Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The other side of obedience

“Go, why don’t you go back home,” he mutters, dismissing me with a casual wave of the hand.
“Please,” I say. “Let me serve you. You’ll find my music soothing, I trust.”
“Trust?” he says, locking eyes with me.
“Just so, your majesty. Trust!”
“There is no such thing, where I’m sitting.”
“But my music
“It awakens something in me,” he groans, pressing a hand against his temple. “Something I wish to ignore. An unspeakable sort of pain. There’s a demon in me, and I knowI just know he’ll break loose, he’ll take over, the moment I’ll let myself soften.” 
“Perhaps not,” I suggest. “If you soften, the pain may wash over you, heal your soul. You may find yourself rising anew, if only you would listen to me. Let me, your majesty. Let me play.”
 The king shakes his head, No. No.
“It’s not the music,” he mutters. “It’s you. I can’t bare looking at you.”
This leaves me dumbfounded, and I stand at his feet, waiting for what may come out of his lips next. 
After a while he moans, “Boy—”
Have you ever been wounded? Ever been on a battlefield?”
“No,” I say. “My mother won’t let
“Of course,” he bares his teeth, belittling me with laughter. “It’s always the mother. Yours must be a smart woman to keep you safe, away from any danger.” 
“I give you my word, I’ll follow you anywhere,” I say. “Even to the battlefield. Sounds exciting, no matter what my mother says.”
He raises one of his eyebrows as if to say, I know how you feel. She hides the world from you, doesn’t she.
“Yes,” I have to agree. “I hate it, hate being protected. Makes me wonder what’s on the other side of obedience.”
He pays no attention to what I say. “Listen, boy. Let me tell you one thing: often, when I leave the bloodied scene and ride back here, a long way over the range of the mountains, I don’t even realize I’ve been wounded. My mind wanders, it roams elsewhere... But then…Then I look at myself. And what do I see? A slash, deep across my flesh... And this, this is the timenot a moment earlierwhen the pain comes. In a snap, it takes a bite.”
Saul takes a long pause. Then he looks straight down at me. “That’s how I feel, right this minute,” he says. “That’s what your music does to me.”

David and Saul by He Qi

David and Saul by Ernst Josephson

The awkward relationship between the tormented king Saul and the musician boy whose job it is to relieve him of his demons is the subject of numerous paintings in art history. Compare for example these two paintings. The modern painting by He Qi stages the two figures so that David is playing his music face to us, entirely taking by his divine inspiration which is symbolized by the white smoke rising fem his hand. Entirely oblivious to what the king does, David does not suspect that in a moment, a spear may pierce his back. It is up to you, the observer, to cry out and warn him.

By contrast, the traditionally executed oil painting by Ernst Josephson positions David and Saul facing each other. You can interpret David's pose two different ways. Perhaps he is raising his eyes above the king, to capture a divine inspiration--or else, he is taunting Saul with his youth and talent.

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