Mar. 17, 2011
Prayer for Our Daughters
May they never be lonely at parties
Or wait for mail from people they haven't written
Or still in middle age ask God for favors
Or forbid their children things they were never forbidden.
May hatred be like a habit they never developed
And can't see the point of, like gambling or heavy drinking.
If they forget themselves, may it be in music
Or the kind of prayer that makes a garden of thinking.
May they enter the coming century
Like swans under a bridge into enchantment
And take with them enough of this century
To assure their grandchildren it really happened.
May they find a place to love, without nostalgia
For some place else that they can never go back to.
And may they find themselves, as we have found them,
Complete at each stage of their lives, each part they add to.
May they be themselves, long after we've stopped watching.
May they return from every kind of suffering
(Except the last, which doesn't bear repeating)
And be themselves again, both blessed and blessing.
Today is St. Patrick's Day, a day to celebrate all things Irish.
One of the most enduring stereotypes of early theater was a character called "Stage Irish." This man was usually a badly dressed country bumpkin, drunk on homemade liquor, who couldn't hold down a job but was full of down-home Irish wisdom. No one is sure which English playwright first capitalized on this stereotype of the Irish, but it might have been Shakespeare with his Captain Macmorris in Henry V. Shakespeare decided to make the three captains of Henry's troops an Irishman, a Welshman, and a Scot, as a reference to the unification of Britain — which happened not during Henry's time but during Shakespeare's. On the one hand, he was eager to include all of them, countries symbolically fighting a common enemy. On the other hand, they are all made out to be foolish, with exaggerated accents, particularly Macmorris. Shakespeare gives Macmorris lines like:
"It is no time to discourse, so Chrish save me: the
day is hot, and the weather, and the wars, and the
king, and the dukes: it is no time to discourse. The
town is beseeched, and the trumpet call us to the
breach; and we talk, and, be Chrish, do nothing:
'tis shame for us all: so God sa' me, 'tis shame to
stand still; it is shame, by my hand: and there is
throats to be cut, and works to be done; and there
ish nothing done, so Chrish sa' me, la!"
"Of my nation! What ish my nation? Ish a villain,
and a bastard, and a knave, and a rascal. What ish
my nation? Who talks of my nation?"
Jonathan Swift, who was born in Dublin, wrote: "What we call the Irish Brogue is no sooner discovered, than it makes the deliverer, in the last degree, ridiculous and despised; and, from such a mouth, an Englishman expects nothing but bulls, blunders, and follies."
In the 18th century, the playwright Thomas Sheridan wrote a play called The Brave Irishman, or Captain O'Blunder. Captain O'Blunder likes to burst into spontaneous song and flirt with servant girls, and in one scene he forces his French nemesis to eat a potato. Sheridan was pointing out the ways that English people stereotyped the Irish — but it was still a stereotype.
The English playwright Richard Cumberland wrote two plays featuring an Irish character, Major O'Flaherty. At the end of The Natural Son (1785), O'Flaherty sighs: "Will you be my banker, old gentleman? and lay out for a purchase of just such another little cot as your own; where, with a rood of potatoes in my front, and an acre of bog at my back, I can sit chirping like an old cricket in my chimney-corner, and ruminate on the occurrences of this happy day."
Movies were just as bad, and the way people talked about Irish actors. An early film critic, Elizabeth Peltret, described one silent film starlet as "Colleen Moore, the personification of all the lovely colleens of the sentimental Irish poets." Another critic wrote about Moore: "Colleen comes by her brogue naturally. Her grandmother, one of the dearest little Mrs. Kellys in the world, came over on whatever was the Irish equivalent for the Mayflower, and so when D.W. Griffith, who has the distinction of discovering Colleen for the movies, changed her name from Kathleen to Colleen, he did not choose amiss. In keeping with her descent, she has created a green aura about her."
The famous American director John Ford was of Irish heritage, and he also perpetuated Irish stereotypes in his films. He directed The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and American Westerns like Stagecoach (1939) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Most of his films featured Irish or Irish-American characters, and his film The Quiet Man (1952) was set in Ireland. The writer and journalist Donald S. Connery wrote: "The popular image of the natives is a kind of gummy Irish stew of comedians, colleens, characters out of The Quiet Man, drunk poets, IRA gunmen, censorious priests, and cantankerous old farmers who sleep with their boots on. It is as if time had stood still in the Ould Sod while other nations had moved on." One of the characters in The Quiet Man, Michaeleen Og Flynn, smokes a pipe, wears shabby country clothing, and spends most of his time telling stories and drinking. There is a scene where the hero, Sean Thornton, is approached by a local who knows about his relationship with a young woman in town and says, "Here's a fine stick to beat the lovely lady." In another scene, Sean drags the lovely lady across a field when she refuses to sleep with him. The Quiet Man was a big success in America, but it wasn't received very well in Ireland.
More recently, movies have moved away from the "stage Irish" stereotypes. Once (2007) was an independent Irish film that became an international hit. The main character, who lives in Dublin, is a sensitive and awkward young man who helps out at his father's vacuum cleaner repair shop. He is a talented busker who falls in love with another musician, a Czech woman who sells flowers but who turns out to be married with a young daughter. The Irish accents are there and the love of music, but the main characters — who are named only "Guy" and "Girl" — could be any contemporary young urban couple, still living with their parents, moving between cities, not sure of their future careers and lives. The only lingering stereotype might be that despite his profanities and run-ins with heroin addicts and worldliness, the Guy is, under it all, sentimental.
And sentimental is a stereotype that lives on, especially in Irish songs that have gotten repopularized by contemporary musicians.
There's "Whiskey In The Jar," about a highwayman who is betrayed by his lover. It is covered by all types of musicians, including Thin Lizzy; Belle and Sebastian; Burl Ives; Peter, Paul, and Mary; and Jerry Garcia and David Grisman. The lyrics differ slightly, but the Dubliners' version begins:
"As I was goin' over the far famed Kerry mountains,
I met with Captain Farrell, and his money he was countin'.
I first produced me pistol and I then produced me rapier,
Saying: 'Stand and deliver, for you are a bold deceiver!'
Musha rig um du ruma da, Whack for the daddy-o,
Whack for the daddy-o, There's whiskey in the jar!"
There's "Cockles and Mussels," about a beautiful fishmonger who dies of a fever, but whose ghost continues to wheel seafood through the streets of Dublin. The song begins:
"In Dublin's fair city, where the girls are so pretty
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone
As she wheeled her wheel-barrow
Through streets broad and narrow
Crying cockles and mussels, alive, alive-O!"
There is "Down By the Sally Gardens," which takes its lyrics from a poem by W.B. Yeats:
"It was down by the Sally Gardens, my love and I did meet.
She crossed the Sally Gardens with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree,
But I was young and foolish, and with her did not agree."
And there is the very popular "Irish Lullaby":
"Over in Killarney
Many years ago,
Me Mither sang a song to me
In tones so sweet and low.
Just a simple little ditty,
In her good ould Irish way,
And I'd give the world if she could sing
That song to me this day.
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, hush now, don't you cry!
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, that's an Irish lullaby."
From the archives:
It's the birthday of Arab-American writer Gary Paul Nabhan (books by this author), born in Gary, Indiana (1952). He said: "The playgrounds of my childhood were built from cast-offs of the local steel mills. There were big steel-barred slides and swing sets, and pig-iron cinder was spread across the ground. I saw one wild animal on those playgrounds the whole time I was growing up, a butterfly that happened by. All the kids ran to catch it."
He became an advocate for preserving heritage plants and animals, and started raising them himself. He has written many books, including Coming Home to Eat (2001), Cross-Pollinations: The Marriage of Science and Poetry (2004), and most recently, Where Our Food Comes From (2008). In Where Our Food Comes From, he follows in the footsteps of Nikolai Vavilov, a Russian botanist who collected hundreds of thousands of seeds from their places of origin all over the world. Most recently, he is the co-author of Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots Along the Pepper Trail (2011), published just this month, about climate change and local food.
Nabhan said, "I think there are patches of wildness in our backyards, within our own bodies, within every urban and rural area in North America."
It's the birthday of novelist and children's author Penelope Lively, (books by this author) born in Cairo, Egypt (1933). She's the author of the novels The Road to Lichfield (1977), Treasures of Time (1979), and According to Mark (1984), among many others.
She grew up with her parents in a suburb of Cairo, and visited the pyramids every week. She studied history at Oxford and was planning to become a social historian. But when she got married and had kids, she found she enjoyed reading to her children so much that she wanted to write children's books herself. Her book The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (1973) won the Carnegie Medal, Britain's highest award for children's literature. A few years later, she started publishing fiction for adults, and her novel Moon Tiger (1987) won the Booker Prize.
In Moon Tiger, she wrote: "We open our mouths and out flow words whose ancestries we do not even know. We are walking lexicons. In a single sentence of idle chatter we preserve Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Norse: we carry a museum inside our heads, each day we commemorate peoples of whom we have never heard."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®