Sunday, October 30, 2011

Lord of all Deaths

(Lord of all Deaths between Pegana and the Rim)

Once, as Mung went his way athwart the Earth and up and down its cities and across its plains, Mung came upon a man who was afraid when Mung said: "I am Mung!"
And Mung said: "Were the forty million years before thy coming intolerable to thee?"
And Mung said: "Not less tolerable to thee shall be the forty million years to come!"
Then Mung made against him the sign of Mung and the Life of the Man was fettered no longer with hands and feet.
At the end of the flight of the arrow there is Mung, and in the houses and the cities of Men. Mung walketh in all places at all times. But mostly he loves to walk in the dark and still, along the river mists when the wind hath sank, a little before night meeteth with the morning upon the highway between Pegana and the Worlds.
Sometimes Mung entereth the poor man's cottage; Mung also boweth very low before The King. Then do the Lives of the poor man and of The King go forth among the Worlds.
And Mung said: "Many turnings hath the road that Kib hath given every man to tread upon the earth. Behind one of these turnings sitteth Mung."
One day as a man trod upon the road that Kib had given him to tread he came suddenly upon Mung. And when Mung said: "I am Mung!" the man cried out: "Alas, that I took this road, for had I gone by any other way then had I not met with Mung."
And Mung said: "Had it been possible for thee to go by any other way then had the Scheme of Things been otherwise and the gods had been other gods. When Mana-Yood-Sushai forgets to rest and makes again new gods it may be that They will send thee again into the Worlds; and then thou mayest choose some other way, and not meet with Mung."
Then Mung made the sign of Mung. And the Life of that man went forth with yesterday's regrets and all old sorrows and forgotten things -- whither Mung knoweth.
And Mung went onward with his work to sunder Life from flesh, and Mung came upon a man who became stricken with sorrow when he saw the shadow of Mung. But Mung said: "When at the sign of Mung thy Life shall float away there will also disappear thy sorrow at forsaking it." But the man cried out: "O Mung! tarry for a little, and make not the sign of Mung against me now, for I have a family upon the earth with whom sorrow will remain, though mine should disappear because of the sign of Mung."
And Mung said: "With the gods it is always Now. And before Sish hath banished many of the years the sorrows of thy family for thee shall go the way of thine." And the man beheld Mung making the sign of Mung before his eyes, which beheld things no more.

From The Gods of Pegana by Lord Dunsany, 1905.

Mung, the God of Death, Sidney Sime, c. 1905

Blessed Samhain, Happy Halloween, and so forth...

Friday, October 21, 2011

"yield a song to the decaying year"

Now I am minded to take pipe in hand
And yield a song to the decaying year;
Now while the full-leaved hursts unalter’d stand,
And scarcely does appear
The Autumn yellow feather in the boughs
            While there is neither sun nor rain;
And a grey heaven does the hush’d earth house,
And bluer grey the flocks of trees look in the plain.

So late the hoar green chestnut breaks a bud,
And feeds new leaves upon the winds of Fall;
So late there is not force in sap or blood;
The fruit against the wall
Loose on the stem has done its summering;
These should have starv’d with the green broods of spring,
Or never been at all;
Too late or else much, much too soon,
Who first knew moonlight by the hunters’ moon.

Gerard Manley Hopkins*

Vines, Paul Ranson, 1902

*[105], The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Oxford University Press, 4th ed. I should have posted this one about a month ago to suit the season here, but I thought it was too beautiful to leave until next year. By the way, a "hurst" is a thicket or bramble. I had to look it up.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"Love the earth and sun and the animals"

"The rhyme and uniformity of perfect poems show the free growth of metrical laws and bud from them as unerringly and loosely as lilacs or roses on a bush, and take shapes as compact as the shapes of chestnuts and oranges and melons and pears, and shed the perfume impalpable to form. The fluency and ornaments of the finest poems or music or orations or recitations are not independent but dependent. All beauty comes from beautiful blood and a beautiful brain. If the greatnesses are in conjunction in a man or woman it is enough . . . . the fact will prevail through the universe . . . . but the gaggery and gilt of a million years will not prevail. Who troubles himself about his ornaments or fluency is lost. This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body..."

Walt Whitman, from the preface to Leaves of Grass

Sunset, George Innes, c.1860-65

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Light wrestling there incessantly with light"

Infinite consanguinity it bears—
This tendered theme of you that light
Retrieves from sea plains where the sky
Resigns a breast that every wave enthrones;
While ribboned water lanes I wind
Are laved and scattered with no stroke
Wide from your side, whereto this hour
The sea lifts, also, reliquary hands.

And so, admitted through black swollen gates
That must arrest all distance otherwise,—
Past whirling pillars and lithe pediments,
Light wrestling there incessantly with light,
Star kissing star through wave on wave unto
Your body rocking!
and where death, if shed,
Presumes no carnage, but this single change,—
Upon the steep floor flung from dawn to dawn
The silken skilled transmemberment of song;

Permit me voyage, love, into your hands ...

From "Voyages" by Hart Crane

Flower Clouds, Odilon Redon, 1903

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"lives without beaks, without feathers, irretrievably lost"

I used to peruse the altlas of birds
that have vanished from the face of the earth,
the work of a pupil of David who had
failed in the genre of historical painting
and other monumental artistic aspirations.
I was musing on hypothetical atlases
of lives without beaks, without feathers,
irretrievably lost through the millennia,
insects, reptiles, fish
and also, why not? man himself
but who would have compiled or consulted
his opus magnum?

From "Once" by Eugenio Montale. The rest of the poem is here.

Laughing owl (Sceloglaux albifacies), John Gerrard Keulemans, c.1875

About the Laughing Owl

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"...I became the daughter of your dream"

My dear, what you said was one thing
but what you sang was another, sweetly
subversive and dark as blackberries
and I became the daughter of your dream.

This body is your body, ashes now
and roses, but alive in my eyes, my breasts,
my throat, my thighs. You run in me
a tang of salt in the creek waters of my blood,

you sing in my mind like wine. What you
did not dare in your life you dare in mine.

From "My mother's body" by Marge Piercy

Mother and Child Kneeling (Madonna), Wilhelm Lehmbruck, 1910

Monday, October 10, 2011

"either my breath is the breath of stars or I do not breathe"

... in this moment which is so wondrous the way
it lies beside you, I either do not exist or the past
has never existed, either my breath is
the breath of stars or I do not breathe as I turn to you,
as you breathe my name, my heart,
as the net of stars dissolves above us, as you wrap
yourself around me like honeysuckle, the moon
turning pale because it is so drained by our love,
so that before this moment, before you lay beneath me,
you must have disguised yourself the way the killdeer
you pointed out diverts intruders to save what it loves,
pretending a broken wing, giving itself over finally
to whatever forces, whatever love, whatever touch,
whatever suffering it needs just to say I am here,
I am always here, stroking the wings of your soul.

From "Sonata" by Richard Jackson. The complete poem is here (scroll down).

Two Reclining Female Nudes, Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

"lost among pinholes of light"

The brick wall stretches into the sky,
the sky empty, save the constellations,

whose lives I love—yours most of all,
father of poets, whose lyre filled trees

and stones with awe, the lover torn to shreds
and thrown in to the river. Tonight,

you’re the swan, lost among pinholes of light,
your throat bitten by a black hole

that takes and takes and never fills.

From "To Orpheus" by Blas Falconer.*

Orpheus, Franz von Stuck, 1891

*Blas is a wonderful poet I've reviewed and interviewed over the years. He recently took part in an ekphrasis event in Memphis and had a few words to say about it in an article I did for Chapter 16.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"The petals of tenderness in them, their tentative ways of feeling..."

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.
Read the complete poem here.

Street at Stadtpark Schöneberg, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

"Open your hands..."

Open your hands,
& a starling makes
its strange, thoughtful,
lone way to water, while
songs unwind from
the heavy branches—
those mild breezes
of the heaped season.

From "Love Poem" by Richard Bausch. Read the complete poem here.

La Fontaine, Jean-Jacques Henner, 1880

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

"What is pink?"

What is pink? a rose is pink
By a fountain's brink.
What is red? a poppy's red
In its barley bed.
What is blue? the sky is blue
Where the clouds float thro'.
What is white? a swan is white
Sailing in the light.
What is yellow? pears are yellow,
Rich and ripe and mellow.
What is green? the grass is green,
With small flowers between.
What is violet? clouds are violet
In the summer twilight.
What is orange? Why, an orange,
Just an orange!

"Color" by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Design for the Red Sultan, Leon Bakst, c.1920

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Charles Ives and Thoreau

"Thoreau was a great musician, not because he played the flute but because he did not have to go to Boston to hear "the Symphony." The rhythm of his prose, were there nothing else, would determine his value as a composer. He was divinely conscious of the enthusiasm of Nature, the emotion of her rhythms and the harmony of her solitude. In this consciousness he sang of the submission to Nature, the religion of contemplation, and the freedom of simplicity--a philosophy distinguishing between the complexity of Nature which teaches freedom, and the complexity of materialism which teaches slavery. In music, in poetry, in all art, the truth as one sees it must be given in terms which bear some proportion to the inspiration. In their greatest moments the inspiration of both Beethoven and Thoreau express profound truths and deep sentiment, but the intimate passion of it, the storm and stress of it, affected Beethoven in such a way that he could not but be ever showing it and Thoreau that he could not easily expose it. They were equally imbued with it, but with different results. A difference in temperament had something to do with this, together with a difference in the quality of expression between the two arts. "Who that has heard a strain of music feared lest he would speak extravagantly forever," says Thoreau. Perhaps music is the art of speaking extravagantly. Herbert Spencer says that some men, as for instance Mozart, are so peculiarly sensitive to emotion ... that music is to them but a continuation not only of the expression but of the actual emotion, though the theory of some more modern thinkers in the philosophy of art doesn't always bear this out. However, there is no doubt that in its nature music is predominantly subjective and tends to subjective expression, and poetry more objective tending to objective expression. Hence the poet when his muse calls for a deeper feeling must invert this order, and he may be reluctant to do so as these depths often call for an intimate expression which the physical looks of the words may repel. They tend to reveal the nakedness of his soul rather than its warmth. It is not a matter of the relative value of the aspiration, or a difference between subconsciousness and consciousness but a difference in the arts themselves; for example, a composer may not shrink from having the public hear his "love letter in tones," while a poet may feel sensitive about having everyone read his "letter in words." When the object of the love is mankind the sensitiveness is changed only in degree."

Charles Ives, from Essays Before a Sonata*: V, Thoreau

*Ives's "introductory footnote" to the essays: "These prefatory essays were written by the composer for those who can't stand his music--and the music for those who can't stand his essays; to those who can't stand either, the whole is respectfully dedicated."

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A hymn for Sunday

Therefore, to make your beauty more appear,
It you behoves to love, and forth to lay
That heavenly riches which in you ye bear,
That men the more admire their fountain may;
For else what booteth that celestial ray,
If it in darkness be enshrined ever,
That it of loving eyes be viewed never?

From "A Hymn in Honor of Beauty" by Edmund Spenser (1552-1599)