Caravaggio’s Dagger

With support from Joseph Haydn

The central theme of Caravaggio’s Dagger is Somerset Maugham’s admonition of the error of adopting a course of action thought to be right, even though we knew it could not bring us happiness, ever.

W. Somerset Maugham (Courtesy: Fine Arts America)

W. Somerset Maugham (Courtesy: Fine Arts America)

Exemplified by the art of Caravaggio, this work inquires: what, then, is a pursuit of right action? Caravaggio, the murderous, brilliant 16th-century painter, depicted the decapitation of John the Baptist at the moment the act is botched: jugular severed, head attached, the saint in agony—a rendering of humanity’s predilections placed above the altar of the Maltese co-cathedral of the military Knights of Saint John.

Many come to evil; many others search for a different way to be.

There is a matrix of music that permeates the book, and the book also employs a metaphorical and topical counterpoint of water and earth.

Caravaggio's Dagger, Mozart, Clarinet Quintet, K. 581

Mozart: Clarinet Quintet, K. 581, opening bars

Caravaggio’s Dagger is structured as six taxonomies or sections, and contains 83 poems. Taxonomy in this instance refers to division into ordered group or categories. The opening taxonomy, “Pyre of the Accidental Butterfly,” deals with instances of war and social disruption. The second taxonomy, “In the North of the Afternoon,” with the perplexities and vexations of personal life. Taxonomy Three, “At the Widening of the Narrow,” of the intrusion of death into these perplexities. Taxonomy Four, “The Waterways of Avalon,” of approaches to what is gone and past. Taxonomy Five, “Confluence of the Tributaries,” a synthesis of how to recognize what is worthwhile and of beauty in this decay of time. And, the sixth and last taxonomy, “Caravaggio’s Dagger,” with how the artistry of place can assist in an awareness of the inexorability of war and social disruption.

Caravaggio's Dagger, Hamburg, Firestorm, Operation Gomorrah, the week my father escaped the Nazi labour camp and went into hiding in his native Netherlands

Caravaggio’s Dagger, Hamburg 1943, the aftermath of the firestorm produced by the RAF’s Operation Gomorrah, which enabled my father to escape the Nazi labour camp in which he was imprisoned and to go into hiding in his native Netherlands

An article on the poem that concludes Taxonomy One, on destruction by bombardment, is found here; from the opening of the book, on refugees, is found here; on the fragility of relationships, is found here; and, on emigration, is found here.

An article on the origin of Caravaggio’s Dagger can be read here.

Many of this book’s poems have previously been published in established Canadian literary periodicals such as Canadian Literature, Descant, The Fiddlehead, Grain, Prairie Fire, The New Quarterly, Nashwaak Review, Contemporary Verse 2, Malahat Review, Qwerty, WordWorks, and Windsor Review, as well as in well-regarded periodicals that have ceased publication, such as Quarry and The Far Point.

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