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Archive for the ‘Translations’ Category

Delmira Agustini (October 24, 1886 – July 6, 1914)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

El Nudo

Su idilio fue una larga sonrisa a cuatro labios…
En el regazo cálido de rubia primavera
Amáronse talmente que entre sus dedos sabios
Palpitó la divina forma de la Quimera.

 

 

En los palacios fúlgidos de las tardes en calma
Hablábanse un lenguaje sentido como un lloro,
Y se besaban hondo hasta morderse el alma!…
Las horas deshojáronse como flores de oro,

 

 

Y el Destino interpuso sus dos manos heladas…
Ah! los cuerpos cedieron, mas las almas trenzadas
Son el más intrincado nudo que nunca fue…
En lucha con sus locos enredos sobrehumanos
Las Furias de la vida se rompieron las manos
Y fatigó sus dedos supremos Ananké…

 

 

 

Delmira Agustini

Los cantos de la mañana, 1910

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Knot

Their idyll was a smile of four lips…                     
In the warm lap of blond spring
They loved such that between their wise fingers
the divine form of Chimera trembled.

 

 

 

 

In the glimmering palaces of quiet afternoons
They spoke in a language heartfelt as weeping,
And they kissed each other deeply, biting the soul!
The hours fluttered away like petals of gold,

 


Then Fate interposed its two icy hands…
Ah! the bodies yielded, but tangled souls
Are the most intricate knot that never unfolds…
In strife with its mad superhuman entanglements,
Life’s Furies rent their coupled hands
And wearied your powerful fingers, Ananké*…

 

 

 

*Ananke: Goddess of Unalterable Necessity

Translation Valerie Martínez

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Al Claro de Luna

La luna es pálida y triste, la luna es exangüe y yerta.    
La media luna figúraseme un suave perfil de muerta…
Yo que prefiero a la insigne palidez encarecida
De todas las perlas árabes, la rosa recién abierta,

 

 

En un rincón del terruño con el color de la vida,
Adoro esa luna pálida, adoro esa faz de muerta!
Y en el altar de las noches, como una flor encendida
Y ebria de extraños perfumes, mi alma la inciensa rendida.

 

 

 

Yo sé de labios marchitos en la blasfemia y el vino,
Que besan tras de la orgia sus huellas en el camino;
Locos que mueren besando su imagen en lagos yertos…
Porque ella es luz de inocencia, porque a esa luz misteriosa
Alumbran las cosas blancas, se ponen blancas las cosas,
Y hasta las almas más negras toman clarores inciertos!

 

 

 

Delmira Agustini 
El libro blanco, 1907

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Light of the Moon

The moon is pallid and sad, the moon is bloodless and cold.
I imagine the half-moon as a profile of the dead…
And beyond the renowned and praised pallor
Of Arab pearls, I prefer the rose in recent bud.

 

 

In a corner of this land with the colors of earth,
I adore this pale moon, I adore this death mask!
And at the altar of the night, like a flower inflamed,
Inebriated by strange perfumes, my soul resigns.

 

 

 

I know of lips withered with blasphemy and wine;
After an orgy they kiss her trace in the lane.
Insane ones who die kissing her image in lakes…
Because she is light of innocence, because white things
Illuminate her mysterious light, things taking on white,
And even the blackest souls become uncertainly bright.

 

 

 

Translation Valerie Martínez

ASLM810

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alfonsina Storni (May 29, 1892 – October 25, 1938)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palabras a Delmira Agustini

Estás muerta y tu cuerpo, bajo uruguayo manto,
Descansa de su fuego, se limpia de su llama.
Sólo desde tus libros tu roja lengua llama
Como cuando vivías, al amor y al encanto.

 

 

Hoy, si un alma de tantas, sentenciosa y oscura,
Con palabras pesadas va a sangrarte el oído,
Encogida en tu pobre cajoncito roído
No puedes contestarle desde tu sepultura.

 

 

 

Pero sobre tu pecho, para siempre deshecho,
Comprensivo vigila, todavía, mi pecho,
Y, si ofendida lloras por tus cuencas abiertas,

 

 

Tus lágrimas heladas, con mano tan liviana
Que más que mano amiga parece mano hermana,
Te enjugo dulcemente las tristes cuencas muertas.

Alfonsina Storni

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Words to Delmira Augustini

You are dead and your body under an Uruguayan mantle
Rests from its fire, cleansed of its soul
Since now solely from your books does your red tongue call
As when you lived, to love, and to enchant.

 

 

 

If today, a soul among the many judgmental and dark
Comes to bleed your ear with ponderous words
Huddled in your poor crumbling little casket
You cannot answer it, from your grave.

 

 

But upon your breast, undone forever                  
My breast ever keeps tender vigil
And if offended your empty sockets should weep
Your frozen tears such a delicate hand.
A hand more than that of a friend, but the hand of a sweetheart*
Will wipe them sweetly away from the sad dead hollows.

 

 

 

*The word hermana used here indicates a relationship deeper than friends but not quite that of lovers.

Translation Dia Tsung

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alfonsina y el mar

Por la blanda arena que lame el mar
su pequeña huella no vuelve más,
un sendero solo de pena y silencio
llegó hasta el agua profunda,
un sendero solo de penas mudas
llegó hasta la espuma.

 

 

 

 

Sabe Dios qué angustia te acompañó
qué dolores viejos calló tu voz,
para recostarte arrullada en el canto
de las caracolas marinas
la canción que canta,
en el fondo oscuro del mar, la caracola.

 

 

 

 

Te vas Alfonsina con tu soledad

qué poemas nuevos fuiste a buscar,
una voz antigua de viento y de sal,
te requiebra el alma y la está llevando,
y te vas hacia allá como en sueños,
dormida Alfonsina, vestida de mar.

 
Cinco sirenitas te llevarán
por caminos de algas y de coral,
y fosforescentes caballos marinos
harán una ronda a tu lado,
y los habitantes del agua
van a jugar pronto a tu lado.

 

 

Bájame la lámpara un poco más
déjame que duerma, nodriza en paz,
y si llama él no le digas que estoy
dile que Alfonsina no vuelve
y si llama él no le digas nunca que estoy,
di que me he ido.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Te vas Alfonsina con tu soledad              
qué poemas nuevos fuiste a buscar,
una voz antigua de viento y de sal
que requiebra el alma y la está llevando,
y te vas hacia allá, como en sueños,
dormida Alfonsina, vestida de mar.

 

 

 

 

Félix Luna lyrics

Ariel Ramírez music

Ariel Ramírez (4 September 1921 – 18 February 2010)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Félix Luna (September 30, 1925 – November 5, 2009)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alfonsina and the Sea

To the soft sand which is lapped by the sea
your little footprint return no more,
only  a path, a trail of pain and silence
reaching  up to the deep water,
only a path of silent torment
reaching up to the foam.

 

God knows what anguish accompanied you
What ancient suffering silenced  your voice,
to lean back, lulled in the song
of the  seashells
the song which they sing
on the deep darkness of the sea, the conch.

 

 

You went, Alfonsina with your solitude
To find what new poems are left to be found,
An ancient voice of the wind and the salt,
to shatter your soul and convey you,
and you go yonder as in dreams,
Alfonsina asleep, adorned with the sea.

 

 

 

 

 
Five little sirens will bear you
on paths of algæ and coral
and phosphorescent sea horses
encircle  your side,
and the inhabitants of the water
soon come to sport beside you

 

 

 

 

Lower the lamp for me, slightly
Let me sleep, o nurse, in peace
and if he calls, tell him I’m not here
tell him Alfonsina will not return
And if he calls, tell him nothing about me
simply say I have gone away.

 

 

 
You went, Alfonsina with your solitude
To find what new poems are left to be found,
An ancient voice of the wind and the salt,
to shatter your soul and convey you,
and you go yonder as in dreams,
Alfonsina asleep, adorned with the sea.

 

 

 

 

 

Translation Dia Tsung

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alfonsina y el mar, sung by Mercedes Sosa

 

 

 

 

 

These ripples of remembrance and commemoration, are tributes which spread out from the life of Delmira Agustini, an Uruguayan poet of Italian descent, who was murdered by her husband Enrique Reyes, a month after she had divorced him. Agustini had been married to Reyes for a month when the divorce was granted.

Agustini was emphatically a modern poet, who asserted her female voice in a time and place when women were not supposed to publicly assert either themselves or their work.  Her poems were powerful, personal and lyrical, and brought her both fame and notoriety. Fortunately many of her poems, together with English translations, can be found on the web,  and they are well worth finding and reading.  This is a list of her published work.

1907: El libro blanco
1910: Cantos de la mañana
1913: Los cálices vacíos, pórtico de Rubén Darío
1924: Obras completas “Complete Works”: Volume 1, El rosario de Eros; Volume 2: Los astros del abismo, posthumously published, Montevideo, Uruguay: Máximo García
1944: Poesías, prologue by Luisa Luisi Motevideo, Claudio García & Co.
1971: Poesías completas, prólogue and notes by Manuel Alvar, Barcelona: Editorial Labor

Alfonsina Storni, an Argentinian writer and poet of Italian descent, commited suicide by walking into the sea (the Mar del Plata) in 1938, a year after the suicide of her close friend and fellow writer, the Uruguayan/Argentinan (both countries claim him) Horacio Quiroga. She had been suffering from breast cancer. There are many articles on her work and life to be found on the web. This is a link to the Britannica thumbnail listed under her name.

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/567660/Alfonsina-Storni

Félix Luna is listed in Wikipedia as “a prominent Argentine writer, lyricist and historian.” Luna was born on September 30th 1925, Happy Birthday five hours from now Mr. Luna.

I don’t know how coincidences occur, but when I decided to post a couple of poems by Delmira Agustini today, I was led to a tribute to her written by Alfonsina Storni. From there I was led to the poem dedicated to Storni written by Félix Luna. I then found the poem had been set to music by Ariel Ramírez, and found the beautiful version of the song sung by Mercedes Sosa.

Read Full Post »

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The words to the original version of this classic “Les feuilles mortes” (the dead leaves) were written by the wonderful French poet Jacques Prévert. This is only a partial version of his poem, in fact only the refrain, but the complete version, performed by Juliette Greco can be found on Youtube and the complete text can be found on the web.

Joseph Kosma composed the melody forever associated with all versions of this song.

The English lyrics “Autumn Leaves,” was written by Johnny Mercer in 1947.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autumn Leaves

Jo Stafford

The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold
I see your lips, the summer kisses
The sun-burned hands I used to hold

 

 

 

 

Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song
But I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autumn Leaves

Bill Evans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Las hojas muertas

Andrea Bocelli and Christina Aguilera

Esta canción se nos parece,  
me amaste tú y yo te amé,
la vida así, la compartimos
me amaste tú y yo te amé

 

 

Mas la vida al fin nos separa
sin más rumor con suavidad,
y la mar borrará de la arena
los pasos que dió nuestro amor

 

 

Mais la vie sépare ceux qui s’aiment
(la vida al fin…)
Tout doucement, sans faire de bruit
(nos separará…)
Et la mer efface sur le sable
(yo también te amé…)
Les pas des amants désunis
(con suavidad)

 

 

Mas la vida al fin nos separá
sin más rumor con suavidad,
y la mar borrará de la arena
los pasos que dió nuestro amor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This song seems like us                                         
I who was loved by you, and I who loved you
that love we shared
I who was loved by you, and I who loved you
but in the end life separated us
without a sound and with sweetness
and the sea will erase on the sand
the footprints taken by our love.

 

 

 

Spanish translation Dia Tsung

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patricia Barber

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bill Evans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yves Montand

 

 

 

 

 

 

Les feuilles mortes

C’est une chanson qui nous ressemble
Toi, tu m’aimais et je t’aimais
Et nous vivions tous deux ensemble
Toi qui m’aimais, moi qui t’aimais
Mais la vie sépare ceux qui s’aiment
Tout doucement, sans faire de bruit
Et la mer efface sur le sable
Les pas des amants désunis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a song that seems like us
You, you were loving me, and I was loving you
And we were living, both of us together
You who were loving me, and I who was loving you
But life separates those who love each other
Completely sweetly, without making any sound
And the sea erases on the sand
The footprints of lovers no longer together.

 

French translation Bev Noia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autumn Leaves

Oscar Peterson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autumn Leaves

Nat King Cole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autumn Leaves

Stéphane Grappelli

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sergey Aleksandrovich Yesenin (September 21 1895 – December 27 Dec. 1925)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sergei Aleksandrovich Yesenin, Sergey Yesenin or Serge Isenin was born on September 21st 1895 or October 3rd 1895. He died by committing suicide, or was bumped off by the government a few months after his 30th birthday, having the week before sent a farewell poem to a friend or former lover, no one knows for certain. He was married six – or eight – times, depending on the source of information.  The attachments he formed with the women in his life never lasted more than a year, after which time he abandoned them.  One of his wives was Isadora Duncan, and another (the last) Sophia Andreyevna Tolstoya was the granddaughter of Leo Tolstoy. He had four children by three different women; the last, whom he never saw, was  his son  by the poet Nadezhda Volpin: Alexander Esenin-Volpin,  was  later to become a mathematician of note and a Soviet dissident.

Yesenin had longer, and perhaps more durable relationships with men than with women. His liaison with Nikolai Kliuiev  lasted two years, and the one with Anatoly Mariengof, with whom he cohabited and to whom he dedicated many of his works,  lasted four. Yesenin took up with Mariengof a year after his marriage (his second) to actress Zinaida Raikh in 1917. Despite  substantial and undeniable evidence of his homosexuality or bisexuality, (he was very close ‘friends’ with openly gay poets Riurik Ivnev and Leonid Kannegiser, who promoted his career), these facts seem to be ignored in all the popular sources I came across on the web.

Yesenin’s suicide-note, written in blood, was addressed to a young Jewish poet Wolf Ehrlich in whose company he had recently spent the night, Yesenin has never been considered by the Russians, who revere his work, as anything but heterosexual. This should come as no surprise, since Russian society, then, as now, was virulently homophobic, and to acknowledge a ‘national’ poet as being anything but dedicatedly heterosexual would be pure anathema.

Yesenin was a debauchèe from a very young age, given to drinking, and later, drug-taking. He was a philanderer, a wrecker of hotel-rooms, a hooligan by his own admission, who once scrawled obscene graffiti on a convent wall in the name of poetic innovation and, shamefully, he was a batterer of women. He was mentally unstable, having been admitted to mental institutions at least five times during his short life. He doubtless suffered from what we today think of as bipolar disorder, absence of impulse-control, depression, narcissistic disorder, borderline personality disorder and episodes of medium to severe psychosis complete with hallucinations.

He was a poseur, given to costuming himself opulently in pseudo-peasant garb of silk shirt, red boots and gold belt. He relished being accorded what amounted to a semblance of royal patronage when he was asked to read his poetry to the Tzarina. He supported the revolution and applied for (and was refused) membership in the communist party, because he was considered “too individual and alien to any and all discipline.” Later on he was to denounce the revolutionaries as frauds, and there is a suggestion that unnamed and unidentified functionaries of the state compelled him to commit himself into the mental institution from which he ‘escaped’ a few days before his death. His work was banned by Stalin, but secretly devoured by the masses. His poetry is considered quintessentially Russian, and despite his  violent behaviour and many other serious human defects, he is  still considered a hero by the Russian people. Part of the cover-up of Yesenin’s homosexual relationships is the questionable account of the suicide note entrusted to Elisaveta Ustinova,  with the directive that she should not read it immediately. In fact the note was given to the young Jewish poet Wolf Ehrlich, in whose company he had spent the night two days prior.

Anyone who reads Yesenin’s poetry and fails to feel the tectonic  mood shift from ordinary sense into entranced melancholy has to be singularly unfeeling and insensitive, or even in a sense dead.  His poems are powerful, compelling, evocative, persistent, haunting, inducing the mind to take flight and enter the places to which it is effortlessly conveyed. This can sometimes feel like a transplant of mood and emotions – a kind of possession: such intense feelings, such losses, confusion and despair….

One feels that Yesenin’s poetical modus was that of a hunter who was able to  snatch the wild denizens of his symbolic brain from their  forest-dwelling in his intuitive self, and to convey  the essence of their  potent and shadowy existence into poems, while keeping their wildness even as they are tamed by language. He was able to effect their forcible conversion into language, fix them on paper, and there to make them move again, and resume their lives in other minds.

Yesenin is an aberration. His are disturbing poems,  with their dark emotions, and jaunty rhythms, some of which express a kind of insolence, but most if not all, possessing a powerful and seductive beauty. It is clear that he was able to see into the soul of things. His love of nature and animals, the Russian countryside and its people, rings strong and clear. Yet, he resembles in many ways what Robert Graves referred to as the anti-poet. The anti-poet is someone who falsely puts on a poet’s cover, who has an avocation as opposed to a vocation: someone who seduces women rather than reveres them, and who, far from being devoted to a mystical art, is merely a writer of poems. The anti-poet’s muse is an object of desire until it has been captured and claimed, but afterwards becomes a mere possession and a plaything, to be used and abused, degraded and then discarded. A genuine poet is certainly not given to battering the women who inspire his poetry, betraying them, humiliating them, exploiting them and deserting them. A genuine poet is never a misogynist: an anti-poet always is.  Yesenin’s behaviour certainly bore this out. His heartless comment about his marriage to Isadora Duncan whom he battered and humiliated throughout their brief relationship, was that he “married her for her money, and for the chance to travel.” Even after his death, Yesenin continued to be a fatal blight on many of the women who loved him.  In 1926, a year after his death, Galina Arturovna Benislavskaya, who had been his secretary of sorts for several years and who Yesenin had cast aside to marry Sofia Andreyevna Tolstaya, hanged herself on a tree growing by Yesenin’s grave. Isadora Duncan, in a weird echo of  Yesenin’s death, was killed in a tragic motor accident when the scarf around her neck was caught in the wheel of the car in which she was riding. Zinaida Reikh, Yesenin’s second wife  was murdered  by the KGB in 1940.

So it is confusing – this ambivalence I feel, which compels me to examine the grey area where one finds what seems to be genuine poetry written by a dipsomaniacal cad, a drunk, and a mental case.  Yesenin’s poetry moves me, but I cannot repress the feelings of disgust and revulsion which  Yesenin’s character inspires in me. I think I now understand a little better how Christians feel who must for their own peace of mind distinguish the works of the holy spirit from those of the devil, particularly when their manifestations mimic each other. The works, the signs, the marvels which are his poems, are wonderful to contemplate, but they exist in the shadow of something quite monstrous – his outrageous and often contemptible behaviour.

Perhaps in his repeated seductions and betrayals of women Yesenin was re-enacting the desertion he felt when he was abandoned by his parents, who left him with his grandmother when they went off to live in the city. His boisterous uncles treated him roughly – and we cannot be sure if the roughness was altogether good-natured. He was stripped naked and thrown into the water in order to learn to swim, and later on made to serve in lieu of  a dog to retrieve game  when the uncles went duck-hunting. They ‘taught’ him to ride by setting him off  bare-back on a galloping horse. All these apparently rough- and-tumble experiences could have been felt, even if they were well-intentioned, by a sensitive child to be jarring and sadistic, and the damage they may have caused could have led to a permanent lack of mental balance.  It has even crossed my mind that Yesenin might have been illegitimate, or of uncertain paternity – for why was he the only one of his parents’ children to have been cast-off in this fashion….?

It occurs to me that one possible way in which to resolve the paradox of contemptible poet and beautiful, seeming ‘true’ poetry, is to conclude that some of the poetry was genuine, whereas the ‘poet’ was not. This speculation leads directly to another, which is, that we are contemplating not one, but two people. One of these dual personalities is a deeply flawed human being, tormented by mental illness, addiction, conflicted sexuality and a deeply ravaged character with violent and sadistic tendencies. The other produced ravishing  beautiful poetry.

Narcissistic personalities, depending on their level of intelligence (and Yesenin was highly intelligent) are able feign empathetic behaviour while completely lacking the genuine feelings that inspire it.  The dual personality speculation is supported by  Alexandr Voronsky who attempted to get treatment for Yesenin’s chronic alcoholism. Voronsky states that”On the one hand, he was polite, calm, restrained, reasonable and distant. On the other, he was arrogant, boastful and rude.” Voronsky goes on to describe an incident where “Yesenin, extremely drunk, climbed on a chair and began an incoherent, boastful speech. But then a little later, he recited his poetry from memory… It was masterful, hypnotizing. Yesenin was one of the best at reciting poetry in all of Russia. The poems came from his very core, and any excesses came from his heart.”

One wonders about how Yesenin’s life might have been different if he had lived today, when a diagnosis of manic depression, and possible treatment might have provided some relief from his mental torment, and perhaps provided some sense of stability. But it is also very likely that treatment, like the lethal combination of mental illness, alcohol and drugs which fueled his rush to perdition might also have dampened his creative impulse. We cannot know to what extent  his dual personality, narcissistic disorder,  alcoholism, drug abuse, lack of impulse control, his violent outbursts,  grandiosity, promiscuity, and homosexuality  might have been the engine of his genius. Was he an injured and abandoned child or a monster? Was he a pure soul afflicted by mental illness, or a sociopath? An opportunist, or merely an unsuccessful survivor?  Or was he all of these things coexisting in a bedlam of tottering personality?

In the end, above all Yesenin remains a symbol of how perhaps Russians wish to think of themselves. His vigorous strain of melancholy, his blazing talent, his deep love of nature, his vivid and tragedy-infused sense of life, are all things we associate with the Russian ethos. The photograph of Yesenin in his coffin shows stark evidence of the undertaker’s art – the tamed hair, the steps taken to keep the eyeballs from sinking as they are prone to soon after death, all speak of a hopeless attempt to salvage a memory which begs to be retained, but which also must be sanitised, if it is not to be not expunged.  The picture of a ruined life can be endured only if it is rotated to an unfamiliar angle. In the end persists the touching detail that Yesenin did not use a hangman’s noose to end his life, but that he “wound the cord around his neck like a scarf.”

Here are some recollections gleaned from the web of people who knew Yesenin personally:

Vladimir Mayakovsky ‘s description of his first meeting  with Sergei Yesenin.
The first time I saw him he was dressed in a shirt embroidered with some crosses and had bast moccasins on his feet. Knowing how eagerly a genuine – as opposed to a theatrical – peasant changes his attire to town jackets and shoes, I did not believe Yesenin. He seemed to me put-on and showy. All the more so because he was already writing successful poetry and could certainly afford shoes.

 Victor Serge: Memoirs of a Revolutionary (1945)
When I saw Yesenin for the first time, I disliked him. Twenty-four years old, he mixed with the women, ruffians, and ragamuffins from the dark corners of Moscow. A drinker, his voice was hoarse, his eyes worn, his handsome young face puffed and polished, his golden-blond hair flowing in waves around his temples. Dressed in a white silk smock, he would mount the stage and begin to declaim. The affectation, the calculated elegance, the alcoholic’s voice, the puffy face, everything prejudiced me against him; and the atmosphere of a decomposing Bohemianism, entangling its homosexuals and exotics with our militants, all but disgusted me. Yet, like everyone else, I yielded in a single instant to the positive sorcery of that ruined voice, of a poetry which came from the inmost depths of the man and the age.

Ilya Ehrenberg
Yesenin was always surrounded by satellites. The saddest thing of all was to see, next to Yesenin, a random group of men who had nothing to do with literature, but simply liked (as they still do) to drink somebody else’s vodka, bask in someone else’s fame, and hide behind someone else’s authority. It was not through this black swarm, however, that he perished, he drew them to himself. He knew what they were worth; but in his state he found it easier to be with people he despised.

Vladimir Mayakovsky about his meeting with Sergei Yesenin just before his death in 1925.
My last meeting with him made a depressing but great impression on me. By the Gosizdat cashier’s office a man with a swollen face, twisted tie, and cap only by a miracle holding onto his head, caught by a fair lock of hair, threw himself at me. He and his two horrid (to me at least) companions smelled from alcohol. With the greatest difficulty I recognized Yesenin. With difficulty, too, I rejected the persistent demands that we go for a drink, demands accompanied by the waving of a fat bunch of banknotes. All day long I had his depressing image before me, and in the evening, of course, I discussed with my colleagues what could be done about Yesenin. Unfortunately, in such a situation everyone always limits himself to talk.

Vadim Gabrielevich Shershenevich
Everywhere in his verse the single theme began to appear: the theme of death – We thought it was only a literary theme. We thought it was only a poetic device, and yet it turned out to be the terrible truth.

Olga Hasty
Although his suicide was shocking and theatrical, critics and commentators found in his verse no dearth of material for retrospective proof of its inevitability. A fear of losing his poetic abilities was a widely accepted explanation for his suicide and the images of death in his latter poetry.
Leonid Leonov speaking of of all of Esenin’s last poems
He foretold his end in every theme, cried out about it in every line: One merely needed ears to hear him.

Victor Serge account upon entering Sergei Yesenin hotel room soon after he committed suicide.
They found him hanging with a suitcase-strap around his neck, his forehead bruised by falling, as he died, against a heating-pipe. Lying there washed and combed on his death-bed, his face was less soft than in life, his hair brown rather than golden; he had an expression of cold, distant harshness.
Thirty years old, at his peak of glory, eight times married. He was our greatest lyrical poet, the poet of the Russian campaigns, of the Moscow taverns, of the Revolution’s singing Bohemians. He spawned lines full of dazzling images, yet simple as the language of the villages.
He plumbed his own descent into the abyss: (quoting Yesenin) “Where have you led me, you, my reckless head?” and “I have been loathsome, I have been wicked – and all so that I could blaze more brilliantly.”
He had tried to be in tune with the times, and with our official literature. (quoting Yesenin again) “I am a stranger in my own land; My poems are no longer needed now, and myself I am unwanted.”

Regarding Yesenin, his former lover Anatoly Mariengof remarked
If Sergei decided to leave us, he must have somehow come to doubt his own creative powers. There could not be any other reason for his death, just as he had no other aim in life save his poems.

The events leading to Yesenin’s suicide recount a tragic inevitability. An article I found  about him on the internet states:
“The last two years of his life were filled with constant erratic and drunken behavior, but he continued to produce quality works of poetry. In the Spring of 1925, a highly volatile Sergei Yesenin met and married his fifth wife, Sophia Andreyevna Tolstoya, a granddaughter of Leo Tolstoy. She attempted to get him help but he suffered a complete mental breakdown and was hospitalized for a month. On his release at Christmas, two days later he cut his wrist and wrote a farewell poem in his own blood, then hanged himself from the heating pipes on the ceiling of his St. Petersburg hotel room.”

Yesenin was released – some say escaped – on December 27th, and checked into  room #5 at the Hotel Angleterre, and soon thereafter spent the night with Wolf Ehrlich. Yesenin hanged himself on the morning of December 28th 1925. He was 30 years old at the time of his death.

The police report reads:
“…Arriving on the spot I discovered hanging from a pipe of the central heating system a man in the following state: his neck was not held tight in a loop, but only on the right side of the neck, his face was turned toward the pipe, and the wrist of the right hand had caught hold of the pipe. The corpse was hanging just beneath the ceiling, and the feet were about 1 1/2 meters from the floor. Near the spot where the man was hanging there lay an overturned night table, and the candelabrum standing on it lay on the floor. When the corpse was taken from the rope and examined, a cut was found on the right arm above the elbow on palm side, there were scratches on the wrist of the left arm, and a bruise beneath the left eye. He was dressed in grey trousers, a white shirt, and black patent-leather shoes.”

Georgy Ustinov, probably the husband of the Elizaveta Ustinova who was said to be the recipient of Yesenin’s suicide note, (by yet another account the note was also said to have been found beside his dead body) speculated about Yesenin’s death:
“The corpse was holding with one hand on to the central heating pipe. Esenin had not made a noose, he had wound the rope around his neck just like a scarf. He could have jumped out at any moment. Why did he seize hold of the pipe? In order not to fall out  or in order to avoid the possibility of dying? People say that the autopsy established that his death was instantaneous, from a broken spine. Perhaps he had miscalculated the force of his fall when he kicked the stool away from under him  and died by accident, wanting merely to play with death? All this is as yet an insoluble mystery. The doctor who carried out the autopsy said: in answer to my question whether autopsies can reveal anything about the last mental experiences–‘Science is powerless here. We can establish only the physical anomalies, but the psyche flies away together with the last breath.’

In Yesenin’s own words, “Generally speaking, a lyric poet should not live long.”

Yesenin’s farewell poem.

Goodbye, my friend, goodbye.
My dear, you are in my heart.
Predestined separation
Promises a future meeting.
Goodbye, my friend, without handshake and words,
Do not grieve and sadden your brow,-
In this life there’s nothing new in dying,
But nor, of course, is living any newer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

There’s the silly elation,
The garden the windows look on!
Soundless sunset reflection
Swims in the pool, like a swan.     

Greetings, golden serenity,
Shadows of trees, black as tar!
Crows on the roof, in sincerity,
Hold vespers in praise of the star.

Timidly, over the garden
Where the guelder-rose springs,
A girl in a snow-white  garment
A beautiful melody sings.

Like a blue gown, the evening
Cold from the meadow sweeps…
Happiness, sweet silly feeling!
Virginal blush of the cheeks!

1918

2
You were crying on a quiet night,                    
Those tears in your eyes you weren’t hiding,
I was so sad  and so depressed inside,
And yet we couldn’t overcome misunderstanding.

Now you are gone, I’m here, on my own,
My dreams have faded, losing tint and colour,
You left me, and again I am all alone,
Without tenderness and greeting, in my parlour.

When evening comes I often, crowned with rue,
Come to the place of our dating here,
And in my dreams I see the sight of you
And hear you crying bitterly, my dear.

1912-1913

3
What is Gone Cannot be Retrieved

Lovely night, I will never retrieve it,      
And I won”t see my sweet precious love.
And the nightingale”s  song, I won”t hear it,
Happy song that it sang in the grove!

That sweet night is now gone irrevocably,
You can”t tell it: please come back and wait.
Autumn weather has now set in locally,
With perpetual rains, all is wet.

Fast  asleep in the grave is my sweetheart
Keeping love, as before, in her heart.
And however it tries, autumn blizzard
Cannot wake her from sleep, flesh and blood.

So the nightingale”s singing has ended,
As the song-bird has taken to flight,
And I can”t hear the song now,  so splendid,
Which it sang on that sweet chilly night.

Gone and lost are the joyous emotions
That I had in my life and conceived.
All I have now is chill in my conscience.
What is gone can’t be ever retrieved.

1911-1912

4

I do not regret, and I do not shed tears,
All, like haze off apple-trees, must pass.
Turning gold, I’m fading, it appears,
I will not be young again, alas.

Having got to know the touch of coolness
I will not feel, as before, so good.
And the land of birch trees, – oh my goodness!-
Cannot make me wander barefoot.

Vagrant’s spirit! You do not so often
Stir the fire of my lips these days.
Oh my freshness, that begins to soften!
Oh my lost emotions, vehement gaze!

Presently I do not feel a yearning,
Oh, my life! Have I been sleeping fast?
Well, it feels like early in the morning
On a rosy horse I’ve galloped past.

We are all to perish, hoping for some favour,
Copper leaves flow slowly down and sway…
May you be redeemed and blessed for ever,
You who came to bloom and pass away…

1921

5
The tired day droops, slowly waning ,
The noisy waves are now tranquil.
The sun has set, the moon is sailing
Above the world, absorbed and still.

The valley listens to the babbles
Of peaceful river in the dale.
The forest, dark and bending, slumbers
To warbling of the nightingale.

The river, listening in and fondling,
Talks with the banks in quiet hush.
And up above resounds, a-rolling,
The merry rustle of the rush.

6
It’s sad to look at you, my love,
And its so painful to remember!
It seems, the only thing we have
Is tint of willow in September.

Somebody’s lips have outworn
Your warmth and body trepidation,
As if the rain was drizzling down
The soul, that stiffened in congestion.

Well, let it be! I do not dread.
I have some other joyous gala.
There’s nothing left for me except
For brown dust and grizzly colour.

I’ve been unable, to my rue,
To save myself, for smiles or any.
The roads that have been walked are few
Mistakes that have been made are many.

With funny life and funny split
So it has been and will be ever.
The grove with birch-tree bones  in it
Is like a graveyard, well I never!

Likewise, we’ll  go to our doom
And fade, like callers of the garden.
In winter flowers never bloom,
And so we shouldn’t grieve about them.

1923

Poems 1 –6 Translated by Alec Vagapov

7

Now all is set, and I forsake
My homeland’s woods and sunlit glare.
No longer will the poplars cleave
Their winged foliage in my hair.

The low house stoops without my height,
My faithful dog has long licked sod.
On crooked Moscow streets at night
I am to die, so promised God.

This town of elms, I love it well,
Decrepit, flabby – be it so.
And drowsy golden Asia’s swell
Has died upon the rounded domes.

And when the moonlight gilds the sky
Who knows just how it got that far!
My head hung down, I then espy
Across the street a well-known bar.

In foulest lair of noise and grime,
Through all the night until day’s brink,
To hookers I will read sweet rhyme,
And heat my bones with thugs and drink.

 

My heart will rise as throbbing sun,
Then I will say, in whispered shout:
“I’m just like you, O fallen one
I also have now no way out.”

On crooked streets in Moscow bright,
My loving dog has fled the rod;
My measly house has stooped in fright:
I am to die, thus deemed my God

1922

Translation Hadi Deeb

http://hadideeb.com/journal/2009/9/6/esenin.html.

 

8

To Kachalov’s Dog

Come, Jim, give me your paw for luck,
I swear i’ve never seen one like it.
Let’s go, the two of us, and bark
Up the moon when Nature’s silent.
Come, Jim, give me your paw for luck.
Stop licking me, pet, and please do
At least heed this advice I’m giving.
Of life you haven’t got a clue,
You do not realise life is worth living.
You master’s kind a man of note,
And visitors his home are thronging,
They all admire your velvet coat
Which smilingly they love to fondle.
You’re devilish handsome for a dog,
So charming, trusting, un-suspicious,
Not asking if you may or not,
Like a drunken pal, you plaster kisses.

 

 
Dear Jim, I know a great variety        
Of visions of all sorts call,
But have you seen her here, the saddest
And the least talkative of all?
I’m sure she’ll come here. In my absence
Please catch her eye. Go kiss her hand for me,
For all my real or fancied errors asking
Forgiveness of her in humility.

1925

9

The Blizzard
on 26 April 1912

“What do you need?” I pleaded
With the blizzard, “Please depart.
You summon sadness and dread
And worries that sicken my heart;
Why do you howl at my window?
Let me be now, I’m praying;
Move away, or stay and blow,
But don’t listen – I’m crying.

In hot prayers at this hour
I confess my sins to God,
My soul joins the Power;
Lost spirit, forgive me God.

I’ll be in a grave soon; blow hard,
Moan over me then, blizzard,
But now, please go away,
Or, for my sinful soul, please pray.”

10

The grove of golden trees has fallen silent,
Shorn of its gay leaves, in mute silhouette,
And so the cranes in sad file past it flying
Have no cause any more to feel regret.

For whom, for what? We are all rovers, starting
Out, coming home awhile, then traveling on.
The hemp field’s dreaming of all who departed
And there’s a full moon gazing at the pond.

I stand alone, the bare expanses viewing,
While on the wind the cranes are borne away.
Remembrance of my merry youth pursuing,
I find nothing I would relive today.

I don’t regret the years that I have wasted,

 
I don’t regret the lilac time of life.
A rowan fire is in the orchard blazing
But none shall from its brightness warmth derive.

Red rowan-berry clusters cannot scorch you,
The grasses will no yellow and decline.
As leaves fall softly from a tree in autumn
So I let fall these mournful words of mine.

And if time with its breezy broom should pile them
Into a heap to burn without regret…
Just say this … that the golden grove fell silent,
Shorn of its leaves, in pensive silhouette.

1924

11
Letter to Mother

Still around, old dear? How are you keeping?
I too am around. Hello to you!
May that magic twilight ever be streaming
Over your cottage as it used to do.

People write how sad you are, and anxious
For my sake, though you won’t tell them so,
And that you in your old-fashioned jacket
Out onto the highroad often go.

 
That you often see in the blue shadows
Ever one dream, giving you no rest:
Someone in a drunken tavern scuffle
Sticks a bandit knife into my chest.

Don’t go eating your heart out with worry,
It’s just crazy nonsense and a lie.
I may drink hard, but I promise, mother,
I shall see you first before I die.

I love you as always and I’m yearning
In my thoughts for just one thing alone,
Soon to ease my heartache by returning
To our humble low-roofed country home.

I’ll return when decked in white the branches
In our orchard are with spring aglow.
But no longer wake me up at sunrise,
As you used to do eight years ago.

Do not waken dreams no longer precious,
Hope never fulfilled do not excite.

Translation  poems 9 – 11 by K.M.W. Klara

And this, perhaps the most hallucinatory of Yesenin’s poems

12
Black Man

My friend, my friend,
I am very sick. Nor do I know  
Whence came this sickness.
Either the wind whistles
Over the desolate, uninhabited field,
Or as September strips a copse,
Alcohol strips my brain.

My head waves my ears
Like a bird its wings.
Unendurably it looms my neck
When I walk.

 
The black man,
The black, black,
Black man
Sits by me on the bed all night,
Won’t let me sleep.

This black man
Runs his fingers over a vile book,
And, twangling above me,
Like a sleepy monk over a corpse,
Reads a life
Of some drunken wretch,
Filling my heart with longing and despair.

 
The black man,
Oh black man.

“Listen, listen”–                     
He mutters to me –
The book is full of beautiful
Plans and resolutions.
This fellow lived
His life in a land of most repulsive
Thieves and charlatans.

 

 

And in that land the December snow
Is pure as the very devil,
And the snowstorms drive
Merry spinning-wheels.
This man was an adventurer,
Though of the highest
And the best quality.
Oh, he was elegant,
And a poet at that,
Albeit a slight
But useful gift.
And some woman,
Of forty or so,
He called his “naughty girl,”
His “love.”

 

 

 

Happiness–he said–
Is a quickness of hand and mind.
Slow fools are always
Known for being unhappy.
heartaches, we know,
Derive
From broken, lying gestures,

At thunder and tempest,
At the world’s cold-heartedness,
During times of heavy loss
And when you’re sad
The greatest art on earth
Is to seem uncomplicatedly gay.

 

 

 

“Black man!
Don’t you dare!
You do not live as
A deep-sea diver.
What’s the life
Of a scandalous poet to me?
Please read this story
To someone else.”

 

 

 
The black man
Looks me straight in the eye
And his eyes are filled
With blue vomit–
As if he wants to say,
I’m a thief and rogue
Who’d robbed a man
Openly, without shame.

Ah friend, my friend,
I am very sick. Now do I know
Whence came this sickness.
Either the wind whistles
Over the desolate uninhabited field,
Or as September strips a copse,
Alcohol strips my brain.

 

 

The night is freezing              
Still peace at the crossroads.
I am alone at the window,
Expecting neither visitor nor friend.
The whole plain is covered
With soft quick-lime,
And the trees, like horsemen,
Assembled in our garden.

Somewhere a night bird,

 
Ill-omened, is sobbing.
The wooden riders
Scatter hoof-beats.
And again the black
Man is sitting on my chair,
He lifts his top hat
And, casual, takes off his cape.

“Listen! listen!”–he croaks,

 

 

 
Eyes on my face,
Leaning closer and closer.
I never saw
Any scoundrel
Suffer so stupidly, pointlessly,
From insomnia.
Well, I could be wrong.
There is a moon tonight.
What else is needed
By your sleep-drunken world?
Perhaps, “She” will come,
With her fat thighs,
In secret, and you’ll read
Your languid, carrion
Verse to her.

Ah, how I love these poets!
A funny race!
I always find in them
A story known to my heart–
How a long-haired monster
Profusing sexual languor
Tells of worlds
To a pimply girl-student.

 

 

 

I don’t know, don’t remember,
In some village,                          
Kaluga perhaps, or
Maybe Ryazan,
There lived a boy
Of simple peasant stock,
Blond-haired
And angel-eyed…

 

 

 

And he grew up,
Grew up a poet
Of slight but
Useful talent,
And some woman,
Of forty or so,
He called his “naughty girl,”
His “love.”

“Black man!
Most odious guest!
Your fame has long resounded.”
I’m enraged, possessed,
And my cane flies
Straight across
The bridge of his nose.
The moon has died.
Dawn glimmers in the window.

 

 

 
Ah, night!
Look, night, what have you done?
I stand in a hat.                                
No one is with me.
I am alone…
And the mirror is broken.

 

 

 

Translated by Geoffrey Hurley

 

 

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Luis de Carrillo y Sotomayor (circa 1582 – January 22, 1610).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A la ligereza y pérdida del tiempo

¡Con qué ligeros pasos vas corriendo!
¡Oh cómo te me ausentas, tiempo vano!
¡Ay, de mi bien, y de mi ser tirano,
cómo tu altivo brazo voy siguiendo!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detenerte pensé, pasaste huyendo;
seguíte, y ausentástete liviano;
gastéte a ti en buscarte, ¡oh inhumano!: 
mientras más te busqué, te fui perdiendo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ya conozco tu furia, ya, humillado,
de tu guadaña pueblo los despojos;
¡oh amargo desengaño no admitido! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ciego viví, y al fin, desengañado,
hecho Argos de mi mal con tristes ojos
huir te veo, y veo te he perdido.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On how time flees and is lost

With what light steps I see you running by!
Oh how you forsake and leave me, Time so vain!
Aye, tyrant of all my goods, and of my self,
Oh how your high-handedness now makes me feel!

 

 

 

I thought to detain you, but you fled away,
To follow you, but blithely you went speeding.
In seeking I squandered you, Oh inhuman one!
The more I sought you, the more of you I lost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now I know your fury, now admit I’m humbled,
By your scythe’s sweep is made a town of the despoiled,
Oh harsh disappointment, I still cannot accept!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Blind did I live, now at last being undeceived,
An Argus made of my ills, with saddened eyes
I see you flee, see now that you are lost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Translation Dia Tsung

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luis de Carrillo y Sotomayor, who wrote this sonnet, has been associated with the style referred to as Culteranismo, which in turn is classed as a development of the style called Góngorismo, after Luis de Góngora, one of the foremost poets of the Siglo de Oro, the golden age of Spanish literature.

Comparing de Carrillo y Sotmayor to Góngora seems to me inept and unfair, since Góngora’s style is overly-embellished, wordy, windy and bloated. It is replete with worthless classical conceits, and quiet bereft of real emotion and real meaning. De Carrillo’s is decidedly not.

I have not, by any means, read all of Luis de Carrillo y Sotomayor’s work, but the poems I have read do not reveal any of the vanity and prolixity so typical of Góngora, so I am left figuratively scratching my head, and wondering why I am unable to see what common characteristics (besides language) are to be found in the work of these two men.

The genuine sense of distress, and regret and frustration in this poem, which sounds and feels as if it had been written by a much older man and not one in his twenties, seems difficult to fathom. Francisco Quevedo y Villegas gives the year of Carrillo’s birth as 1582, which means de Carrillo was only about 28 years old when died, and a young man by any account.Though I could find no mention of any physical infirmity in any of the biographical material about him I came across on line, I wondered if de Carrillo might have had a premonition of his early death. Why else would he feel so acutely the sense of being imposed upon and cheated by time?

Did this man feel he had arrived at the end of his life without having achieved his goals and ambitions? Or was there some other cause for great unhappiness?

There is insufficient information in the historical record to answer these questions, and precious little personal information. So it seems, we must satisfy ourselves by trying to understand the state of mind in which this poem was composed and written.

These seem to me to be the words of a man who is unable to see himself in time’s reflection. There is a sense of something more than loss, which to me resembles rejection and erasure. He is absented – he cannot move out of time – yet time speeds away without him. He seems to be in a state of shock, as he realises that there is no temporal fixity. He on the other hand has been fixed by time, in such a wise, that the distance between him and that fast receding figure of Time grows ever longer.

Time is forever, and he is made of the mortal stuff which soon returns to dust. There is a real sense of mortality, and of desperation, and of a painful realisation, which seems likely to have been based on an event, about which we have not been given any hints.

Nor is there any hint of him reaching reflexively for the religious consolations normally resorted to in such moments of exigency. One gets the feeling that he knows it would do him no good to reflect on the fact that he is made in God’s image, if that image is only too susceptible to decay. It would seem that when Time disappeared into the unfathomable distance, de Carrillo found himself staring into the void.

Time is a thing that clocks measure, but we ourselves are clocks – we are the measure of time, even though our parts, unlike the works of clocks, wear out much sooner. We are the battleground of flux and fixity,  and even as we try to hold our place in space and time, they recede and leave us behind. Flux always wins. The question which seems to be asked in this poem, though it is not made explicit, is, “if matter does not matter, what is left that does matter?”

And if the answer is “nothing”, then what is there left to do but despair?

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Luigi Pirandello (28 June 1867 – 10 December 1936)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Through the large window that opened onto the house’s little hanging garden, the pure, fresh morning air made the pretty little room cheerful. An almond branch, which seemed to be all a-blossom with butterflies, projected toward the window; and, mingled with the hoarse, muffled gurgle of the small basin in the center of the garden, was heard the festive, peal of faraway church-bells and the chirping of the swallows intoxicated with the air and the sun-shine.

As she stepped away from the window, sighing, Anna noticed that her husband that morning had forgotten to rumple his bed as he used to do each time, so that the servants couldn’t tell that he hadn’t slept in his room. She rested her elbows on the untouched bed, then stretched out on it with her whole torso. bending her pretty blonde head over the pillows and half-closing her eyes, as if to savor, in the freshness of the linens, the slumbers he was accustomed to enjoy there. A flock of swallows flashed headlong past the window shrieking.

“You would have done better to sleep here….,” she murmured languidly after a moment, and got up wearily. Her husband was to set out that very evening, and Anna had come into his room to prepare for him the things he needed for the trip.

As she opened the wardrobe, she heard what seemed to  be a squeak in the inner drawer and quickly, drew back, startled. From a corner of the room she picked up a walking stick with a curved handle and, holding her dress tight against her legs, took the stick by the tip and, standing that way at a distance, tried to open the drawer with it. But as she pulled,  instead of the drawer coming out, an insidious gleaming blade emerged smoothly from inside the stick. Anna, who hadn’t expected this, felt an extreme repulsion and let the scabbard of the sword stick drop from her hand. At that moment, a second squeak made her turn abruptly toward the window, uncertain whether the first one as well had come from some rapidly passing swallow.

With one foot she pushed aside the unsheathed weapon and pulled out, between the two open doors of the wardrobe, the drawer full of her husband’s old suits that he no longer wore. Out of sudden curiosity she began to rummage around in it and, as she was putting back a worn-out, faded jacket, she happened to feel, in the hem
under the lining, a sort of small paper, which had slipped down there through the torn bottom of the breast pocket; she wanted to see what that paper was which had gone astray and been forgotten there who knows how many years ago; and so by accident Anna discovered the portrait of her husband’s first wife.

At first she had a start and turned pale; she quickly ran her hand, which was shaken by a shudder, through her hair, and, with her vision blurred and her heart stopped, she ran to the window, where she remained in astonishment, gazing at the unfamiliar image almost with a feeling of panic.

The bulky hair style and the old-fashioned dress kept her from noticing at first the beauty of that face; but as soon as she was able to concentrate on the features, separating them from the attire, which now, after so many years, looked ludicrous, and to pay special attention to the eyes, she felt wounded by them and, together with her blood a flush of hatred leaped from her heart to her brain; a hatred as if caused by posthumous jealousy; that hatred mingled with contempt which she had felt for that other woman when she fell in love with Vittore Brivio, eleven years after the marital tragedy that had at one blow destroyed his first household.

Anna had hated that woman, unable to comprehend how she had been capable of betraying the man whom she now worshiped, and in the second place, because her family had objected to her marriage with Brivio, as if he had been responsible for the disgrace and violent death of his unfaithful wife. – It was she, yes, it was she beyond a doubt! Vittore’s first wife: the one who had killed herself!

She found the proof in the dedication written on the back of the portrait: “‘To my Vittore, his Almira – November 11, 1873.” Anna had very vague information about the dead woman: she knew only that Vittore, when the betrayal was discovered, had, with the impassivity of a judge, ordered her to take her own life.

Now with satisfaction she recalled that terrible sentence issued by her husband, and was irritated  by that “my” and “his” of the dedication, as if the other woman had wished to flaunt the closeness of the mutual ties that had bound her and Vittore, solely to spite her.

That first flare-up of hatred, ignited, like a will-o’-the-wisp by a rivalry which by now existed only for her, was succeeded in Anna’s mind by feminine curiosity: she desired to examine the features of that face, although she was partially restrained by the odd sorrow one feels at the sight of an object that belonged to a person who died tragically – a sorrow that was sharper now, but not unfamiliar to her, because it permeated her love for her husband, who had formerly belonged to that other woman.

Examining her face, Anna immediately noticed how entirely dissimilar it was to hers, and at the same time there arose in her heart the question of how the husband who had loved that woman, that girl, whom he must have found beautiful, could ever have later fallen in love with her, who was so different.

It seemed beautiful; even to her it seemed much more beautiful than  hers – that face which from the portrait looked swarthy. There !  – those lips had joined in a kiss with his lips; but now that sorrowful crease at the corners of the mouth? And why was the gaze in those intense eyes so sad? The entire face spoke of deep suffering; and Anna was moved and almost vexed by the humble and genuine kindness expressed by those features, and after that she felt a twinge of repulsion and disgust, when all at once she believed she had observed in the gaze of those eyes the same expression her own eyes had, whenever, thinking of her husband, she looked at herself in the mirror, in the mornings, after arranging her hair.

She had barely enough time to thrust the portrait into her pocket: her husband appeared, fuming, on the threshold to the room.  “What have you been doing? The usual thing? Every time you come into this room to straighten up, you rearrange everything. . . ”

Then, seeing the unsheathed sword stick on the floor: “Have you been fencing with the suits in the wardrobe?”

And he laughed that laugh of his which came only from the throat, as if someone had tickled him there; and, laughing in that fashion, he looked at his wife, as if asking her why he himself was laughing. As he looked, his eyelids constantly blinked with extreme rapidity against his sharp, black, restless little eyes.

Vittore Brivio treated his wife like a child capable of nothing but that ingenuous, exclusive and almost childish love with which he felt himself surrounded, frequently to his annoyance, and to which he had determined to pay attention only on due occasion, and even at those times displaying an indulgence partially mixed with light irony, as if he meant to say: “All right, have it your way! For a while I too will become a child along with you: this, too, must be done, but let’s not waste too much time!”

Anna had let the old jacket in which she had found the portrait drop to her feet. He picked it up, piercing it with the point of the sword stick; then, through the garden window he called the young servant who also doubled as a coachman and was at that moment harnessing the horse to the cabriolet. As soon as the boy showed up, in his shirt sleeves, in the garden in font of the window, Brivio rudely threw the dangling jacket in his face, accompanying the handout with a: “Take it, it’s yours.”

“This way, you’ll have less to brush,” he added, turning toward his wife, “and to straighten up, I hope!”  And again, blinking, he uttered that stentorian laugh of his.

On other occasions her husband had traveled out of the city, and not merely for a few days, also leaving at night like this time; but Anna, still extremely shaken by the discovery of the portrait on that very day, felt a strange fear of being left alone and wept when she said goodbye to him.

Vittore Brivio, in a great rush of fear of being late and evidently preoccupied with his business, reacted ill-manneredly to those uncustomary tears of his wife.

“What!  Why? Come on now, come on now, that’s so childish!” And he left in hot haste, without even saying goodbye.

Anna jumped at the sound of the door that he closed behind him with force; she remained in the little room with the lamp in her hand and felt her tears growing cold in her eyes. Then she roused herself and hurriedly withdrew to her room, intending to go to bed at once.

In the room, which was already prepared, the little night light was burning. “Go to bed,” Anna said to the maid who was waiting for her. “I’ll take care of things myself. Good night.” She extinguished the lamp, but instead of putting it on the shelf, as she usually did, she put it on the night table, with the feeling – actually against her will – that she might need it later. She started to undress hastily, gazing fixedly at the floor in front of her. When her dress fell around her feet, it occurred to her that the portrait was there, and with acute vexation she felt herself being looked at and pitied by those sorrowful eyes, which had made such an impression on her. With determination she stooped down to pick up the dress from the carpet and, without folding it, she placed it on the armchair at the foot of the bed, as if the pocket that hid the portrait and the tangle of the fabric should and could prevent her from reconstructing the image of that dead woman.

As soon as she lay down, she closed her eyes and forced herself to follow her husband mentally along the road leading to the railroad station. She forced this upon herself as a spiteful rebellion against the feeling that had kept her alert all day long, observing and studying her husband. She knew where that feeling had come from and she wanted to get rid of it.

In this effort of her will, which caused her an acute nervous agitation, she pictured to herself with an extraordinary second sight the long road, deserted at night, illuminated by the street lamps projecting their wavering light onto the pavement, which seemed to palpitate because of  it; at the foot of every lamp, a circle of shadow; the shops, all closed; and there was the carriage in which Vittore was riding: as if she had been lying in wait for it, she started following it all the way to the station: she saw the gloomy train beneath the glass shed; a great many people milling about in that vast, smoky, poorly lit, mournfully echoing interior: now the train was pulling out; and, as if she were really watching it move away and disappear into the darkness, she suddenly came back to herself, opened her eyes in the silent room and felt an anguished feeling of emptiness, as if something were missing inside her. She then felt confusedly, in a flash, becoming bewildered, that for three years perhaps, from the moment in which she had left her parents’ home, she had been in that void of which she was only now becoming conscious. She  had been unaware of it before, because she had filled that void with herself alone, with her love; she was becoming aware of it now, because all day long she had, as it were, suspended her love in order to look and to observe.

“He didn’t even say goodbye to me,” she thought; and she started to cry again, as if that thought were the definite reason for her tears.

She sat up in bed: but she suddenly held back the hand she had stretched out, while sitting up, to get her handkerchief from her dress. No, it was no longer any use to forbid herself to take another look at that portrait, to reexamine it! She took it. She put the light back on.

How differently she had pictured that woman Now, contemplating her real likeness, she felt remorse for the feelings that the imaginary woman had aroused in her. She had pictured a woman rather fat and ruddy, with flashing, smiling eyes, always ready to laugh, enjoying common amusements . . . And instead, now, there she was: a young woman whose clean-cut features expressed a profound, sorrowful soul; whose eyes expressed a sort of all-absorbing silence; yes, different from herself, but not in that earlier vulgar sense: just the opposite; no, that mouth looked as if it had never smiled, whereas her own had laughed so often and so gaily; and surely, if that face was swarthy (as it seemed to be from the portrait), it had a less smiling air than her own blonde and rosy face. Why, why so sad?

A hateful thought flashed across her mind, and all at once with violent repulsion she tore her eyes away from that woman’s picture, suddenly discovering in it a snare threatening not only to her peace of mind, to her love, which, as it was, had received more than one wound that day, but also to her proud dignity as an honest woman who had never allowed herself even the remotest thought hostile to her husband.

That woman had had a lover And perhaps it was because of him she was so sad, because of that adulterous love, and not because of her husband!

She tossed the portrait onto the bedside table and put out the light again, hoping to fall asleep this time without thinking any more about that woman, with whom she could have nothing in common. But, closing her eyes, she suddenly saw, in spite of herself, the dead woman’s eyes, and sought in vain to dispel that sight. “Not because of him, not because of him!” she then murmured with frenzied persistence, as if by insulting her she hoped to be rid of her.

And she made an effort to recall everything she knew about that other man, the lover, as if compelling the gaze and the sadness of those eyes to look no longer at her but at the former lover, whom she knew only by name: Arturo Valli. She knew that he had married a few years later as if to prove his innocence of the blame that Vittore wanted to ascribe to him, that he had vigorously declined Vittore’s challenge to a duel, protesting that he would never fight with a mad killer. After this refusal, Vittore had threatened to kill him wherever he came across him, even in church; and then he had left the town with his wife, returning later as soon as Vittore, remarried, had departed.

But from the sadness of those events which she now brought back to mind, from Valli’s cowardice and, after so many years, from the way the first wife had been completely consigned to oblivion by her husband, who had been able to resume his life and remarry as if nothing had happened, from the joy that she herself had felt upon becoming Vittore’s wife, from those three years she had spent together with him with never a thought about that other woman, unexpectedly a cause of pity for her spontaneously forced itself upon Anna; she saw her image again vividly and it seemed to her that with those eyes, intense from so much suffering, that woman was saying to her:
“But I’m the only one that died as a result! All of you are still living!”

She saw, she felt, that she was alone in the house: she got frightened. Yes, she was living; but for three years, since her wedding day, she hadn’t seen her parents or sister, not even once. She who adored them, a dutiful daughter, a trusting sister, had had the courage to oppose their wishes out of love for her husband; for his sake, when he was rejected by his own family, she had fallen seriously ill, and would no doubt have died if the doctors hadn’t induced her father to accede to her desire. And her father had yielded, but without giving his consent; in fact, he swore that after that wedding she would no longer exist for him or for that household. Besides the difference in age, the husband being eighteen years older than the wife, a more serious obstacle for the father had been Brivio’s financial position, which was subject to rapid ups and downs because of the risky undertakings on which this most enterprising and extraordinarily active man was accustomed to embark with foolhardy confidence in himself and his luck.

In three years of marriage Anna, surrounded by comforts, had been able to consider as unjust, or dictated by hostile prejudice, her father’s prudent misgivings as to the financial means of her husband, in whom, moreover, in her ignorance, she placed as much confidence as he had in himself; then, as for the difference in their ages, up to then there had been no manifest cause of disappointment for her or surprise for others, because Brivio’s advanced years produced in him not the slightest impairment to his small, highly animated and robust body and even less to his mind, which was endowed with tireless energy and restless eagerness.

It was something totally different that Anna, now for the first time, looking into her life (without even realizing it) with the eyes of that dead woman depicted there in the portrait on the bedside table, found to complain of in her husband. Yes, it was true: she had felt hurt at other times by his almost disdainful indifference; but never so much as on that day; and now for the first time she felt so frighteningly alone, separated from her family, who at that moment seemed to her to have abandoned her there, as if, upon marrying Brivio, she already had something in common with that dead woman and was no longer worthy of anyone else’s company. And her husband, who ought to have consoled her, it seemed that even her husband was unwilling to give her any credit for the sacrifice of her daughterly and sisterly love that she had offered him, just as if it had cost her nothing, as if he had had a right to that sacrifice and therefore had no obligation to make it up to her.  Yes, he had a right, but it was because she had fallen so totally in love with him at that time; therefore he now had an obligation to repay her. And instead . . .

“It’s always been like that!” Anna thought she heard the sorrowful lips of the dead woman sigh to her. She lit the lamp again and once more, contemplating the picture, she was struck by the expression of those eyes. So then, it was true, she too had suffered on his account? She too, realizing she wasn’t loved, had felt that frightening emptiness?

“Yes? Yes?” Anna, choking with tears, asked the picture. And it then seemed to her that those kindly eyes, intense with passion and heartbreak, were pitying her in their turn, were condoling with her over that abandonment, that unrequited sacrifice, that love which remained locked up in her breast like a treasure in a casket to which he had the keys but would never use them, like a miser.

 

 

 

Translation Stanley Applebaum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I first read Luigi Pirandello’s “With Other Eyes”, my thoughts flew immediately to Horacio Quiroga’s “The Feather Pillow”. The parallels are undeniable – a naive and inexperienced young woman is shut in a trap of marital disquiet with an unsympathetic older man. Having unwitting swallowed the poison pill of matrimony, both women find themselves isolated in echoingly large houses, far away from family and friends, with no apparent means of escape, and only their maids for company.

Quiroga proceeds to develop a gothic tale, reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe, in which a blood-sucking insect becomes the means and symbol whereby the life and life-blood of the young woman is gradually and fatally drained away. The young woman never realises the cause of her debilitating disease. Quiroga leads his readers to the inevitable conclusion that it is the marriage itself which is the life-destroying  ‘insect.’ We are allowed into the secret from which the protagonists are excluded, but he does not permit us access to their inner awareness – or rather the absence of such an awareness.

Pirandello is much more nuanced and more subtle. From the very outset we are privy to Anna’s thoughts, and to the process of the rapidly growing realisation of her predicament. Pirandello delves into, and allows us to eavesdrop so that we hear, the actual unfolding of Anna’s internal conversation and her insights and feelings, rather than make us rely on a plot-driven narrative, as does Quiroga.

By a mere accident, Anna finds a photograph of  her husband Vittore’s first wife, and literally overnight, she becomes chillingly conscious of her situation and indeed her fate. She has spent the entire three years of her marriage placidly drifting downstream, never looking below the surface of the water, content that her little boat afforded her a reasonable view of the embankments, and perhaps an occasional glimpse of the sky. She has passed through the pools of light and shadow, trailing her hand in the water, never noticing its murkiness or wondering about what lay, or lurked, beneath the surface.

It is reasonable to suppose that Anna married Vittore for love and security, and in this she resembles most of the women of her era. Most had reason to believe that their marriages stood on a firm and enduring foundation. These marriages were meant to last a lifetime, which is why Vittore compelled his first wife to end her life as a means of ending his marriage to her. So what can we suppose will unfold in Anna’s future?

When a crack in the underground appears, hitherto concealed and long repressed forces break through, and can no longer be denied. The outcome for Anna was earthshaking.

The little jolt of Vittore’s abrupt departure on a business trip becomes a persistent tremour when it is compounded by the accidental discovery of the photograph, with the result that a dangerous and irremediable rift tears open the foundation of Anna’s life.  She had permitted herself to be seduced by the superficial appearance of stability, the fiction of solid ground, the seemingly placid surface beneath which nature conceals her shifty proclivities.

Could it have been that until that very moment, in all of those three years, there had been no evidence, no hint, no suggestion even of a shaky foundation?  It must have been that the awareness of something was so deeply buried under such a profound and impermeable stratum of ignorance  – or denial – that no expression of it was permitted to rise to the surface.

Pirandello does not tell us directly, or in any great detail, what Anna saw when she stared into the fissure: but he doesn’t have to. She is marooned in a desolate wasteland. She has no family, and no children, and there is the strong suggestion that she will have none. Pirandello has deftly added a hovering cloud of ruin in the future, due to Vittore’s habit of reckless financial speculation. Anna may have had three years of relatively untroubled slumber, but now she is awake. She is trapped, isolated in a loveless marriage, in which the gradual decay of any previous happiness is inevitable, and death the most  probable means of escape.

In other stories with which we are familiar, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca come to mind, first wives are represented as sinister and dangerous artifacts of the past, whose resurgence into the present signals the incipience of a severe threat, or even the possible destruction of the second marriage. The sub-text, however, suggests that they represent hidden parts of the second wives’ psyches. I find myself concluding that this theory also finds its application in Pirandello’s story.

Anna’s happiness thus far has been procured at the cost of a deadened awareness, as forgotten and concealed as an old photograph in the pocket of an old suit belonging to someone else. From its place of concealment between the suit and lining, it has now emerged into the light of a lovely spring day.  She has been unconscious, but now the protection offered by that unconscious state has been stripped away. Now her only ally, the only one who shares her understanding of her predicament, is a face in an old photograph. It bears a mute witness to her newly dawning realisation that all is not as it had seemed. Two women, one dead and one who risks a living death, are each other’s only allies.  They share the knowledge of their deception by a ruthless man, a brute, a vulgar little bounder with eyes like a rodent’s, whose humanity is as vestigial as a human tail.

I had supposed when I first read this story, that Quiroga’s version was the darker, and Pirandello’s the softer and kinder, but now I am not so sure. I must suppose that Pirandello’s Anna is made of sterner stuff than either his Almira, or Quiroga’s Alicia (“rubia, angelical y tímida”), and that she is better equipped to resist than the other two.  Quiroga’s provision determined that Alicia’s suffering was to be of a relatively brief duration, and death provided her an expeditious and permanent end to it.

The only basis for any trace of optimism in a speculation of how her future might turn out, is that Anna, unlike the others, was awakened from her sleep. She has been warned by Almira, that taking a lover will not be a good option. She must constrain her emotional needs, and devise a way to negotiate the odium of all the empty years that lie ahead of her, however blighted they might be. She will have to mature, to grow wise, to rely on her own strengths, even though her only weapon appears to be one of negation, that is, to refuse to allow her heart and mind to be corrupted. I hope that she will succeed, because, I think, she must. It is imperative that she be able to find a way in which she will not merely endure, but survive a loveless life, and to go on living in spite of its horror.

There is an art, I believe, of finding a measure of freedom even within the confines a prison, and so the gaoler’s more advanced age must be allowed to count in Anna’s favour.

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Juana Inés de la cruz (12 November 1651 – 17 April 1695)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soneto 164

En que satisface un recelo con la retórica del llanto.

 

Esta tarde, mi bien, cuando te hablaba,
como en tu rostro y tus acciones vía
que con palabras no te persuadía,
que el corazón me vieses deseaba;

 

 

y Amor, que mis intentos ayudaba,
venció lo que imposible parecía:
pues entre el llanto, que el dolor vertía,
el corazón deshecho destilaba.

 

 

 

Baste ya de rigores, mi bien, baste:
no te atormenten más celos tiranos,
ni el vil recelo tu inquietud contraste

 

 

 

con sombras necias, con indicios vanos,
pues ya en líquido humor viste y tocaste
mi corazón deshecho entre tus manos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sonnet 164

In which she allays mistrust with the rhetoric of tears.

 

This evening, my love, as I with you I was speaking,
When on your face, your feelings I observed,
And when my words I saw could not persuade you
To see whereof it was my heart desired,

 

 

Love came to my aid, to help me with my cause
And win what seemed to be beyond achieving.
Then between the ache and flooding tears
Was the essence of my dismantled heart distilled.

 

 

 

Enough my love, be done with harshness: Cease!
Neither let tyranny and jealousy torment you
Nor let vile suspicions your concern obstruct

 

 

With foolish shadows tinged with vanities,
When now in liquid form you see and touch
My heart unmade, undone, within your hands.

 

 

Translation Dia Tsung.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is late afternoon or evening somewhere in the Colonial Mexico of over three centuries ago. Dusk has not yet fallen, and two young women are locked together in the grip of shared emotion. Tears are shed, words, exchanged, and a lovers’ quarrel or lovers’ misunderstanding is being intently addressed. One of the women  is a noble of the viceregal court, in fact she is  married to no less a personage than the viceroy of Mexico himself. The other is a nun and a poet.

Perhaps the evening light pouring through the window finds them ensconced in a quiet room, the nun’s private quarters, a large room filled with hundreds books and several scientific instruments, or perhaps they are in a secluded spot in the palace grounds or a convent garden. They are alone in each others’ company.

The nun is speaking urgently and sincerely, trying to persuade and convince the lady that she has no need to feel tormented. In fact, it is the nun who has the most cause to be jealous and suspicious, because it is the lady who has other calls on her affections. But since it is the nun who happens to be the gallant in this pairing, it is she who must minister to the other’s need.

It may appear to an onlooker – if indeed there was one to watch the scene form behind a tree or a curtain (as we the readers do now) – that the scene is simply of one woman pleading with another to not be upset. But what we are really seeing is a highly skilled emotional operation – that of open-heart surgery.

The chest is cut open, and delved into. It must be so, because all the symptoms of lovesickness so dictate. Acute longing, ardent emotions, jealousy, insecurity, anxiety, tears and pent-up emotion have brought about a crisis. It is a tender but dangerous moment, and must be handled with the greatest care. The cause of all the trouble, jealousy,  mistrust, disquiet and suspicion, must be found, and lovingly addressed.

Everyone longs for this –  to not have to speak or explain, but to have one’s expressions, one’s feelings, perfectly intuited, one’s mind read, one’s heart seen into and touched, the vulnerary applied, the wound soothed and dressed and set well on its way to healing. Does the lover exist who who does not fervently long for this –  For her lover to see what is worrying and disturbing her and to tenderly  and gently administer the remedy?

And all this must be accomplished before the lady will consent to wipe away the tears of the nun, for the tears are a required propitiation, the price that must be paid. The nun’s tears are the proof of her devotion and of her surrender.

Therefore she must be assiduous. She must enter and delve into the lady’s heart, leaving nothing undone to appease it and heal it, to reassure and restore calm. She must not  seem detached, but be fully engaged in every instant. Her skill as a lover and a psychologist must exceed even her skill as a poet. All, and not just some, of the ingredients of healing an emotional wound must present, a wonderfully deft treatment and a profound understanding of female psychology must be brought to bear if the destructive event is to be made to pass peacefully. Complete healing is required, and not mere amelioration.

As we watch, we see that such is her perfection of insight and comprehension she that she is able to formulate and express the other’s feelings, to speak for her. She knows the torment of jealousy is corrosive, and with her unwonted skill she must catch it at its inception and lead the way from confusion to comprehension, and from the heavy sense of unknowing within the clouds of feeling into a peaceful clarity, yet remain within the ambiance of the cloud. She must understand the nature of limmerance (a ‘psychosis’ of sorts, related to falling in love, of limited duration and a word which will not be invented for several centuries), and reason must be so sweetened as to please, and  to not be rejected.

The nun seems to have succeeded in assuring the doubter of her love and of her constancy. It was as if Thomas did not even have to lift a finger to have his doubts and  suspicions allayed, but that Christ had himself tenderly taken the hand of the doubter and placed it on the wound. The one with a greater wound heals the one with the lesser.  Surely the lady, though married, possessed a vastly more ample freedom than the cloistered nun, and far less cause for jealousy. Nevertheless, she is the one who now receives the other’s care and comfort.

This is a profound feat of healing, requiring a perfect touch, almost an excess of skill, like a surgeon, a doctor, diagnosing, opening up the body, removing the obstruction, applying the remedy, closing the wound, and then caring for the post-operative trauma of the patient.

Nor, I surmise, was the lady disappointed. Her emotions were read and  sedulously interpreted. She was reassured and comforted. The storm  has spent itself into a gentle rain. The last line with its erotic tinge suggests that thirst has been quenched and all is refreshed with he tears which have been shed onto her palms. It is as if  though at first, in the kind of at-sea-ness of love, she has been safely guided to the shore.

This is one of  Juana Inés’s best-known poems, I wonder if it is it a scene from the past she recalls, or is it more immediate? An old memory? Did she present the lady with this sonnet the following day, or did she dispatch a servant of the convent  to carry it to the viceregal court, accompanied perhaps with a box of the best convent confections?  Or did she write it years later, when the lady had long since left for Spain, and when the news of her death reached Juana Inés in Mexico?

The poet is a secret jeweller and goldsmith, who is well able to recognise a gem, to hold it until the right moment, which may come years later, and cut and polish it and persuade it to reveal its inherent brilliance and glory in a setting of her apt devising. It demands seemingly mutually exclusive skills, those of complete immersion and complete objectiveness.  But if not objective but still in love, at what pains was she to achieve the distance to create this accurate account and set it in a sonnet from like a gem in an elegant ring?

Perhaps it is the inspiration of the personal transcending Muse who is able to transmute the variegated mass of personal feeling into the clear colour of  flawless poetry.

“Love came to my aid,” writes Juana Inés, but what was ‘Love’, if not her own intuition, and her own virtuosity in matters of love?

 

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Giovanni Placido Agostino Pascoli (December 31, 1855 — April 6, 1912)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X Agosto

San Lorenzo, io lo so perché tanto
di stelle per l’aria tranquilla
arde e cade, perché si gran pianto
nel concavo cielo sfavilla.

 

 

 

 

 

Ritornava una rondine al tetto :
l’uccisero: cadde tra i spini;
ella aveva nel becco un insetto:
la cena dei suoi rondinini.

 

 

 

Ora è là, come in croce, che tende
quel verme a quel cielo lontano;
e il suo nido è nell’ombra, che attende,
che pigola sempre più piano.

 

 
Anche un uomo tornava al suo nido:
l’uccisero: disse: Perdono ;
e restò negli aperti occhi un grido:
portava due bambole in dono.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ora là, nella casa romita,
lo aspettano, aspettano in vano:
egli immobile, attonito, addita
le bambole al cielo lontano.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

E tu, Cielo, dall’alto dei mondi
sereni, infinito, immortale,
oh! d’un pianto di stelle lo inondi
quest’atomo opaco del Male!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 10th

Saint Lawrence, I know why so many                          
shooting stars in the tranquil air
blaze and tumble: it is because of the great weeping
in the glittering vault of heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A swallow was retuning to the roof:       
they killed her – she fell among thorns.
She held in her beak an insect,
the dinner for her little ones.

 

 

 

 

 

Now she is yonder – as on a cross –     
proffering the worms to the distant sky
and in the shadows of her waiting nest,
the chirping grows ever fainter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Likewise a man, also returning to his nest,
they killed him – he said “I forgive.”
And in his open eyes there was stuck a cry:
he was carrying two dolls as a gift.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now over there, in the lonely house
they await him, but await him in vain.
He immobile, in dazed surprise,
the dolls pointing to far-away heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And you, heaven, from on high,                       
above the worlds, serene, infinite, immortal,
Oh, with a single lament of the stars,
you flood this opaque atom of evil.

 

 

 

 

 

Translation Dia Tsung

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tenth of August is when Italians commemorate the martyrdom of Saint Lawrence. It is the night when meteor showers are expected to be most intense, and a magical night, when it is believed that such wishes as are ‘wished upon a star’ are likely to come true.

For twelve year-old Giovanni Pascoli, the tenth of August was a night on which his wishes were blighted. His father was killed while on his way home from a local fair, and the mare came home pulling the cart with the dead man in it. The murderers were never apprehended.

This poem was (and perhaps still is) standard fare for generations of  Italian school-kids, many of whom are likely to cry their little eyes out when they first read it. It also  serves as an excellent way in which to introduce these hapless mites at an early age, to the fact that life is uncertain, unpredictable and unfair.

The sense of tragedy and grief that pervades this poem was something Pascoli carried with him for the rest of his life. His father was killed in 1867, and several bereavements followed. His sister Margherita died in 1868, and soon thereafter, his mother and three brothers. One of these brothers was the oldest, who had been supporting the family, and after his death the family fell into severe financial difficulty.

I cannot help comparing Pascoli with another Italian ‘poet of pessimism’ Giacomo Leopardi. I admit this is unfair to Pascoli and no doubt unjust, but it is exceedingly tempting to compare the work of these two tormented men, erudite philologists who both loved nature, were preoccupied by loss, and who lived darkly unfulfilled lives.

Pascoli’s particular strain of melancholy clearly lacks the mordant acerbity of Leopardi’s. Pascoli, due to his academic credentials and success as a latinist, (he was a university professor, and won a significant sum in prize-money for his Latin publications) was professionally and financially successful during his lifetime,    whereas Leopardi barely managed to scrape by.

Leopardi, by far the greater intellect, was brilliantly despairing and clear-eyed about his deformity and doomed existence, but Pascoli, with his fervent idealisation of childhood and without Leopardi’s capacity for falling in love, seems to have sunk into a stupour of weak pessimism and resignation, from which no sparks seemed to fly. His alcoholism – and perhaps his success – seemed to have diverted him from taking the next step of staring unblinkingly into the abyss, something that Leopardi repeatedly and unflinchingly did throughout his literary life.

One wonders about the internal emotional traumas Pascoli sustained, that prevented him from finding any satisfaction – or consolation even – in his life. Though his appearance suggests a jolly, portly, country-gentleman, his writing is full of grief and loss and bereavement, and an unassuageable unhappiness with his life and what it had to offer. Pascoli dismissed religion as well as science, and deprecated politics. He fostered his affinity with the natural world, and dwelt lovingly on the beauty of nature, but this love was never sufficient to sustain him. To read his poetry is to feel muddled and sad and damply depressed. I prefer the salt and acid Leopardi seems to revel in pouring into the same sort of wound.

The religious symbolism in this poem – and the sense of passive resignation to the gratuitous cruelties and vicissitudes of existence – belie the fact that Pascoli was an atheist.  His uneasy mind seems to have been held the captive of a profound and troubled melancholy throughout his life. He never married, perhaps due to a reluctance to disrupt the ‘family’ life he had contrived to foster with his two sisters Ida and Maria, who had at first been intended for convent life, though neither took religious vows.

It has been elsewhere suggested that Pascoli’s attachment to his sisters was not altogether filial, a suggestion that finds some support in Pascoli’s description of the year preceding his  favourite sister Ida’s marriage, as being the most terrible of his life. His almost hysterical outpourings at the prospect of their separation and the thought of forfeiting her affection, attest to an intense attachment and a profound sense of loss.

In 1895 he set up house with his sister Maria (Mariù), in Castelvecchio, in Tuscany, where he lived for the next 17 years, until his death of liver cancer in 1912.

Mariù survived him by some forty years, and the two share adjacent tombs in the Castelvecchio cemetery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://sauvage27.blogspot.com/2009/10/assai-meno-vistosa-ma-piu-penetrante-di.html

http://sauvage27.blogspot.com/2009/04/giovanni-pascoli.html

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