Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Jacking up the Jack

The outcome of the flag referendum on 30 March 2016 shows that many New Zealanders, by choosing to keep the current flag, are still happy to have the Union Jack on it. The voter turnout of 67.8 % may indicate that the third of the population who did not vote didn’t mind whether or not the Union Jack stayed or went.

This was not the case a century ago when the ceremony of “unfurling the flag” became a popular event at schools across New Zealand during the late 1800’s and early twentieth century. These ceremonies were designed to instil national identity and pride in children, as well as make them appreciate the honour of the Union Jack, and by association, the country’s role in the British Empire.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Poly-Olbion by Michael Drayton

Shakespeare’s prolific contemporary Michael Drayton (1563-1631) was a poet who habitually thought on a grand scale, his taste running to epics and long, linked sequences rather than individual lyrics. He often drew his inspiration from British history and geography. He wrote at length about the battle of Agincourt, the Wars of the Roses and Edward II’s favourite Piers Gaveston.

His most ambitious project, however, was Poly-Olbion, which in the mellifluous phrasing of the subtitle offers a ‘description of tracts, rivers, mountains, forests and other parts of this renowned Isle of Great Britain, with intermixture of the most remarkable stories, antiquities, wonders, rarities, pleasures and commodities of the same’. Written in rhymed couplets and stretching to more than 15,000 lines of iambic hexameter, it took many years to compose. The first part was published in 1613 and the second did not appear until 1622. Drayton intended a third instalment, dedicated to the wonders of Scotland, but he did not live to complete this plan.