This morning serendipity caused me to trip over and into this wonderful poem by the great American modernist poet Marianne Moore, “Style” (c. 1956). Revel in the language and the waltz of words. Revel, I say. Revel too in the names of Moore’s characters and allusions, some of which Ms. Moore elaborated upon in end-notes to her poem; I’ve added my own explicatory revelations and links at the bottom of this post.
Follow the plumbline past the tilted hat…
revives in Escudero’s constant of the plumbline,
axis of the hairfine moon–his counter-camber of the skater.
No more fanatical adjuster
of the tilted hat
than Escudero; of tempos others can’t combine.
And we — besides evolving
the classic silhouette, Dick Button whittled slender–
have an Iberian-American champion yet,
the deadly Etchebaster. Entranced, were you not, by Soledad?
black-clad solitude that is not sad;
like a letter from
Casals; or perhaps say literal alphabet
S soundholes in a ‘cello
set contradictorily; or should we call her
la lagarta? or bamboos with fireflies a-glitter;
or glassy lake and the whorls which a vertical stroke brought about,
of the paddle half-turned coming out.
As if bisecting
a viper, she can dart down three times and recover
without a disaster, having
been a bull-fighter. Well; she has a forgiver.
Etchebaster’s art, his catlike ease, his mousing pose,
his genius for anticipatory tactics, preclude envy
as the traditional unwavy
is Escudero’s; the guitar, Rosario’s–
wrist-rest for a dangling hand
that’s suddenly set humming fast fast fast and faster.
There is no suitable simile. It is as though
the equidistant three tiny arcs of seeds in a banana
had been conjoined by Palestrina;
it is like the eyes,
of say the face of Palestrina by El Greco.
O Escudero, Soledad,
Rosario Escudero, Etchebaster!
- Vicente Escudero (1892-1980), seen in the video above, was a Spanish flamenco dancer.
- Dick Button (b. 1929) is an American former figure skater and a well-known long-time skating television analyst. He is a two-time Olympic Champion and five-time World Champion.
- Pierre Etchebaster (1893-1980) is widely considered history’s greatest player of real tennis (in France jeu de paume), the original racquet sport from which the modern game of lawn tennis (which has usurped the name “tennis”), is descended.
- Soledad, a Spanish woman dancer who appears lost in the mists of time. Moore’s end-note entry merely says, “Soledad. Danced in America, 1950-51.”
- Pablo (Pau) Casals (1876–1973) was a Catalan cellist and conductor. He is generally regarded as the pre-eminent cellist of the first half of the 20th century, and one of the greatest cellists of all time.
- la lagarta = gypsy (Spanish)
- Sandeman: a surname. Sandeman port wines, “famous for pleasure” since 1790? A “Sandeman sailor” looking for a “port”? Or a pun on The Sandman, a mythical character in Northern European folklore who brings good dreams by sprinkling magical sand onto the eyes of children while they sleep at night? Probably both, and more — such is the power of poetry, the beauty of ambiguity.
- Rosario Escudero, a Flamenco guitarist in Vicente Escudero’s company, but not related to the maestro. Also vanishing from history. Appears in a 1952 documentary, Flamenco, found on IMDB.
- Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525/1526–1594) was an Italian Renaissance composer of sacred music and the best-known 16th-century representative of the Roman School of musical composition. He has had a lasting influence on the development of church music, and his work has often been seen as the culmination of Renaissance polyphony.
- El Greco, born Doménikos Theotokópoulos, (1541-1614) was a painter, sculptor and architect of the Spanish Renaissance. “El Greco” (The Greek) was a nickname, a reference to his national Greek origin. El Greco’s dramatic and expressionistic style was met with puzzlement by his contemporaries but found appreciation in the 20th century. El Greco is regarded as a precursor of both Expressionism and Cubism, while his personality and works were a source of inspiration for poets and writers such as Rainer Maria Rilke and Nikos Kazantzakis (and, I would add to Wikipedia’s synopsis, Marianne Moore). El Greco has been characterized by modern scholars as an artist so individual that he belongs to no conventional school.