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Sunday, September 9, 2012

"A fragment of her soul" 3

This completes my little triptych on Sappho, whose poetry I can only describe as an unbounded joy.

   In the first part, I said that there was one unfulfilled and unfulfillable desire her Hundred Lyrics created in me. It's been a fortnight since I wrote that, so I realise that anyone who was curious about the wish at the time has wandered off, and I don't blame you in the slightest. There's only so long you can keep such things dangling. The bait falls off the hook.

   But here it is anyway, just after Sappho's Lyric Fifty-two.

   I need only one poem. This one. Just amble through it lazily. It's Sunday right here and now, or if it's not where you are, pretend it is. Take your time.


Lo, on the distance a dark blue ravine,
A fold in the mountainous forests of fir,
Cleft from the sky-line sheer down to the shore!

Above are the clouds and the white, pealing gulls,
At its foot is the rough broken foam of the sea,
With ever anon the long deep muffled roar, –
A sigh from the fitful great heart of the world.

Then inland just where the small meadow begins,
Well bulwarked with boulders that jut in the tide,
Lies safe beyond storm-beat the harbour in sun.

See where the black fishing-boats, each at its buoy,
Ride up on the swell with their dare-danger prows,
To sight o'er the sea-rim what venture may come!

And look, where the narrow white streets of the town
Leap up from the blue water's edge to the wood,
Scant room for man's range between mountain and sea,
And the market where woodsmen from over the hill
May traffic, and sailors from far foreign ports
With treasure brought in from the ends of the earth.

And see the third house on the left, with that gleam
Of red burnished copper – the hinge of the door
Whereat I shall enter, expected so oft
(Let love be your sea-star!), to voyage no more.

What's my desire? It makes me want to paint a picture for each little stanza. Six paintings. Very traditional they would be, taking us from the broad vista in the first one to the house where she is about to open the door. Acrylic, maybe, as I never was keen on working with oils – but more likely and more pleasing to me, watercolours, unmistakeably Mediterranean brilliant blues and whites.

   I can't do that now.

   But you know what? It's a good thing in a way, because the six watercolours I've created in my mind are the best ever done, almost, and it would be a shame to expose them to public view, or mine for that matter. The reality wouldn't live up to what's there in my head. Let them stay where they are.

   And one last thing. Maybe it would be a pity to impose my ideal version of all these six on you or anyone else. Remember how a fine novel converted to even the best movie forces upon us a new model of our characters; one that often robs us of our own?

  I wouldn't want to do that to you. It's just not right.

   So you see, it's all worked out well. Perhaps we all get what we want out of it. My perfect painting, secure in that corner of my brain, and your perfect image in yours.

   Now read through the little poem again, chillen, and fall in love with your own double-triptych created by Sappho's lyric. (No, nothing like what's below; it's just my scrambled egg six-for-the-price-of-one-version, and surely looks that way.)

Neapolitan Sappho Lyric LII

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  1. It's wonderful! When did you paint it? oh that's right, your mother was a painter, wasn't she. Hmmph, unfair, you had early coaching. It seems so real, broken up with light the way the sun does, especially by the sea. I've never been to the Mediterranean, but that pale brightness is just how I imagine it.

    Why can't you paint now, or at least draw, with crayons..well you do draw with photo shop or some such.

    Here is the poem my art therapy friend gave me last week:

    The Journey Starts Here.

    Don't go off sightseeing.
    The real journey is right here.
    'The great excursion starts
    from exactly where you are.
    You are the world.
    You are the secret.
    You are wide opened.

    Don't look for the remedy for your troubles
    outside yourself.
    You are the medicine.
    You are the cure for your own sorrow.


    It touched me deeply in that moment, but it has to BE 'that moment' doesn't it. But Sappho is beautiful always.

    Julie M XX

    1. Ha Julie – before anybody else enlightens you, I have to say that this painting is all smoke and mirrors, though in a way it is very much my creation just as other art forms are for others. I took small pieces a number of images of around that area, altered them to via some arcane techniques and made a collage using various degrees of transparency in layers in Photoshop, destroyed the layers and gave it a "painting" feel. If I'd taken the time and trouble (though admittedly that took a couple of hours from go to whoa!) then I could have done something better. I guess 15 years of making posters and graphics for musicals has to come in handy. So it's a fraud in one way. A lesson in truth and reality? :)

      In my small bucketlist, I was thinking of a true watercolour, with real paints and a mastery of watercolour technique which I don't have.

      Rumi is a wonderful poet and philosopher and I have many of his writings. In a way it's true that we are the medicine for our own sorrows, but I confess to being grateful to be able to call on the sort of medical science for some assistance that wasn't available to him in the 13th Century.

      There's no doubt that, as he said, "The real journey is right here."

  2. I was silenced by your picture, it was so wonderful. But your explanation has restored my speech and I just want to express my absolute admiration. This is inspirational.

    Anne P.

    1. Art on the cheap, Anne [thinking of the price my mother and sisters would pay for paints]. In fact, there's a large genre of art developed from computer 'paint' programs. This type of art is as legitimate as any other. It doesn't matter what the medium; it's what the artist creates with the materials at hand.

      In my case, it's materials at mouse. But it's the poem that is the delight. Let's not get carried away by the conjuring!

      Thanks, Anne.

  3. Denis your post is quite beautiful – both the poetry, and your own musings. And in honour of same I’d like to share with you some verse which deeply affected me (and continues now) when I first read it, and also a bit of a story:

    A couple of years after my wife’s passing I purchased a small watercolour done by John Olsen, on the back of which was a poem written (I confirmed this with his Melbourne gallery) in his own hand, attributed by him to Judith Wright. Because the words resonated deeply for me I contacted a Dr Veronica Brady, an acknowledged authority on Judith Wright’s work, for a reference to its publication. Alas the poem was unknown, and not in her ‘style’ apparently, but the intrigue remains that I know of their long friendship.

    The thing is, watching my wife sitting on our high up over the valley deck where one can see for miles, it just seems so “right” for where she was at that late stage. Anyway, I share it with respect for you, and with my thanks for your own wonderful words, and as far as I’m aware, for the first time in public:

    I aim towards forever,
    But that is no ones country
    till in perhaps one moment
    dying, I'll recognise it;
    Those peaks not ice but
    From sources past my
    its beauty of completion
    the end of being human.


    1. Yes, it's a very moving poem, and I thank you for sharing something so intimate and unique with us. The view from where you and your wife contemplated the vista must have been stunning to be part of and experience that part of your life in.

      As to its origin, it seems that Google does not agree that it isn't her – not that that makes it right. [Google => "Those peaks not ice but sunlit" poem <= and you'll see, but I'm not convinced either.]

      I took a special interest in her when I was a child, only because she and I shared the surname, and she was famous and I was a little boy in a tiny country town. I always called her 'Aunty Judy' and read everything of hers I could lay my hands on, although she was no relation. [She hails from this region, of course, and we knew the Wright clan from here quite well.]

      It feels to me like a male voice; don't ask me why. It's not like JW hasn't written on these themes. Perhaps it's the Pablo Neruda (Chile) feel of it, but that's just me.

      I'd like it to be Aunty Judy though, looking out over the gorge country just south-east of here where she hails from, not unlike the Blue Mountains west of Sydney.

      But then it's "no-one's country", and the theme is universal.

      Thanks again.

  4. Thank you, KVD, I agree with those sublime words.


  5. Denis, thank you for turning up that google reference! I purchased the Olsen painting in May 2007 and was so entranced by the words on the back that I spent a lot of time searching for them. I see from my email records that my correspondence with Dr Brady was in October 2008, and using your google source I see that Colin Penter posted the words in January 2011. I will now write to both him and Dr Brady to see if they will update my knowledge.

    And yes, to both you and JulieM, the brief verse is extremely moving to me, and is always with me. But it was this post of yours, Denis, that brought it to the forefront of my mind again, and I wanted to thank you for that.



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