Image result for lighted arena on the dark island in painting

In the great shadowy island which holds the Scarriet March Madness arena—its architecture, intricate in old building trades and devices, with a weirdly imaginative cunning mostly lost and forgotten—the sublime hot dog smells wafting from everywhere; the rabid audience roars to see all literature in history melt!  The throngs push closer to watch great poets die, and live, and die.

As you know, Homer has defeated Edmund Burke, and Thomas Gray has upset Plato.

Let us look at the winning effort, again, of Homer:

Friend! You will die—but why moan about it so?
Remember Patroclus? He was better than you.
Look! I’m handsome and stronger—
A marvelous father, my mother a deathless goddess—
But thanks to fate, I, too, will be brought low.
At midnight, maybe at noon, a mortal will kill me, too—
From a spear, by chance thrown, or a singing arrow.

And Thomas Gray:

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds.


We have six more first round contests to report!  Are you with us, Marla?

Marla Muse: Yes! Yes!


Aristotle, with solemn steps, approaches G.E. Lessing, the third seed against the 14th.

Aristotle: Plot is tragedy’s most important feature, and a tragedy must have a beginning, and a middle, and an end, and be of a certain magnitude.  Do not forget this! It is true! But the audience sneers and laughs, “That’s obvious!”  Aristotle frowns, and with that frown, his fans take heart. “Look at him! Great Aristotle!”

Lessing, the great German 18th century Critic speaks: “Actions hide bodies in poetry. Bodies hide actions in painting. The great poem has one body. The great painting, one action.”

The crowd is stunned.

A victory for Gottlieb Lessing!  The German has upset the Greek!


Fourth seed Sophocles:

Speak not to these or me. Thou art the man! Thou the accursed polluter of this land!

Milton, the 13th seed:

Some natural tears they drop’d, but wip’d them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide;
They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.

The sonorous beauty of Milton loses to the force of Sophocles’ Thou Art The Man!

Sophocles advances.


Ovid, the 5th seed:  It is art to conceal art.

Donne, 12th seeded:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Death gives “pleasure,” says Donne; but then why does Donne abuse him?  Ovid’s words are wiser!

Ovid wins!


Sixth seed Horace, the great lyric Roman poet, reminds us that poetry and music can get away with minor mistakes,  “even Homer nods,” Horace says, but we still love him. As long as an error is not repeated, we will not mind a bit of error in a piece that trips fantastically forward. Oh wisdom!

His opponent is Shakespeare, 11th seed in the Classical Bracket, and Shakespeare wears the mask of Caliban!

Be not afraid; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.

The sublime poetry of Shakespeare prevails!  Shakespeare advances!


Virgil, the seventh seed, sings of abandonment and searching in the underworld—from his Aeneid, the speaker Aeneas, who loved Dido, but was fated to travel on.  Dido had her servant prepare a fire to burn all that Aeneas had left behind, so she could forget him, and then threw herself into the fire.  Aeneas sees her ghost in the underworld, and she turns away from him.

Leonardo da Vinci, the 10th seed, counters with a speech on chiaroscuro, and how the mixture of light and shade which fashions bodies out of a flat surface in painting is the greatest art there is. How can sad poetry compete with wise and happy instruction which feeds the poetry of painting itself?  This is how the fans feel, anyhow, as chiaroscuro falls upon the crowd.

Leonardo, as critic, defeats the great poet!


Marla Muse:  This is too much action!  I grow dizzy, I grow faint!

The splendor of the Madness tests everyone’s endurance, Marla.   There’s only one more Round One match to go:

8th seed Dante: those in hell, who envy, and run under a banner, are many, but will perish without notice.

“These have no longer any hope of death;
This blind life of theirs is so debased,
They envy all—even others’ final breath.

The world does not permit them any fame;
Mercy does not care for this moaning mass;
Let us not speak of them, but look, and pass.”

And I, who looked again, beheld a banner
Whirling, moving in a frenzied manner,
Bobbing up and down, leading the creatures,

Who thronged, piteous, in great numbers,
Filling the circle. I could not believe
Death had undone so many.

Ninth seeded Petrarch: a plea for the good not to lose energy, to not lose hope!

Greed and sleep and slothful beds
Have banished every virtue from the world,
So that, overcome by habit,
Our nature has almost lost its way.

And all the benign lights of heaven,
That inform human life, are so spent,
That he who wishes to bring down the light
From Helicon is pointed out as a wonder.

Such desire for laurel, and for myrtle?
‘Poor and naked goes philosophy,’
Say the crowd intent on base profit.

You’ll have poor company on that other road:
So much more I beg you, gentle spirit,
Don’t turn away from your great undertaking.

O glorious Italians!  This battle between the two masters, Dante and Petrarch, is impossible to decide.

Marla, are you there?  Are you still with us?


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