He was not just the greatest artist in the Catholic world, but he was an art collector and a classically trained humanist who was knighted by both Philip IV of Spain and Charles I of England. Indeed, so sure was he of his place in the world that he painted himself with sword in hand before the knighting even took place!
I am reading Simon Schama's wonderful book on Rembrandt. And who should come out as shining prince in the book--not Rembrandt-- but Rubens. In the time-old method of understanding one thing but pairing it against its opposite, Schama in order to uncover Rembrandt, illuminates Rubens.
This from the Salon review:
They were night and day, Rubens and Rembrandt. While the older painter
was the soul of taste, a stoic and a devout Catholic, Rembrandt was a Calvinist vulgarian. “Rubens’s most ardent admirers … [celebrated] the Flemish painter’s commitment to discrimination,” writes Schama.“Rembrandt, on the other hand … had no idea when to avert his gaze.” Fittingly, Rubens died a painter-aristocrat who dabbled in diplomacy and was universally mourned. Rembrandt went bankrupt and expired penniless in a hovel just seven years after he had disinterred his wife’s bones so that he could sell the grave to stave off his creditors.
I mean, just look at the self-portrait of Rubens and his new wife sitting among the honeysuckles. Is it not the ultimate expression of marriage (fidelity and union)? So different from Japanese poses, but the hands really are very evocative of this very touching ancient European (Roman) gesture of *promising.* I love her bracelets too. And of course her hat, which seems somehow totally at odds with the rest of her outfit, doesn’t it? I do think they are charming and seem so in love... it’s a favorite of mine. If only I had met my knight when I was sixteen and he eighteen years older—just back from Italy and so handsome in mustard tights! And if only I was fonder of millstone collars. It is the dream of happily-ever-after...
And, you have to admit not all that many painters or poets dared to express happily ever after, did they? Marriage being seen more as a fortress besieged 围城 than as source of poetry and art.
Not for the faint of heart, more common has always been the theme of romantic love and longing of the non-conjugal sort where the promise was only ever at most an ambiguous promise to come visiting that night.
Yesterday, my favorite poet (and someone very dear to my heart) Samuel Peralta made an adaptation of a poem by Fujiwara no Teika. Rubens had said that, "My talent is such that no undertaking, however vast in size has ever surpassed my courage.” And, I think Sam is himself Rubenseque in his talent and confidence to re-think and re-work a poem from one the greatest poets of all time. The great Teika.
こぬ人を On the Matsuo Shore
まつほの浦の I wait for him
夕なぎに Pining for him in the quiet of the evening
焼くやもしほの My longing burns me
身もこがれつつ Like the seaweed burned to gather salt (牡丹訳）
Truly, Teika was one of the great giants of poetry. And, in the same way that sam re-illuminates Teika, Teika himself was alluding to another very famous ancient poem from the Manyoshu (935) by Kasa no Kanmura:
淡路島 At Awaji
松帆の浦に Along the Matsuo shore
朝なぎに In the quiet of the morning
玉藻刈りつつ They reap jeweled seaweed
夕なぎに In the quiet of the evening
藻塩焼きつつ They burn the seaweed to gather salt
海人娘女 Fishermaidens at the shore
ありとは聞けど -- I've heard of them at least
見に行かむ Though I am unable
よしのなければ To go and see for myself --- 笠 金村 (巻６－９３５）
As a translator, I wanted (in my translation above) to retain the echoes from the earlier poem--of the evening calm and the shore but I also wanted to retain as much as I could the idea of longing (matsu in Japanese means pine tree but it also means to wait and to long for--so for a thousand years was the symbol par excellance of a pining women). As Sam says, this poem is so filled with sadness, absence and longing. But, more, what I think Sam's rendition (below) captured better than any is the second play on words, of moshio.
Moshio: Gathering salt from seaweed. In old times, after being soaked in saltwater, seaweed was dried in the sun. It was then burned to dry it before it was boiled to produce salt. In poetry, "yaku" (to burn) and "moshio" (gathering salt from seaweed) are associated with the theme of "longing" and are used in poetry as a set (ie moshio→ longing) 詞.
Here is Sam's version:
after Fujiwara no Teika
Dusk falls in Matsuo, late.
As the charred salt, wrung
From simmered seaweed, burns –
So smolder the ashes of this heart,
As I wait for you, as I wait
That nothing new is ever born is a fact. I think Rushdie is someone who has explored this in particularly interesting ways and in many of his books, there will be one character or another who claims that “Nothing comes from nothing, Thieflet; no story comes from nowhere; new stories are born from old-it is the new combinations that make them new.” Haroun and the Sea of Stories.
And so in the same way that the Great Teika writes in allusion to the ancient Manyoshu poet Kasa no Kanmura, so too does Samuel Peralta light up Teika's poem to give it new life, in Modern Antiquity.