Everyone Sang – Siegfried Sassoon

Everyone Sang
Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on - on - and out of sight.
Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted; 
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away ... O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.
Siegfried Sassoon (1886 – 1967)

Yesterday was ‘Remembrance Day’ it also coincided with the easing in Canberra of the restrictions associated with the virus.

This well-known poem is all about freedom and release from war.

The first stanza highlights the immediacy of the release in a sudden outburst of joy. But there is a hint of the transient nature of this emotion with the disappearance of the birds in the last line of the stanza on – and out of sight.

The second stanza shows the joy to be short lived being counteracted by grief – and beauty came like the setting sun. And ends with the dramatic statement – and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done. The song being wordless; without meaning. Siegfried Sassoon remembers those that died in the war and those that are maimed and unable to join the celebration.

In similar fashion there is a degree of immediate relief at the easing of virus-restrictions counteracted by the unease that the virus is still a threat to life. And for those families that have lost members there is that on-going shadow to life. We are fortunate for currently there are no virus-related patients in Canberra hospitals.

Siegfried Sassoon on Wikipedia     

Ancient Egyptian Love Poems – John L Foster translator

Ancient Egyptian Love Poems – John L Foster translation

We explored some Egyptian Love Poems created 3,000 years ago at a recent U3A Poetry Appreciation session.

They were translated from the Ancient Egyptian by John L Foster from the book Love Songs of the New Kingdom (Charles Scribner’s Sons – New York 1974)

In 2003 the ABC Radio National program ‘Poetica’ explored this work … the summary text –
Four small collections of anonymous poems have survived from the New Kingdom of pharaonic Egypt. Written on papyri and a stone vase, they are approximately 3,000 years old, but John L Foster’s translations make them seem very contemporary, fresh and erotic. This program presents a selection of the poems accompanied by music from Michael Atherton and the Musicians of the Nile.

Here are two of the poems …

How clever my love with a lasso  

How clever my love with a lasso -  
she'll never need a kept bull!  
She lets fly the rope at me  
(from her dark hair),  
Draws me in with her comehither eyes,  
wrestles me down between her bent thighs,  
Branding me hers with her burning seal. 
(Cowgirl, the fire from those thighs!) 

… this example is quite contemporary … and makes that universal statement on how passionate love flows endlessly through the years

Your love, dear man, is as lovely to me 

Your love, dear man, is as lovely to me  
As sweet soothing oil to the limbs of the restless,  
as clean ritual robes to the flesh of gods,  
As fragrance of incense to one coming home 
It is like nipple-berries ripe in the hand,  
like the tang of grain-meal mingled with beer  
Like wine to the palate when taken with white bread.  
While unhurried days come and go,  
Let us turn to each other in quiet affection,  
walk in peace to the edge of old age.   
And I shall be with you each unhurried day,  
a woman given her one wish:      to see  
For a lifetime the face of her lord. 

… love, food wine nicely married … and oil is referenced so important in ancient times … and it does say something about the culture of the day and the place of woman in society … that very last word Lord … if it was changed to love it would remove the subservient nature

… but I do like the line – walk in peace to the edge of old age … taking quiet affectionate togetherness to the precipice … implying parting at death

It is interesting to see how love is articulated through the centuries in words. And the importance given to love by making it remembered by transcribing on material objects.

Canberra Can – Canberra Speaking

Canberra is speaking

Canberra and the beauty of Canberra is speaking loudly at this time of year! Canberra is such a fine city in so many ways apart from benefitting from the relatively low impact of the virus. I do hope those local readers can get out in the spring sunshine and enjoy the colour flush and associated return to warmer days. We have an abundance of recreational areas and nature parks. It raises the spirit no end; especially for those that have been confined at home! And isn’t it wonderful that the majority of those infected have recovered and are now able to get out and appreciate the change!

Here is an image from our garden of the crab-apple saying a white hello.

Unfortunately, the Australian media often uses ‘Canberra is speaking’ in a different context. I say unfortunately because those that have never experienced the delights of Canberra can have a coloured image associated by the political life of our city.

I wonder to what extent this stereotype is changing and how much people can Canberra in this way. It is in this light that I encourage the uninitiated to come see and for themselves in the following sonnet …

Canberra Can
Canberra can be quite annoying 
the polies are soul destroying
they come from a different place
to give our fine city a tainted face
please do not send rubbish here 
to rape their time in sex and beer
we care about our reputation!
we are the Capital of the Ozie nation!
so, peel off this superficial skin 
place firmly in the rubbish bin
and come to Canberra yourself to see
the abundancy of our city
then I am sure you will discover 
that this fair city is like no other!
Richard Scutter

For those readers outside Australia the unacceptable sexual behaviour by some politicians has come to the fore, including inappropriate behaviour and lack of respect for women generally. Interesting, the ‘Profumo / Christine Keeler Affair’ documentary has recently been on television. This was a major scandal in British Politics in the early sixties.

A Wife’s Protest – Ada Cambridge

A Wife’s Protest
1.

Like a white snowdrop in the spring
From child to girl I grew,
And thought no thought, and heard no word
That was not pure and true.

2.

And when I came to seventeen,
And life was fair and free,
A suitor, by my father's leave,
Was brought one day to me.

3.

“Make me the happiest man on earth,”
He whispered soft and low.
My mother told me it was right
I was too young to know.

4.

And then they twined my bridal wreath
And placed it on my brow.
It seems like fifty years ago —
And I am twenty now.

5.

My star, that barely rose, is set;
My day of hope is done —
My woman's life of love and joy —
Ere it has scarce begun.

6.

Hourly I die — I do not live —
Though still so young and strong.
No dumb brute from his brother brutes
Endures such wanton wrong.

7.

A smouldering shame consumes me now —
It poisons all my peace;
An inward torment of reproach
That never more will cease.

8.

O how my spirit shrinks and sinks
Ere yet the light is gone!
What creeping terrors chill my blood
As each black night draws on!

9.

I lay me down upon my bed,
A prisoner on the rack,
And suffer dumbly, as I must,
Till the kind day comes back.

10.

Listening from heavy hour to hour
To hear the church- clock toll —
A guiltless prostitute in flesh,
A murderess in soul.

11.

Those church- bells chimed the marriage chimes
When he was wed to me,
And they must knell a funeral knell
Ere I again am free.

12.

I did not hate him then; in faith
I vowed the vow “I will;”
Were I his mate, and not his slave,
I could perform it still.

13.

But, crushed in these relentless bonds
I blindly helped to tie,
With one way only for escape,
I pray that he may die.

14.

O to possess myself once more,
Myself so stained and maimed!
O to make pure these shuddering limbs
That loveless lust has shamed!

15.

But beauty cannot be restored
Where such a blight has been,
And all the rivers in the world
Can never wash me clean.

16.

I go to church; I go to court;
No breath of scandal flaws
The lustre of my fair repute;
For I obey the laws.

17.

My ragged sister of the street,
Marked for the world's disgrace,
Scarce dares to lift her sinful eyes
To the great lady's face.

18.

She hides in shadows as I pass —
On me the sunbeams shine;
Yet, in the sight of God, her stain
May be less black than mine.

19.

Maybe she gave her all for love,
And did not count the cost;
If so, her crown of womanhood
Was not ignobly lost.

20.

Maybe she wears those wretched rags,
And starves from door to door,
To keep her body for her own
Since it may love no more.

21.

If so, in spite of church and law,
She is more pure than I;
The latchet of those broken shoes
I am not fit to tie.

22.

That hungry baby at her breast —
Sign of her fallen state —
Nature, who would but mock at mine,
Has made legitimate.

23.

Poor little “love- child” — spurned and scorned,
Whom church and law disown,
Thou hadst thy birthright when the seed
Of thy small life was sown.

24.

O Nature, give no child to me,
Whom Love must ne'er embrace!
Thou knowest I could not bear to look
On its reproachful face.
Ada Cambridge (1844 – 1926)

This ballad style with alternating eight/six iambic syllable lines is typical of poems created in early Australia. Poetic structure was adhered to by the poets of the day. Why each stanza is numbered I do not know but this is how it is represented in her work on the Internet.

In much of her later writing a predominant theme was the proper basis of marital choice. Quite clearly this poem is a sad lamentation when that choice turns sour to the extent of slave proportions. And in stanza 15 we see there can be no restoration from such a predicament –

But beauty cannot be restored
Where such a blight has been,
And all the rivers in the world
Can never wash me clean.

I could not help feeling wounded inside at the likely fate of Afghanistan women and girls under the repressive Taliban regime. And doubt whether the strong sentiments expressed in this poem are in anyway an adequate expression of feelings.

Details of Ada Cambridge from the Australian Dictionary of Biography …Biography – Ada Cambridge – Australian Dictionary of Biography (anu.edu.au)

Ada Cambridge, later known as Ada Cross, was an English-born Australian writer. She wrote more than 25 works of fiction, three volumes of poetry and two autobiographical works. Many of her novels were serialised in Australian newspapers but never published in book form. While she was known to friends and family by her married name, Ada Cross, her newspaper readers knew her as A.C.

And on Wikipedia –   Ada Cambridge – Wikipedia

A Mother’s Answer – Louisa Lawson

A Mother’s Answer

You ask me, dear child, why thus sadly I weep
For baby the angels have taken to keep;
Altho’ she is safe, and for ever at rest,
A yearning to see her will rise in my breast.
I pray and endeavour to quell it in vain,
But stronger it comes and yet stronger again,
Till all the bright thoughts of her happier lot
Are lost in this one — my baby is not.
And while I thus yearn so intensely to see
This child that the angels are keeping for me,
I doubt for the time where her spirit has flown —
If the love e’en of angels can fully atone
For the loss of a mother’s, mysterious and deep.
I own that thought sinful, yet owning it — weep.

Louisa Lawson (1848 – 1920)

She was the mother of Henry Lawson and she bore five children. Henry Lawson is well known and his short stories on early Australian life are exemplary (refer to the collection – ‘While the Billy Boils’)

The passion exhibited in Louisa Lawson’s sonnet was due to the death of an infant daughter. This poem was published  in the Mudgee Independent and brought recognition to her poetic skill.

The first part of the sonnet stresses the inescapable loss, independent of any angels keeping her safe. Then there is a clear change at the volta; after the first eight lines. Atonement is not possible even the love of all the angels is insufficient. She regards her thought sinful, but it is only a thought. She is quite willing to own it; but it makes no difference. Nothing can appease her grief.

Louisa Lawson had a very hard life. She was a long-suffering bush-woman. After her husband Peter left, she worked tirelessly to secure income for the family. A very gifted person who was a prominent suffragette working for the emancipation of women. She setup the publication Dawn and used this to promote emancipation.

For full details on her life see – Biography – Louisa Lawson – Australian Dictionary of Biography (anu.edu.au)

And a link to Henry Lawson.

The Poetry Cat – Neva Kastelic – Comments

Matilda
The Poetry Cat
Janne's tabby cat sat not on the mat 
She preferred the top of the sofa back
She purred now and then, not often, though –
a brindled enigma, this cat in the know.
Sometimes I'd catch her watching us
her eyes open thin, with a look just
this side of smugness. Call that poetry?
Those marks on the page? Without trying
I could show you that the real poem is a body curled into herself then 
stretched out then curled in then arched high as the sky then curled
in and the sun on soft fur and a purr and a hiss and a shiver as the
shadow of the tenth life draws near
but I won't
She yawns with a smile, I think it's a smile 
Our sweet poetry cat. Was it a smile?
Neva Kastelic

If you read the context below you will see that the cat ‘Matilda’ is watching the work of a poetry workshop from her vantage point. In fact, she has been part of many of the sessions. Neva uses her presence as fuel for writing at the same time using her photographic skills to create this ekphrastic presentation. I do like the strength of eye intensity caught in the photograph.

The eye focus of the cat looking down on the writers marries so well with the smug arrogance of her words – ‘this side of smugness. Call that poetry’. And as she is a tabby with distinctive markings she is more special. Perhaps cats are naturally smug unlike dogs.

And Matilda is of course a very knowledgeable cat. She will tell you what poetry is all about with cat authority, if you care to listen. And words on paper, those markings, they are totally redundant stuff. The projection of her italic cat speech is all cat, as it should be, as any cat will tell you without hesitation – and that is true poetry.

And that inward cat smile, if it is there, is an appropriate end line, engaging a sense of subtle humour.

This had me thinking of the poem The Orange Tree – John Shaw Neilsen – Analysis | my word in your ear in which any attempt at description of an event destroys the appreciation of that event by removing focus.

Context –

Neva was one of five ladies associated with the University of the Third Age Poetry Appreciation group in Canberra. They met on a regular basis to workshop their poetry creations. The outcome of their deliberations was a book of poetry entitled ‘The Moorings’ (published by the Interactive Press, Brisbane).

‘Matilda’ was a tabby cat who sat in for many of the meetings. She used to climb up on the back of the couch to survey the proceedings after the visitors took her usual spot. So she was entitled to be a little indignant.

This poem is a very apt introduction piece to the book.

What I particularly like about this publication is the great variety of poetic form used across the selection of poems presented, including ekphrastic, journals, Japanese traditional structure, and the playing of shape in the visual representation of words.

My heart leaps up … Wordsworth – comments

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began,
So is it now I am a man
So be it when I grow old
  Or let me die!
The chid is father of the man
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

William Wordsworth (1770 - 1850)

When you see the word ‘behold’ you know it is vintage literature. But what a strong word; far greater than see or observe. You are instructed to hold in your mind and contemplate. You must be still and hold for awhile in deepest consideration. And perhaps this is very appropriate in today’s constant 24 by 7 business rush.

This is a clear statement that Wordworth’s religion was nature. And that if he could not appreciate nature then life is just not worth living.

I came across the line – the chid is father of the man when at school not knowing the context and not understanding the meaning. I could not see the child growing to become a man. And I definitely could not see a child as father to the man. It does enforce the natural progression of humanity and the importance of children.

William Wordsworth on Wikipedia

I was lucky to be in the right place for the following heart leap photo –

The rising of the moon at Glasshouse Rocks, Narooma NSW on 24 July 2021
caught between two rocks
out of the unknowing deep
her sorrowful face

‘Get Real Man’ – The Christmas Gift

Get Real Man

we are talking about God
the creator of the universe
we are talking about real power!
you have absolutely no idea man
beyond your understanding!

apart from making miracles happen
he showed us in like fashion that
even in the most horrendous injustice
he was here to support our lives
no matter the pain

what an unbelievable gift
isn’t it just wonderful -
that he came here, today, for you and me!
and that he is a little crazy,
get real man!

Richard Scutter Christmas 2020