Sunday, 30 October 2011

In The World of John Keats' "La Belle Dame sans Merci"

One of my favourite poems by John Keats, one not written in his usual style either, has to be La Belle Dame sans Merci ('The Beautiful Lady Without Mercy'). It is a piece which is all fey, all faerie... And yet there is a hint of the very real death Keats was facing at the time he wrote this.

I've always wondered who the beautiful lady without mercy represented to Keats; and I've often thought that the knight-at-arms must be a representation of Keats himself, one who is so 'in thrall' upon encountering the lady in the meads (meadows) that he follows her further and further into dark and bewitching realms until he is lost to reality altogether.

Always an inspiration to read, savour and simply take you back to times Romantic (in the classical sense), here is Keats' La Belle Dame sans Merci for your reading pleasure: 

La Belle Dame sans Merci

By John Keats

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
       Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
       And no birds sing.

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
       So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
       And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
       With anguish moist and fever-dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
       Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,
       Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
       And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
       And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
       And made sweet moan.

I set her on my pacing steed,
       And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
       A faery’s song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
       And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
       ‘I love thee true’.

She took me to her elfin grot,
       And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
       With kisses four.

And there she lullèd me asleep,
       And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!—
The latest dream I ever dreamt
       On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
       Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci
       Thee hath in thrall!’

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
       With horrid warning gapèd wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
       On the cold hill’s side.

And this is why I sojourn here,
       Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
       And no birds sing.

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Friday, 21 October 2011

Do You Do What You Are?

The Muses Urania and Calliope by Simon Vouet
Image taken from Wikimedia Commons

First off, apologies for my short hiatus from my blog!:) It's not blog fatigue, I assure you, that's prompted my virtual absence. The world outside this one simply called more fervently than usual these past few months; I had to take a break until things quietened down a bit.

So, what had me running over to post my thoughts today? A small movie called 'Along Came A Spider':)

A suspense/mystery film based on the James Patterson novel of the same name, 'Along Came A Spider' is a movie that I've watched umpteen times through the years. Can't quite tell you why it tickles my movie-watcher's taste buds....

Maybe it's the superb Morgan Freeman (who plays profiler Alex Cross). Who could resist staying glued to the sight of Freeman as he walks or talks or stares thoughtfully into space?:)

Or maybe it's the classic game of cat and mouse that ensues once all and sundry attempt to trace the whereabouts of Megan Rose, the kidnapped daughter of a senator in the movie.

Or maybe 'Along Came A Spider' is simply a movie that's skilfully crafted, in all senses of the word.

This time though, it wasn't actors/plot/craft that made their usual impression on me. No, it was a piece of dialogue that stood out.

I hadn't noticed this bit of dialogue in my previous viewings. I must have heard it a thousand times by now, but I probably wasn't really listening, if you know what I mean.

Alex Cross and Special Agent Jezzie Flannigan are having a casual conversation in the middle of the kidnapping investigation. And here's the bit that made me perk up:

Alex: You do what you are Jezzie.
Jezzie: You mean you are what you do.
Alex: No, I mean, you do what you are. You're born with a gift. If not that, then you get good at something along the way. And what you're good at, you don't take for granted. You don't betray it.
Jezzie: What if you do, betray your gift?
Alex: Then you betray yourself. That's a sad thing.

'You do what you are'. Hmmmm, I'd never really thought about it that way before. 'You are what you do' is the more common understanding, isn't it? Seems to make so much sense too. But it often felt like a false statement to me! I just could never put my finger on why it rang false. What Alex Cross said put everything into perspective.

You do what you are! There is an intrinsic, real, utterly you 'you' that finds its way into a career/life path! If you flip this somewhat: there is a career out there that is made for who you are, if you have the conviction to find it and stay true to it!

You know, I wish I'd gotten my head around this concept way, way back when. I'm sure I would have had a lot more conviction in pursuing my passions if I had been encouraged to not only find out who 'I' was, but also find out what 'I' was gifted to do, and actually stay loyal to my 'gifts'.

I guess the point of confusion though lies in finding out who you really are to begin with. How do you do that? Through life experiences? The help of those you meet along the way? The devotion to a path of faith?

Life's full of variables, isn't it?

Despite the mix of everything external that can bombard and mold our inner selves however, it becomes clearer and clearer to me that each of us have individual natures. Personalities that are uniquely ours. Personalities that come with their own foibles and eccentricities, but also their own truths.

And the older I get, the more I believe that our passions are a reflection of these truths.

Passion may not be an exhaustive indicator of who we are, for sure, let alone a consistent one. But when we do know we're passionate about something - know in our bones that it's a big part of our very nature, a huge contributor to our joy in life - Alex Cross's bit of dialogue becomes pretty relevant, doesn't it?

It openly advocates us giving our inner passions a vote in deciding what any of us want to do for a living.

Not all the votes. Just a single vote. A small, marginalised but hopeful voice in our decision-making processes. Quite a fair, reasonable idea, isn't it?:)

Ack, but who said life's fair? Or reasonable! In the grand scheme of things, giving your passion a legitimate voice seems almost revolutionary! That I - and no doubt many others - could feel this way about our dreams says a lot. I reckon most of us have so many obligations, you see, that our voice of passion gets drowned out very quickly; obligations beyond our control that are strong enough to push us off the platform of our passion along the way. At the risk of sounding cliched, I must say that holding on to your dreams can be a difficult thing to do if it risks your ability to put food on the table every day.

But, you know, life's often far too short. And security can never really be guaranteed, can it? Not in any meaningful way.

If one sees security as something inconsistent/unpredictable in its own right... Well, somehow passion isn't such a disadvantageous commodity to cultivate anymore! To allow your passion some leeway to push and prod you, infiltrate whatever you're doing (secure or not) and make it all the better for such infiltration... this is surely one of the more enjoyable secrets to 'success' in our far too unpredictable world, don't you think?:)

When I mix working and writing, studying and working, writing and studying - basically any two things that are secure or passionate in their own right, often to the point of mutually exclusivity, things can get complicated. You don't sleep much. You become an insomniac writer, in effect. You sacrifice nights out to ensure you're able to pay the bills and indulge in your writing life at the same time. You sacrifice time that could be spent with friends and family, watching a movie or simply sleeping, all to keep up with warring worlds of reality and imagination, trying your best not to tear in half along the way.

It all seems very messy at the best of times. And the rewards for leading the 'double life' of an insomniac writer can seem a long time in coming.

Sometimes, you wonder if it's worth it at all.

But the more I think about it, if one strategises hard enough, prays hard enough - and yes, crosses one's fingers often enough:) - maybe security and passion can co-exist somehow without jeopardising each other's existence.

What say you? Is that possible? Especially for those dreaming of making it in the world of the creative arts without sacrificing a comfortable life for ourselves and our families?

I sincerely hope, pray and cross my fingers that it is:)

On that note, here's to chasing dreams, staying true to oneself, and maybe - just maybe - being given the opportunity to successfully do what you are, wherever you might be in this mixed-up, unpredictable world of ours, without sacrificing life's precious, memory-making moments along the way:)

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