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Archive for the ‘Translations’ Category

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know not how or when or what it was

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Translation Dia Tsung.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No sé cómo, ni cuándo, ni qué cosa

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Absence

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyrics Marquis Anatole de Ségur

Music Charles Gounod

Sung by David Daniels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Absence                                         

                                  


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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L’ Absent    

     

                                                     

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Absent One           

                                           

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music and lyrics by Charles Gounod.

Sung by David Daniels

Translation Dia Tsung

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Felicità

Music and Lyrics by Nino Oliviero and Vincenzo De Crescenzo

(Neapolitan lyrics)

 

Felicità

tu me sai dà
quanno me vase
me fai sunnà
me fai restà
cu l’uocchie chiuse
Dint’e vvene
a poco a poco
me saglie ‘o bbene
saglie ‘o ffuoco
m’abbandono
nun resisto chiù

 

 

 
Felicità
tu me sai dà
quanno me vase
me fai sunnà
me fai restà
cu l’uocchie chiuse
e je dico ancora sì
fa chello ca vuò tu
pecché l’ammore mio
sì solamente tu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Felicità

(Italian translation)

Felicità

tu mi sai dare
quando mi baci,

 

 

Mi fai sognar,
mi fai restare
con gli occhi chiusi
Nelle vene,
a poco a poco,
mi sale il benessere,
mi sale il fuoco,
m’abbandono,
non resisto più.
Felicità,
tu mi sai dare
quando mi baci,
mi fai sognar,
mi fai restar
con gli occhi chiusi.
E io dico ancora sì,
fa quello che vuoi tu,
perché l’amore mio
sei solamente tu.

 

 

Translation to standard Italian spmela

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bliss           

            

Joy and bliss
you know you give me such bliss
when I feel your kiss
you make me dream
And my eyelids just close.
In my veins
by small degrees
a lovely sense of ease
begins to climb
within me the fire grows
and I want to surrender
for I can no longer resist.
Happiness
you know just how to give it
when you give me your kiss
I fall into a dream                
and my eyelids just close
and again I just say ‘yes’
do whatever you wish
because my love,
my love is only you.

 

 

 

 

Translation from the Italian Dia Tsung

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So el encina:             

So el encina, encina,
so el encina.

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

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

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

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

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

Muy biendita sía
la tal romería;
so el encina.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under the Ilex

Beneath the ilex, the ilex
beneath the ilex

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

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

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

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

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

Most blessed be
such a pilgrimage
under the ilex.

Translation Dia Tsung

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Italian Translation

Sotto il leccio, leccio     
sotto il leccio

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Benedetto sia
questo pellegrinaggio,
sotto il leccio.

 

 

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“Estate,” by Bruno Brighetti  (lyrics) and Bruno Martino (music) is an Italian classic, but it has been sung in English and Spanish as well, and there is even a French version, with remarkably inept lyrics which have nothing  at all to do with the original feeling of the composition.

Listening to this small piece of perfection, so introspective, evocative and mood-suffused, becomes a meditation  – a remembrance of things past.

It captures  completely the feeling of beautiful summer and lost love, when a season of opulence and brilliance becomes a lingering ghost, and when poetry and music come together as if they were in love with each other
In my search for this post, I came across a bewildering number of versions to choose from. I picked the ones which appealed to me the most. My feeling is that it is criminal to take liberties with this song – but there are so many musicians who do: they give in to the temptation to use it as a showcase for their skills, in ways that are less than appropriate and roll over it like a steamroller, with complete disregard for the integrity of the poetry and sentiment at its heart.

This is a song which demands to be performed in a natural and heart-felt manner. Not all the versions here are perfect – but they are the best I could find.

I wish that Chet Baker had been able to collaborate with Bill Evans on this one.

This is a piece of music for which less is always more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Estate

 

Estate

Sei calda come i baci che ho perduto 
Sei piena di un amore che è passato
Che il cuore mio vorrebbe cancellare

Estate
Il sole che ogni giorno ci scaldava
Che splendidi tramonti dipingeva
Adesso brucia solo con furore

Tornerà un altro inverno
Cadranno mille pètali di rose
La neve coprirà tutte le cose
E forse un po’ di pace tornerà

Estate
Che ha dato il suo profumo ad ogni fiore
L’ estate che ha creato il nostro amore
Per farmi poi morire di dolore

Estate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer                                                  

(English translation)
You are warm like the kisses I have lost
You’re full of a love that has passed
That my heart would wish to erase

Summer
The sun that warmed us each day
What splendid sunsets it painted
Now burns only with fury

Another winter will return
And the roses shed a thousand petals
The snow will cover everything
And perhaps a little peace will return.

Summer
Which imparted perfume to each flower
The summer that created our love
To make me then die of grief

Summer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Estate

(English lyrics)

You bathe me in the glow of your caresses
You’ve turned my timid no to eager yeses
You sweep away my sorrow with your sigh

Estate
Oh how the golden sunlight bends the willow
Your perfume sends the blossoms to my pillow
Oh who could know you half as well as I

I always feel you near me
In every song the morning breeze composes
In all the tender wonder of the roses
Each time the setting sun shines on the sea

Estate
And when you sleep beneath a snowy cover
I’ll keep you in my heart just like a lover
And wait until you come again to me – Estate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Verano                                                   

(Spanish lyrics)

Verano ardiente como el
beso que he perdido
Recuerdos de un amor que ha pasado
Y que me corazón no ha de borrar

Odio el verano
El sol y su calor nos abrazaban
Que esplendidos ocasos nos pintaba
Ahora sólo quema con réncor

volverá un nuevo invierno
y caerán mil pétalos de rosas
la nieve cubrirá todas las cosas        
quizás algo de paz retornará

Odio el verano
que ha dado su perfume a las flores
verano que has creado las pasiones
nacer para morirme de dolor

volverá un nuevo invierno
y caerán mil pétalos de rosas
la nieve cubrirá todas las cosas
quizás algo de paz retornará

Odio el verano
odio el verano
odio el verano
odio el verano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Told by Gesa Karoly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Translated by Karla Jay and
Yvonne M. Klein

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Le Prince Charmant

Conté par Gesa Karoly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Mamavathu Sri Saraswathi

Raga Hindolam


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Devi Neeye Thunai

Raga Keeravani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Himagiri Thanaye

Raga Suddha Dhanyasi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tripurasundari

Raga Sama,


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sumanasa Vanditha

Raga Revathi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pahimam Parvathi

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sri Chakra Raja

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Annapoorne

Raga Sama

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unnai Allaal

Raga Kalyani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pahi Nikhila Janani

Raga Naata

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anandamrutha  Karshini

Raga Amrutha Varshini

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarasamukhi

Raga Gowdamalhar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theeratha Vilayattu Pillai

By Subramaniya Bharathi

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pallavi

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

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

Charanam

(Raga Khamas)

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thillana

Raga Hamsadhwani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh Sombra                                            

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

© 1995 Alix Ingber

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soneto CXI                                              

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Sonnet 111

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Translation Dia Tsung

 

 

 

 

 

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

Chance couplings such as this never cease to astonish me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More from Electrelane.

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An die Entfernte

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To the Distant One                                    

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

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

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

Translation from German to English copyright © Emily Ezust

 

 

Der Jüngling an der Quelle

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Youth and the Spring

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

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


English version ©2010, E. Lein

 

 

 

 

Nachtgesang

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night Singing

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Translation from German to English copyright © Emily Ezust

 

 

 

 

Der Winterabend

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Evening

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

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


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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 Sei Mir Gegrüßt

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Greet You

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Translation from German to English copyright © Emily Ezust

 

 

 

 
Das Lied im Grünen


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Song of the Greenwood                      

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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Virginia Woolf (25 January 1882 – 28 March 1941)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Catullus V

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

 

Gaius Valerius Catullus

 

 

Catullus 5

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

 

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

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