Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Poetry Month: #7 Last Night as I Lay Sleeping by Antonio Machado

This poem by Antonio Machado is a haunting flow of words and imagery.  One of my favorite lines:   

And the golden bees were making white combs 
and sweet honey from my old failures.  

Alison Patton provides a little more background on the poem: "Spanish poet Antonio Machado lost his beloved wife at a young age and went into a state of deep grief. When he finally began to recover from this loss, he wrote this beautiful poem about the re-birth of his soul and his heart."

As I began to study Spanish, I became intrigued by the process of translation and began to realize how almost impossible it is to translate poetry. Robert Bly has the best known English version of this special poem ... but it makes me wince every time I read or hear it.

There is a phrase repeated at the beginning of each stanza:

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé ¡bendita ilusión!,

Bly's translation bothers me when he calls ¡bendita ilusión! a marvelous error:

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—

Chris Cavanagh's translation seems much closer to the poet's words:

Last night while sleeping
I dreamt, – blessed illusion!

However, as the poem goes on, it is Bly's translation that has that special rhythm and meaning:

that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from all my old failures.

While Cavanagh translates it as:

that a beehive
within my heart;
and the golden bees
were making,
from my bitter disappointments,
white wax and sweet honey.
Acequia from Google Images

Another example is the word aqueduct ... a harsh, unpoetic word in English. Machado uses the word acequia, a much softer, lovelier word with a broader meaning, including this image.

I wish I had sufficient Spanish to truly savor Machado's original words. But I will put them below with Bly's translation.

This reading by Roger Housden gives us a taste of the original Spanish. Click here
Last Night as I Lay Sleeping
by Antonio Machado

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

Translated by Robert Bly

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé ¡bendita ilusión!
que una fontana fluía
dentro de mi corazón.
Dí: ¿por qué acequia escondida,
agua, vienes hasta mí,
manantial de nueva vida
en donde nunca bebí?

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé ¡bendita ilusión!
que una colmena tenía
dentro de mi corazón;
y las doradas abejas
iban fabricando en él,
con las amarguras viejas,
blanca cera y dulce miel.

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé ¡bendita ilusión!
que un ardiente sol lucía
dentro de mi corazón.
Era ardiente porque daba
calores de rojo hogar,
y era sol porque alumbraba
y porque hacía llorar.

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé ¡bendita ilusión!
que era Dios lo que tenía 
dentro de mi corazón.

el manatial
la colmena
la amagura
la cera
el corazon ardiente
el rojo hogar
y porque hacía llorar.

More info: https://vielmetti.wordpress.com/2011/12/23/anoche-cuando-dormia-three-translations/


Monday, April 6, 2020

Poetry Month #6: Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll

John Hurt and Charlie Rose
This poem always makes me feel young and carefree.  

I was sitting in a hammered dulcimer class a few years ago and something set the instructor and I off and we recited this in unison.  I think the class thought we were crazy, but we had fun.  

When actor John  Hurt was on the Charlie Rose show, Hurt commented that Alice in Wonderland is the book that he would take with him to a desert island and proceeded to do a most infectiously joyful recitation of Jabberwocky. Don't miss this moment: Click Here

by Lewis Carroll
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
   Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
   And the mome raths outgrabe.
‘Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
  The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
  The frumious Bandersnatch!
He took his vorpal sword in hand;
   Long time the manxome foe he sought –
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
   And stood awhile in thought.
And, as in uffish thought he stood,
   The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
   And burbled as it came!
One, two!  One, two! And through and through
   The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
   He went galumphing back.
‘And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
   Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day!  Callooh, Callay!
   He chortled in his joy.
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
   Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
   And the mome raths outgrabe.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Poetry Month #5: Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

As a sophomore in college, I fell in love with this poem fragment which, as the story goes, came to Coleridge in a dream and midway through transcribing it, someone knocked at his door and the rest was lost.  

Over the years I've memorized it, thought about it, studied it and still only feel like I understand about ten percent of it ... but, oh, the sounds of it keep calling me back.  

Kubla Khan
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round :
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree ;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery. 
But oh ! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover !
A savage place ! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover !
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced :
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail :
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean :
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war !
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves ;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice ! 
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw :
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome ! those caves of ice !
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware ! Beware !
His flashing eyes, his floating hair !
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise. 

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Poetry Month, Day #4: Lost by David Wagoner

This is a powerful poem read by the amazing David Whyte.  This video with David Whyte includes the Lost poem at  03:38.  Click Here

 It's worth a short break with a cup of tea, especially in this time when we have been given some down time. Savor the words: "The forest knows where you are. You must let it find you."

Lost by David Wagoner
From the book "Traveling Light: Collected and New Poems"
published by the University of Illinois Press in 1999

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Poetry Month: #3 A Brief For The Defense by Jack Gilbert

One of the joys of poetry month is pushing myself to discover new favorites, generally found in a roundabout, referral sort of way. No more reading pre-packaged tomes of what someone, somewhere thought we should read. 

From Elizabeth Gilbert, I discover Jack Gilbert (no relation), not exactly on the Top 10 list, perhaps at his own choice as someone who was social distancing long before corona. 

Still, his message touches my heart and urges me to accept the “gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.”

Lovely reading by an unknown reader. Click here.

Read more about his fascinating and largely solitary journey here:

A Brief for the Defense 

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Poetry Month #2: Maggie and Millie and Molly and May by e.e. cummings

Update April 1, 2020 - for years I've wanted to make it through the entire month of April, posting a poem a day. This year, with the aid of a pandemic that has dramatically increased my available time, I'm trying again.
It's time to celebrate poetry. The next 30 days will honor poems that have been my favorites for many years and some that are recent friends.

This poem comes from e. e. cummings who began writing poems when he was 10.  The poem's easy, playful rhyme is like a day at the beach and yet each of the four girls find very different things during their day of play.  Fate or happenstance?  

For me, the last line is a powerful reminder of the way the Universe works, for we always find ourselves regardless of what sea we visit.

Click here to listen to a choral recording from composer and conductor Eric Whiteacre.

maggie and milly and molly and may

e.e. cummings
maggie and milly and molly and may 
went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang 
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing 
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone 
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me) 
it's always ourselves we find in the sea

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Poetry Month #1: Earthseed by Octavia Butler

This poem has been a favorite for years without my ever thinking much about the poet who happens to be an woman science-fiction writer. 

by Octavia E. Butler
Here we are –
Shaping life,
Shaping Mind
Shaping God.
We are born
Not with purpose,
But with potential.
All that you touch
You Change.
All that you Change
Changes you.
The only lasting truth
Is Change.
Is Change.

Octavia Estelle Butler (June 22, 1947 – February 24, 2006) was an American science fiction writer, one of the best-known among the few African-American women in the field. She won both Hugo and Nebula awards. In 1995, she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.