29 June 2010

Tuesday Poem: Gemini Spacewalk, by Harvey Molloy

Gemini Spacewalk

I was out there
with the flag

and the mission instructions
for the EVA

on my sleeve
but I fell behind schedule

caught by the blue arc
of sky and ocean

against the black
a hurricane-stirred

cappuccino cloud
covered the Gulf of Mexico

except for the transparent
flea of the Florida peninsula

even the small
drops of ice

from the coolant tank
formed perfect worlds

and I thought
of Trey’s letter

from the 365 US Marine
helicopter squadron

a fortnight spent cleaning the aircraft
cleaning weapons

watching dolphins and gulls
chase the ship

days spent writing letters
thinking of Mary Jane

listening to the Shirelles
thinking of home

then back ashore to the hot tent city
of the Da Nang airbase

the talk of operation
Rolling Thunder

towns with colonnades

overlooking wide
rain-soaked boulevards

that could be Louisiana!
Just think now

the space
between Hanoi and New Orleans

would be how many
arc minutes

measured by the fingers
of my outspread hand?


Harvey's notes on the poem: I was thinking of Ed White, the first American to walk in space in 1965, and I imagined that he had a relative called Trey who might be in serving Vietnam. So I actually did a fair amount of research for the poem finding out which forces might be in Vietnam at the time--I even read some soldiers letters from 1965. 'EVA' is the NASA acronym for extra-vehicular activity; a spacewalk. Ed White died tragically in a pre-launch test for the first Apollo mission.

Tim says: This is one of my favourite poems from Harvey Molloy's first collection, Moonshot. I like the way in which what appears to be a casual reminiscence by the narrator is shaped into a powerful and effective poem. I was 7 when Ed White died, but I was already fascinated by the US space programme - I would have been fascinated by the Russian space programme if I had known more about it - and uneasily aware of the Vietnam War. This poem effortlessly carries me back to those days. Thank you, Harvey!

You can find all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog.

24 June 2010

Why You Should Be At Au Contraire

I've banged on a couple of times on this blog about how voting on the Sir Julius Vogel Awards will be taking place at Au Contraire, this year's New Zealand National Science Fiction Convention, taking place from Fri 27 to Sun 29 August 2010 at the Quality Hotel, Wellington

But what I should have stressed is how good Au Contraire is shaping up to be.

The convention gets a sizeable helping hand from taking place the weekend before this year's World Science Fiction Convention, Aussiecon 4, takes place in Melbourne. A number of luminaries are taking the chance to attend both conventions. Subject to confirmation, this is the current lineup of guests and programme participants.

If you look under "Other Programme Participants", you'll see the following people:

* Jonathan Cowie (UK science writer and part of the Concatenation team)
* Jennifer Fallon (Australian SF/F author, The Tide Lords series and other works)
* Peter Friend (NZ short story author and multiple SJV Award winner)
* Tim Jones (NZ author of short stories, novels, and poetry)
* Russell Kirkpatrick (NZ author of the Fire of Heaven and Husk trilogies)
* Juliet Marillier (NZ/Australian fantasy author)
* Cheryl Morgan (prominent UK fan)
* Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Hugo-winning senior editor at Tor Books)
* Kathryn Sullivan (US author and EPPIE Award winner)
* Sonny Whitelaw (The Rhesus Factor, Stargate novels)

All excellent people (well, apart from the reprobate who has snuck into fourth on the list), but in particular, if you're a science fiction or fantasy writer, you would be very well advised to make the acquaintance of Patrick Nielsen Hayden, one of the best and most well-connected editors in the field. I'm also particularly looking forward to catching up with well-travelled fan, writer, energy economist, and passionate rugby/cricket/football follower Cheryl Morgan.

Au Contraire has also released its draft programme. Again, it's all subject to confirmation at this stage, but if even most of these panels and events go ahead, this will be one of the best-programmed conventions ever held in this country, with the programme track for writers a particular highlight.

I'm involved in three programme items: an SF poetry panel (warning: potential panellists have still to be approached!); a session I'm running on getting published in New Zealand, something which SF/F/horror writers have historically found difficult; and the panel submissively entitled "Joss Whedon Is My Master Now" - "no guru, no method, no teacher", say I, but the opportunity to spout Buffy trivia to a supportive audience is too good to pass up.

I'm also looking forward to attending the launch of the NZ SF anthology A Foreign Country, in which I have a story; the official launch of SpecFicNZ, the New Zealand organisation for speculative fiction writers; and the Sir Julius Vogel Awards ceremony.

When I'm not doing any of those things, I expect to be on a book sales table with Lee Pletzers and Pat Whitaker, selling books - although this often turns into chatting with people and forgetting to sell them books, which is very naughty of me.

So I hope you'll think about coming along. And if you haven't been to a science fiction convention before, and you will be in Wellington, do drop in: there's a lot of good stuff going on.

22 June 2010

Tuesday Poem: No Oil

No Oil

Bad news from the north
and the queues growing longer.
Late winter, I remember,
when the shipments ceased.

There was still oil for some
which showed
where power intersected with need:
The rich.
Ministerial limousines.

The rest of us walking,
riding bikes, taking trains,
as our grandparents had:
valuing land
for what it can grow.

A Great Leap Forwards
in reverse
our faith now
in the wisdom of the old.

The world to the north
turns to poison
a battle
of each against all.

Here we cling on
in the ruins of a false economy
doing to others
being done unto
looking back with angry eyes
on a century of waste.

Tim says: I wrote this poem, which appears in my collection All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens, in 2005 or thereabouts, and it doesn't seem any less relevant today. "No Oil" is an exaggeration, of course, but as the oil crisis in the Gulf of Mexico - and its predecessors in many other, less well-publicised places - make clear, oil is becoming harder and more expensive to extract.

Concerns about the peaking and subsequent decline of world oil supply were once easy to dismiss as the ravings of wild-eyes alarmists. But when Lloyds of London and senior figures within the International Energy Agency are raising those same concerns, it may be time for even a government as blithely unaware as the one New Zealand currently possesses to start taking the issue seriously.

All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens cover

You can buy All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens online from New Zealand Books Abroad or Fishpond.

Or, even easier, you can order a copy directly from me, by sending an email to senjmito (at) gmail.com. Within New Zealand, that will cost you $15 including postage & packing. If you're from overseas, please get in touch and I'll let you know the total cost.

Check out the Tuesday Poem Hub Blog for all the Tuesday Poems.

17 June 2010

My Goal

I scored a goal once. It wasn't a leaping header, three minutes into injury time, to give New Zealand its first point in the 2010 World Cup. It wasn't a leaping anything; it was more of a plod. But it was very satisfying to me.

I used to play social football in Dunedin for a team then called, if I recall correctly, Lord Louis' XI - also the name of the cricket team many of us played in during the summer. We had some good players, but I wasn't one of them. I used to play as a fullback, but I had the game sense of a boneless chicken and the tackling philosophy of Vinnie Jones, meaning that I was a more a menace to my own team's chances of success than to the opposition's.

So I was shifted back to goalkeeper. Here, I developed skills in advancing to, but failing to meet, corners and crosses; flapping my hands menacingly at oncoming strikers; and picking the ball out of the back of the net.

In one game at Logan Park, after 40 or so minutes of such ineptitude - I think we were down 8-0 by this stage - the skipper gently suggested that I take a rest from goal. He called in one of our strikers (remember the "0" in "8-0") to do the job instead, and sent me off to join the forward line.

Knowing no other way, I set off from the goal I had been tending and chugged forward at my customary pace towards the opposition goal. I reached the centre circle. I reached half-way. I crossed half-way and entered the foreign territory of the other half. Play was proceeding around me, and to my surprise, I found myself with the ball at my feet and no-one other than the keeper between me and the opposition goal.

This is nice, I thought, and carried on chugging forwards, expecting someone to relieve me of the ball. No-one did. When I got to the edge of the sixteen-yard box, it occurred to me that, since I was now a striker, it wouldn't be inappropriate for me to try shooting for goal.

I unleashed a right-footed shot that, much to my amazement, swirled in the air, swung viciously, beat the opposition goalie's dive, and flew into the back of the net. (Well, it would have done if they'd provided nets to our grade. In reality, it rolled onto the road that led to the old Dunedin Public Art Gallery.)

I seem to remember my team-mates congratulating me, but I was too stunned to pay much attention. I don't think I touched the ball again all game, and I think we lost 18-1, but in that one moment I knew why people all over the world, women and men, young and old, play the beautiful game.

15 June 2010

Tuesday Poem: Homing, by Helen Lowe


He hears it, in every slap
of wave against wood,
as the ship cleaves water
like a seabird, hears the word
that he has hungered for
through the lost years,
whispered to him now
by the sea as it bears him up,
speeds him on like a lover
to the consummation
of his long-held dream
of home: home, lilts the sea,
soft as a lullaby, and home,
sings the wind, slipping
through rigging, soothing
him to rest, not to wake
even as a clear dawn
pares away night, reveals
rocky shores and a green crag
rising, not even to stir
when they lift him
over the bulwark and down,
splashing through shallows
to leave him on shadowed sand,
tender as a child smiling
in his sleep, and dreaming,
dreaming still
of the long returning.

Published in JAAM 26 2008 (Aug/Sept). Reproduced by permission of the author.

Tim says:

Helen Lowe, who has recently joined the Tuesday Poets, wrote "Homing" as part of her "Ithaca Conversations" series, and I chose it - along with another poem and a story by Helen - for inclusion in JAAM 26, which I guest-edited. I was very impressed by the poems and the short fiction she submitted for that issue, and even more impressed when I found out about her most accomplished novels.

A couple of weeks ago, I published Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Ulysses" as my Tuesday Poem for the week. "Homing" is a fitting modern companion to that great Victorian poem.

Helen has now posted a companion post to "Homing" on her blog - well worth reading!

10 June 2010

How To Vote In The Sir Julius Vogel Awards

Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, the anthology I co-edited with Mark Pirie, is on the final ballot in the Best Collected Work category at the Sir Julius Vogel Awards - and there are many fine works nominated in all the categories.

The administrators have now released this handy guide on...

How to Vote

To be eligible to vote, you must be a member of SFFANZ or an Attending or Supporting member of Au Contraire - the 31st New Zealand National Science Fiction & Fantasy Convention (taking in place in Wellington on 27-29 August 2010).

If you wish to vote but are not attending Au Contraire, postal and email voting options are explained here: http://sffanz.sf.org.nz/sjv/sjvNominations-2010.shtml

Postal and email voting starts now and will continue until 20 August 2010 inclusive. Voting actually started as soon as the email voting form was available, so if you have already voted, it is valid assuming all eligibility criteria has been meet.

If you are attending Au Contraire you may vote at Au Contraire. Please keep a look out for the SJV Ballot Box and SJV Table.

If you wish to vote, but are not a member of SFFANZ, you can join for NZ $10.00 and send in your vote with your membership fee. Cheques should be made out to "SFFANZ"

You may vote for one, some or all of the categories.

Many of the works are available at your local library or bookshop. There is plenty of time to read or preview the nominated works before voting closes. We also have more links to the nominated works at http://sffanz.sf.org.nz/sjv/sjvNominations-2010.shtml

Some of the nominated works are available to download whole, free-of-charge.

If you have any questions, please contact June Young, press (at) sffanz.sf.org.nz

08 June 2010

Tuesday Poem: Good Solid Work

Good Solid Work

We'll laugh at this world one day.
It was all a simulation, we'll say -
nodding our virtual heads
smiling our virtual smiles -
why didn't we spot it before?
Nature could never
have come up with the emu
and the hammerhead shark was clearly a clue.

We talk without moving our lips, mind to mind.
Quantum theory's the clincher.
Don't sweat the small stuff, so those in charge
left the edges fuzzy
let the smallest particles
roam where they may.

Still, they did some things well -
the roots that riddled the ground
the rush of wind in the pines
the pressure of our children's hands.
Good work, we'll say, good solid work
nodding our virtual heads
smiling our virtual smiles
turning our eager faces to the soft electron rain.

Tim says:

This poem, included in my second poetry collection All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens, was republished in Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, edited by Mark Pirie and Tim Jones (Interactive Press, 2009).

It refers to the philosophical proposition, advanced by Professor Nick Bostrom, that we may be living in a computer simulation. You can find more about this on The Simulation Argument, which abstracts his argument as follows:

ABSTRACT. This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.

The idea that everything we do happens in a computer simulation run by a more advanced civilisation is not one that appeals to me - but that doesn't mean it isn't true. One wonders how the characters in video games feel about the world they inhabit.

Voyagers cover

You can buy Voyagers from Amazon.com as a paperback or Kindle e-book, or from New Zealand Books Abroad, or Fishpond.

You can also find out more about Voyagers, and buy it directly from the publisher, at the Voyagers mini-site.

Find lots more Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog.

05 June 2010

The Saturday Serial: Win A Day With Mikhail Gorbachev, Part IV

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

Part IV: Expedition To Earth

After the evening meal, Raisa and Mikhail would normally head out to the theatre or a movie, or invite a few friends round for a Pepsi. Tonight, however, they're off to Sheremetyevo Airport to greet the winner of the U.S.-Soviet Friendship Society's "Win a day with Mikhail Gorbachev" competition. This competition attracted over 10,000 entries, despite unfavourable comment in the U.S. media, and represents a significant propaganda victory for the Soviet Union. Contestants were required to write an essay on the subject "U.S.-Soviet Relations: Where to from here?", and as a tie-breaker had been asked to complete, in 25 words or less, the sentence "I would like to visit the Soviet Union because... ".

Although the tie-breaker had not in fact been required, as the winner's essay stood head and shoulders above its competition, his sentence had read "I would like to visit the Soviet Union because I have in my possession complete design drawings of the prototype Strategic Defence Initiative antimissile laser system." This sentence contains 26 words and would, had the tiebreaker been required, undoubtedly have been disqualified.

The winner calls himself Jim Beam, and he arrives from Heathrow Airport by Aeroflot. He is met as he steps off the plane by senior officers of Soviet military intelligence, who relieve him of a folder of drawings he obligingly presents to them, and after submitting to a final search he is permitted to meet the Gorbachevs and the press. After exchanging pleasantries, the threesome return to the Kremlin for a private get-acquainted chat in Mikhail and Raisa's apartment. "That means private", Mikhail insists, shooing away the lurking Kremlin guards.

When the door has closed behind the last of the guards, it is Raisa who speaks. "We have been awaiting this meeting for a long time, Anatar. But why did you choose such a public method of arrival?"

The Ambassador to Earth of the Galactic Federation peels off his false head, legs and genitals, places them in a small attache case, and squats before them in its true form. "An old Earth custom, I believe - of hiding in plain sight. How could anyone so public as Mr. Jim Beam be other than what he seemed? Well, we can dispense with Mr. Beam now. How soon can you leave?"

"I've told my colleagues on the collective farm that I'm taking a week's holiday - I believe that will be sufficient? I've packed my bags, and we recovered the atmosphere suit and other equipment from the Tunguska a week ago. The matter transmitter brought them in easily. I'm ready when you are, Anatar."

"Very well. Mr. Gorbachev, would you like to come with us to farewell your wife?"

"I certainly would. But there's one thing I don't understand, Anatar: why can't the matter transmitter take Raisa all the way to Galactic H.Q.?"

"I don't know, General Secretary. I'm a diplomat, not a scientist. But I've been told that both loci of the matter transmitter need to be on the same planetary body - something to do with frames of reference, I understand."

"Science is a wonderful thing. I must introduce you to some of our more far-sighted writers on the subject."

"Save the books for later, Mick," says Raisa. "It's time to go."

The aliens' ship is waiting in a forest between Shar'ya and Kirov; their matter transmitter, of which an embarrassed Academician Ivanenko is still trying to provide a convincing explanation to the military, sends them through one at a time. The ship is the conventional saucer shape. A ramp extends to the ground, and between the pine trees small figures on trolleys are moving through the mist, collecting specimens.

Before Raisa puts on her atmosphere suit and goes off to the headquarters of the Galactic Federation to present the case for Earth's admission, she and Mikhail say goodbye. They stand at the foot of the ramp, holding each other close.

"Keep everything ticking over whilst I'm away, won't you, Mick?"

"I don't expect any major problems. I'm sure we'll reach a compromise on the Zils without Andrei losing face. Nothing else should be too difficult - for me. You're the one who's got the hard work ahead."

"Oh, I think I'll manage O.K. It's a formality, really, isn't it?... Well, Anatar is looking impatient, probably. I have to go. I love you, darling. Take care."

"I will. You take care too. I'll take a day off when you get back, eh?"

They hold hands as long as they can whilst Raisa seals herself into the suit. Then they separate, and she walks slowly up the ramp as the returning alien scientists whir past her. When they have all returned, the ramp is closed and the spaceship rises silently upwards. As Mikhail turns to return to Moscow, the sky fills with light and a peal of thunder echoes over the sleeping land.

"Win A Day With Mikhail Gorbachev" was included in Best New Zealand Fiction 4 and then collected in my second short story collection, Transported.

Transported cover

You can buy Transported online from Fishpond or New Zealand Books Abroad. You can also read review excerpts and find out more about Transported

03 June 2010

An Interview With Penelope Todd

Penelope Todd is a writer, editor and manuscript consultant currently living in Dunedin. She has had seven young adult novels published by Longacre Press, including her Watermark trilogy, and a memoir, Digging for Spain: A Writer's Journey. Her latest novel is Island, published by Penguin (2010), an adult novel.
(Photo of Penelope Todd by Claire Beynon)

Has it been a difficult transition from writing fiction for a young adult audience to writing fiction for an adult audience - and is it a transition you had been intending to make for a while?

I think the transition is proving more problematic for marketers and reviewers than it has been for me. One wrote of my having to 'leap a gulf' but I consider the distinction more or less arbitrary. I've always written what I wanted to write. After seven novels about teen experience, I wrote a memoir in which I outlined the changes, inward and outward, that had been precipitated by so much fiction writing (or that had precipitated the fiction - cause and effect are not easily distinguishable). That seemed to mark a shift also in my method of obtaining the story - as if through the airwaves instead of digging it up from underground - a much lighter process in some respects.

I knew Island would interest older readers so I allowed interactions, events, and my characters' thoughts concerning desire, fate/destiny and mortality (themes evident in all my fiction) to play out more fully. So, no, the transition wasn't consciously made but my characters had been growing older with each YA novel so, looking back, a shift in marketing was inevitable.

When I saw the title of your book, I thought of Quarantine Island in Otago Harbour. Was your own experience of visiting Quarantine Island an important source for the geography and "feel" of the island in your book, even though the location of the titular island is not specified?

We used to hop (in a boat) across to that island - a.k.a. Kamau Taurua or St Martins Island - when our children were young, to stay weekends in the big old house. We'd wander over the hills and shore, pat the donkeys, fish off the rocks and visit the sad little graveyard with its small earth mounds. I absorbed the atmosphere of the place and a sense of its history, and have since overlaid it with my own fictional island and 130-odd years' distance. However, this might be any quarantine island near any colonial port late in the 19th century. While historical accuracy is important, detailed recreation mattered far less to me than the viability of this fictional community, its members, and their relationships.

Penguin's publicity material for Island describes it as "literary fiction of the highest quality, and an intensely romantic page-turner". Do you think that's a fair description of what you are trying to achieve in Island? If so, how easy a balance is that to maintain?

Well, the blurb came later so I wasn't aware while writing of teetering on that particular tightrope. I enjoyed diving into a deeper language pool than I would writing 'current' fiction, and my sentences are always written with an ear to sound and rhythm. Besides that, I hate to bore myself or the reader so the unfolding story is reasonably pacy and yes, there's attraction and desire, a little sex, varieties of love - eros, philia and agape, at least.

As for romantic? I might be happier with the r capitalised. It's not a 'romance novel'. However, a late mountaineering uncle (Colin Todd after whom the hut was named) was recently described as 'a romantic idealist'. That weakness runs in the family. But mixed in with the human warmth generated on the island is the grit of an attempted suicide, a diphtheria epidemic and several deaths. I'll leave readers to judge whether the publicity is fair.

Looking at your entry on the New Zealand Book Council website, I'm intrigued and impressed to see that you recently "travelled to Argentina in order to complete the writing, translation and adaptation of a bilingual novel with Argentinian writer Elena Boss". That sounds fascinating! How did this project come about, and what can you tell us about it?

I can tell you that I feel very privileged to have had this experience. A fuller account of the process is to appear in the next Booknotes, but Elena and I met on the International Writers' Programme in Iowa in 2007 and, in order to keep in touch, wrote a novel together - employing characters from each of our countries, and taking alternate chapters. I met Elena again in Buenos Aires last year so we could firm up our translations. We now have a bilingual novel of which Elena is currently entering the Spanish version in MS competitions in South America before we look for a publisher in English, too. I dare say it's the first-ever bilingual NZ-South American collaborative novel!

In one of your New Zealand Book Month blog posts in 2007, you mentioned the continuing lack of visibility afforded in New Zealand to writers - and in particular woman writers - from south of Christchurch. Quite apart from the inequity of this, it can't help when promoting a new novel. How can this be circumvented?

Oh, sigh. If anyone has answers to this, could they please tell us, and our publishers? Should we move north to where the publishers, the media engines, the book organisations and the money (in Auckland recently, I heard 'super-yacht' slipped into several conversations - what is that?) reside? If it were simply our own invisibility it would hardly matter, but when new work slips through the cracks so quickly, it gets irksome. Getting better at what we do seems not to make an appreciable difference.

There's some beautiful, under-sung writing happening down here, but we get awfully tired of saying, 'It's the process that matters'. Apart from that, I suppose we could all aim to become younger, more attractive, more extroverted... Or, roll on the digital revolution with the democratisation of the publishing process. I'm doing my bit towards that.

Which writers have been most influential on your own writing, and which are your personal favourites? Are there any writers who haven't received the publicity they deserve that you'd like to recommend?

I hate to single out writers down here - too many are friends and acquaintances -but I name a few in the link above. Off the top of my head, I'll be eager and curious to read Emma Neale's and Maxine Alterio's next novels, and Sue Wootton's next volume of poetry. The whole country should be. Thoughtful readers should read Ruth Pettis's two novels. She died two years ago this month - she's really invisible now, but her work ought never be.

Do you have a plan for how your writing career will unfold? If so, and if it isn't a secret, where do you see yourself and your writing in five years' time?

I'm quite a good plodder so I see more fiction unfolding, back and forth in time and place. I always have some longish thing on the go. Meanwhile I want to work more collaboratively so I'm also plodding towards the production of an ebook publishing site - excellent writing carefully selected, sensitively edited and artfully designed, for global sale. But that's complex and I'm learning on all fronts as I tackle the brand new aspects of this project.

How to buy Island

Island is available online from Fishpond. It should also be available at all good independent bookstores, and is available from some Whitcoulls branches.

02 June 2010

Boycott BP? Boycott The Lot Of Them!

There's a "Boycott BP" movement growing on the Internet at the moment - a response to BP's lamentable inability to plug, kill, cap, or otherwise contain their "Deepwater Horizon" oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

It's an understandable response, but BP is the wrong target.


First, BP is hardly unique among oil companies in its arrogant disregard for the environment, human rights, democracy, life, and anything else that gets in its way. A few examples:

But the oil companies behave as they do because we enable them. We use their oil, and as long as we keep demanding more of it, they will keep producing it until it is economically and geologically impossible for them to do so.

Because easily-accessible supplies of oil are fast running out, that means more offshore drilling, more drilling in protected land, in the Arctic, in sub-Antarctic waters. More oppression of indigenous peoples. More greenhouse gas emissions. More power, more money, and even less accountability.

So the answer is not to boycott BP, but to boycott all the oil companies - by using less of the stuff. Not driving when we could walk, bike or take public transport. Not wasting oil on unnecessary journeys.

And, at a political level, lobbying and arguing for better public transport, better support and better safety features for walkers and cyclists, less air travel and more train travel. Less new roads and more new cycleways. And a ban on further deepwater offshore oil exploration and drilling - not least off the coast of New Zealand.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our oil companies, but in ourselves.

01 June 2010

Tuesday Poem: Ulysses, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Ulysses, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1833)

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an agèd wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vexed the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honoured of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought
with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Tim says:

I like dramatic monologues, a form much beloved of Victorian poets, and this is my favourite. What I like about it, apart from the fantastic lines and memorable images - the section beginning "Come, my friends" most of all - is the intriguing contrast between the jut-jawed Victorian heroism of the poem's surface and the doubt and weariness beneath.

The final line of "Ulysses" stands as Robert Falcon Scott's epitaph, inscribed on a wooden cross on Observation Hill in Antarctica, but in fact the entire poem, in its mixture of doubt and determination, stands as a fitting epitaph for Scott, the "Heroic Age" of Antarctic exploration, and the classical notion of heroism.

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