Sunday, June 27, 2010

I Am Much Too Alone In This World

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) almost exactly straddles the 19th and 20th century, dying of leukemia at age 51 in Switzerland, though his best literary years were in Paris (1902-1914) where, for a time, he was Rodin's secretary(!).  Both a poet and a novelist, he was admired by his contemporaries but not broadly popularized until after his death.  His reputation has grown over time, his lyrical style, of which this selection is not a prime example, striking. 

For me, this poem captures that yearning to know and be known - authentically, purely - that should be at the start of every love.  It's a manifesto of good intentions that, hopefully, can be carried out through the right balancing of risk/self-protection.  It's also a plea that, one hopes, is shared by the love object and to the same degree.  

(I chose this oil of him vs. a photograph since this is more flattering.  By far.)

I am much too alone

I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.

I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.
I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.
I want my conscience to be
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everyday jug,
like my mother's face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.

Let's invite something new
by unifying our silences;
if, then and there, we advance,
we'll know it soon enough.

                                                                   Rainer Maria Rilke (transl. by Annemarie S.Kilder)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

How Can A Pain In The Chest Be Softened - Majnun Laila

This poem comes from a tragic Arab love story based on a (supposedly) real person, Qays ibn al-Mulawwah, who lived in the late 600s A.D. in the northern Arabian peninsula,  fell in love with a woman (Layla), was not allowed to marry her, and became a mad poet living in the desert.  (He became known is "Majnun-e Layla" or "Layla's Madman".)  Really.  In another version, they lived in India.  Versions of the poems were collected in later centuries by Persian writers and passed into their literary realm.  (There is a 1933 Indian movie (Laila Majnun) as well as a more recent Bollywood version.)  

Regardless, someone wrote the group of poems about star-crossed lovers,  from which comes  this one.  I can't vouch for the quality of the translation, but given that these poems began in folklore, the vernacular tone is not surprising.  No matter: the ache of the longing cuts through the centuries and the language barrier.  The last two lines resonate to the point where, if I were a bridge, they would be an army of words marching across with such force and cadence that I would collapse.
How Can A Pain In The Chest Be Softened?

How can a pain in the chest be softened?
The darts of death are closer than your hands.
Too much loss; too much want; absence. I tremble,
You can’t come to me, I can’t come to you.
Our love is a small bird tied by a child,
The bird sips the lake of death and the boy
Goes on with his game. He doesn’t have the sense
To feel the bird’s pain: and the wings can’t fly.
I know a thousand roads, a thousand places,
But without a heart there is nowhere to go.

                                                                       Majnun Laila ( ? -682) Arab

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sonnet XIV - Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Another poet that needs little introduction, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 - 1861), became one of the most popular English poets of the Victorian Era, to the point of being considered for the Poet Laureate post (which went to Tennyson...).  Self-schooled in the classics and from a family that fell from wealth into genteel middle-class after financial set-backs, she also had a medical afflictions that made her an invalid and recluse for a time.  Death by drowning of a beloved brother did not help her emotional state.  Almost 40 when she met Robert Browning, he was the love of her life and the inspiration for "Sonnets from the Portuguese", which cemented her fame and popularity.  Her poems on the themes of social injustice and women's roles were also well-received, though her popularity declined after her death.  Her reputation is now mostly based on the love sonnets.  Compare and contrast this one to the one from Shakespeare (yesterday's post).  His is on "eternal love"; hers on what makes it eternalTo me, it's the best answer for those who keep asking "Why do you love me?" Or "What do you love about me?".  It's always a mystery that defies dissection, a dissection that shouldn't be attempted in the first place!
Sonnet XIV

If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love’s sake only. Do not say
“I love her for her smile – her look- her way
Of speaking gently, - for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day” –
For these things in themselves, Beloved, may
Be changed, or change for thee, - and love so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry, -
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou mayst love on, through love’s eternity.

                                                                                   Elizabeth Barrett Browning - English

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sonnet LV - Shakespeare

(Is it REALLY necessary that Shakespeare needs an introduction??  By me???  I didn't think so!)  Here, after 100+ poems by others, the first one by Shakespeare.  "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" (Sonnet XVIII) is better known, but I like this one for its topic.  Rather than praising her beauty , he speaks to the immortality of his love for her through the existence of the poem.  What a gift!
Sonnet LV

Not marble nor the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this pow’rful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; our praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgment that yourself arise
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.

                                                                                 William Shakespeare - English

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Love - Philip Larkin

And a third one by Larkin.... If you've read the other two posted here, you may be seeing a pattern to his love poetry: a voice that is a bit sour on the whole thing, a little skeptical.... yet with a grudging hopefulness that comes through (at least in my read).  Yet, always, incisive observations from his dissection of what it all means.

The difficult part of love
Is being selfish enough,
Is having the blind persistence
To upset an existence
Just for your own sake.
What cheek it must take.

And then the unselfish side –
How can you be satisfied,
Putting someone else first
so that you come off worst?
My life is for me.
As well ignore gravity.

Still, vicious or virtuous,
Love suits most of us.
Only the bleeder found
Selfish this wrong way round
Is ever wholly rebuffed,
And he can get stuffed.

Philip Larkin

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"Love, we must part now"

Only the second by Larkin here - you MUST read the other one, as it is one of my all-time favorites.  To have such a command of structure - ever try writing a sonnet? no? TRY! - and still be creative is something I envy.  I like the closing lines, not of ships "passing in the night", but deliberately sailing apart, at dawn "...wet with light.." What a line! How beautiful.... How sad....  And, of course, my reason for selecting it: how unlike reality.
“Love, we must part now”

Love, we must part now: do not let it be
Calamitous and bitter. In the past
There has been too much moonlight and self-pity:
Let us have done with it: for now at last
Never has sun more boldly paced the sky,
Never were hearts more eager to be free,
To kick down worlds, lash forests; you and I
No longer hold them; we are husks, that see
The grain going forward to a different use.

There is regret. Always, there is regret.
But it is better that our lives unloose,
As two tall ships, wind-mastered, wet with light,
Break from an estuary with their courses set,
And waving part, and waving drop from sight.

                                                                                                    Philip Larkin - English

Monday, June 21, 2010

A short poem by 'Unsuri ( ? - 1039/1040), from Persia (now Iran - mostly), in the ruba'i form (four-line stanza). By his time, the poetry that had emerged there had shed some of the Arab influences and both the imagery and subjects contained more from the songs from Central Asia.  Persian poetry also had more references to gardens and fruits, which was a bit missing from desert Arab writings. 'Unsuri was named "Lord of the Poets" by Sultan Mahmud, in whose court he served.  One of his duties was to evaluate the talent of any poets who wished to be part of the royal entourage.  (A great gig, if you ask me: to be gate-keeper against potential rivals!)  In this poem, I think there is a little oddness in the translation - not that I read Persian! - because I read the meaning as being that "she", being his love, is the one that "takes" those three things (grief, tears, fancy) from him.  Do you agree?

Three things have modeled themselves on three of yours –
Rose on cheek, grape on lip, beauty on face.
Three things each year are taken from three of mine –

Grief from heart, tears from cheek, fancy from eye.

                                                                     Abdul Qasin Hasan Unsuri - Persian (Tajik)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

What He Said - Kapilar

One objective of this blog has been to show how the need for lovers to write about experiences is both universal and timeless.  Today's selection, dating from roughly 1800 - 2000 years ago and from the Tamil-speaking region now covering present-day Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and southern India, does both.  It comes from the Eight Anthologies (circa 1st - 3rd century), the earliest recorded Tamil-language poetryKapilar, the author, is considered one of the great Sangam "school" poets, well-regarded in his society, and a poet in the court of the king.  This poem is an "interior" poem, so-called as they are "...dramatic monologues in which five landscapes (hill, seashore, forest, arable land, desert) and their contents (birds, beasts, trees, tribes, characteristic arts and occupations) correspond to the phases of love (first union, anxious waiting, infidelity, elopement, patient waiting and reunion)".  These would contrast to "exterior" poems that were meditations "... and sometimes grim elegies".  One does not need to be in that time and place to appreciate the poet's feelings about the secrecy of a clandestine love.
What He Said

My love is a two-faced thief.
In the dead of night
she comes like the fragrance
of the Red-Speared Chieftain’s forest hills,
to be one with me.

And then, she sheds the petals
of night’s several flowers,
and does her hair again
with new perfumes and oils,
to be one with her family at dawn

with a stranger’s different face.
                                                                            Kapilar - Tamil

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Level - John Koethe

John Koethe (1945 - ), educated at Princeton and Harvard, teaches currently in the Midwest, I think at U of Winsconsin.)  While we are almost contemporaries - he's just a bit older - I am not familiar with his writing, though he is not an unknown and has been recognized with fellowships and prizes.  His bio (click on his name) is a little sparse, but at least he has one on the Poetry Foundation website(Aside: one of my pet peeves about poetry - and visual arts - is how critics often interfere with a reader/viewer's experience by either interpreting too much and/or making it about HIS / HER experience and biases through what they write.  A case in point is the bio on Koethe in the "Innisfree Poetry Journal" from which come this quote:  "In language that is often discursive, often plangent, always mesmeric in its lyricism...".  Now, I think I have a pretty good vocabulary, but I had to look up "plangent"!  Oh, wait.  It means ".. lamenting, often melancholy" and used chiefly in poetry/literature.  Hmm....  Next time academics and critics bemoan the state of poetry in this society, they might consider NOT USING WORDS THAT FURTHER SEPARATE THEM FROM A LARGER AUDIENCE!!! 

                                 A promise of so much to that is to come
                                 Extracted, accepted gladly
                                 But within its narrow limits

                                                               John Ashberry

Eventually, I’d hoped, I would please you.
I would call you the right names,
Bend with your gestures, remember your actions,
Extracting them gladly, but within real limits.

I see I was wrong. Shall I find you different?
Easy, supple, and without pain?
Or is energy part of the music?
I try. I am trying to ask you –

O the noises that cannot be touched!
The faces have passed me like a brown dream

For how can they change?
Always unbearably tender, and constant,
Like a house that is tender and constant.

You are like other people. There is
I suppose, no reason to want you
Unless desire itself is a reason, drawing us
Out of our kindness, leaving us terrified

Peace. Beauty, we know,
Is the center of fear, hammering,
Holding in a loose ring your purposeful
Dream – and you see them

Looking painfully into your face, though you know
They will never come back in the same way.

John Koethe

Friday, June 18, 2010

Waking - Jill Hoffman

Don't know much about Jill Hoffman, except for what's on Wikipedia.... I like this one for the last line.

Exquisitely trampled in a goat-footed dance
my eyes shift left to right to left, openly
watching your narrow eyes watching me.
Unless our dreams get mixed into mine
flaunting their alien flesh, like mine,
I like the silence after napping best.

                                                                         Jill Hoffman - American

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Deposition - Leonard E. Nathan

 Leonard Nathan (1924 - 2007) taught at Berkeley for most of his career and authored 17 books of poetry.  His obit notes that he was ".... a fixture for 50 years in literary circles both on and off the UC Berkeley campus....".  I confess to being glaringly unfamiliar with his poetry, but I liked this one.  It reminds me of how Ann Landers always answered when people wrote for advice about their marriage: "Are you better off with or without him/her?"
A Deposition

They never should have married, but they did
And got for their trouble someone to accuse,
To be accused by, someone to whom they could,
With telling pleasure, break the day’s bad news…
Yet they outlasted their friends who foretold just how
And on what day they’d part, and at what place –
But never did; wherever they chose to go,
They went together, bitter and full of grace,
As if some secret (Two alone could share)
Bound them by a higher law, though wrong,
Than love’s. Like royalty deposed, they were
Impossible, and in that region strong.

                                                                                Leonard E. Nathan - American

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Nota Bene - Jean Garrigue

Another one by Jean Garrigue (see yesterday's selection, below).  I like its compactness and truths: short and truthful.....but not sweet.  A good description of love's emotional daisy-chain wherein we play all roles, sometimes simultaneously.
Nota Bene

I’ll break your heart, A. said to me
You’ll break my heart, I said to B.
Both did, and still, is my ticker all that smashed?
We get over old wounds by acquiring new ones,
Said C. And thus I sustained all three.

                                                                     Jean Garrigue - American

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Again, Again - Jean Garrigue

Jean Garrigue (1914 - 1972) is not a household name when citing woman poets of the American mid-century.  Yet, one of her books was nominated for a National Book, and she had a successful academic career teaching at Smith and Bard Colleges, and was generally well-regarded by critics.  She was from Indiana, spent several periods of her life in Europe, and eventually settled in New England.  The critic Stanley Kunitz called her "... a wildly gifted poet…whose art took the road of excess that leads to the palace of wisdom".   Two themes to which she often returned were travel and love.  From my limited reading of her, I liked this one for its observations about the cyclical nature of love relationships. (It reminds me of a long, lovely, lyrical poem by Conrad Aiken on the same subject.)
Again, Again

Always that old language for the new:
How many eyes are black or brown or blue.
How many have come naked into bed
The curtains drawn; late morning that lets in
Just so much light to gild the rose-gold head.
That amorini look – intent and bent
To fast desire on nothing else but it
A century long.
How many times. How many arms
How many kisses that the gamblers gave
Or pitched all on to win
Or gaining win to lose again.
How many times. And now you come.
Have cigarettes, cigars, guitars and rum!
How many times. Yet none but this –

                                                                                   Jean Garrigue - American

Monday, June 14, 2010

Question In Red Ink - Kenneth Koch

 As contrast to the other Kenneth (Rexroth) of yesterday's poem, here is Kenneth Koch (1925 - 2002), one generation younger and from the East Coast.  He's not quite the kind of "Eastern Establishment" that Rexroth was against - in fact, Koch's own rejection of the Confessionals' (think Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton) style in favor of more avant-garde/modern is somewhat akin to Rexroth's.  Koch became part of the New York poetry scene (like Rexroth was part of San Francisco's) collaborated with painters, wrote the kind of plays that had limited audiences (and appeal), but also volumes of poetry that eventually garnered him a Bolligen Prize.  You can probably tell I am not a big fan of his, but his poetry had humor, energy, and imagery that makes one smile and go "cool!".   It's what I like about this one: memorable images that feel barely connected to each other as a tight narrative/story-line, yet, when it's overone does feel an unity that makes sense.  At least to me.
Question In Red Ink

I come to you out of an old darkness,
Smelling familiarly of sleep –
I approach you smiling keenly,
My lips typewriting noise,
But love softens me until
I move like a child in a graveyard.
     Now we are clever as history-books and discover
Beautiful talk, the laying on of hands –
I move without whistling,
Bitten by moonlight,
But when you spread your cards on the table
A wealthy darkness settles…
      Crazy with loss, I skin the idiom
And leave us naked and ashamed,
Huddling like whipped songs….

     Bettye, who set our motors so
That like Coney Island pleasure-cars
We swerve, consummating
Contact on a focal point of love
To streak away like electrons,
Careless and obscene as a broken nerve?

                                                                         Kenneth Koch - American

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Two Poems (the second one) - Kenneth Rexroth

Sometimes called the father of the Beat poets of the 1950s, Kenneth Rexroth (1905 - 1982) was far more.  From a peripatetic youth and early years working odd jobs, hitchhiking here and in Europe, he became an early and active member of the San Francisco poetry scene and instrumental in introducing/mentoring poets that included,  Lawrence FerlinghettiDenise Levertov, and LeRoi Jones.
Rexroth also had an early interest in poetry from other cultures and eras, and his compilations of Chinese and Japanese poetry helped popularize those and their influence on American poetry.  As a poet, he never garnered the major writing awards, but his devotion to poetry and its place in society was recognized by a lifetime achievement award from The Academy of American Poets.  I chose this one because its representative of one of his themes (erotic poetry), part of a broader "anti-establishment" thread in his outlook and writings.
Two Poems  (second one)

I like to think of you naked.
I put your naked body
Between myself alone and death.
If I go into my brain
And set fire to your sweet nipples,
To the tendons beneath your knees
I can see far before me.
It is empty there where I look,
But at least it is lighted.
I know how your shoulders glisten,
How your face sinks into trance,
And your eyes like a sleepwalker’s,
And your lips of a woman
Cruel to herself.
                                I like to
Think of you clothed, your body
Shut to the world and self contained,
Its wonderful arrogance
That makes all women envy you.
I can remember every dress,
Each more proud that a naked nun.
When I go to sleep my eyes
Close in a mesh of memory.
Its cloud of intimate odor
Dreams instead of myself.

                                                       Kenneth Rexroth - American

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Dover Bitch: A Criticism of Life - Anthony Hecht

**STOP**  Read the poem "Dover Beach", which is below this one (posted Friday), FIRST.  These two poems, separated by a hundred years and an ocean in authorship, are linked, as today's is a reaction (of sorts) to yesterday's.  Seriously: you will NOT "get" the references in this one or appreciate it UNLESS you read Friday's....        OK.  Read it?  You're back?  Proceeding....  Anthony Hecht (2nd poet here, and one of my favorites) wrote "Dover Bitch", which serves as both back-story and commentary on Arnold's "Dover Beach".  It's a creative tour de force as he imagines, in "Dover Bitch", being a man commenting on the story in "Dover Beach" from the woman to whom that narrator is speaking (as the poem).  The woman is the "love" in "Ah, love...." in the last strophe of "Dover Beach".  In this poem, Hecht is making his own comment, through the narrator, on the same theme "Dover Beach"

So there stood MatthewArnold and this girl
With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
And he said to her, "Try to be true to me,
And I'll do the same for you, for things are bad
All over, etc., etc."
Well now, I knew this girl. It's true she had read
Sophocles in a fairly good translation
And caught that bitter allusion to the sea,
But all the time he was talking she had in mind
The notion of what his whiskers would feel like
On the back of her neck. She told me later on
That after a while she got to looking out
At the lights across the channel, and really felt sad,
Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds
And blandishments in French and the perfumes.
And then she got really angry. To have been brought
All the way down from London, and then be addressed
As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort
Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty.
Anyway, she watched him pace the room
And finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit,
And then she said one or two unprintable things.
But you mustn't judge her by that. What I mean to say is,
She's really all right. I still see her once in a while
And she always treats me right.
We have a drink
And I give her a good time, and perhaps it's a year
Before I see her again, but there she is,
Running to fat, but dependable as they come,
And sometimes I bring her a bottle of Nuit d'Amour.

                                                                            Anthony Hecht - American 

Friday, June 11, 2010

Dover Beach - Matthew Arnold

Today and tomorrow (Saturday's) poems need to be read together, as tomorrow's is a poem "about" today's.  Matthew Arnold (1822 - 1888) was one of 19th century England's best known social critics and poets.  He worked as an inspector of schools, but was also a professor of poetry at Oxford, and traveled fairly widely, including to America, to lecture on contemporary education and democracy.  Arnold's poetic legacy is more based on his place in addressing the intrusion - and effect - of all the societal changes in mid-19th century-onward England, than in poems that were purely "art".  He believed that poetry should reflect a philosophy.  (I believe a good poem helps us access emotions and understandings about ourselves and those emotions.)  Some regard him as the transition from Victorian Romanticism to Modernism.  But that's for literary critics.  I am not partial to him at all and actually learned of his poetry through tomorrow's poem by Anthony Hecht referencing this one.  "Dover Beach", written in 1867, has those literary allusions that were expected to be known and understood by readers.  It also has a self-pitying tone and understated emotion, which is what tomorrow's poem skewers.  It was very popular and has been cited by others in later creative works, including "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury.   The last lines of the last strophe (verse) are quoted often.  The best way to get the most from both poems (this one and tomorrow's "Dover Bitch") is to read this one first, then tomorrow's, then this one again.  (If you do, you'll qualify as actually caring about poetry and get a "Poetry Geek" pin - leave your email address in the "Comments"....)


The sea is calm tonight,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Agean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
                                                                                            Matthew Arnold - English

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Buffo - Wislawa Szymborska

Another by Szymborska, the Nobel Laureate from Poland.  I'm not quite sure how to categorize it.... I like its concept and breadth, the ironic tone that ends in a note of.... of what?... about love.  You tell me!

First, our love will die, alas,
then two hundred years will pass,
then we’ll meet again at last—

This time in the theater, played
by a couple of comedians,
him and her, the public’s darlings.

Just a little farce, with songs,
patter, jokes, and final bows,
a vaudeville comedy of manners,
certain to bring down the house.

You’ll amuse them endlessly
on the stage with your cravat
and your petty jealousy.

So will I, love’s silly pawn,
with my heart broken, my joy gone,
my crown tumbling to the ground.

To the laughter’s loud refrain,
we will meet and part again,
seven mountains, seven rivers
multiplying out pain.

If we haven’t had enough
of despair, grief, all that stuff,
lofty words will kill us off.

Then we’ll stand up, take our bows:
hope that you’ve enjoyed our show.
every patron with his spouse
will applaud, get up, and go.

They reenter their lives’ cages,
where love’s tiger sometimes rages,
but the beast’s too tame to bite.

We’ll remain the odd ones out,
silly heathens in their fools’caps,
listening to the small bells ringing
day and night.
                                                                  Wislawa Szymborska - Polish

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Rules of Courtly Love - Andreas Cappelanus

Since the posting from yesterday was from the era of the troubadours in medieval Europe (1000 - 1400, somewhat arbitrarily) when ideas about Courtly Love were being established, today's is the list of those rules, as related by Andreas Cappelanus sometime around 1184 - 1186.  He was probably a chaplain in the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine - then married to the French king, but better known as the wife of Henry II of England and father of Richard the Lion-hearted.  These 31 rules (and a second set) were in his book "The Art of Courtly Love", written as a letter to instruct a young man on who/how to love.  It's worth reading the Wikipedia entry  about him and this concept since.  (It's particularly fascinating to see the class distinctions: these rules did not apply to lower-class girls, who could be used - even raped - without a second thought.)  It shouldn't be a surprise that many of the observations below are still held today (and true): they are, after all, the beliefs that influence later writers and western society.
The Rules of Love

1. Marriage is no excuse for not loving.
2. He who is not jealous can not love.
3. No one can be bound by two loves.
4. Love is always growing or diminishing.
5. It is not good for one lover to take anything against the will of the other.
6. A male cannot love until he has fully reached puberty.
7. Two years of mourning for a dead lover are prescribed for surviving lovers.
8. No one should be deprived of love without a valid reason.
9. No one can love who is not driven to do so by the power of love.
10. Love always departs from the dwelling place of avarice.
11. It is not proper to love one whom one would be ashamed to marry.
12. The true lover never desires the embraces of any save his lover.
13. Love rarely lasts when it is revealed.
14. An easy attainment makes love contemptible; a difficult one
makes it more dear.
15. Every lover turns pale in the presence of his beloved.
16. When a lover suddenly has sight of his beloved, his heart beats wildly.
17. A new love expels an old one.
18. Moral integrity alone makes one worthy of love.
19. If love diminishes, it quickly leaves and rarely revives.
20. A lover is always fearful.
21. True jealousy always increases the effects of love.
22. If a lover suspects another, jealousy and the efects of love increase.
23. He who is vexed by the thoughts of love eats little and seldom sleeps.
24. Every action of a lover ends in the thought of his beloved.
25. The true lover believes only that which he thinks will please his beloved.
26. Love can deny nothing to love.
27. A lover can never have enough of the embraces of his beloved.
28. The slightest suspicion incites the lover to suspect the worse of his beloved.
29. He who suffers from an excess of passion is not suited to love.
30. The true lover is continuously obsessed with the image of his beloved.
31. Nothing prevents a woman from being loved by two men, or a man
from being loved by two women.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Lark - Bernart de Ventadorn

No assembly of love poetry would be complete without something by the Troubadors of the early medieval period.  These writers of courtly ballads about love for unattainable women set the stage and tone for the notions of Romantic love that softened the edges of what was a brutal - and brutish - period.  Bernart de Ventadorn (1148-1195, according to Ezra Pound's sources) was one of the best French troubadors and his ballads have survived to today.  This one is not his best known, but I chose it because the translator from oc (a medieval Provencal language) to English is Pound, one of the great - and controversial - literary figures of the 20th century.  Aside from his own poetry and essays and ideas about writing, Pound had a great interest in poetry from other cultures and times and brought those to the attention of English-speaking audiences through his translations. 
The Lark
                                             transl. from Oc by Ezra Pound

When I see the lark a-moving
For joy his wings against the sunlight,
Who forgets himself and lets himself fall
For the sweetness which goes into his heart:
Ai!  what great envy comes unto me for him whom I see so
I marvel that my heart melts not for desiring.
Alas!  I thought I knew so much
Of Love, and I know so little of it, for I cannot
hold myself from loving
Her from whom I shall never have anything toward.
She hath my heart from me, and she hath from me all my wit
And myself and all that is mine.
And when she took it from me she left me naught
Save desiring and a yearning heart.

                                                                       Bernart de Ventadorn - French

Monday, June 7, 2010

Advice for Good Love - Yehuda Amichai

 This is the seventh poem by Amichai that I have selected.   If you've read the others, you should be getting an idea about his "voice" and how strong it is.  As I have noted before, to read his poems is to stand in the shadowless landscape of a noon-day sun, when every rock is both sharply outlined yet also shimmering from the rising heat.  His poems are those rocks.
Advice for Good Love
                                     transl. from Hebrew by Amichai and Ted Hughes (!)

Advice for good love: Don’t love
those from far away.  Take yourself one
from nearby.
The way a sensible house will take
local stones for its building,
stones which have suffered in the same cold
and were scorched by the same sun.
Take the one with the golden wreath
around her dark eye’s pupil, she
who has a certain knowledge
about your death.  Love also inside
a ruin, like taking honey out of 
the lion’s carcass that Samson killed.

And advice for bad love: With
the love left over
from the previous one
make a new woman for yourself,
then with what is left of that woman
make again a new love,
and go on like that
until nothing remains.

                                                                     Yehuda Amichai - Israeli

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sonnet LI (100 Love Sonnets) - Pablo Neruda

Given that this - and the earlier one - come from the "100 Love Sonnets" volume  (in Spanish - 1960), it's a good bet that, before this blog is done, there will be more here!  Neruda's love poetry was his most popular in South America, more so than his political ones.  These sonnets were dedicated to his third wife, Matilde Urrutia.  (He was sensitive enough to delay publication, so as to not hurt the feelings of the ex-wives.)  In the dedication, he called the verses "... little houses, so that your eyes, which I adore and sing to, might live in them".  Sigh...
Sonnet LI
                                                                    transl. from Spanish by Stephen Tapscott

Your laugh: it reminds me of a tree
fissured by a lightning streak, by a silver bolt
that drops from the sky, splitting the poll,
slicing the tree with its sword.

A laugh like yours I love is born
only in the foliage and snow of the highlands,
the air’s laugh that bursts loose in those altitudes,
dearest: the Araucanian tradition.

O my mountain woman, my dear Chillán volcano,
slash your laughter through the shadows
the night, morning, honey of the noon:

birds of the foliage will leap in the air
when your laugh like an extravagant
light breaks through the tree of life.

Pablo Neruda

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Gifts - Song from ancient Wei (modern Henan)

 I found this in a bilingual Chinese publication "Selections from The Book of Poetry", in the section of folk Songs, all translated by Prof. Xu Yuanchong (1921 - ?).  "The Book of Poetry" is THE book of poetry, China's first ancient poetry collection, compiled around the 6th Century BCE (Before Christian Era), around the same time as the Illiad and the Odyssey.  The compiler is attributed to be Confucius (!) and the 305 poems selected by him from the several thousand known in his time.  This book, along with five others (on rites, music, changes, ancient texts, and the Spring and Autumn Annals) are the "Six Classics" he used as textbooks for his disciples.  (Aside: one reason for the decline of China is that the imperial civil service examinations continued using those classics as their basis INTO THE 19th century!  Thus, China's best and brightest were selected by their ability to expound on 2,500 yr old texts, while knowing DIDDLY about modern technology, administration, etc. Oy veh!)  This folk song comes from the river valleys of Henan Province and at least as old as when it was selected (2,500 years ago).  Prof. Xu, the translator,  taught at Peking University, was educated in China and in Paris, and is a noted translator of Chinese texts into English and French as well as in the other direction.  (He translated, among others, "Madame Bovary" into Chinese and the poems of Mao Tse Tung into English.)  His bio states that he is "...proclaimed as the only expert in the world who can translate Chinese poetry into English and French rhyme.."
Gifts - Song from Wei, modern Henan Province, China
                                                                             transl. by  Prof. Xu Yuanchong

She throws a quince to me;
         I give her a green jade
Not in return, you see,
         But to show acquaintance made.

She throws a peach to me;
         I give her a white jade
Not in return, you see,
         But to show friendship made.

She throws a plum to me;
         I give her jasper fair
Not in return, you see,
         But to show love fore’er.

                                                           Songs collected in Wei, modern Henan

Friday, June 4, 2010

Four Songs - Tzu Yeh

 Some suggest that the group of 117 short poems known as the "Tzu Yeh songs" were authored by more than one person.  However, the compositional style of back-to-back couplets was new and suggest a single author.  As a "wine-shop girl", she would have been ".... trained in music, dance, calligraphy, history..." (Hamill), making her a very early precursor - by roughly 1,300 years - of Japanese "geishas".  I'm sure some doctoral student somewhere has done a cross-cultural comparison of female entertainers in ancient cultures - from the Greek hetaerae to "wine-shop girls" to geishas - and what was included in their range of offerings, from chaste to carnal.)  This grouping of Tzu Yeh songs first showed up in a compilation dating to the second half of the 4th Century A.C.E. (After Christian Era - the new "A.D.")  I've selected four of them for this posting: I may add others at another time.  (Sorry, no photo!)
Four songs   
                                                  transl. from Chinese by Sam Hamill

The Lotus Lover

A green lotus on waves of transparent blue:
the flowers grow red and new.

You want to collect these lovely flowers?
I’ll give my lotus bud to you.

And End to Spring

Your leaving brought an end to spring;
longing burns through summer heat-waves.

Will I ever lift my dress for you again?
My pillow ever hold your lovely face?

A Smile

In this house without walls on a hill
the four winds touch our faces.

If they blow open your robe of gauze,
I’ll try to hide my smile.


Winter skies are cold and low,
with harsh winds and freezing sleet.

But when we make love beneath our quilt,
we make three summer months of heat.

                                                                      Tzu Yeh - Chinese

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sonnet 60 - John Berryman

 Another sonnet by John Berryman.  (Be sure to read any and all that are - or will be - in this blog.  You must.  You will thank me, but you don't have to.) Missing out on Berryman is missing out on what can be the result when a person of his complexity and command of language focuses on Love.  

As for this one.... in whatever continent's city I've waited for a subway train, this is the poem that comes to life just before that train arrives.  It will happen to you, too, after you read the second strophe.  You'll think of this poem the next time you anticipate meeting someone you hope is "the one"..... And if you have found "the one" already, all the more reason to feel like this every time you are apart and reuniting.....  (Speaking of subways,  my iPhone app of the Paris Metro just flashed a message that service on "Ligne 1", the one that runs east-west and stops at the Louvre, is "pertubé" - "perturbed", by which they mean it has a problem.  How apropos of poetry to think of a train as "perturbed"...)
Sonnet 60

Today is it?  Is it today?  I shudder
For nothing in my chair, and suddenly yawn.
Today I suddenly believe.  Since dawn
When I got up, my muscles like a rudder
strain crosswise from this work.  I rise and mutter
Something, and hum, pace, and sit down again
Hard.  A butterfly in my shoulder then
Stops and aches.  My stomach swings like a shutter.

As the undergrounds piston a force of air
Before their crash into the station, you
Are felt before your coming, and the platforms shake.
So light, so small, so far still, to impair
Action and peace so….risks we take make true
Maybe our safeties….come for our risk’s sake.

                                                                                    John Berryman - American

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Oxaitoq's Song - Anonymous Inuit

As I have noted with other selections, one of the great pleasures of reading poetry from other cultures and times is the universality of the emotions.  This anonymous song from the 1890s comes from the Inuit, the indigenous people of the Arctic and sub-Arctic areas of northern Canada, Alaska, and Greenland.  And it is just marvelous: short and pithy, yet emotionally translatable to any language.  It's stripped to the essential and exposing despair, sadness, dejection, truth, and just a hint of bitterness and anger.  And remember that, as the sea in those parts is the provider of sustenance and life, physically "..walking inland..." is heading away from it, to death.  In this case, she has driven him to emotional suicide.  And how familiar is that to those who have loved?
Oxaitoq’s Song

Walking inland, inland, inland,
I am walking inland.

Nobody loves me, she least of all, so I walk inland.
She has loved only for the things I bring.
She has loved only for the food I bring.

                                                                             Anonymous - Inuit

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Bed - Thom Gunn

Another by Thom Gunn, who transplanted to the West Coast from England decades ago, and became a part of the San Francisco poetry "scene".  Not a great poem but a good rendering of an experience we have all had.
The Bed

    The pulsing stops where time has been,
         The garden is snow-bound,
The branches weighed down and the paths filled in,
             Drifts quilt the ground.

    We lie soft-caught, still now it’s done,
         Loose-twined across the bed
Like wrestling statues; but it still goes on
             Inside my head.

                                                                                Thom Gunn - American