At the time of his birth, Montenegro did not exist as a state as it was recognised as a part of the Ottoman Empire, its borders were undefined, the de jure ruler was a Venetian Governor, cattle rustling was widespread and Montenegrin tribes and families were dissipating their strength in ancient blood feuds (Serbian: krvna osveta or krvna osvjeta). Njegoš spent his early years in Njeguši, where he passed his days as most of his contemporaries: tending his father’s flock of sheep, playing the gusle and attending local family and church celebrations where stories of past battles and suffering were told.
As the son of Tomo Petrović and Ivana Proroković Petrović, he was born into the House of Petrović-Njegoš, whose members had been the Prince Bishops of Montenegro for over a century.
In 1833, Njegoš travelled to St. Petersburg to be ordained as the Prince-Bishop of Montenegro.
As a Bishop, Njegoš was preoccupied by secular matters, and for that he was criticized by some of his contemporaries who argued that he was spending too much time writing poetry instead of officiating at religious services. He was also often accused of preferring the Montenegrin national costume to the Bishop’s robes, and of spending more time deliberating the problems of the state rather than those of the Church.
As a ruler, Njegoš attempted to undermine the tribal structure of authority in the state and create the basics of a modern, centralized state by introducing the rudiments of an educational and communicational infrastructure. He eliminated the office of the civil governor. In addition to establishing a central authority and attempting to create Montenegrin infrastructure, Njegoš introduced a new tax policy in 1833 and acted promptly and ruthlessly in dealing with Montenegrin tribes who attempted to evade paying taxes. Njegoš also contributed greatly to the revival of Serbdom in Montenegro as, during his reign, Montenegrins were persuaded to stop wearing their Turkish fezzes in favour of a traditional Montenegrin cap and an Obilić Medal of Valour was insituted and became the country’s highest military decoration in a move to reinforce the Montenegrin nation’s bond with Serbs in Serbia and in other lands.
Despite his political achievements, Njegoš is, arguably, best remembered for his poetic and literary output. He began writing poetry at the age of 16, and in his life he wrote numerous works of epic poetry, including The Voice of Mountaineers (1833), The Cure for the Turkish Fury (1834), The Serbian Mirror (1835), The Ray of the Microcosm (1845), The False Tsar Stephen the Little (1851) and, perhaps most famously, The Mountain Wreath (published in 1847)
As a ruler and reformer, his greatest achievement was persuading the feuding clan chiefs of Montenegro to introduce fair taxation, as well as a codified set of laws based upon common rights, into their primitive mountain communities. He held the position of Prince-Bishop until his death of tuberculosis at the age of 37 in 1851.
When a 19th century Turkish commander asked how far it was to Cetinje, the stronghold of the Black Mountains, then the capital, a Montenegrin replied,”It depends, a friend can get therein six hours; a foe,- may be never”.
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Posted in art, personalities, tagged Benny Thomas, black and white, In Memoriam, pen portraits, poet, The Apostles, the Lotos eaters, Victorian poet on August 22, 2012 |
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Lord Alfred Tennyson(1809-1892) ‘Poets cut their quill on the teeth of adversity but the music must come from the harmony of celestial spheres.’ The life of Tennyson followed true to this adage. The poet’s grandfather breaking the rule of primogeniture made his younger son Charles his heir. Before Alfred was even born the silver spoon that was his birthright, was taken from his mouth, so to speak. The contrast of his own family’s relatively straitened circumstances to the great wealth of his aunt Elizabeth Russell and uncle Charles Tennyson made him feel particularly impoverished and led him to worry about money all his life. A blow felt keenly at the blind chance brought him other worries as well. He suffered from a lifelong fear of mental illness, for several men in his family had a mild form of epilepsy. His father and brother Arthur made their cases worse by excessive drinking. His brother Edward had to be confined in a mental institution after 1833, and he himself spent a few weeks under doctors’ care in 1843. In the late twenties his father’s physical and mental condition worsened, and he became paranoid, abusive, and violent.
In 1827 Tennyson escaped the troubled atmosphere of his home when he followed his two older brothers to Trinity College, Cambridge, where his tutor was William Whewell. Because they had published Poems by Two Brothers in 1827 and Alfred won university prizes for poetry (Chancellor’s Gold Medal in 1828) the Tennyson brothers became well known at Cambridge. In 1829 The Apostles, an undergraduate club, whose members remained Tennyson’s friends all his life, invited him to join. The group, which met to discuss major philosophical and other issues, included Arthur Henry Hallam. On a visit to Somersby, Hallam met and later became engaged to Emily Tennyson, and the two friends looked forward to a life-long companionship. Hallam’s death from illness in 1833 (he was only 22) shocked Tennyson profoundly, and his grief lead to most of his best poetry, including In Memoriam , “The Passing of Arthur”, “Ulysses,” and “Tithonus.”
Since Tennyson was always sensitive to criticism, the mixed reception of his 1832 Poems hurt him greatly. Critics in those days delighted in the harshness of their reviews: the Quarterly Review was known as the “Hang, draw, and quarterly.” John Wilson Croker’s harsh criticisms of some of the poems in one anthology kept Tennyson from publishing again for another nine years.
The success of his 1842 Poems made Tennyson a popular poet, and in 1845 he received a Civil List (government) pension of £200 a year, which helped relieve his financial difficulties; the success of “The Princess” and In Memoriam and his appointment in 1850 as Poet Laureate finally established him as the most popular poet of the Victorian era.
By now Tennyson, only 41, had written some of his greatest poetry, but he continued to write and to gain in popularity. In 1853, as the Tennysons were moving into their new house on the Isle of Wight, Prince Albert dropped in unannounced. His admiration for Tennyson’s poetry helped solidify his position as the national poet, and Tennyson returned the favor by dedicating The Idylls of the King to his memory. Queen Victoria later summoned him to court several times, and at her insistence he accepted his title, having declined it when offered by both Disraeli and Gladstone.
Tennyson suffered from extreme short-sightedness — without a monocle he could not even see to eat — which gave him considerable difficulty writing and reading, and this disability in part accounts for his manner of creating poetry: Tennyson composed much of his poetry in his head, occasionally working on individual poems for many years. During his undergraduate days at Cambridge he often did not bother to write down his compositions, although the Apostles continually prodded him to do so. (We owe the first version of “The Lotos-Eaters” to Arthur Hallam, who transcribed it while Tennyson declaimed it at a meeting of the Apostles.)
Long-lived like most of his family (no matter how unhealthy they seemed to be) Alfred, Lord Tennyson died on October 6, 1892, at the age of 83.(ack: http://www.victorianweb.org)
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For the text see Pen Portraits #14 March 22 of 2009
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Sir Philip Sydney (1554-1586) courtier, poet
Sir Philip Sydney, like Sir Walter Raleigh was a typical Elizabethean figure representing not only the fiery spirit of the period but also the romantic idealism and its respect for the chivalric virtues. Born into a distinguished family, his father was thrice Deputy of Ireland. He spent his youth was spent in a typical fashion of the Elizabethan upper-crust, leaving Oxford he traveled through Europe and returned home in 1575.He was a precocious youth and with the Grand Tour behind him he settled to hone his immense talents into works like The Countess of Pembroke, Arcadia(1590) written for the amusement of his sister, and Astrophel and Stella (1591) inspired by his unrequited love for Penelope Devereux who was married to his rival. This was followed by ‘Defense of Poesie (1598). None of his works were published in his lifetime. Like John Keats after him his fame owe partly for the poignant circumstances of the tender age in which he lost his life. He was only 32. In 1586 he joined an English Expedition to the low countries and died of the wounds he had received during a skirmish at Zutphen.
Sir Philip Sydney, the Elizabethan poet lying wounded on the battlefield at Zutphen developed fever and asked for a glass of water. When the water was brought to him his eyes met his wounded comrade in extremis pleading for water. He stretched out his arm to him saying, ’Soldier, thy need is greater than mine.’
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Wife of Osip Mandelstam who died in one of Stalin’s prison camps in the late ’30s, surviving her life of poverty and loneliness lived to see her kitchen becoming a cultural pit-stop for touring writers and scholars. Towards the end she, frail in health desired death because ‘up there I’ll be again with Osip.’ Poet Anna Akhmatova who was present disagreed. ‘You’ve got it all wrong,’ she told her old friend,’Up there it is me now going to be with Osip.’
Note:Poet Osip was said to have had a liaison with Anna. He died in 1938. b.
Boris Pasternak, the author of Dr. Zhivago in recalling the dark days under Stalin’s repressive regime once shared what many of his literary friends dared not voice openly. He admitted things were somewhat easier than then. Speaking of the changed times he said,’They don’t ask much of you. They only want you to hate the things you love and to love the things you despise.’
Some one sarcastically asked Robert Hutchins , former president at the University of Chicago, if Communism was still being studied at the University.
‘Yes,’ replied Hutchins,’and cancer at the Medical School.’
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LORD GEORGE GORDON BYRON, (1788 – 1824) British
A gifted poet with dashing looks gilded with the rank, he was the 6th baron, born to a strong willed heiress and a profligate father. He as a boy lived in penury. Byron became Lord Byron at the age of ten and had a unstable childhood reared under an overbearing mother and seduced at the age of nine by a wicked nurse Mary Gay. He was bruised by childhood traumas: his life with mother made him aware of the eccentric and wild side of his ancestors and his mother was certain he would turn out to be like his scapegrace father. He spent his childhood divided between Scotland and in London. The story of Cain and the idea of evil done under compulsion, and the man cursed for his sin haunted his imagination. He was in a sense one who did his best to outrun his doomladen heredity real or imagined.
When he came to the title he was brought to Newstead Abbey, the family seat with a capital of £75. Sent to Harrow he was set to prove himself. He excelled himself in games, swimming and began to write verses. He also fell, in and out of love a trait which was to last for the rest of his life.
He as the poet himself confessed, found himself overnight famous – despite all the accomplishment his congenital clubfoot drove him to despair and as a child loved the solitude of the tombs and there it must have first filled him with the transience of earthly glory. His attitude of ironic despair and his aspirations for political liberty made him the universal symbol of the Romantic poet. Partly his personality and largely his poetry captured the imagination of Europe.
In 1812 he gave his politically radical maiden speech in the House of the Lords and published his autobiographical poem ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’. Byron was then swept into a tide of fame and unfortunate love affairs; during this period he wrote the oriental tales ‘The Giaour’ and the ‘Bride of Abydos’ (1813) and ‘the Corsair’ and ‘Lara’ (1814). He made a disastrous marriage in 1815 and his involvement with his pretty and shallow half-sister ended in a scandal, which made the poet an outcast in London social circles. He was divorced in the following year and then embarked into a self-imposed exile to Europe. During his last years, he wrote ‘Don Juan’, a masterpiece in its genre and the ‘Prophecy of Dante’ and ‘Cain’ (1821).
He entered into the fight for Greek independence (1823-’24). During the misadventures that followed Byron steadfastly helped the Greek cause and he died of a fever.
Trivia: He called his wife Annabelle Millibanke ‘Princess of Parallelogram. Their daughter was Ada who extended the practical use of the ‘computer’ developed by Charles Babbage.
While chatting with a clergy man who had much common sense Lord Byron grumbled at the twist of fate. The clergyman tried to convince the Providence against which he protested had endowed him with rich array of blessings,-his rank, wit, fortune and above all a mind that placed him above the rest of the mankind.
‘Ah, my friend,’ said Byron mournfully pointing to his forehead, ‘if this paces me above the rest of mankind,’ and pointing to his foot, ‘that places me far, far below them.’
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Robert Burns called one day at his printers in Kilmarnock. He had his poem ‘the Holy Friar’. Asked if he was not afraid to attack on the clergy, he replied, “As to my purse, you know they can make nothing of it. As for my person (brandishing his oak stick), I carry an excellent cudgel!”
While dining at the Brownhill Inn where the landlord was, oddly enough, named Bacon and the principal dish served that day was bacon, he was interrupted by a visiting Englishman. He asked the poet to prove he really was Burns, the poet.
Instantly the poet came up with,
“At Brownhill we always get dainty cheer;
And plenty of bacon each day in the year;
We’ve all thing that ‘s nice and mostly in season;
But why always Bacon- come give the reason?”
In his poorer days Burns was so hard up, he went out in the streets of Dumfries, shabby and disorderly. Meeting some of his close friends he told them sadly,” I am going to ruin as fast as I can; the best I can do, however is to go consistently.”
Burns, though lowly in circumstances, disliked to be tutored in matters of taste. Once visiting a fine house with many beautiful objects on display, where a party of visitors expressed their admiration over items, a lady asked him, “But Burns, have you nothing to say of this?”
To which glancing at the one who was holding attention of the crowd he replied, “Nothing, madam, nothing, for an ass is already braying over it.”
While visiting a popular beauty spot, Creehope-Linn in Dumfriesshire, he was called upon at every turn, admire the scene.
Finally tiring of the criticism he didn’t show enthusiasm adequately enough he stopped and said, “But I couldn’t admire it more, gentlemen, if He who made it were to ask me to do it.”
While attending a church service in Dumfries, the poet found a girl in front of him furiously searching the Bible for the text. The sermon for the day was ‘a fierce denunciation of obstinate sinners.’ She thumbed through the pages in vain. Hurriedly the poet penned some lines and handed it to her.
“Fair maid, you need not take the hint,
Nor idle texts pursue;
‘Twas guilty sinners that he meant,
Not angels- such as you”.
Once two farmers passing Burns thought to have some fun at his expense. One said, “Boo” at which the poet penned this quatrain:
“There’s Mr. Scott and Mr. Boyd
Of grace and manners they are void;
Just like the bull among the kye (=cows)
They say ‘Boo’ at folk when they gae by.”
A doctor attending Burns in his last illness tried to give up the bottle and he said that the coat of his stomach was entirely gone.
The poet retorted, “Ah well, if that is the case, then I’ll just go on drinking. If the coat is gone, it’s no worth the while to keep carrying about the waistcoat.”
Burns, the ploughman poet of Scotland was taking a walk in the town of Leith and on meeting an old friend he stopped to talk to him.
A snobbish lady asked why he had thought fit to talk one so shabbily dressed, Burns had this reply: “Madam it was the man I was talking to. Do you suppose it was the man’s clothes I was addressing,-his hat, his clothes, his boots?”
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W. B Yeats (1865-1939)
Notified that Yeats had won the 1923 Nobel Prize, Bertie Smiley, owner of the Irish Times, decided to break the news to Yeats himself. “I’ve the honour to inform you, sir,” Smiley began, “that word has just come from Stockholm about the Nobel Prize. To the glory of Ireland has been added poetic luster and…”
“Pull yourself together, Smiley,” interrupted Yeats, “how much is it?”( Leonard Lyons)
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John Keats (1795-1821)
Poet of whom Mathew Arnold said thus:’Keats is with Shakespeare.’Rightly so. Since Shakespeare none had written as richly sensuous as Keats.
Keats used to write snatches of poems as it occurred to him on any paper on hand which he tucked away as some book-marker for later. By this manner he had lost many verses either because the poetic inspiration had eased or by forgetfulness. In the spring of 1819 a nightingale had built her nest near his friend Charles Brown’s house. Keats who was very observant of these things once heard the nightingale sing and was captivated. One morning he took his chair from the breakfast table to the plot of grass under a plum tree and sat there for a couple of hours. When he went into the house again he had the rough draft of the Ode in so many scraps of papers. Because of his friends persuasion he went over the verses till he had put them in its proper form. It has since become one of the greatest poems ever penned in English language.
while at the house of Leigh Hunt ,who,the talks having turned upon crickets -the cheerful little grasshopper of the fireside’-proposed to Keats that they should each write a sonnet on the double theme. Hunt was fond of such friendly competition. When Keats produced in a shorter time, an infinitely better sonnet than his own, Cowden Clarke, the only other person present, recorded the unalloyed pleasure in his friend’s triumph. ‘The poetry of earth is never dead:…’
John Keats gave up medicine for the poetic muse. One night around eleven o’clock he came to his friend Brown’s house. He was feverish and in an excitable state. At his friend’s request he took to bed. He coughed a little and a drop of blood fell on the sheet. A little later when his friend went check if he was alright found him examining the sheet. ‘Bring me the candle, Brown, and let me see this blood.’
After examining it he announced with a calmness,which was all the more striking, he said,’ I know the color of that blood; it is arterial blood. I cannot be deceived in that color; that drop of blood is my death warrant- I must die.
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