Envy

May 15, 2012

The maxims of the cynical old Duc de la Rochfoucauld are, like most collections of aphorisms, sometimes profound, sometimes just showing off. He said, among many rather neat things

‘One’s envy always outlasts the happiness of those one envies.’

I’m not sure if he meant this specifically, that the particular object of your envy …the  operatic career,  the violet eyes, the rich husband, the Bentley Continental …will be surpassed, fade, die, or conk out on the M25, or just that even those most beloved by Fortune will rub up against some kind of grief sooner or later.

The maxim is most likely true but to be comforted by this means facing up to the beastliness of one’s nature and admitting to being gratified by someone else’s misery. Naturally I  don’t wish any misfortune on the owners of Cottesbrooke Hall,  a magnificent demesne not far from where I live …on the contrary, long may they prosper and kindly continue to open their house and garden to people like me …but every time I go there I ‘m filled with an awful kind of desire/ covetousness/envy for these lead eagles on these gateposts, which seem to me so beautiful.

I know that if … by donning a cloak made from star sparks and muttering a spell …I managed to acquire them I should have to remodel my entire house and garden to suit their grandeur and that they look much better at Cottesbrooke (built 1713 by Francis Smith of Warwick)

but still I cannot see those eagles without a painful longing to own them myself.

You do not, anyway,  enjoy your own modest belongings in  the same way as you admire  other people’s because you always think how much better yours ought to be …if only you had been more expansive with the design … chosen a different colour …they were prettier last year …those damn pigeons have got at them … making improvements will not only bankrupt the exchequer but also send you to bed for a week with backache …

But here are a few photographs of my garden just now …

Rosa Banksia Lutea, actually a pale custard yellow, rampant, thornless, easy to grow, to my mind enchanting.

Sweet pea wigwams fashioned by husband

A tulup called Rai that is new to me. I particularly like the green streaks on the petals though they are of course untidy growers, being parrots

7 Responses to “Envy”

  1. Annegret said

    Lovely blog entry – not much time for poetry … When I see eagles, this comes to mind (no reason to envy anything at all …). I am, like Biermann, born in Hamburg.

    ((In Germany, Wolf Biermann is a poet and songwriter of almost iconic status. The son of a Jewish communist murdered in Auschwitz in 1943, Biermann’s voice was never comfortable and still defies facile categorization, ein Querdenker (roughly: square peg). His clear-eyed analysis of the realities of life in the DDR, coupled with fierce loyalty to the ideals of Communism–he emigrated to East Germany from Hamburg at age 17–soon brought him into conflict with the authorities and he was banned from perfoming in public in 1965. Eleven years later, in 1976, he was allowed to go on a concert tour in the West.))

    Ballade vom preussichen Ikarus

    Wolf Bierman (1936 -)

    Da, wo die Friedrichstraße sacht
    den Schritt über das Wasser macht
    da hängt über der Spree
    die Weidendammer Brücke. Schön
    kannst du da Preußens Adler sehn
    wenn ich am Geländer steh
    dann steht da der preußische Ikarus
    mit grauen Flügeln aus Eisenguß
    dem tun seine Arme so weh
    er fliegt nicht weg – er stürzt nicht ab
    macht keinen Wind – und macht nicht schlapp
    am Geländer über der Spree.

    Der Stacheldraht wächst langsam ein
    tief in die Haut, in Brust und Bein
    ins Hirn, in graue Zelln
    Umgürtet mit dem Drahtverband
    ist unser Land ein Inselland
    umbrandet von bleiernen Welln
    da steht der preußische Ikarus
    mit grauen Flügeln aus Eisenguß
    dem tun seine Arme so weh
    er fliegt nicht hoch und er stürzt nicht ab
    macht keinen Wind und macht nicht schlapp
    am Geländer über der Spree.

    Und wenn du weg willst, mußt du gehen
    ich hab schon viele abhaun sehn
    aus unserem halben Land.
    Ich halt mich fest hier, bis mich kalt
    dieser verhaßte Vogel krallt
    und zerrt mich übern Rand
    dann bin ich der preußische Ikarus
    mit grauen Flügeln aus Eisenguß
    dann tun mir die Arme so weh
    dann flieg ich hoch, und dann stürz ich ab
    mach bißchen Wind – dann mach ich schlapp
    am Geländer über der Spree.

    and in English:

    Ballad of the Prussian Icarus

    Where Friedrichsstrasse softly
    Crosses the water
    Across the river Spree is suspended
    The Weidendammer Bridge. Well
    You can see the Prussian eagle
    When I stand by the handrail
    That’s where the Prussian Icarus is standing
    With grey wings of cast iron
    His arms ache
    He cannot fly away—he cannot crash
    He does not stir up any motion—and he does not tire
    At the handrail across the river Spree

    Barbed wire grows in
    Deeply into the skin, into chest and leg
    Into the brain, grey matter
    Girded by a band of wire
    Our land is an island
    Waves of lead surging around him
    With grey wings of cast iron
    That’s where the Prussian Icarus is standing

    His arms ache
    He cannot fly away—he cannot crash
    He does not stir up any motion—and he does not tire
    At the handrail across the river Spree

    And if you need to leave, you must go
    I have seen many split
    From our half land
    I hang on, until, out of the blue
    This detested bird will grasp me
    And pull me across the abyss
    Then, I shall be the Prussian Icarus
    With grey wings of cast iron
    My arms will ache
    I will fly high above, and then I will crash
    I will stir up some motion—and I will tire
    At the handrail across the river Spree

  2. Annegret said

    I’ve written my reply too fast – the thing is called Die Ballade vom preussischen (not preussichen) Ikarus.

  3. leoneruth said

    Thank you Victoria for you wonderful photos,,I love them..Leone

  4. Cynthia Krehbiel said

    How well I know of the envy of which you write! We purchased our humble bungalow in Calgary in 1996 and needed to replace the outside lights at both the front and back doors. Accordingly, I went to the store and brought home a hopelessly beautiful, but inappropriate fixture that I had fallen in love with. It was far to frivolous for the rather plain, unpretentious look of our home. How right you are,Victoria! The whole house would have had to be torn down and rebuilt on a much grander scale, just to suit that grand fixture. I returned it to the store and began the search for new ones. It took a few months, (and we had to live with the old, broken ones for a while) but I did find ones more suited to our stucco-clad, rather craftsman-style home. The light fixtures ‘fit’, they are very much in keeping with the style of our home.

    Then there’s the old Duc de la Rochfoucauld’s quote and how appropros it is of you to see the deeper meaning! Of course we all have this dark beastliness in our souls and looking at it in the bright light of day is the only way to get around it. Admitting to our dark side(s) is the only way I know of to act rightly as a human. Otherwise, I would probably be locked up in a prison somewhere for sure. All because of that deadly sin, envy.

    But, I do maintain, Victoria, you can have your ‘eagles’ for your house, you just have to find them. Perhaps a modest pair of rough concrete pineapples? Or no, let me think… what would have been in style to ‘decorate’ your home when it was being built in the 17th century? I can’t think of what those current motifs would have been right now, though I am a bit of an art historian. But I bet you can. Decorative objects in a garden, well-placed and proportioned are the key to increasing delight and beauty. Your garden is wonderful. Thanks for the post!

    Warm regards, Cynthia

  5. Annegret said

    Oh, the pitfall of impetuosity. Is it possible to erase one’s comments, I wonder? What I meant was this: for a post-war-born German like me, an eagle is not a worthy symbol and thus eo ipso also not an object of longing. Even in my Roman mode (I’ve lived many years in Rome), I’d say the same. The Roman legions and all that. I’ve had a discussion once with Italian friends whether the Colosseum can be said to be beautiful, considering its history. I think not.

    But even I, of course, understood what you meant, tongue in cheek, with your thoughts on envy, so my whole comment and Wolf Biermann’s lyrics with his heavy Germanic sighs about the ever-so-tired Prussian Icarus (inspired by the the Reichsadler on the Weidendammer Bridge in Berlin) was a little beside the point. Lead indeed, then … Je suis desolée …

    Not, however, that any grand ornament would be incongruous on the gateposts to your garden (gardens) and manor which are splendid indeed and surely rousing envy (admiration) in your readers. And likewise your lovely Lady Banks rose, the wonderful willow work and gorgeous parrot tulips …

    So thank you! & back to poetry, hopefully more apposite this time.

    The bee emerging
    from deep within the peony
    departs reluctantly

    Matsuo Bashō

  6. Annegret said

    I have no talent for certainty.

    Fanny Price in the 1999 film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park

  7. Melanie Barthelme said

    I love the eagles and absolutely recognize that feeling of covetousness. I suppose it is scant comfort that you may visit them whenever you choose? You are too modest about your own garden. It is lovely, and idiosyncratic at the same time, which is even better. Are the roses what we call Lady Banks rose here in the US? I love them. The tulips are splendid. Thank you for sharing.

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