Monday, August 03, 2015

Tuesday Poem: Landscape with the Fall of John Damian

Landscape with the Fall of John Damian

after Auden, “Musée des Beaux Arts”

If the painter had been there, he would have seen
how flat the lands below the castle
dotted with people – the tenant in his fields
making hay, the fisherman in his barge,
the distant drover bringing cattle
from the markets at Crieff. They did not
turn their backs. They glanced up
from time to time, checking for signs
the king was in residence, wondering
when the carts would be sent out
to gather their crops and cattle for a feast.
So it might have been that one of them
would have noted the fall from the cliff –
an indeterminate shape dark against the sky,
not flying too close to the weak Scottish sun
even for a moment, but plummeting –
too distant to make out the detail.
The observer would have shrugged, assumed
a particularly large bundle of rubbish
had followed the piss that the maids
emptied from the chamber pots,
wiped his brow, turned back to his work.

© Catherine Fitchett

Note: Scotland’s first recorded attempt at flight took place at Stirling Castle in September 1507. John Damian, an Italian alchemist at the court of James IV, attempted to fly from the castle’s walls with the aid of feathered wings. He failed completely, landing in a dunghill and breaking his thigh.

After wrestling with a different poem about our 2007 visit to Stirling Castle, I laid it aside. Some years later, inspired by Breughel's painting "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus", and the Auden poem which was inspired by that painting, I wrote the above poem, which was included in the 2014 New Zealand Poetry Society anthology take back our sky.

My ancestors farmed in the very flat lands across the river from Stirling Castle. I was able to visit the farm where my great grandparents were married, and observed the magnificent view of the castle across the river. I like to imagine one of my ancestors working in the fields and looking up to observe John Damian falling from the castle walls, as described in the poem.

I have been a bit slack about posting to Tuesday Poem lately. However, I am having a poetry reading binge lately and am in the process of selecting a number of poems to post over coming weeks, providing that permission is forthcoming. So, to kick it all off, I am posting one of my own this week.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Tuesday Poem: Bright is the Ring of Words, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Bright is the ring of words
When the right man rings them,
Fair the fall of songs
When the singer sings them.
Still they are carolled and said,
On wings they are carried,
After the singer is dead
And the maker buried.

Low as the singer lies
In the field of heather,
Songs of his fashion bring
The swains together.
And when the west is red
With the sunset embers,
The lover lingers and sings
And the maid remembers.

-Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894)

I was tidying up some folders of poetry, and came across the first stanza of the above poem. A google search revealed the second stanza. The poem seems to have no title other than the first line. It has been set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams, in a song cycle "Songs of Travel".

Robert Louis Stevenson was a Scottish novelist, poet, essayist and travel writer. He is well known for his novels Kidnapped and Treasure Island, as well as his collection A Child's Garden of Verses.
He came from a family of lighthouse engineers, but although he enjoyed his travels with his father to inspect various lighthouses, he turned away from the family profession to pursue a life of letters.
He died in Samoa, where he had settled, at the age of 44.

For more Tuesday Poems, visit the main hub site.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Old Faithful

Our microwave was starting to make an annoying rattle when in use, so my husband decided to take it in to the repair shop to see if they could do anything with it. He came home and said that when they had finished rolling on the floor laughing, they said they would look at it.

Really, it goes very well and has ever since we bought it - which, by my calculation, was around 36 years ago. I think that the problem is that the wheels that rotate the tray are rather worn down, hence the rattle (when it doesn't stick and refuse to turn at all). Everything else works fine. I really don't want to have to buy a new one, which wouldn't last nearly so long.

It's not even our oldest appliance. Our freezer is around 43 years old, and my Kenwood cake mixer is nearly 45 years old - that has been repaired once or twice, but it still works much better than a modern one.

I often read that old fridges and freezers should be upgraded, because they use much more power than a new one. Which is all very well, but how many years would it take to recoup the cost of the new appliance in lowered electricity bills? And what about the extra resources - metal, power, transport etc - involved in making the new one and disposing of the old one? So for the meantime, I am happy with my old faithful collection of kitchen helpers. And I am sincerely hoping that the microwave comes back to us as good as new. I miss it!

Monday, June 15, 2015


The poor blog has been rather neglected lately.I have been languishing somewhat heading into winter, not helped by an attack of shingles. A nasty blistering rash, like chicken pox but more localised (and I think, more painful).

I spotted the goat outside The Mohair Store, in a nearby suburb. His warm woolly scarf looked very appealing. Snow is forecast for next weekend.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tuesday Poem: Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, by W B Yeats

Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Among the many e-mail in my inbox this week, I found one from Tourism Ireland alerting me to the fact that this year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). It seemed appropriate, then to post a Yeats poem as my Tuesday Poem this week. Yeats was the first Irishman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, in 1923. His early work drew heavily on Irish mythology and folklore, while later work was more politically influenced.

For more Tuesday Poems, visit the main hub site.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tuesday Poem: Wahine Smoking, by Ruth Arnison

Wahine Smoking

My favouritest thing at that Olveston place was
that old guy's painting of the wahine.

Some of the kids didn't think much of it but I
reckon she looked real cool.

The teacher said, look what happens to you girls
if you smoke - that wahine is only 18.

We all laughed, cos he's a right clown our teacher.
Katie May don't always pick up things real quick
and she said,

What school did that kid go to sir? Must've been
a cool one letting her have tats AND jewellery.

We all laughed our socks off and Katie May went,
what, what are you lot laughing at?

The guide just smiled and asked us to follow her.
They must hear a right load of old bosh,
those guides.

In 2014 Ruth Arnison invited artists to create works responding to poems written during her term as poet in residence at Olveston, Dunedin’s historic home. She marked the end of her residency by publishing the artworks and poems in a book, organising an exhibition, a poetry performance and a Questions and Artists session at Olveston. See the blog here.

Other poems in the book respond to works on display at Olveston House. I enjoyed the above poem based on a painting by C F Goldie, with its air of eavesdropping on a tour group of school children, and their reactions to the historic house.

Ruth works part time as the admin person for a research project at Otago University. She is the editor of Poems in the Waiting Room (NZ).

For more Tuesday Poems, visit the main hub site.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Origami Easter Rabbit

We had a family Easter lunch and my daughter brought these cute little origami rabbits just big enough to hold three little eggs each. When I asked her if the instructions were on the internet, she told me "everything's on the internet". So I did a quick google search. Here's a link to a tutorial. There are lots more.