Friday, 30 January 2015

British Bulldogs, Great Speeches and Poetry ...

Photo by John Anstie
It is not a new notion to say that great speeches are like great poetry [Look up Simon Armitage's documentary on the subject "Speeches that Shook the World" shown on BBC TV on 6th November in 2013 *]. We know all too well how there are certain circumstances, certain events that cause negative emotions to be stirred in us, like the fear that we would ordinarily prefer to keep hidden; fear that has the capability to paralyse us, and deny us our inner strengths. But great speeches. like great poetry, can also stir in us those very positive emotions that bond us in our familial, local and national and even international communities and, in so doing, bind and galvanise us, as well as motivating cooperative action, repair and renewal. The like of this kind of behaviour may seem difficult to believe, these days, when our motives seem only to be characterised by an aspirational, but selfish pursuit of wealth and personal celebrity, often at the expence of those less fortunate; often at the expence of greater causes.

But one man encapsulated the essence of leadership for Great Britain, at a time when it was needed most. He was a man, who, despite his unpopularity amongst certain sections of society in peace time, galvanised a nation into girding its loins and taking action; who, above all else, was capable of stirring the most powerful of positive emotions in us, of breathing the oxygen of hope into a nation that was almost on its knees in the early years of World War II. He was a man, who was an articulate weaver of words, a speech-maker and, it could be argued, a poet. Above all else he was a true leader. That man was, of course, none other than the late Sir Winston Churchill. Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of his State funeral - an honour, apparently never before afforded to a 'Commoner'. 

His speech at the conclusion of the Battle of Britain was poetic:

"Never in the field of human conflict
was so much owed
by so many
to so few" 

I have deliberately broken his prose into poem-like lines, to emphasise the pauses he made between them, to great dramatic effect; an effect that embeds a message deep into our psyche, it sears the soul such that you could feel it in your guts.

The way in which he delivered his rallying speech to Parliament on 4th June 1940 ...

"We shall go on to the end. 
We shall fight in France, 
we shall fight on the seas and oceans, 
we shall fight with growing confidence 
and growing strength in the air, 
we shall defend our island, 
whatever the cost may be.
We shall fight on the beaches, 
we shall fight on the landing grounds, 
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, 
we shall fight in the hills;  ... 

... without doubt, embraces many facets of the poetic. It had such rhythm, even half rhymes and cadences, to say nothing of the way he used the repeated punchy phrase "we shall fight" and how the subtle stress on certain words, lingering on the vowels of certain key words and leaving short silences between lines built drama as the speech progressed to its conclusion.

... we shall never surrender."


Whatever your detractors may have said against you, Sir Winston, for the huge role you played, between 1940 and 1945, in helping a nation believe in itself again and that it could, nay, would prevail, I salute you.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
* Armitage revealed the key elements of a good speech (and also a good poem), which were defined by one of the many people he interviewed during his documentary, Vincent Franklin, who played the blue sky thinking guru, Stuart Pearson, in the BBC's comic satire, "The Thick of It". Franklin is a speech writer in his other life. The three elements he revealed were based on the 'rhetoric strategies' of the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, which are also referred to as the 'modes of persuasion' that defined a great speech as one which had Logos (an appeal to logic and factual argument), Ethos (an appeal to the authority or trustworthiness of the speaker) and Pathos (having secured your audience's attention, this is the quality of the language, which drives the message home more powerfully than any other technique). The final speech presented by Armitage in the documentary is Martin Luther King Jnr's famous "I Have A Dream" speech, delivered to quarter of a million people from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963; a classic mood changing, history making speech if ever there was one.



Sunday, 24 August 2014

Dr Who

Well, what better place, I thought, than this blog, which tries to address the eternal questions about life, the universe and everything, to talk about the one and only Dr. Who?


On Saturday night we watched the first episode of the new series of this fifty year-old Sci-Fi series, which has countless fans all over the world, as well as a few detractors ( who, I think, are just boring contrarians! ;) ). A 'new' Doctor along with an assistant, who is clearly having difficulty coming to terms with an older, silver haired incumbent time-lord.

So, for those of you who saw it, what did you think ... about the story, the characters, the new Dr. Who? The hints at more worldly things: politics, current affairs, many metaphors, hints at political correctness, timeless modern life; it was all in there somewhere!


We saw hints of the Scottish referendum for independence - in the beginning, the Doctor didn't seem happy with the 'English accents' around him. Only the reptilian lady (with the Scottish accent) seemed to be talking a language that was acceptable to the clearly disoriented Doc.


The same sex, albeit preternaturally and probably intergalactic marriage offered us a nudge at a topical issue. What interested me most is something that perhaps could place the scriptwriters' intentions firmly on centre stage of topical socio-political issues. The repeated use of 'the veil' (which, at times, covered said reptilian lady's face) and the closing scene, it has to said delivered with a generous helping of pathos, in which Clara is still having difficulty recognising the transmogrified Doctor and coming to terms with his new ageing grey face ... the epitome of how the fragile human condition is characterised  by how significantly it is affected, nay obsessed, on so many levels, with what we and others look like on the surface. How much do we spend on keeping ourselves looking young on the outside, whilst ignoring what's going on the inside!?


I'm sure many readers of a certain age will know what I mean when I say that, in the latter stages of my life, I can only be affected and attracted by beauty that is deeply rooted; that is sometimes almost indefinably subtle, but most certainly far deeper than the skin and it is glaringly obvious when you encounter it! The colour and quality of our skin, our height, our bone structure, even the way we speak are so often a cause of prejudice, sometimes crippling and socially unacceptable prejudice.
Anyway, please excuse my diatribe. All I wanted to know is what others thought about the new Dr, Who?

Let me know by giving me your own comments below. Make 'em as long and detailed as you like; rants and diatribes are both acceptable. Let rip with your eulogies and crucifixions as much as you like.



John

Friday, 16 May 2014

There is Light ...

© 2007 John Anstie
[Posted in honour of the International Photography Month of May and 'Wordless Wednesday', being celebrated over at The Bardo Group]

Monday, 5 May 2014

Archbishop Desmond Tutu's Forgiveness Challenge

Dear Fellow Blogger and Reader,

I have to tell you about Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Mpho, who have started something. I feel that I have no choice, other than to promote this challenge, given that the subject is very much on my mind (evidence my recent posting over at The Bardo Group "Good Friday, Good Fortune and Forgiveness"). Forgiveness is not just a philosophical, theological or allegorical instrument of persuasion, it is instead being reviewed by psychologists and physicians the world over for its value in healing. This is probably because deep-seated anger, stress, resentment and guilt, may be emotional responses to life, but are known to cause physical and mental illness and personality disorders, if allowed to fester.

It is with honest intent that I recommend this to you all. The link to the site to register is at the Tutu Global Forgiveness Challenge website.

Before you go there, I would urge you to have a look and listen to this interview with the very articulate Alanis Morissette, of whom I knew little before this point, except that she was a musician, but, relating her own journey of forgiving to her song-writing, I found a lot to understand and admire here ...





Do let me know what you think.

Thanks
John


Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Are There Any Other Civilisations ... Out There?

I have held a universal and, it seems probably a pantheistic view of our life on earth for many years now. It is this: that there are probably other intelligent civilisations out there in the cosmos, but, in spite of our continued quest to find some and because of the humungous scale and mind boggling span of time that is represented in the life of the universe, we will never discover one. We may not even exist simultaneously. I would add a small warning to those, who like my mother-in-law, God rest her soul, used to be, are mind-bogglephobics, or who simply cannot cope with the scale of it all, that this may be a challenging concept to grasp. Nonetheless, it does require a calculator with a large scale, should you wish to do some proportions!

The following is a track from his album, "Letters from a Flying Machine" by a very fine musician, singer and songwriter from the USA, Peter Mulvey, whom we saw and met on the weekend at the Barnsley Acoustic Roots Festival.  Having listened closely to the words of his songs and one or two of his 'between song' talks, I asked him in our brief chat, did he by any chance write poetry? He replied that he didn't; he preferred to leave that to the poets, but that a few of his friends were poets and that he read a great deal of poetry ... to exemplify this, the inside cover of the album we bought from him, "Silver Ladder" reveals a brief quote from the 17th Century poet, Mizuta Masahide: "Barn's burnt down - now I can see the moon".

... anyway, back to the theme of this post.

The only thing I can do is ask you to listen to this story Peter Mulvey tells of a conversation that he had, over some beer, with "Vlad the Astrophysicist":




Sums it up very neatly for me.

You might also want to listen to some of this fellow's music; there is poetry in a lot of it.