Epithalamium Redux Redux (Slight Return)

Bartolomeo Cesi - Two Men Kissing in Florence, 1600
~~~

Epithalamium

I

Hymen, Hymenaeus!
Gay men and lesbians
Flock to the City Hall,
Follow their bliss,

Purchase their licenses,
Swear to their permanence,
Pose for the camera crews
Sharing a kiss.

II

Damned, sir?  They’re damned, you say?
Possibly, possibly:
Love has led millions to
Suffer a Fall.

That’s for the next world, sir;
Here with the living — well,
What was it Chaucer said?
“Love conquers all.”

III

Poets, sir. Love poets.
Some of the best have been
Gay, sir.  Consider this
List I’ve compiled:

Wystan Hugh Auden and
C.P. Cavafy and
Sappho. James Merrill, Thom
Gunn, Oscar Wilde.

IV

Legally, legally,
Should an impediment
Rise to the marriage of
Minds that are true?

Sure as there’s only one
Race, sir — the human race —
How would you feel if it
Happened to you?

V

Citizens, citizens,
Leave to your churches these
Questions of sanctity,
Tough and profound.

Secular governments
Ought to facilitate
Binding of lovers who
Yearn to be bound.

VI

Hymen, Hymenaeus!
Cleave to the one who’s your
Heart’s true companion, the
Thou to your I.

Now, when the times are so
Fearsome we all must, as
Auden says, “love one a-
nother or die.”

~~~

In view of the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions this morning on issues of same-sex marriage, including the apparent restoration of that institution here in California, I am republishing—for the fourth and likely final time—my 2004 double dactyl paean to same.

The full history of the poem was summarized on its third publication, last year.

~~~


Bottom Feeding

At the eminent What About Clients? blawg, Dan Hull and Holden Oliver have gone and done it, reposting Henry Fuseli's vision of Nick Bottom and Titania reine des fées shown below or, as they say in the trade, infra

"I consider it a challenge before, etc., etc., and I don't intend to lose," he said, Mercurially.

Hence, this revisitation of my own cobwebbed poetic tribute to Queen T and Nicky B: 

Titania and Bottom

~~~

When Bottom bore the donkey’s head and brayed,
Titania wreathed his upstart ears with flowers 
‘Til — disenchanted, open-eyed, dismayed —
She cast him from the comforts of her bowers. 
Botanical elixirs were the tools 
With which the weaver and his fellow rude 
Mechanicals, with other mortal fools, 
Were fuddled, led astray and misconstrued. 
Old Athens’ misty woods and fogbound lovers, 
Her naiads, pixies, fairies, sprites and elves 
Are gone; but surely Puck still grins and hovers 
As modern men make asses of themselves. 
No spell but self delusion clouds their sight, 
And leaves them pathless in the summer night.

~~~


Song: "I am the Wombat of D. G. Rossetti"

Rossetti's Wombat Seated in his Master's Lap
~~~

I AM THE WOMBAT OF D. G. ROSSETTI

~~~

In the Southern Hemisphere
They say that the creatures are terribly queer: 
Some of them poisonous, 
Some of them vicious. 
Furred, but with duck’s bills!
Or scaly, like fishes!
But I, sir —
You see me, sir —
Harmless and dreamy, sir —
Make my acquaintance: I’m pleased to be here.

Oh —

I am the wombat of D.G. Rossetti, 
  Imported to London from over the seas. 
When Maestro Rossetti was wanting a pet he
  Sent off a request to the antipodes.

There a bold sun-burnished strapping Australian
  Beat through the bush to see what he could see. 
Searching through forests eccentric and alien, 
  He found a burrow and there he found me.

Many months later I came to the jetty, 
  Was met by my master, Christina, and Jane. 
Now I am the wombat of D.G. Rossetti: 
  I live in Cheyne Walk and I walk on a chain.

Kangaroos relish their fisticuff combat
  Whilst I on the other hand flee from a fight. 
In London I am the preeminent wombat,
  The only one owned by a Pre-Raphaelite.

I have been called both a joy and a madness, 
  Delightful to all who my company keep. 
When some day I die of homesickness and sadness, 
  My master will fall to his knees and he’ll weep.

Fighting his tears he’ll erect a memorial, 
  Hon’ring the wombat what wuvved him so well, 
While my marsupial soul incorporeal
  Sighs from on high like some blest Damozel.

He taught me Italian and fed me spaghetti: 
  All chubby in Chelsea, I couldn’t stay long. 
I was the wombat of D.G. Rossetti: 
  Though mortal in life I’m immortal in song.

Yes I was the wombat of D.G. Rossetti —
  Though mortal in life I’m immortal in song!

Wmr wombat sketch
~~~

This waddling lyric is the result of a bit of free association on Twitter last week between soprano Jennifer Behnke, composer Garrett Shatzer, and myself. I am afraid 'twas I who inserted wombats in to an otherwise perfectly serious train of thought about poetry. At length, I decided to take a run at lyrics for a wombat song, and here we are.

I hear a tune for this in my head, a Victorian music hall waltz of sorts, but your own imagination may lead you in other directions.

~~~

Illustrations: "Rossetti's Wombat Seated in his Master's Lap," pencil drawing by William Bell Scott, on Rossetti's letterhead, from the holdings of the Tate. A sketch of the wombat by William Michael Rossetti, provenance unknown.

Additional visual inspirations:

Mrs._Morris_and_the_Wombat

"Mrs. Morris and the Wombat," pen drawing by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, original in the holdings of the British Museum, image via The Rossetti Archive.

Rossetti mourning his wombat

"Rossetti lamenting the death of his wombat", pen drawing by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, from the holdings of the British Museum.

~~~


Epithalamium Redux Redux

Gustav Klimt - Sappho 1888-90
The poem below first appeared on this blog on February 26, 2004, during the period when then San Francisco Mayor (now Lieutenant Governor) Gavin Newsom unilaterally directed the City of San Francisco to license same-sex marriages. That original post had a tentative "do I dare" quality to it that irks me a bit now, though that tone was more or less consistent with the tenor of the time in which it was written andmight serve as a marker for how the times have changed. The poem itself is something of an oddity, bringing a light verse form to bear on a subject of some little seriousness, but I still like it eight years on.

Back in 2004 the California Supreme Court ruled within a month that the City of San Francisco had no legal authority to license marriages not specifically authorized by state law, but it also invited the City to challenge the limitations of those statutes in court. The City did, and that case eventually worked its way through the system and back to the court that suggested it. Four years ago today, May 15, 2008, the California Supreme Court declared in In re Marriage Cases that the restriction of marriage to couples of differing genders was impermissible under the California Constitution. On that same day four years ago it seemed appropriate to republish, and I did, with less circumspection than on the first time round.

In the ensuing four years, the voters of California have amended the state's Constitution via Proposition 8, for the express purpose of reversing the state Supreme Court's decision. That Court has confirmed that the constitutional amendment was lawfully adopted and is binding upon it, so that there is no longer a state-constitutional basis for an expansive definition of marriage. Quite the opposite in fact: the state constitution is now explicit in defining marriage as strictly a man-woman arrangement. A challenge to Proposition 8 under the U.S. Constitution has since produced decisions in the U.S. District Court and from a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals finding the Proposition constitutionally impermissible. The outcome of the challenges to Proposition 8 remains inconclusive, however, pending further en banc review by the Ninth Circuit and an expected/inevitable petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Given that I have republished it on a rough four year cycle, and given that the President of the United States made his views on this subject explicit suring this past week, the time seems right to roll these verses out again, so roll them out I shall:

~~~

Epithalamium

I

Hymen, Hymenaeus!
Gay men and lesbians
Flock to the City Hall,
Follow their bliss,

Purchase their licenses,
Swear to their permanence,
Pose for the camera crews
Sharing a kiss.

II

Damned, sir?  They’re damned, you say?
Possibly, possibly:
Love has led millions to
Suffer a Fall.

That’s for the next world, sir;
Here with the living -- well,
What was it Chaucer said?
“Love conquers all.”

III

Poets, sir. Love poets.
Some of the best have been
Gay, sir.  Consider this
List I’ve compiled:

Wystan Hugh Auden and
C.P. Cavafy and
Sappho. James Merrill, Thom
Gunn, Oscar Wilde.

IV

Legally, legally,
Should an impediment
Rise to the marriage of
Minds that are true?

Sure as there’s only one
Race, sir -- the human race --
How would you feel if it
Happened to you?

V

Citizens, citizens,
Leave to your churches these
Questions of sanctity,
Tough and profound.

Secular governments
Ought to facilitate
Binding of lovers who
Yearn to be bound.

VI

Hymen, Hymenaeus!
Cleave to the one who’s your
Heart’s true companion, the
Thou to your I.

Now, when the times are so
Fearsome we all must, as
Auden says, “love one a-
nother or die.”

~~~


Blawg Review #315 - April Fools' Prequel

Trial by jury 1

APRIL FOOL!

~~~

Surprise! Blawg Review, the blog carnival for everyone interested in law, is ready for its comeback and its close up.

Launched originally in April 2005, and overseen by the still-anonymous Editor, Blawg Review ranged about across the legal blogging landscape, appearing each Monday in a new and different exotic locale for the next six years before seemingly going silent following its 314th edition this past August.

It has been my pleasure to host Blawg Review on my legal blog, Declarations and Exclusions, on five occasions, beginning with Blawg Review #51. Since April 1, 2006, I have also hosted, here, five April Fools' extra editions, in the same week as the Decs&Excs editions. That's ten hosting turns for me, an ample store of evidence from which our Editor was able to infer that, yes, I'm just a blogger who can't say "no" if you were, hypothetically, to float the notion of refiring the boilers under Blawg Review and ending its sabbatical on an April Fool-ish note. Thus it comes to pass that Blawg Review #315 will be up at Decs&Excs on Monday and that the sixth annual April Fools' Edition is now before your disbelieving eyes.

While the original installments of Blawg Review were simple collections of links to the prior week's best or most interesting or most curious legal blogging, it early on became common, albeit never mandatory, for each host to adopt a Theme for his or her presentation. On this day last year, Blawg Review #305 took the form of a tribute to and adaptation of "I've Got a Little List," from Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado. Today, I hope I may be pardoned if I return to the same well and build this 2012 April Fools' edition around another popular G&S number, the introductory song of Major-General Stanley from The Pirates of Penzance, best known by its opening line:

"I am the very model of a modern Major-General." 

Tom_Browne,_The_Major_General

We need not go into the absurd plot of Pirates today. Suffice it to say that it involves pirates, an unfortunate young fellow apprenticed to their service until his eighteenth birthday, the difficulty posed by his having been born on the 29th of February and thereby having had only four birthdays in eighteen years, a collection of young lovelies who are wards in chancery to the aforementioned Major-General, a collection of unhappy policemen, and a joyous, nuptial ending.

Major-General Stanley himself is a figure of a kind W.S. Gilbert delighted in mocking: a man who has risen to a position of stature for which he has no practical qualifications whatever. What the Major-General does possess is a vast store of arcane and useless knowledge bearing on most every topic except those that might make him an effetive military man. He would likely have made a fine blogger, had the Victorian era offered that outlet.

Upon his arrival in Act I, Major-General Stanley demonstrates his breadth of study with this famous patter song. Here it is, as performed by John Reed, principal comedian with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in the 1950's and 1960's:

Here, George Rose performs it in the wildly successful 1980 New York Shakespeare Festival staging in Central Park, with Linda Ronstadt as Mabel and Kevin Kline in his star-making turn as the Pirate King:

Sir Arthur Sullivan's catchy tune has achieved a further measure of immortality thanks to its having been adapted by Tom Lehrer to provide the melody for his cataloging of the chemical elements, "The Elements." (Clever title, that.)

Lehrer's song drew renewed attention recently when the performing of it was revealed to be a favorite party trick of Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe. Allow him to demonstrate:

And so, with that tune now well-implanted in your ears, we may turn to the matter at hand. Friends, the 2012 April Fools' Prequel to Blawg Review #315:

Henry Lytton as Major General Stanley 1919

~~~

THE BLAWGER-GENERAL'S SONG

Blawger-General:
This is the snappy patter-singing April Foolin' Blawg Review.
We're bringing back this legal blogging carnival to all of you
Who've missed it or forgotten it while it's been in absentia:
(A weekly dose of blawging is believed to slow dementia.)
There's many kinds of blawging, folks: it may be theoretical,
From time to time rhetorical, and sometimes alphabetical.
We hope you'll find this parody enlightening and risible....
Inspired by Major-General Stanley's rapid polysyllables.

    Chorus:
    Inspired by Major-General Stanley's rapid pollysyllables,
    Inspired by Major-General Stanley's rapid polysyllables,
    Inspired by General Stanley and his rapid Polly Polly syllables! 

Blawger-General:
The Law's much more than drafting-stuff-while-sitting-at-your-
    desk-ery

And offers opportunities for wackinessgrotesquery,
For odd quixotic ventures, and for trumpery and trickery,
And litigants possessèd by the spirit of Terpsichore.
A matter rather serious we feel we need to mention: you
Should click the links below and take the time to pay attention to
The awful depredations of a so-called blogger/journalist
The Lord High Executioner might add to his infernal list.

    Chorus:
    The Lord High Executioner might add to his infernal list,
    Oh yes he would indeed do well to add to his infernal list
    That most eternally infernal wicked so-called blogger/journalist.

Blawger-General:
With cigarettes and chocolates, we try to be responsible.
These clever cartoons educate the criminal and constable
If you work at McDonald's, all your problems may be supersized.
(These blawgs are all original, there's nothing here
    that's plagiarized.)

From blawgs you'll learn a thing or three about judicial etiquette
And dangerous misguided legislators in Connecticut.

Perhaps with an analogy we'll find that a solution'll
Present itself to when a health care mandate's Constitutional. 

    Chorus:
    We do not understand it, all this complicated push 'n' pull!
    To find it inter-esting you would have to be delusional!
    We like a nice long walk, yes that's a proper daily
        "constitutional."

Blawger-General:
You, too, could be an expert
, so be sure to trim your cuticles

And brighten your appearance through the use of cosmeceuticals.
Now take the time to listen to a podcast full of Georgery
Or head out to a gallery where ev'ry work's a forgery.
Our time here it is fleeting and I fear I hear it flittering
Or fluttering or flattering or maybe even Twittering 
This Prequel's the embodiment of ev'rything that's ex- cell- ent....

All:
   And now that Blawg Review is back, 
  You'll wonder why it ever went!

The Major General - theatre poster 1880

THE LINKS

Here are gathered stand-alone links to all of the blawgs embedded in the lyric above. Where multiple entries originate from the same source, I have kept them together, so the order of links below does not necessarily follow the order of links above. 

Above the Law -
"Nanny State Ban on Words Is Lazy Educating By New York State"

The Criminal Lawyer [Nathaniel Burney] -
"Better Criminal Lawyering through Smart Risk-Taking"
Also by Mr. Burney, the ongoing and highly commendable
Illustrated Guide to Criminal Law.

An Associate's Mind [Keith Lee] -
"Churchill's 5 Elements for Persuasive Speaking"

Koehler Law Blog [Jamison Koehler] -
"Cross Examinations. Directs, too."

slaw.ca -
"Guide to Rhetorical Fallacies" [Michael Lines]; 
"The Friday Fillip: The Military of Silly Walks" [Simon Fodden] 

noncuratlex.com [Kyle Graham] - 
"The Affordable Care Act Oral Argument, If Hollywood Had Scripted It";
"The Gashlycrumb Tinies, Indexed to Franklin, Rabin & Green’s Tort Law and Alternatives" (via Overlawyered); 
Just the Facts, Ma’am: Daily Training Bulletins of the Los Angeles Police Department, in Cartoons (1954)
 

New York Personal Injury Law Blog [Eric Turkewitz] - 
"A New Personal Injury Waiver (Updated)"

D.A. Confidential - 
"A word in your ear"

 Technology & Marketing Law Blog [Eric Goldman] - 
"What Do Soymilk and Nutella Have to Do With an Online Harassment Case?--Taylor v. Texas"

California Appellate Report
"Brantley v. NBC Universal (9th Cir. - March 30, 2012)"
["It basically depends on if you know you're Don Quixote or if, instead, you're actually Don Quixote."] 

SCOTUSBlog - 
"The RNC shoots itself in the mouth

WSJ Law Blog - 
"Witches’ Brew! NY Suit Over Court Victory Dance Continues

The Legal Satyricon [Marc Randazza] -
"Judge rules, again, that blogger Crystal Cox is not a journalist. You know why? Because she ISN’T a journalist"; 
"How Crystal Cox is helping to prove the strength of the First Amendment"

Simple Justice [Scott Greenfield] -
"A Blogger Not Like Us"

Popehat [Ken-at-Popehat] -
"'Investigative Journalist' Crystal Cox's Latest Target: An Enemy's Three-Year-Old Daughter"; 
"For Plagiarists, The Internet Is A Double-Edged Sword";
"In Which I Dare Connecticut To Come Get Me. COME AT ME, BRO."

Philly Law Blog [Jordan Rushie] -
"Crystal Cox – Investigative Blogger? No, More Like A Scammer and Extortionist"

Defending People [Mark Bennett] -
"Crystal Cox"

Abnormal Use [Nick Farr] -
"Philip Morris Not Liable for Fire Started by Cigarette"

Jonathan Turley -
"Pinch Me: First Truck Spills Millions of Coins All Over Highway, Second Truck Covers The Money In Candy . . . Men Wait Anxiously For Moosehead Beer Truck"

Overlawyered [Walter Olson] - 
"Woman Blames McDonald's for Prostitution"

The Trial Warrior Blog [Antonin Pribetic] -
"Supreme Court of Canada: Canadian lawyers must turn the other cheek when bench slapped"

Concurring Opinions [Nathan Cortez] - 
"Why Can’t We Analogize the Mandate?"

Criminal Defense [Brian Tannebaum] -
"Wanna Get Famous Off Trayvon Martin?"

A Georgia Lawyer -
"A New One: 'Cosmeceuticals'"

Infamy or Praise [Colin Samuels] -
"George Rises (and Falls)"

The Art Law Blog [Donn Zaretsky] -
"Remember when I asked how long it would be before a gallery signed him up?"

Charon QC -
"Twitter"

The Modern Major General by Bab (aka WS Gilbert)
Tomorrow [April 2, 2012] BLAWG REVIEW #315 will be hosted at my law and insurance blog, Declarations and Exclusions. Please drop in and sample the wares on offer.

[Update 4/2/12: Blawg Review #315 is up and readable here.]

Blawg Review has information about next week's host, future hosts, how you too can become a host, and instructions on how to get your own blawg posts considered in upcoming editions.

~~~


Bearing Valse Witness

Phenakistoscope_3g07690d 

~~~

Some thirty years later than I meant to do, I have recently been reading Carl E. Schorske's Fin-De-Siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture, which surveys its titular era in a series of interlocking essays considering the figures centered in Vienna who in a range of disciplines—drama, politics, architecture, painting, music, psychology—essentially created what we thought of as "the Modern" through most of the twentieth century. As an entry in to his subject, in the opening paragraphs of the very first essay, Schorske considers not a person but a musical form: the waltz.    

At the close of World War I, Maurice Ravel recorded in La Valse the violent death of the nineteenth-century world. The waltz, long the symbol of gay Vienna, became in the composer's hands a frantic danse macabre. 'I feel this work a kind of apotheosis of the Viennese waltz, linked in my mind with the impression of a fantastic whirl of destiny.' His grotesque memorial serves as a symbolic introduction to a problem of history: the relationship of politics and the psyche in fin-de-siecle Vienna.

Although Ravel celebrates the  destruction of the world of the waltz, he does not initially present that world as unified. The work opens rather with an adumbration of the individual parts, which will compose the whole: fragments of waltz themes, scattered over a brooding stillness. Gradually the parts find each other—the martial fanfare, the vigorous trot, the sweet obligato, the sweeping major melody. Each element is drawn, its own momentum magnetized, into the wider whole. Each unfolds its individuality as it joins its partners in the dance. The pace accelerates; almost imperceptibly the sweeping rhythm passes over into the compulsive, then into the frenzied. The concentric elements become eccentric, disengaged from the whole, thus transforming harmony into cacophony. The driving pace continues to build when suddenly caesuras appear in the rhythm, and the auditor virtually stops to stare in horror at the void created when a major element weakens the movement, and yet the whole is moving, relentlessly driving as only compulsive three-quarter time can. Through to the very end, when the waltz crashes in a cataclysm of sound, each theme continues to breathe its individuality, eccentric and distorted now, in the chaos of totality.

Ravel's musical parable of a modern cultural crisis, whether or not he knew it, posed the problem in much the same way as it was felt and seen by the Austrian intelligentsia of the fin de siecle. How had their world fallen into chaos? ...

And we're off, never really returning to the question of the waltz—although in that first essay and again later Schorske spends time and attention on Hugo von Hoffmanstahl, whose libretto for Der Rosenkavalier (1911) provided Richard Strauss numerous opportunities to compose some of the last serious but non-ironic waltzes.

Schorske's opening gambit notwithstanding, I was not particularly thinking about waltzes until I read this post from Susan Scheid on her Prufrock's Dilemma blog: "Does Anyone Still Compose a Waltz?" That post is less about "the waltz" than it is specifically about La Valse and more generally about Ravel.  It is worth your time, so I'll wait whilst youse reads it.

 

All right, then. Does anyone still compose a waltz?  Well, the form did not die, certainly, even as Ravel was busily vivisecting it. To the north, in Denmark, Carl Nielsen was busily constructing the first movement of his Symphony No. 3 (aka the Sinfonia Espansiva) around a grand, driving waltz theme that recurs at intervals, over the objection of the sections around it. (Some enterprising choreographer could construct a fine dance from that movement, if not the entire symphony.)  

Nielsen composed his symphony in 1910 and 1911, conducting the premiere in 1912. His waltz, therefore, falls in the middle of Ravel's composition process: begun after Ravel started his Valse in 1906 but completed prior to the outbreak of the war that so influenced Ravel's final version. While rumors of war can be detected in the brass and percussion—they become explicit in Nielsen's 4th and 5th symphonies of 1916 and 1920-22—the Espansiva is a fundamentally optimistic piece, particularly in its final two movements.

Susan complains of the fabulously gauche Andre Rieu and his sugary embalming of the quintessential waltz, Johann Strauss' Blue Danube. The best antidote I know to that is to revisit that waltz in the version that has kept it pretty swimmingly alive these past four-plus decades: Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic and the performance Stanley Kubrick selected for the long space station docking sequence in 2001:A Space Odyssey. Kubrick was never one for icky-sticky, and the von Karajan version is clean, astringent and smart smart smart, a performance that highlights what a sophisticated thing the Danube is, once you probe beneath its familiarity. We're not talking Beethoven, here, but the skill and intelligence it took to construct this particular confection should still impress us.

Here is a random selection of post-World War(s) waltzabilia:

The poet Theodore Roethke took the waltz as theme for one of the best of his autobiographical poems, harking to his brusque and practical German father, a Michigan nurseryman.  In My Papa's Waltz, the waltz is a foundation of sorts to the aging, inebriated father, and an anchor as well for his child, who will someday become a poet.  Here is Roethke reading his poem:  

The band Team B, made up largely of brass players who have participated in projects with the likes of Arcade Fire and Zach Condon's Beirut, released an EP, The Lost Son, in early 2010, consisting of settings of Roethke poems. It featured this stern and rustically gallumphing version of My Papa's Waltz:

Having mentioned Beirut, it should be acknowledged that the waltz is not unknown to Zach Condon and his co-conspirators. The "lead single," or equivalent, from 2007's Flying Club Cup (my personal #5 pick of that year) was waltz-y as can be:

I can't really answer the question that Susan Scheid poses in her post title. At least insofar as "serious" composers are concerned, the waltz seems not to be a viable, lively form. It lives on as a basis for pop songs of various kinds, as this catalog on Wikipedia suggests. In terms of orchestral music, the waltz has seemingly become principally the province of film composers. Here, for instance, is an excerpt from one of John Williams' Harry Potter scores, trotted out for Dancing with the Stars' "Classical Week": 

Of course, it could be worse: the waltz could be left in even less respectable hands....

~~~

Illustration: Eadward Muybridge, Phenakistoscope of a couple dancing the waltz, Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons.


Go with the Flau

Wstevensdhockneyweb

Soyez réglé dans votre vie et ordinaire
comme un bourgeois, afin d'être violent
et original dans vos œuvres.

["Be regular and orderly in your life,
so that you may be violent and original
in your work."]

        — Gustave Flaubert, Letter to Gertrude Tennant, 25 Decembre 1876.

That Flaubert quotation came to my attention via a comment attached to a post by Amber Sparks—"Get Jobs In Offices and Wake Up for the Morning Commute: Stevens, Poet and Insurance Exec"—part of the week-long tribute to Wallace Stevens at Big Other.  Sparks' brief piece aims at one of the points that has always added to Stevens' appeal for me: the fact that throughout most of his career as a poet, Stevens was a well-respected, very successful attorney-executive with The Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company.  

Stevens kept his life as poet and his life as insurance man largely separate from one another: when Stevens died in 1955, there were co-workers who had toiled beside him for years at The Hartford who were astonished to learn for the first time, from tributes in the press, that Stevens had been a poet at all.  Legend has it that Stevens would compose poems in his head on the way to the office, dictate rough versions to his secretary, go though his day dealing with surety issues—surety bonds being among the least "poetic" insurance products I know—and revise his work in his head on the way home.  

Dana Gioia, in his essay on "Business and Poetry," maintains that having a firm grounding in a "real world" professional position as Stevens did—and as Eliot did during his time as a London banker—is actively advantageous to the poet or other artist even, or particularly, when his or her artistic concerns are entirely removed from practical business concerns.

Wallace Stevens' version of "work-life balance"—if such a concept ever entered his mind—apparently meant being fully invested in his profession, his art, and his personal life at all times, regardless of which of the three he was attending to at any given moment.  He was well read in several languages, so I suspect that he knew of, and likely endorsed, Flaubert's sentiment, although Flaubert himself was never one for actually Getting a Job. Flaubert recommends being like a bourgeois, rather than actually being bourgeois; Stevens one-ups the French master, and demonstrated convincingly that the proper combination of attitude and skill permits a life of equal service to Mammon and the Muses. 

~~~

Illustration:  Wallace Stevens—looking rather more like W.C. Fields than he did in life—as drawn by David Hockney, for The Blue Guitar: Etchings by David Hockney Who Was Inspired by Wallace Stevens Who Was Inspired by Pablo Picasso (1977), of which more here.

A tip of the cap and bells is owing to Evan Schaeffer for pointing out the Big Other Stevens Fest, which is well worth a browse.

~~~


For Veterans Day

An American Flag by Beverly & Pack

A Box Comes Home

I remember the United States of America
As a flag-draped box with Arthur in it
And six marines to bear it on their shoulders.

I wonder how someone once came to remember
The Empire of the East and the Empire of the West.
As an urn maybe delivered by chariot.

You could bring Germany back on a shield once
And France in a plume.  England, I suppose,
Kept coming back a long time as a letter.

Once I saw Arthur dressed as the United States
Of America.  Now I see the United States
Of America as Arthur in a flag-sealed domino.

And I would pray more good of Arthur
Than I can wholly believe.  I would pray
An agreement with the United States of America

To equal Arthur's living as it equals his dying
At the red-taped grave in Woodmere
By the rain and oak leaves on the domino.

--John Ciardi

(From Poets of World War II (American Poets Project).)

As I said last year:

    "May all Soldiers someday be Veterans."

~~~

John Ciardi's poem was previously posted here November 11, 2003.

Photo by Flickr user Beverly & Pack, used under Creative Commons license.

~~~


Drive-In Saturday:
Antony and Destiny by the Lake

Upon hearing the singing voice of Antony Hegarty listeners tend to divide in to two classes.  There are those who find it a bit of a wonderment and who never want it to end, and there are those who, after 15-20 seconds, never ever ever want to hear that voice again.  I am in the first class. Your own results may vary.

As an Antony and the Johnsons enthusiast, I am looking forward to next week's release of Swanlights.   Until October 12, the album is streaming on NPR, and a listen there reveals that its songs include "The Great White Ocean."  That song has actually been around since at least 2008, when it was used as the soundtrack to an animated short by James Lima, "Fallen Shadows," created for the purpose of selling Prada handbags and apparel.  In the film, a woman's shadow wanders about in a vaguely surreal cityscape, musing on life and memory while Antony warbles mystically.   (A large Quicktime version is viewable here.)

"Fallen Shadows" is somewhat obviously influenced by painters such as Di Chirico and Dalí, and some sequences -- the dancing compass in particular -- seem to derive directly from "Destino," Salvador Dalí's uncompleted project for Walt Disney.  Dalí worked on storyboarding "Destino" at the Disney studios in 1945 and 1946, but only about 18 seconds were actually animated before production was stopped.  Eventually, at the instance of Roy Disney, contemporary Disney animators pieced together a version of the film that saw release in 2003.  Compare and contrast:

Antony and the Johnsons' music frequently walks the imagined line between popular and "serious" forms, and is oft inclined to slip toward the realm of the art song.  An example of that tendency is "The Lake," a setting of a lesser-known poem of Edgar Allan Poe, released on an EP in 2004.

Animator Adam Schechter created a video for the song.  Originally unofficial, the piece was subsequently endorsed by Antony and the Johnsons and now receives a link on the group's official site.  The video bears no apparent relationship to the song or to the poem, and is instead a strange and somewhat incoherent tale of the death (?) and transfiguration (?) of a feudal fox.  Or something of the sort.  In any case, you may view it below.  Poe's original text is beneath the video, for those inclined to read along and to take note of the liberties and variants in Antony's adaptation.

The Lake; To --
    Edgar Allan Poe, 1827 

In spring of youth it was my lot
To haunt of the wide world a spot
The which I could not love the less-
So lovely was the loneliness
Of a wild lake, with black rock bound,
And the tall pines that towered around.

But when the Night had thrown her pall
Upon that spot, as upon all,
And the mystic wind went by
Murmuring in melody-
Then-ah then I would awake
To the terror of the lone lake.

Yet that terror was not fright,
But a tremulous delight-
A feeling not the jewelled mine
Could teach or bribe me to define-
Nor Love-although the Love were thine.

Death was in that poisonous wave,
And in its gulf a fitting grave
For him who thence could solace bring
To his lone imagining-
Whose solitary soul could make
An Eden of that dim lake.

~~~


See Emily Play

And you read your Emily Dickinson
And I my Robert Frost
And we note our place with bookmarkers
That measure what we've lost.

The Dangling Conversation (P. Simon) performed by Simon & Garfunkel.
By happy coincidence, this is exactly the verse excerpted in this audio sample:

More Simon & Garfunkel music on iLike

~~~

Emily Dickinson never really goes away, and you can never tell when she will turn up along your path to remind you of that fact.  Here, two recent such reminders.

First, from a week or so ago, a Dickinsonian installment of a well-known webcomic.  It's the Belle of Amherst vs. the Hearse of Amherst.

image from imgs.xkcd.com

[Click to enlarge.  Better yet, view the full size original version at xkcd.]

The perspicacious reader will note that this item is not only amusing but also practical.  It is just the right size and shape to be printed out, scissored neatly, and used by the said reader as a bookmarker with which to note a place or to measure a loss.

Number two: to counter the unfortunate musical revelation hidden in the alt-text of that cartoon, David Sylvian proffers an austere, altogether humorless setting of Miss Dickinson's "There's a certain slant of light".

David Sylvian - A Certain Slant of Light   

~~~