she said, “the month of May, because of the Virgin, and the lily of the valley, because it never sinned, but came pure out of the rocks,” and then she asked, “what is the cause of the three cold months of winter?”[10]

NOTES

[1] Graves, White Goddess – A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth. 1948. NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Second Edition. 1975. p. 174.

[2] Graves, White Goddess – A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth 175–76.

[3] Graves, White Goddess – A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth 398.

[4] Graves, White Goddess – A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth 447–48.

[5] O’Connor, (A Short History of Irish Literature: a Backward Look. NY: Viking. 1967. pp. 77–78.

[6] Gantz, Jeffrey. Early Irish Myths and Sagas. NY: Penguin. 1981. 1988. “Introduction” 13.

[7] Barfield, Owen. History in English Words. NY: George H. Doran Co. 1926. p. 159.

[8] Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan. The House by the Churchyard. London: Tinsley, Brothers. 1863. Reprint. Dublin: James Duffey. 1904. “Chapter XI – Some talk about the haunted house—being, as I suppose, only old woman’s tales,” 54.

[9] Joyce, Ulysses. 1922. Random House: NY. 1946. XIV [“Oxen of the Sun”] 414.

[10] Yeats, The Celtic Twilight. 1893. “Happy and Unhappy Theologians.”


Apr 28 2017

Touring Ireland in the 1720s and 1860s

Touring Ireland in the 1720s and 1860s

First from Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) writing in the 1720s:

Nothing hath humbled me so much or shown a greater disposition to a contemptuous treatment of Ireland in some Ministers, than that high style of several speeches from the throne, delivered, as usual, after the royal assent, in some periods of the two last reigns. Such high exaggerations of the prodigious condescensions in the prince, to pass those good laws, would have but an odd sound at Westminster….

From whence it is clear, that some ministries in those times were apt, from their high elevation, to look down upon this kingdom as if it had been one of their colonies of outcasts in America….

Whoever travels in this country, and observes the face of nature or the faces, and habits, and dwellings of the natives, will  hardly think himself in a land where either law, religion, or common humanity is professed….[1]

For suppose you go to an ALEHOUSE with that base money, and the landlord gives you a quart for four of these HALFPENCE, what must the victualler do? His BREWER will not be paid in that coin, or if the BREWER should be such a fool, the farmers will not take it from them for their bere, because they are bound by their leases to pay their rents in good and lawful money of England, which this is not, nor of Ireland neither, and the ’squire their landlord will never be so bewitched to take such trash for his land; so that it must certainly stop somewhere or other, and wherever it stops it is the same thing, and we are all undone.[2]

To me, the Esau reference below makes no sense unless Swift is being hyper-ironic:

A people long used to hardships lose by degrees the very notions of liberty; they look upon themselves as creatures at mercy, and that all impositions laid on them by a stronger hand, are, in the phrase of the Report, legal and obligatory. Hence proceeds that poverty and lowness of spirit, to which a kingdom may be subject as well as a particular person. And when Esau came fainting from the field at the point to die, it is no wonder that he sold his birthright for a mess of pottage….

I entreat you, my dear countrymen, not to be under the least concern upon these and like rumours, which are no more than the last howls of a dog dissected alive, as I hope he hath sufficiently been….[3]

The gentleman they have lately made primate would never quit his seat in an English House of Lords, and his preferments at Oxford and Bristol, worth twelves hundred pounds a year, for four times the denomination here, but not half the value; therefore I expect to hear he will be as good an Irishman, upon this article, as any of his brethren, or even of us who have had the misfortune to be born in this island….[4]

This is an Irish Holyday when our Scoundrels will not work, else perhaps my Letter would have been shorter. [5]

As when some writer in a public cause
His pen, to save a sinking nation, draws,
While all is calm, his arguments prevail;
The people’s voice expand his paper sail:
Till pow’r, discharging all her stormy bags,
Flutters the feeble pamphlet into rags.
The nation scared, the author doom’d to death,
Who fondly put his trust in pop’lar breath….

Beware, and when you hear the surges roar,
Avoid the rocks on Britain’s angry shore.
They lie, alas, too easy to be found;
For thee alone they lie the island round.[6]

A generation after the 1720s on finds remarks on traveling in Ireland from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) in James Boswell’s (1740-1795) Life of Johnson (1791):

Boswell. “Pray, Mr. Dilly, how does Dr. Leland’s History of Ireland sell?” Johnson (bursting forth with a generous indignation). “The Irish are in a most unnatural state; for we see there the minority prevailing over the majority. There is no instance, even in the ten persecutions, of such severity as that which the protestants of Ireland have exercised against the Catholicks. Did we tell them we have conquered them, it would be above board: to punish them by confiscation and other penalties, as rebels, was monstrous injustice. King William was not their lawful sovereign: he had not been acknowledged by the parliament of Ireland when they appeared in arms against him….”[7]

He [Johnson], I know not why, shewed upon all occasions an aversion to go to Ireland, where I proposed to him that we should make a tour. JOHNSON. ‘It is the last place where I should wish to travel.’ BOSWELL. ‘Should you not like to see Dublin, Sir?’ JOHNSON. ‘No, Sir. Dublin is only a worse capital.’ Boswell. ‘Is not the Giant’s-Causeway worth seeing?’ JOHNSON. ‘Worth seeing? yes; but not worth going to see.’

Yet he had a kindness for the Irish nation, and thus generously expressed himself to a gentleman from that country, on the subject of an UNION which artful Politicians have often had in view—‘Do not make an union with us, Sir. We should unite with you, only to rob you. We should have robbed the Scotch, if they had had any thing of which we could have robbed them….’[8]

[Johnson said] ‘Hospitality to strangers and foreigners in our country is now almost at an end, since, from the increase of them that come to us, there have been a sufficient number of people that have found an interest in providing inns and proper accommodations, which is in general a more expedient method for the entertainment of travellers. Where the travellers and strangers are few, more of that hospitality subsists, as it has not been worth while to provide places of accommodation. In Ireland there is still hospitality to strangers, in some degree; in Hungary and Poland probably more.’[9]

And from Joseph Le Fanu (1814-1873) on traveling in Ireland in the 1860s:

I don’t apologise to my readers, English-born and bred, for assuming them to be acquainted with the chief features of the ‘Phœnix Park, near Dublin. Irish scenery is now as accessible as Welsh. Let them study the old problem, not in blue books, but in the green and brown ones of our fields and heaths, and mountains. If Ireland be no more than a great capability and a beautiful landscape, faintly visible in the blue haze, even from your own headlands, and separated by hardly four hours of water, and a ten-shilling fare, from your jetties, it is your own shame, not ours, if a nation of bold speculators and indefatigable tourists leave it unexplored. [10]

NOTES

[1] Swift, Jonathan. “A Proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufacture, in Clothes and Furniture of Houses, &c.” 1720? Edited with an introduction and notes by Angus Ross and David Woolley. Oxford World Classics.1984. Revised 2003. pp. 404–05.

bere: (OE or ME) clamour, outcry, shouting, roaring; the noise of voices of men or animals.

victualler: a purveyor of victuals or provisions; spec. one who makes a business of providing food and drink for payment; a keeper of an eating-house, inn, or tavern; a licensed victualler.

[2] Swift, “[Drapier’s Letters I] A Letter to the Shop-Keepers, Tradesmen, Farmers, and Common-People in General, of the Kingdom of Ireland.” 1724. Jonathan Swift – Major Works. 424–25.

[3] Swift, “[Drapier’s Letters IV] A Letter to the Whole People of Ireland.” 1724. Jonathan Swift – Major Works. 434–35.

[4] Swift, “[Drapier’s Letters IV] A Letter to the Whole People of Ireland.” 1724. Jonathan Swift – Major Works. 434–35.

[5] Swift, “Swift to Charles Ford, August 16, 1725.” Jonathan Swift – Major Works. 467.

[6] Swift, “Horace, Book I, Ode xvi, Paraphrased and Inscribed to Ireland.” 1724. Jonathan Swift – Major Works. 461, 462.

[7] Boswell, Life of Johnson, ÆTAT 64, May 1773, p. 397.

[8] Boswell, Life of Johnson, ÆTAT 70, October 1779, p. 744.

[9] Boswell, Life of Johnson, ÆTAT 71, 1780, p. 772.

[10] Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan. The House by the Churchyard. London: Tinsley, Brothers. 1863. Reprint. Dublin: James Duffey. 1904. “Chapter XVI – The Ordeal by Battle,” 74.


Apr 25 2017

Gloria: The Difference Between Northern Ireland & the Republic

Gloria: The Difference Between Northern Ireland & the Republic

*

Northern Ireland’s “Gloria” (1967):

Republic of Ireland’s “Gloria” (1981):

Compare Joseph Le Fanu (1814-1873):

And so he went on; and she was more silent and more a listener than usual. I don’t know all that was passing in pretty Lilias’s fancy—in her heart—near the hum of the waters and the spell of that musical voice. Love speaks in allegories and a language of signs; looks and tones tell his tale most truly. So Devereux’s talk held her for a while in a sort of trance, melancholy and delightful. There must be, of course, the affinity—the rapport—the what you please to call it—to begin with—it matters not how faint and slender; and then the spell steals on and grows. See how the poor little woodbine, or the jessamine, or the vine, will lean towards the rugged elm, appointed by Virgil, in his epic of husbandry (I mean no pun) for their natural support—the elm, you know it hath been said, is the gentleman of the forest:—see all the little tendrils turn his way silently, and cling, and long years after, maybe, clothe the broken and blighted tree with a fragrance and beauty not its own. Those feeble feminine plants, are, it sometimes seems to me, the strength and perfection of creation—strength perfected in weakness; the ivy, green among the snows of winter, and clasping together in its true embrace the loveless ruin; and the vine that maketh glad the heart of man amidst the miseries of life. I must not be mistaken, though, for Devereux’s talk was only a tender sort of trifling, and Lilias had said nothing to encourage him to risk more; but she now felt sure that Devereux liked her—that, indeed, he took a deep interest in her—and somehow she was happy. [1]

Compare (American) Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882):

Thus long I have been in Cambridge this term (three of four weeks) & have not before this moment paid my deviors to the Gnomes to whom I dedicated this quaint & heterogeneous manuscript. Is it because matter has been wanting—no—I have written much elsewhere in prose, poetry, & miscellany—let me put the most favourable construction on the case & say that I have been better employed. Beside considerable attention however unsuccessful to college studies I have finished Bisset’s Life of Burke as well as Burke’s regicide Peace together with considerable variety of desultory reading generally speaking highly entertaining & instructive. The Pythologian Poem does not proceed very rapidly though I have experienced some poetic moments. Could I seat myself in the alcove of one of those public libraries which human pride & literary rivalship have made costly, splendid, & magnificent it would indeed be an enviable situation. I would plunge into the classic lore of chivalrous story & of the fairy-land bards & unclosing the ponderous volumes of the firmest believers in magic & in the potency of consecrated crosier or elfin ring I would let my soul sail away delighted in to their wildest phantasies. Pendragon is rising before my fancy & has given me permission to wander in his walks of Fairy-land & to present myself at the bower of Gloriana. I stand in the fair assembly of the chosen; the brave & the beautiful; honour & virtue, courage & delicacy are mingling in magnificent joy. Unstained knighthood is sheathing the successful blade in the presence of unstained chastity. And the festal jubilee of Fairy land is announced by the tinkling of its silver bells. The halls & beauty. The birds partake & magnify the happiness of the green-wood shades. & the music of the harp comes swelling on the gay breezes. Or other views more real[,] scarcely less beautiful should attract, enchain me. All the stores of Grecian & Roman literature may be unlocked & fully displayed—or with the Indian enchanters send my soul up to wander among the stars till “the twilight of the gods[.]”[2]

NOTES

[1] Le Fanu, The House by the Churchyard, “Chapter XXIV – In Which Two Young Persons Understand one another Better, perhaps, than ever They did Before, without Saying So,” 115–16.

[2] Emerson, Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks. Cambridge, Belknap Press of Harvard UP. 1960-82. Vol. I, March 11, 1820, pp. 10–11.