Monday, July 18, 2011

Poetry Session July 15, 2011

  Priya reads from Shelley's Ode to the West Wind

KRG readers were wide-ranging in their choice of poets to recite: five nationalities, and two poets in translation.

Talitha reads poems by Louis MacNeice

Many characteristics of poetry have been used to describe it. Here's one that Joe offered at this reading in connection with the French poet, Gérard de Nerval:
The end of a poem is creating a sound that resonates in the mind, long after its slight meaning is forgotten.
This will remind some readers of Dylan Thomas' reaction to a person who asked what his famous villanelle on death 'meant' – to which he replied, “You should listen to the sound of the meaning.” In the full account below you will come across further reflections.

Thommo shows Talitha his copy of The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce

Judging from the laughter that resounded in the CYC library, we all had a good time; a verbal record will not capture the fun that attended the actual reading, though the readers had put in serious preparation. Talitha had insights and diversions to offer at every turn, and so did others. 

Talitha, KumKum, Zakia, Bobby, Priya, Thommo,and  Joe

While offering our commiseration to those who could not attend the reading, perhaps they will derive something of its flavour by reading the full account below.

Kochi Reading Group Poetry session on July 15, 2011

Attending: Bobby, Thommo , KumKum, Joe, Priya, Talitha, Zakia
Absent: Indira (priority for house moving to Chengannur), Minu (cold & fever), Amita (moving to Chennai by month end), Soma (no driver)

The next session for reading the novel The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini will be on Friday Aug 12, 2011, at the Cochin Yacht Club library. Priya has agreed to convene and record the session for the blog.

Sept 23 is proposed for the next Poetry session.
Two members, are dropping out – Amita, definitely, because she is moving to Chennai, and Indira, probably, because she is busy moving to Chengannur, and once relocated will find it difficult to attend our readings. Bobby suggested that he could invite us to his Chalakudy retreat for a reading some time. We shall look forward to the date. At the same time he made the suggestion that a reading could be held at Indira's future residence. But she has to invite us, said Joe. Bobby's jocular rejoinder was that we could invite ourselves! It takes 2.5 hours to get there, it seems; so it would be a whole day affair and there are working people among us.

Bobby mentioned he has started a 'Think' club within the CYC and that the Kerala Govt has sanctioned Rs 5 crores for a 'Biennale' in Kochi beginning in Nov 2012. A chap called Bose-Krishnamachari hopes to raise 70 crores for the event. Talitha hoped that we could stage a Shakespeare event at David Hall in Fort Kochi, as they are looking for shows. She has a program developed for the purpose, including music with Shakespearean material.

KumKum introduced James Joyce (1882-1942), the Irish poet, novelist, and intellectual with these words:

Joyce was born at a time when Ireland had raised many poets, authors, and intellectuals including, Yeats, Campbell, and Stephens. James Joyce remains distinct in this group for he left Ireland very early in his life; he did not write about Irish nationalism or mythology; nor did he glorify Celtic culture or support the aspirations of Irish people. Yet, his stories are replete with Irish connections; for example, the city of Dublin appears as a setting in many of his works.

It is said Joyce cherished his position among other writers of his time as an "unconsortable". [Talitha suggested other synonyms for this word: unclubbable, for instance, a sample use being, 'Kumar is not popular at Lotus, being decidedly an unclubbable man.' Another term is also used: 'he doesn't mingle.'] Joyce developed a distinct style of writing prose. The style may have made his prose difficult to appreciate, though it was never devoid of substance or lyricism. His novel Ulysses has the distinction of being a tough book to read.

Yet, when it comes to his poems, James Joyce has an altogether different style. Joyce began to write poems very early in his life, later shifting to prose. It is simply amazing how accessible his poems are. They are simple, lyrical and touchingly personal. He preserved this distinct trait of his verse, though he wrote very little of it past his twenties.

There are only two very thin volumes: Chamber Music, and Pomes Pennyeach and one separate poem, Ecce Puer. I have selected a poem from each book, and the solitary one, Ecce Puer.

The poems of Chamber Music were meant to be set in music and composers have written melodies for a number of them. See:

KumKum claimed that Chamber Music is a collection of love poems written at a time when Joyce was single and unattached to a particular woman. In 1909, Joyce wrote to his wife, "When I wrote [Chamber Music], I was a lonely boy, walking about by myself at night and thinking that one day a girl would love me." Joe, however, sees them as just being evocations of a dreamy lyrical mood, but agrees the word 'love' is scattered throughout. 

Joyce's love was not physical at the time, but Joe pointed out Joyce's intense physicality, and even fetishes, that come out in 'dirty' love-letters he wrote to Nora, his wife. Here's a very short quote out of many: 'if I gave you a bigger stronger fuck than usual, fat dirty farts came spluttering out of your backside.' This has been converted into a cartoon you may see at:

Academics often read into a poem meanings that are not there. Bobby reaffirmed the saying (Frost) that a poem should not mean, but be. Talitha added that a poem should stand on its own, without the need for notes on its antecedence. Joe agreed; but KumKum pointed out that certain poems are compressed and the true point or poignancy of the poem may not be revealed unless one knows the poet's particular situation when s/he wrote it; but yes, you can have a nice poem like the second one she recited (A Flower Given to My Daughter ) and find convoluted interpretations of it on the Internet.

Concerning the third poem (Ecce Puer) KumKum noted that it was written soon after his grandson was born, and a little while after his father died; there is in the poem the regret he felt over not visiting his father in Ireland before his death. When KumKum adverted to the 'strange' relationship Joyce had with his father there was a general feeling that what would have been strange is if he had had a 'good' relationship with his father; the universal case is that fathers and sons do not get on, according to Bobby, and others present. Freud has his own theory about why.

While KumKum lamented the meager output of poems from Joyce, Joe said three or four of his poems would have made a professional poet proud, slight though the total output may be.

Talitha read four poems by Louis MacNeice, the Irish poet. She said from her experience, children in school liked the first poem she read at the O-levels (school final) because of the beat and the repetition. It is simple and visual, unlike the classical poets with their mythology. The prayer comes through as a cry against the harsh unfeeling world into which a child will be born. KumKum said, though she has never read MacNeice, she liked the poem. When students ask, as they always do, what it means, Talitha told them to just listen, and they will discover the meaning. She pointed out the abundant alliteration (and assonance) at the beginning. Bobby referred to the line:
Let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God come near me.

and wondered if it refers to pastors, who are a pet peeve of Bobby. It really refers to anyone who is a megalomaniac, said Talitha, such as Hitler.

In the second poem (Snow) it is worth noting that he uses 'World' instead of 'The world', personifying it. The poem is very impressionistic and a moment’s pause and going back is necessary to savour its rich imagery. A feature of this poem is the yoking of unlikely words ('Soundlessly collateral and incompatible') and the sound of things difficult to imagine, for instance this phrase: 'The drunkenness of things being various.' Yet it makes sense to think that in the cosy world of a fire-lit room, snug and warm as the snow falls; there is till disorder in it. The snowflakes falling against the window, reflecting the fireplace flames, is a lovely image – they are described as ' pink roses.' Talitha said MacNeice was a 'risk-taker' in language.

She then read the poem Stargazer. Forty two years ago may be the date he was born and he contemplates the light coming to his eye now would have left the star when he was born. He ends the poem with the thought that there may be none like him to catch the light now issuing from the stars when they do arrive on earth, at least none performing his peculiar side-to-side rushing in a train compartment to catch their sight. But what is 'adding noughts in vain'?

What's charming about the fourth poem (Soap Suds) is the catalogue of ordinary household artifacts that dot the house and make it like a true home. The poem comes to a close with lines that loop to the flashback that starts the poem. It's a grown man washing his hands, and dreamily going back to the time as a child when he played (croquet, probably) on the lawn. The imagery is like a telescope zooming out and further out, and dissolving.

Biography of Louis MacNeice
Louis MacNeice was born on September 12, 1907, in Belfast, Ireland. He attended Oxford, where he majored in classics and philosophy. In 1930, he married Giovanna Ezra and accepted a post as classics lecturer at the University of Birmingham, a position he held until 1936, when he went on to teach Greek at Bedford College for Women, University of London. In 1941, he joined the British Broadcasting Company as a staff writer and producer. Like many modern English poets, MacNeice found an audience for his work through British radio. Some of his best-known plays, including 'Christopher Columbus' (1944), and 'The Dark Tower' (1946), were originally written for radio and later published.

Early in his career, MacNeice was identified with a group of politically committed poets whose work appeared in Michael Roberts's anthology New Signatures. MacNeice drew many of the texts for Modern Poetry: 'A Personal Essay from the New Signature poets'. Modern Poetry was MacNeice's plea for an "impure" poetry expressive of the poet's immediate interests and his sense of the natural and the social world.

Despite his association with young British poets Stephen Spender, W. H. Auden, writer Christopher Isherwood, and other left-wing poets, MacNeice was as mistrustful of political programs as he was of philosophical systems. He was never a member of the Communist Party or any other political groups, and he was quite candid about the ambiguities of his political attitudes. "My sympathies are Left," he wrote. "But not in my heart or my guts."

Although he chose to live the majority of his adult life in London, MacNeice frequently returned to the landscapes of his childhood, and he took great pride in his Irish heritage. His poetry is characterized by its familiar, sometimes humorous tone and its integration of contemporary ideas and images. In addition to his poetry and radio dramas, MacNeice also wrote the verse translation 'The Agamemnon of Aeschylus' (1936), translated Goethe's 'Faust' (1951), and collaborated with Auden on the 'travelogue Letters from Iceland' (1937).

In August of 1963, MacNeice, on location with a BBC team, insisted on going down into a mineshaft to check on sound effects. He caught a chill that was not diagnosed as pneumonia until he was fatally ill.

He died on September 3, 1963, just before the publication of his last book of poems, The Burning Perch. He was 55 years old.

Bobby read a poem from 1500 years ago, when this Sanskrit philosopher, grammarian, and poet, Bhartrihari, collected these aphorisms into books of hundred each. They are called shatakatraya (shataka=hundred + traya=three), consisting of three thematic compilations on shringara, vairagya and niti (loosely, love, dispassion and moral conduct). Bobby said Bhartrihari was a king who left his kingdom and went to the forest when his wife cheated on him. The poem he read is in a collection called The Hermit And The Love-Thief: Sanskrit Poems Of Bhartrihari And Bilhana (Penguin Classics).
After Bobby read it, Talitha exclaimed that she missed the sound of the Sanskrit and wished it could be recited like slokas are. Bobby replied that you can hear and revel in the sound of Sanskrit by listening to Jesudas chanting the hymns from the Rig-Veda. For those who read Sanskrit, here is the original of the poem from the Web:

And transliterated from Devnagiri
Ayur varSazataM nRNAM parimitham rAtrau tadardhaM gataM
tasyArdhasya parasya cArdham aparam bAlatvavRddhatvayoh
zeSaM vyAdhiviyogaduHkhasahitaM sevAdibhir nIyate
jIve vAritaraNga
budbudasame saukhyaM kutah prANinAm

However, Joe detects some error where he has underlined it.
Several versions of the translation of this one poem can be found at:
KumKum requested a Malayalam poem should be recited at a poetry session by some one among us who knows the language well; a translation should be given also. Talitha also looks forward to such a presentation. She sang two lines from a poem of Kumaranasan, Samayamilla Polum. You can hear it sung here: Polum - Malayalam Song, sung by P. Susheela, with music direction by Devarajan master

In Talitha's opinion, Malayalam is a great improvement on Tamil. Joe said the Malayalam language is quite recent, not more than a few hundred years old, since it forked off from Tamil; whereas Tamil has a very ancient history. Isn't there a bit of chauvinism in claiming Malayalam's superiority?

For some reason the recent discovery of the wealth stashed away in cellars in the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananathapuram (TVM) was discussed.
Priya gave some history of of a threat from outsiders being the reason the treasure was hidden in the younger brother's temple. It was in connection with the last two lines of the poem advocating other-worldliness:
Meditate then on the highest Brahman
To cross beyond this sea of worldly dread.

The present descendants of Travancore royalty seem to have that detachment:
Sri Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma, has stayed away from the public debate about what should be done with the treasure. But in an interview at his modest home, he seemed to suggest that it should be preserved for future generations. “ See

Zakia thought the line:
Fortune is imagination's whim

is a nice expression of the the disregard with which we should treat earthly possessions.
There is a tradition of the king visiting the temple every day, and if he does not show up he has to pay a fine of Rs 166; that is the equivalent value of the silver coin by which he paid the fine in the old days. Bobby suggested that no-shows at our KRG should also pay a fine of a similar amount. There was general laughter at the suggestion.

Priya recited a poem (Ode to the West Wind by Shelley) which she was teaching to her son, Partheswar, Pat for short. She provided the etymology of the name. Partha means friend. Partheswar is the friend of Arjun, i.e., Krishna. Her other son is Samantheswar, or Sam for short.

Percy Bysshe Shelley eloped with his first wife, Harriet. Later he married the true love of his life, Mary (née Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin ). Talitha quoted a high-flown sentence of Matthew Arnold concerning Shelley: “A beautiful and ineffectual angel beating his luminous wings against the void in vain.” There is in it some denigration that Joe thinks is entirely undeserved. You can declare every revolutionary or rebellious spirit who failed, ineffectual, including Mahatma Gandhi. But his legacy is as a poet, and Shelley's place is secure as a major poet in English. Arnold, on the other hand, will be remembered more for his criticism, than his poetry. You can read a brief bio of the poet and Mary Shelley at:

He died very young of a drowning accident and was cremated when his decomposed body washed up some days later. Shelley's ashes were interred in the Protestant Cemetery, Rome, the same cemetery where John Keats was buried the previous year, for whom Shelley wrote his famous elegy on the death of John Keats, Adonaïs. Such was his admiration for Keats that he wrote this long and tender poem which begins “I weep for Adonais—he is dead!” Talitha remarked that a copy of Keats' works was found in a pocket on his drowned body.

The Ode to the West Wind is written in terza rima, rhymed ABA, BCB, CDC, etc. It is mostly in iambic pentameter. Terza rima was Dante's invention. The whole poem is a personification. It is melodramatic according to Talitha in some places, for instance:
O lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

Joe thought children when reading this can soar in their mind as the poetry does, if it is recited enthusiastically by a teacher. But if the teacher is blasé, then there is no hope for the children ever looking on this, except as a laugh.

There is a play based on this poem, and Talitha promised to give a reference.

Zakia recited the poem Bright Star by John Keats (1795-1820). He was in love with Fanny Brawne, Zakia said, she of the 'warm, white, lucent, million-pleasured breast' whom Keats yearned for even as he lay dying in Rome from TB. You can read more about Keats from this chapter of a book by the poet Andrew Motion, which inspired the movie named for this poem, directed by Jane Campion:

Zakia quoted an Internet reference to the poem from:

where a finicky commenter, named Pruchnicki, gives a laboured explanation:

The poet opens with an apostrophe to 'Bright Star.' The object of his direct address symbolizes the everlasting nature of a heavenly body, which hangs in the sky through all eternity, and by its very nature burns forever. We who look up and see the burning star draw the inevitable conclusion most mortals would given the circumstances. The star sits in the sky, every night in the same place, or so it seems to us who cannot see that the star is in reality undergoing daily changes from one night to the next. The star seems to be a stationary object, and so we attribute the human quality of steadfast devotion and patience to the unmoving star as it watches the changes that take place under its steadfast gaze!

The sestet beginning with 'still steadfast, still unchangeable' puts the poet's longing to possess his love like he imagines the eternal star to be forever gazing down at earth's mutability, exactly what he desires to be as he lies aswoon on his beloved one's breast which rises and falls with her breathing, and so he will live forever in ecstasy or die in her arms. She is his sole aim in life or death. The ever recurrent preoccupation Keats has with death comes to the fore once again!


To quote a few lines from Keats' sonnet To Fanny Brawne lest matters be still obscure:

O! let me have thee whole,—all, all, be mine!
That shape, that fairness, that sweet minor zest
Of love, your kiss—those hands, those eyes divine,
That warm, white, lucent, million-pleasured breast
Yourself—your soul—in pity give me all,
Withhold no atom’s atom or I die.

Thommo mentioned a song by the same name; until he provides a Web reference to it, here's a song from the eponymous movie:

It really is quite a beautiful film on the poet's life, though by focusing on Fanny Brawne, the movie took something away from the richness of Keats' short and varied life. Talitha said this poem with its emphasis on 'star' made her think of MacNeice's poem she had recited earlier, musing on the light of distant stars that took so long to reach us – 42 light years would make it the bright star Capella in the constellation Auriga (Latin for Charioteer).

Talitha suggested a themed recitation at a future date on STARS, the word to be interpreted as liberally as you wish. You can see 'stars' in someone else's eyes. You can see stars when you are hit. But you cannot really see stars in Kochi on account of the sodium vapour lamps, interjected Joe; but Bobby said he gazed at stars when there were power cuts. Talitha mentioned Walt Whitman in a poem. He has the line: “from time to time,/ Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.” Priya recalled a line from a song Tarey tod laun. Perhaps it is this:

Another one she mentioned was unclear. Talitha added the chant of palanquin bearers:
Stone on the ground
Stars in the sky

Ever ready with examples, Talitha, gave yet another one from a poem by Sarojini Naidu, called Palanquin Bearers where the the porters liken milady who is being carried to a star: 'She hangs like a star in the dew of our song.' See:

Talitha again referred to Sarojini Naidu and golden cassia flowers, which she describes as 'bright anklet-bells for the wild spring's feet', and as 'fragments of some new-fallen stars'
Or golden lamps for a fairy shrine
Or golden pitchers for fairy wine.

It was only two days ago he learnt that Ambrose Bierce, famous mainly for his Devil's Dictionary, also wrote poetry. So Thommo offered this sappy, soapy poem called To my laundress, which begins with an apostrophe to  Saponacea. Bierce paints a steaming scene with his laundress who has quite stripped him of parts of his garments so that he is now ready to be enfolded in the
magic circle of thine arms,
Supple and fragrant from repeated steaming.

These two closing lines caused a wave of titters among the readers. It's quite as steamy as Keats sonnet To Fanny Brawne, isn't it?

The conversation drifted to what is the longest palindrome in the English language (I think it was Talitha, bubbling as ever, who broached the thought). Her answer was, 'A man a plan, a canal, Panama.' Another one she volunteered was, from the garden of Eden (apparently palindromes were the earliest trope known to man or woman): 'Madam, I'm Adam,' to which introduction, the lady replied: 'Eve,' which may be the shortest palindrome. 'Malayalam,' is another palindrome known to all Keralites. If you search on Google with 'longest palindrome' you will find computer programs which generate extremely long palindromes, but they are not as pithy as some shorter ones like this: 'Sex at noon taxes.' Thommo offered 'saippuakauppias' as the longest single word palindrome; it's a word in the Finnish language meaning soap dealer .

Thommo read out a number of humorous entries from the Devil's Dictionary:

Abdication: An act whereby a sovereign attests his sense of the high temperature of his throne
Abstainer: A weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure
Acquaintance: A person who we know well enough to borrow from, but not well enough to lend to.
Admiral: The part of a warship which does the talking while the figure-head does the thinking
Adolescence: A stage between infancy and adultery
Amnesty: The state’s magnanimity to those offenders who, it would be too expensive to punish
Apologise: To lay the foundations for a future offence
Auctioneer: One who proclaims with a hammer that he has picked a pocket with his tongue.
Beauty: The power by which a woman charms a lover and terrifies a husband
Brain: An apparatus with which we think that we think
Bride: A woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her
Christian: One who thinks that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor.
Comfort: A state of mind produced by contemplation of a neighbor’s uneasiness.
Congratulation: The civility of envy
Deliberation: The act of examining one’s bread to determine which side it is buttered on.
Divorce: A resumption of diplomatic relations and rectification of boundaries
Education: That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding
Exile: One who serves his country by residing abroad, yet is not an ambassador
Fiddle: An instrument to tickle human ears by friction of a horse’s tail on the entrails of a cat
Genealogy: An account of one’s descent from an ancestor who did not particularly care to trace his own.
Gout: A physician’s name for the rheumatism of a rich patient
Grave: A place in which the dead are laid to await the coming of the medical student
Guillotine: A machine which makes a Frenchman shrug his shoulders with good reason
Habit: A shackle of the free
Harbour: A place where ships taking shelter from storms are exposed to the fury of the customs
Heathen: A benighted creature who has the folly to worship something that he can see feel
Hope: Desire and expectation rolled into one
Idiot: A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling
Imposter: A rival aspirant to public honours
Magic: An art of converting superstition into coin
Marriage: A community consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in all two.
Painting: The art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather and exposing them to the critic
Patience: A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue
Philanthropist: A rich (and usually bald) old gentleman who has trained himself to grin while his conscience is picking his pocket
Plagiarism: A literary coincidence compounded of a discreditable priority and an honorable subsequence

Ambrose Bierce was born in1842. He served in the American Civil War on the union side and rose to the rank of Lieutenant. He fought in several battles including Shiloh and the one that later provided the setting for Chickamauga (1889), one of his best stories. It's about a little boy who sees a wounded soldier crawling toward a creek from one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. He leads the company to his home and finds the place burning and his mother dead.

In 1871 Bierce married a wealthy miner's daughter, Mollie Day. He emigrated with his wife in 1872 to England, where he lived in London from 1872 to 1875, and wrote sketches for the magazines Figaro and Fun. He is remembered for The Devil's Dictionary. His death some time in 1914 is shrouded in mystery. Read more at:

Talitha said there is a contest called the monthly Neologism Contest on the Web, one of whose prizewinning entries was this definition of Abdication: to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach. See:

Gérard de Nerval (1808-1855)
I came across Gérard de Nerval (1808-1855) when I was learning French. Desiring to expand my vocabulary from the useful stuff they taught at L'Alliançe Française de Calcutta, to the artful kind that poetry is full of, I bought this volume of Nineteenth Century French Verse (several volumes record different periods). It was full of treasures, and the very helpful prose translations of Anthony Hartley on the same page enabled me to acquire not only some words, but a nodding acquaintance with the major French poets.

But vocabulary was, of course, not the main thing I got out of the diversion. It was the soft sibilants and engaging rhyme that punctuates the French verse of this period which saw so many exciting experiments and modern trends, later copied in English verse.
To give you an inkling let me first recite an approximate English translation of a short 3-stanza poem of de Nerval, called Gothic Song.

Now, let me come to the French. But first, note the three stanzas are like separate aphorisms, devoid of any unifying idea that might link them. Indeed, if you examine the ideas there are three distinct ones: in the first stanza, it is the dew-laden flowers evoked by the tears of his wife; in the second, it is the transitory nature of beauty, a favourite musing of poets across time and cultures; and the third is to seize hold of pleasure as the prime principle of life. [Talitha thought otherwise, for she saw a thread running through tears, dew, roses, things beautiful.]

Why is so short poem enfolding three disparate thoughts? To answer that let me read the French of Chanson Gothique.

I hope the di-meters, smoothly rhymed ABAB, answer the question I posed; for the end of a poem is creating a sound that resonates in the mind long, after its slight meaning is forgotten.

I mentioned sibilants. There are 18 in all in the French; there are just 5 or 6 in my English translation, and besides the rhyme has evaporated. Reproach the translation, but pity the translator faced with the poor resources of the English language to represent such a poem!

My second example, quite as brief, is in trimeter, also rhymed ABAB, ending with CCCC. First, the English: A Path in the Luxembourg Gardens

Ah, You get the sense of sweet regret for a gentle young girl who is now only a sad dream from the past. But listen to the French of Une Allée du Luxembourg.

As before the original is decidedly better than the translation, but this time not for lack of sibilant resources in the English language, but simply because the tone of melancholy, and the rhyming of the verses could not be reproduced by me.

Who was Gérard de Nerval? He was a French poet who came just before Baudelaire, who was perhaps the most notable French poet of the nineteenth century. Living from 1808 to 1855 in Paris, de Nerval was a precursor of many movements in French literature and art. He translated Goethe extensively, including Faust, wrote short stories, and traveled widely in the Middle East. His lasting work is a series of sonnets, called Les Chimères (The Chimeras) but I feared to take them on, for they are heavily laden with mythology.

de Nerval was disappointed in love, when he went after a popular and beautiful actress, Jenny Colon. They say it was a shattering influence on his life thereafter. A sad postscript is that de Nerval suffered from mental ailments. Ultimately, he fell into poverty and became deranged, committing suicide at the age of 46. You can read more about him at his wiki entry:érard_de_Nerval

The Poems

3 poems by James Joyce
Lean out of the window No: V from Chamber Music 
Lean out of the window,
I hear you singing
A merry air.
My book was closed,
I read no more,
Watching the fire dance
On the floor.
I have left my book,
I have left my room,
For I heard you singing
Through the gloom.
Singing and singing
A merry air,
Lean out of the window,

A Flower Given to My Daughter from Pomes Pennyeach 

Frail the white rose and frail are
Her hands that gave
Whose soul is sere and paler
Than time's wan wave.
Rosefrail and fair -- yet frailest
A wonder wild
In gentle eyes thou veilest,
My blueveined child.

Ecce PuerEcce Puer means 'Behold! a boy' (He composed it to celebrate the birth of his grandson Levin; at the same time remembering his father Stephen who died a few months earlier.)
Of the dark past
A child is born;
With joy and grief
My heart is torn.
Calm in his cradle
The living lies.
May love and mercy
Unclose his eyes!
Young life is breathed
On the glass;
The world that was not
Comes to pass.
A child is sleeping:
An old man gone.
O, father forsaken,
Forgive your son!

4 poems by Louis MacNeice
Prayer Before Birth
 I am not yet born; O hear me.
Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the club-footed ghoul come near me.

I am not yet born, console me.
I fear that the human race may with tall walls wall me, with strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me, on black racks rack me, in blood-baths roll me.

I am not yet born; provide me
With water to dandle me, grass to grow for me, trees to talk to me, sky to sing to me, birds and a white light in the back of my mind to guide me.

I am not yet born; forgive me
For the sins that in me the world shall commit, my words when they speak me, my thoughts when they think me, my treason engendered by traitors beyond me, my life when they murder by means of my hands, my death when they live me.

I am not yet born; rehearse me
In the parts I must play and the cues I must take when old men lecture me, bureaucrats hector me, mountains frown at me, lovers laugh at me, the white waves call me to folly and the desert calls me to doom and the beggar refuses my gift and my children curse me.

I am not yet born; O hear me,
Let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God come near me.

I am not yet born; O fill me
With strength against those who would freeze my humanity, would dragoon me into a lethal automaton, would make me a cog in a machine, a thing with one face, a thing, and against all those who would dissipate my entirety, would blow me like thistledown hither and thither or hither and thither like water held in the hands would spill me.

Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me.
Otherwise kill me.

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes–
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of your hands–
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

Forty-two years ago (to me if to no one else
The number is of some interest) it was a brilliant starry night
And the westward train was empty and had no corridors
So darting from side to side I could catch the unwonted sight
Of those almost intolerably bright
Holes, punched in the sky, which excited me partly because
Of their Latin names and partly because I had read in the textbooks
How very far off they were, it seemed their light
Had left them (some at least) long years before I was.

And this remembering now I mark that what
Light was leaving some of them at least then,
Forty-two years ago, will never arrive
In time for me to catch it, which light when
It does get here may find that there is not
Anyone left alive
To run from side to side in a late night train
Admiring it and adding noughts in vain.

Soap Suds
This brand of soap has the same smell as once in the big
House he visited when he was eight: the walls of the bathroom open
To reveal a lawn where a great yellow ball rolls back through a hoop
To rest at the head of a mallet held in the hands of a child.

And these were the joys of that house: a tower with a telescope;
Two great faded globes, one of the earth, one of the stars;
A stuffed black dog in the hall; a walled garden with bees;
A rabbit warren; a rockery; a vine under glass; the sea.

To which he has now returned. The day of course is fine
And a grown-up voice cries Play! The mallet slowly swings,
Then crack, a great gong booms from the dog-dark hall and the ball
Skims forward through the hoop and then through the next and then

Through hoops where no hoops were and each dissolves in turn
And the grass has grown head-high and an angry voice cries Play!
But the ball is lost and the mallet slipped long since from the hands
Under the running tap that are not the hands of a child.

The Span of a Man
The span of a man's life is a measured hundred years,
Yet half is lost to night
And of his waking time,
Callow youth and hoary age claim a share;
His prime is spent in servitude, suffering
The anguish of estrangement and disease.
Where do men find happiness
In life less certain and more transient than the waves?

Life is a rough uncertain wave,
The splendour of youth si a transient bloom.
Fortune is imagination’s whim.
Pleasure flashes like lightning during the rains.
Even fond embraces of beloved arms
Do not rest long in their show of love.
Meditate then on the highest Brahman
To cross beyond this sea of worldly dread.
                                Bhartrihari, translated from the Sanskrit

Ode to the West Wind
O WILD West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being—
Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing, 
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes!—O thou
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed 
The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow 
Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill— 
Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere—
Destroyer and Preserver—hear, O hear! 

Thou on whose stream, 'mid the steep sky's commotion,
 Loose clouds like earth's decaying leaves are shed,

Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean, 
Angels of rain and lightning! they are spread 
On the blue surface of thine airy surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce Mænad, ev'n from the dim verge 
Of the horizon to the zenith's height—
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge 
Of the dying year, to which this closing night 
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might 
Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere 
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst:—O hear! 

Thou who didst waken from his summer-dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lull'd by the coil of his crystalline streams, 
Beside a pumice isle in Baiæ's bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave's intenser day, 
All overgrown with azure moss, and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic's level powers 
Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know

Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear
And tremble and despoil themselves:—O hear! 

If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O uncontrollable!—if even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be 
The comrade of thy wanderings over heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seem'd a vision,—I would ne'er have striven 
As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
O lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed! 
A heavy weight of hours has chain'd and bow'd
One too like thee—tameless, and swift, and proud. 

Make me thy lyre, ev'n as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies 
Will take from both a deep autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! be thou me, impetuous one! 
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe,
Like wither'd leaves, to quicken a new birth;
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguish'd hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawaken'd earth 
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
                                Percy Shelley

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art---
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors---
No---yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillowed upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever---or else swoon in death. 
                               John Keats

To My Laundress 
SAPONACEA, wert thou not so fair
I'd curse thee for thy multitude of sins--
For sending home my clothes all full of pins,
A shirt occasionally that's a snare
And a delusion, got, the Lord knows where,
The Lord knows why, a sock whose outs and ins
None knows, nor where it ends nor where begins,
And fewer cuffs than ought to be my share.
But when I mark thy lilies how they grow,
And the red roses of thy ripening charms,
I bless the lovelight in thy dark eyes dreaming.
I'll never pay thee, but I'd gladly go
Into the magic circle of thine arms,
Supple and fragrant from repeated steaming. 
                               Ambrose Bierce
2 poems by Gérard de Nerval (1808-1855) translated by Joe
Gothic Song
My bonny wife
I love your tears,
They are like the dew
Adorning flowers.

Things beautiful
Have but one spring —
Let's sow with roses
The prints of Time.

Is brown or blonde
A vital choice?
For, it's sensual pleasure
That rules the world.

Chanson gothique
Belle épousée,
J'aime tes pleurs !
C'est la rosée
Qui sied aux fleurs.

Les belles choses
N'ont qu'un printemps,
Semons de roses
Les pas du Temps !

Soit brune ou blonde
Faut-il choisir ?
Le Dieu du monde,
C'est le Plaisir.

A Path in the Luxembourg Gardens
She's faded away, the maiden,
Quick and vibrant as a bird,
In her hand a radiant flower,
And a novel song on her lips.

Her heart was the only one
That reciprocated mine,
Dispersing my dark night
When her gaze illumined it.

But alas — my youth is done ...
Goodbye, soft ray that shone
With fragrance, feminity and music …
My happiness has passed — it's fled.

Une allée du Luxembourg
Elle a passé, la jeune fille
Vive et preste comme un oiseau
À la main une fleur qui brille,
À la bouche un refrain nouveau.

C'est peut-être la seule au monde
Dont le coeur au mien répondrait,
Qui venant dans ma nuit profonde
D'un seul regard l'éclaircirait !

Mais non, - ma jeunesse est finie ...
Adieu, doux rayon qui m'as lui, —
Parfum, jeune fille, harmonie...
Le bonheur passait, — il a fui !

Prose Translations by Anthony Hartley from The Penguin Book of French Verse (Nineteenth Century)
An Alley in the Luxembourg Gardens
THE young girl passed as lively and quick as a bird: in her hand a shining flower, in her mouth a new song.
She is, perhaps the only one in the world whose heart would answer mine, who, coming into my deep night, would light it up with a single glance.
But no, – my youth is over. … Farewell! Sweet beam that shone on me, – perfume, young girl, melody. … Happiness passed by, – it has fled!

Gothic Song
FAIR wife, I love your tears! It is the dew which is becoming for flowers.
Beautiful things have only one Spring, let us sow the footprints of Time with roses!
Whether brunette or blonde, must we choose? The God of the World is Pleasure.

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