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Archive for November, 2011

David Daniels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ludwig Von Beethoven

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adelaide

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Your friend wanders alone in the garden of spring,
Gently bathed in lovely magical light,
Which shimmers through the swaying branches of flowers:
Adelaide!

 
In the reflection of the river, in the snows of the Alps,
In the golden clouds of sinking day,
In the fields of stars thy face beams forth,
Adelaide!

 
Evening breezes whisper through the tender leaves
The silver bells at Maytime rustle in the grass,
Waves roar and nightingales sing,
Adelaide!

 
Some day, o miracle! a flower will blossom,
Upon my grave from the ashes of my heart;
And clearly on every violet petal will shine:
Adelaide!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friedrich von Matthisson (1761–1831)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adelaide

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Einsam wandelt dein Freund im Frühlingsgarten,
Mild vom lieblichen Zauberlicht umflossen,
Das durch wankende Blüthenzweige zittert,
Adelaide!

 
In der spiegelnden Flut, im Schnee der Alpen,
In des sinkenden Tages Goldgewölke,
In Gefilde der Sterne strahlt dein Bildnis,
Adelaide!

 
Abendlüftchen im zarten Laube flüstern,
Silberglöckchen des Mais im Grase säuseln,
Wellen rauschen und Nachtigallen flöten,
Adelaide!

 
Einst, o Wunder! entblüht auf meinem Grabe,
Eine Blume der Asche meines Herzens.
Deutlich schimmert auf jedem Purpurblättchen:
Adelaide!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following text on Beethoven’s musical composition ‘Adelaide’ is derived from Wikipedia.

The text of ‘Adelaide’ is an early Romantic poem written in German by Friedrich von Matthisson (1761–1831). The poem expresses an outpouring of yearning for an idealized and apparently unattainable woman.
The song is ‘thought-composed’, meaning that every stanza is assigned its own mood.
Beethoven treated the text in two parts. The first, covering the first three stanzas, is set larghetto and marked dolce. There is a triplet accompaniment in the piano, with many modulations through the flat keys, creating a dreamy atmosphere.
The second part of Beethoven’s song sets the extravagant death fantasy of the final stanza, in which flowers sprout from poet’s grave to express his undying love. Strikingly, Beethoven sets this stanza in tones not of despair but of ecstasy; the tempo marking is allegro molto.
In an essay on this song, Carla Ramsey offers an almost lurid account of the final section:
“A culmination of the yearnings expressed in the earlier part of the song, the Allegro molto might be viewed as a kind of triumphal march in which the young lover exults in a death and a transfiguration whereby he is symbolically united with his beloved… The march crescendos and culminates on F above middle C with an impassioned outcry of the beloved’s name. The final eleven measures, marked ‘calando’ musically portray an almost post-coital relaxation of the exhausted lover into his lover’s arms with a dying, prayer-like exhalation: “Adelaide.”

 

 

This is a link to the Wikipedia post on David Daniels.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Daniels_%28countertenor%29

David Daniels

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M.R. James (August 1st 1862 - June 12th 1936)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some time ago I believe I had the pleasure of telling you the story of an adventure which happened to a friend of mine by the name of Dennistoun, during his pursuit of objects of art for the museum at Cambridge.

He did not publish his experiences very widely upon his return to England; but they could not fail to become known to a good many of his friends, and among others to the gentleman who at that time presided over an art museum at another University. It was to be expected that the story should make a considerable impression on the mind of a man whose vocation lay in lines similar to Dennistoun’s, and that he should be eager to catch at any explanation of the matter which tended to make it seem improbable that he should ever be called upon to deal with so agitating an emergency. It was, indeed, somewhat consoling to him to reflect that he was not expected to acquire ancient MSS. for his institution; that was the business of the Shelburnian Library. The authorities of that might, if they pleased, ransack obscure corners of the Continent for such matters. He was glad to be obliged at the moment to confine his attention to enlarging the already unsurpassed collection of English topographical drawings and engravings possessed by his museum. Yet, as it turned out, even a department so homely and familiar as this may have its dark corners, and to one of these Mr. Williams was unexpectedly introduced.

Those who have taken even the most limited interest in the acquisition of topographical pictures are aware that there is one London dealer whose aid is indispensable to their researches. Mr. J.W. Britnell publishes at short intervals very admirable catalogues of a large and constantly changing stock of engravings, plans, and old sketches of mansions, churches, and towns in England and Wales. These catalogues were, of course, the ABC of his subject to Mr. Williams: but as his museum already contained an enormous accumulation of topographical pictures, he was a regular, rather than a copious, buyer; and he rather looked to Mr. Britnell to fill up gaps in the rank and file of his collection than to supply him with rarities.

Now, in February of last year there appeared upon Mr. Williams’s desk at the museum a catalogue from Mr. Britnell’s emporium, and accompanying it was a typewritten communication from the dealer himself. This latter ran as follows:

DEAR SIR,–

We beg to call your attention to No. 978 in our accompanying catalogue, which we shall be glad to send on approval.

Yours faithfully,

J. W. BRITNELL.

To turn to No. 978 in the accompanying catalogue was with Mr. Williams (as he observed to himself) the work of a moment, and in the place indicated he found the following entry:

“978.–Unknown. Interesting mezzotint: View of a manor-house, early part of the century. 15 by 10 inches; black frame. £2 2s.

It was not specially exciting, and the price seemed high. However, as Mr. Britnell, who knew his business and his customer, seemed to set store by it, Mr. Williams wrote a postcard asking for the article to be sent on approval, along with some other engravings and sketches which appeared in the same catalogue. And so he passed without much excitement of anticipation to the ordinary labours of the day.

A parcel of any kind always arrives a day later than you expect it, and that of Mr. Britnell proved, as I believe the right phrase goes, no exception to the rule. It was delivered at the museum by the afternoon post of Saturday, after Mr. Williams had left his work, and it was accordingly brought round to his rooms in college by the attendant, in order that he might not have to wait over Sunday before looking through it and returning such of the contents as he did not propose to keep. And here he found it when he came in to tea, with a friend.

The only item with which I am concerned was the rather large, black-framed mezzotint of which I have already quoted the short description given in Mr. Britnell’s catalogue. Some more details of it will have to be given, though I cannot hope to put before you the look of the picture as clearly as it is present to my own eye. Very nearly the exact duplicate of it may be seen in a good many old inn parlours, or in the passages of undisturbed country mansions at the present moment. It was a rather indifferent mezzotint, and an indifferent mezzotint is, perhaps, the worst form of engraving known. It presented a full-face view of a not very large manor-house of the last century, with three rows of plain sashed windows with rusticated masonry about them, a parapet with balls or vases at the angles, and a small portico in the centre. On either side were trees, and in front a considerable expanse of lawn. The legend “A.W.F. sculpsit” was engraved on the narrow margin; and there was no further inscription. The whole thing gave the impression that it was the work of an amateur. What in the world Mr. Britnell could mean by affixing the price of £2 2s. to such an object was more than Mr. Williams could imagine. He turned it over with a good deal of contempt; upon the back was a paper label, the left-hand half of which had been torn off. All that remained were the ends of two lines of writing: the first had the letters –ngley Hall; the second, –ssex.

It would, perhaps, be just worth while to identify the place represented, which he could easily do with the help of a gazetteer, and then he would send it back to Mr. Britnell, with some remarks reflecting upon the judgment of that gentleman.

He lighted the candles, for it was now dark, made the tea, and supplied the friend with whom he had been playing golf (for I believe the authorities of the University I write of indulge in that pursuit by way of relaxation); and tea was taken to the accompaniment of a discussion which golfing persons can imagine for themselves, but which the conscientious writer has no right to inflict upon any non-golfing persons.

The conclusion arrived at was that certain strokes might have been better, and that in certain emergencies neither player had experienced that amount of luck which a human being has a right to expect. It was now that the friend–let us call him Professor Binks–took up the framed engraving, and said:

“What’s this place, Williams?”

“Just what I am going to try to find out,” said Williams, going to the shelf for a gazetteer. “Look at the back. Somethingley Hall, either in Sussex or Essex. Half the name’s gone, you see. You don’t happen to know it, I suppose?”

“It’s from that man Britnell, I suppose, isn’t it?” said Binks. “Is it for the museum?”

“Well, I think I should buy it if the price was five shillings,” said Williams; “but for some unearthly reason he wants two guineas for it. I can’t conceive why. It’s a wretched engraving, and there aren’t even any figures to give it life.”

“It’s not worth two guineas, I should think,” said Binks; “but I don’t think it’s so badly done. The moonlight seems rather good to me; and I should have thought there were figures, or at least a figure just on the edge in front.”

“Let’s look,” said Williams. “Well, it’s true the light is rather cleverly given. Where’s your figure? Oh yes! Just the head, in the very front of the picture.”

And indeed there was–hardly more than a black blot on the extreme edge of the engraving–the head of a man or woman, a good deal muffled up, the back turned to the spectator, and looking towards the house.

Williams had not noticed it before.

“Still,” he said, “though it’s a cleverer thing than I thought, I can’t spend two guineas of museum money on a picture of a place I don’t know.”

Professor Binks had his work to do, and soon went; and very nearly up to Hall time Williams was engaged in a vain attempt to identify the subject of his picture. “If the vowel before the ng had only been left, it would have been easy enough,” he thought; “but as it is, the name may be anything from Guestingley to Langley, and there are many more names ending like this than I thought; and this rotten book has no index of terminations.”

Hall in Mr. Williams’s college was at seven. It need not be dwelt upon; the less so as he met there colleagues who had been playing golf during the afternoon, and words with which we have no concern were freely bandied across the table–merely golfing words, I would hasten to explain.

I suppose an hour or more to have been spent in what is called common-room after dinner. Later in the evening some few retired to Williams’s rooms, and I have little doubt that whist was played and tobacco smoked. During a lull in these operations Williams picked up the mezzotint from the table without looking at it, and handed it to a person mildly interested in art, telling him where it had come from, and the other particulars which we already know.

The gentleman took it carelessly, looked at it, then said, in a tone of some interest:

“It’s really a very good piece of work, Williams; it has quite a feeling of the romantic period. The light is admirably managed, it seems to me, and the figure, though it’s rather too grotesque, is somehow very impressive.”

“Yes, isn’t it?” said Williams, who was just then busy giving whisky-and-soda to others of the company, and was unable to come across the room to look at the view again.

It was by this time rather late in the evening, and the visitors were on the move. After they went Williams was obliged to write a letter or two and clear up some odd bits of work. At last, some time past midnight, he was disposed to turn in, and he put out his lamp after lighting his bedroom candle. The picture lay face upwards on the table where the last man who looked at it had put it, and it caught his eye as he turned the lamp down. What he saw made him very nearly drop the candle on the floor, and he declares now that if he had been left in the dark at that moment he would have had a fit. But, as that did not happen he was able to put down the light on the table and take a good look at the picture. It was indubitable–rankly impossible, no doubt, but absolutely certain. In the middle of the lawn in front of the unknown house there was a figure where no figure had been at five o’clock that afternoon. It was crawling on all-fours towards the house, and it was muffled in a strange black garment with a white cross on the back.

I do not know what is the ideal course to pursue in a situation of this kind. I can only tell you what Mr. Williams did. He took the picture by one corner and carried it across the passage to a second set of rooms which he possessed. There he locked it up in a drawer, sported the doors of both sets of rooms, and retired to bed; but first he wrote out and signed an account of the extraordinary change which the picture had undergone since it had come into his possession.

Sleep visited him rather late; but it was consoling to reflect that the behaviour of the picture did not depend upon his own unsupported testimony. Evidently the man who had looked at it the night before had seen something of the same kind as he had, otherwise he might have been tempted to think that something gravely wrong was happening either to his eyes or his mind. This possibility being fortunately precluded, two matters awaited him on the morrow. He must take stock of the picture very carefully, and call in a witness for the purpose, and he must make a determined effort to ascertain what house it was that was represented. He would therefore ask his neighbour Nisbet to breakfast with him, and he would subsequently spend a morning over the gazetteer.

Nisbet was disengaged, and arrived about 9.30. His host was not quite dressed, I am sorry to say, even at this late hour. During breakfast nothing was said about the mezzotint by Williams, save that he had a picture on which he wished for Nisbet’s opinion. But those who are familiar with University life can picture for themselves the wide and delightful range of subjects over which the conversation of two Fellows of Canterbury College is likely to extend during a Sunday morning breakfast. Hardly a topic was left unchallenged, from golf to lawn-tennis. Yet I am bound to say that Williams was rather distraught; for his interest naturally centred in that very strange picture which was now reposing, face downwards, in the drawer in the room opposite.

The morning pipe was at last lighted, and the moment had arrived for which he looked. With very considerable–almost tremulous–excitement, he ran across, unlocked the drawer, and, extracting the picture–still face downwards–ran back, and put it into Nisbet’s hands.

“Now,” he said, “Nisbet, I want you to tell me exactly what you see in that picture. Describe it, if you don’t mind, rather minutely. I’ll tell you why afterwards.”

“Well,” said Nisbet, “I have here a view of a country-house–English, I presume–by moonlight.

“Moonlight? You’re sure of that?”

“Certainly. The moon appears to be on the wane, if you wish for details, and there are clouds in the sky.”

“All right. Go on. I’ll swear,” added Williams in an aside, “there was no moon when I saw it first.”

“Well, there’s not much more to be said,” Nisbet continued. “The house has one–two–three rows of windows, five in each row, except at the bottom, where there’s a porch instead of the middle one, and—-”

“But what about figures?” said Williams, with marked interest.

“There aren’t any,” said Nisbet; “but—-”

“What! No figure on the grass in front?”

“Not a thing.”

“You’ll swear to that?”

“Certainly I will. But there’s just one other thing.”

“What?”

“Why, one of the windows on the ground-floor–left of the door–is open.”

“Is it really? My goodness! he must have got in,” said Williams, with great excitement; and he hurried to the back of the sofa on which Nisbet was sitting, and, catching the picture from him, verified the matter for himself.

It was quite true. There was no figure, and there was the open window. Williams, after a moment of speechless surprise, went to the writing-table and scribbled for a short time. Then he brought two papers to Nisbet, and asked him first to sign one–it was his own description of the picture, which you have just heard–and then to read the other which was Williams’s statement written the night before.

“What can it all mean?” said Nisbet.

“Exactly,” said Williams. “Well, one thing I must do–or three things, now I think of it. I must find out from Garwood”–this was his last night’s visitor–“what he saw, and then I must get the thing photographed before it goes further, and then I must find out what the place is.”

“I can do the photographing myself,” said Nisbet, “and I will. But, you know, it looks very much as if we were assisting at the working out of a tragedy somewhere. The question is, Has it happened already, or is it going to come off? You must find out what the place is. Yes,” he said, looking at the picture again, “I expect you’re right: he has got in. And if I don’t mistake there’ll be the devil to pay in one of the rooms upstairs.”

“I’ll tell you what,” said Williams: “I’ll take the picture across to old Green” (this was the senior Fellow of the College, who had been Bursar for many years). “It’s quite likely he’ll know it. We have property in Essex and Sussex, and he must have been over the two counties a lot in his time.”

“Quite likely he will,” said Nisbet; “but just let me take my photograph first. But look here, I rather think Green isn’t up to-day. He wasn’t in Hall last night, and I think I heard him say he was going down for the Sunday.”

“That’s true, too,” said Williams; “I know he’s gone to Brighton. Well, if you’ll photograph it now, I’ll go across to Garwood and get his statement, and you keep an eye on it while I’m gone. I’m beginning to think two guineas is not a very exorbitant price for it now.”

In a short time he had returned, and brought Mr. Garwood with him. Garwood’s statement was to the effect that the figure, when he had seen it, was clear of the edge of the picture, but had not got far across the lawn. He remembered a white mark on the back of its drapery, but could not have been sure it was a cross. A document to this effect was then drawn up and signed, and Nisbet proceeded to photograph the picture.

“Now what do you mean to do?” he said. “Are you going to sit and watch it all day?”

“Well, no, I think not,” said Williams. “I rather imagine we’re meant to see the whole thing. You see, between the time I saw it last night and this morning there was time for lots of things to happen, but the creature only got into the house. It could easily have got through its business in the time and gone to its own place again; but the fact of the window being open, I think, must mean that it’s in there now. So I feel quite easy about leaving it. And, besides, I have a kind of idea that it wouldn’t change much, if at all, in the daytime. We might go out for a walk this afternoon, and come in to tea, or whenever it gets dark. I shall leave it out on the table here, and sport the door. My skip can get in, but no one else.”

The three agreed that this would be a good plan; and, further, that if they spent the afternoon together they would be less likely to talk about the business to other people; for any rumour of such a transaction as was going on would bring the whole of the Phasmatological Society about their ears.

We may give them a respite until five o’clock.

At or near that hour the three were entering Williams’s staircase. They were at first slightly annoyed to see that the door of his rooms was unsported; but in a moment it was remembered that on Sunday the skips came for orders an hour or so earlier than on week-days. However, a surprise was awaiting them. The first thing they saw was the picture leaning up against a pile of books on the table, as it had been left, and the next thing was Williams’s skip, seated on a chair opposite, gazing at it with undisguised horror. How was this? Mr. Filcher (the name is not my own invention) was a servant of considerable standing, and set the standard of etiquette to all his own college and to several neighbouring ones, and nothing could be more alien to his practice than to be found sitting on his master’s chair, or appearing to take any particular notice of his master’s furniture or pictures. Indeed, he seemed to feel this himself. He started violently when the three men came into the room, and got up with a marked effort. Then he said:

“I ask your pardon, sir, for taking such a freedom as to set down.”

“Not at all, Robert,” interposed Mr. Williams. “I was meaning to ask you some time what you thought of that picture.”

“Well, sir, of course I don’t set up my opinion again yours, but it ain’t the pictur I should ‘ang where my little girl could see it, sir.”

“Wouldn’t you, Robert? Why not?”

“No, sir. Why, the pore child, I recollect once she see a Door Bible, with pictures not ‘alf what that is, and we ‘ad to set up with her three or four nights afterwards, if you’ll believe me; and if she was to ketch a sight of this skelinton here, or whatever it is, carrying off the pore baby, she would be in a taking. You know ‘ow it is with children; ‘ow nervish they git with a little thing and all. But what I should say, it don’t seem a right pictur to be laying about, sir, not where anyone that’s liable to be startled could come on it. Should you be wanting anything this evening sir? Thank you, sir.”

With these words the excellent man went to continue the round of his masters, and you may be sure the gentlemen whom he left lost no time in gathering round the engraving. There was the house, as before, under the waning moon and the drifting clouds. The window that had been open was shut, and the figure was once more on the lawn: but not this time crawling cautiously on hands and knees. Now it was erect and stepping swiftly, with long strides, towards the front of the picture. The moon was behind it, and the black drapery hung down over its face so that only hints of that could be seen, and what was visible made the spectators profoundly thankful that they could see no more than a white dome-like forehead and a few straggling hairs. The head was bent down, and the arms were tightly clasped over an object which could be dimly seen and identified as a child, whether dead or living it was not possible to say. The legs of the appearance alone could be plainly discerned, and they were horribly thin.

From five to seven the three companions sat and watched the picture by turns. But it never changed. They agreed at last that it would be safe to leave it, and that they would return after Hall and await further developments.

When they assembled again, at the earliest possible moment, the engraving was there, but the figure was gone, and the house was quiet under the moonbeams. There was nothing for it but to spend the evening over gazetteers and guide-books. Williams was the lucky one at last, and perhaps he deserved it. At 11.30 p.m. he read from Murray’s Guide to Essex the following lines:

“16½ miles, Anningley. The church has been an interesting building of Norman date, but was extensively classicized in the last century. It contains the tombs of the family of Francis, whose mansion, Anningley Hall, a solid Queen Anne house, stands immediately beyond the churchyard in a park of about 80 acres. The family is now extinct, the last heir having disappeared mysteriously in infancy in the year 1802. The father, Mr. Arthur Francis, was locally known as a talented amateur engraver in mezzotint. After his son’s disappearance he lived in complete retirement at the Hall, and was found dead in his studio on the third anniversary of the disaster, having just completed an engraving of the house, impressions of which are of considerable rarity.”

This looked like business, and, indeed, Mr. Green on his return at once identified the house as Anningley Hall.

“Is there any kind of explanation of the figure Green?” was the question which Williams naturally asked.

“I don’t know, I’m sure, Williams. What used to be said in the place when I first knew it, which was before I came up here, was just this: old Francis was always very much down on these poaching fellows, and whenever he got a chance he used to get a man whom he suspected of it turned off the estate, and by degrees he got rid of them all but one. Squires could do a lot of things then that they daren’t think of now. Well, this man that was left was what you find pretty often in that country–the last remains of a very old family. I believe they were Lords of the Manor at one time. I recollect just the same thing in my own parish.”

“What, like the man in Tess of the D’Urbervilles?” Williams put in.

“Yes, I dare say; it’s not a book I could ever read myself. But this fellow could show a row of tombs in the church there that belonged to his ancestors, and all that went to sour him a bit; but Francis, they said, could never get at him–he always kept just on the right side of the law–until one night the keepers found him at it in a wood right at the end of the estate. I could show you the place now; it marches with some land that used to belong to an uncle of mine. And you can imagine there was a row; and this man Gawdy (that was the name, to be sure–Gawdy; I thought I should get it–Gawdy), he was unlucky enough, poor chap! to shoot a keeper. Well, that was what Francis wanted, and grand juries–you know what they would have been then–and poor Gawdy was strung up in double-quick time; and I’ve been shown the place he was buried in, on the north side of the church–you know the way in that part of the world: anyone that’s been hanged or made away with themselves, they bury them that side. And the idea was that some friend of Gawdy’s–not a relation, because he had none, poor devil! he was the last of his line: kind of spes ultima gentis–must have planned to get hold of Francis’s boy and put an end to his line, too. I don’t know–it’s rather an out-of-the-way thing for an Essex poacher to think of–but, you know, I should say now it looks more as if old Gawdy had managed the job himself. Booh! I hate to think of it! have some whisky, Williams!”

The facts were communicated by Williams to Dennistoun, and by him to a mixed company, of which I was one, and the Sadducean Professor of Ophiology another. I am sorry to say that the latter when asked what he thought of it, only remarked: “Oh, those Bridgeford people will say anything”– a sentiment which met with the reception it deserved.

I have only to add that the picture is now in the Ashleian Museum; that it has been treated with a view to discovering whether sympathetic ink has been used in it, but without effect; that Mr. Britnell knew nothing of it save that he was sure it was uncommon; and that, though carefully watched, it has never been known to change again.

M.R. James

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

from The collected ghost stories of M.R. James
Edward Arnold & Co., (1931, 1944 ed.)
This story was originally published in 1904.

 

 

Mrs. Joachim on her 90th birthday, January 24th 2008.

‘The Mezzotint’ was one of the stories which the second of my beloved English teachers, Mrs. Audrey Joachim (nee Sansoni) read aloud to us in Second Form Literature class.
It is one of the stories I clearly remember her reading, besides ‘The Invisible Man’ by G.K. Chesterton, and some others about ‘Father Brown’.  There were certainly many others – surely I seem to remember some by Victor Hugo  – perhaps ‘The Bishop’s Candlesticks’ – and an excerpt  or two about Flambeau, but ‘The Mezzotint’ was the story which deliciously and horrifically  lodged itself in my memory forever.

If anyone is able to lay her hands on the Methodist College, Colombo, Second Form English booklist for 1967, the name of the anthology from which Mrs. Joachim read to us would there be found.

Wedding photograph of Audrey Louise Sansoni and Kenneth Graydon Joachim, July 29th 1944, Colombo, Ceylon.

What a treasure of a teacher Mrs. Joachim was: She taught us without a trace of harshness or unkindness. Her bright blue eyes always sparkled from behind her wire-rimmed glasses, and her prematurely snow-white hair always held its crisp, natural wave. She wore neatly tailored cotton dresses, and always looked cool and fresh, in contrast to us schoolgirlswho by the afternoon trooped into class with crumpled uniforms and dirt-scuffed canvas shoes, much the worse for the pipe-clayed whiteness with which they began the day.

Mrs. Joachim also taught us Maths: the Pythagoras and Appolonius theorems in our Geometry class, and factoring and binomials (perhaps trinomials as well) in Algebra. I had a few precious moments with Jokka (which is how we girls referred

November 2008, Mulgrave, Melbourne, Australia.

to her among ourselves)  when I visited her Melbourne retirement home in 2008, a visit I was nearly prevented from making because of the ‘no visitors’ rule occasioned by an outbreak of a stomach-flu bug in the facility.  My old class-mate Janis Armitage (now Thiedeman) very kindly drove me to Mulgrave one late afternoon, and we were able to chat for a little bit.  Janis took our photographs, and I took some as well, among them pictures of Mrs. Joachim’s wedding photograph which she had  hanging on her wall. Mrs. Joachim showed me letters she had received from our old principal Miss Grace Robbins, and I took some pictures of those as well.

Our redoubtable Miss.Robbins, who I suppose must have have been born around 1895,  was the daughter of a ship’s captain from Hull, and the rumor among us girls, who lived in fear of ever being transfixed by her gaze,  was that she had a glass eye.

Mrs. Joachim gave us our Literature lesson in a classroom on the top floor of Restarick Hall. We ran up the stairs and along a short passage with windows to our left and another classroom to our right. Restarick was named in honour of (and perhaps was also the residence of)  Reverend  A.E. Restarick, who had been the pastor of The Methodist Church Kolpetty  from 1917 – 1930. If those dedicated old educators and missionaries from decades past could have looked down and caught a glimpse of our teacher and her little cluster of pupils, they would no doubt have been pleased at the love of the written word – and so much more –  our wonderful Mrs. Joachim passed on to us.

Miss Robbins' handwriting.

Miss Grace Robbins

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Madeline Yale Wynne (September 25th 1847 - January 4th 1918)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘How would it do for a smoking-room?’ ‘Just the very place! only, you know, Roger, you must not
think of smoking in the house. I am almost afraid that having just a plain, common man around, let alone a smoking man, will upset Aunt Hannah. She is New England—Vermont New England—boiled down.’
‘You leave Aunt Hannah to me; I’ll find her tender side. I’m going to ask her about the old sea-captain and the yellow calico.’
‘Not yellow calico—blue chintz.’ ‘Well, yellow shell then.’ ‘No, no! don’t mix it up so; you won’t know yourself what
to expect, and that’s half the fun.’ ‘Now you tell me again exactly what to expect; to tell the truth, I didn’t half hear about it the other day; I was wool- gathering. It was something queer that happened when you were a child, wasn’t it?’
‘Something that began to happen long before that, and kept happening, and may happen again; but I hope not.’ ‘What was it?’ ‘I wonder if the other people in the car can hear us?’ ‘I fancy not; we don’t hear them—not consecutively, at least.’

‘Well, mother was born in Vermont, you know; she was the only child by a second marriage. Aunt Hannah and Aunt Maria are only half-aunts to me, you know.’ ‘I hope they are half as nice as you are.’ ‘Roger, be still; they certainly will hear us.’ ‘Well, don’t you want them to know we are married?’ ‘Yes, but not just married. There’s all the difference in the world.’ ‘You are afraid we look too happy!’ ‘No; only I want my happiness all to myself.’ ‘Well, the little room?

’‘My aunts brought mother up; they were nearly twenty years older than she. I might say Hiram and they brought her up. You see, Hiram was bound out to my grandfather when he was a boy, and when grandfather died Hiram said he “s’posed he went with the farm, long o’ the critters,” and he has been there ever since. He was my mother’s only refuge from the decorum of my aunts. They are simply workers. They make me think of the Maine woman who wanted her epitaph to be: “She was a hard working woman.”  “They must be almost beyond their working-days. How old are they? “Seventy, or thereabouts; but they will die standing; or, at least, on a Saturday night, after all the house-work is done up. They were rather strict with mother, and I think she had a lonely childhood. The house is almost a mile away from any neighbors, and off on top of what they call Stony Hill. It is bleak enough up there, even in summer.

‘When mamma was about ten years old they sent her to cousins in Brooklyn, who had children of their own, and knew more about bringing them up. She staid there till she was married; she didn’t go to Vermont in all that time, and of course hadn’t seen her sisters, for they never would leave home for a day. They couldn’t even be induced to go to Brooklyn to her wedding, so she and father took their wedding trip up there.’ ‘And that’s why we are going up there on our own?’ ‘Don’t, Roger; you have no idea how loud you speak.’ ‘You never say so except when I am going to say that one little word.’ ‘Well, don’t say it, then, or say it very, very quietly.’ ‘Well, what was the queer thing?’ ‘When they got to the house, mother wanted to take father right off into the little room; she had been telling him about it, just as I am going to tell you, and she had said that of all the rooms, that one was the only one that seemed pleasant to her. She described the furniture and the books and paper and every- thing, and said it was on the north side, between the front and back room. Well, when they went to look for it, there was no little room there; there was only a shallow china-closet. She asked her sisters when the house had been altered and a closet made of the room that used to be there. They both said the house was exactly as it had been built—that they had never made any changes, except to tear down the old wood-shed and build a smaller one.
‘Father and mother laughed a good deal over it, and when anything was lost they would always say it must be in the little room, and any exaggerated statement was called “little-roomy.” When I was a child I thought that was a regular English phrase, I heard it so often. ‘Well, they talked it over, and finally they concluded that my mother had been a very imaginative sort of a child, and had read in some book about such a little room, or perhaps even dreamed it, and then had “made believe,” as children do, till she herself had really thought the room was there.’
‘Why, of course, that might easily happen.’
‘Yes, but you haven’t heard the queer part yet; you wait and see if you can explain the rest as easily.
‘They stayed at the farm two weeks, and then went to New York to live. When I was eight years old my father was killed in the war, and mother was broken-hearted. She never was quite strong afterwards, and that summer we decided to go up to the farm for three months.
‘I was a restless sort of a child, and the journey seemed very long to me; and finally, to pass the time, mamma told me the story of the little room, and how it was all in her own imagination, and how there really was only a china-closet there.
‘She told it with all the particulars; and even to me, who knew beforehand that the room wasn’t there, it seemed just as real as could be. She said it was on the north side, between the front and back rooms; that it was very small, and they some- times called it an entry. There was a door also that opened out- of-doors, and that one was painted green, and was cut in the middle like the old Dutch doors, so that it could be used for a window by opening the top part only. Directly opposite the door was a lounge or couch; it was covered with blue chintz— India chintz—some that had been brought over by an old Salem sea-captain as a “venture.” He had given it to Hannah when she was a young girl. She was sent to Salem for two years to school. Grandfather originally came from Salem.’
‘I thought there wasn’t any room or chintz.’ ‘That is just it. They had decided that mother had imagined it all, and yet you see how exactly everything was painted in her mind, for she had even remembered that Hiram had told her that Hannah could have married the sea-captain if she had wanted to!
‘The India cotton was the regular blue stamped chintz, with the peacock figure on it. The head and body of the bird were in profile, while the tail was full front view behind it. It had seemed to take mamma’s fancy, and she drew it for me on a piece of paper as she talked. Doesn’t it seem strange to you that she could have made all that up, or even dreamed it?
‘At the foot of the lounge were some hanging shelves with some old books on them. All the books were leather-colored except one; that was bright red, and was called the Ladies’ Album. It made a bright break between the other thicker books. ‘On the lower shelf was a beautiful pink sea-shell, lying on a mat made of balls of red shaded worsted. This shell was greatly coveted by mother, but she was only allowed to play with it when she had been particularly good. Hiram had shown her how to hold it close to her ear and hear the roar of the sea in it.
‘I know you will like Hiram, Roger; he is quite a character in his way.
‘Mamma said she remembered, or thought she remembered, having been sick once, and she had to lie quietly for some days on the lounge; then was the time she had become so familiar with everything in the room, and she had been allowed to have the shell to play with all the time. She had had her toast brought to her in there, with make-believe tea. It was one of her pleasant memories of her childhood; it was the first time she had been of any importance to anybody, even herself.
‘Right at the head of the lounge was a light-stand, as they called it, and on it was a very brightly polished brass candle- stick and a brass tray, with snuffers. That is all I remember of her describing, except that there was a braided rag rug on the floor, and on the wall was a beautiful flowered paper—roses and morning-glories in a wreath on a light blue ground. The same paper was in the front room.’
‘And all this never existed except in her imagination?’
‘She said that when she and father went up there, there wasn’t any little room at all like it anywhere in the house; there was a china-closet where she had believed the room to be.’ ‘And your aunts said there had never been any such room.’ ‘That is what they said.’ ‘Wasn’t there any blue chintz in the house with a peacock
figure?’ ‘Not a scrap, and Aunt Hannah said there had never been any that she could remember; and Aunt Maria just echoed her—she always does that. You see, Aunt Hannah is an up-and-down New England woman. She looks just like herself; I mean, just like her character. Her joints move up and down or backward and forward in a plain square fashion. I don’t believe she ever leaned on anything in her life, or sat in an easy-chair. But Maria is different; she is rounder and softer; she hasn’t any ideas of her own; she never had any. I don’t believe she would think it right or becoming to have one that differed from Aunt Hannah’s, so what would be the use of having any? She is an echo, that’s all.
‘When mamma and I got there, of course I was all excitement to see the china-closet, and I had a sort of feeling that it would be the little room after all. So I ran ahead and threw open the door, crying, “Come and see the little room.”
‘And Roger,’ said Mrs. Grant, laying her hand in his, ‘there really was a little room there, exactly as mother had remembered it. There was the lounge, the peacock chintz, the green door, the shell, the morning-glory, and rose paper, everything exactly as she had described it to me.’
‘What in the world did the sisters say about it?’
‘Wait a minute and I will tell you. My mother was in the front hall still talking with Aunt Hannah. She didn’t hear me at first, but I ran out there and dragged her through the front room, saying, “The room is here—it is all right.”
‘It seemed for a minute as if my mother would faint. She clung to me in terror. I can remember now how strained her eyes looked and how pale she was.
‘I called out to Aunt Hannah and asked her when they had had the closet taken away and the little room built; for in my excitement I thought that that was what had been done.
‘“That little room has always been there,” said Aunt Hannah, “ever since the house was built.”
‘“But mamma said there wasn’t any little room here, only a china-closet, when she was here with papa,” said I.‘“No, there has never been any china-closet there; it has always been just as it is now,” said Aunt Hannah.
‘Then mother spoke; her voice sounded weak and far off. She said, slowly, and with an effort, “Maria, don’t you remember that you told me that there had never been any little room here? and Hannah said so too, and then I said I must have dreamed it?”
‘“No, I don’t remember anything of the kind,” said Maria, without the slightest emotion. “I don’t remember you ever said anything about any china-closet. The house has never been altered; you used to play in this room when you were a child, don’t you remember?”
‘“I know it,” said mother, in that queer slow voice that made me feel frightened. “Hannah, don’t you remember my finding the china-closet here, with the gilt-edged china on the shelves, and then you said that the china-closet had always been here?”
‘“No,” said Hannah, pleasantly but unemotionally—“no, I don’t think you ever asked me about any china-closet, and we haven’t any gilt-edged china that I know of.”
‘And that was the strangest thing about it. We never could make them remember that there had ever been any question about it. You would think they could remember how surprised mother had been before, unless she had imagined the whole thing. Oh, it was so queer! They were always pleasant about it, but they didn’t seem to feel any interest or curiosity. It was always this answer: “The house is just as it was built; there have never been any changes, so far as we know.”
‘And my mother was in an agony of perplexity. How cold their gray eyes looked to me! There was no reading anything in them. It just seemed to break my mother down, this queer thing. Many times that summer, in the middle of the night, I have seen her get up and take a candle and creep softly down- stairs. I could hear the steps creak under her weight. Then she would go through the front room and peer into the darkness, holding her thin hand between the candle and her eyes. She seemed to think the little room might vanish. Then she would come back to bed and toss about all night, or lie still and shiver; it used to frighten me.
‘She grew pale and thin, and she had a little cough; then she did not like to be left alone. Sometimes she would make errands in order to send me to the little room for something—a book, or her fan, or her handkerchief; but she would never sit there or let me stay in there long, and sometimes she wouldn’t let me go in there for days together. Oh, it was pitiful!’
‘Well, don’t talk any more about it, Margaret, if it makes you feel so,’ said Mr. Grant.
‘Oh yes, I want you to know all about it, and there isn’t much more—no more about the room.
‘Mother never got well, and she died that autumn. She used often to sigh, and say, with a wan little laugh, “There is one thing I am glad of, Margaret: your father knows now all about the little room.” I think she was afraid I distrusted her. Of course, in a child’s way, I thought there was something queer about it, but I did not brood over it. I was too young then, and took it as a part of her illness. But, Roger, do you know, it really did affect me. I almost hate to go there after talking about it; I somehow feel as if it might, you know, be a china-closet again.’
‘That’s an absurd idea.’
‘I know it; of course it can’t be. I saw the room, and there isn’t any china-closet there, and no gilt-edged china in the house, either.’
And then she whispered: ‘But, Roger, you may hold my hand as you do now, if you will, when we go to look for the little room.’
‘And you won’t mind Aunt Hannah’s gray eyes?’ ‘I won’t mind anything.’ It was dusk when Mr. and Mrs. Grant went into the gate under the two old Lombardy poplars and walked up the narrow path to the door, where they were met by the two aunts.
Hannah gave Mrs. Grant a frigid but not unfriendly kiss; and Maria seemed for a moment to tremble on the verge of an emotion, but she glanced at Hannah, and then gave her greeting in exactly the same repressed and non-committal way.
Supper was waiting for them. On the table was the gilt-edged china. Mrs. Grant didn’t notice it immediately, till she saw her husband smiling at her over his teacup; then she felt fidgety, and couldn’t eat. She was nervous, and kept wondering what was behind her, whether it would be a little room or a closet.
After supper she offered to help about the dishes, but, mercy! she might as well have offered to help bring the seasons round; Maria and Hannah couldn’t be helped.
So she and her husband went to find the little room, or closet, or whatever was to be there.
Aunt Maria followed them, carrying the lamp, which she set down, and then went back to the dish-washing.
Margaret looked at her husband. He kissed her, for she seemed troubled; and then, hand in hand, they opened the door. It opened into a china-closet. The shelves were neatly draped with scalloped paper; on them was the gilt-edged china, with the dishes missing that had been used at the supper, and which at that moment were being carefully washed and wiped by the two aunts.
Margaret’s husband dropped her hand and looked at her. She was trembling a little, and turned to him for help, for some explanation, but in an instant she knew that something was wrong. A cloud had come between them; he was hurt; he was antagonized.
He paused for an appreciable instant, and then said, kindly enough, but in a voice that cut her deeply:
‘I am glad this ridiculous thing is ended; don’t let us speak of it again.’
‘Ended!’ said she. ‘How ended?’ And somehow her voice sounded to her as her mother’s voice had when she stood there and questioned her sisters about the little room. She seemed to have to drag her words out. She spoke slowly: ‘It seems to me to have only just begun in my case. It was just so with mother when she—’
‘I really wish, Margaret, you would let it drop. I don’t like to hear you speak of your mother in connection with it. It—’ He hesitated, for was not this their wedding-day? ‘It doesn’t seem quite the thing, quite delicate, you know, to use her name in the matter.’
She saw it all now: he didn’t believe her. She felt a chill sense of withering under his glance.
‘Come,’ he added, ‘let us go out, or into the dining-room, somewhere, anywhere, only drop this nonsense.’He went out; he did not take her hand now—he was vexed, baffled, hurt. Had he not given her his sympathy, his attention, his belief—and his hand?—and she was fooling him. What did it mean?—she so truthful, so free from morbidness—a thing he hated. He walked up and down under the poplars, trying to get into the mood to go and join her in the house.
Margaret heard him go out; then she turned and shook the shelves; she reached her hand behind them and tried to push the boards away; she ran out of the house on to the north side and tried to find in the darkness, with her hands, a door, or some steps leading to one. She tore her dress on the old rose-trees, she fell and rose and stumbled, then she sat down on the ground and tried to think. What could she think—was she dreaming?
She went into the house and out into the kitchen, and begged Aunt Maria to tell her about the little room—what had become of it, when had they built the closet, when had they bought the gilt-edged china?
They went on washing dishes and drying them on the spot- less towels with methodical exactness; and as they worked they said that there had never been any little room, so far as they knew; the china-closet had always been there, and the gilt-edged china had belonged to their mother, it had always been in the house.
‘No, I don’t remember that your mother ever asked about any little room,’ said Hannah. ‘She didn’t seem very well that summer, but she never asked about any changes in the house; there hadn’t ever been any changes.’
There it was again: not a sign of interest, curiosity, or annoyance, not a spark of memory.
She went out to Hiram. He was telling Mr. Grant about the farm. She had meant to ask him about the room, but her lips were sealed before her husband.
Months afterwards, when time had lessened the sharpness of their feelings, they learned to speculate reasonably about the phenomenon, which Mr. Grant had accepted as something not to be scoffed away, not to be treated as a poor joke, but to be put aside as something inexplicable on any ordinary theory.
Margaret alone in her heart knew that her mother’s words carried a deeper significance than she had dreamed of at the time. ‘One thing I am glad of, your father knows now,’ and she wondered if Roger or she would ever know.
Five years later they were going to Europe. The packing was done; the children were lying asleep, with their travelling things ready to be slipped on for an early start.
Roger had a foreign appointment. They were not to be back in America for some years. She had meant to go up to say good-by to her aunts; but a mother of three children intends to do a great many things that never get done. One thing she had done that very day, and as she paused for a moment between the writing of two notes that must be posted before she went to bed, she said:
‘Roger, you remember Rita Lash? Well, she and Cousin Nan go up to the Adirondacks every autumn. They are clever girls, and I have intrusted to them something I want done very much.’
‘They are the girls to do it, then, every inch of them.’ ‘I know it, and they are going to.’ ‘Well?’ ‘Why, you see, Roger, that little room—’
‘Oh—’
‘Yes, I was a coward not to go myself, but I didn’t find time, because I hadn’t the courage.’
‘Oh! that was it, was it?’ ‘Yes, just that. They are going, and they will write us about it.’ ‘Want to bet?’ ‘No; I only want to know.’ Rita Lash and Cousin Nan planned to go to Vermont on their way to the Adirondacks. They found they would have three hours between trains, which would give them time to drive up to the Keys farm, and they could still get to the camp that night. But, at the last minute, Rita was prevented from going. Nan had to go to meet the Adirondack party, and she promised to telegraph her when she arrived at the camp. Imagine Rita’s amusement when she received this message: ‘Safely arrived; went to the Keys farm; it is a little room.’
Rita was amused, because she did not in the least think Nan had been there. She thought it was a hoax; but it put it into her mind to carry the joke further by really stopping herself when she went up, as she meant to do the next week.She did stop over. She introduced herself to the two maiden ladies, who seemed familiar, as they had been described by Mrs. Grant.
They were, if not cordial, at least not disconcerted at her visit, and willingly showed her over the house. As they did not speak of any other stranger’s having been to see them lately, she became confirmed in her belief that Nan had not been there.
In the north room she saw the roses and morning-glory paper on the wall, and also the door that should open into— what?
She asked if she might open it. ‘Certainly,’ said Hannah; and Maria echoed, ‘Certainly.’ She opened it, and found the china-closet. She experienced a certain relief; she at least was not under any spell. Mrs. Grant left it a china-closet; she found it the same. Good.
But she tried to induce the old sisters to remember that there had at various times been certain questions relating to a confusion as to whether the closet had always been a closet. It was no use; their stony eyes gave no sign.
Then she thought of the story of the sea-captain, and said, ‘Miss Keys, did you ever have a lounge covered with India chintz, with a figure of a peacock on it, given to you in Salem by a sea-captain, who brought it from India?’
‘I dun’no’ as I ever did,’ said Hannah. That was all. She thought Maria’s cheeks were a little flushed, but her eyes were like a stone wall.
She went on that night to the Adirondacks. When Nan and she were alone in their room she said, ‘By-the-way, Nan, what did you see at the farm-house? and how did you like Maria and Hannah?’
Nan didn’t mistrust that Rita had been there, and she began excitedly to tell her all about her visit. Rita could almost have believed Nan had been there if she hadn’t known it was not so. She let her go on for some time, enjoying her enthusiasm, and the impressive way in which she described her opening the door and finding the ‘little room.’ Then Rita said: ‘Now, Nan, that is enough fibbing. I went to the farm myself on my way up yesterday, and there is no little room, and there never has been any; it is a china-closet, just as Mrs. Grant saw it last.’

She was pretending to be busy unpacking her trunk, and did not look up for a moment; but as Nan did not say anything, she glanced at her over her shoulder. Nan was actually pale, and it was hard to say whether she was most angry or frightened. There was something of both in her look. And then Rita began to explain how her telegram had put her in the spirit of going up there alone. She hadn’t meant to cut Nan out. She only thought— Then Nan broke in: ‘It isn’t that; I am sure you can’t think it is that. But I went myself, and you did not go; you can’t have been there, for it is a little room.’
Oh, what a night they had! They couldn’t sleep. They talked and argued, and then kept still for a while, only to break out again, it was so absurd. They both maintained that they had been there, but both felt sure the other one was either crazy or obstinate beyond reason. They were wretched; it was perfectly ridiculous, two friends at odds over such a thing; but there it was—‘little room,’ ‘china-closet,’—‘china-closet,’ ‘little room.’
The next morning Nan was tacking up some tarlatan at a window to keep the midges out. Rita offered to help her, as she had done for the past ten years. Nan’s ‘No, thanks,’ cut her to the heart.
‘Nan,’ said she, ‘come right down from that step-ladder and pack your satchel. The stage leaves in just twenty minutes. We can catch the afternoon express train, and we will go together to the farm. I am either going there or going home. You better go with me.’
Nan didn’t say a word. She gathered up the hammer and tacks, and was ready to start when the stage came round.
It meant for them thirty miles of staging and six hours of train, besides crossing the lake; but what of that, compared with having a lie lying round loose between them! Europe would have seemed easy to accomplish, if it would settle the question.
At the little junction in Vermont they found a farmer with a wagon full of meal-bags. They asked him if he could not take them up to the old Keys farm and bring them back in time for the return train, due in two hours.
They had planned to call it a sketching trip, so they said, ‘We have been there before, we are artists, and we might find some views worth taking; and we want also to make a short call upon the Misses Keys.’
‘Did ye calculate to paint the old house in the picture?’
Possible they might do so. They wanted to see it, anyway.
‘Waal, I guess you are too late. The house burnt down last night, and everything in it.’
1895

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The contrast between the plain and innocuous -even chatty- tone of this story, and its ‘New England Gothic’ narrative is difficult to catch but then impossible to miss.  The conversational note is at obvious odds with its hallucinatory content, confusing cast of characters and shifts in voice.

The juxtaposition is so dramatically disconcerting that the whole story lies on top of the mind like a large pool of water on a lily pad, and threatens to slip off entirely with no more than the slightest hint of provocation.

The apparitional atmospherics which cast their supernatural shadow over the entire story, serve a multiple purpose: they proved a tacit, covert and tangential commentary on the inner content of the four  different pairing – the female siblings, Hannah and Maria the parents of the principle narrator Margaret Grant, Margaret  and her husband Roger, and Margaret’s cousin Nan and her partner of ten years, Rita Lash, but furthermore,  there is the classic code we now easily recognise and interpret as ‘lesbian’ – when female pairings occur in the presence of the uncanny or unreal.

The chord struck by ‘The Little Room’ seems also to have some  of the undertones of Gaslight, that acutely psychological film with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, where a husband resolves to drive his naive and innocent wife mad by making her doubt her perception of reality – and therefore her sanity.

Shared reality is the basis of what we take the world to be. Even when we freely acknowledge that no two of us experience the same phenomenon in the same way, we don’t doubt the existence of either the object or the experience. The evidence of the senses, even when treated with a wry humour, is not something that we like to question or tamper with, because the moment we do so we begin to lose our footing in the ordinary world, and enter the realm of the uncanny.

The symbolic four dyads and two – more accurately three – generations in ‘The Little Room’ seem to represent separate social, sexual and psychic ‘realities’.

The old sisters, with the set choreography of their roles in relation to each other, are very much a couple. Their inexplicable bond permits them to corroborate each other in the event of an oscillating reality – the transmutation of the room to china closet and back again – with unruffled certainty in each of the room’s  manifestations. We can never be sure whether either one or both of them are aware of the binary disparity of room vs. closet, or if they have some perverse reason for refusing to confirm it to anyone else.

Margaret’s parents seem to have come to some kind of truce about their separate understandings about the nature of ‘the little room’, but their uneasy compromise seems in some way connected to their tragic lives. Her father dies in ‘the war’ – which we must take to mean the Civil War – and her mother seems to lose substance and fade away before dying, and her decline brings to my mind William Blake’s poem about psychic wasting ‘The Sick Rose’*

The young married couple Margaret and Roger do not fare so well.   Margaret, who saw the room as a child, arrives with her husband to find a china closet in its place. This experience  with the alternate and mutually exclusive realities of the room’s separate manifestations which she knows beyond doubt by virtue of the evidence of her senses  – becomes a sort of hallucination in the presence of the unwavering certainty of her husband’s male pride.

Roger sees only the china closet,  and with this splintering of their previously shared and unquestioned perceptual world there follows the predictably souring outcome of doubt and dismissal and loss of faith.

Some years have passed when Roger’s career require that he and Margaret leave for Europe. Margaret has not forgotten the eerie inexplicable happenings that they have now mutually decided never to discuss, so prior to their departure she writes a letter Nan and Rita asking them to investigate the matter and sort it out for her. Margaret acknowledges that she lacks the courage to conduct the investigation herself, but both she and Roger are heartily convinced that Nan and Rita have exactly what it takes.

Nan and Rita are also obviously a couple -and when they happen to see ‘the little room’ individually, each has her own  predictably differing experiences of it’s eliding reality. Their irreconcilable ‘realities’ of the room’s dual nature causes the now familiar spectre of doubt to interpose itself between them.  Unlike the two married couples however, the two women  struggle with each other in an effort to settle their differences of perception. They will not allow their bond of ten years duration to be easily shattered, and are willing to go to whatever lengths  – and travel whatever distances –  (Europe would not be too far) in order to save their shared experience of reality from being meddled or interfered with.  They show every evidence of having been a happy and stable pair for a full decade, and when the little room begins to cause the first unwelcome cracks in the structure of their relationship, they are determined to undertake the long and tiresome journey to the old Aunts’ home in order to settle once and for all  the matter of the perplexing little room.

But this is Madeline Yale Wynne’s apparent prefiguration of a quantum reality, and as such, it strongly resists an unambiguous answer. Young’s double-slit experiment, the Copenhagen interpretation, and Shroedinger’s cat all tell us the same thing: reality can be a very slippery and elusive beast, and very hard to handle. It can be lying quiescent in some other universe until someone decides to observe it, whereupon it can suddenly spring into existence, or it can be doing simultaneously impossible things until one decides to place an observer  in the room, whereupon it reverts to behaving predictably and demurely, or it can be two entirely separate things – manifesting itself either as matter or energy –  or both.

In Wynne’s brilliant and enigmatic story, the little room occasions four separate versions of reality among the four dyads involved. The complex symbolism and the many permutations and combinations of sexual orientation, from the presumably chaste and celibate to the transparently lesbian, cover a range and degree of communication between pairs. The fused personality of stronger and weaker spinster sisters, the delicate younger half-sister and the husband from whom she is later separated by war and death, Margaret and Roger with their three children and outwardly comfortable and well-to do lives who have agreed at Roger’s behest never to discuss the matter of the room, and Nan and Rita who will not be deterred from confronting and clarifying whatever seems to want to come between them, each illustrates a different type and degree of human connection.

Wynne drops some very large hints about the disconnections in Margaret and Roger’s relationship: Roger confuses yellow calico and blue chintz, is averse about engaging in a discussion which would clarify a significant difference with his wife, and we are left with the distinct feeling that it would be unwise for Margaret to speak to him about any but her most material perceptions.

A quantum mystery can never have anything but a quantum ending. Heisenberg’s principle asserts that quantum paradoxes and dual realities can never be resolved by a single observation.  The little room seems to sense that something about Nan and Rita’s determined decision to put their perceptions – and realities – to the test would be inimical to its – and perhaps their –  survival, and so ‘the little room’ consumes itself along with the house of which it had long been an inexplicable part.

What became of Hannah and Maria we shall never know:

But Madeline Yale Wynne and her ‘friend’ Annie Putnam set up house together in 1883, and lived together for the next thirty-five years, surrounded by their friends ‘both gay and grave’  until Wynne’s death in 1918.

This is the link to a memorial booklet  made by her friends for Madeline Yale Wynne from which the above facsimiles are taken.

 

 

 

http://www.archive.org/stream/inmemoryofmadeli00lawr#page/n0/mode/2up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following biographical thumbnail was extracted from the following site.

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=52832781

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birth: Sep. 25, 1847
Newport
Herkimer County
New York, USADeath: Jan. 4, 1918
Asheville
Buncombe County
North Carolina, USA
Madeline Yale Wynne was a talented artist of the Arts & Crafts movement who credits her father, Linus Yale, Jr., with giving her metal working experience as a child in his lock shop right beside her brothers. She studied art with artist George Fuller, a close friend of her father’s and later at the Museum School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, at the Arts Students’ League in New York City and in Europe. Madeline married Henry Winn in 1865 and they had two sons but by 1874 they were separated. She lived and worked with her brother, Julian, in Chicago making jewelry but left when he died. She had a major influence on the Arts & Crafts Movement in Chicago and a group of artists there took the title of her short story “The Little Room” as the name of their salon. She spent six months of the year in Deerfield, Massachusetts where she was president of Deerfield Industries where artisans made and sold their crafts. Madeline often spent the remainder of the year with her mother near Boston. In 1883 she began sharing her home and studio with Miss Annie Putnam and changed the spelling of her last name. In 1885 she and Annie Putnam purchased The Manse in Deerfield and in 1904 they became year-round residents of Deerfield where they were very active practicing and supporting the arts. She was also an author and her short story “The Little Room” still appears in anthologies. In her later years she spent some winter months in Tryon, North Carolina.

 

 

 

* The Sick Rose
O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
William Blake.

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (January 27 1756- December 5 1791)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diana Damrau

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen,

The original playbill for The Magic Flute

Tod und Verzweiflung flammet um mich her!
Fühlt nicht durch dich Sarastro
Todesschmerzen,
So bist du meine Tochter nimmermehr.
Verstossen sei auf ewig,
Verlassen sei auf ewig,
Zertrümmert sei’n auf ewig
Alle Bande der Natur
Wenn nicht durch dich!
Sarastro wird erblassen!
Hört, Rachegötter,
Hört der Mutter Schwur!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The vengeance of Hell boils in my heart,
Death and despair flame about me!
If Sarastro does not through you feel
The pain of death,
Then you will be my daughter nevermore.
Disowned may you be forever,
Abandoned may you be forever,
Destroyed be forever
All the bonds of nature,
If not through you
Sarastro becomes pale! (as death)
Hear, Gods of Revenge,
Hear a mother’s oath!

 

 

Damrau delivers the most iconic, fire-breathing, menace-filled performance of this aria on record.

 

The YouTube clip is in high resolution, so it can be watched on a full screen.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diana_Damrau

 

Damrau’s web site:

http://www.diana-damrau.com/2007/en/vita.html

 

 

 

 

Natalie Dessay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dessay interprets the role with more psychological nuance, with madness and fragility rather than pure venom.

Both versions are superb in their own individual way, and serve to demonstrate how one diva’s interpretation of a role can differ so much from another’s.

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The Heron Maiden is one of those old stories about the uncanny which is richly allusive and replete with mythical associations. The story itself, at least on one possible level,  is about concealment and revelation, but it uses concealment and revelation as a device to communicate its content. Myths and folk-tales are exceptionally suited for conveying nuanced and paradoxical content in a way that may appear to be deceptively simple. This is in part due to  their use of a rather sparse narratives style to tell of  fabulous events. Myths and folk-tales, tend to  place a particular frame around their content, alerting us to the fact that nearly everything in the story will turn out to be more than it seems.

There is a passage in the Bible that enjoins us to be ready to ‘entertain’ strangers,  – because in doing so, people have unknowingly entertained angels, and both strangers and angels can appear in many different shapes and forms. One might for instance ‘entertain’ a stranger by offering hospitality, or by doing him or her an act of disinterested kindness. But one may also ‘entertain’ a stranger when one takes in a wounded animal or bird in need of human help. Such acts often have unexpected outcomes: In taking a chance, so to speak, one seems to be given  one.

The Hindus have a saying ‘The guest is God’, by which is meant that when offering hospitality to a stranger,  the greatest care must be taken to treat him or her with alertness,  kindness and respect. There are many stories about how Devi, Rama, Krishna and Siva have appeared ‘incognito’ to their devotees. We might find such stories quaint and fanciful, but I for one am always careful to treat with awareness the people who come to my door, asking for a sandwich or a blanket… one never knows that such an act might not have an unanticipated consequence, so it is best to be cautions.

The man who delivers food from my local Chinese restaurant is from Thailand, and he always wants to talk to me about Buddhist ‘sutras’, and asks me to repeat to him parts of the ‘The Five Precepts’ in Pali.  He then memorises them, and repeats them to me when he brings my next delivery. I always feel the lurch in my solar plexus while we conduct this little ritual, and when we bow to each other in friendly formality as he leaves. I am aware that the door to the preternatural is always pushed open a crack, and sense that something ‘secret’ has passed between us. Admittedly in this case it is a small secret – one having to do with all the things we know without saying, that are about our origins in predominantly Hinayana Buddhist countries, and our lives as ‘transplants’ here in the U.S.

But in the encounters between strangers such as the Heron Maiden and her lover,  there is often sure to be a  much larger secret that must be kept, or an absolute prohibition that must be heeded. The faculty of ‘knowing’ without ‘seeing’ is one that goes beyond the five ordinary senses. It is also an encoded way of speaking about intuitive knowledge.

In the Japanese folk- tale of The Heron Maiden, a young man comes across a wounded heron, and he takes it in and nurses it back to health. When the heron has regained the use of its wings, he releases it, and the heron flies away.

Time passes and the young man meets a beautiful young woman with whom he falls in love. They get married and begin living happily together. The young wife weaves a particular kind of silk brocade in which the designs appear in relief. The young man sells the fabric, and the two are able to support themselves in this way.

But the young woman places a constraint upon the man: He must never observe her while she is weaving her fabric.  Of course the young man cannot resist the temptation to look, and when he does he sees a heron at the loom.

Under his gaze the heron is transformed into a beautiful woman – she is his wife.

Now that the secret has been exposed, The heron Maiden’s happy life with the young man must come to an end.  The young woman bids her husband a fond goodbye, and flies away with her heron companions.

This is of course a sadder ending than the Russian story on which the the ballet  Swan Lake is based.  Both are folk tales, based on human-bird love affairs in which the males are human and the females are beautiful large white aquatic birds.

Of course the story which to my mind most closely resembles that of the Heron Maiden is the story of Cupid and Psyche: The pair are permitted to have their relationship on the condition that Psyche is never able to see what Cupid looks like.  Since he only comes to her at night – and this is the night of myth – when nighttime meant darkness –  she is never able to see him.

Psyche is of course tricked into holding a lighted lamp above Cupid in order to see what he looks like. As she gazes at him, transfixed by his beauty, a drop of oil drips from the lamp and falls on Cupid. He wakes up to see that Psyche has broken her promise, and the two have to part.

But there is also a deeply psychological component to these stories: What is it we wonder,  that could be so fatally destructive about seeking to satisfy the hunger of the eye, that spells the end of love? What is it that is so irresistible about the desire to spy on secrets, that we succumb to the temptation to do so regardless of the fact that we are fully aware ahead of time that the direst consequences will ensue?

In our culture ‘seeing’ is synonymous with all the many faculties that have to do with cognition.  When we understand something we say “I see”,  we have ‘points of view’, we ‘look’ at the facts, we ‘see the light’ we make ‘vision statements’, and so on.

But in our remote past it was the faculty of hearing that was of paramount importance. In the thousands of years during which we humans were pre-literate, we learned by listening, and more importantly by memorizing.

The ability to know something ‘by heart’ rather than by eye, results in a completely different type of ‘knowing’.  If we just think about the things we know by memory, we are instantly able to discern the qualitative difference between them and the things we ‘know’ from having read about them. Just try to recall a poem, and it will become clear from what a different part of the brain the memory has emerged.  These memories are recalled. One ‘calls’ for them, and they obey the summons.

Hearing is one of our first senses to develop, and the last to leave us when we die. People sometimes continue to hear what is being said by the people around them even as they lie unconscious on operating tables, and even when they are in deep coma. But for most of us ‘hearing’ is a much undervalued sense, and one that pleases us less than the delights of sight. Visual voracity is our predominant impulse, and sight is the sense we seem to trust the most.

Perhaps it is an overly broad generalization to claim that while vision is a tool of the intellect, hearing is much more closely allied with the intuition.  Anyone who has tried to learn a new language knows how much easier it is to learn by sight – comprehend by reading rather than by listening – and how much more difficult it is to to learn by hearing alone. This is because our hearing faculties are quite atrophied and attenuated in comparison to our visual ones. But it is only when the ‘hearing’ part of language acquisition has been mastered that one can begin to feel at ease, and so in the end, how well one speaks a new language  depends on how well one has ‘listened to’ and ‘heard’ it.

We read poetry rather than listen to it, and except when it comes to song lyrics, we have little tolerance for rhymes. We remember and retain song lyrics much more easily than poetry, because we learn them by listening. This is because hearing is a much more durable acquisition system than sight.  Poetry used to be an art that integrated dance and music.  Now there are very few art forms that keep the three together.

Nearly all advanced civilizations make the shift from valuing listening and speech to reading and writing. By the time the changes have taken permanent hold we are  so used to them that we fail to notice that something rather significant has been lost.  Now we even write without hearing our words – which I think is why for the most part writing has come to sound so dry, and why most people find it so difficult to write dialogue. Writers who have mastered dialogue are invariably good writers all around, and they are particularly good writers of fiction – in other words, they appeal to our imagination and our intuition. Most scholars and critics ‘however’ never quite seem to be memorable in quite the same way, and they are never able to engage us as memorably and indelibly as writers do. This, I suppose, is indicative of what could be the essential difference between an art and a discipline.

So, did the stories of Cupid and Psyche and The Heron Maiden end so sadly because of an inability to hear? To trust what was heard? Or because the desire to ‘see’ was so overwhelming and irresistible?  True, neither Psyche nor the Heron Maiden’s husband knew that something quite disastrous was going to happen if they succumbed to the temptation to ‘see’, but shouldn’t they have trusted their beloveds and heeded their spoken imperatives?

We too, by our deep preference for ‘knowing by cognition’ and our corresponding neglection of ‘knowing by intuition’  are frequently induced to make the kinds of mistaken choices that result in the sources of our joy and welfare leaving us. We then resort to the solitary pursuit of reading and writing, further condemning ourselves to an existence in which there is no one left with whom we can speak, and so we are left to live with the singular over the plural, the secluded over the social and the solitary over the companionable life,  because we have thoughtlessly compelled our lovely Heron Maidens to regretfully leave us and fly away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Actor in the role of the Heron Maiden.

About the Picture:

Accession number93.3.56 TitleHeron maiden Series TitleNew Forms of Thirty-six Ghosts.

Artist: Yoshitoshi Tsukioka.

The following information is extracted from this source:

http://ccdl.libraries.claremont.edu/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/cyw&CISOPTR=329

A woman with a large yellow and black umbrella (open) is accompanied by three white herons. The relationship of the animal kingdom to the world of

human beings is close in rural societies. People feel a kinship with the wild creatures around them. As a result, birds and animals, even trees and insects, are perceived in anthropomorphic terms. This was especially true in premodern Japan, where as early as a thousand years ago the cultured Heian society had developed a consciousness and love of nature. Japan is rich in tales of animals magically taking human form to work mischief or to repay good turns that people have done them. This design is an example.

…The print is as tranquil as the story, the maiden standing quietly with her umbrella in the snow, motioning to a pair of sister herons. Her brocade robe and the birds’ feathers have been given a raised texture. This is called kata-zuri, “empty” or inkless printing, an extra step in the printmaking process in which a pattern is permanently embossed into areas of the paper. The technique is often referred to as gaufrage (waffling), a reminder that many of the earliest ukiyo-e scholars were French. The dance-drama Sagi Musume of 1762 was based on this folk tale. Harunobu, the artist credited with inventing multicolored woodblock prints, used the story, in a famous design of a girl walking with an umbrella in the snow, to represent winter in his series “Beauties of the Four Seasons” of 1767  was based on this folk tale. Harunobu, the artist credited with inventing multicolored woodblock prints, used the story, in a famous design of a girl walking with an umbrella in the snow, to represent winter in his series “Beauties of the Four Seasons.”

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Jacques Prévert (February 4th 1900 - April 11th 1977)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barbara

 

 

 

 

Remember Barbara
It rained incessantly on Brest that day
And you walked smiling
Radiant delighted streaming wet
In the rain
Remember Barbara
It rained incessantly on Brest
And I came across you on Siam Street
You were smiling
And I smiled too
Remember Barbara
You whom I did not know
You who did not know me
Remember
Still remember that day
Do not forget
A man was sheltering under a porch
And he called out your name
Barbara
And you ran to him in the rain
Dripping enchanted blossoming,
And you flung yourself into his arms
Remember that Barbara
And do not be mad if I address you as tu
I say tu to all those I love
Even if I have seen them only once
I say tu to all who love each other
Even if I do not know them.
Remember Barbara
Do not forget
This rain wise and happy
On your happy face
On this happy city
This rain on the sea
On the arsenal
On the boat Ushant
Oh Barbara
What a bloody farce this war.
What has become of you now
Under this rain of iron
Of fire of steel of blood
And the one who enclosed you in his arms
Lovingly
Is he dead or disappeared or indeed still living
Oh Barbara
It rains constantly in Brest
As it was raining before
But this is not the same and everything is ruined
This is a rain of mourning terrible and desolate
Now it is not even the storm
Of iron of steel of blood
But merely of clouds
That simply die like dogs
Dogs that disappear
In the water flowing over Brest
And will rot away
In the distance far from Brest
Of which nothing remains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barbara

 

 

 

Rappelle-toi Barbara
Il pleuvait sans cesse sur Brest ce jour-là
Et tu marchais souriante
É panouie ravie ruisselante
Sous la pluie
Rappelle-toi Barbara
Il pleuvait sans cesse sur Brest
Et je t’ai croisée rue de Siam
Tu souriais
Et moi je souriais de même
Rappelle-toi Barbara
Toi que je ne connaissais pas
Toi qui ne me connaissais pas
Rappelle-toi
Rappelle-toi quand même ce jour-là
N’oublie pas
Un homme sous un porche s’abritait
Et il a crié ton nom
Barbara
Et tu as couru vers lui sous la pluie
Ruisselante ravie épanouie
Et tu t’es jetée dans ses bras
Rappelle-toi cela Barbara
Et ne m’en veux pas si je te tutoie
Je dis tu à tous ceux que j’aime
Même si je ne les ai vus qu’une seule fois
Je dis tu à tous ceux qui s’aiment
Même si je ne les connais pas
Rappelle-toi Barbara
N’oublie pas
Cette pluie sage et heureuse
Sur ton visage heureux
Sur cette ville heureuse
Cette pluie sur la mer
Sur l’arsenal
Sur le bateau d’Ouessant
Oh Barbara
Quelle connerie la guerre
Qu’es-tu devenue maintenant
Sous cette pluie de fer
De feu d’acier de sang
Et celui qui te serrait dans ses bras
Amoureusement
Est-il mort disparu ou bien encore vivant
Oh Barbara
Il pleut sans cesse sur Brest
Comme il pleuvait avant
Mais ce n’est plus pareil et tout est abimé
C’est une pluie de deuil terrible et désolée
Ce n’est même plus l’orage
De fer d’acier de sang
Tout simplement des nuages
Qui crèvent comme des chiens
Des chiens qui disparaissent
Au fil de l’eau sur Brest
Et vont pourrir au loin
Au loin très loin de Brest
Dont il ne reste rien.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This translation is based on, modified and adapted from on-line sources who have not been credited. I read and rejected the widely-known translation by Lawrence Ferlinghetti because I felt that it was not sufficiently faithful to or respectful of Prévert’s pure and innocent original.

This beautiful evocative poem by the lovely poet Jacques Prévert  speaks so feelingly of one swift fleeting moment, in WW2 in the midst of an extended downpour.  An ordinary pedestrian glimpses a woman as she runs to meet her lover.

The woman smiles at the stranger – they do not know each other, but they do not need to – because so much can sometimes be known about a stranger without a word being exchanged.

She smiles at him – why? Probably because when one is happily in love, smiles and laughter are as irrepressible as breathing.

Prévert knows only that the woman’s name is ‘Barbara’ – because he hears her lover call out to her.

The rain that has gone on and on all day in the city of Brest cannot dampen the rapt intensity of feeling that she exudes, and which has made her so unforgettable to Prévert. When he recalls this moment, perhaps many years later, he is full of anxious questions. – What has become of this woman? What has become of the man – probably a soldier – she was racing to meet?

When Prévert asks these questions of her – but obviously to himself – he uses ‘tu’ used in French to address close friends and relatives and people with whom one is intimate, rather than the formal ‘vous’ reserved for strangers and non-intimates. He asks, touchingly, that she not be offended by his presumption, because, he says, he addresses in this intimate form all those he loves – and all those who love each other.

Prévert was gay, but he is sweeping into his inclusive nonjudgmental embrace all lovers, with whom he himself shares a deep bond. We also know how he feels, because most of us who read this poem will love Barbara too, and share Prévert’s anxiety about her fate.

This was around 1940 during WW2 when the city of Brest in the Brittany peninsula was bombed and the bridges destroyed and the city reduced to rubble by the allies in their effort to get rid of the deeply entrenched German invaders. The Germans surrendered the city to the allies in 1944.

Like Prévert, we too have to come to terms with the awful, sickening ‘not-knowing’ that comes with the aftermath of terrible and destructive events. We have to allow ourselves to wonder, without the slightest comfort of even the flimsiest assurance, about the fate of people and animals – lovers, women, soldiers, dogs – whose lives are suddenly swept away and who are never heard of again.

This feeling of intimate familiarity and concern that can flare up in us in response to catching a glimpse of the radiance of love in a passing stranger, is something that Prévert has captured with great fidelity and total simplicity.

He has wrapped up his heart in this small lucid moment and handed it to us – who are also strangers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though the name of Jacques Prévert is not very well know by non-Francophones, his beautiful poem ‘Autumn Leaves’ (Les Feuilles Mortes) written in 1945 and set to music by Joseph Kosma, has been made popular by dozens of singers and musicians such as Jo Stafford, Edith Piaf, Julianne Greco, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Andrea Bocelli, Yves Montand and Chet Baker.

The English lyrics of this song were written by Johnny Mercer.

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Giacomo Leopardi (June 29th 1798 - June 14th 1837)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Evening After the Holy Day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The night is soft and clear, and no wind blows;
The quiet moon stands over roofs and orchards
Revealing from afar each peaceful hill.
Beloved, now every alleyway is silent;
At intervals along the balconies
The night-long lantern gleams; you are asleep,
And gentle slumber now gathers about
Your quiet chamber, and no single care
Gnaws at your heart; you do not know at all,
Nor think that you have opened in my breast
A very grievous wound. You are asleep:
And I have come abroad now to salute
This sky whose aspect seems to be so gentle,
And ancient Nature powerful over all,
Who has fashioned me for trouble. “I deny
All hope to you,” she has said, “Yes, even hope;
Your eyes shall not be bright for any cause,
Except for weeping.” This was a festal day:
And you are resting after its delights;
And maybe in your dreams you still remember
How many eyes took pleasure in your beauty,
How many, too, pleased you:  I find no place–
Not that I hoped it now–among your thoughts.
Meantime, I ask how many years of life
Remain to me, and therefore here I cast
Myself upon the ground, and cry, and rage.
Oh, terrible days, even off our green youth!
Alas, I hear not far along the road,
The lonely singing of a workman, coming
Back to his poor home so late at night,
After the sports; and fiercely my heart aches,
Thinking how all this world passes away
And leaves no trace. For look, the festival
Is over now, and ordinary day
Succeeds tomorrow; all things our race has known
Time likewise bears away. Where now is the voice
Of the ancient peoples,  the clamor of our ancestors
Who were renowned, and that great Empire of Rome,
The arms, and the clash they made by land and sea?
All is silence and peace; the world is still;
There are no tidings now remained of them.
Once in my boyhood, when so eagerly
We would look forward to the holiday,
Finding it over, I lay upon my bed,
Wakeful and very unhappy; late at night
A singing heard along the alleyways,
Little by little dying into the distance,
Even as this does now, gripped at my heart.

 

 

 

 

 

1819

Translation by John Heath Stubbs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La sera del dì di festa

 

Dolce e chiara è la notte e senza vento,
E queta sovra i tetti e in mezzo agli orti
Posa la luna, e di lontan rivela
Serena ogni montagna. O donna mia,
Già tace ogni sentiero, e pei balconi
Rara traluce la notturna lampa:
Tu dormi, che t’accolse agevol sonno
Nelle tue chete stanze; e non ti morde
Cura nessuna; e già non sai nè pensi
Quanta piaga m’apristi in mezzo al petto.
Tu dormi: io questo ciel, che sì benigno
Appare in vista, a salutar m’affaccio,
E l’antica natura onnipossente,
Che mi fece all’affanno. A te la speme
Nego, mi disse, anche la speme; e d’altro
Non brillin gli occhi tuoi se non di pianto.
Questo dì fu solenne: or da’ trastulli
Prendi riposo; e forse ti rimembra
In sogno a quanti oggi piacesti, e quanti
Piacquero a te: non io, non già, ch’io speri,
Al pensier ti ricorro. Intanto io chieggo
Quanto a viver mi resti, e qui per terra
Mi getto, e grido, e fremo. Oh giorni orrendi
In così verde etate! Ahi, per la via
Odo non lunge il solitario canto
Dell’artigian, che riede a tarda notte,
Dopo i sollazzi, al suo povero ostello;
E fieramente mi si stringe il core,
A pensar come tutto al mondo passa,
E quasi orma non lascia. Ecco è fuggito
Il dì festivo, ed al festivo il giorno
Volgar succede, e se ne porta il tempo
Ogni umano accidente. Or dov’è il suono
Di que’ popoli antichi? or dov’è il grido
De’ nostri avi famosi, e il grande impero
Di quella Roma, e l’armi, e il fragorio
Che n’andò per la terra e l’oceano?
Tutto è pace e silenzio, e tutto posa
Il mondo, e più di lor non si ragiona.
Nella mia prima età, quando s’aspetta
Bramosamente il dì festivo, or poscia
Ch’egli era spento, io doloroso, in veglia,
Premea le piume; ed alla tarda notte
Un canto che s’udia per li sentieri
Lontanando morire a poco a poco,
Già similmente mi stringeva il core.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gazing at the moon is always a hazardous business, because moonlight has the power to sweep the mind away. We are all creatures of the moon,  for without her, life here on earth would be wildly impossible.

But it is only in recent times that scientists have revealed to us that the moon is a regulator – not only of tides and lunar cycles, but of the vast meteorological irregularities, inimical and  potentially fatal to life on earth, that would occur without the irresistible pull of its steady predictable gravitational magic.

For poets, the moon is the Muse herself – and her power over the human mind is uncanny and unsettling.

Our forebears supposed that the full moon, and its light, could turn a man into a wolf, or summon the vampires out from their shadowy crypts  in order to feed on the blood of the unwary or unfortunate – and we in turn believe the emergency room medics and the ambulance drivers and the night patrols of police departments when they tell us that the full moon brings with it a predictable increase in human lunacy.  My grandmother (who was born a hundred and twenty one years ago this November 6th)  would discourage my gazing at the moon through the skylight over her bed, because she felt that such an activity could make me a lunatic, and I sometimes think that she might have been on to something….

This belief is echoed in an unforgettable story by Luigi Pirandello called ‘Moon Sickness’, and forms a segment in a cycle of his Sicilian stories in the film Kaos so named in homage to Sicily’s Greek origins – since Kaos is Greek for ‘chaos’.

In ‘La sera del dì di festa’ we find once again that the Muse has caused Leopardi to succumb to her entrancement, as he gazes out, perhaps on a fine Summer night, at the still and almost unearthly sense that moonlight inspires when it  has shed its equivocal luminosity over the  world of rooftops and orchards.

This is Recanati in 1819. Leopardi is 21 years old, and the feast day of some saint is over – and along with it all the festivities of the day. In the still windless night, Leopardi decides to take a walk, and as he looks up at the balconies and windows he passes, in his mind’s eye penetrates the shutters and curtains to see into the room, where he imagines his beloved lying asleep.

As he gazes at her sleeping form – his mind replays the events of the day – and he ponders, no doubt with some considerable anxiety,   how many admirers might have gazed with pleasure at this lovely woman –  and much more disturbingly –  on how many of them she herself might have been pleased to gaze.

He knows, with a bitter conviction, that her gaze would never have been pleased to fall on him. And here she is, sleeping sweetly and innocently with not  the trace of a disturbing thought or dream to ruffle her slumber,  while he, sleepless and troubled, confronts the lonely secrets of the night.

But then Leopardi’s thoughts begin to turn away from his beloved and instead to focus on his own unhappy fate, as a lover whose feelings are not only unrequited, but are unknown and perhaps not even guessed at by the girl who has so completely captured his heart. He thinks of his own mortality (death was never far off from Leopardi’s thoughts, and indeed he would not live to be 40) and in the grip of a  terrible anguish he bemoans his lot of hopelessness and tears. The clear peacefulness of the night is shattered, the rapturous beauty of his sleeping love is forgotten, and  an inner torment replaces both.

Then suddenly, in an extravagantly melodramatic gesture he flings himself on the ground (no easy task for the little hunchback that he is) and surrenders to crying and rage.

But then he hears the voice of a workman singing a song as he returns, late at night, after a day of merriment, and perhaps the better for a few glasses of wine, back to his humble home.

By the time this intrusion has occurred, Leopardi’s trance has long since faded.  The first serious disruption occurred when his transcending gaze veered abruptly away from its deeply engaged immersion at the sight of his beautiful sleeping Muse, to contemplating instead his own foredoomed wretchedness.

As the voice draws nearer he finds he must hastily scramble up from the dirt, lest he humiliate himself by being spotted lying prone, and weeping and thrashing about, on a country road, by one of the local peasants. Now the last filmy threads connecting Leopardi to his magical poetic inspiration are irrevocably snapped.

As he hurriedly stands up and brushes the leaves and twigs and cold dribbles of humus from his old coat, Leopardi’s mind probably begins to preoccupy itself with thoughts of his own social standing and the dignity required of him as the son of a count.

From there it is is no more than a single mincing step to begin cobbling together some respectably lofty concepts about Rome’s former greatness, and how it has faded and passed away even as the peasant’s brief day of leisure.

The fleeting and ephemeral nature of time is always a safe bet for the kinds of pronouncements that are most likely to be taken seriously at face-value.  Observations such as this can after all be so easily be spun into seeming both sentimental and profound, even though they are quite empty of any real insight, and are in fact merely rhetorical.

This inability to trust in the validity and sufficiency of the personal, and instead choose to buttress it with themes that aspire to abstract formulations, is something that surfaces repeatedly in Leopardi’s poems. When he chooses – or succumbs –  to an impulse  (it is difficult to determine which) and permits the intrusion of rhetoric and reason  into a sphere where intuition has been holding beautiful sway, he himself introduces the wolf-note into tuning,

But the spell of the moon lingers in Leopardi’s mind – and perhaps the song that he hears fading away into the night is one that he knew himself and heard sung in his childhood.  Maybe the words of that song were genuinely poetic – as folk songs frequently tend to be –  and so there is found an unexpected little redemption.

So Leopardi gently eases himself  away from the unmanageable emotional vicissitudes of adult passion to the dreamy diffusions of childhood – when while lying in his upstairs bedroom, wakeful and enveloped in childish sorrow, he heard the fading notes of a song sung by someone walking along the alley expire into the silence of the night – and so recognizes the  same feeling of utter and immeasurable sadness shooting out its unswerving tentacle of pain from past to present, to clutch convulsively at his heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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