Sunday, May 21, 2006

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Too Alone

Rainer Maria Rilke

Listen (to Pavi read)

I'm too alone in the world, yet not alone enough
to make each hour holy
I'm too small in the world, yet not small enough
to be simply in your presence, like a thing---
just as it is.

(this, the poem that fell out when I opened the book after getting
home. an unconscious echo of this evening's thoughts- spoken and un.
this moment is holy. we see things not as they but we are- even, and
maybe especially- ourselves. rilke's self-reflexive twist)

I want to know my own will
and to move with it.
And I want, in the hushed moments
when the nameless draws near,
to be among the wise ones---
or alone.

I want to unfold.
Let no place in me hold itself closed,
for where I am closed, I am false.
I want to stay clear in your sight.

I would describe myself like a landscape I've studied
at length, in detail;
like a word I'm coming to understand;
like a pitcher I pour from at mealtimes;

like my mother's face;
like a ship that carried me
when the waters raged.

- From Rilke's Book Of Hours translated by Anita Barrows & Joanna Macy

The german original,

Ich bin auf der Welt zu allein und doch nicht allein genug

Ich bin auf der Welt zu allein und doch nicht allein genug,
um jede Stunde zu weihn.
Ich bin auf der Welt zu gering und doch nicht klein genug,
um vor dir zu sein wie ein Ding,
dunkel und klug.

Ich will dich immer spiegeln in ganzer Gestalt,
und will niemals blind sein oder zu alt,
um dein schweres, schwankendes Bild zu halten.
Ich will mich entfalten.

Nirgends will ich gebogen bleiben;
denn dort bin ich gelogen, wo ich gebogen bin.
Und ich will meinen Sinn wahr vor dir ...

This comes from a deeply spiritual collection of poems by Rilke. The “Book of Hours: Love Poems to God” (– his version of love mysticism perhaps?) [2].

Rilke’s choice of themes and his precision in expressing them make themes that are often neglected in poetry (and prose) outshine more dramatic subjects and ornate writing.

“... as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose. Don't write love poems; … rescue yourself from these general themes and write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty - describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember. If your everyday life seems poor, don't blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place. … - And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not." [3]

Welcome Pavi! [4]


[1] Anaïs Nin puts it as, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

[2] As in Sufi poetry - God becomes the beloved. And there is no Without – God cannot exist without you and you cannot without God . A snippet from another poem in the collection,

What will you do, God, when I die?
I am your pitcher (when I shatter?)
I am your drink (when I go bitter?)
I, your garment; I, your craft.
Without me what reason have you?

...What will you do, God? I am afraid.

[3] Letter 1, from Letters To A Young Poet

[4] One more added to the list of people who will kill for poetry – this month has been good - Hatshepsut, Pavi ... : ) Look forward to their contributions (and their own insightful commentary) in the future…

Pavi, my fellow Rilke-lover – in our very first conversation she enlightened me on the importance of precision in poetry. On the difficulty in choosing the right words/expressions in poetry. Many words can express the same physical object, but each of them can trigger a distinct emotion(al memory). And a poem works or fails based on its ability to awaken that precise emotion. What better way to introduce her, than with a Rilke recording :)

Dear Contributors, do keep sending in your lovely selection of recordings, we love being challenged, surprised and tickled by your contributions.

[5] The other Rilke we ran – You Who Never Arrived

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Eyes and Tears

Andrew Marvell


How wisely Nature did decree,
With the same Eyes to weep and see!
That, having view'd the object vain,
They might be ready to complain.

And since the Self-deluding Sight,
In a false Angle takes each hight;
These Tears which better measure all,
Like wat'ry Lines and Plummets fall.

Two Tears, which Sorrow long did weigh
Within the Scales of either Eye,
And then paid out in equal Poise,
Are the true price of all my Joyes.

What in the World most fair appears,
Yea even Laughter, turns to Tears:
And all the Jewels which we prize,
Melt in these Pendants of the Eyes.

I have through every Garden been,
Amongst the Red,the White, the Green;
And yet, from all the flow'rs I saw,
No Hony, but these Tears could draw.

So the all-seeing Sun each day
Distills the World with Chymick Ray;
But finds the Essence only Showers,
Which straight in pity back he powers.

Yet happy they whom Grief doth bless,
That weep the more, and see the less:
And, to preserve their Sight more true,
Bath still their Eyes in their own Dew.

So Magdalen, in Tears more wise
Dissolv'd those captivating Eyes,
Whose liquid Chains could flowing meet
To fetter her Redeemers feet.

Not full sailes hasting loaden home,
Nor the chast Ladies pregnant Womb,
Nor Cynthia Teeming show's so fair,
As two Eyes swoln with weeping are.

The sparkling Glance that shoots Desire,
Drench'd in these Waves, does lose it fire.
Yea oft the Thund'rer pitty takes
And here the hissing Lightning slakes.

The Incense was to Heaven dear,
Not as a Perfume, but a Tear.
And Stars shew lovely in the Night,
But as they seem the Tears of Light.

Ope then mine Eyes your double Sluice,
And practise so your noblest Use.
For others too can see, or sleep;
But only humane Eyes can weep.

Now like two Clouds dissolving, drop,
And at each Tear in distance stop:
Now like two Fountains trickle down:
Now like two floods o'return and drown.

Thus let your Streams o'reflow your Springs,
Till Eyes and Tears be the same things:
And each the other's difference bears;
These weeping Eyes, those seeing Tears.

After that stinging rejoinder to his last poem, I figured Marvell would want a good cry.

This is Marvell at his baroque best, each quatrain an intricate and polished gem - a new image or metaphor introduced, expanded and then beautifully closed out, and through it all the constant counterpoint of eyes and tears, ending with that glorious final line. This isn't, to me, a particularly moving poem in an emotional sense - I'm more apt to laugh out loud at the cleverness of the verses than to feel any real empathy for Marvell - but it's a sparklingly brilliant one.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

His Coy Mistress to Mr. Marvell

A.D. Hope

Listen(to Hatshepsut read)

Since you have world enough and time
Sir, to admonish me in rhyme,
Pray Mr Marvell, can it be
You think to have persuaded me?
Then let me say: you want the art
To woo, much less to win my heart.
The verse was splendid, all admit,
And, sir, you have a pretty wit.
All that indeed your poem lacked
Was logic, modesty, and tact,
Slight faults and ones to which I own,
Your sex is generally prone;
But though you lose your labour, I
Shall not refuse you a reply:

First, for the language you employ:
A term I deprecate is "coy";
The ill-bred miss, the bird-brained Jill,
May simper and be coy at will;
A lady, sir, as you will find,
Keeps counsel, or she speaks her mind,
Means what she says and scorns to fence
And palter with feigned innocence.

The ambiguous "mistress" next you set
Beside this graceless epithet.
"Coy mistress", sir? Who gave you leave
To wear my heart upon your sleeve?
Or to imply, as sure you do,
I had no other choice than you
And must remain upon the shelf
Unless I should bestir myself?
Shall I be moved to love you, pray,
By hints that I must soon decay?
No woman's won by being told
How quickly she is growing old;
Nor will such ploys, when all is said,
Serve to stampede us into bed.

When from pure blackmail, next you move
To bribe or lure me into love,
No less inept, my rhyming friend,
Snared by the means, you miss your end.
"Times winged chariot", and the rest
As poetry may pass the test;
Readers will quote those lines, I trust,
Till you and I and they are dust;
But I, your destined prey, must look
Less at the bait than at the hook,
Nor, when I do, can fail to see
Just what it is you offer me:
Love on the run, a rough embrace
Snatched in the fury of the chase,
The grave before us and the wheels
Of Time's grim chariot at our heels,
While we, like "am'rous birds of prey",
Tear at each other by the way.

To say the least, the scene you paint
Is, what you call my honour, quaint!
And on this point what prompted you
So crudely, and in public too,
To canvass and , indeed, make free
With my entire anatomy?
Poets have licence, I confess,
To speak of ladies in undress;
Thighs, hearts, brows, breasts are well enough,
In verses this is common stuff;
But -- well I ask: to draw attention
To worms in -- what I blush to mention,
And prate of dust upon it too!
Sir, was this any way to woo?

Now therefore, while male self-regard
Sits on your cheek, my hopeful bard,
May I suggest, before we part,
The best way to a woman's heart
Is to be modest, candid, true;
Tell her you love and show you do;
Neither cajole nor condescend
And base the lover on the friend;
Don't bustle her or fuss or snatch:
A suitor looking at his watch
Is not a posture that persuades
Willing, much less reluctant maids.

Remember that she will be stirred
More by the spirit than the word;
For truth and tenderness do more
Than coruscating metaphor.
Had you addressed me in such terms
And prattled less of graves and worms,
I might, who knows, have warmed to you;
But, as things stand, must bid adieu
(Though I am grateful for the rhyme)
And wish you better luck next time.

No she doesn't stop with a passing comment on the previous post [1]. Hatshepsut, welcome!

[1] This poem needs no introduction. To ensure the best experience, dear listener, here is a link To his coy mistress. :)

[2] commentary by the minstrels.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

To his coy mistress

Andrew Marvell


Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the flood:
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze.
Two hundred to adore each breast:
But thirty thousand to the rest.
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart:
For, Lady, you deserve this state;
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But at my back I always hear
Time's wing'ed chariot hurrying near:
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity:
And your quaint honour turn to dust;
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
Now, therefore, while the youthful glue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball:
And tear our pleasures with rough strife,
Thorough the iron grates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Few poems in the English language are as influential [1] or as well-beloved as this one. And justly so. It's a particularly deceptive poem, one that opens on comic, mocking note and can be read, in its entirety, as a rather frustrated gentleman's desperate and hyperbolic attempt to get his lady into bed [2]. And yet somewhere in the middle of the poem, the silliness gives way to a darker sensibility and the poem gets down to business (a change in tone marvellously consonant with the change in meaning, vividly highlighting the two different arguments). What follows is arguably the most eloquent statement of the dictum 'carpe diem' ever put down in rhyme.

What woman, one wonders, could resist?

For more commentary, see Minstrels

[1] Eliot devotees will notice the "At my back I always hear / Time's Wing'ed Chariot hurrying near" that Eliot parodies in the Waste Land.

[2] Some things, apparently, do not change

P.S. The text for this version comes from the Complete Poems published by Penguin Classics and edited by Elizabeth Story Donno. There are several discrepancies between this and other texts - most notably the use of glue rather than hue / hew in line 33. Donno argues that glue is what appears in the Folio, and is therefore the correct reading.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Epilogue from Midsummer Night's Dream

William Shakespeare


If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

When I was first casting around for a blog name, my final list of candidates came down to Falstaff and Robin Goodfellow. I picked Falstaff because it was less of a mouthful and because on the whole I like Plump Jack more, but as favourite Shakespeare characters go, Puck comes in a close second. There's something so soaring and weightless about Puck, something playful and leaping and entirely magical.

Of all the epilogues Shakespeare ever wrote, this one is probably my favourite. So it's fitting that two weeks of Shakespeare posts should be brought to a close with Puck's words. Other Shakespeare pieces will follow, no doubt (some have already been promised) but the exclusive focus on Shakespeare, this 'weak and idle theme' ends here.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Falstaff's 'Honour' Speech

William Shakespeare


(Henry IV Part 1 Act V Scene 1)

Why, thou owest God a death.


'Tis not due yet; I would be loath to pay him before
his day. What need I be so forward with him that
calls not on me? Well, 'tis no matter; honour pricks
me on. Yea, but how if honour prick me off when I
come on? how then? Can honour set to a leg? no: or
an arm? no: or take away the grief of a wound? no.
Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? no. What is
honour? a word. What is in that word honour? what
is that honour? air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it?
he that died o' Wednesday. Doth he feel it? no.
Doth he hear it? no. 'Tis insensible, then. Yea,
to the dead. But will it not live with the living?
no. Why? detraction will not suffer it. Therefore
I'll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon: and so
ends my catechism.

I couldn't resist this one. This is an amazing speech - a direct and mocking attack of everything that could be considered heroic or honourable, a speech against every war-monger, terrorist and martyr, against anyone who would kill and die for honour.

Hath not a Jew eyes?

William Shakespeare

Listen (to the Mystery Cat read)

To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else,
it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and
hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses,
mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my
bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine
enemies; and what's his reason? I am a Jew. Hath
not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as
a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison
us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not
revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will
resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian,
what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian
wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by
Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you
teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I
will better the instruction.

A guest post from Mystery Cat. He writes, "Portia's speech got me thinking about Merchant of Venice. In spite of fond memories of elocution contests in school, it's not a play I was never very fond of. I never bought into the anit-Semitic theory butI found Shylock to be an unreasonably vindictive villain, something of a caricature. So it's kind of sad that his mildly incoherent defence of vengeance doesn't seem terribly unfamiliar today."