Friday, April 29, 2005

Thank you to Harold for this:

A New England poet often referred to as "the American Wordsworth".

"The world in which Bryant was at home is neither the dizzy mountainous terrain of Emerson nor the haunted midnight landscape of Poe. But, though it may never be a dazzling or romantic domain, after turbulent days we are glad for its quiet assurance. It may not be enchanted ground, but it has the comfort of good earth: it is sure haven."

Louis Untermeyer, Editor's Introduction,
The Poems of William Culllen Bryant,
Limited Editions Club, New York, NY, c.1947.

Inscription for the Entrance to a Wood

Stranger, if thou hast learned a truth which needs
No school of long experience, that the world
Is full of guilt and misery, and hast seen
Enough of all its sorrows, crimes, and cares,
To tire thee of it, enter this wild wood
And view the haunts of nature. The calm shade
Shall bring a kindred calm, and the sweet breeze
That makes the green leaves dance, shall waft a balm
To thy sick heart. Thou wilt find nothing here
Of all that pained thee in the haunts of men,
And made thee loathe thy life. The primal curse
Fell, it is true, upon the unsinning earth,
But not in vengance. God hath yoked to guilt
Her pale tormentor, Misery. Hence these shades
Are still the abode of gladness; the thick roof
Of green and stirring branches is alive
And musical with birds, that sing and sport
In wantonness of spirit; while below
The squirrel, with raised paws and form erect,
Chirps merrily. Throngs of insects in the shade
Try their thin wings and dance in the warm beam.
That waked them into life. Even the green trees
Partake the deep contentment; as they bend
To the soft winds, the sun from the blue sky
Looks in and sheds a blessing on the scene.
Scarce less the cleft-born wildflower seems to enjoy
Existence, than the winged plunderer
That sucks its sweets. The mossy rocks themselves,
And the old and ponderous trunks of prostrate trees
That lead from knoll to knoll a causeway rude,
Or bridge the sunken brook, and their dark roots,
With all their roots upon them, twisting high,
Breathe fixed tranquility. The rivulet
Sends forth glad sounds, and tripping o'er its bed
Of pebbly sands, or leaping down the rocks
Seems, with continuous laughter, to rejoice
In its own being. Softly tread the marge,
Lest from her midway perch thou scare the wren
That dips her bill in water. The cool wind,
That stirs the stream in play, shall come to thee,
Like one that loves thee nor will let thee pass
Ungreeted, and shall give its light embrace.

-William Cullen Bryant

Thursday, April 28, 2005

I remember years ago, my friend Pavel reciting this poem to a Russian friend of mine who was a huge fan of poetry and Yevtushenko's work in particular. She was amazed to be talking about a long dormant love in her native tongue in her new home. I remember crying over the swan song of the lost brother. Anyway, let me leave the word to Pavel:

I found it by Googling the remembered refrain “dove-gray brother”. The Cyrillic didn’t appear correctly in my browser – it came out as a lot of funny accented Roman letters – until I fixed that by right-clicking in Windows Explorer and choosing Cyrillic under Encoding.

I heard Yevgeny Yevtushenko recite some of his poems at Princeton, in 1985 or 86 I think (my freshman year). He delivered some in English, others in Russian (these preceded by readings of the translations by a certain literature professor, from Queens College as I recall, who accompanied him on stage.) Yevtushenko was quite charismatic and expressive, even if you didn’t know the language. (It helped to have been told the content first.)


To V. Shchukin

With blood still dripping from its
warm and sticky beak,
its neck dangling over a bucket's edge,
a goose lies rocking in a boat,
like an ingot
of slightly tarnished silver.
There had been two of them flying
above the river Vilyui.
The first had been brought down in flight
while the other,
gliding low,
risking his neck,
hovers over the boat,
cries over the forest:
"My dove-gray brother,
we came into the world
clamorously breaking through our shells,
but every morning
Mother and Father
fed you first,
when it might have been me.
My dove-gray brother,
you had this blue tinge,
teasing the sky with a bold similarity.
I was darker,
and the females desired
you more,
when it might have been me.
My dove-gray brother,
without fear for the return,
you and I flew away, over the seas,
but obnoxious geese from other lands surrounded
you first,
when it might have been me.
My dove-gray brother,
we were beaten and bowed.
Together we were lashed by the tempests,
but for some reason the water slid
more easily off your goose's back
when it might have been mine.
My dove-gray brother,
we frayed out feathers.
People will eat both of us by the fireside -
perhaps because
the struggle to be first
devoured you,
consumed me.
My dove-gray brother,
half our lives was a pecking match,
not treasuring our brotherhood, our wings, and our souls.
Was reliance really impossible -
I on you,
and you on me?
My dove-gray brother,
I beg at least for a pellet,
curbing my envy too late;
but for my punishment people killed
you first,
when it might have been me..."


Translated by Arthur Boyars and Simon Franklin

This poem struck me particularly. He explained in English, before the English translation and his Russian recitation, that it was inspired by the event that made him gave up hunting. Once he killed a beautiful goose with unusual, striking bluish-grey plumage, and after that another goose flew overhead and cried. His imagination supplied the rest of the sad story of jealousy and regrets, and the poem.

Here is a transliteration, so you can have some sense of the dactylic meter and rhyme of the original. Also “you” and “me,” so often repeated, provide an internal rhyme in many lines. (Or at least have an assonance, “tebya” and “menya”). So I think it would better translate using “thee” and “me,” despite the spurious archaism in English. I suppose you will challenge me to make my own complete rhyming translation.

By the way, the Russian for “goose” happens to be “gus’” transliterated and almost the same pronounced! (Just palatalize the s.)


S krov’yu iz klyuva, tyopel i lipok,

Sheyey motaya po krayu vedra,

V lodke kachayetsya gus’ budto slitok

Chut’ chernovatovo serebra.

Dvoye leteli oni vdol’ Vilyuya.

Pervyy ulozhen byl vlyot, a drugoy,

Nizko letya, golovoyu riskuya,

Kruzhit nad lodkoy, krichit nad taygoy:

“Sizyy moy brat, poyavilis’ my v mire,

Gromko svoyu skorlupu prolomya,

No po utram tebya pervym kormili

Mat’ i otets, a mogli by – menya.

Sizyy moy brat, ty byl chutochku sinii,

Nebo pokhozhest’yu derzkoy draznya,

Ya byl temnei, i lyubili gusyni

Bol’she – tebya, a mogli by – menya.

Sizyy moy brat, vozvrashchat’sya ne trusya,

My uleteli s toboy za morya,

No obstupali zamorskiye gusy

Pervym – tebya, a mogli by – menya.

Sizyy moy brat, my i bity i gnuty,

Vmeste nas livny khlestali klhest’mya,

Tol’ko skhodila voda pochemu-to

Legche s tebya, a mogla by – s menya.

Sizyy moy brat, istrepali my per’ya.

Lyudi s’’yedyat nas dvoikh u ognya.

Ne potomy l’, chto stremleniye byt’ pervym

Yelo tebya, pozhiralo menya?

Sizyy moy brat, my klevalis’ polzhizni,

Bratstva, i kryl’yev, i dush ne tsenya.

Razve nel’zya bylo nam polozhit’sya,

Mne – na tebya, a tebe – na menya?

Sizyy moy brat, ya proshu khot’ drobiny,

Zavist’ moyu zapozdalo klyanya,

No v nakazan’ye mne lyudi ubili

Pervym – tebya, a mogli by – menya.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Dale sent me some other works by W H Auden:

I was going to send you a couple of Auden favorites, but I see you've
already put him up, so if this is now only for your private pleasure,
so be it. The Yeats poem is well known. I believe the poem "The
Geography of the House" originally came from a book of the same name
of poems about rooms in a house; the phrase itself is also a British
euphemism, and I suppose few could describe the inelegant so
elegantly, or love so wistfully.

In Memory Of W.B. Yeats

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
The snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.


You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.


Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice.

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress.

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountains start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

W H Auden

The Geography of the House
(for Christopher Isherwood)

Seated after breakfast
In this white-tiled cabin
Arabs call the House where
Everybody goes,
Even melancholics
Raise a cheer to Mrs.
Nature for the primal
Pleasure She bestows.

Sex is but a dream to
But a joy proposed un-
-til we start to shave:
Mouth-delight depends on
Virtue in the cook, but
This She guarantees from
Cradle unto grave.

Lifted off the potty,
Infants from their mothers
Hear their first impartial
Words of worldly praise:
Hence, to start the morning
With a satisfactory
Dump is a good omen
All our adult days.

Revelation came to
Luther in a privy
(Crosswords have been solved there)
Rodin was no fool
When he cast his Thinker,
Cogitating deeply,
Crouched in the position
Of a man at stool.

All the arts derive from
This ur-act of making,
Private to the artist:
Makers' lives are spent
Striving in their chosen
Medium to produce a
De-narcissus-ized en-
During excrement.

Freud did not invent the
Constipated miser:
Banks have letter boxes
Built in their fa├žade
Marked For Night Deposits,
Stocks are firm or liquid,
Currencies of nations
Either soft or hard.

Global Mother, keep our
Bowels of compassion
Open through our lifetime,
Purge our minds as well:
Grant us a king ending,
Not a second childhood,
Petulant, weak-sphinctered,
In a cheap hotel.

Keep us in our station:
When we get pound-notish,
When we seem about to
Take up Higher Thought,
Send us some deflating
Image like the pained ex-
-pression on a Major
Prophet taken short.

(Orthodoxy ought to
Bless our modern plumbing:
Swift and St. Augustine
Lived in centuries
When a stench of sewage
Made a strong debating
Point for Manichees.)

Mind and Body run on
Different timetables:
Not until our morning
Visit here can we
Leave the dead concerns of
Yesterday behind us,
Face with all our courage
What is now to be.

W H Auden

O Tell Me The Truth About Love

Some say love's a little boy,
And some say it's a bird,
Some say it makes the world go around,
Some say that's absurd,
And when I asked the man next-door,
Who looked as if he knew,
His wife got very cross indeed,
And said it wouldn't do.

Does it look like a pair of pyjamas,
Or the ham in a temperance hotel?
Does its odour remind one of llamas,
Or has it a comforting smell?
Is it prickly to touch as a hedge is,
Or soft as eiderdown fluff?
Is it sharp or quite smooth at the edges?
O tell me the truth about love.

Our history books refer to it
In cryptic little notes,
It's quite a common topic on
The Transatlantic boats;
I've found the subject mentioned in
Accounts of suicides,
And even seen it scribbled on
The backs of railway guides.

Does it howl like a hungry Alsatian,
Or boom like a military band?
Could one give a first-rate imitation
On a saw or a Steinway Grand?
Is its singing at parties a riot?
Does it only like Classical stuff?
Will it stop when one wants to be quiet?
O tell me the truth about love.

I looked inside the summer-house;
It wasn't over there;
I tried the Thames at Maidenhead,
And Brighton's bracing air.
I don't know what the blackbird sang,
Or what the tulip said;
But it wasn't in the chicken-run,
Or underneath the bed.

Can it pull extraordinary faces?
Is it usually sick on a swing?
Does it spend all its time at the races,
or fiddling with pieces of string?
Has it views of its own about money?
Does it think Patriotism enough?
Are its stories vulgar but funny?
O tell me the truth about love.

When it comes, will it come without warning
Just as I'm picking my nose?
Will it knock on my door in the morning,
Or tread in the bus on my toes?
Will it come like a change in the weather?
Will its greeting be courteous or rough?
Will it alter my life altogether?
O tell me the truth about love.

W H Auden

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Pablo on his choice:

"Ronald Reagan borrowed phrases from the first and last lines when he eulogized the astronauts who died in the Space Shuttle. That must be the unremembered source of the phrase “surly bonds of earth” which was in my head and recurred to me while reading some of the early Lovecraft stories – like the ones with protagonist Randolph Carter -- which are more escapist fantasy than horror, treating of the dream-world travelers escaping from the mundane. But the poem itself is about the very real experience of an airplane pilot."

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds,--and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless falls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor eer eagle flew--
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high, untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God

-John Gillespe Magee

Monday, April 25, 2005

Let me leave today's word to Hal - New Englander, Printmaker, fan of J. J. Lankes:


Here are three poems my Maine author Robert P. Tristram Coffin, from
his collection "Saltwater Farm" (illustrated by JJ Lankes
incidentally). The poems have a regionalist or New England
sensibility about them, with references to working the earth, and a
keen perception of nature, much like in Lankes woodcuts.


He knew how Roman legions looked, for he
Had seen the Maine coast fogs march in from the sea
For many years now, in the August days.
They came in mighty columns up the bays,
Tawny and gray and silver in the sun;
They trampled out the seaports one by one,
The islands and the woods, with their high hosts,
And pushed the world back inland from the coasts.

This little house was lost, these hills and dells,
Cows in pasture faded into bells,
The world around a man closed in and in
Till nowhere was ten paces from this chin.
A man drew up and halted with a start
To be so close to his beating heart
And left so to himself and wholly blind
To everything but what was in his mind.

This was the peril and the comfort, too,
A man who lived in such a region knew;
On any Summer's day, within an hour,
He might be blind and naked to a power
So vast, it might have come from stars unmade,
Undreamt of, even, making him afraid,
So mightier than the night that he could guess
How life was but a name for loneliness.


His father had explained it all to him;
How rockweed in November at the rim
Of ebb tide showed a phosphorescent mark
When you stepped upon it in the dark.
That was all the story. Just the same,
The boy still thought the footprints were still a flame,
And he believed their feet must give out light,
Which made them show up plain there in the night.

You could not get around it. There they lay,
Footmarks you could see as plain as day
Coming up from behind as they walked,
The big ones and the little. While they talked
Of things of everyday, the steps came on,
There must be something to them so they shone.
It was simplest to believe 'twas so
And not trust things a small boy could not know.

That was the beginning. But it spread,
Until it got into the small boy's head
That always when his father was along
Something burned inside them that was strong
As sunlight, fierce and hot and clean,
Something very lovely though unseen,
And sometimes he had hard work no to stare
As though a wing had stirred his father's hair.


The best time on a farm is when
Sleep lies on the most of men.

It is when you rise and go
By starlight, through the dew or snow,

With your lantern by your side,
To see that all is right outside.

You take your turn to see all the housed;
The cows with velvet eyeballs drowsed.

The hens grown gentle as the dove,
Bunched all together in their love.

The utter peace of sleeping pigs,
Strange lacework of the maple twigs.

The fairy world that spiders spin
Along the corners of the bin.

The house's gable high with night,
Familiar things made strange by light.

Undulant beauty in a plow,
A pitchfork's shadow on the mow.

Wings out of homely things that soar
When your lanterns on the floor.

The shadow that a staple throws,
Hay chaff like an airy rose.

All is gentle, slow, and sure,
Peace behind each fastened door.

All is quiet, hunger done,
Peace beyond light of the sun.

A J.J. Lankes illustration from Coffin's "Saltwater Farm"
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