[Fuji X-T30, 108mm (162mm equiv) @f/22, 1/160s, colour rendition via Capture One 21]
20th century’s great musical innovator Igor Stravinsky loved Dylan Thomas’s poetry. So much so that he agreed with Thomas to write an opera together. Which was not meant to be, since the latter soon succumbed to an affliction common to both the Russians and the Welsh, i.e. he died of end-stage alcoholism. Stravinsky, however, loved his art a lot more than he did his drink (which he loved also, especially Scotch, and was known to quip that his last name ought to have been Stra-whisky). The composer lived a long, happy life just short of 89 years. The poor Swansea lad was less fortunate: not only did he boast quaffing “eighteen straight whiskeys” in one night, he gradually drunk himself to death, whatever the final diagnosis.
Leaving (nostalgically) libations aside, the more so that Covid is not conducive to socialising, what triggered this post was a striking similarity of Thomas’s and Stravinsky’s modi openradi. Both were unbridled imagists and innovators. Both resented the shackles of old harmony and, rather than remaining proudly disharmonious, introduced a new one. Both indulged in, and practiced, synaesthesia. Stravinsky probably learned it from his old master, Rimsky-Korsakov, known for his synaesthesic musical perception which lead to extraordinary orchestrations, especially when village folklore was the basis of the composer’s artistic vision. Not being able to perceive colour in music directly as his mentor could, Stravinsky nevertheless interpreted music graphically, which motivated his numerous structural innovations. When Thomas died, the inconsolable Stravinsky wrote a vocal piece on Dylan’s famous villanelle — yet more innovative, more dissonant and easier to reject by simple-minded public. Makes sense. God bless America and her freedom-loving geniuses.
Alas, we digressed. Dylan Thomas, the genius drunk, wrote the sonnet that I quote below. The verses sum up his synaesthesic (or was it just metaphoric?) reflection on love:
When all my five and country senses see,
The fingers will forget green thumbs and mark
How, through the halfmoon’s vegetable eye,
Husk of young stars and handfull zodiac,
Love in the frost is pared and wintered by,
The whispering ears will watch love drummed away
Down breeze and shell to a discordant beach,
And, lashed to syllables, the lynx tongue cry
That her fond wounds are mended bitterly.
My nostrils see her breath burn like a bush.
My one and noble heart has witnesses
In all love’s countries, that will grope awake;
And when blind sleep drops on the spying senses,
The heart is sensual, though five eyes break.
A few comments for my overseas readers [ignore them easily, if you will]:
to “pare and winter” a plant is to cut off the leaves and small branches and leave it to survive winter in a dormant state
“a green thumb” = talent for growing plants
“whispering ears”, here: both rustling ears of corn, and also figuratively articulation of a sound heard
The year was 1939… it was a time when poetry was still supposed to be an artistic endeavour…
By the way, the above photo sounds exactly like a minor seventh chord. Either H (B, if you insist) or F#, I haven’t figured it out.
A peaceful Sunday to you all, wherever you are.