Passer Nostre En Kata Poetry Series Stephanie Pope

Lesbia Mourning A Sparrow
-Lesbia Weeping Over the Death of A Sparrow
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Lawrence Alma Tadema (born Laurens Tadema) was Dutch, and only came to England when in his mid-30s, in 1869. He was a great Anglophile, and became very much part of the English establishment, becoming ARA in 1876, RA in 1879 and gaining a knighthood in 1899. Early influences on his art included George Ebers, a famous Egyptologist, and he painted some ancient Egyptian scenes, most notably Pastimes in Ancient Egypt in 1864. However, after a visit to Pompeii, he painted above all the life of ancient Greece and Rome, concentrating on the domestic and the homely rather than the dramatic. His paintings were commissioned en masse by the art dealer Ernest Gambart, who encouraged him to concentrate on the highly saleable classical paintings.
His paintings were without complicated themes or moral lessons and they were criticized for being lacking in any spirituality, and later for showing 'Victorians dressed up in ancient costume' (poor Laura Tadema, his frequent model, was said to be 'too fat in the ankles'). During his lifetime, Alma Tadema's work was very popular with the public, but his reputation declined rapidly after his death.

chirpping sparrow

For more on sparrow see
For Sparrow's Song click Song
for a review of Peter Green's translation of the poems of Catullus by Dr. Emily Wilson click here
Passer Nostre -by stephanie pope

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father." -Matt. 10:29

were not two sparrow sold
a value placed between the rr's
in earth and heaven’s bed they formed
like one in fall and dread and s(©)ent
in borrowers that fell through r’s one heart

a bird-price bled two sparrow this that fled
and loved in one with farther things unheard
and aired unseen between themselves the bird
of slow and sleeping eros such things marry

spread over me your tongues of turf
bring earth, dark earth
sweet chariot let fly the dream
come chaliced gold in sky
bring pinks of red and lie

On paradise and tinseled wing
come pledge in troth and sparrow-sing
this eros ® shall bear in name
its name in poetry; its art in heaven

what pressed the two one lip to lip this pain
of sparrow sold and sparrow rain
what closed the gate and clothed the mouth
what name
has god been given

what loves a dream of darkenings
a sparrow signed and fired
in soft and feathered fartherings
both hated and desired

-Sparrow's Poetic Image
"Passer, deliciae," or "Delightful Sparrow," by the Roman poet, Gaius Valerius Catullus (c. 84-54 BC), tells of Lesbia's little pet sparrow and how it cheers her in sad moments. Catullus tells us that he wishes he could be as close to Lesbia as her sparrow. He wants to 'comfort' her ( & 'sport' with her!) in her sorrows the way her pet sparrow does. Passer Nostre means " 'Our' Sparrow" The 'OUR' signifies something hidden.

In " 'HIS' sparrow" Catullus combines polished, scholarly reference, deep pathologizing and sexually nuanced double-entendre (sparrow in Latin slang refers to more than female genitalia., but as well, to the foam-borne bearer image, the male genitalia, the myth of the birth of Aphrodite recalls. This results in an image of sparrow that is, like the legendary golden apple of Aphrodite, the flesh of whose fruit is a supreme, nearly unobtainable prize! So, "sparrow" is both a symbol for Lesbia's favor, the wing of her vulva, and much more. To Catullus it is the symbol for the possibility of or experience to be/come further an unrequitted ideal, a "True Love" sacra (but, Love as prize)

It is understood by many that Catullus had translated much of Sappho's poetry and understood her use of the sparrow image as a symbol for the immortal Aphrodite

Sappho describes Aphrodite's form of transport as a "chariot yoked with swift, lovely sparrows" bringing her "over the dark earth, thick-feathered wings swirling down from the sky through mid-air." Sappho's sparrow displays the descent of Love in surprise.

It is perhaps, this symbolism and its mythopoetic movement from sur-prize to prize that informs the sparrow image of this poet's tormented love for Lesbia.

In "Lugete, O Veneres," or "Lament, Oh Venus," Lesbia yields to Love. Although the sparrow now represents the union between Lesbia and Catullus and not the sexuality of Lesbia herself, the achievement does not accomplish for the poet a deeper spiritual union with Love. This is what the death of the sparrow comes to mean. Yet, a further point suggests the unknown spiritual value's value once placed between the two in tension, opened the space to hear a third in felt sense for a now darker other -not given- or rendered yet to be/come, the unrequited off-spring of Aphrodite to which these lines defer: "Odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris? Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior."(I hate and I love. You ask me how this can be? I don't know: I only know that I feel it, and it is excruciating.)

- Sweet bit, sweet bite!

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