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143 ARTHUR SYMONS, "THE SYMPHONY OF SNAKES" AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE ROMANTIC IMAGE. John M. Munro. (University of Toronto) In the Rare Book Room at Princeton University Library there is a small, pocketsize notebook in which the late nineteenth-century poet and critic, Arthur Symons, jotted down these impressions suggested by a visit to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris in May, 1892: THE SYMPHONY OF SNAKES. = Notes = Jardin des Plantes, 26 May 1892— a very hot day—many of the snakes were coiled up under their blankets, fiai 1 were nearly if not quite asleep. The largo and andante of their movements—harmonies of black & yellow— black ground, yellow decoration (python of Central Africa, for example). Coiled into arabesques. Boa-constrictor: dingy brown-yellow & black. The shabby brown-yellow of its flattened head—a little head/that seems dead—the black eye that looks extinct, or as if it had never seen—like a dull bead. The long malicious mouth running almost the length of the head. The nostrils, two black holes. A head in the image of some honest dog that has been squeezed out into a malevolent horror by some witch, whose venom it has incarnated. The caressing cat-like way of resting its head on its colls—like a woman resting her cheek on her arm—a charming gesture that surprised. The rhythm of movements./ No breathing sign—a stagnant immobility. The cabalistic signs of spots & rings. [deletion] Exquisite pink yellows, under sharp black. A little snake of pinkish colour, mettz [?] tinted in black, with larger black spots punctuated with white. Exquisite little work of art—a bibelot for a cabinet or to lie on an inlaid table. A magic poisonous amulet. A python of Java coiled on a tree gives one the true frisson—coiled inextricably, with pendant rigid coils where the skin is drawn bursting tight./ The awful sickly white & yellows—the horror of white yellowing with some plague. 144 A great grey-white wicked head with wide nostrils & endless mouth. The rattlesnake with its vegetable-like scales in ridges—dull black & yellow, some darker, some 1ightei—a dingy horroi—the fixed protuberance of the eyes—the head absolutely like that of carved Japanese work—shape, form, sentiment, colour. The putrid yellow of the crotalus. The slim viper with its long tiny head. The viper of Gabon/swolen [sic] flat, heart-shaped head joined to the body by a slender neck. The lidless eyes moving (blue eyeballs). Flaccid coils like a faded tapestry. The addei—couleure spilote [spilite? spilosite?] d'Australie—alternate strips of black & yellow, another black starred with gold—in sparkles of gold dust, a little dimmed. The horror & treachery of silence./ (The lovely little land-salamandei—jet black with the most vivid yellow borders—regular borders—with intervals—all the length shining brilliance of colours. Charming creature, lizard-like with hands. The exquisite eyes of the Grenouille de Pennsylvania—a large fantastically yellow frog, latest liberty colour—a whole fairy landscape in his unwinking eye—gold ground, & the finest fantasies in delicate lines all over like trees and leaves reflected in running water.)' That Symons should have been fascinated by snakes is not, of course, surprising. As Mario Praz has shown, interest in serpents, sphinxes and other forms of androgyna, as well as preoccupation with erotic experiences which arouse simultaneous emotions of pleasure and pain, were conventional symptoms of the "romantic agony."2 What is interesting, however, is that Symons made an attempt to impose a symphonic structure upon his Impressions, which suggests that "The Symphony of Snakes" may have some significance in the history of the development of the "romantic image," as described by Frank Kermode.3 In his account, Kermode draws particular attention to the image of the dancer. He notes the pre-figuring of Pater's portrait of the Mona Lisa in Keats' Moneta, and shows how Salome, the seductive temptress beloved of the Nineties acquired, by way of Huysmans and Mallarme, a symbolic suggestiveness which was exploited most effectively by W. B. Yeats, who used the dancer to suggest the wholeness of human experience, perfect beauty, the union of soul and body. Though Kermode selects Pater, Huysmans, Mallarmé and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 143-145
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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