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