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Tuesday, 29 May 2018

An Old English Riddle

A moth, I thought, munching a word.
How marvellously weird! A worm
Digesting a man’s sayings –
A sneak-thief nibbling in the shadows
At the shape of a poet’s thunderous phrases –
How unutterably strange!
And the pilfering parasite none the wiser
For the words he has swallowed.

This was published in The Book Of Exeter over one thousand years ago.
I will tell more about that when I give the answer to the riddle in a few days.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

REPOST: from 2011 Song of Solomon

Song of Solomon, Sir William Russell-Flint, 1909

It is not generally realised how much the Old Testament's Song of Solomon pervades modern culture. It contains some of the most beautiful love poetry ever written:
The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.
Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is an ointment poured forth; therefore do the virgins love you.
Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in thee: we will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee.
I am black but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.
Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother’s children were angry with me: they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but my own vineyard have I not kept.
Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, wherefeedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon; for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?
If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock and feedthy kids beside the shepherds’ tents.
I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh’s chariots.
Thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels, thy neck with chains of gold.
We will make thee borders of gold with studs of silver.
While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard (1) sendeth forth the small thereof.
A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.
My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire (2) in the vineyards of Engedi.
Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast dove’s eyes.
Behold; thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant; also our bed is green.
The beams of our house are cedar and our rafters of fir.
 (1)  Spikenard is an aromatic herb and a member of the ginseng family.
(      (2)  Camphire is an archaic name for henna.
It is important to know that this is just the first chapter and that the 'voice' of the poem switches from person to person. Biblical scholars argue whether or not this was written by Solomon or for him. Here are just a few of the references that have been made:
  •  Stephen 'Tin Tin' Duffy's 1985 song Kiss Me quotes directly from the Song of Solomon.
  • ·      Toni Morrison's novel Song of Solomon was instrumental in her winning a Nobel Prize.
  • ·         Chapter 2, verse 15 (not reproduced here) provided the title for Lillian Hellman’s 1939 play Little Foxes.
  • ·         Also the opening line of Chapter 2 provides the name 'Rose of Sharon' used by Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath.
  • ·         Countless number of (mostly obscure) rock groups have taken their names and song titles from Song of Solomon.
  • ·         One of Kate Bush's songs from The Red Shoes  is Song of Solomon
  • ·         In his poem When I Hear You Sing, Leonard Cohen refers to the Song of Solomon.
  • ·         Many writers and composers through history have taken inspiration from this work. They include Geoffrey Chaucer, JS Bach and up to Steeleye Span and Neil Diamond (in Holly Holy).

I find it amazing how these ancient lines reach out across the millennia and still have resonance today. Be inspired by this poetry and remember that love is better than hate!

Friday, 4 May 2018

Painting of the Month (82) May 2018: Sisley

Alfred Sisley, 1839-1899, was an Anglo-French impressionist painter who pretty much stuck to impressionist landscape painting for all of his career. His was much over-shadowed by some of his contemporaries, especially Manet and I think, with justifiable reason. Seen together his output is a magnificent collection of his depictions of the countryside in the suburbs of Paris although he also produced some important work in England. He worked 'en plein air' (outdoors) through a longer period than the other impressionists. 
I sometimes get the feeling that everything he shows us is 'from a distance' so to speak both emotionally and physically. This doesn't affect the quality clearly evident in his pictures.
 Sisley, Snow at Louveciennes, 1873
People were mostly adornments to his paintings, not the subjects.

Sisley, Riverbank at Mammes, 1880
I'm listening to one of my very favourite classical pieces: The Polovstsian Dances from Borodin's Prince Igor. Listen here!