Santayana on Stickney

George Santayana was friends with Joe Trumbull Stickney.  In 1952, five decades after Stickney died from a brain tumour, Santayana wrote a letter about their friendship to William Kirkwood.  The letter is reproduced in facsimile in M. Kirkwood’s life of Santayana (1961, pp. 234-235).

Via di Santo Stefano Rotundo, 6
Rome, May 27, 1952
To Professor Wm. A. Kirkwood, Ph. D.
Trinity College, Toronto
Dear Sir,
It was a happy impulse that prompted you to think that the books you speak of and their annotations, and especially the lines in praise of Homer written by my friend Stickney would interest me. They have called up vividly in my mind the quality of his mind, although the verses represent a much earlier feeling for the classics, and a more conventional mood than he had in the years when we had our frequent moral fencing bouts; for there was a contrary drift in our views in spite of great sympathy in our tastes and pursuits. These verses are signed Sept. 15/ 90. Now Stickney graduated at Harvard in 1895, so that five years earlier he must have been about 17 years old. This explains to me the tone of the verses and also the fact that they advance line by line, seldom or never running over and breaking the next line at the cesura or before it, as he would surely have done in his maturity, when he doted on the dramatic interruptions of Shakespeare’s lines in Antony and Cleopatra in particular, and in all the later plays in general. [page break]
I see clearly the greater mastery and strength of impassioned drama, if impassioned drama is what you are in sympathy with; but I like to warn dogmatic critics of what a more naive art achieves in its impartial and peaceful labour and the risk that overcharged movement or surpluses [?] runs of drowning in its deathbed [?] waters. Every form of art has its charm and is appropriate in its place; but it is moral cramp to admit only one form of art to be legitimate or important. The reminder of this old debate that I had with Stickney who enlightened me more (precisely about the abuse of rhetoric) than I ever could enlighten him about the relativity of everything has been a pleasant reminder of younger days: although I am not sure that much progress towards reason and justice has been made since by critical opinion.
With best thanks and regards
Yours sincerely
G. Santayana

M. M. Kirkwood [1961]:  Santayana:  Saint of the Imagination.  Toronto, Canada:  University of Toronto Press.
Previous posts on George Santayana here, and Joe Stickney here.

An eternal golden braid

These are the people I will invite to the first annual party to celebrate the availability of cost-effective time travel:

Cosimo de’ Medici (1389-1464)
Matteo Ricci SJ (1552-1610)
Thomas Harriott (1560-1621)
Robert Southwell SJ (c.1561-1595)
Kit Marlowe (1564-1593)
Henry Wriothesley (1573-1624)
Charles Diodati (c.1608-1638)
Shi Tao (1641-1720)
Nicolas Fatio de Duillier (1664-1753)
Johann Baptist Vanhal (1739-1813)
Edward Francisco Burney (1760-1848)
Alexander d’Arblay (1794-1837)
Eduard Rietz (1802-1832)
Louise Farrenc (1804-1875)
Juan Crisóstomo Jacobo Antonio de Arriaga y Balzola (1806-1826)
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Arthur Hallam (1811-1833)
Matthew Piers Watt Boulton (1820-1894)
Henry Horton McBurney (1843-1875)
Marian “Clover” Hooper Adams (1843-1885)
Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904)
Wolcott Balestier (1861-1891)
Warwick Potter (1870-1893)
Joseph Trumbull Stickney (1874-1904)
Jan Letzel (1880-1925)
David Kammerer (1911-1944)
John Medill McCormick (1916-1938)
Lucien Carr (1925-2005)
Christophe Bertrand (1981-2010)

Most-viewed posts

The top 21 most-viewed posts on this blog, since its inception (in descending order):

(Photo of Paul Keating,  credit:  AFR).

Ljova profile

Yesterday’s NYT carried a profile by Allan Kozinn of Lev Zhurbin (aka Ljova) who featured in a previous post about Joe Stickney’s poetry.  From the profile:

Lev Zhurbin, the violist, composer and arranger who performs and writes under the name Ljova, almost always has a lot of projects before him. If he isn’t writing for, or recording with, his folk-classical ensemble, Ljova and the Kontraband, or performing in Romashka, a Gypsy band led by his wife, the singer Inna Barmash, he is working on film scores or transcriptions. (He has arranged Indian and Sephardic pieces for the Kronos Quartet; Asian and Eastern European works for Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project; Schubert and Shostakovich compositions for the Knights, a chamber orchestra).”

Which gives me the chance to recommend again Ljova and the Kontraband’s superb album, Mnemosyne.  They are even better live, if that were possible.

Poem: Mendelssohn Concerto

Following this salute to the Moscow Seven, a poem by one of the seven, Vadim Delone (1947-1983, pictured in Paris in 1982), written in 1965, presumably following a performance of Mendelssohn’s E minor violin concerto (translation my own, with help from a Russian-English dictionary, a strong coffee, and Google Translate):

Mendelssohn Concerto
Outside indefinite and sleepy
Autumn rain rustled monotone.
The wind howled and rushed in with a groan
At the sound of a violin, a concerto of Mendelssohn.
I have long been used so painfully,
How long I have not sat sleepless,
So tired and so passive,
Since escaping to a concerto of Mendelssohn.
Running a telephone wire,
Voice of my pain betrayed involuntarily,
You asked me nervously –
What happened to you, what is it?
I could not have answered in monosyllables,
If you even thus groan,
What sounded in the night anxiously
The tempestuous strings of Mendelssohn.
Moscow 1965

Notes and References (Updated 2010-08-08):
All poetry loses in translation.  Working on this poem, I learn that the Russian word for violin, skripka, is close to the word for creak or squeak or rasp, skrip.  In an earlier version, I translated the last line of the poem as “Fiddling passionate Mendelssohn”, but this does not capture the original’s double meaning of violin-playing and rasping.   I am very grateful to violist Lev Zhurbin for suggesting what is now the last line.  With no folk violin tradition in Russia (unlike in Moldova or the Ukraine), there is no equivalent Russian word to the English word “fiddle”.
Websites (in Russian) devoted to Delone are here and here.
Another poem about a violin, Joe Stickney’s This is the Violin, is here.    Other posts in this series are here.

Poems: Six O'Clock

Today, two poems on the same theme, the first by Joe Stickney, published in 1905.   The image is a famous Australian painting, Collins St, 5pm, by John Brack, painted in 1955 and now in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

Six O’Clock
Now burst above the city’s cold twilight
The piercing whistles and the tower-clocks:
For day is done. Along the frozen docks
The workmen set their ragged shirts aright.
Thro’ factory doors a stream of dingy light
Follows the scrimmage as it quickly flocks
To hut and home among the snow’s gray blocks.-
I love you, human labourers. Good-night!
Good-night to all the blackened arms that ache!
Good-night to every sick and sweated brow,
To the poor girl that strength and love forsake,
To the poor boy who can no more! I vow
The victim soon shall shudder at the stake
And fall in blood: we bring him even now.

The second poem, by TS Eliot, was published in 1917, and is number I from the Preludes:

The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o’clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.

T. S. Eliot [1917]:  Prufrock and Other Observations.  From: Collected Poems 1909-1962. London, UK: Faber and Faber, 1963.   (Prelude I, page 23.)
Trumbull Stickney [1966]: The Poems of Trumbull Stickney. Selected and edited by Amberys R. Whittle.  New York, NY, USA:  Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. (Poem XXXI, page 174.)

Recent listening 3: Eastern European flavours

Following my post about Czech Tropicala-post-punk duo DVA, I thought I’d write about some other East European-flavoured music which I listen to a lot.
The first is the album Mnemosyne, by Ljova and the Kontraband, which I have mentioned previously for their setting of  poem by Joe Stickney.  Their music is a mix of East-European gypsy, klezmer and jazz, played by virtuoso performers on viola, accordian, bass and percussion (plus guests).   This mix could only happen in New York City, which is where they are based.
A genuine EE gypsy sound is the painful blues of Dona Dumitru Siminica (1926-1979), who sings this gypsy Romanian parallel to Rembetika in a falsetto voice, with accordian, cymbalon and bass and sometimes violin behind him.  The re-issue I am listening to comprises tracks originally recorded in Bucharest in the early 1960s.
The third album brings the accordian into the 21st-century:  arrangements of various fast-moving electronica tracks for a trio of virtuoso Polish accordianistas, Motion Trio. After this album, no one can ever say again that a gentleman is someone who knows how to play the accordian but refrains from doing so!
Play Station
Ljova and the Kontraband [2008]:  Mnemosyne.  Kapustnik Records, New York City.
Dona Dumitru Siminica [2006]:  Sounds from a Bygone Age, Volume 3. Asphalt Tango Records GmbH, Berlin.  CD-ATR 1106.
Motion Trio [2005]: Play-Station. Asphalt Tango Records GmbH, Berlin. CD-ATR 0705.

Poem: This is the violin

Another fine poem from Joe Stickney:

This is the violin. If you remember –
One afternoon late, in the early days,
One of those inconsolable December
Twilights of city haze,
You came to teach me how the hardened fingers
Must drop and nail the music down, and how
The sound then drags and nettled cries, then lingers
After the dying bow. –
For so all that could never be is given
And flutters off these piteously thin
Strings, till the night of a midsummer heaven
Quivers . . . a violin.
I struggled, and alongside of a duty,
A nagging everyday-long commonplace!
I loved this hopeless exercise of beauty
Like an allotted grace, –
The changing scales and broken chords, the trying
From sombre notes below to catch the mark,
I have it all thro’ my heart, I tell you, crying
Childishly in the dark.

Poem XXVI, page 237, of:
Trumbull Stickney [1966]: The Poems of Trumbull Stickney. Selected and edited by Amberys R. Whittle.  New York, NY, USA:  Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.
Previous poems by Trumbull Stickney here, and previous poetry posts here.  Another poem about a violin, by Vadim Delone, here.

Poem: Mnemosyne

Another poem by Joe Stickney, following Song.   This is Mnemosyne, which on the surface appears to be a straightforward poem about a country where he had lived in the past (given the title, probably Greece, which Stickney knew well).  However, reading the poem carefully, one sees that it also about that country we have all visited, called The Past.

Quoting this poem allows me to point you to Ljova Zurbin’s wonderful setting of the poem, available here.  What I find particularly powerful in this setting is the repetition of the varying refrains as a final verse, which brings Stickney’s argument into clear focus.

I had the rare chance to see Ljova and the Kontraband perform this song and other great music live at The Stone last weekend.  Ljova played a 6-string viola with a facility and fluency that Paganini would have envied:  the man must have about 20 fingers on his left hand!   Lots of what they played did not make it onto their great CD, so I hope they are able to release a second CD soon.

It’s autumn in the country I remember.
How warm a wind blew here about the ways!
And shadows on the hillside lay to slumber
During the long sun-sweetened summer-days.

It’s cold abroad the country I remember.
The swallows veering skimmed the golden grain
At midday with a wing aslant and limber;
And yellow cattle browsed upon the plain.

It’s empty down the country I remember.
I had a sister lovely in my sight:
Her hair was dark, her eyes were very sombre;
We sang together in the woods at night.

It’s lonely in the country I remember.
The babble of our children fills my ears,
And on our hearth I stare the perished ember
To flames that show all starry thro’ my tears.

It’s dark about the country I remember.
There are the mountains where I lived. The path
Is slushed with cattle-tracks and fallen timber,
The stumps are twisted by the tempests’ wrath.

But that I knew these places are my own,
I ‘d ask how came such wretchedness to cumber
The earth, and I to people it alone.
It rains across the country I remember.

PS (2016-09-09):  Another wonderful song about the invocation of memories, suddenly, is The Bones of You by Elbow, official video here.