Sunday, January 13, 2013

Poetry Session ‒ Jan 11, 2013

Zakia, Priya, KumKum, Talitha, Sivaram, Thommo, and Mathew listening to Sivaram, gone digital with his iPad, to read 'Burnt Norton' by T.S. Eliot

The poets we read were from the world over: India – 1, Britain – 3, USA – 2, and Greece – 1. Two were read in translation from Malayalam and ancient Greek respectively. Only one poet was a woman. The readers were split, 4 women and 3 men.

 Talitha reading 'The Great Lover' by Rupert Brooke

The missing four readers lost out on the great enthusiasm with which the New Year’s session started. The Malayalam poet’s idiom was modern and Sappho speaking through the voice of her translator came through as a lyricist (and lyrist) of love and longing. 

Priya in soft focus

T.S. Eliot, a favourite of Sivaram since college days, was recited for the third time in our group whose collective memory is preserved at Poets& Poems, here to the right.

 KumKum reads fragments of Sappho as Priya and Talitha watch

Our general mood, always enlivened by the give and take of exchanges, ended on a note of great merriment when Mathew read from Ogden Nash.

  Priya reading Balachandran Chullikad's poem 'Winter in Stockholm'

Here are the readers at the end of the session (Joe is clicking and Zakia was away).
Priya, Talitha, Thommo, KumKum, Sivaram, Mathew at the end

For a full account and the text of the poems click below.


Poetry Session Jan 11, 2013

Present: Priya, KumKum, Talitha, Sivaram, Thommo, Joe, Mathew, Zakia.
Absent: Bobby (?), Kavita (hospital care-giving), Gopa (out of town), Sunil (out of town)

The next session will be 12+1 short stories of Chekhov on Feb 7 (date posted on blog). Please keep the day free; this will be the lightest reading load ever. Links have been given for procuring the volume in hard copy, for those who prefer that mode to e-text. Mar 8 and Apr 12 are the next dates for Poetry and Fiction, respectively.

The remaining five fiction pieces for the year should be chosen and announced by month-end Jan, please. Readers, please note.

The session ended with suggestions from members (Priya, Talitha) to hold a ‘Poetry Slam’ or a Reading at say, David Hall (DH). Joe responded that he had tried the first course when Padmini Krishnan was manager of DH but she did not have the administrative time or the publicity machinery to gather a reasonable crowd (say, 30 to 40 people) for such an event and the funds to host it. Mridula, daughter of Jose Dominic, is keen that DH be used for such events, but do any of us have the time to organise it and the energy to put into the needed leg work?


Priya
Balachandran Chullikad

Priya was to read from a Malayalam language poet, Balachandran Chullikad (born 1957), referred to as Balendran in the usual elision that takes place, or a Balettan as he is known to younger folk. Early in life Balendran took to the Buddhist practice of spending time as a monk, begging for food; he had some bad experiences. His own parents ridiculed him. He did his Eng Litt degree from Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam. Sivaram said Balendran has not written for the last five or eight years, but he has acted in TV serials. However Balendran was offered the Mooloor Smaraka Samithi award (declined) for a collection called ‘Prathinayakan' in 2011:


She said he came across as an interesting man. Performance poetry in Malayalam started with him. It’s good to read Priya’s interview to get a life history of the man and his journey in poetry. He declares himself to be an angry young man, though he is now nearing retirement age in India.

When KumKum talked of Satchidanandan as being a modern Malayalam poet, whom she has heard at the Hay festival in TVM in 2011 and 2010, Priya responded saying Balendran’s imagery and language is more modern.

Cohabiting with a woman for a long time before he married her, brought him some notoriety, which he relishes. He started out his literary career reciting in reading rooms and libraries all over Kerala. CDs of his performances are available. His voice was praised by Priya and Sivaram. You can look him up on Youtube.

When Sivaram said he could bring a CD of Balendran, Priya said, ‘No, bring him, if you know him,’ for he reads his poems, or rather drones them in song, very well.

The first poem Priya chose stems from a visit Balendran made to Stockholm on some Nobel business, said Priya. It is translated into English by Kamala Das.


KumKum
Sappho of Eressos bust -  the bulk of her poetry, which was well-known and greatly admired throughout antiquity, has been lost

Sappho was a woman poet from ancient Greece, who lived circa 600 BC. She was known to be a lyrist, as well as a lyricist. She enjoyed fame and adulation during her life and beyond. Even today, almost every generation comes up with newer translations of her poems.

Little is known of her life, and even her poems have come to us only in fragments. She is an enigma, remote and shrouded in mystery.

We learn about Sappho in the surviving literature of the poets who came after her, and through shards of history in the form of statues and plaques; alas her own poems survive only in fragments.

Sappho lived in the island of Lesbos, from which we have the word 'lesbian.' Sappho traveled widely within Greece. Once she was exiled to Sicily because of her family's involvement in politics. Her statues are found in different places in Greece as she was quite famous in her time.

Sappho was a Greek lyric poet, born on the island of Lesbos. The Alexandrians included her in the list of nine lyric poets
 
Sappho sang her poems to the accompaniment of the music she played on her lyre. Music was the soul of her poems, so she adjusted the words accordingly. She invented the Sapphic meter, an acknowledged Greek poetic style. Sappho wrote about sensual love, love for men and women. Other emotions too are included in her poems. Sappho did not write about gods, goddesses and imaginary feelings, as was the custom in her time. Instead, she wrote and sang about her own feelings. Human feelings and emotions are universal, and they easily transcend time. That is why, even today, readers can warm to Sappho.

KumKum chose to read the poems from an award-winning translation by Josephine Balmer, titled Poems and Fragments by Sappho.

While KumKum was reading her introductory spiel, Joe asked if all women in Lesbos were lesbians. KumKum replied jocularly, ‘Wait a minute Joe, just because you are my husband don’t think you can interrupt me.’ The question was later answered in the negative. The upper class sent their daughters to Sappho for them to acquire the finer graces of life – music, poetry, writing, etc. Sappho wrote one of her poems, fragment #32 below, to such a girl who was returning to her family: “she was weeping as she took her leave from me.”

Another question Joe put was whether people had tried to fill in the fragments and complete her poems. Here is Sappho's poem on old age in a papyrus fragment:

  Sappho's poem on old age - Papyrus fragment

This question he was allowed to ask and the answer was, yes; but no example of an attempt at completing one of her fragments was given. Sappho wrote in the Aeolic dialect which fell into disuse, and as time went by, fewer and fewer copies were made, and their survival intact was jeopardised.  Her fame undoubtedly grew, for in an epigram ascribed to Plato, he writes:

Some say the Muses are nine: how careless!
Look, there's Sappho too, from Lesbos, the tenth.

Sappho, like Shakespeare and Keats, entertained intimations of immortality on her own, for she writes,
Although they are
only breath, words
which I command
are immortal

And somewhere else, “ ... dead,/ I won’t be forgotten.’

KumKum declared her predilection for women in these terms, ‘I think women are more beautiful than men.’ To which Mathew’s sparkling retort was, ‘So do men!’ This elicited a burble of laughter among the readers.

Sivaram volunteered that there was a predominance of lesbians in the island of Lesbos. However, Sappho was married and had children, and her daughter, Cleis, named after her own mother, is addressed in fragment #75 below. Priya commented that the fragments evince a very feminine sensibility. On this point there is a commentary titled ‘Sappho's Feminine Voice’ at this website:

Sappho’s first collection was in Sapphic metre in which each stanza consists of three 11-syllable lines followed by a 5-syllable line in a particular rhythm. See the wiki on Sapphic stanza.


Talitha
 Rupert Brooke
Rupert Brooke (born 1887) didn’t see the war. He was going to the front in World War I when he died ingloriously of a mosquito bite that led to septicaemia. He was buried in 1915 in the island of Skyros in the Aegean Sea. Brooke was ardently patriotic. His most famous poem, The Soldier, has these immortal lines:
IF I should die, think only this of me:
    That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
    In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,

 Rupert Brooke statue
Many poets wrote about him after his death, and a poem by Colin Jeffery is affixed below The Great Lover. This poem is a confession of the little things Brooke loved and enjoyed in the ordinary setting of life; not therefore about great love for a person. Its beauty lies in its choice of simple but unlikely words to describe the objects he is partial to, e.g., ‘the rough male kiss of blankets.,’ ‘the cool kindliness of sheets,’ ‘the blue bitter smoke of wood.’ As people have noted, he not only involves all the five senses in the imagery, but employs such devices of poetry as alliteration. It is difficult to write poetry in English without repeating images that are time-worn, but his achievement lies in setting down some first-rate lines that will haunt future poets, and are a measure of his talent.

Talitha mentioned that his looks made him a young Apollo, and he could not enter a room without making people flip. He flipped quite a few girls in his time, added Joe. Mathew grabbed a picture of the handsome lad from the Internet on his iPhone and showed it to the group. I think it was this:

Rupert Brooke in 1913
Brooke was part of the Bloomsbury set of Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, E.M Forster, J.M. Keynes, et al. Joe thought that informal grouping came about later, but in any event Rupert Brooke died too young to leave a legacy in that set.

Talitha pointed out the contrast between the high ode style of the first part (‘The inenarrable godhead of delight’), and the homely descriptions of the second part which begins with ‘These I have loved.’

The line ‘White plates and cups, clean-gleaming’ impelled KumKum to weigh in and tell of her delight in drinking from white cups (she does not stoop to drink from cups whose insides are any other colour). Joe inquired if there are variant versions of this poem, because he seemed to remember ‘The benison of hot water’ differently. No, Talitha was not aware of variants. She noted that a mere list can make a poem, and you could be inspired to think of other lists – but can an average poetaster come up with a single memorable line? Brooke has so many.

Talitha compared this poem to The Cataract of Lodore by Robert Southey. He creates a descriptive poem evoking the sound and feel of water flowing down to this waterfall in England. For this rather long poem, written at the insistence of his children, see:
http://allpoetry.com/poem/8480943-The_Cataract_of_Lodore-by-Robert_Southey
From its sources which well
In the tarn on the fell;
From its fountains
In the mountains,
Its rills and its gills;
Through moss and through brake,
It runs and it creeps
For a while, till it sleeps
In its own little lake.

KumKum wanted Talitha to read from Robert Southey at another reading. The correct pronunciation is "Sowthey". The poet himself complained that people in the North would call him "Mr Suthy".  Byron knew better when he rhymed Southey with "mouthy" (Don Juan, Canto 1, Stanza 205). For the reference see:


Sivaram
 T.S. Eliot
Sivaram wanted to read from T.S. Eliot whom he has idolised from his college days; at first he chose the poem Prufrock but since that was recently recited by Priya, he chose the first section, Burnt Norton, of the Four Quartets. The name is that of an abbey, and when one thinks of an abbey in English poetry, one naturally thinks of Tintern Abbey, Wordsworth’s poem. Eliot’s poem concerns death, death in life, and time, and has a mysterious aura that is difficult to place. The commentary of critics becomes denser than usual when it deals with Eliot, for instance, Marion Montgomery writes “In Burnt Norton images are touched by a reality larger than an empirical psychology or a logically-adumbrated phenomenology can explain.”

Sivaram said every line can be a quotation; of which the meaning may be wrested by the reader in several ways. That is the charm. There is an epigrammatic quality about the termination:
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

Contrast the intended profundity of this with Einstein’s simpler statement
The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once.

KumKum wanted Joe to send everyone a link to the article in The Guardian which provides a digested read of the latest volume of T.S. Eliot’s letters, so carefully preserved and edited by his wife, and erstwhile secretary, Valerie Eliot. An example was given by Joe; Eliot rejects a poem by e e cummings in a single line, and inquires:
Have you thought about taking remedial lessons in grammar and punctuation?
 T.S. Eliot by Matt Blease
You can read this and other unintended hilarity (for instance, the matter of the 12 paper-clips) in the original article at


Thommo
 Ralph Waldo Emerson
Thommo said he didn’t know Emerson as a poet before, but mainly as an essayist. He took up the poem, Concord Hymn, sung at the opening of the Concord Monument in 1836. The famous line, ‘the shot heard around the world’ comes from the battle at the Concord Bridge in the War of the American Revolution in 1775. See:
and

There is a similar monument to mark the Battle of Lexington:

but the more notable monument on Lexington Common is that of a Minuteman; Minutemen were a company of militia in Massachusetts:

 Minuteman statue on Lexington Common - The first stanza of 'Concord Hymn' is inscribed at the base of the statue made by Daniel Chester French.
Sivaram said Emerson was a philosopher and mentor to Thoreau; his quotations are really ‘fantastic.’

The identification of subject and object in the second poem by Emerson, Brahma, (‘slayer’ and ‘slain,’ ‘doubter’ and ‘doubt,’ ‘shadow’ and ‘sunlight’) was cause for Talitha  to object strenuously that she did not agree with two opposites being the same; it’s absurd. Joe responded by asking how could she disagree straightaway, for one has to understand what is being said first before agreeing or disagreeing; Joe thinks that poems like this take time to assimilate. Is Emerson saying that Brahma, the Creator, unifies in himself, or herself, all that exists in the universe, for (s)he is the originator of it all? In which case, since many opposite things exist in nature (shadow and sunlight) and all are subsumed in Brahma, they seem the same to himer. This may sound paradoxical to us, who aren’t Brahma.

Sivaram said the stanzas of this poem are similar in tenor to what Krishna says to Arjuna in the Bhagvad Gita.

Who is the ‘red slayer’ of the poem, was a question asked by several. Thommo said it could mean the Sun. If you look at notes on the Web, the explanation is that men of the Kshatriya caste, warriors, are what are described by the term ‘red slayer.’


Joe
Joseph Brodsky - Russian-born writer poet essayist

Joseph Brodsky, born 1940 as Iosif Aleksandrovich Brodsky in Leningrad received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987 when he had already made the transition to America. He started writing poetry in 1955 while holding all sorts of odd jobs. He attracted the interest of Akhmatova who encouraged him. Not one to pick a quarrel with an autocratic regime, he nevertheless earned its ire, not for criticising the regime, but because he was regarded in the Soviet system as a shirker, a parasite who did not contribute to the rigid society within its defined norms. He was denounced by another poet Bobyshev, who was jealous and competed for the love of Basmanova, a painter who was introduced to Brodsky by Akhmatova. Brodsky had a child, Andrey, by Basmanova but marriage was obstructed by the Soviet authorities.
Poem 1
There is a famous interrogation Brodsky underwent before a judge for ‘social parasitism’ in 1963:
Judge: And what is your profession, in general?
Brodsky: I am a poet and a literary translator.
Judge: Who recognizes you as a poet? Who enrolled you in the ranks of poets?
Brodsky: No one. Who enrolled me in the ranks of humankind?
Judge: Did you study this?
Brodsky: What this?
Judge: How to become a poet. You did not even try to finish high school where they prepare, where they teach?
Brodsky: I didn’t think you could get this from school.
Judge: How then?
Brodsky: I think that it ... comes from God, yes God.


For this impertinence Brodsky earned five years of internal exile to a labour camp in Archangelsk near the Arctic circle.
Poem 2
The exile was commuted after a 1965 protest by Soviet and foreign artists and writers. He was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1972 and ended up in the United States, holding various academic positions and becoming an American citizen in 1977.
Poem 3
His work is known to English-speaking people through translations from the Russian, initially by others, later by himself collaborating with translators. He turned his hand to essays and wrote poetry in the English language as well. In 1991 he was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States.

Basmanova and their son, Andrey, and his grandchildren when Andrey married, were supported by Brodsky. Brodsky married another woman in 1990 and had a daughter, Anna, by that marriage. He died in New York of a heart attack in 1996 and is buried in Venice.
Poem 4

Priya liked the first poem.

Mathew
 Ogden Nash in 1938
The delectable poet and incorrigible versifier, Ogden Nash (ON), was Mathew’s selection. We are all indebted to him, because the light poems gave us so many laughs that we would live willingly in ON’s company forever. Mathew is a lover of Wodehouse and the poem, PG Wooster, Just as he Useter, reflects the beloved author of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster. In Wodehouse’s work, Mathew observed, the author does not matter, he is invisible, for one identifies so completely with the inimitable characters he created:
Bertram Wodehouse and PG Wooster,
They are linked in my mind like Simon and Schuster.

Talitha made a witticism about the play Amadeus where Mozart as a boy gambols with a young girl, spanking her or something like that, at which Mozart concludes that ‘a spankable body is what I have to look for in a future wife.’ That was Constanze. I wish Talitha would slow down when she interjects these bubbly comments, so that they are reported accurately and not forgotten.

Talitha later clarified that the Amadeus reference was to a "smackable botty", and it was one one of her students who jokingly remarked he would use it as a fundamental criterion to identify a suitable wife! 

 Ogden Nash headstone

The opposites in a marriage are the subject of the hilarity in I Do, I Will, I Have. ON explains why marriage is more interesting than divorce:
Because it's the only known example of the happy meeting of
the immovable object and the irresistible force.

The final lines of ON’s poem were a fitting end to a hugely enjoyable session:
a little incompatibility is the spice of life,
particularly if he has income and she is pattable

How much we laughed!

 Ogden Nash stamp


Zakia
 George Gordon Lord Byron
What was our surprise to have a second demi-god introduced in this session of poetry, George Gordon Lord Byron! Spoiling the ladies’ excitement to listen, someone let on that the poet had a club-foot; no matter. He would still have worn his Greek regalia with the same swagger:


The poem selected by Zakia was She Walks in Beauty. The three stanzas of six lines each, were written out in the lovely cursive hand of Zakia. They rhyme effortlessly in iambic tetrameter, ababab. But note the inversion of the first stress in the third line:
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;

Perhaps the most memorable lines apart from the opening are these two:
One shade the more, one ray the less,
   Had half impaired the nameless grace

Sivaram said, “It’s good to read a poem like this – so pure, so passionate, so innocent.”

Exercise for the Diligent Reader
1. Add four lines to Brooke’s list after:
And oaks; and brown horse-chestnuts, glossy-new;
maintaining the meter and rhyme. See if you can avoid images poets have used in the past. Emulate Brooke's originality.

2. In the manner of Ogden Nash write a light frolic on the subject of 'diamonds.' Minimum four lines, maximum anything you please.

3. Write four lines of poetry having the opacity of T.S. Eliot on some subject, which if apparent at all, should be nugatory. Add a learned end-note, alluding to something in Greek, Latin, or Sanskrit.




Readers' Responses to the Exercises

Priya
Exercise 1- My loves Rupert Brooke
Cold beer on Joe’s verandah, fish in mustard, yellow, searing,
Poetry read aloud, and groups in laughter burbling,
The wonder of cloud computing, the magic of a baby’s world
If served with tea in a china cup, I’m altogether sold!
                                                        
Exercise 3- Diamonds (tasteless but funny) Ogden Nash
I had diamonds for lunch,
And diamonds for dinner;
I was hoping at night
I‘d dream of diamonds too,
For my dreams may come true
But, next morning I knew:
I’d fear to go to the loo!



KumKum
#1  Rupert Brooke
And that enigmatic da Vinci smile, finding myself head of a Q
Oh my precious Key, after I'd lost it for a day or two.
A cup of Darj to start my day, at the end, too.
I do love rain, Change, a tie-dye chiffon, in blue.
Of course my garden, with its scents and colorful hue! 

#2 Ogden Nash
Diamonds always come with a hefty tag.
Man gifts it to a woman, just to brag.
In its glitter diamond manages to hide
The ugly tale of its excavation and human plight.
Diamonds are touted as symbol of love, "Forever"
But it is hard, can break hearts, in splinters!


#3 T.S. Eliot
At Seventy, I have the time to assess
‘Time present and time past.’
Those bygone years, I wish
I could re-live them, differently;
Foresight would make them richer, most definitely.
The present’s fine, barring some aches and disorder,
 About the half-forgotten past, why bother?
It is the future that looks so foggy, dim, and cold,
Like an abyss  which changes to a garden of roses
A vision unlike anything I’ve glimpsed.

I’ve lived a life of managing things, all planned;
The future, which is the present, for it’s arrived,
Renders me useless, incompetent, frustrated why?
But they say: act and the door will appear! 

Bhagavad Gita Ch 3, v 5
na hi kaschit kshanamapi  jatu tisthaty akarmakrit
not for a moment can one remain without engaging in activity.




Talitha
1 Rupert Brooke
Cool tiles, barefoot, rice steeped in emerald green
Lat’rite, warm ‘n’ rusty, cold granite with its sheen,
Cobwebs, attics musty, ancient creaking stairs,
Whispers of spiders in their sinister lairs,
Night–rumpled clouds that dawn winds smooth and shake,
Stones that skitter light across a laughing lake
First rain, scent of earth; leaves that dance in spring
Old roots; upward flash bright kingfisher wing...



Joe
1 Rupert Brooke
The sinuous dance of borealis,
Your tensile tongue in copulating kiss,
A baboon’s bum that effloresces red,
The yeasty smell of artisanal bread;

2. Ogden Nash
 A girl’s best friend are diamonds
But who will make the payaments
For fancy glittering extravagance
Not I think her boy-a-friend,
Why, he can’t even pay the rent,
For sharing an apart-a-ment.
Do you suppose her sugar daddy
Will fetch the price of her eye candy?
Then diamonds’ friends are elderly,
Debauched, and active sexually.

3. T.S. Eliot
 What came first: word or rhythm?
The world’s been waiting for ages and ages
For the answer to cover these pages,
For poetry to lose its lyricism,
Be modern and elliptical,
Have the aura of being mystical,
Provoke poetic schism,
Acquire vocabulary that’s classical
To lend a sense of the spiritual
By using arcane Latinism.

Initium sancti evangelii secundum Joannem 1:1
In principio erat verbum …
The beginning of the gospel according to John 1:1
In the beginning was the word ...
 




POEMS

Priya
Two poems by Balachandran Chullickad
Stockholm in Winter
At the beginning of winter,
At dusk, O cold,
In Stockholm, at Drotningartten,
I saw Death rummaging through some woolens
At a second-hand clothing stall-
I fled in fear.

At the Reed berg Restaurant
On the table, two candles,
Two rosettes of flame
To be snuffed out by a breath

Framed on the wall,
Marilyn Monroe,
Her skirt raised by wind
A fatal beauty raped by Death.

It was then that I spotted
Strindberg's ghost and old Ingmar Bergman
Supping together at one table,
Adjacent to mine.

I asked Bergman:
Sir, why did you let decrepit Death
Roam the streets of city?
You could've trapped it neatly In a celluloid frame.

In a sepulchral tone,
Audible only to the poet and the mad,
Strindberg asked me:
Did you visit the last of my homes?
Did you see the bed I died in?
Meekly I answered:
I live in a hotel that bears your name.
I sleep in the bed where you
Breathed your last.

Strindberg said:
In the royal playhouse
Tonight my drama will be on.
Go see it ,
Stop disturbing the old and the dead.

At the royal theatre hall,
A possessed Chryster Henrickson
In the frail humane voice of the actor,
Truth as Strindberg learned,
And in vast despair,
Boom on and on.
"Man has no children,
Only woman has children.
The future is theirs
While we die childless,
O' Jesus meek and mild,
Look upon this little child."
Strindberg, you trap forty years of a disorderly life
Into a dimlit rectangle for two full hours.
I sense it throbbing. can your grip, Contain it?
I sense it's tumultuous throb.
At this darkend auditorium,
Oceans and oceans away,
I remember my wife, my son.

Strindberg asks:
Are you sure your wife belongs to you?
Are you sure you begot your son?
In reality, who owns anyone, friend ?

I rise and roar:
You're insane totally,

And I hear his guffaw from nearby.

Perhaps it wasn't laughter
Perhaps it was the Baltic Sea
Reciting its moody verse?

A breeze blew in
chilling clusters of the archipelago.
My heart is pyre,
Nearly burned out,
Warped in embers.

In a coat pierced by bullets
Death sits nearby
warming its hands.
(1997, Translated from Malayalam by Kamala Das)

Tobacco
It's at Manhattan, New York,
that I saw
the name board of a Cuban restaurant.

Seeing it, my blood growled once.
And the music there reminded me that
the equator is far far away.
Lying submerged in the ghostly violet light were
the primal forms.

Two naked dancers
entwined in a half dance.
I stuffed a dollar
in the ribbon of the thigh of one.
A wave of self-destructive tenderness
washed over me.
A seagull was roosting over my heart.
I asked a Negro boy:

"Which is the most potent drink of Cuba?"

Thousand years of exploitation.
Thousand years of fortitude.
Thousand years of struggle.
A thousand years of history.

The arid smell
of barks and green leaves,
of unsheathed words,
of algae and diesel,
of gunpowder and tobacco.

Tobacco of exploitation.
Tobacco of sufferance and fortitude.
Tobacco of struggles.
Tobacco of history.

The liquid
distilled out of primordial love
which would make
even corpses dance.
I remember nothing.
The century of liberation lies
lies buried under
the deep blanket of snow.
Yet in the deep,
words lie undecayed
harking for the call of the trumpet.
I remember nothing.
As I opened my eyes,
all I saw was
a tough Negro face
and a clear blue sky that framed it.
The face asked:
What is your name?
My name…………….

(English translation: T.K.Ramachandran)
(2004)


KumKum
Fragments from Sappho translated by Josephine Balmer
Fragment # 31
….... already old age is wrinkling my
skin and my hair is turning from black
to grey; my knees begin to tremble
and my legs no longer carry me......
oh but once, once we were like young deer
…..what can I do?

                         It is possible
to return to my youth; for even
Eos, the dawn—whose arms are roses,
who brings light to the ends of the earth –
found that old age embraced Tithonus,
her immortal lover......

…...................I know I must die...
yet I love the tenderness of life
and this and desire keep me here in
the brightness and beauty of the suns
[and not with Hades.......]

Fragment #32
…...frankly I wish that I were dead:
she was weeping as she took her leave from me

and many times she told me this:
'Oh what sadness we have suffered,
Sappho, for I'm leaving you against my will.'

So I gave this answer to her:
'Go, be happy but remember
me there, for you know how we have cherished you,

if not, then I would remind you
[of the joy we have known,] of all
the loveliness that we have shared together;

for many wreaths of violets,
of roses and of crocuses
…. you wove around yourself by my side

…...and many twisted garlands
which you had woven from the blooms
of flowers, you placed around your slender neck

….. and you were anointed with
a perfume, scented with blossom,
….. although it was fit for a queen

and on a bed, soft and tender
…. you satisfied your desire … . '

Fragment # 75
I have a beautiful daughter, golden
like a flower, my beloved Cleis,
for her, in her place, I would not accept
the whole of Lydia, nor lovely......

Fragment #7
[From our love]
I want neither
the sweetness of honey
nor the sting of the bees.

Fragment # 10
I do not have a spiteful temper
but a tender heart.

Fragment #11
Beautiful women,
my feeling for you
will never falter.


Talitha
The Great Lover by Rupert Brooke 
I have been so great a lover: filled my days
So proudly with the splendour of Love's praise,
The pain, the calm, and the astonishment,
Desire illimitable, and still content,
And all dear names men use, to cheat despair,
For the perplexed and viewless streams that bear
Our hearts at random down the dark of life.
Now, ere the unthinking silence on that strife
Steals down, I would cheat drowsy Death so far,
My night shall be remembered for a star
That outshone all the suns of all men's days.
Shall I not crown them with immortal praise
Whom I have loved, who have given me, dared with me
High secrets, and in darkness knelt to see
The inenarrable godhead of delight?
Love is a flame:--we have beaconed the world's night.
A city:--and we have built it, these and I.
An emperor:--we have taught the world to die.
So, for their sakes I loved, ere I go hence,
And the high cause of Love's magnificence,
And to keep loyalties young, I'll write those names
Golden for ever, eagles, crying flames,
And set them as a banner, that men may know,
To dare the generations, burn, and blow
Out on the wind of Time, shining and streaming . . . .

These I have loved:
                    White plates and cups, clean-gleaming,
Ringed with blue lines; and feathery, faery dust;
Wet roofs, beneath the lamp-light; the strong crust
Of friendly bread; and many-tasting food;
Rainbows; and the blue bitter smoke of wood;
And radiant raindrops couching in cool flowers;
And flowers themselves, that sway through sunny hours,
Dreaming of moths that drink them under the moon;
Then, the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon
Smooth away trouble; and the rough male kiss
Of blankets; grainy wood; live hair that is
Shining and free; blue-massing clouds; the keen
Unpassioned beauty of a great machine;
The benison of hot water; furs to touch;
The good smell of old clothes; and other such--
The comfortable smell of friendly fingers,
Hair's fragrance, and the musty reek that lingers
About dead leaves and last year's ferns. . . .

Dear names,
And thousand other throng to me! Royal flames;
Sweet water's dimpling laugh from tap or spring;
Holes in the ground; and voices that do sing;
Voices in laughter, too; and body's pain,
Soon turned to peace; and the deep-panting train;
Firm sands; the little dulling edge of foam
That browns and dwindles as the wave goes home;
And washen stones, gay for an hour; the cold
Graveness of iron; moist black earthen mould;
Sleep; and high places; footprints in the dew;
And oaks; and brown horse-chestnuts, glossy-new;
And new-peeled sticks; and shining pools on grass;--
All these have been my loves. And these shall pass,
Whatever passes not, in the great hour,
Nor all my passion, all my prayers, have power
To hold them with me through the gate of Death.
They'll play deserter, turn with the traitor breath,
Break the high bond we made, and sell Love's trust
And sacramented covenant to the dust.
----Oh, never a doubt but, somewhere, I shall wake,
And give what's left of love again, and make
New friends, now strangers. . . .
                                          But the best I've known
Stays here, and changes, breaks, grows old, is blown
About the winds of the world, and fades from brains
Of living men, and dies.
                                          Nothing remains.

O dear my loves, O faithless, once again
This one last gift I give: that after men
Shall know, and later lovers, far-removed,
Praise you, 'All these were lovely'; say, 'He loved.'
(Mataiea, 1914)

DEATH OF RUPERT BROOKE by Colin Ian Jeffery
 (Soldier poet, died 23rd April 1915, aged 27)

Now he lies silent
And no more shall know
Cream teas on manicured lawns
Flirting young women
And flow of poetic imagery.

That rich dust which England shaped
Made aware of her peoples pride
Now dwells grave deep
Far from his beloved country's shores
Upon the Isle of Skyros under a marble slab.


Sivaram
BURNT NORTON (No. 1 of 'Four Quartets') by T.S. Eliot
I
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. Through the first gate,
Into our first world, shall we follow
The deception of the thrush? Into our first world.
There they were, dignified, invisible,
Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,
In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air,
And the bird called, in response to
The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,
And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.
There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.
So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.


Thommo
Two Poems By Ralph Waldo Emerson
Concord Hymn
Sung at the Completion of the Battle Monument, July 4, 1837

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
   Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
   And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
   Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
   Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
   We set today a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
   When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
   To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
   The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Brahma
If the red slayer think he slays,
      Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
      I keep, and pass, and turn again.

Far or forgot to me is near;
      Shadow and sunlight are the same;
The vanished gods to me appear;
      And one to me are shame and fame.

They reckon ill who leave me out;
      When me they fly, I am the wings;
I am the doubter and the doubt,
      I am the hymn the Brahmin sings.

The strong gods pine for my abode,
      And pine in vain the sacred Seven;
But thou, meek lover of the good!
      Find me, and turn thy back on heaven.


Joe
Four poems by Joseph Brodsky
Poem 1
On Washerwoman Bridge, where you and I
stood like two hands of a midnight clock
embracing, soon to part, not for a day
but for all days – this morning on our bridge
a narcissistic fisherman,
forgetting his cork float, stares goggle-eyed
at his unsteady river image.
So let him gaze
into our waters, calmly, at himself,
and even come to know himself.  The river
is his by right today.  It's like a house
in which new tenants have set up a mirror
but have not yet moved in.

Poem 2
I was born and grew up in the Baltic marshland
by zinc-gray breakers that always marched on
in twos. Hence all rhymes, hence that wan flat voice
that ripples between them like hair still moist,
if it ripples at all. Propped on a pallid elbow,
the helix picks out of them no sea rumble
but a clap of canvas, of shutters, of hands, a kettle
on the burner, boiling - lastly, the seagull's metal
cry. What keeps hearts from falseness in this flat region
is that there is nowhere to hide and plenty of room for vision.
Only sounds needs echo and dreads its lack.
A glance is accustomed to no glance back.

Poem 3
Not that I am losing my grip: I am just tired of summer.
Your reach for a shirt in a drawer and the day is wasted.
If only winter were here for snow to smother
all these streets, these humans; but first, the blasted
green. I would sleep in my clothes or just pluck a borrowed
book, while what's left of the year's slack rhythm,
like a dog abandoning its blind owner,
crosses the road at the usual zebra. Freedom
is when you forget the spelling of the tyrant's name
and your mouth's saliva is sweeter than Persian pie,
and though your brain is wrung tight as the horn of a ram
nothing drops from your pale-blue eye.

Poem 4
A Song
I wish you were here, dear, I wish you were here.
I wish you sat on the sofa
and I sat near.
the handkerchief could be yours,
the tear could be mine, chin-bound.
Though it could be, of course,
the other way around.

I wish you were here, dear,
I wish you were here.
I wish we were in my car,
and you'd shift the gear.
we'd find ourselves elsewhere,
on an unknown shore.
Or else we'd repair
To where we've been before.

I wish you were here, dear,
I wish you were here.
I wish I knew no astronomy
when stars appear,
when the moon skims the water
that sighs and shifts in its slumber.
I wish it were still a quarter
to dial your number.

I wish you were here, dear,
in this hemisphere,
as I sit on the porch
sipping a beer.
It's evening, the sun is setting;
boys shout and gulls are crying.
What's the point of forgetting
If it's followed by dying?


Mathew
Four poems by Ogden Nash
PG Wooster, Just as he Useter
Bound to your bookseller, leap to your library,
Deluge your dealer with bakshish and bribary,
Lean on the counter and never say when,
Wodehouse and Wooster are with us again.

Flourish the fish-slice, your buttons unloosing,
Prepare for the fabulous browsing and sluicing,
And quote, till you're known as the neighborhood nuisance,
The gems that illumine the browsance and sluicance.

Oh, fondle each gem, and after you quote it,
Kindly inform me just who wrote it.

Which came first, the egg or the rooster?
P.G.Wodehouse or Bertram Wooster?
I know hawk from handsaw, and Finn from Fiji,
But I can't disentangle Bertram from PG.

I inquire in the school room, I ask in the road house,
Did Wodehouse write Wooster, or Wooster Wodehouse?
Bertram Wodehouse and PG Wooster,
They are linked in my mind like Simon and Schuster.

No matter which fumbled in '41,
Or which the woebegone figure of fun.
I deduce how the faux pas came about,
It was clearly Jeeves's afternoon out.

Now Jeeves is back, and my cheeks are crumply
From watching him glide through Steeple Bumpleigh.

I Didn't Go To Church Today
I didn't go to church today,
I trust the Lord to understand.
The surf was swirling blue and white,
The children swirling on the sand.
He knows, He knows how brief my stay,
How brief this spell of summer weather,
He knows when I am said and done
We'll have plenty of time together.

Lines To Be Embroidered On A Bib
OR
The Child Is Father Of The Man, But Not For Quite A While

So Thomas Edison
Never drank his medicine;
So Blackstone and Hoyle
Refused cod-liver oil;
So Sir Thomas Malory
Never heard of a calory;
So the Earl of Lennox
Murdered Rizzio without the aid of vitamins or calisthenox;
So Socrates and Plato
Ate dessert without finishing their potato;
So spinach was too spinachy
For Leonardo da Vinaci;
Well, it's all immaterial,
So eat your nice cereal,
And if you want to name your ration,
First go get a reputation.

I Do, I Will, I Have
How wise I am to have instructed the butler
to instruct the first footman to instruct the second
footman to instruct the doorman to order my carriage;
I am about to volunteer a definition of marriage.
Just as I know that there are two Hagens, Walter and Copen,
I know that marriage is a legal and religious alliance entered
into by a man who can't sleep with the window shut and a
woman who can't sleep with the window open.
Moreover, just as I am unsure of the difference between
flora and fauna and flotsam and jetsam,
I am quite sure that marriage is the alliance of two people
one of whom never remembers birthdays and the other
never forgetsam,
And he refuses to believe there is a leak in the water pipe or
the gas pipe and she is convinced she is about to asphyxiate
or drown,
And she says Quick get up and get my hairbrushes off the
windowsill, it's raining in, and he replies Oh they're all right,

it's only raining straight down.
That is why marriage is so much more interesting than divorce,
Because it's the only known example of the happy meeting of
the immovable object and the irresistible force.
So I hope husbands and wives will continue to debate and
combat over everything debatable and combatable,
Because I believe a little incompatibility is the spice of life,
particularly if he has income and she is pattable.


Zakia
She Walks in Beauty By Lord Byron (George Gordon)
She walks in beauty, like the night
   Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
   Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
   Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
   Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
   Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
   How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
   So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
   But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
   A heart whose love is innocent!

6 comments:

Priya said...

Joe,
The date in the note on Rupert Brooke has inadvertently gone as 18887. Also Burnt Norton has gone as Vurnt Norton. This is all I could find in the super write up.
Priya

Shipra said...

This time the assignment is too difficult for me. Hence, I lose my "diligent" status.
KumKum

Management - Learning from Experiences by Reflection said...

Well, dear KumKum, do one assignment out of the three then.

The simplest is the first to add 4 items = 4 lines to Rupert Brooke's list of things he loves. You just have to observe he is writing couplets in iambic pentameter, that is each pair of lines is rhymed, and the beat goes
da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM
(5 beats, each called an iamb consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable) as in

Un pass | ioned-beau | ty-of | a-great | ma-chine

The second syllable of the pair within vertical lines is the accented syllable. So that's iambic pentameter, simple, the most widely used meter in English poetry. But Brooke is not a stickler for preserving the meter unbroken, and indeed few poets are, for it can get monotonous. So they occasionally put the stress on the first syllable of a line, etc.

Write four lines, rhymed in pairs, of 10 syllables each, and the heck with the beats, if you can't get them exactly.

In any event the major emphasis of Brooke is on originality of images, and joining of adjectives and nouns in unusual combinations, e.g. 'rough, male kiss of blankets.' So that much is enough.

- joe

Anonymous said...

Cool tiles, barefoot, rice steeped in emerald green
Lat’rite, warm ‘n’ rusty, cold granite with its sheen,
Cobwebs, attics musty, ancient creaking stairs,
Whispers of spiders in their sinister lairs,
Night –rumpled clouds that dawn winds smooth and shake,
Stones that skitter light across a laughing lake
First rain, scent of earth; leaves that dance in spring
Old roots; upward flash - bright kingfisher wing...


Talitha

Anonymous said...

By the way, Joe, The Amadeus reference was to a "smackable botty", which one of my students jokingly said he would use as a guide to identifying a suitable wife!

- Talitha

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Talitha for clarifying that the Amadeus reference was to a "smackable botty" for prospective wives. And did the student say he would use it as a fundamental criterion for identifying a suitable wife? My, the things teachers pass on to their students ...

- Joe