Easing the spring

I was walking down the garden this evening (clutching a camera – as you do…) when I saw this bee working its way up the pagoda of lupin flowers:


I thought, he’s easing the spring. Does anyone else have phrases, culled form who knows where, that have simply become part of the way you see the world? ‘Easing the Spring’ comes from a poem by Henry Reed called, Naming of Parts. I read it at school back in the sixties, where it was one of the first ‘grown up’ poems that really struck home.  In those days we were only twenty years or so from the end of the Second World War and barely five years since the last draft of National Servicemen had been called up. Army life – boring and absurd –  felt very familiar.

It wasn’t so different, after all, to my boredom – a discontented schoolboy sitting in my new school uniform, unfamiliar shirt and tie chafing and choking me, looking out of the window at sunlit playing fields and dreaming of freedom.

It’s probably not such a surprise that , after reading it, I registered as one of the school’s first a conscientious objectors rather than join the Combined Cadet Force. 

Here’s Naming of Parts now:

Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighbouring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For today we have naming of parts.

Easing the spring

The Naked Quaker

I’ve been reading a little about the early Quakers recently and came across these two decorations of the lengths they’d go to demonstrate their belief that, whether finely or raggedly dressed people, underneath were just the same – including a willingness to go naked in public – described as a “dramatic way of calling people to repentance…[and] ‘a trenchant reminder to the ungodly'”.

Two examples:

Elizabeth Fletcher who ‘in obedience to ye Lord’, went naked through the streets of Oxford ‘as a sign against that hypocritical profession they then made there, being then Presbyterians and Independents, which profession she told them the Lord would strip them of, so that their nakedness should appear’.

And this, from Samuel Pepys about an incident in Westminster Hall in 1677,

when, a large crowd having assembled to hear the King speak, a Quaker ‘came naked through the hall, only very civilly tied about the privies to avoid scandal, and with a chafing-dish of fire and brimstone upon his head did pass through the hall, crying “Repent! Repent!”‘

So streaking wasn’t as new as we imagined back in the 70s.

I couldn’t help imagining the man with his chafing dish as a sort of seventeenth century as a sort of early Arthur Brown. Inaccurate of course – Brown always covered more than just his ‘privies’.

Photo of Arthur BROWN and CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN

The Naked Quaker

Paul Ryan Keeps It All in the Family – The New Yorker

I came across a lovely piece about the relationship between the leaders of the GOP and – at the time – candidate Trump.

It begins with this report of a conversation amongst some old New York mobsters:

In the late nineties, federal agents insinuated an informer into the ranks of the DeCavalcante crime family, of New Jersey, and the resulting wiretaps and transcriptions revealed a dying language of secrecy, petty schemes, and blood oaths gone wrong. Sad old veterans of the Punic Wars of Essex County talked about selling old comic books and Viagra to make money, and yet they knew they were losing touch with the new world.

“They make money with the computer,” a gangster named Joseph (Tin Ear) Sclafani said incredulously about the young. To which another associate replied, “These [expletive] kids—twenty-five, twenty-six years old—will teach you things you could not ever believe.”

 “You know, I’m computer-phobia,” a DeCavalcante soldier named Lenny replies.

“That’s the whole thing,” another says. “In this [expletive] life that we live, every day if you ain’t like a chameleon, if you can’t change, you’re finished.”

I thought of this exquisite sampling of the DeCavalcante tapesafter reading the riveting serio-comic report in the Washington Post by Adam Entous describing a meeting in June, 2016, on Capitol Hill, at which Republican Party leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, gathered to talk business. Let’s not be unfair, much less libelous. It’s not that the members of Congress present were involved in crimes or illegal activity of any kind; no, it’s that they seem so craven, cynical, and, ultimately small-time. They have sunk so low that they are willing to get behind a candidate for whom they clearly have no regard. Because, well, that’s “this [expletive] life that we live.”

The two reported dialogues are well worth comparing.

Source: Paul Ryan Keeps It All in the Family – The New Yorker

Paul Ryan Keeps It All in the Family – The New Yorker

It’s the Dream We Carry

It’s the Dream
Translated from the Norwegian by Robert Bly

Some poems become touchstones, words you carry with you and turn over and over in your mind. This is one of mine from Norwegian poet, Olaf Hauge. He’s worth seeking out.

It’s that dream that we carry with us
that something wonderful will happen,
that it has to happen,
that time will open,
that the heart will open,
that doors will open,
that the mountains will open,
that wells will leap up,
that the dream will open,
that one morning we’ll slip in
to a harbor that we’ve never known.

It’s the Dream We Carry