Welcome to Letters from Quotidia Postscripts Episode 7 – a podcast by Quentin Bega for listeners who enjoyed that Irish phenomenon- the crack! in the 200+ Letters and Postcards from Quotidia over the past 18 months. Quotidia remains that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.
When inspiration strikes it rarely comes as a bolt from the blue, rather, it is a laggard and begrudging epiphenomenon dredged from the turgid soup that lies beneath the conscious mind and soul. And so it was for this postscript, after a tedious trawl through the original letters brought nothing to the surface in my mental nets other than an old welly boot, part of a child’s bicycle, some seaweed, and a tangle of plastic waste.
Then my inbox pinged with an offering from the website Poem-a-Day, and I opened it to find the following marvel which had been published over a century ago by Rabindranath Tagore a Bengali polymath who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1913 for the unique lyrical verses of Gitanjali: here is part of it entitled Gitanjali 60,
On the seashore of endless worlds children meet. The infinite sky is motionless overhead and the restless water is boisterous. On the seashore of endless worlds the children meet with shouts and dances./They build their houses with sand, and they play with empty shells. With withered leaves they weave their boats and smilingly float them on the vast deep. Children have their play on the seashore of worlds./They know not how to swim, they know not how to cast nets. Pearl-fishers dive for pearls, merchants sail in their ships, while children gather pebbles and scatter them again. They seek not for hidden treasures, they know not how to cast nets./The sea surges up with laughter, and pale gleams the smile of the sea-beach. Death-dealing waves sing meaningless ballads to the children, even like a mother while rocking her baby’s cradle. The sea plays with children, and pale gleams the smile of the sea-beach./On the seashore of endless worlds children meet. Tempest roams in the pathless sky, ships are wrecked in the trackless water, death is abroad and children play. On the seashore of endless worlds is the great meeting of children.
Poem-a-Day tells us that Gitanjali was self-published in 1910. Later, his English translation of the book, Song Offerings, was published by the India Society of London in 1912, whereupon it won the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature. W. B. Yeats wrote, An innocence, a simplicity that one does not find elsewhere in literature makes the birds and the leaves seem as near to him as they are near to children, and the changes of the season’s great events as before our thoughts had arisen between them and us. . . Indeed, when he is speaking of children, so much a part of himself this quality seems, one is not certain that he is not also speaking of the saints…Thirteen years later, Yeats, himself, was awarded the same prize. So, as far as outstanding poets go, it takes one to know one, eh? I took a medium-slow Band-in-a-Box jig in 6/8 time and used the words of Gitanjali 60 without amendment as the lyrics for the following composition entitled Sea Song. [insert song]
On the 14th of December 2014, I attended a Nick Cave concert at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre with my daughter, Cathy, who is a huge fan. It was a great show from a great showman, and we left feeling all was well with the world. This euphoria didn’t last long, for the next day a murderous, narcissistic thug held eighteen people hostage at the Lindt Café in Martin Place, not far from the venue which had given so many so much joy the night before. Unfurling a black jihadist flag, he brought terror and despair to the people of Sydney and beyond over two days before police stormed the café and shot him.
Tragically, the young man who managed the café, Tori Johnston, and Katrina Dawson, barrister, and mother of three also died in the incident. What brought all this back was a trip to the local library this week where I saw a book of Nick Cave songs on display. From it I have selected The Ship Song in remembrance of that time and as a reminder that love outlasts hatred as its light drives back the shadows. [insert song]
I will end this postscript by reprising a song I wrote some years back as I was contemplating fame and oblivion. Our poets may help us as we negotiate these waters. One of the best is Shelley, IMHO. He wrote a poem many will know:
I met a traveller from an antique land,/Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone/Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,/Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,/And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,/Tell that its sculptor well those passions read/Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,/The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;/And on the pedestal, these words appear:/My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;/ Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!/Nothing beside remains. Round the decay/Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare/The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Wikipedia tells us that Shelley wrote the poem you have just listened to, in friendly competition with his friend and fellow poet Horace Smith in 1817, who also wrote a sonnet on the same topic with the same title, Ozymandias, the Greek name for the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses the Great. The poem explores the fate of history and the ravages of time: even the greatest men and the empires they forge are impermanent, their legacies fated to decay into oblivion. Alas, Horace Smith’s poem is almost unknown while Shelley’s poem graces many an anthology. But here I will resurrect the Smith sonnet for your delectation:
In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,/Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws/The only shadow that the Desert knows:—/”I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,/”The King of Kings; this mighty City shows/”The wonders of my hand.”— The City’s gone,—/Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose/The site of this forgotten Babylon.//We wonder,—and some Hunter may express/Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness/Where London stood, holding the wolf in chace/He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess/What powerful, but unrecorded race/Once dwelt in that annihilated place.
Not bad at all, wouldn’t you agree? However, most of us are fated to be famous only in our dreams, or deluded imaginings, if you are like Walter Mitty, that great character invented by American humorist James Thurber. Sidekick represents the human condition- at least for most of us, and, as the conclusion of the song stipulates, not even heroes get to go to heaven.[insert song]
That concludes the seventh postscript. I think I have made up for the dearth of poetry in the sixth postscript, but in case you feel enough is not as good as a feast, may I offer this translation of an ancient Celtic greeting as we face uncertain times: May the road rise up to meet you./ May the wind be always at your back./ May the sun shine warm upon your face;/ the rains fall soft upon your fields/ and until we meet again,/ may God hold you in the palm of His hand. The next postscript will be published next week or the week after: I thought this one would not make the cut for publication this week as I was floundering for most of it until the last day or so. Until, again, the fountains of inspiration gush, I bid you peace and joy.
Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.
Technical Stuff: Microphone- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text.
For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition.