Monday 25 April 2016

Poetry Day Ireland - 28 April 2016

"Poetry Ireland is presenting Poetry Day Ireland on Thursday 28 April 2016. With this year's theme of Revolution, we're inviting everyone to rebel, revolutionise and organise to make poetry inescapable and irrepressible for a day."

A number of events are planned around Ireland in celebration of the written and spoken word. The theme, say the organisers, "is more of a springboard than a rigid structure. We encourage organisers and collaborators to rebel against it, to revolutionize it and make it their own."

For more information see the official website.

Sunday 24 April 2016

The Literary Legacy of Ireland's Easter Rising, 1916

A Poets' Rebellion?

Often described and occasionally dismissed as a poets' rebellion, the Easter Rising of 1916 was, nevertheless, an event that had far-reaching significance. We are reproducing here, an article from Dublin Made Me website, which attempts to put it in a historical context while also alluding to the literary impact of those events that took place 100 years ago today.

On this day in 1916, precisely 100 years ago, an armed insurrection broke out on the streets of Dublin, heralding the start of what was originally dubbed the Sinn Féin Rebellion but would come to be known as the Easter Rising.

A week of heavy fighting ensued. The rising was eventually quashed by the superior military power of British armed forces, although strategic failures on the part of the rebels and, indeed, bad luck also played a part in ensuring the outcome. Nevertheless, while often dismissed as a military failure (or even a 'heroic failure'), the fact remains that, aside from the General Post Office, which served as the Rising's headquarters, no other rebel position fell until the order to surrender was received. Thus, while the order for unconditional surrender was issued on Saturday, 29 April (by Padraig Pearse, co-signed by James Connolly) fighting continued until the following day, as it took time for the surrender order to filter through to certain rebel strongholds.

Birth of the Irish Republic
Walter Paget [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The immediate public reaction to the Rising was one of bewilderment, confusion, even outright hostility. Yet, as events proceeded, the mood changed, almost as the leaders of the Rising had predicted it would. The words of a contemporary observer, William Butler Yeats, are often cited to convey the sense of ambiguity but also foreboding that followed in the immediate aftermath:

All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

- from Easter 1916 by W.B. Yeats, September 25, 1916
Whatever Yeats' may have had in mind about the 'change' and the 'terrible beauty' it had given birth to, in hindsight and at this juncture, we have the opportunity to see, in a more fully fledged form, just what the leaders of the Rising were driving towards. As Yeat's alludes, it was not so much the Rising itself but the aftermath and the series of event that was set in motion, initiating and making inevitable broad, sweeping, wholesale changes in the conduct of affairs between people and nations of the earth.
The Easter Rising was, arguably a catalyst for all of this. It marked the opening salvo that ushered in a new era, as the age of empire began its long, slow retreat, to be replaced by a new age of democracy based national sovereignty, backed up by universal suffrage and government based on popular rule. An age of international co-operation based on the free association of free people and nations.

All of this is presaged by the Rising's manifesto, as proclaimed on the steps of the GPO on this day in 1916. It is those words that ring clear today, just as they resonated with people at the time. The Proclamation of the Irish Republic is a literary masterpiece in its own right, not just of its time but for all time.

Easter Proclamation of 1916
By originally uploaded to the English Wikipedia by w:User:Jtdirl
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

'via Blog this'

Dublin Made Me is a website that celebrates Dublin, Ireland's capital city, "as it has been immortalised down through the years, in music, literature, art and stuff".

Saturday 23 April 2016

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Today, 23 April, is the day traditionally associated with the birth (?) and death of one of the most instantly recognisable names in English and indeed, world literature. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) of Stratford-upon-Avon breathed his last on this date in 1616. That is, four hundred years ago today and his works remain enduringly popular, just as they were in his lifetime. Not many authors, poets, playwrights can claim as much and, as if to rub salt in the wounds, he also seems to have profited from it all: his will shows that he died quite wealthy.

The Chandos portrait, which may or may not depict William Shakespeare (1564-1616).
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

That much at least, is one of the relatively few ascertainable facts about William Shakespeare, in spite of the fame that has surrounded his name over the years and, indeed, centuries. Take his date of birth for example; it is not recorded but a strong body of evidence suggests that his life came full circle on the same day. As if to add to a kind of symmetry that is almost poetic, the birth/death of the person often regarded as England's national poet also coincides with feast day associated with St. George's - often regarded as England's patron saint.

Title page William Shakespeare's First Folio 1623
An engraving by Martin Droeshout (1601-1650) described by a contemporary as a good likeness.
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Unlike St. George however, whose very existence is a matter of speculation, the personage of William Shakespeare is, indeed, testified to, even if it too remains clouded in a certain amount of ambiguity and doubt. For despite his enduring fame, an air of mystery continues to hang over his life and legacy, leading some to cast doubt over that very life and legacy. Even his authorship of the 38 plays, 154 sonnets and two long narrative poems ascribed to him have been called into question. Since his death, speculation and debate has raged, with theories ranging from the bizarre to the intriguing. Furthermore, it shows no sign of abating.

At the same time, it is this body of work that provides the only definitive proof as to who was William Shakespeare. They remain relevant, not because of what they tell us about the author but, because of what they tell us about the world that he saw. A contemporary of Shakespeare, Ben Jonson (1572-1637) observed that "he was not of an age, but for all time."

Exactly what this means is, hopefully, a theme that we will return to again and again, as people continue to enjoy his legacy, interpret it and re-interpret it anew.

Thursday 21 April 2016

Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855): 200th anniversary of her birth

Charlotte Brontë, novelist and poet, senior member of the famous literary trio of sisters, was born on this day in 1816.

George Richmond [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

While not the eldest of Brontë sisters (she was preceded by two sisters who died prematurely; a fate that seems to have plagued the family), she was the eldest of the three who survived into adulthood and went on to achieve literary success. In order to do this, they felt it necessary to disguise their identities, at least initially. Charlotte gave their reasoning thus:
Averse to personal publicity, we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because – without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called "feminine" – we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice; we had noticed how critics sometimes use for their chastisement the weapon of personality, and for their reward, a flattery, which is not true praise. [source: Wikipedia]

As well as being the eldest of the three, Charlotte was the first of the sisters to achieve literary recognition, with the publication of Jane Eyre in 1847. She also survived them when both Emily and Anne, following their brother Branwell, all died within a eight month period.

The Brontë Sisters by Patrick Branwell Brontë restored
By Patrick Branwell Brontë (died 1848)
[Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In addtion to Jane Eyre, her most famous work, two other novels, Shirley and Villette, were published during her lifetime. The Professor, her first novel (which had been rejected by publishers though not without words of encouragement that obviously had the intended effect) was published posthumously, along with other writings that include Emma, an unfinished novel.

Jane Eyre title page
By Chick Bowen at en.wikipedia; Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855)
[Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

In 1854, she accepted a proposal of marriage from a family friend, Arthur Bell Nicholls (from whom she had taken her nom de plume). The couple honeymooned in Banagher, Co. Offaly. The family's Irish connections are, of course, well known. Their father, Patrick Brontë (born on St. Patrick's Day in 1777), hailed from County Down. He married a Cornish woman and while the Brontë sisters' literary output may seem intimately connected with the Yorkshire countryside, where they resided for pretty much all of their lives, they were, in fact blow-ins to that area. In the case of Charlotte, it has even been said that' she spoke with an Irish accent'.

She became pregnant shortly after her marriage but her health also started to decline. She died, with her unborn child, on 31 March 1855, aged 38, three weeks before her 39th birthday.

To mark her bicentennial year, the Brontë Society and the Brontë Parsonage Museum has organised a series of events. Furthermore, they have even put in place a "five-year programme celebrating the bicentenaries of the births of each of the Brontë siblings: Charlotte in 2016, Branwell in 2017, Emily in 2018 and Anne in 2020. In 2019, we will be commemorating Patrick and the 200th anniversary of his invitation to take up his post at Haworth Parsonage."

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