Friday, October 26, 2012

Happy Birthday, mother

It is my mother's birthday today, so I wrote a birthday sonnet. 

Dawn of autumn, memories of warm days
Salvaging frozen soul’s desperate mind
The memory stays, the dreamers dream strays
Finding Neverland’s soft beauty so kind

A year has passed, dreams fulfilled, goals unreached
All the could-have-beens transforming the dreams
The soaring soul imagination breached
Unveiling my secrets? Happiness screams

The turning of years, the passing of time
Changing the weak, finding strength and power
What is age? Mirroring Happiness’ prime
Submerge yourself in the wisdom shower

The enchanting words from stories so bold
Happiness, magic in all stories told

Thursday, October 18, 2012

My Last Duchess

My Last Duchess, by Robert Browning

Just to make my otherwise busy day just a bit more busy, I decided to write about a poem I encountered last year at Uni. This poem was written by Robert Browning (1812-1889) in 1842. 

That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive, I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will't please you sit and look at her? I said
"Frà Pandolf" by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir 'twas not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps
Frà Pandolf chanced to say "Her mantle laps
Over my lady's wrist too much," or "Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat": such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart - how shall I say) - too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, 'twas all one! My favor at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace - all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men - good! but thanked
Somehow - I know not how - as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech - (which I have not) - to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, "Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark" - and if she let
Herself be lessonded so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse
- E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive, Will't please you rise? We'll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master's known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretense
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter's self as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

Four sonnets (14 lines x 4) constructed like a dramatic monologue. 
The poem starts“In media res”, meaning it starts in the middle, the duke is describing and admiring the painting of his last (late) duchess. He's standing in front of the painting with a spokes person for the pending new duchess.
Quickly, the dramatic monologue was developed in the Romantic period by, among others, William Wordsworth. Dramatic monologue means you have a speaker with an audience precent, audience as one or more listeners. Hamlet's soliloquy, for instance, can be considered a monologue, dramatic even, if direction place Ophelia in the back, listening. 
But this is also a sonnet. I made it a habit of counting lines when I took British literature, as anything with 14 lines (verses, one line is one verse), usually was a sonnet. And as we're talking about Browning, rival or equal to Lord Tennyson, there is no doubt in my mind that these are 4 sonnets. The powerful poem strikes again. 
Rhythm wise it has iambic pentameter (very sonnet like), and consists of rhyming couplets (quasi heroic - and very sonnet like). 
Making it AA, BB, CC, DD, EE, FF, GG etc. Meaning it's not a Petrachan or a Shakespearean sonnet, but a sonnet nonetheless. 

“The poem is based on incidents in the life of Alfonso II, Duke of Ferrara in Italy, whose first wife, Lucrezia, a young woman, died in 1561 after three years of marriage. Following her death, the duke negotiated through an agent to marry a niece of the Count of Tyrol. Browning represents the duke as addressing this agent”[1]

It’s a critique of the Victorian society, even though it's set in the renaissance. Women in the Victorian age were allowed very limited space to move in, limited space to function in. At the time they were given unreachable goals, as such. They were the angels of the house, and superhuman demands were imposed upon them.
The Victorian period fostered the Modernists. Women managed to get a right to vote, among other results. But during the Victorian period, the women weren't allowed to act on their emotions. And that is obviously a generalization, but any emotional anomaly would be frowned upon. And at the most extreme, a woman in this period would be locked up to "rest" if she showed signs of for instance depression or psychosis... And today we know very well that being left alone with ones thoughts when the thoughts are as darkest...yeah, not the best idea in the world. Psychosis turning into a complete mental break down, I would think (something that does happen to the protagonist in "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.), and then they entered a different problematic stage completely. 
In the Victorian period men held a rather elevated image of the woman. They wanted the idea of the beautiful and angelic creature, not the actual living, breathing human being. This can also be thought of as courtly love, as there really was no reality to these thoughts… yet, this was women’s life in the Victorian age, at least the in the higher parts of society. Their ultimate goal was to marry well, give him children, and then paint his picture perfect, leaving time to sow, play the pianoforte, sit straight up and wait for the master of the house to return. And this is kind of a paradox, as the biggest empire the world has seen, the British empire, was ruled by a woman, Queen Victoria. 
The “story” in the poem is set in the Renaissance, but it definitely deals with the women question, as it objectifies her. The Duke has a curtain in front of the painting, making him in charge still, having the power to unveil it, or keep it covered up. 
Objectification of women is the main theme here. Cover up is another.
The Duke wants to own the self, the I, the object. The self can’t be anything else than what he desires. And the moment the object becomes a person, he can't deal with it. 

He starts to talk about the painting, then about the person, then in the end we understand that he has taken her life as she became something more than the angel in the house, something more than the perfect woman he so dearly desired, something more than the woman he now only can have access to through the painting. He wants a new duchess… the painting is of his last (late) duchess. 
Yet, it remains a mystery, did he kill her, or did she take her own life? No matter the answer, both were considered taboos in the Victorian age.

The poet shows us a poetic speaker who tries to give us a certain impression of himself, but in trying to be someone he’s not, he turns into the one he wants to hide, revealing too much. Revealing the other, the repressed... his inner Mr. Hyde. 
In his speech, he’s moving from the dead duchess to the new duchess. Yet, the doubleness, the representation of certain phrases gives him away as a man who’s not over his late wife yet, or at least the woman he wanted her to be. Could the painting on the wall be an image of him, the duke, perhaps? He’s mirroring his own values into the picture looking back at him. Or is that too far fetched. 
The enjambment functions to show the psychological approach, he needs to rid himself of baggage, and in the end he is speaking against his own will.
“…I gave commands!” Did he give one too many commands? Did he stop her smile?
Ellipses, gaps, breaks are signalled by semicolon or dashes gives the impression that a psychological process is going on here.

“There she stands
As if alive…” This signals the volta (the turn)
The duke stops himself from going deeper, and becomes more a “gentleman” again. He collects himself, and is again the Doctor Jekyll.
Though, he makes a dark prediction of the future, hidden behind a smile, he will tame his new duchess… and she will obey.

There is a circular movement in the poem, it starts out with a portrait and ends up with a sculpture. And the seahorse is a metaphor for the duke’s wives. 

I wrote this entry because a friend asked me if I knew anything about My Last Duchess.
I have written this based on notes I made in class. My Professor in British literature had so many good points that I remember my hand was sore after this particular lecture (after every lecture, to be honest). But having moved on from British literature, to the course I'm taking now (same professor), called Madness and Writing, I have made a few observations on my own... So I guess I did know a thing or two about My Last Duchess, but I'm convinced I could learn plenty more still :-)

Sources of information: Prof. J. S. Drangsholt and The Norton Anthology

[1] The Norton Anthology, English Literature, Eighth Edition, Volume 2 (page 1255)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Sounds That Can't Be Made

This is the new album by Marillion, and it is such an incredible album that I just have to share my thoughts with you!
I'll actually go about it in a Much Ado About Shakespeare List kind of way (and we just love lists, don't we?), so here goes.

1. Gaza
Frightening to listen to this now when we know what's going on on the Gaza strip...
This is a song that demands a lot of the listener, both when talking about the music, the lyrics and the performance.
Technically it switches between 7/4 and 4/4, a bit of a Eastern rhythm scheme, and already there it becomes a bit challenging, and not immediately clear cut music to please the masses. Nevertheless, totally Marillion in style. They have created their own musical Universe, and with Gaza they get on a rocket and explore that Universe just a bit further, stretching the boarders of the unknown.
They use a lot of melancholic and gloomy chords, fuzz on the guitars and the sounds in the track as such are dark and almost threatening gives the song depth and credibility. One can practically hear the air raids going on in Rothery's guitars.
But what made this so drastic and hard hitting, is the theme of the song, the heart of the song...the lyrics. It describes the war on the Gaza strip from a Palestinian boy's point of view. And it does so without taking sides... genius. H wrote this after skype-inteviews with people on both sides. He was warned that this would blow up in his face, and it ended up doing just that. This song cost Marillion some fans... but if you can't see the importance this song brings, then maybe you never were a true Marillion fan...
Dead honest, to the point...probably scaring off some delicate souls... but that's what true art is about. It has to make a statement, make people listen...
With lyrics such as...:
"For us to dream is still a dream"
"Mum goes in front of me to check for soldiers"
"I had no idea what martyrdom meant until my older brother, my older brother... I'm sorry, I can't continue"
"When people know they have no future, can we blame them if we cannot tame them?"
"For us to have to live like this, it just aint right, it just aint right"

"Like a nightmare rose up, on this small strip of land, slouching towards Bethlehem"

...they stand tall like the titans they are.
Marillion have never hit harder, in my mind. This song is an album in itself, and the emotions in both music, lyrics and performance is what makes them fill my heart with joy, fill my mind with a wish for resolution and fill my soul with hope for the human race.

2. Sounds That Can't Be Made
I liked this song the first time I heard it. And then it annoyed me for a while because of something I'll elaborate a bit further down. But now I like it again...And I really do :-)
It's a strange song, very compact, yet elusive as a breath of air, and very rigid, yet very soft... Strange.
I like strange!
The backing vocals on this track can sometimes sound a bit out of tune, but for some reason (and this is Silje admitting to something she never before admitted to...and don't ever ask me to repeat it, as I like my music and my songs in tune) whispering: "it works."
When I was a young girl I lived in the North of Norway. Aurora Borealis is a phenomenon I've had the fantastic honor of seeing on many occasions. I learned very early that if you'd whistle, it would move. And that it hated to be told to move. It would come and get you. Even though I know today what Aurora Borealis is, I think the mystical and sometimes frightening explanation is a much more appealing one, and I also hear that in this song. Though the lyrics is a sort of a love song, it's about something bigger than that, something not easily explained nor comprehended. And maybe that is what love is all about, come to think of it?
So, Sounds That Can't Be Made (obviously could be made) is everything Aurora Borealis is... Compact, elusive, frightening, exciting, and so beautiful one could cry.

3. Pour My Love.
This was, I thought, the boring track of the album. How wrong was I?
I nodded along and felt that, yeah, this is Marillion, and music, lyrics and performance is perfect, as usual. I was bit miffed when I found out that the lyrics weren't Hogarth's, but they could easily have been, as they are brilliant. Still, nodding along...
Enter middle part. I think I have taken you down the road of Marillion musical explosions before... this is one of them. A bluesy, jazzy tune changes and takes on a gospel flair to the sound,
I had to go on Marillion's facebook page and write..."You still manage to amaze me!" Because the middle part is describing their music to the full.
Pour My Love has every right (and stands its right) to be on this album, for the middle part alone :-)

4. Power

This song is Mark Kelley's least the beginning. I love the keyboard in the back, the keyboard that almost makes magic love to the rest of the song before the power sets in...
And then the next verse starts with drums, bass and vocals, showing off the brilliant Ian Mosley and Pete Trewavas showing off ;-) And then the power takes over completely.
This was also the first track they released for fans to pre-view... or more correctly, pre-listen. I heard this track during the summer, and I remembered thinking, wow, if the rest of the album is only half as good as this song, then we're in for a treat. In retrospect... Power is great, but not the strongest track of the album, and this says a lot about how strong this album really is. Because Power is a great, powerful and mighty song, a display of power as usual :-) It's a force of nature placed between barres and notes, lyrics and instruments...
And the ending is so grand that the title to the song is almost not powerful enough.

5. Montréal
Welcome to my favorite track...of all time...
I hated this song the first time I heard it. Really hated it...I could not understand the point, what the hell were they trying to say? I thought the lyrics were far too personal, and didn't make sense... felt almost as if I was sneaking a peek in someone's personal and hidden diary, and that I was reading something so far fetched that I blushed...
And then I started to listen, I tried my best to make some sense of all the fragmented pieces of music stacked together as a song, the weird changes in style and mood...and, well, it is a difficult song. And then, to explain to myself the odd lyrics, I figured out that they were written for someone who needed an insurance of good behavior... And that actually made it easier to get into the song properly. Now I had a starting point.
I am a student of English literature, and analysis of poetry is kind of my thing... so I started making a note of motifs. He uses "fall" "drop" "into" "down" so many times that it has to mean something more than just someone talking randomly, as I think nothing with Marillion is random or by chance. I think they place an awful lot of thought to their productions. So I did too in my analysis.
When first hearing Montréal, it was like meeting someone for the first time. To begin with, I'm wondering what they're all about, forming a very offensive first impression, knowing very well that the first impressions always are totally wrong. Then I decided to give them another chance, I want to know what they're about, because as annoying as I found them the first time, I still felt drawn to them...
Then I went deeper, trying to discover what made them tick... starting to feel all tingly and excited every time I'm close to this new and almost dangerously arousing element.
Then I suddenly start to feel the heat, and all the other strong emotions that comes to play when something goes further. But then they say something to annoy the living daylights out of me, and I have to take a deep breath wondering if they're really worth the trouble of going further still. Do I even want to do this? Do I want to get to know someone who can get me this on edge?
But then... I decided that this is what makes them them, and I don't want to miss it for the world. The things that makes them them is exactly what I need to breathe...
What I'm left with is the choice to love... And to get all this from one song...??? Can you really dare to miss out on this? There is a Bach reference in the keyboards...Musicians who are able to quote and refer to other talents, in such an elegant manner... now that shows utter genius.
And as for an over all interpretation? Marillion have fallen completely in love with Montréal, and I fear...not so much afraid anymore... so have I...
Oh, and they buy Easter Eggs from outer space... come on, that's just brilliant.

6. Invisible Ink
This is another little pearl hidden among diamonds. A small, almost anonymous song among all the other hard hitting tracks. But it is such a sweet tune, and when you really listen, this holds the high standard as all the other tracks, and can perfectly well stand alone...And it is the opposite of anonymous. When you take the time to really listen, listen to words, music, to performance, it all comes together as one of those songs you hear as an echo from your dreams.
The lyrics tells a story... some people might think h is a stalker, trying to convince his object of fascination through secrecy... but I think there is more to this than that. I think it could just as easily be two lovers stuck in a pattern of no passion... And if there are any of the real hard core fans among my readers, some of you who've heard Hogarth and Barbieri's album Not The Weapon But The Hand, then you'll see that he continues his thoughts of only two emotions, love and fear... Only Love Will Make You Free. I'm beginning to think he's right.
7. Lucky Man
These two songs (6 and 7) are highly connected, as I think they are linked to Hogarth's solo albums, and they are very personal, and honest. And sometimes honesty can be a bit scary.
This is a song about a man who finally realizes he has everything he wants, and that he's lucky... though, I'm not quite convinced. If he really was all that happy, then the search is over... and God forbid, that means nothing left to say... the horror! Please have more to say, h :-)
But I like the ambiguity to this song, and I like that it makes me think. I also like the fact that Steve Hogarth has talked about The Cage for years... he's consistent, and true to himself.
There was this one guy who made a comment that most people locked themselves in their cave... and that Mr. h should make a note of that, that it's cave, not cage. But this guy has probably missed one of the best solo tracks from Ice Cream Genius, called...oh you guessed it, Cage. Being locked in a cage means having no means of getting out... a cage is ordinarily locked from the outside, whereas you can always walk out from the cave... the cage metaphor is so much stronger... And this metaphor, stacked in this lucky man song, makes me question it. And according to many philosophers made famous through The Matrix trilogy, it's the questions that drives us.
Lucky man leads to the emotional heart of the album, of the be a bit grand.

8. The Sky Above The Rain
What can you possibly say about the song that could compete with Neverland?
I know I just claimed that Montréal was my favorite song ever, and it is, but then so is this..
My friends said it so good when explaining this song... They were crammed in a car on their way to Cardiff. They were listening to the album, talking and having fun... and when The Sky Above The Rain came, they all shut up and listened, letting the music do the talking... ending it with a simple "wow".
This is a deep, heartwarming, heartbreaking and sad, yet uplifting song. Whenever I hear this song, all I want to do, when it's finished, is to hear it again. It becomes cathartic...
Everything about this song is honest, and through the honesty comes the quality and the beauty.
"Maybe they'll talk, soul to soul, head to head, heart to heart, eye to eye?"
"The rain's below us!"
The guitar solo in the end is magnificent...
The Sky Above The Rain is a wonderful concluding song to a fabulous album.
The first time I heard this song I cried. Not like, "OMG this song is like totally awesome"... No, I cried because I knew for a fact that I was right when I claimed that Marillion are inspiration personified.

Sounds That Can't Be Made....
Well, it turns out they could. Marillion made the sounds that no one else could, and the world is a better place because of this.
And I can still proudly say, there are people placed on this planet to inspire humanity, and Marillion are the leaders of this precious company.

All the photos are at the courtesy of my friend, Phil Slessor.