No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
Yesterday Ark at A Tale Untold posted a striking sundowner photo of Hadeda ibis over Johannesburg. You can see it at the link. And I told him I missed their mournful call heard at dawn and dusk over our Nairobi garden. He said he was sure I still had it in my memory. And I said yes, I’d written an ode commemorating same. He suggested I post it, and then generously said if I needed photos to borrow his. So here we are: photos by Ark, words by Tish:
This plant is a Spear thistle Cirsium vulgare also known as the Bull or Common thistle, and the most likely candidate for the role of ‘National Flower of Scotland’, although this particular one is growing in Much Wenlock beside the allotment hedge. I’m not sure why the Scots particularly took thistles to heart (a prickly enterprise if ever there was one), though there are possibly clues (not always decipherable) in Hugh MacDiarmid’s 1926 epic stream of consciousness in which one features. It is called A Drunk Man Looks At A Thistle, and at 2,685 lines long, and written in Border Scots dialect, is a challenging read, though the version at the link above does provide a glossary here and there. Go there if you wish to discover some stunning Scots vocabulary.
Here are two tiny, rather more accessible excerpts, the first describing the thistle seen in the moonlight; the second likening it to the chief drone on a set of bagpipes:
The thistle canna vanish quite.
Inside a’ licht its shape maun glint,
A spirit wi’ a skeleton in’t.
Plant, what are you than? your leafs
Mind me o the pipes lod drone
– And aa your purply tops
Are the pirly-wirly notes
That gang staggerin ower them as they groan
And then this is what happens next, in my version of reality that is:
…a ‘pirly-wirly’ explosion of would-be thistles. Those floating seed heads get everywhere, making it yet another highly successful pest of farm fields and gardens. In its favour, the flowers are much loved by moths, butterflies and bees (as well as being most striking to look at) and birds, especially goldfinches, like to feed on the seeds.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
Meditation 17 from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions
And never was there more urgent need to embrace these words and embed them in heart, body and mind. Around the globe so many are locked in a constant state of divisive, calculated ‘them and us’ posturing, pawns in the too many ‘emergent occasions’ of the hate-filled, dogma-driven, racist, resource-grabbing, xenophobic, war-mongering sort that are instigated, managed and fuelled by the self-serving few. And now we have a ‘world leader’ actively promoting nuclear proliferation because, he says, his nation should be top of the pile in the arms race. That would be the nuclear dust pile then?
For those of us who were here the first time round – it’s back to the madhouse.
How did we let this happen? And what are we going to do about it?
“There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.”
Leonard Cohen 1934 – 2016 Selected Poems 1956 -1968
Leonard Cohen was in his seventy fifth year when he put on the cool hat (to go with the sharp suit), set off on a world tour (2008-2010) with a band of brilliant musicians and reinvented himself. He mined his back-catalogue, a body of work that the media in their trite, reductionist fashion, have long classified as doom-laden, wrote a host of new songs too, and generally set about letting in the light.What a star.
He made me laugh on the inside – little pulses of pleasure – wry, acerbic, revelatory – that hit my cerebral cortex and then migrated at a cellular level to all parts including those spots under your feet that practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine call ‘the bubbling well points’. In short, he was life-enhancing. He may have delved in dark places where we don’t often care to look, but he was also very funny. And we humans do need to laugh at ourselves now and then. Even, and maybe especially, a good dose of dark laughter is always worth having.
We were lucky to see him in 2009 when he was playing the Labatt Stadium (now Budweiser Gardens) in London, Ontario. The venue was packed, with every generation represented, from a bunch of retirement home residents to babes in arms. The concert was as fine as could be, and if you want to see it for yourself the DVD of the 2008 London UK concert is a good buy.
Coming up is a clip that especially makes me laugh inside. He’s performing with U2, and it comes from the 2006 documentary Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man.
The man’s dry humour and humanity live on. Thank you, Leonard.
N.B. This is an update of an older post so some of you will have been here before.
And that would be Much Wenlock, or so says Carol Ann Duffy, Britain’s Poet Laureate, and the festival’s founding patron. Not only that, Wenlock’s Poetry Festival is one of the best of its kind in the UK. Now into its sixth year, it was the creation of Anna Dreda, owner of the town’s lovely Wenlock Books, and in a few weeks’ time our streets will be teeming with poets and poetry lovers. For three whole days there will be events of all kinds and for all ages and tastes. There poems in shop windows, poetry breakfasts, and readings of their work by some of the best British poets of our time. This year there will be a closing gala event with Dame Carol Ann Duffy, Imtiaz Dharker, Jean Atkin & Little Machine. One of the side-show attractions is always the Poetree on the Church Green. Every year people can break briefly into verse and hang their words on the tree for others to read. Last year the tree was so happy it reciprocated by bursting into bloom. What more can one ask for? You can find out more about events at this year’s Much Wenlock Poetry Festival It takes place all over the town on Friday 24th to Sunday 26th April 2015. And now here’s a poem I found while out window shopping at last year’s festival: Jennifer Nichole Wells One Word Photo Challenge: shamrock #WenlockPoetryFestival
Here is one of the finest poems I’ve read in a long time, Ode to a Drum written by American poet, Yusef Komunyakaa. Please accept it as a festive gift and pass it on.
Gazelle, I killed you
for your skin’s exquisite
touch, for how easy it is
to be nailed to a board
weathered raw as white
butcher paper. Last night
I heard my daughter praying
for the meat here at my feet.
You know it wasn’t anger
that made me stop my heart
till the hammer fell. Weeks
ago, I broke you as a woman
once shattered me into a song
beneath her weight, before
you slouched into that
grassy hush. But now
I’m tightening lashes,
shaping hide as if around
a ribcage, stretched
like five bowstrings.
Ghosts cannot slip back
inside the body’s drum.
You’ve been seasoned
by wind, dusk & sunlight.
Pressure can make everything
whole again, brass nails
tacked into the ebony wood
your face has been carved
five times. I have to drive
trouble from the valley.
Trouble in the hills.
Trouble on the river
too. There’s no kola nut,
palm wine, fish, salt,
or calabash. Kadoom.
Kadoom. Kadoom. Ka-
doooom. Kadoom. Now
I have beaten a song back into you,
rise & walk away like a panther.