UNDER THE DOG STAR

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Under the dog star, weary, wilted,
watching dark’s descent compress
all things to a lonesome distant barking
and a jittery sleeplessness—

I try TV for company
knowing I won’t find it there
but needing noise and light
against the stupifying humid air—

ah, perfect! Verdi’s Requiem
enters the room: air-stabbing bows
of violins, the maestro’s frantic waves
and all the choral mouths agape with O’s—

it is the final movement, the Libera Me:
“Deliver me from everlasting death…”
it screams, wails, rushes to a supreme hush
of sorrow’s softening under the breath—

and in the silence afterward, deliverance
from dark, and grief.  Hair of the dog, what
power this sad music has, to liberate
when other helps are absent and the need is great.
.
.
UNDER THE DOG STAR

57 responses »

  1. Cynthia, ‘Under the Dog Star’ is a beautiful poem that really connects. Alone with Sirius at nightfall, haven’t we all heard that lonesome faraway bark? Yet, having charms to sooth the savage breast, music has power to raise the sunken spirit too. My choice would be Tchaikovsky though…or Jimi Hendrix!

    My very best,

    Paul

    • Thank you for your kind words, Paul. Jimi Hendrix would certainly work out the kinks, I think, if you joined in while listening. And Tchaikovsky—depending on the piece—could have you dancing in a trice. Thank you for stopping by to browse the archives today. Your book launch in Chester is coming very soon, isn’t it? Would that I could be in Wales, to attend. I will be thinking of you. Somehow I know it will go well.

  2. It is curious how we try to avoid the sadness when what we often need is to feel the feelings in order to liberate ourselves from them. The opening stanza is so powerful at evoking that awful sadness that hits us – “dark’s descent compress”, the lonesome bark, the jittery sleeplessness. Thank goodness for sad music that lets us wail and takes up our woes. Gorgeous work, Cynthia and the final couplet brings all your readers relief!

    • That is so true, Susanne. The only way out is through. It’s good to let things play out as they will, and especially to find a correspondent mood in the universe, be it from music, or any kindred soul—it takes away the loneliness from the aloneness. I’m very pleased if the final couplet works the way you say it does.

  3. A very sirius piece (and one which I remember well). Verdi’s Requiem destroys me, every time.

    Of course you could try some livelier music, such as polkas–you know, the cds and record albums which feature fat men in lederhosen on the cover. Some say this music can only be enjoyed if one develops a fetish for knee-lenght breeches–and doggonit I agree completely.

    • And I remember well the sirius video you sent along two years ago, Prospero—from Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia with the strains of Verdi’s Requiem— when I first posted this poem. It’s still in my August 2014 archives:

      I was very moved by it, and still go back to watch it.
      Verdi’s Requiem certainly is a destroyer…a great cathartic opera, really. In my book it is second only to Brahms’ non-liturgical German Requiem, which I often listen to.
      .
      ___________________________

      On the subject of livelier music, you are reminding me of the days when I used to hang out at places called The Rathskeller and The Hofbrau during my misspent youth. Alas I’ve given away my lederhosen, but I kept the colorful suspenders embroidered with wild strawberries and edelweiss. They have a myriad other uses…and a good thing, too, since it is quite difficult for a person of the feminine persuasion to know just how to wear those two straps.

      And now (a far cry from Angela Gheorghiu’s Libera Me), without further oompah-pah, I will raise my stein of morning coffee to you and sing as I used to sing in those halcyon days:

      In heaven there is no beer…
      That’s why we drink it here…
      And when we’re gone from here…
      Our friends will be drinking all the beer!

      (Fortunately you are quite out of earshot.)

      • Yes, Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia, which requires a Kierkegaardian leap of faith. That shot is without break, which is to say no cuts, only the precise ballet of a man and a lighted candle, which flickers whilst having a quiet, limpid dialog with death–all a metaphor for the search for faith. People find the film impossible to watch. Fortunately I’m not like most people.

        This is the plot of the two hour film: while in Italy a Russian writer in exile is asked by a madman to walk a lighted candle across the Roman bath; he says he’d do it, but they throw him out each time he enters the bath saying he’ll drown.

        I leave you with this, from the same film: even the rising sun takes direction from the Russian master!

        Each shot is a painting. Rather than cutting, different tableaux vivants are created by moving people within the shot.

        • Oh my….I have just watched this, over and over, and over. It is poetry of the finest order. I know little about the “how” of it (my experience of art film is flimsy, I haven’t cared to see a popular movie in years, and the current ubiquity of amateur digital photographers glutting the world with their “pics” exasperates me, almost so I can’t look anymore.) But this is different….the movement in time is exquisite; sound—that barking dog again, the Italian singing voice, the door creak—wordlessly heart rending; tactility, temperature, atmosphere– visceral. The meaning is personal/universal and I cannot–more importantly, need not—-locate it in a cerebral place with a fence around it. I will pursue his work further. I am smitten. Thank you

          • Ingmar Bergman on Tarkovsky:

            “Tarkovsky for me is the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.”

            I’m not surprised you were enchanted by these scenes, Cynthia, for Tarkovsky is a poet in the cinema. His father, Arseny Tarkovsky, was a poet and translator. Every shot in a Tarkovsky film is beautiful; every gesture, every look speaks a direct truth–ineffably but truthfully.

            I’m glad you noticed the use of sound too. Tarkovsky felt that natural sounds were the true music of the cinema.

            • Once again, dear Prospero, my heartfelt thanks. I have a new thing of beauty to pursue…Perhaps I will find that I am, like you, “not like most people,” in appreciating this too!

  4. The opening stanza captures the descent of a vacuous gloom, seemingly irrevocably, upon a weary heart. And the ensuing words alone would offer a ray of light. Who needs Verdi’s Requiem for a deliverance?

  5. I am touched by this poem Cynthia – it speaks to a universal experience.

    I have always found Verdi’s Requiem to be a salve for the losses of life – I was thinking also about Brahms magnificent Requiem, when it caught my eye in a comment response you left ………. A highlight of my younger life was driving a camper van through the Haast Pass with an approaching storm looming dramatically over us and Brahms thundering out of the rather good stereo. That event replays in my mind every time I hear certain parts of the German Requiem to this day 🙂

    The Dog Star of course hangs upside down in my night sky, Sirius was very bright recently.

    I watched that excerpt left by your friend Prospero, it is compelling isn’t it. The last seconds were sublime!

    • So nice that we keep discovering things in common…and now, the affinity for the Brahms Requiem. Long ago, I was in a large chorus of men and women, with full orchestra, which performed that Requiem in English…it was a definite highlight of my college experience. When I listen to it now, I sing along! 🙂

      Your memory of it had me looking up Haast Pass, and I got pleasantly sidetracked, exploring a bit more of the much I don’t know about New Zealand.

      So…the Dog Star hangs upside down in your night sky….and I bet you may be beginning… to start… to commence… daring to think that spring will indeed arrive?

      Happy to hear that you enjoyed the little video left here by Prospero. I agree: sublime!

      • I woke up to snow this morning Cynthia – the wet slushy kind! At sea level we rarely get snow, but when we do it is often at the back end of winter or early spring – so I am hopeful!! The Haast is an amazing drive! Back then it had less modern amenities and sometimes I just closed my eyes and went …….. The scenery is beautiful one moment and desolate the next – very fitting for said music. My travelling companion also sang in a choir and could sing along a particular part, but only in German .

        • Well isn’t that something…snow as a harbinger of spring! From what Wiki the Pedia told me, I did have the impression that the Haast must have been a bit of a nail-biter when you made that journey, especially with an approaching storm!

          The text of the Brahms, as translated to English, is quite beautiful. Brahms stitched the text together from sections of the bible— notably the psalms— so they weren’t his words. It’s not gloomy, like the traditional liturgical Requiem, but addressed to the living, who are left behind:
          Some of the phrases that begin various movements….

          —“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted…”
          —“Behold, all flesh is as the grass…”
          —“Lord, teach me that I must have an end, and my life has a purpose…”
          —“How lovely is thy dwelling place…
          —“Death where is thy sting.. grave where is thy victory..?”
          —“Yea, saith the spirit…they rest from their labors and their works shall follow them..”

          • Thank you for that Cynthia. Though my memory is hazy now – it was a long time ago, I vaguely recall that the music fitted in perfectly at a particularly hairy, bendy stretch of road with my friend paraphrasing something along the lines of ‘Oh Lord, my life must have an end, I hope it had a purpose…’ which sent us into gales of laughter and the truck teetering alarmingly close to an edge 🙂 I must hunt out my old CD and play it again!

            • I guess I don’t know where my old CD is, but I do go to YouTube when I want to listen…and choose which part(s) I feel like re-visiting. Your friend’s was a great and chuckle-worthy paraphrase, given the circumstances!

  6. Isn’t it interesting how certain pieces of music, like scents, can throw us back to another time and scene? Music calms, salves, cheers, and enlivens, depending on who it is and what we choose. It seems you chose well. I usually need voices in that circumstance and there they are in the Verdi. There are also a couple of late Beethoven piano sonatas that are like listening to a piece of jazz that I have put on–but there it’s the concentration and surprise that takes you out of yourself rather than the emotional release of the Verdi. I will come back for Prospero’s film clip when my internet is working better.

    • Yes, like you, in many circumstances I am partial to the human voice as musical instrument. Maybe it’s because I have always been a singer–solo, close harmony or large chorale—or maybe because my love of words just spills over into a love of lyric. Also, there’s nothing quite like the “high” of singing with others, in chorus. It’s an amazing experience of working together to make something beautiful, which I’m sure the instrument players in an orchestra also know.

      I hope you do get a chance to see Prospero’s film clip. I’d be interested to know how it strikes you.

      • Yes, the voice–and sometimes only a particular voice will do. I sing all the time, at home and in the car. There is something uplifting about it. I didn’t realize how much I sang until I had my bout with the evil virus a few weeks ago and it gave me bronchitis! I have never enjoyed singing in a chorus much, but with an instrument, yes, there’s definitely a certain astonished joy at the sound I’ve made with others!

        • At least my pets have always enjoyed (put up with) my singing, and couldn’t care less whether it’s “Mairzy Doats,” “Che faro senza Euridice?” or “Adelaide’s Lament.” Interesting that you discovered your propensity to sing when bronchitis prevented you from doing so….it’s happened to me more than once, that I didn’t realize how much I took some ordinary, habitual thing for granted until the possibility of doing it was taken from me… 🙂

  7. Music has the ability to do a reset on the brain. I love going to our City Choral Mass which has responses and I feel (for a brief moment) an incredible sense of intimacy as 300 people sing together. Thanks for music. ❤

    • That City Choral Mass sounds like a great experience. Here in New England USA,, there are many opportunities, especially around Christmas time, to attend sing-along performances of Handel’s Messiah, and it’s great fun…..libretti are usually provided by the sponsoring group and one is invited to sit in the section of the audience that corresponds to one’s voice range—soprano, alto, tenor, bass. The orchestra and soloists are, of course, professionals, but by the time the Hallelujah Chorus is reached, everyone is quite transported to a blessed realm As you say, there seems to be a reset on the brain!

  8. Cynthia you have this amazing ability to “feel” others’ feelings and then write them with such ease… All your poems are universal and I love this, I often listen to Indian classical music and experience this “liberation”, thank you to you from idyllic Fiji where we are for a week

        • Yes, if the background is the sound of someone working, birds singing, wind in the trees, children at play….natural sounds . But electronic noise? I turn if off almost all of the time, in favor of the beauty of silence…which is becoming harder and harder to find.

  9. Cynthia, this is written so beautifully (and seemingly effortless, though I know that’s not so). I can feel the underlying melancholy and weight, and the attempt to distract one’s self from that innermost pain that can’t be truly relieved – and yet we can be uplifted just the same. Thankfully music is always there to distract us, and to truly uplift us into some thing (or some condition) beyond grief, and beyond ourselves. Even for just awhile. And sometimes our perspective can actually shift permanently. Thank you for this one – I resonate.

  10. Cynthia you evoke Verdi ‘s Requiem. I heard it at the TV a month ago . But this makes me think of Pie Jesu ,a part of another Requiem by Cherubini . I directed the parish choir in the past and I found again a bad record coming from 1997 of Pie Jesu . we sang during All saints Day ‘ s Mass.
    “Pie Jesus Domine dona eis requiem , sempiternam.”

    Love ❤
    Michel

    • Thank you for your recording, Michel; I enjoyed listening to it.

      Many years ago, in my church choir, we sang the Pie Jesu from Fauré’s requiem. There’s also a very beautiful one from the Duruflé requiem. I think those words invite a composer to make wonderful music. In recent years, Andrew Lloyd Weber composed another beautiful Pie Jesu in his requiem that became a very popular piece. Here it is, from the 1980’s in commemoration of a terrorist attack from that time, in Ireland.

  11. Verdi has owned my soul since my twenties or even earlier. My father listened to requiems and oratorios for pleasure and comfort and would sing ‘He was despisèd’ from the Messiah with great relish. There are some amazing moments in Puccini’s Messa di Gloria and I have a fondness for Rossini’s Petite Messe Solonelle (the two piano version). I have never seen Nostalgia, but watched that clip mesmerised.

    • I guess we all have certain “touchstones” in music that return to bring us moments of comfort and joy when needed. I chuckled at the anecdote about your father and ‘He was despised…’ The Messiah—as well as the Brahms German Requiem— also hold several favorite solos for me…and my pet audience. Those clips from Nostalghia certainly are mesmerizing; glad you enjoyed them.

    • You made me chuckle, Ankur. I first posted this poem two years ago (August, 2014, as I check my archives now. I repeat the posting of some poems, as the spirit moves me. I figure poems don’t need to have an expiration date.)
      You expressed your consternation about the Dog Star, and all the dog references in a comment in 2014, and I explained—as best I could—in a response to you at that time. Here’s a copy-and-paste of it:

      Ankur Mithal on August 13, 2014 at 12:37 am said: Edit
      Nice read Cynthia. Could not, I must confess, understand some parts, like the frequent “dog” allusions, like “dog star”, “distant barking”, “hair of the dog”.

      Reply ↓
      Cynthia Jobin on August 13, 2014 at 7:45 am said: Edit
      The “Dog Star” is a common name for the star Sirius, prominent in the constellation Canis Major (Great Dog).
      Here in the northern hemisphere the sultriest days of summer–usually late July and August–are referred to as “dog days” because, at one time, these were the days when Sirius rose just before or at the same time as the sun. It’s usually a period of least rainfall and oppressive humid heat.
      “Hair of the dog” is a colloquial expression usually referring to alcohol consumed with the aim of lessening the effects of a hangover…..the homeopathic “like cures like” idea. I’ve heard it originally referred to the curative practice of placing a hair of a rabid dog in the wound caused by its bite.
      The distant barking is just atmosphere here. For me the month of August brings the anniversary of a great and painful loss. Last week, on a night of oppressive heat and depressed spirit, I stumbled onto a TV broadcast of Verdi’s Requiem by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and marveled once again at the cathartic effect of sad music to alleviate sadness. So I wrote this poem. Thank you for reading it.

      🙂

  12. watching dark’s descent compress
    all things to a lonesome distant barking

    Cynthia, I have felt the pressure of the dark as it comes over the land, this town, my home; I know exactly what you mean. And then, that hour before dawn, the darkest hour, waiting for the light to return and thinking, “It will be light in an hour.” We are creatures of light and are sometimes caught without a plan when we find ourselves in the dark. Lying in bed, thinking of something I wish I wouldn’t have said to my grandmother 45 years ago, or of something I wish I would have said to someone the last time I saw them, gives me the twitches when sleep doesn’t come. I sometimes think of this line I saw written in a Victorian gift book “The night is dark, and I am far from home; Lead thou me on!”

    Your gift of being able to give words to our thoughts always amazes me.

    • “We are creatures of the light…” as you say, and if not afraid, at least perplexed by the dark. That line you saw written in a Victorian gift book, is from a poem, “The Pillar of Cloud,” written by John Henry Newman when, as a priest visiting Italy, he fell ill and wanted nothing more than to make his way back to England. It seems he wrote this poem during a time when he finally was able to sail home but his ship was becalmed for several weeks on the Mediterranean. The poem was subsequently put to music as the now famous hymn “Lead Kindly Light”….of which those words of longing you quote are a part. Lovely. Thank you so much for your kind and generous comment.

      It seems this post is conducive to videos. Here’s one for you, Ginene. This is not offered in the name of any institutional or cultural religion, but in the spirit of light as you spoke of it. :-)🙂

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