Robert Browning

I have a soft spot for Romantic Era poets, like Browning and Keats. There I fully admit this. For me, Robert Browning, though he was a poet in his own right, will always be the husband to Elizabeth Barrett Browning (who wrote Sonnet 43: How Do I Love Thee?) for me. The poem I have selected, I’ve never read before, and thankfully there was a lot of information on it. 

It’s called My Last Duchess and is an “Ekphrasis, which means ‘Description’ in Greek. An ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the “action” of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning. A notable example is “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” by John Keats.” The poem is a fictional account of the Duke of Ferrara during the Italian Renaissance showing a painting of his dead wife as a beautiful young woman to some visitors (the emissary of a Count and also us as the readers) and then tells her story. As the guide for the poem states,  “Using conversational couplets and telling punctuation, Browning gives us a study of violence, a test of the rivalry between words and images, and a battle between the male and female gaze.” The SparkNotes discussion of the text has this to say about how the poem engages the reader “The poem calculatedly engages its readers on a psychological level. Because we hear only the Duke’s musings, we must piece the story together ourselves. Browning forces his reader to become involved in the poem in order to understand it, and this adds to the fun of reading his work. It also forces the reader to question his or her own response to the subject portrayed and the method of its portrayal.”

My Last Duchess 

BY ROBERT BROWNING, 1842
FERRARA
That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall, 
Looking as if she were alive. I call 
That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands 
Worked busily a day, and there she stands. 
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said 
“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read 
Strangers like you that pictured countenance, 
The depth and passion of its earnest glance, 
But to myself they turned (since none puts by 
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I) 
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, 
How such a glance came there; so, not the first 
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not 
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot 
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek; perhaps 
Fra Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps 
Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint 
Must never hope to reproduce the faint 
Half-flush that dies along her throat.” Such stuff 
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough 
For calling up that spot of joy. She had 
A heart—how shall I say?— too soon made glad, 
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er 
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. 
Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast, 
The dropping of the daylight in the West, 
The bough of cherries some officious fool 
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule 
She rode with round the terrace—all and each 
Would draw from her alike the approving speech, 
Or blush, at least. She thanked men—good! but thanked 
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked 
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name 
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame 
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill 
In speech—which I have not—to make your will 
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this 
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, 
Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let 
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set 
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse— 
E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose 
Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt, 
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without 
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; 
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands 
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet 
The company below, then. I repeat, 
The Count your master’s known munificence 
Is ample warrant that no just pretense 
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; 
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed 
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go 
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though, 
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, 
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

Lord Byron

Today I have chosen Lord Byron because he had such a rich vocabulary and wrote such beautiful poetry, especially when talking about love and beautiful people, which got him into a lot of trouble in his brief thirty-six years of life. Here is a link to full-text version another of his very famous unfinished poems, Don Juan, which was a witty satire and based on his travels to Italy. Here is an interesting article from 2002 about the real reason he had to flee England in the late 1810s. 

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She Walks in Beauty
George Gordon Byron, 1788 – 1824

I.

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

II.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.

III.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

Kids Cafe Art Lecture: Piet Mondrian

I’ve been getting ready for my next Tween Book Club. The first one was last Thursday and we only had one kid and one parent show up, though it was still a pretty good discussion of the book. We will have to work on Ice Breakers for next time.  Apparently part of this is due to the fact that no one could figure out where it was, though it was marked on the info sheet, and also because the homeschool writer’s group I distributed a bunch of flyers to apparently already is involved with two other book clubs. Ah well. I am trying my best this time to get as many of age kids a flyer as possible. I have managed to get a couple of kids to check out a book so far. I’ve also been working on finishing off the DiscoveryTimes (Preschool Storytime plus STEM) till the end of the month, when I will hopefully get a bit of a break. Kids Cafe, mostly just admin stuff, has been stressing me out, but I’m feeling better about it now as I’ve finally got things sorted.

This lecture on Dutch artist Piet Mondrian was another example of a modern artist who I have, of course, heard about but never really studied at any length. While I didn’t love the stuff he was most famous for (i.e. the grid-patterned paintings), I did gain a new appreciation for him and especially liked the concept behind one of his most famous paintings, Broadway Boogie Woogie. I had originally picked Mondrian because of the easy accompanying activity.Yes, you can do a super simple activity with duct tape, but the kids and I ended up doing an example using crayons/colored pencils and large pre-cut squares. Mine used primary colors only, but the kids got more creative with color use.

Piet Mondrian

Mondrian - View from the Dunes and Piers, Domburg 1908

View from the Dunes with Beach and Piers, 1909 [this was my favorite piece that I found for this lecture]

  • Biography of the Artist
    • Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan was born in the Netherlands in 1872
      • He changed his name to Piet Mondrian between 1905-1909
    • Mondrian was exposed to art at a very young age because his father was an art instructor and his uncle was an artist.
    • He started out as an elementary school teacher and painted in his spare time.
    • He started out as a landscape painter and painted the fields, farms and canals around Amsterdam.
  • Influences: Impressionism
    • Van Gogh’s Almond Tree, 1890
    • Van Gogh - Almond Tree, 1890
    • Mondrian – Avond (Evening): The Red Tree, 1908
    • Mondrian - Avond- Red Tree, 1908
  • Influences: Pointillism
    • Georges Seurat The Circus Parade, 1889
    • Seurat - La Parade du Cirque, 1889
    • Mondrian’s Sun, Church in Zeeland, 1910 [my second favorite piece of his]
    • Piet Mondrian - Sun, Church in Zeeland, Zoutelande Church Facade, 1910 at Tate Modern Art Gallery London England

      Piet Mondrian – Sun, Church in Zeeland, Zoutelande Church Facade, 1910 at Tate Modern Art Gallery London England

  • Paris – 1911
    • Mondrian moved to Paris in 1911. There he was influenced by the Cubist style of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, and his work started including more geometric shapes and were less biomorphic (drawn from nature and more curvy)
      • Picasso’s Ma Jolie (My Pretty Girl), 1911-12
      • Picasso - Ma Jolie (My Pretty Girl), 1911-12
  • Abstraction Starts – 1912
    •  Mondrian – Grey Tree, 1912
    • Mondrian - Grey Tree, 1912
    • Mondrian – Still Life with Ginger Pot, 1912
    • Mondrian - Still Life with Ginger Pot, 1912
  • The Netherlands – 1914-18
    • Mondrian moved back to the Netherlands from 1914-18, during WWI, and after meeting another Dutch artist who used only primary colors, he began to develop his own painting style.
      • In 1915, he created a new art movement called “De Stijl” or “The Style”, aka “Neo-Plasticism”
        • Colors were applied in patches and the horizontal and vertical lines were absolutely straight (there were no diagonal lines). These paintings were not readily accepted by the public.
  • Composition with Color Planes, 1917
  • Mondrian - Composition with Color Planes, 1917
    • Here, Mondrian has moved away from the dark Cubist colors of yellows, grays, and browns, opting instead for muted reds, yellows and blues – a clear precursor to his later palette that focused on primary colors.
  • Paris – 1919-38
    • After the war, he moved back to Paris and began to produce the grid-based abstract paintings with primary colors for which he is best known.
      • Composition with Large Blue Plane, Red, Black, Yellow, and Gray 1921
      • Mondrian - Composition with Large Blue Plane, Red, Black, Yellow and Gray, 1921,
  • New York City – 1938-44
  • New York City I, 1942
  • Mondrian -New York City I, 1942
    • He used strips of colored paper and moved them about on the canvas to get the effect he wanted before he painted it
    • This is the start of a new phase of Mondrian’s work, i.e. the black lines and rectangles of primary colors have disappeared, replaced by primary colored lines interweaved with each other.
  • Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43
  • Mondrian - Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43
    • He loved NYC’s architecture and was fascinated by a kind of jazz, called boogie-woogie
    • It was one of his most famous paintings. Mondrian replaced the black grid that had long governed his canvases with predominantly yellow lines that intersect at points marked by squares of blue and red. These bands of color, interrupted by light gray, create paths across the canvas suggesting the city’s grid, the movement of traffic, and blinking electric lights, as well as the rhythms of jazz.
  • Final Remarks on Mondrian
    • Created about 250 paintings in his lifetime, and was famous during his lifetime
    • Died in 1944 of pneumonia
  • Activity: Easy Hand-Drawn Mondrian Squares
    • Supplies: White paper, 7” x 7” square cardboard template (could also use posterboard), pencils, crayons (black, red, yellow, and blue)
    • http://www.teachkidsart.net/easy-mondrian/
    • My example (I used markers and a sharpie)
    • Mondrian1
    • Another example (not sure if this was done by kid or one of our interns)
    • Mondrian2