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Draginja Ramadanski

THE QUEST FOR PEACE ETERNAL

Senta, Serbia

mimaram@cablenet.rs

A fairy tale offers us a different message (including the original ones) over the course of our lives. A fairy tale swings a child in us, in a prudent way teaching us about the pitfalls of adulthood. In this sense, all the fairy tales are scary, and in their magic way they witness the unspeakable and inevitable truths.
The Pied Piper of Hamelin belongs to such fairy tales, whose maximalist, thanatological programme the great Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva used in her poem The Ratcatcher.
The poem Ratcatcher, created in the Paris period of Marina Tsvetaeva (1925), has a subtitle that insists on a unique genre alloy: a lyrical satire. The objects of her lyrical satirical impressions include  Soviet reality (as the paradigm of reality in general, in which the poetess equally minds the hunger of the hungry ones and the satiety of the satiated) and fate (or rather, the mission) of art in such (or any) reality. Tsvetaeva’s artistic intention is more complex than the original message, taking into account the large number of subsequent derivatives (versions by Grimm, Goethe, Simrock, Heine).
The poem, therefore, has two levels, confronting each other in accordance with the subtitled heading. Body and spirit reflect their strength in the poem’s narrative fabric.
In the realm of the body Tsvetaeva insists on olfactory perception, with a large proportion of intertextual reference to  Mayakovsky (remember his pictures of everyday life, where everything is filled with down comforters, canaries, jackets, ribbons, powder compacts). Tsvetaeva presents the same vaunted comme il fault  by metonymy of covering (button, cover, sleeve) and oxymorons ("the odour of neatness"), to which she devotes ironic majestatic tirades:

In homes of the rich

What’s first? The smell.

Intensive and tart,

Severe as the Torah.

No essence of things

But essence’s thing-

ness is in this scent.

[Tsvetaeva, 2000, 44]

A picture of  everyday is opposed to a large metautopian quote, which in many particulars is based on the utopian models of Russian literature of the 19th and 20th centuries. Namely, the bait that the Piper uses to lead first the rats and then the children to death, adds up to a flight from such a reality, so many times demonised by Russian authors. And it has always been, and is even now with Tsvetaeva, an idealist conception of transformation of life, with the help of art and beauty, and by the subjective will of the artist. Acoustic and optical sensations, which largely participate in artistic illusion, offer nothing less than death that appears in a given intertextual constellation to soothe and rescue.
In opposing the chromatic scale of lies, reasons of common sense remain defeated, the dynamite of music inviolably destroys reality. In such a finale Tsvetaeva’s art found its reflection. The Ratcatcher, of course, is lying. And that is the art – a beautiful lie. In the dispute between the truth of life and the falsehood of art, the artist must persevere and remain faithful to the motto: the instrument is lying, not the music. These are the aesthetic postulates of Tsvetaeva herself. Sound (the mantra) is infinite, truer than sense; it is pure spirituality.

A minstrel is always a wastrel.

A fifer won’t guard his fife.

Let it crack – he’ll whistle.

He is a hater of packings.

He is a smasher of wrappings.

Naked the music-maker,

Sheer. Does beauty require

Shielding? It’s cankers we hide.

He is the ripper of wrappers

Off everything under the sky!
[Tsvetaeva, 2000, 97]

It is no accident that the instrument that makes the fatal happiness is the flute; the subtext of this choice, besides the technology to produce sound (spirit), also includes the mythological topic of Marsyas’s flute, for which the price was - life. The flute is, moreover, a favourite motif of early Mayakovsky, who puts it at the centre of his famous poem The Backbone Flute (1916), precisely as a developed metaphor of suicide. The creative opposition to the "the noise of time" (O. Mandelshtam), art, according to Tsvetaeva’s profound belief, must remain constantly present in the spirit (sound), a visionary confronted with the pragmatics of body.

What is the body? A shadow’s quiver.

Body’s span? A spume, a shiver.

Into a world of rainbow curves

Sound will be our guilding pole.

Two arms aren’t enough to serve.

Sound is the pole, the flag – your soul.

[Tsvetaeva, 2000, 78]

Tsvetaeva unquestionably loved Mayakovsky’s Pushkinian lyricism, including his early elitist attitude towards the crowd. However, it seems that the idea of Ratcatcher was born at the moment when she recognized the rhythms of marches and collectivist rhetoric in Mayakovsky’s voice. A strong, unequivocal, unparalleled courage: neurotically persistent Marina made it uncertain by warning that the creative power must avoid any supression and channeling.

The poetess who says that her muse is neither evil nor good, but indifferent, could get behind such ending where children die.

Endless dreams and trackless hollows…

The heart ever quieter, the flute ever sweeter….

Don’t think, just listen, don’t think, just follow…

Flute eversweeter, hearteversleepier

[Tsvetaeva, 2000, 109]

According to an immoral concept of art, the Piper led the children to die, freed their souls from the hated ballast of substance and - made them happy. By the act of sacrificing children, a divergence of ethics with aesthetics was brought to a boil. Tsvetaeva concludes consistently and uncompromisingly: art is beyond the concepts of sin and charity.
Nobody has the right to judge a poet. "The only judgment of the poet is – one’s own judgement. If you want to serve God and people in general, to do good to people, join the Salvation Army or something like that - but quit writing poems" (Цветаевa, 1988, 406, trans. by D.R.).
A true poet applies his own maximalist, thanatological program to himself, too. In Tsvetaeva’s poem “Conversation with a Genius” (1928), the artist surpasses the mission of bringing happiness or death and is being promoted to the rank of Orpheus, who, himself dismembered, still sang. You have to sing even in the greatest distress, if about nothing else then about the impossibility of singing.
                                                                                       
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Since the time when, back in 1284, a notorious legend was spread of the revenge of a travelling musician against the inhabitants of Hamelin, many different operations have occurred to it: translations, adaptations, illustrations. The frightening fairy tale, whose ending is controversial, ethically ambiguous, is difficult to offer to the youngest, because it is exactly the children in the fairy tale, through no fault of their own, who suffer. In their early readership raid on fairy tales, children seem to circumvent the story of the Ratcatcher, while they can never get enough of other fairy tales. In fact, it's the simple truth - it's a fairy tale for adults. How can one approach such a fairy tale, enrich it with creative commentary?
In the epoch of modernism the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva did it, as we have seen, by transmitting the fairy tale to the genre of lyrical satire, evoking her own historical time in particular, and its expressive and artistic traditions.
It is very important that the poem was illustrated by the poet's daughter, Ariadne Sergejevna Efron, in Paris in the thirties, where she was engaged in fashion illustrations. The drawings were probably lost during their return to the USSR in 1939 ...
The illustrator of the Serbian translation of Tsvetaeva’s text is a contemporary artist, Lorant Agoston, who impresses us by his transmission of poetic narrative into the medium of visual art [Цветајева, 1998].
His former work in easel painting and book illustrations was crucial in his handling of this complex task. He is, in fact, inspired by the style complex of Art Nouveau, which also marked the visual expression of the Russian Silver Age. The leitmotifs of his early works (wandering musicians, instruments, sheet music flags and keys), associate us outright with Tsvetaeva’s vulnerable youth in the Museum of Fine Arts, to the sound of her mother's music-making, in pre-revolutionary Moscow.
Not to mention how much the influence of the Secession could provide, through the painting of Alphonse Mucha, in Tsvetaeva’s emigration in Czechoslovakia, where the idea of the poem was born in 1925.
Decadence’s fixation with floral elegance, which marked fashion, jewelry, furniture, and architecture in the given epoch, seems to us to be formative for Tsvetaeva’s Parisian emigration.
We also notice another, somewhat infantilized stronghold of Agoston’s illustrations, which also correspond to the genre characteristics of fairy tales and to Marina Tsvetaeva’s parenting. In fact, she commenced the work on the poem immediately after her son’t birth ("It is the third day since I got up. I feel that the verses are coming"). We might say that the poem grew up along with her newborn son, enriching its tissue by an additional emotion that has not lost its stylistic traces (fragments of gentle babbling often penetrate into the poetic solutions). After all, Tsvetaeva did not make a principled distinction between poetry for children and adults: about children's verses she spoke quite seriously, and she valued them.
So these are the two codes that exist in the template and the poetic illustrations, and which, lifted to the level of reminiscences, evoke the overall charm of the intertextual massif of the fairy tale.
It is a stylized, unrealistic drawing, in a balanced citational-symbolic space often framed by a semantically laden frame, which devides the illustration into the fairy tale and what is indifferent to it, a threatening, silent and faceless whiteness of peripherals. It would be just another decorative doctrine from Mucha’s boards, if it were not upgraded by witty ledges, outlets of the author's sensibility. His expressive painterly store includes the doctrine of more recent painting, including the postmodern consciousness of playful citation.
Agoston’s line, as spontaneous as it is disciplined, fully communicates with the poetic universe of the poem, with the balance of power in the story of the offended and solitary player from Hamelin. The dominant art refrain is created from a spectrum of picturesque, rhythmic and euphonic leitmotifs of Tsvetaeva: case, shell, home. That metonymy has huge capacity, covers a wide range of habitats, understood as safety and commotion on everyone's part, from dens to the castle and the church.
It is a series of six figures, which are suffering evolution of form, involution actually, until the final deconstruction.
A modest hut opens the picture collection, with hints of fairy-tale spiritual beauty against real tangible poverty. Then there is a church, with a bell tower and clock, which measures a fairly petit bourgeois time, against the background of lavish historical Gothic and a discrete, superhistorical, lasting need for faith. The third picture brings in a lethal sphericity, curvature, plasticity of shape. We could read it as a budding banality, the stomach principle, clawing limbs, antennas, a stinger. If earlier we evoked a hatch with cobwebs that grow over modest habitats, or with neatly arranged dry branches, now they are aggressive bristles with something demonic in them. All ruffled creatures defend their own dens. The fourth picture brings a fatal mimicry: a violin silhouette and a rat tail. In the sleek lines the organics of a honeycomb habitat develops, increasingly zoomorphised until it reaches the register of the ghostly, witching, ominous. The fifth picture emphasizes wear, friability, distortion, unsoundness, redundancy, failure of spirituality. Pilaster curves, arches slack: the removal of beauty, emptying of shells. A disheveled bird on the roof recalls a creaky weather vane as the last relic of celestiality in a senseless existence. In the sixth picture a devastated home is brought down to anthropomorphic sectors of chiaroscuro, the contours of the wanderers’ torsos, a magician, a conjurer, with a hat decorated with ragged feather dusters, with no vigour or vitality. It is a personified grimace, with a clear division of pragmatics and spirit (when a chimney takes over the role of feather duster). From the cavities of windows/eyes and door/toothless mouth it seems that we hear the ironic denial of trivial passwords: Morgen is auch ein Tag.
The title illustration relies  on an open zoomorphism. This is actually a doubletailed danger, the duplicitous rat of banality, which by its nature is falsed. Hence the call for a threat so conceived (under cover, behind a mask) is made up of the poet’s name and surname. Authentic poetry is a trap for every banality, even when the bait is the bloody heart of a poet, and perhaps for that very reason.
Joseph Brodsky in 1961 in Leningrad released the rather long poem-mystery Procession, composed of a large number of Cantos and choral sections, shapes inspired by music, and much more than that. The subtitle contains the definition  "an anthem of banality” and two Cantos (38 and 39) are devoted to the conflict between flesh and spirit, between pragmatism and beauty, which is sung by Tsvetaeva.
Brodsky’s verses are actually a tribute to the great parenting and to the adoption which lasts for centuries among the artists and their motifs. It is not easy to get from Hamelin to Saint Petersburg, to paraphrase Brodsky; the trip sometimes lasts for several centuries, and big spin-meisters often die halfway there, so that only their poetic sons and daughters reach Russia...

LITERATURE:

1. Tsvetaeva, Marina, The Ratcatcher, A Lyrical Satire, trans. by Angela Livingstone, Northwestern University Press, Evanston, Illinois, 2000

2.Цветаева, Марина, Сочинения, в двух томах, Художественная  литература, Москва, 1988

3. Цветајева, Марина, Пацоловац, превела Драгиња Рамадански, Уметничка радионица Кањишки круг, Кањижа, 1998

4.Цветаева, Марина, Крысоловhttp://www.eunet.lv/cgi-bin/lat/POEZIQ/CWETAEWA/krysolow.txt  (accessed 09.09.2014)

5. Бродский, Иосиф, Шествие,  http://www.world-art.ru/lyric/lyric.php?id=7374(accessed 10.10.2014)