Warning

I’m sure I heard that dogs can smell cancer in us – they just don’t know that the information might be useful to us.

There is  a tradition, though, when disaster looms, of warnings given by animals – who will even speak at times. C S Lewis drew on it in That Hideous Strength when, before an impending earthquake he writes:

One had heard his donkey, another her cat, say “as clear as clear”: “Go away. ” 

Paul Farley speculates that the disappearance of sparrows – once so familiar, ubiquitous, companionable – is a conscious withdrawal, as these old friends leave us to rattle off to hell in our handcarts all by ourselves. Of course, if we were still woken by dawn choruses, the unwonted quiet in the mornings, outside our bedroom windows, would be as clear an alarm as you could imagine. 

The poem is, For the House Sparrow, in Decline:

Your numbers fall and it’s tempting to think
you’re deserting our suburbs and estates
like your cousins at Pompeii; that when you return
to bathe in dust and build your nests again
in a roofless world where no one hears your cheeps,
only a starling’s modem mimicry
will remind you of how you once supplied
the incidental music of our lives.

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Warning

Pleasing billows of debauch

These debates about the Irish border in Northern Ireland reminded me of this poem from Seamus Heaney, written during the Troubles about the possession and repossession of his land by the rapist across the water.

What are these latest debates, but new inexpert fumblings from the old disabled debauchee.

OCEAN’S LOVE TO IRELAND

I
SPEAKING broad Devonshire,
Ralegh has backed the maid to a tree
As Ireland is backed to England

And drives inland
Till all her strands are breathless:
‘ Sweesir, Swatter! Sweesir, Swatter! ‘

He is water, he is ocean, lifting
Her farthingale like a scarf of weed lifting
In the front of a wave.
II
Yet his superb crest inclines to Cyntia
Even while it runs its bent
In the rivers of Lee and Blackwater.

Those are the splashy spots where he would lay
His cape before her. In London, his name
Will rise on water and on these dark seepings:

Smerwick sowed with the mouthing corpses
Of six hundred papists, ‘as gallant and good
Personages as ever where beheld’.
III
The ruined maid complains in Irish,
Ocean has scattered her dream of fleets,
The Spanish prince has spilled his gold

And failed her. Iambic drums
Of English beat the woods where her poets
Sink like Onan. Rush-light, mushroom-flesh,

She fades from their somnolent clasp
Into ringlet-breath and dew,
The ground possessed and repossessed.

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Pleasing billows of debauch

No Tofu

On World Calligraphy Day (today, apparently) this seemed like a good post, all about the way that Google and Monotype have worked together to create a typeface – Noto – that can represent digitally every written language in the world. Some have never even been printed. It’s free too.

Google does good, I’d say. Nice to see Monotype still in the game too.

Creating Noto for Google from Monotype on Vimeo.

No Tofu

September 1 1939

I read something somewhere recently that, historically, August was the month where things – bad things usually – kicked off.

As a theory, if you only looked at the 20th Century, you’d certainly want to check it out.

I listened to a politics podcast last week – a summer edition, with snappy soundbites from the last tumultuous twelve months – that lent weight to the Dangerous August Theory – by closing with a reading of these verses from the end of Auden’s poem, September 1 1939. It was hard to think it nearly 78 years old, so prescient it seemed. Or is it that all human crises feel the same when they are about to break over you?

This was what was read:

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

This is the whole poem, read by Dylan Thomas:

By the way, the podcast, Talking Politics, really is worth a listen.

September 1 1939