En una noche oscura

Today we have a poem by St. John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz), the Spanish priest from the mid-16th century who became a saint. He was a religious mystic, seeking God through reflection and introspection and he produced some of the finest poetry in a century when there were many fine poets writing in Spanish. This poem is very clever as you can read it both as a metaphor for the religious experience or as a description of an illicit encounter between two lovers. The rhythms and repetitions create a momentum which carries the reader along, while the opening stanzas also create a suspense which grabs the reader’s attention. I recommend reading this poem silently and aloud to enjoy the words and the rhythms which make up this beautiful poem.

En una noche oscura
con ansias en amores inflamada
¡oh dichosa ventura!
salí sin ser notada
estando ya mi casa sosegada,

a oscuras y segura
por la secreta escala disfrazada,
¡oh dichosa ventura!
a oscuras y en celada
estando ya mi casa sosegada.

En la noche dichosa
en secreto que nadie me veía
ni yo miraba cosa
sin otra luz y guía
sino la que en el corazón ardía.

Aquesta me guiaba
más cierto que la luz del mediodía
adonde me esperaba
quien yo bien me sabía
en sitio donde nadie aparecía.

¡Oh noche, que guiaste!
¡Oh noche amable más que la alborada!
¡Oh noche que juntaste
amado con amada,
amada en el amado transformada!

En mi pecho florido,
que entero para él solo se guardaba
allí quedó dormido
y yo le regalaba
y el ventalle de cedros aire daba.

El aire de la almena
cuando yo sus cabellos esparcía
con su mano serena
y en mi cuello hería
y todos mis sentidos suspendía.

Quedéme y olvidéme
el rostro recliné sobre el amado;
cesó todo, y dejéme
dejando mi cuidado
entre las azucenas olvidado.

From <http://www.los-poetas.com/f/cruz1.htm&gt;

The sense of suspense is established immediately as the first stanza describes someone creeping out of their house in the dead of night. This is carried on in the next two stanzas where suspense is joined by growing excitement indicated by the adjectives and exclamations. This is an adventure of illicit love as the protagonist finally meets the loved one and they embrace under the stars with the wind blowing through their hair, and all cares are forgotten.

But the whole description is also a metaphor for the search for transcendental religious experience and finding inner peace through Christ, made understandable to readers through the analogy with the rapture of physical love.

In either sense, this is a beautiful poem, and I am very pleased to share it.

The Poetry Dude


Chaucer, Langland, Douglas, Dunbar, with all your..

WH Auden really produced some neat poems. In today’s offering “Ode to the Mediaeval Poets” he places himself in a poetic tradition going back 1000 years but adds an inventive twist to how we think about them in comparison with the moderns. Here it is.

Ode to the Medieval Poets

by W. H. Auden

Chaucer, Langland, Douglas, Dunbar, with all your
brother Anons, how on earth did you ever manage,
without anaesthetics or plumbing,
in daily peril from witches, warlocks,
lepers, The Holy Office, foreign mercenaries
burning as they came, to write so cheerfully,
with no grimaces of self-pathos?

Long-winded you could be but not vulgar,
bawdy but not grubby, your raucous flytings
sheer high-spirited fun, whereas our makers,
beset by every creature comfort,
immune, they believe, to all superstitions,
even at their best are so often morose or
kinky, petrified by their gorgon egos.
We all ask, but I doubt if anyone
can really say why all age-groups should find our
Age quite so repulsive. Without its heartless
engines, though, you could not tenant my book-shelves,
on hand to delect my ear and chuckle
my sad flesh: I would gladly just now be
turning out verses to applaud a thundery
jovial June when the judas-tree is in blossom,
but am forbidden by the knowledge
that you would have wrought them so much better.

From <https://www.poeticous.com/w-h-auden/ode-to-the-medieval-poets?locale=en&gt;

In this poem, Auden describes the conditions in which the mediaeval poets worked and the type of results they achieved. The mediaeval poets, according to Auden, were beset by plague, pestilence, persecution and primitive living conditions, to today’s eye, but produced works of joy and optimism. The moderns, in contrast, have all the advantages of today’s comforts and technology, but often produce pessimistic, morose, joyless poetry. There is no probing of reasons or consequences of this, but it is presented as a conundrum for the reader to ponder.

The paradox is that it is modern technology that makes the mediaeval poets widely accessible. And Auden, despite suggesting he can be compared with the mediaeval masters, states he cannot match their poetic quality.

This is a playful but thought-provoking poem and it reinforces the idea that no poet stands alone – influences and sources are distilled and digested, to be served up again in surprising ways by poets everywhere and in any time.

The Poetry Dude

Quand, les deux yeux fermes, en un soir chaud d’automne

Today’s poem, by Charles Baudelaire, in my mind is a close companion of his poem “A une Dame Creole”, included in the same original collection and posted on this blog on October 8th. Both are inspired by his relationship with a girl from a tropical island, and both evoke the sensuous associations aroused by his love.

Parfum exotique

Quand, les deux yeux fermés, en un soir chaud d’automne,
Je respire l’odeur de ton sein chaleureux,
Je vois se dérouler des rivages heureux
Qu’éblouissent les feux d’un soleil monotone;

Une île paresseuse où la nature donne
Des arbres singuliers et des fruits savoureux;
Des hommes dont le corps est mince et vigoureux,
Et des femmes dont l’oeil par sa franchise étonne.

Guidé par ton odeur vers de charmants climats,
Je vois un port rempli de voiles et de mâts
Encor tout fatigués par la vague marine,

Pendant que le parfum des verts tamariniers,
Qui circule dans l’air et m’enfle la narine,
Se mêle dans mon âme au chant des mariniers.

— Charles Baudelaire
From <http://fleursdumal.org/poem/120&gt;


The poet closes his eyes on a warm autumn evening and breathes in the scent from his lover’s body. The associations immediately take him back to the tropical island where he met her, its smells, sights and sounds, from the trees and exotic fruits, to the impressive, beautiful and confident men and women of the islands, to the ships in port and the sailor’s shouts. The power of association through the senses transports the poet into another world; and from there it inspires these great poems.

These two poems are very close to me, having fallen in love with and married a girl from an Indian ocean island very much like that described by Baudelaire. And I have experienced the same sights, sounds and smells which jump off the page in this poem.

Pass the coconut…
The Poetry Dude

It lies not in our power to love or hate

Today’s poem takes us back to the first Elizabethan age in England, when poets and dramatists produced many of the eternally interesting and enriching works in the language. Christopher Marlowe is probably better known as a writer of plays than as a poet, but, as Shakespeare showed, it is quite possible to be a master at both forms of literature.
This is an extract from Marlowe’s narrative poem Hero and Leander, about the story of two lovers, one of whom drowned when swimming across the Hellespont to visit the other. It is a classic love story, and this extract stands alone as a meditation on the irresistible force of love.

from Hero and Leander: “It lies not in our power to love or hate”


It lies not in our power to love or hate,
For will in us is overruled by fate.
When two are stripped, long ere the course begin,
We wish that one should lose, the other win;
And one especially do we affect
Of two gold ingots, like in each respect:
The reason no man knows; let it suffice
What we behold is censured by our eyes.
Where both deliberate, the love is slight:
Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?

From <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/180664&gt;


The poem describes the role of instinct and intuition as the basis for love, rather than reason. It is a very accessible poem, direct and expression and carried along rhythmically by quite short rhyming couplets.

The first two lines establish the basic premise that feelings of love and hate are not a product of reason, but of some force outside our power. The next four lines give two examples – we pick a runner to cheer for before the race even starts, and we have a preference for one of two identical gold ingots, both for reasons we could not explain. The next two lines focus on the mystery of how this happens. The final two lines come back to the experience of falling in love or being in love – if it is a result of conscious thought and choice, love is weak, but if it is love at first sight, then it will be strong – the love of passion and unreason.

This is a powerfully eloquent expression of a vision of the process of love which resonates very well with actual human experience, certainly the experience of this blogger, and probably of millions of humans everywhere.


The Poetry Dude

Me gustas cuando callas porque estas como ausente,

I already posted one of Pablo Neruda’s political, engaged poems (see blog post from October 14th)., but he is also very well known for his love poetry. Today we have an example from his early (1920s, I think) collection of love poems, 20 Love Poems and 1 Song of Despair. The collection wonderfully captures the roller coaster of sensations, emotions, triumphs and disappointments of being in love, and has probably inspired many lovers over the years. This is love poem number 15.

Pablo Neruda

Me Gustas Cuando Callas

Me gustas cuando callas porque estas como ausente,
y me oyes desde lejos, y mi voz no te toca.
Parece que los ojos se te hubieran volado
y parece que un beso te cerrara la boca.

Como todas las cosas estan llenas de mi alma
emerges de las cosas, llena del alma mia.
Mariposa de sueno, te pareces a mi alma,
y te pareces a la palabra melancolia.

Me gustas cuando callas y estas como distante.
Y estas como quejandote, mariposa en arrullo.
Y me oyes desde lejos, y mi voz no te alcanza:
dejame que me calle con el silencio tuyo.

Dejame que te hable tambien con tu silencio
claro como una lampara, simple como un anillo.
Eres como la noche, callada y constelada.
Tu silencio es de estrella, tan lejano y sencillo.

Me gustas cuando callas porque estas como ausente.
Distante y dolorosa como si hubieras muerto.
Una palabra entonces, una sonrisa bastan.
Y estoy alegre, alegre de que no sea cierto.


From <http://thue.stanford.edu/jacquie/callas.html&gt;

I like this particular poem as it conveys the mood of two lovers who do not need to speak to know the presence and strength of their love, keeping together while allowing each other the space for introspection and detachment in silence. The peacefulness of togetherness in silence resonates with real experience. Silence becomes a form of communication and the poet feels he is able to communicate his innermost soul and feelings to his loved one, as they sit in silence. There is a deeper, more profound connection than when they are using normal conversation.

The last stanza echoes the first, with the repetition of the first line, but this is to take the meaning even deeper – silence could be like death, but it opens the possibility of happiness through a smile or a brief word from the loved one. It allows the true togetherness of love.

The Poetry Dude

Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold

Today’s poem, by Keats, is very often included in poetry collections, and I suppose that the final image of stout Cortez is known by just about everyone with a passing acquaintance with Romantic-era poetry. But re-reading a supposedly familiar poem is rewarding as we rediscover the whole work, and place the familiar image back into its original context. So please bring a fresh pair of eyes and ears and appreciate one of Keats’ masterful sonnets.


On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer


Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

From <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173746&gt;

First, consider the title. This poem sets out to convey the poet’s reaction to his first reading of a translation, by Chapman, into English of Homer’s epic Iliad and Odyssey. We may never have read Chapman’s Homer, but the impressions conveyed can stand for any sense of wonder we may feel when encountering great art or literature for the first time.

The first four lines position the poet as a man of experience, who has travelled and seen many things – so not someone who is easily impressed. The second four lines, talk of him knowing Homer’s reputation, but never having been able to appreciate it until reading Chapman’s version.

The final six lines of the poem are the accumulation of images describing the poet’s wonder, awe, surprise on reading this version of Homer. It is as if he is an astronomer who has discovered a new planet; or a Conquistador who has made his way, against all odds to the new World and beyond and beholds the Pacific Ocean for the first time. Cortez and his men are awe-struck and silenced by what they have done and what they are seeing, it becomes beyond words.

Keats points the way in this poem to the transcendental experience of great art, when we can go beyond our past experiences, our acquired sophistication, our analytic tendencies and allow our sense of wonder and joy to rise to the surface and get free expression. There is a life-lesson here….


The Poetry Dude

Je veux assoupir ton cafard, mon amour

This poem is by Leopold Sedar Senghor, who was President of the west African country of Senegal in the years following independence from France. He may be the only modern example of a head of state who was also a first rate poet. Wouldn’t it be great if more leading statesmen and politicians embraced poetry, the world would likely be a better place. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Senegal has been one of the most stable and prosperous countries in West Africa over the past 30 years or so.

This poem is called Spleen, which translates as something like Blues. Baudelaire wrote a number of poems around the theme of Spleen, so the title links back to a French poetic tradition, but it also connects it to the Blues as a powerful, universal music and art form.

Read and enjoy…


Je veux assoupir ton cafard, mon amour,
Et l’endormir,
Te murmurer ce vieil air de blues
Pour l’endormir.

C’est un blues mélancolique,
Un blues nostalgique,
Un blues indolent
Et lent.

Ce sont les regards des vierges couleur d’ailleurs,
L’indolence dolente des crépuscules.
C’est la savane pleurant au clair de lune,
Je dis le long solo d’une longue mélopée.

C’est un blues mélancolique,
Un blues nostalgique,
Un blues indolent
Et lent.
Léopold Sédar SENGHOR
From <http://marcmetzmoselle.eklablog.com/spleen-poeme-de-leopold-sedar-senghor-a86873177&gt;

The poem describes the poet wanting to comfort and console his lover, who is depressed, by humming or singing an old blues tune, to bring her the healing power of music and song. The slow, lazy, nostalgic melancholy of the blues will echo her mood but also take her out of it and bring her to a place of comfort and consolation. The poem reminds us that Africa has a place at the heat of the blues, ” C’est la savane pleurant au clair de lune”, but the use of the word blues throughout the poem signals a more universal significance – this is a music for all , and our lives will have more contentment if we slow down and let the blues music into our soul.

A beautiful poem from a remarkable man.

The Poetry Dude