3. That wanton, smiling boy
That wanton, smiling boy, how true he aims his shafts! The wound he deals has no broad front, but eats its way deep into the bone. His madness glides into the marrow; with creeping ﬁre he ravages the veins. His arrows strike the lowest depths and pierce the ocean throng of Nereids; they cannot ease their heat with all the water in the sea. He kindles the ﬁerce flames of youth and wakes again, in worn-out age, extinguished ﬁres; he smites maids’ breasts with unknown heat, and bids the very gods leave heaven in borrowed forms on earth to dwell. He claims as his own all nature; nothing is exempt. —Phaedra
This description of Cupid is not the babyish stereotype we normally hold. The text I gleaned from Phaedra was much too long, and I found myself more than usually unwilling to delete any of it. But as often happens, the editing decisions became much easier once some music started occuring to me.
That happened one evening after work. I walk through the Suburban Station Concourse to my train, and there is usually a busker performing where I walk by, of a stable of mostly guitarist/singers. Sometimes it’s a saxophonist or violinist, but one day there was a bluegrass singer accompanying himself on the banjo. I never saw him there before, nor have I seen him since. But his presence that day was timely, as his wailing and dun-diddy, dun-diddy rhythm provided my entry into this text. The words started forming themselves into couplets, and the piece was off and running.
The rhythm reminded me of something else, and it took a while for it to come to me. It was the rhythm guitar track from the 1971 hit “Treat Her Like a Lady” by the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose. The dotted rhythm on beat two kickstarts the backup vocals, “Treat her like, you got to, got to treat her like…” and is an overlay of irony to the ravaging described by the chorus in Phaedra.
18 Jun 2011. The Waking Sun. The Crossing, Tempesta di Mare. Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, 8 pm