Monday, August 17, 2015

Bottoming Out?

When my cue comes, call me, and I will answer. My next is “Most fair Pyramus.” Heigh-ho! Peter Quince? Flute the bellows-mender? Snout the tinker? Starveling? God’s my life, stol'n hence, and left me asleep? I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream—past the wit of man to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this dream. Methought I was—there is no man can tell what. Methought I was, and methought I had—but man is but a patched fool if he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report what my dream was. I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream. It shall be called “Bottom’s Dream” because it hath no bottom. And I will sing it in the latter end of a play before the duke. Peradventure, to make it the more gracious, I shall sing it at her death.
- William Shakespeare (Bottom), "A Midsummer Night's Dream"


FreeThinke said...

Peter Quince at the Clavier

__________ I __________

Just as my fingers on these keys
Make music, so the self-same sounds
On my spirit make a music, too.

Music is feeling, then, not sound;
And thus it is that what I feel,
Here in this room, desiring you,

Thinking of your blue-shadowed silk,
Is music. It is like the strain
Waked in the elders by Susanna;

Of a green evening, clear and warm,
She bathed in her still garden, while
The red-eyed elders, watching, felt

The basses of their beings throb
In witching chords, and their thin blood
Pulse pizzicati of Hosanna.

__________ II __________

In the green water, clear and warm,
Susanna lay.
She searched
The touch of springs,
And found
Concealed imaginings.
She sighed,
For so much melody.

Upon the bank, she stood
In the cool
Of spent emotions.
She felt, among the leaves,
The dew
Of old devotions.

She walked upon the grass,
Still quavering.
The winds were like her maids,
On timid feet,
Fetching her woven scarves,
Yet wavering.

A breath upon her hand
Muted the night.
She turned —
A cymbal crashed,
And roaring horns.

__________ III __________

Soon, with a noise like tambourines,
Came her attendant Byzantines.

They wondered why Susanna cried
Against the elders by her side;

And as they whispered, the refrain
Was like a willow swept by rain.

Anon, their lamps' uplifted flame
Revealed Susanna and her shame.

And then, the simpering Byzantines
Fled, with a noise like tambourines.

___________ IV __________

Beauty is momentary in the mind —
The fitful tracing of a portal;
But in the flesh it is immortal.

The body dies; the body's beauty lives.
So evenings die, in their green going,
A wave, interminably flowing.
So gardens die, their meek breath scenting
The cowl of winter, done repenting.
So maidens die, to the auroral
Celebration of a maiden's choral.

Susanna's music touched the bawdy strings
Of those white elders; but, escaping,
Left only Death's ironic scraping.
Now, in its immortality, it plays
On the clear viol of her memory,
And makes a constant sacrament of praise.

~ Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)

FreeThinke said...

If anyone is interested, a fine article on American poet Wallace Stevens, a man of many parts not unlike the American composer Charles Ives who ran a successful insurance company by day and wrote musical masterpieces in his free time, appears at the following link:

FreeThinke said...

Though I've not seen it written anywhere, I'm sure Stevens must have taken his inspiration from Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream, which mentions Peter Quince, though it makes little or no direct reference to water when mentions bottom.

Interesting, though probably not consciously related to either work, is Henry James' naming of his darkly mysterious villain PETER QUINT in The Turn of the Screw.

I imagine not even The Shadow knows what lurks in the subconscious minds of literary geniuses. ;-)

FreeThinke said...

As always I can't help but wonder how you can, and why you want to connect the brutal, crassly sadistic sounds and crude thuggish "lyrics" of modern popular "music" with images of beauty and excerpts from fine literature.

To me it's tantamount to slipping a poisonous serpent between the sweet-scented silken sheets of sleeping princess.

FreeThinke said...

Susanna is a prominent character in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, and in Rossini's The Barber of Seville both based on an outrageous play (for its time) by Beaumarchais, I believe, noteworthy for its impudent satirization of aristocratic privilege. Mozart's Susanna was an appealing ingenue. I'm not sure how she was treated by Beaumarchais, because, Alas! I've never read his play.

Did Wallace Sevens have Mozart's Susanna in mind? It's possible, but we may never know for sure.

I'm always intrigued by the thematic intertwinings and odd coincidences that run through Music, Art and Literature. Might make an interesting PhD dissertation, for someone willing to take on the task of digging out the available data from musty archives.

FreeThinke said...

By the way American composer Carlisle Floyd wrote an opera called Susanna. It has achieved a high degree of success in the too-small world of modern opera enthusiasts.

Again, one wonders what connection there may be, if any, to Wallace Steven's beautiful, but rather cryptic poem –– and all the rest of it?

Thersites said...

As always I can't help but wonder how you can, and why you want to connect the brutal, crassly sadistic sounds and crude thuggish "lyrics" of modern popular "music" with images of beauty and excerpts from fine literature.

Surely there has to be some direct connections between the culture of today, and the culture of the past. Surely culture, Western Culture, is not something to be only spoken of in the past tense? Surely I can make myself feel a part of it, if only through an echo?

Did you ever read Emerson's address to the Harvard Divinity School? I believe that what Emerson said of religion applies doubly to culture today:

Historical Christianity has fallen into the error that corrupts all attempts to communicate religion. As it appears to us, and as it has appeared for ages, it is not the doctrine of the soul, but an exaggeration of the personal, the positive, the ritual. It has dwelt, it dwells, with noxious exaggeration about the person of Jesus. The soul knows no persons. It invites every man to expand to the full circle of the universe, and will have no preferences but those of spontaneous love....

The second defect of the traditionary and limited way of using the mind of Christ is a consequence of the first; this, namely; that the Moral Nature, that Law of laws, whose revelations introduce greatness, -- yea, God himself, into the open soul, is not explored as the fountain of the established teaching in society. Men have come to speak of the revelation as somewhat long ago given and done, as if God were dead. The injury to faith throttles the preacher; and the goodliest of institutions becomes an uncertain and inarticulate voice.

Thersites said...

As your own thoughtful piece alludes, the culture's conversation with Shakespeare continues on throughout the ages, through Stevens, James, Rossini and Mozart. What I would like to know, is how is that messagebeing transmitted today? Who are its' messengers? And how is it interpretted?

FreeThinke said...

In short "that message" is NOT being expressed today.

I contend that largely because of the insidious machinations of the Frankfurt School and of Leftist-Progressive policies in general our culture has deliberately been CUT OFF from the most worthy aspects of our past –– achievements and heroic figures have been ridiculed, denigrated, derided, and ritually debunked for the primary purpose of DESTROYING our appreciation, respect and love for what has undeniably been at least a thousand years of Western Christian Civilization.

Today, we call this "The Dumbing Down of America," itself a hideously coarse, corruptive term. It's much worse than that. The popular trends and policies in effect since the nineteen TWENTIES at least have produced a steady deterioration of our heritage and have disconnected us from all that was admirable and worthy of emulation from our forefathers.

I saw what it for what it was the very second Rock 'n Roll arrived on the scene. The ENEMY had LANDED on OUR SHORES and was fully prepared to lay waste to a once vibrant, enjoyable, life affirming popular culture.

Being fortunate enough to have been gifted with keen perception from childhood, I naturally turned my back on this revolting, frankly terrifying new phenomenon, and have done my best for the last sixty years to avoid contact with it as much as possible.

Why would any sane person want to spend time with a COARSENING, CHEAPENING, frankly DEBASING influence, if he had the wit to recognize it for the soul-deadening, desensitizing loveless, reckless utterly HATEFUL thing it is, and the good fortune to be devoted to myriad examples of copious life-affirming alternatives?

I don't read comic books, I don't read Barbara Cartland or Harlequin "Romance " novels, I don't spend time reading or watching pornography, and I don't eat at places like Denny's or McDonald's. Why should I, when there are so many better things readily available? I rarely eat canned soup, because I know how to make much finer, better tasting, more nourishing soups, myself –– and for less cost per portion by far? Why would I spend time and money on whores when lasting true love is there for all willing to make the necessary sacrifices to nurture and maintain it?

It takes a lot of patience, determination and much hard work to live well, and to love truly. Spending time with flashy, meretricious DISTRACTIONS that pander to our basest instincts steadily diminished the quality of one's life

FreeThinke said...

As for Emerson, I see his words as an exhortation to exercise CRITICAL THINKING –– a very different thing from Marxian Critical THEORY, I hasten to add –– to evaluate phenomena thoughtfully, to thinks things through for oneself before adhering to ANY policy. agree completely with what-I-thnk-is his assertion that mindless adherence to "canned" dogma, and surrender to formulaic thinking, giving way to any tendency to get caught up in "GroupThink" or Mob Psychology of ANY kind is a stifling, soul-deadening, mind-numbing, dehumanizing process that ought to be avoided at all costs.

If that is what he meant, I couldn't agree more with Emerson.

This is why I stand as firmly against "Fundamentalist Christianity" and "Jingoism" as I do against Marxism, Fascism, Theocratic Despotism, or any other brand of TYRANNISM.

Thersites said...

You've got to go where the sinners are, if you're going to make any converts.

FreeThinke said...

Vice is a creature of such fearful mien
As to be hated needs to be seen,
Yet seen too oft –– familiar with her face ––
At first we pity –– then endure –– then embrace.

~ Alexander Pope

Thersites said...

...and is not Virtue her parallel... or must we be born there and never risk or succumb to temptation?

FreeThinke said...

The burned child will never go near fire again, if he can help it, unless he be INCINERATED the first time 'round. };-)>

If you never take a drink of alcohol, you'll never become an alcoholic.


Thersites said...

i always believed in redemption. ;)

FreeThinke said...

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

~ FreeThinke's pater

By the way a sincere belief in Redemption automatically makes you a Christian, whether you think so or not. ;-)

I've known many Christian atheists, Christian Jews, Christian roustabouts, Christian orgiasts, etc. I've also known many a primly pious whited sepulcher who attends church regularly, but has a heart as black as pitch. Such people mistake self-rightousness for virtue, and confuse vocal condemnation of perceived "sinners" with good deeds. They will be high on the list of those headed straight for hell, if indeed such a place exists.

The GOLDEN RULE is the ONLY rule. All the rest is man made BS.

Thersites said...

a sincere belief in Redemption automatically makes you a Christian...

No, it just keeps me from being automatically labelled a "Pagan".

I prefer "Deist". :)

Thersites said...

ps - And I prefer the CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE. It requires one to adhere to concepts of "negative liberty". The golden rule would allow aspects of positive liberty to enter into the interpretation. ;)

nicrap said...

I prefer "Deist".

Could i ask you somthing ... does it have anything to do with the fact that Franklin was a deist, too?

-FJ said...

I am certainly an admirer of Dr. Franklin, but no. It has more to do with Plato.

-FJ said...

I used to call myself a "Platonist", but I'm not a Plotinus Neo-Platonist, so to avoid confusion, I call myself a Deist.

nicrap said...

:) Does your "audience" often know the distinction? ;)

nicrap said...

:) Does your "audience" often know the distinction? ;)

Thersites said...

I know. But then, what I know doesn't guarantee "mutual knowledge".

nicrap said...


Thersites said...