Sunday, January 31, 2010

scribendi cacoethes


Lazarus lay at the rich man's gate
And dogs did him surround,
From whom more kindness he did get
Than in his kinsman found.

~ E.M.R.H. 31 January 2010

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Some light on SAINTE by Stéphane Mallarmé 

A word for word literal translation into English of this small miracle of a poem would produce gibberish.
One way to appreciate it is first to acquaint oneself with what is known and what is surmised about the poet's intentions when he wrote it – or them, for there are two versions, the following being the earlier one:
Sainte Cécile jouant sur l'aile d'un chérubin
(chanson et image ancienne)
A la fenêtre recélant
Le santal vieux qui se dédore
De la Viole étincelant
Jadis parmi flûte ou mandore,

Est une Sainte recélant
Le livre vieux qui se déplie
Du Magnificat ruisselant
Jadis à véprée et complie,

Saint à vitrage d'ostensoir
Pour clore la harpe par l'ange
Offerte avec son vol du soir
A la délicate phalange

Du doigt, que, sans le vieux santal
Ni le vieux livre, elle balance
Sur le plumage instrumental
Musicienne du silence.

What do we know about version 1?
In December 1865, Mallarmé wrote to a friend to say that he sent him a small musical poem requested by Mme. Brunet. To another he wrote the next day charging him to pass on a letter to (Monsieur?) Brunet and to read to Mme. Brunet "a Sainte Cecilia which I promised her". Mme Brunet's given name was Cécile, and she was godmother to the poet's daughter, Geneviève.
It is worth noting that M. Jean Brunet was a master glass-maker.

Mallarmé seems then to have laid the poem aside until 1883, when he showed his revised version to his fellow poet, Paul Verlaine:
À la fenêtre recelant
Le santal vieux qui se dédore
De sa viole étincelant
Jadis avec flûte ou mandore,

Est la Sainte pâle, étalant
Le livre vieux qui se déplie
Du Magnificat ruisselant
Jadis selon vêpre et complie:

À ce vitrage d’ostensoir
Que frôle une harpe par l’Ange
Formée avec son vol du soir
Pour la délicate phalange

Du doigt que, sans le vieux santal
Ni le vieux livre, elle balance
Sur le plumage instrumental,
Musicienne du silence.

What do we know or guess about the picture in the poet's mind?
It appears that the poet intended at once to evoke a dream of time long past (jadis), and to blur it, mixing up the images evoked as dreams do, so that a simple cut-and-dried explanation is not possible. But we can glean first an outline: we are looking at a window (fenêtre . . . ce vitrage) which for the nonce functions as a monstrance (ostensoir) – that which reveals something holy. In the window is a saint who we know (from version 1) is definitely Saint Cecilia. The window also shows an angel, an old (vieux) missal or book of hours, and some old musical instruments of gilded sandalwood (santal). Also, it is evening, and this is undoubtedly a church because once (jadis) evening prayer would have been sung here.
Add the details and this is the picture that suggests itself:
At evening (du soir) in a church where once were sung Vespers (vêpre) – including the Magnificat – followed by Compline (complie), is Saint Cecilia in a stained-glass window. She is pale, her colour drained perhaps by the failing sunlight which has also first flaked the gilt (dédore) from the formerly (jadis) sparkling (étincelant) viol, flute and mandora, all now concealed (recelant) as the light fails to come through them. In one hand the saint displays (étalant) an old book, unfolding (se déplie) at the Magnificat – possibly shown with its musical notation as in this similar image:

The Magnificat once 'streamed' (ruisselant) during evening prayer but there is a sense that the rippling pages of the unfolding volume are also now concealed by darkness, hence the repetition of jadis.
The saint's other hand has a delicate finger (la délicate phalange/ Du doigt) extended in a pose not uncommon in medieval art, pointing – but not intentionally – in the direction of an angel – almost always shown along with Saint Cecilia – who has at least one wing outspread as if in flight (vol) – again a not uncommon pose – and this wing has the shape of a harp (une harpe par l’Ange/ Formée avec son vol du soir). The saint's extended finger barely brushes (frôle) the wing whose ranked feathers might suggest the strings of a harp (plumage instrumental).
And now comes the magical part. One might suppose that a trick of the withdrawing rays of sunlight lights up the harp-like wing and the saint's finger in such a way that – presently deprived of her musical instruments and her hymn (book) – she makes music on this imagined harp. Only, the music must also be imagined, for naturally it will be silent music, yet the music was silenced anyway when services in the church ceased. And this circumstance is perhaps symbolised by the 'concealment' of the viol, flute and mandora, as well as the Magnificat-bearing page. But, after all, the poem itself is now the music. . . .

To have this exquisite poem explained in such a fashion is rather like having Hercule Poirot explain the Mona Lisa. Leave explanations here and simply read the poem aloud, listening to it. (Maurice Ravel set it to music as a song.)
There are many other aspects to, and details about, this poem which need not concern the lay reader. It is only necessary to enjoy it, seeing it as a picture brought to life by the slanting rays of a setting sun first piercing a stained glass window and later causing apparent movement in that window; then smelling its fragrance as of aged sandalwood mingled with ancient dust; but most of all hearing its music – an old, gentle music.

"Sainte" was first drawn to one's attention by Dr Jaysinh Birjepatil, then (1970-71) Reader in (or Professor of) English at Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda. In acknowledging a debt to him it seems appropriate, too, to acknowledge others – Head of Department Professor V. Y. Kantak, Mr R. N. Mehta, Rev. Fr I. Echaniz S.J. and Sr Mary Rafaella F.M.M. All of them, each in a different way, opened doors and windows in the mind, not only imparting knowledge but making one aware of the possibility of joy: joy in knowledge, certainly, but beyond that the joy of self-expression and self-fulfilment. As one grows old and the end of one's days draws closer, one turns to look back down the long road one has trod, at its turning points and the people who stand there smiling encouragingly. They are too far away to hear, but one may at least wave a hand in salutation and in thanks for kindness shown. 

Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A year that went awry from the beginning and got progressively worse with relentless ferocity had some moments of respite: activity on the Rafael Sabatini front, and private satisfactions at Christmas, namely Midnight Mass, the Christmas Crib, and the new-made ornaments hung in the living-room window.
Midnight Mass was in the lovely chapel of St. Joseph's Boys' High School where, in spite of ragged singing by the choir, and concessions made to an increasing trivialisation of all-important things which is characteristic of modern life (PowerPoint presentation to keep hoi polloi amused during the Vigil before Mass, decorations more suited to a home than to a chapel), it was possible to participate fully in the celebration of a holy Mass, to hear exhortations that went home, and - most blissful of all - to join in singing loved Christmas carols after twenty years!
The current year is unlikely to be different from the last in one key respect, but it will be possible at least to refresh the spirit with the memory of a Crib which turned out well in spite of all the imperfections of construction such as would never have passed muster in yesteryears. One grows old, clumsy, tired, and must accept the consequent deficiencies in one's work. But the mind urges endeavour where the body resists, and here is the result - first a panorama, then details, and finally another panorama:

(22 of the first 23 photographs are by Berenice da Gama-Rose)

"He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit" ~ (the Apostles' Creed)

"there was no room for them at
the inn" ~ (Lk. 2:7)

"The keeper of the gate . . . said, respectfully, "Rabbi, . . . if you care to go with me, I will show you  that there is not a lodging-place left in the house; neither in the chambers, nor in the lewens, nor in the court - not even on the roof."

"Then he took the leading-strap from Joseph,and said to Mary, "Peace to you, O daughter of David!"
Then to the others, "Peace to you all!" Then to Joseph, "Rabbi, follow me."
"The cave to which we are going," he said to her, "must have been a resort of your ancestor David." ~ from Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace

"She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger" ~ (Lk. 2:7)

"About midnight some one on the roof cried out, "What is that light in the sky? Awake, brethren, awake and see!" ~ Ben-Hur

"there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God" ~ (Lk. 2:13)

"And they came with haste, and they found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger." ~ (Lk. 2:16)

"and falling to their knees they did him homage" ~ (Matt. 2:11)
"ever 'gainst the season comes/ Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated/ This bird of dawning singeth all night long"
~ Hamlet (I:1)

"So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt" ~ (Matt. 2:14)

(see the Christmas legend of the spider below)

Christmas: (photograph by Sonali Bhatia)

And the Logos who gives the mind word and thought entwined to bring forth artefacts that are symbolic in a kind of poetry:

Refreshing, too, will be the memory of celebrating the Creator in the spirit of the jongleur of Notre-Dame, by the sub-creation of ornaments to hang up, six of them new this Christmas:

His Light

His bounty (new)

Music (new)

Mirth (new)

Christ our Light (new)

Mary, the new Ark who bore Christ

the Paradise Tree (new), reminder of Paradise lost and Paradise to be regained, the unalterable promise of which was made at the Nativity.

This is the story of the spider at Christmas, which a mother used to tell her small daughter while they decorated the Christmas Tree.
There was an old lady who lived all alone but for a cat and a dog. On Christmas Eve she would lock them out until she had cleaned the parlour from rafters to floor, and set up the Christmas Tree with the Crib arranged below it.

When all was ready, she let in her pets and they went about inspecting everything, wagging a tail or purring as was appropriate to each. Then all three went off to early supper and bed, for the next morning it would be Christmas Day.
Once it happened that a single little spider escaped the old lady's broom and hid in the rafters. From there she could see very little, but she knew that something very fine had been arranged below for cat, dog and old lady all seemed so pleased. So after they had all left she climbed down and began to inspect the Tree from top to bottom, for she was a tiny thing and could not take it all in at a glance.
When she reached the manger below she looked up and saw a dreadful thing. The beautiful Christmas Tree hung with shiny ornaments was covered now in cobwebs and looked so very shabby. The little spider began to cry.
But it was midnight now and the Baby in the manger wasn't going to let the spider be unhappy on his Birthday. He smiled, and as he smiled a bright light spread out and up - up - up to the top of the Tree. And lo, the filaments of spider webbing had turned to finest threads of silver and gold! The Christmas Tree was far more beautiful now than it had ever been before.

And that is why we wreathe our Christmas trees with tinsel threads.....

Ruth Heredia is the originator and holds the copyright to all material on this blog unless credited to some source. Please do not use it or pass it off as your own work. That is theft. If you wish to link it, quote it, or reprint in whole or in part, please be courteous enough to seek my permission.

Friday, January 01, 2010

If any reader is curious about Rafael Sabatini, or wishes to know more than is found in the brief note on the cover of a paperback or on a dustjacket, you could not do better than to visit the website dedicated to Rafael Sabatini:
or to join the mailing-list in Yahoo Groups, whose link is