Wednesday, 29 August 2012

To A Butterfly

The other day The Solitary Walker and I paid a visit to Dove Cottage in the Lake District, the house where Wordsworth spent what were probably the nine most productive years of his life. There was much to see - from Wordsworth's cuckoo clock to his skates. The skates may have inspired great poetry but, according to De Quincey, the poet, when skating "sprawled on the ice like a cow dancing a cotillion". De Quincey's opium scales lurked in the same glass case.

It was raining so heavily that going out into the garden was out of the question - which was a shame, as Wordsworth composed a great deal of poetry there, returning to the house to dictate it to either his wife or his sister. I left feeling an overwhelming urge to read some - something I hadn't done for a while.

When I finally got a chance to fish out the collected poems, I opened the book -as I was most likely to do- at one I didn't know, although I'm sure it's well-known to Wordsworth fans. I ought to read more. Ezra Pound once urged aspiring poets to "read as much Wordsworth as [they could] stand". Anyway, this poem dates from the poet's time at the cottage and turned out, with its intimate tone, to be a very appropriate poem, I thought, to read straight after a visit to it:

To A Butterfly

I've watched you now a full half-hour,
Self-poised upon that yellow flower;
And, little Butterfly! indeed
I know not if you sleep or feed.
How motionless! Not frozen seas
More motionless! and then
What joy awaits you, when the breeze
Hath found you out among the trees,
And calls you forth again!

This plot of Orchard-ground is ours;
My trees they are, my Sister's flowers;
Here rest your wings when they are weary;
Here lodge as in a sanctuary!
Come often to us, fear no wrong;
Sit near us on the bough!
We'll talk of sunshine and of song;
And summer days, when we were young;
Sweet childish days, that were as long
As twenty days are now.

Friday, 24 August 2012


Aquarius of Karlheinz Stockhausen's "Zodiac" from BOULDER PAVEMENT on Vimeo.

In 1974, Stockhausen wrote "Tierkreis – 12 Melodien der Sternzeichen". He had been inspired to do so by a dream in which he saw musical-boxes appearing from the belly of a "bird man". The work consists of a series of musical-box melodies, one for each of the signs of the Zodiac.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Haunted Castle

This morning I've been looking for materials on Youtube for a series of lessons I'm planning to teach next term about 20th century classical music. I thought one way into "atonal" music might be to get a group to create some to fit to a silent horror film - so I started searching for a suitable film.

It doesn't take long to get distracted when searching Youtube! I soon came across this and I decided I just had to post it here. It's the sort of thing I'm looking for - sort of. I'll certainly add it to my list of possibles. I know very little about film and I certainly didn't realise moving films were made as early as 1896, as this was. Pay a 3-minute visit to George Melies' The Haunted Castle and you too will have seen what's widely billed as "the world's first horror film". Make sure you're sat down and, if of a nervous disposition, not alone...

Monday, 13 August 2012

Shandy Hall

Went to Shandy Hall yesterday. I've often thought of going, although we've never got round to it before. Shandy Hall, not far from Thirsk in North Yorkshire, was the home of Rev. Laurence Sterne, writer of Tristram Shandy.

Tristram Shandy was, according to Italo Calvino,  "undoubted progenitor of all avant-garde novels of our century." I've not read it. I have had a go but didn't get very far.  I thought that by visiting Shandy Hall I might feel inspired to give it another go. 

We went on one of the regular tours of the house which, I have to admit, I can't remember as much about as I'd like - although it has inspired me to have another go at the book. I'll have to go again, which I'm more than happy to do, as I really enjoyed it. (I've decided to join the Friends of Shandy Hall next time I visit - it costs £7 a year to do so, for which you can visit the house and gardens as often as you want). I do remember that Tristram Shandy should be an inspiration not only to would-be experimental novelists but also to would-be self-publishers. Had Sterne not been determined to see the early volumes of the work into print, it would probably have remained unpublished. I also discovered that Sterne and Samuel Johnson didn't get on well, much to the embarassment of their many mutual friends. Johnson dismissed Sterne's work, saying (in 1776) ""Nothing odd will do long. Tristram Shandy did not last." Voltaire, on the other hand, thought it superior to Rabelais.

There's more than a house at Shandy Hall. There's a second-hand bookshop and a garden. Also, in the garden, there's an exhibition on about self-publishing, DO or DIY,  created by Information as Material, a writer collective which describes itself as " publish work by artists who use extant material -selecting it and reframing it to generate new meanings- and who, in so doing so, disrupt the existing order of things." The text used in the exhibition can be read online, here, although it's more interesting to encounter it in Rev. Sterne's garden.

A second exhibition is also currently running in the outbuildings at the hall: Found in the Fields, an exhibition of prints by artist Carry Ackroyd. The works on show are inspired by and incorporate fragments from the poetry of the 19th Century poet John Clare. I'm just beginning to get into his poetry so I found this exhibition really interesting. One of the prints is based on a poem I didn't know, about ants. I think it's magnificent - and although in many ways it's a product of its age, there's also much about it that's modern:

The Ants

What wonder strikes the curious, while he views
The black ant's city, by a rotten tree,
Or woodland bank! In ignorance we muse:
Pausing, annoyed,--we know not what we see,
Such government and thought there seem to be;
Some looking on, and urging some to toil,
Dragging their loads of bent-stalks slavishly:
And what's more wonderful, when big loads foil
One ant or two to carry, quickly then
A swarm flock round to help their fellow-men.
Surely they speak a language whisperingly,
Too fine for us to hear; and sure their ways
Prove they have kings and laws, and that they be
Deformed remnants of the Fairy-days.

John Clare

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Hackfall Wood

Somehow or other I've managed to live here in Wensleydale without ever even knowing that Hackfall Wood existed! I owe the fact that I do know to a chance remark by a friend when I mentioned I was looking for somewhere to go for a swim.

I googled the place, to see if I could find a map of it. I not only found a map: I also discovered that the woodland has various follies hidden in it along with a hydrolic fountain which stands, in the middle of a pool, hidden in the depths of the wood. When you find it, you have to wait a few minutes for the pressure to build up and...

But I'm telling the story the wrong way round: I found the fountain on the way back from Black Robin Whirlpool. I had set myself the task of finding Black Robin after reading Les Taylor's memories of the area online (Les was born in 1925):

At the sharp bend in the river below is the Black Robin Whirlpool where village boys were warned not to swim.

It sounded alluring: I just had to check it out. If it was too dangerous a place, then I'd give it a miss but otherwise... I packed a towel just in case.

As it was it turned out to be one of the best swimming places that, in my limited experience, I've ever come across. The whirlpool doesn't seem to be a literal whirlpool of the water-going-down-the-plug variety, more just rapids, albeit arranged in a wavy line. Behind the rapids, a deep, wide bathing pool extends upriver for quite a long way. I could imagine the rapids could be quite turbulent if the river were higher but the river was quite placid today. A triangular area of pebbly "beach" sticks out from the bank into the river here, with a small area of grass and bushes on its far side. An elderly couple were there when I arrived. She had just finished her swim. It turned out they had found the place by following similar online clues to myself and that I had indeed found "Black Robin".

I changed into my shorts on the pebble beach and climbed into the peaty-brown water of the bathing-pool.  I soon discovered why parents might have warned their children not to swim here: where the pebble beach turns into a riverbed it suddenly slopes down - entering the water I found myself out of my depth in moments.  It turned out to be quite warm as cold water goes and within a minute or two it felt heavenly. Having swum down to savour the natural jacuzzi that is the Black Robin rapids I made my way upstream - it was quite hard work swimming against the current. There's nothing quite like swimming along a river, your eyes at water level. The river surface stretches away like a huge, glassy floor. If the stretch of river is surrounded by steep, tree-covered banks as this is, you get the bonus of being surrounded by towers of greenery that rise up not unlike towering, fluffy clouds in stormy weather: the effect is of a giant, green sanctuary with a glass floor and a sky-blue cieling.

I returned downstream breastroke, only needing to make a minimum effort as the water carried me along, back to the jacuzzi. Once out and dried, I sat here and ate an apple. Life is good...

click to enlarge

The Poetry of Margery Clute (20)

If you missed the earlier installments, which provided some background  information regarding Margery Clute's poetry, you can read about her here.

The Lofty Muse

This life is not a Vale of Tears
As many people think;
The rain that falls upon the ground
Falls that the plants may drink.

Soon blow away the clouds that blot
The sunlight from the bower –
Then we are grateful, one and all,
To see the blooming flower!

Yet when Death’s shadow falls across
Our path, where can we turn?
‘Tis true, we face a certain end
Beneath a mossy urn,

And yet, take heart – all is not lost!
Live for the day, I deem.
Enjoy the insignificant part
You play in Life’s great scheme!

And ne’er forget the lofty Muse
That inward bends the ear
Unto the wordless Song of Life
That knows no earthly fear!

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Having Fun with Arnold Schoenberg

OK, so I'm a fan of Schoenberg (the 20th Century composer), but this video I've just come across has shot to the top of my personal Youtube Top Ten - and not just because it's about him. It's so, well, cheerful - when it could just be dour and pedantic. And cheerfulness is a Good Thing (with a capital G and T):

It goes a long way to explaining the sense of fun in what might otherwise be considered by listeners to be one of his so-called "difficult" pieces of music (part of his Serenade, Opus 24):

Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Poetry of Margery Clute (19)

If you missed the earlier installments, which provided some background  information regarding Margery Clute's poetry, you can read about her here.

The Traveller

A Traveller upon the hill
One windy day I met.
I greeted him with civil wave,
One whom I'll ne'er forget.

His clothes were stained with much travail,
He bore a sturdy pole,
His leather bag betrayed his call,
His eye, a Wandering Soul.

His beard that to his knees hung down
Betrayed his august age -
Old as the rocks that Nature set
Upon that moorland stage.

“Old Man,” quoth I, “What brings you here
“What Fate draws us together?
“Why dost thou walk upon the Moor
“And in such windy weather?”

“I travel far,” the Sage replied,
“To find I know not what.”
“That which the Wisest seek,” quoth I,
“Though many know it not?”

“The same!” He fixed me with his eye
And grasped me by the arm.
“You know its whereabouts?” quoth he.
I trembled with alarm.

“That which the Wisest seek,” quoth I,
“Though many know it not
Was known in day of old, I deem:
‘Tis now all but forgot.”

He dropped his gaze, relaxed his hold.
“I fear, ‘Tis as you say.
“I travel far, I travel wide,
“I journey night and day.

“The wild lands beyond the Tyne,
“Beyond the Roman Wall,
“The Eastern Plains, the Western Hills,
“My eye surveyed them all!”

“I saw the Eagle on his Perch,
“The Badger in his Den,
“The hedgehog in his leafy lair,
“The cockerel and his hen,

“The Sun by Day, the Moon by Night,
“The rocks beneath my soles,
“The fish beneath the cataract,
“The rabbits down their holes!

“Yet ne’er I saw that which I seek
“Or heard of its existence!
“Though I have travelled far and wide
“With –some say- strange persistence!”

I left him there, the Traveller,
To seek his one desire,
And made my way home, down the hill,
To a bath before the fire!