Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Semiologic Quatrain

I have just remembered a passage by Montale which impressed me when I firstly read it.
It is the the last quatrain of Maestrale, a poem of Ossi di seppia, the best known collection of Montale, my preferred modern Italian poet.

sotto l'azzurro fitto
del cielo qualche uccello di mare se ne va;
né sosta mai: perché tutte le immagini portano scritto
« più in là »!
 Which, in English, might be rendered quite approximatively:

beneath the thick azure
of the sky some seabird flies away;
and never rests: because all the images bear inscribed:
" further on"!
Once again, as I said in a former post, poets get to the core. In a few words, Montale, makes us grasp most vividly the essence of σημείωσις. I mean the "signification" or production of meaning; i.e. an object (word, icon, symbol, trace, ...) transcends itself pointing elsewhere.
In fact, Montale, forces a little applying the process to images, which in classic semiotics, are considered self-sufficient: their meaning is contained in themselves; they do not need to point elsewhere in order to signify.
But enough niceties! No dissertation can equal a few lines of great poetry.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Again on Poetry Definitions by Poets

Jesse Window - St Mary's Church - Shrewsbury - England

Gentle reader, let me propose an other graceful definition of Poetry, wrought by no less than the great Goethe himself.

Gedichte sind gemalte Fensterscheiben!
Sieht man vom Markt in die Kirche hinein,
Da ist alles dunkel und düster;
Und so siehts auch der Herr Philister.
Der mag denn wohl verdrießlich sein
Und lebenslang verdrießlich bleiben. 

Kommt aber nur einmal herein!
Begrüßt die heilige Kapelle;
Da ists auf einmal farbig helle,
Geschicht' und Zierat glänzt in Schnelle,
Bedeutend wirkt ein edler Schein,
Dies wird euch Kindern Gottes taugen,
Erbaut euch und ergetzt die Augen!

Which, in English, sounds roughly as follows:

Poems are painted windowpanes!
Looking at the church interior from the market-place,
Everything seems dark and gloomy;
And so sees it Mr Philistine.
For he may indeed be dull
And such lifelong remain.

But come inside just once!
Greet the sacred chapel;
Suddenly it is coloured bright there,
Quickly, story and decoration resplend,
A noble shine works significantly,
That is good for you, ye God's children,
Be edified and regale your eyes!

Watch and listen a reading of the original poem

Monday, May 24, 2010

Poets Get to the Core

To my dearest friend Mariano
who has embarked on a daring research on Shakespeare

This morning, reading Heine's Shakespeares Maedchen und Frauen while commuting to the office, I came across a dazzling consideration about Hamlet's essence.
At the end of the section on "Ophelia", the poet concludes saying:

Wir kennen diesen Hamlet, wie wir unser eignes Gesicht kennen, das wir so oft im Spiegel erblicken und das uns dennoch weniger bekannt ist, als man glauben sollte; denn begegnete uns jemand auf der Straße, der ganz so aussähe wie wir selber, so würden wir das befremdlich wohlbekannte Antlitz nur instinktmäßig und mit geheimen Schreck anglotzen, ohne jedoch zu merken, daß es unsere eignen Gesichtszüge sind, die wir eben erblickten.

Which in English sounds roughly:

We know this Hamlet like our own face that we behold so often in the mirror but we know it less than one should expect; should we come upon somebody in the street looking quite like ourselves, we would gape at the strange familiar visage only instinctively and with a mysterious horror, but without noticing that it is our very features we are looking at.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

An Ethereal Definition of Poetry

In re-reading Heinrich Heine's Reisebilder, I have just come across a nonchalant definition of Poetry I had never noticed before:

Die Poesie, [...], war mir immer nur heiliges Spielzeug oder geweihtes Mittel für himmlische Zwecke.
Poetry, for me, has always been only a holy toy or a hallowed tool for heavenly purposes.

In spite of its playful tone, I find it a profound definition of Poetry.

It is typical of Heine's ironic mood to defuse by means of light items (a toy) lofty ideas (holy, hallowed, heavenly).

Probably it is a way to overcome a too sharp emotional nature or to take oneself not too seriously.

Heine would have loathed to become a National Poet like Hugo or D'annunzio. He doesn't play the Sage nor the Seer. He is too conscious of his human frailty.

To make clear what I mean I close this post with the following poem from Heine's Buch der Lieder.

Auf meiner Herzliebsten Äugelein
Mach ich die schönsten Kanzonen.
Auf meiner Herzliebsten Mündchen klein
Mach ich die besten Terzinen.

Auf meiner Herzliebsten Wängelein
Mach ich die herrlichsten Stanzen.
Und wenn meine Liebste ein Herzchen hätt,
Ich machte darauf ein hübsches Sonett.

Upon my darling's little eyes
I make the most beautiful canzonas
Upon my darling's little mouth
I make the best tercets.

Upon my darling's little cheeks
I make the most marvellous stanzas
And if my darling dearest had a little heart,
I would make a lovely sonnet upon.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Only in Expectation Happiness

Or the Impossibily to Enjoy the Present

The today's poem is "Saturday Night in the Village" by Giacomo Leopardi (1798 - 1837). This choice might seem banal to Italians: it is a poem almost every Italian has learned by heart at school. But I find the last but one stanza so true!
Of seven days, this is the most welcome,
full of hope and joy:
tomorrow the hours will bring
sadness and ennui, and make everybody
turn, in his mind, to the routine toil.
It expresses admirably well how our mind is always projected into the future. This is related to the difficulty, or even the impossibility, to enjoy the Present.
We are beings of imagination as well as flesh and blood and, often, our imaginary life may override Reality.
In A la recherche du temps perdu, Proust created many convincing representations of that sway of imagination.
I still vividly remember, in Du côté de schez Swann, Marcel's disappointment when he eventually visits the places whose images he had been embroidering in his mind reading their names in the railway timetable.

Il sabato del villaggio

La donzelletta vien dalla campagna,
In sul calar del sole,
Col suo fascio dell'erba; e reca in mano
Un mazzolin di rose e di viole,
Onde, siccome suole,
Ornare ella si appresta
Dimani, al dì di festa, il petto e il crine.
Siede con le vicine
Su la scala a filar la vecchierella,
Incontro là dove si perde il giorno;
E novellando vien del suo buon tempo,
Quando ai dì della festa ella si ornava,
Ed ancor sana e snella
Solea danzar la sera intra di quei
Ch'ebbe compagni dell'età più bella.
Già tutta l'aria imbruna,
Torna azzurro il sereno, e tornan l'ombre
Giù da' colli e da' tetti,
Al biancheggiar della recente luna.
Or la squilla dà segno
Della festa che viene;
Ed a quel suon diresti
Che il cor si riconforta.
I fanciulli gridando
Su la piazzuola in frotta,
E qua e là saltando,
Fanno un lieto romore:
E intanto riede alla sua parca mensa,
Fischiando, il zappatore,
E seco pensa al dì del suo riposo.

Poi quando intorno è spenta ogni altra face,
E tutto l'altro tace,
Odi il martel picchiare, odi la sega
Del legnaiuol, che veglia
Nella chiusa bottega alla lucerna,
E s'affretta, e s'adopra
Di fornir l'opra anzi il chiarir dell'alba.

Questo di sette è il più gradito giorno,
Pien di speme e di gioia:
Diman tristezza e noia
Recheran l'ore, ed al travaglio usato
Ciascuno in suo pensier farà ritorno.

Garzoncello scherzoso,
Cotesta età fiorita
È come un giorno d'allegrezza pieno,
Giorno chiaro, sereno,
Che precorre alla festa di tua vita.
Godi, fanciullo mio; stato soave,
Stagion lieta è cotesta.
Altro dirti non vo'; ma la tua festa
Ch'anco tardi a venir non ti sia grave.

Nota Bene: it is a difficult poem to translate. As I have found online a good translation, I didn't undertake to reinvent the wheel. So please refer to A. S. Kline's translation

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Can you speak English? Can you REALLY speak English?

For this post title I am indebted to Jc who created it as a signature for his posts.

Jc is an active coordinator of LibriVox.org who recently had the coup de génie of proposing to the LibriVox volunteers to record The Chaos.

The Chaos
is a poem by Gerard Nolst Trenité where all (or most of) the inconsistencies of the English spelling-pronunciation are skilfully gathered creating a nice and amusing result.

I daresay that even English mother tongue readers might find some difficulty in this poem.

While you can read the poem at WikiSource and listen to some recordings at LibriVox I propose here a phonetic transliteration.

Some remarks:

  • As there is not a unique and universal English pronunciation, I chose the pronunciation given by Daniel Jones in his English Pronouncing Dictionary (London and New York 1967).
  • I interpreted "corps" as plural: it sounds nicer to me. Of course the singular presents two incongruities instead of one.
  • "Aye" is a homograph: it is pronounced [ei] when it means "ever" and [ai] for "yes". I chose the latter because I find it funnier to have a string of four [ai]!
  • I also interpreted "housewife" as "sewing box" [ˈhʌzif]; in the more usual meaning the pronunciation wouldn't have presented any oddity.

[The Chaos, by Gerard Nolst Trenité; phonetic transliteration by Sergio Baldelli]

ðə keiɔs

diərist ˈkriːtʃə* in kriˈəiʃn
ˈstʌdi ˈinɡliʃ prənʌnʃiˈəiʃn
ai will tiːtʃ ju in mai vəːs
saundz laik cɔːps cɔːz hɔːs ənd wəːs
ai wil kiːp ju ˈsuːsi ˈbizi
meik jɔː hed wið hiːt ɡrəu dizi
tiə* in ai jɔː* dres wil tɛə*
səu ʃəl ai əu hiə* mai prɛə*

dʒʌst kəmˈpɛə* hɑːt biəd ənd həːd
daiz ənd daiət lɔːd ənd wəːd
sɔːd ənd swɔːd riˈtein ənd britn
maind ðə lætə* hau its ritn
nau ai ˈʃuəli wil nɔt pleiɡ juː
wið sʌtʃ wəːdz əz plɑːk ənd eiɡjuː
bʌt bi kɛərfl hau yu spiːk
sei breik ənd steik bʌt bliːk ənd striːk
kləuvn ʌvn hau ənd ləu
skript risˈiːt ʃəu sləu pəuim ənd təu

hiə* mi sei diˈvɔid əv ˈtrikeri
ˈdɔːtə* ˈlɑːftə* ənd təːpˈsikəri
ˈtaifɔid miːzlz topslz ailz
ˈeksailz ˈsimiliz riˈvailz
ˈskɔlə* ˈvikə* ənd siˈɡaː*
ˈsəulə* ˈmaikə wɔː* ənd fɑː*
wʌn əˈneməni bælˈmɔrl
kitʃn laikn ˈlɔːndri lɔrl
ˈɡəːtruːd dʒəːmn wind ənd maind
siːn məlˈpɔmini mæanˈkaind

ˈbilit dʌz not raim wið ˈbælei
buˈkei ˈwɔlit ˈmælit ˈʃælei
blʌd ənd flʌd ɑː* not laik fuːd
nɔː* iz məuld laik ʃud ənd wud
ˈviskəs ˈvaikaunt ləud ənd brɔːd
təˈwɔːd tə ˈfoːwəd tə riˈwɔːd
ənd joː* prəˈnʌnsiəiʃn z əu kei
wen ju kəˈrektli sei ˈkrəukei
ˈraundid ˈwuːndid ɡriːv ənd siv
frend ənd fiːnd əˈlaiv ənd liv

ˈaivi ˈprivi ˈfeiməs ˈklæməː*
ənd iˈnæməː* raim wið ˈhæməː*
ˈrivəː* raivl tuːm bɔm kəum
dɔl ənd rəul ənd sʌm ənd həum
ˈstreindʒə* dʌz not raim wið ˈænɡə*
ˈnaiðə dʌz diˈvauə* wið ˈklænɡə*
səulz bʌt faul hɔːnt bʌt ɑːnt
fɔnt frʌnt wəunt wɔnt ɡrænd ənd ɡrɑːnt
ʃuːz ɡəuz dʌz nau fəːst sei ˈfiŋɡə*
ənd ðen ˈsiŋə* ˈdʒindʒə* ˈlinŋɡə*
riəl ziːl məuv ɡɔːz ɡaudʒ ənd ɡeidʒ
ˈmæridʒ ˈfəuliidʒ miˈrɑːʒ ənd eidʒ

ˈkwiəri dʌs not raim wið veri
nɔː dʌz ˈfjuəri saund laik ˈberi
dʌst lost pəust ənd dʌθ clɔθ ləuθ
dʒəub nob ˈbusəm ˈtrænsəm əuθ
ðəu ðə ˈdifrənsiz siːm litl
wi sei ˈæktuəl bʌt vitl

riˈfəː* dʌz nɔt raim wið ˈdefə*
ˈfefə* dʌz ənd ˈzefə* ˈhefə*
mint paint ˈsenit ənd siˈdeit
dʌl bul ənd dʒoːdʒ et leit
ˈsiːnik ˈærəbik pəˈsifik
saiəns kɔnʃns saiənˈtifik

ˈlibəti ˈlaibrəri hɪːv ənd hevn
reitʃl eik məˈstaʃ iˈlevn
wi sei ˈhæləud bʌt əˈlaud
pipl ˈlepəd təud bʌt vaud
mɑːk ðə ˈdifrənsiz mɔːˈrəuvə*
bitˈwiːn ˈmuːvə* ˈcʌvə* ˈkləuvə*
ˈliːtʃiz ˈbritʃiz waiz priˈsais
tʃælis bʌt pəˈliːs ənd lais
kæml kʌnstbl ʌnˈsteibl
ˈprinspl diˈsaipl leibl

petl pænl ənd kəˈnæl
weit səˈpraiz plæt ˈprɔmis pæl
wəːm ənd stoːm ʃeiz keiɔs tʃɛə*
ˈsenətə* spekˈteitə* mɛə*
tuə bʌt auə* ənd ˈsʌkə* foː*
ɡæs əˈlæs ənd ˈɑːkənsoː*
siː aiˈdiə kəˈriə ˈɛəriə
sɑːm məˈriə bʌt məˈlɛəriə
yuːθ sauθ ˈsʌðən klenz ənd kliːn
ˈdɔktrin təːpənˈtain məˈriːn

kəmˈpɛə* ˈeiliən wið itˈæliən
ˈdændilaiən ənd bəˈtæliən
ˈsæli wið əˈlai jei jiː
ai ai ai ai wei ənd kiː
sei əˈvəː* bʌt ˈevə* ˈfiːvə*
ˈnaiðə* ˈleʒə* skein diˈsiːvə*
ˈherən ˈɡrænri kəˈnɛəri
ˈkrevis ənd diˈvais ənd ˈɛəri

feis bʌt ˈprefis not iˈfeis
flem fleɡˈmætik æs ɡlɑːs beis
lɑːdʒ bʌt ˈtɑːɡit dʒin ɡiv ˈvəːdʒinɡ
ɔːt aut dʒaust ənd skauə* ˈskəːdʒinɡ
iə* bʌt əːn ənd wɛə* ənd tɛə*
du not raim wið hiə* bʌt ɛə*
sevn iz rait bʌt səu iz iːvn
haifn rʌfn nevju stiːvn
mʌnki dɔnki təːk dʒəːk
ɑːsk ɡrɑːsp wɔsp ənd kɔːk ənd wəːk
prənʌnʃiˈəiʃn θink əv ˈsaiki
iz ə ˈpeiliŋ staut ənd ˈspaiki
wəunt it meik yu luːz jɔː* wits
ˈraitiŋ ɡrəuts ənd seiŋ ɡrits
its ə dɑːk əˈbis ɔː* tʌnl
struːn wið stəunz stəud sɔləs ɡʌnl
ˈizliŋtən ənd ail əv wait
ˈhʌzif ˈvəːdikt ənd inˈdait

ˈfainəli witʃ raimz wið iˈnʌf
ðəu θruː plau oː* dəu ɔː* kʌf
ˈhikʌp həz ðə saund əv kʌp
mai əˈdvais iz tə ɡiv ʌp

Monday, November 10, 2008

Perch'i' no spero di tornar giammai, ballatetta, in Toscana...

For readers unfamiliar with Italian, the English equivalent of the present post title would roughly be: "As I don't hope, oh little ballad, to ever go back to Tuscany..."

It is the first line of a well-known poem by Guido Cavalcanti, a Florentine poet and a close friend of Dante Alighieri.

As Dante, Guido was in important representative of the literary movement known as Dolce stil novo which, through poems based on the French troubadours, raised the Fiorentino illustre (noble Florentine vernacular) to standard Italian language, still surviving almost unchanged.

One might wonder what could be the relation between Guido's poem and the following excerpt from Paradise Lost.

Guido probably wrote the poem when he was exiled from Florence and was, actually or poetically, despairing of returning home.

I've always loved Paradise Lost which is one of my preferred poems in the language, together with Dylan Thomas' Collected Poems, Keat's Odes and Lord Byron's Don Juan.

But since I was obliged by my job to move to the outskirts of Rome, the following passage of Paradise Lost has got a new poignancy. As I have never been able to adapt to the new place I have always been longing for my hometown since. Thus, whenever I come across something reminding me of Florence, I feel a sudden pang of nostalgia.

Fiesole - mentioned by Milton - is a small and very ancient town on top of a hill overhanging Florence where I have been many times. It is in its very Roman Theater that I had the honour to play the second obbligato recorder in a performance of Haendel's Serse. During the secondary school, sometimes, with my classmates we played truant and we went to a bar restaurant in Fiesole to spend the morning dancing to the music of a jukebox.

But far more than Fiesole, Galileo is associated with Arcetri where, from 1634 to his death in 1642, he was confined by the Pope because his sun-centered theory. Arcetry is a hill of Florence near the very place where I lived and where I passed hundreds of times during my strolls.

The other reminiscent place in the following excerpt is Vallombrosa, a Benedictine abbey located in the mountains c. 30 km south-east of Florence.

It is a magnificent place surrounded by forests of beech and firs where I have enjoyed so many walks. It is right there that my eldest daughter Héloïse discovered the snow when she was about 3 and almost got her hands frozen.

The power of reminiscence of names is far more intense when they occur in the context of beloved poems such as the following one:

He scarce had ceas't when the superiour Fiend
Was moving toward the shore; his ponderous shield
Ethereal temper, massy, large and round,
Behind him cast; the broad circumference
Hung on his shoulders like the Moon, whose Orb
Through Optic Glass the Tuscan Artist views
At Ev'ning from the top of Fesole,
Or in Valdarno, to descry new Lands,
Rivers or Mountains in her spotty Globe.
His Spear, to equal which the tallest Pine
Hewn on Norwegian hills, to be the Mast
Of some great Ammiral, were but a wand,
He walkt with to support uneasie steps
Over the burning Marle, not like those steps
On Heavens Azure, and the torrid Clime
Smote on him sore besides, vaulted with Fire;
Nathless he so endur'd, till on the Beach
Of that inflamed Sea, he stood and calld
His Legions, Angel Forms, who lay intranst
Thick as Autumnal Leaves that strow the Brooks
In Vallombrosa where th' Etrurian shades
High overarcht imbowr; or scatterd sedge
Afloat, when with fierce Winds Orion arm'd
Hath vext the Red-Sea Coast, whose waves orethrew
Busiris and his Memphian Chivalrie,
While with perfidious hatred they pursu'd
The Sojourners of Goshen who beheld
From the safe shore their floating Carcasses
And broken Chariot Wheels, so thick bestrown
Abject and lost lay these, covering the Flood,
Under amazement of their hideous change.

John Milton, Paradise Lost, book I, 283-313


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Oh, how I love the Clouds

The following poem, which in reality is a prose poem, played a crucial role in my life: it was the origin of a chain of important events.

The first time I read it (I was about 13 or 14) I was so impressed that I decided I had to learn French, at any costs, in order to enjoy the original of such a marvel (by the way, in a future post, I will discuss my belief that poetry is radically untranslatable). From learning the language I went on marrying a French woman, living some years in Paris, graduating in French...

I fully identify myself with the "stranger"' for his love of clouds, which offer a show "for ever new", for ever changing.
If you take the time to watch the clouds intensely, you will perceive innumerable forms and you will realize also that they are not simply white or grey but they show an infinite range of hues and nuances.

But, let us to the poem:

- Qui aimes-tu le mieux, homme énigmatique, dis ? ton père, ta mère, ta sœur ou ton frère ?
- Je n’ai ni père, ni mère, ni sœur, ni frère.
- Tes amis ?
- Vous vous servez là d’une parole dont le sens m’est resté jusqu’à ce jour inconnu.
- Ta patrie ?
- J’ignore sous quelle latitude elle est située.
- La beauté ?
- Je l’aimerais volontiers, déesse et immortelle.
- L’or ?
- Je le hais comme vous haïssez Dieu.
- Eh ! qu’aimes-tu donc, extraordinaire étranger ?
- J’aime les nuages... les nuages qui passent... là-bas... là-bas... les merveilleux nuages !

From Le Spleen de Paris by Charles Baudelaire


- Who do you love the best, - tell me oh enigmatic man - your father, your mother, your sister or your brother?
- I have neither father, nor mother, nor sister nor brother.
- Your friends?
- There, you are using a word whose meaning, so far, has remained unknown to me.
- Your fatherland?
- I don't know at what latitude is situated.
- Beauty?
- I would eagerly love her, goddess and immortal.
- Gold?
- I hate it as you hate God.
- Eh! What do you love then, amazing stranger?
- I love the clouds...the clouds passing...yonder...yonder...the wonderful clouds!

Listen to L'étranger

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Magic of Contraries

Today I would like to present my preferred German poem: Hölderlin's "Middle of Life".
I rank Hölderlin - together with Heine - among the greatest poets in the language.

Although the spirit of this poem could be considered Romantic (or pre-Romantic) it bears a classical perfection. In few lines, through a consummate craft juxtaposing contraries, the poet creates a poignant awareness of suspension between two worlds: the present and the impending future: the winter and - by association - old age, decay and death.
Albeit it might seem simple and clear, actually, it is a quite dense and rich poem which lends itself to infinite interpretations and analysis (e.g. cfr. Freiburger Anthologie).

Hälfte des Lebens reminds me particularly of ancient Chinese poetry: a suite of few simple images and suddenly the poetical voice utters its anguish ("Weh mir ...").

I add a merely verbatim translation without any literary pretension.

Hälfte des Lebens

Mit gelben Birnen hänget
Und voll mit wilden Rosen
Das Land in den See,
Ihr holden Schwäne,
Und trunken von Küssen
Tunkt ihr das Haupt
Ins heilignüchterne Wasser.

Weh mir, wo nehm ich, wenn
Es Winter ist, die Blumen, und wo
Den Sonnenschein,
Und Schatten der Erde?
Die Mauern stehn
Sprachlos und kalt, im Winde
Klirren die Fahnen.


Middle of Life

With yellow pears droops
And full of wild roses
The earth over the lake,
And ye charming swans,
Drunk with kisses,
You deep the head
Into the holily sober water.

Alas, where shall I take, when
Winter comes, the flowers, and where
The sunshine,
And the shadows of the earth?
The walls stand
Speechless and cold, in the wind
Klank the vanes.

Listen to Hälfte des Lebens

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Time Machine

The today's poem is Fantasie , by Gérard de Nerval.

It is a poem I know by heart since my adolescence.
In addition to its lovely sweet sonority, it evokes a mysterious and vague atmosphere and one is transported to an other time like in a dream.

Gérard de Nerval (1808-1865), the only Romantic French poet - probably with the only exception of Charles Nodier - who knew quite well the German language. He translated many German poems. His translation of the Faust was appreciated even by Goethe himself who said he was glad to be able, at last, to read it in French.
He is the most German among the Romantic French poets.

Unfortunately Gérard de Nerval suffered of mental illness which eventually led him to commit sucide. His unlucky life reminds me of Robert Schumann and Hölderlin.

Il est un air pour qui je donnerais
Tout Rossini, tout Mozart, tout Weber,
Un air très vieux, languissant et funèbre,
Qui pour moi seul a des charmes secrets.
Or, chaque fois que je viens à l’entendre,
De deux cents ans mon âme rajeunit ;
C’est sous Louis treize… et je crois voir s’étendre
Un coteau vert que le couchant jaunit.

Puis un château de brique à coins de pierres,
Aux vitraux teints de rougeâtres couleurs,
Ceint de grands parcs, avec une rivière
Baignant ses pieds, qui coule entre les fleurs.
Puis une dame à sa haute fenêtre,
Blonde, aux yeux noirs, en ses habits anciens…
Que dans une autre existence, peut-être,
J’ai déjà vue !… et dont je me souviens.

Listen to Fantaisie

English translation

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Eternity through Art

While in the previous posted poem, Art - the way to "heaven of better times" - was meant as a solace in sorrowful moments, here the painter has frozen events of life just before their climax, preserving their freshness from the ruin of time: songs forever new, love forever young.

Ode on a Grecian Urn

Thou still unravished bride of quietness!
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flow'ry tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endeared,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal -yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoyed,
For ever panting and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloyed,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea-shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of its folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou sayst,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," -that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

John Keats

Listen to the Ode on a Grecian Urn (1.8 MB)

Monday, October 27, 2008


An die Musik

Du holde Kunst, in wieviel grauen Stunden,
Wo mich des Lebens wilder Kreis umstrickt,
Hast du mein Herz zu warmer Lieb entzunden,
Hast mich: in eine beßre Welt entrückt!

Oft hat ein Seufzer, deiner Harf entflossen,
Ein süßer, heiliger Akkord von dir
Den Himmel beßrer Zeiten mir erschlossen,
Du holde Kunst, ich danke dir dafür!

Franz von Schober

Listen to An die Musik (613 KB)

Although the sweet Art called on by the poet is actually Music, to me, the above poem evokes quite intensely Poetry as well.
Thus I have chosen it for opening this new blog where I am going to publish, to comment and to read my most beloved poems.
Probably An die Musik cannot be ranked as a particularly outstanding poem but it gets to the core of one of the most important reward of poetry: its solacing power.
For how could one bear the whips and scorns of time etc. without - now and then - taking refuge into that "heaven of better times" (Den Himmel beßrer Zeiten) which entrance is sometimes thrown open by poetic spells.

Besides creating entirely new worlds with the mere combination of scarcely two scores of sounds, another magic trait of poetry is revitalizing words worn out by the daily small talk and mundane communication.
When you are tired of words become dull and annoying, get in a quite place and read aloud and slowly a poem by e.g. Dylan Thomas, or Montale, or Mallarmé or Hofmannsthal and suddenly most words get a new life; you perceive again the very stuff of the words and now they signify so sharply that you almost feel their meaning physically.
Perhaps this might be related to what Jakobson calls the "poetic function" of the communication where the focus is on the message itself (the text) while in everyday communication the focus is mainly on the: context (referential function), sender (emotive function) and receiver (conative).
Or, as Riffaterre specifies, the poem is "an unchangeable monument, forever independent of external conditions".

Unfortunately I shall not be able to publish any poem by Dylan Thomas - my most beloved poet in the English language - nor by Eugenio Montale - the modern Italian poet I prefer: they are not in the public domain yet. I wouldn't like to be prosecuted by copyright holders.

In the next post I would like to talk about Keat's Ode on a Grecian Urn; a poem I particularly cherish for its fine and delicate meditation on the power of art to resist the ruin of time.

Rome, October 2008

Sergio Baldelli

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