Friday, October 17, 2014

Undine


Undine
 You the Stranger, more myself than my own breath
inhaled, than my dwindling dry hours.
You, a tale less true than even this ring's mark
circling my finger with flowers...



Rivers are mud and dust
here where I make my change,
in a land beloved because I must
in a place where I've given up
my rippled scales. There are no ships here,
none cross these waves

of wind-woven grain, no willow mask
on Rhea's face, no watchlight shines
except on fleets of stars exiled across
the cobalt water sky that planes in alt
between your closing eyes and mine.

Far and far and farther yet this trip,
on traitor winds with phantom sails, leagues long;
you always knew exactly what I am.
I've  known from our first hour
what must come next; you've always hoped
so blindly you were wrong.


Still, here we watch landfallen and bespelled
pale lightning striking on a dreamer's sea,
made from years and crucibled in salt.

We see them go, handfast on our brief brink---
the promises, the light, the air of day, 
the restless dead that are too light to sink.


 ~October 2014





posted for    real toads


Challenge: Poetic Marble
Margaret Bednar (Art Happens 365) offers us some of her photos of marble sculpture from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and suggests that we allow its statuary to inspire us--I have picked a different photo, not hers,  from their collection, of Undine, by Chauncey Bradley Ives.


in alt:  in the octave beginning with the second G above middle C <ranging up to E in alt> ~Merriam Webster Online Dictionary

Process Notes: Undine is both an alchemical term of Paracelsus for the spirits of water, and a figure out of folklore similar to Melusine, about whom I have written before, the water sprite who gave up her mermaid form for a human one on the condition her mortal lover never look upon her in her bath (when she was in her true form)which, of course, he eventually did. Rhea was a Cretan aspect of the goddess Cybele, mother of the gods, an earth goddess associated with an ecstatic cult similar to those of  Dionysus, and usually pictured with a lion to either side of her. 







Image: Undine, by Chauncey Bradley Ives, circa 1880-84 Smithsonian American Art Museum
Photo by Caroline Lena Becker, public domain via wikimedia commons
Undine, 1896, by Henri Fantin-Latour, public domain via wikiart.org




28 comments:

  1. Posting this on the way out the door--crazy day ahead-- may not be able to read or return visits till tomorrow, but thanks in advance to everyone..

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  2. Ah--this is wonderful--thanks for the process notes as I know of Undine but not well enough to have followed in a more literal way the dryness and the waves of wind-woven grain and the cobalt/alt sky sea--wonderful resonance there with high C, btw. Beautiful sad poem--and even without the notes, the meanings ring true and clear, but having the notes makes the imagery more specific and precise. There is this kind of knowledge that one has and wishes against--wishing against intuition and knowledge of human nature--agh. Beautifully conveyed here--k.

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    1. Thanks, k. I wanted the high C to sort of bring out the idea of the high seas as you say. ;_) It's very hard to ignore the word candy, sometimes. I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I decided to add the process notes because so few seemed to be familiar with what I thought was common ground in my minotaur poem, where I didn't add anything for fear of belaboring the obvious--I must realize that not everyone spent their childhoods with Bulwar-Lytton. ;_) Best of weekends to you.

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  3. landfallen and bespelled...Love that and your epic poem, Hedge...the tone is perfect.

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  4. Brief is the dream after all the toil, after all we think we must do to have love/soul. You make it sound so lonely too in that space between two pairs of eyes where we can watch the same tragedy repeat itself again and again. (I played Debussey's Undine from his Preludes while reading, and may be affected by that.) I appreciate your endnotes.

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  5. Every beat of this falls beautifully. It's almost hypnotic. Really beautiful, Hedge.

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  6. you're tapped into a rich vein with all these recent pens that call to us behind some veil we only dimly perceive, yet which nonetheless surrounds us - even underpins us ~

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    1. Thanks, M, and thanks for the pleasure of all your comments.

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  7. Water heavens, where to begin ... With the undinal marriage, I suppose, the sacrifice of one's virginal water wilds (like Artemis/Diana) here for dry labors far inland (an angular juxtaposition, if you think of it, of a topside, springlike Demeter down in Hades' wintry bed). Why is marriage (or relationship, or love, or whatever similar fusion) such a troubling pact, demanding we give up so much, and hinged upon a magic ban that all of it would evaporate if we saw it clearly for what it was? Eros comes to Psyche in the dark, on the condition that she never see his face (curiosity got that cat); and it was death to espy Artemis nekkid in her bath. One made sacrifice to the deities of the dead with an averted face -- no looking, only one's voice was allowed to penetrate that veil -- and Perseus was warned about looking at Medusa full on ... Point is, I guess, truth sucks, and we can't handle the truth very well. (Or, as Heraclitus sd., nature loves to hide.) Certainly love would leave us if it knew who we really were ... these are deep, old, mystical and personal concerns, and the drama in this poem -- so perfectly sung Hedge, really -- plays it out between our land animus and water anima. I'm reminded of "The Voyage of Bran" where Bran's view of the ocean is opposite that of the sea-god Manannan -- to one, a rolling water waste, the other, a fertile heartland -- and so we see in our other, I suppose, the sum of what we aren't, or don't think we can be. The face of that is averted for the sake of our duration: but at those moments when we do see the face behind the mask it the magic dispels, we come separate the myth from the person. Perhaps. Anyhoo there are some magnificent constructions here: " the cobalt water sky that planes in alt / between your closing eyes and mine" (alt, whoda thunk that sky is the second G above our middle C?) and " pale lightning striking on a dreamer's sea, / made from years and crucibled in salt" as the lover's hope that yet endures over time. While the other victims of this Paracelsan alchemy bob in the waters as "the restless dead." Whew. What I liked most was the fierce allegiance to both worlds, even when the speaker sees their fictions -- that's a marriage. Or what can brew up in the bubbling pot o' poetry ...

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    1. Indeed. Thanks, B. You hit all the major themes I was laboring at here with a perfect touch--really, I was a bit taken aback at the fortuitous congruence of your poem, which paints yet another side to this eternal/internal/infernal triangle of self/spirit/other, and might not have posted this had I read it first. But the crux of this one is yes, that we don't appear to be able to handle the real truth of intimacy. We must have our constructs, our make-believe person, our make-believe self, or the charade ends with a bang *and* a whimper. Then what? What happens when you stand on that cliff between truth and pretend? When you look, as you said Hell (in this case, the Hell of disillusion) in the face? It's all a most interesting quandary--the myths seem to address it only partially--in the tragedies of loss at realization you describe. I suppose it's up to us to take it from there. Thanks much, B, for your thoughts and input, as always.

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    2. Your comment about standing "on that cliff between truth and pretend" makes me think of the origins of tragedy in the rites of the "goat-song" (slaughter) of Dionsyos. Priests in the rite wore the god's mask to sing the lines -- from that ritual comes the dramatic mask -- allowing by some trick of the word (verse?) for the human to stare through the artifice, the mask of the divine. Or is it the other way around? Or does it matter? But without the pretense it isn't possible to make the distinction, to see the truth in the fiction. Perhaps we narrate these love-songs -- riffs of belief -- to make love real enough to keep on keepin' on. Scientists now say all of our notions of consciousness are just tricks of neural activity to convince us we are in possession of a mind. We've built the grand human empire with vaporous pulleys. Maybe it's the same thing, mind and love. I'll settle for the mask and live happily enough somewhere inbetween.

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    3. Yes, I threw a little of that in with the Rhea's mask line--I don't know if her acolytes wore willow masks or not (they *were* said to have sistrums and tambourines) but a component of any ecstasy has to involve one, don't you think? particularly one where you must violate basic tenets of your ordinary reality. I love your line about all our notions of consciousness being a way to persuade ourselves we have a mind ( I assume that is, a separate mind-self, an identity.) And yes, in the end, we build our sandy love-castles and live in them, and ignore the ocean three feet away, because that is just the way it is. Perhaps it boils down for some of us to , not "I think,' but 'I love, therefore I am.' Thanks for the conversation, B. Always a pleasure.

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  8. Now I know where one of my favorite movies, "Ondine" got its title, because it fits perfectly with your process notes. I have to run off to the salt mine, but will be back tonight to read your poem. I don't want to rush through it.

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  9. I read this last night and thought it just so beautiful.. but alas, I have few words left in me on a Friday.
    My second reading has provided the opportunity to enjoy the rich language and imagery again. What it must take to give up one's rippled scales for love - whatever the context - and to carry such knowledge:

    you always knew exactly what I am.
    I've known from our first hour
    what must come next; you've always hoped
    so blindly you were wrong....

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    1. Thank you Kerry, No matter how many or how few, your words are always welcome.

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  10. I read this three times and was entranced. I've never heard this story before and you introduced me to it so beautifully! I think this statue far exceeds the beauty of the nudes (IMO) - the draping material somehow makes her form more beautiful (to me). I'm glad you found it - I did not see this statue while there - I would have photographed it for sure!

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    1. Thank you Margaret--would have loved to see your photograph of it. That those soft folds are really stone seems hard to believe, doesn't it? Thanks for the prompt!

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  11. So beautifully - even hypnotically - done...I especially love "pale lightning striking on a dreamer's sea".

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  12. There are so many great myths to use .. there are certain things that just trigger imagination.. you render the myth with a wonderful voice

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  13. Such a hopelessness here....knowing that light will be gone....may I say: we never know...? ~ beautiful poem..

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  14. I'm glad you wrote and posted this before reading Brendan's poem, because then I might have been deprived of the pleasure of reading both one after the other. You both blow me away, your deep knowledge of mythology, your constant teaching of new words, each of you in your own ways singing the ancient stories for contemporary ears. The tercets that conclude your poem are amazing.

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    1. Thank you Mark--I wrote the bones of it about a month ago--it just felt bizarre that I posted it to this marble statues prompt after Brendan did his in a similar vein--must be the phase of the moon or something. ;_) Thanks so much for your very kind words.

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  15. I read something once that said we fall in love with an image of the ideal, and the closer that person seems to an imagined ideal, then the harder we are attracted. Hence, the unending preoccupation with appearance, youth, surface beauty. But no human person can ultimately stand up to that kind of expectation, and so when the costume or pose is removed/broken, disappointment sets in and we blow it up and start looking again.

    Perhaps this is why I love the legend of the selkie. The selkie appears as a dull brown seal-like creature, and only afterward appears in beautiful human (female) form. In order to stay with a land man, the selkie must bury her sea-skin for seven years, as I recall. In your poem--though your speaker is a different kind of water spirit--you capture this feeling of being out of one's element in the name of love, or at least, attraction. Being far from home, being one's self inevitably, no matter what one does or tries.

    Or maybe I have fallen victim to my occasional tendency to overthink. In any case, my favorite line was "you've always hoped so blindly you were wrong."

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  16. it is the stanza on the traitor winds, with its always knowing what she is
    and her knowing what is to come...and sometimes when we live beyond those
    there is the potential for life...

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  17. Happy/Sad (!) to revisit this poem as it has such a poignancy. I think of it almost as any exile's lament, and particularly if trying to adopt another culture, and the difficulty of that and pain. (Where one is a fish out of water as it were--and you've reversed the normal imagery/metaphoric language so well.) I think of this video I posted from the Times on Facebook, about killing a sparrow--Afghani women trying to escape their culture--seems almost impossible--a different kind of death facing them. Anyway, wonderful poem. k.

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    1. Thanks for the second read, k--I think the myths are so powerful simply because they are such flexible metaphors for multiple conundrums of the human condition--and I also I think you nail a profound truth here about alienation.

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    2. Yes, I think that is true re myths. They resonate because they hit human chords. Thanks. k.

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'Poetry is an echo asking a shadow to dance' ~Carl Sandburg