The Moonemalle Inheritance: From ACTS OF FAITH – Part 6

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Loud chords should now begin to resound as we canter towards our conclusion. Drums certainly are beating already, and conches are being blown in various keys, as Phyllis and her swelling band march down from the hills. She had been more upset than she would earlier have thought possible at the news of Matthew’s death. He was her son, and she remembered the past they had shared, not the recent events when he had seemed to cultivate a frightening estrangement. Lily had convinced her however that she ought to transform her grief through action, and she had thereupon decided to begin the march at once. Harry could join her on the way, assuming that he were let in. Even if he were not, she felt that now her own anguish, running in recognisable harness beside that of Lily and Mumtaz and John’s family and the three boys from the beach, would be enough to move mountains, let alone the now practically isolated Tom.

Even before Veronica’s momentous press conference, the march had become a force to reckon with. It could not have been better timed. Phyllis had naturally insisted on a good breakfast for her troops, and her kitchens had as always turned out all sorts of delicacies, traditional and otherwise, so that it was some time after daybreak that they set out from the house. A few minutes after they were on their way the news of Matthew’s death was announced over the radio. By the time they reached the gate leading into her drive, some distance down the hill, the whole Village had gathered, beside the ruins of the cottage where Krishna’s parents had been burnt to death. The march struck them as a vivid tribute to Matthew’s memory, and what had earlier seemed to them a characteristically fantastic requirement from Phyllis now became an active symbol of their affection and allegiance towards the family. They joined in the march with enthusiasm and determination.

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Poets and their visions 19 – Walt Whitman

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Walt_Whitman_-_George_Collins_CoxI had thought initially of leaving out American poets from this series. The principal reason for this is that, with one clear exception, I am not sure that they achieve excellence in their fields. It is true that I have already included some writers whose excellence as poets might be doubted, but I believe they more than make up for this by their general standing as writers. This is not true of any of the American poets.

In case my rationale might seem subjective, I should note that, obviously, if I do not think highly of the generality, I would not do justice to them. But on balance I think I should try, where I find it possible, given that I cannot really omit the one I admire most. And with regard to the others I shall deal with, I should acknowledge that there is something special about the perspectives they present to us.

Foremost in this regard is Walt Whitman, whom Harold Bloom, in an otherwise generally convincing analysis of genius, thinks worthy of the highest praise. He refers to his seminal influence, and perhaps a pun is indeed intended here, on several writers including D H Lawrence and the host of youthful homosexual poets at the turn of the last century who found Whitman inspiring.
Perhaps, in fairness to the man, I should begin by citing some of the passages Bloom finds overwhelming. His favourite passage in Song of Myself he claims gives a ‘gracious, affectionate description of the Me myself’

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The Moonemalle Inheritance: From ACTS OF FAITH – Part 5

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A few more hours pass, and Lily begins to realise that her staying on serves even less purpose than she had hoped. People who come to view the fast have looked at her as though she were responsible for cheating them when they were told that John has been kidnapped. The newspapers will do too little, if at all, too late, she realizes, to counteract the effect of the leaflets, or perhaps of a cynicism that has now begun to be generally prevalent when the actions of officials or former officials are in question. The kidnapping is thought to have been prearranged; John’s supreme act of self-sacrifice has sunk without a trace.

It is when Lily is feeling very low indeed that Phyllis appears. She had heard the news some time ago, and had spent a short while thinking. Then she had put the three boys from the beach into the back of her Range Rover and had gone off to see Mumtaz. Most of the morning papers had given prominent coverage to the impending marriage between Tom and Dulcie, and Mumtaz had been in a mood for action. She had piled into the vehicle too, and then they had gone off to see Lily. It had not taken long to persuade her to join them as well.

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The Moonemalle Inheritance: From ACTS OF FAITH – Part 4

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Paul had stayed on for lunch, so that he met Phyllis when she came in hot and tired and hungry. Despite this, having never met her before, he found her as exciting as he had been led to expect. Though she was in a state of despair about Harry ever being let into the country, and though she feared that the government would therefore most certainly try to ban the march, she was determined to go ahead.

Paul asked her why she connected the two events. Her answer was simple, though it did not seem logically indisputable to Paul: she felt that Harry’s prestige was so high that the government would not dare to interfere once he were in. It was at this point that Paul had his brainwave. He suggested that, in the absence of Harry, or even if he were present, she include prominently in the front rank of her procession the three boys who had been displayed to the nation three days before as being amongst the most tragic victims of communal tension.

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Poets and their visions 18 – Rudyard Kipling

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387px-Rudyard_KiplingThe poet with perhaps the widest range, of both material and tone, was I think Rudyard Kipling. Though much better known as a writer of fiction, his poetry too is fascinating. Bloom leaves him out of his book of Genius, which is understandable given the distinctively American perspective he brings to bear. Kipling’s genius on the contrary was quintessentially English, though I should say English in terms of the colonial experience that governed the thinking of England for so long, as well as adulation of the countryside, which is a particularly British trait (though shared with colonial writers, and the Russians, which confirms my view that the British, when they cease to be sanctimonious, are capable of greater cultural sensitivity than most Westerners).

Kim, which exemplifies all this, is undoubtedly a great book. The same cannot be said of any particular poem that Kipling wrote. But the corpus as a whole is readable and memorable. And it can also surprise. Kipling, the poet of empire, when asked to write something for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, wrote a warning against hubris that is still the best advice available for any politician thinking himself successful–God of our fathers, known of old,

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The Moonemalle Inheritance: From ACTS OF FAITH – Part 3

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Phyllis came down to Colombo in a state of extreme irritation. She had been rung up the previous day by Mark, speaking officially on behalf of the cabinet, to tell her that the government thought she ought to cancel her march for peace. When she told him that that was unthinkable, he suggested that she postpone it. She told him that that was impossible because Harry was returning to the country the following week specially for the march. There was a pause, and then he told her almost apologetically that there was a deportation order on Harry, and that he would not be allowed into the country.

Phyllis could not believe her ears. Mark had to repeat himself before she took it in, and then she asked for Tom. She was told he was not available. Phyllis insisted and, when Mark still refused, declared that she would go ahead with the march anyway, and banged the telephone down. A few moments later, it rang again and Tom came on the line to request her in the national interest to cancel the march. Phyllis, who was still irritated, asked what would happen if she refused. Tom said very earnestly that the government might feel obliged to ban it formally, at least till the situation grew less tense. He added that, since Harry had been banned from entering anyway, there was no reason why the march could not be postponed. He suggested that she come down to Colombo in a few days and discuss the matter with him. Phyllis kept a hold on her temper and asked him the reasons for the ban. Tom mentioned the activities of delegates to CARP and, when Phyllis said that was irrelevant, added confidentially that there was more that he could not disclose on the telephone. Once again he said that he would be delighted to discuss the matter with her when she had the time to come down to Colombo, and hastily put down the telephone.

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Poets and their visions 17 – A E Housman

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Alfred_Edward_HousmanHousman is arguably the saddest of English poets of the 19th century, for the most memorable of his poems are elegies. He writes both of individual deaths and of the very fact of death. The best known poem in the former category, To an Athlete Dying Young, is also unusually a celebration of life, even though the theme is the escape from the fading of reputation

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.

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The Moonemalle Inheritance: From ACTS OF FAITH – Part 2

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The Village was still smouldering in places as they drove through, Phyllis’ cherished Village which she had held out constantly to outsiders as an example of communal harmony. Perhaps she was not far wrong. It was outsiders, they were told, who had swept in and burned and looted and killed. They had left Phyllis’ house untouched; but, drawn there by what seemed to be foreknowledge, they had set fire to the gardener’s hut at the bottom of the grounds. In it, they burned Krishna’s parents, his father deliberately, his mother because she had flung herself into the flames.

It is then a bleak picture we have before us this evening, in Phyllis’ drawing room as they sit hollowly before the television in anticipation of Tom’s long awaited address to the nation. Radha, Krishna’s younger sister, who has been spared the flames and had not sought them, feels guilt pervading her grief and buries her head in Phyllis’ lap without looking up. Krishna crouches beside her, his face blank and uncomprehending. Yet he has had earlier the relief of tears. Indra’s face beyond is similar, but rigid too. They have rung through to Colombo, and he has been told that Shiva also has died. It is not likely in such a situation that anything Tom would say could furnish much comfort. Still, it is something to cling to, imminent pronouncements of authority on the events, and they wait in hopeful expectation, for something that might divert their anguished minds.

It is with a horror akin to that they have already experienced, and which they never thought to have renewed, that they hear Tom declare that there is nothing surprising about the violence that has occurred. It was provoked, he says; and grieved as he is, particularly because of the damage done to the government’s development programme, he will take steps to ensure that the Tamils never provoke such violence again from anyone, least of all the Sinhalese, who are after all the most mild and peaceful of people in general…..

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Poets and their visions 16 – Gerald Manley Hopkins

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Unlike those we have been looking at recently, Gerald Manley Hopkins is known, as a creative writer, only for his poetry. But he is known also as a Catholic priest, and his faith is inextricably bound up with his work. If we recall Tennyson, in In Memoriam, responding to the doubt brought by scientific discoveries to Christian dogma by simply reaffirming his faith, Hopkins did the same thing with greater anguish as well as drama, is befitted his calling.

The simplest poem of this nature, and one of the strongest, is the sonnet in which he wrestles with what seems an unjust world. The latter part of the poem contrasts the fecundity of nature with the statutory celibacy of Catholic priests, highlighted here in the term ‘Time’s Eunuch’. The plea with which the poem ends then is most moving, with its need for a purpose beyond what seems an arid passivity.

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The Moonemalle Inheritance: From ACTS OF FAITH – Part 1

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Indra and Diana were trapped—if that is the right word for what could well be described as the safest and most peaceful spot in the country—in a wild life reserve during the troubles. They had been on one of their regular visits to Phyllis who, though she adored her massive house and her little village, grew quite bored with it at times and, whenever she could, bundled any house guests available into her land rover to make an Expedition. These were often to the sanctuaries, but as often as not they were simpler meanderings towards and not towards some distant and not very vital goal, designed primarily for the enjoyment of the countryside, and the birds and the trees and the flowers. At the back of the vehicle, amidst pots and pans and provisions, were two village belles (usually chosen by lot since demand for places on these trips was intense) to do any wayside cooking and serving required, and either with them or on the roof-rack, depending upon the claims of modesty and their ages and his, was a boy of all work to set up deckchairs and build fires and do any other odd jobs necessary. Though Phyllis could do without a great many things, there were certain comforts she thought basic; and, even if Diana occasionally worried about the almost feudal character of these expeditions, to Indra they were blissful.

The troubles rocking the rest of the country indeed scarcely impinged upon them in their rural retreat, hearing about them as they did only from isolated trackers met on the paths or fitfully over the carefully censored and furiously crackling radio. They did however have a cause for worry in that the boy they had brought with them was Tamil. This was largely Indra’s responsibility and, if ever Diana came near to criticizing Indra’s initiatives, it was on this occasion.

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