Tuesday, November 25, 2014

freeze frame

Inside the ice cave, we are blind, and home-bound.

We scrape furiously at the thick glaze on the windshield.

With difficulty, we make our way out into the world. 

We watch. A dark-haired man enters a cafe, surrounded by several children. He sits. His youngest daughter clings to his hand. They eat. They speak a language which makes use of round vowels and playful syllables. His smile takes its slow time to emerge over the horizon. His mustache curls approvingly. She has come at last, Mamacita, her raven-locks piled high. A few stray curls escape strategically from her coiffure. Her arched, plucked brows. The light in his glance. A murmur. She turns to us and smiles, imparting to us a wordless secret of utmost importance.

___________________

Fancy, filigreed thoughts arrive at random, and depart on dragon-fly wings:


Pierrot is drunk on moon-wine
after the tedious masked ball.
He stumbles on a feathered fan,
as perfumed with lavender
as his lost love, Columbina,
and crushes it to his heart.

The beloved darkness murmurs.
Beneath his ribs, the pulse
Is a throbbing behind bars,
seeking an unseen filament.
Slumber and dawn approach.
In his grip--a Firebird glimmers.

___________________

Dear Inner Child,

Yes, you are correct. I've strangled her again. Stifled, once more, her moans of agony, her groans, her endless sighs, her countless tears, her wasted years, in some seemingly senseless, repeated noir script, in favor of the status quo. 

And yet, what is it that she most wishes to convey in this moment?

Sketch it out briefly,  as if in silken sand:

The trees --

a frame --

a pair of eyes --

a soul -- a flame --

May all who know what it is to be cruelly crushed lead the way to Love --

let nothing keep our feet from this path -- we surely know where we do not want to go --


Natalia Goncharova, 1912


Sunday, November 23, 2014

O Ignis Spiritus


During this time of year, the midday sun is a pale phoenix circling just above the mountain-ridges.

How grateful I am, now, for the gift of flame and warmth; for all fires, inner and outer.


Illumination, Scivias (Hildegard of Bingen)






O ignis spiritus paracliti,
vita vite omnis creature,
sanctus es vivificando formas.

Sanctus es unguendo 
periculose fractos,
sanctus es tergendo 
fetida vulnera.

O spiraculum sanctitatis,
o ignis caritatis,
o dulcis gustus in pectoribus 
et infusio cordium
in bono odore virtutum.

O fons purissime,
in quo consideratur
quod Deus alienos colligit
et perditos requirit.

O lorica vite 
et spes compaginis membrorum omnium 
et o cingulum honestatis:
salva beatos.

Custodi eos qui carcerati sunt 
ab inimico,
et solve ligatos
quos divina vis salvare vult.

O iter fortissimum 
quo penetravit omnia
in altissimis et in terrenis
et in omnibus abyssis
tu omnes componis et colligis.

De te nubes fluunt, ether volat,
lapides humorem habent,
aque rivulos educunt,
et terra viriditatem sudat.

Tu etiam semper educis doctos 
per inspirationem sapiente 
letificos.

Unde laus tibi sit,
qui es sonus laudis
et gaudium vite, 
spes et honor fortissimus 
dans premia lucis.


___________________


O fire of the Spirit, the Comforter,
Life of the life of all creation,
Holy are you, giving life to the Forms.

Holy are you, anointing
The dangerously broken;
Holy are you, cleansing
The fetid wounds.

O breath of sanctity,
O fire of charity,
O sweet savor in the breast
And balm flooding hearts
With the fragrance of virtues.

O limpid fountain,
In which it is seen
How God gathers the strays
And seeks out the lost:

O breastplate of life
And hope of the bodily frame,
O sword-belt of honor:
Save the blessed!

Guard those imprisoned
By the foe,
Free those in fetters
Whom divine force wishes to save.

O mighty course
That penetrated all,
In the heights, upon the earth,
And in all abysses:
You bind and gather all people together.

From you clouds overflow, winds take wing,
Stones store up moisture,
Waters well forth in streams --
And earth swells with living green.

You are ever teaching the learned,
Made joyful by the breath
Of Wisdom.

Praise then be yours!
You are the song of praise,
The delight of life,
A hope and a potent of honor,
Granting rewards of light.


--Hildegard of Bingen

(Adapted from Barbara Newman's translation by this source.)


Thursday, November 20, 2014

On Branches Heavy with Snow




On Branches Heavy with Snow

Sur des branches chargées de neige

I

From one snowy branch to the other, in these years
That have passed without a wind
Ever frightening their leaves,
Fragments of light scatter
At certain moments, as we go into the silence.

And this powder is boundless when it falls,
We cannot tell if a world still
Exists, or if our wet hands have grasped
Some crystal of reality, perfectly pure.

Colors that grow deeper with the cold, blues and purples
That call from further off than the fruit,
Are you our dream that does not so much vanish
As become prescience and path?

And yes, the sky itself has those clouds
Whose obviousness is the daughter of the snow,
And if we turn toward the whitened road,
It is the same light there, and the same peace.

II

Except, of course, that in this world, images
Are like the flowers that pierce the snow
In March, then burst open in full splendor
In the dreams we have of festive days,

And should one bend over them, hoping to carry off
By the armful the joy that they promise,
See how soon they die, not so much in the shadow
Of their fading color as in our hearts.

Beauty is arduous, almost an enigma,
And endless is the task of learning its meaning
On the slopes of the flowering meadow,
Still covered here and there with plates of snow.

--Yves Bonnefoy

From In the Shadow's Light.










There is no snow in my yard today, yet so near to me, so deeply familiar are the crystal hues described so deftly by Yves Bonnefoy in the poem above: they belong to this time of year. The photos are from last winter.

A friend introduced me to Bonnefoy's writing recently; I am slowly savoring this new literary acquaintance.



Beauty — be not caused — It Is —
Chase it, and it ceases —
Chase it not, and it abides —

Overtake the Creases

In the Meadow — when the Wind
Runs his fingers thro' it —
Deity will see to it
That You never do it —

--Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Gaetano Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor - Maria Callas (1953)






Il Dolce Suono... Ardon Gli Incensi... Spargi D'Amaro Pianto



To An Unknown Homeland

So sing a silver thread from memory
    Of my soul's ache, when pining for a home;
An echo of sweet moon's melancholy,
    O, blissful crescent, seize me as your own!
Through misty mountains follow I your path,
    Through darkened groves I seek this argent fire,
In books illumined I avoid your wrath;
    Your purity, it covets my desire.
A city phosphorescent leads me on,
    I seek, and seeing, seek it once again,
Amid a thousand faces, only one:
    The blessed numen of my fellow man,
Emblazoned atlas of all thought and art--
    It holds a map to brightness in my heart.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

“It is said by the Eldar that in water there lives yet the echo of the Music of the Ainur more than in any substance that is in this Earth; and many of the Children of Ilúvatar hearken still unsated to the voices of the Sea, and yet know not for what they listen.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion


on confronting a phobia of mirrors

At the red edge
quicksilver hid in sand
a stranger etched on beveled glass

lips fingertip-tapped
she knows

stippled veil of indigo
and amber agony
movements in pantomime

gypsy girl
without a face
(turn away: no lies
twirl around: no eyes)

rises through violet
bathes in snow-melt

a daguerreotype grin
dangerous crimson
a caricature paper cutting
dangling bluebells

translate her into circles
and peer through --

could it be my twin
chiral snow queen,
melting?

No, that was
a mirage;

it is I,
my own face
radiance-wrapped,
a smile
emerging.

Romaine Brooks

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Defence of Skeletons - G.K. Chesterton

Some little time ago I stood among immemorial English trees that seemed to take hold upon the stars like a brood of Ygdrasils. As I walked among these living pillars I became gradually aware that the rustics who lived and died in their shadow adopted a very curious conversational tone. They seemed to be constantly apologizing for the trees, as if they were a very poor show. After elaborate investigation, I discovered that their gloomy and penitent tone was traceable to the fact that it was winter and all the trees were bare. I assured them that I did not resent the fact that it was winter, that I knew the thing had happened before, and that no forethought on their part could have averted this blow of destiny. But I could not in any way reconcile them to the fact that it was winter. There was evidently a general feeling that I had caught the trees in a kind of disgraceful deshabille, and that they ought not to be seen until, like the first human sinners, they had covered themselves with leaves. So it is quite clear that, while very few people appear to know anything of how trees look in winter, the actual foresters know less than anyone. So far from the line of the tree when it is bare appearing harsh and severe, it is luxuriantly indefinable to an unusual degree; the fringe of the forest melts away like a vignette. The tops of two or three high trees when they are leafless are so soft that they seem like the gigantic brooms of that fabulous lady who was sweeping the cobwebs off the sky. The outline of a leafy forest is in comparison hard, gross and blotchy; the clouds of night do not more certainly obscure the moon than those green and monstrous clouds obscure the tree; the actual sight of the little wood, with its gray and silver sea of life, is entirely a winter vision. So dim and delicate is the heart of the winter woods, a kind of glittering gloaming, that a figure stepping towards us in the chequered twilight seems as if he were breaking through unfathomable depths of spiders' webs.

But surely the idea that its leaves are the chief grace of a tree is a vulgar one, on a par with the idea that his hair is the chief grace of a pianist. When winter, that healthy ascetic, carries his gigantic razor over hill and valley, and shaves all the trees like monks, we feel surely that they are all the more like trees if they are shorn, just as so many painters and musicians would be all the more like men if they were less like mops. But it does appear to be a deep and essential difficulty that men have an abiding terror of their own structure, or of the structure of things they love. This is felt dimly in the skeleton of the tree: it is felt profoundly in the skeleton of the man.

The importance of the human skeleton is very great, and the horror with which it is commonly regarded is somewhat mysterious. Without claiming for the human skeleton a wholly conventional beauty, we may assert that he is certainly not uglier than a bull-dog, whose popularity never wanes, and that he has a vastly more cheerful and ingratiating expression. But just as man is mysteriously ashamed of the skeletons of the trees in winter, so he is mysteriously ashamed of the skeleton of himself in death. It is a singular thing altogether, this horror of the architecture of things. One would think it would be most unwise in a man to be afraid of a skeleton, since Nature has set curious and quite insuperable obstacles to his running away from it.

One ground exists for this terror: a strange idea has infected humanity that the skeleton is typical of death. A man might as well say that a factory chimney was typical of bankruptcy. The factory may be left naked after ruin, the skeleton may be left naked after bodily dissolution; but both of them have had a lively and workmanlike life of their own, all the pulleys creaking, all the wheels turning, in the House of Livelihood as in the House of Life. There is no reason why this creature (new, as I fancy, to art), the living skeleton, should not become the essential symbol of life.

The truth is that man's horror of the skeleton is not horror of death at all. It is man's eccentric glory that he has not, generally speaking, any objection to being dead, but has a very serious objection to being undignified. And the fundamental matter which troubles him in the skeleton is the reminder that the ground-plan of his appearance is shamelessly grotesque. I do not know why he should object to this. He contentedly takes his place in a world that does not pretend to be genteel—a laughing, working, jeering world. He sees millions of animals carrying, with quite a dandified levity, the most monstrous shapes and appendages, the most preposterous horns, wings, and legs, when they are necessary to utility. He sees the good temper of the frog, the unaccountable happiness of the hippopotamus. He sees a whole universe which is ridiculous, from the animalcule, with a head too big for its body, up to the comet, with a tail too big for its head. But when it comes to the delightful oddity of his own inside, his sense of humour rather abruptly deserts him.

In the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance (which was, in certain times and respects, a much gloomier period) this idea of the skeleton had a vast influence in freezing the pride out of all earthly pomps and the fragrance out of all fleeting pleasures. But it was not, surely, the mere dread of death that did this, for these were ages in which men went to meet death singing; it was the idea of the degradation of man in the grinning ugliness of his structure that withered the juvenile insolence of beauty and pride. And in this it almost assuredly did more good than harm. There is nothing so cold or so pitiless as youth, and youth in aristocratic stations and ages tended to an impeccable dignity, an endless summer of success which needed to be very sharply reminded of the scorn of the stars. It was well that such flamboyant prigs should be convinced that one practical joke, at least, would bowl them over, that they would fall into one grinning man-trap, and not rise again. That the whole structure of their existence was as wholesomely ridiculous as that of a pig or a parrot they could not be expected to realize; that birth was humorous, coming of age humorous, drinking and fighting humorous, they were far too young and solemn to know. But at least they were taught that death was humorous.

There is a peculiar idea abroad that the value and fascination of what we call Nature lie in her beauty. But the fact that Nature is beautiful in the sense that a dado or a Liberty curtain is beautiful, is only one of her charms, and almost an accidental one. The highest and most valuable quality in Nature is not her beauty, but her generous and defiant ugliness. A hundred instances might be taken. The croaking noise of the rooks is, in itself, as hideous as the whole hell of sounds in a London railway tunnel. Yet it uplifts us like a trumpet with its coarse kindliness and honesty, and the lover in 'Maud' could actually persuade himself that this abominable noise resembled his lady-love's name. Has the poet, for whom Nature means only roses and lilies, ever heard a pig grunting? It is a noise that does a man good—a strong, snorting, imprisoned noise, breaking its way out of unfathomable dungeons through every possible outlet and organ. It might be the voice of the earth itself, snoring in its mighty sleep. This is the deepest, the oldest, the most wholesome and religious sense of the value of Nature—the value which comes from her immense babyishness. She is as top-heavy, as grotesque, as solemn and as happy as a child. The mood does come when we see all her shapes like shapes that a baby scrawls upon a slate—simple, rudimentary, a million years older and stronger than the whole disease that is called Art. The objects of earth and heaven seem to combine into a nursery tale, and our relation to things seems for a moment so simple that a dancing lunatic would be needed to do justice to its lucidity and levity. The tree above my head is flapping like some gigantic bird standing on one leg; the moon is like the eye of a Cyclops. And, however much my face clouds with sombre vanity, or vulgar vengeance, or contemptible contempt, the bones of my skull beneath it are laughing for ever.

--G.K. Chesterton, from The Defendant

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Golden Grove (Sergei Yesenin, sung by Oleg Pogudin)



“I have seen that it is not man who is impotent in the struggle against evil, but the power of evil that is impotent in the struggle against man. The powerlessness of kindness, of senseless kindness, is the secret of its immortality. It can never by conquered. The more stupid, the more senseless, the more helpless it may seem, the vaster it is. Evil is impotent before it. The prophets, religious teachers, reformers, social and political leaders are impotent before it. This dumb, blind love is man’s meaning. Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil, struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer.”


― Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate




The Golden Grove (Sergei Yesenin, sung by Oleg Pogudin)

The grove of golden trees has fallen silent,
Shorn of its gay leaves, in mute silhouette,
And so the cranes in sad file past it flying
Have no cause any more to feel regret.

For whom, for what? We are all rovers, starting
Out, coming home awhile, then traveling on.
The hemp field's dreaming of all who departed
And there's a full moon gazing at the pond.

I stand alone, the bare expanses viewing,
While on the wind the cranes are borne away.
Remembrance of my merry youth pursuing,
I find nothing I would relive today.

I don't regret the years that I have wasted,
I don't regret the lilac time of life.
A rowan fire is in the orchard blazing
But none shall from its brightness warmth derive.

Red rowan-berry clusters cannot scorch you,
The grasses will now yellow and decline.
As leaves fall softly from a tree in autumn
So I let fall these mournful words of mine.

And if time with its breezy broom should pile them
Into a heap to burn without regret…
Just say this … that the golden grove fell silent,
Shorn of its leaves, in pensive silhouette.

Отговорила роща золотая
Березовым, веселым языком,
И журавли, печально пролетая,
Уж не жалеют больше ни о ком.
Кого жалеть? Ведь каждый в мире странник -
Пройдет, зайдет и вновь оставит дом.
О всех ушедших грезит коноплянник
С широким месяцем над голубым прудом.
Стою один среди равнины голой,
А журавлей относит ветер в даль,
Я полон дум о юности веселой,
Но ничего в прошедшем мне не жаль.
Не жаль мне лет, растраченных напрасно,
Не жаль души сиреневую цветь.
В саду горит костер рябины красной,
Но никого не может он согреть.
Не обгорят рябиновые кисти,
От желтизны не пропадет трава,
Как дерево роняет тихо листья,
Так я роняю грустные слова.
И если время, ветром разметая,
Сгребет их все в один ненужный ком…
Скажите так… что роща золотая
Отговорила милым языком.
1924

Translation from Russian Legacy.
"Etaru, I saw it with my eyes closed."

"Vela, what did you see?"

"The Aurora Borealis waltzing through my mind, Etaru."

"And I saw Sirius, Vela."