Sprezzatura

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Sprezzatura

Postby violet on August 10th, 2015, 1:38 pm 

For some reason, I find the notion of sprezzatura very appealing. Here is an old example from an Anonymous poet.

Westron wind, when will thou blow?
The small rain down can rain.
Christ, if my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again.

Think of sprezzatura as the art of doing a difficult task so gracefully that it looks effortless. That idea is at the heart of all alchemical transformations by the way, and it is represented by the first card of the Tarot's Major Arcana -- The Juggler or Magician. I think the word sprezzatura was coined in the 1500's by Castiglione in The Book of the Courtier. For Castiglione, this grace was represented by the Court of Urbino and its signature painter was Raffaello who just happened to show this virtue in his portrait of Castiglione, lol. See it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portrait_ ... astiglione

Later writers were also captivated by this idea, including Somerset Maugham who wrote: "A good style should show no sign of effort. What is written should seem a happy accident."

And yet the poetry that is speaking to me now shows such intricacy, complexity, and artistry that I can never read it without always being reminded of it; yet as Auden put it, the work that goes into reading it is well worth it. And once that work is done, then I can really feel the sprezzatura of it, so to speak. And, of course, it also makes the simple beauty of the example from Anonymous stand out as the epitome of simple grace of such elegance and fire that it strikes right through any mental carapace straight into the soul of souls.

So in the spirit of sprezzatura, here is what I consider a transcendent example from the poet Richard Wilbur.

MIND

Mind in its purest play is like some bat
That beats about in caverns all alone,
Contriving by a kind of senseless wit
Not to conclude against a wall of stone.

It has no need to falter or explore;
Darkly it knows what obstacles are there,
And so may weave and flitter, dip and soar
In perfect courses through the blackest air.

And has this simile a like perfection?
The mind is like a bat. Precisely. Save
That in the very happiest intellection
A graceful error may correct the cave.
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Re: Sprezzatura

Postby violet on August 13th, 2015, 1:04 pm 

This kind of work can also resonate as the ultimate end of language, to represent the neglegentia diligens of spontaneous elegance so valued by the Roman orators and artists like Ovid and Cicero, also seen in the Socratic idea of grace as virtue itself.

Thus, the idea of sprezzatura as a concept springing from times and cultures much older than the Italian Renaissance is not unreasonable and only adds to its appeal. Grace achieved without seeming effort has also been viewed as the result of Tao, or maybe even an embodiment of Tao itself. But of course, the concept of Tao wouldn’t have been available to people during the time of the Italian Renaissance and its elevation of the courtier tradition.

Also important to note is that this ideal of perfect ease and grace is only achieved after a time of hard work and practice. Regarding art, this energy might make the finished product look as though it were "a happy accident;" but in reality the fortunate ending is achieved only through trial and error, hard labor, and difficulty... and lots and lots of practice.

This is the message inherent in the Tarot, a hermetic system which has been around since the Middle Ages, using symbology and wisdom derived from traditions much older than that. Here's something from Valentine Tomberg's letter on "The Magician," (aka the Juggler) the first card of the Major Arcana (Marseilles deck).

A young man, wearing a large hat in the form of a lemniscate (symbol of infinity), standing behind a small table on which are arranged: a yellow-painted vase; three small yellow discs; another four red discs, in two piles, each divided down the middle by a line; a red beaker with two dice; a knife withdrawn from its sheath; and lastly a yellow bag for carrying these various objects. The young man -- who is the Magician -- holds a rod in his right hand (from the standpoint of the observer) and a ball or yellow object in his left hand. He holds these two objects with perfect ease, without clasping them or showing any other sign of tension, encumbrance, haste or effort. What he does with his hands is perfect spontaneity -- it is easy play and not work. He himself does not follow the movement of his hands; his gaze is elsewhere.
[...]
The first Arcanum -- the principle underlying all the other twenty-one Major Arcana of the Tarot -- is that of the rapport of personal effort and of spiritual reality. It occupies the first place of the series because if one does not understand it ... , one would not know what to do with all the other Arcana. For it is the Magician who is called to reveal the practical method relating to all the Arcana.


And I would say that this represents the foundation for the spiritual journey of any person, including the alchemical evolution of the psyche. As he goes on to say:

Learn at first concentration without effort; transform work into play; make every yoke you have accepted easy and every burden that you carry light.

We can also see the achievement of grace in the sculptures of ancient Greece and the Renaissance Italians. It is achieved through a sense of kairos, the moment of moments that moves outside of kronos, or clock time, to the knowledge that has become innate. It's the place where the opposites unite and move into form, yin and yang, tension and release, the place where kronos meets kairos, and so on. The union of the actual and ideal that looks so subtle it is hardly noticed, while it is perceived with a "yes, that's it," while other works or performances without such grace fade into the background.
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Re: Sprezzatura

Postby doogles on August 13th, 2015, 9:49 pm 

Thank you for that Violet. I believe you've answered an unspoken query that's been in the back of my mind for decades. I've always wondered why something like William Fitzgerald's translation of the Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam has appealed to me, in spite of the fact that I generally cannot tolerate poetry.

I'd never seen the word sprezzatura till I read your post. "Think of sprezzatura as the art of doing a difficult task so gracefully that it looks effortless." I find great appeal in passages such as the following.

"Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse - and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness -
And Wilderness is Paradise enow."

"The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Turns Ashes - or it prospers; and anon,
Like Snow upon the Desert's dusty Face
Lighting a little Hour or two - is gone."

"Oh, come with old Khayyam, aqnd leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, and Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
The flower that once has blown for ever dies."
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Re: Sprezzatura

Postby Marshall on August 14th, 2015, 12:13 am 

Vivian you picked two apt and beautiful examples! Both are favorites! I remember as an undergrad a girl I was fond of singing Westron Wind which she learned from hearing a countertenor John Jacob Niles recording.
violet » Mon Aug 10, 2015 10:38 am wrote:For some reason, I find the notion of sprezzatura very appealing. Here is an old example from an Anonymous poet.

Westron wind, when will thou blow?
The small rain down can rain.
Christ, if my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again.

Think of sprezzatura as the art of doing a difficult task so gracefully that it looks effortless...

..., here is what I consider a transcendent example from the poet Richard Wilbur.

MIND

Mind in its purest play is like some bat
That beats about in caverns all alone,
Contriving by a kind of senseless wit
Not to conclude against a wall of stone.

It has no need to falter or explore;
Darkly it knows what obstacles are there,
And so may weave and flitter, dip and soar
In perfect courses through the blackest air.

And has this simile a like perfection?
The mind is like a bat. Precisely. Save
That in the very happiest intellection
A graceful error may correct the cave.


I came to know Wilbur's verse much later and "Mind" is one of my favorites of his. Another is a translation from Borges---Wilbur is able to translate rhymed&metric verse preserving the specialness of its structure without any awkwardness. Casual grace--truth---something difficult done seemingly without effort.

the title of the Borges sonnet he translated so well is, I believe, "Everness". You may know it.

Another Wilbur I love is a Wedding Toast for his son's wedding.

It makes me happy to be reminded. thank you for this. They are poems one can easily and with pleasure learn by heart
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Re: Sprezzatura

Postby violet on August 14th, 2015, 3:00 pm 

Fitzgerald's verse is indeed the epitome of sprezzatura.

Thank you!
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Re: Sprezzatura

Postby violet on August 14th, 2015, 3:05 pm 

Marshall,

Thank you for pointing out the musicality of Westron Wind.

Now you've got me thinking about Mozart and sprezzatura.

There is also a way that music and language meet in poetry that, for me, is just wonderful... and for Dana Gioia in this essay which you might appreciate, called "Poetry as Enchantment." Enjoy!

http://www.thedarkhorsemagazine.com/dan ... etrya.html
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