1.04.2011

Dienstag Dictung Smart XXXIX; The Sweets of Evening



Picture
Inness


The sweets of evening charm the mind, 
Sick of the sultry day; 
The body then no more confin'd, 
But exercise with freedom join'd, 
When Phoebus sheathes his ray. 

While all-serene the summer moon 
Sends glances thro' the trees, 
And Philomel begins her tune,
And Asteria too shall help her soon 
With voice of skillful ease. 

A nosegay, every thing that grows, 
And music, every sound 
To lull the sun to his repose; 
The skies are colour'd like the rose 
With lively streaks around. 

Of all the changes rung by time 
None half so sweet appear, 
As those when thoughts themselves sublime, 
And with superior natures chime 
In fancy's highest sphere.


-- Christopher Smart
You must read this poem through a second time. Go on... I'll wait...
No really...
Alright then.
Eighteenth century poetry really requires a lot of careful investigation and parceling out of meanings and symbols and images. I thought that this piece by "Kitty" Smart (1722 - 1771), while not his most famous or profound, is surely charming. The description of the crepuscular hour is vivid, calling to bear all the senses in a woven tapestry of mimetic associations. Honored Greek heroines and goddesses lend a hand to the "classical" classiness of the poem. 
Try reading one more time (come on...) now that you know what the poem is talking about. Really get into the strangeness of the rhythm, the ABAAB rhyme scheme. That third A rhyme really springboards you into the final line. Yummo.
Curiously enough there are very few eighteenth century paintings of the sunset. We must leave that subtle and plastic scene for the Romantics or, better yet, the Impressionists. This painting by American George Inness (1825 - 1894) offers a creative comparison and juxtaposition to the poetry of Smart. Both painter and poet wrestled deeply with the spiritual and religious ramifications and responsibilities of their art: Smart through his mysterious tenure in an mental asylum and his unrelenting use of linguistic patterns (such as the LET and FOR folios of his Jubilate Agno), his use of words in an Adam-like, "onomathetic" manner, and the actualization of prayer without ceasing; Inness through his use of color in an emotive and spiritual sense and his explorations of the outlooks of Emanual Swedenborg and William James.
The poem and the painting also fit together in a way. The dominant cluster of trees stand away from and yet spill into the lone tree to the right. In just the same way a good reading of Smart's rhyme scheme propels you into the last line.
Plus, Inness purportedly died after looking at a sunset and being filled by the rapture of its beauty, so it's a perfect fit.

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