Things Orphean

I have a first draft of my Day 7 poem, which I finished before the delivery guy dropped off dinner for us.  But even as full of Chinese food as I am, the MSG haze isn’t clouding my knowledge that the poem “Beware the Maenads” has problems.  It’s those last three lines that are especially troubling me… they don’t pack the punch that the end of a poem ought to have, and I think they are kind of “announcey.”  Too “here’s the point of the poem” to be poetry.  I hate it when that happens.

My poem is not really about Orpheus–but rather, it focuses on the Maenads, who were devout acolytes of Dionysus known to get drunk, dance insanely, have wild sex parties–and in their inebriation, go on crazed hunts where they tore the flesh off animals.   According to myth, Orpheus dies at their hands (as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog) because he had given up worshiping Dionysus and became instead a follower of Apollo.  Then he has the bad taste to basically give homage to Apollo in a Dionysian temple.  I mean really, if you’re going to worship a competing god in the wrong temple, maybe you deserve to be torn to shreds.  

Anyway, on the plus side, the poem is much shorter than yesterday’s–13 lines.  And I’m hoping that I can rework the ending and maybe cut it to 12.  That way I can write normal-sized on the postcard.

The Death of Orpheus (1876) by Dagnan-Bouveret is dated 20 years before Séon’s Lament of Orpheus painting.  I wish I had some background in art–for instance, I wonder if Séon had seen Dagan-Bouveret’s painting–if the reason Séon’s Orpheus has flung his arm over his eyes is because he was echoing the earlier painting.  Not that it matters, but it’s interesting to me to speculate.  Or, perhaps  many Orpheus pictures have the flung arm over the eyes bit–maybe it’s iconographic, like Sebastian being peppered with arrows is.

Another reason that I wish I had more than a passing knowledge of art is because the other group members in my writing group (the DYPS) particularly Bob Wood, are always bringing in ekphrastic poems and I feel like a complete idiot because I generally never know the work they’re writing about.  It’s a real defeciency in my humanities background.  I’ve had four college art classes in my life–a basic survey of art, one Greek Art class, a drawing class, and a class focusing on color–which makes me about as knowledgible as a kindergardener.

My mother inherited these beautiful Time-Life (?) art books from Gramma when she died in 2006, and I had great plans to read them and educate myself on art so that I could write ekphrastic poems with the best of ’em.  But the only one I kind of read was on Vermeer, and I love his paintings, but the rest of them I’ve never looked at.  

As you can see, I have a real hole in my education.  It’s really kind of embarrassing.  I like art a lot and I have little pockets of knowlege, like I’ll remember an artist or a title, but more than that there’s nothing.  It’s not like my Mom didn’t expose us to art, either, because she did, and I love museums, but I’m just woefully ignorant.  And short of taking a History of Art class, I don’t know that much will change.  Alas.

I Can Has Poem Plz?

Today has not been successful when it comes to writing–as in, no poem writing has taken place.  Part of the problem was I really couldn’t decide which picture to use–there were two about Orpheus, who, because he was known for his poetry and musical ability, has always interested me.  

The first choice was the Lament of Orpheus, by Alexandre Séon (1855-1917), which I like because he’s destraught on the beach, one arm wrapped over his eyes, the other clutching a lyre made from a turtle shell,  after he’s come back from the Underworld, but lost Eurydice for the second time.   In fact, according to myth, after he lost he again, he was never to love another woman, and chose instead young men.   Something about his grief and love for Eurydice moves me.  

The other Orpheus picture, The Death of Orpheus, by Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan-Bouveret (that’s a name for you!) (1852-1929), also shows Orpheus flinging his left arm over his eyes.  In the link I’ve provided, the color is much darker; in the postcard I have, it’s much more mossy-colored, and there is a strange, almost ethereal green hint to his skin tone.  I like this picture because of the forest setting, but I have a hard time thinking he’s dead here because he is, after all, standing up.  And he frankly doesn’t look like he’s been ripped to shreds by the Maenads.  Not to be lurid, but according to myth, his head needs to not be part of his body.

So, herein lies the quandary.  Do I write about Orpheus’ death, in which his head and lyre are carried to the Isle of Lesbos and enshrined, or do I write about his deep, abiding love for his lost wife?  Or, should I pick another picture entirely so I can eliminate having to pick between the two? 

Maybe I’m just not feeling Orpheusy.   There are plenty of other myths in my postcard book to choose from.  Of course, who’s to say that I’ll feel inspired enough by any of the others?


Ok, so I wrote a poem based on Séon’s picture, and I like it–I mean, it’s got the usual early draft problems, but the main issue is that it’s 21 lines long (not counting the spaces between each tercet), and there is NO WAY I can handwrite the poem on the back of the post card.   I think even if I typed it up in tiny font, and glued it to the back of the card, I would be hard-pressed to get it to fit.  So I’m thinking I might have to either pare it way down, or just write something else.  Anyway, the title is “You Looked Back.”

Tomorrow, I will try to write another, shorter poem about Orpheus and Eurydice, as well as write on Dagnan-Bouveret’s painting.  I hope.