But first a nod to a great Olympic Games result for us here in Oz. Brought back memories of Thorpie in 2000, and Beverley in 1972!
Now to poetry. Here in The Gong, apart from more bad news about the Delta Variant and the lockdown going on, we have had some wintry and very windy days and nights. That there were relevant poems came to mind naturally, the first being noted on my Facebook a couple of days back.
By A E Housman:
On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble; His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves; The gale, it plies the saplings double, And thick on Severn snow the leaves.
’Twould blow like this through holt and hanger When Uricon* the city stood: ’Tis the old wind in the old anger, But then it threshed another wood.
Then, ’twas before my time, the Roman At yonder heaving hill would stare: The blood that warms an English yeoman, The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.
There, like the wind through woods in riot, Through him the gale of life blew high; The tree of man was never quiet: Then ’twas the Roman, now ’tis I.
The gale, it plies the saplings double, It blows so hard, ’twill soon be gone: To-day the Roman and his trouble Are ashes under Uricon.
*Viroconium or Uriconium, formally Viroconium Cornoviorum, was a Roman city, one corner of which is now occupied by Wroxeter, a small village in Shropshire, England, about 5 miles east-south-east of Shrewsbury.
On Facebook I wrote: The wind howled through Dharawal Country last night — and has for millennia long before there even was a Rome! Love this poem though — also the source of Patrick White’s novel title, “The Tree of Man.”
Fascinating creative things have been done with this poem. Here is one:
Filmmaker and puppeteer Jeremy Hamway-Bidgood collaborates with Daniel Norman (Tenor), Sholto Kynoch (Piano) and Brodsky Quartet on a new visual interpretation of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s song cycle, ‘On Wenlock Edge’. The poetry is by A. E. Housman from his collection ‘A Shropshire Lad’
In his cramped London flat an elderly Edward remembers his youth in Shropshire and his friend Albert. The two companions battle the elements as they climb Wenlock Edge looking for shelter from the storm…
To come right up to the present. Through my WordPress Reader I have long been following poet Robert Okaji. His post this very morning is apt.
I Live in My Winter
Removed from the junipers’ fragrance, separated from prickly pears gracing the hill, limestone slabs jutting from thin soil, and smoke drifting from a well laid fire on a cold night. Old, today, I call the clouds my birthright, want only to merge with them and rain through another black coffee in this unfamiliar place, this new home, this welcome peace.
Then an Australian song, though written in the USA some years ago — Doug Ashdown’s Winter in America, long a favourite of mine.
Finally, a brilliant image from Blue Mountains photographer Gary P Hayes.
Not just any rabbit. This rabbit: At the end of December 2002 Mister Rabbit drove me out to Sutherland… Mister Rabbit wondered whether I would be writing up our day in Sutherland (and Sans Souci) beyond what I had to say on the day… Mr Rabbit was 20 at the time, and had his say as well:
We passed my father’s old school, which has a great view (“The Catholics know how to buy land”), and the place of N’s early religion, which looked, I thought, not unlike a scout hall. And then an unexpected surprise: N’s childhood home, which he hadn’t been inside since 1952, was completely empty (on account of being ready for auction), and its front door was wide open. We ventured in and had a good look around. N pointed out the many structural changes, including the removal of fireplaces; thankfully, the house itself can’t be knocked down: built in c. 1913, it is heritage. It is, however, being encroached upon by medium density housing, of which there is much in Sutherland these days. But if I had a spare $400,000 in the bank, I’d buy the house tomorrow. N was glowing afterwards, and I was very happy too.
Only $400,000? You would need maybe THREE TIMES that these days, Rabbit!
Anyway, after an absence Rabbit has reappeared on Facebook. He is no longer 20 just as I am now much nearer 80! He is also a very experienced High School English teacher — indeed Head of English somewhere in the Blue Mountains, where he currently lives.
Our latest conversation was conducted via Facebook comments. I had posted a link to the following quite disturbing story in The Guardian, which certainly raises interesting ethical and aesthetic issues.
Björn Andrésen was just 15 when he walked straight into the lion’s den, being cast as Tadzio, the sailor-suited object of desire in Luchino Visconti’s film Death in Venice. Its release in 1971 made him not merely a star but an instant icon – the embodiment of pristine youthful beauty. Sitting alone in Stockholm today at the age of 66, he looks more like Gandalf with his white beard and his gaunt face framed by shoulder-length white locks. His eyes twinkle as alluringly as ever but he’s no pussycat. Asked what he would say to Visconti if he were here now, he doesn’t pause. “Fuck off,” he says.
No one who sees The Most Beautiful Boy in the World, a new documentary about Andrésen’s turbulent and tragic past, will be surprised by that answer. Visconti, he tells me, “didn’t give a fuck” about his feelings. He wasn’t alone in that. “I’ve never seen so many fascists and assholes as there are in film and theatre,” says Andrésen. “Luchino was the sort of cultural predator who would sacrifice anything or anyone for the work.”…
The Rabbit began:
Rabbit: haven’t seen the film but recently listened to the audiobook.
Neil James Whitfield: The book is very good.
Rabbit: It is. Shorter than I had realised too. · Neil James Whitfield: The movie is magnificent too — it is reading what it did to the boy playing Tadzio that gives me pause.
Rabbit: the Polish boy was played by a Swede?
At which point I posted the music from the movie.
Rabbit: well I think I will watch it during this lockdown
Neil James Whitfield: So I am rereading “Death in Venice” right now as it is in my eBook library.
Rabbit: The theme of pestilence seems relevant.
Neil James Whitfield: Parts of the last chapter seem very relevant. Yes, I have finished it now. That final paragraph really is something.
Rabbit: well I just watched the film. It’s quite something. They nailed the casting of Tadzio.
Neil James Whitfield: Yes, I was absolutely speechless when I first saw it — and I hadn’t read the book at that stage. The boy really IS Tadzio, and Dirk Bogarde is very good too. The cinematography, the music, everything — all so good. That’s why that Guardian article really does raise interesting questions.
Rabbit: visually such a beautiful film. [Referring to my comment.] Yes very true. I want to watch the new film about the boy actor and also other films with Bogarde who I don’t know much about.
Neil James Whitfield: Wikipedia as usual is a good intro — Bogarde was in some great films and had a very interesting life. What Wikipedia says about his sexuality is very true.
Rabbit: the film Victim is on YouTube and I’ll start with that.
Not all Facebook time is wasted!
Nor is listening to great music and viewing great movies a waste of time. Thanks, YouTube! Not so long ago we could not have had this pleasure.
NOTE: I am replacing the final video I had earlier as I see its maker has produced something even better, and more relevant to The Guardian article.
Things have not improved significantly. Hopefully my on-line order (see yesterday’s post) arrives this morning, keeping me in food and such necessities!
Now one thing you can do in lockdown is read. As well as my few library books, I have the vast eBook library I have posted about before. That now stands at 2,830 books! One recent acquisition — and 99.9% of my eBooks are freebies — is E M Forster, A Passage to India. I would say it has just emerged from copyright, as it was not available from Project Gutenberg before.
Now of course I had read it before, first while a student at Sydney University around 1961-2, and again later on. Naturally I also saw the movie.
All sorts of interesting things can be said about the book and the movie! We perhaps need to be reminded of three things: 1) E M Forster was a closeted gay man 2) the book appeared in 1924 3) the emphasis on the Muslim in India was one with the way the British tended to think about the “natives”. The novel, while not autobiographical, is rooted in Forster’s own experiences in India and with Indians. Much has been said, and fair enough too, along the lines of post-colonial critique; the first and still most famous example of that is Edward Said.
But what struck me most as after all this time I read the first few chapters is what absolutely brilliant writing it is. Also, that it really is better than any movie or other adaptation. Let me close by indulging in a long quotation from Chapter 1.
I quote the entire chapter!
Except for the Marabar Caves—and they are twenty miles off—the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary. Edged rather than washed by the river Ganges, it trails for a couple of miles along the bank, scarcely distinguishable from the rubbish it deposits so freely. There are no bathing-steps on the river front, as the Ganges happens not to be holy here; indeed there is no river front, and bazaars shut out the wide and shifting panorama of the stream. The streets are mean, the temples ineffective, and though a few fine houses exist they are hidden away in gardens or down alleys whose filth deters all but the invited guest. Chandrapore was never large or beautiful, but two hundred years ago it lay on the road between Upper India, then imperial, and the sea, and the fine houses date from that period. The zest for decoration stopped in the eighteenth century, nor was it ever democratic. There is no painting and scarcely any carving in the bazaars. The very wood seems made of mud, the inhabitants of mud moving. So abased, so monotonous is everything that meets the eye, that when the Ganges comes down it might be expected to wash the excrescence back into the soil. Houses do fall, people are drowned and left rotting, but the general outline of the town persists, swelling here, shrinking there, like some low but indestructible form of life.
Inland, the prospect alters. There is an oval Maidan, and a long sallow hospital. Houses belonging to Eurasians stand on the high ground by the railway station. Beyond the railway—which runs parallel to the river—the land sinks, then rises again rather steeply. On the second rise is laid out the little civil station, and viewed hence Chandrapore appears to be a totally different place. It is a city of gardens. It is no city, but a forest sparsely scattered with huts. It is a tropical pleasaunce washed by a noble river. The toddy palms and neem trees and mangoes and pepul that were hidden behind the bazaars now become visible and in their turn hide the bazaars. They rise from the gardens where ancient tanks nourish them, they burst out of stifling purlieus and unconsidered temples. Seeking, light and air, and endowed with more strength than man or his works, they soar above the lower deposit to greet one another with branches and beckoning leaves, and to build a city for the birds. Especially after the rains do they screen what passes below, but at all times, even when scorched or leafless, they glorify the city to the English people who inhabit the rise, so that new-comers cannot believe it to be as meagre as it is described, and have to be driven down to acquire disillusionment. As for the civil station itself, it provokes no emotion. It charms not, neither does it repel. It is sensibly planned, with a red-brick club on its brow, and farther back a grocer’s and a cemetery, and the bungalows are disposed along roads that intersect at right angles. It has nothing hideous in it, and only the view is beautiful; it shares nothing with the city except the overarching sky.
The sky too has its changes, but they are less marked than those of the vegetation and the river. Clouds map it up at times, but it is normally a dome of blending tints, and the main tint blue. By day the blue will pale down into white where it touches the white of the land, after sunset it has a new circumference—orange, melting upwards into tenderest purple. But the core of blue persists, and so it is by night. Then the stars hang like lamps from the immense vault. The distance between the vault and them is as nothing to the distance behind them, and that farther distance, though beyond colour, last freed itself from blue.
The sky settles everything—not only climates and seasons but when the earth shall be beautiful. By herself she can do little—only feeble outbursts of flowers. But when the sky chooses, glory can rain into the Chandrapore bazaars or a benediction pass from horizon to horizon. The sky can do this because it is so strong and so enormous. Strength comes from the sun, infused in it daily, size from the prostrate earth. No mountains infringe on the curve. League after league the earth lies flat, heaves a little, is flat again. Only in the south, where a group of fists and fingers are thrust up through the soil, is the endless expanse interrupted. These fists and fingers are the Marabar Hills, containing the extraordinary caves.
I just revelled in that!
It is very tangentially related to the above, if you give yourself enough leeway! But in fact it is from our local Wollongong news, and is a marvellous example of human kindness and also of Australian multiculturalism at its best.
Willie again. My brother would have loved this, I suspect. Shocking really that I am new to this — I heard this song for the very first time just yesterday.
Indeed, with my laptop’s camera I captured myself in the very act of writing this post.
I had been reflecting lately on Facebook:
You may have observed that now and again here on FB in recent weeks I have shown my hand, you could say, rather more than I used to do. Observant ones will know what I mean, and I know some may not entirely like it. But expect this to continue, perhaps especially on the blog for which my posts here are sometimes drafts.
I am approaching 78 very soon. When my brother had passed his 78th (October 2013) a few months on, around Christmas, he commented in his dry way that he had outlived Dad. Yes, in 1989 Dad passed away — Boxing Day pretty much — just one month past his 78th. My brother made another 4 years. My mother went 7 years beyond hers — at least one year too long in my opinion as that year was pretty miserable.Just saying, folks. Not being morbid.But one effect is I don’t want to waste my time on bullshit. Know what I mean?
This song — brilliantly and subtly done by John Partridge — does apply, even if I have never been a drag queen….
Old comrade from teaching days back to the 1970s, Rowan Cahill, to my great pleasure commented, though we disagree on probably more than a few things, “Understood Neil…no problem with this.”
Typical of the kind of FB post I had alluded to is this one reflective of our current lockdown, and of much I had read on social media. I was commenting on this item:
The body of a man who died after testing positive for coronavirus lay in front of his house in North Jakarta for more than 12 hours before an ambulance responded.
A video of the 64-year-old’s dead body lying alone went viral on social media, raising alarm bells about the dire state of Indonesia’s healthcare system,which has been stretched to its limits by the pandemic.
Indonesian authorities reported a record daily increase in coronavirus cases on Saturday with 21,095 new infections and 358 new deaths.
More than 56,000 Indonesians have died from the disease….
Yeah, lockdown does suck. In my case it removes most of my social interaction, which is a loss indeed. On the other hand I can bother people here on Facebook! But before we all start bitching, blaming and complaining, have another look at this story and be reminded what it is really all about….
And the Peruvian guy I spoke to a week or so ago at the club whose family in Peru had not been outside their house (essential shopping excepted) for over a year….
And I look at my blog post about our lockdown and there is Tikno in Indonesia giving me health advice!
I also rather pointedly posted this from Archbishop Desmond Tutu with the comment: “I hope this is a meme we all can share!”
I have more than once railed against what we might call the partisan bitching memes which even really intelligent people on social media fall back on too often. They are in many cases really crude sloganeering propaganda — true even if you agree with them. But not this one!
And even more pointedly perhaps I shared what really is one of my absolute favourite Billy Joel songs, saying “I have long loved this song — and can’t help thinking of it sometimes as I read social media… And that seems a good cue to tell you I am off to enjoy Jack Irish on ABC-TV. After which I will check State of Origin…” Which I did!
I believe I’ve passed the age Of consciousness and righteous rage I found that just surviving was a noble fight. I once believed in causes too, I had my pointless point of view, And life went on no matter who was wrong or right.
So here I am, like Gerontion:
After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions, Guides us by vanities. Think now She gives when our attention is distracted And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late What’s not believed in, or is still believed, In memory only, reconsidered passion. Gives too soon Into weak hands, what’s thought can be dispensed with Till the refusal propagates a fear. Think Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes. These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree.
Yes, possible anti-Semitism there, T S Eliot — but it is of its time, and the offensive phrase is in the company of magical evocations of a Europe between the two wars, an age of decaying narratives, which disturbed the increasingly conservative Eliot…
Echoes of which no-one of my age can escape finding at times in their own hearts…
On Facebook I said this is one of the best novels I have ever read, and that was when I was only half-way through. Now I have finished it I have not changed my mind. “You have probably noticed that I like this book, troubling as it is. In reading it you find yourself living the lives… Or I do…”
There is any number of reviews out there — I will let you find them for yourselves. Most of them are positive. Similarly the ordinary readers on goodreads trot out the maximum stars, with some exceptions — one of whom is someone I know through other connections, whose opinion I respect.
I am of course not the son of an alcoholic mother, nor have I ever been to Glasgow, lived in a desolate coal-mining village after the mine has closed, lived in Thatcher’s Britain, or ever aspired to be a hairdresser… But on the other hand there were so many resonances. I will leave those who know me to guess what some of them might be! I will say however that as a 10-year-old in Sutherland I did find myself pretty much in the position of looking after my mother who was bedridden for some time with a thrombosis in the leg, as I cooked the family dinners… And there were some interactions at Sutherland Primary School: the accounts of playing soccer seemed very familiar.
There are also many excellent videos featuring Douglas Stuart and the novel. Here are two — the first just 15 minutes, the second 52 minutes — but with a writer I greatly admire, Colm Toibin.
Good review, but she fails to pick where Shuggie Bain ended up in the Booker!
#Strongwomen. "I write about the power of trying, because I want to be okay with failing. I write about generosity because I battle selfishness. I write about joy because I know sorrow. I write about faith because I almost lost mine, and I know what it is to be broken and in need of redemption. I write about gratitude because I am thankful - for all of it." Kristin Armstrong