A Drink and a Poem (Red Eye & Girls Bathing, Galway, 1965)

First Published on my old blog on June 23rd, 2016

Note: First Published on my old blog on June 23rd, 2016

Girls Bathing, Galway, 1965

The swell foams where they float and crawl,
A catherine-wheel of arm and hand;
Each head bobs curtly as a football.
The yelps are faint here on the strand.

No milk-limbed Venus ever rose
Miraculous on this western shore.
A pirate queen in battle clothes
Is our sterner myth. The breakers pour

Themselves into themselves, the years
Shuttle through space invisibly.
Where crests unfurl like creamy beer
The queen’s clothes melt into the sea

And generations sighing in
The salt suds where the wave has crashed
Labour in fear of flesh and sin
For the time has been accomplished

As through the shallows in swimsuits,
Bare-legged, smooth-shouldered and long-backed,
They wade ashore with skips and shouts.
So Venus comes, matter-of-fact.
–Seamus Heaney

I have never seen this poem reprinted or anthologized. After it appeared in one of Heaney’s collections, A Door in the Dark (1969), it sort of just disappeared. I don’t know if it is because the poem was deemed politically uncomfortable. One might — just because of the title — claim that the poem objectifies women even if that is exactly the impulse it is rejecting. Or it could be the totally unknowable reference to the Irish goddess. Or maybe people just didn’t know what to do with it.

Heaney came of age between the poetic eras of dense Modernism and authors’ embarrassing contemplations of their own genitals. The taste-makers of those days were infamously tasteless,  so it is hardly surprising that they missed good things when they saw them — this poem included.

Like all sensible people, I don’t enjoy going to the beach.  I do, however, enjoy the depictions of bathing in art. I suppose everyone does, because in life beach-going is always a disappointment, but one never gets sun-burned, coated with greasy sunblock, or abraded by sand when contemplating a painting in a museum. It is a pure ideal experience — well almost. The closeness to the ideal always depends on the artist’s skill and situation. It is a classical ideal after all, and Ireland doesn’t lend itself the ideal of the Greeks and Italians, at least not at first glance.

Back in ‘07, and far from the shores of Galway, I briefly worked for the local Italian American Club as a daytime bartender, and took a liking to a group of elderly men who would come in early and hang out with each other. Every now and again one would order a Red Eye — a beer and a tomato juice. I think that they just wanted something to sip on without having to really drink. There would be no sense in asking them why they did it because they had this strange, almost aristocratic, attitude and assumed that people in-the-know knew and that everybody else was an idiot. They were not believers in any sort of explication, and never deigned to do so. As a person who explains things for a living I have come to admire this attitude.

Where Red Eyes came from, I have no idea. It certainly isn’t Italian and I doubt it is Irish. But it is the perfect thing when stranded on a beach, sitting in the shade, and waiting for a goddess to arise from the water.

Or not waiting for her to arise, although she might anyways.

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Notes:
* After writing this post I took the time to google the poem and found that it is commemorated on a plaque at the beach where it was written. I suppose that I should change the opening paragraph, but I doubt that I will.
* A rhyme is two different words phonetically alike from the last stressed vowel to the end of the word. Anyone care to guess which one bothers me?
* I do understand children liking the beach: I care nothing for swimming as an adult but what child doesn’t love digging giant holes in the sand? After the discovery of the periwinkle and the starfish the strand holds no wonder — and all that is left is the battering of each of the four elements in their least agreeable states.
* The old timers will hopefully get their own post later.
* The Internet thinks a Red Eye is something different, but the Internet is generally wrong.
* Let me preemptively not care that any of you self-righteous nudzhes object to my beginning sentences with the word ‘or.’
* Canadians add clam juice and call it “Clam-and-Beer.” The Canadians and their clammy tomato juice will return next week.

 

Saint Carannog’s Day

Today is Saint Carannog’s Day, as some of you know I am rather fond of this particular saint, and wrote about him once

There are a few extant stories about him, and my favorite never seemed particularly Christian, at least to me.  It is also unusually pro-dragon; even though it comes from as anti-dragon an age as ours.  But nobody seems to be celebrating. I take it as a sign of anti-dragon bias.

An Apology

Some of you may have noticed that my last entry wasn’t very good, but that isn’t quite true. The truth is it wasn’t even written.

Over the summer I sketched out a series of blog entries to get me through the fall and winter in an effort to force myself to keep writing.  That, however, isn’t quite how it worked. I just kept rescheduling the posts until one week they caught up to me and the piece on Auden was published and then the next week I forgot the Amy Winehouse article was next — even though they are numbered. I’m not sure exactly how I made the same mistake twice in a row, but I did. I also found that my view on the matter changed between the time I initially wrote it and the moment of its premature publication — so it needed more than polishing — it needed to be rewritten.

So there you have it.  if you have any faith in this blog left, tune in next week for Amy Winehouse reconsidered. If not feel free to use me as a warning to your children about the dangers of planning for the future.

WALPURGISNACHT

NOTE: This is a slightly revised version of an entry from my old blog from April 29th 2016.In celebration of Walpurgis Night, I have decided to post this old translation that I have done from the Old Wendallan. I couldn’t find a trot to work with so the translation might be a little inaccurate, but hopefully not an act of vandalism. I have done my best but I am no expert on the language. So feel free to post any corrections that you have.

 

On Walpurgis Night   none should leave,
Or walk alone,   on the Witches’ Sabbath
When the devilish and the wicked    walk the Earth —
The wicked who hide    all year in the heaths
And the wicked among us    who want to join them.                                                                            –Kreduleð of Gulmanshire

 

Of Kreduleð we know nothing except that he stayed in the abbey of Gulmanshire for much of his life and disappeared in April 535. This brief poem and a Latin treatise on gardening are the only works currently attributed to him.

Auden’s Music con’t

It seems the British Library has been thinking about Auden’s songs too, and produced a handy guide to them. 

The blog I posted last week didn’t include any introduction to them whatsoever and I had been planning on doing a little one in case anyone​ was curious about what I was talking about. 

I don’t suppose that many people are familiar with Auden or cabaret music these days, but it seems I did suppose so when I wrote that entry.

Auden’s Songs (Cabaret Music pt. I)

I can’t find a suitable version of Auden’s cabaret songs.  I can find some well-done versions, but they are all done in the operatic style.  It may have something to do with Britten’s settings, or the simple fact that Britten did the settings, which are musically fine, but don’t really reflect how good the lyrics are, or the nature of the material.

Opera can ignore bad writing, because it is about the performance, but the same is not true here — the quality of the song depends largely on the quality of the lyrics. That is the story of popular music in the first three quarters of the 20th century.

There was a sentimental movie in my youth that featured one of these songs read aloud at a funeral as if it were a poem. Whoever wrote the screen play showed good judgement here (if not anywhere else).  The lyrics aren’t poetry (there is a very big difference and Auden wrote on the subject) but they do function better on their own.

It doesn’t have to be the case. Certainly, we can imagine these songs would be better if they had been scored by Kurt Weill, or George Gershwin, but it ain’t necessarily so. The music is better than sufficient, but the songs themselves need to be sung in different voices — the baritones and contraltos they were meant for. The ones that could deliver the wry jokes with the sly winks they need.  The songs need to be transposed into a different sensibility (and perhaps into keys low enough for us to hear the words).

But, alas, the song are, and have always been, the property of the classical world.  It is a world of composers and of performers, but not of lyricists. It is a world where changing a key is an act of impiety, where a great performance treats the voice as an instrument, but it is far away from the world where these songs belong.

A Day for Angels, A Day for Witches

 

I warned you before that I had a Christmas story appearing in a horror anthology, so look for ‘Christmas Angels’ in the newest edition of the Yellow Booke. Like the previous editions, it will be illustrated by M. Grant Kellermeyer. And will be released on the very night of the Witches’ Sabbath, Walpurgisnacht, April 30th.

I should also say that it will Kellermeyer_Christmasbe released as an ebook so you can download it, be safe, and not venture out of the house.