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Monday, 22 October 2007

In art & dream may you proceed with abandon ...

... In Life may you proceed with balance & stealth
[Patti Smith]

The Dream of Sardanapalus, Ford Madox Brown

SARDANAPALUS: I saw, that is, I dreamed myself

Here—here—even where we are, guests as we were,

Myself a host that deemed himself but guest,

Willing to equal all in social freedom;

But, on my right hand and my left, instead

Of thee and Zames, and our customed meeting,

Was ranged on my left hand a haughty, dark,

And deadly face; I could not recognise it,

Yet I had seen it, though I knew not where:

The features were a giant's, and the eye

Was still, yet lighted; his long locks curled down

On his vast bust, whence a huge quiver rose

With shaft-heads feathered from the eagle's wing,

That peeped up bristling through his serpent hair.

I invited him to fill the cup which stood

Between us, but he answered not; I filled it;

He took it not, but stared upon me, till

I trembled at the fixed glare of his eye:

I frowned upon him as a king should frown;

He frowned not in his turn, but looked upon me

With the same aspect, which appalled me more,

Because it changed not; and I turned for refuge

To milder guests, and sought them on the right,

Where thou wert wont to be. But—

In thy own chair—thy own place in the banquet—

I sought thy sweet face in the circle—but

Instead—a grey-haired, withered, bloody-eyed,

And bloody-handed, ghastly, ghostly thing,

Female in garb, and crowned upon the brow,

Furrowed with years, yet sneering with the passion

Of vengeance, leering too with that of lust,

Sate—my veins curdled! Upon

Her right hand—her lank, bird-like, right hand—stood

A goblet, bubbling o'er with blood; and on

Her left, another, filled with—what I saw not,

But turned from it and her. But all along

The table sate a range of crowned wretches,

Of various aspects, but of one expression.

It was so palpable, I could have touched them.

I turned from one face to another, in

The hope to find at last one which I knew

Ere I saw theirs: but no—all turned upon me,

And stared, but neither ate nor drank, but stared,

Till I grew stone, as they seemed half to be,

Yet breathing stone, for I felt life in them,

And life in me: there was a horrid kind

Of sympathy between us, as if they

Had lost a part of death to come to me,

And I the half of life to sit by them.

We were in an existence all apart

From heaven or earth—And rather let me see

Death all than such a being!

At last I sate, marble, as they, when rose

The Hunter and the Crone; and smiling on me—

Yes, the enlarged but noble aspect of

The Hunter smiled upon me—I should say,

His lips, for his eyes moved not—and the woman's

Thin lips relaxed to something like a smile.

Both rose, and the crowned figures on each hand

Rose also, as if aping their chief shades—

Mere mimics even in death—but I sate still:

A desperate courage crept through every limb,

And at the last I feared them not, but laughed

Full in their phantom faces. But then—then

The Hunter laid his hand on mine: I took it,

And grasped it—but it melted from my own;

While he too vanished, and left nothing but

The memory of a hero, for he looked so.

Aye, Myrrha, but the woman,

The female who remained, she flew upon me,

And burnt my lips up with her noisome kisses;

And, flinging down the goblets on each hand,

Methought their poisons flowed around us, till

Each formed a hideous river. Still she clung;

The other phantoms, like a row of statues,

Stood dull as in our temples, but she still

Embraced me, while I shrunk from her, as if,

In lieu of her remote descendant, I

Had been the son who slew her for her incest.

Then—then—a chaos of all loathsome things

Thronged thick and shapeless: I was dead, yet feeling—

Buried, and raised again—consumed by worms,

Purged by the flames, and withered in the air!

I can fix nothing further of my thoughts,

Save that I longed for thee, and sought for thee,

In all these agonies—and woke and found thee.

From a place apart, Morpheus, god of dreams, awakes.
Detached from the benevolent folds of the muse he presses
against the blue and burns into form. Flying high, with
neither love nor remorse, he regards his charge - a young man asleep within the cloth of a voyage, which is turning,
ever so slowly, even as the widening skirt of an ecstatic.
[Patti Smith 1996]

To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life ...

Prehistoric bedragonned times
[Ted Hughes, Lupercal]

I journeyed home: such flood of blossoms never Had welcomed me ... a throbbing in the field And in the grove there was of sleeping powers. I saw the river, slope and shire enthralled, And you, my brothers, sun-heirs of the future: Your eyes, still chase, are harboring a dream, Once yearning thoughts in you, to blood shall alter ... My sorrow-stricken life to slumber leans, But graciously does heaven's promise guerdon The fervent ... who may never pace the Realm. I shall be earth, shall be the grave of heroes, That sacred sons approach to be fulfilled. With them the second age comes, love engendered The world, again shall love engender it. I spoke the spell, the circle has been woven ... Before the darkness fall, I shall be snatched Aloft and know: through cherished fields shall wander On weightless soles, aglow and real, the God. {Stefan George}
Thus the Greeks, the most humane men of ancient times, have a trait of cruelty, a tigerish lust to annihilate—a trait that is also very distinct in that grotesquely enlarged mirror image of the Hellenes, in Alexander the Great, but that really must strike fear into our hearts throughout their whole history and mythology, if we approach them with the flabby concept of modern “humanity” . . . . With the same feeling we may also observe the mutual laceration, bloody and insatiable, of two Greek parties, for example, in the Corcyrean revolution. When the victor in a fight among the cities executes the entire male citizenry in accordance with the laws of war, and sells all the women and children into slavery, we see in the sanction of such a law that the Greeks considered it an earnest necessity to let their hatred flow forth fully; in such moments crowded and swollen feeling relieved itself: the tiger leaped out, voluptuous cruelty in his terrible eyes. Why must the Greek sculptor give form again and again to war and combat in innumerable repetitions: distended human bodies, their sinews tense with hatred or with the arrogance of triumph; writhing bodies, wounded; dying bodies, expiring? Why did the whole Greek world exult over the combat scenes of the Iliad? I fear that we do not understand these in a sufficiently “Greek” manner; indeed, that we should shudder if we were ever to understand them “in Greek.”