A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler

A Singer’s Notes 31: Black Ink

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Bad things have been raging in the world. Still, today I see my old cat rolling in the sun. I begin now to think about the powerlessness of beauty in a different way. Hear Shakespeare how he says it in Sonnet 65:

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o’ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower? ……

…unless this miracle have might:
That as black ink my love may still shine bright.

Cat Colony, Largo Argentina, Rome. Photo © 2011 Michael Miller.
Cat Colony, Largo Argentina, Rome. Photo © 2011 Michael Miller.

Black ink… We must, because we can, read. We must read words like light, dark, black. The cat has trust. When she first locates the sun with her eyes, she must wait for it to warm her with a kind of trust. When this happens, she starts to roll, a slow religious roll that has an evenness. I’ve been singing just now an aria full of pathos, from Handel’s “Samson”  — text taken from the blind Milton, music written by the blind Handel, the hero himself blinded. The story of the hero is a bellicose disaster. Samson is a killing machine, usually called out as a terrorist in post-modern criticism. The faith in the piece comes from his father, Manoah. It is his aria I am singing. He says that he will be his son’s eyes. The aria is full of the “I” vowel. The structure of the aria makes me feel that the old man is slowly dancing. Dancing a circle around his blind son, also a slow religious roll that requires faith. At the same time the aria is a kind of large pun. George Herbert does this in his poem “Love Bade Me Welcome” where he writes (in black ink no doubt) “Who made the eyes but I?” This question put in the mouth of the sacred interlocutor who saves the poet’s soul. It makes me think of the large comedy ringing in the Shakespeare sonnet, the negative punning that black ink makes love shine bright. That ink can be a tendon which stretches infinitely and does not break. And this stretching of ever living beauty is comfortable. It feels good, the way that faith feels good. Cats understand this.  For the cat who has no ability to read, light is physical. We are weaker beings. We must write about it, and sometimes when we approach it more closely, sing about it. A sunny day cannot in any way reverse the effects of a tsunami, or a Qaddafi, but these forces of blackness have no ability to sing.  Even the sea is mortal, says Sonnet 65. Think about that. The ink which Handel used to write Manoah’s aria lives on. It is, you might say, the very type and symbol of the old man’s desire, to help another’s blindness. We know that the sun, were it even a few miles closer, would blind us. There is art in this. Nature has precision. But Shakespeare tells us that even great nature itself is mortal. My cat is mortal.  I am mortal. Years and years from now another Manoah will be singing the black ink. The souls of his hearers will slowly roll – evenly, devoutly, helplessly, wholly.


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