Friday, October 30, 2009

"What love was ever as deep as a grave?"

Heart handfast in heart as they stood, "Look thither,''
Did he whisper? "look forth from the flowers to the sea;
For the foam-flowers endure when the rose-blossoms wither,
And men that love lightly may die -- but we?''
And the same wind sang and the same waves whitened,
And or ever the garden's last petals were shed,
In the lips that had whispered, the eyes that had lightened,
Love was dead.

Or they loved their life through, and then went whither?
And were one to the end -- but what end who knows?
Love deep as the sea as a rose must wither,
As the rose-red seaweed that mocks the rose.
Shall the dead take thought for the dead to love them?
What love was ever as deep as a grave?
They are loveless now as the grass above them
Or the wave.

From "A Forsaken Garden," by Algernon Charles Swinburne, 1878. Read the complete poem here.

Verstorbenes Liebespaar, Master of the Upper Rhine, 16th century

Blessed Samhain and Happy Halloween

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Answer: Happy, harried, tired

Question: What three words describe my present state?

So, no time for writing a real post (again), but I thought I'd drop in here for a moment and tell you that this morning I conversed with a friendly spirit in the form of a fox squirrel. You never know who you'll meet out in the woods...

Squirrel, Hans Hoffmann, 1578.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"We are to play the game of death to-night..."

We are to play the game of death to-night, my bride and I.
The night is black, the clouds in the sky are capricious, and the waves are raving at sea.
We have left our bed of dreams, flung open the door and come out, my bride and I.
We sit upon a swing, and the storm winds give us a wild push from behind.
My bride starts up with fear and delight, she trembles and clings to my breast.
Long have I served her tenderly.
I made for her a bed of flowers and I closed the doors to shut out the rude light from her eyes.
I kissed her gently on her lips and whispered softly in her ears till she half swooned in languor.
She was lost in the endless mist of vague sweetness.
She answered not to my touch, my songs failed to arouse her.
To-night has come to us the call of the storm from the wild.
My bride has shivered and stood up, she has clasped my hand and come out.
Her hair is flying in the wind, her veil is fluttering, her garland rustles over her breast.
The push of death has swung her into life.
We are face to face and heart to heart, my bride and I.

Rabindranath Tagore, 1913

Totentanz, Max Slevogt, 1896

Monday, October 26, 2009

"O Love's lute heard about the lands of death..."

O Love's lute heard about the lands of death,
Left hanged upon the trees that were therein;
O Love and Time and Sin,
Three singing mouths that mourn now underbreath,
Three lovers, each one evil spoken of;
O smitten lips wherethrough this voice of mine
Came softer with her praise;
Abide a little for our lady's love.
The kisses of her mouth were more than wine,
And more than peace the passage of her days.

From "A Ballad of Death" by Algernon Charles Swinburne. Read the complete poem here. (Don't miss the last stanza, my favorite.)

Self-Portrait with Death as a Fiddler, Arnold Böcklin, 1871-74

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"I watch all night..."

I watch all night and not one ghost comes forth
To take its freedom of the midnight hour.
Oh, have you no rebellion in your bones?
The very worms must scorn you where you lie,
A pallid mouldering acquiescent folk,
Meek habitants of unresented graves.

From "To the Dead in the Graveyard Underneath My Window" by Adelaide Crapsey. Read the complete poem here.

Landscape with Grave, Coffin and Owl, Caspar David Friedrich, 1836-1837.

*In honor of approaching Samhain, BitterGrace Notes will be giving the dead their due this week.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A note to the perfume people

I assume word of this has gotten around, but in case anyone has missed it, Anya McCoy is posting a collection of articles in English by Edmond Roudnitska. This is all material that has not been readily accessible until now. Go to Anya's blog for the back story and a link to the first article.

Sight and sound

Remember the Dude? Well, he's back, and as solitary as ever. I thought he'd gotten himself a girlfriend last summer, because I kept seeing a pair on the lake near his usual spot. ...more

Friday, October 23, 2009

"Where between sleep and life some brief space is..."

Where between sleep and life some brief space is,
With love like gold bound round about the head,
Sex to sweet sex with lips and limbs is wed,
Turning the fruitful feud of hers and his
To the waste wedlock of a sterile kiss;
Yet from them something like as fire is shed
That shall not be assuaged till death be dead,
Though neither life nor sleep can find out this.

From "Hermaphroditus" by Algernon Charles Swinburne. The complete poem is here.

Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, c.15th century. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Some music to get us through the week

This is the first movement of William Grant Still's Symphony No.2 in G Minor (Song of a New Race), 1936-37. It's a joyful piece of music--or at least it seems so to me. I hope you enjoy it. You can read about William Grant Still here. Thanks to for the link.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

MoonDance, Anya's Garden

There are two things you should know about me before you read this review:

1) I am a longtime fan of Anya’s Garden perfumes; and

2) I’ve always loved white florals. Instead of outgrowing them, I'm finding them even more addictive as I age.

There—now that I’ve declared my biases, let’s get on to the business of reviewing Anya's lovely paean to the tuberose, MoonDance.

MoonDance opens with a rush of sweet, cool violets. They don’t last long, but why should they? Violets in the wild are always a brief pleasure. The next note mystified me for a moment. It was so familiar, so comforting. I loved it, but couldn’t place it until I cheated and looked at the notes: chamomile! I love that mellow, herbal fragrance. I keep EO of chamomile in my medicine cabinet, so I can put a few drops in my bath. The chamomile in MoonDance is soft, fruity and slightly sweet, without the piney quality chamomile sometimes has.

The tuberose makes its entrance with remarkable modesty and delicacy. This has got to be the quietest tuberose I’ve ever encountered. I don’t know what “French process” means, but whatever it is, I’m in favor of it. Although I love a brazen tuberose, it can start to wear on the nerves after a while. The tuberose in MoonDance is like the perfect roommate—calm and clean, but still lively company. I can just catch the edge of the jasmine Anya lists, but otherwise the heart of MoonDance seems to be all tuberose to me.

The base is subtle and dry, mostly an orris experience. It’s essentially that “eau de baby’s scalp” smell, which I love in tiny doses. It’s horribly overdone in a lot of commercial scents—did someone say Philosophy?—but in Moondance it’s just a pleasing aura of warm, cuddly animal. And speaking of animals, the notes list includes “South African Hyrax.” Would that be this substance, from this critter? I hope Anya will chime in and tell us.

If I have one complaint about MoonDance, it’s that I wish it were just a tad less ethereal, a tiny bit more tenacious. Mind you, that complaint is coming from someone who routinely douses herself in some notoriously loud perfumes, so I suspect my quibble won’t be a common one. And anyway, those violets in the top are so lovely, it’s a pleasure to be able to refresh the scent after a couple of hours.

Anya’s other new (and very different) tuberose creation, StarFlower, will be reviewed in an upcoming post. Many thanks to Anya for the review samples, and to the Tate Collection for the charming painting by William Blake: Oberon, Titania and Puck, with Fairies Dancing, c.1786.

Monday, October 19, 2009

One thing you gotta love about the Bible

It's just chock full of scary women.

Judith, Conrad Meit, 1510-15. (This marble sculpture is just 30 cm tall. Photo from Web Gallery of Art.)

A quick update on Mr. Stray

Yep, he's still here. I finally got a phone call today from someone who saw one of my signs. She was looking for a long-haired poodle and miniature pinscher mix. (That is a popular hybrid here, commonly referred to as a Pinnypoo. Seriously.) She clearly wasn't looking for my stray, although I had a tough time getting her off the phone. I wasn't sure whether she was desperate to find her dog or to socialize.

The more I get to know my little pal, the more puzzled I am about his origins. He has definitely known life as a lap dog--likes cushy furniture, treats and cuddling. He is flawlessly housebroken. But he's also quite independent (has run off twice), has not been neutered, and has some marks of a rough life. The tips of both ears are slightly ragged from fighting, and his teeth are not only worn with age, but a couple of them are broken--maybe from fighting, or maybe he's been hit by someone.

In any case, it looks as if he's pretty well landed with me. I haven't taken him to the vet, but I'll have to do it soon. I'm not at all sure I can afford him over the long haul, but he's got to be cared for as long as he's here. One happy note is that Nio seems to be deciding he looks more like a playmate, less like dinner. At least this won't end in bloodshed.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The crows

There was frost on the kudzu this morning but at least the sun was bright. The birds all slept in, except for a flock of crows that commenced an exceptional racket when I was about halfway through my walk. I tried to follow the sound, hoping I could see what had them so excited, but they kept moving just ahead of me. In fact, I never actually saw a single crow. They were like noisy spirits in the treetops.

Le corbeau et le renard, Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard, 19th century. (If you don't remember the fable, it's here.)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The ghost in the verse

Have you ever read something that haunted you? I don’t mean a brilliant bit of writing that moved you or that you admired, but something that tormented you like an old wound. There’s a poem by Ruth Stone--“Another Feeling"--that caused me a stab of anguish when I first read it, and has hovered in the back of my mind ever since. It’s actually not much of a poem, but it’s a demon to me. It comes forward and demands my attention when I least expect it. It insists on reminding me that the world is filled with cruelty fueled by good intentions; cruelty that can only be redeemed—if redemption is even possible—by the suffering of the conscience that created it. That’s the terrible paradox of morality.

More on this later. Meanwhile, you can read the poem here.

The Temptation of St. Anthony, Bernardino Parenzano, c.1494. Image from Web Gallery of Art.

One Sentence Perfume Review: Cinnabar, Estee Lauder (1978)

Hot, sweet, oddly fleshy--brazen in the best possible way.

Notes per the Estee Lauder website: Jasmine, Orange Flower, Tangerine, Clove, Muguet, Lily, Olibanum, Sandalwood, Patchouli

A Young Woman, François Boucher, 1750.

Friday, October 16, 2009

"Feed where thou wilt..."

'Fondling,' she saith, 'since I have hemm'd thee here
Within the circuit of this ivory pale,
I'll be a park, and thou shalt be my deer;
Feed where thou wilt, on mountain or in dale:
Graze on my lips; and if those hills be dry,
Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie.

Within this limit is relief enough,
Sweet bottom-grass and high delightful plain,
Round rising hillocks, brakes obscure and rough,
To shelter thee from tempest and from rain
Then be my deer, since I am such a park;
No dog shall rouse thee, though a thousand bark.

From Shakespeare's "Venus and Adonis," which you can read here.

Venus and Adonis, Abraham Janssens (1575-1632)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An honorary hag

Jael (aka Yael) wasn't wizened or particularly wise, but we're giving her a place among the holiday hags anyway. 'Cuz she's just scary.

For details on Jael, see the relevant Bible passage here, and read the Wikipedia page here.

Jael and Sisera, Gregorio Lazzarini (1655-1730). Image from Web Gallery of Art.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It's late...

...I'm tired, and I'm going to turn into a pumpkin any minute. I'll see y'all tomorrow. G'night.

Pumpkin, Bartolomeo Bimbi, c. 1711. (This painting immortalizes an exceptional pumpkin. Read about it here.)

Monday, October 12, 2009


I am getting one of those dreaded cravings for a novel perfume. You know what I’m talking about—that aimless lust for something, anything wonderful and new. I am hoping to satisfy that craving with my sample of the new launch from Anya’s Garden. I’ve been looking forward to Moondance for months. Unfortunately, the samp seems to be taking its sweet time in the mail. Meanwhile, I have a number of beautiful and blog-worthy things friends have kindly sent that I could be enjoying—but I’m not. Instead I’ve been playing with old favorites and second stringers as if they were vials in a kid’s chemistry set. I have a defiled some of my best fragrance friends in the past week. For example:

Rochas Mystere with cheap opium oil from the flea market

Creed Tubereuse Indiana with Nemat rose oil

Hove La Plage d’Ete with Nicole Miller (just as horrible as it sounds)

Caron Muguet du Bonheur with Caswell-Massey Freesia

Arpege with Madame Rochas and Alyssa Ashley musk oil (not as horrible as it sounds)

So far, my Caron urn perfumes and vintage My Sin are safe, but if I don’t get off this kick soon, they could find themselves in some ugly company. Somebody stop me...

Alchemist, Cornelis Bega, 1663

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I am so screwed

I was on the way to the park this morning, looking forward to a quiet, productive day after my walk. I was only a short distance from my house when I came upon a little black and white dog standing in the road. He didn’t run to get out of my way. He just stood there, looking at me expectantly. I drove around him, and I could see that he was wearing one of those radio collars that people use to keep their dogs inside an invisible fence. When I looked in the rear view mirror, he was running after me as fast as his stubby legs would carry him.

I have taught myself to harden my heart against strays. There are so many of them around here there’s just no way to help them all, and the three I have are all I can handle. But this little guy was clearly a beloved pet who had wandered away from home, and he was small enough to be in danger of becoming coyote food, so how could I pass him by? I stopped and got out of the car. He ran right to me and sat down to be petted. He let me pick him up and put him in the back seat with no resistance at all. I took him home and put him in the extra pen, confident that he lived nearby and I’d find his owner before the day was out.

Well, the day’s progressing, and it’s not looking good. Giving him a closer look, I realized that, while not emaciated, he’s a little thinner than he should be. I put some kibble down for him, and he ate a little bit of it, then diligently kicked enough dirt into the bowl to cover it up. Bad sign—cosseted housedogs are usually not in the habit of burying their food. The radio collar has no ID, not even a rabies tag, and the little light that shows it’s active is off. I assume the battery is dead.

I’ve called a number of houses nearby, and no one is looking for a dog. One woman said she’d seen a dog fitting his description wandering near her house several days ago. Uh-oh. I have a growing suspicion that this little guy has been dumped or abandoned. That’s not unusual around here, especially since our overburdened animal shelter stopped taking new animals.

So now I’m going to spend the time I was planning to devote to working and cleaning my house to making FOUND DOG signs. The stray is still in the pen, hanging out with Pearl. He seems a little confused, but not terribly unhappy. That’s good. Since I am not the sort of person who can just open the gate and let him go his way, I have a feeling he’s going to be here a while.

The photo is Mr. Stray himself. If you live around these parts and would like the privilege of giving him a new identity, email me.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Another hag

The Russian hag Baba Yaga is pretty much identical to the witch in Hansel and Gretel, except that she has a more novel means of transportation and a more interesting house. Oh, and she has iron teeth--like the guy in Moonraker--with which she eats the little children she catches. Scary bitch, but she's really a necessary villain, as you can see from this wonderful version of the Baba Yaga tale. I won't speculate on the Freudian implications of the happy ending. It's interesting that, unlike the innocents in Hansel and Gretel, the nameless little girl in the Baba Yaga story is a superb witch herself.

Baba Yaga, Viktor Vasnetsov, 1917. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Horn tooting, etc.

Humanities Tennessee (the state arm of the National Endowment for the Humanities) has just launched a website devoted to Tennessee literature, past and present. The site is still under construction, but it has a nice selection of reviews up, including a few by me. I think BitterGrace Notes regulars will especially enjoy this great essay by Michael Sims.

If you happen not to be in a literary mood, maybe you'll enjoy a little music. I've been working on an article for the Nashville Symphony magazine about tango composer Astor Piazzolla, and I found this nice clip of him performing "Mumuki." (According to Piazzolla's biographers, Mumuki was the great man's pet name for both his wife and dog.)

Illustration from "Cronecken der Sassen (The Chronicles of Saxony)," 1492

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"...what gathered in the gloom?"

A lot of the trees are still green and we're a long way from first frost, but the darkness of autumn has really begun to close in. It's about 8 o'clock in the evening here, and it's been raining lightly since before dawn. The day never got bright. It was utterly gloomy....more

Monday, October 5, 2009

One Sentence Perfume Review: Belle En Rykiel, Sonia Rykiel

Cute and sweet, but there's something a little bit odd about this one, as if she's been constructed from salvaged parts.

Notes from Fragrancex: Mandarin, Red Currant, Lavender flowers, Heliotrope, Coffee Blossom, Frankincense, Patchouli, Amber, Vanilla, and Mahogany Wood.

Photo by Rodrigo at Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Something sublime

I came across this in the course of doing some research for an article. The player is Munir Bashir. The video is only a series of stills, but the music is incredibly beautiful. Just listen.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Hilda's story

The photo above is the aftermath of a forest fire in Montana. Why have I posted a picture of a burned forest? Because my friend Betsy has a couple of fascinating family history blogs that I think you should check out, and she just posted her grandmother's account of traveling through the Montana mountains during a fire. It's written, as Betsy says, in a prosaic style, but the experience it describes must have been pretty harrowing. Read it here.

Photograph from Wikimedia Commons