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Tag: Charles Dickens

“The Story of Phaeton” (II) – Ovid


   “The Sun (1911 – 1916) 


            Edvard Munch





                    The Sun’s bright palace, on high columns rais’d, 


The Sun, Helios / Phoebus / Apollo

                    With burnish’d gold and flaming jewels blaz’d;
                    The folding gates diffus’d a silver light,
                    And with a milder gleam refresh’d the sight; 


since the folding gates of the bright

palace shimmered with a silver light 

rather than with the glow of the gold 

and flaming jewels of the palace itself,

their milder gleam was easier on the 

eyes, refresh’d the sight

                    Of polish’d iv’ry was the cov’ring wrought: 


the palace was covered with polish’d

wrought ivory

                    The matter vied not with the sculptor’s thought, 


the execution of the palace was  

everything that its sculptor, its

architect, had had in mind to 


                    For in the portal was display’d on high
                    (The work of Vulcan) a fictitious sky


Vulcan, god of fire, metal, smiths, 



at the entrance to the palace, the

portal, Vulcan had painted the ceiling, 

he’d display’d on high … a fictitious 

sky, I suspect Dryden must’ve had 

Michelangelo and his ceiling of the  

Sistine Chapel in mind during his 

translation of this passage of Ovid


                    A waving sea th’ inferiour Earth embrac’d, 


inferiour, Earth, surging from under the 

greater masses of water dominating it, 

especially after the flood, is, therefore, 

beneath the waving sea, inferiour to it

                    And Gods and Goddesses the waters grac’d. 


remember that Ovid is describing a 

painting here, on the ceiling at the

entrance, the portal, to the palace 

of the god of the Sun

                    Aegeon here a mighty whale bestrode; 


Aegeon, marine god, god of storms,

note the similarity of the name with 

that of the Aegean Sea, but which 

came first, the chicken or the egg, 

the god or the expanse of water, 

remains, as far as I’ve been able 

to determine, undetermined


                    Triton, and Proteus (the deceiving God) 


Triton, another god of the Sea, you’ll 

remember him coming to the aid of 

Neptune, his father, in settling the

waters after the flood at the request 

of Jove / Jupiter / Zeus


Proteus, still another sea god, 

described as deceiving, for his 

ability to effortlessly, and 

spontaneously, change his shape, 

from which, incidentally, we get 

the adjective protean, for easily 

changeable, or versatile 


                    With Doris here were carv’d, and all her train, 


Doris, sea goddess, and all her train,

her following of nymphs, the Nereids,

her fifty daughters, if you’ll remember,

are carv’d, etched, given graphic 



                    Some loosely swimming in the figur’d main, 


figur’d, painted, depicted, drawn


main, the open ocean, but, probably 

also here, the main, or central, part 

of the painting itself

                    While some on rocks their dropping hair divide, 


their hair divide, they loosen strands 

of their wet hair 

                    And some on fishes through the waters glide: 


sea gods and goddesses are often

shown riding sea creatures, dolphins, 

seahorses, even whales, see Aegeon


                    Tho’ various features did the sisters grace,
                    A sister’s likeness was in ev’ry face. 


the sisters, the Nereids, all have different

features, but a family resemblance, sister’s 

likeness, can always be detected in each

individual sibling’s rendering


                    On Earth a diff’rent landskip courts the eyes, 


Earth doesn’t look, court[ ] the eyes,

at all like what’s painted on the 

palace’s ceiling


landskip, landscape

                    Men, towns, and beasts in distant prospects rise, 


distant prospects, from a distance, one 

can see [m]en, towns, and beasts 

appear, rise, arise

                    And nymphs, and streams, and woods, and rural deities. 


nymphs, consigned, it appears, to 

earthly duties, streams, and woods, 

are not a feature of the Sun god’s 


                    O’er all, the Heav’n’s refulgent image shines; 


the Heav’n’s refulgent, brightly shining,

image, expression, is manifest [o]’er all,

everywhere, the rays of the sun cast a

light on everything


                    On either gate were six engraven signs. 


again I’m reminded of a Renaissance

wonder, Lorenzo Ghiberti‘s gilded bronze 

doors for the Florence Baptistery, which 

Michelangelo himself called the Gates of

Paradise, a work nearly as famous, then 

and now, as his own Sistine Chapel ceiling   


Ovid would never have known of these 

masterworks, of course, having lived 

over a millenium earlier, but I suspect 

John Dryden, a cultured man, a couple 

of hundred years later than these 

cultural icons, would no doubt have 

been fully aware of them, much as we, 

however disinterested we might be, 

can’t help but have heard of, say, 

RembrandtChopinCharles Dickens,

for instance, though they be, similarly, 

centuries separated from us 


my point is that, without knowledge of 

the original Latin, Dryden‘s cultural

heritage must’ve slipped, I think, 

consciously or not, into his 

translation, for better, or for worse


it should be remembered, however,

that Dryden was writing for an early 

18th Century audience, much as I 

am presently doing myself with 

Dryden for a 21st, and maybe also

similarly skewing his idiom to better 

adapt it to our own time, for better, 

also, or for worse 


                    Here Phaeton still gaining on th’ ascent, 


gaining on th’ ascent, going faster 

and faster, climbing higher and 



                    To his suspected father’s palace went


suspected father, Phaeton doesn’t

yet know if Helios / Phoebus / Apollo

is indeed his father

                    ‘Till pressing forward through the bright abode,
                    He saw at distance the illustrious God:
                    He saw at distance, or the dazling light
                    Had flash’d too strongly on his aking sight. 


had Phaeton not been as far, at

distance, from what he was seeing,

the illustrious God, the dazling, or 

dazzling, light would’ve hurt his 

eyes, hurt his aking, or aching, 



                     The God sits high, exalted on a throne
                    Of blazing gems, with purple garments on; 


Tyrian, surely, purple, a hue we’ve 

seen here before, indicative of 

stature, of imperial, if not even

divine, as in this instance, 


                     The Hours, in order rang’d on either hand,
                    And Days, and Months, and Years, and Ages stand.
                    Here Spring appears with flow’ry chaplets bound;
                    Here Summer in her wheaten garland crown’d;
                    Here Autumn the rich trodden grapes besmear;
                    And hoary Winter shivers in the reer. 


this is no longer a picture, but the 

real thing, Phoebus / Apollo / Helios

sits high, exalted on a throne /  Of 

blazing gems, with purple garments 

on, while Time and all of the Seasons 

hold court around him

                     Phoebus beheld the youth from off his throne;
                    That eye, which looks on all, was fix’d in one. 


Phoebus, who sees everything, who 

looks on all, beholds, fixes his eye on, 

his son

                     He saw the boy’s confusion in his face,
                    Surpriz’d at all the wonders of the place;
                    And cries aloud, “What wants my son? for know
                    My son thou art, and I must call thee so.” 


Phaeton, according to Phoebus / 

Apollo / Helios‘ forthright admission,

is truly his son

                     “Light of the world,” the trembling youth replies,
                    “Illustrious parent! since you don’t despise
                    The parent’s name, 


despise, refute


                                                some certain token give,
                    That I may Clymene’s proud boast believe,
                    Nor longer under false reproaches grieve.” 


your word is good, Phaeton allows,

but incontrovertibly, now, prove it, 

some certain token give, he 


                     The tender sire was touch’d with what he said,
                    And flung the blaze of glories from his head, 


flung the blaze of glories from his head, 

reduced the intensity of his presence,

the impact of his charisma, took off 

his dazling crown, if only, maybe,

metaphorically, to be father to his son

                    And bid the youth advance: “My son,” said he,
                    “Come to thy father’s arms! for Clymene
                    Has told thee true; a parent’s name I own,
                    And deem thee worthy to be called my son.
                    As a sure proof, make some request, and I,
                    Whate’er it be, with that request comply;
                    By Styx I swear, whose waves are hid in night,
                    And roul impervious to my piercing sight.” 


an oath upon Styx is incontrovertible, 

like swearing on a Bible, as earlier 


                     The youth transported, asks, without delay,
                    To guide the sun’s bright chariot for a day. 


Phaeton wants to drive his father’s 

car, the sun’s bright chariot, how 

contemporary, how immediate, 

how timeless 


stay tuned



R ! chard




Botero’s Abu Ghraib

Botero's Abu Ghraib

Fernando Botero standing before three of over 80 of his stylized
depictions of atrocities committed at Abu Ghraib


the role of art has always been to bring
attention to injustice, Goya, for instance,
famously, Picasso’s Guernica“, without
which Guernica would be forgotten, in
literature the servile position of women
and those marginalized by industrialization
in the works of Charles Dickens, Henrik
Ibsen, Émile Zola, in music the strident
strains of Shostakovich indelibly
imprinting the cruel depredations
of the Soviet system in his searing
compositions, just click

Botero, as the others, has given here
impermeability to what had been merely
news items, something tragic but lost
amongst so many other tragedies, by
giving it ideological breadth, depth and
substance, giving it the modern postion
of an altarpiece, a place of ardent

we have after all no more churches,
only malls, we rely on potent images
for our moral guidance

therefore art


Debussy’s “Études”

 Man with a Guitar - Georges Braque
                    Man with a Guitar (1914)
                               Georges Braque 
while we’re on the subject of études, listening to 
hundred years later, 1830s to 1915, would prove
instructive, I deemed 
picture me deeming, August 3, 2012, my brow
just slightly pensively constricting 
if the basis of music as defined by the Classical
period depended on beat, tonality, and the repetition
of the tune, usually of both musical statements, these
apparently essential components of course would be
the first places to bear the scrutiny of probing musical
minds, seeking to find, seeking to set more expansive,
more profound dimensions to the areas of their quest,
that’s what artists do 
and this of course is exactly what happened starting
with Beethoven, by the time of Chopin music had
relaxed its stricter Classical rhythmic precision,
allowing great expansive gestures in the more
malleable tempi, tempos, producing the effect of
more compassion and soulful examination than
the earlier less indulgent, more disciplined code
the fact of having musical tapestries, sound patches,
take the place of melody, narrative, in the musical
presentation of Chopin also suggests a more
diversified, dare I say prismatic, telling, than the 
linear account of for instance Mozart‘s solitary
tuneful wanderer
it also evokes incidentally the vagaries of the
inconstant heart rather than its unflinching
condemnation, a repudiation of atavistic
Christian ecclesiastical intolerance 
by the time the old order was about to be extinguished,
in 1915, at the onset of the First World War, Debussy’s
Études, like Chopin 12 of them per set, had seen
social injustice – see Charles Dickens, see Émile Zola,
see Karl Marx – the improbable discoveries of science –
Darwin, Freud, Einstein – the car, the airplane,
photography were changing everything, the old
paradigms no longer applied, were irrelevant, even
harmful, in this new context, the First World War 
would prove all that 
in the language of music, tempo, melody, repetition
would be inevitably subverted
Debussy produces erratic tempi, foregoes melody for
harmonic exploration, combining incidentally the
musical patches of Chopin with the intellectually
driven investigations of Beethoven for a more
cerebral understanding of music, a music for the
head, with expert displays of pianistic skill, indeed
prestidigitation, for, along with the intellectual
rigour, spectacle  
is this then still music 
is Post-Impressionist painting still art  
what would 1915 have said
above is Georges Braque‘s nearly contemporary, 1914,  
man with a guitar, who’d a thunk it

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

the 50 greatest books in English

should you have been following the contest in the Globe and Mail, here’s the latest:
Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past
Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species
Dante Alighieri, Commedia (The Divine Comedy)
Plato, The Republic
Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
James Joyce, Ulysses
Karl Marx, Das Kapital
St. Augustine, Confessions
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince
my recent response :
first of all of the first ten choices of the 50 greatest books in English only three strictly fit the bill, the others are culled from everything already from French and German to verily Ancient Greek and Latin, by way of medieval Spanish no less, and Italian
with this I have no cavil but for not paying proper heed to translations, translators, and their varied abilities for delivering accurate goods, both in substance and in spirit, some references should be made to preferred renditions, I would suspect Dante for instance in even competent prose would be no match at all for nearly any in thoughtful verse, and these superior options should be duly credited and recommended, otherwise where is the “English” in these “50 greatest books”
“Remembrance of Things Past” got me off, it is my supreme masterpiece along with “The Iliad”, it got me interested in this contest, further choices did not disinterest, and I held back scepticism
however having just read Plato on essentially your instigation, and found him outrageous, indeed offensive, not least of all because he actually proposes to castrate Homer, censor parts of him, to fit a cockeyed political agenda, a tyranny in fact – for where is the line between tyranny and even enlightened kingship – a tyranny he would of course administer himself
Plato throughout merrily essentially rambles, nearly incoherently, certainly without any real relevance to ourselves, unless you want to start a tyranny, while his audience, Thrasymachus, Glaucon and the rest, let him ramble, tyrannically, for over four hundred nearly interminable pages
could they be thinking, could we
and where is Homer for that matter on your list
to propose a list of the 50 greatest books one would have to have read a good part of the canon, or have a pool of such people, for where otherwise is the validity of the contest, you can’t even begin to make those choices without having read too many of the masters that haven’t made the list yet
where is of course Shakespeare in all this, where is this pinnacle of English literature, where is Dickens, where is Henry Fielding and the boisterous “Tom Jones”, the gothic Emily Brontë of “Wuthering Heights, the ethereal and unforgettable Virginia Woolf, where, closer to home, are Truman Capote, Vladimir Nabokov, with each their masterful groundbreakers, “In Cold Blood”, “Lolita”
I won’t even start on literary titans in other languages
the choices in English to date have been quaint, “Ulysses” belongs there, “Tom Sawyer” instead of “Huckkleberry Finn”, but with next week F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” the choices of your panel become questionable
where is Somerset Maugham’s “The Razor’s Edge” then, “Of Human Bondage”, or any of his perfect short stories if you’ll first give precedence to the entertaining but not nearly as prolific, nor able, Fitzgerald
I suspect not read  

or closer to home where is “The Grapes of Wrath”, one of, just one of, John Steinbeck’s towering achievements
James Agee’s “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” with Walker Evans, or his sublime “A Death in the Family”, right up there with “To Kill a Mockingbird”, Harper Lee’s triumph, where are these, could they have been read but still not trump next week’s trifle
where is “Gone With the Wind”, Margaret Mitchell’s magnum opus, in every sense of that first word, magnum great, magnum wonderful
where is the sensuous and searing “Alexandria Quartet” of Lawrence Durrell
more esoterically perhaps but no less deservedly where are the sublime “Diaries of Anaïs Nin”, an unparalleled account of a life lived at the very centre of cultural exchange in New York and Paris starting at the Jazz Age, moment by telling moment,  and ending in the psychedelia of the Sixties and Seventies, written with stark and consummate ablility, artistry, and frankness
where for that matter is Anne Frank’s diary, about which a moment of silence would rather do than my mere words to sing its highest praises
there are only 40 places left, please fill them thoughtfully

                                                                                                                                                                    thank you