Strange Arts & Visual Delights
Star of Zion (Charlotte, NC, 22 August 1895, 2.) The Star of Zion was founded in 1876 by the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Zion Church and is still published today.
The reference to "traitors" probably refers to those who received lighter sentences for identifying the arrested men.
As some readers of the blog may know, I have slowly—very slowly—been creating a group biography of the fifty men who, in August 1895, surrounded the jail in Winston-Salem, NC, to prevent the lynching of a young black man, Arthur Tuttle, who had killed a white policeman in May. Many more were present, but we know the names of almost fifty participants—all men, all African American—because they were arrested, for riot and other charges, and some of their trials were reported in the newspapers. (An interview more than 70 years later stated that Arthur Tuttle’s sister, Ida, was also present, but she appears not to have been arrested.)
Very little from these men has survived in their words; those few words are not related to the defense of Tuttle and come to us through the filter of white editors. As we will see, we do have the voices of Simon G. Atkins, a prominent black educator and institution builder in Winston-Salem, and R. B. Garrett, an otherwise unknown man who wrote to the Richmond Planet.
I have been intermittently posting on this topic since July 2022 and intermittently researching for much longer. It seems to me natural to be curious about men who risked their lives to prevent murder. Who were they? Where did they come from? What were their familial, social, and institutional connections? How did they make their livings? What happened to them? What gave them the pluck to make a stand?
Here are my posts grouped by topic:
(1) “The Tuttle family and the Riot”
(2) Three posts on group biography, or prosopography:
“Prosopography: Towards a Collective Biography”
“The Method and Value of Prosopography”
“Prosopography in 1895 Winston-Salem: Some Limitations”
(3) Five posts on Arthur Tuttle’s protectors and their connections with themselves and others:
“Overview of Tuttle’s Protectors”
“Connections (1)—Walter Tuttle, Yancey Simpson, Green Scales, and Ellis Matthews”
“Connections (2a)—Samuel Toliver and Friends”
“Connections (2b)—Samuel Toliver, Peter Owens, John Mack Johnson, and W. H. Neal”
“Connections (3)—Micajah (Cager) Watt and the Depot Street School Neighborhood”
My next posts will consider the context of the times in the state and in Winston-Salem, then share and comment on contemporary documents that illustrate the issues.
For questions or comments, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brillig, self-described as “a micro lit mag,” is edited by Deborah Doolittle. But apart from the work of soliciting and choosing poems to publish, the term “edited” here means handcrafting, illustrating, and assembling the poems into a star book—“a book-art edition [that] opens into a star when the front and back covers are pressed together” (from the introduction). The book is beautiful in design and execution. Publishing it must be time-consuming and painstaking, but the result is a satisfying micro-gallery of graphic and written art that I highly recommend to the reader and writer.
The 2023 winter/spring issue contains poems by five poets whose poems “share an underlying sense of humor regarding our human condition.” Doolittle solicits poems that “by definition are both ‘brilliant and big’ but packed into a tiny space,” no more than twenty lines in length.
It is difficult to single out a representative poem, but this poem by Davonna Thomas captures the tone of the issue.
Yes (and) Cam
Driving home on a hot August day, the lingering
singe of a long summer. I hear a shift in the silence,
like I always could just before he spoke. “Acting
is hard,” he observes in response to some unspoken
prompt. “I have to say the lines exactly right; I don’t
wanna get them wrong.” Red light. Another loud
pause, the firing of neurons. “Improv. Improv is so
much easier.” I push back gently, like I always
do. Do you not enjoy acting? Black eyelashes
blink over blue as ideas crystallize. “Acting--
fun and stressful. Improv—fun and FUN.” Would
you believe, weight on each word, that many people
find it terrifying to make up lines on the spot?
Puppy dog head tilt. “But why though? You literally
have to do it all day, every day.” Hmmm. Green light.
Quiet and closed mouth as I lift my foot from the brake,
not quite ready to accelerate. You’re right, buddy.
Lines on the spot. Every waking moment.
One of the great pleasures of Brillig is the art that accompanies each section of the issue. Below are two pages and the art that accompanies them. One page provides information on how to subscribe, the other is a bio of a contributor, Joseph D. Milosch. In addition to Davonna Thomas, whose poem is shown above, the other contributors are David Lavar Coy, Tom Plante, and George J. Searles.
If you have comments, please send them to email@example.com. I will pass them on to Deborah.
Night scene on the battlefield, showing Verey lights being fired from the trenches, Thiepval, 7 August 1916. (https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205072490)
In “Nocturne,” the final poem of Henry-Jacques I have translated so far, a night in the trenches becomes a dark night of the soul. He is becoming part of the darkness; the darkness is becoming part of him. He must find a new language—using words that war “has not stained”—to understand the shadow, both “hard” and “ungraspable,” that holds him.
Cold night, with supple tentacles
winding round the neck and shoulder:
here I am, I don’t know where,
stooping in a narrow cell.
From the pit around me rise
the arcana, opaque and hard.
I grope the earth as if fumbling cards.
Tonight hands must be my eyes.
Like a beast in the teeth of a snare,
my will contorts itself, dismayed
that in this gloom I am no more
than shadow merging into shade.
I feel as if I were being poured
into hard, ungraspable shadow
that, through fissures I cannot see
and without noise, slips into me.
The mind, mustering all its power
to leave the dark in which it’s caught,
floats like wood, emptied of thought,
on the black, slow-moving water.
It hears the murky silence made
of whispering voices in the thousands
flowing together in human currents.
Huddled in the trench we wait.
A little more and the naked mind
dares question its fate; and now,
escaping the words that war has stained,
it senses truths it never knew.
And from the throat of the pit a noise
rises, a funereal voice:
“What are you doing in this shadow?”
And my heart responds, “I do not know.”
Source: Pinterest UK
Henry-Jacque’s first collection of poems on the First World War is called La Symphonie héroïque; it won a prize, the Prix de la Renaissance, in 1922. Henry-Jacques (1886 - 1973) was a pseudonym; his name at birth was Henri Edmond Jacques. The title and structure of the book reflect his interest in music; after the war, he published two music journals and was recognized as a musicologist. In addition to two other books of poetry based on his wartime experiences, he was a journalist, a novelist, an adventurer at sea. He circumnavigated the globe several times, twice sailing around Cape Horn.
In “Landscapes” (“Paysages”), a soldier is entering the trenches and marching towards the dangerous front line to work as an observer, as in the poem I recently posted, “Assassin Poet.” As other stories and poems from the war reveal, the trenches were confusing and disorienting, even for an experienced soldier; the aerial photo above gives some idea. The front and the war were, as the poem says, everywhere. Enemy planes, mines placed by sappers in tunnels under the trenches, artillery shells, and gas attacks affected far more than the designated front line.
In the wall, wide as a porch,
a hole that opens on a hole,
barbed wire that flays the skin.
A hand notice riddled with holes:
"Trench four, to the lines,” to war,
over there, everywhere.
As black as vine shoots, the pickets
all skin and bone show their signs
as they stand watch on top of sacks
cast up on this petrified sea.
Before you is the gate of hell;
pass through, but watch out for the front,
that too vague something: the front.
It’s there, above, below, in the air,
deep opening into deep, impalpable,
an anguish clinging to the flesh.
There, where your eyes come to rest,
that ridge—it’s near yet very far,
the end of the world, that low crest,
right there… a little farther… a bit less.
A little closer, a little farther…
the trench runs to every quarter;
drifting away but never moving,
everywhere and nowhere fleeing
in broken angles of separation
that snap even the greatest strength.
But fighting the weary, dejected fear
of anything that moves or stirs,
of even the air tense with silence,
the heart divines that it is there!
The outpost’s distrustful eye,
its furtive spyhole, narrow transom
cut in the never-ending wall.
Stretching outward his watchful mind,
a man looks through the hole and hazards
his eye to those he cannot trust.
He scrutinizes the soul of war,
but sometimes, slipping across the edge,
his gaze takes in the whole of death
beyond life, beyond the earth.
Wire grass, or bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon)
Wire grass, or bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon), is a nonnative perennial grass. Like many weeds that come to the casual gardener’s attention, it is persistent and hard to remove. It spreads by above-ground runners (called stolons) and underground rhizomes that can reach a foot or more into the ground. Its stem is tough, and I surmise the origin of its name. It’s said that the plant can grow back from small sections of a stolon or rhizome. It is not a pretty plant, but I find a certain elegance in its leggy architecture.
I had this sprig sit for a photoshoot this afternoon. I’m digging up part of our front lawn for a bed of perennial native plants and the occasional annual. It’s a sunny spot. I welcome recommendations. Message me on Facebook or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
French front line trenches, c. 1916 (source: Once Upon a Time in War, https://demons.swallowthesky.org/tagged/World%20War%20I%3A%20French%20Troops/page/5)
Henry-Jacques was a French soldier in the trenches in the First World War. He’s obscure by any standard, but his poems were republished a few years ago as part of the commemoration of the war.
This poem captures a peaceful moment in the war that nevertheless ends in death. The narrator sees himself in the dreams and struggles he ascribes to the German soldier, but his internal debate ends in his pulling the trigger. The poem captures many truths of the war, as I know them through reading, with this striking one: any relaxation of discipline or momentary lack of fear that led a soldier to poke his head above the parapet of the trench was likely to end in his death.
Much of the poem reminds me of Thomas Hardy's well-known poem, "The Man He Killed."
The languor of the autumn sun
ennobles the Forest of Argonne,
that wounded wood
where, knocked to the grass, the trees are dead;
or left in ruin,
leafless, branches hacked, trunks scarred;
or cut to the ground and black as timbers in a mine.
The paths are no more now than the narrow hallways
we traverse seeing nothing all day
but a patch of sky, the ghost of an oak that leans
and holds out a branch, or all of it that remains;
stacked sandbags; logs scattered
amid broken armor;
a treacherous loophole where a well-placed bullet
suddenly gets you in the gullet:
This is the frontier,
the barricade where lurk the watchers of the war.
Like the others, I am here,
eyes alert and sharp, hearing acute--
small task, enormous duty
to be guardian of the route.
My rifle loses its coldness in my hands--
and what if a fired-up German
were to rise from his trench and run
right at me? I can see his lines,
the pickets knocked sideways, the broken strands of wire,
the green-bellied sacks; and—souvenir
of some futile fight--
in the dirt, a cadaver trembling with swarms of flies.
But this day of calm and sun
has so much charm
for the men placed under arms
that a kind of sleep like new wine
appeases the desire to rage and murder.
A great hush,
a great sweetness,
a new song soars over us.
My marveling heart,
my sun-reveling heart,
my heart for once escapes the fight
and, freed from its immense duty,
ascends into the light
resurrected to love and hope and beauty.
But above a gap in the trenches,
a cap, a head appear:
a man we face is being drawn out by the dream--
the clear sky’s perfect tenderness,
the song lost overhead
in the white depths of a cloud,
the giddy sweetness he drinks in,
his piercing hope of living on.
So near, so far, O soldier I do not know,
in this moment I do not hate you;
man in green, man in blue, aren’t we the same?
In this moment, you and I—we think the same.
—My rifle is suddenly heavy in my hands--
Dream on, ignore the watching man,
The unknown poet who has you in his hands.
—What’s this cartridge for?--
We are both of us alike
in the sunlight.
—The stock rises to my cheek, ready to fire--
Isn’t war a shameful thing?
— O instinct for savagery that springs
from histories we know not of--
Keep dreaming, thoughtful enemy,
I do not wish your death.
—My finger is on the trigger, squeezes--
What use is any fresh regret?
—A gunshot in the wood called La Grurie--
I see his cap fly off. I cannot see his head.
The song flies off into the wood.
Such is war: not winning or losing,
But a man, like me, in a fate not of his choosing.
Pity is all I felt for him,
And I killed him.
This illustration by an artist named Miranda from around 1874 depicts the fatal failure of a flying apparatus. The self-styled “Flying Man” fell from the skies over London. It’s an apt metaphor for those betrayed by their own lies. (https://www.oldbookillustrations.com/illustrations/de-groof-falling/)
Below is the first draft of my translation of a poem in French by Rilke. The many metaphors (sometimes verging on allegory) are insightful. I particularly like the metaphor of the lie as an amphora with no feet: it must be lifted and held by the liar since it can’t stand on its own (see section 2). Section 4 is about complicity in lies, four lines I find very troubling to consider. It’s a poem I will live with for a while.
Please send comments, suggestions, and critiques to email@example.com.
by Rainer Maria Rilke
Lie, a toy we break.
Garden where we change places
the better to hide;
yet where at times we cry out
to be half found.
Wind, that sings for us,
our shadow, that stretches out.
Collection of handsome holes
in our sponge.
Mask? No. You are fuller,
lie, you have speaking eyes.
Rather vase without foot, amphora
that wants to be held.
Your handles, no doubt, have swallowed your foot.
We’d say, whoever carries you completes you,
were it not for the movement, so remarkable,
with which he lifts you.
Are you flower, are you bird,
lie? Are you scarcely word
or word and a half? What pure silence
surrounds you, beautiful new islet;
maps don’t know your provenance.
Late-comer to creation,
work of the eighth day, posthumous.
Since it’s we who make you,
it must be God who consumes.
Have I called you? But of what word, what gesture
am I suddenly guilty
if your silence cries to me, if your eyelid winks at me
with hidden understanding?
For this bare smile
how can we find a face?
Better if a cheek agrees
to put this make-up on.
Lying is in the air,
like this awning that long ago
we burned, completely grayed
by its life upside-down.
I’m not making myself clear.
We close our eyes, we leap,
an act almost devout
with God at least.
After, we open our eyes
because we’re being eaten by regret:
next to a lie so beautiful,
don’t we seem counterfeit?
NOTE: “handsome holes” I swiped from A. Poulin’s translation of this poem.
Here's the original:
Mensonge, jouet que l’on casse.
Jardin où l’on change de place,
pour mieux se cacher ;
où pourtant, parfois, on jette un cri,
pour être trouvé à demi.
Vent, qui chante pour nous,
ombre de nous, qui s’allonge.
Collection de beaux trous
dans notre éponge.
Masque ? Non. Tu es plus plein,
mensonge, tu as des yeux sonores.
Plutôt vase sans pied, amphore
qui veut qu’on la tient.
Tes anses, sans doute, ont mangé ton pied.
On dirait que celui qui te porte, t’achève,
n'était le mouvement dont il te soulève,
Es-tu fleur, es-tu oiseau,
mensonge ? Es-tu à peine mot
ou mot et demi ? Quel pure silence
t’entoure, bel îlot nouveau
dont les cartes ignorent la provenance.
Tard-venu de la création,
œuvre du huitième jour, posthume.
Puisque c’est nous qui te faisons,
il faut croire que Dieu te consume.
T’ai-je appelé ? Mais de quel mot, de quel signe
suis-je coupable soudain,
si ton silence me crie, si ta paupière me cligne
d’un accord souterrain ?
À ce sourire épars
comment trouver un visage ?
On voudrait qu’une joue e’engage
à mettre ce fard.
Il y a du mensonge dans l’air,
comme, autrefois, cette marquise
qu’on a brûlée, toute grise
de la vie a l’envers.
Je ne m’explique point.
On ferme les yeux, on saute ;
c’est chose presque dévote
avec Dieu au moins.
On ouvre les yeux après,
parce qu’un remord nous ronge :
à côté d’un si beau mensonge,
ne semble-t-on contrefait ?
Gravestone on Rilke's grave in Raron, Switzerland. Possible translation of the epitaph (based on Wikipedia, Wiktionary, and Google translate)::
"Rose, o pure contradiction, desire
To be no one's sleep beneath so many
One translator interprets Lidern (eyelids) as petals, an attractive possibility.
« Les hannetons ont fini leur ravage” is a Rilke poem I have grappled with on and off for several years, but I have not figured out how to translate as I’d like, especially the rhyme. Suggestions are welcome! (Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org).
The poem is interesting—the points of view accorded the branches killed by the beetles and to the tree itself are surprising. My favorite line is “La vie s’attaque à la vie sans haine, » which, with the poem as a whole, gives a different perspective on nature “red in tooth and claw.”
Les hannetons ont fini leur ravage
The beetles have finished laying waste.
Bestowed on these fallen branches of the tree,
they seem full and innocent and wise,
as if they’re sons of the walnut tree.
And the tree itself hardly complains,
for its void is filled with healing blue.
Life attacks life but without hate.
It abounds in the happy meadows
where excited crickets raise cry on cry.
In the middle of the young vines moves
the head of a girl in a red scarf
like a dot offered to all these i’s.
Most surprising to me is the girl at the end. I suppose a row of vines pruned back to the main stalk might be seen as a series of the letter i, but it’s not an image I’d have ever imagined.
Here's the original:
Les hannetons ont fini leur ravage.
A ces rameaux déchus octroyées,
ils semblent plein et innocent et sages,
comme s’ils étaient les fils du noyer.
Et l’arbre même ne se plaint qu’a peine,
car dans son vide guérit tant de bleu.
La vie s’attaque à la vie sans haine.
Elle abonde dans les prés heureux
ou les grillons s’exaltent cri par cri.
Tout au milieu des jeunes vignes bouge
la tête d’une fille au foulard rouge
comme un point offert à tous ces i.
Allegorical depiction of the Roman goddess Abundantia with a cornucopia, by Rubens (ca. 1630). Public domain.From the Google Art Project.
As I’ve noted here before, near the end of his life, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote many short poems in French. I find them challenging to translate; I feel as if I’m tramping through a China shop in muddy boots three sizes too large.
I’ve struggled with “Cornucopia” on and off since around 2009. For myself, I’ve come to regard it as a gloss on the familiar language in Malachi 3:10: God will open “the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it,” a sensation I often experienced in the months after returning to the church. The third stanza is key: if our hearts are already full, the plenty pouring out of the horn will appear as an incessant attack. In the final couplet, the symbol of the hunting horn suggests the attack is intentional, part of the miracle of plenty.
As to what Rilke was thinking, the poems begins with a question about the origin of the horn, and the last couplet is ambiguous at best: while English heaven first summons the idea of a divine beyond, and secondarily the sky, French ciel works in the opposite way, I think.
O beautiful horn, from where
do you lean into our hope?
Being only the slope
of a calyx, pour
out flowers, flowers, flowers
that, falling, make a bed
bursting with the roundness
of fruits fully ripened.
And it all without end
attacks us, a sudden onslaught
to punish our insufficient,
already full heart.
O outsized horn, what
miracle by you is given?
O hunting horn sounding all
things with the breath of heaven!
Please direct comments and questions to email@example.com
GREEK ANTHOLOGY -- Anthologia Graeca Planudea, in Greek. Recension by Maximus Planudes (c.1299), edited by Janus Lascaris (1445-1535). Florence: Laurentius Francisci de Alopa, 11 August 1494. (https://www.christies.com/lot/lot-greek-anthology-anthologia-graeca-5370940/?)
The Greek Anthology is a rich collection of Greek poems, mostly epigrams, from the earliest poets through the Byzantine era. Many English translations exist for large parts of the anthology, so I’m exploring no new ground.
The poems here are all drawn from Book VI. It contains votive poems, described by David Ferry in his notes to Horace’s ode i.5, as “’dedicatory epigrams,’ in which representatives of various occupations—farmers, soldiers, artisans, musicians—deposit the tools of their trade in the temples of the appropriate gods.” In my observation, this is when the worker is retiring or nearing death (usually the same event).
My translations are not independent treatments of poems in a language I cannot read, but the versification of English prose translations. The poems are presented in reverse chronological order, except for last; I cannot find dates for the final poet.
Paulus Silentiarius (died AD 575–580) (VI, 168)
The boar that rooted up the vines,
and wallowed among the nodding reeds,
whose tusks slashed the olive trees
and put the sheepdogs to flight--
Xenophilus fought it with the sword
when he found it by the river, teeth
snapping, razorback bristling, breath
smoking like burning wood,
and on Pan’s tree he hung the hide.
Macedonius the Consul (500 – 560 AD) (VI, 69)
Crantas, after many voyages,
anchors his boat on the temple floor
and dedicates it to the god of the seas.
It no longer cares which winds ruffle the deep,
for it sails the solid earth where poor
Crantas stretches out to sleep.
Pancrates (ca. 140 AD) (VI, 117)
To Hephaestus, the smith
surrenders his pliers and tongs
his five-pound hammer battered
from beating iron,
and the anvil he pounded,
for with them he saved
his children from living poor
and dying starved.
Leonidas of Tarentum (3rd century BC) (VI, 205)
On giving up his calling, the carpenter
sets his tools aside—the grooved file,
the wood-chewing plane, the ochre-stained rule,
the hammer that strikes at both ends,
the line and ochre-box, the drill-box and rasp,
the heavy axe and handle that govern his craft,
his revolving auger, and his faithful gimlet
that turns in wood. Everything the man
has used for fifty years, including his best
screwdrivers and his double-edged adze,
he gives to Athena, for she gave grace
to all he did with the strength of his hands.
On a Mother Dead in Childbirth
Diodorus of Sardis (dates unknown)(VI, 348)
These letters, written by Diodorus,
say I was engraved for Athenaïs,
dead in child-birth bearing a boy;
and I weep to hold the daughter of Melo,
who left in tears the women of Lesbos,
in tears her father, who misses her most;
Artemis would not hear me, bound
on hunting the doe with her baying hounds.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.