Saturday 29 December 2012

The glow

‘I dreamed that night, after so many desolate nights without dreams. I saw colours, red and black, life and death. They interpenetrated, they did not fight each other as I would have expected even in a dream.  They changed form continually, they continually produced new patterns, which could be unbelievably beautiful. They were like waters, like a sea. In the middle of the sea I saw a bright island, which I was approaching rapidly in my dream - for I was flying; yes, I was flying! What was there on the island? What kind of creature? A human being? An animal? It glowed the way only Aeneas glows at night. What joy. Then headlong fall, breeze, darkness, awakening.’ 

Wolf, Christa, 1984.  Conditions of a narrative. in Wolf, Christa, 1984. Cassandra: a novel and four essays.  Translated from the German by Jan van Heurck. London: Virago
p. 124

Tuesday 25 December 2012

'as tear on tear make salt the warm last kiss he gave'


REND, rend thine hair, Cassandra: he will go.
Yea, rend thy garments, wring thine hands, and cry
From Troy still towered to the unreddened sky.
See, all but she that bore thee mock thy woe:—
He most whom that fair woman arms, with show
Of wrath on her bent brows; for in this place
This hour thou bad'st all men in Helen's face
The ravished ravishing prize of Death to know.
What eyes, what ears hath sweet Andromache,
Save for her Hector's form and step; as tear
On tear make salt the warm last kiss he gave?
He goes. Cassandra's words beat heavily
Like crows above his crest, and at his ear
Ring hollow in the shield that shall not save.


“O HECTOR, gone, gone, gone! O Hector, thee
Two chariots wait, in Troy long bless'd and curs'd;
And Grecian spear and Phrygian sand athirst
Crave from thy veins the blood of victory.
Lo! long upon our hearth the brand had we,
Lit for the roof-tree's ruin: and to-day
The ground-stone quits the wall,—the wind hath way,—
And higher and higher the wings of fire are free.
“O Paris, Paris! O thou burning brand,
Thou beacon of the sea whence Venus rose,
Lighting thy race to shipwreck! Even that hand
Wherewith she took thine apple let her close
Within thy curls at last, and while Troy glows
Lift thee her trophy to the sea and land.”

Dante Gabriel Rossetti
(1828 - 1882)

Saturday 22 December 2012

Crimson waves

Where hast thou been since round the walls of Troy
The sons of God fought in that great emprise?
Why dost thou walk our common earth again?
Hast thou forgotten that impassioned boy,
His purple galley and his Tyrian men
And treacherous Aphrodite’s mocking eyes?
For surely it was thou, who, like a star
Hung in the silver silence of the night,
Didst lure the Old World’s chivalry and might
Into the clamorous crimson waves of war!

Oscar Wilde, The new Helen
in : The complete illustrated stories, plays & poems of Oscar Wilde, London: Chancellor Press 1986, p. 702

Friday 21 December 2012


'Solomon saith: There is no new thing upon the earth. So that as Plato had an imagination, that all knowledge was but remembrance; so Solomon given his sentence, that all novelty is but oblivion.'

Francis Bacon, Essays, LVIII

Thursday 20 December 2012


‘To verify images kills them, and it is always more enriching to imagine than to experience.’ 

Bachelard, Gaston, 1958/994. The poetics of space. Translated from French by Maria Jolas. Boston: Beacon Press, p. 88

'words die before pictures'

‘I have always been caught by images more than by words.  Probably that is strange, and incompatible with my vocation; but I can no longer pursue my vocation. The last thing in my life will be a picture, not a word. Words die before pictures.’ 

Wolf, Christa, 1984.  Conditions of a narrative. in Wolf, Christa, 1984. Cassandra: a novel and four essays.  Translated from the German by Jan van Heurck. London: Virago, p.21

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Story water


Story water

A story is like water
that you heat for your bath.

It takes messages between the fire
and your skin. it lets them meet,
and it cleans you!

Very few can sit down
in the middle of the fire itself
like a salamander or Abraham.
We need intermediaries.

A feeling of fullness comes
but usually it takes some bread
to bring it.

Beauty surrounds us,
but usually we need to be walking
in a garden to know it.

The body itself is a screen
to shield and partially reveal
the light that’s blazing
inside your presence.

Water, stories, the body,
all the things we do, are mediums
that hide and show what’s hidden.

Study them,
and enjoy this being washed
with a secret we sometimes know,
and then not.

Rumi (1207 – 1273)

Rumi: the essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne, A.J. Arberry & Reynold Nicholson, 1999. London: Penguin Books, p. 171/2

Monday 17 December 2012

White soul

... O my child, whose white
Soul laughed amid the laughter of God's light,
Cassandra, what hands and how strange a day
Have loosed thy zone! And thou, Polyxena,
Where art thou? And my sons? Not any seed
Of man nor woman now shall help my need.
  Why raise me any more? What hope have I
To hold me? Take this slave that once trod high
In Ilion; cast her on her bed of clay
Rock-pillowed, to lie down, and pass away
Wasted with tears. And whatso man they call
Happy, believe not ere the last day fall! 
 Euripides (480 – 406 BC) 
The Trojan Women 

Sunday 16 December 2012

Thunder cloud

Alle Götter fliehn davon,
Und des Donners Wolken hangen
Schwer herab auf Ilion. 

All the gods are quickly gone,
And the thunder cloud oppresses
Heavy over Ilion.


Friedrich von Schiller (1802):


Saturday 15 December 2012

The bath

'Clytaemnestra greeted her travel-worn husband with every appearance of delight, unrolled a purple carpet for him, and led him to the bath-house, where slave-girls had prepared a warm bath; but Cassandra remained outside the palace, caught in a prophetic trance, refusing to enter, and crying that she smelt blood, and that the curse of Thyestes was heavy upon the dining-hall. When Agamemnon had washed himself and set one foot out of the bath, eager to partake of the rich banquet now already set on the tables, Clytaemnestra came forward, as if to wrap a towel about him, but instead threw over his head a garment of net, woven by herself, without either neck or sleeve-holes. Entangled in this, like a fish, Agamemnon perished at the hands of Aegisthus, who struck him twice with a two-edged sword. He fell hard, into the silver-sided bath, where Clytaemnestra avenged her wrongs by beheading him with an axe. She then ran out to kill Cassandra with the same weapon, not troubling first to close her husband’s eyelids or mouth; but wiped off on his hair the blood which had splashed her, to signify that he had brought about his own death.'

Robert Graves (1955/1960), The Greek Myths, p.242/3

Friday 14 December 2012

A star

'Look upward where the white gull screams.
What does it see that we do not see?
Is that a star? or the lamp that gleams
On some outward voyaging argosy,
Ah! can it be
We have lived our lives in a land of dreams!
How sad it seems.'

Oscar Wilde, Her voice
in : The complete illustrated stories, plays & poems of Oscar Wilde, London: Chancellor Press 1986, p. 777

Thursday 13 December 2012

sapere aude

'There must be something in the spirit of man - as it is not in the objects themselves - which prevents us from receiving the truth, not withstanding the brilliant light she diffuses, and from accepting her, for whatever might be her strength for producing conviction. This something was perceived and expressed by an ancient sage in this very significant maxim: Sapere aude.

Dare to be wise! A spirited courage is required to triumph over the impediments that the indolence of nature as well as the cowardice of the heart oppose to our instruction.'

Friedrich von Schiller, Aesthetical and philosophical essays. Vol. I. Edited by Nathan Haskell Dole. Boston: Francis A. Niccolls & Co, 1903.
Aesthetical letters and essays, letter VIII, p.28

Wednesday 12 December 2012

beyond the gate

for the most part you had to remain
silent so as not to be considered
mad like Cassandra, when you prophesied
what already lies outside the gate.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1794)

Monday 10 December 2012

for Gina

'She tells her love while half asleep,
In the dark hours,
With half-words whispered low:
As Earth stirs in her winter sleep
And puts out grass and flowers
Despite the snow,
Despite the falling snow.'

Robert Graves 

Sunday 9 December 2012

'the soul of the word'

'When the fires die out and only the record of flame remains the soul of the word will be carried out to sea and be born again in a raindrop. While it falls to earth in this form it perceives everything through the distorted lens of water; then as it hits the ground all these preconceptions shatter. 

But soon the soul of the word is dried and warmed by the sun and feeling drowsy, falls asleep. Upon waking it recalls two dreams: the first, a dream of its future life, tells of the great height it will reach as the soul of a word highly respected by the people, upon whose tongues it will be carried into the richest courts in the world and gently whispered to the ears of noble men and beautiful women; the second dream is the story of its past life but it does not recognize itself in its previous form. Several lives later the dream recurs. Several dreams later the life recurs. '

Marian Zazeela
(written 4-5 August 1963 day of fir gale/the shouts from the sea) 

Saturday 8 December 2012


Listen to what the sea says
Ask the black mountains.

Taras Shevchenko (1814 – 1861)

Friday 7 December 2012


'The present century, in proclaiming the advent of a new age of communication and information, and inventing recording machines to give talk immortality, forgot to deal with the great problem of talk, which is how to find someone to listen. For more and more people, merely to talk, mainly about oneself, as birds sing from tree-tops, is not enough. Humanity’s pride in being able to communicate better than any other creature is belied by most talk being greeted with silence or incomprehension. The frustrations of sex are nothing compared to the frigidity of listeners.'

Zeldin, Theodore, 1995. An intimate history of humanity. London: Minverva, p. 422

Thursday 6 December 2012

'wings to fly up into heaven'


Yet I would that to me they had given
The fate of that singer so clear,
Fleet wings to fly up into heaven
Away from all mourning and fear
Oscar Wilde
A fragment from the Agamemnon of Aeschylos
in : The complete illustrated stories, plays & poems of Oscar Wilde, London: Chancellor Press 1986, p. 812/813

Wednesday 5 December 2012

On the edges

'The world is turning 
me into evening.

I'm almost ready:
this time it will be far.

I move
and live on the edges
(what edges)
I live
on all the edges there are.'

Margaret Atwood, Evening trainstation before departure

in:  Atwood, Margaret, 1989. The circle game. Toronto: Anansi, p. 24

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Woman's voice

'The world, the flesh and the devil embodied in a woman, and speaking in a woman's voice: the siren incarnate against whom you have to plug your ears, or else, like Adam, you will feel the plunge as you fall. It is odd how wholeheartedly women have given themselves to play this part - to believing it, too. Or perhaps it's not all that odd: the femme fatale offers more opportunities than several of the other sacrificial parts in the repertoire. But it is remarkable how the constituent elements of the contemporary fatal woman, the stories that underpin her charms, as well as the ornaments she assumes, match the fulminations of two thousand years ago against the counterfeit of women's fascination and the seductions of their tongue.'

Marina Warner (1992), Watch your tongues

Warner, Marina, 2004. Signs and wonders: essays on literature and culture. London: Vintage, Random House, p.67

Saturday 1 December 2012

one more tear

'O, I will think of things gone long ago
And weave them to a song, like one more tear
In the heart of misery....'
Euripides (480 – 406 BC) 
The Trojan Women 

Friday 30 November 2012

'Gifted, even in November'

The sap of Spring in the young wood a-stir
Will celebrate with green the Mother,
And every song-bird shout awhile for her;
But we are gifted, even in November
Rawest of seasons, with so huge a sense
Of her nakedly worn magnificence
We forget cruelty and past betrayal,
Heedless of where the next bright bolt may fall.

Robert Graves (1948), The White Goddess: a historical grammar of poetic myth

Wednesday 28 November 2012

'the power is yours, but not the sight'

I heard one who said: "Verily,
What word have I for children here?
Your Dollar is your only Word,
The wrath of it your only fear.

"You build it altars tall enough
To make you see but you are blind;
You cannot leave it long enough
To look before you or behind.

"When Reason beckons you to pause,
You laugh and say that you know best;
But what it is you know, you keep
As dark as ingots in a chest.

"You laugh and answer, 'We are young;
Oh, leave us now, and let us grow:'
Not asking how much more of this
Will Time endure or Fate bestow.

"Because a few complacent years
Have made your peril of your pride,
Think you that you are to go on
Forever pampered and untried?

"What lost eclipse of history,
What bivouac of the marching stars,
Has given the sign for you to see
Milleniums and last great wars?

"What unrecorded overthrow
Of all the world has ever known,
Or ever been, has made itself
So plain to you, and you alone?

"Your Dollar, Dove, and Eagle make
A Trinity that even you
Rate higher than you rate yourselves;
It pays, it flatters, and it's new.

"And though your very flesh and blood
Be what the Eagle eats and drinks,
You'll praise him for the best of birds,
Not knowing what the eagle thinks.

"The power is yours, but not the sight;
You see not upon what you tread;
You have the ages for your guide,
But not the wisdom to be led.

"Think you to tread forever down
The merciless old verities?
And are you never to have eyes
To see the world for what it is?

"Are you to pay for what you have
With all you are?"--No other word
We caught, but with a laughing crowd
Moved on. None heeded, and few heard.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

no wild bird

'So I am going in, and mourning as I go my death and Agamemnon's. 
Let my life be done. Ah friends, truly this is no wild bird fluttering in a bush, 
nor vain my speech.   
Bear witness to me when I die, when falls for me, a woman slain, 
another woman and when a man dies for this wickedly mated man. 
Here in my death I claim this stranger's grace of you.'
Agamemnon by Aeschylus 

Sunday 25 November 2012

'but the wise perceive things about to happen'

“For the gods perceive future things,
                                ordinary people things in the present, but
                                the wise perceive things about to happen.”
                                Philostratos, Life of Apollonios of Tyana, viii, 7.

Ordinary people know what’s happening now,
the gods know future things
because they alone are totally enlightened.
Of what’s to come the wise perceive
things about to happen.

Sometimes during moments of intense study
their hearing’s troubled: the hidden sound
of things approaching reaches them,
and they listen reverently, while in the street outside
the people hear nothing whatsoever.  

C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992

Friday 23 November 2012

Alexandra lost

Alexandra Leaving
written by Leonhard Cohen in Hydra, Greece, September 1999

based on the poem 'The God forsakes Antony' by Constantine P. Cavafy (1911)

Thursday 22 November 2012

Honey pot tree



The mad girl with the staring eyes and long white fingers
Hooked in the stones of the wall,
The storm-wrack hair and screeching mouth: does it matter, Cassandra,
Whether the people believe
Your bitter fountain? Truly men hate the truth, they'd liefer
Meet a tiger on the road.
Therefore the poets honey their truth with lying; but religion—
Vendors and political men
Pour from the barrel, new lies on the old, and are praised for kind
Wisdom. Poor bitch be wise.
No: you'll still mumble in a corner a crust of truth, to men
And gods disgusting—you and I, Cassandra.

Robinson Jeffers (1948)

Wednesday 21 November 2012


'Death cannot be what Life is, Child; the cup
Of Death is empty, and Life hath always hope.'
Euripides (480 – 406 BC) 
The Trojan Women

Tuesday 20 November 2012


'All language is a set of symbols whose use among its speakers assumes a shared past. How, then, can I translate into words the limitless Aleph, which my floundering mind can scarcely encompass? Mystics, faced with the same problem, fall back on symbols: to signify the godhead, one Persian speaks of a bird that somehow is all birds; Alanus de Insulis, of a sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere; Ezekiel, of a four-faced angel who at one and the same time moves east and west, north and south. [...] Perhaps the gods might grant me a similar metaphor, but then this account would become contaminated by literature, by fiction. Really, what I want to do is impossible, for any listing of an endless series is doomed to be infinitesimal. In that single gigantic instant I saw millions of acts both delightful and awful; not one of them occupied the same point in space, without overlapping or transparency. What my eyes beheld was simultaneous, but what I shall now write down will be successive, because language is successive.'

Jorge Luis Borges, El Aleph, 1945. Translation by Norman Thomas Di Giovanni in collaboration with the author.  

Monday 19 November 2012


'What I mean by alive - not to shrink from what is most difficult: to change one's image of oneself. "Words," said Panthous in the days when he was still my fencing partner. "Nothing but words, Cassandra. A human being changes nothing, so why himself of all things, why of all things his image of himself?"'

Wolf, Christa, 1984.  Conditions of a narrative. in Wolf, Christa, 1984. Cassandra: a novel and four essays.  Translated from the German by Jan van Heurck. London: Virago, p.21

Sunday 18 November 2012


'I willingly accept Cassandra's fate
To speak the truth, although believed too late.'

Anne Killigrew (1686):
Upon the saying that my verses were made by another


More about Anne Killigrew