A Common-Place Jotting: Rossetti’s “The Rose”

Common-Place or “Locus Communis” — a place to remember

I don’t know about you, but I’m hanging on to summer as long as I can! For fellow simpaticos, here’s a late summer bloom and a Christina Rossetti poem to help.

A late summer garden rose
The Rose

The lily has a smooth stalk,
Will never hurt your hand;
But the rose upon her brier
Is lady of the land.

There's sweetness in an apple tree,
And profit in the corn;
But lady of all beauty
Is a rose upon a thorn.

When with moss and honey
She tips her bending brier,
And half unfolds her glowing heart,
She sets the world on fire.

-- Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Portrait of Christina Rosetti by Dante Gabriel Rosetti

For more on Rosetti, see my Common-Place Jottings post on Rossetti Rhymes”

Common-Place Jotting: “Planting Trees”

Common-Place or “Locus Communis” — a place to remember

John Updike (1932-2009) still casts a long shadow on the literary landscape. His writings were varied and many, but his craftsmanship set the standard among his contemporaries. He was only one of four writers who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction more than once.

Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, he once described his subject as “the American small town, Protestant middle-class” everyman. His clarity of style and expression is the hallmark of his writing, causing a critic for The Guardian to warn, “The clarity of Updike’s poetry should not obscure its class.”

The following poem quickly became one of my favorites for its simple directness and descriptive force in conveying the grace available in the simple act of “Planting Trees.” The poem is from his fifth collection of poetry, Facing Nature.

Planting Trees                                                                 John Updike

Our last connection with the mythic.
My mother remembers the day as a girl
she jumped across a little spruce
that now overtops the sandstone house
where still she lives; her face delights
at the thought of her years translated
into wood so tall, into so mighty
a peer of the birds and the wind.

Too, the old farmer still stout of step
treads through the orchard he has outlasted
but for some hollow-trunked much-lopped
apples and Bartlett pears. The dogwood
planted to mark my birth flowers each April,
a soundless explosion. We tell its story
time after time: the drizzling day,
the fragile sapling that had to be staked.

At the back of our acre here, my wife and I,
freshly moved in, freshly together,
transplanted two hemlocks that guarded our door
gloomily, green gnomes a meter high.
One died, gray as sagebrush next spring.
The other lives on and some day will dominate
this view no longer mine, its great
lazy feathery hemlock limbs down-drooping,
its tent-shaped caverns resinous and deep.
Then may I return, an old man, a trespasser,
and remember and marvel to see
our small deed, that hurried day,
so amplified, like a story through layers of air
told over and over, spreading.

2560px-john_updike_childhood_home_shillington_berks_county-1

Common-Place Jotting: Poet Chaplain

Common-Place or “Locus Communis” — a place to remember

G. A. Studdert Kennedy, 1918

G. A. Studdert Kennedy (1883-1929) was an English Anglican priest and poet. During World War I, he served as an army chaplain on the Western Front and was awarded the Miltary Cross in 1917 for risking his life as he went to the aid of the many wounded and dying during an attack on the German front line. He was nicknamed “Woodbine Willie” for being at a dying soldier’s side to offer comfort and a final smoke.

I’d never read Kennedy’s poems until introduced to them by fellow blogger and friend Mere Inkling, who mentions a passage from Kennedy’s book Lies! excoriating those “who are making their fortunes out of the appeal to the animal in man.

Kennedy died at the age of 45 while on tour as a missioner laboring on behalf of the working class men and women he served.

His 1917 citation for the Military Cross read: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He showed the greatest courage and disregard for his own safety in attending to the wounded under heavy fire. He searched shell holes for our own and enemy wounded, assisting them to the dressing station, and his cheerfulness and endurance had a splendid effect upon all ranks in the front line trenches, which he constantly visited.”

The following poem is from Rough Rhymes of a Padre (1918).

His Mate 
by G.A. Studdert Kennedy

There's a broken battered village
Somewhere up behind the line,
There's a dug-out and a bunk there,
That I used to say were mine.

I remember how I reached them.
Dripping wet and all forlorn,
In the dim and dreary twilight
Of a weeping summer dawn.

All that week I'd buried brothers,
In one bitter battle slain.
In one grave I laid two hundred.
God! What sorrow and what rain!

And that night I'd been in trenches.
Seeking out the sodden dead.
And just dropping them in shell holes.
With a service swiftly said.

For the bullets rattled round me,
But I couldn't leave them there,
Water-soaked in flooded shell holes.
Reft of common Christian prayer.

So I crawled round on my belly.
And I listened to the roar
Of the guns that hammered Thiepval,
Like big breakers on the shore.

Then there spoke a dripping sergeant.
When the time was growing late,
Would you please to bury this one,
'Cause 'e used to be my mate?'

So we groped our way in darkness
To a body lying there.
Just a blacker lump of blackness,
With a red blotch on his hair.

Though we turned him gently over.
Yet I still can hear the thud.
As the body fell face forward,
And then settled in the mud.

We went down upon our faces,
And I said the service through,
From 'I am the Resurrection'
To the last, the great 'adieu.'

We stood up to give the Blessing,
And commend him to the Lord,
When a sudden light shot soaring
Silver swift and like a sword.

At a stroke it slew the darkness,
Flashed its glory on the mud.
And I saw the sergeant staring
At a crimson clot of blood.

There are many kinds of sorrow
In this world of Love and Hate,
But there is no sterner sorrow
Than a soldier's for his mate.

Common-Place Jotting: Rosetti Rhymes

Common-Place or “Locus Communis” — a place to remember

Christina_Rossetti_3
Portrait of Christina Rosetti by Dante Gabriel Rosetti

Christina Rosetti (1830-1894) is famous for  “Goblin Market” and “Remember” and known for her many romantic and devotional poems. “In the Bleak Midwinter” was later set to music by Gustave Holst as was Rosetti’s “Love Came Down at Christmas” by Harold Darke.

I never knew she also wrote some children’s poetry and it was a pleasant surprise to encounter this little rhyme to teach children their colors. From The Golden Book of Poetry (1947):

Color
 
What is pink? a rose is pink
By a fountain’s brink.
What is red? a poppy’s red
In its barley bed.
What is blue? the sky is blue
Where the clouds float thro’.
What is white? a swan is white
Sailing in the light.
What is yellow? pears are yellow,
Rich and ripe and mellow.
What is green? the grass is green,
With small flowers between.
What is violet? clouds are violet
In the summer twilight.
What is orange? Why, an orange,
Just an orange!
 

proxy-image

On a different tack: if only it made a difference to quarrelsome children to point out the bonds of family ought not be treated shabbily! It’s a wisdom they attain when they grow to maturity, as Rosetti writes in this little excerpt from “Goblin Market” on the strong bond between sisters:

1280px-auguste_renoir_-_young_girls_at_the_piano_-_google_art_project
Auguste Renoir – Young Girls at the Piano (oil on canvas)

For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.

Common-Place Jotting: “Noli me tangere”

Common-Place or “Locus Communis” — a place to remember

proxy-image-1
Portrait of Sir Thomas Wyatt. Oil on panel, derived from a lost drawing or painting by Hans Holbein the Younger of about 1540

As noted in yesterday’s common-place jotting on “Unto the Hert’s Forest,” history records that the poet, courtier, and diplomat Sir Thomas Wyatt (1501-1542) was rumored to have had, if not illicit relations, then certainly a dangerous affection for the flirtatious Anne Boleyn. Why dangerous? Because she was first the mistress, then the wife of the king of England, Henry VIII. Later, when she fell out of favor with Henry, she was beheaded on charges of adultery and treason. Wyatt was sent to the Tower of London, but through the efforts of Thomas Cromwell, escaped execution.

proxy-image
Portrait of Anne Boleyn

It is quite possible that the following sonnet expresses his anguish over his impossible love for Anne which, were he to pursue her, would be in vain. There is a hint in the poem that she is like a deer scenting the hunt; but the pursuit comes with an inherent warning to all: Noli me tangere, (“touch me not”) for Caesar’s I am.

Whoso List to Hunt, I Know Where is an Hind                 Sir Thomas Wyatt

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

Common-Place Jotting: “Unto the hert’s forest”

Common-Place or “Locus Communis” — a place to remember

Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542) died before he reached forty: a man of double lives, he was an English courtier and diplomat during the reign of Henry VIII, by whom he was imprisoned twice in the Tower of London but managed to escape execution both times. He was infamous as a rumored lover of one of the king’s many wives (Anne Boleyn) but also famous for introducing the sonnet form into English literature.

The following sonnet could be interpreted in two different ways: either the speaker must renounce his love out of fealty to his wife (Wyatt was married) or he must flee his love out of fear of the king. Either way, unattainable love is the cause of the poet’s lasting pain and his heart must go into hiding.

Portrait of Sir Thomas Wyatt by Hans Holbein the Younger

The Long Love that in my Thought doth Harbour            Sir Thomas Wyatt

The longë love that in my thought doth harbour
And in mine hert doth keep his residence,
Into my face presseth with bold pretence
And therein campeth, spreading his banner.
She that me learneth to love and suffer
And will that my trust and lustës negligence
Be rayned by reason, shame, and reverence,
With his hardiness taketh displeasure.
Wherewithall unto the hert’s forest he fleeth,
Leaving his enterprise with pain and cry,
And there him hideth and not appeareth.
What may I do when my master feareth
But in the field with him to live and die?
For good is the life ending faithfully.

A Common-Place Jotting: Coleridge

Common-Place or “Locus Communis” — a place to remember

80c234e707ca7de09889e990260ff211

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (18th c.) had a “vision in a dream,” as he called it, and immediately upon waking, he wrote down the poem Kubla Khan which he said came to him fully constructed like the dream. He kept it hidden for many years, reading it in private until, at the prompting of Lord Byron, he finally published it in 1816.

Kubla Khan became, of course, one of his most famous and memorable poems. It begins by describing the mythical kingdom of Xanadu where the most fantastic pleasures of natural beauty were enjoyed. By the end of the poem we are left with same longing for Xanadu that the poet experiences, a longing to revive within ourselves such inspiration as that of “a young Abyssinian maid” as she plays on her dulcimer:

A damsel with a dulcimer
   In a vision once I saw:
   It was an Abyssinian maid
   And on her dulcimer she played,
   Singing of Mount Abora.
   Could I revive within me
   Her symphony and song,
   To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

 

A Common-Place Jotting: Merchant of Venice, Act III, Scene 2

Common-Place or “Locus Communis” — a place to remember

proxy-image-3
The Merchant of Venice (2004), Michael Radford, director

Act III, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice enters a new arena of combat, not one of economic or social gain, but that of love, when Bassanio, a Venetian gentleman and suitor to Portia, comes to try his hand at winning her hand. Like all the rest who have already tried, he must choose the correct casket that holds the portrait of the fair Portia, or else lose all further opportunity to wed her (by the terms of her late father’s will).

proxy-image-2

But out of fear that he will fail in this endeavor, Portia, who loves him dearly, tries to dissuade him and trust to a future time. But Bassanio will not be kept from the object of his love with any further delay.

proxy-image-1
Bassanio: Joseph Fiennes, The Merchant of Venice (2004)

BASSANIO
Promise me life and I’ll confess the truth.
PORTIA
Well, then, confess and live.
BASSANIO
“Confess and love”
Had been the very sum of my confession.
O happy torment, when my torturer
Doth teach me answers for deliverance!
But let me to my fortune and the caskets.

proxy-image-5
Portia: Lynn Collins

Continue reading “A Common-Place Jotting: Merchant of Venice, Act III, Scene 2”

A Common-Place Jotting: The Merchant of Venice, Act II, Scene 9

Common-Place or “Locus Communis” — a place to remember

Merchant
Michael Radford directed The Merchant of Venice (2004), with Antonio Gil as the Prince of Arragon

In this scene from The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare has the Prince of Arragon, one of Portia’s many suitors, guess which of the three caskets (gold, silver, lead) contains her portrait. Leading the prince to them, Portia says:

Behold, there stand the caskets, noble Prince.
If you choose that wherein I am contained,
Straight shall our nuptial rites be solemnized.
But if you fail, without more speech, my lord,
You must be gone from hence immediately.

After contemplating all three, the Prince of Arragon chooses the silver chest:

I will not choose what many men desire
Because I will not jump with common spirits
And rank me with the barbarous multitudes.
Why then, to thee, thou silver treasure house.
Tell me once more what title thou dost bear.
“Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves.”
And well said too—for who shall go about
To cozen fortune and be honorable
Without the stamp of merit? Let none presume
To wear an undeservèd dignity.
Oh, that estates, degrees and offices
Were not derived corruptly, and that clear honor
Were purchased by the merit of the wearer!
How many then should cover that stand bare!
How many be commanded that command!
How much low peasantry would then be gleaned
From the true seed of honor! And how much honor
Picked from the chaff and ruin of the times
To be new varnished! Well, but to my choice.
“Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves.”
I will assume desert.—Give me a key for this,
And instantly unlock my fortunes here.

Opening the casket, he finds not Portia’s portrait, but a picture of a fool’s head and a letter which reads:

“The fire seven times tried this,
Seven times tried that judgment is,
That did never choose amiss.
Some there be that shadows kiss.
Such have but a shadow’s bliss.
There be fools alive, iwis,
Silvered o’er—and so was this.
Take what wife you will to bed,
I will ever be your head.
So be gone. You are sped.
Still more fool I shall appear”
By the time I linger here.
With one fool’s head I came to woo,
But I go away with two.—
Sweet, adieu. I’ll keep my oath
Patiently to bear my wroth.”

— William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act II, Scene 9

A Common-Place Jotting: Merchant of Venice, Act II, Scene 7

Common-Place or “Locus Communis” — a place to remember

proxy-image
Michael Radford directed The Merchant of Venice (2004), with David Harewood as the Prince of Morocco

In this Act II, Scene 7 of The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare has the Prince of Morocco, one of Portia’s many suitors, guess which of the three boxes (gold, silver, lead) contains her portrait. “The one of them contains my picture, Prince,” Portia tells him. “If you choose that, then I am yours withal.”

On the gold box are inscribed the words: “Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire.” Placing his worth as high as that of Portia’s, he chooses the gold box and finds within this note written by her father:

All that glisters is not gold—
Often have you heard that told.
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold.
Gilded tombs do worms enfold.
Had you been as wise as bold,
Young in limbs, in judgment old,
Your answer had not been inscrolled
Fare you well. Your suit is cold—

*glisters is the 17th c. synonym of glitters