Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Frost-Berry--A Filamental Emblem

For a Merry

On a bough
Winter’s vow,
Silver prow
And crystal rime;

On red and green
Ice-shards keen
In frozen chime;

On circled snow
Frost-berries glow—
Bright colors show
A joyous mime.

[Posted out-of-season in memory of this morning's first-day-of-Spring near-blizzard. Regardless of
what the calendar reads, it feels like the dead of winter.]
Filamental Emblems

The popularity of Emblems as literary and artistic forms dates from the Sixteenth-century, when books appeared that printed an engraving of a common object—a rose bush, a mariner’s compass, a spider and web, a beehive—along with a scriptural passage, a quotation from a Greek or Latin philosopher, or a short poem explaining how the object implicitly represented a specific moral, spiritual, or religious truth available to the contemplative reader/viewer. As time passed, those simple images became increasingly complex and suggestive, until finally a sin­gle engraving might communicate iconographically—or hieroglyphically, to use the terminology of the times—such vast concepts as Life, Death, Nature, Justice, God, and Eternity.

By the middle of the Seventeenth-Century, Emblem books were common and were among the most popular books of the day. English poets such as George Wither and Frances Quarles firmly established the tradition with their virtually encyclopedic treatment of major literary and artistic symbol sequences, while continental writers transformed the simple Emblem into a complex metaphorical system of universal correspondences embracing key theological, philo­sophical, moral, and ethical Truths. Other Seventeenth-Century poets, such as the more fa­mous metaphysical poets John Donne, George Herbert, and Richard Crashaw, did not specifi­cally write in Emblematic forms but often demonstrated in their poetry an awareness of the Emblem tradition—of the intricate relationship between image and word, between common­place form and its larger significance.

These modern Filamental Emblems extend the metaphor-making capacity of Renaissance emblems. Filamental Emblems abstract rather than represent, suggest rather than preach; but they similarly attempt to re-create subjects simultaneously in word and image. Each combines poetry with the visual art of intricate crocheting, often incorpo­rating as few as two or three strands of fine sewing thread in subtle arrangements of colors that vary from round to round, providing as many possibilities for nuance and blending as might an artist’s palette. A single Emblem may include thirty or more individual threads, each color selected for its relation to the overall pattern, to other colors surrounding it, or to the cen­tral idea, image, or symbol—embodied in verbal form in the overlaying poem—that the Em­blem explores.

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