A Petrarchan Sonnet

I don’t have any poetry tonight —
To see things truly seems a pain too great, 

For every shadow bears time’s dying weight,
And swiftly speeds the beauty in the light.

Her life once seemed to me a canvas white,
My father, though, saw lines pre-marked like fate
And warned her as we parted at the gate,
Yet I said nothing when she took her flight.

Time is a deep uncrossable, too steep
A pass for any traveller to mount.
But now, tonight and in this very room
I hear her children sleeping through the gloom
And know they too will go. Would one word count
That I could say – to guide, to help, to keep?

~ Watchful




Staraya Ladoga (Fantasy Overture)


Staraya Ladoga (Old Ladoga) is a town on Lake Ladoga in Russia along the old trade route of the Varangians (Scandinavians) that connected the Baltic with Constantinople.

I have posted before on The Telescope poetry inspired by old stories and various locales and now here is some music written to evoke that old river road across Russia.

I wrote this for string orchestra on Finale a couple of years ago.  The computer I wrote it on is down, but the midi is up on SoundCloud. The bass is a little too loud. I hope you hear boats rowing, rivers, and  lakes.

Here are some pictures related to the Varangians and that journey.

Guests from Overseas. Nicholas Roerich (1901) 
Through a Portage. Nicholas Roerich (1915)
Oleg Trizna_1899
Oleg being mourned by his warriors. Viktor Vasnetsov (1899) (Oleg of Novgorod’s burial mound is still to be seen by Lake Ladoga. )

Love’s Labour’s Lost: The End pt. II

Thou art an old love-monger and speakest skilfully. — Rosaline to Boyet

Boyet, the courtier who accompanies the Princess of France and her ladies, should be portrayed as the guy you don’t want to grow up to be. He should be clever, worldly, smooth- talking, and therefore detestable. The clever courtier that the young men might aspire to be, and yet those features which might have some charm in a young man, having hardened into age seem shallow and bad in him. And his flirting with the younger ladies is distasteful. His wittiness in this, beyond that of any of the young men, passes into bawdiness. One of the Princess’ ladies scolds him for it:

Maria: Come, come, you talk greasily; your lips grow foul.

Important for the plot in latter part of the play are two great mockings. First the ladies mock the King and courtiers of Navarre and then Boyet and the courtiers mock some men of lower station than them (including Armado and Holofernes the school teacher) while they perform some theatricals.

First the ladies mock the courtiers’ wooing, for the Princess thinks that men are wooing mockingly: “They do it but in mocking merriment; and mock for mock is only my intent.”

Princess of France. We are wise girls to mock our lovers so. 

Rosaline. They are worse fools to purchase mocking so.
That same Biron I’ll torture ere I go:
O that I knew he were but in by the week!
How I would make him fawn and beg and seek
And wait the season and observe the times 
And spend his prodigal wits in bootless rhymes
And shape his service wholly to my hests
And make him proud to make me proud that jests!
So perttaunt-like(?) would I o’ersway his state
That he should be my fool and I his fate.

And after that torturous mocking they receive, the young men are, of course, keen to feel superior to someone, so they mercilessly mock the amateur actors whom they have asked to perform for them and the ladies. And it’s pathetic.

Now this scene in which the amateur theatrics are presented could just be a breather from the plot — something funny to “beguile the lazy time” near the end of the play like the amateur theatrics at the end of  A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the plot is all done and Duke Theseus asks: 

Come now, what masques, what dances shall we have
To wear away this long age of three hours
Between our after-supper and bedtime?
Where is our usual manager of mirth?
What revels are in hand? Is there no play,
To ease the anguish of a torturing hour?

So the amateur’s play at the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is like a dessert after the plot and before bedtime. Duke Theseus also takes a gentle approach — respecting the intention of the players though not unaware of, or unamused by their incompetence. And the noble audience in Midsummer Night’s Dream discuss the defects in the play among themselves, as opposed to taunting the players to their face.

In Love’s Labour’s Lost, on the other hand, the nobles’ sport is less gentle. They try to trip them up and embarrass the players by interrupting them with mockery. And it is my opinion that because of this, the scene can move the plot forward. I don’t insist that this is the definitive way to see this scene, but I will tell how I see it fitting in with the plot.

As I said, the young men have been mocked, and are eager to feel superior to someone and to show their superiority — Biron says “[T]is some policy To have one show worse than the king’s and his company.” 

And right out of the gate when Costard the swain begins the pageant with  “I Pompey am -” Boyet interrupts him with the *clever* reply “You lie you are not he.” As Boyet goes on with his mockery, Biron says a key line “Well said old mocker; I must needs be friends with thee.”

Basically the young men, tired of being mocked, will follow the example of the old mocker. Boyet will be their pattern. And though throughout the play we have laughed at the school teacher Holofernes, as they mock on and on Shakepeare gives him a very reasonable sounding line when he says to them “This is not generous, not gentle, not humble.”

Now it should be noted that while the men mock the players, the ladies-in-waiting are silent. Are they highly amused or do they agree that it’s not generous, not gentle, not humble? (The Princess says a few things, but mostly pitying in tone.)

It could easily be played that the ladies are highly amused and impressed with the men’s wittiness, and that they bond over their shared superiority over the silly players. But I think to move the plot forward that (even if the ladies are shown amused) they should be shown to be stifling their laughter, and basically disapproving. Why? Because the ladies do not want the young men to cast in their lot with the old mocker Boyet. They don’t want men of that cast. Throughout the play they flirt with Boyet, but always rebuff him.

Do I have any textual back-up or is this just my preference because I don’t like cruel mocking?

Spoiler alert — the end of the play is my back up. At the end of the play the men again sue to be accepted by the ladies and are only given hope on one condition: That they prove themselves serious and constant for a year. Of course this is partly responding to their faithlessness shown at the beginning of the play when the men vowed to devote themselves to study, eschewing women’s company, (which vow they broke when they so earnestly wooed the ladies). The men’s fickleness in this is one of the main themes of the play. Even though the men’s first wooing words were earnest in style, not innuendo like Boyet uses, the ladies did not take them seriously because they knew they were breaking their oath. Now at the end the men are challenged to prove their seriousness and steadfastness.

But fickleness is not the only problem —  there is still the mocking issue. Rosaline makes it very clear that she does not want to marry Biron if he is going to grow up to be a Boyet. Just a few minutes after he has said he must be friends with the old mocker, she demands he weed that mocking wormwood from his fruitful brain and choke his gibing spirit.

Oft have I heard of you, my Lord Biron,

Before I saw you; and the world’s large tongue
Proclaims you for a man replete with mocks,
Full of comparisons and wounding flouts,
Which you on all estates will execute
That lie within the mercy of your wit.
To weed this wormwood from your fruitful brain,
And therewithal to win me, if you please,
Without the which I am not to be won,
You shall this twelvemonth term from day to day
Visit the speechless sick and still converse
With groaning wretches; and your task shall be,
With all the fierce endeavor of your wit
To enforce the pained impotent to smile.

To move wild laughter in the throat of death?
It cannot be; it is impossible:
Mirth cannot move a soul in agony.

Why, that’s the way to choke a gibing spirit,
Whose influence is begot of that loose grace
Which shallow laughing hearers give to fools:
A jest’s prosperity lies in the ear
Of him that hears it, never in the tongue
Of him that makes it: then, if sickly ears,
Deaf’d with the clamours of their own dear groans,
Will hear your idle scorns, continue then,
And I will have you and that fault withal;
But if they will not, throw away that spirit,
And I shall find you empty of that fault,
Right joyful of your reformation.

So I think the amateur theatrics should be played as a scene in which the “gentlemen” mock, but win no favour from the ladies for it — perhaps the scene above all others in which their labour loses them their lovers and prolongs the hope of resolution beyond what we have time for in a play.

Love’s Labour’s Lost: The End

This is not a commentary on my own failed wooing (not consciously, that is), rather, I just finished reading Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and felt like commenting on the end.

I’m twenty-six, but I have never seen this play performed nor have I read commentary on it. I had heard from some of my literary family that the end was a cop-out, but I was told nothing particular.

Now, with a title like Love’s Labour’s Lost one might think that it’s a story sure to go nowhere. But Shakespeare’s titles can be enigmatical — Much Ado About Nothing sounds like it could be “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing,” but I think any audience of Much Ado will acknowledge that there’s something of substance there.

But it’s not just Love’s Labour’s Lost’s title that would make you think it’s a story that drives out into the wilderness and can’t find its way to a destination, far more damning are some of the last lines of the play where the King of Navarre says of the plot: “Come, sir, it wants a twelvemonth and a day, and then ’twill end.” To which his courtier Biron replies “That’s too long for a play” echoing the audience’s thoughts exactly. Aint nobody got time for that.

So if it needs a year more to wrap up the plot, what significance could we find in the story ending where it does? I think it depends on how it’s performed.

But first the beginning. I laughed a lot while reading the beginning of the play; I had met wit-crackers in Shakespeare before, but never a play so filled with so many, so desperate to be fluent in quick and eloquent wittiness and turning a phrase’s meaning on its head. One of the major themes of the play is the idea of the learned courtier who is skilled in speaking. Characters like Boyet, Biron, and Rosaline entertain us with their skill in quick jest, double-entendre, and casuistry, while characters like Holofernes and Don Armado entertain us with their ridiculous, overblown, failed attempts at learned eloquence. 

Much of the play gallops along with quick repartee. In Act I scene i, after Biron has given an eloquent diatribe against book-learning comes this quick exchange:

How well he’s read, to reason against reading!
Proceeded well, to stop all good proceeding!
He weeds the corn and still lets grow the weeding.
The spring is near when green geese are a-breeding.
How follows that?
Fit in his place and time.
In reason nothing.
Something then in rhyme.

I think this portion should be performed with very quick uptakes, and then a long pause before the line “How follows that?” as the other courtiers and the audience realize that Biron (like a good and varied comedian) has just broken the rules of courtly cleverness followed in the rest of the play by just throwing out a line of rhymed nonsense.

But while Biron is clever and self aware, Don Armado is ridiculous in his exaggerated courtliness. He’s kept at court for an unaware clown to entertain the more sophisticated with his pompous, ostentatious use of high-born words.

Armado is a most illustrious wight,
A man of fire-new words, fashion’s own knight.

Costard the swain and he shall be our sport;

And we do laugh at him. Everyone who attempts to be fanciful and poetical dreads becoming Armado! Read from his letter as he tells where and when something happened:

The time when. About the sixth hour; when
beasts most graze, birds best peck, and men sit down
to that nourishment which is called supper: so much
for the time when. Now for the ground which; which,
I mean, I walked upon: it is y-cleped thy park. Then
for the place where; where, I mean, I did encounter
that obscene and preposterous event, that draweth
from my snow-white pen the ebon-coloured ink, which
here thou viewest, beholdest, surveyest, or seest

But this much should be ample, sufficient, adequate and enough, for the beginning of the play. I was going to write about the end and how it should be performed!




On Literary Criticism

My ideal of literary criticism is insight into what is being said in the text– commentary that truly helps the reader not miss things such as, what the book is about, or the important themes/thoughts contained in it. (Closely entwined with this is that other question: how are ideas communicated in the text?) Criticism that truly aids you to understand the author’s meaning is doubly rewarding if the author himself has a good insight.

But to whom can I, or anyone, go for insight into literary works? Perhaps one of the reasons that I chose music instead of literature in college was that I felt that so much literary scholarship I had glanced at offered so little correct insight (or perhaps I should say, so much incorrect insight) into what authors were saying.

By the computer on which I’m writing is lying my younger sister’s copy of seven novels by Jane Austen bound together. Flipping back the floral decorated cover I find an introduction by a scholar. It reads: “On first impression, her novels might seem to offer merely romance without redeeming social commentary, but…” What!?

The belief that social commentary is needed to redeem a work of romance, is an excellent example of an attitude which darkens many critics’ eyes. This scholar feels that to validate Austen, she must show that Jane did engage in some broader social commentary.

Going to school myself, I felt the pressure to write about what my teachers thought was important, and however much the author of this introduction herself buys into the idea that social commentary redeems romances, in her sentence I sense something of that pressure to justify herself to the teachers — now her colleagues. Perhaps when she was young she liked Austen for the personal and romantic, and now, by maintaining that Austen is a commentator on larger societal movements, she defends Austen from the contumely of those who would look down their noses at an authoress who “merely” deals with the more personal aspects of being human. Perhaps she defends Austen from the despite of the critic that she herself has become.

But now am on thin ice as a critic — building a biography for this introduction writer from part of one sentence.

Though it might seem like it, I don’t feel that defending Austen merely on her skill at depicting the personal (as opposed to the idea that she is only valuable if she took up her pen to critique features of the broader society ) is making a defense of child-like simplicity versus sophistication. I think that artwork highly conscious of, or built around, ideas of social change is often crude and caricaturesque. Are not Austen’s characters more finely drawn, more human, than those characters who are created and enlisted by their author to make a statement about society?

Worker and Kolkhoz Woman 

The piece of visual art above is highly conscious of a broad social movement, but for me misses the human element. Perhaps because those two represent millions of workers, their physique must be ballooned to huge proportions, but it seems as if the growth of their bodies is inversely proportional to the size of their souls. It might be better art if they were looking at each other with soft expressions. I’d rather learn what it is to be a human — what it is to interact as a human with other humans — from Austen.

And that’s my conclusion. The broader society is downstream of individual souls and their moral choices, friendships, marriages. Stories that illuminate the timeless aspects of these are not to be sneezed at. To write insightfully about romance needs no apology. 

If instead of saying “On first impression, her novels might seem to offer merely romance without redeeming social commentary,” the critic had written “Some can’t tell the difference between a shallow run-of-the-mill romance and an Austen novel, but I will help you see the finer shades of characterization, psychology, and well-observed interactions in her romances.” And if she then had proceeded to do that, I would have no complaint. 





Violence against Children

Quotes from abortionists in the video shared below: 

“The fetus is a tough little object…taking it apart is very difficult” “An eyeball just fell down into my lap, and that’s gross” “I might…pull off a leg or two”

You need to not just throw around the word abortion or “pro-choice” without thinking about what an abortion is — the violent destruction of a little boy or girl’s life. Ripping off a baby’s legs is horrible beyond words.

The birth of  my niece Flora last week re-enforced my desire to put an end to this butchery. Holding her just hours after she could have been legally ripped apart here in Oregon brought home how barbaric abortion is. Babies are so dependent on us, and holding her I just automatically feel my duty to take care of her, and protect her. Our greater strength is given to us to protect and help those weaker than us, not to rip them apart.

Chapman Landing by Canoe

All at once, all was still.
The water smooth, reflecting
Silky rolled beneath my paddle
As we came to Chapman landing.

Tall cottonwoods upon the right hand
Shone in sunlight and in the stream —
Upward downward from the island,
Leaves rippling softly as in a dream.

The pilings stood eerie and still
Where they used to unload the lumber —
Brought down from dark Vernonian hills —
With long gone noise, hardly remembered.

We turned to one another and spoke
‘Did you suddenly feel what I feel here?’
(Echoing across the water words woke
The dark and pitchy timber piers)

‘Here I feel a deep, dark cool 
Meet a warm soft sun in a magic pool,
And the summer evening softly breath
Where the landing lies by the island trees.’