Letters From Quotidia the Podcasts 1

The year of the rabbit in Chinese inconography is said to be lucky.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

LFQ 231 Podcast 1 After the Rain, How Did We Get This Way? Roads, I’d Rather Go Blind

It’s a New Year and a new version of Letters from Quotidia is rolling out across the space we call cyber with the observation that it never had to have been on January 1st. There are many cultures which start their New Year on a date different from that set down by calendar makers in the Western world. I will not enumerate all the diverse dates to which I refer because I know that the cynical among you will simply say that I am using this information to cover this tardy start as an excuse- and who is to say that you are wrong?

If you are acquainted with the Letters and its mutations, you must possess a modicum of wit and discernment? What I can say with certainty, is that the Letters which became Postcards, which became Postscripts which became Footnotes have now transformed into Podcasts in this year of Our Lord 2023. So the first podcast of this year will be on Sunday 22nd January which marks the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit in the Chinese tradition. I will just treat each podcast as its own genre. It won’t conform strictly to any previous template. But it will conform to the spirit of previous incarnations.

Let’s begin with something I wrote in the interim between the last podcast and now. When I say I, I include a lyricist who was killed in 1917 as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Artists Rifles. Edward Thomas, an English poet I much admire. Here is a favourite anthologised poem of his by way of introduction, one I first learned while sitting in Mr Leahy’s fifth form English class at Garron Tower in the mid-sixties,

Yes. I remember Adlestrop/The name, because one afternoon/Of heat, the express-train drew up there/Unwontedly. It was late June.//The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat./No one left and no one came/On the bare platform. What I saw/Was Adlestrop—only the name//And willows, willow-herb, and grass,/And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,/No whit less still and lonely fair/Than the high cloudlets in the sky.//And for that minute a blackbird sang/Close by, and round him, mistier,/Farther and farther, all the birds/Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.//

I use his words from a fine nature poem of his called After the Rain for my first song in a 2023 podcast .[insert song]

In November last year, Catholic leader, Pope Francis likened the aggression against Ukraine today to a genocide perpetrated against the Ukrainian people by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin 90 years ago… This Saturday, he said, is the anniversary of the terrible Holodomor genocide, the extermination by hunger in 1932-33 artificially caused by Stalin. Let us pray for the victims of this genocide and let us pray for all Ukrainians, the children, the women and the elderly, the babies who are today suffering the martyrdom of aggression. Since 2006, the Holodomor – the Ukrainian word means death by starvation – has been recognised by Ukraine and 15 other countries as a genocide carried out by the Soviet regime. An exact death toll is impossible to verify, but historians agree that at least 3 million people died from starvation.

Pope Francis is not the only world leader to liken the 2022 invasion of Ukraine to the tragic events of 1932-1933. US President Joseph Biden issued a statement November 23, 2022, saying, Even as the brave Ukrainian people continue to defend their democracy and freedom from Russia’s brutal aggression, we pause to also honour the victims of past injustices and horrors inflicted on Ukraine. Stalin, said Biden, “imposed harsh and repressive policies on Ukraine, including creating a deliberate famine in 1932-33 that caused millions of innocent Ukrainian women, men, and children to perish. … We honour the brave Ukrainian people who continue to courageously resist Russia’s assault on their democracy.

There are measures a defiant people can take against an aggressor. Taking up arms to resist is clearly a first and obvious response. So, to, is the assertion and nurturing of identity by reference to the language, myths, history, music, art, and poetry of one’s national roots. Just as the Ukrainian people resist the imperial power next to it, as Ireland resisted, over centuries, the imperial power next to it, I think of some of the correspondences between Ireland and Ukraine. Chief among them is the nexus of language. Let me explain: Just as many Ukrainian patriotic poets have used their native language, Russian, to express their opposition to the encroaching tyranny of the imperial aggressor, so too many Irish nationalists have used the power of the English language to register their dissent.

I, in my own small way, continue this tradition by reference to English poets whom, I know, encapsulate the wider truths available to all people. Here in the heat of an Australian summer, I think of those brave and resourceful Ukrainian citizens who are surviving under the sustained and horrendous bombardment of Russian strategists who are trying to recreate the Holodomor of Stalin only 90 years ago. And I think of Thomas Hardy’s The Darkling Thrush written at the turn of the previous century,

I leant upon a coppice gate/ When Frost was spectre-grey,/And Winter’s dregs made desolate/The weakening eye of day./The tangled bine-stems scored the sky/Like strings of broken lyres,/And all mankind that haunted nigh/Had sought their household fires.//The land’s sharp features seemed to be/The Century’s corpse outleant,/His crypt the cloudy canopy,/The wind his death-lament./The ancient pulse of germ and birth/Was shrunken hard and dry,/And every spirit upon earth/Seemed fervourless as I.//At once a voice arose among/The bleak twigs overhead/In a full-hearted evensong/Of joy illimited;/An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,/In blast-beruffled plume,/Had chosen thus to fling his soul/Upon the growing gloom.//So little cause for carolling/Of such ecstatic sound/Was written on terrestrial things/ Afar or nigh around,/That I could think there trembled through/His happy good-night air/Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew/And I was unaware.//

In all the vast geopolitical and global crises that threaten to overwhelm us, I will timidly insert more personal cri de Coeur written at a low point in my relationship almost fifty years ago, and presented in Letter 53 published on 12th April 2021, How Did We Get this Way? [insert song]

The rabbit is the luckiest of the animals in the Chinese Zodiac, signifying forgiveness grace and beauty. For this podcast I will embrace the belief system enthusiastically in the hope that these spiritual nouns come to differentiate this year from the one just past. I now offer a song generated from the signifiers of that lucky zodiac animal. I call it Roads after an Amy Lowell poem I enjoy,

I know a country laced with roads,/They join the hills and they span the brooks,/They weave like a shuttle between broad fields,/And slide discreetly through hidden nooks…//A cow in a meadow shakes her bell/And the notes cut sharp through the autumn air,/Each chattering brook bears a fleet of leaves/Their cargo the rainbow, and just now where/The sun splashed bright on the road ahead/A startled rabbit quivered and fled.

Forgive the darkness in the lyrics. Lowell’s poetry should have inspired something less gloomy! [insert song]

Here is a bonus track. In 1970 I heard Christine McVie (nee Perfect) sing a haunting version of this song. I was in Belfast’s Smithfield Markets and heard her performance of I’d Rather Go Blind over the speakers in a record store. And, of course, I had to buy it.  When I heard of her death at the end of November last year, I listened again (and again) to the track that had captivated me over half a century ago. And here is a poem by Joyce Grenfell, born to an affluent Anglo-American family. Joyce was a monologuist of real talent, and I present here a short verse of hers which I hope is appropriate,

If I should die before the rest of you,/Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone./Nor, when I’m gone, speak in a Sunday voice,/But be the usual selves that I have known./Weep if you must,/Parting is hell./But life goes on,/So sing as well. [insert song]

Now like that rabbit in Amy Lowell’s poem, I will quiver and flee to Quotidia until next time I come out of my snug warren to sniff the air. I have added the lyrics to songs in each podcast before the Credits section at the end of each transcript.

After the Rain Edward Thomas, music by Quentin Bega

The rain of a night and a day and a night
Stops at the light
Of this pale choked day. The peering sun
Sees what has been done.
The road under the trees has a border new
of purple hue
Inside the border of bright thin grass:
For all that has
Been left by November of leaves is torn
From hazel and thorn
And the greater trees. Throughout the copse
No dead leaf drops
On grey grass, green moss, burnt-orange fern,
At the wind’s return:
The leaflets out of the ash-tree shed
Are thinly spread
In the road, like little black fish, inlaid,
As if they played.
What hangs from the myriad branches down there
So hard and bare
Is twelve yellow apples lovely to see
On one crab-tree.
And on each twig of every tree in the dell
Uncountable
Crystals both dark and bright of the rain
That begins again.

How Did We Get This Way? Words and music by Quentin Bega

How did we manage to reduce life to this?

With what do we celebrate the end of our dream?

If we could salvage in some way the wreck of our love

We would sail to a different sea 

And watch our aurora blazing above.

It started out fine in Disneyland bliss

Roller-coaster land we lived for the thrill

And then we reached the end a side-show of freaks

We looked inside and we felt the chill 

When we realised that we are the geeks.

How do you compromise when there’s nothing left?

And where do you travel to with nowhere to go?

What do you talk about with nothing to say?

We’re at the bottom and there’s nothing below-

Tell me darling how did we get this way?

And isn’t it funny that now we’re bereft

Of dreams and illusions, we still feel the pain

Of having to face the fact that without our small dreams

We’ve got no shelter from the harsh pouring rain

That rots our emptiness we split at the seams?

So how did we manage to reduce life to this?

With what do we celebrate the end of our dream?

If we could salvage in some way the wreck of our love

We would sail to a different sea 

And watch our aurora blazing above.

We’re at the bottom and there’s nothing below

Tell me darling how did we get this way?

Roads words and music by Quentin Bega

You walk in grace and beauty, love, and bid me come with you

What is it keeps my feet from following your peaceful path

Ah, these dark roads that cross my heart and soul

Leading me downwards to blackness and to woe

Enhance the beauty of the moonlight on the meadows broad

Enchant the mysteries of the night where sleep is at the flood

But for these dark roads that cross my heart and soul

I would come with you and shelter from the cold

Frozen I stay where forgiveness never lives

Frozen I cling to the reason hatred gives

You walk in grace and beauty, love, and bid me come with you

What is it keeps my feet from following your peaceful path

Ah, these dark roads that cross my heart and soul

Leading me downwards to blackness and to woe

Frozen I stay where forgiveness never lives

Frozen I cling to the reason hatred gives

I’d Rather Go Blind

Something told me it was over

                                                D
When I saw you and him out walking

                                                           Em                     A7
Something deep down in my soul said, “Cry, boyl”

                                                       D    
When I saw you and him talking

                                                            Em           A7

I would rather, I would rather go blind, girl

                                                               D

Than to see you walk away from me,

                                               Em
So you see, I love you so much

                                                                               A7
That I don’t wanna watch you leave me, baby

                                                                                  D
Most of all, I just don’t, I just don’t wanna be free, no

                                         Em        A7

And I would rather go blind

                                                                        D       instrumental D Em A7 D

Than to see you walking away from me child 

                D                                                           Em      A7

I was just, I was just, I was just sittin here thinkin’

                                                          D
Of your kiss, and your warm embrace, yeah

                                                                     Em                                       A7
When the reflection in the glass that I held to my lips, now baby

                                                                 D
Revealed the tears that were on my face, yeah

                                                                        Em         A7

And baby, baby, I’d rather, I’d rather be blind, girl

                                                   D        link: D Em A7 D
Than to see you walk away child 

                [Repeat italicised verse]

                                 Em        A7
I would rather go blind girl

                                                                          G7

Than to see you walk away from me child

                                                                 D

Now I watch you walk away from me

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (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.

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