Friday, November 12, 2010

"your quick astute amazements"

If they have compared you
to the fox it’s for the prodigious
leap, for the scud of your feet
which unite and divide, which scuff
and freshen the gravel (your balcony,
the streets near the Cottolengo, the field,
the tree on which shivers my name,
happy, humble, and defeated)—or perhaps only
for the luminous wave which you shed
from your tender almond eyes,
for your quick astute amazements,
for the hurt
of torn feathers which your childlike hand
can give with one clasp
... (more)

Eugenio Montale, translated by Alan Marshfield

Tanzender weiblicher Akt (Dancing Nude), Christian Rohlfs, 1927

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"The river in its abundance"

Eros at Temple Stream
by Denise Levertov

The river in its abundance
all about us as we stood
on a warm rock to wash

smoothing in long
sliding strokes
our soapy hands along each other’s
slippery cool bodies

quiet and slow in the midst of
the quick of the
sounding river

our hands were
stealing upon quickened flesh until

no part of us but was
sleek and
on fire

From Selected Poems

Liebespaar, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1908

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Not thinking anything"

I think...I think says the brain...
But the little spire with the eyes of ecstasy
On the brain's dome is the life,
Not thinking anything,
But flaming...little fool you will cease
Flaming when you flame up to peace.

From "Doors to Peace" by Robinson Jeffers

Moonlight on the Loire, Henri-Joseph Harpignies, 1885

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

For a discussion of environmental ethics...

...and a lot of other things, mostly not including literature, click here to read my interview with Margaret Atwood. And when you're done with that (or with deciding to skip it), please cruise around Chapter 16 for all the other good stuff there — for example, Ed Tarkington's review of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin, and Charlotte Pence's Q&A with Marge Piercy.

Lake with Dead Trees (Catskill), Thomas Cole, 1825

(Cole's painting seemed fitting to Atwood's discussion of the environment, and the post-apocalyptic settings of her speculative fiction. Cole's aesthetic seems very much in sync with Atwood's generally, I think. You can see a bunch more of his work here.)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Peacock, Manguel, Boldini...

Apologies for being so scattershot with my posts in recent days. Life is a full-time job lately. Since I've been away so much, I thought I'd do a multipurpose post that hits all my usual topics. Here I give you:

1. Antique smutReclining nude, Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931)

2. A link to my last piece at Chapter 16 — My interview with poet Molly Peacock is online here.

3. A mention of perfume — Since there were only a few people interested in the Enigma draw, you can all have a sample. Lisa BTB, Margi, and StellaP, please email me your addresses!

4. Something of interest off-blog — Here's a great essay by Alberto Manguel, "The Muse of Impossibility."

5. Poetry — I'll be posting my interview with Margaret Atwood tomorrow, so here's a bit of one of her poems to whet your appetite.

I watch you
watching my face
yet with the same taut curiosity
with which you might regard
a suddenly discovered part
of your own body:
a wart perhaps,

and I remember that
you said
in childhood you were
a tracer of maps
(not making but) moving
a pen or a forefinger
over the courses of the rivers,
the different colours
that mark the rise of mountains;
a memorizer
of names (to hold
these places
in their proper places)

So now you trace me
like a country’s boundary
or a strange new wrinkle in
your own wellknown skin
and I am fixed, stuck
down on the outspread map
of this room, of your mind’s continent...

From "The Circle Game" by Margaret Atwood

There, I think that covers all the bases. Back tomorrow with Atwood. Y'all enjoy your week.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Soul, one's life is one's enemy"

Against weather, and the random
Harpies — mood, circumstance, the laws
Of biography, chance, physics —
The unseasonable soul holds forth,
Eager for form as a renowned
Pedant, the emperor's man of worth,
Hereditary arbiter of manners.

Soul, one's life is one's enemy.
As the small children learn, what happens
Takes over, and what you were goes away.

From "Ceremony for Any Beginning" by Robert Pinsky

Two Children in a Stable, Madeline Green (1884-1947)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Dolor of Autumn: Enigma

This fall I've been making a weekly trip to Memphis, which is about a three hour drive away. I go down in the early afternoon and head back home around 8:30 pm, which puts me on a long, dark stretch of interstate at a time when there's very little traffic. I don't really mind it -- in fact, I enjoy the utter solitude. But at some point in the trip I always start flashing on the face of the The Man from Carnival of Souls. Funny how all it takes is the right set of factors -- i.e., isolation and darkness -- for the make-believe ghosts to come out. (The real ghosts always show up when you least expect them, like last Christmas when my father passed me in a Ford Focus as I drove to my friend's house for a holiday dinner. He's been dead for years but I swear it was him.)

Anyway, this is supposed to be a perfume post. What's all this talk of ghosts? Well, the theme here is the dolor of autumn, and what's more dolorous than the feeling of being pursued by ghosts, fictional or otherwise? And yes, I do have a perfume that evokes just such a feeling: Enigma, a largely forgotten fragrance from the largely forgotten Alexandra de Markoff line. Fragrantica calls it a woody oriental, and that's true enough, if the wood in question is musty, worm-eaten and dark with age. Although Enigma starts out with a blast of generic, floral-tinged spice, it quickly becomes a sort of eau de haunted house, with a grim bitterness that overwhelms its deceptive introductory smile. If you tested it blind, you'd swear it was some edgy niche creation, rather than a 70s era mainstream. I give it high marks for originality, though it is so unsettling and insistent -- kinda like those ghosts -- that I generally wear it only when I'm home alone and feel like surrendering to its strangeness.

Leave a comment or email me to enter the draw for a sample of Enigma. Or, if you don't want to wait to be creeped out, just watch the end of Carnival of Souls:

Photo above is a still from the movie. If you've never seen Carnival of Souls, you can watch the whole thing here.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mommy and me

(Last Friday was my mother's 74th birthday, and the occasion reminded me of this post I wrote a couple of years ago. Although, as usual, I'm blathering on about me here, I'm also paying tribute to her.)

I caught a glimpse of my mother in a department store mirror the other day. There she was—her loose, energetic walk, her vaguely blissful expression, the distinctive tilt of her head.

It was me, of course.

Middle-aged women are supposed to be horrified when they see themselves morphing into their mothers, but I can’t say I mind it much. My mother is an attractive person. She’s in her seventies now, and she’s still lively and curious. She goes dancing every weekend with her boyfriend, who’s a bit younger than her. He’s got a few dozen acres of land out in the sticks, where the two of them have separate houses but a shared existence. They enjoy a menagerie of dogs, goats and chickens, and while neither of them has a lot of money, they’re happy and do as they please. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I could do a lot worse than to end up like my mother.

Still, it was a shock to see her looking back at me in the mirror, because I’ve always been so certain that I’m nothing like my mother. Physically, we’re built on completely different models. We have the same dark eyes—and, alas, the same freckles—but there the resemblance ends. From my soft facial features to my long skinny feet, I am unmistakably my father’s child. Neither of us is a bombshell, but my mother has always been very attractive to men. Even now they follow her around like puppies. I have never had that problem, although actual puppies do seem to find me alluring.

In personality and temperament, we might as well be different species. My mother is charming, caring, a people pleaser who loves attention. She’s no doormat, but she’s prone to hero worship. I am a bookish introvert, soft-hearted but basically selfish, and (my father’s influence again) I’ve got an anti-authoritarian streak a mile wide. My mother is a natural mediator, whereas I am opinionated and argumentative. One of her favorite sayings is, “There’s always a happy medium.” You would have to hold a gun to my head to get me to say that.

Still, there’s obviously some powerful genetic inheritance from her that is beginning to show itself as I age. It’s strange to be reminded that characteristics we think of as profoundly our own—even ones as seemingly individual as a facial expression—are built into our DNA; stranger still to think that they can be wired to hide themselves for decades, emerging when the organism hits just the right level of decay. Not that I’m complaining. As genetic time bombs go, a quirky walk beats the hell out of early-onset Alzheimer’s. Like I said, I’ll be happy to have an old age like my mother’s—and who knows? I may yet find out what it’s like to have men follow me around like puppies.

Peggy Shippen (wife of Benedict Arnold) and Daughter, Sir Thomas Lawrence (1790-1830). Image from Wikimedia Commons. There's an interesting old article about Arnold and Shippen here

Thursday, October 14, 2010

In case you need this as much as I do...

"O hushed October morning mild"

We are well into fall here, though it's still pretty warm. The leaves are at a wonderful point of turning -- warm autumn color touched with lingering green. There was a fierce little storm Tuesday night, and the next morning the trees were draped in mist. There was a wonderful perfume in the air, a fine mixture of damp greenery, fallen leaves and wet earth, traveling on a sweet northern breeze.

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow's wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.

From "October" by Robert Frost

The Emerald Pool, Albert Bierstadt, 1870

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Early risers

"Early risers feel at ease with each other, perhaps because, unlike those who sleep late, they are given to understatement of their own achievements. Orion, the most widely traveled, says literally nothing. The coffee pot, from its first soft gurgle, underclaims the virtues of what simmers within. The owl, in his trisyllabic commentary, plays down the story of the night's murders. The goose on the bar, rising briefly to a point of order in some inaudible anserine debate, lets fall no hint that he speaks with the authority of all the far hills and the sea."

From A Sand County Almanac ("October"), Aldo Leopold.

A Faggot Gatherer At Dawn, Iulii Iul'evich (Julius) Klever (1850-1924)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

"the nothing it cares for me"

How did we do? A medium job,
which is well above average. But because
she had opened her heart to me as far
as she did, I saw her fierce privacy,

like a gnarled, luxuriant tree all hung
with disappointments, and I knew
that to love her I must love the tree
and the nothing it cares for me.

From "The Cloister" by William Matthews

Leda and the swan, Giovanni Boldini, 1884

Friday, October 1, 2010

"the innocence of your fragrance"

Because the rare perfume
Of your swanlike paleness,
Because the innocence
  Of your fragrance,

Ah, because all your being,
Music so piercing,
Clouds of lost angels,
  Tones and scents,

Has by soft cadences
With its correspondences,
Lured my subtle heart, Oh
  Let it be so!

From "To Clymène" by Paul Verlaine, translated by A.S Kline, text from Poetry in Translation

Study to the Morning, Philipp Otto Runge, 1809

Thursday, September 30, 2010

"We can never be with loss too long"

We can never be with loss too long.
Behind the warped door that sticks,
the wood thrush calls to the monks,
pausing upon the stone crucifix,
singing: “I am marvelous alone!”
Thrash, thrash goes the hayfield:
rows of marrow and bone undone ...

From "At Thomas Merton's Grave" by Spencer Reece

(A profile of Spencer Reece can be found here.)

Haystacks, Autumn, Jean-François Millet, 1873

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dolor of Autumn: A Perfume Series

As I indicated in my Mabon post, I'm stealing a phrase and a feeling from D.H. Lawrence for my more-or-less annual autumn series. This year the theme is unhappy perfumes. You know, the ones that make you feel bad in a good way--the ones that encourage you to wallow in melancholy thoughts, that join you in a cathartic scream, that whisper words of despair in your ear.

I'll start with the mildly dysthymic Nocturnes de Caron. You’d expect this aldehydic green floral to be a pick-me-up, judging from the notes. Orange, bergamot, ylang-ylang, rose, sandalwood, vanilla—how could that cheery cohort possibly produce a downer? For me, though, there’s something antique and wistful in the dry softness of Nocturnes. It evokes the feeling of opening a flea market book to find a flower pressed between the pages, a relic of some ancient happiness that has passed from living memory. Nocturnes is a scent for walking gray streets at twilight, nursing a vague longing for the past. Though there's nothing vague or wistful about Auden's "As I Walked Out One Evening,"* the fragrance of Nocturnes always makes think of that poem's last stanza--

It was late, late in the evening,
The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
And the deep river ran on.

A Paris Street, Evening, Victor Olivier Gilsoul (1867-1939)

*I once had a teacher who insisted that all her students memorize this poem, and she declared that we should recite it to ourselves before we commenced to write anything. Not a bad policy, I have found.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Quizzing the poets

I've done a few Q&As with poets recently at Chapter 16 that might interest those of you who come here for the verse:

Claudia Emerson won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for Late Wife, and she has some interesting things to say about how writers mine personal experience. Her interview is here.

Blas Falconer is a wonderful poet I've written about in the past. (In fact, he was featured in this blog's inaugural post.) Blas has edited a new book on the craft of poetry, Mentor and Muse, which he talks about here.

Bill Brown is another local writer I've discussed before. He's a wonderful teacher as well as a poet, and he shares some thoughts on both vocations here.

Of course, there's plenty of other interesting stuff at Chapter 16. Go to the home page to find it all.

Poetry, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1879

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"Sibylline voices flicker..."

Through the bound cable strands, the arching path   
Upward, veering with light, the flight of strings,—
Taut miles of shuttling moonlight syncopate   
The whispered rush, telepathy of wires.
Up the index of night, granite and steel—
Transparent meshes—fleckless the gleaming staves—
Sibylline voices flicker, waveringly stream   
As though a god were issue of the strings. . . .

From "The Bridge: Atlantis" by Hart Crane, 1930

"It is my hope to go through the combined materials of the poem, using our "real" world somewhat as a spring-board, and to give the poem as a whole an orbit or predetermined direction of its own. I would like to establish it as free from my own personality as from any chance evaluation on the reader’s part. (This is, of course, an impossibility, but it is a characteristic worth mentioning.) Such a poem is at least a stab at a truth, and to such an extent may be differentiated from other kinds of poetry and called "absolute." It evocation will not be toward decoration or amusement, but rather toward a state of consciousness, and "innocence" (Blake) or absolute beauty. In this condition there may be discoverable under new forms certain spiritual illuminations, shining with a morality essentialized from experience directly, and not from previous precepts or preconceptions. It is as though a poem gave the reader as he left it a singe, new word, never before spoken and impossible to actually enunciate, but self-evident as an active principle in the reader’s consciousness henceforward."

From Crane's "General Aims and Theories," 1925 (Text via The Museum of American Poetics)

Eight Bells Folly: Memorial to Hart Crane, Marsden Hartley, 1933

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"It is ignorance we blink from, dark, unhoused"

Going abruptly into a starry night
It is ignorance we blink from, dark, unhoused;
There is a gaze of animal delight
Before the human vision. Then, aroused
To nebulous danger, we may look for easy stars,
Orion and the Dipper; but they are not ours,

These learned fields. Dark and ignorant,
Unable to see here what our forebears saw,
We keep some fear of random firmament
Vestigial in us. And we think, Ah,
If I had lived then, when these stories were made up, I
Could have found more likely pictures in haphazard sky.

From "Starlight" by William Meredith

Lily of Light and Morning Star, Philipp Otto Runge, 1808

Read the instructions

Kinda funny.

Melancholy, Domenico Feti (1589-1623)

Monday, September 20, 2010

"stealthy, brindled odours"

Busy here, preparing for Mabon and taking care of other, less delightful chores. I've been thinking about a series for this Mabon to Samhain season, and I believe I've come up with a good one. I'll tell you about it on Thursday, when I return to the blog. The D.H Lawrence poem below will give you a hint. Meanwhile, enjoy your Equinox (whichever one you're having) and the full moon that follows. A beautiful Mabon to all who observe.

Dolor of Autumn

The acrid scents of autumn,
Reminiscent of slinking beasts, make me fear
Everything, tear-trembling stars of autumn
And the snore of the night in my ear.

For suddenly, flush-fallen,
All my life, in a rush
Of shedding away, has left me
Naked, exposed on the bush.

I, on the bush of the globe,
Like a newly-naked berry, shrink
Disclosed: but I also am prowling
As well in the scents that slink

Abroad: I in this naked berry
Of flesh that stands dismayed on the bush;
And I in the stealthy, brindled odours
Prowling about the lush

And acrid night of autumn;
My soul, along with the rout,
Rank and treacherous, prowling,
Disseminated out.

For the night, with a great breath intaken,
Has taken my spirit outside
Me, till I reel with disseminated consciousness,
Like a man who has died.

At the same time I stand exposed
Here on the bush of the globe,
A newly-naked berry of flesh
For the stars to probe.

From Amores, D.H. Lawrence, 1916, via

A Sorceress, Bartolomeo Guidobono (1654-1709)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"Better trust all..."

Better trust all, and be deceived,
   And weep that trust, and that deceiving;
Than doubt one heart, that, if believed,
   Had blessed one’s life with true believing.

From "Faith" by Frances Anne Kemble

Les Amoureux (Soir d'automne), Emile Friant (1863-1932)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"The petals of tenderness in them..."

Eastward the city with scarcely even a murmur
          turns in the soft dusk,
          the lights of it blur,
          the delicate spires are unequal
as though the emollient dusk had begun to dissolve them...

          And the soft air-breathers,
their soft bosoms rising and falling as ferns under water
responding to some impalpably soft pressure,
          turn with the city, too.

          The petals of tenderness in them,
their tentative ways of feeling, not quite reaching out
but ever so gently half reaching out and withdrawing,

withdrawing to where their feminine star is withdrawing,
the planet that turns with them,
          faithfully always and softly...

From "The Soft City" by Tennessee Williams

Marseille at Dusk, Andre Maglione (1838-1923)

Monday, September 13, 2010

BitterGrace is departing the blog for a spell...

 wander in the Enchanted Forest, among other places. Back soon.

A Tree, Otto Mueller (1874-1930)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

"In Mind"

In Mind
Denise Levertov

There's in my mind a woman
of innocence, unadorned but
fair-featured, and smelling of
apples or grass.  She wears
a utopian smock or shift, her hair
is light brown and smooth, and she
is kind and very clean without
              but she has
no imagination.
               And there's a
turbulent moon-ridden girl
or old woman, or both,
dressed in opals and rags, feathers
and torn taffeta,
who knows strange songs---
but she is not kind.

Rote Cocotte, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, c.1914

Thursday, September 9, 2010

"a song in the ears of all men unborn"

Hast thou come, dear youth, with the third night and the dawning; hast thou come? but men in longing grow old in a day! As spring than the winter is sweeter, as the apple than the sloe, as the ewe is deeper of fleece than the lamb she bore; as a maiden surpasses a thrice-wedded wife, as the fawn is nimbler than the calf; nay, by as much as sweetest of all fowls sings the clear-voiced nightingale, so much has thy coming gladdened me! To thee have I hastened as the traveller hastens under the burning sun to the shadow of the ilex tree.

Ah, would that equally the Loves may breathe upon us twain, may we become a song in the ears of all men unborn.

Idyl XII: The Passionate Friend, Theocritus (3rd century BCE), trans. by Andrew Lang

Jupiter kissing Ganymede, Raffaelle da Montelupo (1505–1566)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Heracles by Lord's Jester

Adam Gottschalk at Lord's Jester has been kind enough to share some samples of his classical creations for review, and since friend-of-the-blog J recently pointed out that I seem to have a thing for the "ol' Herc," I might as well start with handsome Heracles.

I must admit I was all set for something heavy and sweaty with this one, having previously experienced the exalted barnyard affair that is LJ's Dionysis. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover there's nothing muscle-bound about Heracles, no suggestion of unwashed funk. The top is green, peppery, and bracing--one of the most delightful uses of petitgrain I've ever encountered. I expected the fragrance to head toward a conventional, woodsy guy scent after such a zippy opening, and was surprised again when it literally bloomed into a terrific floral, with hints of orange flower, rose and jasmine. A dose of boronia saves the heart from becoming too typically feminine, but it definitely deserves to be called romantic and sensual. The base emerges slowly to take the perfume into more macho territory, with a sweet and salty mix of blackcurrant bud, resinous notes and ambergris. This is my favorite stage in the scent. It's sexy in a gentle, cuddly way that makes me think of snuggling inside a boyfriend's jacket (or his lion skin).

The verdict: Definitely a keeper. Unisex, casual, and perfect for early fall. Sillage is moderate, and Heracles lasts fairly well for a natural--about three hours on me.

Hercules and the Hydra, Gustave Moreau, 1876

Saturday, September 4, 2010

It's just work, work, work around here ...

...but I hope my fellow Americans are all taking a break for Labor Day. Enjoy the weekend, everybody.

Hercules and the Nemean lion, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1634

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"an intuition of an order, a form beyond forms"

A partial definition, then, of organic poetry might be that it is a method of apperception, i.e., of recognizing what we perceive, and is based on an intuition of an order, a form beyond forms, in which forms partake, and of which man’s creative works are analogies, resemblances, natural allegories. Such a poetry is exploratory.
How does one go about such a poetry? I think it’s like this: First there must be an experience, a sequence or constellation of perceptions of sufficient interest, felt by the poet intensely enough to demand of him their equivalence in words: he is brought to speech. Suppose there’s the sight of the sky through a dusty window, birds and clouds and bits of paper flying through the sky, the sound of music from his radio, feelings of anger and love and amusement roused by a letter just received, the memory of some long ago thought or event associated with what’s seen or heard or felt, and an idea, a concept, he has been pondering, each qualifying the other; together with what he knows about history; and what he has been dreaming—whether or not he remembers it—working in him. This is only a rough outline of a possible moment in a life. But the condition of being a poet is that periodically such a cross-section, or constellation, of experiences (in which one or another element may predominate) demands, or wakes in him this demand, the poem. The beginning of the fulfillment of this demand is to contemplate, to meditate; words which connote a state in which the heat of feeling warms the intellect. To contemplate comes from "templum, temple, a place, a space for observation, marked out by the augur." It means, not simply to observe, to regard, but to do these things in the presence of a god. And to meditate is "to keep the mind in a state of contemplation’’; its synonym is "to muse," and to muse comes from a word meaning "to stand with open mouth"; not so comical if we think of "inspiration"—to breathe in.

Denise Levertov, "Some Notes on Organic Form," 1965. Text from Museum of American Poetics.

Beginning with Color: Pink Sky, J.M.W. Turner, 1820-30

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Think this painting is obscene?

No, of course you don't. No one in her right mind would. But 11 years ago, a mother in Oberlin, Ohio created a similarly innocent image of her child and was indicted on child pornography charges. Lynn Powell has written a fascinating book about the case, Framing Innocence. You can read my review at Chapter 16.

As always, there's a lot of other interesting stuff at Chapter 16, including an interview with Michael Sims about his current project, Kingfisher Days. (Facebook denizens can get a daily dose of natural history at a page Michael hosts, "Today on Earth".)

Happy reading.

Madonna with the Child Reading, Jan van Eyck, 1433

Monday, August 30, 2010

"Like honey is his voice"

Cypris was raising the hue and cry for Love, her child, - ‘Who, where the three ways meet, has seen Love wandering? He is my runaway, whosoever has aught to tell of him shall win his reward. His prize is the kiss of Cypris, but if thou bringest him, not the bare kiss, O stranger, but yet more shalt thou win. The child is most notable, thou couldst tell him among twenty together, his skin is not white, but flame coloured, his eyes are keen and burning, an evil heart and a sweet tongue has he, for his speech and his mind are at variance. 

Like honey is his voice, but his heart of gall, all tameless is he, and deceitful, the truth is not in him, a wily brat, and cruel in his pastime. The locks of his hair are lovely, but his brow is impudent, and tiny are his little hands, yet far he shoots his arrows, shoots even to Acheron, and to the King of Hades.

‘The body of Love is naked, but well is his spirit hidden, and winged like a bird he flits and descends, now here, now there, upon men and women, and nestles in their inmost hearts. He hath a little bow, and an arrow always on the string, tiny is the shaft, but it carries as high as heaven. A golden quiver on his back he bears, and within it his bitter arrows, wherewith full many a time he wounds even me.

‘Cruel are all these instruments of his, but more cruel by far the little torch, his very own, wherewith he lights up the sun himself.

‘And if thou catch Love, bind him, and bring him, and have no pity, and if thou see him weeping, take heed lest he give thee the slip; and if he laugh, hale him along.

‘Yea, and if he wish to kiss thee, beware, for evil is his kiss, and his lips enchanted.

‘And should he say, “Take these, I give thee in free gift all my armoury,” touch not at all his treacherous gifts, for they all are dipped in fire.’

Idyl I: Love the Runaway, Moschus, c.150 BCE, trans. by Andrew Lang, 1889. Text at Project Gutenberg

L’Amour endormi sur un crâne, Pieter Moninckx (1605-72)

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Things are pretty, graceful, rich, elegant, handsome, but, until they speak to the imagination, not yet beautiful. This is the reason why beauty is still escaping out of all analysis. It is not yet possessed, it cannot be handled. Proclus says, "it swims on the light of forms." It is properly not in the form, but in the mind. It instantly deserts possession, and flies to an object in the horizon.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, from "Beauty," The Conduct of Life, 1860

Nude study, Anton Raphael Mengs, 1760

Friday, August 27, 2010


"He opened his nostrils the better to breathe in the perfume which exhaled from her person. It was a fresh, indefinable emanation, which nevertheless made him dizzy, like the smoke from a perfuming-pan. She smelt of honey, pepper, incense, roses, with another odour still."

From Salammbô by Gustave Flaubert. (A different translation is here.)

Salammbô, Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The exquisite withering

Chill early morning air. Dawn light glowing through the mist that lingers around the trees. Damp spider webs draped like curtains across the trail. Wild turkeys everywhere.

Oh, yes, the season is about to change. We may be killing the earth but so far it shows no inclination to stop waltzing around the sun. Soon the trees will commence their exquisite withering. The box turtle that wanted to fight me this morning over a delectable toadstool will go to ground, and the last hummingbird will depart.

In fall, nature shimmers with an aura of good death--transformative, liberating death. Life ends so that it can begin again. Collapse is renewal. That's the mystery and the resolution.

Though the black swan’s arched neck is like   
       A question-mark on the lake,
The swan outlaws all possible questioning:   
A thing in itself, like love, like submarine   
Disaster, or the first sound when we wake;
       And the swan-song it sings
    Is the huge silence of the swan.

Illusion: the black swan knows how to break   
       Through expectation, beak
Aimed now at its own breast, now at its image,   
And move across our lives, if the lake is life,   
And by the gentlest turning of its neck
       Transform, in time, time’s damage;
    To less than a black plume, time’s grief.

From "The Black Swan" by James Merrill--a poem that has always evoked for me the beautiful face of death. You can read a very different interpretation from Charles Simic here.

Autumn landscape with a flock of turkeys, Jean-Francois Millet, c.1873

Cross-posted at Turn Outward.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"Let me be a scarlet flame"

Turn me to my yellow leaves,
I am better satisfied;
There is something in me grieves—
That was never born, and died.
Let me be a scarlet flame
On a windy autumn morn,
I who never had a name,
Nor from breathing image born.
From the margin let me fall
Where the farthest stars sink down,
And the void consumes me,—all
In nothingness to drown.
Let me dream my dream entire,
Withered as an autumn leaf—
Let me have my vain desire,
Vain—as it is brief.

"Turn Me to My Yellow Leaves" by William Stanley Braithwaite. Read a bio of Braithwaite here.

Mystery by Odilon Redon (1840-1916)

**The decant of Mystere goes to Gina. Congratulations. Click on my profile to email your address, and I'll send you the juice ASAP.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

"Against thy charms we struggle but in vain"

Fair lovely maid, or if that title be
Too weak, too feminine for nobler thee,
Permit a name that more approaches truth:
And let me call thee, lovely charming youth.
This last will justify my soft complaint,
While that may serve to lessen my constraint;
And without blushes I the youth pursue,
When so much beauteous woman is in view,
Against thy charms we struggle but in vain
With thy deluding form thou giv'st us pain,
While the bright nymph betrays us to the swain.

From "To the Fair Clarinda, Who Made Love to Me, Imagined More Than Woman" by Aphra Behn.

Arrogance, Sergey Solomko (1855—1928)

Friday, August 20, 2010

You know you love it...

Reading, that is--so head over to Chapter 16 for good things to add to your end-of-summer list.

According to reviewer Ed Tarkington, Michael Knight's new novel, The Typist, "achieves in an astonishingly compressed form all the artistry, depth, and seriousness of a thousand-page doorstop of a war novel." Hmmm...maybe that's not a terribly alluring prospect to the average BitterGrace Notes reader, but Knight is an extraordinarily good writer and I know at least one discerning reader with pronounced pacifist tendencies who loved this novel--so I'll definitely be checking it out. Read Ed's review here.

If you're in search of something in a less literary vein, read the review by Anne Delana Reeves of Rosanne Cash's new memoir, Composed, or check out what I have to say about Kathleen Koch's book, Rising from Katrina, which tells the story of the storm's impact on the Mississippi Gulf coast.

Even if you are not book-hunting, you might want to read a couple of recent essays at C16: One by Serenity Gerbman on the joys and sorrows of Kindle ownership, and one by me on the sorrows of backwoods dentistry. (That one may look familiar to readers of the old POL blog.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"The Heart of a Monkey"

...the shark swam close up under the tree, and the monkey dropped neatly on his back, without even a splash. After a few minutes -- for at first he felt a little frightened at his strange position -- the monkey began to enjoy himself vastly, and asked the shark a thousand questions about the fish and the seaweeds and the oddly shaped things that floated past them, and as the shark always gave him some sort of answer, the monkey never guessed that many of the objects they saw were as new to his guide as to himself.

The sun had risen and set six times when the shark suddenly said, "My friend, we have now performed half our journey, and it is time that I should tell you something."

"What is it?" asked the monkey. "Nothing unpleasant, I hope, for you sound rather grave."

"Oh, no! Nothing at all. It is only that shortly before we left I heard that the sultan of my country is very ill, and that the only thing to cure him is a monkey's heart."

"Poor man, I am very sorry for him," replied the monkey; "but you were unwise not to tell me till we had started."

"What do you mean?" asked the shark. But the monkey, who now understood the whole plot, did not answer at once, for he was considering what he should say.

"Why are you so silent?" inquired the shark again.

"I was thinking what a pity it was you did not tell me while I was still on land, and then I would have brought my heart with me."

"Your heart! Why, isn't your heart here?" said the shark, with a puzzled expression.

"Oh, no! Of course not. Is it possible you don't know that when we leave home we always hang up our hearts on trees, to prevent their being troublesome? However, perhaps you won't believe that, and will just think I have invented it because I am afraid, so let us go on to your country as fast as we can, and when we arrive you can look for my heart, and if you find it you can kill me."

From "The Heart of a Monkey," a little folktale about deception. Read the whole story here.

The Monkey, Franz Marc, 1912

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Kneel before the foxglove..."

Out, out on the hillside, into the ocean sound, into delicate gusts
of wet air,
Fall on the ground, O great Wetness, O Mother, No harm on your body!   
Stare close, no imperfection in the grass,
                      each flower Buddha-eye, repeating the story,   
Kneel before the foxglove raising green buds, mauve bells dropped   
          doubled down the stem trembling antennae,
   & look in the eyes of the branded lambs that stare
          breathing stockstill under dripping hawthorn ...

From "Wales Visitation" by Allen Ginsberg

Approaching Storm at Capel Curig, Wales, Ebenezer Wake Cook, 1892

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mystery dance and Mystere

Mid-August in Tennessee = heat, seed ticks, and dancing crows. There’s a peculiar little hopping dance that crows seem to do only in the last weeks of summer. I have no idea what prompts it. Marzluff and Angell have nothing to say on the matter. Google yielded no information, but in its mysterious and godlike way led me to this interesting passage from a really charming blog, Excuse My Solecism.

"Several months before Navidad, willing households will capture four to five wild crows and train them. The end result is a crow ballet that is both amusing and amazing. I remember first seeing The Dance when I was five; it was like something out of a cartoon. Each dance is different but they begin in the same way: the crows line up and peck the ground one, two, one two three times. They then walk around in a circle and alternate flapping in a sort of ornithological Mexican wave. Music is played and the crows dance the steps they have been taught. I had forgotten what it felt like to witness these birds. Every worry that plagues your mind is forgotten for those few minutes and you are free. The Dance is done up to the 23rd of December (El Salvador’s Christmas Eve) when the birds are set free. Some crows remain in the area for a few days after but eventually all fly away."

There's something a little troubling about capturing and training wild animals, but at least the birds are set free afterward. And who knows, maybe the crows enjoy it, gregarious creatures that they are. Their natural dancing certainly looks like fun. They gather in a loose circle and take turns hopping, wings held close to the body. Each crow will bounce 2 or 3 times and then pass it on, so to speak, to another bird. Not every bird in the circle hops. It's not clear to me how they decide whose turn it is, but I rarely see 2 hop at once. Perhaps I'm wrong that they only do this in the late summer/early fall, but I can't remember seeing it any other time of year. If any of you bird lovers out there can enlighten me on this, please do.

In honor of the crows and their dance that (I hope) promises cooler days to come, I'm giving away a small decant of Mystere, a great perfume by Rochas that has been discontinued. Mystere is the crow of perfumes--dark, a little harsh, and yet completely charming. Leave a comment or email me to be entered in the drawing, which is open through next Monday.

Photo by Sigurður Atlason from Wikimedia Commons. (No, these are not American crows, but they were too cute to resist.)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"still touch, what still is mine"

His skin with sea-green spots was vary'd 'round,
And on his belly prone he prest the ground.
He glitter'd soon with many a golden scale,
And his shrunk legs clos'd in a spiry tail.
Arms yet remain'd, remaining arms he spread
To his lov'd wife, and human tears yet shed.
Come, my Harmonia, come, thy face recline
Down to my face; still touch, what still is mine.
O! let these hands, while hands, be gently prest,
While yet the serpent has not all possest.
More he had spoke, but strove to speak in vain,
The forky tongue refus'd to tell his pain,
And learn'd in hissings only to complain.

From Book 4 of Metamorphoses

Cadmus and Harmonia, Evelyn de Morgan (1855-1919)

Friday, August 13, 2010

"A wind blows in..."

A wind blows in
and out and all about the man
as the horse ran
and runs to come in time.

From "The Rescue" by Robert Creeley

Roger and Angelica, Odilon Redon, c.1910

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Where am I?

I feel as if I’ve been MIA for months here at the blog. I’ve done an occasional quickie post or one sentence review, but for most of the past year I’ve been ceding this space to far better writers than me--which may be just as well, since Google (who knows all) tells me that BitterGrace Notes has more visitors now than when I was blathering regularly. That’s fine by me. If y’all are happy, I’m happy. I’ll keep sharing the pretty things I find with you, and I’ll post as often as I have something to say and time to say it.

Old friends of the blog who are wondering about the state of things chez BitterGrace will be happy to hear that all is well, though there has been a population shift. The coyotes got Dave, so I’m the only biped here. Porter achieved permanent resident status, and so joined Kobi, Pearl and Nio to create an overwhelming canine majority. This is potentially worrisome, but since I’m the only one with opposable thumbs and ready access to jerky treats, there is no immediate danger of revolution. I work, they eat, peace reigns.

Now, back to the poetry. Here's a snippet of a doozy. I have read it many times and don't quite know what to think of it. Feel free to share in the comments if you do.

I am she that is terribly fashioned, the creature
Wrought in God's perilous mood, in His unsafe hour.
The morning star was mute, beholding my feature,
Seeing the rapture I was, the shame, and the power,
Scared at my manifold meaning; he heard me call
"O fairest among ten thousand, acceptable brother!"
And he answered not, for doubt; till he saw me crawl
And whisper down to the secret worm, "O mother,
Be not wroth in the ancient house; thy daughter forgets not at all!"

From "I Am the Woman" by William Vaughn Moody.

Anco Non Torna, Alfonso Simonetti (1840-1892)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mad words

To learn to be without desire
          you must desire that.
Better to do as you please:
          sing idleness.
Floating clouds, and water idly running --
          Where's their source?
In all the vastness of the sea and sky,
you'll never find it.

"Mad Words" by Yuan Mei, trans. by J.P. Seaton

Still-life, Décio Rodrigues Villares (1851-1931)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

One Sentence Perfume Review: Cologne du Parfumeur, Guerlain

A dainty thing, pretty but worryingly pallid.

Notes from Fragrantica: Citruses, Amalfi Lemon, African Orange Flower, Mint, Rosemary, Lavender

Vandeau, A White Greyhound, John Frederick Herring, 1839

(You can read an interesting full review of CdP at PerfumeShrine.)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

"Cloth, hair and hands, smuggling you in"

So much hair, my mother
used to say, grabbing
the thick braided rope
in her hands while we washed
the breakfast dishes, discussing
dresses and pastries.
My mind often elsewhere
as we did the morning chores together.
Sometimes, a few strands
would catch in her gold ring.
I worked hard then,
anticipating the hour
when I would let the rope down
at night, strips of sheets,
knotted and tied,
while she slept in tight blankets.
My hair, freshly washed
like a measure of wealth,
like a bridal veil.
Crouching in the grass,
you would wait for the signal,
for the movement of curtains
before releasing yourself
from the shadow of moths.
Cloth, hair and hands,
smuggling you in.

From "The White Porch" by Cathy Song

Nu au Miroir, Henry Caro-Delvaille, 1919

Friday, August 6, 2010

August 6, 1945

Some fled and
some sat down. The river burned
all that day and into the
night, the stones sighed a moment
and were still, and the shadow
of a man’s hand entered
a leaf.

From "The Horse" by Philip Levine

The Course of Empire: Desolation, Thomas Cole, 1836 (See all five paintings in the series here.)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"The water understands..."


by Ralph Waldo Emerson

The water understands
Civilization well;
It wets my foot, but prettily,
It chills my life, but wittily,
It is not disconcerted,
It is not broken-hearted:
Well used, it decketh joy,
Adorneth, doubleth joy:
Ill used, it will destroy,
In perfect time and measure
With a face of golden pleasure
Elegantly destroy.

The Genius of Greek Poetry, George Frederick Watts, 1878

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"a flaw in the firmament"

JOHN BLACK SAID: To explain mistrust and wars,
Theogony has a black witch with hell’s broth;
Or a preposterous marriage of fleshless stars;
Or the Fiend’s own naked person; or God wroth
Fingering his red scars.

And philosophy, an art of equal worth,
Tells of a flaw in the firmament—spots in the sun—
A Third Day’s error when the upheaving earth
Was young and prime—a Fate reposed upon
The born before their birth.

Not I, not you—about those mysteries!
Something, John Black, came flapping out of hell
And wrought between us, and the chasm is
Digged, and it digged it well.

That love has suffered a most fatal eclipse;
All brotherhoods, filialities insecure;
Lovers compounding honey on their lips
With deep doubts to endure.

JANE SNEED SIGHED SLOWLY: I suppose it stands
Just so. Yet I can picture happiness—
Perhaps there wander lovers in some lands
Who when Night comes, when it is fathomless,
Consort their little hands...

From "Eclogue" by John Crowe Ransom

An Eclogue, Kenyon Cox 1890

"Our eyes can in another's eyes read clear"

Only--but this is rare--
When a beloved hand is laid in ours,
When, jaded with the rush and glare
Of the interminable hours,
Our eyes can in another's eyes read clear,
When our world-deafen'd ear
Is by the tones of a loved voice caress'd--
A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.
The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.
A man becomes aware of his life's flow,
And hears its winding murmur; and he sees
The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.

From "The Buried Life" by Matthew Arnold

The Lovers, John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893)