Friday, 21 October 2011

Italian poem No 11.

The Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua

Pilgrimage to Padova

Do you remember Sant' Antonio's?
The domes and towers and pinnacles and sky;
two ancient nuns who, limping arm in arm,
each bore a portion of her sister's load,
pied against the orange bricks of noon,
a focus of intensity and eye? 
Gattemelata by Donatello
Do you recall the warrior on his steed,
so purposeful, yet humble, looking down
over the chasing children and the crowds
of tourists and of pilgrims and the town
that once he served and set him up on high?
And does your mind still hold
that vision of perfection-
dark and light,
the arches and the heavens and the gold,
the blazing star on blue mosaic night;
the tiny babe of bronze
with face so sweet
that sits within the Virgin Prophet's lap
as if still in the womb and raises up
his little hand to bless the majesty
of frankincense and gold,
the dripping candles and the thousand prayers
laid daily by the humble at his feet?  
Remember how we walked by the canal
as darkness fell that night,
and looking up,
we saw those minarets against the pink
and smoky blue of evening?
Swallows flew in pairs and suddenly
a bell rang out,
so clear and cold and high.
Ding-ding! Ding-ding! Ding-Ding!
Another answered lower
and another, slower, deeper still,
till one by one each bell was called to chime
until within the sweet cacophony
the last and largest spoke with solemn voice
that told of death and of disaster grim.
Dong! Dong! Dong!
Do you remember when
that dreadful man appeared
out of the darkness while I stood alone
upon the bridge? 
The moon over Sant'Antonio's
My flesh turned to stone:
I could not call for you or run away!
And suddenly you loomed against the sky
in that big jacket,
looking hugely broad and tall and fearsome!
How he shrank away
and vanished like a startled rat!
Remember then how smug you took my hand
and pulled it through your arm?
"Let's now wind up the day,
and go and find a place to eat!" you said.
We took our dinner in a small cafe.
Remember how the waiter made us laugh?
He walked like Charlie Chaplin with his tray
and scuffing feet
and dragging cuffs;
the same moustache:
it could have been his brother!
So the happy day
drew to a close
regaled by music of the concertina;
blissful sleepiness of food and wine,
of feet tired out with walking,
eyes with seeing,
mind with taking-in.
Do you remember still
the day we went to Sant' Antonio's?
I always will! 

© Tamsyn Taylor 

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Italian poem No 10.

The Millstream

I am fishing in the millstream
in the brown and frothing current;
foam a-swirling, leaves a-twirling
on the mountain's rushing torrent.
Our poor Gwen fell off the culvert
in the dark and stormy night,
soaked her clothes
bruised her knees,
spilt her handbag,
grazed her elbows,
gave us all a nasty fright!
Now I'm fishing in the millstream
for her wallet, purse and keys,
the gold compact that her husband
bought her once from overseas.
Let me see where they have fallen,
whereabouts the wallet's gone…
Has it drifted in the current
somewhere underneath a stone?
Yes! It's here!
Her cheques and passport
and her photo, quite forlorn!
Lay them in the sun and dry them!
Luckily there's nothing torn.

Now I'm wading in the millstream
on this grey and stormy day
while the sullen water eddies
round the branches in its way.
I am searching for Gwen's purse
which holds, along with all her money,
driver's license,
ring of keys,
book of stamps,
and credit cards
the loss of which is not so funny.
So I'm in the stream once more,
wallowing in drizzling rain,
trying to find her things before
the river rises once again.
A neighbour comes in waders
with a fishnet on a pole.
"I think the purse might float a bit,
then sink into that hole."
And here it is!
The missing purse,
A lump of sodden leather!
Put it by the fire to dry.
Luckily it held together! 

Here I'm paddling in the millstream 
on this bright and blowy morning. 
How the water winks and sparkles! 
Over pebbles it goes gurgling. 
I am looking for Gwen's compact, 
with the powder for her face. 
It's round 
and gold, 
and loved, 
and not so easy to replace. 
The sun shines down. A thing like that 
should gleam and glow and shimmer. 
But what Gwen didn't tell me was - 
it's in a black felt cover. 
My foot is resting on a stone 
that’s flat and square and slimy. 
"I saw a compact once before  
that's just like Gwen's. Oh, Blimey! 
Here it is,  
her precious gift - 
I've stood upon it all the while! 
Eureka! I have found Gwen's gold!" 
How glad I am to see her smile! 

© Tamsyn Taylor 

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Italian Poem No 9.

Molino Revisited 

"Here's the place!" I say.
We stop the car 
and from the grassy verge
look just below us in the valley
where an aged limestone building squats,
an old beret of terracotta tiles
pulled on its head.
It has green shutters
at the upper window where,
so many years ago, I slept.
The millstream curves around
and though the wheel
is long since gone
some nights
you wake to hear
a rhythmic thundering
and a churning sound
as though
this building has a heart.
The millstream ripples by
and by that stream
tall poplars grow.
They are the spreading sort
and in the spring
the air is full of golden down
and by the stream
a swing is moving gently to and fro.
One can sit dreaming
in the dappled light
and hear the rippling tune of water
gliding over stones.
And through the open shutters
in the night
it plays continuo
while the nightingale
sings its sonata sweet
and softly to the darkness.
In the morning bright
the cuckoo calls
with joyful, childish repetition
of his two-note song
and round the ancient archway
to the kitchen door
wisteria climbs,
and in those blooms
are bumblebees
so large
that they could carry you away
if they had need to,
but they're busy.
In my mind I see
in dress of faded crimson
wading in meadow grass
and golden haze,
picking a sheaf of poppies
and some daisies
and some heads of wheat.
They're for the big blue jug
without a handle
on the breakfast table,
with the crusty loaf
and soft white cheese
and steaming milk
and fresh ground coffee.
How I love this place!
We turn away
and start the engine
for today
we must press on to Venice.

© Tamsyn Taylor,

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Italian poem No 8.

"The Funeral of Santa Fina", Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1485 
NOTE: The story of the painting and the origins and iconography of the poem are to be found at  ".....favourite things....." in the blogs "Tea with Mussolini" and "Santa Fina and the violets"

Santa Fina

for Dame Judi Dench

Little maiden
with your flaxen hair
and forehead neatly plucked,
(bearer of pain and visions),
how long did we nurse you
upon your wooden pallet?
Death soft as sleep
enfolding like the petals of a rose
your virgin body
lying sweet
and winsome
while the gentle chorister
presses his sightless face
against your small cold feet.
The chapel blazes bright.
What healing power is come
from hand of one
no nurse’s care
or chaplain’s prayers
could heal?
Let Adam and Eve consume
the fruit of sin
and armies perish,
ravaging disease
corrupt the flesh,
cruel arrows
of intolerance
pierce the mind;
let humankind
mock goodness,
spit on mercy,
stand spectator by
the murder of the innocent
while dynasties decay
and Hell yawns wide.
Yet may you rest
till morning’s glorious light
and scent of violets
wake you
and the bridegroom’s
laughing voice
says “Girl, rise up
and dance with me
between the laden vines
above the shimmering fields,
past swaying towers
on paving gold
through gates of Paradise.”

        © Tamsyn Taylor    

Friday, 7 October 2011

Italian poem No 7.

                                                                                                                                                        Foto: Basilio Speciari

San Gimignano Red

"I want a glass of San Gimignano Red,"
I told my husband,
"And the only place to drink it
is in San Gimignano!
"Where is that?" he said.
It's four and twenty cramped and stifling hours
away from Mascot
and a Fiat hired in Florence
and the breezy countryside with rising larks
and startled pheasants.
"Look!" Upon the hill there looms a city
built of kiddy blocks
and up and up the thirteen towers go-
Just how high can they go
before they topple over?
We share our bottle of San Gimignano Red
with Osso Buco and some garlic beans
at a trattoria in the city wall.
It's not the finest plonk in all the world
but Oh, what fun it is
to drink it here in San Gimignano!

                       ©    Tamsyn Taylor 

Dante Aligheri, in Purgatorio Stanza XXIV describes the gluttonous Pope Martin IV dining on Bolsena eels pickled in vernaccia.  Vernaccia di San Gimignano is the region's best known wine and the only white wine of Tuscany that is registered as Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita.  However, the ancient Vernaccia grapes were harder to cultivate than modern varieties, and during the 20th century red wine varieties were planted.  "Rosso" and a "rosato" or rose wine was produced, the latter with a very distinctive character given by the Vernaccia grapes.  It was "rosato" rather than "rosso" that we drank that night in San Gimignano.  The proprietor had a gallery of portraits of himself drawn by visitors.  I rose to the challenge and contributed another portrait to the collection.  TT

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Italian poem No 6.


                                  Flowers for Larry

A boy kneels down before the Primavera-
Rome has passed him by:
a symphony of roaring cars and tooting horns
and rattle of a thousand motor bikes
punctuated by a policeman's whistle.
At the Trevi Fountain
spray was blown his way
and wet his face and jacket.
Catacombs smell damp and musty.
In Saint Peter's there are echoes
and the Sistine Chapel
is a maze
of shouting noise and shoving people
where it's difficult to find one's parents.
Florence has a tower with bells
and one enormous bell
that bursts upon your senses.
People laugh and talk in foreign language.
Horse and carriage clip-clop on the stones
and everywhere are pigeons.
One sat on his shoulder for a moment
and another past him at such speed
its wingtip grazed his cheek.

Now he's kneeling there before the Primavera,
with his eye so close the surface
that security is pacing
but a yard away unnoticed.
Above his stooping head is Venus
gazing out with gentle face.
He's oblivious to her beauty
and the graces of the maidens
simpering, diaphanous,
fingers linked in ceaseless dance.
He does not perceive the painting
like the connoisseur or tourist
He's a boy who never sees the bigger picture.
There exists for him
only the narrow compass of a little lens
that's hardly larger than a watch-face.
"Look at this!" he cries,
"No-one has ever painted flowers        
more beautiful than these!"
And there they are,
nestled in grass of darkest green-
flowers of the sweetest loveliness
that breathe the scent of Spring's perfection!
But has anyone
within five hundred years of seeing,
writing, rapture, contemplation, 
really looked at them before?
Down the years
I thank you, Sandro,
for your gift of minutiae!
While your Venus and her Graces
are for all the world to worship;
in your masterpiece you planted
tiny flowers
and made them grow
for Larry. 

©   Tamsyn Taylor  

Monday, 3 October 2011

Italian poem No 5.


The eyes of David,
the eternal vigilante,
warn the approaching tourist
from beneath their jutting brow.
Stone cold flesh
glows palely in the sunlight.
Herakles is pausing for a moment
before he murders Cacus
and not far away
Judith, the Queen of Israel,
slits the throat
of one Holofernes,
while on his almost-Nouveau pedestal
the hero Perseus
holds up the frightful head
of the Medusa.
Thus of old
did Florence put on show
intolerance of tyrants!
Rising up before me,
brick on brick
and crowned with battlements and mighty tower
stands the Palazzo Vecchio,
home of the republic.
I pan my camera up the building-
just beneath the cornice is a row of shields,
and on each shield, an emblem.
Holding still, I zoom the image
and I read the word
proclaimed in letters gold
against an azure field.

That night 
at Barbara's cosy pensione 
I play my movie back, 
and it is there! 
I hear it every time; 
the voices coincide 
just as if I wrote a script! 
Above the general noises of the square, 
so faint and far away and yet so clear 
I hear a man's voice shouting, fierce and free- 
it cries 
and then again, 
pale as an echo and more high and wild 
a woman's voice cries 

©Tamsyn Taylor 
 Picture: CC. Georges Jansoone, 2005, from Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Italian poem No 4.

       The Watchman of the City

        The young man stands so seemingly relaxed,
        weight on one foot, 
        the other leg is forward, loose at the hip;
        his huge stonemason's hand
        is gently resting on his thigh.
        But look again!
        The head is turned to watch, the neck is taught,
        the eyes are fierce and brave.
        That nonchalance is only show-
        this man is dangerous!
        He knows just what they do with tyrants,
        here in Florence!
        All around this gay piazza
        there is murder, mayhem and revolt!
        So much of beauty has been made of death!
        This city that has always, at the heart,
        been a republic
        has a way to cut tall poppies
        and to lionise
        the ones like he
        who bring a giant's demise!

        ©     Tamsyn Taylor   

When Michelangelo, at the age of 25, was commissioned by the Overseers of Works for Florence Cathedral to sculpt a statue of David, he was presented with the challenge afforded by creating a work of enormous proportions out of a block of  second-grade marble that had already been worked on by two previous sculptors.  The figure was intended to be placed on the gable of Florence Cathedral, along with a number of other prophets, some of which had already been created, not in marble but in terracotta.   

The finished product was awe-inspiring, but threw the department of works into a panic.  It was obviously too large to be hoisted up to the gable.  Brunelleschi would have taken on the challenge, but he was dead and no-one else was prepared to attempt it.  A committee was formed (of course) to decide what to do with it.  They were split three ways.  The architect Giuliano da Sangallo, supported by Leonardo da Vinci, said the the marble was bound to deteriorate and that the safest place to display it was in the Loggia Lanza, a sort of permanent grandstand adjacent to the Palazzo Vecchio.   The second group wanted it placed near the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio, which was the seat of the Signoria, or city council, replacing a rather horrifying bronze by Donatello of Judith hacking Holoferne's head off.   Botticelli, a devout man, said it should be placed in the vicinity of the cathedral, where its magnificence would do honour to God,  as originally intended, as well as to the City.   The City prevailed, and David was placed outside the Palazzo Vecchio, with his gaze turned threateningly towards Rome.  

Giuliano and Leonardo were right of course.  It should have been under cover.  In 1873 it was removed to the Accademia Gallery where it stands framed by a large niche and tall columns, as the focal point of a hall in which are also displayed the struggling giants intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II.   At its installation in the Accademia,  the statue was positioned with the same orientation that is found so often in drawings done by teenage boys i.e. the body is full-frontal, displaying the width of the shoulders and in this case the genitals, but the face is in profile.  Another male committee? The three -dimensional nature of the contraposto is minimised, and although one sees close-up photos of the face, full-on, it is very difficult to get a broad view of the statue from the  most appropriate angle.  One must rely on the many casts and copies.   In 1910 a replica was placed outside the Palazzo Vecchio, and another overlooks the city from the Piazzale Michelangelo,  the favourite location for photographing the vista of Florence.