Bella Vista

Is he sleeping now in his chair by the alley?

Is he passed out cold

with a warm beer can in his hand?

He’s in the open air where strangers walk idly chatting

drunk like him at 2 am,

but not yet at the bottom of everything.

His fingers calloused.

His lips bleed.

His hair has turned to dread.

And his eyes,

oh what his eyes have seen.

failure and acceptance

every whitewash splash dousing light intense center cube

how they keep you in order to observe

eavesdropping on lonely creatures with company

make a serious commitment to be in love with death

conjure it

the tarnish of a forgotten stone

getting there is lost

let go of your star seed you can’t see the same shadows

and outlines of color of the other

every act of will

every repentance

every movement

is in memory of what never was

Boland’s Correlation of Syntax and Existential Significance in “That the Science of Cartography is Limited”

Eavan Boland uses anastrophe throughout her non-traditional elegy “That the Science of Cartography is Limited” in order to grammatically display the paradigm of history versus past. Like in much of her other poems, Boland focuses on the domestic sphere of the past in contrast to what is recorded and deemed historically worthy. Boland begins by furtively including the title of the piece, in the tradition of early modernists such as William Carlos Williams, as the object of the first sentence. The first sentence’s subject is the speaker who would “wish to prove” (4) what the title states. This technique is indicative of the poem’s theme. The speaker means to say through inversion that the past is the subject of history, in that the anonymous people who built the famine roads have been relegated by the maps of recorded time. And instead of the two being a dichotomy, in “That the Science of Cartography is Limited” Boland elevates the causal, private past to a state of mythical proportions because, even though it is deemed more significant, history is ultimately dependent upon the past.

Boland relies upon hyperbaton whenever discussing the metaphor that is extended throughout the poem. The line “Look down you said: this was once a famine road” (8) is given more rhetorical gravity instead of having the speaker simply state you said look down. This is because the famine road that the speaker encounters is the vehicle, while the past is the tenor. Since these kinds of roads are unrecorded, the metaphor’s continuation would be the written lines on the implied map in the poem that are representative of recorded history. The speaker’s attention to the vivid abstractions in the forest where the famine road is located is such that the metaphor blossoms into a conceit. Not only does the speaker want to prove that science is limited, but she also desires to delineate what cannot be exactly recorded, specifically “the gloom of cypresses” (3). The trees would not hold such sad weight if it wasn’t for the realization that this was the spot where starving, toiling humans collapsed and died: “Where they died, there the road ended…” (16).

“That the Science of Cartography is Limited” is a complex poem in its many interweaving metaphorical aspects, which are made even more complicated by syntax inversion. Boland uses geometry in order to account for the phenomenon of not being able to comprehend something that was once tangible, let alone the contextually intangible. The speaker alludes to the fact that maps cannot represent the reality of the Earth as a spherical planet geographically. When the speaker pulls out a map she sarcastically states that “it is never so / I can say here is / the masterful, the apt rendering of / the spherical as flat” (18-21). The association is that not only humans are unable to fully understand the implications of what is recorded, whether it is a map or history, but that the entirety of the picture is even more incomprehensible. If the map represents history, then that means that the planet Earth is the past. Thus, each line on the map is the record of a famous person in history, and hence the famine roads are not represented because they are deemed insignificant.

The geometric aspect of the conceit can be extrapolated in order to fit in with the speaker’s sorrow at the forsaken deaths of her Irish ancestors. In using inverted syntax, the speaker also suggests that history is convex, or the outer, visible side of the sphere that is human experience. This would mean that the past is the concave portion that is not visible in retrospect. It is buried underneath the facts. However, the only fact that the speaker reveals in the entire poem is the one that her lover informs her of: “in / 1847, when the crop had failed twice, / Relief Committees gave / the starving Irish such roads to build” (12-15). The famine roads end abruptly because they were intended to be short. The poem implies that the British colonial overlords wanted the starving Irish to be wiped from existence, so why then would their roads be featured on any map? The Anglicization process of Ireland had been well under way by the mid-19th century. This was at a time when ideas of those such as Thomas Malthus were still prevalent in British society, and the Empire’s reaction to the catastrophe in its own backyard, the potato famine, signifies the developing Social Darwinist mindset of British authorities. The Irish culture and people in and of themselves were deemed insignificant and unworthy of history. Since the British were successful in allowing a large portion of the Irish population to starve to death or emigrate, much of Irish history itself was oppressed. The cliché that history is written by the victors is true in this case, consequently Boland develops a multi-faceted metaphor interlaced with inverted syntax in order to mythologize the lives of the average Irish famine victims.

The conceit is present in almost every line of the poem, tracing back in retrospect to the first where “the fact that this shading of / forest” (1-2) is not able to convey the scent of balsam is relative to how cartography cannot express the pain and emotion of human life and work. This is in spite of the fact that the result of the work, the famine road, is tangible, yet the futility that went into the construction must be inferred in its intangibility. The past has been covered by “ivy and scutch grass / rough-cast stone had / disappeared into” (9-11) in another syntactical twist. And yet the speaker never states anything illogically in the poem, rather, each time the road is mentioned a clause is interposed between the subject and object. Whether the break is parenthetical or hyperbaton, each of the five sentences in the poem carry the weight of the theme through Boland’s nuanced grammatical technique. In the end, those humans who died building the famine roads are nothing but a part of the earth in the forest, which is why to the speaker they would be “the line which says woodland and cries hunger / and gives out among sweet pine and cypress” (25-26). Boland’s point is that it is necessary to reverse the significance of history over the past in order to try to understand what really matters in existence. Although it is difficult to do so without the speaker’s imaginative creativity and syntactical nuance, since the line “will not be there” (28). Even still there is the potential for existential meaning in unwritten roads.

 

The Rise of Modernity (and Proto-Feminism) in the Italian Renaissance

Baldassare Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier exemplified Italian Renaissance humanist ideals by making use of the author’s own memory of conversations in court at Urbino. Although Castiglione tactfully did not include himself in the specific situation proposed in the book,  he wrote in a style that was in accordance with having an appearance of humility, which was one of his main rules for being a courtier. And yet, like Alberti’s writing on the values of a virtuous family, Castiglione cautioned for moderation in striving for any attribute, (such as humility) while pursuing perfection in the court, by adding that the courtier should want to abound with confidence as well. Through ensuing conversation between many different participants, (presided over by Elisabetta Gonzaga, her sister-in-law Emilia Pia, and including Count Ludovico Canossa, Federico Fregoso, and Giuliano de’ Medici) the author urged the aspiring courtier to be eclectic, although without being pompous, nor visibly trying too hard.

Castiglione began his book with an imagined situation in which Duchess Gonzaga decided that the court should play a game of rhetoric in order to find what attributes would make the perfect courtier. Emilia Pia jestingly chose the Count to begin, saying that he would know the least and so would not cause the affair to become tedious too quickly. Count Canossa humbly yet humorously agreed, and began by claiming that it would be best for a courtier to be of noble birth, “…because it is far less unseemly for one of ignoble birth to fail in worthy deeds, than for one of noble birth, who, if he strays from the path of his predecessors, stains his family name, and not only fails to achieve but loses what has been achieved already; for noble birth is like a bright lamp that manifests and makes visible good and evil deeds, and kindles and stimulates to virtue both by fear of shame and by hope of praise” (The Book of the Courtier, p 21). However, Caspar Pallavicino promptly contradicted the Count, (as per the rules of the game, according to “ancient rhetoric”) and responded that he believed more in the graces of Fortune than the responsibilities and expectations of noble birth. His frequent reference to the concept of “Fortune” was another similarity incorporated into the book that Castiglione shared with Alberti, in which both Italian authors agreed that chance could topple the achievements of any courtier or noblemen, no matter how calculating and prudent the man was. In arguing against the necessity of noble birth for courtier-ship, Pallavicino added that, “…the highest gifts of nature are found among the most obscure…” ( p 23) referring to examples of men starting from humble beginnings and gaining prestige through their own virtue.

Although at the end of this bout of words, Castiglione leaned the reader more towards the positive points of being noble in birth. However, Castiglione transitioned the argument through the Count’s response in favor of nobility by connecting that idea with the need for a courtier to be skilled in the art of arms, to the point where it would be his “…principle and true profession…” (p 30). From there on out, the Count took the reins of the debate by describing in detail what exercises the courtier should be adept at in order to be a competent warrior. And yet this was argued not necessarily for warfare in and of itself, as the Count repeatedly stressed that a man should be fit on foot and horseback more so in order to carry grace in all aspects of life. This is in implicit opposition to the previous understanding of the art of being a gentleman, as Castiglione was keenly aware of the prevailing medieval idea of what a courtier ought to be, primarily a knight. In acknowledging the need for a courtier to be a man of arms, and yet at the same time stressing that the man do so in order to also excel at other activities, Castiglione was alluding to the trend of Renaissance states to rely more on foot-soldiers than the mounted knights of old.

In The Book of the Courtier, Castiglione argued again and again through his non-fictional characters that universality in activities without excess in one too much was essential in learning to live as an ideal Renaissance courtier: “Our Courtier then will be esteemed excellent and will attain grace in everything, particularly in speaking, if he avoids affectation…” (p 37). Castiglione often used analogies through his characters, which livened up the debate and allowed the participants to transition to the many different topics that were necessary to touch on, as humanism required variation in study. The Count and Federico argued whether if there were boundaries between speaking and writing, where the Count argued against using ancient, obscure Tuscan words in writing, as he said that no one would reasonably incorporate those phrases into everyday speech. Federico begged to differ, saying that using difficult words gave the writer an authoritative voice, and would force the reader to slow down and pay attention, adding that “if the ignorance of him who reads is so great that he cannot overcome those difficulties, it is not the fault of the writer, nor on this account ought that style to be deemed unbeautiful.” (p 40). Pallavicino then interjected and claimed that speech-craft was more important for the courtier, and yet was drowned out by the others whom successfully counter-argued that writing was of utter importance, especially, (although Castiglione did not repeat it explicitly) since the courtier’s primary responsibility would be that of diplomacy.

Regardless of the competing importance of speech and writing, The Book of the Courtier was clear in its intent that the aspiring courtier should be an educated adviser, as opposed to the traditional court medieval knight.  The author set his treatise on courtliness in 1507, at the height of the Italian Renaissance, and his advice largely hinged on classical writings on being a gentleman, mainly that of Cicero.  Unlike in the Middle Ages, Italian court life in the Renaissance, (when not based in a republic, such as Venice or Genoa) depended on educated humanists who would advise the king on matters, and would also advocate culture and the arts. A groundbreaking theme in The Book of the Courtier was the status of women, as the Duchess called on Medici to defend womanhood against men such as Pallavicino, whom still held the belief that women were only good for childbirth. Medici argued that women were not only necessary as muses, but were capable of artistic endeavors themselves.

Like in art, the Italians were the vanguard in developing politics in ways that other Europeans would only start to learn from decades later; this meant that at the time of the book’s writing, the French were still following the medieval ways of being a gentleman through valor on the battlefield and knighthood. With The Book of the Courtier, Castiglione set a precedent that would be taught and followed for centuries to come by all Europeans, especially the French. The book’s main objective, and Castiglione’s main occupation in life, was diplomacy. Since knighthood was becoming continuously unimportant in Renaissance nobility, the court life increasingly became a game of words in which courtiers would be in residence at, or write letters to, foreign principalities in order to represent the interests of their lord or king. According to Castiglione, the perfect courtier should have had all of the attributes of a humanist, but most importantly writing. The epistolary craft, (through developing rhetoric and logic) was most helpful in learning the art of persuasion, which was what the quintessential courtier/diplomat needed. This is what made The Book of the Courtier a seminal work in Modernity.

In the book, Giuliano de Medici argued that women were capable of more than just domestic work, something unheard of at the time.
In the book, Giuliano de Medici argued that women were capable of more than just domestic work, something unheard of at the time.