By Seamus Heaney
In Iowa once, among the Mennonites
In a slathering blizzard, conveyed all afternoon
Through sleet-glit pelting hard against the windscreen
And a wiper's strong absolving slumps and flits,
I saw, abandoned in the open gap
Of a field where wilted corn stalks flagged the snow,
A mowing machine. Snow brimmed its iron seat,
Heaped each spoked wheel with a thick white brow,
And took the shine off oil in the black-toothed gears.
Verily I came forth from that wilderness
As one unbaptized who had known darkness
At the third hour and the veil in tatters.
In Iowa once. In the slush and rush and hiss
Not of parted but as of rising waters.
Another from this week's Poet's Choice by Robert Pinsky in The Washington Post Book World, on poetry about seasons. The column begins with Pinsky discussing haiku such as Yosa Buson's: "'White blossoms of the pear / and a woman in moonlight / reading a letter.'" Heaney, says Pinsky, exemplifies "what may be a universal gesture of poetry, registering a season with details that also present a feeling...in a harsh wintry image from his recent book, District & Circle, the Irish poet...perceives a relic of both harvest and obliteration, a machine that in its seasonal setting embodies the frailty and stubborn courage of human resources."
After younger son's first lesson with his new violin teacher, whom he seems to like but she expects a lot of practicing so we'll see how it goes, my father took the kids to the pool for a couple of hours while apaulled and I went downtown to the National Gallery of Art to see the Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, and the Renaissance of Venetian Painting and Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris exhibits; I think the kids would have enjoyed the Rousseau exhibit, but doubted they'd go through the Italian religious art without being bored and restless. As it happened, my very favorite thing in the Venetian exhibit was on the radiography that revealed the underpainting of many of the works, such as how Titian changed Bellini's plans for Feast of the Gods and how much cleavage was determined to be too much in a painting of a wise virgin. (Side note: I have been corrupted forever by Mike Myers and "Look! The painter's name is Tittian!", as I cannot look at a Titian-painted breast without giggling.)
The Rousseau exhibit is fantastic -- so many of his big jungle canvases in the same place, but also photos, magazine covers and exhibits from the Menagerie du Jardin des Plantes and World's Fair that inspired him. I did not realize that Rousseau never left France and studied "jungles" at the botanical gardens and the zoo! There were two sculptures from Paris, one of a woman being carried off by a gorilla, another of a hunter being mauled by a bear, that were pretty evident influences on specific paintings of Rousseau's, as well as a taxidermist's display of a lion attacking an antelope that he painted pretty precisely in The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope, but I found it interesting that while the display card went on about how the statue of the woman being dragged off the by gorilla was erotically suggestive, the one on the statue of the male hunter and the bear didn't mention that the man was naked from the waist down (pretty stupid way to hunt for bear cubs!) and the statue looks like nothing so much as a Greek representation of a god carrying off one of the numerous mortal women raped in mythology. It's oddly refreshing to see Rousseau's unromantic view of Paris and the weirdly innocent brutality of his natural world.
...and Frank Stella's La scienza della fiacca.
In the late afternoon we decided it would still be too hot and disgusting out to want to sit in the sun at 6 p.m. even to listen to Lisa Moscatiello, so we retrieved the kids and my father and all went out to Tara Thai, where we ate a very great deal of spicy food. Then we dropped father off, came home and watched Brotherhood (as well as it could be watched with older son finding a hundred ways to stall going to bed, considering that the F word is spoken about every twenty seconds on that show). So many horrible things happen on that series every week -- many perpetrated by Jason Isaacs' character -- that I wonder whether it's worth sticking with it, but there is also some wonderful dialogue and interaction that makes it worthwhile. The line that made me fall off the couch in "Matthew 5:6" was Michael's to asshole mob boss Freddie, after offering him and having him reject a Twinkie: "When you have six inches of cream-filled goodness right in front of your nose, how can you resist?"
I am not at all pleased with Michael, who is in serious need of some anger management (okay, some serious time behind bars, which also won't rehabilitate him given the insanity from which he comes), but it is so compelling to watch Jason in scenes like the one where he gets a guy he's planning to kill drunk while never touching his own drink, with a really scary expression on his face. I still find it hard to root for Tommy even though he should be so much more likeable, trying so hard to be a good son and husband and brother and keeping his head up when the Speaker of the House makes him recite Kipling's "If" at a dinner with other politicians (I used to be able to recite that poem, too, more verses than he knows...remind me to post it sometime if I never have). Though I think the best dialogue belongs to Tommy's would-be political mentor, who tells Tommy that he's like a wounded animal alone in the savannah in need of a pack, and when Tommy asks whether that means he has to kiss the Speaker's ass, replies, "I'm a gorilla. I live in the jungle. It doesn't matter to me what happens in the savannah."
Star Trek news today was William Shatner conducting the Boston Pops in Cape Cod! What will that man decide he can do next?