Our knowledge of the sea floor has long been limited by the shortcomings of breath
and sunlight. Our visits are brief, the water dim, and death is easily come by. As
we stand above the surface, we see a country below distorted by wave, murk, and filtered
sun. Objects we can't identify, creatures alien and diverse, and even our own silky
reflections leave us with impressions of a world utterly transformed by immersion
in water. We, ourselves, are transformed by immersion. Perhaps no word quite captures
the essence of human terror like drowning does, and this may be why rituals like
baptism and bathing hold such appeal for some of us-we enter the soft, embracing,
foreign land of death and emerge as different, cleaner beings. Five examples of the
sea's power over our imagination are presented here tonight. The Demon Lover returns
from the sea a creature of hell, whose only wish is to lure and destroy his unfaithful
lover in the deep. Shakespeare paints us an image of the body of a loved one transmuting
into the treasures of the sea. Comforted, but beyond rescue, the deceased is at once
more and less than he was in life. Elytis lures the land from the ocean floor, creating
love out of what was before a desert of water. Neruda casts himself upon the foam,
his old age dissolving into the tolling of sunken bells. Whitman hears the night
sea calling softly for his body. Perhaps the meaning of a life is in the movement
of his waves: they push their gifts onto the sand for brief instant, then gather
them back to the black water. In all cases, the direction in which we cross the barrier
of foam and surface tension makes the difference. From wet to dry, we find life,
sometimes horrifying and evil, but often replenished and forgiven. Travelling from
air to water, however, there is always that "sweetest song and all songs,"
the "low and delicious" word Death.
Artifacts, a musical tale of scholarly adventure,
In which professor Wollonbriar and his intrepid students, colleagues, paramours,
discover not a few delightful and preposterous buried tools of the long forgotten
culture at the fortress of LoLo-La.
I. The Fabulous Dream Flicker
In which Miranda Wollonbriar, daughter of the professor by his first marriage,
stumbles across a limestone statue. Her hopes of instantaneous archaeological
renown are shattered when professor Majors identifies it as being made of bronze.
Clearly, it was erected by the armies of Noober-noo XIV, and such stelas are quite
literally a dime a dozen. Miranda angrily puts her foot down, shaking loose a pile
earth from an artifact of exceeding grace, elegance, and exoticism: the fabulous
II. Two Blue Lightning Jars (defunct)
In which Archibald, the bus driver, discovers two blue so-called "lightning
in the roomiroo chambers of ancient LoLo-La. With the help of a tie tack from prof.
Wollonbriar, Archibald links their trailula to a car battery and a nearby phase-tripper.
The company holds their collective breath as they fire up the jars...alas, failure.
III. A Chipped Clay Water Pot
In which Simon, a fellowship student, unearths through careful and delicate
hammering a light azure water vessel missing a handle and pieces of its outer rim.
The glaze would seem to date it somewhere between the fourth and fifth dynasties.
IV. A Red Earth Mother Rumbler
In which the company dashes for high ground as the third of four mother rumblers
of the red earth variety roars to life. Prof. Majors is understandably furious as
would not have happened if Simon had followed protocol.
V. Big Rusted Wheel
In which Simon again trumps the professors when he discovers a big rusted wheel.
VI. A Set of Interchangeable Trick Pricklers
In which professors Wollonbriar and Majors painstakingly reassemble a set of
interchangeable trick pricklers unearthed from a residential section. They utter
mild curses as the pricklers flip and whirl away from the
tapping of their hammers. At Last! They are aligned.
VII. Two Blue Lightning Jars (extant)
In which Estelle, formerly Simon's lover, now professor
Wollonbriar's, returns from her cataloguing work just as
one of the lower division students discovers two more
lightning jars. Somewhat skeptical, she holds the tie-tack
for Archibald as he fires them up. Miracles! They are
fully functional! Archibald shuts off the power to
the sound of a rousing chorus of "Zofty, my Love-nugg!"
All involved retire for an evening of delightful
from The Tempest
Full fathom five thy father lies:
Of his bones are coral made,
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea change
Into something rich and strange
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell.
Ding dong. Hark! Now I hear them:
Ding dong bell.
The Demon Lover
"O where have you been, my long long love,
This long seven years and mair?"
"O I'm come to seek my former vows
Ye granted me before."
"O hold your tongue of your former vows,
For they will breed sad strife;
O hold your tongue of your former vows,
For I am become a wife."
He turned him right and round about,
And the tear blinded his ee:
"I wad never hae trodden on Irish ground,
If it had not been for thee.
"I might hae had a king's daughter,
Far, far beyond the sea,
I might have had a king's daughter,
Had it not been for love o thee."
"If ye might have had a king's daughter,
Yer sel ye had to blame;
Ye might have had taken the king's daughter,
For ye kend that I was nane.
"If I was to leave my husband dear,
And my two babes also,
O what have you to take me to,
If with you I should go?"
I hae seven ships upon the sea-
The eighth brought me to land-
With four-and twenty bold mariners,
And music on every hand."
She has taken up her two little babes,
Kissd them baith cheek and chin:
"O fair ye weel, my ain two babes,
for I'll never see you again."
She set her foot upon the ship,
No mariners could she behold;
But the sails were o the taffetie,
And the masts o the beaten gold.
She had not sailed a league a league,
A league but barely three,
When dismal grew his countenance,
And drumlie grew his ee.
They had not saild a league, a league,
A league but barely three,
Until she espied his cloven foot,
And she wept right bitterlie.
"O what hills are yon, yon pleasant hills,
that the sun shines sweetly on?"
"O yon are the hills of heaven," he said,
"Where you will never win."
"O whaten a mountain is yon," she said,
"All so dreary wi frost and snow?"
"O yon is the mountain of hell," he cried,
"Where you and I will go."
He strack the tap-mast wi his hand,
The fore-mast wi his knee,
And he brake that gallant ship in twain,
And sank her in the sea.
William O'Daly, trans.
from The Sea and the Bells
Forgive me if my eyes see
no more clearly than sea foam,
please forgive that my form
grows outward without license
and never stops:
monotonous is my song,
my word is a shadow bird,
fauna of stone and sea, the grief
my word is a shadow bird,
fauna of stone and sea, the grief
of a winter planet, incorruptible.
forgive me this sequence of water,
of rock, of foam, of the tide's
delirium: this is my loneliness:
salt in sudden leaps against the walls
of my secret being, in such a way
that I am a part
of the same flat expanse that repeats
from bell to bell, in wave after wave,
and from a silence like a woman's hair,
a silence of seaweed, a sunken song.
^Êthe sea under the yellow and sagging moon, The messenger there arous'd,
the fire, the sweet hell within,
The unknown want, the destiny of me.
O give me the clew! (it lurks in the night here somewhere,)
O if I am to have so much, let me have more!
A word then, (for I will conquer it,)
The word final, superior to all,
Subtle, sent up-what is it?-I listen;
Are you whispering it, and have been all the time, you sea waves?
Is that it from your liquid rims and wet sands?
Where to answering, the sea,
Delaying not, hurrying not,
Whisper'd me through the night, and very plainly before daybreak,
Lisp'd to me the low and delicious word death,
And again death, death, death, death,
^Êedging near as privately for me rustling at my feet,
Creeping thence steadily up to my ears and laving me softly all over,
Death, death, death, death, death.
The word of the sweetest song and all songs,
That strong and delicious word which, creeping to my feet,
(Or like some old crone rocking the cradle, swathed in sweet garments,
The sea whisper'd me.
Olga Broumas, trans.
It is still early in this world, do you hear me
The beasts have not been tamed, do you hear me
My spilled blood and the pointed, do you hear me
Like a ram running the skies
Snapping the stars' branches, do you hear me
It's me, do you hear me
I love you, do you hear me
I hold you and take you and dress you
In Ophelia's white bridal, do you hear me
Where do you leave me, where do you go and who, do you hear me
Holds your hands over the floods
The enormous lianas and the volcanoes' lavas
One day, do you hear me
Will bury us and the thousand later years, do you hear
Luminous will make of us strata, do you hear me
On which the heartlessness of, do you hear me
People will shine
And throw us a thousand pieces, do you hear
In the water one by one, do you hear
I count my bitter pebbles, do you hear me
And time is a large church, do you hear
Where sometimes the figures, do you hear me
Emit a real tear, do you hear
The bells open on high, do you hear me
A passage deep for me to pass
The angels wait with candles and funereal psalms
I am not going anywhere, do you hear me
Either neither or together both, do you hear me
This flower of storm and, do you hear
We cut once and for all, do you hear me
And it can't flower otherwise, do you hear me
In another earth, another star, do you hear me
The soil is gone, the air is gone
That we touched, that same, do you hear me
And no gardener ever had the luck
From so much winter so much north wind, do you hear me
To pull a flower, only we, do you hear me
In the middle of the sea
From just the waning of love, do you hear me
Raised a whole island, do you hear
With caves and coves and flowering gullies
Who speaks to the waters and who cries -hear?
Who looks for the other, who shouts-hear?
It's me who shouts and it's me who cries, do you hear me
I love you, I love you, you hear me.
"The Sea and the Bells" and "Monogram"
used by permission of Copper Canyon Press.