Thursday, 25 August 2016

Poetry Session — August 5, 2016

Present: Priya, Thommo, Saraswathy, Zakia
Virtual Readers: Joe Cleetus, KumKum Cleetus
Guest: Shehnaz

The session opened with Joe’s sonorous reading of poems by Christopher Marlowe. He had selected poems from different works of the playwright and poet and the listeners were treated to an excellent choice that made them laugh and delight in the master’s works, so much so that Thommo remarked that Joe seemed to be enjoying himself thoroughly in faraway California. The remark was because of Joe’s choice of the poem where the poet enjoys an amorous afternoon.
I clinged her naked body, down she fell, 
Judge you the rest: being tired she bad me kiss, 
Jove send me more such afternoons as this

KumKum’s recorded poems were heard next. She read Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. The work Everyone should have an abandoned Garden ...was relished by the members. 

Poems read in absentia felt more poignant and the virtual voices invited  keener listening and created a heightened atmosphere. Of course, live renditions cannot be replicated but virtual recordings caught members' attention strongly. Her final poem on the Garden of Eden drew a wry comment from Thommo, who said that all hell broke loose in the Garden of Eden that we know of!

The dropbox feature was tried at the reading and succeeded to a great extent in rendering the session paperless. This was discussed but everyone realised that a greater degree of familiarisation is needed.

Saras read Margaret Atwood’s poems, remarking that she was a difficult author to read. Her poems too were quite dark. She chose You Begin because of the images of the poet playing with toys with her daughter. Moving In The Burnt House, the other poem, had very stark imagery. The members recalled the reading of her novel The Blind Assassin and of the many twists and turns in the novel, which made ti almost almost like a Hindi TV serial. Saras mentioned that Atwood was the poet laureate of Canada.

Thommo said that he had been extremely tied up with the deadline for editing a book and hence could not devote much time to selecting and researching a poet. He read two poems - Atlantis - A Lost Sonnet by Eavan Boland and Litany by Billy Collins, an American poet laureate. 

Atlantis was discussed with reference to other cities that have disappeared in time, like El Dorado and Dwaraka. Thommo said Atlantis was the myth of nostalgia. He had been to the present town of Dwaraka on his road trip across India in a Tata Nano at the western tip of India. Saras narrated in brief the mythological story of the disappearance of Dwaraka, for Zakia and Shehnaz wished to know  the historical references.

Zakia read Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle Into The Good Night, a popular poem with members which has been read several times before.  Please consult the List of earlier poems read, which is on our website when selecting.

Priya read American poet and Pulitzer winner Conrad Aiken. She chose the poet as his birthday fell on the day of the reading, August 5. 

Though she chose Aiken on a happy coincidence, she was happy to have chanced upon a contemporary of Eliot and Ezra Pound. She told the members about his life history with a horrific childhood incident that never overtly came across in the poems, but can be discerned in subtle psychological interpretations. 

She read - Chance Meetings, All Things Lovely and Music I Heard; the latter has been set to music by a number of composers including Leonard Bernstein and Henry Cowell.  

Priya felt that the poems had the laboured feel of a Romantic/Victorian strain, unusual for a poet writing in the 20th century. Here is an example: 
Come back, true love! Sweet youth,
But goldenrod and daisies wither,
And over them blows autumn rain,
They pass, they pass, and know not whither.

The reading ended with all the five readers agreeing that the session, though poorly attended, was a fine evening at which Literature was the winner once again. 

Priya felt that it all turns on a few like-minded members making that extra effort so that the group, though of little note in the present-day commercial world, is kept going and enriches the lives of the members.

The Poems 

Joe — Christopher Marlowe

A portrait discovered at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge in 1952 that is purportedly of Christopher Marlowe

To listen to this segment in Joe's recorded voice click here.

A much anthologized poem of Marlowe’s, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love was recited by me in March 2011. At this session I want to take up more of Marlowe’s poetic and dramatic work.

Like Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe was born of humble parents, and went to grammar schools. He was brilliant, won a scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, got his BA and displayed the bold tendencies that later developed. He did afree translation in couplets of  Ovid’s Amores concerning the delights of illicit love. Marlowe wrote many plays. Tamburlaine, The Jew of Malta and Doctor Faustus are the most prominent. Shakespeare knew Marlowe’s work well and his plays contain many references to Marlowe, e.g. ‘Come live with me and be my love’ which is the opening of Marlowe’s famous poem The Passionate Shepherd to His Love occurs exactly in The Merry Wives of Windsor by Shakespeare. There are many parallels in their lives. Both were humbly born in 1564. They attended good grammar schools where the curriculum was primarily: Latin, literature, rhetoric and oratory. Like Shakespeare Marlowe started early in the theatre, but directly as a dramatist. 

Recent scholarship by the editors of the New Oxford Shakespeare has established by text analysis with the aid of computers that Marlowe co-wrote Henry VI, Parts One, Two and Three. “We can now be confident that they didn’t just influence each other, but they worked with each other. Rivals sometimes collaborate,” said Gary Taylor of Florida State University, one of the four general editors. See

He took his BA at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. While there Marlowe translated Ovid into rhyming couplets using the diction and rhythms of common speech:
In summer’s heat and mid­time of the day 
To rest my limbs upon a bed I lay, 
One window shut, the other open stood, 
Which gave such light as twinkles in a wood, 
Like twilight glimpse at setting of the sun 
Or night being past, and yet not day begun. 
Such light to shamefaced maidens must be shown, 
Where they may sport, and seem to be unknown. 
Then came Corinna in a long loose gown, 
Her white neck hid with tresses hanging down: 
Resembling fair Semiramis going to bed 
Or Laïs of a thousand wooers sped. I snatched her gown, being thin, the harm was small, 
Yet strived she to be covered therewithal. 
And striving thus as one that would be cast, 
Betrayed herself, and yielded at the last. 
Stark naked as she stood before mine eye, 
Not one wen in her body could I spy. 

What arms and shoulders did I touch and see, 
How apt her breasts were to be pressed by me? 
How smooth a belly under her waist saw I? 
How large a leg, and what a lusty thigh? 
To leave the rest, all liked me passing well, 
I clinged her naked body, down she fell, 
Judge you the rest: being tired she bad me kiss, 
Jove send me more such afternoons as this. 

Marlowe travelled abroad apparently on missions for the queen. His first Play, Dido, Queen of Carthage, may have been written around the time he was absconding from Cambridge although registered for the MA. His first great public success was Tamburlaine the Great written after he left Cambridge at the age of 23. He had a violent streak in him and killed a man called Bradley in a fight by stabbing him. Marlowe had several other violent encounters in London, all recorded. 

Marlowe indeed could take flight in rhetoric. Here he is in Tamburlaine Part 2, Act II, Scene VII, lines 21­29:
Our souls, whose faculties can comprehend
The wondrous architecture of the world,
And measure every wandering planet's course,
Still climbing after knowledge infinite,
And always moving as the restless spheres,
Will us to wear ourselves, and never rest,
Until we reach the ripest fruit of all,
That perfect bliss and sole felicity,
The sweet fruition of an earthly crown.

Marlowe could write verse of great beauty too:
With milk­-white harts upon an ivory sled
Thou shalt be drawn amidst the frozen pools, 
And scale the icy mountains' lofty tops,
Which with thy beauty will be soon resolv'd: 
[Tamburlaine Part One, Act I, Scene II, lines 98­101]

Here is a speech from Doctor Faustus written by a self-professed atheist. It shows that Marlowe whatever his personal beliefs, could transcend with his imagination and inhabit  the mind of a religious person:
FAUSTUS: Ah, Faustus.
Now hast thou but one bare hour to live,
And then thou must be damn'd perpetually!
Stand still, you ever­moving spheres of heaven,
That time may cease, and midnight never come;
Fair Nature's eye, rise, rise again, and make
Perpetual day; or let this hour be but
A year, a month, a week, a natural day,
That Faustus may repent and save his soul!
O lente, lente currite, noctis equi!
The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike,
The devil will come, and Faustus must be damn'd.
O, I'll leap up to my God!­­ —Who pulls me down?­­—
See, see, where Christ's blood streams in the firmament!
One drop would save my soul, half a drop: ah, my Christ!­­—
Ah, rend not my heart for naming of my Christ!

[O lente, lente currite, noctis equi!  is a lover’s plea that the night’s horses will delay the coming of the dawn.]

Hero and Leander tells the two lovers’ story only up to the point they consummate their passion. He probably wanted to take it further but death intervened. It also has passages that speak of the desire of man for man. Here is a passage depicting homoerotic love as Neptune the sea-­god envelops the naked limbs of Leander when he swims the Hellespont:
He watched his arms and, as they opened wide
At every stroke, betwixt them would he slide
And steal a kiss, and then run out and dance,
And, as he turned, cast many a lustful glance,
And threw him gaudy toys to please his eye,
And dive into the water, and there pry
Upon his breast, his thighs, and every limb,
And up again, and close beside him swim,
And talk of love.Leander made reply,
"You are deceived; I am no woman, I."

Two much quoted lines about spontaneous love come from this poem:
Where both deliberate, the love is slight: 
Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?

One fateful day Marlowe went for lunch with others and after the meal there was a dispute as to who should pay the bill. Marlowe struck first but Frizer, his opponent, wrenched the dagger from Marlowe and gave him a deep wound over his right eye. Marlowe died instantly. And thus came the inglorious end of a dramatist and poet whose few works that survive have such merit, that many think he would have been a worthy rival to Shakespeare had he not died before he was 30.

Thomas Nashe called him ‘one of the wittiest knaves that ever God made.’

KumKum — poems by Yehudi Amichai

To listen to this segment in KumKum's recorded voice click here.

I will be reading 4 poems by the Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai, who lived from 1924 to 2000. He was born in Germany. In 1935, he and his parents migrated to Pales
tine. He spent the rest of his life in Israel. Amichai is considered one of Israel's important poets. He wrote only in colloquial Hebrew, thus, starting a movement to popularize the ordinary spoken language of the common man. 

CJ Mathew, one of KRG's star members, introduced us to Amichai when he read some of his poems, two years ago.   The poems I chose are gleaned from the collection The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai by Yehuda Amichai (Author), Robert Alter (Editor). It is a thick volume, and most of the poems are translated by Robert Alter himself, and some are by other famous poets, such as Ted Hughes.   

Poem # 1 
Everyone Needs an Abandoned Garden in His Life
Everyone needs an abandoned garden in his life 
or and old house with peeling walls, 
everyone needs another forgotten world. 

People look with great longing 
at a landscape and name it with body parts: 
back of the mountain, foot of the mountain, shoulder of the mountain. 
Men of war, too, designate targets for heavy fire 
with gentle words: 
the nipple, the hollow, the crotch, the meeting point. 

For everyone needs an abandoned garden in his life 
(Adam and Eve knew everyone needs such a garden) 
or an old house, 
or at least one locked door 
that will never open again. 
(translated by Robert Alter)

Poem #2 
# 62 (among Amichai's numbered poems) 
Departure from a place where you had no love 
includes the pain of all that did not happen 
together with the longing for what will happen after you leave. 

On my last evening I saw on the floor 
of the balcony across the street 
a small and exact square of light 
bearing witness to great emotions 
which have no limits. 

And when I went early in the gray morning to the railway station 
many people were passing me 
carrying lists of wonderful strange names 
which I'll never come to know, 
postmen, tax collectors, municipal clerks 
and others. Perhaps angels. 
(translated by Amichai with Ted Hughes) 

Poem #3 
Sorrow and Joy
Sorrow and joy alternating 
like water and vapor and ice, 
sorrow and joy from the same substance. 
We knew. 

Love and unlove, two colors 
in a single rose, it's wonderful, 
an achievement of the rose's cultivator 
whose name stays with the rose. 

Many years later we met again 
without pain, each of us with our own tranquility. 
That was the Garden of Eden 
but it was also hell. 
(translated by Robert Alter) 

Poem #4 
# 48 (among Amichai's numbered poems) 
There came upon me a terrible longing 
like people in an old photograph 
who want to be back among the others 
who are looking at them 
in the good light of a lamp. 

Here in this house I think 
how love has turned into friendship 
in the chemistry of our life. 
I think about friendship which clams us for death 
and how our lives are like single threads 
without any hope of being rewoven 
into another cloth. 

Out of the desert 
come muffled sounds, 
dust prophesies dust, and airplane 
fastens above our heads 
the zipper of a huge bag of fate. 

And the memory of a girl I once loved 
moves along the valley tonight, like buses —
many lighted windows passing, many her faces. 
(translated by Amichai with Ted Hughes) 

Atlantis—A  Lost Sonnet          

How on earth did it happen, I used to wonder
that a whole city—arches, pillars, colonnades,
not to mention vehicles and animals—had all
one fine day gone under?

I mean, I said to myself, the world was small then.
Surely a great city must have been missed?
I miss our old city —

white pepper, white pudding, you and I meeting
under fanlights and low skies to go home in it. Maybe
what really happened is

this: the old fable-makers searched hard for a word
to convey that what is gone is gone forever and
never found it. And so, in the best traditions of
where we come from, they gave their sorrow a name
and drowned it.
(Eavan Boland, 1944)


You are the bread and the knife
The crystal goblet and the wine. 
He proceeds in this way, adding:

You are the dew on the morning grass

and the burning wheel of the sun.
However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter, 
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of the rain on the roof.
But don’t worry, I’m not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and — somehow — the wine.
(Billy Collins)

Priya — poems of Conrad Aiken (1889-1973)

All Lovely Things
ALL lovely things will have an ending, 
All lovely things will fade and die, 
And youth, that's now so bravely spending, 
Will beg a penny by and by. 
Fine ladies soon are all forgotten, 
And goldenrod is dust when dead, 
The sweetest flesh and flowers are rotten 
And cobwebs tent the brightest head. 
Come back, true love! Sweet youth, return!— 
But time goes on, and will, unheeding, 
Though hands will reach, and eyes will yearn, 
And the wild days set true hearts bleeding. 
Come back, true love! Sweet youth, remain!—
But goldenrod and daisies wither, 
And over them blows autumn rain, 
They pass, they pass, and know not whither. 

Chance Meetings
IN the mazes of loitering people, the watchful and furtive,
The shadows of tree-trunks and shadows of leaves,
In the drowse of the sunlight, among the low voices,
I suddenly face you,

Your dark eyes return for a space from her who is with you,
They shine into mine with a sunlit desire,
They say an 'I love you, what star do you live on?'
They smile and then darken,

And silent, I answer 'You too--I have known you,--I love you!--'
And the shadows of tree-trunks and shadows of leaves
Interlace with low voices and footsteps and sunlight
To divide us forever.

Saras — poems of Margaret Atwood

Morning in the Burned House 
In the burned house I am eating breakfast. 
You understand: there is no house, there is no breakfast, 
yet here I am. 

The spoon which was melted scrapes against  
the bowl which was melted also. 

No one else is around. 

Where have they gone to, brother and sister, 
mother and father? Off along the shore, 
Their clothes are still on the hangers, 

their dishes piled beside the sink, 
which is beside the woodstove 
with its grate and sooty kettle, 
every detail clear, 
tin cup and rippled mirror. 

The day is bright and songless, 

the lake is blue, the forest watchful. 

In the east a bank of cloud  
rises up silently like dark bread. 

I can see the swirls in the oilcloth, 
I can see the flaws in the glass, 
those flares where the sun hits them. 

I can't see my own arms and legs 
or know if this is a trap or blessing, 
finding myself back here, where everything 

in this house has long been over, 
kettle and mirror, spoon and bowl, 
including my own body, 

including the body I had then, 
including the body I have now 
as I sit at this morning table, alone and happy, 

bare child's feet on the scorched floorboards 
(I can almost see) 
in my burning clothes, the thin green shorts 

and grubby yellow T-shirt 
holding my cindery, non-existent, 
radiant flesh. 

You Begin
You begin this way: 
this is your hand, 
this is your eye, 
this is a fish, blue and flat 
on the paper, almost 
the shape of an eye 
This is your mouth, this is an O 
or a moon, whichever 
you like. 
 This is yellow. 

Outside the window 
is the rain, green 
because it is summer, and beyond that 
the trees and then the world, 
which is round and has only 
the colors of these nine crayons. 

This is the world, which is fuller 
and more difficult to learn than I have said. 

You are right to smudge it that way 
with the red and then 
the orange: the world burns. 

Once you have learned these words 
you will learn that there are more 
words than you can ever learn. 

The word hand floats above your hand 
like a small cloud over a lake. 
The word hand anchors 
your hand to this table 
your hand is a warm stone 
I hold between two words. 

This is your hand, these are my hands, this is the world, 
which is round but not flat and has more colors 
than we can see. 

It begins, it has an end, 
this is what you will 
come back to, this is your hand.

Zakia — poem of Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night, 
Old age should burn and rave at close of day; 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

Though wise men at their end know dark is right, 
Because their words had forked no lightning they 
Do not go gentle into that good night. 

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright 
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, 
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, 
Do not go gentle into that good night. 

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight 
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

And you, my father, there on that sad height, 
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. 
Do not go gentle into that good night. 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Gopa — poem by Denise Levertov (1923-1997)

In California During the Gulf War  
Among the blight-killed eucalypts, among 
trees and bushes rusted by Christmas frosts, 
the yards and hillsides exhausted by five years of drought, 
certain airy white blossoms punctually
reappeared, and dense clusters of pale pink, dark pink —
a delicate abundance. They seemed 
like guests arriving joyfully on the accustomed 
festival day, unaware of the year’s events, not perceiving 
the sackcloth others were wearing. 

To some of us, the dejected landscape consorted well 
with our shame and bitterness. Skies ever-blue, 
daily sunshine, disgusted us like smile-buttons. 
Yet the blossoms, clinging to thin branches 
more lightly than birds alert for flight, 
lifted the sunken heart 
even against its will. But not 
as symbols of hope: they were flimsy 
as our resistance to the crimes committed 
— again, again — in our name; and yes, they return, 
year after year, and yes, they briefly shone with serene joy 
over against the dark glare 
of evil days. They are, and their presence 
is quietness ineffable — and the bombings are, were, 
no doubt will be; that quiet, that huge cacophony 
simultaneous. No promise was being accorded, the blossoms 
were not doves, there was no rainbow. And when it was claimed 
the war had ended, it had not ended.

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