Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"The Passionate Shepherd to His Love"--Marlowe

I have been away, thus the lag between postings--it is even more hopeless for me to try to get on a computer on vacation than it is at home. I hope the break has had some kind of refreshing effect on my brain. Feeling that one has written something decent every now and then may be the cheapest of all thrills, but it is one I have not been having much of lately, and I find my being strangely empty to have to do constantly without it.

I lay out in the sun for two days, albeit with my shirt on, but for the first time in my life I have what might plausibly be called a tan, as well as a few blond highlights in my hair. The tan would look a lot better if I had remembered to take my sunglasses off--the coloring of my face currently resembles that of a raccoon--but being, in private anyway, the utter narcissist that I am, I am taken with the effect of it. It at least looks different, something of which sort I realize I have been craving for at least ten or eleven years but could not quite think or determine on what exactly to do, and how to bring it about.

This Marlowe poem is one of a set of three, the other two, Ralegh's "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd", and Donne's "The Bait", being direct responses to the first. I was going to kill them all in a single posting, but as I don't have anything really to say about them--wonderful little concoctions of words and thought though they all are--each one will get a separate, and hopefully short, post, primarily about something else. I do care about the poems though, and all that they stand for. It gives me great satisfaction to think about them, not 'in themselves', but as little monuments of history that I have came upon, as upon an engraved stone in some windswept field or other, and must record the encounter with a snapshot of myself in some undefined proximity to the stone. This is primarily what literature is to me, but this approach still can dominate your life in myriad ways, which are not fully appreciated by the crowd that actually understands what all the books and pictures and historical developments actually are about

When I was in Florida I went one afternoon by myself to the Ringling Art Museum in Sarasota. I had been there once before but I had had my children with me and had only made it about halfway through the collection before it closed. I had not seen any such old art in person for several years, since one of my sons climbed up onto an Empire bed with a satiny-looking green and gold coverlet at the MFA in Boston, which you are not supposed to do. While I felt in pretty good spirits in the early rooms, among the Rubenses and the medieval triptychs and the Renaissance both early and late and the Dutch masters and the Poussins, seeing one of which--there were two on display this time--had so excited me on my previous visit there, I was not really at ease, and felt somewhat estranged both from the pictures and the scene in my current state of mind. It was much more crowded than it had been the other time I was there, with almost everyone in the place being over 60, and giving off much more of a vacationing/wintering/sightseeing vibe than an "art vibe", whether pretentious or earnest or edgy. The exception was a high school group of very conservative-looking but gentle-seemed, well-groomed Christians (they were earnest). I had the thought that perhaps I could not really look at art and enjoy it anymore, as I often think I should stop reading too and focus more on my lawn or something for a few years, that a person has to have attained some degree of coherence within himself and in his relation to the world to be able to encounter books and artworks and people and get--or give--anything out of it. When I was the age of a student I was credible enough as one to get away with reading poems and thinking about artworks to some extent, that it seemed natural enough to think them, as well as my own relationship to them, to be matters of real importance, to be meaningful. I still believe that they are meaningful, in their most developed senses--I was not sure, however, whether they were any longer meaningful to me.

As I moved along however the crowd thinned somewhat and I came on some rooms dedicated to nations and time periods that were more in line with my own current feelings and desires. First there was a picture by a Dutch artist, Nydacker I believe was his name, one of those 18th-century evocations of the sublime featuring a wooded and vaguely wild-looking mountain in Italy, which sentiment appealed to me. Then there was the Spanish room, which had a portrait of Philip IV by Velasquez, who never fails to rouse my excitement with regard to human possibility, and two crucifixions by El Greco, which also hit me right where I was standing--why I cannot seem to forumalte--so to speak. After this was a room devoted to 18th century French painting, which I have to think must be one of my favorite schools, though I never have put much thought into the matter, based on the placid mood in which paintings from this time ever put me. Unfortunately Vigee LeBrun's portrait of Marie Antoinette in her salon holding a partially closed little book after the French manner of little books was covered with a plastic sheet; but you could still sort of see it. This was a very good painting. After this was a room with 5 floor to ceiling wallpaper-like panels featuring Arcadian scenes, also from the 18th century, which is also the sort of thing I love, and finally there was a room devoted to the era of the Grand Tour--Venetian cityscapes, outrageous interpretations of scenes from Homer and classical antiquity set amongst modern architecture and landscaping, evocations of civilized and learned adventure. All of these 18th-century attitudes served to prop up my sense of being connected to some nobler experience and conception of humanity for a few hours, which is what I had come for, and always "come for" to speak more broadly, though certainly different attitudes and periods and types of paintings have this effect on me at different times. 18th century art is quite fantastical even when it was not necessarily trying to be. The portraits and landscapes of the age are wonderful, but they are not convincing as resembling any man or place that ever really existed. This is the need that evidently requires feeding in me right now. My feeling about the poem sticks upon the simplicity--the at the same time highly artful simplicity--of the expression of the desires that are what it is about. Simplicity and clarity of expression of generally complicated conceptions as much as is possible, are I believe--at least to some portion of one's audience--the ultimate aims of all serious artistic efforts. What is most notable to me in this poem is the number and organization of images evoking earthly romantic bliss that are introduced and contribute to the overall sense of the poem in a limited space. That is the brilliance, the art, the purpose of the exercise. There doesn't need to be anything more to it than that.

Here is a soothing little video which features a recitation of the poem at the end.

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