Sunday, February 27, 2011

"melancholy fancies come and go"

by Paul Verlaine

The wind the other night blew down the Love
That in the dimmest corner of the park
So subtly used to smile, bending his arc,
And sight of whom did us so deeply move

One day! The other night's wind blew him down!
The marble dust whirls in the morning breeze.
Oh, sad to view, o'erblotted by the trees,
There on the base, the name of great renown!

Oh, sad to view the empty pedestal!
And melancholy fancies come and go
Across my dream, whereon a day of woe
Foreshadowed is--I know what will befall!

Oh, sad!--And you are saddened also, Sweet,
Are not you, by this scene? although your eye
Pursues the gold and purple butterfly
That flutters o'er the wreck strewn at our feet.

Trans. by Gertrude Hall

Cupid presenting a rose to a butterfly, Antoine-Denis Chaudet, c. 1802

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Color of Night

Madison Smartt Bell has a new novel coming out in April, The Color of Night, which is a remarkable meditation on the nature of violence and suffering. Not that the book is quietly meditative; on the contrary, it's a fever dream, full of bloodlust and death. The protagonist is a woman -- a profoundly damaged, frightening woman. The novel is beautifully written, brilliant and disturbing. I've read my galley copy twice and can't wait to see what kind of reception it gets. I did a Q&A with Bell about the book, which you can read here, and you'll find a lengthy excerpt here.

Orpheus has a sort of recurring bit part in the novel, hence the painting above and today's choice of poem, one of my favorites by Mark Strand. (Do go and read the whole thing.)

... it came
As things come that will perish, to be seen or heard
Awhile, like the coating of frost or the movement
Of wind, and then no more; it came in the middle of sleep
Like a door to the infinite, and, circled by flame,
Came again at the moment of waking, and, sometimes,
Remote and small, it came as a vision with trees
By a weaving stream, brushing the bank
With their violet shade, with somebody’s limbs
Scattered among the matted, mildewed leaves nearby,
With his severed head rolling under the waves,
Breaking the shifting columns of light into a swirl
Of slivers and flecks; it came in a language
Untouched by pity, in lines, lavish and dark,
Where death is reborn and sent into the world as a gift...

From "Orpheus Alone" by Mark Strand. The complete poem is here.

Death of Orpheus, Emil Levy, 1866

Friday, February 18, 2011

"True beauty is truly seldom"

[...] Here I am
Sitting on a chair, thinking
About you. Thinking
About how it was
To talk to you.
How sometimes it was wonderful
And sometimes it was awful.
How drugs when drugs were
Undid the good almost entirely
But not entirely
Because good could always be seen
Glimmering like lame glimmers
In the window of a shop
Called Beautiful
Things Never Last Forever.
I loved you. I love you. You were.
And you are. Life is experience.
It's all so simple. Experience is
The chair we sit on.
The sitting. The thinking
Of you where you are a blank
To be filled
In by missing. I loved you.
I love you like I love
All beautiful things.
True beauty is truly seldom.

From "You Were You Are Elegy" by Mary Jo Bang. The complete poem is here.

*The boys in the photo are my father and his brothers. Dad is the little one on the right. Today is the anniversary of his death. If you are in the mood to read reminiscences, you'll find mine of him here. He's also featured in this blog post.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mark Jarman, et al.

As usual, I give you a reader painting to accompany a new Chapter 16 post. Something about this red-haired girl makes me want to look at her for hours, but I encourage you to leave her and go read my interview with poet Mark Jarman. He has interesting things to say about his work and about the impact of digital media on poetry. He also talks about Robinson Jeffers, a poet who has been featured on this blog many times.

Other recent pieces on the site include Susannah Felts's Q&A with writer Kevin Wilson and a review from Ed Tarkington of The Illumination, a new novel by Kevin Brockmeier.

Here's snippet of Jarman's poem "Coyotes." You'll find a link to the complete poem at the interview:

Is this world truly fallen? They say no.
For there's the new moon, there's the Milky Way,
There's the rattler with a wren's egg in its mouth,
And there's the panting rabbit they will eat.
They sing their wild hymn on the dark slope,
Reading the stars like notes of hilarious music.
Is this a fallen world? How could it be?

Young girl reading, Federigo Zandomeneghi (1841-1917)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"I yearn upward, touch you close, then stand away"

Two in the Campagna

by Robert Browning

I wonder do you feel to-day
         As I have felt since, hand in hand,
We sat down on the grass, to stray
         In spirit better through the land,
This morn of Rome and May?

For me, I touched a thought, I know,
         Has tantalized me many times,
(Like turns of thread the spiders throw
         Mocking across our path) for rhymes
To catch at and let go.

Help me to hold it! First it left
         The yellowing fennel, run to seed
There, branching from the brickwork's cleft,
         Some old tomb's ruin: yonder weed
Took up the floating weft,

Where one small orange cup amassed
         Five beetles,—blind and green they grope
Among the honey-meal: and last,
         Everywhere on the grassy slope
I traced it. Hold it fast!

The champaign with its endless fleece
         Of feathery grasses everywhere!
Silence and passion, joy and peace,
         An everlasting wash of air—
Rome's ghost since her decease.

Such life here, through such lengths of hours,
         Such miracles performed in play,
Such primal naked forms of flowers,
         Such letting nature have her way
While heaven looks from its towers!

How say you? Let us, O my dove,
         Let us be unashamed of soul,
As earth lies bare to heaven above!
         How is it under our control
To love or not to love?

I would that you were all to me,
         You that are just so much, no more.
Nor yours nor mine, nor slave nor free!
         Where does the fault lie? What the core
O' the wound, since wound must be?

I would I could adopt your will,
         See with your eyes, and set my heart
Beating by yours, and drink my fill
         At your soul's springs,—your part my part
In life, for good and ill.

No. I yearn upward, touch you close,
         Then stand away. I kiss your cheek,
Catch your soul's warmth,—I pluck the rose
         And love it more than tongue can speak—
Then the good minute goes.

Already how am I so far
         Out of that minute? Must I go
Still like the thistle-ball, no bar,
         Onward, whenever light winds blow,
Fixed by no friendly star?

Just when I seemed about to learn!
         Where is the thread now? Off again!
The old trick! Only I discern—
         Infinite passion, and the pain
Of finite hearts that yearn.

Commentary on the poem here.

Liebespaar, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1903

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"Voluptuous sorrow holds us like a cobweb"

Moonlight fills the laurels
Like music. The moonlit
Air does not move. Your white
Face moves towards my face.
Voluptuous sorrow
Holds us like a cobweb
Like a song, a perfume, the moonlight.

From "Confusion of the Senses" by Kenneth Rexroth. You can read the complete poem and listen to a recording of it at this interview with poet Sam Hamill. A very good article by Hamill on Rexroth can be found here.

The Embrace, Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"Body, remember not only how much you were loved"

Body, remember not only how much you were loved,
not only the beds on which you lay,
but also those desires which for you
plainly glowed in the eyes,
and trembled in the voice -- and some
chance obstacle made them futile.

From "Body, Remember" by C.P. Cavafy, trans. by George Barbanis. The complete poem is here. (There are "official" translations here and here, but I like Barbanis's DIY effort better than either.)

Undergrowth with walking couple, Vincent van Gogh, 1890

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"We are both the snake and the wheel"

Yesterday a snake crossed the road at dusk.
Crushed by a tire, it writhed on the asphalt.
We are both the snake and the wheel.
There are two dimensions. Here is the unattainable
Truth of being, here, at the edge of lasting
and not lasting. Where the parallel lines intersect,
Time lifted above time by time.

From "A Treatise on Poetry: IV Natura" by Czeslaw Milosz, trans. by Robert Hass

Two Studies of a Bird of Paradise, Rembrandt, 1630