July 11, 2020

Jonah, Nineveh, Poetry and Prejudice

Nineveh

He sees me, but with eyes unbrotherly
And blind. I want to reach beyond the wall—
Now shrouded with corroded, twisted vines—
And show him we are one. Will God not call

Another reluctant prophet to go
Beyond the city walls and through the streets,
Preaching repentance (like Jonah of old),
Teaching them our hearts like theirs also beats?

Me perhaps? Why? For the hated object
To teach love and equality seems strange,
So for the shores of Tarshish travel I …
Nineveh must teach Nineveh to change.

—jwm


Nineveh was an Assyrian city that thrived in ancient Mesopotamia’s northern region, near modern-day Mosul, Iraq. At one point it was the largest city of the ancient world—until it violently fell in 612.

This city was held in deep antipathy by Israel as a result of the perpetual and bitter conflict they had with the Assyrian empire, as can be seen by Jonah’s (almost comedic) response to the Lord’s call:

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. ~ Jonah 1:1,2 

Jonah, as the story continues, boarded a ship at the port of Joppa and was off for Tarshish. His plans, however, were thwarted when the Lord intercepted the ship with a violent tempest. It was revealed to the crew that the cause of the storm was Jonah, and Jonah was eventually thrown overboard.

As many know, Jonah was then swallowed by a great fish, and while in the belly of that fish gave a prayer of repentance and the Lord heard him. The fish vomited Jonah out on dry land and Jonah proceeded to Nineveh where he would deliver God’s message and ultimately His salvation to that city.

It is clear from the story that Jonah resented the fact that God wanted to bring salvation to a city of people who Jonah (and Israel) considered an enemy nation. This is also clearly a story about prejudice and the need for repentance. Nineveh hated Israel, and Israel along with Jonah hated Nineveh. God, however, loved them both, and wanted nothing more than to bring salvation to them and any of His other children abroad.

In the above poem, Nineveh is symbolic for the antagonist who has a deep hatred for the narrator. For whatever reason it is—homophobia, racism, xenophobia, whatever—the antagonist is blinded by the hatred that governs his disposition and perspective.

Unlike Jonah, the narrator (uncalled by God) desires to reach past this barrier of hatred with the hope of showing the antagonist that there is more that unites them than divides them, to show him how alike they are and that they are even deemed kindred and one in the eyes of God. The narrator, unlike his self-made foe, is looking through brotherly eyes.

But hatred is sometimes too much of a barrier, and in this poem it is a wall that has been there a long time: choked and covered with dying vines. The image of a walled city comes to mind, and the narrator wonders if God will call someone, a prophet perhaps, to go beyond these walls and to encourage, indeed, to warn its inhabitants to repent and change their ways for fear that they die in that state of hatred. If only they could see that the lives of those they hated mattered, or that their hearts like theirs also beats, perhaps this would facilitate for them a desire or motive to see things differently, and to change.

As if being asked, the narrator declines being such a messenger, believing it to be strange that the responsibility of teaching love and equality should lie on the shoulders of those being held in antipathy. If anyone ought to coax the inhabitants of that city to change their ways, it ought to be the people living within it. Any change that is not from within will be a show of pretense and therefore meaningless. Ultimately, it is Nineveh that must change Nineveh.

And so, like Jonah, the narrator’s attention is fixed not on Nineveh, but on Tarshish.

May 25, 2020

Ayame (彩女) of the Clan Azuma: a Poem

Ayame (彩女)

A moonless night filled the feudal estate—
No silver-gilding glow would help them see
The approaching danger, their coming fate,
Stalking the compound from the distant trees.

Out from the darkness a warrior came—
A shadow within the shadow’s shadow—
An Azuma ninja, O dreaded name:
Ayame—scourge of her trembling foes.

Now death’s dark shadow through the castle creeps,
And it follows Ayame’s crimson path
Up to the chambers where the cruel lord sleeps,
Who will soon feel the shadow’s fatal wrath.

And soon, guard after guard will disappear,
And Kiku will too from their clutch be saved—
That child-princess whom the clan holds dear, 
Whom the lord of this compound had enslaved.

“Let no more guards my way impede or fight, 
Or by these swords, none will survive this night.”

-jwm Of the Poem The above poem is the result of a request by my daughter to write something pertaining to the video game series, Tenchu. My daughter had previously written a poem about a character in the same series who goes by the name Rin (凛), a poem she titled: I am Rin of the Benyia. Since I knew a great deal about Tenchu in general, and Ayame's character in particular (my daughter and I played this game together often), and because she did a really good job with her poem, I thought it would be fun to try and put something together. So who is this Ayame character? Ayame (彩女, pronounced 'aye-yom-ee') is a fictional character in the stealth video game series Tenchu. According to that series, which takes place in a fantasy 16th century feudal Japan, Ayame was found abandoned in Kyoto as a very young child after a devastating battle that took place during the Warring States period. She was adopted and eventually trained as a kunoichi (female ninja) by a grand master named Shiunsai Azuma (東 紫雲齋.) When she was twelve, Ayame trained as an equal along side two other male ninjas, Tatsumaru (龍丸) and Rikimaru (力丸). She would eventually become one of the most feared assassins serving the House of Lord Gohda (郷田 松之信) and dedicating especially her time and loyalty to the young Princess Kiku (菊姫, pronounced 'key-koo'), whom she treated as a younger sister.

In the poem above, I depict Ayame infiltrating an enemy castle at night in stealth, assassinating the rival clan leader, and rescuing Princess Kiku who had been kidnapped and held there as a hostageevents that did not occur in the game's storyline, but certainly could have.

To stay as true to the character as I could, I had the concluding couplet refer to 'two swords' that Ayame swears on. Throughout the entire Tenchu series, Ayame's primary weapons were two kodachi (小太刀)—that is, two short swords (swords that were commonly used by samurai during Japan's feudal period).

Before closing I might add that my poem
was initially meant to be a sonnet, but my daughter thought that I should include what is now the fourth stanza—a stanza that I had been experimenting with. After having done that, and after having read the poem through, I felt the addition of that stanza not only fit well, but added wonderfully to the story. For that, I have her to thank. Thank you for stopping by. If you have played Tenchu, or are familiar with the series, I would love to know what you think of the poem. Was Ayame depicted well, did you like the storyline? Do you wish they would come out with another Tenchu? Let me know ...

May 16, 2020

A Prayer to the Lord


A Prayer

Wash us clean, O Lord, and teach us your ways—
Draw us up and out of prison
And help us to rely, in faith, on these:
Your cross, your blood, and you risen. 

-jwm

April 05, 2020

Michael Longley Quote


Michael Longley's Poem: Ceasefire

Image by Colin Davidson
A couple years ago a friend of mine sent me a YouTube clip of a poetry reading by Michael Longley, Ireland Professor of Poetry from 2007–2010. The subject of the poem revolved around the clandestine meeting between King Priam of Troy and Achilles, the warrior who killed and kept the body of Priam’s son, Hector. For some reason the poem has been on my mind for the last month, and so I thought I would post it here for others to also enjoy.
The poem, Longley states, was inspired by a declaration of an IRA ceasefire in the mid ‘90s. At the time Longley happened to be reading Homer’s Iliad—an epic poem about the conflict between the Achaeans and Trojans. The combination of these events produced Longley’s poem, Ceasefire
Here is a very brief backstory. Achilles and Hector battled blade-to-blade and Hector fell. Achilles strapped the corpse to his chariot and ruthlessly drug it through the dust back to camp. Priam, later guided safely by Hermes to Achilles’ tent, woefully pleaded with the warrior to return his son’s body to him. Pope renders a beautiful but solemn plea to Achilles by Priam for his son’s body:

Think of thy father, and this helpless face behold
See him in me, as helpless and as old!
Though not so wretched: there he yields to me,
The first of men in sovereign misery!
Thus forced to kneel, thus groveling to embrace
The scourge and ruin of my realm and race;
Suppliant my children’s murderer to implore,
And kiss those hands yet reeking with their gore!”

Longley’s poem, written in 1994, is his depiction of the same events recorded in the Iliad. His is a four part poem consisting of three unrhymed quatrains and a powerful concluding rhyming couplet. The poem wants to elicit a sense of empathy on the part of Achilles, his ultimate willingness to concede to Priam’s pleas, and Priam’s willingness to humble himself—even before an enemy—to achieve a higher goal.

I imagine that the notion of mutual self-abasement and even a sympathetic understanding in order to achieve a higher and more noble end was in Longley’s mind when scripting this work out. These dispositions certainly seem a prerequisite to any meaningful ceasefire whether it manifests itself in a contemporary armistice, or whether it does so in a temporary annulment of conflict somewhere near the ancient shores of Troy.

Below is Longley’s poem along with his reading of it. Hope you enjoy them both.
Ceasefire
I
Put in mind of his own father and moved to tears
Achilles took him by the hand and pushed the old king
Gently away, but Priam curled up at his feet and
Wept with him until their sadness filled the building.

II
Taking Hector's corpse into his own hands Achilles
Made sure it was washed and, for the old king's sake,
Laid out in uniform, ready for Priam to carry
Wrapped like a present home to Troy at daybreak.

III
When they had eaten together, it pleased them both
To stare at each other's beauty as lovers might,
Achilles built like a god, Priam good-looking still
And full of conversation, who earlier had sighed:

IV
'I get down on my knees and do what must be done
And kiss Achilles' hand, the killer of my son.'





March 14, 2020

Einstein and Apple Pi


“Pure mathematics is in its way the poetry of logical ideas.” Albert Einstein (born this day in 1879)

Hope everyone had a nice Pi Day … 3.14

March 08, 2020

Edward Rodeson Taylor: The Poet and The Poem


I have, of late, steeped myself in a depth-study of a poet most people seem to be unaware of. Edward Robeson Taylor is an incredibly talented and prolific writer of sonnets. His sonnet of choice seems to be the French and the Italian forms. I intend to elaborate a little more in detail on this poet in an upcoming blog post, until then I thought I would share a couple of his short poems. 

As a side note, and I have mentioned this elsewhere, I am nothing less than astounded when it comes to how much content can be expressed in just a few smart lines of a poem. This astonishment is what first drew me to poetry, and the beauty of so many works read have since then kept me captive. 


The Poet

He crushed his heart for wine of song
The sordid souls of men to glad,
By him passed the scoffing throng,
Nor dreamed he was divinely mad. 

—Edward Robeson Taylor


The Poem
All Beauty’s magic-weaving airs
Blow through the Poet’s answering soul, 
Til thrilled with ecstasy he dares
The building of some flawless whole.  —Edward Robeson Taylor

March 05, 2020

Warfare in Homer's Iliad

In no manner do I glorify warfare, nor am I a devout pacifist. I have mentioned before that the prospect and reality of warfare both horrifies and fascinates me at the same time. I cannot fathom the fact that we have it in ourselves to utterly vanquish one another by means of brutality that darkly transcends the violence we see in the animal kingdom; and at the same time, the methods and strategic means by which we wage war, the competitive ebb and flow of it, intrigues my imagination. Devoid of any morbid fascinations with warfare, it utterly amazes me every time I read passages from Homer’s Iliad how descriptive and poetically visual he renders the violent acts of combat. One of my all time favorite quotes from the Iliad, as I have mentioned in the past, comes from Book 7, lines 275–281:

“War—I know it well, and the butchery of men
Well I know, shift to the left, shift to the right
My tough tanned shield. That’s what the real drill
Defensive fighting means to me. I know it all
How to charge in the rush of plunging horses—
I know how to stand and fight to the finish
Twist and lunge in the War-god’s deadly dance.”

Inasmuch as Homer’s descriptive passages are concerned, and with regard to the language he uses to make their violent acts visibly accessible, below are a hand full that I found to be especially impressive.

“With that he hurled and Athena drove the shaft and it split the archer’s nose between the eye—it cracked his glistening teeth, the tough bronze cut off his tongue at the roots, smashed his jaw and the point came ripping out beneath his chin. He pitched from his car, armour clanged against him, a glimmering blaze af metal dazzling round his back—the purebreds reared aside, hoofs pawing the air and his life and power slipped away on the wind.”

“Eurypylus, chasing Hypsenor fleeing on before him, flailed with a sword, slashed the Trojan’s shoulder and lopped away the massive bulk of Hypsenor’s arm … the bloody arm dropped to the earth, and red death came plunging down his eyes, and the strong force of fate.”

“… Agamemnon lord of men spilled the giant Odius, chief of the Halizonians off his car—the first to fall, as he veered away the spearhead punched his back between the shoulders, gouging his flesh and jutting out through his rids—he fell with a crash, his armour rang against him.”

“Antilochus winged a rock and smashed his elbow—out of his grip the reigns white with ivory flew and slipped to the ground and tangled in the dust. Antilochus sprang, he plunged a sword in his temple and Mydon, gasping, hurled from his bolted car face first, head and shoulders stuck in the dune for a good long time for the sand was deep—his lucky day—till his own horses trampled him down.”

“Meriones caught him quickly, running him down hard and speared him low in the right buttock—the point pounding under the pelvis, jabbed and pierced the blatter—he dropped to his knees, screaming, death swirling around him.”

The Poets

As of April 9th, 2010