Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Willow Song

06:40:00 Posted by Unknown 3 comments

by R Paul Sardanas

Tragedy comes in forms ancient and contemporary, and the two are often heartbreakingly alike.

In 2011, I sponsored and acted in an audio play of one of literature’s greatest tragedies, Shakespeare’s Othello. I rewrote the play as thirty “drama-poems”, each designed to fit together to re-create the scenes of the classic play. The performance benefitted an organization called CASA, which offers safe havens to women and children who have suffered domestic abuse. The play-in-poems used the emotions and events of Othello to illustrate many of the ways abuse happens, and its tragic repercussions in lives.

In this poem from near the end of the story, Desdemona (portrayed online by the gifted Jaeda DeWalt) has been banished to her bedchamber by her angry husband, and she is completely at a loss to understand the change that has come over him. But in fact, nothing has changed except the externalizing of demons of anger, fear of betrayal, and self-doubt that had always been present in him. The same is true in real life relationships that grow violent. The seeds of the violence are present in the abuser long before they are apparent on the surface. Desdemona still has hope in this scene, but a deepening despair also grips her -- she remembers a sad song a maid of her mother's had once sung, about a love gone wrong...and about the insanity and death that resulted. The singing of the "Willow Song" is a poignant moment in the play. It epitomized what I felt was a crucial turning point in the tragedy: the moment in an abused person's life when they succumb to feelings that what happens to them is unavoidable. That surrender of the spirit is to me the saddest of all; the wounding of hope that eclipses even what pain may come to the body.

How foolish are our minds?

Othello, my love so appraises him

that even his stubbornness,

his checks, his frowns,

have grace and favor in them.

The sun sets;

he has not come,

but I will wait for him in bed.

There is a sound of birds

outside our window.

What secrets lie in their song?

Living and dying, loving and losing.

My mother had a maid called Barbary;

She was in love,

and he she loved proved mad

and did forsake her.

She had a song of willow;

an old thing it was,

but it expressed her fortune,

and she died singing it.

That song tonight

will not go from my mind.

It is all I can do

to keep from hanging my head

all at one side

and sing it like poor Barbary.

“The poor soul sat sighing

by a sycamore tree,

sing all a green willow;

her hand on her bosom,

her head on her knee.

Sing willow, willow, willow.

The fresh stream ran by her,

and murmured her moans;

Sing willow, willow, willow.

Her salt tears fell from her

and softened the stones.

Sing willow.

Sing all a green willow

must be my garland,

let nobody blame him,

his scorn I approve.

I called my love false love

but what said he then?

Sing willow, willow, willow.

If I court more women,

you’ll couch with more men.”

Oh, why won’t Othello come to me

so that we may speak?

Whatever I have unknowing done,

he must have certainty

that I would not wound him

for all the world.

God me such uses send,

not to pick bad from bad,

but by bad mend.

I’m so tired.

I’ll sleep,

and set only my soul on watch,

for surely he will come soon.

R Paul Sardanas


R. PAUL SARDANAS is the author of twenty books of poetry and prose, including the five volume poetic cycle The Empyrean, illustrated with his own oil paintings. He is a nine-time nominee for the Rhysling Award, which recognizes the best speculative poetry of the year. His historical works include the books Mythology and Dark of the Sun, which explore Greek and Roman society, myth and culture. His erotic writings include the Siobhan Bishop Erotic Underworld series of novels for Passion in Print Press, and the novel Torera, co-written with Tisha Garcia. His poem Succubus was displayed alongside the work of award-winning photographer Lochai at the Miami World Erotic Museum’s 2008 exhibition. In 2010 a collection of his erotic poems, Touch in the Bed of Light, was released by Gromagon Press. He is the organizer, author and lead actor for Shakespeare Online Against Abuse, which benefits women and children seeking safe haven from environments of domestic violence. To explore more of his creations, please visit his website and his benefit work



Ashley R Lister said...

That was a truly moving way to start the day - and written to benefit a very worthy cause.

Thank you for joining us here this week and sharing your work.


R. Paul said...

Thanks for the honor of joining you and the Blackpool Poets, Ash! I've read all of this week's exploration of tragedy and comedy...what a fascinating display of thought, wrapped in a dazzling collection of poetry. I'm delighted to be here!

Ste said...

For once, words have failed me. Will, 'Wow' do?