Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Our Birthright:
The Bright Wild Circus Flesh

Happy 449th Birthday to William Shakespeare!
b. 23 April 1564
d. 23 April 1616

"Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind."

~ Shakespeare ~
A Midsummer Night's Dream ~ Act I, scene i, 231 - 32

The Circus Rider ~ Marc Chagall

Chagall & Shakespeare just seem to go hand in hand!
[see also last year's post: "Happy 448th"]


A birthday poem . . . for Shakespeare . . . and for all of us!

When I Went to the Circus

When I went to the circus that had pitched on the waste lot
it was full of uneasy people
frightened of the bare earth and the temporary canvas
and the smell of horses and other beasts
instead of merely the smell of man.

Monkeys rode rather grey and wizened
on curly piebald ponies
and the children uttered a little cry--
and dogs jumped through hoops and turned somersaults
and then geese scuttled in in a little flock
and round the ring they went to the sound of the whip
then doubled, and back, with a funny up-flutter of wings—
and the children suddenly shouted out.

Then came the hush again, like a hush of fear.

The tight-rope lady, pink and blonde and nude-looking,
with a few gold spangles
footed cautiously out on the rope, turned prettily spun round
bowed, and lifted her foot in her hand, smiled, swung her parasol
to another balance, tripped round, poised, and slowly sank
her handsome thighs down, down, till she slept her splendid body on the rope.
when she rose, tilting her parasol, and smiled at the cautious people
they cheered, but nervously.

The trapeze man, slim and beautiful and like a fish in the air
swung great curves through the upper space, and came down like a star
--And the people applauded, with hollow, frightened applause.

The elephants, huge and grey, loomed their curved bulk through the dusk
and sat up, taking strange postures, showing the pink soles of their feet
and curling their precious live trunks like ammonites
and moving always with a soft slow precision
as when a great ship moves to anchor.
The people watched and wondered, and seemed to resent the mystery
that lies in the beasts.

Horses, gay horses, swirling round and plaiting
in a long line, their heads laid over each other’s necks;
they were happy, they enjoyed it;
all the creatures seemed to enjoy the gameiIn the circus, with their circus people.

But the audience, compelled to wonder
compelled to admire the bright rhythms of moving bodies
compelled to see the delicate skill of flickering human bodies
flesh flamey and a little heroic, even in a tumbling clown,
They were not really happy.
There was no gushing response, as there is at the film.

When modern people see the carnal body dauntless and flickering gay
playing among the elements neatly, beyond competition
and displaying no personality,
modern people are depressed.

Modern people feel themselves at a disadvantage.
They know they have no bodies that could play among the elements.
They have only their personalities, that are best seen flat, on the film,
flat personalities in two dimensions, imponderable and touchless.

And they grudge the circus people the swooping gay weight of limbs
that flower in mere movement, and they grudge them the immediate,
physical understanding they have with their circus beasts,
and they grudge them their circus-life altogether.

Yet the strange, almost frightened shout of delight
that comes now and then from the children
shows that the children vaguely know how cheated they are of their birthright
in the bright wild circus flesh.

~ D. H. Lawrence

Added on Len's birthday ~ 30 June 2015

Chagall's Homage to Gogol

Cry of the Masses
~ D. H. Lawrence

Give us back, Oh give us back
our bodies before we die!

Trot, trot, trot, corpse-body, to work.
Chew, chew, chew, corpse-body, at the meal.
Sit, sit, sit, corpse-body, at the film.
Listen, listen, listen, corpse-body, to the wireless.
Talk, talk, talk, corpse-body, newspaper talk.
Sleep, sleep, sleep, corpse-body, factory-hand sleep.
Die, die, die, corpse-body, doesn't matter!

Must we die, must we die
bodiless, as we lived?
Corpse-anatomies with ready-made sensations!
Corpse-anatomies, that can work.
Work, work, work,
rattle, rattle, rattle,
sit, sit, sit,
finished, finished, finished--
Ah no, Ah no! before we finally die
or see ourselves as we are, and go mad,
give us back our bodies, for a day, for a single day
to stamp the earth and feel the wind, like wakeful men again.

Oh, even to know the last wild wincing of despair,
aware at last that our manhood is utterly lost,
give us back our bodies for one day.

1 comment:


    The Words

    Wind, bird, and tree,
    Water, grass, and light:
    In half of what I write
    Roughly or smoothly
    Year by impatient year,
    The same six words recur.

    I have as many floors
    As meadows or rivers,
    As much still air as wind
    And as many cats in mind
    As nests in the branches
    To put an end to these.

    Instead, I take what is:
    The light beats on the stones,
    And wind over water shines
    Like long grass through the trees,
    As I set loose, like birds
    In a landscape, the old words.

    -- David Wagoner