Solace in Beauty

June 1, 2020 at 7:18 pm (Art, Current affairs, Music, Poetry)

I am deeply sorry for the pain being felt by many people right now in this country.

I fear that the beauty of this first day of June little avails aching hearts. So I would like to offer some words, sounds, and images of  beauty, as possible solace.

Willem Kalf (1619-1693), Pronk Still Life with Holbein Bowl, Nautilus Cup, Glass Goblet and Fruit Dish

About the chambered nautilus, Wikipedia tells us this:

Nautilus shells were popular items in the Renaissance cabinet of curiosities and were often mounted by goldsmiths on a thin stem to make extravagant nautilus shell cups, such as the Burghley Nef, mainly intended as decorations rather than for use. Small natural history collections were common in mid-19th-century Victorian homes, and chambered nautilus shells were popular decorations.

Here is a cutaway view showing the configuration of the shell’s chambers:

In his eponymous poem, Oliver Wendell Holmes wrests a deeper meaning from this curious artifact:

This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sails the unshadowed main,—
The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.
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Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
Before thee lies revealed,—
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!
*****************
Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.
**************
Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Child of the wandering sea,
Cast from her lap, forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathèd horn!
While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:—
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Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!
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To return to Wikipedia, the above entry led me in turn to an entry on goldsmiths. On that page, I found this image, which greatly appealed:
Entitled The Bagdadi Goldsmith, it is a creation of Kamal-ol-molk, This  artist was from Iran; he lived from 1848 to 1940.
*****************************
This encounter brought to mind a haunting work by the great Russian composer Alexander Borodin. It is called In the Steppes of Central Asia. (The quality of this video is not great, but the visuals are arresting and the music…well, just listen:
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