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Archive for October 31st, 2016

corotlandscape
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875), Memories of the Villa d’Avray, 1872

When in some River, overhung with Green,
The waving Moon and trembling leaves are seen — Anne Finch (1661-1720), A Nocturnal Reverie

In the clear azure Glean the Flocks are seen,
and floating Forest paint the Waves with Green — Alexander Pope (1689-1744), Windsor Forest

Dear friends and readers,

A sudden anthology. Read and look at what takes your fancy.

Tonight I read a difficult paper on Samuel Johnson’s poetry: the author’s central perspective was there are meanings within meanings, as no character remains the same once adapted and translated and filmed, so there are links everywhere, infinite regress into intertextualities. I was led to remember how deeply great learned poetry can make one feel if you follow it within, ever circling, remembering, each time unearthing yet another couple of lines suggestively remembered in the “top” or surface line. Translation provides this pleasure from a single passage. And each new variation adds another perspective, image, thought, feeling, oasis or terror. Good poetry from all eras works this way (good poetry is learned, knowing what came before, projecting what is to come); what differentiates the classical variety is the austerity of the surface and use of formal verse, be it through rhyme and regularly prosody, stanzas, or imitations of Milton, strong blank verse (what a funny name for it).

Halloween might be considered one of those seasonal ritual holidays where a change of seasons, this time from long days of light to long nights of darkness, is signaled. I went looking for allusive poems that might capture such a transition. I am reluctant to try my readers’ patience so quote only a selection from one longer but otherwise brief lyrics: Leopardi might have made the point much better but he (like Radcliffe) is at his best at length, but I do end on his and two other poet’s shorter poems to a thrush, a line from Jane Austen, a still from a film adaptation of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones:

This from Anne Radcliffe (1764-1823) Song of the Evening Hour:

Last of the Hours, that track the fading Day,
I move along the realms of twilight air,
And hear, remote, the choral song decay
Of sister-nymphs, who dance around my car.

Then, as I follow through the azure void,
His partial splendour from my straining eye
Sinks in the depths of space; my only guide
His faint ray dawning on the farthest sky …

When fades along the west the Sun’s last beam
As, weary, to the nether world he goes,
And mountain-summits catch the purple gleam,
And slumb’ring ocean faint and fainter glows …

Where’er I move, a tranquil pleasure reigns;
O’er all the scene the dusky tints I send,
That forests wild and mountains, stretching plains
And peopled towns, in soft confusion blend.

Wide o’er the world I waft the fresh’ning wind,
Low breathing through the woods and twilight vale,
In whispers soft, that woo the pensive mind
Of him who loves my lonely steps to hail …

The wood-nymphs hail my airs and temper’d shade,
With ditties soft and lightly sportive dance,
On river margin of some bow’ry glade,
And strew their fresh buds as my steps advance.—

But swift I pass, and distant regions trace,
For moon-beams silver all the eastern cloud,
And Day’s last crimson vestige fades apace;
Down the steep west I fly from Midnight’s shroud.”

— From her Mysteries of Udolpho, 1794

While at a small conference of fellow 18th century scholars, I heard a paper I mean to discuss elsewhere where (among others things) it was suggested that Radcliffe found peace in darkness, here we find her in that transition time, absorbed in twilight, a lover of autumn.

moonlightskating-1
George Bellows (1882-1925), Moonlight Skating (Central Park?)

This is the whole of Samuel Johnson (1709-84) “Translation of Roy’s Verses on Skaters”: for winter:

1
O’er Ice the rapid Skaiter flies,
    With Sport above and Death below;
Where Mischief lurks in gay Disguise,
    Thus lightly touch and quickly go.

2
O’er crackling ice, o’er gulphs profond,
    With nimble glide the skaiters play;
O’er treacherous pleasure’s flow’ry ground
    Thus lightly skim, and haste away.

— from The Complete Poems, e. J.d. Fleeman (this was copied out by Hester Thrale alongside the French original, 1782)

And two translations from a poet-translator, Allen Mandelbaum (1926-2011), I was privileged to have had a teacher in graduate school

tinablau_kanal_in_holland-medium
Tina Blau (1845-1916, an Austrian artist), A Canal in Holland

For spring from Giuseppe Ungaretti (1888-1970), Selected Poems, translator Mandelbaum:

Quiete

L’uva è maturea, il campo arato,
Si stacca il monte dalla nuvole.
Sui polversosi specchi dell’estate
Caduta è l’ombra.

Tra ledita incerte
Il loro lume è chiaro.
E lontano.
Colle rondini fugge
L’ultimo strazio

From which I love: Quiet

The mountain leaves the clouds.

The shadow falls upon the dusty
Mirrors of summer.
Between uncertain fingers
Their glistening is bright
And distant.

With the swallows flees
The final agony.

The briefest from A Selected Writings of Salvatore Quasimodo (1901-68)who won the Nobel Prize in 1959, though who remembers?), translator Mandelbaum

Untitled

Ognuno sta solo sul cuor della terra
trafitto da unraggio di sole:
ed è subito sera.

Each alone on the heart of the earth,
impaled upon a ray of sun:
and suddenly it’s evening.

paul_sanduwindsornightterrace-large
Paul Sandby (1731-1809), Windsor Terrace, Evening

I know I have not situated and re-situated. Another name for this is intertextuality, which the reader can perform, not the poet.

From Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), The Solitary Thrush, the translator, Eamon Grennan:

Perched on top of that old tower,
You sing as long as daylight lasts,
The sweet sound of you winding
Round and round the valley.
Spring shimmers
In the air, comes with a green rush
Through the open fields, is a sight
To soften any heart. You can hear
Sheep bleating, bellowing cattle,
While the other birds swoop and wheel
Cheerily round the wide blue sky,
Having the time of their lives together.
Like an outsider, lost in thought,
You are looking on at it all:
Neither companions nor wild flights
Fire your heart; games like these
Mean nothing to you. You sing,
And in singing spend the best
Part of your life and the passing year.

Ah, how these habits of mine
Are just like yours! Whatever the reason …
This day already dwindling into dusk
Is a feast in these parts. You can hear
The bells ring round a clear sky
And a far-off thunder of guns …
I walk out all by myself,
Putting off pleasure, postponing play:
And gazing about at the radiant air
I’m struck by how the sinking sun
After a day as perfect as this one
Melts among the distant hills,
And seems to say
That blessed youth itself is fading.

Solitary little singer, when you
Reach the evening of those days
Which the stars have numbered for you,
You’ll not grieve, surely,
For the life you’ve led, since even
The slightest twist of your will
Is nature’s way …

I should have known that when Helen Maria Williams (1759=1827, Wordsworth loved her poetry) writes of a thrush, she speaks of how the foolish bird fled from her to its death: for the past month while my kitchen was renovated, I worried sick lest my cats flee the house to their death. They could not begin to make it as feral cats: I put them in a pets’ boarding house and they spent the week in the cage, would not come out, finally were provided with an inner box, all padded, where they cling to one another’s arms: it gives a whole ‘nother turn to Henry Fielding (1707-54) story of how Blifil let Sophia’s bird free to spite her and Tom (out of malice) and Tom fell in the water trying to recapture it. Fielding diverts out attention from the bird who is not seen again: Elegy on a Young Thrush, which escaped from the writer’s hand, and falling down the area of a house, could not be found.

Mistaken Bird, ah whither hast thou stray’d?
    My friendly grasp why eager to elude?
This hand was on thy pinion lightly laid,
    And fear’d to hurt thee by a touch too rude.

Is there no foresight in a Thrush’s breast,
    That thou down yonder gulph from me wouldst go?
That gloomy area lurking cats infest,
    And there the dog may rove, alike thy foe.

I would with lavish crumbs my bird have fed,
    And brought a crystal cup to wet thy bill;
I would have made of down and moss thy bed,
     Soft, though not fashion’d with a Thrush’s skill.

Soon as thy strengthen’d wing could mount the sky,
    My willing hand had set my captive free;
Ah, not for her who loves the Muse, to buy
    A selfish pleasure, bought with pain to thee!

The vital air, and liberty, and light
    Had all been thine; and love, and rapt’rous song,
And sweet parental joys, in rapid flight,
    Had led the circle of thy life along.

Securely to my window hadst thou flown,
    And ever thy accustom’d morsel found;
Nor should thy trusting breast the wants have known
    Which other Thrushes knew when winter frown’d.

Fram’d with the wisdom nature lent to thee,
    Thy house of straw had brav’d the tempest’s rage,
And thou through many a Spring hadst liv’d to see
    The utmost limit of a Thrush’s age.

Ill-fated bird!—and does the Thrush’s race,
    Like Man’s, mistake the path that leads to bliss?
Or, when his eye that tranquil path can trace,
    The good he well discerns through folly miss?

— Helen Maria Williams, Poems on various subjects (1823)]

And finally one of Jim’s favorite poets and poems: Basil Bunting (1900-85);

A thrush in the syringa sings.

‘Hunger ruffles my wings, fear,
lust, familiar things.

Death thrusts hard. My sons
by hawk’s beak, by stones,
trusting weak wings
by cat and weasel, die.

Thunder smothers the sky.
From a shaken bush I
list familiar things,
fear, hunger, lust.’

O gay thrush.

Jane Austen (1775-1817) said she planted a syringa for the sake of a line of poetry by William Cowper (1731-1800)

Complete Poems, 1964

fromtomjones
In this scene from the 1997 Tom Jones (scripted Simon Burke, directed Metin Huseyin) we may take it that Tom has failed to rescue the bird and fallen from a tree into the water while Mrs Bridget Allworthy (Tessa Peake Jones, who was once Mary Bennett [1979 P&P scripted Fay Weldon], unknown to be his biological mother) and Mr Allworthy (unknown to be his uncle, Benjamin Whitlow, previously Mr Bennet [1995 P&P, scripted Andrew Davies]) look down worriedly

Ellen

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