ANALYZING THE IMAGIST POEM

analyzing the imagist poemOverview

Overleaf we used some of Pound's imagist techniques to begin writing a poem on Venice, but the piece was convoluted and incoherent. Here we start again by planning as for a short story, i.e. background reading, developing characters, devising conflict, plot, narrative, and style.

Background Reading

We need to read up on Veronese's painting {1}, {2} contemporary Venice {3} {4}, and the larger historical setting {5} — though only broadly at this stage.

Developing Characters

That done, we should now know something of the characters on Veronese's stage, and the physical appearance of Veronese, his wife and brother from Veronese pictures. Perhaps not much else, except that Veronese was particularly devout, and married late. How do we reconcile these? Let's suppose an affair with someone who helped his career but whom he couldn't marry, someone introducing this provincial to the worldly pleasures of Venice but turned him to God when matters ended badly. Now nothing (as far as I know) is recorded, but Venice was famous for its courtesans, often exceptionally gifted and well-educated woman, and we'll call this one Antonia Schiavoni, and suppose the two had a daughter, Anna Schiavoni. The other characters — Veronese's father, brother, wife and children — are all known to history, but we have to make them come alive, with discernible characters picked out in rough scraps of verse:

Gabriele Spezapreda (Father)

A stout man, given to rages and heavy drinking
With a talent that was locked away, the stone
Not yielding to his heavy chisel but looking at him
Defiantly, the features half deformed. Christ,
The apostles and the angel's wings: he saw
Them all about him but in his work mere yieldings,
Properties, the blunting chisel's heavy cut.


Paolo Caliari (Veronese)

A calm man, courtly with eyes that twinkle
A ready wit they say but exceeding kind.


Antonia Schiavoni (Courtesan)

A thing of smoke and smouldering fire
A restrained magnificence and tawny hair.
Already then too heavy but with eyes
And mouth to shut the coloured daylight in.

Elena Badile (Wife)

A small lithe body, angular and bony
An unyielding flatness under folded arms.

Round eyes, not questioning, but underneath
A distant fury darkening under hooded lids.


Benedetto (Brother)

Earnest following in his famous brother's steps,
Awkward and honest but without his flair


Anna Schiavoni (Daughter of Veronese and Antonia)

Who would have thought it? With an innocence
A settling into steps of such perfection that all
Accord her quietness and precedence in the room.

Gabriele (Son)

A drunkard and a roistering man
With not a shred of courtesy or native wit:
What have I done to merit such a fool
Who picks up paintbrushes, dabs and daubs
But has no clue of what he does?

Carletto (Son)

The febrile grace and nervous questioning,
His mother's fierce dark eyes and roving stare.
He tries, he really tries, I see him sat and tracing
Hour after hour at the poor thin drawing.
Continually

Conflict and Plot

Without conflict, there is no plot, and therefore no story. Let's start with these themes:

1. Father, a failed stone-mason, is ambitious for his sons, advising them not to marry early but first gain a reputation outside provincial Verona. Conversely, the painter Antonio Badile, to whom Veronese is apprenticed, wants to see his daughters settled, and presses Veronese to marry one of them.

2. Veronese escapes to Venice, falls for Antonia Schiavoni, who first laughs at him but eventually takes him as a private lover when she sees portraits of herself appearing in his prominent commissions. Gradually she comes to like, respect and love this artisan, but needs rich patrons to maintain herself. Only when desperate does she want marriage, but now Veronese rejects her, a callous and cowardly act she never forgives.

3. Antonia is Veronese's inspiration, and for many years it is her that is recreated in the painting. Her accomplishments, luxury and deceptions embody those of the Venetian Republic, and he feels he has only to represent her to understand what his patrons require. In the famine year (1558) Veronese supports and lives with Antonia, but will not marry her when their daughter is born (1560) as this would finish his career. Antonia therefore leaves him. Veronese continues with commissions, outwardly as successful as before, but now paints by formula, empty shells of people. He marries and has children, and to his family he is extraordinarily devoted and indulgent, knowing that they are only a substitute for the inner life. Finally he turns back to the simple faith of his childhood, and the paintings become darker and more introspective.

4. Veronese distantly admires his daughter, just as he did her mother in his early years in Venice, and when she dies of plague in 1577, he is devastated, questioning his life and the promises of religion. Only when he meets up again with Antonia, living as a nun in 1587, does he realize that all men are called upon to make a sacrifice, that 'he who would gain life must lose it'. There comes a reconciliation of sorts, but Veronese returns to working sadly at San Sebastiano, where he will be buried. His sons will continue the family tradition, but without the hopes that came from Gabriele Caliari, who was intoxicated with the splendour of God's world, though he could not convey it.

5. Elena Badile is a good wife to Veronese, but also grasping and materialistic. Fiercely protective and jealous of Veronese's past, she insists of playing the wife of a leading citizen, when her pushy and provincial manners cause the painter much grief. Towards her Veronese becomes correct and dutiful, and her frustration at this she converts into ambitions for her sons, not understanding that they lack sufficient talent.

6. Benedetto is bluff, honest, popular but rather simple man, much like his father to look at, but not given to his rages or despairs. Much of his work comes from his brother's contacts, but Benedetto genuinely likes and helps Veronese, giving him a friendly ear when other doors are closed. He believes when he doesn't understand, an attitude Veronese admires, and realizes that he must also follow in his own spiritual life.

Narrative

A time-line, with fictional events in italics:


1528. Paolo Spezapreda born 5th child of stone cutter Gabriele in Verona. Has brother Benedetto.

1541. Apprenticed to painter Antonio Badile in Verona. Calls himself Giovanni Caroto.

1548. Works on altarpiece in San Fermo Maggiore, church in Verona.

1551. Executes frescos at Soranza Villa near Trevise.

1552. Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga  commissions altar piece in Mantua.

1553. Asks Cardinal for payment. Paints at Castelfranco

1553-4. Executes paintings for 3 rooms in Council of Ten Salon Venice. Meets Antonia Schiavoni, a high class courtesan: laughs at him.

1555 Paints for cathedral in Monntagnana. December resides in Venice and begins paintings in San Sebastiano

1556-7 Paints in great salon of Libreria Mercian. Takes up with Antonia, who introduces him to the high life of Venice

1557. No longer resident in Verona.

1558. Year of famine. Supports Antonia

1560 Accompanies Gerolama Grimani mission to Rome. Daughter Anna born. V rejects marriage. Antonia ends affair

1561. Executes frescoes at Barbaro a Maer villa.

1563 Marriage at Cana painted.

1563. Altarpiece at Verona.

1566. Marries Elena, daughter of Antonio Badile in Verona in 1566 (aged 37-8)

1568. Son Gabriele born on  11th August.

1570. Son Carletto born 8th October.  Fall of Cyprus. Major paintings at San Sebastiano finished.

1571. Battle of Lepanto. V. paints commemorative picture.

1572. Daughter Vitoria Ottavia in his new lodgings in Ca' Mocenigo in Venice.

1573. Questioned by Inquisition over Marriage at Cana (transcript exists)

1575. Lives in Benedetto's house in Padua.

1576-7 Plague. Titian dies. Fire at Doge's palace. Anna dies, aged 17 of plague. V. sees judgement of God.

1577. Redecorates Doge's palace after fire.

1579. Death of son Camillo. Antonia comes to see him

1582. Buys land at Treviso

1584-7. Entered into Brotherhood of Venetian painters.

1586. Correspondence with M. Soranzo

1587. Death  of Bianca Cappello. Commissioned picture for convent: sees Antonia for last time. Viewpoint of story.

1588. Death of Veronese aged 60.  Probably April 19th

Viewpoint

This is not a dramatic piece but a reflective poem on the vississitudes of life, from Veronese's point of view a year before his death. Let's suppose he meets up with Antonia, who has retired, like a woman of good family, to a nunnery. Scenes:

1. Approach to nunnery: V. not looking forward to explaining why he has not accepted the commission. Reflections on his approaching death.

2. Interview with Abbess. Explains how he has given up painting, leaving studio in hands of his son.

3. Reflections: outward success and inward grief.

4. Interview with Antonia. Story emerges: his relationship with her, support for Anna but refusal to send her out of Venice during plague year as she would be corrupted into becoming a courtesan like her mother. An angry exchange of views. Accepts responsibility for her death.

5. Reflections and remorse, despite the relative prosperity of the V. family.

6. Interview with Anna, who didn't die but is now a nun. V. even more upset.

7. Slow journey back to Venice. Returns to reflections and prayer at San Sebastiano.

Style

We use a. the imagist technique and b. irregular but cadenced lines of Pound's Cantos to draft workable examples of the final piece. The steps to date are:
1. Sketch out a 2000 word draft in a loose hexameter. (200 hours)
2. Cut some 300 lines of redundant material. (2 hours)
3. Add 250 lines on Anna and the nightmare journey to San Erasmo. (20 hours)
4. Recast as rough blank verse. (30 hours)
5. Craft into passable blank verse (20 hours).
6. Polish up the blank verse (50 hours).
7. Incorporate material from first jottings, cut 60 lines and build up last stanza. (15 hours) Final version to date is here.

A 568-page free pdf ebook on practical verse writing is available from Ocaso Press. Click here for the download page.

References

1. Remigio Marini, Tout L'Oevre Peint de Veronese (Flammarion, 1970).
2. Masilio Editori, Churches of Venice (Chorus, Venezia, 2002)
3. John Julius Norwich, A History of Venice (Penguin, 1971)
4. Susie Boulting and Christopher Catling, Venice and the Veneto (Dorling Kindersley, 1995)
5. John Haywood, The Cassell Atlas of World History (Cassell, 1998)
6. Peter Watson, Wisdom and Strength: The Biography of a Renaissance Masterpece (Doubleday, 1989).

 

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