Category Archives: Poetry

Finding Time…

What with living only 10 minutes walk from the beach, you’d think we’d be down there everyday trying to carpe diem seize the day – especially at the moment during the peak Summer holiday period, where even our dog is sunning herself for hours out in the midday sun. Indeed, this is when all the ring-ins descend on the beach like “plagues of locusts”, as though they own the place. Clearly, if the crowds are any indication, the beach is where we’re supposed to be (although social distancing, of course, this year!)

However, just because we live near the beach, doesn’t mean we don’t have to get on with the realities of life just like everyone else. There’s going to work, school, and our endless battle with trying to sort out, maintain and renovate our house and garden. On top of that, there are the personal crises which affect most families from time to time and despite all the advise to take time out for self-care, it’s very hard (at least for me) to fight my fixation on the problem and a need to get it sorted, which isn’t going to happen if I’m swanning down the beach.

Moreover, this Summer has been uncharacteristically cool, and we’ve also experienced frequent heavy rain. While there are some who still feel the need to get outside even in the rain (and they often have a dog or two in tow), I don’t like get wet at the best of times and being rained on is just plain yuck.

Yet, at the same time, there’s still been enough sunny days to at least encourage me to go for a swim, for Geoff and I to go for a walk, and maybe even the four of us to venture along the beach as a family. That is, if we could actually hit our teenagers over the head with a baseball bat so they don’t mind being seen down at the beach with mum and dad…HOW EMBARRASSING!!

Yet, sometimes, you just need to be forceful. Make it happen.

Finally, Geoff and I actually made if over to Patonga Beach, a 15 minute drive away, and walked along the beach and rocks together where we could soak up each other’s company, and also immerse ourselves in such natural beauty. I really love walking along the rocks, and even though I’m now 51 and have well and truly outgrown my spade and bucket, I still remember going exploring through the rockpools with my dad as a kid, and my incredible delight at finding little crabs and shells. Indeded, even now, exploring the rocks reminds me Keats’ immortal poem: On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Such incredible markings in the rocks.

What really struck me about visiting the rock platform at Patonga, was the swirling pattern in the rocks. As Geoff pointed out, the swirls were created as the sandstone was being deposited, seemingly by the ocean currents. We don’t know. We’re not geologists, but we do have inquiring minds. So, if any of you are any wiser and know how these swirls got into the rock, we would love to know.

How were these interesting and very striking markings in the sandstone formed?

I have spent years climbing over rocks at the beach. Back when my parents used to have a place at Whale Beach, I used to spend hours down there by the myself, and I’d go down on to the rocks and watch the furious encounters between land and sea. I’d sit on this massive rock, which jutted out into the waves like a mini headland and the waves crashed out the front and swooshed up the side. It was very spectacular, and I almost felt consumed by the ocean, I was that close.

I almost always walk over the rocks in bare feet. Of course, it feels very footloose and fancy-free. Indeed, feeling the sensation of the rough sandstone underfoot, the discomfort of stepping onto those pokey blue periwinkle shells which jab into your feet, is such a sensory experience. It’s just not the same in shoes where your feet can’t see, feel or even breathe it all in. it is as real as real can be especially with the sea breeze slapping your hair into your face. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind at all. I’m fully and completely alive.

It’s interesting too, because each beach is unique. They might look similar, but each and every beach has its own fingerprint embedded in the sand and surf, and it’s own soul bellowing out through the waves and making its presence felt. You can even drive from one beach to the next around here, and the motion of the waves, the action and intensity of the surf, and the nature of the rocks all vary. You could never get bored. Or, at least you shouldn’t. There’s always so much to explore and absorb and it’s all different.

Looking across to Palm Beach from Patonga. You can barely see it, but the Palm Beach Light House sits on top of that headland.

It’s not often Geoff and I go to the beach together. I’ll blame him for that. He goes sailing most Saturdays, and is more of a flat water soul. I enjoy going to the beach, but not when it’s really sunny and I’m likely to fry like an egg and just get burned. I also enjoy sailing, but more on my Dad’s bigger yacht or going out on the kayak. I don’t know how to sail the laser myself.

The other trouble Geoff and I have is trying to find some spare time. Time is constantly going up in smoke, and although our kids are teenagers, they still take up a fair bit of time and emotional energy, and are more likely to need us spontaneously. Indeed, that’s why they have the mobile phones. It’s not so we can keep track of them. It’s so they can keep us on a constant leash…”Taxi!”

“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

Our Family Taken Christmas Day 2020

However, it’s also important for Mum and Dad to have time together and not just so-called “quality time”, which to me is the biggest cop out ever. From where I sit, it’s very hard to have true quality time if you don’t spend enough quantity time together. Indeed, there’s a lot to be said for just sitting a long side someone for awhile, and simply going fishing or going for a drive. By spending time together, you gain a sense of the whole person, and not just a series of disjointed snapshots. You can tell a few stories, and create a few as well. Indeed, being close to someone is being able to read them like a book. I don’t know about you, but when I read a book, I don’t just speed read from cover to cover. I usually read with a pen in hand and underline my favourite bits. Indeed, I also read in between the lines. After all, good writers don’t spell everything out for us in the text, especially when it comes to poetry. (Humph! No wonder I haven’t read many books lately!) WE have to go looking.

“Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.”
― Anais Nin

Meanwhile, Geoff and I were looking at going out for dinner tonight. However, most of the local venues are closed tonight and the weather’s a bit blah. So, we’ve ordered takeaway instead. Now that the house is looking better, it’s much more relaxing to eat at home and we’ll head out for lunch when we’re in Newcastle tomorrow.

How to you juggle relaxation, relationships and the never-ending to-do list? Have you been for any great beach walks or activities lately? I’d love to hear from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena

My Year-End Search For Wisdom in Verse…

There’s probably a special word to describe the gap of time in between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. If there isn’t, there ought to be, and perhaps I’ll get the ball rolling by calling it a “pregnant pause”.

After all, the lead up to Christmas is always absolutely frantic, and then you have exactly a week to rest, recover, put the old year to bed, while developing either a word or a list of resolutions for the new year, along with strategies and tactics for implementation and success. After all, you don’t want to start the new year off with an instant fail, do you? Especially, after 2020! No, we need to do everything in our power to get 2021 off to a good start. Indeed, we could well need a magic wand.

So, after watching The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy the other night, I decided I turn to the wisdom of British bard, Geoff Le Pard, who sent me his The Sincerest Form of Poetry a few months ago. In my usual well-intentioned way, I offered to write a review, and got side-tracked, and this “pregnant pause” at the end of what’s been the weirdest year I’ve ever had, seemed the perfect time to get on with the job.

I’ve lost count of how long Geoff and I have been bantering in the blogosphere. However, you can find Geoff at TanGental https://geofflepard.com/. I read and enjoyed his anthology online, and again once the hardcover version arrived in the mail. I really loved it, and it made a huge difference knowing him all this time.

However, as much as I enjoyed the poems, I was struggling to write my review. Although I’d reviewed his novels before, I found reviewing an anthology of poetry much more challenging. There were so many ideas inside, and what was I supposed to say? Why couldn’t he just write it for me, and I’d Australianize it to make it sound authentic? Of course, that’s cheating.

So, I decided to take a different approach.

Indeed, after I read The Sincerest Form of Poetry, I found myself questioning whether we still need poetry in the 21st Century. Or, has it become redundant, obsolete, and irrelevant? Indeed, has it gone the way of the chalkboard, a 35mm roll of film, the VCR, cassette tapes and by and large, the Christmas card? Taking a leaf out of Nietzsche’s book…Is poetry dead?

As a poet myself, my immediate response was: “Of course not!” The inner yearnings of the soul still matter, and are as relevant now as they’ve always been. Indeed, I’d even argue that we’ve needed poetry in 2020 more than ever, after Covid brought us to our knees.

However, even I’ve been corrupted by the forces of practicality, reason, and putting a meal on the table. As much as it’s good to ponder things, sometimes, you just need to get on with the job. Or, in the words of the Brits: “Keep calm and carry on!”

Moreover, it would also be fair to say, that there have always been people who have found poetry irrelevant, incomprehensible, alien drivel. There is also poetry that’s pretty dreadful, too, and doesn’t do us poets any favours. Not all poetry should see the light of day.

However, for me personally, when life isn’t going to plan for whatever reason, that’s when I turn to poetry for comfort, solace, connection, understanding, empathy as well as simply immersing myself in beautiful words.

So, 2020 and this dreadful covid pandemic, has been the perfect time for poetry.

Knowing Geoff, who is rather unassuming much of the time in his enchanting English way, he’d never set himself up as THE ultimate interpreter of life, the universe and everything. Indeed, he’d be rather aghast that I’m viewing his anthology through this light. However, for the first half of the anthology, Geoff repurposed poems which appeared in a collection of the greatest British poets compiled by the BBC for National Poetry Day in 1995. So, you’ve got a good chance of finding something meaningful in there somewhere.

Some of these poems and their progeny include:

Leisure – William Henry Davies Now – Dog At Leisure

How Do I Love You? – Sonnets From The Portuguese XLIII, Elizabeth Barrett Browning

This Be the Verse – Philip Larkin Now – Contradicting The Curmudgeon

Home Thoughts From Abroad – Robert Browning Now – Foreign Is Quite Ghastly.

If – Rudyard Kipling Now – If (Or When) The Truth Finally Dawns.

Christmas – John Betjeman Now – Christmas 2018

Upon Westminster Bridge – William Wordsworth Now – Dog Show.

Sonnet 130 – William Shakespeare Now – Only Skin Deep.

Sonnet 91 – William Shakespeare Now – Life Lessons (For An Englishman).

Twas the Night Before Christmas – Clement Clark Moore Now – We’re All Santas Now.

The Glory of the Garden – Rudyard Kipling.

…..

So, what wisdom have I gleaned from Geoff Le Pard’s book of verse?

Here goes…

“Come friend, reject facebook, texts and tweets

And all your social media conceits.

To win this war, you’ll need to be better,

Buy some stamps and write them a letter”.

In Christmas 2018, he asks:

“So what’s the point of Christmas time?

We have to ask ourselves

Surely it’s more than a cheesy rhyme

Sung by unpaid elves?

It’s time we took back full control

Of all to do with Xmas

We need to hold a people’s poll

And get out the vote for Brexmas.”

In Life Lessons (For An Englishman), which could well apply to rogue Australian women as well, he writes:

“Contentment’s path is clear, as was ever thus:

Always say you’re sorry and never make a fuss.”

I have gained much wisdom, support and understanding over the years through my friendship with Geoff. We used to belong to a blogshare called “One Thousand Voices for Compassion” which sprang up after the Paris bombings in January 2015, and tried to make the world a better place. We’ve also had a heart for fringe dwellers and those who don’t quite fit the norm or any approved prescription, which for better or worse, seems to include us. Through this time, my kids have almost grown up and his daughter recently got married and Geoff had the honour of walking her down the aisle. On top of this, we both have dogs, who I swear must be a tad dyslexic, and think they’re God.

However, before I head off, which indeed was my intention, I can’t help noticing these poems depict a world which is lusciously pre-covid. He’s out there walking his dog in the park without wearing a mask or being fined; and I’m not too sure how many folk are currently sharing his desire: “Oh, to be in England/rather than abroad…” Rather, I’d say now more than ever, the English wish they were in Australia or New Zealand, and especially well away from their more virulent form of the virus.

If that doesn’t entice you to at least wander over to check out Geoff’s blog and consider ordering The Sincerest Form of Poetry, I’m not sure what else I could do. I don’t think you want me to tap dance on the table. I hope you enjoy it!

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS I apologise that this review might be a little stilted, even garbled. It turns out this precious pregnant pause between Christmas and New Year’s Eve has been sabotaged by our teenage son who decided to clean up his room, by channelling everything into our loungeroom and tomorrow night we’re having a dinner party. OMG! It looks like Mt Vesuvius erupted and spewed her guts in an almighty blast. However, although we’re almost buried in his mess, his room is remarkably clear. Indeed, that’s the very sort of thing which inspires poetry, don’t you think?! However, somehow I’m stuck for words.

Weekend Coffee Share…4th August, 2020.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Well, this week I celebrated another birthday. I don’t know whether I’ve become any wiser, or even if I feel any older. However, I can’t kid myself that staying away from the hairdresser is doing me any favours. Stick my head in her door, and I’ll be transformed. I’d love to take Geoff with me as well. He’s in DESPERATE need of a haircut and beard trim and is looking like Moses after being in lock down and isolation at home for a few months. The trouble is he seems to like his new look. I’ve been giving him not too subtle hints, and then a work colleague of his who does photography on the side, asked him if he could take his portrait. Well, that was something having my husband approached to be a photo model, especially when you think the kids would be much more likely targets. Well, the downside of all of this, is that he’s been told not to change anything. Yikes! They had their first go at it today and I swear the beard was transmitting some weird kind of pulsating signal which interfers with technology, because all of his equipment miraculously failed and the connections between his camera and computer failed. Now, this is usually what happens when technology and I cross paths, and Geoff being an IT guru usually has the reverse effect. The computers know he’s in the office and behave themselves  when he’s around but muck up and go on strike when he’s on leave. Indeed, one of his former managers, was thinking about sticking a photo of him near the server to keep it happy. There was one particular Summer, where the air-conditioning failed and the server fried over the Christmas break while we were driving in between Hay and Adelaide in some of the most remote country in the world. I’ll never forget that call. Technology!!

Birthday Cake

Meanwhile, there’s covid, which seems to be like that annoying English backpacker who says they’re only going to stay for a week and is still glued to your couch six months later and showing no signs of moving on.

I don’t know whether you’ve been hearing about what’s been going on with Covid here in Australia? Well, just when I was starting to think we could even become covid free like New Zealand, things went pear-shaped in Victoria and I was back in isolation and second-guessing everyone I meet. There are a few outbreaks in Sydney, which are a concern, although not of immediate threat to us here. However, our situation has been challenged by my husband’s manager who has insisted that all IT staff return to the university to work on campus, despite NSW Health putting out a directive that anyone who can work from home should be working from home. The trains are virtually empty and he has no trouble parking at the station. So, it’s clear that many people are either working from home or have lost their jobs. So, I don’t understand why his manager has to be a trail blazer leading the way from common sense, but I guess we might just attribute that to “management”.

 

In addition to our frustrations with what’s happening at work, if what we see on TV is any indication, Covid seems to be bringing out the idiot in droves.  Here in Australia, we have “Bunning’s Karen” who refused to wear a face mask into the hardware store as requested and went troppo. However, that’s nothing compared to three Queensland girls who went down to Melbourne on a high-end handbag shoplifting spree in Melbourne and were fined in Melbourne for being at a party and flouting covid restrictions. Then, when they returned to Queensland, they lied about being in Melbourne and two of the three are currently in hospital with Covid. Meanwhile, with a bit of a humorous take on increased cases in Victoria, a map of Australia with Victoria missing, is doing the rounds.  This is a bit of blessed relief for the Tasmanians who are traditionally left off the map, mostly by accident. This, however, is much more intentional.

Map of Australia Without Victoria

Meanwhile, my research into Australian soldiers who served in WWI is continuing. You’d think I’d be ready to put pen to paper and start writing this massive epic. However, while my research is uncovering some brilliant stories and insights into the soldiers experiences, as well as efforts from the home front to support their efforts, it also uncovers my ignorance and I still don’t feel I’m in a position of knowing or understanding yet. Of course, that takes years and I’ve only been focused on this for one year so far, which really makes me a beginner. That said, I do have an honours degree in history under my belt and I’ve maintained an interest in history, especially Australian and Irish cultural history through my family history research. So, I’m not a rank beginner and I’m not completely untrained either. I just need to work out where I’m going to position myself on that continuum between storyteller and historian. I really do enjoy a good story, but I’m also a stickler for the truth and I’m not one to bend the facts to tell the tale unless I’m wearing my marketing/publicity hats. At the moment, I’m just going to keep “head down, bum up” and expect that I’ll find my voice when the timing’s right, and that will determine which way I go and this way, I’ll sort of grow into my spot instead of a fixed point determining who I am (if that makes any sense). This process might not be so structured, but is more organic.

The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, Pocket Editions for the Trenches ...

Well, I think about does me for this week. Have you been watching any good movies lately? Or reading any books? I read C.J. Dennis’s: The Songs of the Sentimental Bloke during the week. This is a great Australian tale of romance and family life set just before the outbreak of WWI. The entire thing is written in verse, and uses the Australian vernacular of the day, which is harder to understand than Shakespeare. However, there’s a dictionary at the back if you need it. The book was very popular with the troops at the trench, and he’s been called Australia’s answer to Robbie  Burns. If you’re interested in checking it our, it’s available for free online  Here

Anyway, it’s getting late here so I’d better head off. I hope you’ve had a great week and I hope you and yours are well and staying Covid safe.

This is another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Eclectic Ali.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Cloud Chasing… Pearl Beach, NSW.

“How sweet to be a cloud floating in the blue.”

A.A. Milne.

My walking efforts continued on Thursday, and when my friend Roland and I arrived at Pearl Beach, there was this lone, ginormous cumulus cloud out on the horizon looking like a pavlova on steroids or a freshly picked cauliflower still as white as snow.

If you use your imagination, you can see lots of things in the cloud formations.

-Charles M. Schulz

It was absolutely magical, and like something out of a proverbial fairy tale. A castle in the sky, or perhaps a well-camouflaged spaceship and the aliens had really landed. I didn’t know, and I didn’t care.

Fluffy Cloud Pearl Beach

“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”

– Maya Angelou

Moreover, I didn’t want to know the science behind it either, and why this one massive cloud was out there dominating the skyscape when so much of it was a blue canvas. I just wanted to revel in its beauty through the lens, and make sure I had some truly worthy images reflecting its spectacular magnificence.

Of course, you don’t need me to tell you there’s something truly amazing about clouds. Who doesn’t feel enchanted watching them drift slowly across the sky on a windless day, or changing shapes and metamorphosing in the wind?

Clouds Pearl Beach pano dolphin

Doesn’t this just look magnificent?!

“The clouds,- the only birds that never sleep.”

Then, of course, there’s a photographer’s frustration when a blanket of cloud cover blocks out the light dulling a magnificent landscape and killing the shot. I’ve also been known to go cloud chasing with my camera in tow, and that’s landed me in some dangerous strife.

Indeed, a few years ago, I got caught up in a nasty hail storm photographing huge, foreboding black clouds down at our local beach. Absolutely terrified, I was left sheltering in our car facing directly into the storm and my windscreen was the first point of contact. I am really surprised it didn’t smash, and I felt like Ziggy stuck out in space in his tin can waiting for that storm to clear. Indeed, I arrived home to find our back roof had smashed open, and had been peppered with hail bullet holes and the rain was pouring into our office. Moreover, much to my acute embarrassment, my son was on the phone to emergency reporting Mummy missing in the storm and the roof caved in. Humph, just like storm chasing, cloud chasing has its perils and I’m now a lot more cautious, although as this photo reveals, I haven’t lost my love of photographing freakishly big clouds, even if they’re usually a warning of same kind of trouble and a time to go home, not to set up the lens.

Yacht in the clouds

This tiny yacht is completely dwarfed by the cloud.

“Behind the cloud, the sun is still shining.”

-Abraham Lincoln.

Has this time of the coronavirus where we’ve had to shelter away from each other, increased your interactions with nature? Have you been going for more walks or appreciating the outdoors in some other way, perhaps through gardening? As usual, I’d love to hear your stories. For me, it’s stories which make the world go round, and I’ll leave he financial side of things to the economists.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

 

 

 

Watch Out For the Triantiwontigongolope!!

If you thought that the Coronavirus was something to watch out for, you’d better brace yourself because if the Triantiwontigongolope gets out of Australia and takes on the world with equal force, they’ll be nothing left. A close relative of the vicious Dropbear (at least in terms of Aussie folklore), this insect is truly something to watch out for. Well, at least, that’s according to poet CJ Dennis who penned this poem back in the 1920s.

I remember hearing this poem when I was about 10 ears old and with its rollicky rhythm and great humour, I absolutely loved it and I thought you would too…especially at the moment when other horrors have us in various stages of isolation or taking our chances firmly believing in the great Aussie spirit (and no doubt you have your equivalent wherever you live): “she’ll be right mate!”

So, here goes:

The Triantiwontigongolope

There’s a very funny insect that you do not often spy,

And it isn’t quite a spider, and it isn’t quite a fly;

It is something like a beetle, and a little like a bee,

But nothing like a wooly grub that climbs upon a tree.

Its name is quite a hard one, but you’ll learn it soon, I hope.

So try:

Tri-

Tri-anti-wonti-

Triantiwontigongolope.

 

It lives on weeds and wattle-gum, and has a funny face;

Its appetite is hearty, and its manners a disgrace.

When first you come upon it, it will give you quite a scare,

But when you look for it again, you find it isn’t there.

And unless you call it softly it will stay away and mope.

So try:

Tri-

Tri-anti-wonti-

Triantiwontigongolope.

 

It trembles if you tickle it or tread upon its toes;

It is not an early riser, but it has a snubbish nose.

If you snear at it, or scold it, it will scuttle off in shame,

But it purrs and purrs quite proudly if you call it by its name,

And offer it some sandwiches of sealing-wax and soap.

So try:

Tri-

Tri-anti-wonti-

Triantiwontigongolope .

 

But of course you haven’t seen it; and I truthfully confess

That I haven’t seen it either, and I don’t know its address.

For there isn’t such an insect, though there really might have been

If the trees and grass were purple, and the sky was bottle green.

It’s just a little joke of mine, which you’ll forgive, I hope.

Oh, try!

Tri-

Tri-anti-wonti-

Triantiwontigongolope.

 

If you’d like to read more about CJ Dennis, please click here

Well, I hope that’s given you a bit of a laugh and I hope you’re okay.

If you have something funny to share, please leave a link in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

George A. Aldworth…A Poem Written on The Way to War.

War is the very antithesis of poetry, and yet it is often in our darkest and most torturous moments that our thoughts turn inward and flow out through the pen. Indeed, I don’t even need Google. Rupert Brooke’s The Soldier immediately comes to mind:

If I should die, think only this of me:

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is forever England…

 

There’s also Hugh McCrae’s: In Flander’s Field:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below…

George Aldworth, a young English Private serving with the AIF, wrote a poem as he embarked onboard HMAT A26 Suevic, the very same ship as Maud Butler, which departed Sydney on the 22nd December, 1915 bound for Egypt. It’s quite possible that he wrote these lines as they sailed through Sydney Harbour at sunset, as he pictured a little yacht silhouetted by the setting sun. Naturally, it’s hard for me to picture this very different Sydney Harbour without the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. It was such a different place.

Clip Showing Troops Embarking 1915

At Sunset was published in the Suevic’s onboard newspaper The Sports Company’s Gazette.and reprinted in The Sun newspaper on the 22nd March, 1916 three months later.

Margaret Preston

Margaret Preston, Sydney Heads, Art Gallery of NSW 1925

Along with a brief introduction, it reads:

“A pretty picture Is suggested In the lines:  At Sunset, by George A. Aldworth, of the 20th Battalion. These were the verses:—

Far down the bay

A barque with sails of white

Fades at the close of day

Into the far away

Beyond the light.

The sunset glow

Spreads out across the deep

To the isles a long ago

Where the evening zephyrs blow —

Where seabirds sleep.

Oh! barque so free

Sailing Into the west.

Would I could follow thee,

Lull’d by the moaning sea

To share thy rest![1]

George Alexander Aldworth was born around 1883 in the village of East Hanney, near Wantage, Oxfordshire (then Berkshire). He was one of six known children born to Alfred Aldworth, a carpenter and joiner and Mary Ann. He arrived in Australia in 1911 and settled in Rockdale. George was a keen soccer player and finding it wasn’t a popular sport in Australia, founded the first local club at Rockdale, the St John Soccer Club, and was their  first captain. He was also a popular member of St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Kogarah and was a great favourite of the children and choir –boys and had composed a children’s hymn.

I did a Google search to find out if George had sent any more letters home. Or, fingers crossed, even more poems. However, my joy at finding this extremely well-written and moving account of travelling through France to the front, was very short-lived when I found out that George was Killed in Action in France before it had even gone to print. Unfortunately, as it seems, while we writers staunchly believe the pen is mightier than the sword, it is no match for a bullet.

Tyne-Cot-Cemetery-in-Flanders-Fields-Belgium

This doesn’t get any easier. I know in my head that so many of these beautiful young men didn’t make it home. Moreover, this isn’t the only letter I’ve read where I’ve been drawn so deeply into the writer’s orbit, only to have my hopes dashed. He didn’t make it home. It’s so easy to forget they’re mortal.

Naturally, it is my intention to get to know these men as individuals and not only absorb their stories, but also to slip inside their skin and disappear.  See what they see through their eyes, their minds, their hearts while working to remove any sense of myself at all. After all, this is the ultimate goal of the writer, the actor who doesn’t just play a character, but all but becomes one with them. I might have as much chance as Maud Butler of being able to pull it off, but I still have to try.

That said, it’s obviously not the safest ground psychologically speaking and at times I do find myself shuddering as conditions get tough. I’ve also been a bit “emotional” and I do wonder if I can handle it. Should I be so immersed in the horrors of this war, which wasn’t to end all wars? Wouldn’t I be better writing about rainbows, unicorns and fairies in castles? Isn’t there enough darkness and despair all around me, without needing to go back to the past and take onboard some of the very worst of it? My grandmother who did admire my writing, was concerned about my pull towards the darkside and suggested more than once I should take up floral arranging, very much in the same vein as Keats who advised us to “glut our sorrows on a morning rose.”

These concerns are justified. However, for me there is no doubt that I’m meant to be doing this. That someone has to keep these young men alive in the only way we can…through the pen. Moreover, through capturing and retelling their stories, I’m also acknowledging my gratitude too. I might not understand why they went to fight, but I appreciate their sacrifice and their belief in something ultimately good which was worth fighting for. That despite absolute horrors on all fronts, they believed there was something worth fighting for. Had a  faith in a better world. Moreover, I came to admire and be quite touched by their capacity to notice something incredibly beautiful in the midst of it all…such as a bird singing in the middle of no man’s land. This is such an important lesson for us too.

Anyway, as usual, I’ve digressed.

I wanted to share with you this letter George sent home about his trip through France on the way to the front. It appeared in the St George Call Saturday 16 September 1916:

FROM THE FRONT.

Private George A. Aldworth, of the 56th Battalion in journeying through France on his way to the front, gives the following description of the delightful country. We regret to announce that since sending this letter for publication, Pte. Aldworth has been killed in action, and is now at rest in the country of which he so favourably writes : —

“Thy cornfields green, and sunny vines. O pleasant land of France.[2]” We repeated the lines automatically and often, in the old schoolroom, in the old days. They meant nothing to us then. It is otherwise now. We have had many experiences, and have seen much since the day we left the sunny home shores to aid the mother land. After a day’s wait outside we entered the harbour and soon the work of disembarkation began. We entrained immediately and moved off without visiting the city. Very soon the train was plunging through a series of tunnels, which lead through the rocky hills to the country beyond. Looking back, as we occasionally emerged from the pitchy black underground, we got wonderful pictures of the city, the Mediterranean, and the fine rugged coast scenery. A slight haze softened the outlines of the mountains behind the town, and the boys were loud in praise of the glorious view. Again the deafening roar of the train in the darkness and when we again saw the sun Marseilles had passed from view. For about eight hours we made good progress, stopping for tea at a place which strangely enough was called Orange. The train had taken us through the most fertile, picturesque country we had ever seen. A country indeed worth fighting for— either to possess or, to retain. So far as the eye could reach, the vineyards and wheat fields spread. Hardly a yard of ground which was not under cultivation. The entire land was, like a vast garden, so thorough, are the French peasants in their work. And the love of the beautiful which is natural to our Ally, finds expression in the way they lay out their fields and road ways. The vines, and the corn, the carefully tended vegetable gardens, mingle beautifully with the long avenues of poplar and lime trees, which shade the white neatly trimmed roads. Scores of villages and small towns were passed, so dainty looking were the little red and white homes which, like newly born chicks, cluster closely round the grey old churches. What a warm reception from the inhabitants too, as we continued our journey. Scarcely a man, woman or child but waved a hand or if the train stopped, came with haste to wish us good luck. Many women were in black and there was a wistful look and a tear occasionally, mingled with the good wish. One old lady of very great age, we saw, who was feebly shaking one hand to us while she supported it with the other. The men generally were in uniform— they had probably been sent from the firing line to aid the harvesters,— the reaping season having just commenced. A very delightful time could be spent visiting the many churches we saw. Some were very fine edifices — others interesting because of their quaintness. Especially so, in the latter sense, was the Church of Arles, where also is a railway works. The town of Farascon possesses a couple of very fine castles, one of which might almost be a .replica of the famous Bastille. The women seem to have taken up their tasks splendidly, which are, for a time, left them, to perform. We saw them everywhere, in the fields, even using the scythe, also riding upon the horse rake and reaping machine. We passed Lyons in the early dawn of’ the next day, obtaining a confused picture of fog on a river, a couple of imposing bridges, and some fine streets. The, second day was like the first, mile after mile of vineyards, more villages, more “bon voyage” from the people, pretty winding lanes, leafy fairy lands, busy scenes in the fields. Here a sturdy blooming lass, deftly using a hoe, thinking no doubt of her Denis away up north. There a sad-eyed dame, pushing to market a heavy load of cherries, strawberries, currants, carrots, and cauliflowers, together with the choicest roses and dahlias, etc. She paused awhile near us, to have a ‘ blow,’ brush back a few strands of grey hair, and to wave her hand to the “Howstraityong!” Then on again with her load of produce and perhaps her load of sorrow. Unfortunately, we did not see Paris, having left it on one side in the early hours of next morning. The vineyards also had not been able to keep up with us, and we now looked out upon country almost entirely ‘devoted to agriculture and dairy farming. Naturally enough, we now looked out for signs of warfare. Slowing down into the station of Criel, we stopped alongside a hospital train which had just come in from the firing line. We gave a very hearty cheer for the plucky Frenchmen and those who could, thanked us, either in mixed language, or by eloquent looks and shoulder shrugs. We also struck against a train load of men bound for the front, and they greeted us like brothers. After our great experience of the beauteous country, it was with emotions of pride and brotherliness that we responded, showering upon them all our cigarettes, matches, etc., things we had eagerly rushed to procure an hour previously. Upon this day we saw many families on the way to Church, the cows were idly lying in the meadows. There was the song of the lark, the blackbird, and the thrush. The swallow skimmed the mirror-like surface of the river, while here and there in the shade of the willows, sat ancient disciples. Very little, after all, to point to the fact, that away behind the river, the willows and the meadows, Earth’s sublimest tragedy was being enacted. Towards evening of the second day we once more came in sight of the ocean. We had passed one or two camps, where troops were resting. Like the people to whom we had spoken en route, we found the soldiers cheerful and, confident of ultimate success. Just before dawn on the following day we arrived at our journey’s end. Sixty two hours in the train.

The behaviour of the men was first class; everybody, especially the women folk, being treated with a courtesy that was good to see. We are now scattered through a very quaint old village — in nearly every respect like an English one— living in the barns attaching to tumble-down farm houses. I write this in an old stable. It is wonderfully peaceful. From the meadows comes the not unmusical rattle of the reaping machine. There is a cackle of hens outside. A pair of swallows comes in with fluttering wings and chirpings, ‘ to work upon a mud nest on a beam two feet above my head. Only now and then away eastward, there is the long dull roll of artillery, the roar of a heavy gun, and the sound of tramping men as they make their way through the leafy winding lanes. Above all, and better than all, are the outpourings of a lark. From out the blue sky comes the song to break in golden rain upon the earth. Foolishly, perhaps, I allow myself to dream. A dream of warfare ended—of a humanity made regenerate through war— gone forever the hypocrasy, the lust, the selfishness. Only a desire, lark like, to soar high in thankfulness to the Benign Influence which gives to all the chance to live in peace and good will in a paradise of which beautiful France is only a part. A foolish dream ? Perhaps ! “Fall in, with gas helmets on!” rings out the order, and so I go away to be “gassed.” The lark sings to deaf ears now, and the swallows have the stables to themselves[3].

….

George’s death is a tragedy. There are no other words for it. No redemption, until we consider what would have been if one good man many times over, didn’t stand up to fight  against tyranny. Germany, after all, had invaded neutral Belgium and Britain had signed a treaty to defend her neutrality. Were we as nations going to be shirkers, or would we stand up a fight to defend the innocent? I don’t believe in war, but we do need to defend our turf and help our friends. These are values most of us hold dear as individuals, and it’s only natural that they would apply to us collectively as nations.

After leaving Australia, 16th February, 1916 George was transferred to the 56th Battalion of the 5th Division, which had just been formed following the reorganisation and expansion of the First Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in Egypt following the Gallipoli campaign. The 56th Battalion arrived in Marseilles 20th June and was immediately entrained to northern France, a journey which took 62 hours. Within a fortnight, they fought in the Battle of Fromelles 19–20 July 1916, where the 5th Division undertook a disastrous attack that was later described as “the worst 24 hours in Australia’s entire history”.[6]

It appears George survived the Battle of Fromelles. However, he was killed in action on the 26th July only a month later. He was buried by Rev W.M. Holliday from the 56th Infantry Battalion at Cemetery Suilly-au la Lys 5 miles South-West of Armentieres.

A memorial service was held  at St. Paul’s Church of England, Kogarah on Sunday 8th October, 1916 in honor of George and two other men who’d been “killed at the front in France in the Empire’s cause”. At the service, it was explained George was working as a stretcher bearer and met his death from a high explosive shell while in a dug out. One shell had wounded a couple of soldiers, and George and some others, had immediately rushed to their assistance, when another shell burst over the same spot, killing them all. It seems a cruel twist of fate that George died helping someone else. However, being a stretcher bearer was dangerous, and many lost their lives.

On the other side of the world in Swindon, Wiltshire, George’s family was also grieving. George had only been living in Australia for five years when he left for the front, yet he was very much loved and part of the community here. However, for George there was also “an over there”. His father was listed as his Next of Kin living at 72 Graham Street, Swindon, Wiltshire. That was where his effects were sent home…a balaclava cap, two kit bag handles and a lock (broken).

Lastly, on 10th December, 1916 a memorial tablet was unveiled at St Paul’s Anglican Church in honor of the memory of the late Private George Alexander Aldworth. The Rector, Rev. H. R. A. Wilson officiated. The tablet was placed in the north portion of the chancel, the position for tenors belonging to the choir, and exactly at the spot where our departed hero could be seen at almost any service on the Sunday. The memorial was subscribed by the choir alone, and bears the inscription ‘ Peace, perfect peace.’ A large congregation was present[4].

Peace, perfect peace…was that what George was fighting for?

I guess we’ll never know.

Best wishes,

Rowena

References

[1] George’s poem At Sunset appeared in the Suevic’s onboard newspaper, The Sports Company’s Gazette, which was reprinted in The Sun newspaper Thursday 2 March 1916, page 10

[2] Quoted from Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay, The Battle of Ivry.

[3] St George Call (Kogarah, NSW : 1904 – 1957), Saturday 16 September 1916, page 8

[4][4][4] St George Call (Kogarah, NSW : 1904 – 1957), Saturday 16 December 1916, page 6

 

X- X-ray…Quotes A-Z Challenge

Welcome back to my series of Motivational Quotes for Writers for the 2019 A-Z Challenge. We’ve almost reached the end of the alphabet and the end of April and now we’re up to X. My word for X was going to be the X-Factor which is that mysterious spark you see in talented people which seemingly defies definition. That’s a much needed ingredient for a writer, but I’m not sure whether you can manufacture that. Is it a case of you’ve either got it or you don’t? So sad, too bad?

Anyway, when I tried to find X-Factor quotes, I could only find references to the TV show. That wasn’t what I was looking for.

So, off I went looking for words starting with X as so many of us do in this challenge. There’s usually at least one letter that brings us to our knees and X is one of the most likely culprits.

However, as strange as it might sound, I actually found a fabulous X-ray quote which was even relevant to writing:

“He wished he had some kind of X-ray vision for the

human heart.”

― Kim Edwards, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

Have you read The Memory Keeper’s Daughter? After reading that brilliant quote, I’m very tempted to give it a go.

While we’re talking about X-rays, this quotes about the discovery of the x-ray is also interesting:

“Great discoveries are made accidentally less often than the populace likes to think.”

(Commenting on how an accident led to the discovery of X-rays)”
― William Cecil Dampier, A Shorter History of Science

If you’re doing the A-Z Challenge, what did you come up with for X? I am not doing a great job with reading other blogs this year, but hope to catch up.

Best wishes,

Rowena

The Red Tree of Bangalow, NSW.

“There is a shade of red for every woman.”

-Audrey Hepburn

Please don’t mention red trees to my husband. Once when we were driving around Byron Bay, I kept pointing out red trees and wondering out loud what type of tree it was, which resulted in years of stirring and him or the kids pointing to every red tree we came across and calling out: “Red tree!!” I would’ve thought a bit of passion and enthusiasm was a good thing, but clearly you’re supposed to hide your love away. Be more contained.

“Red has guts …. deep, strong, dramatic. A geranium red. A Goya red … to be used like gold for furnishing a house … for clothes, it is strong, like black or white.”

–Valentino

Anyway, as soon as I drove into Bangalow on our recent holiday, I spotted the beautiful bright red tree in the grounds of Bangalow Public School. Indeed, I’m lucky I didn’t drive off the road. Red trees have that kind of effect on me, not unlike Chris de Burgh and his Lady in Red:

“Trees do not preach learning and precepts. They preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.” 
―  Herman Hesse

 

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The Red tree viewed through the school gates. 

For those of you for whom the name “red tree” is woefully insufficient, and you need to know the official scientific names of trees, this is an Illawarra Flame Tree or Currajong.

It grows up to 35 m in the wild but only about 10m in gardens. The bright red bell-shaped flowers grow in clusters at the end of branches, often after the leaves have dropped, giving the plant a distinctive look. It is a deciduous tree that is often found growing alongside the Red Cedar in lowland rainforest habitat.

A few months after the jettisoning of the leaves, the tree produces masses of bell-shaped vivid scarlet flowers. They do not always flower annually and put on their best display maybe only once every five years, especially after a hot dry summer. In between these times, they may only produce one or two branches of flowers on the whole tree.

It produces a tough leathery dark-brown seed pod, containing rows of corn-like seeds that are surrounded by hairs that will irritate the skin and nose and throat if inhaled. They are toxic to many native animals and birds.

Backyard Buddies

 

red tree flowers

The twists and turns of these dazzling red flowers is so intriguing. I could stare at them for hours grappling with their idiosyncrasies. 

“Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky. ”
―   Kahlil Gibran

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“Put on your red shoes, and dance the blues away322222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666666.”

David Bowie

 

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“Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven’t done a thing. You are just talking.” 
― 
Wangari Maathai

 

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”

-Abraham Lincoln

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These root protuberances reminded me of chicken feet. 

“I am old enough to know that a red carpet is just a rug.”

Al Gore

Our Little Dancer’s Triumph.

If I was someone else, I’d simply post a flashy photograph and tell you that our daughter placed at a local dance competition. Announce that she’s as happy as a lark, and we’re as proud as punch. However, to the best of my knowledge, dance isn’t an executive summary, and I wouldn’t want you to miss out on the full performance. I promise that we won’t quite be going back to when she entered into the world, but now that she’s about to get her first pointe shoes, she seems like such a baby when I bought her very first pair of ballet shoes.

….

Amelia's dancing shadow

Such energy and emotion being expressed dancing at the beach.

Once upon a time, I took our three almost four year old daughter to a local ballet class. *-The door shut, and I wasn’t invited to follow her into this secret world of ballet business.Of course, I longed to peek through a metaphorical keyhole. However, we were the parents, not the teacher. It was our job to enjoy the performance, and not get tangled up in the technicalities. After all, no one one gets to join the caterpillar inside the chrysalis and Superman never invited anyone inside his phone booth.  Rather, we had the luxury of witnessing pure magic as our butterfly fluttered across stage, without any consideration of the caterpillar at all.

 

Fast-forward eight years, and all of these stepping stones culminated in two dazzling solos where our daughter commanded the stage of our local school hall for a dance competition. At least, as far as her proud Mum was concerned, she could’ve been dancing anywhere in the world.

Of course, entering in such competitions is stressful, and I’m not even referring to the performer. As Chauffeur in Chief of the Tutu Taxi, it’s my job to get her there early. More than that, I need all the skills of an accomplished event manager with none of the supportive infrastructure. Juggling hair, makeup and costumes dropping or forgetting something is almost inevitable and who wants to be the weakest link? Lists upon lists which never quite seem to get written down, circulate round and round inside my head, although I swear a page or two actually goes missing now and then.

Then, as the child takes to the stage, even if they’re absolutely incredible…perhaps it’s just me, but horrors of her falling off the edge of the stage haunt me like demons. I want to wrap her up in her blanket again, and keep her safe. After all, just how high can the butterfly soar before she crashes? As proud as we are of our dancers, I’m sure there’s not a parent in the room who isn’t perched on the edge of their chair longing for the music to stop, and the performance to end without catastrophe. We can enjoy it later when we rewind it in the safety of our dreams.

Well, to be honest, I might’ve catastrophized things just a little.

Or, a lot.

Amelia YIPA PhotoRather, I absolutely loved her performance. First, there was her ballet solo where she almost floated across the stage with the lightness of a cloud. I’ve seen this solo a few times now. So, while I still remember the stunned amazement and absolute pleasure the first time I saw it, I was really looking forward to seeing her contemporary solo for the first time.  This would be the grand unveiling. I had no idea what it was going to be like, and had only seen the costume. Suddenly, there she was up on stage and after a hiccup with the music, she was off. I’d never seen anything quite like it. This was her solo choreographed especially for her and her dance was something like a moving portrait which her teacher had uncovered an aspect of her inner self and set it to music. She danced like I’ve never seen her dance before. I was spellbound.

She placed second in her ballet solo and third in her contemporary, even though it actually received a higher mark. She also received a Highly Commended for her ballet improvization.

Of course, you can say prizes and awards don’t matter. That it’s the experience that counts. Yet, you try telling that to her ginormous beaming smile. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her look so happy. While I haven’t actually grilled her what winning those trophies meant to her, I didn’t have to. She absolutely loves dancing and is working really hard to improve, and is possibly even considering a career in dance. So, these placings acknowledge that. They make that world of dreams edge a little closer and become more concrete. They don’t say give up your day job, and throw out your school books. Yet, they’re a huge encouragement. Encouragement isn’t something to be sneered at either. It’s a life-changer.

Lastly, I’just like to emphasize that our experience of dancing so far has been nothing like the appalling behaviour you see on Dance Moms on so many, many levels. While I would’ve thought dance mums would be into all the glamour etc, my experience has been quite different. Indeed, speaking for myself, I’m usually so focused on getting my daughter sorted out, that I have no time or money left to get my own hair cut and the rest is a rush job as well. Our daughter also has a brother who is keenly pursuing sailing. So, there’s not much time or energy for fiddling with my fingernails. All the parents at our dance school support each other and the teachers and the students are an enormous encouragement for each other. We are very blessed. I know other dancers don’t have this experience.

Have you danced yourself? Or, perhaps you have a little dancer in your life? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Y- Jack Butler Yeats- Letters to Dead Poets…A-Z Challenge.

 

Welcome to the second last day of the Blogging A-Z April Challenge. Today, we’re moving onto Irish artist, Jack Butler Yeats (1887-1957), who was not only a painter, but also won a medal in swimming at the x Olympics, wrote poetry and novels including a stream of conscious novel, which had the nod from none less than James Joyce of Ulysses fame himself. I’m not sure whether this qualifies him as a Renaissance Man, but he certainly could pass as Rodin’s Thinker, which represents a fusion of athletic fitness, the intellect and the poetic mind (at least in my humble, unqualified opinion!)

Initially, I’d chosen Jack Butler Yeats, because I’d written top his brother, William Butler Yeats, two years ago when my A-Z theme was Writing Letters to Dead Poets. While I didn’t know much about either brother at the outset, I felt a connection through our shared Irish blood. That although I’m a sixth generation Australian and my last Irish ancestor arrived in 1855, that I still have more than a glass and a half of Irish in me and I’ve been wanting to explore my own cultural heritage further.

We’ll be accompanied by The Dubliners playing The Town I Loved So Well.

Portrait jack Butler Yeats

Born in London in 1887, Jack Yeats was the youngest son of Irish portrait artist, John Butler Yeats and Susan Pollexfen, and the brother of   W. B. Yeats, who received the 1923 Nobel Prize in Literature. He grew up in County Sligo, Ireland with his maternal grandparents, and was deeply influenced by his grandfather, William Pollexfen who was a former seaman. He returned to his parents’ home in London in 1887. Early in his career he worked as an illustrator for magazines, drew comic strips and wrote articles for Punch under the pseudonym “W. Bird”. In 1894, he married Mary Cottenham, also a native of England, and they resided in County Wicklow. From around 1920, Yeats developed into an intensely Expressionist artist, moving from illustration to Symbolism. He was sympathetic to the Irish Republican cause, but not politically active. However, he believed that ‘a painter must be part of the land and of the life he paints’, and his own artistic development, as a Modernist and Expressionist, helped capture 20th century Dublin , partly by depicting specifically Irish subjects, but also by doing so in the light of universal themes such as the loneliness of the individual, and the universality of the plight of man. Samuel Beckett wrote that “Yeats is with the great of our time… because he brings light, as only the great dare to bring light, to the issueless predicament of existence.”[4] The Marxist art critic and author John Berger also paid tribute to Yeats from a very different perspective, praising the artist as a “great painter” with a “sense of the future, an awareness of the possibility of a world other than the one we know”. Moreover, his father recognized that Jack was a far better painter than he, and also believed that ‘some day I will be remembered as the father of a great poet, and the poet is Jack’. Jack Yeats died in Dublin in 1957, and was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.

Perhaps I’m running out of brainpower towards the end of the challenge, or Jack Butler Yeats is more difficult to fathom than most. That’s why he’s running a day late. The more I get to know him, the more confused I become. I guess that’s a natural part of getting to know anyone. That, after you get passed those initial introductions, it’s like all the pieces suddenly fall out of the cereal box at once, and it takes time and effort to assemble them into any kind of picture. If I was a surrealist like Salvador Dali, or an abstract expressionist like Jackson Pollock, that might not matter. They’ve already accepted that nothing makes sense. That there is no natural order of things, and our world is utter chaos. However, my background is in historical research where you research, document and footnote the facts. Moreover, you’re also meant to come up with conclusions, which should look more like a neat stack of boxes, than multi-coloured scribble on a whiteboard, which is how my thoughts are looking  right now.

This brings me to that great imponderable…Can anyone truly know anyone? I mean even when you look into your nearest and dearest’s eyes, how much do you really see? How well do you really know them? Can you be sure? Or, are you seemingly dancing together, yet actually listening to different songs with entirely different meanings? Since most of us marry our opposite, it’s probably more than likely. Yet, diversity, and having complementary skill sets and the capacity to extend each other, are all wonderful things. It’s just that sometimes it’s nice to look into someone’s eyes, and at least see a glimpse of ourselves. Get the feeling they’ve walked in our shoes…and reciprocate.

dogs

That’s Lady at the back and Bilbo at the front.

My dog has mastered this, especially when I’m cooking. Lady sits there at the foot of the stove and could easily take out “Best in Show” switching on her huge, chocolate-brown eyes, oozing with so much love and understanding, that I fall completely under her spell and feed her. Yet, for some reason we humans are losing the art of eye-contact, especially in this age of the screen. It really helps to bridge the gap between two souls.

 

 

 

Anyway, immersing myself in all things Jack Butler Yeats, last night I was reading:  Passages from the Letters of John Butler Yeats Selected By Ezra Pound. Before I start linking some of his thoughts to his paintings, I thought I’d go off course again, and share some of his thoughts about poets and poetry…

“With the man of poetical temperament experience is an end in itself. Others go through life, as though they were tourists, with their eyes open for enjoyment and some kind of profitable speculation.[1]

“Carlyle was by nature all poet and musician, but his Scotch conscience put a veto on his natural inclinations. He married an ugly wife, thereby perhaps scaring away the Muses. It is often so.[2]

“…there is another type (of man) the man who does not want to rule or be ruled, and that is the man who writes poetry.[3]

Jack_butler_yeats_rha_man_in_a_room_thinking)

Jack Butler Yeats, Man In A Room Thinking.

One of the resounding themes of these letters was just how much Yeats valued solitude, and it could well be said that he elevated the Solitary Man to the heights of Da Vinci’s Renaissance Man.

“I will write again of the solitary man. First of all, alone among men, he is himself and only himself. The companionable man is himself and someone else, seeking expression through the medium of prose or action, thinking of other people and therefore always leaning towards compromise and for that reason working in a spirit of insincerity. Poetry is the voice of the solitary, as resonant and as pure and lonely as the lark at sunrise. If the lark were to bother itself with the `Collective Soul’ of the universe, it would not sing at all. Again, the solitary is the only man who retains his spiritual integrity. With the companionable, belief is opinion living in the heart of talk or action, and dying away when the heat fades.

Old hermits were right in their instinct for the desert since it meant a living to oneself, wrong in the sense that it meant a separation from human voices and from the faces of men, women and children, an uprooting of the human plant from its natural surroundings.[4]

Yeats Man In a Train Thinking

However, as much as Yeats elevated the solitary man, he populates his paintings with people and there was one particular story I came across which revealed he had quite a love and compassion for the every day person on the street, or in this instance train, and their story. For this story, we’re turning to Man on a Train Thinking 1928.

The painting went up for auction recently and this account appeared in The Irish Times:

“The painting depicts a man whom Yeats met on a train from Dublin to the west in 1928. Yeats apparently noticed a man “in the corner of the carriage, who had a woebegone expression and whose coat and collar were buttoned up to his ears”.

He looked so wan and sad that the artist asked him: “Are you ill? Can I do anything to help you?”

“No, sir, thank you,” replied the man.“You see, it’s like this, sir,” he continued. “I bought a ticket for the Calcutta sweepstake for a pound note. Then I sold it to a man for £2. And now that ticket has won a prize for a hundred thousand,” and he sighed dolefully.

“Great heavens,” Yeats said, “if that happened to me I’d have cut my throat.” Then, to the artist’s consternation, his sickly looking fellow-traveller moaned: “That’s just what I have done, sir!”[5].

By the way, I completely misread this painting. What I saw was a man sitting on the train reading a book. Yeats’ solitary man…the poet. This interpretation really resonated with me as the only time I can really get stuck into a book, is on the train, although I always write a lot too and always take a notepad and a book with me. That said, I’ve also been caught short, and resorted to those last blank pages they leave at the back of the book. BY the way, my train trip is quite scenic, as the train snakes around the waterfront and crosses over the Hawkesbury River Bridge. The view’s particularly magnificent at sunset, illuminated by the golden glow of the setting sun.

A Giant Reading

Jack Butler Yeats, A Giant Reading.

Yeats also addressed the social isolation experienced by people who are different in some way and saw it as a mixed blessing:

“A man on his deathbed or after he has been snubbed by his wife may enjoy a few moments of solitude, the rest of his life is a noisy gregariousness. He fears solitude as a child fears the dark, indeed it is a universal dread which one must learn to conquer. A poet learns his lesson generally by finding himself early in life shunned, he is odd. `Why was I born with a different face?’ Blake asked. Genius is fundamentally odd and men hate the exceptional.[6]

As you might recall, people with extraordinary physical appearance often became attractions in the circus, where they became spectacles for general entertainment. In A Giant Reading, he’s showing two circus weirdos sitting together…the tallest man in the world and the blonde woman sitting next to him is an albino. Of course, that wasn’t how I saw it and thought it was possibly a couple who’d just got married…the newlyweds.

Yeats, Jack Butler, 1871-1957; Among the Reeds

Jack Butler Yeats, Among the Reeds.

Finally, I just wanted to mention Among the Reeds. Although I don’t get out very often, I love kayaking and when my parents had a holiday house on the waterfront, I used to paddle along a narrow waterway through the mangroves and almost disappear. It was magical, being surrounded by nature on all four sides, and inhaling and exhaling with King Neptune and anything else that was above or below the water.

By the way, I just stumbled upon an article in the Irish Times, which exposes Jack Butler Yeats greatest secret in The Secret Life of Jack Yeats. I decided not to ruin the anticipation and highly recommend you read the article itself. Clearly, I am not the only one who found that the various pieces of Jack Yeats which weren’t fitting together very well.

After all this challenging research, I’ve almost run out of steam. However, I’d better get that letter written…

A Letter to Jack Butler Yeats

Dear Jack,

You were quite a letter writer back in your day, so I hope you’ll be pleased to hear from me. I can’t remember exactly why I started writing these Letters to Dead Artists. Of course, I needed some kind of theme for the Blogging A-Z April Challenge and while it’s decimated my capacity to keep up with the day to day, this daily pressure cooker environment does wonders for my writing, and instead of editing my work over and over and over an\gain and filing it in the bottom drawer or my hard drive, it’s post and up on the world wide web. It’s out there. It’s almost turning me into a Woman of Action, although I’m still too much of an over-thinker to get there yet.

Anyway, as I said, I’m not exactly sure why I started writing these letters. I honestly don’t feel like I’m really communicating with the dead and it’s surely not you guys replying back to me and yet there’s stuff popping into these letters which clearly hasn’t come from myself. It’s all a bit of a mystery really, but I’m not the first creative soul who’s experienced “the muse”. Indeed, you wrote:

“The solitary is one with the forces of nature, with which no man can argue; every action and thought of his mind and every feeling comes from sources beyond our utmost ken. And in thus describing the solitary, am I not uncovering what is the essence of that true poetry which I have called the voice of the solitary?”

I have a feeling that when you passed away and crossed over the rainbow bridge as we say about our dog, you took a few pieces out of the puzzle with you so that any nosy parkers like myself who came snooping around in your wake, would only get more and more confused the more they delved into the pot. Indeed, I can’t help wondering whether you completely dismantled or even burned up your studio to maintain your mystique. French artist and sculptor Edgar Degas, who you might’ve known, is regretting not torching his studio, now he’s seen what they’ve done to the Little Dancer. He’s still dropping F bombs and it’s now been a few weeks. He’s even tried to snatch her out of the Louvre to blow her up. I shouldn’t be telling you this because you could become implicated. It’s bad enough I’m in on it.

Anyway, the whole idea of these letters is to ask each artist a question. I guess my question for you, is how focused should an artist, writer, creative person be on the task at hand? Or, should they leave themselves some room to jump off the railway track and even go right off the grid? You achieved so much across a range of fields, that you were clearly able to divide your focus and back a few winning horses at the same time. I often find that I stumble across things and most of my best work has been completely spontaneous. Indeed, this series is a case in point. I simply started out with a list of artists but even that’s changed and I only plucked you out of the hat two days ago out of some inexplicable gut feel. That said, there wasn’t a lot of competition for the letter Y.

Anyway, you’d better join the train with the rest of the rabble. I’m sorry your journey will be so short. There’s only one day to go.

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Letter From William Butler Yeats.

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter. Ezra Pound snatched it straight out of my hands. He calls himself my “Letter Keeper”. Indeed, it’s been a bit tricky because of course I have to keep my correspondence with Punch Magazine a secret and I couldn’t have him knowing that I’m “W. Bird”. Clearly, he’s not very discreet as he’s already published my private letters.

Well, I don’t know if this answers your question, but here goes:

“Reason is a school-master calling his boys into school, imagination is a school master in a happy mood dismissing them to wander in the woods, for the space of that holiday every boy to be his own master. “

Does that help? In my day, we also said you needed to stop to smell the roses. That doesn’t mean you can only smell roses and keep walking past the frangipanni, lavender or wattle blossoms if I’m over your way. It means you’ve got to take time out of the everyday and immerse yourself in nature for awhile. Recharge your soul, just like you people are constantly charging your stupid phones.

Well, I’d better post this before Ezra sees it.

Best wishes,

Jack.

 

 

[1] Passages from the Letters of John Butler Yeats Selected By Ezra Pound. This letter was dated February 6th, 1915

[2] Ibid December 21st, 1914.

[3] Ibid September 6, 1915 p 14.

[4] Ibid April 2nd, 1915 pg 41.

[5] https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/homes-and-property/fine-art-antiques/yeats-painting-with-a-sorry-story-1.2438058

[6] Passages from the Letters of John Butler Yeats Selected By Ezra Pound, 1910. This letter was dated January 6, 1916 p 47.

7. Ibid April 2nd, 1915 pg 43.