Let’s Go A-Maying … Again

On May Morning

Now the bright morning Star, Day’s harbinger,
Comes dancing from the East, and leads with her
The Flowery May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow Cowslip, and the pale Primrose.
Hail bounteous May that dost inspire
Mirth and youth, and warm desire,
Woods and Groves, are of thy dressing,
Hill and Dale, doth boast thy blessing.
Thus we salute thee with our early Song,
And welcome thee, and wish thee long.
~ John Milton (1608-1674)

The first of May, by all its names and traditions, is a day marked for its flowers and frolicking, even if, as Shakespeare wrote: “Rough winds do shake” its “darling buds”.

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‘May Day Morning’ by Edwin Austin Abbey (1852 – 1911)

For the Druids of the British Isles, Beltane was celebrated to honor the sun, marking the halfway point between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice. Bonfires were lit, usually on the eve of May 1st, smoke and ashes thought to have a cleansing and protective influence. Like Samhain (November 1st), it was a very important festival. Some say the tradition of a pole decorated with flowers, dancers weaving its ribbon streamers intricately together until knotted, began with the pagans. As innocent as it seems, the May pole is a phallic symbol, which ties in with the day’s theme of the fertility of spring for plants, animals and humans. The May bush, made of hawthorn, rowan or sycamore, was decorated with flowers, ribbons, cloth streamers, even eggshells and candles. “Long life and a pretty wife and a candle from the May bush.” Yellow flowers, like primroses, gorse and marsh marigolds, were tied into crosses to be hung over doorways and laid on windowsills and doorsteps to encourage abundance. The Green man was a masculine ‘face’ covered in leaves and shrubbery, often carried through towns and villages. Feasting took place, food and drink offered to the spirits of nature like fairies or elves.

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May’s beginning was a celebratory time for the Romans, too. They called it Floralia: five days from April 28th through May 2nd with much wanton gaiety in honor of their goddess of flowers and fertility, Flora.

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Triumph of Flora by Tiepolo (ca. 1743)

In Medieval times, ‘a-maying’ welcomed the dawn with the gathering of flowers and foliage, and women washing their faces in dew to improve their looks and encourage men to pursue them. A Queen of the May was crowned, a blending of her origins as the flower bride, queen of the fairies, the Roman goddess of springtime (Maia), and Maid Marion from the tales of Robin Hood; in all these guises generally representing purity and the potential for new life.

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‘Queen Guinevere’s Maying’ John Collier (1850 – 1934)

In the puritanical mid-17th century England, May Day was outlawed for a while, a censor the Puritans took to America. The Catholic Church attempted to outlaw the May initiations, but eventually absorbed its pagan rites into its own in order to win converts.

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May Day as ‘Labor Day’ and “International Workers Day’ is marked by a bank holiday in many parts of the world, but not in the US or Canada (instead moved to the first Monday in September), probably because of its association with communism and socialism, which certainly doesn’t prevent Americans and Canadians from welcoming and appreciating this day that, no matter sunshine or showers, warm or cold winds, insists winter is finally over.

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“There not be a buddin’ boy or girl, this day, but be got up n’ gone to bring in May.”

All day she had tried to ignore what was going on out-of-sight but not earshot, unable to deny the appeal of laughter, lively music and singing inspired by the beribboned pole she had watched going up the day before. She didn’t take part, except to secretly act out one of Martha’s reminisces of being young and wanting to look her best for any possible sweetheart. “Wash in dew from the hawthorn tree, and will ever after handsome be.”  Martha also suggested collecting it from ivy leaves or the grass under an oak, emphasizing that it had to be done at or just before sunrise.

“Also prevents freckles, sunburn, chappin n’ wrinkles.”

Donatella took a bowl outside before Martha had arrived and Mama was up. It filled a little as she shook the ivy that hung along the cottage’s front door, the leaves of some kind of thorn at one end of the garden, and the grass she pulled up from under the oak tree at the other. Not sure the dampness everywhere wasn’t from overnight rain, she felt silly and hoped no one saw her running around barefoot and rubbing her face and neck.

~ From my Historical Fiction To A Strange Somewhere Fled (sequel to A House Near Luccoli)

Front and Spine Tilted_pe cropped

 

Spring flowers in woods

Wroxton Abbey Woods Composite with Spring Flowers by DM Denton

 Wishing all a very Merry Month of May!

 

 

 

donatellasmallest©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

We’re crowdsourcing: submit your poem!

Poets! Here’s a chance to see your poetry published in a beautiful anthology (Bennison Books publications are always first class) AND contribute to The Book Bus, a very worth charity. Follow the link to learn more and how to submit!

Bennison Books

2blue-logoBennison Books is crowdsourcing poetry! No, we don’t want your money: we want your words.

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Earthly Gratefulness

My little way of honoring Earth Day, with gratefulness for the flowers that have graced and healed me with their beauty, wisdom, and playfulness.

 

 

I continue to be inspired by nature, am blessed to be surrounded by it, always aware of how it deserves my utmost care and attention, which often means inattention as it knows best how to care for itself.

Except as it has been sorely injured and needs our help in healing.

So, leave those dandelions! Be nature’s best friend: have the ‘worst’ lawn in your neighborhood.

 

Dandelion

Illustration© by DM Denton

 

“Not a single bee has ever sent you an invoice. And that is part of the problem – because most of what comes to us from nature is free, because it is not invoiced, because it is not priced, because it is not traded in markets, we tend to ignore it.” ~ Pavan Sukhdev, United Nations report, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity.

 

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Illustration© by DM Denton

 

Earth Day is Every Day

Earth, Teach Me

Earth teach me quiet ~ as the grasses are still with new light.
Earth teach me suffering ~ as old stones suffer with memory.
Earth teach me humility ~ as blossoms are humble with beginning.
Earth teach me caring ~ as mothers nurture their young.
Earth teach me courage ~ as the tree that stands alone.
Earth teach me limitation ~ as the ant that crawls on the ground.
Earth teach me freedom ~ as the eagle that soars in the sky.
Earth teach me acceptance ~ as the leaves that die each fall.
Earth teach me renewal ~ as the seed that rises in the spring.
Earth teach me to forget myself ~ as melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me to remember kindness ~ as dry fields weep with rain.

~ An Ute Prayer (Utes are indigenous people of the Great Basin, now living primarily in Utah and Colorado, USA)

donatellasmallest©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

The Lavenders

Illustration© by DM Denton

 

Today lavender is a popular flower and herb. Taken only for its beautiful appearance and clean calming scent, it deserves the attention.

Lavender has long had many uses and legends attached to it. Adam and Eve were said to have taken lavender flowers with them when they were banished from the Garden of Eden. It is mentioned in the Bible by the name spikenard (from the Greek name for lavender, naardus, after the Syrian city Naarda): “Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment.” Gospel of Luke

For protection, Christian households would hang a cross made of the herb over the door, a tradition possibly explained by the legend that Mary hung baby Jesus’ clothes on a lavender bush to dry.

The Greeks used lavender as a remedy for various ailments including muscle ache, insomnia and insanity. The Romans loved using the plant in their bathing rituals, believing it purified the body and soul. They gave it its name, derived from the Latin “lavare” which means “to wash” and introduced it to the English.

During plague epidemics it was credited with warding off the disease, often with a sprig fastened to each wrist. 

In Medieval and Renaissance Europe, servant women who washed in lavender water, placed lavender in linens or draped laundry on lavender bushes became known as  ‘Lavenders’. The lowliest of these were sometimes reputed to be prostitutes.

 

The Lavenders ©

A sprig on the wrist
a spell for a plague
is worth two
in the bush
where the Lavenders
lay their cares.

Such a fair flower
stolen like sinning
sweeter than
forgiveness
scented from heaven
lost on earth. 

Found to be useful
for washing and cures
of body
and heart ache
lullaby-ing sleep
and madness. 

Illustration© by DM Denton

Such ladies at work
their laundry to air
for rumors
to ruin them
unless modesty
can save them. 

All through the ages
a toiling to some
and leisure
for
others
somehow a likeness
in essence. 

For how they do grow
Well drain’d in full sun
or covered
in winter
with still enough breath
to live on.
 

Clusters of secrets
that beg to be kept
in
sachets
and strewing
their hopes to the wind
and a way.

From A House Near Luccoli

Donatella overslept the chance to be the first to find Golone anything but vigilant on his master’s couch. Still, she was glad the doctor had returned to Alessandro sitting up insisting on caffè forte and a brisk walk to knock the demoni from his head.

“Your nurse has her orders.”

“My nurse?”

“What next?” Golone stretched. “Your jailer.”

Alessandro’s head dropped into his hands and a slow moan.

“You see.” Donatella stroked his pillow.

“Hmm.” The doctor picked up the blue bottle that was back where he had left it. “Empty? No more medicine for you, signor.”

“I thought it was a spell.” Alessandro fell out of the conversation, avoiding the awkwardness he wouldn’t have felt anyway, always as if unconscious of his sins and anything surrounding him that wasn’t his choosing.

So Donatella stayed, for the unknown and contradiction of those senseless moments. She sat by his bed in the safety of friendship, and even for virtue, rubbing his temples with lavender, knowing she might never have such intimacy with him again.

 

From To A Strange Somewhere Fled

Donatella washed in the suggestive scent of lavender water and changed her underthings behind a screen. She emerged, as her mother commented, like someone condemned. She couldn’t avoid the tight-lacing of her corset, but refused to be dusted with chalk and cerise powder and most adamantly to her lips being stained with crushed cochineal. Too much midnight-blue fabric shimmered and swept around and behind her. Her bosom was flattened, her waist elongated, and the ruffles of a new chemise, thinner than any she had worn during Genoese summers, showed flirtatiously on her lower arms and through the slashed and puffed tops of her sleeves.



©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

Influencing Hearts and Conversations – A Birthday Celebration

I can’t let the day pass without ‘mentioning’ that it is Alessandro Stradella‘s birthday (April 3, 1639, Nepi, near Rome, Italy).

Stradella_pe_pe resized

Illustration by DM Denton©

In the three and a half years since the publication of my historical fiction A House Near Luccoli, I have certainly noticed more interest in and attention on Stradella and his music. In January of this year, BBC Radio 2 broadcasted  How to Flee From Sorrow* – Behind (Stradella’s) lovely, well-ordered music was a life bursting with ambition and starved of security. The program’s musical director was Alberto Sanna, musicologist and violinist, who recently released the first-ever complete period-instrument recording of Alessandro Stradella’s beautiful yet neglected Two-Part Sinfonias.

*Follow the link for a wonderful and insightful piece about Stradella by the program’s writer, Frank Cottrell Boyce. Unfortunately this program is not available to listen to at this time, but, hopefully, will be again in the future.

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The composer’s arrival at a house near Luccoli in April 1681 put a cat among pigeons.

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She smelled a candle burning, but it didn’t light the short hall. In the main room a window was open, with the settee moved closer to it, Signor Stradella a masterpiece resting there. One dark leg was stretched and falling over the back of the couch, a ruffled hand on its knee; the other bent to the floor and, even without stocking and shoe, appeared ready to walk away. He had also undressed to his shirt still buttoned high and wrinkled softly because it was made of the finest linen. A slight breeze blew his hair over his face. As he realized her burdened entrance, his right shoulder pillowed a half-smile and he reached out lazily.

“Did you bring bavareisa?”

“What’s that?” She clumsily laid the tray down on the gray marble hearth, not wanting to bend with her back to him.

Cioccolata and caffè.”

“We don’t have coffee. It’s too expensive.”

“I’ll pay for it.” He swung into sitting, hunched and rubbing his neck. “I’m getting one of my headaches.”

“It’s the weather.” Donatella offered him a drink.

He accepted it, the tips of his fingers friendlier than they should have been. “A veil over the sun, like a woman at Messa.” He tasted it. “Ah. Fresco.”

“Squeezed this morning. Nonna says it’s good for clearing the voice.”

Cara Nònna.” He raised his glass, then emptied it with a kiss on its rim. “I’ve heard she was very rebellious. I wonder you didn’t become the same.”

“I wasn’t meant to.”

“How do you know?”

“Because it didn’t happen.”

She was still holding the folder.

“I believe that’s why you’ve come?”

He moved slowly to make space on the table where his inventions were layered and sprawled, so many at once. By the time she placed the copy there he was sitting once more, leaning forward, his head in his hands.

“You can let me know.” She felt intrusive. “I’ve never seen you at Maddalena before.”

He rose, admitting his rudeness. “I was testing the sound for a wedding there.”

“It must be a special one.”

“Ah. I’ll make it so.” His teeth showed. “Così.” He leaned over the table, the side of his face long and angled, eyelashes still and mouth taut, the first page flipped for the second, the second for the third, every one after that as unremarkable.

“I’m untrained.”

He looked at the first page again, his index finger, chin, and muted hum following the stanzas. “Ah. You see. Just a little more space here and this note a little higher, the words not quite aligned.”

Her hope of impressing him was gone.

“No, no.” He showed sensitivity to being misunderstood. “Even my last copyist, a priest, cursed my sloppiness.”

“I did my best.”

“Ah. Anyway, there are many arie in the serenata, besides duetti and trii and sinfonie. I need copies of each by—you saw the date; barely a month away. Before that for rehearsal.” He closed the folder, falling back on the settee. “And only so-called musicisti in Genova, too quick or too slow or distracted by ambizione. Will you do more for me?”

She had to consider. His reputation. Her motivation. She couldn’t sign her name to the work, freely spend any payment, or even show some pride. Sneaking around, her aunt would eventually find out and put a stop to it anyway.

“Is that cake?”

“Yes.”

“For the flies?”

“Oh.” She rescued the plate.

He took a slice, eating it almost without chewing. “As we live dangerously opening windows.” He reached for another, nodding for her to take what was left.

“All right,” she answered.

Bene allora.”

“I mean … I will help you.”

Mangia.”

“Oh, yes.” She broke a corner of the last piece on the plate.

He got up to pour her a glass of limonata, staring as her lips, covered in crumbs, finally took a sip.

~ From A House Near Luccoli

Despite the circumstances that dictated the ending of the novel, Stradella continues to influence hearts and conversations in its sequel To A Strange Somewhere Fled.

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Excerpts from To A Strange Somewhere Fled

She made her mark as unexpectedly as before, becoming more and more involved with its swirling and sliding and dotting, rising and falling with her shoulders and satisfaction. She was definitely possessed by a melodic hum and laughter in her head, the tease of a draft on her neck, and the surprise that she hadn’t forgotten how to serve a master. She knew he was smiling as she checked her work, a mistake here and there repentantly fixed, page after page turned into another chance to show that, in theory and practice and ways she didn’t need to understand, she was worthy of his presence.

Yes, it felt like he was there, pacing the room and wringing his hands as he realized he couldn’t change anything.  She could, with his permission. What else allowed her to hear a note held longer or twilled higher, a crescendo misplaced, or toccata written more for poetry than a harpsichordist’s dexterity? What would have put such ideas in her head, except the desire of one who had touched her with his variations?

***

There was the appropriate silence before Lonati was as elegant and amiable with bow and violin as no other activity afforded him. With every stroke, nod and faraway expression, he was an echo of Alessandro, exacting the very best from the composition and the late composer’s nature, generous with his talent, uninhibited with his playing, making the music his own only as he adored it. His reminiscent virtuosity swept Donatella onto the waves of Le donne più bella like a ship with a steady breeze in its sails, Reggio’s archlute-continuo encouraging the rolling sensation.

***

It looked as though Master Purcell was trying to hide under the stairs. Roger inquired about his journey from London and he emerged to reveal that he had interrupted the trip with a night at Oxford and much drinking, and another at Rousham Park and even more feasting.

Donatella didn’t expect him to recognize her, but when Roger moved aside she became “that most courteous copyist who had also forgiven Stradella.”

“And I hope you’ll pardon me, Harry, but the guests will soon arrive and you need to tidy yourself and prepare.” Roger didn’t know he showed concern for anything but the plan for the evening ahead.

“Well, I am a little dusty.” Master Purcell winked in Donatella’s direction. “I wonder if Stradella was always impeccably turned out.”

They walked into the hall and Donatella wanted to tell him about the man she had known as reported but, also, in very different ways. Would Master Purcell believe Alessandro had been in need of friendship more than love, or that he had grown tired of making music for those who only listened to their own importance? Would it seem as ridiculous to say he would have rather roamed the streets, lost in the crowds and songs of Carnival, than found to be wanting in nobler society? She could describe him as flamboyant in disguise and excessive when it came to enjoying himself, yet he had the sense to be gracious in his manners, and even humble when it weighed in his favor and, especially, his purse. She might also reveal the unshaven, disheveled creature that growled with frustration and cursed the affairs that caused him more trouble than they were worth.

Surely, Master Purcell would rather hear about Alessandro’s genius and even his sacred purpose: how the music came to him like the archangel Gabriel, because he was highly chosen with or without the patronage of any prince or princess.


I “knew” Alessandro Stradella. I recognized his distinct voice, his swaying form, his infectious smile, and his wandering heart. I had witnessed the rise and fall of his talents, how his music had showered him with forgiveness if not fortune.

donatellasmallest©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

The Shepherdess – A Copy

The Shepherdess Copy by DMD

I remember

 the silence

the solitude

the softness of lambs

looking for their mothers

the world

somewhere else

the youth

of my dreams

the peace in my heart.

 

I was not original

copying another’s vision

how was it wrong

to be so serene

as I learned

the technique

and satisfaction

of being an artist

long ago

and faraway

still within sight

every day.

I wanted to post something for Easter to go along with this painting that I did many many years ago. You may recognize it as a likeness of The Shepherdess (1866) by Johann Baptist Hofner. I used to copy a lot in the ‘old’ days – a great way to develop, I think, like a lamb learning from its mother, all innocence and belief .

The Shepherdess by Johann Baptist Hofner

The Shepherdess by Johann Baptist Hofner

Blessings for Easter and Spring!


donatellasmallest©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

Journeying to Ireland – Repost

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

♣ A spring Sunday in Dublin, Christ’s little brides happy to celebrate with a meal at McDonalds
♣ From coast to coast, covered in cowslips and folksongs
♣ Not a limerick heard, not even in its place where we stayed entertained by a harp’s angel
♣ Bumping along in coaches with windows steamed and destinations , like the weather, constantly changing
♣ The mystery of alpine flowers on the Burren’s stony paradise
♣ Orchids not for picking
♣ Layers of streets, a lunch of mussels and beer, and buying old postcards in Galway
♣ Thoughts swept away by the cliffs of Moher
♣ Secluded coves with sandy beaches
♣ The mile long dream of Dingle, being Ryan’s daughter, tea with Peggy and tales of Gregory Peck
♣ Shrine at Slea head, the edge of the world
♣ A ring in Kerry that never broke its promise
♣ Starlings descending on Killarney
♣ Muckross magic in mossy woods, botanical gardens, mist shrouded mountains and mirror-clear lakes
♣ Rhododendrons and fuchsias wilder than anywhere else would allow
♣ The meeting of the waters and differing reasons for being there
♣ Miles and miles of freedom on a bicycle
♣ Airy woods of oak and ash and silver birch, feathery fern, lichen dripping and moss imagining a smaller world
♣ Fields of gorse and heather blending yellow and purple
♣ Sunshine and rain breezing in and out, taking turns to create the artist’s view
♣ Water, water everywhere, all around and in-between
♣ Sudden cascades and corners of serenity
♣ Train station benches turned for looking the other way
♣ A cottage for a week, stray cats at the door, peat burning slowly and sweetly, wild mushrooms and blackberries for breakfast, lunch and dinner

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

♣ A thousand welcomes from new friends who would never be old
♣ Not a day or night without a smile and a song
♣ So much more to remember than forget

And so I return, again and again.

I traveled there a woman
and came back a child
with my eyes full of the clouds
coming over the mountains
so I could never tell
how high they were;
the rivers going on
forever,
the irises
floating down to the sea,
the fuchsias so wild,
but not really.
All along the way
cowslips lived
where meadows survived
and milkmaids didn’t mind
the rain
so sudden
as suddenly gone.
The fields were greener than any
in France
through the glass of our visit
going down to the sea,
everywhere surrounding,
only my heart brave enough
to go on
into the waves,
a lonesome boatman calling me
to come live with him
forever.
DM Denton 1983

Diane on Dingle Beach 1983

Diane on Dingle Beach 1983

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.