Category Archives: Poetry

Friday Poem: ‘Courage’ by Amelia Earhart

 

A poem by Amelia Earhart.

Photo by Olivier Miche on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

Courage is the price that Life exacts for granting peace.
The soul that knows it not, knows no release
From the little things:
Knows not the livid loneliness of fear,
Nor mountain heights where bitter joy can hear
The sound of wings.

How can life grant us boon of living, compensate
For dull gray ugliness and pregnant hate
Unless we dare
The soul’s dominion?

Each time we make a choice, we pay
With courage to behold the resistless day,
And count it fair.

Source: Friday Poem: ‘Courage’

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A Clerk of Oxford: ‘Unwinding the water’s chains’: Spring, Thaw, and Some Anglo-Saxon Poems

Excerpts from ‘Unwinding the water’s chains’: Spring, Thaw, and Some Anglo-Saxon Poems by A Clerk of Oxford blogspot. I’ve also added a footnote with an observation on the similarities between the Anglo Saxon Metod, and the Ancient Egyptian god Shai

 

 

 

 

 

 

The diagram above is from BL Harley 3667, a manuscript made at Peterborough Abbey in the twelfth century. It was designed by the monk Byrhtferth of Ramsey, and shows the correspondences between the four seasons of the year, the months, elements, winds, astrological signs, and more, as well as the seasons of human life, from childhood to old age.

It’s a work of art as well as a clever act of synthesis; the course of the year is a complex interweaving of patterns, and the intricacy of the arrangement has a beauty of its own. To begin to appreciate this view of the world is to see all the universe as interconnected, with pattern and order running through it like those ‘veins’ of rivers which thread across the earth. In this view all the seasons of human existence have their correspondences in the heavens and in the year, and our lives, which can seem so random and meaningless, are part of a great pattern as ancient and as huge as the universe.

Frost must freeze, fire burn up wood,
the earth grow, ice form bridges,
water wear a covering, wondrously locking up
shoots in the earth. One alone shall unbind
the frost’s fetters: God most mighty.
Winter shall turn, good weather come again,
summer bright and hot. The never-resting sea,
the deep way of the dead, will be the longest hidden.
(from a poem known as Maxims I)

*Metod is a common epithet for God in Old English poetry, but it’s not a straightforward one: it seems to mean something like ‘the one who metes out’, the force which controls not just frosts and times and seasons but the shape and duration of human lives. You can translate it as ‘the Measurer’, the one who controls fate and time and all the mysterious chaos of the never-resting waters.

The world with its rivers and seas, from an 11th-century map (BL Cotton Tiberius B V)

Source: A Clerk of Oxford: ‘Unwinding the water’s chains’: Spring, Thaw, and Some Anglo-Saxon Poems

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*personal note from me – Metod – The Measurer brings to mind the Egyptian god “Shai”, who was also deemed to be the god who controlled fate, and the shape and duration of human lives. Even Akhenaten, who is hailed in modern times as the first monotheist, stated that “the Aten is the Shai who gives life”.  They believed Shai was born with each person at their birth and remained at their side until they faced their final judgement before Osiris in the underworld (the duat). He was an ambivalent deity who could protect or damn a person as he offered a true account of each life in the Hall of Judgement. ~ Jaq

The Wandering and Watercolours of Hermann Hesse

“This wind, into which I am climbing, is fragrant of beyonds and distances, of watersheds and foreign languages, of mountains and southern places. It is full of promise.” Hermann Hesse, Wandering

I was very lucky yesterday, while mooching through piles of 2nd hand books at a Spanish fleamarket,  to spy and purchase a copy of  “El Caminante” – the Spanish version of Hermann Hesse’s book “Wanderung”, known in English as “Wandering; prose, poems and sketches.”

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The prose and poems of this volume are counted among the most beautiful works of Hermann Hesse. They were written after a long period of literary abstinence.  During the First World War, Hesse had registered himself as a volunteer with the Imperial army, saying that he could not sit inactively by a warm fireplace while other young authors were dying on the front. He had been found unfit for combat duty, due to an eye condition, and was assigned to service involving the care of prisoners of war.

His Prose and Poems – and watercolours – document one of the most important phases of his evolution: distancing himself from the rituals and security of bourgeois life and the passage from active life to the contemplative life.

On May 2, 1919, Hesse wrote to Romain Rolland: “I have had to bear a very heavy burden in my personal life in recent years. Now I am about to go to Ticino once again, to live for a while as a hermit in nature and in my work.” In 1920, after settling in the Ticino mountain village of Montagnola, he published Wandering/ The Wanderer, a love letter to this magic-garden world that can be read as a meditation on his attempt to begin a new life. His pure prose, his heartfelt lyricism, and his love for the old earth, for its blessings that renew themselves, all sing in this serene book.

wikipedia tells us “By the time Hesse returned to civilian life in 1919, his marriage had shattered. His wife had a severe episode of psychosis, but, even after her recovery, Hesse saw no possible future with her. Their home in Bern was divided, their children were accommodated in pensions and by relatives, and Hesse resettled alone in the middle of April in Ticino. He occupied a small farm house near Minusio (close to Locarno), living from 25 April to 11 May in Sorengo. On 11 May, he moved to the town Montagnola and rented four small rooms in a castle-like building, the Casa Camuzzi. Here, he explored his writing projects further; he began to paint, an activity reflected in his next major story, “Klingsor’s Last Summer”, published in 1920. This new beginning in different surroundings brought him happiness, and Hesse later called his first year in Ticino the fullest, most prolific, most industrious and most passionate time of my life”

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The first German edition of Wandering included facsimiles of fourteen watercolour landscapes. Hesse’s painting had blossomed in the southern countryside and he even toyed with the idea “that I might still succeed in escaping literature entirely and making a living at the more appealing trade of painter.”

Bridge
Bridge – Hermann Hesse

In his time, Hesse was a popular and influential author in the German-speaking world; worldwide fame only came later. Hesse’s first great novel, Peter Camenzind, was received enthusiastically by young Germans desiring a different and more “natural” way of life at the time of great economic and technological progress in the country (see also Wandervogel movement; Wandervogel was the name adopted by a popular movement of German youth groups from 1896 onward. The name can be translated as rambling, hiking, or wandering bird and the ethos is to shake off the restrictions of society and get back to nature and freedom.) The revival in popularity of Hesse’s works in the 1960s has been credited to their association with some of the popular themes of the ’60s counterculture movement.

I like to think his “Wanderings” fits very neatly into current counterculture, and the ever present need to shake off the restrictions of society and get back to nature and freedom.

Here are some well-known – and less-well-known – quotes taken from “Wanderings”, and also, I’ve inserted a few of his watercolours among the quotes. The Spanish copy I found yesterday also includes the colour facsimiles of his paintings.

Lake, tree, mountain by Hermann Hesse
Lake, tree, mountain by Hermann Hesse

I’ve tried to find them online as my photos of them aren’t great, but the ones I wanted to post here aren’t easy to find online, so I’ll post mine and then replace them if I find good versions.

Wandering Quotes:

“What is the world doing? Have new gods been discovered, new laws, new freedoms? Who cares! But up here a primrose is blossoming and bearing silver fuzz on its leaves, and the light sweet wind is singing below me in the poplars, and between my eyes and heaven a dark golden bee is hovering and humming—I care about that. It is humming the song of happiness, humming the song of eternity. Its song is my history of the world.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

“The world has become lovelier. I am alone, and I don’t suffer from my loneliness. I don’t want life to be anything other than what it is”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

“A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, the longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

“Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

“I feel life trembling within me, in my tongue, on the soles of my feet, in my desire or my suffering, I want my soul to be a wandering thing, able to move back into a hundred forms, I want to dream myself into priests and wanderers, female cooks and murderers, children and animals, and, more than anything else, birds and trees; that is necessary, I want it, I need it so I can go on living, and if sometime I were to lose these possibilities and be caught in so-called reality, then I would rather die.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

Arboles
Arboles – Trees by Hermann Hesse
“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

 

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Lake, tree, mountain by Hermann Hesse

“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

Rain
Rain – by Hermann Hesse

Soft rain, summer rain
Whispers from bushes, whispers from trees.
Oh, how lovely and full of blessing
To dream and be satisfied.

I was so long in the outer brightness,
I am not used to this upheaval:
Being at home in my own soul,
Never to be led elsewhere.

I want nothing, I long for nothing,
I hum gently the sounds of childhood,
And I reach home astounded
In the warm beauty of dreams.

Heart, how torn you are,
How blessed to plow down blindly,
To think nothing, to know nothing,
Only to breathe, only to feel.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

“It would be wholly impossible for me to say whether this cloudy, silently disturbed, unraveled sky is mirrored in my soul or the reverse, whether or not I read the image of my own inner life in this sky. Sometimes everything is so completely uncertain! There are days when I am convinced that no man on earth can recognize certain moods of air and cloud, certain tones of color, certain fragrances and movements of moisture as finely, as exactly, and as truly as I can, with my old, nervous sense of poet and wanderer. And then again, as today, it can be doubtful to me whether I have seen, heard, and smelled anything after all, whether everything that I took to be true is not merely an image cast outward, the image of my inner life.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

 

 

 

 

The Secret Alchemy of Poetry – Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

“Their language is vitally metaphorical; that is, it marks the before unapprehended relations of things and perpetuates their apprehension, until the words which represent them, become, through time, signs for portions or classes of thoughts instead of pictures of integral thoughts; and then if no new poets should arise to create afresh the associations which have been thus disorganized, language will be dead to all the nobler purposes of human intercourse. These similitudes or relations are finely said by Lord Bacon to be “the same footsteps of nature impressed upon the various subjects of the world” 1—and he considers the faculty which perceives them as the storehouse of axioms common to all knowledge. In the infancy of society every author is necessarily a poet, because language itself is poetry; and to be a poet is to apprehend the true and the beautiful, in a word, the good which exists in the relation, subsisting, first between existence and perception, and secondly between perception and expression. Every original language near to its source is in itself the chaos of a cyclic poem: the copiousness of lexicography and the distinctions of grammar are the works of a later age, and are merely the catalogue and the form of the creations of poetry. ”

Portrait_of_Percy_Bysshe_Shelley_by_Amelia Curran,_1819
Portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley by Amelia Curran, 1819

“Language, colour, form, and religious and civil habits of action, are all the instruments and materials of poetry; they may be called poetry by that figure of speech which considers the effect as a synonym of the cause. But poetry in a more restricted sense expresses those arrangements of language, and especially metrical language, which are created by that imperial faculty, whose throne is curtained within the invisible nature of man. And this springs from the nature itself of language, which is a more direct representation of the actions and passions of our internal being, and is susceptible of more various and delicate combinations, than color, form, or motion, and is more plastic and obedient to the control of that faculty of which it is the creation.”

For language is arbitrarily produced by the imagination, and has relation to thoughts alone; but all other materials, instruments, and conditions of art have relations among each other, which limit and interpose between conception and expression. The former is as a mirror which reflects, the latter as a cloud which enfeebles, the light of which both are mediums of communication. Hence the fame of sculptors, painters, and musicians, although the intrinsic powers of the great masters of these arts may yield in no degree to that of those who have employed language as the hieroglyphic of their thoughts, has never equalled that of poets in the restricted sense of the term; as two performers of equal skill will produce unequal effects from a guitar and a harp. The fame of legislators and founders of religions, so long as their institutions last, alone seems to exceed that of poets in the restricted sense; but it can scarcely be a question, whether, if we deduct the celebrity which their flattery of the gross opinions of the vulgar usually conciliates, together with that which belonged to them in their higher character of poets, any excess will remain.

“Poetry is ever accompanied with pleasure: all spirits on which it falls open themselves to receive the wisdom which is mingled with its delight. In the infancy of the world, neither poets themselves nor their auditors are fully aware of the excellence of poetry: for it acts in a divine and unapprehended manner, beyond and above consciousness; and it is reserved for future generations to contemplate and measure the mighty cause and effect in all the strength and splendouPercy Bysshe Shelleyr of their union. Even in modern times, no living poet ever arrived at the fulness of his fame; the jury which sits in judgment upon a poet, belonging as he does to all time, must be composed of his peers: it must be impanelled by Time from the selectest of the wise of many generations. A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds; his auditors are as men entranced by the melody of an unseen musician, who feel that they are moved and softened, yet know not whence or why. The poems of Homer and his contemporaries were the delight of infant Greece; they were the elements of that social system which is the column upon which all succeeding civilization has reposed. ”

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) Posthumous Portrait of Shelley Writing Prometheus Unbound Artist Joseph Severn
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) Posthumous Portrait of Shelley Writing Prometheus Unbound Artist Joseph Severn

“Poetry turns all things to loveliness; it exalts the beauty of that which is most beautiful, and it adds beauty to that which is most deformed; it marries exultation and horror, grief and pleasure, eternity and change; it subdues to union under its light yoke all irreconcilable things.”

It transmutes all that it touches, and every form moving within the radiance of its presence is changed by wondrous sympathy to an incarnation of the spirit which it breathes: its secret alchemy turns to potable gold the poisonous waters which flow from death through life; it strips the veil of familiarity from the world, and lays bare the naked and sleeping beauty, which is the spirit of its forms.

” All things exist as they are perceived: at least in relation to the percipient. “The mind is its own place, and of itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” But poetry defeats the curse which binds us to be subjected to the accident of surrounding impressions. And whether it spreads its own figured curtain, or withdraws life’s dark veil from before the scene of things, it equally creates for us a being within our being. It makes us the inhabitants of a world to which the familiar world is a chaos. It reproduces the common universe of which we are portions and percipients, and it purges from our inward sight the film of familiarity which obscures from us the wonder of our being. It compels us to feel that which we perceive, and to imagine that which we know. It creates anew the universe, after it has been annihilated in our minds by the recurrence of impressions blunted by reiteration. It justifies the bold and true words of Tasso:

Non merita nome di creatore, se non Iddio ed il Poeta.”
translation: None merits the name of Creator but God and the poet.

Read “A Defence of Poetry and Other Essays, by Percy Bysshe Shelley” online at Project Gutenburg

The Remains of Elmet: a collaboration by Ted Hughes & Fay Godwin

The Ancient Kingdom of Elmet witnessed “Druidism; Britons, their fight against Rome and their adoption of Romanism; the start of Christianity and the clash with Rome’s catholic Christianity; a Bardic tradition in a Brythonic tongue and then in the highest quality Latin, the struggle against the English; the struggle against the Norse; the coming of the Normans; civil war in the 12th century; Scottish raids; the rise & fall of the Percy’s; the bloodiest battle in the Wars of the Roses; religious rebellion in the Tudor times; sieges and battles in the English Civil War; the growth of great estates through the 18th century; the centre of the Industrial Revolution. “

– John Davey

Elmet (Elmed/Elfed) called Elmete Saetan or “the dwelling place of the people of Elmete” came into prominence following the evacuation of the Roman Legions from Britain after 407-410 A.D. As such it is synonymous with the origins of Arthurian legends much corrupted by later generations.

MapElmet02

The Ancient Kingdom of Elmet has inspired bards, poets, photographers and authors, among others, with its history, legends, landscape and folklore, not least of all the Arthurian legends, though that connection is for another day.

One such body of work inspired by the landscape and history, is the collaborative Remains of Elmet. Collaborations between poets and photographers became increasingly common in the late twentieth century. Among the most successful was Remains of Elmet (1979), by photographer Fay Godwin and poet Ted Hughes.

Remains of Elmet

Remains of Elmet marks a departure from Hughes myth laden sequences of poetry which he produced in the 1970s. After the likes of CrowCave Birds and Gaudete,Remains of Elmet appears downbeat by comparison with its sparse lines of verse and bleak black and white high contrast photographs of the West Yorkshire landscape as taken by Hughes’s collaborator on this project Fay Godwin. ” – The Ted Hughes Society

Fay Godwin, Remains of Elmet
Fay Godwin, Remains of Elmet

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Fay Godwin, Ruined Farm, Stanbury Moor, 1979

“Hughes’s poetic vision of the Calder Valley, a region formerly referred to by the Celts as ‘Elmet’, is not a wistful and rose-tinted appreciation of the area he grew up in. His poems depict a weather beaten landscape and people and the vestiges of industrial enterprise, religious custom and ancient tradition. Here, the only survivor among these remains, the only ‘thing’ to flourish, is nature as it reclaims the land from those who inhabit it. This underlying conflict is foregrounded by allusions to the First World War where the valley is at once an extension of the Western Front and a site of remembrance with repeated allusions to the cenotaph and the war dead. Survivors of this conflict and the generation of inhabitants who have witnessed its economic demise become anachronisms, symbolic of an inertia crippling attempts of tame the valley.” – The Ted Hughes Society

Fay Godwin is very much a writer’s photographer, in more senses than one. Poets and novelists are drawn to her work, and she worked closely with several.”

“From an urban life as a 60s north London wife, mother and hostess, she set out on a long journey into the wilder landscapes of Britain, sometimes in company, sometimes alone, often on foot, and built up over time a body of work that reflects a deep sense of place and the poetry of place. In 1970 she met Ted Hughes, with whom she formed a creative partnership which was to result in his lament for the Calder Valley, Remains of Elmet (1979). Perhaps the best known of her collaborations, this volume was very much poem-led. She responded strongly to his vision of the ruined mills, the “melting corpses of farms”, the Satanic majesty, the sluttish subsidy sheep, the black chimneys, the cemeteries, the millstone grit, the willow herb. It was through Hughes, she said, that she got to know England.” Margaret Drabble on Fay Godwin

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Fay Godwin, Top Withens

Fay Godwin on a Photographers Place workshop in the late 1970s
Fay Godwin on a Photographers Place workshop in the late 1970s

“Attuned to each other, like the strings of a harp
They are making mesmerising music,
Each one bowed at his dried bony profile, as at a harp.
Singers of a lost kingdom. “

(from Remains of Elmet)

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Ted Hughes

“Throughout his creative life, Ted Hughes has used his poetry to tap the universal energies and to channel their healing powers towards the sterility and the divisions which he sees in our world. All his major sequences of poetry work towards this end, and Remains of Elmet represents an important step in Hughes’ ability to achieve wholeness and harmony through the imaginative, healing processes of his art.

In his pursuit of these regenerative energies, Hughes appears to have adopted the role of poet/priest/shaman, and it is a role which carries responsibilities that Hughes takes very seriously. He is aware of the creative/destructive powers of the energies he courts, and he has a superstitious belief that by fixing these powerful energies in a poem he can affect both writer and reader “in a final way”. Consequently, Hughes has experimented with many methods of summoning and containing these energies and, whilst he is skilled at using the rhythms and the rituals of poetry for this purpose, in his longer sequences he most frequently turns to “the old method” of religious and mythological ritual in order to obtain the imaginative healing he intends.” © Ann Skea – Regeneration in Remains of Elmet

For more on Elmet

sources:

Margaret Drabble on Fay Godwin

The Ted Hughes Society

Ann Skea – Regeneration in Remains of Elmet

 

 

 

Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) poet (1886–1961) – The Mysteries Remain

Hdpoet c1921

“So, for once, let’s forget her beauty, and the string of amorous famous writers who sought her out. Never mind that she starred in an anti-racist silent film with Paul Robeson. Never mind she held her own throughout psychoanalysis with Freud, himself. Never mind her exotic travels, her busy androgyny, her splendid daughter, her voluntary exile abroad, her great clothes. Never mind, even, her two sublime strokes of luck: Winifred Bryher, her loyal, glorious patron, lover, and friend for some forty years; and Norman Holmes Pearson, who for thirty-plus years befriended her writing, its public relations, and its most advantageous publication.

All that is history, a done deal. What lives are the poems, and plenty of them. A fat volume of Collected Poems, which includes Sea Garden (1916), The God (1913–1917), Translations (1915–1920), Hymen (1921),Heliodora (1924), Red Roses for Bronze (1931), and Trilogy, which consists of The Walls Do Not Fall (1944), Tribute to the Angels (1944), and The Flowering of the Rod (1944), take us from 1912 to 1944. Two important books of new poems follow: Helen in Egypt (1961) and the posthumous Hermetic Definition(1972). First to last her work is shot through with brightness, streaks of lines and tunes, excited recognitions, hints of transfiguring.

H. D. is a poet who counts on her pleasure in the intense intuition it takes to unify sound and picturing. This serves her gift for co-opting ordinary phrases, making them memorable in oddly elevated ways—as she says, “realizing a self / an octave above.” She never loses her verbal music.

We can trace the development of her poems, beginning with her early Imagiste poems, which are vivid, vehement, and static; maybe, in their strained, metaphors, deliberately odd. Waves become trees. A leaf is a green stone. Poems are addressed to a storm, a twig, a moon; poems are spoken by gods, goddesses, and ancient heroes: Pygmalion, Demeter, Eurydice. Their unsituated significance comes to us chiefly through the almost liturgical stance of the poet, who takes great stylistic care to speak as though entranced.”

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/shot-through-brightness-poems-h d

The Mysteries Remain by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle)

The mysteries remain,
I keep the same
cycle of seed-time
and of sun and rain;
Demeter in the grass,
I multiply,
renew and bless
Bacchus in the vine;
I hold the law,
I keep the mysteries true,
the first of these
to name the living, dead;
I am the wine and bread.
I keep the law,
I hold the mysteries true,
I am the vine,
the branches, you
and you.

H.D.’S wiki entry for more background, references and links to works: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H.D. 

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Tree Folklore: Birch, the Lady of the Wood – Jo Woolf

All images © 2016 Jo Woolf

(from Tree Folklore: Birch, the Lady of the Wood – #FolkloreThursday)

Beith’ or birch is the first symbol of the Ogham alphabet, representing the letter ‘B’, and ancient birch woodlands are immortalised in many Gaelic place names: examples include Glen an Beithe, Allt Beithe, and Beith in Ayrshire; the old name of ‘birk’ also appears in many parts of Scotland and England. It’s interesting to note that a fungus known as witches’ broom (Taphrina betulina) grows on birch trees, causing dense clusters of short twigs that look like untidy birds’ nests. Having stimulated this sudden growth, the fungus then feeds on the new shoots without inflicting too much harm on the tree itself.Birch with witches’ broom fungus.

Traditionally, birch is said to be full of the light of the warrior-god Lugh, and the old belief in its power to drive out evil is strong and persistent: even in Victorian times, naughty schoolchildren would find themselves on the wrong end of a birch switch; and ceremonies of ‘beating the bounds’, many of which have survived into the present day, involved the ritual tapping of local boundaries with staffs of birch or willow. Cradles made from birch were believed to protect new-born babies from malicious spirits, and in the folklore of the Highlands, it was said that a pregnant cow herded with a birch stick would bear a healthy calf; and if the animal was barren, she would become fertile.

In Norse mythology, the birch was sacred to the goddesses Frigg and Freya, who are believed by some scholars to share the same origin; and in Welsh legend, the tree was linked with Blodeuwedd, the wife of Lleu Llaw Gyffes – interestingly, the Welsh equivalent of Lugh. The Irish warrior Diarmuid and his lover, Grainne, slept on beds of birch twigs when they fled from the wrath of Fionn mac Cumhaill, to whom Grainne had been promised in marriage. “The birch has always been associated with the spirits of the dead and with those that mourn, for, in sympathy with the sorrowing, ‘weeps the birch of silver bark with long dishevell’d hair’.” Trees and How They Grow by G Clarke Nuttall, 1913.

Birch can mark the threshold between this world and the next: in The Wife of Usher’s Well, an old ballad which appears in Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, a mother grieves for the loss of her three sons whom she had sent “o’er the sea” – perhaps to find their fortune in war. Superstition decreed that the dead should not be mourned for more than a year and a day, or else their restless spirits might return to haunt the living; but the woman took no heed of this advice, and in the depths of winter the ghosts of her sons appeared, wearing hats of birch to protect them from the physical world which they had left behind

Jo Woolf

  • All images © 2016 Jo Woolf

More at the Source: Tree Folklore: Birch, the Lady of the Wood – #FolkloreThursday

The lost children of Hamelin | Maria J. Pérez Cuervo

“In the year of 1284, on the day of Saints John and Paul, the 26th of June, 130 child­ren born in Hamelin were seduced by a piper, dressed in all kinds of colours, and lost at the calvary near the koppen.” The town of Hamelin hasn’t forgotten this loss. The street where, supposedly, the children were last seen is called Bungelosen­strasse: street without drums”. Even so many years after the event, no one is allowed to play music or dance there.

Oral tradition preserved and enriched the story until the Brothers Grimm included it in their compil­ation of German legends, Deutsche Sagen (1816–18). In the Grimms’ version, mediæval Hamelin is hit by a plague of rats. A seemingly hero-like figure appears, in the shape of a mysterious stranger dressed in red and yellow clothes. He promises to rid the town of the vermin, and the townsmen promise him money in exchange. The rat-catcher has a strange, almost supernatural gift: he plays a tune on his pipe that lures the rats into the river Weser, where they all drown. But, blinded by their greed, the townsmen refuse to honour their promise and pay the Piper his fee. The Piper leaves the town, plotting his revenge. When he returns to Hamelin, he wears the attire of a hunter. He plays a melody that hypnotises the children, who follow him to the mountains, never to be seen again. The cruelty of the denouément strikes us doubly, because it surpasses our expect­ations. What initially looks like a classic ‘Overcoming the Monster’ plot turns into a nightmarish tale of disproportionate revenge.

 

The main difficulty when trying to trace the roots of the legend is the lack of primary sources. The earliest surviving reference to the tragedy of Hamelin is a note in a manuscript copy of the Catena Aurea of Heinrich von Herford (c.1370), generally referred to as the Lüneburg Manuscript. According to both this manuscript and the inscription found in the Rattenfängerhaus, the events took place on 26 June 1284. There are, however, reports of scholars who accessed earlier documents that are now lost. Dutch physician and demon­ologist Johann Weyer mentioned in the fourth edit­ion of his Delusions of the Devil (1577) some of the historical sources that contained mult­iple references to the tragedy of Hamelin: “These facts are thus written in the annals of Hammel and are religiously guarded in the archives. They are to be read also in the sacred books of the Church, and to be seen in the painted panes of the same; of which fact I am an eyewitness. Besides, as confirmation of the story, the older magist­racy was accustomed to write together on its public documents: ‘in the year of Christ and in that of the going out of the children’, etc.” [1] Weyer was probably referring to the book of statutes of Hamelin, Der Donat, (c.1351), or to a collection of local historical documents called the Brade.

The Market Church in Hamelin exhibited another piece of the puzzle, a glass window dating from the 1300s depicting the stranger dressed in multicoloured clothes taking away a crowd of children dressed in white. The window was destroyed in 1660, but it inspired a 1592 watercolour by Augustin Von Moersperg that preserves its essence and represents the main geographical elements of the legend – the town, the river Weser, and the mountain, with a dark entrance to a cave.

The Black Death

Although neither the Lüneburg Manuscript nor the glass window suggest that rats played an important part in the Hamelin events, folklore has assimilated the figure of the Pied Piper with that of a rat-catcher. The first surviving reference to rodents appears in the 16th-century Zimmern Chronicle (c.1559–65), followed by Weyer’s aforementioned Delusions of the Devil, both written almost three centuries after the tragedy. If the rats were most likely a later addit­ion rather than an original element of the Hamelin episode, they gave depth to the tale and resonated in the popular imagin­ation thanks to a play of macabre symbolic associations. The image of a rat-infested mediæval town instantly brings to mind thoughts of the plague. Plagues and epi­demics have had a continuous impact on the collective imagination, taking us back to the Ten Plagues of Egypt in Exodus: biblical plagues were a punishment from God. The Piper, able to defy the curse with the power of his music, is thus invested with supernatural abilities.

In mediæval representations, Death presented himself as a skeleton wearing a colourful pied attire, a jester who always laughs last (perhaps the reportedly widespread fear of clowns – see FT226:34–41 – might even derive from this image). The Pied Piper thus becomes the lord of the rats, the Black Death (known at the time as the Great Death or simply the Pestilence) personified, and the one responsible for taking the lives of the 130 children of Hamelin.

Associations of the Piper with the Black Death aren’t limited to the subtext of the tale. The plague has also been used to contextualise the story; Jacques Demy’s 1972 film, featuring singer/songwriter Donovan as the Piper, is a good example. However, the peak of Black Death in Europe was between 1348 and 1350, that is, more than 64 years after the date of the children’s disappearance if we follow the Lüneburg Manuscript’s chronology.

City of lost children

In the earliest accounts of the Hamelin events, we are told that the children were “lost”, but not necessarily dead. The Brothers Grimm, at the end of their version, add that “some say that the children were led into a cave, and that they came out again in Transylvania,” a conclusion retained by Robert Browning in his 1842 poem The Pied Piper of Hamelin. The terms from the Lüne­burg Manuscript used to describe the place of the children’s disappearance (Calvary, Koppen), have been interpreted in different ways. Historian Hans Dobbertin assimilated the word Calvary, place of the skull, to the word Koppen, meaning head. In the Bible, Calvary or Golgotha was the place of the execution of Jesus – a mountain or a hill. This might suggest that the children of Hamelin were executed, or perhaps the word Calvary is merely used to describe the skull-like shape of a hill, like the biblical Golgotha.

Scholars such as Heinrich Spanuth, Jürgen Udolph and Dobbertin have sugg­ested that the Piper could have been an emissary sent by the ruling nobility to promote a campaign for the colonisation of Moravia, East Prussia, Pomerania or the Teutonic Lands to the East. The expression “children of Hamelin” could have been a general term for all the inhabitants of the town who listened to this brightly dressed “recruiting sergeant”, and their exodus a response to politico-economical factors.

In this light, the story of the Pied Piper might be seen to bear certain similar­ities to that of the Children’s Crusade, an extraordinary series of events that purportedly took place in 1212. In both episodes, the border between history and myth is a porous one. The Children’s Crusade appears in mediæval sources, but historians now question its authenticity. The crusade was said to have been led by a child shepherd named Nicholas, from Cologne, Germany, who preached that the purity of children would allow them to conquer the Holy Land; the legend says that they starved and died along the way.

The piper as a trickster

The scarce and enigmatic reports of the loss of an entire generation in Hamelin reverberated down the centuries. Literal interpretations of the story present the Piper as a kidnapper or a psychopathic pederast. This vision has endured in popular culture (even the 2010 remake ofNightmare on Elm Street suggests that there are some similarities between the characters of Freddy Krueger and the Piper), but its underlying idea was first expressed five centuries ago, in the work of German physicist and Humanist Jobus Fincelius (De miraculis sui Temporis, 1556), who believed that the Piper was the Devil in disguise: “Of the Devil’s power and wickedness will I here tell a true history. About 180 years ago, on S. Mary Magdalene’s Day, it came to pass at Hammel on the Weser in Saxony, that the Devil went about the streets visibly in human form, piped and allured many children, boys and girls, and led them through the town-gate towards a mountain”. [4] This idea is repeated in Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), where the Piper turns up as an example in episode two, A Digression of the nature of Spirits, bad Angels, or Devils, and how they cause Melancholy.

The 19th century romanticised the figure of the Pied Piper, just as it did other outsiders –the pirate, the gypsy, the bandit. Goethe’s 1802 poem Der Rattenfänger, clearly inspired by the Hamelin legend, presents the rat-catcher of the title as “the bard known far and wide, / The travell’d rat-catcher beside; / A man most needful to this town”. Along similar lines, the most popular retelling of all is Robert Browning’s 1849 poem, where the children of Hamelin are happy to leave a town governed by greedy, dishonourable adults. The Piper, the “travell’d rat catcher” of Goethe’s lines, arrives in Hamelin offering a fresh start for a new generation.

Appropriately setting the figure of the Piper to music (and why so late?), Goethe’s poem would, in turn, be adapted by Rom­antic composer Schubert and, later, Hugo Wolf. The Romantic take on the Piper contains an idea that has proved unsurprisingly appealing to musicians: the transformation of youth by a mysterious outsider who has inherited the musical skills of Orpheus or Pan  – a theme that’s been revisited by the likes of Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Megadeth and even ABBA.

Over more than 700 years, the Pied-Piper of Hamelin has become an archetypal Trickster figure (see FT175:40–41; 185:53–55). The Trickster is known for challenging the establishment, breaking the rules and spreading anarchy. In his dual nature, he can be seen as malignant or mischievous, but he is also a messenger of the gods and an agent and symbol of transformation. The Pied Piper, like the Trickster, is a shape-shifter who wears a number of different masks – the psychopath, the hero, the rebel… even Death himself. Like Shakespeare’s Puck or Barrie’s Peter Pan, he spreads a net of enchantment, leading our children to the Otherworld. Whether this Otherworld was a new land to colonise, an altered state of consciousness or the realm of the dead remains a mystery.

[note: this is an abridged version of the original article – please follwo the link for the full article]

[note too! I can’t find a credit for this image of the Pied Piper, but I love his cloak here! If anyone knows the source of the image, please let me know and I’ll add it – Jaq]

Source: The lost children of Hamelin | Maria J. Pérez Cuervo

We are bees of the invisible… Rilke from a letter to Halewicz

geheimnisse-einiger-philosophen-und-adepten

“We are bees of the invisible. We wildly collect the honey of the invisible, to store it in the great golden hives of the invisible.”

Rilke often refers to the invisible, especially in his Duino Elegies, which he wrote during a particularly mystical period of his life. In a letter to his Polish translator Witold Hulewicz in November 1925, he wrote: ‘We of the present are never satisfied by the world of time…transience everywhere plunges into the depths of being…it is our task to print this temporal, perishable earth so painfully, passionately and deeply into ourselves, that its essence is resurrected again, invisibly, within us…the Elegies show this, the work of endlessly converting the visible, tangible world we love into the invisible vibrations and tremors of our own nature…’

He was quite passionate about the “Temple within” and the interior life, whereas he saw the outside world as transitory and fragile.

In another letter, written in 1925, commenting on his Elegies, he wrote: “‘…the Angel of the Elegies is that creature in whom the transformation of the visible into the invisible, which we perform, appears already complete.’ [..] ‘that being who attests to the recognition of a higher level of reality in the invisible – Terrifying, therefore, to us because we, its lovers and transformers, still cling to the visible’.

Here are some good links on Rilke’s work and his letters

http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/German/TheFountainOfJoy.htm

http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft8779p1x3&chunk.id=d0e1921&toc.id=d0e1494&brand=ucpress

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/rainer-maria-rilke

I became a little (more) obsessed with Rilke after reading a chapter focusing on his work in this book:
http://www.jameshollis.net/books/archetypal.htm

(edited to include more details from comments)

originally posted 2012

Jaq

The Turning Sky | Lapham’s Quarterly

“The god Horus is a falcon (the word for which in hieroglyphs is qhr, the falcon’s cry). In the third surviving column of text, remarkably, the falcon is marked with a triangle, the hieroglyphic designation for the star Sirius. As if it were a mathematical proof unfolding before my eyes, I saw that if the falcon marked by the triangle is Sirius, the fire is the light of dawn in which the gods—the things marked holy by the hieroglyphic prayer flags—are stars. The baboon’s penis is in actuality a familiar sight: the Sword of Orion (the three stars under Orion’s belt), which rises directly before Sirius on the path of rising stars. The hieroglyphic lines on the wall express an immediate, visual moment in the physical world: the dawn rising of Sirius signaling the rising of the Nile, the key moment of the Egyptian agricultural year. The clear, repetitive, and simple hieroglyphic lines read not as a magic spell but as a finely machined poetic riddle: The Sword of Orion opens the doors of the sky. Before the doors close the gate to the path over the fire Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark, As a falcon flies, as a falcon flies, may Unis rise into this fire, Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark. They make a path for Unis. Unis takes the path. Unis becomes the falcon star, Sirius. That this was the case was borne out by the text as I translated further. Beautifully constructed verses presented one vivid astronomical reference after another: Taurus (“Would that the bull break the fingers of the horizon of earth with its horns. / Come out. Rise.”), the full moon (“the face, the head, the eye”), the North Star (“the axis at the center of the wheel”), the Dippers (“the arms of night”), the Milky Way (“the ladder to heaven”). The verses of the Pyramid Texts map the night sky as a detailed seasonal clock reliably predicting the most critical resource of all: water. Egyptian civilization came out of radical climate change—cattle herders whose grazing land was rapidly becoming desert as the water dried up in the climate shift of the Neolithic, much as is happening in Texas and around the world today.

The verses present a sequence of poetic images in which the human body is transformed back into its elements in the visible universe of the turning sky. The remnant essence of a human life rises as a star in the east: “moses” (the hieroglyphic word for infant) in “the field of rushes” (the eastern stars at dawn). The infant star is the child of “she who gave birth but did not know it” (the sky). The sky is a flood of cool darkness across which sail the stars: Sirius and its evil twin, “the detested wild dog Set,” the second brightest star in the sky, Canopus, the rising of which signals the autumn rains with their deadly flash floods and thunderstorms. Through this glittering wetland of stars wanders the golden calf, the golden crescent horns of the moon.

This extraordinary convergence of poetry, science, and religion resides not only in the writing but in the pictures within the words themselves. Osiris is a phonetic rendering of a hieroglyphic rebus: the seat of the eye, the universal corpse in which resurrection is not a religious mystery but an inevitability of nature. In the Pyramid Texts, hieroglyphic vocabulary is rich with images: The body is a tree. The snake is the life in it. The fruit of the tree is the eye. What is being expressed is the intelligence of nature itself in the ongoing process of creation: the death, decay, and rebirth of plant and animal life in the cyclical year. One familiar religious trope after another appears not as literal historical fact used to proscribe, threaten, and dictate the parameters of human life but as poetic imagery used to bring to life the awareness of our fragile and beautiful world. The richness of these images is echoed in the Book of Job: “As for the earth, out of it cometh bread, and under it is turned up as it were fire. The stones of it are the place of sapphires, and it hath dust of gold.” The Pyramid Texts are not magic spells or religious prescription any more than this. Instead, the text takes up a key question: Where shall wisdom be found?

…over the fire
Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark,

As a falcon flies, as a falcon flies, may Unis rise into this fire,

Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark.

They make a path for Unis. Unis takes the path.

Unis becomes the falcon star, Sirius.

 

Would that the bull break the fingers of the horizon of earth with its horns.

Come out. Rise.

Poetry and religion arise from the same source: the perception of the mystery of life. Early Egyptian writing belongs to this eternal language. The vehicle at work is associative thinking, in which metaphors act as keys to unlock a primeval human sense of the integrated living world. The meaning may not come across on the pedantic level, but on the poetic level it is transparent.”

Source: The Turning Sky | Lapham’s Quarterly

Susan Brind Morrow

Susan Brind Morrow’s translation and analysis of the Pyramid Texts, The Dawning Moon of the Mind: Unlocking the Pyramid Texts, was published in 2015. She received a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in 2006.