Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Henry Morgan

I 'll cross the world for green and gold
But it's those Spanish eyes

The seventeenth century was a chaotic era with nearly incessant struggles amid the nations of Europe. It was an age when Spain still held the strong belief that she possessed the Americas by divine right and was at liberty to hang anyone who infringed upon their territories. Along with Spain's determination England boasted a long convention of issuing commissions called Letter of Marque to private ships as a way of enlarging its navy in times of conflict. These two events transformed the Caribbean during the middle of the seventeenth century and caused privateering to take on a more nebulous form of sailors called buccaneers. Nowhere else was the carrying out of privateering more cleverly or cynically applied than around Jamaica.

During this period the island of Jamaica was called Cagway and it sat in the heart of Spanish America. Exposed to attack from the foes of England, more often than not it was Spain. Most historians say that the isle would have remained Spanish if not for its "privately commissioned navy under the command of men like Henry Morgan." These privateers were often the only navy Jamaicans had to defend themselves against their enemies. Port Royal was located on southern coast of Jamaica, known as "the Wickedest City on Earth" it was into this large population of plantation owners, pirates ans buccaneers that Morgan stepped. And it was there that he outfoxed his adversaries becoming notorious as a daring seaman and cagey strategists.

Brethren of the Coast

For two decades the buccaneers of the Caribbean called themselves the Brethren of the Coast. Between 1640-1680 they essentially created a fraternity with a loose code of ethics. These began as simple hunters on the Spanish controlled island of Española, but as their numbers grew the Spanish authorities persecuted them without mercy until they finally became a small band of refugees on the island of Tortuga. The harassments created a deep loathing for the Spanish giving rise to a number of the cruelest acts of violence in the history of piracy. To stem this tide Lord Cromwell deployed a large offensive. Setting sail for the West Indies in 1654 they were to invade the island and capture Española from the Spanish. The flotilla weighed anchor and when they reached Barbados they hired hundreds of men including Henry Morgan.

By March 31, 1655 the expedition was bound for Santo Domingo with eight thousand soldiers and nearly three dozen ships. There, the Spanish defenders defeated the English force.

    General Venables' attack on the City of Santo Domingo was defeated. Exhausted and bruised the beaten army dragged itself back to its ships and limped on downwind to the then almost worthless island of Jamaica. There the remaining seven to eight thousand troops stormed the weakly defended shore against the efforts of 200 Spanish soldiers and conquered the island's only town, Santiago de la Vega. But this apparent victory was in fact a complete catastrophe. Cromwell had sent an army, backed up by a huge fleet. Venables had recruited in both England and the Caribbean around eight to nine thousand men...
Anxious about the response they would be given in England, commanders decided to assault the less significant Spanish colony of Jamaica. Even though they captured the colony in a few weeks, to their dismay the English invaders quickly discovered they possessed a colony it could not secure. Soon Letters of Marque were offered to all who would prey upon Spanish shipping and put together a navy to protect Jamaica.
    ...(Venables) had been expected to achieve a significant victory, capturing a Spanish stronghold, the likes of San Juan, Santo Domingo, Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Vera Cruz or even Cartagena. Instead the English had taken a totally undeveloped island. Both General Venables and Admiral Penn, the commander of the fleet, were immediately thrown in the infamous Tower of London on their return to England.

Was Sir Henry Morgan a swashbuckling adventurer or a bloodthirsty pirate?

The death and dying in Jamaica was unrelenting. Tropical diseases they knew little or nothing about were decimating the troops. Yellow fever, dysentery and malaria killed men in droves. Spanish resistances, fighting the English in the forests and savannas as well as runaway slaves, called Maroons, were reducing their numbers one by one. During the first five years of English occupation in Jamaica, Henry Morgan was one of the lucky few to survive the epidemics. After trying his hand unsuccessfully as a farmer in Jamaica he began an apprenticeship to the master of a ship. When he was close to 30 years old Henry had joined up with the ill-fated Venables' forces.

In 1666 he received a commission, had his own ship and was soon a member of a group operating out of Port Royal. The commission meant that he was a privateer and empowered to fight the Spaniards as a representative of the English government. His compensation was whatever he managed to steal from Spain. This was an acceptable form of conduct in the world of the 17th century navies and the fights among the powers of Europe. It's for this reason that most historians classify Morgan, not an outlaw pirate, but a privateer authorized by an English Letter of Marque.


Another interesting controversy about Morgan's life is his obscure arrival in Jamaica and one has to wonder if this is what inspired Robert Louise Stevenson's well known adventure Kidnapped. John (Alexandre) Esquemeling (1645–1707) was the surgeon on ship for the majority of Morgan's Caribbean campaigns. The Dutchman kept a fascinating set of written accounts of his adventures with the buccaneers. Initially published in the Netherlands in 1678 as De Americaensche Zeerovers it was later translated into English as The Buccaneers of America. Esquemeling was himself a buccaneer and maintained that he was an eyewitness to his collection of tales about piracy on the high seas. To date it has proven to be a rare first-hand account of the 17th century buccaneers of the Spanish Main. For the true blue bookworm it's absolutely positively a must have on any sea faring fanatic's wish list:

    An exaggerated account of Morgan's exploits, written by one of his crew, created his popular reputation as a bloodthirsty pirate. Translated into English it went through numerous editions. The portrait of Morgan that emerges from the book is that of a man of terrific energy and one possessed of great powers of persuasion. Esquemeling's depiction of Morgan's cruelty was probably exaggerated, though there is no doubt that he could be absolutely unscrupulous when it suited his ends. Morgan actually sued William Crooke, the English publisher of the book, for libel. He made it clear, however, that he was more offended by the author's claiming that he had been kidnapped in Wales and sold, as a boy, into slavery, and sent to Barbados, than by any allegations of barbarism.

    As a result of this trial Crooke paid 200 francs for damages to Morgan and published a long and groveling apology. Later editions of the book tone down the general character of the pirate. Clearly Morgan saw himself as a patriot, out to defend the English Crown against the depredations of its most deadly enemy, Spain. He sailed as a privateer. But his behavior was at times indistinguishable from that of the most mercenary pirate.

From what is known of Henry's family, he was more likely the son of a gentleman. It's long been established by many historians that Morgan's family were experienced in the art of warfare. Two of his uncles, Edward Morgan and Thomas Morgan were officers of various accomplishments. Even though they were from rival camps both had notable military careers in England as well as continental Europe.

Portobello Belle

The same year that the Spanish defeated General Venables Morgan married Mary Elizabeth one of the belles of island society. He was on pleasant terms with the government and respected by the buccaneers who frequented the West Indies. In 1668 he was commissioned by the Jamaican government to assemble a force of privateers. By the time he was the vice admiral of a fleet of fifteen ships, Spain and England were again at war. These privateers and buccaneers were closely integrated into the official naval forces. His first foray was an assault on the Cuban city of Puerto Principe. However the Spanish got wind of his campaign and hid most of their treasure. Ambushed along the way Morgan took the city, but only after a bitter struggle and great loss. Things got worse for Morgan when word came that the city's treasure had been hidden. Morgan and his crew were required to settle for a paltry sum of 50,000 pieces of eight in exchange for sparing the lives of his captives. Demoralized half of Morgan's crew quit.

His next scheme proved more rewarding. Located off the coast of Panama, Portobello was a collection point on the Caribbean for Spanish treasure. With devious courage he and his men took the city:

    Experienced sea pirates scoffed at the plan: Porto Bello (sic) was larger, better fortified, and had an army troop when compared to Puerto Principle. Morgan, however, had a plan. When he attacked Porto Bello, (sic) he arrived on canoes, silently, and under the cover of darkness, Morgan's men slipped into the harbor before anyone knew they were there. The first two forts of Porto Bello (sic) both fell quickly, but the third withstood each attack the pirates implemented. Morgan finally devised a sinister plan: he used captured Catholic priests and nuns to shield his crew as they climbed the walls of the fort. It was only a matter of time before the city fell into the hands of Henry Morgan, along with 250,000 pieces of eight, and 300 slaves. When word of this attack spread, Morgan's force swelled ...and Henry Morgan was quickly known by the nickname: Morgan "the terrible".

Let's set sail with Captain Morgan and never reach dry land.

Within a year Morgan had regrouped and set his sights on two Spanish occupied cities. Marcaibo was a coastal city in Venezuela located at the mouth of an inland lake. Across this lake was the city of Gibraltar. It was here with eight ships manned by 650 fellow buccaneers that Morgan's abilities to use sly strategies and tactics in his surroundings served him well. Finding both cities deserted they reaped the trifling proceeds of, " 50,000 English pounds, and slaves and goods of the same value." But when they tried to put out to sea from the lake, they discovered their exit by Marcaibo had been blocked. The fortress trained their cannon on Morgan with three imposing Spanish men of war stationed just outside the channel. The privateers were trapped.

The Spanish were amused when Morgan offered them the chance to surrender. The savvy admiral soon taught them a lesson they would never forget. Launching a small sloop covered with "pitch, tar, and brimstone " Morgan filled the holds with kegs of gunpowder. Dummies "made of pumpkins and wood, dressed as buccaneers" were placed at battle stations. As the tiny vessel fearlessly approached the Spanish ships it exploded into flames blowing itself to bits sinking the nearest man of war. A second man-o-war caught fire from the raining debris and burned until nothing but the hull was left. Then Morgan's crew easily captured the remaining man-o-war.

It was among all of their own flotsam and jetsam that the Spanish were once again offered the option to surrender. Once again bemused by this audacity the Spanish refused and watched while the privateers made their way to shore with longboats. Assuming Morgan was assembling for an attack by land the Spanish relocated their only cannon to the other side of the fort. But instead of landing, Morgan's men snuck under the gunwale and returned to their ships. While the Spanish had their gun aimed the other way, Morgan sailed safely by the fort under the cover of darkness.

As an interesting aside it's recorded that the Captain pioneered the role of the rum rationing on his ship decades before it became the official drink of the Royal Navy. The original rum would have been produced in traditional pot stills. Enjoyed by swashbuckling buccaneers and other characters of daring disposition, traditional dark rums were normally consumed straight or with limejuice. It wasn't until 1945 that Seagram's distillery introduced Captain Morgan's rum to the world.

Last tango in Panama

By Christmas of 1670 Morgan decided he would set sail for Panama. As the undisputed King of Buccaneers he now commanded a 'fleet of thirty-five small ships and over two thousand English and French privateers, the largest force of privateers ever assembled with the purpose sacking Panama, the wealthiest city in the New World.' The pillaging and plundering the gold of Panama would be the biggest undertaking of his career.

Once he defeated the Spanish at Fort San Lorenzo Morgan and his crew embarked upon their now infamous and arduous hike through dense jungle. It took sixteen days to make the trek and when they arrived the Spanish were well prepared. Six cavalries routed the privateers. Both sides suffered heavy fatalities as thousands of muskets were fired, but the privateers held their ground. Not even a stampede of two thousand Spanish bulls would daunt them; finally the Spanish fled. The city that now belonged to Morgan and his men yielded 100,000 English pounds.

Unfortunately by the time the dust had settled Spain and England had signed a peace treaty. No longer at war with Spain, Morgan was ordered to England and tossed into the dungeons to await trial as a pirate. Charles II heard about Morgan's heroic deeds on behalf of England and became convinced of his loyalty. He knighted Morgan appointing him lieutenant governor of Jamaica and in 1672 Morgan sailed back to England on a leaky maritime frigate the HMS Welcome.

Sir Henry Morgan's exploits came to a close with the attack and razing of Panama. Many of the sources attribute the ship's doctor Esquemeling as the originator of the colorful imagery and stories about the buccaneers. While they lived on to tell tall tales it is ultimately Morgan's enemies that won by tarnishing his image. As soon as John Esquemeling's book was in print in 1684, it struck hard upon a ready cord with those that wanted the worst for him. It is this relatively imaginary collection that endured and has since been embroidered by legends and myths of Hollywood and pulp fiction.

And we heaved 'em over and out of sight

On July 25th 1688 Sir Henry Morgan died and was buried at Port Royal with a 22-gun salute from the ships in the harbor. An extract from the journal of Captain Lawrence Wright, commander of H.M.S. Assistance, dated August 1688, depicts the burial service for Morgan held at Port Royal. It's plain to see that he was greatly admired and an important man to the community:

    Saturday 25. This day at about noon Sir Henry Morgan died, & the 26th was brought over from Passage-fort to the King's house at Port Royall, from thence to the Church, & after a sermon was carried to the Pallisades & there buried. All the forts fired an equal number of guns, we fired two & twenty & after we & the Drake had fired, all the merchantmen had fired. Morgan's will, which was filed in the Record Office at Spanish Town, apparently made provisions for his wife and near relatives. He was given a hero's burial.
Though it continued elsewhere buccaneering had reached its zenith and was falling out of fashion with Jamaicans by the time Sir Henry died. Morgan left no legitimate children so the bulk of his personal estate and several properties went to his wife Mary Elizabeth. Almost four years later Morgan's grave along with two-thirds of Port Royal sank into the sea because of a violent earthquake marking the end the era for the Jamaican buccaneers. At last in 1697 Spain officially recognized all of the West Indian territories occupied by the English and French bringing an end to the need for privateers to protect the islanders from Spanish attack.

From the gallows of Davey Jones's locker

In mid spring of 2004 wreckage was discovered off the coast of Haiti that many are convinced is a 17th century shipwreck captained by Sir Henry Morgan. The HMS Oxford sank during a formal dinner as a result of an accidental explosion in 1669 and scuttlebutt says that the 150-foot frigate was packed with treasure when it went under. The treasure hunters placed its position from chronological accounts and have documented "cannons, an anchor, muskets and powder barrels."


BBC - South East Wales - Hall of Fame - Sir Henry Morgan

Hip Lingo for Pirates

History Today – May

Picture source

Pirates!: Fact, Well Known Pirates: Henry Morgan

Sir Henry Morgan

Sir Henry Morgan

Sir Henry Morgan

Swashbuckler's Cove

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Small Catechism of Martin Luther

The term catechism comes from the Greek word kata-echo, which means, "to repeat back" and long before Jesus' time the oral tradition of passing information down from generation to generation goes as far back to Homer's Iliad. Four centuries after the death of Christ, Latin-speaking Christians were using the word catechism to explain the central teaching given to new Christians. As they studied, they rehearsed what their teachers taught them. This became widely practiced and by the Middle Ages when people used the word Catechism most people understood this as the three things that all Christians studied and used to practice their faith with: the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer. "By the time Martin Luther was growing up in central Europe during the 1490s," says Timothy J. Wenqea, "pastors were required to teach these three things to all adults and children and to preach on them during weekday services four times a year. When Martin Luther became an assistant preacher in 1514, he preached on these three chief parts. Some of his sermons were copied down and published. In 1528, during the absence of Wittenberg's head pastor, John Bugenhagen, Luther preached again on the three chief parts. The Small and Large Catechisms came from these sermons."

By 1529 the was not only a pastor, he was also a teacher at the university in the German town of Wittenberg. It was around this time that he published his explanations to the chief parts of the Christian faith. Initially they were printed on small sheets of paper and sold for a few pennies and by summer the printers in Wittenberg and elsewhere had gathered them into a small handbook called an enchiridion. Since most of the population could not read at the time, the assistant pastor of Wittenberg added a preface as an explanation to other members of the clergy on how to use the book. "He also attached several other sections to the end of it, "adds Wenqea. "By the end of the year printers had given this handbook a subtitle by which we know it today, The Small Catechism of Martin Luther. They gave it this name because in the same year Luther published a set of his sermons on the same topics. This book of sermons, then called The German Catechism, is now known as the Large Catechism."

The Small Catechism of Martin Luther
Part Two: The Apostles' Creed

I. The First Article: On Creation

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

Q. What does this mean?

A. I believe that God created me, along with all creatures. God gave to me: body and soul, eyes, ears and all the other parts of my body, my mind and all my senses and preserves them as well. God gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and land, spouse and children, fields, animals, and all I own. Every day God abundantly provides everything I need to nourish this body and life. God protects me against all danger, shields and defends me from all evil. God does all this because of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, not because I've earned it or deserved it. For all of this, I must thank, praise, serve,and obey God. Yes, this is true!

II. The Second Article: On Redemption

I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Q. What does this mean? A. I believe that Jesus Christ is truly God, born of the Father in eternity and also truly human, born of the Virgin Mary. Christ is my Lord! Christ redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, bought and won me from all sins, death, and the authority of the Devil. It did not cost him gold or silver, but his holy, precious blood, his innocent body -- his death! Because of this, I am Christ's very own, will live under Christ in his kingdom and serve Christ righteously, innocently and blessedly forever, just as Christ is risen from death, lives and reigns forever. Yes, this is true!

III. The Third Article: On Becoming Holy (Sanctification)

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Q. What does this mean?

A. I believe that I cannot come to my Lord Jesus Christ by my own intellegence or power. But the Holy Spirit called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with her gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as she calls, gathers together, enlightens and makes holy the whole Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus in the one, true faith. In this Church, she generously forgives each day every sin committed by me and by every believer. On the last day, she will raise me and all the dead from the grave. She will give eternal life to me and to all who believe in Christ. Yes, this is true!



Wenqea ,Timothy J. About Lutheranism - Luther's Small Catechism:
Accessed October 27, 2005.

Originally translated by the Reverend Robert E. Smith; language significantly altered. Public domain. Apostles' Creed proper is ELLC translation, with traditional ``descended into hell'' replacing ``descended to the dead.''

For copyright information and their licensing agreement please see

Lost on Both Sides

As when two men have loved a woman well,
Each hating each, through Love's and Death's deceit;
Since not for either this stark marriage-sheet
And the long pauses of this wedding-bell;
Yet o'er her grave the night and day dispel
At last their feud forlorn, with cold and heat;
Nor other than dear friends to death may fleet
The two lives left that most of her can tell:--

So separate hopes, which in a soul had wooed
The one same Peace, strove with each other long,
And Peace before their faces perished since:
So through that soul, in restless brotherhood,
They roam together now, and wind among
Its bye-streets, knocking at the dusty inns.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was one of the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood along with which rejected academic restrictions and emulated the idealized depiction of nature found in early Italian painting. Born in London to Gabriel Rossetti, a Dante scholar and Italian political exile. His mother, Frances Polidari Rossetti, was an Anglo-Italian whose grandfather had been the poet Byron's doctor. He excelled at both writing and art. The great love of his life was Elizabeth Siddal. He spent ten years dedicating his painting, drawings, sketches and poetry about her. Distraught over her death two years after their marriage he buried his poetry manuscripts when she was laid to rest. In 1869, Rossetti's friend William Bell Scott persuaded him to recover the poetry that had been buried in his wife's grave and the following year he published Poems which sparked the famous critique of the Pre-Raphaelites by Robert Buchanan called The Fleshly School of Poetry.

Lost on Both Sides highlights his quest for identity which occupied him throughout his varied career. An "as-so" sonnet where the first 8 lines are the "As" clause and the last 6 are the "So" clause. It was written between 1869 and 1878 it appeared in The House of Life. Deft and lucid, scholars speculate that the multi layered sestet may involve painting and literature, and that the soul is Rossetti's. A spectacle of meanings can be brought forth. He was an Italian living in London, an artistic prodigy disenchanted with the genre of his day, neoclassicism. Immersed in his adoration for a woman for a decade only to lose her. Starts a romantic relationship with Fanny Cornforth, one of his models and apparently, romantically involved with Jane Burden Morris, William Morris' wife. By the early 1870's he was indulging in the drug chloral because of chronic insomnia. Rossetti begins a descent into mental illness characterized by eccentric, and at times manic and delusional behavior. Despite all of this he continued to write and paint. A soul who was in more ways than one 'lost on both sides'

Selected References

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Poets' Corner

Public domain text

Pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth

O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!
Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
That ever lived in the tide of times.
Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!
Over thy wounds now do I prophesy,
--- Which, like dumb mouths, do ope their ruby lips,
To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue ---
A curse shall light upon the limbs of men;
Domestic fury and fierce civil strife
Shall cumber all the parts of Italy;
Blood and destruction shall be so in use
And dreadful objects so familiar
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quarter'd with the hands of war;
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds:
And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.

William Shakespeare

This brief extract from Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar Act III, Scene I demonstrates his extraordinary talent for coining phrases which have passed into idiom – in a mere 20 lines there are 'the tide of times', 'hot from hell' and 'the dogs of war'

Julius Caesar was the first play performed at the Globe Theatre and tells about the perils and pitfalls of ambition, jealousy, power, as well as the forfeiting for the greater good - even if it is another's life. The scene takes place in ancient Rome in 44 B.C., the empire stretched from Britain to North Africa and from Persia to Spain.

As the empire grew, so did dangerous elements that threatened its survival. Rome suffered from continuous power struggles amid ruthless military leaders and the far weaker senators to whom they purportedly owed allegiance. The region also endured a sharp division among citizens, who were represented in the senate, as more and more of the plebeian masses were left out. A progression of men sought to be the absolute ruler of Rome, but only Julius Caesar seemed likely to achieve this status.

Afraid that Caesar's rule would lead to enslavement many Roman citizens favored a more democratic rule by one of their own. As a result, a group came together and hatched a plot to assassinate Caesar. Only Brutus among the tragedy's traitors fully believed in the assassination of Caesar for the greater good of the Republic. Mark Antony makes no blunder; remains unconvinced that the conspirators are warranted in crying "peace". He condemns the executioners for their deeds. Just preceding his elegy Antony has made a pretense in joining them when he says:

"Let each man render me his bloody hand." (3.1.185).

Actually marking them, he calls them by name and shakes hands with each of the conspirators. The final hand he takes is that of Trebonius, who in fact didn't partake in the murder since he was diverting Mark Antony at the time, but even so merits marking. Antony's hands, now bloody from touching the other mens' hands, provides the blood of Caesar on Trebonius as well.

Antony is anarchy personified at this staining them with Caesar's blood, highlighting the culpability of the conspirators. Chaos erupts slowly when Antony is at last left alone with his fallen comrade vowing to seek revenge on Brutus and his cohorts by launching a civil war. Caesar's sole faithful friend has just made his peace with Caesar's assassins Brutus, Cassius et al. And begins this speech over the corpse of his slain friend. By beginning with 'Pardon me'; his words make clear, he has already resolved to take revenge.

The assassination failed to put an end to the power struggles dividing the empire and history tells us that Antony's bloodthirsty lexis was indeed prophetic: for the next decade, the Rome Empire was overrun by a succession of civil wars; finally ending with the ascension of Caesar's nephew Octavius (later known as Augustus).

The first authoritative text appeared in the 1623 First Folio edition. Shakespeare employs a suggestion of under handed treachery where he says Até shall "cry havock! and let slip the dogs of war." The line " With Ate by his side come hot from hell;" refers to the goddess of mischief and vengeance Ate who took shelter among the sons of men after she was driven out of heaven.

Two lines later: "Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war;" the author brings into play an early military cry "havock" meaning to begin a general massacre without quarter. Havock or to wreak havoc means " to cause confusion and possibly death to one's enemies." The expression started out as "Cry Havock" an ancient military cry derived from the Old French "havot" meaning "plunder". Very common in the 14th and 15th centuries and some say that the phrase likely began as a shout in hunting wild beasts like lions and wolves that were attacking herds of sheep in the night. The Welsh word is hafog meaning devastation; Irish use a similar sounding term, arvach both of which can be compared to the Anglo-Saxon havoc describing a hawk. By the ninth year of Richad II this cry was forbidden "on the pain of death" Another etymological source describes the phrase as "derived from the Old French 'crier havoc' – to send out the signal to begin pillaging." Latter-day usage of 'cry havot' follows Shakespeare in the figurative sense of 'call down destruction.'

As a dramatic verse the poem possesses a measured intensification of passion and tenor, beginning with the restrained and sorrowing 'Pardon me' to the heraldic rage in 'And Caesar's spirit...' at the end - as Antony's thoughts run higher, phrases become more forceful and the images used become a composite commanding chorus --by the end of the speech, one feels almost sorry for Brutus and his co-conspirators.

Shakespeare's colleagues, were well acquainted with ancient Greek and Roman history, many probably saw the similarities between Julius Caesar's portrayal of the change from republican to imperial Rome alongside the Elizabethan era's movement in the direction of a merging monarchal control. The phrase 'Cry Havoc!,' also reappears in King John. Queen Elizabeth I had sat on the throne for almost 4 decades when the play was initially performed in 1599. By then her monarchy had grown at the expense of the nobility and the House of Commons. Sixty-six years old, her sovereignty seemed likely to end soon, yet she lacked any heirs; as did Julius Caesar. Her death, many feared, would thrust England into the type of anarchy that had beleaguered England during the 15th century Wars of the Roses. In an era when censorship restricted direct commentary on these uncertainties, Shakespeare could, all the same, use the story of Caesar to remark upon the political situation of his day.


Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

Brush Up on Your Shakespeare! By Michael Macrone (Gramercy Books, New York, 1999).

ClassicNote on The Tragedy of Julius Caesar

Public domain text taken from The Wondering Minstrels

SparkNotes: Julius Caesar

A Deep-Sworn Vow

Others because you did not keep
That deep-sworn vow have been friends of mine;
Yet always when I look death in the face,
When I clamber to the heights of sleep,
Or when I grow excited with wine,
Suddenly I meet your face.

- William Butler Yeats

With the deftness of a master performer, Yeats narrates a story in a half dozen lines that grow to be breathtaking when assembled. Try reading the first two lines like this:

    Others, (because you did not keep
    That deep-sworn vow), have been friends of mine;

Many readers are convinced that Yeats wrote in this style to give his poetry its magnificent lyrical swing. The poem was first published in The Wild Swans at Coole (1919). It exemplifies the development of Yeats' later work and his distinguishing brand of brilliance. It's a personal anthology and contains some of his best known work, including Easter 1916 ('A terrible beauty is born'), and The Second Coming ('What rough beast slouches toward be born'). At once ultramodern and bardic, Yeats' poetry converses with the 21st century through authenticity and mystical clarity.

The tenacity of the gripping lines is potent and personal, wholly human and almost hallowed. The reader is deeply drawn into a startling connection with the speaker, suffused with guilt over a profound promise that had been shattered. By the time the reader fully incorporates the shock, they have been nimbly conveyed into the subdued and unavoidable reality of the closing line. The innate isolation in the verse is disregarded - it does not rage, there is no tirade; this is a simple acceptance. This bond will never be reconciled.

    The blinds drawn up"; Maud Gonne at Howth station waiting a train,
    Pallas Athena in that straight back and arrogant head;

    - Beautiful Lofty Things

Recognizable as everyone's first love, the one who drifted away, the verse is also about what is probably the most famous unrequited love story in literature. Maud Gonne (1886-1953) was the daughter of an Army officer and an energetic Irish revolutionary and nationalist. During the late 1800's Yeats met the devote and gifted Irish beauty and wrote, "From that moment the troubling of my life began." He fell deeply in love with her and first proposed to her in 1891. She refused.

    Why, what could she have done being what she is?
    Was there another Troy for her to burn.

    -No Second Troy

Five years later he would join her, along with Arthur Griffith, for organized protests against the Queen's Jubilee. In 1899,1900, and 1901 she would refuse his second, third and fourth proposals and then perform the leading role in Yeats' play Cathleen Ní Houlihan in the spring of 1902. Written especially for and about her, Maud would turn his production into a powerful acting performance. Later on that year, Maud joined the Roman Catholic Church. Her rejections of Yeats' numerous proposals were because she saw him as not being enough of a nationalist, as well as his reluctance to convert to Catholicism.

    This other man I had dreamed
    A drunken, vainglorious lout.
    He had done most bitter wrong
    To some who are near my heart,

    -Easter 1916

The following year Maud married Major John MacBride, but the marriage ended in divorce and MacBride would return to the fight in Ireland where he was executed in 1916 along with James Connolly and other leaders of the Easter Rising. The 51 year old Yeats would propose to Maud one last time this year and then go on to preserve his romantic longings for her throughout his work for the remainder of his life. Yeats eventually met Georgie Hyde-Lees. Married in the fall of the following year, they had two children.

In early 1917 Yeats bought a dilapidated Norman stone tower near Coole Park called Thoor Ballyle. After renovations it became his summer residence and an essential emblem in his later poetry. There is no doubt that Maude Gonne was the inspiration for much of Yeats' work. "No poet has celebrated a woman's beauty," notes Wikipedia, "to the extent Yeats did in his lyric verse about Maud. In his final collection Last Poems (1939), she became the Rose, Helen of Troy, the Ledaean Body, Cathleen Ní Houlihan, Pallas Athene and Deirdre." Their legacy to lost love survives in today's Irish bands that refer to her in their lyrics. Bell X1 where the songwriter measures an unrequited love against the zealous Maud in the song Alphabet Soup and The Cranberries stand at Yeats' Grave and compare yet another unrequited love to his love for Maud.

By the end of his life, William Butler Yeats was honored world wide as one of the most significant poets of the century and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Following a number of illnesses Yeats died in Menton, France in 1939 at the age of 73 and is buried in County Sligo, Ireland. His muse and source of unreciprocated devotion would live another 14 years. Maud Gonne passed away in 1953 at the age of 86 and is buried 135 miles away in Dublin. Inspiring much of his life's work, she drew Yeats into the Irish nationalist movement for independence. Madly in love with her, he would repeatedly ask for her hand in marriage. It was all but hopeless because her passions were destined to be lavished upon their beloved Ireland.


Maud Gonne
Accessed December 18, 2006.

Yeats, William Butler
Accessed December 18, 2006.

William Butler Yeats - Books and Biography
Accessed December 18, 2006.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Apple of my eye

    "After he has honored me and has sent me against the nations that have plundered you -- for whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye -- I will surely raise my hand against them so that their slaves will plunder them."
    Zechariah 2:8-9

The first recorded example can be found in the works of Alfred the Great at the end of the ninth century. The ancients' idea that the eye's pupil is apple-shaped and that eyes are particularly precious, appears in the Bible as many as six times. The Old Testament uses it as a reference to God's great love for His children.

Just as one's eyesight is cherished, so is the person or thing described as the apple of one's eye. "In old English the eye's pupil was known as the apple," writes James Rogers in The Dictionary of Clichés (1985), "because it was thought to be spherical and solid. Since the pupil is a crucial and indispensable portion of the eye, it serves as a symbol of something cherished. An example in the Coverdale Bible of 1535 (Zechariah II, 8) is: 'Who so toucheth you, shal touche the aple of his owne eye.' The expression also appears in Deuteronomy XXXII, 10 as part of a song spoken by Moses: He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the aple of his eye."

Robert Hendrickson also tells in Facts on File (1997) from "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" :

    "That which one holds dearest, as in 'You're the apple of my eye.' The phrase is from the Bible (Deut. 32:10), which says the Lord kept Israel 'as the apple of his eye.' 'Pupillam,' or pupil, is actually the Latin for the 'apple' of the phrase, but English translation of the Bible used 'apple' because this was the early word for the pupil of the eye, which was thought to be a solid apple-shaped body. Because it is so essential to sight, the eye's apple, or pupil, is to be cherished and protected and 'the apple of one's eye' came to mean anything extremely precious. The literal translation of the Hebrew phrase, incidentally, is 'You are as the little man in the eye' (one's own reflection in the pupil of another's eye)."
Mentioned in Proverbs 7 to as in, "keep my teachings as the apple of my eye" and as a loving request in Psalm 17 "Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings."

Saint Patrick applies the Biblical meanings too in his confession. Kidnapped and sold into slavery in Ireland as a teen, he escapes then later returned as a missionary after a prophetic dream around 450 AD. He wrote:

    Therefore, on that day when I was rebuked, as I have just mentioned, I saw in a vision of the night a document before my face, without honour, and meanwhile I heard a divine prophecy, saying to me: 'We have seen with displeasure the face of the chosen one divested of (his good) name.' And he did not say 'You have seen with displeasure', but 'We have seen with displeasure' (as if He included Himself). He said then: 'He who touches you, touches the apple of my eye.'
As recently as Anglo-Saxon times, the same word, aeppel, meant both eye and apple. Shakespeare borrowed this metaphor using it in A Midsummer Night's Dream. He peers through the enchanted the eyes of lovers with faeris and managesto create so much mayhem. Oberon king of faeris, the brushes a flower across Demetrius's eyes as he sleeps and fabricates this little sonnet:
    Flower of this purple dye,
    Hit with Cupid's archery,
    Sink in apple of his eye,
    When his love he doth espy,
    Let her shine as gloriously
    As the Venus of the sky.
    When thou wakest, if she be by,
    Beg of her for remedy.
The modern word pupil is from Latin, but it didn't appear in English until the sixteenth century. Pupus is Latin for boy and pupa for girl. Add to that the Roman diminutive iluss(a) for little boy or girl the dark circle of the eyes became pupillium since the tiny image reflected in the eye made everyone look puppets or childlike. Pupil is also the source for the other sense of pupil as in a schoolchild. A teacher's wish of course is to have their values reflected in their students and those who were prized most became the apple of the teacher's eye. Today it has become a word play with the idea that one's beloved remains metaphorically in sight; as to hold something dear and precious most often as a favored son or daughter. Still going, strong jazz musician's Fats Waller along with Joe Young wrote a song in 1932, as well as, Stevie Wonder in his easy breezy hit from 1972, You Are the Sunshine of My Life.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sweeney Among the Nightingales

"Alas, I am struck with a mortal blow within." -- Aeschylus, Agamemnon

APENECK Sweeney spreads his knees
Letting his arms hang down to laugh,
The zebra stripes along his jaw
Swelling to maculate giraffe.

The circles of the stormy moon
Slide westward toward the River Plate,
Death and the Raven drift above
And Sweeney guards the hornéd gate.

Gloomy Orion and the Dog
Are veiled; and hushed the shrunken seas;
The person in the Spanish cape
Tries to sit on Sweeney's knees

Slips and pulls the tablecloth
Overturns a coffee cup,
Reorganized upon the floor
She yawns and draws a stocking up;

The silent man in mocha brown
Sprawls at the window sill and gapes;
The waiter brings in oranges
Bananas figs and hothouse grapes;

The silent vertebrate in brown
Contracts and concentrates, withdraws;
Rachel née Rabinovitch
Tears at the grapes with murderous paws;

She and the lady in the cape
Are suspect, thought to be in league;
Therefore the man with heavy eyes
Declines the gambit, shows fatigue,

Leaves the room and reappears
Outside the window, leaning in,
Branches of wistaria
Circumscribe a golden grin;

The host with someone indistinct
Converses at the door apart,
The nightingales are singing near
The Convent of the Sacred Heart,

And sang within the bloody wood
When Agamemnon cried aloud,
And let their liquid siftings fall
To stain the stiff dishonored shroud.

T.S. Eliot (1888 - 1965)
Maculate literally means marked, as the giraffe is spotted. This unusual word sets the scene in the first verse and carries overtones of 'polluted' or 'foul' as opposed to its antonym immaculate, meaning virgin or sexually innocent.

One expert at The Wondering Mistrels comments that this being Eliot, there's a rich profusion of classical and not-so-classical allusions. Sweey is unexpectedly combined with Agamemnon, or more precisely the moment of history represented by Agamemnon's murder. The opening epigraph is taken from Agamemnon's dying words as his wife Clytemnestra kills him: "Alas, I am struck deeply with a deadly blow." (this from Aeschylus).

Eloit has created the merely brutal and contrasted it with the brutal transposed into art. Sweeney and his sluttish companions represent the first; Agamemnon, as depicted in both Homer and Aeschylus, the latter. Sweeney and his low-life companions are the meaningless intrigues against Sweeney in the cafe of tawdry civilization's bestial and violent juxtaposed against the moment of the "savage" conception of blood justice with a civilized, divinely-ordained court system when Orestes is acquitted of the murder of his mother and her lover, who had murdered his father, Agamemnon. So Sweeney is beastly and so is everybody and everything else.

There are many allusions to uncover but a few of the more central ones are :

  • The 'horned gate': dreams in classical mythology are sometimes said to emerge from the underworld through this gate.
  • The 'bloody wood' might be the grove of the classical Furies, in Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus, a place where there are singing nightingales and where bloody tragedies such as Agamemnon's death would have been spawned. It might also be the wood where Tereus raped and mutilated Philomela, who was later turned into a nightingale, the story Ovid tells in his Metamorphoses.
  • The nightingale is an particularly poignant illustration of the transformation, being itself the offspring of the metamorphosed Philomela who, in Greek mythology, was brutally treated.
  • If you have read the Aeschylus play you may recall that Agamemnon was not killed in "the bloody wood" as suggested in the last stanza, but in his bath. This is poetic license: Philomela was violated and maimed in the wood, and woods were the scene of many other secret and bloody acts.

By refusing to become analogy, Eliot says art cannot redeem Sweeney; move on to the next poem. Heavy handed and brutish Sweeny is one of T.S. Eliot' better known poems. First composed between May and June 1918, the original text appeared in T. S. Eliot's, Poems (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1920) and in it he draws a parallel with an epigraph, using his unique "mythical method" of incorporating mythical and modern events which adds an unusual dimension of meaning to the second.


Public domain text taken from The Poets' Corner
accessed August 24, 2003.

Sweeney Among the Nightingales