Archive for the Literature Category

The Brief Span of Life…

Posted in Art, Literature, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on May 7, 2022 by telescoper

I found this rather poignant cartoon on Facebook because a friend shared it. Some people have told me they find it depressing. I don’t. I think the finiteness of life is one of the things that makes it bearable.

I don’t know the name of the artist. If anyone does please let me know.

Halley’s Comet last visited us in 1986 when I was 23 and living in Brighton. It will next be visible in 2061, when I shall be 98!

The comet’s orbital period of 75 years or so is brief by astronomical standards, as is the duration of a human life. As Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace to you and me) put it in one of his Odes (Book I, Ode 4, line 15):

Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam

What would I do without this world – #PoetryDayIRL

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on April 28, 2022 by telescoper

what would I do without this world faceless incurious
where to be lasts but an instant where every instant
spills in the void the ignorance of having been
without this wave where in the end
body and shadow together are engulfed
what would I do without this silence where the murmurs die
the pantings the frenzies towards succour towards love
without this sky that soars
above its ballast dust

what would I do what I did yesterday and the day before
peering out of my deadlight looking for another
wandering like me eddying far from all the living
in a convulsive space
among the voices voiceless
that throng my hiddenness

by Samuel Beckett (1906-89)

Asleep, by Wilfred Owen

Posted in Poetry on April 23, 2022 by telescoper

Under his helmet, up against his pack,
After the many days of work and waking,
Sleep took him by the brow and laid him back.
And in the happy no-time of his sleeping,
Death took him by the heart. There was a quaking
Of the aborted life within him leaping …
Then chest and sleepy arms once more fell slack.
And soon the slow, stray blood came creeping
From the intrusive lead, like ants on track.

Whether his deeper sleep lie shaded by the shaking
Of great wings, and the thoughts that hung the stars,
High pillowed on calm pillows of God’s making
Above these clouds, these rains, these sleets of lead,
And these winds’ scimitars;
—Or whether yet his thin and sodden head
Confuses more and more with the low mould,
His hair being one with the grey grass
And finished fields of autumns that are old …
Who knows? Who hopes? Who troubles? Let it pass!
He sleeps. He sleeps less tremulous, less cold
Than we who must awake, and waking, say Alas

by Wilfred Owen (1897-1918)

I read this poem a few weeks ago. The phrase “in the happy no-time of his sleeping, Death took him by the heart” has been in my head ever sense. For a soldier in a terrible war like World War 1, or indeed that being waged right now in Ukraine, to die in your sleep must be one of the least bad ways to go.

I’ve often said that, when the time comes, I’d like to die during a seminar, peacefully in my sleep…


Resurrection, by R. S. Thomas

Posted in Literature with tags , , on April 17, 2022 by telescoper

Easter. The grave clothes of winter
are still here, but the sepulchre
is empty. A messenger
from the tomb tells us
how a stone has been rolled
from the mind, and a tree lightens
the darkness with its blossom.
There are travellers upon the road
who have heard music blown
from a bare bough, and a child
tells us how the accident
of last year, a machine stranded
beside the way for lack
of petrol, is crowned with flowers.

by R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)

“March” by A.E. Housman

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , , on March 22, 2022 by telescoper

The Sun at noon to higher air,
Unharnessing the silver Pair
That late before his chariot swam,
Rides on the gold wool of the Ram.

So braver notes the storm-cock sings
To start the rusted wheel of things,
And brutes in field and brutes in pen
Leap that the world goes round again.

The boys are up the woods with day
To fetch the daffodils away,
And home at noonday from the hills
They bring no dearth of daffodils.

Afield for palms the girls repair,
And sure enough the palms are there,
And each will find by hedge or pond
Her waving silver-tufted wand.

In farm and field through all the shire
They eye beholds the heart’s desire;
Ah, let not only mine be vain,
For lovers should be loved again.

by Alfred Edward Housman (1859-1936)

Calamity Again

Posted in Art, History, Maynooth, Poetry, Politics with tags , , on March 7, 2022 by telescoper

This lunchtime I attended a public vigil for Ukraine on Maynooth University campus. It was a moving experience, not least because of the presence of a Ukrainian PhD student, Oleg Chupryna, who addressed the gathering. Although he has lived in Ireland for over 20 years many members of his family are still in Ukraine. They were in Kharkiv when the invasion happened, having refused to leave because they didn’t think the Russians would actually invade, but then found themselves under relentless shelling by Russian artillery. His family managed to flee Kharkiv for the countryside a couple of days ago, but are still trapped in Ukraine, apart from one family member who has arrived safely in Dublin and who read the following poem (in Ukrainian) by Taras Shevchenko, followed by the English translation. you see below.

Shevchenko (who was a painter and illustrator as well as a poet) was born a serf, so the use of the word slavery is not metaphorical. Sales of artwork enabled him to be  bought out of his serfdom in 1838, but he spent a great deal of time imprisoned by the Russian authorities. He died in St Petersburg in 1861 at the age of 47.

The poem Calamity Again  was written in 1854, in the middle of the Crimean War, at which time Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire. The poem was written at Novopetrovsk Fortress, depicted in the above painting by Shevchenko himself.

Dear God, calamity again! …
It was so peaceful, so serene;
We but began to break the chains
That bind our folk in slavery …
When halt! … Again the people’s blood
Is streaming! Like rapacious dogs
About a bone, the royal thugs
Are at each other’s throat again.


A Poem for St David’s Day

Posted in Literature on March 1, 2022 by telescoper

It’s St David’s Day today, so I wish you all a great big

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!

It has become a bit of a St David’s Day tradition on this this blog to post a piece of verse by the great Welsh poet R.S. Thomas. An Anglican clergyman, Thomas was vicar at St Hywyn’s Church (which was built 1137) in Aberdaron at the western tip of the Llŷn Peninsula. This one, called Pact, carries a message for the sad times we’re living through.

This is my child;
that is yours. Let
peace be between them
when they grow up.

They are far off
now; let it not
be through war they are brought
near. Their languages

are different. Let them both
learn it is peace
in the hand is the translation
of peace in the mind.

by R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)

Wind, by Ted Hughes

Posted in Poetry on February 18, 2022 by telescoper

This house has been far out at sea all night,
The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,
Winds stampeding the fields under the window
Floundering black astride and blinding wet

Till day rose; then under an orange sky
The hills had new places, and wind wielded
Blade-light, luminous black and emerald,
Flexing like the lens of a mad eye.

At noon I scaled along the house-side as far as
The coal-house door. Once I looked up –
Through the brunt wind that dented the balls of my eyes
The tent of the hills drummed and strained its guyrope,

The fields quivering, the skyline a grimace,
At any second to bang and vanish with a flap;
The wind flung a magpie away and a black-
Back gull bent like an iron bar slowly. The house

Rang like some fine green goblet in the note
That any second would shatter it. Now deep
In chairs, in front of the great fire, we grip
Our hearts and cannot entertain book, thought,

Or each other. We watch the fire blazing,
And feel the roots of the house move, but sit on,
Seeing the window tremble to come in,
Hearing the stones cry out under the horizons.

by Ted Hughes (1930-98)


A Topical Nursery Rhyme

Posted in Poetry on February 17, 2022 by telescoper

I’ve always been fascinated by Nursery Rhymes. Some people think these are little more than nonsense but in fact they are full of interesting historical insights and offer important advice for the time in which they were written. One such poem, for example, delivers a stern warning against the consequences of placing sleeping babies in the upper branches of trees during windy weather.

In the light of recent events I thought I would continue this old tradition by posting a nursery rhyme of topical relevance. Here it is:


The Grand Old Duke of York
He gave twelve million quid
To a girl he never met
For a thing he never did.


And when he was up he **censored**

A Century of Ulysses

Posted in Biographical, Literature with tags , on February 2, 2022 by telescoper


When I woke up this morning the radio reminded me that today, 2nd February 2022, is the centenary of the first complete publication of  Ulysses by James Joyce. It had been published in installments before that, but it took a publisher in Paris to bite the bullet and publish the whole thing. The publication date also happened to be the 40th birthday of the author.

I have toyed with the idea of going into Dublin on Bloomsday (16th June, the day on which Ulysses is set) and wandering about some of the locations described in, but what with work and lockdowns I haven’t got round to it.  Maybe this year will be the time!

Or perhaps instead I’ll prepare dinner this evening in a style that Leopold Bloom would enjoy:

He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with breadcrumbs, fried hen cod’s roe. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.

Or perhaps not.

If you haven’t read Ulysses yet then you definitely should. It’s one of the great works of modern literature. And don’t let people put you off by telling you that it’s a difficult read. It really isn’t. It’s a long read that’s for sure -it’s over 900 pages – but the writing is full of colour and energy and it has a  real sense of place. It’s a wonderful book.

(There’s also quite a lot of sex in it….)

I’ve read Ulysses twice, once when I was a teenager and again when I was in my thirties. I then lent my copy to someone and never got it back. The copy shown above is a new one I bought last year with the intention of reading the novel again now that I live in Ireland but I sadly have not had the time yet. I will, though.