Saturday, July 30, 2016

Flight and Pursuit


Desperate situations call for desperate measures. A true free spirit, the wood nymph Daphne is never happier than when she is roaming the forests. The dappled sunlight of the forest glades are more than home to her: they are her preferred company, and she vows that she would sooner keep herself chaste than exchange the familiar company of the surrounding trees for a partner in life.

All might have continued to go well for Daphne, were it not for the fateful day when the glorious god Apollo happens to catch sight of her as she dances in a sunlit glade. At once smitten by her beauty and charm, the god approaches Daphne and attempts to seduce her. Now, Apollo is used to having his way, whether with mortal or with nymph. But for the first time ever he finds his advances rejected. In a moment’s distraction Daphne seizes her chance to flee the god’s amorous advances and runs away as fast as she can, hoping that her familiarity with the forest trails might offer her an advantage in her flight.

But Daphne’s knowledge of the secret paths through her beloved forest is proving no advantage when matched against a god’s bruised ego. Wounded pride mixed with ardour for the fleeing nymph only fuels the pace of Apollo’s pursuit. At the last moment of her flight, when the god is so close behind her that she can feel his hot breath on her back, Daphne calls out in panic to her father, the river god Peneios. 

The great river stirs angrily, and white-topped waves slap its banks in a frenzy of fury as Peneios sees the plight which his daughter is in. Unable to leave his watery domain, the river god makes a last-resort move to save his daughter. Just as Apollo reaches out to seize the nymph, his all-too-eager hands grasp, not soft and yielding female flesh, but bark and branches and dark green leaves. Peneios with his powers has changed his daughter into a laurel tree: one more tree among all of its fellows in the wood nymph’s beloved forest.

A handful of laurel leaves are Apollo’s only gain. How to save face? How to restore a god’s bruised ego? By declaring a defeat to be a victory and founding a tradition. Apollo decrees that from that moment on, a crown of laurel leaves will become the worthy symbol of a victor. And the god promptly begins the tradition by weaving for himself a crown from the leaves that just moments before had been the living flesh of the beautiful nymph.

How often has it happened that reality has been turned on its head, and those who have been bettered have, through one means or another, insisted that they have in fact triumphed? Saving face in such a way is familiar enough to us from our own current news events. But in the story of Daphne and Apollo we can perceive a deeper meaning. Sometimes circumstances force us to change, and to change dramatically, and we become something other than that which we were before. It might not always be a change which we have wished for ourselves, but it has been a change made necessary for our survival, in whatever form that might take.

But Daphne’s fate also gives us reason to hope. The nymph’s essential nature was that of her own beloved forest, and her essence did not change. Instead it became absorbed into what she truly loved the most. Even in dramatic change, even undergoing apparent complete metamorphosis, our true essence survives in some form, and endures beyond even the great change at life’s end.




Art: Daphne and Apollo by John William Waterhouse


Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Lover's Call



Where are you, my beloved? Are you in that little 
Paradise, watering the flowers who look upon you 
As infants look upon the breast of their mothers? 

Or are you in your chamber where the shrine of 
Virtue has been placed in your honor, and upon 
Which you offer my heart and soul as sacrifice? 

Or amongst the books, seeking human knowledge, 
While you are replete with heavenly wisdom? 

Oh companion of my soul, where are you? Are you 
Praying in the temple? Or calling Nature in the 
Field, haven of your dreams? 

Are you in the huts of the poor, consoling the 
Broken-hearted with the sweetness of your soul, and 
Filling their hands with your bounty? 

You are God's spirit everywhere; 
You are stronger than the ages. 

Do you have memory of the day we met, when the halo of 
Your spirit surrounded us, and the Angels of Love 
Floated about, singing the praise of the soul's deed? 

Do you recollect our sitting in the shade of the 
Branches, sheltering ourselves from Humanity, as the ribs 
Protect the divine secret of the heart from injury? 

Remember you the trails and forest we walked, with hands 
Joined, and our heads leaning against each other, as if 
We were hiding ourselves within ourselves? 

Recall you the hour I bade you farewell, 
And the Maritime kiss you placed on my lips? 
That kiss taught me that joining of lips in Love 
Reveals heavenly secrets which the tongue cannot utter! 

That kiss was introduction to a great sigh, 
Like the Almighty's breath that turned earth into man. 

That sigh led my way into the spiritual world, 
Announcing the glory of my soul; and there 
It shall perpetuate until again we meet. 

I remember when you kissed me and kissed me, 
With tears coursing your cheeks, and you said, 
"Earthly bodies must often separate for earthly purpose, 
And must live apart impelled by worldly intent. 

"But the spirit remains joined safely in the hands of 
Love, until death arrives and takes joined souls to God. 

"Go, my beloved; Love has chosen you her delegate; 
Over her, for she is Beauty who offers to her follower 
The cup of the sweetness of life. 
As for my own empty arms, your love shall remain my 
Comforting groom; your memory, my Eternal wedding." 

Where are you now, my other self? Are you awake in 
The silence of the night? Let the clean breeze convey 
To you my heart's every beat and affection. 

Are you fondling my face in your memory? That image 
Is no longer my own, for Sorrow has dropped his 
Shadow on my happy countenance of the past. 

Sobs have withered my eyes which reflected your beauty 
And dried my lips which you sweetened with kisses. 

Where are you, my beloved? Do you hear my weeping 
From beyond the ocean? Do you understand my need? 
Do you know the greatness of my patience? 

Is there any spirit in the air capable of conveying 
To you the breath of this dying youth? Is there any 
Secret communication between angels that will carry to 
You my complaint? 

Where are you, my beautiful star? The obscurity of life 
Has cast me upon its bosom; sorrow has conquered me. 

Sail your smile into the air; it will reach and enliven me! 
Breathe your fragrance into the air; it will sustain me! 

Where are you, my beloved? 
Oh, how great is Love! 
And how little am I! 

*

Text and Artwork
by
Kahlil Gibran


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Persephone


Really it takes so little.
No, not the act itself, but the decision
made in a sliver of time: in a single heartbeat.
No more time than it takes
for the rustling stroke of a bird’s wing.
No more time than it takes
for the slash of light that sears the sky
when my cloud-shrouded father draws near.
No more time than this is needed
to change my world, my everything:
my own life’s passing
in the cycle of a single year.

And I will change.
The decision was snatched from a moment 
a thousand years ago,
before I even knew the darkness
of my mother’s womb
I knew another darkness.
In that moment, in that eon,
through the sheer force of my will
my blood drained from my body,
disappeared as water from a pool.
Now look upon me: a shell thing,
strangely echoing, never growing old:
a hollow creature
white as the snows of Parnassus
and as cold.

Now I will know a new darkness.
Only a few seeds are needed
for a new life with my lord:
the ingestion of a new fruit
far from the sun,
swallowed in the bridal chamber
of a new dark accord,
far from my mother’s sustaining love,
far from the rustle of birds’ wings,
far from the rolling ghosts of clouds,
far from any hope of return
from this shrouded world of shrouds.

My new blood will be
the red sap of pomegranates.
My new subjects will be
these pale shades of the once-alive.
My new desire will be
desire for these shadows
where the only fulfilment will be
to know that I will remain
forever unfulfilled.
The dry white husk of my body will be
sustained by the lymph of pomegranates.
And I will be queen to a darkness
both wished-for and unwilled.





Photo: Anna Chipovskaya, photographer Nikolay Biryukov for Interview Magazine Russia, Febr. 2014