Sunday, May 19, 2013

The boy stood on the burning deck

This poem was  popular with my parents generation - a staple of school anthologies. It was a particular favourite of my mother's.

The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle's wreck
Shone round him o'er the dead.

Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
As born to rule the storm;
A creature of heroic blood,
A proud, though child-like form.

The flames rolled on–he would not go
Without his Father's word;
That father, faint in death below,
His voice no longer heard.

He called aloud–'say, Father, say
If yet my task is done?'
He knew not that the chieftain lay
Unconscious of his son.

'Speak, father!' once again he cried,
'If I may yet be gone!'
And but the booming shots replied,
And fast the flames rolled on.

Upon his brow he felt their breath,
And in his waving hair,
And looked from that lone post of death
In still yet brave despair.

And shouted but once more aloud,
'My father! must I stay?'
While o'er him fast, through sail and shroud,
The wreathing fires made way.

They wrapt the ship in splendour wild,
They caught the flag on high,
And streamed above the gallant child,
Like banners in the sky.

There came a burst of thunder sound–
The boy–oh! where was he?
Ask of the winds that far around
With fragments strewed the sea!–

With mast, and helm, and pennon fair,
That well had borne their part–
But the noblest thing which perished there
Was that young faithful heart.
Felicia Hemans (1793 - 1835)

The Biography of Felicia Hemans

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Tickled my fancy

Recent links I liked:

Fire-fighting: Hot topic. The frightening phenomenon of the flash-over.. A report this week tells us that the number of times that English firefighters are called out has fallen by 40% in a decade. This article does not say whether American firefighters are similarly less busy these days

Hidden Histories of Information – introducing a new gallery at the Science Museum

Jaydens and Aidens Are Taking Over. The last letter of a boy’s name is important too!

Another theory on the origins of QWERTY

Is this the most expensive music video ever?  On the vexed question of allocating costs

Torrs ‘dry’dro. Mother Nature is just so unreliable

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Emily Dickinson in pain

PAIN has an element of blank;
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there were
A day when it was not.

It has no future but itself,
Its infinite realms contain
Its past, enlightened to perceive
New periods of pain.
Emily Dickinson

Related posts
Measuring happiness & pain
To minimise the pain
On the death of Mr Robert Levet

Sunday, May 05, 2013

The American disease

We know that tobacco had its opponents from the day it was first introduced to these shores - not least in King James I, who wrote a diatribe against this 'vile custom'.

This poem presents an entertaining rant from later in the C17th - from the reference to Cromwell  ('the Protector's name') I guess it was written sometime in the in the late 1650s.

It took 300 years, &  proof, as presented by the Royal College of Physicians, of just one specific threat to health from smoking (lung cancer) to finally start to reverse the long love affair with tobacco.


WHAT horrid sin condemn'd the teeming Earth,
And curst her womb with such a monstrous birth ?
What crime America, that Heav'n would please
To make thee mother of the world's disease ?
In thy fair womb what accidents could breed,
What plague give root to this pernicious weed?
Tobacco ! oh, the very name doth kill,
And has already fox'd my reeling quill :
I now could write libels against the king,
Treason, or blasphemy, or any thing
Gainst piety, and reason; I could frame
A panegyric to the Protector's name :
Such sly infection does the world infuse
Into the soul of ev'ry modest Muse.

What politic Peregrine was't first could boast,
He brought a pest into his native coast?
Th’ abstract of poison in a stinking weed,
The spurious issue, of corrupted seed;
Seed belch'd in earthquakes from the dark abyss,
Whose name a blot in Nature's herbal is.
What drunken fiend taught Englishmen the crime,
Thus to puff out, and spawl away their time ?

Pernicious weed, (should not my Muse offend,
To say Heav'n made aught for a cruel end)
I should proclaim that thou created wert,
To ruin man's high, and immortal part,
The Stygian damp obscures our reason's eye,
Debauches wit, and makes invention dry;
Destroys the memory, confounds our care;
We know not what we do, or what we are:
Renders our faculties and members lame
To ev'ry office of our country's claim.
Our life's a drunken dream devoid of sense,
And the best actions of our time offence.

Our health, diseases, lethargies, and rheum,
Our friendship's fire, and all our vows are fume.
Of late there's no such thing as wit, or sense,
Counsel, instruction, or intelligence:
Discourse that should distinguish man from beast,
Is by the vapour of this weed supprest;
For what we talk is interrupted stuff,
The one half English, and the other puff:
Freedom and truth are things we do not know,
We know not what we say, or what we do:
We want in all the understanding's light,
We talk in clouds, and walk in endless night.

We smoke, as if we meant, conceal'd by spell,
To spy abroad, yet be invisible :
But no discovery shall the statesman boast,
We raise a mist wherein our selves are lost,
A stinking shade, and whilst we pipe it thus,
Each one appears an ignis fatuus.
Courtier and peasant, nay the madam nice
Is likewise fall'n into the common vice :
We all in dusky error groping lie,
Robb'd of our reasons, and the day's bright eye,
Whilst sailors from the main top see our isle
Wrapt up in smoke, like the Aetnean pile.

What nameless ill does its contagion shroud
In the dark mantle of this noisome cloud ?
Sure 'tis the Devil: Oh. I know that's it,
Foh! how the sulphur makes me cough and spit!
Tis he; or else some fav'rite fiend, at least,
In all the mischief of his malice drest,
Each deadly sin that lurks t' intrap the soul;
Does here conceal'd in curling vapours roll:
And for the body such an unknown ill,
As makes physicians' reading, and their skill,
One undistinguish'd pest, made up of all
That men experienc'd do diseases call;
Coughs, asthmas, apoplexies, fevers, rheum,
All that kill dead, or lingeringly consume;
Folly and madness, nay the plague, the pox,
And ev'ry fool wears a Pandora's box.
From that rich mine the stupid sot doth fill,
Smokes up his liver, and his lungs, until
His reeking nostrils monstrously proclaim,
His brains and bowels are consuming flame.
What noble soul would be content to dwell
In, the dark lanthorn of a smoky cell?
To prostitute his body and his mind
To a debauch of such a stinking kind?
To sacrifice to Moloch, and to fry,
In such a base, dirty idolatry;
As if frail life, which of itself 's too short,
Were to be whift away in drunken sport?
Thus, as if weary of our destin'd years,
We burn the thread so to prevent the shears.

What noble end can simple man propose
For a reward to his all-smoking nose ?
His purposes are level I'd sure amiss,
Where neither ornament nor pleasure is.
What can he then design his worthy hire?
Sure 'tis t' inure him for eternal fire:
And thus his aim must admirably thrive,
In hopes of Hell, he damns himself alive.

But my infected Muse begins to choke
In the vile slink of the increasing smoke,
And can no more in equal numbers chime,
Unless to sneeze, and cough, and spit in rhyme.
Half stifled now in this new time's disease,
She must in fumo vanish, and decease.
This is her fault's excuse, and her, pretence,
This satire, perhaps, else had look'd like sense.

Charles Cotton

Charles Cotton
The works of the English poets, from Chaucer to Cowper: including the series edited with prefaces, biographical and critical
James I: Counterblast to tobacco
Related post

A poem about smoking

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Getting away

Friday’s bus into town held a surprise – luggage racks full of suitcases. Three or four couples off to the airport, on holiday. All pensioners, as far as I could tell, no children.

It is very much less common now to see families using the bus for the first leg of their holiday journey, the most likely explanation being that far fewer take holidays abroad, rather than find alternative means of transport. But nor have there been pensioner travellers in the same numbers as before the economy went into decliane.

Friday may be a sign of change – it is going to be interesting to see what happens at ‘Whitsun’ weekend

Related post
Holiday Monday

Friday, May 03, 2013

Tickled my fancy

Recent links I liked:

The Irn Lady making the connections between Maggie Thatcher, Pierre Trudeau, Irn Bru & belief in Coke.

Humble pi  Rising to the exciting challenge of small data

What It Feels Like to Be Bad at Math  - can hapen even to the best

Can Every Group Be Worse Than Average? Yes. Pay comparisons between groups (including, though not mentioned here, between genders) are riddled with examples of Simpson’s paradox