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Category: literature to ponder

“A Delicate Balance” – Edward Albee

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      “Theatre Drama 

 

             Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin

 
                           ___________

  

there are only a very few 20th-Century

American playwrights who’ve weathered

the rigours of time, two with several 

successes, Eugene O’Neill, and 

Tennessee Williams, but only one to 

tower above those two with only one 

work to outmatch them, Edward Albee,

his Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 

is every inch a king

 

this is not an impossible feat, Margaret

Mitchell wrote her only book, Gone 

with the Wind“, a contemporary Iliad“,

which will find its rightful place again 

in world literature, note, when our own 

too reverberant still times cede to the 

concerns of another, less pertinently 

fraught era, like reading “War and

Peace“, for instance, now that 

Napoleon is long gone

 

Gone with the Wind, quick, name 

another 20th-Century novel to top it, 

seconds are too long, Gone with 

the Windis in our bloodstream, 

like Walt Disney or Marilyn Monroe

even if you’ve never read it, which 

you should

 

but Edward Albee wrote another play

which deserves some attention, and 

with redoubtable performances from 

both the consummate ever Katharine 

Hepburn, and from our own Canadian 

tower of unutterable talent, Kate Reid

abetted by masterful presentations 

from no less than the revered Paul 

Scofield and the iconic Joseph Cotten 

when their supporting numbers come 

up, here is a show to watch for, if 

nothing else, those individual stellar

contributions

 

but A Delicate Balance“, also an 

incontestable masterpiece, is about 

friendship, and tells a lesson you’ll

not soon forget, friendship is more 

than, for better or for worse, just 

knowing each other, it says, an 

idiosyncratic, indeed recurrent,

Albee theme

 

 

cinematography, note, is, here

dreadful, though actually in that 

manner conceived, however 

improbably, by an otherwise 

noteworthy director, you’ll even 

think they’ve shrunk his frame

 

but visual style shouldn’t let you 

forego the play’s profound substance, 

nor the triumphant work of its illustrious 

cast, at the very top, mostly, of their 

considerable, even defining, powers

 

watch

 

 

R ! chard

Piano Concerto no 2, opus 83 – Brahms

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      Chartres Cathedral

          _____________

if Brahms’ 2nd Piano Concerto is, to my 
mind, the last one of the Romantic Period,  
Beethoven’s First is, accordingly, the first
 
I thought it, therefore, instructive to pair 
them 

Beethoven, impelled by ideological 
speculations, built not only a variation
on what had come before, music as 
entertainment, a reason to dance, but
gave it a greater, which is to say, 
philosophical, dimension

by extending the reach of the cadence
beyond the usual metered rhythm, 
sending the melodic statement 
beyond an otherwise constricting bar 
line, Beethoven turned a lilt into a 
sentence, a ditty into a paragraph   

Shakespeare does the same thing to
poetry, for instance, with iambic 
pentameter devoid of rhyme

         “But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
          It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
          Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
          Who is already sick and pale with grief,
          That thou her maid art far more fair than she”

                                  “Romeo and Juliet”, 2, 2, 2-6

and with this newfound oratory, 
peremptory, insistent, imbued, 
however, with utterly convincing 
honesty, unfettered emotion, 
which is to say, humanity, 
Beethoven establishes the 
sensibility of a very era, listen

that era, up to, eventually, Brahms
elaborates on that ethos, adding 
texture and enhanced authority 
to the original concept, setting 
the moral agenda for that, and 
other generations, to follow 

Brahms is more ponderous, mighty,
a cathedral instead of a church, a
commandment instead of an 
aspirational, merely, thrust, he 
adds even a fourth movement to 
an already magnificent structure, 
an extra steeple to towering 
edifice, a subliminally received 
reference to Beethoven‘s already 
inspiredbut tripartite only,  
architecture   

see Chartres for a comparable
ecclesiastical counterpart


R ! chard

“The Kingdom of Scotland vs the Weird Sisters”

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    “‘Macbeth’, Act I, Scene 3, the Weird Sisters (1783) 

           Henry Fuseli

               _______

if you thought The Kingdom of Denmark 
vs Hamlet was fun, you’ll love The 
Kingdom of Scotland vs the Weird 
Sisters“, U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Ruth Bader Ginsburg presides, with
the assistance of four other eminent
American judges, over the case in 
which the defendants, the witches 
who encounter Macbeth, are accused 
of concocting the murder of Duncan, 
King of Scotland, by that unsuspecting 
Thane of Glamis, soon to be Thane of 
Cawdor, not only predicting itbut 
verily perpetrating it

double, double, toil, indeed, and 
trouble, topical allusions flypithy, 
witty, pungent, delightful late night 
comedy fare, but of a more esoteric,
effete order 

watch, utterly enjoy


R ! chard

at the movies – “Phaedra”

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     “Phaedra and Hippolytus (1802) 

            Pierre-Narcisse Guérin

                   _____________

Phaedra, according to Greek myth, fell
in love with her stepson, and, of course,
ruined, for everyone, everything 

she’s been represented in music by
composers from, at least, Rameau,
1733, to, here, now, Benjamin Britten,  
1976by way of even Tangerine
Dream, 1973, however peripherally, 
and the hits just keep on coming

in literature, the story goes back to 
Euripides, 480 – 406 BCE, through
Jean Racine, 1639 – 1699, poet at 
the court of Louis XlV, the version 
that I studied in French Literature,
along with, in English, Shakespeare,
who was doing courtiers, rather, 
and royalty there, then, incidentally, 
instead of the Continent’s iconic 
Mediterranean figures – it remains 
my favourite play in my mother 
tongue, next to, for me, its only 
other equal, Cyrano de Bergerac

but I’d never seen a production of 
Phaedra until this searing, 
modern, rendition, set in, relatively 
contemporary, Greece, London, 
and Paris, with the irrepressible, 
the irresistible, Melina Mercouri
torrid temptress, the very goddess 
Herahereand Anthony Perkins
perfect as her suitor, a youth still, 
pulsing with a young man’s 
unbridled intentions

sparks fly, from moment to 
incendiary moment – I had often 
to pause to catch my breath – 
portents of an inescapable, and 
eventually epic, indeed mythic, 
apocalypse

watch, if you dare


R ! chard

Rutebeuf’s Lament – Rutebeuf/Ferré

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                      Friends Since Childhood” (2004) 

                                  George Stefanescu

                                         __________

having disparaged the only translation
I could find on the Internet of a poem
that is in French as famous as in 
English Elizabeth Barrett Browning‘s
How do I love thee? Let me count the 
ways.“, her 43rd “Sonnet[ ] from the
Portuguese”, I decided to translate 
myself the excerpt from “La Complainte
Rutebeuf“, of Rutebeuf himself, 1245 – 
1285, which became its indelible, and 
apparently timeless, virtual
manifestation

Rutebeuf’s entire poem is written in 
Old French, and excerpts of it were 
adapted into an updated French in 
1956 by Léo Ferré, a French
troubadour of the time, who then 
made it into a song that everyone
French remembers, despite, or 
maybe because of, its archaisms

though Ferré familiarized the French
for his listeners, it was still in an older
French, like rendering Chaucer‘s 
14th-Century English into Shakespeare‘s 
17th-Century counterpart tongue, “But 
look, the morn, in russet mantle clad, / 
Walks o’er the dew of yon high eastern 
hill”, “Hamlet”, act l, scene l, lines 166 
and 167, for instance

in my translation below, I eschew –
Gesundheit – such a daunting
challenge, but have chosen rather
to highlight the humanity that I find
especially compelling in the original
composition

Rutebeuf today would sound 
something of a cross between Harry
Nilsson and Bob Dylan, I think, of my
generationthe one for his 
straightforward simplicity, his crushing 
intimacy, the other for his social 
consciousness and probable greater, 
therefore, longevity

but will even Bob Dylan endure 800 
years

some will, some have, some do 

but who

we will never know

Richard 

           ______________

Rutebeuf’s Lament

What has become of my friends
that I had held to be so close 
and loved so dearly,
they were too carelessly tended
I think the wind has blown them away,
friendship has been forsaken.
And as the wind passed by my door,
took all of them away.

As time strips the trees of their leaves,
when not a leaf on a branch remains 
that will not hasten to the ground,
and poverty befalling me, 
from every corner appalling me,
as winter edges on.
These do not lend themselves well to my telling
of how I courted disgrace,
nor of the manner. 

What has become of my friends
that I had held to be so close 
and loved so dearly,
they were too carelessly tended
I think the wind has blown them away,
friendship has been forsaken.
And as the wind passed by my door,
took all of them away.
Sorrows do not show up on their own,
everything that was ever to happen  
has happened.

Not much of common sense, a poor memory
has God granted me, that God of Glory,
not much in sustenance either,
and it’s straight up my butt when the North wind blows, 
sweeping right through me, 
friendship has been forsaken.
And as the wind passed by my door,
took all of them away.

                                 Rutebeuf

listen

Richard

“When You Come” – Daniel Goodwin

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            “The Accolade (1901) 

           Edmund Blair Leighton

                     ___________

When You Come

When you come to greet me, shyly, 
wearing nothing but your love for me
I will come to meet you halfway
like a falcon returning to your wrist.

And when you raise your arm,
trembling ever so slightly,
I will alight and let you pull
the velvet shroud over my eyes. 

 Daniel Goodwin

                  —————–

courtly love, an idea of love that took 
shape in the 12th Century in what would
become France eventually, though its 
development soon touched all the 
countries, or kingdoms then, of Europe,
became the primary subject of poetry
and literature especially through the 
influence  of Eleanor of Acquitaine
without a doubt the most powerful
woman in Europe during her reign as 
Queen of France after her marriage to 
Louis Vll, which was annulled after a 
time for her having not borne Louis  
any sons, then with Henry, Duke of 
Normandy, who then became Henry ll
of England, with whom she had 
Richard l, the Lionheart, as well as the 
later King John – the wonderful film, 
The Lion in Winter” with Katherine
Hepburn as Eleanor is a brilliant 
account of her later life with Henry 
and their fractious sons, featuring 
as well Peter O’Toole as Henry, and a
young Anthony Hopkins as Richard

her patronage of the arts in general 
then, from her position of power, 
allowed, much as it would today any
potentate, the dissemination of 
courtly love as a cultural ideal that
ultimately led to some of the greatest 
works of our Western cultures, notably
Dante‘s The Divine Comedy“, where 
Dante courts chastely the married 
Beatrice, who becomes indeed even 
an intermediary for him during his 
passage through Paradise

the idea, through the interpolation of
the Catholic Church, was that courtly 
love should be pure, unconsummated,
a noble admiration and reverence of 
an object of adulation within the strict 
constraints of an impossible physical 
conjunction, the model being, of course, 
the emulation of the worship of the 
Virgin Mary

Cervantes‘ Don Quixote is a later 
example of this same disposition,
though by this time, 1605 to 1615,
the practice of courtly love had 
been sullied by too many evidently 
corrupt practitioners, and a more 
cynical therefore culture, so that 
Don Quixote despite his blameless
pursuit of Dulcinea, his unwitting
muse, is made out to be a fool 
given the context of his more 
contentious times, albeit a benign, 
and somewhat heroic, fool

but my very favourite such story is
that of Edmond Rostand‘s “Cyrano
de Bergerac“, whose long nose 
makes him disparage his own 
chances of ever achieving the love 
of his beloved, Roxane

José Ferrer got an Oscar for his 
superb performance of Cyrano in 
1950, but my ideal remains that of
Gérard Dépardieu, a complete 
wonder, in 1990, both very much, 
however, worth your time

all this as a preface to the poem 
above, When You Come, which 
seems to me of that tradition,
despite having been written in 
2014 according to its inclusion 
then in the Literary Review of 
Canada, perhaps because of the 
introduction of the falcon, not at 
all a contemporary image, but 
fraught with the impression of a
love that is all devotion instead 
of conquest, a kind of love that
in my particular circumstances 
I’ve come to reach for rather 
than anything less refined

true love, in other words, can  
never not love, as I’ve said earlier 

Richard

“the nerdwriter” on e.e. cummings, and Donald Trump

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    “Self-portrait with sketchpad (1939) 

             e.e. cummings

                  ________

one of e.e. cummings‘ poems that I 
didn’t know of, i carry your heart  
with me(i carry it in]“, but that is 
apparently one of his most 
accessible, is explored and 
wonderfully deconstructed in this
video, which’ll also prove how much 
we need nerds, people who’ll open 
up areas of profound but murky 
matter for us 

  [i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]

         i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
         my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
         i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
         by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                                i fear
         no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
         no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
         and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
         and whatever a sun will always sing is you

          here is the deepest secret nobody knows
          (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
          and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
          higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
          and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

          i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

                                                  e.e. cummings
                                                         


when I grow up, I want to be a nerd

Richard 

psst: listen to how “the nerdwriter”, Evan Paschal, 
         deconstructs Donald Trump

Hesiod on poets, and, for that matter, kings

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The Dance of the Muses at Mount Helicon (1807)  

Bertel Thorvaldsen

________

though Zeus may preside over kings,
none other than Apollo and the Muses
preside over poets, according to
Hesiod

Kalliope, foremost of the nine Muses
who tends specifically to kings, and 
to those being born of kings, in the
company of her sisters, Kleo and 
Euterpe, Thaleia and Melpomene, 
Terpsichore and Erato and Polymnia 
and Ourania, will pour a dew sweeter 
than honey upon such a one’s tongue, 
and his words become soothing, 
palliative, placating

“far shooting Apollo, however, 
presides at the inspiration of poets,
lending the lyrical notes from his 
representative lyre, not to mention 
his lyrics, derivative both terms of 
that etymological “lyre”, incidentally,  
so far has Apollo “shot”, dare I say,  
his spirit into our collective 
unconscious
 
“From the Muses and far-shooting Apollo
are singers and guitar-players across the earth, 
but kings are from Zeus. Blessed is he whom the Muses
love. From his mouth the streams flow sweeter than honey.
If anyone holds sorrow in his spirit from fresh grief and
is dried out in his heart from grieving, the singer,
servant of the Muses, hymns the deeds of men of the past  

and the blessed gods who hold Olympus, and
right away he forgets his troubles and does not remember
a single care. Quickly do the gifts of the goddess divert him.” 
 
                                                    Theogony (lines 94 – 103)
                                                                     Hesiod

therefore poets 

Richard 

psst: a friend has just passed on,
 it is a time for poets

the wall

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   “Colors For A Large Wall (1951)

       Ellsworth Kelly

          __________

talking about walls, isn’t it only a few
years ago we were tearing one down

here is Roger Waters and several
other outstanding guest artists, in 
very Berlin, July 21, 1990, celebrating 
its demise

a little earlier, C***mas, 1989, only
moments after East Germans had 
been allowed to visit West Germany,
essentially giving way to the 
dissolution of the barrier, Leonard
Bernstein conducted Beethoven’s
Ninth Symphony, changing the 
word “joy” from the title of Schiller’s 
poem, appropriated by Beethoven 
for his great fourth choral movement, 
to “freedom”, giving new meaning, 
and new life, and new inspiration,  
to Beethoven’s always resounding 
nevertheless masterpiece

how soon we’ve forgotten

Richard

psst: let’s paint the wall

“Medea” – Euripides

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       Medea (1898) 

       Alphonse Mucha

          ____________

catching up on my Greek tragedies 
for a course I’m following online, I
happened upon this marvel

Medea, by Euripides, was written 
in 431 BCE, the next significant 
playwright in world history was
Shakespeare, the Dark Ages had
been “Dark” indeed, it took a 
Renaissance, in fact a new 
flowering of Greek and Roman
arts and institutions to get us 
moving forward again, you’ll 
notice how much of Euripides 
there is in Shakespearenot to 
mention in the French Classicists, 
Racine and Corneille

none of these, incidentally, have 
yet been equalled, never mind 
surpassed, except by maybe 
Anton Checkov, the superb 
Russian playwright

Zoe Caldwell won the 1982 Tony 
Award for best actress for her
incarnation of Medea, she was 
up against Katharine Hepburn 
and Geraldine Pageno less, 
among other distinguished 
luminaries, this is, in other 
words, no ordinary performance, 
watch her turn a mere script, 
however incandescent, into 
set of spoken arias worthy of 
the most celebrated divas

everyone else in the play is also
strong, excellent, impeccable

note the application of the three 
unities, of time, place, and action,
there is no set change, everything 
takes place within 24 hours,
according to the dictates of the 
very plot, the action surrounds 
the expulsion from Corinth of 
Medea and her two, and Jason’s, 
sons, the restrictions of the form 
put the tension, the drama, utterly 
in the hands of the poet, the 
success of the work depends not
on stunts, special effects, but on
words, poetry

Aristotle says in his Poetics“, 
section I, part VI, “The Spectacle has, indeed, an
emotional attraction of its own, but, of all the parts,
it is the least artistic, and connected least with the
art of poetry. … Besides, the production of
spectacular effects depends more on the art
of the stage machinist than on that of the poet.”  

the three unities have no room,
therefore, for Spectacle“, their 
product must be reflections of 
the poet’s humanity, heart, 
straight through, if s/he can, 
to ours

Richard