28 February 2012

Translating Eugenio Montale

The original in Italian:

La poesia

Dagli albori del secolo si discute
se la poesia sia dentro o fuori.
Dapprima vinse il dentro, poi contrattaccò
il fuori e dopo anni si addivene a un forfait
che non potrà durare perché il fuori
è armato fino ai denti. 

The word for word Italian to English transliteration:

The Poetry

Since the dawn of the century discussion
If the poetry is in or out.
He won the first, then counterattacked hard inside
the outside and after he became a forfeit
that will not last because the outside
is armed to the teeth

English Interpretive Translation:


Our modern poets have argued
whether poetry comes from inside the poet or outside.
Poetry revealed himself from inside the battlements
and In was thought to have won,
but then, he relinquished
because outside, Poetry was armed to the teeth.


I've never taken a course in Italian. The transliteration was conducted by some Microsoft program designed to translate web pages. But that is not where the poem's meaning comes from. It is as if I have chipped away at the stone to reveal some of the geode underneath. The act of translation must first transliterate, but it also must interpret.

Montale seems to say here that it is both inside the soul and outside the body. It exists wherever there is a human being and I agree with him. Poetry as an internal act is very personal, very protective. The poet constructing poetry for himself creates a world and its structures for him to live and work in, to protect him from the outside.

But the poet must also construct poetry for the world, the poet must use his words as weapons to tear down ideas that people hide behind, to force them into the open, to reveal the vulnerability of us all. To lay bare our faults and injustices, and to set us free from our illusions.

Poetry must be both inside and outside, must reflect this constant conflict of this inner landscape and our outer environment. And good poetry, the poetry that really is able to turn us from being protected to being proactive, from being on the defense, to taking up arms against our oppressors, that poetry that serves to connect us to our other, better self, is also the barrier between the two worlds. It is also the door.

And in Adrienne Rich's words, "It promises nothing. It is only a door."

And it occurs to me that non-believers can go ahead and not believe in poetry or the soul or the spirit or the life force or whatever other invisible things we have created words for out of a need to hope for something better. Just because you don't believe in it, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It only means you haven't opened the door.

And you haven't opened the door because you want it to promise you something which it cannot.

I feel courageous opening that door and I gladly walk through, not knowing if I am going outside or inside. That is the job of the poet: to walk through poetry, to live through poetry, to speak through poetry, to infuse everything we contact with poetry.

22 February 2012

Ash Wednesday by TS Eliot

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is
nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to sateity
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each
Under a tree in the cool of day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.

At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitul face of hope and of despair.

At the second turning of the second stair
I left them twisting, turning below;
There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
Damp, jaggèd, like an old man's mouth drivelling, beyond
Or the toothed gullet of an agèd shark.

At the first turning of the third stair
Was a slotted window bellied like the figs's fruit
And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene
The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green
Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute.
Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,
Lilac and brown hair;
Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind
over the third stair,
Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair
Climbing the third stair.

Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy

               but speak the word only.

Who walked between the violet and the violet
Whe walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary's colour,
Talking of trivial things
In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
Who moved among the others as they walked,
Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the springs

Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand
In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary's colour,
Sovegna vos

Here are the years that walk between, bearing
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing

White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.

The silent sister veiled in white and blue
Between the yews, behind the garden god,
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke
no word

But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile

If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny
the voice

Will the veiled sister pray for
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee,
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season,
time and time, between
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who wait
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
In the last desert before the last blue rocks
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.

O my people.

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit
of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

15 February 2012

You're Missing It

Is sharp.
Is filed and shaved down.
Is a dot on the map.

Is infintely small, yet still exists.
Is the reason for speech, for action, for thought.
Is what I'm getting to.

Is often questioned about it all.
Is blaming you for everything.
Is showing me the right direction.

Is a place on my body where it hurts.
Is a place in my mind where it hurts or decides.
Is of no return.

Is of fact.
Is here where I am.
Is the place where the pin hosts an angels dance.

Is the place where movement becomes language.
Is the thing that matters most.
Isn't going to change.

Isn't going to stretch out along a line.
Has no depth, no width, no length, just direction of travel.
Is what I'm coming to.

Is a mark of significance or insignificance.
Denotes the start or the end.
Denotes the midway.

Is the first thing I write and the last thing I write.
Is the thing I do when I don't write.
Is what I've made.

Is sharp, is movement.
Is the purpose and direction.
Is infinitely small, yet still exists.

01 February 2012

Been spending a lot of time with the Muppets lately...

I've seen the new movie twice, I'm watching the old episodes of The Muppet Show, and the classic: The Muppet Movie.

A few of my more recent posts here have referenced Kermit and Jim Henson.

I listen to the soundtrack for the new movie almost daily, which features two versions of "Rainbow Connection," the Theme from the Muppet Show, Mahna Mahna, and a bunch of other songs, new and classic that are right up the Muppet alley.

I almost always start to cry when I hear Rainbow Connection because it speaks to that poetic center of which my whole self tries to orbit around.

"Rainbow Connection," written by Paul WIlliams and Kenny Ascher

Why are there so many songs about rainbows
and what's on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
and rainbows have nothing to hide.
So we've been told and some choose to believe it.
I know they're wrong, wait and see.
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

Who said that every wish would be heard
and answered when wished on the morning star?
Somebody thought of that and someone believed it.
Look what it's done so far.
What's so amazing that keeps us star gazing
and what do we think we might see?
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

All of us under its spell. We know that it's probably magic.

Have you been half asleep and have you heard voices?
I've heard them calling my name.
Is this the sweet sound that called the young sailors.
The voice might be one and the same.
I've heard it too many times to ignore it.
It's something that I'm supposed to be.
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

This song talks about rainbows, not being what scientifically they are: a vision, an illusion. And in legends and myths and religion they are symbols. Symbols of promises, of the end of a storm, of good fortune and faraway magical lands. And yet, though we know it's just a trick of the eye, not one person can say they don't feel a little more hope when they see a rainbow.

And yes, Double Rainbow Guy, in all his cheezy, flaky, stoner, memehood that made him a mockery: part of me wants to salute him for allowing himself to be touched that way...

It talks about wishing on stars about how improbable it is that every wish will be answered and yet...we keep doing it.

And it talks about voices, voices that call to us, voices that wake us from slumber and say this is your task, voices that could be calling us to the rocky shoals to strand us on a reef, to toss us about and steer us off our appointed course.

And yet... they call. They keep speaking, even when we tell them not to. Even when we show them just how much it hurts us to reply.

And yet...we answer. Not because we expect anything different but because they call and we can't ignore it. We feel it is something we are supposed to be.

The voice tells me to love, the voice tells me to dream, the voice tells me that this is who I am. That I am among them, those lovers and dreamers, those magic bean buyers, those Kermits and Shel Silversteins.

You see, for all you pragmatists out there, if there's any creedence, any stock to put in a belief system and an afterlife, it is through our imaginations and our love and our dreams that we get there and the lover, the dreamer is the person who can get there.

We, your lovers, your dreamers, your fools on parade, your Double Rainbow guys, your star-gazers, your optimists, your rose-colored glasses wearers, your unabashed romantics...

We are your defense against the coming darkness of death and decay and nothingness. Treat us kindly.