Thursday, September 16, 2021

BOY BEHIND A WINDOW

 


BOY BEHIND A WINDOW

By Luis Cernuda

Translated by Hardie ST. Martin

As evening comes down, the boy
Buried in thought behind the glass
Watches it rain. The glow from a burning
Stretlamp makes the white rain
Stand out against the darkened air.

The room he has to himself
Wraps him in its warmth
And the thin curtain, guarding
The window like a cloud, whispers to him
That the moon has things under a spell.

School fades from his mind. This is
A break for him, with the book
Full of stories and pictures
Under the study lamp, the light,
Sleep, hours that weigh nothing.

The boy is living in the heart
Of his small power, with no desires
So far, no memories, never suspecting
That time waits out there,
With life, ready to spring.

The pearl is taking form in its shadow.


Born in Seville in 1902, LUIS CERNUDA was part of what came to be known in Spain as the Generation of 1927, which included Garcia Lorca, Rafael Alberti, and Vicente Aleixandre. Of these poets, Cernuda was the most cosmopolitan, totally familiar with European and American literary traditions. It was he who introduced the work of more recent English and American poets into Spanish poetry.

Although not so well known to readers of modern poetry in Spanish as other members of the Generation of ’27, Cernuda, as a poet if not as a person, has always been highly esteemed. His poetry is unabashedly direct. In a sense, almost all his poetry can be read as a soliloquy, even when the speaker seems to be addressing others. A maniacally self-absorbed individual, Cernuda wrote to discover himself, to justify himself and to console himself. He derived some consolation from the beauty of the natural world and from music and painting. He was a profoundly alienated character, alienated socially and, in a sense, alienated even from his own body. He was haunted by the image of a lost childhood paradise, like in the above poem, a paradise from which he was cast out by his sexual orientation and by a concomitant introversion. The moments of epiphanic transcendence which occur in his poems are of reunion with a whole, uninhibited self.

How beautifully the poet has conceived the bliss of childhood with no memories (and its associated pain or sweetness)! The life ready to spring seems ominous like the attack of everything waiting to spoil his innocence. Perhaps, after a lot of rubbing in the shadows, we too may turn out to be pearls.

Source: Roots& Wings: Poetry from Spain



Saturday, August 28, 2021

Brothers

 


Brothers 

By Giuseppe Ungaretti

Translated by Patrick Creagh

 What regiment are you from
 brothers?

 Word trembling
 in the night

 A leaf barely born

 In the racked air
 involuntary revolt
 of man face to face with his own
 fragility

 Brothers


Ranked by T.S. Eliot as “one of the very few authentic poets” of the last century and by Allen Tate as akin to Paul Valery in his sensitivity, Giuseppe Ungaretti wrote verse that was marked by simple vocabulary, unusual lyric tension and illuminating images.

A literary minimalist, Giuseppe Ungaretti is considered by some critics  the greatest Italian poet of the 20th Century. He served an infantryman on  the lower Isonzo front with the 3rd Army from 1915 until early 1918. In the  spring, he was transferred to the Western Front where Italian forces fought  with distinction. In his most famous war poem, RIVERS, he alludes to his  birth in Egypt, his youth in Tuscany and his service on both fronts during  the Great War. Ungaretti's pure style was achieved by  condensation to essentials and is in the tradition of the French Symbolists. 

The above poem conjures a situation with marvelous economy, far beyond the wordy poetic norms of the day. Columns of infantry swap greetings as they file past each other. These words hang in the air, defying the silence and the risk of drawing enemy fire as new leaves uncurl despite the risk of frost, and as his own words unfurl despite artillery and barbed wire.

These tiny affirmations of shared humanity and common purpose, involuntary because instinctive, hinge on the title-word ‘brothers’, so rich in meaning for the poet. Politicians and demagogues boasted that the war was bonding Italians together for the first time. Ungaretti lived that process with a rare intensity.

The poet, in the trenches during WW1, grasps the very core of humanity and Communication in this short verse. He transcends the horror of the trenches and reaches out, letting the spoken word carry his mixture of anxiety, isolation and hope, through darkness and hell, searching for signs of life that can turn out to be a fellow soldier or enemy. His symbolism seems to me so genial; I cannot dissect it or describe it closer. It just grips me, esp the final pleading repletion of ‘Brothers’. On the war front there aren’t friends or enemies, winners or losers, but only BROTHERS.  This is the key word that stands out in the second and last verses and in the title.

In this distressing scenario, the individual rediscovers human solidarity, which originates from that feeling of brotherhood that levels all men, making them equal and united regardless of which trench, army, or country one belongs.


 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Supersonic Death

 


Supersonic Death 
 
by Nicanor Parra
 
Translated by Liz Werner

zooms by at high speed
in the direction of the old folks’ home
without paying any attention to me
as if I were a red-lipped teenager
when death knows full well I’m her fiance
and all I do these days is yawn

evasive death—indifferent death
you are the biggest flirt of all

Source: Antipoems by Nicanor Parra

“Real seriousness," Nicanor Parra, the antipoet of Chile, has said, rests in "the comic. He was one of the most important Latin American poets of his time, the originator of so-called antipoetry (poetry that opposes traditional poetic techniques or styles}. He was a poet and an academic, a mathematician and a physicist, who gained international recognition for his anti-poetry." Pablo Neruda rated him as ” One of the great names in the literature of our language. “ Parra died at the age of 103 in 2018.

Another antipoem posted below is a valid reminder to many of the Facebook Poets ­čśŐ

To Young Poets


Young Poets Write as you will
In whatever style you like
Too much blood has run under the bridge
To go on believing That only one road is right.
In poetry everything is permitted.
With only this condition of course,
You have to improve the blank page.
 

 

Saturday, July 17, 2021

What Luck

 



What Luck

By Tadeusz Rozewicz

translated by Adam Czerniawski

What luck I can pick
berries in the wood
I thought
there is no wood no berries.
What luck I can lie
in the shade of a tree
I thought trees
no longer give shade.
What luck I am with you
my heart beats so
I thought man
has no heart.


This beautiful and affecting poem is about how we slowly come back to life and sense once again simple pleasures after a heartbreak in relationship.  Emerging from devastation, man (can be woman too) finds his way back into the world: woods, berries, trees, shades. The world that had been taken away is slowly returned. And then one day, your heart beats again. Beats in time to another's. What luck. What luck that you can return to the world.


Widely held to be the most influential Polish poet of a generation that includes Czeslaw Milosz and Wislawa Szymborska, Tadeusz R├│zewicz gives voice in the sharpest, most disturbing way to the crisis of values that has plagued our civilization. 


Tom Paulin says the following about the poet in an afterword in the book I have.


“R├│zewicz's poems have the clipped, intense feel of conversation in wartime. They are clandestine speech, wary phrases, oblique gestures, wry turns that stop, start, disappear like jammed radio signals. These are messages from the underground. Always in these poems the individual emotion seems not to be the possession of the writer so that each impersonal lyric appears clamped by something that is out there — history,politics, the metal sinews and coiled wires of the public world. He gives that grey void a voice, then turns that voice against, itself, against poet, reader, world.As he states in My Poetry, his poetry "loses even against itself. It hides "itself in itself" and explains nothing. 


R├│┼╝ewicz's poems were ascetic, without metre, rhyme or metaphors, stripped bare of any rhetorical posturing and ornamentation or anything that could be considered aesthetically pleasing. One result of this is that long before Barthes he creates what that critic terms "writing degree zero" — he designs "a non-style or an oral style" which is free from the frozen classical or romantic gestures of the printed word. His poems therefore have a tentative, throwaway, ephemeral, intensely vulnerable look to them— they seem to say "I'm like that bit of paper you see on the street.”


Monday, July 12, 2021

Buying

 


Buying
 
By JEAN FOLLAIN (1903-1971}
 
Translated by translated by Heather McHugh
 
She was buying an elixir
in a city
of bygone times
yet we should think of her
now when shoulders are as white
and wrists as fine
flesh as sweet
Oh, vertiginous life!
 
An opposition between once in the past and now, in this poem by French poet Jean Follain, begins with a thought about a woman who buys an elixir in a city hundreds or thousands of years ago. She was buying an elixir / in a city / of bygone times—Follain tells a story of a woman of an era which has been almost entirely erased. She indulges a cure, a power, that might as well be magic.Yet we should think of her / now when shoulders are as white / and wrists as fine / flesh as sweet—from the woman long ago buying an elixir, the poem suddenly crashes into the present. Her buying an elixir does not sound half as creepy as our thought of white shoulders, fine wrists, sweet flesh. She bought an elixir and had an appetite; we seem to be nothing but appetite. 
 
Her “Buying” is ultimately about trying to get some kind of reputation or fame in this ephemeral life. One can surmise this sets her apart from her fellow citizens, but what does it have to do with us? The word "elixir" is important because it has magical connotations. What if she were buying apple? We don't know anything about this woman; we receive no image of her, and yet our awareness that she lived, existed, liberates in us a feeling of closeness to her, in her flesh. A woman who died long ago becomes like our contemporary women. The poem conveys a very complex set of feelings about the frailty and transience of the body, which is precisely what makes our life "vertiginous."
 
There is a sense of mystery, enigma, and a rare luminous quality in his poem and that is what him one of my favourite French poets. The ‘concrete details’ in Follain’s poems include bowls with cracks in which sauce congeals, and baskets and buttons. Listing the repertoire of physical objects in the poems might suggest they are vintage sepia postcards: white stones, inky desks, hooks, spades, scythes, hoes, a ‘gap-toothed’ rake, a dog’s footprints in damp sand. But always what snags attention is movement: a squirrel hopping, a child sucking at its mother’s breast, a boy stooping to tie a shoelace, a girl scrabbling for a slipper under a wardrobe, a woman sewing by a window ,another rolling down her stockings, a man turning a key in a lock, another slicing off two fingers to avoid military service, a pin dropping to a floor that ‘no one has waxed’, apples rolling out of a sack, a wasp buzzing in a curtain’s fold, a pan of milk seething on a stove. His poems are more like snatches of a film than postcards, a film both documentary and fictional, like memory, and invariably in the present tense, which is when remembering happens.
 
The poetry of Jean Follain ( is increasingly seen, by poets and critics in France and by his foreign admirers, as central to French poetry’s change of course after Surrealism. He speaks of things outside himself; he admired his freedom from rhetoric. Follain’s short, down-to-earth, subtle poems, many of which set out to preserve the lost rural world of his pre-war Norman childhood, have influenced a new generation of French poets.




Monday, June 14, 2021

Metaphysical Poem -2


 

 Francisco de Quevedo (1580–1645), one of the greatest poets of the Spanish Golden Age, was the master of the baroque style known as “conceptismo,” a complex form of expression fueled by elaborate conceits and constant wordplay as well as ethical and philosophical concerns. 

In one of his sonnets, Quevedo celebrates the solace his books give him; they are "few but erudite," he says, and yet through them, he holds "a conversation with the deceased." In a following line, which should be engraved on the fa├žades of libraries, he states, "I listen to the dead with my eyes." When we read, we listen with our eyes; we transform something seen into something heard, if heard inaudibly.

Quevedo excelled himself in metaphysical and moral poetry, grave elegies and moving epitaphs, amorous sonnets and melancholic psalms, playful romances and profane burlesques. He was an immensely erudite man with diverse interests and extremely prolific. At his best, Quevedo achieved a deeply lyrical, highly intelligent voice. He is toda regarded as one of the greatest European poets.

It is a pleasure to read Edith Grossman’s translation of his poems in her book “The Golden Age-The poems of Spanish Renaissance”. I am an ardent admirer of Edith Grossman, one of the world’s greatest translators of Spanish fiction. If there was a Nobel Prize for translation, she deserved it just for the modern translation of Cervantes’s masterpiece, “Don Quixote”.

Her versions of the "Metaphysical Poems" of Quevedo catch something of his elegant ferocity. Here is a sample of Quevedo’s metaphysical poetry.

Metaphysical Poem -2

by  Francisco de Quevedo

Translated by Edith Grossman

Which represents the brevity of our present life
And the apparent nothingness of our past


“Hear me, ah my life!” What? Does none respond?
Bring back those days I lived so long ago
Fortune has gnawed at my allotted time,
And my own folly hides the passing hours.
   Ah, not knowing how or where they have gone,
my health and youth and time are lost to me!
I have no life except what I have lived,
Nothing but misfortune hovers round.
     Yesterday's gone, tomorrow's not yet come,
Today's in headlong flight and will not stop;
I am a weary was, will be, and is.
    In my today, tomorrow, yesterday
I join swaddling and shroud, and have become
Present successions of the same dead man.


The sonnet is a serious meditation on life (and its absence) and time. The opening address or apostrophe “Hear me, ah my life!” immediately and dramatically launches us into poem. It demands our attention with the poetic “I” addressing life itself but getting no response. The address is a cry for communication. The “I” is knocking on the door of life, and the following rhetorical question, “Does none respond?” underlines the fact that there is no reply. The “I” realizes that there is a void where his life should be and wonders where his life has gone.

Alone, the “I” appeals for the return of his past years, but as the exclamation mark makes clear, it is a forlorn appeal. Why? Because Fate and his obsession have eaten away and hidden all vestiges of his past , leaving the “I” with no idea of how or where his years have fled . As a result, life is absent and all that remains is what he has “lived” , and what he has “lived” is a succession of deaths ("In my today, tomorrow, yesterday/I join swaddling and shroud, and have become/Present successions of the same dead man) which explains why life is not answering his call.

The sestet (last six lines of the sonnet) is grim and stripped of all human warmth. Time is so relentless that his very being is no more than an expression of time, a “was,” a “will be” and a tired “is”.  His life, compressed to a mere link between birth and death is an endless series of deaths; i.e. he’s been paradoxically a dead man living throughout his life, from birth to old age. This is the climax leading to the last word, “dead man” appropriately used in this context.

I liked that  striking paired metaphor, Swaddling cloth or diapers and funeral shroud, alluding to birth and death, with textually no “life” in between. The compressed leap from birth to death in these two juxtaposed words captures superbly the idea that life is absent.





Friday, June 11, 2021

Sonnet 23

 


Sonnet 23
 
By Garcilaso de la Vega 
 
(c. 1501 – October 14, 1536 - Spanish poet)
 
Translated by Wills Barnstone
 
While there is still the color of the rose
and lily in your face, and your bright gaze
in its sincerity can set ablaze
a heart, and yet control the flame it shows;
and while the vivid flying wind still blows
and tangles up and knots the golden maze
of your soft hair hanging in a white haze
about your slender white neck and dark clothes,
consume the sweet fruits of your happy spring
before the sullen blast of time can chill
the lovely hilltop in a glaze of ice.
The rose will wither in the snowy wind
and cunning age will alter all at will,
for time can be controlled by no device
 
To anyone interested in Spanish literature, Garcilaso de la Vega needs little introducing. Ever since his poems were first published in 1543, seven years after his death, he has been one of Spain’s most popular and critically acclaimed poets.
 
He has all the attributes of a romantic hero: noble, brave, cultured, apparently modest and without affectation. He served the emperor Charles V well, fighting in at least four campaigns, in two of which he was wounded. He died at the age of thirty- six in a military action. He had a number of love affairs but, in the popular conception, just one true love, the woman who inspired his best poetry and was, fortunately for Spanish literature, unattainable. 
 
This one is one of Garcilaso’s most famous poems. It is an appeal to a young lady to enjoy the fruit of her youth before fleeting time destroys it. The source of the theme is classical: the “Carpe diem” (“Enjoy the day”) of Horace, and the “Collige, virgo, rosas” (“Gather, maiden, the roses”) from Ausonius. The sonnet is more of a meditation on time and its effects than a love poem. The speaker in the poem seems to be the poet himself giving advice to a young lady. This young lady is also the object of the speaker’s love which can be seen through the imagery used to describe her beauty. The speaker seems to be in a peaceful, serene setting advising his love to take advantage of her youth ('Consume the sweet fruits of your happy spring').
 
The image of a withering rose represents the changes that happen with time and age. The images associated with spring are of newly bloomed life and youth. The images of an angry snow (glaze of ice), which refers to winter, are of withering life and old age. The choice of feminine beauty as a means to convey time’s power is a universally recognized one. Garcilaso's lines express an elegant despair. His world is pure, yet the emotion, however distilled and dictated by convention, is genuine. He is a young man, apparently endowed with all good things -handsome appearance, position, love, poetry; but his poems speak constantly of the frustration of all things, the cruelty of time, the slow poison that is life itself. In Garcilaso the beauty of grief was transformed into the perfection of art. We all grow old and, as the saying goes, “time waits for no man … or woman.
 
(From "Six masters of the Spanish Sonnet" by Wills Barnstone). Photo-Painting by Picasso