Perdonadme: he dormido.

Today we will add to the pantheon of Andalusian poets featured on this blog, after such as Gongora, Machado, Lorca and Hernandez. Vicente Aleixandre qrote in the 20th century. But unlike many of his contemporaries he did not go into exile under the Franco regime.

This poem talks of the legacy a poet can leave, what is fleeting and what can endure. And the reflections do not just apply to poets of course. There is something for everyone here.

El poeta se acuerda de su vida

Perdonadme: he dormido.
Y dormir no es vivir. Paz a los hombres.
Vivir no es suspirar o presentir palabras que aún nos vivan.
¿Vivir en ellas? Las palabras mueren.
Bellas son al sonar, mas nunca duran.
Así esta noche clara. Ayer cuando la aurora
o cuando el día cumplido estira el rayo
final, ya en tu rostro acaso.
Con tu pincel de luz cierra tus ojos.
La noche es larga, pero ya ha pasado.

From <;

Life seems long but in reality when life nears its end, it seems like it has been over in just a moment. Direct experience of seeing and feeling can seem very vivid and real, but it passes quickly. Words are no better, they can sound beautiful, but they will also fade and die.

Here is a poet with no illusions about gaining immortality through his work. It is enough to exercise his talent in the moment, for its own sake, with no expectation of remembrance or lasting impact. And, why not? The moment is all we have and most of us will all be forgotten when life has come to an end.
The Poetry Dude

Je meurs de seuf auprés de la fontaine,

Today we return to Paris in the 1400s with another poem from Villon, a sort of Vinnie Jones of his time, but always ready to surprise and entertain us with his verse. In this poem, the poet is dying of thirst (seuf=soif) right next to a drinking fountain and goes on to list in almost every line another paradoxical contradiction of his condition. Confusing, but clever…

Je meurs de soif auprés de la fontaine

Je meurs de seuf auprés de la fontaine,
Chault comme feu et tremble dent a dent,
En mon pays suis en terre loingtaine,
Lez ung brasier frisonne tout ardent,
Nu comme ung ver, vestu en president,
Je riz en pleurs et attens sans espoir,
Confort reprens en triste desespoir,
Je m’esjoys et n’ay plasir aucun,
Puissant je suis sans force et sans pouoir,
Bien recueully, debouté de chascun.

Riens ne m’est seur que la chose incertaine,
Obsucur fors ce qui est tout evident,
Doubte ne fais fors en chose certaine,
Scïence tiens a soudain accident,
Je gaigne tout et demeure perdent,
Au point du jour diz “Dieu vous doint bon soir ! “,
Gisant envers j’ay grand paeur de chëoir,
J’ay bien de quoy et si n’en ay pas ung,
Eschoicte actens et d’omme ne suis hoir,
Bien recueully, debouté de chascun.

De rien n’ay soing, si mectz toute m’atayne
D’acquerir biens et n’y suis pretendent,
Qui mieulx me dit, c’est cil qui plus m’actaine,
Et qui plus vray, lors plus me va bourdent,
Mon ami est qui me faict entendent
D’ung cigne blanc que c’est ung corbeau noir,
Et qui me nuyst, croy qu’i m’ayde a pourvoir,
Bourde, verté, au jour d’uy m’est tout ung,
Je retiens tout, rien ne sçay concepvoir,
Bien recueully, debouté de chascun.

Prince clement, or vous plaise sçavoir
Que j’entens moult et n’ay sens ne sçavoir;
Parcïal suis, a toutes loys commun.
Que sais je plus ? Quoy ! les gaiges ravoir,

From <;

Each of the first three stanzas finishes up with the line that he is given a good welcome and rejected by everyone. This sums up all the contradictions which precedes the line in each stanza, and may reflect the turmoil in Villon’s own life as well as being a display of the poet’s inventive wordplay and wit.

Some of the lines I particularly like…

“I laugh in tears and wait with no hope” (line 6 – that could be from a Samuel Beckett play)
“Nothing is sure except uncertainty” (line 11 – straight from a capital investment guide)
“My friend is he who tells me a white swan is a black crow” (lines 25 and 26)

The final four lines are addressed to the mercy of the Prince and declare that the poet supports all the laws. This indeed is a paradox, knowing what we do about Villon’s life. I think the final line is asking the Prince for the return of money paid as a fine or perhaps as a bond for good behaviour. I hope he got it, if only as a reward for the entertainment value of the poem.

The Poetry Dude

My name is Johnson–

This poem is an uplifting tribute by Langston Hughes to strong, determined women battling the odds to overcome adversity. It is written in the first person, capturing the voice of a woman who has constantly strived to make the best of her life and done what she needed to do to bounce back from setbacks. The period is the 1930s, the place is the USA, most likely the Harlem district of New York City, and the context is the great depression in which millions of Americans became unemployed, leading to poverty and misery.

But the human spirit triumphs, and this is what Hughes is celebrating with the story of Madam Alberta K. Johnson.

Madam’s Past History

My name is Johnson–
Madam Alberta K.
The Madam stands for business.
I’m smart that way.

I had a
The depression put
The prices lower.

Then I had a
Till I got mixed up
With a no-good man.

Cause I had a insurance
Said, We can’t use you
Wealthy that way.

I said,
Just like the song,
You WPA folks take care of yourself–
And I’ll get along.

I do cooking,
Day’s work, too!
Alberta K. Johnson–
Madam to you.

Langston Hughes

From <;

The whole tone of the poem is of a can-do, positive attitude. Madam Johnson shows pride in her efforts and achievements, by insisting on the use of Madam, by emphasising the businesses she has run, and her independence. The WPA was a government agency in the 1930s set up to provide work to the mass unemployed. But Madam Johnson seems delighted that she is not eligible for their programmes. She will get along on her own merits and efforts, whether it is by cooking , or any other work she can get. This is the American way.

The Poetry Dude

Equivocar el camino

Today we have an unusually disorienting and disturbing poem from Federico Garcia Lorca. It does not have a theme from his native Andalucia. It is not about love, or war or tradition. Instead it is a strange mix of images of snow, a woman, chickens, cemeteries, volcanoes, the number two, children pushing into the eyes of an assassin… It reminds me most of one of those fairly early Bob Dylan songs where the language was primarily directed at expressing alienation (eg It’s a Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall, or Subterranean Homesick Blues).

And maybe the title is a joke – Lorca’s definition of infinity could be the time you spend trying to impute meaning to this poem.

Federico García Lorca
Pequeño poema infinito

Equivocar el camino
es llegar a la nieve
y llegar a la nieve
es pacer durante veinte siglos las hierbas de los cementerios.

Equivocar el camino
es llegar a la mujer,
la mujer que no teme la luz,
la mujer que no teme a los gallos
y los gallos que no saben cantar sobre la nieve.

Pero si la nieve se equivoca de corazón
puede llegar el viento Austro
y como el aire no hace caso de los gemidos
tendremos que pacer otra vez las hierbas de los cementerios.

Yo vi dos dolorosas espigas de cera
que enterraban un paisaje de volcanes
y vi dos niños locos que empujaban llorando las pupilas de un asesino.

Pero el dos no ha sido nunca un número
porque es una angustia y su sombra,
porque es la guitarra donde el amor se desespera,
porque es la demostración de otro infinito que no es suyo
y es las murallas del muerto
y el castigo de la nueva resurrección sin finales.
Los muertos odian el número dos,
pero el número dos adormece a las mujeres
y como la mujer teme la luz
la luz tiembla delante de los gallos
y los gallos sólo saben votar sobre la nieve
tendremos que pacer sin descanso las hierbas de los cementerios.

From <;

There is a kind of gentle hypnotic effect which Lorca achieves by the repetition of words, and even of phrases throughout the poem. And this seems to me to be magnified by the lengthening of the lines in the second half of the poem. You are tempted to read the later lines faster than the earlier lines to get more words into each breath, and this increases the intensity of the experience of alienation and mystery.

The Poetry Dude

J’ai la beauté facile et c’est heureux.

Here is a somewhat enigmatic poem from Paul Eluard. Entitled “La Parole”, the Word, it consists of a series of mysterious I statements for the first 10 lines of the poem, followed by a final two lines in which the I of the poem is surrounded by falling shadows. It is almost like a riddle or guessing game – who or what is the I making these statements?

Or, echoing the Beckett poem posted here on August 12th, What is the Word…

La Parole

J’ai la beauté facile et c’est heureux.
Je glisse sur les toits des vents
Je glisse sur le toit des mers
Je suis devenue sentimentale
Je ne connais plus le conducteur
Je ne bouge plus soie sur les glaces
Je suis malade fleurs et cailloux
J’aime le plus chinois aux nues
J’aime la plus nue aux écarts d’oiseau
Je suis vieille mais ici je suis belle
Et l’ombre qui descend des fenêtres profondes
Epargne chaque soir le coeur noir de mes yeux.

Paul Eluard, Capitale de la douleur, 1923

From <;

Or maybe the I is different in every case? Despite the gender of the poet, we can easily see that the I is a female figure, at least according to the verb agreement and adjectival forms in lines 4 and 10. But that’s about as far as I can go in any kind of logical interpretation of what is going on.

So, let’s just enjoy the words on the page

The Poetry Dude

Saps on és la fageda d’en Jordà?

Here is a poem of place by Joan Maragall, and it certainly makes the reader want to visit it. La Fageda d’En Jorda is a site of outstanding natural beauty, a beech forest growing out of an old volcanic lava flow, in an area of long-standing volcanic activity in the Catalan province of Girona, 100 or so miles north-east of Barcelona. Since the poem was written well over 100 years ago, it must have had even more of an unspoilt charm when visited by Maragall.


Saps on és la fageda d’en Jordà ?
Si vas pels volts d’Olot, amunt del pla,
trobaràs un indret verd i pregon
com mai més n’hagis trobat al món:
un verd com d’aigua endins, pregon i clar;
el verd de la fageda d’en Jordà.
El caminant, quan entra en aquest lloc,
comença a caminar-hi poc a poc;
compta els seus passos en la gran quietud
s’atura, i no sent res, i està perdut.
Li agafa un dolç oblit de tot el món
en el silenci d’aquell lloc pregon,
i no pensa en sortir o hi pensa en va:
és pres de la fageda d’en Jordà,
presoner del silenci i la verdor.
Oh companyia! Oh deslliurant presó!

From <;

The poem starts with a question, “Do you know where id the Fageda d’en Jorda”, perhaps not altogether a rhetorical question. But it also gives a natural lead-in to the poem’s description of the place, first situating it on the plain above the city of Olot. The poet then describes it as a green and attractive place, like nowhere else in the world. A place of greenery, but also with clear water.

The poet then describes how the place draws in the visitor, inciting to walk about and explore, but so caught up in the beauty and the atmosphere that he will soon get lost. But it doesn’t matter, because the visitor is soothed by the silence and calm of the place, such that he may never consider leaving. In fact the visitor can easily become a prisoner of the silence and greenery of this enchanting place. A sweet prison indeed.

Put this on the list for your next visit to Catalunya (I missed it when I lived there some years ago).

The Poetry Dude

In 1936, a child

Quite a number of poets I have featured here were badly, sometimes fatally affected by the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s – Antonio Machado, Rafael Alberti and Leon Felipe were exiled, John Cornford and Federico Garcia Lorca were killed, Miguel Hernandez was imprisoned and died in prison. This poem from Lisel Mueller gives a different experience as the Spanish War happened when she was a child in Germany. Hitler’s Germany was, of course a great supporter of the Franco side in the Spanish Civil War, supplying extensive support in terms of financial aid, airpower and even some troops.
This poem gives Lisel Mueller’s feelings about finding out about the tragedy of the Spanish War later, as an adult (having fled Nazi Germany when a teenager).
The title Blood Oranges refers of course to one of Spain’s notable types of produce, the orange, but also the blood that was on the hands of Germany, that the poet was unaware of until much later. It is a belated recognition of the suffering in Spain and a tribute to the poets that lost their lives or their futures in the Spanish conflict.

Blood Oranges

In 1936, a child
in Hitler’s Germany,
what did I know about the war in Spain?
Andalusia was a tango
on a wind-up gramophone,
Franco a hero’s face in the paper.
No one told me about a poet
for whose sake I might have learned Spanish
bleeding to death on a barren hill.
All I knew of Spain
were those precious imported treats
we splurged on for Christmas.
I remember pulling the sections apart,
lining them up, sucking each one
slowly, so the red sweetness
would last and last —
while I was reading a poem
by a long-dead German poet
in which the woods stood safe
under the moon’s milky e
and the white fog in the meadows
aspired to become lighter than air.

Lisel Mueller

From <;

The first few lines justify the poet’s ignorance – she was a child, Spain was a far-off country with vague familiarities – Andalusia and the tango (but the tango is from Argentina, a child would easily mix these up). Then the poem takes a sinister turn, she recalls seeing Franco portrayed as a hero in the newspapers – the Franco who established a bloody and repressive military dictatorship that was to last almost 40 years.

Then there is a reference to a poet bleeding to death in Spain – a later realisation, this is probably Lorca, although it could be Cornford. The death of a poet in such a way must make a particular impact on other poets. The poem then goes back to Lisel Mueller’s own experience of that time, enjoying imported candy from Spain and reading the German romantic poets. There is a mixture of nostalgia and horror in the way in which the poet looks back on this time.

But in recognising this conflict and facing it head on in this poem, Lisel Mueller is finally able to demonstrate solidarity with the defeated peoples and poets of Spain, using the medium whu=ich brings them most honour.

The Poetry Dude