The War of Vaslav Nijinsky

Portrait of Vaslav Nijinsky, by Jacques-Émile Blanche, 1910

 

“…Then, I said to myself:

“HISTORY IS HUMAN NATURE—;

TO SAY I AM GUILTY

IS TO ACCEPT IMPLICATION

IN THE HUMAN RACE. . .”

—Now, for months and months,
I have found

ANOTHER MAN in me—;

HE is NOT me—; I

am afraid of him …”

Frank Bidart

 

The Sacrifice, released in 1983, received widespread praise. Central to the volume is a thirty-page work titled The War of Vaslav Nijinsky, As with most of his poetry, The War of Vaslav Nijinsky went through a series of revisions as Bidart experimented with language and punctuation. “The Nijinsky poem was a nightmare,” he remarked in his interview. “There is a passage early in it that I got stuck on, and didn’t solve for two years.” David Lehman praised Bidart’s technique of alternating portions of the dancer’s monologue with prose sections on Nijinsky’s life. According to Lehman, “the result combines a documentary effect with an intensity rare in contemporary poetry.”

Bidart’s poem consists almost entirely of a first-person confession by Nijinsky; it takes place after the break with Diaghilev, during the height of war in Europe. We are privy to the dancer’s ideas and musings about, among other things, the second section of The Rite of Spring, called The Sacrifice. Nijinsky’s inner rantings are clearly schizophrenic. He imagines himself the sacrificial victim of the corrupt world that is putting itself through the bloodbath of World War I. The dance is an act of expiation. (The fact that The Rite of Spring was originally the conception of a perfectly sane Stravinsky is glossed over by Bidart.) The Rite of Spring, then, will be an ode to the planet’s renewal after the war, which Nijinsky sees himself as having been chosen by God to enact. But Nijinsky’s (and Stravinsky’s) version will not be the traditional spring ode of birds, trees, and light. It will be the tumultuous, violent, modernist ode to spring, full of blood and death and suffering, for spring involves the death of the old as much as the birth of the new.

 

 

Frank Bidart (born on May 27, 1939) is a native of California and considered a career in acting or directing when he was young.In 1957, he began to study at the University of California at Riverside, where he was introduced to writers such as T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound and started to look at poetry as a career path. He then went on to Harvard, where he was a student and friend of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop. He began studying with Lowell and Reuben Brower in 1962. He has been teaching English at Wellesley College since 1972, and has taught at nearby Brandeis University.

He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and he is openly gay. currently maintains a strong working relationship with actor and fellow poet James Franco, with whom he collaborated during the making of Franco’s short film Herbert White (2010), based on Bidart’s poem of the same name.

Games for Three

A minimalist, modern rendering by Léon Bakst for Costume Study for Jeux. Watercolor, graphite and black chalk on laid paper. Credit: National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

 

Tamara Karsavina, Vaslav Nijinsky and Ludmilla Schollar in Jeux

 

Jeux (Games) is the last work for orchestra written by Claude Debussy. Described as a “poème dansé” (literally a “danced poem”), it was originally intended to accompany a ballet and was written for the Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev to choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky.

Jeux premiered on 15 May 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris, conducted by Pierre Monteux. The work was not well received and was soon eclipsed by Igor Stravinsky‘s The Rite of Spring, which was premiered two weeks later by Diaghilev’s company.

According to Nijinsky’s Diaries, made during the weeks before his psychological breakdown, Diaghilev intended the music to describe a homosexual encounter between three young men, and Nijinsky wanted to include an airplane crash. The final version of the story involved a man, two girls, and a game of tennis. The scenario was described to the audience at the premiere as follows:

“The scene is a garden at dusk; a tennis ball has been lost; a boy and two girls are searching for it. The artificial light of the large electric lamps shedding fantastic rays about them suggests the idea of childish games: they play hide and seek, they try to catch one another, they quarrel, they sulk without cause. The night is warm, the sky is bathed in pale light; they embrace. But the spell is broken by another tennis ball thrown in mischievously by an unknown hand. Surprised and alarmed, the boy and girls disappear into the nocturnal depths of the garden.”

What Nijinsky Wrote About Diaghilev

Vaslav Nijinsky and Sergei Diaghilev in Nice, 1911

 

SEPTEMBER 1, 1939

(Excerpt)

“…The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have, Not universal love
But to be loved alone.”

Wystan Hugh Auden

 

The poem was written in 1939, just as German troops invaded Poland and began the Second World War. It was published in The New Republic that year and included in the collection Another Time the following year.

Auden came to dislike this work, finding it “dishonest” and a “forgery.” He had his publisher include a note that the work was “trash he was ashamed to have written”; he also tried to keep it out of later collections of his poems. It is unclear why he felt so embarrassed by the poem.

In January, 1919, Vaslav Nijinsky began scribbling in a notebook. Seven weeks later, Swiss doctors studied four notebooks full of his writings and promptly interned him in a sanitarium for the mentally ill. He was only 29 at the time; he was schizophrenic; and while his fame as the greatest dancer of his time never faded, he lived the last 31 years of his life in seclusion and incoherence. For the next 30 years, Nijinsky was in and out of psychiatric hospitals and asylums. During 1945 after the end of the war, after Romola had moved with him to Vienna, he encountered a group of Russian soldiers in an encampment, playing traditional folk tunes on a balalaika and other instruments. Inspired by the music and hearing his first language, he started dancing, astounding the men with his skills. Drinking and laughing with them helped him start to speak again. He had maintained long periods of almost absolute silence during his years of illness.

His 1919 notebooks contained his final words addressed to the world. These notebooks were his diary. They were published in 1936; however, more than half of the diary was omitted. In 1999, The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky: Unexpurgated Edition, by Vaslav Nijinsky, Joan R. Acocella (Ed.), Kyril FitzLyon (Trans.) was published in English by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Below are a few quotes from the diary relating to Serge Diaghilev, the Russian impresario who took the 19-year-old Nijinsky as a lover and made him the star of his Ballets Russes. Five years later, when Nijinsky left to marry Romola de Pulszki, Diaghilev threw him out of his dance company and tried to destroy his career.

“I loved him sincerely and, when he told me that the love of women was a terrible thing, I believed him.”

“Diaghilev dyes his hair so as not to be old. Diaghilev’s hair is gray. Diaghilev buys black hair creams and rubs them in. I noticed this cream on Diaghilev’s pillows, which have black pillowcases. I do not like dirty pillowcases and therefore felt disgusted when I saw them.”

“Diaghilev has two false front teeth. I noticed this because when he is nervous he touches them with his tongue. They move, and I can see them. Diaghilev reminds me of a wicked old woman when he moves his two front teeth…”

“Diaghilev liked to be talked about and therefore wore a monocle in one eye. I asked him why he wore a monocle, for I noticed that he saw well without a monocle. Then Diaghilev told me that one of his eyes saw badly. I realized then that Diaghilev had told me a lie. I felt deeply hurt…”

“I began to hate him [Diaghilev] quite openly, and once I pushed him on a street in Paris. I pushed him because I wanted to show him that I was not afraid of him. Diaghilev hit me with his cane because I wanted to leave him. He felt that I wanted to go away, and therefore he ran after me. I half ran, half walked. I was afraid of being noticed. I noticed that people were looking. I felt a pain in my leg and pushed Diaghilev. I pushed him only slightly because I felt not anger against Diaghilev but tears. I wept. Diaghilev scolded me. Diaghilev was gnashing his teeth, and I felt sad and dejected. I could no longer control myself and began to walk slowly. Diaghilev too began to walk slowly. We both walked slowly. I do not remember where we were going. I was walking. He was walking. We went, and we arrived. We lived together for a long time…”

The Ghost of the Rose

“Soulève ta paupière close
Qu’effleure un songe virginal ;
Je suis le spectre d’une rose
Que tu portais hier au bal.
Tu me pris encore emperlée
Des pleurs d’argent de l’arrosoir,
Et parmi la fête étoilée
Tu me promenas tout le soir.

Ô toi qui de ma mort fus cause,
Sans que tu puisses le chasser
Toute la nuit mon spectre rose
A ton chevet viendra danser.
Mais ne crains rien, je ne réclame
Ni messe, ni De Profundis ;
Ce léger parfum est mon âme
Et j’arrive du paradis.

Mon destin fut digne d’envie :
Pour avoir un trépas si beau,
Plus d’un aurait donné sa vie,
Car j’ai ta gorge pour tombeau,
Et sur l’albâtre où je repose
Un poète avec un baiser
Ecrivit : Ci-gît une rose
Que tous les rois vont jalouser”

Théophile Gautier

 

_____________________________

 

“Open your closed eyelid
Which is gently brushed by a virginal dream!
I am the ghost of the rose
That you wore last night at the ball.
You took me when I was still sprinkled with pearls
Of silvery tears from the watering-can,
And, among the sparkling festivities,
You carried me the entire night.

O you, who caused my death:
Without the power to chase it away,
You will be visited every night by my ghost,
Which will dance at your bedside.
But fear nothing; I demand
Neither Mass nor De Profundis;
This mild perfume is my soul,
And I’ve come from Paradise.

My destiny is worthy of envy;
And to have a fate so fine,
More than one would give his life
For on your breast I have my tomb,
And on the alabaster where I rest,
A poet with a kiss
Wrote: “Here lies a rose,
Of which all kings may be jealous.”

 

Illustrations by Jean Cocteau, 1912.Le Spectre de la rose is a short ballet about a young girl who dreams of dancing with the spirit of a souvenir rose from her first ball.

 

In 1911, Ballet Russes producer Sergei Diaghilev hoped to present Vaslav Nijinsky‘s ballet L’Après-midi d’un faune. It was not ready for the stage, so he needed another ballet to take its place. That ballet was the idea of writer Jean-Louis Vaudoyer. In 1910, he had sent an idea for a ballet to Ballets Russes set and costume designer Léon Bakst. His idea was based on Le Spectre de la rose, a verse by Théophile Gautier, and Afforderung zum Tanz (Invitation to the Dance), a work for piano by Carl Maria von Weber. Diaghilev liked Vaudoyer’s idea. He thought it could easily take the place of Faune. He put Vaudoyer’s idea into development at once. Diaghilev liked the idea of a ballet based on Gautier’s Spectre because it could be tied to the centennial of Gautier’s birth. Michel Fokine choreographed the ballet to the music of Carl Maria von Weber’s piano piece as orchestrated by Hector Berlioz in 1841. The little ballet became one of the most loved productions of the Ballets Russes.

 

 

Nijinsky’s silk elastic costume was covered with silk rose petals. Nijinsky was stitched into the costume for every show. After every show, the wardrobe mistress would touch up the petals with her curling iron.

Nijinsky’s make-up was an important part of the costume design. Romula de Pulszky, later to be his wife, wrote that he looked like “a celestial insect, his eyebrows suggesting some beautiful beetle”. Peter Ostwald writes that Nijinsky’s costume was like a ballerina’s.

Sometimes, petals would become loose and fall to the stage floor. Nijinsky’s servant Vasili would collect the petals and sell them as souvenirs. It was said that he built a large house called Le Château du Spectre de la Rose with the profits from the sale of the petals.

 

 

The ballet was first presented in Monte Carlo on 19 April 1911. Nijinsky danced The Rose and Tamara Karsavina danced The Young Girl. It was a great success. Spectre became internationally famous for the spectacular leap Nijinsky made through a window at the ballet’s end.

Many dancers have attempted to match Nijinsky as The Rose, but have failed. After all, the ballet had been designed for Nijinsky’s very special talents.

 

 

It was one of the first ballets Rudolph Nureyev danced in the West after leaving Russia. This was for German television in 1961. He first danced The Rose on stage (24 times) in New York City for the Joffrey Ballet’s Diaghilev program in 1979. Spectre de la Rose was the last ballet Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn danced together. That was in June 1979, when the ballerina was 60. He danced The Rose in Paris in 1981 and 1982, and last danced the part in August 1987 at the London Coliseum with the Nancy Ballet.

Nijinsky in Six Verses and Six Drawings

“Apollon tient le fil au bout duquel il pend.

Nègre de la Sultane, il vole en s’échappant,

Et le décor a l’air de la traîne d’un paon.

Il lance, Hermès rempli de mystérieux zèles,

Des fleurs qu’on ne voit pas pour courir après elles

Et charge tous les cœurs sur d’invisibles ailes !”

Jean Cocteau

 

_______________________________

 

“Apollo holds the thread on which he is hanging
Black of the Sultan, he flies while escaping
And the decorated peacock tail appears in the air
He, like Hermes, filled of mysterious fervor
Throws flowers that no one can see to running after them
And he carries all the hearts on his invisible wings”

 


Vaslav Nijinsky, a portfolio of six ink drawings by Paul Iribe with a few lines of appended verse by Jean Cocteau, 1910

Absorbing Images

“Robert absorbed every image he ever saw. The Baron de Meyer’s famous image of the flower became Robert’s flower. Robert also nicked something from de Meyer’s sequence of photographs showing Nijinsky in L’Après-midi d’un faune

Edward Lucie-Smith

(As quoted in Mapplethorpe: Assault with a Deadly Camera, by Jack Fritscher)

 

Photographs by Adolph de Meyer

Evoking The Afternoon of A Faun

“Nijinsky has never been so remarkable as in his latest role. No more jumps – nothing but half-conscious animal gestures and poses. He lies down, leans on his elbow, walks with bent knees, draws himself up, advancing and retreating, some-times slowly, sometimes with jerky angular movements. His eyes flicker, he stretches his arms, he opens his hands out flat, the fingers together, and as he turns away his head he continues to express his desire with a deliberate awkwardness that seems natural. Form and meaning are indissolubly wedded in his body, which is totally expressive of the mind within… His beauty is that of antique frescoes and sculptures: he is the ideal model, whom one longs to draw and sculpt.”

Auguste Rodin

 

Programme illustration by Léon Bakst for the ballet

 

The ballet L’Après-midi d’un faune (The Afternoon of a Faun)was choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky for the Ballets Russes and first performed in the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on 29 May 1912. On the opening night the ballet was met with a mixture of applause and booing, and again it was repeated. Now the audience applauded, and Auguste Rodin in the audience stood up to cheer.

Nijinsky danced the main part himself. As its score it used the Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune by Claude Debussy. Both the music and the ballet were inspired by the poem L’Après-midi d’un faune by Stéphane Mallarmé. The painter Odilon Redon, friend of Mallarmé, suggested how much the poet would have approved, “more than anyone, he would have appreciated this wonderful evocation of his thoughts.”

 

 

The costumes and sets were designed by the painter Léon BakstL’Après-midi d’un Faune is considered one of the first modern ballets and proved to be as controversial as Nijinsky’s Jeux (1913) and Le Sacre du printemps (1913).

The style of the ballet, in which a young faun meets several nymphs, flirts with them and chases them, was deliberately archaic. In the original scenography designed by Léon Bakst, the dancers were presented as part of a large tableau, a staging reminiscent of an ancient Greek vase painting. They often moved across the stage in profile as if on a bas relief. The ballet was presented in bare feet and rejected classical formalism. The work had an overtly erotic subtext beneath its façade of Greek antiquity, ending with a scene of graphic sexual desire.

The ballet was developed as a possible new production for the Ballets Russes founded by Sergei Diaghilev. Most of the dances performed by the company were choreographed by Michel Fokine, who had worked as a choreographer with the Imperial Russian Ballet, from which all the different specialists for the new ballet company had come. Initially the Ballet Russes took advantage of the 3 months summer break, when the Imperial ballet closed and its staff were free to do other things, to stage ballet and opera in Paris. Diaghilev was looking around for an alternative to the style which Fokine customarily delivered and decided to allow his senior male dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky, to try his hand at choreography.

 

Menelaus intending to strike Helen is struck by her beauty instead. Louvre museum, Campana collection acquired 1861

 

The original idea was developed by Diaghilev, Nijinsky and Bakst and was inspired by the artwork on ancient Greek vases and Egyptian and Assyrian frescoes which they viewed in the Louvre museum. Bakst had already worked with Vsevolod Meyerhold, an innovative theatre producer and director who had introduced concepts like two-dimensionality, stylized postures, a narrow stage, pauses and pacing to emphasise significant moments, into his productions. Ninjinsky’s aim was to reproduce the stylised look of the ancient artworks on the stage. In his portrayal of the faun, Nijinsky managed to reproduce exactly the figure of a satyr shown on Greek vases in the Louvre. Such concepts appear transferred to ballet.

Jean Cocteau helped to explain the Mallarmé poem (Nijinsky spoke little French) and with developing a scenario for the ballet. The music by Debussy already existed in a fully orchestrated form. After the summer season in Paris, Nijinsky returned to St Petersburg for the new Russian season and there started to work on the choreography with the help of his sister, Bronislava Nijinska, who was herself a senior dancer and who later choreographed her own ballets for Ballets Russes. Nijinsky was much excited about the project.

 

Cartoon by Daniel de Losques published in Le Figaro, 30 May 1912

 

Nijinsky as the Faun, illustrations by George Barbier, 1913

 

Baron de Meyer  published a book of photographs of the ballet

 

The nymph dance in the dream sequence of the film Sunnyside (Charlie Chaplin, 1919) has been recognized as being a tribute to the ballet

 

A pastiche of the ballet (choreographed by the then leader of the Royal Ballet, Wayne Eagling, a friend of Mercury who had helped him before with the choreography of the Bohemian Rhapsody) forms part of the music video for Queen’s single I Want to Break Free (David Mallet, 1984). Freddie Mercury dances the role of the faun, with dancers from the Royal Ballet also performing, including Jeremy Sheffield. Mercury shaved his trademark moustache to portray Vaslav Nijinsky as a faun in the ballet L’après-midi d’un faune.

 

Queen’s video can be seen on The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228

A Free Illustration of Mallarmé’s Beautiful Poem

 

Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, known in English as Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, is a symphonic poem for orchestra by Claude Debussy, approximately 10 minutes in duration. It was first performed in Paris on December 22, 1894, conducted by Gustave Doret.

The composition was inspired by the poem L’après-midi d’un faune by Stéphane Mallarmé. Debussy’s work later provided the basis for the ballet Afternoon of a Faun, choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky. It is one of Debussy’s most famous works and is considered a turning point in the history of music; Pierre Boulez has said he considers the score to be the beginning of modern music, observing that “the flute of the faun brought new breath to the art of music.” It is a work that barely grasps onto tonality and harmonic function.

About his composition Debussy wrote:

 

“ The music of this prelude is a very free illustration of Mallarmé’s beautiful poem. By no means does it claim to be a synthesis of it. Rather there is a succession of scenes through which pass the desires and dreams of the faun in the heat of the afternoon. Then, tired of pursuing the timorous flight of nymphs and naiads, he succumbs to intoxicating sleep, in which he can finally realize his dreams of possession in universal Nature.”

 

Paul Valéry reported that Mallarmé himself was unhappy with his poem being used as the basis for music: “He believed that his own music was sufficient, and that even with the best intentions in the world, it was a veritable crime as far as poetry was concerned to juxtapose poetry and music, even if it were the finest music there is.”

However, Maurice Dumesnil states in his biography of Debussy that Mallarmé was enchanted by Debussy’s composition, citing a short letter from Mallarmé to Debussy that read: “I have just come out of the concert, deeply moved. The marvel! Your illustration of The Afternoon of a Faun, which presents a dissonance with my text only by going much further, really, into nostalgia and into light, with finesse, with sensuality, with richness. I press your hand admiringly, Debussy. Yours, Mallarmé.”

The opening flute solo is one of the most famous passages in the orchestral repertoire, consisting of a chromatic descent to a tritone below the original pitch, and the subsequent ascent.

To listen to this Debussy’s composition, please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228

Apparition

Portrait of Stéphane Mallarmé, Édouard Manet, 1876

 

APPARITION

La lune s’attristait. Des séraphins en pleurs
Rêvant, l’archet aux doigts, dans le calme des fleurs
Vaporeuses, tiraient de mourantes violes
De blancs sanglots glissant sur l’azur des corolles.
C’était le jour béni de ton premier baiser.
Ma songerie aimant à me martyriser
S’enivrait savamment du parfum de tristesse
Que même sans regret et sans déboire laisse
La cueillaison d’un Rêve au cœur qui l’a cueilli.
J’errais donc, l’œil rivé sur le pavé vieilli
Quand avec du soleil aux cheveux, dans la rue
Et dans le soir, tu m’es en riant apparue
Et j’ai cru voir la fée au chapeau de clarté
Qui jadis sur mes beaux sommeils d’enfant gâté
Passait, laissant toujours de ses mains mal fermées
Neiger de blancs bouquets d’étoiles parfumées.

Stéphane Mallarmé

 

_______________________________

 

“The moon was getting sad. Weeping cherubs
were dreaming, bow in hand in the quiet vaporous flowers
Played from their dying viols,
white tears rollied on the sky-blue petals
– That was the sacred day of our first kiss
And I became martyr to my own dreams
which fed on that perfume of sadness
which, even without regrets or mishaps, leaves
picking up a dream to the heart who picked it.
Here I was, wandering, with my eyes riveted on the ancient cobbles
When with sunshine in your hair, in the street,
and in the night, you appeared to me, laughing
And I thought I saw the fairy with a hat of light
That once visited my beautiful spoiled childhood’s slumbers
And from whose half closed hands
Kept snowing in white bunches of scented stars.”

 

In Apparition, one of his early poems, written in 1862, when he was twenty, the girl he is on his way to meet and who is no doubt his future wife, Maria Gerhard (her first name and the fact that she was seven years older than Mallarmé may be psychologically significant), is metamorphosed in the final lines into the maternal figure remembered from long ago.

The Afternoon of a Faun

Frontispiece for L’après-midi d’un faune, drawing by Édouard Manet.

 

Stéphane Mallarmé as a faun, cover of the literary magazine Les hommes d’aujourd’hui, 1887

 

L’APRÈS-MIDI D’UN FAUNE

“Le Faune:
Ces nymphes, je les veux perpétuer.
Si clair,
Leur incarnat léger, qu’il voltige dans l’air
Assoupi de sommeils touffus.
Aimai-je un rêve?
Mon doute, amas de nuit ancienne, s’achève
En maint rameau subtil, qui, demeuré les vrais
Bois même, prouve, hélas! que bien seul je m’offrais
Pour triomphe la faute idéale de roses.

Réfléchissons…
ou si les femmes dont tu gloses
Figurent un souhait de tes sens fabuleux!
Faune, l’illusion s’échappe des yeux bleus
Et froids, comme une source en pleurs, de la plus chaste:
Mais, l’autre tout soupirs, dis-tu qu’elle contraste
Comme brise du jour chaude dans ta toison?
Que non! par l’immobile et lasse pâmoison
Suffoquant de chaleurs le matin frais s’il lutte,
Ne murmure point d’eau que ne verse ma flûte
Au bosquet arrosé d’accords; et le seul vent
Hors des deux tuyaux prompt à s’exhaler avant
Qu’il disperse le son dans une pluie aride,
C’est, à l’horizon pas remué d’une ride
Le visible et serein souffle artificiel
De l’inspiration, qui regagne le ciel.”

Stepháne Mallarmé

 

______________________________

 

“Faun:
These nymphs that I would perpetuate:
so clear
And light, their carnation, that it floats in the air
Heavy with leafy slumbers.
Did I love a dream?
My doubt, night’s ancient hoard, pursues its theme
In branching labyrinths, which being still
The veritable woods themselves, alas, reveal
My triumph as the ideal fault of roses.
Consider…
if the women of your glosses
Are phantoms of your fabulous desires!
Faun, the illusion flees from the cold, blue eyes
Of the chaster nymph like a fountain gushing tears:
But the other, all in sighs, you say, compares
To a hot wind through the fleece that blows at noon?
No! through the motionless and weary swoon
Of stifling heat that suffocates the morning,
Save from my flute, no waters murmuring
In harmony flow out into the groves;
And the only wind on the horizon no ripple moves,
Exhaled from my twin pipes and swift to drain
The melody in arid drifts of rain,
Is the visible, serene and fictive air
Of inspiration rising as if in prayer.”

Translation by Henry Weinfeld

 

It is Mallarme’s best-known work and a landmark in the history of symbolism in French literature. Paul Valéry considered it to be the greatest poem in French literature.

Initial versions of the poem were written between 1865 (the first mention of the poem is found in a letter Mallarmé wrote to Henri Cazalis in June 1865) and 1867, and the final text was published in 1876. It describes the sensual experiences of a faun who has just woken up from his afternoon sleep and discusses his encounters with several nymphs during the morning in a dreamlike monologue.

Paths That Cross

Robert Mapplethorpe and Sam Wagstaff. Photo by Francesco Scavullo, 1974

Samuel Jones Wagstaff Jr. and Robert Mapplethorpe share the same birthday – November 4. But Sam Wagstaff was born 25 years earlier than Robert, in 1921

After seeing the exhibition The Painterly Photograph, 1890-1914 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1973 and meeting Robert Mapplethorpe in 1972, Wagstaff became convinced that photographs were the most unrecognized and, possibly, the most valuable works of art. He began selling his collection of paintings, using the proceeds to buy 19th-century American, British, and French photography. Then, influenced by Mapplethorpe, Wagstaff’s taste veered toward the daring, and he began to depart from established names in search of new talent. His collection was soon recognized as one of the finest private holdings in the United States.

 

PATHS THAT CROSS
Dedicated to the memory of Samuel J. Wagstaff.

Speak to me
Speak to me heart
I feel a needing
to bridge the clouds
Softly go
A way I wish to know
A way I wish to know

Oh you’ll ride
Surely dance
In a ring
Backwards and forwards
Those who seek
feel the glow
A glow we will all know
A glow we will all know

On that day
Filled with grace
And the heart’s communion
Steps we take
Steps we trace
Into the light of reunion

Paths that cross
will cross again
Paths that cross
will cross again

Speak to me
Speak to me shadow
I spin from the wheel
nothing at all
Save the need
the need to weave
A silk of souls
that whisper whisper
A silk of souls
that whispers to me

Speak to me heart
all things renew
hearts will mend
round the bend
Paths that cross
cross again
Paths that cross
will cross again

Rise up hold the reins
We’ll meet again I don’t know when
Hold tight bye bye
Paths that cross
will cross again
Paths that cross
Will cross again

Patti Smith

Dream of Life

1988

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A Kind of Chelsea Heterosexual Bonding

 

At the Chelsea Hotel, Robert Mapplethorpe claimed (in his version), he met Patti Smith, who appeared in his open doorway looking for someone else, not Robert, whom she had never met. “I woke up,” Robert said, “and there was Patti. We recognized each other’s souls instantly. We had matching bodies. I had never met her, but I knew her.”

“Robert at first was too poor to live at the Chelsea Hotel, so he lived down the street, but he hung out in the Chelsea, cruising its corridors, picking up on the art-sex-and-drugs cachet of the address, trying to meet people who knew people.” Robert at the time was twenty years old and had been hustling Manhattan for four years. He was six years away from meeting art historian John McKendry, curator of photography at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who bought Robert his first serious camera. Robert worked the Chelsea Hotel and the galleries by day the way, in the later, more successful, period in the late seventies, he worked clubs like Max’s Kansas City, The Saint, and the Mine Shaft by night. Those early days, he once told me, were hard and dark. Sometimes, he was able to afford the tab on a small room at the Chelsea Hotel on West Twenty-third Street. Sometimes, he retired to a dingy walk-up just down the street. In New York, one’s address is everything, and crashing the Chelsea, the notorious avant-garde enclave, gave Robert his first tangible sense of arrival.

 

 

The androgynous bodies took, according to Robert’s take, to a kind of Chelsea heterosexual bonding. They became a couple on the art-and-party circuit. They pooled their money to afford their nightly visits to Mickey Ruskin’s bistro at Park Avenue and Sixteenth Street, Max’s Kansas City, where sixties pop celebrated itself nightly. “I hated going there,” Robert said, “but I had to.”

 

 

At dawn, the young couple returned to the Chelsea. Robert supposedly had kicked a hole in the wall between his room and Patti’s. This instant suite was his first attempt at interior design. Robert needed Patti. He was alone. She was there. She nurtured him for several years. She was a writer and he was mad for the company of writers. She was a singer and he loved rock ‘n’ roll. The Chelsea Girls film had lasted three hours and fifteen minutes. Robert and Patti lasted longer. For a while, as a couple, they were chronologically correct, until they weren’t. Patti graduated to her own stardom, travels, and odalisques. One pop culture urban tale has Patti running off with playwright Sam Shepard, leaving Shepard’s writer/film actress wife, O-1an Jones (O-lan later became a theater legend, directing her experimental music and theater company, Overtone Industries). Another urban pop tale, told by porn star J. D. Slater, pairs Patti with the lead guitarist of MC-5, Fred Sonic Smith. Patti Smith herself can be the only one to tell the tales of her heart. Whatever her real private history, the true romance pop culture story is she never really left Robert, not for men, not for women, not for music, not for long, because she was more than his muse; she was his twin, his divine androgyne, and he was her photographer, the artist whose camera, with her, became positively Kirlian, capturing her spirit, her aura, her being.

His camera became their bond. “Patti is a genius.” Robert said that so often I began to understand that what he said about Patti he was projecting about himself as modestly as he could. His style was to reveal his personal self by indirection. (His professional self he revealed by edict.) Consequently, I never knew much about Patti, to whom I sometimes spoke on Robert’s phone calls from my home, because Robert used her as an emblem to talk about himself. When Edward Lucie-Smith met Robert and Patti, they were inmates at the Chelsea: spiritually, but not physically. “When I met him,” Edward said, “Robert was in one of his ‘broke’ phases, and the walk-up a few doors down the street was the place where he slept, if he ever did sleep, while he hung out at the Chelsea.” But Robert and Patti seemed avantly certifiable Chelsea Girls. Signs and omens were everywhere. Andy Warhol’s film was banned in Boston and Chicago. The “Chelsea Robert,” so enthralled by Warhol, was already on the trendy trajectory toward censorship.

 

Mapplethorpe: Assault with a Deadly Camera

Jack Fritscher

Portrait of Duncan

“He (Duncan Grant) is so incredibly full of charm, his genius as an artist seems to overflow so into his life and character & he is so amusing too and odd and unaccountable that lots of people I think don’t see clearly what to me is really his most adorable quality – his honesty – disinterestedness absolute sincerity & simplicity of character which make me depend upon him always.”

Letter from Vanessa Bell to his son Julian Bell, 7 Mar 1937

 

Portrait of Duncan Grant,  Vanessa Bell, c. 1917

 

Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell worked closely on artistic projects and, though Grant would have many parallel relationships with men, they remained close companions for the rest of their lives. In 1918 Vanessa gave birth to Duncan’s child, Angelica.