Sonnet, Elizabeth Bishop
I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!
There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.
One of my absolute favorite poems. Bishop’s birthday was yesterday, so I’m a day late, whatever.
Elizabeth Bishop (born 8 February, 1911; died 6 October, 1979), pictured above in a photograph from the 1970s by Alice Helen Methfessel
Sonnet of Intimacy
(after Vinicius de Moraes)
Farm afternoons, there’s much too much blue air.
I go out sometimes, follow the pasture track,
Chewing a blade of sticky grass, chest bare,
In threadbare pajamas of three summers back,
To the little rivulets in the river-bed
For a drink of water, cold and musical,
And if I spot in the brush a glow of red,
A raspberry, spit its blood at the corral.
The smell of cow manure is delicious.
The cattle look at me unenviously
And when there comes a sudden stream and hiss
Accompanied by a look not unmalicious,
All of us, animals, unemotionally
Partake together of a pleasant piss.
I thought, on the train, how utterly we have forsaken the Earth, in the sense of excluding it from our thoughts. There are but few who consider its physical hugeness, its rough enormity. It is still a disparate monstrosity, full of solitudes & barrens & wilds. It still dwarfs & terrifies & crushes. The rivers still roar, the mountains still crash, the winds still shatter. Man is an affair of cities. His gardens & orchards & fields are mere scrapings. Somehow, however, he has managed to shut out the face of the giant from his windows. But the giant is there, nevertheless.
After a black day, I play Haydn,
and feel a little warmth in my hands.
The keys are ready. Kind hammers fall.
The sound is spirited, green, and full of silence.
The sound says that freedom exists
and someone pays no tax to Caesar.
I shove my hands in my haydnpockets
and act like a man who is calm about it all.
I raise my haydnflag. The signal is:
“We do not surrender. But want peace.”
The music is a house of glass standing on a slope;
rocks are flying, rocks are rolling.
The rocks roll straight through the house
but every pane of glass is still whole.
- “Allegro,” by Tomas Transtromer, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature today. Poem translated by Goran Malmqvist.
Lorca was a poet of no school. He’s usually included among the Spanish poets known as the Generation of ‘27, but they were generally grouped together, paradoxically, by virtue of their shared resistance to stylistic categorisation. He was a dramatist who brought theatre to the people, a homosexual who lived as openly as he could in an era where to live at all was no certainty, a supporter of the Republic and the sympathiser with the ruling leftist Popular Front. He had friends and admirers across the political and social spectrum, aroused controversy without courting it as shamelessly as some of his contemporaries, and in perhaps the last age where a poet could truly be considered famous, did everything he could to earn and justify that acclaim. He did not have the demagogic impulse that often proves useful for some artists, or is simply irrepressible in others. He once joked in a lecture that “whenever I speak before a large group I think I must have taken the wrong door.”
As with most artists who are “vanished”, there was little protocol or officialdom in his execution. Some muttered mentions of “subversive activities”, no hint of a trial, no kind of court for him to stand in and try to make a case for his continued existence. Imagine that: asking a poet to justify his life. What poetry might rise to meet that challenge? Even fascists knew better. Indeed, the regimes in question usually seem to be vestigially aware of just how well the state-sanctioned murder of artists tends to play with the public. In 1937, with the civil war still raging, General Franco took the time to issue the official line. “I say it again: we have shot no poets.”
This is reason why Lorca’s death unsettled many then, and haunts us still today: Governments tend to take on their worst form, to devolve to their most horrific manifestation, when they kill artists. Artists look out into the horrors of the world, and inevitably, the horrors sometimes reach back.
I have no creative use for guilt, yours or my own. Guilt is only another way of avoiding informed action, of buying time out of the pressing need to make clear choices, out of the approaching storm that can feed the earth as well as bend the trees.
Paul Laurence Dunbar, US. Issued 1975.
[My ninth-grade English teacher, during the obligatory Black History Month trotting-out of three or four colored writers, began her lecture with a brief bio. ”Dunbar was born a slave, but —” My hand shot up. ”Ummm, Dunbar was born in Ohio? In, ah, 1872?”]
He died at 33?!?! We studied at least one of his poems at my high school (“We Wear the Mask”).
Last week, a Chilean judge ordered an investigation into the 1973 death of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda. He died 12 days after a right-wing military coup by Pinochet, and while his death was long considered to be due to illness, Chile’s Communist Party (of which he was a member) have asked for this investigation. A human rights lawyer noted that there were discrepancies between the local reports of his death and the official death certificate and that exiling the famed poet would have proved “very difficult for the dictatorship.” His former driver, Manuel Araya, believes that Neruda was poisoned to prevent him from moving to Mexico to continue to voice opposition to Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
This investigation comes one month after the opening of an investigation into the death of Salvador Allende, the deposed leader whose 1973 death was ruled a suicide. His body was exhumed as forensic teams try to determine if he was assassinated.
Photo: Pablo Neruda talking to reporters after winning the Nobel Prize in 1971. Credit: Laurent Rebours/AP File Photo
Source: Los Angeles Times