This and That

Busy Day! Busy Day! No Time to Make Dessert?

One of the warnings we received from people when we moved to PEI was that there would be “nothing to do there in the winter”. I am happy to report the contrary, there is a good deal to do here in the winter. It may not be as cosmopolitan as other places we’ve lived – no opera .. sigh – but as with any place we’ve lived an event calendar can soon fill up. Much of the “entertainmnet” is house oriented and perhaps a bit old fashioned but it fills the cold, snowy winter nights and grey dull days as indeed it would anywhere.

As an example last evening there was a play reading – the first of what we are hoping will be a regular event – at the Havilland Club. A small group got together for a glass of wine and a reading of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Aria da capo – a short one act piece she wrote in 1920. This weekend there’s a house party at a friend starting at 2 p.m. to binge watch the BBC 2005 adaptation of Charles Dicken’s Bleak House. Cocktails and dinner will be served at appropriate times and no doubt – being an Island party – conversation will flow around the conflicting Jarndyce wills. Now that’s the way to binge watch!

It Gives A Lovely Light

Last evening’s play reading introduced me to a work by Edna St. Vincent Millay that was new to me. As I mentioned she wrote Aria da capo in 1920, it was a pacifist reaction to the aftermath of the First World War. At first it could be mistaken for a piece of early absurdist theatre but as it progressed the impact increased and as one reader observed it is very much of today. My feeling is that it is very much of any time period in which the world is uncertain. Which sadly if I think about it is pretty much any period in our history.

A left click will take you to all four of Millay’s “Figs”.

I have to admit that Millay is a familiar name but I know very little of her writing. She is regarded as a major 20th century poet however her work seems to have fallen by the wayside and indeed had already done so when we studied poetry* in high school of the ’60s. The one poem I can recall is is most often quoted from Figs from Thistles published in Poetry Magazine in June 1918:

First Fig

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night:
But, ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light.

Figs from Thistles
Edna St. Vincent Millay – June 1918

And thus another exploration begins of a writer whose works I want to know a bit better. Some of her early works are available online through sites such as the Project Gutenberg and others I will search for. In particular I’d like to read The Murder of Lidice, an epic dramatic poem she wrote in 1942 based on the infamous Nazi massacre.

We’ll Rant and We’ll Roar

It would seem that curmudgeonly reaction to things are on the increase these days – and not just by me. I’m not sure if its the state of the world, the crappy weather or old age but there seem to be a fair number of people I know who have one nerve left and it is becoming slightly frayed. Now rather than go into lengthy rants I thought I’d just go all corporate and do a dot point presentation of that what is sawing away at the exposed nerve at the moment.

Bruce MacKinnon – Halifax Chronicle Herald
  • The ridiculous Days of Our Royal Lives soap opera that is playing out at the moment. And more particularly the Canadians who are calling for the soon to be ex-Royals moving to Canada and making Henry Charles Albert David Windsor our Governor General. 1. Read your bloody history! We gave that practice up back in February of 1952 when Vincent Massey was named as the first Canadian Governor General. 2. It would appear that as neither he nor his wife he speak French and nor do they have any marketable skills they won’t have enough points to immigrate here. 3. And perhaps the biggest concern for most of us: who the hell is going to pay for their security detail?
  • The media was all atwitter (no I don’t mean Twitter I’m talking about what passes for serious media these days) about the pollution from the Australian bush fires affecting players at the Australian Open. Really? Really? It’s affecting their game. Bloody shame isn’t it? Tell it to the koalas!
  • The f&*^%$g weather or more specifically the city work crews who remove the snow on our street at during the dark hours of the night. Well okay we choose to live on the main street and they do a great job of clearing the ice and snow in a timely fashion. So I’ll just kvetch about the weather! Bloody Canadian winters! Mutter…. grumble…. mutter!

    Now get the hell off my ….. snow bank!

And the word for January 14th is:
Quagmire /ˈkwaɡmʌɪə/: [noun]
1. an area of muddy or boggy ground whose surface yields under the tread; a bog.
2. an awkward or complex situation that is difficult to extradite from.
3. anything soft or flabby

A 16th century compound word: quag+mire
Quag /ˈkwaɡ/: [verb]
The shaking motion of anything soft or flabby – perhaps as in “shake that booty”????? Highly onomatopoeic!

An Endless Cycle

A poem for the Solstice

Mishima (1840-42)
Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858)
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Cold Moons of Winter

(The moons of December, January
and February were once known by our
forebears respectively as Long Night or
Cold Moon, Wolf or Storm Moon, and Snow Moon)

Cold moons of winter
The wolf and the storm
Ice crystals splinter
The long night is born
Grey shadows lope
Over the snow
Yet still there is hope
Though fires burn low.

Pete Crowther – 2006

On this day in 1883: The Royal Canadian Dragoons and The Royal Canadian Regiment, the first Permanent Force cavalry and infantry regiments of the Canadian Army, are formed.

Mercoledi Musicale

Trouthe – Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer (c1343-1400) An anonymous painting from the early 17th century.

Yesterday’s final entry on the Golden Age of Mardi Gras included a reference to a short poem by Geoffrey Chaucer. It is one of his minor works and appears to have been sent to Sir Philip de la Vache, the son of a friend of his. Sir Philip was a well-placed and influential courtier during the reign of Richard II.  For a brief period between 1386 and 1389 he was out of favour and had lost his positions at court. It is thought that Chaucer wrote this homiletic ballad to encourage and comfort him.

And Trouthe shal delivere, it is no drede

It follows the seven-line ballade tradition six lines  with a refrain and includes an “Envoi” or address to the receiver – in this case Sir Philip.  Unusually the rhyme scheme is ABABBCC. There are several versions of the ballad including earlier ones without the “Envoi” stanza.

I had thought to post it in the original Middle English however that would be too pedantic even for me. So here it is in a translation by A. S. Kline from Poetry in Translation (PIT).

a ballad of good counsel
to Sir Philip de la Vache

Flee from the crowd, and dwell with truthfulness,
Let your thing suffice, though it be small;
Hoarding brings hatred, climbing fickleness,
Praise brings envy, and wealth blinds overall;
Savour no more than ‘tis good that you recall;
Rule well yourself, who others advise here;
And truth shall deliver you, have no fear.

Trouble you not the crooked to redress,
Trusting in her who wobbles like a ball.
Well-being rests on scorning busyness;
Beware therefore of kicking at an awl;
Strive not like the crockery with the wall.
Control yourself, who would control your peer;
And truth shall deliver you, have no fear.

That which is sent, receive in humbleness,
Wrestling for this world asks but a fall.
Here’s not your home, here is but wilderness.
Forth, pilgrim, forth! Forth, beast, out of your stall!
Know your country: look up, thank God for all;
Hold the high way, and let your spirit steer,
And truth shall deliver you, have no fear.


Therefore, La Vache, cease your old wretchedness;
To the world cease now to be in thrall;
Cry Him mercy, that out of his high goodness
Made thee from naught, on Him especially call,
Draw unto Him, and pray in general
For yourself, and others, for heavenly cheer;
And truth shall deliver you, have no fear.

But given this is Mercoledi (Wednesday) and I normally post something musical I thought the music of Chaucer’s language would suffice.

On this day in 1852: Great Ormond St Hospital for Sick Children, the first hospital in England to provide in-patient beds specifically for children, is founded in London.

Painterly Poetry and Dog(gerel)

The second visit to the Bronzino exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi was as delightful as the first. It was a chance to examine closer many of the paintings and related works and to read, more extensively, the fine explanations (in Italian and English) that put the works in context. An added feature was the burlesque verses in the style of Bronzino, again in both Italian and English. As a member of the Academia the painter was expected to excel in more than one of the arts. He was a writer of poetry – serious, burlesque, doggerel and limerick poetry all of which circulated among his friends and some of which was published. The exhibition included a display of his literary works including this page, at the right, from a book of his burlesque poems.

In the spirit of this really remarkable exhibition curators Carlo Falciani and Antonio Natali – to whom be all honour and glory! – have included burlesque verses for many of the works created by Italian writer-poet-actor Roberto Piumini who is known for his modern takes on mythological subjects. They then were used as inspiration by Konrad Eisenbichler, a well-known teacher of Renaissance studies at the University of Toronto, to write English poems in the same spirit.

Here is the first of a selection I’ll post over the next few days gleaned from their book that accompanies the exhibition: Cerchi nei QUADRI/Hide AND Seek* along with the picture the verses accompany. (Remember a left click will enlarge both Bartolomeo and his pup!)

Portrait of Bartolomeo Panciaticchi
(1541-5) oil on canvas
Galleria degli Uffizi

Bartolomeo, d’acccordo, tu leggevi
tranquillament quel tu libricino
pieno di cose sagge, e riflettevi
nel bel silenso del tu balconino.

Lui ha abbaiato, sì, ma solamente
perché voleva un po’ farsi notare,
perché, lo sai, è fedele e intelligente,
ma ha voglia di muoversi, di andare …

Tu invece l’hai sgridato, e lui è fuggito,
e adesso è lì, stordito di dolore,
tristissimo, nascosto, impaurito …
Su, dagli una carezza, buon signore!

Detail of sorrowful pup!

Bartolemo, I know you were
Constantly reading a small tome
(A learned text, if I don’t err)
On your fine balcony at home,

When all at once he barked because
He wished to tell you he was there
And that, perhaps, his restless paws
needed to move and go somewhere.

You scowled at him and told him: “Hush!”
So now he sits, forlorn and sad,
With ears down low, his face a blush.
Give him a pat and make him glad!

* Cherci nei Quadri/Hide and Seek
Roberto Piumini – Konrad Eisenbichler
2010 Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Firenze
2010 Alias, Firenze
It may be purchased through their on-line store.

15 gennaio – San Macario il Vecchio

Job’s Wife

Back in July my friend Elizabeth wrote a startling and moving poem on the old Biblical tale of Job and the Trials visited on him (Left is one of Gustave Doré’s illustrations to the story). But she wrote it from the point of view of his wife; when I read her The Book of Job’s Wife I was stunned by the shear emotion of it. Perhaps knowing some of her background gave it special resonance but even without that it is an highly charged cry of a wounded soul whose lose has been ignored in the telling of the tale.

I was then a little surprised to find that almost three months later she received a comment on it from someone who, to my mind at least, is an ignorant, self-righteous coward. Ignorant in their lack of knowledge of the book they brandish in people’s faces, self-righteous in their judgment and too cowardly to sign their name. Fortunately Elizabeth was not at a loss for words in her response. The sad thing is that who ever it is that wrote the comment will probably never read it – people like that tend, in the tradition of cowards, to be hit and run.

Bravo my darling Elizabeth on a remarkable piece of work and a thoughtful and honest reply to someone who knows little of the true love of God.

14 ottobre – San Callisto Papa