Mona Lisa’s smile is one thing
But the indifference she hides
Romance is just one side
Of the moon,
The other side is dark.
What begins as romance
Always gives way to
Children, kitchen, clinics and parks.
Gas, office and soaring prices
Chase all dreams away
Conceived by moss in sands.
Sun brittles even memories
And breaks the nets
That romance once laid
To hold what they could
And what they actually
How was Mona Lisa? How was the smile like? Can you say it? Will anybody? How was the smile? Was she smiling or not? Did she look arrogant? Is her look aristocratic or not? Should we go discussing it, somebody’s smile or not? Who painted with what image and feeling? How to put it before? Is Mona Lisa like Shakespeare’s The Dark Lady or not?
Here in this poem O.P. Bhatnagar tries to construct and de-construct it, what he means to say with regard to romanticism and the flight of imagination. Where can fancy and imagination take to and where can it dislodge too? How our flights of romanticism which has nothing to do with ground thoughts, bare and stark realities? While reading this, the images from O. Henry’s The Last Leaf, Katherine Mansfield’s A Cup of Tea and Oscar Wilde’s The Model Millionaire conjure upon the mind’s eye as for a delving.
To read the poem is feel an impetus to see the painting of the Leonardo da Vinci. How did it look like? What it the mystery of her smile? Why does it lie muffled in so far, why does the mystery not get revealed, unfolded? How the blanket of mystery, the shroud folding it from being unfolded? How the tracing paper of art and the painting upon? How was the brush of Leonardo? Is it a replica of the renaissance shaded in that? But Browning’s poem is full of suspense and doubt. Only a villain will say, how did you smile on seeing him? Suspicious men, doubtful personalities often question it in the likewise manner as is the case with us. Why had Allauddin been after Padmavat? The smile of a Burkhawalli, one may paint reminding us Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress. A realist O.P. Bhatnagar he busts the myths of romanticism. Anton Chekov’s A Swan Song too may opine us in some different way here. How to balance pride and prejudice, sense and sensibility is the matter here. How to say it about her pretence and hypocrisy? How it the real side of her portrait? A portrait of an artist, one may do it, but in which gallery to keep it?
My Last Duchess by Robert Browning
That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek; perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps
Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat.” Such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?— too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech—which I have not—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse—
E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretense
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!
Under the cover of romance and romanticism, he says it how dream, fancy and imagination give away before reality as the songs of the nightingale fade away in Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale. How long to carry along the burden of Mona Lisa’s heart? Why to be laden under the smile of her? What is that she hides in? How the pretense of hers? Is she from her heart within? The interior may not be just as the exterior. So is the case with romance and romanticism which but fades away and reality is something far different. The case of love is the same which started it with the eating of the forbidden fruit. Something maybe it in the heart of Mona Lisa which she goes about hiding and something that Leonardo knows it about, reveals it not. This may also be the side of truth. The romantic side is but the dreamy, the imaginative side mere.
The romantic side and the realistic side are two different sides. Romance generally ends into despair. Romance cannot continue for long. The dark side of romance and romanticism one knows it not. The bars and restaurants appear to be lovely, but their storerooms cannot please you so is the case here with romance. Reality is something different. After the grand wedding, when romance fades it away, reality pins you down with problems, children and daily needs. Romance just lasts for some time and after that reality starts clawing at. The moss on a sandy base gives the idea of beautiful greenery, but can sands taken into confidence? So is the base of romance on false dreams and false promises. The mirage may take you there, but water is never, never there. Water is there into the well and the tank. It is beautiful to see the moonrise and the moonshine, the milky white icy cool shine, but when the lunar eclipse happens it, the picture gets blurred, disturbed. When the bridal dreams give away, the kitchen, medicine, milk, vegetables and cereals start engaging the space. Something one needs to take too in life. The shrieks of the cursed newborn baby in Blake’s London at midnight too disturb us with the image of her mother being away for her profession and forced lifestyle.