THE MOST IRISH OF PORTUGUESE SONGS, By Sérgio Medeiros
THE MOST IRISH OF PORTUGUESE SONGS
By Sérgio Medeiros *
Enrique Flor was a revolutionary Portuguese musician who practiced his art in Ireland in the early twentieth century, deserving a special mention in James Joyce's novel Ulysses. I dedicated to him two long poems that are in my books Totems (2012) and Pagan Trio (2018), in which I expose and explore the ecological dimension of his vegetal music, inspired by the alphabet of the Celtic trees. These two poems were recently gathered in one book, The most Irish of Portuguese songs (2020), which can be read free of charge on my website https://www.glifoeletra.com
His name appears spelled in Portuguese in Ulysses as “Senhor Enrique Flor”, but in other passages it appears translated into English as Henry Flower; however, in this second form, the name is used as a pseudonym by Leopold Bloom, who hides behind it to, among other things, write erotic messages. Under that name, according to a guard, he stalks and harasses the streets illegally ... It should be remembered that the vegetable music of Enrique Flor is also erotic, since it presupposes mythical marriages between trees and human beings, as I will speak.
The mention of Enrique Flor's art appears in a scene that takes place in a pub, around 5 pm, in an episode known as “The Cyclops”, in which politics is one of the themes.
“As treeless as Portugal we’ll be soon”, prophesies one of the characters. And keeps going: “Larches, firs, all the trees of the conifer Family are going fast”.
Ireland is compared to Heligoland, which has a single tree ... It is a German archipelago located in the North Sea.
Then someone cries out: “Save the trees of Ireland for the future men of Ireland on the fair hills of Eire, O”.
The musician Enrique Flor comes from an entirely deforested country, but Ireland, chosen by him as a new home, is also seeing his trees being taken away, in this case, by the English colonizers. Flor's music will celebrate the wedding among the mythical trees, from the alphabet of the trees, the old Irish alphabet, called Ogham, in which, as Robert Graves explained in a famous study, each letter has the name of the tree or shrub whose name begins with it: for example, Beth - B - birch (the tree from the beginning, the one that sprouts earlier in the forest, next to the elderberry) ... Beth's shape is more or less a T, and is inspired by the appearance of the tree.
Joyce's text, which recreates the rhetoric of a social column note, says: “The fashionable international world attended en masse this afternoon at the wedding of the chevalier Jean Wyse de Neaulan, grand high chief ranger of the Irish National Foresters, with Miss Fir Conifer of Pine Valley”. This union between the Grand Master of the Foresters and a lady whose name alludes to an entire forest, was carried out with all the “ecological” pomp that could be imagined within the cultural universe of the Irish alphabet (the old and the modern).
Take, for example, the long list of live “trees” that brightened the ceremony (I will mention just a few of them), according to the newspaper's report: “Lady Sylvester Elmshade, Mrs Barbara Lovebirch, Mrs Poll Ash, Mrs Holly Hazeleyes, Miss Daphne Bays, Miss Dorothy Canebrake, Mrs Clyde Twelvetrees, Mrs Rowan Greene, Mrs Helen Vinegadding, Miss Virginia Creeper, Miss Gladys Beech”... .
While these ancient seeds sprout and come to the surface, showing themselves alive and current in the church where a mythical wedding is celebrated on the arboreal alphabet (ecological shapes and sounds), the organ of Enrique Flor stimulates with music the manifestation of colors and plant names. Consequently, the organ promotes the (re) union between human beings and plants, in a new type of marriage, necessary to spiritually reforest Ireland, already almost as deforested as Portugal.
Joyce's text, always parodying the language of social columns, says: “Senhor Enrique Flor presided at the organ with his wellknown ability and, in addition to the prescribed numbers of the nuptial mass, played a new and striking arrangement of Woodman, spare that three at the conclusion of the service”.
I said that Joyce, in this part of the novel, parodied the style of the social columns, and the example that I will give now is eloquent in this sense, when describing the ecological bride wrapped in green silk: “The bride who was given away by her father, the M’Conifer of the Glands, looked exquisitely charming in a creation carried out in green mercerised silk, moulded on an underslip of gloaming grey, sashed with a yoke of broad emerald and finished with a triple flounce of darkerhued fringe, the scheme being relieved by bretelles and hip insertions of acorn bronze”.
After the detailed description of the religious ceremony, which meant a return from modern Catholicism to the ancient Celtic mythology (Celtic mythology), comes the information: “Mr and Mrs Wyse Conifer Neaulan will spend a quiet honeymoon in the Black Forest”.
The bride and groom then go to Europe, but not to Portugal or Heligoland, devastated places, but to a boreal forest known as the Black Forest, in southwest Germany.
And what was the fate of musician Enrique Flor, after that glorious event dreamed by Joyce in his 1922 novel, which portrays Dublin in 1904? I tried to imagine the new developments of his vegetal art, in the two books already mentioned in which he and his descendants act as protagonists: Totems and Pagan Trio, which were brought together, as I said, in a third book, under the title The most Irish of Portuguese songs.
Portuguese traveler, Enrique Flor, according to the sequence of his saga imagined by me, visited South America, before returning definitively to Portugal. He initially arrives in Brazil, where the musician finds an almost untouched nature (as perhaps his colonizing ancestors saw it when they disembarked here) and soon begins to listen to the music of the forest and cerrado trees, before creating new compositions or making performances in the territory that had been occupied by indigenous people.
In Flor's new artistic manifestations, indigenous myths are combined with Celtic mythology. Thus, the Brazilian experience enriches his aesthetic repertoire, and he then travels to other Latin American countries, improving and densifying his conception of vegetable sex appeal, which will become the most potent ingredient of his vegetable art (interspecies weddings), which he will promote wherever he goes.
However, Enrique Flor, through his descendants, will see again, as I narrate in my book Pagan Trio, the Portuguese forests disappear from the map, through gigantic fires. This tragedy foreshadows the disappearance of other forests, in Brazil and elsewhere, due to criminal gestures and climate change. In this way, Enrique Flor's saga, which magically gathers mythical and real forests, not only contains a joyous epiphany, but also reveals a tragic vision, since, when speaking of new generations, the sounds (and aromas) of his vegetal music show, in a denunciation scene, a child named Enrique Flor being devoured by the flames. Joyce, in his epic novel, celebrates the mythical marriage, but says nothing of the children who will come from him ...
Enrique Flor's ghost returns to Dublin every June 16 to celebrate Bloomsday and renew, together with Molly and Leopold Bloom (Henry Flower), the marriage between humans and trees, as Joyce, indigenous people and Celtic mythology taught us.
(The drawings that accompany this article are part of the series “The alphabet of trees by Enrique Flor”, by me.)
* SÉRGIO MEDEIROS is a poet, visual artist and essayist.