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Month: September, 2012

“Pictures at an Exhibition” – Modest Mussorgsky‏

You are definately (sic) now in Chopin mode!“, a friend
writes, much as the culture itself would’ve found
itself after a surfeit of Chopin, giving way to of
course newer inventions in art  
if there is an overview that would present the
fundamental outline of what was occuring at
the time it is that the heart was giving way to
the mind, late Romanticism still throbbed with
stirring passions, but a more exploratory
psychological perspective would begin to  
dominate, spurred on by a more analytical
approach to everything, even the arts
themselves to the arts themselves, science
had been unearthing revelations, painters
analyzed paint, writers parsed writing, 
composers deconstructed musical composition
all investigated potentiality and purpose within
the area of their field to discover if it still had
relevance, and if so, how and why
the first step in moving away from emotion in
music was through an attempt at notational
description, to have music become evocative 
of a scene rather than of sentiment through
orchestrations of sound, an intellectual appeal
to the more probing cerebellum rather than to 
the more facile and evident strings of a rhythmic,
ardently and compellingly pulsing, but primal 
and therefore unreasoning, heart
which could also easily become self-indulgent,
only the very best, Chopin, Elizabeth Barrett 
Browning, avoid it, let me add here the never
ever maudlin, always enchanting, Walt Disney,
who cuts mighty, mighty close to the saccharine
in his post-Second-World-War epoch, as do as
skilfully also indeed the other two in theirs
it’s all in the rubato, I think, where musical magic
is allowed to turn into pandering kitsch
here’s Modest Mussorgsky describing Pictures
at an Exhibition, each movement a particular
pictorial work, separated by the return of the
original theme, the “Promenade”, representative
of the amble forward, curatorial and monocled, 
I think, to the next considered instalment 
here’s the same thing again in a neat transcription
for guitar 

XXlV. Let the world’s sharpness, like a clasping knife – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

notice: the following, I suspect, is for poetry lovers
only, others will likely want to roll their eyes
at my idiosyncratic choices and preoccupations
and delete what I perceive nevertheless and
mean always to be priceless gifts

such is my eccentricity


psst: one person’s gift however could be another’s
burden, admittedly, meat be their even poison


from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XXlV. Let the world’s sharpness, like a clasping knife

Let the world’s sharpness like a clasping knife
Shut in upon itself and do no harm
In this close hand of Love, now soft and warm,
And let us hear no sound of human strife
After the click of the shutting. Life to life –
I lean upon thee, Dear, without alarm,
And feel as safe as guarded by a charm
Against the stab of worldlings, who if rife
Are weak to injure. Very whitely still
The lilies of our lives may reassure
Their blossoms from their roots, accessible
Alone to heavenly dews that drop not fewer;
Growing straight, out of man’s reach, on the hill.
God only, who made us rich, can make us poor.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


it had been pointed out in my poetry class at
university, where our supposed greater maturity
would allow us now to peruse somewhat more
prurient texts, that the compass in John Donne‘s
Valediction was, well, prurient, however, to my
mind, at the very least then, eccentric

much like Elizabeth Barrett Browning‘s “clasping
in her XXlVth sonnet here

all that to our much more jaded XXlst-Century
amusement, we are never ever now so circuitous,
coy, nor were any of us even back in my
mid-XXth-Century teens, D.H. Lawrence had
already irreversibly made courtship graphic,
for better, as in any contract, or for worse

and the beat goes on



A Valediction Forbidding Mourning

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
“Now his breath goes,” and some say, “No.”

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move ;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th’ earth brings harms and fears ;
Men reckon what it did, and meant ;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers’ love
—Whose soul is sense—cannot admit
Of absence, ’cause it doth remove
The thing which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assurèd of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to aery thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two ;
Thy soul, the fix’d foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th’ other do.

And though it in the centre sit,
Yet, when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th’ other foot, obliquely run ;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.

John Donne

the Chopin Scherzi‏

“scherzo” is Italian for “joke”, it’s also a specific
musical mode, quick and delightful, usually
the third movement in a larger piece – sonata,
symphony, concerto – as a contrast to the
preceding adagio, or slower, more melancholic
tonal statement  
once again Chopin extracts the mode from the
larger composition, where it had sat as a merely
supportive entity, thereby giving it its own
distinction, having achieved the transcendental
ability to turn secondary material into resplendent
and incontrovertible gold   
to tell the truth I don’t much get the humour
either, what joke do these scherzi tell, though
I intuit a kind of slapstick, initial grunts for
instance, like engines gunning, before
undertaking a more ethereal flight in the 
second scherzo, the stardust that suddenly falls
on the more languid, forlorn notes, in the third
– contrasts that are, were, subversive surely
then, idiosyncratic, potentially aesthetically
or, is this music, people might’ve wondered 
except that Chopin invariably enchants, doubtless
did also then  
and turned the rules, as artist do, upside down  
maybe that’s the joke, and Chopin was already
onto it 
music, he meant, is in the eye of the beholder,
there is no explicit, dare I say Platonic, or
absolute, standard, music is fraught with 
merely imagination, rules do not apply 
perhaps his enduring fame rests on our own
complicity with this message, our lives are
the expression of the vividness, indeed
stardust, of, to a sublime degree, our dreams
aspiration, in other words, is destiny     
who’d a thunk it

XXlll. Is it indeed so? If I lay here dead – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XXlll. Is it indeed so? If I lay here dead

Is it indeed so? If I lay here dead,
Wouldst thou miss any life in losing mine?
And would the sun for thee more coldly shine
Because of grave-damps falling round my head?
I marvelled, my Belovèd, when I read
Thy thought so in the letter. I am thine–
But . . . so much to thee? Can I pour thy wine
While my hands tremble? Then my soul, instead
Of dreams of death, resumes life’s lower range.
Then, love me, Love! Look on me–breathe on me!
As brighter ladies do not count it strange,
For love, to give up acres and degree,
I yield the grave for thy sake, and exchange
My near sweet view of Heaven, for earth with thee!

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


it is nearly a commonplace that to be profoundly
loved keeps one in fact alive, it is also so in my
own experience, though the expression of it may
often seem, paradoxically, subservient and

and a great spiritual burden, I would think,
for the anchor, who would be told, in reversed
circumstances, that to be abandoned would be
to have been left, ignominiously, to die

but Elizabeth chooses not to survive, but to
not die, there is a difference, enough to make
a jewel of this poem


a Chopin Fantasia‏, opus 61

to be specific, opus 61, you’ll more easily notice 
already the more abstract peregrinations of his
disciple, Debussyand even the first stirrings of
improvisation incidentally, which is to say the
free-wheeling of idiosyncratic jazz, the very 
inversion of Classical order, personal expression
was trumping even ecclesiastical dictates, those 
very earlier immutable fundamentals of the long
unimpeachable Ten Commandments  
Oh Moses, Moses you stubborn, splendid, adorable 
fool, as Anne Baxter, Nefertiri, pagan, therefore 
insidious seductress, would admonish in the film
pronouncementsa film which of course fashioned 
the Biblical iconography of my entire generation,
a veritable Divine Comedy” for our still recent
enough times, nothing has come up to displace it
meanwhile, though a progressively alternative
cultural morality seems steadily to harken
was Moses then a fool, a Prometheus in Christian
time alone tells, and time is an inveterately
temperamental arbiter
it would appear now that faith equals
unconditional conformity, when I thought
that faith could not, by definition, be
constrained, faith had been meticulously
a considered personal conviction, an
individual emancipation rather than a
conformist, and nefarious ultimately, it
would appear, code 
I count on thoughtful efflorescence then,
and a garden of societal consideration, 
a pantheistic and cooperative accord
not excluding, let it be noted, the indeed
worthiest, by thoughtful process, of those
very Ten Commandments 
without my own children, for instance, I
still recommend honouring one’s parents,
this will bring, I knowlegeably warrant, 
untold benefits, indeed grace, peace and
profound satisfaction, plenary solace to
the very reaches of each our indeterminate
take it right here from an appropriately  
distinctive Chopin, unparalleled poet to
the panoply of possible gods   



XXll. When our two souls stand up erect and strong – Elizabeth Barrett Browning‏

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XXll. When our two souls stand up erect and strong

When our two souls stand up erect and strong,
Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,
Until the lengthening wings break into fire
At either curvèd point,–what bitter wrong
Can the earth do to us, that we should not long
Be here contented? Think. In mounting higher,
The angels would press on us and aspire
To drop some golden orb of perfect song
Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay
Rather on earth, Belovèd,–where the unfit
Contrarious moods of men recoil away
And isolate pure spirits, and permit
A place to stand and love in for a day,
With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


in this XXllnd of her Portuguese sonnets, perhaps a little
too unbridled for my taste, I nearly even blushed,
Elizabeth seems to have been eating all her Wheaties

“erect and strong” indeed, “wings break[ing] into fire”,
the yet unfulfilled idea of “mounting higher”, goodness,
I’ve been even tripling in my excitement all my o’s here
instead of only doubling them, in my unsettling
distraction trippingly misspelling gooodness, and,
however improbably, even tooo

I think I’ll draw the curtain on this one, or at least a veil

this kind of thing, this sort of personal revelation, doesn’t
occur much until, in Paris before the Second World War,
Henry Miller, who is way too uninhibited, not to mention
creatively unedited, generally, for my perhaps too proper
sensitivity, though you could read to the greatest
advantage his magisterial The Colossus of Maroussi“,
an exhilarating evocation of the Greeks, their invaluable
life lessons, grounded in the still unrivalled wisdom of
their verily Promethean legacy


psst: “Every moment is a golden one for him who has
the vision to recognize it as such”

Henry Miller

the ensuing Ages – Ovid‏

    The Silver Age - Lucas Cranach the Elder

                            The Siver Age  (c.1516)

                              Lucas Cranach the Elder

it is interesting to note how profoundly Ovid‘s mythological
setting marked Christian notions of the Creation, which at
least in the West have held sway now for some nearly two
thousand years
it is a tale then twice told, the last time however with not
half even the first one’s contagious exuberance, I think  
I believe more in Ovid then, also in Cranach and da Cortona,
worthy indeed proponents of that earlier oracular deity 
But when good Saturn, banish’d from above,
Was driv’n to Hell, the world was under Jove.
Succeeding times a silver age behold,
Excelling brass, but more excell’d by gold.
Then summer, autumn, winter did appear:
And spring was but a season of the year.
The sun his annual course obliquely made,
Good days contracted, and enlarg’d the bad.
Then air with sultry heats began to glow;
The wings of winds were clogg’d with ice and snow;
And shivering mortals, into houses driv’n,
Sought shelter from th’ inclemency of Heav’n.
Those houses, then, were caves, or homely sheds;
With twining oziers fenc’d; and moss their beds.
Then ploughs, for seed, the fruitful furrows broke,
And oxen labour’d first beneath the yoke.
To this came next in course, the brazen age:
A warlike offspring, prompt to bloody rage,
Not impious yet…
   The Age of Iron - Pietro da Cortona
                             The Age of Iron”  (1637)
                                      Pietro da Cortona
Hard steel succeeded then:
And stubborn as the metal, were the men.
Truth, modesty, and shame, the world forsook:
Fraud, avarice, and force, their places took.
Then sails were spread, to every wind that blew.
Raw were the sailors, and the depths were new:
Trees, rudely hollow’d, did the waves sustain;
E’re ships in triumph plough’d the watry plain.

Then land-marks limited to each his right:
For all before was common as the light.
Nor was the ground alone requir’d to bear
Her annual income to the crooked share,
But greedy mortals, rummaging her store,
Digg’d from her entrails first the precious oar;
Which next to Hell, the prudent Gods had laid;
And that alluring ill, to sight display’d.
Thus cursed steel, and more accursed gold,
Gave mischief birth, and made that mischief bold:
And double death did wretched Man invade,
By steel assaulted, and by gold betray’d,
Now (brandish’d weapons glittering in their hands)
Mankind is broken loose from moral bands;
No rights of hospitality remain:
The guest, by him who harbour’d him, is slain,
The son-in-law pursues the father’s life;
The wife her husband murders, he the wife.
The step-dame poyson for the son prepares;
The son inquires into his father’s years.
Faith flies, and piety in exile mourns;
And justice, here opprest, to Heav’n returns.

                                   (fromMetamorphoses“, Book I, in a translation by
                                   Sir Samuel Garth, John Dryden, Alexander Pope,
                                   Joseph Addison, William Congreve and other
                                   eminent hands)

XXl. Say Over Again, And Yet Once Over Again – Elizabeth Barrett Browning‏‏

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XXl. Say Over Again, And Yet Once Over Again

Say over again, and yet once over again,
That thou dost love me. Though the word repeated
Should seem “a cuckoo-song,” as thou dost treat it,
Remember, never to the hill or plain,
Valley and wood, without her cuckoo-strain
Comes the fresh Spring in all her green completed.
Belovèd, I, amid the darkness greeted
By a doubtful spirit-voice, in that doubt’s pain
Cry, “Speak once more–thou lovest!” Who can fear
Too many stars, though each in heaven shall roll,
Too many flowers, though each shall crown the year?
Say thou dost love me, love me, love me–toll
The silver iterance!–only minding, Dear,
To love me also in silence with thy soul.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


though we might no longer be Romantics, it isn’t
easy to forego its ideals, to succumb to the pure
illusion of unfettered, even selfless, affection,
romance still burns, though like only maybe
embers, no less searing for being undisclosed,
in our more eclectic 21st-Century consciousness

repeat again and again that “thou dost love me”
she says, though it might seem silly to him like
a “cuckoo-song”, but these bursts of apparently
mere serendipity, she defends, are to the
contrary integral to spring, and not at all

and in her “darkness” these trivialities would
reassure her

as art itself incidentally, a triviality neither,
also does and is meant to do

and indeed even the innumerable stars in the
heavens, she continues, flowers in the fields,
are none of them irrelevant, superfluous,
[t]oo many”

nor then would to say that “thou dost love me”,
“silver iterance” indeed, never forgetting
nonetheless to fit the feeling to the words

I always say “I love you” now, taking care to
ever include the feeling, upon taking leave of
those I love

maybe that’s an atavism


Edward Hopper’s “11 A.M.,” 1926 – Joyce Carol Oates‏

Eleven A.M. - Edward Hopper

Eleven A.M.” (1926)

Edward Hopper


we’ve come a long way from Elizabeth Barrett Browning
in this contemporary poem – from the New Yorker, August
27, 2012 – we are no longer Romantics



Edward Hopper’s “11 A.M.,” 1926

She’s naked yet wearing shoes.
Wants to think nude. And happy in her body.

Though it’s a fleshy aging body. And her posture
in the chair—leaning forward, arms on knees,
staring out the window—makes her belly bulge,
but what the hell.

What the hell, he isn’t here.

Lived in this damn drab apartment at Third Avenue,
Twenty-third Street, Manhattan, how many
damn years, has to be at least fifteen. Moved to the city
from Hackensack, needing to breathe.

She’d never looked back. Sure they called her selfish,
cruel. What the hell, the use they’d have made of her,
she’d be sucked dry like bone marrow.

First job was file clerk at Trinity Trust. Wasted
three years of her young life waiting
for R.B. to leave his wife and wouldn’t you think
a smart girl like her would know better?

Second job also file clerk but then she’d been promoted
to Mr. Castle’s secretarial staff at Lyman Typewriters. The
least the old bastard could do for her and she’d
have done a lot better except for fat-face Stella Czechi.

Third job, Tvek Realtors & Insurance and she’s
Mr. Tvek’s private secretary: What would I do
without you, my dear one?

As long as Tvek pays her decent. And he doesn’t
let her down like last Christmas, she’d wanted to die.

This damn room she hates. Dim-lit like a region of the soul
into which light doesn’t penetrate. Soft-shabby old furniture
and sagging mattress like those bodies in dreams we feel
but don’t see. But she keeps her bed made
every God-damned day, visitors or not.

He doesn’t like disorder. He’d told her how he’d learned
to make a proper bed in the U.S. Army in 1917.

The trick is, he says, you make the bed as soon as you get up.

Detaches himself from her as soon as it’s over. Sticky skin,
hairy legs, patches of scratchy hair on his shoulders, chest,
belly. She’d like him to hold her and they could drift into
sleep together but rarely this happens. Crazy wanting her, then
abruptly it’s over—he’s inside his head,
and she’s inside hers.

Now this morning she’s thinking God-damned bastard, this has
got to be the last time. Waiting for him to call to explain
Why he hadn’t come last night. And there’s the chance
he might come here before calling, which he has done more than once.
Couldn’t keep away. God, I’m crazy for you.

She’s thinking she will give the bastard ten more minutes.

She’s Jo Hopper with her plain redhead’s face stretched
on this fleshy female’s face and he’s the artist but also
the lover and last week he came to take her
out to Delmonico’s but in this dim-lit room they’d made love
in her bed and never got out until too late and she’d overheard
him on the phone explaining—there’s the sound of a man’s voice
explaining to a wife that is so callow, so craven, she’s sick
with contempt recalling. Yet he says he has left his family, he
loves her.

Runs his hands over her body like a blind man trying to see. And
the radiance in his face that’s pitted and scarred, he needs her in
the way a starving man needs food. Die without you. Don’t
leave me.

He’d told her it wasn’t what she thought. Wasn’t his family
that kept him from loving her all he could but his life
he’d never told anyone about in the war, in the infantry,
in France. What crept like paralysis through him.
Things that had happened to him, and things
that he’d witnessed, and things that he’d perpetrated himself
with his own hands. And she’d taken his hands and kissed them,
and brought them against her breasts that were aching like the
breasts of a young mother ravenous to give suck,
and sustenance. And she said No. That is your old life.
I am your new life.

She will give her new life five more minutes.

Joyce Carol Oates

“The Golden Age” – Ovid‏

      The Golden Age - Pietro da Cortona

                                  The Golden Age (1637)

                                                   Pietro da Cortona 
Eden revisited 

The Golden Age

The golden age was first; when Man yet new,
No rule but uncorrupted reason knew:
And, with a native bent, did good pursue.
Unforc’d by punishment, un-aw’d by fear,
His words were simple, and his soul sincere;
Needless was written law, where none opprest:
The law of Man was written in his breast:
No suppliant crowds before the judge appear’d,
No court erected yet, nor cause was heard:
But all was safe, for conscience was their guard.
The mountain-trees in distant prospect please,
E’re yet the pine descended to the seas:
E’re sails were spread, new oceans to explore:
And happy mortals, unconcern’d for more,
Confin’d their wishes to their native shore.
No walls were yet; nor fence, nor mote, nor mound,
Nor drum was heard, nor trumpet’s angry sound:
Nor swords were forg’d; but void of care and crime,
The soft creation slept away their time.
The teeming Earth, yet guiltless of the plough,
And unprovok’d, did fruitful stores allow:
Content with food, which Nature freely bred,
On wildings and on strawberries they fed;
Cornels and bramble-berries gave the rest,
And falling acorns furnish’d out a feast.
The flow’rs unsown, in fields and meadows reign’d:
And Western winds immortal spring maintain’d.
In following years, the bearded corn ensu’d
From Earth unask’d, nor was that Earth renew’d.
From veins of vallies, milk and nectar broke;
And honey sweating through the pores of oak.


                                   (fromMetamorphoses“, Book I, in a translation by
                                   Sir Samuel Garth, John Dryden, Alexander Pope,
                                   Joseph Addison, William Congreve and other
                                   eminent hands)