Rest in Peace, Christopher Tolkien

Christopher John Reuel Tolkien died on 16 January 2020, at the age of 95, in Draguignan, Var, France.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s third son Christopher passed on an year ago today.  He was his father’s literary executor and spent countless hours sorting, deciphering, interpreting, editing and publishing his father’s mountains of unpublished literary output.  With him, the person who was most closely connected with and most knowledgeable about his father’s work from an early age on left Middle Earth and sailed into the West.  Don’t even know where to start expressing our gratitude…  Maybe best to keep it simple:

Rest in Peace, Mr. Tolkien.  Thank you for all the work you have done.

In this video, published in 1992, Christopher Tolkien comes alive again.  Among others, you will also meet his father again, two of Christopher’s siblings (one of whom is still alive), and well-known scholars interested in the world of J.R.R.T. such as Tom Shippey.

Poesie: March Thoughts

Daffy-down-dilly is come up to town, / In her yellow petticoat and her green gown.

When daffodils begin to peer,
With hey the doxy over the dale,
Why then comes in the sweet of the year
And the red blood reigns in the winter’s pale.

~ William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

daffodils - Edited

And hark! How blithe the Throstle sings,
He, too, is no mean preacher;
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

~ William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850)

march eggs

And the Spring arose on the garden fair,
like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast
Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.
The snowdrop and then the violet,
Arose from the ground with warm rain wet;
And their breath was mixed with sweet-odour sent
from the turf like the voice and the instrument.

~ Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

violets shelley

All poems and drawings are taken from Edith Holden’s “The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady”, first published in 1977.  A delightful book!

Remembering Our Ancestors: Jane Playse

Let me take you back to the Elizabethan time.

Our 15th (and 16th) great-grandmother Jane Andrews (née Playse) was a contemporary of Shakespeare, and even lived in London, England, at the latest since 1595.

But she had not been a city dweller all her life, much like The Bard.  Jane Playse was born in 1528 in the East Midlands, more precisely in Northampton, in the shire that bears the same name, some 60 miles north-west of London, and about 45 miles east of Stratford-upon-Avon.  There she appears to have grown up, and by the time she was 21, in 1549, she married our 15th (and 16th) great-grandfather William Andrews in Charwelton, a village about halfway between Northampton and Stratford.  There, at least two sons were born to them, William Jr. and Robert, both in 1550.  Since the bubonic plague was ravaging the area off and on during those years (and for many more decades to come until the Great Plague of London of 1665-66 marked the last great epidemic almost 100 years later), we do not know how many more children they might have had and lost, but we do know that Robert lived long enough to become the father of our 14th (and 15th) great-grandfather John Andrews.  John’s own son William, in turn, immigrated to the colonies in 1624 and started the Andrews family of (what was to become) Hartford, CT, and John followed him when he was already 83 and most all his remaining relatives had either died in England or immigrated already.

But back to Jane and William.  How long they stayed in the area of Charwelton we are not sure, but the year 1596 finds them in London, where William died, his burial being recorded in the church books of St. Giles Cripplegate.  This church lies about a 15 minute walk from St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate where Shakespeare resided during the same year.  Presumably, Jane and Andrew lived somewhere in the vicinity as well.  St. Giles is also the church where, 15 years later, Jane’s burial is documented.  According to the records, she was buried 24 January 1611, that’s today 409 years ago.

I still remember just how exciting it was to realize that Jane and William lived in Shakespeare’s London, and at least Jane had the (theoretical) possibility to go and see a play in the original Globe Theater which was build in Southwark, on the other, as yet barely developed and quite disreputable side of the river, in 1599.  Maybe Jane would never have dreamed of going to the playhouse!  But maybe she did!  We cannot be sure either way.

Jane’s son Robert did not live in London either for the most part, but married and settled in Coventry in Warwickshire, just north-west of his hometown.  Chances are that Jane and William moved to London only after their son had left their home to raise his own family.  Interestingly enough, however, Robert, too, died in London, at the St. Bartholomew-the-Great hospital, and his burial is recorded in the books of St. Martin, Ludgate.  All these places, St. Giles, St. Bartholomew and St. Martin are less than a mile away from each other.

It does make you wonder if people came to London from the countryside to die and be buried there, or if spending a part of your life in the countryside and a part in the big city, like we know Shakespeare did, was quite common back in the day, at least for a certain social class.

In any case, history comes alive when direct ancestors were part of it and no mistake.  Rest in Peace, Great-Grandma Jane Andrews.  We envy you.  A little.

The_Swan performance
A 1596 sketch of a performance in progress at The Swan, a theater much like The Globe that was built in 1599.

SONNET 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

~ William Shakespeare

Featured: John Norden’s map of London in 1593, cropped

Poesie: Rossetti’s The Woodspurge

This English poet with the Italian name was a painter as well as a poet.

Something to ponder…

The Woodspurge

The wind flapp’d loose, the wind was still,
Shaken out dead from tree and hill:
I had walk’d on at the wind’s will,—
I sat now, for the wind was still.

Between my knees my forehead was,—
My lips, drawn in, said not Alas!
My hair was over in the grass,
My naked ears heard the day pass.

My eyes, wide open, had the run
Of some ten weeds to fix upon;
Among those few, out of the sun,
The woodspurge flower’d, three cups in one.

From perfect grief there need not be
Wisdom or even memory:
One thing then learnt remains to me,—
The woodspurge has a cup of three.

~ Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 – 1882)

Rossetti self portrait 1847
Self-portrait, 1847

Rossetti was as talented as a painter as he was as a poet.  Here’s a compilation of his paintings, set to Bach’s Concerto for 3 Harpsichords in C major.

Poesie: Tolkien’s The Last Ship

‘I cannot come!’ they heard her cry. / ‘I was born Earth’s daughter!’

The Last Ship is a poem of the lore of the Shire, originating in the Fourth Age.  It speaks about Fíriel, a woman who was so beautiful that the Elves offered to carry her over the Straight Road to Valinor, but she, not being of elvenkind, decided not to accompany them.  It is a sad poem in a way, and then again it isn’t, for the young woman knows where she belongs, and death is a boon granted, after all.  Besides, it has my favorite bird in it!

The Last Ship

Fíriel looked out at three o’clock:
the gray night was going;
far away a golden cock
clear and shrill was crowing.
The trees were dark, and the dawn pale,
waking birds were cheeping,
a wind moved cool and frail
through dim leaves creeping.

She watched the gleam at window grow,
till the long light was shimmering
on land and leaf; on grass below
grey dew was glimmering.
Over the floor her white feet crept,
down the stair they twinkled,
through the grass they dancing stepped
all with dew besprinkled.

Her gown had jewels upon its hem,
as she ran down to the river,
and leaned upon a willow-stem,
and watched the water quiver.
A kingfisher plunged down like a stone
in a blue flash falling,
bending reeds were softly blown,
lily-leaves were sprawling.

A sudden music to her came,
as she stood there gleaming
with free hair in the morning’s flame
on her shoulders streaming.
Flutes there were, and harps were wrung,
and there was sound of singing,
like wind-voices, keen and young
and far bells ringing.

A ship with golden beak and oar
and timbers white came gliding;
swans went sailing on before,
her tall prow guiding.
Fair folk out of Elvenland
in silver-grey were rowing,
and three with crowns she saw there stand
with bright hair flowing.

With harp in hand they sang their song
to the slow oars swinging;
‘Green is the land, the leaves are long,
and the birds are singing.
Many a day with dawn of gold
this earth will lighten,
many a flower will yet unfold,
ere the cornfields whiten.

‘Then whither go ye, boatmen fair,
down the river gliding?
To twilight and to secret lair
in the great forest hiding?
To Northern isles and shores of stone
on strong swans flying,
by cold waves to dwell alone
with the white gulls crying?’

‘Nay!’ they answered. ‘Far away
on the last road faring,
leaving western havens grey,
the sea of shadow daring,
we go back to Elvenhome,
where the White Tree is growing,
and the Star shines upon the foam
on the last shore flowing.

‘To mortal fields say farewell,
Middle-earth forsaking!
In Elvenhome a clear bell
in the high tower is shaking.
Here grass fades and leaves fall,
and sun and moon whither,
and we have heard the far call
that bids us journey thither’.

The oars were stayed.  They turned aside:
‘Do you hear the call, Earth-maiden?
Fíriel! Fíriel!’ they cried.
‘Our ship is not full-laden.
One more only may we bear.
Come! For your days are speeding.
Come! Earth-maiden elven-fair,
our last call heeding.’

Fíriel looked from the river bank,
one step daring;
then deep in clay her feet sank,
and she halted, staring.
Slowly the elven-ship went by
whispering through the water:
‘I cannot come!’ they heard her cry.
‘I was born Earth’s daughter!’

No jewels white her gown bore,
as she walked back from the meadow
under roof and dark door,
under the house-shadow.
She donned her smock of russet-brown,
her long hair braided,
and to her work came stepping down.
Soon the sunlight faded.

Year still after year flows
down the Seven Rivers;
cloud passes, sunlight glows,
reed and willow quivers
as morn and eve, but never more
westward ships have waded
in mortal waters as before,
and their song has faded.

J.R.R. Tolkien

reeds

Poesie: Keats’ To Autumn

Few poets produced more great poetry at an earlier age than John Keats.

This last of John Keats‘ six great odes was written on the day before the fall equinox in 1819, when Keats was 24 years old.  A child of the fall (he was born on Halloween 1795, which makes him a Scorpio), one can imagine why he made fall “the human season” in contrast with the super-human creativity of spring and the otherworldy extremism of summer and winter.  Being a child of the fall myself, I can understand him well.

Here’s to all who were born in the fall!

To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

John Keats (1795 – 1821)

insta maple leaves.jpg

Poesie: Clare’s I Am

You would have to have a hard heart indeed not to feel pity for Clare and to hear the utter truth, sincerity and pathos of ‘I Am”.

I Am

I am: yet what I am none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes –
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes –
And yet I am, and live – like vapors tossed

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
Even the dearest that I loved the best
Are strange – nay, rather, stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man hath never trod
A place where woman never smiled or wept –
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
The grass below – above the vaulted sky.

~ John Clare (1793 – 1864)

John Clare, born in Northamptonshire on 13 July 1793, died on 20 May 1864 at the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum in Northampton, was an English poet.  The son of a farm laborer, he became known for his celebrations of the English countryside and sorrows at its disruption.  Today, he is often seen as one of the major 19th-century poets, though this is a relatively new appreciation of his work.  The above poem was written at the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, where he spent the last third of his life.

John Clare.jpg

 

Poesie: Landor’s I Strove with None

These lines are a heroic quatrain in more than one sense. Such pure stoicism is rare in English.

In 1849, Walter Savage Landor wrote this epitaph for himself on his 74th birthday.

I Strove with None

I strove with none, for none was worth my strife:
Nature I loved, and next to Nature, Art:
I warmed both hands before the fire of Life;
It sinks; and I am ready to depart.

from The Last Fruit off an Old Tree

~ Walter Savage Landor (1775 – 1864)

Poesie: Wordsworth’s The World Is Too Much with Us

The form of this Wordsworthian sonnet refers back to 16th and 17th century sonnets, much like the reference to Proteus recalls Milton’s description of the Old Man of the Sea, and Triton Spenser’s figure of the sea-god.

It is almost silly to introduce William Wordsworth, this 18th/19th century English poet who was so much in love with nature.  Here is what I learned from him:  He and his sister re-used their tea leaves three times before they passed them on to their poorer neighbors to use.  Surely I do not need to use fresh tea leaves every time I brew tea, do I now?

The World Is Too Much With Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I’d rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

~ William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

Death is a Boon Granted

Today 46 years ago, J.R.R. Tolkien passed on. 

“In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory.”

JRRT2.jpeg

Rest in Peace, Professor.  Death is a boon granted.

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