Friday, 20 February 2009

Postcard 21: A blackbird in Adlestrop

Above: the Adlestrop Station sign Below: blackbirds

I mentioned in a former postcard that I would return to Adlestrop. We visited the village on a very icy day, and enjoyed imagining the railway before Dr Richard Beeching's so-called 'reforms'.

I recall hearing the sound of a blackbird on our walk back towards the Post Office from the church, and thinking how wonderful it was to listen to a blackbird in Adlestrop! I have always wanted to understand the poetic relationship between the blackbird line in the poem by Edward Thomas and the parallel line in Morning has Broken ('Blackbird has spoken ...') from the pen of his fellow poet, Eleanor Farjeon. Thomas was introduced to Farjeon by Clifford Bax in 1912. Edward Thomas wrote one book specifically for children, Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds, published by Duckworth in 1915.

An entry for the previous year, 23 June 1914, in the field notebook belonging to Thomas recorded the blackbird's song and a hiss of steam. Thomas had been travelling by train to visit another fellow poet, Robert Frost, at his cottage in Leddington. The train would have come to a halt at Adlestrop Station. Thomas saw meadowsweet and willow herb a little later on his journey as the train drew in to Chipping Camden.

Eleanor Farjeon brought out a book for children entitled Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard in which she describes the blackbird's whistle. James Guthrie published a book by Thomas, The Friend of the Blackbird, in a Pear Tree Press limited hand-made edition in 1938, years after the poet's death. Shortly before his dying day in France, Thomas mentioned in a letter to Frost from 244 Siege Battery that he had not heard the song of a blackbird. A fellow First World War poet, Sassoon, in contrast, noted in his poem, The Distant Song, that 'a blackbird sang' on the battlefield beyond the enemy line.

Blackbird PoetryRober Frost

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Postcard 20: Rajasthan = Brontë Country

The atmospheric walk to Top Withens, Haworth, Yorkshire

I have enjoyed two visits to Haworth in Yorkshire, with its Brontë associations. The museum items made me realize just how small and slight the Brontë girls must have been. This revelation is all the more startling when you walk outside and begin to experience for yourself something of the vast and foreboding expanse of moor.

It is always interesting to see how tales can translate into a different culture. There is to be a new stage-adaption of a Bollywood Brontë. The show Emily's Wuthering Heights will be on tour during March: venues include Exeter, Glasgow and Harrogate. The action will take place in 1770s Rajasthan, and the bleak moors will take on the guise of a parched desert wilderness.

To return to Yorkshire for a moment, I have long beeen fascinated by the name Top Withens, Heathcliff's abode, sometimes spelled as Top Withins. I resorted to the Ordnance Survey on one occasion when I wanted to include the name in my poem, Emily's Moor (subsequently published in The Seventh Quarry, ed. Peter Thabit Jones). I was delighted to find a discussion of the name on the Haworth Village website. It would seem that the spot has been Top Withens (with an 'e') since the 1600s. 'Wuthering' is such an evocative word for the sound and movement of the north wind. It reminds me of another tale set in Yorkshire, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. You will find a link below to an intriguing paper linking the two stories.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Postcard 19: Happy [Ancient] Valentine's Day

The O2: Tutankhamun 2008

Unlike Edward Lear (of limerick fame) who actually travelled to Egypt, I have to content myself with a virtual visit today. I am reminded of a happy evening in the company of Tutankhamun at the O2 almost a year ago. You may wonder why I have chose to post on 'things ancient' for Valentine's Day, and the reason is that we came across an intriguing 2009 Near Eastern Valentine Contest for entries in ancient scripts and languages. It is run by the publishers, Eisenbrauns, who specialize in books on the Near East and Biblical Studies. Matthew Scarborough won himself an honourable mention in the contest for a Hittite version of 'You are my sunshine'. This song was immortalized for me in the television adaptations of The Balkan and Levant Trilogies (aka as the Fortunes of War novels) by Olivia Manning. Emma Thompson acted the part of Harriet Pringle and Kenneth Branagh was Guy in these memorable productions.

On my travels on the internet I came across a site on Ancient Hebrew poetry. I studied classical Greek and Latin as a student, and have often regretted the fact that I did not have the opportunity to learn some Hebrew. For those who prefer things a little more modern, I note that a new book is out, Poets on the Edge: an Anthology of Modern Hebrew Poetry selected and translated by Tsipi Keller.

And finally, for those of you who enjoy a short challenge, there is the opportunity on the Boston Phoenix site to write a Six Word Memoir Valentine in (you guessed it) six words. Happy Valentine's Day ... and happy writing!

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Postcard 18: Monarch of the Isle

You are invited to view the February Seal Card Sale on my Coastcard site.

Speaking of seals, I photographed this magnificent and comfortably curious creature on the Isle of Skye. There are wonderful seal colonies and it is a joy to travel by boat in search of them. Many make their home on the skerries or reefs of little rocky islands that abound around the coast and sea lochs in this area. The word 'skerry' comes from the Norwegian language. A 'sker' in Norse is a rock in the sea. The Gaelic form is 'sgeir', and in Norway, the uneven rocky edge of an island fringe is known as 'skjærgård'. The Scottish coastline around the Western Isles, with its indentations and offshore skerries, is the outcome of a relatively recent submergence. The Scots term for fjord is 'firth'.

I grew up in East Anglia, where there are seal colonies along the North Norfolk coast. Occasionally a seal runs into danger, and it is always heart-warming to read of cases like this story form the Eastern Daily Press in which a sea creature has been successfully rescued, restored to health and returned to the ocean.

I was thinking about seals in literature. It is easy to name poems and prose pieces about a number of our sea creatures (notably The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carroll), but how many seals can you recall from literary sources?

For a veritable marine menagerie I would recommend the poetry book, Creatures of the Intertidal Zone (scroll down the linked page) by Susan Richardson, published by Cinnamon Press. The poet follows in the footsteps of Gudrid, an eleventh century 'Viking heroine'. Within the pages of the volume you will encounter not only seals but also whales, the hermit crab and a colony of penguins.

Sea Creatures on the web

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Postcard 17: Snow White

Like many others in the UK and America we have been snowbound today. Those of you who have read my postings before will know that I enjoy the poetry of Edward Thomas. I found myself reading his very poignant poem entitled Snow about the 'sighing child' and her avian perceptions (I say 'her' for the child may have been Myfanwy Thomas). It made me wonder what kind of bird the child had in mind, especially since in my poetry anthology, The British Museum: Birds (ed. Mavis Pilbeam) the poem faces an egret on a Japanese silk scroll by Oda Kaisen. If you know the poem, I wonder what kind of white bird flutters through your thoughts.

The two bird photographs above were taken at the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust at Penclacwydd just before the snow came. I love the sculptural way in which the Bewick swans entwine their necks around one another. The swans are named after the naturalist and engraver, Thomas Bewick. You can visit his fascinating birth place, Cherryburn, in Northumbria.