The Fullest of Weekends… working on an update for the Gywllm-Arts site. Lots of hours pounding the keys and manipulating images & html…. It should be a treat to look at though. Lots of new artwork, peeping over the horizon.
Rowan met Ursula LeGuinn this week-end at Orycon, The Oregon Science Fiction Convention. He had a great time with his friends Jake and Ian. He even got 4 books autographed! Excellent.
It has been raining cats and dogs up here. Wacky weather. Anyway, on with the show… lots in this edition to get down with… so here it is, ‘Where the Crakeberries Grow’
On The Menu:
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Where The Crakeberries Grow (Interview from 1970 with Robert Graves)
The Spiritual Poetry of Solomon ibn Gabirol
Art: Jean Leon Gerome
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – “Love Burns” video version 2
From The BBC: The Listener 28 May 1970
Where The Crakeberries Grow – Robert Graves gives an account of himself to Leslie Norris – Robert Graves in Majorca
Robert Graves, in one of your poems you describe your own face:
Cheeks, furrowed; coarse grey hair, flying
Forehead, wrinkled and high;
Jowls, prominent; ears, large; jaw,pugilistic;
Teeth, few’; lips, full and ruddy, mouth,ascetic.
You ask the person you see reflected in your shaving mirror why
He still stands ready, with a boy’s
To court the queen in her high silk pavilion.
Who is the queen in her high silk pavilion?
She’s the woman to whom I’m writing the poem, and whatever her name may be is unimportant. Herrick used to address his poems to Julia – so we’ll call her Julia, if you like. I used the name back in the early Sixties. You can’t write poems unless you’re in love with someone, but you don’t mention the name, because it’s bad manners. There are very often poems of good-bye which are very painful. They are a goodbye to love, while love is still very much in your mind-horrible.
Do you consider yourself fortunate in having been a poet?
There’s no alternative. If you’re born that way, that’s your fate – and you’ve got to do your best. It’s a way of life. You have to be in the world, but not of the world, as the Sufis say. You can’t cheat and you must only say what you have to say and not what people would like you to say.
So that to write a true poem means rejecting as much as accepting?
What’s more, writing a poem is rather like finding the top of a statue buried in sand. You gradually take the sand away and you find the thing, whole – That is what poetry is, rather than building something up. It’s rediscovering what you’ve known inside yourself the whole time, what you’ve foreseen.
You’ve written that you write poems for poets. Do you mean you write poems exclusively for poets, or for people who live as poets do?
A poet is a person who lives and thinks in a certain way. A poet doesn’t necessarily write poems. It is simply an attitude, and there are a great many more poets around than meet the eve. I think about one person in 20 is perhaps a poet. The ones who are not poets expect something of what they think is poetry, which I don’t propose to give them. What I write is for people to understand who are on the same, as they say, wavelength as myself. I don’t write for an audience at all really: I write for myself. But the audience is presumably there.
What kind of people are they, these people who are on the same wavelength as you?
They’re people whom you can absolutely trust, instinctively; and they’re people who don’t argue. They are people whom you can trust in a crisis, and people who will never do anything mean. And they don’t argue logically. Logical argument is what destroys poetry because poetry is beyond logic.
Are they people who perhaps feel a greater wisdom, through the instincts or the senses?
I think it’s probably memory, some inherited bardic memory.
This you think of as, in some senses, a Welsh characteristic?
Yes, very much. You see, scientists are beginning to realise, from studies of snails and so on, that memory can be inherited; and in Ireland and in New Zealand – where there have been tremendously long courses for poets and orators – the children are born with a great advantage. Wales has been so full of poetry for so long that there are probably more potential poets there and in Ireland and in New Zealand among the Maoris than there are elsewhere. It’s a question of memory.
In ‘Goodbye to All That ‘ you’ve written about what Wales meant to you when you were a child living in Harlech. Has Wales had a great effect on you as a man and as a poet?
Obviously. I was born in London and you can’t have any great feeling for London. We spent our holidays at Harlech. My father was an Irish bard who was attached to the Eisteddfod; and he was one of the group who helped to start the Welsh Folk-Song Society. I used to go with my sister through the hill country behind Harlech; we had one of those wax phonographs and used it to collect Welsh folk-songs. Unfortunately, those were the days before cassettes and other instruments. All we had was the phonograph, and my sister, who was a musician, would note down what we had recorded-and then we had to rewax the cylinder. We had only one. It was a great pity because we lost the actual singing voices of the people. Nowadays when you collect folk-songs you get the actual singing voice, and that’s important. You get all the gracenotes.
In ‘Rocky Acres’ you mention crake-berries. I’ve never seen any myself
Crakeberry grows up on the hills behind Harlech – I don’t know anywhere elsewhere it grows. In 1929 1 went to live in Majorca, and I chose a place which was as near as possible to the scenery I was accustomed to in Harlech: the same grey rocks, and looking over the sea.
Perhaps one of your best-known poems is ‘Welsh Incident’. Could you tell us the story behind the writing of that poem?
The Irish used to say that you write one sort of poem with your right hand and an-other with your left, and I think it was the same with the Welsh bards. But the right hand is the constructive one and the left is the satiric one, and you can’t be serious the whole time. Occasionally you have to have a satire, which is pleasant joking, and this is what ‘Welsh Incident’ was intended to be. It started when my father and I were in a train compartment of the old Cambrian Railway. The train was going round that curve from BaTMouth, through Llan-bedr, round into Harlech where you see the sea stretched out; and there was a policeman aboard, a Welsh policeman. He got very excited and started telling my father how he had recently seen a mermaid. He wasn’t joking either: it was in perfect seriousness and made a very powerful impression on us all. Mermaids come into that poem, you may remember. And, of course, I’d been to those sea caves-, I’d been taken there by Professor Lloyd Williams, a botanist by profession, who was also one of the great Welsh mythologists. You could go there only at low tide about once a year. The caves had a very great fascination for me. But about ‘Welsh Incident’ – I wrote it in a Welsh accent. I remember once during the war in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, there was a certain Lieutenant Shankland, and I was telling a story in Welsh and he said: ‘Captain Graves, sir! ‘ And I said: ‘Yes, Mr Shankland? ‘ ‘ Captain Graves, sir, why can’t you talk your own bloody dialect?’ Wales is very important to me; and if asked what was the most important tech-nical influence on my verse I’d say the Welsh. It started with cynghanedd. My first poem published in book form was an englyn. I’d been taught the different rules of cynghanedd by an Archdeacon Edwards who was one of the most learned Eisteddfod poets. He was very patient with me. His bardic name was Gwynedd and he got the same prize for his essay on metrics as Dafydd ap Edmund won at the Carmar-then Eisteddfod in 1451. The actual bones of my poetry are different from the spirit behind them; and that. started strangely in the Second World War when I was reading the Mabinogion. I suddenly came on an account of the child Taliesin appearing in the middle of a group of bards and telling them his story in a way which every scholar has since said was absolute non-sense. But I looked at this nonsense verse and somehow-and this is quite inexplicable – I knew that it was a riddle in 22 parts, with all the pieces muddled up, and that the answer was the letter names of a 22-letter Irish alphabet. Now, I knew no Welsh, beyond a few words, and I knew no ancient Irish although my grandfather had been an expert on it; but I knew the answer and-this actually staggered me – I wrote it down. Since then nobody’s been able to prove me wrong. From that started this whole White Goddess concept, which is really a Welsh one. And the other day when I was reading the Sunday Times I came on their ‘Thousand Makers of the 20th Century’, and I found myself listed among the G’s and H’s along with Goering and Hitler and Goebbels and other splendid characters, and I was in there on account of the White Goddess, and that I owe originally to Wales.
You seem to think of the White Goddess as a symbol of womanhood, at once creative, reproductive and destructive. Mother figure, lover figure and the old hag who lays us out.
Well, the White Goddess is the most ancient goddess in Europe, Asia and Africa; and she’s white for various reasons – white in a good sense and white in a bad sense. She’s the person who makes poets write poems and she puts them through ordeals and gives them a hell of a time; and eventually if they don’t kill themselves, or otherwise disgrace themselves, she forgives them and then they go to Paradise, the Welsh Paradise-which is the same as the Irish tree Paradise. She subjects the poets to a number of deaths; and when they’ve died often enough she relents: and the reward for having suffered a succession of White Goddesses is to meet the Black Goddess. The Black Goddess is represented in Greek mythology by the figure of Mother Night. Mother Night sits in the cave and repre- sents wisdom, honour and justice; and in front of her sits a White Goddess calling attention to her oracles by beating a brazen drum. That is what happens to poets. Eventually, if they have satisfied her ordeals, they get through to the Black Goddess. And are in a position to say what they know without suffering … I hope one day I shall meet the Black Goddess.
The Spiritual Poetry of Solomon ibn Gabirol
AT THE DAWN
At the dawn I seek Thee,
Rock and refuge tried,
In due service speak Thee
Morn and eventide.
Neath Thy greatness shrinking,
Stand I sore afraid,
All my secret thinking
Bare before Thee laid.
Little to Thy glory
Heart or tongue can do;
Small remains the story,
Add we spirit too.
Yet since mans praise ringing
May seem good to Thee,
I will praise Thee singing
While Thy breaths in me.
My thoughts astounded asked me why
Towards the whirling wheels on high
In ecstasy I rush and fly.
The living God is my desire,
It carries me on wings of fire,
Body and soul to Him aspire.
God is at once my joy and fate,
This yearning me He did create,
At thought of Him I palpitate.
Shall song with all its loveliness
Submerge my soul with happiness
Before the God of Gods it bless?
PRAYER FOR THE HAZZAN
As the servant longs for the masters hand, so craves the cantors soul,
O extend Thy mercy upon him, rend his debt-recording scroll.
“Unto Me return, then will I to thee”were this Thy word unsaid,
Like a captain humbled while at his post he now would droop his head.
To Thy servant, Lord, Thou wilt surely ope the penitential way,
May his fruit be sweet as he stands to lead our prayers to Thee to-day.
As we watch our brother, behold, we note the grey that streaks his hair,
And his heart a-swim in a sense of sin as praying stands he there.
Let the fervent breath of Thy suppliant be witness for his heart,
Let him but return to Thee this once, he never will depart.
XXV. (THE ANGELS)
Who shall descend as deep as Thy thoughts?
For from the splendour of the sphere of Intelligence Thou hast wrought the radiance of souls,
And the high angels that are the messengers of Thy will,
The ministers of Thy presence,
Majestic of power and great in the Kingdom of heaven,
“In their hand the flaming sword that turneth every way,”
Performing their work whithersoever the spirit wafteth them,
All of them shapen to comeliness, shimmering as pearls,
Angels of the outer courts, or angels of the Presence,
Watching Thy movements.
From a holy place are they come,
And from the fount of light are they drawn.
They are divided into companies,
And on their banner are signs graven of the pen of the swift scribe.
There are superior and attendant bands,
And hosts running and returning,
But never weary and never faint,
Seeing but invisible.
And there are some wrought of flame,
And some are wafted air,
And some compounded of fire and of water,
And there are Seraphim in burning rows,
And wingèd lightnings and darting arrows of fire,
And each troop of them all bows itself down
“To Him who rideth the highest heavens.”
And in the supreme sphere of the universe they stand in thousands and tens of thousands
Divided into watches,
That change daily and nightly at the beginning of their vigils,
For the ritual of psalms and songs,
“To Him who is girt with omnipotence.”
All of them with dread and trembling bow and prostrate themselves to Thee,
Saying: To Thee we acknowledge
That Thou art He, the Lord our God;
Thou hast made us, and not we ourselves,
And the work of Thy hands are we all.
For Thou art our Lord, and we are Thy servants,
Thou art our Creator, and we are Thy witnesses.
Solomon ibn Gabirol (b. 1021, d. ca. 1058) was a Jewish Neoplatonist philosopher and poet who lived in Spain during the Islamic period. His devotional poetry, featured here, is considered among the best post-canon, and portions of his poetic works have been incorporated into the Jewish liturgy. However, only two extensive works of his have survived, a collection of his poems, translated here, and a philosophical treatise, the Fountain of Life, which, ironically, was thought to be the work of a Christian until the mid-19th century