October 14, 2017

My November Guest [Filed under: Frost, Robert]

My November Guest

MY Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
  Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
  She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
  She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted gray
  Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
  The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
  And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
  The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
  And they are better for her praise.

As a treat, here’s a recording of Robert Frost reading My November Guest.

February 5, 2017

The Shot Heard Round the World [Filed under: Emerson, Ralph Waldo]

Concord Hymn

Sung at the Completion of the Battle Monument, July 4, 1837

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.

A possibly accidental shot, fired without authority or maybe even intent, ignited a powder keg of tension and set off an explosion the reverberations of which are still felt today. How accidental human history is! A cursory review of humankind’s most important events disproves Hegelian dialectics outright. One must hope we have not left too many other powder kegs exposed to the sparks thrown off by everyday affairs, particularly in times (like the present) when we walk swinging swords among people made of flint.

January 12, 2017

Greenough’s Statue of Medora [Filed under: Dana, Richard Henry.Lord Byron, George Gordon]

Greenough’s Statue of Medora

  Medora, wake!—nay, do not wake!
  I would not stir that placid brow,
  Nor lift those lids, though light should break
Warm from the twin blue heavens that lie below.

  Sleep falls on thee, as on the streams
  The summer moon. Touched by its might,
  The soul comes out in loving dreams,
And wraps thy delicate form in living light.

  Thou art not dead!—These flowers say
  That thou, though more thou heed’st them not,
  Didst rear them once for him away,
Then loose them in thy hold like things forgot,

  And lay thee here where thou might’st weep,—
  That Death but hushed thee to repose,
  As mothers tend their infants’ sleep,
And watch their eyelids falter, open, close,—

  That here thy heart hath found release,
  Thy sorrows all are gone away,
  Or touched by something almost peace,
Like night’s last shadows by the gleaming day.

  When he who gave thee form is gone,
  And I within the earth shall lie,
  Thou still shalt slumber softly on,
Too fair to live, too beautiful to die.

Greenough’s Medora has long been one of my favorite sculptures. The piece is based on a character from Byron’s ridiculous verse tale The Corsair, which tells the story of a pirate named Conrad who arrives home to see his love Medora after a long absence, only to depart an hour later, despite Medora’s impassioned entreaties, to lead an attack on the Turkish Pacha Seyd. During the raid, Conrad disguises himself as a Dervish and confronts the Pacha. Seyd sees through the disguise, orders Conrad captured and put to death, and a fight ensues. The pirates have the upper hand for a bit, and decide whimsically to set the city ablaze. Conrad, however, perhaps feeling a pang of conscience, decides that the pirates must attempt to free the Pacha’s harem, who are now threatened by the pirates’ pyre. Conrad rescues the Pacha’s favorite odalisque, Gulnare, but is subsequently captured and again sentenced to death, this time by impalement. Gulnare, now enamored with Conrad, attempts to intercede on his behalf, and provides Conrad an opportunity to kill Seyd and escape—whereupon Conrad commences much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the idea he might stoop to something so low. Gulnare then kills the Pacha herself and frees Conrad, who is horrified at her conduct. Conrad then returns home to find that Medora has died of grief, thinking Conrad dead himself.

Byron’s poem, which is far too long to post here, was a bit of a sensation, selling all 10,000 copies of the first printing on the first day it was offered for sale. It was also soundly criticized for its grossest contradictions, e.g.,:

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January 1, 2017

Reading Poetry [Filed under: General Discussion.Yeats, William Butler]

Excerpt from Adam’s Curse

We sat together at one summer’s end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.

Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.’ …

Let us articulate sweet sounds together! It is not now the summer’s end, but come, meet for an old-fashioned talk of poetry. We can talk over brunch, we can talk over mimosas, we can talk over the internet, we can talk over each other. Unstitch a verse with me, then sticth it back together. If you are interested, please send me an email to register for the site.

November 27, 2016

Ἑαυτὸν τιμωρούμενος [Filed under: Baudelaire, Charles]


À J.G.F.

Je te frapperai sans colère
Et sans haine, comme un boucher,
Comme Moïse le rocher
Et je ferai de ta paupière,

Pour abreuver mon Saharah
Jaillir les eaux de la souffrance.
Mon désir gonflé d’espérance
Sur tes pleurs salés nagera

Comme un vaisseau qui prend le large,
Et dans mon coeur qu’ils soûleront
Tes chers sanglots retentiront
Comme un tambour qui bat la charge!

Ne suis-je pas un faux accord
Dans la divine symphonie,
Grâce à la vorace Ironie
Qui me secoue et qui me mord

Elle est dans ma voix, la criarde!
C’est tout mon sang ce poison noir!
Je suis le sinistre miroir
Où la mégère se regarde.

Je suis la plaie et le couteau!
Je suis le soufflet et la joue!
Je suis les membres et la roue,
Et la victime et le bourreau!

Je suis de mon coeur le vampire,
—Un de ces grands abandonnés
Au rire éternel condamnés
Et qui ne peuvent plus sourire!

I, too, occasionally indulge in a bit of self-torment—as when I attempt to translate Baudelaire into English verse. It is not an easy task, and I am never entirely up to it. I always want to adhere as closely as possible to Baudelaire’s grammar, rhythm and vocabulary, but the mere act of translation demands significant departures (and thus sacrifices). Still, there is no benefit to self-torment if it is not performed in public, so I here present my latest (but certainly not last) exercise in self-abuse. Would that it were only self-abuse—Baudelaire is obviously the most unfortunate victim, but my apologies, too, to anyone else who reads it!

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