Friday, 26 December 2014

Of Art and Water (A Song for Bobbie)



This short poem offers a remembrance of Bob Coy, a widely-known and well-loved artist and musician whose iconic presence energised the Lorne community throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.




My dear gone friend
Great lover of that sea into which you slowly slipped
In ashen remains of your once-laughing frame.







At first, a solitary bird.
Then another.
A flock soon wheeled around that billowing plume
Spreading beneath the circle of boards and bards
Gathered on furl and fall of Louttit Bay.







We were all there for your return to mother-water.
But that stark night, you laboured long alone
Then fell full still.






Your elements now curl through cold currents
And you are well-gone, long-gone beyond containment.

The birds of the air swooped into the sea that day.
They carried you to your new home.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Of Princely Monks and Waiting Women


















Time in the cave may bring you closer to silence,
But the young child's cry more sweetly calls.

Entrancing chants voice old stories, enhance old memories,
But it is the one tongue that tells the time-held tales lived through every life.

The silence of the cave neither stills nor stalls the calls of turning worlds.
The glance of a full-blooded woman can dance you to forgotten times.

Wild seed thrashes through crimson bed, finding, fusing and fixing fates
That await their own awakening.

We are all free to leave. But some will choose to stay,
To feel the pain, to heal the hurt, to break the chain.

The princes have taken their leave.
The murmur of mothers softens the cries of those left behind.

Sweet comfort, strong as touch, sways through the dark nights.

Why walk on when you can hold another close?



Sunday, 26 January 2014

Dante's Inferno. Canto 3


In Canto 2, Dante succeeds in overcoming his fear of what may lie ahead if he agrees to undertake a difficult journey through the underworld escorted by Virgil, the Roman poet. Virgil persuades Dante that despite the perils of such an undertaking, success is assured because it has been willed by Heaven.

Canto 3 commences at the Portals of Hell where they are greeted by the immortal words, "Abandon hope, all ye who now enter." It is here that Dante gains his first glimpse of the finality of the predicament confronting the vast number of souls gathered on the banks of the Acheron River, each waiting their turn to be ferried across the dismal waters by the ferocious boatman, Charon.




Canto 3 of Dante's Inferno can be streamed using the media player above. A CD quality audio file is also available for download here.

[Audio and text for Canto 1 can be accessed here.
Audio and text for Canto 2 can be accessed here.]

PRODUCTION NOTES

Music;
Project Divinity:    Piety
                            Gathering Dust
Softspace:             Sonic Journey
(Remix: vincentd)

Voice:
Vincent Di Stefano

Introduction


This canto introduces us more strongly to the style Dante will progressively develop throughout the poem. It is suffused with strong visual elements depicting the peculiar sufferings endured by those cast into the infernal realms:

These wretches who never had been truly human
Now naked and tortured by hornets and wasps
That surged and hovered and stormed all around them.

Their faces were streaked with black blood that flowed
Then mingled with tears and fell to the ground
To be sucked up by worms that were waiting below.

In addition, it introduces Dante's penchant for peopling the various hell-worlds with prominent individuals some of whom were personally known to Dante and many of whom would probably have been known to his audience of 14th century Florentine readers:

And stretching behind to the furthest horizon
Were more souls than ever I deigned to imagine
Undone and unmade by the coming of death.

And among them I saw some familiar faces
Including the shade of a cowardly one
Who dishonoured his life by a stubborn refusal.

This is generally understood to refer to Pope Celestine V, who abdicated the papacy in 1294 after holding the position for a period of only five months. This enabled the ascension to the papal throne of Pope Boniface VIII whose interference in Florentine politics directly resulted in Dante's exile. As will be seen in later cantos, Celestine is not the only pope that Dante relegates to hell. This reference also introduces the reader to another important aspect of La Divina Commedia as a whole. Throughout this poem, Dante progressively reveals the breadth of his knowledge and understanding not only of the historical currents of his own time, but his familiarity with the cultural histories and mythologies of the ancient world, and the theologies that determined so much of how life was lived in medieval Europe.


The Poem


Inferno. Canto 3

William Blake, The Portals of Hell, ca. 1825
“Through me you enter the tormented city,
Through me you come to eternal pain,
Through me you join with the desolate souls.


It was justice that moved the high One who made me
I was brought into being by the power divine,
By the sum of all knowledge, the wellspring of love.


Before me was no thing that was not eternal
And I will endure throughout endless time
Abandon all hope, all ye who now enter.”


These words were written in tenebrous hues
Suspended above a great arching doorway.
I asked my Master: “What does this mean?”


He said to me then with clear-headed wisdom:
“It is best now to put aside all of your doubt
And put far behind you all faint-hearted fear.


We arrive at that place of which I have spoken
Where you’ll see dire souls in deep agony
Bereft of all reason, without understanding.”


As he gently rested his hand upon mine
And knowingly smiled, I found consolation
And then came to know what had been concealed.


Sighing and wailing and deep grief resounded
Echoing stark through the starless air
Which brought me both sorrow and a streaming of tears.


Such a babble of tongues, of voices in terror
Agonised words and the roarings of rage,
Sounds of hands slapping, harsh rasping voices


All told of a tumult that rolled unrelenting
Like sand whipped aloft by a whistling whirlwind
All through the rank air in that place of despair.


With my head now bound in a shroud of confusion,
I said: “My master, what do I hear?
And what people are these so defeated by grief?


Then he said to me: “This miserable state  
Is the fate that now holds the pitiful souls
Whose lives were worth neither praise nor disdain.


They are now merged with that wretched chorus
Of half-hearted angels neither rebels nor true
Who served only themselves, ignoring their maker.


They were thrown out of heaven that it be not tainted
But the depths of hell refused to receive them
Lest their presence incite the contempt of those there.”


Then I said to him: “What weight is upon them
That makes them lament so desolately?”
He said: “I will tell you in very few words.


The ones that are here have no hope of dying
And their visionless lives have become so debased
That they simmer resentful of all other fates,


All trace of their lives is erased from men’s memories
They are spurned and despised by both justice and mercy
So discuss them no further, just observe and pass by.”


And as I beheld I saw a large banner
Furling and whirling in turbulent motion
That with every turn seemed to call out disdain



William Blake, At the Banks of the Acheron, ca. 1825
And stretching behind to the furthest horizon
Were more souls than ever I deigned to imagine
Undone and unmade by the coming of death.


And among them I saw some familiar faces
Including the shade of a cowardly one
Who dishonoured his life by a stubborn refusal.


It was then that I knew with the fullness of certainty
That this was the tribe of villainous souls
Despised by both God and by God’s enemies.


These wretches who never had been truly human
Now naked and tortured by hornets and wasps
That surged and hovered and stormed all around them.


Their faces were streaked with black blood that flowed
Then mingled with tears and fell to the ground
To be sucked up by worms that were waiting below.


And as I looked on past the ones there before me  
To the many more massed on the bank of a river
I asked: “My master, grant me this query:


Who are these people I see in the twilight
And what has compelled them to gather together
Seemingly eager to cross the wide river?”


And he said to me: “I will answer your question
Only after such time that our feet come to rest
On the cheerless banks of the Acheron River.”


With downcast eyes and feeling uneasy
Fearing my questions had deeply annoyed him
I spoke not a word till we reached the broad river.


And behold on a boat that slowly moved closer
A haggard old man with skin pale as death
Screaming: “Woe be upon you, despicable souls!


Never again will you see a blue sky
I come now to ferry you to the far shore
To eternal darkness, to fire and to ice.


And you over there! You, who are living
Go now! Withdraw from the ones who are dead.”
But seeing me steadfast and standing my ground


He said: “By other ways and by other doors
Elsewhere, not here, you may find a shore
And lighter wood that will carry you over.”


My guide said to him: “Be calm now, Charon.
Our coming was willed by the source of all will
So hold your wild tongue and ask nothing more.”


Then the tough woolly cheeks of the fearsome steersman
Of that misty marsh fell silent and still
And wheels of fierce fire encircled his eyes.



Gustav Dore, Charon on the Acheron
But the naked and weary souls there before us
Grew suddenly pale and clenched hard their teeth
As they finally grasped his ruthless intent.


They cursed their God and they cursed their parents
And they cursed that place and the whole human race
And the passion that brought them to earthly birth.


Then they all retreated together as one  
Loudly bemoaning the vicious abyss
That awaits every man who has no fear of God.


But the demonic Charon with his eyes of fire
Drove and herded them on together
Beating all who stalled with his weighty oar.


And as the dry leaves of autumn fall one on the other
Till the naked branch sees its once-green mantle
All spread out below on the waiting earth


So too fell the bad seeds of Adam
One on the other at that desolate shore
Like birds that attend to each other’s call.


And so they rode o’er the misty waters
But before even reaching the other side
A new herd had arrived awaiting their turn.


“Dear son of mine,” said my courtly master,
“Those who have died in God’s displeasure
Are all gathered here from every land


And they are all ready to cross over this river
Goaded relentless by justice divine
Over-riding all fear of what may await them.


Since no noble soul has ever here rested
Pay no heed to the ferryman’s ranting
As you now have knowledge of what drives him so.”


And just as he said this, the dark land trembled
So strongly that now at the very recall
A sudden wet sweat breaks out over me.


The sorrowing earth exhaled a vast breath
That billowed and grew with a reddening light
Submerging completely all of my senses.


And I fell as one taken, abducted by sleep.


[Translated by Vincent Di Stefano]




A pdf copy of this translation can be accessed here.