Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

On Thursday of last week (13 October) it was announced that Bob Dylan had won the 2016 Nobel prize for literature. It should be obvious to anyone who has read my posts on Bob Dylan, of which there have been many, that I am fully in agreement with his receiving this accolade. As I have stated several times, to me Bob Dylan is a poet, but someone who has chosen to set his poems to music. Not all of his songs can be considered poetry, but I would argue that many of them can be, and there is little doubt that he brought a level of literary craftsmanship to writing song lyrics which had not existed before.

That the best songwriters are creating poetry is, for me, a matter of little dispute. At the top of this list sits Bob Dylan, but he is not the only one. Other names which spring to mind are Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell. As the Nobel prize cannot be awarded posthumously, the Nobel committee better get a move on if it’s going to award any of these three the same honour that it has just bestowed on Dylan.

safari001

On Thursday of last week (13 October) it was announced that Bob Dylan had won the 2016 Nobel prize for literature.

As four examples of Dylan’s genius for writing songs which are poetry, here are “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” from 1965 (which appears on the album Bringing it All Back Home), “The ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” from 1967 (which appears on his album John Wesley Harding), “Tangled Up in Blue” from 1974 (which appears on the album Blood on the Tracks) and “Not Dark Yet” from 1997 (which appears on on the album Time Out of Mind).

Do you think Bob Dylan is deserving of the Nobel prize in literature, or is songwriting a lesser form of literature than poetry? Which are your favourite Dylan lyrics?

It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn
Plays wasted words, proves to warn
That he not busy being born is busy dying

Temptation’s page flies out the door
You follow, find yourself at war
Watch waterfalls of pity roar
You feel to moan but unlike before
You discover that you’d just be one more
Person crying

So don’t fear if you hear
A foreign sound to your ear
It’s alright, Ma, I’m only sighing

As some warn victory, some downfall
Private reasons great or small
Can be seen in the eyes of those that call
To make all that should be killed to crawl
While others say don’t hate nothing at all
Except hatred

Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their mark
Make everything from toy guns that spark
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far
That not much is really sacred

While preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have to stand naked

An’ though the rules of the road have been lodged
It’s only people’s games that you got to dodge
And it’s alright, Ma, I can make it

Advertising signs they con
You into thinking you’re the one
That can do what’s never been done
That can win what’s never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you

You lose yourself, you reappear
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
Alone you stand with nobody near
When a trembling distant voice, unclear
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
That somebody thinks they really found you

A question in your nerves is lit
Yet you know there is no answer fit
To satisfy, insure you not to quit
To keep it in your mind and not forget
That it is not he or she or them or it
That you belong to

Although the masters make the rules
For the wise men and the fools
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to

For them that must obey authority
That they do not respect in any degree
Who despise their jobs, their destinies
Speak jealously of them that are free
Cultivate their flowers to be
Nothing more than something they invest in

While some on principles baptized
To strict party platform ties
Social clubs in drag disguise
Outsiders they can freely criticize
Tell nothing except who to idolize
And then say God bless him

While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he’s in

But I mean no harm nor put fault
On anyone that lives in a vault
But it’s alright, Ma, if I can’t please him

Old lady judges watch people in pairs
Limited in sex, they dare
To push fake morals, insult and stare
While money doesn’t talk, it swears
Obscenity, who really cares
Propaganda, all is phony

While them that defend what they cannot see
With a killer’s pride, security
It blows the minds most bitterly
For them that think death’s honesty
Won’t fall upon them naturally
Life sometimes must get lonely

My eyes collide head-on with stuffed
Graveyards, false gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough, what else can you show me?

And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only

The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest

Well, Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
They were the best of friends
So when Frankie Lee needed money one day
Judas quickly pulled out a roll of tens
And placed them on a footstool
Just above the plotted plain
Sayin’, “Take your pick, Frankie Boy
My loss will be your gain”

Well, Frankie Lee, he sat right down
And put his fingers to his chin
But with the cold eyes of Judas on him
His head began to spin
“Would ya please not stare at me like that,” he said
“It’s just my foolish pride
But sometimes a man must be alone
And this is no place to hide”

Well, Judas, he just winked and said
“All right, I’ll leave you here
But you’d better hurry up and choose which of those bills you want
Before they all disappear”
“I’m gonna start my pickin’ right now
Just tell me where you’ll be”
Judas pointed down the road
And said, “Eternity!”

“Eternity?” said Frankie Lee
With a voice as cold as ice
“That’s right,” said Judas Priest, “Eternity
Though you might call it ‘Paradise’”
“I don’t call it anything”
Said Frankie Lee with a smile
“All right,” said Judas Priest
“I’ll see you after a while”

Well, Frankie Lee, he sat back down
Feelin’ low and mean
When just then a passing stranger
Burst upon the scene
Saying, “Are you Frankie Lee, the gambler
Whose father is deceased?
Well, if you are, there’s a fellow callin’ you down the road
And they say his name is Priest”

“Oh, yes, he is my friend”
Said Frankie Lee in fright
“I do recall him very well
In fact, he just left my sight”
“Yes, that’s the one,” said the stranger
As quiet as a mouse
“Well, my message is, he’s down the road
Stranded in a house”

Well, Frankie Lee, he panicked
He dropped ev’rything and ran
Until he came up to the spot
Where Judas Priest did stand
“What kind of house is this,” he said
“Where I have come to roam?”
“It’s not a house,” said Judas Priest
“It’s not a house . . . it’s a home”

Well, Frankie Lee, he trembled
He soon lost all control
Over ev’rything which he had made
While the mission bells did toll
He just stood there staring
At that big house as bright as any sun
With four and twenty windows
And a woman’s face in ev’ry one

Well, up the stairs ran Frankie Lee
With a soulful, bounding leap
And, foaming at the mouth
He began to make his midnight creep
For sixteen nights and days he raved
But on the seventeenth he burst
Into the arms of Judas Priest
Which is where he died of thirst

No one tried to say a thing
When they took him out in jest
Except, of course, the little neighbor boy
Who carried him to rest
And he just walked along, alone
With his guilt so well concealed
And muttered underneath his breath
“Nothing is revealed”

Well, the moral of the story
The moral of this song
Is simply that one should never be
Where one does not belong
So when you see your neighbor carryin’ somethin’
Help him with his load
And don’t go mistaking Paradise
For that home across the road

Tangled Up in Blue

Early one mornin’ the sun was shinin’
I was layin’ in bed
Wond’rin’ if she’d changed at all
If her hair was still red
Her folks they said our lives together
Sure was gonna be rough
They never did like Mama’s homemade dress
Papa’s bankbook wasn’t big enough
And I was standin’ on the side of the road
Rain fallin’ on my shoes
Heading out for the East Coast
Lord knows I’ve paid some dues gettin’ through
Tangled up in blue

She was married when we first met
Soon to be divorced
I helped her out of a jam, I guess
But I used a little too much force
We drove that car as far as we could
Abandoned it out West
Split up on a dark sad night
Both agreeing it was best
She turned around to look at me
As I was walkin’ away
I heard her say over my shoulder
“We’ll meet again someday on the avenue”
Tangled up in blue

I had a job in the great north woods
Working as a cook for a spell
But I never did like it all that much
And one day the ax just fell
So I drifted down to New Orleans
Where I happened to be employed
Workin’ for a while on a fishin’ boat
Right outside of Delacroix
But all the while I was alone
The past was close behind
I seen a lot of women
But she never escaped my mind, and I just grew
Tangled up in blue

She was workin’ in a topless place
And I stopped in for a beer
I just kept lookin’ at the side of her face
In the spotlight so clear
And later on as the crowd thinned out
I’s just about to do the same
She was standing there in back of my chair
Said to me, “Don’t I know your name?”
I muttered somethin’ underneath my breath
She studied the lines on my face
I must admit I felt a little uneasy
When she bent down to tie the laces of my shoe
Tangled up in blue

She lit a burner on the stove
And offered me a pipe
“I thought you’d never say hello,” she said
“You look like the silent type”
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you
Tangled up in blue

I lived with them on Montague Street
In a basement down the stairs
There was music in the cafés at night
And revolution in the air
Then he started into dealing with slaves
And something inside of him died
She had to sell everything she owned
And froze up inside
And when finally the bottom fell out
I became withdrawn
The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keepin’ on like a bird that flew
Tangled up in blue

So now I’m goin’ back again
I got to get to her somehow
All the people we used to know
They’re an illusion to me now
Some are mathematicians
Some are carpenters’ wives
Don’t know how it all got started
I don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives
But me, I’m still on the road
Headin’ for another joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point of view
Tangled up in blue

Not Dark Yet

Shadows are falling and I’ve been here all day
It’s too hot to sleep, time is running away
Feel like my soul has turned into steel
I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal
There’s not even room enough to be anywhere
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain
Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain
She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind
She put down in writing what was in her mind
I just don’t see why I should even care
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Well, I’ve been to London and I’ve been to gay Paree
I’ve followed the river and I got to the sea
I’ve been down on the bottom of a world full of lies
I ain’t looking for nothing in anyone’s eyes
Sometimes my burden seems more than I can bear
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

I was born here and I’ll die here against my will
I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still
Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb
I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don’t even hear a murmur of a prayer
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Read Full Post »

Today I thought I would share this poem by Wales’ most famous anglo-welsh poet, Dylan Thomas. I have blogged about Thomas before; in this blog I shared the opening passage of his radio play for voices, Under Milk Wood. The poem I am sharing today is one of his most famous – “Do not go gentle into that good night”, which he wrote in 1947 when he was 33 years old.

Dylan_Thomas_photo

Dylan Thomas wrote “Do not go gentle into that good night” in 1947. He would be dead himself just 6 years later, at the age of 39.

The poem deals with death, or rather the refusal to fade away in old age. “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Profound words for a 33-year old to write, and ironic that Thomas himself should never live to see old age. He drank himself to death just a few years after composing this poem, when he was only 39 years old.

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Here is a video of Thomas reading his poem. What a beautiful voice he had. Enjoy!

Which is your favourite Dylan Thomas poem?

Read Full Post »

Today I thought I would suspend my usual Friday post of the countdown of the 100 greatest songwriters as determined by Rolling Stone Magazine and post, instead, a poem by one of my favourite Welsh-language poets – Waldo Williams. The poem I have chosen has been in the news a bit this week as BBC Wales have used an English translation of it in their trailer for tomorrow’s (Saturday’s) big rugby showdown between England and Wales.

As anyone who knows anything about Wales will tell you, we are big on rugby. It has become our religion. We get pretty excited about any rugby international, but when it is against England (the old enemy), and by beating England we can both scupper their chances of a Grand Slam and put us in a position to win the 6 Nations Championship, then the excitement goes into overdrive.

But, more about the rugby later in this blogpost, first Waldo Williams and the poem.

Who was Waldo Williams?

I feel a bit of a connection with Waldo Williams as he was born in Haverfordwest where I grew up. Then, at 7 years of age, he moved with his family to Mynachlog Ddu in the Preseli mountains, a place where some of my ancestors on my paternal grandfather’s side of the family also lived. He spoke only English before he moved to Mynachlog Ddu; his father was a Welsh speaker but his mother spoke only English. As Mynachlog Ddu was (and still is) a Welsh-speaking community he quickly became fluent in Welsh; but apparently always spoke to his sister in English as that is the language in which they had started their relationship.

waldo

Waldo Williams (1904-1971) was a Welsh poet, anti-war campaigner and political activist who grew up in Mynachlog Ddu, Pembrokeshire

After graduating in English from the University College of of Wales, Aberystwyth (now Aberystwyth University) he became a teacher, and went on to become headmaster of the local school in Maenclochog (near Mynachlog Ddu). He became a Quaker in the 1950s, and during the Korean War he refused to pay his taxes as a protest against the war. For this refusal, he was sent to prison several times.

As a teenager I  had a poster of one of Waldo’s poems on my bedroom wall, a beautiful poem called Cofio, which I will have to blog about in the future. I also included two lines from his poem Preseli at the beginning of my PhD thesis back in 1992. These lines are

Mur fy mebyd, Foel Drigarn, Carn Gyfrwy, Tal Fynydd

Wrth fy nghefn ym mhob annibyniaeth barn

which I translated as

The Wall of my youth, Bare Three Cairns, Saddle Cairn, Tall Mountain,

Behind me in all my independence of opinion

(Foel Drigarn, Carn Gyfrwy and Tal Fynydd are three mountains one can see from Mynachlog Ddu). The same words are on the memorial stone to Waldo, which stands overlooking these three mountains of his youth. I quoted these lines at the start of my Thesis as it summed up, for me, what growing up in the rugged countryside of Pembrokeshire engenders in its people; an independence of opinion and a preparedness to choose the path less followed.

carreg_waldo

The memorial stone to Waldo, which stands overlooking the three mountains mentioned in the lines of his poem

Pa Beth yw Dyn?

Pa Beth yw Dyn? was published in Waldo’s only book of poetry, Dail Pren (The Leaves of the Tree), which came out in 1956.

Beth yw byw? Cael neuadd fawr
Rhwng cyfyng furiau
Beth yw adnabod? Cael un gwraidd
Dan y canghennau.

Beth yw credu? Gwarchod tref
Nes dyfod derbyn.
Beth yw maddau? Cael ffordd trwy’r drain
At ochr hen elyn.

Beth yw canu? Cael o’r creu
Ei hen athrylith.
Beth yw gweithio ond gwneud cân
O’r coed a’r gwenith?

Beth yw trefnu teyrnas? Crefft
Sydd eto’n cropian
A’i harfogi? Rhoi’r cyllyll
Yn llaw’r baban.

Beth yw bod yn genedl? Dawn
Yn nwfn y galon.
Beth yw gwladgarwch? Cadw ty
Mewn cwmwl tystion.

Beth yw’r byd i’r nerthol mawr?
Cylch yn treiglo.
Beth yw’r byd i blant y llawr?
Crud yn siglo.

Dr. Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has done a translation of this poem, and it is his translation which is used in the BBC Wales trailer for tomorrow’s match. His translation reads

What is living? The broad hall found
between narrow walls.
What is acknowledging? Finding the one root
under the branches’ tangle.

What is believing? Watching at home
till the time arrives for welcome.
What is forgiving? Pushing your way through thorns
to stand alongside your old enemy.

What is singing? The ancient gifted breath
drawn in creating.
What is labour but making songs
from the wood and the wheat?

What is it to govern kingdoms? A skill
still crawling on all fours.
And arming kingdoms? A knife placed
in a baby’s fist.

What is it to be a people? A gift
lodged in the heart’s deep folds.
What is love of country? Keeping house
among a cloud of witnesses.

What is the world to the wealthy and strong? A wheel,
turning and turning.
What is the world to earth’s little ones? A cradle,
rocking and rocking.

This is an alternative translation by Tony Conran

To live, what is it? It’s having
A great hall between cramped walls.
To know another, what’s that? Having
The same root under the branches

To believe, what is it? Guarding a town
Until acceptance comes.
Forgiveness, what’s that? A way through thorns
To an old enemy’s side.

Singing, what is that? The ancient
Genius of the creation.
What’s work but making a song
Of the trees and the wheat?

To rule a kingdom, what’s that? A craft
That is crawling still.
And to arm it? You put a knife
In a baby’s hand.

Being a nation, what is it? A gift
In the depths of the heart.
Patriotism, what’s that? Keeping house
In a cloud of witnesses.

What’s the world to the strong?
Hoop a-rolling.
To the children of earth, what is it?
A cradle rocking.

The England v Wales BBC Trailer

Now, finally, tomorrow’s (Saturday’s) big rugby match between England and Wales. It is the fourth weekend of the 2016 6 Nations, and as things stand England and Wales are the only two undefeated sides. England have 3 wins from 3, and Wales have 2 wins and a draw from 3. The winner at Twickenham tomorrow is almost certainly going to win the 2016 Championship, so the stakes could not be higher.

Wales and England have played each other 127 times. Remarkably, both sides are incredibly even; England have won 58 times and Wales have won 57 times, with 12 matches drawn. Wales have beaten England more times since 2008, and the last time we played (at Twickenham) was when we helped dump England out of the  World Cup.

Wales v England results since 2008
Year Venue Competition Score Winner
2015 Twickenham 2015 Rugby World Cup 25-28 Wales
2015 Cardiff 2015 6 Nations 16-21 England
2014 Twickenham 2014 6 Nations 29-18 England
2013 Cardiff 2013 6 Nations 30-3 Wales
2012 Twickenham 2012 6 Nations 12-19 Wales
2011 Cardiff 2011 World Cup Warm Up Match 19-9 Wales
2011 Twickenham 2011 World Cup Warm Up Match 23-19 England
2011 Cardiff 2011 6 Nations 19-26 England
2010 Twickenham 2010 6 Nations 30-17 England
2009 Cardiff 2009 6 Nations 23-15 Wales
2008 Twickenham 2008 6 Nations 19-26 Wales

As this table shows, since 2008 Wales and England have played 11 times. Wales have won 6 times, England have won 5 times, and there have been no draws. It couldn’t be much closer!

Hopefully, with Wales having beaten England the last time they played, and it having been at Twickenham, Wales will have the edge tomorrow. I cannot wait for the match. And, to get you in the mood, here is the BBC Wales trailer, with Rowan Williams’ translation of Pa Beth Yw Dyn? read by Welsh actress Erin Richards…..

SafariScreenSnapz006

Erin Richards reading Waldo Williams’ poem Pa Beth Yw Dyn? (What is Man?), as translated by Rowan Williams

Read Full Post »

With the Rugby World Cup nearly upon us, and the final stages of the qualifiers for Euro 2016 (football) also approaching, I thought I would post this famous poem by Rudyard Kipling – If. It is often quoted relating to sport, and I think I am right in saying that the words “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two imposters just the same” are inscribed above the doors that lead out onto Centre Court at Wimbledon.

Joseph Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was an English short-story writer, poet and novelist. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907. He grew up in Bombay (now Mumbai) in colonial India, his father was a professor at a newly founded school of art in the city. Because of his upbringing in a “colony”, but as one of the colonial masters, Kipling developed the typical view of Indians that most Europeans sadly held at the time, that they were inferior to white people.



A photograph of Rudyard Kipling

A photograph of Rudyard Kipling



In 1894 he wrote the book on which one of my favourite films is based “The Jungle Book”. I have only ever seen the Disney version of this film, but I absolutely love it and when I had children it was one of the first films I bought to show them! How close the film is to the book I have no idea, as I have never read the book – it is on my ‘to-do’ list though.

Here is If, which Kipling wrote in 1895, and it was first published in Rewards and Fairies in 1910.


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!


Read Full Post »

Today I thought I would share this wonderful poem by Walt Whitman, “O me! O life”. It is in his collection of poems Leaves of Grass, a volume that was first published in 1855 and included just twelve poems. But, Whitman revised and added poems to this volume throughout his life, so the final version of the collection, published in 1892, the year of his death, is very different from the first edition with over 400 poems!



Walt Whitman (18xx-18xx) published "Oh me, oh life" in xxxx.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) was an American poet, whose main collection of poetry is “Leaves of Grass”. This poem, “O me! O life!” appears in that collection.



I have blogged previously about a Walt Whitman poem, namely “O Captain! My Captain!”, a poem about Abraham Lincoln. This poem , “O me! O life!” is much shorter, and more direct.

O me! O life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer:

That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

In the inspirational movie Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams’ character uses this poem to explain to his students why the human race reads and writes poetry.





Which is your favourite Walt Whitman poem?

Read Full Post »

The poem “Invictus”, written by William Ernest Henley, first came to my attention through the movie of the same name. The movie, made in 2009, is about South Africa’s attempt to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup, shortly after Nelson Mandela had become President. Rugby had always been seen as an Afrikaaner game in South Africa, so much so that the majority South African blacks would often support the opposition rather than support what they saw as a game played almost exclusively by their white racist masters.



William Ernest Henley

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) wrote Invictus in 1875, it was published in 1888.



Mandela sees an opportunity to unite South Africa by embracing this white-dominated sport, and show his willingness to let the past be the past. In the movie, Mandela is played by Morgan Freeman, and the Springboks’ captain François Pienaar is played by Matt Damon. If you haven’t see the film, then I highly recommend it.





The poem was used by Mandela to boost his spirits during his long incarceration in prison on Robben Island, and he shares it with Pienaar in the hope of inspiring the Springboks to victory. Here is the poem in its entirety.


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.


The best known lines in the poem are the last two lines. Recently they have cropped up in a TV commercial for the Irish stout Guinness. The commercial features a group of men in Brazzaville in the Congo who belong to “La Sape”, which stands for Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes (Society for the Advancement of Elegant People). A member of this Society is known as a “sapeur”.





Read Full Post »

I was chatting to a friend recently who was thinking of visiting Swansea, and they asked what there was to see in the area. As well as the outstanding beauty of the Gower Peninsula, which is just to the west of Swansea, one thing to see in Swansea are things relating to one of one of city’s most famous sons, Dylan Thomas. There is his childhood home and school, as well as a museum with lots of information about him. About 45 km further west is the small village of Laurghane (or Talacharn to give it its proper Welsh name), where Thomas lived and wrote for much of his adult life.

Dylan Thomas was born in Swansea in 1914, and is considered one of the finest English language poets of his generation. He is probably the best known anglo-Welsh poet, gaining considerable fame in the United States. He died an alcoholic in 1953, shortly after his 39th birthday, drinking himself to death in the Chelsea Hotel in New York City, dying on the 9th of November.

In addition to poetry, Thomas wrote short stories, including “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”, and his most famous short story, “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog”. But possibly his most famous piece of work is “Under Milk Wood”, a radio play which he completed shortly before his death. It was first broadcast in January 1954, with Richard Burton playing the role of the narrator. In 1972 a film version of the play was made, where Burton reprised his role as the narrator, the film also starred Elizabeth Taylor (Burton’s then wife) and Peter O’Toole.

 

20130805-100434.jpg

 

The opening lines of “Under Milk Wood” illustrate beautifully Thomas’ genius with words, their rhythm and sound.

[First voice (very softly)]

To begin at the beginning:
It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless
and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the
hunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping
invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black,
crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea. The houses are
blind as moles (though moles see fine to-night in the
snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there
in the muffled middle by the pump and the town
clock, the shops in the mourning, the Welfare Hall in
widows’ weeds. And all the people of the lulled and
dumbfound town are sleeping now.
Hush, the babies are sleeping, the farmers, the
fishers, the tradesmen and pensioners, cobbler,
school-teacher, postman and publican, the undertaker
and the fancy woman, drunkard, dressmaker,
preacher, poliecman, the webfoot cocklewomen and
the tidy wives. Young girls lie bedded soft or glide in
their dreams, with rings and trousseaux, bridesmaided
by glow-worms down the aisles of the organplaying
wood. The boys are dreaming wicked or of the
bucking ranches of the night and the jollyrodgered
sea. And the anthracite statues of the horses sleep in
the fields, and the cows in the byres, and the dogs in
the wetnosed yards; and the cats nap in the slant
corners or lope sly, streaking and needling, on the one
cloud of the roofs.
You can hear the dew falling, and the hushed town
breathing. Only your eyes are unclosed to see the
black and folded town fast, and slow, asleep. And you
alone can hear the invisible starfall, the darkest-
before-dawn minutely dewgrazed stir of the black,
dab-filled sea where the Arethusa, the Curlew and the
Skylark, Zanzibar, Rhiannon, the Rover, the
Cormorant and the Star of Wales tilt and ride.
Listen. It is night in the streets, the
processional salt slow musical wind in Coronation
Street and Cockle Row, it is the grass growing on
LLareggub Hill, dewfall, starfall, the sleep of birds in
Milk Wood.
Listen. It is night in the chill, squat chapel, hymning
in bonnet and brooch and bombazine black, butterfly
choker and bootlace bow, coughing like nannygoats,
sucking mintoes, fortywinking hallelujah; night in the
four-ale, quiet as a domino; in Ocky Milkman’s loft
like a mouse with gloves; in Dai Bread’s bakery flying
like black flour. It is to-night in Donkey Street,
trotting silent, with seaweed on its hooves, along the
cockled cobbles, past curtained fernpot, text and
trinket, harmonium, holy dresser, watercolours done
by hand, china dog and rosy tin teacaddy. It is night
neddying among the smuggeries or babies.
Look. It is night, dumbly, royally winding through
the Coronation cherry trees; going through the
graveyard of Bethesda with winds gloved and folded,
and dew doffed; tumbling by the Sailors Arms.
Time passes. Listen. Time passes.
Come closer now.
Only you can hear the houses sleeping in the streets
in the slow deep salt and silent black, bandaged night.
Only you can see, in the blinded bedrooms, the coms.
and petticoats over the chairs, the jugs and basins, the
glasses of teeth, Thou Shalt Not on the wall, and the
yellowing dickybird-watching pictures of the dead.
Only you can hear and see, behind the eyes of the
sleepers, the movements and countries and mazes and
colours and dismays and rainbows and tunes and
wishes and flight and fall and despairs and big seas of
their dreams.
From where you are, you can hear their dreams.
Captain Cat, the retired blind sea-captain, asleep in
his bunk in the seashelled, ship-in-bottled, shipshape
best cabin of Schooner House dreams of…..

 

The rather blurry photograph above is me holding my own copy of “Under Milk Wood”. If you haven’t read it then I highly recommend it.

Which is your favourite work by Dylan Thomas?

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »