Kit’s Crit: The Inferno of Dante (Robert Pinsky)

Dante

Robert Pinsky was the U.S. Poet Laureate from 1997-2000, and therefore my expectations for his translation of Dante Alighieri’s masterpiece The Inferno were very high.  I was not disappointed.

Pinsky recreates the medieval world view of religion and society -the original political subtext – the stunning imagery – and the 3-line interlocking stanzas of the terza rima rhyming scheme to great effect

Staying close to Dante’s intent, Pinsky underscores the symbiotic relationship between poetry and love.  He draws parallels between the narrator’s journey from Hell to Heaven with that of Ulysses’ adventures in Homer’s Odyssey, maintaining the power of the original poetry and making it accessible to the modern reader.  The Italian text is printed alongside the revised translation.

Dante’s work has influenced a wide range of intellectuals from Galileo through to the Modernists of the early 20th Century, particularly T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce.  Many artists have chosen to illustrate The Inferno in their own style.  This edition contains 35 interesting monotypes by Michael Mazur, although I personally favor the earlier illustrations of Salvador Dali.

The Mystica

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The Mystica

In solitary non-compliant places

the Mystica rise

against the gravitational tug of nature

thwarting mortal will.

Gnarly limbs that grasp into consciousness

press the rub of time.

Their fingers grapple the swollen currents –

blasted and empty –

swimming away from treacherous  sandbanks,

unchecked by any tide.

A mysterious spell-binding graciousness

captivates the eye

and highlights the worn skeletal echoing

of constant pressure.

Their branches lie bare of verdant feathering

yet will bloom again

as they wrestle the constant drownings that

sap land-locked spirits.

Look! Out of even dead apparitions spring

promises of fresh life.

Bruce Springsteen’s Magic

MAGIC

(Bruce Springsteen)

I got a coin in your palm,
I can make it disappear.
I got a card up my sleeve,
Name it, and I’ll pull it out your ear.
I got a rabbit in the hat,
If you wanna come and see.
This is what will be.
This is what will be.

I got shackles on my wrists,
Soon I’ll slip and I’ll be gone.
Chain me in a box in the river,
And I rise up in the sun.
Trust none of what you hear,
And less of what you see.
This is what will be.
This is what will be.

 

magic

I’ll cut you in half,                                                                                                                                                                I got a shiny saw blade.                                                                                                                                                   All I need’s a volunteer,
I’ll cut you in half,
While you’re smiling ear to ear.
And the freedom that you sought,
Drifting like a ghost amongst the trees.
This is what will be.
This is what will be.

Now there’s a fire down below,
But it’s coming up here.
So leave everything you know,
Carry only what you fear.
On the road the sun is sinking low,
Bodies hanging in the trees.
This is what will be.
This is what will be.

And here’s The Boss himself:

What’s Your Poison? Foxglove!

Did you know:

  • The Foxglove plant has been called Bloody Fingers, Dead Men’s Bells, Witches’ Gloves, and Fairy Glove because of its toxicity.
  • It is part of the Digitalis family.
  • Its attractive flowers have tubular bell-like petals that hang from a long stem.   They blossom in a variety of colors – most often purple, pink, red, white, and yellow – and many have speckled throats.

Foxglove

  • Foxgloves like acidic soil, and because different varieties favor sun or shade they thrive in a range of places from woodlands, moorlands, hedgerows, mountain slopes, and sea cliffs.
  • Since the Eighteenth Century a medicine extracted from the Foxglove plant has been used to treat irregular heart conditions.  A modern derivative called Digoxin is still used by cardiologists today.
  • The entire species is poisonous.  They cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, altered vision, abnormal heart rates, weakness, seizures, and death.
  • All parts of the plant are toxic to humans, a range of other mammals, and poultry.  Drying does not affect the potency.  Symptoms last 1-3 days but recovery is likely with medical intervention.
  • Vincent Van Gogh’s “Yellow Period” may have resulted from taking a Foxglove medication that was given to control seizures!

Sources:

Botanical.com. “Foxglove,” at http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/f/foxglo30.html

MedicinePlus. “Foxglove Poisoning,” at https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002878.htm

Wikipedia. “Digitalis,” at  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digitalis

 

 

A Brush With Power

What do you call a motorbike that belongs to a witch?   

A brrroooommmm stick!

witch_on_broomstick_2[1]

 

According to folklore, witches fly on broomsticks to meet with other members of their covens.

Broomstick handles are made from strong woods like hazel or oak, and the bristles are usually birch twigs tied up with strips of willow bark.  It is the only magic tool considered to be both masculine (the handle) and feminine (the bristles).

Brooms have long been connected to women and domestic work.  They perhaps became associated with magic from the Beltane (May Day) tradition of blessing the fields. In many farming communities the women rode brooms around the newly-planted crops, leaping as high as possible to encourage tall growth and a good harvest.

Jumping the Broom is a common practice in pagan wedding ceremonies.  It represents the joining of two households by the crossing over from one to the other.

Yet witches have several other uses for this tool:

* The broomstick is used in cleansing ceremonies, to sweep away negative energy from the magic circle and help prepare the workspace.

* In the days when wise women were persecuted, its bristles made a good place to hide a forbidden magic wand.

* When hung on a wall it protects the home from unwelcome visitors.

* If placed under a bed it brushes nightmares away.

* And in even in today’s modern world there are many who still touch wood when seeking good luck.

But what does a witch do when her precious broom breaks?

Well then she has to witch-hike!

Sources:

Blake, Deborah.  “The Witches’ Broom” in Witches and Pagans #29  (Oregan: BBI Media, 2014)

Froome, Joyce. Wicked Enchantments: A History of the Pendle Witches and Their Magic  (Lancaster: Carnegie, 2010)

Kit’s Crit: HEIR TO A PROPHECY (Mercedes Rochelle)

Any one fascinated by Shakespeare’s Macbeth will love the question behind Mercedes Rochelle’s debut book: How do the sons of Banquo come to rule Scotland?  The three weird sisters tell Macbeth’s companion that “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none” – a promise that sets in motion the deadly events of the famous play.

Heir To A Prophecy (Hampshire: Top Hat Books, 2014) follows a fragmented trail through Scottish history –  tracing the line from Banquo’s son Fleance to King James Ist of England – with a similar mix of fact, fiction, and supernatural interference as found in the original tale.  We know that Banquo is murdered on Macbeth’s orders, but that his son Fleance escapes.  In Rochelle’s version he goes into exile in Wales at the court of Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, where he woos and impregnates the king’s daughter, Nesta.
Nesta bears an illegitimate son called Walter, who enlists in Harold Goodwineson’s service and ends up fighting at Dunsinane and Hastings.  Along the way he befriends Prince Malcolm, King Duncan’s heir to the Scottish throne.  Years later, Walter settles in Malcolm’s court and is rewarded for his services, becoming the first Steward of Scotland.  This legitimizes his position, and prepares the way for future descendants of the royal house of Stuart.

Rochelle’s portrayal of the three witches is particularly interesting.  They appear at various points in her story to advance their original prophecy, but rather than being the weird old hags of Shakespeare’s era they are associated with the Norns of Scandinavian mythology – fates who control mankind’s destiny.  But aside from this nod to the bard, Rochell wisely does not attempt to imitate one of the great literary masterpieces with a sophisticated, high-brow response.  Instead she writes a plain, rollicking tale that should have broad appeal for those readers who like a fast-paced romp through history.

This novel is nicely edited and presented.  The setting, however, is too broad a time-period to examine and explore the various situations in any great depth.  Heir[s] To A Prophecy could well have been a whole series, with each book focusing on one central character – Fleance, Walter, and so on!

Olde English Treacle Toffee

Olde English Treacle Toffee

This chewy toffee is a great Halloween and Bonfire Night favorite! Try it for Thanksgiving . . .

Treacle Toffee

Ingredients

4oz butter

Knob of butter for greasing pan

8oz brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

4oz dark treacle

4oz golden syrup

glass of cold water

Method

  1. Melt the butter over a medium heat in a large pan.
  2. Mix in the sugar, cream of tartar, treacle, and syrup.
  3. Boil steadily but do not stir. After 10 minutes test for the soft crack (setting) by dropping a small spot of the mixture into the glass of cold water.  Repeat every few minutes until the toffee turns solid.  This may take up to 20 minutes.  The longer the mixture boils, the harder the toffee will be.
  4. Pour into a lightly-greased flat baking tray and leave to cool.
  5. When set, turn out onto a wooden board and break into small pieces with a rolling pin or toffee hammer.  Serve and enjoy.

Steve Miller Band’s Abracadabra

Abracadabra

(Daphne Vialletet and Jean Philippe Verdin)

Cute witch

I heat up, I can’t cool down.
You got me spinning
‘Round and ’round.
‘Round and ’round and ’round it goes,
Where it stops nobody knows.

Every time you call my name
I heat up like a burning flame.
Burning flame, full of desire,
Kiss me baby, let the fire get higher.

Abra-abra-cadabra
I want to reach out and grab ya!
Abra-abra-cadabra
Abracadabra!

You make me hot, you make me sigh,
You make me laugh, you make me cry.
Keep me burning for your love
With the touch of a velvet glove.

Abra-abra-cadabra
I want to reach out and grab ya!
Abra-abra-cadabra
Abracadabra!

I feel the magic in your caress.
I feel magic when I touch your dress.
Silk and satin, leather and lace
Black panties with an angel’s face.

I see magic in your eyes,
I hear the magic in your sighs.
Just when I think I’m gonna get away
I hear those words that you always say:

Abra-abra-cadabra
I want to reach out and grab ya!
Abra-abra-cadabra
Abracadabra!

Every time you call my name
I heat up like a burning flame.
Burning flame, full of desire
Kiss me baby, let the fire get higher.

I heat up, I can’t cool down
My situation goes ’round and ’round.
I heat up, I can’t cool down
My situation goes ’round and ’round.
I heat up, I can’t cool down
My situation goes ’round and ’round.

Click on link to watch the live version:

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Abracadabra!

  • Abracadabra is the famous magical word that is still used today by stage conjurers.
  • It may have derived from an ancient Jewish cure for sickness that went:

Ab Abr Abra Abrak Abraka

Abrakal Abrakala Abrakal

Abraka Abrak Abra Abr Ab

  • Another theory is that it came from the followers of Basilides who worshipped a god called Abraxas.   He ruled the 365 days of the year. The 7 letters of his name may represent the 7 astrological planets that control fate.
  • The first recorded use of Abracadabra was made by Quintus Serenus Sammonicus, who was the doctor of the Roman Emperors Caracalla, Geta, and Severus.  In 208 AD he accompanied Emperor Severus on his expedition to Britain.
  • The word was used as a healing charm set out like this:

Abracadabra

  • These letters were written on paper and tied around the patient’s neck with a length of flax.  After 9 days the charm was thrown backwards over the shoulder into an east-moving stream.  As the words shrank away, so did the fever.
  • According to Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year (1722) people thought the Black Death was caused by an evil spirit taking possession of the body.  A similar Abracadabra spell was used to ward of the sickness using the power of magic.
  • Many favorite charms were written in pyramid form.  These amulets would be worn on the body, kept under the bed, or placed in a box and hidden somewhere about the home.

Sources:

Man, Myth and Magic.  “Abracadabra” (London: Purnell, 1970)

Wikipedia. “Abracadabra,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abracadabra

Kit’s Crit: Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie)

Rushdie

Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981) is a classic example of magical realism, but it is also a satirical historical fiction.  The unreliable narrator – Saleem Sinai – is one of 1001 children born between midnight and 1.00am on August 15, 1947, which was the moment of India’s independence from Britain.  Although he is the bastard child of a beggar woman, a nurse switches him at birth with another boy called Shiva, so he grows up as the only son of a wealthy couple.  All of the children arriving in the same hour as the birth of the new nation are endowed with special powers – “transmutation, flight, prophecy and wizardry,” but Saleem has the most powerful gift of all.  He is telepathic and able to communicate with the other gifted youngsters across the country.  Saleem persuades them to form the MCC (Midnight Children’s Conference), but even with all their combined powers they end up being persecuted by the authorities.

Rushdie uses magical realism to construct a parallel history between the person (Saleem) and the state (India) in the fairy-tale style of the Arabian Nights.  The hero becomes entwined in a series of events that are not only fantastical, but are often scientifically dubious at best, and historically inaccurate at worst.  This creates confusion, uncertainty, and a shift in the reader’s reality that many critics have found disturbing.  Rushdie’s symbolism is also  heavy-handed.  There is little subtlety in his continual reference to snakes, ladders, noses, and knees.

The strength of Midnight’s Children lies in the central theme: What is reality?  Rushdie makes us question history, fact, truth, memory, and narrative.  Ultimately, truth depends “on perspective and belief.”  He decides that, “Reality is a question of perspective; the further you get from the past, the more concrete and plausible it seems – but as you approach the present, it inevitably seems more and more incredible.”

Midnight’s Children is often compared with Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum.  Both novels are mystical, philosophical, and enchanting – yet the German Classic has an additional lyrical element that I found more compelling.

SR 3

 (Photo: Kit Perriman)

What’s Your Poison? Oleander!

Did you know:

  • Nerium Oleander is a highly-toxic shrub that grows between 6-20 feet tall.
  • It is drought-tolerant and can survive in poor soil.
  • Oleander thrives naturally around dry stream beds but it is often reared in ornamental gardens because it is a showy and fragrant bush.
  • Mature stems have a gray bark, while the dark green leaves are thick and leathery.
  • The downy seeds grow in long narrow capsules.
  • Oleander flowers come in a wide variety of shades including white, purple, yellow, apricot, pink, and red.  They generally have a sweet scent.
  • All parts of the plant are toxic, even when dried out.  It should not be used for firewood or cooking.
  • The sap causes irritations of the eyes and skin.
  • Rodents and birds are not affected by the toxins but it is highly dangerous to humans.  There are, however, few reported deaths from Oleander poisoning, even when it is intentionally ingested in suicide attempts.
  • Effects of the poison last 1-3 days if treated in a hospital.
  • Ingestion of the toxin affects the stomach, heart, and central nervous system causing blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, excess salivation, pain, diarrhea, and irregular heartbeats.  The skin becomes pale and cold.  There can be drowsiness, tremors, seizures, coma, and eventual death.
  • Because Oleander was the first plant to bloom in Hiroshima after the atomic bombing of 1945, it  was adopted as the city’s official flower.

Sources:

Home Guides. “How Toxic Is Oleander To Humans?” at http://homeguides.sfgate.com/toxic-oleander-humans-82304.html

Medline Plus.  “Oleander Poisoning,” at https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002884.htm

Wikipedia. “Nerium” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N