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  • Billy Mills 08:12 on 17/05/2022 Permalink | Reply  

    Frogs – Basho’s Many English Frogs 

    Containing three versions by me, and loads by far better translators.

    Brief Poems

    imageMatsuo Bashō (1644 – 1694), was the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan and is still renowned as perhaps Japan’s most popular poet. Today he is recognized as the greatest master of haiku (then called hokku). And his most famous haiku, probably the most famous poem in Japan, is his brief poem about the frog jumping into the water of an old pond. It has the same iconic status in Japanese poetry as William Carlos Williams’ red wheelbarrow has in American poetry, William Wordworth’s daffodils has in English poetry and William Butler Yeats’s Lake Isle of Innisfree has in Irish poetry.

    Basho’s frog haiku is almost definitely the most famous haiku ever composed. Here is the poem in the original Japanese:



    Furuike ya kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto

    And here is a literal translation:

    Fu-ru (old) i-ke (pond) ya, ka-wa-zu (frog) to-bi-ko-mu…

    View original post 760 more words

  • Billy Mills 10:32 on 16/05/2022 Permalink | Reply  

    Dangerous Pavements – Irish Haiku 

    With four of my haiku included, with thanks.

    Brief Poems

    Irish haiku.  It may sound like an oxymoron but there is no more contradiction in the term than there is in American haiku. And, as I have discussed in various posts, there is an array of poems and poets that can be classed under that rubic from Richard Wright, who wrote thousands of these short poems in the last years of his life, through Allen Ginsberg, who created a form of haiku know as American Sentences, to Jack Kerouac,  who created his own form of American haiku which he called pops. The Irish haiku developed later and tends to be more restrained. The prominence of haiku in Irish poetry today is due, in large measure to the Russian-born Anatoly Kudryavitsky, editor of Shamrock Haiku Journal and compiler of the haiku in the classic anthology, Bamboo Dreams (Doghouse Books, 2012). In his introduction he asks…

    View original post 2,083 more words

    • Matthew Paul 08:22 on 17/05/2022 Permalink | Reply

      I’d like to see more of your haiku, Billy.

      I’d also mention the fine work undertaken over the years by Jim Norton, Sean O’Connor, Gilles Fabre and others in promoting haiku in Ireland. There are plenty of other fine Irish (and Ireland-resident) haiku poets not quoted or mentioned here, e.g. Amanda Bell, Marion Clarke, Sean Mc William, Maeve O’Sullivan, Thomas Powell, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Billy Mills 08:27 on 17/05/2022 Permalink | Reply

        You should mention them all on the original post, Paul.

        I’m working on a set of haiku, original and translations, that will ultimately go in search of a publisher.


        • Matthew Paul 10:40 on 18/05/2022 Permalink | Reply

          I put them on the original post but they’ve been awaiting moderation so hopefully they’ll appear, but I hadn’t noticed that the original post was from almost five years ago. I should also have mentioned Roberta Beary and (the late) Giovanni Malito in the list of excellent haiku poets not mentioned in the post.

          I’m glad to hear you have a haiku collection brewing.

          Liked by 1 person

  • Billy Mills 14:57 on 10/05/2022 Permalink | Reply  

    Scrapbooking Old English with Edwin Morgan – ‘the nerves must sometimes tingle and the skin flush’. 

    University of Glasgow Library Blog

    Morgan’s 1952 translation of Beowulf (SP 120)

    Guest blog post by Dr Francesca Brooks, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of York with the Department of English and Related Literature, and University of Glasgow Library Research Fellow

    In the preface to his 1952 translation of Beowulf, the Scottish poet Edwin Morgan (1920-2010) wrote of how archaic translations filled with ‘twixts and ‘twills had left this Old English poem ‘faintly gleaming like a dragonfly under an inch of amber’. In his own Beowulf, Morgan promised to leave behind the ‘linguistic crinkum-crankum’ that he felt had characterised so many previous translations. For Morgan the poem was live material that must be made to speak to the present. ‘[T]he nerves must sometimes tingle and the skin flush, as with original poetry’, he wrote in his preface, which is also something of a manifesto for the translation career…

    View original post 1,130 more words

  • Billy Mills 08:42 on 05/05/2022 Permalink | Reply  

    Who married Isis (on the 5th Day of May)? 

    The short answer being her brother Osiris, of course, both being the children of Seb (earth) and Nut (sky). Another brother, Set, killed Osiris and hacked him to pieces. Isis gathered his missing body parts, resurrected him, became pregnant with their son Horus and then Osiris went to be king of the Underworld. In The Golden Bough, Frazer writes:

    “Under the names of Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis, and Attis, the peoples of Egypt and Western Asia represented the yearly decay and revival of life, especially of vegetable life, which they personified as a god who annually died and rose again from the dead. In name and detail the rites varied from place to place: in substance they were the same. The supposed death and resurrection of this oriental deity, a god of many names but of essentially one nature, is now to be examined.”

    So, Osiris can be seen as an example of the risen god who permeates the myths of the Mediterranean region, most famously in the Christian mythos. As a fertility god, the story of Osiris’ death and resurrection is a cyclical one, with the sacred marriage being an annual enactment of the god fertilizing the earth. Frazer again:

    “These conjectures are confirmed by the little we know both of the popular and of the official Egyptian religion. Thus we are told that the Egyptians held a festival of Isis at the time when the Nile began to rise. They believed that the goddess was then mourning for the lost Osiris, and that the tears which dropped from her eyes swelled the impetuous tide of the river. Now if Osiris was in one of his aspects a god of the corn, nothing could be more natural than that he should be mourned at midsummer. For by that time the harvest was past, the fields were bare, the river ran low, life seemed to be suspended, the corn-god was dead. At such a moment people who saw the handiwork of divine beings in all the operations of nature might well trace the swelling of the sacred stream to the tears shed by the goddess at the death of the beneficent corn-god her husband.”

    Let’s take the pyramids as symbolic of Egypt, when the river runs low the land is dead, frozen in ice, so to speak, but when the water runs (like drizzlin’ rain) life returns. So the year begins with the marriage on the fifth day of May, and ends when the dead god is back on or by the 4th to renew his marriage and with it the land.

    I said, “Where are we goin’?” He said we’d be back by the fourth.

    I said, “That’s the best news that I’ve ever heard.”

    In The White Goddess, a book Dylan apparently knows well, Robert Graves writes: 

    “The Orphic ‘ox of seven fights’ is hinted at in Plutarch’s Isis and Osiris, where he describes how at the Winter solstice they carry the golden cow of Isis, enveloped in black cloth, seven times around the shrine of Osiris, whom he identifies with Dionysus. ‘The circuit is called “The Seeking for Osiris”, for in winter the Goddess longs for the water of the Sun. And she goes around seven times because he completes his passing from the winter to the summer solstice in the seventh month.’”

    So even if he never read Frazer, Dylan is likely to have been familiar with the significance of the Osiris/Isis marriage, mythologically speaking while writing this very circular song that ends where it begins and where the chord structure emphasises the circularity. Graves’ phrase ‘the water of the Sun’ seems to me at least to shed some light on Dylan’s ‘I came in from the East with the sun in my eyes’; the god of the yearly cycle is, of necessity, a solar deity of sorts.

    And then there’s ‘Oh Sister’ which can, I think, be listened to as a companion track to ‘Isis’:

    We grew up together

    From the cradle to the grave

    We died and were reborn

    And then mysteriously saved

    Union with a sister, death and resurrection, another song about marriage. Of course, the Christian myth is there, but part of Frazer’s point was that ‘Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis, and Attis’ are forerunners of Christ, or rather that Christ belongs to the same mythic pattern as the others do. And Graves agrees when he has ‘heretical’ poets say:

    ‘The Pope, though he permits our typifying Jesus as a Fish, as the Sun, as Bread, as the Vine, as a Lamb, as a Shepherd, as a Rock, as a Conquering Hero, even as a Winged Serpent, yet threatens us with Hell Fire if we ever dare to celebrate him in terms of the venerable gods whom He has super¬ seded and from whose ritual every one of these symbols has been derived. Or if we trip over a simple article of this extraordinarily difficult Athanasian Creed. We need no reminder from Rome or Canterbury that Jesus was the greatest of all Sacred Kings who suffered death on a tree for the good of the people, who harrowed Hell and who rose again from the Dead and that in Him all prophecies are fulfilled. But to pretend that he was the first whom poets have ever celebrated as having performed these wonderful feats is, despite St. Paul, to show oneself either hypocritical or illiterate. So at his prophesied Second Coming we reserve the right to call him Belin or Apollo or even King Arthur.’

    There is, of course, a third song about marriage on Desire, the very personal ‘Sara’

    Radiant jewel, a mystical wife….Scorpio Sphinx in a calico dress

    Here, Dylan’s flesh and blood wife is identified with sacred marriage (to the ‘mystical child’ Isis), Egypt and with the moon goddess Diana the Huntress:

    Glamorous nymph with an arrow and bow

    Turning to Graves again, we find:

    “But both Nemesis and Diana Nemorensis are associated with the deer … Nemesis carries a wheel in her other hand to show that she is the goddess of the turning year, like Egyptian Isis and Latin Fortune, but this has been generally understood as meaning that the wheel will one day come full circle and vengeance be exacted on the sinner.”

    An so, Sara is Diana (Nemorensis, of the woods) is Isis, which means that the narrator is Osiris is the King of the Wood, completing the circle.

    There are, of course, other parallels left unexplored here. Is the ‘man in the corner’ Set? It would make sense that if Set kills Osiris, then the risen Osiris should kill Set, in an endless cycle of death and renewal. The man’s burial seems to me to reflect the story that Osiris was killed by being tricked to lie in a casket, just as the ‘body I’m trying to find’ reflects Isis’ gathering of the parts of Osiris. Isis says that things will be different the next time they wed, but the audience is aware that they will be exactly the same. There is no way out of here. Except divorce.

    Or ritual. Seen in this light, Dylan’s extraordinary performances of ‘Isis’ during the Rolling Thunder tour can be viewed as hieratic, shamanistic even. He enters into the song as completely as is possible, the combination of voice and gesture draw the audience in to another plane of reality, the mythic:

    Or, as he wrote years earlier:

    It’s all new to me, like some mystery
    It could even be like a myth

    One final passage from The Golden Bough:

    But Diana was not merely a patroness of wild beasts, a mistress of woods and hills, of lonely glades and sounding rivers; conceived as the moon, and especially, it would seem, as the yellow harvest moon, she filled the farmer’s grange with goodly fruits, and heard the prayers of women in travail. In her sacred grove at Nemi, as we have seen, she was especially worshipped as a goddess of childbirth, who bestowed offspring on men and women. Thus Diana, like the Greek Artemis, with whom she was constantly identified, may be described as a goddess of nature in general and of fertility in particular. We need not wonder, therefore, that in her sanctuary on the Aventine she was represented by an image copied from the many-breasted idol of the Ephesian Artemis, with all its crowded emblems of exuberant fecundity. Hence too we can understand why an ancient Roman law, attributed to King Tullus Hostilius, prescribed that, when incest had been committed, an expiatory sacrifice should be offered by the pontiffs in the grove of Diana. For we know that the crime of incest is commonly supposed to cause a dearth; hence it would be meet that atonement for the offence should be made to the goddess of fertility.

    Now on the principle that the goddess of fertility must herself be fertile, it behoved Diana to have a male partner. Her mate, if the testimony of Servius may be trusted, was that Virbius who had his representative, or perhaps rather his embodiment, in the King of the Wood at Nemi. The aim of their union would be to promote the fruitfulness of the earth, of animals, and of mankind; and it might naturally be thought that this object would be more surely attained if the sacred nuptials were celebrated every year, the parts of the divine bride and bridegroom being played either by their images or by living persons. No ancient writer mentions that this was done in the grove at Nemi; but our knowledge of the Arician ritual is so scanty that the want of information on this head can hardly count as a fatal objection to the theory. That theory, in the absence of direct evidence, must necessarily be based on the analogy of similar customs practised elsewhere

    Which relates, in my view, to the weather in the song. Bride and groom come together in the sun, and then their union brings forth the drizzlin’ rain; sun and rain, the conditions required for the fertility of the earth. Their sundering results in devilish cold, ice and snow. The world asleep, life in abeyance, requiring their (re)union to begin the cycle of life anew.

  • Billy Mills 12:03 on 21/04/2022 Permalink | Reply

    Recent Reading: April 2022 

    A Journal of Enlightened Panic, Alan Baker, Shoestring Press, 2020, ISBN: 978-1-912524-56-3, £6.00

    light light light; 21 Poems, Charlie Ulyatt, Essence Press, 2022, Price dependent on location

    Wasp on the Prayer Flag, Maeve O’Sullivan, Alba Publishing, 2021, ISBN 9781912773398, £10/€12/$15

    ‘When a man goes out’, the opening poem in Alan Baker’s pamphlet, begins with an echo of the folk tradition, specifically the ballad known as ‘As I Roved Out’:

    When a man goes out on a Sunday morning among May-month trees

    (maple, sycamore, rowan, oak) and sees the tarmac paths,

    the metal bench, the individual grass stalks and daises

    and realises they’re the same ones he saw forty years ago

    Baker’s quickly moves away from the folk tale of sex and deceit towards a journey through a closely observed world was the poem turns first to a meditation on the ecological impacts of our actions, the responsibilities of the artist, and finally the speaker’s mortality, via a return to song:

    The songs of summer, where are they? They’re so dependable.

    but achingly lonely, so forget them and consider instead

    the thoughts a man may encounter as he goes out

    on a Sunday morning walking the park in the autumn of his life.

    We are travelling but going nowhere except towards an encounter with the self, whatever that may be. The uncertainty and hesitancy of our going in deftly echoed in the weaving of two and three syllable feet, an expectation of an iambic rhythm established and then disrupted by dactyls and amphibrachs knitted together by assonantal patterns of sound in long, capacious lines.

    The idea of journey is taken up in the long closing poem ‘Voyager’ which blends the interstellar travels of the titular space probe, the third-person wanderings of Alan through an urban landscape, and stories of seafaring, including references to the Odyssey, specifically the Nekyia:

    I think the dead talk to me said Alice,

    but Alan doesn’t want to hear that

    even though he’s setting out to meet them.

    This journey towards the dead takes on more significance at the end when we’re informed in a postscript that the poem is for Baker’s mother, who died in 2015.

    Baker plays neatly with he conventions of narrative to create a sense of distance and dislocation:

    Alan is pleased to announce that Night

    and its attendant Deserted Street

    stretched out before him and required

    that he walk. That such walks

    have the quality of dream.

    Between these two longish narrative(ish) poems we find a number of shorter lyrics, mostly addressed to poets and artists. While these are interesting, the meat of the pamphlet is in the bracketing poems discussed above.

    While Baker immerses us in the conventions of language, Charlie Ulyatt is engaged in a very different approach to poetry.  Here words are stripped of their significance so that their meanings become clear, or at least less unclear. He’s a minimalist, not in the sense of, say, Philip Glass, but in the same way that Issa is a minimalist. The focus is sharp, defined, and deceptively simple. The poems are full of floating pronouns with no referents which opens up these tiny texts to vistas as large as the reader’s experiences:











    This poetry is almost impossible to discuss, it is, so to speak, what it is, and the temptation is just to point at it and say ‘read’. The movement across the 21 poems collected here is towards silence, to the realisation that the use of words is to bring us to the now and leave us there, connected to some kind of essence:








    And that is enough. Ulyatt has elevated his chosen poverty of means, his deliberately restricted linguistic range to the condition of art.


    There is, of necessity a similar but different narrowness to Maeve O’Sullivan’s book of haiku and senryu Wasp on the Prayer Flag. The book is divided into three sections. The first, Seasons, is what we might think of as the ‘traditional’ format for arranging haiku. The second, Sequences, comprises poems primarily concerned with specific locations. The final section, Senryu, contains sequences concerning human nature, with some focus on bereavement and the Covid pandemic. These on the whole are more serious, less ironic, that you might expect from senryu.

    Rather than discussing the themes and topics covered, I’m going to focus on a few individual poems to look at how O’Sullivan handles the limitations and potentials of her chosen forms. First, there’s this from the ‘Howth Head’ sequence:

    yellow furze in bloom

    back down the hill

    hot whiskies on the beach

    There are varieties of furze that bloom all year round, but traditionally it’s a flower of spring, its golden glow reflecting the warm-cold nature of early sunshine. The hot whiskey echoes this idea of warmth in cold while also providing a visual parallel of the yellow of both flower and sun. The plural ‘whiskies’ introduce a sense of companionship, of a shared human warmth; it’s a whole picture, a cycle of place and time, evoked in 13 words.

    There’s an element of a kind of rural psychogeography underlying the place sequences, in the casual but close attention to detail and the interplay between ‘natural’ and ‘human’ elements apprehended. Take this haiku from the ‘Kerry Dreamtime’ sequence:

    a Speckled Wood lands

    on Japanese knotweed


    the specificity in the naming of the butterfly brings the reader to close focus as it lands on the invasive week, introduced by human intervention and considered a pest but serving the insect’s purposes as well as any native plant would. The last line then folds the warning against cutting, and thereby spreading, the weed into a concern for the scene as a whole, with butterfly, plant and sign forming a composition from which nothing can be removed without disturbing some kind of microcosmic balance.

    The last example I want to look at is from the ‘Pandemic’ senryu sequence:

    in separate trees

    a pair of magpies

    a pair of collared doves

    The simple complexity of this short poem is what strikes me. The book is full of birds, just being birds. On one level, it’s possible to read the poem as analogical with the human situation during lockdown, separated as we were in our tiny bubbles, alone together. But that’s only one level, perhaps the least interesting one; what these birds do is to remind us that there is a world and a life beyond our concerns, and that it endures without us. During lockdown, many of us became more aware of the avian world, but birds became no more aware of us, they just carried on being birds. This is the picture that O’Sullivan, in her typically understated formal control, presents to us here. This is a book to read and reread.

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