Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Just as the sky turned green she passed the conservatorium, white as an ocean liner, with its two high palm trees flying like flags. She stopped on the slope of the lawn and stared up at the lighted first-floor windows: they were open, and three students, each in a separate room, were practising: a piano, a violin, a clarinet. The threads of melody, never meant to combine, mingled and made a pleasant, meaningless discord.


'Hang on,' said Philip. 'Excuse me, Athena. Listen. I like your song. Look, I'll give you a tip. Go home and write it again. Take out the cliches. Everybody knows "It always happens this way" or "I went in with my eyes wide open." Cut that stuff out. Just leave in the images. Know what I mean? You have to steer a line between what you understand and what you don't. Between cliche and the other thing. Make gaps. Don't chew on it. Don't explain everything. Leave holes. The music will do the rest.'

--Helen Garner, The Children's Bach


. . . And the blue days were further and further apart, and the greens were more and more varied, until a time when it became quite clear that the fundamental colour of the sky was no longer what they still called sky-blue, but a new sky-green, a pale flat green somewhere between the colours which had once been apple and grass and fern. But of course apple and grass and fern looked very different against this new light, and something very odd and dimming happened to lemons and oranges, and something more savage and hectic to poppies and pomegranates and ripe chillies.

'You are a born storyteller,' said the old lady. 'You had the sense to see you were caught in a story, and the sense to see that you could change it to another one. And the special wisdom to recognise that you are under a curse -- which is also a blessing -- which makes the story more interesting to you than the things that make it up. There are young women who would never have listened to the creatures' tales about the Woodman, but insisted on finding out for themselves. And maybe they would have been wise and maybe they would have been foolish: that is their story. But you listened to the Cockroach and stepped aside and came here, where we collect stories and spin stories and mend what we can and investigate what we can't, and live quietly without striving to change the world. We have no story of our own here, we are free, as old women are free, who don't have to worry about princes or kingdoms, but dance alone and take an interest in the creatures.'

--A.S. Byatt, "The Story of the Eldest Princess" in The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye


Not even Pallas, even Jealousy,
could find a flaw in that girl's artistry;
but her success incensed the warrior-goddess.
Minerva tore to pieces that bright cloth
whose colors showed the crimes the gods had wrought;
a boxwood shuttle lay at hand--with that,
three and four times she struck Arachne's forehead.
That was too much: the poor girl took a noose
and rushed--still bold--to tie it round her neck.
But when she saw Arachne hanging there,
Minerva, taking pity, propped her up
and said: "Live then, but, for your perfidy,
still hang: and let this punishment pursue
all who descent from you: thus, you must fear
the future--down to far posterity."
That said, before she left, the goddess sprinkled
the juices of the herbs of Hecate
over Arachne; at that venom's touch,
her hair and then her eyes and ears fell off,
and all her body sank. And at her sides,
her slender fingers clung to her as legs.
The rest is belly; but from this, Arachne
spins out a thread; again she practices
her weaver's art, as once she fashioned webs.

--Allen Mandelbaum, Book VI, The Metamorphoses of Ovid

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