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Archive for August, 2009

Bierstadt5

Bierstadt Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, elevation 9,416 ft.

For the last three days I’ve been hiking in the Colorado Rockies. Last night I lay under a blanket looking up at the stars. They fall out of the sky every few minutes when you see them clustered together in a sky from the top of a mountain. This photo was taken where I sit writing this, looking out on the continental divide.

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Frédéric Mistral (French, 1830-1914)

Frédéric Mistral (French, 1830-1914)

“Car, d’aquesto ouro, ounto es la raro
Que di delice nous separo,
Jouine, amourous que siam, libre coume d’aucèu?
Regardo: la Naturo brulo
A noste entour, e se barrulo
Dins li bras de l’Estiéu, e chulo
Lou devourant alen de soun nòve roussèu.
“Li serre clar e blu, li colo
Palo de la calour e molo,
Boulegon trefouli si mourre…. Ve la mar:
Courouso e lindo coumo un vèire,
Dòu grand soulèu i rai bevèire
Enjusqu’au founs se laisso vèire,
Se laisso coutiga pèr lou Rose e lou Var.”

“For now, where is the limit that separates us from joy, young, amorous as we are, free as birds! Look: Nature burns around us and rolls in the arms of Summer, and drinks in the devouring breath of her ruddy spouse. The clear, blue peaks, the hills, pale and soft with the heat, are thrilled and stir their rounding summits. Behold the sea, glistening and limpid as glass; in the thirsty rays of the great sun, she allows herself to be seen clear to the bottom, to be caressed by the Rhone and the Var.”

From Mirèio, by Frédéric Mistral (French, 1830-1913),
translated from the Provencal (a dialect of French) by Charles Alfred Downer
…………………………….

José Echegaray (Spain, 1833-1916)

José Echegaray (Spanish, 1833-1916)

Two monologues from separate scenes from The great Galeoto: Folly or saintliness; two plays by José Echegaray

Monologue by Don Lorenzo:

Don Lorenzo: [Aside] Now they will see how my madness is going to end. Before I leave this house with what a hearty pleasure will I kick that doctor out. Fresh vigour already animates me. What! Since when has it become reason sufficient to declare a man mad because he is resolved to perform his duty ? Ah, that’s not very likely. Humanity is neither so blind nor so base, though it is bad enough. Softly now. Treason has begun its work ; then let the punishment begin too. [A loud] The hour has come for me to accomplish a sacred obligation, however sharp a sorrow it may be. It were a useless trouble to insist upon your presence at the necessary legal formalities. It would only bore you. The representative of law awaits me in yonder room. I, in obeying a higher law, am about to renounce a fortune that is not mine, as well as a name that neither I nor my family can any longer bear with a clear conscience. Afterwards I will return here, and with my wife and— and—my daughter, will leave this house, which in the past has only sheltered love and felicity, and to-day offers me nothing but treason and wickedness. Let no one seek to prevent me, for none of you can resist my will. Gentlemen [to Dr. Tomds and Bermudez], do me the favour to go before—I beg you. [All slowly enter closet R. On the threshold Don Lorenzo looks back once at Ines]

Monologue by Pepito:

Pepito: Well, here’s a mess; and a useless mess, too. Just the same, no matter what my uncle may say, it was sheer madness to have a young girl as beautiful as the sun under the same roof, in almost continual contact with Ernesto, who is a handsome fellow with a soul all of fire, and a head full of romance. He swears there is nothing between them but the purest sort of friendship, that he loves her like a sister, and that my uncle is a father to him. But I’m pretty sharp, and though I am young, I know a thing or two about this world, and I don’t put much faith in this brother-and-sister business; particularly where the brother is so young, and the relationship fictitious. But suppose this affection is all they say it is, how are other people to know that? Have they signed any pledge always to think well of every one? Don’t they see them together all the time–in the theater–in the park? Well, the person who saw them, saw them, and when he saw them, he told about it. Ernesto swore to me, “No.” They had almost never gone about in that way. Did he go once? Well, that’s enough. If a hundred people saw them that day, they might as well have appeared in public not once, but a hundred different times. Are people bound to examine their witnesses and compare their dates to find out whether it was many times or only once that they went out together, she with her innocent sympathy, and he with his brotherly affection? Such a demand would be altogether ridiculous. They all tell what they’ve seen, and they’re not lying when they tell it. “I saw them once. I saw them as well.” One and one make two. There’s no way out. “And I saw them, too.” There you have three already. And this man, four; and that one, five. And so, adding up in all good faith, you go on indefinitely. And they saw because they looked. In short, because naturally one uses one’s senses and doesn’t stop to ask permission. So let him look after himself and remember that nowadays he who avoids the appearance of evil, avoids the slander and the danger. And notice, I am admitting the purity of their affection; and that is a very important point; for, between ourselves, I must admit that to be near Teodora and not to love her, one must be as steady as a rock. He may be a scholar, and a philosopher, and a mathematician, and a physicist; but he’s human, and she’s divine!

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Company of Moths

We thought it could all be found in The Book of Poor Text,
the shadow the boat casts, angled mast, fretted wake, indigo eye.

Windows of the blind text,
keening, parabolic nights.

And the rolling sun, sun tumbling
into then under, company of moths.

Can you hear what I’m thinking, from there, even as you sleep?
Streets of the Poor Text, where a child’s gaze falls

on the corpse of a horse beside a cart,
whimpering dog, woman’s mute mouth agape

as if to say, We must move on,
we must not stop, we must not watch.

For after all, do the dead watch us?
To memorize precisely the tint of a plum,

curve of a body at rest (sun again),
the words to each popular song,

surely that would be enough.
For are you not familiar with these crows by the shore?

Did you not call them sea crows once?
Did we not discuss the meaning of “as the crow flies”

one day in that square — station of exile — under the reddest
of suns? And then, almost as one, we said, It’s time.

And a plate shattered, a spoon fell to the floor,
towels in a heap by the door.

Drifts of cloud over
steeples from the west.

Faith in the Poor Text.
Outline of stuff left behind.
……………………………….
Michael Palmer (born 1943)

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Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson  (Norwegian, 1832-1910)

Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (Norwegian, 1832-1910)

The Tree

Ready with leaves and with buds stood the tree.
“Shall I take them?” the frost said, now puffing with glee.
“Oh my, no, let them stand,
Till flowers are at hand!”
All trembling from tree-top to root came the plea.

Flowers unfolding the birds gladly sung.
“Shall I take them?” the wind said and merrily swung.
“Oh my, no, let them stand,
Till cherries are at hand!”
Protested the tree, while it quivering hung.

The cherries came forth ‘neath the sun’s glowing eye.
“Shall I take them?” a rosy young girl’s eager cry.
“Oh my, yes, you can take,
I’ve kept them for your sake!”
Low bending its branches, the tree brought them nigh.
…………………………………………….
Translated by Arthur Hubbell Palme

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Freedom, New Hampshire

1

We came to visit the cow
Dying of fever,
Towle said it was already
Shoveled under, in a secret
Burial-place in the woods.
We prowled through the woods
Weeks, we never

Found where. Other
Children other summers
Must found the place
And asked, Why is it
Green here? The rich
Guess a grave, maybe,
The poor think a pit

For dung, like the one
We shoveled in in the fall,
That came up a brighter green
The next year, that
Could as well have been
The grave of a cow
Or something, for all that shows.

2

We found a cowskull once; we thought it was
From one of the asses in the Bible, for the sun
Shone into the holes through which it had been
Earth as an endless belt carrying gravel, had heard
Its truculence cursed, had learned how human sweat
Stinks, and had brayed — shone into the holes
With solemn and majestic light, as if some
Skull somewhere could be Baalbek or the Parthenon.

That night passing Towle’s Barn
We saw lights. Towle had lassoed a calf
By its hind legs, and he tugged against the grip
Of the darkness. The cow stood by, chewing millet.
Derry and I took hold, too, and hauled.
It was sopping with darkness when it came free.
It was a bullcalf. The cow mopped it awhile,
And we walked around it with a lantern.

And it was sunburned, somehow, and beautiful.
It took a teat as the first business
And sneezed and drank at the milk of light.
When we got it balanced on its legs, it went wobbling
Toward the night. Walking home in darkness
We saw the July moon looking on Freedom, New Hampshire,
We smelled the fall in the air, it was the summer,
We thought, Oh this is but the summer!

3

Once I saw the moon
Drift into the sky like a bright
Pregnancy pared
From a goddess who had to
Keep slender to remain beautiful —
Cut loose, and drifting up there
To happen by itself —
And waning, in lost labor;

As we lost our labor
Too — afternoons
When we sat on the gate
By the pasture, under the Ledge,
Buzzing and skirling on toilet-
papered combs tunes
To the rumble-seated cars
Taking the Ossipee Road

On Sundays; for
Though dusk would come upon us
Where we sat, and though we had
Skirled out our hearts in the music,
Yet the not-yet Dandruffed
Harps we skirled it on
Had done not much better than
Flies, which buzzed, when quick

We trapped them in our hands,
Which went silent when we
Crushed them, which we bore
Downhill to the meadowlark’s
Nest full of throats, which
Derry charmed and combed
With an Arabian air, while I
Chucked crushed flies into

Innards I could not see,
For the night had fallen
And the crickets shrilled on all sides
In waves, as if the grassleaves
Shrieked by hillsides
As they grew, and the stars
Made small flashes in the sky,
Like mica flashing in rocks

On the chockcherried Ledge
Where bees I stepped on once
Hit us from behind like a shotgun
And where we could see
Windowpanes in Freedom flash
And Loon Lake and Winnipesaukee
Flash in the sun
And the blue world flashing.

4

The fingerprints of our eyeballs would zigzag
On the sky; the clouds that came drifting up
Our fingernails would drift into the thin air;
In bed at night there was music if you listened,
Of an old surf breaking far away in the blood.

Children who come by chance on grass green for a man
Can guess cow, dung, man, anything they want,
To them it is the same. To us who knew him as he was
After the beginning and before the end, it is green
For a name called out of the confusions of the earth —

Winnipesaukee coined like a moon, a bullcalf
Dragged from the darkness where it breaks up again,
Larks which long since have crashed for good in the grass
To which we fed the flies, buzzing ourselves like flies,
While the crickets shrilled beyond us, in July.

The mind may sort it out and gives it names —
When a man dies he dies trying to say without slurring
The abruptly decaying sounds. It is true
That only flesh dies, and spirit flowers without stop
For men, cows, dung, for all dead things; and it is good, yes —

But an incarnation is in particular flesh
And the dust that is swirled into a shape
And crumbles and is swirled again had but one shape
That was this man. When he is dead the grass
Heals what he suffered, but he remains dead,
And the few who loved him know this until they die.

For my brother, 1925-1957
…………………………..
Galway Kinnell (born 1927)

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Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen (German, 1817-1903)

Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen (German, 1817-1903)

Mommsen was a classical historian. His many writings – a bibliography in 1887 lists over 900 items – revolutionized the study of Roman history.

Mark Twain met him on a tour of Europe in 1892 and described him this way, “When apparently the last eminent guest had long ago taken his place, again those three bugle-blasts rang out, and once more the swords leaped from their scabbards. Who might this late comer be? Nobody was interested to inquire. Still, indolent eyes were turned toward the distant entrance, and we saw the silken gleam and the lifted sword of a guard of honor plowing through the remote crowds. Then we saw that end of the house rising to its feet; saw it rise abreast the advancing guard all along like a wave. This supreme honor had been offered to no one before. There was an excited whisper at our table—’MOMMSEN!’—and the whole house rose. Rose and shouted and stamped and clapped and banged the beer mugs. Just simply a storm!

“Then the little man with his long hair and Emersonian face edged his way past us and took his seat. I could have touched him with my hand—Mommsen!—think of it!…I would have walked a great many miles to get a sight of him, and here he was, without trouble or tramp or cost of any kind. Here he was clothed in a titanic deceptive modesty which made him look like other men.”

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Birdcall

for Elizabeth Bishop

Tuwee, calls a bird near the house,
Tuwee, cries another, downhill in the woods.
No wind, early September, beeches and pines,

Sumac aflame, tuwee, tuwee, a question and a faint
But definite response, tuwee, tuwee, as if engaged
In a conversation expected to continue all afternoon,

Where is?—I’m here?—an upward inflection in
Query and in response, a genetic libretto rehearsed
Tens of thousands of years beginning to leave its indelible trace,

Clawprint of language, ritual, dense winged seed,
Or as someone were slowly buttoning a shirt.
I am happy to lie in the grass and listen, as if at the dawn of reason,

To the clear communal command
That is flinging creaturely will into existence,
Designing itself to desire survival,

Liberty, companionship,
Then the bird near me, my bird, stops inquiring, while the other
Off in the woods continues calling faintly, but with that upward

Inflection, I’m here, I’m here,
I’m here, here, the call opens a path through boughs still clothed
By foliage, until it sounds like entreaty, like anxiety, like life

Imitating the pivotal move of Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle,”
Where the lovebird’s futile song to its absent mate teaches the child
Death—which the ocean also whispers—

Death, death, death it softly whispers,
Like an old crone bending aside over a cradle, Whitman says,
Or the like the teapot in Elizabeth Bishop’s grandmother’s kitchen,

Here at one end of the chain of being,
That whistles a song of presence and departure,
Creating comfort but also calling for tears.
………………………………….
by Alicia Suskin Ostriker

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