This post celebrates a young man called Leopold Blaschka who was very unhappily becalmed on a sailing ship in the Azores in 1853. 

The ship was carrying European migrants to a new life in America. Everyone was upset at being stranded in mid ocean but Leopold was also struggling with grief; his wife and child died in 1850 and his father in 1852. To amuse the bored passengers the sailors let down buckets and hauled up deep sea creatures. Leopold, who was an artist and glassblower, was fascinated. 

Later he returned to Europe and, with his son from a second marriage, he became famous for making anatomically correct and beautiful glass models. These scientific artworks can be seen in museums around the world. Here are some in Cardiff Museum—the-Blaschka-Glass-models/.

In the poem ‘Becalmed’ Leopold sees the sea creatures for the first time.

Becalmed, I dream the sea is glass,
the wind and ocean lifeless now,
we wait for movement in the vast
and empty sky above our boat.
The wind and ocean lifeless now,
the dead run in my thoughts. A splash,
still empty sky above our boat 
as idle sailors trawl the trifling wash.
The dead run in my thoughts. A splash
calls me towards the crowd
as idle sailors trawl the trifling wash
to catch the life that drifts below.
Calls me towards the crowd; 
in spite of misery I’m curious  
to catch the life that drifts below
and blooms in depths beyond my gaze.
In spite of misery I’m curious,  
the flood of glistening forms that flow
and bloom in depths beyond my gaze 
stir up a shivering thrill of awe.
The flood of glistening forms that flow,
the jellyfish and octopus,
stir up a shivering thrill of awe;
my pencil shadows slippery curves.
The jellyfish and octopus,
wild things that live so deep, unknown.
My pencil shadows slippery curves
deep ocean dreams now fill my soul.
Wild things that live so deep, unknown,
stir up a movement in the vast
deep ocean dreams that fill my soul,
becalmed, I dream the sea is glass. 

Anne Bryan


I’ve lived in Wales all my life so my first blog is about Wales, my motherland. I love Wales, I relish the soft rain that sweeps over its hills and valleys and the sun that shines over its wonderful beaches. It’s a land full of heroes like Llewellyn the Great who fought English attempts to dominate this small Principality; it’s a land full of stories and music: the mediaeval stories of the Mabinogion and the adventures of Gavin and Stacey, endless songs sung by ancient bards and miners’ choirs. I could go on and on about Wales but I’ll spare you the rugby champions, the ancient language etc. and tell you the disturbing story of my dear old motherland’s youth. 

My temperate motherland has a torrid past. The Fossil Swamp, an exhibition in Cardiff Museum shows that 300 million years ago Wales basked in the heat of the equator, and there she gave birth to monstrous club mosses as tall as oaks and outrageous insects: dragonflies as big as daggers and immense crawling creatures with a disconcerting number of legs. I find it hard to imagine my motherland as a swamp lashed by tropical storms and know the children she bore were so different from those she nurtures today. The evidence is overwhelming though, and has been dug up in Brymbo in North Wales Here, under the surface, are the fossils of the plants and animals that once populated the lump of land that is now Wales. 

I might have to accept that my motherland is a compulsive globetrotter. I hear rumours that the old girl may be on the move towards America.

Where will she be in a few million years, what alien creatures will she nourish in a future where all the heroes of Wales will be forgotten, where sheep do not graze and even the familiar hills have been swept away?