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Month: April, 2016

“Casta diva” – Vincenzo Bellini‏

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         “Fire, Full Moon (1933)
 
          Paul Klee
 
          ______
 
 

a few nights ago the moon was full,
I’d gone up to the roof, one floor up
from my apartment, to the deck there,
complete with pool, barbecue area,
lounge chairs, there was no one, just
me, it was one o’clock in the morning,
my witching hour

I’ve been going there, lately, the air 
is fresh, crisp, it’s quiet, I can relax
there after a day of whatever
 
a perfect chair looks out onto the 
entire city, the bay in the distance, 
the harboured ships, Vancouver 
Island even further during the day
 
I looked at the moon, it stared 
nakedly back at me like a spotlight, 
but clouds got in the way, bubbling,
boiling peremptorily westwards 
before her, clouds on a mission
 
she monitored their march 
imperviously, imperially, implacably,
like a goddess
 
I slunk beneath her gaze, stretched, 
surrendered, slipped into lunar 
things, love, loves, truth, beauty,
purpose, meaning, memories
 
through much of it, I closed my eyes,
aware always she was watching me,
but wrapped in my own transcendental 
reveries
 
when I returned, I stretched again, 
listened for the words, the notes, 
of “Casta diva”, Bellini‘s anthem 
to the moon
 
Norma is a Druid princess, she is
the priestess of the moon, near the
beginning of the opera she makes 
her pitch, it’s her introduction, her 
first aria, a cavatina, well done it is 
unforgettable
 
chaste goddess, she sings, casta 
diva, who casts silver light upon 
these sacred trees, turn thy lovely 
face upon us, unclouded and 
unveiled
 
restrain, o goddess, these zealous 
spirits, I prayed, shed upon earth 
that peace that reigns in heaven 
 
but I couldn’t get the notes right, 
kept slipping into other arias,
though I brought to it my entire
attention, I was, only modestly, 
therefore, there, Norma, also only
softly
 
later I found signature 
performances on the Internet,
Joan Sutherland, a classic, 
Renée Fleming in a superb 
concert performance
 
shed upon earth that peace that 
reigns in heaven, they also cry
pray
 
 
Richard
 
psst: a cavatina is a short aria
 
 
 
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Beethoven – piano sonata no.31, op.110 (3rd movement)‏

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Woman Reading in a Garden (1902-03)
 
 

         _______


perhaps my best teacher ever was
my father, others never questioned
the orthodoxy, spewing out the
curriculum like it was sacred, dead,
untouchable, depriving it of its very
worth

my father was a philosopher, God 
was a question, not an answer, I,
at the time, needed an answer
 
we were sent to a Catholic school,
my sister and I, where God was in 
everything, everywhere, omnipotent,
omniscient, and, like a father then, 
autocratic, industrious, demanding,
not unopposed to punishment
 
sins against the Father could be 
summarized, at that age, briefly,
do not kill, do not lie, do not 
disobey your parents, do not 
cheat on your husband, wife, 
and follow all the rituals of the 
Church, the Ten Christian 
Commandments, brought to 
you universally then by Charlton 
“Moses” Heston, under the aegis 
 
none of these graded offences  
applied to me, really, then, but 
lying, and disobeying one’s 
parents, the others were all so 
remote as to be inconsequential, 
though the Church kept up on 
our family’s abrogations of 
religious rites – non-attendance 
at Sunday mass, eating meat 
on Fridays, worse – while 
nevertheless tending dutifully
to our wayward souls, they told 
us, holding out for a final repentant 
confession
 
we never lied at home, I’d lied about 
something once, and was so daunted
when my father probed, I sweated,
must’ve turned purple, not just red,
of embarrassment, I knew I couldn’t 
use that tactic again, I’d inexorably 
blush, flush
 
who put the Brylcreem on the dog,
he’d queried
 
not me, I trembled
 
my sister stood beside me, might 
not have even known anything 
about it, I can’t remember, though 
I recall her dismay, I think, at having 
been so blithely thrown under the 
bus, or maybe that’s just me 
extrapolating 
 
my dad turned back to what he’d 
been doing, having, I’d understood, 
got his answer, proving himself to 
be to me thereby omniscient, I’d 
have no chance, I gathered, against 
something like that, this turned me 
into a good, an at least conscientious, 
person
 
my teachers, paradoxically, only 
ever took marks off for technical 
stuff, Math, History, French, they 
never taught me lessons   
 
a teacher, once, had asked me to
stand at the head of the class and 
read a passage from Shakespeare,
be Romeo, Mark Antony, Lear, I
can’t remember which
 
“O, pardon me, thou bleeding 
piece of earth, / That I am meek 
and gentle with these butchers!”,
I uttered, fraught with emotion,
“Thou art the ruins of the noblest 
man / That ever lived in the tide 
of times”
 
in my mind and in my body I was 
Mark Antony there, shot through 
with the weight of his friend’s 
brutal death, his own irretrievable 
loss 
 
my teacher laughed
 
what, I asked
 
you’re right into it, aren’t you, he 
replied, and shut me up right there 
to any public display of expression 
 
 
I didn’t stop reading Shakespeare 
though, but by myself
 
later I read Homer, Ovid, Proust,
others, did the same with music 
and art, made countless lifelong 
friends thereby, people I’ve always 
been able to turn to, even just in 
ruminative thought as their stories 
still pervaded me, diligently leading   
still the way, like guardian angels,  
maybe
 
 
 
Richard

Meditation 1 – John Donne

John_Donne

                              John Donne
 
                                 _______
 

to my utter embarrassment, my
profound dismay, I attributed in
my last title John Donne‘s No
inadvertently, a somewhat later 
though nearly contemporary 
poet of Donne‘s, equally as 
noteworthy, thereby accounting, 
maybe, for my confusion, my 
lapse, my infelicity, however still 
unforgivable
 
once I mistook Schubert for 
Beethoven, and, however similar
these might become in their 
euphoric musical explorations
despite their obvious rhythmic 
differences, never a sufficient 
excuse, though, for that flagrant 
flaw – still blush at the memory 
of that faux pas, among French 
intellectuals no less, the worst, 
the least forgiving   
 
John Donne, I’ve found since, is
not only noteworthy for his ribald 
poems, the ones we studied mostly 
at school, but his “Devotions upon
Emergent Occasions, from which 
No man is an island” is but one
inspirational bit, is replete with 
other gems 
 
he’d composed them after having
survived a brush with death, they 
are wise, and worth individually
considering for their spiritual 
illumination, their metaphysical 
light, their sage and sober 
guidance
 
here’s Meditation 1, or
 
                                   The first grudging of, the sicknesse.
 
“Variable, and therfore miserable condition of Man; this minute I was well, and am ill, this minute. I am surpriz’d with a sodaine change, and alteration to worse, and can impute it to no cause, nor call it by any name. We study Health, and we deliberate upon our meats, and drink, and ayre, and exercises, and we hew, and wee polish every stone, that goes to that building; and so our Health is a long and regular work; But in a minute a Canon batters all, overthrowes all, demolishes all; a Sicknes unprevented for all our diligence, unsuspected for all our curiositie; nay, undeserved, if we consider only disorder, summons us, seizes us, possesses us, destroyes us in an instant. O miserable condition of Man, which was not imprinted by God, who as hee is immortall himselfe, had put a coale, a beame of Immortalitie into us, which we might have blowen into a flame, but blew it out, by our first sinne; wee beggard our selves by hearkning after false riches, and infatuated our selves by hearkning after false knowledge. So that now, we doe not onely die, but die upon the Rack, die by the torment of sicknesse; nor that onely, but are preafflicted, super-afflicted with these jelousies and suspitions, and apprehensions of Sicknes, before we can cal it a sicknes; we are not sure we are ill; one hand askes the other by the pulse, and our eye asks our urine, how we do. O multiplied misery! we die, and cannot enjoy death, because wee die in this torment of sicknes; we art tormented with sicknes, and cannot stay till the torment come, but preapprehensions and presages, prophecy those torments, which induce that death before either come; and our dissolution is conceived in these first changes, quickned in the sicknes it selfe, and borne in death, which beares date from these first changes. Is this the honour which Man hath by being a litle world, That he hath these earthquakes in him selfe, sodaine shakings; these lightnings, sodaine flashes; these thunders, sodaine noises; these Eclypses, sodain offuscations, and darknings of his senses; these Blazing stars, sodaine fiery exhalations; these Rivers of blood, sodaine red waters? Is he a world to himselfe onely therefore, that he hath inough in himself, not only to destroy, and execute himselfe, but to presage that execution upon himselfe; to assist the sicknes, to antidate the sicknes, to make the sicknes the more irremediable, by sad apprehensions, and as if he would make a fire the more vehement, by sprinkling water upon the coales, so to wrap a hote fever in cold Melancholy, least the fever alone should not destroy fast enough, without this contribution nor perfit the work (which is destruction) except we joynd an artificiall sicknes, of our owne melancholy, to our natural, our unnaturall fever. O perplex’d discomposition, O ridling distemper, O miserable condition of Man!”
  
                                                                                      John Donne
 
 
in other words, carpe diem, seize 
the day, don’t worry, be happy,
something too many of us learn 
too late 
 
Richard
 
psst: thanks, Guy, for the heads up,
         Guy is a librarian friend of mine 
         with the goods on the Tudors

 

“No man is an island” – John Donne

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                              John Donne Arriving in Heaven (1911)
 
                                                   Stanley Spencer
 
                                                        _________
 
 
the Munk Debates have been going  
on for some time now, a community 
service program of the very highest 
order, personalities of considerable 
note come together to champion their
positions on questions of supreme
importance in our global environment
 
Hitchens, the notorious, and highly 
influential, atheist contrarian, on 
religion, and suffered to him an 
ignominious defeat   
 
the crude but highly influential military 
advocate and, for a time, Canada’s Chief 
of Defence Staff, as well as the irascible 
Robert BoltonAmerican Ambassador to 
the U.N during the George W. Bush 
administration, and mightily held her 
own
 
Glenn Greenwald, the man who
published Edward Snowden’s trove
of leaked documents, discusses state
surveillance, others, all, have 
contributed to eloquent, and often 
riveting, exchanges 
 
last week the Canadian program went
continent-wide, including, this time, 
in other words, the United States, 
Louise Arbour, the highly respected 
Canadian jurist, and other mostly 
 
Simon Schama, a political pundit, 
offered little to that arenacounting on 
polished credentials, it appeared to me, 
instead of solid information, but stopped 
the show nevertheless with a recitation 
a literary document of the highest 
consequence we’ve all heard but never 
quite properly placed, during otherwise
more conventional closing arguments
 
despite strong opposition to my 
perspective from the site’s comment 
section, I thought No man is an island 
is on this issue not a bad at all place to 
start
 
 
Richard 
 
 
              ________________
 
 
 
 

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

              
                                                                                       John Donne

“Diet Mountain Dew” – Timothy Donnelly

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                  Dew Drenched Furze (1890)
 
                            John Everett Millais
 
                                 _____________
 
 
I have been, perhaps still am, 
grasshopper, which is why I 
react so strongly to this poem
 
at twelve already, after having
read Somerset Maugham’s 
Of Human Bondage“, I knew 
such would be my own fate, 
love wouldn’t be kind to me 
 
it hasn’t, it ain’t easy being 
green
 
 
Richard
 
                  ____________
 
 
 
I have built my ship of death
and when a wind kicks up
I’ll cut it loose to do its thing
across an unnamed lake of you,
a firefly sent pulsing through
the non-stop estivation of
the verses of our South, who in
its larval phase would feast
on bitter worms and snails, who
emerges from its mud chamber
our planet’s most efficient
luminescence, who turns
chemical energy into radiant
energy shedding very little heat,
so will I sail the compass of
you pleased with my cold light.
 
I have built my ship of death
aglow in sturdy chemicals
and powered up at night like
American Express, I’m all
customer service only minus
the customer, no service to speak
of other than death, you will
know my logo by its absence
and slogan from the past
ad for the sugared style of you
on TV in my youth, it goes
like this: “When my thirst
is at its worst . . .” and then I
let it trail off into the unsayable
or is it just unsaid because
my mouth is full of you again.
 
A green like no other green
in the dale, indelicate green or
green indecent, surpassing
the fern and sprout and April’s
optimistic leaflet some stop
to admire in nature, they take
photographs noncognizant
of other vehicles, you are too
green for pasture, you are
my green oncoming vehicle,
usurper of green, assassin
to the grasshopper and its plan,
I put me in your path which is
the path a planet takes when it
means to destroy another I think
you know I’m O.K. with that.
 
A green like no other green
resplending in production since
1940 when brothers Barney
and Ally Hartman cooked it up
in Tennessee qua private
mixer named after moonshine,
its formula then revised by
Bill Bridgforth of the Tri-City
Beverage Corp. in 1958, year
Linwood Burton, chemically
inclined entrepreneur and ship
cleaning service owner, sold
his formula for a relatively safe
maritime solvent to Procter
& Gamble of Ohio, who went on
to market it under the name
 
of Mr. Clean, whose green
approaches yours then at the
last second swerves into
a joke yellow plays on green
to make blue jealous till it
blows up in its face but I can’t
not love the smell of it, citrus
reimagined by an extra-
terrestrial lizard which is to say
inhuman in the way you say
inhuman to me, a compliment
unravelled in the drawl: “Hey
you, over there, you look
so unaccustomed to temporality
I would’ve sworn you were
inhuman,” and time for it after
 
time I fall, further evidence
of my humanity: I am at heart
no less susceptible to rot
than the felt hat on the head
of the rifle-toting barefoot
hillbilly, your mascot until he
disappeared in 1969. Instinct
says he must have shot his
self in the woods in the mouth
one sunrise when a frost
was at hand and the apples
fell thick and he was way
too awake when he did so not to
think there would be another
waiting like a can of you in
the 12-pack in my refrigerator.
 
I have built my ship of death
and enough already, every
toxic sip of you preparing for
the journey to bloviation:
I leave to return and return
to depart again the stronger
for a satisfaction being bound
to no port has afforded me:
I have built my ship of death
so that even when I crawl
back down into the hold of it
alive as what unnaturalness
in you can keep me, it’s only
to emerge from the other
end of it intact, and perfectly
prepared to be your grasshopper.
 
                       Timothy Donnelly