Tuesday, 19 February 2013

I have been meme



This meme is from November's Autumn. 


{Reading}
Thomas Hardy's poems, still very much in the beginning
Recollections of the Lake Poets by Thomas de Quincey, still very much incomplete
Charles Lamb's essays, written under the pseudonym of Elia. I recommend his Dissertation upon a Roast Pig. 
Charlotte Bronte: the Evolution of Genius by Winifred Gerin.

{Writing}
Part of my novel - so far, done about 32,000 words. Still a long way to go.
Fanfiction of Shirley by Charlotte Bronte

{Looking}
At the sheer amount of things I have to study.
May be reading a biography of Thomas de Quincey. 
Possibly may have to re-read Rider Haggard and others for the Turn of the Century Salon (why is it that all the related books I read about it was years ago???)
Maybe it's time for a trip to Keith Fawkes' bookshop in Hampstead?

{Listening}
Who am I? from Les Miserables by Colm Wilkinson
Stars from Les Miserables by Philip Quast
I saw him once from Les Miserables by Rebecca Caine
(As you can see, I'm now a Les Mis fan. Hugh Jackman in a cravat and top hat is to die for!)

{Watching}
Allo Allo, a parody sitcom from the 1980s, arguably the golden age of TV comedy. Are You Being Served? another sitcom from the 70's/80's.

{Feeling}
Terribly stressed.

{Anticipating}
Exams. Also, the beginning of my lab project, which involves getting bacteria to make certain proteins. Applying for a Masters. 

{Loving}
The fact I don't have to earn a living now. My warm room and my teddy bears.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Prince's Progress by Christina Rossetti

This is my first post for The Narrative poem challenge hosted by Listra at Half-Filled Attic. I chose to read Christina Rossetti's Prince's Progress, lesser-known than the infamous Goblin Market. And what do I think? It has a charm of its own, and her versifying here is far superior of her most famous work. If you were acquainted with her solely on the basis of her Goblin Market, then you will not have an accurate idea of her style. Christina Rossetti was one of the most skilled versifiers - in almost every piece of hers is a melody, often in regular meter. In that way she's like Tennyson. Goblin Market is an exception to the rule, and I must admit it is the most powerful and enigmatic of her major poems.
Christina Rossetti

The Prince's Progress starts off with a girl who is waiting for her bridegroom, the Prince, to come and marry her. Her people assure her he will come. Then the perspective switches to the Prince, who is lazing away in his palace. At length he is persuaded to start off for his journey to his bride.  Along the way he is beset with numerous challenges and delays.


Study of The Princess by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
First, he is delayed by a milkmaid. He asks her if he can drink from her pail. She lets him drink, but instead of continuing his journey he stays.
Was it milk now, or was it cream?
Was she a maid, or an evil dream?
Her eyes began to glitter and gleam;
He would have gone, but he stayed instead;
Green they gleamed as he looked in them:
"Give me my fee," she said.--
"I will give you a jewel of gold."--
"Not so; gold is heavy and cold."--
"I will give you a velvet fold
Of foreign work your beauty to deck."--
"Better I like my kerchief rolled
Light and white round my neck."--
"Nay," cried he, "but fix your own fee."--
She laughed, "You may give the full moon to me;
Or else sit under this apple-tree
Here for one idle day by my side;
After that I'll let you go free,
And the world is wide."
Suddenly the milkmaid seems a sinister creature - very Gothic and fairytalelike. She demands a fee and refuses his jewels. Instead she wants him to stay by him, which seems weird, because you'd expect her to kill him or drink his blood or something for something so creepy.

So he stretched his length in the apple-tree shade,
Lay and laughed and talked to the maid,
Who twisted her hair in a cunning braid,
And writhed it in shining serpent-coils,
And held him a day and night fast laid
In her subtle toils.
It seems the milkmaid is a personification for Idleness. He is trapped into delaying his journey, something which seems less sinister than bloodsucking, and yet she is serpentlike. Christina Rossetti is saying that distractions can be traps, because they are more engrossing than work. I don't know if she was making a snide remark against the idle rich, who can afford to barter so much money and jewels. But clearly time here is more valuable than gold.
by Julien Dupre

After his spell with the milkmaid he sets off and encounters desolate lands - what for, I don't know. But it's probably significant. Christina Rossetti does it beautifully that you can imagine the scene and feel for it - that is the mark of good poetry. Far more powerful than Wordsworth's rural scenes.

A lifeless land, a loveless land,
Without lair or nest on either hand:
Only scorpions jerked in the sand,
Black as black iron, or dusty pale;
From point to point sheer rock was manned
By scorpions in mail.
Formidable isn't it? Not only is it bare and devoid of trees, but there are harmful scorpions. There is no pleasure or feeling here, only hardness.
a rocky desert scene
A land of neither life nor death,
Where no man buildeth or fashioneth,
Where none draws living or dying breath;
No man cometh or goeth there,
No man doeth, seeketh, saith,
In the stagnant air.
A land of neither life nor death? Sounds paradoxical. You are either one or the either, unless there was never life to subsist in the first place, only inanimate objects. But I wonder if it symbolises the state of the idle rich? When they are doing nothing except distractions, they are not dying - obviously because they are alive. On the other hand they cannot be said to be living, as their lives are meaningless. They are like inanimate machines. On second thoughts, since this landscape is bare and devoid of visitors, it can't be highly populated, especially not by the idle.  Then again, we can't be too logical when it comes to evoking atmosphere. The key is "no man buildeth or fashioneth" - a land of sloth and desolution.
Some old volcanic upset must
Have rent the crust and blackened the crust;
Wrenched and ribbed it beneath its dust
Above earth's molten centre at seethe,
Heaved and heaped it by huge upthrust
Of fire beneath.
May not be of significance, but this is splendid imagery, to show how monstrous the place is. Or for all you know it's religious imagery, which I am ignorant of. After all, it might be related to apocolyptic events, as John Martin painted. Honestly it looks like a second hell.
by John Martin, a 19th century painter of apocalyptic scenes
Untrodden before, untrodden since:
Tedious land for a social Prince;
Halting, he scanned the outs and ins,
Endless, labyrinthine, grim,
Of the solitude that made him wince,
Laying wait for him.
Ha! Poor prince. I wonder if Christina is having a jibe at those who hate doing work and being alone. The prince is social and merry - the sort of qualities she was not known to be famous for. She was famously reclusive and self-denying. Interestingly the solitude is either dangerous or just plain painful. Merriness is a distraction.

Finally he encounters a cave where he wants to rest. I like the imagery here.
Out it flashed from a yawn-mouthed cave,
Like a red-hot eye from a grave.
He encounters an old man in the cave who is stirring a pot. The lines remind me of Macbeth.
An old, old mortal, cramped and double,
Was peering into a seething-pot,
In a world of trouble.
Bubble, trouble and double are rhymes used in the witches-chant in Macbeth I think. Witchcraft maybe?

Visit to the Witch by Edward Frederick Brewtnall
The scary-looking old man tells the Prince that he must work in order to stay at the cave. An allegory for work for your keep, instead of lying around idle? The prince is asked to blow the potion with bellows.
"Buried alive from light and air
This year is the hundredth year,
I feed my fire with a sleepless care,
Watching my potion wane or wax:
Elixir of Life is simmering there,
And but one thing lacks
Elixir of life? Interesting - is the old man an alchemist?
"Then take your choice of all I have;
I will give you life if you crave.
Already I'm mildewed for the grave,
So first myself I must drink my fill:
But all the rest may be yours, to save
Whomever you will."
The old man offers to give the Prince life - presumably by drinking the potion. But why? He says that because he's on the verge of dying he has the right to drink first. It doesn't save him from death later, so I think the elixir of life is not straightforward.  His age represents the many years of hard work he went through, and the elixir represents the reward he will reap for his diligence. Who will the Prince have to save? This is foreshadowing a tragic plot. Also, why doesn't the elixir save the old man, but he says it can save whomever the Prince wishes to save?  I think Christina is saying that the old man is already destined for the grave, being mildewed - a sort of fungal infection, I think - which symbolises decay. But if the person in question isn't mildewed or decrepit they might be saved.

Eventually the old man dies and the potion is ready. The prince fills a phial with the potion.

"If she watches, go bid her sleep;
Bid her sleep, for the road is steep:
He can sleep who holdeth her cheap,
Sleep and wake and sleep again.
Let him sow, one day he shall reap,
Let him sow the grain.
"When there blows a sweet garden rose,
Let it bloom and wither if no man knows:
But if one knows when the sweet thing blows,
Knows, and lets it open and drop,
If but a nettle his garden grows
He hath earned the crop
More foreshadowing here. These voices haunt the prince in his sleep, indicating he does not appreciate his future bride enough by sleeping instead of looking for her. As you sow, so shall you reap is the message here.

The scenery described when he wakes up and journeys is exquisite, quite worthy of the Romantics. It is more imaginary than genuine nature poetry, which tends to be either too detailed or not visionary. But stopping to smell the roses isn't good in this poem: he delays his journey even more, and feels lonely for company. The scenery can be dull, too, perhaps a way of saying that distractions are dull and useless? Alternately, saying work can be tedious for one like him?
By willow courses he took his path,
Spied what a nest the kingfisher hath,
Marked the fields green to aftermath,
Marked where the red-brown field-mouse ran,
Loitered awhile for a deep-stream bath,
Yawned for a fellow-man.
Up on the hills not a soul in view,
In the vale not many nor few;
Leaves, still leaves, and nothing new.
It's O for a second maiden, at least,
To bear the flagon, and taste it too,
And flavor the feast.
He reaches water, and here the imagery seems to reach a thunderous climax.
At length the water-bed took a curve,
The deep river swept its bank-side bare;
Waters streamed from the hill-reserve,--
Waters here, waters there.
High above, and deep below,
Bursting, bubbling, swelling the flow,
Like hill-torrents after the snow,--
Bubbling, gurgling, in whirling strife,
Swaying, sweeping, to and fro,--
He must swim for his life.
Which way?--which way?--his eyes grew dim
With the dizzying whirl,--which way to swim?
The thunderous downshoot deafened him;
Half he choked in the lashing spray:
Life is sweet, and the grave is grim,--
Which way?--which way?
The waters represent challenges and delays he must encounter in life, but it is much more interesting than merely saying he has difficulties to contend with. The sheer exuberance of the waters brings more vivid pictures.  It is important he counters this challenge, and amid the waters he is lost, which makes you think of being lost at sea - he literally has no idea how to proceed. This symbolises the agony you feel when you are facing a challenge, all alone, and no idea of a way out. He is saved in the end, on the point of death, and depsite the bride's sweet youth, the narrator laments the bridegroom lingers on his journey. More foreshadowing again. He is saved by goodness-knows-what (a moon face and a bird, it seems) and instead of going on his journey, he speaks of his troubles along the way. The narrator warns the reader that one hour can cast the die: and what is hoped for will be gone forever. This is morbid, even by Christina Rossetti's standards.

Some choruses tell the prince that the princess is waiting and languishing for him. This is like a Greek chorus - they ought to make it into a musical or stage drama. Or maybe a closet drama, as the Romantics had - not meant for a public, but for one's own self-entertainment.
"Does she live?--does she die?--she languisheth
As a lily drooping to death,
As a drought-worn bird with failing breath,
As a lovely vine without a stay,
As a tree whereof the owner saith,
'Hew it down to-day.'"
He now vows to hurry towards his intended bride. He passes formidable montains where no green grows in search of his bride. Unlike the beautiful nature just before, where he lingered, he is determined on his quest in this harsh region. One would expect him to find it harder now, and easier then, but he has learnt his lesson.
Huge before him a mountain frowned
With foot of rock on the valley ground,
And head with snows incessant crowned,
And a cloud mantle about its strength,
And a path which the wild goat hath not found
In its breadth and length.
by Caspar Friedrich

When he reaches the mountain he reaches a glorious land which reminds you of the Mediterranean, the "warm South," that Keats mentioned, that was immortalised in 19th century literature. He has worked for this lovely reward.
Before his face a valley spread
Where fatness laughed, wine, oil, and bread,
Where all fruit-trees their sweetness shed,
Where all birds made love to their kind,
Where jewels twinkled, and gold lay red
And not hard to find.
by Pissarro

Unfortunately, the poor bride, having waited so long has died of a decline.
"Too late for love, too late for joy,
Too late, too late!
You loitered on the road too long,
You trifled at the gate:
The enchanted dove upon her branch
Died without a mate;
The enchanted princess in her tower
Slept, died, behind the grate;
Her heart was starving all this while
You made it wait.
"Ten years ago, five years ago,
One year ago,
Even then you had arrived in time,
Though somewhat slow;
Then you had known her living face
Which now you cannot know:
The frozen fountain would have leaped,
The buds gone on to blow,
The warm south wind would have awaked
To melt the snow.

Ten years on the road is a long time to win a wife. I wonder how long the alchemist lived? If he had come sooner, the difficulties in his way would not have been there. Indeed when we procrastinate the task becomes harder. (And I am writing this while I should be doing my assignment.)

Overall, some wonderful scenes, though the writing tends to become Parnassian and too childish at times, but you can't deny it's effective. Has Coleridge potential. It's full of hyperbole, because that is what fairytale poetry is. What I particularly like about this poem is that it's set in a vaguely mediaeval era, the time worshipped by the Pre-Raphaelites, and though Christina wasn't a painter, she used it in her sumptuous poems. There is no sense of modernity or technology or even political progress, but it is universal, fixed in time. It is human passions and frailties that are emphasised, as well as natural scenes that all of us can recognise (if not in person, at least in books).  Nature is used as a symbol of life's forces, the good and the sinister. It's also noteworthy that she didn't merely make the natural scenes sinister, like Coleridge tends to do in Christabel and Rime of the Ancient Mariner: she makes it scenic and fresh - the sort of regions you long to experience in your mind. Instead of night in a haunted castle, it is mainly day among scenery, and also a night in the cave. There is a balance of good and bad, thought the ending is ultimately tragic. And instead of putting in vampyres and demons and witches (the usual Gothic stuff) she has a druid and a milkmaid. A milkmaid is more humdrum and domestic, which can be a good thing. Of course people are going to be suspicious of something that looks like a monster. But a milkmaid is innocuous, and using that image to represent potential evil reflects on the fact many horrible things appear to be good at first - like meaningless distractions. She isn't what she seems.This makes it less overtly sensational than a real Gothic-style poem, and yet this poem is definitely Gothic in its undertones.

Then the elixir of life sub-plot. Work to redeem your life, could be what she means, because being a strict Anglican she was involved in charitable projects. Note that only those who have worked to make it can have it. You wonder why he doesn't use it to save the bride, but she is too late, beyond saving. I also wonder why she chose to have the land where the bride lives look like a happy Mediterranean place, instead of a snowy region to represent death. Possibly she didn't wish to make everything look purely good or purely bad - the place is the reward for the prince's efforts, only he is too late to enjoy its full pleasures. If it is icy then there would be no inducements for him to go there in the first place. The fact it is warm and scenic shows you that it is a nice place, and he had a chance of finding happiness there, because it was all there ready for him, only he delayed and never fulfilled his promise to marry his bride. Which makes you realise the enormity of his error. If he never had a chance in the first place her death wouldn't be so tragic. But he had a chance, and he blew it.

It is too moralistic, however, which spoils the mood, and the Greek choruses get tiring after a while. You see why it has less power than the less scenic and less melodious Goblin Market.