Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Into the Clouds, A Bird: Matsuo Bashō, 1644-1694

The adventures and hokku poems of Matsuo Bashō' (1644-1694) are like a magical interplay between St. Francis of Assisi -- Francesco, Giovanni de Pietro de Bernardone (circa 1181-1226) -- and Patti Smith (b. 1946). 

Bashō composed hundreds of pithy, brief poems, all the while moving around, traveling light, staying  here and there in a hut with some rice and wine, among drinking friends or on some pilgrimage. 

According to the dictates of his day, his hokku, or "opening shot" haiku, all contained a kigo, a seasonal sign, word, trace or link. 

For example:

Thoughts on a journey

this autumn:
         why do I feel so old? 
                  into the clouds, a bird

[Source: #720 (Autumn of A. D. 1694). In, Bashō's Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Bashō, translated by David Landis Barnhill. State University of New York Press, 2004, page 154.]

And now, a tiny sample of my favorites:

to the capital,
         half the sky left --
                 clouds of snow

Source: #223 (Winter of A. D. 1687-1688). In, Bashō's Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Bashō, translated by David Landis Barnhill. State University of New York Press, 2004, page 62.
resting on my journey,
         I watch the year-end housecleaning
                 of the floating world

Source: #239 (Winter of A. D. 1687-1688). In, Bashō's Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Bashō, translated by David Landis Barnhill. State University of New York Press, 2004, page 65.

villagers sing
        verses in the rice fields:
                the capital

Source: #287 (Summer of A. D. 1688). In, Bashō's Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Bashō, translated by David Landis Barnhill. State University of New York Press, 2004, page 74.

these fireflies,
         like the moon
                 in all the rice paddies

Source: #297 (Summer of A. D. 1688). In, Bashō's Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Bashō, translated by David Landis Barnhill. State University of New York Press, 2004, page 76.

At Takadachi in Ōshū Province

summer grass:
          all that remains 
                   of warriors' dreams

Source: #386 (Summer of A. D. 1689). In, Bashō's Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Bashō, translated by David Landis Barnhill. State University of New York Press, 2004, page 93.

Today's Rune: Defense. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Publius Ovidius Naso, aka Ovid: Amores I (16 B. C.)

Villa Mysteriorum, Pompeii
Ovid's Amores I, published in 16 B.C. (about 2,033 years before this A.D. 2017 post), reveals that human nature is pretty much the same now as it was then. In this volume and its sequels, Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso) delves into the arts of love, falling in love, crazy love (amour fou), forbidden love, unrequited love, recovery from love, and everything in between.

Besides much hilarity and keen observations that will seem familiar to anyone who's experienced any of these circumstances or altered states of being, Ovid equates love and war. As in, "all's fair in love and war" -- though little would seem equally fair in either love or war. 

Every time I read Ovid, it's hard not to smile.

Here are a few jots and tittles from the Peter Green translation, Ovid, The Erotic Poems: The Amores, The Art of Love, Cures for Love, On Facial Treatment for Ladies (London, Penguin classics, 1982).

'Love, like war, is a toss-up. The defeated can recover,
    While some you might think invincible collapse;
So if you've got love written off as an easy option
    You'd better think twice. Love calls
For guts and initiative.'                                                                (pages 101-102)

Fresque de Pompéi (Musée archéologique de Naples)
'If you want a cure for slackness, fall in love.'                             (page 102)

On nagging:

     'I've come to my senses, your profile leaves me cold.
Why am I different? you ask. I'll tell you.  Because you keep nagging
    For presents. That's what turns me off.'                                (page 102)


'Quit wanting, and I'll give.'                                                          (page 104)

On the sly and in reconnoitering for signs of his paramour's feelings and desires, Ovid directs Corinna's hairdresser Napë:  

'Watch her face and eyes . . . Expressions can be revealing of things to come.' (ditto.)

Like Sun-Tzu's The Art of War (circa 500 B.C.), Ovid's "Erotic Poems" serve as a poetic, philosophical and practical treatise on The Art of LoveWar that is still valid and quite relevant. Good stuff.  

Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune.  

Friday, February 10, 2017

Mary: Icon

Mary: Icon. I love Marian art, the stranger the better. This would be the case even if I wasn't Catholic -- in fact, one of the powerful mysteries that drew me to Catholicism in the first place was Marian art and iconography.

I stumbled upon this little painting in a shop in Texas. It's an old style Russian icon painting, only about 4" x 4.5".  I'm supposing it's Eastern Orthodox, but the overlap with Spanish colonial Marian art is remarkable. The color scheme is different, as is the architecture, but I thought immediately of the following paintings when I saw it.   
Nuestra Señora del Pilar Our Lady of the Pillar with a Franciscan and Dominican Monk (Peru/Lima, 17th century). Thoma Foundation. Link here. It's as if Mary and the Christ Child are emerging from a lampshade, to the astonishment of the monks. 
Our Lady of the Rosary of Pomata (Cuzco, Peru, late 17th or 18th century). The Marilynn and Carl Thoma Collection. Saw this at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas. The winged faces looking up seem like angelic versions of harpies. 
Our Lady of Cocharcas (Peru, 1751). Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas. A touch of Jonathan Swift's 1726/1735 work Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships? The Colossus of Rhodes? It's also like a more ordered vision of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel dreamscapes. Thoughts?  

Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune. 

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Gaius Petronius Arbiter: 'The Satyricon' (circa 65 A.D.) / 'Fellini Satyricon' (1969 A.D.)

With The Satyricon, what we have available to read as of early 2017 A.D. is a fragment of a longer work completed about 65 A.D. by Gaius Petronius Arbiter (circa 25-65 A.D.) who lived and died in the time of the deranged Roman emperor Nero (37-68 A.D.), a moment not unlike our own. Federico Fellini, one of the word's great filmmakers, adapted the Roman text into a movie, with new scenes added and some of the original scenes kept off screen, calling his adaptation Fellini Satyricon (1969 A.D.). Both versions are in turn colorful, grotesque, philosophical, poetic, garish, freakish, lurid, ghastly and a little on the demented side, as befits those -- and our -- times. Stunning visuals, but overall not for the squeamish.
In both versions, the aging poet Eumolpus is a major character. He tends to break into recitations of poetry, much to the annoyance of most of the people who can hear him. A running joke has his audiences throwing food or rocks at him, such is their fear and loathing of poetry! When not pining after teenaged boys, he's either mocking the ultra-rich and powerful or philosophizing about the human condition.  
Foil to Eumolpus is Trimalchio, a man far too rich for anyone's good. Even worse, he fancies himself a great poet, plagiarizing freely. When Eumolpus calls him out on this, Trimalchio orders the old man to be hounded and thrown into the street (and in the Fellini version, threatens to throw him into the flames of a large furnace). Eumolpus has a Trumpian personality, abusive yet always seeking unfettered adoration. He builds great monuments to himself and stages a mock funeral for himself, so that he can witness his servants and sycophants weeping and mourning for him, even though everyone involved knows it's a great theatrical sham.

Fellini brings a lot of energy and dazzling visuals to his film version but even so, Fellini Satyricon is certainly not for many besides the adventurous.

Today's Rune: Initiation. 

Friday, February 03, 2017

Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale" (circa 1390 A.D.): What Emily Wants

An enduring story from The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale" (circa 1390 A.D.) serves as a wild, surreal mash-up of the Greco-Roman world with "the Medieval Times" (as the buffoonish current American president would say), and Christianity, filtered through The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375).  Chaucer (circa 1343-1400) -- the latter's junior by thirty years -- lifted the basics for "The Knight's Tale" straight from Boccaccio, but added his own little jots and tittles. I really enjoy his nutty mash-up style.
As in a dream state, "The Knight's Tale" is set in an ancient Greece that is also ancient Rome and Medieval England with a touch of Medieval France and Italy thrown in for good measure. The Gods and Goddesses pulling the immediate levers are the Roman ones, with a "Prime Mover" hovering somewhere above them, Divine Providence.

Arcite and Palamon, dim-witted Theban knights, cousins, are captured unscathed on a battlefield by Athenians, and are then imprisoned. From their cell they can see Emily (aka Emelye), the king's niece by marriage. (The name Emily, it's worth noting, is popular in the 21st century, but originates with the Romans as Aemilia.) 

Arcite and Palamon are smitten, "wounded" by a dart of love fired into them, one each, by the God of Love -- Cupid and Eros, son of Venus and Aphrodite. They must be with Emily or die!

One thing leads to another, and eventually they agree to fight for her, each with a band of a hundred warriors!

This is where "The Knight's Tale" becomes especially interesting. Each of the three invested characters next petitions a God or Goddess for their desired outcome. Palamon bargains with Venus (Aphrodite) and Arcite with Mars (Ares) for Emily's heart and hand in marriage.
But what does Emily want? Neither one of these men! And so she goes to the shrine of Diana (Artemis), bargaining with the Goddess to remain an independent woman in exchange for her ever-lasting devotion to the Huntress:  

She 'would be neither mistress, nor wife. . . 
And only ask to walk the woodlands wild,
And not to be a wife or be with child,
Nor would I know the company of man.
O help me, Goddess, for none other can.
By the three Forms that ever dwell in thee,
And as for Palamon who longs for me
And for Arcite's passion, I implore
This favor of thy grace and nothing more;
Set them in amity and let them be
At peace, and turn their hearts away from me.
Let all their violent loves and hot desires,
Their ceaseless torments and consuming fires,
Be quenched, or turned towards another place.'

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, translated into modern English by Nevill Coghill (London: Cresset Press, 1992), page 47.

And so today, 21st century people bargain with a favored deity or saint, "If you let me get this job, I'll be kinder to strangers," "If my flight lands safely, I'll donate to charity . . ." &c. &c.

But what of "The Knight's Tale?" Will Emily win her heart's desire, will Palamon or Arcite? And is there rhyme or reason for it, or whims of Fate? This is why we read on -- to find out. Tarry forth!

Today's Rune: Joy.  

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Virgil's 'The Aeneid' (circa 25 B.C.): Camilla, Daughter of Italy

The epic Aeneid, completed by Virgil around 25 B.C., is filled to the brim with striking imagery, myth, philosophy and poetry. The descriptions are fierce and there is far too much to get at in one go. So, from my father's copy of the excellent Robert Fagles translation published by Viking in 2006, let's consider Camilla in battle, fighting in Italy against the Trojan exiles whose descendants are fated to help build Classical Rome.

'And round Camilla ride her elite companions, Tulla,
young Larina, Tarpeia brandishing high her brazen axe --
daughters of Italy . . .'

'Who is the first and who the last your spear cuts down?
How may dying bodies do you spread out on the earth?
Eunaeus, son of Clytius, first. His chest, unshielded,
charging Camilla now, who runs her enemy through
with her long pine lance and he vomits spurts of blood,
gnawing the gory earth, twisting himself around his wound
as the Trojan breaths his last . . .' (pages 346-347).

The characters in The Aeneid range from the dueling Juno (Hera) and Venus (Aphrodite) to the lowly humans who are largely their playthings, albeit with some wiggle room for freedom of choice. 
Camilla slaying Aunus (1600s), Wenceslas Hollar collection, University of Toronto
Camilla is backed by Juno, and on she goes, ranging against her Trojan foe:

she kills a pair of massive Trojans, she stabs between the helmet and
breastplate, just where the horseman's neck shines bare
and the shield on his left arm dangles down, off guard.
And fleeing Orsilochus now
as the Trojan drives her round in a high ring,
Camilla tricks him, wheeling inside him, quick,
the pursuer now the pursued as she rears above him ---
praying, begging for mercy -- her battle-axe smashes down,
blow after blow through armor, bone, splitting his skull,
warm brains from the wound go splashing down his face' (page 347-348).

Woah! Virgil/Fagles do not sugarcoat brutal acts of war, the urge for which has little changed in the past 2000 years. Noteworthy about Camilla and her "elite companions" is that they are women warriors, and all those they kill in battle are men.

Virgil, The Aeneid. Translated by Robert Fagles. New York: Viking, 2006.

Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune.   

Monday, January 30, 2017

Akira Kurosawa: 蜘蛛巣城 / 'Throne of Blood' (1957)

Akira Kurosawa's 蜘蛛巣城 / Throne of Blood (1957) transmogrifies Macbeth in a totally cool way, dropping the basic storyline into the sizzling stew of samurai Japan, changing the three witches into one evil spirit within Spider's Web Forest, and substituting Washizu Taketoki (Toshiro Mifune) as Macbeth and Washizu Asaj (Isuzu Yamada) as Lady Macbeth. Results: brilliant! 
Filmed in black and white, Throne of Blood starkly heightens the shadowy contrasts of architecture and nature with both interior and exterior shots. Scenes are luxuriously expanded and drawn out as in a dreamscape, with close attention given to the expressions and movements of the main characters. This memorable technique was tidily picked up by Sergio Leone for his own epic films. 
The creepy movements and words of Isuzu Yamada are both riveting and chilling. Toshiro Mifune plays an unhinged samurai general from beginning to end. 
More from Isuzu Yamada. She is even creepier than the evil spirit of the forest!  In addition to the visceral power of live theatre and the big gestures of Silent Film, Throne of Blood adds very effective sound effects. 
Toshiro Mifune snarling his way to the crescendo ending!

I can certainly see why Akira Kurosawa is often ranked in the very top global tier of movie directors. A great pleasure of craft and vision.

Today's Rune: Initiation.