incipit, a poem

August 24, 2015 Leave a comment

Church,_Frederick_Stuart_-_The_Mermaid_-_1887wikiPD

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what to do when the to do list gets too long?

write down a few words, of course.  RT

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Incipit

i should have been smarter. not

that the moment was easy. i was

avoiding her, as i usually do, or at

least the possibility of happiness.

which isn’t always so pretty.

not to mention the guilt,

which pursues me like a poem…

but this was about her, wasn’t it?

insipid, some might say, but

the beginning keeps repeating itself,

longing to distend into a middle.

distill itself  still? that can’t be

right… Milton, million? weathercocked or not,

i called.

it’s up and striding among the billions. horse marine.

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copyright © 2015, The Rag Tree

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Drawing: The Mermaid (1887). Frederick Stuart Church, WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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Albert Eckhout and Dutch Brazil

August 7, 2015 2 comments

Readers may recall that RT was born in Brazil 50-odd years ago. He considered himself fairly conversant in Braziliana, at least in its 1950s and 1960s aspects, but confesses that he had never heard of Albert Eckhout when he stumbled on his work a few days back. Such things happen of course, especially when the painter in question lived hundreds of years ago, but RT was also ignorant of the fact that the Dutch established a colony in northeastern Brazil, New Holland, and held on to it for a couple of decades before being forced out by the Portuguese. The Dutch incursion might seem trivial, except that Brazil apparently owes the origin of its national consciousness to this struggle with a European competitor.

And then there is the question of Mr. Eckhout’s work; African Woman, to RT’s eye, anticipates the paintings of Henri Rousseau by several centuries. What an achievement…and if that were not enough, Mr. Eckhout has a minor planet named after him. But now we have entered the realm of true trivia.

Last but not least among RT’s recent discoveries concerning Latin America is the artistic movement known as Costumbrismo, which flourished during the 19th century. Hardly a minor movement, Costumbrismo counted adherents in every Latin American country and in Spain as well.

Who’d’a thunk it? RT is more than satisfied with the results of his latest wanderings…

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Painting: African Woman. Albert Eckhout (c. 1610–1665). WikiCmns. Public Domain.

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A Daughter’s Song and Dance–Reader’s Copies

July 25, 2015 2 comments

 

MomGradu-1

Folks, this has been a long time coming, but RT can safely say that A Daughter’s Song and Dance, his mother’s childhood memoir, is nearing publication. Reader’s copies of the text are due on Monday. The book isn’t quite print ready (among other things, the front matter must be paginated and some passages need tweaking) but the next hurdle is getting the book out in paper and on e-book reader. To whet the appetite, RT offers this brief extract from chapter 23:

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My mother may not have understood me the way I wanted her to, but she did understand certain of my needs, as for instance, when I needed to, in her words, “get out of myself.” Others might say that I was moody and introspective, but it came down to the same thing: I needed periodic vacations from the serious business of being me. What’s more, she was good at turning vacations to practical advantage.

So towards the end of my year at Wright-McMahon, Mama had an inspired moment. One day after I had returned from classes, she invited me into her office. Nothing unimportant ever happened during our office conversations, so I sat down with a certain apprehension. This wasn’t another dispensation from on high, was it?

After some pleasantries about my school day, Mama got down to the point: “If you could go anywhere in the world for a visit,” she asked, “where would it be?”

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More on all this soon…  RT

Photo: Mom’s High School Graduation portrait.

Worth It

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nh_01_stern_05_pluto_hazenew--NASA-PD

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Wow! Sometimes traveling 4.67 billion miles (or getting up at 4 in the morning) is worth it…  RT

Photo: Pluto Backlit by the Sun. NASA. NASA website. Public Domain.

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Du Fu and the Greatest Line in Chinese Poetry

Dong Yuan. River landscape.National Palace Museum, Beijing.jpg

Sometimes things come undone. There’s always a reason, but the important thing is to work through the problem, however long that might take. The opening line of this poem (which RT has divided into two lines), by the master poet Du Fu, is generally considered the greatest in Chinese poetry. Suffering sometimes brings wisdom, and even beauty. RT

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Spring and Autumn Report

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The great palace lies in ruins;

mountains and rivers look on.

Weeds like silk piled high

adorn empty cities—

in the chaos, even flowers weep.

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I’ve heard nothing from my family—

but enough of this!

The alarum of birds soothes my heart.

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Three months have passed

and still the beacon fires burn;

I’d pay gold for a single letter.

Frustrated, I scratch my head,

pull loose a handful of hair.

The hairpin dangles.

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version, © The Rag Tree, 2015

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Painting: River Landscape. Dong Yuan, 10th Century. National Palace Museum, Taipei. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

Turning 55: the Proposal Scene from Jane Eyre

File:Charlotte Bronte coloured drawing.png

Dear readers, RT for the last several weeks has been exploring 19th century British romantic prose; where else could he possibly find himself, on his 55th birthday, but washed up on the shores of Charlotte Bronte‘s great novel, Jane Eyre?

It goes without saying that this novel is primarily addressed to women, relating as it does the search of a sympathetic and intelligent young lady for the earthly paradise of marriage. “Reader, I married him,” she reports as the novel reaches it conclusion. Few sentences in the English language can have had as widespread an impact on our culture as this one.

But fellow men, take note: we can only wish that we were capable of the profound passion that Mr. Rochester evinces during the novel’s proposal scene. Rochester’s language here reaches the intensity of poetry, as does, in an entirely more feminine way, Jane Eyre’s:

Excerpts from the Proposal Scene, Jane Eyre

“Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you?  Do you think I am an automaton?—a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup?  Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?  You think wrong!—I have as much soul as you,—and full as much heart!  And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.  I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh;—it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,—as we are!”

“And your will shall decide your destiny,” he said: “I offer you my hand, my heart, and a share of all my possessions.”

“You play a farce, which I merely laugh at.”

“I ask you to pass through life at my side—to be my second self, and best earthly companion.”

A waft of wind came sweeping down the laurel-walk, and trembled through the boughs of the chestnut: it wandered away—away—to an indefinite distance—it died.  The nightingale’s song was then the only voice of the hour: in listening to it, I again wept.  Mr. Rochester sat quiet, looking at me gently and seriously.

“My bride is here,” he said, again drawing me to him, “because my equal is here, and my likeness.  Jane, will you marry me?”

Still I did not answer, and still I writhed myself from his grasp: for I was still incredulous.

“Do you doubt me, Jane?” “Entirely.”

“You have no faith in me?” “Not a whit.”

“You, Jane, I must have you for my own—entirely my own.  Will you be mine?  Say yes, quickly.”

“Mr. Rochester, let me look at your face: turn to the moonlight.” “Why?” “Because I want to read your countenance—turn!” “There! you will find it scarcely more legible than a crumpled, scratched page.

Read on: only make haste, for I suffer.”

His face was very much agitated and very much flushed, and there were strong workings in the features, and strange gleams in the eyes.

“Oh, Jane, you torture me!” he exclaimed.  “With that searching and yet faithful and generous look, you torture me!”

“How can I do that?  If you are true, and your offer real, my only feelings to you must be gratitude and devotion—they cannot torture.”

“Gratitude!” he ejaculated; and added wildly—“Jane accept me quickly.  Say, Edward—give me my name—Edward—I will marry you.”

“Are you in earnest?  Do you truly love me?  Do you sincerely wish me to be your wife?”

“I do; and if an oath is necessary to satisfy you, I swear it.”

“Then, sir, I will marry you.”

“Edward—my little wife!”

“Dear Edward!”

RT suspects that the need for romance becomes more insistent as we grow older. Perhaps, visual impairment notwithstanding, we grow more clear-sighted as we age. Energy is everything, and what better energy can we hope for than affection? Marriage may not be the only answer; we should remember that we are always falling in love with each other. Passion pursues us right up to the grave, and perhaps beyond it. A better fate is hard to imagine.

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Drawing: Portrait of Charlotte Bronte; Evert A. Duyckinck (based on a drawing by George Richmond). 1873. University of Texas; WikiCmns. Public Domain. *

Far From the Madding Crowd–Worlds Apart

RT hasn’t seen the new movie adaptation of Thomas Hardy’Far From the Madding Crowd, but news of its release, plus a lucky encounter at a used book store, has gotten him to finally read the novel.

Actually, RT hasn’t finished the book, but is far enough into it to have fallen under the novel’s spell. Certainly the world its author presents captivates a world-weary heart; here we find a fresh, untrammeled beauty, a poet’s tribute to nature and man…and woman.

Let any doubts about the book’s style be settled by this sample from chapter 2:

“To persons standing alone on a hill during a clear midnight such as this, the roll of the world eastward is almost a palpable movement. The sensation may be caused by the panoramic glide of the stars past earthly objects, which is perceptible in a few minutes of stillness, or by the better outlook upon space that a hill affords, or by the wind, or by the solitude; but whatever be its origin, the impression of riding along is vivid and abiding. The poetry of motion is a phrase much in use, and to enjoy the epic form of that gratification it is necessary to stand on a hill at a small hour of the night, and, having first expanded with a sense of difference from the mass of civilised mankind, who are dreamwrapt and disregardful of all such proceedings at this time, long and quietly watch your stately progress through the stars. After such a nocturnal reconnoitre it is hard to get back to earth, and to believe that the consciousness of such majestic speeding is derived from a tiny human frame.”

Visionary, massive, gorgeous–and it helps to remember that Hardy’s father was a stone mason.

The plot couldn’t be more attractive. It’s a love story, thank heavens, filled with all the twists and turns you would expect, driven by human foible and heartbreak, illuminated with satirical sketches, and yet deeply aware of tradition, dignity, and the possibilities for happiness.

Then we have the story’s lovers–the shepherd Gabriel Oak, an old-fashioned hero, more than equal to the difficulties set before him, and Bathsheba Everdene, a lady alluring, intelligent, and prone to impulse. She enters the story a milk-maid, rises far in her fortunes, and then encounters a gentleman well-suited to be her husband. But Hardy writes in such a way that it isn’t clear which of the suitors will win Bathsheba’s hand–what is clear to the artist might for others be obscured by the world’s commotions.

As lovely and shrewd as all of this is, the novel’s setting and worldview have made the deepest impression on RT. Did a way of life as simple, communal, and breathtaking as this ever really exist? Hardy’s Wessex may not be the southern England of actual fact, but RT has enjoyed spending some time there. We need more handcraft, more confidence, and more romance. RT

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Painting: Thomas Hardy (1893); Thomas Strang. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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