Friday 8 December 2023

'A rushing music, seizing on her dance...'

 Among my birthday presents, and very welcome, was Christopher Lloyd's Edgar Degas: Drawings and Pastels, a handsome book that will give me hours of browsing pleasure. 

Among Degas's finest pastels – and unusual in showing a performance rather than rehearsals and behind the scenes action – is L'Etoile, a brilliant representation of a dancer caught in the brief ecstasy of inhabiting the dance before returning to the menacing darkness of backstage and the harsh realities of life as a dancer (and, very probably, prostitute: the two tended to go together at the time). Richard Wilbur catches the feel of the picture perfectly in his ekphrastic poem, 'L'Etoile'...

A rushing music, seizing on her dance,
Now lifts it from her, blind into the light;
And blind the dancer, tiptoe on the boards
Reaches a moment toward her dance's flight.

Even as she aspires in loudening shine
The music pales and sweetens, sinks away;
And past her arabesque in shadow show
The fixt feet of the maitre de ballet.

So she will turn and walk through metal halls
To where some ancient woman will unmesh
Her small strict shape, and yawns will turn her face
Into a little wilderness of flesh. 

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