Friday, September 30, 2011
by Trumbull Stickney (1874-1904)
Now in the palace gardens warm with age,
On lawn and flower-bed this afternoon
The thin November-coloured foliage
Just as last year unfastens lilting down,
And round the terrace in gray attitude
The very statues are becoming sere
With long presentiment of solitude.
Most of the life that I have lived is here,
Here by the path and autumn's earthy grass
And chestnuts standing down the breadths of sky
Indeed I know not how it came to pass,
The life I lived here so unhappily.
Yet blessing over all! I do not care
What wormwood I have ate to cups of gall;
I care not what despairs are buried there
Under the ground, no, I care not at all.
Nay, if the heart have beaten, let it break!
I have not loved and lived but only this
Betwixt my birth and grave. Dear Spirit, take
The gratitude that pains, so deep it is.
When Spring shall be again, and at your door
You stand to feel the mellower evening wind.
Remember if you will my heart is pure,
Perfectly pure and altogether kind;
That not an aftercry of all our strife
Troubles the love I give you and the faith:
Say to yourself that at the ends of life
My arms are open to you, life and death.
How much it aches to linger in these things!
I thought the perfect end of love was peace
Over the long-forgiven sufferings.
But something else, I know not what it is,
The words that came so nearly and then not,
The vanity, the error of the whole,
The strong cross-purpose, oh, I know not what
Cries dreadfully in the distracted soul.
The evening fills the garden, hardly red;
And autumn goes away, like one alone.
Would I were with the leaves that thread by thread
Soften to soil, I would that I were one.
Leaves, William Trost Richards, 1855
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
I like for you to be still: it is as though you were absent,
and you hear me from far away and my voice does not
From "I Like for You to Be Still" by Pablo Neruda, trans. by W.S. Merwin
Orient, Luis Ricardo Falero (1851-1896)
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
What did they lack that you and I lacked?
turning the one unravaged cheek to the artist—
suggests a dignity
we easily find too easy.
From "A Letter" by Richard Tillinghast. Complete poem is here.
I recently did an interview with Tillinghast, which you can read here.
Diptych of the Duchess and Duke of Urbino, Piero della Francesca, c.1472. There's a nice piece about this painting at The Guardian.
*Nashville-area folks can see Tillinghast at the Southern Festival of Books next month.
Monday, September 26, 2011
And fleetingly it seemed to him
That in between one eye blink and the next
Time paused, allowing time to be installed
Within that countless interim,
Coiled up, on hold,
A memory predicted and recalled.
Now, that weak muscle flexed,
All that contained him started to unfold
In front of him, a moving book
In three dimensions he could wander through,
At will, at any point, now, since, before,
To feel, to listen and to look—
A house, or suite
Of rooms around a circling corridor,
And waiting there, he knew,
Were all the peopled days he’d not repeat.
Form "The House of Time" by Stephen Edgar. Complete poem is here.
Der Kaktusliebhaber, Carl Spitzweg, c.1850
*After many weeks away, I seem to be making regular posts again. My thanks to everybody who hung around to welcome me back. It's a pleasure to go searching again for words and images to share with you. Not sure where all the time went while I was away from here. A lot of it was spent reading and writing. I've read some gorgeous books in the past few months, including Appalachee Red by Raymond Andrews, Mr. Field's Daughter and Rebel Powers by Richard Bausch, Mr. Sammler's Planet by Saul Bellow, and the new Lydia Davis translation of Madame Bovary. Kevin Wilson's new novel, The Family Fang, is smart and great fun -- I reviewed it here. As for the writing, I've been lucky enough to devote more of my work time to fiction, and I spent two weeks at the Sewanee Writers' Conference. I wrote a little essay about that for Chapter 16.
For longtime readers who don't keep in touch with me via Facebook, I'm sad to report that Kobi, the Big Yellow Ball of Crazy, died in August. Kobi was the most troubled and troublesome of my dogs, and the one that loved me best, so of course she was my favorite. I always said she would wind up breaking my heart and she did. I miss her.
Finally, an apology for my poor housekeeping. I have neglected the blog so thoroughly for the past few months that I just now discovered that some Blogger spasm (probably that huge hissy fit last spring) tweaked the template just enough to knock a bunch of the past year's posts slightly askew. Urgh. They are still readable, but we are all about the pretty here at BitterGrace Notes and misaligned text is intolerable. I'll eventually fix all the posts so that those of you who like to scroll through, say, the Gallery of Antique Smut will find nothing to offend your eyes.
Friday, September 23, 2011
When you are already here
you appear to be only
a name that tells of you
whether you are present or not
and for now it seems as though
you are still summer
still the high familiar
yet with a glint
of bronze in the chill mornings
and the late yellow petals
of the mullein fluttering
on the stalks that lean
over their broken
shadows across the cracked ground
From "To the Light of September" by W.S. Merwin. Complete poem is here.
Early Autumn White Birch, Maxfield Parrish, 1936
Thursday, September 22, 2011
To the Moon
by Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837)
O lovely moon, now I’m reminded
how almost a year since, full of anguish,
I climbed this hill to gaze at you again,
and you hung there, over that wood, as now,
clarifying all things. Filled with mistiness,
trembling, that’s how your face seemed to me,
from all those tears that welled in my eyes, so
troubled was my life, and is, and does not change,
O moon, my delight. And yet it does help me,
to record my grief and tell it, year by year.
Oh how sweetly, when we are young, it hurts,
when hope has such a long journey to run,
and memory is so short,
this remembrance of things past, even if it
is sad, and the pain lasts!
Translated by A.S. Kline
Sleeping Nude in Front of the Mirror, Franz Nölken, 1915
Monday, September 19, 2011
The only sadnesses that are dangerous and unhealthy are the ones that we carry around in public in order to drown them out with the noise; like diseases that are treated superficially and foolishly, they just withdraw and after a short interval break out again all the more terribly; and gather inside us and are life, are life that is unlived, rejected, lost, life that we can die of. If only it were possible for us to see farther than our knowledge reaches, and even a little beyond the outworks of our presentiment, perhaps we would bear our sadnesses with greater trust than we have in our joys. For they are the moments when something new has entered us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy embarrassment, everything in us withdraws, a silence arises, and the new experience, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it all and says nothing.
It seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension, which we feel as paralysis because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living. Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; because everything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us; because we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing. That is why the sadness passes: the new presence inside us, the presence that has been added, has entered our heart, has gone into its innermost chamber and is no longer even there, is already in our bloodstream. And we don't know what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes. We can't say who has come, perhaps we will never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters us in this way in order to be transformed in us, long before it happens. And that is why it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad: because the seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than that other loud and accidental point of time when it happens to us as if from outside.
Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet
Mournful Foreboding of What is to Come, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, c.1810
Sunday, September 18, 2011
If I were Psyche how could I not
bring the lamp to our bedside?
I would have known in advance
all the travails my gazing
would bring, more than Psyche
and even so, how could I not have raised
the amber flame to see
the human person I knew
was to be revealed.
She did not even know! She dreaded
a beast and discovered
a god. But I
know, and hunger
to witness again the form
of mortal love itself.
From "Psyche in Somerville" by Denise Levertov. The complete poem is here.
Psyche and Cupid, Peter Paul Rubens, c.1636
Friday, September 16, 2011
Before the Great Troubling
by Corey Mesler
There were times of great clarity.
There were days when time
did not imprison, did not
glad-hand the devil.
And there was a feeling that this
would all go on, getting
better and better,
enriching us in ways we could never
foresee. This was the feeling
we lived under as if
it were shade.
There were times, before the great
troubling, when we
were happy to think the world vast
and shapeless, when
we were happy to call modernity
out host. This I remind myself
when it closes in.
This comforts somehow
as if in the past is the seed of a
future where I will
once again walk out into the dark-
ness as if it were my
best dream, as if it held things for me
that I would need, things
as particular and personal as a poem.
Corey Mesler is a gifted poet and fiction writer who also -- along with his wife, Cheryl -- owns a bookstore in Memphis. I interviewed Corey recently for Chapter 16, and he had fascinating things to say. You can read the Q&A here. The beautiful poem above is from his new collection by the same name, which is full of lovely, funny, smart stuff. Go here to order a copy.
Storm at Sea, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1569
Poem ©2011 by Corey Mesler. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Every verse is a child of love,
A destitute bastard slip,
A firstling -- the winds above --
Left by the road asleep.
From "Every Verse is a Child of Love" by Marina Tsvetaeva. More here.
Nude Child with Open Arms, Giulio Romano (1499-1546)
Monday, September 12, 2011
"The sky to the east was black with bird, the sun itself disguised. Thousands of passenger pigeons beat southward, a flying carpet of them. Catto held his breath. A hundred thousand. might be. They were free. Marveling up at them he felt pure, the innocence of dawn. He watched in welcome every spring, in godspeed every fall. The birds flew in a vast, oval mass, no pairs, no skeins, no wedges, only the great mass of them, and the steady, fading rush across the face of the sun. A dark mass, the blushing breasts obscured, they dimmed the golden morning."
From When the War is Over* by Stephen Becker
A Pair of Passenger Pigeons (''Ectopistes migratorius''), John James Audubon (1785-1851)
"Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon"
*I'm in the middle of reading this beautiful novel -- one of those wonderful books that seems to have been unjustly forgotten. More about Becker here.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
It is given to mortals to love, to recognize,
to make sounds move to their fingers,
but I have forgotten what I wanted to say
and a bodiless thought returns to the palace of shadows.
The Transparent One still speaks, but of nothing.
Still a swallow, a friend known as a girl, Antigone.
The reverberations of Stygian remembrance
burn like a black ice on one’s lips.
From "I Have Forgotten the Word I Wanted to Say" by Osip Mandelstam. Read the complete poem here.
Passage to the Underworld, Joachim Patinir, 1515-1524