Saturday, April 28, 2012

NPM: Lorca's Lament

Today we'll be looking a piece by Federico García Lorca (1898 - 1936), another poet I've never really explored until recently. I knew his name from one of my favorite Allen Ginsberg pieces, where he makes a cameo appearance with Walt Whitman. After reading through an old Lorca collection I found in the library downstairs (wow -- now that I notice, this copy's from the first printing), the connection seems so obvious. If we were dealing with a fossil record, Lorca would appear as the missing link between Whitman and Ginsberg. I used to believe Ginsberg was the 20th century reincarnation of Whitman, but now it seems more likely that he's actually an American incarnation of Lorca. (Compare: Lorca's "Ode to Walt Whitman" and "The King of Harlem" (link is to an incomplete transcription) with "Supermarket in California," and, really, pretty much everything else collected in Howl and Other Poems.)

The poem we'll be reading (or skimming, or skipping, or whichever gives you the most pleasure) was written to commemorate his friend Ignacio Sanchez Mejias (1891 - 1934), a poet, actor, and bullfighter who sustained a fatal goring by a bull named Granadino. It's a long one, but it's rather lovely -- and like yesterday, we see a lyrical refrain being put to good use.

Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias
(Translated from the Spanish by Stephen Spender and J.L. Gili)

   1. Cogida and Death

At five in the afternoon.
It was exactly five in the afternoon.
A boy brought the white sheet
at five in the afternoon.
A frail of lime ready prepared
at five in the afternoon.
The rest was death, and death alone.

The wind carried away the cottonwool
at five in the afternoon.
And the oxide scattered crystal and nickel
at five in the afternoon.
Now the dove and the leopard wrestle
at five in the afternoon.
And a thigh with a desolate horn
at five in the afternoon.
The bass-string struck up
at five in the afternoon.
Arsenic bells and smoke
at five in the afternoon.
Groups of silence in the corners
at five in the afternoon.
And the bull alone with a high heart!
At five in the afternoon.
When the sweat of snow was coming
at five in the afternoon,
when the bull ring was covered with iodine
at five in the afternoon.
Death laid eggs in the wound
at five in the afternoon.
At five in the afternoon.
Exactly at five o'clock in the afternoon.

A coffin on wheels is his bed
at five in the afternoon.
Bones and flutes resound in his ears
at five in the afternoon.
Now the bull was bellowing through his forehead
at five in the afternoon.
The room was iridescent with agony
at five in the afternoon.
In the distance the gangrene now comes
at five in the afternoon.
Horn of the lily through green groins
at five in the afternoon.
The wounds were burning like suns
at five in the afternoon,
and the crowd was breaking the windows
at five in the afternoon.
At five in the afternoon.
Ah, that fatal five in the afternoon!
It was five by all the clocks!
It was five in the shade of the afternoon!

   2. The Spilled Blood

I will not see it!

Tell the moon to come,
for I do not want to see the blood
of Ignacio on the sand.

I will not see it!

The moon wide open.
Horse of still clouds,
and the grey bull ring of dreams
with willows in the barreras.

I will not see it!

Let my memory kindle!
Warm the jasmines
of such minute whiteness!

I will not see it!

The cow of the ancient world
passed her sad tongue
over a snout of blood
spilled on the sand,
and the bulls of Guisando,
partly death and partly stone,
bellowed like two centuries
sated with threading the earth.
I do not want to see it!
I will not see it!

Ignacio goes up the tiers
with all his death on his shoulders.
He sought for the dawn
but the dawn was no more.
He seeks for his confident profile
and the dream bewilders him
He sought for his beautiful body
and encountered his opened blood.
I will not see it!
I do not want to hear it spurt
each time with less strength:
that spurt that illuminates
the tiers of seats, and spills
over the corduroy and the leather
of a thirsty multitude.
Who shouts that I should come near!
Do not ask me to see it!

His eyes did not close
when he saw the horns near,
but the terrible mothers
lifted their heads.
And across the ranches,
an air of secret voices rose,
shouting to celestial bulls,
herdsmen of pale mist.
There was no prince in Seville
who could compare to him,
nor sword like his sword
nor heart so true.
Like a river of lions
was his marvellous strength,
and like a marble torso
his firm drawn moderation.
The air of Andalusian Rome
gilded his head
where his smile was a spikenard
of wit and intelligence.
What a great torero in the ring!
What a good peasant in the sierra!
How gentle with the sheaves!
How hard with the spurs!
How tender with the dew!
How dazzling the fiesta!
How tremendous with the final
banderillas of darkness!

But now he sleeps without end.
Now the moss and the grass
open with sure fingers
the flower of his skull.
And now his blood comes out singing;
singing along marshes and meadows,
sliding on frozen horns,
faltering soulless in the mist
stumbling over a thousand hoofs
like a long, dark, sad tongue,
to form a pool of agony
close to the starry Guadalquivir.
Oh, white wall of Spain!
Oh, black bull of sorrow!
Oh, hard blood of Ignacio!
Oh, nightingale of his veins!
I will not see it!
No chalice can contain it,
no swallows can drink it,
no frost of light can cool it,
nor song nor deluge of white lilies,
no glass can cover it with silver.
I will not see it!!

   3. The Laid Out Body

Stone is a forehead where dreams grieve
without curving waters and frozen cypresses.
Stone is a shoulder on which to bear Time
with trees formed of tears and ribbons and planets.

I have seen grey showers move towards the waves
raising their tender riddled arms,
to avoid being caught by lying stone
which loosens their limbs without soaking their blood.

For stone gathers seed and clouds,
skeleton larks and wolves of penumbra:
but yields not sounds nor crystals nor fire,
only bull rings and bull rings and more bull rings without walls.

Now, Ignacio the well born lies on the stone.
All is finished. What is happening? Contemplate his face:
death has covered him with pale sulphur
and has place on him the head of dark minotaur.

All is finished. The rain penetrates his mouth.
The air, as if mad, leaves his sunken chest,
and Love, soaked through with tears of snow,
warms itself on the peak of the herd.

What is they saying? A stenching silence settles down.
We are here with a body laid out which fades away,
with a pure shape which had nightingales
and we see it being filled with depthless holes.

Who creases the shroud? What he says is not true!
Nobody sings here, nobody weeps in the corner,
nobody pricks the spurs, nor terrifies the serpent.
Here I want nothing else but the round eyes
to see his body without a chance of rest.

Here I want to see those men of hard voice.
Those that break horses and dominate rivers;
those men of sonorous skeleton who sing
with a mouth full of sun and flint.

Here I want to see them. Before the stone.
Before this body with broken reins.
I want to know from them the way out
for this captain stripped down by death.

I want them to show me a lament like a river
which will have sweet mists and deep shores,
to take the body of Ignacio where it looses itself
without hearing the double panting of the bulls.

Loses itself in the round bull ring of the moon
which feigns in its youth a sad quiet bull,
loses itself in the night without song of fishes
and in the white thicket of frozen smoke.

I don't want to cover his face with handkerchiefs
that he may get used to the death he carries.
Go, Ignacio, feel not the hot bellowing.
Sleep, fly, rest: even the sea dies!

   4. Absent Soul

The bull does not know you, nor the fig tree,
nor the horses, nor the ants in your own house.
The child and the afternoon do not know you
because you have died for ever.

The shoulder of the stone does not know you,
nor the black satin in which you crumble.
Your silent memory does not know you
because you have died for ever.

The autumn will come with small white snails,
misty grapes and with clustered hills,
but no one will look into your eyes
because you have died for ever.

Because you have died for ever,
like all the dead of the Earth,
like all the dead who are forgotten
in a heap of lifeless dogs.

Nobody knows you. No. But I sing of you.
For posterity I sing of your profile and grace.
Of the signal maturity of your understanding.
Of your appetite for death and the taste of its mouth.
Of the sadness of your once valiant gaiety.

It will be a long time, if ever, before there is born
an Andalusian so true, so rich in adventure.
I sing of his elegance with words that groan,
and I remember a sad breeze through the olive trees.

Friday, April 27, 2012

NPM: War God's Horse Song II

 (Image kidnapped from Quincy Tahoma Blog)

Hmm. Only three more days until National Poetry Month ends. Whew. It'll be nice not having to spend an hour or so a night flipping through books and transcribing stuff that other people wrote.

So why bother with all this? you ask.

Spreading the love, I suppose.

I guess one of the reasons I so enjoy reading poetry is that there are times I'll glance at the comments on a Slate or WaPo article, scroll down through Twitter, skim a magazine in the checkout line, hover around a television set, or overhear chatter between kids, businessmen, or housewives on a subway car, and I'll find myself thinking

Shut up.

Just shut up.

Shut. the fuck. up.

You can only absorb so much snark, insincerity, irony, glibness, sales talk, and stupid human static before it poisons you. People's mental physiology will vary, but I frequently find that poetry works as a powerful antidote to the psychic toxins of the modern age.


Here's a piece I remember first reading in a packet that was distributed during the first day of a creative writing class, and I've spent at least one evening going through all my collected papers and notebooks trying to track down. Managing to track it down on Google Books a few months ago was a great joy and relief.

I'll spare you the uninformed analysis or hastily-Googled autobiographical details. It will be enough to mention how much I enjoy the hypnotic effect of the refrain, and how unusual it is (at least from the perspective of one accustomed to reading American and British poetry) to see it used to such an extreme.

War God's Horse Song II
(by Frank Mitchell; translated from the Navajo by David P. McAllester)

With their voices they are calling me,
With their voices they are calling me!

I am the child of White Shell Woman,
     With their voices they are calling me,
I am the son of the Sun,
     With their voices they are calling me,
I am Turquoise Boy,
     With their voices they are calling me!

From the arching rainbow, turquoise on its outer edge,
  from this side of where it touches the earth,
     With their voices they are calling me,
Now the horses of the Sun-descended-boy,
     With their voices they are calling me!

The turquoise horses are my horses,
     With their voices they are calling me,
Dark stone water jars their hooves,
     With their voices they are calling me,
Arrowheads the frogs of their hooves,
     With their voices they are calling me,
Mirage-stone their striped hooves,
     With their voices they are calling me,
Dark wind their legs,
     With their voices they are calling me,
Cloud shadow their tails,
     With their voices they are calling me,
All precious fabrics their bodies,
     With their voices they are calling me,
Dark cloud their skins,
     With their voices they are calling me,
Scattered rainbow their hair,
     With their voices they are calling me,
Now the Sun rises before them to shine on them,
     With their voices they are calling me!

New moons their cantles,
     With their voices they are calling me,
Sunrays their backstraps,
     With their voices they are calling me,
Rainbows their girths,
     With their voices they are calling me,
They are standing, waiting, on rainbows,
     With their voices they are calling me,
The dark-rain-four-footed-ones, their neck hair falling in a wave,
     With their voices they are calling me!

Sprouting plants their ears,
     With their voices they are calling me,
Great dark stars their eyes,
     With their voices they are calling me,
All kinds of spring waters their faces,
     With their voices they are calling me,
Great shell their lips,
     With their voices they are calling me,
White shell their teeth,
     With their voices they are calling me,
There is flash-lightning in their mouths,
     With their voices they are calling me,
Dark-music sounds from their mouths,
     With their voices they are calling me,
They call out into dawn,
     With their voices they are calling me,
Their voices reach all the way out to me,
     With their voices they are calling me,
Dawn-pollen is in their mouths,
     With their voices they are calling me,
Flowers and plant-dew are in their mouths,
     With their voices they are calling me!

Sunray their bridles,
     With their voices they are calling me,
To my right arm, beautifully to my hand they come,
     With their voices they are calling me,
This day they become my own horses,
     With their voices they are calling me,
Ever increasing, never diminishing,
     With their voices they are calling me,
My horses of long life and happiness,
     With their voices they are calling me,
I, myself, am the boy of long life and happiness,
     With their voices they are calling me!

With their voices they are calling me,
With their voices they are calling me!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

NPM: Thunder, Perfect Mind

Time for a little something from the old school: verses discovered in the gnostic manuscripts unearthed at Nag Hammandi in 1945. It is suspected that the original Greek text was composed in Alexandria at an unknown date (300 - 100 B.C.?), but all that remains is the Coptic version found at Nag Hammandi, which is estimated to be about 1,650 years old. (There has been some degradation in the papyrus, which is the reason for the gaps and guesses in the text.)

Can you think of any other third-century middle eastern poems that have appeared in Prada commercials? Me neither. There must have been some real hep cats hanging around Egypt back then.

Thunder, Perfect Mind
(Author unknown; translated by George W. MacRae) 
I was sent forth from the power,
 and I have come to those who reflect upon me,
 and I have been found among those who seek after me.
Look upon me, you who reflect upon me,
 and you hearers, hear me.
 You who are waiting for me, take me to yourselves.
And do not banish me from your sight.
 And do not make your voice hate me, nor your hearing.
 Do not be ignorant of me anywhere or any time. Be on your guard!
 Do not be ignorant of me.

For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am [the mother] and the daughter.
I am the members of my mother.
I am the barren one
 and many are her sons.
I am she whose wedding is great,
 and I have not taken a husband.
I am the midwife and she who does not bear.
I am the solace of my labor pains.
I am the bride and the bridegroom,
 and it is my husband who begot me.
I am the mother of my father
 and the sister of my husband,
 and he is my offspring.
I am the slave of him who prepared me.
I am the ruler of my offspring.
 But he is the one who [begot me] before the time
  on a birthday.
 And he is my offspring [in due] time,
  and my power is from him.
I am the staff of his power in his youth,
 [and] he is the rod of my old age.
 And whatever he wills happens to me.
I am the silence that is incomprehensible
 and the idea whose remembrance is frequent.
I am the voice whose sound is manifold
 and the word whose appearance is multiple.
I am the utterance of my name.

Why, you who hate me, do you love me,
 and you hate those who love me?
You who deny me, confess me,
 and you who confess me, deny me.
You who tell the truth about me, lie about me,
 and you who have lied about me, tell the truth about me.
You who know me, be ignorant of me,
 and those who have not known me, let them know me.

For I am knowledge and ignorance.
I am shame and boldness.
I am shameless; I am ashamed.
I am strength and I am fear.
I am war and peace.
Give heed to me.
I am the one who is disgraced and the great one.

Give heed to my poverty and my wealth.
Do not be arrogant to me when I am cast out upon the earth,
 [and] you will find me in [those that] are to come.
And do not look [upon] me on the dung-heap
 nor go and leave me cast out,
 and you will find me in the kingdoms.
And do not look upon me when I am cast out among those who
 are disgraced and in the least places,
 nor laugh at me.
And do not cast me out among those who are slain in violence.
But I, I am compassionate and I am cruel.
Be on your guard!
Do not hate my obedience
 and do not love my self-control.
In my weakness, do not forsake me,
 amd do not be afraid of my power.
For why do you despise my fear
 and curse my pride?

But I am she who exists in all fears
 and strength in trembling.
I am she who is weak,
 and I am well in a pleasant place.
I am senseless and I am wise.

Why have you hated me in your counsels?
For I shall be silent among those who are silent,
 and I shall appear and speak.
Why then have you hated me, you Greeks?
 Because I am a barbarian among [the] barbarians?
For I am the wisdom [of the] Greeks
 and the knowledge of [the] barbarians.
I am the judgment of [the] Greeks and the barbarians.
[I] am the one whose image is great in Egypt
 and the one who has no image among the barbarians.
I am the one who is hated everywhere
 and who has been loved everywhere.
I am the one whom they call Life,
 and you have called Death.
I am the one whom they call Law,
 and you have called Lawlessness.
I am the one whom you have pursued,
 and I am the one whom you have seized.
I am the one you have scattered,
 and you have gathered me together.
I am the one before whom you have been ashamed,
 and you have been shameless to me.
I am she who does not keep festival,
 and I am she whose festivals are many.
I, I am godless,
 and I am one whose God is great.
I am the one whom you have reflected upon,
 and you have scorned me.
I am unlearned,
 and they learn from me.
I am the one whom you have despised,
 and you reflect upon me.
I am the one whom you have hidden from,
 and you appear to me.
 But whenever you hide yourselves,
  I myself will appear.
 For [whenever] you [appear],
  I myself [will hide] from you.
Those who have [...] to it [...] senselessly [...].

Take me [... understanding] from grief,
 and take me to yourselves from understanding [and] grief.
And take me to yourselves from places that are ugly and in ruin,
 and rob from those which are good even though in ugliness.
Out of shame, take me to yourselves shamelessly;
 and out of shamelessness and shame, upbraid my members
  in yourselves.
And come foreward to me, you who know me
   and you who know my members,
 and establish the great ones among the small first creatures.
Come foreward to childhood,
 and do not despise it because it is small and it is little.
And do not turn away greatness in some parts from the
 for the smallnesses are known from the greatnesses.

Why do you curse me and honor me?
You have wounded and you have had mercy.
Do not separate me from the first ones whom you have [known].
[And] do not cast anyone [out nor] turn anyone away
  [...] turn away and [... know] him not.
  [... him].
  What is mine [...].
I know the [first ones] and those after them [know] me.

But I am the mind of [...] and the rest of [...].
I am the knowledge of my inquiry,
 and the finding of those who seek after me,
 and the command of those who ask of me,
 and the power of the powers in my knowledge
   of the angels, who have been sent at my word,
   and of the gods in their seasons by my counsel,
   and of the spirits of every man who exists with me,
    and of the women who dwell within me.
I am the one who is honored, and who is praised,
  and who is despised scornfully.
I am peace,
  and war has come because of me.
I am an alien and a citizen.
I am the substance and the one who has no substance.

Those who are without association with me are ignorant of me,
 and those who are in my substance are the ones who know me.
Those who are close to me have been ignorant of me,
 and those who are far away from me are the ones who have
   known me.
On the day when I am close to [you],
   [you] are far away [from me],
 [and] on the day when I [am far away] from you,
   [I am close] to you.

[I am ...] within.
[I am ...] of the natures.
I am [...] of the creation of the spirits.
[...] request of souls.
[I am] control and the uncontrollable.
I am the union and the dissolution.
I am the abiding and the dissolving.
I am the one below,
 and they come up to me.
I am the judgment and the acquittal.
I, I am sinless,
 and the root of sin derives from me.
I am lust in (outward) appearance,
 and interior self-control exists within me.
I am the hearing that is attainable to everyone
 and the speech that cannot be grasped.
I am a mute who does not speak,
 and great is the multitude of my words.

Hear me in gentleness, and learn of me in roughness.
I am she who cries out,
  and I am cast out on the face of the earth.
I prepare the bread and my mind within.
I am the knowledge of my name.
I am one who cries out,
  and I listen.
I appear and [...] walk in [...] seal of my [...].
I am [...] the defense [...].
I am the one who is called Truth,
  and iniquity [...].

You honor me [...] and you whisper against [me].
[...] victorious over them.
Judge then before they give judgment against you,
  because the judge and the partiality exist in you.
If you are condemned by this one, who will acquit you?
   Or if you are acquitted by him who will be able to detain you?
For what is inside of you is what is outside of you,
 and the one who fashions you on the outside
  is the one who shaped the inside of you.
 And what you see outside of you,
  you see outside of you;
  it is visible and it is your garment.

Hear me, you hearers,
 and learn of my words, you who know me.
I am the hearing that is attainable to everything;
  I am the speech that can not be grasped.
I am the name of the sound
  and the sound of the name.
I am the sign of the letter
  and the designation of the division.
And I [...].
[...] light [...].
[...] hearers [...] to you
[...] the great power.
And [...] will not move the name.
[...] to the one who created me.
  And I will speak his name.

Look then at his words
 and all the writings which have been completed.
Give heed then, you hearers
 and you also, the angels and those who have been sent,
 and you spirits who have arisen from the dead.
For I am the one who alone exists,
 and I have no one who will judge me.

For many are the pleasant forms which exist in
 numerous sins,
 and incontinencies,
 and disgraceful passions,
 and fleeting pleasures,
   which (men) embrace until they become sober
   and go up to their resting-place.
And they will find me there,
 and they will live,
 and they will not die again.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

NPM: Li Po, jars of wine, moonlit nights

Li Po (701 - 762) is a Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty period whom I know next to nothing about. I won't say much else than that.

Today, as National Poetry Month enters its final stretch, we'll be looking at some of his poetry (as translated into English by Shigeyoshi Obata), but we'll begin with another snippet from our favorite fascistic literary critic:

To go back to the beginning of history, you probably know that there is spoken language and written language, and that there are two kinds of written language, one based on sound and the other on sight.

You speak to an animal with a few simple noises and gestures. Lévy-Bruhl's account of primitive languages in Africa records languages that are still bound up with mimicry and gesture.

The Egyptians finally used abbreviated pictures to represent sounds, but the Chinese still use abbreviated pictures AS pictures, that is to say, Chinese ideogram does not try to be the picture of a sound, or to be a written sign recalling a sound, but it is still a picture of a thing; of a thing in a given position or relation, or of a combination of things. It means the thing or the action or the situation, or quality germane to the several things that it pictures.

Gaudier Brzeska, who was accustomed to looking at the real shape of things, could read a certain amount of Chinese writing without ANY STUDY. He said, 'Of course, you can see it's a horse' (or a wing or whatever).

In tables showing primitive Chinese characters in one column and the present 'conventionalized' signs in another, anyone can see how the ideogram for man or tree or sunrise developed, or 'was simplified from', or was reduced to the essentials of the first picture of man, tree or sunrise.


But when the Chinaman wanted to make a picture of something more complicated, like a general idea, how did he go about it?

He is to define red. How can he do it in a picture that isn't painted in red paint?

He puts (or his ancestor put) together the abbreviated pictures of

ROSE            CHERRY


....The Chinese 'word' or ideogram for red is based on something everyone KNOWS.

....Fenollosa was telling how and why a language written in this way simply HAD TO STAY POETIC; simply couldn't help being and staying poetic in a way that a column of English type might very well not stay poetic.

One of Li Po's most famous poems in the West (so I'm told) is the one about the himself, the moon, and his shadow. Here is how the poet himself wrote it out:

And just below is how it looks after bring put through the wringer of Obata's English translation. See if you can go between them and interpret the meaning of the characters like Brzeska! (Hint: you'll scan it in columns from top to bottom, right to left. The column on the far right contains the title and Li-Po's signature.) Or if you would like an easier exercise, count the number of characters in one and the number of words in the other, compare them, and meditate a few moments on the difference.

Three with the Moon and His Shadow

With a jar of wine I sit by the flowering trees.
I drink alone, and where are my friends?
Ah, the moon above looks down on me;
I call and lift my cup to his brightness.
And see, there goes my shadow before me.
Hoo!  We're a party of three, I say,
Though the poor moon can't drink,
And my shadow but dances around me,
We're all friends to-night,
The drinker, the moon, and the shadow.
Let our revelry be meet for the spring time!

I sing, the wild moon wanders the sky.
I dance, my shadow goes tumbling about.
While we're awake, let us join in carousal;
Only sweet drunkenness shall ever part us.
Let us pledge a friendship no mortals know,
And often hail each other at evening
Far across the vast and vaporous space!

While Journeying

The delicious wine of Lan-ling is of golden hue and flavorous.
Come, fill my precious glass, and let it glow in amber!
If you can only make me drunk, mine host, it is enough;
No longer shall I know the sorrow of a strange land.

On a Quiet Night

I saw the moonlight before my couch,
And wondered if it were not the frost on the ground.
I raised my head and looked out on the mountain moon;
I bowed my head and thought of my far-off home.

Awakening from Sleep on a Spring Day

Life is an immense dream.  Why toil?
All day long I drowse with wine,
And lie by the post at the front door.
Awakening, I gaze upon the garden trees,
And, hark, a bird is singing among the flowers.
Pray, what season may this be?
Ah, the songster's a mango-bird,
Singing to the passing wind of spring.
I muse and muse myself to sadness,
Once more I pour my wine, singing aloud,
Await the bright moonrise.
My song is ended
What troubled my soul?I remember not.

I am a Peach Tree

I am a peach tree blossoming in a deep pit.
Who is there I may turn to and smile?
You are the moon up in the far sky;
Passing, you looked down on me an hour; then went on

A sword with the keenest edge,
Could not cut the stream of water in twain
So that it would cease to flow.
My thought is like the stream; and flows and follows you
    on forever.

A Vindication

If heaven loved not the wine,
A Wine Star would not be in heaven;
If earth loved not the wine,
The Wine Spring would not be on the earth.
Since heaven and earth love the wine,
Need a tippling mortal be ashamed?
The transparent wine, I hear,
Has the soothing virtue of a sage,
While the turgid is rich, the say,
As the fertile mind of the wise.
Both the sage and the wise were drinkers,
Why seek for peers among gods and goblins?
Three cups open the grand door to bliss;
Take a jugful, the universe is yours.
Such is the rapture of the wine,
That the sober shall never inherit.

Addressed Humorously to Tu Fu

Here! is this you on the top of Fan-kuo Mountain,
Wearing a huge hat in the noon-day sun?
How thin, how wretchedly thin, you have grown!
You must have been suffering from poetry again.

Translator's footnote: In contrast with Li Po, who depended largely on inspiration, Tu Fu was a painstaking artist careful of the minutest details.

A Midnight Farewell

By a pale lanternunder the cold moon
We were drinking heavily together.
Frightened by our orgies, a white heron
Flaffed out of the river shallows.   It was midnight.

Huh. Something seems missing from that last one, does it not?

Pertinent: a translation of a Li Po piece by William Carlos Williams accompanied by a note (provided by Jacket 2):

Like playing a violin piece on a xylophone, no?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

NPM: From Nicaragua with Love

The nights are getting warmer, people are taking off their jackets, and Occupy is starting to appear in the news again. For those of you getting stoked for May Day, here are some pieces from Ernesto Cardenal's (1925 - ) From Nicaragua with Love collection (translated from the Spanish by Jonathan Cohen) to arouse your revolutionary spirit. The pieces in this edition were composed in the years between 1979 and 1986 -- after the Sandinista Revolution and during the Contra affair. (Historical context is very important here.)

Enjoy! ¡Viva la Revolución!

The Price of Bras

I have a niece who complains about the Revolution
because bras are so very expensive.
I don't know what it's like to have breasts
but I think I could go around without a bra.
My friend Rafael Cordova lives close to the village of Esquipulas
and he told me how many funerals used to pass on the road
               with tiny little coffins,
four, five, six, eight funerals
      every afternoon,
there were children's funerals
                     each afternoon.
The old people didn't die as often.
And a short while ago the gravedigger of Esquipulas visited him:
"Doctor, I've come to ask you for a little help,
              I'm out of work.
         There aren't any funerals in Esquipulas anymore."
Before, bras were not so expensive.
Now in Esquipulas there are hardly any funerals.
You tell me: What's better?

Economic Brief

I'm surprised that I now read
                   with great interest
things like
       the cotton harvest up 25%
from last year's crop
          U.S. $124.2 million worth of coffee exported
     up 17.5% from last year
a 13.6% jump in sugar is expected
             corn production dropped 5.9%
        gold dropped 10% because
of attacks by the contras in that region
likewise, shellfish...
When did these facts ever interest me before?
      It's because now our wealth,
                       meager as it may be,
        is intended
             for everyone.
                    This interest of mine
      is for the people, well,
                 out of love
        for the people. The thing is
now these numbers amount to love.
The gold coming out of the earth, solid sun
cut into blocks, will become electric light,
drinking water
              for the poor. The transluscent
mollusks, recalling to mind women, the smell of a woman
coming out of the sea, from their underwater caves
and colorful coral gardens, in order to become
pills, school desks.
                    The holiness of matter.
        Momma, you know the value of a glass of milk.
The cotton, soft bit of clouds,
            —— we've gone to pick cotton singing
               we've held clouds in our fingers ——
will become tin roofs, highways, and
the thing is now what's economic is poetic,
          or rather, with the Revolution
the economy amounts to love.

Among Facades

We're going through the streets of a neighborhood in New York,
small shops, a restaurant, Dry Cleaning,
apartment houses, three-, four-stories high,
made of red brick, concrete, grey brick,
                   then we pass through a hamlet in the Alps,
            cobblestone streets in a Mexican village,
then a river with a medieval mill,
               a dusty street in a town in the West,
        with its saloons, a window with broken glass,
on a hill an 11th-century castle,
and once again apartment houses, a bank, liquor stores
        in any city in the United States,
but if you knock on anything it sounds hollow,
                 everything is plasterwork,
        they're only the outside walls, there's nothing in back.
A policeman in the middle of the street, with his badge
                   and book for giving out tickets,
might be a real policeman or a famous actor.
And the producer (Ed Lewis) who is showing me everything
                                                  tells me:
"no director, no producer, nobody
                             runs the show in a movie,
           just the banks putting up the money."
And on leaving and seeing the banks, restaurants, Dry Cleaning,
I thought whatever I'd knock on would sound hollow,
Hollywood, all of Los Angeles, everything
                was merely walls
                                with nothing in back.

Empty Shelves

Yesterday I went into a supermarket
                      and saw shelves bare-empty;
most of them empty; and I felt a little
of the gloominess of the empty shelves,
    but more than that, the happiness
because of the dignity of our people plain to see
                                  on the empty shelves.
These shelves before just overflowing
with luxuries and necessities of all colors
or as they are in other countries. It's the price
we're paying, a small nation fighting
against the Colossus, and I see empty shelves
completely full of heroism.
       The price of independence. And because there are
thousands of Sandino's cubs* loose in the woods.
And just as those rows of colorful things are gone
so is the lady on the sidewalk pointing to her sores,
the little boy with eyes as white as marble, holding out his hand.
      The kids are playing in their neighborhoods;
                              the grownups, peaceful.
And the police in the street have no rubber clubs
for beating people,
           no tear-gas bombs
no water hose or anti-riot shields
because of those empty shelves.
                               Bare-empty shelves
without necessities or luxuries, but brimming with sacrifice
and pride.
Pride, arrogance if you wish, of a people:
these empty shelves.
                    It's not being sold or surrendered.
And I went out, feeling bad but glad because of
                                           the empty shelves.

*Cachorros de Sandino, the nickname of young draftees in the Sandinista army, plays on the double meaning of the word cachorros: cubs and pistols.