Friday, December 31, 2010

Ars Interruptus.....

My apartment had a devastating fire on December 22, 2010, which made it uninhabitable and destroyed my poetry library (pictured below in what was my bedroom), with the exception of a few volumes I had at my desk in another room.  This is what it looked like, about 24 linear feet of poetry, before it was carted to the dumpster:

I escaped unharmed, but am unable to continue this project, for practical - and psychic - reasons.

It may or may not have been Divine Providence that made me finally start this blog last March, as it had been a "some day soon" project for years.  Now,  it preserves, in the virtual world, some of what would otherwise have been lost (to me) through the fire.  It's not the same as holding the books, seeing the notations I made, remembering when/where/how/why I acquired it.  A few were gifts from people significant to me, others were signed and/or first editions.... Another lesson on impermanence and attachment.

Please, please do practice fire-drills!  Begin by treating the sound of a fire-alarm as genuine: ignoring it could be tragic.  I was in the shower when I heard it and didn't believe it at first, losing valuable time.  

Thursday, December 16, 2010

In the History of Our Love - Yehuda Amichai

With this selection, Amichai solidifies his lead as the most represented poet here.  And deservedly.  (Do "click" on his name on the left column to see why.  You'll agree and also see the biographical information on an amazing life.)   In this one, the analogy used in the last stanza to convey connectivity and isolation is just brilliant.  It takes Donne's "no man is an island" a step further, and that is just a great finish to the earlier lines' riff on permanence/impermanence.  There is also no doubt that Amichai is writing from deep experience.  It's the voice of a man who has loved well, loved deeply and loved completely.... and, thus, knows also the weight of loss.  What's striking to me about Amichai's love poetry is how powerfully and passionately he can write about both that state of grace that is being "in love" AND its aftermath.  (Sadly, just calling it a "state of grace" defines it as being a finite interval.  And do all "states of grace" inevitably have a "fall"? ) I envy that ability to express joy and sorrow equally well, as my own best writing is skewered towards the latter....

In the History of Our Love
                                    transl. from Hebrew by Ben and Barbara Harshaw

In the history of our love, always one is
A nomadic tribe, the other a nation on its own soil.
When we changed places, it was all over.

Time will pass us by, as landscapes
Move behind actors standing in their places
When they make a movie.  Even the words
Will pass by our lips, even the tears
Will pass by our eyes.  Time will pass
Every one in his place.

And in the geography of the rest of our lives,
Who will be an island and who a peninsula
Will become clear to each of us in the rest of our lives
In nights of love with others.

                                             Yehuda Amichai - Israeli

Friday, December 10, 2010

Doing A Filthy Pleasure Is - Gaius Petronius

A Roman Consul, courtier, and "fashion-advisor" to Emperor Nero, Gaius Petronius  (27- 66 C.E., also known as Petronius Arbiter) was also the writer to whom  "Satyricon" is attributed.  Petronius committed suicide rather than be executed for treason upon the accusation of political rivals.  

In light of the mores of the Roman society of the time, this poem is fascinating for its urging for restraint in hurrying the course of Love into the physical dimension.  It's a sensibility that pre-dates the Romantic love of the troubadors by over a 1000 years.  

I've included it because its message is timeless and, perhaps, even more relevant in this age of "hook-ups".  Just like the "slow food" movement, perhaps there should be a "slow-to-bed" initiative, where the imperative is less hormone driven - or, as the title of 1970 Student Health hand-book at U of Penn had it: "Sex is never an emergency" - so as to allow emotional intimacy to build ahead of - or at least apace with - the physical.  To know what will happen, yet to wait.... so that when morning breaks, it is truly a new dawn.  Sigh.

Doing a filthy pleasure is

                                    transl. from Latin by Ben Jonson

Doing, a filthy pleasure is, and short;
And done, we straight repent us of the sport:
Let us not then rush blindly on unto it,
Like lustful beasts, that only know to do it:
For lust will languish, and that heat decay.
But thus, thus, keeping endless holiday,
Let us together closely lie and kiss,
There is no labour, nor no shame in this;
This hath pleased, doth please, and long will please; never
Can this decay, but is beginning ever.

                                             Gaius Petronius - Roman

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Explosion - Delmira Agustini

(Note: READ the poem FIRST, before this commentary.) Delmira Agustini (1887 - 1914)... She was a rising poet in Uruguay, known for original imagery while exhibiting a strong command of traditional Spanish meters and forms, when she died at the age of 27.  The circumstances of her death increased her popularity.  Married but a few weeks, she had separated from her husband but agreed to see him one last time. She was found dead with him the next morning in a short-time hotel in Montevideo, the victim of a murder-suicide.  It gives this selection poignancy to contrast the exuberance and happiness at finding Love with its outcome.  And a commentary on the dark side of the passion.  (Check out this poem from an earlier posting, which has some marvelous lines about that flip side - loss - of love.  But without a murderous rage directed at the love object.)  
                               transl. from Spanish by Perry Higman

If life is love , blessed be it!
I want more life to love!  Today I feel
a thousand years of ideas are worth nothing
next to one azure minute of feeling.

My heart was dying, sad and slow….
Now it blooms in light like a flower of Phoebus:
Life bursts like a violent sea
where the hand of love strikes its blow!

Today my melancholy, with broken wings
went out into the night, sad, cold;
like an old mark of sorrow

it dissolves in distant shadows….
My whole life laughs, kisses, sings!
My whole life is a mouth in bloom!

                                             Delmira Augustinin - Uruguay

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Homage To Sextus Propertius - Ezra Pound

Another by Ezra Pound (see other for bio info) and possibly my favorite of all of his poems, perhaps because of its accessibility and stylistic departure from his best known.  Sextus Propertius was a Roman poet generally regarded for his elegies, of which close to one hundred survive.  They chronicle a love affair with an older woman who captured - and held - his heart early on and, it seems, until her death. 

I read this during my college years and the verse beginning with "Fool who would set a term to love's madness..." has always set the standard for expressing the absolute absurdity - and folly - of trying to control the object, arc, and/or duration of a love affair. "The heart has its reasons, of which Reason knows nothing about", wrote Pascal, and we seem to forget that all the time.  Or how artificial barriers are just plain foolhardy and counter-productive to what our hearts want most: to connect.
Homage to Sextus Propertius

While our fates twine together,
sate we our eyes with love;
For long night comes upon you
and a day when no day returns.
Let the gods lay chains upon us
so that no day shall unbind them.

Fool who would set a term to love's madness
For the sun shall drive with black horses,
earth shall bring wheat from barley,
The flood shall move toward the fountain
Ere love know moderations,
The fish shall swim in dry streams.
No, now while it may be, let not the fruit of life cease.

Dry wreaths drop their petals,
their stalks are woven in baskets,
To-day we take the great breath of lovers,
to-morrow fate shuts us in.

Though you give all your kisses
you give but few.

Nor can I shift my pains to other,
Hers will I be dead,
If she confer such nights upon me,
long is my life, long in years,
If she give me many,
God am I for the time.
                                                      Ezra Pound - American