29 August 2016

Poem of the Week 2016/35

This computer thing is dragging on much longer than I was hoping it would. Soon, soon, I keep telling myself: soon. . . . Here's some more Sappho, once again translated by Mary Barnard:

And I said

I shall burn the
fat thigh-bones of
a white she-goat
on her altar


22 August 2016

Poem of the Week 2016/34

I have finally received the diagnosis on my computer, and the news is not good. Motherboard meltdown! So now I have to deal with the trouble and expense of getting a new one.

Sappho, translated by Mary Barnard:

It is clear now:

Neither honey nor
the honey bee is
to be mine again


15 August 2016

Poem of the Week 2016/33

Still no computer. I know, I know: how do I manage? Where do I get this incredible inner strength? Here's another Sappho fragment, once again in the Mary Barnard translation:

The gods bless you

May you sleep then
on some tender
girl friend's breast


08 August 2016

Poem of the Week 2016/32

Computer crisis continues. . . though I'm hopeful things will be up and running again soon. In the meantime, here's another fragment from Sappho as translated by Mary Barnard. Since I'm on a Chromebook borrowed from V, I let her pick the poem. And here it is:

If you will come

I shall put out
new pillows for
you to rest on


Nice choice, Miss V!

01 August 2016

Poem of the Week 2016/31

The computer crisis continues, so once again I call on Sappho (in the Mary Barnard translation) for the weekly poem:

Many's the time

I've wished I, O
had luck like that


25 July 2016

Poem of the Week 2016/30

My computer has been dead in the water (metaphorically) since last Thursday. I am not sure when my regular contact with civilization (in the shape of the Internet) will be restored. As I wander the wastelands without e-mail, without Amazon, without Netflix, without you-get-the-picture, I still want to give you a poem for Monday morning, so here is a beautiful fragment from Sappho (in Mary Barnard's translation):

Day in, day out

I hunger and
I struggle.


18 July 2016

Poem of the Week 2016/29

A Jelly-fish

Visible, invisible,
     a fluctuating charm
an amber-tinctured amethyst
     inhabits it, your arm
approaches and it opens
     and it closes; you had meant
to catch it and it quivers;
     you abandon your intent.

Marianne Moore

Moore presents a jelly-fish, in a poem as light and fluctuating as the creature it describes. It appears and disappears (visible, invisible) and that quality calls to mind the otherwise unmentioned water where the jelly-fish is found. The strange creature is a charm – which can mean something that gives delight, a small ornament, something created or containing magic – all apt meanings that undulate through the reader's comprehension. Some solidity is suggested by the comparisons to semi-precious stones (even if the primary meaning is the color of those stones): amber and amethyst. The initial am sounds in amber and amethyst and the t sounds in tinctured and amethyst are very musical, leaping lightly through the words. Tinctured seems paler and less present than tinted would be, something tinged or dissolved in another substance. This delicate jewel is made of the nerves and what passes for the brains of the jelly-fish, inhabiting the "jelly" as if it were a crustacean in its shell (as if the actual animal is the nerves and the brains, not the whole physical element). Your arm approaches – your, because the poet is universalizing her irresistible urge to make contact with something so beautiful and evanescent. This living, separate being quivers at the attempt, which "we" then considerately abandon: intense curiosity is here accompanied by reticence; both the curiosity and the reticence are forms of respect.

This is from The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore; though described on the cover as the Definitive Edition, with the Author's Final Revisions, any aficionado of this poet knows that there is no final, definitive edition of her works, only the fluctuating charms of the revisions she made over the decades; some poems have several versions, each of which has its own claim to some sort of authority. I've recently read Linda Leavell's very fine biography of Moore, Holding On Upside Down, which I recommend; it provides some fascinating new light on Moore's complex family relationships as well as on her work.

Jellyfish from the Monterey Aquarium, though sadly lacking in amber- or amethyst tinctures.

11 July 2016

Poem of the Week 2016/28


Spring goes, and the hundred flowers.
Spring comes, and the hundred flowers.
My eyes watch things passing,
my head fills with years.
But when spring has gone, not all the flowers follow.
Last night a plum branch blossomed by my door.

Man Giac, translated from the Vietnamese by W S Merwin with Nguyen Ngoc Bich

Poems about spring usually begin with its arrival, but this one begins with its departure – its departure, along with its hundred flowers, hundred being one of those numbers that is a specific amount but also suggests a general abundance. It is in the second line that spring arrives; just two lines, and two years have already swept by. This suggests that spring is not really the main topic of the poem. The title has given us rebirth as a guiding concept, and spring of course is a traditional and obvious symbol of rebirth, as the earth comes back to life after winter. But the third and fourth lines give us a different perspective. We now have a speaker, telling us of his eyes and his head. He is probably an older man, or at least one of a meditative bent, given his years of experience and his interest in time passing. The seemingly objective statements in the first lines reappear to our memories in a new, subjective light: a person (rather than a general omniscient narrator) is telling us about the spring and the flowers going and coming; they are among the things this man has watched and the memories that fill his head. We now have a poem meditating on the passage of time and perhaps the recurrence of memory. There has been a slightly generic feel to all this so far: the generalities of spring and the unspecified flowers, the universal experience (among those still living) of watching the years pass. We move on to an observation the speaker has made after many springs: not all the flowers go. Then, in the last line, and for the first time in this poem, we suddenly have a line filled with specific details: last nightplum branch blossomsmy door. Perhaps night is also an indication of the speaker's age and even his approaching death. The plum blossom is a powerfully significant symbol in Asian cultures: noted for its beauty, it is one of the first trees to bloom, even when snow is still falling, so it is considered a harbinger of spring, and as such a symbol of hope and perseverance; like all such blossoms, its peak time is brief, making it a symbol of the transitory nature of life. This union of opposite significances – the on-coming renewal of spring, the swift passing of life – does not exhaust its symbolism, but it does suggest why this flower of all others is one named in this poem about time, memory, and renewal. Among the hundred flowers coming and going, we have this one specific flower blossoming forth in the final image, something both real and to be remembered for the rest of the speaker's (or even the reader's) life.

This eleventh century poem was translated by a twentieth- / twenty-first century American, and can be found in East Window: The Asian Translations by W S Merwin.