Readings: Weeks 2-4
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
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.
Would never lose your breath
Do not climb too high.
“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
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 noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
After Apple-Picking (Robert Frost, 1913)
MY long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.
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 / To bite down on their luck / To untie the moon / And devour the shrouds / And it all smells like cod / To the core of the fries / That 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 / While rubbing their paunches / On the paunches of the women / And they twirl and they dance / Like the suns that spit forth / In the shattered 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 / And with proud looks / They bring their Dutchness / Into the open light
Dans le port d’Amsterdam/ Y a des marins quiboivent/ Et qui boivent etreboivent/ Et qui reboiventencore/ Ils boivent à la santé / Des putains d’Amsterdam/ De Hambourg oud’ailleurs/ Enfin ils boivent auxdames/ Qui leur donnent leur jolicorps/ Qui leur donnent leurvertu/ Pour une pièce enor/ Et quand ils ont bienbu/ Se plantent le nez au ciel/ Se mouchent dans les étoiles/ Et ils pissent comme jepleure/ Sur les femmes infidèles/Dans le port d’Amsterdam X 2❧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 / In the port of Amsterdam X 2
* Note: In the original above I’ve put the end-rhymes in bold. In my translation 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 translated trop blanches as so white rather than too white. One line seems particularly difficult to translate: À décroisser la lune. Décroisser is an invented word, similar to décroiser, so it might make sense to translate it as uncrossing the moon. While some of my choices may be errors due to my imperfect French, Brel uses very poetic 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 gives us multiple 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).