Poems You Should Know: ‘The Windhover’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins

I profiled Hopkins (1844-1889), who is one of my favourite poets, ages ago. Although written during the Victorian era, his poems are Romantic in their emphasis on nature and spirituality, and were published (posthumously) during the Modern period. ‘The Windhover’ describes the flight of a falcon as it hovers and then drops, but also captures the spiritual ecstasy inspired by associating this sight with the sigh of Christ returning in majesty. However, the language – Hopkins’ ‘sprung verse’ – and the imagery is so evocative and captivating that the poem seems to transcend any religious framework to touch the hearts of people from many different backgrounds and beliefs.

To Christ our Lord
I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom
of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in
his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl
and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shèer plòd makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold vermilion.

Composer Profile: Gilbert and Sullivan

Modern Major General.jpgSo closely linked are the names of William (W. S.) Gilbert (1836-1911) and Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) in the minds of most that I figured there was no point in discussing them separately. But although their professional partnership was incredibly fruitful the two men, who had very different personalities, were never personally close. Continue reading “Composer Profile: Gilbert and Sullivan”

Philosopher Profile: Friedrich Nietzsche 1844-1900

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Cover of the 1934 edition.

“God is dead.” The man who penned what is quite possibly the most famous line in the history of philosophy does not appear to have done so lightly, or with glee. This may be because he recognised that without a concept of the divine, humanity is as good as it gets… A brilliant intellectual plagued by ill health he suffered a complete mental collapse at the age of 44, from which he never recovered. Continue reading “Philosopher Profile: Friedrich Nietzsche 1844-1900”

Paintings You Should Know: Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ (c.1486)

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Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, c.1486

Representing a definite break from the Christian themes of the Gothic period, Sandro Botticelli’s (1445-1510) painting depicts the goddess Venus springing fully formed – and stark naked – from the foam of the sea. She was the Roman goddess of sex, love, and fertility, so Freud would have fun with that one. Continue reading “Paintings You Should Know: Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ (c.1486)”

Local Culture: Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Iolanthe’

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If Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and 1980s BBC political comedy ‘Yes, Minister’ had a baby, the result might well be something like Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Iolanthe’ (Eye-oh-LAN-thee). It’s a comic opera with a plot which is cheerfully ridiculous and punctuated by musical numbers. Continue reading “Local Culture: Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Iolanthe’”

Ballet on the Sofa: Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’

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The premiere of The Rite of Spring made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Most famous as the ballet that started a riot at its premiere, ‘The Rite of Spring’ features music composed by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) and an original choreography by the dancer Vaslav Nijinsky (1890-1950). It represented a radical departure from both Stravinsky’s previous work and the ‘traditional’ ballet of pirouettes and tutus. In other words, it’s a Modernist work produced slightly too early – it premiered in 1913, at the very end of La Belle Époque – hence the riots. Continue reading “Ballet on the Sofa: Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’”

A Special Drop: Mulled Wine

Jamie Oliver Mulled Wine
Mulled wine by Jamie Oliver.

Mulled wine isn’t something that’s ever really been on my radar, but recently while celebrating my sister’s birthday I enjoyed a warming glass of it over the course of a sociable winter’s afternoon, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

So what is mulled wine? Well, there’s no single recipe but the basic concept is pretty consistent. It’s wine, usually red, which has been warmed, sweetened with sugar or honey, and infused with spices. Continue reading “A Special Drop: Mulled Wine”

On My Reading List: July 2017

By the time I worked my way through last month’s list I felt like I was drowning in testosterone, so I’ve kept this month’s list short and gentler.

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‘Cider with Rosie’, by Laurie Lee (1959): is a memoir of the author’s childhood growing up in a village in the English Cotswolds in the years following World War One. These are no misery memoirs but neither does the golden glow of nostalgia entirely obscure the reality of a life in which it was perfectly acceptable for a house to flood every time there was a storm, education to consist of a rudimentary Three R’s delivered as well as they would ever be by the age of 14, and for a child to have eleven siblings, of which four were deceased. And that’s before we’ve even reached the superstition, murder, and suicides. Lee shares his memories with a warmth and humour which is irresistible even when his recollections are decidedly unsettling. Continue reading “On My Reading List: July 2017”

Poems You Should Know: Jabberwocky

The most widely known of Lewis Carroll’s (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, 1832-1898) poems, ‘Jabberwocky’ is a piece of nonsense verse which first appeared in ‘Through the Looking-Glass’, the sequel to ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Like all nonsense poems it is less than serious in nature, and makes free use of made-up, nonsense words, which nonetheless appear to make perfect sense in context. Continue reading “Poems You Should Know: Jabberwocky”

Treasure Trove: ‘Aslan’s Theme’ by Geoffrey Burgon

This short piece was the theme music for the BBC’s ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ back in the 1980s. I loved the series, and consider it to be superior to the more recent movies because it was far truer to the books and therefore did a far better job of conveying the deeper meaning of Lewis’ works, rather than focussing on the visual appeal of special effects.

Characters from the BBC's The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, 1988
Characters from the BBC’s The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, 1988

Geoffrey Burgon (1941-2010) was a composer of television and film scores whose best-known works include the scores for Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ and ITVs ‘Brideshead Revisited’. He won BAFTAs for his themes for ‘Longitude’ and the remake of ‘The Forsyte Saga’. He was also a jazz trumpeter, and this was his original intended career. He eschewed the various musical trends of the 20th century in favour of more traditional styles and medieval influences. As a result he was dismissed by critics as ‘commercial’ – and popular with mainstream audiences like eight-year-old me who understood nothing of classical music but liked the pretty, hummable tune which heralded the latest instalment of a favourite show.