Therese and Isabelle (1968) by Radley Metzger

In this post I discuss and link to the movie Therese and Isabelle (also known as Thérèse and Isabelle and Thérèse et Isabelle). It’s a 1968 French-American romantic drama film directed by Radley Metzger, and loosley based on the novel Thérèse et Isabelle by Violette Leduc. Two young girls meet and share affectionate intimacies in a European boarding school for girls. The movie is now available through archive.org.

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Violet Leduc (1907-1972) was French writer from a middle class family. She was born illegitimate and suffered from poor selfesteem as a young girl. Her relatives on the paternal side refused to recognize her. After the war, she went to a boarding school, the Collège de Douai, where she experienced a lesbian affair with her classmate “Isabelle”, which Leduc later adapted into the novel. I read an English translation of it which was a tideous experience. The novel was also censored for a long time.

Radley Metzger’s film adaptation of Thérèse et Isabelle have been generally favorable. IMDB.com presents the plot as following: “An older woman visits the boarding school of her youth after a 20 year absense. While strolling about the deserted grounds and classrooms she remembers her highly emotional experiences there, and well-executed flashbacks occur to her youth. At 17 she is abandoned by her loving mother because of remarriage and left at a European boarding school, disenchanted and lonely. Immediately she meets Isabell, an older, confident, rebellious girl. The two develop a friendship quickly without much conversation or bonding, but have the always temporary chemistry necessary for their friendship to progress into a sexual relationship. (…) Despite their undying love confessions to each other, Theresa wakes up one morning to find Isabelle has left the school, her room and desk replaced with another student. She never see’s Isabel again.” I can’t say I agree to everything in the quoted review. Even if I like the plot in the movie much more than the novel itself, the movie is sometimes too much with an unconvincing dialogue and Metzger’s intrepretation of lesbianism on the whole as a director becomes loathsome, or silly.

Therese and Isabelle (1968)

The movie available through archive.org

Sources

archive.org

imdb.com

wikipedia.org

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“Alone” – A poem by Edgar Allan Poe

Context and Themes

Today I’m writing a little about Poe again and the poem “Alone”. This is one of Poe’s most wellknown and beloved poems and was never published during his liftime. It was probably written in 1829 and surfaced some years after his death in 1849. In September 1875, the poem, which had been in the possession of a family in Baltimore, was published with its title in Scribner’s Monthly. The editor, E. L. Didier, also reproduced a facsimile of the manuscript, though he admitted he added the date himself.

The lines contains a brief description of the narrator’s childhood and the secret world of a rather lonely child. Pay attention to the role of the narrator! His story is presented from an adult point of view and his reflexion upon childhood is done from a perspective which reveals he had already been through some crisis in his life. He reconnect the bad moments with the feelings of being different as a child. There is hint in this line: “Then—in my childhood—in the dawn Of a most stormy life—was drawn From ev’ry depth of good and ill The mystery which binds me still—”

But will he solve the Mystery that binds him still? I doubt it. One wonders what kind of storms he had to go through but there are no revealing facts as the poem ends suddenly with a demon in his view.

Alone

From childhood’s hour I have not been

As others were—I have not seen

As others saw—I could not bring

My passions from a common spring—

From the same source I have not taken

My sorrow—I could not awaken

My heart to joy at the same tone—

And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone—

Then—in my childhood—in the dawn

Of a most stormy life—was drawn

From ev’ry depth of good and ill

The mystery which binds me still—

From the torrent, or the fountain—

From the red cliff of the mountain—

From the sun that ’round me roll’d

In its autumn tint of gold—

From the lightning in the sky

As it pass’d me flying by—

From the thunder, and the storm—

And the cloud that took the form

(When the rest of Heaven was blue)

Of a demon in my view—

Sources

wikipedia.org

James Elroy Flecker – “On the Golden Journey to Samarkand”

We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go

Always a little further; it may be

Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow

Across that angry or that glimmering sea,

White on a throne or guarded in a cave

There lies a prophet who can understand

Why men were born: but surely we are brave,

Who take the Golden Road to Samarkand.

Flecker and his Journey

James Elroy Flecker (5 November 1884 – 3 January 1915) was an English poet, novelist and playwright. As a poet he was most influenced by the Parnassian poets. According to wikipedia Flecker was educated at Dean Close school in Cheltenham, where his father was the headmaster. He studied at Trinity College, Oxford, and at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. While at Oxford he was greatly influenced by the last flowering of the Aesthetic movement there under John Addington Symonds, and became a close friend of the classicist and art historian John Beazley. In his poetic writings he would always return to Greece and the Middle East. It’s believed the few lines from his most well known poem The Journey to Samarkand (1913) has ancient has inspired thousands of people to take to the Silk Road city in southern Uzbekistan. And most people who journey there today will be arriving from Tashkent. From 1910 Flecker worked in the consular service in the Eastern Mediterranean. On a ship to Athens he met Helle Skiadaressi, and in 1911 he married her. Flecker died on 3 January 1915, of tuberculosis, in Davos, Switzerland. His death at the age of thirty was described at the time as “unquestionably the greatest premature loss that English literature has suffered since the death of Keats”.

Sources

Flecker’s Works on Archive.org

Hassan : the story of Hassan of Bagdad and how he came to make the golden journey to Samarkand: a play in five acts

The golden journey to Samarkand – A reading on YouTube

wikipedia.org

“The Palace” – A poem by Alcaeus

Alcaeus (c. 620 BC-6th century BC), was an Ancient Greek lyric poet who supposedly invented the Alcaic verse. He was included in the canonical list of nine lyric poets by the scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria. He was an older contemporary of Sappho, with whom he may have exchanged poems. Both of them were the prime stars of literature throughout the Antiquity. He was born into the aristocratic governing class of Mytilene, the main city of Lesbos. His poetry is said to be very subjective and passionate with a very expressive form of language.

To any Greek alive in the days of Alcaeus the scene of this poem would have been familiar. The palace was the place of the richer families and those who would have gained fame and fortune. In these lines the palace is a pleasant place to be and is even descibed as spacious and lofty. The walls of the palace are filled of objects related to war, such as arrays, burned clads and helmets. It’s an English translation from Stasiotica made by Colonel Mure. It also comes with some well to do rhymes. Its themes are the palace, nostalgia; and war.

The Palace

From roof to roof the spacious palace halls
Glitter with war’s array;
With burnished metal clad, the lofty walls
Beam like the bright noonday.
There white-plumed helmets hang from many a nail,
Above, in threatening row;
Steel-garnished tunics and broad coats of mail
Spread o’er the space below.
Chalcidian blades enow, and belts are here,
Greaves and emblazoned shields;
Well-tried protectors from the hostile spear,
On other battlefields.
With these good helps our work of war’s begun,
With these our victory must be won.

Bildresultat för alcaeus

Sources

PoemHunter.com
wikipedia.org

”Abraham Lincoln is my name” – A short poem by Abe

President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) had many talents, and one of his less known was his interest in poetry. He started to write poetry at an early age and one early attempt to greatness is perhaps shown in the following few lines written about 15 or 17. About 9 poems seemed to have survived and are included in the Collected Works by Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln is my nam[e]
And with my pen I wrote the same
I wrote in both hast and speed
and left it here for fools to read.

Source

wikipedia.org
wikipedia.commons

“The Destruction of Sennacherib” – A poem by Lord Byron

In previous posts you learned more about the Romantic poets and I continue today with Lord Byron (1788-1824). He has been mentioned here before and was one of the leading poets of the Romantic Movement. Lord Byron may have lived a very adventurous lifestyle, but his time and place in history was also a more religious one than today. Therefore, many of his poems contains religious references to the Bible and Christianity. One such well-known poem is called “The Destruction of Sennacherib” and was published in 1815. In this poem Lord Byron manages to re-tell the biblical story (2 Kings. 18-19) on how the Assyrian king tried to capture Jerusalem. The Assyrian Siege of Jerusalem is historical (dated 701 BC), but the Assyrian annals report that the result was the payment of tribute by Jerusalem, with king Hezekiah remaining in office as a vassal ruler. Pay attention to how he builds up the story! Can you hear the horses while you’re reading?

The Destruction of Sennacherib

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!

Bildresultat för Sennacherib
From the Khorsabad Palace of King Sargon II c.722-705 BCE Relief depicting King Sennacherib 
Bildresultat för Sennacherib

The Biblical References

According to the story as related in 2 Kings, the Assyrian army came “against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them.” When the Assyrians were besieging Jerusalem, Hezekiah prayed to the Lord in the Temple, and Isaiah sent the reply from the Lord to Hezekiah to the effect “I will defend this city, to save it, for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake” (2 Kings 19:34), and during the following night the Angel of the Lord (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה) “smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand” (i.e. 185,000), so by morning most of the Assyrian army was found to have died, mysteriously, in their sleep (2 Kings 19:35), and Sennacherib went back to Nineveh.

Sources

wikipedia.org [various entries]

 

“A Night Scene”- A poem by Mary Shelley

Everyone knows Mary Shelley (1797-1851) as the writer of well-known Gothic novel Frankenstein – The Modern Prometheus (1818), but she wrote poetry as well. Shelley was the daughter of political philosopher William Godwin (1756-1836) and her mother the was well-known writer and “early feminist” Mary Wollonstonecraft (1759-1797). She never knew her mother who died shortly after giving birth to Mary. Her parents were liberals and her father gave her a good education even if it was informal. As a young girl Mary Shelley started to write short stories and maintained a lifelong interest in writing. She wrote novels, drama, poetry and about her travels. She married the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1816 and they travelled a lot and lived a somewhat unconventional life together until he drowned in Switzerland. They met in 1814 and Mary’s father never accepted their marriage. Mary got pregnant before they married which gave the pair social difficulties. After her husband’s death Mary focused on their young son and her writing. Mary Shelley died of a brain tumour at the age of 53 in London. She had been ill for over a decade.

Context and literary themes

This poem “A Night Scene” is about a woman called Isabel. The poem is quite lenghty and has a number of themes common to any writer of the Romantic period. Pay attention to the vivid descriptions of light, the Stars and the Night. How does they frame the story told in the poem? What can be said about the woman named Isabel? Notice how the protagonist takes on a male perspective: “That on that couch my Isabel reclines. I see yon brilliant star and waving tree,”

The Poem: “A Night Scene”

I see thee not, my gentlest Isabel;

Ambrosial night, with her mysterious spell,

Has woven shadows thick before thy face,

Drawing impervious veils athwart the space

That does divide us; thy bright eyes alone

A lucid beam into the dark have thrown,

Till the long lashes and the downcast lid

Quench it again, and the bright orbs are hid.

I see thee not: the touch of they soft hand,

And thy deep sighs, fraught with emotion bland,

Are to my sense the only outward signs

That on that couch my Isabel reclines.

I see yon brilliant star and waving tree,

Through which its beams rain down inconstantly;

I see ten thousand of those radiant flowers

Which shed light on us in dim silver showers,

High in the glorious heavens; I see full well

All other forms – not thine, my Isabel.

Sweet Mystery! I know that thou art there–

I scent the fragrance of thy silken hair;

The lines that do encircle thee I trace;

That spot is hallow’d by thy lovely face;

Thy woman’s form, in soft voluptuousness,

Enriches vacant air in yon recess;

Yet to my eyes no sign of thee appears,

And the drear blank suggests a thousand fears.

Speak, Isabel! – And yet not thus were broken

The cruel spell – for have not spirits spoken?

Are then thine eyes no nearer than that star,

Which unattainably doth shine afar?

Thy voice as immaterial as the wind

That murmurs past, yet leaves no form behind?

And is the visiting of this soft gale,

Rich with the odours of the flow’rets pale,

Which sweeps my bosom with delicious fanning,

My thrilling limbs with arms aerial spanning,

Is it as truly real, as warmly glowing

As thy dear form, rich with the life-tide flowing?

Ah, darling, quick thine arms around me throw,

Press thy warm lips upon my night-cool brow,

In thy dark eyes thy fair soul I must read –

One kiss, sweet heaven, ’tis Isabel indeed!


Sources

List of works by Mary Shelley – Information about the poem cited. 

wikipedia.org (various entries about Mary Shelley and her literary works)