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In lieu of an image of Francisco de Medrano, (1570 – 1607) this portrait by El Greco.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know not how or when or what it was

I know not how or when or what it was        
I felt, that me replete with sweetness made.
I know but to my arms such beauty came
To partake with me of bliss so avidly.

 

 

I know she came, although with shrinking look,
Almost, I could not then withstand her face,
So stunned was I, as one in obscure night
Loses his bearings, and dares not take a step.

 

Following this great bliss, astonishment – or dream –
I knew not when, nor how, nor what had been
That made all sense and senses quiescent seem.

 

 

 

 

To know nothing at all is yet to know,
So slight is that which merely sense can grasp –
A compass which the soul alone could fit.

 

 

 

 

Translation Dia Tsung.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No sé cómo, ni cuándo, ni qué cosa

No sé cómo, ni cuándo, ni qué cosa         
sentí, que me llenaba de dulzura;
sé que llegó a mis brazos la hermosura,
de gozarse conmigo codiciosa;

 

 
sé que llegó, si bien, con temerosa
vista resistí apenas su figura;
luego pasmé, como el que en noche oscura
perdido el tino, el pie mover no osa.

 

 

Siguió un gran gozo a aqueste pasmo, o sueño;
no sé cuándo  ni cómo  ni qué ha sido,
que lo sensible todo puso en calma.

 

 

 

Ignorarlo es saber; que es bien pequeño
el que puede abarcar solo el sentido,
y éste pudo caber en sola la alma.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I set out to attempt the translation of a poem, I usually resort to pen and ink. The keyboard does not connect with my brain as when my hand accepts the task of forming letters. The liquid ink seeping into the paper, the angle of the nib, and even the necessity of coaxing the pen, all play their part in how my mind is enabled to enter the poem. The movement of the hand, helped by the pen, the ink and the paper, forms a system of communication with the mind, as it simultaneously tries to work on several levels.  As the stream of one language flows in, it is welcomed by a different one, and words are exchanged and greeted – or asked to leave. The sound and rhythm is a music provided by an invisible conductor and musicians in the back of the room, and a helpful adviser of sorts sits off to the side at a desk and  busily sorts out the words, explaining  their meanings and deciding on their suitability.

Over all these, there hovers an unseen, but powerfully-felt presence, who draws in all the participants, placing them in accord with each other, while containing the indispensable sense of wholeness  and protecting the atmosphere within  where all things seem to flow within a suspended space.

In order for any of this to happen, the original work must first cast its spell on me, place my mind in accord with its own frequency. I feel this as an indescribable  sensation, which seems to make itself felt in a soundless buzzing behind my forehead, and a feeling of ‘lifting up’ on the top of my head. My hair feels somewhat detached, and there is a tingling along the outsides of my ears.

First drafts, with all their flaws, create the most excitement. All the collaborators work hard to play their parts, and then come the second and third, and as many drafts as are needed in order to feel that there is a ‘fit.’  Then sometimes there has to follow a hiatus – a time of separation and detachment, since the synthesis of all the players makes  further discrimination impossible at that moment.

After that there is a return. The words have determined their places on the page, and have been able to work out their differences, and they have made decisions about where they wish to be placed. Some must leave, and there is a flurry of rearrangement, and some newcomers arrive.  The musicians again begin to play, and the lexical entities determine if they are in accord with their vocable counterparts.  A sober schoolmistress is invited to sit at the head of the classroom, and the students present themselves to her. Sometimes she is pleased, and gives them her nod.  Sometimes she shakes her head and says nothing, and sometimes she comes up with a suggestion, but sometimes she walks out without a word.

Without the Muse there are no acceptable translations – that is if her presence has been evoked in the original work to begin with. Only the Muse can help the translator to mediate between two languages without falling  away from chastity into falsehood. Her stern insistence on clean hands and devoted mind are the only assurance that no lies will  spoken, and no infelicities permitted to  intrude.  The translator must humbly, yet willingly, enter this liminal space, or the result will fail to satisfy.

Besides the presence of  two languages, a third is required – and that is the language of poetry itself. This is the holy trinity. This is the language the original poet and the translator must have in common. If all this sounds like so much presumptuous nonsense, experience must provide the only possible veto.  In my case, there is no other way that can lead me to my desired destination.

When I first read this poem by Francisco de Medrano, it drew me instantly in. I saw and heard and felt some essence of observing the unfolding images which passed before my inward eye, which is how the conviction came to me that the poem was real. The feeling and images lingered in the back of my mind for three or so years, until last night the moment came when they reasserted themselves, and I took up the task of translation.

Medrano, who was born in Seville in 1570, was a Jesuit priest, who gave up religion for poetry, which of course is the more divine vocation of the two.  I wish more people could do this, but alas the inferior requirements of religion are much more easily satisfied than those of poetry, which might account for the greater popularity of the former.

Despite his initial clerical misstep, de Medrano did find his way out of the darkness of the church. He spoke of love in a way that is clearly not merely mystical hocus-pocus. That he felt the influence – or presence – of St. John of the Cross seems evident in the subject and circumstances of the poem, as well as its imagery and vocabulary, yet it is very different from the poetry of St. John.  The locutions suggest to me (perhaps it is from the gender of the nouns) that de Medrano’s Muse, unlike St. John’s, was adamantly female.   This makes his poem more have for me a greater feeling of conviction – of genuineness.  de Medrano’s choice of the last three words of the poem, which include the choice of ‘la alma’ over ‘el alma’ (alma is generally a masculine noun which turns feminine in the plural)  not merely as a preference for the sake of how it sounds, thereby changing the gender of the (singular)  soul to female, seems to affirm this.

When I first read this poem, I felt it was a little creepy – as the suggestion of night visitants are apt to be.  It has the sense of a nightmare, one which had the ambivalent elements of both horror and bliss. Who was this presence who came to Medrano’s darkened room in the obscurity of the shadow-steeped night? Jungians no doubt would say it was his Anima, and that his soul’s shocking encounter with its oppositely gendered part, accounts for the events related and emotions felt.

I cannot refute such an argument, because however she is named, this presence attends all the uncanny states which accompany genuine poetic experience.  I have to stress the word ‘genuine’, because so much twaddle is passed off as poetry as to make the separation of wheat from chaff an onerous job, for the quantity of chaff is vast in comparison to the few grains which might appear at the end of an exhaustive winnowing.  What convinces me that de Medrano’s poem is genuine, besides my own vicarious experience, is that it follows the steps beginning with a feeling of infiltration which then goes on to overcome, and ends with a lysis (not in the pathological sense, or the priggish pederastic sense of Plato, but as the wall or barrier which breaks to permit access to a meaning which can be accessed) that feels true and right.

Genuinely inspired works stand out  brilliantly from among their dull pretenders. When one comes across the former, one feels a sense of wholeness, as when one is swept in the glissando of a well-structured drama which faithfully follows the structure of  rising action, crisis, denouement, and then leaves one with the small grain of resolution that endow it with the power to linger on in the mind, resonating with a persistent tenacity  for months and even years. de Medrano’s lips are sealed about the identity of his visitor – but  of course he knew who she was:  he really did. She was never a stranger to him.

Synchronicity can sometimes be made to serve as evidential proof that one has stumbled across a bit of contagious magic, and so it was last night. My search for a copy of this poem to cut and paste in this post took on a life of its own. Quite by chance (?) I came across a lesbian writer and singer from Argentina, María Elena Walsh, whose work is bound to make a future appearance in this blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Herewith a brief biography of de Medrano for those who can read Spanish, which I found at this site.

http://www.apoloybaco.com/Francisco%20de%20Medrano.htm

 

Nació en Sevilla hacia el año 1570. Perteneció a la orden de los jesuitas, hasta que en el año 1602 decidió abandonarla y retirarse a disfrutar de una vida sosegada, donde la poesía fue su principal actividad. Se sabe que estudió en Córdoba y Salamanca cuando aún pertenecía a la compañía.

Era un poeta que cultivaba una poesía clásica, de características muy similares a la de los poetas salmantinos del siglo XVI, basando su obra prácticamente en las traducciones de obras clásica, y realización de poesía a imitación de autores del mismo corte, principalmente Horacio. Así el crítico Adolfo de Castro lo refleja, dictanimando que Medrano es, sin duda alguna, el mejor de los imitadores españoles de Horacio.
 
Su escritura era correcta, huyendo del estilo gongorista que se impulsaba en la literatura española de aquella época. Escribió cincuenta y dos sonetos, dotados de una especial sensualidad, además de diversas odas y romances. Entre sus poemas más conocidos se encuentra la oda de La profecía del Tajo -que aquí les muestro- muy similar a la que escribió Fray Luis de León con el mismo título.
 
La muerte pronto vino a visitarle; murió en el año 1607.
Era un poeta que cultivaba una poesía clásica, de características muy similares a la de los poetas salmantinos del siglo XVI, basando su obra prácticamente en las traducciones de obras clásica, y realización de poesía a imitación de autores del mismo corte, principalmente Horacio. Así el crítico Adolfo de Castro lo refleja, dictanimando que Medrano es, sin duda alguna, el mejor de los imitadores españoles de Horacio.
 
La muerte pronto vino a visitarle; murió en el año 1607.

 

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Just because we sometimes fall short of our ideals it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have them.

Happy 136th Birthday America, and Many Happy Returns of the Day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These words were written by our wonderful lesbian fore-mother Katherine Lee Bates. She was inspired to write them when she stood at the top of Pike’s Peak, right here in Colorado.   Many Americans would choose “America the Beautiful”  as our our national anthem in favour of the more bellicose “Star Spangled Banner.” It is not in the least bit jingoistic, and this is how most of us feel about our country.

This  should have been our national anthem, and for me it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“America the Beautiful” complete text.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassion’d stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness
America! America!
God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.
O beautiful for heroes prov’d
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country lov’d,
And mercy more than life.
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine.
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears.
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

 

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/America_the_Beautiful

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Charles François Gounod (June 17 1818 – 17 October 17 1893)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Absence

 

 

De mon coeur une partie
Vient au loin de s’envoler,
Et depuis qu’elle est partie
Rien ne peut me consoler!

 
Ce qui mettait l’allégresse
Dans mon âme et dans mes yeux
M’a laissé dans la tristesse
En s’éloignant de ces lieux!

 

Tant que les âmes aimées
Ne viendront rouvrir mon coeur,
Les sources seront fermées
Où je puisais le bonheur!

 
Je refleurirrai quand l’heure
Du revoir aura sonné.
Jusque à j’attends et pleure
Sous mon toit abandonné!

 
De mon coeur une partie
Vient au loin de s’envoler,
Et depuis qu’elle est partie
Rien ne peut me consoler!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyrics Marquis Anatole de Ségur

Music Charles Gounod

Sung by David Daniels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Absence                                         

                                  


One part of my heart
has just flown far away
and since it has gone away
naught can console me.

 

 

She who put happiness
in my soul and in my eyes
has left me in sadness
by removing herself from here      

 

 

As long as the beloved souls
do not return to reopen my heart
the wells are now closed
from where I drew my pleasure.

 

 

I shall bloom again when the hour
of reunion has sounded.
Until then I wait and weep
beneath my abandoned roof.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L’ Absent    

     

                                                     

 

Ô silence des nuits dont la voix seule est douce,
Quand je n’ai plus sa voix,
Mystérieux rayons, qui glissez sur la mousse
Dans l’ombre de ses bois,

 

 

Dites-moi si ses yeux, à l’heure où tout sommeille
Se rouvrent doucement
Et si ma bien-aimée, alors quemoi je veille,
Se souvient de l’absent.

 

 

Quand la lune est aux cieux, baignant de sa lumière
Les grands bois et l’azur;
Quand des cloches du soir qui tintent la prière
Vibre l’écho si pur,

 

 

Dites-moi si son âme, un instant recueillie,
S’élève avec leur chant,
Et si de leurs accords la paisible harmonie
Lui rappelle l’absent!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Absent One           

                                           

O silence of the nights whose voice alone is sweet
when I have her voice no more,
mysterious rays that glide on the moss
in the shadows of these woods,

 

 
tell me, if her eyes, at this time when all is asleep,
gently open by themselves again,
and if my darling then, while I keep vigil,
remembers the one who is absent.

 

 

 

When the moon is in the heavens, bathing with her light
the great woods and the azure sky,
when the bells of the evening ring out the prayer,
vibrating with a pure echo,

 

 
tell me, if their soulful sound, for an instant gathers
and uplifts her with their song,
and if their accord, their peaceful harmony,
remind her of the absent one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music and lyrics by Charles Gounod.

Sung by David Daniels

Translation Dia Tsung

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Robert Graves (July 24 1895 –December 7 1985)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I fell in love at my first evening party.              
You were tall and fair, just seventeen perhaps
Talking to my two sisters. I kept silent
And never since have loved a tall fair girl,
Until last night in the small windy hours
When, floating up an unfamiliar staircase
And into someone’s bedroom, there I found her
Posted beside the window in half-light
Wearing that same white dress with lacy sleeves.
She beckoned. I came closer. We embraced
Inseparably until the dream faded.
Her eyes shone clear and blue…

Who was it, though, impersonated you?

 

 

 

Excerpt from The White Goddess by Robert Graves.

‘What is the use or function of poetry nowadays?’ is a question not the less poignant for being defiantly asked by so many stupid people or apologetically answered by so many silly people. The function of poetry is religious invocation of the Muse; its use is the experience of mixed exaltation and horror that her presence excites. But ‘nowadays?’ Function and use remain the same: only the application has changed. This was once a warning to man that he must keep in harmony with the family of living creatures among which he was born, by obedience to the wishes of the lady of the house; it is now a reminder that he has disregarded the warning, turned the house upside down by capricious experiments in philosophy, science and industry, and brought ruin on himself and his family.

 ‘Nowadays’ is a civilization in which the prime emblems of poetry are dishonoured. In which serpent, lion and eagle belong to the circus-tent; ox, salmon and boar to the cannery; racehorse and greyhound to the betting ring; and the sacred grove to the saw-mill. In which the Moon is despised as a burned-out satellite of the Earth and woman reckoned as ‘auxiliary State personnel’. In which money will buy almost anything but truth, and almost anyone but the truth-possessed poet.

Call me, if you like, the fox who has lost his brush. I am nobody’s servant and have chosen to live on the outskirts of a Majorcan mountain-village, Catholic but anti-ecclesiastical, where life is still ruled by the old agricultural cycle. Without my brush, namely my contact with urban civilization, all that I write must read perversely and irrelevantly to such of you as are still geared to the industrial machine, whether directly as workers, managers, traders or advertisers or indirectly as civil servants,
publishers, journalists, schoolmasters or employees of a radio corporation. If you are poets, you will realize that acceptance of my historical thesis commits you to a confession of disloyalty which you will be loth to make; you chose your jobs because they promised to provide you with a steady income and leisure to render the Goddess whom you adore valuable part-time service. Who am I, you will ask, to warn you that she commands either whole-time service or none at all? And do I suggest that you should resign your jobs for want of sufficient capital to set up as small-holders, turn romantic shepherds – as Don Quixote did after his failure to come to terms with the modern world – in remote unmechanized farms?  No, my brushlessness debars me from offering any practical suggestion. I dare attempt only a historical statement of the problem; how you come to terms with the Goddess is no concern of mine. I do not even know that you are serious in your poetic profession.

R.G.
Deyà,
Mallorca,
Spain.

 

 

 

 

When the whole substance of a poem is vouchsafed to one in a dream, which brings with it the several iconic evocations of the Muse, one can be sure that it can be trusted to have an uncanny origin. Robert Graves refers to such rare artifacts as ‘True Poems.” There is no doubt that this beautiful haunting poem was a visitation –  a gift of the Muse, conveyed by her to the receptive mind of the poet, which stays awake even as it dreams.

The dictionary defines ‘uncanny’ as “having or seeming to have a supernatural or inexplicable basis; beyond the ordinary or normal; extraordinary; mysterious; arousing superstitious fear or dread; uncomfortably strange.”

The object of Grave’s first love-at-a-distance,  the lovely Frances Speedwell, visits him in a dream years after the moment of his early entrancement. Has she appeared in the guise of the Muse – or is it the other way about – ?  It is a question without an answer, and  we suspect that  even were the answer to be found, it would leave us none the wiser.

All true poems, which is to say those which are inspired by the Muse, invoking and evoking her, have this haunting, uneasy-making quality. They persist in the mind long after the pen has been set down, the page turned and the book closed. They have a life of their own, and they weave this life into ours, and remain with us even when we think we have forgotten them. If we are receptive to the parts of ourselves that are alive with intuition and thereby maintain the link into our ancient selves, they become a part of us, of our imaginations and our ways of thinking. They shape us and change us, and place our feet on a path which sets us apart from ordinary people – which is to say, people who are unaware of the Muse’s hidden world.

I have always tried – and failed – to satisfactorily characterise – or explain to myself – this kind of writing, and I say ‘writing’ and not just poetry, because it sometimes makes its rare appearance in the world of prose as well.

I recognise it instantly because it sweeps me out of my ordinary mind into that almost dream state which I think of as the territory of my right-brain, which is intuitive, trance-like and transportive. The ‘catching’ quality in the ‘real thing’ is so strong that it brings me as a reader immediately into the flow of subtle experience. This is one of my ‘tests’ for true poetry. When I manage  to write prose in this way,  I feel I must make my intellect passive: not passive in the sense of doing nothing, but as not intruding, not interfering.

I try to not struggle  with the current but get drawn along with it and I make my writer-self become the skilled but humble servant of that emerging voice which does not communicate in words. I think this is the place where our real selves live, and we usually drown that being out with all our useless mental vociferating.

This self  – this writer –  does not seem to come from one’s familiar mental territory, and its writing itself, after a passage of time,  when some weeks or months have elapsed, is frequently unrecognisable as one’s own. The realisation then becomes unavoidable, that the journey to be oneself is one which does not have a destination, since the destination recedes in ever widening expanses – like a sea voyage when landfall never arrives.

One moves along the surface, catching glimpses of the ever deepening depths, sensing yet never being able to grasp the extra dimension. This of course is intolerable to the brain which wishes to conquer reality by means of its cognitive faculties and so it fights the inevitable surrender by asserting its cleverness and skill. But if one is aware, one feels the imperative to give in to the delicious helplessness of being carried away – of giving up its active volition and letting the wind and the water have its way.

The feeling of being caught between endless space and endless depth while being transfixed by this spell of thought – the inner space and the inner depth reflecting each other and mingling in a way that is intoxicating and transportive and ineffable can be a disorienting one. And yet, one knows oneself to be somehow fixed and poised on a pin-head of space and time. These contradictions coexist in a magical way, until ordinariness returns as it always does and the magic reluctantly gives way, and the process reverses itself, except when the impulse to resist does not intrude.

The non-locality of objects – in this case ones inner-self  – unveils itself. that’s why we are sometimes simultaneously recognisable and unrecognisable to ourselves. Its because at the level of our inner realities we are unrecognisable and strange and exotic. The perverse tyranny of our ordinariness  momentarily slides back like a secret panel, revealing a hidden passage to a universe where the laws  of  ‘reality’ are determined by intuition and we cannot for long sustain that view of ourselves  as unlimited beings.

Being enveloped in a vast physical sensation which can find no body with which to connect –  then abruptly ejected into smallness: that is original sin:  the condition which follows when one has been expelled from the zone.

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So el encina:             

So el encina, encina,
so el encina.

Yo me iba, mi madre,
a la romería;
por ir más devota
fui sin compañía;
so el encina.

Por ir más devota
fin sin compañía;
tomé otro camino,
dejé el que tenía;
so el encina.

Halléme perdida
en una montiña,
echéme a dormir
al pie del encina,
so el encina.

A la media noche
recordé, mezquina;
halléme en los brazos
del que más quería,
so el encina.

Pesóme, cuitada
de que amanecía
porque yo gozaba
del que más quería,
so el encina.

Muy biendita sía
la tal romería;
so el encina.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under the Ilex

Beneath the ilex, the ilex
beneath the ilex

I was going, Mother,
on a pilgrimage
so as to be more devout
I was without companions.

So as to be more devout
I was without companions
I took another road
I left the one I was on
under the ilex.

I found myself lost     
on a mountain
I prepared to sleep
at the foot of the ilex

At midnight
I remember – woe is me –
I found myself in the arms
of the one I love best
under the ilex

To my chagrin, I was left
at the break of dawn,
for I had been delighting
in the one I love best
under the ilex

Most blessed be
such a pilgrimage
under the ilex.

Translation Dia Tsung

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quercus ilex is the Mediterranean Oak, also called the Holm Oak, Holly Oak, Ilex, Evergreen Oak, Scarlet Oak, Bloody Oak and Prickly Oak.  It shares the name ‘Ilex’ with Holly, probably because like the Holly, it is evergreen. How the same tree could be referred to as ‘evergreen’ and ‘scarlet’ is a minor mystery, but solved by the entomologists, who tell us that the scarlet berries, which give the oak its name, are made by an insect – the kerm beetle – who feeds on the oak leaves and produces a scarlet ‘berry,’ which is the source of a scarlet dye highly prized by the ancients and used for royal robes and  buskins. The berries themselves were said to possess aphrodisiac properties, and perhaps this could have been intended by the anonymous poet as another oblique suggestion pertaining to the midnight tryst.  Coincidentally, one of the most famous XV century composers of villancicos was Juan Encina – and I wonder if  it is possible that it was he who wrote the poem.

When I first read this poem, I immediately felt that the Ilex tree held a significance beyond its being merely a convenient shelter for a young girl on a pilgrimage, who had lost her way.  Two references jumped out at me, the first by Ovid, and the second by Robert Graves. According to Graves, the Holm Oak stands for the eighth month of the druid calendar and the letter ‘T’ in the druidic tree alphabet. The letter ‘T’ signifies the cross, or the gibbet and has connotations of human sacrifice in the old religion, although here, happily it is only her virginity – and not the virgin herself – which is ‘sacrificed.’

These things suggest to me that our girl set off on her romantic adventure around midsummer – a warm time of year, perfect for a ‘pilgrimage’ in the mountains, particularly if one also has to sleep outdoors.

Ovid tells us that Artemis the wild huntress and her virgin band of hamdryades cooled themselves  at midday in a pool hidden by a thicket of Ilex. When the women disrobed before entering the water, one of the Goddess’s companions, Callisto the princess of Arcadia, was seen to be pregnant. She was expelled from the group for her indiscretion, and was later turned into a bear by Hera. She can be seen in the night sky as one of the stars in the always bright constellation of Ursa Major.

Acorns were also thought to be the food of the Arcadians (who were the descendants of Callisto’s son Arkas) – and bears.  Callisto was of course seduced by Zeus, and she may not have been completely willing, since there is little to suggest that the women Zeus ravished consented in any way, and not surprisingly these seductions had little to do with either love or romance.

I felt intuitively that the poem was about a virgin with her first lover – which the Arcadian episode appeared to support. The young girl in the villancico, under the pretext of going on a pilgrimage, appears to have turned in a different direction, with the intention of keeping an assignation with her lover. But even if the meeting had not been planned (improbable but possible,) her apparently religious motivation turns out to have  had a decidedly secular outcome.

The girl has  contrived a good  cover story for her sly ‘accidentally on purpose’ rendezvous,  and is careful to appear blameless when she  returns home and recounts the details of her ‘pilgrimage’ to her mother. She couches  it in terms of a ‘mishap,’ which, is designed to preserve her innocence, if not her modesty.

It seems evident to me she is an adventuresome girl – intelligent, enterprising – and bold enough to wish to travel alone.  She experiences her life in  concrete terms – of  external events, circumstances and she gives us no advance notice of her own intentions. She expresses no doubts or fears or speculations, and this absence of interiority gives the poem  much of its straightforwardness, clarity and honesty.

The girl seems to have planned her journey so as to reach the Ilex tree at dusk, and was prepared to wait there alone in the thickening darkness  until her lover came to meet her.

In older times, Midsummer was after all, the time for romantic revelry and magical evocations. Even Shakespeare capitalised on the associations of this uncanny season to provide the context of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Even the word ‘midsummer’ has something quite magical about it, and saying the words ‘summer night’ alone can cast the first tinge of a spell upon a previously clear mind.

I wondered about the landscape of this poem – and the image that formed in my mind was of a scrubby hillside dotted with clumps of Ilex, with one tree that stood apart from the others. This was the place chosen by our girl for her assignation. Was there a moon? Was the night dark? could she see the sky through the branches and watch as the summer constellations  wheeled their arcs across the heavens?  She must have had a simple supper – probably consisting of bread and olives and perhaps some cheese. Was there a stream nearby where she could refresh herself and take a drink?  She must have sat there quietly in the darkness, with her cloak drawn close about her, listening to the insects and waiting until midnight.

Though the Italian translation of this poem suggests a male paramour, the Spanish does not. Accustomed habits of interpretation would have her lover be a male – but I do not feel constrained by habitual interpretations, and in my mind, she waits for another girl. She must have strained her ears listening for a footfall, and then a voice.

The meeting is described as a fiat – at midnight she suddenly finds herself in the arms of ‘the one she loves best.’ Everything just ‘happened,’ with no apparent agency on her part. But Summer nights are brief, and when dawn comes lovers, despite their reluctance to do so, must separate. When the sky begins to colour she is alone again – the pilgrimage is finished, and she must go back home.

What were her thoughts on the way home? Was this her only encounter? We hope not, because she is still a young girl when she tells her mother about the pilgrimage, being careful to not incriminate herself, and yet unable to suppress her sense of joy and exultation. Not all love-stories have happy endings, but somehow the sheer effrontery that went into the planning and execution of this meeting lets me believe that there were other meetings – other pilgrimages – and that in this way at least, her hopes and aspirations for love found their fulfillment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Italian Translation

Sotto il leccio, leccio     
sotto il leccio

Andavo, madre,
in pellegrinaggio:
per andare più devota
andai senza compagnia,
sotto il leccio.

 

Per andare più devota
andai senza compagnia,
presi un’altra strada
lasciai il percorso che fui.

Mi smarrii ai piedi
di una montagna,
mi misi a dormire
ai piedi del leccio.

A mezzanotte
mi svegliai,
misera, mi trovai
tra le braccia
di chi amavo di più,
sotto il leccio.

 

Mi dispiacque, misera,
che albeggiava,
perché godevo
di chi amavo di più,
sotto il leccio.

Benedetto sia
questo pellegrinaggio,
sotto il leccio.

 

 

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“And now (as they say in Monty Python’s Flying Circus) for something completely different.”

Carnatic music is the classical music of South India. It has several things in common with North Indian or Hindustani music in that both musical systems are strictly modal and share the 22 note microtonal scale. Both Carnatic and Hindustani music have some Ragas or modes in common, as well as some ‘talas’ or rhythm cycles, but they are now widely divergent in style, their differences having begun to emerge about 800 years ago when North India became susceptible to Persian influences by way of the Moghuls.

Carnatic music rests firmly on a devotional foundation. The compositions are predominantly vocal rather than instrumental and are vehicles of devotional fervour, expressing love, respect, familiarity, passion, friendship, playfulness and admiration for the divine in the context of the familiar relationship cultivated by devotional Hindus, between human beings and the divine. The attitude towards the divine can be plaintive, joyous, teasing, praising, indulgent, philosophical or complaining – and much more.

The vast majority of Carnatic compositions are ‘krithis,’ or devotional songs  are based on established structures, but some forms such as ‘thillanas’ are purely rhythmic, with no lyrical content. They are usually played at the conclusion of evening recitals in order to leave the listener in a state of  joyous upliftment and exhilaration.

I have chosen several popular ragas/modes, in the assumption that they will sound less strange and foreign (than some others) to the western ear, but I have also included a couple of slightly atonal ragas, because of their cleansing astringent quality, and their tendency to induce a more active attitude of listing. The raga in the mode of Revati is one of my favourites, because Revati is the name of the lunar asterism in my horoscope, and it refers to the constellation of the Pleiades.

Typically ragas are thought to correspond to and  induce moods and conditions  – even to influence the weather – and are specific to certain seasons and times of day and night. All these factors of course lead to innumerable permutations and combinations dear to the taxonomically inclined mind typical of South Indian thinking and philosophy.

I have included here krithis – with one exception – which are addressed to the divine in the form of the Goddess, invoking and evoking several of her aspects and manifestations. The exception is “Theertha Vilayatu Pillai”, meaning something like “incorrigibly playful boy”, which is addressed to Krishna. I include this as an example of how krithis sometimes express complex religious and philosophical beliefs and attitudes in deceptively simple ways. The composer frames the song in the context of a girl complaining to her friend about Krishna’s  playful and annoying antics. This places all three –  god in human form, devotee and her friend –  in relation to each other as playmates.

The first ‘verse’ of this particular krithi (the anupallavi)  expresses a particularly profound concept, wrapped up in a sweet and playful incident – when Krisna offers a fruit to a girl, snatches it back when it is half eaten, and bites it himself, and then returns it.

Traditionally food which is offered to god (before it is ever tasted) is called ‘prasad’, and is believed to be imbued and infused with divine qualities, so that partaking of such food is a powerful blessing. When Krishna takes a bite, the fruit becomes ‘prasad’, which is a sort of transubstantiation.  When he takes back the fruit after the girl has begun to eat it and takes another bite, he ignores and violates  the strong food taboos against eating food tasted by others. Only intimate familiars such as mothers and children or lovers or spouses share food in this way. By this simple act Krishna shows himself to be the intimate darling of his devotees, and he erases and ignores all that separates himself as a divinity and his beloved human friend. He shows himself to be humble and loving, while at the same time conferring his  divine blessing in a covert unpretentious way.

I might be excused if I  indulge in an interesting digression, in order to  include a little information about the composer of this Krithi, the renowned Tamil poet Subramaniya Bharathi who is one of my favourites. His poems are extremely fresh and naturalistic, free of artifice and unnecessary cleverness, yet – or perhaps therefore –  deep, evocative and powerful. Bharathi came from a Bhramin family, but he firmly rejected caste distinctions. He agitated against the British and had to spend some time in remand due to his nationalistic sentiments. In the significantly, I think, posed photograph shown here, he stands beside his seated wife (very uncharacteristic for an Indian man of his era) and his youngest daughter (a proud and dignified looking little girl!)  is seated while the older sons and daughter stand behind, with both boys standing the furthest back.

If we were to conclude by this that Bharathi cherished feminist sentiments, we would be quite right. He was a fervent believer in women’s rights, particularly the right of women to have an education, and to treated as equals. His misfortune was that he remained poor for most of his peripatetic life, and had great difficulty supporting his family. Bharathi left home shortly after his marriage  to begin his wanderings and his young wife (she was seven and he fourteen when they were married) spent most of her life with her parents.

I decided against including transliterations and translations of the lyrics for the rest of the krithis here because of the depth and extent of explanation that would be involve in order to make them comprehensible. Krithis are very densely allusive, and to understand them one has to know the stories behind them about their subject – the incidents, names, attributes, significance,  etc.,  of the god or goddess, and all the subtle conceptual play that goes into the composer’s creation. Carnatic composers create both music and lyrics, and choose the appropriate ‘tala’ to accompany the composition.

Krithis are usually composed in the South Indian languages of Tamil and Telugu, but also in Sanskrit, and less often in Malayalam.  This post contains Tamil and Sanskrit krithis.When you hear the line of a song repeated, it is in order to demonstrate the variations permitted in the protocol of raga, and therefore the singers and the composer’s virtuosity.

Likewise when you hear the syllable Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni sung in various combinations, (for instance in “Mamavathu Sri Saraswathi”)  you are hearing Carnatic ‘solfeggi’ – which serves to show the groups of notes which bring out the character of a particular raga. Sometimes these notes are combined to form words, which then have the effect of puns. For those who wish to explore this complex subject, there are several resources available on the internet. Unfortunately I know no intelligible English language books on the subject.

The singers featured here, Sowmya and Sudha Raghunathan, are two of my particular favourites, and they have very different and individual styles voices, but both are very traditional, and both are elite and expert Carnatic singers. The style of singing is one that originates in the throat rather than the chest or diaphragm or head, as we are used to hearing in western music, and it can take a little getting used to.

If readers wish to enlarge upon this very brief and sketchy introduction to Carnatic music, they are welcome to do so in the comments.

 

 

 

Mamavathu Sri Saraswathi

Raga Hindolam


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Devi Neeye Thunai

Raga Keeravani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Himagiri Thanaye

Raga Suddha Dhanyasi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tripurasundari

Raga Sama,


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sumanasa Vanditha

Raga Revathi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pahimam Parvathi

Raga Mohanam (said to be the most ancient of all Ragas)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sri Chakra Raja

(Multiple Ragas referred to as ‘Ragamalika’ or Garland of Ragas)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Annapoorne

Raga Sama

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unnai Allaal

Raga Kalyani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pahi Nikhila Janani

Raga Naata

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anandamrutha  Karshini

Raga Amrutha Varshini

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarasamukhi

Raga Gowdamalhar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theeratha Vilayattu Pillai

By Subramaniya Bharathi

Chinnaswami Subramaniya Bharathi (December 11, 1882 – September 11, 1921)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pallavi

( Raga Sindhu Bhairavi)                           
Theeratha vilayatu pillai , Kannan,
Theruvile pengalukku oyatha thollai

Anupallavi
Thinna pazham kondu tharuvan-pathi
Thingindra pothinile thatti parippan,
Yennappan yennayyan yendral athanai,
Echir paduthi kadithu koduppan.

Charanam

(Raga Khamas)

1.Azhagulla malar kondu vande –yennai,
Azha azha cheythu pin , kannai moodi kol,
Kuzhalile chootuven , yenban, Yennai ,
Kurudaki malarinai thozhikku vaipan,

(Raga Shanmugapriya)
2.Pinnalai pinnindru izhuppan-thalai,
Pinne thirumbu munne chendru maraivan,
Vanna puthu chelai thanile –puzhuthi ,
Vari chorinthe varuthi kulaippan.

(Raga Maand)
3.Pullanguzhal kondu varuvan-amudhu,
Pongi thathumbum geetham padippan,
Kallal mayanguvathu pole adai,
Kan moodi vay thirandhe ketpom.

 

 

 

P.R. Ramachander’s  English translation, with some minor adaptations.

Pallavi (opening stanza,)
Krishna is an ever playful boy,
And girls in the streets are in endless trouble

Anupallavi (theme)
He would give fruits to eat but then
When half-eaten, he would snatch them away.
If we say my lord and my darling, then he would,                       
Bite them himself and give them back.

Charanam (unifying composition)
1. He would bring very pretty flowers,
And after making me weep and then cry,
He’d say “close your eyes, I’ll set them in your hair”
And once my eyes were shut he’d give them to my friend.

2. He would pull my braid from behind,
And before I turn, he would hide in front of me.
In the new bright coloured sari that I wear,
He would raise dust on it and spoil it.

3. He would bring a flute and play,
A song dripping with nectar,
Which would make us close our eyes, and open our mouths
And seem as if we had passed out drunk with wine.

Thillana

Raga Hamsadhwani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Juan Boscán Almogáver (1490?–September 21, 1542)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh Sombra                                            

Como aquel que en soñar gusto recibe,
su gusto procediendo de locura,
así el imaginar con su figura
vanamente su gozo en mí concibe.

 

Otro bien en mí, triste, no se escribe,
si no es aquel que en mi pensar procura;
de cuanto ha sido hecho en mi ventura
lo sólo imaginado es lo que vive.

 

Teme mi corazón de ir adelante,
viendo estar su dolor puesto en celada;
y así revuelve atrás en un instante

a contemplar su gloria ya pasada.
¡Oh sombra de remedio inconstante,
ser en mí lo mejor lo que no es nada
Oh Shadow

Like one receiving pleasure from a dream,
his pleasure thus proceeding from delusion,
so does imagination with illusions
conceive in vain its happiness in me.

 

No other good’s inscribed on my sad heart,
except what in my thoughts I might procure;
of all the good I ever have endured,
what lives is only the imagined part.

 

My heart is frightened to proceed ahead,
seeing that its pain in ambush lies;
and so after a moment it turns back

 

 

 

to contemplate those glories that have fled.
Oh, shadow of relief, that fickle flies,
to make what’s best in me be what I lack!

© 1995 Alix Ingber

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soneto CXI                                              

Soy como aquel que vive en el desierto,
del mundo y de sus cosas olvidado,
y a descuido veis donde le ha llegado
un gran amigo, al cual tuvo por muerto.

 

Teme luego de un caso tan incierto;
pero, después que bien se ha asegurado,
comienza a holgar pensando en lo pasado,
con nuevos sentimientos muy despierto.

 

 

Mas cuando ya este amigo se le parte,
al cual partirse presto le conviene,
la soledad empieza a selle nueva;

 

 

con las yerbas del monte no se aviene,
para el yermo le falta toda el arte,
y tiembla cada vez que entra en su cueva.

 

 

 

 

Sonnet 111

I am like one who in a desert bides
Forgotten by the world and its concerns,
By chance encounter suddenly who learns
A dear friend lives, whom he supposed had died.

 

He fears at first this doubtful apparition,
But finding it then reliable and assured,
Commences to recall his past condition
By newly awakened sentiments allured

 

 

But when it’s time for friend and friend to part
Since to be parted soon he must consent
He finds old solitude stamped with new indent.    

 

 

To mountain grass he must then reconcile,
And barren wastes which lack a trace of art,
Trembling each time he enters his cave the while.

 

 

Translation Dia Tsung

 

 

 

 

 

I wonder if  Juan Boscán, who together with his close friend  Garcilaso de la Vega, (their poems were jointly published) initiated the  the Siglo de Oro in Spain, might be surprised to find  his poem resurrected and set to music under the title “O Sombra”  by the British all woman group Electrelane.

Chance couplings such as this never cease to astonish me.

It happened like this: I had been looking on the internet for a copy of the original (unnamed and unnumbered) Boscán sonnet in order to post it in this blog along with my translation, when I stumbled upon the text with the title  “Oh Sombra.” – which turned out to be a song.

I listened to the song, and found the music unusual and engaging.

I soon discovered that the lyrics to the song were the identical with the text of Boscán’s sonnet, and that Spanish text/lyric came accompanied by an extraordinarily literate (and uncredited) translation, which showed up in site after site where song lyrics are posted.

As soon as I read this translation I gave up the idea of doing my own, since it was abundantly clear to me that I could by no means improve upon it.  I was wondering how to credit the work,  in the absence of a translator’s name, and decided  I must continue searching, and so came across a site containing Spanish poems with English Translations.

There I found that the translation had been made by Alix Ingber, who is Professor Emerita of Spanish at Sweet Briar College.

I respectfully credit professor Engber for her inspired translation of Boscán’s sonnet.

I retained Electrelane’s title “Oh Sombra”  because in seemed to me to fit the poem well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More from Electrelane.

 

 

 

 

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juan_Bosc%C3%A1n_Almog%C3%A1ver

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrelane

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Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (28 May 1925 – 18 May 2012)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Franz Peter Schubert (31 January 1797 – 19 November 1828)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An die Entfernte

So hab ich wirklich dich verloren?                  
Bist du, o [Schöne]1, mir entflohn?
Noch klingt in den gewohnten Ohren
Ein jedes Wort, ein jeder Ton.

 

So wie des Wandrers Blick am Morgen
Vergebens in die Lüfte dringt,
Wenn, in dem blauen Raum verborgen,
Hoch über ihm die Lerche singt:

 

So dringet ängstlich hin und wieder
Durch Feld und Busch und Wald mein Blick;
Dich rufen alle meine Lieder;
O komm, Geliebte, mir zurück.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
(28 August 1749 – 22 March 1832)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To the Distant One                                    

So have I truly lost you?
Have you, o fair one, fled from me?
Yet still I can hear in my accustomed ears
Every word, every tone of your voice.

Just as the wanderer’s gaze in the morning
Searchingly pierces the heavens in vain
When, concealed in the blue expanse
High above, the lark sings to him:

So does my gaze anxiously search here and there,
Through field and bush and forest,
Singing to you through all my songs,
O come, my darling, back to me!

Translation from German to English copyright © Emily Ezust

 

 

Der Jüngling an der Quelle

Leise rieselnder Quell!                        
Ihr wallenden flispernden Pappeln!
Euer Schlummergeräusch
Wecket die Liebe nur auf.

 

 

 

 

Linderung sucht’ ich bei euch
Und sie zu vergessen, die Spröde.
Ach, und Blätter und Bach
Seufzen, [Luise] Dir nach!

Johann Gaudenz Freiherr von Salis-Seewis
(December 26 1762 – January 29 1834)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Youth and the Spring

Softly rippling spring!                           
Ye wind-toss’d and rustling poplars!
Thy whispered sounds of slumber
Do but waken my love.

‘Twas comfort I’d sought from thee,
And her coldness I’d thought to forget;
Ah, and yet brook and leaves
Still sigh, Louise, for thee!
Louise! Louise!


English version ©2010, E. Lein

 

 

 

 

Nachtgesang

O gib, vom weichen Pfühle,     
Träumend, ein halb Gehör!
Bei meinem Saitenspiele
Schlafe! was willst du mehr?

 

 

Bei meinem Saitenspiele
Segnet der Sterne Heer
Die ewigen Gefühle;
Schlafe! was willst du mehr?

 

 

Die ewigen Gefühle
Heben mich, hoch und hehr,
Aus irdischem Gewühle;        
Schlafe! was willst du mehr?

 

Vom irdischen Gewühle
Trennst du mich nur zu sehr,
Bannst mich in deine Kühle;
Schlafe! was willst du mehr?

 

 

Bannst mich in diese Kühle,
Gibst nur im Traum Gehör.
Ach, auf dem weichen Pfühle
Schlafe! was willst du mehr?

Ludwig Gotthard Theobul Kosegarten,
(February 1 1758 – October 26 1818)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night Singing

O give, dreaming from your soft pillow,
half an ear to me!
To my lute’s playing
you sleep! what more do you want?

 

To my lute’s playing
the set of stars blesses
eternal feelings;
you sleep! what more do you want?

 

Those eternal feelings
lift me sublimely high,
away from the earthly crowd;
you sleep! what more do you want?

 

Away from the earthly crowd
you sever me only too abruptly,
entrance me in this cool place;
you sleep! what more do you want?

 

You entrance me in this cool place,
give me your ear only in your dreams.
Ah, on your soft pillow
you sleep! what more do you want?

 

 

Translation from German to English copyright © Emily Ezust

 

 

 

 

Der Winterabend

Es ist so still, so heimlich um mich.                        
Die Sonn ist unten, der Tag entwich.
Wie schnell nun heran der Abend graut.
Mir ist es recht, sonst ist mir’s zu laut.
Jetzt aber ist’s ruhig, es hämmert kein Schmied,
Kein Klempner, das Volk verlief, und ist müd.
Und selbst, daß nicht rassle der Wagen Lauf,
Zog Decken der Schnee durch die Gassen auf.

Wie tut mir so wohl der selige Frieden!
Da sitz ich im Dunkel, ganz abgeschieden.
So ganz für mich. Nur der Mondenschein
Kommt leise zu mir ins Gemach [herein]1.
Er kennt mich schon und läßt mich schweigen.
Nimmt nur seine Arbeit, die Spindel, das Gold,
Und spinnet stille, webt, und lächelt hold,
Und hängt dann sein schimmerndes Schleiertuch
Ringsum an Gerät und Wänden aus.

Ist gar ein stiller, ein lieber Besuch,         
Macht mir gar keine Unruh im Haus.
Will er bleiben, so hat er Ort,
Freut’s ihn nimmer, so geht er fort.

Ich sitze dann stumm in Fenster gern,
Und schaue hinauf in Gewölk und Stern.
Denke zurück, ach weit, gar weit,
In eine schöne, verschwundne Zeit.
Denk an sie, an das Glück der Minne,
Seufze still und sinne, und sinne.

Karl Gottfried Ritter von Leitner (November 18, 1800 – June 20, 1890)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Evening

It is so still and secret around me;                                    
The sun has set, the day is gone.
How quickly now the evening grows gray!
It’s fine with me: the day is too noisy for me.
Now though, it is quiet: no blacksmith is hammering,
no tinsmith; the people have gone away, weary.
And, so that the wagons don’t rattle on their way,
a blanket of snow has covered the streets.

How well I like this blissful peace!
Here I sit in the dark, entirely isolated.
So complete in myself. Only the moonlight
Comes softly into my room.
It knows me well, and allows me to be quiet.
It only takes up its work, the spindle, the gold,
And spins and weaves, smiling kindly,
And then it hangs its shimmering veil
about the furniture and walls;


It is a quiet, dear visitor,
Making no disturbance in the house.
If it wishes to remain, there is room;
If it does not like it here, then it goes away.

 

I sit then at the window, gladly silent,
and watch the clouds and stars outside.
I think back, alas, far, far back,
to a lovely, vanished time.
I think on it, on the happiness of love,
And sigh quietly, thinking and feeling.

 

 

 

 

 Sei Mir Gegrüßt

O du Entrißne mir und meinem Kusse,        
Sei mir gegrüßt, sei mir geküßt!
Erreichbar nur meinem Sehnsuchtsgruße,
Sei mir gegrüßt, sei mir geküßt!

 

Du von der Hand der Liebe diesem Herzen
Gegebne, du von dieser Brust
Genommne mir! mit diesem Tränengusse
Sei mir gegrüßt, sei mir geküßt!

 

Du von der Hand der Liebe diesem Herzen
Gegebne, du von dieser Brust
Genommne mir! mit diesem Tränengusse
Sei mir gegrüßt, sei mir geküßt!

 

Wie du mir je im schönsten Lenz der Liebe  
Mit Gruß und Kuß entgegenkamst,
Mit meiner Seele glühendstem Ergusse
Sei mir gegrüßt, sei mir geküßt!

 

Ein Hauch der Liebe tilget Räum’ und Zeiten,
Ich bin bei dir, du bist bei mir,
Ich halte dich in dieses Arms Umschlusse,
Sei mir gegrüßt, sei mir geküßt!

 

Karl Gottfried Ritter von Leitner (November 18, 1800 – June 20, 1890)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Greet You

O you, who have been snatched from me and my kiss,
I greet you, I kiss you!
Reached only by my yearning greetings,
you I greet, you I kiss!

 

You, given by the hand of love to this heart,
you, who from my breast
have been taken! With these flooding tears
I greet you, I kiss you.

 

Defying the distance that fiendishly separates us
and lies between you and me –
to irritate the envious powers of fate,
I greet you, I kiss you!

 

Just as you always did in the fairest spring-time of love,
coming to greet me with a kiss,
so now, with my soul a glowing flood,
I greet you, I kiss you!

 

A breath of love erases space and time;
I am with you, you are with me,
I hold you in these arms, embracing you;
I greet you, I kiss you!

 

 

Translation from German to English copyright © Emily Ezust

 

 

 

 
Das Lied im Grünen


Ins Grüne, ins Grüne,                                              
Da lockt uns der Frühling, der liebliche Knabe,
Und führt uns am blumenumwundenen Stabe
Hinaus, wo die Lerchen und Amseln so wach,
In Wälder, auf Felder, auf Hügel zum Bach,
Ins Grüne, ins Grüne.

Im Grünen, im Grünen,
Da lebt es sich wonnig, da wandeln wir gerne
Und heften die Augen dahin schon von ferne,
Und wie wir so wandeln mit heiterer Brust,
Umwallet uns immer die kindliche Lust,
Im Grünen, im Grünen.

Im Grünen, im Grünen,
Da ruht man so wohl, empfindet so Schönes,
Und denket behaglich an dieses und jenes,
Und zaubert von hinnen, ach, was uns bedrückt,
Und alles herbei, was den Busen entzückt,
Im Grünen, im Grünen.

Im Grünen, im Grünen,
Da werden die Sterne so klar wie die Weisen
Der Vorwelt zur Leitung des Lebens uns preisen,
Da streichen die Wölkchen so zart uns dahin,
Da heitern die Herzen, da klärt sich der Sinn
Im Grünen, im Grünen.

Im Grünen, im Grünen,
Da wurde manch Plänchen auf Flügeln getragen,
Die Zukunft der grämlichen Ansicht entschlagen,
Da stärkt sich das Auge, da labt sich der Blick,
Sanft wiegen die Wünsche sich hin und zurück
Im Grünen, im Grünen.                                              

Im Grünen, im Grünen,
Am Morgen am Abend in traulicher Stille
Da wurde manch Liedchen und manche Idylle,*
Gedichet, gespielt, mit Vergnügen und Schmerz*
Denn leicht ist die Lockung, empfänglich das Herz
Im Grünen, im Grünen.

O gerne im Grünen
Bin ich schon als Knabe und Jüngling gewesen
Und habe gelernt und geschrieben, gelesen
Im Horaz und Plato, dann Wieland und Kant,
Und glühenden Herzens mich selig genannt,
Im Grünen, im Grünen.

Ins Grüne, ins Grüne,
Laßt heiter uns folgen dem freundlichen Knaben.
Grünt eins uns das Leben nicht förder, so haben
Wir klüglich die grünende Zeit nicht versäumt,
Und wann es gegolten, doch glücklich geträumt,
Im Grünen, im Grünen

In lieu of an image of Johann Anton Friedrich Reil (February 2 1773 – July 22 1843)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Song of the Greenwood                      

To the greenwood!
That darling youth, Spring, invites us,
leading us on with his flower-decked staff
to where the larks and thrushes sing,
to the woods, the fields, the hills, the brook-
to the greenwood!
In the greenwood
life is bliss, and we love to roam;
even from a distance our eyes are fixed on it.
As we wander there with merry hearts,
a childlike pleasure surrounds our hearts,
in the greenwood!
In the greenwood
where our rest is so sweet, and our feelings so fine;
where we gently muse on this and that,                     
our cares are charmed away,
and the heart rejoices,
in the greenwood!
In the greenwood
how bright shine the stars,
those guiding lights of the wise men of old;
the little clouds drift gently by,
our hearts are light, our senses clear,
in the greenwood!
In the greenwood
our little plans and ideas take wing
and the future looks bright.
Our eyes are refreshed and our gaze serene,
we dally with our fancies,
in the greenwood!                                                        
In the greenwood,
in the intimate stillness of morning and evening,
how many songs and poems have been born,
and Hymen often crowns the poetic pleasure
for light is the spirit and the heart is willing
in the greenwood!
In the greenwood
I loved to be as a young boy
and I learned, and wrote, and read
Horace and Plato, later Wieland and Kant,
and with glowing heart counted myself blessed
in the greenwood.
To the greenwood
let us gladly follow the friendly lad.
Though one day life will no longer be green,
we will not have wasted the green years,
we at least will have enjoyed our dreams while they lasted
in the greenwood.

In Memorium: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (28 May 1925 – 18 May 2012)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/may/18/dietrich-fischer-dieskau

http://www.npr.org/2012/05/23/153380639/remembering-baritone-dietrich-fischer-dieskau

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Sarah Trevor Teasdale (August 8, 1884 – January 29, 1933)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is clear from her writing that Sarah Teasdale did not find that life lived up to her expectations. She seems always to be reaching for something that eludes her grasp. She did not find the kind of love she sought, and though she was convinced it should, the beauty of the world which so transported her was not enough to fill her heart and soothe her soul.

The consistent lyrical quality of her poetry cannot disguise a ceaseless, restless searching and yearning after the love she dreams of having – a love which is strong and satisfying, and a lover who can enter and share her inner world.

Teasdale’s poetry has a flowing quality to it. It is clear and unpretentious, and completely without artifice. But despite her poems’ simple beauty, they express a complex inner-struggle – a ceaseless striving to come to terms with life and to find a resolution for the sense of unease that underlies the seeming tranquility of her world. The quality of lightness which allows us to read poem after poem without sense of surfeit or tiredness, leads us into an inner world where the legitimate themes of Poetry, love, death, and the changing of the seasons, carry us inward into an atmosphere of uncertainty and doubt.

Nature seems to be a mask which covers a sense of unease and dissatisfaction –  and whenever a poem occasionally settles itself into an apparently pleasing conclusion, one feels that it cannot be trusted  or relied upon to either endure or to satisfy.

The poems I have included here are deceptive in their straightforwardness, because just below the surface is a complicated and nuanced ambiguity about the sensual and sexual nature of love and desire. Genteel and dated though they may seem, and therefore dismissible to readers who have a taste for sophisticated poetical constructions,  a closer examination of these poems shows that they meet all the criteria of genuine lyrical poetry, in theme, content and purpose. They are a serious commentary on the human condition as it pertains to  the mysterious conflicts inherent in love. They are not trivial in the least; they are serious delvings into the  workings of the human heart.

Whether the root of Teasdale’s problems was social or personal or physical we cannot know for certain, but the psychological pain which bleeds through almost all these poem–at least in the final twist–cannot be denied, and it confers a sense of authenticity and dignity to her predicament.

These poems are anything but light, and woven in them we find a riddle and a puzzle which resists a simple solution. They have to be read and understood in the light of the same ambivalence which led Teasdale to love life, and yet, in the end, at the early age of 48, to reject it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Do I Care

 

What do I care, in the dreams and the languor of spring,
That my songs do not show me at all?
For they are a fragrance, and I am a flint and a fire,
I am an answer, they are only a call.

 

But what do I care, for love will be over so soon,
Let my heart have its say and my mind stand idly by,
For my mind is proud and strong enough to be silent,
It is my heart that makes my songs, not I.

 

 

Alone

I am alone, in spite of love,                                 
In spite of all I take and give –
In spite of all your tenderness,
Sometimes I am not glad to live.

I am alone, as though I stood
On the highest peak of the tired gray world,
About me only swirling snow,
Above me, endless space unfurled;

With earth hidden and heaven hidden,
And only my own spirit’s pride
To keep me from the peace of those
Who are not lonely, having died

Change

Remember me as I was then;                             
Turn from me now, but always see
The laughing shadowy girl who stood
At midnight by the flowering tree,
With eyes that love had made as bright
As the trembling stars of the summer night.

Turn from me now, but always hear
The muted laughter in the dew
Of that one year of youth we had,
The only youth we ever knew –
Turn from me now, or you will see
What other years have done to me.

Come     

                                                       

Come, when the pale moon like a petal
Floats in the pearly dusk of spring,
Come with arms outstretched to take me,
Come with lips pursed up to cling.

Come, for life is a frail moth flying,
Caught in the web of the years that pass,
And soon we two, so warm and eager,
Will be as the gray stones in the grass.

 

 

 

 

Dew

As dew leaves the cobweb lightly       
Threaded with stars,
Scattering jewels on the fence
And the pasture bars;
As dawn leaves the dry grass bright
And the tangled weeds
Bearing a rainbow gem
On each of their seeds;
So has your love, my lover,
Fresh as the dawn,
Made me a shining road
To travel on,
Set every common sight
Of tree or stone
Delicately alight
For me alone.

 

 

Driftwood                                              

My forefathers gave me
My spirit’s shaken flame,
The shape of hands, the beat of heart,
The letters of my name.

But it was my lovers,
And not my sleeping sires,
Who gave the flame its changeful
And iridescent fires;

As the driftwood burning
Learned its jeweled blaze
From the sea’s blue splendor
Of colored nights and days.

 

 

Dust                                                                               

When I went to look at what had long been hidden,
A jewel laid long ago in a secret place,
I trembled, for I thought to see its dark deep fire –
But only a pinch of dust blew up in my face.

 

 

I almost gave my life long ago for a thing
That has gone to dust now, stinging my eyes –
It is strange how often a heart must be broken
Before the years can make it wise.

 

 

Ebb Tide

When the long day goes by                     
And I do not see your face,
The old wild, restless sorrow
Steals from its hiding place.

My day is barren and broken,
Bereft of light and song,
A sea beach bleak and windy
That moans the whole day long.

To the empty beach at ebb tide,
Bare with its rocks and scars,
Come back like the sea with singing,
And light of a million stars.

 

Embers

I said, “My youth is gone               
Like a fire beaten out by the rain,
That will never sway and sing
Or play with the wind again.”

I said, “It is no great sorrow
That quenched my youth in me,
But only little sorrows
Beating ceaselessly.”

I thought my youth was gone,
But you returned —
Like a flame at the call of the wind
It leaped and burned;

Threw off its ashen cloak,
And gowned anew
Gave itself like a bride
Once more to you.

 

Faces

People that I meet and pass                     
In the city’s broken roar,
Faces that I lose so soon
And have never found before,

Do you know how much you tell
In the meeting of our eyes,
How ashamed I am, and sad
To have pierced your poor disguise?

Secrets rushing without sound
Crying from your hiding places –
Let me go, I cannot bear
The sorrow of the passing faces.

–  People in the restless street,
Can it be, oh can it be
In the meeting of our eyes
That you know as much of me?

 

Gifts                                       

 

I gave my first love laughter,
I gave my second tears,
I gave my third love silence
Through all the years.

 

My first love gave me singing,
My second eyes to see,
But oh, it was my third love
Who gave my soul to me.

 

Gray Eyes                                  

It was April when you came
The first time to me,
And my first look in your eyes
Was like my first look at the sea.

We have been together
Four Aprils now
Watching for the green
On the swaying willow bough;

Yet whenever I turn
To your gray eyes over me,
It is as though I looked
For the first time at the sea.

 

Houses of Dreams

You took my empty dreams                        
And filled them every one
With tenderness and nobleness,
April and the sun.

The old empty dreams
Where my thoughts would throng
Are far too full of happiness
To even hold a song.

Oh, the empty dreams were dim
And the empty dreams were wide,
They were sweet and shadowy houses
Where my thoughts could hide.

But you took my dreams away
And you made them all come true –
My thoughts have no place now to play,
And nothing now to do.

I Shall Not Care                                         

When I am dead and over me bright April
Shakes out her rain-drenched hair,
Though you should lean above me broken-hearted,
I shall not care.

I shall have peace, as leafy trees are peaceful
When rain bends down the bough,
And I shall be more silent and cold-hearted
Than you are now.

 

 

 

 

I Would Live in Your Love                                              

 

 

I would live in your love as the sea-grasses live in the sea,
Borne up by each wave as it passes, drawn down by each wave that recedes;
I would empty my soul of the dreams that have gathered in me,
I would beat with your heart as it beats, I would follow your soul
as it leads.

 

 

 

 

 

If Death Is Kind                                                                       

Perhaps if Death is kind, and there can be returning,
We will come back to earth some fragrant night,
And take these lanes to find the sea, and bending
Breathe the same honeysuckle, low and white.

We will come down at night to these resounding beaches
And the long gentle thunder of the sea,
Here for a single hour in the wide starlight
We shall be happy, for the dead are free.

 

 

Jewels                                                    

If I should see your eyes again,
I know how far their look would go –
Back to a morning in the park
With sapphire shadows on the snow.

Or back to oak trees in the spring
When you unloosed my hair and kissed
The head that lay against your knees
In the leaf shadow’s amethyst.

And still another shining place
We would remember — how the dun
Wild mountain held us on its crest
One diamond morning white with sun.

But I will turn my eyes from you
As women turn to put away
The jewels they have worn at night
And cannot wear in sober day.

 

Message

I heard a cry in the night,            
A thousand miles it came,
Sharp as a flash of light,
My name, my name!

 

 

It was your voice I heard,
You waked and loved me so –
I send you back this word,
I know, I know!

 

 

 

 

Spring Rain                                                  

I thought I had forgotten,
But it all came back again
To-night with the first spring thunder
In a rush of rain.

I remembered a darkened doorway
Where we stood while the storm swept by,
Thunder gripping the earth
And lightning scrawled on the sky.

The passing motor buses swayed,
For the street was a river of rain,
Lashed into little golden waves
In the lamp light’s stain.

 

With the wild spring rain and thunder 
My heart was wild and gay;
Your eyes said more to me that night
Than your lips would ever say. . . .

I thought I had forgotten,
But it all came back again
To-night with the first spring thunder
In a rush of rain.

 

 

 

 

Swans                                                                        

Night is over the park, and a few brave stars
Look on the lights that link it with chains of gold,
The lake bears up their reflection in broken bars
That seem too heavy for tremulous water to hold.

We watch the swans that sleep in a shadowy place,
And now and again one wakes and uplifts its head;
How still you are — your gaze is on my face –
We watch the swans and never a word is said.

 

 

The Crystal Gazer                                                      

I shall gather myself into my self again,
I shall take my scattered selves and make them one.
I shall fuse them into a polished crystal ball
Where I can see the moon and the flashing sun.

 

I Shall sit like a sibyl, hour after hour intent.
Watching the future come and the present go –
And the little shifting pictures of people rushing
In tiny self-importance to and fro.

 

 

The Ghost                                                          

I went back to the clanging city,
I went back where my old loves stayed,
But my heart was full of my new love’s glory,
My eyes were laughing and unafraid.

 

 

I met one who had loved me madly
And told his love for all to hear —
But we talked of a thousand things together,
The past was buried too deep to fear.

 

 

I met the other, whose love was given               
With never a kiss and scarcely a word —
Oh, it was then the terror took me
Of words unuttered that breathed and stirred.

 

Oh, love that lives its life with laughter
Or love that lives its life with tears
Can die — but love that is never spoken
Goes like a ghost through the winding years. . . .

 

I went back to the clanging city,
I went back where my old loves stayed,
My heart was full of my new love’s glory, –
But my eyes were suddenly afraid.

 

The Tree

Oh to be free of myself,
With nothing left to remember, 
To have my heart as bare
As a tree in December;

Resting, as a tree rests
After its leaves are gone,
Waiting no more for a rain at night
Nor for the red at dawn;

But still, oh so still
While the winds come and go,
With no more fear of the hard frost
Or the bright burden of snow;

And heedless, heedless
If anyone pass and see
On the white page of the sky
Its thin black tracery.

 

The Unchanging                                                    

Sun-swept beaches with a light wind blowing
From the immense blue circle of the sea,
And the soft thunder where long waves whiten –
These were the same for Sappho as for me.

Two thousand years –  much has gone by forever,
Change takes the gods and ships and speech of men –
But here on the beaches that time passes over
The heart aches now as then.
The unchanging

 

 

 

The Wind in the Hemlock                           

Steely stars and moon of brass,
How mockingly you watch me pass!
You know as well as I how soon
I shall be blind to stars and moon,
Deaf to the wind in the hemlock tree,
Dumb when the brown earth weighs on me.

With envious dark rage I bear,
Stars, your cold complacent stare;
Heart-broken in my hate look up,
Moon, at your clear immortal cup,
Changing to gold from dusky red –
Age after age when I am dead
To be filled up with light, and then
Emptied, to be refilled again.

What has man done that only he     
Is slave to death – so brutally
Beaten back into the earth
Impatient for him since his birth?

Oh let me shut my eyes, close out
The sight of stars and earth and be
Sheltered a minute by this tree.
Hemlock, through your fragrant boughs
There moves no anger and no doubt,
No envy of immortal things.
The night-wind murmurs of the sea
With veiled music ceaselessly,
That to my shaken spirit sings.
From their frail nest the robins rouse,
In your pungent darkness stirred,
Twittering a low drowsy word –
And me you shelter, even me.                  
In your quietness you house
The wind, the woman and the bird.
You speak to me and I have heard:

“If I am peaceful, I shall see
Beauty’s face continually;
Feeding on her wine and bread
I shall be wholly comforted,
For she can make one day for me
Rich as my lost eternity.”

 

The Years

To-night I close my eyes and see                                
A strange procession passing me –
The years before I saw your face
Go by me with a wistful grace;
They pass, the sensitive, shy years,
As one who strives to dance, half blind with tears.

The years went by and never knew
That each one brought me nearer you;
Their path was narrow and apart
And yet it led me to your heart –
Oh, sensitive, shy years, oh, lonely years,
That strove to sing with voices drowned in tears.

 

 

 

To E

I have remembered beauty in the night,               
Against black silences I waked to see
A shower of sunlight over Italy
And green Ravello dreaming on her height;
I have remembered music in the dark,
The clean swift brightness of a fugue of Bach’s,
And running water singing on the rocks
When once in English woods I heard a lark.

But all remembered beauty is no more
Than a vague prelude to the thought of you –
You are the rarest soul I ever knew,
Lover of beauty, knightliest and best;
My thoughts seek you as waves that seek the shore,
And when I think of you, I am at rest.

 

 

Twilight                                       

Dreamily over the roofs
The cold spring rain is falling;
Out in the lonely tree
A bird is calling, calling.

 

Slowly over the earth
The wings of night are falling;
My heart like the bird in the tree
Is calling, calling, calling.

 

Water Lilies                                              

If you have forgotten water lilies floating
On a dark lake among mountains in the afternoon shade,
If you have forgotten their wet, sleepy fragrance,
Then you can return and not be afraid.

But if you remember, then turn away forever
To the plains and the prairies where pools are far apart,
There you will not come at dusk on closing water lilies,
And the shadow of mountains will not fall on your heart.

 

 

 

Did You Never Know                                                         

Did you never know, long ago, how much you loved me –
That your love would never lessen and never go?
You were young then, proud and fresh-hearted,
You were too young to know.

Fate is a wind, and red leaves fly before it
Far apart, far away in the gusty time of year –
Seldom we meet now, but when I hear you speaking,
I know your secret, my dear, my dear.

 

I am Not Yours

I am not yours, not lost in you,                
Not lost, although I long to be
Lost as a candle lit at noon,
Lost as a snowflake in the sea.

You love me, and I find you still
A spirit beautiful and bright,
Yet I am I, who long to be
Lost as a light is lost in light.

Oh plunge me deep in love – put out
My senses, leave me deaf and blind,
Swept by the tempest of your love,
A taper in a rushing wind.

 

I Have Loved Hours at Sea

I have loved hours at sea, gray cities,            
The fragile secret of a flower,
Music, the making of a poem
That gave me heaven for an hour;

First stars above a snowy hill,
Voices of people kindly and wise,
And the great look of love, long hidden,
Found at last in meeting eyes.

I have loved much and been loved deeply –
Oh when my spirit’s fire burns low,
Leave me the darkness and the stillness,
I shall be tired and glad to go.

 

Only In Sleep                                                                        

Only in sleep I see their faces,
Children I played with when I was a child,
Louise comes back with her brown hair braided,
Annie with ringlets warm and wild.

Only in sleep Time is forgotten –
What may have come to them, who can know?
Yet we played last night as long ago,
And the doll-house stood at the turn of the stair.

The years had not sharpened their smooth round faces,
I met their eyes and found them mild –
Do they, too, dream of me, I wonder,
And for them am I too a child?

 

 

A Prayer                                             

When I am dying, let me know
That I loved the blowing snow
Although it stung like whips;
That I loved all lovely things
And I tried to take their stings
With gay unembittered lips;
That I loved with all my strength,
To my soul’s full depth and length,
Careless if my heart must break,
That I sang as children sing
Fitting tunes to everything,
Loving life for its own sake.

 

 

 

A Little While                                  

A little while when I am gone
My life will live in music after me,
As spun foam lifted and borne on
After the wave is lost in the full sea.

 

 

A while these nights and days will burn
In song with the bright frailty of foam,
Living in light before they turn
Back to the nothingness that is their home

 

The Wine                                                 

I cannot die, who drank delight
From the cup of the crescent moon,
And hungrily as men eat bread
Loved the scented nights of June.

The rest may die – but is there not
Some shining strange escape for me
Who sought in Beauty the bright wine
Of immortality

 

 

 

 

 

Since There Is No Escape                               

Since there is no escape, since at the end
My body will be utterly destroyed,
This hand I love as I have loved a friend,
This body I tended, wept with and enjoyed
Since there is no escape even for me
Who love life with a love too sharp to bear:
The scent of orchards in the rain, the sea
And hours alone too still and sure for prayer –
Since darkness waits for me, then all the more
Let me go down as waves sweep to the shore
In pride; and let me sing with my last breath;
In these few hours of light I lift my head;
Life is my lover – I shall leave the dead
If there is any way to baffle death.

 

 

 

There Will Come Soft Rains                                       

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum-trees in tremulous light;
Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As reflected in her poetry, the strongest emotional relationships in Sara Teasdale’s life were with women.

Teasdale might be viewed as a casualty of the struggle between propriety and passion that marked late Victorian social mores. Born in St. Louis into a genteel middle-class family, she was overprotected by her mother, who instilled in her young daughter an anxiety about her own body–its physical inadequacy and its ailments–that was to affect both her work and her personal relationships for most of her brief life. Because of her mother’s fears, Teasdale was educated at home until she was nine, and, left to herself, she retreated into her own dreamy world; she spent hours fantasizing about the romantic possibilities of her own life. Keeping reality at a tasteful distance became a habit of her life and of her art.

Although she cultivated romantic obsessions about men, the strongest relationships in her life were with women. After completing her college education at Hosmer Hall in St. Louis, she and several other young women formed a literary association called The Potters, which published a monthly magazine, The Potter’s Wheel, in which Teasdale’s early poems appeared.

Many of her early works were addressed to particular women, whose identities were disguised. Her first major work was a set of effusive sonnets in praise of Eleonora Duse, which was included in her first collection, Sonnets to Duse and Other Poems (1907).

In 1908, Teasdale formed an intense friendship with Marion Cummings Stanley, with whom she was able for the first time to discuss matters such as her own ill health and her curiosity about sex. Their friendship temporarily released Teasdale from the constrictions of her rigid upbringing, and she commemorated it in a poem entitled “Song,” which concludes “For all my world is in your arms, / My sun and stars are you” (from Helen of Troy and Other Poems, 1911).

At the same time, Teasdale was also carrying on a correspondence that mixed flirtation and serious poetic debate with John Myers O’Hara, a young poet living in New York. This was the first of a series of passionate relationships with men that were conducted by Teasdale almost entirely from afar. They corresponded for over three years before they finally met face to face, and the meeting was a disappointment for both of them.

Teasdale traveled widely although while abroad she spent much of her time abed with one illness or another. When she settled in New York, she formed friendships with Jessie Rittenhouse (a founder of the Poetry Society) and John Hall Wheelock, another young poet, with whom she fell seriously in love. His unwillingness to commit himself to her seems to have been part of the attraction, and despite that handicap, they remained friends for the remainder of her life.

Her poetry was becoming more widely known, and generally praised, and with the publication of Rivers to the Sea (1915), she was acknowledged as a significant American writer.

Teasdale’s physical and emotional health, however, remained frail. As she approached the age of thirty, she became almost frantic to be married, and indeed at one point, she had several suitors to choose from. The poet Vachel Lindsay pursued her with passion and ardent verse, but he was too wild for her, and she settled for the businessman Ernst Filsinger, a fellow St. Louisan.

She was full of hope about this union, but in the end, she was unable to reconcile her romantic fantasies with the realities of married life. “I am not yours, not lost in you,” she wrote in a poem composed just before their wedding in 1914. And afterward, “why . . . alone for me / is there no ecstasy?” (“Midnight Rain,” 1915). She sued Filsinger for divorce in 1929.

Teasdale’s emotional life became more and more unstable, and she fell into deep depressions from which she gradually lost the will to extract herself. The poems in Flame and Shadow (1920) and Dark of the Moon (1926) are darker than her earlier, simpler lyrics, and many of them deal with her lifelong preoccupation with death.

The last great friendship of her life was with Margaret Conklin, a young student who came into Teasdale’s life in 1926 and wooed her almost like a lover. Teasdale saw in Conklin the reincarnation of herself as a child, and their relationship was profound and complex. If there was a lesbian component to it, however, it was probably unacknowledged.

In January 1933, at the age of forty-eight, weighed down by despair, Teasdale ingested a large number of sedatives and was found dead in her bathtub the following morning. Strange Victory, including a poem to Conklin, was published later that year.

Ann Wadsworth*

*Ann Wadsworth is the author of the beautifully written lesbian love story Light Coming Back  – which I think is her first and only book so far.  I keep hoping she will write another, but I am afraid I may be hoping against hope.

 

 

 

A thoughtful essay  on Sarah Teasdale

http://www.wvup.edu/rphillips/marya-z.htm

 

 

 

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Virginia Woolf (25 January 1882 – 28 March 1941)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever hour you woke there was a door shutting. From room to room they went, hand in hand, lifting here, opening there, making sure­  –  a ghostly couple.

“Here we left it,” she said. And he added, “Oh, but here too!” “It’s upstairs,” she murmured. “And in the garden,” he whispered. “Quietly,” they said, “or we shall wake them.”

But it wasn’t that you woke us. Oh, no. “They’re looking for it; they’re drawing the curtain,” one might say, and so read on a page or two. “Now they’ve found it, ” one would be certain, stopping the pencil on the margin. And then, tired of reading, one might rise and see for oneself, the house all empty, the doors standing open, only the wood pigeons bubbling with content and the hum of the threshing machine sounding from the farm. “What did I come in here for? What did I want to find?” My hands were empty. “Perhaps it’s upstairs then?” The apples were in the loft. And so down again, the garden still as ever, only the book had slipped into the grass.

But they had found it in the drawing room. Not that one could ever see them. The window panes reflected apples, reflected roses; all the leaves were green in the glass. If they moved in the drawing room, the apple only turned its yellow side. Yet, the moment after, if the door was opened, spread about the floor, hung upon the walls, pendant from the ceiling­ – what? My hands were empty. The shadow of a thrush crossed the carpet; from the deepest wells of silence the wood pigeon drew its bubble of sound. “Safe, safe, safe” the pulse of the house beat softly. “The treasure buried; the room . . .” the pulse stopped short. Oh, was that the buried treasure?

A moment later the light had faded. Out in the garden then? But the trees spun darkness for a wandering beam of sun. So fine, so rare, coolly sunk beneath the surface the beam I sought always burnt behind the glass. Death was the glass; death was between us; coming to the woman first, hundreds of years ago, leaving the house, sealing all the windows; the rooms were darkened. He left it, left her, went North, went East, saw the stars turned in the Southern sky; sought the house, found it dropped beneath the Downs. “Safe, safe, safe,” the pulse of the house beat gladly. “The Treasure yours.”

The wind roars up the avenue. Trees stoop and bend this way and that. Moonbeams splash and spill wildly in the rain. But the beam of the lamp falls straight from the window. The candle burns stiff and still. Wandering through the house, opening the windows, whispering not to wake us, the ghostly couple seek their joy.

“Here we slept,” she says. And he adds, “Kisses without number.” – “Waking in the morning­”  – “Silver between the trees­” –  “Upstairs­” “In the garden­” –  “When summer came­” – “In winter snowtime­” – “The doors go shutting far in the distance, gently knocking like the pulse of a heart.

Nearer they come, cease at the doorway. The wind falls, the rain slides silver down the glass. Our eyes darken, we hear no steps beside us; we see no lady spread her ghostly cloak. His hands shield the lantern. “Look,” he breathes. “Sound asleep. Love upon their lips.”

Stooping, holding their silver lamp above us, long they look and deeply. Long they pause. The wind drives straightly; the flame stoops slightly. Wild beams of moonlight cross both floor and wall, and, meeting, stain the faces bent; the faces pondering; the faces that search the sleepers and seek their hidden joy.

“Safe, safe, safe,” the heart of the house beats proudly. “Long years­” – he sighs. “Again you found me.” “Here,” she murmurs, “sleeping; in the garden reading; laughing, rolling apples in the loft. Here we left our treasure­” Stooping, their light lifts the lids upon my eyes. “Safe! safe! safe!” the pulse of the house beats wildly. Waking, I cry “Oh, is this your buried treasure? – The light in the heart.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this utterly luminous piece of writing Virginia Woolf conjures up two pairs of lovers, one ghostly and the other living. Despite the suggestion implicit in the title, it is really the lovers who are haunted, and not the house – the dead by their past, and the living inhabitants by their spectral predecessors, whose presence persists in the small but telling events which are the currency of mortal life.

Here there is not a trace of Woolf’s caustic wit; her normally biting observation of humans and their ordinary doings, is suspended and held in abeyance and so is something which I refer to myself as her ‘remote viewing’: in fact it is completely absent, and there is not even a tinge of her customary note of acerbity.  Here she is in tune with a world, which though ever-present, is for the most part unseen and unfelt: the extended reality which can only be sensed through a refinement of the awareness and intuition. It is by the grace of this faculty that the echoes of the past can be heard again because, it would seem, they are never altogether lost.

I recently had a sense of this with the scent which continued to linger so heavily outside my door, of  the choke cherry blossoms which finished  their  blooming many days ago, and left behind a Kirlian image of odour whose origin is now quite invisible.

There is a sharpened sense of urgency in the trance-like succession of hurried, yet vivid conveyance of images, and a sense of life and pleasure which clamours to be reclaimed. The images themselves seem to be encoded: they are not quite cryptic, but the significance they transmit is suggestive of something which is less than obvious.

My own intuition informs me Woolf was swept up in what I call  ‘the writer’s trance’ – a kind of fugue, in which whisps of thought become ardent and  are enkindled. This gives rise to inspired writing, which is the kind that emerges from an altered state. It is instantly recognisable, because it enkindles the same state in others, and  leaves behind a sort of aching enchantment.

Woolf’s story suggests that here is nothing sinister in this intrusion of past lives into present ones –   it is solely benevolent.  The dead live on vicariously or by proxy, the living continue, extend, carry on. They accept the the weight of  the others’ unrealised love, perhaps because she died, perhaps because he went away: something was left unfulfilled, forfeit, overtaken by events, by his error, by a failure to realise the finiteness of mortality,  as often so much in our pasts remain unfulfilled.

But the sibilant incantation of  “safe safe safe” of the unseen lovers tells of  an anxiety allayed, a loss vicariously, but happily recovered by the agency of these suplanting two, who feel the invisible yet strongly sensed presence of the indelible persistence of love.

So, in Woolf’s telling, the treasure is restored love love regained and redeemed.  We are left with the conviction that the lives not lived we so often end up with, the unfulfilled and forfeit past, is not irreclaimable after all. In that spirit, I welcome such reverberations of the past as I am capable of hearing, feeling and sensing.

As usual I find myself coming up with my own twist on stories such as this one, which draw me in and set my thoughts awhirl. I am thinking now of the many generations of same-sex lovers who were not permitted to love as they would have wished. They lived their mortal lives cheated of their rightful inheritance, so perhaps we owe them a debt of remembrance. They are the repositories of  our gay and lesbian ancestral memory. If there is such a thing as a collective unconscious, we must in some sense retain the sparks of their lives. But rather than ‘the unconscious’ or ‘the subconscious,’  I prefer to think of this as the ‘adjacent conscious’, since it lives side- by-side with us and all around us. As such it retains for me a deep and persistent poignancy, which I feel is precious, and should be kept alive.

The heart of this story, and the reference to “kisses without number”,  instantly reminded me of a poem by Catullus – and I can’t help wondering if Woolf thought of it too – and resolved to provide an assurance to the contrary, suggesting that death does not always extinguish mortal love.  If so, I think I understand a little better what she meant by “the light of the heart.”

 

 

Catullus V

Vivamus mea Lesbia, atque amemus,           
rumoresque senum severiorum
omnes unius aestimemus assis!
soles occidere et redire possunt:
nobis cum semel occidit brevis lux,
nox est perpetua una dormienda.
da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum.
dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,
conturbābimus illa, ne sciāmus,
aut ne quis malus invidere possit,
cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.

 

Gaius Valerius Catullus

 

 

Catullus 5

*Let’s live and love, my Lesbia,                                  
counting the grumblings of severe old men
as being not worth a penny.
The western sun may rise again,
But when our brief light sets,
Night is a perpetual sleeping.
So give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred –
another thousand and a second hundred
and yet another thousand and another hundred
and when we have had many thousands of kisses
we will confound them, and lose count,
lest by counting so many kisses,
evil men should know their number
and be given cause for envy.

 

*My version, adapted from various translations of the original Latin.

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