Metamorphoses – Book II

Book II

Phaeton / The Heliades / Cycnus / Phoebus / Callisto / Arcas The Raven / Coronis, the Raven, the Crow, Nyctimene / Ocyrohoe / Battus / Mercury, Herse, Aglauros / Europa & Jove

The Fall of Phaeton (c. 1604-05)
Peter Paul Ruebens
source Wikimedia Commons

Phaethon reaches the gorgeous palace of Phoebus, where his father confirms his birthright.  Arrogantly, Phaeton requests to drive his chariot, and sadly Phoebus concedes, giving instructions to his son for his safe journey. Thetis unbars the way for her grandson and the horses leap high in the air, but it’s as if they have no rider and control is lost.  Phaethon regrets his decision, yet is paralyzed and the chariot finally plunges down to earth destroying large swaths of it with fire.  The earth cries out and “the Almighty Father” (Jove) hurls a thunderbolt, unseating Phaeton, yet combatting fire with fire.  Phaeton, consumed by the fire, is buried by the river Po by the Naiads, while his father in grief buries his face and shuts out the sun for a day.  Clymene laments with her daughters, the Heliades, at her son’s grave, but her daughters metamorphosize into trees in spite of her attempts to save them.

Cycnus, a king of Liguria and a relative of Phaeton’s, goes to pay his respects and is transformed into a swan, a bird who does not trust to seek the sky because of Jove’s lightning bolts.

Jove then inspects the heavens and earth for damage from the fire, but spots a nymph, Callisto and, disguising himself as the goddess Diana before reappearing in his normal form, rapes her in spite of her frantic struggles. Diana discovers her shame and sends her away, and when Juno learns of Jove’s crime and of the son born to Callisto, Arcas, she transforms Callisto into a bear.  Later, Arcas encounters his mother and nearly kills her, but Jove intervenes, grabbing both and placing them in the sky as Ursa Major and Minor.

Plate 101 Raven
John James Audubon
source Wikiart

As Juno is enraged at the compliment given to Callisto, she travels to heaven in her chariot which is drawn by the peacocks who have recently changed hue.  We hear of another bird, Phoebus’ sacred bird, the Raven, who also gets his colour changed from white to black, as punishment for his talkative chatter. He refuses to listen to the Crow’s warning, whose feathers were transformed as he informed on the three daughters of the bi-form Cecrops, Pandrosos, Herse and Aglauros, when they looked into a basket and discovered a baby that had been formed by the seed of Vulcan, after he attempt to rape Minerva.  Minerva, however, turns him black for his snitching, and the poor crow relates that before this incident, he had been a princess, but was transformed into a crow while escaping from the sea-god who attempted to ravish her.  Yet now he is supplanted in the affections of Minerva by Nyctimene, the owl, oh woe is he!  The Raven, however, declines to heed the crow’s wise wisdom, and instead reveals to Apollo (Phoebus) that his love, Coronis had lain beside a Thessalian youth. Inflamed with hot fury, Apollo kills Coronis yet before she is burned, he snatches their unborn son, Aesculapius, from her womb and gives him to the centaur, Chiron, to raise.  The Raven, however, receives his due and is banished.  We learned of this same story in Chaucer’s The Manciple’s Tale.

The daughter of Chiron, Ocyrhoe, prophesies over Aesculapius, saying that he will become a great healer and god.  Her father’s immortality will also change to mortality, but as she speaks she is transfigured into the form of a horse with a new name, Hippe.

Landscape with Mercury and Battus (1618)
Jacob Pynas
source Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, bereft with grief, Phoebus is roaming the hills in the guise of a shepherd, but in his mourning over the fate of Coronis, his cows wander off and are hidden by Mercury.  Yet an old man named Battus witnesses the theft, but Mercury buys off his silence with a choice cow from the herd.  Battus promises a stone would give more information than he.  To test the old man’s resolve, Mercury disguises himself and returns asking for “his cows” and offering Battus a cow from the herd for information on the theft.  Battus reveals all and Mercury changes him into a stone (now called a touchstone or tellstone) in payment for his betrayal.

Mercury spots Herse, daughter of Cecrops, and is determined to possess her. He enlists the help of her sister, Aglauros, but Envy, spurred by Minerva, poisons Aglauros.  Infected with resentment of her sister’s happiness, she attempts to prevent Mercury from entering her bedroom, and he turns Aglauros into a statue.

Returning to heaven, Mercury is directed by Jove to drive the king Agenor’s cattle down to the shore, yet unbeknownst to him, Jove is planning the capture of the daughter of the king, Europa.  He disguises himself as a perfect white bull, entices the girl, and then rides away into the ocean with her on his back.

The Abductiion of Europa (1715)
Jean-François de Troy
source Wikipedia


The daughters of Clymene  ❥  Trees
Cycnus  ❥  Swan
Jove  ❥  Diana  ❥  Jove
Callisto  ❥  Bear  ❥  Ursa Major
Arcas  ❥  Ursa Minor
Raven:  White feathers  ❥  Black feathers
Princess  ❥  Crow: White feathers  ❥  Black feathers
Ocyrhoe’s Prophecy:  
Aesculapius  ❥   god  ❥  corpse  ❥  god
Immortal Chiron  ❥  Mortal Chiron
Phoebus  ❥  Shepherd
Battus  ❥ Stone
Aglauros  ❥ Statue
Jove  ❥  White Bull

Metamorphoses – Book I

“Sing, Ovid, to me of Metamorphoses, and breath all these stories into my mind as a remembrance of your fine craft” ……….  But since there are so many mythological stories in this book, and Metamorphoses is either referred to, or used as a basis for stories in so many other works of literature, I’ve decided to compile reasonably detailed posts.  My mind is certainly not going to hold such detail, so my blog will have to.

Book I

Prologue / The Creation / The Four Ages / The Giants / Lycaon / The Flood/ Deucalion & Pyrrha / Python / Apollo & Daphne / Io & Jove / Syrinx / Io & Jove / Phaeton

“My soul would sing of metamorphoses.
But since, o gods, you were the source of these
bodies becoming other bodies, breathe
your breath into my book of changes; may
the song I sing be seamless as its way
weaves from the world’s beginning to our day.”
Creation begins featureless and confused, both land and seas uninhabitable.  Opposites battle and there is chaos.  “A god” and nature come together to bring unity and organization to the world, and there are two possibilities as to the birth of man:

  1. He is created from a divine seed
  2. Prometheus made him from new-made earth and rainwater.  

To man, “he gave a face that is held high; he had man stand erect, his eyes upon the stars ….”

During the first or golden age, laws and punishment do not exist as all kept faith by righteousness. and man only needed to gather as the harvest was plentiful.

Saturn is banished and his son, Jove’s rule begins, starting the second or silver age.  Jove split the year into seasons, and the change of weather prompted men to build houses.  As the bullock groaned under their yokes we sense a decline in the ease of life.

The third bronze age begat more cruelty and battle, yet it was not sacrilegious.

The fourth and last age, the age of iron, began the foulest of all ages and “the earth saw the flight of faith and modesty and truth” and in their place sprang up wicked behaviour.  Instead of accepting the earth in an almost innocent way, only seeking to fulfill their basic needs, men instead began to seek beyond their needs to their wants, exploring and pursuing treasures which corrupted their simple faith.  The lust for gold and iron brought wars, and distrust and familial discontent and strife followed.
Jove must contend first with the Giants, who attempt to gain control of the sky, and then man who is now scattered all over the earth, doing what he will.  They are tainted and like a pestilence, and he longs to eradicate their infestation. Yet the other gods are worried; if Jove eradicates man, who will worship them, so Jove employs a new plan, enlisting different gods to create a flood and only two people survive:  Deucalion, the son of Prometheus, and his wife, Pyrrha.
Deucalion & Pyrrha (1635)
Giovanni Maria Bottalla
source Wikimedia Commons

Deucalion is overcome when he sees the devastation of the earth and decides to pray to the oracle but is told that they need to throw behind them the bones of the great mother.  Pyrrha is terrified that she needs to offend the Shade of her mother, but her husband says the great mother is earth and they need only throw stones.  Amazingly the stones become the new race of men.

Apollo and Daphne (1908)
John William Waterhouse
source Wikimedia Commons

Python, a terrible serpent, slithers from the earth, but Phoebus (Apollo) kills him with his arrows, and the sacred Pythian games were establish in memory of the act.  Daphne, daughter of the river god, was Phoebus’ first love but Cupid, resentful at Phoebus’ mocking of him, shoots him with an arrow that ignites love and Daphne with one that spurns it. Apollo pursues, and as he catches her, in response to a prayer to her father, she is turned into a laurel tree.  Yet Apollo loves her still, and this is why the leaves of the laurel crown the heads of the Roman chieftains.

Juno Confiding Io to the Care of Argus (1660)
Claude Lorrain
source Wikimedia Commons

The river god, Inachus wept for his missing daughter Io. She is fleeing the god, Jove, who catches her and rapes her, yet to hide his deed from his wife, Juno, he turns Io into a beautiful white cow.  Yet Juno is not easily fooled and she sets a guard on Io, Argus of the hundred eyes, who never sleeps with all closed at once.  Jove finally feels compassion at Io’s plight and sends Mercury to lull Argus to sleep with his reed pipes with a song of Syrinx (who fleeing from Pan was turned into a reed), and then he cuts off his head. Juno set the eyes of Argus into the tale of a peacock, whereas Io returns to her original form in her refuge on the banks of the Nile and becomes the goddess, Isis.

Io’s son by Jove, Epaphus, mocked the son of Phoebus, Phaeton’s, claim that the Sun was his father.  Mortified, he asks Clymene, his mother, for proof and she confirms the truth, sending him across Ethiopia and India to Phoebus’ palace.

Mercury, Argus and Io (1592)
Abraham Bloemaert
source Wikimedia Commons

From O’s brilliant post, I realized that it would be fun and helpful to add the transformations in each book in a more obvious form than merely reading of them in the text.  So here they are!


Chaos  ❥  Creation
Golden Age ❥  Silver Age  ❥  Bronze Age  ❥  Iron Age
Giant’s Race  ❥  New Race
Lycaon  ❥  Wolf
Irreligious, Combative Men  ❥  Deucalion & Pyrrha ⇒ (via Rocks)  ❥  New Mankind
Daphne  ❥  Laurel Tree
Io  ❥  White Heifer  ❥  Io  ❥  Isis
Syrinx  ❥  Marsh Reeds  ❥  Panpipes
The Eyes of Argus  ❥  Peacock’s Tail

Metamorphoses – Book I

The Brubury Tales by Frank Mundo

“When in April, and it hasn’t yet rained,
And the drought of March has again sustained
Another year of our eternal spring;
Then old Santa Ana begins to sing
That fiery yet most familiar tune
How Los Angeles always feels like June ….”

No, The Brubury Tales are not my usual classics bent, but since it is based on a classic, The Canterbury Tales, I decided to make them, not only a pairing, but a 2015 challenge.

In this poem, we are not confronted with pilgrims, but seven security guards who work at the Holiday Inn in L.A.  Six men and one woman make up their team, as they perform their duties during the unsettled times of the Los Angeles race riots.  The prologue introduces each of them:  Leo Kapitanski, Alex Loma, John Shamburger, Joseph Dator, J.T. (the narrator), Rolla Amin, and Darrin Arita or “The Feet”.

As Christmas is approaching, each guard is lobbying for vacation time during the holidays, but Leo Kapitanski, their security chief, comes up with a unique idea. Each one of the guards must tell a tale, and the guard who crafts the best tale, will be awarded with the time off.

Leo is the first to tell his tale and exhibits some fine alliterative verse, reminiscent of the style of the Pearl poet (Sir Gawain & the Green Knight):

“Those were tumultuous times in Olde Yellowfield:
When widespread war had wracked the west;
As Pestilence and plague plundered through the east;
And silky southern skies, soot-saddened into shade
As burnt and billowing breaths of northern brush
Did daily darken the heavens in dismal doom!
And for years was Olde Yellowfield yanked to black
By those soot-stacks that steadily stole the sun.
Olde Yellowfield was new Blackfield, banned from light …”

The Brubury Tales illustration
by Keith Draws

Yet not everyone appreciates such poetical talents, and The Feet protests over this “literary crap”.  So Leo agrees to tell another tale full of vice, since no one can appreciate a story well-told, because:

“‘In today’s world where television rules,
Personally, I blame the public schools.’
But Leo disagreed a little bit,
‘Takes a village to raise an idiot.'”

Leo’s tale weeps full of sorrow and distress, ringing with shades of lost chances and bitter regret, as a man tries to navigate the paths of life and love and fails miserably, a red stain left on his attempt, an unendurable burden on his heart.

There are seven tales in all, in a variety of settings and time periods, covering a number of different issues with respect to love, marriage, betrayal, regret, and death, yet hope resonates in these explorations of life’s struggles and victories.  Humour is also woven into the fabric of the narrative, delivered with an adeptness that gives a sublime harmonization with the other serious themes. Though each tale has a modern twist, they bear resemblance to stories of Dostoyevsky, Boccaccio, Saki, Poe, O’Henry, Dickens, Twain, the Bible, Dante, Gilman, Crane, Anderson and Bierce, and it’s a veritable treasure hunt, to sift through the narrative to see if one can spot these recognizable classics.  There even is a remake of Omar Kayyam’s The Rubaiyat, which is very cleverly done.  In another twist to the story, the author himself makes an appearance as the supervisor.  There is an abundance of literary wealth within this book, and one can imagine the work as a tapestry; each thread you pull leads to a new idea, or allusion, or theme, working singly and yet together to form a unique and complex whole.

With regard to the poetic structure, it’s mostly comprised of couplets in iambic pentameter, echoing very much of Chaucer’s style and tone.  Yet there are variations in poetic style at certain points during the tales which helps to give a different flavour to the stories.  The author is also is very adept at changing the voice of the characters, each one sounding like an individual and making it very easy for the reader to step into their world.

This read completes my The Canterbury Tales/The Brubury Tales Project for 2015, and I think I can say that it was my favourite project of the year.  Not only was I pleasantly surprised at the enjoyment that I received from Chaucer’s merry and sometimes, raunchy tale, I was blown away by The Brubury Tales and the talent and aptitude of its author.  A great project, all around!




Bear ~~ October 7, 2003 – November 21, 2015

Crossing the Bar
By Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Sunset and evening star,
    And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
    When I put out to sea,
But such a tide a moving seems asleep,
    Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
    Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
    And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
    When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
    The Flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
      When I have crost the bar.

By Ralph Waldo Emerson
Let me go where’er I will
I hear a sky-born music still:
It sounds from all things old,
It sounds from all things young;
From all that’s fair, from all that’s foul,
Peals out a cheerful song.
It is not only in the bird,
Not only where the rainbow glows,
Nor in the song of woman heard,
But in the darkest, meanest things
There always, always, something sings.
‘Tis not in the high stars alone,
Nor in the cups of budding flowers,
Nor in the redbreast’s mellow tone,
Nor in the bow that smiles in showers,
But in the mud and scum and things
There always, always, something sings.

Remembrance Day 2015

A Canadian War Factory (1943)
Wyndham Lewis
source Wikiart

I can’t forget to stop and honour all the men and women who have fought and lost their lives in wars past and present, so that we are able to have the freedom that we enjoy in Canada, and other countries in the world.  Heroes they remain, as they were willing to fight when their country needed them.

Drummer Hodge
Thomas Hardy
They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
Uncoffined — just as found:
His landmark is a kopje-crest
That breaks the veldt around:
And foreign constellations west
Each night above his mound.
Young Hodge the drummer never knew —
Fresh from his Wessex home —
The meaning of the broad Karoo,
The Bush, the dusty loam,
And why uprose to nightly view
Strange stars amid the gloam.
Yet portion of that unknown plain
Will Hodge for ever be;
His homely Northern breast and brain
Grow up some Southern tree,
And strange-eyed constellations reign

His stars eternally.

The Canterbury Tales ~ The Knight’s Tale

As the pilgrims draw lots to determine who will be the first to tell their story, the first draw goes to the Knight.

              And when this excellent man saw how it stood,
              Ready to keep his promise, he said, “Good!”
              Since it appears that I must start the game,
              Why then, the draw is welcome, in God’s name
              Now let’s ride on and listen to what I say.”
              And with that word we rode forth on our way …

The first page of The Knight’s Tale
source Wikimedia Commons

The Knight’s Tale

After being appealed to by a number of deposed queens and duchesses from Thebes, King Theseus of Athens attacks the city and gains victory over Creon, King of Thebes.  During the fighting, two knights named Palamon and Arcite, are taken prisoner and thrown into a dungeon.  Left to rot there forever, Palamon one day spies Emelye, who is as fair as any damsel and the sister of Theseus’ wife Hippolyta, and he falls in love.  Arcite, wondering at this cousin’s lovelorn look, spots her too, claims his love of her, and acrimony is born within the love triangle of the cousins.

Portrait of a Knight (1510)
Vittore Carpaccio
source Wikiart

Years later, Arcite is released by Theseus upon request of a friend, but is sentenced to exile from which he laments Palamon’s better fate of prison, due to his being able to gaze upon Emelye, whereas Arcite has now been denied that pleasure. Eventually he risks returning to Athens in diguise as a page named Philostratus, who enters Emelye’s household.  One day he comes upon Palamon, who has escaped, they begin to fight but are stayed by Theseus who announces that he will set up a grand tournament of knights, and the one who is the victor will win Emelye’s hand in marriage.

Meanwhile, we find, that while Emelye has been the centre of this strife and turmoil, that she actually does not wish to marry either knight.  She relates to the goddess, Diana:

“To whom are open earth and sea and sky,
Goddess of maidens, well you know that I
Desire to be a maiden all my life,
And never to be a man’s love nor his wife.
Among your followers I have kept my place,
A maid, in love with hunting and the chase
And to go walking in the greenwood wild
And not to be a wife and be with child;
For nothing will I have to do with man.
Now help me, lady, since you may and can.”

But while Diana could help her, she refuses, stating that Emelye’s destiny has been ordained to marry one of the knights, but which, she will not tell.  Emelye submits to her fate with good grace.

Emilie dans le jardin observée par
Arcitas et Palamon emprisonnés (1460)
source Wikimedia Commons

Palamon prays to Venus for victory, but we get a long description of Arcite in his battle attire before we hear of him offering sacrifices, and for him, it is to the god, Mars; so we have Palamon appealing to the goddess of Love, and Arcite appealing to the god of War.  Who do you think will win?

Ah, it appears that Arcite triumphs, bearing down Palamon and his knights, capturing him and taking him to the stake.  Venus is shamed with the outcome, but Saturn asssures her that she will also have her desire.  But how, with Palamon conquered and Arcite set to wed Emelye?

Well, Arcite has little time to enjoy his achievement.  Helmetless, he is pitched to the ground by his horse, landing on his head and receiving mortal wounds. He lasts a short time before succumbing, and Emelye and Palamon are in mourning.  But good King Theseus delivers a long speech about the Prime Mover and how all earthly beings must submit to the higher order of things. He blesses the wedding of Palamon and Emelye, and they live happily without jealousy and with extreme tenderness.

One can tell that there is much more to this tale than what is simple cloaking the surface.  First, there is the obvious emphasis on fate or destiny or a higher power:  Emelye, though she does not wish to marry, readily capitulates to Venus’ edict that she must; and, of of course, while it initially appears to all the people that Arcite will wed Emelye, there is a “blueprint” already in place for everyone’s destiny that man, in his puniness, cannot yet see.  A life lived well is to submit to the inevitable, yet take opportunities when they come to you.

Emilie à la chasse assistant au combat entre Arcitas et Palamon
Source: Wikimedia Commons

There is also an emphasis on nature and it’s interaction with man.  The General Prologue initially drew us right into Nature and Spring “Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote, The droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote, And bathed every veyne in swich licour, Of which vertu engendred is the flour.”  From the sky and nature, we are then taken to be introduced to the earthly pilgrims.  In The Knight’s Tale, in the building of the sepulcher for Arcite, there is an obvious battle between nature and man, as Theseus fells the “old oaks” to make a funeral bier:

“You will not hear from me how all the trees
Were felled, nor how the local deities,
Nymphs, fauns, and hamadryads and the rest,
Ran up and down, scattered and dispossessed,
Nor how the beasts and wood birds, one and all,
Fled terrified when the trunks began to fall;
Nor how the ground stood all aghast and bright,
Affronted with the unfamiliar light ….”

There is a continuous tension between man and his environment, again perhaps due to either his lack of foresight, or his inability to understand the grand plan of the Prime Mover.

And, of course, in the battle between Arcite and Palamon and their gods, in spite of the appearance of war winning over love, it is love which achieves the ultimate victory.

I’m certain there are many other themes included, such as pageantry, hierarchical Medevial structure, and not so much the capriciousness of the gods, but the uncertainty of destiny, but I’ve probably explored this tale as much as I can for the first read.  One curious point struck me though ….. although this story is set in Greece, the gods are all given Roman names, instead of their Greek ones.  I have no idea why, but it is a puzzling choice.

The next tale up, is The Miller’s Tale ……

The Canterbury Tales/ The Brubury TalesProject
The Knight’s Tale

Sonnet XXIX by Garcilaso de la Vega

Born in Toledo in 1501, de la Vega was one of the first Spanish poets to introduce Italian verse forms and techniques to Spain.  Mastering five languages as well as having a good aptitude for music, de la Vega eventually joined the Spanish military and died at 35 years old from a wound sustained in battle in Nice, France.  His poetry has been fortunate to be consistently popular during his life and up until present times.

In Sonnet XXIX, de la Vega explores the Greek myth of Hero (Ὴρὠ) and Leander (Λὲανδρος).  Each night Leander swam the Hellespont (the modern Dardanelles) to be with his lovely Hero, who lived in a tower in Sestos by the sea.  She would hang a lamp for him in her high tower to guide his path, however, on a particularly stormy night, the waves buffeted Leander, the wind blew out Hero’s lamp, and brave Leander tragically drowned in the raging waters.  Bereft, Hero threw herself from her tower into the pitiless sea, which joined them in death, as it had kept them apart in life.

Hero and Leander (1828)
William Etty
source Wikimedia Commons
Sonnet XXIX
   Garcilaso de la Vega
    Brave Leander, dauntless, crossing the sea,
on fire with the lazing flames of love,
when winds blew strong and waters rose and swirled
with frenzied rage and driving, crashing swells.
    Vanquished by struggle, nearly overcome,
he could no longer battle with the waves,
and dying because of the love he’d lose
and not because his own life ebbed away,
    he raised his weary voice and faintly called,
speaking his final words to roiling waves,
but they ne’er heard his voice, his lover’s plea:
    “Waves, I know I cannot escape death,
but let me swim across; when I return
you can vent your wrathful surge upon my life.”
translation: Edith Grossman

Hero and Leander (1621/22)
Domenico Fetti
source Wikimedia Commons

Original Spanish: 

    Pasando el mar Leandro el animoso,
en amoroso fuego todo ardiendo
esforzó el viento, y fuése embraveciendo
el agua con un impetus furioso.
    Vencido del trabajo presuroso,
contrastar a las ondas no pudiendo,
y más del bien que allí perdía muriendo
que de su propia visa congojoso
    como pudo esforzó su voz cansada
y a las ondas habló desta manera,
mas nunca fuéla voz dellas oída:
    — Ondas, pues no se escusa que yo muera,
dejadme allá llegar, es y a la tornada
vuestro furor esecutá en mi vida. —-

Hero finding Leander (c. 1932)
Ferdinand Keller
source Wikimedia Commons

Deal Me In Challenge #11 – Four of Diamonds

Ode To A Nightingale by John Keats

If my memory serves me well, I believe this poem is a favourite of Jason at Literature Frenzy and it was his love of it that inspired me to include it in my Deal Me In Challenge.  Without this inspiration, it would probably still be unread, as Keats, for some reason, intimidates my uneducated poetic sensibilities.

Common Nightingale
Source Wikipedia
Ode to a Nightingale
The Dryad (1884-85)
Evelyn De Morgan
 Wikimedia Commons
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
         My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
         One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
         But being too happy in thine happiness,—
                That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
                        In some melodious plot
         Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
                Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
         Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
         Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
         Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
                With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
                        And purple-stained mouth;
         That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
                And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
         What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
         Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
         Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
                Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
                        And leaden-eyed despairs,
         Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
                Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
         Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
         Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
         And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
                Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;
                        But here there is no light,
         Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
                Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
         Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
         Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
         White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
                Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;
                        And mid-May’s eldest child,
         The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
                The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
         I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
         To take into the air my quiet breath;
                Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
         To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
                While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
                        In such an ecstasy!
         Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
                   To thy high requiem become a sod.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
         No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
         In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
         Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
                She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
                        The same that oft-times hath
         Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
                Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
         To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
         As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
         Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
                Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
                        In the next valley-glades:
         Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
                Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?
Illustration of Poem
W.J. Neatby
source Wikipedia

Keats initially uses extreme contrasts of his dulled, poisoned senses to the happy nightingale, its song urging him out of his despair; one wonders if it will completely succeed.  In the second stanza the poet relates his desire for wine. Why?  Because wine is made from grapes, will it allow him to meld more with nature, or does he simply want to get intoxicated to forget his troubles?  He admits then that he wishes to escape the suffering of life and expresses regret at the transience of youth and life.  Ah, now he claims that he won’t reach the nightingale through wine but poetry, and expresses almost a dualism in that his brain is dull perhaps still with care, yet he is already with the joyous nightingale.  The fifth stanza is even more curious. Though he is in the forest with the nightingale, he cannot see the beauty there, as if he can only get glimpes as he is unable to liberate himself from life’s hardship.  The poet admits to being “half in love with …. Death,” —- I had thought the poet was equating the nightingale’s song with joy, but now he appears to be marrying it with death.  Is this part of his confusion or something deeper that I’m missing?  Yet if he dies, he will cease to hear the song, so perhaps he realizes the dilemma.  The poet then equates the nightingale with immortality and, as we’ve read, the bird almost transcends earthly constraints; its song has been a continuous joy in a temporal world. But alas, the poet is recalled to his sad state, the nightingale’s song abandons him and he is left to wonder if his whole experience was real or a dream.

Portrait of Keats listening to a nightingale (1845)
Joseph Severn
source Wikipedia

This was certainly a difficult poem for a rank amateur.  The themes I could pick up were isolation, death, a transcendent joy that perhaps may be unreachable at least for the poet, abandonment, disconnection, transience of life, and a longing for something beyond this life.

As I was reading, I wondered if the poet was trying to match his creative expression with the nightingale’s song.  It would seem impossible to create at the level of God, but I felt such inspiration in the poem, almost as if Keats was trying to create the poem as intensely as the poet of the poem was wishing to escape earthly adversity.

I’m no expert, but this poem seems to pair well with Percy Bysshe Shelley’s To A Skylark, which O reviewed recently on her blog Behold the Stars.  Both poets put nature front and centre, but Shelley has a much more positive outlook, while Keats’ poem is filled with more nuanced emotions and contradictions.  The similarities and contrasts between the two are intriguing.

Deal Me In Challenge #9 – Ace of Diamonds

Ode VIII Quiet Night by Fray Luis de León

Fray Luis de León was a poet, an Augustinian friar, an academic and a theologian who lived during the Spanish Golden age.  This poem was one of 23 original poems composed by him during his lifetime; he also translated the Book of Job and the Song of Songs into Spanish from the Latin Vulgate, a forbidden act which landed him in prison.

Sadly the text of this poem is too long to include and I can’t find any online sources but it is included in the book The Golden Age ~ Poems of the Spanish Renaissance.  Here is an except:


Source Wikipedia

When I contemplate the heavens
embellished and adorned with countless lights,
then look down at the earth
enveloped in dark night
and buried deep in oblivion and sleep,
     the love and sorrow I feel
awaken in my breast an ardent longing;
my eyes, become like fountains,
let flow abundant streams,
and at last, in woeful tones, my voice does call:
     “Oh, home of so much grandeur,
temple of light, of clarity, of beauty:
my soul was born for your heights,
yet what immense misfortune
keeps it in this vile prison, in the dark?
     “What mortal misperception
moves my senses so far away from truth
that, leaving your sacred good,
forgetting they wander, lost,
following vain shadows, illusions of good?
      “Man is given over
wholly to sleep, not caring for his fate,
while heaven, with silent steps,
keeps turning round, keeps turning,
stealing from him the hours of his life.
      “Oh moral men, awake!
Open your eyes and see the harm you do.
Can your immortal souls, 
created for such great good,
survive on shadows and on mere deceit?

de Leon begins with the poet envisaging heaven from his place on earth, yet he quickly reverses the observation by viewing earth from the vantage point of heaven.  From the first viewpoint, heaven looks grand and beautiful but when his perspective is reversed, the earth is seen as a place of devastation and turmoil, as man forgets the purpose of his creation and allows precious time to be stolen from him.  The poet uses an apostrophe to awaken his fellow man the plight of his dying soul and encourages his amelioration.  There is a wonderful weaving of the celestial planets into heaven’s fabric, personifying their glory and importance, while communicating divine beauty.

Such a lovely poem and as a bonus, an opportunity to practice my Spanish!

Deal Me In Challenge #8 – Seven of Diamonds

Song II: The Dark Night by San Juan de la Cruz

St. John of the Cross (1656)
Francisco de Zurbarán
source Wikipedia

This poem is my fifth read for my Deal Me In Challenge 2015.

Canción II: La Noche Oscura

      De el alma que se goza de haber llegado
          Al alto estado de la perfección, que
          Es la union con Dios, por el camino
          De la negación espiritual.
1. En una noche escura,
con ansias, en amores inflamada,
¡o dichosa ventura!,
salí sin ser notada,
estando ya mi casa sosegada:
2. a escuras y segura
por la secreta escala, disfrazada,
 ¡o dichosa ventura!,
a escuras y en celada,
estando ya mi casa sosegada;
3. en la noche dichosa,
en secreto, que nadie me veía,
 ni yo miraba cosa,
sin otra luz y guía
sino la que en el corazón ardía.
4. Aquésta me guïaba
más cierto que la luz del mediodía,
a donde me esperaba
quien yo bien me sabía,
en parte donde nadie parecía.
5. ¡O noche que guiaste!,
¡o noche, amable más que el alborada!,
 ¡o noche que juntaste
Amado con amada,
amada en el amado transformada!
6. En mi pecho florido,
que entero para él solo se guardaba,
allí quedó dormido,
y yo le regalaba;
y el ventalle de cedros aire daba.
7. El aire de la almena,
quando yo sus cabellos esparcía,
con su mano serena
en mi cuello hería,
y todos mis sentidos suspendía.
8. Quedéme y olvidéme,
el rostro recliné sobre el amado;
cesó todo y dejéme,
dejando mi cuidado
entre las azucenas olvidado.

Song II: The Dark Night
      Of the soul that rejoices at having reached
         The high state of perfection, which
          Is the union with God, by means of the path
          Of spiritual denial of self
1.  On a dark night, deep and black,
When I, on fire with the passions of love
—- what great good fortune was mine! —
slipped out, hidden, unseen,
when my sleeping house was silent and still;
2. and protected in the dark,
concealed by the quiet, secret staircase
—- what great good fortune was mine! —
in the ebon dark, well-hidden
when my sleeping house was silent and still;
3. and on the fortunate night,
in secret, when no one’s eyes could see me,
I saw nothing around me
And had no light or guide
But the one that was blazing in my heart.
4. This was the fire that led me,
more clear and certain than the light of noon,
to where he waited for me
— I knew who he was, oh I knew —
there where no one was seen, no one appeared.
5. O dark night who guided me!
O night, kinder by far than any dawn!
O night, you who have joined
lover with beloved,
beloved into lover here transformed!
6. On my flowering bosom,
meant only for him, kept for him alone,
he rested his head to sleep,
and I with love caressed him,
and the swaying cedars sent a breeze for him.
7. The wind from the battlements
when I loosed his hair and smoothed it, unbound,
with serene and tranquil hand,
struck my neck, pierced and wounded it,
dimming and suspending all my senses.
8. I stayed there, self forgotten,
lowered my face, leaning over my lover,
all things ceased, self abandoned,
abandoning all care
that lies, forgotten, there among the lilies.

I found this poem in the book The Golden Age: Poems of the Spanish Renaissance to which Amanda of Simpler Pastimes kindly introduced me.  It was a “close your eyes and point” choice, yet it has turned out to be quite a fascinating poem.

St. John of the Cross was a disciple of St. Teresa of Ávila, whose biography I had recently read.  He fought to reform the Spanish Carmelites and spent a number of years in prison where he compposed the Cántico espiritual, or Spiritual Canticle, without any writing tools, having to rely solely on his memory.  
Song II: The Dark Night is part of St. John’s greater work, The Dark Night of the Soul, chronicling the spiritual journey of the soul and the stages of love that it must pass through to become more like God.  Taken out of context, this poem loses some meaning but the beauty of the words and the impact is spiritual by themselves.  Based on the biblical book, Songs of Songs, the sensual imagery St. John uses for the union of the soul and God is a stepping outside of religious tradition.  Mystic and beautiful, the poem marries the natural to the supernatural, to exemplify harmony with God.
Deal Me In Challenge #5 – Jack of Diamonds