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how to listen to music if you don’t know your Beethoven from your Bach, lV

Fantasy - Sergey Solomko

        Fantasy

 

               Sergey Solomko

 

                     ________

                     

trying to find a quick piece, nothing

ostentatious, like a symphony, or a

concerto, nor even a sonata, that

would get in the way of my point, 

the difference between, by way of 

the intermediary, and transformational,

Chopin, Mozart and Prokofiev, I found

the fantasia, the only musical form

that was carried forward, among them,

during the intervening years, a good

hundred and fifty, Mozart, 1756 – 1791,

Prokofiev, 1891 – 1953, Chopin, 1810 –

1849

 

what’s a fantasia, a musical form

consisting of one movement,

no breaks, but with, otherwise,

unlimited compositional liberties,

see above, only circumscribed by

the temper of the times

 

Western music has since its

Classical inception, and even

earlier, had a trinity of

commandments, that regulated,

even defined, what was meant

to be music, tempo, tonality,

and repetition, the history of

music in the West is the

chipping away at those

conventions

 

here’s Mozart, Fantasia in C

minor, K.475establishing the

form, but also the foundation,

the grammar, that aspirants

would follow in the footsteps

of so great a master, children

and grandchildren of their

erudite elder

 

Chopin followed, here’s his

Fantasy in F minor, Op.49,

in this instance, a historical

moment you won’t want to

miss, when Van Cliburn, an

enemy American at the time,

played it for Nikita Kruschev,

First Secretary of the Communist 

Party of the Soviet Union then, in

Moscow, and tempered thereby,

for an incandescent moment –

ticker-tape parades in New York

City ensued – the very Cold War

 

reliving it, I cried

 

the greatest difference between

Mozart and Chopin, I thought,

was volume, a consequence

of the development of the piano,

Mozart never gets as loud, also

tempo was much more expanded,

again a development of the piano,

neither was repetition with Chopin

so much in evidence, but shrouded,

less manifest

 

also Chopin wears his heart on

his sleeve, idiosyncratically

 

with Prokofiev, his Fantasia on

Themes from Scheherazade

tests tonality, gives us musical

conjunctions that are askew,

discordant, though completely

in syncopation with his own,

testy and unsettled, times

 

compare, consider, enjoy

 

 

R ! chard

how to listen to music if you don’t know your Beethoven from your Bach, lll

Flowering Garden in Spring, 1920 - Henri Martin

                        

            Flowering Garden in Spring” (1920)

 

                     Henri Martin

 

                          _______

                         

violin sonatas, apart from a few notable

exceptions, are accompanied by, usually,

a piano

 

the violin, as do a great many other

instruments, can only play one note

at a time, the piano can play as many

as you’ve got fingers, a harmonization

is a valued component of any musical

composition, therefore the piano

 

here’s a violin sonata of Mozart, here’s

a violin sonata of Prokofiev, you’ll

recognize Mozart, he’s the one you’ve

already got in your bones, the one we

grew up with, however ephemerally,

peripherally

 

Prokofiev is the other one

 

let me point out that Mozart is foursquare,

the music is straightforward, tonality and

pace, which is to say tempo, are never

eccentric, just delightful, while repetition,

another defining element of Classical

music, the recurrence of a theme, is

unmistakable, and often too often

reiterated, we get it, we want to

tell Mozart

 

Prokofiev is no longer any of those

things, but the underlying vocabulary

is the same, the rules set out by the

forefathers but extrapolated, turned

into unexpected, exotic flowers, just

as spring delivers its ever distinct,

and surprising, even astonishing,

blossoms every new year, see

above

 

we are so very blessed

 

 

R ! chard

how to listen to music if you don’t know your Beethoven from your Bach, cont.

The Stolen Kiss, 1788 - Jean-Honore Fragonard

 

        The Stolen Kiss (1788)

 

       Jean-Honoré Fragonard

 

               _____________

 

 

if you listened to the couple of pieces I

recommended in my last commentary,

you would’ve indeed recognized, if

even only subconsciously, that the

first work wasn’t composed by the

composer of the other, that different

spirits infused either

 

a visual representation of the same

thing might be to juxtapose a

contemporary painting of the one

epoch with a corresponding painting

of the other

 

over a hundred years had passed

between Mozart and Prokofiev,

Mozart’s Piano Sonata no 18, K576

– his last piano sonata, incidentally,

he died a short two years later –

was written in 1789, the year of the

French Revolution, a still safe

distance from Vienna, where

Mozart could still cater to an,

however endangered, species

 

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, a contemporary

painter, 1732 – 1806, had been doing the

same thing, The Stolen Kiss, 1788, for

instance, a mere year earlier, see above

 

meanwhile, over a hundred years later,

inches only away from the First World

War, Matisse is doing in art what

Prokofiev is doing in music, taking the

temperature of his own time, Seated

Riffian (1911 –1912) – a Riffian, a Berber,

a North African tribesman – see below,

to corroborate Prokofiev’s equally

emblematic vision of their shared era

                  

you can hear this in the music

 

mostly through the difference in the use

of volume, languorous softs, thunderous

louds, but also in the more expansive use

of pace, fast, slow, the rapidity of some

notes, the embrace, the extended caress,

of others, in the later composition

 

which, in a word, follows the development

of the piano from harpsichord to the

instrument we’re used to today

 

Mozart still had the harpsichord in his ear,

he was writing for the fortepiano, which

evolved, through the pianoforte, to the

piano we know of today, no flexibility of

pace, no flexibility of volume then, listen,

hearyou can hear it in the juxtaposition

 

we hear a lot more than we think we

hear

                  

 

R ! chard

                  

                  __________

                  

                  

Seated Riffian, 1912 - 1913 - Henri Matisse

        

        Seated Riffian (1911 – 1912)

                

                Henri Matisse

                  

                  __________

how to listen to music if you don’t know your Beethoven from your Bach

Music, 1895 - Gustav Klimt

          Music(1895)

 

            Gustav Klimt

 

                ________

 

 

how to listen to music if you don’t know your

Beethoven from your Bach

 

the first thing to do, I would suggest, is to stop

and listen, spend the time with the work you’re

listening to, it’s no different than spending half

an hour with a friend

but you have to be there, listen, as you would

with a friend, no cell phones

 

the next thing I suggest is to compare, put your

work up against a different composer, a

different interpretation, a different version of

the piece you have on hand

I learned this as I learned to tell one artwork

from another, while I turned European art

museums into personal art history classes,

spending hours comparing one painting

with another, doing so chronologically,

century after century, imbibing thereby the

history of Western art

 

it’s not necessary to know who you might

even be listening to, just listen, hear,

later the names will come

 

here’s some Mozart, here’s some Prokofiev,

for instance, you’ll tell the difference

instinctively, forget about the composers,

just surrender to the magic

here’s a poem which says more or less

the same thing

 

How to Read a Poem: Beginner’s Manual

   First, forget everything you have learned,

  that poetry is difficult,

  that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,

  with your high school equivalency diploma,

  your steel-tipped boots,

  or your white-collar misunderstandings.

 

  Do not assume meanings hidden from you:

  the best poems mean what they say and say it.

 

  To read poetry requires only courage

  enough to leap from the edge

  and trust.

 

  Treat a poem like dirt,

  humus rich and heavy from the garden.

  Later it will become the fat tomatoes

  and golden squash piled high upon your kitchen table.

 

  Poetry demands surrender,

  language saying what is true,

  doing holy things to the ordinary.

 

  Read just one poem a day.

  Someday a book of poems may open in your hands

  like a daffodil offering its cup

  to the sun.

 

  When you can name five poets

  without including Bob Dylan,

  when you exceed your quota

  and don’t even notice,

  close this manual.

 

  Congratulations.

  You can now read poetry.

 

                    Pamela Spiro Wagner

 

music is also like that

 

R ! chard

“The Mariners transform’d to Dolphins” (ll) – Ovid

Bacchus - Sergey Solomko

                 Bacchus

 

             Sergey Solomko

 

                     ______

 

 

          “His base confederates the fact approve;

 

His base confederates, the shipmates who

would not protect the soft and lovely boy,

the little captive, that Acoetes believes to

be a god, if you’ll remember


          When Bacchus (for ’twas he) begun to move,

          Wak’d by the noise and clamours which they rais’d;

          And shook his drowsie limbs, and round him gaz’d:

          What means this noise? he cries; am I betray’d?

          Ah, whither, whither must I be convey’d?

 

whither, whither, where, where, to

what place, to what place


          Fear not, said Proreus, child, but tell us where
          You wish to land, and trust our friendly care.

 

Proreusanother of the several sailors

serving on Acoetes‘ ship


          To Naxos then direct your course, said he;

          Naxos a hospitable port shall be

          To each of you, a joyful home to me.

 

Naxosa Greek island, whither Bacchus /

Dionysus presently direct[s] his, however

questionable, hosts to repair


          By ev’ry God, that rules the sea or sky,

          The perjur’d villains promise to comply,

          And bid me hasten to unmoor the ship.

 

me, Acoetes


          With eager joy I launch into the deep;

          And, heedless of the fraud, for Naxos stand.

 

heedless, unaware

 

the fraud, [t]he perjur’d villains promise to comply

 

stand, proceed

 

          They whisper oft, and beckon with the hand,

          And give me signs, all anxious for their prey,

          To tack about, and steer another way.

 

They, the rebellious crew

 

anxious, wary,  suspicious

 

to tack, to change course


          Then let some other to my post succeed,

          Said I, I’m guiltless of so foul a deed.

 

succeed, take the place of, replace

 

guiltless, Acoetes will not accept

responsibility for the treachery of

his crew


          What, says Ethalion, must the ship’s whole crew

           Follow your humour, and depend on you?

 

Ethalion, again a shipmate


          And strait himself he seated at the prore,

          And tack’d about, and sought another shore.

 

prore, the prow, the fore part of a ship


          “The beauteous youth now found himself betray’d,

 

The beauteous youth, Bacchus / Dionysus


          And from the deck the rising waves survey’d,

          And seem’d to weep, and as he wept he said:

          And do you thus my easy faith beguile?

          Thus do you bear me to my native isle?

 

thus, in such a manner

 

beguile, deceive


          Will such a multitude of men employ

          Their strength against a weak defenceless boy?

 

this weak defenceless[ness] is his only

defence, apparently, to his captors, who

cannot, with the exception of Acoetes,

perceive the god’s divinity

 

          “In vain did I the God-like youth deplore,

 

deplore, express strong disapproval

of what the seamen were doing to

the god


          The more I begg’d, they thwarted me the more.

          And now by all the Gods in Heav’n that hear

          This solemn oath, by Bacchus’ self, I swear,

          The mighty miracle that did ensue,

          Although it seems beyond belief, is true.

 

make way,  says Acoetes, for the

metamorphosis, what you are

about to hear


          The vessel, fix’d and rooted in the flood,

 

fix’d, became affixed


          Unmov’d by all the beating billows stood.

          In vain the mariners would plow the main

          With sails unfurl’d, and strike their oars in vain;

 

plow the main, move forward on

the high seas


          Around their oars a twining ivy cleaves,

          And climbs the mast, and hides the cords in leaves:

          The sails are cover’d with a chearful green,

          And berries in the fruitful canvass seen.

          Amidst the waves a sudden forest rears

          Its verdant head, and a new Spring appears.

 

the ship is transformed into a

floating grove

 

stay tuned

 

 

R ! chard

“The Mariners transform’d to Dolphins” – Ovid

Bacchus, 1497 - Michelangelo

        Bacchus” (1497)

 

            Michelangelo

 

                   _______   


             Him Pentheus view’d with fury in his look,

 

Pentheus, king of Thebes, if you’ll

remember, after Cadmus, his

grandfather, founder of Thebes

 

viewed, scanned, surveyed


             And scarce with-held his hands, whilst thus he spoke:

 

with-held, withheld


             “Vile slave! whom speedy vengeance shall pursue,
             And terrify thy base seditious crew:

 

Vile slave, the zealous votary from

the last instalment, follower, acolyte

of Bacchus / Dionysus, who’d been

captured by Pentheus’ men instead

of the god himself

 

by exacting a speedy vengeance on

this [v]ile slave, Pentheus expects

to terrify the remaining elements of

the offending crew, the seditious

party of Bacchus / Dionysus

 

             Thy country and thy parentage reveal,
             And, why thou joinest in these mad Orgies, tell.”

 

where are you from, what are you

doing here, Pentheus asks


             The captive views him with undaunted eyes,
             And, arm’d with inward innocence, replies,

             “From high Meonia’s rocky shores I came,
             Of poor descent, Acoetes is my name:
             My sire was meanly born; no oxen plow’d
             His fruitful fields, nor in his pastures low’d.

meanly, poor, without adequate

means

 

plow’d, low’d, an interesting

rhyme, they’re called forced

or oblique rhymes


             His whole estate within the waters lay;

 

estate, livelihood, Acoetes‘ father,

his sire, was a fisherman


             With lines and hooks he caught the finny prey,

 

finny, having fins


             His art was all his livelyhood; which he
             Thus with his dying lips bequeath’d to me:

 

His art, the quality of his work


             In streams, my boy, and rivers take thy chance;
             There swims, said he, thy whole inheritance.

 

Acoetes will inherit at best his

father’s skill


             Long did I live on this poor legacy;
             ‘Till tir’d with rocks, and my old native sky,

 

that of Meonia, see above

 

             To arts of navigation I inclin’d;

 

arts of navigation, knowledge of

the open sea, the wider oceans


             Observ’d the turns and changes of the wind,
             Learn’d the fit havens, and began to note
             The stormy Hyades, the rainy Goat,
             The bright Taygete, and the shining Bears,
             With all the sailor’s catalogue of stars.

 

Hyadesa cluster of stars, with their

own mythic origin story, grieving

nymphs cast upon the heavens,

augurs of rain,hence stormy

 

the rainy Goat, Capricornus, the

constellation

 

Taygete, a satellite of the planet

Jupiter

the shining Bears, Ursa Major

and Ursa Minor, or the Great

and the Little Bear, whose

origins you might remember

from The Story of Calisto


             “Once, as by chance for Delos I design’d,

 

Delos, a Greek island

 

design’d, planned as a destination

 

             My vessel, driv’n by a strong gust of wind,
             Moor’d in a Chian Creek; a-shore I went,

 

Chian, of Chios, a Greek island


             And all the following night in Chios spent.
             When morning rose, I sent my mates to bring
             Supplies of water from a neighb’ring spring,
             Whilst I the motion of the winds explor’d;
             Then summon’d in my crew, and went aboard.
             Opheltes heard my summons,

 

Opheltes, a confederate apparently

 

                                                                and with joy
             Brought to the shore a soft and lovely boy,
             With more than female sweetness in his look,

 

hmmmm


             Whom straggling in the neighb’ring fields he took.

 

he took, he apprehended


             With fumes of wine the little captive glows,
             And nods with sleep, and staggers as he goes.

             “I view’d him nicely, and began to trace
             Each heav’nly feature, each immortal grace,
             And saw divinity in all his face,
             I know not who, said I, this God should be;
             But that he is a God I plainly see:
             And thou, who-e’er thou art, excuse the force
             These men have us’d; and oh befriend our course!

befriend, accord it your sympathy

             Pray not for us, the nimble Dictys cry’d, 

Dictys, one of Acoetes‘ shipmates

 

             Dictys, that could the main-top mast bestride,
             And down the ropes with active vigour slide.
             To the same purpose old Epopeus spoke,

 

Epopeus, another sailor


             Who over-look’d the oars, and tim’d the stroke;
             The same the pilot, and the same the rest;
             Such impious avarice their souls possest.

 

all countermanding Acoetes‘, however

discerning, assessment


             Nay, Heav’n forbid that I should bear away
             Within my vessel so divine a prey,
             Said I; and stood to hinder their intent:

 

Acoetes had no intention of confining

this so divine a prey to his ship

 

             When Lycabas, a wretch for murder sent
             From Tuscany, to suffer banishment,
             With his clench’d fist had struck me over-board,
             Had not my hands in falling grasp’d a cord.

 

Lycabas, a third shipmate

 

Tuscany, a region of what is now

central Italy

 

it appears, however, that Acoetes

lived to tell the tale

 

stay tuned

 

 

R ! chard

“The Story of Pentheus” – Ovid

The Triumphal Procession of Bacchus, c.1536 - Maerten van Heemskerck

         The Triumphal Procession of Bacchus” (c.1536)

 

                   Maerten van Heemskerck

 

                             _______________

 

 

till now the separate stories in Ovid’s

Metamorphoses have been linked,

one being either a consequence of

the other,or its cause, but the story

of Pentheus, grandson of Cadmus,

king and founder of Thebes, who

earlier in this series had his own

tale told, starts, as my German

teacher used to say, from the

scratch

 

This sad event, therefore, in the

first line of the poem, refers to

what will follow, not what came

before

 

            This sad event gave blind Tiresias fame,

            Through Greece establish’d in a prophet’s name.

 

Tiresias, if you’ll remember, had been

blinded by Juno / Hera, goddess of the

gods, for having sided with Jove / Jupiter

/ Zeus, her husband, in a wager between

them he’d been called upon to decide,

Jove / Jupiter / Zeus, however, gave 

Tiresias, as consolation, having been

barred by a pact among the gods not

to undo each other’s spells, the gift

of insight, prophecy

 

the example that follows, of his divination,

establish[‘d] at that time his reputation

[t]hrough[out] Greece as a prophet


            Th’ unhallow’d Pentheus only durst deride

            The cheated people, and their eyeless guide.

 

unhallow’d, unholy, wicked, sinful

 

Pentheus, king of Thebes following

his grandfather, Cadmus, but that’s

an entirely other story

 

only, of all the people, none but

Pentheus durst, dared, deride,

mock, their eyeless guide, Tiresias

            To whom the prophet in his fury said,

            Shaking the hoary honours of his head:

 

hoary, grizzled, gray, aged


            “‘Twere well, presumptuous man, ’twere well forthee

            If thou wert eyeless too, and blind, like me:

            For the time comes, nay, ’tis already here,

            When the young God’s solemnities appear:

 

the young God[], Bacchus / Dionysus,

son of Semele and Jove / Jupiter / Zeus,

if you’ll remember, god of revelry,

intoxication, wild abandon

 

            Which, if thou dost not with just rites adorn,

            Thy impious carcass, into pieces torn,

            Shall strew the woods, and hang on ev’ry thorn.

 

impious carcass, dishonoured corpse, 

of any thou who wouldn’t’ve honoured

the celebrations

 

            Then, then, remember what I now foretel,

            And own the blind Tiresias saw too well.”

 

own, agree to, admit

            Still Pentheus scorns him, and derides his skill;

            But time did all the prophet’s threats fulfil.

            For now through prostrate Greece young Bacchus rode,

 

prostrate, beholden, reverent, observant

of the solemnities


            Whilst howling matrons celebrate the God:

            All ranks and sexes to his Orgies ran,

            To mingle in the pomps, and fill the train.

 

the rites of Bacchus were bacchanals,

orgies, celebrations of abandon, Mardi

Gras, for instance, in New Orleans,

annual Gay Parades, now everywhere,

or Hallowe’en since time immemorial

 

see above

 

 

            When Pentheus thus his wicked rage express’d:

            “What madness, Thebans, has your souls possess’d?

            Can hollow timbrels, can a drunken shout,

 

timbrels, tambourines


            And the lewd clamours of a beastly rout,

            Thus quell your courage;

 

quell your courage, overcome your

sense of discipline

 

                                            can the weak alarm

            Of women’s yells those stubborn souls disarm,

 

those stubborn souls, the Theban

spirit of pride and honour


            Whom nor the sword nor trumpet e’er could fright,

            Nor the loud din and horror of a fight?

            And you, our sires, who left your old abodes,

 

our sires, the older generation of

Thebans, of his grandfather

Cadmus‘ ilk


            And fix’d in foreign earth your country Gods;

 

foreign earth, very Thebes, from Tyre,

where Cadmus and his followers had

come from, in search of Europa, if

you’ll remember


            Will you without a stroak your city yield,

 

stroak, stroke

 

            And poorly quit an undisputed field?

 

undisputed field, there are no

military obstructions


            But you, whose youth and vigour should inspire

            Heroick warmth, and kindle martial fire,

            Whom burnish’d arms and crested helmets grace,

            Not flow’ry garlands and a painted face;

           

Remember him to whom you stand ally’d:

 

him, Pentheus himself, their king


            The serpent for his well of waters dy’d.

 

The serpenta reference here to the

dragon that Cadmus slew, which had

guarded the cavern where his crew

had been scouting for water, if you’ll

remember

 

            He fought the strong; do you his courage show,

            And gain a conquest o’er a feeble foe.

 

a feeble foe, licentiousness, abandon,

undisciplined revelry

 

            If Thebes must fall, oh might the fates afford

            A nobler doom from famine, fire, or sword.

 

Pentheus appeals to a loftier reason

for defeat, famine, fire, or sword, than

mere, and ignoble, debauchery


            Then might the Thebans perish with renown:

            But now a beardless victor sacks the town;

 

beardless victor, the young Bacchus /

Dionysus


            Whom nor the prancing steed, nor pond’rous shield,

            Nor the hack’d helmet, nor the dusty field,

            But the soft joys of luxury and ease,

            The purple vests, and flow’ry garlands please.

 

Bacchus / Dionysus is not impressed

by armour, military accomplishments,

prowess, but by grace, elegance, and

poetry


            Stand then aside, I’ll make the counterfeit

            Renounce his god-head, and confess the cheat.

 

the counterfeit, Bacchus / Dionysus


            Acrisius from the Grecian walls repell’d

            This boasted pow’r; why then should Pentheus yield?

 

Acrisius, a king of Argos, who must’ve

also repell’d from his city Bacchus /

Dionysus, according to the poem


            Go quickly drag th’ impostor boy to me;

 

th’ impostor boy, the counterfeit,

Bachus / Dionysus


            I’ll try the force of his divinity.”

 

try, test


            Thus did th’ audacious wretch those rites profane;

 

th’ audacious wretch, Pentheus


            His friends dissuade th’ audacious wretch in vain:

            In vain his grandsire urg’d him to give o’er

            His impious threats; the wretch but raves the more.

 

his grandsire, Cadmus

            So have I seen a river gently glide,

            In a smooth course, and inoffensive tide;

            But if with dams its current we restrain,

            It bears down all, and foams along the plain.

 

nature will have its way, so will the

gods, watch out, the narrator says,

who it is that you challenge

            But now his servants came besmear’d with blood,

            Sent by their haughty prince to seize the God;

 

his servants, Pentheus‘ men

 

the God, Bacchus / Dionysus


            The God they found not in the frantick throng,

            But dragg’d a zealous votary along.

 

votary, follower, adherent,

acolyte

 

the servants, Pentheus‘ men,

who did not, apparently, deliver

 

stay tuned

 

 

R ! chard

“The Story of Narcissus” (lll) – Ovid

The Metamorphosis of Narcissus, 1937 - Salvador Dali

 

         The Metamorphosis of Narcissus” (1937)

 

                   Salvador Dali

 

                            _____

 

 

              This said, the weeping youth again return’d

              To the clear fountain, 

 

This said, you’ll remember that Narcissus

had pondered suicide, but was afraid that

such an act would also have an impact on

his reflection

 

                                          where again he burn’d;

 

burn’d, from the unusual fire that kindled
his breast
 

 

                His tears defac’d the surface of the well,

                With circle after circle, as they fell:

 

disfiguring reverberations in the water

from the tears

 

               And now the lovely face but half appears,
               O’er-run with wrinkles, and deform’d with tears.
               “Ah whither,” cries Narcissus, “dost thou fly?
               Let me still feed the flame by which I die;

 

the flame by which I die, the fire which

burns in his chest


              Let me still see, tho’ I’m no further blest.”

 

Narcissus will not willingly forego the

sight of his reflection though it will

manifestly not at all still his desire,

nor quell his fate

 

              Then rends his garment off, and beats his breast:
              His naked bosom redden’d with the blow,
              In such a blush as purple clusters show,
              Ere yet the sun’s autumnal heats refine
              Their sprightly juice, and mellow it to wine.

 

bruises the colour of wine blush in

purple clusters on his chest where

Narcissus has struck himself

repeatedly


              The glowing beauties of his breast he spies,
              And with a new redoubled passion dies.

 

The glowing beauties, the throbbing

discolorations left by the redoubled

blows

 

              As wax dissolves, as ice begins to run,
              And trickle into drops before the sun;
              So melts the youth, and languishes away,
              His beauty withers, and his limbs decay;
              And none of those attractive charms remain,
              To which the slighted Echo su’d in vain.

 

slighted, rebuffed

 

Echo, the nymph who’d pursued him,

in vain, if you’ll remember

 

su’d, sued, implored


              She saw him in his present misery,
              Whom, spight of all her wrongs, she griev’d to see.

 

spight, in spite


              She answer’d sadly to the lover’s moan,
              Sigh’d back his sighs, and groan’d to ev’ry groan:
              “Ah youth! belov’d in vain,” Narcissus cries;

 

to his reflection


              “Ah youth! belov’d in vain,” the nymph replies.

 

Echo can only echo


              “Farewel,” says he; the parting sound scarce fell
              From his faint lips, but she reply’d, “farewel.”

 

Narcissus, interestingly, is reproduced

not only visually in the water by his

own reflection, but audibly as well by

Echo‘s reverberating sounds

 

see above

              Then on th’ wholsome earth he gasping lyes,
              ‘Till death shuts up those self-admiring eyes.
              To the cold shades his flitting ghost retires,
              And in the Stygian waves it self admires.

 

Stygian, of the river Styx, which forms

the boundary between Earth and the

Underworld

              For him the Naiads and the Dryads mourn,

 

Naiads, water nymphs

 

Dryadstree nymphs


              Whom the sad Echo answers in her turn;

 

Echo also mourns


              And now the sister-nymphs prepare his urn:
              When, looking for his corps, they only found
              A rising stalk, with yellow blossoms crown’d.

 

corps, corpse, dead body

 

rising stalk, with yellow blossoms

crown’d, the narcissus, the flower

 

 

R ! chard

“The Story of Narcissus” (ll) – Ovid

Narcissus, 1896 - 1897 - Magnus Enckell

 

            “Narcissus” (1896 – 1897)

 

                     Magnus Enckell

 

                            __________

 

 

           Still o’er the fountain’s wat’ry gleam he stood,

           Mindless of sleep, and negligent of food;

           Still view’d his face, and languish’d as he view’d.

 

Narcissus has been smitten by this

reflection of himself in the fountain’s

wat’ry gleam, can’t sleep, won’t eat

 

note, incidentally, the two meanings

of Still here, the first, without moving,

the second, not having stopped, not

discontinued


           At length he rais’d his head, and thus began

           To vent his griefs, and tell the woods his pain.

          “You trees,” says he, “and thou surrounding grove,

           Who oft have been the kindly scenes of love,

           Tell me, if e’er within your shades did lye

           A youth so tortur’d, so perplex’d as I?

           I, who before me see the charming fair,

 

the charming fair, his reflection

in the fountain’s wat’ry gleam


           Whilst there he stands, and yet he stands not there:

           In such a maze of love my thoughts are lost:

 

Narcissus reflects, bewildered

by the ephemerality of his

vision

 

           And yet no bulwark’d town, nor distant coast

           Preserves the beauteous youth from being seen,

           No mountains rise, nor oceans flow between.

 

there is no material object, he reasons,

to obstruct a clear view of the beauteous

youth before him, no intervening

obstacles between him and his vision

 

bulwark’d, defended with fortifications,

as in Medieval towns

 

the beauteous youth, his own reflection


           A shallow water hinders my embrace;

 

A shallow water, only a sheen is

required to cast a reflection, a

film merely, the water need not

be at all that deep


           And yet the lovely mimick wears a face

 

the lovely mimickthe image in

the water

           

           That kindly smiles, and when I bend to join

           My lips to his, he fondly bends to mine.

 

what of homosexuality here, an

unobjectionable predilection at

the time, apparently, there isn’t

a whiff of iniquity in this attraction,

according to the text, no hint of

guilt or embarrassment

 

           Hear, gentle youth, and pity my complaint,

 

a direct exhortation here, note,

no longer, in this instance, a

literary narration, a tale being

told

 

           Come from thy well, thou fair inhabitant.

           My charms an easy conquest have obtain’d

           O’er other hearts, by thee alone disdain’d.

 

you, Narcissus says, alone, replication,

disdain[ ], repulse, my advances, my

elsewhere, otherwise, easy conquest[s]


           But why should I despair? I’m sure he burns

           With equal flames, and languishes by turns.

           When-e’er I stoop, he offers at a kiss,

 

offers, responds with

 

           And when my arms I stretch, he stretches his.

           His eye with pleasure on my face he keeps,

           He smiles my smiles, and when I weep he weeps.

           When e’er I speak, his moving lips appear

           To utter something, which I cannot hear.

 

all his senses are alive, but for

his hearing, which registers only

silence, when all of the other

aspects of the experience are

precise and vivid as though

real, utterly, however

incompatibly, convincing


           “Ah wretched me! I now begin too late

           To find out all the long-perplex’d deceit;

           It is my self I love, my self I see;

           The gay delusion is a part of me.

           I kindle up the fires by which I burn,

           And my own beauties from the well return.

           Whom should I court? how utter my complaint?

 

court, sue to, argue, put to the

test a dilemma, a complaint, as

though before an arbiter


           Enjoyment but produces my restraint,

           And too much plenty makes me die for want.

           How gladly would I from my self remove!

           And at a distance set the thing I love.

           My breast is warm’d with such unusual fire,

           I wish him absent whom I most desire.

           And now I faint with grief; my fate draws nigh;

           In all the pride of blooming youth I die.

 

the contradictions inherent in passion

are evidenced, in this case those of

love

 

           Death will the sorrows of my heart relieve.

           Oh might the visionary youth survive,

 

visionary, relating to vision, observed,

caught sight of, viewed, in the water

 

relieve, render solace to, there is no

solution to this anguished misery

but dying


           I should with joy my latest breath resign!

           But oh! I see his fate involv’d in mine.”

 

 

you might have noted, or not, that

the tale has become psychological

in the instance of Narcissus, where

earlier an action transpired and

events were recounted in

chronological order, in this myth,

the subject explores his inner

world while sitting quietly

throughout by the still water,

nothing moves, but the

palpitations of his heart, and its

distempers

 

there’s a shift here in not only

the mythological template, more

personal, individual stuff, but also 

in the very evolution of literature,

which takes on a more interior

tone rather than fatalistic,

episodic, given entirely to

unfathomed circumstance

 

this will lead to To be, or not to be

eventually, the anthem that took

over the subsequent centuries

since, Shakespeare‘s homage to

introspection, setting the stage

for the ensuing ages of

individualism, human rights

 

but that’s another story

stay tuned

 

 

R ! chard

Ovid / Shakespeare

Ophelia, 1851 - 1852 - John Everett Millais

               Ophelia(1851 – 1852)

 

                   John Everett Millais

 

                              _________

 

 

for a while now, I’ve been feeling the

spirit of Ovid in many of the works of

William Shakespeare, a recent, in

some depth, project of mine, the

nearly pagan perspective in many

of his works, a lust for life, for

instance, that is not at all that of his

contemporary Protestantism, not

to mention an obvious Catholic, and

therefore potentially treacherous, at

the time, prominent bent of his

 

but that’s another story

 

many of his plays set scenes in places

right out of Roman mythology, with a

morality to match,and even character

names, Hippolyta, Hero, Polonius,

Titania, Oberon, Greek and Latin

patronyms redolent of Classical

Antiquity

 

here’s Ovid, for instance, from The

Story of Narcissus

 

           There stands a fountain in a darksom wood,

           Nor stain’d with falling leaves nor rising mud;

           Untroubled by the breath of winds it rests,

           Unsully’d by the touch of men or beasts;

           High bow’rs of shady trees above it grow,

           And rising grass and chearful greens below.

 

here’s Shakespeare, from his Hamlet,

Gertrude, Queen of Denmark, gives

the news of Ophelia’s death, in a

particularly Ovidian, I think, manner

 

           There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
           That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
           There with fantastic garlands did she come
           Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
           That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
           But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them:
           There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
           Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
           When down her weedy trophies and herself
           Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
           And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
           Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
           As one incapable of her own distress,
           Or like a creature native and indued
           Unto that element: but long it could not be
           Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
           Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
           To muddy death.

 

see above

 

 

there is the influence of Dryden to

consider, it must be noted, Ovid‘s

translator into Englishbut the

similarity in the spirit of the text is

so great, the characteristic voice

so evident, regardless of elapsed

time, the intervening fifteen hundred

years, 8 CE for Ovid, to somewhere

around 1600 CE for Shakespeare,

for the congruence to be coincidental,

Shakespeare had to have been reading 

his Ovid, imbibing it, what, do you think

 

then again, as Shakespeare would

have said, There are more things in

heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than

are dreamt of in your philosophy

 

 

R ! chard