On Sexton

“At night, alone, I marry the bed.”


I dig . . .
I find . . .
the rest is but the hull of a husky shell,
i.e., “rind.”

Mine. ^   Etched with an undertone of gritstone, it is mine to the very grind. And now, on to the main course: the tone-deaf chef’s pièce de résistance . . . Born and raised in a patriarchal household, Anne Sexton was, we read, troubled and troubling in more ways than one. If you already know the context then, so be it. But, if you don’t, I’d suggest you read the poems before your get to know the poet. I present below three of Sexton’s poems and then, each of the trio are discussed.

|  9th November, 1928, Massachusetts.
|  4th October, 1974, Massachusetts.



Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard . . .
. . . god owns heaven but He craves the earth.

Sexton’s. ^   Albeit a little snipped here and there; emphasis is my very own. In flowery verse a literary critic did once write, “American poetry is in a boundless debt before Anne Sexton’s dark, gruesome [and] bold spree of inspirational verses.” What I can hereby say — dear elusive & oh so very evasive reader — is let us ava gander @ some together.


REFERENCE

Sexton, A. (1981). Anne Sexton: The Complete Poems. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin.


1. The Kiss


My mouth blooms like a cut.
I’ve been wronged all year, tedious
nights, nothing but rough elbows in them
and delicate boxes of Kleenex calling crybaby
crybaby, you fool!
 
Before today my body was useless.
Now it’s tearing at its square corners.
It’s tearing old Mary’s garments off, knot by knot
and see — Now it’s shot full of these electric bolts.
Zing! A resurrection!
 
Once it was a boat, quite wooden
and with no business, no salt water under it
and in need of some paint. It was no more
than a group of boards. But you hoisted her, rigged her.
She’s been elected.
 
My nerves are turned on. I hear them like
musical instruments. Where there was silence
the drums, the strings are incurably playing. You did this.
Pure genius at work. Darling, the composer has stepped
into fire.


— Anne Sexton (1981 [n.d.])

“You’re dreamin’ darlin'” — s/he said that, s/he actually did. … Dance into the fire / To fatal sounds of broken dreams / Dance into the fire / That fateful kiss is what we had / Dance into the fire  // … I wander lonely streets / Behind where the old Thames does flow / I’ve gotta tell you a tale / Of how we loved and how I failed  // … The Kiss, you want to know of the kiss of kisses? well it is here — carried as it were in a resplendently resolute case made of Lebanese cedar (cedrus libani) and embossed with acanthus leaf marquetry in English oak (quercus robur): “Deeper than deep”. Luscious lips, Voluptuous hips, Gorgeous _ _ _  [🎬 Take two: You are the best, better than all _ _ _ ]:

2. The Breast


This is the key to it.
This is the key to everything.
Preciously.
 
I am worse than the gamekeeper’s children
picking for dust and bread.
Here I am drumming up perfume.
 
Let me go down on your carpet,
your straw mattress — whatever’s at hand
because the child in me is dying, dying.
 
It is not that I am cattle to be eaten.
It is not that I am some sort of street.
But your hands found me like an architect.
 
Jugful of milk! It was yours years ago
when I lived in the valley of my bones,
bones dumb in the swamp. Little playthings.
 
A xylophone maybe with skin
stretched over it awkwardly.
Only later did it become something real.
 
Later I measured my size against movie stars.
I didn’t measure up. Something between
my shoulders was there. But never enough.
 
Sure, there was a meadow,
but no young men singing the truth.
Nothing to tell truth by.
 
Ignorant of men I lay next to my sisters
and rising out of the ashes I cried
my sex will be transfixed!
 
Now I am your mother, your daughter, your brand new thing — a snail, a nest.
I am alive when your fingers are.
 
I wear silk — the cover to uncover —
because silk is what I want you to think of.
But I dislike the cloth. It is too stern.
 
So tell me anything but track me like a climber
for here is the eye, here is the jewel,
here is the excitement the nipple learns.
 
I am unbalanced — but I am not mad with snow.
I am mad the way young girls are mad,
with an offering, an offering…
 
I burn the way money burns.


— Anne Sexton (1981 [n.d.])

Before Poem 3 (below) recall that in Poem 1 (above) the bedside box of tissues were described as ‘delicate,’ well, a good equivalent of that word would be ‘fragile.’ That’s what I sense up there in “The Kiss,” down here, in “The Ballad,” I somehow see a way of escape, a liberation from reliance on all others, yes the evidently close relationship’s ended and that feels like a fate worse than death but, she (the poem’s narrator) now controls her sex one hundred per cent. … When all else fails / Who knows your ‘sensitive/sensual areas’ better than you yourself do:

3. The Ballad of the Lonely M


The end of the affair is always death.
She’s my workshop. Slippery eye,
out of the tribe of myself my breath
finds you gone. I horrify
those who stand by. I am fed.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.
 
Finger to finger, now she’s mine.
She’s not too far. She’s my encounter.
I beat her like a bell. I recline
in the bower where you used to mount her.
You borrowed me on the flowered spread.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.
 
Take for instance this night, my love,
that every single couple puts together
with a joint overturning, beneath, above,
the abundant two on sponge and feather,
kneeling and pushing, head to head.
At night alone, I marry the bed.
 
I break out of my body this way,
an annoying miracle. Could I
put the dream market on display?
I am spread out. I crucify.
My little plum is what you said.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.
 
Then my black-eyed rival came.
The lady of water, rising on the beach,
a piano at her fingertips, shame
on her lips and a flute’s speech.
And I was the knock-kneed broom instead.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.
 
She took you the way a woman takes
a bargain dress off the rack
and I broke the way a stone breaks.
I give back your books and fishing tack.
Today’s paper says that you are wed.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.
 
The boys and girls are one tonight.
They unbutton blouses. They unzip flies.
They take off shoes. They turn off the light.
The glimmering creatures are full of lies.
They are eating each other. They are overfed.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.


— Anne Sexton (1981 [n.d.])

A word or two on Poem 1

Right, so well, here’s what I’m thinking. Regarding “The Kiss,” it is evidently written in free verse (no consistent metre or rhyme patterns and thus seeks to be or is reminiscent of natural speech or the verbalising of thought unedited; the penning of it ~ يعني ~ as it is, not as societal conventions would render it be) yet, its imagery and biblical allusions — I am the resurrection and I am the life / I couldn’t ever bring myself to hate you as I’d like — make this both deeper and more umm, err, might we say: philosophical in craftsmanship [sic.] than just typed out random thought. There is in fact some rather explicit and purposeful structure: each of the four stanzas have five lines of which, the final one is very short.

...crybaby, you fool!
...Zing! A resurrection!
...She’s been elected.
...into fire.

I somehow see this as acting as a summary of the whole piece. Blooming lips, pert pouting buds, lipstick of a gaudy fresh blood red. Her mouth, smile and lust is enlivened once more. (Roses are red, oh I’m so blue.) The first is a cut, where the blood wells up, the second is the bloom of a rose. Elbow grease, the hard thankless task of tediously keeping the house. The Kleenex tissue brand is here for crying but everyone knows the man-sized box is innuendo for another kind of cleaning-cum-rejuvenating activity (see Poem 3). In the second stanza of “The Kiss” we feel the ecstasy and the release from chastity, the stripping off, the electric charge of a positive and a negative. Knots of cloth — can we read anything but Mary and her illicit pregnancy being dressed up as immaculate and divine? A body left on blocks in the dry dock, with a skin made for ocean waves, not an incessant bone dry breeze. I know! I know! come to stanza three and we are all about boats, the rigging, the wood, the hull daubed in, now flaking, Teamac. In a frenzy, you strip in a flash, you get that jolt. In the final stanza, we are given a description of the pleasure of the climax, the passion of the kiss — let us pretend we are here only discussing a (facial) lip kiss. Interestingly, tellingly, she brings in her lover even making them out to be the Master musician: a genius at eliciting arousal and fire. But, by saying they’ve stepped into the fire has foreboding but maybe, I only read this because I know of the context of Ms Sexton. (If you play with me, you play with fire. etc.)

A word or two on Poem 2

With regard to “The Breast,” Sexton is undeniably right. Men obsess and almost every straight girl that has a girl-on-girl fantasy focuses on the, I’ll be clinical for now, mammary glands. There’s a reason, a damn good and obvious one: mother’s milk, suckling and nurturing, the source for so many humans of safety and sustenance for their first six to nine months. Carpet (Delta of Venus?) straw mattress (a frolic in the haystack?). Stanza 2: gamekeeper’s children; Stanza 3: child in me. Others have said this poem speaks of the potent power one has by possessing a pair. In stanza 4 we get to hands (hers or another person’s) cupping, circling, caressing, cradling, concentric rings toward the areola and then the pinnacle: hillocks with attractively pigmented caps and volatile peaks. The power this part of one’s anatomy can and does have is made clear at outset, they are:

the key to everything.

We know what rhymes with silk and today, some say “got milk” when referring to MILFs. It’s wonderful how the narrator in the poem beckons and entices…

tell me anything but track me like a climber
...here is the eye, ...the jewel ...the excitement

… they (the narrator) don’t really care for your honeyed words — in this instance — they just want you to expertly handle and fondle these key attributes of theirs in an expert way, in a way to bring about erotic arousal. It ends rather interesting and cryptically:

I burn the way money burns.

What’s Sexton on about here, we are made to wonder. Don’t money make the world spin round? Ain’t it what we yearn for, a/the key to happiness? Lust’s insatiable (is it not, invisible reader?) I guess so too is retail therapy, like food, like sex we use it (burn it) for our pleasure, to sate our desires and needs. Money, doesn’t spend itself nor does fine food force its way into our glutinous gobs, we spend it and we transfer the cake from the plate to our lips (that too can be kissed and then on to our hips) and for the breasts, the knee-weakening givers of life, they can be left unloved in a breaker’s yard, wrapped away in cloth, cotton or silk-like Lycra or they can be taken out and given fresh air, handled with care and made to sing; to be made:

...alive when your fingers are...
[... handling them like a Master maestro.]

A word or two on Poem 3

Regarding “The Ballad of the Lonely M,” ask yourself (I do myself) why I am too embarrassed to write the word ‘masturbator’ and elected for the abbreviation ‘M’ in titling it here — oh why’s it so taboo, y OH y (we used ‘((m))’ didn’t we!). In marked distinction from Poems 1 & 2 (see up, my dearest one) this poem — seven stanzas (7 is synonymous with heaven) of six lines (6 is synonymous with sex) — follows a rhyme scheme: ABABCC, DEDECC, and so on and so forth.

death - breath
fed/spread/head - bed

Do I over-read?

came -- shame

Is this me over-reading? is this a reference to catholic guilt and/or the protestant work ethic (both as pompously prudish as they are puritanical), don’t all the monotheistic tones castigate and demonise the act of masturbation? For come along now! It’s the devil that makes work for idle hands. We should note that syllable counts in the lines of Poem 3 are not consistent or if there is a pattern, I don’t see it. But ladies and men we can see all sorts can’t we, I mean in numerology we trust, don’t we:

__ ___ __
  C  03  
  O  15  
  R  18  
  O  15  
  N  14  
  A  01  
  -  --  
  6  66  
__ ___ __

Fiction is clearly no stranger. I’d say this was so since even before “the lion man” — a hybrid figurine carved from mammoth tusk (that is carbon dated to be over 40,000 years old and is currently the oldest known evidence of religion and is on show at the Museum of Ulm in Germany). [1]  Oh think of Psyche getting her affection from Pan. The milkman, the handyman. The language of the poem is reasonably straightforward; the beauty of not being a full-on slave to rhyming scheme (the lines have different variations of stressed and unstressed words). Its focus is clear — I think — self-pleasure in the aftermath of a split up (‘the end of the affair is always death — the dog’s reflection in the mirror knows well of my own terminal torment, which dogs and hounds me). Yep the poem does not use the word ‘sex’ but it doesn’t really need to, does it? Not with lines like these:

I beat her like a bell. I recline
in the bower where you used to mount her.

Bower
—  A pleasant shady place under trees or climbing plants in a garden or wood.

The bower links to the:

flowered [bed]spread

And all of this makes me think of Adam and St/Eve in the garden of Eden. And then we come to the line that moves me the most:

At night, alone, I marry the bed.

What moves me? The word ‘alone’ comforted here by commas and being snugly mid-sentence. For good measure, this line is repeated verbatim, seven times. This though is far from lazy repetition. In my opinion this really drives home the shear power that the default to self-pleasure can have. It can become a daily necessity akin to food. Indeed, the metaphor for sexual satisfaction in “The Ballad of the Lonely M” is ‘being fed,’ which is extended from the beginning to the end of the poem. It is like food, it is required daily and it’s devoured ritually:

I am fed
a joint overturning [on a spit over fire]
plum
...eating each other. They are overfed.

The last stanza is very powerful, because the young & the glamourous (‘glimmering creatures’) are seemingly everywhere, undressing and copulating like rabbits. Whereas, the narrator alone, is marrying her bed, one hand dealing with the delta and the other attending to the subject of Poem 2. It has become a nightly ritual. It is her medicine, her compulsion:

I am spread out. I crucify.

To sum up

I do find the description of the narrator’s mons veneris and her delectable delta in the poem “The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator” to be acutely accurate:

She’s my workshop. Slippery eye,
She’s not too far. She’s my encounter.
My little plum.

As Yesenia Hernandez writes, Sexton’s, “fearless account of emotions, desires, and actions usually only for private consumption makes her a brave poet participating in a form of liberty all her own.” Indeed, she is known for her very frank writing on depression, the female body and sex and thus explores what’s considered in some quarters taboo subject matter. As she does in Poem 3 (kisses nowadays, the subject of Poem 1, being quite okay). In Poem 3, Sexton is both vague and explicit in her descriptions of the emotions that result from the end of a love affair depicted through the guise of a female wedded to the act of daily masturbation. This candidness — Confessional poetics — may not be so much an attempt to bring these matters into the light and normalise them (for they are obv. part of the human condition) but as a form of personal self-help and therapy which just so happened to be appealing enough to etch her out a bit of a living too. I do not think artists such as her write with public service in mind, still less monetary gain. As someone else commented, Sexton writes for, “discovery and emotional release.” turning, as I’m driven to, to a troubling thing that I’ve read is that incest between mother (Anne) and daughter (Linda) is alleged/said to have been had.

— § —


NOTES
[1]   Lion man, an intriguing reading of what’s currently thought to be the world’s earliest known idol:

“The Lion Man is a masterpiece that was found in a cave in what is now southern Germany in 1939. Sculpted with great originality, virtuosity and technical skill from mammoth ivory, this 40,000-year-old image is 31 centimetres tall. It has the head of a cave lion with a partly human body. He stands upright, perhaps on tiptoes, legs apart and arms to the sides of a slender, cat-like body with strong shoulders like the hips and thighs of a lion. His gaze, like his stance, is powerful and directed at the viewer. The details of his face show he is attentive, he is watching and he is listening. He is powerful, mysterious and from a world beyond ordinary nature. He is the oldest known representation of a being that does not exist in physical form but symbolises ideas about the supernatural.” — The British Museum.

Talking of idols and ((m)):

See: Dark Light: Pure White vs. Jet Black

Come live with me

& be my love[r] forever.

A literary analysis of “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” by Christopher Marlowe (c. 1588).

“The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”


Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove,
That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the Rocks,
Seeing the Shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow Rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing Madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of Roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of Myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty Lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and Ivy buds,
With Coral clasps and Amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The Shepherds’ Swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me, and be my love.


— Christopher Marlowe

Adam Miller
“Save the Sheep”
by Adam Miller (1979– ) (c. 2017).

Literary Analysis

1. The poet

Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593) was an English playwright and poet of the Elizabethan era, his version of “Doctor Faustus” (c. 1589) is still being shown on stages around the globe today (see: Better the 😈 u no). Marlowe, it is said, was the foremost Elizabethan tragedian of his day. He also had, according to hearsay &c., a colourful life that can be correctly labelled as: short ‘n’ illustrious. While little is known about his fleeting time in London town (in distinction to his writings) stories of his ‘interesting’ affairs do abound and, let us be honest, who cares about fact checking when such tales are so titillating? He has often been described as a spy, a heretic, as well as a “magician”, “duellist” (a person who fights duels for their honour: pistols at dawn after a piss up and porn), “tobacco-user”, “counterfeiter” and “rakehell.” In short-form a rake was a ‘man’ who dealt in immoral conduct, particularly womanising. A typical rake would burn away his inherited wealth on fine wine, racy women and slanderous suggestive sing-song (think: libertine – o gawd n dyaames deen). If not out and out homosexual he was almost certainly bisexual. Homoerotic overtones and undertones have been noted in various of his works and, the object of the shepard’s obsession (see below) is neither obviously male or female ;P

2. The poem

What is this thing I hear they call “love?” What’s its fatal attraction? How is it that such an intangible thing can have such tangible consequences? J. H. Black. . . poetic step by poetic step we will dig and we will get to our Shangri-la. “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” is a so-called pastoral poem, which is set in the English countryside in the season of Spring (beautiful bunnies and lovely lambs e t c).

This type of poem — Pastoral lyric — typically expresses emotions in idyllic conditions and contexts. In quatrains (4 line stanzas) of iambic tetrameter (8 syllables per line, 4 measures per line with 2 syllables in each measure), the poem’s narrator, the shepherd, invites the object of his desire to experience the joys of nature not least, one can assume, the birds and bees in particular. The narrator hopes to be transported with his loved one to the garden of Eden, where clothes, contraception, gender identity and inhibition are things for future generations to fret about.

Pastoral poems have their roots with shepherds waxing lyrical as they tend their crops and dream deliriously of the oh so attractive one back in the village (they say: back to David in the Bible and Ancient Greek poetry too). The theme/undertone is carpe diem and gratification of sexual passions today, not tomorrow. Spring: a time of flowering and budding birth. You know, escape to the country, throw of the vestiges of modernity (clothes, deadlines, con-form-it-y). As one critic commented, “if we could get away from these rules, we could return to a pristine condition of happiness” and gave the so-called “free love” movement of the 1960’s as an example of this utopian belief (ironically it was the very modern and mass produced pill that aided and abetted all a dat).

The poem was published in 1599 — after Marlowe’s death — and was counterpointed with many poetic replies some earnest, some mocking. Remember the “love” in the poem isn’t made male or female but in perhaps the most famous responding poem, the gender is left in no doubt. “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd,” by Sir Walter Raleigh was penned in 1600:

 
Two poems: The Passionate Shepherd to His Love (by Christopher Marlowe, 1599) and, The Nymphs Reply to the Shepherd (by Walter Ralegh, 1600)
 

heart vs. head -- Youth gets slated; Youth becomes jaded and gets slated.
Youth becomes jaded / & then gets slated //


We see write away in “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” that Raleigh’s narrator is an older more jaded character. Who with (assumed age and experience) is telling the starry-eyed Shepard that romanticised love is a fallacy. Harsh realities (work, health, societal constraints) and that we age, tire and with any relationship, once consummated, the petty individual idiosyncrasies will soon mire all of that pent up passion and lust. I like what one critic wrote: “Normally we should sieze the day because time flies. Raleigh argues that because time flies, we should NOT sieze the day.” The truth is that ultimately Raleigh is right, but I’ll defend to death the quest for attaining (or regaining) true passionate love.

Tempus Fugit — so, live for today or save for tomorrow? Usually translated from Latin as “time flies.” It was first use in poetic terms by Virgil (‘fugit inreparabile tempus’ – “it escapes, irretrievable time”). Yeah mate, time’s a-wasting.

Time does not stand still; autumn and winter — after the summer heat — inevitably follows the spring. We must face reality and not live by fantasy (but really must we?).

Walter Raleigh’s retort uses the same meter and references to give us readers “mirror images” of Marlowe’s work. The nymph character plays devil’s advocate as it were and points out by doing so that all of the sheep herder’s promises are transitory. Mirror, mirror on the wall should we go with the heart or the head:

flowers do fade
fields yield to the harvest
rivers rage

We live in a fallen world, we’re born sinners (so say the monotheistic tomes) ripening fruit will ultimately shrivel. Birds become crestfallen (one would think even more so if abruptly abandoned by their true loved one).

These opposing lines are particularly telling:

Marlowe:
By shallow Rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing Madrigals.

Raleigh:
When Rivers rage and Rocks grow cold,
And Philomel becometh dumb,

Symbolism

Madrigal
— a song (or poem indeed!) that’s usually about love and sung. It would be suitable for being set to music; thus thing of bird song and the music that is the dawn chorus in an English country garden.

Myrtle
— a flowering plant that’s native to the Mediterranean (not the green and pleasant land of England). It thus invokes notions of Rome and Greece. In Greek mythology Myrtle is sacred to Aphrodite (the goddess of desire and love). And we all know what an aphrodisiac is.

Philomela
— of Greek mythology, is invoked now and again in the poetry and prose of the Western canon. Identified as being the younger of two daughters of Pandion I, a King of Athens, the story goes that after being raped and mutilated by her sister’s husband, she first gets revenge and then morphs into a bird. Not just any bird, but a nightingale, a bird renowned for its song. It is said that because of the violence done to her, poets of later generations depict the nightingale’s mating calls to be sorrowful laments (yet ornithologists will tell you that its only the male nightingales that sing for love; somehow that okay for Marlowe’s shepherd because, it is not sexist to say he is a he — love though my dear J is universal as is obsession). To continue with my dig: Ovid and other servants of poetry & prose have accidentally (on purpose perhaps) made the claim that the etymology of her name was “lover of song” — derived from the Greek φιλο- and μέλος (“song”) instead of μῆλον (“apple” or “fruit” or “sheep”). Now! You know about Eve, Steve and the Apple, and I know what Westerners think we Arabs do with our camels and goats, much like what the English say the Welsh do with their sheep and the Americans say the Mexicans do with their asses and mules. Love is Love some say, love is blind the same and/or others say too.

fire|🔥|نار

feisty, fervid & all-consuming


All hushed and still within the house;
Without – all wind and driving rain;
But something whispers to my mind,
Through rain and through the wailing wind,
Never again.
Never again? Why not again?
Memory has power as real as thine.


Emily Brontë

Simonetta and Dante


I never really came alive until,
I more or less died —
I’d floated along by hushed breeze and sail
I’d slept whilst they rowed.
You’d emerged in a place so far away
You’d grown in harsh heat —
You felt real thunder and deep disarray
You searched hard for light.
We locked eyes and made our haven from all
We found our true selves
We then got split, but vowed this bond won’t quell
We’ll find by inked delves. . .

Simonetta_and_Dante___colour
“Simonetta Vespucci as Nymph” (c. 1480) and “Dante Alighieri” (c. 1495)
by Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445–1510).

“The Birth of Venus”
by Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445–1510) (c. 1485) @ The Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
“Primavera”
Left to right: Mercury, the Three Graces, Venus, Flora, Chloris, Zephyrus
by Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445–1510) (c. 1482) @ The Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
“Venus and Mars”
by Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445–1510) (c. 1485) @ The National Gallery, London.


Literature — art at its most sublime.


“Pallas and the Centaur”
by Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445–1510) (c. 1482) @ The Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Now I don’t pretend to know much ado about nothing but Pallas is meant to be a Greek God, one of the Titans: a male. A centaur is a mythical half man half horse and thus, male too. So, who’s the lady depicted in the picture above? My inept investigations took me via a typo from the mythical Titan to the Italian painter Titian (a.k.a., Tiziano Vecellio) (c. 1488–1576) who also painted Venus (et al.). . .

Tiziano_-_Venere_di_Urbino
“Venus of Urbino”
by Titian (1534) @ The Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
Self-Portrait, c. 1567; @ The Museo del Prado, Madrid
Self-Portrait
by Titian (c. 1567) @ The Museo del Prado, Madrid.

. . .who lest we forget is the god of Love (the subject of this posting). Titian, incidentally and interestingly was called by his contemporaries, “The Sun Amidst Small Stars” (which is the last line of Dante’s (see ^ up) poem Paradiso), According to the art scholar Gloria Fossi (2000) Titian’s technique of the application and usage of colour has had a profound influence on Western art. From Titian I got to Bronzino (a.k.a., Agnolo di Cosimo) (1503–1572), well because, he also painted Venus (et al.) and like Titian was of the Venetian school. . .

Angelo_Bronzino_-_Venus,_Cupid,_Folly_and_Time_-_National_Gallery,_London
“Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time”
by Bronzino (c. 1544) @ The National Gallery, London.
. . . they say Bronzino’s somewhat elongated figures always appear to be calm and a little too reserved (i.e., lacking the agitation and emotion of those painted by some others) and believe it or not I sensed that in her fingers and in the leggy long-backed cheeky cherub. Well from there I found my way to Western painting (hovering over the link on the Bronzino page I saw a pic of the girl with the pearl…) and just had to see what was included in this, the people’s canon:

Hercules_&_telephus
Ancient Roman wall art, artist unknown (c. 6 BCE – 9), prosaically titled: “Herakles finds his son Telephos” @ The National Museum, Naples.
— this mural depicts the discovery of the child Telephos by his father, Herakles. Telephos, a minor figure mentioned in Trojan War stories (painted here being suckled by a doe). To the left sits a colossal personification of Arcadia, an impressive female figure who stares off into the distance (oh yeah, that ‘far-away-stare’ look). Follow the lion’s gaze, see where the lightening rod is striking (air-brushed out or added as a salacious afterthought?), see the udder suckling and the tender fawning of the knee…

Meisje met de parel
“The eyes”
by Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675), titled: “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (c. 1669) @ The Mauritshuis, The Hague, Holland.
— sometimes referred to as the Mona Lisa of the North… oh wow, you see into my soul don’t you. You, the finest pear of pearls the waters of the Persian Gulf ever did relinquish to the arid surrounds of the oasis of the soul.
soul meets soul
“The bum”
by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780–1867), titled: “The Valpinçon Bather” (1808) @ The Musée du Louvre, Paris.
— I didn’t get it at first but this is the chap who got titillated by notions of the Orient.*  Oh Edward Saïd! Oh Wilfred Thesiger!
The_Kiss_-_Gustav_Klimt_-_Google_Cultural_Institute
“The kiss”
by Gustav Klimt (1862–1918), titled: “The Kiss” (c. 1907) @ Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna.
— it certainly once, A3 sized and lovingly laminated, hung above the very epitome of my very own Delta of Venus (a.k.a. the Nymph of Nizwa).
Grant_Wood_-_American_Gothic_-_Google_Art_Project
“The connotation and the implication”
by Grant Wood (1891–1942), titled: “American Gothic” (1930) @ the Art Institute of Chicago.
— don’t dig, in this instance ignorance is bliss.


Literature — art at its most sublime.


NOTES

*   Orientalismus and them — who am I? who r U? Ways of Escape, wanting to be somewhere (anywhere?) other than here, but here’s not a geographic location, it’s a mindset that cannot, I fear, be vacated until the end of days. Ingres, who evidently had a penchant for the Orient, painted these paintings also:

“Odalisque with Slave” (L’Odalisque à l’esclave) **
by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780–1867) (1839) @ Fogg Museum, Boston.
“La Grande Odalisque”
by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780–1867) (1814) @ Musée du Louvre, Paris.
Hard to marry such colour and enchantment with this photograph of Ingres; yet in the self-portrait said to be by him in his 78th year, I detect an amazing head of youthful hair and a hint of a cheeky flair:

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
“Self-Portrait at Seventy-Eight”
by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780–1867) (1858) @ The Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
sketches by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
“Look into my eyes, look into my eyes, don’t look around the eyes, look into the eyes”
Sketches by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. (1780–1867)

**   An odalisque (اوطه‌لق) was said to be a, hmm, let us say ‘chambermaid’ in the time of the Ottoman empire. And on I’m driven to forage and dig, an internet hunter and gatherer am I. I subscribe to this self-imposed penitence, relentless is the yearn, incessant is the burn, bereft of zest, I am. So here (the anonymous) you(s) go:

“Odalisque”
by Jules Lefebvre (1834–1911) (1874) @ Art Institute of Chicago.

بس خلاص

بس خلاص

بس خلاص

Cantos

Any good I’ve done has been spoiled by —

Cantos


I have tried to write Paradise
 
Do not move
      Let the wind speak.
         that is paradise.
Let the Gods forgive what I
         have made
Let those I love try to forgive
         what I have made.


— Canto 120, E. P.

— (& diggers can dig, & judgers will judge, it is
      all but just a handful of dust after all.)
a fateful mistake; a tragedy of titanic proportions.
      Of my own making? Certainly, yes.
      Tea /
            Bee //
                  Sea ///

“A Language”

— a poem

A literary analysis of Susan Stewart’s “A Language.”

“A Language”


I had heard the story before
about the two prisoners, alone
in the same cell, and one
gives the other lessons in a language.
Day after day, the pupil studies hard—
what else does he have to do?—and year
after year they practice,
waiting for the hour of release.
They tackle the nouns, the cases, and genders,
the rules for imperatives and conjugations,
but near the end of his sentence, the teacher
suddenly dies and only the pupil
goes back through the gate and into the open
world. He travels to the country of his new
language, fluent, and full of hope.
Yet when he arrives he finds
that the language he speaks is not
the language that is spoken. He has learned
a language one other person knew—its inventor,
his cell-mate and teacher.
 
            And then the other
evening, I heard the story again.
This time the teacher was Gombrowicz, the pupil
was his wife. She had dreamed of learning
Polish and, hour after hour, for years
on end, Gombrowicz had been willing to teach
her a Polish that does not and never
did exist. The man who told
the story would like to marry his girlfriend.
They love to read in bed and between
them speak three languages.
They laughed—at the wife, at Gombrowicz, it wasn’t
clear, and I wasn’t sure that they
themselves knew what was funny.
I wondered why the man had told
the story, and thought of the tricks
enclosure can play. A nod, or silence,
another nod, consent—or not, as a cloud
drifts beyond the scene and the two
stand pointing in different directions
at the very same empty sky.
 
            Even so, there was something
else about the story, like teaching
a stunt to an animal—a four-legged
creature might prance on two legs
or a two-legged creature might
fall onto four.
 
            I remembered,
then, the miscarriage, and before that
the months of waiting: like baskets filled
with bright shapes, the imagination
run wild. And then what arrived:
the event that was nothing, a mistaken idea,
a scrap of charred cloth, the enormous
present folding over the future,
like a wave overtaking
a grain of sand.
 
            There was a myth
I once knew about twins who spoke
a private language, though one
spoke only the truth and the other
only lies. The savior gets mixed
up with the traitor, but the traitor
stays as true to himself as a god.

 
All night the rain falls here, falls there,
and the creatures dream, or drown, in the lair.

Susan Stewart

Before I consider the above poem, which I do deeply like, I just must point to the following words by Stewart — they were penned for an academic text, 📙 The Handbook of Philosophy, demonstrating her versatility as a wordsmith (oh how I wanna b 1 2)… :

Philosophy, the love of wisdom, and lyric, words meant to be sung to the musical accompaniment of a lyre, seem, at least etymologically, to have little to do with each other. Philosophers may even say we make a category mistake in comparing them, since the first term refers to the pursuit of knowledge of truth and the second term refers to an expressive art form. Yet both philosophers and lyric poets are solo speakers, and their common material is language—indeed, they share the same language, for it is not that there are separate tongues for each. Philosophers and poets are alike in certain actions, as well: they convey intelligible statements; employ formal structures with beginnings, middles, and ends; and hope to convince or move their audiences, and so incorporate a social view from the outset.
. . .
Nevertheless, … the language of philosophy strives for clarity and singularity of reference. Lyric, in contrast, is always over-determined; its images, symbols, sounds, the very grain of the voices it suggests, all compete for our attention and throw us back, whether we are listening or reading, to repeated consideration of the whole. Philosophy should be paraphrasable and translatable if its truth claims are universal, but poetry has finality of form, and to paraphrase it is a heresy; to translate it, a betrayal.

By the way, it was while reading her chapter in 📙 The Handbook of Philosophy on the lyric genre that I wondered who exactly Susan Stewart was. I investigated (one thing led to another) and found the poem cited above and considered below (and my plans for reviewing the text that my schedule say I should have gone absent without a leg to stand on).

As he’d say to me, “dig deeper, keep on digging”


Oh for Ireland / Joyous for Heaney.

The poem

I’ll comment on the six parts of “A Language” here (six as I see them). But, in short, the poem seems to be about dream vs. reality, about deceit (intentional or otherwise, by one’s self to one’s self or by one to another) about contradiction, and about love (lost, misplaced and blind). It was amusing me until the miscarriage — it read too much like being real, i.e., drawn from the author’s very own life experience. The last two lines ain’t italic and that’s the author’s switch of emphasis, not mine. Witold Gombrowicz — a Polish writer (1904–1969) with an interesting bio (as anti-establishment, anti-religious bisexual kind of guy, his books were banned in communist Poland) — said with regard to literary criticism, and I do quoteth the man: “Literary criticism is not the judging of one [soul] by another therefore, do not judge. Simply describe your reactions. Never write about the author or the work, only about yourself in confrontation with the work or the author. You are allowed to write about yourself.” *

Part one

To begin at the beginning I felt it would link to the prisoner’s dilemma but it didn’t.**  It was about trickery, but the language may well have been code for the language of love. The intimacy built with one other cannot – ctrl C, ctrl V – be just transferred from the one to an(y )other one. Maybe the deceit lay in the older more learned one not teaching adequately the singularity of true love, it, like Halley’s comet, is a once in a lifetime thing.

I had heard the story before / ...
I had heard the story before.

I didn’t read in between the lines that the student felt annoyance for his/her post-prison discovery.

Part two

Underscoring Part 1, but here making reference to a real world relationship, that of the writer Gombrowicz and his (much younger) muse.

And then the other evening, I heard the story again / ...
the tricks enclosure can play / ...
at the very same empty sky.

We might be together, but we may be worlds apart too. Tricks reads a little comparatively, is this the poem’s narrator recalling the honeymoon period of a former or a current relationship. undergraduates bedding down with books and the positivity bestowed from having a lifetime of dreams and plans to look forward to.

Part three

Even so, / ...
... fall onto four.

We can learn to do various things, things that have no real utility, point or purpose whatsoever.

Part four

Very powerful and the mood of the poem abruptly changes (for me anyway).

I remembered, then, the miscarriage / ...
the enormous present folding over the future, /
like a wave overtaking a grain of sand.

I feel this to be all too real.

Part five

Such stories of twin as co-collaborators are commonplace. The word “myth” speaks volumes here. Did the miscarriage herald the end of the narrator’s once perfect relationship? The myth of forever love… And then in comes a god and ‘his’ arch-nemesis the dastardly devil.

There was a myth I once knew / ...
the traitor stays as true to himself as a god.

Good and Evil, this is great! Stewart here becomes a philosopher and made me realise something that should have been obvious. (Oh Life / Woman Alive / Wax Lyrical.) The devil doesn’t falter and stays true to his typecast pigeon hole. Yet the given god transcends from savior to traitor.


I’m choosing my confessions /
Like a hurt lost and blinded fool.

Part six

The ending (two lines, a different mode of typed-text emphasis) is short and is sans-sanguinity. We are creatures just the same as the birds and the bees; the sacrificial lambs, the holy cows and the bunnies busily beavering away.

All night the rain falls here, falls there, /
 and the creatures dream, or drown, in the lair.

The rain falls on us all, rich or poor, happy or sad, female or male. We either live the dream in our dream or we sleepwalk into the labyrinthine maze that is our torment of torrential thoughts on what might have been, what could’ve been for: what once was, no longer is.

All in all, there’s sadness here isn’t there — the empty sky, the dark rainy night — where, if you don’t fantasise and delude yourself, you’ll drown in black-mood depression. Everything you’d planned for — taken as faith, taken at face-value, taken for granted; taken as a given — is abruptly and inexplicably taken away from you. Be it faith in fellow man, faith in your muse, faith in what you’d believed to have been your partner for life; the prospect of a soon to be born insatiably innocent (genes aside) version of yourself.

— § § § —


— § § § —

Foot fetish notes
* The prisoner’s dilemma is a paradox in decision analysis (a.k.a., ‘game theory) in which two individuals acting in their own self-interests do not produce the optimal outcome. In other words, if both were to be altruistic toward the other they’d both do well. My sophisticated ethics teacher told sought to explain this to us by way of the medium of money. She said: you could both take 50 Riyal now or if you both forfeit the Riyal now (the honey tomorrow thesis) you’ll both get 100 Riyal tomorrow, but if any one of you takes the 50 now and the other doesn’t the one who takes the money gets to have their small amount of honey today whereas the other will get nothing. So, (1) knowing that most humans are considered to be selfish and also (2) not being able to communicate with the other prisoner, she said that (3) most would grab the 50 because few would risk foregoing it for the possibility of 100. The natural assumption is that the other prisoner would be short-termist in character and go for the guarantee of a few Riyals today as opposed to the prospect of far more Riyals tomorrow.

** As a critic in The New Yorker said in 2012, his “grotesque, erotic, and often hilarious stories” soon established Gombrowicz as a widely read author. His fiction’s been deemed as creepy as Poe’s and as abusurdist as Kafka’s. ((A man encounters another man by chance at the opera and shadows him for weeks—sending him flowers, writing letters to his mistress—unaware of the torment his attentions are causing.)) ((A countess famous for her meatless dinners may, it turns out, be serving human flesh.)) Gombrowicz himself said of his writing that he was, “never more satisfied than when my pen gave birth to some scene that was truly crazy, removed from the (healthy) expectations of mediocre logic and yet firmly rooted in its own separate logic.”

Rita and Witold Gombrowicz, 1969.
“Why then does this pharmaceutical extract called “pure poetry” bore and weary me, especially when it appears in rhymed form?”
Witold Gombrowicz
The title… don’t be fooled, it’s the equivalent of today’s click-bait. If you are wanting erotica, click here: Nin, Anaïs or here Lawrence, D. H.. No, the content of this novel is more about (hu)man’s thirst and quest for youth when they become aware that they’re well past their prime and that to relive it necessitates the pursuing of someone in their prime, to leach of of their lustfulness; to free-ride upon their yet to be curtailed free-will… … …

Beached

On McEwan’s ‘On Chesil Beach’


REFERENCE

McEwan, I. (2007). On Chesil Beach. London: Jonathan Cape.


I’ll say this: don’t watch it, read it. It will not take you too long, the book is very readable — there are no long detours and, the succinct character background building and scene setting (especially of the coastline from the vantage of the bridal suite’s balcony) add volumes to the pent up (and long repressed) desires that constitute the heart and soul of Chesil Beach. You kind of know something bloody bad’ll happen from the blurb and from the opening lines and yeah, there’s a ‘tragedy’ of sorts…


I use single quotation marks around the word tragedy because I’m not saying it is one; strictly speaking it wasn’t one at all. Typically, single quotation marks are used to mark a quote within a quote or a direct quote in a newspaper story’s headline. However, single ( ‘.’ ) or double ( “.” ) ((علامات تنصيص‎)) can be used to imply consternation, disagreement or emphasis… it’s all in the context: ‘all’ in the bloody ducking context m8.


…but it’s not that that moved me, it’s the frank realisation and the matter of fact way in which it – the frankly acknowledged ‘realisation’ — is put in the page or two, within a single sentence, after the novella’s climax that truly moved me and’s stuck with me since. True love, you see, is infinite, you’ll only ever know if you know and I guess until you die or ‘lose’ your mind (your faculties ‘loosen’) you’ll not be able to prove the premise. Cum the fuck on though, you sometimes just do flipping well know.

On Chesil Beach
“True love is usually the most inconvenient kind.”
– Kiera Cass

Reviewer of books, Jonathan Yardley — who won a Pulitzer Prize for his art — placed On Chesil Beach on his top ten for 2007; the year Ian McEwan published this book. He (Yardley) said that even when he (McEwan) is in “minor mode … he is nothing short of amazing.” Minor mode because of the novel’s length. It is, according to the author, more of a novella than a novel. I felt that the paragraphs given to Edward’s mother’s erratic behavior and unstated mental illness were very telling, he’d endured a lot and suppressed a lot; there was little he wouldn’t have done for Florence who’s prudishness most surely have had a deeper, darker — unwritten about — founding stroy.

On Chisel Beach
“True love lasts forever.”
– Joseph B. Wirthlin


The course of true love never did run smooth.
William Shakespeare

Daniel Zalewski (The New Yorker) states that, “all novelists are scholars of human behavior, but Ian McEwan pursues the matter with more scientific rigor than the job strictly requires.” He went on to point out that after discussing his many duplicitous characters — such as Briony Tallis, the precocious adolescent of his 2001 novel, Atonement, who one reviewer claims: “ruins two lives when she makes a false accusation of rape” — McEwan pointed to a “study in cognitive psychology” suggesting that “the best way to deceive someone is first to deceive yourself.” After all one is more convincing when they are being sincere (irrespective of whether they are delusional or not). The accidental slip — the penned words, ‘I want to kiss your see you en tea’ were not supposed to be read — elementally underscores the potential portent of the flap of the butterfly’s wing analogy to chaos theory.

I’ll point you now to this post for a reason I’ll leave unstated:


“✍🏻 100’s (#01)”
Written in red and underlined twice for emphasis.

& this one too because I just somehow don’t rest easy with the false claim of rape ^ because yeah, it happens, but, so too — and far more frequently I submit to you — do falsely dismissed cases of actual rape:


“Lust and Lambast”
A hand left poignantly unshaken; a republican party, quite unstirred.

Roses for my grave

=== forget-me-nots ===

Let’s be frank, it’s as easy as A, B, C . . .

A.
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
.
B.
If I had a flower for every time I thought of you, I could walk in my garden forever.
.
C.
I hold it true, whate’er befall; I feel it, when I sorrow most; ‘Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all.
Alfred Tennyson

. . . Love is love and there ain’t nothing greater. There is no emotion capable of so fundamentally altering and perturbing the human brain than can and does the one we call “love.” It clouds all reason and it’s the root cause of much of humankind’s best art: literature. Here are some noteworthy Tennyson poems:

01. — Milton
02. — Ulysses
03. — Claribel
04. — Mariana
05. — Timbuctoo
06. — The Charge of the Light Brigade
07. — Recollections of the Arabian Nights

Mars and Venus United by Love
“Mars and Venus United by Love”
by Paolo Veronese (c. 1575)

In this visually opulent and sensual painting, Cupid binds Mars (the god of war) to Venus with a love knot. It celebrates the civilizing and nurturing effects of love, as milk flows from Venus’s breast and Mars’s warhorse is restrained.

“Sap away”

· · · a poem · · ·


Sap my sap away
Switch A to a U
See now, it’s “Sup!”
.
Anyhow I’m drained
All’s so very strained
As in: “Depleted”
.
Paradise was there
Purgatory’s here:-
Penitence afire.


It’s all encapsulated, enveloped in a vividly coloured circular shape; it is not without ornithological appeal. I modelled it god-like out of willing and kneed full clay (sometimes viscus and earthy blue-gray brown, sometimes rocklike ochre, traced with terracotta). But the clay I am here referring to was actually a handful of timeless hourglass-grade sand; sometimes molten hot and sometimes, congealed, dull and cold, but either way, mine to sculpt. We can think of Madagascan spices and gemstones, we can think of what Ernest Shackleton[1] and Robert Falcon Scott[2] would have heard and observed. “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” — it’s carved into a trunk of oak down there, below the Southern Ocean. The astute will note it is lifted from Tennyson’s “Ulysses.” it was chiselled out in 1913 and, 107 years on, faces out, steadfast and stoic, to the Roaring 40s. From that powerful poem I retype the following lines (Oh how divine, with hindsight, were those heady times):


It may be that the gulfs will wash us down
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles


Alfred Tennyson

Harland Miller
Harland Miller is an English artist born in Yorkshire in 1964. He studied at London’s Chelsea School of Art, graduating in 1988.
Harland Miller
Notable artworks by Harland Miller include his giant canvases of Penguin Book covers. The paintings include sardonic statements, e.g., “Whitby – The Self Catering Years,” “Rags to Polyester – My Story” and, “Incurable Romantic Seeks Dirty Filthy Whore.”
Aldridge & Miller
Miles Aldridge (born 1964, London) is a fashion photographer and artist.
Photograph by Miles Aldridge
Photo by Miles Aldridge, book in hand by Harland Miller.


Post Script

[1]   Ernest Shackleton
I paraphrase in a wholly unworthy parallel: I had seen God in his splendors, heard the text that Nature renders. I’d reached the naked soul of [my] man.

[2]   Robert Falcon Scott
I paraphrase in a wholly unworthy parallel: I took risks, I knew I took them; things finally came out against me, and therefore I have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of happenstance [& one too many rolls of life’s Damoclesian dice], despite this truly frightful plight, determined still am I, to do my best to make amends for the the past …

[3]   Sword of Damocles
If you say that someone has the Sword of Damocles hanging over them, you mean that they are in a situation in which something very bad could happen at any moment (an imminent and ever-present peril). It can also be used to denote the sense of foreboding; you feel it in your bones that something bad’s about to happen but you can’t be sure what (or more probably ‘how’). William Shakespeare used it in a fashion: “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer refers to it too: “Above, where seated in his tower, /I saw Conquest depicted in his power/ There was a sharpened sword above his head / That hung there by the thinnest simple thread.” Roman poet Horace also alluded to it by waxing lyrical about the virtues of living a simple, rustic life; favouring this in preference to the myriad threats and anxieties that accompany holding a position of power.

Sword of Damocles
“Sword of Damocles”
by Richard Westall (1812)

[4]   Gouge away / You can gouge away / Stay all day / If you want to //

The dreadful mistake

deader than dead


My mistake was to treat you my Muse
//
I’ll tell you about ‘complicated’:
“I will tell you how I wander lost
— the books I note and the texts I read —
and the pain felt by my tongue-tied heart”

//
as though you were simply my mistress.

Path

^ Winn, R. (2018). The Salt Path. London: Penguin.

Can you tell heaven from hell

How I wish, how I wish you were here

Wish_You_Were_Here
~~~ Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun
~~ Now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky


So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from hell
Blue skies from pain
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?

Do you think you can tell?
.
Did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
Did you exchange
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?
.
How I wish, how I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground
And how we found
The same old fears
Wish you were here


— Gilmour & Waters (emphasis is mine)

Jump to 6:06 in the video below to get to the purported point of poem. Yet, I am really asking and really wondering, is there merit in analysing every-fucking-thing? I mean to say, therapeutically speaking, is it not oftentimes best to stick to our own imagination and interpretation of a given poem’s point rather than to seek out it’s actual point (if indeed the poet’s stated this in a non-cryptic and unambiguous preface or footnote)…

I’ll give you my penny’s worth without writing another word: