Tag Archives: Poetry

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.

This is the autumn: it — just breaks your heart!

19 Oct

A poem by Nietzsche published in 1884, and the original draft written in 1877.

Antoon Van Welie, Douleur, 1895

In German November

This is the autumn: it — just breaks your heart!
Fly away! fly away! —
The sun crawls along the mountain
And rises and rises
And rests with every step.
How the world became so withered!
Upon worn, strained threads
The wind plays its song.
Hope fled —
He soughs to her.

This is the autumn: it — just breaks your heart.
Fly away! fly away!
Oh fruit of the tree,
Shaken, you fall?
What lone secret did the night
Teach you,
That icy horror upon your cheeks,
Upon your crimson cheeks? —

You are silent, do not answer?
Who still speaks? — —

This is the autumn: it — just breaks your heart.
Fly away! fly away! —
“I’m not beautiful”
— That’s what the starflower says —
“But I love people
And I comfort people —
They should see flowers now,
Bend down to me
Alas! and break me —
Memory then shines
In their eyes,
Memory of things more beautiful than I: —
— I see it, I see it — and thus die.” —

This is the autumn: it — just breaks your heart!
Fly away! fly away!

Translation and the German original both 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.

Charles Bukowski – Stay out of the clutches of mediocrity

16 Aug

German-American writer, poet and novelist Charles Bukowski was born on this day in 1920 and since I love the stuff he wrote and luckily I haven’t read all of his novels so I am in for a treat when I do read his other books, I thought why not share some of his poetry. I know some people consider it bad poetry, but what I’ve read, I enjoyed! I love his realism, brutal honesty and cynicism; sometimes you just need a dose of that. I especially love these lines from “No Leaders, Please”: “stay out of the clutches of mediocrity” and “change your tone and shape so often that they can never categorize you”. I love the poem “my cats” because I have cats two and I am a victim of their feline charms as well. The last lines in “Throwing away the alarm clock” are poignant and sad, especially having in mind the novel “Ham on Rye.”

John William Godward – When the heart is young

10 Aug

The sweetest thing on earth is …. to do nothing and enjoy it! Late Victorian British painter John William Godward was born on 9th August 1861 and his life ended by a suicide in 1922 because, as he stated in a note that he left, “the world is not big enough for myself and Picasso”. His perception seemed to be that Picasso was so superior a painter that he had to reside from the position of the painter and from planet earth. A very sad ending to a life devoted to art.

John William Godward, When the heart is young, 1902

“you came and I was crazy for you
and you cooled my mind that burned with longing”

(Sappho, translation by Anne Carson)

“When the heart is young” is one of my favourite painting by Godward, perhaps even the favourite one. There’s just something about it that lures me to it, again and again. Perhaps it is the sweet indolence that speaks to my heart the most. I just love the warmth, sensuality and clear, vibrant in this painting. Every detail about it is perfect and precise and no element of the painting seems superfluous. A beautiful and dreamy dark haired young woman occupies the central place in the painting and everything around her; the marble bench and floor, a peacock fan, animal skin, flowers and the sea in the background all serve to accentuate the idleness and luxury that she is oozing. She is lazing around on a sunny summer day and has the luxury to do so; daydreaming and allowing the minutes and hours to pass by without any guilt or concern, for being idle is not a crime. Gorgeous masses of her black hair are seductively falling over her head, her large dark eyes are full of desire and dreams and her flushed cheeks speak of desires unspoken in words. She seems to exist on a diet of sunlight’s caresses, sweet summer wines and thoughts of love. The curvy line of her body stretched on the fuzzy warm fur is as seductive as the yellowish line that separates the azure blueness of the sea from that of the sky. I can imagine the soft, summery breeze rustling the distant cypresses, kissing the poppies and bringing the salty scent of the sea to the woman’s nose. And now some more of Sappho’s verses because they fill so well with the mood of idleness and undisturbed ripe and juicy fig sweetness:

“Come to me now: loose me from hard
care and all my heart longs
to accomplish, accomplish. You
be my ally.

here to me from Krete to this holy temple
where is your graceful grove
of apple trees and altars smoking
with frankincense.
And in it cold water makes a clear sound through
apple branches and with roses the whole place
is shadowed and down from radiant-shaking leaves
sleep comes dropping.
And in it a horse meadow has come into bloom
with spring flowers and breezes
like honey are blowing….”

(Sappho, translated by Anne Carson)

John William Godward, Dolce Far Niente, 1904

Marble and draped gowns worn by the indolent women in Godward’s paintings bring to mind the similar work of Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Godward was the protégé of Alma-Tadema and their styles hold similarities; they both drew inspiration from the imagined luxury of the Greek world, Ancient Roman Empire and the warm, rich, fragrant, mood of the Mediterranean, they both painted in a Neoclassical style with fine, elegant brushwork resembling that of Ingres, especially when the subject is that of a female body; both made paintings full of light and vibrancy. Paintings “When the Heart is Young” and “Dolce far niente” both show elegantly dressed women doing nothing, being sweetly idle in beautiful settings and thus they fall into the “dolce far niente” genre of painting. ‘Dolce far niente’ is a wonderful Italian expression meaning ‘sweet doing nothing’, and it illustrates the dreamy, hedonistic, self-indulgent nature of indolence, and the enjoyment of it. In the late 19th and early 20th century, in the artistic climate influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetic movement with its ‘cult of beauty’, popularity of this genre of paintings grew. Artists such as Lawrence Alma-Tadema, John William Godward and John William Waterhouse dared to tackle the subject and painted numerous vibrant and beautiful paintings of this theme.

There’s a certain pattern of beauty in all of these ‘dolce far niente’ paintings: a beautiful idle woman dressed in her finery, lazing around in sumptuous surroundings, doing nothing, gazing in the distance or at the viewer. Usually they’re presented in luxurious and idealised settings, aesthetically inspired by the Roman empire, lounging on animal skin, dressed in gorgeous diaphanous fabrics. Certain motifs appear in all of these paintings: finely painted marble balustrades or just marble in general, balconies overlooking the sea glistening underneath a perfectly blue sky with a few clouds, animal skin, clothes and hairstyles inspired by the styles of the Ancient world, flowers and flower pots, lush Mediterranean vegetation and plants such as oleander, lavender, cypresses, orange trees, even poppies, thyme, basil etc.

Reinaldo Arenas – Viejo Niño

19 Jul

Wonderful Cuban author Reinaldo Arenas was born on 16th July 1943 and I celebrated his birthday by thinking about him and his amazing autobiography called “Before Night Falls” which has been my source of inspiration and strength ever since I read it three summers ago. His poem called “Viejo Niño” was written in 1989, just a year before Arenas died on 7th December 1990, and it portrays his childhood so well, in a direct, sincere and amusing way; a childhood of poverty and magic, spent in the Cuban countryside, with a single mother, her family and the all pervading awareness of the mother’s sadness and yearning for the man who had left her soon after they married and Reinaldo, a little boy sitting on her lap, was a reminder of that. A childhood of fascination with all things of nature, mud and rains, chasing roosters and playing with other children under the vast treetops, hiding from the burning sun of the Caribbean. Arenas was all too aware of how unlovable and unwanted he was, but it never stopped him from enjoying the little wonders his childish eyes saw around him.

Egon Schiele, Young Boy, 1918, 45.5×27 cm, gouache, pencil, watercolor on paper

Viejo Niño

I am that child with the round, dirty face

who on every corner bothers you with his

“Can you spare a quarter?”

 

I am that child with the dirty face

no doubt unwanted

that from far away contemplates coaches

where other children

emit laughter and jump up and down considerably

 

I am that unlikeable child

definitely unwanted

with the round dirty face

who before the giant street lights or

under the grandames also illuminated

or in front of the little girls that seem to levitate

projects the insult of his dirty face

 

I am that angry and lonely child of always,

that throws you the insult of that angry child of always

and warns you:

if hypocritically you pat me on the head

I would take that opportunity to steal your wallet.

 

I am that child of always

before the panorama of imminent terror,

imminent leprosy, imminent fleas,

of offenses and the imminent crime.

I am that repulsive child that improvises a bed

out of an old cardboard box and waits,

certain that you will accompany me.

Delmira Agustini – Nocturne

17 Jun

Delmira Agustini (1886-1914) was a very imaginative and prolific Uruguayan poetess who published her first poetry collection when she was a teenager and even though her short life ended abruptly, she was murdered by her jealous and possessive ex-husband who committed suicide right after that, she left a sea of poetry behind her, poem upon poem. She lived and wrote with burning passion and intensity and I get drunken on ecstasy and romance after reading her verses. The way she describes burning sensations of love truly chime with me and all the beautiful sensual imagery that her verses convey are delightful. Her poetry makes me think of sweet sticky honey, long hot days, ripe figs, intense scent of roses in a dusky garden, tossing and turning in one’s bed because the moon won’t let one sleep, bees buzzing over lavender… Today I am sharing her poem “Nocturne”. I love these lines so much:

Winter, I love you and I am the spring…
I blush, you snow:
Because you know it all,
Because I dream it all…

John Singer Sargent, Study for “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose”, 1885, oil on canvas, 72.4 x 49.5 cm

“We fall in a cluster of roses and lilies!”

Nocturne

Outside the night, dressed in tragedy, sighs
Like an enormous widow fastened to my windowpane.

My room…
By a wondrous miracle of light and fire
My room is a grotto of gold and precious gems:
With a moss so smooth, so deep its tapestries,
And it is vivid and hot, so sweet I believe
I am inside a heart…

My bed there in white, is white and vaporous
Like a flower of innocence.
Like the froth of vice!
This night brings insomnia;
There are black nights, black, which bring forth
One rose of sun…
On these black and clear nights I do not sleep.

And I love you, Winter!
I imagine you are old,
I imagine you are wise,
With a divine body of beating marble
Which drags the weight of Time like a regal cloak…

Winter, I love you and I am the spring…
I blush, you snow:
Because you know it all,
Because I dream it all…

We love each other like this!…
On my bed all in white,
So white and vaporous like the flower of innocence,
Like the froth of vice,
Winter, Winter, Winter,
We fall in a cluster of roses and lilies!

John Singer Sargent, Study for “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose”, 1885, oil on canvas, 59.7 x 49.5 cm

James Abbot McNeill Whistler – To Define Is To Kill, To Suggest Is To Create

11 Jun

“To define is to kill. To suggest is to create.”

(Stéphane Mallarmé)

James McNeill Whistler, Nocturne: Blue and Gold–Southampton Water, 1872

The more I gazed at these near abstracts paintings by the American expatriate painter Whistler, these dreamy and vague river-scapes of the Thames, the more this quote by the Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé kept coming to my mind: “To name an object is to do away with three-quarters of the enjoyment of the poem which is derived from the satisfaction of guessing little by little; to suggest it, that is the illusion. It is the perfect handling of the mystery that Constitutes the symbol: to evoke an object little by little in order to show a state of mind or inversely to choose an object and to disengage from it a State of mind, by a series of unriddlings.

Stephané Mallarmé’s poems are full of complicated and unique symbols which leaves the reader the space for interpretation, and he used music as inspiration and a role model because music is the most irrational and also most romantic of all the arts, as E.T.A. Hoffman said in the early nineteenth century. I see a direct parallel with this Mallarmé’s thought and these landscapes that Whistler painted in the 1870s are a visual portraits of that thought; the little boats and the setting sun in the painting “Nocturne: Blue and Gold–Southampton Water” just like the lights in the “Nocturne” bellow are more suggestive than direct, accurate, realistic portrayals of the scene. This vague interpretation of the scene Whistler saw before him gives these paintings a poetic flair, these are the kind of artworks one can gaze at for a long time and daydream. Reveries come easy when we gaze at something undefined and ready to be expanded with our imagination.

James Abbott McNeil, Nocturne, 1870-1877

James Abbot McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) was an American artist, but after coming to England in 1859, he never returned to his homeland again, but instead divided his time between London and Paris, and nurtured friendships with other artists and writers on the each side of the Channel; Gaultier, Swinburne, Manet and Courbet to name a few. Whistler is famous for promoting ‘art for art’s sake philosophy’, and enraging Ruskin who emphasised the social, moralistic role of art. He was also known for giving his paintings musical names, such as “Symphony” or “Nocturne”, which sometimes enraged the critics, but still fascinates the lovers of his art, myself included.

I really love the idea that the title Nocturne can be given to a painting as well, not just to a piece of classical music as is mostly the case. The title alone can the suggestive and influence our perception of the painting and a title such as “Nocturne” certainly directs my perception into a mystical, dreamy direction. In 1872, he wrote to Frederic Leyland, an amateur musician who inspired Whistler for his musically inspired titles: “I say I can’t thank you too much for the name ‘Nocturne’ as a title for my moonlights! You have no idea what an irritation it proves to the critics and consequent pleasure to me—besides it is really so charming and does so poetically say all that I want to say and no more than I wish.” These Nocturnes are pure poetry on canvas. One would think that covering an entire canvas in monotonous shades of blue and grey would make a dull painting, but the effect is the opposite.

In 1877, Whistler exhibited his “Nocturne” series of the river Thames at the Grosvenor Gallery in London and these paintings truly enraged the art critic and writer John Ruskin who wrote of the exhibition that Whistler was “asking two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face“. This just show how scandalous these half-realistic and half-abstract paintings were to Victorians. Today, after all that art has gone through, the good and the bad, our eyes are so desensitised that these paintings could hardly be considered outrageous.

James Abbott McNeil, Nocturne: Blue and Silver, Chelsea, 1871

Dreamy Autochromes – A Girl in Red On the Beach

4 Jun
“And from then on I bathed in the Poem
Of the Sea, infused with stars and lactescent,
Devouring the azure verses; where, like a pale elated
Piece of flotsam, a pensive drowned figure sometimes sinks;
 
Where, suddenly dyeing the blueness, delirium
And slow rhythms under the streaking of daylight,
Stronger than alcohol, vaster than our lyres,
The bitter redness of love ferments!
(Rimbaud, Drunken Boat)

These wonderful dreamy autochrome photographs of a girl in a red bathing suit at a rocky beach were taken by Mervyn O’Gorman (1871-1958). Similar to the Belgian artist Alfonse van Besten whose autochrome photographs I wrote about before, O’Gorman wasn’t a professional photographer, but rather an engineer with an interest in photography. Alongside knowing the autochrome technique, he clearly had a knack for aesthetic and beauty as well and that is what makes these photographs so timeless and captivating. The thin, pale and pretty strawberry-haired girl was O’Gorman’s daughter Christina and these photographs were taken on a rocky beach in Dorset in 1913. The pictures have a dreamy, nostalgic air which makes them belong to a world of the past, but they also seem modern in some way, maybe it’s because Christina’s poses, setting and even clothes seem modern. Naturally, the kind of bathing suit she is seen wearing is nothing like those she would be wearing today, but when we think of the Edwardian times, an image of a girl on the beach, with bare knees and barefoot certainly isn’t the first thing which comes to mind. There’s a dreamy veil over these photographs, and a tinge of sweet sensuality as well; Christina in her red bathing suit is like a shy poppy flower which starts blooming and, raising its head toward the blue sky, starts being aware of its own beauty and charm. Every time I see the boat in the background of the autochrome above, it makes me think of Arthur Rimbaud’s poem “Drunken Boat”:

“But, in truth, I have wept too much! Dawns are heartbreaking.

Every moon is atrocious and every sun bitter.

Acrid love has swollen me with intoxicating torpor

O let my keel burst! O let me go into the sea!

 

If I want a water of Europe, it is the black

Cold puddle where in the sweet-smelling twilight

A squatting child full of sadness releases

A boat as fragile as a May butterfly.”

Autochromes from the beach are certainly the most striking, but O’Gorman took many more pictures of his daughter Christina and she is always seen in this lovely, vibrant red which instantly captivates the viewer and brings the attention to Christina. In the last picture you can also see O’Gorman’s wife and other daughter, also on the beach.