Thursday, November 2, 2017

Midday 88

Midday 88

by Cees Nooteboom 
Translated by Herlinde Spahr and Leonard Nathan

It takes so little:
An afternoon of burnished hours
that will not fit together
and himself broken up by himself
sitting in various chairs
with almost everywhere a soul or a body.
In one part of the room is night.
In another, time past, vacation and war.
On the ceiling the sea touches the shining beach,
and no hand that controls all this,
no equerry, no computer,
only forever the same self, selfsame he,
someone, somebody scattered,
the uncollected man in converse with himself,
dreaming and thinking
present, invisible.
Someone who was going to eat and sleep later.
Someone with a watch and shoes.
Someone who left.
Someone who was going to leave.
Someone who stayed on for a while.

This poem is a meditation on our fragmented experiences leading to one's uncollected identity. Many of us can reconstruct fragments of lives lived intensely, and now lost, crystallized in memory or in the detail of many landscapes or encounters in life. Perhaps we leave a part of our soul in the animate and inanimate things we are intimately connected.

Cees Nooteboom (1931-) is the best known Dutch author, known mostly for his novels (the only novel I have with me is 'The following Story') and travel writing. He has been on the list of potential Nobel Prize winners for a long time.

Magnolia Basin

Magnolia Basin
By Wang Wei
Translated by Tony Barnstone; Willis Barnstone and Xu Haixin

On branch tips the hibuscus bloom
The mountains show off red calices.
Nobody. A silent cottage in the valley.
One by one flowers open, then fall.
(Calices-Plural of Calyx , outermost part of a flower)

Wang Wei (701-761 C.E.) is often spoken of, with his contemporaries Li Po and Tu Fu, as one of the three greatest poets in China's 3,000-year poetic tradition. Of the three, Wang was the consummate master of the short imagistic landscape poem that came to typify classical Chinese poetry. He developed a nature poetry of resounding tranquility wherein deep understanding goes far beyond the words on the page―a poetics that can be traced to his assiduous practice of Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism.

This is a poem of exceptional quietism. Here is an unmentioned viewer who records the scene is swallowed up in the quiet emptiness of a pure text of nature. Hibiscus blossoming on the branches turn the mountains red. There is nobody about; a cottage in the valley is silent and abandoned. “One by one flowers open, then fall”: this is the only motion in all the mountains. Yet if this is so, then who is there to see it?

Perhaps death’s hold over us limits our perspective, rendering us unable to experience even a decent trace of wonder all around us. I loved the economy of this poem where the movements of the words and the brush synchronize. Life blooms whether anyone notices, then is gone, without fanfare or anguish. His poem affirms the natural course of life. Yet Wei’s hibiscus plant will have flowers next year.

This is remindful of Wallace Stevens’s first way of looking at a blackbird (Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird)

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.