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

Advertisements

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

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.

Flush or A Faunus

In 1930, after Virginia Woolf attended Rudolf Besier’s play, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, she began to reread Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetry and letters. Woolf’s fanciful biography of the Brownings, seen through the lens of their cocker spaniel, was published in 1933, with four drawings by Vanessa Bell.Pinka, the cocker spaniel that Vita Sackville-West gave Virginia Woolf in 1926, was photographed for the dust jacket and frontispiece of the first edition.

 

Virginia and Vita at Monk’s House in 1933 (as photographed by Leonard Woolf)

 

Virginia Woolf with Pinka

 

The original sketch of The Back Bedroom, on display, shows Elizabeth Barrett languishing in the back bedroom of her father’s house.

 

The Back Bedroom,Vanessa Bell, c. 1932. Graphite drawing for Flush

 

FLUSH OR A FAUNUS

 

“You see this dog. It was but yesterday
I mused, forgetful of his presence here,
Till thought on thought drew downward tear on tear;
When from the pillow, where wet-cheeked I lay,
A head as hairy as Faunus, thrust its way
Right sudden against my face,—two golden-clear
Large eyes astonished mine,—a drooping ear
Did flap me on either cheek, to dry the spray!
I started first, as some Arcadian
Amazed by goatly god in twilight grove:
But as my bearded vision closelier ran
My tears off, I knew Flush, and rose above
Surprise and sadness; thanking the true Pan,
Who, by low creatures, leads to heights of love.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

Cover of the first edition

 

The Wind in the Willows is a children’s novel by Kenneth Grahame, first published in 1908. Alternately slow moving and fast paced, it focuses on four anthropomorphised animals in a pastoral version of England. The novel is notable for its mixture of mysticism, adventure, morality, and camaraderie and celebrated for its evocation of the nature of the Thames valley.

In 1909, Theodore Roosevelt, then President of the United States, wrote to Grahame to tell him that he had “read it and reread it, and have come to accept the characters as old friends”.

In addition to the main narrative, the book contains several independent short-stories featuring Rat and Mole. These appear for the most part between the chapters chronicling Toad’s adventures, and are often omitted from abridgements and dramatizations. The chapter “Dulce Domum” describes Mole’s return to his home, accompanied by Rat, in which, despite finding it in a terrible mess after his abortive spring clean, he rediscovers, with Rat’s help, a familiar comfort. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn tells how Mole and Rat search for Otter’s missing son Portly, whom they find in the care of the god Pan. (Pan removes their memories of this meeting “lest the awful remembrance should remain and grow, and overshadow mirth and pleasure”.) Finally in Wayfarers All, Ratty shows a restless side to his character when he is sorely tempted to join a Sea Rat on his travelling adventures.

 

Illustration by Arthur Rackham

 

The book was originally published as plain text, but many illustrated, comic and annotated versions have been published over the years. Notable illustrators include Paul Bransom (1913), Ernest H. Shepard (1933), Arthur Rackham (1940), Tasha Tudor (1966), Michael Hague (1980), Scott McKowen (2005), and Robert Ingpen (2007).

The Wind in the Willows was the last work illustrated by Arthur Rackham. The book with his illustrations was issued posthumously in a limited edition by the Folio Society with 16 color plates in 1940 in the US. It was not issued with the Rackham illustrations in the UK until 1950.

 

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, frontispiece to a 1913 edition by Paul Bransom

 

The first album by psychedelic rock group Pink Floyd, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967), was named by former member Syd Barrett after chapter 7 of The Wind in the Willows,which contains a visionary encounter with the god Pan, who plays his pan pipe at dawn. It was one of Barrett’s favourite books, and he often gave friends the impression that he was Pan, that he was the Piper. The moniker was later used in the song Shine On You Crazy Diamond, in which Barrett is called “you Piper”. However, the songs on the album are not directly related to the contents of the book. Barrett came up with the album title The Piper at the Gates of Dawn; the album was originally titled Projection up to as late as July 1967.

 

Up-and-coming society photographer Vic Singh was hired to photograph the band for the album cover. Singh shared a studio with photographer David Bailey, and he was friends with Beatles guitarist George Harrison. Singh asked Jenner and King to dress the band in the brightest clothes they could find. Vic Singh then shot them with a prism lens that Harrison had given him. The cover was meant to resemble an LSD trip, a style that was favoured at the time.

 

Syd did his own little drawing on the back cover

 

The same chapter was the basis for the name and lyrics of Piper at the Gates of Dawn, a song by Irish singer-song writer Van Morrison from his 1997 album The Healing Game. The song The Wicker Man by British heavy metal band Iron Maiden also includes the phrase. British extreme metal band Cradle of Filth released a special edition of their album Thornography, called Harder, Darker, Faster: Thornography Deluxe; on the song Snake-Eyed and the Venomous, a pun is made in the lyrics “… all vipers at the gates of dawn” referring to Chapter 7 of the book.

 

To listen to Van Morrison’s rendition of this literary classic, please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228?ref=hl

The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up

Cover of 1915 edition of J. M. Barrie’s novel, first published in 1911, illustrated by F. D. Bedford

 

Illustration of Peter Pan playing the pipes, by F. D. Bedford from Peter and Wendy (1911)

 

Peter Pan is a character created by Scottish novelist and playwright J. M. Barrie. A mischievous boy who can fly and never grows up, Peter Pan spends his never-ending childhood having adventures on the small island of Neverland as the leader of his gang, the Lost Boys, interacting with mermaids, Native Americans, fairies, pirates, and occasionally ordinary children from the world outside Neverland. In addition to two distinct works by Barrie, the character has been featured in a variety of media and merchandise, both adapting and expanding on Barrie’s works. These include an animated film, a dramatic film, a TV series and other works.

J.M. Barrie created his character based on his older brother, David, who died in an ice-skating accident the day before he would have turned 14. His mother and brother thought of him always as a boy. The “boy who wouldn’t grow up” character has been described as a variety of ages. It is also based on Pan, the Greek deity.

J. M. Barrie first used Peter Pan as a character in a section of The Little White Bird (1902), an adult novel.

He returned to that character as the center of his stage play entitled Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, which premiered on 27 December 1904 in London. The play was highly popular, running to 1913.

 

Following the success of the 1904 play, Barrie’s publishers, Hodder and Stoughton, extracted chapters 13–18 of The Little White Bird and republished them in 1906 under the title Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, with the addition of illustrations by Arthur Rackham. Barrie adapted and expanded the play’s story line as a novel, published in 1911 as Peter and Wendy

 

Peter Pan ( Herbert Brenon, 1924). Silent film released by Paramount Pictures, the first film adaptation of the play by J. M. Barrie, starring Betty Bronson as Peter

 

Peter Pan (Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske, 1953), the American animated fantasy-adventure film produced by Walt Disney. A sequel titled Return to Never Land was released in 2002

 

Hook (Steven Spielberg, 1991), live-action sequel starring Robin Williams as the adult Peter Banning, Dustin Hoffman as Hook and Julia Roberts as Tinker Bell

Myself Afar

Afar, Fred Holland Day, 1907

 

THE DESERTED GARDEN

(Excerpt)

“…My childhood from my life is parted,
My footstep from the moss which drew
Its fairy circle round: anew
The garden is deserted.

Another thrush may there rehearse
The madrigals which sweetest are;
No more for me! myself afar
Do sing a sadder verse.

Ah me, ah me! when erst I lay
In that child’s-nest so greenly wrought,
I laughed unto myself and thought
‘The time will pass away.’

And still I laughed, and did not fear
But that, whene’er was past away
The childish time, some happier play…

I knew the time would pass away,
And yet, beside the rose-tree wall,
Dear God, how seldom, if at all,
Did I look up to pray!

The time is past; and now that grows
The cypress high among the trees,
And I behold white sepulchres
As well as the white rose, —

When graver, meeker thoughts are given,
And I have learnt to lift my face,
Reminded how earth’s greenest place
The color draws from heaven, —

It something saith for earthly pain,
But more for Heavenly promise free,
That I who was, would shrink to be
That happy child again.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

If You Are Male or Female

“Suddenly, Pan – leaping – its face too beautiful to bear, beautiful Serpent, its coils in rainbow lashings in the sky – into the sure bones of fright-
Don’t walk home at night through the empty country. Don’t go into the forest when the light is too low, even too late in the afternoon- it will get you. Don’t sit by the tree like this, with your cheek against the bark. It is impossible in this morning to see if you are male or female now…”

Thomas Pynchon
Excerpt from Gravity’s Rainbow

 
 

Pan, James Bidgood, 1965

News for The Delphic Oracle

Pan Pipes, Fred Holland Day, 1897

 

“There all the golden codgers lay,
There the silver dew,
And the great water sighed for love,
And the wind sighed too.
Man-picker Niamh leant and sighed
By Oisin on the grass;
There sighed amid his choir of love
Tall pythagoras.
plotinus came and looked about,
The salt-flakes on his breast,
And having stretched and yawned awhile
Lay sighing like the rest.
Straddling each a dolphin’s back
And steadied by a fin,
Those Innocents re-live their death,
Their wounds open again.
The ecstatic waters laugh because
Their cries are sweet and strange,
Through their ancestral patterns dance,
And the brute dolphins plunge
Until, in some cliff-sheltered bay
Where wades the choir of love
Proffering its sacred laurel crowns,
They pitch their burdens off.”

William Butler Yeats

Hymn of Pan

In the Glade, Fred Holland Day, 1905

The nude model is shown with a statue of Pan, a symbol of Nature. Day placed a statue of Pan in a glade at his property in Maine. He photographed many of his models with the statue, and it became a symbol for the community of friends that Day had built up at his Maine home.

 

“From the forests and highlands
From the forests and highlands
We come, we come;
From the river-girt islands,
Where loud waves are dumb
Listening to my sweet pipings.
The wind in the reeds and the rushes,
The bees on the bells of thyme,
The birds on the myrtle bushes,
The cicale above in the lime,
And the lizards below in the grass,
Were as silent as ever old Tmolus* was,
Listening to my sweet pipings.
Liquid Peneus* was flowing,
And all dark Tempe lay
In Pelion’s* shadow, outgrowing
The light of the dying day,
Speeded by my sweet pipings.
The Sileni, and Sylvans, and Fauns,
And the Nymphs of the woods and the waves,
To the edge of the moist river-lawns,
And the brink of the dewy caves,
And all that did then attend and follow,
Were silent with love, as you now, Apollo,
With envy of my sweet pipings.
I sang of the dancing stars,
I sang of the daedal Earth,
And of Heaven, and the giant wars,
And Love, and Death, and Birth—
And then I chang’d my pipings,
Singing how down the vale of Maenalus
I pursu’d a maiden and clasp’d a reed.
Gods and men, we are all deluded thus!
It breaks in our bosom and then we bleed.
All wept, as I think both ye now would,
If envy or age had not frozen your blood,
At the sorrow of my sweet pipings.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

*NOTES:

Tmolus: King of Lydia and husband to Omphale. He is the eponymous namesake of Mount Tmolus, which lies in Lydia.
Peneus: In Greek mythology, Peneus was a Thessalian river god, one of the three thousand Rivers (Potamoi), a child of Oceanus and Tethys.
Pelion: In Greek mythology, Mount Pelion (which took its name from the mythical king Peleus, father of Achilles) was the homeland of Chiron the Centaur, tutor of many ancient Greek heroes, such as Jason, Achilles, Theseus and Heracles.

The Most Complicated Thing On Earth

“When I first became interested in photography… my idea was to have it recognized as one of the fine arts. Today I don’t give a hoot in hell about that. The mission of photography is to explain man to man and each man to himself. And that is the most complicated thing on earth and also as naïve as a tender plant.”

Edward Steichen

 

Experiment in Three Color Photography, by Edward Steichen. Camera Work No 15, 1906

To Quash False Accusations

L’Âge d’Airain, Auguste Rodin, modeled 1876

 

“I have unbounded admiration for the nude. I worship it,” Auguste Rodin used to say. He sought out models with strong, vigorous bodies, whether they were professional or not. Auguste Neyt, a muscular telegraphist, who remained friends with the sculptor after posing for The Age of Bronze, was an amateur. At the time, Rodin was struggling to be recognized as an artist in his own right and was working relentlessly to produce a great piece of sculpture.

Shown at the Salon des Artistes Belges, in Brussels, in 1877, the statue met with unanimous acclaim, although one art critic suspected Rodin of having used a life cast to make it. This charge benefited Rodin though, because people were so eager to see this for themselves.

 

Photograph by Gaudenzio Marconi

 

Nevertheless, to quash this accusation, a few months later, Rodin turned for help to Gaudenzio Marconi, a prolific photographer of nudes. Intending to present the work again, this time at the Salon des Artistes Français, Paris, he commissioned Marconi to take photographs, from the front and back, of August Neyt naked, in the pose of The Age of Bronze . These efforts were, however, all in vain. The jury never even looked at the photographs.

Critics of the period were also dismayed by the subject, for Rodin not only abandoned all of the elaborate repertory of symbols with which academic sculptors habitually equipped their works, but also had stripped the figure of the spear originally carried in his left hand, relying on the expressiveness of the figure itself to convey its meaning. In addition, he changed the title from The Vanquished (Le Vaincu), possibly an allusion to the suffering and demoralization of his countrymen during the Franco-Prussian War, to the classical, but more ambiguous, The Age of Bronze (L’Âge d’Airain). Later the work acquired still other new titles, by instance, Man Awakening to Nature. The Metropolitan Museum has retained the title by which the bronze was known at the time of its purchase from Rodin.

For The Spreading Laurel Tree

pd2758288William Butler Yeats with his son , Michael , and Daughter , Anne , in the grounds of Thoor Ballylee, Ireland.

 

A PRAYER FOR MY DAUGHTER

“Once more the storm is howling, and half hid
Under this cradle-hood and coverlid
My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle
But Gregory’s wood and one bare hill
Whereby the haystack- and roof-levelling wind,
Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;
And for an hour I have walked and prayed
Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.

I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour
And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,
And under the arches of the bridge, and scream
In the elms above the flooded stream;
Imagining in excited reverie
That the future years had come,
Dancing to a frenzied drum,
Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.

May she be granted beauty and yet not
Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught,
Or hers before a looking-glass, for such,
Being made beautiful overmuch,
Consider beauty a sufficient end,
Lose natural kindness and maybe
The heart-revealing intimacy
That chooses right, and never find a friend.

Helen being chosen found life flat and dull
And later had much trouble from a fool,
While that great Queen, that rose out of the spray,
Being fatherless could have her way
Yet chose a bandy-leggèd smith for man.
It’s certain that fine women eat
A crazy salad with their meat
Whereby the Horn of Plenty is undone.

In courtesy I’d have her chiefly learned;
Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned
By those that are not entirely beautiful;
Yet many, that have played the fool
For beauty’s very self, has charm made wise,
And many a poor man that has roved,
Loved and thought himself beloved,
From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.

May she become a flourishing hidden tree
That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,
And have no business but dispensing round
Their magnanimities of sound,
Nor but in merriment begin a chase,
Nor but in merriment a quarrel.
O may she live like some green laurel
Rooted in one dear perpetual place.

My mind, because the minds that I have loved,
The sort of beauty that I have approved,
Prosper but little, has dried up of late,
Yet knows that to be choked with hate
May well be of all evil chances chief.
If there’s no hatred in a mind
Assault and battery of the wind
Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.

An intellectual hatred is the worst,
So let her think opinions are accursed.
Have I not seen the loveliest woman born
Out of the mouth of Plenty’s horn,
Because of her opinionated mind
Barter that horn and every good
By quiet natures understood
For an old bellows full of angry wind?

Considering that, all hatred driven hence,
The soul recovers radical innocence
And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,
And that its own sweet will is Heaven’s will;
She can, though every face should scowl
And every windy quarter howl
Or every bellows burst, be happy still.

And may her bridegroom bring her to a house
Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious;
For arrogance and hatred are the wares
Peddled in the thoroughfares.
How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
Ceremony’s a name for the rich horn,
And custom for the spreading laurel tree.”

William Butler Yeats

From Michael Robartes and the Dancer (Cuala Press, 1921)

 

This poem it is written to Anne, his daughter with Georgie Hyde Lees, whom Yeats married after his last marriage proposal to Maud Gonne was rejected in 1916. Yeats wrote the poem while staying in a tower at Thoor Ballylee during the Anglo-Irish War, two days after Anne’s birth on February 26, 1919. The poem reflects Yeats’s complicated views on Irish Nationalism, sexuality, and is considered an important work of Modernist poetry.

As the poem reflects Yeats’s expectations for his young daughter, feminist critiques of the poem have questioned the poet’s general approach to women through the text’s portrayal of women in society. Joyce Carol Oates suggests that Yeats used the poem to deprive his daughter of sensuality as he envisions a “crushingly conventional” view of womanhood, wishing her to become a “flourishing hidden tree” instead of allowing her the freedoms given to male children. In Oates’ opinion, Yeats wishes his daughter to become like a “vegetable:immobile, unthinking, and placid.”

The tree is an important symbol for Yeats. He gives it qualities of goodness, good health and prosperity. It is also a symbol of growth and since it shelters birds and can give fruit; it also stands for kindness. Yeats adds a further dimension to this by specifying the tree in line 47 (verse 6), The laurel tree is of special significance to the ancient Greeks. Its leaves were used to crown poets and heroes. In Greek mythology the laurel is associated with Daphne, the daughter of a river god with whom Apollo fell in love. When Apollo chased her, she cried for help and was changed into a laurel tree, which became the favorite tree of Orpheus’s father.

In the context of Yeat’s poem the laurel tree carries with it overtones of feminine shyness (hidden tree̱ ‒ line 41) and purity. It also links it with the “chase” in line 45.

The Death of Orpheus

“While the poet of Thrace, with songs like these, drew to himself the trees, the souls of wild beasts, and the stones that followed him, see, how the frenzied Ciconian women, their breasts covered with animal skins, spy Orpheus from a hilltop, as he matches songs to the sounding strings. One of them, her hair scattered to the light breeze, called: ‘Behold, behold, this is the one who scorns us!’ and hurled her spear at the face of Apollo’s poet, as he was singing. Tipped with leaves, it marked him, without wounding. The next missile was a stone, that, thrown through the air, was itself overpowered by the harmony of voice and lyre, and fell at his feet, as though it were begging forgiveness for its mad audacity. But in fact the mindless attack mounted, without restraint, and mad fury ruled. All their missiles would have been frustrated by his song, but the huge clamour of the Berecyntian flutes of broken horn, the drums, and the breast-beating and howls of the Bacchantes, drowned the sound of the lyre. Then, finally, the stones grew red, with the blood of the poet, to whom they were deaf.

First, the innumerable birds, the snakes, and the procession of wild animals, still entranced by the voice of the singer, a mark of Orpheus’s triumph, were torn apart by the Maenads. Then they set their bloody hands on Orpheus, and gathered, like birds that spy the owl, the bird of night, wandering in the daylight, or as in the amphitheater, on the morning of the staged events, on either side, a doomed stag, in the arena, is prey to the hounds. They rushed at the poet, and hurled their green-leaved thyrsi, made for a different use. Some threw clods of earth, some branches torn from the trees, and others flints. And so that their madness did not lack true weapons, by chance, oxen were turning the soil under the ploughshare, and, not far away from them, brawny farm workers were digging the solid earth, sweating hard to prepare it for use, who fled when they saw the throng, leaving their work tools behind. Hoes, heavy mattocks, and long rakes lay scattered through the empty fields. After catching these up, and ripping apart the oxen, that threatened them with their horns, the fierce women rushed back to kill the poet. As he stretched out his hands, speaking ineffectually for the first time ever, not affecting them in any way with his voice, the impious ones murdered him: and the spirit, breathed out through that mouth to which stones listened, and which was understood by the senses of wild creatures – O, God! – vanished down the wind.

The birds, lamenting, cried for you, Orpheus; the crowd of wild creatures; the hard flints; the trees that often gathered to your song, shedding their leaves, mourned you with bared crowns. They say the rivers, also, were swollen with their own tears, and the naiads and dryads, with dishevelled hair, put on sombre clothes. The poet’s limbs were strewn in different places: the head and the lyre you, Hebrus, received, and (a miracle!) floating in midstream, the lyre lamented mournfully; mournfully the lifeless tongue murmured; mournfully the banks echoed in reply. And now, carried onward to the sea, they left their native river-mouth and reached the shores of Lesbos, at Methymna. Here, as the head lay exposed on the alien sand, its moist hair dripping brine, a fierce snake attacked it. But at last Phoebus came, and prevented it, as it was about to bite, and turned the serpent’s gaping jaws to stone, and froze the mouth, wide open, as it was.

The ghost of Orpheus sank under the earth, and recognised all those places it had seen before; and, searching the fields of the Blessed, he found his wife again and held her eagerly in his arms. There they walk together side by side; now she goes in front, and he follows her; now he leads, and looks back as he can do, in safety now, at his Eurydice.”

Ovid

The Metamorphoses

Book XI: 1-66

 

Nymphs Listening to the Songs of Orpheus, Charles Jalabert, 1853

 

Thracian Girl Carrying the Head of Orpheus on His Lyre, Gustave Moreau, 1865

 

Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus, John William Waterhouse, 1905

 

Mort d’Orphée, Pablo Picasso, 1930