Creative expressions of Otagaki Rengetsu. While I am preparing a more detailed account of early women artists of Japan, you have the opportunity of learning more about her here.
Strange – is it not? – that of the myriads who
Before us passed the door of darkness through,
Not one returns to tell us of the road
Which to discover we must travel too.
Our moments of inspiration are not lost though we have no particular poem to show for them; for those experiences have left an indelible impression and we are ever and anon reminded of them.
Henry David Thoreau
June 29 marks the 154th death anniversary of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. She was born on March 6, 1806 in county Durham to Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett and Mary Graham Clarke. The Barretts were wealthy and Elizabeth’s early childhood spent with her eleven siblings in their family estate of Herefordshire were comfortable. She revealed her literary aspirations early in her life. Her father admired her efforts and on her 14th birthday presented her with 50 printed copies of her poetry.
About this time Elizabeth also started showing signs of a failing health. A mystery disease that remained undetected during her lifetime started plaguing her. She contacted lung infections in her early days which also showed sings of recurrence. Her illness often used to make her dizzy and morphine was of no use to subdue her pain that spread across her spine and head. She started becoming dependent on a opium concoction to alleviate her physical discomfort.
Elizabeth’s courtship and eventual marriage to Robert Browning in 1840s did not go down well with the family. Her father disinherited her from the property and her brothers severed ties with her. Elizabeth moved to Italy with her husband Robert Browning and her loyal nurse since childhood. Robert Browning was well known in Italy, did have earnings of his own to sustain his family. Together Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning shared an amicable relationship. Both the conviviality at home and the warmer climate of Italy had a positive effect on Elizabeth’s health.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning knew and was friendly with many of the prominent authors of the day. This included such personalities as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Makepeace Thackeray, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Thomas Carlyle, Harriet Beecher Stowe and George Sand. She vehemently campaigned for the abolition of slavery, a curse that she was well aware of owing to her ancestral connection to the plantations of Jamaica.
We walked beside the sea,
After a day which perished silently
Of its own glory – like the Princess weird
Who, combating the Genius, scorched and seared,
Uttered with burning breath, ‘Ho! victory!’
And sank adown, an heap of ashes pale;
So runs the Arab tale.
The sky above us showed
An universal and unmoving cloud,
On which, the cliffs permitted us to see
Only the outline of their majesty,
As master–minds, when gazed at by the crowd!
And, shining with a gloom, the water grey
Swang in its moon–taught way.
Nor moon nor stars were out.
They did not dare to tread so soon about,
Though trembling, in the footsteps of the sun.
The light was neither night’s nor day’s, but one
Which, life–like, had a beauty in its doubt;
And Silence’s impassioned breathings round
Seemed wandering into sound.
O solemn–beating heart
Of nature! I have knowledge that thou art
Bound unto man’s by cords he cannot sever–
And, what time they are slackened by him ever,
So to attest his own supernal part,
Still runneth thy vibration fast and strong,
The slackened cord along.
For though we never spoke
Of the grey water anal the shaded rock,–
Dark wave and stone, unconsciously, were fused
Into the plaintive speaking that we used,
Of absent friends and memories unforsook;
And, had we seen each other’s face, we had
Seen haply, each was sad.
The Road Through Chaos by Alfred Noyes (16th September, 1880 – 28th June, 1958)
There is one road, one only, to the Light:
A narrow way, but Freedom walks therein;
A straight, firm road through Chaos and old Night,
And all these wandering Jack-o-Lents of Sin.
It is the road of Law, where Pilate stays
To hear, at last, the answer to his cry;
And mighty sages, groping through their maze
Of eager questions, hear a child reply.
Truth? What is Truth? Come, look upon my tables.
Begin at your beginnings once again.
Twice one is two! Though all the rest be fables,
Here’s one poor glimpse of Truth to keep you sane.
For Truth, at first, is clean accord with fact,
Whether in line or thought, or word, or act.
Then, by those first, those clean, precise, accords,
Build to the Lord your temples and your song;
The curves of beauty, music’s wedded chords
Resolving into heaven all hate and wrong.
Let harmonies of colour marry and follow
And breaking waves in a rhythmic dance ensue;
And all your thought fly free as the wings of the swallow,
Whose arrowy curves obey their measure, too.
Then shall the marching stars and tides befriend you,
And your own heart, and the world’s heart, pulse in rhyme;
Then shall the mob of the passions that would rend you
Crown you their Captain and march on in time.
So shall you repossess your struggling soul,
Conquer your world, and find the eternal goal.
Rabindranath Tagore (May 7, 1861 – August 7, 1941)
I ask for a moment’s indulgence to sit by thy side. The work that I have in hand I will finish afterwards.
Away from the sight of thy face my heart knows no rest nor respite, and my work becomes an endless toil in a shoreless sea of toil.
Today the summer has come at my window with its sighs and murmurs; and the bees are plying their minstrelsy at the court of the flowering grove.
Now it is time to sit quite, face to face with thee, and to sing dedication of life in this silent and overflowing leisure.
Painting by Jamini Roy (April 11, 1887 – April 24, 1972)
Rainer Maria Rilke (December 4, 1875 – December 29, 1926)
I wish I might become like one of these
Who, in the night on horses wild astride,
With torches flaming out like loosened hair
On to the chase through the great swift wind ride.
I wish to stand as on a boat and dare
The sweeping storm, mighty, like flag unrolled
In darkness but with helmet made of gold
That shimmers restlessly. And in a row,
Behind me in the dark, ten men that glow
With helmets that are restless, too, like mine,
Now old and dull, now clear as glass they shine.
One stands by me and blows a blast apace
On his great flashing trumpet and the sound
Shrieks through the vast black solitude around
Through which, as through a wild mad dream we race.
The houses fall behind us on their knees,
Before us bend the streets and them we gain,
The great squares yield to us and them we seize–
And on our steeds rush like the roar of rain.
Painting by Nikolay Bogdanov Belsky
René Char (June 14, 1907 – February 19, 1988)
Despite the open window in the room of long absence, the odour of the rose is still linked with the
breath that was there. Once again we are without previous experience, newcomers, in love. The
rose! The field of its ways would dispel even the effrontery of death. No grating stands in the way.
Desire is alive, an ache in our vaporous foreheads.
One who walks the earth in its rains has nothing to fear from the thorn in places either finished or
unfriendly. But if he stops to commune with himself, woe! Pierced to the quick, he suddenly flies to
ashes, an archer reclaimed by beauty.
Roses by Henri Fantin–Latour (January 14, 1836 – August 25, 1904)