Thursday, August 13, 2009

Rondel.

Love, love, what wilt thou with this heart of mine?
Naughty see i fixed or sure in thee!
I do not know thee, - nor what deeds are thine :
Love, love, what wilt thou with this heart of mine?
Naught see I fixed or sure in thee!

Shall I be mute, or vows with prayers combine?
Ye who are blessed in loving, tell it me :
Love, love, what wilt thou with this heart of mine?
Naught see I permanent or sure in thee!

Loss And Gain

When I compare
What I have lost with what I have
gained,
What I have missed with what
attained,
Little room do i find for pride.

I am a ware
How many days have been idly
spent;
How like an arrow the good intent
Has fallen short or been turned
aside.

But who shall dare
To measure loss and gain in this
wise?
Defeat may be victory in disguise;
The lowest ebb is the turn of the
tide.

The Artist.

Nothing the greatest artist can conceive
That every marble block doth not confine
within itself; and only its design
The hand that follows intellect can achieve.
the ill I flee, the good that I believe,
Thus hidden lie; and so that death be mine
Art, of desired success, doth me bereave.
Love is not guilty, then, nor thy fair face,
Nor fortune, cruelty, nor great disdain,
Of my disgrace, nor chance, nor destiny,
If in thy heart both death and love find place
At the same time, and if my humble brain,
Burning, can nothing draw but death from thee.

Silent Love.

Who love would seek,
Let him love evermore
And seldom speak:
For in love's domain
Silence must reign;
or it bring the heart
Smart
And pain.

The Broken Oar

Once upon Iceland's solitary strands
A poet wandered with his book and pen,
Seeking some final word, some sweet Amen,
Wherewith to close the volume in his hand.
The billows rolled and plunged upon the sand,
The circling sea-gulls swept beyond his ken,
And from the parting cloud-rack now and then
Flashed the red sunset over sea and land.
Then by the billows at his feet was tossed
A broken oar; and carved thereon he read,
'Oft was I weary, when I toiled at thee';
And like a man, who findeth what was lost,
He wrote the words, then lifted up his head,
And flung his useless pen into the sea.

The Meeting

After so long an absence
At last we meet again :
Does the meeting give us pleasure,
Or does it give us pain?

The tree of life has been shaken,
And but few of us linger now,
Like the Prophet's two or three
berries
In the top of the uppermost
bough.

We cordially greet each other
In the old, familiar tone;
And we think, though we do not
say it,
How old and gray he is grown!

We speak of a Merry Christmas
And many a Happy New Year;
But each in his heart is thinking
Of those that are not here.

We speak of friends and their fortunes,
And of what they did and said,
Till the dead alone seem living,
And the living alone seem dead.

And at last we hardly distinguish
Between the ghosts and the
guests;
And a mist and shadow of sadness
Steals over our merriest jests.

The Image Of God

O Lord! who seest, from yon starry height,
Centred in one the future and the past,
Fashioned in thine own image,
see how fast
The world obscures in me what once was bright!
Eternal Sun! the warmth with thou hast given,
To cheer life's flowery April, fast
decays;
Yet, in the hoary winter of my
days,
For ever green shall be my trust
in Heaven.
Celestial King! O let thy presence
pass
Before my spirit, and an image
fair
Shall meet that look of mercy
from on high,
As the reflected image in a glass
Doth meet the look of him who
seeks it there,
And owes its being to the gazer's
eye.

Dedication

Nothing that is shall perish utterly,
But perish only to revive again
In other forms, as clouds restore in rain
The exhalations of the land and sea.
Men build their houses from the masonry
Of ruined tombs; the passion and the pain
Of hearts, that long have ceased to beat, remain
To throb in hearts that are, or are to be.
So from old chronicles, where sleep in dust
Names that once filled the world with trumpet tones,
I build this verse; and flowers of song have thrust
Their roots among the loose disjointed stones,
Which to this end I fashion as I must.
Quickened are they that touch the Prophet's bones.

Memories

OFT I remember those whom I have known
In other days, to whom my heart was led
As by a magnet, and who are not dead,
But absent, and their memories overgrown
With other thoughts and troubles of my own,
As graves with grasses are, and at their head
The stone with moss and lichens so o'er spread,
Nothing is legible but the name alone.
And is it so with them? After long years,
Do they remember me in the same way,
And is the memory pleasant as to me?
I fear to ask; yet wherefore are my fears?
Pleasures, like flowers, may wither and decay,
And yet the root perennial may be.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Nature of Love

To noble heart Love doth for shelter fly,
As seeks the bird the forest's leafy shade;
Love was not felt till noble heart beat high,
Nor before love the noble heart was made.
Soon as the sun's broad flame
Was formed, so soon the clear light filled the air;
Yet was not till he came;
So love springs up in noble breasts,
and there
Has its appointed space,
As heat in the bright flame finds its allotted place.
Kindles in noble heart the fire of love,
As hidden virtue in the precious
stone:
This virtue comes not from the stars above,
Till round it the ennobling sun has shone;
But when his powerful blaze
Has drawn forth what was vile, the stars impart
Strange virtue in their rays:
And thus when Nature doth create the heart
Noble and pure and high,
Like virtue from the star, love
comes from woman's eye.

My Secret

My soul its secret hath,my life too hath its mystery,
A love eternal in a moment's space conceived;
Hopeless the evil is, I have not told its history,
And she who was the cause nor knew it nor believed.
Alas ! I shall have passed close by her unperceived,
For ever at her side and yet for ever lonely,
I shall unto the end have made life's journey, only
daring to ask for naught and having naught received.

For her, though God hath made her gentle and endearing,
She will go on her way distraught
and without hearing
These murmurings of love that round her steps ascend,
Piously faithful still unto her austere duty,
Will say, when she shall read these
lines full of her beauty,
' Who can this woman be ?' and will not comprehend.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Creating Life

As one of the most fundamental of all human processes birth itself has no need of any particular religious frame work to give it an aura of the sacred. This expresses itself in many forms- very seriously in the Neolithic seated goddess in the process of giving birth found at Catal Huyuk, near the modern Konya in Turkey, during a series of excavations in the early 1960's; ironically in the modern environmental sculpture Hon, created in 1965 by Niki de Saint-Phalle (b.1930) for an exhibition at Moderna Museet in Stockholm. The Catal Huyuk figure has been described by some authorities as being one of the earliest pieces of firm evidence for an organized system of religious belief. Radiocarbon testing places it between 6500 and 5800 BC.
 Hon was a 26m- (85ft-) long reclining female figure which contained various compartments or rooms. The artist's conceit was that the public entered the sculpture via her vagina - thus re-entering the womb - and exited by the same route - thus symbolically acknowledging her as their mother. Inside the sculpture were various rooms - one, directly within her breasts, contained a milk-bar. Hon was both a nice joke and, simply because of her scale and assertiveness, a clear declaration of new female power in the arts. It is not surprising that the figure has been co-opted as a feminist emblem, though it was not originally intended that it should perform this function. 
     The most extensive artistic exploration of the artistic and spiritual significance of birth is Judy Chicago's The Birth Project, which dates from 1980 to 1985. Birth Tear/Tear, illustrated, is a statement not about the mystery of birth but about its violence - what it does to the female body. It can be compared to the more literal representation of the same trauma by Jonathan Waller. Chicago chose a generically ' gentle', feminine way of representing this violent act- silk embroidery on top of her own line drawing made on silk. Yet the nature of the materials is contradicted by the swirling lines of force; reminiscent of the work of Edvard Munch (1863 - 1944).  

Mother Love

The bond between a mother and her child has also been represented in a multitude of different ways that do not involve the image of an infant suckling at the breast. In the eighteenth century, Marguerite Gerard (1761 - 1837), sister-in-law of Jean Honore Fragonard ( 1732 - 1806), with whom she frequently collaborated, made it the pretext for painting a charming domestic scene. Gerard's work has recently been the subject of some controversy. Far from being perceived simply as a producer of slightly over sweet domestic scenes - The Child's First Steps is a typical example - she has been seen as someone who implicitly criticizes the fetishization of domesticity. Her sweetness and preciosity of touch are recontextualized in this new interpretation as the products of a concealed critical and satirical impulse. Appreciation of Gerard's art quality has been hampered by the link between her work and that of a more celebrated male artist. Art historians spend more time looking for Fragonard's contribution than they do examining what Gerard herself had to say.

    Very different facts of the same emotional nexus can be found in the work of two twentieth-century artist, the Canadian Emily Carr ( 1871 - 1945 ) and the Maori painter Robyn Kahukiwa (b.1940). Carr's Totem Mother, Kitwancool is inspired by Northwest Coast Native American art - specifically by a totem-pole figure found in a remote tribal village. Carr broadened the figure and exaggerated the massiveness of the head to make a greater contrast with the small infant. She was not trying to make a record of something she had seen , but instead of this to create something that would radiate a feeling of omnipotent power.
 
   Kahukiwa deals with material that is hers by direct inheritance, but tackles it in a new way. Of the paintings Papae / Threshold  1 & 2 and Whanau /Born, the artist says:

  ' They are about the actual time of birth and passing through the threshold into the world of light. The women refer to the carved ancestor figures of a [ Maori ] meeting house. They are shown in the squatting position taken by women in labour in traditional times. All three women are giving birth on papatuanuku, the Earth Mother, to symbolize the close relationship of the Maori with the land.' 

   Because she is a women, Kahukiwa is excluded from the traditional Maori way of making art, which is woodcarving. Like a number of other Maori women artists, she has therefore turned to oil painting - a European skill.
   The mother-and-child  theme is in fact subject to an almost infinite number of variations, and versions of it can be found throughout the history of European art. One of its roots is in the art of ancient Egypt, as can be seen from the elegant statuette of the goddess Isis and her infant son Horus illustrated here. This provides an obvious prototype for the seated Madonnas of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and still later periods. The potency of the image means that it can be stretched in any number of different directions, while still remaining immediately legible. There is a huge stylistic gulf, for example, between the mother and child by Berthe Morisot (1841 - 95 ) - a representation not only of maternal love but also of the bourgeois milieu in which French Impressionism flourished - and the abstracted forms of the Mother and Child sculpture by Barbara Hepworth (1903 - 75). But the message conveyed is very similar. In fact, we would not be able to construe the subject of the Hepworth as easily as we do, if we did not have this long heritage of mother-and-child images available to support our teaching of it. 
     The Christian religion endowed the image of the mother holding her infant with tragic overtones peculiar to itself. Standard Madonna compositions frequently include allusions to the Passion and the tragic fate that awaits the child who now rests  in his mother's arms. These implications are more fully worked out in another standard Christians image, that of the Pieta, in which the dead body of Christ, newly taken down from the Cross, is shown resting in his mother's lap. 
    The most famous version of the Pieta is undoubtedly the one created by Michel Angelo ( 1475 - 1564) for St. Peter's in Rome. Working to commission for a French cardinal then living in Rome, Michel Angelo took a poetic conception already rather awkwardly expressed in visual terms in northern Gothic art and tried to make it conform to the rational ideals of the Renaissance without losing any of its intrinsic emotional force. In order to do so he made many subtle adjustments. Few spectators notice, for example, that the Madonna, who has the face of a young girl, not a mature woman, is actually massive in proportion to the male body she holds in her lap. The mother and the force of love she represents thus triumph over the son's tragic fate, and an image of tragedy also becomes one of hope. 
      Like all great visual inventions, the formula Michel Angelo evolved for the Pieta has enjoyed a long subsequent career. Traces of its influence can even reasonably be found in a recent powerful image created by the African-American photographer Renee Cox ( b. 1958), though the figure of the mother is standing not seated, and though her child remains unequivocally a child. When Cox's photograph was shown as part of the 1996 'Sexual Politics' exhibition in Los Angeles, visitors to the show (as one of the attendants told me) immediately sensed the link with Michel Angelo's sculpture, despite the wide historical and cultured gap.
      Yo Mama is, despite some obvious parallels with the Pieta, primarily an image of an individual mother with an individual mother with an individual child. The mother's proud but slightly defensive stance and the child's expression suggest other possible meanings as well - for example, there may be a suggestion that we ought to remember the way in which slave mothers were often forcibly separated from their children. It is thus an extremely potent image for African-Americans.