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Category: Sonnets from the Portuguese

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

“I’ve Got a New Attitude”‏


as the Beatles once sang, Roll Over Beethoven

I’d been touching up my blog, specifically my
Elizabeth Barrett Brownings
, which WordPress
had to my dismay defaced, when one of my
submissions, the XXXlst, gave me the choice
of his Appassionata or Patti LaBelle, to
accompany me on the dishes, my ritual
homage to Sisyphean labour before the
limitless

both are electrifying

but I opted for a change, the effect of, maybe,
springtime, chose Patti, who’d awakened by
her very name a world of magical memories
for me, even inspiring me to find finally a
long lost friend, an ardent fan, then, of Patti

I looked for an appropriate, concert, length,
enough to finish my dishes, this is what I
found

I’ve been hooked on divas ever since

I hope you’re also enjoying them

Richard

psst: more Patti

“Ambush at Five O’clock” – Stephen Dunn‏


from the New Yorker, February 3, 2014

Ambush at Five O’clock

We were by the hedge that separates our properties
when I asked our neighbors about their souls.
I said it with a smile, the way one asks such a thing.
They were somewhat like us, I thought, more
than middle-aged, less dull than most.
Yet they seemed to have no interest
in disputation, our favorite game,
or any of the great national pastimes
like gossip and stories of misfortunes
about people they disliked.

In spite of these differences, kindred
was a word we often felt and used.
The man was shy, though came to life
when he spotted an uncommon bird,
and the woman lively, sometimes even funny
about barometer readings and sudden dips
in pressure, the general state of things.
We liked their affection for each other
and for dogs. We went to their house;
they came to ours.

After I asked about their souls
they laughed and stumbled towards an answer,
then gave up, turned the question back
to me. And because I felt mine always was
in jeopardy I said it went to the movies
and hasn’t been seen since. I said gobbledy
and I said gook. I found myself needing
to fool around, avoid, stay away from myself.

But my wife said her soul suffered from neglect,
that she herself was often neglectful
of important things, but so was I.
Then she started to cry. What’s the matter? I asked.
What brought this on? She didn’t answer.
I felt ambushed, publicly insensitive
about something, whatever it was.

It was a dusky five o’clock, that time
in between one thing and another.
Our neighbors retreated to their home,
but the women returned
and without a word put her arms
around my wife as if a woman weeping
indicated something already understood
among women, that needn’t be voiced.
They held each other, rocked back and forth,

and I thought Jesus Christ, am I guilty again
of one of those small errors
I’ve repeated until it became large?
what about me? I thought. What about
the sadness of being stupid?
Why doesn’t her husband return
with maybe a beer and a knowing nod?

Stephen Dunn

____________

poetry is a conversation, of course, a poet
has with all the other poets who’ve come
before him, her, here Dunn is evidently
channelling Robert Browning, “This is
my last Duchess”,
Browning writes,
“painted on the wall / Looking as though
she were alive.”,
from his My Last
Duchess
“,
a poem I’ve never forgotten,
wherein the speaker discusses the
portrait of his earlier wife, one he’d
summarily purportedly got rid of

Robert Browning had learned his craft,
the dramatic monologue, from, of course,
Shakespeare, down to even its dramatic
content

Elizabeth meanwhile had been inspired
rather by Shakespeare’s sonnets, by his
thee, thy, thine, and thou’s

in Dunn the Browningian drama is
significantly less dour, nobody out and
out dies, though the dilemma is never
not existential, however less morally
compromised, less psychologically
and tragically fraught

neither does Dunn rhyme

but that just sends us back to Homer
of course, less epic, more, maybe,
middle class, very, and distinctively,
XXlst Century

but that’s how you read between the
lines, the verses, in this case, and
thus across the centuries

poetry is a conversation

Richard

XLlV. Belovèd, thou hast brought me many flowers – Elizabeth Barrett Browning‏

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XLlV. Belovèd, thou hast brought me many flowers

Belovèd, thou hast brought me many flowers
Plucked in the garden, all the summer through
And winter, and it seemed as if they grew
In this close room, nor missed the sun and showers.
So, in the like name of that love of ours,
Take back these thoughts which here unfolded too,
And which on warm and cold days I withdrew
From my heart’s ground. Indeed, those beds and bowers
Be overgrown with bitter weeds and rue,
And wait thy weeding; yet here’s eglantine,
Here’s ivy! – take them, as I used to do
Thy flowers, and keep them where they shall not pine.
Instruct thine eyes to keep their colours true,
And tell thy soul, their roots are left in mine.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

________________________

let me, much as Elizabeth is doing here,
submit these comments which I’ve been
sending you, all 44 of them specifically
on these sonnets, their very entirety,
not to mention other opinions I’ve
delivered on several other topics, they
are what I can return of what the world
has given me, the world has “brought
me many flowers”

“these thoughts which here unfolded
[for me] too,” while all of this was
happening, “And which on warm and
cold days I withdrew / From my heart’s
ground.”,
through “bitter [even] weeds
and rue”
sometimes indeed also,
despite, unreasonably perhaps, the
abundance of flowers, for I succumb
easily also, as poets often do, to
crushing despair – who’d o’ thunk it –
and can be categorically unforgiving
at times of an ungorgiving God

see Philip Larkin for instance on this one
before seeing even Nietzsche, and I could
name, of course, several others

“yet here’s eglantine, / Here’s ivy!”, I’ve
also found, and have concluded that
their example is the one to follow

be splendid, it is the only honourable
answer, I’ve devised, which God could
not easily dishonour

these verses have been as my flowers,
“take them, ….. / …. , and keep them
where they shall not pine. / Instruct
thine eyes to keep their colours true,
/ And tell thy soul, their roots are left
in mine.”

yours ever truly

Richard

XLlll. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways – Elizabeth Barrett Browning‏

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XLlll. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, – I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! – and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

__________________________

there are two lines of verse in English
poetry which are early trumpeted by even
those who would have no truck in general
with poems, one about life, one about love,
paraded by already youths with all the
passion of their unbridled years, if not
oratorically advocating, at least sardonically
making fun of perhaps too mannered, even
irrelevant, in their opinion, I would think,
matter, namely Shakespeare‘s To be, or
not to be
and Elizabeth Barrett Browning‘s
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways

nothing much of the rest of these two
poems generally is known, though their
introductions be, even at the level of the
succeeeding ages, panoramic, neither,
either, incidentally, has ever, in its
substance, been equalled

To be, or not to be upon first exploring
it surprises for being, not, as supposed,
a paean to glory, for its declamatory, I
suspect, and engaging, cadences, but a
treatise on the very value of life, Hamlet,
despairing of the state of Denmark, where,
“something”, if you’ll remember, “is rotten”,
where his mother and murderous stepfather
have evilly, he imagines, conspired to steal
his real father’s throne, who hovers now
as a disturbing, and exhortative, presence,
keeping the action, or inaction in this case,
going, can never reach an answer, come to
a decision, To be, or not to be“, “that is the
[inexorable] question”

more specifically, “Whether ’tis nobler
in the mind to suffer”,
he asks, “The slings
and arrows of outrageous fortune, / Or to
take arms against a sea of troubles, /
And by opposing end them:”,
is life
worth living if the cost is so dire

Hamlet will not do the deed himself,
ultimately, of securing his own demise,
but will actively eventually allow it

one will wonder then, is life worthwhile,
Shakespeare never gives us a direct
answer

Elizabeth, however, talks about love, its,
essentially, apotheosis, an expression,
yet unrivalled of how we would like to
love, be loved

her declamation becomes somewhat
elaborate, even morbid, at the end,
macabre, but the force of the initial
statement has weathered already
several unforgiving ages, fresh and
true and captivating, fundamentally,
as ever

Richard

XLll. “My future will not copy fair my past” – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XLll. My future will not copy fair my past

“My future will not copy fair my past”
I wrote that once; and thinking at my side
My ministering life-angel justified
The word by his appealing look upcast
To the white throne of God, I turned at last,
And there, instead, saw thee, not unallied
To angels in thy soul! Then I, long tried
By natural ills, received the comfort fast,
While budding, at thy sight, my pilgrim’s staff
Gave out green leaves with morning dews impearled.
I seek no copy now of life’s first half:
Leave here the pages with long musing curled,
And write me new my future’s epigraph,
New angel mine, unhoped for in the world!

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

_________________________

“You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this
matter to be actually something which I think I would never understand.
It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me.
I am looking forward for your next post, I will try
to get the hang of it!“

because there was no return address
on this comment, and because its
uncorroborated website, a gaming site,
seemed to me suspect, I’ve chosen to
reply within the safer body of my
discussion, rather than within the
thickets and brambles of the more
treacherous Internet

but I profoundly respect the, not at all
uncommon, opinion

therefore this

Elizabeth Barrett Browning is not
immediately accesible to us in the
early 21st Century, this comment is
such an example, unsolicited but
honest, and it is the cry of the
uninitiated through no fault of their
own before time’s obfuscating,
even linguistic, even literary, but
ever ineffable, shroud, I had the
same sense of its, often, preciosity
when I first started reading poetry,
not only even but especially the
greats who’d been recommended,
it took a poet who spoke my
language before I could take
verse seriously

but since then it has become for
me a garden of existential, of
transcendental, delights,
revelations I can’t help but want
to share, not only substantial
stuff, but, I think, sacred

no one has said it better to date
than Pamela Spiro Wagner in
How to Read a Poem: Beginner’s
Manual

“Read just one poem a day.
Someday a book of poems may open in your hands
like a daffodil offering its cup
to the sun“

even a daffodil like Elizabeth
Barrett Browning

Elizabeth is a siren here, I asked of heaven,
she says, “My future will not copy fair my
past”,
and along comes, goodness, a
miracle in the form of, more or less, an
angel – “not unallied / To angels in thy
soul”,
she describes him in her particular
Victorian dialect, not always immediately
penetrable

she was so happy then, she grew ”green
leaves”,
she asserts, evidently exaggerating,
“with”, even, “morning dews impearled”,
she further enthusiastically confides, but
of which we won’t out of discretion, of
course, inquire

let’s just say she will hitch her wagon
therefore to his, [n]ew angel mine”, star,
for the foreseeable, however “unhoped
for”
, future

which man could resist being called “not
unallied / To angels“,
Elizabeth, seductress,
enchantress, I call my man Apollo, my
golden god of light

Richard

XLl. I thank all who have loved me in their hearts – Elizabeth Barrett Browning‏

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XLl. I thank all who have loved me in their hearts

I thank all who have loved me in their hearts,
With thanks and love from mine. Deep thanks to all
Who paused a little near the prison-wall
To hear my music in its louder parts
Ere they went onward, each one to the mart’s
Or temple’s occupation, beyond call.
But thou, who, in my voice’s sink and fall,
When the sob took it, thy divinest Art’s
Own instrument didst drop down at thy foot
To hearken what I said between my tears, –
Instruct me how to thank thee! Oh, to shoot
My soul’s full meaning into future years,
That they should lend it utterance, and salute
Love that endures, from Life that disappears!

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

______________________

addressing everything that came before
Elizabeth seems to be addressing also
everything that comes after, which is to
say eternity, infinity, her legacy

her hope is that she will be able to express
the thanks she owes to someone, among all
others who loved her indeed but could only
move on after listening to her, who didn’t

inadvertently she therein defines true love,
he, or indeed she, who would “thy divinest
Art’s / Own instrument”
– in this instance
Robert‘s poetry – “didst drop down at thy
foot / To hearken what I said between my
tears”
– who would suspend his work, and
pay attention to her sorrow, to even her
inanities, I here interpolate advisedly, her
achievements, her very joys

for fleeting love loves mostly itself in passing,
a love which easily overlooks, and dissipates

I believe Elizabeth in this poem has thrust
herself into significant poetic history, finally,
combining her account of her personal love
with a voice which for the first time in the
sonnets
addresses itself to, however
circuitously, some would say surreptitiously,
even circumspectly – for she’s speaking still
to him – to history, to “future years, / That they
should lend it utterance“,
a literary marriage,
she’s effected by this extrapolation, this
synecdoche – supplanting the part for the
whole – of the personal and the, at the very
least anthropologically, profound

topped off with a toast, “salute”, even to a
coveted, though perhaps only apocryphal,
I interject, ideal, “Love that endures, from
Life that disappears”

how, and by very definition, Romantic, is
that

Richard

XL. Oh, yes! they love through all this world of ours – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

                            Click!

Polyphemus Surprising Acis and Galatea (1852-18623)

Auguste Ottin

____________

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XL. Oh, yes! they love through all this world of ours

Oh, yes! they love through all this world of ours!
I will not gainsay love, called love forsooth.
I have heard love talked in my early youth,
And since, not so long back but that the flowers
Then gathered, smell still. Mussulmans and Giaours
Throw kerchiefs at a smile, and have no ruth
For any weeping. Polypheme’s white tooth
Slips on the nut if, after frequent showers,
The shell is over-smooth, – and not so much
Will turn the thing called love, aside to hate
Or else to oblivion. But thou art not such
A lover, my Belovèd! thou canst wait
Through sorrow and sickness, to bring souls to touch,
And think it soon when others cry “Too late.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

___________________________

esoteric references blur today the meaning of
many Romantic poems, something I remember
distancing me from poetry when I was a boy,
and therefore considered poems such as
this one mannered, not to say pretentious

Polypheme was apparently the name of the
cyclops Odysseus blinded on his return to
Ithaca and his wife, Penelope, in Homer’s
Odyssey“, I know nothing about his white
tooth, slipping on a nut, the frequency of,
wherever, showers, nor smooth, or
otherwise, shells, despite some research
and my generally extended poetic
information, if you’ll allow me here to,
however immodestly, refer to this
erudition

but the message of the poem is not lost,
your love, she says, to her suitor, is like
no other’s, true despite all obstacles,
which often have swayed earlier less
stalwart models in her experience

Polypheme had indeed also loved the lovely
Galatea, in another mythical incarnation,
hopelessly of course, having only one eye
would’ve been necessarily a deal breaker,
both practically and aesthetically, so he
crushed his rival, Acis, under a huge rock,
and that, as they say, was that

others have done worse

“Mussulmans” are of course Mohameddans,
or Muslims, Giaours are their unbelievers,
which is to say, Christians, all of this being
evidently relative, both parties having
discredited, essentially therefore disqualifed,
each others’ deities, therefore Nietzsche, but
that’s another story

all of them nevertheless “Throw kerchiefs
at a smile”,
speak louder than their actions,
all of them “have no ruth / For any weeping”,
cry easily at melodramas, humans all, after
everything, despite conflicting theological
intractabilities

“gainsay”, to refute, deny, she will not deny
that others have loved, she can still “smell”
even, sense the shiver of, when she was
young, its promises

all these nothing, however, to compare to
his unflinching anchor

you’ll note that Elizabeth is again talking
about Robert, she’s probably had enough
by now of herself, not an uncommon
development, I propose, in any interaction

Richard

XXXlX. Because thou hast the power and own’st the grace – Elizabeth Barrett Browning‏

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XXXlX. Because thou hast the power and own’st the grace

Because thou hast the power and own’st the grace
To look through and behind this mask of me
(Against which years have beat thus blanchingly
With their rains), and behold my soul’s true face,
The dim and weary witness of life’s race, –
Because thou hast the faith and love to see,
Through that same soul’s distracting lethargy,
The patient angel waiting for a place
In the new Heavens, – because nor sin nor woe,
Nor God’s infliction, nor death’s neighbourhood,
Nor all which others viewing, turn to go,
Nor all which makes me tired of all, self-viewed, –
Nothing repels thee, . . . dearest, teach me so
To pour out gratitude, as thou dost good!

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

_____________________________

after XXXVlll indeed iconic poems, wherein
Elizabeth speaks nearly exclusively about
herself, intimately and, as history would
show, epochally, breaking new, fertile,
Romantic in this instance, ground, she
turns her attention here to someone else,
to Robert, her paragon

Bette Midler would later say, now that’s
enough about me, let’s talk about you,
what do you think about me

having shed some of her insecurity,
Elizabeth seems equally more solid, less
fragmented, in her inordinate, indeed
disarming, ardour

you’ll note a return to rhyme, metre, cadence,
commas are in the right place, the reiteration
of certain words, like markers, beat rhythm
as well as emphasis, the ground of the
verses seems sounder, sound, all elements
which earlier would have determined the
very parameters of poetry, as though she
could now return to balance, order, lyricism,
even convention, when turned away from
strictly herself, a lesson I’m sure we could
all learn

Schubert, incidentally, could ‘ve easily set
this to music, as indeed someone else did
here only over a year ago, David MacIntyre,
and called it Love in Public“, an inspiration
which set me off on this very journey

to date this is my very favourite of Elizabeth‘s
poems

Richard

XXXVlll. First time he kissed me, he but only kissed – Elizabeth Barrett Browning‏

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XXXVlll. First time he kissed me, he but only kissed

First time he kissed me, he but only kissed
The fingers of this hand wherewith I write;
And ever since, it grew more clean and white,
Slow to world-greetings, quick with its “Oh, list,”
When the angels speak. A ring of amethyst
I could not wear here, plainer to my sight,
Than that first kiss. The second passed in height
The first, and sought the forehead, and half missed,
Half falling on the hair. O beyond meed!
That was the chrism of love, which love’s own crown,
With sanctifying sweetness, did precede.
The third upon my lips was folded down
In perfect, purple state; since when, indeed,
I have been proud and said, “My love, my own.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

________________________

had the sonnet allowed for more lines,
instead of its strict fourteen, this poem
could not ‘ve not become indecent,
“purple”, she says, indeed

nor, for that matter, more clear, Elizabeth
has succumbed to his one, two, three
kisses, enough to now call him [m]y love,
my own”

meed is a reward, and archaic

chrism is holy anointing oil, nearly also
now, but sacramentally, lost

so intimate a declaration as this would’ve
been unprecedented in 1845-46, when
these poems were written, though we’re
used to much more flagrant stuff nowadays

that this had been written by a woman
must’ve been nearly scandalous, though
such was allowing the Romantic Age, and
this “most flagrant” expression would
become eventually its very symbol, the
exploration of the human heart, the highly
intimate revelations of an individual soul

Elizabeth Barrett Browning holds the top
spot here, nobody does it better

in intrinsically less overtly graphic music,
Chopin

Richard Strauss does a similar thing in his
opera “Salome” several years later, several,
indeed, decades later, 1905, but in reverse,
Salome wants to first of all touch John the
Baptist’s skin, he won’t allow it, undaunted
she asks to touch his black hair, nor will
he allow that, she insists further on a kiss,
which doesn’t either come, the scene is
lurid and shocking

“nothing in the world is as red as your
mouth”,
she begs, “let me kiss it, your
mouth”

my dear, I cautioned

later she will dance the Dance of the Seven
Veils
“,
lately performed even, after the veils
are, one by one, off, naked

for which she gets John the Baptist’s head,
and finally gets her kiss

honest

the version I saw was unforgettable,
though it had taken a free ticket to
get me there

Richard

psst: you’ll note, incidentally, that this poem
is not an avowal, but a confidence,
spoken to us, not to him, a not
insignificant factor