Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Here's a great excerpt from the Bengali poet and polymath R. Tagore's [1861-1941] Songs of Kabir, read more here. This is from section XVII:


There the sky is filled with music:
There it rains nectar:
There the harp-strings jingle, and there the drums beat.
What a secret splendour is there, in the mansion of the sky!
There no mention is made of the rising and the setting of the
In the ocean of manifestation, which is the light of love, day
  and night are felt to be one.
Joy for ever, no sorrow,—no struggle!
There have I seen joy filled to the brim, perfection of joy;
No place for error is there.
Kabîr says: "There have I witnessed the sport of One Bliss!"
I have known in my body the sport of the universe: I have escaped
  from the error of this world..
The inward and the outward are become as one sky, the Infinite
  and the finite are united: I am drunken with the sight of this

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


The Decadent movement came at the fin de siècle, the end of the 1890s--it was associated with Symbolist art and writing, and also stuff like Beardsley's wild drawings, Wilde's Dorian Grey. It was different than the wider Romantic movement [c1800s-1850s]. One very interesting thing it created by Jean Lorrain's [1855-1906] novel Monsieur De Phocas [Mister De Phocas], read here in French.

If you like masks, Venetian carnival-style atmospheres, the eerie and True Detective, try this, it's what to read after it. It always reminds me of Astarte [Ashtoreth] with his line of her and mention of a black Astarte statue--I recall her picture by Sargent up on the curved wall in Boston's famous Italian marble palazzo Public Library

Astarte [Greek: Ἀστάρτη], also called Ishtar or Aphrodite by other groups, was an ancient goddess especially worshipped in Cyprus and Phoenician cities like Sidon, Tyre and Byblos [now the area of the coast in Lebanon and Syria--they were famous for trading their purple dye, which came from local snails]. She represented sexuality but also war, and notice the crescent moon under her feet, all the shining golden cut glass pressed into the painting, like the acorns on the sides. 

Here's a little quote I like:
Astarte has come again, more powerful than before. She possesses me. She lies in wait for me.
Astarté est revenue, plus puissante qu'avant. Elle me possède, elle me guette. [original French]

And another longer one:
The madness of the eyes is the lure of the abyss. Sirens lurk in the dark depths of the pupils as they lurk at the bottom of the sea, that I know for sure - but I have never encountered them, and I am searching still for the profound and plaintive gazes in whose depths I might be able, like Hamlet redeemed, to drown the Ophelia of my desire.

And this great creepy part:
“Masks! I see them everywhere. That dreadful vision of the other night - the deserted town with its masked corpses in every doorway; that nightmare product of morphine and ether - has taken up residence within me. I see masks in the street, I see them on stage in the theatre, I find yet more of them in the boxes. They are on the balcony and in the orchestra-pit. Everywhere I go I am surrounded by masks. The attendants to whom I give my overcoat are masked; masks crowd around me in the foyer as everyone leaves, and the coachman who drives me home has the same cardboard grimace fixed upon his face!

It is truly too much to bear: to feel that one is alone and at the mercy of all those enigmatic and deceptive faces, alone amid all the mocking laughs and the threats embodied in those masks. I have tried to persuade myself that I am dreaming, and that I am the victim of a hallucination, but all the powdered and painted faces of women, all the rouged lips and kohl-blackened eyelids... all of that has created around me an atmosphere of trance and mortal agony. Cosmetics: there is the root cause of my illness!

But I am happy, now, when there are only masks! Sometimes, I detect the cadavers beneath, and remember that beneath the masks there is a host of spectres.” 


Let's look at E.A. Poe's [1809-1849] famous detective story with Dupin, the precursor to Sherlock Holmes and Arsène Lupin by Maurice Leblanc [1864-1941]. Read it all here. The story uses initials with dashes to make it seem like the author is referencing real people and families that he dare not wholly name.

Remember, Dupin leaves a note for the bad man, called only 'D' in the story, in his card rack near where Dupin had put the fake letter he created [to replace the one he stole]. The note says only:
"'— Un dessein si funeste, S'il n'est digne d'Atrée, est digne de Thyeste. They are to be found in Crebillon's 'Atrée.'"
A design [ie plan] so fatal, it's not the dignity of Atreus, it's the dignity of Thyestes.

This refers to a 1707 play by Académie Française seatholder Frenchman Prosper Jolyot (the sieur de Crébillon; 1674-1762). The play Atrée et Thyeste is about so named twin brothers from Mycenae in Greece who violently and ruthlessly vie with and hate each other. In a sense Dupin is mocking his enemy 'D' for not being smarter, since he was obviously quite bright in hiding something in plain sight. He gave the desired letter such a gross, dirty envelope that no one thought it was the right one, even though it was out in the open in plain sight. Dupin is saying he and his enemy 'D' are very alike, but he won in this instance. [*Don't confuse this Atreus with Myst island and the computer game.]

Here's an excerpt where Dupin describes where he found the letter a man was holding a noblewoman hostage with:

It [ie. the letter] was thrust carelessly, and even, as it seemed, contemptuously, into one of the uppermost divisions of the rack.
"No sooner had I glanced at this letter, than I concluded it to be that of which I was in search. To be sure, it was, to all appearance, radically different from the one of which the Prefect had read us so minute a description. Here the seal was large and black, with the D— cipher; there it was small and red, with the ducal arms of the S— family. Here, the address, to the Minister, diminutive and feminine; there the superscription, to a certain royal personage, was markedly bold and decided; the size alone formed a point of correspondence. But, then, the radicalness of these differences, which was excessive; the dirt; the soiled and torn condition of the paper, so inconsistent with the true methodical habits of D—, and so suggestive of a design to delude the beholder into an idea of the worthlessness of the document; these things, together with the hyper-obtrusive situation of this document, full in the view of every visiter, and thus exactly in accordance with the conclusions to which I had previously arrived; these things, I say, were strongly corroborative of suspicion, in one who came with the intention to suspect.
"I protracted my visit as long as possible, and, while I maintained a most animated discussion with the Minister upon a topic which I knew well had never failed to interest and excite him, I kept my attention really riveted upon the letter. In this examination, I committed to memory its external appearance and arrangement in the rack; and also fell, at length, upon a discovery which set at rest whatever trivial doubt I might have entertained. In scrutinizing the edges of the paper, I observed them to be more chafed than seemed necessary. They presented the broken appearance which is manifested when a stiff paper, having been once folded and pressed with a folder, is refolded in a reversed direction, in the same creases or edges which had formed the original fold. This discovery was sufficient. It was clear to me that the letter had been turned, as a glove, inside out, re-directed, and re-sealed. I bade the Minister good morning, and took my departure at once, leaving a gold snuff-box upon the table.
"The next morning I called for the snuff-box, when we resumed, quite eagerly, the conversation of the preceding day. While thus engaged, however, a loud report, as if of a pistol, was heard immediately beneath the windows of the hotel, and was succeeded by a series of fearful screams, and the shoutings of a terrified mob. D— rushed to a casement, threw it open, and looked out. In the meantime, I stepped to the card-rack, took the letter, put it in my pocket, and replaced it by a fac-simile, (so far as regards externals,) which I had carefully prepared at my lodgings—imitating the D— cipher, very readily, by means of a seal formed of bread.


Tennyson's [1809-1892] poem "The Voyage of Maeldune" is a great, really interesting poem based on an ancient Irish Celtic legend. It's mythic, a symbolic look at Ireland's history and an adventure where they visit tons of odd, strange islands, like:

  • The island of colorful birds singing like psalms
  • The island with the psalm singing old man with noble monastic words
  • The island with the golden wall around it
  • The island with a woman pelting them with nuts
  • The island with a river sky that was raining salmon
  • The island on a pedestal

You can read the whole poem here, and here's an excerpt with great imagery:
The Voyage of Maeldune


And we came to the Isle of Flowers: their breath met us out on the seas,
For the Spring and the middle Summer sat each on the lap of the breeze;
And the red passion-flower to the cliffs and the dark-blue clematis, clung,
And starr’d with a myriad blossom the long convolvulus hung;
And the topmost spire of the mountain was lilies in lieu of snow,
And the lilies like glaciers winded down, running out below
Thro’ the fire of the tulip and poppy, the blaze of gorse, and the blush
Of millions of roses that sprang without leaf or a thorn from the bush;
And the whole isle-side flashing down from the peak without ever a tree
Swept like a torrent of gems from the sky to the blue of the sea;

Monday, April 28, 2014

Ancient Mexican poetry

Brinton's book of Ancient Nahuatl Poetry from Mexico and ancient Mexican poets [Nahuatl basically means Aztec] is incredible, just look at the excerpt below from "IX. An Otomi Song of Sadness" ["Otro tlaocolcuica otomitl"] and for more read here:

4. I array myself with the jewels of saddest flowers; in 
my hands are the weeping flowers of war; I lift my 
voice in sad songs; I offer a new and worthy song 
which is beautiful and melodious; I weave songs fresh 
as the dew of flowers; on my drum decked with 
precious stones and plumes I, the singer, keep time to 
my song, as I take it from those dwellers in the heavens, 
the zacuan bird, the beautiful tzinitzcan, the divine 
quechol, those melodious birds who give joy to the 
Cause of All.

4. Ica ye ninapanao tlaocolxochicozcatlon, 
nomac ommanian elcicihuilizchimàlxochitlon, 
nic ehuaya in tlaocolcuicatloo, 
nicchalchiuhcocahuicomana yectli yancuicatl, 
nic ahuachxochilacatzoa, yn o 
chalchiuhuehueuhilhuitl, itech nictlaxilotia in 
nocuicatzin in nicuicani ye niquincuilia in 
ilhuicac chanequeo zacuantototl, 
quetzaltzinitzcantototl teoquechol inon tlătoa 
quechol in qui cecemeltia in tloque, etc.


R. Tagore [1861-1941] was a famous Bengali Indian genius, you can read more here from his poetry volume Gitanjali ['An offering of songs']. Let's focus on an excerpt of his today, note it's spare yet atmospheric feeling that blooms into a type of metaphor, as if reality had blended into a dream or augury:
In the deep shadows of the rainy July, with secret steps, thou walkest, silent as night, eluding all watchers.
Today the morning has closed its eyes, heedless of the insistent calls of the loud east wind, and a thick veil has been drawn over the ever-wakeful blue sky.
The woodlands have hushed their songs, and doors are all shut at every house. Thou art the solitary wayfarer in this deserted street. Oh my only friend, my best beloved, the gates are open in my house—do not pass by like a dream.
Art thou abroad on this stormy night on thy journey of love, my friend? The sky groans like one in despair.
I have no sleep tonight. Ever and again I open my door and look out on the darkness, my friend!
I can see nothing before me. I wonder where lies thy path!
By what dim shore of the ink-black river, by what far edge of the frowning forest, through what mazy depth of gloom art thou threading thy course to come to me, my friend?
If the day is done, if birds sing no more, if the wind has flagged tired, then draw the veil of darkness thick upon me, even as thou hast wrapt the earth with the coverlet of sleep and tenderly closed the petals of the drooping lotus at dusk.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Coral Bracho

I have probably already featured the Mexican Coral Bracho, but I need to highlight her poems "In the Heart of Time" ["En la entraña del tiempo"], "Touches Its Depths and Is Stirred Up" ["Toca su fondo y se remueve"] and her amazing "Of Their Eyes Adorned with Crystal Sands" ["De sus ojos ornados de arenas vítreas"], "Water of Jellyfish" ["Agua de bordes lúbricos"] and others here all translated from the Spanish by Katherine Pierpoint.

She's got a great style, almost like Gabriele D'Annunzio. Be sure to try her poem "Firefly Under the Tongue" translated by Forrest Gander, it's incredible, with the opening:

I love you from the sharp tang of the fermentation;   
in the blissful pulp. [...]

Here's an excerpt from "Let That Fine Rain Fall" ["Que caiga esa lluvia fina"]:
This dark truth, this swaying lightness                                          Esta verdad oscura, esta oscilante levedad
like the whisper of endless bats,                                                        como el murmullo de un sinfín de murciélagos,
all sensing their way,                                                                            todos tanteando,
all surging as one up the veins' living corridors, all trying       todos brotando a un tiempo en las despiertas            
                                                                                                                     galerías de la sangre, todos tratando
to flee the towers.                                                                                    de salir de las torres.
To say yes,                                                                                                 Para decir que sí,let that mist of rain fall against the threshold,                               que caiga esa lluvia fina contra el umbral,   
let it fall on the walls; [...]                                                                    que caiga sobre los muros;      [...]

Here's an excerpt from "Marks of Time" ["Trazo del tiempo"]:

Between wind and dark,                                                                Entre el viento y lo oscuro,between a rush of joy                                                                      entre el gozo ascendenteyet deepest calm,                                                                              y la quietud profunda,between my lovely white dress flying                                         entre la exaltación de mi vestido blanco          
and the dark, dark hole of the mine,                                          y la oquedad nocturna de la mina,are my father's eyes, so gentle, waiting; his dancing            los ojos suaves de mi padre que esperan; su alegría                                                  
happiness. I go to meet him. This is a land                              incandescente. Subo para alcanzarlo. Es la tierra                                
of little stars, of pyrite crystals,                                                    de los pequeños astros, y sobre ella,           
wherever it's touched by the sunset. Clouds                             sobre sus lajas de pirita, el sol desciende. Altas nubes                                 
of quartz, [...]                                                                                    de cuarzo,  [...]        

Pedro Serrano

One very interesting almost eerie poem is "Black Poplars" ["Chopos"] by Pedro Serrano from Mexico, translated by Sarah Maguire from the Spanish. There's more info about Professor Serrano here--he even won a Guggenheim fellowship!

I want to highlight the exceptional ending, read it all here at PoetryTranslation where there are more of his poems:
                                 poets                                                                       poetas
of discipline or of exhaustion,                                        de la displicencia o el cansancio,
brushstrokes of blue, green jaguars,                             pinceles del azul, panteras verdes.
Cut-outs of water, virtual reflections,                           Recortados al agua, casi reflejos,
totems of glass.                                                                   tótemes de cristal.  


Let's focus on some Latin poetry, this time by Catullus [c84-54 b.c.]. His full name was Caius Valerius Catullus, and there's more of his work here and here for tons of info and poems. It's important to remember that the Romans were totally different in culture than our modern world. They had different views on everything--and all of the elite had slaves. Catullus wrote about love for women, love for younger men, and deep passions of every possible kind.
Let's also look at the use of the Latin word 'lymphae' below, because Lympha was an ancient Roman goddess of fresh water [ie the divine aspect of how water is clear and life-giving]. There were special agricultural deities that farmers were often particularly devoted to. Also don't forget that the Romans [and others in the ancient world] often conceived of religion as a series of gods who chose to make themselves known to people. If you made a deal with them, they would probably fulfill their end of the bargain, ie. you donate an ox to a religious feast or ceremony, and the god gives you a good harvest. If it doesn't work, you probably messed up your end of it. 
Gods were simply out there, everywhere. They didn't 'belong' to anyone, but they could 'help' anyone. A god from Persia could be worshipped by a cult/group in Rome with no issue. Many worshipped Isis and other foreign gods. 
'Falernian' is wine from a certain region in Italy. 'Postumia' is a woman that Catallus knows. 'Thyonianus' is a epithet or poetic name for Bacchus/Dionysus; it comes from his symbol of the thyrsus (θύρσος), the honey dipped, pinecone topped, and ivy or tainia ribbon decorated poles [ie wands/scepters] of his followers, especially the maenads.
Boy cupbearer of old Falernian,                              Minister vetuli puer Falerni
pour me fiercer cups                                                Inger mi calices amariores,
as bids the laws of Postumia,                               Vt lex Postumiae iubet magistrae,
mistress of the feast, drunker than a drunken grape.            Ebriosa acina ebriosioris.
But ye, hence, as far as ye please, crystal waters,               At vos quo lubet hinc abite, lymphae
bane of wine, hie ye to the sober:                                     Vini pernicies, et ad severos
here the Thyonian juice is pure.                            Migrate: hic merus est Thyonianus.

Here is a simpler translation, from here at PoetryinTranslation:
Serving-boy fill for me stronger cups
of old Falernian, since Postumia,
the mistress’s, laws demand it,
she who’s juicier then the juicy grape.
But you water, fatal to wine, away with you:
far off, wherever, be off to the strict.
This wine is Bacchus’s own.

Another translation, more stylized:                     To his Cup-Boy.
Thou youngling drawer of Falernian old
Crown me the goblets with a bitterer wine
As was Postumia's law that rules the feast
Than ebriate grape-stone more inebriate.
But ye fare whither please ye (water-nymphs!)
To wine pernicious, and to sober folk
Migrate ye: mere Thyonian juice be here!


Here's another sonnet by Shakespeare, one that is quite sweet. It's a great way to introduce people to older, often more complex poetry. To read more, go here.


The forward violet thus did I chide:
Sweet thief, whence didst thou steal thy sweet that smells,
If not from my love's breath? The purple pride
Which on thy soft cheek for complexion dwells
In my love's veins thou hast too grossly dy'd.
The lily I condemned for thy hand,
And buds of marjoram had stol'n thy hair;
The roses fearfully on thorns did stand,
One blushing shame, another white despair;
A third, nor red nor white, had stol'n of both,
And to his robbery had annex'd thy breath;
But, for his theft, in pride of all his growth
A vengeful canker eat him up to death.
     More flowers I noted, yet I none could see,
     But sweet, or colour it had stol'n from thee.


Here's a snippet of Tennyson [1809-1892], there's more here with many poems/lines he left out from finished copies. This is a good example of how poetry can be spare and beautiful--look past the language of yesteryear and see the simple truth of nature's loveliness, and there's even a hint of the unknowability of the universe here. The mysterious revelation of our mere existence is so strange and beyond total understanding, poetry often captures this reality. It can capture our feelings of wonder, concern, worry and confusion. 

It can transport you, you just have to find the right poet--there's a poet for everyone out there. This excerpt is from "Poems Chiefly Lyrical":


Every day hath its night:
Every night its morn:
Through dark and bright
Wingèd hours are borne;
Ah! welaway!
Seasons flower and fade;
Golden calm and storm
Mingle day by day.
There is no bright form
Doth not cast a shade—
Ah! welaway!


Baudelaire [1821-1867] has some great phrasing and ideas, but often people don't try poets from other languages. Their work can be even more amazing, so be sure to ask for a recommendation and try reading translations. Let's highlight some great work from the famous French poet Charles Baudelaire here. You can read more here; and if you can read French, be sure to read it in the original here.

Here's his poem "Exotic Perfume":

When, with closed eyes, on a hot afternoon,
The scent of thine ardent breast I inhale,
Celestial vistas my spirit assail;
Caressed by the flames of an endless sun.

A langorous island, where Nature abounds
With exotic trees and luscious fruit;
And with men whose bodies are slim and astute,
And with women whose frankness delights and astounds.

By thy perfume enticed to this region remote,
A port I see, laden with mast and with boat,
Still wearied and torn by the distant brine;

While the tamarisk-odours that dreamily throng
The air, round my slumberous senses intwine,
And mix, in my soul, with the mariners' song.

Here's the French version of this poem ie "Parfum exotique", from here; look at the changes the translators made if you know French:

Quand, les deux yeux fermés, en un soir chaud d'automne,
Je respire l'odeur de ton sein chaleureux,
Je vois se dérouler des rivages heureux
Qu'éblouissent les feux d'un soleil monotone;
Une île paresseuse où la nature donne
Des arbres singuliers et des fruits savoureux;
Des hommes dont le corps est mince et vigoureux,
Et des femmes dont l'oeil par sa franchise étonne.
Guidé par ton odeur vers de charmants climats,
Je vois un port rempli de voiles et de mâts
Encor tout fatigués par la vague marine,
Pendant que le parfum des verts tamariniers,
Qui circule dans l'air et m'enfle la narine,
Se mêle dans mon âme au chant des mariniers.

Here's an excerpt from his "Hymn to Beauty":
Within thy glance, so diabolic and divine,                    Ton regard, infernal et divin,
Confusedly both wickedness and goodness dwell,        Verse confusément le bienfait et le crime,
And hence one might compare thee unto sparkling wine.     Et l'on peut pour cela te comparer au vin.

Thy look containeth both the dawn and sunset stars,        Tu contiens dans ton œil le couchant et l'aurore;
Thy perfumes, as upon a sultry night exhale,             Tu répands des parfums comme un soir orageux;
Thy kiss a philter, and thy mouth a Grecian vase,           Tes baisers sont un filtre et ta bouche une amphore
That renders heroes cowardly and infants hale.           Qui font le héros lâche et l'enfant courageux.
O Beauty, frightful ghoul, ingenuous and obscure!      O Beauté! monstre énorme, effrayant, ingénu!
So long thine eyes, thy smile, to me the way can tell    Si ton œil, ton souris, ton pied, m'ouvrent la porte
Towards that Infinite I love, but never saw.                   D'un infini que j'aime et n'ai jamais connu?

From God or Satan? Angel, Mermaid, Proserpine?          De Satan ou de Dieu, qu'importe? Ange ou Sirène,
What matter if thou makest—blithe, voluptuous sprite—  Qu'importé, si tu rends,--fée aux yeux de velours,
With rhythms, perfumes, visions—O mine only queen!—  Rythme, parfum, lueur, ô mon unique reine!--
The universe less hideous and the hours less trite.               L'univers moins hideux et les instants moins lourds?

Saturday, April 26, 2014


Let's focus on a sonnet by Shakespeare--one that's quite accessible while being beautiful. You can read more of them here. When reading sonnets it's important to remember that they often have backwards speech, in a sense. They are not constructed like regular sentences, so wait for the end of lines or the next few to grasp what it all means. If you're ready and waiting to keep this approach in mind, they are much easier to enjoy and understand.


From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dress'd in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
That heavy Saturn laugh'd and leap'd with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
Could make me any summer's story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
Nor did I wonder at the lily's white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
     Yet seem'd it winter still, and you away,
     As with your shadow I with these did play.


One poet that can take time to get into is Tennyson [1809-1892]. After having to read him in school, many people then abandon him--but he's got a lot of gems. His famous last lines in the poem "Ulysses" of 'to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield' are classic, but there's much more great stuff in his catalogue.

I hope this inspires people to enjoy more of his work. I want to highlight his poem "Morte d'Arthur" [Death of Arthur, ie. the legend of King Arthur] for its beautiful imagery and the emotional way it draws you in to the legend, there's more here

Here's an excerpt:
And dropping bitter tears against his brow
  Striped with dark blood: for all his face was white
  And colourless, and like the wither'd moon
  Smote by the fresh beam of the springing east;
  And all his greaves and cuisses dash'd with drops
  Of onset; and the light and lustrous curls—
  That made his forehead like a rising sun
  High from the daïs-throne—were parch'd with dust;
  Or, clotted into points and hanging loose,
  Mix'd with the knightly growth that fringed his lips.
  So like a shatter'd column lay the King;
  Not like that Arthur who, with lance in rest,
  From spur to plume a star of tournament,
  Shot thro' the lists at Camelot, and charged
  Before the eyes of ladies and of kings.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Long recs

If you like long books exclusively, or like to dip in and out of works, or even just read along quickly, absorbing it like poetry--try two Americans, Leon Forrest [1937-1997] and James A. Michener [1907-1997].

Michener wrote many huge books which blend fiction and historical events. He wrote Tales of the South PacificHawaiiTexasMexico and many other books. He has an odd style that narrates like a history book and yet includes fictional characters [or fictionalized accounts of things that happened in history]. It's quite fun to visit and revisit without having to have a sole story that finishes in one normal sized book. It's a departure from the norm of our narrative form today.

Forrest has a very Joycean vibe, a type of Pound cantos effect to his style--he's sometimes spoken of as the black Joyce. His skill is quite incredible. He speeds along like a better version of the New Orleans favorite A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy [1980]. He's got a great style and incredible phrasing, it's often very poetic and cuts you to the quick. 

Glance through some pages of his The Bloodworth Orphans here, and try his There is a Tree More Ancient Than Eden hereHere's an excerpt from his big magnum opus Divine Days:

Now the body of McNabb, once dead to life, was actually doing a kind of vamped upwards dance, touched by an electricalvoltage through some unseen conductor. And I became troubled, then horrified (not whether the death of McNabb would bring on the loss of my Aunt's liquor license) but that the unconscious wrath of McNabb's body would bring down the whole flooring, flora, fauna, tropicalplants, chairs, walls, bottles of liquor from the shelves. It reminded me of attending scores of wrestling matches as a kid, and noticing these body-slamming wrestlers banging bodies down upon that same mat, week in and week out, and thinking surely one of them is going to drive his foe through the mat-that is, until I woke up to the fact that matches were set up fakes. But this was real, what McNabb was doing to my Aunt's floor.


One fun travel read to try is American Washington Irving's [1783-1859] The Alhambra, ie. the medieval palace in Granada. Here's an excerpt from his take on his travels in Spain, it's beautiful--and is a great example of an older work that conveys what culture and cultural attitudes were like in his time. The painting above is by the famous American painter Edwin Lord Weeks, it's his "A Court In The Alhambra: In The Time Of The Moors", you can see more of his work here.

It is this glorious pile of mountains which gives to Granada that combination of delights so rare in a southern city: the fresh vegetation and temperate airs of a northern climate, with the vivifying ardor of a tropical sun, and the cloudless azure of a southern sky. It is this aerial treasury of snow, which, melting in proportion to the increase of the summer heat, sends down rivulets and streams through every glen and gorge of the Alpuxarras, diffusing emerald verdure and fertility throughout a chain of happy and sequestered valleys.
Those mountains may be well called the glory of Granada. They dominate the whole extent of Andalusia, and may be seen from its most distant parts. The muleteer hails them, as he views their frosty peaks from the sultry level of the plain; and the Spanish mariner on the deck of his bark, far, far off on the bosom of the blue Mediterranean, watches them with a pensive eye, thinks of delightful Granada, and chants, in low voice, some old romance about the Moors.
See to the south at the foot of those mountains a line of arid hills, down which a long train of mules is slowly moving. Here was the closing scene of Moslem domination. From the summit of one of those hills the unfortunate Boabdil cast back his last look upon Granada, and gave vent to the agony of his soul. It is the spot famous in song and story, “The last sigh of the Moor.”
Further this way these arid hills slope down into the luxurious Vega, from which he had just emerged: a blooming wilderness of grove and garden, and teeming orchard, with the Xenil winding through it in silver links, and feeding innumerable rills; which, conducted through ancient Moorish channels, maintain the landscape in perpetual verdure.

Rupert Brooke

Now that spring is segueing into summer, there is a lot of fun stuff to read that matches the season. The sweet illustration, a part of "Girls and Eggs", is by the famous Austrian Raphael Kirchner [1876-1917]; more here.

Here's a great old Elizabethan song lyric, from Bullen's collection of them here:
From William Byrd’s Psalms, Songs, and Sonnets, 1611.
CROWNÈD with flowers I saw fair Amaryllis
By Thyrsis sit, hard by a fount of crystal,And with her hand more white than snow or lilies,On sand she wrote My faith shall be immortal:And suddenly a storm of wind and weatherBlew all her faith and sand away together.

I also want to focus on a poem by the British Rupert Brooke [1887-1915], one that's not on World War I but on a more odd subject; you can read more of his work here:

The Fish

   In a cool curving world he lies
   And ripples with dark ecstasies.
   The kind luxurious lapse and steal
   Shapes all his universe to feel
   And know and be; the clinging stream
   Closes his memory, glooms his dream,
   Who lips the roots o' the shore, and glides
   Superb on unreturning tides.
   Those silent waters weave for him
   A fluctuant mutable world and dim,
   Where wavering masses bulge and gape
   Mysterious, and shape to shape
   Dies momently through whorl and hollow,
   And form and line and solid follow
   Solid and line and form to dream
   Fantastic down the eternal stream;
   An obscure world, a shifting world,
   Bulbous, or pulled to thin, or curled,
   Or serpentine, or driving arrows,
   Or serene slidings, or March narrows.
   There slipping wave and shore are one,
   And weed and mud.  No ray of sun,
   But glow to glow fades down the deep
   (As dream to unknown dream in sleep);
   Shaken translucency illumes
   The hyaline of drifting glooms;
   The strange soft-handed depth subdues
   Drowned colour there, but black to hues,
   As death to living, decomposes —
   Red darkness of the heart of roses,
   Blue brilliant from dead starless skies,
   And gold that lies behind the eyes,
   The unknown unnameable sightless white
   That is the essential flame of night,
   Lustreless purple, hooded green,
   The myriad hues that lie between
   Darkness and darkness! . . .

                                 And all's one.
   Gentle, embracing, quiet, dun,
   The world he rests in, world he knows,
   Perpetual curving.  Only — grows
   An eddy in that ordered falling,
   A knowledge from the gloom, a calling
   Weed in the wave, gleam in the mud —
   The dark fire leaps along his blood;
   Dateless and deathless, blind and still,
   The intricate impulse works its will;
   His woven world drops back; and he,
   Sans providence, sans memory,
   Unconscious and directly driven,
   Fades to some dank sufficient heaven.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Aeneid

Here's a great passage from Virgil's famous Latin/Roman story of the Trojan Aeneas, who traveled around after Troy fell, met Dido and eventually got to Italy and founded Rome; this is called The Aeneid [c. 23 B.C.]. 

Let's quickly look at how the other ancient epics begin. It famously starts, just for comparison: 
Arma virumque cano ...,       "I sing of arms and of a man ..."

Homer's [Ὅμηρος] The Iliad [ie. The Song of Ilium; Ilium is another name for Troy] starts:  
μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
Sing goddess, of the wrath of Peleus' son, Achilles, [...]

The Odyssey's [Ὀδύσσεια] first line is: 

ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ
Tell me, O Muse, of the man of many devices [...], 

----------[ie. that man being Odysseus]

Here's a 1598 Barocci painting of his flight from Troy, with his young son and aged father; and his wife Creusa, who dies tragically while they escape. Here is the passage from The Aeneid, more herewhere Aeneas goes to Hades, down into the underworld, and talks with many ghosts--he was just talking to one of the dead sons of Priam, Deiphobus:

While thus in talk the flying hours they pass,
The sun had finish'd more than half his race:
And they, perhaps, in words and tears had spent
The little time of stay which Heav'n had lent;
But thus the Sibyl chides their long delay:
"Night rushes down, and headlong drives the day:
'T is here, in different paths, the way divides;
The right to Pluto's golden palace guides;
The left to that unhappy region tends,
Which to the depth of Tartarus descends;
The seat of night profound, and punish'd fiends."
Then thus Deiphobus: "O sacred maid,
Forbear to chide, and be your will obey'd!
Lo! to the secret shadows I retire,
To pay my penance till my years expire.
Proceed, auspicious prince, with glory crown'd,
And born to better fates than I have found."
He said; and, while he said, his steps he turn'd
To secret shadows, and in silence mourn'd.