Saturday, May 24, 2014

Victor Hugo

While I prefer the French, famous writer Victor Hugo's [1802-1885] poetry to his prose, he has many great passages. Here is one beautiful one from the 1862 novel Les Misérables--it's from the ending, in book eight, chapter three; you can read it all here:

One afternoon,—it was on one of those early days in April, already warm and fresh, the moment of the sun's great gayety, the gardens which surrounded the windows of Marius and Cosette felt the emotion of waking, the hawthorn was on the point of budding, a jewelled garniture of gillyflowers spread over the ancient walls, snapdragons yawned through the crevices of the stones, amid the grass there was a charming beginning of daisies, and buttercups, the white butterflies of the year were making their first appearance, the wind, that minstrel of the eternal wedding, was trying in the trees the first notes of that grand, auroral symphony which the old poets called the springtide,—Marius said to Cosette:—"We said that we would go back to take a look at our garden in the Rue Plumet. Let us go thither. We must not be ungrateful."—And away they flitted, like two swallows towards the spring. This garden of the Rue Plumet produced on them the effect of the dawn. They already had behind them in life something which was like the springtime of their love. The house in the Rue Plumet being held on a lease, still belonged to Cosette. They went to that garden and that house. There they found themselves again, there they forgot themselves.

Iris Tree

Sometimes, eerie poetry can be great fun to read. Just like Poe's short stories, the British Iris Tree's [1897-1968] poems often have a strange feeling about them--here's an excerpt from one poem, you can read more here:

Lulled are the dazzling colours of the day,
And mild the heavens, burnt out like an ash.
Hungry and strange along the shadowed dusk
Walks Melancholy, and with bitter mouth
Sucks the last juices from the sun's ripe fruit.
Now can I sing the sickly lines of love
And of love's failure, spell my sorrows out

Thursday, May 22, 2014


One story to be sure to read is American gothic writer E.A. Poe's [1809-1849] The Masque of the Red Death, it's here. Here's a little excerpt:

It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against the western wall, a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute-hand made the circuit of the face, and the hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to harken to the sound; and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and, while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused revery or meditation. 

But when the echoes had fully ceased, a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly; the musicians looked at each other and smiled as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of the clock should produce in them no similar emotion; and then, after the lapse of sixty minutes, (which embrace three thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies,) there came yet another chiming of the clock, and then were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before.

But, in spite of these things, it was a gay and magnificent revel. The tastes of the duke were peculiar. He had a fine eye for colours and effects. He disregarded the decora of mere fashion. His plans were bold and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barbaric lustre. There are some who would have thought him mad. His followers felt that he was not. It was necessary to hear and see and touch him to be sure that he was not.

Monday, May 19, 2014


The Florentine poet Dante's [1265-1321] Divine Comedy, about his journey through the afterlife, his love Beatrice and his favorite ancient writer Virgil is a great and complicated work--all three parts are very distinct. People usually flock to the Byronic, morbid and interesting 'Inferno' [Hell] section. It is indeed terrifying and creepy.

Dante was a famous Italian poet during the Middle Ages, he was one of the first to use Italian instead of Latin, allowing more people to enjoy his work. Be sure to read the funny stories of Boccaccio or the lovely courtly poetry of Petrarca [often written Petrarch in English]; they too wrote in Italian, a major shift in history.

The Paradiso [Heaven] part is not as well read, but there are interesting and eerie passages there too. Here's a snippet from Paradiso Canto XXXI, you can read this part here--and you can read the whole thing here:
In fashion, as a snow-white rose, lay then
Before my view the saintly multitude,
Which in his own blood Christ espous'd.  Meanwhile
That other host, that soar aloft to gaze
And celebrate his glory, whom they love,
Hover'd around; and, like a troop of bees,
Amid the vernal sweets alighting now,
Now, clustering, where their fragrant labour glows,
Flew downward to the mighty flow'r, or rose
From the redundant petals, streaming back
Unto the steadfast dwelling of their joy.
Faces had they of flame, and wings of gold;
The rest was whiter than the driven snow.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Iris Tree

Iris Tree [1897-1968] is one interesting British poet. Here's an excerpt from her volume Poems, which you can read here. Her work reminds me of Game of Thrones somehow. This snippet below is from the second poem in the 'Smoke' portion:

Gods that grow tired of paradisial water
And fill their cups with steaming wine of slaughter.
I fear a thing more terrible than death:
The glamour of the battle grips us yet—
As crowds before a fire that hold their breath
Watching the burning houses, and forget
All they will lose, but marvel to behold
Its dazzling strength, the glamour of its gold.
I fear the time when slow the flame expires,
When this kaleidoscope of roaring color
Fades, and rage faints; and of the funeral-fires
That shone with battle, nothing left of valour
Save chill ignoble ashes for despair
To strew with widowed hands upon her hair.
Livid and damp unfolds the winding-sheet,
Hiding the mangled body of the Earth:
The slow grey aftermath, the limping feet
Of days that shall not know the sound of mirth,
But pass in dry-eyed patience, with no trust
Save to end living and be heaped with dust.
That stillness that must follow where Death trod,
The sullen street, the empty drinking-hall,
The tuneless voices cringing praise to God,
Deaf gods, that did not heed the anguished call,
Now to be soothed with humbleness and praise,
With fawning kisses for the hand that slays [...]

Thursday, May 15, 2014


Sir James Frazer's [1854-1941] famous mythological and religion book The Golden Bough was a shock to people in 1890--he discussed the West's Christian and Roman cultural roots with some distance and objective feeling, instead of presuming it was the best, moral, highest and most logical culture.

While his work is old by now, it's also incredibly interesting and important. His attitudes are sometimes marked by his time period, but his greater discussion is fascinating. Here's a little excerpt about ancient Egypt, the Egyptian goddess Isis [Ancient Greek: Ἶσις, original Egyptian pronunciation more likely "Aset" or " Iset"] and ancient Rome, you can read the rest here:

Hence just as the furtive savage conceals his real name because he fears that sorcerers might make an evil use of it, so he fancies that his gods must likewise keep their true name secret, lest other gods or even men should learn the mystic sounds and thus be able to conjure with them. Nowhere was this crude conception of the secrecy and magical virtue of the divine name more firmly held or more fully developed than in ancient Egypt, where the superstitions of a dateless past were embalmed in the hearts of the people hardly less effectually than the bodies of cats and crocodiles and the rest of the divine menagerie in their rock-cut tombs.

The conception is well illustrated by a story which tells how the subtle Isis wormed his secret name from Ra, the great Egyptian god of the sun. Isis, so runs the tale, was a woman mighty in words, and she was weary of the world of men, and yearned after the world of the gods. And she meditated in her heart, saying, “Cannot I by virtue of the great name of Ra make myself a goddess and reign like him in heaven and earth?” For Ra had many names, but the great name which gave him all power over gods and men was known to none but himself. Now the god was by this time grown old; he slobbered at the mouth and his spittle fell upon the ground.

So Isis gathered up the spittle and the earth with it, and kneaded thereof a serpent and laid it in the path where the great god passed every day to his double kingdom after his heart’s desire. And when he came forth according to his wont, attended by all his company of gods, the sacred serpent stung him, and the god opened his mouth and cried, and his cry went up to heaven. And the company of gods cried, “What aileth thee?” and the gods shouted, “Lo and behold!” But he could not answer; his jaws rattled, his limbs shook, the poison ran through his flesh as the Nile floweth over the land.

When the great god had stilled his heart, he cried to his followers, “Come to me, O my children, offspring of my body. I am a prince, the son of a prince, the divine seed of a god. My father devised my name; my father and my mother gave me my name, and it remained hidden in my body since my birth, that no magician might have magic power over me. I went out to behold that which I have made, I walked in the two lands which I have created, and lo! something stung me. What it was, I know not. Was it fire? was it water? My heart is on fire, my flesh trembleth, all my limbs do quake. Bring me the children of the gods with healing words and understanding lips, whose power reacheth to heaven.”

Then came to him the children of the gods, and they were very sorrowful. And Isis came with her craft, whose mouth is full of the breath of life, whose spells chase pain away, whose word maketh the dead to live. She said, “What is it, divine Father? what is it?” The holy god opened his mouth, he spake and said, “I went upon my way, I walked after my heart’s desire in the two regions which I have made to behold that which I have created, and lo! a serpent that I saw not stung me. Is it fire? is it water? I am colder than water, I am hotter than fire, all my limbs sweat, I tremble, mine eye is not steadfast, I behold not the sky, the moisture bedeweth my face as in summer-time.”

Then spake Isis, “Tell me thy name, divine Father, for the man shall live who is called by his name.” Then answered Ra, “I created the heavens and the earth, I ordered the mountains, I made the great and wide sea, I stretched out the two horizons like a curtain. I am he who openeth his eyes and it is light, and who shutteth them and it is dark. At his command the Nile riseth, but the gods know not his name. I am Khepera in the morning, I am Ra at noon, I am Tum at eve.” But the poison was not taken away from him; it pierced deeper, and the great god could no longer walk. Then said Isis to him, “That was not thy name that thou spakest unto me. Oh tell it me, that the poison may depart; for he shall live whose name is named.”

Now the poison burned like fire, it was hotter than the flame of fire. The god said, “I consent that Isis shall search into me, and that my name shall pass from my breast into hers.” Then the god hid himself from the gods, and his place in the ship of eternity was empty. Thus was the name of the great god taken from him, and Isis, the witch, spake, “Flow away, poison, depart from Ra. It is I, even I, who overcome the poison and cast it to the earth; for the name of the great god hath been taken away from him. Let Ra live and let the poison die.” Thus spake great Isis, the queen of the gods, she who knows Ra and his true name.

From this story it appears that the real name of the god, with which his power was inextricably bound up, was supposed to be lodged, in an almost physical sense, somewhere in his breast, from which Isis extracted it by a sort of surgical operation and transferred it with all its supernatural powers to herself.

In Egypt attempts like that of Isis to appropriate the power of a high god by possessing herself of his name were not mere legends told of the mythical beings of a remote past; every Egyptian magician aspired to wield like powers by similar means. For it was believed that he who possessed the true name possessed the very being of god or man, and could force even a deity to obey him as a slave obeys his master.

Thus the art of the magician consisted in obtaining from the gods a revelation of their sacred names, and he left no stone unturned to accomplish his end. When once a god in a moment of weakness or forgetfulness had imparted to the wizard the wondrous lore, the deity had no choice but to submit humbly to the man or pay the penalty of his contumacy.

The belief in the magic virtue of divine names was shared by the Romans. When they sat down before a city, the priests addressed the guardian deity of the place in a set form of prayer or incantation, inviting him to abandon the beleaguered city and come over to the Romans, who would treat him as well as or better than he had ever been treated in his old home.

Monday, May 12, 2014


Even if you're not hugely into a particular style, there's often a little piece can love--here's a great snippet from Milton's [1608-1674] epic poem above Lucifer/Satan's rebellion against God and Adam and Eve in Eden, called Paradise Lost, read more here. Even if the subject isn't absorbing for a modern audience [though many enjoy a Byron-esque reading of Lucifer as a positive Prometheus-like anti-hero], there are some beautiful lines that rival Shelley. For example:

[...] to his charge
Returned on that bright beam, whose point now raised
Bore him slope downward to the sun now fallen
Beneath the Azores; whether the prime orb,
Incredible how swift, had thither rolled
Diurnal, or this less volubil earth,
By shorter flight to the east, had left him there
Arraying with reflected purple and gold
The clouds that on his western throne attend.
Now came still Evening on, and Twilight gray
Had in her sober livery all things clad;
Silence accompanied; for beast and bird,
They to their grassy couch, these to their nests
Were slunk, all but the wakeful nightingale;
She all night long her amorous descant sung;
Silence was pleased: Now glowed the firmament
With living sapphires: Hesperus, that led
The starry host, rode brightest, till the moon,
Rising in clouded majesty, at length
Apparent queen unveiled her peerless light,
And o'er the dark her silver mantle threw.
When Adam thus to Eve. Fair Consort, the hour
Of night, and all things now retired to rest,
Mind us of like repose; since God hath set
Labour and rest, as day and night, to men
Successive; and the timely dew of sleep,
Now falling with soft slumbrous weight, inclines
Our eye-lids:

Saturday, May 10, 2014


Byron wrote some beautiful, and yet spare lines. Let's look at an excerpt from his "Maid of Athens, ere we part", read more here. His use of Greek in the poem is characteristic of the learned poets, but it's simple.
Look:         Ζωή μου, σᾶς ἀγαπῶ         [Translated it means: My life, I love you]
                   zoé mou, sas agapo [pronounced]                                                                          
                   life of mine, you I love [literally]

By those tresses unconfined,Wooed by each Ægean wind;By those lids whose jetty fringeKiss thy soft cheeks' blooming tinge;By those wild eyes like the roe,Ζωή μου, σᾶς ἀγαπῶ.


By that lip I long to taste;By that zone-encircled waist;By all the token-flowers that tellWhat words can never speak so well;By love's alternate joy and woe,Ζωή μου, σᾶς ἀγαπῶ.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Luis de Camoes

Luís de Camões [1524-1580] is a famous Portuguese poet who wrote great sonnets, you can read more here. Here is one to try, translated by J. J. Aubertin.


Within a wood nymphs were inhabiting,
Sibella, lovely nymph, was wandering free;
And climbing up into a shady tree,
The yellow blossoms there was gathering.
Cupid, who thither ever turned his wing,
Cool in his shady mid-day sleep to be,
Would on a branch, e'er sleeping, pendent see
The bows and arrows he was wont to bring.
The nymph, who now the moment fitting saw
For so great enterprise, in nought delays,
But flies the scorner with the arms she ta'en.
She bears the arrows in her eyes, to draw.
Oh! shepherds fly, for every one she slays,
Save me alone, who live by being slain.

A linda Nympha Sibella

"N'hum bosque, que das nymphas se habitava, 
Sibella, nympha linda, andava hum dia ; 
E subida em huma árvore sombria, 
As amarellas flôres apanhava. 
Cupido, que alii sempre costumava 
A vir passar a sésta á sombra fria, 
Em hum ramo arco e settas, que trazia, 
Antes que adormecesse, pendurava. 
A nympha, como idoneo tempo vira 
Para tamanha empresa, não dilata ; 
Mas com as armas foge ao moço esquivo. 
As settas traz nos olhos, com que tira. 
Ó pastores ! fugi, que a todos mata, 
Senso a mim, que de matar-me vivo. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

David Huerta

Mexican poet's David Huerta's piece "Open and Shut" ["Abres y cierras"] translated by Jamie McKendrick, is incredible, very eerie with a Mads Mikkelsen feel about it--I swear the show runners and designers are using certain poetry to help their vision come to life. The show is just so artistic, I'm always impressed by the level of poetic feeling that the show conveys, a type of poetry of atmosphere.

Here's an excerpt:

You open the blade of a flick knife            Abres un filo de navaja
so it drips transparency.                              para que gotee la transparencia.
You shut the restless cube of night             Cierras el sonámbulo cubo de la noche
and a stream of shadow ramifies.                y un río de sombra se derrama. [...]

And here's an excerpt from his "Nine Years Later - A Poem Dated" ["Nueve años después - UN POEMA FECHADO"], translated by Tom Boll and PoetryTranslation:


                                                              my hands heavy with
and my eyes lashed to the dark.
If I spoke, my voice felt dislodged,
my bones were drenched with cold,
my legs, fluent with time, were carrying me out of the
in a direction with no direction: to rebirth
in a hall of mirrors, the maze of streets.
mis manos estabanfúnebres de silencio    y tenía los ojos atados a una espesa oscuridad.
Si hablaba, mi voz me sonaba como una materia desalojada,
mis huesos estaban empapados de frío,
mis piernas fluían con el tiempo, moviéndose hacia
afuera de la plaza,en una dirección extraña y sin sentido: de renacimiento,
llevándome a los espejos y las calles desordenadas.

Friday, May 2, 2014


Here's a little snippet of Byron, it's a great look at how the antique was incorporated into poetry in the 1800s. There's more here:


Through cloudless skies, in silvery sheen,Full beams the moon on Actium's coast:And on these waves, for Egypt's queen,The ancient world was won and lost.


And now upon the scene I look,The azure grave of many a Roman;Where stern Ambition once forsookHis wavering crown to follow Woman.


Florence! whom I will love as well(As ever yet was said or sung,Since Orpheus sang his spouse from Hell)Whilst thou art fair and I am young;

Little reads

There's an interesting, wild article on the origin of confetti from ancient Greece at CABINET here. There's also a neat little glimpse at pastry invention in Europe and its history. There's a longer look at Carnival in Trinidad here.

There's an interesting look at the history of colors and dyes like cyan blue and indigo. There's also a little history of the three-legged wheel, the three bent legs connected together, called the triskelion--it's a symbol of the island of Sicily off Italy and of the Isle of Man by England and Ireland. It's sometimes depicted with spirals instead of clearly defined human legs.

There's a neat look at festivals that include oranges and throwing them here, covering rituals in France, Belgium and Italy. There is also a look at the very eerie secret tunnels and rainbow hued rooms of the Italian new age 1970s commune Damanhur community in Piedmont near Turin--un-relatedly there is a real city called Damanhur in Egypt.

There is an complex, almost Derridean look at mazes and labyrinths as well.