Thursday, June 10, 2010

Gustave Dore's Sketchbook

is a poem cycle I'm beginning that joins my love of visual art and classical literature. Gustave Dore (b. 1832-1883) illustrated scores of literary masterpieces including Paradise Lost, Idylls of the King, The Divine Comedy and Rime of the Ancient Mariner. I purchased a book not so long ago that presents his illustrations alongside thirteen of these literary works, and just recently the thought occurred to me to make use of this edition by taking certain selections and writing my own poems based on the original works. I foresee the poem cycle as an assemblage of literary classics, each a fragment from a larger work, placed into a context of my own creation and its development, but reflecting the Romantic style of Dore's illustrations, and the styles of the authors from which each poem will take its inspiration.

The first poem of my cycle is based on "Geraint and Enid," from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King. The poem follows lines 314-344 of "Geraint and Enid". I use the stanzaic structure of the original poem as well as employ some of the exact words or lines in the original.

Then Lethe awoke and stood before his bed,
he didn't know if it was early morning
or if the shadows on the floor meant night.
he looked and saw that all was ruinous
here sulked an unfed plant and here
the milk for the cats, licked to the last
drop, like a plate of steel burnished with neglect,
like a bowl that remains empty for weeks,
and the carpets collected parts of insects,
wings, antennas, torsos, trapped
by monstrous dust while brown stems
grew along the wallpaper and made a map
of bifurcations, and looked like a deserted
territory some poet once dreamed up.

And while he waited in the living room,
the voice of Rosalind, Lethe's mother, spoke
directly from the pencil drawing he hung
on the wall beside the door, and the voice
confounded him, as an unprotected child
whose parents have marooned him in the night,
becomes startled and thinks what other person
could be trudging through the rooms, whose nerves
begin to quiver with the slightest noise he hears,
so the voice of Rosalind shook Lethe;
and made him like a prisoner who jumps
at the sound of keys rattling when the guard appears
and lifts him out of a cold, unwanted bed,
so the shock passed through Lethe, who thought,
"Here is my dead mother."



caprifoglio said...

Still enjoying your poetry. You are definitely born to express yourself through language.

Lethe said...

I must say it is a joy to have a "regular" reader . . . I think you're my first. And for that, I am deeply honored and inspired.


carmelita said...

This is very good. I tried and failed to locate the lines you reference, to see what you'd quoted literally, but it matters not. I enjoyed this very much, it is finely wrought.

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