Frank at Dverse https://dversepoets.com is hosting a Jisei (Japanese death poem) challenge. He asks us to ‘Write a haikai (haiku, senryu, tanka, kyoka, Gogyohka) or haikai-esque poem that reflects on imminent death—and the significance of life in light of it. If you are going for the haikai-esque, keep the lines brief (no more than 10) and use the aesthetics of haikai (simplicity, heartfulness, and pathos)
Bitter Antarctic star blanket above. Five men stoic at the end of the earth. Time, food, water, sanity all gone. Screaming blizzard snow blanket. Frozen corpses yellow waxen taut. Scott’s diary, blanket marketed, has never been out of print. Undying Glory blankets any error.
This week I have set my self a challenge to visually interpret one Haiku each day. I’m told that setting an achievable goal is a good thing.
Today Bashō and I reflect on morning. It is snowing in the mountains just south of here. The cold front is expected to reach us by Sunday. Here in the Southern hemisphere the Antarctic weather patterns drive their icy winter lows north toward us. The Antarctic images in my collage were taken during the Heroic Age of exploration. Frank Hurley took the pioneering colour image of a tabular iceberg. As he headed south to his undying glory Robert Falcon Scott photographed Apsley Cherry-Garrard holding Michael the pony. Scott’s pack ponies were more than just transport. In his diary Scott got quite poetic about them:
Saturday, December 9 l9ll. The ponies have been shot They have done wonderfully well Yet it is hard to have to kill them so early
Despite their wonderful work the ponies were appreciated in another important role.
Monday, December 4. Camp 30. The ponies marched splendidly to-day, crossing the deep snow in the undulations without difficulty The dogs are simply splendid, but came in wanting food, so we had to sacrifice poor little Michael, who, like the rest, had lots of fat on him. All the tents are consuming pony flesh and thoroughly enjoying it.
This short collage film is dedicated to Herbert Ponting, Antarctic story teller par excellence.
Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched With a woful agony, Which forced me to begin my tale; And then it left me free.
Since then, at an uncertain hour, That agony returns: And till my ghastly tale is told, This heart within me burns.
I pass, like night, from land to land; I have strange power of speech; That moment that his face I see, I know the man that must hear me: To him my tale I teach.[i]
Antarctica, the Great White South, seems to have inspired more words than it has snowflakes. Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who went there with the famous explorer Scott of the Antarctic, said:
‘When I went South I never meant to write a book: I rather despised those who did so as being of an inferior brand to those who did things and said nothing about them. . . . I discovered that, without knowing it, I had intended to write one ever since I had realized my own experiences.’[ii]
Herbert Ponting wrote, took photographs and made film. Often he used his images to make multi-layered collages. Some contemporaries criticised his collages for ‘lying’ about the truth. Others, such as Scott, viewed his work as art pieces. Scott called Ponting a ‘camera artist’.
Before he left for Antarctica Ponting was already famous for his travelogues illustrated with his own beautiful photographs.
In 1910 Ponting sailed to Antarctica on the Terra Nova with Scott.
The men heading south with Scott certainly knew Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s seminal English Romantic poem ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. Coleridge could have been writing about the Terra Nova’s trip south:
And now the STORM-BLAST came, and he Was tyrannous and strong: He struck with his o’ertaking wings, And chased us south along.
And now there came both mist and snow, And it grew wondrous cold: And ice, mast-high, came floating by, As green as emerald.
I particularly enjoy Coleridge rhyming ‘cold’ and ‘emerald’. The Ancient Mariner’s dialect accent is so clearly heard in that rhyme.
Scott never left Antarctica, but Ponting did. In his posthumously published diaries Scott told his own story. Since 1913 they’ve never been out of print. Ponting told his version of the story in ‘The Great White South‘.
Then, like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, Herbert Ponting felt compelled to spend the rest of his life retelling the story of the expedition.