Monday, September 24, 2012

Robert Browning's 200th Birth Anniversary, Special Session on Sep 19, 2012



 Portrait by Michele Gordigiani

This session was long awaited. Along with literature enthusiasts the world over the Kochi Reading Group decided to honour the 200th birth anniversary of Robert Browning by a session devoted to him.

Blessed with a rich imagination, wide learning, and steeped in rhyme and metre, Browning’s poems have the power to evoke sympathy even in an age that is the antithesis of everything Victorians stood for.  He is best noted in literature for his dramatic monologues. The nearest we got to that were the poems Rabbi Ben Ezra and Home Thoughts from Abroad.

 Sunil, Bobby, KumKum, Talitha

Many noted the difficulties one has reading Browning’s poems, on account of their allusiveness; the diction too is sometimes novel and requires a fair amount of re-reading to grasp its full import. Yet the poet so often strikes gold that you wish to mine all his poems.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

One cannot forget his contribution to literature in rescuing Elizabeth Barrett from her domineering father; and then persuading her to publish those private sonnets she wrote to celebrate their love, later collected in a volume titled Sonnets from the Portuguese. It is fair to say no one who has fallen in love, or wished to fall in love, in the past 150 years has escaped the allure of these sonnets.

 Talitha, Zakia, Thommo

Here is a picture of the group after the reading.

 Talitha, Kavita, Zakia, Thommo, Bobby, KumKum, Sunil, Joe

A fuller account follows. Please click below.




The Kochi Reading Group was meeting for the first time after the historic ride by Thommo over the entire expanse of India in a Tata Nano. He has recorded the adventure in a meticulous daily blog he maintained en route. See 

Thommo had no problem negotiating the 18,000 feet passes in Ladakh in the Nano, although the SUVs he met were sputtering from the lack of oxygen. In Arunachal Thommo had the near-experience of mountain sickness because the altitude goes from 500 to 13,700 feet in a few hours. Some of the worst roads he met were, of all places, in Gujarat. 

KRG readers welcomed Thommo back to our literary bosoms and gave him a standing ovation.


Thommo
Rabbi Ben Ezra  is the only poem of Browning’s Thommo claims he has read. Thommo read this poem years ago:

He prefaced his remarks by saying he had been invited to speak on old age in his church (in spite of his relative youth) and he came upon this poem and was struck by its remarkable note of hope and confidence in the future.  It deals with death but demands it wait while old age is savoured. The poem speaks of the ‘Potter and clay’ enduring, thus intimating faintly that death opens up another life. There is an assumption of God and soul. Joe raised the question whether God had disappeared from poetic discourse in modern times. Recall there was a ‘God is dead’ movement in the West. Not in India, thought Talitha. God has migrated East, said KumKum; to which Thommo’s rejoinder was that God never left the East.

Thommo recalled visiting a church in England with beautiful stained glass, expertly printed prayers, and a choir of 15 people. When they came out one of the choristers exclaimed to the attendees: “So we outnumbered you today!” Churches in England have fallen into disuse and many have been closed for lack of attendance, and there has been theft of the lead in the roof linings and, of copper in steeples and so on. KumKum confessed that the church where she was married in Cambridge, MA, was a ruin inside when she visited four years ago. It was to be converted into  apartments and the inside was being demolished; she was told by the workers she could pick up any object, and Joe loaded several kg weight of a putto into his rucksack as a memento.

Talitha noted that youth is very ageist, imagining that theirs is the best phase of life. Well isn’t it? Don’t we all long for youth again? Sunil thought it was a passing phase. Joe confessed he never thought seriously of mortality until he was into his twenties, although the Christian faith does not allow you to forget you are dust. One certain advantage of youth today is that they have shed many of the narrow divisions of society, and are not even aware of caste-related signs and names in anything like the minute way the previous generation were conscious. It is partly the influence of Communism in Kerala, and partly the enlightening influence of education. “Kerala is easily the most egalitarian part of India,” said someone.



Joe said of the first three lines of the poem, that he heard his father reciting it to his mother more than once.


Zakia
A Lover’s Quarrel was the poem Zakia selected. Joe inquired about the context of the poem. It’s about a joyful exuberant love that strikes against a fatal quarrel and things go sour. ‘A shaft from the devil’s bow’ has struck, perhaps an unthinking word has passed between them. The poet is remembering the old days, and pretty images come up for description in Browning’s graphic manner:
Love, if you knew the light
That your soul casts in my sight,
How I look to you
For the pure and true

The present is hard to bear after the quarrel:
Me do you leave aghast
With the memories We amassed?

But the poet is sure that when the storms come up and blow hard, old scores will be forgotten, and he exclaims
I shall pull her through the door,
I shall have her for evermore!

Joe loved some of the simple but unfamiliar words Browning uses: runnel, rillet, ingle.  Sunil could not figure out why the Emperor is introduced; is it Browning’s imagination going all over the place? Suddenly the S American pampas are mentioned. Browning never saw one probably, even as Blake never saw a tiger, although he wrote a dramatic description of one in his famous poem ‘Tyger, tyger burning bright.’ Imagination serves well, even to imagine the details. From there Sunil wandered off into children in Kochi never having seen a chicken, only its meat at table. They don’t even know a chicken has feathers. Kavita mentioned her children love to go to the estate, for there they can freely mingle with goats, poultry, and see snakes.



Kavita
Kavita pre-empted a poem KumKum posted that she would recite, called Life in a Bottle (aka Life in a Love). It’s about his love, and fear of losing it.  There’s the idea of a love unrequited:
While the one eludes, must the other pursue ,
So the chace takes up one's life, that's all.

It is a torment for the lover, who confesses he ‘shall scarce succeed’ and is ready to give up but a new hope is resurgent. At the end he signs off as in a letter:
Ever
Removed!

It might be the lover reconciling to the fact that he/she will never get close. It is a sentiment close to Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn where he describes the mute figures of a youth and a girl depicted on the urn:

    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!



Sunil, for some reason, spoke of the anti-Catholic tendencies in British life in the mid-nineteenth century, reflected in Browning, for instance in the poem Bishop Blougram’s Apology. Joe added that Elizabeth Barrett was the more established writer at the time of their marriage.


Talitha
As Talitha read excerpts from The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Sunil was moved to remark that municipal corporations are the same everywhere. 



The story seems to have originated in the thirteenth century and then was gradually embellished, and figures in Grimm’s fairy tales. It has been turned into humorous verse with plenty of word-play and onomatopoeic sonority in Browning’s version.



Many cats look the other way when they see a rat. Sunil has seen a cat terrified by the appearance of a bandicoot in his compound. KumKum narrated an event from her daily walk on the beach when a foreign child glimpsing one of our Fort Kochi rats, exclaimed: “Mama, look at the brown rabbit.” From there nature talk took over and we discussed vipers which bite and do not let go (according to Talitha) and pythons which are commonly discovered when overgrown hedges are cleared in Fort Kochi. A two-year old died it seems when it could not be taken to the hospital in time for anti-venin to be effective.


KumKum
Robert Browning was an eminent British poet of the Victorian period. He is also classified among outstanding Romantics, such as, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats and so on.

Browning was born on May 7, 1812 in Camberwell, UK. He died on Dec 12, 1887 in Venice. This happens to be the year of his 200th birth anniversary. How wonderful that we at the KRG chose to honour this great poet by reading his beautiful poems collectively! Priya and Talitha proposed the Browning session and we are proud to be celebrating it in Kochi.

Browning was highly educated and read extensively in several languages. His continuous thirst for knowledge made him unique among his peers. Often his poems carry obscure references and allusions. Perhaps because of this the flow falters in some of his poems.

Browning wrote many long dramatic verses, not all of high quality. He was a playwright as well. While talking about Browning, one invariably recalls his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who was an equally famous poet of their time.

Hark, where my blossom'd pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover

KumKum chose two of Browning’s poems. Home Thoughts From Abroad was composed in 1845 when he was living in Italy. The poem conveys the tender longing of an expat for his country. Browning was in Italy at the time. There is much observation of nature on a minute level in this poem. Was it because the Victorians had leisure and little else to do than take walks in the countryside, observe and write? The loveliest lines are these, according to KumKum:
That 's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!

The second poem is Life in a Bottle, also titled Life in a Love, which KumKum did not recite because Kavita had done so already.

Thommo from his extensive knowledge of popular music recalled the Peter Sellers spoof of the drinking song, a take-off on the Browning poem:
Oh to be in England, now that spring is here!
Oh to be in England, drinking English beer!


The S Indian accent (‘Yengland’) is hilarious and reminds one of the famous scene enacted by Hrundi V. Bakshi (Peter Sellers) in The Party, that is to say the Birdie Num Num scene. It is impossible to get on the topic of the inimitable Peter Sellers without referring to his Inspector Clouseau series where an entire flat is destroyed by him practising judo with his Vietnamese valet and chef, Cato:

Sunil noted how something can hit you suddenly when you are walking in the countryside, as once he observed the fluffy white sugar-cane flowers that come up just before the harvest and how amazing they looked when the parting sun at dusk lit them up. It is like the inspiration for the Daffodils poem of Wordsworth, flowers which he saw but did not note, until he came upon a diary entry of his sister, Dorothy. Dorothy described the daffodils near Gowbarrow Park:

I never saw daffodils so beautiful. They grew about the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake.

(from The Grasmere Journal by Dorothy Wordsworth 


Sunil
Women and Roses is the poem Sunil selected for the occasion.  The poet is describing ideal love as
Oh, to possess and be possessed!

 Round and round, like a dance of snow ...
Sculpted in stone, on the poet's pages

It is the same woman (likening woman to a rose is to acknowledge that a woman can attract and also wound like a thorn) in three periods of life who is described. After the term of the rose is reached, Browning attempts a desperate manoeuvre:
How shall I fix you, fire you, freeze you,

Joe saw Browning’s imagination running riot with the image of the rose. Kavita said Browning just wants to rhyme away as in the second stanza. In the Pied Piper the rhyming of ‘luncheon’ and ‘muncheon’ is tribute to his irrepressible love of rhyme. Talitha saw an image of sculpture in this poem, faint though it is:
Floating the women faded for ages,
Sculptured in stone, on the poet's pages.

Joe raised the question whether the three roses (women) are different persons. From here the discussion turned to the immense scale of killing of unborn and born girls in male-dominated patriarchal regions of India (Haryana, for instance) where the sex ratio is currently 830 girls for 1,000 boys in the age group of 0-6 years. The murderous practice continues; now they are forced to import women from Bangladesh, Kerala, and so on, for marriage.  The normal sex ratio is a slight excess of females, which can get exaggerated in time of war.  In the past this may have given rise to polygamy. Women in any case live longer, and seem to survive the rigours of the first years better than boys.


Joe
How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix [16—]


 Behind shut the postern, the lights sank to rest,
And into the midnight we galloped abreast

The poem Joe was going to read is well-known. It creates drama about three horsemen who are on a headlong ride to bring some news from Ghent (a city in Belgium) to Aix on the German border. What the good news was nobody knows, in spite of much research to find if there was such an event in the 1600s (the half date is given in the poem’s title). That does not matter, for it is less a narrative than a flight of fancy in which certain obvious poetic effects are exploited. It has a fast rhythm; the metre is an iamb followed by three anapaests
Ta-DUM ta-ta-DUM ta-ta-DUM ta-ta-DUM

There are six lines per stanza rhymed aa-bb-cc-dd. The horses and the riders are the drama, and before the ride ends two of the horses collapse. The whole route is in Belgium. Accurate though it is, a 90 km ride through the night is not what a horse can manage. So it’s a fictional gallop, signifying no known historical event, but giving a dramatic account, quite stirring to the ear because of the choice of words and metre. 

A small footnote: this was the poem Browning recalled when a salesman of the Edison recording machine asked him to recite a poem into the machine at a dinner on April 7, 1889:
http://publicdomainreview.org/2012/03/16/robert-browning-attempting-to-recite-a-poem-on-the-edison-cylinder-1889/

It was played at his death anniversary, as his voice from beyond the grave.

Browning was educated largely at home and brought up on a hugely varied reading, such as schoolboys are not exposed to, and he mastered several languages. He was particularly close to his mother, and they say in his relationship with his wife, the poet Elizabeth Barrett, he continued his dependency on the female from his mother to his wife.  Elizabeth Barrett was much more famous and critically acclaimed than was he at the time of their marriage.

One of Browning’s happiest contributions to poetry was indirect: he convinced his wife to publish her love poems to him in a revised volume of her Poems, later separately published as Sonnets from the Portuguese. He said these were the best sonnets he had read in English after Shakespeare’s. 'My little Portuguese' was a term Browning used in affection to refer to Elizabeth Barrett, in apparent reference to her sallow complexion.

The work of his which gave Browning greatest pleasure was Men and Women, 51 poems consisting of monologues in which he writes on the lives of people, such as Fra Lippo Lippi, Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, Andrea del Sarto, Love in a Life, and Life in a Love.

One of the riders is named Joris. Thommo recalled Fr. Joris, the Jesuit priest who headed the morning B.Com. section of St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta, where he studied. He was a good football player and played for Belgium; Joe recalled several other Jesuits who played football (e.g., Fr. Antoine, the Sanskrit scholar, who taught at Jadavpur University). donning shorts to play with the lads:

Someone spoke about a boarding school for children where the degree of care and one-on-one attention devoted was so generous that the children did not want to go home for the holidays. Until a fairly advanced age of 12 or so the children can learn according to their individual tastes, whatever they wish.


Bobby
Bobby did not fall in with the theme of celebrating Browning’s anniversary and instead took up a poem by Rilke, Herbsttag (Autumn Day). It’s a meditative poem on the ripening days of autumn, with the grapes on the vine ready to be pressed. The note of solitude is introduced by the lines
Whoever has no house now, will never have one.
Whoever is alone will stay alone,

Bobby said he liked the poem because there is embedded in it a note of searching and loss.

Rilke is an important poet of the twentieth century in German literature. He worked as secretary to the sculptor, Rodin. His best known work is Sonnets to Orpheus. He was a wanderer in his life and settled in Switzerland finally.


Epilogue
The session ended with a brief discussion of SMS and tweets on Twitter which have a cut-off of 140 characters. Thommo used to have a fine handwriting. The major cause for its deterioration was the occasion when he made a trip to Bombay as company secretary and lodged in President Hotel in Colaba,  to sign share certificates for three days continuously. 

Does Twitter teach the virtue of brevity in speech, or does the application open itself to a deluge of short messages? These could turn into a hodge-podge of  remarks, spontaneous and off-the-cuff, which go very wide off the point; the whole may become completely chaotic as communication. In any event, it’s a new form that will find its ruly and unruly  uses; it’s excellent for haikus:

Which poet, tanning,
Did we choose to read this day?
Why, Robert Browning!      (70 char)


And limericks fit nicely:

There was a young lady named Liz
Who made writing poems her biz
But when she met Bob
She gave up her job
It took all her time to read his.    (134 char)

(Marianne Moore)



The Poems

Thommo
Rabbi Ben Ezra (excerpts)
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith "A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!"
What is he but a brute
Whose flesh has soul to suit,
Whose spirit works lest arms and legs want play?
To man, propose this test —
Thy body at its best,
How far can that project thy soul on its lone way?
Youth ended, I shall try
My gain or loss thereby;
Leave the fire ashes, what survives is gold:
And I shall weigh the same,
Give life its praise or blame:
Young, all lay in dispute; I shall know, being old.
As it was better, youth
Should strive, thro' acts uncouth,
Toward making, than repose on aught found made:
So, better, age, exempt
From strife, should know, than tempt
Further. Thou waitedst age: wait death, nor be afraid!
Fool! All that is, at all,
Lasts ever, past recall;
Earth changes, but thy soul and God stand sure:
What entered into thee,
That was, is, and shall be:
Time's wheel runs back or stops: Potter and clay endure.
Look not thou down but up!
To uses of a cup
The festal board, lamp's flash and trumpet's peal,
The new wine's foaming flow,
The Master's lips a-glow!
Thou, heaven's consummate cup, what needst thou with earth's wheel?
So take and use Thy work,
Amend what flaws may lurk,
What strain o' the stuff, what warpings past the aim!
My times be in Thy hand!
Perfect the cup as planned!
Let age approve of youth, and death complete the same!

Zakia
A Lover’s Quarrel
I.
Oh, what a dawn of day!
How the March sun feels like May!
All is blue again
After last night's rain,
And the South dries the hawthorn-spray.
Only, my Love's away!
I'd as lief that the blue were grey,
II.
Runnels, which rillets swell,
Must be dancing down the dell,
With a foaming head
On the beryl bed
Paven smooth as a hermit's cell;
Each with a tale to tell,
Could my Love but attend as well.
III.
Dearest, three months ago!
When we lived blocked-up with snow,---
When the wind would edge
In and in his wedge,
In, as far as the point could go---
Not to our ingle, though,
Where we loved each the other so!
IV.
Laughs with so little cause!
We devised games out of straws.
We would try and trace
One another's face
In the ash, as an artist draws;
Free on each other's flaws,
How we chattered like two church daws!
V.
What's in the `Times''?---a scold
At the Emperor deep and cold;
He has taken a bride
To his gruesome side,
That's as fair as himself is bold:
There they sit ermine-stoled,
And she powders her hair with gold.
VI.
Fancy the Pampas' sheen!
Miles and miles of gold and green
Where the sunflowers blow
In a solid glow,
And---to break now and then the screen---
Black neck and eyeballs keen,
Up a wild horse leaps between!
VII.
Try, will our table turn?
Lay your hands there light, and yearn
Till the yearning slips
Thro' the finger-tips
In a fire which a few discern,
And a very few feel burn,
And the rest, they may live and learn!
VIII.
Then we would up and pace,
For a change, about the place,
Each with arm o'er neck:
'Tis our quarter-deck,
We are seamen in woeful case.
Help in the ocean-space!
Or, if no help, we'll embrace.
IX.
See, how she looks now, dressed
In a sledging-cap and vest!
'Tis a huge fur cloak---
Like a reindeer's yoke
Falls the lappet along the breast:
Sleeves for her arms to rest,
Or to hang, as my Love likes best.
X.
Teach me to flirt a fan
As the Spanish ladies can,
Or I tint your lip
With a burnt stick's tip
And you turn into such a man!
Just the two spots that span
Half the bill of the young male swan.
XI.
Dearest, three months ago
When the mesmerizer Snow
With his hand's first sweep
Put the earth to sleep:
'Twas a time when the heart could show
All---how was earth to know,
'Neath the mute hand's to-and-fro?
XII.
Dearest, three months ago
When we loved each other so,
Lived and loved the same
Till an evening came
When a shaft from the devil's bow
Pierced to our ingle-glow,
And the friends were friend and foe!
XIII.
Not from the heart beneath---
'Twas a bubble born of breath,
Neither sneer nor vaunt,
Nor reproach nor taunt.
See a word, how it severeth!
Oh, power of life and death
In the tongue, as the Preacher saith!
XIV.
Woman, and will you cast
For a word, quite off at last
Me, your own, your You,---
Since, as truth is true,
I was You all the happy past---
Me do you leave aghast
With the memories We amassed?
XV.
Love, if you knew the light
That your soul casts in my sight,
How I look to you
For the pure and true
And the beauteous and the right,---
Bear with a moment's spite
When a mere mote threats the white!
XVI.
What of a hasty word?
Is the fleshly heart not stirred
By a worm's pin-prick
Where its roots are quick?
See the eye, by a fly's foot blurred---
Ear, when a straw is heard
Scratch the brain's coat of curd!
XVII.
Foul be the world or fair
More or less, how can I care?
'Tis the world the same
For my praise or blame,
And endurance is easy there.
Wrong in the one thing rare---
Oh, it is hard to bear!
XVIII.
Here's the spring back or close,
When the almond-blossom blows:
We shall have the word
In a minor third
There is none but the cuckoo knows:
Heaps of the guelder-rose!
I must bear with it, I suppose.
XIX.
Could but November come,
Were the noisy birds struck dumb
At the warning slash
Of his driver's-lash---
I would laugh like the valiant Thumb
Facing the castle glum
And the giant's fee-faw-fum!
XX.
Then, were the world well stripped
Of the gear wherein equipped
We can stand apart,
Heart dispense with heart
In the sun, with the flowers unnipped,---
Oh, the world's hangings ripped,
We were both in a bare-walled crypt!
XXI.
Each in the crypt would cry
``But one freezes here! and why?
``When a heart, as chill,
``At my own would thrill
``Back to life, and its fires out-fly?
``Heart, shall we live or die?
``The rest.... settle by-and-by!''
XXII.
So, she'd efface the score,
And forgive me as before.
It is twelve o'clock:
I shall hear her knock
In the worst of a storm's uproar,
I shall pull her through the door,
I shall have her for evermore!

Kavita
Life in a Bottle (aka Life in a Love)
Escape me?
Never--
Beloved!
While I am I, and you are you,
So long as the world contains us both,
Me the loving and you the loth,
While the one eludes, must the other pursue.
My life is a fault at last, I fear:
It seems too much like a fate, indeed!
Though I do my best I shall scarce succeed.
But what if I fail of my purpose here?
It is but to keep the nerves at strain,
To dry one's eyes and laugh at a fall,
And, baffled, get up and begin again,--
So the chace takes up one's life, that's all.
While, look but once from your farthest bound
At me so deep in the dust and dark,
No sooner the old hope goes to ground
Than a new one, straight to the self-same mark,
I shape me--
Ever
Removed!

Talitha
The Pied Piper of Hamelin (excerpts)
VII
Into the street the Piper stept,
Smiling first a little smile,
As if he knew what magic slept
In his quiet pipe the while;
Then, like a musical adept,
To blow the pipe his lips he wrinkled,
And green and blue his sharp eyes twinkled,
Like a candle-flame where salt is sprinkled;
And ere three shrill notes the pipe uttered,
You heard as if an army muttered;
And the muttering grew to a grumbling;
And the grumbling grew to a mighty rumbling;
And out of the houses the rats came tumbling.
Great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats,
Brown rats, black rats, gray rats, tawny rats,
Grave old plodders, gay young friskers,
Fathers, mothers, uncles, cousins,
Cocking tails and pricking whiskers,
Families by tens and dozens,
Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives--
Followed the Piper for their lives.
From street to street he piped advancing,
And step for step they followed dancing,
Until they came to the river Weser
Wherein all plunged and perished!
‹Save one who, stout as Julius Caesar,
Swam across and lived to carry
(As the manuscript he cherished)
To Rat-land home his commentary:
Which was, "At the first shrill notes of the pipe,
I heard a sound as of scraping tripe,
And putting apples, wondrous ripe,
Into a cider-press's gripe:
And a moving away of pickle-tub-boards,
And a leaving ajar of conserve-cupboards,
And a drawing the corks of train-oil-flasks,
And a breaking the hoops of butter-casks:
And it seemed as if a voice
(Sweeter far than by harp or by psaltery
Is breathed) called out, 'Oh rats, rejoice!
The world is grown to one vast dry-saltery!
So munch on, crunch on, take your nuncheon,
Breakfast, supper, dinner, luncheon!'
And just as a bulky sugar-puncheon,
All ready staved, like a great sun shone
Glorious scarce an inch before me,
Just as methought it said 'Come bore me!'
-- I found the Weser rolling o'er me."

VIII
You should have heard the Hamelin people
Ringing the bells till they rocked the steeple.
Go," cried the Mayor, "and get long poles!
Poke out the nests and block up the holes!
Consult with carpenters and builders
And leave in our town not even a trace
Of the rats!"-- when suddenly, up the face
Of the Piper perked in the market-place,
With a, "First, if you please, my thousand guilders!"

IX
A thousand guilders! The Mayor looked blue;
So did the Corporation too.
For council dinners made rare havoc
With Claret, Moselle, Vin-de-Grave, Hock;
And half the money would replenish
Their cellar's biggest butt with Rhenish.
To pay this sum to a wandering fellow
With a gypsy coat of red and yellow!
"Beside," quoth the Mayor with a knowing wink,
"Our business was done at the river's brink;
We saw with our eyes the vermin sink,
And what's dead can't come to life, I think.
So, friend, we're not the folks to shrink
From the duty of giving you something for drink,
And a matter of money to put in your poke;
But as for the guilders, what we spoke
Of them, as you very well know, was in joke.
Beside, our losses have made us thrifty.
A thousand guilders! Come, take fifty!

X
The Piper's face fell, and he cried,
"No trifling! I can't wait! Beside,
I've promised to visit by dinnertime
Bagdad, and accept the prime
Of the Head-Cook's pottage, all he's rich in,
For having left, in the Caliph's kitchen,
Of a nest of scorpions no survivor--
With him I proved no bargain-driver,
With you, don't think I'll bate a stiver!
And folks who put me in a passion
May find me pipe to another fashion."

XI
"How?" cried the Mayor, "d'ye think I brook
Being worse treated than a Cook?
Insulted by a lazy ribald
With idle pipe and vesture piebald?
You threaten us, fellow? Do your worst,
Blow your pipe there till you burst!"

XII
Once more he stept into the street
And to his lips again
Laid his long pipe of smooth straight cane;
And ere he blew three notes (such sweet
Soft notes as yet musician's cunning
Never gave the enraptured air)
There was a rustling that seemed like a bustling
Of merry crowds justling at pitching and hustling,
Small feet were pattering, wooden shoes clattering,
Little hands clapping, and little tongues chattering,
And, like fowls in a farm-yard when barley is scattering,
Out came the children running.
All the little boys and girls,
With rosy cheeks and flaxen curls,
And sparkling eyes and teeth like pearls,
Tripping and skipping, ran merrily after
The wonderful music with shouting and laughter.

KumKum
Home Thoughts, from Abroad
O, TO be in England
Now that April 's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!
And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossom'd pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray's edge—
That 's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower
—Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

Sunil
Women and Roses
I dream of a red-rose tree.
And which of its roses three
Is the dearest rose to me?
II.
Round and round, like a dance of snow
In a dazzling drift, as its guardians, go
Floating the women faded for ages,
Sculptured in stone, on the poet's pages.
Then follow women fresh and gay,
Living and loving and loved to-day.
Last, in the rear, flee the multitude of maidens,
Beauties yet unborn. And all, to one cadence,
They circle their rose on my rose tree.
III.
Dear rose, thy term is reached,
Thy leaf hangs loose and bleached:
Bees pass it unimpeached.
IV.
Stay then, stoop, since I cannot climb,
You, great shapes of the antique time!
How shall I fix you, fire you, freeze you,
Break my heart at your feet to please you?
Oh, to possess and be possessed!
Hearts that beat 'neath each pallid breast!
Once but of love, the poesy, the passion,
Drink but once and die!---In vain, the same fashion,
They circle their rose on my rose tree.
V.
Dear rose, thy joy's undimmed,
Thy cup is ruby-rimmed,
Thy cup's heart nectar-brimmed.
VI.
Deep, as drops from a statue's plinth
The bee sucked in by the hyacinth,
So will I bury me while burning,
Quench like him at a plunge my yearning,
Eyes in your eyes, lips on your lips!
Fold me fast where the cincture slips,
Prison all my soul in eternities of pleasure,
Girdle me for once! But no---the old measure,
They circle their rose on my rose tree.
VII.
Dear rose without a thorn,
Thy bud's the babe unborn:
First streak of a new morn.
VIII.
Wings, lend wings for the cold, the clear!
What is far conquers what is near.
Roses will bloom nor want beholders,
Sprung from the dust where our flesh moulders.
What shall arrive with the cycle's change?
A novel grace and a beauty strange.
I will make an Eve, be the artist that began her,
Shaped her to his mind!---Alas! in like manner
They circle their rose on my rose tree.

Joe
How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix [16—]


I SPRANG to the stirrup, and Joris, and he;
I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three;
‘Good speed!’ cried the watch, as the gate-bolts undrew;
‘Speed!’ echoed the wall to us galloping through;
Behind shut the postern, the lights sank to rest,
And into the midnight we galloped abreast.

Not a word to each other; we kept the great pace
Neck by neck, stride by stride, never changing our place;
I turned in my saddle and made its girths tight,
Then shortened each stirrup, and set the pique right,
Rebuckled the cheek-strap, chained slacker the bit,
Nor galloped less steadily Roland a whit.

’Twas moonset at starting; but while we drew near
Lokeren, the cocks crew and twilight dawned clear;
At Boom, a great yellow star came out to see;
At Düffeld, ’twas morning as plain as could be;
And from Mecheln church-steeple we heard the half-chime,
So Joris broke silence with ‘Yet there is time!’

At Aerschot, up leaped of a sudden the sun,
And against him the cattle stood black every one,
To stare through the mist at us galloping past,
And I saw my stout galloper Roland at last,
With resolute shoulders, each butting away
The haze, as some bluff river headland its spray.

And his low head and crest, just one sharp ear bent back
For my voice, and the other pricked out on his track;
And one eye’s black intelligence,—ever that glance
O’er its white edge at me, his own master, askance!
And the thick heavy spume-flakes which aye and anon
His fierce lips shook upwards in galloping on.

By Hasselt, Dirck groaned; and cried Joris, ‘Stay spur!
Your Roos galloped bravely, the fault’s not in her,
We’ll remember at Aix’—for one heard the quick wheeze
Of her chest, saw the stretched neck and staggering knees,
And sunk tail, and horrible heave of the flank,
As down on her haunches she shuddered and sank.

So we were left galloping, Joris and I,
Past Looz and past Tongres, no cloud in the sky;
The broad sun above laughed a pitiless laugh,
’Neath our feet broke the brittle bright stubble like chaff;
Till over by Dalhem a dome-spire sprang white,
And ‘Gallop,’ gasped Joris, ‘for Aix is in sight!’

‘How they’ll greet us!’—and all in a moment his roan
Rolled neck and croup over, lay dead as a stone;
And there was my Roland to bear the whole weight
Of the news which alone could save Aix from her fate,
With his nostrils like pits full of blood to the brim,
And with circles of red for his eye-sockets’ rim.

Then I cast loose my buffcoat, each holster let fall,
Shook off both my jack-boots, let go belt and all,
Stood up in the stirrup, leaned, patted his ear,
Called my Roland his pet-name, my horse without peer;
Clapped my hands, laughed and sang, any noise, bad or good,
Till at length into Aix Roland galloped and stood.

And all I remember is, friends flocking round
As I sat with his head ’twixt my knees on the ground;
And no voice but was praising this Roland of mine,
As I poured down his throat our last measure of wine,
Which (the burgesses voted by common consent)
Was no more than his due who brought good news from Ghent.




Bobby
Herbsttag by Rainer Maria Rilke

Herr, es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren lass die Winde los.

Befiehl den letzten Früchten, voll zu sein;
gib ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin, und jage
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

Autumn Day
Lord: it is time. The huge summer has gone by.
Now overlap the sundials with your shadows,
and on the meadows let the wind go free.

Command the fruits to swell on tree and vine;
grant them a few more warm transparent days,
urge them on to fulfillment then, and press
the final sweetness into the heavy wine.

Whoever has no house now, will never have one.
Whoever is alone will stay alone,
Will sit, read, write long letters through the evening,
and wander on the boulevards, up and down,
restlessly, while the dry leaves are blowing.

(translated from the German by Stephen Mitchell)
 

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