The Good Old Days


BLAKE’S SUNFLOWER (by Elizabeth Smart)


Why did Blake say
‘Sunflower weary of time’?
Every time I see them
they seem to say
Now! with a crash
of cymbals!
Very pleased
and positive
and absolutely delighting
in their own round brightness.


Sorry, Blake!
Now I see what you mean.
Storms and frost have battered
their bright delight
and though they are still upright
nothing could say dejection
more than their weary
hanging heads.

And here is William Blake’s original poem:


Ah, sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun,
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller’s journey is done:

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow
Arise from their graves, and aspire
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

TO LARA (by Virginia Rounding)

I went searching for my muse and I found you –
sleeping between freshly laundered sheets
while wolves you took for dogs were howling
in the dark beyond your safety zone.

Iced rowanberries in the snow and strong white arms –
your concentration in the library at Yuryatin –
abandoned weeping on the coffin of your lover:
you stole my mind to live through for a time.

The sleigh is swallowed into distance. In your final
understated disappearing a part of me goes too –
out of fiction into history and the death camps,
lost in a multitude of women with no names.

Julie Christie as Lara in David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago


In my last life I was a woman.
I lived in India. Uttar Pradesh.

Sometimes I still feel like
a woman who lives in Uttar Pradesh

speaks Hindi, worships Siva
and the local goddess, Lalita as Candika.

Her man went to the city, never came back.
My man. He died. No one told her but she knew.

Her two sons followed him. My sons. Me,
I never left the village. Hardly ever left

that little yard where I squatted in the dust
and ground the meal, thrusting away the hen –

The lurki – the name comes back –
that I would never kill. I never saw traffic, not like now, here,

crowded streets, traffic lights, people thrusting and swirling,
clucking like a thousand greedy hens

pouring down into the underground and onto the train
locked in and rocketing beneath the city like in a submarine.

I want to get out. I want to get back to
my Indian roots. Or my submarine roots.

I never saw the sea then, either,
except in my dreams. In my dreams

I was a fish.

Riding the Train to New York (Reblog)

A beautiful little poem. I have known such moments …


By Dianne Moritz

Sailors in starched whites,
Jostling, joking, bumming
Cigarettes, whistle as I pass.
Young mothers, beside cranky
Children, seem wistful.
Old men glance up
From newspapers, smile
As I pass with my tall,
Handsome boyfriend.
We find our seats.
I reach for his hand.
He shakes me off
Like a smoldering ash,
Leans back to nap.
I turn away, fuming.

When I gaze out,
Into the dark glass,
A panicked stranger
Stares back.

Dianne Moritz enjoys capturing brief moments in time, celebrating trials, tribulations, and beauty of life. She dreams of publishing a book of all her drabble.

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Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school where children played,
Their lessons scarcely done;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then ’tis centuries; but each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horse’s heads
Were toward eternity.

THE EMPRESS THEODORA by James Allan Evans (Review)

Acasius fathered three daughters, Comito, Theodora and Anastasia, but died before the eldest, Comito, reached the age of seven. His death need not have been a calamity if he had had a grown son to take up his vocation, for the post of bear keeper for the Greens would have passed to him, but as it was, the little family faced destitution.
For women such as Theodora and her sisters, the alternatives were the stage or the convent. They chose the stage, or, perhaps to be more accurate, their mother made the choice for them.
Comito soon became a star. Theodora made her stage debut as her sister’s attendant, dressed as a slave girl. Procopius, who is our only source for Theodora’s life as an actress, claims that even at this early age she submitted to the buggery of slaves who accompanied their masters to the theatre, but once she matured into a woman she became a prostitute. The mentality of the age assumed that all actresses were trollops, and even if Theodora had not sold her favors, it would have been taken for granted that she did. Yet there is no reason to think her an exception to the rule. She had nothing to sell except a lovely body, for she could neither dance nor play an instrument, and when she did make an attempt to entertain at banquets, the only act she could offer was a striptease … …

Theodora was Empress of Byzantium, of the East, of the Roman Empire while it was still an Empire, but she did not rule, as some other empresses did “when male power faltered“: her husband, Justinian was “one of the ablest emperors in Byzantine history,” and, “except for a few brief weeks when he caught the plague, he was in charge.” Yet her influence was so great that she could be said to have been making all the decisions that mattered to her. Was it, as Procopius of Caesarea claimed, purely sexual, that Theodora was a prostitute when Justinian, already a middle-aged man, married her, and “skilled at titillating” middle-aged men?

Procopius account of Theodora is biased and flawed. He was a mysogynist, he looked down on women, but he also looked down on people with lowly origins, and origins could not get much lowlier than Theodora’s. Nevertheless, her background does seem to have been more or less as he described it. Why else her programme of leglislation designed to protect actresses (the law as it had stood when she was an actress meant they were little more than slaves) and the conversion of a disused palace into a place of refuge for women who had escaped prostitution, lavishy endowed so that “none of its inmates would want to return to her old life or have to do so for financial reasons“? She can hardly be portrayed as a reformer of penitent whores, and this was more an act of defiance than piety. “Theodora knew what it was like; respectable women had once avoided her in the marketplace.” Now she never avoided anyone. Well-known prostitutes were among the companions she brought into the Emperor’s palace, and her most intimate friend, Antonina, had a background almost identical to her own. Antonina’s father and grandfather were circus charioteers, and her mother “one of the despised strippers who displayed their charms in theatre orchestras.” And Antonina had been – and remained – an agent first and foremost (of Theodora, of Belisarius) as had Theodora herself, in Egypt and in Antioch, before meeting Justinian: indeed, that is probably how she met him – and Antonina.

The author of this biography does us proud on Theodora’s background and personal life, but he is also concerned with politics, and politics then and there meant above all else, theology – the disputes about the person of Christ which raged throughout the East between the Chalcedonians and the Monophysites. Which view prevailed depended on the beliefs of the Emperor and the extent of the influence of Rome (which was uniformly pro-Chalcedonian). The differences between the two are clearly explained as are the reasons why Justinian supported the Chalcedonians – and Theodora the Monophysites. Clever politics (keeping everyone happy) or what they each sincerely believed? The author makes an interesting point about their backgrounds, one which had not previously occurred to me in this context:

The difference between them went back to their early beginnings. Justinian was born in a Latin-speaking enclave in the Balkans and as a boy learned to respect the authority of the pope and accept Rome’s right to define orthodoxy. An anathema from the pope was something to be feared. Not so Theodora. She spent her youth in the theatre, which monks and priests abominated and where they were sometimes ridiculed in return, and she was converted in Alexandria where Rome’s interdicts had little effect. She knew that if the split between the Monophysites and the Chalcedonians was to be mended, it could not be altogether on Rome’s terms, and she saw nothing wrong with compelling a pope to bend a little.

It was probably both then, clever politics and what they each believed. Though Theodora never reigned, she was quite capable of standing up to her husband – and replacing him when necessary as she did at two of the most difficult moments they faced together.

The first was during the Nika Revolt in 532, when Theodora faced down the revolutionaries while her husband was all for fleeing the capital. There is a whole chapter on this, a great chapter.

The second when the plague arrived in Europe in 542, “emptying villages except for a handful of survivors who were left to cope with the great mass of corpses […] Then the plague reached Constantinople …” Justinian fell ill. Theodora “provided what governmental direction there was,” knowing that when her husband died she was unlikely to survive the power struggle that would follow.

In the event, he survived her by seventeen years.

A great story. A great woman. After all, anyone a Catholic Cardinal compares unfavourably with Eve and Delilah and Herodias and the maidservant who tempted Peter must have something going for her: “but it is not enough to revile her with names of that sort,” the good cardinal, quoted by Evans, continues, “for she surpassed all human women in impiety. Rather let her take from the devils in Hell a designation such as that which mythology gives to the furies.” etc. etc.