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)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Happy (slightly belated) Lammas!

Pomeaceous orchards now expand
Their laden branches o’er the lea;
And with their bounty fill the land,
While plenty smiles on every tree.

On fertile borders, near the stream,
Now gaze with pleasure and delight;
See loaded vines with melons teem--
’Tis paradise to human sight.

With rapture view the smiling fields,
Adorn the mountain and the plain,
Each, on the eve of Autumn, yields
A large supply of golden grain.

From "On Summer" by George Moses Horton. (Read more about Horton here.)

Corn and Cantaloupe, Raphaelle Peale, c.1813