Halloween, the Day the Dead Walk; RT has been dealing with some ghosts of his own as we approach the end of the Celtic year, which may explain why out of the blue he checked out Larry McMurtry’s fine short biography of Crazy Horse, the famous Sioux warrior. Not much is known about Crazy Horse himself (though we do know that he was averse to being photographed), but quite a bit is known about the Sioux people and their struggle to save their land and way of life from encroaching settlers. And perhaps no survival from that long fight is more remarkable than this group portrait of many of the principal Sioux leaders. Though these men were active for decades, they are best remembered for their participation in the famous Great Sioux War of 1876, which gave us the Battle of the Little Bighorn, aka Custer’s Last Stand.
Hold on to your hats, folks, here they are:
To give the reader some idea of the scope of these men’s lives, RT offers a pair of brief biographical notes:
Red Cloud (1822-December 10, 1909). Best known as the leader of Red Cloud’s War (1866-1868); fought to protect the Powder River country from encroachment by whites. The Sioux were victorious, in particular winning the Fetterman Fight, one of the worst defeats the U.S. Army experiencing during its struggle with the Sioux. Also prominent as a negotiator and diplomat on behalf of the Sioux, including the negotiation of the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868).
Young Man Afraid Of His Horses (1836-July 13, 1893). Fought during Red Cloud’s War. A prominent Indian negotiator, active until the end of the Sioux wars in the early 1890s and especially in the aftermath of the Wounded Knee Massacre.
As the Dakota access pipeline protests bear witness to, the long struggle of the Sioux to preserve their traditional way of life is not yet over.
Photograph: Red Cloud and Other Sioux. circa 1860-1880. Library of Congress. WikiCmns. Public Domain.
Here are a set of haiku written in response to the emotional challenges RT has been facing over the last few months. To wit: RT’s mom has recently moved into a nursing home, where she is doing better. And not to worry: he is carrying on with a reasonable degree of calm. Sometimes it can help to share the more difficult moments …
panic’s steady undertow
love her! love her!
sirens in the driveway.
garbage bags on her bed
photos spill from a rip
copyright, 2016, The Rag Tree
Photo: Winter. GerFes. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
2015 was full of distractions and challenges for RT, which has kept him from opining in these pages for some time. Major life changes confront him, but this is how things happen. At heart, though, he remains a writer and feels the call of his several projects, not least of which is The Rag Tree. His mother’s memoir, A Daughter’s Song and Dance, is finished, but RT can only say that its publication is as imminent as anything else in his life right now.
The memoir is not the only project that RT has completed but been unable to share with the public. At the end of 2014, he finished a video that features an audio file of him reading his prologue to Gilgamesh, accompanied by various illustrations from the internet. He uploaded the video onto YouTube, hoping to attract more attention to his translation. Then things got complicated.
Things are now somewhat less complicated, and RT is posting a link to the video below. Eventually, he would like to put all of the translation up on YouTube. In the meantime, he hopes that the current offering will propitiate the god of complications and entertain his readers.
Happy New Year, and here’s to a wonderful 2016! RT
Image: Grabado de Nimrod. WikiCmns. Public Domain.
Folks, this has been a long time coming, but RT can safely say that A Daughter’s Song and Dance, his mother’s childhood memoir, is nearing publication. Reader’s copies of the text are due on Monday. The book isn’t quite print ready (among other things, the front matter must be paginated and some passages need tweaking) but the next hurdle is getting the book out in paper and on e-book reader. To whet the appetite, RT offers this brief extract from chapter 23:
My mother may not have understood me the way I wanted her to, but she did understand certain of my needs, as for instance, when I needed to, in her words, “get out of myself.” Others might say that I was moody and introspective, but it came down to the same thing: I needed periodic vacations from the serious business of being me. What’s more, she was good at turning vacations to practical advantage.
So towards the end of my year at Wright-McMahon, Mama had an inspired moment. One day after I had returned from classes, she invited me into her office. Nothing unimportant ever happened during our office conversations, so I sat down with a certain apprehension. This wasn’t another dispensation from on high, was it?
After some pleasantries about my school day, Mama got down to the point: “If you could go anywhere in the world for a visit,” she asked, “where would it be?”
More on all this soon… RT
Photo: Mom’s High School Graduation portrait.
Sometimes things come undone. There’s always a reason, but the important thing is to work through the problem, however long that might take. The opening line of this poem (which RT has divided into two lines), by the master poet Du Fu, is generally considered the greatest in Chinese poetry. Suffering sometimes brings wisdom, and even beauty. RT
Spring and Autumn Report
The great palace lies in ruins;
mountains and rivers look on.
Weeds like silk piled high
adorn empty cities—
in the chaos, even flowers weep.
I’ve heard nothing from my family—
but enough of this!
The alarum of birds soothes my heart.
Three months have passed
and still the beacon fires burn;
I’d pay gold for a single letter.
Frustrated, I scratch my head,
pull loose a handful of hair.
The hairpin dangles.
version, © The Rag Tree, 2015
Painting: River Landscape. Dong Yuan, 10th Century. National Palace Museum, Taipei. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
Dear readers, RT for the last several weeks has been exploring 19th century British romantic prose; where else could he possibly find himself, on his 55th birthday, but washed up on the shores of Charlotte Bronte‘s great novel, Jane Eyre?
It goes without saying that this novel is primarily addressed to women, relating as it does the search of a sympathetic and intelligent young lady for the earthly paradise of marriage. “Reader, I married him,” she reports as the novel reaches it conclusion. Few sentences in the English language can have had as widespread an impact on our culture as this one.
But fellow men, take note: we can only wish that we were capable of the profound passion that Mr. Rochester evinces during the novel’s proposal scene. Rochester’s language here reaches the intensity of poetry, as does, in an entirely more feminine way, Jane Eyre’s:
Excerpts from the Proposal Scene, Jane Eyre
“Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton?—a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!—I have as much soul as you,—and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh;—it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,—as we are!”
“And your will shall decide your destiny,” he said: “I offer you my hand, my heart, and a share of all my possessions.”
“You play a farce, which I merely laugh at.”
“I ask you to pass through life at my side—to be my second self, and best earthly companion.”
A waft of wind came sweeping down the laurel-walk, and trembled through the boughs of the chestnut: it wandered away—away—to an indefinite distance—it died. The nightingale’s song was then the only voice of the hour: in listening to it, I again wept. Mr. Rochester sat quiet, looking at me gently and seriously.
“My bride is here,” he said, again drawing me to him, “because my equal is here, and my likeness. Jane, will you marry me?”
Still I did not answer, and still I writhed myself from his grasp: for I was still incredulous.
“Do you doubt me, Jane?” “Entirely.”
“You have no faith in me?” “Not a whit.”
“You, Jane, I must have you for my own—entirely my own. Will you be mine? Say yes, quickly.”
“Mr. Rochester, let me look at your face: turn to the moonlight.” “Why?” “Because I want to read your countenance—turn!” “There! you will find it scarcely more legible than a crumpled, scratched page.
Read on: only make haste, for I suffer.”
His face was very much agitated and very much flushed, and there were strong workings in the features, and strange gleams in the eyes.
“Oh, Jane, you torture me!” he exclaimed. “With that searching and yet faithful and generous look, you torture me!”
“How can I do that? If you are true, and your offer real, my only feelings to you must be gratitude and devotion—they cannot torture.”
“Gratitude!” he ejaculated; and added wildly—“Jane accept me quickly. Say, Edward—give me my name—Edward—I will marry you.”
“Are you in earnest? Do you truly love me? Do you sincerely wish me to be your wife?”
“I do; and if an oath is necessary to satisfy you, I swear it.”
“Then, sir, I will marry you.”
“Edward—my little wife!”
RT suspects that the need for romance becomes more insistent as we grow older. Perhaps, visual impairment notwithstanding, we grow more clear-sighted as we age. Energy is everything, and what better energy can we hope for than affection? Marriage may not be the only answer; we should remember that we are always falling in love with each other. Passion pursues us right up to the grave, and perhaps beyond it. A better fate is hard to imagine.
Drawing: Portrait of Charlotte Bronte; Evert A. Duyckinck (based on a drawing by George Richmond). 1873. University of Texas; WikiCmns. Public Domain. *
Actually, RT hasn’t finished the book, but is far enough into it to have fallen under the novel’s spell. Certainly the world its author presents captivates a world-weary heart; here we find a fresh, untrammeled beauty, a poet’s tribute to nature and man…and woman.
Let any doubts about the book’s style be settled by this sample from chapter 2:
“To persons standing alone on a hill during a clear midnight such as this, the roll of the world eastward is almost a palpable movement. The sensation may be caused by the panoramic glide of the stars past earthly objects, which is perceptible in a few minutes of stillness, or by the better outlook upon space that a hill affords, or by the wind, or by the solitude; but whatever be its origin, the impression of riding along is vivid and abiding. The poetry of motion is a phrase much in use, and to enjoy the epic form of that gratification it is necessary to stand on a hill at a small hour of the night, and, having first expanded with a sense of difference from the mass of civilised mankind, who are dreamwrapt and disregardful of all such proceedings at this time, long and quietly watch your stately progress through the stars. After such a nocturnal reconnoitre it is hard to get back to earth, and to believe that the consciousness of such majestic speeding is derived from a tiny human frame.”
Visionary, massive, gorgeous–and it helps to remember that Hardy’s father was a stone mason.
The plot couldn’t be more attractive. It’s a love story, thank heavens, filled with all the twists and turns you would expect, driven by human foible and heartbreak, illuminated with satirical sketches, and yet deeply aware of tradition, dignity, and the possibilities for happiness.
Then we have the story’s lovers–the shepherd Gabriel Oak, an old-fashioned hero, more than equal to the difficulties set before him, and Bathsheba Everdene, a lady alluring, intelligent, and prone to impulse. She enters the story a milk-maid, rises far in her fortunes, and then encounters a gentleman well-suited to be her husband. But Hardy writes in such a way that it isn’t clear which of the suitors will win Bathsheba’s hand–what is clear to the artist might for others be obscured by the world’s commotions.
As lovely and shrewd as all of this is, the novel’s setting and worldview have made the deepest impression on RT. Did a way of life as simple, communal, and breathtaking as this ever really exist? Hardy’s Wessex may not be the southern England of actual fact, but RT has enjoyed spending some time there. We need more handcraft, more confidence, and more romance. RT
Painting: Thomas Hardy (1893); Thomas Strang. WikiCmns; Public Domain.