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This piece is about 40 printed pages long. It is copyright © Clayton Eshleman and Jacket magazine 2008.See our [»»] Copyright notice.
The Internet address of this page is http://jacketmagazine.com/36/eshleman-tavern.shtml
In this issue of Jacket you can read: Clayton Eshleman in conversation with Ian Irvine (late 2007-early 2008)
Clayton Eshleman in conversation with Paul Hoover and Maxine Chernoff: A Dialogue;
Clayton Eshleman: Tavern of the Scarlet Bagpipe: On Bosch’s «Garden of Earthly Delights»
In 1979 I visited the Prado Museum in Madrid and spent half an hour before Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights.” For the past fifteen years, I have had framed reproductions of that painting and the Lisbon “Temptation of Saint Anthony” on my workroom wall. I have found both of these triptychs impossible to take in while looking at them on the wall. They have hung there, steely challenges, over the years. I have collected books and articles on Bosch, waiting for the right moment to engage at least one of these masterpieces.
In 2003 I proposed a one month “Bosch project” for a residency at the Rockefeller Study Center at Bellagio on Lake Como in Italy. My idea was to spend two months going through my materials and then, while at the Study Center, write into “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” My residency was accepted in May 2004, and my wife Caryl and I left for the Center on October 18.
I took along with me a rolled-up reproduction of the triptych in a tube, a xerox of Wilhelm Fraenger’s chapter “The Millennium: Outlines of an Interpretation” from his book, Bosch, a copy of Laurinda Dixon’s Alchemical Imagery in Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, a xerox of Michel de Certeau’s “The Garden: Delirium and Delights of Hieronymus Bosch (from his The Mystic Fable, a book I discovered while reading Robin Blaser’s poem, “Image-Nation 25, Exody”), a couple of pages of bird lists from Terry Tempest Williams’ Leap, and John Rowland’s The Garden of Earthly Delights / Hieronymus Bosch, which reproduces colored panels of the triptych in the original size. Being able to study separate portions in detail partially solved the problem of how to identify everything.
Once at the Center, I tacked the reproduction (about one-third the size of the nine by seven foot original) to large sheets of cardboard and leaned it against the wall on a table next to my desk. In front of me was a window vista of a pristine cloud, mountain, lake scape, where the Como and Lecco lakes joined. The same vista, I felt, could have been beheld in the 19th century. It would not have been strange to have seen Shelley or Rilke strolling through the olive grove a hundred feet below and beyond my window.
I re-read my materials for a week, then continued to re-read while studying the reproduction, checking details in the Rowland edition, and writing notes in a large notebook. While I sometimes disagreed with Fraenger and Dixon (both, in my view, impose elaborate systems on the triptych, moving it into a rational perspective rather than acknowledging its many obscurities), both writers had really studied Bosch’s painting, as had de Certeau, and their detailed commentaries helped me notice “minute particulars” that proliferate throughout it. After two weeks, I hit the Bosch “wall” that I imagine all serious viewers of “The Garden of Earthly Delights” experience: there is no core meaning to uncover. Certain figures and image-combines appear to be the fruits of Bosch’s inventive arsenal and there is nothing at hand to call them. As someone attempting to write into the painting, I found myself in the position expressed by a line in a poem by Michel Deguy: “I know, or I invent.”
Three areas in the “Eden” and “Paradise” panels offered very substantial challenges: the constructions along the top of these panels which I ended up calling The Terrestrial Transformers, and, in the lower part of the “Paradise” panel, the static melée of nudes and fruit. While at the Study Center I spent a week carefully describing what I saw in these areas. When I began to work on the poem itself, back in Ypsilanti, I realized that pages of detailed description were going to stop my work in its tracks. I ended up with a brief poem identifying the “Eden” Transformers which suggests what their role in the unfolding of the triptych might be, along with an appendix which reflects on their weird, unique forms in both panels. For a section of the poem on the frieze of nudes, I borrowed some phrases from Frank O’Hara’s poem, “In Memory of my Feelings,” a fantasia on his various selves. Given the similarity of nearly all the nudes, I conceived them as a multitude of doubles of a single, roving persona.
As always in the past, Caryl helped me a lot with my project. At the Study Center, she went on line for information about the mysterious red fruitballs and put me in contact with Dale Pendell, whose letter in response to my query I decided to include in one of the appendices. Back in Ypsilanti, she went through my one hundred pages of notes with me, and helped me to understand that the process of studying and attempting to assimilate the painting, while significant, was less crucial to display than a poem in which all my research was reorganized into an imaginative structure.
CHARCOAL CURDLING CLOUDS.
Scallops of light weakly illuminating earth’s flat disk.
Desire swarming in its orbicular bath.
Arching out of an egg-like container, a sprout drooping
Muggy haze. Larval moil.
Clumps of trees with ghost-porous fruit.
Three timid pink lights on a peaked “mushroom”
resting on a “millstone.”
“Firecracker” with a long “fuse.”
Thorned rinds. Shells of earth ovens-to-come.
The distillation that reigns in my body and soul
11 A.M. October 26, 2004.
Window over Lake Como, blue-gray
furry mist, headlands no more substantive than clouds.
Fragment prongs. Blasted “pear.”
Scintillae in slug-like blue swellings.
Genesis 3rd day water
gauze-opaque with the nearly-existent.
FOUR TERRESTRIAL TRANSFORMERS
swept, clustered, by swifts.
an apricot, mosque-like, spindle-shaped tower.
A large cored ball, below which
a disk turns into a dark brown Jehovah (or Moses?)
on his back, arm raised, tablet
resting on his chest...
squat, cleft “female” husk, dark blue with
“amanita” white dots. As if its prehistoric maw
were fixed open. Tiny pink owl perched
on the tip of the lower jaw...
rounded blue mound in mineral cloak. Genesis
3rd day jagged “male” pinnacle with sprout drooping
a blue-speared pod...
two vertical millstones linked by a curving leafless branch
arcing over white fruit-clustered bushy trees
set between the stones...
Monuments to the 3rd day of Creation.
Four organless hosts. Commandment remains.
MONKEY CROUCHED ON A WHITE ELEPHANT.
Albino giraffe. Two-legged dogalope.
On hind legs a lizard cavorting before a surly boar accompanied
by five babies.
Carnivore ripping a supine deer belly.
Creator. Just-awakened Adam. Downward-gazing Eve.
Cenoté-like pond spontaneously generating creatures.
There’s a hybrid evolutionary nuance at the edge.
Three-headed phoenix yapping at a spoonbill.
Small sea horse with platework mane.
the God-author has reappeared with his book
as a dolphin-duck-monk or a platypus-seal. He might even be
a sea monk “known for luring people near the water,
then eating them.” What is in this creature’s book?
Overhearing me, an owl lowers its eyes to
dark blue rubble glinting with test tubes, red berries
on which rests the Fountain of Life.
Red, white Tantrik ingredients blend in the Creator’s pink robe,
glow in his flesh. In contrast:
ivory-white Eve, bemused Adam.
The Biblical rib
earlier a bone lady, who must trace back to Ice Age statuettes.
might this Fountain of Life —
liquids peeing through orbs and disks,
balanced on percolating muck
— be the pumping heartwork of an androgynous matrix?
The “gears” appear to be interior orb struts,
eyeball homunculi, or puppet-
pupils, globes and berries, red fruitballs, pearls.
The Tree of Life (Dracaena draco)
exudes red sap (“prized for improving strength and for staunching
the flow of blood”).
Its fleshy tripartite limbs are hung with large gold discs
interspersed with black, red, white tendrilled fruit clusters.
Swollen branches create a saurian presence.
A murder of crows hesitates,
before hustling into the hole in a big egg.
The Tree of Knowledge is a Phoenix Palm
coiled by a humble black snake.
Black frogs, black three-headed salamanders, creatures
popping out of creatures, scuttle up onto a clay embankment
shaped like young Salvador Dali’s head in profile,
his “eye” a centipede with spiky feelers, bird-droopy tail,
wearing a silver mussel timepiece.
Good morning, Salvador!
Hieronymus has given you a crested black snake moustache.
Your timepiece eye makes you appear asleep.
Best that you are, or you’d freak out over the slime-black
traffic probing where your neck might be. Something black, long-tailed,
has already burrowed into the base of your skull.
Dali invented by Bosch!
Dali as a Bosch cyborg clanking down 5th Avenue in the NYC 1960s,
unaware that the semen reservoir in his skull was populated by Bosch
beetles in Dodgem bang!
BOSCH’S EDEN POOL OF SPONTANEOUS GENERATION
is a kind of Cenoté with scarlet-rust cisternal limestone walls.
A pheasant exposes her anus as she sticks her head into the pool’s
A male pheasant stares at the female’s anus.
A stump-legged otter drags its fish-end up on the bank.
A black crayfish-headed bird prepares to spit a supine black frog on its
scissor-beak (while a shore bird with skeletal peacock tail prepares
to gut the frog).
A cat walks away from the pool, eyes glazed, mouse nape in teeth.
A clack-billed ghoul-bird grips twitching frog legs between its fever-
The underworld tunnel out of Eden leads to pools in Paradise, Apocalypse:
subterranean waterworks of the triptych.
THE HAY-COLORED GRASS OF PARADISE HAS THIGH SHAPES,
one angling off toward Eden, the other toward Apocalypse.
They evoke legs of a sacrificed goddess body
whose mons veneris contains a circular pool.
Thirty-one female nudes cavort in mother-elixir.
Ravens, storks flit, rest on their heads.
Transformation of the Cenoté.
They are wooed by a rotating cavalcade:
little red bear under a horse. Bud-like clusters of mainly nude male riders,
A crow sits on a long thin branch piercing huge grapes.
Circling cocks, camels, prancing ponies.
Black-winged stilt poking its needle-beak into the anus of an upturned
Chatting youths, wearing tern, woodpecker headdresses.
On a large white boar, one holds up and spreads a heron’s wings.
Transformation of the millstone. Labor converted to a snorting, heaving
Bull, donkey. Pronghorn with Hathor fruit sun between horns.
Leaping, static, this engine of the mind.
About what hub does the creative wind?
A nymph-clustered pool?
Three riders bear a fish devouring another fish (one pats the devourer
as if it were a pet).
Lateral entry: an immense lobster shell packed with dirty asses
plugging its orifice, carried by a platoon of nudes —
drive this too into the carousel! Griffon with jet-black-tipped wings,
round porcupine blazon.
Lion lugging a huge carp. Two storks on the back of a rose boar
with black balls, a black-and-white-suckered-tentacle-tail.
Lavender leopard with goggle-black eyes. All are astrologically-
tinged, medicinal, layered with superstitional abuse.
Another lateral entry (the strangest “creature construction” in the triptych): to the cavalcade’s left, male nudes, packed in a circle, some upright, others standing on their heads, serve as the pedestal of a dark-blue pod holding a dull pink scarlet-dotted fruit topped by a marabou head. A fat black rat is making its way down the marabou’s beak, the far end of which (no longer a beak but an antenna) is being tugged forward by a male attempting to pull this whole “thing” into the cavalcade. Topping the marabou’s head is a red pod out of which a pair of legs stick straight up. Out of the pod’s bottom, an arm reaches down around the marabou head. On this pod’s far side, a sketchy figure seems to be trying to pull if off. Jutting out of the dark-blue pod are enormous hornbill legs and talons. Perched on the right talon: is it a brown insect or a bird-shaped turd?
SO FROM ONE PERSPECTIVE, GOD THE FATHER,
placed by Bosch in a lunar vault, brings into view,
then conducts, this terrestrial symphony,
reproducing himself as the Son, or a Creator Christ, who then molds Adam.
That’s a lot of guydom, clearly shamanic; apprentices
reproducing magic selves via obscure masters or ur-generators.
Might not the swarm of “human” wraiths percolating Paradise
be the progeny of an exfoliating vision by which “holy ghosts”
are brought into a physical conversation-
conversion with birds, beasts, flowers, fruit?
This grand array of nudes does not include copulation —
or none that I can see. If I can’t see it,
Bosch is making a point by leaving it out.
There are many penises, all are flaccid, there’s no pubic hair,
suggesting adults with a pre-pubescent sexuality.
The women also lack pubic hair and have small breasts.
The gold coins on the Eden Tree of Life
reappear only in Apocalypse, where a crouched man
shits four of them into a caricature of the Cenoté.
(Nearby, a Vanitas scene: the face of a collapsed maiden — felt up by a large dark mouse with salamander-feet hands — is distorted in an anal mirror — with jagged metallic rim evoking a chastity belt — attached to the butt of a green demon whose legs are forked hazel tree branches).
Hence, in Bosch, Apocalypse is “coined” in Eden.
It is not a breakdown brought about by paradisal transgression.
So here I am, up in the sky riding a griffin with Persian-blue aquiline wings,
holding a branch from the Tree of Life upon which a red starling perches.
In its talons my griffin grips a wriggling bear.
As a unit, we herald the commingling of all things,
or as many as one artist can atoll, in the coral amassment of a life.
I look down on mer-knight occupied lakes, flesh forts trembling in the folds
of lightning-spiked sleep.
In Bosch’s era, the subconscious was more altar-definite than today,
architecture more magical.
There is a translucent, glazed, interpenetrating liquidity here,
an image rhythm between Paradise and the foundations of being.
Orbital, iridescent variations are repeated with reassuring familiarity.
There is hardly a thorn that does not express its bulb, as if apocatastasis
were the underlying magnetism.
And yet, near the peak of the fourth Transformer, a ripped-out elephant tusk
hammers home: “If it is marvelous, kill it,” linking that world to ours.
I am also a mer-knight on a flying fish, pulling my tail up over my head,
a salamander pout on my armored mug.
I give a functionality to the void, instilling it with a gear-work of irrational
Each gap is populated by a great fretted clarinet farting black swifts, or by
the adoration of a giant strawberry.
Madness to be here, so let’s slip back into the egg, or feed a cherry the size of
our heads to a blood-red dolphin.
Did the New World dream its way into Bosch in 1500?
In a barge with a half-moon prow, a white maiden stiffens as a black male
climbs onto her.
Two nudes in touching headstands, called a “Pythagorean candle,” on the
equatorial shelf banding the Life Globe.
Better to drag a big speckled bug around by the tail than seek redemption.
Is not the omnipresence of birds a sign that everything is about to re-hatch?
to be born and to live as variously as possible.”
Eider Duck. Hoopoe. Robin. Goldfinch.
Kingfisher. Mallard. Displays more gorgeous than humankind.
Goldfinch offers grapes to three of me.
My eyes beseech you, dear other, as I advance on the maiden of myself,
trapped in a floating pod.
On my Green Woodpecker mount I wear a flask helmet.
I am Iranian when I embrace Tawny Owl.
Translucent globe in which I sit, caressing my sister self.
Retort warmed by the urgent, passionate heart of a thistle.
“They look like gods, these white men.”
Upside down in the pool, my hands flop to cover my balls.
Out of the red pod caught between my thrust-up thighs:
an adult heron, a shrike.
“My body, the naked host to my many selves.”
How beautiful to offer an eighty-pound blackberry to eleven former selves.
This sister-white brother-red berry is expressing its Orphic immortality —
will it ever peacock out?
“What land is this, so free?”
To live in a tentacular burr whose thistle flower feeds an aglossa moth.
To rise into the cool noon sky on a winged fish.
Will this speared fruitball rudder direct me? How flex my dolphin hybridity?
Always my coral-red tent and the dynamite berries offered by cousin Jay.
Always the leg-entwined mirth as eight of me tilt our heads back, famished
for — what is this fruit?
How account for its landscape-altering chimes?
“The scene of my selves, the occasion of these ruses”
Sturgeon under arm, I see it is time to abandon the belvedere where I
completed my novitiate.
From Strawberry Bonnet Lookout, three of me watch three of us “watch
the ripple of our loss disappear.”
Is not part of the magic of multifoliate being to co-exist with vacuums and
“The heart bubbles with red ghosts, since to move is to love.”
Under transparent bindweed, I take the veil.
Squeezing me like an orange for some sign of vitality
the sky breaks out in freckled baby-apple white!
O I too am Adam,
a funhouse with a thousand mirrors, each undulant with nude wraiths.
Combing each mirror to conjure Eve, I exchange heads with Horned Owl.
I milk flowers like poisonous snakes. My breath
is the gross form of time.
“Dance the orange?” I dance
the spheres of origin, oyster-potent, exuding instead of semen, pearls!
A unicorn breaks free.
I saddle him with the multifaceted insight of a fly.
“How do you know,” he asks, “that all your selves are not really just one
projected as many in a fly’s eye?”
That calls for some champagne
from a pear the size of a pig! A liquid of pure obstruction!
So do I course my spine in reverse Kundalini, opening vein pubs,
tying off sorrow restrictions, immortality morbidity, God,
and with Him, all scriptures listing restrictions.
“But who will stay to be these numbers when all the lights are dead?”
Inside this hollowed-out pumpkin, there is nightshade for my souls.
For my sister hermit crabs this Olmec head will become a lodge.
I dial the mystic pudenda in the globe-hole of the Fountain of Life.
The gigantomachy in my mind blows off black milk.
Varnishing the green with a weedy screech: the idiot flute player
at the center of creation.
WINE-SHAFTED LIGHT BOILING WITH ASHEN SPRAY.
Horned men with pikes scuttling between gutted towers.
Fuscohyaline clouds coiling neverward. Ember-prancing blasts
fed with fleecy scorch. The sky grays as if ocean dry
were tidal-waving through. Fire like raw running amber wounds.
by falling, arching bodies pricked. Wastes in the night sky,
wastes merged with mountain char.
Below in the scalding lake, specks of the drowning like streaks of mold.
Pouring across a bridge’s molten slash, an army led by
a salamander-saddled ghoul. Windmill slats glazed with flame.
Out of the roily blood-colored bay writhing naked clumps
wave, sink back...
Light blasts through a prison gate
illuminating a chalk-white tree. A possum-tailed warrior
climbs a ladder lit by curlicues of cinder-red fire
swooshing across twig-folk, insectile wisps.
Come closer: spoonbilled ghosts
with longbows mix with masked cacodemons. Gigantic ears
like bloated gonads hug each side of an Omega blade.
A hooded churl
tries to wrest a dying nude up into an earlobe pouch.
Does any landscape remain? Or is there only shifting murk
disemboweling into a grand putrification?
Below an enormous cow skull a human-clappered bell-rope
pulled by a fat bogle raging with glee,
his tail coiling down
like a speckled
eel of shit.
A lout, shouldering a hockey stick, an arrow sticking out his ass,
climbs up a ladder, past an ashen tree arm stuffed
in a rowboat. Another arm of white petrified bark, its branch piercing
an egg-shell thorax, rises from a second foundered boat.
Attached to the branch: a white flag with a scarlet bagpipe:
Tavern of the Scarlet Bagpipe,
rinsed fire-red inside. A soul and his mates sit transfixed by one
whose whole head is a blood soak.
The Tavern’s human head, front of its thorax shell,
turns to look back, perhaps Bosch himself.
Long straggly ash-blond hair, mouth at once smile and sneer,
the right eye trance-intense, staring back across
the hump of his tree “shoulder” at something off-canvas.
Is Apocalypse to be fixed open to the world,
to be a tree house saloon into which any guzzler can climb?
Artist as tavern aslosh with the lightning of Dionysian over-reach,
For a hat the Tavern head wears a white disk
crowned by a testicular bagpipe
around which there’s a rotary parade...
A white-capped clawed hag points the chanter,
the reed pipe fumes at the weird folk trundling the disk.
Circular emanations: berries, pools, roundness repeated to the point
all seems in thrall to cogs...
— just now I spotted a dotted-white red bug-like creature.
Is Amanita muscaria involved?
This flash-frozen nightmare. It is the onlooker
who puts motion into Apocalypse. Expressionless male faces, dots
or blotches where eyes should be. Who are they? Who am I?
This vision is a kind of mirror facing me, likewise a mirror.
Between our banks
a drama surges, ripe with circular cease and wheel.
IN THE ISSENHEIM ALTARPIECE, FEATHER-ADORNED ANGELS
play gorgeous instruments. The loin-cloth of Christ,
whose spiked hands shriek, is classy too.
Bosch’s handsome lute-harp, hurdy-gurdy, bombardon — why
are they in Apocalypse?
To sing it in? Embed it in onlooker conscience?
Gangs of gape-skewed singers, mixed in with fiends.
Out of the fish-mouth of one towel-headed ghoul a beaded saliva-line
arches toward the musically-notated ass of another
crushed by the lute-harp.
BABOOM of the bombardon, played like a bazooka.
A concert for Saturn Nighthawk, or “the goatsucker kid,” in high chair potty,
with a diaper winding sheet,
cramming a bird-farting body into his opened shredder beak,
a cocked cauldron for a crown,
death-blue body, polioed legs stuffed into potty-attached jugs.
Translucent blue intestines balloon down from the potty hole,
releasing two souls into the cess.
Is Saturn Nighthawk “eating his children” the chick from the broken-
shelled Tavern? Parody of The Father in his lunar Genesis vault
and the Creator Son, in pink, cathecting Eve and Adam?
My favorite ghoul is holding high a gaming board,
pot-belly filled with pus and fire, and is he happy!
Every gambler groan makes him cum. A bunch of grapes
corks his navel a second before its hydrant spurt.
He’s got a disk on his head to mock the Fountains and pools
— why it’s his Easter Bonnet! Raise high the roof beams of soul
ruined in gambling’s lethal ennui. His chum is sticking a knife into
the guts of some expressionless guy who he’s also choking.
White mouse head, ermine cloak, squat chubby black legs in clogs:
a really fashionable fuck! To his back is attached a tray-like disk,
with die and lopped-off hand by kitchen knife impaled. Specter of the trinity
haunting all things, this triptych as a triskelion bandsaw.
An armored Fido snacks on master throat. He’s got his own doggy steel-
A gryllos has hopped forth. He wants at that naked nabob being felt up
by a sow Mother Superior to sign a new deed. More property for the church!
And this gryllos is a real sweetheart: fat shit-stained lizard legs,
a maw of helmet-work from which hangs a chopped-off foot.
From his long lower beak an ink well swings.
The sow Superior has a quill. But it’s all a nightmare, no? So why not sign?
Squire Rabbit has arrived with hunting horn, game bag, and naked slut
whose belly is farting fire. She’s hung by her heels from his pike —
so, the hunting’s been good! So good the butchered creatures
have turned the tables.
Think of the earth from a rabbit hutch point of view. Can you imagine
the cow report if slaughterhouse reality could be mooed?
Or the hook-torn trout assembly granted a symposium of the creek?
Apocalypse is what we have done to them.
LOVERS INSIDE A MUSSEL SHELL EXCRETING PEARLS.
Like hermit crabs, these nudes: any interior is home.
The great regression to the primordial athanor,
the mother sea slurp and bubble of watery dark where dreaming is so
intense it is a whirring honeycomb.
In these improvisations off the force of Bosch
male squadrons shovel coal into a pulsing white queen who births
A Zoa-ball in which fetuses are singing like canaries in their skeletal
Discombobulated rug-cutters, crowns askew, blast apart as the fetuses
turn into Katzenjammer imps.
The vision whips back into Eden:
in his vulvar side, Adam is a smoking retort of androgynous spleen.
Bumblebee kings are crouching and cooing about the manger barge:
“Just who is this Holy Ghost who impregnates from afar?”
Aztec culture zips in:
a ball of feathers drops on Coatlicue out sweeping — voilá!
She’s pregnant with Huitzilopochtli. Out squirms the king of war.
Just what is in that black testicular pod from which we’ve been drinking?
Not the keelson of creation Walt Whitman called love!
Fools have been let onto our Ship of Death, a sarcophagus is its keel.
Do we dare take on our own impassioned reality?
Can we tack into the spills of infant terror mistranslated and stored?
For all artists are naked facing the ladder pointing toward this Tavern.
Yet no single imagination can perform apocatastasis.
Wholeness is uterine, all roads are scabs over the wounds of diaspora.
Hear yourself whinny as you strain to toss a fruitball to a dolphin performing for her supper.
The crowd roars. The fire in the circus will never be put out —
flames will destroy the giant mallards, the half-submerged earless owl,
but the crowd will continue to demand more victims for the solar maw,
as if life to continue requires Aztec carnage.
The intoxications of immortality light up the switchboards when someone
The furnaces of immortality are fed with the bodies of people who look
a little different than us.
How does this work, Donald Rumsfeld?
Does your Reaper retreat an inch for each sixteen-year-old Iraqi boy snipered
while out looking for food?
Men with political power are living pyramids of slaughtered others.
Bush is a Babelesque pyramid of blood-scummed steps.
between the literal suit and psychic veracity is nasty to contemplate.
Imagine a flea with a howitzer shadow
or a worm whose shade is a nuclear blaze.
BOSCH BROKE HIMSELF, AN EGG, INTO AN ABYSS
where yolk and white weaved themselves into tapestries
roaring with world-end winds.
Each fiber an incomplete soul, a tapeworm wriggling for jointure.
Are all endings the failure to connect with source?
Thread thoughts. Fictives, one by one,
wiggle out of the Cenoté in honor of Herr Otter
bringing Cro-Magnon ore up out of the myth-obscure creature dream.
Merely to be. As a salp. Merely to be. Even as a sun ray.
“You need two beached rowboats for a real Ship of Fools,”
Hieronymus finally spoke, “one for each of my blasted trees.
I rest on what is left of Life and Knowledge.
The scene in the Tavern is shabby, true,
an old alchemical hangover, no lead into gold, rather:
melancholy into war, the Philosopher Stone endlessly
mistranslated as personal immortality...
I love my Paradise of alchemical foreplay,
but then libido shifts into a sanguine gear...
volcanoes discover their sperm, maidens rebuild themselves
to bear children, creatures
become fixed in size. What’s going on?
Life overwhelming imagination! And desire?
Locked into artifact, its tumblers spin, a catastrophe zodiacal
in its invasion of the orbicular, reducing miracles to
salvation, dragging in the lemur dark...”
Standing on the Tavern’s ladder I heard but could not see Hieronymus.
He seemed to speak as one staring at the impossibility of
the fulfillment of desire,
hoarse, bemused, fascinated perhaps, that I’d made it this far.
I watched the pink bagpipe bulge and honk at the circling
Adamites gripped by morphine dreams.
The bagpipe kept flashing reintegration in the cenoté of my mind.
Hmm... Adam and Eve do not produce children,
they produce doubles. Fairy-blooded berries.
No children. Menstrual ingots. Red ochre from the cosmic dive,
mind capsized into the body’s basins.
Loss we float in. Sunset porridge. Vaginal aurora.
The sputtering flames of sulfuric recollections.
I reached the opening, peered into the Tavern.
Old woman in fool’s cap, forked, as if by snail horns,
kneeling by a cask, drawing wine.
Three Adamites, skin frosty scarlet, reared back in trance.
A long vermilion table over which a black-eyed chick dissolved in flame.
One had for a chair a black semi-squashed amphibian.
Beside them, the head of a huge white blood-snouted boar.
“In s’Hertogenbosch, I envisioned the layers
of all these studies. Out of what you call my Cenoté
arose creatures never known or named.
They generated a roving curtain of rain, lightning-lit, thunder-rotten,
the never-seen-before revising the taxonomy of experience.
These curtains parted to reveal an age outside ambivalence:
nudes in self-propagating, accidental combines,
tendrilous stately phantoms in discordant strews,
as if they’d just tumbled, dazed, out of the Tree of Life.
I caught some in the basket of this panel, in a grand seeming-to-be...
However, man is a mask-canopied thatch of beings.
Look at that plum-headed seductioner,
stretched out on lawn pad, ear-tongueing a captivated lass.
There is an abyss between intention and reception.
Do the seductioner’s words become builders in her?
Do these innocent masons begin to raise walls?
Do these walls become a church? And one with thumb-screws?
Who is responsible for the apocalyptic penetration of Eden?
Who” — and here he faltered — “is responsible for the way
a tale’s meaning is construed?
The human mind is a maze with holes and crushers.
Who knows into what this ball of a tale will roll?”
Then the hag spoke:
“And the ferrets in my womb would starve
were it not for the compote of armor and tripe to be found in
the goal of masculinity.
Ah! Invasion is the sweetest tomb!
You who have turned against war must project your trolls
if you do not want your mother’s soul to be hanged,
a plumb line, between experience and vision.”
Voices to trust? Or mischievous ghosts?
Psychic instruction moves like Shiva through an underworld
deck of fables, shuffle-dancing them
so that the quester can hardly tell rung from Rapunzel.
Where psyche is followed, the world folds with every word,
a cinnamon tease
swift as a towering vertigo. The subconscious taps a madder light,
vibrating wizard-cruciform insight, innocent, venomous.
Composed of water and slime the stream of the imaginal
circles and binds.
Each present enfolds its own Alpha and Omega,
each action an obligation, a bond, enchased
in whatever fortitude I’ve inherited from Okeanos.
TO MARRY A MARLIN
while mounted on a paw-lifted feline.
floats. Our faces, its halo.
Orange moth feeding in blue thistle light.
Passed out, at noon. Take his pulse
as our Master took Eve’s.
V for Vanitas, legs forked, head submerged.
Pearls as a pod’s ejaculate.
Strawberry knapsack with blue
petal plastered to ass.
Mouth open for a cherry
proffered by eider duck bill.
Amused at her hesitation to taste
her own brain. Or is that just a septic berry?
To read by sphincter light.
Haddock body full of roe.
Patting it from the inside of a trefoiled urn.
Sinking his teeth into a cushion-sized
plum. Trying to divine
the spilled pearls’ I Ching
fate glyph. Paradise
on the verge of an Apocalyptic break-
down. Big mouse
freaked out in glass tube by fruit-
enchanted human face.
Male forms as feelers.
Nude maiden covered with trans-
lucent hair. Petunia hair clip.
Put clothes on one of them, blend his garb
with cavern blackness. Let him plumb
the new Eve, lips
under seal. Clasp
the floating owl. Does it know
my hand on its feathered breast?
Am I swearing upon
it? Headstand in fish-flower tights.
part of a filamentous
Do I know this race? Have they ever
the eider duck on my upraised calves.
Rumps showing through
mussel shell crack — lugged by their son?
Less strange than a finch
offering grapes to a straining
ashen bather. Four-
legged jig. Fruit rattles. Shiva-
armed. Owl stoned on
OM. Soul apples for the picking.
Offering the crow perched on
my upturned foot
the Eden apple’s worm.
Look how tenderly, transported
by mallard, I touch
her Ethiopian neck.
red claws. Entangled in hoopoe crest.
Basking in a hoop: bright-red caterpillar.
the signature of all probes.
Rotary mermaid tail.
out of which Jesus might have stepped.
Luscious berries shining in muck,
rot azure. Steaming
Eden swamp. Egg-shaped
reptile. Marble-still Adam.
Amazed to be the fire in a mermaid’s tail
roasting her under-fin.
Ground breaking out in white
berry rash. Under skin sensation of
slithering silver fish.
Is this mushroom or aphid mind?
Chugalugging the black pod’s
groin mash. Mead
as the honeyed air. Strawberry
burden too sweet to bear. So,
perched in shrub-crotch.
The new Eve
spotted through a chakra-
embossed glass pillar.
Vermilion hand of the master
checking old Eve’s pulse.
as hair cascade, golden
tress drop, blonde cobra hood
curtaining her ass. Ghost
owl in the peaks of Eden.
zooka belching swifts.
Circular raven with pendulum-whip
tail. A strawberry crown
for the naked male-molded pudding.
sporting a nose-gay.
Dance the horned owl. Sepal-headed
cowboy on static
pecker. Birds as the royal
appointments in Paradise. Where
are the fathers? Under knight armor?
And the mothers — wearing fool’s caps?
Third Movement of The Apocatastatic Rumba.
built on jig-sawed
foreplay. The Child at five as Saturn
munching on a father bar.
as Vanitas with hazel knees.
Behold: Saturn Nighthawk has shat
through the blue
infancy bulb and has entered
the pool system!
He kicks through sewage, makes
the long swim back through
the Paradise pool of waiting maidens,
the Cenoté ooze of Eden, finally
to surface as our hybrid author.
in the nautical platypus’s
he will pen some words of
restitution, some frog-leg wriggling lingo.
FOLD THE EDEN PANEL TO THE RIGHT,
the Apocalypse panel to the left. Now, nearly touching,
they are no longer separated by Paradise.
These panels are the Lady of Eden, the Lord of Apocalypse.
Together at last, face down, side by side,
the beginning and the end, they stare into fulfillment,
integrating themselves into Paradise,
injecting realization with innocence and experience,
creating that realm we call the subconscious:
Road of Awe, without antithesis.
Destruction is affirmation is creation.
Theseus copulates with, while slaughtering, the Minotaur.
The logic of metaphor weds the logic of biology.
Man and beast, spider-to-spider, in the web gum of the soul.
The backs of Eden and Apocalypse show what
on the cusp of life.
They instill us with this genesis
when a planet spun from dust, rock, carbon
compounds and silicon, out-gassed water and spliced
a kind of auto-
constructing Meccano of inconceivable complexity:
primitive tissue, the spiral structure of nucleic acids,
phosphorus, clays, RNA,
tiny bubbles known as lipid vesicles,
a simulacrum, a marionette without strings —
hyperthermophiles, Hadic creatures
happy in hot vats that torture
all other life, to dine upon sulfur,
the branching tree of descent,
early cells tacky with mucus,
pyritiferous seep, black smokers, photosynthesis
and the creation of oxygen
— stromatolithic altar!
End-censed renewal of Genesis!
As if a thousand-year rain had inundated the apocalyptic wastes.
Charred porticos replaced by vegete architectural spurs.
Cobalt arboreal broccoli with ivory buds.
The earth as a bowl-shaped altar.
Total dissolution of the imperfect body.
Ablution both anabasis and sepulcher
because we now know what is under Genesis:
the past life of the planet, its demons and its Christs,
Adam pegged to Eve,
Shiva-legged, they dance
owl mind, fruit mind, bodies pierced
by harp strings, by the past death of the world:
gutted cities burning in the night, reflected in the black
sheen of a pool out of which, immediately snapped up,
an otter crawled.
Birds file back into their eggs. Tomb of the risen.
Uterus of song. Bird-flitted maidens
masturbating to that instant before noon when all walls
fall away and all who have ever lived
commingle, naked, sleepy...
The sensation of being eaten,
the sensation of eating, the same,
neither dream nor agony
but the storied, sacrificial sanctuary of Hieronymus Bosch
who, having jettisoned divine judgement,
through an edenic-apocalyptic-paradise of wasteland and
walks toward us,
holding up in one hand a blackened rosary,
proffering some red fruitballs in the other.
The Triptych’s Title
Hieronymus Bosch appears to have left us no texts. The triptych known in English as “The Garden of Earthly Delights” is unsigned and untitled. We do not know exactly when it was painted. Guesses range from the late 15th century to the early 16th century. Here is what I have been able to find out about the title’s history:
One year after Bosch’s death in 1516, the triptych was in the hands of the Counts of Nassau in Brussels. I have not been able to find any documents concerning a title at this time. During the Spanish Conquest of the Netherlands, the triptych was confiscated by the Duke of Alba in 1568 and taken to Spain. By 1593, it was in Phillip II’s monastery stronghold, the Escorial. In 1605, Fray José de Siguenza described its subject as that of “vain glory and the fleeting taste of the strawberry or strawberry tree (madroňo).” He referred to it as “The Painting of the Strawberry Tree.”
(Curiously, Caryl discovered strawberry trees on the property of the Rockefeller Study Center at Bellagio. She was told the berries were used for making jam).
The strawberry tree is a European evergreen tree (Arbutus unedo) with racemose white flowers and strawberry-like fruit, about an inch in diameter, with rough, crinkly skin, yellow-orange to bright red. The berries are edible, but are also bitter and mushy, and they do not taste like strawberries.
We do not know if de Siguenza invented this title or was passing it on from another source. It is an odd title. The fruit trees in the triptych appear to be apple trees (their fruit is too large in the painting to be strawberry tree fruit), while the picked strawberries appear to be from the strawberry plant (which was not intensely cultivated in Europe until the 15th century, making it possibly a novelty for Bosch’s generation), and are, when identifiable as vine strawberries, over-sized. There are only a few. Most of the red fruit in the painting does not resemble strawberries.
At some point the triptych was re-titled “El jardin de las delicias” (The Garden of Delights), which over the years has generally been translated into English as “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” In this respect, given the action in the central Paradise panel, “The Garden of Otherworldly Delights” seems more accurate.
According to the 19th century German art historian, Carl Justi, who wrote one of the earliest assessments of Bosch’s art, the Spanish also called the triptych “Worldly Doings (el tráfago) or Luxury (la lujuria) and The Vices and their End.” Justi thought that The Fountain of Life in the Eden panel “grows from a ball, a giant strawberry, a symbol of earthly desires.” From what I can tell, there are no seed-like achenes visible in this cored pink ball with an owl sitting in the aperture.
Fraenger adds to Justi’s list of alternative titles, mentioning that the triptych (which he calls “The Millennium”) had also been known as “The World’s Work and The Wages of Sin.” Like Justi, he does not say who was responsible for such titles.
In 1978, the Belgian scholar J. Chailley re-titled it as “Le Jardin alchimique” (The Alchemical Garden).
Notes on the Closed Wings
Earth disk within sphere emerging from chaos,
the 3rd day of creation primeval vegetation
a crystal globe
Upper left corner:
God the Father, in papal tiara,
open blank book in lap,
enthroned in a vault-like space that
mimics the earth sphere
“For he spake, Emergent earth “He commanded
and it was done” cut vertically by and it stood fast”
between the wings
from the start) —
Flat undulant disk girdled by steamy moat-like waters
Below: dark hemisphere of the underworld
Above: sky dome churning with clouds
The vegetal formations on the earth disk are carried over to the interior panels where, at first at the top of Eden, and then at the top of Paradise, they become increasingly elaborate and architectural. I shall call them Terrestrial Transformers. At the top of Apocalypse, they turn into blackened towers, bridges, mills, against a background of volcanic flames.
It is possible to experience the closed wings scene as both beginning and restoration, or as Genesis and Ablution. There is a narrative sense in which the primeval earth splits open to reveal, from left to right, Eden, Paradise, Apocalypse, and then, after it has been re-closed, mysteriously re-presents itself as an apocatastasis.
Words of Walt Whitman pertinent here (from the 1855 Leaves of Grass):
“seas of bright juice suffuse heaven”
“sheathed hooded sharptoothed”
“manifold shapes... the ocean settling in hollows... the great monster lying below”
“a hummer and a buzzer there with the rest”
“behavior lawless as snowflakes”
“the ambushed womb of shadows”
“I find I incorporate gneiss and coal and long-thread moss and fruits and grains and
and am stucco’d with quadrupeds and birds all over”
“the sleepers are very beautiful as they lie unclothed,
they flow hand in hand over the whole earth from east to west...
they press close without lust... friend is inarmed by friend”
Notes on the Paradise Panel
Nudes with “pale, flower flesh tones... transparent and weightless as a swarm of white butterflies...”
The dropped, pick-up-stick progeny of Eve and Adam.
Blue and pink, present in key formations and figures, appear, with red, to represent shifting moods of the divine.
The Fountain of Life has here expanded its round pink owl-center orb in Eden into a large blue planetary globe resting (no longer on a nigredo of muck) in a lake out of which four rivers wander. The Biblical rivers of Eden?
“The name of the first is Pi’shon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Hav’ilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there.
The name of the second river is Gi’hon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush.
And the name of the third river is Ti’gris which flows east of Assyria.
And the fourth river is the Euphra’tes.”
Wilhelm Fraenger organizes the “Adam-Eve multiplication” into brides/grooms, masters/novices, betrothed couples etc. To me it seems much more vague and unorganized than that. Blake’s term, “organized innocence,” reverberates here, but in a different way than Blake himself conceived. For Blake, the terms referred to a synthesis possible after “Innocence” and “Experience.” Many of the nudes here seem to be involved with adolescent foreplay. Might we say that they participate in a Boschian “organized innocence?”
Birds, beasts, and fruit/flowers: psychological rudders, steering the participants into various poses, combines, dances, nibblings.
Again Whitman, his “Divine Ground from which all things emanate and to which all living things may hope to return.”
This panel is Bosch’s rhapsody, his “stitched songs.” Gestures and conjunctions modulate into one another, as in a waking dream.
“alchemical crossbreeding”–no sexual intercourse (but suggestive alignments: male nude draped over a huge strawberry, mouth buried in its flesh).
Bosch’s Paradise is an East of Eden, a fantasia of an Asia populated by griffins and unicorns, with unpredictable reversals of size: some birds are much larger than humans while others remain naturally sized.
The pink of the Creator robe and Fountain of Life in the Eden panel, predominant in the Transformers at the top of Paradise, darkens to red, especially in the lower section, and is concentrated in red balls, from the size of cherries to that of beach balls. They pop up everywhere, carried aloft by winged nudes over the Transformers or fed to nudes by pelicans, songbirds, or other nudes. They reappear in transformed guise as strawberries; multicolored “gourds” (which look artificial); over-sized and hollow red fruit which serve as chambers for nudes; apple trees; or various inventive constructions, such as the floating red pod with a red and white pineapple or cardoon crest curving into a thistle-lit transparent globe in which a caressing nude couple sit.
Laurinda Dixon calls these red spheres “the red lapis, the goal of the alchemical process, also known as the ‘elixir,’ ‘Mercurius,’ or ‘Christ.’” It is hard for me to think of them as “the goal,” since they are part of the immediate action, and everywhere.
A variation on the red balls are white dots and pearls which appear to be both decorative and functional. Examples: In the Eden panel, to the right of the albino giraffe, is a spectral porcupine whose quills are covered with white dots. There is pearl-work on the gossamer curtain about the entrance, in Paradise, to the belvedere-like structure that is domed with a round, berry-like, veiled “lookout.” Pearls, blueberries, and red berries all spill from the smiling “mouth” of a huge, pink, petaled “pumpkin” (language strains to identify such constructions, as their nameless, many-facetedness stymies syntax; for the sake of a coherent sentence above, I left out the black and yellow stamen-encircled hooked stem, the yellow pimples on its surface, the six long, white feelers, and the nude male consort kneeling by it and caressing it, gaze fixed on the spill).
Many of the bushy trees are peppered with white dots; the iron spikes jutting from the Transformer near the upper right corner of Paradise are covered with white studs. A “caterpillar” of red berries with black dot crests hugs the interior of a curving twig sticking out of a red and white dotted pink carapace flattening someone. Even more mysterious than the white-dotted trees are the patches of tawny earth that emanate white dots, as if the ground were breaking out in a white rash. This might also be projective, remembered from an altered state of consciousness on the part of Bosch himself.
“Men are mortal,” Pythagoras proclaimed,” because they are incapable of connecting the beginning with the end.” Is one of Bosch’s goals in the triptych to connect the beginning with the end as a new beginning? Again the possibility of reading the closed wings (once the interior has been viewed) as an alchemical washing, or ablution.
Rimbaud: “It began with a certain amount of disgust and it ends — being unable to seize at once this eternity — it ends with a riot of perfumes.” And: “It began with all boorishness, behold it ends with angels of flames and ice.”
Might these red and white balls be “building tumblers” in the make-up of life? Medieval sensings of genetic code?
Bosch’s stupendous inventiveness plays havoc with any all-over theory. Spontaneous moves abound. Certain figures and combines appear to exist not as ingredients of a planned design but as anacoluthic swerves. Genesis, Eden, Paradise, Apocalypse, and Ablution are all, in part, present in each other, curbing any simple developmental grid.
A film based on the triptych might open with a scene from the closed wings, where muted vegetal towers and supine formations metamorphize into the landscape of Eden. First birds flying about the Transformers, then animals in the dawn landscape, followed by a presentation of The Fountain of Life with the owl in the orb narrating a visionary version of Genesis, leading to a creator drawing Eve out of a sleeping Adam. As the magician-creator “introduces” Adam to Eve, creatures begin to crawl and flutter from the Cenoté, a squeaking, rustling raga-like cacophony. The Trees of Life and of Knowledge display themselves. The Daliesque face below the Tree of Knowledge turns into an actor playing the painter and discussing the grand “multiplication” of the children of Adam and Eve. “Dali” speaks in a watery voice warped by nonsense syllables.
Transition to the Paradise panel could be made via the mer-knights whose armored hordes course its rivers, invoking war and apocalypse. Image of the cavalcade and pool with maidens, voices connecting astrology to mating display. Actors would be naked and dusted, so as to give off a Butoh vibration, humans on the verge of a spectral breakdown. A crowd of nudes enter a landscape bearing all kinds of many-sized fruit, accompanied by huge birds. They move into the “Paradise pose.” Cut to the interior of the Tavern of the Scarlet Bagpipe in the Apocalypse panel where a symposium is under way — reflections on greed, sadism, conquest, and immortality. The scene widens to reveal explosions and waste geared to 21st century pollution and war. Musical score using the instruments Bosch depicts, with variations on his music chart.
The screen fills with burning oil wells (reminiscent of Hertzog’s 1991 Kuwait footage). A woman’s voice meditating on man’s obsession with, and the emptiness of, apocalypse. The Fountain of Life slowly makes its way into visual presence through coils of soot and brimstone. Transformation into the watery earthscape of the closed wings, with the Fountain fighting for presence in which now appears to be a complex mix of wasteland and nascent energies.
The Terrestrial Transformers
The murky blue forms in the closed wings of the Genesis-scape are the proto-Transformers. They develop, in rhythm with the evolution of life below them, in Eden and Paradise, and burn, as buildings, in Apocalypse. While in Eden and Paradise they mainly evolve from natural to constructed forms, even in Genesis artifice is present. Pods there have cleanly cut openings; vegetation is present without solar light.
The Transformers’ implied role in the triptych is one of generating the action that unfolds below them. However, unlike the two Fountains in Eden and Paradise, they do not raise or issue liquid; they appear to be inert. Their human accoutrements caper about, through, around, and on top of them looking like children playing in a park. In three of the four in Paradise, vegetation appears to flourish. The Transformers are the strongest hints in the entire triptych that the source of life is unknowable. A few of them make me think of extra-terrestrial nuclear power plants.
From the lake surrounding the Fountain of Life in Paradise, four streams spread out, three of which pass into three of the Transformers, with one bypassing the Transformer closest to the Apocalpyse panel. As a quaternity, they evoke the four rivers of Eden. But they are not in Eden; two of the rivers disappear inside Transformers; and there appears to be no attempt to express the geographical locations of the rivers in the Biblical Genesis.
In Bosch’s Eden, the colors blue and pink are always separate and are not found combined in any figure. In Paradise, three of the four Transformers make use of both pink and blue in their constructions, suggesting a yin/yang synthesis, especially since the vulvic/phallic forms are, color-wise, intermixed.
It is also possible to read the Transformers as the remains of the 3rd day of Creation that persist in the unfolding world of fauna, flora, and human beings — to think of them, especially in Paradise where they are massive, sculptural formations, as testimony to the primordial power involved in the creation of life on our planet.
Under the Spell of Red Berries
Terrence McKenna thinks that the pear-shaped fruit, lower left corner of the Paradise panel, might be a datura flower, which can be violet or white, and is tubular, or trumpet-shaped, with a 5-angled calyx. Bosch’s flower shows 3 sepals (his trefoilian obsession?), and is orange, with dark lavender clover-like décor. McKenna acknowledges that the activities displayed by the Paradise nudes are not consistent with datura hallucinations.
The “elixir” in this central panel seems omnipresent as fruit and creature contact — an osmosis of signs. The word “congregation” comes to mind if we can empty out the institutional and religious sense of it, to evoke a diaspora in pause, a kind of fruiting glimpsed, grasped, in a phase right before ripeness, when the life force swerves toward fulfillment, shadowed by the onset of putrification. In this sense, Eden is the beginning of bud life, Apocalypse the withering. Paradise takes place in that haze of pre-noon, non-torrid warmth. Foreplay as a realm in which the biological and the zoological are not separated out of a mingling that includes the human.
Bosch’s Paradise is transcendental because it is a grand rite of participation which includes the painter’s own idiosyncratic gists, his metaphoric snips and graftings. While the multiplication of similar nudes suggests that we mirror a kind of eternal human form, and in a Blakean way, are all part of one body, or conjunction, this Dionysian vision, checked by Apollonian aesthetic enjoyment and calm, has not yet moved into passionate overflow.
Or might Bosch be implying that the discrepancy between desire and the fulfillment of desire is never eliminated, since the truest goal of desire is to create reality and not merely to observe it? If so, reoccurring war and ultimately Apocalypse would be the “fruit” of the failure to bridge desire and its creational fulfillment.
A significant number of the human figures seem dazed or passive, I think, because they are just short of aroused engagement and are in a volitional limbo such as I experienced in the first hour of my first LSD experience in the countryside outside of Bloomington, Indiana, 1965. I took off my clothes, sat down in the woods, and just looked around, watching the sun through my held up arm in which I could see the blood flowing. Daphne Marlatt and her husband Alan were one hundred feet away, and I suppose Daphne crossed my mind as I felt up the grass and watched my nakedness with peaceful astonishment. I was in a pause, somewhere between ordinary awareness and an awareness that tipped over into a state in which consciousness was free to pass through anything that inducted it. Or to put it another way: the subconscious, highly stimulated, had become projected onto whatever “scene” it shone on — it mixed sunlight with the blood flowing in my arm showing me directly what I sensed was there. I had become more receptor than actor. Masculinity had taken a backseat to adolescent formations of a wanderlust that was erotic but not erectional or charged.
Next to the pear-shaped fruit, a man releases a bird or salutes one in flight over his upraised slightly-blue hand. He is in a position similar to that of the male nude by the panel’s right-hand margin, halfway up, picking what appears to be an apple, Henry Miller, not an orange, in a richly-clustered orchard. Neither figure shows much emotion — in fact, there is something blasé in their faces, especially in the face of the fruit-picker. To his left is another male nude with right arm raised toward a hanging apple. His eyes are closed and his gesture toward the apple seems to take place in sleep or reverie. This state is typical throughout the Paradise panel, even with some of the male figures riding animals in the cavalcade. In the translucent globe attached to the pineapple or cardoon, the female has her eyes closed as if in sleep as the male rather studiously looks at her, his right hand placed on her belly. In the group of men clustered about the giant multicolor blackberry floating in the water near the huge birds, one of them leans his head against the berry, eyes closed, also as if asleep. On the back of a European goldfinch, a male nude dozes, head in hands.
In a number of cases, throughout the Paradise and Apocalypse panels, expressions on both male and female faces are unreadable (in the original as well as in the original size reproduction). I think that Bosch painted them this way, and that such expressions are not changed by surface deterioration. Only three of the thirteen nearly featureless Blacks in the Paradise panel have any expression on their faces (there are no Blacks in the other panels).
So, Paradise is sleepy, or expressionistically obscure. But the panel is less a dreamscape than a psychic reverie filled with berry-gesturing nudes. While there are flickers of emotion here and there, the primary facial expression is nonchalance — these may be the first “cool” people! The male with his butt raised, flowers sticking out of his crack, looks up at “us” from under his arm with no visible emotion. No pain — no pleasure. No concern. His torso is crossed by the arm of a female nude, sitting, with what looks like a bindweed veil over her head. She has half-closed eyes. Her left shoulder is touched by a male leaning forward (with a large blackberry touching the top of his head). He is either sleeping or his gaze is so lowered as to make it seem as if he is asleep.
I can’t help but feel that the red berries and their analogues, mainly to be found throughout Paradise, are in some way responsible for the sleepiness and nonchalance of so many of the participants. I count between ninety and one hundred red spheres there (in contrast to a dozen or so in the Eden panel, none in Apocalypse, and probably three in the closed wings Genesis scene). If one adds disks, eggs, orbs and dots to this count, it is as if the spirit or turbine of a rounding drives the triplicating of the triptych. Analogues include petals, grapes, blackberries, openings of tubes and bowls, testicular bags, round towers and the curved, bushy foliage of many trees.
In answer to my query, Dale Pendell writes: “Yep, I see them: strawberries, cherries, apples. The fruit. There could be some resonance with the nightshade plant — Atropa belladonna (purplish black berries — maybe reddish when ripe), or bittersweet Solanum dulcamara (poisonous red berries). The dreamy effects sound like belladonna — and the nightshades with their tropane alkaloids are the hallucinogen par excellence. That is, seeing things that are not there — especially fantastic, bizarre things. Nightshade was probably well-known as a witch plant — and was an ingredient of the ‘flying ointments’ (attestations suspect). And one thing that everyone on scopolamine seems to do is to take their clothes off and go wandering about. In he sixties it usually got blamed on acid.
Peter Lamborn Wilson uncovered some red berry lore in his book on Irish soma, and speculates that they may be disguised Amanita muscaria.”
“FOLD THE EDEN PANEL TO THE RIGHT”
“A planet spun from dust, rock...”: See the chapter “Dust to Life” in Richard Fortey’s
Life, Knopf, NYV, 1998.
Notes on the Paradise Panel:
“pale, flowery flesh tones...”: Wilhelm Fraenger, “The Millennium / Outlines of an
Interpretation,” from Bosch, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1983, p. 107.
“brides, grooms, master/novices...”: these identifications are to be found throughout
the above-cited chapter in Bosch.
“Divine Ground...”: Malcolm Cowley, “Introduction” to Walt Whitman / Leaves
of Grass, Penguin Classics, NYC, 1986, p. xiv.
“alchemical crossbreeding”: Laurinda Dixon, Alchemical Imagery in Bosch’s Garden
of Delights, UMI Research Press, Ann Arbor, 1981, p. 26.
“the red lapis, the goal...”: Dixon, pp. 15—16.
“Men are mortal...”: quoted by Fraenger, p. 113.
“It began with a certain amount of disgust...”: Arthur Rimbaud / Collected Poems,
tr. from the French by Oliver Bernard, Penguin Books, NYC, 1986, p. 250.
Under the Spell of Red Berries:
“Terrence McKenna thinks...”: Terrence McKenna, “Bosch and Yeats on Parade,
II,” tape from lecture at Esalen Institute, Big Sur, California, August 26, 1993.
Letter from Dale Pendell: the poet Dale Pendell is the author of Pharmako Poeia
and Pharmako Dynamis, Mercury House, San Francisco, 1996, 2003, the first two
parts of a trilogy containing a poetic study of botany, alchemy, spirituality,
psychology and history.
Besides the materials mentioned in the Introduction, I also read:
The Secret Heresy of Hieronymus Bosch, Lynda Harris, Floris Books, Edinburgh,
Hieronymus Bosch / Garden of Earthly Delights, Hans Belting, Prestel, NYC, 2002.
Bosch in Perspective, ed. James Snyder, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NY, 1973.
Bosch, Laurinda Dixon, Phaidon, NYC, 2003.
Hieronymus Bosch / New Insights into his Life and Work, Museum Boijmans, Van
Beuningen NAi Publishers/Ludion, 2001.
Bosch, R.H. Marijnissen and P. Ruyffelaere, Tabard Press, Antwerp, 1987.
Bosch, Virginia Pitts Rembert, Parkstone Press, NYC, 2004.