RT has been resolutely ignoring his creative impulses (such as they were) in the face of the many tasks (not the least of which is grieving) that have followed on his mother’s death. Resolutely ignoring, that is, until a spontaneous visit to his local bookstore brought him face-to-face with an alluring poem by Kameda Bosai, a Japanese poet (or rather, scholar and literati painter) that RT had never heard of before. Well, the temptation proved too much for the sterner angels of RT’s nature, and he offers the results of his latest foray into translation below. He knows that mom would approve.
old trees crimson at spring’s glance;
waterfalls icy, smash and echo.
imagine a mountain hermit swaying,
collapsing into laughter. water-stars, wind.
(Dedicated to Andy and Janet)
This poem, by Du Fu, China’s greatest poet, continues to haunt RT. The version below isn’t his first attempt at bringing the poem over into English, and certainly the poem’s reputation (its opening lines are generally considered to be the greatest ever written in Chinese poetry) has something to do with his interest. Or it may simply be that the poem is being given to RT slowly, line by line. An improvement over his previous attempt? RT will let his readers judge …
The Great Palace lies in ruins;
mountains reflect, rivers pass on.
In cities, weeds like silk pile up,
and rain slaps the flower’s cheek.
But enough of this!
Birdsong astonishes my heart.
Three months have passed
and still the beacon fires burn.
I’d pay pure gold for a letter.
Raking my head, exasperated,
I pull loose my scholar’s knot.
The hairpin dangles.
Painting: Emperor Xuanzong of Tang fleeing to Sichuan province from Chang’an; painter unknown. 11th century. WikiCmns. Public Domain.
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…
Painting: African Woman. Albert Eckhout (c. 1610–1665). WikiCmns. Public Domain.
It could be just a fine landscape painted in the colder months in England, but RT feels there’s something prescient or even prophetic about this untitled painting by John Constable. The image, with its loose, impressionistic style, anticipates art that would have been considered avant-garde a half-century after Constable painted it (1811), and its subject is nothing tangible, but rather the mood it creates in the viewer. We see here a movement away from the heroic and romantic concerns of the 18th and 19th centuries towards a direct encounter with nature and experience, the commonplace that is somehow not commonplace. The beauty of humanity and nature are here in balance, a poise we need to encourage in our century. RT
Painting: Study for or detail of a larger painting? John Constable, 1811. WikiCmns; Victoria and Albert Museum. Public Domain.
That people in the first half of the 19th century were no strangers to illness and death is richly illustrated by the antecedents and birth of Queen Victoria of Britain (r. 1837-1901). Born 24 May 1819, she was originally fifth in line of succession to the throne, but in the 18 years that elapsed between birth and coronation, the people nearer the throne than her all died, her father, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathern, in 1820 of pneumonia, less than a year after her birth. By 1830, she had become heiress presumptive.
Not that England stagnated during the years prior to Victoria’s coronation: her immediate predecessor, William IV, oversaw an updating of the poor law, the restriction of child labor, and the abolition of slavery in the the British Empire. As if this were not enough, the Reform Act of 1832 was passed by Parliament during his reign. No small achievements, these.
Diminutive, obstinate, and honest, Victoria oversaw the continuing transition of the United Kingdom into a constitutional monarchy even as the British Empire reached the peak of its power. As an adult, she wrote more than 2500 words a day, an achievement any professional writer could admire, and most of her diary survives, a telling account of the Queen’s personal influence during one of the greatest periods of prosperity in human history.
There are no perfect monarchies, and certainly Victoria’s reign produced its share of difficulties, even as the intellectual ferment characterized by the works of Darwin and Marx would go on to shape battle lines in the 20th and 21st centuries. But Victoria helped provide a framework of peaceful political evolution, at least in Britain, the hope that mankind can indeed produce, in the words of Tennyson, “a Parliament of Man.”
The world is working towards a new synthesis, one that is more inclusive, just, and loving. As much as any person in modern history, Victoria has helped set the stage for what may end up being humankind’s ultimate achievement, a prosperous world at peace.
Image: The coronation of Queen Victoria (1838). Author: Edmund Thomas Parris. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
Surely one of the finest portraits painted during the 19th century! Anselm Feuerbach, superb colorist and classically inspired painter, deserves to be remembered among the greats. RT
Painting: Self-Portrait, Anselm Feuerbach (1873). Alt Nationalgalerie, WikiCmns; Public Domain.
Dateline: West Virginia. Our first item is that RT has officially moved in with his mother; perhaps not the optimal arrangement, but one that isn’t bad either. We are currently in process of redecorating (i.e., finding more room for RT).
& here is a poem that came to RT suddenly yesterday afternoon as he was getting himself ready for the monthly reading at a local tearoom. This is a somewhat wintry composition, though showing early and promising buds.
this wrinkling and withering,
maybe it will never end:
*****skin tough as bark,
*****face falling like tattered leaves
**********a spoiled apple.
take another pill, amend the flesh,
disappear the treacherous
leg spilling sand into soil like
a glass pouring out hours.
Hidden your mind then,
*****each twig, every
**********blade of grass your limb,
*****the spider weaves your name
*****the seed speckles
everything is mazed and mapped: they
have to follow, to measure and decipher, each
step, each echo,
Copyright © 2014, The Rag Tree
Image: Terpsichore (1510-1511), Raffael. WikiCmns; Public Domain.