essay/commentary

The Poet Idris Davies (1905 – 1953)

Idris Davies memorial

Memorial to Poet Idris Davies

id dav

An introduction to his life and work by Byron Beynon

Travel north-eastwards from Swansea, along the A465, away from Dylan’s “ugly, lovely town”, on through the watchful Vale of Neath, by-pass the lyrical place names of Glynneath, Hirwaun, Cefn-coed-y-cymmer, and Merthyr Tydfil, continue until you turn onto the A469, follow it to the small town of Rhymney. Founded during the nineteenth century on iron and coal, it was by the early 1900s employing thousands of workers in the town’s collieries. It was there in 1905 the poet Idris Davies was born, and by the time he died in 1953 his poetry was respected and read by some of the most influential and distinguished poets of the twentieth century.

TS Eliot published Davies at Faber& Faber, writing about his work he noted “that they are the best poetic document I know about a particular epoch in a particular place, and I think that they really have a claim to permanence…….   There is great integrity, I think, about his work, and his subject-matter is something that he knew from A to Z. If all poets knew their proper material as he did, there would be less futile verse in the world.”

WB Yeats, writing to Vernon Watkins in March 1938 wanted Davies’ poem “William Morris” set to music. He had read the poem in the magazine “Wales” during the autumn of 1937, and went on to say “If I were a millionaire I would pay somebody to set it to music and whenever I was visited by any person who knew Morris I would pay somebody to sing it to us.”

In January 1946, Dylan Thomas, in a radio broadcast on the BBC Eastern Service, and produced by John Arlott, read Davies’ poem “The Bells of Rhymney”, in a programme  entitled “Welsh Poets”. Many years later the iconic American folk-singer Pete Seeger  would set this poem to music, it was also recorded by the 1960s’ group The Byrds, by Judy Collins, The Alarm, and many others.

By 1973, Philip Larkin, as editor of “The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century Verse”   included two of Davies’ poems, “The Lay Preacher Ponders” and “High Summer on the Mountains” in the anthology. Since the early 1970s Gomer Press has brought out several editions of Idris Davies’ Collected Poems, keeping his work alive and available to the discerning reader. It is easy to understand why, the work is humane, dramatic, lyrical, sophisticated with a deceptive strength and a clear sense of rhythm.

In a robust introduction to the 2003 edition, Jim Perrin claimed that Davies is “ the most significant and original Welsh poet to have written in English during the twentieth  century”. Perrin considers Davies’ two long poems “Gwalia Deserta” and “The Angry Summer” as being “among the most considerable achievements in Anglo-Welsh poetry, and fully worthy of inclusion alongside other great twentieth century long poems from marginalised cultures: Patrick Kavanagh’s “The Great Hunger”, Hugh MacDiarmid’s “A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle”, Sorley MacLean’s The Cuillin”. “

Davies had left school at 14, worked first as a miner and was introduced to the poems of Shelley by a fellow-worker named Eddie Balman. He became acutely aware of social and political issues: “But the greatest of our battles/we lost in’26/ Through treachery and lying,/And Baldwin’s box of tricks./ I began to read from Shelley/ In afternoons in May,/ And to muse upon the misery/ Of unemployment pay.” (from his poem I was Born in Rhymney). 1926 was a crucial year for Davies, the year of the General Strike and the Great Coal Strike, a long period in the mining villages of South Wales of privation and suffering. He later wrote “Do you remember 1926? That summer of soups and speeches,/ The sunlight on the idle wheels and the deserted crossings,/ And the laughter and the cursing in the moonlit streets?” (from Gwalia Deserta).

He eventually escaped the mines and attended Loughborough College and the University of Nottingham, and by the end of 1932 had qualified as a teacher. He would teach in London for several years. In 1940 he lodged at 28 Haselmere Road, Crouch End, teaching at Hoxton. He kept a diary and wrote about the blitz- “Sept, 8. Sunday  11.45am ……. perhaps one of the worst nights London has ever known. About 500 Nazi planes bombed London’s dockland in the Eastern area, doing considerable damage and killing about 400 people, and injuring many more. A big fire blazed along the river for hours and the London sky was wonderfully lit-up.”The next day he wrote “I travelled by tube this morning……I have seen a good deal of damage today, most of it round Old Street Station. There’s a big crater in the street, and the Maternity Hospital at the corner was hit….Hoxton has suffered severely from the raids of the last three nights. Crouch End, so far, has escaped any severe damage,”

The writer Glyn Jones, a friend of Davies, wrote an essay about him in 1968, stating that “ He became a great lover of London, of Hampstead Heath, of Epping Forest and especially of the Charing Cross area with its second-hand bookshops. And he got to know many Welshmen then living in the capital, including Aneirin Talfan Davies, Keidrych Rhys and Dylan Thomas, whom he used to meet on Friday evenings.” Welsh writers frequented Griff’s Bookshop in Cecil Court, and in the early forties and early fifties it was kept by a man named William Griffith, who kept a representative stock of Welsh and Anglo-Welsh publications.

In 1938 Dent published his volume “Gwalia Deserta”, the first of four published volumes (the next three would be published by Eliot at Faber). During the period 1939-1945, he was evacuated several times with schools from London to Northamptonshire,   Hertfordshire, and to Wales. It was during this time that he wrote “The Angry Summer”, a poem of 1926, expressing his feelings for his people and what they had endured. This long poem of 50 sections, along with”Gwalia Deserta” (36 sections), and his autobiographical poem “I was Born in Rhymney” plus several shorter poems such as “Waun Fair”, “Capel Calvin”, “Rhymney”, “London Welsh”, “Midnight”, “Hywel and Blodwen”, do I believe have that claim to permanence which Eliot noted.

By the early 1950’s he became seriously ill with cancer, and just a month before his death his Selected Poems was published by Eliot in March 1953. Eliot had already published Davies’ “The Angry Summer” (1943), and “Tonypandy and other poems” (1945). Idris Davies died at his mother’s house in Victoria Road, Rhymney in April 1953. Today there are no mines to employ the workers, time has brought many changes, but Davies’ “poetic document” remains. There is a plaque on the house in his memory, and opposite there’s the library which also remembers him with a plaque,and a display of some of his books, pens, photographs and the family Bible. Here then was a poet who had compassion for the plight of the people he had been brought up with, a poet to echo Eliot, who knew his subject matter.

In late 2016 Faber & Faber published “The Map and the Clock: A Laureate’s Choice of Poetry of Britain and Ireland” edited by Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke, which includes two of Idris Davies’ poems “The Bells of Rhymney” (poem xv from Gwalia Deserta) and “Mrs Evans fach” (poem 7 from The Angry Summer). His poetry is direct, it sings, and continues to be read and appreciated into the 21st century.

For further reading and sources on Idris Davies:

The Complete Poems of Idris Davies edited by Dafydd Johnston (University of Wales Press 1994)

Collected Poems   (Gomer 2003)

The Dragon Has Two Tongues essays by Glyn Jones  (Dent 1968)

Idris Davies of Rhymney a personal memoir by Islwyn Jenkins (Gomer 1986)

Poetry Wales – Idris Davies Special Issue (1981)

 

Byron Beynon 2014

Byron Beynon lives in West Wales. His work has appeared in several publications including North of Oxford, Third Wednesday, Poetry Ireland, Chiron Review, London Magazine, Crannog and the human rights anthology In Protest (University of London and Keats House Poets). A former co-editor of Roundyhouse poetry magazine.  Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press), Nocturne In Blue (Lapwing Publications) and The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions)

Advertisements

William Sansom—Poetic Stylist

PLEASURES

PLEASURES STRANGE AND SIMPLE

By Ray Greenblatt

We find poetry in the damnedest places. Sometimes in a TV ad; perhaps a bit of doggerel, but fresh in its context. Sometimes a phrase leaping from a letter we have written; surprising ourselves with this unconscious creativity. William Sansom (1912-1976) was primarily a fiction writer, penning articles probably for monetary supplement in numerous periodicals. However, this essay form reveals a deep poetic vein in his writing. His novels have fallen out of favor, but this collection of prose should be revisited.

Pleasures Strange and Simple covers a very broad gamut of topics. Sansom writes about: Henri Rousseau (Sansom also was a painter), nudism, restaurants, pets (from a glow-worm to a tarantula), tight-rope walkers, faces, Poe, dancing (Sansom was a jazz pianist), etc. Let us examine some of these twenty-three topics.

                           FROM ST. PETERSBURG TO COPENHAGEN BY TUNNEL

          Sansom explores a London train station, although the title of this essay is cryptic. He explains that Russian horses were trained for the World’s Fair near one of the station tunnels; near another tunnel stood a house owned by the King of Denmark, thus the names for the areas stuck. Here are the tracks: “Iron poles like the standards of ancient battles announce speed limits with mysterious metal numerals. Signals flap like tired high-stepping birds. Disc-signs dot the line like a scarlet fungus growth. Black engines glide like skaters on mysterious errands obliquely over a great iron-meshed rink. On wet days these move through low-pressed clouds of their own smoke and steam with the purposeless going and coming, the sense of haunted quest, of doomed despondent phantoms.” (45)

In that passage alone we can observe so many poetic qualities: varied rhythms (fitting for an oncoming train), series, alliteration, rhyme, and generally quite vivid word usage. Here we are inside a tunnel: “Half-way along the flint-track the rail raises its voice to remark, in dull embery lights, that no one should shunt past that point. At the needle-point ends of the tunnel, light still shows—but dull gold light, or light of fiery red, as the faraway daylight refracts at mid-day a strange sunset of distant smokes and steams.” (43)

In a tunnel recess Sansom watches: “Looking out from them the great iron engine pounding down seems more animated than usual, smoke and fire-glow give it life, it looks a little mad like a monstrous runaway horse or some vast and lively piece of furniture seen by a child in a dream. At a busy time of day a man can be trapped for as long as an hour or more in such safety vents with traffic continually passing and belching the blackening, sickening, throttling smoke.” (44) Again his metaphors are striking and his use of triplets powerful. He can, likewise, relate to a child’s view of the world.

                                                        IN THE MIDST OF LIFE

          Sansom contends that many people think life a touch boring, but accidents can befall a person at any time to overturn such complacency. He examines some who are already nervous about life: “Those who can never enter a lift unless their hearts, creaking like the tender cables that raise them, drop to their boots.” (58) But what about the following episodes: “Watching the light make a chandelier of sun-flashed icicles along the eaves, rejoicing in this new warmth and the great benison of the thaw. But you might not notice the long, heavy and sharply-pointed bull-icicle hanging like a glass dagger several storeys exactly above your own head.” (59)

We can observe Sansom’s lightness and ironic humor in this essay. Here is another possible mishap concerning a stack of barrels: ”A whisper of a lurch, a shifting creak, the dribble of a roll that informs those packed against it and stacked above. And then, as if a nervous message has shivered through the flanks of the herd, as if an instinctual urge for migration has galvanised the great colloquy—all the huge, heavy, headless mass of wood comes rolling down and onwards with the vertigo of a mighty, lumbering, thundering tidal wave.” (60) His choice of “sound” words (onomatopoeia) add to the emotion.

                                                      THREE INSECTS

          The tongue-in-cheek humor continues in this essay. First about a moth and a flame: “Its black eyes gazed fervently into the yellow fire above. It stared up at the yellow fire that had already burned off its foremost antennas with black eyes fixed in deep fanatical understanding. Slender whitish legs clasped the black wick, like hands wrung in prayer. And its wings! Its wings flowed downwards like a knight’s mantle, clasped high, spreading bravely over the armour of its body down to the platform of pale candle grease.” (173) A bit gruesome but very minute observation.

Now a beetle: “Beneath lay a rock pool. A new world of water, alien to the beetle, where strange drowned hairs waved, where shells slept, where perhaps the only movement was a slight bubbling of sand as a limpet thrust out its blind, toeless foot and dragged itself one, only one, pace forward. The beetle paused above this new world. Its feelers waved at the gleaming water. It tasted fresh enchantments, it savoured the grand limitless vista of new ground, new life, horizonless possibilities, space.” (175)

Notice the effectiveness of personification where the insect seems to display the sensibilities of a human. Finally a fly in a bathtub: “What a huge world confronted this little black pegasus in motor goggles! What vast tracks of smooth enamel, what complexities of mountain and valley lay bare to its exploring eye. What irregular pipe strata, what phenomena of taps and hooks, what chains and bowls and baskets and pipes, pipes, pipes—each a giant’s causeway for the small inquisitive visitor.” (177) As in a ballad the repetition builds the tension.

                                              TO SOUTHEND ON AN EAGLE

          In summer a Londoner takes a boat, the Eagle, down the Thames River for a day at the shore in Southend. “Warehouses and factories slipped backwards by. The sundecks were packed with a perplexity of chairs, now claimed with battling ardour and set out in rows facing the water-view.” (180) “Slipped backwards by” is unique phrasing that catches the ear as well as eye.

As time went on: “To the wide open sunlight that on this day shone hot through thin-veiled cloud, putting a curious grey sparkle on the water, grey-gilding everything, giving an air of misted dream to what on that broad river was in reality a strange industrial water-idyll.” (181)

At Southend entertainment of all sorts awaits: “The gentle Ferris Wheel, distorting mirrors and dark places wild with winds and skeletons. Or a deckchair on the beach. Or the beach without a deckchair. Or a stalk round the stalls and stands and the sea-food sellers’ and the ice-creameries and those most magical booths that sell vast globes of electric pink sugar floss.” (184) Again the use of “and” stresses the plethora of delights.

                                                  THROUGH A GLASS LIGHTLY

          Sansom recalls the mood glass set for him at an early age: “Grey light, grey and bright but never precisely clear, never exactly alive—as though the finest pale veil has been drawn across the eyes, as though indeed one is for a moment standing within the dead time of the past itself. And this becomes doubly mysterious—for this light was itself the past’s own light, our present illusion was then its actuality, this is no dust of bones; what is was.” (51)

Glass conditioned the light in London: “In such avenues of dolorous bluish glass it seemed to rain the whole year round. In the sunniest days an underwater gloom persisted. Leaving the front-door one stood for a moment startled—questioning the polished mosaic path for a bloom of moisture, the laurels for a slow dripping, the cast-iron tracery above for a glimpse of dark rainclouds in a sky that proved itself to be blue, almost, as the jealous panes that guarded it.” (53)

Many glass conservatories were erected: “Then bellying, jellying from back or side came the Conservatory. A soundless, breathless wilderness of pots and palms and wicker chairs. Sometimes a tinted frieze decorated the upper windows—red or yellow or purple as the hind-window of a tram. Sometimes the ironwork curled in a tasteful floral design from each supporting pillar.” (54)

Arcades soon appeared: “Arcades are one of the thoroughly useful things that also give pleasure. But why pleasure? It is very mysterious. Is it the sense that this is private property, a sense of pleasant intrusion? Or is it an animal, or even a womby, instinct for enclosure—the more exquisite for a kind of daylight filtering through, the hunter’s day and the safety of the lair at one and the same time?” (56) Not only does Sansom philosophize but he also shares English cultural history.

                                MY FIRST FIRE – FROM A FIREMAN’S JOURNAL

          William Sansom became a fireman in London during World War Two; thus, he gives more space to these adventures in this collection of essays. Their firehouse is so proud to get a new fire engine:  “So on that afternoon instantly all such men raced for their scrim and brasso, and then for an hour the great lady could hardly be seen for the massing of elbows—boney elbows, dimpled elbows, elbows high and short fat elbows, greased elbows all pistoning up and down like the limbs of worker-ants pushing and tugging at an enormous and bemused queen.” (187)

He gets inside the engine: “At any hour of the day you could—if you dared—raise her bonnet and see the bristles of your beard in the gleaming copper engine pipes. That petrol-engine became a masterpiece of artisan artcraft—gay as a Birmingham barge. Its bulk was blackleaded to a pewter brilliance, its little pipes of copper and brass polished until they ran like sparks. Its fan was lacquered scarlet, and everywhere there had been painted little bands of garden-roller green.” (187)

This is how a fire looks: “The coppery-red reflection of fire in the sky and on every building everywhere. This colour has the same enervating constancy as the smell of a fire. This too is solid, unwavering. After several hours it nauseates the eyes. It is live colour, the colour of a living element, it cannot grow dim and neutral with familiarity. It glares and sickens all the time. Every window, every brick, every tile, every block of stone, reflects this vivid colour force. There is just the coppery-red and the black shadows and no other colour.” (191)

In the previous paragraph he had hinted at the odor of fire: “A hundred other stores and factories each cook the firemen their own sweet dishes . . . a sugar factory—acres of boiling sweet molasses . . . a paint factory—and the poisonous fumes of blistered chemicals . . . a rubber depository . . . a toffee warehouse.” (193)

The look of a burning house: “It was a blue, moonlit night and the flames blazed orange. The house stood dark and detached in its own garden of trees and shrubbery walls. It was all dark up to the top two floors and there the bright fire suddenly began. Windows sprang to life. And above, through broken rafters, the flames curled out nakedly into the night. A hail of sparks and small embers eddied round the chimneys and false turrets.  The house looked like a miniature castle on fire, a pyrotechnic display piece, the kind of fire you would find drawn in a children’s fairy book.” (193)

He looks for his fellow firemen in the house; when he glances them it resembles a tableau painting: “Then I saw them. The fireglow from the room flickered over their silver buttons and over the water on their faces and helmets and leggings. Their faces were black, like sweeps’ faces, with white eye-rings and pink rings round their mouths. They were all clustered round the nozzle of the hose, leaning forward against the recoil of water pressure, heads bent down to protect their faces from the singeing heat, swaying from side to side as they swept the room with a thundering broom of white water.” (197) A suitable way, I think, to end a discussion by a writer who was also an artist.

Let us hope that William Sansom’s novels will be rediscovered in the near future. During his lifetime he never published even one book of poetry!

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Pleasures-Strange-Simple-Sansom-William/dp/B0000CIGGJ

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018.

 

Gathering View by Jack C. Buck

gathering-view-31

By Stephen Page

A couple of years ago I traveled with my wife to my home state Michigan, north of the city of Detroit. We were to stay there during the last week of March and the first week of April. The last few times I went to Michigan it was either in June, August, or October. And even though I grew up in Michigan, I had not been to Michigan in March or April in quite some time. I packed a couple of cotton sweaters and a rad waxed-cotton motorcycle-style jacket with a picture of Steve McQueen imprinted on the lining. It had no snap-in wool lining and I thought that I would not need it.  After all, March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Right? As the plane carrying me and my wife was descending for a landing in Detroit Metropolitan Airport, we looked out the fuselage window and saw what looked like at least three inches of snow on the ground. The pilot came on the air and announced that the wind chill was 5 degrees Fahrenheit. I looked at my wife.

The shuttle bus drove us to a car rental and we chose to pay for a mid-size car.  The cashier told us we would get a Ventura.  We stood outside shivering, clenching our teeth, hugging each other while we waited for the valet to arrive with the car.  The valet drove up in front of us in a brand new Charger. He said he took one look at my cool jacket, and new I would need a sporty ride. I thanked him and gave him tip.  We leaped in the vehicle, drove to the first shopping mall we saw alongside I-94, ran inside, and bought wool sweaters, down jackets, Detroit Lions beanies, and gloves.  Sorry McQueen, you would have looked very cool in that new Charger.

Driving to my sister’s house, I remembered that when I was a kid I walked one mile every day to school and one mile back. Sometimes during January or February, no matter how many layers of clothing I wore, the cold bit all the way down to the marrow of the bones.  The cheeks on my face felt like they had been scorched with ice.  And then the cold would grip my lungs and heart and I thought I was going into cardiac arrest.

Reading Jack C. Buck’s “Gathering View” harked back those times.  I had again forgotten that winter in Michigan can last well into May.  Mr. Buck has kindly reminded me. I wish I had read this book before that expedition with my wife.  Winter in Michigan is either chilly, cold, freezing, polar, bone-chilling, face-peeling, or heart-stopping. There is no warm, cuddly, soft-fleeced March lamb. Mr. Buck encapsulates this face-blistering phenomenon in his vivid collection of short poems. In his book, warmth comes only in human contact, literally and lovingly. His succinct poems paint the grandeur of Michigan in all its beauty—rivers, lakes, forests, flora and fauna.  He also alludes to the Michiganders penchant for football.  The book is divided into three sections: one is the late autumn and first few months of winter (including references to football); two, the long bitter middle of winter; and three, the ending of winter and the beginning of spring (which can still be quite nippy).  In this book, Buck has produced empathetic poems about loneliness, solitude, and those ever-saving Persophonic graces, acts of humanity.

You can find the book here:

https://www.amazon.com/Gathering-View-Jack-Buck/dp/0998890235/ref=sr_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1533473293&sr=1-9

Stephen Page is the Author of The Timbre of Sand, Still Dandelions, and A Ranch Bordering the Salty River. He holds two AA’s from Palomar College, a BA from Columbia University, and an MFA from Bennington College. He also attended Broward College. He is the recipient of The Jess Cloud Memorial Prize, a Writer-in-Residence from the Montana Artists Refuge, a Full Fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center, an Imagination Grant from Cleveland State University, and an Arvon Foundation Ltd. Grant. He loves his wife, reading, travel, family, and friends.

The growth of a poet – John Keats (1795 – 1821): A brief introduction to his life and work

Keats life mask-large

From Keats House

.

by Byron Beynon

.

The imperial Tiber flowed through a city haunted by history. A fresh veil of Roman air covered the face of the river which continued to run its antique course. No birds sang in the darkness of the early hours of a February morning; daylight had yet to appear as a small group of silent figures stood outside a house to the right of the Spanish Steps. The only sound was that of the boat-shaped fountain as it bubbled, a cool witness in the eternal city to the final journey of a young man no longer a living citizen of the world.

.

The young man who had died of tuberculosis (previously known as consumption) at the age of just twenty-five and whose body was taken to Rome’s protestant cemetery for burial was the poet John Keats, the youngest of the great Romantics and the first of them to die.

.

Just three years earlier in 1818 Keats had published (with Taylor and Hessey) his second book of poems entitled Enydmion with its now famous opening ‘A thing of beauty is a joy for ever’.  Robert Gittings saw Enydmion as an exploration into self-knowledge for Keats and which represented an essential stage of his growth to maturity. Andrew Motion (in his biography of Keats) also argued that the poet was promoting beauty not as an escape but as a medicine.

.

Keats’ first collection entitled POEMS (published by C. & J. Ollier) had appeared in March 1817. It contained thirty one poems, sonnets and epistles, including the skilful and subtle sonnet ‘On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer’ and ‘On the Grasshopper and Cricket’ with its confident opening line “The poetry of earth is never dead” but the book made little impression, and was largely ignored by reviewers.

.

At this time Keats made several valued friendships among painters, poets and editors such as B. R. Haydon, John Hamilton Reynolds, Shelley and Leigh Hunt. Keats’ first published poem ‘O Solitude!’ appeared in Hunt’s The Examiner in May 1816.

.

The poet and novelist Thomas Hardy particularly enjoyed hearing an anecdote told to him by a Mrs Procter who when she was a young woman had been visited by Hunt. He had been accompanied by ‘a youth whom nobody noticed much’ and who remained in the background, Hunt casually introducing him as ‘Mr Keats’. Mrs Procter had during her long life met several writers including Wordsworth, Coleridge, De Quincey, Cooper, Longfellow, Thackeray, Dickens and Charlotte Bronte.

.

With the publication of his first book Keats became a dedicated poet. He worked for several months (between April and November 1817) on his second book; the epic, 4,000 lines long, Endymion. It was an important stage in his development, an apprenticeship essential to his growth as a poet and although flawed in parts, the disciplined effort seems to have brought Keats to the verge of his early artistic maturity. During the months he worked on the long poem he stayed on the Isle of Wight and at Margate, Oxford and London. Six months after he began Endymion at Carisbrooke he completed it at Burford Bridge in Surrey on 28 November 1818. A month before completing the poem he had written to his friend Benjamin Bailey about the epic he had nearly completed – ‘it will be a test, a trial of my Powers of Imagination and chiefly of my invention which is a rare thing indeed – by which I must make 4,000 Lines of one bare circumstance and fill them with Poetry’.  Bailey had invited Keats to Oxford where the poet spent most of September at Magdalen Hall and where he wrote the third book of Endymion.

.

POEMS largely had been ignored by the critics and the reviewers seemed provoked that Keats dared to publish another volume. They attacked both his personality and work with spite and venom, notably in Blackwood’s magazine and The Quarterly Review. Blackwood’s tore it apart by saying ‘Endymion is not a Greek shepherd, loved by a Grecian goddess; he is merely a young Cockney rhymester, dreaming a phantasic dream at the full of the moon’.  Nevertheless as R. S. White pointed out in his book John Keats – A Literary Life ‘it was clear that Keats had been fully accepted now in a network of writers and artists, consolidating a year in which he had published his first volume of poems and had written his second which already had a publisher’s agreement. As a professional poet, he was on his way, and he no longer considered medicine a serious option except in panicky moments of financial difficulty.’

.

Keats had been born in the parish of Moorfields, London on the 31October 1795, the son of Thomas Keats and Frances Jennings. Keats and his younger brothers George (who later emigrated to America) and Tom received a sound and enlightened education at John Clarke’s school at Enfield. His father was the manager of a livery stable who died as a result of an accident when Keats was only nine. His mother remarried and Keats, along with his brothers and sister Fanny, went to live with her parents in Enfield, later moving to Edmonton which were both rural areas at that time. A few years later, in 1810, his mother died of consumption. Her death affected him deeply, and ‘he gave way to such impassioned and prolonged grief … as awakened the liveliest pity and sympathy in all who saw him’.  He was then at the age of fifteen apprenticed to a surgeon, and he later studied medicine at Guy’s Hospital. He passed his medical exams in 1816, however he never practised his profession. He had already begun to write poetry and his public poetry life spanned barely five years but the legacy of those few years is an astonishingly rich one.

.

Following publication of Endymion Keats went on a walking tour between June and August with his friend Charles Armitage Brown to the Lake District, Scotland and Ulster. It was during this tour that he wrote several new poems including ‘On Visiting the Tomb of Burns’, ‘To Ailsa Rock’, and ‘On Visiting Staffa’. He also climbed Ben Nevis but unfortunately was forced to break off his tour because of a severe chill and sore throat.  On his return to London he found that his younger brother Tom was seriously ill. He nursed Tom devotedly through the last stages of consumption until Tom’s death at the end of 1818. During these intense years Keats also wrote a series of wonderful letters on poetry, many to his brothers and to his sister, which contain his most influential ideas. After Tom’s death, Keats moved in December 1818 to his friend Charles Brown’s house, Wentworth Place, on the edge of Hampstead Heath.

His neighbour at Wentworth Place was eigtheen-year-old Fanny Brawne, five years younger than the poet. Keats became enthralled by her, expressing his passion in many poems and letters. During 1818 and 1819 Keats entered his ‘Great Years’ when he produced one masterpiece after another including ‘Hyperion’, ‘The Eve of St Agnes’, all his great odes (including ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, ‘Ode on Melancholy’, ‘Ode to Psyche’, ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’) and ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’, ‘Lamia’ and ‘To Autumn’. All (except the ballad ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’) were published in his third and final book of poems in July 1820 under the title Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St Agnes and Other Poems.

.

During the winter of 1819 and 1820 Keats was ‘rather unwell’ and in February 1820 began to cough arterial blood. As a medical student he recognised immediately that this was his ‘death warrant’. The blow could not have been crueller because he had recently produced several of his greatest works and had also become engaged to Fanny Brawne. It was among the Brawne family that he spent his last weeks in England. By September 1820 Keats’ condition was desperately serious, and his friends believed that only the southern climate of Europe might cure him. A friend, the young painter Joseph Severn, sailed with him to Italy, first to Naples and then overland to Rome, where the two men took rooms on the Piazza di Spagna, near the Spanish Steps. Keats wrote no more poetry and after terrible suffering he died on the 23 February 1821. Those who attended the funeral at the Protestant Cemetery on the early morning of Monday, 26 February were Joseph Severn, The Rev. Mr Wolff the English chaplain at Rome who also conducted the service, two young English architects Henry Parke and Ambrose Poynter. Also, the artists William Ewing and Richard Westmacott, Dr Clark and Dr Luby.  As the biographer Richard Holmes noted ‘Listening to the plashing Bernini fountain in the piazza below his window, Keats framed his own epitaph “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.” His poetry has flowed out to generations of readers ever since’.

.

For further reading and sources on John Keats:

John Keats: The Complete Poems edited by John Barnard, Penguin Books 2006

Letters of John Keats: A selection edited by Robert Gittings, Oxford U.P. 1986

John Keats by Robert Gittings, Penguin Books 1979

John Keats by Nicholas Roe Yale, University Press 2012

Keats by Andrew Motion, Faber & Faber 1997

John Keats: A Literary Life by R. S. White. Palgrave/MacMillan 2012

The Romantic Poets and Their Circle by Richard Holmes, NPG Publications 2005

Thomas Hardy: Half A Londoner by Mark Ford, Harvard University Press 2016

.

Byron Beynon lives in Wales. His work has appeared in several publications including Poetry Ireland Review, Agenda, Plainsongs, North of Oxford, Poetry Pacific, London Magazine and the human rights anthology In Protest (University of London and Keats House Poets). Collections include Cuffs (Rack Press), Human Shores (Lapwing Publications) and The Echoing Coastline (Agenda Editions)

.

.

A Look Back- Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley

attic
.
By Ray Greenblatt
.
Early in his career Aldous Huxley was a comic author in the tradition of Thomas Love Peacock and Ronald Firbank; a contemporary of Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell and even P. G. Wodehouse. He was part of a well-to-do famous family: his father Leonard Huxley was a teacher, his grandfather Thomas Henry Huxley was a scientist. His mother Julia Arnold Huxley was the headmistress of a girl’s school and the sister of the author Mrs. Humphrey Ward; also on his mother’s side Matthew Arnold was a renowned poet. Huxley displayed a flare for wit, irony, bombast, bon mot, and psychological probing of character. However, he did more than most satirists: he philosophically explored the questions  of twentieth century life and found them eternal.
.
In this second novel Antic Hay written in 1923, Huxley employs many writing devices: sometimes he inserts a poem, musical lyrics or a short lecture on architecture, e.g. Yet, everything in this book is wrapped in comedy, whether it runs from light to just plain silly to mordant. I see his two major literary contributions to be description of character but especially philosophy of life including social mores as well as scientific speculation.
.
                                                                I – IMAGERY
 .
Huxley is skillful at describing a scene. First a road: “Polished by the wheels and shining like an old and precious bronze, the road stretched before them, reflecting the lamps. It had the inviting air of a road which goes on for ever.” (235) Night: “Once more the wind blew; darkness came down and the gas lamps round the square lit up the outer leaves of the plane trees, touched the privet bushes inside the railings with an emerald light; behind them was impenetrable night; instead of shorn grass and bedded geraniums was mystery, there were endless depths.” (13) Stained glass in a church: “The vast window opposite, all blue and jaundiced and bloody with nineteenth century glass.” (1) And a house: “Gumbril senior occupied a tall, narrow-shouldered and rachitic house in a little obscure square not far from Paddington.” (12)
 .
However, he excels at bringing characters to life—no matter how absurd they might be—making each actor in this comedy distinct. Even many of their names could be taken symbolically to reveal their nature. Let us begin with Theodore Gumbril junior, our anti-hero, because he is as lost at the end of the novel as he was at the beginning. He shows flashes of wit, but at heart he is a “glum” young man, on his way to nowhere perhaps by “tumbrel,”  thus his name.
 .
Here is Gumbril in a library: “He had been utterly incapable of thinking of any other book, among the two or three hundred thousand on the shelves, that he wanted to read.” (183) He momentarily thinks that he has found an aid to motivation: “The beard now supplied the deficiencies in the stylobate, and planted now on a firm basement of will, the order of the senses, the aerial attic of ideas reared themselves with  more classical harmoniousness of proportion.” (88)
 .
Mercaptan is a mediocre journalist at best, in love with his own prose and opinions; his scientific name means “a chemical compound with a disagreeable odor.” “Like movable raisins in the suet of his snouty face, Mr. Mercaptan’s brown little eyes rolled amorous avowals.” (201) Another man happy in his ignorance is a scientist who studies kidneys; “Shearwater” certainly suggests that biological process. His fate is to fall in love: “He was silent. Spectrally, like a dim haunting ghost, he had hung about  her; dumbly, dumbly imploring, appealing.” (63)
.
Casimir Lypiatt is a dreadful painter, which everyone knows except him,  who roars about his greatness; “Casimir” is Slavic for “destroying the peace.” “Even the forehead was ruined when he laughed. Foreheads are generally the human part of people’s faces. Let the nose twitch and the mouth grin and the eyes twinkle monkeyishly as you like; the forehead can still be calm and serene, the forehead still  knows how to be human. But when Casimir laughed, his forehead joined in the general distorting grimace.” (69) Likewise, Coleman (“cold man”) is a total cynic about life including seduction:  “What an intoxication, he said,  looking up to the ceiling like a chicken that has taken a sip of water; he smacked his lips.” (218)
 .
As secondary characters, Bojanus is a simple tailor with many opinions about life: “He cocked his head on one side, and the fine waxed end of his moustache was like a pointer aimed up at some remote star.” (83) And yet, his name scientifically translates as “the excretory organ of a mollusk.” Boldero is a capitalistic investor, “bold” to make a profit. “He was like a caterpillar: he ate all that was put before him, he consumed a hundred times his own mental weight every day. Other people’s ideas, other people’s knowledge—they were his food. He devoured them and they were at once his own.” (109)
 .
Since they are the cynosure for most of the male characters, I have saved for last two ladies of quite different disposition. Myra Viveash is the siren who lures men to her. Indeed, “Myra” in Greek means “extraordinary” and Viveash sounds ironically similar to “vivacious.” However beautiful and enticing a woman, her soul is hollow supposedly due to the loss of her great love in the Great War. “At seven o’clock Mrs. Viveash woke up. She shook her head to feel if the pain were still rolling about loose inside her skull.” (224) And “slowly, walking along her private knife-edge between her personal abysses.” (151)  In startling contrast is Rosie who peers through rose-colored lenses at life: “She looked at him sideways, then closed down the magnolia petals, and smiled. This was going to be the real thing—one of those long, those interminable, or at any rate indefinitely  renewable conversations about love; witty, subtle, penetrating and bold, like the conversations in books, like the conversations across the tea table between brilliant young poets and ladies of quality,  grown fastidious through an excessive experience, fastidious, and a little weary, but still, in their subtle way, insatiably curious.” (95) Conversely Rosie’s husband thinks of her: “She seemed to have been improving lately. And tonight, she had been a model of non-existence.” (107)
.
                                                            II – PHILOSOPHY
 .
Unlike most comic writers who go for the immediate gag, Aldous Huxley is more far-reaching. The observations about life in his characters ‘  thoughts and mouths are stimulating and for the most part true. Since the novel opens in a school, let us begin with ideas of education. About students: “They were two ugly, stupid-looking louts, who ought to have been apprenticed years ago to some useful trade. Instead of which they were wasting their own and their teachers’ and their more intelligent comrades’ time in trying, quite vainly, to acquire an elegant literary education.” (3) The teachers: “You weren’t sufficiently interested in anything to want to devote yourself to it. That was why you sought the last refuge of feeble minds with classical educations, you became a schoolmaster.” (14) “Until all teachers are geniuses and enthusiasts, nobody will learn anything, except what they teach themselves.” (15) The administrators: “For the Headmaster was as fierce as he was capricious. He was for ever discovering something new. Two terms ago it had been singeing; after the hair-cut and before the shampoo, there must be singeing.” (7)
 .
An appreciation of the Arts is strong in this novel: “The Chinese statues looked out from the niche; the Maillols passionately meditated, slept and were more than alive. The Goyas hung on the walls, there was a Boucher in the bathroom; and when he entered with his guests, what a Piazzetta exploded about the dining-room mantelpiece!” (9) About classical music: “How pure the passion, how unaffected, clear and without clot or pretension the unhappiness of that slow movement which followed! Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Pure and unsullied; pure and unmixed, unadulterated. Not passionate, thank God; only sensual and sentimental.” (144) Even jazz, a relatively new musical form at that time, is touched upon: “At each recurrence of the refrain the four negroes of the orchestra, or at least the three of them who played with their hands alone—for the saxophonist always blew at this point with a redoubled sweetness, enriching the passage with a warbling contrapuntal soliloquy that fairly wrung the entrails and transported the pierced heart—broke into melancholy and drawling song.” (162)
 .
Architecture, too, is stressed as a Fine Art: “Knowing by a century of experience how beautiful, how graceful, how soothing to the mind is an ordered piece of town-planning, we pull down almost the only specimen of it we possess and put up in its place a chaos of Portland stone that is an offence against civilization.” (130) Architecture to some can be seen as even superior to music: “Architecture is a more difficult and intellectual art than music. Music—that’s just a faculty you’re born with, as you might be born with a snub nose. But the sense of plastic beauty—though that’s, of course, also an inborn faculty—is something that has to be developed and intellectually ripened. It’s an affair of the mind; experience and thought have to draw it out.” (128)
 .
Religion and its concomitant ethics is examined from many angles. “God is a sense of warmth about the heart, God as exultation, God as tears in the eyes, God as a rush of power or thought—that was all right. But God as truth, God as 2+2=4—that wasn’t so clearly all right. Was there any chance of their being the same? Were there bridges to join the two worlds.” (1) “Good; good? It was a word people only used nowadays with a kind of deprecating humourousness. Good. Beyond good and evil? We are all that nowadays. Or merely below them , like earwigs?” (2) “When the future and the past are abolished, when it is only the present instant, whether enchanted or unenchanted, that counts, when there are no causes or motives, no future consequences to be considered, how can there be responsibility.” (156) Coleman cynically reasons: “It’s only when you believe in God, and especially in hell, that you can really begin enjoying life. For instance, when in a few moments you surrender yourself to the importunities of my bloody beard, how prodigiously much more you’d enjoy it if you could believe you were committing the sin against the Holy Ghost.” (217)
 .
Under the heading of science, Gumbril wants to advertise the pneumatic trousers he has invented: “All we have to do is talk about the great nerve centres of the spine; the shocks they get when you sit down too hard; the wearing exhaustion to which long-protracted sitting on unpadded seats subjects them. We’ll have to talk very scientifically about the great lumbar ganglia.” (114) In the laboratory: “The animals devoted to the service of physiology were woken by the sudden opening of the door, the sudden irruption of light. The albino she-rabbits lollopped out and shook their ears and pointed their tremulous noses toward the door. The cock into which Shearwater had engrafted an ovary came out, not knowing whether to crow or cluck.” (246) Huxley even considers the possibility of ESP: “I let my telepathic faculty lie idle, preferring to employ an elaborate and cumbrous arrangement of symbols in order to make my thoughts known to you through your senses . . . If we knew a good method of educating and drawing out the latent faculty, most of us could make ourselves moderately efficient telepaths . . . By the twenty-first century I believe we shall all be telepaths.” (238)
 .
What do politicians look like? “Some wear orchids and eyeglasses, like Joe Chamberlain. Some let their ‘air grow, like Lloyd George. Some wear curious ‘ats, like Winston Churchill. Some put on black shirts, like this Mussolini, and some put on red ones, like Garibaldi. Some turn up their moustaches, like the German Emperor. Some turn them down, like Clemenceau.” (85) “Political liberty’s a swindle because a man doesn’t spend his time being political. He spends it sleeping, eating, amusing himself a little and working—mostly working.” (28) Politics dovetails with sociology: “Had one a right to be contented and well-fed, had one a right to one’s education and good taste, a right to knowledge and conversation and the leisurely complexities of love?” (63) “Cinema, newspapers, magazines, gramophones, football matches, wireless telephones—take them or leave them, if you want to amuse yourself.” (29)
 .
This leads us to Huxley’s humorous views of love through his varied characters. “Whether one can be in love with more than one person at a time, whether love can exist without jealousy, whether pity, affection, desire can in any way replace the full and genuine passion—how often he had to thrash out these dreary questions!” (96) On the other hand, an ideal view of love would be: “She would be waiting for him, expecting him; and they would walk through the twiddly lanes—or perhaps there would be a governess cart for hire, with a fat pony like a tub on legs to pull it—they would look for flowers in the woods and perhaps he would still remember what sort of noise a whitethroat makes.” (154)
 .
And from love to some general views of mankind: “If you will have sanitary conditions that don’t allow plagues to flourish properly. If you will tell mothers how to bring up their children, instead of allowing nature to kill them off in her natural way. If you will import unlimited supplies of corn and meat.  What can you expect? Of course the numbers go up.” (185) From the masses to the individual: “Every one’s a walking farce and a walking tragedy at the same time. The man who slips on a banana-skin and fractures his skull describes  against the sky, as he falls, the most richly comical arabesque.” (208) And finally what does time do to us: “Grief doesn’t kill, love doesn’t kill; but time kills everything, kills desire, kills sorrow, kills in the end the mind that feels them; wrinkles and softens the body while it still lives, rots it like a medlar, kills it too at last.” (152)
.
I do not agree with the last statement above; only Mrs. Viveash would be so negative. Two passages, it seems to me, contain a subtle meaning and beauty we can adopt. One has to do with silence: “All the regular, habitual, daily part of you would die. There would be an end of bandstands and whizzing factories , and one would have to begin living arduously in the quiet, arduously in some strange un-heard-of manner.” (141) This connects with a magic time that Gumbril senior  experiences: “They sat and chattered till the sun went down and twilight was past,  with intervals every now and then of silence that fell suddenly and inexplicably on all the birds at once, lasted through a few seconds of thrilling suspense, to end as suddenly and senselessly in an outburst of the same loud and simultaneous conversation.” (13) Serenity in nature is what Huxley seems to be inferring in order to find fulfillment.
 .
As the years go on, Aldous Huxley’s novels darken into Brave New World, and his favored genre alters into non-fiction as in Science, Liberty and Peace and The Doors of Perception, in which he experiments with hallucinogenic drugs.  With weakening eyesight and multiple operations, he was to die at a relatively young age of 69. Yet, we have seen him at his most youthful and frothiest. No matter how much he changed, the early comedies will remain scintillating additions to the flow of humorous literature.
.
You can find the book here: Antic Hay
.
Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society.His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018.
.
.

STONES OF ARAN: Labyrinth by Tim Robinson

Stones of Aran
.
By Ray Greenblatt
.
I took the ferry beneath a gray sky through a choppy sea to Aran. When I arrived in the small harbor surrounded by a scattering of buildings, I thought the island was almost all stone. Stones of Aran by Tim Robinson taught me that I had to stay awhile and really look at what was around me.
.
Robinson and his wife arrived in 1972. He was a British artist but was soon to fall in love with Aran and become a self-taught cartographer of the island. His writing shows that he also had a highly competent prose style and a poetic sensibility.
.
He wrote Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage in 1986. The second and final volume, Stones of Aran: Labyrinth, was finished in 1995. Since my trip there was made in 1996 and both books are similar, I will focus on the latter. In the course of Stones of Aran, Robinson explores the geology, the history, and the life-styles of the islanders. First we will meet the man who dedicated those many years to an island no more than nine miles by two miles in area.
.
I – The Author
.
Tim Robinson loves to write and nature often inspires him: “Somehow this is not so bad on winter days, with the rain splattering on the window and the oil-heater singeing my shins, but on a still, hot afternoon it is sometimes unbearable. The intensely alert silence of the garden, the white emptiness of the road going by the gate, the wide amnesia of the world toward me—and then the sudden fidget of a blackbird in the shadow under a bush, exactly ‘the sound of the clapping of one hand’. Turns of words cunningly composed to disorientate the mind reveal their banality.” (297)
.
He also shows great imagination, sentence control, and use of word play: “The last of the daylight, sodden with porter, eased itself out of the door, but the creature of sticks and crumpled brown paper behind the bar showed no inclination to replace it with the cheer of a lantern. Three or four elderly islanders on a wooden bench along one wall looked down as if observing the occasional involuntary shiftings of their boots on the concrete floor, glanced from under their brows at the stranger on the bench opposite, looked down again, left the silence to thicken, broke it with a brief sardonic interchange about the old sack that had been thrown over the vomit left in the corner from the previous night, let their eyes stray across the stranger again.” (141)
.
His wife and he fixed up their humble cottage: “The bedroom has become our secret retreat too, from both nature and society. With the wooden shutters on the inside of the window closed and a blanket stuffed into the crack between them, our Tilly-lamp can tell no one we are at home, and even when the wind gets one fist down the chimney and the other somehow into the wall-cupboard, it cannot buffet us here, while the oil heater toasts the dampness into a cosy fug and we lie on the floor examining with voluptuous lingerings a newly arrived parcel of books.” (295)
.
Sometimes he was able to “read” the land: “I used to browse from field to field here as if leafing through a well-loved anthology, or find myself caught wordless in the middle of a page by the disappearance of a question-mark, a lizard’s tail, into the margin. If the text frequently held me up with obscurities, long practice gave me great fluency in its grammar, though perhaps memory flatters in showing me drifting across this terrain as little impeded by stones and thorns as a cloud-shadow.” (236)
.
From his writing but especially his map-making, Robinson establishes himself in this close-knit community. He is also able to objectify and laugh at himself: “Yes, we all have our ad-hucksterish ways of living off the stones of Aran, and it is a good thing we have the daily bread of nature’s beauty to supplement them . . .they give us identities too, they validate our going up and down the hill in the eyes of society . . .But now I have an island nickname . . .I am Fear na Mapai, the man of the maps, and that is why I am on this hill.” (178)
II – The Stones
.
The island of Aran is composed of limestone. In the stones are many fossils: “A nautiloid, a cephalopod mollusk related to the modern octopuses and squids, and to the extinct belemnites whose conical shells are to be found here and there in the Aran rocks. Many species of nautiloids, some with straight or curved shells, others with coiled shells like this specimen, inhabited the waters from which the limestone was deposited. Their shells were divided by thin partitions into a number of compartments, the outer of which was occupied by the animal itself while those farther back were full of gas and functioned as buoyancy-chambers.” (339)
.
Not only are there stone surfaces under foot but many stone walls: “To cross a wall without bruising one’s shins or jolting one’s spine, one should look for stones that run right through the wall and stick out on either side, and step up and over on these as on a stile, refraining from leaning out from the wall or clutching at the topmost stones to lever oneself upright, but keeping one’s centre of gravity as close to the wall and as low over its top as possible.” (13)
.
A closely scanned boulder may teach us things:  “There is something of the classroom or examination-hall about the crag this boulder stands in; everything here is well lit, separated out, reduced to essentials, so that if we cannot understand, it is our fault. The boulder itself, pedagogical on its podium, demands clarity of thought: observe this, comment on that, deduce the other. A few long straight fissures draw elementary geometrical figures on the blackboard-smooth pavement.” (241)
.
Many holy people came to Aran over the centuries, none so famous as St Enda in the fifth century who arrived on a stone boat: “Thinking now of how this invisible tower sings in the winds of history, in a spacious antiphony with those other towers . . . of the monasteries founded by alumni of St Enda’s foundation. I do in imagination what I never did while living in Aran—climb down into that stone drum, lie there among the herbs, looking up at swallows darting through the vanished rooms piled above me, and try to remount the cloudy centuries, from the last known abbot of Aran back to the coming of St Enda himself.” (57)
.
That chapel Robinson imagines might be the remains of this one: “The arch dividing the nave from the chancel is Romanesque, as is the lovely, slim, round-headed lancet window-light in the east gable. The chancel is a little narrower than the nave at ground-level and has been fitted onto the east end of the older building between its antae, but it has projecting parapets along its eaves bringing it out to the full width of the rest, probably added in the fifteenth century. These ragged crenellations give the church a romantic air.” (358)
.
Around these mostly ruined churches are significant slabs with inscriptions: “Despite their great age, such Early Christian cross-inscribed slabs, of which there are about twenty to be seen in and around Aran’s churches, have the freshness of works from the first decade of modern abstract art, and in one or two of them Kandinsky would have recognized a spiritual fervour behind the ingenuous charm of their oddly balanced crosses and circles.” (49) The tombs are classified as: passage, portal, court, and wedge tombs. On Aran are only the wedge: “The Wedge-shaped Gallery Graves have one main chamber, sometimes with a small portico or antechamber and a small closed rear chamber, and usually decreasing in height and width from front to rear.” (231)
.
Robinson wonders what prayer can accomplish beside these ancient holy places: “But how can one pray for a soul of whom one knows so little? Only a believer in a vast essentialist bureaucracy of the hereafter can send up a prayer labeled with a name and a date of decease, and be confident that it will be credited to the right account. The secular equivalent is more difficult.  These people, Sara, John, Patrick and the rest, have gone beyond hearing; they will not answer to our historical echo-soundings, and the pious best we can do—for ourselves, not for them—is to inform ourselves enough to understand something of them and their times, and so, by reflection, of ours.” (33)
.
Dun Aonghasa is by far the most popular tourist attraction; it has been called a citadel, castle, cathedral, even a city. Yet, archaeologists to date debate its antiquity—it could go back to 2500 B.C.– as well as true function.  Robinson tends to agree with Prof. Etienne Rynne who writes: “When visiting Dun Aengus, therefore, . . . the visitor should conjure up an image of druids, ollavs, bards, kings and nobles, all processing formally through the Dun’s impressive entrance, some to perform rituals on the stage-like platform, some to assist in the innermost enclosed area, and others to stand on the surrounding terraced wall chanting incantations or singing sacred songs while viewing the solemn proceedings taking place against the dramatic backdrop of the wild Atlantic ocean whose waves sonorously thunder against the rock-face  far out of sight below.” (395) I was duly impressed by its grandeur hulking on a cliff that plunged three hundred sheer feet!
.
III – Flora, Fauna, Phenomena
.
Robinson is constantly amazed at the variety of plant life on such a small northern island: “The lesser spearwort, and wet tangles of bogbean, the tiny white marsh bedstraw, lady’s smock and marsh pennywort. The water speedwell roots in the muddy bottoms of little holes a foot or so below ground level.” (92) The nearly extinct corncrake bird lives on Aran: “To us the plaintive creaking of the corncrake, repeated as endlessly as the distant whispered thunder of waves falling on the beach, was part of the natural pulse of the night.” (351)
.
The farmers develop the knack and rhythm of planting; here they are cutting rye: “And yet every stage of the harvest is visually charming—the area of stubble or bare ground, decorated with the lines of fistfuls, slowly widening through the day as the standing crop dwindles, the sheaves each belted with a twist of straw, the plump stacks of sheaves topped off with an upside-down sheaf like a huge sun-hat, the donkey waiting to carry the stacks one by one to the outhouse.” (18)
.
Their tools are also important; here a farmer is planting potatoes with a spade: “The handle itself was grey, its varnish worn off long ago, and smooth, fed by the copious spittle with which Seamaisin lubricated his hands. The left-hand bottom corner of the blade was worn into a large quarter-circle, and before tackling the second trench he took the spade over to a granite boulder that sparkled in the wall, and sharpened it until its edge gleamed like a scimitar.” (260)
.
The author learned many skills from weaving to ponyriding. He even learns to milk a cow: “I got the knack of it to some degree, and then there were many dawns in which the cow’s overhang sheltered me from the drifting rain while I participated in the ancient insanitary magic of milking a cow in Aran, dipping my finger and thumb into the milk to lubricate her warty teats, cursing her when she suddenly let fall a splatter of dung, dipping into the milk again when I had finished to make the sign of the cross on her haunch.” (252)
.
After a time of proving himself with the islanders, he made many friends. This is a countrywoman who lives nearby:  “She was an ample, soft, welcoming person; remembering her, I think of well-risen bread. In between stuffing a chicken and boiling potatoes and making tea for me and eating biscuits, she would bring me out to the little area at the back of the house, half flagged, half grassy, with hens and kittens and the interesting weeds she wanted me to see, the pair of us bobbing over them like hens.” (411)
.
Robinson is exhilarated by the view from the highest point on the island: “Above and around all the vast circus of the elements one commands from the top of this climb is the protective envelope of sky, the delicate translucent skin of the globe. Its depths are of many intersuffusing layers, visible and invisible; the tenderness of its bending down to and wrapping over the horizon is often clear to the feeling eye. Sometimes dull, bruised by departed gales, sometimes glowingly reminiscent of kind weather.” (182)
.
On Aran the night seems absolute and controlling: “Sometimes in the dark all things reveal the secret we keep from ourselves by daylight and lamplight, that below the skin of what we see of them they are fathomless pools of potential appearances; it is as if other creatures’ deeper vision of them takes priority and forces itself on our own eyes. And we too are objects of those alien visions; our self-recognitions are shaken.” (183)
.
It can be exhilarating when the author bikes home: “If the rain is not blinding us it is an exciting ride. For the first mile, the road takes the outside edge of one of the great steps of the island’s northern flank, and the ground falls away so sharply on the right that it feels as if one were riding the crest of a huge breaker. Often a winter sunset exploded by the last of the gale into ragged purples and oranges comes flying to meet us from the western skyline; we know that our chimney draws well in such winds and a glowing fire will greet us with the proposal of long hours of reading.” (204)
.
“Here one is in intimate contact with a world withdrawn into the past. Seeing it revealed thus in its obsessional, finicky, obsolete way is touching, and at the same time illicitly exciting. If there is haunting here, it is not that some returned frequenter of these fields is peering into our time, but that I myself am trespassing back through gaps in walls of the past.” (193)
.
I missed a lot on my trip to Aran. Since then I have learned to look closely. My Scots-Irish wife and the paintings of Andrew Wyeth pointed out a variety of colors in a seemingly drab autumn landscape after the bright flourish of leaves. In Stones of Aran Tim Robinson has walked me over nearly every square foot of the island in close to one thousand pages: around the coastline in Pilgrimage and down the central spine in Labyrinth. He states what truly applies to himself: “Not everyone is as sure of the necessity of their own life-world as the poet, whose mirror-lined skull brings the reflections of formative years to a focus of definitive brightness.” (410) For his writing I will always be grateful.
 .
.
Ray Greenblatt has recently been published in: Abbey, Apiary, Boston Literary Magazine, Comstock Review, Clarion, and Painters & Poets.  His experimental novel TWENTY YEARS ON GRAYSHEEP BAY, half poetry and half prose, is being republished by Sunstone Press.
.
.

The Lasater Philosophy of Cattle Ranching

Lasater Philosopy of Ranching by Laurence M Lasater cover photo

.

By Stephen Page

.

Laurence M. Lasater’s The Lasater Philosophy of Cattle Ranching is progressive and full of common sense.  Old cattle ranching methods are becoming extinct or decimating the ranchers.  Just few examples of Lasater’s new ideas are: selecting cows and bulls by size and productive characteristics, not just coat color; keeping animals only if they are productive (examples, if a bull is not working or a cow aborts, sell the animals, don’t wait for next year as they are just eating grass that could be used for productive animals); and don’t use whips, cattle prods or screams to move animals, in open range just move behind them on your horse, and in the corral use a white flag on a pole (they will move forward)—this stresses less stress the animals, reduces the possibility of them injuring themselves or an employee, and they are easier to handle.  If they are on the way to the butcher, calm animals are higher in weight and have better quality meat—animals when stressed hours before they are butchered have tougher, darker colored meat, that is why sometimes you will see cuts in a butcher shop that are almost black (not always because the meat is old or exposed to air, but often because the animal was stressed out before it reached the butcher.  I read the book as research for my poem project and to improve myself as a rancher.

You can find the book here:

https://www.amazon.com/Lasater-philosophy-cattle-raising/dp/087404037X/ref=la_B001JOU556_1_2_twi_pap_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1513899850&sr=1-2

More on Lasater:

http://www.isabeefmasters.com/Beefmasters/books.html

 

Stephen Page is the  author of “A Ranch Bordering the Salt River.”. He can be found at

https://smpages.wordpress.com/

 

 

.