A poem for painters

L’Envoi

When Earth’s last picture is painted and the tubes are twisted and dried,
When the oldest colours have faded, and the youngest critic has died,
We shall rest, and, faith, we shall need it — lie down for an aeon or two,
Till the Master of All Good Workmen shall put us to work anew!

And those that were good shall be happy: they shall sit in a golden chair;
They shall splash at a ten-league canvas with brushes of comets’ hair;
They shall find real saints to draw from — Magdalene, Peter, and Paul;
They shall work for an age at a sitting and never be tired at all!

And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame;
And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,
But each for the joy of the working, and each, in his separate star,
Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They Are!

 

— Rudyard Kipling

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Welcome to Hell — beautifully illustrated

http://waynebarlowe.wordpress.com/artwork/hell/

My first exposure to Wayne Barlowe’s otherworldly artwork was his guide to alien life-forms entitled Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials. Each page of the field guide featured creatures from works of science fiction, along with accompanying text that matter-of-factly described their habitat, behaviors, means of reproduction, etc.

In Barlowe’s Inferno, he applies his vision to illustrating his original conception of hell. Unlike Doré’s black and white engravings of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Barlowe’s hell is alive and seething with lurid color. Enjoy…

Lord Byron in Spain – Critic of War

The following stanzas are from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. As part of an ongoing project, I’m attempting to make the poem more accessible by adding definitions of archaic words, relevant background material taken from a number of sources, and some of my own commentary.

The story so far — Byron has entered Spain, and his verse urges the Spaniards to rise up and defend themselves. Like all men, he is not entirely immune from the siren call of war, but he clearly recognizes its obscene and pointless waste. These stanzas are savagely anti-war. According to a BBC discussion of Childe Harold, Byron was one of the first English poets to take such a stance. What I think is interesting is how he entices the reader to feel the rousing excitement of war, only to unmask its illusion. Men, duped by spurious notions of glory and honor, are reduced to food for crows and fertilizer for fields. They are the broken, cast off tools of tyrants.

This is Byron at his best!

XXXVII

Awake, ye sons of Spain! awake! advance
Lo! Chivalry, your ancient goddess, cries,
But wields not, as of old, her thirsty lance,
Nor shakes her crimson plumage in the skies:
Now on the smoke of blazing bolts she flies,
And speaks in thunder through yon engine’s roar!
In every peal she calls— ‘Awake! arise!’
Say, is her voice more feeble than of yore,
When her war-song was heard on Andalusia’s shore?

Chilvary, personified as a goddess, has traded in her lance, “thirsty” for the blood of men, for the cannon, the modern engine of war. Andalusia is the southernmost region of Spain, comprised of eight provinces.

Harold”s words echo those of Satan in Paradise Lost, Book 1. For nine days and nights, the rebel angels plummet from heaven, landing in a lake of fire. Defeated, and floating vanquished upon the waters, Satan rouses his troops from their slumber: “Awake, arise, or be for ever fall’n.”

XXXVIII.

Hark! heard you not those hoofs of dreadful note?
Sounds not the clang of conflict on the heath?
Saw ye not whom the reeking sabre smote;
Nor saved your brethren ere they sank beneath
Tyrants and tyrants’ slaves?—the fires of death,
The bale-fires flash on high:—from rock to rock
Each volley tells that thousands cease to breathe:
Death rides upon the sulphury Siroc,
Red Battle stamps his foot, and nations feel the shock.

heath = a : a tract of wasteland b : an extensive area of rather level open uncultivated land usually with poor coarse soil, inferior drainage, and a surface rich in peat or peaty humus

the reeking sabre smote = a sabre or saber is a curved sword, most likely of a type favored by the muslim invaders of Spain. “Reeking” is an odd word choice. Reeking originally meant to emit smoke; perhaps the swords are steaming with hot blood, which of course also has a distinct odor. Smote is the past tense of smite.

bale-fire = an outdoor fire often used as a signal fire

Siroc or sirocco = a hot dust-laden wind from the Libyan deserts that blows on the northern Mediterranean coast

XXXIX.

Lo! where the Giant on the mountain stands,
His blood-red tresses deepening in the sun,
With death-shot glowing in his fiery hands,
And eye that scorcheth all it glares upon;
Restless it rolls, now fixed, and now anon
Flashing afar,—and at his iron feet
Destruction cowers, to mark what deeds are done;
For on this morn three potent nations meet,
To shed before his shrine the blood he deems most sweet.

The “Giant” is Red Battle, War, the “eye that scorcheth all it glares upon.”  The three nations are Spain, Britain and France. This stanza makes me think of the Lord of the Rings and restless eye of Sauron.

XL.

By Heaven! it is a splendid sight to see
(For one who hath no friend, no brother there)
Their rival scarfs of mixed embroidery,
Their various arms that glitter in the air!
What gallant war-hounds rouse them from their lair,
And gnash their fangs, loud yelling for the prey!
All join the chase, but few the triumph share:
The Grave shall bear the chiefest prize away,
And Havoc scarce for joy can cumber their array.

As in all wars, Death / “The Grave” is the real winner.

havoc = wide and general destruction : devastation;  great confusion and disorder

cumber = encumber; array has a number of meanings, but here it an imposing group or body of soldiers.

Havoc, (destruction personified) eager and joyful, hardly weighs down these troops with its presence. (That’s how I translate that last line.) I’ll have to do some research on war-hounds…

XLI.

Three hosts combine to offer sacrifice;
Three tongues prefer strange orisons on high;
Three gaudy standards flout the pale blue skies.
The shouts are France, Spain, Albion, Victory!
The foe, the victim, and the fond ally
That fights for all, but ever fights in vain,
Are met—as if at home they could not die—
To feed the crow on Talavera’s plain,
And fertilise the field that each pretends to gain.

orisons = prayers

The battle of Talavera began July 27, 1809, and lasted two days. Byron was not there at the time. Writing to his mother, he said, “You have heard of the battle near Madrid, and in England they would call it a victory—a pretty victory! Two hundred officers and five thousand men killed, all English, and the French in as great force as ever. I should have joined the army, but we have no time to lose before we get up the Mediterranean.”

XLII.

There shall they rot—Ambition’s honoured fools!
Yes, Honour decks the turf that wraps their clay!
Vain Sophistry! in these behold the tools,
The broken tools, that tyrants cast away
By myriads, when they dare to pave their way
With human hearts—to what?—a dream alone.
Can despots compass aught that hails their sway?
Or call with truth one span of earth their own,
Save that wherein at last they crumble bone by bone?

sophistry = subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation

myriad = a great number; in Greek it originally meant 10,000

XLIII.

O Albuera, glorious field of grief!
As o’er thy plain the Pilgrim pricked his steed,
Who could foresee thee, in a space so brief,
A scene where mingling foes should boast and bleed.
Peace to the perished! may the warrior’s meed
And tears of triumph their reward prolong!
Till others fall where other chieftains lead,
Thy name shall circle round the gaping throng,
And shine in worthless lays, the theme of transient song.

meed = earned reward or wage

Albuera was another scene of battle in the Peninsular War. The English defeated the French there in 1811.

XLIV.

Enough of Battle’s minions! let them play
Their game of lives, and barter breath for fame:
Fame that will scarce reanimate their clay,
Though thousands fall to deck some single name.
In sooth, ’twere sad to thwart their noble aim
Who strike, blest hirelings! for their country’s good,
And die, that living might have proved her shame;
Perished, perchance, in some domestic feud,
Or in a narrower sphere wild Rapine’s path pursued.

Byron “supports the troops” as we say in America, but he savagely mocks them as well. In truth, he says, it would be sad to prevent them — these blessed temp workers — from dying for their country. At home, they might have suffered from an ignoble death, like dying in bar fight, or they might have become robbers or thieves  (in other words, engaging in behavior that is considered criminal outside the context of war).

rapine = pillage, plunder

Bariritu

Another proposed Semitic etymology compares Aphrodite to the Assyrian barīrītu, the name of a female demon that appears in Middle Babylonian and Late Babylonian texts…

Bariritu

Caressed by moonlight, the ancient goddess stands
her milky skin from virgin stone unveiled
by a sightless man with dusty hands
He died when work was done: kneeling, trembling
with age and fear, before her gaze palpable
She had loomed above his crumpled husk
Hued with life by the reddish dusk

–  © 2013 copyright by c.d. keimling – manversespoetry.com

Lord Byron in Spain

This is one of a series of posts intended to fully decipher Lord Byron’s lengthy poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage — Canto I continues.

The story so far: Byron, after traveling to Portugal and criticizing its dirty, slavish inhabitants, moves on to Spain.

XXXV.

Oh, lovely Spain! renowned, romantic land!
Where is that standard which Pelagio bore,
When Cava’s traitor-sire first called the band
That dyed thy mountain-streams with Gothic gore?
Where are those bloody banners which of yore
Waved o’er thy sons, victorious to the gale,
And drove at last the spoilers to their shore?
Red gleamed the cross, and waned the crescent pale,
While Afric’s echoes thrilled with Moorish matrons’ wail.

Asturias refers to an independent Christian kingdom that existed between 718 and 910 A.D. (the map below is the modern principality, but the terrority is nearly the same as the medieval kingdom). Asturias was formed by Visigothic nobles and officials who had been displaced by the Muslim invasion of Spain. The Visigoths elected Pelagio (Pelayo) as the first Asturian king. Pelayo is a  legendary figure, serving as a leader and symbol of Christian resistance to the Moorish invaders.

Don Pelayo closeup

Don Pelayo closeup (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“… the Moors did not find mountainous territory easy to conquer, and the lands along Spain’s northern coast never fully became part of Islamic Spain.” – wikipedia

Asturias_in_Spain.svg

Cava’s traitor-sire = Count Julian. In 711 A.D. Julian allowed the moors to enter Spain. This was done out of vengeance against Don Roderick, who had violated his daughter, Cava. (Roderick, also spelled Roderic, or in Spanish Rodrigo, was king of Visigothic Spain).

Okay, what’s all this about? Well:

According to an historian writing a century and a half after the events, Julian sent one of his daughters to Roderic’s court at Toledo for education and Roderic subsequently made her pregnant. When Julian learned of the affair he removed his daughter from Roderic’s court and, out of vengeance, betrayed Hispania to the Muslim invaders, thus making possible the Umayyad conquest of Hispania. Later ballads and chronicles inflated this tale, Muslims making her out as an innocent virgin who was ravished, Christians making her a seductress. In Spanish she came to be known as la Cava Rumía. But this might well only be a legend. Personal power politics were more likely at play… – from Wikipedia

“Cava Rumia” translates as “the wicked Christian woman.” Miguel de Cervantes refers to a place named after her in his novel, Don Quixote. This is an awful lot of background for one stanza. Moving on…

XXXVI.

Teems not each ditty with the glorious tale?
Ah! such, alas, the hero’s amplest fate!
When granite moulders and when records fail,
A peasant’s plaint prolongs his dubious date.
Pride! bend thine eye from heaven to thine estate,
See how the mighty shrink into a song!
Can volume, pillar, pile, preserve thee great?
Or must thou trust Tradition’s simple tongue,
When Flattery sleeps with thee, and History does thee wrong?

Darkness – Lord Byron’s Apocalyptic Poem

Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken…
– Matthew 24:29

Byron’s poem Darkness is an anomaly, completely different in form and subject matter than his other works, and it was inspired by a true event.

The year 1816 became known as the Year without a Summer. Record cold temperatures and inexplicable darkness at noon threw the general populace into a panic.

The summit caldera of the volcano.

The summit caldera of the volcano. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Speculation only fueled the hysteria seizing Europe. The underlying cause, unknown at the time, was a massive volcanic eruption in faraway Sumbawa Island, Indonesia. Mount Tambora, in the largest eruption in recorded history, spewed so much ash into the atmosphere that the average global temperature dropped by 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit!).

After giving Darkness a read, you might want to try the mash-up at the very end of the post. It succeeds – well, almost. Unfortunately, the instrumental track, though pleasantly minimal at first, becomes too distracting for my taste (if only the guitar solo could be snipped out). The lengthiness of the poem doesn’t help either.

The voice is that of “Tom O’Bedlam” of SpokenVerse, a man who dominates the YouTube poetry niche (he’s uploaded over a 1,000 videos). Ever since I started this blog, I’ve wondered who he is.

His voice is magnificent! If I had a voice like that, I would read poetry aloud all day myself. My only quibble is that his readings are so invariably melancholic. The word “lugubrious” comes to mind as well. Nevertheless, for a poem like this, that’s exactly what we’re looking for. Tom, if you’re reading this, please pardon my criticism. I do enjoy your work and your selections!  I should add that the mash-up remix was not done by him — I’ve included his original video:

Darkness

 I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguished, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came, and went — and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chilled into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires — and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings — the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consumed,
And men were gathered round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other’s face;
Happy were those who dwelt within the eye
Of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch:
A fearful hope was all the world contained;
Forests were set on fire — but hour by hour
They fell and faded — and the crackling trunks
Extinguished with a crash — and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smiled;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and looked up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnashed their teeth and howled: the wild birds shrieked
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawled
And twined themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless — they were slain for food:
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again: a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought — and that was death
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails — men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devoured,
Even dogs assailed their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famished men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead
Lured their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answered not with a caress — he died.
The crowd was famished by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heaped a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage; they raked up,
And shivering scraped with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame
Which was a mockery; then they lifted up
Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld
Each other’s aspects — saw, and shrieked, and died —
Even of their mutual hideousness they died,
Unknowing who he was upon whose brow
Famine had written Fiend. The world was void,
The populous and the powerful — was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless —
A lump of death — a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirred within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropped
They slept on the abyss without a surge —
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expired before;
The winds were withered in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perished; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them — She was the Universe.