Monthly Archives: August 2021

Troy

The Iliad is one of those epics you dodge in school, if you’re anything like George Bernard Shaw, who once opined that it was only useful as a missile to fling at another schoolboy’s head. But in her incredible essay about this ancient epic, Simone Weil brings out moments of illumination that she argues can best be understood as parallels to the moral vision of the Gospels. She sees in Homer’s poetry a vision of suffering that is so total that only the attentiveness to what is being lost in the violence gives the fabric of human experience meaning, in the context of a never-ending war. Even if you haven’t (and don’t intend to) read the Iliad, I highly recommend her essay, The Iliad, or the Poem of Force.

The 2004 adaptation of this story, Troy, doesn’t really capture this pathos, focusing instead on the egos of the protagonists, and their moments of glory. But it doesn’t entirely disregard the poem’s message that war is a fruitless enterprise, in which there are ultimately no winners – a message brought home the more vividly by the Greek tragedies detailing the fates of the Trojan women, Agamemnon and his family. But rather than foreshadow these gut-wrenching stories, the film’s ending focuses on the escape of Paris, Aeneas and the Trojan refugees, setting up the Aeneid’s triumphalist march to Rome in typical Hollywood fashion.

This quickie of a scrap of fan poetry, based on the 67th Psalm, just sets the scene for the Trojans’ rude awakening, the night after they admit the Greeks’ enormous statue behind the city’s protective walls.

Apollo grant us peace in our time,
and shine His face on Hektor’s sleeping son.
To countenance the ways of gods with men,
who look on high for rescue from the Fates.
Great nations bow to Apollo’s teaching,
and all men acclaim His arrows’ scourge.
The city of Troy can rejoice once more,
her prayers and offerings are well-received,
on her high walls Apollo’s blessing rests.
Even the savage Achaeans are awed,
all peoples of Greece acclaim our god.
The parting sea of ships has left a gift.
Apollo grant us grace – for we have won.
May this fell offering be brought inside,
to show our people how our god is feared.

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry

On sighting the Acheron

The adventurers in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World aren’t an overly churchy lot, so this version of the 66th Psalm is admittedly a stretch, but the Psalm had some nautical features that seemed to make it amenable to adaptation. I finally bought the books this movie is based on, but I can’t stand to read them – they’re too good! Reading one makes me feel as guilty as if I just wolfed down a pint of double chocolate ice cream….

Shout out huzzah, to all the world!
Sing out the glory of England’s pride.
Praise be to God for victory.
Say at prayers, “How fierce in battle.
Ships scatter before the Lord’s might.”
Though we sail the far side of the world,
with God’s help all we meet is subdued.
Witness the acts of our Lord,
awesome in catalogued wonders.
Out of the sea he raised fresh water,
and finches on bare cindercones.
He alone can crown England’s might.
For the Lord’s tests probe all nations.
Pity those who rise against him.
May all our people bless our God,
and all aloud give him praise,
who has kept us from harm at sea,
and permitted no fool to stumble.
Our duty to England tried us,
our baser needs were swept aside.
Like swimmers trawled in a net,
ship’s discipline bound us, group and heel.
The officer class rode over us.
And we strove through dead calms and storms –
but our captain brought us through with ease.
We gave him our all, unflinching,
and made good our oaths to the crown,
oaths renewed in the teeth of disaster,
when all one could say was, “Hold fast.”
Our bodies consigned to the surgeon,
we sweat out the pain without cries.
The butcher’s bill takes without leave.
Come close lads, we’ll tell you a tale,
one all God-fearing seamen should hear,
of miracles and of reprieves.
Three cheers for the captain of the Surprise,
huzzah from the bows and the rigging, boys!
When we languished in horse latitudes,
the captain looked calmly ahead to the prize.
God must have kept us in mind, I say,
for someone has answered our reckless prayers.
God bless our captain, our ship and the crown,
for God has looked kindly on you and me.

P.S. Most of the lesser-known chamber music referenced in the books is on YouTube, and it’s amazing…

Leave a comment

Filed under Master and Commander, Music, Poetry, Roll Credits

A Winter’s Tale

Russell Crowe plays the delectably evil henchman Pearly Soames in Akiva Goldsman’s modern fairytale, A Winter’s Tale. His seething enthusiasm for dashing the dreams of the innocent might seem like an odd choice of theme for a poem based on the 65th Psalm, but somehow, it just seemed like the perfect fit. Here I’ve lapsed into end rhyme, but the effect, like the villain in the film, just makes me smile.

For fans of The Ordinary Fear of God and Indoor Garden Party, this is not a film you want to miss – lots of cameos from Russell’s bandmates to enjoy here. Pictured above is Alan Thomas Doyle.

If silence is due praise, I will be brief,
and pay the wages of my vows in blood.
Who listens to a dying virgin’s prayer,
will hear all flesh expire, one by one.
My deeds of mischief now exceed my pay.
For chaos is rewarded but one way.
Fortunate those the dark lord holds to heart,
who revel in opulent, macabre courts.
May we slake awful appetites at will –
unholy forces, ring the dinner bell!
Though death-defying acts escape some plans,
maneuvers of a deft angelic hand,
that bright dog of the east comes hurrying
across the bleak Atlantic just to see
what monumental evils, set in store,
our dark lord has thrown up to dim the stars –
as if to try to still the roaring seas,
or smother up all hell’s ignominies.
Even from the world’s ends, our prince is feared.
By twilight his dark powers are revered.
With blood as his manure, he gives back
unto the soil the wealth that life extracts.
All chaos bubbles up, a seething stream.
For chaos is the impetus, the seed,
the fertile flood, and the great leveling,
and soaked in gore, the earth is quickening.
Our exploits tonight crown a record year –
the grilles of Manhattan are dripping with fear.
Even these fresh upstate meadows do drip,
all innocent joys are squeezed out in fear’s grip.
The wolves are at play in the sheepfold tonight,
and the rivers run cold to behold such a sight.
Hell’s minions whoop for joy – this scent they prize.

Leave a comment

Filed under A Winter's Tale, Corruption, Dream Ensemble, New York corruption, Poetry

The Missing

So the 64th Psalm turned out to be a dead ringer for Val Kilmer’s cameo in The Missing – pretty tickled to be able to write this poem. I really enjoyed Kilmer’s short appearance in this gem of a Ron Howard movie, opposite Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones.

I haven’t seen his newest release, but I’m eager to check out the material included on his long-awaited project about the connection between Mark Twain and Mary Baker Eddy. I honestly don’t know what the connection is, but I can’t wait to find out!

I once read a book written by the hypnotist who first introduced Miss Eddy to altered states of consciousness during her long, drawn-out ordeal with chronic back pain. Not too many copies of that one in circulation these days, but it’s housed at the Arts & Sciences library of Johns Hopkins University. It was fascinating, relating the story of a hypnotist who could raise a blister on your arm using only an imaginary heat source. Makes an interesting kind of backstory to the origins of Christian Science, a religion my father and his siblings were raised with – and those were definitely some troubled kids.

But back to The Missing, and the deadpan drollery of Val Kilmer’s lieutenant, when he encounters the search party looking for Maggie’s kidnapped daughter.

Look, ma’am, I’m just a lieutenant to this lot.
We, too, are hunted by Apache raiders.
These are enlisted men – turn aside your eyes,
I do not condone the clumsy thieving here,
and some would speak harshly of my command,
letting fly words of contempt for this disorder,
but such back-biting slanders innocent men,
and without a second thought, careers are up.
Men seek to climb the ranks by spreading mischief.
Already a few sulky men have laid traps.
They suppose me ignorant of common pranks.
“Search me!” such fools proclaim, “turn out my pockets!
What insurance I’ve laid by is hidden well,
and though you rake for it in my very breast,
not a jot will come to light – my cares are safe.”
Little enough do these men know of command.
As quickly as they speak up, they’ll be tossed out.
Their loose tongues will be their own undoing then,
and the rest will merely nod and mock at them.
The stolen valuables will all be paid for,
and by and by, they’ll learn to watch their missteps,
if only to grasp the likely consequence.
My duty and my means constrain my hand, ma’am,
I would offer you protection otherwise.

Leave a comment

Filed under Acting, Corruption, Directing, Dream Ensemble, Poetry

Pedro Linares

I discovered Pedro Linares through a recent Google doodle recognizing his work. The festival of alebrijes captured in the photo above shows just how vibrant his legacy is today in Mexico. A contemporary and collaborator of both Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, this Mexico City native invented a form of papier-mâché figurine – they are named after the refrain chanted by mystical creatures in a fever dream he experienced in 1936.

My first encounter with the artist very fittingly led to a lucid dream of my own, and I wanted to commemorate that connection with his imaginary world by writing a poem about one of his fantastical creatures. Here is that short poem, inspired by a rabbit carved by one of many Oaxacan workshops continuing the alebrijes tradition.

dance rabbit, dodge and prance
move those ears, toss your feet
handstand – saffron haunch, green
foreleg, tessellated
blue breast, long face, dark dreams
nothing stays as it seems
– run rabbit, dig deep, lie
to save your alibi
but run, hide, never sleep
dance, dive, whirl and leap
tumble counterclockwise
brown electric night skies
“alebrije” – hear that?
dance rabbit, catch the cat

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Poetry