Sunday, September 16, 2012

Hekigoto and Pound

from Modern Japanese Haiku, by Makoto Ueda:

[Kawahigashi] Hekigoto . . . was a tireless experimenter, and restlessly went from one experiment to another throughout his career.

Of all his experiments [one of the most] controversial [was his] idea of 'haiku without a center of interest,' which he began to advocate in 1910.  [This concept] was based on his belief that a poem should come as close as possible to its subject matter, which is part of life or nature.  He thought that if the poet tried to create a center of interest in his poem he would inevitably have to distort his subject matter for the sake of that interest.

Hekigoto said: 

"To do away with a center of interest and to discard the process of poeticizing reality would help the poet to approach things in nature as close as he can, without being sidetracked by man-made rules.''

Hekigoto also challenged traditional syllabic rules:

as Donald Keene writes in Dawn to the West,

"By 1915 Hekigoto had come to oppose a fixed form for the haiku. . . . [His] free haiku no longer had the familiar haiku shape, but tended to run on to prosaic lengths. He himself preferred to call them 'short poems' (tanshi). This poem, written in 1918, was typical of his new manner:

ringo wo tsumami
kurikaesaneba naranu

I pick up an apple;
I've said everything that was to be said,
But still must repeat.

[Keene notes:] The poem has twenty-four syllables . . . [T]his is hardly a haiku. Konishi Jin'ichi wrote of such poems, 'When one reaches this point . . . haiku disappear[s], both in name and in reality. . . . Hekigoto valiantly forged ahead on his own road, [and came] finally to destroy the road before him.' "

(An interesting metaphor: by advancing on his own road, he destroyed the road before him.)

Ueda again:

"An example of 'haiku without a center of interest' which was cited by Hekigoto himself" is the following:

Sumo / noseshi / binsen-no / nado / shike / to / nari
Wrestlers / aboard / ferry's / why / storm / thus / becoming

Ueda's translation:

Wrestlers are aboard
the ferry; why has it become
stormy weather?

If even the strongest among us must take the ferry in obeisance to the obstacles presented by the physical world, why is it necessary for Nature to present still more signs of its ruthless power? Will none of our submissions and sacrifices appease that deity?

Remember that T.S. Eliot (looking back in a 1953 lecture) asserted that "[T]he starting-point of modern poetry is the group denominated 'imagist' in London about 1910."

Compare the Wrestlers haiku above to Pound's "In a Station of the Metro":

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Pound's note on this poem quotes an unattributed Japanese haiku ('The fallen blossom flies back to its branch: A butterfly.'), and then says:

"The 'one-image' poem is a form of super-position, that is to say it is one idea set on top of another."

Both poems, to use Pound's phrases, set an idea (or representation) of the human 'on top of' an idea (or image) of nature.

Wrestlers/ferry : storm.

Faces/subway : spring petals on a wet [rained-on] branch.

Note that both present the human idea in transit, in modes of transportation (ferry, train), in linear (singular/irrevocable) passage as opposed to the perennial recurrent manifestations of nature.

The human idea is an apparition compared to the ever-embodied, ever-physical presence of the environment.

Thought as opposed to substance.

(Of course rainstorms and petals are more transitory forms of nature than mountains or oceans, but doesn't this heighten the poignancy of the "super-position"?)

Isn't Pound's poem really a simile which refuses to use its "like": the pale European faces seen against the badly-lit gloom of the subway terminal are like white petals on a black branch.

The Hekigoto is not comparing the wrestlers to the storm, or is it?

—Are the sumo here on the ferry when they should be in the sky struggling with the elemental forces to which they seem most akin?

Apples ripen and fall yearly, the human picks one up and says he's picking one up, and then says that's all there is to be said about the matter, though in response to the repetitive patterns of nature he acknowledges that he too must repeat himself.

Donald Keene: 

"Hekigoto [advocates] in 1910 the principle of "no-centeredness" (muchushin-ron), by which he meant that natural phenomena should be described exactly as they are without imposing any human standards."

In 1912 Pound writes: "I believe that the proper and perfect symbol is the natural object. . . ."

A year later, in 'A few Don'ts of an Imagiste,' he insists that "the natural object is always the adequate symbol."

I've taken these quotes from William Pratt's introduction to The Imagist Poem. Pratt comments:

"Pound [is making a] distinction between the image and the symbol . . . the symbolic meaning must have its source in the literal meaning, and not be imposed upon it."

Here, at the "starting-point of modern poetry," Hekigoto and Pound seem to be of one mind:

"Super-position," yes; imposition, no.


verlaine 2

see my note to the previous post for an introduction to the origins of this chapbook—


Published February 1997


As the name implies, Captain Hook Books
is a pirate press.   From time to time, we will
publish books which ought to exist.

P A U L   V E R L A I N E ' S




a collection of translations



WILFRED  THORLEY:                                        

Your soul's a happy pastoral where trimly
  The lawns are kept and merry dancers go
To melody of lutes, still wondering dimly
  Behind their masks if they are happy so.

And happy life that hath sweet love for guerdon
  They praise in sad notes of the minor scale,
But with wry faces that belie the burden
  That melts away into the moonlight pale.

And the calm moonbeams fill the birds a-sleeping
  With silver dreams, and the tall fountains spear
The dusk with silver jets that fall a-weeping
   On marble basins for a bliss too dear.


Your soul is an exquisite landscape
That bergamasks have charmed.  Enchanting bands
Playing the lute and dancing to escape
The sadness left untouched by mummers' hands.

Chanting the while upon the minor mode
Of happy love and of life's long delight
Shyly they tread upon the happy road
And their sweet sighs in the moonlight.

In sad moonlight, serene in its beauty,
Birds cease their song and dream under its spell;
And graceful waters sob in ecstasy
Surging from the marble in which they dwell.  



Your soul is like a chosen scene
Where masqueraders, quaintly clad,
To tune of lute strings dance serene—
Yet 'neath their strange disguise are sad.

In singing thus in some lighter vein
Of vanquishing love, and of life opportune,
They seem to forget its glad refrain,
And their song is lost in the light of the moon.

In the pensive moonlight, calm and clear,
Which lulls the nightingale to sleep,
The fountain‑sprays—each drop a tear—
From the bowls in a mist of silver leap.


ALAN CONDER:              

Your soul's a charméd landscape wherein go
Fantastic routs beneath enchanted skies;
They dance and lute, and yet it seems as though
Some sadness haunts them 'neath their gay disguise.

They sing of Conquering Love, of draining all
Life offers; yet the mode's a minor one,
For doubt pervades the ghostly festival,
Whose song is bathed in radiance of the moon,

The calm sad moon that sets the still birds dreaming
In spell-bound trees and fills with ecstasy
The slim and sobbing fountains tall and gleaming,
While marble statues look on silently.



Your soul is like a chosen country set
  To be traversed by rout and masquerade,
Dancing unto the sound of lutes; and yet,—
  'Neath their disguise fantastic these are sad.

All of them sing within some minor key
  Of conquering love, and the life void of care;
Heedless they seem of happy destiny;
  Their chorus mixes with the moonbeams fair.

The moonbeams fair and clear, yet pensive too,
  That lull the birds upon the boughs to sleep,
And make the water jets' glad tears to flow,—
  The tall thin jets that 'mid the statues leap.


ARTHUR SYMONS:                 

Your soul is a sealed garden, and there go
With masque and bergamasque fair companies
Playing on lutes and dancing and as though
Sad under their fantastic fripperies.

Though they in minor keys go carolling
Of love the conqueror and of live boon
They seem to doubt the happiness they sing
And the song melts into the light of the moon,

The sad light of the moon, so lovely fair
That all the birds dream in the leafy shade
And the slim fountains sob into the air
Among the marble statues in the glade.


ARTHUR O'SHAUGHNESSY:                

Your soul is like a landscape choice and fair,
   Joyous with dancing, lutes, and masquerade,
Wherein the folk, though gay the garb they wear,
   Look almost sad throughout the long parade.

All singing in the minor of love's kisses,
   And life the willing slave of love the strong,
They seem as though they doubted of their blisses,
   And dreamy moonlight mingles with their song:

The dreamy moonlight of a Watteau painting,
   That silences the birds, and where one sees
The sobbing fountains all like figures fainting,
   Tall, slim, amid the statues and the trees.



Your soul is like a landscape always glad,
Peopled by merry maskers with bright eyes,
Who play the lute and dance yet are half sad
Beneath the tinsel of their quaint disguise.

Who sing upon a strangely minor mode
Of love's success and life so opportune,
As they go tripping lightly on their road,
Mingling their songs with rays caught from the moon,

The moonlight rays so sad but O how fair!
That make the drowsy birds dream in their trees,
And sob with ecstasy the fountain clear
That from its marble bed jets in the breeze.   



Your soul is like a chosen landscape where
In masque and bergamasque a magic lies;
Some touch the lute; some dance; on all an air
Of sadness rests under each strange disguise.

While they are praising in the minor key
All-conquering love, the life that goes aright,
They seem to doubt their own felicity;
Their song is caught up in the moon's calm light.

Mournful and lovely is the moon's calm light,
Which moves the bird upon the bough to dream
And makes the fountains sob in quick delight,
The slim tall fountains where the marbles gleam. 


C.F. MacIntyre:

Your soul is like a painter's landscape where
charming masks in shepherd mummeries
are playing lutes and dancing with an air
of being sad in their fantastic guise.

Even while they sing, all in a minor key,
of love triumphant and life's careless boon,
they seem in doubt of their felicity,
their song melts in the calm light of the moon,

the lovely melancholy light that sets
the little birds to dreaming in the tree
and among the statues makes the jets
of slender fountains sob with ecstasy. 



How like a well-kept garden is your soul,
With bergomask and solemn minuet!
Playing upon the lute!  The dancers seem
But sad, beneath their strange habiliments.
While, in the minor key, their songs extol
The victor Love, and life's sweet blandishments,
Their looks belie the burden of their lays,
The songs that mingle with the still moon-beams.
So strange, so beautiful, the pallid rays;
Making the birds among the branches dream,
And sob with ecstasy the slender jets,

The fountains tall that leap upon the lawns
Amid the garden gods, the marble fauns.



Enid Rhodes Peschel:

Your soul is a selected landscape that maskers
And bergamasche go about beguiling
Playing the lute and dancing and quasi
Sad beneath their fantastical disguises.

While singing in the minor mood
Triumphant love and life that is opportune,
They do not seem to believe in their good fortune
And their song mingles with the moonlight,

With the calm moonlight sad and beautiful,
That makes the birds dream in the trees
And the fountains weep with ecstasy,
The great svelte fountains amid the marble statues.



Your soul is like a sylvan scene where pass
To sound of lute and dancing charmingly
Masquers and bergamasquers, all, alas,
Half-wistful 'neath their guise of fantasy.

Chanting a minor melody's distress
In praise of conquering love and fortune's chance
Scarcely they seem to feel their happiness,
As their song mingles with the moonlight's trance,

With the calm moonlight sad and silvery
That charms the birds within the boughs to dream
And breaks with sobs the slender ecstasy
Of fountains plashing to the marble's gleam.


GERTRUDE HALL:                   

Your soul is as a moonlit landscape fair,
  Peopled with maskers delicate and dim,
That play on lutes and dance and have an air
  Of being sad in their fantastic trim.

The while they celebrate in minor strain
  Triumphant love, effective enterprise,
They have an air of knowing all is vain,—
  And through the quiet moonlight their songs rise,

The melancholy moonlight, sweet and lone,
  That makes to dream the birds upon the tree,
And in their polished basins of white stone
  The fountains tall to sob with ecstasy.


JACQUES LE CLERCQ:                           

Your soul is a choice countryside astir
With charming lovers masked in graceful guises,
Dancing and playing lutes and, as it were,
Half-sad under their curious disguises.
So, as they sing, always in minor key,
Of Love (how brave!) and Life (how opportune!)
They seem to doubt their own felicity,
While their blithe song blends with the pallid moon
In calm clear light that only sad skies capture,
Making the nesting birds dream as it mounts,
As the tall jets of water sob with rapture,
The tall svelte jets rising from marble founts.



Your soul's a countryside extraordinary
Where masks and bergomasks enchanting roam,
Playing the lute and dancing, melancholy,
Under wild disguises quite unknown.

Although they're singing in a minor key
Of love triumphant and life opportune,
They do not seem to feel felicity,
Their song fades in the brightness of the moon,

The moonlight calm and sad and beautiful,
Which sets the birds a-dream on branches high;
Tall fountains sob with passion over-full,
And marble statues see their ecstasy.



Your soul is like a fair and favoured haunt
Of dancers and lute-players, mime and masque,
Of wanderers whose sadness seems to flaunt
The brave disguises of their frolic task.

They sing of love, but in a minor key,
Of love triumphant and of life's delight,
But have no faith to share the ecstasy
Their music mingles with the clear moonlight;

That light, so calm and sad between the branches,
Which brings the birds their benison of dreams,
Makes marble fountains sob with joy, then stanches
Their throbbing with the softness of its beams.


MURIEL KITTEL:                

Your soul is a landscape rare
Where masks and bergamasks charming pass,
Playing the lute and dancing, and almost
Sad beneath their fancy dress.

And while they sing on a minor note
Of conquering love and a favorable life,
They seem not to believe their happy lot,
And their song mingles with the soft moonlight.

With the calm moonlight, beautiful and sad,
That brings dreams to the birds in the trees
And sobs of ecstasy to the fountains,
To the tall fountains, slender among the statuary.


"S. K. T.":

Your soul is like a landscape rare
  Where masques and bergamasques hold sway,
Touching the lute and dancing, half aware
  Of sadness, underneath their guises gay.

Though singing in a minor mood
  Love the triumphant, life the fair
A strain of sorrow seems to brood
  Within their song, a moonlight-blended air;

A melody of moonlight, sad and clear,
  Wooing the birds within the trees to dreaming,
Charming to sobs the fountains far and near,
  The slender founts, amid the marbles gleaming.


WILLIAM FAULKNER:                 

Your soul is a lovely garden, and go
There masque and bergamasque charmingly,
Playing the lute and dancing and also
Sad beneath their disguising [fantasy].

All are singing in a minor key
Of conqueror love and life opportune,
Yet seem to doubt their joyous revelry
As their song melts in the light of the moon.

In the calm moonlight, so lovely fair
That makes the birds dream in the slender trees,
While fountains dream among the statues there;
Slim fountains sob in silver ecstasies.



Your spirit is a landscape exquisite
Where masks and mummers flutter merrily,
Strumming the lute and dancing, yet a bit
Sad in their quaint fantasticality.
In minor key the fluting notes express
Victorious love more joyous than our dreams;
Yet, half mistrustful of this happiness,
The lute-strains faint among the pale moonbeams--
Calm, pallid beams that sorrowfully mount
Where leaf-hid songbirds twitter drowsily,
And tossed in silver spray the slender fount
Among white marbles sobs in ecstasy.




The first of these versions (by Arthur O'Shaughnessy) appeared in 1881; the most recent is from 1975 (Richardson).

This booklet contains most of the verse translations I was able to find in the Boston Public Library.

The O'Shaughnessy is probably the best, though my attitude toward even the inferior ones is like Frank O'Hara's toward the various actors who portrayed Tarzan.  He was, he exclaimed in a poem, unwilling to "prefer" Johnny Weismuller over Lex Barker.  Similarly, I am unable to choose favorites among these—even the least seems worth my time: I won't apologize for gathering them here, no matter how "dated" they may appear to cynical eyes. 

I have changed nothing from the translations as they originally appeared in books and mags.                                

                   —"Captain Hook"

verlaine 1

This is sort of a reproduction of a book I "published" in 1997 after I had become a bit accustomed to using a wordprocessor and printer.  This was way before I acquired a scanner, so the texts here were all laboriously typed out one by one.  I think I printed about 20 copies and gave most of them to the Grolier Poetry Bookshop. 

I did this chapbook and another one, also a selection of verse translations (which I will post here next).  I was going to edit and print a bunch of these pirates (hence the name of my "press"), but it became too much of a tedious process, and I was uneasy about the copyright questions—though indeed many of the versions below were or are now in public domain. . . .

I believe that there can never be too many translations (or imitations if you prefer) of great verse.  Even the least of these efforts I find delightful, or at least challenging in their choices.  Theoretically there may be a time-limit, or a number beyond which any further translations of a given work would be redundant.  But they're still Beowulfing and Danteing and Catullusing, so who's to say when there should come an end to Verlaining?

There have been recent booklength translations of Verlaine by Norman T. Shapiro and Karl Kirchwey, both of which deserve the high praise they have received. 

And please let me recommend the versions by Louis Simpson, in a collection devoted to his brilliant translations: Modern Poets of France, 1997 (Story Line Press).


Published February 1997.

The translations here have been reproduced
as faithfully as possible—I have used the same
titles/capitalization/indentations/italics as the
original sources.  I have not changed or added

                   —"Captain Hook"


CAPTAIN HOOK BOOKS is, as the name implies,
a pirate press.  From time to time we will publish
books which ought to exist.


                  IN ENGLISH

        captain hook books




The long sobs in
The violin
Of autumn, harry me
With incubus
Of langourous
And sad monotony.

I suffocate
And pallid wait
As that lost hour nears,
It used to bring
A joy now turned to tears—

And I rush out
To windy rout,
That whirls me and my grief
Through troubled air,
Now here, now there,
Another withered leaf.

—Lilian White Spencer



Long sobbing winds,
The violins
    Of autumn drone,
Wounding my heart
With languorous smart
    In monotone.

Choking and pale,
When on the gale
    The hour sounds deep,
I call to mind
Dead years behind,
    And I weep.

And I, going,
Borne by blowing
    Winds and grief,
Flutter, here—there,
As on the air
    The dying leaf.

—Bergen Applegate



The sobs are long
    On the violins
Of the barren throng
    Where no leaf spins;
And my heart's heavy
    And listless grown
At hearing ever
    Their monotone.

I catch my breath
    And I blanch, aghast
As the loud clock saith,
    "Thine hour is past."
And I remember
    The days long flown,
And thinking on them
    I weep alone;

And away I go
    In the evil wind
That starts to blow
    Like a thing unkind,
Hither and thither
    From sill to stone—
A drifting flotsam,
    A dead leaf blown.

—Wilfrid Thorley



The long wail thins
On the violins
Of autumn song,
And wound my heart
With langourous dart,

I suffocate,
Grow pale, when late
Resounds the hour;
And I recall
The past, and all:
The hot tears shower.

And my spirit finds
The evil winds
Which bear its grief
Hither and there
Upon the air,
Like a dead leaf.

—William A. Drake



When a sighing begins
In the violins
Of the autumn-song,
My heart is drowned
In the slow sound
Languorous and long.

Pale as with pain,
Breath fails me when
The hour tolls deep.
My thoughts recover
The days that are over,
And I weep.

And I go
Where the winds know,
Broken and brief,
To and fro,
As the winds blow
A dead leaf.

—Arthur Symons



Autumn begins:
her violins
        sigh and sob. 
They fill my breast
with dull unrest,
        leaden throb.

I gasp, I pale,
my senses fail;
        slow hours creep.
I think upon
days that are gone,
        and I weep.

My course is blind;
by an ill wind
        my thoughts are hurled
now here, now there,
as in the air
        dead leaves whirled.

—Brian Hill



The long sobbings
Of violin-strings—
    Autumn's own—
Wound my heart's core
With a languor
    Of monotone.

I stifle, pale
As death, the while
    The hour is tolled.
My memory strays
To former days:
    I weep, grow cold

And I am spinned
In the ill wind
    That carries my grief
Now here, now there,
Tossed everywhere
    Like a dead leaf.

—Gerard Previn Meyer



With long sobs
the violin-throbs
    of autumn wound
my heart with languorous
and monotonous

Choking and pale
when I mind the tale
    the hours keep,
my memory strays
down other days
    and I weep;

and I let me go
where ill winds blow,
    now here, now there,
harried and sped
even as a dead
    leaf, anywhere.

 —C.F. MacIntyre


Song of Autumn

Leaf-strewing gales
Utter low wails
         Like violins,—
Till on my soul
Their creeping dole
         Stealthily wins. . . .

Days long gone by!
In such hour, I,
         Choking and pale,
Call you to mind,—
Then like the wind
         Weep I and wail.

And, as by wind
Harsh and unkind,
         Driven by grief,
Go I, here, there,
Recking not where,
         Like the dead leaf.

—Gertrude Hall



The fiddles long
  Sob out their song
    Of autumn's moan,
      Wounding my heart
        With languid art
          In monotone. 

Choking and pale
  When without fail
    The hour tolls deep,
      I think at last
        Of old days past
          And I weep . . .

And I go hence
  In the violence
    Of the wind's grief,
      Hither and yon,
        Ever anon
          Like a dead leaf.

 —Jacques Le Clercq



When the violins
Of the autumn winds
Begin to sigh
My heart is torn
With their forlorn

And when the hour
Sounds from the tower
I weep tears
For I recall
The loss of all
My perished years.

And then I go
With the winds that blow
And carry me
There and here
Like a withered and sere
Leaf from a tree.

 —"Helen Haggerty"  

( Note:
Helen Haggerty is a character in The Chill (1964), a novel by Ross MacDonald, who presumably wrote this version himself. )



The sobs long drawn
Of the autumn
Cause a wound in
Mv heart of a monotonous

Quite choking
And pallid, when
The hour is tolling,
I remember
The days gone by
And I cry;

And I go off in
The evil wind
That carries me ahead
To this area
And that, like the
Leaf that is dead.

—Enid Rhodes Peschel



In mournful sob
The viols throb
      With autumn's moan
And wound my heart
Whose languors start
      Grief's monotone.

When sorrow's pall
Spreads over all,
      This hour I know—
In dreams I gaze
On happier days
      And tears must flow.

And I am cast
Upon the vast—
      The wind of grief;
Forever whirled
About the world—
      A withered leaf.

—Richard Burdick Eldridge


Autumn Song

The heavy thrall
Of the sobbing call
       Of the fall
Weighs, nor departs
Like my heart's

And dumb,
       As the hours creep
I see the haze
Of olden days
       And weep.

And I go away
The wind's prey,
       In barren, brief
Whirl hither and yon
Like a wan
       Dead leaf.

—Joseph T. Shipley



The wailing note
That long doth float
   From Autumn's bow,
Doth wound my heart
With no quick smart,
   But dull and slow.

In breathless pain,
I hear again
   The hour ring deep.
I call once more
The days of yore,
   And then I weep.

I drift afar
On winds which bear
   My soul in grief.
Their evil force
Deflects its course,
   Like a dead leaf.

—Ashmore Wingate



The viols' cry
In winds that die
    Whilst autumn dies
My heart hath torn
With its forlorn
    And languid sighs.

Weary and white
When through the night
    The hours are tolled,
Once more I fain
Would weep again
    For days of old.

And on the vast
Remorseless blast
    Upborn I go,
Hurled hence afar
As dead leaves are
    Blown to and fro.

—F.C. Evans



The slow sobbing
Of the violins
    Of autumn
Wounds my heart
With a monotonous

And pale, when
    The hour sounds,
I recall to mind
The days of old
    And I weep.

And I go
With the evil wind
    Which carries me
To and fro,
Just like
    A dead leaf.

—Roland Gant/Claude Apcher


Autumn Music

My heart-strings throb
When violins sob
    In autumn woods;
Again relive
Days fugitive
    And languorous moods.

Vainly distraught
By haunting thought,
    I cannot sleep;
But all alone,
All woebegone,
    I dream and weep.

And then I go
Where wild winds blow,
    Drifting in grief
Now here, now there,
I ask not where,
    Like a dead leaf.

—William Frederick Giese



Autumn begins
With violins
Of lament,
Wounding my breast
With dull, oppressed

Roused by the shocks
Of stricken clocks
From pale sleep,
I think upon
Sweet nights now gone;
And I weep.

And my heart flies
Down wailing skies,
In my grief
Blown here and there
As down night air
The dead leaf.

—Watson Kirkconnell



The sobbing slow,
Like violins low,
    Of the autumn wind
Wounds my tired heart,
With languid dart
    My weary mind.

With stifled breath,
All pallid, Death
    Seems near to creep.
I dream in pain
Old days again
    And softly weep.

Forth I go blind
In the wild wind;
    Am rudely thrown
Now here, now there
To dark despair
    Like a leaf blown.

—Christian Malloch



In sobbing tones
Of violin, moans
    Autumn's breath,
Wounding my heart
With languorous art
    Drear as death.

Stifled and faint
At sad complaint
    Of time outworn,
On distant years
I muse, and tears
    Fall forlorn.

And I, resigned
To evil wind
    Fraught with grief,
Am whirled about
In endless rout
    Like withered leaf.

—Dorothy Martin



The Autumn's long
Drawn, sobbing song
           My soul
Wounds with a slow,
Monotonous throe
           Of dole.

Pale, without power,
Whenas the hour
           Chimes deep,
The old days all
'I'o mind I call
           And weep.

And off so I
On the wind fly
           Of grief,
Which this, that way,
Bears me, like a
           Dead leaf.

—John Payne



The wailing tones
And viol-moans
      Of Autumn make
A wound that grieves
My heart and leaves
      A weary ache.

All breathless—pale—
I hear the tale
      Of hours chime,
And weeping sore
I see once more
      The vanished time.

Then I—I go
As haps to blow
      The storm—and sped
Or there, or here,
Like a leaf I veer,
      The leaf that's dead.

—Mabel Peacock


Autumn Song

The long sobbing
Of violins
    On autumn days
My heart doth wound
And I despond

All words are gone.
Sallow and wan,
    When the moment nears,
I then recall
Time's funeral
    And I shed tears;

It is my end,
And the rough wind
    Bears me, in grief,
This way and that,
    Like a dead leaf.

—Joanna Richardson


An Autumn Song.

The long-drawn sighs,
Like violin-cries,
    Of autumn wailing,
Lull in my soul
The languorous shoal
    Of thoughts assailing.

Wan, as whom knells
Of funeral bells
    Bemoan and banish,
I weep upon
Days dead and gone
    With dreams that vanish;

Then helpless swing
On the wind's wing;
    Tossed hither and thither
As winter sweeps
From swirling heaps
    Worn leaves that wither.

—W.J. Robertson



Les sanglots longs
Des violons
    De l'automne
Blessent mon coeur
D'une langueur

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
    Sonne l'heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
    Et je pleure;

Et je m'en vais
Au vent mauvais
    Qui m'emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
    Feuille morte.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

an early poem by Carol Ann Duffy

I think Carol Ann Duffy is the best living British poet.  Here's a beautifully-crafted early sonnet of hers, which vividly contrasts/connects the human and natural realms:


Over this Common a kestrel treads air
till the earth says mouse or vole.  Far below
two lovers walking by the pond seem unaware.

She feeds the ducks.  He wants her, tells her so
as she half-smiles and stands slightly apart.
He loves me, loves me not with each deft throw.

It could last a year, she thinks, possibly two
and then crumble like stale bread.  The kestrel flies
across the sun as he swears his love is true

and, darling, forever.  Suddenly the earth cries
Now and death drops from above like a stone.
A couple turn and see a strange bird rise.

Into the sky the kestrel climbs alone
and later she might write or he might phone.

(Vole (I had to look it up) is defined by the Oxford American Dictionary as: "any of several small animals resembling rats or mice." A kestrel is a small falcon.  SW19: "Mostly Wimbledon, a classy suburb" of London.)  (Note: Duffy did not include this in her Selected Poems (1994), nor in her New Selected Poems (2004).)

. . . Notice how effective the internal rhymes that Duffy uses are. In the first stanza, how "Far" echoes "earth" and "air."  See the connections of: over—vole—below—lovers. 

And the el-sounds in: kestrel—till—vole—bel/ow—wal/king.  Then: pond—un/aware.  Further down in the poem, find these: half—deft; crumble—stale—kestrel; love—for/ev/er —above.

The alliterations of: Common—kestrel —walking.

In lines 1-11, this progression of verbs: treads—walking—stands—crumble—drops.  Line 4, the link of 'feeds' and 'wants.' 

The repetition in lines 1-9: lovers, loves, loves, love.  How this last use of 'love' is followed so closely by 'death.' 

In the third stanza the k-sounds reoccur: crumble— kestrel— a/cross; and then, in line 13, sky—kestrel—climbs. 

Line 14 is full of internal rhymes: late/r—might —write—might; she—he. 

The connection between the wild kestrel and the tamer ducks, both wanting to feed, on 'mouse' or 'stale bread.' 

Thread the verbs of communication down through the poem: says—tells—swears—cries—write—phone (contrast the first four present active verbs with the future conditional verbs of the final line). 

Is the final verb assigned to her, "write," more distant than his verb, "phone"? 

The "two lovers" (l. 3) don't dialogue: her response to his telling her he wants her (l. 4) is to half-smile and stand slightly apart (l. 5) and to silently say to herself (silently, I assume, since the italics here are also used to indicate the unvoiced words of "the earth"),

He loves me, loves me not with each deft throw of stale bread to the ducks (l. 6). 

It could last a year, she thinks to herself, possibly two (l. 7). 

He persists and swears his love is true (l. 8) and, darling, forever (l. 9). 

Still, she won't speak; she won't even voice her doubts about his promised "forever." Instead

the earth cries Now (the needs of now take precedence to the vows of forever) and death drops (lines 10-11). 

They turn as one (a couple) to see a strange bird rise (l. 12) 

Why strange: as opposed to the domesticated ducks? 

Strange because its predatory interruption has somehow estranged them? 

To the temporary coupling of two it has introduced the terrible coup of its thirdness?  Its terza has rima'ed them apart. 

This deus ex machina dropping down 'like a stone' has shattered and split and left them each "alone" (l. 13). 

The K's and L's and I's and E's have it: Into the sKY the KestreL CLImbs aLone / And Later shE mIght wrIte or hE mIght phone.

(The kestrel is alone presumably because it has swallowed its prey.  What we devour is no longer 'apart' (l. 5) from us.)

('Apart' is the only endword in the poem which has no counterpart rhyme, a choice made probably for deliberate emphasis and reinforcement of the theme.)


on a poem by Camille Martin

appreciation: Camille Martin's "comatose in paradise . . ."

Camille Martin—

her "six sonnets" in the webzine Moria—

this is the sixth one:

comatose in paradise, but happy, happy
feet! is this where i want to go? thrust
into an age unfavourable to being
a guest in one's own home? the guest
so evolved its dying smile causes
offspring to birth on the spot? progeny
doomed to fail superbly, like houdini's
fetters? is this what i want? am i lucky to think
i am? these twittering birds have nothing
on the silence of magicians from the grave. someday
paradise will be thought savage. did rain fall
because i wanted to write a poem about love,
causing significant damage to blameless paper?
here comes the bus, fool. is that it?

Paradise/happy = perfection—

a perfect septenary ("A metrical line of 7 feet, usually . . . trochaic," the Princeton Handbook defines it)—

COmaTOSE in PARaDISE, but HAPpy, HAPpy

tose/dise . . . because "All thought emits a TOSS of the DICE" (Mallarmé)—

All thought dies in paradise—

braindead in paradise. Comatose—

replete hibernative stasis which Eliot's veggod protag protests at being cruelly wakened stirred out of, into the Waste Land—

comatose=out of it. Out of it in paradise. OD'd in paradise.


"happy, happy": the flapping harpy wings of the angel perched on edenfencegate to oversee the usual expulsion——

"happy / feet!" : Trochaic feet impelling the expelled soul, "thrust"
out of childhood's glade, into adulthood (that "age unfavourable" to being at home anywhere perhaps, much less a "guest" there)—

or into a post-ecological nowhere, homeless in nature—

age = evolved = dying = offspring = birth = progeny =

Houdini, "magician from the grave" bursting free the bounds of every painted and publicized coffin he's chained into

(the fetters of poetic meter—as always—failing superbly)

to provide a show, a career—

all his flamboyant acts of entombment-and-resurrection, a 3 minute Christ—

then famously requesting his friends/his future mourners to

(after the final stunt of his death)

commence seance for a message from him from the afterlife

into which he has been "thrust", from whence he radios nothing but the normal background noises of nature's "silence"—

(as I remember the story, he asked his friends to wait at a particular spot in the park (cue birdtwitter soundtrack) on a specific date where/when he would "contact" them if it was possible—if some telegraphable aspect of him remained postdeath—)

that meetingpoint in the park—what exact location, for one who had based his vocation on dislocating his shoulder to achieve escape from straitjackets, who had saved-his-life so many times by violent wrenchings of his joints and frame, his artistry to dislocate himself within a lock,

to find himself located and situated finally—

"is this where i want to go?" (as if I had a choice not to)—

The desire for a paradisal perfection in one's form, for a voice that will speak from past its physical life

is what drives the poet who's waiting for the bus to bear her away,

anyway is that it, is that the way? After "significant damage"

to the "blameless paper",

the "fool", the "magician" metaphors for the poet—

The eight questionmarks in the poem function as the default impatience (waiting for the bus) that interpolates all such
expressions of the poet's irritabilitus

which guilt-ridden is continually insisting "i wanted to write a poem about love"

(that's what I meant to write, the poet always testifies at his trial, that was my intent)

—love is paradise, even if when that love is over we curse the hypnotic trance that sustained us in that illusory eden—

the comatose quiescence/ simulacrum of death / "its dying smile" of happiness in that "savage" paradise, savage ergo primal, ergo what is past,

gone, over, paradise is always once-was, not now-is—

now is the bus-bench, where we wait to be houdinied from the chains of an ordinary day's luck-lock,

the bus is on time, like those motile trochees,

unlike the posthumous Houdini it will show up per schedule,

the rain via its own temporal metrical system will arrive

when it should,

but the poem won't—


a John Ashbery poem

appreciation: John Ashbery's "Farm Film"—

Looking at a single poem by John Ashbery and thinking about it seems almost a transgression of his intent to resist such frangible readings, if that is his intent or one of them.

Schemes frustrate or elongate meanings enter my tongue like a retort rebuttal that stretches the Plasticman of my sense lapse to an aerymaspian beaten goldleaf.



Takeitapart, no one understands how you can just do
This to yourself. Balancing a long pole on your chin
And seeing only the ooze of foliage and blue sunlight
Above. At the same time you have not forgotten

The attendant itch, but, being occupied solely with making
Ends meet, or the end, believe that it will live, raised
In secrecy, into an important yet invisible destiny, unfulfilled.
If the dappled cows and noon plums ever thought of

Answering you, your answer would be like the sun, convinced
It knows best, maybe having forgotten someday. But for this
She looked long for one clothespin in the grass, the rime
And fire of midnight etched each other out, into importance

That is like a screen sometimes. So many
Patterns to choose from, they the colliding of all dispirited
Illustration on our lives, that will rise in its time like
Temperature, and mean us, and then faint away.

This is page 17 in "Shadow Train" (1981), which I've been reading at recently. How many poems, how many pages of poetry has he published since then, a thousand, two thousand?—

I don't know, but I know I haven't read the majority of them.

It's absurd to focus my attention on one old poem like this, and to appreciate it for reasons which are probably spurious since

they are personal, autobiographical—

that is, I spent part of my childhood on a farm.

—Didn't Ashbery himself grow up on a family farm in western New York state, or am I remembering this wrong, but if I'm right do I have the right to read this poem with that biographical fact

if it is a fact (which it is: the first sentence in the bio note of the hardcover edition of Shadow Train says: "John Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, in 1927, grew up on a farm in western New York, and was educated at Deerfield Academy, Harvard, and Columbia, where he specialized in English literature.")

in the forefront of my responsive attendance? What am I allowed to do when I read an Ashbery poem,

what are the parameters of a permissible perusal?

And regardless in any case I'm scarcely capable of scratching at the surface of the probes raised by any of his works—

So: Unforgivable and misguided of me to say as I read it, Yes:

yes, I know from firsthand the farmer's occupational obsession, how he is constantly "being occupied solely with making / Ends meet," the endless seasonal scrabble to "balance" the crops and the cash income,

to plant and reap the seed, and to "believe that it will live." The belief in one's childhood

which remains back there always growing, always being "raised / In secrecy, into" its "destiny, unfulfilled."

I can think of ways I passed time/entertained myself in the tedium of the farm child not unlike

"Balancing a long pole on your chin / And seeing only the ooze of foliage and blue sunlight / Above."

Teetering a rake or pitchfork on your head, raising in secrecy the unforgotten itch of hickeyrash summer sweat as it films the skin's ooze toward a blue endless day . . .

raising that question the "dappled cows and noon plums" could have answered, and if they had, your answer to theirs could only have been like the sun's, passing with conviction and hence forgotten in its maybe someday—

But the days of childhood blur like winter and summer midnights etching each other out with their recurrent rime and fire, their cold and warmth, their years

with only a stray unimportant in the scheme of anything memory standing out here and there, for example the time your mother

stubbornly refused to come in the house while she looked in the grass for one lost clothespin

and it's getting late, it's supper, it's getting dark, why, why won't she come in!?

You can "takeitapart" (though the jamming together of the very words of that thought indicates the opposite) and try to make these straws these strains cohere in a pattern,

but the patterns overlap like a montage where the screen of all these images "you have not forgotten" collide collate their "dispirited / Illustration on our lives . . ."

and this collision "no one understands," least of all yourself, how can you do this to yourself, put it together take it apart (either way),

the collision of lost seasons and occupations, the cohesion will rise its beanpole like Jack and his poor cow-stalk mother, his plum-mom,

will rise (elevate) its time like the rising temperature that augurs long summer days of boredom

with attendant itches that cause all kinds of erections and their harvest of ooze—

like that phallic pole astride my chin—

no, but the poem will mean us, and then faint away.

Fade, feint. A way.


on a poem by Jericho Brown

I encountered this poem a couple years ago at the Rumpus website, and it immediately made a vivid impression—I left a brief comment saying I thought it was an awfully good poem.

Of lately I've been putting together for possible publication my "appreciations", the pieces I've written in praise of particular poems, and thinking about possible candidates for further such proselets, I was reminded of this one by the author posting a comment here recently.  It had been in the back of my mind anyway, so I was glad to have my memory of it prodded.

Another Elegy
by Jericho Brown

This is what your dying looks like.
You believe in the sun. You believe
I don't love you. Always be closing,
Said our favorite professor before
He let the gun go off in his mouth.
I turned 29 the way any man turns
In his sleep, unaware of the earth
Moving beneath him, its plates in
Their places, a dated disagreement.
Let's fight it out, baby. You have
Only so long left. A man turns
In his sleep, so I take a picture.
He won't look at it, of course. It's
His bad side, his Mr. Hyde, the hole
In a husband's head, the O
Of his wife's mouth. Every night,
I take a pill. Miss one, and I'm gone.
Miss two, and we're through. Hotels
Bore me, unless I get a mountain view,
A room in which my cell won't work,
And there's nothing to do but see
The sun go down into the ground
That cradles us as any coffin can.

Let me see if I can properly speculate about this.  I see a lot of poems online, meaning I glimpse them, "page-view" them, but few take or hold my attention as this one did.

The title is ambivalent and perhaps not especially effective.  It's a bit innocuous.—

Another elegy in the sense that my life (I, the speaker of the poem) has been full-witness to so many deaths, overdreaded with the deaths of those close to me, dear enough to me each that they each demanded an elegy, more and more, elegy after elegy I have had to compose until at last exhausted I can only think of them as blurring into one after Another—?

Or another in the PoTech sense of saying Okay here's another elegy like all the poets throughout history have always written and here's another one with the ironic acknowledgment of such in its title, the wry winking belatedness all contemporary poets must profess cop to before they can even hope to begin to—

Or both senses blended.   Or a third I can't think of—?

23 lines: 8 octosyllabic; 7 enneasyllabic; 4 decasyllabic; 3 heptasyllabic; 1 hendecasyllabic.

Maybe the meter of the 1st line grabbed me: those 3 trochees followed by that spondee.  Their hardness eased/released by the 3 anapests in line 2.

Internal sound-rhyme in line 1 of dy/li strangely echoed by sight-rhyme in line 2: lie/lie.

But lookylook at the L's in these first 3 lines: Looks/Like/beLieve/beLieve/Love/aLways/cLosing.

(Which is Liquid counterpoint to their harsh content and abrupt curtal lines and sentences, perhaps.)

Line 4, 4 internal rhymes kick it home: OUR / [fav]OR[ite] / [profes]SOR / [be]FORE.

Periodic structure effectively varied throughout poem.  Starting with 3 short sentences in the first 3 and a half lines, followed by a 3 and a half line sentence; followed by a 4-line sentence, followed by 2 short ones; etc.

Internal rhymes fill the poem knit-tight and hold it taut-tensioned.   I won't mention them all, but look at:

lines 4/5: PROF[essor] / OFF ; 

line 6: I / [twent]TY / NI[ne] / [w]AY / [a]NY ;

lines 8/9: PLA[tes] / PLA[ces] ; ITS / PLATES / DATE[d]    . . . .

ENgage the ENtrancement of those N's line 5 through 9: guN/turNed/aNy/maN/turNs/uNaware/beNeath/iN/disagreemeNt.

The craftworkship of the poem ensures its element. 

The distribution of enjambed and end-stopped lines seems like a perfect mix of vis a vis. 

Just one more technical detail, admirable for its sturdy undergridding of the climax:

beginning end of line 18, the poem's longest sentence is its last—and in

line 19 starting with the second foot, the meter turns wholly solely iambic through the end of the poem line 23, with only three variations, trochees,

all of which are stressed on their N-sound: ANd / NOTHing (line 21) / INto (line 22)—

indeed the N-sounds re-emerge strongly throughout this final five-line sentence, 

which concludes the poem with these words: aNy coffiN caN.   ENd ENd ENd.  

ANother elegy.  ENother alogy.

The imperative mode: This is what your dying looks like.  You believe this, you believe that, you have only so much time left so let's fight out our old disagreements.  Listen to me, Mister, I'll tell you what's what.

But! at that point in the poem, midway, the word "you" disappears.  The direct confrontational address ends, and the "you" becomes present now only by implication—or suggestion:  ?  —

is he the "man turn[ing] in his sleep", the man who refuses to look (look at your dying, man) at the photo which shows him sprawled simulacrum-recumbent of death, that final turning away, death the "bad side" of life, the "Mr. Hyde" to life's Jekyll. . . 

"[H]is Mr. Hyde / the hole in a husband's head" is like the mouth of the professor in line 4, or like "the O of his wife's mouth."   Those aitches and that o.  Ho ho ho: some joke.  

Jocular, somewhat, the poem turns now, no? Sardonic—"Every night, / I take a pill.  Miss one, and I'm gone. /  Miss two, and we're through."  And then, speaking of ho ho ho: Hotels / bore me, iamb, iamb, iamb, iamb, iamb, iamb, iamb, iamb . . .

But why the "turn" from the 2nd-person intimate-spoken "you" to the 3rd-person (impersonal-descriptive) "his"—?

Not sure I understand this dramatic shift.  But the "you" which ends in lines 10-11 also ended in line 3, and vanished for 6 and a half lines: "You believe in the sun.  You believe / I don't love you." (lines 2/3)—

You believe I don't love you, and to prove it I'll ignore you for the next 6 and a half lines, until I can face that dated disagreement (line 10) of whether I love you or not, and confront you: "Let's fight it out, baby.  You have / Only so long left.  A man turns / " (lines 10-11) . . .  (In fact, the "you" has no time left, it is immediately "left" behind and transposed into the third-person "man" . . . )

The repetitions in the poem, the repeated words and phrases work, I think.  And the reappearance of imagery like "sun" in lines 2 and 22 (also there visually as the O, the hole of lines 14/15).  

(Does the somewhat-taunting "You believe in the sun" imply that I don't believe in the sun?  — what does it mean to not believe in the sun?  how does this relate to the sunset at the end of the poem?)

Indeed the poem is aided greatly by these recurrent insistent themes, for example the link from "look" in line 1 to "look" in line 13 to "view" in line 19 and "see" in line 21,

and they don't become (for me as a reader, anyway) monotonous or facile as they might in a poem less well-constructed.

The turn in the middle must have something to do with the you believing I don't love them (him).  That doubt makes me (I, the narrator) turn away at that point to think of past dyings, other elegiac events (the professor's suicide; my turning 29, ie the death of my youth; the continental drift of ancient planetary extinctions foreshadowing the shift of my own deviations toward indifference and defensive postures (let's fight) and the distancing maneuver of slipping into the 3rd-person)—

If he turns away from me and won't look at my bad-sided vision of him (lines 11-14) it must be linked to his wife, Mrs. Jekyll.  Sleeping with me brings out the hole, the Hyde in him, he thinks, or his wife's mouth thinks, and her mouth makes me think of the professor letting the gun go off in his mouth.  Cradle to coffin it fits right in.  It swallows that pill, that sun.

Turnings, endings, closures ("always be closing", line 3), closings which bleed into openings of the mouth or opening of the space between the lovers, or between husband and wife, the gap that separates, the endless gulf across which "my cell" won't reach—

It's a mountain view: objective perspective of the elegy; which in its dimensional instances is not a lament. 

Some provisional thoughts for now; maybe later I'll revisit revise or augment the notes above.  I've probably misread some of it, or perhaps most of it, but it's rewarding sometimes to try to stay with a poem for a while if the poem merits it, if the poem flatters my attention.