Music Mondays: Ravel, Pastoralism, and More Fantastic Ekphrastic(ness)

Bouguereau, "The Young Shepherdess" (1885).

Bouguereau, “The Young Shepherdess” (1885).

Last Wednesday’s ekphrastic writing adventure was so ekphrastically fantastic that I knew I had to go back for more. If you don’t know what ekphrasis is, please check out Wednesday’s post or Writingtutortips’ post on ekphrasis.

Today’s ekphrastic piece is also an exercise in the suggestion-over-depiction technique I discussed a short while ago. I think a perfect musical genre that goes splendidly with this technique is late 19th-century French music. The great musical impressionist was Claude Debussy (although he despised that label: “impressionism”), but composers like Ravel and Fauré (which I also briefly shared in my poetry post) are often forgotten. Ravel’s music is a little easier to appreciate since it’s more structured and “depicts” more than Debussy’s. Today’s ekphrastic piece is based on one of my favourites to listen to while reading, writing, or studying: Maurice Ravel’s”Pavane pour une infante défunte” (or “Pavane for a Dead Princess”). It was originally a solo piano work but I do enjoy the orchestral arrangement more. 

Although a pavane was traditionally a slow-paced medieval dance, I see mostly pastoral images when I listen to the muted woodwinds of this piece: lazy Sunday summer afternoons in the field, sunswept meadows, breezy rivers. I’ve supplemented today’s post with paintings by Ravel’s contemporary, French painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau, who is known for his pastoral paintings of young shepherdesses. I also began and finished writing my ekphrasis at the exact beginning and end times of the Pavane.


She moves among the meadow grasses, a flower in her hair. She smiles, but her eyes are sad with wisdom. I hold out my hand, she turns away, I take a step, she runs. I run after her, wading, rustling through the tall grasses of the meadow. Her long dress billows in the wind. Freely. I hear her laugh softly and the flower near her ear quivers in the breeze. We break through a grove and halt at a cliff. We stare down into the fields below. It is quiet. So quiet. Ruined only by the breeze and the robins’ warble, I see ahead the mountains. And an eagle. She calls out. A wordless cry. A cry for the eagle, who smiles our salute. I take a stone from the ground and throw it far as I can. It disappears into oblivion, into eternity.

Bouguereau, "Little Shepherdess" (1889).

Bouguereau, “Little Shepherdess” (1889).

She holds my hand.

Bouguereau, "Gleaner" (1894).

Bouguereau, “Gleaner” (1894).

I turn to her and give her my other hand. We dance.

Slowly, to the rhythm of the breeze and the robin and the mountain and the eagle. To the rhythm of the flower in her ear. She smiles, and the wisdom in her eyes soften. 

Please share your own ekphrastic poetry or prose. Can be associated with anything extra-literary (visual art, music, etc.). I’m also interested in what words this piece made you think of!

For more Music Mondays (where the literary and auditory arts converge!) click here.

***All images used are public domain***


One thought on “Music Mondays: Ravel, Pastoralism, and More Fantastic Ekphrastic(ness)

  1. Pingback: 6 thoughts on music and productivity | breakfast with words

leave some feedback

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s