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This poem by Selene Salvi was written in prose in Italian. It was meant as a companion to the painting you see below by Fulvio De Marinis. The prose was so poetic that I decided to try to make it look and sound like the “song” it was meant to be. The original title was “Siren.” With the author's permission I changed it to match the painting. The painting is cryptic, as is the text. I can't help you with the painting, but I have provided a few notes at the end for some of the more obscure references in the text.

Jeff Matthews

 

Siren's Last Song

”I know not how long I've sat upon this lonely rock,
nor whether I was born here or abandoned.
A dark and silent sea surrounds me.
Around me white bones glisten in an eternal noon.
Nothing stirs on the bleak shore.
Shipwrecks and sailors' corpses rot.
The breezes play upon my lyre*
and create new song,
that I might feel the presence of another,
and know my song is not alone.
I claim to know the past, the present
and the future, but I lie.
Day by day the mounds of bones grow
and I feel content.
Is the hunter's worth not measured
by the kill?
I raise my song
to that white sail on the horizon,
and Zephyros carries my honeyed voice

to those unsuspecting ears.
The ship is deftly brought to shore.
It's doubt that drives them to safe beaches,
or so they think.
Fools! You won't feel the stomach cramps,
your swollen tongues will not crave liquid.
You will slowly feed upon yourselves,
forget your wives, your children, and life itself.
Yet I seek to flee this island
where only my obsessions dwell...
perhaps in that black ship now approaching.
What's this? It sails by!
Does my voice no longer charm?
That cannot be!
Did I not tame even crude Centaurs with my song?
Who are you who confounds and torments me
and makes me like the monstrous beast whose icy screams*
call my shining queen up from the deep?
Now I know these stones no longer heed me...”

 

And so she stared for the last time into the empty distance and threw herself down from the rock to go adrift. They say that the waves of the sea carried the soaked plumes to a harsh land of sun. There someone built a tomb, but no one remembers where.

Selene Salvi

 

[translator's notes:

* - the author used "tibia" in the original and tells me that “in traditional iconography the siren is often shown playing a flute called the "tibia" in Italian. It is common to use the Greek word "aulos" in English; it was an ancient Greek wood-wind with one or two tubes or pipes, resembling and held like a modern oboe or clarinet and played with a reed mouthpiece (and, thus, not really a flute). To fit the painting, I took the liberty of changing the instrument to "lyre".

* “monstrous beast” is a reference to one of the Gorgons, Medusa, the sight of whom would turn an onlooker to stone. “Shining queen” refers to Persephone (the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, abducted by Hades to be his queen in the Lower World.) Ovid tells us that the sirens were companions of Persephone.

 

 

Fulvio De Marinis
Siren's Last Song
Oil and gold on canvas, 40x70 cm.

 

Click on the images to enlarge

 

 

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