Isle of the Dead

Artists in all fields are inspired by each other.

One of the most famous examples of creativity enriching creativity involves, The Isle of the Dead.

Arnold Böcklin (Swiss Symbolist painter, 1827-1901)  painted five versions between 1880 and 1886.   All renderings depict  a rowboat arriving at a seawall.  In the bow, stands a figure clad in white.  

Böcklin would not elaborate on its meaning, only saying,  ” It is a dream picture: it must produce such a stillness that one would be awed by a knock on the door.”

Many have interpretated the white-clad figure as Charon, leading human souls into the Greek underworld.

File:Isola dei Morti IV (Bocklin).jpg

In 1907,  upon viewing the painting, Sergei Rachmaninoff began composing a tone poem in its name.  The work, now considered a classic of late Russian Romanticism, was finished the following year.

In 1945,  Val Lewton produced a classic horror film with the same title.  The script, written by Ardel Wray, was inspired by the painting, and involves a group of quarrantined islanders who begin to die, one by one.

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  “Vénus 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.”  



 “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.”

A Dark Poem from Eichendorff

 “Of all nature’s scenes it is the wood in which all of her secrets and all of her favors are found together.”- Bogumil Goltz

  Caspar David Friedrich

 Zwielicht – (“Twilight”) Joseph von Eichendorff  (German Romantic Poet)

Dämmrung will die Flügel spreiten,
Schaurig rühren sich die Bäume,
Wolken ziehn wie schwere Träume –
Was will dieses Grau’n bedeuten?

Hast ein Reh du lieb vor andern,
Laß es nicht alleine grasen,
Jäger ziehn im Wald und blasen,
Stimmen hin und wieder wandern.

Hast du einen Freund hienieden,
Trau ihm nicht zu dieser Stunde,
Freundlich wohl mit Aug’ und Munde,
Sinnt er Krieg im tück’schen Frieden.

Was heut müde gehet unter,
Hebt sich morgen neu geboren.
Manches bleibt in Nacht verloren –
Hüte dich, bleib wach und munter!

Twilight begins to spread its wings,
The trees stir ominously,
Clouds come like heavy dreams —
What does this gloominess mean?

If you have a favorite little deer,
Do not let it graze alone;
Hunters roam the forest and blow horns,
Voices wandering in and out.

 If you have a friend down here below,
 Do not trust him in this Hour;
 He might he seem friendly in eye and mouth,
 But he makes plans for war in treacherous peace.

 What today descends wearily down,
 Will lift itself tomorrow born anew.
 Many things at night go lost–
 Guard yourself–be awake and alert!

How Contemporaries viewed Frankenstein

  Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

1. “This novel is a feeble imitation of one that was very popular in its day,–the St. Leon of Mr. Godwin. It exhibits many characteristics of the school whence it proceeds; and occasionally puts forth indications of talent; but we have been very much disappointed in the perusal of it, from our expectations having been raised too high beforehand by injudicious praises; and it exhibits a strong tendency towards materialism.

The main idea on which the story of Frankenstein rests, undoubtedly affords scope for the display of imagination and fancy, as well as knowledge of the human heart; and the anonymous author has not wholly neglected the opportunities which it presented to him: but the work seems to have been written in great haste, and on a very crude and ill-digested plan; and the detail is, in consequence, frequently filled with the most gross and obvious inconsistencies….

We have heard that this work is written by Mr. Shelley; but should be disposed to attribute it to even a less experienced writer than he is. In fact we have some idea that it is the production of a daughter of a celebrated living novelist.”- excerpt from Literary Panorama and National Register, June 1818


2. “…So concludes this extraordinary tale, in which the author seems to us to disclose uncommon powers of poetic imagination. The feeling with which we perused the unexpected and fearful, yet, allowing the possibility of the event, very natural conclusion of Frankenstein’s experiment, shook a little even our firm nerves; although such and so numerous have been the expedients for exciting terror employed by the romantic writers of the age, that the reader may adopt Macbeth’s words with a slight alteration:

“We have supp’d full with horrors
Direness, familiar to our “callous” thoughts,
Cannot once startle us.”

…It is no slight merit in our eyes, that the tale, though wild in incident, is written in plain and forcible English, without exhibiting that mixture of hyperbolical Germanisms with which tales of wonder are usually told, as if it were necessary that the language should be as extravagant as the fiction. The ideas of the author are always clearly as well as forcibly expressed; and his descriptions of landscape have in them the choice requisites of truth, freshness, precision, and beauty.

…Upon the whole, the work impresses us with a high idea of the author’s original genius and happy power of expression. We shall be delighted to hear that he has aspired to the paullo majorica; and, in the meantime, congratulate our readers upon a novel which excites new reflections and untried sources of emotion. If Gray’s definition of Paradise, to lie on a couch, namely, and read new novels, come any thing near truth, no small praise is due to him, who, like the author of Frankenstein, has enlarged the sphere of that fascinating enjoyment.”- Sir Walter Scott writing for the Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, April 1818

Published in: on June 6, 2010 at 5:11 pm  Comments (11)  
Tags: , , ,

Auf Wiedersehen Berlin, Hallo Boston!

music playing: Aimee Mann’s, Pavlov’s Bell

Hi everyone,

Just wanted to mention that I’ll be mostly offline the next couple of weeks.  For I am leaving my adopted homeland of curry sausage, beer, apfel strudel, and umlauts for a visit to my native homeland of hot dogs, coca cola, apple pie, and baseball.

In honor of the good ol’  USA, here is a poem by the great Romanticist, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:


As a pale phantom with a lamp
  Ascends some ruin’s haunted stair,
So glides the moon along the damp
  Mysterious chambers of the air. 

Now hidden in cloud, and now revealed,
  As if this phantom, full of pain,
Were by the crumbling walls concealed,
  And at the windows seen again. 

Until at last, serene and proud
  In all the splendor of her light,
She walks the terraces of cloud,
  Supreme as Empress of the Night. 

I look, but recognize no more
  Objects familiar to my view;
The very pathway to my door
  Is an enchanted avenue. 

All things are changed.  One mass of shade,
  The elm-trees drop their curtains down;
By palace, park, and colonnade
  I walk as in a foreign town. 

The very ground beneath my feet
  Is clothed with a diviner air;
White marble paves the silent street
  And glimmers in the empty square. 

Illusion!  Underneath there lies
  The common life of every day;
Only the spirit glorifies
  With its own tints the sober gray. 

In vain we look, in vain uplift
  Our eyes to heaven, if we are blind,
We see but what we have the gift
  Of seeing; what we bring we find. 


 boston harbor

Published in: on April 30, 2010 at 10:50 am  Comments (17)  
Tags: , , ,

Romantic Chess of the Victorian Era

photo of Adolf Anderssen  (July 6, 1818 – March 13, 1879)

During the 19th century (especially from 1851-1870), the style of chess was marked by tactical play and daring sacrifices.  Indeed, it was considered ungentlemanly to refuse a gambit.  One of the most popular opening moves was the King’s Gambit accepted.  In this, white offers a pawn in exchange for establishing  firmer control of the center of the board. 

Chessmasters often met in coffeehouses, where  their matches were not methodical and defensive, but fast-paced, filled with fearless, bold attacks.  Winning did not matter as much as winning with style.

Some of the leading Romantic chess players included such notables as Paul Murphy and Henry Blackburne.  But it was  Adolf Anderssen whose  “Evergreen Game” and “Immortal Game” have gone down in history as two of the most beautiful chess games ever seen.

The latter was played on June 21st, 1851 against Lionel Kieseritzky at the Simpson’s-in-the-Strand divan in London, England.   During the match, Anderssen sacrificed his queen, both rooks, and a bishop.  At the end, Kieseritzky was greatly ahead in both material and points-still possessing his queen, two rooks, and a bishop.  However, Anderssen’s seemingly insane gambits had forced his opponent into a corner unable to defend.   Thus, Anderssen declared, “checkmate” using  his three remaining, weaker pieces. 

The Romantic style of chess fell out of favor when Wilhelm Steinitz (the first Chess World Champion) embraced positional play over  tactical.

Yet, the exhilarating  rapid attacks and brash heroics of the Romantics remain forever in lore.

  Chess scene (inspired by the Immortal Game) in the film, Blade Runner

Wordsworth: “We Are Seven”

 William Wordsworth, English Romantic poet (7 April 1770 – 23 April 1850)

In 1798, Wordsworth was staying with Samuel Coleridge at Alfoxden.  The two men had decided to publish a book of poetry together.  After Coleridge completed his Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Wordsworth was inspired to write a poem based on a young girl he had met during a walk six years prior:

          That lightly draws its breath,
          And feels its life in every limb,
          What should it know of death?

          I met a little cottage Girl:
          She was eight years old, she said;
          Her hair was thick with many a curl
          That clustered round her head.

          She had a rustic, woodland air,
          And she was wildly clad:                                    10
          Her eyes were fair, and very fair;
          –Her beauty made me glad.

          “Sisters and brothers, little Maid,
          How many may you be?”
          “How many? Seven in all,” she said
          And wondering looked at me.

          “And where are they? I pray you tell.”
          She answered, “Seven are we;
          And two of us at Conway dwell,
          And two are gone to sea.                                    20

          “Two of us in the church-yard lie,
          My sister and my brother;
          And, in the church-yard cottage, I
          Dwell near them with my mother.”

          “You say that two at Conway dwell,
          And two are gone to sea,
          Yet ye are seven!–I pray you tell,
          Sweet Maid, how this may be.”

          Then did the little Maid reply,
          “Seven boys and girls are we;                               30
          Two of us in the church-yard lie,
          Beneath the church-yard tree.”

          “You run about, my little Maid,
          Your limbs they are alive;
          If two are in the church-yard laid,
          Then ye are only five.”

          “Their graves are green, they may be seen,”
          The little Maid replied,
          “Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door,
          And they are side by side.                                  40

          “My stockings there I often knit,
          My kerchief there I hem;
          And there upon the ground I sit,
          And sing a song to them.

          “And often after sunset, Sir,
          When it is light and fair,
          I take my little porringer,
          And eat my supper there.

          “The first that died was sister Jane;
          In bed she moaning lay,                                     50
          Till God released her of her pain;
          And then she went away.

          “So in the church-yard she was laid;
          And, when the grass was dry,
          Together round her grave we played,
          My brother John and I.

          “And when the ground was white with snow,
          And I could run and slide,
          My brother John was forced to go,
          And he lies by her side.”                                   60

          “How many are you, then,” said I,
          “If they two are in heaven?”
          Quick was the little Maid’s reply,
          “O Master! we are seven.”

          “But they are dead; those two are dead!
          Their spirits are in heaven!”
          ‘Twas throwing words away; for still
          The little Maid would have her will,
          And said, “Nay, we are seven!”

After reading the poems  Wordsworth had selected for the first edition of The Lyrical Ballads, friend James Tobin approved of them all except for, We are Seven.   He warned, “It will make you everlastingly ridiculous.”

Indeed, for many years critics faulted the poem.  One, because Wordsworth seemed to be in sympathy with the supernatural beliefs of the young girl rather than the rationalist views of the narrator; and secondly, because they claimed a little girl could  not possess the intellectual capability of expressing her views on death and the afterlife.

In the second edition of The Lyrical Ballads published in 1801, William Wordsworth included a preface in which he appealed for sincerity of language  over the  grandiose diction common in poetry at that time.

He stated,  “The principal object, then, which I proposed to myself in these Poems was to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible, in a selection of language really used by men; and, at the same time, to throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way; and, further, and above all, to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature: chiefly, as far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement. incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature.”

He continued, ” From such verses the  Poems in these volumes will be found distinguished at least by one mark of difference, that each of them bas a worthy purpose. Not that I mean to say, that I always  began to write with a distinct purpose formally conceived; but I believe that my habits of meditation have so formed my feelings, as that my descriptions of such  objects as strongly excite those feelings, will be found to carry along with them a purpose. If in this opinion I am mistaken, I can have little right to the name of a  Poet. For all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: but though this be true, Poems to which any value can be attached, were never produced  on any variety of subjects but by a man, who being possessed of more than usual organic sensibility, had also thought long and deeply.”

Perhaps stung by earlier criticism of his work, he also stated, “I have one request to make of my Reader, which is, that in judging these Poems he would decide by his own feelings genuinely, and not by reflection upon what will probably be the judgment of others. How common is it to hear a person say, “I myself do not object to this style of composition or this or that expression, but to such and such classes of people it will appear mean or ludicrous.” This mode of criticism, so destructive of all sound unadulterated judgment, is almost universal: I have therefore to request, that the Reader would abide independently by his own feelings, and that if he finds himself affected he would not suffer such conjectures to interfere with his pleasure.”

Quotes from the Romantics

 Friedrich, “Wanderer Above the Mists”

1.  “A cheerful life is what the Muses love, A soaring spirit is their prime delight. ” – William Wordsworth

2. “Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher. “- Wordsworth

3.”Faith is a passionate intuition. “- Wordsworth

4. “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”- Wordsworth 

5.  “Life is divided into three terms – that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present to live better in the future.”- Wordsworth

6. “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her. “- Wordsworth

7.  “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”- Wordsworth

8. “That though the radiance which was once so bright be now forever taken from my sight. Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, glory in the flower. We will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind.”

9.  “To begin, begin.”- Wordsworth

10.  “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. “- Keats

11.  “He ne’er is crowned with immortality Who fears to follow where airy voices lead. “- Keats

12.  “I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affections, and the truth of imagination.”- Keats

13. “It appears to me that almost any man may like the spider spin from his own inwards his own airy citadel.”- Keats

14. “Poetry should surprise by a fine excess and not by singularity, it should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance. ”

15.  “Praise or blame has but a momentary effect on the man whose love of beauty in the abstract makes him a severe critic on his own works. ”

16.  “You speak of Lord Byron and me; there is this great difference between us. He describes what he sees I describe what I imagine. Mine is the hardest task.”- Keats

17.  “A truth that’s told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent. “- William Blake

18.  “Active Evil is better than Passive Good. “- Blake

19.  “As a man is, so he sees. As the eye is formed, such are its powers.”- Blake

20. “Do what you will, this world’s a fiction and is made up of contradiction.”- Blake

21. “Energy is an eternal delight, and he who desires, but acts not, breeds pestilence.”- Blake

22.  “For everything that lives is holy, life delights in life.”- Blake

23. “Great things are done when men and mountains meet. “- Blake

24.  “I must create a system or be enslaved by another mans; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create. “- Blake

25.  “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”- Blake

26.  ” If a thing loves, it is infinite. “- Blake

27.  “Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow. “- Blake

28.  “In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.”- Blake

29- “The difference between a bad artist and a good one is: the bad artist seems to copy a great deal; the good one really does. “- Blake

30.  “The soul of sweet delight, can never be defiled.”- Blake

31.  ” The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. “- Blake

32.  “Those who restrain their desires, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained. “- Blake

33.  “To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower Hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour. “- Blake

34.  “What is now proved was once only imagined.”- Blake

35.  “If I could always read, I should never feel the want of company.”- Byron

36.   “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.”- Byron

37.  ” In solitude, where we are least alone. “- Byron

38. “The ‘good old times’ – all times when old are good. “- Byron

39.  “The great art of life is sensation, to feel that we exist, even in pain.”- Byron

40.  ” Truth is always strange, stranger than fiction. “- Byron

41.  “To withdraw myself from myself has ever been my sole, my entire, my sincere motive in scribbling at all. “- Byron

42.  “A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds. “- Percy Shelley

43.  “Death is the veil which those who live call life; They sleep, and it is lifted.”- Shelley

44.   “Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.”- Shelley

45.   “Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar. “- Shelley

46.”The pleasure that is in sorrow is sweeter than the pleasure of pleasure itself. “- Shelley

47.  “The soul’s joy lies in doing.”- Shelley

 “Funeral of Shelley” by Fournier

Published in: on January 16, 2010 at 6:31 pm  Comments (14)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Poems by Tyutchev

Fyodor Tyutchev:  Russian Romantic poet. 

 November 23, 1803- July 15, 1873


Speak not, lie hidden, and conceal
the way you dream, the things you feel.
Deep in your spirit let them rise
akin to stars in crystal skies
that set before the night is blurred:
delight in them and speak no word.
How can a heart expression find?
How should another know your mind?
Will he discern what quickens you?
A thought, once uttered, is untrue.
Dimmed is the fountainhead when stirred:
drink at the source and speak no word.
Live in your inner self alone
within your soul a world has grown,
the magic of veiled thoughts that might
be blinded by the outer light,
drowned in the noise of day, unheard…
take in their song and speak no word.
                                                                                  -Fyodor Tyutchev


All Day She Quiet Lay


All day she quiet lay, lost in a trance,
The closing shadows all of her embracing…
The madcap rain of summer frisked and pranced,
At leaves it drummed, down garden paths went racing.And slowly, slowly she revived and sought
To hear its voice, its warm and merry patter.
Withdrawn she lay, plunged deep in conscious thought,
And listened to the rushing, singing water.Then suddenly she sighed and spoke; I heard…
(I was alive, alive through force of habit)
The softly whispered, simple, broken words:
“O how I loved it all, O how I loved it!”You loved… To love so well none ever durst…
Then, even such love fades, to be it ceases…
To watch you die, and live! How did my heart not burst,
Not break, O God, into a thousand pieces!-Fyodor Tyutchev      


Published in: on November 24, 2009 at 2:57 pm  Comments (9)  
Tags: , , ,