Pale Blue Dot

As NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft was about to leave our Solar System in 1989, Carl Sagan pleaded with officials to turn the camera around to take one last look back at Earth before the spaceship left our solar system. The resulting image of the earth from 3.7bn miles away became known as ‘the pale blue dot.’

If ever you need perspective, just think; pale blue dot.



The Lady of Shalott, a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Part I

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by
To many-tower’d Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Lady of Shalott
Lady of Shalott

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro’ the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow veil’d
Slide the heavy barges trail’d
By slow horses; and unhail’d
The shallop flitteth silken-sail’d
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
Down to tower’d Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers “‘Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott.”

Part II

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

I Am Half-sick Of Shadows Said The Lady Of Shallot by Sidney Harold Meteyard
I Am Half-sick Of Shadows Said The Lady Of Shallot by Sidney Harold Meteyard

And moving thro’ a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or long-hair’d page in crimson clad,
Goes by to tower’d Camelot;
And sometimes thro’ the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.

John William Waterhouse - I am half-sick of shadows, said the lady of shalott
John William Waterhouse – I am half-sick of shadows, said the lady of shalott

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror’s magic sights,
For often thro’ the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights,
And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed;
“I am half sick of shadows,” said
The Lady of Shalott.

Part III

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro’ the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel’d
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

William Holman Hunt's Lady of Shalott (1905)
William Holman Hunt’s Lady of Shalott (1905)

The gemmy bridle glitter’d free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazon’d baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
Beside remote Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell’d shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn’d like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
As often thro’ the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
Moves over still Shalott.

John William Waterhouse's The Lady of Shalott Looking at Lancelot, 1894
John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott Looking at Lancelot, 1894

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d;
On burnish’d hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow’d
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flash’d into the crystal mirror,
“Tirra lirra,” by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro’ the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look’d down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
The Lady of Shalott.

Part IV

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
Over tower’d Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.

John William Waterhouse - The Lady of Shalott
John William Waterhouse – The Lady of Shalott

And down the river’s dim expanse –
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance –
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right –
The leaves upon her falling light –
Thro’ the noises of the night
She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song.
The Lady of Shalott.

The Lady of Shalott, 1858 by Arthur Hughes
The Lady of Shalott, 1858 by Arthur Hughes

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darken’d wholly,
Turn’d to tower’d Camelot.
For ere she reach’d upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died
The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame.
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

G.E. Robertson’s “The Lady of Shalott”
G.E. Robertson’s “The Lady of Shalott”

Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they cross’d themselves for fear,
All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, “She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace.
The Lady of Shalott.”

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

The Eye

TRUE! –nervous –very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses –not destroyed –not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily –how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture –a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees –very gradually –I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

Continue reading “The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe”

The Naming of Cats is a Difficult Matter by TS Elliot

The Naming Of Cats, a poem by T S Eliot
I call him Lynx, but who knows what he’s calls himself

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.

First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey—
All of them sensible everyday names.

Continue reading “The Naming of Cats is a Difficult Matter by TS Elliot”

I Must Go Down To The Seas Again

I Must Go Down to the Sea Again

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

John Masefield, poet laureate

Green Grow The Rushes, Ho! An English Folksong

I wanted to share a fantastic English folk song common in Somerset and the Westcountry which I recently learned. It’s really difficult to get out of your head once started and its great for making long car journey’s fly by!

It’s called Green Grow The Rush, O! though is sometimes referred to as The Twelve Prophets or The Ten Commandments. The lyrics of the song are in quite obscure, with an unusual mixture of Christian, astronomical and pagan symbols, all wrapped up in a mnemonic to remember them by.

I’ll sing you one, Ho
Green grow the rushes, Ho
What is your one, Ho?
One is one and all alone
And evermore shall be so.

I’ll sing you two, Ho
Green grow the rushes, Ho
What are your two, Ho?
Two, two, the lily white boys clothéd all in green-o.
One is one and all alone
And evermore shall be so.

The format is followed, building up verse by verse by adding twelve stanzas so that the final song looks like this:

I’ll sing you twelve, Ho
Green grow the rushes, Ho
What are your twelve, Ho?
Twelve for the twelve apostles.
Eleven for the eleven that went to heaven.
Ten for the Ten Commandments.
Nine for the nine bright shiners.
Eight for the April rainers.
Seven for the seven stars in the sky.
Six of the six proud walkers.
Five for the symbols at your door.
Four for the gospel makers.
Three, three, the rivals.
Two, two, the lily white boys clothéd all in green-o.
One is one and all alone
And evermore shall be so.

If you want to hear it being sung, there’s some videos on YouTube of people performing it.

So what do all those obscure lines really mean?

Twelve for the twelve apostles.

This refers to the twelve Apostles of Jesus, although the number has other meanings; it may originally have referred to the months of the year.

Eleven for the eleven that went to heaven.

These are the eleven Apostles who remained faithful (minus Judas Iscariot).

Ten for the Ten Commandments.

This refers to the Ten Commandments given to Moses.

Nine for the nine bright shiners.

The nine may be an astronomical reference: the Sun, Moon and five planets known before 1781 yields seven and to this may be added the sphere of the fixed stars and the Empyrean, or it may refer to the nine orders of angels.

Eight for the April rainers.

The April rainers refer to the Hyades star cluster, called the “rainy Hyades” in classical times, and rising with the sun in April; the Greeks thought of the Hyades as inaugurating the April rains.

Seven for the seven stars in the sky.

The seven are probably the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades star cluster. Other options include Ursa Major, the seven traditional planets or the seven stars of Revelation chapter 1, verse 16.

Six of the six proud walkers.

This may be a corruption of ‘six proud waters’, a reference to the six jars of water that Jesus turned into wine at the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee, (John 2:6).

Five for the symbols at your door.

This could be a reference to the marks of blood that god commanded the Israelites to put upon their doorways at the Exodus (Exodus 12:7). It could also allude to the practice of putting a pentagram at the door of a house to ward off witches and evil spirits in the late Middle Ages. Other suggestions are that it refers to five symbols displayed above the doorways of houses that would shelter Catholic priests.

Four for the gospel makers.

This refers to the four Evangelists; Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.

Three, three, the rivals.

‘Rivals’ may be a corruption of “Riders”, “Arrivals”, or “Wisers”, referring to the three Magi of the Nativity. Another possibility is the trio of Peter, James and John, often mentioned together in the Gospels, who had a dispute.

Two, two, the lily white boys clothéd all in green-o.

This may refer to the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus where Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus in clothes of ‘dazzling white’. The “dressed in green” would then refer to St Peter’s suggestion that the disciples build shelters of branches for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. Another explanation is that the statues of St John and Our Lady which, in Christian Churches, flank the Crucifix on the Altar reredos or the Rood screen were, during Holy Week, bound with rushes to cover them.

One is one and all alone, And evermore shall be so.

This appears to refer to God.

Further reading

Song: Go and Catch a Falling Star

Mandrake Root

One of my favourite poets is John Donne, who was born in London is 1572 and is considered a pre-eminent representative of the metaphysical poets. His poems have a great rhythm and often mix fantasy with metaphors and ‘Song’, often known as ‘Go and Catch a Falling Star’ is one of his best.

GO and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devil’s foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy’s stinging,
And find
What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind.

If thou be’st born to strange sights,
Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand days and nights,
Till age snow white hairs on thee,
Thou, when thou return’st, wilt tell me,
All strange wonders that befell thee,
And swear,
No where
Lives a woman true and fair.

If thou find’st one, let me know,
Such a pilgrimage were sweet;
Yet do not, I would not go,
Though at next door we might meet,
Though she were true, when you met her,
And last, till you write your letter,
Yet she
Will be
False, ere I come, to two, or three.

Song is a fantastic poem which on the face of it seems to be about the infidelity of women, and how you are as unlikely to catch a meteor or hear a mermaids singing than you are to meet an honest and a fair women. However, when you delve into it more deeply, it comes across as a more of a lament about the nature of people in general, and how no matter their intentions, will always sin.

As a side note, fans of the film Stardust will be interested to hear that Neil Gaimen used this poem as inspiration for him book, with the fallen star being the main character. It’s well worth a watch!

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Continue reading “Song: Go and Catch a Falling Star”