Friday, March 06, 2009

The Song of Wandering Aengus

The Song of Wandering Aengus

    I WENT out to the hazel wood,
    Because a fire was in my head,
    And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
    And hooked a berry to a thread;
    And when white moths were on the wing,
    And moth-like stars were flickering out,
    I dropped the berry in a stream
    And caught a little silver trout.

    When I had laid it on the floor
    I went to blow the fire aflame,
    But something rustled on the floor,
    And some one called me by my name:
    It had become a glimmering girl
    With apple blossom in her hair
    Who called me by my name and ran
    And faded through the brightening air.

    Though I am old with wandering
    Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
    I will find out where she has gone,
    And kiss her lips and take her hands;
    And walk among long dappled grass,
    And pluck till time and times are done
    The silver apples of the moon,
    The golden apples of the sun.
    William Butler Yeats (1865 - 1939)

In his poetry of this period, The Song of Wandering Aengus from The Wind Among the Reeds (1899), William Butler Yeats strove to break free from his earlier works by abandoning earlier self conscious, softness and facility, as a result his work became clearer and leaner and in this case it almost seems prophetic. William Butler Yeat's relationships with women were complex, among them Maud Gonne, Olivia Shakespear, Lady Gregory, Margot Ruddock, Dorothy Wellesley, Edith Shackleton-Heald and Georgie Hyde-Lees. He wove these often tortuous relationships into his major writings.
    When I wrote these poems I had so meditated over the images that came to me in writing 'Ballads and Lyrics', 'The Rose', and 'The Wanderings of Oisin' and other images from Irish folk-lore, that they had become true symbols. I had sometimes when awake, but more often in sleep, moments of vision, a state very unlike dreaming, when these images took upon themselves what seemed an independent life and became a part of a mystic language, which seemed always as if it would bring me some strange revelation. Being troubled at what was thought a reckless obscurity, I tried to explain myself in lengthy notes, into which I put all the little learning I had, and more wilful phantasy than I now think admirable, though what is most mystical still seems to me the most true.

    From William Butler Yeat's (1865-1939)
    notes, pp. 800,
    Allt & Allspach's Variorum Edition of the Poems

In Early Irish Myths and Sagas (Penguin Classics) author Jeffrey Gantz mentions that the story The Dream of Oengus appearing in early Irish medieval literature c746, is the "ultimate source of Yeats's poem 'The Dream of Wandering Aengus'". Using the same imagery of transformation, in the story a girl wearing 'a silver necklace and a chain of burnished gold' appears to Oengus, a prince of Irish gods, in a dream only to vanish when he attempts to welcome her. He sets about on a quest and soon finds her as a swan, Oengus has more sense than the Yeat's mortal fisherman. By promising to allow her to remain in the shape of a swan he turns himself into a swan. Flying away together the legend tells that any mortal hearing their song fell asleep for three days and three nights.

Written when he was 32, Yeat's saw himself as writing for his beloved Ireland. His nationalism is reflected in his work, much of which was inspired by traditional Irish lore. Derived from Celtic mythology,The Song of Wandering Aengus Yeat's composed this poem in County Galway in 1897, during a period where he and Lady Gregory were exploring supernatural beliefs. The poet recounts an experience over the course of three stanzas. A story of a quest for a 'glimmering girl,' the two inhabit a world of magic, great beauty, and deep poignancy. A timeless poem, evocative of the old folk tales of faeries disguised as animals. From the onset he sets the stage with an allusion to 'life's work':

    And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
    And hooked a berry to a thread;
    And when white moths were on the wing,
    And moth-like stars were flickering out,
    I dropped the berry in a stream
    And caught a little silver trout.
In the second stanza a metamorphosis occurs, it is love before first sight when he brings his spiritual prize out of the waters of the subconscious mind into the everyday world, it cannot stay for long. What is the dream /the salmon dreamin/ the pool of Connla/Under the hazels? and 'fades through the brightening air' beyond the threshold of fancy.

A marked shift in feeling in the last stanza Aengus is not desolate and dispirited by his failure to find the girl of his vision a second time, but he is equally unable to fit back into normal life. Nights and days pass as he is caught up in his plucking of "The silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun." The poem has a wonderful complete quality to it. A clear beginning, middle and unsettled ending invites the reader to imagine and suppose. The fire of love and yearning denotes both passion and the wanderings of a life's journey; eternal hope - a believer's yearning for purpose and meaning. It is desire that determines the outcome. Life is incomplete, but at moments appears to transcend itself and yield moments of completeness or near-completeness, twilight occurs.

Later writings show Yeat's deepening and maturity as a poet. Greatly influenced by Georgie Hyde-Lees his wife since 1917, whose elaborate attempt at automated writing in A Vision (1925) wrote in prose trying to explain the mythology, symbolism, and philosophy that he used in much of his work. In it she discusses the eternal opposites of objectivity and subjectivity, art and life, soul and body that are the foundation of his philosophy.

The Song of Wandering Aengus was revived and popularized anew in the late'60s by folk singer Judy Collins in her song version, titled The Golden Apples of the Sun It was re released on CD in Hand Maids and Golden Apples in October 2001. More recently, this is the also the childhood poem that Captain Archer mentions in the Enterprise episode; Rogue Planet.

A leader of the Irish Renaissance and one of the foremost writers of the 20th century Yeat's is credited for bringing back poetry to the theatre from which it had long been absent, and fused realism with mythic vision to create poetic dramas as spare and pregnant with mysterious meanings as the images of a dream. Awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1923 Yeat's died in Roqueburne, France in 1939.


Encyclopedia of the Celts

Public domain text taken from The Poets' Corner

Rutland Boughton, The Immortal Hour, Opera, 1914.

WB Yeats - The Academy of American Poets

The Wondering Minstrels

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Sleeping Gypsy

    "The feline, though ferocious,
    hesitates to pounce upon its prey,
    who, overcome by fatigue,
    lies in a deep sleep."

    Written by Rousseau on the frame of the painting.

The mind's eye of Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) occupied a different but equally powerful world of personal fantasy. Gauguin had journeyed to the South Seas in search of primitive innocence; Rousseau was a primitive without leaving Paris – an untrained amateur painter who held a post as a customs collector hence the sobriquet, le douanier meaning The Customs Man.
    From his stations at the toll gates at the Auteuil Embankment and the Vanves Gate, Rousseau observed the world around him and filled numerous notebooks with drawings. He noted that "my superiors at the tollgate used to assign me to less demanding duties so that I would find it easier to work." At age forty-nine, Rousseau retired from the customs service to become a full-time artist. He settled in the Plaisance section of Paris a poor working-class neighborhood behind Montparnasse. Here he found a one-room studio where he was surrounded by his art.
Rousseau produced an art of dream and fantasy in a style that had known sophistication and made its singular departure from the artistic currency of the fin de siècle. A natural talent for design and an imagination teeming with exotic imagery of baffling, tropical landscapes is an apt compensation for his evident visual, abstract and technical naïveté. In perhaps his most popular work The Sleeping Gypsy, a desert terrain, silent and secret, dreams beneath a pale perfectly round moon. In the foreground, a lion that looks like a stuffed but somehow ominous animal doll sniffs at the gypsy. An important encounter impends, one that is not possible for most of us in the waking world but is all too common when our vulnerable, subconscious selves are menaced in uneasy sleep. Rousseau emulated the landscape of the subconscious, and many regard him as the forerunner of the twentieth century Surrealists, who would try to symbolize indistinctness and opposition of dreaming and waking experiences taken together.
    Rousseau was an artist from an earlier era: he died in 1910, long before the Surrealist painters championed his art. Pablo Picasso, half-ironically, brought Rousseau to the attention of the art world with a dinner in his honor in 1908: an attention to which Rousseau thought himself fully entitled. Although Rousseau's greatest wish was to paint in an academic style, and he believed that the pictures he painted were absolutely real and convincing, the art world loved his intense stylization, direct vision, and fantastical images.
And indeed as discussed in the previous write up many of the ideas for his work came from illustrations, photos, and graphics he came across in printed materials.
    Such whole confidence in himself as an artist enabled Rousseau to take ordinary book and catalogue illustrations and turn each one into a piece of genuine art: his jungle paintings, for instance, were not the product of any first-hand experience and his major source for the exotic plant life that filled these strange canvases was actually the tropical plant house in Paris.

For years Rousseau's art was mocked and called "simple minded" however in 1886 he exhibited his work at the Salon des Refusés garnering the admiration of such contemporaries as Paul Gauguin and Georges Seurat. He wrote: "Nothing makes me happier than to contemplate nature and to paint it. Would you believe it that when I go out in the country and see all that sun, all that greenery and all those flowers, I sometimes say to myself: 'All that belongs to me, it does.'"

As Goya proved earlier, in his horrifying Saturn Devouring His Children and The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, both fantastic representations of human depravity and decadence which can be revealed when imagination turns a critical eye towards society. Painted in 1897 The Sleeping Gypsy is an oil on canvas measuring 51" x 6'7" (129.5 x 200.7 cm) and currently resides at The Museum of Modern Art in New York as a gift from Nelson A. Rockefeller. Even in the face of dazzling disparity, exaggeration, and ordinariness, the painting possesses mysterious poetry. Wanting to preserve the isolation of the child with his simplified forms a gypsy woman lies sleeping in a wonderfully colored dress, a lion with his tail in the air, examines her curiously while the button-eye looks intently at the observer prompting many to ask, What does Rousseau's lion want with me?

Some experts relate that Rousseau would sing in a loud voice to keep up his courage when painting startling vistas of wild animals. As he worked he became a part of the make-believe world he produced. Poet and friend Apollinaire, recounted that Rousseau 'sometimes got so scared he began to tremble and had to rush to the window for air.' Only a childlike artist with a simple, naïve vision can understand this elevation and make others see it as dauntingly true.

A mild yet wonderfully self-confident man, Rousseau held a deep conviction with regards to the spiritual world. He once asked some visitors who were watching him paint, "Did you notice how my hand was moving?"
"Of course," they said, "you were painting."
"No, no," he answered, "not I. It was my dead wife who guided my hand. Didn't you see her or hear her? 'Keep at it, Henri,' she whispered. 'It's going to come out right in the end.'"

After painting portraits and Parisian scenes, during the 1890's he turned to the highly original depictions of fantasy. These mature pictures are typically composed of tropical scenes with human figures at rest or play and with beasts mysteriously charmed to an alert stillness. The French self-taught artist who's bold colors, flat designs and imaginative subject matter were praised and imitated by modern European artists. Rousseau described paintings that had a classic, timeless quality "Egyptian-style." And on one occasion told Picasso, "We are the two great painters of the age, you in the Egyptian style, I in the modern style."

Today his work it is admired for its simplicity and power. His paintings inspired later artists to create surreal and dreamlike images. Not easily classified into any definitive artistic style of the time—impressionism, post-impressionism, fauvism or cubism—Rousseau's efforts are considered a forerunner of surrealism because of its dream-like sensibility and The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali, painted over thirty years later, has a dreamlike quality much like Rousseau's bridging the transition from realistic and academic art of the nineteenth-century to the modernist directions of the twentieth century.


Art of the Fantastic

Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "Masada," Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988.

De La Croix, Horst, Richard D. Tansey, and Diane Kirkpatrick.
Art Through the Ages. University of Michigan: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Picture Source

The Imaginary World of Henri Rousseau

The Van Gogh & Friends Art Game

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Potatoes, Green Beans and Salt Pork

6 Medium Potatoes, quartered

1 4"x4" piece of Salt Pork
1 lb fresh Green Beans, snapped and stringed

Cube salt pork and add to 2" water in 2 quart sauce pan.
Boil 30 minutes, taste for salt.
Add potatoes and bring back to a boil for 20 minutes.
Add beans and boil for 10 more minutes.


Reaping where I did not sow and gathering where I did not winnow. Matthew 25:24

The boards creaked before dawn at my grandparents' home. People stirred to get busy on the "place" because so much had to be done. I would watch Grandmother pull beans off the vines and load up her apron, then we would bring them in to snap and string. Her hands would fly with practiced precision while the tip of my thumb eventually became sore as the tender flesh pulled slightly away from the nail. Many times I would find strings while eating those beans and was sure that it was my fumbling fingers that left those strings behind because we all know that Grandmothers are nigh on perfect.

When the beans were all snapped she would put them on her wood stove that had been lit by Grandfather before he left to race horses out to the fields. Into the big pot would go a piece of fat back that had been salted and cured in the smoke house just outside of the kitchen. Then she left to work in the fields while the smell filled the house to such epic proportions that eventually had my mouth watering. About an hour before the noon meal she would return and we would peel and cut up potatoes to add to the pot of simmering green beans. After a while she would take off the lid and let the water boil down until there was nothing left but rich and flavorful juices. When everyone returned for supper the beans were ready and I could hardly wait to sit down, pile them on a plate; smear on some sweet cream butter and then sprinkle some salt and pepper on the whole mess.

Last summer, after Dad recovered from dual brain surgeries, he received a small jar of beans from his sister. They were snap beans and they are also the kind that if you let them dry and go to seed they are good cooked up as pintos served with a side of cornbread. Farmers used to be good at coaxing a living out of the land. A forgotten art in the Raspberry America we live in today. He planted them this past spring and we snapped them and my thumb got sore and I missed a number of strings, but I ate them anyway because I was just so content that Dad could garden and we could be together to share meals and time that I came so close to losing.

We blanched them and put them up in several bags in the freezer. I cooked up one batch by boiling them in salted water; like Dad asked me to. They were kind of boring and he said the he wasn't going to plant beans anymore because they were too much trouble and then he sent the leftovers home with me. Soon after that he had some beans at a pot luck that he thought were outstanding. The lady told him she used garlic and Worcestershire Sauce so we tried that. Yuck. We decided that the lady wanted to keep her Delicious Green Beans recipe a family secret. Again the leftovers went home with me. Then I recalled Grandmother using potatoes and salt pork. I found a recipe that Mom told to me over the phone one day that was pretty close to what I recalled. Mom was always picking Grandma's brain for her recipes. We had to ad lib some with four slices of bacon and only one potato; this time the leftovers went straight into Dad's fridge.

Dad was talking about putting in his fall garden a few weeks ago and I asked him if he was going to plant beans again. He said he had spent the morning winnowing the beans from last spring.