The Conquest of Salomé

This is an ekphrastic poem on the Gustave Moreau’s painting, Salomé Dansant Avant Hérode (1876), pictured below. The scene depicts the biblical account of Salomé who, summoned to dance for her the Tetrach of Herod and upon request of her mother, ordered the severed head of John the Baptiste. I followed Moreau’s unique Orientalist depiction of Salome in my poem, emphasizing the symbolic powers of the Lotus flower she holds out in front of her. I refer to the Egyptian god of the sun, Nefertem, and the fertile, rebirthing power of the Lotus flower as an ironic portrayal of this “immortal goddess of Hysteria.”

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A suspended throne poised on high,

Lofty as an altar ‘scap’d to the sky

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And lodg’d firmly in Immanuel’s Breast,

Towers over an enchased sardonyx chest.

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Surmounted upon the tabernacle, eyes

Drawn to the right, peering from his guise,

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Of Cinereal folds, the Herod of Tetrach unthrust

Of veiled desires, seized in a shimmering hour of lust.

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Summoned by chords and cloaked in a shimmering cirrus,

Salome emerges luminous behind the mitre scepter of Isis:

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This Lotus-coryphée, enclosing the pining altar,

She glides along the eternal pull of Primeval Waters,

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Absolved under the surface at twilight. She commences

Her chimerical dance – an improviso act of evanescence –

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Treading her steps in the wake of sunbeams that loom,

From Nefertem’s crown to the pulsing sickle of the moon.

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Her covenant dappled in blood, fixing the Tetrarch encased

In ferrous lust, fatally bound by petals of luxuriant chaste.

By Quincy Childs

Comparative Ekphrasis: Kees van Dongen vs. Gustave Moreau

Kees van Dongen. Mlle Geneviève Vix dans le role de Salomé (1920)

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A young woman known as Salome, shown in a green oriental costume, dances with her arms above her head with a green cloth cascading behind her. The severed head of John Baptist is on a platter to the right. Her parents Herod II and Herodias are to the left gazing at the spectacle. The simple style, bold colors and outlines show the Fauvist story. She is the symbolic incarnation of world-old Vice, the goddess of immortal Hysteria.

Gustave Moreau – The Apparition (1876; watercolor)

Moreau was widely celebrated for his ‘Byzantine’ style and flowing, vibrant carnality, most ostensible in his Salome paintings. Indeed, with their polished, flaming palettes, his paintings seem to breathe vestiges of exotic nostalgia into the viewer. His virtuosity is achieved through paradox; it is on the whole visionary, belletristic, and mystical, yet just as easily his poetic value can be waxed on the technique of his physicality, the decorative materialism that prevails in his paintings. Moreau’s use of ornamentation is not by accident:640px-Gustavemoreau

“There are paintings where ornament subsumes the event to become the event, a purely visual, abstract event.”

In his watercolor above, the figure of Salome is emblematic of the ‘femme fatale’, a typical trope of fin-de-siecle decadence. A Symbolist who was enthralled by legends of Orientialist ornamentation, Moreau depicted Salome in the magnificent costumes and surroundings of the Eastern world. Conceived irrespective of any Testament theme he envisaged her as a forceful woman who was wholly cognizant of the entices her sexuality presents. The scene is both extravagant and precise in details, so concentrated that they nearly drip off the canvas in rivulets of lustrous realism. Salome herself is like a living jewel, with her cascade of ochre and cerulean glimmers flowing down to her pointed toe like a diamond cutlet.

Paris in Bloom : My Springtime Agenda

La Nuit Européenne des Musées – May 16
Over 1,200 museums take part in this event, which sees them extend their opening hours for special activities and to allow the public to see the collections after dark. Many are free to the public. At the Musee Carnavalet – the museum of the history of Paris – visitors will be greeted by “Napoleon”. culturecommunication.gouv.fr

Saint-Germain-des-Prés Jazz Festival – May 21-June 1
Each year, dozens of performers from around the world flock to the streets of the chi-chi 6th arrondissement for a series of concerts. This year’s festival will take place across 18 different venues, with acts including Lisa Simone, Agathe Iracema and Kyle Eastwood. festivaljazzsaintgermainparis.com

The Tudors at Musée du Luxembourg – until July 19
This side of the Channel, Wolf Hall has reignited fascination with the Tudors. France has never exhibited painting of those who ruled England between 1485 and 1603, so this is a first at the Musée du Luxembourg. Run in conjunction with the National Portrait Gallery. Admission: €12; museeduluxembourg.fr

Bruce Nauman at the Fondation Cartier until June 21
A major show of the cult contemporary artist including several never-seen-before pieces, with installations, videos and sound works in the glass gallery, underground spaces and gardens of the Fondation Cartier; fondation.cartier.com

Velazquez at the Grand Palais, March 25-July 13
A rare gathering of works by the 17th-century Spanish master is set to be this year’s blockbuster exhibition. Portraits of the monarchy, the pope, mythological paintings and less-known landscapes and tavern scenes shown alongside other masters from the Golden Age of Spain. Admission: €13 grandpalais.fr

Jean-Paul Gaultier at the Grand Palais, April 1-August 3
Multimedia retrospective and new items by of one of France’s most radical fashion creators. His designs often touch the boundaries of art (Pierre et Gilles) and music (Madonna). Admission: €13 grandpalais.fr

GRAND FINALE : 

Keys to a Passion at the Fondation Vuitton, April 1-July 6
The Fondation Vuitton’s first major exhibition gathers key works — including Matisse’s The Danse, Munch’s The Cry, Monet’s Waterlilies and paintings by Rothko, Mondrian and Malevich – that mark key turning points in the foundation of modern art. Admission: €14 fondationlouisvuitton

BLEU : 70 films from 1 st April to 24 May 

70 shades of blue’ a series of 70 films inspired by the color Blue, and all the depth of emotion, symbolism and meaning that exudes. http://www.forumdesimages.fr/les-films/les-programmes/bleu

Vernal Sacrement

Inspired by Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps, this is a quasi-Petrarchan Sonnet I composed with iambic pentameter and the following rhyme scheme of abba-cddc-efgefg. The sestina volta at the end is more of a catharsis (a sacrifice) of the tension that builds in the octaves before. The Sonnet was inspired by the plot and music of Stravisnky’s Rite of Spring. The story is set during the advent of Spring in Pagan Soviet Russia, where various primitive rituals commence including the abduction of young girls, one of which is chosen as a sacrificial victim and must dance herself to death. I believe the phenomenon stems from the culture of Southern Italian Tarantella dance of death (from the Greek ritual of Tarantism) or perhaps the medieval artistic genre of ‘Danse Macabre,’ an allegory of the universality of death. Whatever the origins of this story, I found the imagery of the score and ballet adaptation to conjure rich images of seasonal cleansing (‘vernal equinox’, ‘wintertide sin’) dizzying circles of beguiling entrapment, visions of a vast, isolated landscape, etc. The titles of each stanza are borrowed from movements in Stravinsky’s original score, which is in French since it debuted in Paris. The italicized word khorovod is a form of Russian circle dancing, and niente is an Italian musical term for a dying ending. 

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Les Augures printaniers

The shrills of vernal equinox ascend

Skyward where treetops turn viridian.

In the depths of shadows obsidian,

A tale begins of a khorovod end.

                       Jeu du rapt

                       Caught twice in snares of watchful conjuring,

                       Prodigal desires of spirits crawl.

                       Dislodged in the veins of silvering falls,

                       Spins the wile of stringent honoring.

                                                    Danse Sacrale

                                                     Lustration of sacrificial rapture

                                                     Under the Aegis of wintertide sin

                                                     An Exodus of wheeling birds unwind.

                                                     At last, found in the silken pasture

                                                     Of Zenith’s end, the niente of martyred kin,

                                                      Tied to the tether of Fate ill-timed.

By Quincy Childs

Suntelia, Unbound

Scene I :

Nafplio. Footsteps pressed by epochs past rise over the Acropolis. A breeze from the Argolic sprays lifts beyond the scalloped shore. From heaven’s height the moon glow dips to dance in the swells of the earth. Human feet pedal upwards to mount the Palamidi steps, rising and longing for a trace of truth. Yet the moon shines on the Elms and in their earnest stillness, the swirls of the sea recede again. The tides fall back. Order is restored. And the footsteps begin their descent. Why stay we on the earth unless to grow?

Scene II :

Athens. An empty court of sepulchral stones. Tablets of the Law thrown down. Cast to the mountain’s base, likes the stone of anathema. Cleric muttering: The sordid ricochet of censure – Niddui folds into Chērem. The gravel of a final cause, and the echo of diaphanous truth, unseen and sancrosanct. Stigmatas printed in the canvas of skin, inscribed to the Galatians. Ever present, ever brooding, life’s fair end is never far away. And yet that does not keep Man from searching. There is no telos on the ground.

Scene III :

Lampasacus. Eunuchs wander through candle lit walls; their shadows escape them. Holy is the place where thoughts must advance unsought. Bedchamber attendants bow and stand. Theophylact of Ohrid ; these truths sift through forgotten sighs. The sun turns freely and time succeeds behind the dipping moon. All entities move and nothing remains still – save for the clockwork of the stars. In the Harem of the Holy Place, all good men die.

Scene IV :

Constantinople. A table stretches beneath folded hands. The abbot sits on his axis of Reason in a Monastery that bounds itself from the bedlam. Outside monks shift in cloaks, brushing softly with pacing thighs. The moonlight circles out to cast its glow on the backstreets of the jilted. A crowd spills into the pale-cloaked streets. Cleaving to civic, they rule and forage their way through the very corners of deceit. A stampede to illuminate truths, doomed truths that will retreat, unarmed yet always ready, to the stasis of the unfound.

Scene V :

Cadmea. A jail beneath the acropolis of Thebes. Enclosed chambers of dampening Time. Feeble limbs sprawled beneath concaved chests. Hollowed dreams beget tomorrow’s trials. Seasoned in their credence, they are further dragged to the destitute Nature of Man. Each the same, yet here they live and die. Forsaken in parallel corridors, vis-à-vis dredging cells. A guard appears on the outside wall : his is a shadow fixed in sight.

Scene VI :

Suntelia, Unbound. The sky radiates downwards where the horizons drains the land. No stone left unturned. The echo cannot sound without a wall. The moon glares into the writhing sea, it douses itself in a thrashing waltz, puling the earth nearer, skirting Time at nigh. The moonlight glows and murmurs, its phantom waves surround us:

i. Why stay we on the earth unless to grow?

ii. There is no telos on the ground.

iii. In the Holy Place, all good men die.

iv. Truths retreat to the stasis of the unfound.

v. A shadow is always fixed in sight.

vi. πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει

[All is in flux and nothing abides.]

By Quincy Childs

Book Recommendation: “The Gazer’s Spirit” by John Hollander

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This marvelous book is a collection of entries in ekphrasis that celebrates the artistic synthesis of poetry and painting. In his book, John Hollander, an outstanding poet and critic, presents over fifty works of visual art—spanning from paintings, photographs, sculptures and more, ranging from antiquity to the present. He matches each to poems that evoke the same imageries in their verses. The effect is enlightening and imaginatively organized, chronicling words and images in conversation, as well as showing how, across Western culture, the most poetic writers have been inspired by visual poetry.

The Gazer’s Spirit showcases delightful surprise of ekphrastic play, such as Edith Wharton’s sonnet that illuminates a new interpretation of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. In the following pages merge the minds of Robert Browning and Michelangelo; Charles Baudelaire and Jacques Callot; Herman Melville and J. M. W. Turner; a personal favorite, Randall Jarrell and Albrecht Dürer writing and drawing about The Knight, Death and the Devil.

Among the poets are some of my favorite writers such as James Merrill, Herman Melville, and Rachel Hadas; the visual displays in the book are both distinguished and abstruse, as various as a Greek sculpture, a Medieval tapestry, Impressionist landmarks, and even a fountain by an anonymous architect. In certain instances, perfect affinities, such as a poem by Vicki Hearne poised to a stationary white horse by Gauguin, produces unexpected poetic results.

Exercise in Analytical Ekphrasis – Van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait: Saint-Remy, 1889″

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Vincent Van Gogh’s final self-portrait (“Self-Portrait: Saint-Remy, 1889” oil on canvas) displays the fervor and fragility of his life through contrasting colors and brushstrokes. This was the last painting he created before committing suicide, and thusly it is poignant in both its context and form. His face takes center stage, both compositionally and chromatically. In this way, the eye of the viewer is magnetized to his auburn glow of fierce resolution. From the center, the swirls grow and the color changes starkly from red into a circuitous blue. The hypnotizing background, with its aforementioned calming tones, envelope Van Gogh and become one with his body: his suit is composed of an identical pattern to that of the background. The all-consuming swirls are characteristic of Van Gogh’s style: they allude to his desire for the infinite in nature. Like the infinity symbol, they wrap around one another in common hues and almost caress the subject with an eerie ease of consumption.

He uses his brush in a similar manner, building the energy from the eyes, which he draws tightly with attentive strokes. The energy spreads though the sporadic, quick dashes on his face, into the dark ripples of his jacket, and finally into the rolling turbulence of the glacier blue background. The circular strokes that spiral from him translate the voluminous capacity of his internal crisis. His eyes look into the distance and not at the viewer: his mind is entirely somewhere else. His gaze is strong and determined, as if he is calculating every thought amidst the wallowing background of blue. Thus his piercing eyes are not focused on what is happening outside, but rather inside his head.

Despite his fixed look, the painting is not entirely restrained. Instead, the leading tones of soft blue and sea green render the painting oddly calming. However, paired with his tawny mop of hair, the combination of colors emits a conflicting feeling to the viewer that perfectly conveys the psychological tone of the portrait. It is as if Van Gogh is the eye of his own storm, staring into the divine light if you will, and away from his reality of melancholic blue. With great contrast from the sea of blue-green swirls, the course, rigid red hues of his hair look as if they brimming the surface of water, clinging to air, to reason. His strong gaze pierces through the blue abyss as if he is taking a final look at reality.

Waves of Worship

*This poem is a Pantoum, a traditionally Malaysian folk-poem composed of four-line stanzas in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza serve as the first and third lines of the next stanza The last stanza ends with the opening first an third of the first for a circular, encompassing feel.*

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As the tide rolled in I watched You slumber,

Beneath an aisle of waves.

Sleek and slender I worshipped You tender,

In a shrine of seafoam rays.

 

Beneath an aisle of waves

Your fallen limbs sprawled on a trail of Passion.

In a shrine of seafoam rays,

The sea adorned You to cloak Your ashen

 

Fallen limps, sprawled on a trail of Passion.

I laid You down to rest,

The sea adorned You with beads to cloak Your ashen

Corpse, your deeper senses blest.

 

I laid You down to rest

And beheld the spiring waves tower over Your

Corpse, your deeper senses blest,

Alas, for all that you are, fallen angel, a spirit pure.

 

Behold! How the spiring waves tower over You –

If only I were of their almighty kind,

Alas. For You are a fallen angel, a spirit pure,

As I exist as thoughts, how blind!

 

If only I were of their almighty kind,

As the tide, I would roll in to watch You slumber,

And exist not as thoughts so blind, but

Sleek and slender, I would worship You tender.

.

.

By Quincy Childs