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Month: May, 2012

Vlll. What can I give thee back, O liberal – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

Vlll. What can I give thee back, O liberal…

What can I give thee back, O liberal
And princely giver, who hast brought the gold
And purple of thine heart, unstained, untold,
And laid them on the outside of the wall
For such as I to take or leave withal,
In unexpected largesse? am I cold,
Ungrateful, that for these most mainfold
High gifts, I render nothing back at all?
Not so; not cold, — but very poor instead.
Ask God who knows. For frequent tears have run
The colours from my life, and left so dead
And pale a stuff, it were not fitly done
To give the same as pillow to thy head.
Go farther! let it serve to trample on.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


at this point I have to say, get a hold of yourself, girlfriend,
there is some worth in you even if you are wretched, look
at just your poetry, which from this pespective shines
radiant light upon your dependent lover, who would not
live so bright were you not his sponsor in the cultural
imagination, your moon has made his sunshine infinitely
more lustrous

but that is from this perspective, a love so subservient is
no longer an appropriate model in a world where women
are taking their rightful place, even still

but perhaps this is, pertinently, an aspect of love, male
or female, this obliterating surrender


Vll. The face of all the world is changed, I think – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

Vll. The face of all the world is changed, I think…

The face of all the world is changed, I think,
Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul
Move still, oh, still, beside me, as they stole
Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink
Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink,
Was caught up into love, and taught the whole
Of life in a new rhythm. The cup of dole
God gave for baptism, I am fain to drink,
And praise its sweetness, Sweet, with thee anear.
The names of country, heaven, are changed away
For where thou art or shall be, there or here;
And this . . . this lute and song . . . loved yesterday,
(The singing angels know) are only dear
Because thy name moves right in what they say.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


there are only two statements here, “The face of all the world
is changed”
and “The cup of dole / God gave for baptism, I am
fain to drink”,
in either case et cetera

the metre is iambic pentameter, the beat is of course
Shakespeare’s, famous for his own immortal sonnets, and
probably an inspiration for Barrett Browning, who uses as
well his archaic, even in the nineteenth century then, “thou”,
“thee”, “thine”

think about it

the metre is concealed by the flow of the sentence, which
can only be effectively blurred by inordinate, dare I say,
blinding, passion, which Elizabeth has of course in spades,
declaring utimately with these historic sonnets the inner
workings of love for the very ages

but to our consternation, and utmost admiration, this flow
of unfettered sentiment rhymes, and even technically
deserves to be considered a poem, an even masterpiece


Johann Sebastian Bach‏ – the Cello Suites

if the Well-Tempered Clavier is the alphabet of
even today our music, the six Cello Suites of Bach
are its apotheosis
again, suites are a series of dance forms, menuets,
sarabandes“, entirely stylized at this point in
history, nobody danced to them, they were enjoyed
intellectually as idealized memories of earlier, more
spontaneous, comparatively less fully civilized, times,
it would’ve been thought, a conceit of every epoch 
what is mighty to my mind is that this sublime
musical mission was devoted to the cello, even then
a secondary instrument, a mere accompaniment,
which grounded however with its stolid, even
lumbering, authority, like an overlooked patriarch
among the more effervescently expressive brood of
forthright and more limber maybe upstarts, who 
clamored for position like youngsters defining
their pretensions, not least of which the recently
incarnated harpsichord, or clavier, that
multifaceted, and iconic, wonder 
the cello can play one note only at a time,
something the harpsichord was now overcoming,
singly, because no other instrument could then,
nor still cannot, accomplish
which will explain the primacy historically of the
piano, which of course can play up to ten notes
at a time, theoretically, if you don’t take into
account large thumbs, fingers, their spans,
which could extend that number to x potentially
a cello must accompany itself, or rely on the
inspiration of its own simple, necessarily
unsupported, melody 
the Cello Suites of Bach have performed this
feat unimpeachably, even miraculously, for the
past nearly three hundred years, one note at a
time, describing intimately and profoundly a
certain unvarnished representation of the 
awesome structure of the very universe   
wow, man, extraordinary 

Vl. Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

Vl. Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand…

Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand
Henceforward in thy shadow. Nevermore
Alone upon the threshold of my door
Of individual life, I shall command
The uses of my soul, nor lift my hand
Serenely in the sunshine as before,
Without the sense of that which I forebore—
Thy touch upon the palm. The widest land
Doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine
With pulses that beat double. What I do
And what I dream include thee, as the wine
Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue
God for myself, He hears that name of thine,
And sees within my eyes the tears of two.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


are you ready for Miss Thing, you have left an indelible
impression upon my soul, she says, inscribed in my very
anatomy, which even the Great Discerner will descry at
the very Day of Reckoning

though today’s girls would take offence at such overt
subservience, I think Elizabeth‘s abnegation speaks
to the ineradicable longing for surrender, physical,
emotional, spiritual, latent ever in all of us, men as
well as women


V. I lift my heavy heart up solemnly – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

V. I lift my heavy heart up solemnly…

I lift my heavy heart up solemnly,
As once Electra her sepulchral urn,
And, looking in thine eyes, I overturn
The ashes at thy feet. Behold and see
What a great heap of grief lay hid in me,
And how the red wild sparkles dimly burn
Through the ashen greyness. If thy foot in scorn
Could tread them out to darkness utterly,
It might be well perhaps. But if instead
Thou wait beside me for the wind to blow
The grey dust up, . . . those laurels on thine head,
O my Belovèd, will not shield thee so,
That none of all the fires shall scorch and shred
The hair beneath. Stand farther off then! go.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Elizabeth has realized that Robert might stay, but,
she says, should you, this is all I have to offer,
at thy feet… a great heap of grief”,
where, however,
“wild sparkles dimly burn / Through the ashen greyness”

she is not, she insists, not alive, she is even “scorch[ing]“,
she confirms, beneath the apparent drudge, enough to set
Robert on dire fire should he not “tread them out”, they
would consume even him, “those laurels on thine head, /
O my Belovèd, will not shield thee”

be off, she warns, “Stand farther off then! go.”, an admonition
she must herself also heed, she surely intuits, should she be
called upon to indeed catch incendiary flame

“But if instead / Thou wait beside me for the wind to blow/
The grey dust up…”

there is an evolution here in the procees of love which
will surely bear investigation as the sonnets unfold, an
emotional unfurling, I would think, of the stages of
recognized and appreciated devotion, Robert, as it
turned out, stuck around, a love story brought to
inspirational fruition for the very ages


Donna Summer, 1948–2012

in remembrance of  
                        Donna Summer 
        December 31, 1948 – May 17, 2012 
a goddess, an entire generation
may she rest ever in serene peace 



Bach piano concertos, BWV1056 & 1052‏

the secular masterpieces that Bach wrote were sidelines
to the music that he was commissioned to compose, he
was severally employed by throughout his life Saxon
aristocracy to adorn essentially their churches, and,
not coincidentally, their political image 
Bach wrote especially, in other words, for the Church,
the Protestant, and more specifically, Lutheran, Church,
by the way, who, it appears, had forsaken graven images
but apparently not quite music, a natural devolution of the
ecstasies of the senses propounded to varying degrees by,
it would appear, all religions, a heretical notion in my
opinion considering the majesties of the world of which
we partake but once through all eternity 
and to have extinguished Bach for me is inconceivable,
in a world where we need even more Bach
all this to conclude that Bach was essentially jamming
when he composed his more frivolous pieces, for friends
and fellow musicians, the works we listen to mostly now
in what has been to date our most irreverent world, God
died culturally in the sixties, the more liturgical works
having, though not been lost, taken on a more retiring
you’ll note a very cerebral, less bombastic, sober yet
always musically playful and inventive attitude in Bach,
that is entirely pre-Classical, not concerned with an
actual audience, hence jamming 
this is music for the sake of music coming from a glib
and effervescent soul just having fun with his pals and
taking on the alphabet, the possibilities, of these new 
well-tempered instruments    
we get to listen 
psst: wait till you here what he does with the cello

lV. Thou hast thy calling to some palace-floor – Elizabeth Barrett Browning‏

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

lV. Thou hast thy calling to some palace-floor…

Thou hast thy calling to some palace-floor,
Most gracious singer of high poems! where
The dancers will break footing, from the care
Of watching up thy pregnant lips for more.
And dost thou lift this house’s latch too poor
For hand of thine? and canst thou think and bear
To let thy music drop here unaware
In folds of golden fulness at my door?
Look up and see the casement broken in,
The bats and owlets builders in the roof!
My cricket chirps against thy mandolin.
Hush, call no echo up in further proof
Of desolation! there’s a voice within
That weeps . . . as thou must sing . . . alone, aloof.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


you get called out to all the best parties, she says,
where all the guests hang on to your every word,
whose “pregnant lips” of course spew only poetry

yet this is where you come to roost – note how
“latch” suggests a humble cottage here – “The
bats and owlets builders in the roof!”
don’t help
of course either

nor are you aware, she continues, of the “golden
the bristling imagination, with which you
array my world so effortlessly, me, but a strident
“cricket” to your melodious “mandolin” – wonderful

I don’t even want to think about it, she insists,

in other words, I say “potato”, and “thou must”,
existentially, it appears, say “potahto”, and that’ll be
the end of that

but of course I’m right, I hear her subliminally saying,
it’s “potato”, but fate, cruel, cruel fate, has decreed
my abject and irrevocable subservience, to which I
must and will forthwith cede, “alone”, she decries
ever so forlornly, utterly, even ontologically, which
is to say, in her very essence, “aloof”

it is interesting to consider that of the two Brownings
the most famous must remain Elizabeth if only for
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”, which
every lover has declared to his love ever since, every
inamorata to hers

who will undoubtedly continue also to do so forever

Robert will be remembered of the two however as
finally, I think, the more significant poet


The French Suites – Johann Sebastian

though we listen to Bach today with the utmost
admiration – even reverence in my case, I would
in fact choose Bach over any other composer to
be with were I to be sequestered somewhere
for any extended length of time, the proverbial, 
for instance, desert island – he is nevertheless
not of our era, our epoch, he is of the earlier
Baroque Period, and you can hear it in the music, 
it’s quirky, intricate, and moment by moment
interesting, though never insistent, intemperate,
subversive, nor ever fragile, overtly emotional 
it’s great sponsor, and therefore influence, had
been the Church, but that was changing 
also the piano hadn’t been invented yet
the piano allowed for resonance in a note by way
of the sustain pedal, which allowed one to actually
raise a finger from the key and it would continue to
register, sustain a harmony even were other notes
the soft pedal controlled volume 
the harpsichord with no sustain pedal lost its
reverberation as soon as the key was released,
therefore only other notes could replace the
otherwise silence, which meant you didn’t waste
time before the next syllable in your statement 
with no soft pedal there was no variation in volume,
something I especially enjoy of a quiet ruminative
Andras Schiff delivers an enchanted evening of all
the French Suites, six of them with all their several
a suite is a set of dances, menuets, gigues, gavottes,
courantes, and my favourite, sarabandes, don’t ask,
these are all of another order where they’d never
heard of a waltz yet, and you’ll prefer that I not
go there but glancingly  
Glenn Gould delivers the quintessential French
Suites, I think, though in two separate instalments,
volume 1, volume 2, with only for visuals a static,
though striking, picture of him 
you’ll note that he uses the sustain pedal sparingly,
suggesting faithfulness to the original harpsichord,
this also sheds light on the bare bones of the
composition, illustrating starkly Bach’s technical
wizardry, the mind behind the man, he makes
clear, is nothing short of magic 
and that goes for all of us

lll. Unlike are we, O princely Heart! – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

lll. Unlike are we, unlike, O princely Heart!

Unlike are we, unlike, O princely Heart!
Unlike our uses and our destinies.
Our ministering two angels look surprise
On one another, as they strike athwart
Their wings in passing. Thou, bethink thee, art
A guest for queens to social pageantries,
With gages from a hundred brighter eyes
Than tears even can make mine, to play thy part
Of chief musician. What hast thou to do
With looking from the lattice-lights at me,
A poor, tired, wandering singer, singing through
The dark, and leaning up a cypress tree?
The chrism is on thine head,—on mine, the dew,—
And Death must dig the level where these agree.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


this was the Nineteenth Century of course with high drama
and overt sentimentality running amok, look at any of Dickens’
heartwrenching urchins and orphans, for instance, that’s

the Twentieth Century determinedly picked it up, especially
after the First World War, opera became Broadway, get over it
the clarion call, life’s short, enjoy it

here’s George and Ira Gershwin’s Let’s Call the Whole Thing
a much more Twentieth Century resolution

granted Elizabeth is not on the verge of leaving her husband,
who will remain, despite her protestations, ever true and devoted,
and she knows it, but albeit both their “ministering two angels
look surprise / On one another, as they strike athwart / Their
wings in passing”,
both couples seem ready enough to
move on

and only Death will dissolve their differences, “dig the level
where these agree”,
East is East and West is West, she says,
and Yin will never be Yang, Death alone will level the playing
field of our terminally divergent destinies

thanks for that, Elizabeth


psst:”Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

Things have come to a pretty pass,
Our romance is growing flat,
For you like this and the other
While I go for this and that.
Goodness knows what the end will be,
Oh, I don’t know where I’m at…
It looks as if we two will never be one,
Something must be done.

You say eether and I say eyether,
You say neether and I say nyther,
Eether, eyether, neether, nyther,
Let’s call the whole thing off!
You like potato and I like potahto,
You like tomato and I like tomahto,
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto!
Let’s call the whole thing off!
But oh! If we call the whole thing off,
Then we must part.
And oh! If we ever part,
Then that might break my heart!
So, if you like pajamas and I like pajahmas,
I’ll wear pajamas and give up pajahmas.
For we know we need each other,
So we better call the calling off off.
Let’s call the whole thing off!

You say laughter and I say lawfter,
You say after and I say awfter,
Laughter, lawfter, after, awfter,
Let’s call the whole thing off!
You like vanilla and I like vanella,
You, sa’s’parilla and I sa’s’parella,
Vanilla, vanella, Choc’late, strawb’ry!
Let’s call the whole thing off!
But oh! If we call the whole thing off,
Then we must part.
And oh! If we ever part,
Then that might break my heart!
So, if you go for oysters and I go for ersters
I’ll order oysters and cancel the ersters.
For we know we need each other,
So we better call the calling off off!
Let’s call the whole thing off!

George and Ira Gershwin