Caravaggio's "child of Venus" Cupid as Victor I have always enjoyed his attitude.
A lovely dryad rang'd the Thracian wild,
Her air enchanting, and her aspect mild:
To chase the bounding hart was all her joy,
Averse from Hymen, and the Cyprian boy;
O'er hills an valleys was her beauty fam'd,
And fair Caissa was the damsel nam'd.
Mars saw the maid; with deep surprize he gaz'd,
Admir'd her shape, and every gesture prais'd:
His golden bow the child of Venus bent,
And through his breast a piecing arrow sent.
This is a bit from a Caissa or a Game at Chess written by Sir William Jones in 1763. My son brought it to me to read because I am working on the problem of chess, describing the pieces and the movements. He thought passages like this one...
Chess piece made from antler, 12c. Foto: Kantonsarchäologie Zug,
Then four bold knights for courage-fam'd and speed,
Each knight exalted on a prancing steed:
Their arching course no vulgar limit knows,
Tranverse they leap, and aim insidious blows:
Nor friends, nor foes, their rapid force restrain,
By on quick bound two changing squares they gain;
From varing hues renew the fierce attack,
And rush from black to white, from white to black.
...would interest me, which they certainly did.
There were two things that interested me even more.
The first is that he, seventeen in the 21st Century, knew this poem.
The second is the operation of allusion. I wondered at the appearance of Hymen there, for example. Hymen always makes me thing of Cassandra's song in Trojan Women. Everything I have since read about Hymen is lit by the torches of Euripedes.
That is how allusion works. William Jones in 1763 could count on his readers to know the story/ies of Hymen, and that is what makes the figure work.
The ensuing centuries have clotted up the clockwork some. Hymen might not be common knowledge.
Last night, I attended a high school band concert. One of the pieces on offer was the symphonic Godzilla vs. Las Vegas. As Godzilla rampages through the neon meadows, there are musical allusions to Sinatra, Wayne Newton, and Liberace. They band took a multi-media approach to the performance: A drum line of Elvis impersonators, a power-point with photoshopped images of the devastation, and reactions of the terrified citizens—including the dramatic chipmunk...
There are a couple of things to think about here regarding allusion. First, the study of music preserves the music of the past—Wayne Newton crooning "Danke Schoen" in this case. Second, allusion is as much fun as it ever was—and just as useful.
I love allusion.
Poetry Friday is at The Drift Record this week. Thank you to Julie Larios for hosting.