Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

June 30, 2006

"Museum Pieces"

Filed under: Uncategorized — Clattery MacHinery @ 2:56 am


Jeffery Alan Triggs’s essay Museum Pieces: Poems About Art can be found either at that link, or within his online book in pdf format here: Mirrors for Mankind: Readings in Art, Film, and Literature. Both those links are on the Global Language Resources site under Jeffery Triggs.

His essay is about what the title says, poems about art. We will be following along with most of the poems he looks at.

For each poem, we begin with a quote from Triggs’s essay. This is followed by a photo of the artwork the poem is about. Then comes the full poem, which is followed by another quote from his essay.

______________________________________

Triggs: The urn, of course, frozen in time and timeless at once, cannot speak for itself, and so Keats takes up one image after another, imaginatively recreating the time of the urn and then contemplating the urn as an object outside time: “Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought/As doth eternity.” Indeed, this teasing out of thought, carefully limited by the images of the urn itself, provides the imaginative body of the poem.

by John Keats

Ode on a Grecian Urn

Thou still unravished bride of quietness,
Thou foster child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loath?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endeared,
Pipe to the spirit dities of no tone.
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal–yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss
Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unweari-ed,
Forever piping songs forever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
Forever warm and still to be enjoyed,
Forever panting, and forever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloyed,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands dressed?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity. Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty”–that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

.

.

Triggs: The urn, though “a friend to man,” is still a “Cold Pastoral,” whose speech, as imagined by Keats from the silence of its images, is self-referential, a tautology of its plastic form: “‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’–that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” It is not, of course, all that a human being needs to know, who knows in time.

______________________________________

Triggs: The torso is not easily read, however. The “Augenäpfel” of the “unerhörtes Haupt,” which we might expect could be easily picked, read, and made our own, are not available to us, and so we must seek something more strange, the torso’s Schauen, its deep gaze, within, which we can only imagine from the remaining suggestion of it.

by Rainer Maria Rilke

Archaïscher Torso Apollos

Wir kannten nicht sein unerhörtes Haupt,
darin die Augenäpfel reiften. Aber
sein Torso glüht noch wie ein Kandelaber,
in dem sein Schauen, nur zurückgeschraubt,
sich hält und glänzt. Sonst könnte nicht der Bug
der Brust dich blenden, und im leisen Drehen
der Lenden könnte nicht ein Lächeln gehen
zu jener Mitte, die die Zeugung trug.

Sonst stünde dieser Stein entstellt und kurz
unter der Schultern durchsichtigem Sturz
und flimmerte nicht so wie Raubtierfelle

und bräche nicht aus allen seinen Rändern
aus wie ein Stern: denn da ist keine Stelle,
die dich nicht sieht. Du mußt dein Leben ändern.

.

.

translated by C. F. MacIntyre

Torso of an Archaic Apollo

Never will we know his fabulous head
where the eyes’ apples slowly ripened. Yet
his torso glows: a candelabrum set
before his gaze which is pushed back and hid,
restrained and shining. Else the curving breast
could not thus blind you, nor through the soft turn
of the loins could this smile easily have passed
into the bright groins where the genitals burned.

Else stood this stone a fragment and defaced,
with lucent body from the shoulders falling,
too short, not gleaming like a lion’s fell;

nor would this star have shaken the shackles off,
bursting with light, until there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

.

.

Triggs: But the torso has this power only on the subjunctive possibility that we see it with Rilke’s imaginative intensity. Then, and paradoxically, it sees us without eyes, speaks to us, and unlike Keats’s urn, changes us irremediably. “Du mußt dein Leben ändern,” unlike “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” is not self-referential, but aimed at the viewer in the full force of its meaning.

______________________________________

Triggs: Auden begins his contemplation of the painting with a quite ordinary and prosy transition: “In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance.” The painting is not locked in a mystery of timelessness, nor does it challenge our own existence with its intensity of being; it is an artifact, to which we may point, and from which we may draw a lesson before continuing on our way.

by W.H. Auden

Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

.

.

Triggs: Brueghel mitigated the intensity of his subject in a busy painting that shifts the focus from the impulsively romantic Icarus to the common people. Following Brueghel in this, Auden controls the powerful myth with filtering layers (such as his off-hand tone and indirect approach, the device of presenting the museum before the painting) which surround his experience.

______________________________________

Triggs: As usual, Williams is busy breaking the back of the pentameter line, though here the “off balance” verses with their extreme enjambments echo, or reflect, the off balance positions of the dancers in the painting.

by William Carlos Williams

The Dance

In Breughel’s great picture, The Kermess,
the dancers go round, they go round and
around, the squeal and the blare and the
tweedle of bagpipes, a bugle and fiddles
tipping their bellies (round as the thick-
sided glasses whose wash they impound)
their hips and their bellies off balance
to turn them. Kicking and rolling about
the Fair Grounds, swinging their butts, those
shanks must be sound to bear up under such
rollicking measures, prance as they dance
in Breughel’s great picture, The Kermass.

.

.

Triggs: The tone of the poem is one of festive intoxication with the human condition. Beyond the notation that the events described take place in a “picture,” no distinction is made between the world of art and the world of human life. Simply by not recognizing a barrier dividing these worlds, Williams mediates effortlessly between them.

______________________________________

Triggs: The Yeux Glauques section of “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley” deals in considerable detail with Burne-Jones’s “King Cophetua,” a huge painting that dominates one room of the Tate Gallery in London. Pound’s concern, however, is primarily the ironic relation of life to art, specifically the tragically ironic relation of the model Elizabeth Siddal to the characters she portrayed in so many Pre-Raphaelite works.

Foetid Buchanan lifted up his voice
When that faun’s head of hers
Became a pastime for
Painters and adulterers.

The Burne-Jones cartons
Have preserved her eyes;
Still, at the Tate, they teach
Cophetua to rhapsodize;

Thin like brook water,
With a vacant gaze.

by Ezra Pound

Hugh Selwyn Mauberley

E. P. Ode pour L’Election de son Sépulchre

I

For three years, out of key with his time
He strove to resuscitate the dead art
Of poetry; to maintain “The sublime”
In the old sense. Wrong from the start–

No hardly, but, seeing he had been born
In a half-savage country, out of date;
Bent resolutely on wringing lilies from the acorn;
Capaneus; trout for factitious bait;

. . . . . . . .
Caught in the unstopped ear;
Giving the rocks small lee-way
The chopped seas held him, therefore, that year.

His true Penelope was Flaubert,
He fished by obstinate isles;
Observed the elegance of Circe’s hair
Rather than the mottoes on sun-dials.

Unaffected by “the march of events,”
He passed from men’s memory in l’an trentiesme
De son eage; the case presents
No adjunct to the Muses’ diadem.

II

The age demanded an image
Of its accelerated grimace,
Something for the modern stage,
Not, at any rate, an Attic grace;

Not, not certainly, the obscure reveries
Of the inward gaze;
better mendacities
Than the classics in paraphrase!

The “age demanded” chiefly a mould in plaster,
Made with no loss of time,
A prose kinema, not, assuredly, alabaster
Or the “sculpture” of rhyme.

III

The tea-rose tea-gown, etc.
Supplants the mousseline of Cos,
The pianola “replaces”
Sappho’s barbitos.

Christ follows Dionysus,
Phallic and ambrosial
Made way for macerations;
Caliban casts out Ariel.

All things are a flowing,
Sage Heracleitus says:
But a tawdry cheapness
Shall outlast our days.

Even the Christian beauty
Defects–after Samothrace;
We see . . .
Decreed in the market place.

Faun’s flesh is not to us,
Nor the saint’s vision.
We have the press for wafer,
Franchise for circumcision.

All men, in law, are equals.
Free of Peisistratus,
We choose a knave or an eunuch
To rule over us.

O bright Apollo,
. . . . . . . .
What god, man, or hero
Shall I place a tin wreath upon!

IV

These fought, in any case,
and some believing, pro domo, in any case . . .

Some quick to arm,
some for adventure,
some from fear of weakness,
some from fear of censure,
some for love of slaughter, in imagination,
learning later . . .

some in fear, learning love of slaughter;
Died some, pro patria,
non “dulce” non “et decor” . . .

walked eye-deep in hell
believing in old men’s lies,then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy;

usury age-old and age-thick
and liars in public places.

Daring as never before, wastage as never before.
Young blood and high blood,
fair cheeks, and fine bodies;

fortitude as never before

frankness as never before,
disillusions as never told in the old days
hysterias, trench confessions
laughter out of dead bellies.

V

There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization,

Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
quick eyes gone under earth’s lid,

For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.

Yeux glauques

Gladstone was still respected,
When John Ruskin produced
“Kings Treasuries”; Swinburne
And Rossetti still abused.

Foetid Buchanan lifted up his voice
When that faun’s head of hers
Became a pastime for
Painters and adulterers.

The Burne-Jones cartons
Have preserved her eyes;
Still, at the Tate, they teach
Cophetua to rhapsodize;

Thin like brook-water,
With a vacant gaze.
The English Rubaiyat was still-born
In those days.

The thin, clear gaze, the same
Still darts out faun-like from the half-ruin’d face
Questing and passive. . . .
“Ah, poor Jenny’s case” . . .

Bewildered that a world
Shows no surprise
At her last maquero’s
Adulteries.

“Siena Mi Fe’; Disfecemi Maremma”

Among the pickled foetuses and bottled bones,
Engaged in perfecting the catalogue,
I found the last scion of the
Senatorial families of Strasbourg, Monsieur Verog.

For two hours he talked of Gallifet;
Of Dowson; of the Rhymers’ Club;
Told me how Johnson (Lionel) died
By falling from a high stool in a pub

But showed no trace of alcohol
At the autopsy, privately performed–
Tissue preserved–the pure mind
Arose toward Newman as the whiskey warmed.

Dowson found harlots cheaper than hotels;
Headlam for uplift; Image impartially imbued
With raptures for Bacchus, Terpsichore and the Church.
So spoke the author of “The Dorian Mood,”

M. Verog, out of step with the decade,
Detached from his contemporaries,
Neglected by the young,
Because of these reveries.

Brennbaum

The sky-like limpid eyes,
The circular infant’s face,
The stiffness from spats to collar
Never relaxing into grace;

The heavy memories of Horeb, Sinai and the forty years,
Showed only when the daylight fell
Level across the face
Of Brennbaum “The Impeccable.”

Mr. Nixon

In the cream gilded cabin of his steam yacht
Mr. Nixon advised me kindly, to advance with fewer
Dangers of delay. “Consider
“Carefully the reviewer.
“I was as poor as you are;
“When I began I got, of course,
“Advance on royalties, fifty at first,” said Mr. Nixon,
“Follow me, and take a column,
“Even if you have to work free.

“Butter reviewers. From fifty to three hundred
“I rose in eighteen months;
“The hardest nut I had to crack
“Was Dr. Dundas.

“I never mentioned a man but with the view
“Of selling my own works.
“The tip’s a good one, as for literature
“It gives no man a sinecure.

“And no one knows, at sight, a masterpiece.
“And give up verse, my boy,
“There’s nothing in it.”

Likewise a friend of Bloughram’s once advised me:
Don’t kick against the pricks
Accept opinion. The “Nineties” tried your game
And died, there’s nothing in it.

X

Beneath the sagging roof
The stylist has taken shelter,
Unpaid, uncelebrated,
At last from the world’s welter

Nature receives him;
With a placid and uneducated mistress
He exercises his talents
And the soil meets his distress.

The haven from sophistications and contentions
Leaks through its thatch;
He offers succulent cooking;
The door has a creaking latch.

XI

“Conservatrix of Milésien”
Habits of mind and feeling,
Possibly. But in Ealing
With the most bank-clerkly of Englishmen?

No, “Milésien” is an exaggeration.
No instinct has survived in her
Older than those her grandmother
Told her would fit her station.

XII

“Daphne with her thighs in bark
Stretches toward me her leafy hands,”–
Subjectively. In the stuffed-satin drawing-room
I await The Lady Valentine’s commands,

Knowing my coat has never been
Of precisely the fashion
To stimulate, in her,
A durable passion;

Doubtful, somewhat, of the value
Of well-gowned approbation
Of literary effort,
But never of The Lady Valentine’s vocation:

Poetry, her border of ideas,
The edge, uncertain, but a means of blending
With other strata
Where the lower and higher have ending;

A hook to catch the Lady Jane’s attention,
A modulation toward the theatre,
Also, in the case of revolution,
A possible friend and comforter.
Conduct, on the other hand, the soul
“Which the highest cultures have nourished”
To Fleet St. where
Dr. Johnson flourished;

Beside this thoroughfare
The sale of half-hose has
Long since superseded the cultivation
Of Pierian roses.

Envoi

Go, dumb-born book,
Tell her that sang me once that song of Lawes:
Hadst thou but song
As thou hadst subjects known.
Then were there cause in thee that should condone
Even my faults that heavy upon me lie,
And build her glories their longevity.

Tell her that sheds
Such treasure in the air,
Recking naught else but that her graces give
Life to the moment,
I would bid them live
As roses might, in magic amber laid,
Red overwrought with orange and all made
One substance and one colour
Braving time.

Tell her that goes
With song upon her lips
But sings not out of the song, nor knows
The maker of it, some other mouth,
May be as fair as her,
Might, in new ages, gain her worshippers,
When our two dusts with Waller’s shall be laid,
Siftings on siftings in oblivion,
Till change hath broken down
All things save Beauty alone.

.

.

Triggs: The poem thus imagines and articulates three distinct times: the time of the viewer, the time of the painting, and the time of the painting’s model, as it were the mimetic object. Pound’s lines are thus suffused with the human mystery of art, the magic by which the living human gesture is taken up, congealed into artistic form, and then released into living human perception.

______________________________________

Triggs Summarizes: In their differing styles, all poems about art confront this fact of the deathly impenetrability of time. The imaginations of the poets range against it and assault it in different ways–passionate, ironic, innocent–and, indeed, this imaginative stir is the stuff of their poetry, but ultimately they are left with their own timefulness in the presence of images that last longer. Poetry about art constitutes, therefore, a tragic genre, a genre of human limitations from which most poets eventually turn away.

.

3 Comments »

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    Comment by Mary Zolinski — May 3, 2009 @ 4:51 am

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    Comment by Sabah Mohsen Jasim — September 13, 2009 @ 8:34 am

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    Comment by link — October 18, 2013 @ 9:12 pm


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