Always in your mind keep Ithaca.
To arrive there is your destiny.
But do not hurry your trip in any way.
Better that it last for many years;
that you drop anchor at the island an old man,
rich with all you’ve gotten on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.
My favourite lines from “Ithaca” by C. P. Cavafy. This is not my translation – I don’t know who did it but it is perfect.
If, like me, you have always been fascinated and thrilled by the poems and pictures of William Blake, you will be delighted with this book, for it is set in his London and he plays quite a major role in it. His London, yes.
(This and several other poems crop up quite naturally in the course of the story.)
I wander through each chartered street Near where the chartered Thames does flow And mark in every face I meet Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
In every cry of every man In every infant’s cry of fear In every voice, in every ban The mind-forged manacles I hear.
How the chimney-sweeper’s cry Every blackening church appals And the hapless soldier’s sigh Runs in blood down palace walls.
But most through midnight streets I hear How the youthful harlot’s curse Blasts the new-born infant’s tear And blights with plagues the marriage hearse.
And what is more, he is credibly depicted – an outspoken radical (he was a friend of Tom Paine’s) at a time when a breath of socialism or support for the revolution in France could cost one one’s life; eccentric to the point of “madness” – in constant communication with his dead brother, and living in fact on two levels, in two worlds, simultaneously; and very, very kind in a society where kindness seems to have been in extremely short supply.
A poor family emigrate from a Devonshire village to London, and the story is of the two village children, Jem and his beautiful but totally naive and innocent sister, Maisie (a source of inspiration to Blake!) and her adorable streetwise counterpart, Maggie, the local London girl who befriends Jem and tries to protect Maisie.
It is perfectly written, as one would expect of the author of Girl with a Pearl Earring, and succeeds on every level. I will never be able to read William Blake again without thinking of him facing a mob who are demanding that he sign an oath of allegiance to the king, and refusing outright; and Jem and Maisie’s father, the local from the Devonshire village, following suit, not because he knows or cares anything about politics but because he objects to being forced to do something by a violent mob.
And the depiction of the two girls, Maisie and Maggie, as they grow up, become women, is completely unforgettable.
A must for all Blake-lovers as well, of course, as all lovers of top quality Historical Fiction.
Surprised by joy – impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport – Oh! with whom
But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind –
But how could I forget thee? Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss! That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.
THE WORLD IS TOO MUCH WITH US
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
COMPOSED UPON WESTMINSTER BRIDGE, SEPTEMBER 3, 1802
Earth hath not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
George Thaniel was born on February 22nd 1938. I meant to get this post out yesterday, but …
Anyway, I recently discovered that a collection of his poems is available HERE so we can all read them. He wrote his poems in Greek – he was born and grew up in Greece and, after living in Canada for a while, died in 1991 back home in Greece, as I’m sure he would have wished – but they are beautifully translated here by his friend Edward Phinney. Click on the image above for a one-page biography, and on these examples of his work to make them large enough to read:
James Elroy Flecker (1884-1915) wrote the poem “To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence”. Many years later another poet, John Heath Stubbs, who died in 2006 (and was blind for the last thirty years of his life) wrote his version of the poem. I like both.
I who am dead a thousand years, And wrote this sweet archaic song, Send you my words for messengers The way I shall not pass along.
I care not if you bridge the seas, Or ride secure the cruel sky, Or build consummate palaces Of metal or of masonry.
But have you wine and music still, And statues and a bright-eyed love, And foolish thoughts of good and ill, And prayers to them who sit above?
How shall we conquer? Like a wind That falls at eve our fancies blow, And old Maeonides the blind Said it three thousand years ago.
O friend unseen, unborn, unknown, Student of our sweet English tongue, Read out my words at night, alone: I was a poet, I was young.
Since I can never see your face, And never shake you by the hand, I send my soul through time and space To greet you. You will understand.
I who am dead a thousand years And wrote this crabbed post-classic screed Transmit it to you – though with doubts That you possess the skill to read,
Who, with your pink, mutated eyes, Crouched in the radioactive swamp, Beneath a leaking shelter, scan These lines beside a flickering lamp;
Or in some plastic paradise Of pointless gadgets, if you dwell, And finding all your wants supplied Do not suspect it may be Hell.
But does our art of words survive – Do bards within that swamp rehearse Tales of the twentieth century, Nostalgic, in rude epic verse?
Or do computers churn it out – In lieu of songs of War and Love, Neat slogans by the State endorsed And prayers to Them, who sit above?
How shall we conquer? – all our pride Fades like a summer sunset’s glow: Who will read me when I am gone – For who reads Elroy Flecker now?