Showing posts with label poetry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label poetry. Show all posts

Monday, December 5, 2011

Lo, How a Rose E're Blooming and other tales (Jillian)


Once upon an advent, I "discover" a "new" carol. "New" because it is new to me, or it had never interested me before. Carols are rich in history and echoes of medieval legend, so naturally, I never tire of them. They represent more than just the story of Christ coming to earth, but of how that story was told again and again in song and folklore across every culture.

As a child at Christmas, I would take the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Christmas Carol book off the piano and gaze at the beautiful nativity scenes, the woodcuts, the many paintings and tryptics of the Madonna and Child. I remember coming across odd carols I'd never heard before - "The Sussex Carol", "Joseph Dear, Oh Joseph Mine," and a Czech carol called "Rocking, Rocking." Then there was the compelling mystery of the Burgundian carol "Patapan" - where was Burgundy? Why had I never heard of that country before? (Northwest France. I think. Burgundy held itself as a separate entity from struggling France in the 100 years war, English allies. Joan of Arc campaigned against them in 1429, was captured by them, and later sold to the English for 10,000 francs by them. Just saying.)

This year's carol curiosity is "Lo, How A Rose E're Blooming." I have to admit, I always thought it was boring. Just boring. And slow. And too somber for Christmas. This may be because I grew up listening to the Mannheim Steamroller version, which presented it in French horn. There is nothing particularly malign about creating a brass rendition of this old song, but it makes the already somber tune too heavy for one who liked dancing around to "In Dulci Jubilo" and "Wassail, Wassail."

But then, I saw The Time Traveler's Wife. If you've ever seen it, please do. It is a beautiful film - a nicely watered down version of the novel. Anyway, "Lo, How A Rose" is woven throughout the film - from Henry DeTamble's mother singing it in the car with her lovely operatic soprano (in the original German), to his wife Claire's bridal procession, to the theme playing at their home in the last few months of his life. This was a simple string ensemble, perhaps a quartet, and it was/is perfect. This song should NEVER have been arranged for brass.

So naturally, I am intrigued and very deeply moved by so simple, so quiet, so lovely a piece.

Here's a little history:

* First officially "published" in 1582, but is probably much older.
* Thought to be from Song of Solomon 2.1 - "I am the rose of Sharon..."
* There is a legend associated with this hymn: a monk in the German town of Trier found a blooming rose while walking in the woods on Christmas Eve. He placed the rose in a vase, and placed it before the alter to the Virgin Mary.
* In 1609, Protestants adapted the hymn to reflect Jesus instead of Mary.
* Wikipedia has the lyrics:

German:

Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen,
aus einer Wurzel zart,
wie uns die Alten sungen,
von Jesse war die Art
Und hat ein Bl├╝mlein bracht
mitten im kalten Winter,
wohl zu der halben Nacht.

English:

Lo, how a rose e'er blooming,
From tender stem hath sprung.
Of Jesse's lineage coming,
As men of old have sung;
It came, a flow'ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Like Christina Rossetti's "In the Bleak Midwinter," it tells of hope in the midst of winter - roses blooming in the snow. That is the beautiful mystery of the Nativity: how Christ was born - whether it was winter or summer - into a dark, cold world. That's a hope we can carry throughout this winter - that there will be roses even in our Winters if we look hard enough.

* Trivia on this hymn is from http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/Notes_On_Carols/lo_how_a_rose_eer_blooming.htm

Monday, July 18, 2011

Word-Delving: what is "alien"? (Jillian)


In my recent adventures, I've taken to asking (seemingly) obvious questions of words I thought I understood. Language is organic and fluid, mysterious and multi-faceted. Naturally, there is never a dull moment with the lexicon.

This week's question is about the word "alien." In our culture we are so accustomed to the word that it automatically means one of two things: 1.) illegal or out-of-place immigrant in another country, or 2.) any non human, extraterrestrial being of the "little green men" or Klingon, Vulcan or Dalek category. Number 2 is a relatively new development, if you think about it: what with the dawn of flight and space exploration, Area 51 and alien-abduction hysteria.

But looking at Shakespeare or the Bible, "the alien" is usually the former definition: a dispossessed, homeless person in a foreign place. So using "alien" to refer to extraterrestrials is actually quite logical. They're not from earth. They don't belong. They are strange. They are "not like us."

But... does alien mean more than that? Looking up "alien" (as an adjective) for a Latin translation points to peregrinus: foreign, strange, etc. It is related clearly to the Latin word for "other", which is alius: "different." So that's all it means, pure and simple. In this century the word has been associated with "scary non-human" - it is amazing to think how a meaning could change, grow and accumulate (sometimes strong) connotations.

The above photo is, of course, the Doctor. For those of you who don't know, contrary to his outward appearance, the Doctor is not a human being. He is an alien with two hearts, psychic abilities, and who doesn't age, but regenerates into another man when his body is damaged. Among other pieces of evidence.

Why am I thinking about this? I have been thinking lately about how "alien" is a bit outdated - that "little green men" connotation. After all, we're surrounded by the weird and the unusual all day, every day. "Alien" to me has become very much a below-the-skin, can't-put-a-finger-on-it sort of thing... probably because of the significant influence the likes of Doctor Who has had on my creative thinking in the last four years.

Far more powerful than green skin or a cyclops-eye is the unshakable feeling that creeps exist among us (just watch Criminal Minds - but not too much, mind - and you'll get the picture) in human form. What if the extraterrestrials we always feared are among us, and either don't know it or are entirely indistinguishable from our office and flat mates? Battlestar Galactica dealt with this issue, as did the thankfully short-lived ABC remake of V.

Instead of "alien," I've been playing with that simpler word "other"... because in that sort-of context it could mean many things, and it is both terrifying and intriguing poetry that leads us toward the question of what it actually means to be human.

Here's for the lexicon!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Wolf (Michelle)

I'm getting back into fairy tales --- I'm honestly never that far away anyway --- having just bought an anthology of essays by male writers on their favorite tales. This is a counterpart to Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall by women, which I read back in the fall.

And today I ran across a lovely poem by Billy Collins in my niece and nephew's poetry anthology (Poetry Speaks to Children) which got me thinking in fresh ways about the tales. No matter how much I think about fairy tales, there always seem to be new angles.

Wolf

A wolf is reading a book of fairy tales.
The moon hangs over the forest, a lamp.

He is not assuming a human position,
say, cross-legged against a tree,
as he would in a cartoon.

This is a real wolf, standing on all fours,
his rich fur bristling in the night air,
his head bent over the book open on the ground.

He does not sit down for the words
would be too far away to be legible,
and it is with difficulty that he turns
each page with his nose and forepaws.

When he finishes the last tale
he lies down in pine needles.
He thinks about what he has read,
the stories passing over his mind
like the clouds crossing the moon.

A zigzag of wind shakes down hazelnuts.
The eyes of owls yellow in the branches.



By the way, if anyone knows where I can find a good computer wallpaper of classic fairy tale illustrations (Rackham, Dulac, etc.) please tell.

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