In Defense of the Paraklausithyron

Paraklausithyron: It is kind of an ugly word. It's a bit long and awkward, especially for a poet like me. Of course, etymologically, it holds within itself three Greek roots, namely παρα (read para), meaning besides, κλαίω (read klayoh), meaning lament, and θύρα (read thura), meaning door. Any two of these words put together make a lovely combination that just rolls off the tongue. A παρακλαίω, a “lament besides”, or perhaps a word for empathy; a παραθύρα, perhaps the side door that is used to draw as little attention as possible; or a κλαίωθύρα, a weeping door, whatever that is. Despite the word's awkwardness, I claim that the photograph in question, created by joeyspadoni, is a paraklausithyron, and that I am in the right composing the poem on this photograph that I have. However, the defense of this claim is not as simple. The paraklausithyron is a motif with a long and complex history behind it, with many overlapping and evolving metaphors and meanings. To that end, this is essay will serve as my defense of that claim; my defense of the paraklausithyron.   

(If you have not read the poem yet, I would recommend giving it a read before you read this essay, but the choice is yours.)

The Paraklausithryon Motif and Its Historical Evolution

Of course, before we can claim what is and what is not a paraklausithyron, we need to first understand where it came from, and how it has changed throughout the centuries. The traditional, and blindly accepted (read Wikipedia) definition of a paraklausithyron is the "lament besides the door" but I am afraid that this really fails to capture exactly what it is. It is also sometimes referred to as the exclusus amator. The paraklausithryon is wrapped in metaphor, and has had a long and evolving history as a literary genre. In its origins, in Ancient Greece, the metaphor is most often about a woman who is denying access to the man, and in that regard, the closed door becomes a sign of the barrier she is putting between her and the pursuer.

Frank Olin Copley, in his essay On the Origin of Certain Features of the Paraclausithyron,  provides a pretty robust explanation of this early iteration of the narrative. "The ancient paraklausithyron, lament of the shut-out lover, is based invariably on a stock dramatic scene: the lover, intoxicated, and wearing a garland, comes to the door of his beloved, which he finds shut against him. To the girl within, or sometimes to the door itself, he sings his song, begging for pity, pleading for admission, sometimes cursing the girl for her obstinacy and himself for his folly. It does him no good; the door remains closed. He flings down his garland or hangs it on the doorway, and then himself lies down on the doorstep to await the coming dawn." Often times the paraklausithyron is preceded by the κῶμος, (read kohmahs) or the revels of young people, often a drinking party, during which the lover finds himself in the intoxicated state. It is also often succeeded by a dawn song, a poem that takes place the morning after and marks the passing of the night.

Thisbe  by Edwin Long (1885)

Thisbe by Edwin Long (1885)

This is where the genre began, but the motif has seen numerous mutations, as the idea of the "shut out" lover is passed from poet to poet, from lover to lover. As time continued on, the exclusion moved from the doing of one of the lovers, to that of some external force, pitting the star crossed lovers against the world. In Roman literature we find the famous story of Pyramus and Thisbe from Ovid's Metamorphoses, in which the two lovers are banned from seeing each other by their parents, as a result of familial feuding.  In this version of the motif, the door is replaced with a wall, in which their is a hole, or a chink. Through this hole, the two lovers are able to communicate, and it is in this space that they get a few brief moments to express their love. Of course, if you are not familiar with Pyramus and Thisbe, you are probably thinking that this story sounds very similar to a certain play that you had to read around the 10th grade... 

Yes, Act II Scene 2 of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is an example of a paraklausithyron. (A particularly good one, as it is both preceded by a drinking party in II.1 and followed by a dawn song in III.5) But Romeo and Juliet is only one instance of the bards use of the literary motif. Look also upon Two Gentlemen of Verona (IV.2) and Much Ado About Nothing (II.3 and V.2) as a few among many other examples. One of my personal favorite instances of the motif is Cyrano and Christian at the balcony of Roxane in Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand, during which Cyrano is feeding Christian the lines he needs to woo Roxane, and essentially, schooling him on the ways of a paraklausithyron.  

To this day, the motif continues to evolve. There is an article that claims that Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven is a form of elegiac paraklausithyron, focusing on lines referring to torches, guards and doors. The Bob Dylan’s Temporary Like Achilles and Jimi Hendrix’s Castles Made of Sand both feature a lot of the characteristics of the motif. While this is a specific defense of my poem and Joey’s photograph, I would be remiss not to defend the motif and the genre as a whole. Despite having such ancient origins, and a long history, and despite the evolving ideas surrounding love and courtship, this narrative is one that is just as pertinent and relevant to the modern discourse. There is something incredibly human and timeless about spurned love or forbidden desires and the poetic expression of such feelings, that permeates all of western culture. I am sure someone out there could catalog the various instances of paraklausithyron in modern culture, but that would be quite the undertaking. Of course, as far as I am aware, the most recent iteration of this motif is in a photograph by joeyspadoni, and in the poem I wrote about that photograph, or so I claim.

The Poem

Perhaps now you are either a little more familiar with the primary ideas of the paraklausithyron, or refreshed on the main concepts if this is not your first encounter. Assuming that you have already read the poem and seen the photograph, you are more than likely a little confused. There is no door in the photograph, or a wall with a chink in it, or a balcony or orchard or garden. There are lovers, but they do not seem shut out at all. No one appears to be lamenting or crying or waiting for their lover to let them in. 

Within the poem, I have broken up the word into its three roots, and written a separate section of the poem for each. For the παρα I wanted to focus on the lovers and the nearness that they convey in a crowd full of very isolated figures. This section is written with a focus on the first person to show the similar thoughts of the lovers, and their oneness in their love. In the second stanza and the beginning of the third, parentheses are used to allow the two lovers to each have their own voices, but they are still always near to each other. I am not sure that too much can be read into it, but I was almost certainly thinking about e.e. cummings’ since feeling is first. The other use of parentheses in this poem is to define what παρα means, and draw the reader closer towards the meaning of the word as it applies to these lovers and as it is understood by them. There are lots of different ways that two people can be near to each other, and I think the various definitions of παρα shed light on these differences.   

The second section, the κλαίω, is a little bit more structured. The iambic pentameter and twelve lines leaves this section a rhyme structure away from traditional sonnet form. This section, in contrast with focus on first person in the first section, is written in the third person. Of course, in the poem, the κλαίῶν, the weeping thing, is not a person but instead the fountain. In this way, I sought to flip around the paraklausithyron, and talk about the lament of the one who is being asked to give, not of the one asking for something. I think there is often a one sided in nature in the narrative of a lover lamenting over the other not reciprocating the advances, and I wanted to explore, from my limited experience, the other side of that narrative. 

The fountain is a thing to which people come and ask for things, but the fountain cannot do anything about these wishes. The fountain has no agency in the world that people exist in, and the things that they want often have nothing to do with the fountain itself. If the wisher asks for a beautiful fountain to look at, or water too cool his face, or a place to sit and dip the feet in, then the fountain might be able to provide. Much else and the wish is something more cosmic, having very little to do with the fountain itself. So too with the person who comes to their lover wanting things that have very little to do with the other person, but that they think can be gained by engaging in the relationship with them. There is also a subtle commentary on a type of wish that I hear about a lot, and that I often times make myself . That is the wish that should not really be a wish. Often times we find ourselves wishing for things that we actually have the power to obtain ourselves. Of course, it is far easier to toss a coin in a fountain and leave it up to the gods rather than to actually affect the change we want to see in the world. 

I could write much more on this section of the poem, but I think I will leave it with just one final note, specifically about the gendering of the fountain. Obviously the fountain does not have a gender, and obviously the thoughts and philosophies expressed above are not limited to any gender. But I chose to make the fountain feminine to increase the focus on the fact that this is a comment on the other side of the narrative of the ancient paraklausithyron, in which, it is often the woman who has shut her door. This also allowed me to link together the concepts of the thing upon which we wish, or ask for things, and the concept of beauty in a much more poignant way, particularly in that last line. People think that the fountain is beautiful, and while it is nice to have people think that you are beautiful, it is not helpful when you feel broken, because they ask for things that you cannot give. Perhaps even I am reading to far into my own poem, but then I suppose thats a privilege that the author gets. Regardless, this conflation of the beautiful with the thing that can grant your wishes is precisely what leads us to another literary motif, the manic pixie dream girl. (But that is a subject for an entirely different essay.)

Finally, the third section, on the θύρα, the door. This section is more structured that the first and less structured that the second. Continuing in the pattern, this section is in written in the second person, as we find out at the end, from the perspective of the photographer as a sort of prayer to the sun. This may be the furthest of many stretches in the poem, but the sun framed between the two buildings reminded me of light through a key hole, and thus the association with the θύρα. Of course, the suns light is the door through which this story is being told in a certain sense. Photography is visual medium, and relies on some form of light for its composition. In a sort of prevenient sense, none of the figures in this photograph, the lovers, nor the crowds, nor the fountains would be there if it were not for the sun. To that end, the sun really is the door of my paraklausithyron. Though there may be a door, or a balcony, or a wall between the lovers, it is often through the medium of the θύρα, in this case the sunlight of a beautiful day, that the lovers are brought closer together, and their love of each other is renewed. In this way, the sun really is a sort of metaphorical door for our lives, if nothing else, at least in a Heideggerian sense.  

It was also really important for me to include the photographer in the poem, who in this case was the esteemed joeyspadoni. Quite simply, I am drawing upon a literary genre, and in all art, but especially literature, and especially in the paraklausithyron, the writer, or in this case, photographer, is one of the most important pieces. To write is an incredibly personal thing, that draws on the writers own experiences, and his ability to understand the narratives that connect with every individual, on a personal level. It is this connection, between the artist, their art, and the viewer, that I think is lost in a lot of contemporary photography because of photographies prevalence in the modern age. Everyone has a camera in their pockets, and so to some degree, everyone is a photographer. But not everyone is an artist. In this photograph, and in the photography of joeyspadoni, we are are not just witnessing the interactions of a photographer with the medium of photography. We are witnessing the interaction of an artist with the medium of humanity, and with the narratives that hold true in all of our hearts. 

Thus I broke up the poem and broke up the word to focus on the individual pieces of the word rather than the word as a whole. When I first went to write the poem, I was overwhelmed by the photograph, with so many focal points, and so much that I wanted to encapsulate. Breaking up the poem seemed like the only logical solution. But of course, there is a further reason behind the structure. The keen reader will have already made the connection of the sequence of events in the paraklausithyron and the structure of the poem. The first section is the connection of the lovers, and its free form nature can be reflective of the κῶμος. The second section is the lament, the most paraklausithyronic part of the entire poem. Finally, the last section is a poem to the sun, or a dawn song, written about the moment just after the paraklausithyron, the moment the photograph is taken. 

The Photograph

The connection with the paraklausithyron goes beyond these specific divisions and choices, and ties into the deeper philosophy that I drew from the photograph as a whole. From the moment I saw the photograph, it was connected in my mind to the word paraklausithyron, despite its distinct lack of many of the features. There is something rebellious about Ovid's paraklausithryon, or the Romeo and Juliet scene, which stems from this theme of forbidden love. So, in a culture where public displays of affection are often frowned upon, and in a world that asks us to be reserved and modest, their is something to the public kiss that so perfectly encapsulates that same rebellious spirit. 

In addition, the stories often deal in some way with fate, and with a love that is meant to be. I do not know the individuals in the photograph, nor do I know the state of their relationship. But in this moment, in this kiss, I see a couple who believe that they are meant to be. Maybe not meant to be forever, maybe not meant to be married, or even meant to be in any kind of relationship. But certainly a couple who believe that in this moment, they are meant to be close, and meant to be kissing, and meant to be expressing the love between them. 

Going a step further, if we strip down the sundry details of the paraklausithyron, or at least Ovid's version of the motif, we are left with two lovers who long to be together, and have found a brief moment of privacy at the door. That idea is precisely what I see in the photograph. Of course, its a more convoluted meaning of privacy, and perhaps a more modern one. No one of the hundreds of people in this photograph is looking directly at them. Even we are not looking directly at them. We only barely get a glimpse of the side of her face, eclipsed by his. Within the composition of the photograph, every line moves us to the focal point of the sun, down the road. The lovers are isolated, and in that sense, have found the moment of privacy that lovers long for. Within this photograph is contained the tale of two lovers, forbidden, destined, and longing for isolation.

So there you have it. There is no door, no balcony, no orchard, no θύρα, no weeping, no exclusion, no lament, no sorrow, no κλαίω, no torches, no guards, no garlands, and only a few instances of nearness. And yet, I will confidently call this photograph, and the poem I have written about it, a paraklausithyron. Feel free to disagree with the semantics, but this is my defense.   

Paraklausithyron  by  joeyspadoni

Paraklausithyron by joeyspadoni

Works Referenced

Canter, H. V. "The Paraclausithyron as a Literary Theme" The American Journal of Philology Vol. 41, No. 4, pp. 355-368. (1920) Stable JSTOR URL.

Copely, Frank Olin. "The Origin of Certain Features of the Paraclausithyron" in Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 73, pp. 96-107. (1942)

Henderson, W. J. "The Paraklausithyron Motif in Horace's Odes" in Acta Classica, Vol. 16, p. 51 (1973). Found Here on Saturday March 26, 2016. 

Maligec, Christopher F. S. "'The Raven' as an Elegiac Paraclausithyron" in Poe Studies
Vol. 42, No. 1. (2009) Found on Muse on Saturday March 26, 2016.

Further Reading

The Metamorphoses, Books I-VII by Ovid 

The Story of Pyramus and Thisbe- Book IV Lines 55-166

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare 

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

The Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare

Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand

Image Credits

"Thisbe: "An envious wall the Babylonian maid from Pyramus, her gentle lover, stayed. etc." - Ovid" by     Edwin Longsden Long, engraved by Gustave Nicolas Bertinot. (1885) Found Here on Saturday March 26, 2016.

"Paraklausithyron" by joeyspadoni. (2015) You can find the photo here. joeyspadoni's website is here.