Pan With Us

Walter R. Roehmer as Pan, George Platt Lynes, circa 1939

 

Pan came out of the woods one day,—
His skin and his hair and his eyes were gray,
The gray of the moss of walls were they,—
And stood in the sun and looked his fill
At wooded valley and wooded hill.

He stood in the zephyr, pipes in hand,
On a height of naked pasture land;
In all the country he did command
He saw no smoke and he saw no roof.
That was well! and he stamped a hoof.

His heart knew peace, for none came here
To this lean feeding save once a year
Someone to salt the half-wild steer,
Or homespun children with clicking pails
Who see no little they tell no tales.

He tossed his pipes, too hard to teach
A new-world song, far out of reach,
For a sylvan sign that the blue jay’s screech
And the whimper of hawks beside the sun
Were music enough for him, for one.

Times were changed from what they were:
Such pipes kept less of power to stir
The fruited bough of the juniper
And the fragile bluets clustered there
Than the merest aimless breath of air.

They were pipes of pagan mirth,
And the world had found new terms of worth.
He laid him down on the sun-burned earth
And ravelled a flower and looked away—
Play? Play?—What should he play?

Robert Frost

A Boys’s Will

1915

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Awakening

Sailors, by George Platt-Lynes

“Grave mouths of lions
Sinuous smiling of young crocodiles
Along the river’s water conveying millions
Isles of spice
How lovely he is, the son
Of the widowed queen
And the sailor
The handsome sailor abandons a siren,
Her widow’s lament at the south of the islet
It’s Diana of the barracks yard
Too short a dream
Dawn and lanterns barely extinguished
We are awakening
A tattered fanfare”

Jean Cocteau

There Rose a Tree

Photo by George Platt-Lynes

 

I,1

„Da stieg ein Baum. O reine Übersteigung!
O Orpheus singt! O hoher Baum im Ohr.
Und alles schwieg. Doch selbst in der verschweigung
ging neuer Anfang, Wink und Wandlung vor.

Tiere aus Stille drangen aus dem klaren
gelösten wald von Lager und Genist;
und da ergab sich, daß sie nicht aus List
und nicht aus Angst in sich so leise waren,

sondern aus Hören. Brüllen, Schrei, Geröhr
schien klein in ihren Herzen. Und wo eben
kaum eine Hütte war, dies zu empfangen,

ein Unterschlupf aus dunkelstem Verlangen
mit einem Zugang, dessen Pfosten beben, –
da schufst du ihnen Tempel im Gehör.“

Rainer Maria Rilke

Die Sonette an Orpheus (Sonnets to Orpheus)

 

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FIRST SONNET

“There rose a tree. O pure transcendence!
O Orpheus sings! O tall tree in the ear!
And all was silent. Yet still in this silence
proceeded new beginning, sign and transformation.

Creatures of stillness pressed out of the clear
unravelled forest from lair and nest;
and it came to pass, that not by cunning
and not out of fear were they made so quiet,

but simply out of hearing. Bellow, scream, roar
seemed small in their hearts. And just where
there was scarcely a hut to receive this,

a shelter of darkest longing
with an entrance, whose posts shook, –
you built for them a temple in hearing.”

Through The Narrow Lyre

Study from the ballet Orpheus, George Platt-Lynes, 1948-50. The thirty-minute ballet was created by choreographer George Balanchine in collaboration with composer Igor Stravinsky in Hollywood, California in 1947. Sets and costumes were created by Isamu Noguchi

 

Noguchi’s rendition of Orpheus’ lyre was adopted as and remains City Ballet’s official symbol.

 

“Ein Gott vermags. Wie aber, sag mir, soll
ein Mann ihm folgen durch die schmale Leier?
Sein Sinn ist Zwiespalt. An der Kreuzung zweier
Herzwege steht kein Tempel für Apoll.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

Die Sonette an Orpheus (Sonnets to Orpheus)
1922

 

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“A God is able. But tell me, how shall
a man follow him through the narrow lyre?
His mind is divided. At the crossing of two
heart roads there is no temple for Apollo.”

The Only One Bad Thing About Sleep

“All I know is that while I’m asleep, I’m never afraid, and I have no hopes, no struggles, no glories — and bless the man who invented sleep, a cloak over all human thought, food that drives away hunger, water that banishes thirst, fire that heats up cold, chill that moderates passion, and, finally, universal currency with which all things can be bought, weight and balance that brings the shepherd and the king, the fool and the wise, to the same level. There’s only one bad thing about sleep, as far as I’ve ever heard, and that is that it resembles death, since there’s very little difference between a sleeping man and a corpse”

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Don Quixote

 
 

1The Sleepwalker, George Platt Lynes, 1935

The Black Stairs

DP120741Paul Cadmus Stage Set Stairs, photo by George Platt Lynes, 1937

 
 

LE NERE SCALE DELLA MIA TAVERNA

“Le nere scale della mia taverna
tu discendi tutto intriso di vento.
I bei capelli caduti tu hai sugli occhi
vivi in un mio firmamento remoto. Nella fumosa taverna
ora è l’odore del porto e del vento.
Libero vento che modella i corpi
e muove il passo ai bianchi marinai.”

 
 

THE BLACK STAIRS OF MY TAVERN

(“You descend the black stairs of
my tavern all soaked in wind
your beautiful hair fallen on your eyes
you live in a universe
so remote.
In the smoky tavern
The smell is now of the port and the wind.
The free wind that shapes bodies
and moves its step with the white sailors.”)

Sandro Penna

To The Winding Ancient Stair

Jean Cocteau by George Platt Lynes

 
 

A DIALOGUE OF SELF AND SOUL

My Soul. I summon to the winding ancient stair;
Set all your mind upon the steep ascent,
Upon the broken, crumbling battlement,
Upon the breathless starlit air,
Upon the star that marks the hidden pole;
Fix every wandering thought upon
That quarter where all thought is done:
Who can distinguish darkness from the soul

My Self. The consecretes blade upon my knees
Is Sato’s ancient blade, still as it was,
Still razor-keen, still like a looking-glass
Unspotted by the centuries;
That flowering, silken, old embroidery, torn
From some court-lady’s dress and round
The wooden scabbard bound and wound
Can, tattered, still protect, faded adorn

My Soul. Why should the imagination of a man
Long past his prime remember things that are
Emblematical of love and war?
Think of ancestral night that can,
If but imagination scorn the earth
And intellect is wandering
To this and that and t’other thing,
Deliver from the crime of death and birth.

My Self. Montashigi, third of his family, fashioned it
Five hundred years ago, about it lie
Flowers from I know not what embroidery –
Heart’s purple – and all these I set
For emblems of the day against the tower
Emblematical of the night,
And claim as by a soldier’s right
A charter to commit the crime once more.

My Soul. Such fullness in that quarter overflows
And falls into the basin of the mind
That man is stricken deaf and dumb and blind,
For intellect no longer knows
Is from the Ought, or knower from the Known –
That is to say, ascends to Heaven;
Only the dead can be forgiven;
But when I think of that my tongue’s a stone.

II

My Self. A living man is blind and drinks his drop.
What matter if the ditches are impure?
What matter if I live it all once more?
Endure that toil of growing up;
The ignominy of boyhood; the distress
Of boyhood changing into man;
The unfinished man and his pain
Brought face to face with his own clumsiness;

The finished man among his enemies? –
How in the name of Heaven can he escape
That defiling and disfigured shape
The mirror of malicious eyes
Casts upon his eyes until at last
He thinks that shape must be his shape?
And what’s the good of an escape
If honour find him in the wintry blast?

I am content to live it all again
And yet again, if it be life to pitch
Into the frog-spawn of a blind man’s ditch,
A blind man battering blind men;
Or into that most fecund ditch of all,
The folly that man does
Or must suffer, if he woos
A proud woman not kindred of his soul.

I am content to follow to its source
Every event in action or in thought;
Measure the lot; forgive myself the lot!
When such as I cast out remorse
So great a sweetness flows into the breast
We must laugh and we must sing,
We are blest by everything,
Everything we look upon is blest.

William Butler Yeats

 
 

The Winding Stair is a volume of poems by Irish poet W. B. Yeats, published in 1933. It was the next new volume after 1928’s The Tower. (The title poem was originally published in 1929 by Fountain Press in a signed limited edition, which is exceedingly rare.)

The title refers to the staircase in the Thoor Ballylee castle which Yeats had purchased and lived in with his family for some time. Yeats saw the castle as a vital connection to the aristocratic Irish past which he admired. The phrase “winding stair” is used in the book’s third poem, A Dialogue of Self and Soul.

Deep Though Invisible Tracks

“Think of two people, living together day after day, year after year, in this small space, standing elbow to elbow cooking at the same small stove, squeezing past each other on the narrow stairs, shaving in front of the same small bathroom mirror, constantly jogging, jostling, bumping against each other’s bodies by mistake or on purpose, sensually, aggressively, awkwardly, impatiently, in rage or in love – think what deep though invisible tracks they must leave, everywhere, behind them!”

Christopher Isherwood
A Single Man

 

Christopher Isherwood and Bill Caskey. Photograph by George Platt Lynes

Afraid of Being Rushed

“Staring and staring into the mirror, it sees many faces within its face – the face of the child, the boy, the young man, the not-so-young man – all present still, preserved like fossils on superimposed layers, and, like fossils, dead. Their message to this live dying creature is: Look at us – we have died – what is there to be afraid of?

It answers them: But that happened so gradually, so easily. I’m afraid of being rushed.”

Christopher Isherwood
A Single Man

 
 

George Tooker with Paul Cadmus and Jared French in Mirror. Photo by George Platt Lynes, c.1949

His Ghost Will Be Gay

Man with Peacock Tattoo, Photo by George Platt Lynes, c.1934

 
 

THE PEACOCK

“What’s riches to him
That has made a great peacock
With the pride of his eye?
The wind-beaten, stone-grey,
And desolate Three-rock
Would nourish his whim;
Live he or die
Between rock and wet heather,
His ghost will be gay
Adding feather to feather
For the pride of his eye.”

William Butler Yeats

Disinterest in Commercial Work

Around 1932 George Platt Lynes started receiving commissions from Harper’s Bazaar, Town & Country, and Vogue including a cover with perhaps the first supermodel, Lisa Fonssagrives. Other photographers, such as Richard Avedon, Edgar de Evia and Irving Penn, had taken his place in the fashion world. This combined with his disinterest in commercial work, meant he was never able to regain the successes he once had.