"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Inner World
of the Dream Character

Interior With Extension Cord
Watercolor, gouache, and ink, 6 x 6 inches.
by Elizabeth Bishop
from the Collection of Loren MacIver

William Benton, editor of Exchanging Hats: Elizabeth Bishop Paintings observes that "The general rule of a Bishop picture is: If a table exists, put flowers on it. In this case, with the dramatic focus on the extension cord crossing the planes of the white room (to bring a lamp to the narrow working space), she simply opened the door to the garden instead."

What I'm thinking is that Bishop's painting could be in a series along with my friend Jan's little lamp drawings. Speaking of Jan, last week, she wrote to ask if I had read Elizabeth Bishop's poem "A summer's Dream." A few years ago, Jan sent me another Elizabeth Bishop poem -- "One Art" -- that has since become one of my all - time favorites. So naturally, I was intrigued to check out "A Summer's Dream." It was bound to be fantastic! You can trust Jan: if she mentions a poem, it's never just a reference; there's always a story behind it. And of course, I love nothing more than an inspirational and intellectual treasure hunt and an opportunity to piece all the connections together!

A Summer’s Dream
To the sagging wharf
few ships could come.
The population numbered
two giants, an idiot, a dwarf,

a gentle storekeeper
asleep behind his counter,
and our kind landlady—
the dwarf was her dressmaker.

The idiot could be beguiled
by picking blackberries,
but then threw them away.
The shrunken seamstress smiled.

By the sea, lying
blue as a mackerel,
our boarding house was streaked
as though it had been crying.

Extraordinary geraniums
crowded the front windows,
the floors glittered with
assorted linoleums.

Every night we listened
for a horned owl.
In the horned lamp flame,
the wallpaper glistened.

The giant with the stammer
was the landlady’s son,
grumbling on the stairs
over an old grammar.

He was morose,
but she was cheerful.
The bedroom was cold,
the feather bed close.

We were awakened in the dark by
the somnambulist brook
nearing the sea,
still dreaming audibly.

Elizabeth Bishop (1911 – 1979)
Poet Laureate of the United States, 1949 to 1950
Pulitzer Prize Winner, 1956

Among other things, we discussed the giant's "grumbling" and apparent frustration. What came to my mind was an image of the giant, exhausted after a long, tiring day, making an effort to improve his speaking problem -- the "stammar" -- by pouring over an old grammar book. Maybe something along these lines:

or this:

They seem to be an oddly but closely knit family of sorts, living in close quarters; and perhaps sitting on the stair is the one place where the giant can find some privacy for studying. Bishop's scenario reveals that even though the dwarf, idiot, and giant may seem at first glance to be no more than stock circus characters, they are in fact motivated by inner dreams and goals just as the reader is. I like the presentation of their private landscapes (sitting quietly, studying, dreaming, day - dreaming) as well as their inter - connectedness, as the poet carefully outlines who belongs to whom.

It's interesting to compare the "morose" yet "cheerful" tone of "A Summer's Dream" with the "Formal melancholy" of "Cirque D'Hiver" ("Winter Circus"). The first is peopled with a number of colorful, fleshly characters; the second features a mechanical toy, made up of two parts: "A little circus horse . . . a little dancer on his back," bound together by a pole, a wind - up key, and a twist of fate. Neither the dancer nor the horse is without self - awareness; that's the heart - breaking aspect of the poem. Carnival imagery gives way to cosmic questioning. Can it be true that the little horse is really "more intelligent by far" than the dancer? After all, she's the one who feels the pole "that pierces both her body and her soul" (Jan said: "that line about the pole -- stunning. It gave me shivers").

Jan also reminded me to notice, while reading, how Bishop creates her own form and rhyme:

Cirque D'Hiver
Across the floor flits the mechanical toy,
fit for a king of several centuries back.
A little circus horse with real white hair.
His eyes are glossy black.
He bears a little dancer on his back.
She stands upon her toes and turns and turns.
A slanting spray of artificial roses
is stitched across her skirt and tinsel bodice.
Above her head she poses
another spray of artificial roses.
His mane and tail are straight from Chirico.
He has a formal, melancholy soul.
He feels her pink toes dangle toward his back
along the little pole
that pierces both her body and her soul
and goes through his, and reappears below,
under his belly, as a big tin key.
He canters three steps, then he makes a bow,
canters again, bows on one knee,
canters, then clicks and stops, and looks at me.
The dancer, by this time, has turned her back.
He is the more intelligent by far.
Facing each other rather desperately—
his eye is like a star—
we stare and say, "Well, we have come this far."

~ Elizabeth Bishop

"His mane and tail are straight from Chirico."
Cavalli in riva al mare
by Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978)

Next Fortnightly Post
Wednesday, May 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading
this month: "Open the Book" ~ Elizabeth Bishop

Monday, April 14, 2014

Many Many Moons

Pink Phlox on our front slope ~ April 2010
A much warmer and sunnier April than we're having so far this year!

Although some may find it hard to believe, neither the Pink Moon nor the Blue Moon is so named after the color of the moon (though I've even heard fact bound Jeopardy perpetuate this erroneous concept). In fact, the April Full Moon is often called the Pink Moon because of the moss pink ground phlox, one of the earliest widespread flowers of the Spring, which makes its appearance at this time.
Pink Moon Phlox

Other names for the April full moon, all referring to new life and regeneration, include the Egg Moon, the Fish Moon, the Planter's Moon, the Seed Moon, the Sprouting Grass Moon, and the Waking Moon. For more information on these nicknames and all the other Full Moon Names, there's always the good old reliable Farmers' Almanac. Plus there are plenty of fun and informative Lunar Blogs on the web.

Coincidentally, tomorrow's Total Lunar Eclipse will lend a pinkish, reddish hue to this year's April moon, inspiring its descriptive nickname: the Blood Moon, not a scientific term but a hugely popular one. I didn't try to photograph the lunar eclipse, but my friend Jay got some great shots:

Here's one of the best full moon poems I know, for a Blood Moon or any other kind, full of folklore and magic. Ancient or post - modern? These fisher - folk could well be either, upon their timeless quest:

Moon Fishing

When the moon was full they came to the water,
some with pitchforks, some with rakes,
some with sieves and ladles,
and one with a silver cup.

And they fished til a traveler passed them and said,
to catch the moon you must let your women
spread their hair on the water --
even the wily moon will leap to that bobbing
net of shimmering threads,
gasp and flop till its silver scales
lie black and still at your feet."

And they fished with the hair of their women
till a traveler passed them and said,
do you think the moon is caught lightly,
with glitter and silk threads?
You must cut out your hearts and bait your hooks
with those dark animals;
what matter you lose your hearts to reel in your dream?"

And they fished with their tight, hot hearts
till a traveler passed them and said,
what good is the moon to a heartless man?
Put back your hearts and get on your knees
and drink as you never have,
until your throats are coated with silver
and your voices ring like bells."

And they fished with their lips and tongues
until the water was gone
and the moon had slipped away
in the soft, bottomless mud.

by Lisel Mueller, American poet, born in Germany, 1924
Pulitzer Prize For Poetry, 1997

Thirst drove me down to the water
where I drank the moon’s reflection.

Rumi (1207 - 1273)
Persian Spiritual Sage

Trying to Capture the Moon

Thanks to Andrea Livingston for sharing this playful lunar collage, which reminded me of the following favorite children's stories that cleverly capture the conundrum of the moon, so close but still so far. How can the moon, so clearly visible to the naked eye, especially when it's full, be further away than England or California or even nearby Chicago, which we certainly can't see from Indiana? That just doesn't seem right!

Margaret Wise Brown -- Goodnight Moon
Gerry and I loved reading this one to Ben and Sam.
When Ben was little, all Gerry or I had to do was get out a copy
of "Goodnight Moon," and Ben would call out, "Nobody!"
(See Aimee Bender, 2014)

Eric Carle --Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me
Sometimes the moon is whatever size you need it to be!

James Thurber -- Many Moons
I did not know this book as a child, but loved it in college and
picked a passage from here for an oral interpretation assignment.

Cat Stevens -- Teaser and the Firecat
Love the album & the songs but better yet, the storybook!

See also "Moonshadow," another
Cat Stevens favorite!

Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, April 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading