Tennyson’s “Ulysses”

April 5, 2012 1 comment

As a little present to myself, a longer post about one of my (truly) all time favourite poems, Tennyson’s “Ulysses.” (Tennyson also wrote one of my all-time least favourite poem, “The Lady of Shalott”. Go figure.)

In order for the poem to make sense, you’ll need to know that Ulysses (or Odysseus) is a Greek hero of the Trojan war. Homer’s Odyssey describes his 10 year journey home to his wife Penelope. During that journey he lives through many trying experiences and visits many mythic (literally) locales. Tennyson’s poem picks up a little after his return (and the end of The Odyssey) when Ulysses has settled in to his domestic existence but finds that, now that he’s made it home, he’s not suited for or interested in, such a quiet life. The speaker is Ulysses, addressing (it seems) his former comrades in arms and travelling companions.

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an agèd wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vexed the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honoured of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

This poem also alludes to a passage from Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida which is set during the Trojan war. There’s a well-known speech from that play in which Ulysses is trying to convince Achilles to fight Hector in order to seal the outcome of the war.

[...] perseverance, dear my lord,
Keeps honour bright: to have done is to hang
Quite out of fashion, like a rusty mail
In monumental mockery. (Troilus and Cressida, Act 3, Scene 3)

The basic idea is that all the value of his heroic exploits of the past matter very little. It is in constant testing and fighting that one continues to be heroic. Action, any action, is better than inaction and passivity. That sentiment’s very much a part of Tennyson’s poem.

Tennyson has a bit of a bad reputation in part because he was a favourite target of the Modernist of the early 20th century who liked to point to him as an example of everything that was wrong with poetry. Yet even among these detractors he was acknowledged to have a very gifted ear for the music or sound of poetry. That really comes through in “Ulysses:” part of the pleasure is the very sounds of the words. You should definitely have a listen to Sir Lewis Casson’s classic reading of the poem:

T.S. Eliot is said to have described “Ulysses” as the perfect poem. I’m not sure one can say a poem is perfect, but if I had to find one this one would come very close.

Categories: Liberal Arts

Lord Byron’s Don Juan (on Why Plato is a Loser)

April 3, 2012 Leave a comment

A little late to the party this year but once again, in honour of poetry month, I’ve taken to sharing some of my favourites poems (and excerpts of poems). Hope you enjoy.

This short passage is from Lord Byron’s Don Juan. It comes at a moment where Juan is sitting with Donna Julia and she is talking herself into thinking it’s okay for her to be sitting next to Juan while he has his arm around her waist. The problem: Julia is married.

O Plato! Plato! you have paved the way,
With your confounded fantasies, to more
Immoral conduct by the fancied sway
Your system feigns o’er the controulless core
Of human hearts, than all the long array
Of poets and romancers:—You ‘re a bore,
A charlatan, a coxcomb—and have been,
At best, no better than a go-between. (Byron’s Don Juan, Canto 1, ln. 116)

One of my students asked me about what the reference to Plato in the passage might mean and I thought my answer might be useful to getting a handle on the passage as well as a sense of how Byron’s wit and humour operate in Don Juan.

The logic of the first few lines is that by convincing people that they were rational beings who were always in control of their impulses, Plato’s given people a false sense of confidence about their ability to resist their impulses. So, in the passage, the speaker is basically talking about the illusion of self-control: Plato is used an as example of that belief in self-control and the speaker is suggesting that this false confidence is responsible for more amorous mistakes/flings than all the romances (which are explicitly about characters giving in to their passions).

In the previous stanza, you’ll recall/discover that Julia is rationalizing away the fact that, despite Juan’s hands being on her ‘bosom’ or ‘waist,’ there’s no danger, that she could “withdraw her waist” very easily. Of course, we know how this ends with Juan and Julia so we can see exactly the point of Byron’s ‘shafting’ of Plato: to the narrator’s mind, he was just a boring, sad old loser who clearly knew nothing about human emotions and couldn’t get laid. The last line is actually (I think) a clever pun. On the one had it refers to Plato’s system of thought: Plato maintained that we learning things/attained knowledge by remembering things we saw in the Realm of Ideas (before being born.) So, Plato never had an original idea, was a go-between or a copy-cat. However, a go-between can also be someone who delivers letters between two lovers: this would suggest that Plato’s knowledge of love is second-hand only: he’s never been anything but a go-between (total 40-year-old virgin).

All this stuff ties into earlier passages on Wordsworth (somewhere around stanzas 90-95), where the speaker is essentially accusing him of living only in his head and ignoring the power/needs/impulses of the body.

(If you’re not familiar with Plato, he uses a metaphor of a chariot to describe the human soul: there are two horses: a calm, rational horse and a wild, emotional horse. The human will is the driver of the chariot and someone with a strong sense of will will be able to balance their impulses with their rational thoughts. According to Plato, you’re literally in the driver seat.)

You can find it online here, as well as elsewhere.

Categories: Liberal Arts

“The Horn and Noise of the Hydra:” The Tribunes in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus

February 16, 2012 1 comment

Hercules and the Hydra... or Coriolanus vs. the Plebians?

[Reposted from my 'Shakespeare in Translation' class' blog.]

The tribunes, Brutus and Sicinius, are the representatives of the commoners, the plebians of Rome. They are the “Titan[s] of the minnows” that Coriolanus has such a problem with. (I am reminded here that Iago, Othello’s ‘Ancient,’ was a ‘commoner’ whose proven military service was passed over in favour of Michael Cassio, an aristocrat. Traces of the medieval vilainin a toga, perhaps? Anyhow.) To my mind, the way these two tribunes are portrayed in the play goes a long way towards justifying Coriolanus’ characterisation of the plebians. (Whether we should share his contempt for that characterisation is another issue.)

Consider this short excerpt from their conversation with Menenius, about Coriolanus’ faults:

BRUTUS
He’s poor in no one fault, but stored with all.
SICINIUS
Especially in pride.
BRUTUS
And topping all others in boasting. (2.1.18-20)

Note how Sicinius is just offering up a comment completing Brutus’s thought which is then linked to Brutus’ reply with the conjunction, “And.” At times it seems that they form two halves of a single character. This is reflected in the way in which they use language. Their voices are in fact conflated into a single utterance in response to Menenius’ questions: “Why, how are we censured” and “Well, well, sir, well!” to cite two examples (2.1.24, 27). Here’s what I find interesting about the passage I quoted above: re-arrange the brief exchange of Brutus and Sicinius as if it were the unbroken utterance of a single character: “He’s poor in no one fault but stored with all, especially in pride, and topping all others in boasting.” We have one complete grammatical sentence, made up (quite literally) of “fragments” (1.1.245).

The following response by Brutus is very à propos: “We do it not alone, sir.” (2.1.34) I think (and Menenius seems to think so, too) that his response says more than it means to. He tells them:

I know you can do very little alone; for
your helps are many, or else your actions would
grow wondrous single (2.1.35-37)

This superb pun multiplies the meaning of “single”, as ‘slight’ and ‘alone,’ implicitly commenting on the tribune’s “infantlike” plebian insufficiency by contrasting it with Menenius’ patrician wholeness (2.1.37). The point here is plain: the patricians are independent and autonomous subjects or individual, the plebians and their tribunes are not. (aside: Contrast this with Coriolanus, covered in blood, whose main distinction is having single-handedly subdued the city of Corioles. We could also bring up this issue of Nature here, viz. plebians and Coriolanus but we’ll leave that for now.)

Coriolanus refers to the tribunes and their constituency as the Hydra.

Shall’!
O good but most unwise patricians! why,
You grave but reckless senators, have you thus
Given Hydra here to choose an officer,
That with his peremptory ‘shall,’ being but
The horn and noise o’ the monster’s, wants not spirit
To say he’ll turn your current in a ditch,
And make your channel his?

The Hydra represents a being which is both one and many: a single body, but many heads. (It is also a reptilian beast defeated by the might of Hercules.) In this passage, Brutus and Sicinius are imagined to be the mouthpiece of this beast, a creature which is at once singular and plural, a single body with many minds and mouths, screaming for independence but bound to that body (politic). A head cannot be severed from the body: it doubles itself in its stead. The plebians are not born, it seems. Instead, they are spawned through mitosis. And yet, the beast’s duplicated heads speak in different, changeable and conflicting voices. The Hydra perfectly captures Coriolanus’ characterisation of the plebians who are not only described as such but whose actions in the play lend support to Coriolanus’ interpretation of them. With such insight into their character, he should have realised there was no defeating a creature which was destined to outgrow him with every one of his attacks.

Side Note: There’s an interesting figure for translation (the way we’ve taken up the term) in this Hydra image. Like it, the translations seem to speak like so many heads of an original work. Each time we cut into the Hydra new heads grows, potentially ad infinitum. It is a reproduction through a mutated mitosis which, with its many voices, makes the body more powerful.

A Small Rewrite and “Becomings-Hamlet”

January 27, 2012 Leave a comment

[Reposted from my 'Shakespeare in Translation' class' blog.]

I was reading Rosenbaum’s New Yorker article, which I hadn’t had a chance to finish earlier, and I was reminded of this great comedy sketch featuring William Shakespeare (Hugh Lorrie) and his imagined editor (Rowan Atkinson). Gold.

While I think it’s a hilarious sketch, it points to something interesting about the editing/translation history of Shakespeare in positing the fantasy of a contemporary publishing practice in which a ‘decisive’ text is arrived at through compromise between writer and editor. It may illustrate some of the assumptions (along with their attendant problems) made by the so-called ‘Revisers’ in thinking that editorial practices should/do conform to an artist’s changing intention and that contemporary understandings of authorship can serve as a suitable model or analogue for the translating into print of what was/is a collaborative work and art form. We should consider that in its infancy cinema still had some ways to go before the arrival of the ‘auteur’ films of directors like (for instance) Kurosawa. Only with the rise of that auteur ideal were movies conceived as the product and expression of a single creative genius to which all other collaborators were subsumed.

Those who adhere too strongly to the ‘Reviser’s camp (that the different versions of Hamlet – however you want to connect them – represent Shakespeare’s revisions to his play) are in some ways suggesting that the notion of a final cut or Director’s Cut Hamlet is desirable and that Hamlet should be reducible to some singular authorial vision which can remain stable and from which all other interpretations and translations of Hamlet will depart and necessarily fall short from the ‘True’ Hamlet. It also suggests that the ‘essence’ of Hamlet (if I can use that loaded term), for the ‘Revisers,’ lies in some original and author-itative text.

What the Arden ‘Super-Hamlet’ edition does is to displace the supposition of ‘Hamlet-as-singularity’ and showcases the continually contested nature of the most contested text of the most contested author of the Western literary canon. In revealing the persistent instability of the text, the Arden displaces the arborescent model of “which came first” or “which text is closer to the origin” and instead levels each early Hamlet into a plane of immanence from which all Hamlets emerge and which they ultimately become a part of.

I think this Deleuze-Guattari rhizomatic model is interesting precisely because it enlarges, broadens and reshapes the range of possible Hamlets and relationships between them. We would no longer have a unidirectional chain or genealogy of Hamlets but a Hamlet molecule made up of the vast network of Hamlet translations more or less engaged with one another.

This may begin to answer the question: why are so many of Shakespeare’s plays such popular choices for adaptation? Because they have no center, only vast, shifting boundaries and what Deleuze and Guattari call “a zone of proximity or copresence.” In this scheme, Dogg’s Hamlet, Hamletmachine, Legend of the Black Scorpion, Almereyda’s Hamlet, etc. are as much a part/translations of Hamlet as Hamlet is a part/translation of these texts. I think artist-translators intuitively recognised this feature of the plays, that they can effectively be edited ad infinitum. And who could resist the appeal of rewriting “Shakey”?

The Lady of Shalott, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

May 26, 2011 1 comment

Been distracted and relaxing in the past few weeks since handing in final papers and such. I did promise my friend Aliza to post up a few of my least favourite poems following poetry month. So here we have the first of my least favourite poems: “The Lady of Shalott,” by Lord Alfred Tennyson 

The Lady of Shalott, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Part I

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And through the field the road runs by
 To many-towered Camelot;             
And up and down the people go,              
Gazing where the lilies blow              
Round an island there below,              
 The island of Shalott.              

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,              
Little breezes dusk and shiver              
Through the wave that runs for ever             
By the island in the river             
 Flowing down to Camelot.             
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,              
Overlook a space of flowers,             
And the silent isle imbowers              
 The Lady of Shalott.             

By the margin, willow-veiled,             
Slide the heavy barges trailed              
By slow horses; and unhailed             
The shallop flitteth silken-sailed              
 Skimming down to Camelot:              
But who hath seen her wave her hand?            
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,              
 The Lady of Shalott?              

Only reapers, reaping early             
In among the bearded barley,             
Hear a song that echoes cheerly              
From the river winding clearly,              
 Down to towered Camelot:              
And by the moon the reaper weary,             
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,             
Listening, whispers “‘Tis the fairy              
 Lady of Shalott.”        

Part II              

There she weaves by night and day             
A magic web with colours gay.           
She has heard a whisper say,              
A curse is on her if she stay              
 To look down to Camelot.              
She knows not what the curse may be,              
And so she weaveth steadily,             
And little other care hath she,             
 The Lady of Shalott.             

And moving through a mirror clear              
That hangs before her all the year,              
Shadows of the world appear.            
There she sees the highway near              
 Winding down to Camelot:             
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,              
And the red cloaks of market girls,             
 Pass onward from Shalott.                            

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,             
An abbot on an ambling pad,              
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,              
Or long-haired page in crimson clad,              
 Goes by to towered Camelot;              
And sometimes through the mirror blue              
The knights come riding two and two:            
She hath no loyal knight and true,              
 The Lady of Shalott.             

But in her web she still delights              
To weave the mirror’s magic sights,             
For often through the silent nights              
A funeral, with plumes and lights            
 And music, went to Camelot:             
Or when the moon was overhead,              
Came two young lovers lately wed;             
“I am half sick of shadows,” said             
 The Lady of Shalott.             

Part III
 
A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,              
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling through the leaves,             
And flamed upon the brazen greaves              
 Of bold Sir Lancelot.              
A red-cross knight for ever kneeled              
To a lady in his shield,            
That sparkled on the yellow field,             
 Beside remote Shalott.             
              
The gemmy bridle glittered free,            
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.             
The bridle bells rang merrily              
 As he rode down to Camelot:              
And from his blazoned baldric slung              
A mighty silver bugle hung,              
And as he rode his armour rung,              
 Beside remote Shalott.             
              
All in the blue unclouded weather             
Thick-jewelled shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather             
Burned like one burning flame together,              
 As he rode down to Camelot.             
As often through the purple night,              
Below the starry clusters bright,              
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,              
 Moves over still Shalott.              
              
His broad clear brow in sunlight glowed;             
On burnished hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flowed             
His coal-black curls as on he rode,             
 As he rode down to Camelot.              
From the bank and from the river              
He flashed into the crystal mirror,             
“Tirra lirra,” by the river              
 Sang Sir Lancelot.             
              
She left the web, she left the loom,             
She made three paces through the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,              
She saw the helmet and the plume,              
 She looked down to Camelot.              
Out flew the web and floated wide;              
The mirror cracked from side to side;              
“The curse is come upon me,” cried              
 The Lady of Shalott.             
              
Part IV             

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,              
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining              
 Over towered Camelot;              
Down she came and found a boat              
Beneath a willow left afloat,              
And round about the prow she wrote              
 The Lady of Shalott.             
              
And down the river’s dim expanse,             
Like some bold seër in a trance              
Seeing all his own mischance–
With a glassy countenance             
 Did she look to Camelot.             
And at the closing of the day              
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;              
The broad stream bore her far away,              
 The Lady of Shalott.              
              
Lying, robed in snowy white              
That loosely flew to left and right–              
The leaves upon her falling light–
Through the noises of the night              
 She floated down to Camelot:               
And as the boat-head wound along               
The willowy hills and fields among,              
They heard her singing her last song,              
 The Lady of Shalott.              
              
Heard a carol, mournful, holy,             
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,              
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darkened wholly,              
 Turned to towered Camelot.              
For ere she reached upon the tide              
The first house by the water-side,              
Singing in her song she died,              
 The Lady of Shalott.             
              
Under tower and balcony,             
By garden-wall and gallery,             
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,              
 Silent into Camelot.              
Out upon the wharfs they came,             
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,              
And round the prow they read her name,              
 The Lady of Shalott.              

Who is this? and what is here?              
And in the lighted palace near              
Died the sound of royal cheer;              
And they crossed themselves for fear,
 All the knights at Camelot:              
But Lancelot mused a little space;              
He said, “She has a lovely face;              
God in his mercy lend her grace,              
 The Lady of Shalott.”               
 

At least part of my dislike for this poem is due to the amount of times I’ve encountered it during my undergraduate degree. Perhaps I’m just being a Modernist jerk, but for the most part, the Victorian style of which this is a shining example is the overly flowery, ornate sentimental crap which people think about when they think about bad poetry. I’m not trying to diminish the importance and popularity of the poem, in Tennyson’s own time and since, but I just can’t take it seriously. Enter my 18-year-old self, too much Loreena McKennitt and an unhealthy penchant for unrealistic romantic drivel and you have a pretty complete picture of my relationship to this poem.

Of course, please feel free to disagree with me.

Categories: Liberal Arts

Excuse à Ariste, de Pierre Corneille

April 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Et nous voici enfin à la fin d’avril, dernière journée du mois de la poésie. J’espère que vous allez apprécier ce poème de Pierre Corneille.

Excuse à Ariste

Ce n’est donc pas assez; et de la part des muses,
Ariste, c’est en vers qu’il vous faut des excuses ;
Et la mienne pour vous n’en plaint pas la façon :
Cent vers lui coûtent moins que deux mots de chanson ;
Son feu ne peut agir quand il faut qu’il s’explique
Sur les fantasques airs d’un rêveur de musique,
Et que, pour donner lieu de paraître à sa voix,
De sa bizarre quinte il se fasse des lois;
Qu’il ait sur chaque ton ses rimes ajustées,
Sur chaque tremblement ses syllabes comptées,
Et qu’une faible pointe à la fin d’un couplet
En dépit de Phébus donne à l’art un soufflet :
Enfin cette prison déplaît à son génie;
Il ne peut rendre hommage à cette tyrannie;
Il ne se leurre point d’animer de beaux chants,
Et veut pour se produire avoir la clef des champs.
C’est lors qu’il court d’haleine, et qu’en pleine carrière,
Quittant souvent la terre en quittant la barrière,
Puis, d’un vol élevé se cachant dans les cieux,
Il rit du désespoir de tous ses envieux.
Ce trait est un peu vain, Ariste, je l’avoue;
Mais faut-il s’étonner d’un poète ‘ qui se loue?
Le Parnasse, autrefois dans la France adoré,
Faisait pour ses mignons un autre âge doré :
Notre fortune enflait du prix de nos caprices,
Et c’était une banque à de bons bénéfices :
Mais elle est épuisée, et les vers à présent
Aux meilleurs du métier n’apportent que du vent ;
Chacun s’en donne à l’aise, et souvent se dispense
A prendre par ses mains toute sa récompense.
Nous nous aimons un peu, c’est notre faible à tous ;
Le prix que nous valons, qui le sait mieux que nous?
Et puis la mode en est, et la cour l’autorise.
Nous parlons de nous-même avec toute franchise;
La fausse humilité ne met plus en crédit.
Je sais ce que je vaux, et crois ce qu’on m’en dit.
Pour me faire admirer je ne fais point de ligue;
J’ai peu de voix pour moi, mais je les ai sans brigue:
Et mon ambition, pour faire plus de bruit,
Ne les va point quêter de réduit en réduit -’ ;
Mon travail sans appui monte sur le théâtre;
Chacun en liberté l’y blâme ou l’idolâtre :
Là, sans que mes amis prêchent leurs sentiments.
J’arrache quelquefois leurs applaudissements;
La, content du succès que le mérite donne,
Par d’illustres avis je n’éblouis personne;
Je satisfais ensemble et peuple et courtisans,
Et mes vers en tous lieux sont mes seuls partisans :
Par leur seule beauté ma plume est estimée;
Je ne dois qu’à moi seul toute ma renommée ‘ ;
Et pense toutefois n’avoir point de rival
A qui je fasse tort en le traitant d’égal.
Mais insensiblement je donne ici le change;
Et mon esprit s’égare en sa propre louange :
Sa douceur me séduit, je m’en laisse abuser,
Et me vante moi-même, au lieu de m’excuser.
Revenons aux chansons que l’amitié demande.
J’ai brûlé fort long-temps d’une amour assez grande ‘,
Et que jusqu’au tombeau je dois bien estimer,
Puisque ce fut par là que j’appris à rimer.
Mon bonheur commença quand mon âme fut prise.
Je gagnai de la gloire en perdant ma franchise.
Charmé de deux beaux yeux, mon vers charma la cour;
Et ce que j’ai de nom je le dois à l’amour.
J’adorai donc Phylis; et la secrète estime
Que ce divin esprit faisait de notre rime
Me fit devenir poète aussitôt qu’amoureux :
Elle eut mes premiers vers, elle eut mes premiers feux,
Et bien que maintenant cette belle inhumaine
Traite mon souvenir avec un peu de haine,
Je me trouve toujours en état de l’aimer ;
Je me sens tout ému quand je l’entends nommer,
Et par le doux effet d’une prompte tendresse
Mon cœur sans mon aveu reconnaît sa maîtresse.
Après beaucoup de vœux et de soumissions
Un malheur rompt le cours de nos affections;
Mais toute mon amour en elle consommée,
Je ne vois rien d’aimable après l’avoir aimée :
Aussi n’aimè-je plus, et nul objet vainqueur
N’a possédé depuis ma veine ni mon cœur.
Vous le dirai-je, ami ? tant qu’ont duré nos flammes,
Ma muse également chatouillait nos deux âmes :
Elle avait sur la mienne un absolu pouvoir;
J’aimais à le décrire, elle à le recevoir.
Une voix ravissante, ainsi que son visage,
La faisait appeler le phénix de notre âge;
Et souvent de sa part je me suis vu presser
Pour avoir de ma main de quoi mieux l’exercer.
Jugez vous-même, Ariste, à cette douce amorce.
Si mon génie était pour épargner sa force :
Cependant mon amour, le père de mes vers,
Le fils du plus bel œil qui fût en l’univers,
A qui désobéir c’était pour moi des crimes,
Jamais en sa faveur n’en put tirer deux rimes :
Tant mon esprit alors, contre moi révolté,
En haine des chansons semblait m’avoir quitté ;
Tant ma veine se trouve aux airs mal assortie,
Tant avec la musique elle a d’antipathie ;
Tant alors de bon cœur elle renonce au jour.
Et l’amitié voudrait ce que n’a pu l’amour !
N’y pensez plus, Ariste; une telle injustice
Exposerait ma muse à son plus grand supplice.
Laissez-la toujours libre agir suivant son choix.
Céder à son caprice, et s’en faire des lois.

Categories: Liberal Arts

“Lot’s Wife,” by Anna Akhmatova

April 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Skipped a few days due to end of semester sprinting, but here’s a short selection for day 28 of poetry month.

Lot’s Wife

And the just man trailed God’s shining agent,
over a black mountain, in his giant track,
while a restless voice kept harrying his woman:
“It’s not too late, you can still look back

at the red towers of your native Sodom,
the square where once you sang, the spinning-shed,
at the empty windows set in the tall house
where sons and daughters blessed your marriage-bed.”
A single glance: a sudden dart of pain
stitching her eyes before she made a sound . . .
Her body flaked into transparent salt,
and her swift legs rooted to the ground.

Who will grieve for this woman? Does she not seem
too insignificant for our concern?
Yet in my heart I never will deny her,
who suffered death because she chose to turn.

Enjoy, and hopefully I can get back on track for the last few days.

Categories: Liberal Arts
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.