Monday, August 31, 2009
Sunday, August 30, 2009
It was good to go away and it's good to be back. I love my home, but sometimes there is nothing more pleasurable than leaving it.
From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,
Listening to others, considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently,but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.
I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.
From "Song of the Open Road," by Walt Whitman. Read the complete poem at Poetry Foundation.
Luna und ihre Kinder 1480. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
"...musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful; and also because he who has received this true education of the inner being will most shrewdly perceive omissions or faults in art and nature, and with a true taste, while he praises and rejoices over and receives into his soul the good, and becomes noble and good, he will justly blame and hate the bad, now in the days of his youth, even before he is able to know the reason why; and when reason comes he will recognise and salute the friend with whom his education has made him long familiar."
From Book 3 of The Republic
Venus Playing the Harp, Giovanni Lanfranco, 1630-34.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
by Vachel Lindsay
Once, in the city of Kalamazoo,
The gods went walking, two and two,
With the friendly phoenix, the stars of Orion,
The speaking pony and singing lion.
For in Kalamazoo in a cottage apart
Lived the girl with the innocent heart.
Thenceforth the city of Kalamazoo
Was the envied, intimate chum of the sun.
He rose from a cave by the principal street.
The lions sang, the dawn-horns blew,
And the ponies danced on silver feet.
He hurled his clouds of love around;
Deathless colors of his old heart
Draped the houses and dyed the ground.
O shrine of the wide young Yankee land,
Incense city of Kalamazoo,
That held, in the midnight, the priceless sun
As a jeweller holds an opal in hand!
From the awkward city of Oshkosh came
Love the bully no whip shall tame,
Bringing his gang of sinners bold.
And I was the least of his Oshkosh men;
But none were reticent, none were old.
And we joined the singing phoenix then,
And shook the lilies of Kalamazoo
All for one hidden butterfly.
Bulls of glory, in cars of war
We charged the boulevards, proud to die
For her ribbon sailing there on high.
Our blood set gutters all aflame,
Where the sun slept without any heat—
Cold rock till he must rise again.
She made great poets of wolf-eyed men—
The dear queen-bee of Kalamazoo,
With her crystal wings, and her honey heart.
We fought for her favors a year and a day
(Oh, the bones of the dead, the Oshkosh dead,
That were scattered along her pathway red!)
And then, in her harum-scarum way,
She left with a passing traveller-man—
With a singing Irishman
Went to Japan.
Why do the lean hyenas glare
Where the glory of Artemis had begun—
Of Atalanta, Joan of Arc,
Cinderella, Becky Thatcher,
And Orphant Annie, all in one?
Who burned this city of Kalamazoo
Till nothing was left but a ribbon or two—
One scorched phoenix that mourned in the dew,
Acres of ashes, a junk-man's cart,
A torn-up letter, a dancing shoe,
(And the bones of the dead, the dead)?
Who burned this city of Kalamazoo—
Love-town, Troy-town Kalamazoo?
A harum-scarum innocent heart.
Text from Poetry Foundation.
Portrait of a Young Woman, Vittorio Corcos, 1896
Monday, August 17, 2009
by Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke (1554-1628)
O wearisome condition of humanity!
Born under one law, to another bound;
Vainly begot and yet forbidden vanity;
Created sick, commanded to be sound.
What meaneth nature by these diverse laws?
Passion and reason, self-division cause.
Is it the mark or majesty of power
To make offenses that it may forgive?
Nature herself doth her own self deflower
To hate those errors she herself doth give.
For how should man think that he may not do,
If nature did not fail and punish, too?
Tyrant to others, to herself unjust,
Only commands things difficult and hard,
Forbids us all things which it knows is lust,
Makes easy pains, unpossible reward.
If nature did not take delight in blood,
She would have made more easy ways to good.
We that are bound by vows and by promotion,
With pomp of holy sacrifice and rites,
To teach belief in good and still devotion,
To preach of heaven's wonders and delights;
Yet when each of us in his own heart looks
He finds the God there, far unlike his books.
From Mustapha, 1609. Text from Luminarium.org
Landscape with the Penitent St. Jerome, Lucas Gassel, 1545-48
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Actually, we have two monsters here: a mermaid and an unorthodox griffin. This painting is by Paul Ranson (1864-1909), one of Les Nabis. Its title is always given as Hippogriffe. Not to quibble, but a hippogriff, strictly speaking, is the offspring of a griffin and a mare, and has the limbs of a horse. As you can see, this guy's back legs have the feline characteristics of a traditional griffin, while his front legs end in cloven hooves like a deer or goat. To further confuse matters, he has a man's face. There's no telling who his mama was.
The mermaid seems unperturbed about his pedigree as she basks in his virile aura, but I don't have high hopes for this budding romance. She'll never fly, and I doubt he can swim. This can't end well.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Here in close recess,
With flowers, garlands, and sweet-smelling herbs,
Espoused Eve deck'd first her nuptial bed,
And heav'nly quires the hymenæan sung,
What day the genial Angel to our sire
Brought her, in naked beauty more adorn'd,
More lovely, than Pandora, whom the Gods
Endow'd with all their gifts; and O too like
In sad event, when, to the unwiser son
Of Japhet brought by Hermes, she ensnar'd
Mankind with her fair looks, to be aveng'd
On him who had stole Jove's authentic fire.
From Book 4 of Paradise Lost.
Eva Prima Pandora, Jean Cousin the Elder, c.1550.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
This is William Blake's The Ghost of a Flea, 1819-20. I've always liked TGOAF, but never knew he could be read as a cultural commentary until I came across this analysis by Jonathan Jones in The Guardian. The idea that Mr. Ghost is Blake's "riposte to the English face-painters," an alter ego of the Gainsborough lady, is pretty delightful. But I can't say I really share Jones' impression of the monster as "evil, gothic, grotesque" and "a colossus come to life." Surely this monster is meant to be comic in the perverse way that Blake loved. The greedy look on his face, combined with the suggestion that he's being watched by an unseen audience, make him absurd, even worthy of pity.
THE HUMAN ABSTRACT
Pity would be no more
If we did not make somebody poor,
And Mercy no more could be
If all were as happy as we.
And mutual fear brings Peace,
Till the selfish loves increase
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.
He sits down with his holy fears,
And waters the ground with tears;
Then Humility takes its root
Underneath his foot.
Soon spreads the dismal shade
Of Mystery over his head,
And the caterpillar and fly
Feed on the Mystery.
And it bears the fruit of Deceit,
Ruddy and sweet to eat,
And the raven his nest has made
In its thickest shade.
The gods of the earth and sea
Sought through nature to find this tree,
But their search was all in vain:
There grows one in the human Brain.
From Blake's Songs of Experience, 1794. Text from Nimbi
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
...however you spell his name, he's an awesome beastie. The one above is the creation of Johannes Jonston, c.1650. If the number of websites devoted to the griffin is any indicator, he has a lot of fans, though his reputation has varied radically in different times and places. He is fond of gold, notoriously hard on horses, and a known enemy of the basilisk.
If Johannes' little buddy has whetted your appetite for griffin images, go here for a visual feast. There's more griffin lore on this page.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
It's a busy week here, so I'm going to let the monsters entertain you until I can get back to wordier posts. This is The Basilisk and the Weasel by Wenceslas Hollar, c.17th century.
Read more about the Basilisk, aka the Cockatrice, at The Medieval Bestiary.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Sunday, August 9, 2009
This spectacular rose is currently nodding from a bush in my front yard. In spite of my failure to tend it, the bush puts out big, sexy blooms at random intervals. The roses are a joy to look at, but they have almost no detectable scent. After a decade of living with the bush, I know perfectly well there’s no point in sniffing its flowers, but I always do. I can’t stop myself. In my little perfume-addled brain, rose = sweet smell. I just can’t separate the two ideas, and since I have zero self-control when it comes to seeking olfactory pleasure, I must sniff the scentless roses.
I guess this is where I should bemoan the fact that I am a slave to my programming, unable to let my rational mind trump my impulses; but the truth is that I love the zombie-like urge that sends me across the lawn toward deceptive beauty. Like my dogs, who will return to the location of some interesting aroma--dead bird, cat poop, discarded soda can--months after the source of the smell is gone, I see the rose and I’m possessed by lust for a remembered pleasure. Past, present, and future collide in a happy flash of utter stupidity.
Before there was a trace of this world of men,
I carried the memory of a lock of your hair,
A stray end gathered within me, though unknown.
Inside that invisible realm,
Your face like the sun longed to be seen,
Until each separate object was finally flung into light.
From the moment of Time’s first-drawn breath,
Love resides in us,
A treasure locked into the heart’s hidden vault...
(From a poem by Bibi Hayati, a 19th century Sufi poet. The complete poem is at Poet Seers. For a different translation, go to Poetry Chaikhana.)
Rose photo by me. Feel free to share.
Friday, August 7, 2009
I know it's the weekend and there's a picture of a naked woman, but really, this is not an erotica post. It's a dream post--or more precisely, a nightmare post. For the past few nights I've had a series of unsettling dreams in which I see a woman who looks very much like Persephone above, splayed out naked in some rustic place, usually near a stream. Her body is always beautiful and desirable, impossibly perfect, except for one thing: She has no head. It's clear to me in the dream that there's a serial head collector on the loose, though I never seem to be able to persuade the police or anyone else that something is seriously amiss when decapitated ladies start turning up along the scenic waterways.
I bring this to the blog because I have always had violent dreams, but they've never once featured a headless corpse until now. I thought I must be going seriously off the rails, but just out of curiosity I googled "meaning dreams decapitation," and was surprised to discover that this is actually a very common dream image. I'm curious--anyone else out there have decapitation dreams? Or maybe something even weirder?
Persephone, Thomas Hart Benton, 1938.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
From Dewy Dreams, My Soul, Arise
by James Joyce
From dewy dreams, my soul, arise,
From love's deep slumber and from death,
For lo! the trees are full of sighs
Whose leaves the morn admonisheth.
Eastward the gradual dawn prevails
Where softly-burning fires appear,
Making to tremble all those veils
Of grey and golden gossamer.
While sweetly, gently, secretly,
The flowery bells of morn are stirred
And the wise choirs of faery
Begin (innumerous!) to be heard.
Text from Poetry Archive.
Nu Feminino, Artur Timoteo da Costa, 1909
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Dogs are Shakespearean, children are strangers.
Let Freud and Wordsworth discuss the child,
Angels and Platonists shall judge the dog,
The running dog, who paused, distending nostrils,
Then barked and wailed; the boy who pinched his sister,
The little girl who sang the song from Twelfth Night,
As if she understood the wind and rain,
The dog who moaned, hearing the violins in concert.
—O I am sad when I see dogs or children!
For they are strangers, they are Shakespearean.
From "Dogs are Shakespearean, Children are Strangers," by Delmore Schwartz. The complete poem is here.
Photo by BitterGrace of our own Nio, a Shakespearean dog if there ever was one.