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Category: poetry to ponder

who’s afraid of the subjunctive

impression-sunrise.jpg!Large

Impression, Sunrise” (1873)

Claude Monet

________

who’s afraid of the subjunctive

much like Elizabeth Taylor as Martha
in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”,
my answer is, I am, George, I am

the subjunctive is an esoteric mood,
even more abstruse in English than
in other languages, where the verb’s
conjugation highlights its presence,
in English, it’s nearly identical to the
indicative, the mood everybody
instinctively speaks in, facts

the subjunctive is about aspiration,
like the conditional, abstract, not
real, but its intention, rather than
the conditional’s inherent
impediment, a condition, shoots
for the stars, isn’t introspective,
but adamant, imperative

it is necessary that one be, it is
urgent that one have, it is
important that one effect, a
particular thing or event, all
subjunctives after the
doorkeeper word, “that”

one finds the subjunctive in
Shakespeare, master of grammar,
perhaps unparalleled in English,
a lot – O, that this too solid flesh
would melt, / Thaw and resolve
itself into a dew!
– and follows
with Elizabeth Barrett Browning –
Pardon, o pardon that my soul
should make, / Of all that strong
divineness which I know / For
thine and thee …,
for instance,
who is so profoundly indebted to
Shakespeare for her aesthetics

one wondrous day, I realized that
Proust’s entire À la recherche du
temps perdu
, his “In Search of
Lost Time
“, my Bible, was set in
the, French however, subjunctive,
the mood, there as well, of
possibility, therefore rather than
the definitive recreation of an
earlier time, Proust was
describing a sensibility, a personal
interpretation of a previous reality,
however bolstered by intimate and
apparently precise recollection of
shimmeringly imprecise, though
personally accurate, impressions

note here the similar preoccupations
of Proust’s contemporaries, the, aptly
named, Impressionists

everything, Proust was saying, as
were also the Impressionists, is in
the eye of the beholder

the subjunctive is the mood that
sets this instinct in motion

R ! chard

psst: Somerset Maugham I remember
being noteworthy as well for his
immaculate use, in his South
Pacific tales, of the subjunctive,
extremely elegant in its refined
construction, even with its
English austerities, like making
lace out of mere cloth, impressive
despite its impracticality, or
perhaps even because of it

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the conditional

if-once-you-have-slept-on-an-island-1996.jpg!Large

    “If Once You Have Slept on an Island (1996) 

 

           Jamie Wyeth


               ________

 

the conditional mood is easy, it always

follows if 

 

     if I had a hammer, for instance

 

or

 

     if I were a rich man

 

it is not a real event, as Classical 

representation would be in art, were I

to make that synesthetic juxtaposition,

which is to say, were I to replace the 

visual sense with that of letters, but

rather like Surrealismfor instance, 

in that other context, a superimposed

idealization

 

here’s a poem you’ve probably 

already heard, or heard of, through 

its final, and epochal, verse, Kipling’s

If“, a towering instance of moral 

suasion on our culture

 

       If you can keep your head when all about you

           Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

       If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,   

            But make allowance for their doubting too;  

       If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

          Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

       Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

           And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

 

        If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   

            If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   

        If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

           And treat those two impostors just the same;   

        If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

          Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

        Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

           And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

 

      If you can make one heap of all your winnings

            And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

      And lose, and start again at your beginnings

           And never breathe a word about your loss;

        If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

          To serve your turn long after they are gone,   

       And so hold on when there is nothing in you

          Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

 

        If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

           Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch, 

        If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

            If all men count with you, but none too much;

        If you can fill the unforgiving minute

           With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

        Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

           And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

   

in the spirit of juxtaposition, compare 

that to Polonius’ admonition to his son,

Laertes, upon that young colt’s imminent 

return to France, where he had earlier

been, reputedly, carousing

 

       Yet here, Laertes! aboard, aboard, for shame!

       The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,

       And you are stay’d for. There; my blessing with thee!

       And these few precepts in thy memory

       See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,

       Nor any unproportioned thought his act.

       Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.

       Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,

       Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;

        But do not dull thy palm with entertainment

        Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade. Beware

        Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,

        Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.

        Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;

         Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.

         Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,

         But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;

         For the apparel oft proclaims the man,

         And they in France of the best rank and station

         Are of a most select and generous chief in that.

         Neither a borrower nor a lender be;

         For loan oft loses both itself and friend,

         And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

         This above all: to thine ownself be true,

         And it must follow, as the night the day,

         Thou canst not then be false to any man.



from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”act 1, scene 3,

all, incidentally, in the imperative, the mood

of command, authority, however consequential

there, or not

 

 

 a film called “If…” is also worth visiting 

in this context, from the 1970s, with an 

iconic soundtrack that gripped the

generation then that heard it, listen,

watch, the Missa Luba, be gripped

 

R ! chard

 

 

 

the infinitive in Shakespeare’s “To be, or not to be”

philosophy-and-grammar.jpg!Large

     Philosophy and Grammar 

 

           Gentile da Fabriano


                  __________

 


when I referred to Shakespeare’s 

perhaps most famous monologue,

To be, or not to be, in my most 

recent transmission, in order to 

shed light on the idea of tempi, 

that it would parallel Beethoven’s

Opus 111 in its philosophical 

significance, however might’ve I 

done so unintentionally, was

nevertheless quite spot on, it is

perhaps his most potent

disquisition, as is Beethoven’s

own masterpiece, on existence

 

but let me extrapolate

 

to be, or not to be, both infinitives,

which is to say that their form, their 

moodrelate to infinity, the infinite, 

etymological correlatives, which 

means that the actions, thus, are 

not localized, not specific, but 

belong to all places at all times and

for all people, the very stuff, let me

point out, of philosophy 

 

whether ’tis nobler in the mind to 

suffer, infinitive, the slings and 

arrows of outrageous fortune, or 

to take, infinitive again, arms 

against a sea of troubles, and by 

opposing end, bare infinitive,

which is to say, without the

preposition to, them  

 

as in  

 

to die, to sleep, infinitives, no more, 

and by a sleep to say, infinitive, we 

end the heartache and the thousand 

natural shocks that flesh is heir to, 

’tis a consummation devoutly to be 

wished, passive infinitive      

 

you’ll find that the rest of the 

soliloquy abounds in infinitives,       

the grammatical home, the 

territory, of philosophy

 

with this speech, incidentally, 

Shakespeare kicks off, in

literature, the Renaissance, much

as Beethoven with his Opus 111

firmly establishes, in music, the

Romantic Period


compare, meanwhile, thou shalt 

not kill, an imperative, the mood

the tenor, the register, is of 

commandments, it differs from 

the infinitive in that, though 

seemingly universal at first, there 

is an exception to its authoritative 

span, and that exception is the 

speaker, all others are called upon 

to abide, this is not philosophy, 

this is power 


 

much as in music, see in that context

my earlier text, one can read an awful 

lot between the lines

 

 

R ! chard

from act 4, scene 3 – Othello

jealousy-from-the-series-the-green-room-1907.jpg!Large

 

when Desdemona learns that Othello

suspects her of adultery, she asks 

her maidservant

 

      Dost thou in conscience think,–tell me, Emilia,–
      That there be women do abuse their husbands
      In such gross kind?

 

Emilia, older, wiser, replies

 

      There be some such, no question.

 

 

       But I do think it is their husbands’ faults
       If wives do fall: say that they slack their duties,
       And pour our treasures into foreign laps,
       Or else break out in peevish jealousies,
       Throwing restraint upon us; or say they strike us,
       Or scant our former having in despite;
       Why, we have galls, and though we have some grace,
       Yet have we some revenge. Let husbands know
       Their wives have sense like them: they see and smell
       And have their palates both for sweet and sour,
       As husbands have. What is it that they do
       When they change us for others? Is it sport?
       I think it is: and doth affection breed it?
       I think it doth: is’t frailty that thus errs?
       It is so too: and have not we affections,
       Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?
       Then let them use us well: else let them know,
       The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.

 

 

fall” in the second verse, for this is 

indeed a poem, in iambic pentameter, 

could easily be replaced by “fail

nearly even calls out for it, 

homophones but for the timbre of 

their vowels 

 

say that their husbands slack, she says,

then lists the several manners in which 

husbands might betray their marital 

duties, by “foreign, she means “other“, 

foreign to the family circle  

 

laps“, incidentally, is a wonderful 

metaphor to accompany “treasures,

suggesting intimate physical contact,

much more so, say, than hands

would’ve, for instance, been

 

restraint” means conditions, stress,

impositions  

 

scant our former having“, to diminish

that which formerly had been given,

of either material or psychological 

goods – “having” is a noun here, not

a participle

 

in despite, which is to say, “out of 

spite

 

galls“, a synecdoche for internal

organs, a synecdoche, the word

that means a part which signifies

the whole  

 

affection” is “lust

 

 

we’re equal partners, Shakespeare 

says, men and women, in a shared 

humanity, indeed Shakespeare is

one of the first Humanists after  

centuries of religious subjugation,

centuries of the suppression of

independent thought, a defining

notion, not incidentally, of the

Renaissance

 

 

R ! chard

 

“The Kingdom of Scotland vs the Weird Sisters”

macbeth-act-i-scene-3-the-weird-sisters-1783(1).jpg!Large

    “‘Macbeth’, Act I, Scene 3, the Weird Sisters (1783) 

           Henry Fuseli

               _______

if you thought The Kingdom of Denmark 
vs Hamlet was fun, you’ll love The 
Kingdom of Scotland vs the Weird 
Sisters“, U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Ruth Bader Ginsburg presides, with
the assistance of four other eminent
American judges, over the case in 
which the defendants, the witches 
who encounter Macbeth, are accused 
of concocting the murder of Duncan, 
King of Scotland, by that unsuspecting 
Thane of Glamis, soon to be Thane of 
Cawdor, not only predicting itbut 
verily perpetrating it

double, double, toil, indeed, and 
trouble, topical allusions flypithy, 
witty, pungent, delightful late night 
comedy fare, but of a more esoteric,
effete order 

watch, utterly enjoy


R ! chard

on Billy Collins – “Safe Travels”

Photo on 2016-05-24 at 6.31 PM.jpg

          me, May 24, 2016

               __________

I save all the New Yorker poems  
to read after I’ve been through
everything else in the issue, 
like dessert after a meal, icing 
on the cake, sometimes too 
heavy, sometimes too light,
sometimes too rich, sometimes
just right

today, I found my favourite poem,
period, this year, stepped right 
into its shoes, like old slippers, 
the only difference being my 
walls are painted a variety of
contrasting colours, studded 
with memorabilia, treasured 
artefacts, see above

also, no one’s translating my 
poems, though even our metre
is the same, try it, sing us out 
loud, you’ll dance 

R ! chard

_____________

Safe Travels

Every time Gulliver travels
into another chapter of “Gulliver’s Travels” 
I marvel at how well travelled he is
despite his incurable gullibility.

I don’t enjoy travelling anymore
because, for instance,
I still don’t know the difference
between a “bloke” and a “chap.”

And I’m embarrassed
whenever I have to hold out a palm
of loose coins to a cashier
as if I were feeding a pigeon in a park.

Like Proust, I see only trouble
in store if I leave my room,
which is not lined with cork,
only sheets of wallpaper

featuring orange flowers
and little green vines.
Of course, anytime I want
I can travel in my imagination

but only as far as Toronto,
where some graduate students
with goatees and snoods
are translating my poems into Canadian.

Billy Collins

__________

psst: I said just recently to a poet 
          acquaintance that what poetry 
          needed in the 21st Century is 
          humour, the only art form not 
          catching up with the rest,
          otherwise it’ll die of, indeed
          succumb to, its own 
          lugubriousness

          thank you again, Billy Collins

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

 

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                                “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