From The Moon-Haunted Heart, this m/m re-imagining of the Pygmalion myth draws inspiration from poetry, music, and painting. I first became familiar with Coleridge’s Lines on a Child through the gorgeous, sensitive setting by Benjamin Britten in his Nocture, Op. 60 where the words, sung by a tenor, are underscored by a shimmering accompaniment of harp and strings. The poem itself magically evokes a sense of child-like innocence steeped in subtle eroticism—an irresistibly delicious, world-evoking paradox. I imagine my artist working in a style close to that of the famous Scottish Victorian painter Joseph Noel Paton (1821-1901) who may be best known for The Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania (1847). TAS
A Lovely Boy
Encinctured with a twine of leaves,
That leafy twine his only dress!
A lovely Boy was plucking fruits
By moonlight in the wilderness.
The moon was bright, the air was free,
And fruits and flowers together grew,
On many a shrub, and many a tree:
And all put on a gentle hue,
Hanging in the shadowy air
Like a picture rich and rare.
It was a climate where, they say,
The night is more belov’d than day.
But who that beauteous Boy beguil’d
That beauteous Boy to linger here?
Alone, by night, a little child,
In place so silent and so wild—
Has he no friend, no loving mother near?
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Lines on a Child (1798)
He steps into the scene, summoned by the artist’s longing, gracefully materializing in the foreground, born from seething moonlit mist and the glassy shadow of sepia-washed cloud-peaks. The boy stands on the rippling edge of this aqueous, star-dappled world, a seraphic intruder, wading along a curving stretch of shell-strewn shore, grasping for invisible fruits on low-hanging branches beyond the frame.
He is “old enough”, yet still unsullied by shame, naïve in his nakedness, utterly free in the unselfconscious perfection of his beauty. The man-child wanders on, a glowing creature from a dream of Eden.
And oh! To be in that garden with him! The artist would will himself into the scene also, as if pure desire might be transmogrified, and lust itself made flesh, cool and substantial and undeniably alive, Pygmalion, a god incarnate, humbled and amazed before his own creation, worshipping what he himself has wrought.
He calls out to the lad, standing a short way along the silvery littoral, realizing too late that the boy is mute. Even so, he asks his name, and a hundred other things—“Why do you wander all alone in this place? Have you no friend? No home?” But the answers are not the boy’s to give, for they lie somewhere already within the yearning mind of his creator.
The boy nods, yet it is enough.
The older man approaches or is mystically drawn, standing suddenly before the object of his desire as in a dream, without memory of distance traveled. He wrestles the angel by the hair, gently pulling him close, covetous fingers buried in a halo of golden ringlets, impatient to touch, and fondle, and kiss. He enthralls the man-child’s mouth, taking his upper lip between the both of his, sucking greedily, as a bee drawn to precious nectar.
Awakening below, the boy is half-erect, his fecund phallus coyly articulated, a stalk of wheat insouciantly bowing on the breeze. The older man closes his eyes, permitting himself, if only for a moment, the selfish luxury of uninterrogated bliss—the unalloyed delectation of Ariel’s caress, his penis gently bobbing and billowing against his master’s belly, whence the artist’s own arousal takes puissant form, rising up until the mirrored shafts seem to salute one another, unbuttoned foils crossed before a duel.
“I love you,” he sobs, though the boy only gazes at him, questioningly. “Do you know what that is, Ariel?” His trembling hand slips over the flat plain of the boy’s abdomen, to find the tangled nest of red-gold hair below, “Do you understand what it means to love someone with every atom of your physical self—with the whole completeness of your immortal soul—yet never to know—always to be forbidden—that singular moment of joy requited?”
Sighing, he cups his lover’s low, soft-hanging pouch, reverently weighing the delicate treasures within. “Do as I do,” he whispers, “touch me . . . like this . . .” He closes his fingers around the boy’s shaft and pulls, delicately upwards, stroking the taut velvet flesh of the glossy glans with loving care a dozen times or more, drawing forth its sweet, precious essence, pressing it to himself just in time to bear the brunt of the explosion against his belly, the burst of pale, translucent sap that seems to reflect the color of the moonlight on the cloud-tops far above.
Keening softly now, the artist is powerless to deny the terrible and delicious welling within him, the quickening sweetness that surges through his loins. His cry of release a ragged benediction as the boy falls to his knees, eager to receive that graced outpouring—joy made manifest—like a holy chrism upon his upturned face, his forehead first, his cheeks, his lips, his tongue. The older man stoops to gather his love to himself, throwing his arms out wide with the desperation of the dying, clinging to life in an ecstasy of denial, embracing the boy as he would the entire world, annointing him again with kisses and with tears.
“I never want to leave you!” he cries, “Oh Ariel! I never want to feel anything but what I feel at this very moment—” he takes the boy’s face between his hands and looks into his eyes, “I’ve never held a memory that was not tinged with sadness or with anger, yet now, for the first time in my life, I feel something pure! At this moment, all I can feel, without question, without doubt, without a single second guess . . . is love! Please! Please, let me hold this memory! Please! Let me stay with you forever!”
But the boy shakes his head. It is too late. The moment cannot last, for innocence is already lost, destroyed in the very act of its creation. In his hubris, Pygmalion has gone too far, imagined too completely, and so, in selfishly interacting with his creature, has inexorably changed him.
The old man weeps, and cannot be consoled. His tears stain the canvas, blur and streak the image whose glorious like shall never be conjured again. For a moment he entertains a frantic thought, but cannot bring himself to follow through. In the end, for all his lavish longings, his aching emptiness, the bitter pangs of solitude, loneliness like the shallow shore before the sharp drop-off into the abyss of despair, and all his fierce devouring love, the artist dares not paint himself into the picture.