To “Falter” or to “Prosper?” Scotland’s Potential Independence Considered

On Sunday I was listening to the weekend edition of NPR News, and the topic of Scotland’s potential independence came up.  NPR decided to explore the story was through economics, but what I found interesting that NPR juxtaposed two completely opposing views.  The two articles were entitled, “Scotland Could Prosper Outside the United Kingdom,” and “An Independent Scotland Could Falter Economically.”  What do we believe?

According to the article posing secession as a beneficial economic step, Scotland is, as Fiona Hyslop, a member of the Scottish Parliament puts it, “relative to the UK,” in a very good economic place, bolstered by its oil and gas industries.  Yet Hyslop says that the distinction between England and Scotland would not necessarily have to cut one off from the other, for the currency would be shared, and social relationships between the Scottish and their friends and family in England would be maintained.  Additionally, no passport would suddenly be needed to travel from the UK into Scotland, as it is a member of the European Union.  The only thing, really, that Hyslop emphasizes would change with a Scottish secession would be the political bond between England and Scotland.  She believes that the Scottish have been inadequately represented in the government.  She wants “the people who live and work in Scotland” to be heard in government, instead of having “governments we [the Scottish] haven’t voted for controlling big issues.”  This stance is definitely a nationalist position, wanting to return to the “pre-1707” Scotland during which Scotland was seen as an equal power in Europe, for, right now, Hyslop remarks, “The union [between the UK and Scotland] was meant to be a parliament of equals, but it doesn’t sometimes feel like this from our position.”  (Source: http://www.npr.org/2014/04/27/307340604/scotland-could-prosper-outside-the-united-kingdom)

On the other hand, the article “An Indepenent Scotland Could Falter Economically” warns us of the economic risks secession would take, refuting many of the ideas Hyslop sets out in her interview in the previous article.  Ari Shapiro, who reports for NPR, has spent time in Glasgow to get a sense of the Scottish sentiment toward the potential secession.  Shapiro notes that Hyslop’s statement about currency and Scotland’s membership in the European Union is incorrect: the Scottish pound may not stay tied to the English pound, according to British finance minister George Osborne, and Scotland may have to wait to apply to become a member of the EU, according to European Union president Jose Manuel Barroso.  Additionally, Scottish pensioners would feel negative effects of secession, for the British pension they share currently is significantly satisfactory, as Shapiro found out in an interview with the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.  Still, after speaking to residents of Scotland, Shapiro realizes that they share the same nationalist feeling as Hyslop, noting, “For them, it is more of a vote based on the heart than the head.”  (Source: http://www.npr.org/2014/04/27/307340611/an-independent-scotland-could-falter-economically).

I’m still pondering what exactly these two articles predict.  Clearly, nationalist thought and Scottish pride are widespread sentiments, but they beg the question of whether “the heart” is stronger than “the head” when the referendum actually comes around.  Is moving back to Hyslop’s pre-1707 past tempting enough for the Scottish people, or would they like to maintain their relatively comfortable economic status?  I’d be curious to know how pressing this issue of secession is in the everyday lives of the Scottish people.  Do we hear a more governmental/political leadership voice in these articles than we do of “the people?”  Do these “official” voices block out the true Scottish sentiment?

The Loch Ness Monster on Apple Maps? Thoughts About Land and Nationality

Today I noticed that a Loch Ness Monster sighting is trending on the Internet!  Apparently Loch Ness Monster enthusiasts have found a mysterious shape in the loch on Apple Maps.  They’re claiming that the shape looks like the monster.  Adversaries say it’s a boat wake; sighters fight back that there is no boat in sight around the wake, as the only boats visible are those moored at the loch’s shore.  You may read the full story here:

www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2607667/Is-THIS-Loch-Ness-Monster-Apples-Maps-satellite-image-Nessie.html

This returns me to our class discussion following Edwin Morgan’s poem “The Loch Ness Monster’s Song,” and what it means to fabricate a following of a creature that ties itself so closely to the land.  Much of the poetry we’ve been reading this semester relies on landscape for its settings and content, and I think the Loch Ness Monster branches off this tradition of identification with the land.  I’ve thus been pondering about the relationship between landscapes and nationality in Scotland.  I also wonder, who is entitled to become a believer in Nessie?  What kind of person believes — Scottish? Celtic? International?  When does one start believing, and why?  How does the legend of the Loch Ness Monster relate to Scotland’s cultural history?  Is it significant that the monster is female? (Apparently, to answer this last question, it’s because the name Nessie sounds female! This leads us to interesting questions about the relationship between gender and nation as well — what happens when the nation is a female? Source: http://www.unknownexplorers.com/lochnessmonster.php.)

In my search for some light to shed on the rest of my questions, I found (unsurprisingly) that Nessie has her own website, www.nessie.co.uk, which is “Ultimate and Official.”  The website offers a shop where fans can buy a variety of paraphernalia.  What does it mean that the Monster has been commodified in this way? Does the “Ultimate and Official” website now own/profit from the historical legend?  Now that Nessie has been made “Official” in this way, how does that change or deconstruct or even crystallize our perceptions of how the monster should appear?  I wonder about the importance of having a unified conception of the monster and how that speaks to the people who participate in the legend.  I’d wager to say that having a unified image provides a center for [the myth of (?)] the monster, in that it is a foundation off of which people can build.  And the vagueness of the monster’s appearance welcomes new followers in so that they may easily believe they’re seeing the monster.

Still, in returning to the Apple Maps “sighting,” The Wire wonders, “Is this the work of Scottish nationalists?”  (Source: www.thewire.com/global/2014/04/apple-inadvertantly-intensifies-the-search-for-loch-ness-monster/360929/).  This question implies that “Scottish nationalists” could be using the monster sighting as a ploy for attention given the current question of whether Scotland will break away from England, answering one of my original questions of how having a monster might elevate Scottish cultural history and nationalist sentiments.  Now I ask, if the monster intrigues an international audience, are Scottish nationalists using the monster to elevate Scotland’s global relevance?  Or, on the other hand, given the monster’s international application, does the fact that the monster is in Scotland specifically even matter?  Put differently, I am curious about how much the country matters when the setting of Loch Ness is so famously recognized.  Does this bring Scotland forward, or push it into the background of global thought, the foreground of which is the Loch and its Monster?  Clearly right now the Internet is abuzz with the sighting, but I don’t think we are being drawn any further than that — in other words, I hesitate to agree with The Wire in saying that this is a nationalist plot because the Internet seems to be selectively paying attention to Nessie but not to Scotland in general after the sighting.

The NY Times Explores the Places of Dylan Thomas

Here is a brief article from the travel section of the NY Times that explores (literally) the places in the south of Wales where Dylan Thomas lived (a desk where he wrote that caught the light of the setting sun; the pub where he drank and did his crossword puzzles).  The writer of the article notes that the landscapes of southern Wales stand as a metaphor for the loss of childhood innocence in Thomas’s poems; Thomas spent his childhood in the pastoral Carmarthenshire (which inspired “Fern Hill”) and the later years of his life in Laugharne, a coastal town, the “nexus” of which is still the pub that Thomas frequented.  (And the writer of the article found the pub and its occupants very welcoming, overcoming any Welsh-English language barriers).  The article implies that Thomas continues to occupy a place at the heart of the town, for his home has been turned into a museum that, according to the article, has not lost its home-like charm.  Most importantly, though, the article emphasizes the profound beauty of the landscape and comes to fully understand why landscape and nature ground so many of Thomas’s poems: the landscape is serene and wild, a binary to which the article attributes Thomas’s “multifaceted legacy.”  What I take from the article is that there is something irrevocable about the connection between Thomas and his Welsh land, that one could not have existed without the other, that Thomas had just as lasting an influence on Laugharne as it did on his verse.  Nevertheless, I am left trying to make sense of the relationship between the poet and his landscape.  Is Thomas’s presence in Laugharne permanent? How many windows are we, as his readers, looking through when we read the Welsh landscape through Thomas?  Does an intense landscape make for intense poetry?

Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/23/travel/following-dylan-thomas-in-wales.html?rref=travel&module=Ribbon&version=context&region=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Travel&pgtype=article

U2 and Bloody Sunday

During our class discussion of Seamus Heaney’s “Casualty,” we briefly mentioned that the “Bloody Sunday” event in the poem is the same Bloody Sunday about which U2 sings.  As a fan of U2 myself, I decided to do a little more research about U2’s engagement in social and political activity, specifically their take on Bloody Sunday.

First, I read about the history of the formation of U2 to figure out the nature of their relationship with the conflict in Northern Ireland.  U2 formed in 1976 (although they did not call themselves “U2” until about 1978), enjoying their first taste of fame by winning a talent contest in 1978 in Limerick, Ireland, that landed them a record demo.  The band at this point were known mostly by the Irish population, as their releases were Irish-only; they didn’t gain international recognition until the ’80s.  But once they achieved a foothold in the UK with their novel sound and subjects (like death and faith, with which rock and roll had not entirely dealt before), the rest of Europe and the US received U2 well.  The band had some trouble reconciling their openly Catholic religion with the rock-and-roll lifestyle but ultimately decided that the two could work with each other.

The 1983 release of the album “War” in which we find “Sunday Bloody Sunday” marked U2’s first clear recognition of the Troubles.  But Bono made clear that “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was not intended to incite dissension: he introduced the song at concerts with the disclaimer, “This is NOT a rebel song!”, and then, while singing the song, Bono would wrap himself in a white flag to indicate the song’s peaceful mission.  (Source: http://www.atu2.com/band/bio.html)

These are the lyrics:

Yes…

I can’t believe the news today
Oh, I can’t close my eyes 
And make it go away
How long…
How long must we sing this song
How long, how long…
’cause tonight…we can be as one
Tonight…

Broken bottles under children’s feet
Bodies strewn across the dead end street
But I won’t heed the battle call
It puts my back up
Puts my back up against the wall

Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday

And the battle’s just begun
There’s many lost, but tell me who has won
The trench is dug within our hearts
And mothers, children, brothers, sisters 
Torn apart

Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday

How long…
How long must we sing this song
How long, how long…
’cause tonight…we can be as one
Tonight…tonight… 

Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Wipe the tears from your eyes
Wipe your tears away
Oh, wipe your tears away
Oh, wipe your tears away
(Sunday, Bloody Sunday)
Oh, wipe your blood shot eyes
(Sunday, Bloody Sunday)

Sunday, Bloody Sunday (Sunday, Bloody Sunday)
Sunday, Bloody Sunday (Sunday, Bloody Sunday)

And it’s true we are immune
When fact is fiction and TV reality
And today the millions cry
We eat and drink while tomorrow they die

(Sunday, Bloody Sunday)

The real battle just begun
To claim the victory Jesus won
On…

Sunday Bloody Sunday
Sunday Bloody Sunday…

(Source: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/u2/sundaybloodysunday.html)

 

I then decided to read what Bono himself had to say about the song.  In 2010, he wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times that reflected upon the British Prime Minister (David Cameron)’s apology for the British violence on Bloody Sunday, an event that Bono remembers.  Bono describes how Bloody Sunday changed his family life–they stopped taking trips across the border to Ulster, for example, because, according to his father “The Nordies have lost their marbles”–but offers a hopeful reading of the reaction of Irish citizens to Prime Minister Cameron’s apology.  Bono offers, “…things are quick to change for the worse and slow to change for the better, but they can.”  He depicts a joyful crowd, groups of women singing “We Shall Overcome,” and a resistance to getting too far into controversial political discussions for fear of losing the “dignified joy” of the moment.  From what I gather, Bono believes times have changed mostly for the better since Bloody Sunday, even though the event will never truly be forgotten on both sides.  And, importantly, the singer notes in his Op-Ed piece that the song “Sunday Bloody Sunday” encompasses not only the conflict in Northern Ireland but also any source of tension between groups of people: Bono believes “the song will be sung wherever there are rock fans with mullets and rage, from Sarajevo to Tehran.”  In other words, the song is meant to be universally applicable.  (Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/20/opinion/20bono.html)

 

Finally, I went on YouTube to watch some performances.  I found this one where U2 performs in 1987 in Dublin particularly striking: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbN7MWmvzoE (there is also part of a documentary from which the video is from within the clip, and it’s worth listening to Bono’s couple of comments that are embedded in the recording of the performance).  And here is the music video for the song, where you can hear Bono say “This is not a rebel song!” and you see the white flag he uses: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EM4vblG6BVQ.

 

I think this is very interesting to put into context with the Irish poetry we have been reading–how art (music or poetry) is used in politics and how people react to this kind of politically-charged art; how universally applicable this art is; how timeless it is.

“The Little White Rose”

Today in class when we brought up Hugh MacDiarmid’s poem, “The Little White Rose,” two things struck me: 1) Who is John Gawsworth, to whom the poem is dedicated? and 2) How can we compare this white rose to Yeats’s red rose of Ireland “upon the Rood of Time?”

First, I entered “John Gawsworth Hugh MacDiarmid” into Google.  According to Wikipedia, John Gawsworth was a British writer and poet who also compiled anthologies of poetry and of short stories, who lived from June 29, 1912 to September 3, 1970.  He was in fact born Terence Ian Fytton Armstrong (or T. I. F. Armstrong), but also worked under the pseudonym Orpheus Scrannel (which comes into interesting conversation with the class discussion about MacDiarmid/Leslie/Grieve’s pseudonyms).  Gawsworth wrote in London and embraced traditionalism instead of modernism.  Additionally, he ran the Twyn Barlwm Press, the namesake of which came from the Twyn Barlwm mountain in South Wales, which Arthur Machen, a writer Gawsworth very much admired, had loved himself.  The name of the press reflects Gawsworth’s respect for traditional ideas instead of the push ahead to modernism.  A fun fact about Gawsworth is that, as the literary executor for M. O. Shiel, another writer Gawsworth had befriended, Gawsworth inherited the throne of the Kingdom of Redonda, henceforth naming himself H. M. Juan I, or King Juan I.  Redonda is a micronation in the Caribbean that is about 1 square mile! (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_Redonda)

This is Redonda:

(Source: http://www.antiguamarineguide.com/king-of-redonda.php)

Gawsworth met MacDiarmid in London in 1934, when MacDiarmid stayed in Gawsworth’s home, and MacDiarmid, thirty years later, dedicated an essay to Gawsworth, entitled When the Rat-Race Is Over; an essay in honour of the fiftieth birthday of John Gawsworth (1962).

What I’m wondering is why MacDiarmid dedicated “The Little White Rose” to Gawsworth.  Wikipedia states that Gawsworth had been committing himself to writing supernatural fiction at the time he met MacDiarmid, while we know that MacDiarmid wrote for his fellow working-class people.  How do their writing styles work together?  I’d posit that, since MacDiarmid, in his essay “The Politics and Poetry of Hugh MacDiarmid” (1952), quotes Thomas Hardy, “Literature is the written expression of revolt against accepted things,” that Gawsworth’s supernatural writing must align with this ideal (MacDiarmid, 24).  And, of course, the two may just have been good friends.  MacDiarmid was always staying connected with his people, after all.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Gawsworth

 

To answer my second question about “The Little White Rose,” I have identified a few critical ideas from Yeats’s poem, “To The Rose Upon the Rood of Time.”  Firstly, and most clearly, I suppose, the rose of Ireland is red.  It is “proud” and “sad,” and Yeats directs his verse at the rose (Ireland).  The speaker beckons the rose repeatedly: to “Come near me…Come near” (Yeats, 6).  He wants this specific rose–Ireland–for her ubiquity in the speaker’s history.  She is the “Rose of all my [the speaker’s] days,” and it is only by connecting with her will the speaker feel complete.  To reiterate the point we made in class a few weeks ago, the red rose here is on the cross of time, alluding to the Crucifixion.  And, of course, the red imagery symbolizes love, passion, and blood or violence.

Applying this symbolism to “The Little White Rose” thus accounts for the color: white is the symbol of innocence, purity, and virginity, and Scotland is such a white rose.  I wonder — does this imply that Ireland is somehow less innocent than Scotland?  Still, both Yeats and MacDiarmid convey strong nationalist ideologies through their heartbreak over their rose-like countries.  Only these roses will do, for MacDiarmid writes, “I want for my part / Only the little white rose of Scotland” (MacDiarmid, 422), while Yeats’s entire poem laments a singular rose who has endured the trials of time.  And it is interesting that both speakers feminize Ireland and Scotland, objectifying them as unattainable women, for Yeats’s speaker is always asking the rose to “Come near” and MacDiarmid’s speaker admits that the rose, which “smells sharp and sweet…breaks the heart” (MacDiarmid, 422).  These feminized states cannot be achieved.

That said, a few questions come into mind after having juxtaposed these poems that I will leave open-ended, for now:

-How do Yeats’s and MacDiarmid’s political ideologies inform or influence their use of rose imagery to represent the country?

-What role does the female lover play in a political context?  That said, what does the politicization of the female image (the rose) say about gender and gender-specific agency?  What kinds of agency do these roses possess (the power of their beauty, their enduring sadness, the power to break a man’s heart), and do they have more or less than the speakers?

-Yeats chooses a Catholic context for his poem; MacDiarmid does not.  Why?

Welsh Heritage

Over the years at family dinners I’d heard snippets of anecdotes about our Welsh roots from my grandmother, Mary Jean (Smith) Madigan.  The information I learned was intriguing, but I never really had paid much attention to figuring out littler details like who married who, and who came from exactly what city, and so on.  Now, since I’m going to be engaging with Welsh poetry so closely, I suddenly became entirely compelled to have a straightforward conversation with my grandmother about our Celtic lineage.

Briefly, this is what I learned from my grandmother:

My Welsh great-great-grandmother, Mary Ann (nee Rees) Smith was born on March 6 1881, in Pontypridd, which was then County Glamorgan.  Pontypridd was known for its coal mining within the Rhonda River Valley, located north of a town called Cardiff.  Mary Ann had two sisters, Sarah and Blodwyn, and a brother, Gordon.  Their family emigrated to Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, around 1890.  This was where Mary Ann Rees married my great-great-grandfather, Robert Murray Smith, with whom she had 13 children.

Here’s where Pontypridd is located:

(Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rhondda_Cynon_Taf_UK_location_map.svg)

This is the “Old Bridge” of Pontypridd.

  (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Old_Bridge,_Pontypridd.jpg)

Pontypridd, or “Ponty,” as its locals have nicknamed it, is Welsh for “bridge by the earthen house,” a reference to the Old Bridge (pictured above) for which it is known.  And my grandmother’s recollection was spot on: sure enough, Pontypridd is mostly known for its coal and iron mining.  It is also the a center for coal transportation between the surrounding valleys, therefore making use of the port at Cardiff, the city that my grandmother mentioned. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pontypridd)

Robert Murray Smith was born in 1871 in Cleator Moore near Penrith, in the North of England, which was a center for iron mining south of the Lake Country and Scottish border of Glasgow.  (His mother, Isabelle Campbell, was Scottish.)  The Smiths emigrated to Nanticoke in the late 1880s.

Here’s Cleator Moore on the map:

(Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f9/Cumbria_UK_location_map.svg/240px-Cumbria_UK_location_map.svg.png)

It turns out that my great-great-grandfather’s town of Cleator Moore was situated in a rich history.  In the 1870s, for instance, Cleator Moore experienced sectarian turmoil between supporters of the Protestant Orange Order and supporters of Irish Catholics when Cleator Moore miners invaded Whitehaven, a nearby town, to attack the Anti-Popery leader William Murphy.  Then, on July 12, 1884, the Orange Lodges of Cumberland marched through Cleator Moore to commemorate the 1690 Battle of the Boyne in a rebuttal against the Catholics.  (The Battle of the Boyne was fought by the Catholic King James on one side and the Protestant King William on the other; William’s victory helped Protestants gain power in Ireland). (Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleator_Moor & en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Boyne)

My grandmother grew up in Nanticoke among a large Welsh population in the mining towns close by.  She sang in a Methodist church junior choir and remembers how the church’s Welsh director took the choir to sing in the Welsh Eisteddfod, a song and music competition, at the Edwardsville, PA, church.

Interestingly enough, Nanticoke’s history links to some of the Celtic economic and commercial trends.  For instance, Nanticoke’s economy centered heavily on coal mining in the late nineteenth century, for which it used Welsh immigration labor.  It seems that my family joined the surge of Welsh immigrants a little on the later side, for, according to the town of Nanticoke’s historical records, many Welsh came in the 1840s.  Additionally, Nanticoke saw an influx of Irish immigrants during the Potato Famine. (Source: www.nanticokecity.com/history.htm)

Finally, I did a little research into what, exactly, an “eisteddfod” is.  The Eisteddfod is a music festival taking place in Wales (North one year and South the next) to promote Welsh culture.  (Source: www.eisteddfod.org.uk/english/faqs/).  Eisteddfod refers to a group of people “sitting together;” in ancient times this gathering of people meant a group of bards performing in a search for patronage from nobles.  Clearly, then, the Eisteddfod has been around for a very long time: it was first held at Lord Rhys ap Gruffudd’s castle in Cardigan in 1176!  By the end of the nineteenth century, the eisteddfod was not only poetry but also a variety of folk celebration.  The first National Eisteddfod was held in Aberdare in Mid Glamorgan in 1861, and in 1880 the National Eisteddfod Association was founded with the mission to make the Eisteddfod an annual event.  (Source: www.abergavennyeisteddfod.co.uk/english/eisteddfod-tradition.php)

The Eisteddfod my grandmother attended was most likely the Cynonfardd Eisteddfod, held annually since 1889 in Edwardsville, as she remembers.  In fact, many other Eisteddfods take place throughout the United States as well as the world!  To me, this reflects not only the presence of the Welsh language globally but also the effort to champion it.  (Source: www.herald-dispatch.com/news/putnam/x2070312859/Eisteddfod-a-centuries-old-celebration-of-song-and-poetry)

I looked around YouTube for a little while to find some samples from Eisteddfods in the past few years.  The song this choir sang at the Genedlaethol Eisteddfod in 2013 was pretty catchy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I93uN3awODE

And here’s a bit of Welsh folk dancing at the Swansea Eisteddfod in 2006: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIOS19WzEZM

YouTube has tons more of Eisteddfod samples, should you want to explore more.  Enjoy!