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Category: poetry to ponder

Rutebeuf’s Lament – Rutebeuf/Ferré

friends-since-childhood-2004-jpglarge

                      Friends Since Childhood” (2004) 

                                  George Stefanescu

                                         __________

having disparaged the only translation
I could find on the Internet of a poem
that is in French as famous as in 
English Elizabeth Barrett Browning‘s
How do I love thee? Let me count the 
ways.“, her 43rd “Sonnet[ ] from the
Portuguese”, I decided to translate 
myself the excerpt from “La Complainte
Rutebeuf“, of Rutebeuf himself, 1245 – 
1285, which became its indelible, and 
apparently timeless, virtual
manifestation

Rutebeuf’s entire poem is written in 
Old French, and excerpts of it were 
adapted into an updated French in 
1956 by Léo Ferré, a French
troubadour of the time, who then 
made it into a song that everyone
French remembers, despite, or 
maybe because of, its archaisms

though Ferré familiarized the French
for his listeners, it was still in an older
French, like rendering Chaucer‘s 
14th-Century English into Shakespeare‘s 
17th-Century counterpart tongue, “But 
look, the morn, in russet mantle clad, / 
Walks o’er the dew of yon high eastern 
hill”, “Hamlet”, act l, scene l, lines 166 
and 167, for instance

in my translation below, I eschew –
Gesundheit – such a daunting
challenge, but have chosen rather
to highlight the humanity that I find
especially compelling in the original
composition

Rutebeuf today would sound 
something of a cross between Harry
Nilsson and Bob Dylan, I think, of my
generationthe one for his 
straightforward simplicity, his crushing 
intimacy, the other for his social 
consciousness and probable greater, 
therefore, longevity

but will even Bob Dylan endure 800 
years

some will, some have, some do 

but who

we will never know

Richard 

           ______________

Rutebeuf’s Lament

What has become of my friends
that I had held to be so close 
and loved so dearly,
they were too carelessly tended
I think the wind has blown them away,
friendship has been forsaken.
And as the wind passed by my door,
took all of them away.

As time strips the trees of their leaves,
when not a leaf on a branch remains 
that will not hasten to the ground,
and poverty befalling me, 
from every corner appalling me,
as winter edges on.
These do not lend themselves well to my telling
of how I courted disgrace,
nor of the manner. 

What has become of my friends
that I had held to be so close 
and loved so dearly,
they were too carelessly tended
I think the wind has blown them away,
friendship has been forsaken.
And as the wind passed by my door,
took all of them away.
Sorrows do not show up on their own,
everything that was ever to happen  
has happened.

Not much of common sense, a poor memory
has God granted me, that God of Glory,
not much in sustenance either,
and it’s straight up my butt when the North wind blows, 
sweeping right through me, 
friendship has been forsaken.
And as the wind passed by my door,
took all of them away.

                                 Rutebeuf

listen

Richard

Hesiod on poets, and, for that matter, kings

1280px-1807_Thorvaldsen_Tanz_der_Musen_auf_dem_Helikon_anagoria.JPG

The Dance of the Muses at Mount Helicon (1807)  

Bertel Thorvaldsen

________

though Zeus may preside over kings,
none other than Apollo and the Muses
preside over poets, according to
Hesiod

Kalliope, foremost of the nine Muses
who tends specifically to kings, and 
to those being born of kings, in the
company of her sisters, Kleo and 
Euterpe, Thaleia and Melpomene, 
Terpsichore and Erato and Polymnia 
and Ourania, will pour a dew sweeter 
than honey upon such a one’s tongue, 
and his words become soothing, 
palliative, placating

“far shooting Apollo, however, 
presides at the inspiration of poets,
lending the lyrical notes from his 
representative lyre, not to mention 
his lyrics, derivative both terms of 
that etymological “lyre”, incidentally,  
so far has Apollo “shot”, dare I say,  
his spirit into our collective 
unconscious
 
“From the Muses and far-shooting Apollo
are singers and guitar-players across the earth, 
but kings are from Zeus. Blessed is he whom the Muses
love. From his mouth the streams flow sweeter than honey.
If anyone holds sorrow in his spirit from fresh grief and
is dried out in his heart from grieving, the singer,
servant of the Muses, hymns the deeds of men of the past  

and the blessed gods who hold Olympus, and
right away he forgets his troubles and does not remember
a single care. Quickly do the gifts of the goddess divert him.” 
 
                                                    Theogony (lines 94 – 103)
                                                                     Hesiod

therefore poets 

Richard 

psst: a friend has just passed on,
 it is a time for poets

“The Iron Age” – Ovid

 

the-age-of-iron-1641-1.jpg!Large.jpg

                                “The Age Of Iron (1637-1641)

                                          Pietro da Cortona

                                               __________

The Iron Age

Hard steel succeeded then: 
And stubborn as the metal, were the men. 
Truth, modesty, and shame, the world forsook: 
Fraud, avarice, and force, their places took. 
Then sails were spread, to every wind that blew. 
Raw were the sailors, and the depths were new: 
Trees, rudely hollow’d, did the waves sustain; 
E’re ships in triumph plough’d the watry plain.

Then land-marks limited to each his right: 
For all before was common as the light. 
Nor was the ground alone requir’d to bear 
Her annual income to the crooked share, 
But greedy mortals, rummaging her store, 
Digg’d from her entrails first the precious ore; 
Which next to Hell, the prudent Gods had laid; 
And that alluring ill, to sight display’d. 
Thus cursed steel, and more accursed gold, 
Gave mischief birth, and made that mischief bold: 
And double death did wretched Man invade, 
By steel assaulted, and by gold betray’d, 
Now (brandish’d weapons glittering in their hands) 
Mankind is broken loose from moral bands; 
No rights of hospitality remain: 
The guest, by him who harbour’d him, is slain, 
The son-in-law pursues the father’s life; 
The wife her husband murders, he the wife. 
The step-dame poyson for the son prepares; 
The son inquires into his father’s years. 
Faith flies, and piety in exile mourns; 
And justice, here opprest, to Heav’n returns.

                                        Metamorphoses – Ovid

just saying

Richard

 

 

 

  

” Shakespeare and Politics”- Professor Paul Cantor

on-the-waterfront-set-design-for-shakespeare-s-drama-the-merchant-of-venice(1).jpg!Large.jpg

 On The Waterfront. Set Design For Shakespeare’s Drama

   “The Merchant Of Venice” (1920)

 

      Alexandre Benois

 

                 ________

 

 

though this recommendation might seem 

erudite, esoteric, indeed eccentric, if not

even improbable, I vaunt this invaluable 

series to the stars, Professor Paul Cantor

of the University of Virginia, speaking from 

Harvard, however, here, shines such 

glorious light on the already extraordinary 

Shakespeare so as to make him the equal 

of very  Beethoven, poets of nearly 

supernatural ability 

 

Professor Paul Cantor views Shakespeare 

through Shakespeare’s understanding of  

politics, comparing his political settings – 

commercial Venice, imperial Rome, 

medieval and Renaissance England, 

Denmark under a Christian king – to not 

only shed light on those individual 

political systems alive at a time when 

democracy was being born, but as well 

on Shakespeare’s own unexpectedly 

probing philosophical insights in the 

matter of governance, right up there 

with John Locke and Machiavelli

 

who’d ‘o thunk it 

 

the professor is engaging throughout, his  

information entirely absorbing, you’ll come 

out a new wo/man

 

 

the lectures are not short at an hour, twenty
minutes, I break to powder my nose, get a
a glass of wine, even answer the phone to,
of course, preferred only parties, but have 
been returning addictively daily 

 it’s a heady indeed addiction

 
 
Richard   

“The Condolence Call” – Marsha Barber‏

the-princess-in-the-tower.jpg!Large

                The Princes in the Tower
 
                       John Everett Millais
 

                          _______________

when you’ve known this, or know 
someone who’s known this, this
poem will be profoundly affecting
 
 
Richard
 
             ______________
 
 
The Condolence Call
 
       I cradle the phone gently.
       You are so far away.
 
       Your grief surrounds you now
       like a moat full of dark water.
 
       I cannot reach
       far enough to comfort you.
 
       My words flit around useless
                                          as flies.
       What, after all, can be said?
 
       It’s a parent’s worst nightmare, you say.
 
       I imagine I would have howled.
       I imagine I would have rolled on the floor.
       But in the end, I cannot begin to imagine.
 
       I’ll be okay, you say,
 
       but your voice is so remote,
       as if you’ve left us all
       behind,
       for a bleaker planet
 
       where the air is charred,
       and you cannot find the path
       that leads
       back home.*
 
                                   Marsha Barber
 
 
* once there was a way to get back 
   homewards …
   
   and in the end, the love you take 
   is equal to the love you make

“So You Want To Be A Writer” – Charles Bukowski‏

Charles-Bukowski-quotes

                                                                      ___________
 
 
reading this poem for me was like 
looking into a mirror
 
 

 
if it doesn’t come bursting out of you

in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
fame,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
else,
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
you,
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
love.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
sleep
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

                   Charles Bukowski

“Coming into New York” – John Updike‏

 "The Black City l (New York)" - William Congdon

The Black City l (New York) (1949)

William Congdon

________

at he other end of the continent from
Vancouver there’s New York, perhaps
not [t]he most liveable city on the
planet
but at one point the very
centre of the world, I know, I was
there, Liverpool, with even the
Beatles, had nothing on New York
City then

but that’s before Reaganomics and
Margaret Thatcher, since, Milan,
Tokyo, other cities have gotten into
the act, dulling some of New York’s
resplendence, glamour, magic

from the airport, rather than Updike‘s
Providence, the city buzzes with an
energy for me that’s electric, the
horizon sizzles already with a current
I feel in my skin, like watching bacon
fry, it commands your attention, all
grey, of course, with the washed out
colours of commercial advertisements
the size of buildings lining intermittently
the road in

New York seems a furnace, and it is,
whipping up Dante’s Inferno in all of
its myriad avenues and cells, but also
giving you flashes of Paradiso just
around any corner, the work of
inspiration, imagination, serendipity
and good will, the other side of the
infinitely variable human condition

here’s John Updike‘s equally idiosyncratic
picture of his coming home, however
more apocalyptic

Richard

_________________

Coming into New York

After Providence, Connecticut—
the green defiant landscape, unrelieved
except by ordered cities, smart and smug,
in spirit villages, too full of life
to be so called, too small to seem sincere.
And then like Death it comes upon us:
the plain of steaming trash, the tinge of brown
that colors now the trees and grass as though
exposed to rays sent from the core of heat—
these are the signs we see in retrospect.
But we look up amazed and wonder that
the green is gone out of our window, that
horizon on all sides is segmented
into so many tiny lines that we
mistake it for the profile of a wooded
hill against the sky, or that as far
as mind can go are buildings, paving, streets.
The tall ones rise into the mist like gods
serene and watchful, yet we fear, for we
have witnessed from this train the struggle to
complexity: the leaf has turned to stone.

John Updike

 

“Vancouver” – Philip Resnick

"Crosswalk" - Fred Herzog

Crosswalk (1960)

Fred Herzog

_______

not many poems exalt a city, the first
for me was Sandburg’s Chicago, a
far cry from Shelley, Byron, Keats,
and finally something that I could
sink my teeth into – though pretty,
the earlier, Romantic, poems had
been prissy, effete, skylarks,
Grecian urns, the irrelevant fall of
Babylon to the Assyrians
to me

– a lot of festooned air, I thought,
signifying nearly nothing, despite,
afterwards, its often very clever,
indeed truly inspiring, aphorisms

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

for instance

but I was young then, have gotten through
Romanticism’s idiosyncratic pretensions
to its noble universal heart, maybe ‘ve
even picked up a few of its literary
excesses since, what do you think

here’s one, right up there with Chicago“,
about Vancouver this time, my city

and it’s a dandy, I think

come visit

Richard

_______________

Vancouver

The most liveable city on the planet, they say,
which seems true enough on a mid-August afternoon,
sailboats dotting the bay,
picknickers at crowded beaches
competing for summer heat
and precious square centimetres of sand.
Sunlight casts its spell,
and hearing over and over again
how wonderful you are
has a hypnotic ring to it,
much like lovers gently rocking
to rhythms of the midnight hour
or first sight of running water to the parched.
We who grow old here
have like Cavafy‘s Alexandrians
learned to treat such messages with suspicion.
Those bereft of love
find little compassion betwixt concrete condo towers,
those with few means dwell in the same Inferno’s circles
as the bereft of other cities,
and those in hawk to the god of greed
are no less addicted for living in the suburbs of insatiability.

Philip Resnick

“King John” – Shakespeare‏

"The King" - Max Beckmann

The King ( 1934 – 1937)

Max Beckmann

_________

King John, 1166 to 1216, was the brother
of Richard the First, “the Lionheart”, and
of Geoffrey, both sons, as well as John,
of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry the
Second

you might remember them all from the
classic The Lion in Winter from the
Sixties

in Shakespeare’s story, John has become
king, both Geoffrey and Richard have
already perished, but Geoffrey has left an
heir, Arthur, Constance’s son, and since
Geoffrey had been the eldest, his own son,
it is contested, should be the rightful heir
to the English throne

John is not in agreement, nor is Eleanor,
his mom, but Constance is backed by the
Duke of Austria and the King of France,
who will go to war to unseat John

meanwhile Arthur is too young to be
anything but ineffectual, innocent

they all meet before Angiers, a town
now in France, but ruled then by
England, where a delightful
confrontation occurs at its gates,
the town representative will let in
the King of England but only when
he knows who, of either, He is

war is however averted when a
marriage is suggested between the
two courts, a niece of John, Blanche
of Castille, will marry the Dauphin,
Louis, son of Philip of France,
joining, however improbably, the
two sparring factions

but thereby Arthur’s claim is lost,
and Constance is fully aware of
the inevitable, and treacherous,
consequences

a legate from the Pope, Cardinal
Pandolf, also steps into the fray,
to stir the political pot, pompously,
predictably, punctiliously and
perniciously, not to mention,
perfidiously, in the end, of course

the language is Shakespeare’s, to
be sure, therefore unavoidably
wrought, but with garlands of
irrepressible poetry that is ever
utterly, and irresistibly, enchanting

“I am not mad:”, says Constance to
Pandolf, who’s accused her of being
in such a state

“Lady, you utter madness, and not sorrow.”

Constance replies

“I am not mad: this hair I pull is mine
My name is Constance; I was Geoffrey’s wife;
Young Arthur is my son, and he is lost:
I am not mad: I would to heaven I were!
For then, ’tis like I should forget myself:
O, if I could, what grief should I forget!
Preach some philosophy to make me mad,
And thou shalt be canonized, cardinal;
For being not mad but sensible of grief,
My reasonable part produces reason
How I may be deliver’d of these woes,
And teaches me to kill or hang myself:
If I were mad, I should forget my son,
Or madly think a babe of clouts were he:
I am not mad; too well, too well I feel
The different plague of each calamity.”

act lll, scene lV

has there ever been such a telling
evocation of agony

Stratford’s version is superb, extraordinary,
unforgettable, don’t miss it, just click

Richard

“King Lear” – William Shakespeare

 "Study for King Lear" - Joshua Reynolds

Study for King Lear (1760)

Joshua Reynolds

________

though it has its weaknesses, I have
never seen a better version of “King
Lear”
than this one, also, to my mind,
Shakespeare’s best play

watch

Lear has always been a difficult
character to portray, a King becomes a
vagrant, a Jesus figure, “a man / more
sinned against than sinning”,
and the
most difficult part an actor must render,
I’ve found, is that of social status

and here we have both extremes, a not
easy transition, nor have I seen but once
a Lear I could believe in

James Earl Jones in New York’s Central
Park
is Lear from the word go, but the
rest of the cast betrays him, they all
mostly merely phone in their roles

in this alternate production, the reverse
is true, Lear, though in many moments
mighty, is never really a King, nor truly,
I think, a Jesus, though his final breaths
are nothing short of holy

Cordelia speaks her lines well, but
doesn’t breathe them

every other performer is magnificent,
with a special mention for the truly
human Fool, not merely a caricature
here, but a wise man

also Kent, the vitriolic sisters, Edgar
and his ignominious brother Edmund,
even the several messengers, all of
whom intently and forcefully to a one
live out their roles

the direction is thrillingly manifest in
the solid and detailed work of the cast,
note, for instance, Regan’s laugh, an
inspired directorial touch, when Lear
declares his intention to bequeath
his land according to which of the
daughter’s “doth love Us most”,
relaying in an instant, and at the very
start, her fundamental, and thereafter,
of course, unswerving, unfilial scorn

I’ve never seen that note played
elsewhere so incisively

mostly, however, it’s the poetry of
Shakespeare, which bristles throughout,
like buds in spring in a garden, which ‘ll
especially delight, and have you marvel

watch

Richard