Thursday, April 21, 2005

Chandrahas over at The Middle Stage introduced me to a Turkish poet by the name of Orhan Veli Kanik the other day:


Everything happened all of a sudden.
All of a sudden daylight beat down on the earth;
There was the sky all of a sudden;
All of a sudden steam began to rise from the soil.
There were tendrils all of a sudden, buds all of a sudden.
And there were fruits all of a sudden.
All of a sudden,
All of a sudden,
Girls all of a sudden, boys all of a sudden.
Roads, moors, cats, people...
And there was love all of a sudden,
Happiness all of a sudden.

("All of a Sudden" makes me think of Neruda's poem "Spring" from Fully Empowered - the rebirth of everything due of the song of a bird.)


We live free
Air is free, clouds are free
Valleys and hills are free
Rain and mud are free
The outside of cars
The entrances of cinemas
And the shop windows are free
Bread and cheese cost money
But stale water is free
Freedom can cost your head
But prison is free
We live free

(Here is another work in a similar vein.)


How pleasant, oh dear God, how pleasant
To journey on the blue sea
To cast off from shore
Aimless as thought.

I would set sail to the wind
And wander from sea to sea
To find myself one morning
In some deserted bay.

In a harbor large and clean
A harbor in coral isles
Where in the wake of clouds
A golden summer trails.

The languid scent of oleasters
Would fill me there
And the taste of sorrow
Never find that place.

Sparrows would nest in the flowered
Eaves of my dream castle
The evenings would unravel with colors
The days pass in pomengrate gardens.

Here are a few more poems in translation.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Racist or the Casualty of Shallow Misinterpretation?

I. Stephen Collins Foster

A northerner and member of the abolitionist movement, Stephen Collins Foster sought to both reform minstrelsy (musical revues that caricatured blacks and mimicked them for comic effect) and, through his music, bring light to the plight of black people after Emancipation. His lyrics were in dialect (as was the fashion of the time), but with strict instructions to perform with sympathy.

Oh Susanna

Old Folks at Home (Swanee River)

Of course, much of this is considered racist nowadays, and his music has been struck off the curricula of many schools (not to mention publishers of his works threatened with boycotts). Judged with current standards, perhaps he was. Viewed in context, however, he is still an important contributor to American popular culture. If we weren't so sensitive about offending others, perhaps there could be constructive dialogue about the nature of his writing, the racial climate of the times, current interpretations.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

And how could we ever leave out this great ode?

Concord Hymn

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Since today is Patriots Day, I think that some Longfellow might be in order:

Paul Revere's Ride

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."

Then he said "Good-night!" and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,--
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, "All is well!"
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,--
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse's side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer's dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,---
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,---
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

-Henry Wordsworth Longfellow

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The City

You said, "I will go to another land, I will go to another sea.
Another city will be found, better than this.
Every effort of mine is condemned by fate;
and my heart is -- like a corpse -- buried.
How long in this wasteland will my mind remain.
Wherever I turn my eyes, wherever I may look
I see the black ruins of my life here,
where I spent so many years, and ruined and wasted.

"New lands you will not find, you will not find other seas.
The city will follow you. You will roam the same
streets. And you will age in the same neighborhoods;
in these same houses you will grow gray.
Always you will arrive in this city. To another land -- do not hope --
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you have ruined your life here
in this little corner, you have destroyed it in the whole world.

-Constantine Cavafy

In my case, it's not a lover who's spurned me who has turned my territory into a wasteland; it's the city itself.

Chandrahas Choudhury has some great insight and an interesting correspondence to make between this poem and some music that I'd never have known about.