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Saturday, 19 October 2013

Ben Jonson: Hymn to Diana (Huntress Moon)


Statue of Diana as "The Spirit of Progress" atop a former Montgomery Ward administration building in Chicago, silhouetted against the second night of a Harvest Moon: photo by Chris Walker / Chicago Tribune, 30 September 2012 (Trib Photo Nation)

.........from Cynthias Revells

Queene, and Huntresse, chaste, and faire,
..Now the Sunne is laid to sleepe,
Seated, in thy silver chaire,
..State in wonted manner keepe:
Hesperus intreats thy light,
Goddesse, excellently bright.

Earth, let not thy envious shade
..Dare it selfe to interpose;
Cynthias shining orbe was made
..Heaven to cleere, when day did close:
Blesse us then with wishèd sight,
Goddesse, excellently bright.

Lay thy bow of pearle apart,
..And thy crystall-shining quiver;
Give unto the flying hart
..Space to breathe, how short soever:
Thou that mak'st a day of night,
Goddesse, excellently bright.

Ben Jonson (1572?-1617): Hymn to Diana, from Cynthias Revells (1601), Act V, Scene vi

Full moon, Bologna: photo by Laura Nicli, 19 September 2013

Hunter's moon: photo by Jose Gozaine, 18 October 2013

New bay Bridge Eastern Span with full moon and Coit Tower, taken from Hyde Street at top of the crooked block of Lombard Street. Russian Hill, San Francisco: photo by Tony Wasserman (Blue Voter), 19 September 2013

File:Harvest moon.jpg

 Harvest Moon: photo by Roadcrusher, 26 September 2007

File:Moon and red blue haze.jpg

 Full moon rising, seen through the Belt of Venus (the pink band above the dark blue band of the earth's shadow on the horizon): photo by fir0002/flagstaffoto, 28 August 2007

 Blue moon: photo by Craig Deakin, 1 September 2012


 Moonrise: photo by Thomas Fietzek, 9 September 2010

  Hunter's moon, with partial penumbral eclipse: photo by mimsjodi, 18 October 2013


TC said...

In a contemporary performance tenor Ian Bostridge proves equal to the formidable task of chasing the moon through Benjamin Britten's breathless, brilliant modern (1943) setting of this virtuosic Jonson lyric (part of a wartime cycle of British poetic night-pieces).

"Queene and huntresse, chaste, and faire" (from Benjamin Britten: Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings)

Then there is Mike Oldfield's 1978 minimalist "Space Age" setting, the Jonson lyric here performed at 2:50 by Maddy Prior and Sally Oldfield.

Mike Oldfield: from Incarnations (IV)

And, for those unfamiliar with the story, surely Ben Jonson's must be one of the most extraordinary of all English poets' lives.

Ian Donaldson on the life of Ben Jonson

Dalriada said...

I lived on the Isle of dogs for a few years Tom. The area of London where the Cray twins had their home. The Gun pub still existed while I was there. It was at the time of my residence an area where the police didn’t go at night so the pubs were open all night. I stayed on a boat in Poplar dock for a while whose owner built horseboxes for the local gangsters. He was an ex-mercenary soldier had tested parachutes was a sailor a climber a pot-holer and a hothead who got in a bad argument with his employers .... i would come home from college and expect that I’d have a visit from them one evening and end up with no knee caps ........



Give unto the flying hart
..Space to breathe, how short soever:
Thou that mak'st a day of night,
Goddesse, excellently bright.

-- so nice to see this here in the still of the fogbound morning. . .

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

What a treat to come back home to this after a very early morning walk and the Huntress—Artemis her namesake— suspended in the western sky over the pink hills of Ithome.

TC said...

Thanks all.

The astonishing delicacy and tonal control of this small lyric, and a handful of others like it, have caused some to suggest that Ben should have writ naught else.

Still... some "don't get it".

Forty years ago, before poetry had become obsolete, a critic named Joseph Summers proposed that this song of Jonson's might constitute a useful litmus test. Summers put his point as follows: If someone does not recognize that the line "Goddess excellently bright" is a fine one, they might consider taking up something other than English poetry.

By the by, there exists a transcription of an amusing meta-academic colloquy between Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, conducted at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa, in which AG attempts valiantly to teach the Jonson lyric. A bit of the transcript:

AG: Wake up. "...let not thy envious shade/ Dare itself to interpose/ Cynthias shining..." Well, so, he doesn't want the Earth to get in the way there. "Cynthia's shining orbe was made/ Heaven to cleere, when day did close:/ Blesse us then with wished sight,/ Goddesse excellently bright." -- So all it's saying is, "Moon, c'mon and shine!" (but a hymn to the moon to shine -- "Lay thy bow of pearle apart,/ And thy cristall-shining quiver" -- Diana was also a huntress -- "Give unto thy flying hart" -- H-A-R-T, the hart is a deer...)

GC: It's a rabbit.

AG: Rabbit or deer

GC: Rabbit

Students: Deer

GC: You wanna bet? How much do you wanna bet?

AG: Wanna take a vote? Let's take a vote. Who wants it to be a rabbit?

[show of hands]

Who wants it to be a deer?

[show of hands]

You're outvoted three-to-one!

GC: How much money am I going to make tonight? Assholes! -- A hart is a rabbit.

AG: We'll find that out, too -- "Give unto the flying hart,/ Space to breathe, how short soever:/ Thou that mak'st a day of night/ Goddesse, excellently bright" -- Somebody must have set that to music and made a really solid anthem-like hymn of that, because it's such a perfect set-up, that "Queene and Huntress, chaste, and faire,/ Now the Sunne is laid to sleepe", it's such perfect time and stately time.

The rest of this priceless disquisition may be found here:

Corso and Ginsberg: Who is Hesperus? Who's on second? And is a hart a deer or a bunny?

Mose23 said...

Earth, let not thy envious shade
Dare itselfe to interpose.

These lines brought to mind this picture of human aspiration.this picture of human aspiration.

ACravan said...

I've heard people say that the body knows what to consume for nutrition when it's ill. I'm not certain that's true, but perhaps a parallel is knowing what to click on when you're mentally fatigued and sorely in need of reviving. This was all wonderful -- the Johnson lyric, all the music and performances (it was great hearing the Mike Oldfield piece; he's really a sui generis figure and constantly surprising), the comments and the images. Walking the dogs at night this week, we've been thinking about the big moon, not speaking much, feeling pressured. This really lifts me up, including Joseph Summers' remark, which is right on. It's politically incorrect, I believe, to be in favor of litmus tests, but I think they can be useful, depending on the consequences.


TC said...

Apparently it's politically incorrect to have tests at all, unless they can be graded by bots; otherwise, it seems, the whole business is currently deemed too labor-intensive.

About the interposition of earth's shadow -- I take it our poetic astronomer Ben is referring to that dark blue band of "horizon shadow" which one can see in the fourth-from-bottom photo here.

Professor Allen, once again ever ready with the hard science, nails that one: "Well, so, he doesn't want the Earth to get in the way there."