Thursday, January 16, 2020

Tropical fruit



Because of Storm Brendan the River Ray has spread all over its floodplain. But indoors from this Swindon January I'm in the tropics, reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's devastating novel Half of a Yellow Sun (2006).

The novel's world is often articulated through fruit trees, and as I've been spending so much of my reading time in Nigeria recently (e.g. here) I thought I would learn a bit more about some of them.

Ripe cashew apples
[Image source: Wikipedia.]

Cashew tree, Nsukka, p. 13, 15, 16, 24, 175, 419. The "wine-like scent of ripening cashews". Orlu, p. 311, 318, 391, 402, 406, 409, 412, 414. Anacardium occidentale, native to tropical America. The pulp of the cashew apple can be distilled into liquor. Its seed is the cashew "nut".

Ube fruit


[Image source: Wikipedia.]

Ube tree, Opi, p. 8. Dacryodes edulis, native to tropical Africa. The fruit can be eaten raw or cooked. It's valued for its high fat content.

Avocado, Lagos, p. 30, 32. At a posh dinner. From "one of our farms.. the one near Asaba". Persea americana, native to South-central Mexico.

Kuka pod

[Image source: Wikipedia.]

"ripe gourdlike pods on the kuka tree". Kano, p. 39, 40, 129, 148. I.e. the baobab (Adansonia digitata), native to savannahs of sub-Saharan Africa. Kuka soup is a popular delicacy in northern Nigeria.

Indian Almond fruit


[Image source: https://afrikahnqueen.wordpress.com/2016/08/09/a-fruit-called-fruit/ .]

Umbrella tree fruit, p. 73. "they had fallen during the previous night and lay, oval and pale yellow, on the lawn. ..smelt the over-sweetness of their rotting". I'm pretty sure this is the Indian Almond, Terminalia catappa , known in Nigeria as umbrella tree, according to the link above. Both flesh and kernel are eaten. The native range is uncertain; long naturalized in a broad belt from Australia through S. Asia to Africa.

Pawpaw (papaya) tree


[Image source: https://plantinstructions.com/tropical-fruit/grow-papaya-seed/ .]

Pawpaw, Nsukka, p. 15, 24, 107. "blackbirds that ate the pawpaws in the garden". This must be the papaya (Carica papaya), often called pawpaw, native to tropical America (not the pawpaw of the Eastern USA and Canada (Asimina triloba)).

Orange tree, Port Harcourt, p. 77, 113, 316, 426. Orlu, p. 390. The sweet orange Citrus x sinensis is the world's most cultivated tree. It arose in ancient China, a hybrid between pomelo and mandarin.

The sound of the rain slapping against the window woke him up the next morning. Kainene lay beside him, her eyes half open in that eerie way that meant she was deeply asleep. He looked at her dark chocolate skin, which shone with oil, and lowered his head to her face. He didn't kiss her, didn't let his face touch hers, but placed it close enough so that he could feel the moistness of her breath and smell its faintly curdled scent. He stretched and went to the window. It rained in slants here in Port Harcourt so that the water hit the windows and walls rather than the roof. Perhaps it was because the ocean was so close, because the air was so heavy with water that it let it fall too soon. For a moment, the rain became intense and the sound against the window grew loud, like pebbles being flung against the glass. He stretched again. The rain had stopped and the windowpanes were cloudy. Behind him, Kainene stirred and mumbled something.
     "Kainene?" he said.
     Her eyes were still half open, her breathing still regular.
      "I'm going for a walk," he said, although he was sure she didn't hear him.
      Outside, Ikejide was plucking oranges; his uniform bunched up at the back as he nudged fruit down with a stick.
       "Good morning, sah," he said.
       "Kedu?" Richard asked. He felt comfortable practising his Igbo with Kainene's stewards, because they were always so expressionless that it did not matter whether or not he got the tones right.
        "I am well, sah."
        "Jisie ike."
        "Yes, sah."
        Richard went to the bottom of the orchard, where he could see, through the thicket of trees, the white foam of the sea's waves. He sat on the ground. He wished that Major Madu had not invited them to dinner ....  (p. 113-114)

Breadfruit


[Image source: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/fruits/breadfruit/breadfruit-tree-facts.htm . Photo by bennyartist.]

Breadfruit tree. Opi, p. 7, 420, 421. Orlu, p. 400. Artocarpus altilis, probably deriving from a wild species native to the Philippines and New Guinea.


Udala fruit
[Image source: https://www.kitchenbutterfly.com/2017/01/06/thou-shalt-not-pluck-fruit-from-the-agbalumo-star-apple-tree/ .]

Udala tree, Abba, p. 190. Children "fighting over the fallen udala fruit. They could not climb the tree or pluck the fruit because it was taboo; udala belonged to the spirits." Chrysophyllum albidum, native to tropical Africa, also known as white star apple.

Mango tree


[Image source: http://www.westafricanplants.senckenberg.de/images/pictures/mangifera_indica_img_6465_ralfbiechele_1058_6b680e.jpg .]

Mango tree, Nsukka, p. 175, 215. Abba, p. 185. "fruit drooping down like heavy earrings." Umuahia, p. 264. Orlu, p. 398. Mangifera indica and other species, native to S. Asia.

Olanna ran past the Town square on her way to Akwakuma Primary School in the morning. She always did that in open spaces, running until she got to the thick shade of trees that would give good cover in case of an air raid. Some children were standing under the mango tree in the school compound, throwing stones up at the fruit. She shouted, "Go to your classes, osiso!" and they scattered briefly before coming back to aim at the mangoes. She heard a cheer when one fell, and then the raised voices as they quarrelled over whose throw had brought the fruit down. (p. 264)

Guava tree


[Image source: http://www.westafricanplants.senckenberg.de/images/pictures/psidium_guajava_img_0761_ralfbiechele_1306_ceb19a.jpg .]

Guava tree, Abba, p. 184, 194. Its bark "a light clay alternating with a darker slate, much like the skin of village children with the nlacha skin disease." Psidium guajava, native to tropical America.

Kola-nut pods


[Image source: https://bellafricana.com/the-precious-african-nut-kola-nut/ .]

Kola-nut tree. Nsukka, p. 18, 175.
Obosi, pp. 164-165. "broke the kola nut apart into five lobes".
 Abba, p. 185, 188, 195, 299. One of various species, especially Cola acuminata and Cola nitida, native to tropical Africa. The nut contains caffeine. It is chewed, releasing the bitter taste. It reduces hunger pangs and has many social and ceremonial uses.

Lemon tree, Nsukka, p. 15, 24, 209, 365, 432. "'I also use lemons to make cake; lemons are very good for the body...The food of white people makes you healthy, it is not like all of the nonsense that our people eat.'" For both Harrison and Ugwu (his sceptical listener) citrus fruits are alien introductions. Citrus limon seems to have originated in NE India, perhaps as a hybrid between bitter orange and citron.

Banana "tree" (technically the world's tallest herbaceous plant).  Umuahia, p. 326, 331. One of various Musa species, native to tropical Indomalaya and Australia.

*

The fruit trees in Half of a Yellow Sun are naturally eloquent in ways that need no commentary: they speak variously of locality, community, hospitality, shelter, native culture, alien culture, fulfilment, betrayal, desecration, corruption, memory, loss, continuity, resolve...

But one general aspect of their meaning I might have missed if I hadn't looked up kwashiorkor, the particular brand of starvation that killed so many Biafran children, characterized by a swollen abdomen and pitted ankles. Kwashiorkor occurs where there's a relative availability of energy foods (sugars, carbs) but an extreme lack of protein. (The abdominal swelling is the enlargement of the liver with fatty deposits.) This is the dietary vulnerability that Ugwu's aunty hints at on the very first page of Adichie's novel, when she promises him that in his new job as houseboy "as long as you work well, you will eat well. You will even eat meat every day."

The Biafran war ended in 1970. But
malnutrition and child mortality remain terrible facts of life in some parts of Nigeria even today. Kevin Watkins' recent Guardian article (15 January 2020):

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/jan/15/nigerias-child-development-crisis-is-a-tragedy-heres-how-we-can-end-it

Frederick Forsyth's article about Britain's involvement in the Biafran war:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jan/21/buried-50-years-britain-shamesful-role-biafran-war-frederick-forsyth

*

There's plenty of debate about Half of a Yellow Sun within Nigeria and elsewhere, but it's mostly behind academic paywalls so involves a trip to a university library. Some aspects of that fraught discussion are represented in this 2017 paper by Abayomi Abewela:

https://lucas.leeds.ac.uk/article/adichies-half-of-a-yellow-sun-abayomi-awelewa/

Kate Kellaway's piece for the Observer was the most interesting I've seen of the newspaper reviews that came out at the time of publication:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2006/aug/13/fiction.features2

One more extract. People are on relief flour by now.

The cake turned out crisp on the outside and moistly soft inside, and he cut slim slices and took them out in saucers. Special Julius and Olanna were sitting down while Master was standing, gesturing, talking about the last village he visited, how the people had sacrificed a goat at the shrine of oyi to keep the vandals away.
          "A whole goat! All that wasted protein!" Special Julius said and laughed.
          Master did not laugh. "No, no, you must never underestimate the psychological importance of such things. We never ask them to eat the goat instead."
          "Ah, cake!" Special Julius said. He ignored the fork and stuffed the piece in his mouth. "Very good, very good. Ugwu, you have to teach the people in my house because all they do with our flour is chin-chin, every day is chin-chin, chin-chin, and it is the hard kind with no taste! My teeth have finished."
          "Ugwu is a wonder at everything," Olanna said. "He would easily put that woman in Rising Sun Bar out of business."
          Professor Ekwenugo knocked on the open door and walked in. His hands were swathed in cream-coloured bandages.
          "Dianyi, what happened to you?" Master asked.
          "Just a little burn." Professor Ekwenugo stared at his bandaged hands as if he had only just realized that they meant he no longer had a long nail to stroke. "We are putting together something very big."
          "Is it our first Biafran-built bomber jet?" Olanna teased.
           "Something very big that will reveal itself with time," Professor Ekwenugo said, with a mysterious smile. He ate clumsily; bits of cake fell away before they got to his mouth.
            "It should be a saboteur-detecting machine," Master said.
            "Yes! Bloody saboteurs." Special Julius made the sound of spitting. "They sold Enugu out. How can you leave civilians to defend our capital with mere machetes? This is the same way they lost Nsukka, by pulling back for no reason. Doesn't one of the commanding officers have a Hausa wife? She has put medicine in his food." .... (pp. 284-285)



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Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Mindful of kitchen sounds

Willow  tree with galls, Swindon, 14 January 2020.



Two poets in this fleeting post, both born in the same year as me (1958).

*

The clink-clanging of
knives and forks
against a susurrus
of sobs escaping
the steel faucet...

Me in this twilight hour
sipping red in cobalt...

Mindful of kitchen
sounds slowly seeping
into the woods from
whence appear a family
of deer I sometimes
spy from the
square window

And point out
to the delight
even now
Of grown children
And their father
familiar with the
madness of mothering

the Other

(from Fawzia Afzal-Khan, "M/Other")

Reading Fawzia Afzal-Khan's poems (in women: poetry: migration ed. Jane Joritz-Nakagawa, 2017) takes me not to more poetry but to singing, theatre, academic writing, journalism. "My poetry -- like my scholarly and memoir writings, my teaching and other forms of art such as my singing -- sits astride, explores and emerges from the border crossings that make up my life." She was born in Lahore, lives and works in the USA.

History of Unforgetting: Fawzia Afzal-Khan (that's her singing, from about the 5-minute mark) with the Kathak dancer Parul Shah:



Mullahs and music in Morocco (2010):
https://tribune.com.pk/story/25868/mullahs-and-music-in-morocco/
How my daughter's interracial relationship opened my eyes (2017):
https://www.salon.com/2017/12/25/i-thought-i-was-open-minded-my-daughters-interracial-relationship-opened-my-eyes/
Journey to the house of stone: where past meets the present in the Levant (2017):
https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/10/journey-to-the-house-of-stone-where-past-meets-the-present-in-the-levant/


*

Mir Mahfuz Ali's poem "A Lizard by my Hospital Bed" came up for discussion yesterday at my reading group. I've found the text online on Kim Moore's blog, so I'm feeling OK about requoting it in full.


A Lizard by My Hospital Bed

The mouth of silence trickles forward a bloodless lizard.
I take off my oxygen mask and allow

his cracked sound to crawl into my teenage head.
Like me he puffs for air.  I wheeze.  He pants.

He does not break his meditation as the hours pass,
my eyes still on him when he jumps on a thinking fly

with a fine open-air gesture.  An education by lizard:
focus, don’t rely on impulse.

Keep the foam clear so my voice doesn’t burst
through my trachea hole

like shrapnel in a pomegranate.
My eyes flick a question, city kerosene thuds

echoing in my head.  My friend says nothing.
Goes one step back, two steps forward.

How can I let him go?  I grab the fellow by his tail,
but he still escapes through the gap in my throat.


This poem (which refers to his injury after being shot in the throat by riot police during an anti-war protest in Bangladesh) comes from his only collection to date (Midnight, Dhaka (2014)). He was born in Dhaka and lives in the UK.

Mir Mahfuz Ali reading a poem about Salma:



Willow sprig with gall

These galls might be the work of the saw-fly Rabdophaga rosaria, which produces terminal rosette galls on willows. But they don't look quite like the images I've found online, so take this with a pinch of salt.

Gall of reduced leaves on willow


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Monday, January 13, 2020

Stone Parsley (Sison amomum)



My floral companion over the darkest time of the year was a specimen of Stone Parsley (Sison amomum) that made a very belated decision to throw up a flowering stem, when we were already well into autumn. In the spring I had transplanted two Stone Parsley plants from a nearby verge. (The other one had flowered at midsummer and was long gone.)

The carrot family (Apiaceae, formerly called Umbelliferae) contains many species that make wonderful subjects for photographs, but Stone Parsley isn't one of them. The adult plant consists almost entirely of narrow, divergent, stems making a zigzag network in the air. They terminate in small, widely separated, white flowers, which mature into small dark fruits. There's just nothing for the camera to focus on.

But that didn't stop me trying, and I took hundreds of snaps of this plant and of others (Stone Parsley is very common in Swindon). The photos here, for what it's worth, were the best.



One cobwebby morning.














The most frequently repeated fact about Stone Parsley is that the crushed plant has a nauseating smell of petroleum. I'm sure this is true, but my own sense of smell is so fitful that I've yet to experience it.

Despite the smell, it's apparently edible and the seeds have been used as a condiment. The stems are said to taste like celery.

The 1684 sex and midwifery manual known as Aristotle's Masterpiece talks about Stone Parsley's usefulness for cleansing the womb, suggesting that it may be abortifacient.

Stone Parsley doesn't occur in Sweden. It's considered sub-Atlantic / sub-Mediterranean. In the UK it mostly occurs SE of a line from Lincolnshire to Glamorgan, but even within that region its frequency varies greatly. I never noticed it around Hastings (E. Sussex), nor do I ever see it around Frome (Somerset), but in residential West Swindon it grows all along the footpaths and shelter-belts, often in large numbers.















Small snails on the upper part of the main stem, January 2020.



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Monday, December 30, 2019

My Christmas album




This year I had a lot of fun making minor Xmas gifts for family and friends. Everyone got a jar of rowan and apple jelly and a copy of this Christmas album. Actually it's a fair old mixture, and only a couple of the tracks are definitely Christmas-related.

Here are some notes.

1. Prelude in E minor.

This is my own composition. It's part of a very long-running and un-serious project to make a set of preludes for guitar in all of the twenty-four keys, as the Mexican composer Manuel Ponce did. For this exercise the capo is banned, so most of those keys are pretty awkward if (like me) you are not very good at playing the guitar. E minor, however, is as simple as it comes.

2. I Won't Let You Down.

This is a song I've known and loved since I was fourteen. It was written by Albert Lee and was on the much under-rated final album Old Soldiers Never Die by Heads, Hands and Feet. Like many great songs of that era it has an "upside down" chord progression: formally in C, but mainly using the chords of F.  I tried to emulate the scintilations of the original band version with a couple of overdubbed electric guitars. The song's about the mysteries of influence, change, memory and identity. And love, of course.

3. Julmelodier.

This is a medley of popular Swedish tunes, as heard in every household at this time of year. Some are specifically Christmassy, others are suitable for any season or festivity. Originally I intended to sing them,  but they worked better as guitar tunes. Swedes will know all the words and can sing along!

Tre små gummor. The words come from a children's story by Anna Maria Roos. Three little old women are off to the market and talk about what fun they'll have riding on the carousel and eating sweets.
Kring julgranen.   After the long dark autumn, it's finally Christmas and the place lights up with snow. Then comes spring and summer, and by autumn we'll be longing for Christmas again. Words and music by Alice Tegnér (who reappears in Track 7).
Vi ska ställa till en roliger dans.  An unsymmetrical polska, heard just as often at midsummer as at Christmas. For group dancing. "You're lovely when you dance and smile, you're lovely when you look at your sweetheart."
Nu är det jul igen. Another polska. The words are delightfully inconsequential: "Now it's Christmas again, now it's Christmas again, and Christmas lasts right up to Easter. But that's not true, but that's not true, because in between comes Lent."
Hej! tomtegubbar.  A Christmas drinking song. "Hey Tomtegubbar fill the glass and let's make merry! A little time we live here, with much trouble and much care. Hey Tomtegubbar fill the glass and let's make merry!"
Karusellen (Jungfru, jungfru skär). Another children's song about a carousel, from the early twentieth century. "Maiden, rosy maiden, here's the carousel which will run this evening. Ten for the big ones and five for the small, hurry up, hurry up, now the carousel is off! Ha ha ha, we're having such fun, with Andersson and Pettersson and Lundström and me!"



4. You Wear It Well.

Song by Rod Stewart and Martin Quittenton, a big hit for Rod back in the day. The protagonist trying to ensnare a former love at a distance, with a heady mix of honesty, blarney and humour. But a further subtlety is the flitting awareness that he may be talking only to himself.

5. Get Set For The Blues.

A song by Joe R. Karnes. It was on Julie London's magnificent 1957 album About the Blues.  Her version is definitive, but for a song about depression it's a lot of fun to play and sing.

6. America.

One of Paul Simon's un-rhyming songs. I got interested in the meaning of the song, and then in its guitar intricacies.

7. Betlehems stjärna (Gläns över sjö och strand).

A Christmas carol. The words were a poem by Viktor Rydberg, the music, with constantly modulating keys, is by Alice Tegnér. It's about the star over Bethlehem, the tired shepherds and the sleeping baby. I worked the overdub feature to turn myself into a rather small male voice choir.

8. Fryksdalsdans nr 2. 

A traditional Swedish dance tune (it's a schottis). I wrote a bit more about this in an earlier post.

9. Fridolin's Folly.

A 1901 poem by Erik Axel Karlfeldt, freely translated by me and turned into a rudimentary song. I wrote some more about it here.




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Sunday, December 29, 2019

Or like some road-side pool

I opened up my Victorian flower calendar again, and my eye fell on this poem, under the heading of Maple -- Reserve.*

A wretched thing it were to have our heart
Like a broad highway or a populous street,
Where every idle thought has leave to meet,
Pause, or pass on, as in the open mart ;
Or like some road-side pool, which no nice art
Has guarded that the cattle may not beat
And foul it with a multitude of feet,
Till of the heavens it can give back no part ;
But keep thou thine a holy solitude,
For He who would walk there would walk alone,
He who would drink there must be first endued
With single right to call that stream his own ;
Keep thou thine heart, close fastened, unrevealed,
A fencéd garden, and a fountain sealed.



The poem begins by recommending control of the thoughts we allow into our heart. It's an idea that was long overdue the revival that has come about in our own times; as mindfulness, the re-engineering of mental habits by NLP, rejection of negative or judgmental thoughts, and so on.

So far, this is a poem about limiting what we allow in to our hearts.  But towards the end, especially in the word "unrevealed", it starts to be about what we allow out; what we let other people see or know about ourselves.

Practically, the two are connected, because human interaction is a two-way thing. (And yes, we are talking relationships, attachments and temptations fully as much as we are talking about a commerce of supposedly abstract thoughts and ideas.)

"The heart" had become a precious repository, something separate from the mind. It was the seat of deep emotions, values, convictions and doubts. One did not automatically speak from it.

But this control on what we give out introduces a new and less comfortable aspect of the matter. The religious life, the cultivation of the heart, so easily descends into hypocrisy and self-deception: the religious heart may perhaps contain nothing but holy thoughts, but even if it does not, it should continue to appear holy.

"He" means the Lord... and there's something unintendedly charming and comic about the momentary image of a thirsty snorting Lord with his muzzle in the water, not sharing his pool with the cattle.

But still, I can't help thinking, too, that the "He" who relishes a private saunter might well be a husband or father, while the heart in question might well belong to a wife or daughter.

But let's not limit it. This idea of the heart's virginity went further. For Victorian gentlefolk everything that was truly of value, everything that gave meaning to existence, needed to be guarded, preserved, policed. Always the danger of infiltration, of pollution, of dilution. This last perhaps the most critical of all. You could end up without a class structure!



Reserve doesn't seem quite right to describe this poem, nor does the title "Retirement" used in the 1919 Oxford Book of Victorian Verse.

The poet was Richard Chenevix Trench (1807 - 1886), also a philologist (a proponent of what became the OED),  Dean of Westminster Abbey and finally Archbishop of Dublin, the city of his birth. He was also the father of 14 children.

This poem appears (headed merely "Sonnet") on p. 4 of the 1910 volume Sonnets and Elegiacs, and on p. 36 of the 1865 Poems, Collected and Arranged Anew. In both these books it is the fourth sonnet of a set of six about the Christian life. But this set is evidently one of the new arrangements, because some of these sonnets (though not the one above) had appeared in the 1838 collection Sabbation, Honor Neale, and Other Poems.

*

The fifth sonnet gives rise to another debate across the centuries.

To feel that we are homeless exiles here,
To listen to the world's discordant tone,
As to a private discord of our own,
To know that we are fallen from a sphere
Of higher being, pure, serene, and clear,
Into the darkness of this dim estate --
This thought may sometimes make us desolate,
For this we may shed many a secret tear.
But to mistake our dungeon for a throne,
Our place of exile for our native land,
To hear no discords in the universe,
To find no matter over which to groan,
This (oh ! that men would rightly understand!)
This, seeming better, were indeed far worse.

Of course Trench is mainly referring not to the natural world but to that spiritual temptation the World: the world as social construct, the seat of worldly temptations, of secularism and economic power.

Nevertheless,  it's remarkable how, since Trench's time, awareness of environmental destruction has quite altered our sense of spiritual home. This planet, we belatedly realize now, is precisely our native land. As its creatures, we can live nowhere else. Nor can we deny our kinship even with the human world of capital, consumerism and greed. That's just as much a part of nature as the rest is. We understand all too clearly our complicity in its behaviours and their consequences; and that the dreadful story unfolding in our own time is the work of ordinary human animals like ourselves, not for the most part especially wicked but attached to our lifestyles and zealous for our own families and the tribes we identify with.

And, on the other hand, we see that the claim of human transcendence, of "higher being", comes to be productive not of spirituality but of other forms of gravity-defying transport (such as jet-planes and fast cars), or of the hands-free illusions of modern consumerism and mass culture.


*

Trench's works are available online, thanks to the Hathi Trust (His excellent Wikipedia entry has links to them). I've been relishing reading his introductory chapters to a volume of selected translations of Calderón.

Flicking through the titles of his poems, in bulk, gives an impression of bounteous production in the Tennyson-Arnold-Browning mould. More obviously than any of those others, he was a follower of Wordsworth. As in this delightful poem:


A WALK IN A CHURCH-YARD.

                          I.
We walked within the Church-yard bounds,
   My little boy and I --
He laughing, running happy rounds,
   I pacing mournfully.

                         II.
"Nay, child ! It is not well," I said,
   "Among the graves to shout,
To laugh and play among the dead,
   And make this noisy rout."

                         III.
A moment to my side he clung,
   Leaving his merry play,
A moment stilled his joyous tongue,
   Almost as hushed as they.

                          IV.
Then, quite forgetting the command
   In life's exulting burst
Of early glee, let go my hand,
   Joyous as at the first.

                          V.
And now I did not check him more,
   For, taught by Nature's face,
I had grown wiser than before
   Even in that moment's space :

                          VI.
She spread no funeral pall above
   That patch of churchyard ground,
But the same azure vault of love
   As hung o'er all around.

                          VII.
And white clouds o'er that spot would pass,
   As freely as elsewhere ;
The sunshine on no other grass
   A richer hue might wear.

                           VIII.
And formed from out that very mould
   In which the dead did lie,
The daisy with its eye of gold
   Looked up into the sky.

                             IX.
The rook was wheeling overhead,
   Nor hastened to be gone --
The small bird did its glad notes shed,
   Perched on a grey head-stone.

                              X.
And God, I said, would never give
   This light upon the earth,
Nor bid in childhood's heart to live
   These springs of gushing mirth,

                              XI.
If our one wisdom were to mourn,
   And linger with the dead,
To nurse, as wisest, thoughts forlorn
   Of worm and earthy bed.

                              XII.
Oh no, the glory Earth puts on,
   the child's unchecked delight,
Both witness to a triumph won --
   (If we but judged aright,)

                              XIII.
A triumph won o'er sin and death,
   From these the Saviour saves ;
And, like a happy infant, Faith
   Can play among the graves.


Another poem that caught my attention was this:


LINES
 Written on the First Tidings of the Cabul Massacres, January, 1842 .

                             I.
WE sat our peaceful hearths beside;
Within our temples hushed and wide
We worshipped without fear:
With solemn rite, with festal blaze,
We welcomed in the earliest days
Of this new-coming year.

                             II.
O ye that died, brave hearts and true,
How in those days it fared with you
We did not then surmise;
That bloody rout, which still doth seem
The fancy of a horrid dream,
Was hidden from our eyes:

                              III.
But haunts us now by day and night
The vision of that ghastly flight,
In shapes of haggard fear:
While still from many a mourning home
The wails of lamentation come,
And fill our saddened ear.

                              IV.
O England, bleeding at thy heart
For thy lost sons, a solemn part
Doth Heaven to thee assign!
High wisdom hast thou need to ask,
For vengeance is a fearful task,
And yet that task is thine,

                               V.
Oh, then, fulfil it, not in pride,
Nor aught to passionate hate allied;
But know thyself to be
The justicer of righteous Heaven;
That unto thee a work is given,
A burden laid on thee.

                              VI.
So thine own heart from guilty stains
First cleanse, and then, for what remains,
That do with all thy might;
That with no faltering hand fulfil,
With no misgiving heart or will,
As dubious of the right.

                               VII.
That do, not answering wrong for wrong,
But witnessing that truth is strong,
And, outraged, bringeth wo.
'Tis this by lessons sad and stern,
To men who no way else would learn,
Which thou art set to show.


This refers to the chief disaster of the first Anglo-Afghan war in January 1842. A force of 4,500 British Troops and 12,000 Indian camp followers had entered Afghanistan to intervene in a succession dispute (this was all about paranoia about Russia filling a power vacuum). The wretched expedition was ill-disciplined and poorly led. The British occupation was resented for many reasons, but the officers' flagrant debauching of Afghani women was perhaps the flash-point that led to the whole force being wiped out, virtually to a man.

British feeling demanded the "Army of Retribution", which briefly re-occupied Kabul in September 1842. Its official act of retaliation was, I suppose, temperate ("not answering wrong for wrong"): they destroyed the great covered bazaar.  Unofficially, they looted the whole city. The troops had already carried out brutal reprisals in the villages near where they had found the remains of the previous army.


Richard Chenevix Trench


[Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Drawing_of_Richard_Chenevix_Trench.jpg]



*


CHAPTER XV 
" A wretched thing it were to have our heart
   Like a broad highway on a populous street. "
                                                            TRENCH
    The meeting of the two friends a couple of days before the great nuptial event was as joyous as a reunion of lovers. They sat hand in hand, looking at each other and criticising each other in that frank, feminine fashion which, between real friends, is always so kind and partial, so flattering and pleasant.  ....

This is from Dust and Laurels: A Study in Nineteenth Century Womanhood, by Mary L. Pendered (New York, 1894). Without reading the whole book (though I'd like to), I don't fully grasp the relevance of the epigraph, but Vera is certainly defending her wounded heart from her friend Sylvia's happy but searching hypotheses.

*

* Frederic Shoberl (The Language of Flowers with Illustrative Poetry, 1835) wrote: "The maple has been made the emblem of reserve, because its flowers are late in opening and slow to fall".  (Two rather surprising claims!)

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Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Bobbing in Amoretti

Ruins of Kilcolman Castle in 1885

[Image source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kilcolman_Castle .]


At the bright porthole, the sea-line tilted.


Arion, when through tempests cruel wracke,
  He forth was thrown into the greedy seas :
  through the sweet musick which his harp did make
 allu'rd a Dolphin him from death to ease. (XXXVIII)

But where have I read that porthole image, only recently? Oh yes, I remember now, it was in Lola Ridge:

I wish Celia
could see the sea climb up on the sky
and slide off again…

What is it with boats, and seas...  and horses?  Such constant elements in our dreams, but so marginal in daily life, these obsolete forms of transport?

Well, but here we are once more, on the seas of Spenser's poems, specifically the Mar Menor of the Amoretti.

THEY, that in course of heauenly spheares are skild,
  To euery planet point his sundry yeare:
  in which her circles voyage is fulfild,
  as Mars in three score yeares doth run his spheare... (LX)

Sixty years? But Mars orbits the sun in just 1.9 years. ...?

Blinding salt and sun. These sunlit waves are the smooth flow of Spenser's verse; the rippling, interlinked rhymes in Spenser's sonnet form.* Maybe the flashes are also the cupids (which is what "amoretti" means). For Shakespeare, cupids were only a joke (CLIII, CLIV), but Spenser senses them everywhere.

Spenser, writing these sonnets in 1593-1594, was 41. His bride in June 1594, Elizabeth Boyle, was 18, the same age as Sidney's "Stella" (Penelope Devereux) when she married Lord Rich in 1581. It was Spenser's second marriage, he already had two children.

sweet is the firbloome, but his branches rough. (XXVI)

If Sidney wrote Astrophil and Stella in (say) 1584, that would make the author about 30. (Five years older, incidentally, than Stella's detested husband Lord Rich.)

But that rich foole, who by blind Fortunes lot
The richest gemme of loue and life enioys,
And can with foule abuse such beauties blot; ... (AS XXIV)

Samuel Daniel was about the same age when Delia started to emerge in 1591. Shakespeare wrote the bulk of his sonnets around 1592, when he was 28. Spenser's greater age, and the fact that he (unlike other sonneteers) was successful in winning his trophy wife... both these things make a difference.


And let the ground whereas her foot shall tread,
For feare the stones her tender foot should wrong
Be strewed with fragrant flowers all along,
And diapred lyke the discolored mead.

(Epithalamion, St. 3)

Diaper, a kind of fabric; Discolored, of various colours.

But Ilona Bell, tracing a courtship dialogue through the Amoretti, discerned that Spenser was compelled to modify some of his male behaviours and attitudes, and eventually to accept his beloved's strength and independence.

But like a steddy ship doth strongly part
  the raging waues and keepes her course aright :
  ne ought for tempest doth from it depart,
  ne ought for fayrer weathers false delight.
(LIX)

I wish I felt more convinced. But when Spenser is awed by his bride's "words so wise" (LXXXI), and, in contrast, abases himself as "your thrall, in whom is little worth" (LXXXII), it just sounds insincere. (And, if it could be taken seriously, not terribly flattering to the monarch who had rewarded his efforts.)

It didn't turn out a particularly fortunate marriage for Elizabeth Boyle. Four years later (1598), the Irish rose against the colonists and Spenser's castle in Cork was burned; Ben Jonson says a child was lost in the fire.

So that jus polliticum, though it be not of it selfe just, yet by applicacon, or rather necessitie, it is made just ....

(A View of the Present State of Ireland)


A year later (1599), Spenser died in London. Elizabeth married twice more. With her next husband she made an unsuccessful claim on Spenser's estate; instead it went to Sylvanus, his son by his first marriage. Sylvanus repaired Kilcolman, but in 1622 it was destroyed again, this time for good.

Gaynst such strong castles needeth greater might, ...

(XIIII)

It was in this building that Spenser must have composed most of the Faerie Queene's 33,000 lines. After the little bobbing sea of the Amoretti he intended to go back to his ocean and write the other six books.

Then as a steed refreshed after toyle,
  out of my prison I will break anew :
  and stoutly will that second worke assoyle,
  with strong endeuour and attention dew.

(LXXX)
Assoyle, discharge a duty.

It didn't happen like that. His courtship, or marriage or the state of Ireland or something else entirely had changed him too much. His only work on the Faerie Queene during these last five years was, presumably, the Mutability cantos. Their dense brilliance suggests that he had been standing back from his masterpiece too long, maybe he had theorized it too much, maybe he' couldn't be the same tireless unreflective swimmer any more.

Spenser had been granted Kilcolman Castle (and 3000 acres of North Cork) by Sir Philip Sidney, whose father Sir Henry Sidney was sometime Lord Deputy of Ireland. The castle had belonged to the Earls of Desmond until confiscated by the crown.

How Vlster likes of that same golden bit
Wherewith my father once made it half tame; ... (AS XXX)

Indeed, it was under Henry Sidney that the crown forces first began to kill civilians as well as military opponents. Lord Grey continued the policy.  Spenser (for a time his employee) lamented that Grey was "blotted with the name of a bloody man, whom, who that well knewe, knewe to be most gentle, affable, lovinge and temperate; but that the necessitie of that present state of thinges enforced him to that violence, and almost changed his verrye naturall dispostion."

In Ireland, Spenser thought, the sword was necessary.

Therefore by all meanes it must be foreseene and assured, that after once entring into this course of reformacon, there bee afterwardes no remorse or drawinge back for the sight of any suche ruefull obiect as must therupon followe, nor for compassion of their calamities, seeinge that by no other meanes it is possible to recure them, and that theis are not of will, but of verie urgent necessitie.

(A View of the Present State of Ireland)

  then know, that mercy is the mighties iewell,
  and greater glory thinks to saue, then spill.
But if it be your pleasure and proud will,
  to shew the powre of your imperious eyes :

(XLIX)


*

* Spenser's ingenious rhyme-scheme in the Amoretti is:

ababbcbccdcdee

Some typical Sidney rhyme-schemes:

ababababcdcdee;    abbaabbacdcdee;    abbaabbaccdeed

Daniel and Shakespeare:

ababcdcdefefgg

Sidney's rhyme-schemes all enforce the structural separation between octet and sestet. The Daniel/Shakespeare rhyme-scheme admits the octet/sestet division; but whether it's manifested in any given sonnet depends on other factors. Spenser's rhyme-scheme expressly forbids it. Instead, the Amoretti-shape is like a 12-line wave, growing to a crest at the centre (lines 5-8), then gently subsiding. Only the final couplet is without dependence.

*

Like so much of the rest of our planet, the Mar Menor is being wrecked by economic growth; in this case agricultural run-off and eutrophication. In 2016, 85% of the vegetation was lost when sunlight could no longer penetrate the water. In October 2019 its shores wriggled with thousands of expiring fish, after September rains washed more than 150 tons of fertilizer into the lagoon.

https://elpais.com/elpais/2019/10/22/inenglish/1571743580_215496.html


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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Burning candles



Time for some Christmas decorations.

Elektrisk ljusstake.... That is, electric candlestick. It belonged to my grandmother Sigrid (Mormor, to me), and it must be fifty or sixty years old. I don't know how things were done in those days but I've never needed to change a bulb.

In i minsta koja nu julljuser lyser...

In the least of hovels now Christmas lights shine...

Alice Tegnér, "Kring julgranen"

Swedes must have appreciated this convenient replacement for so many candles. Animal tallow or a coal-fired power station... Which is worse for the environment? (But in Sweden very little electricity comes from fossil fuels; it's mostly nuclear and hydroelectric.)

As Tegnér's song makes clear, Yuletide wasn't just about artificial light. It also marked the end of the dark season of autumn and the beginning of winter, "when snow lights up the north".

*

Another power-related musing, while surveying local woods for unusual plants. When were stump grinders invented? It looks like the first modern one was not until 1956. Before that, they required several people. (I'd like to know more about how that worked.)

Before that, tree stumps would simply have been left until they broke down, which takes about ten years. Not long.

I was thinking about the wood where I found the rare plant Green Hound's-tongue. The trees are only about thirty years old. I expected there would be some sign if the ground had previously been forested, but apparently that's not the case. If mature trees were felled thirty years ago, the stumps would have disappeared by now. I feel unconvinced, but I guess I'll have to go with that.

Stump harvesting (for fuel) was carried out in Swedish forests in the 1970s and is apparently attracting interest once more.






Tuesday, December 10, 2019

At Coate



Yesterday evening I finally caught a Swindon poetry event. They take place at the tiny Richard Jefferies Museum on the SE edge of town, a warm light in a rural darkness that survives nowhere else in Swindon. It's the ancient farm cottage where Richard Jefferies once lived. Every time I go there I imagine how much I'll enjoy reading his books one day, but that day has yet to come.

I'd assumed I was going to an open mic, but instead it turned out that this group was all about sharing the poetry we'd been reading recently. We sat round the big wooden table with mugs of tea, reaching for the plate of lebkuchen. We heard poems by Emily Dickinson, E.E. Cummings, Louis MacNeice, Ted Hughes, Norman MacCaig, Carolyn Kizer, Catherine Fisher and Shireen Madon. My contribution was a possibly-by-Shakespeare speech from The Spanish Tragedy. And we talked about The Craft, a newly published book about poetic forms; more specifically, we talked about the Terrance Hayes-out-of-Gwendolyn-Brooks "Golden Shovel" concept. A nice evening altogether.

There were a couple of poets' names that I missed while I was still getting settled. One poem I barely took in at all; my memory's blurry snapshot is of a balloon in a corridor -- and that's all. Another (about a winter tree -- a snowy field -- bare branches -- wheeling birds -- invisible paths of the departed) was a translation from German; the woman author had had some connection with the camps (survivor? victim? relative of victims?). Of course, I've spent more time thinking about those two irretrievable poems than the ones I can still get to if I want.

I suppose I read a bit of poetry most days, but it's rarely a huge amount. Nevertheless, I always dream of reading it all.

I couldn't find online texts of the Catherine Fisher poems "Solstice" and "On the Third Day", unfortunately. But here are the others that were read out. Along with Catherine Fisher, Shireen Madon was the big discovery for me.

Shireen Madon: "Dear Body"
https://www.rattle.com/dear-body-by-shireen-madon/
[Two other poems by Shireen Madon:
https://www.2river.org/2RView/15_1/poems/madon.html ]

Emily Dickinson: "Of course -- I prayed --"
http://bloggingdickinson.blogspot.com/2015/01/of-course-i-prayed.html
E.E. Cummings: "Buffalo Bill's"
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47244/buffalo-bill-s
Louis MacNeice: "Snow"
http://thestoneandthestar.blogspot.com/2011/11/louis-macneices-snow-poem-about-being.html
Norman MacCaig: "Sleet"
http://a-poem-a-day-project.blogspot.com/2015/12/sleet.html
Ted Hughes: "The Warm and the Cold"
https://allpoetry.com/The-Warm-and-the-Cold
Carolyn Kizer: "Reunion"
https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/reunion/



Monday, December 09, 2019

Before

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata). Swindon, 9 December 2019.
 Before I get down to a day of cards, carols and cookery, a hasty blog post. Actually just a wander through my backpack.


The possibility of life in the mind
of you living on such a brink table
top, ice of the Gospel giving
out tickets to hunters of wild angels

or furriers blazing search in gorse
for mice, hardly in winter, ticking
over of engines and popping warms
honey-coloured blood with sparks

from their halos or the circuit held in place
in barrel-chested batteries like treacle.
To see you all gripped by fire
and to see a summer walk

round the Ewyas with sky for
a canopy are two indefinite futures,
the catastrophe eliminates any
indifferent particles, hunters ......

The beginning of "S/ledges" by Andrea Brady, from The Strong Room (2016).

If nothing else, the sound and movement of AB's poetry are utterly distinct. Because of my preoccupations today, I'm reading this fairly securely as a family Christmas poem, but AB's poems can flicker into hellish dystopia at any moment, and reading them is a far from secure occupation.

Surely there should be a new book soon? Here, anyway, are links about the most recent poems I know, the drone sequence The Blue Split Compartments.
Extract:
http://www.manifold.group.shef.ac.uk/issue20/AndreaBradyBM20.html
Interview:
https://www.sampsoniaway.org/blog/2019/06/13/listening-for-the-noise-an-interview-with-andrea-brady/

*

For the first time she noticed there were tears in Sal's eyes. 'All you know is 2010, Maddy. You haven't seen my time. You haven't seen New York in 2026 or anywhere else in 2026!'
   'No . . . I haven't, but that's --'
   'It's all so shadd-yah. It's falling apart! And we know it gets worse!'
   'Sal!' warned Maddy. 'We're not doing this now! We're not doing this in front of Adam!'
   'But it does! You know that! I know it! It all gets worse and worse. The pollution. The whole global warming. The Oil Wars! And we don't know how it all ends up. But this . . . look at it! This is better!'
   Adam looked taken aback. 'Oil wars?'
   Maddy waved him silent. 'Sal . . . listen, we made a promise to Foster. To keep history on track. To keep it the same for better or worse. ...'

Time Riders: The Doomsday Code (2011) by Alex Scarrow.

*

CASSIUS
I did not: he was but a fool that brought
My answer back. Brutus hath rived my heart:
A friend should bear his friend's infirmities,
But Brutus makes mine greater than they are.
BRUTUS
I do not, till you practise them on me.
CASSIUS
You love me not.
BRUTUS
I do not like your faults.
CASSIUS
A friendly eye could never see such faults.
BRUTUS
A flatterer's would not, though they do appear
As huge as high Olympus.
CASSIUS
Come, Antony, and young Octavius, come,
Revenge yourselves alone on Cassius,
For Cassius is aweary of the world;
Hated by one he loves; braved by his brother;
Cheque'd like a bondman; all his faults observed,
Set in a note-book, learn'd, and conn'd by rote,
To cast into my teeth.

(from Julius Caesar, Act IV Scene 3)



Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata). Swindon, 9 December 2019.

Alliaria petiolata (En: Garlic Mustard, Sw: Löktrav). A plant I should try to make more use of; it seems there are lots of cooking possibilities. At most times of year I've found the flavour of the raw leaves unpleasant, but these midwinter ones were milder and tasted pretty good.

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Saturday, December 07, 2019

soldering iron

Last week I was at the funeral of my uncle Tony, in Hove. It was the same spot I was at a year previously, for my aunt Julie. Now the two are together again.

My dad produced a picture of him and Tony in 1941, when they were in the Lake District, evacuated there from Eastbourne. They were on a bike ride. The ten-year-old Tony's confidence with the bike, leant negligently against him, was in marked contrast to his cowboy-hatted younger brother's excitement and anxiety. Tony had just taught him to ride. For my dad a bike ride was a literary experience whose meaning you could express in words; for Tony it was something deeper and less articulate, something you did and were good at.

Strange contrast to their later lives: then it was Tony who seemed like the anxious one, kindly but shy, awkward with social settings. He had trained as an engineer with the RAF, later he was an electronic engineer for radio and TV manufacturers. He and Julie lived quiet lives, wrapped up in their hobbies. I can't think of Tony without thinking about things: his collection of the oldest radios, his model aeroplanes and trains, his 78s (later, CDs) of Bing Crosby, Glenn Miller, Chet Atkins, Elvis Presley, his books of silent movie stills. I feel I have quite a lot in common with him, but we never really got to know each other, the shyness was too deep on both sides. At the funeral my dad recalled Tony's shapeless working jacket, bulging with components, screwdrivers, flux, a soldering iron...  When we emptied their house last summer, one of the rooms was entirely devoted to little labelled cabinets of screws, transistors, diodes, terminal clips, wire.

Coincidentally, the next day I had to buy a soldering iron. I've never used one before, but now I had no choice. For weeks the driver's side rear light hadn't been working; indeed the bulb wouldn't even fit, the bulb-holder was so badly corroded. And even if I could have fitted it, it wouldn't have worked, because one of the connectors had simply flaked off and disappeared. I really needed a new bulb-holder, but I couldn't source one. So I had to fix up what I had with adapted bits from a not-quite-mirror-image bulb-holder for the passenger's side. It was a hideous job, but after many hours of intricate work clumsily executed with inappropriate tools, much cursing -- and eventually some poor-quality soldering -- I am legal again. It was a bodge, the inevitable resort of those (like my dad and me) who would rather spend time reading.    







Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Vendrá otro tiempo a acumular más tiempo

Madrugada, Swindon, 3 December 2019.


And there will come, just as this one came, another summer.
And another autumn will come just as this one's coming.
And there will come, also, a new winter.
And once more, finally, there will come another spring.

They'll come -- I know this -- they'll come again. And they'll go.
They'll go, yes -- and what else matters -- just as they came,
and there's nothing we can do to avoid it.

And it will go, like this, forming time,
the postponed trap that is woven in me by
so many empty hopes and by the effort
to quieten the clamour of my fears,
to bury in oblivion this destruction.

There will come other times piling more time
upon this time,  it'll be another time, sure,
but, what time.

*

Translation of a poem by Fernando Pizarro, in Cuando la noche (1999). Here's how the original begins:

*

Y vendrá, como éste vino, otro verano.
Y otro otoño vendrá como el que viene.
Y vendrá, también, un nuevo invierno.
Y otra vez, al fin, vendrá otra primavera.

Vendrán -- lo sé --, vendrán de nuevo. Y se irán.
Se irán, sí -- y qué más da --, como vinieron,
sin que nada podamos hacer por evitarlo. ...

*

An earlier post:

http://michaelpeverett.blogspot.com/2017/11/after-fernando-pizarro.html


Madrugada, Swindon, 2 December 2019.

The final part of Pizarro's collection, subtitled Memoria del aire, quotes Luis Cernuda:

Si el ahogado sacude sus líbidos recuerdos halla un golpe de luz, la memoria del aire.

If the drowned man jolts his sexual memories (or remembered sex acts)
he finds a blow of light, the memory of the air.

It's a quotation from one of Cernuda's best-known and most turmoiled poems, but the texts I've seen have "lívidos" not "líbidos".

It's from Cernuda's collection Un río, un amor, written in 1929 but not published until 1936. This, the first of his "surrealist" collections, records a metaphysical crisis arising from a love affair that turned out badly, very different from the poet's boyish dreams. It was also the first time Cernuda was open about his homosexuality, though this only became a major theme in his next collection, Los placeres prohibidos (written 1931, published 1936).



Cuerpo en pena



Lentamente el ahogado recorre sus dominios
Donde el silencio quita su apariencia a la vida.
Transparentes llanuras inmóviles le ofrecen
Árboles sin colores y pájaros callados.

Las sombras indecisas alargándose tiemblan,
Mas el viento no mueve sus alas irisadas;
Si el ahogado sacude sus lívidos recuerdos,
Halla un golpe de luz, la memoria del aire.

Un vidrio denso tiembla delante de las cosas,
Un vidrio que despierta formas color de olvido;
Olvidos de tristeza, de un amor, de la vida,
Ahogados como un cuerpo sin luz, sin aire, muerto.

Delicados, con prisa, se insinúan apenas
Vagos revuelos grises, encendiendo en el agua
Reflejos de metal o aceros relucientes,
Y su rumbo acuchilla las simétricas olas.

Flores de luz tranquila despiertan a lo lejos,
Flores de luz quizá, o miradas tan bellas
Como pudo el ahogado soñarlas una noche,
Sin amor ni dolor, en su tumba infinita.

A su fulgor el agua seducida se aquieta,
Azulada sonrisa asomando en sus ondas.
Sonrisas, oh miradas alegres de los labios;
Miradas, oh sonrisas de la luz triunfante.

Desdobla sus espejos la prisión delicada;
Claridad sinuosa, errantes perspectivas.
Perspectivas que rompe con su dolor ya muerto
Ese pálido rostro que solemne aparece.

Su insomnio maquinal el ahogado pasea.
El silencio impasible sonríe en sus oídos.
Inestable vacío sin alba ni crepúsculo,
Monótona tristeza, emoción en ruinas.

En plena mar al fin, sin rumbo, a toda vela;
Hacia lo lejos, más, hacia la flor sin nombre.
Atravesar ligero como pájaro herido
Ese cristal confuso, esas luces extrañas.

Pálido entre las ondas cada vez más opacas
El ahogado ligero se pierde ciegamente
En el fondo nocturno como un astro apagado.
Hacia lo lejos, sí, hacia el aire sin nombre.

Translation by Google Translate, somewhat tamed by me.


Body in torment

Slowly the drowned man travels his domains
where the silence deprives appearance of life.
Transparent, still plains offer him
colourless trees and silenced birds.

The indecisive shadows tremble, lengthening,
but the wind doesn't move its iridescent wings;
If the drowned man disturbs his livid memories,
he encounters a punch of light, the memory of the air.

A dense glass trembles in front of everything,
glass that awakens forms colour of oblivion;
oblivions of sadness, of love, of life,
drowned like a body without light, without air, dead.

Delicately, swiftly, they scarcely hint
lazy grey turbidities, lighting in the water
gleaming metal reflections or swords,
whose course slashes the symmetrical waves.

Flowers of tranquil light emerge in the distance,
flowers of light maybe, or glances as beautiful
as the drowned man could dream them one night,
without love or pain, within his infinite tomb.

In its brightness the seduced water quietens,
a bluish smile appearing in its waves.
Smiles, oh happy glances from the lips;
glances, oh smiles of the triumphant light.

The delicate prison unfolds its mirrors;
sinuous clarity, errant perspectives.
Perspectives that break with their pain already dead
that pale face that solemnly appears.

His mechanical insomnia propels the drowned man.
The impassive silence smiles in his ears.
Unstable void without dawn or twilight,
monotonous sadness, emotion in ruins.

In open sea at last, without direction, full sail;
into the distance, more, towards the flower without name.
To cross, as light as an injured bird,
that confusing crystal, those strange lights.

Pale between the waves ever more opaque,
the light drowning man is lost blindly
in the night background like an extinguished star.
Into the distance, yes, towards the air without a name.


Derek Harris's Luis Cernuda: A Study of the Poetry (1973) is helpful: I could read the chapters about the "surrealist" period on Google Books.



07:05, Swindon, 4 December 2019

07:10, Swindon, 4 December 2019

07:17, Swindon, 4 December 2019

07:24, Swindon, 4 December 2019

Also in this section, Fernando Pizarro has a poem headed A los sobrevivientes de la batalla de BALANE (To the survivors of the Battle of BALANE).

Here's the gist of it:

The terrible thing was surviving.
(Those who died
didn't have to endure, defenceless, routed,
the ignominious conditions of the treaty
that put an end to such a cruel battle.
The others,
those that survived,
saw only their lives cut by the thread
of that accursed name, unpronounceable,
and had to suffer the wound
of an incessant and relentless memory
that dropped, tenaciously, on the ruins
of their families, their homes, their possessions,
and made them, forever, two halves:
life -- already another life -- and defeat;
two lives that living are born
only in those whom death has refused.

*

Or, "who refused death".

Derrota means both "defeat, rout", and "route, course".


*

Balane

There was such a battle, though I wonder if it's what Pizarro had in mind. It took place in 1582 in Sri Lanka.

"Meanwhile, Raja Sinha had turned his attention to the Uda Rata [central hill country], and in 1582 thirty thousand veterans of the Portuguese wars appeared before Balane ["Balana" in some texts], the mountain stronghold which commands the gate of the central plateau. Karalliyadda's army, which was supported by a few Portuguese, was driven back after a sanguinary struggle, and the capital [Kandy] was occupied, Wirasundara Mudiyanse being placed in charge of it."

(Ceylon and the Portuguese, 1505-1658, by P. E. Pieris (1920).)

(Wikipedia gives the date as 1583.) This was during the expansion of the Sithawaka state, which ceased in 1587 with the failed siege of Colombo. However other monarchs of Kandy continued to repel Portuguese colonization, eventually successfully, though only by dividing the island with the Dutch. Sinhalese monarchy, which had survived over 2000 years, finally ended in 1817 when the British assumed complete control. A succession crisis, internal dissension, some parties bargaining with foreign powers, other parties carrying out atrocities against the foreign powers, and, eventually, being crushed by colonial military might... That's how the story ends.

Madrugada, Swindon, 5 December 2019.

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