“They wave:— from out their fragrant tops Eternal dews come down in drops. They weep:— from off their delicate stems Perennial tears descend in gems.” ~ Edgar Allan Poe, from “The Valley of Unrest”
Wednesday afternoon. Sunny and cold, 40 degrees.
We have Olivia today, but she has a cold. You can really tell when she isn’t feeling well. It shows on her whole body.
Anyway, this post contains some works by French artist Edmund Dulac (1882-1953), who created a series of illustrations as a companion to Poe’s The Bells and Other Poems (1912). Click here to see the rest.
I came across the Kin Fables video below, created by Seb and Ben McKinnon, and it reminded me of both Poe and Dulac, so I have paired the video with a few Dulac illustrations, a few selections from Poe, and the Margaret Atwood poem, “Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing.” By the way, Atwood turned 75 yesterday.
It’s a veritable cornucopia of things.
More later. Peace.
Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing
The world is full of women
who’d tell me I should be ashamed of myself
if they had the chance. Quit dancing.
Get some self-respect
and a day job.
Right. And minimum wage,
and varicose veins, just standing
in one place for eight hours
behind a glass counter
bundled up to the neck, instead of
naked as a meat sandwich.
Selling gloves, or something.
Instead of what I do sell.
You have to have talent
to peddle a thing so nebulous
and without material form.
Exploited, they’d say. Yes, any way
you cut it, but I’ve a choice
of how, and I’ll take the money.
I do give value.
Like preachers, I sell vision,
like perfume ads, desire
or its facsimile. Like jokes
or war, it’s all in the timing.
I sell men back their worse suspicions:
that everything’s for sale,
and piecemeal. They gaze at me and see
a chain-saw murder just before it happens,
when thigh, ass, inkblot, crevice, tit, and nipple
are still connected.
Such hatred leaps in them,
my beery worshippers! That, or a bleary
hopeless love. Seeing the rows of heads
and upturned eyes, imploring
but ready to snap at my ankles,
I understand floods and earthquakes, and the urge
to step on ants. I keep the beat,
and dance for them because
they can’t. The music smells like foxes,
crisp as heated metal
searing the nostrils
or humid as August, hazy and languorous
as a looted city the day after,
when all the rape’s been done
already, and the killing,
and the survivors wander around
looking for garbage
to eat, and there’s only a bleak exhaustion.
Speaking of which, it’s the smiling
tires me out the most.
This, and the pretence
that I can’t hear them.
And I can’t, because I’m after all
a foreigner to them.
The speech here is all warty gutturals,
obvious as a slab of ham,
but I come from the province of the gods
where meanings are lilting and oblique.
I don’t let on to everyone,
but lean close, and I’ll whisper:
My mother was raped by a holy swan.
You believe that? You can take me out to dinner.
That’s what we tell all the husbands.
There sure are a lot of dangerous birds around.
Not that anyone here
but you would understand.
The rest of them would like to watch me
and feel nothing. Reduce me to components
as in a clock factory or abattoir.
Crush out the mystery.
Wall me up alive
in my own body.
They’d like to see through me,
but nothing is more opaque
than absolute transparency.
Look–my feet don’t hit the marble!
Like breath or a balloon, I’m rising,
I hover six inches in the air
in my blazing swan-egg of light.
You think I’m not a goddess?
This is a torch song.
Touch me and you’ll burn.
“Mermaid” (detail, 1953, illustration) by Sulamith Wulfing
“Pearls for Kisses” (nd, oil on canvas) by Fred Appleyard
“The Little Mermaid” (1911, illustration) by Edmund Dulac
“The Lady from the Sea” (aka Mermaid, 1896) by Edvard Munch)
“Little Mermaid” (1953, illustration) by Sulamith Wulfing
“So I Came forth of the Sea” (1948, illustration) by Marc Chagall
“The Forbidden World” (1949, oil on canvas) by Rene Magritte
“A Mermaid” (1900, oil on canvas) by John William Waterhouse
“The Little Mermaid” (1937, illustration) by Ivan Bilibin
“La Sirene” (aka Mermaid, 1896) by Alexandre Séon
“Undine” (1811, illustration) by Arthur Rackham
“Siren”(1941, illustration by Kay Nielsen
“The Little Mermaid”(2011, illustration) by Boris Diodorov
“We spoke of those magic summer nights, looking out over the gulf of Castellammare, when the stars are mirrored in the sleeping sea, and how, lying on your back among the mastic trees, your spirit is lost in the whirling heavens, while the body braces itself, fearing the approach of demons.” ~ Giuseppe di Lampedusa, from “The Professor and the Siren”
Two for Tuesday: Mermaids
Tuesday afternoon. Humid with impending storms, 82 degrees.
A bit of serendipity today: read an essay in The Paris Review by Marina Warner called “The Professor and the Mermaid,” and then came upon a poem by Pablo Neruda that I had never seen before. Love when things like this happen.
Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks
All those men were there inside,
when she came in totally naked.
They had been drinking: they began to spit.
Newly come from the river, she knew nothing.
She was a mermaid who had lost her way.
The insults flowed down her gleaming flesh.
Obscenities drowned her golden breasts.
Not knowing tears, she did not weep tears.
Not knowing clothes, she did not have clothes.
They blackened her with burnt corks and cigarette stubs,
and rolled around laughing on the tavern floor.
She did not speak because she had no speech.
Her eyes were the colour of distant love,
her twin arms were made of white topaz.
Her lips moved, silent, in a coral light,
and suddenly she went out by that door.
Entering the river she was cleaned,
shining like a white stone in the rain,
and without looking back she swam again
swam towards emptiness, swam towards death.
~ Pablo Neruda
for Aya at fifteen
Damp-haired from the bath, you drape yourself
upside down across the sofa, reading,
one hand idly sunk into a bowl
of crackers, goldfish with smiles stamped on.
I think they are growing gills, swimming
up the sweet air to reach you. Small girl,
my slim miracle, they multiply.
In the black hours when I lie sleepless,
near drowning, dread-heavy, your face
is the bright lure I look for, love’s hook
piercing me, hauling me cleanly up.
~ Kim Addonizio
Music by Jon Allen, featuring Amy Smith, “When the Morning Comes”
Girl Grasping Blooms of Thorny Shrub in Snow Covered Landscape by Kay Nielsen
“Each person who ever was or is or will be has a song. It isn’t a song that anybody else wrote. It has its own melody, it has its own words. Very few people get to sing their song. Most of us fear that we cannot do it justice with our voices, or that our words are too foolish or too honest, or too odd. So people live their song instead.” ~ Neil Gaiman
I received a very interesting comment to yesterday’s post. The writer took exception to the quote, “And in the end the words won’t matter/‘Cause in the end nothing stays the same/And in the end dreams just scatter and fall like rain.” The lines were taken from Matt Nathanson’s song, “All We Are,” and I thought that they were appropriate to my section on dreams.
But the writer contended that words do matter because “they are the bricks of the imprint which gets built.” He went on to say that we should speak “as if you are seeing dawn.” What a wonderful comment and such a beautiful sentiment: to speak as if you are “seeing dawn.”
If we all spoke as if we were seeing dawn, how beautiful language would be. I realize that we cannot always speak as if we are seeing the miracle of dawn or great beauty, but I do agree completely: words do matter. That being said, I chose that particular section of the song to use for my section quote because I also agree with the statement that in the end, words won’t matter. Am I of two minds? Of course, but let me explain.
We should all speak to one another as if the words matter because words do stay—they reside in memory; they creep into the locked corners of our brain and take up residence, sometimes to be brought back out at inconvenient moments. They insinuate themselves into the very fabric of our souls, the sweetest ones part of the most beautiful patterns. But I am reminded of something that I read somewhere long ago about how people should not wait until the ones they love are dead to tell when how they feel. Words spoken over a grave are for the speaker. That is what I mean when I say that in the end, once someone we love is gone, all that we have to say, should have said, wanted to say—all of that comes to nothing, and the words unsaid become dust on our tongues.
I know this too well.
So yes, Manish, words do matter, but in the end, words cannot change the life we have led, how we have treated our friends and our enemies, the things we have said in anger, and the things we have said in love. The end is too late.
“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.” ~ Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale
After my bout with violent dreams and vivid dreams, I’m back to not being able to sleep. This morning, after hearing the clock chime 6 a.m., I got out of our bed (Corey’s, mine, and the dogs’) and went into Eamonn’s room and laid upon his futon. His room is dark and cool, and I thought that maybe I would be able to sleep better without the dogs, who were pressed up against all sides of my body, so I lay there in the dark and looked up at Eamonn’s ceiling, where he had put stars that glow in the dark. I thought about when he was dating this one girl with whom he was truly smitten, and he had labeled one star “the first star to the left.” For awhile, he was consumed with Peter Pan, the adult version, not the Disney version.
I laid there in the dark and realized just how much I miss eldest son. Yes, he drives me crazy, and yes, he is so much like my ex that it is beyond annoying, but he is also my first son, and I remember him sleeping on my chest when he was an infant. He had a stomach disorder that made his sleep fitful, and he used to sleep best on my chest. I would lay there with my hand gently on his back and watch him breathe. I was still so plagued by the loss of Caitlin that I could not rest peacefully unless Eamonn was nearby. When he wasn’t asleep on my chest, he slept in the cradle at the foot of my bed. Our old lab Mokie would sleep under the cradle in protective mode.
Those were days of great joy for me. Our family seemed to have recovered from the unrecoverable, and we were making our way into life again. That Eamonn did not sleep through the night until he was one year old did not bother me, although I would get curious looks from people who asked if he was sleeping through the night, one of those judgemental parenting questions. After the stomach operation he had when he was only three weeks old, Eamonn had to take several medicines, including a dose during the night, so sleeping all the way through was impossible.
I would feed him, give him his medicine and then rock him back to sleep in the Bentwood Rocker. Often, I would sing to him softly; he loved “Unchained Melody,” and it never failed to put him back to sleep.
That is what I was thinking about as I lay there on his very uncomfortable futon, looking up at the stars on his ceiling that were fading as the morning light began to creep into the window. And I finally fell asleep.
“There is only one page left to write on. I will fill it with words of only one syllable. I love. I have loved. I will love.” ~ Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife
“The Star Lovers” by Warwick Goble
Words. Words of love. Words of hate. Words spoken in anger. Words spoken in frustration. Words uttered in helplessness. Words whispered in sorrow. Words are my bane and my lifeblood. They make me whole and allow me to share my innermost thoughts, and they cleave my heart when I allow them to fall from my lips angrily. Words join us as families, communities, societies. And they separate us from the others, those who do not speak the same words. And sometimes, the unspoken words, the gestures—the hands clasped in prayer, the hands crossed over the heart, the clenched hand, the wringing hands, the open hand against the lips—those unspoken words can be comprehended by any onlooker, and we are joined, whether or not we desire it.
I am my words, all of the words that I have said to my children, to my love, to my parents, my friends, and yes, even my enemies. All of the words that I have put down on paper, have typed with my keyboard. All of those words are the sum of my life, myself, my esse, and my soul. There are words that I regret but cannot take back, and there are words that I should have said, yet I remained silent. Those utterances and those silences also comprise my being. If I am very lucky, when I reach the end of my journey, some of my words will be remembered, and I will have said all of the words I needed to say to all of the people who mattered.
More words later. Peace be unto you and yours.
From “A Tree Within”
The landscape opens its eyes and sits up,
sets out walking followed by its shadow,
it is a stela of dark murmurs
that are the languages of fallen matter,
the wind stops and hears the clamor of the elements,
sand and water talking in low voices,
the howl of pilings as they battle the salt,
the rash confidence of fire,
the soliloquy of ashes,
the interminable conversation of the universe.
Talking with the things and with ourselves
the universe talks to itself:
we are its tongue and ears, its words and silences.
The wind hears what the universe says
and we hear what the wind says,
rustling the submarine foliage of language,
the secret vegetation of the underworld and the undersky:
man dreams the dream of things,
time thinks the dream of men.
~ Octavio Paz
Matt Kearney’s “All I Need”
*Images are book illustrations from the Golden Age of Illustration (early 20th C.), including works by Kay Nielsen (Danish), Warwick Goble (British), Edmund Dulac (French), and Arthur Rackham (British).