Firework Poems from Turkey


Found- a copy of a rare book: Poems from Turkey (Taylor and Co., London, 1872). The author is anonymous but is known to be William Platt Ball (born 1844). Loosely inserted is a note giving info about him (see below*.) Of interest is the fact that he was in Turkey advising the Sultan about fireworks and while there seems to have put on a few shows. The frontispiece illustration shows a display over water with the fireworks being launched from a raft or jetty. There are poems about fireworks in the book one of which  ('Pyro's Pilgrimage') is quoted after his preface:

These poems (except a few pages on Turkish subjects added since my return) were written during a stay of fourteen months in Constantinople. During this period I superintended (under His Excellency Halil Pasha)  the Sultan's firework displays, organised a firework factory, and taught the complete art and mystery of firework making to a set of forty Turk soldiers, and English (in the mornings) to a class of four Efendis.

The free open scenery, the sweet fresh air, the wonderfully reality as it seemed of Nature ever clad in bright sunshine, the many sights through which I was continually passing, spending each morning by the Bosphorus waves, and each afternoon traversing the Golden Horn to the Sweet Waters of Europe, where, beside the wide smooth stream and beneath the free open mountain-hills, my "Factory" of scattered white canvas sheds and green pavilion tents (not over new) spread itself in sunshine and cooling breeze; the triumph and strange novelty of speaking and writing Turkish successfully - the kindness and courtesy I met with - the respect and confidence I achieved - the success of all that I did - the beautiful sense of romance about everything, made it a period of deeply pleasant feelings. On the other side of the question I have no wish to linger, though most assuredly there was that other side.

It may perhaps be worth noticing here that the Franco-German was was raging between me and "home" during the greater part of the time. Also that I am intimately connected with the Crystal Palace firework displays. 

From Pyro's Pilgrimage (pp7-8)

My art's bold science grasps the lighting's powers,

Bids fearful Fire and Thunder rule the sky,

And steals for Beauty realms and wondrous hours

Of new existence, feasting mortal eye

With evanescent sights born but to die…

Then shell on shell ascends heav'n's vaulted dome,

Paling the dim forgotten stars. E'en there,

Amidst their loud-storm'd and invaded home,

The meteor-flash and rolling thunder dare

Calm heaven. There rockets lift their fire-flower fair,

Whose slender rising stalk takes golden flight,

And bursts in drooping blossoms in the air,

Hanging rich jewels of gorgeous light

In the Ethiop ear of tranquil-throned night.

Then ceaseless thunders raise their battery

Unto the speechless and astonish'd sky,

While sudden starry hosts, and mimicry

Of meteor crowds, and falling gleams, defy

Its solemn blank, and to the captive eye

Speak in strange fire and flame's variety

Of golden spark and all-hued gems that die

Adroop in air, - frail fire-wove tracery,

That hangs and floats and showers from heaven's high canopy... 

*Ball (William Platt), b. at Birmingham 28 Nov. 1844. Educated at Birkbeck School, London. Became schoolmaster but retired rather than teach religious doctrines. Matriculated at London University 1866. Taught pyrotechny in the Sultan's service 1870-71. Received the order of the Medjidieh after narrow escape from death by the bursting of a mortar. Upon his return published Poems from Turkey (1872). Mr. Ball has contributed to the National Reformer since 1878 and since 1884 has been on the staff of the Freethinker. He has published pamphlets on Religion in Schools, the Ten Commandments and Mrs Besants Socialism, and has compiled with Mr. Foote the Bille Handbook. Mr. Ball is a close thinker and a firm supporter of Evolutional Malthusianism,which he has ably defended in the pages of Progress. He has of late been engaged upon the question: Are the Effects of Use and Disuse Inherited ?

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