Sunday, 26 June 2016

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight [FIT II]


It's been a long time since I published my review/summary of Fit I of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight but I didn't want to continue reading this beautiful poem if I didn't have the time and passion to dedicate to it. As stated in my first post last November (what? has it really been that long?) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a 14th Century alliterative poem written by an unknown writer. Fit I ended with Sir Gawain giving his word that he would find the Green Knight in a years time so he could be dealt a return blow and Fit II picks up with an extremely beautiful description of the parting seasons:

Wrathful winds in raging skies wrestle with the sun;
Leaves are lashed loose from the trees and lie on the ground
And the grass becomes grey which was green before.
What rose from root at first now ripens and rots;
So the year in passing yields its many yesterdays,
And winter returns, as the way of the world is...

After seasons and Michaelmas passes Sir Gawain readies himself to leave for his quest on All Saints Day. Lords, ladies and Knights alike grieve for Gawain and offer him advice. Sir Gawain, optimistic about the road ahead, simply says:

"Whether fate be foul or fair,
Why falter I or fear?
What should man do but dare?"

The narrator then describes the rich clothes, saddle and weapons Sir Gawain is given for his quest which speaks to how rich and noble Camelot is. In other Arthurian literature I've noticed that Camelot isn't like a lot of Medieval cities or seats of power. It's far richer and advanced in almost every way. It's kind of like a dream city, something that could never exist in reality. The narrator then goes on to talk about the significance of the Pentangle on Sir Gawain's garments which shows just how noble and good Sir Gawain is. 

"Why the pentangle is proper to the prince of knights...
For, ever faithful in five things, each in fivefold manner,
Gawain was reputed good and, like gold well refined,
He was devoid of all villainy, every virtue displaying
In the field." 

Sir Gawain then leaves Camelot and travels across Britain. The narrator describes the days that turn into weeks that turn into months and the loneliness that Sir Gawain feels as the traipses on his journey through what is modern Britain and Wales. Sir Gawain scales the mountains and comes face to face with many a man and beast and besting them all. He continues on his journey until Christmas Eve where suddenly he comes across a castle "the comeliest castle that ever a knight owned." Sir Gawain enters the castle and is granted lodging after trudging across Britain for months on end. The narrator then embarks on a long description of the castle, the Lord who lives there and the rich food that Sir Gawain is given. Again, Sir Gawain is marvelled over by the inhabitants of this castle as he is wherever he goes. You really can't help feeling attached to Sir Gawain and the kind of person he is. Sir Gawain then meets the Lady of the castle and instantly takes a liking to her:

Most beautiful of body and bright of complexion,
Most winsome in ways of all women alive, 

She seemed to Sir Gawain, excelling Guinevere. 

The narrator then goes on to describe three long days full of merriment and feasting and details how rich the food is and how rich the company is. You are constantly reminded that this castle is fit for a knight like Sir Gawain to inhabit. As Sir Gawain prepares to leave the next day the Lord of the castle asks him to detail exactly what his quest is. The Lord of the castle tells him that the place Sir Gawain is looking for is only two miles from his castle and Sir Gawain is overjoyed and stays at the castle until the morning of New Year's Day. Fit II ends with the Lord of the castle giving Sir Gawain a deed: while the Lord goes out hunting Sir Gawain must stay and doze until late morning after which the Lady will accompany him until the Lord comes back. The Lord also says that whatever he wins on the hunt will be Sir Gawain's for the keeping and whatever achievement Sir Gawain chance's on in the castle, he exchange's for what ever the Lord brings back from the hunt.

And that's it for Fit II. Let's hope I manage to post the next Fit before next year (I joke, I joke).

Saturday, 25 June 2016

The Song of Love Triumphant by Ivan Turgenev

Ivan Turgenev towards the end of his life
It's not much of a secret that Ivan Turgenev is one of my favourite writers. I decided late last year that I would make my way through his novels, short stories and plays. I chose to start with one of his short stories, The Song of Love Triumphant, because I read somewhere he dedicated it to his dear friend (and another favourite writer of mine) Gustave Flaubert and it did not disappoint. It's quite a different piece of writing compared to Turgenev's other short stories, very experimental, but it's a really fascinating insight into Turgenev's state of mind later in his life.

The Song of Love Triumphant (sometimes referred to as the Song of Triumphant Love) was written in 1881 which was two years before he died. It's a work that splits critics and the general reading public alike. Some think it's a creative masterpiece and some dismiss it as a purely imaginative story with no real substance. I saw it as somewhere in between those two extremes. It's not Turgenev's best work but it is very moving and creative and different. The story is heavily based on his life long love for Pauline Vardot, an opera singer and their unique connection that spurned decades. Pauline was married at the time they met but it seems they all come to some arrangement as Turgenev followed them around Europe and lived close to them for a very long time. At one point he lived in a room in their house and at another point built a chalet in their garden and lived there for a while. It was even said Pauline's two children were Turgenev's children - a popular public theory that was never proved.
Louis Viardot after reading The Song of Love Triumphant

The Song of Love Triumphant is set in Ferrara during the Renaissance and is both a look into Renaissance Italy and the fascination in the West with Oriental culture. It follows the story of two friends, Fabio and Muzzio, who were a painter and a musician respectively and their love for the same woman, Valeria. Valeria eventually chooses Fabio and Muzzio travels around the East for five years to recover from the disappointment. When he returns he stays with Valeria and Fabio which is really where the story starts. Muzzio has aquired 'supernatural' instruments while he has been in the East and at night he plays a tune on his new violin 'The Song of Triumphant Love' which mesmerisies Valeria and she has an erotic dream which Muzzio has as well. The next night Muzzio plays the tune again but this time Fabio follows the tune and 'fatal' events ensue. Muzzio somehow survives the attack (its implied he was brought back to life by his attendant) and they quickly leave Fabio and Valeria to live their life peacefully. The story ends with Valeria feeling the "stirring of life" in her womb and the narrator ends the story with an unfinished question.

The Song of Love Triumphant is a funny little tale. It's very experimental and not like Turgenev's usual stories which is why I found it so compelling. As with all of Turgenev's stories and novels I've read so far this story was exceptionally well written and the writing evokes emotion in you in a way that takes you back to a time or a person or a place in your own life. Turgenev was said to be a very gentle person, someone who was attached to nature and light, and you can really feel that in this story.