July 2016        

A terrible beauty

Gabriel Rosenstock

No, it wasn’t some Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa—he would scarcely have been three at the time—or a latter-day Guy Fawkes who set fire to the Houses of Parliament. The blithering idiots did it themselves in 1834 when the Exchequer burned two cartloads of tally sticks, an obsolete system of counting. The whole place went up, much of it made from the finest Irish oak.
     London had seen nothing like it since the Great Fire of 1666. Naturally, it attracted artists to the scene—the photographers of the day—one of whom was J. M. W. Turner.
     The Times called the conflagration, among other things, “a spectacle of terrible beauty.” (Where have we heard that phrase before?) The Tsar of Russia, no less (on whom the Skibbereen Eagle was keeping a close eye), described it as “divine retribution.”
     William Cobbet MP was in Limerick at the time and heard that the Parliament had been “set afire” and that Londoners raised “a savage shout of exultation.” He continued:
And this “unreflecting mob” might in this case have reflected, that in the building which they then saw in flames . . . the Act was passed for turning the Catholic priests, who shared the tithes with the poor, out of the parishes, and putting Protestant parsons in their place, who gave the poor no share at all of the tithe . . .
(Source: Cobbett in Ireland: A Warning to England.)

Red dawn of freedom

This is a haiku in Irish and English by Gabriel Rosenstock in response to Turner’s masterpiece. Japanese version: Mariko Sumikura. Dutch version: Geert Verbeke. Greek version: Sarah Thilykou. Scots version: John McDonald.
camhaoir dhearg na saoirse!
parlaimint na breataine
ar bharr lasrach

red dawn of freedom!
the british parliament goes up
in flames

rode vrijheidsdageraad!
het britse parlement gaat op
in vlammen

η βρετανική βουλή
μέσα στις φλόγες

reid daw o scowth!
the breetish pairlament gaes up
in flams

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