profileblackandwhite

CREATIVE: Timothy Salter on his new piece for Revolutions-Reactions




The subject of revolution and the revolution of 1917 in particular can but evoke an ambivalent response; the balance between improving and worsening the plight of whole populations is so fine that a philosophical distance seems the only appropriate one for the commentator. Hence the texts in The blood-dimmed tide range from an impassioned cry for the downtrodden man in Markham’s The Man with the Hoe to the cynical quatrain of Yeats’s The Great Day. I purposely chose authors from a wide political and geographic spectrum: American, Anglo-Irish, Polish-British and Russian.

The texts are a combination of extracts from poems and political or philosophical statements. The blunt directness of the statements makes a stark contrast with the reflective and allusive nature of the poems. Accordingly the statements are set in a recitative-like manner interspersed with the more lyrical poem settings, a pattern that provides the structure of the whole piece.

Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans
Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,
The emptiness of ages in his face,
And on his back the burden of the world.
Who made him dead to rapture and despair,
A thing that grieves not and that never hopes,
Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?
Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?
Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?

[Edwin Markham, from The Man with the Hoe]

The scrupulous and the just, the noble, humane, and devoted natures; the unselfish and the intelligent may begin a movement – but it passes away from them. They are not the leaders of a revolution. They are its victims.

[Joseph Conrad]

What gulfs between him and the seraphim!
Slave of the wheel of labor, what to him
Are Plato and the swing of[the Pleiades?
What the long reaches of the peaks of song,
The rift of dawn, the reddening of the rose?
Through this dread shape the suffering ages look;
Time’s tragedy is in that aching stoop;
Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,
Plundered, profaned and disinherited,
Cries protest to the Powers that made the world,
A protest that is also a prophecy.

[Edwin Markham, from The Man with the Hoe]

…nothing to lose but their chains…

[Vladimir Lenin]

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.

[Thomas Jefferson]

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

[William Butler Yeats, from The Second Coming]

Revolutions have never lightened the burden of tyranny. They have only shifted it to another shoulder.

[George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman]

…nothing to lose but their chains…

Hurrah for revolution and more cannon-shot!
A beggar upon horseback lashes a beggar on foot.
Hurrah for revolution and cannon come again!
The beggars have changed places, but the lash goes on.

[Yeats, The Great Day]

…nothing to lose but their chains…

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands
How will the future reckon with this man?
How answer his brute question in that hour
When whirlwinds of rebellion shake all shores?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings –
With those who shaped him to the thing he is –

When this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world,
After the silence of the centuries?

[Edwin Markham, from The Man with the Hoe]

‘The blood-dimmed tide’ will be premiered at Kings Place on 16th February