Poems You Should Know: The Charge of the Light Brigade

I’ve been known to mutter the line ‘ours not to make reply, ours not to reason why’, occasionally adding ‘ours but to do and die, into the valley of death rode the six hundred’ when confronted with a particularly baffling instruction from an employer, but Alfred, Lord Tennyson, originally penned this poem in response to far greater events.

In 1854, Britain was at war with Russia in the Crimea. The ‘Light Brigade’ of just over six hundred light cavalry were supposed to prevent the Russians from moving captured Turkish artillery (a task well-suited to the fast, lightly-armoured light cavalry), but due to a miscommunication they instead found themselves making a full-frontal assault on 20 battalions of Russians holding the high ground on both sides of a valley supported by some 50 pieces of artillery. Continue reading “Poems You Should Know: The Charge of the Light Brigade”

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Poems You Should Know: The Ballad of Reading Gaol, by Oscar Wilde

In 1895, Irish novelist, essayist, and playwright Oscar Wilde was riding high on the success of his latest play, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ and his relationship with young aristocrat Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie). But the good times were not to last. Douglas’ furious father, the Marquis of Queensberry, left a calling-card at Wilde’s club inscribed ‘for Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite’ [sic]. Continue reading “Poems You Should Know: The Ballad of Reading Gaol, by Oscar Wilde”

Treasure Trove: The art of Louise Ingram Rayner

Born in Derbyshire, England, Louise Ingram Rayner (1832-1924) was a watercolourist who, throughout the summers of the 1870s and 1880s, travelled throughout England painting exquisite cityscapes. I encountered her work through the Female Artists in History Facebook page, which I’ve blogged about before, and am always happy when one of her beautiful pictures of Victorian England appears in my newsfeed. For me, they capture views that are at once familiar (many Victorian buildings are still standing in England today), and foreign, with a gentle touch which admittedly disguises some of the uglier realities of Victorian life.

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”

Local Culture: Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Iolanthe’

Iolanthe 1

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’”

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”

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.

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”

Poems You Should Know: ‘The Soldier’ by Rupert Brooke

The transition from one artistic era to another seldom happens swiftly, but there is one notable exception: the abrupt and sweeping changes which took place in every field of European art during and immediately after World War One.

Written in 1914, ‘The Soldier’ by Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) is a sonnet which reflects the very end of the Victorian era, with its smug nationalism and unswerving sense of loyalty and duty. Brooke himself would not live to see the transition to Modernism; he died in 1915 on his way to serve at Gallipoli.

If I should die, think only this of me;
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blessed by the suns of home.
.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.