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.

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.

20170714_083251.jpg

‘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”

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.

Local Culture: The Palmerston North Choral Society performance of Requiems by Mozart and Fauré

20170708_184032Recently the Significant Other treated me to an evening out in Palmerston North where we attended performances of Mozart’s and Fauré’s requiems. In classical music requiem, or more properly Requiem Mass, is a musical setting of the Catholic religious service offered for the souls of the deceased. Originally performed most often in the context of a funeral, the beauty of the music written for these services is such that requiems are often performed, as they were on this occasion, for their artistic value alone. Continue reading “Local Culture: The Palmerston North Choral Society performance of Requiems by Mozart and Fauré”

Brief Highlights in the History of American Poetry

American FlagOkay, I’ll be honest, I tried to research and write a detailed history of American poetry, but I decided I couldn’t be bothered, so here instead is a selection of the really important bits. Continue reading “Brief Highlights in the History of American Poetry”

New Zealand Artist: Colin McCahon

Colin McCahon (1919-1987) is one of New Zealand’s most prominent artists. He was one of a group of artists who introduced Modernism into New Zealand, and is perhaps best-known for his large-scale works, often in muted, earthy tones or shades of black, white, and grey, which layered text over a background image.

McCahon Urewera Mural 1976
Colin McCahon, Urewera Mural, 1976

Continue reading “New Zealand Artist: Colin McCahon”

Opera in my Pyjamas: Peter Grimes

Peter Grimes posterThe accusation that opera is utterly unrealistic is hard to apply to Benjamin Britten’s (1913-1976) 1945 work ‘Peter Grimes’. Loosely based on a narrative poem by George Crabbe (1754-1832) it’s a tale of small-town gossip and prejudice and its devastating effect on the life of the social outcast Peter Grimes. Continue reading “Opera in my Pyjamas: Peter Grimes”

Local Culture: The Pohutukawa Tree

Pohutukawa-tree.pngFirst produced in 1957, New Zealand play The Pohutukawa Tree by Bruce Mason, tells a similar story to that of Patricia Grace’s Potiki. It’s the story of a proud matriarch, Aroha Mataira, the widowed heir to the chieftainship of the Ngati Raukura tribe and the mother of the last Maori family living on their traditional lands at the small township of Te Parenga. The rest of the tribe have long since sold their land to the Atkinsons, the Pakeha (White) landholding family who have dominated the area for three generations, and Mrs. Mataira and her two children, Johnny (18) and Queenie (17) work for the Atkinsons. Continue reading “Local Culture: The Pohutukawa Tree”

Playtime: ‘Waiting for Godot: a tragicomedy in two acts’ by Samuel Beckett

Waiting for Godot 3My latest area of exploration is the classics of theatre and, as with opera and ballet, I’m using the internet to compensate for the lack of conveniently live performances. My first ‘outing’ is Waiting for Godot, a play by Samuel Beckett (1906-1989), which premiered in 1953.

It’s a play where nothing happens. The two main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, are waiting for Godot. He did not come yesterday. He will not come today. But tomorrow, assuredly, he will come. Except that that’s the way it was yesterday, and the day before that, and, odds are, the way it will be tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after… Continue reading “Playtime: ‘Waiting for Godot: a tragicomedy in two acts’ by Samuel Beckett”

Philosopher Profile: Plato (c.428-348 BCE)

 

Plato
Plato

“So,” the Significant Other asked me recently, “now that you’ve finished reading ‘The Republic’ when are you going to do a blog post on Plato?” It’s a fair question: Plato, along with Aristotle, who studied under him, effectively laid the basis for Western philosophy and was also massively influential in the development of Christian theology.

 

And yet in terms of biography we don’t really know a great deal about him. Even his name is only a nickname, meaning ‘broad’, and possibly referring to the shape of his head. His real name might have been Aristocles, but then again it might not. He was born into an aristocratic Athenian family. His family may have expected Plato to enter into politics himself, but instead he became a student of Socrates. Continue reading “Philosopher Profile: Plato (c.428-348 BCE)”