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Shakespeare’s Birthday

Every year on April 23rd, my family celebrates Shakespeare’s birthday with cake. I always do some reading from a play or sonnet, but my husband isn’t so fond of that as he is of the cake, so it’s usually either a solitary activity or one I share with my dog. It’s a well-established fact that Abbey the Labby loves the Bard… and cake.

This year, though, my homage will take the form of several hours of rehearsal for a different comedy – Monty Python’s Spamalot – before I am able to indulge in birthday cake. It does seem fitting that the show is a little bawdy, somewhat irreverent, and absolutely hilarious. 

While the precise date of Shakespeare’s birth was not recorded, the date of his baptism was registered as April 26th, 1564. Because it was traditional for babies to be christened three days after they were born, it is generally accepted that William Shakespeare was born on April 23rd. 

In an ironic twist, Shakespeare died on the same date in 1616. Some people think that is awkward, but I think it’s a pretty cool achievement. I’m not sure how common it is for people to die on their birthday, but one of my grandfathers  did, so it’s a feat that has always been a point of interest for me. 

So, here’s to The Bard, his works, and his legacy.

Dingley Dell Cottage: Home of poet Adam Lindsay Gordon

Nestled in the countryside at Port Macdonnell, South Australia, is Dingley Dell Cottage, once the home of Australian poet Adam Lindsay Gordon. He came to South Australia from England as a mounted policeman in 1853, and also made a name for himself as a jockey and steeplechase rider before entering politics in 1865.

His first published poem was’The Feud’, printed in the Border Watch newspaper in July, 1864. Two volumes of his poetry were published in 1870, after which Gordon suicided. 

After falling into disrepair over the years, Dingley Dell Cottage has been restored and now operates as a museum, displaying Gordon’s horse-riding themed drawings, letters, and some of his personal possessions. 

I was privileged to visit Dingley Dell on Saturday and see Gordon’s home and belongings for myself. My time there gave me a sense of connection with a poet whose works I confess I have read and studied less than other Australian poets, and motivated me to address that oversight. 

Happy Easter!

However you celebrate, whatever you believe, I wish each of you a happy and blessed Easter Sunday, safety on the roads, and the very best in chocolate eggs and bunnies.

I’m away this weekend, enjoying time with my family and getting some much needed rest and relaxation.

We’ve taken off to Port Macdonnell, a little spot on the South Australian coast, for the long weekend. Hopefully, we’ll be making the most of some beautiful mild Autumn weather and seeing some new places and scenery.

As it is Easter Sunday, I thought I would share with you one of my favourite Easter songs. I grew up listening to the music of Keith Green, an enormously popular Christian singer and songwriter of the 1970s and 80s.

For your enjoyment, this is his Easter Song.

Bob Dylan and Poetry

Bob Dylan knows a thing or thirteen about poetry: that’s why he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016.

Listening to his lyrics, there is no doubt of the poetic qualities of his writing. And in his own words, he considers himself a poet first and foremost.

Source: BrainyQuotes.com

Dylan’s songs became anthems of the 1960s before attaining legendary status in later decades. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Dylan’s words carry great meaning and importance.

Of all the protest songs of the 60s, Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ is still one of my favourites. Enjoy.

Poem: ‘Good Friday’ by Christina Rosetti

This poem expresses what I suspect many people, even very committed Christians, feel on Good Friday: we should weep more than we do, we should feel more than we feel, in response to Christ’s death on the cross.

While it’s true that faith and feelings are very different and distinct from one another, Rosetti observes here the misery and doubt that comes from knowing and believing in Jesus yet feeling as though she remains unaffected by her knowledge and faith, and expresses most eloquently the desire for God to help her to believe more fervently.

Whether or not one is a Christian does not limit their ability to be affected by the pathos in this poem, nor to consider the power of the imagery with which the poet evokes that sense of lonely difference from other people that pervades it. 

‘Good Friday’

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter, weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon–
I, only I.

Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

For Those who Prefer Bookish Treats for Easter

If you’d like a bookish Easter treat for Easter,
you’re welcome to join in the

Sparkly Badgers’ Easter Egg Hunt

All you have to do is start here, find the egg hidden on each blog or website, arrange the letters, and follow the instructions to claim an ebook of your choice from the organisers.

The hunt officially begins on Good Friday.

One winner will receive a lovely Easter gift which includes chocolate and a copy of each book on offer.

For more information, see the Sparkly Badgers’ Easter Egg Hunt page on Facebook.

Poem: ‘Easter Day’ by Oscar Wilde

‘Easter Day’ is a sonnet about seeing the Pope on Easter Sunday. It is not, however, as reverent of the pontiff as it first appears. 

After describing the scene, Wilde observes that while the ceremony he observes is impressive, it actually has little to do with the reality of Jesus’ life.  It’s all about thethe Pope, far more than it is about the death and resurrection of the Messiah. 

This is a very powerful observation, and one that certainly resonates with me.  As I have said many times before, “I love Jesus. I just have significant problems with the actions of many who claim to represent Him.”

This poem, then, serves as a reminder to not put faith in man-made institutions, regardless of who or what they claim to be, but instead to focus on Christ himself, what He taught, and on one’s own faith in Him as a personal, intimate relationship. 

Easter Day

The silver trumpets rang across the Dome:
The people knelt upon the ground with awe:
And borne upon the necks of men I saw,
Like some great God, the Holy Lord of Rome.

Priest-like, he wore a robe more white than foam,
And, king-like, swathed himself in royal red,
Three crowns of gold rose high upon his head:
In splendour and in light the Pope passed home.

My heart stole back across wide wastes of years
To One who wandered by a lonely sea,
And sought in vain for any place of rest:
‘Foxes have holes, and every bird its nest,
I, only I, must wander wearily,
And bruise my feet, and drink wine salt with tears.’

Poem: ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’ by Thomas Gray

An elegy is a formal poem that usually delivers a lament for  someone who has died, but there is also an element of praise or reflection that makes it positive, even while it’s sad. It’s different to a eulogy – a speech given about someone’s life, usually at their funeral, and also to a dirge, which is entirely mournful.

In this poem, Thomas Gray paints a picture of a mourner, alone in a church yard as evening falls. Left to his contemplation, he reflects on those buried nearby and what their lives may have been. Because this poem is about people who were unknown to him, and not specific to one particular person, Gray’s poem is actually more of an ode than an elegy, but given that he was the poet, he was free to call it whatever he wished.

The imagery of the evening scene before him is breathtaking. The reader can almost feel the weariness in the way the first stanza forces them to slow down and contemplate, alongside the poet, by the use of assonance on long vowel sounds in words like ‘curfew’, ‘lowing’, ‘plowman’, ‘home’, ‘leaves and ‘world’, and alliteration on the ‘m’ and ‘l’ sounds that do, indeed, evoke the plodding of the plowman. Gray continues using these devices throughout the poem, maintaining careful control of the pace and rhythm and ensuring that the reader’s reflections will not be rushed. 

The poem leaves the reader with the understanding that death really is the great equaliser – it doesn’t matter whether one is nobly or humbly born, famous or not: eventually we’ll all end up the same way.

Like Donne’s ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’, this is another classic poem from which another author took a line as the title for a novel. Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy was published in 1874, 23 years after the poem was published by Gray in 1751.

Although it is likely Gray had written at least part of this poem before taking up residence there, the churchyard referred to in the title is that of St Giles Church in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, England.  In 1788, thirty-seven years after self-publishing  this poem, Thomas Gray was himself buried in the very same churchyard. 

Image: Used with permission. St Giles Church, Stoke Poges
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Mark Percy – geograph.org.uk/p/5571063

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,          
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea, 
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,          
And leaves the world to darkness and to me. 

Now fades the glimm’ring landscape on the sight,        
And all the air a solemn stillness holds, 
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,          
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds; 

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow’r          
The moping owl does to the moon complain 
Of such, as wand’ring near her secret bow’r,          
Molest her ancient solitary reign. 

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade,          
Where heaves the turf in many a mould’ring heap, 
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,          
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep. 

The breezy call of incense-breathing Morn,          
The swallow twitt’ring from the straw-built shed, 
The cock’s shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,          
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed. 

For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,          
Or busy housewife ply her evening care: 
No children run to lisp their sire’s return,          
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share. 

Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,          
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke; 
How jocund did they drive their team afield!          
How bow’d the woods beneath their sturdy stroke! 

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,          
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure; 
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile          
The short and simple annals of the poor. 

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,          
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave, 
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour.          
The paths of glory lead but to the grave. 

Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault,          
If Mem’ry o’er their tomb no trophies raise, 
Where thro’ the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault          
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise. 

Can storied urn or animated bust          
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath? 
Can Honour’s voice provoke the silent dust,          
Or Flatt’ry soothe the dull cold ear of Death? 

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid          
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire; 
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway’d,          
Or wak’d to ecstasy the living lyre. 

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page          
Rich with the spoils of time did ne’er unroll; 
Chill Penury repress’d their noble rage,          
And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene,          
The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear: 
Full many a flow’r is born to blush unseen,          
And waste its sweetness on the desert air. 

Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast          
The little tyrant of his fields withstood; 
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,          
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood. 

Th’ applause of list’ning senates to command,          
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o’er a smiling land,          
And read their hist’ry in a nation’s eyes,

Their lot forbade: nor circumscrib’d alone          
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confin’d;
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,          
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,

The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,          
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame, 
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride          
With incense kindled at the Muse’s flame.

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,          
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray; 
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life          
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way. 

Yet ev’n these bones from insult to protect,          
Some frail memorial still erected nigh, 
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck’d,          
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh. 

Their name, their years, spelt by th’ unletter’d muse,          
The place of fame and elegy supply: 
And many a holy text around she strews,          
That teach the rustic moralist to die. 

For who to dumb Forgetfulness a prey,          
This pleasing anxious being e’er resign’d, 
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,          
Nor cast one longing, ling’ring look behind?

On some fond breast the parting soul relies,          
Some pious drops the closing eye requires; 
Ev’n from the tomb the voice of Nature cries,          
Ev’n in our ashes live their wonted fires. 

For thee, who mindful of th’ unhonour’d Dead          
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate; 
If chance, by lonely contemplation led,          
Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate,

Haply some hoary-headed swain may say,          
“Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn 
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away          
To meet the sun upon the upland lawn. 

“There at the foot of yonder nodding beech          
That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high, 
His listless length at noontide would he stretch,          
And pore upon the brook that babbles by. 

“Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,          
Mutt’ring his wayward fancies he would rove, 
Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn,          
Or craz’d with care, or cross’d in hopeless love. 

“One morn I miss’d him on the custom’d hill,          
Along the heath and near his fav’rite tree; 
Another came; nor yet beside the rill,          
Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he; 

“The next with dirges due in sad array          
Slow thro’ the church-way path we saw him borne. 
Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay,          
Grav’d on the stone beneath yon aged thorn.” 

THE EPITAPH 
Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth        
A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown. 
Fair Science frown’d not on his humble birth,        
And Melancholy mark’d him for her own. 

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,        
Heav’n did a recompense as largely send: 
He gave to Mis’ry all he had, a tear,        
He gain’d from Heav’n (’twas all he wish’d) a friend. 

No farther seek his merits to disclose,        
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode, 
(There they alike in trembling hope repose)        
The bosom of his Father and his God. 

Poem: ‘Loveliest of trees, the cherry now’ by A.E. Housman

This poem is perfect for sharing just a few days before Easter, being the time of the year when it is set.

A.E Housman’s ‘A Shropshire Lad’ is a relatively small volume of poetry that he self-published in 1896, containing some really lovely poetry and delightful imagery such as that we see in this poem, the second in that collection.

While the poet is young – twenty years old – and acknowledges that he probably still has fifty years ahead of him, his life expectancy is framed in terms of only fifty more opportunities in his life to see such a beautiful tree. That’s why he’s going to take every opportunity to observe the beauty around him while he can.

This brings to mind the Latin phrase made popular by the film ‘Dead Poet’s Society’: carpe diem! Sieze the day!

The poem is a great reminder to embrace the joys we find in life while we can, and to make the most of our opportunities to stop and smell the… blossoms.  

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

That certainly lays to rest the popular misconception that Indie poets are somehow lesser than others, doesn’t it?

Poem: ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’ by T.S. Eliot

While it is common knowledge that the enormously popular musical CATS was based on the poetry of T.S. Eliot, it’s less common for people to actually go and read the poetry.

Should they do so, however, they’ll find some lovely poems that reflect the poet’s observations of life as well as the delightful poems about cats that Eliot wrote for children.

This poem was the inspiration for the song ‘Memory‘, the most popular song from the musical, which has been a commercial hit for a number of singers.

The poem has a musical quality of its own, evoking images of city streets in the dead of night and the things that occur while the world is asleep. The imagery is somewhat disjointed, with childhood images interspersed in the street scenery- much like a dream sequence that doesn’t always make sense, or perhaps that phase of tiredness when one drifts off into thoughts and memories and then recovers with a start to observe what is around them with keen perception that belies their prior haze. At the end of the poem, the observer returns home and is urged to sleep: the reminder of the need to prepare for the day ahead is ‘the last twist of the knife’, a concept to which any insomniac will readily relate.

Unlike Andrew Lloyd Webber’s song, this poem is more about realism than romance, demonstrating Eliot’s trademark style of poetry in which he tended to dismiss emotion and focus on impersonal observations and descriptions. 

Rhapsody on a Windy Night

Twelve o’clock.Along the reaches of the street
Held in a lunar synthesis,Whispering lunar incantations
Dissolve the floors of memory
And all its clear relations,Its divisions and precisions,
Every street lamp that I pass
Beats like a fatalistic drum,
And through the spaces of the dark
Midnight shakes the memory
As a madman shakes a dead geranium.

Half-past one,
The street lamp sputtered,
The street lamp muttered,
The street lamp said, “Regard that woman
Who hesitates towards you in the light of the door
Which opens on her like a grin.You see the border of her dress
Is torn and stained with sand,
And you see the corner of her eye
Twists like a crooked pin.”

The memory throws up high and dry
A crowd of twisted things;
A twisted branch upon the beach
Eaten smooth, and polished
As if the world gave up
The secret of its skeleton,
Stiff and white.
A broken spring in a factory yard,
Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left
Hard and curled and ready to snap.

Half-past two,
The street lamp said,
“Remark the cat which flattens itself in the gutter,
Slips out its tongue
And devours a morsel of rancid butter.
“So the hand of a child, automatic,
Slipped out and pocketed a toy that was running along the quay.
I could see nothing behind that child’s eye.
I have seen eyes in the street
Trying to peer through lighted shutters,
And a crab one afternoon in a pool,
An old crab with barnacles on his back,
Gripped the end of a stick which I held him.

Half-past three,
The lamp sputtered,
The lamp muttered in the dark.

The lamp hummed:
“Regard the moon,
La lune ne garde aucune rancune,
She winks a feeble eye,
She smiles into corners.
She smoothes the hair of the grass.
The moon has lost her memory.
A washed-out smallpox cracks her face,
Her hand twists a paper rose,
That smells of dust and old Cologne,
She is alone
With all the old nocturnal smells
That cross and cross across her brain.
“The reminiscence comes
Of sunless dry geraniums
And dust in crevices,
Smells of chestnuts in the streets,
And female smells in shuttered rooms,
And cigarettes in corridors
And cocktail smells in bars.

The lamp said,
“Four o’clock,
Here is the number on the door.
Memory!
You have the key,
The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair,
Mount.
The bed is open; the tooth-brush hangs on the wall,
Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life.”

The last twist of the knife.