Friday, April 30, 2010

And so ends another Poetry month. It's amazing how time flies.

Aloha `Oe

Ha`aheo ka ua i nâ pali
Ke nihi a`ela i ka nahele
E hahai (uhai) ana paha i ka liko
Pua `âhihi lehua o uka

Aloha `oe, aloha `oe
E ke onaona noho i ka lipo
One fond embrace,
A ho`i a`e au
Until we meet again

`O ka hali`a aloha i hiki mai
Ke hone a`e nei i
Ku`u manawa
`O `oe nô ka`u ipo aloha
A loko e hana nei

Maopopo ku`u `ike i ka nani
Nâ pua rose o Maunawili
I laila hia`ia nâ manu
Miki`ala i ka nani o ka lipo

Ke nihi a`ela i ka nahele
E hahai (uhai) ana paha i ka liko
Pua `âhihi lehua o uka

Aloha `oe, aloha `oe
E ke onaona noho i ka lipo
One fond embrace,
A ho`i a`e au
Until we meet again

`O ka hali`a aloha i hiki mai
Ke hone a`e nei i
Ku`u manawa
`O `oe nô ka`u ipo aloha
A loko e hana nei

Maopopo ku`u `ike i ka nani
Nâ pua rose o Maunawili
I laila hia`ia nâ manu
Miki`ala i ka nani o ka lipo

- words and music by Queen Lili`uokalani


Proudly swept the rain by the cliffs
As it glided through the trees
Still following ever the bud
The `ahihi lehua of the vale

Farewell to you, farewell to you
The charming one who dwells in the shaded bowers
One fond embrace,
'Ere I depart
Until we meet again

Sweet memories come back to me
Bringing fresh remembrances
Of the past
Dearest one, yes, you are mine own
From you, true love shall never depart

I have seen and watched your loveliness
The sweet rose of Maunawili
And 'tis there the birds of love dwell
And sip the honey from your lips

- Translation by Queen Lili`uokalani

Even further inspired by the aforementioned Anglophone uses of this odd but fun meter, he thought he'd give Catullus himself a crack:

My exercise in hendecasyllabics. First the Latin, indicating the elisions you need to make it scan right:

Luget(e), O Veneres Cupidinesque,
et quantum (e)st hominum venustiorum:
passer mortuus est meae puellae,
passer, deliciae meae puellae,
quem plus ill(a) oculis suis amabat.
nam mellitus erat suamque norat
ipsam tam bene quam puella matrem,
nec ses(e) a gremi(o) illius movebat,
sed circumsiliens mod(o) huc mod(o) illuc
ad solam domin(a)m usque pipiabat.
qui nunc it per iter tenebricosum
illuc, unde negant redire quemquam.
at vobis male sit, malae tenebrae
Orci, qu(ae) omnia bella devoratis:
tam bellum mihi passer(e)m abstulistis
o factum male! o miselle passer!
tua nunc opera meae puellae
flendo turgiduli rubent ocelli.

Latin and Greek poetry used various quantitative meters -- patterns of long and short syllables, in which the metrically prominent first syllables of feet (the "ictus") did not necessarily coincide with the stresses of words, which could make for complicated effects in a line. This meter of eleven syllables goes:
- - | - u u | - u | - u | - -
Rhyme was not a structural requirement, but it seems Catullus used a few internal rhymes intentionally.

I think this poem either tear jerkingly moving or comically overwrought, as my mood varies.

Now my English, with some attempts to reproduce something of the accidental rhymes and assonances and enjambments, and trying for colloqiuality. Judge for yourself whether this language really suits itself to this kind of meter.

Weep! all goddesses, gods of love, and all true
Ladies, gentlemen, found throughout the wide world!
Sparrow's gone to the grave. Her pet, my girlfriend's
Sparrow, light of her life, is gone. My girlfriend
Cared for him, even more than for her own eyes.
Sweet as nectar he was, and knew his mistress
Just as well as a baby knows her own ma.
Nor too far from his lady's lap he struck out
But, skip! hop! run-around, about, and non-stop
At his mistress alone he peeped his heart out.
Leaps and bounds 'long a shadow-road he goes now,
Gone down where they dun' letcha out, but no-how.
Curses light on you all, accursed phantoms,
Hell's devourers of all that's fine and lovely!
Such was Sparrow, the pet you ravished from me.
Deed most damnable! You -- pathetic sparrow --
It's all your doing now that makes my girlfriend's
Swollen, poor little eyes go red with weeping.

Go Pavel!
We'd been thinking about Catullus a fair bit recently - mainly his use of the Greek hendecasyllabic meter. It's a bit strange feeling at first, but actually puts kind of a spring in the step once one gets used to it. Anyway, Pavel got really inspired and found a couple English-language poems using this meter:


O you chorus of indolent reviewers,
Irresponsible, indolent reviewers,
Look, I come to the test, a tiny poem
All composed in a metre of Catullus,
All in quantity, careful of my motion,
Like the skater on ice that hardly bears him,
Lest I fall unawares before the people,
Waking laughter in indolent reviewers.
Should I flounder awhile without a tumble
Thro' this metrification of Catullus,
They should speak to me not without a welcome,
All that chorus of indolent reviewers.
Hard, hard, hard it is, only not to tumble,
So fantastical is the dainty meter.
Wherefore slight me not wholly, nor believe me
Too presumptuous, indolent reviewers.
O blatant Magazines, regard me rather -
Since I blush to belaud myself a moment -
As some rare little rose, a piece of inmost
Horticultural art, or half-coquette-like
Maiden, not to be greeted unbenignly.

-Alfred, Lord Tennyson

(Next one's closer to home:)

For Once, Then Something

Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing
Deeper down in the well than where the water
Gives me back in a shining surface picture
Me myself in the summer heaven godlike
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.
Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb,
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths--and then I lost it.
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness?
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.

-Robert Frost

Try reading these aloud. What do you think? The rhythm's kind of tricky until you get used to it, isn't it?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Took a drive up to Cape Ann today. For a bit of a change, decided to take a look around Gloucester. Passed by the Gorton's World Headquarters, which prompted Pavel to comment that we'd made it to the "Fish Monger to the World."

It's sort of a long way to Chicago from the North Shore of Massachusetts geographically. In spirit, though, they're pretty close.


HOG Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I
have seen your painted women under the gas lamps
luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the
faces of women and children I have seen the marks
of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who
sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer
and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on
job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the
little soft cities;

Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning
as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with
white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young
man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has
never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse.
and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of
Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog
Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with
Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.


Fish Crier

I KNOW a Jew fish crier down on Maxwell Street with a
voice like a north wind blowing over corn stubble
in January.
He dangles herring before prospective customers evincing
a joy identical with that of Pavlowa dancing.
His face is that of a man terribly glad to be selling fish,
terribly glad that God made fish, and customers to
whom he may call his wares, from a pushcart.

-Carl Sandburg

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Remember that original propos by Shakespeare from a few days ago?

Here's a bit more:

To his Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am'rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp'd power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

-Andrew Marvell


To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.

-Robert Herrick

Quand vous serez bien vieille

Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir, à la chandelle,
Assise aupres du feu, devidant et filant,
Direz, chantant mes vers, en vous esmerveillant :
Ronsard me celebroit du temps que j'estois belle.

Lors, vous n'aurez servante oyant telle nouvelle,
Desja sous le labeur à demy sommeillant,
Qui au bruit de mon nom ne s'aille resveillant,
Benissant vostre nom de louange immortelle.

Je seray sous la terre et fantaume sans os :
Par les ombres myrteux je prendray mon repos :
Vous serez au fouyer une vieille accroupie,

Regrettant mon amour et vostre fier desdain.
Vivez, si m'en croyez, n'attendez à demain :
Cueillez dés aujourd'huy les roses de la vie.

-Pierre de Ronsard (Sonnets pour Hélène)

A number of translations for the above, along with some interpretation and explanations may be found here.


Amazing how convincing a fellow can get and what buttons he can push when there's something important enough at stake. Amazing how warlike love can be sometimes.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dad sent in a lovely, old favorite:

The Arrow and the Song

I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.

-Henry Wordsworth Longfellow


For those of you interested in Physics, Photography or notable Boston stuff, this is the epitaph on Harold Edgerton's grave in Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Monday, April 26, 2010

This one came from a friend who remembers memorizing it as a kid back in elementary school. She particularly loved it due to its depiction of "the moon as an entity," and the connection she made with the stories she'd heard (She's half-Japanese) of the Rabbit in the Moon.


Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws and a silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.

-Walter de la Mare

The Jade Rabbit and the Monkey King, taken from Yoshitoshi's 100 Aspects of the Moon.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Just a short one. It's been a busy, kind of crazy, exhausting day and I've not the energy to stay up much longer:

First Fig

MY CANDLE burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends--
It gives a lovely light!

-Edna St. Vincent Millay

Saturday, April 24, 2010

More from Pavel in honor of Shakespeare's Birthday:

"A few years ago I suggested sonnet 74 for Shakespeare's traditional birthday, also death-day. That is an optimistic one about the survival of his ideas beyond the grave as "the better part of me." I imagine it to be the poet's own epitaph. More typical of the sonnets' gloomy meditations on evanescence, and the grieving for loss of friends, and the small consolations of memorial, is the equally excellent sonnet 65. Here, in all its originally printed glory, with unexpurgated long-s's that look like f's:


SInce braſſe,nor ſtone,nor earth,nor boundleſſe ſea,
But ſad mortallity ore-ſwaies their power,
How with this rage ſhall beautie hold a plea,
Whoſe action is no ſtronger then a flower?
O how ſhall ſummers hunny breath hold out,
Againſt the wrackfull ſiedge of battring dayes,
When rocks impregnable are not ſo ſtoute ,
Nor gates of ſteele ſo ſtrong but time decayes?
O fearfull meditation , where alack,
Shall times beſt Iewell from times cheſt lie hid?
Or what ſtrong hand can hold his ſwift foote back,
Or who his ſpoile or beautie can forbid ?
O none,vnleſſe this miracle haue might,
That in black inck my loue may ſtill ſhine bright.

Happy 446, Bill!"

Friday, April 23, 2010

I'm 39 right now, for all those who are innerested. I love my crow's feet and my smile lines. I honestly think, too, that I'm a much nicer person then I was at, say, 13 or 26 (marriageable, then old-maidish at the time of the poet).


When forty winters shall beseige thy brow,

And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field,
Thy youth's proud livery, so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter'd weed, of small worth held:
Then being ask'd where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days,
To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserved thy beauty's use,
If thou couldst answer 'This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count and make my old excuse,'
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel'st it cold.

Yes, this is a classic theme and, yes, it's fodder for further posts this month. Just wanted to have my, sigh, all too prosaic rebuttal out there for posterity.

(Happy Birthday, Bill, by the way. How old would you be now?)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mid Fourth Month, the birds have been starting their mating rituals. Au petit matin, I'm woken up by the mocking birds and robins. This Spring, this has sort of been making me think about lost partners and resulting holes in hearts.

212. Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking


OUT of the cradle endlessly rocking,
Out of the mocking-bird’s throat, the musical shuttle,
Out of the Ninth-month midnight,
Over the sterile sands, and the fields beyond, where the child, leaving his bed, wander’d alone, bare-headed, barefoot,
Down from the shower’d halo,
Up from the mystic play of shadows, twining and twisting as if they were alive,
Out from the patches of briers and blackberries,
From the memories of the bird that chanted to me,
From your memories, sad brother—from the fitful risings and fallings I heard,
From under that yellow half-moon, late-risen, and swollen as if with tears,
From those beginning notes of sickness and love, there in the transparent mist,
From the thousand responses of my heart, never to cease,
From the myriad thence-arous’d words,
From the word stronger and more delicious than any,
From such, as now they start, the scene revisiting,
As a flock, twittering, rising, or overhead passing,
Borne hither—ere all eludes me, hurriedly,
A man—yet by these tears a little boy again,
Throwing myself on the sand, confronting the waves,
I, chanter of pains and joys, uniter of here and hereafter,
Taking all hints to use them—but swiftly leaping beyond them,
A reminiscence sing.


Once, Paumanok,
When the snows had melted—when the lilac-scent was in the air, and the Fifth-month grass was growing,
Up this sea-shore, in some briers,
Two guests from Alabama—two together,
And their nest, and four light-green eggs, spotted with brown,
And every day the he-bird, to and fro, near at hand,
And every day the she-bird, crouch’d on her nest, silent, with bright eyes,
And every day I, a curious boy, never too close, never disturbing them,
Cautiously peering, absorbing, translating.


Shine! shine! shine!
Pour down your warmth, great Sun!
While we bask—we two together.

Two together!
Winds blow South, or winds blow North,
Day come white, or night come black,
Home, or rivers and mountains from home,
Singing all time, minding no time,
While we two keep together.


Till of a sudden,
May-be kill’d, unknown to her mate,
One forenoon the she-bird crouch’d not on the nest,
Nor return’d that afternoon, nor the next,
Nor ever appear’d again.

And thenceforward, all summer, in the sound of the sea,
And at night, under the full of the moon, in calmer weather,
Over the hoarse surging of the sea,
Or flitting from brier to brier by day,
I saw, I heard at intervals, the remaining one, the he-bird,
The solitary guest from Alabama.


Blow! blow! blow!
Blow up, sea-winds, along Paumanok’s shore!
I wait and I wait, till you blow my mate to me.


Yes, when the stars glisten’d,
All night long, on the prong of a moss-scallop’d stake,
Down, almost amid the slapping waves,
Sat the lone singer, wonderful, causing tears.

He call’d on his mate;
He pour’d forth the meanings which I, of all men, know.

Yes, my brother, I know;
The rest might not—but I have treasur’d every note;
For once, and more than once, dimly, down to the beach gliding,
Silent, avoiding the moonbeams, blending myself with the shadows,
Recalling now the obscure shapes, the echoes, the sounds and sights after their sorts, 65
The white arms out in the breakers tirelessly tossing,
I, with bare feet, a child, the wind wafting my hair,
Listen’d long and long.

Listen’d, to keep, to sing—now translating the notes,
Following you, my brother.


Soothe! soothe! soothe!
Close on its wave soothes the wave behind,
And again another behind, embracing and lapping, every one close,
But my love soothes not me, not me.

Low hangs the moon—it rose late;
O it is lagging—O I think it is heavy with love, with love.

O madly the sea pushes, pushes upon the land,
With love—with love.

O night! do I not see my love fluttering out there among the breakers?
What is that little black thing I see there in the white?

Loud! loud! loud!
Loud I call to you, my love!

High and clear I shoot my voice over the waves;
Surely you must know who is here, is here;
You must know who I am, my love.

Low-hanging moon!
What is that dusky spot in your brown yellow?
O it is the shape, the shape of my mate!
O moon, do not keep her from me any longer.

Land! land! O land!
Whichever way I turn, O I think you could give me my mate back again, if you only would;
For I am almost sure I see her dimly whichever way I look.

O rising stars!
Perhaps the one I want so much will rise, will rise with some of you.

O throat! O trembling throat!
Sound clearer through the atmosphere!
Pierce the woods, the earth;
Somewhere listening to catch you, must be the one I want.

Shake out, carols!
Solitary here—the night’s carols!
Carols of lonesome love! Death’s carols!
Carols under that lagging, yellow, waning moon!
O, under that moon, where she droops almost down into the sea!
O reckless, despairing carols.

But soft! sink low;
Soft! let me just murmur;
And do you wait a moment, you husky-noised sea;
For somewhere I believe I heard my mate responding to me,
So faint—I must be still, be still to listen;
But not altogether still, for then she might not come immediately to me.

Hither, my love!
Here I am! Here!
With this just-sustain’d note I announce myself to you;
This gentle call is for you, my love, for you.

Do not be decoy’d elsewhere!
That is the whistle of the wind—it is not my voice;
That is the fluttering, the fluttering of the spray;
Those are the shadows of leaves.

O darkness! O in vain!
O I am very sick and sorrowful.

O brown halo in the sky, near the moon, drooping upon the sea!
O troubled reflection in the sea!
O throat! O throbbing heart!
O all—and I singing uselessly, uselessly all the night.

Yet I murmur, murmur on!
O murmurs—you yourselves make me continue to sing, I know not why.

O past! O life! O songs of joy!
In the air—in the woods—over fields;
Loved! loved! loved! loved! loved!
But my love no more, no more with me!
We two together no more.


The aria sinking;
All else continuing—the stars shining,
The winds blowing—the notes of the bird continuous echoing,
With angry moans the fierce old mother incessantly moaning,
On the sands of Paumanok’s shore, gray and rustling;
The yellow half-moon enlarged, sagging down, drooping, the face of the sea almost touching;
The boy extatic—with his bare feet the waves, with his hair the atmosphere dallying,
The love in the heart long pent, now loose, now at last tumultuously bursting,
The aria’s meaning, the ears, the Soul, swiftly depositing,
The strange tears down the cheeks coursing,
The colloquy there—the trio—each uttering,
The undertone—the savage old mother, incessantly crying,
To the boy’s Soul’s questions sullenly timing—some drown’d secret hissing,
To the outsetting bard of love.


Demon or bird! (said the boy’s soul,)
Is it indeed toward your mate you sing? or is it mostly to me?
For I, that was a child, my tongue’s use sleeping,
Now I have heard you,
Now in a moment I know what I am for—I awake,
And already a thousand singers—a thousand songs, clearer, louder and more sorrowful than yours,
A thousand warbling echoes have started to life within me,
Never to die.

O you singer, solitary, singing by yourself—projecting me;
O solitary me, listening—nevermore shall I cease perpetuating you;
Never more shall I escape, never more the reverberations,
Never more the cries of unsatisfied love be absent from me,
Never again leave me to be the peaceful child I was before what there, in the night,
By the sea, under the yellow and sagging moon,
The messenger there arous’d—the fire, the sweet hell within,
The unknown want, the destiny of me.

O give me the clew! (it lurks in the night here somewhere;)
O if I am to have so much, let me have more!
O a word! O what is my destination? (I fear it is henceforth chaos;)
O how joys, dreads, convolutions, human shapes, and all shapes, spring as from graves around me! 165
O phantoms! you cover all the land and all the sea!
O I cannot see in the dimness whether you smile or frown upon me;
O vapor, a look, a word! O well-beloved!
O you dear women’s and men’s phantoms!

A word then, (for I will conquer it,)
The word final, superior to all,
Subtle, sent up—what is it?—I listen;
Are you whispering it, and have been all the time, you sea-waves?
Is that it from your liquid rims and wet sands?


Whereto answering, the sea,
Delaying not, hurrying not,
Whisper’d me through the night, and very plainly before day-break,
Lisp’d to me the low and delicious word DEATH;
And again Death—ever Death, Death, Death,
Hissing melodious, neither like the bird, nor like my arous’d child’s heart,
But edging near, as privately for me, rustling at my feet,
Creeping thence steadily up to my ears, and laving me softly all over,
Death, Death, Death, Death, Death.

Which I do not forget,
But fuse the song of my dusky demon and brother,
That he sang to me in the moonlight on Paumanok’s gray beach,
With the thousand responsive songs, at random,
My own songs, awaked from that hour;
And with them the key, the word up from the waves,
The word of the sweetest song, and all songs,
That strong and delicious word which, creeping to my feet,
The sea whisper’d me.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I Shall Never Be Different. Love Me.

I feel as though right now I should be petitioning to St. Jude, rather than to St. Cecilia. Still, the music comforts me. (Listen to the music, please. It and the words are a perfect couple.) Then there is this:

I am defeat
When it knows it
Can now do nothing
By suffering.

Maybe Grace is in part knowing when to give up on something.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Il faut cultiver son jardin.


Si J'avais un petit jardin.

Si J'avais un petit jardin
Je m'en irais chaque matin
Dans les parfums et dans la brise
Pour voir, pendant que je revai
Si mon jardin ne m'a pas fait
Une surprise.

J'irais regarder de tout près
Si les rosiers sont en progrès
et si les bourgeons vont éclore
ou bien si les lilas frileux
trouvant qu'il fait trop froid pour eux
tardent encore!

Si j'avais un petit jardin
je m'en irais chaque matin
L'âme curieuse et ravie
Ecouter partout dans les fleurs
les fruits, les parfums, les couleurs,
Chanter la vie!


If I had a little garden,
I'd go out every morning,
into the scents mingling on the breeze
To see if, while I slept,
My garden didn't leave me
a surprise.

I'd go give a closer look
to see how the roses were coming along,
and to see if any buds emerged
or if the delicate lilies,
finding that it was too chilly,
hesitated again!

If I had a little garden,
I'd go out every morning,
Spirit curious and charmed
Listening for, among the flowers,
the fruits, the perfumes and the colors,
Their song of life!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Yup, it's that time of year again!

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 Wadsworth Longfellow

Happy Patriot's Day!
Happy Marathon Monday! Happy Spring!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The movements my hands were making yesterday while I picked apart a bit of knitting work brought on the oddest sensation. For a moment, was transported back 300 years to someplace far away. Was working my lace while thinking on the one who best complemented me.

(The citation that opens the scene translates roughly to 'we are searching for ourselves in one another.')


The Color of Pomegranates is Sergei Paradzanov's lyrical survey of the life of the 18th century Armenian poet/troubadour Sayat Nova; has to be one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen.

(Am having a bit of a difficult time finding English translations of Sayat Nova's work; Armenian's a bit out of my reach, too. Here is one something, though:)

Esor Im Yarin Tesa

Esor im yarin tesa baghchi mechn man galov,

Today I saw my beloved walking in the garden,

Gedinen zartavetsav im yari voske nalov.

The ground was decorated by my love’s golden heel.

Blbooli pes ptut eka vardi vra dzen talov,

Like the nightingale going around the rose, calling.

Junun elav khiks glkhes, sirts tkhoor ackhes lalov.

Mad with love my mind left my head, my heart is sad, my eyes weep.

Hoys unim im Stightsoghemen mir dushmann eli es halov.

I have hope from my Creator, let our enemy be in this state.

Yar, ed koo naz oo ghamzov jans pel oo pand is ari,

Love with your grace and coquetry you have imprisoned and enchanted my body,

Khmil is eshkhov sharbatn proshnirt ghand is ari,

You drank the syrup with love, your lips became sugary.

Khatookhalov, kaghtsr lizvov shat indzpesin band is ari,

With beautiful features, your sweet tongue, you have imprisoned many like me.

Toor danakn, indzi spane, mi asi rishkhant is ari.

Stab me with the knife, kill me, don’t say that you have mocked me.

Chunki mahes yarimen e, toogh li mirnim lav gozalov.

Because my death is from my beloved, let me die with a beautiful one.

Tarin tasnerkoo amis maziret hoosats kooli.

Twelve months of the year your hair is braided.

Proshemet mighr e katoom, tooghnis yakhed tats kooli.

From your lips flows honey, if you allow your collar will be wet.

Goornan shnchi tsaghki nman karmir vardet bats kooli.

Like a spring breath your bred rose will be open.

Inch ogoot e koo baghmnchoon gharib blboolen lats kooli.

What is the use of your gardener, the wandering nightingale will be crying.

Moorvat chunis, ptut gooka baghchi vra chkchkalov.

You have no mercy, it is crying as it goes around the garden.

Yip koo sooratn kashin naghshumen shnook koo tas.

When they draw your face, you give the picture the gift.

Koo vrvras chragi pes saghcumen shnook koo tas.

You crackle like a torch, you give the gift to the torchstand.

Mshkov liken broli pes taghchumen shnook koo tas.

Full of fragrant oil like crystal, you give the gift to the shelf.

Bats koolis karmir vardi pes baghchumen shnook koo tas.

When you will open like a red rose, you give the gift to the garden.

Kamin dibchi mechn hootet gooka vrvralov.

When the wind touches your petal, your fragrance comes wafting.

Yis el oorish yar chunim, es glkhen vagh imatsi.

I have no other beloved, know this right from the start.

Angatch ara, matagh im kiz, es khoskes sagh imatsi.

Listen, I will die for you, know my entire speech.

Mtik ara koo Stightsoghin tooz-namag-agh imatsi.

Look at your Creator, know the salt.

Sayat Novin mi jegretsni eshkhemet toosagh imatsi.

Don’t make Sayat Nova angry, know I am a prisoner of your love.

Khilks glkhemen taril is koo, bemurvat, gardish talov.

You have taken away my mind, ruthless one, with your walk.

-translated by Daniel Larison

Saturday, April 17, 2010


A friend of mine mentioned to me that a favorite musician set this one to music on her latest album:

maggie and milly and molly and may

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea

- e.e. cummings

I keep coming back to this one again and again. Am also happy to hear that Nathalie Merchant has something new out. Her voice has soothed me since, well, when we both were kids.

Audio (Interesting accent, il faut admettre):

Friday, April 16, 2010

Charles d'Orleans wrote most of his poetry while a prisoner of war. Got me to thinking of Richard Lovelace's best known work, composed, of course, during his time in prison:

To Althea, from Prison

WHEN Love with unconfinèd wings
Hovers within my gates,
And my divine Althea brings
To whisper at the grates;
When I lie tangled in her hair
And fetter'd to her eye,
The birds that wanton in the air
Know no such liberty.

When flowing cups run swiftly round
With no allaying Thames, 10
Our careless heads with roses bound,
Our hearts with loyal flames;
When thirsty grief in wine we steep,
When healths and draughts go free—
Fishes that tipple in the deep
Know no such liberty.

When, like committed linnets, I
With shriller throat shall sing
The sweetness, mercy, majesty,
And glories of my King;
When I shall voice aloud how good
He is, how great should be,
Enlargèd winds, that curl the flood,
Know no such liberty.

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.

(A very good audio bit can be found here.)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Snail.



L'escargot s'est logé
Sous un des pommiers du verger
Sa maison ronde et dure
n'a qu'une pièce, mais il jure
qu'il se moque du mauvais temps
Et qu'il y vit toujours content

Dans le verger
Sous un pommier
Monsieur l'escargot se promène
Sa maison l'abrite sans peine;
Si son logement n'est pas grand,
Il se moque du mauvais temps.

-adapté de l'anglais

(Kind of ironic to be supplying a translation of a translation, as the original is "adapted from the English.")


A little snail lives
Under one of the trees in the apple orchard.
His tough little home
Has only one room, but he'll be the first to say
That he has no fear of bad weather
And that he's quite snug and content.

In the orchard
Under his tree
Mister Snail takes his daily walks
His house shelters him well;
Even if it isn't very big,
He has no fear of bad weather.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Domestic Archaeology.

The Frenchie, like me, has been slowly but surely sifting through the effects of the past couple generations left to him when his parents passed away. Recently, he found a notebook belong to his mother where she'd jotted down favorite lyrics, poems, etc. Interesting to look back on these things and not have the same attachments as I have going through my own mother's things:


If you click on the image, it'll take you to the flickr site where you can find something larger and easier to read.


Hiver, vous n'êtes qu'un villain
Eté est plaisant et gentil
Eté revêt champs, bois et fleurs
De sa Livrée de verdure
Et de maintes autres couleurs
Mais vous, Hiver, vous êtes plein
de neige, vent, pluie et grésil.
Hiver, vous n'êtes qu'un villain...

-Charles D'Orléans

(Apologies for the somewhat rough and on the fly translation:)


Oh, awful, awful Winter,
Summer is pleasant and sweet
Summer dresses up fields, woods and flowers
In verdant finery
touched with so many other colors
But you, Winter, you are filled
with snow, wind, rain and hail.
Oh, awful, awful Winter.

Also found in my wanders that Debussy set this to music.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Then, There's Martial's Take On Things:

Issa est passere nequior Catulli,
Issa est purior osculo columbae,
Issa est blandior omnibus puellis,
Issa est carior Indicis lapillis,
Issa est deliciae catella Publi,
Hanc tu, si queritur, loqui putabis.
Sentit tristitiamque gaudiumque. . . .
et desiderio coacta ventris
gutta pallia non fefellit ulla,
sed blando pede suscitat toroque
deponi monet et rogat levari.
Castae tantus inest pudor catellae,
ignorat Venerem; nec invenimus
dignum tam tenerā virum puellā.
Hanc ne lux rapiat suprema totam,
pictā Publius exprimit tabellā,
in quā tam similem videbis Issam,
ut sit tam similis sibi nec ipsa.
Issam denique pone cum tabellā:
aut utramque putabis esse veram,
aut utramque putabis esse pictam.


Issa is naughtier than the sparrow of Catullus,
Issa is purer than the kiss of a dove,
Issa is more seductive than all the girls,
Issa is more precious than Indian diamonds,
Issa is the darling of Publius, his tiny puppy.
If she whines, you will think (that) this girl is speaking.
She feels sadness and joy.
and (when) compelled by the impulse of her bladder
not a single drop has befouled the covers,
but with her sweet paw she nudges (you) and from the couch
forewarns (you) that she needs to be put down and asks to be lifted up.
There is a very great sense of modesty in this virtuous little puppy,
she does not know Love; nor do we find
a mate worthy of a girl so delicate.
In order that (her) last day not snatch her altogether,
Publius portrays (her) in a painted picture,
in which you will see an Issa so similar
that she herself is not so similar to herself.
In short, place Issa alongside (her) picture:
either you will think that one is real,
Or you will think that the other is painted.


A couple interesting points here: The meter is hendecasyllablic (11 syllables on the line) - something a bit jarring at first, but easy to get the hang of reading aloud. Developed by the Greeks, its jaunty feel seems to be incongruous with the subject of Catullus's dead sparrow mourning. (I'd like to think that he was playing.) A generation later, Martial worked it in his somewhat biting but still affectionate elegy of Publius's heart's desire.

Also, there's a fair number of folks who believe that Issa was a Maltese, one of the oldest dog breeds in the world. Based on the images I've seen, could easily understand how someone could fall under the spell of such a little sweetie.

Image thanks to Dog and Collar dot com.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sparrows have started pairing off in the yard; it's that time of the year. That and Sappho were what got me thinking about Catullus the other day. This, too:

Passer Mortuus Est

Death devours all lovely things;
Lesbia with her sparrow
Shares the darkness,--presently
Every bed is narrow.

Unremembered as old rain
Dries the sheer libation,
And the little petulant hand
Is an annotation.

After all, my erstwhile dear,
My no longer cherished,
Need we say it was not love,
Now that love is perished?

-Edna St. Vincent Millay

Sunday, April 11, 2010


A considerable chunk of what what remains today of Catullus's work refers to 'Lesbia,' his pseudonym for his lover Clodia, apparently a poet in her own right. These works, some of which are just fragmentary, run the gamut of emotions from ecstatic joy to despair and even cynicism. Probably the best known of these might be his musings on someone his love loved more than she loved him:

Sparrow, my lady's pet,
with whom she often plays whilst she holds you in her lap,
or gives you her finger-tip to peck and
provokes you to bite sharply,
whenever she, the bright-shining lady of my love,
has a mind for some sweet pretty play,
in hope, as I think, that when the sharper smart of love abates,
she may find some small relief from her pain—
ah, might I but play with you as she does,
and lighten the gloomy cares of my heart!
This is as welcome to me as (they say)
to the swift maiden was the golden apple,
which loosed her girdle too long tied.

Mourn, O Venuses and Cupids
and however many there are of charming people:
my girl's sparrow is dead—
the sparrow, delight of my girl,
whom that girl loved more than her own eyes.
For he was honey-sweet and had known
the lady better than a girl [knows] her mother herself,
nor did he move himself from that girl's lap,
but hopping around now here now there
he chirped constantly to his mistress alone,
he who now goes through the shadowy journey
thither, whence they deny that anyone returns.
But may it go badly for you evil shadows
of hell, who devour all beautiful things.
You have taken from me so beautiful a sparrow.
Oh evil deed! Oh wretched little sparrow!
Now through your deeds the eyes of my girl,
swollen with weeping, are red.

"Lesbia and Her Sparrow," Sir Edward John Poynter

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Something from Pavel:

A poem about fatherhood. It was in a high-school poetry reader of mine. The phrase "slimesilvered stone" stuck in my mind. Found the rest again. Remarkable plays of sound in the first stanza.

On the Beach at Fontana

Wind whines and whines the shingle,
The crazy pierstakes groan;
A senile sea numbers each single
Slimesilvered stone.

From whining wind and colder
Grey sea I wrap him warm
And touch his trembling fineboned shoulder
And boyish arm.

Around us fear, descending
Darkness of fear above
And in my heart how deep unending
Ache of love!

-James Joyce

Friday, April 09, 2010

Apologies for the skip. Have been battling both on the physical and mental fronts. The friend below's post got me to thinking a fair bit - both productively and not much so. Anyway, what I can offer is two chestnuts, as I have them always with me:


I measure every grief I meet
With analytic eyes;
I wonder if it weighs like mine,
Or has an easier size.

I wonder if they bore it long,
Or did it just begin?
I could not tell the date of mine,
It feels so old a pain.

I wonder if it hurts to live,
And if they have to try,
And whether, could they choose between,
They would not rather die.

I wonder if when years have piled--
Some thousands--on the cause
Of early hurt, if such a lapse
Could give them any pause;

Or would they go on aching still
Through centuries above,
Enlightened to a larger pain
By contrast with the love.

The grieved are many, I am told;
The reason deeper lies;--
Death is but one and comes but once,
And only nails the eyes.

There's grief of want, and grief of cold,--
A sort they call 'despair;'
There's banishment from native eyes,
In sight of native air.

And though I may not guess the kind
Correctly, yet to me
A piercing comfort it affords
In passing Calvary,

To note the fashions of the cross,
Of those that stand alone,
Still fascinated to presume
That some are like my own.

And the 'money' lines from this:

The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky, --
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat -- the sky
Will cave in on him by and by.

Am sorry to keep repeating these two works; see that I actually started the blog with them. Think that they might be a sort of leitmotif.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

A friend who would like to remain anonymous sent this along. Found it in the newspaper the day they left an abusive relationship. Has kept a copy of it in their wallet ever since then.

After A While

After a while you learn
The subtle difference between
holding a hand and chaining a soul
and you learn that love doesn’t mean
and company doesn’t mean

And you begin to learn
that kisses are contracts and
presents aren’t promises
and you begin to accept your defeats
with you head up and your eyes
with the grace of a woman
not the grief of a child
and you learn
to build all your roads on today
because tomorrow’s ground is
too uncertain for plans
and futures have a way
of falling down in mid-flight.

After a while you learn that sunshine burns if you get
too much
so you plant your own garden
and decorate your own soul
instead of waiting
for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure
that you really are strong
and you really do have worth
and you learn and you learn
with every goodbye you learn.

-Veronica A. Shoffstall

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

It's both a bit comforting and disquieting to think on how little things change, despite time and space.

To Have Taken the Trouble

I’m broke and practically homeless.
This fatal city, Antioch,
has devoured all my money:
this fatal city with its extravagant life.

But I’m young and in excellent health.
Prodigious master of things Greek,
I know Aristotle and Plato through and through,
poets, orators, or anyone else you could mention.
I have some idea about military matters
and friends among the senior mercenaries.
I also have a foot in the administrative world;
I spent six months in Alexandria last year:
I know (and this is useful) something about what goes on there—
the scheming of Kakergetis, his dirty deals, and the rest of it.

So I consider myself completely qualified
to serve this country,
my beloved fatherland, Syria.

Whatever job they give me,
I’ll try to be useful to the country. That’s my intention.
But if they frustrate me with their maneuvers—
we know them, those smart operators: no need to say more here—
if they frustrate me, it’s not my fault.

I’ll approach Zabinas first,
and if that idiot doesn’t appreciate me,
I’ll go to his rival, Grypos.
And if that imbecile doesn’t take me on,
I’ll go straight to Hyrkanos.

One of the three will want me anyway.

And my conscience is quiet
about my not caring which one I chose:
the three of them are equally bad for Syria.

But, a ruined man, it’s not my fault.
I’m only trying, poor devil, to make ends meet.
The almighty gods ought to have taken the trouble
to create a fourth, an honest man.
I would gladly have gone along with him.

-C. P. Cavafy

Monday, April 05, 2010


I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said -- "two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert ... near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lips, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away." -

-Percy Bysshe Shelley

I don't normally give a lot of thought to the what will be remembered of me when I'm gone, as I don't think I've had much of a life so far and I don't really know that I am legacy-worthy.

Lately have been working on cleaning up the legacies of three people from the two generations preceding mine and thinking an awful on the irony of their situations. Can't rightly say that any of the departed had intended for things to be as they turned out, much like Ozymandias/Ramses the Second couldn't have imagined the above outcome thousands of years after his death.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Happy Easter!

(From one of my favorite Easter works.)

(When I chase down one of my Messiah scores, will get the words from this duet down; the sound quality and diction are both excellent, so not much of a problem understanding. Love the Tenor's "dancing on the forehead of God" metaphor. Back when I used to sing, loved a lot of the folks who got threatened with excommunication under the Council of Trent; saw them as communing with Angels.)
Apologies for no post for yesterday: we were out enjoying the beautiful, summery day with an adventure of sorts for Pavel's Birthday. Normally when we take walks, we head north or west; lots of water and trees there, therefore lots of birds to look at. Yesterday, though, Pavel wanted to visit one of the sites near us on the Freedom Trail. So, we wandered on over to Charlestown to the Bunker Hill Monument.

He thought it would be fun to climb to the top; I don't do heights, crowds or enclosed spaces, so decided to park myself on a bench and knock off a few rows on a current project.

Felt like a happy turtle basking in the sun. Also enjoyed the waves of different languages washing over me. A large family of Spanish speakers was sitting on the steps of the monument in the shade enjoying a picnic lunch. Listened to the strange French of a number of Canadian teenagers next to the Latin family who were draping themselves against the columns and mugging for the camera. From behind me, caught the beautiful English (and this is, honestly, the flower of our Language) of an Indian couple playing on the lawn with a whole bunch of toddlers while the rest of the extended family climbed stairs.

Glanced up periodically from my work to look at the handsome as anything middle aged man on the bench next to mine as he compared the English Language site map with a Japanese one. While I was admiring the fellow next to me's cheekbones and crow-colored hair shot through with silver, the three Australian ladies who were sharing a bench with me left. Taking their place was a young fellow in baggy jeans and flip flops who looked surprisingly like me. Made no effort to hide his interest in my handwork or the pattern I referred to from time to time next to him. Glancing up as inobtrusively as possible, I tried to figure out where he was from. Eventually, his friend, a really pretty Latin-looking girl, sat down between us and they started chatting in something that was decidedly not Indo European. Took the brain a bit of channel surfing to figure out that it was Hebrew of all things.

Anyway, here I was resting in the center of what I honestly consider a new Athens marveling at the pilgrims to one of the monuments to honest, representative Democracy. Felt the words of (yeah, I'm going to call him that) an American Herodotus well up:


My spirit has pass'd in compassion and determination around the whole earth,
I have look'd for equals and lovers and found them ready for me in
all lands,
I think some divine rapport has equalized me with them.

You vapors, I think I have risen with you, moved away to distant
continents, and fallen down there, for reasons,
I think I have blown with you you winds;
You waters I have finger'd every shore with you,
I have run through what any river or strait of the globe has run through,
I have taken my stand on the bases of peninsulas and on the high
embedded rocks, to cry thence:

What cities the light or warmth penetrates I penetrate those cities myself,
All islands to which birds wing their way I wing my way myself.

Toward you all, in America's name,
I raise high the perpendicular hand, I make the signal,
To remain after me in sight forever,
For all the haunts and homes of men.

Happy Birthday, Pavel, and Salut au Monde!

Friday, April 02, 2010

What to Make of Modern/Feminist Interpretations of Sappho?

Recent readings in History have caused me to wonder more about the point of view of the historians, semioticians, linguists, etc than of the times I'd been interested in. The remains of Sappho's body of work and how it had been interpreted by the whole Gertrude Stein crew at the turn of the 20th century kind of brought it into sharp focus, as these translations are viewed somewhat as "bible."

Still, these bits are really tempting, just like the crusts of a sandwich offered to a pigeon or duck in a park:

To Aphrodite (Fr. 1. G) 1

Aphrodite on your intricate throne, immortal, daughter of Zeus, weaver of plots, I beg you, do not tame me with pain or my heart with anguish

but come here, as once before when I asked you, you heard my words from afar and listened, and left your father's golden house and came

you yoked your chariot, and lovely swift sparrows brought you, fast whirling over the dark earth from heaven through the midst of the bright air

and soon they arrived. And you, o blessed goddess, smiled with your immortal face and asked what was wrong with me, and why did I call now,

and what did I most want in my maddened heart to have for myself. "Whom now am I to persuade to your love, who, Sappho, has done you wrong? For if she flees, soon she'll pursue you, and if she won't take gifts, soon she'll give them, and if she won't love, soon she will love you, even if she doesn't want to.

When I Look at You (Fr. 31. G) 2

The man seems to me strong as a god, the man who sits across from you and listens to your sweet talk nearby

and your lovely laughter - which, when I hear it, strikes fear in the heart of my breast. For whenever I glance at you, it seems that I can say nothing at all

but my tongue is broken in silence, and that instant a light fire rushes beneath my skin, I can no longer see anything in my eyes and my ears are thundering,

and cold sweat pours down me, and shuddering grasps me all over, and I am greener than grass, and I seem to myself to be little short of death

But it is endurable, since even a poor man...

Anactoria (Fr. 16. G) 3

Some would say an army of cavalry, others of infantry, others of ships, is the fairest thing on the dark earth, but I say it's whatever you're in love with

It's completely easy to make this clear to everyone, for Helen, who far surpassed other people in beauty, left behind the most aristocratic

of husbands and went to Troy. She sailed away, and did not remember at all her daughter or her beloved parents, but [Aphrodite] took her aside

(...) which makes me remember Anactoria who is no longer near,

her lovely step and the brilliant glancing of her face I would rather see than the Lydians' chariots or their infantry fighting in all their armo(u)r.

Just tesserae, fragments of what we have left of her poetry. Makes me think of a young one feeling love for the first time. Beautiful, Fresh, Spring-like. A Romantic Ideal, but perhaps not so sustainable in Real Life. How much of it is hers, and how much of it is wishful thinking on the part of the interpreters?


1. Sources of The Making of the West, V. 1; Katherine J. Lualdi. Bedford/St. Martins, Boston. Pp. 15-19.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

According to Amy Kelly in her Eleanor and the Four Kings, what remained of the Western Empire at the time wasn't much of a place for a young woman, either:

"If the sojourn among the shrines of Byzantium was a nine days' wonder to the king, it was an awakening experience for the queen, whose education had progressed just far enough to make her travels profitable. It opened her eyes to vast, lofty, undreamed-of possibilities for majesty, and all the accidia 1 from which she had suffered at home was purged from her soul. The magnificent entertainment of the crusaders in Manuel's capital was of a nature to fire the imagination of the young Queen of France. The reality was far above the rumor, and every way extravagant. She learned that Paris was not, as she had been taught by her clerks, the highest of all places in Christendom. Byzantium, set in its pomp of water and of light, was not only incredibly vaster; it was infinitely more refined. The famous city had inherited much of the outward grandeur of ancient Rome, but was as well a treasury of artistic marvels that had drifted down to the Bosporus from Persia and Cathay, from Baghdad and Mosul..." 2

Had a part of her been left behind in this Holy Land after the fateful crusade of her Pious First Husband? Was there a fusion between her inherited ambitious nature and the subtler, more refined manners of the Imperial Court (which moved "with the supernal majesty and order of the heavenly constellations" 3) that would later provide the inspiration for her seditious "Tribunals of Love?"

Am wondering, too, if the country of origin is "no country for old men," perhaps Byzantium with all its beyond the wildest dreams of even a princess glories could be "no place for a young woman" for all the disappointment it would later set up for.

Sailing To Byzantium


That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.


An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.


O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.


Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

-William Butler Yeats

1. Melancholy, sadness, immobility.
2. Kelly, pp.42-43
3. Kelly, pg. 43.
Wow, another year gone by and another Poetry Month to celebrate.

Have been doing this for quite a long time now, so hopefully the drill's apparent: Although I'm just posting what moves me at the time, I do take requests and would love to hear about what moves you. If there is a poem that is particularly near and dear to your heart, why not talk about it? Send me a link to your website if you post your thoughts there, or just email me your submission and I'll post it on my site. (I'll keep things anonymous, too, if that is an incitement to write.)

Happy April Fool's Day, Happy April Fish, Happy (Hopeful) Spring!