Tag Archives: Poetry

Tagore: Only lips know the language of lips, know how to sip each other’s hearts

26 Feb

Constantin Brancusi, The Kiss, 1907

The Kiss

Only lips know the language of lips,
Know how to sip each other’s hearts
The two lovers leave home for goals unknown,
Setting out eagerly on Holy Communion.
Like two waves that crest at love’s pull
Lips at last melt and meld in lovers’ lips,
Viewing each other with deep desire,
Both meet at the body’s frontier.
Love weaves music from such refrains
Love’s tale is told in quivering lips!
From fowers plucked from lips that roam
Garlands surely will be woven at home!
The sweet union of two desiring lips
Climaxes in a red bridal bed of smiles!


(“Chumban,” from Kori O Komal)
Translated by Fakrul Alam)

Tagore: When I called you in your garden mango blooms were rich in fragrance

21 Feb

A poem I recently discovered, called “Unyielding” by the Bengali poet Tagore. The mood of the poem reminded me of many lovely illustrations by the French artist Edmund Dulac such as the one bellow from his series “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” from 1909.

Edmund Dulac, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, “Hour of Grace”, 1909

Unyielding

When I called you in your garden

Mango blooms were rich in fragrance –

Why did you remain so distant,

Keep your door so tightly fastened?

Blossoms grew to ripe fruit-clusters –

You rejected my cupped handfuls,

Closed your eyes to perfectness.

In the fierce harsh storms of Baiśākh

Golden ripened fruit fell tumbling –

‘Dust,’ I said, ‘defiles such offerings:

Let your hands be heaven to them.’

Still you showed no friendliness.

Lampless were your doors at evening,

Pitch-black as I played my vīnā.

How the starlight twanged my heartstrings!

How I set my vīnā dancing!

You showed no responsiveness.

Sad birds twittered sleeplessly,

Calling, calling lost companions.

Gone the right time for our union –

Low the moon while still you brooded,

Sunk in lonely pensiveness.

Who can understand another!

Heart cannot restrain its passion.

I had hoped that some remaining

Tear-soaked memories would sway you,

Stir your feet to lightsomeness.

Moon fell at the feet of morning,

Loosened from night’s fading necklace.

While you slept, O did my vīnā

Lull you with its heartache?

Did you Dream at least of happiness?

Caspar David Friedrich – On the Sailing Boat

17 Dec

Let’s love, then! Love, and feel while feel we can
The moment on its run.
There is no shore of Time, no port of Man.
It flows, and we go on…”

(Alphonse de Lamartine, The Lake, translated by A.Z.Foreman)

Caspar David Friedrich, On the Sailing Boat, 1818-20

Friedrich, the melancholy misanthrop and loner of Greifswald, had finally tied the knot on the 21 January 1818, just a few months after his fourty-third birthday. His young bride was the twenty-five year old Caroline Bommer whose elegant figure in a red dress we can see in a few of his paintings from that time period. Friedrich’s friend, and a fellow painter, Carl Gustav Carus noted that the marriage didn’t leave a trace on Friedrich, but there is a subtle yet notable shift in Friedrich’s work after the marriage; the colours are softer, the overall mood lighter, and human figures appear more often. In fact, his famous and perhaps even the most beautiful painting “Moonrise Over the Sea” was painted in 1820. Nothing compares the pink and purple sky in that painting, it’s something most dreamy and romantic. But this uplifting, lighter phase of his career was, sadly, only a short Nordic summer; as he was getting older his gloominess prevailed and he started returning to his moody, isolated landscapes.

Painting “On the Sailing Boat” shows a couple, that is, the painter and his wife, sitting at the prow of the ship, hand in hand, gliding towards the infinity of their love. Typical for Friedrich, the figures are seen either from behind or in profile, which definitely adds to the mysterious appeal. The tender purple and blue waves are cradling the lovers’ boat and above them the yellow-tinted vanilla sky is smiling with promises of future joys. In the distance the shadowy contours of a townscape appear as if they are seen through the mist, or – seen in a dream. The vastness of the sky and the sea further intensifies the dreamy, almost mystical aura of this painting which correlates to the Romantics’ view on love, or a cult of love we might even say, as a union of souls. This solemn seriousness towards the matters of love was a far cry from the frivolous and playful attitude of the Rococo generation. Just how different is this dreamy painting to something painted by Boucher or Fragonard. The subtle melancholy which permeats Friedrich’s paintings, even the seemingly joyful ones, brings to mind the work of Watteau. It seems the two painters have more in common than one would initially assume. Their work, although so dreamy and charming, holds a deeper truth about life: that all human experiences are bitter-sweet and transient: “Upon the sea of time can we not ever/ Drop anchor for one day?” (de Lamartine, The Lake) Another interesting thing about this painting is the viewpoint; while gazing at the painting we feel as if we too are on the boat and that makes us closer to the scene in the painting, but two is a company, three’s a crowd, we better leave them alone to enjoy the hours of bliss until they pass…

Tin Ujević – Love unrequited gave no rest, so now you yearn for earth’s breast

22 Nov

Today I wanted to share a beautiful and sad poem by the Croatian poet Tin Ujević (1891-1955) called “Frailty” from his poetry collection “The Cry of a Slave” (1920), translated by Richard Berengarten. Ujević is considered by some to have been one of the last masters of European Symbolism and even the translator calls him “one of the finest South-Slavic poets”. In addition to being a poet, he was also an accomplished translator and translated the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Marcel Proust, Rimbaud, Arthur Gidé and many others. He spent his childhood living in different towns on the Croatian seaside and this love of the sea left a life-long trace on him, and it can be seen in this poem as well. In 1912 Ujević was a part of the Nationalist youth movement and was often imprisoned. From 1913 to 1919 he was in Montparnasse in Paris, where he was a notorius “anarchic bohemian” and he was a known frequenter of bars and cafes where he was often hanging out with fellow poets and artists from the Balkans, but he also moved in the art circles with artists such as Modigliani, Picasso, Cocteau and d’Annuzio. The poetry collection “The Cry of a Slave” represents the first phase in Ujević’s poetry and these poems are of intimate preocupations, woven with pessimism, a tragic sense of loneliness is intermingled with motives of metaphysical, spiritual love towards an imaginary woman.

Wilhelm Kotarbiński, Suicide’s grave, c 1900

Frailty

In this mist, in this rain –
oh drunken heart, don’t drown in pain.

Love unrequited gave no rest,
so now you yearn for earth’s breast,

And all your longing, cry of a slave,
is to find some quiet grave:

here my soul will soon expire
and here will wither my desire

on the waves of our blue, blue sea
and white, white pebbles cover me,

and my needs will all come home
under Blessed Heaven’s dome,

with sun, calm blue, and clarity,
beneath the ground that once bore me.

Rubén Darío: The Princess is sad… (Sonatina)

10 Nov

Today I wanted to share this wonderful poem by the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío called “Sonatina” published in 1896 in his poetry collection “Prosas Profanas”. I love all the vibrant visual imagery, all the details that the poet so vividly describes instantly transport me to a summer garden where the pale and sad princess resides, surrounded by fragrant dahlias and lilies, and peacocks and swans. How can anyone be sad in such a heavenly place!? I love the way her features are described; she has “mouth of roses”, and “strawberry lips”. And I especially love the stanza where the princess imagines how beautiful it would be to fly like a butterfly or a swallow.

James Abbott Mcneill Whistler, Le Princesse du Pays de la Porcelaine, 1863-65

Sonatina

The princess is sad . . . from the princess slips
such sighs in her words from the strawberry lips.
Gone from them laughter and the warm light of day.
Pallid she is sat in her golden chair;
unsounded the keys of the harpsichord there,
and a flower, from a vase, has swooned away.

The peacocks in the garden parade their tails.
The duenna’s chatter is incessant and stales.
The pirouetting jester is tricked out in red,
yet nothing she cares for and she does not smile
but follows a dragonfly that flits the while
as vague in the east as is her dream-lost head.

Does a prince from China or Golconda approach,
does she think of one stepping from his silver coach,
bedazzled by her beauty in the sky’s soft blues,
to court her with islands of fragrant roses,
shower bright diamonds as a sovereign disposes,
or proud owners of pearls do, out of Ormuz?

Ah, the poor princess, with that mouth of roses,
thinks of butterfly and swallow, but supposes
how easily with wings she would soar up under
the bright ladders brought down from the sunlit day.
With lillies she would meet the fresh songs of May,
and be one with the wind in the ocean’s thunder.

Listless in the palace spins the spinning wheel;
in the magical falcon and jester no appeal.
The swans are as one in the lake’s azure swoon.
From west come the dahlias for the first in court,
from east the sad jasmines, south roses of thought,
from north the waterlillies, weeping from noon.

Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, They toil not, neither do they spin, 1903

Her blue eyes see nothing but sad misrule:
into gold she is set and beset by tulle.
Days are poured out as from a heavy flagon,
haughtily they watch now over palace floors;
silent with the halberds are a hundred Moors,
sleepless the greyhound, and a colossal dragon.

Oh, to find freshness of the butterfly’s veil:
(The princess is sad. The princess is pale.)
Be silent as ivory, rose-coloured and gold!
Where will he fly to, the prince she had!
The princess is pale. The princess is sad,
more brilliant than the dawn is, a hundred fold.

Be patient, my princess: the horse has wings,
for you he is coming, the fairy godmother sings.
With a sword in the belt he has a hawk above,
and a kiss to ignite you, to vanquish death:
never has he seen you, but joyous the breath
from the prince who awakes you: you will be his love.

Sándor Petőfi: Wilt thou, who now dost on my breast repose, not kneel, perhaps, to morrow o’er my tomb?

27 Oct

Today I wanted to share my new poetic discovery: Sándor Petőfi, a Romantic Hungarian poet and a revolutionary whose national fervour and patriotism eventually led him to his doom, but also to his glory. Romanticism arrived a bit late to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and was closely tied to patriotism and national revival; each country in the vast empire sought to define its individuality; its national history and traditions. Petofi fits the theme of central European Romanticism and the two of his main poetic themes are romantic love and love for his country. He was of Slovak or Serbian ancestry, but he wrote in Hungarian and fought for the Hungarian language to be the language of the theatre and literature instead of German. As a true Romantic hero, he led a short and turbulent life and went missing at the age of twenty-six after the Battle of Segesvár in 1849; he was presumed dead but who knows when he actually died… His poems are the mirrors of the politically turbulent times he lived in and he died in the very manner he wished, as expressed in his poem “The Thought Torments Me”:

When every nation wearing chains
Shall rise and seek the battle-plains,
With flushing face shall wave in fight
Their banners, blazoned in the light:
“For liberty!” Their cry shall be;
Their cry from east to west,
Till tyrants be depressed.
There shall I gladly yield
My life upon the field;
There shall my heart’s last blood flow out,
And I my latest cry shall shout.

In 1846, in Transylvania he met an eighteen year old maiden Júlia Szendrey and, charmed by the beauty of her countenance which matched the beauty of her mind and soul, Petofi instantly fell in love and they married the same year. His parents didn’t approve and their marriage was short anyway. Like her husband, Júlia was also a poet, and a writer and translator. She spoke a few foreign languages, loved the poetry of Heinrich Heine and the writings of George Sand, loved dancing and playing the piano but she was also a private and modest person who didn’t like sharing her talents with the world. They seem like a perfect Romantic couple, with the perfectly short, intense and tragic marriage ended by a mysterious disappearance in battle and probable death. It sounds like a story one would read in a work of Schiller or Lermontov.

Giuseppe Molteni, Desolate at the Loss of her Lover, 1850

Poem “At the End of September” is written in a truly Romantic manner because it ties the themes of love and death that all Romantics loved so much. In the first stanza Petofi slowly introduces the theme of transience through a visual imagery of the changing of seasons, and even compares the arrival of winter to his hair slowly turning grave. The transience of spring and summer goes hand in hand with the passing of his youth, and the arrival of winter is tied with the impedimence of his death. I love how melancholy and melodramatic he is, wanting to know whether his beloved will weep over his grave, but then the poetic imagery turns a darker mood and we see the poet returning from the death’s vale at midnight… These poems satisfy all my poetic needs. Just seeing the words and expressions in the poem such as “broken heart”, “bleeding heart”, “tomb”, “weep”, “tears”, “death”, “mournful”, makes me swoon!

At the End of September

The garden flowers still blossom in the vale,

Before our house the poplars still are green;

But soon the mighty winter will prevail;

Snow is already in the mountains seen.

The summer sun’s benign and warming ray

Still moves my youthful heart, now in its spring;

But lo! my hair shows signs of turning gray,

The wintry days thereto their color bring.

This life is short; too early fades the rose;

To sit here on my knee, my darling, come!

Wilt thou, who now dost on my breast repose,

Not kneel, perhaps, to morrow o’er my tomb?

O, tell me, if before thee I should die,

Wilt thou with broken heart weep o’er my bier?

Or will some youth efface my memory

And with his love dry up thy mournful tear?

 

If thou dost lay aside the widow’s vail,

Pray hang it o’er my tomb. At midnight I

Shall rise, and, coming forth from death’s dark vale,

Take it with me to where forgot I lie.

And wipe with it my ceaseless flowing tears,

Flowing for thee, who hast forgotten me;

And bind my bleeding heart which ever bears

Even then and there, the truest love for thee.

Matthew James Lawless, Dead Love, 1862

“Wilt thou, who now dost on my breast repose,

Not kneel, perhaps, to morrow o’er my tomb?”

Petofi’s poems often bring to mind romantic imagery, typically romantic themes of love and death mingle freely in his verses and I decided to illustrate the poem with the drawing “Dead Love” from 1862. Victorian era artist Matthew James Lawless is little known today because he died young, at the age of twenty-seven, and his career never had a chance to take off. The drawings that he left definitely show a talent and a romantic imagination which ties him to the Pre-Raphaelites, and therefore I think the mood of his drawing fits the mood of Petofi’s poem. And now a poem which continues with the theme of love but here love is tied with another motif Petofi loves: fighting for liberty.

My Wife and My Sword

Upon the roof a dove,
A star within the sky,
Upon my knees my love,
For whom I live and die;
In raptures I embrace
And swing her on my knees,
Just as the dewdrop sways
Upon the leaf of trees.

But why, you’ll surely ask,
Kiss not her pretty face?
It is an easy task
To kiss while we embrace!
Many a burning kiss
I press upon her lip,
For such a heavenly bliss
I cannot now let slip.

And thus we pass our day,
I and my pretty wife,
Beyond all rare gem’s ray
Is our gay wedded life.
A friend, my sword, it seems,
Does not like this at all,
He looks with angry gleams
Upon me from the wall.

Don’t look on me, good sword,
With eyes so cross and cold,
There should be no discord
Between us, friends of old.
To women leave such things,
As green-eyed jealousy:
To men but shame it brings,
And you a man must be!

But then, if you would pause
To think who is my love,
You’d see you have no cause
At all me to reprove.
She is the sweetest maid,
She is so good and true;
Like her God only made,
I know, but very few.

If thee, good sword, again
Shall need our native land,
To seek the battle-plain
Will be my wife’s command.
She will insist that I
Go forth, my sword, with thee,
To fight, if need to die,
For precious liberty!

Sandor’s wife Julia Szendrey (1828-1868).

Poetry of Catullus – Let Us Live and Love

25 Jun

These days I was enjoying the poetry of the Roman poet Catullus (84-54. B.C) who wrote in the neoteric style of poetry, that is, the style of his poems was emotional, intimate, relatable and full of ardour, and he chose to focus, not on heroes and gods as was the norm, but on his personal life, often mentioning his friends in his poems. Poems such as his 5th Poem are written for and about a woman he loved called Clodia Metelli whom Catulus calls “his Lesbia” out of affection. Catullus’ poems follow the path of his falling in love, from the first ardour to disappointment and bitterness. This mix of lyrical beauty and honest emotions is what gives Catullus’ poetry a lasting appeal; after he was rediscovered in the Middle Ages other poets such as Petrarca and later even the Romantics loved his poetry. As a visual companion to Catullus’ poetry, these softly sensual paintings by John William Godward come to my mind; the warm colours, the Medditeranean shrubs and flowers, the cypresses, oleanders and the sea, the curves of female body stretched on marble and fur, these indolent girls with gorgeous long hair and flimy see-through gowns and the dolce far niente mood is just captivating. I must also add how much the line “bright were the suns that shone once for you” from Poem 8 reminds me of these lines “Once, if I remember well, my life was a feast where all hearts opened and all wines flowed” from Rimbaud’s “A Season in Hell”; both is a lament for the old good times.

John William Godward, Dolce Far Niente, 1906

Poem 5

“Let us live and love, my Lesbia.
Here’sa copper coin for the criticism
of elderly men with exalted morals.
Suns have the power to set and return.
Our light is brief and once it fails,
we have to sleep in the dark forever.
Give me a thousand kisses, a hundred,
another thousand, a second hundred,
a thousand again, a hundred more
until we ourselves lose track of the score,
confusing the kissing count as a sly
method of thwarting the evil eye.”

John William Godward, Girl in Yellow Drapery, 1901

Poem 8

“Poor Catullus, stop playing the fool!
Seeing that something has died, deem it dead.
Bright were the suns that shone once for you,
the times you followed the girl everywhere.
No girl will ever be loved more than she.
Many amusing things happened then,
things you wished and the girl never spurned.
Suns most certainly shone bright for you.
Now she turns her back. Do the same!
Give up your hopeless pursuit! End your grief !

Endure with a resolute mind. Steel yourself.
Girl, Catullus has now steeled himself.
Farewell! Rejected, he makes no appeal.
But you’ll be sorry when all courtship ends.
What kind of life, you whore, waits for you?
What man will come and sing beauty’s praise?
Whom will you love and whose girl be called?
Whom will you kiss? For whom bite the lips?
But you, Catullus, be firm. Steel yourself.”

Santoka Taneda – The Sound of Waves…

14 Mar

I stumbled upon this poem by Santoka Taneda and it struck a chord with me because it is profound and touches on the topic of transience. The poet compares the constancy of the waves, caressing the sandy shore then withdrawing again, in an everlasting rhythm, with the fleeting nature of our human life and the lyrical subject wonders: how much of his life remains? Santoka Taneda (1882-1940), an eccentric drunkard turned Zen priest, wrote many meditative poems and remains famous for writing in a free verse haiku style. Regardless of Taneda’s innovative haiku style “far more important are the special Zen qualities of simplicity (wabi), solitude (sabi), and impermanence (mujo) conveyed in a modern setting by his haiku.” (Mountain Tasting, Poetry of Santoka Taneda, translated by John Stevens) I think these elements make the poem so deep and I look forward to reading more of his poetry.

Paul Gauguin, La Vague, 1888

“The sound of waves
Now distant, now close;
How much of my life remains?”

Rimbaud – No One’s Serious at Seventeen

12 Nov

Today I thought I’d share a poem called “Novel” by a French poet Arthur Rimbaud. I’ve loved the poem for years now and then I also noticed it was recited in the film “Young and Beautiful” (Jeune & Jolie, 2013) which I also love. The poem instantly transports me to a summer evening in June when the scent of linden trees fills the night air and the pavements are littered with its tiny golden flowers, in those summer evenings the scent of the linden trees, the fireflies and the stars above give the illusion that everything is possible. It’s a heavenly feeling and this poem gives me that feeling, even though it’s misty and drab November.

Still from the film Jeune & Jolie (2013)

I

We aren’t serious when we’re seventeen.

—One fine evening, to hell with beer and lemonade,

Noisy cafés with their shining lamps!

We walk under the green linden trees of the park

 

The lindens smell good in the good June evenings!

At times the air is so scented that we close our eyes.

The wind laden with sounds—the town isn’t far—

Has the smell of grapevines and beer . . .

 

II

—There you can see a very small patch

Of dark blue, framed by a little branch,

Pinned up by a naughty star, that melts

In gentle quivers, small and very white . . .

 

Night in June! Seventeen years old! —We are overcome by it all

The sap is champagne and goes to our head . . .

We talked a lot and feel a kiss on our lips

Trembling there like a small insect . . .

 

III

Our wild heart moves through novels like Robinson Crusoe,

—When, in the light of a pale street lamp,

A girl goes by attractive and charming

Under the shadow of her father’s terrible collar . . .

 

And as she finds you incredibly naïve,

While clicking her little boots,

She turns abruptly and in a lively way . . .

—Then cavatinas die on your lips . . .

 

IV

You are in love. Occupied until the month of August.

You are in love. —Your sonnets make Her laugh.

All your friends go off, you are ridiculous.

—Then one evening the girl you worship deigned to write to you . . . !

 

—That evening, . . . —you return to the bright cafés,

You ask for beer or lemonade . . .

—We’re not serious when we are seventeen

And when we have green linden trees in the park.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette, 1876

*Translation found here.

Rainer Maria Rilke: Only the Maidens Question Not the Bridges That Lead to Dream

22 Sep

As autumn approaches, the heart begins to dream and Rilke’s poems are on my mind….

Max Švabinský, The Confluence of Souls, 1896

MAIDENS. I

Others must by a long dark way
Stray to the mystic bards,
Or ask some one who has heard them sing
Or touch the magic chords.
Only the maidens question not
The bridges that lead to Dream;
Their luminous smiles are like strands of pearls
On a silver vase agleam.

The maidens’ doors of Life lead out
Where the song of the poet soars,
And out beyond to the great world—
To the world beyond the doors.

Gaston La Touche, A Maiden in Contemplation, 1893

MAIDENS. II

Maidens the poets learn from you to tell
How solitary and remote you are,
As night is lighted by one high bright star
They draw light from the distance where you dwell.

For poet you must always maiden be
Even though his eyes the woman in you wake
Wedding brocade your fragile wrists would break,
Mysterious, elusive, from him flee.

Within his garden let him wait alone
Where benches stand expectant in the shade
Within the chamber where the lyre was played
Where he received you as the eternal One.

Henri Martin, Mystic Scene, 1895

Go! It grows dark—your voice and form no more
His senses seek; he now no longer sees
A white robe fluttering under dark beech trees
Along the pathway where it gleamed before.

He loves the long paths where no footfalls ring,
And he loves much the silent chamber where
Like a soft whisper through the quiet air
He hears your voice, far distant, vanishing.

The softly stealing echo comes again
From crowds of men whom, wearily, he shuns;
And many see you there—so his thought runs—
And tenderest memories are pierced with pain.