Friday, February 19, 2010


John Crowley's Love and Sleep takes Francesco Colonna's 1499 Venetian incunabula Hypnerotomachia Poliphili for a skeleton and how long has it been since I first read Love and Sleep? Years. Yet it wasn't until I came across an Amazon page dedicated to the new 1999 translation of the Hypnerotomachia (by Joscelyn Godwin, who I thought at first must be a woman, but no, a man, a musiclogist) that it occurred to me to look online for the older translation, an incomplete one published in 1592. This translation is attributed to someone whose initials were R.D., perhaps the courtier Robert Dallington -- they guess -- who died in 1636, leaving bread for the poor in his will and donating a large bell to the church of Geddington. Project Gutenberg has it.

The _Pægma_ base or subiect for this metaline machine to stand vpon, was of one solyde peece of marble … At the hinder end in like sort was a garland of deadly Woolfwoort, with this inscription, _Equus infælicitatis_. And vpon the right side there was ingrauen certaine figures, shapes, and representments of men and women dauncing together, byformed or faced, the formost smiling, the hynmost weeping: and dauncing in a ring, with theyr armes spred abrode, and hanfasted man, with man and woman with woman. One arme of the man vnder that of the woman, and the other aboue, and thus closing together, and houlding by the hands, they floung about one after another, that alwayes still in one place, a smyling countenance incountered a foregoing sad.

There's a nice completeness of the imagination in that description, in the mind's eye that sees not only people dancing in a circle, but also the detail that rounds out the object, "a smyling countenance incountered a foregoing sad," which reminds me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's point about the flying elephants. It's the writer's exactness that makes an imagined thing seem real.

Some hours after I'd posted this, as I was watching my blood elf fly his dragonhawk across Northrend, I thought, "When does a person want to pay precise attention to a thing? When they feel a strong emotion towards it, when they love it or hate it, or, when they want to eat it."

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