Let the rain kiss you

I am posting this poem on the last day of April, and this year we have had an unusual amount of rain in April, at least here in east Texas, even for the month which is usually most associated with rain in the expression April showers. Langston Hughes makes this poem a celebration of rain. And quite appropriately, as most people complain about the rain and huddle indoors when it is raining or even if of just looks like it might rain. Hughes invites to rediscover the pleasure of feeling the rain fall on our heads, of splashing through the puddles, of listening to the soft plash of the raindrops falling.
The word rain is in every line of the poem, cumulatively building the agreeable sensation that we should enjoy the rain, and fittingly the final line, “I love the rain” makes explicit what we can already guess right from the first line.

April Rain Song
Poem by Langston Hughes

Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain.

From <http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/april-rain-song/&gt;

The Poetry Dude


Andaluces de Jaén,

I first came across this poem in a version which was sung by Paco Ibanez. It went under the name of the first line, “Andaluces de Jaen”, rather than the title, “Aceituneros” – the olive pickers. I suspect it is more usually known by that first line, as I understand the poem has iconic status in Andalucia. Miguel Hernandez, like Garcia Lorca, was a native of Andalusia, and like Lorca, met an untimely end at the hands of the Franco regime. Lorca was taken out and shot in the early days of the Spanish Civil War, while Hernandez was captured and thrown into jail, where he died a few years later, probably from mis-treatment. Very sad, and an incredible waste of great talent.

The poem, then, is about the olive-pickers of Andalusia, the conditions under which they worked, and a call to arms to do whatever they can to improve their condition by rising up against their social conditions and the power structure of the economy. It is both a protest and an attempt to mobilise the poor farm labourers of southern Spain, who lived precariously, in a harsh climate and subject to the whims and exploitation of large landowners. I also recommend another work on this subject, Miguel Delibes’ novel, “Los santos inocentes”.

Andaluces de Jaén,
aceituneros altivos,
decidme en el alma: ¿quién,
quién levantó los olivos?

No los levantó la nada,
ni el dinero, ni el señor,
sino la tierra callada,
el trabajo y el sudor.

Unidos al agua pura
y a los planetas unidos,
los tres dieron la hermosura
de los troncos retorcidos.

Levántate, olivo cano,
dijeron al pie del viento.
Y el olivo alzó una mano
poderosa de cimiento.

Andaluces de Jaén,
aceituneros altivos,
decidme en el alma: ¿quién
amamantó los olivos?

Vuestra sangre, vuestra vida,
no la del explotador
que se enriqueció en la herida
generosa del sudor.

No la del terrateniente
que os sepultó en la pobreza,
que os pisoteó la frente,
que os redujo la cabeza.

Árboles que vuestro afán
consagró al centro del día
eran principio de un pan
que sólo el otro comía.

¡Cuántos siglos de aceituna,
los pies y las manos presos,
sol a sol y luna a luna,
pesan sobre vuestros huesos!

Andaluces de Jaén,
aceituneros altivos,
pregunta mi alma: ¿de quién,
de quién son estos olivos?

Jaén, levántate brava
sobre tus piedras lunares,
no vayas a ser esclava
con todos tus olivares.

Dentro de la claridad
del aceite y sus aromas,
indican tu libertad
la libertad de tus lomas.

From <http://www.poesi.as/mh36050.htm&gt;

And here is a You Tube link to Paco Ibanez singing the poem. Very evocative.

Everybody in the audience is singing along in this clip, demonstrating how well-known and well-loved is this text.

The Poetry Dude

Ma bouche aura des ardeurs de géhenne

Here is another World War One poem from Guillaume Apollinaire, written in the trenches on the western front. The title, “Chef de section”, I guess would be something like platoon sergeant, I’m not sure whether that was the poet’s rank, but it is a detail which is rather immaterial to the rest of the poem. Many poems written in these circumstances focus on the absurdity and brutal suffering of war; some focus on details of the soldier’s direct experience. This poem deals with what can go through a soldier’s head as he is waiting to go over the top – not fear, or rage, or calculation, but escapist, erotic fantasy about a long kiss with his loved one. It has the ring of truth about it, particularly as Apollinaire wrote a whole collection of love poems while he was serving at the front, marrying the experience of a soldier with physical and emotional thoughts of separation and longing.

Chef de section

Ma bouche aura des ardeurs de géhenne
Ma bouche te sera un enfer de douceur et de séduction
Les anges de ma bouche trôneront dans ton cœur
Les soldats de ma bouche te prendront d’assaut
Les prêtres de ma bouche encenseront ta beauté
Ton âme s’agitera comme une région pendant un tremblement de terre
Tes yeux seront alors chargés de tout l’amour qui s’est amassé dans les regards de l’humanité depuis qu’elle existe
Ma bouche sera une armée contre toi une armée pleine de disparates
Variée comme un enchanteur qui sait varier ses métamorphoses
L’orchestre et les chœurs de ma bouche te diront mon amour
Elle te le murmure de loin
Tandis que les yeux fixés sur la montre j’attends la minute prescrite pour l’assaut

Guillaume Apollinaire(1880 – 1918)

From <http://www.toutelapoesie.com/poemes/apollinaire/chef_de_section.htm&gt;

The sensual nature of the poem is captured immediately with the opening words, “ma bouche”, and, just so we don’t forget that this poem is about kissing, “ma bouche” is repeated 6 more times through this relatively short, 12 line poem. Each time it introduces a new metaphor about the kiss which the poet so desires, and which occupies his thoughts. The kiss has elements of infernal suffering alongside elements of ecstasy and pleasure. Great forces are at work in the kiss – angels, priests, an earthquake, an army, a wizard, an orchestra and choir , this is no ordinary kiss, it channels all the energy and emotion of a great, impossible love. Of course, it is not a real kiss, it is the fantasy of a soldier who knows he is about to into harm’s way and might die in the forthcoming attack. The last line of the poem, almost a throwaway, brings us back from the fantasy to that reality, as the poet looks at his watch and waits for the time planned for the next attack. There is a sharp contrast between the neutral, sparse tone of this last line, and the emotionally charged language which precedes it, describing the desired kiss.

Fantasy can help, but ultimately there is no escape from reality.

Another reason I like Apollinaire is that he had such a fabulous vocabulary, I almost always learn a new word or two from his poems. How about “gehenne” in the first line?

The Poetry Dude

With what attentive courtesy he bent

Frances Cornford was either grand-daughter or great-niece of Charles Darwin, he of the theory of evolution; and mother of the young Spanish Civil War poet, John Cornford, who was killed in action. But her poetry has a voice which deserves to be heard in its own right, not just as an addendum to other famous lives.
This poem is a wonderful vignette, capturing a moment which can easily be missed but which has its own delicate beauty. And I always enjoy the tuning up whenever I go to a concert.

The Guitarist Tunes Up
Poem by Frances Darwin Cornford
With what attentive courtesy he bent
Over his instrument;
Not as a lordly conquerer who could
Command both wire and wood,
But as a man with a loved woman might,
Inquiring with delight
What slight essential things she had to say
Before they started, he and she, to play.

From <http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-guitarist-tunes-up/&gt;

The central image here is of the guitarist leaning over his instrument as if he was caressing his lover, and, in a sense, it is a similar experience of oneness and single-minded attention. And both moments, tuning the guitar and getting up close with a lover, usually lead to sweet music afterwards.

The Poetry Dude

Ton ciel toujours un peu

Proust was such an elegant, incisive and precise prose writer in his descriptions of places, of artworks, of musical compositions and of literature, it is interesting to see whether he can replicate this in what is seemingly the even more rigorous medium of poetry.

This poem is about Proust’s vision of Dordrecht, (a town in the Netherlands). I read this like a poetic picture postcard (if there is anyone who still knows what a picture postcard is), recounting the scenes of a charming old Dutch town and how it makes the poet feel. I am tempted to compare this with all those sections of La Recherche, where Proust describes Vermeer’s View of Delft, with its little yellow patch of wall. But in fact, this is lighter and more accessible, and it almost seems as if Proust is playing with the rhyme scheme as much as conveying a sense of place.

Overall, it is an enjoyable piece, even if somewhat secondary compared to Proust’s major work.


Ton ciel toujours un peu
Le matin souvent un peu
Dordrecht endroit si beau
De mes illusions chéries
Quand j’essaye à dessiner
Tes canaux, tes toits, ton clocher
Je me sens comme aimer
Des patries
Mais le soleil et les cloches
Ont bien vite resséché
Pour la grand-messe et les brioches
Ton luisant clocher
Ton ciel bleu
Souvent pleut
Mais dessous toujours un peu
Reste bleu.

Marcel Proust, Poèmes

From <http://www.poetica.fr/poeme-1682/marcel-proust-dordrecht/&gt;

Blue sky and rain, canals, rooftops, church belltowers, all this would be familiar to anyone who has wandered around a Dutch town. I have never been to Dordrecht, but can vouch that such scenes can be experienced in Utrecht, the Hague, Groningen, Scheveningen, Delpht and others. Proust throws up his hands at his failure to adequately portray these scenes (“Tombeau de mes illusions cheries Quand j’essaye a dessiner…), but is he talking literally about drawing or is he claiming his words on the page fall short of his aspiration. Could be either, although I never heard of him doing much drawing in the literal sense.

I will pull out this poem next time I go to the Netherlands…

The Poetry Dude

De quince a veinte es niña; buena moza

Instead of Shakespeare’s seven ages of man (from As You Like It), here are Quevedo’s seven ages of women, (except the careful reader will notice that Quevedo has eight ages of women, dividing their lives into five year intervals from 15 to 55). I think most people would see this as very much written from the man’s point of view – the characteristics of women at their various age points are not necessarily positive, although that is not always the case. I sense an appreciation of women between the ages of 20 and 30, but after that, everything gets more difficult.


De quince a veinte es niña; buena moza
de veinte a veinticinco, y por la cuenta
gentil mujer de veinticinco a treinta.
¡Dichoso aquel que en tal edad la goza!

De treinta a treinta y cinco no alboroza;
mas puédese comer con sal pimienta;
pero de treinta y cinco hasta cuarenta
anda en vísperas ya de una coroza.

A los cuarenta y cinco es bachillera,
ganguea, pide y juega del vocablo;
cumplidos los cincuenta, da en santera,

y a los cincuenta y cinco echa el retablo.
Niña, moza, mujer, vieja, hechicera,
bruja y santera, se la lleva el diablo.

From <http://www.los-poetas.com/f/quev1.htm&gt;

In fact, the whole of the sonnet sequences nicely from youthful innocence and charm in the first four lines, covering the years from 15 to 30; the next four lines cover the years from 30 to 40 and portrays woman as becoming more disputatious and contrarian, and even possible fodder for the Spanish Inquisition (although nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition…). The next 3 lines cover the period from 45 to 50, where she is too clever for her own good and wants people to believe she is some kind of saint. The final three lines take her past 55, when all she wants is to be some sort of icon. But then the kick in the tail comes in the final two lines and sum up what Quevedo was really trying to convey about women, with a great sequence of nouns building a cumulative impact. Girl, maid, woman, old woman, sorceress, witch, false saint, let the devil take her at whatever stage…

So I guess this is the opposite of a love poem.

The Poetry Dude

Si mes écrits, Ronsard, sont semés de ton los, 

If du Bellay and Ronsard are often associated together (like eggs and bacon, or Scooby and Shaggy) it is because they were both the prime movers in the then-modern French poetic movement La Pleiade in the middle of the 16th century. But above all, as this poem shows, they were friends and collaborators in the best tradition.

This is a poem, indeed a sonnet, written by du Bellay to Ronsard, to defend them both from the accusation that they praised each other’s work from self-interest. The poem is well=articulated, achieves its goal, and demonstrates a real friendship and mutual admiration between the two great poets.

Joachim DU BELLAY   (1522-1560)

Si mes écrits, Ronsard, sont semés de ton los
Si mes écrits, Ronsard, sont semés de ton los,
Et si le mien encor tu ne dédaignes dire,
D’être enclos en mes vers ton honneur ne désire,
Et par là je ne cherche en tes vers être enclos.

Laissons donc, je te prie, laissons causer ces sots,
Et ces petits galants, qui, ne sachant que dire,
Disent, voyant Ronsard et Bellay s’entr’écrire,
Que ce sont deux mulets qui se grattent le dos.

Nos louanges, Ronsard, ne font tort à personne :
Et quelle loi défend que l’un à l’autre en donne,
Si les amis entre eux des présents se font bien ?

On peut comme l’argent trafiquer la louange,
Et les louanges sont comme lettres de change,
Dont le change et le port, Ronsard, ne coûte rien.

From <http://www.poesie.webnet.fr/lesgrandsclassiques/poemes/joachim_du_bellay/si_mes_ecrits_ronsard_sont_semes_de_ton_los.html&gt;

The first four lines set out the premise that Ronsard shouldn’t be upset by being praised in du Bellay’s poems and vice-versa. It is something that comes naturally, and not by mutual arrangement.

The poem continues by taking the moral high ground – if the two poets seen no harm in this, and don’t take offense, why should they pay attention to those fools who criticize them for scratching each other’s back. After all, they are doing no harm to anyone, and there is no law against it. And the final argument, in the last three lines, is that mutual praise is like currency in that it has value, but unlike currency or bills of exchange, because it costs nothing.

More than a defense of their mutual admiration and the expression of it in their poetry, this piece demonstrates an affinity and a shared experience between the two poets which is quite admirable.

The Poetry Dude