Sunday, January 2, 2011

Dandy in the Underworld: Issa's Sunday Service, #84

What better way to start the New Year than with a trip to the Underworld?  If ever there was a patron saint of poetry (as well as music), Orpheus is certainly a leading candidate.  Though the reference to Orpheus in T. Rex's glam tune "Dandy of the Underworld" isn't overt - there are some who believe that it is after the Tennessee Williams play, Orpheus Descending - the reference to the Oz books of L. Frank Baum is, so it makes it onto the ongoing Litrock list.

As to the above portrait, well there's lots that could be said.  It is a portrait of Cosimo de'Medici as Orpheus by the Italian artist Agnolo Bronzino.  It resides in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and here's what they have to say.  Orpheus taming Cereberus on his way to rescue Eurydice, eh?  In celebration of a new ongoing era of peace and in the romantic spirit of a new marriage, you say?  Is that the bow of your lyre in your right hand, or are you just happy to see me, darling Orphée?  No, wait, do lyres even have bows? Not a liar, er, lyre, you say - a viola, perhaps, because, oops, it's too large for a violin and, oops, too small for a cello.  Somebody, help me out I'm lost in the underworld of my crass ignorance.

Glam rock, indeed.

In any case, there are innumerable references to Orpheus in poetry, way too many to recount.  There's a list someone ought to compile.  Of course, Rainer Maria Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus is one of finest and most famous.

My favorite treatment is in film rather than verse because I am a stoned child of the 60s: Jean Cocteau's Orphée.  Here is the scene when Orphée is led into the underworld through a mirror.  Pre-digital, no doubt, but ingenious, lyrical, and mythic all at once, which is about as good a summary of the work of Cocteau as one might get.


This week's feature poem comes from Lilliput Review #129, March 2003, and has a touch of myth to it; more precisely, it provides instructions on how to make myth real.     Go ahead, give it a try.

It's more than worth the effort.

When you sense you are close
climb to a high place and look down
at eucalyptus groves and
Japanese maples of fire red.
Say the word eucalyptus out loud,
but say it in the Greek way:
Make it your mantra on the descent,
the red leaves your compass,
eucalyptus your song.
Lonnie Hull Dupont

No eucalyptus or Japanese maple, you say?  Lilac and ailanthus will do.

so is haiku hell
over that-a-way...
mountain cuckoo?
translated by David G. Lanoue


PS  Get 2 free issues     Get 2 more free issues     Lillie poem archive

Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 84 songs
Hear all 84 (or so) at once on the the LitRock Jukebox


Anonymous said...

MY FAVORITE "Orpheus" poem
since UHAL brought it up:
Jack Gilbert's

HERE I'll type it out (it is in his 1962 Views of Jeopardy):

HEY & actually Dudley Fitts in his Foreword opens with it as::

"A cold little poem, actually a kind of footnote to the work as a whole, may serve us as a way into Jack Gilbert's book. The subject, appropriately, is the art of poetry itself, and the problem is the tormenting one of communication. Orpheus is the protagonist, a timeless symbol: the legendary earliest singer, he is any serious artist in an indifferent or hostile society. The scene is Hell, though Mr. Gilbert specifies it as Greenwich Village.

What if Orpheus,
confident in the hard-
found mastery,
should go down into Hell?
Out of the clean light down?
And then, surrounded
by the closing beasts
and readying his lyre,
should notice, suddenly,
they had no ears? "

if you ain't crying now ... OH WAKE UP!)


Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Wow, Kokkie-san! A Gilbert beauty from his rare to find first book.

Thanks, Ed ...

Here's more Gilbert for the uninitiated - he is one of our very best -

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

I've been reminded by another blog reader about "Black Orpheus," the wonderful movie I'd forgotten - here is a lengthy trailer for it that brought it all back.

Charles Gramlich said...

Good stuff.

bandit said...

Haiku Hell - that should read 'Haiku Hotel' at Craigslist,
trolls and demons lurking everywhere.
Damn; just awoke from a dream ... have to pay the rent ...

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks, Charles ...

Definitely a rabbit thing going on this year, eh, HB?

The only way to pay that rent is one dream at at time.


bandit said...

uh, oh; who was that masked man?
'Zat you, John Wayne?

TC said...


A wondrous poetry sermon it is that manages to touch lightly but deeply (Don's magic touch) upon two of the oldest and deepest of poets' secret marvels, the figure of the lyre and the figure of
the mirror.

There are the paradoxical liars and the wilting narcissisi but then too there there are the gentle and true teachers, those who subtly reflect so very much in the precious few words they offer as gifts. To these masters go many silent and thoughtful thanks.