03 February 2015

Dreaming Of Spring: From Sappho To Max Klinger

“if not, winter
]no pain
]I bid you sing
of Gonglya, Abanthis, taking up
your lyre as (now) again) longing
floats around you,

your beauty, For her dress when you saw it
stirred you.  And I rejoice.
In fact she herself once blamed me

because I prayed
this word:
I want
]of desire
for when I look at you
]such a Hermione
} and to yellow-haired Helen I liken you
among mortal women, now this
]from every care
]you could release me
]dewy riverbanks
]to last all naught long"
 -  If Not Winter: Fragments of Sappho translated by Anne Carson, New York, Alfredd A. Knopf: 2002 (Note: Carson places brackets in the text to indicate breaks in the original, caused by wear.)

Winter is hard. So is love. Halfway through the season, winter seems unbearable without thoughts of warmth. So, dreaming of spring, if not, winter.

One of the great lyric poets of ancient Greece, Sappho remains an artist in the shadows, and the more attractive for it. Through the lacunae we dare to approach her.  The beauty in her writing never disappoints but it is warmed by the liveliness of the personality is apparent,  even in translation.   Lesbos, the island in the Aegean Sea, attained mythic status because Sappho lived there.  She was born  circa 630-612 BCE,  before the common era, into a culture with no Christian referents.  What interests us today is her poetry which haqs survived, although mostly in fragments on delicate rolls of papyrus.   To her contemporaries Sappho was a musician, an artist of evanescence.  She played the lyre, a stringed instrument that looked like a small harp.  But she  invented a plectron to pluck it and made othe refinements to the instrument itself.  She is credited with inventing the mixolydian mode (or scale), a refinement of the lydian mode, that was used for expressions of the romantic an erotic  A restless spiirit then, one not content to leaves things as she found them.  In a word: bittersweet. Anne Carson, translator of Sappho and other classical Greek writers is coincidentally author of Eros, the Bitterseweet.
Max Klinger (1857-1920) was a German  symbolist artist.  You could say that symbolism is romanticism noir.  Historians detect in Klinger’s etchings, particularly the series Parahrases about the Finding of a Glove,  the illustration of the erotic use of objects, or fetiches, predating both  Sigmund Freud  and Kraft Ebbing.  Once you know that, it becomes that much harder not to see eros everywhere in the artist’s works. 
Max  Klinger may not be on the average American museum-goer’s radar; there are only fifteen collections  that include in his works but his work is spread widely: his bronze statue of Ludwig van Betthoven was shown at the Vienna Secession in 1902 and there is an asteroid, discovered in 1993, named for him.

Max Klinger - Le debut du printemps, c. 1874-77, Museum of Fine Arts, Leipzig.


Tania said...

Snow this morning, spring seems so far.
To dream under silver birches...

Jane said...

Tania. spring is no closer here, either. It's sunny but the temperature is 12 degrees Fahrenheit/ -11 degrees Celsius.

Tania said...

Brrr... Days to read and write ! A cup of tea ?

Michael Patton said...

After a long absence, I return to the Blue Lantern to find that it is still shining brightly. Thanks for your good work and sensitivity.

Jane said...

Michael, welcome back! Don't stay away long. It's till my calling card for freelance assignments and it works.And thanks for the kind words.

Rouchswalwe said...

Oh, I still hope that an intact scroll of Sappho's poetry will be found in my lifetime. My favourite fragment is:
“If you are squeamish
Don't prod the
beach rubble.”

Jane said...

Rouchswalwe, I'll hope with you. Archeologists, take note. Still dreaming of spring, Jane.