Sunday, June 29, 2014

Songs for Ophelia by Theodora Goss: a Review


         I have been given an incredible opportunity: I am one of the readers (fans!) who have had an opportunity to read and review Theodora Goss' newest book, Songs for Ophelia, due in stores in the coming months. I have had to resist a massive fan-girl attack (I really love Theodora's work!) and have tried to be as objective as is possible. I hope you enjoy...I certainly did!

         My advanced review copy of Theodora Goss' exquisite volume Songs for Ophelia is something I will treasure, even after I purchase a copy of the book. One can never have too many books, provided they are ones we love, of course. And multiple copies of the same title? Let us call it collector's insurance. (Hence my two copies of Under the Lilacs and three Jane Eyre.) So two collections of these beautiful, fantastical, even spiritual poems, one digital, one bound, grants me twice the magic, feeling and beauty of Theodora Goss' words. I will have two keys to the kingdom, a realm of dreams, otherworldly mists and confectionary-like castles of dreaming maidens and hopeful princes.

            Like her stunning book In the Forest of Forgetting, Theodora Goss has again created a masterpiece of lyrical elegance, giving readers a glimpse through the magic mirror into the artist's heart. It is a beautiful place.

            We read of heartbroken brides, reminiscent of Keats' La Belle Dame Sans Merci: 'The willow was once a bride, and dressed herself in white...She wandered by the river, her eyes grown dull and wild/ her satin gown gone ragged, her white feet bruised and bare...on she silently dances, according to decree/ with the wind for her bridegroom...'

            We are introduced to the Elf-King's daughter, the veritable Spirit of nature; a maiden who finds solace in the river's embrace, and goblins who cavort and caper on springtime hillsides. Imprisoned queens sing morning songs and the Lady of the Corn meets with her mortal love.

            We enter woods, dark, secret, where lie pools still and deep, disturbed only by a graceful beckoning hand, and only bones are left to tell the tale.

            The Marshes brought to mind Charles De Lint's short story The Moon is Drowning While I Sleep; the image of the moon lighting pools here, casting reeds into shadows there, is so clear you do not just read the words. You feel the cool night air, you smell the damp mossy pools: 'The marshes call/ the marshes so wild/ all yellow under the moon/ and the small green frogs/ raise their heads from the slime/ to croak a beckoning tune.'

            Fairy Tale denies description. You are there in the grove, listening to the plash and play of the fountain, bathing in the scent of orange blossoms. You are the princess of this fairy tale.

            We walk the ruined paths of Eden, listen to the ghosts of monks' chants, and follow Isolde through the forest. We listen to the rain and lament summer's passing. Later we will climb the Mountains of Never and dream of the pomegranates and olive trees of the south with a bear's daughter.

            We read of raven men who, like the selkies of the north, capture the hearts of humans until such time as they find their cast-off skins and return to the world they knew before.

            The words are redolent of  Emily Dickinson as we read of the last night a dear one lived: 'The last night that she lived/ I scarcely felt her breath/ She wandered vacant-eyed/ the misty hills of death...How noiselessly she went!' We are given an elegantly Victorian view of death in Dirge for a Lady: 'Lay her in lavender...lavender preserves the lovely and the white...Look how her hands are turned to alabaster...How frail, this arrangement of elegant dry dust.' We attend a ball draped in rich velvets, hosted by Death Herself, and witness Narcissus' decay.

            'The songs are done, said the singer...and since the singer left/ we jangle and we start/ all toneless now and reft/ the lutestrings of the heart.'

            I shall say no more, my friends; I feel you are so, for if you are readers of Theodora Goss then we are comrades of the heart. Read her words, and listen with me to the Songs for Ophelia.

           

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