English poet John Milton


This is a video about the poem Lycidas by John Milton.

From British daily The Morning Star:

An indomitable spirit

(Sunday 24 February 2008)

PICK: Milton: Poet, Pamphleteer and Patriot by Anna Beer

(Bloomsbury, £20)

POWERFUL POETRY: Milton‘s literature inspired revolutionary political thought.

GORDON PARSONS explains how poet John Milton stood up all his life for free speech, revolutionary politics and religious liberties.

“MILTON! Thou should’st be living at this hour,” wrote Wordsworth in 1802, a time not unlike our own when a repressive government was using external threats to limit hard-won freedoms.

Modern writers would perhaps be unlikely to summon that stern puritanical 17th-century poet, who is primarily known today for one of the great works of the English literary canon, but is largely unread except in academies.

It is not only that the subtle, Latinate language of Paradise Lost must be intractable to our texting generation, but that Milton’s own claim for his vast 12-book epic – to “justify the ways of God to men” – may not seem all that pressing to an age that has largely given up on God.

Anna Beer’s biography, celebrating the 400th anniversary of the poet’s birth, naturally pays major attention to his greatest achievement, emphasising that Milton’s dramatic epic recounting his great anti-hero Satan’s battle with God for the soul of man is not just a preaching exercise but an attempt to enable the reader, “to see how tyrants gain their power and… stand firm against tyranny.”

Beer’s thorough coverage of a remarkable life, however, reminds us that Milton’s was spent in the thick of revolutionary politics. A prodigy of learning, by his early teens he had mastered Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Italian and French.

As the pre-civil war climate heated up, his early ambitions revealed in his Latin poems turned to the more immediately practical business of entering the pamphlet wars, the main arena of political debate.

Major works on divorce and press censorship – Areopagitica is still a bench mark for those defending freedom of expression today – brought him to the attention of the new commonwealth government who appointed him as Secretary of Foreign Tongues to the Council of State, the governmental mouthpiece to unsympathetic foreign regimes.

Despite growing concerns over Cromwell‘s increasingly dictatorial tendencies and, amazingly, going blind, Milton served to the end the regime that he believed offered the best hopes for “the civic and religious liberties that he desired.”

When, after the Lord Protector’s death, the succeeding chaos led to the Restoration of Charles II, Milton narrowly avoided the execution meted out to those surviving regicides. He retired to write, or, staggeringly, to dictate, not only his combined allegorical fantasy, Christian poem and political satire but also his tragic dramatic poem Samson Agonistes.

There must surely have been a reference to his own indomitable republican, freedom-loving spirit and his rejection of the increasing license of the restored monarchy in his blind hero’s suicidal destruction of his people’s oppressors.

Anna Beer faces the common problem of all Milton’s biographers in the scarcity of details of the poet’s private life. Married three times and physically dependent on those closest to him, he surprisingly remains domestically absent from the record. Beer does hazard guesses as to his problems with his own sexuality, but, in her analysis of the treatment of Eve in Paradise Lost, saves him from the charge of misogyny.

Maybe it would be too hopeful that Beer’s enjoyable and informative biography might turn many readers back to Milton’s poetry, let alone his prose, but her reminder that he knew that “free speech and indeed freedom of conscience relied on the ability of individuals to sift truth from lies for themselves” is all too contemporary.

See also here.

Beheading of Oliver Cromwell‘s dead body: here.

Britain in Bush’s rendition torture scandal


This is an Al Jazeera video from February 2008 about Diego Garcia rendition.

From British daily News Line:

The News Line: Editorial

Monday, 25 February 2008

Britain involved up to its neck in rendition

LAST week, the House of Commons was told by the Foreign Secretary, Miliband, that it had been deceived in numerous statements by Labour government leaders.

They had denied, point blank, that the US had flown ‘extraordinary rendition’ flights into British airports or air bases, and over British territories, carrying ‘terrorist suspects’ who had been seized illegally in different parts of the world, and were being transported to torture chambers for ‘interrogation’ as part of the ‘War against Terror’.

Minister Miliband blamed the US government for the lies to parliament saying that the assurances that the US had given to the UK were wrong, and mistaken, although the US believed at the time they were given, that the information was correct.

Miliband assured the House of Commons these mistakes would never be made again.

The US now admits that there were two rendition flights over the Indian Ocean territory of Diego Garcia.

Diego Garcia is part of the Chagos Islands group, whose population was ethnically cleansed by mainly Labour governments so that the islands could be handed over to the US for the construction of a military base from which the US bombed Somalia, Iraq and intends to bomb Iran.

News Line said after Miliband’s admission that the current British government was no more believable than was the US administration and that US military officers had said that ‘terrorist suspects’ were being kept on Diego Garcia.

Now new evidence has emerged to prove that Britain is at the centre of the extraordinary rendition campaign.

Ben Griffin, who quit the elite Special Air Service (SAS) in 2005 after taking part in operations in the Gulf, said yesterday that: ‘The UK government is deeply involved in the whole process of rendition.’

Griffin added: ‘Far from being unknowing partners in the process of rendition the UK Government is deeply involved.

‘United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF) operating in Iraq and Afghanistan are the first link in the chain. Since 2001 UKSF, operating within a joint US/UK task force, have been detaining individuals and then handing them over to the US.

‘These individuals have ended up in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and Bagram. A legal loophole has been used by UKSF in that they do not arrest individuals, but just detain them before handing them over.’

Griffin added: ‘We detained individuals and carried out our own interrogation before handing them over to the US.

‘Some of my colleagues witnessed a brutal interrogation carried out by US forces in which near drowning and a cattle prod were used. We were under no illusion as to what awaited the individuals handed over by us.

‘For the British Government to claim that they only became aware of the use of British territory this week is disingenuous.

‘The Foreign Secretary made clear in his statement that there were no other cases in which the US failed to ask permission.

‘UKSF are being used at the “coal face” to mine these individuals. The use of British territory as a stop-off during the rendition process pales into insignificance in light of the fact that it is often British soldiers detaining these individuals in the first place.

‘The UK government is deeply involved in the whole process of rendition. I have details of dates of operations in which I was involved and I have a letter from a British Interrogator upset at what he has been a part of.’

The US intends to continue with its rendition programme and Diego Garcia is central to its plan for a new war, this time, against Iran.

Update 1 March 2008: here.

See also here. And here.

Chagos islanders’ protest: here. And here.

Britain: Labour government gags “extraordinary renditions” whistleblower: here.

Rare white red deer seen in Scotland


Red deer stag, normal colour

From Wildlife Extra:

Very Rare Leucistic White Red Deer Stag Spotted in the Highlands

An extremely rare white red deer has been spotted by staff of the John Muir Trust on the west coast of Scotland. The last recorded wild, white stag in Britain was shot by poachers in October last year on the border of Devon and Cornwall.

Fran Lockhart, Partnership Manager for the John Muir Trust snapped photos and some video footage of the beast while on a field trip. ‘It was amazing to crawl up so close to such a magnificent looking animal. He looked almost ghost like next to the group of young red stags that he was mixing with.’

Mythological Beast

White deer are potent figures in the mythology of many cultures. The Celts considered them to be messengers from the otherworld. They are closely identified with unicorns and their appearance is said to herald some profound change in the lives of those that encounter them. Fans of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia will be very familiar with the white stag that the children in Narnia hunt deep into the forest only to find themselves back in their own world again.

May 2013. To avoid accidents, motorists should slow down and be on the lookout for deer on the road in May, warns Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH): here.