A Fine Picture—The lovely Ophelia stands with her brother Laertes, who is armed to revenge the death of their father. Ophelia, driven mad by her love for Prince Hamlet, spends her days gathering wildflowers and singing strange songs. Here, her expression is blank and pathetic, while Laertes’ brotherly affection is shown in the way he draws her near and bends to see her face. “Hadst thou thy wits,” he cries, “and didst persuade revenge,/ It could not move thus.”
A Little Poetry—The “Lucasta” addressed in this poem was Lucy Shadwell, Lovelace’s fiancée. He did indeed leave her for war, fighting as a Cavalier in the English Civil War. When, by an error, his death was reported to her, Lucy married someone else.
A Fine Picture—”I’ll tell you that we’re having some superb autumn days, and that I’m taking advantage of them,” Vincent wrote to his brother Theo in October 1889, and sent him a number of “studies” including The Mulberry Tree. Vincent was staying at the Saint Paul Asylum in Saint-Remy, following his estrangement from Ganguin and subsequent nervous breakdown. Like the mulberry tree growing on the rocky hillside, he created beauty in a hard place; his thick brushstrokes flame on the canvas in vivid blues and oranges. Vincent sent Theo more paintings that December, but wrote that The Mulberry Tree remained his favorite.
A Little Poetry—The autumnal fall of leaves is a reminder of man’s mortality. Little Margaret weeps, for, though she has no words for the thought, her heart aches with the recognition. In this poem “To a Young Child,” Hopkins used the Germanic “sprung” rhythm that counts only accented syllables, and used words of Germanic origin (with three exceptions). Two words—’wanwood‘ and ‘leafmeal’—Hopkins created on a Germanic basis. The effect is strangely primal but beautiful.
The word ‘ghost‘ here is used to mean the living spirit.
A Little Music—Natalie Merchant beautifully sings Hopkin’s poem to orchestral accompaniment, on her album Leave Your Sleep. This was my introduction to “Spring and Fall.” <http://www.nataliemerchant.com/l/leave-your-sleep/spring-and-fall-to-a-young-child>
Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.
A Fine Picture—An inscription written on the back of the canvas indicates the relevant lines from The Merchant of Venice: Portia intreats Shylock to “Be merciful./ Take thrice thy money; and bid me tear the bond.” But Shylock, holding the scale in which he intends to weigh a pound of flesh cut from Antonio, scowls at Portia and points at the bond that secures his claim. The dramatic scene is romantically painted; the focus is on the fair Portia, not effectively disguised here as a doctor of law.
A Little Poetry—The Merchant of Venice is Shakespeare’s great tragic-comedy, performed as early as 1596, and first published in 1660. The lovesick Bassanio borrows money from his friend Antonio (the eponymous merchant) in order to impress the lady he loves. Bassanio wins the fair Portia, but Antonio experiences a series of setbacks that leave him in debt to the Jewish moneylender Shylock. According to their contract, Shylock is entitled to a pound of Antonio’s flesh, which he plans to cut from Antonio’s heart. The case goes to the court of Venice. Portia, disguised as a young doctor of law, argues against Shylock’s vicious claim, appealing first to mercy (in this speech) and then to the exactest justice.
Goethe said that everyone should read a little poetry and see a fine picture every day, to prevent worldly cares from overcoming our sense of the beautiful. Get your daily dose of beauty at Wrestle with the Angel.