Death and Halloween

A few days away till the best holiday of all… Halloween!

Spirits, witches, pumpkins, and candy (LOTS of candy)… what is there not to love?

For some, Oct 31st is a secular holiday dedicated to trick or treating, parties, and telling ghostly tales whilst sitting round the parlor.

For others, it is a spiritual time. A night to contact one’s departed, as well as marking the end of the harvest as the dark half of the year begins. A time of endings, and beginnings.

For all who celebrate All Hallows, it is the symbol of Death which is most prominent. Not the scary Death of Hollywood, but the mysterious comforter. For all are equal in Her embrace.

“-I’m not blessed, or merciful. I’m just me. I’ve got a job to do, and I do it. Listen: even as we’re talking, I’m there for old and young, innocent and guilty, those who die together and those who die alone. I’m in cars and boats and planes; in hospitals and forests and abbatoirs. For some folks death is a release, and for others death is an abomination, a terrible thing. But in the end, I’m there for all of them.”- Death from Gaiman’s, Sandman

Published in: on October 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm  Comments (23)  
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Percy Shelley and the Not-So Dead Margaret Nicholson

“Soft, my dearest angel, stay
Oh! You suck my soul away:
Suck on, suck on, I glow, I glow!
Tides of maddening passion roll,
And streams of rapture drown my soul.
Now give me one more billing kiss,
Let your lips now repeat the bliss,
Endless kisses steal my breath,
No life can equal such a death.”

-Percy Shelley

Well, I do believe the meaning of that poem is quite clear! ūüėČ

This piece appears in The Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson, a collection of poetry written by Percy Shelley and Jefferson Hogg, and published in 1810.

As a lighthearted hoax, the two men pretended the book had actually been written by Margaret Nicholson, herself, and discovered after her death.

In truth, the former maid to nobility was still quite alive, residing in Bethlem Hospital after attempting to assassinate King George III with a dessert knife.

Ms. Nicholson insisted she was a virgin, and the mother of Lords Mansfield and Loughborough who both happened to be older than herself.

The failed murder attempt caught the attention of the young Shelley who was beginning to espouse his antiwar and antimonarchical views.

“Monarchs of earth ! thine is the baleful deed.
Thine are the crimes for which thy subjects bleed.
Ah ! when will come the sacred fated time,
When man unsullied by his leaders’ crime.
Despising wealth, ambition, pomp, and pride,
Will stretch him fearless by his foemen’s side ?
Ah! when Avill come the time, when o’er the plain
No more shall death and desolation reign ?
When will the sun smile on the bloodless field,
And the stern warrior’s arm the sickle wield ?
Not whilst some King, in cold ambition’s dreams,
Plans for the field of death his plodding schemes ;
Not whilst for private pique the public fall,
And one frail mortal’s mandate governs all.”

The first printing of the book was only 250 copies. While it did sell out, it was not reprinted until 1877.

Percy Shelley drowned on July 8, 1822

On this Full Moon

“>“When I shall have departed from this world,
Whenever ye have need of anything,
Once in the month, and when the moon is full,
Ye shall assemble in some desert place,
Or in a forest all together join
To adore the potent spirit of your queen,
My mother, great Diana. She who fain
Would learn all sorcery yet has not won
Its deepest secrets, then my mother will
Teach her, in truth all things as yet unknown
. And ye shall all be freed from slavery,
And so ye shall be free in everything;
And as the sign that ye are truly free,
Ye shall be naked in your rites, both men
And women also.”

-from “Aradia, or Gospel of the Witches” by Charles Leland. 1899

Autumn Night
“The moon is as complacent as a frog.
She sits in the sky like a blind white stone,
And does not even see Love
As she caresses his face with her contemptuous light.
She reaches her long white shivering fingers
Into the bowels of men.
Her tender superfluous probing into all that pollutes
Is like the immodesty of the mad.
She is a mad woman holding up her dress
So that her white belly shines.
Haughty,
Impregnable,
Ridiculous,
Silent and white as a debauched queen,
Her ecstasy is that of a cold and sensual child.

She is Death enjoying Life,
Innocently,
Lasciviously.”

-Evelyn Scott. published 1919

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The Night – Wind by Emily Bronte

In summer's mellow midnight,
A cloudless moon shone through
Our open parlour window,
And rose-trees wet with dew.

I sat in silent musing;
The soft wind waved my hair;
It told me heaven was glorious,
And sleeping earth was fair.

I needed not its breathing
To bring such thoughts to me;
But still it whispered lowly,
'How dark the woods would be!

'The thick leaves in my murmur
Are rustling like a dream,
And all their myriad voices
Instinct with spirit seem.'

I said, 'Go, gentle singer,
Thy wooing voice is kind:
But do not think its music
Has power to reach my mind.

'Play with the scented flower,
The young tree's supply bough,
And leave my human feelings
In their own course to flow.'

The wanderer would not heed me:
Its kiss grew warmer still:
'Oh Come!' it sighed so sweetly;
'I'll win thee 'gainst thy will.

'Were we not friends from childhood?
Have I not loved thee long?
As long as thou, the solemn night,
Whose silence wakes my song.

'And when thy heart is resting
Beneath the church-aisle stone,
I shall have time for mourning,
And thou for being alone.'

Witches, artists, and writers have always held an affinity for the moon. On this esbat, as you struggle along with first drafts, revisions, and edits- allow yourself to go free. And if you start to worry, remember this from Shakespeare:

“Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud;

Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun,

And loathsome canker lies in sweetest bud.

All men make faults.‚ÄĚ

A Little Yeats for Valentines Day

There are so many wonderful poems out there, I’m not sure I could ever pick a favorite romantic one.¬† But the one below by Yeats has always touched me ever since I heard the first lines.¬† Note, it begins, “when you are old”.¬†¬† Is the man writing this to the woman he loves as a warning?¬† Telling her to ignore those other men who only love her pretty face while he loves her true soul?¬† If so, perhaps she will listen and end up not¬†an old woman by the fire filled with regret.

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true,

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled

And paced upon the mountains overhead

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

–W. B. Yeats

What are some of your favorite romantic poems?

Published in: on February 13, 2011 at 7:13 pm  Comments (22)  
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Of The Rabbit Year and Walt Whitman

 

Come February 3rd, according to Chinese astrology, we enter the year of the rabbit.   According to belief,   during rabbit years, people tend to concentrate much on family and loved ones.  There is a renewed desire to slow down and enjoy the little things in life.  And yes, there is often much passion and sex.  Rabbit nature being as it is.

Rabbits are the 4th sign in the Chinese zodiac and are noted for being  happy-go-lucky, sensual, refined,  loyal, and very serene.  They tend to hate discord of any kind and will go out of their way to avoid rows.  It is not that they are timid, so much as they just wish to be left alone and live in harmonious environments.

On the negative side, rabbits may be moody, overly sensitive, and aloof.

To ensure good fortune during their special year, those born under the sign of Rabbit should wear red on the New Year, and avoid washing their hair.¬† (don’t want to wash away any good luck!)

And now a poem from that Rabbit Victorian, Walt Whitman:

To A STRANGER

by: Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

  • ¬†
      ASSING stranger! you do not know how longingly I look upon you,
      You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking, (it comes to me as of a dream,)
      I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you,
      All is recall’d as we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured,
      You grew up with me, were a boy with me or a girl with me,
      I ate with you and slept with you, your body has become not yours only nor left my body mine only,
      You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as we pass, you take of my beard, breast, hands, in return,
      I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you when I sit alone or wake at night alone,
      I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
      I am to see to it that I do not lose you.
Published in: on January 30, 2011 at 8:46 pm  Comments (23)  
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Mina Loy: Bohemian Artist and Poet

One of the delights of writing stories set in the past is discovering, or re-discovering people who’ve left behind intriguing pieces of work.¬†¬† We all know the big names of the Jazz Age, but whilst researching books my character, Jackie, may have read, I came across a name which I’d never heard before:¬† Mina Loy.¬†

The avant-garde poet, artist, and playwright was born  on December 27, 1882 in London.

At the age of seventeen she moved to the Munich, Germany to study painting.    After marrying Stephen Haweis, she moved with him to Paris where she joined the circle of leading avant-garde artists including Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Djuna Barnes, and Henri Rosseau. 

loy2.jpg (61528 bytes)

Consider Your Grandmother’s Stays: drawing by Mina Loy, 1916

In 1907, Mina and Stephen moved to Florence, Italy.  Soon thereafter, they separated and she began a relationship with Filippo Marinetti, leader of the Futurist Movement.  

Eight years later, Mina wrote “Love Songs” which shocked readers with its frank portrayal of human sexuality.¬† Imagist poet, Amy Lowel, was so incensed by its publication in Others¬† that she stopped submitting her own work¬†to the magazine.

By 1916,¬† Loy had grown wary of the Futurist Movement’s growing¬†attachment to fascism, and she moved to New York City where¬† she befriended the likes of Marcel Duchamp and Marianne Moore.¬†¬†¬†She continued to write poetry, and perform in local plays, while her spiritual¬†beliefs¬†led her to¬†Christian Scientism.¬†

After falling in love with the Dadaist poet, Arthur Craven, she moved with him to Mexico City where they lived in desolute conditions.   In 1919, after Mina discovered she was pregnant, Craven insisted he must find a better place for them to live.   Using a small yacht, he set sail for Buenos Aires whilst Mina watched from the shore.

Craven was never seen alive again.  His daughter was born in April.

Unable to accept Craven’s death, Mina¬†flitted around¬†from Florence to New York to Paris back to New York, and finally settled in Colorado¬†in her final years.¬†¬†¬†To the time of her death at the age of eighty-three, she never stopped creating art.¬†

Lunar Baedeker

by Mina Loy:

A silver Lucifer
serves
cocaine in cornucopia
 
To some somnambulists
of adolescent thighs
draped
in satirical draperies
 
Peris is livery
prepare
Lethe
for posthumous parvenues
 
Delirious Avenues
lit
with the chandelier souls
of infusoria
from Pharoah’s tombstones
 
lead
to mercurial doomsdays
Odious oasis
in furrowed phosphorous
 
the eye-white sky-light
white-light district
of lunar lusts
 
Stellectric signs
 

Danse Macabre

Come All Hallows Eve, Death calls the dead to rise from their graves.  While he plays his fiddle, the awakened spirits dance until the rooster crows at dawn.

French composer, Camille Saint-Saens, composed Danse Macabre for vocals and piano.  The text was written by poet, Henri Cazalis and the premiere took place in 1872.   Initial audiences were so disturbed by the piece (especially the eerie vocals) that Saint-Saens reworked it into a tone poem for orchestra.

English translation of the poem:

“Zig, zig, zig, Death in cadence,
Striking a tomb with his heel,
Death at midnight plays a dance-tune,
Zig, zig, zag, on his violin.
The winter wind blows, and the night is dark;
Moans are heard in the linden trees.
White skeletons pass through the gloom,
Running and leaping in their shrouds.
Zig, zig, zig, each one is frisking,
You can hear the cracking of the bones of the dancers.
A lustful couple sits on the moss
So as to taste long lost delights.
Zig zig, zig, Death continues
The unending scraping on his instrument.
A veil has fallen! The dancer is naked.
Her partner grasps her amorously.
The lady, it’s said, is a marchioness or baroness
And her green gallant, a poor cartwright.
Horror! Look how she gives herself to him,
Like the rustic was a baron.
Zig, zig, zig. What a saraband!
They all hold hands and dance in circles.
Zig, zig, zag. You can see in the crowd
The king dancing among the peasants.
But hist! All of a sudden, they leave the dance,
They push forward, they fly; the cock has crowed.
Oh what a beautiful night for the poor world!
Long live death and equality!”

And an elegantly creepy, short silent film (starring Adolph Bolm and Ruth Page) set to the music of Danse Macabre:

Ingeborg Bachmann’s Stay (a poem)

 

Ingeborg Bachmann (Austrian poet) 25 June 1926 ‚Äď 17 October 1973

Stay

by Ingeborg Bachmann

“Now the journey is ending,
the wind is losing heart.
Into your hands it’s falling,
a rickety house of cards.

The cards are backed with pictures
displaying all the world.
You’ve stacked up all the images
and shuffled them with words.

And how profound the playing
that once again begins!
Stay, the card you’re drawing
is the only world you’ll win.”

I came across this poem by the renowned female poet last night and it struck a chord with me.

Play with whatever hand you are dealt in this life.  It is yours alone.   The good cards are your strength and talents.  The bad cards symbolize where your weaknesses reside.  You can use them all  foolishly or wisely.   You can waste talents.  You can overcome difficulties.

The choice is yours.

Play the game!

What does the poem mean to you?

And the original:  Bleib

“Die Fahrten gehn zu Ende,

der Fahrtenwind bleibt aus.

Es fällt dir in die Hände

ein leichtes Kartenhaus.

Die Karten sind bebildert

und zeigen jeden Ort.

Du hast die Welt geschildert

und mischst sie mit dem Wort.

Profundum der Partien,

die dann im Gange sind!

Bleib, um das Blatt zu ziehen,

mit dem man sie gewinnt.”

Published in: on October 25, 2010 at 3:21 pm  Comments (11)  
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William Butler Yeats and the Golden Dawn

“A line will take us hours maybe; Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought, our stitching and unstinting has been naught. “-¬† Yeats

“Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame! “- Yeats

Born with both his Ascendant and Moon in  Aquarius, it is little wonder that William Butler Yeats grew up with both a love for words and a desire to transform  Irish theater and poetry.

As a child he’d been attracted to ghost tales and¬† fairy myths¬†which led him into the esoteric works of Swedenborg, Blake, and Jacob Boehme.¬† At the age of twenty-two, while living in London, he became acquainted with Madame Blavatsky, author of The Secret Doctrine, and founder off the Theosophical Society.¬† While enchanted with the ideas she brought forth, he was disillusioned by the society’s resistance to attempting magic, and quickly withdrew his membership.

In 1889, he met Maud Gonne, a fiery Irish revolutionary worker and member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.¬†¬† While disturbed by her belief that the means justified the end, he was so otherwise taken by her¬† that¬† he declared, “If she she said the world was flat…I would be proud to be of her party.”

Soon thereafter, she introduced him to Moina Bergson Mathers and MacGregor Mathers, the celibate husband and wife who worked together as Priest and Priestess of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.¬† Yeats not only valued their intellectual pursuits, but their willingness to put what they learned to practical use.¬† He said that after attending their rituals, he “formed plans for deeds of all kinds”.¬† Whereas after attending Theosophical meetings, he “had no desire but for more thought, more discussion.”¬†¬† Furthermore, he discovered that the concentration needed for lengthy rituals and prayers influenced his writings, “making it more sensuous and more vivid.”

On March 7, 1890 he became an initiate of the Golden Dawn, assuming the magical name, Demon Est Deus Inversus.¬† Which, although literally meaning, “The Devil is in the inverse of God”, might have been in reference to his personal daimon.

I DREAMED that one had died in a strange place
Near no accustomed hand,
And they had nailed the boards above her face,
The peasants of that land,
Wondering to lay her in that solitude,
And raised above her mound
A cross they had made out of two bits of wood,
And planted cypress round;
And left her to the indifferent stars above
Until I carved these words:
i{She was more beautiful than thy first love,}
i{But now lies under boards.}

-poem written by Yeats for Maud after dreaming of her death

A CRAZED GIRL

THAT crazed girl improvising her music.
Her poetry, dancing upon the shore,

Her soul in division from itself
Climbing, falling She knew not where,
Hiding amid the cargo of a steamship,
Her knee-cap broken, that girl I declare
A beautiful lofty thing, or a thing
Heroically lost, heroically found.

No matter what disaster occurred
She stood in desperate music wound,
Wound, wound, and she made in her triumph
Where the bales and the baskets lay
No common intelligible sound
But sang, ‘O sea-starved, hungry sea.’

-poem by Yeats

*article source and for further reading:  Women of the Golden Dawn: Rebels and Priestesses by Mary K. Greer

Charles Baudelaire: The Beautiful and Dark Poet

Charles Baudelaire: French poet.  April 9, 1821- August 31, 1867

“A frenzied passion for art is a canker that devours everything else.”- Charles Baudelaire

¬†¬†¬† When¬† Charles Baudelaire was only six, his father passed away.¬† A year later, his mother¬†wed the future French ambassador, Lieutenant Colonel¬†Jaques¬†Aupick.¬†¬† While¬† the sensitive and artistic¬†child was extremely close to his mother, he found himself constantly at odds with his¬†rigid¬†stepfather.¬†¬† Sent away to a boarding school in¬†Lyons, Charles later described that time as,¬†” the unease of wretched and abandoned childhood, the hatred of tyrannical schoolfellows, and the solitude of the heart.”¬†

Upon finishing his education, while his stepfather wished him to enter law, Charles decided to pursue a literary career and began associating with fellow bohemians.¬† By 1843, he’d become known as a dandy- living off of credit and the goodwill of others.¬†¬† Around this time he began a lifelong¬†romance with the Hatian-born actress and dancer, Jeanne Duval.¬†¬† Born of French and black¬†African ancestry, she became his muse, his¬†¬†“V√©nus Noire”.

One of the poems he dedicated to her was The Balcony, in which he declared:

    “MOTHER of memories, mistress of mistresses,
    O thou, my pleasure, thou, all my desire,
    Thou shalt recall the beauty of caresses,
    The charm of evenings by the gentle fire,
    Mother of memories, mistress of mistresses!
     
    The eves illumined by the burning coal,
    The balcony where veiled rose-vapour clings–
    How soft your breast was then, how sweet your soul!
    Ah, and we said imperishable things,
    Those eves illumined by the burning coal.
     
    Lovely the suns were in those twilights warm,
    And space profound, and strong life’s pulsing flood,
    In bending o’er you, queen of every charm,
    I thought I breathed the perfume in your blood.
    The suns were beauteous in those twilights warm.
     
    The film of night flowed round and over us,
    And my eyes in the dark did your eyes meet;
    I drank your breath, ah! sweet and poisonous,
    And in my hands fraternal slept your feet–
    Night, like a film, flowed round and over us.
     
    I can recall those happy days forgot,
    And see, with head bowed on your knees, my past.
    Your languid beauties now would move me not
    Did not your gentle heart and body cast
    The old spell of those happy days forgot.
     
    Can vows and perfumes, kisses infinite,
    Be reborn from the gulf we cannot sound;
    As rise to heaven suns once again made bright
    After being plunged in deep seas and profound?
    Ah, vows and perfumes, kisses infinite!”
     portrait of Jeanne Duval by Manet 

   Although Baudelaire became a highly respected art and literary critic, his own work did not appear until the publication of Flowers of Evil (Les Fleurs du mal) in 1857.   While such lofty figures as Flaubert and Victor Hugo praised the book,  the sexual and macabre themes caused much consternation and Charles, his publisher, and the printer,  were fined for offenses against public morals.

The accusations meant little to Charles.¬† He wrote to his mother:¬† “You know that I have always considered that literature and the arts pursue an aim independent of morality. Beauty of conception and style is enough for me. But this book, whose title (Fleurs du mal) says everything, is clad, as you will see, in a cold and sinister beauty. It was created with rage and patience. Besides, the proof of its positive worth is in all the ill that they speak of it. The book enrages people. Moreover, since I was terrified myself of the horror that I should inspire, I cut out a third from the proofs. They deny me everything, the spirit of invention and even the knowledge of the French language. I don’t care a rap about all these imbeciles, and I know that this book, with its virtues and its faults, will make its way in the memory of the lettered public, beside the best poems of V. Hugo, Th. Gautier and even Byron.”¬†¬†

#

Quotes:

¬†“One should always be drunk.¬† That’s all that matters… But with what?¬† With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you choose.¬†¬† But get drunk.”

“Always be a poet, even in prose.”

“There is a word, in a verb, something sacred which forbids us from using it recklessly.¬† To handle a language cunningly is to practice a kind of evocative sorcery.”