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Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Song by Ben Jonson

             Song
           to Celia
     By BEN JONSON (1572-1637)
Ben Jonson | English writer | Britannica
Drink to me only with thine eyes,
         And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
         And I’ll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
         Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,
         I would not change for thine.

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
         Not so much honouring thee
As giving it a hope, that there
         It could not withered be.
But thou thereon didst only breathe,
         And sent’st it back to me;
Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,
         Not of itself, but thee.

Although more famous as a song, this poem, first published in 1616, is by far the best-known work of the English playwright and poet Ben Jonson.

The first half of the poem is a witty series of variations on the lover’s pledge. Traditionally, a lover would toast his or her love and drink a glass of wine; here, the poet asks only for a pledge from Celia’s eyes—a loving look—that he promises to return in kind. He says that if she leaves a kiss in the cup, he will have no need for the wine but we can’t be sure how much Celia likes the speaker. The thirst that he mentions in line five is not literal but for love.
He tells us about how he sent her a wreath of flowers once, but she returned it. Even though she returned it, it never wilted. Somehow, Celia breathing on the wreath has given it eternal life.
There is a marked contrast between the first and second stanza. In the first one the poet is making light-hearted and witty remarks to the lady he admires but the second one becomes more serious. The rejected wreath he has sent is something more concrete.

I'm listening to Landslide by the Dixie Chicks. I think it's better than the Fleetwood Mac original version. Have a listen here!

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

REPOST from January 2014: The Raft of the Medusa. Géricault


The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault 1791-1824
Completed 1819, oil on canvas. 16 x 23ft. (it's big!)
This painting is possibly more interesting for it's non-art elements than for the art work itself. In 1818 Théodore Géricault was a young man trying to build an artistic reputation but the innovation of this work is that it depicted a recent, true event.
'History painting' is a genre in art that was dominant from the sixteenth century. It was intended to have moral or didactic overtones and usually depicted stories from the Bible, mythology or literature. It was only history in the sense of having a story or narrative and usually depicts a certain single point from that narrative. These paintings were often very large and this one is on a larger-than-life scale. It was viewed as the most important genre at that time and seen as the pinnacle of an artist's career.
In 1816 the French frigate Méduse ran aground off the coast of Senegal. The story that followed was one of 15 survivors left on a hurriedly constructed raft after 13 days at sea experiencing starvation, dehydration and....cannibalism. There was political outrage because an inexperienced captain had been appointed through his good connections rather than his skill.
Géricault had conducted extensive research before starting to paint and had visited morgues to get the decaying flesh tones right. His scheme worked and the controversial first showing of this painting in Paris catapulted him to fame and it was soon shown in London with similar success. It greatly divided the critics some of whom did not want to be 'repelled' by a 'heap of bodies' and thought that this could not be art.
On the other hand he was praised (by others) for showing a negro at the focal point of the picture. The triangular composition raising upwards to the right indicating the hopes of the survivors as a distant ship is seen on the horizon. The ship didn't see them and passed by. I think I can just make out a tiny point on the horizon. Earlier studies for the painting do clearly show a large vessel .
There were ten survivors from the Méduse. Géricault died five years later at the young age of 32. His painting lives on as an icon of French Romanticism. 
You can just about see the ship on the horizon in this detail.
I'm listening to the adagio from Khatchaturian's Spartacus played by the London Symphony Orchestra also known as the Theme from The Onedin LineListen here.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

The Secret Sits by Robert Frost


Robert Frost
It’s just a rhyming couplet really but these lines by Robert Frost have so many possible meanings. It seems to be referring to a children's game but it is a serious 'grown-up' piece. I think Frost was saying something about this world from a religious point of view; we are all dancing in a circle contemplating life while, in the centre, the ‘secret’ is God, the only one knows the truth behind everything that exists. “We”, the poet and the reader, can only try to imagine the meaning.

It could also be interpreted as saying that we, individually, can interpret the world and the true reality of life as we see fit based on our own experiences and morality. The Secret is personified (by having a capital letter) and no one on the outside will ever gain access because it will forever remain unknown and the poem itself is a secret because it's real meaning is hidden from us.
I'm listening to a song that always makes me feel good: Two of Us by The Beatles. Listen to it here.