Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Sources Say

sources say the heart of the river is a mixed meltdown pure and simple - America's number one diplomat in China has quit, say sources - sources say that Jennifer Garner confronted Lindsay Shookus - she rode into town aboard an inflatible swam atop a wave of holy water, sources say - unnamed sources claim that Russian intelligence hacked the Oscars - Justice League is a mess say sources close to Batman on Film - sources say we have lingered in the chambers of the sea - he headed to the Green Shutters after dark, they say - brought his mistress with him apparently - sources say that we'd prefer a free afternoon - the speckled cat slept on my knee, they say - and all this is just noise

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Peake & Pye in Sark

The Sark Folk Festival begins this Friday. When I've been in the past there's been a happy atmosphere and, with its mixture of varied music and friendly people, it's not been difficult to enjoy. Also, they lay on some good cider.

Preparing to travel to Sark is making me think of Mr Pye. I read Mervyn Peake's slimline, fabulistic novel while camping in Sark a couple of years ago. It is a unique and charming book, in which the island of Sark is described in great detail and with much affection, so that it becomes as much of a character as the titular newcomer.

Peake's loving descriptions of the island must have come fairly easily, as the author spent so much time on the island. He was part of a collective of artists and bohemian types that moved to the island (on Peake's part to do outdoor nude painting according to some sources) and built a gallery that is now the island's post office.

a not-nude Mervyn Peake (possibly thinking about being nude)

Peake illustrated a number of children's books, though some of his work was rejected for being too gruesome.  Below are some examples.

one of Peake's illustrations for The Hunt for the Snark

from Peake's illustrations for Alice in Wonderland

from Peake's illustrations for The Rime of the Anceint Mariner

As well as being a bit of a dab hand at the old drawing, penning the trilogy of novels for which he's best known: Gormenghast, painting in the nip on Sark and writing Mr Pye, Peake wrote some brilliant poetry. He mostly wrote what he called nonsense verse and most of that was aimed at children. There are a few examples below:

"The paper is breathless
  Under the hand 
  And the pencil is poised
  Like a warlock's wand."

"O'er seas that have no beaches
To end their waves upon,
I floated with twelve peaches,
A sofa and a swan."

"Leave the stronger
and the lesser
things to me!
Lest that conger
named Vanessa
who is longer
than a dresser
visits thee."

"Each day I live in a glass room
Unless I break it with the thrusting
Of my senses and pass through
The splintered walls to the great landscape."

Finally, I particularly like the sentiment expressed by one character in Mr Pye.That's Tintagieu, who's described as "five foot three inches of sex" and she asks: "Can't a thing just be itself without its having to mean something?".

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

李紳 - 憫農: Li Shen - Pity Farmers

A lot of effort goes in to growing the food that we eat. That may be obvious, but it can also be comforting to see continuity between what's obvious now and realities enshrined in poetry over 1,000 years ago. 

illustration depicting Li Shen's poem taken from

The following poem is one of the canonised classics of Chinese poetry that appear in the collection Three Hundred Tang Poems. The collection was first brought together in 1763.Despite what the title might lead readers to believe, this cornerstone anthology comprises 326 poems that were written during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907). 
chú hé rì dāng wǔ,
weed grain during noon
hàn dī hé xià tǔ.
sweat drops grain down earth.
shuí zhī pán zhōngcān,
who would have thought one lunch,
lì lì jiē xīnkǔ.
each grain hard work.

This poem was written by Li Shen (), who was an official of the Tang dynasty who served as chancellor for a time. During his lifetime Li Shen became renowned for his poems depicting rural life.

I like the following translation from Peter Wang, since it maintains the concise nature of the original .

Farmers weeding at noon,
Sweat down the field soon.
Who knows food on a tray
Thanks to their toiling day?

However, below is an alternative, from Andrew W.F. Wong. It elaborates well on the sense behind the text.

He heaves his hoe in the rice-field, under the noonday sun,
Onto the soil of the rice-field, his streaming sweat beads run.
Ah, do you or don’t you know it?  That bowl of rice we eat:
Each grain, each ev’ry granule, the fruit of his labour done.

illustration taken from Flickr user vacquey
taken from
credit: 易界神刀

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Bill arrives in the heavenly Grotto

The birdsong there is perfectly played heavenly music. And even the breeze blows in time. You can close your eyes and enjoy the meeting of your face and the warmth of gentle sunbeams. Meanwhile a sense of utter peace is settled over every twig and branch. Rising green is all around. 

One only appears within this world by becoming lost. And by leaving you’ll lose the way back. Yet, though a mythos akin to holiness pervades the very air inside this vast abundant grotto, and a complete harmony is immediately self-evident to all newcomers, quite a different reaction is seen when Bill Ronpatt washes up on those shores, coughing and spluttering as he struggles to rid his lips of the pure spring water that’s found its way in.

Bill stands to survey his new home. His legs ache and his head hurts. He can’t see nowhere to sit down. Only old tree stumps and greasy rocks surround him. He feels thirsty, but can’t think where to get a drink, especially not with the constant sound of that freshwater brook running. He’s so hungry he could eat a horse. The fact that ripe peaches and picture-perfect cherries are hanging all around just adds insult to injury. Confused and unsure what to do, with his irritation piqued further by the blooming sun shining in his eyes, Bill snaps and loses it entirely. Why won’t these birds stop their incessant chatter?  

“Will you be quiet, you stupid bloody birds? Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!”, he shouts. The birds are silenced, but only momentarily. They go on singing. Meanwhile, entirely unaffected by this bellowing ingrate, the trickling of the spring water over rocks in the stream, and the brushing of the breeze past the trees, merely carry on regardless.  

Plum Branch and Bamboo by Chen Ji-ru