Readings: Weeks 2-4


Sun & Stars. WS Sonnet 116 LL "Black Star" (Radiohead) - LL "Black" (Pearl Jam) -  LL "Paint It Black" (Rolling Stones) - "Sonnet 130" (Shakespeare - R) - "Bright Star" (Keats - R) -  LL "Reason or Rhyme" (Bryan Ferry)


Deep End. "Ophelia's Death" (Shakespeare, from Hamlet - R- also see WS Ophelia) - LL "Ophelia" (Natalie Merchant - this address has the foreign words at the end, with a translation; "They wasted" in stanza 7 should read "Lay wasted") -  LL "Abattoir Blues" (Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds) -  LL "Nature Boy" (Nick Cave) - YT LL "Swimming Pools (Drank)" (Kendrick Lamar ) -  LL "Pride" (Kendrick Lamar)


Tainted Love. "Love's Grief" & ♫ YT “Love at First Sight” (in Romance) - "To His Coy Mistress" ("Mistress," Andrew Marvell - R) -  LL "No I in Threesome" ("Threesome," Interpol) -  LL"Beauty Queen" (Bryan Ferry) - “Amsterdam” (Jacques Brel - R) - LL “Port of Amsterdam” (David Bowie). Given that you have an essay due this week, I don't expect you to read the following texts before class — but make sure to bring hard-copies of them.



Q. How do the poets use imagery of stars and suns? How do they use colour?

Sonnet 130  (William Shakespeare)

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;*
If hairs be wires,* black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked,* red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks; 
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
   And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
   As any she belied with false compare.*

dun = dark or dusky; wires = fine gold or filigree ornament damasked = velvety pink or light red; As ... compare ~ As anybody who lied about her by making a false comparison

Bright Star (John Keats, 1819)

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art--
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,*
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution* round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask                
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors --
No -- yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillowed upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever -- or else swoon to death.                         

Eremite = hermit; ablution = ritual cleansing



Q. How does Merchant’s version of Ophelia differ from the original? What role do setting, love, and allusion play in Cave? What is the relation of idealism to realism in Cave and Lamar?

Ophelia's Death (4.7)

Gertrude: There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold [chaste] maids do dead men's fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable [unaware] of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.


“A Love Song for Lucinda” (Langston Hughes)

Is a ripe plum
Growing on a purple tree.
Taste it once
And the spell of its enchantment
Will never let you be.

Is a bright star
Glowing in far Southern skies.
Look too hard
And its burning flame
Will always hurt your eyes.

Is a high mountain
Stark in a windy sky.
If you
Would never lose your breath
Do not climb too high.

“Sonnet. Written Upon The Top Of Ben Nevis” (Keats)

(you can abbreviate this title to “Ben Nevis” — which is the highest mountain in Scotland and the British Isles)

Read me a lesson, Muse, and speak it loud
Upon the top of Nevis, blind in mist!
I look into the chasms, and a shroud
Vaporous doth hide them, — just so much I wist*
Mankind do know of hell; I look o'erhead,
And there is sullen mist, — even so much
Mankind can tell of heaven; mist is spread
Before the earth, beneath me, — even such,
Even so vague is man's sight of himself!
Here are the craggy stones beneath my feet, —
Thus much I know that, a poor witless elf,
I tread on them, — that all my eye doth meet
Is mist and crag, not only on this height,
But in the world of thought and mental might!

 * wist - archaic for thought, but probably means think or imagine here, given the pervasive present tense

“somewhere” (e.e. cummings)

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me,i and
my life will shut very beautifully,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

To His Coy Mistress  (Marvell, c. 1650)

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber* would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast;
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart;
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
   But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
   Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt* power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

* Humber = tidal estuary in NE England — slow-chapt = slowly eating

“Amsterdam” (Jacques Brel)

Amsterdam (Jacques Brel, 1964) / Amsterdam (trans. RYC*)

Dans le port d’Amsterdam / Y a des marins qui chantent / Les rêves qui les hantent / Au large d’Amsterdam ❧ In the port of Amsterdam / There are sailors who sing / Of dreams that haunt them / Off the Amsterdam coast

Dans le port d’Amsterdam / Y a des marins qui dorment / Comme des oriflammes / Le long des berges mornes ❧ In the port of Amsterdam / There are sailors who sleep / Like drooping banners / Along the dreary banks

Dans le port d’Amsterdam / Y a des marins qui meurent / Pleins de bière et de drames / Aux premières lueurs, / Mais dans le port d’Amsterdam / Y a des marins qui naissent / Dans la chaleur épaisse / Des langueurs océanes ❧ In the port of Amsterdam / There are sailors who die / Full of beer and of drama / At the first light of dawn / But in the Amsterdam port / There are sailors conceived / In the stifling heat / Of the indolent sea

Dans le port d’Amsterdam / Y a des marins qui mangent / Sur des nappes trop blanches / Des poissons ruisselants / Ils vous montrent des dents / À croquer la fortune / À décroiser la lune / À bouffer des haubans / Et ça sent la morue / Jusque dans le cœur des frites / Que leurs grosses mains invitent / À revenir en plus / Puis se lèvent en riant / Dans un bruit de tempête / Referment leur braguette / Et sortent en rotant ❧ In the port of Amsterdam / There are sailors who eat / On tablecloths so white / The fish dripping wet / They’ll show you their teeth / That bites down on their luck / And swallows the moon / Devours the shrouds / And it all smells like cod / To the core of the fries / Which their big hands invite / To come back for more / Then they get up and laugh / In the roar of the storm / Zip up their flies / And belch as they leave

Dans le port d’Amsterdam / Y a des marins qui dansent / En se frottant la panse / Sur la panse des femmes / Et ils tournent et ils dansent / Comme des soleils crachés / Dans le son déchiré / D’un accordéon rance / Ils se tordent le cou / Pour mieux s’entendre rire / Jusqu’à ce que tout à coup / L’accordéon expire / Alors le geste grave / Alors le regard fier / Ils ramènent leur batave / Jusqu’en pleine lumière ❧ In the port of Amsterdam / There are sailors who dance / Rubbing with their paunches / The paunches of the women / And they twirl and they dance / Like the suns that spit forth / From the torn-apart sound / Of a rancid accordion / They twist their necks round / To hear each other laugh / When all of a sudden / The accordion dies / Then in solemn gesture / Then with proud looks / They bring their Dutch nature / Into the open light

Dans le port d’Amsterdam / Y a des marins qui boivent / Et qui boivent et reboivent / Et qui reboivent encore / Ils boivent à la santé / Des putains d’Amsterdam / De Hambourg ou d’ailleurs / Enfin ils boivent aux dames / Qui leur donnent leur joli corps / Qui leur donnent leur vertu / Pour une pièce en or / Et quand ils ont bien bu / Se plantent le nez au ciel / Se mouchent dans les étoiles / Et ils pissent comme je pleure / Sur les femmes infidèles ❧ In the port of Amsterdam / There are sailors who drink / And who drink and re-drink / And who re-drink again / They drink to the health / Of the Amsterdam whores  / Of Hamburg and elsewhere / Finally they drink to the ladies / Who give their pretty bodies / And who give their virtue / For a coin of gold / And when they’ve drank their fill / They stick their snouts in the air / Blow their noses in the stars / And they piss, like I cry / On the unfaithful women 

Dans le port d’Amsterdam, / Dans le port d’Amsterdam ❧ In the port of Amsterdam / In the port of Amsterdam


* Note: In the translation above I haven’t tried to reproduce the rhyme, yet I’ve tried to maintain the rhythm as much as possible. Sometimes this makes for a less literal translation – for instance, I’ve put their snouts rather than the nose or their noses for le nez; I’ve put are conceived rather then are born for qui naissent. I’ve also changed the sense at times when I thought the more obvious translation sounded odd in English – for instance I’ve translated trop blanches as so white rather than too white. Two lines seem particularly difficult to translate: À croquer la fortune / À décroiser la lune. These might be translated as crushing their luck and uncrossing the moon or as biting down on their luck and swallowing the moon (which fits better with their raucous gluttony). While some of my translation decisions may be errors due to my imperfect French, Brel uses a very poetic brand of language — bordering on the drunken, decadent derangement of his crude sailors — and this appears to render the song elusive at times even in the original. This ambiguity works, however, since it gives the language a tension. It also gives us more ways to appreciate Brel’s hypnotic mix of down-to-earth and off-the-handle, as he takes us in three minutes from languor to frenzy.

In the following chart, I indicate end rhymes in bold and I isolate some of the internal repetition of vowels (assonance) and consonants (consonance). Compare the way Brel and Bowie play with repetition of sounds (Bowie uses a translation by Mort Shuman).

Amsterdam 1.png