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Sunday, 24 January 2010

Quiz Question (2) Literary Connection

Consider these four men. What fact about their lives connects them? Giacomo Casanova Philip Larkin Mao Tse-Tung Jorge Luis Borges I will post the answer in a few days!
Philip Larkin's This Be The Verse will be the subject of a future post

Saturday, 16 January 2010

I like sad songs

In liking sad songs I am definitely excuding bathos and the sentimental and mawkish. This does not mean that I enjoy being miserable; quite the contrary but I like genuine emotion. The song Now I'm Easy by the Scottish-Australian folk-singer Eric Bogle is a case in point. The 'voice' is of a dying Australian farmer (the 'cockie' referred to in the first verse and final verses). Both of his sons died as soldiers in Burma, his wife died in childbirth and his only daughter married and moved away. He scraped an existence from the parched soil but the song never descends into sentimentality......'but it's nearly over now and now I'm easy'. Give yourself a treat and listen to it here.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

'Cargoes' re-examined

Cargoes by John Masefield Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir, Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine, With a cargo of ivory, And apes and peacocks, Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine. Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus, Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores, With a cargo of diamonds, Emeralds, amythysts, Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores. Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack, Butting through the Channel in the mad March days, With a cargo of Tyne coal, Road-rails, pig-lead, Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.
This is one of those poems that should be read out loud because the words feel wonderful in your mouth. The poem works well even if taken superficially because of its beautiful use of language and metre but it has multiple layers of meaning if one delves deeper as I intend to do now but briefly. The three stanzas describe different times in history. The first cargo ship is a quinquireme, a Roman galley with five levels of oars on each side and it is moving, in Biblical times, from North Africa to Nineveh. Nineveh is not mentioned in the Bible but it works nicely in the poem because of its metre. The ambience is stately and purposeful, Next the Spanish galleon “Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores”, what a fabulous line of poetry! The Isthmus from which it sails is The Isthmus of Darien, now known as Panama but centuries before the canal was built. The Spanish brought home incredible amounts of precious jewels and gold from their American possessions. The mood has become triumphant. Miodores, incidentally, were Portuguese gold coins that were widely used for hundreds of years. And the third, and final, stanza brings us to contemporary times and describes the dreary British vessel with the “salt-caked smoke stack”. The romance has gone and modern reality cuts in like a banjo chord! A tacit invitation to make comparisons has been made. Whereas, it could be argued, all of the ships are carrying the spoils of empire, this last boat brings home the reality of cheaply made mass-produced products for workers. We may ask ourselves is this progress? The cargoes have ceased to be items of high worth or intrinsic beauty but evolved into the mundane and “cheap tin trays”, a possible comment on the state of the British Empire, still flourishing when the poem was published in 1902. If you now read the poem again, out loud if you may, it will hopefully carry more meaning.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

My Heroes: (23) John Gribbin

The other 22 can be found in my previous blog click here for 1 to 20, here for 21 and here for 22. For me, the science writer John Gribbin has that rare and wonderful gift; the ability to make 'difficult' ideas from science accessable to the non-professional reader. He belongs to a distinguished group of scientists who posess this skill: his fellow British writers Richard Dawkins and Steve Jones and the late Americans Carl Sagan and Richard Feynman. I would like to hear of recommendations of other 'popular science' writers that you may know of. He has published more than 100 books and has written for New Scientist and leading UK newspapers and the BBC. His best-known book is In Search of Schrödinger's Cat (1984)which tackles the elusive subject of quantum theory. Richard Feynman had once said that anyone who thought he understood quantum physics "did not understand quantum physics". In other words it cannot be understood! Grisham helped me get beyond that point but it is the most dangerous assumption to make. My favourite of his books is The Birth of Time: How We Measured the Age of The Universe (1999) which tells a fascinating story and explains the importance of Hubbles Constant. According to Wikipedia, his book, Get a Grip on Physics (2003), saw a sudden surge in sales at Amazon.com after it was spotted in the pictures of Tiger Wood's crashed car on November 27, 2009.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Quiz Question (1) To discover ice?


I've finally returned to blogging after a three year lay-off.
Let's start with a quiz question: The title of this blog, 'To discover ice', consists of the last three words of the opening sentence of a novel not originally written in English. The photo is a further clue. Any ideas?
Obviously you could Google the words but you wouldn't do that would you?
After all, there are no prizes. It's just for fun. I will post the answer in a week.