Thursday, January 22, 2015

Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens [1879-1955] is a very famous Modernist poet [in the more clear/concise American style], but often the work discussed is not his best--his piece "Sunday Morning" is the exception. It draws you in and has excellent language, with a modern edge:


Complacencies of the peignoir, and late 
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair, 
And the green freedom of a cockatoo 
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate 
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice. 
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark 
Encroachment of that old catastrophe, 
As a calm darkens among water-lights. 
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings 
Seem things in some procession of the dead, 
Winding across wide water, without sound. 
The day is like wide water, without sound, 
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet 
Over the seas, to silent Palestine, 
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre. 


Why should she give her bounty to the dead? 
What is divinity if it can come 
Only in silent shadows and in dreams? 
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun, 
In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else 
In any balm or beauty of the earth, 
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven? 
Divinity must live within herself: 
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow; 
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued 
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty 
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights; 
All pleasures and all pains, remembering 
The bough of summer and the winter branch. 
These are the measures destined for her soul. 


Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth. 
No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave 
Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind. 
He moved among us, as a muttering king, 
Magnificent, would move among his hinds, 
Until our blood, commingling, virginal, 
With heaven, brought such requital to desire 
The very hinds discerned it, in a star. 
Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be 
The blood of paradise? And shall the earth 
Seem all of paradise that we shall know? 
The sky will be much friendlier then than now, 
A part of labor and a part of pain, 
And next in glory to enduring love, 
Not this dividing and indifferent blue. 


She says, “I am content when wakened birds, 
Before they fly, test the reality 
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings; 
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields 
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?” 
There is not any haunt of prophecy, 
Nor any old chimera of the grave, 
Neither the golden underground, nor isle 
Melodious, where spirits gat them home, 
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm 
Remote on heaven’s hill, that has endured 
As April’s green endures; or will endure 
Like her remembrance of awakened birds, 
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped 
By the consummation of the swallow’s wings. 


She says, “But in contentment I still feel 
The need of some imperishable bliss.” 
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her, 
Alone, shall come fulfilment to our dreams 
And our desires. Although she strews the leaves 
Of sure obliteration on our paths, 
The path sick sorrow took, the many paths 
Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love 
Whispered a little out of tenderness, 
She makes the willow shiver in the sun 
For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze 
Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet. 
She causes boys to pile new plums and pears 
On disregarded plate. The maidens taste 
And stray impassioned in the littering leaves. 


Is there no change of death in paradise? 
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs 
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky, 
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth, 
With rivers like our own that seek for seas 
They never find, the same receding shores 
That never touch with inarticulate pang? 
Why set the pear upon those river banks 
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum? 
Alas, that they should wear our colors there, 
The silken weavings of our afternoons, 
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes! 
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical, 
Within whose burning bosom we devise 
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly. 


Supple and turbulent, a ring of men 
Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn 
Their boisterous devotion to the sun, 
Not as a god, but as a god might be, 
Naked among them, like a savage source. 
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise, 
Out of their blood, returning to the sky; 
And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice, 
The windy lake wherein their lord delights, 
The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills, 
That choir among themselves long afterward. 
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship 
Of men that perish and of summer morn. 
And whence they came and whither they shall go 
The dew upon their feet shall manifest. 


She hears, upon that water without sound, 
A voice that cries, “The tomb in Palestine 
Is not the porch of spirits lingering. 
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay.” 
We live in an old chaos of the sun, 
Or old dependency of day and night, 
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free, 
Of that wide water, inescapable. 
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail 
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries; 
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness; 
And, in the isolation of the sky, 
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make 
Ambiguous undulations as they sink, 
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

Leon Forrest

Leon Forrest needs more attention, but in academia and in the public sphere. He was a great African American writer [1937-1997], a type of 'Joyce of Chicago', as some said. His books are quite long--he wrote many books, the two most famous being: There is a Tree More Ancient than Eden and the very large Divine Days. Here's an excerpt from very beginning of There is a Tree [the gap is the page break of pages 3 to 4]:


The New Orleans Toulouse Street blog by Mark Folse has such great writing that we're going to highlight it for a while; here's an example from Nov. 2012--and for all Pynchon lovers, this post with our favorite trumpet led to very interesting things [... like how we await Trystero's silent empire].

I would encourage anyone who loves Umberto Eco, Poe, Joyce, Pound or Leon Forrest [a African American writer who should be more famous]. Here's the excerpt from Toulouse Street:

I am not worried about how I die so much as where, and that is the one decision about death most of us get to make. I was born here in New Orleans in a hospital on Perdido Street. I will die here and invite anyone who wishes to dispute that point to join me. I want to die where my diet is a cheap and easy contributing factor, where a wake is an occasion to shame the Irish, where a band is more essential than a minister. No bouquets for me. Just bury me when the sweet autumn clematis are in bloom, on a cool October day with someone cooking with the windows open, and the sound of the band carrying to the next ward on the apple-crisp air. Just put a pack of smokes and my Zippo in the box to get me through the day.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Mark Folse

One great poet is the NOLA Toulouse Street blogger Mark Folse. His poem "The Taste of Carnations" from Jan. 2015 is gothic in the best way, it's a great piece that reminds you of Neruda's style. Also try his "Its Black Absence" piece as well. 

And if you like old folk music in the Spanish rhythmic style, be sure to listen to the adjacent vid of a Spanish gypsy flamenco song [it's a cut above many that I've heard]:

Tonight of all nights I would hear the saddest songs.
This wine of the Alicante,
dark as blood spilt by night,
sharp as flint, a spark
in the sparkle with the savor
of must fresh from dusty feet
walked hard and long buried.
I would taste carnations
fed with the blood of bulls.
Tonight I would hear the saddest songs
because joy is a wind
that blows hot and cold
but sadness outlasts empires.

Saturday, January 3, 2015


This is a truly interesting and unique poem, a piece by the French master Mallarmé [1842-1898], translated from the French here. This piece is very intense and emotional, with a modern air underneath the beautiful, more Shelley-like language of the past:

Summer Sadness

The sun, on the sand, O sleeping wrestler,

Warms a languid bath in the gold of your hair,
Melting the incense on your hostile features,
Mixing an amorous liquid with the tears.

The immutable calm of this white burning,
O my fearful kisses, makes you say, sadly,
‘Will we ever be one mummified winding,
Under the ancient sands and palms so happy?’

But your tresses are a tepid river,
Where the soul that haunts us drowns, without a shiver
And finds the Nothingness you cannot know!

I’ll taste the unguent of your eyelids’ shore,
To see if it can grant to the heart, at your blow,
The insensibility of stones and the azure.

Here is the French:
Tristesse d’été from Le Parnasse contemporain (June 30, 1866)
Le soleil, sur le sable, ô lutteuse endormie,
En l’or de tes cheveux chauffe un bain langoureux
Et, consumant l’encens sur ta joue ennemie,
Il mêle avec les pleurs un breuvage amoureux.
Dans ce blanc Flamboiement l’immuable accalmie
T’a fait dire, attristée, ô mes baisers peureux,
«Nous ne serons jamais une seule momie
ous l’antique désert et les palmiers heureux!»
Mais ta chevelure est une rivière tiède,
Où noyer sans frissons l’âme qui nous obsède
Et trouver ce Néant que tu ne connais pas!

Je goûterai le fard pleuré par tes paupières,
Pour voir s’il sait donner au cœur que tu frappas
L’insenibilité de l’azur et des pierres.