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Archive for the ‘Poets and Poetry’ Category

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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Renée Vivien, born Pauline Mary Tarn (11 June 1877 – 18 November 1909

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Told by Gesa Karoly

I promised you, my curious little girl, to tell you the true story of Sarolta Andrassy. You knew her,  didn’t you? You remember her black hair with blue and red highlights, and her eyes like a lover’s begging and melancholy.

Sarolta Andrassy lived in the country with her old mother. For neighbours she had the Szecheny family, who had just left Budapest forever. Really, they were a bizarre family! It was easy to mistake Bela Szecheny for a little girl, and his sister, Terka, for a little boy. Curiously enough, Bela possessed all the feminine virtues and Terka, all the masculine faults. Bela’s hair was a copper blond; Terka’s was a livelier, rather reddish blond. The brother and sister strangely resembled each other – and that’s very rare among members of the same family, no matter what they say.

Bela’s mother was not yet resigned to cutting off the beautiful blond curls of the little boy or to exchanging his graceful muslin or velvet skirts for vulgar pants. She coddled him like a little girl. As for Terka, she kept shooting up, like a wild weed . . . She lived outdoors, climbing on the trees, marauding, robbing the kitchen gardens. She was unbearable and at war with the world. She was a child who was neither tender not communicative. Bela, on the other hand, was gentleness itself. He showed his adoration for his mother by making much of her and by caressing her. Terka loved no on€, and no one loved her.

Sarolta came one day to visit the Szecheny family. Her loving eyes in her thin, pale face seemed to be begging. Bela greatly pleased her, and they played together  great deal. Looking wild, Terka prowled around them.When Sarolta spoke to her, she fled.

She could have been pretty, this incomprehensible Terka . . . But she was too tall for her age, too thin, too awkward, too ungainly, whereas Bela was so dainty and so sweet! . . . Several months later, the Szecheny family left Hungary. Bela had an excessively delicate chest, being in general rather frail. On the advice of the doctor, his mother took him to Nice, along with his recalcitrant little sister. Sarolta cried bitterly over losing her playmate.

In her dreams, Sarolta always evoked the too frail and too pretty little boy whom she remembered constantly. And she would say to herself, smiling at the blond fantasy: ‘If I must get married when I’m older, I would like to marry Bela.’

Several years passed – oh, how slowly for the impatient Sarolta! Bela must have reached the age of twenty, and Terka, seventeen. They were still on the Riviera. And Sarolta grieved through the joyless, long years, which were lit up only by the illusion of a dream.

One violet evening, she was dreaming by her window when her mother came to tell her that Bela had returned . . . Sarolta’s heart sang as if it would break. And, the next day, Bela came to see her.

He was the same, and even more charming than before. Sarolta was happy that he had kept this feminine and gentle manner which had so pleased her. He was still the fragile child . . . But now this child possessed an inexpressible grace. Sarolta searched in vain for the cause of this transformation which made him so alluring. His voice was musical and faraway like the echo of the mountains. She admired everything about him, even his stone-grey English suit. And she even admired his
mauve necktie.

Bela contemplated the young woman with different eyes, with eyes strangely beautiful, with eyes that did not resemble the eyes of other men . . . ‘How thin he is!’ observed Sarolta’s mother after he had left. ‘Poor thing, he must still be in delicate health.’ Sarolta did not answer. She closed her eyes in order to again see Bela under her closed eyelids . . . How handsome, handsome, handsome he was! . . .

He returned the next day, and every day after that. He was the Prince Charming who is seen only in the childish pages of fairy tales. She could not look him in the face without feeling ardently and languishingly faint . . . Her face changed according to the expression of the face she loved. Her heart beat according to the rhythm of that other heart. Her unconscious and childish tenderness had become love.

Bela would turn pale as soon as she appeared, diaphanous in her white summer dress. Sometimes he looked at her without speaking, like someone communing with himself in front of a faultless Statue. Sometimes he took her hand . . . His palm was so burning and dry that she thought she was touching the hand of an invalid. Indeed, at those times a little fever would show in Bela’s cheeks.

One day she asked him for some news of the undisciplined Terka.
‘She is still in Nice,’ he answered indifferently. And then they spoke of something else. Sarolta understood that Bela did not love his sister at all. This was not surprising, what is more –  a girl who was so taciturn and wild!

What should come next, came next. A few months later Bela asked to marry her. He had just turned twenty-one.  Sarolta’s mother had no objections to the union

Their betrothal was unreal, as delicate as the white roses that Bela brought each day. Their vows were more fervent than poems: their very souls trembled on their lips. The nuptial dream came to be in the deepest silence.

‘Why,’ Sarolta would ask her fiancé€, ‘are you worthier of being loved than other young men? Why do you have gentle ways that they do not? Where did you learn the divine words that they never say?’

The wedding ceremony took place in absolute privacy. The candles brightened the red highlights in Bela’s blond hair. The incense curled towards him, and the thunder of the organs exalted and glorified him. For the first time since the beginning of the world, the Groom was as beautiful as the Bride.

They left for those blue shores where the desire of lovers runs out of patience. They were seen, a Divine Couple, with the eyelashes of one stroking the eyelids of the other. They were seen, lovingly and chastely intertwined, with her black hair spread over his blond hair . . .

Oh, my curious little girl! Here the story becomes a little  difficult to relate . . . Several months later, the teal Bela Szecheny appeared . . . He was not Prince Charming, alas! He was only a handsome boy, nothing more.

He furiously sought the identity of the young usurper . . . And he learned that the usurper in question was his own sister, Terka.

….Sarolta and Prince Charming have never returned to Hungary. They are hiding in the depths of a Venetian castle or of a Florentine mansion. And sometimes they are seen, as one sees a vision of ideal tenderness, lovingly and chastely intertwined.

 

Translated by Karla Jay and
Yvonne M. Klein

 

 

Who, we wonder, was Gesa Karoly, and who was the curious little girl to whom this little gem of a story was related? The writer would have us believe that legend of Sarolta and her lover went on being retold, and the little girl, who remembered Sarolta, we may fondly imagine, may have been influenced by its hearing, to form her own views and ideas about the possibilities of love, and so not simply accept at face-value the norms embraced and upheld by society at large.

Renée Vivien’s charming tale of lesbian love and marriage is one in a long string going all the way back to Ovid – Iphys and Ianthes, in Metamorphosis,  and Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem  Orlando Furioso, which has the a brother and sister fall in love with the same woman. Though both narratives disappoint (Ariosto’s narrative, degenerates into a heterosexual romance, even though the two women marry each other, and in Ovid’s tale Iphys is transformed into a man) Vivien gives her readers every satisfaction.

Hers is a story told by a lesbian, for lesbians, and happily for us she does not succumb to trite and banal heterosexual anticlimaxes resorted to by precedent (even Shakespeare is guilty here), but sends her lovers off to live in Italy, where we are free to imagine that they in true fairy-tale fashion, revel in each others’ company for the rest of their lives.

I hear a pianissimo echo in Vivien’s language of Oscar Wilde but without his excesses, of Baudelaire, without his decadence and also of Virginia Woolf, without her usual ornately satirical social embellishments; but above all  I hear in Vivien’s writing the sweetness and magic, as well as the dark glimmer of falling in love.

No doubt an argument can be made that the romantic ethereality of her language and its high-art aesthetic confers on it the gloss of dated unreality, but I think that beneath the cultured patina lies the solid core of a complex analysis of gender and sexual orientation, albeit sans the associated component of sexuality. Prince Charming is in fact a stylish fable – a myth –  chronicling a stylised adaptation of gender to fulfil the imperatives of personal individuation.

Though the traits of the opposite sex predominate in the characters of Bela and Terka, Terka’s maleness bears the imprint of  divine virginity, whereas Bela’s femaleness is mere passivity. Terka is in fact a young Diana, withholding herself from trivial social interaction, and purely dedicated to her own wild self.

What sets the sequence of this story in motion? Sarolta loves Bela (meaning ‘white’ in Hungarian, and here perhaps implying ‘pure’) for his girlish nature, and she is aware that a liaison is one which is still within the ambit of what is considered socially sanctioned as a basis for marriage. But this is her first step on the lesbian continuum, when her heart’s intimations reveal to her that it is a certain quality –  a particular nature – a singular constellation of characteristics that draw her, and this attachment, though nascent and diffuse, forms the basis of her enduing romantic dream.

But I question if  Bela’s muslin skirts, delicate health and a general tendency to be ‘sweet’, though they may suffice to inspire Sarolta’s  childish love, go beyond being merely social traits? For in this case they do not seem to me to sink their taproot into the substratum of human nature itself. Not so in the case of Terka. Her wild coltishness, and her vital intensity –  the active reality of her nature –  does not permit the trivial and social interactions which convention approves. Why does she run away when addressed by Sarolta? Could it be that she cannot bear the intensity of her feelings for Sarolta? She is untouchable and most of all untouched. For her the potency of touch is not something to be squandered in idle caresses.  Neither is she sullied by any prior loves, not even the maternal, and certainly not the fraternal – and this is the purity Vivien so values, in her emphasis on ‘chasteness’. It is this chasteness, this virginal quality and its underlying power is what makes Terka’s love pure and exclusive. She is after all, the one who initiates the relationship with Sarolta, while valetudinarian Bela lacks the acumen to take the next logical step in Sarolta’s direction.

Vivien makes it undeniably clear that it was what was female in Bela that inspired Sarolta’s early affection. Bela was effete and epicene and these were the qualities that appealed to Sarolta. His nerveless languor and passive nature devoid of masculine traits – in fact his effeminacy  –  is what makes Bela acceptable to her. Vivien relates a myth of gender ambivalence, describing a subtle process which begins with the unreal and concludes with the real. It is a sacrament in which separate and disparate splinters of gender components coalesce in Terka and transform to comprise a whole, which then concludes in the Hierosgamos  – the sacred marriage.

Bela himself is hidden behind the veil of the personality he projectes, and which Sarolta percieves.  When she again sees  Terka in the guise of Bela, after the long separation in all his travested beauty, she falls truly in love. She knows intuitively this is a ‘different’ kind of love. She senses the difference, though she finds it inexplicable, but the shift of her affections from childish love to ardour and from Bela to ‘Terka as Bela’ and from girlish boy to boyish girl, is accomplished in one swift gliding movement. It resembles a bloodless revolution, when a usurper displaces a former monarch and seizes the throne without the least evidence of conflict. Neither do we sense in Sarolta any trace of an emotional disconnect.

The alchemical progression in Sarolta’s mind of a dawning realisation from languid to intense, from Bela to Terka seems almost imperceptible. The process is so smooth, so deftly accomplished, it is almost invisible as a progression in the object of  Sarolta’s affections. Sarolta’s attachment begins with a male, Bela, in whom feminine traits predominate –  Terka, in whom the masculine traits predominate remains, present, but in the distance, unapproachable and unapproaching.

Then comes the vital hiatus  – the quiescence in which Terka enters the cocoon of her metamorphosis. When she reappears she has achieved the perfect balance of integrated feminine and masculine traits – a fusion of the requisite romantic and social qualities which form the fabric of Sarolta’s Prince Charming.  And so, one wonders if for Terka, early gender ambivalence was transformed into a mature personality largely in relation to Sarolta, and if Terka’s motivation in creating her adult self was in order to be desired by Sarolta…. and to go even a step further, if Terka’s transformation into ‘Prince Charming was in fact a wrought by  the alchemy of Sarolta’s desire…

But it is shimmering awareness that makes the wedding secret, and silent, and the love sacrosanct. The mere touching of hands is fevered, and  between Terka and Sarolta there is none of the casualness in it of Bela’s maternal caresses. Farouche Terka is transformed in young adulthood into a Prince Charming of hidden depths. Bela remains a feeble, social creature, prodded to action only when concerns about his social identity compel him.

Vivien’s story boldly celebrates the strange and ineffable nature of lesbian love when it is first felt, as a force that surfaces mysteriously, asserts itself and makes itself felt in ways that cannot be explained or understood: as something which demands to be acknowledged and honoured, to the extent that it subverts and usurps and adapts to its own necessity the heterosexual prerogative of marriage.

The appearance of  femininity and masculinity – even maleness and femaleness –  is shown to be deceptive and misleading; a mere mask and masquerade, which makes  impersonation of the opposite sex (and not mere transvestism)  a valid and genuine act. It is not merely a use of sartorial deception, but something undertaken in order to accomplish a serious end. With her ‘Prince Charming’ Vivien creates a space where same-sex love can be conceived of as something which can – and should –  flourish undisturbed and unhindered. This idea seems particularly valuable at a time when the self-knowledge of a woman’s sexual and affectional orientation was not a simple given – not an external endowment as perhaps it is in our own time  –  but something to be arrived at intuitively, empirically and with conviction, in contravention of accepted  social norms.

In Vivien’s charmingly extravagant myth, the stock trope of ‘Prince Charming’ is stood on its head. It is appropriated and made to serve a subversive purpose. It validates same-sex relationships between women, and recognises  the importance of personal as well as social imperatives for lesbians, and the claim to a socially recognised pair bond such as marriage, is something that women might wish to claim for themselves and their female partners.

And so we are given an unambiguously happy ending to a thoroughly romantic escapade – a lesbian fairy-tale in which girl gets girl.

Vivien lived most of her adult life in the Paris of the ‘Belle Époque’, in the company many brilliant literary lesbians – she was  the lover of Natalie Clifford Barney, the neighbour of Collette and she knew Djuna Barnes and many other brilliant women who frequented Barney’s salon. She chose for herself a life far removed from the rigid and limiting confines of domesticity, heterosexual marriage, and the burden of childbearing and child-raising, and had several intense love affairs, relationships and liaisons with women. Fortunately for her, she lived in a time which pre-dated, and was therefore unpolluted by Freud’s malignant and pernicious theorising. She was free to think for herself in ways that most of her female contemporaries outside of her charmed circle could not.

Although Vivien became the heiress of a very large fortune at a very early age, wealth did not bring much happiness with it. Vivien’s mother attempted – unsuccessfully –  to claim a share of the inheritance by having her daughter declared insane. Vivien’s personal difficulties – anorexia, drug, and alcohol abuse exacerbated by a weak constitution, did not detract from her awareness and intense exploration of  the possibilities of passionate love between women, something she expressed much more explicitly and emphatically in her poetry than her prose.

Permanently bereft by the death of her first love, Violet Shillitoe, (in 1901 at the age of 24) Vivien slipped into a steep physical and emotional decline. Her grief was probably exacerbated by guilt, since she had begun an affair with Natalie Clifford Barney shortly before Violet’s death. Violet’s body, which had been buried in France, was exhumed by her father and shipped back to England for reburial in 1904, leaving behind an empty grave in the cemetery of Saint Germain en Laye in Passey. It is  interesting to speculate what impact this morbid event may have had on Vivien, who was already obsessed with death. With the windows of  her apartment nailed shut, and living a reclusive life in her dark, incense-scented rooms, she continued to compose feverishly impassioned poetry, writing obsessively to the very end of her life in November of 1909.

Not very much of Vivien’s original work (written in French,) has been translated into English, which seems to be the reason it is not well-known to English readers. Her poetry, defiantly and uncompromisingly Sapphic, did not catch on in France, though the French could hardly have found its content to be more shocking than the decadent poetry of the second half of the nineteenth century (consider Rimbaud, Baudelaire and Louys). Perhaps the fact that it was written by a woman may have been more than bourgeois sensibilities of the notoriously sexist French of that era could tolerate.

Despite her short and tragic life, (there was at least one attempt at suicide) and the fact that her poetry was never really ‘in style’ the mere fact that Vivien wrote more openly and unapologetically about lesbian love than would be attempted for another seventy years and more, makes her an important figure to us. I am certain that had she written and been published in English and had those publications survived unscathed by censorship, our history as lesbians would have unfolded along a very different trajectory.  A voice in the wilderness is still a voice, and had hers been heard it might have reached the ears of those who most needed to hear its affirmation. Instead there was only the occasional murmur until Radclyffe Hall published  her 1928  novel The Well of Loneliness  –  which was in in fact more of a reasoned plea for understanding and acceptance for ‘inverts’ rather than any confident claim.

So are left, as is usual in such cases when brilliance and bad luck collide, with a sense of  satisfaction tinged with regret, wishing that Vivien’s life could have been as happy, and had as happy an ending as that of Sarolta and Terka in this story.

A week ago, this June 11th was the 135th anniversary of her birth, so Happy Birthday, Renée Vivien – we still remember you, fondly and well.

 

 

Le Prince Charmant

Conté par Gesa Karoly.

Je vous ai promis, ô petite curieuse, de vous conter l’histoire véritable de Saroltâ Andrassy. Vous l’avez connue, n’est-ce pas?  Vous vous souvenez de ses cheveux noirs, aux reflets bleus et roux, et de ses yeux d’amoureuse, suppliants et mélancoliques.

Saroltâ Andrassy vivait à la campagne avec sa vieille mère. Elles avaient pour voisins les Szécheny, qui venaient de quitter définitivement Buda-Pesth. Une bizarre famille, en vérité ! On aurait pu prendre Bêla Szécheny pour une petite fille, et sa sœur Terka pour un jeune garçon. Chose curieuse, Bêla possédait toutes les vertus féminines et Terka tous les défauts masculins. Les cheveux de Bêla étaient d’un blond vert, ceux de Terka, plus vivants, d’un blond rose. Le frère et la sœur se ressemblaient étrangement, — cela est très rare entre gens de la même famille, quoi qu’on en dise.

La mère de Bêla ne se résignait pas encore à couper les belles boucles blondes du petit garçon et à échanger ses gracieuses jupes de mousseline ou de velours contre une vulgaire culotte. Elle le choyait comme une fillette. Quant à Terka, elle poussait à sa guise, pareille à une herbe sauvage… Elle vivait au grand air, grimpant sur les arbres, maraudant, pillant les jardins potagers, insupportable et en guerre avec tout le monde. C’était une enfant sans tendresse et sans expansion. Bêla, au contraire, était la douceur même. Son adoration pour sa mère se manifestait par des câlineries et des caresses incessantes. Terka n’aimait personne et personne ne l’aimait.

Saroltâ vint un jour chez les Szécheny. Ses yeux d’amoureuse imploraient, dans son mince visage pâle. Béla lui plut beaucoup et ils jouèrent longtemps ensemble. Terka rôdait autour d’eux, d’un air farouche. Lorsque Saroltâ lui adressa la parole, elle s’enfuit.

Elle aurait été jolie, cette incompréhensible Terka… Mais elle était trop longue pour son âge, trop maigre, trop gauche, trop dégingandée. Tandis que Béla était si mignon et si doux !…

Les Szécheny quittèrent la Hongrie quelques mois plus tard. Saroltâ pleura amèrement son compagnon de jeux. Sur l’avis du médecin, sa mère l’avait emmené à Nice, ainsi que sa récalcitrante petite sœur. Béla avait la poitrine délicate à l’excès. Il était, d’ailleurs, peu robuste.

À travers ses rêves, Saroltâ évoquait toujours l’enfant trop frêle et trop joli dont le souvenir persistait en elle. Et elle se disait, en souriant à l’image blonde :

« Si je dois me marier plus tard, je voudrais épouser Béla. »

Plusieurs années se passèrent, — oh ! combien lentement pour l’impatiente Saroltâ ! Béla devait avoir atteint vingt ans, et Terka dix-sept. Ils étaient toujours sur la Riviera. Et Saroltâ se désolait de ces années sans joie, éclairées seulement par l’illusion d’un songe.

Elle rêvait à sa fenêtre, par un soir violet, lorsque sa mère vint lui dire que Béla était revenu…

Le cœur de Saroltâ chantait à se briser. Et, le lendemain, Béla vint vers elle.

Il était le même, et pourtant bien plus charmant qu’autrefois. Saroltâ fut heureuse qu’il eût gardé cet air efféminé et doux qui lui avait tant plu. C’était toujours l’enfant fragile… Mais cet enfant possédait aujourd’hui une grâce inexprimable. Saroltâ chercha en vain la cause de cette transformation qui le rendait si attirant. Sa voix était musicale et lointaine, ainsi qu’un écho des montagnes. Elle admira tout de lui, jusqu’à son complet anglais, d’un gris de pierres, et jusqu’à sa cravate mauve.

Béla contemplait la jeune fille de ses yeux changés, de ses yeux étrangement beaux, de ses yeux qui ne ressemblaient pas aux yeux des autres hommes…

« Qu’il est donc mince ! » observa la mère de Saroltâ, après son départ. « Il doit être encore d’une santé bien délicate, ce pauvre petit. »

Saroltâ ne répondit point. Elle ferma les yeux afin de revoir Béla sous ses paupières closes… Comme il était joli, joli, joli !…

Il revint le lendemain, et tous les jours. C’était le Prince Charmant qui ne se révèle qu’à travers les pages enfantines des contes de fées. Elle ne pouvait le regarder en face sans défaillir ardemment, languissamment… Son visage variait selon l’expression du visage désiré. Son cœur battait selon le rythme de cet autre cœur. L’inconsciente et puérile tendresse était devenue de l’amour.

Béla pâlissait dès qu’elle entrait, diaphane en sa blanche robe d’été. Il la regardait parfois, sans parler, comme quelqu’un qui se recueille devant une Statue sans défaut. Parfois il lui prenait la main… Elle croyait toucher une main de malade, tant la paume en était brûlante et sèche. Un peu de fièvre montait alors jusqu’aux pommettes de Béla.

Elle lui demanda un jour des nouvelles de Terka l’indisciplinée.

« Elle est toujours à Nice, » répondit-il négligemment. Et l’on parla d’autre chose. Saroltâ comprit que Béla n’aimait point sa sœur. Ce n’était pas étonnant, au surplus. Une enfant si taciturne et si farouche !

Ce qui devait arriver arriva. Béla la demanda en mariage quelques mois plus tard. Il entrait dans sa vingt et unième année. La mère de Saroltâ ne s’opposa point à l’union.

Ce furent d’irréelles fiançailles, délicates à l’égal des roses blanches que Béla apportait chaque jour. Ce furent des aveux plus fervents que des poèmes, et des frissons d’âme sur les lèvres. Au profond des silences, passait le rêve nuptial.

« Pourquoi, » disait Saroltâ à son fiancé, « es-tu plus digne d’être aimé que les autres jeunes hommes ? Pourquoi as-tu des douceurs qu’ils ignorent ? Où donc as-tu appris les parôles divines qu’ils ne prononcent jamais ? »

La cérémonie eut lieu dans une intimité absolue. Les cierges avivaient les lueurs roses de la blonde chevelure de Béla. L’encens fumait vers lui, et le tonnerre des orgues l’exaltait et le glorifiait. Pour la première fois, depuis le commencement du monde, l’Époux fut aussi beau que l’Épouse.

Ils partirent vers les rives bleues où s’exaspère le désir des amants. On les vit, Couple Divin, les cils de l’un frôlant les paupières de l’autre. On les vit, amoureusement et chastement enlacés, les cheveux noirs de l’Amante répandus sur les blonds cheveux de l’Amant…

Mais voici, ô petite curieuse ! où l’histoire devient un peu difficile a raconter… Quelques mois plus tard, le véritable Béla Szécheny apparut… Ce n’était pas le Prince Charmant. Hélas ! Ce n’était qu’un joli garçon, sans plus.

Il rechercha furieusement la personnalité du jeune usurpateur… Et il apprit que l’usurpateur en question était sa sœur Terka.

… Saroltâ et le Prince Charmant ne sont plus revenus en Hongrie. Ils se cachent au fond d’un palais vénitien ou d’une maison florentine. Et parfois on les rencontre, tels qu’une vision de tendresse idéale, amoureusement et chastement enlacés.

 

 

 

 

http://www.valkyria.ca/renee_vivien_page.html

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H.D. (born Hilda Doolittle; September 10, 1886 – September 27, 1961)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Little, but all roses’ is the dictate of the Alexandrine poet, yet I am inclined to disagree. I would not bring roses, nor yet the great shaft of scarlet lilies. I would bring orange blossoms, implacable flowerings made to seduce the sense when every other means has failed, poignard that glints, fresh sharpened steel: after the red heart, red lilies, impassioned roses are dead.

‘Little, but all roses’  –  true there is a tint of rich colour (invariably we find it), violets, purple woof of cloth, scarlet garments, dyed fastening of a sandal, the lurid, crushed and perished hyacinth, stains on cloth and flesh and parchment.

There is gold too. Was it a gold rose the poet meant? But the gold of a girl-child’s head, the gold of an embroidered garment hem, the rare gold of sea-grass or meadow-pulse does not seem to evoke in our thought the vision of roses, heavy in a scented garden.

‘Little, but all roses.’ I think, though the stains are deep on the red and scarlet cushions, on the flaming cloak of love, it is not warmth we look for in these poems, not fire nor sunlight, not heat in the ordinary sense, diffused, and comforting (nor is it light, day or dawn or light of sun-setting), but another element containing all these, magnetic, vibrant; not the lightning as it falls from the thunder cloud, yet lightning in a sense: white, unhuman element, containing fire and light and warmth, yet in its essence differing from all these, as if the brittle crescent-moon gave heat to us, or some splendid scintillating star turned warm suddenly in our hand like a jewel, sent by the beloved.

I think of the words of Sappho as these colours, or states rather, transcending colour yet containing (as great heat the compass of the spectrum) all colour. And perhaps the most obvious is this rose colour, merging to richer shades of scarlet, purple or Phoenician purple. To the superficial lover – truly -roses!

Yet not all roses – not roses at all, not orange blossoms even, but reading deeper we are inclined to visualize these broken sentences and unfinished rhythms as rocks – perfect rock shelves and layers of rock between which flowers by some chance may grow but which endure when the staunch blossoms have perished.

Not flowers at all, but an island with innumerable, tiny, irregular bays and fiords and little straits between which the sun lies clear (fragments cut from a perfect mirror of iridescent polished silver or of the bronze reflecting richer tints) or breaks, wave upon destructive passionate wave.

Not roses, but an island, a country, a continent, a planet, a world of emotion, differing entirely from any present-day imaginable world of emotion; a world of emotion that could only be imagined by the greatest of her own countrymen in the greatest period of that country’s glamour, who themselves confessed her
beyond their reach, beyond their song, not a woman, not a goddess even, but a song or the spirit of a song. A song, a spirit, a white star that moves across the heaven to mark the end of a world epoch or to presage some coming glory.

Yet she is embodied – terribly a human being, a woman, a personality as the most impersonal become when they confront their fellow beings.

The under-lip curls out in the white face, she has twisted her two eyes unevenly, the brows break the perfect line of the white forehead, her expression is not exactly sinister (sinister and dead), the spark of mockery beneath the half-closed lids is, rather, living, destructive irony.

‘What country girl bewitches your heart who knows not how to draw her skirt about her ankles?’

Aristocratic – indifferent – full of caprice – full of imperfection – intolerant.

High in the mountains, the wind may break the trees, as love the lover, but this was before the days of Theocritus, before the destructive Athenian satyric drama – we girls hear no praise of country girls nor mountain goats. This woman has still the flawless tradition to maintain.

Her bitterness was on the whole the bitterness of the sweat of Eros. Had she burned to destroy she had spent her flawless talent to destroy custom and mob-thought with serpent-tongue before the great Athenian era.

Black and burnt are the cheeks of the girl of the late Sicilian Theocritus, for, says he, black is the hyacinth and the myrtle-berry.

But Sappho has no praise for mountain girls. She protrudes a little her under-lip, twists her eyes, screws her face out of proportion as she searches for the most telling phrase; this girl who bewitches you, my friend, does not even know how to draw her skirts about her feet.

Sophisticated, ironical, bitter jeer. Not her hands, her feet, her hair, or her features resemble in any way those of the country- bred among the thickets; not her garments even, are ill-fitting or ill-cut, but her manners, her gestures are crude, the bitterest of all destructive gibes of one sensitive woman at the favourite of another, sensitive, high-strung, autocratic as herself.

The gods, it is true, Aphrodite, Hermes, Ares, Hephaistos, Adonis, beloved of the mother of loves, the Graces, Zeus himself, Eros in all his attributes, great, potent, the Muses, mythical being and half-god, the Kyprian again and again are mentioned in these poems but at the end, it is for the strange almost petulant little phrases that we value this woman, this cry (against some simple unknown girl) of skirts and ankles we might think unnecessarily pretty, yet are pleased in the thinking of it, or else the outbreak against her own intimate companions brings her nearer our own over-sophisticated, nerve-wracked era: ‘The people I help most are the most unkind,’ ‘O you forget me’ or  ‘You love someone better,’ You are nothing to me,’  nervous, trivial tirades. Or we have in sweetened mood so simple a phrase ‘I sing’ – not to please any god, goddess, creed or votary of religious rite – I sing not even in abstract contemplation, trance-like, remote from life, to please myself, but says this most delightful and friendly woman, ‘I sing and I sing beautifully like this, in order to please my friends – my girl-friends.’

We have no definite portraits from her hands of these young women of Mitylene. They are left to our imagination, though only the most ardent heart, the most intense spirit and the most wary and subtle intellect can hope even in moments of ardent imagination to fill in these broken couplets. One reads simply this ‘My darling,’ or again ‘You burn me.’ To a bride’s lover she says, ‘Ah there never was a girl like her.’ She speaks of the light spread across a lovely face, of the garment wrapped about a lovely body; she addresses by name two of these young women comparing one to another’s disadvantage (though even here she temporizes her judgement with an endearing adjective), ‘Mnasidika is more shapely than tender Gyrinno.’ We hear of Eranna too. ‘Eranna, there never was a girl more spiteful than you.’

Another girl she praises, not for beauty. Though they stand among tall spotted lilies and the cup of jacynth and the Lesbian iris, she yet extolls beyond Kypris and the feet of Eros, wisdom. ‘Ah,’ she says of this one, beloved for another beauty than that of perfect waist and throat and close-bound cap of hair and level brows, ‘I think no girl can ever stand beneath the sun or ever will again and be as wise as you are.’

Wisdom –  this is all we know of the girl: that though she stood in the heavy Graeco-Asiatic sunlight, the wind from Asia, heavy with ardent myrrh and Persian spices, was yet tempered with a Western gale, bearing in its strength and its salt sting, the image of another, tall, with eyes shadowed by the helmet rim, the goddess, indomitable.

This is her strength – Sappho of Mitylene was a Greek. And in all her ecstasies, her burnings, her Asiatic riot of colour, her cry to that Phoenician deity, ‘Adonis, Adonis  – ‘her phrases, so simple yet in any but her hands in danger of overpowering sensuousness, her touches of Oriental realism, ‘purple napkins’ and ‘soft cushions’ are yet tempered, moderated by a craft never surpassed in literature. The beauty of Aphrodite it is true is the constant, reiterated subject of her singing. But she is called by a late scholiast who knew more of her than we can hope to learn from these brief fragments,’The Wise Sappho’.

We need the testimony of no Alexandrian or late Roman scholiast to assure us of the artistic wisdom, the scientific precision of metre and musical notation, the finely tempered intellect of this woman. Yet for all her artistic moderation, what is the personal, the emotional quality of her wisdom? This woman whom love paralysed till she seemed to herself a dead body, yet burnt, as the desert grass is burnt, white by the desert heat; she who trembled and was sick and sweated at the mere presence of another, a person, doubtless of charm, of grace, but of no extraordinary gifts perhaps of mind or feature – was she moderate, was she wise? Savonarola standing in the courtyard of the Medici (some two thousand years later) proclaimed her openly to the assembled youthful laity and priests of Florence –  a devil.

If moderation is wisdom, if constancy in love is wisdom, was she wise? We read even in these few existing fragments, name upon curious, exotic, fragrant name: Atthis – Andromeda – Mnasidika – Eranna – Gyrinno –  more, many more than these tradition tells were praised in the lost fragments. The name of muse and goddess and of human woman merge, interspersed among these verses. ‘Niobe and Leda were friends – ‘ it is a simple statement –  for the moment, Niobe and Leda are nearer, more human, than the Atthis, the Eranna who strike and burn and break like Love himself.

The wise Sappho! She was wise, emotionally wise, we suspect with wisdom of simplicity, the blindness of genius. She constructed from the simple gesture of a half-grown awkward girl, a being, a companion, an equal. She imagined, for a moment, as the white bird wrinkled a pink foot, clutching to obtain balance at the too smooth ivory of the wrist of the same Atthis, that Atthis had a mind, that Atthis was a goddess. Because the sun made a momentary circlet of strange rust-coloured hair, she saw in all her fragrance, Aphrodite, violet-crowned, or better still a sister, a muse, one of the violet wreathing. She imagined because the girl’s shoulders seemed almost too fragile, too frail, to support the vestment, dragging a little heavily because of the gold-binding, that the same shoulders were the shoulders of a being, an almost disembodied spirit. She constructed perfect and flawless (as in her verse, she carved from current Aeolic dialect, immortal phrases) the whole, the perfection, the undying spirit of goddess, muse or sacred being from the simple grace of some tall, half-developed girl. The very skies open, were opened by these light fingers, fluffing out the under-feathers of the pigeon’s throat. Then the wise Sappho clamours aloud against that bitter, bitter creature, Eros, who has once more betrayed her. ‘Ah, Atthis, you hate even to think of me – you have gone to Andromeda.’

I love to think of Atthis and Andromeda curled on a sun-baked marble bench like the familiar Tanagra group, talking it over. What did they say? What did they think? Doubtless, they thought little or nothing and said much.

There is another girl, a little girl. Her name is Cleis. It is reported that the mother of Sappho was named Cleis. It is said that Sappho had a daughter whom she called Cleis.

Cleis was golden. No doubt Cleis was perfect. Cleis was a beautiful baby, looking exactly like a yellow flower (so her mother tells us). She was so extraordinarily beautiful, Lydia had nothing so sweet, so spiced; greatness, wealth, power, nothing in all Lydia could be exchanged for Cleis.

So in the realm of the living, we know there was a Cleis. I see her heaping shells, purple and rose-edged, stained here and there with saffron colours, shells from Adriatic waters heaped in her own little painted bowl and poured out again and gathered up only to be spilt once more across the sands. We have seen Atthis of yester-year; Andromeda of ‘fair requital’, Mnasidika with provoking length of over-shapely limbs; Gyrinno, loved for some appealing gesture or strange resonance of voice or skill of finger-tips, though failing in the essential and more obvious qualities of beauty; Eranna with lips curved contemptuously over slightly irregular though white and perfect teeth; angry Eranna who refused everyone and bound white violets only for the straight hair she herself braided with precision and cruel self-torturing neatness about her own head. We know of Gorgo, over-riotous, too heavy, with special intoxicating sweetness, but exhausting, a girl to weary of, no companion, her over- soft curves presaging early development of heavy womanhood.

Among the living there are these and others. Timas, dead among the living, lying with lily wreath and funeral torch, a golden little bride, lives though sleeping more poignantly even than the famous Graeco-Egyptian beauty the poet’s brother married at Naucratis. Rhodope, a name redolent (even though we may no longer read the tribute of the bridegroom’s sister) of the heavy out-curling, over-lapping petals of the peerless flower.

Little –  not little  – but all, all roses! So at the last, we are forced to accept the often quoted tribute of Meleager, late Alexandrian, half  Jew, half Grecian poet. Little but all roses!

True, Sappho has become for us a name, an abstraction as well as a pseudonym for poignant human feeling, she is indeed rocks set in a blue sea, she is the sea itself, breaking and tortured and torturing, but never broken. She is the island of artistic perfection where the lover of ancient beauty (shipwrecked in the modern world) may yet find foothold and take breath and gain courage for new adventures and dream of yet unexplored continents and realms of future artistic achievement. She is the wise Sappho.

Plato, poet and philosopher in the most formidable period of Athenian culture, looking back some centuries toward Mitylene, having perspective and a rare standard of comparison, too, speaks of this woman as among the wise.

You were the morning star among the living (the young Plato, poet and Athenian, wrote of a friend he had lost), you were the morning star before you died; now you are ‘as Hesperus, giving new splendour to the dead’. Plato lives as a poet, as a lover, though the Republic seems but a ponderous tome and the mysteries of the Dialogues verge often on the didactic and artificial. So Sappho must live, roses, but many roses, for tradition has set flower upon flower about her name and would continue to do so though her last line were lost.

Perhaps to Meleager, having access to the numberless scrolls of Alexandria, there seemed ‘but little’ though to us, in a cheerless and more barren age, there seems much. Legend upon legend has grown up, adding curious documents to each precious fragment; the history of the preservation of each line is in itself a most fascinating and bewildering romance.

Courtesan and woman of fashion were rebuked at one time for not knowing ‘even the works of Sappho’. Sophocles cried out in despair before some inimitable couplet, ‘gods  – what impassioned heart and longing made this rhythm’. The Roman Emperor, weary to death, left his wreathed drinking cup and said, ‘It is worth living yet to hear another of this woman’s songs.’ Catullus, impassioned lyrist, left off recounting the imperfections of his Lesbia to enter a fair paradisal world, to forge silver Latin from imperishable Greek, to marvel at the praises of this perfect lover who needed no interim of hatred to repossess the loved one. Monk and scholar, grey recluse of Byzantium or Roman or medieval monastery, flamed to new birth of intellectual passion at discovery of some fatal relic until the Vatican itself was moved and deemed this woman fit rival to the seductions of another Poet and destroyed her verses.

The roses Meleager saw as ‘little’ have become in the history not only of literature but of nations (Greece and Rome and medieval town and Tuscan city) a great power, roses, but many, many roses, each fragment witness to the love of some scholar or hectic antiquary searching to find a precious inch of palimpsest among the funereal glories of the sand-strewn Pharaohs.

 

 

 

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/h-d

http://www.justaboutwrite.com/Herstory-Poet-HildaDoolittle.html

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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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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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Garcilaso de la Vega (1501 – 1536)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soneto VI                                                  


Por ásperos caminos he llegado

a parte que de miedo no me muevo;

y si a mudarme o dar un paso pruebo,

allí por los cabellos soy tornado.

Mas tal estoy, que con la muerte al lado

busco de mi vivir consejo nuevo;

y conozco el mejor y el peor apruebo,

o por costumbre mala o por mi hado.

Por otra parte, el breve tiempo mío,     

y el errado proceso de mis años,

en su primer principio y en su medio,

mi inclinación, con quien ya no porfío,

la cierta muerte, fin de tantos daños,

me hacen descuidar de mi remedio.

 

 

 

Version 1

By rugged roads I have arrived                      

Whereat I cannot move for fear

And should I try to shift or step

I am dragged back by my own hair.

Moreover with death at my side

Fresh counsel for my life I seek

And knowing what’s best, I try the worst

Accustomed to ills or destiny.

On the other hand, my time is brief –

My errant progress through the years

From their commencement and mid life

Me predispose to not persist.

Death’s certain end after such pain

Makes me reject a remedy.

 

 

 

 

 

Version 2

By rough and rugged roads I have arrived            
Whereat for fear I cannot move away,
And should I even try to take a step
I find myself dragged backed by my own hair.

Moreover with Death poised here by my side
I search anew some counsel for my life:
I know what’s best and yet I try the worst
Due to ill habits and my destiny.

As for my part, I know my time is brief,
My errant progress marches through the years
From its inception through my middle age.

Death’s certain ending following such pain
Makes me uncaring of a remedy.

 

 

I myself find the second version (translated with metre intact)  retains the more intentionally  – and leisurely – contrived artifice of the sonnet, but I feel I prefer the first because dropping a foot gives it more briskness and urgency and the more uneven line gives it more impact.

 

 

 

Soneto XXIII *                                            

En tanto que de rosa y azucena

se muestra la color en vuestro gesto,

y que vuestro mirar ardiente, honesto,

enciende al corazón y lo refrena;

y en tanto que el cabello, que en la vena

del oro se escogió, con vuelo presto,

por el hermoso cuello blanco, enhiesto,

el viento mueve, esparce y desordena:

 

coged de vuestra alegre primavera

el dulce fruto, antes que el tiempo airado

cubra de nieve la hermosa cumbre;

marchitará la rosa el viento helado.

Todo lo mudará la edad ligera

Por no haces mudanza en su costumbre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sonnet 23                                                           

In such wise as the lily and the rose
Demonstrate the colour in your face
So does your gaze so honest, so direct
Consume the heart with ardour and restraint.

And so too does your hair seem like a vein
Of gold, that swiftly choosing it the breeze
Moves it and scatters it in disarray
Against the beauty of your white uprising neck.

Gather then the gayness of your Spring,
And the sweet fruit before an irate clime
Masks the acme of your beauty with its snow.

Soon icy winds will wither every rose
And swiftly change the lightness of your days
So as to keep unchanged their usual ways.

 

Translations Dia Tsung.

 

*This is the poem that inspired the more famous one by St. John of the Cross.

 

 

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Francesco Petrarca (July 20 1304 – July 19 1374)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

XXI
Mille fïate, o dolce mia guerrera,                  
per aver co’ begli occhi vostri pace
v’aggio proferto il cor; mâ voi non piace
mirar sí basso colla mente altera.

Et se di lui fors’altra donna spera,5
vive in speranza debile et fallace:
mio, perché sdegno ciò ch’a voi dispiace,
esser non può già mai cosí com’era.

Or s’io lo scaccio, et e’ non trova in voi
ne l’exilio infelice alcun soccorso,10
né sa star sol, né gire ov’altri il chiama,

poria smarrire il suo natural corso:
che grave colpa fia d’ambeduo noi,
et tanto piú de voi, quanto piú v’ama.

 

 

 

21
A thousand times, O my warrior, my sweet,                   
That I might your beauteous eyes appease,
Gave I my heart cheap, although it failed to please
Nor turned you your lofty  mind on aught so low.
But if some other one should it await
She lives in falsity and weakened hope
For all that might displease you do I scorn
And never more could it be as it was.
Should I to disown my heart, and it not find
Help or refuge in you from sad exile,
Not know to stay alone, or turn to others’ calls,
Misplaced, and straying  from its wonted course.
For such a fault a price we both would pay,
And you the greater part, for more it loved.

 

 

 

 

CLXIV
Or che’l ciel e la terra e’l vento tace,                
e le fere e gli augelli il sonno affrena,
notte il carro stellato in giro mena
e nel suo letto il mar senz’onda giace;

vegghio, penso, ardo, piango; e chi mi sface
sempre m’è inanzi per mia dolce pena:
guerra è’l mio stato, d’ira et di duol piena;
et sol di lei pensando ò qualche pace.

Così sol d’una chiara fonte viva
move’l dolce e l’amaro ond’io mi pasco;
una man sola mi risana e punge.

Et perché’l mio martir non giunga a riva,
mille volte il dí moro e mille nasco;
tanto da la salute mia son lunge.

 

 

164
Now that the sky, the earth, and wind are quiet,     
And the wild beasts and birds are seized by sleep,
Night leads its starry chariot on its rounds,
And in its bed the waveless sea lies still.
I see, think, burn and cry, by her undone
Who always is before me, to my sweet pain.
I’m in a state of war, and anger, filled with woe,
And only thoughts of her bring any peace.
Thus from one sole clear font do live and move
The sweet and bitter, whereupon I feast.
The self-same hand both pierces and heals.
Such is my torment, the shore I cannot reach,
Die and am born a thousand times, each day –
From any chance reprieve, so far away.

 

 

 

CLXXVI
Per mezz’i boschi inhospiti et selvaggi,             
onde vanno a gran rischio uomini et arme,
vo securo io, ché non pò spaventarme
altri che ‘l sol ch’à d’amor vivo i raggi;

5et vo cantando (o penser’ miei non saggi!)
lei che ‘l ciel non poria lontana farme,
ch’i’ l’ò negli occhi, et veder seco parme
donne et donzelle, et son abeti et faggi.

Parme d’udirla, udendo i rami et l’òre
10et le frondi, et gli augei lagnarsi, et l’acque
mormorando fuggir per l’erba verde.

Raro un silentio, un solitario horrore
d’ombrosa selva mai tanto mi piacque:
se non che dal mio sol troppo si perde.

 

 

 

176
Amidst unwelcoming and savage woods I go           
Secure, where armed men venture at great risk
Naught can occasion me the slightest dread
Save the sun, drawing from love its vibrant rays.
And I go singing (O my so foolish thoughts)
She from whom heaven could not outdistance me
I have within my eyes. To me they seem
As Beech and Fir, the women and girls I see.
I seem to hear her, as I hear the breeze
In branch and leaf, and the lamenting birds,
The water murmurs, slips through verdant grass.
Rare that such silence, and such lonely dread
Of shaded woods  should ever so me please,
But of the sun for me too much is lost

 

Translations Dia Tsung

 

 

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

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Francesco Petrarca (July 20 1304 – July 19 1374)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canzoniere 132

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(S’amor non è)

S’amor non è, che dunque é què i’ sénto?                  
Ma s’ègli é amór, per Dio, che cósa, e quale?
Se buòna, ond’ é ‘l èffettó aspro e mortale?
Se ria; ond’ é sí dolce ògni tormènto?

S’ a mia vóglia ardo; ónd’ è ‘l pianto e ‘l lamènto!
S’ a mal mio grado’; il lamentar che vale?
O viva mórte, o dilettòso male,
Còme puói tanto in mè, s’io nòl cónsénto?

E s’io ‘l cònsénto; a gran tórto mi dóglio.
Fra sè contrári vénti in fragil barca
Mi tróve in alto mar senza govérno.
Sí liéve di savèr, d’erròr di carca,
Ch’ i’ medèsmo nòn só quèl ch’ io mi vòglio;
E trémo a mézza state, ardéndo il vérno.

Francesco Petrarca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343 - 25 October 1400)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Troilus and Criseyde

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If Love it’s not, O God, what feel I so?  

If Love it is, what sort of thing is he?
If Love be good, from where then comes my woe?
If he be ill, wondrous it seems to me
That every torment and adversity
That comes from him I can so joyous think;
For more I thirst, the more from him I drink.

If it is in my own delight I burn,
From where then comes my wailing and complaint?
Rejoicing, why to tears do I return?
I know not, nor, unweary, why I faint.
Oh living death, oh sweet harm strange and quaint!
How can this harm and death so rage in me,
Unless I do consent that it so be?

 

 

And if I do consent, I wrongfully                      
Bewail my case; thus rolled and shaken sore
All rudderless within a boat am I
Amid the sea and out of sight of shore,
Between two winds contrary evermore.
Alas, what is this wondrous malady?
For heat of cold, for cold of heat, I die.

Geoffrey Chaucer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If no love is, O God, what fele I so?                                    
And if love is, what thing and which is he?
If love be good, from whennes cometh my woo?
If it be wikke, a wonder thynketh me,
When every torment and adversite
That cometh of hym, may to me savory thinke,
For ay thurst I, the more that ich it drynke.

And if that at myn owen lust I brenne,
From whennes cometh my waillynge and my pleynte?
If harm agree me, whereto pleyne I thenne?
I noot, ne whi unwery that I feynte.
O quike deth, O swete harm so queynte,
How may of the in me swich quantite,
But if that I consente that it be?

 

And if that I consente, I wrongfully                
Compleyne, iwis.   Thus possed to and fro,
Al sterelees withinne a boot am I
Amydde the see, betwixen wyndes two,
That in contrarie stonden evere mo.
Allas! what is this wondre maladie?
For hete of cold, for cold of hete, I dye.

 

 

 

 

 

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