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Archive for June, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

Felicità

Music and Lyrics by Nino Oliviero and Vincenzo De Crescenzo

(Neapolitan lyrics)

 

Felicità

tu me sai dà
quanno me vase
me fai sunnà
me fai restà
cu l’uocchie chiuse
Dint’e vvene
a poco a poco
me saglie ‘o bbene
saglie ‘o ffuoco
m’abbandono
nun resisto chiù

 

 

 
Felicità
tu me sai dà
quanno me vase
me fai sunnà
me fai restà
cu l’uocchie chiuse
e je dico ancora sì
fa chello ca vuò tu
pecché l’ammore mio
sì solamente tu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Felicità

(Italian translation)

Felicità

tu mi sai dare
quando mi baci,

 

 

Mi fai sognar,
mi fai restare
con gli occhi chiusi
Nelle vene,
a poco a poco,
mi sale il benessere,
mi sale il fuoco,
m’abbandono,
non resisto più.
Felicità,
tu mi sai dare
quando mi baci,
mi fai sognar,
mi fai restar
con gli occhi chiusi.
E io dico ancora sì,
fa quello che vuoi tu,
perché l’amore mio
sei solamente tu.

 

 

Translation to standard Italian spmela

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bliss           

            

Joy and bliss
you know you give me such bliss
when I feel your kiss
you make me dream
And my eyelids just close.
In my veins
by small degrees
a lovely sense of ease
begins to climb
within me the fire grows
and I want to surrender
for I can no longer resist.
Happiness
you know just how to give it
when you give me your kiss
I fall into a dream                
and my eyelids just close
and again I just say ‘yes’
do whatever you wish
because my love,
my love is only you.

 

 

 

 

Translation from the Italian Dia Tsung

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So el encina:             

So el encina, encina,
so el encina.

Yo me iba, mi madre,
a la romería;
por ir más devota
fui sin compañía;
so el encina.

Por ir más devota
fin sin compañía;
tomé otro camino,
dejé el que tenía;
so el encina.

Halléme perdida
en una montiña,
echéme a dormir
al pie del encina,
so el encina.

A la media noche
recordé, mezquina;
halléme en los brazos
del que más quería,
so el encina.

Pesóme, cuitada
de que amanecía
porque yo gozaba
del que más quería,
so el encina.

Muy biendita sía
la tal romería;
so el encina.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under the Ilex

Beneath the ilex, the ilex
beneath the ilex

I was going, Mother,
on a pilgrimage
so as to be more devout
I was without companions.

So as to be more devout
I was without companions
I took another road
I left the one I was on
under the ilex.

I found myself lost     
on a mountain
I prepared to sleep
at the foot of the ilex

At midnight
I remember – woe is me –
I found myself in the arms
of the one I love best
under the ilex

To my chagrin, I was left
at the break of dawn,
for I had been delighting
in the one I love best
under the ilex

Most blessed be
such a pilgrimage
under the ilex.

Translation Dia Tsung

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quercus ilex is the Mediterranean Oak, also called the Holm Oak, Holly Oak, Ilex, Evergreen Oak, Scarlet Oak, Bloody Oak and Prickly Oak.  It shares the name ‘Ilex’ with Holly, probably because like the Holly, it is evergreen. How the same tree could be referred to as ‘evergreen’ and ‘scarlet’ is a minor mystery, but solved by the entomologists, who tell us that the scarlet berries, which give the oak its name, are made by an insect – the kerm beetle – who feeds on the oak leaves and produces a scarlet ‘berry,’ which is the source of a scarlet dye highly prized by the ancients and used for royal robes and  buskins. The berries themselves were said to possess aphrodisiac properties, and perhaps this could have been intended by the anonymous poet as another oblique suggestion pertaining to the midnight tryst.  Coincidentally, one of the most famous XV century composers of villancicos was Juan Encina – and I wonder if  it is possible that it was he who wrote the poem.

When I first read this poem, I immediately felt that the Ilex tree held a significance beyond its being merely a convenient shelter for a young girl on a pilgrimage, who had lost her way.  Two references jumped out at me, the first by Ovid, and the second by Robert Graves. According to Graves, the Holm Oak stands for the eighth month of the druid calendar and the letter ‘T’ in the druidic tree alphabet. The letter ‘T’ signifies the cross, or the gibbet and has connotations of human sacrifice in the old religion, although here, happily it is only her virginity – and not the virgin herself – which is ‘sacrificed.’

These things suggest to me that our girl set off on her romantic adventure around midsummer – a warm time of year, perfect for a ‘pilgrimage’ in the mountains, particularly if one also has to sleep outdoors.

Ovid tells us that Artemis the wild huntress and her virgin band of hamdryades cooled themselves  at midday in a pool hidden by a thicket of Ilex. When the women disrobed before entering the water, one of the Goddess’s companions, Callisto the princess of Arcadia, was seen to be pregnant. She was expelled from the group for her indiscretion, and was later turned into a bear by Hera. She can be seen in the night sky as one of the stars in the always bright constellation of Ursa Major.

Acorns were also thought to be the food of the Arcadians (who were the descendants of Callisto’s son Arkas) – and bears.  Callisto was of course seduced by Zeus, and she may not have been completely willing, since there is little to suggest that the women Zeus ravished consented in any way, and not surprisingly these seductions had little to do with either love or romance.

I felt intuitively that the poem was about a virgin with her first lover – which the Arcadian episode appeared to support. The young girl in the villancico, under the pretext of going on a pilgrimage, appears to have turned in a different direction, with the intention of keeping an assignation with her lover. But even if the meeting had not been planned (improbable but possible,) her apparently religious motivation turns out to have  had a decidedly secular outcome.

The girl has  contrived a good  cover story for her sly ‘accidentally on purpose’ rendezvous,  and is careful to appear blameless when she  returns home and recounts the details of her ‘pilgrimage’ to her mother. She couches  it in terms of a ‘mishap,’ which, is designed to preserve her innocence, if not her modesty.

It seems evident to me she is an adventuresome girl – intelligent, enterprising – and bold enough to wish to travel alone.  She experiences her life in  concrete terms – of  external events, circumstances and she gives us no advance notice of her own intentions. She expresses no doubts or fears or speculations, and this absence of interiority gives the poem  much of its straightforwardness, clarity and honesty.

The girl seems to have planned her journey so as to reach the Ilex tree at dusk, and was prepared to wait there alone in the thickening darkness  until her lover came to meet her.

In older times, Midsummer was after all, the time for romantic revelry and magical evocations. Even Shakespeare capitalised on the associations of this uncanny season to provide the context of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Even the word ‘midsummer’ has something quite magical about it, and saying the words ‘summer night’ alone can cast the first tinge of a spell upon a previously clear mind.

I wondered about the landscape of this poem – and the image that formed in my mind was of a scrubby hillside dotted with clumps of Ilex, with one tree that stood apart from the others. This was the place chosen by our girl for her assignation. Was there a moon? Was the night dark? could she see the sky through the branches and watch as the summer constellations  wheeled their arcs across the heavens?  She must have had a simple supper – probably consisting of bread and olives and perhaps some cheese. Was there a stream nearby where she could refresh herself and take a drink?  She must have sat there quietly in the darkness, with her cloak drawn close about her, listening to the insects and waiting until midnight.

Though the Italian translation of this poem suggests a male paramour, the Spanish does not. Accustomed habits of interpretation would have her lover be a male – but I do not feel constrained by habitual interpretations, and in my mind, she waits for another girl. She must have strained her ears listening for a footfall, and then a voice.

The meeting is described as a fiat – at midnight she suddenly finds herself in the arms of ‘the one she loves best.’ Everything just ‘happened,’ with no apparent agency on her part. But Summer nights are brief, and when dawn comes lovers, despite their reluctance to do so, must separate. When the sky begins to colour she is alone again – the pilgrimage is finished, and she must go back home.

What were her thoughts on the way home? Was this her only encounter? We hope not, because she is still a young girl when she tells her mother about the pilgrimage, being careful to not incriminate herself, and yet unable to suppress her sense of joy and exultation. Not all love-stories have happy endings, but somehow the sheer effrontery that went into the planning and execution of this meeting lets me believe that there were other meetings – other pilgrimages – and that in this way at least, her hopes and aspirations for love found their fulfillment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Italian Translation

Sotto il leccio, leccio     
sotto il leccio

Andavo, madre,
in pellegrinaggio:
per andare più devota
andai senza compagnia,
sotto il leccio.

 

Per andare più devota
andai senza compagnia,
presi un’altra strada
lasciai il percorso che fui.

Mi smarrii ai piedi
di una montagna,
mi misi a dormire
ai piedi del leccio.

A mezzanotte
mi svegliai,
misera, mi trovai
tra le braccia
di chi amavo di più,
sotto il leccio.

 

Mi dispiacque, misera,
che albeggiava,
perché godevo
di chi amavo di più,
sotto il leccio.

Benedetto sia
questo pellegrinaggio,
sotto il leccio.

 

 

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“Estate,” by Bruno Brighetti  (lyrics) and Bruno Martino (music) is an Italian classic, but it has been sung in English and Spanish as well, and there is even a French version, with remarkably inept lyrics which have nothing  at all to do with the original feeling of the composition.

Listening to this small piece of perfection, so introspective, evocative and mood-suffused, becomes a meditation  – a remembrance of things past.

It captures  completely the feeling of beautiful summer and lost love, when a season of opulence and brilliance becomes a lingering ghost, and when poetry and music come together as if they were in love with each other
In my search for this post, I came across a bewildering number of versions to choose from. I picked the ones which appealed to me the most. My feeling is that it is criminal to take liberties with this song – but there are so many musicians who do: they give in to the temptation to use it as a showcase for their skills, in ways that are less than appropriate and roll over it like a steamroller, with complete disregard for the integrity of the poetry and sentiment at its heart.

This is a song which demands to be performed in a natural and heart-felt manner. Not all the versions here are perfect – but they are the best I could find.

I wish that Chet Baker had been able to collaborate with Bill Evans on this one.

This is a piece of music for which less is always more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Estate

 

Estate

Sei calda come i baci che ho perduto 
Sei piena di un amore che è passato
Che il cuore mio vorrebbe cancellare

Estate
Il sole che ogni giorno ci scaldava
Che splendidi tramonti dipingeva
Adesso brucia solo con furore

Tornerà un altro inverno
Cadranno mille pètali di rose
La neve coprirà tutte le cose
E forse un po’ di pace tornerà

Estate
Che ha dato il suo profumo ad ogni fiore
L’ estate che ha creato il nostro amore
Per farmi poi morire di dolore

Estate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer                                                  

(English translation)
You are warm like the kisses I have lost
You’re full of a love that has passed
That my heart would wish to erase

Summer
The sun that warmed us each day
What splendid sunsets it painted
Now burns only with fury

Another winter will return
And the roses shed a thousand petals
The snow will cover everything
And perhaps a little peace will return.

Summer
Which imparted perfume to each flower
The summer that created our love
To make me then die of grief

Summer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Estate

(English lyrics)

You bathe me in the glow of your caresses
You’ve turned my timid no to eager yeses
You sweep away my sorrow with your sigh

Estate
Oh how the golden sunlight bends the willow
Your perfume sends the blossoms to my pillow
Oh who could know you half as well as I

I always feel you near me
In every song the morning breeze composes
In all the tender wonder of the roses
Each time the setting sun shines on the sea

Estate
And when you sleep beneath a snowy cover
I’ll keep you in my heart just like a lover
And wait until you come again to me – Estate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Verano                                                   

(Spanish lyrics)

Verano ardiente como el
beso que he perdido
Recuerdos de un amor que ha pasado
Y que me corazón no ha de borrar

Odio el verano
El sol y su calor nos abrazaban
Que esplendidos ocasos nos pintaba
Ahora sólo quema con réncor

volverá un nuevo invierno
y caerán mil pétalos de rosas
la nieve cubrirá todas las cosas        
quizás algo de paz retornará

Odio el verano
que ha dado su perfume a las flores
verano que has creado las pasiones
nacer para morirme de dolor

volverá un nuevo invierno
y caerán mil pétalos de rosas
la nieve cubrirá todas las cosas
quizás algo de paz retornará

Odio el verano
odio el verano
odio el verano
odio el verano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jane Vance Rule (March 28, 1931 – November 27, 2007)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I’m sorry I’m late, darling,” Virginia said, having to pick up and embrace three-year-old Clarissa before she could kiss Katherine hello. “My last patient needed not only a new crown but some stitches for a broken heart. Why do people persist in marriage?”
“Your coat’s cold,” Clarissa observed soberly.
“So’s my nose,” Virginia said, burying it in the child’s neck. “It’s past your bath time and your story time, and I’ve probably ruined dinner.”
“No,” Katherine said. “We’re not eating until seven-thirty. We’re having a guest.”
“Who?”
“Daddy’s new friend,” Clarissa said. “And I get to stay up until she comes.”
“Really?”
“She said she needed to talk with us,” Katherine explained. “She sounded all right on the phone. Well, a little nervous but not at all hostile. I thought, perhaps we owe her that much?”
“Or him?” Virginia wondered.
“Oh, if him, I suppose I should have said no,” Katherine decided.
“People who don’t even want to marry him think this is odd enough.”
“Odd about him?”
“Even he thinks it odd about him,” Katherine said.
“Men have an exaggerated sense of responsibility in the most peculiar directions,” Virginia said. “We can tell her he’s a perfectly nice man, can’t we?” She was now addressing the child.
“Daddy said I didn’t know who was my mommie,” Clarissa said.
“Oh?”
“I have two mommies. Will Elizabeth be my mommie, too?”
“She just might,” Virginia said. “What a lucky kid that would make you.”
“Would she come to live with us then?” Clarissa asked.
“Sounds to me as if she wants to live with Daddy.” Virginia said.
“So did you, at first,” Clarissa observed.
Both women laughed.
“Your bath?” Virginia ordered and carried the child up the stairs while Katherine returned to the kitchen to attend to dinner.
Clarissa was on the couch in her pajamas, working a pop-up book of Alice in Wonderland with Virginia, when the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get that,” Katherine called from the kitchen.
Elizabeth, in a fur-collared coat, stood in the doorway, offering freesias.
“Did he tell you to bring them?” Katherine asked, smiling.
“He said we all three liked them,” Elizabeth answered. “But don’t most women?”
“I’m Katherine,” Katherine said, “wife number one.”
“And I’m Virginia, wife number two,” Virginia said, standing in the hall.
“And I’m Elizabeth, as yet unnumbered,” Elizabeth said. “And you’re Clarissa,”
Clarissa nodded, using one of Virginia’s legs as a prop for leaning against or perhaps hiding behind.
Elizabeth was dressed, as the other two women were, in very well cut trousers and an expensive blouse, modestly provocative. And she was about their age, thirty. The three did not so much look alike as share a type, all about the same height five feet seven inches or so (he said he was six feet tall but was, in fact, five feet ten and a half), slightly but well proportioned, with silky, well cut hair and intelligent faces. They were all competent assured women who intimidated only unconsciously.
Virginia poured three drinks and a small glass of milk for Clarissa,who was allowed to pass the nuts and have one or two before Katherine took her off to bed.
“She looks like her father,” Elizabeth observed.
“Yes, she has his lovely eyes, ” Virginia agreed.
“He doesn’t know I’m here,” Elizabeth confessed. “Oh, I intend to tell him. I just didn’t want it to be a question, you see?”
“He did think it a mistake that Katherine and I ever met. We didn’t, of course, until after I’d married him. I didn’t t know he was married until quite a while after he and I met.”
“He was a patient of yours?” Elizabeth asked.
“Yes.”
“He’s been quite open with me about both of you from the beginning, but we met in therapy, of course and that does make such a difference.”
“Does it?” Virginia asked. “I’ve never been in therapy.”
“Haven’t you?” Elizabeth asked, surprised. “I would have thought both of you might have considered it.”
“He and I?”
“No, you and Katherine.”
“We felt very uncomplicated about it,” Virginia said, “once it happened. It was such an obvious solution.”
“For him?”
“Well, no, not for him, of course. Therapy was a thing for him to consider.”
Katherine came back into the room. “Well, now we can be grownups.”
“She looks like her father,” Elizabeth observed again.
“She has his lovely eyes,” it was Katherine’s turn to reply.
“I don’t suppose a meeting like this could have happened before the women’s movement,” Elizabeth said.
“Probably not,” Katherine agreed. “I’m not sure Virginia and I could have happened before the women’s movement. We might not have known what to do.”
“He tries not to be antagonistic about feminism,” Elizabeth said.
“Oh, he always been quite good about the politics. He didn’t resent my career,” Virginia offered.
“He was quite proud of marrying a dentist,”  Katherine said. “I think he used to think I wasn’t liberated enough.”
“He doesn’t think that now,” Elizabeth said.
“I suppose not,” Katherine agreed.
“The hardest thing for him has been facing. . . the sexual implications. He has felt. . .unmanned.”
“He put it more strongly than that in the past,” Virginia said.
“Men’s sexuality is so much more fragile than ours,” Elizabeth said.
“Shall we have dinner?” Katherine suggested.
“He said you you were a very good cook,” Elizabeth said to Katherine
“Most of this dinner is Virginia’s. I got it out of the freezer,” Katherine explained. “I’ve gone back to school, and I don’t have that much time.”
“I cook in binges,” Virginia said, pouring the wine.
“At first he said he thought the whole thing was some kind of crazy revenge,” Elizabeth said.
“At first there might have been that element in it,” Virginia admitted. “Katherine was six months’ pregnant when he left her, and she felt horribly deserted. I didn’t know he was going to be a father until after Clarissa was born. Then I felt I’d betrayed her too, though I hadn’t known anything about it.”
“He said he should have told you, ” Elizabeth said, “but he was very much in love and was afraid of losing you. He said there was never any question of his not supporting Katherine and Clarissa.”‘
“No, I make perfectly good money,” Virginia said. “There’s no question of his supporting them now, if that’s a problem. He doesn’t.”
“He says he’d rather he did,” Elizabeth said.
“He sees Clarissa whenever he likes,”  Katherine explained. “He’s very good with her. One of the reasons I wanted a baby was knowing he’d be a good sort of father.”
“Did you have any reservations about marrying him?”  Elizabeth asked Virginia.
“At the time?  Only that I so very much wanted to,” Virginia said. “There aren’t that many marrying men around for women dentists, unless they’re sponges, of course. It’s flattering when someone is so afraid of losing you he’s willing to do something legal about it. It oughtn’t to be but it is.”
“But you had other reservations later,” Elizabeth said.
“Certainly, his wife and his child.”
“Why did he leave you, Katherine?”
“Because he was afraid of losing her. I suppose he thought he’d have what he needed of me anyway, since I was having his child.”
“Were you still in love with him?” Elizabeth asked.
“I must have been,” Katherine said, “but I couldn’t have been quite so unhappy, so desperate. I was desperate.”
“He’s not difficult to be in love with, after all,”  Virginia said. “He’s a very attractive man.”
“He asked me if I was a lesbian,” Elizabeth said. “l told him I certainly didn’t think so. After all, I was in love with him. He said so had two other women been, in love enough to marry him, but they were both lesbians. And maybe he only attracted lesbians even if they didn’t t know it themselves. He even suggested I should maybe try making love with another woman before I made up my mind.”
There was a pause which neither Katherine nor Virginia at tempted to break.
“Did either of you know. . . before?”
Katherine and Virginia looked at each other. Then they said,
“No,”
“He’s even afraid he may turn women into lesbians,” Elizabeth said.
Both Virginia and Katherine laughed, but not unkindly.
“Is that possible?” Elizabeth asked.
“Is that one of your reservations?” Katherine asked.
“It seemed crazy,” Elizabeth said, “but…”
Again the two hostesses waited.
“l know this probably sounds very unliberated and old-fashioned and maybe even prejudiced, but I don’t think I could stand being a lesbian, finding out I’m a lesbian; and if there something in him that makes a woman . . . How can either of you stand to be together instead of with him?”
“But you don’t know you’re a lesbian until you fall in love,” Katherine said, “and then it’s quite natural to want to be together with the person you love.”
“What’s happening to me is so peculiar. The more sure I am I’m in love with him, the more obsessively I read everything I can about what it is to be a lesbian. It’s almost as if I had fallen in love with a woman, and that’s absurd.”
“l don’t really think there’s anything peculiar about him,” Katherine said.
“One is just so naturally drawn, so able to identify with another woman,” Virginia said. “When I finally met Katherine what he wanted and needed just seemed too ridiculous’
“But it was you he wanted,” Elizabeth protested.
“At Katherine’s and Clarissa’s expense, and what was I, after all, but just another woman.”
“A liberated woman,” Katherine said.
“Not then, I wasn’t,” Virginia said.
“I didn’t feel naturally drawn to either of you,” Elizabeth protested. “l wasn’t even curious at first. But he is so obsessed with you still, so afraid of being betrayed again, and I thought, I’ve got to help him somehow, reassure him, understand enough to let him know, as you say, that there’s nothing peculiar about him…or me.”
“I’m sure there isn’t,”  Katherine said reassuringly and reached out to take Elizabeth’s hand.
Virginia got up to clear the table.
“Mom!” came the imperious and sleepy voice of Clarissa.
“I’ll go,” Virginia said.
“But I don’t think you mean what I want you to mean,” Elizabeth said.
“Perhaps not,” Katherine admitted.
“He said he never should have left you. It was absolutely wrong; and if he ever did marry again, it would be because he wanted to make that commitment, but what if his next wife found out she didn’t want him, the way Virginia did?”
“I guess anyone takes that risk,” Katherine said.
“Do you think I should marry him?” Elizabeth asked.
Katherine kept Elizabeth’s hand, and her eyes met Elizabeth’s beseeching, but she didn’t answer.
“You do think there’s something wrong with him?”
“No, I honestly don’t. He’s a perfectly nice man. It’s just that I sometimes think that isn’t good enough, not now when there are other options.”
“What other options?”
“You have a job don’t you?”
“I teach at the university, as he does.”
“Then you can support yourself.”
“That’s not always as glamorous as it sounds.”
“Neither is marriage,” Katherine said.
“Is this?” Elizabeth asked, looking around her, just as Virginia came back into the room.
“It’s not nearly as hard as some people try to make it sound.”
“Clarissa wanted to know if her new mother was still here.”
“Oh my,” Elizabeth said.
“Before you came, she wanted to know, if you married her father, would you be another mother and move in here.”
Elizabeth laughed and then said, “Oh, God, that’s just what he wants to know!”
They took their coffee back into the living room.
“It must be marvelous to be a dentist. At least during the day you can keep people from telling you all their troubles,” Elizabeth said.
“That’s not as easy as it looks,” Virginia said.
“He says you’re the best dentist he ever went to. He hates his dentist now.”
“I used to be so glad he wasn’t like so many men who fell in love with their students,” Katherine said.
“Maybe he’d be better off,” Elizabeth said in mock gloom. “He says he isn’t threatened by my having published more than he has. He had two wives and a baby while I was simply getting on with it; but does he mean it? Does he really know?”
“We’re all reading new lines, aren’t we?” Virginia asked.
“But if finally none of us marries them, what will they do?” Elizabeth asked.
“I can hardly imagine that.” Katherine said.
“You can’t imagine what they’ll do?”
“No,  women saying ‘no,’ all of them. We can simply consider ourselves for instance,”  Katherine said.
“Briefly anyway,” Virginia said. “Did you come partly to see if you were at all like us?”
“I suppose so,” Elizabeth said.
“Are you?”
“Well, I’m not surprised by you. . .and very surprised not to be.”
“Are you sorry to have married him?” Virginia asked Katherine.
“I could hardly be. There’s Clarissa, after all, and you. Are you?” she asked in return.
“Not now,” Virginia said, “having been able to repair the damage.”
“And everyone knows,” Elizabeth said, “that you did have the choice.”
“Yes’ Virginia agreed, “there’s that.”
“But I felt I didn’t have any choice,” Katherine said. “That part of it humiliated me”
“Elizabeth is making a distinction.” Virginia said, “between what everyone knows and what each of us knows. I shared your private humiliation, of course. All women must.”
“Why?” Elizabeth demanded.
“Not to believe sufficiently in one’s own value,” Virginia explained.
“But he doesn’t believe sufficiently in his own value either,” Elizabeth said. “He doesn’t even quite believe he’s a man.”
“I never doubted I was a woman,” Katherine said.
“That smug,” Elizabeth said, “because you have a child.”
“So does he,” Katherine replied.
“But he was too immature to deal with it; he says so himself. Don’t you feel at all sorry for him?’
“Yes,” said Katherine.
“Of course,” Virginia agreed.
“He’s been terribly hurt. He’s been damaged,” Elizabeth said.
“Does that make him more or less attractive do you think?” Virginia asked.
“Well, damn it, less, of course,” Elizabeth shouted. “And whose fault is that?”
Neither of the other two women answered.
“He’s not just second, he’s third-hand goods,” Elizabeth said.
“Are women going to begin to care about men’s virginity?” Katherine asked. “How extraordinary!”
“Why did you go into therapy?” Virginia asked.
“l hardly remember,”  Elizabeth said. “I’ve been so caught up with his problems since the beginning. The very first night of group, he said I somehow reminded him of his wives…”
“Perhaps that is why you went,” Katherine suggested.
“You think I’d be crazy to marry him, don’t you?” Elizabeth demanded.
“Why should we?” Virginia asked. “We both did.”
“That’s not a reassuring point,” Elizabeth said.
“You find us unsatisfactory,” Katherine said, in apology.
“Exactly not,” Elizabeth said sadly. “I want someone to advise me. . .to make a mistake. Why should you?”
“Why indeed?” Virginia asked.
They embraced warmly before Elizabeth left.
“Perhaps I might come again?” she asked at the door.
“Of course, Katherine said.
After the door closed, Katherine and Virginia embraced.
“He’d be so much happier, for a while anyway, if he married again,” Katherine said.
“Of course he would,”  Virginia agreed, with some sympathy for him in her voice. “But we couldn’t encourage a perfectly nice woman like Elizabeth…”
“That’s the problem, isn’t it?” Katherine said. “That’s just it.”
“She’ll marry him anyway;” Virginia predicted, “briefly.”
“And have a child?” Katherine asked.
“And fall in love with his next wife,” Virginia went on.
“There really isn’t anything peculiar about him,” Katherine said.
“I’m sorry he doesn’t like his dentist.”
“He should never have married you.”
“No, he shouldn’t,” Virginia agreed. “Then at least I could still be taking care of his teeth.”
Barring that, they went up together to look in on his richly mothered child, sleeping soundly, before they went to their own welcoming bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
I must admit I spent several frustrating days going over the OCR of this story, hunting down every garbled word and broken line, every comma, apostrophe and quotation mark – but it was most assuredly worth the while to be able to post Jane Rule’s finely crafted short story, sparkling as it does with nuanced insight into women’s minds, and her pitch-perfect ear for the delicacy of women’s conversation.

It was my impression that the conversation itself sounded as if it belonged to an era which predated the women’s movement (the mention of which rather dated the story) by at least a couple of decades. Katherine, Virginia and Elizabeth, with the careful economy and refinement of their speech, sound to me as if they belong in the more formal ‘fifties – or even an earlier time –  rather than the radical ‘seventies, and their dress suggested to me the same sense of propriety. But then I wondered, would a hostess of  the ‘fifties have entertained a dinner guest with food from the freezer?  And what about the absence of cocktails and canapes, which made the period – culinarily at least – indeterminate and difficult to pin down with any degree of certainty.

This was essentially the problem I ran into when attempting to reconcile the ‘movie’ of the story which floated in my head with the actual text.  Despite the ‘progressive’ touches, (Elizabeth’s therapy, Katherine’s school) this stuck in my mind as a ‘fifties story. The only way I could think of to reconcile content and context was to give in and embrace the anachronism, and be faithful to my own imagination – hence, my admittedly frivolous, choice of images for this post!

Rule’s one small slip (if it could even be said to be one) notwithstanding, one cannot but be impressed with how deftly she expresses the gentle and amused, but unmistakable sense of superiority, the faintest denigration camouflaged, but not quite concealed in the word ‘nice’. Rule’s perfect balance of irony, humour and seriousness aptly suited the setting of the story. The personalities and characters of these three women with their similarly old-fashioned names, sense of style and initial marital predisposition, cast them as kindred spirits.

We know that Elizabeth’s fatal evening with these two wholesome and classy paragons of lesbian virtue – intelligent, ethical, self-aware, transparent, reflective and  fearless as they are – is an initiation – an induction as it were into their way of life – a way of life that has already begun to wield its fascination on her readily susceptible mind. It sounds the knell of doom for her forthcoming marriage even before it begins. Distillation is fore-ordained once the elements of the alchemical process have been brought together in the alembic, and so we cannot, for all the world, imagine her settling happily ever after for an ordinary relationship with even the most perfectly nice man in the world.

It is difficult to discern exactly where the note of inevitability is struck, but once we have heard it, it resounds like a persistent chord over the background of conversation. We know that the already sprouted seeds of Elizabeth’s ambivalence have received a thorough watering as she absorbs the implications of the perfect choreography of Katherine and Virginia’s well-ordered lives, ensconced in their chosen niche of unruffled domestic happiness. Elizabeth is uncomfortably aware of their well-meant condescension, their kindly but amused sympathy for the former spouse (referred to here only by a pronoun and to whom Rule refrains from conferring the dignity of a name) who no longer has any personal significance in their lives beyond his services rendered in fathering their child and serving as a stepping stone to their alliance.

Despite her determined struggle to resist it, the inevitability of her own future must have become terribly clear to Elizabeth over the course of the evening. Elizabeth will arrive at her destination in her own way, making her own mistakes and charting her own ambivalent course, but we needn’t fear for her happiness or security, because we know she will land on her feet, and when she does, she will have a couple of discerning and sympathetic allies.

But what about ‘the perfectly nice man?’ Whatever did he do to deserve the terrible marital curse that dogs his every romantic effort? His confidence, already undermined, will end in utter ruin. What is it about him that so sadly and comically pairs him with incipiently lesbian women? We hope for Clarissa’s sake he will not take to drink, but somehow gain an insight into the chemistry of his attractions. Fate seems indifferent to his happiness, so it is entirely up to him to save himself – if indeed such a thing is at all possible.

We hope that in accordance with Katherine’s prescient announcement, his brief marriage to Elizabeth will be happy. We hope Clarissa will have a new little sister, who will be given a suitably old-fashioned name, in honour of a woman writer, as do all the women in her life. I think Rule would have it so, because she must have been thinking of Clarissa, Virginia Woolf ‘s niece, when she picked the names for these two characters. I am also reminded of Katherine Mansfield and Elizabeth Bowen… so perhaps the new addition might be christened ‘Sylvia,’ after Sylvia Townsend Warner, one of my own personal favourite lesbian writers.

That would be as neat a summing up as we could wish for, to follow the rueful, yet oracular pronouncements made by Katherine and Virginia on their way to bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.xtra.ca/public/viewstory.aspx?AFF_TYPE=1&STORY_ID=3980&PUB_TEMPLATE_ID=1

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

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Renée Vivien, born Pauline Mary Tarn (11 June 1877 – 18 November 1909

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Told by Gesa Karoly

I promised you, my curious little girl, to tell you the true story of Sarolta Andrassy. You knew her,  didn’t you? You remember her black hair with blue and red highlights, and her eyes like a lover’s begging and melancholy.

Sarolta Andrassy lived in the country with her old mother. For neighbours she had the Szecheny family, who had just left Budapest forever. Really, they were a bizarre family! It was easy to mistake Bela Szecheny for a little girl, and his sister, Terka, for a little boy. Curiously enough, Bela possessed all the feminine virtues and Terka, all the masculine faults. Bela’s hair was a copper blond; Terka’s was a livelier, rather reddish blond. The brother and sister strangely resembled each other – and that’s very rare among members of the same family, no matter what they say.

Bela’s mother was not yet resigned to cutting off the beautiful blond curls of the little boy or to exchanging his graceful muslin or velvet skirts for vulgar pants. She coddled him like a little girl. As for Terka, she kept shooting up, like a wild weed . . . She lived outdoors, climbing on the trees, marauding, robbing the kitchen gardens. She was unbearable and at war with the world. She was a child who was neither tender not communicative. Bela, on the other hand, was gentleness itself. He showed his adoration for his mother by making much of her and by caressing her. Terka loved no on€, and no one loved her.

Sarolta came one day to visit the Szecheny family. Her loving eyes in her thin, pale face seemed to be begging. Bela greatly pleased her, and they played together  great deal. Looking wild, Terka prowled around them.When Sarolta spoke to her, she fled.

She could have been pretty, this incomprehensible Terka . . . But she was too tall for her age, too thin, too awkward, too ungainly, whereas Bela was so dainty and so sweet! . . . Several months later, the Szecheny family left Hungary. Bela had an excessively delicate chest, being in general rather frail. On the advice of the doctor, his mother took him to Nice, along with his recalcitrant little sister. Sarolta cried bitterly over losing her playmate.

In her dreams, Sarolta always evoked the too frail and too pretty little boy whom she remembered constantly. And she would say to herself, smiling at the blond fantasy: ‘If I must get married when I’m older, I would like to marry Bela.’

Several years passed – oh, how slowly for the impatient Sarolta! Bela must have reached the age of twenty, and Terka, seventeen. They were still on the Riviera. And Sarolta grieved through the joyless, long years, which were lit up only by the illusion of a dream.

One violet evening, she was dreaming by her window when her mother came to tell her that Bela had returned . . . Sarolta’s heart sang as if it would break. And, the next day, Bela came to see her.

He was the same, and even more charming than before. Sarolta was happy that he had kept this feminine and gentle manner which had so pleased her. He was still the fragile child . . . But now this child possessed an inexpressible grace. Sarolta searched in vain for the cause of this transformation which made him so alluring. His voice was musical and faraway like the echo of the mountains. She admired everything about him, even his stone-grey English suit. And she even admired his
mauve necktie.

Bela contemplated the young woman with different eyes, with eyes strangely beautiful, with eyes that did not resemble the eyes of other men . . . ‘How thin he is!’ observed Sarolta’s mother after he had left. ‘Poor thing, he must still be in delicate health.’ Sarolta did not answer. She closed her eyes in order to again see Bela under her closed eyelids . . . How handsome, handsome, handsome he was! . . .

He returned the next day, and every day after that. He was the Prince Charming who is seen only in the childish pages of fairy tales. She could not look him in the face without feeling ardently and languishingly faint . . . Her face changed according to the expression of the face she loved. Her heart beat according to the rhythm of that other heart. Her unconscious and childish tenderness had become love.

Bela would turn pale as soon as she appeared, diaphanous in her white summer dress. Sometimes he looked at her without speaking, like someone communing with himself in front of a faultless Statue. Sometimes he took her hand . . . His palm was so burning and dry that she thought she was touching the hand of an invalid. Indeed, at those times a little fever would show in Bela’s cheeks.

One day she asked him for some news of the undisciplined Terka.
‘She is still in Nice,’ he answered indifferently. And then they spoke of something else. Sarolta understood that Bela did not love his sister at all. This was not surprising, what is more –  a girl who was so taciturn and wild!

What should come next, came next. A few months later Bela asked to marry her. He had just turned twenty-one.  Sarolta’s mother had no objections to the union

Their betrothal was unreal, as delicate as the white roses that Bela brought each day. Their vows were more fervent than poems: their very souls trembled on their lips. The nuptial dream came to be in the deepest silence.

‘Why,’ Sarolta would ask her fiancé€, ‘are you worthier of being loved than other young men? Why do you have gentle ways that they do not? Where did you learn the divine words that they never say?’

The wedding ceremony took place in absolute privacy. The candles brightened the red highlights in Bela’s blond hair. The incense curled towards him, and the thunder of the organs exalted and glorified him. For the first time since the beginning of the world, the Groom was as beautiful as the Bride.

They left for those blue shores where the desire of lovers runs out of patience. They were seen, a Divine Couple, with the eyelashes of one stroking the eyelids of the other. They were seen, lovingly and chastely intertwined, with her black hair spread over his blond hair . . .

Oh, my curious little girl! Here the story becomes a little  difficult to relate . . . Several months later, the teal Bela Szecheny appeared . . . He was not Prince Charming, alas! He was only a handsome boy, nothing more.

He furiously sought the identity of the young usurper . . . And he learned that the usurper in question was his own sister, Terka.

….Sarolta and Prince Charming have never returned to Hungary. They are hiding in the depths of a Venetian castle or of a Florentine mansion. And sometimes they are seen, as one sees a vision of ideal tenderness, lovingly and chastely intertwined.

 

Translated by Karla Jay and
Yvonne M. Klein

 

 

Who, we wonder, was Gesa Karoly, and who was the curious little girl to whom this little gem of a story was related? The writer would have us believe that legend of Sarolta and her lover went on being retold, and the little girl, who remembered Sarolta, we may fondly imagine, may have been influenced by its hearing, to form her own views and ideas about the possibilities of love, and so not simply accept at face-value the norms embraced and upheld by society at large.

Renée Vivien’s charming tale of lesbian love and marriage is one in a long string going all the way back to Ovid – Iphys and Ianthes, in Metamorphosis,  and Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem  Orlando Furioso, which has the a brother and sister fall in love with the same woman. Though both narratives disappoint (Ariosto’s narrative, degenerates into a heterosexual romance, even though the two women marry each other, and in Ovid’s tale Iphys is transformed into a man) Vivien gives her readers every satisfaction.

Hers is a story told by a lesbian, for lesbians, and happily for us she does not succumb to trite and banal heterosexual anticlimaxes resorted to by precedent (even Shakespeare is guilty here), but sends her lovers off to live in Italy, where we are free to imagine that they in true fairy-tale fashion, revel in each others’ company for the rest of their lives.

I hear a pianissimo echo in Vivien’s language of Oscar Wilde but without his excesses, of Baudelaire, without his decadence and also of Virginia Woolf, without her usual ornately satirical social embellishments; but above all  I hear in Vivien’s writing the sweetness and magic, as well as the dark glimmer of falling in love.

No doubt an argument can be made that the romantic ethereality of her language and its high-art aesthetic confers on it the gloss of dated unreality, but I think that beneath the cultured patina lies the solid core of a complex analysis of gender and sexual orientation, albeit sans the associated component of sexuality. Prince Charming is in fact a stylish fable – a myth –  chronicling a stylised adaptation of gender to fulfil the imperatives of personal individuation.

Though the traits of the opposite sex predominate in the characters of Bela and Terka, Terka’s maleness bears the imprint of  divine virginity, whereas Bela’s femaleness is mere passivity. Terka is in fact a young Diana, withholding herself from trivial social interaction, and purely dedicated to her own wild self.

What sets the sequence of this story in motion? Sarolta loves Bela (meaning ‘white’ in Hungarian, and here perhaps implying ‘pure’) for his girlish nature, and she is aware that a liaison is one which is still within the ambit of what is considered socially sanctioned as a basis for marriage. But this is her first step on the lesbian continuum, when her heart’s intimations reveal to her that it is a certain quality –  a particular nature – a singular constellation of characteristics that draw her, and this attachment, though nascent and diffuse, forms the basis of her enduing romantic dream.

But I question if  Bela’s muslin skirts, delicate health and a general tendency to be ‘sweet’, though they may suffice to inspire Sarolta’s  childish love, go beyond being merely social traits? For in this case they do not seem to me to sink their taproot into the substratum of human nature itself. Not so in the case of Terka. Her wild coltishness, and her vital intensity –  the active reality of her nature –  does not permit the trivial and social interactions which convention approves. Why does she run away when addressed by Sarolta? Could it be that she cannot bear the intensity of her feelings for Sarolta? She is untouchable and most of all untouched. For her the potency of touch is not something to be squandered in idle caresses.  Neither is she sullied by any prior loves, not even the maternal, and certainly not the fraternal – and this is the purity Vivien so values, in her emphasis on ‘chasteness’. It is this chasteness, this virginal quality and its underlying power is what makes Terka’s love pure and exclusive. She is after all, the one who initiates the relationship with Sarolta, while valetudinarian Bela lacks the acumen to take the next logical step in Sarolta’s direction.

Vivien makes it undeniably clear that it was what was female in Bela that inspired Sarolta’s early affection. Bela was effete and epicene and these were the qualities that appealed to Sarolta. His nerveless languor and passive nature devoid of masculine traits – in fact his effeminacy  –  is what makes Bela acceptable to her. Vivien relates a myth of gender ambivalence, describing a subtle process which begins with the unreal and concludes with the real. It is a sacrament in which separate and disparate splinters of gender components coalesce in Terka and transform to comprise a whole, which then concludes in the Hierosgamos  – the sacred marriage.

Bela himself is hidden behind the veil of the personality he projectes, and which Sarolta percieves.  When she again sees  Terka in the guise of Bela, after the long separation in all his travested beauty, she falls truly in love. She knows intuitively this is a ‘different’ kind of love. She senses the difference, though she finds it inexplicable, but the shift of her affections from childish love to ardour and from Bela to ‘Terka as Bela’ and from girlish boy to boyish girl, is accomplished in one swift gliding movement. It resembles a bloodless revolution, when a usurper displaces a former monarch and seizes the throne without the least evidence of conflict. Neither do we sense in Sarolta any trace of an emotional disconnect.

The alchemical progression in Sarolta’s mind of a dawning realisation from languid to intense, from Bela to Terka seems almost imperceptible. The process is so smooth, so deftly accomplished, it is almost invisible as a progression in the object of  Sarolta’s affections. Sarolta’s attachment begins with a male, Bela, in whom feminine traits predominate –  Terka, in whom the masculine traits predominate remains, present, but in the distance, unapproachable and unapproaching.

Then comes the vital hiatus  – the quiescence in which Terka enters the cocoon of her metamorphosis. When she reappears she has achieved the perfect balance of integrated feminine and masculine traits – a fusion of the requisite romantic and social qualities which form the fabric of Sarolta’s Prince Charming.  And so, one wonders if for Terka, early gender ambivalence was transformed into a mature personality largely in relation to Sarolta, and if Terka’s motivation in creating her adult self was in order to be desired by Sarolta…. and to go even a step further, if Terka’s transformation into ‘Prince Charming was in fact a wrought by  the alchemy of Sarolta’s desire…

But it is shimmering awareness that makes the wedding secret, and silent, and the love sacrosanct. The mere touching of hands is fevered, and  between Terka and Sarolta there is none of the casualness in it of Bela’s maternal caresses. Farouche Terka is transformed in young adulthood into a Prince Charming of hidden depths. Bela remains a feeble, social creature, prodded to action only when concerns about his social identity compel him.

Vivien’s story boldly celebrates the strange and ineffable nature of lesbian love when it is first felt, as a force that surfaces mysteriously, asserts itself and makes itself felt in ways that cannot be explained or understood: as something which demands to be acknowledged and honoured, to the extent that it subverts and usurps and adapts to its own necessity the heterosexual prerogative of marriage.

The appearance of  femininity and masculinity – even maleness and femaleness –  is shown to be deceptive and misleading; a mere mask and masquerade, which makes  impersonation of the opposite sex (and not mere transvestism)  a valid and genuine act. It is not merely a use of sartorial deception, but something undertaken in order to accomplish a serious end. With her ‘Prince Charming’ Vivien creates a space where same-sex love can be conceived of as something which can – and should –  flourish undisturbed and unhindered. This idea seems particularly valuable at a time when the self-knowledge of a woman’s sexual and affectional orientation was not a simple given – not an external endowment as perhaps it is in our own time  –  but something to be arrived at intuitively, empirically and with conviction, in contravention of accepted  social norms.

In Vivien’s charmingly extravagant myth, the stock trope of ‘Prince Charming’ is stood on its head. It is appropriated and made to serve a subversive purpose. It validates same-sex relationships between women, and recognises  the importance of personal as well as social imperatives for lesbians, and the claim to a socially recognised pair bond such as marriage, is something that women might wish to claim for themselves and their female partners.

And so we are given an unambiguously happy ending to a thoroughly romantic escapade – a lesbian fairy-tale in which girl gets girl.

Vivien lived most of her adult life in the Paris of the ‘Belle Époque’, in the company many brilliant literary lesbians – she was  the lover of Natalie Clifford Barney, the neighbour of Collette and she knew Djuna Barnes and many other brilliant women who frequented Barney’s salon. She chose for herself a life far removed from the rigid and limiting confines of domesticity, heterosexual marriage, and the burden of childbearing and child-raising, and had several intense love affairs, relationships and liaisons with women. Fortunately for her, she lived in a time which pre-dated, and was therefore unpolluted by Freud’s malignant and pernicious theorising. She was free to think for herself in ways that most of her female contemporaries outside of her charmed circle could not.

Although Vivien became the heiress of a very large fortune at a very early age, wealth did not bring much happiness with it. Vivien’s mother attempted – unsuccessfully –  to claim a share of the inheritance by having her daughter declared insane. Vivien’s personal difficulties – anorexia, drug, and alcohol abuse exacerbated by a weak constitution, did not detract from her awareness and intense exploration of  the possibilities of passionate love between women, something she expressed much more explicitly and emphatically in her poetry than her prose.

Permanently bereft by the death of her first love, Violet Shillitoe, (in 1901 at the age of 24) Vivien slipped into a steep physical and emotional decline. Her grief was probably exacerbated by guilt, since she had begun an affair with Natalie Clifford Barney shortly before Violet’s death. Violet’s body, which had been buried in France, was exhumed by her father and shipped back to England for reburial in 1904, leaving behind an empty grave in the cemetery of Saint Germain en Laye in Passey. It is  interesting to speculate what impact this morbid event may have had on Vivien, who was already obsessed with death. With the windows of  her apartment nailed shut, and living a reclusive life in her dark, incense-scented rooms, she continued to compose feverishly impassioned poetry, writing obsessively to the very end of her life in November of 1909.

Not very much of Vivien’s original work (written in French,) has been translated into English, which seems to be the reason it is not well-known to English readers. Her poetry, defiantly and uncompromisingly Sapphic, did not catch on in France, though the French could hardly have found its content to be more shocking than the decadent poetry of the second half of the nineteenth century (consider Rimbaud, Baudelaire and Louys). Perhaps the fact that it was written by a woman may have been more than bourgeois sensibilities of the notoriously sexist French of that era could tolerate.

Despite her short and tragic life, (there was at least one attempt at suicide) and the fact that her poetry was never really ‘in style’ the mere fact that Vivien wrote more openly and unapologetically about lesbian love than would be attempted for another seventy years and more, makes her an important figure to us. I am certain that had she written and been published in English and had those publications survived unscathed by censorship, our history as lesbians would have unfolded along a very different trajectory.  A voice in the wilderness is still a voice, and had hers been heard it might have reached the ears of those who most needed to hear its affirmation. Instead there was only the occasional murmur until Radclyffe Hall published  her 1928  novel The Well of Loneliness  –  which was in in fact more of a reasoned plea for understanding and acceptance for ‘inverts’ rather than any confident claim.

So are left, as is usual in such cases when brilliance and bad luck collide, with a sense of  satisfaction tinged with regret, wishing that Vivien’s life could have been as happy, and had as happy an ending as that of Sarolta and Terka in this story.

A week ago, this June 11th was the 135th anniversary of her birth, so Happy Birthday, Renée Vivien – we still remember you, fondly and well.

 

 

Le Prince Charmant

Conté par Gesa Karoly.

Je vous ai promis, ô petite curieuse, de vous conter l’histoire véritable de Saroltâ Andrassy. Vous l’avez connue, n’est-ce pas?  Vous vous souvenez de ses cheveux noirs, aux reflets bleus et roux, et de ses yeux d’amoureuse, suppliants et mélancoliques.

Saroltâ Andrassy vivait à la campagne avec sa vieille mère. Elles avaient pour voisins les Szécheny, qui venaient de quitter définitivement Buda-Pesth. Une bizarre famille, en vérité ! On aurait pu prendre Bêla Szécheny pour une petite fille, et sa sœur Terka pour un jeune garçon. Chose curieuse, Bêla possédait toutes les vertus féminines et Terka tous les défauts masculins. Les cheveux de Bêla étaient d’un blond vert, ceux de Terka, plus vivants, d’un blond rose. Le frère et la sœur se ressemblaient étrangement, — cela est très rare entre gens de la même famille, quoi qu’on en dise.

La mère de Bêla ne se résignait pas encore à couper les belles boucles blondes du petit garçon et à échanger ses gracieuses jupes de mousseline ou de velours contre une vulgaire culotte. Elle le choyait comme une fillette. Quant à Terka, elle poussait à sa guise, pareille à une herbe sauvage… Elle vivait au grand air, grimpant sur les arbres, maraudant, pillant les jardins potagers, insupportable et en guerre avec tout le monde. C’était une enfant sans tendresse et sans expansion. Bêla, au contraire, était la douceur même. Son adoration pour sa mère se manifestait par des câlineries et des caresses incessantes. Terka n’aimait personne et personne ne l’aimait.

Saroltâ vint un jour chez les Szécheny. Ses yeux d’amoureuse imploraient, dans son mince visage pâle. Béla lui plut beaucoup et ils jouèrent longtemps ensemble. Terka rôdait autour d’eux, d’un air farouche. Lorsque Saroltâ lui adressa la parole, elle s’enfuit.

Elle aurait été jolie, cette incompréhensible Terka… Mais elle était trop longue pour son âge, trop maigre, trop gauche, trop dégingandée. Tandis que Béla était si mignon et si doux !…

Les Szécheny quittèrent la Hongrie quelques mois plus tard. Saroltâ pleura amèrement son compagnon de jeux. Sur l’avis du médecin, sa mère l’avait emmené à Nice, ainsi que sa récalcitrante petite sœur. Béla avait la poitrine délicate à l’excès. Il était, d’ailleurs, peu robuste.

À travers ses rêves, Saroltâ évoquait toujours l’enfant trop frêle et trop joli dont le souvenir persistait en elle. Et elle se disait, en souriant à l’image blonde :

« Si je dois me marier plus tard, je voudrais épouser Béla. »

Plusieurs années se passèrent, — oh ! combien lentement pour l’impatiente Saroltâ ! Béla devait avoir atteint vingt ans, et Terka dix-sept. Ils étaient toujours sur la Riviera. Et Saroltâ se désolait de ces années sans joie, éclairées seulement par l’illusion d’un songe.

Elle rêvait à sa fenêtre, par un soir violet, lorsque sa mère vint lui dire que Béla était revenu…

Le cœur de Saroltâ chantait à se briser. Et, le lendemain, Béla vint vers elle.

Il était le même, et pourtant bien plus charmant qu’autrefois. Saroltâ fut heureuse qu’il eût gardé cet air efféminé et doux qui lui avait tant plu. C’était toujours l’enfant fragile… Mais cet enfant possédait aujourd’hui une grâce inexprimable. Saroltâ chercha en vain la cause de cette transformation qui le rendait si attirant. Sa voix était musicale et lointaine, ainsi qu’un écho des montagnes. Elle admira tout de lui, jusqu’à son complet anglais, d’un gris de pierres, et jusqu’à sa cravate mauve.

Béla contemplait la jeune fille de ses yeux changés, de ses yeux étrangement beaux, de ses yeux qui ne ressemblaient pas aux yeux des autres hommes…

« Qu’il est donc mince ! » observa la mère de Saroltâ, après son départ. « Il doit être encore d’une santé bien délicate, ce pauvre petit. »

Saroltâ ne répondit point. Elle ferma les yeux afin de revoir Béla sous ses paupières closes… Comme il était joli, joli, joli !…

Il revint le lendemain, et tous les jours. C’était le Prince Charmant qui ne se révèle qu’à travers les pages enfantines des contes de fées. Elle ne pouvait le regarder en face sans défaillir ardemment, languissamment… Son visage variait selon l’expression du visage désiré. Son cœur battait selon le rythme de cet autre cœur. L’inconsciente et puérile tendresse était devenue de l’amour.

Béla pâlissait dès qu’elle entrait, diaphane en sa blanche robe d’été. Il la regardait parfois, sans parler, comme quelqu’un qui se recueille devant une Statue sans défaut. Parfois il lui prenait la main… Elle croyait toucher une main de malade, tant la paume en était brûlante et sèche. Un peu de fièvre montait alors jusqu’aux pommettes de Béla.

Elle lui demanda un jour des nouvelles de Terka l’indisciplinée.

« Elle est toujours à Nice, » répondit-il négligemment. Et l’on parla d’autre chose. Saroltâ comprit que Béla n’aimait point sa sœur. Ce n’était pas étonnant, au surplus. Une enfant si taciturne et si farouche !

Ce qui devait arriver arriva. Béla la demanda en mariage quelques mois plus tard. Il entrait dans sa vingt et unième année. La mère de Saroltâ ne s’opposa point à l’union.

Ce furent d’irréelles fiançailles, délicates à l’égal des roses blanches que Béla apportait chaque jour. Ce furent des aveux plus fervents que des poèmes, et des frissons d’âme sur les lèvres. Au profond des silences, passait le rêve nuptial.

« Pourquoi, » disait Saroltâ à son fiancé, « es-tu plus digne d’être aimé que les autres jeunes hommes ? Pourquoi as-tu des douceurs qu’ils ignorent ? Où donc as-tu appris les parôles divines qu’ils ne prononcent jamais ? »

La cérémonie eut lieu dans une intimité absolue. Les cierges avivaient les lueurs roses de la blonde chevelure de Béla. L’encens fumait vers lui, et le tonnerre des orgues l’exaltait et le glorifiait. Pour la première fois, depuis le commencement du monde, l’Époux fut aussi beau que l’Épouse.

Ils partirent vers les rives bleues où s’exaspère le désir des amants. On les vit, Couple Divin, les cils de l’un frôlant les paupières de l’autre. On les vit, amoureusement et chastement enlacés, les cheveux noirs de l’Amante répandus sur les blonds cheveux de l’Amant…

Mais voici, ô petite curieuse ! où l’histoire devient un peu difficile a raconter… Quelques mois plus tard, le véritable Béla Szécheny apparut… Ce n’était pas le Prince Charmant. Hélas ! Ce n’était qu’un joli garçon, sans plus.

Il rechercha furieusement la personnalité du jeune usurpateur… Et il apprit que l’usurpateur en question était sa sœur Terka.

… Saroltâ et le Prince Charmant ne sont plus revenus en Hongrie. Ils se cachent au fond d’un palais vénitien ou d’une maison florentine. Et parfois on les rencontre, tels qu’une vision de tendresse idéale, amoureusement et chastement enlacés.

 

 

 

 

http://www.valkyria.ca/renee_vivien_page.html

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H.D. (born Hilda Doolittle; September 10, 1886 – September 27, 1961)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Little, but all roses’ is the dictate of the Alexandrine poet, yet I am inclined to disagree. I would not bring roses, nor yet the great shaft of scarlet lilies. I would bring orange blossoms, implacable flowerings made to seduce the sense when every other means has failed, poignard that glints, fresh sharpened steel: after the red heart, red lilies, impassioned roses are dead.

‘Little, but all roses’  –  true there is a tint of rich colour (invariably we find it), violets, purple woof of cloth, scarlet garments, dyed fastening of a sandal, the lurid, crushed and perished hyacinth, stains on cloth and flesh and parchment.

There is gold too. Was it a gold rose the poet meant? But the gold of a girl-child’s head, the gold of an embroidered garment hem, the rare gold of sea-grass or meadow-pulse does not seem to evoke in our thought the vision of roses, heavy in a scented garden.

‘Little, but all roses.’ I think, though the stains are deep on the red and scarlet cushions, on the flaming cloak of love, it is not warmth we look for in these poems, not fire nor sunlight, not heat in the ordinary sense, diffused, and comforting (nor is it light, day or dawn or light of sun-setting), but another element containing all these, magnetic, vibrant; not the lightning as it falls from the thunder cloud, yet lightning in a sense: white, unhuman element, containing fire and light and warmth, yet in its essence differing from all these, as if the brittle crescent-moon gave heat to us, or some splendid scintillating star turned warm suddenly in our hand like a jewel, sent by the beloved.

I think of the words of Sappho as these colours, or states rather, transcending colour yet containing (as great heat the compass of the spectrum) all colour. And perhaps the most obvious is this rose colour, merging to richer shades of scarlet, purple or Phoenician purple. To the superficial lover – truly -roses!

Yet not all roses – not roses at all, not orange blossoms even, but reading deeper we are inclined to visualize these broken sentences and unfinished rhythms as rocks – perfect rock shelves and layers of rock between which flowers by some chance may grow but which endure when the staunch blossoms have perished.

Not flowers at all, but an island with innumerable, tiny, irregular bays and fiords and little straits between which the sun lies clear (fragments cut from a perfect mirror of iridescent polished silver or of the bronze reflecting richer tints) or breaks, wave upon destructive passionate wave.

Not roses, but an island, a country, a continent, a planet, a world of emotion, differing entirely from any present-day imaginable world of emotion; a world of emotion that could only be imagined by the greatest of her own countrymen in the greatest period of that country’s glamour, who themselves confessed her
beyond their reach, beyond their song, not a woman, not a goddess even, but a song or the spirit of a song. A song, a spirit, a white star that moves across the heaven to mark the end of a world epoch or to presage some coming glory.

Yet she is embodied – terribly a human being, a woman, a personality as the most impersonal become when they confront their fellow beings.

The under-lip curls out in the white face, she has twisted her two eyes unevenly, the brows break the perfect line of the white forehead, her expression is not exactly sinister (sinister and dead), the spark of mockery beneath the half-closed lids is, rather, living, destructive irony.

‘What country girl bewitches your heart who knows not how to draw her skirt about her ankles?’

Aristocratic – indifferent – full of caprice – full of imperfection – intolerant.

High in the mountains, the wind may break the trees, as love the lover, but this was before the days of Theocritus, before the destructive Athenian satyric drama – we girls hear no praise of country girls nor mountain goats. This woman has still the flawless tradition to maintain.

Her bitterness was on the whole the bitterness of the sweat of Eros. Had she burned to destroy she had spent her flawless talent to destroy custom and mob-thought with serpent-tongue before the great Athenian era.

Black and burnt are the cheeks of the girl of the late Sicilian Theocritus, for, says he, black is the hyacinth and the myrtle-berry.

But Sappho has no praise for mountain girls. She protrudes a little her under-lip, twists her eyes, screws her face out of proportion as she searches for the most telling phrase; this girl who bewitches you, my friend, does not even know how to draw her skirts about her feet.

Sophisticated, ironical, bitter jeer. Not her hands, her feet, her hair, or her features resemble in any way those of the country- bred among the thickets; not her garments even, are ill-fitting or ill-cut, but her manners, her gestures are crude, the bitterest of all destructive gibes of one sensitive woman at the favourite of another, sensitive, high-strung, autocratic as herself.

The gods, it is true, Aphrodite, Hermes, Ares, Hephaistos, Adonis, beloved of the mother of loves, the Graces, Zeus himself, Eros in all his attributes, great, potent, the Muses, mythical being and half-god, the Kyprian again and again are mentioned in these poems but at the end, it is for the strange almost petulant little phrases that we value this woman, this cry (against some simple unknown girl) of skirts and ankles we might think unnecessarily pretty, yet are pleased in the thinking of it, or else the outbreak against her own intimate companions brings her nearer our own over-sophisticated, nerve-wracked era: ‘The people I help most are the most unkind,’ ‘O you forget me’ or  ‘You love someone better,’ You are nothing to me,’  nervous, trivial tirades. Or we have in sweetened mood so simple a phrase ‘I sing’ – not to please any god, goddess, creed or votary of religious rite – I sing not even in abstract contemplation, trance-like, remote from life, to please myself, but says this most delightful and friendly woman, ‘I sing and I sing beautifully like this, in order to please my friends – my girl-friends.’

We have no definite portraits from her hands of these young women of Mitylene. They are left to our imagination, though only the most ardent heart, the most intense spirit and the most wary and subtle intellect can hope even in moments of ardent imagination to fill in these broken couplets. One reads simply this ‘My darling,’ or again ‘You burn me.’ To a bride’s lover she says, ‘Ah there never was a girl like her.’ She speaks of the light spread across a lovely face, of the garment wrapped about a lovely body; she addresses by name two of these young women comparing one to another’s disadvantage (though even here she temporizes her judgement with an endearing adjective), ‘Mnasidika is more shapely than tender Gyrinno.’ We hear of Eranna too. ‘Eranna, there never was a girl more spiteful than you.’

Another girl she praises, not for beauty. Though they stand among tall spotted lilies and the cup of jacynth and the Lesbian iris, she yet extolls beyond Kypris and the feet of Eros, wisdom. ‘Ah,’ she says of this one, beloved for another beauty than that of perfect waist and throat and close-bound cap of hair and level brows, ‘I think no girl can ever stand beneath the sun or ever will again and be as wise as you are.’

Wisdom –  this is all we know of the girl: that though she stood in the heavy Graeco-Asiatic sunlight, the wind from Asia, heavy with ardent myrrh and Persian spices, was yet tempered with a Western gale, bearing in its strength and its salt sting, the image of another, tall, with eyes shadowed by the helmet rim, the goddess, indomitable.

This is her strength – Sappho of Mitylene was a Greek. And in all her ecstasies, her burnings, her Asiatic riot of colour, her cry to that Phoenician deity, ‘Adonis, Adonis  – ‘her phrases, so simple yet in any but her hands in danger of overpowering sensuousness, her touches of Oriental realism, ‘purple napkins’ and ‘soft cushions’ are yet tempered, moderated by a craft never surpassed in literature. The beauty of Aphrodite it is true is the constant, reiterated subject of her singing. But she is called by a late scholiast who knew more of her than we can hope to learn from these brief fragments,’The Wise Sappho’.

We need the testimony of no Alexandrian or late Roman scholiast to assure us of the artistic wisdom, the scientific precision of metre and musical notation, the finely tempered intellect of this woman. Yet for all her artistic moderation, what is the personal, the emotional quality of her wisdom? This woman whom love paralysed till she seemed to herself a dead body, yet burnt, as the desert grass is burnt, white by the desert heat; she who trembled and was sick and sweated at the mere presence of another, a person, doubtless of charm, of grace, but of no extraordinary gifts perhaps of mind or feature – was she moderate, was she wise? Savonarola standing in the courtyard of the Medici (some two thousand years later) proclaimed her openly to the assembled youthful laity and priests of Florence –  a devil.

If moderation is wisdom, if constancy in love is wisdom, was she wise? We read even in these few existing fragments, name upon curious, exotic, fragrant name: Atthis – Andromeda – Mnasidika – Eranna – Gyrinno –  more, many more than these tradition tells were praised in the lost fragments. The name of muse and goddess and of human woman merge, interspersed among these verses. ‘Niobe and Leda were friends – ‘ it is a simple statement –  for the moment, Niobe and Leda are nearer, more human, than the Atthis, the Eranna who strike and burn and break like Love himself.

The wise Sappho! She was wise, emotionally wise, we suspect with wisdom of simplicity, the blindness of genius. She constructed from the simple gesture of a half-grown awkward girl, a being, a companion, an equal. She imagined, for a moment, as the white bird wrinkled a pink foot, clutching to obtain balance at the too smooth ivory of the wrist of the same Atthis, that Atthis had a mind, that Atthis was a goddess. Because the sun made a momentary circlet of strange rust-coloured hair, she saw in all her fragrance, Aphrodite, violet-crowned, or better still a sister, a muse, one of the violet wreathing. She imagined because the girl’s shoulders seemed almost too fragile, too frail, to support the vestment, dragging a little heavily because of the gold-binding, that the same shoulders were the shoulders of a being, an almost disembodied spirit. She constructed perfect and flawless (as in her verse, she carved from current Aeolic dialect, immortal phrases) the whole, the perfection, the undying spirit of goddess, muse or sacred being from the simple grace of some tall, half-developed girl. The very skies open, were opened by these light fingers, fluffing out the under-feathers of the pigeon’s throat. Then the wise Sappho clamours aloud against that bitter, bitter creature, Eros, who has once more betrayed her. ‘Ah, Atthis, you hate even to think of me – you have gone to Andromeda.’

I love to think of Atthis and Andromeda curled on a sun-baked marble bench like the familiar Tanagra group, talking it over. What did they say? What did they think? Doubtless, they thought little or nothing and said much.

There is another girl, a little girl. Her name is Cleis. It is reported that the mother of Sappho was named Cleis. It is said that Sappho had a daughter whom she called Cleis.

Cleis was golden. No doubt Cleis was perfect. Cleis was a beautiful baby, looking exactly like a yellow flower (so her mother tells us). She was so extraordinarily beautiful, Lydia had nothing so sweet, so spiced; greatness, wealth, power, nothing in all Lydia could be exchanged for Cleis.

So in the realm of the living, we know there was a Cleis. I see her heaping shells, purple and rose-edged, stained here and there with saffron colours, shells from Adriatic waters heaped in her own little painted bowl and poured out again and gathered up only to be spilt once more across the sands. We have seen Atthis of yester-year; Andromeda of ‘fair requital’, Mnasidika with provoking length of over-shapely limbs; Gyrinno, loved for some appealing gesture or strange resonance of voice or skill of finger-tips, though failing in the essential and more obvious qualities of beauty; Eranna with lips curved contemptuously over slightly irregular though white and perfect teeth; angry Eranna who refused everyone and bound white violets only for the straight hair she herself braided with precision and cruel self-torturing neatness about her own head. We know of Gorgo, over-riotous, too heavy, with special intoxicating sweetness, but exhausting, a girl to weary of, no companion, her over- soft curves presaging early development of heavy womanhood.

Among the living there are these and others. Timas, dead among the living, lying with lily wreath and funeral torch, a golden little bride, lives though sleeping more poignantly even than the famous Graeco-Egyptian beauty the poet’s brother married at Naucratis. Rhodope, a name redolent (even though we may no longer read the tribute of the bridegroom’s sister) of the heavy out-curling, over-lapping petals of the peerless flower.

Little –  not little  – but all, all roses! So at the last, we are forced to accept the often quoted tribute of Meleager, late Alexandrian, half  Jew, half Grecian poet. Little but all roses!

True, Sappho has become for us a name, an abstraction as well as a pseudonym for poignant human feeling, she is indeed rocks set in a blue sea, she is the sea itself, breaking and tortured and torturing, but never broken. She is the island of artistic perfection where the lover of ancient beauty (shipwrecked in the modern world) may yet find foothold and take breath and gain courage for new adventures and dream of yet unexplored continents and realms of future artistic achievement. She is the wise Sappho.

Plato, poet and philosopher in the most formidable period of Athenian culture, looking back some centuries toward Mitylene, having perspective and a rare standard of comparison, too, speaks of this woman as among the wise.

You were the morning star among the living (the young Plato, poet and Athenian, wrote of a friend he had lost), you were the morning star before you died; now you are ‘as Hesperus, giving new splendour to the dead’. Plato lives as a poet, as a lover, though the Republic seems but a ponderous tome and the mysteries of the Dialogues verge often on the didactic and artificial. So Sappho must live, roses, but many roses, for tradition has set flower upon flower about her name and would continue to do so though her last line were lost.

Perhaps to Meleager, having access to the numberless scrolls of Alexandria, there seemed ‘but little’ though to us, in a cheerless and more barren age, there seems much. Legend upon legend has grown up, adding curious documents to each precious fragment; the history of the preservation of each line is in itself a most fascinating and bewildering romance.

Courtesan and woman of fashion were rebuked at one time for not knowing ‘even the works of Sappho’. Sophocles cried out in despair before some inimitable couplet, ‘gods  – what impassioned heart and longing made this rhythm’. The Roman Emperor, weary to death, left his wreathed drinking cup and said, ‘It is worth living yet to hear another of this woman’s songs.’ Catullus, impassioned lyrist, left off recounting the imperfections of his Lesbia to enter a fair paradisal world, to forge silver Latin from imperishable Greek, to marvel at the praises of this perfect lover who needed no interim of hatred to repossess the loved one. Monk and scholar, grey recluse of Byzantium or Roman or medieval monastery, flamed to new birth of intellectual passion at discovery of some fatal relic until the Vatican itself was moved and deemed this woman fit rival to the seductions of another Poet and destroyed her verses.

The roses Meleager saw as ‘little’ have become in the history not only of literature but of nations (Greece and Rome and medieval town and Tuscan city) a great power, roses, but many, many roses, each fragment witness to the love of some scholar or hectic antiquary searching to find a precious inch of palimpsest among the funereal glories of the sand-strewn Pharaohs.

 

 

 

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/h-d

http://www.justaboutwrite.com/Herstory-Poet-HildaDoolittle.html

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“And now (as they say in Monty Python’s Flying Circus) for something completely different.”

Carnatic music is the classical music of South India. It has several things in common with North Indian or Hindustani music in that both musical systems are strictly modal and share the 22 note microtonal scale. Both Carnatic and Hindustani music have some Ragas or modes in common, as well as some ‘talas’ or rhythm cycles, but they are now widely divergent in style, their differences having begun to emerge about 800 years ago when North India became susceptible to Persian influences by way of the Moghuls.

Carnatic music rests firmly on a devotional foundation. The compositions are predominantly vocal rather than instrumental and are vehicles of devotional fervour, expressing love, respect, familiarity, passion, friendship, playfulness and admiration for the divine in the context of the familiar relationship cultivated by devotional Hindus, between human beings and the divine. The attitude towards the divine can be plaintive, joyous, teasing, praising, indulgent, philosophical or complaining – and much more.

The vast majority of Carnatic compositions are ‘krithis,’ or devotional songs  are based on established structures, but some forms such as ‘thillanas’ are purely rhythmic, with no lyrical content. They are usually played at the conclusion of evening recitals in order to leave the listener in a state of  joyous upliftment and exhilaration.

I have chosen several popular ragas/modes, in the assumption that they will sound less strange and foreign (than some others) to the western ear, but I have also included a couple of slightly atonal ragas, because of their cleansing astringent quality, and their tendency to induce a more active attitude of listing. The raga in the mode of Revati is one of my favourites, because Revati is the name of the lunar asterism in my horoscope, and it refers to the constellation of the Pleiades.

Typically ragas are thought to correspond to and  induce moods and conditions  – even to influence the weather – and are specific to certain seasons and times of day and night. All these factors of course lead to innumerable permutations and combinations dear to the taxonomically inclined mind typical of South Indian thinking and philosophy.

I have included here krithis – with one exception – which are addressed to the divine in the form of the Goddess, invoking and evoking several of her aspects and manifestations. The exception is “Theertha Vilayatu Pillai”, meaning something like “incorrigibly playful boy”, which is addressed to Krishna. I include this as an example of how krithis sometimes express complex religious and philosophical beliefs and attitudes in deceptively simple ways. The composer frames the song in the context of a girl complaining to her friend about Krishna’s  playful and annoying antics. This places all three –  god in human form, devotee and her friend –  in relation to each other as playmates.

The first ‘verse’ of this particular krithi (the anupallavi)  expresses a particularly profound concept, wrapped up in a sweet and playful incident – when Krisna offers a fruit to a girl, snatches it back when it is half eaten, and bites it himself, and then returns it.

Traditionally food which is offered to god (before it is ever tasted) is called ‘prasad’, and is believed to be imbued and infused with divine qualities, so that partaking of such food is a powerful blessing. When Krishna takes a bite, the fruit becomes ‘prasad’, which is a sort of transubstantiation.  When he takes back the fruit after the girl has begun to eat it and takes another bite, he ignores and violates  the strong food taboos against eating food tasted by others. Only intimate familiars such as mothers and children or lovers or spouses share food in this way. By this simple act Krishna shows himself to be the intimate darling of his devotees, and he erases and ignores all that separates himself as a divinity and his beloved human friend. He shows himself to be humble and loving, while at the same time conferring his  divine blessing in a covert unpretentious way.

I might be excused if I  indulge in an interesting digression, in order to  include a little information about the composer of this Krithi, the renowned Tamil poet Subramaniya Bharathi who is one of my favourites. His poems are extremely fresh and naturalistic, free of artifice and unnecessary cleverness, yet – or perhaps therefore –  deep, evocative and powerful. Bharathi came from a Bhramin family, but he firmly rejected caste distinctions. He agitated against the British and had to spend some time in remand due to his nationalistic sentiments. In the significantly, I think, posed photograph shown here, he stands beside his seated wife (very uncharacteristic for an Indian man of his era) and his youngest daughter (a proud and dignified looking little girl!)  is seated while the older sons and daughter stand behind, with both boys standing the furthest back.

If we were to conclude by this that Bharathi cherished feminist sentiments, we would be quite right. He was a fervent believer in women’s rights, particularly the right of women to have an education, and to treated as equals. His misfortune was that he remained poor for most of his peripatetic life, and had great difficulty supporting his family. Bharathi left home shortly after his marriage  to begin his wanderings and his young wife (she was seven and he fourteen when they were married) spent most of her life with her parents.

I decided against including transliterations and translations of the lyrics for the rest of the krithis here because of the depth and extent of explanation that would be involve in order to make them comprehensible. Krithis are very densely allusive, and to understand them one has to know the stories behind them about their subject – the incidents, names, attributes, significance,  etc.,  of the god or goddess, and all the subtle conceptual play that goes into the composer’s creation. Carnatic composers create both music and lyrics, and choose the appropriate ‘tala’ to accompany the composition.

Krithis are usually composed in the South Indian languages of Tamil and Telugu, but also in Sanskrit, and less often in Malayalam.  This post contains Tamil and Sanskrit krithis.When you hear the line of a song repeated, it is in order to demonstrate the variations permitted in the protocol of raga, and therefore the singers and the composer’s virtuosity.

Likewise when you hear the syllable Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni sung in various combinations, (for instance in “Mamavathu Sri Saraswathi”)  you are hearing Carnatic ‘solfeggi’ – which serves to show the groups of notes which bring out the character of a particular raga. Sometimes these notes are combined to form words, which then have the effect of puns. For those who wish to explore this complex subject, there are several resources available on the internet. Unfortunately I know no intelligible English language books on the subject.

The singers featured here, Sowmya and Sudha Raghunathan, are two of my particular favourites, and they have very different and individual styles voices, but both are very traditional, and both are elite and expert Carnatic singers. The style of singing is one that originates in the throat rather than the chest or diaphragm or head, as we are used to hearing in western music, and it can take a little getting used to.

If readers wish to enlarge upon this very brief and sketchy introduction to Carnatic music, they are welcome to do so in the comments.

 

 

 

Mamavathu Sri Saraswathi

Raga Hindolam


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Devi Neeye Thunai

Raga Keeravani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Himagiri Thanaye

Raga Suddha Dhanyasi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tripurasundari

Raga Sama,


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sumanasa Vanditha

Raga Revathi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pahimam Parvathi

Raga Mohanam (said to be the most ancient of all Ragas)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sri Chakra Raja

(Multiple Ragas referred to as ‘Ragamalika’ or Garland of Ragas)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Annapoorne

Raga Sama

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unnai Allaal

Raga Kalyani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pahi Nikhila Janani

Raga Naata

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anandamrutha  Karshini

Raga Amrutha Varshini

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarasamukhi

Raga Gowdamalhar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theeratha Vilayattu Pillai

By Subramaniya Bharathi

Chinnaswami Subramaniya Bharathi (December 11, 1882 – September 11, 1921)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pallavi

( Raga Sindhu Bhairavi)                           
Theeratha vilayatu pillai , Kannan,
Theruvile pengalukku oyatha thollai

Anupallavi
Thinna pazham kondu tharuvan-pathi
Thingindra pothinile thatti parippan,
Yennappan yennayyan yendral athanai,
Echir paduthi kadithu koduppan.

Charanam

(Raga Khamas)

1.Azhagulla malar kondu vande –yennai,
Azha azha cheythu pin , kannai moodi kol,
Kuzhalile chootuven , yenban, Yennai ,
Kurudaki malarinai thozhikku vaipan,

(Raga Shanmugapriya)
2.Pinnalai pinnindru izhuppan-thalai,
Pinne thirumbu munne chendru maraivan,
Vanna puthu chelai thanile –puzhuthi ,
Vari chorinthe varuthi kulaippan.

(Raga Maand)
3.Pullanguzhal kondu varuvan-amudhu,
Pongi thathumbum geetham padippan,
Kallal mayanguvathu pole adai,
Kan moodi vay thirandhe ketpom.

 

 

 

P.R. Ramachander’s  English translation, with some minor adaptations.

Pallavi (opening stanza,)
Krishna is an ever playful boy,
And girls in the streets are in endless trouble

Anupallavi (theme)
He would give fruits to eat but then
When half-eaten, he would snatch them away.
If we say my lord and my darling, then he would,                       
Bite them himself and give them back.

Charanam (unifying composition)
1. He would bring very pretty flowers,
And after making me weep and then cry,
He’d say “close your eyes, I’ll set them in your hair”
And once my eyes were shut he’d give them to my friend.

2. He would pull my braid from behind,
And before I turn, he would hide in front of me.
In the new bright coloured sari that I wear,
He would raise dust on it and spoil it.

3. He would bring a flute and play,
A song dripping with nectar,
Which would make us close our eyes, and open our mouths
And seem as if we had passed out drunk with wine.

Thillana

Raga Hamsadhwani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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