World Science Day | ‘I Am Become Death, The Destroyer Of Worlds’

Yes, really – the tenth of November was declared World Science day back in 2001.

We’ve been a little quiet here at The Wait – life’s been getting in the way a little! – but we love a bit of science along with our literature, so World Science Day inspired us into writing a blog about an oft-quoted (misquoted) line from the epic Hindu poem the Bhagavad Gita, especially considering the World Science Day was designated in order to open up discussions about how to use science to strive for peace and unity.

In 1947, the first atomic bomb was tested. J. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the laboratory, witnessed the detonation and later said that he was reminded of a passage from the sacred poetic text:

‘I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.’

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The moment and the passage has become significant to anyone pondering the destructive tendencies of mankind – the seeming regret and awe that Oppenheimer shows when he witnesses his team’s handiwork resonates deeply with anyone pondering the power that science can wield.

Misquote

Sorry, folks: Oppenheimer was actually misquoting the sacred poem. What the god Krishna actually said was this:

I am all-powerful Time which destroys all things, and I have come here to slay these men. Even if thou doest not fight, all the warriors facing thee shall die.

This is just one translation – changing from the ancient Hindu script into plain English is not an easy task, especially considering the blurred lines between the translation of ‘death’ and ‘time’. This part of the poem however appears to be a discussion of the inevitability of death, as even if the warriors mentioned do not die in battle, time will catch up with them in the end. The passage of time, that leads to a natural death for all men, is personified into an immediate, destructive force.

So, now you know. However, just because Oppenheimer was ‘technically’ misquoting the Bhagavad Gita, don’t let that stop you from appreciating the significance of the moment in history – Oppenheimer’s exclamation was a hell of a lot more poetic than, say, ‘oh crap what have I done?!’

5 Great Smackdown Comebacks For When Some Idiot Says ‘Poetry Is Dead’

Easy fundraising with poetry for cancer research

My friends, poetry is not dead. However, sometimes, when you’re confronted with someone claiming this, it’s real hard to reply – sometimes it just seems so OBVIOUS to you that they’re wrong that coherent sentences evade you. We’ve been there. It’s not cool when you’re a Literature-y type and you can’t make the words come out.

So, to prepare you for the next time, we’ve come up with some comebacks to store up in your mind tank, ready to whip out and defend your art. Continue reading

Are Song Lyrics Poetry?

Well, before this blog post even begins, we guess it’s necessary to point out that everyone is entitled to their opinion – if you feel strongly either way, we’d love you to let us know!

Photo by Meg / CC BY NAME
Photo by Meg / CC BY NAME

While we understand that there are, of course, differences between lyrics and what you immediately think of as poetry, we feel there is a strong case for accepting lyrics as a legitimate sub-category of poetry. Continue reading

Picking a Muse Example

Here’s an example piece from one of our editors that takes on some of the poetry advice in this blog so far, in particular Advice Post number 5. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as he enjoyed making some avocado-based dip and deciding that he wanted to write about it!

Guacamole

I ‘got back out there’ last night.
We swapped numbers and he said
he would cook me Mexican food.
Now I am here, and it is so much less.
Worst is the guacamole, squeezed
from a tube, a glistening green cable,
atomic-bright and toothpaste-thick,
laid on the thick wet mounds
of red and brown with moist rice.
Your guacamole – real guacamole –
was thick, textured, like your jumper
and all the shades of the garden
in the dying days of September.
The avocado was chopped, not minced,
stopping and starting in every shape
like our best conversations
and the lime juice was squeezed fresh,
the tickling, strong citrus flavour that suffers
such a short life on the tongue.
Your guacamole turned brown overnight,
but it was all the better for it.

-George Sandifer-Smith

Meet a Writer: Aphra Behn, 1640-1689

As part of our attempts to inspire you to take part in our charity fundraising anthology of poetry we’ve compiled a VERY quick introduction to one of the first women to make a living through writing, Aphra Behn – playwright, poet, and spy (yes, really). Behn has recently become something of a feminist idol because of her saucy writings that tackle themes previously considered uncouth for ladies to think about, as well as the very fact that she chose to write at all, using her mind to take control of her own life rather than relying on a man to do it for her. 

Time as a Spy

Until her later years when she became a prolific writer, Behn’s life is mostly a mystery. There have been arguments that she did it on purpose, scratching out her own past for one reason or another, perhaps to obscure her roots or even just to maintain an air of mystery. What is known is that she spent some time abroad working as a spy for the crown, and that she almost certainly never received full payment for her services. 

PlaysBehn_Oroonoko

She wrote many which were well received in her time. Her most famous work ‘The Rover’ was a witty, bawdy Restoration play that could boast Nell Gwyn, the famous mistress of Charles II, among its cast members. Although she was able to make a living through her plays, she was never rich, and died poor.

Oronooko 

When everybody talks about the birth of the English novel, they make a lot of noise about Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719. Behn’s short novel Oronooko was however published much earlier in 1688 and has the easily recognisable linear plot and style of a novel. Despite this, it is usually excluded from the canon – the only good reAphra Behnason for this is because she was a woman, and despite her success and popularity during her own lifetime, she was quickly forgotten about by academics until the fairly recent re-discovery of her works.

Sexy Times!

Behn’s writing was notable for its racy themes. Her poetry is notable for exploring sexual themes from the perspective of both genders and, potentially, even explores same-sex love. At the very least, there is an androgynous quality to her characters and their lovers – 

To the Fair Clarinda

Fair lovely Maid, or if that Title be
Too weak, too Feminine for Nobler thee,
Permit a Name that more Approaches Truth:
And let me call thee, Lovely Charming Youth.
This last will justifie my soft complaint,
While that may serve to lessen my constraint;
And without Blushes I the Youth persue,
When so much beauteous Woman is in view.
Against thy Charms we struggle but in vain
With thy deluding Form thou giv’st us pain,
While the bright Nymph betrays us to the Swain.
In pity to our Sex sure thou wer’t sent,
That we might Love, and yet be Innocent:
For sure no Crime with thee we can commit;
Or if we shou’d – thy Form excuses it.
For who, that gathers fairest Flowers believes
A Snake lies hid beneath the Fragrant Leaves.

Though beauteous Wonder of a different kind,
Soft Cloris with the dear Alexis join’d;
When e’er the Manly part of thee, wou’d plead
Though tempts us with the Image of the Maid,
While we the noblest Passions do extend
The Love to Hermes, Aphrodite the Friend.

Another example of Behn’s saucy poetry, ‘The Dream’ is clearly about a very ‘specific’ type of dream…

The Dream

All trembling in my arms Aminta lay,
Defending of the bliss I strove to take;
Raising my rapture by her kind delay,
Her force so charming was and weak.
The soft resistance did betray the grant,
While I pressed on the heaven of my desires;
Her rising breasts with nimbler motions pant;
Her dying eyes assume new fires.
Now to the height of languishment she grows,
And still her looks new charms put on;
– Now the last mystery of Love she knows,
We sigh, and kiss: I waked, and all was done.

`Twas but a dream, yet by my heart I knew,
Which still was panting, part of it was true:
Oh how I strove the rest to have believed;
Ashamed and angry to be undeceived!

Pick up a Pen!

Virginia Woolf said of Behn, ‘All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, which is, most scandalously but rather appropriately, in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds. It is she — shady and amorous as she was. — who makes it not quite fantastic for me to say to you to-night: Earn five hundred a year by your wits.’

So if you’ve been inspired by Behn’s total awesome-ness, pick up a pen and submit some poetry for a great cause, Cancer Research UK. And please like our Facebook, tell your friends, share our links, spread the word!

Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits

We can’t keep talking about poetry without talking about the Big Daddy. Shakespeare is instilled into our consciousness right from school, and his words are still celebrated, performed, read, and loved today.

‘Shakespeare Shame’

The problem is, his works are so widely regarded as classics that they’ve become unfashionable to like. You’re not supposed to admit to it. Literature students at university are supposed to pretend they have only a passing admiration for old Billy Shakes.So what do you do if you have a genuine love for his work? You declare it out loud, ask them sarcastically if they’ve ever had THEIR portrait on a plane, and hit back at any haters with one of these reasons why Shakespeare is definitely still cool.

Shakes on a Plane
Shakes on a Plane….. Photo by Eric Salard / CC BY NAME

1) His Phenomenally Modern Grasp of Psychology 

Shakespeare’s grasp of psychology was amazingly forward thinking. When Othello had a fit after he’d worked himself up into a rage over his wife’s alleged infidelity, Shakespeare was exploring the links between a person’s state of mind and a person’s physical health in a way that was arguably more in depth than anyone had ever attempted before. His characters are always exceptionally 3-dimensional. Even Freud admired his psychological grasp on the motives and development of his characters.

2) ‘It’s Greek To Me’

This is just one of the words or phrases that Shakespeare made up. He literally made them up. There are hundreds of phrases we use every day that just didn’t exist before he thought them up. Here are a couple:

Photo by Andrew and Annemarie / CC BY NAME
Photo by Andrew and Annemarie / CC BY NAME

– Vanish into thin air
– Bloody minded
– More fool you
– Played fast and loose
– Truth will out
– The game is up

3) Out Of This World

24 out of Uranus’s 27 satellites are named after Shakespeare’s characters, the exceptions being Belinda, Umbriel and Ariel (named for the sylph in The Rape of the Lock, not the sprite in The Tempest). The other 24 are Miranda, Titania, Oberon, Puck, Cordelia, Ophelia, Portia, Desdemona, Bianca, Cressida, Juliet, Rosalind,Cupid, Mab, Sycorax, Perdita, Caliban, Prospero, Setebos, Ferdinand,Trinculo, Francisco, Margaret and Stephano.

Photo by Lisby / CC BY NAME
Photo by Lisby / CC BY NAME

4) The Coolest Actors Perform His Work

David Tennant and James Mcavoy have both taken on Macbeth. Helen Mirren was a woman Prospero, which was AWESOME. Tom Hiddleston’s done Henry V and Coriolanus,  and Dame Maggie Smith has pretty much done it all. Anthony Hopkins was a fabulous Titus Andronicus, Stephen Fry was a shockingly good Malvolio in Twelfth Night, and even Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves did a turn in Much Ado about Nothing.

5) His Instagram Would Get The Most Likes

Okay, so this section has a stupid name. But if you Google ‘Shakespeare’ you get around 32m results. Elvis Presely, The Queen, Monty Python, Glastonbury,  Simon Cowell, George Best, John Lennon, the Dalai Lama and Banksy all have LESS searches. He’s very popular!

We hope this helps you stick up for the big man!

More Milestones!

We’ve had an amazing couple of days, and have hit 200 views on this blog alone. Thank you so much everyone who is helping us spread the word. We’re receiving poetry and interest too, which is SO wonderful. Thank you!

Don’t You Forget About Me 

We know you’re all super busy and important, so would you consider following our blog or, especially importantly, like our Facebook page – it’s the easiest thing in the world, we’ve even popped a button on the right hand side for you!! It’s important, and here’s why:

Please Take Simple Steps to Help Our Fundraising

The more likes and shares we get, the more search engines will recognise our project. In this way, just liking our pages will make a huge difference to our cause, spreading the message to poets, appreciators and anyone else who might be interested!

Favourite Poet | John Donne

Being as this is calling all poets to help us out, we thought it might be nice to chat about some poetry. One of the team involved in compiling ‘The Wait’ has chosen their favourite snippet of poetry to share with you, and posted the full poem below if you want to check it out in its entirety.

John Donne’s ‘A Nocturnal Upon St Lucy’s Day’

‘Although I’m a sucker for a bit of chunky Renaissance poetry, full on love poetry usually makes me a little uncomfortable. That probably says quite a lot about my emotional comfort zone, but we won’t go into that. However, this poem contains the only instance of love poetry that touched my cold heart in any true, uncringey way –

‘…Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown’d the whole world, us two; oft did we grow
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.’

‘That magical bit about growing to be two chaoses is, for me, the perfect explanation of the wildness of being alive and in love. Two chaoses who show no regard for anything except each other, who weep together through sharing their pain, and feel like empty carcasses when they are apart. Its all made more poignant by the painful grief permeating the poem, and the certain knowledge that Donne’s love is dead. There is something deeply primal about describing lovers as two chaoses that I have tried, and failed, to put into words – it’s just something that the words of the poem made me feel, that is innate and beyond language.’

The Full Poem:

A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day

‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
The world’s whole sap is sunk;
The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed’s feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compar’d with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness;
He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;
I, by Love’s limbec, am the grave
Of all that’s nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown’d the whole world, us two; oft did we grow
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death (which word wrongs her)
Of the first nothing the elixir grown;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love; all, all some properties invest;
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light and body must be here.

But I am none; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all;
Since she enjoys her long night’s festival,
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year’s, and the day’s deep midnight is.

With thanks to the Poetry Foundation – http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173378