Dans Paris il y a une rue

Today’s poem by Paul Eluard combines the theme of the great city of Paris, with the rhythm and structure of a nursery rhyme and the idea, often linked with the revolutionary history of the Paris mob, of the overturning of the established order in which those at the bottom overthrow and destroy those at the top.

Dans Paris

Paul Eluard

Dans Paris il y a une rue;

Dans cette rue il y a une maison;

Dans cette maison il y a un escalier;

Dans cet escalier il y a une chambre;

Dans cette chambre il y a une table;

Sur cette table il y a un tapis;

Sur ce tapis il y a une cage;

Dans cette cage il y a un nid;

Dans ce nid il y a un œuf,

Dans cet œuf il y a un oiseau.

L’oiseau renversa l’œuf;

L’œuf renversa le nid;

Le nid renversa la cage;

La cage renversa le tapis;

Le tapis renversa la table;

La table renversa la chambre;

La chambre renversa l’escalier;

L’escalier renversa la maison;

la maison renversa la rue;

la rue renversa la ville de Paris.

From <http://lakanal.net/poesie/dansparis.htm>

The nursery rhyme element of this is clear – it is like a Russian doll, where one piece contains another and so on down to the smallest element. So it starts with the street and continues by steps until getting to the bird, which is in the egg. Each line therefore repeats the key element of the previous line and then build on it by revealing the next element. Remember “The house that Jack built” or “There was an old woman who swallowed a fly” for this construction.

The difference comes in the second half of the poem where the sequence of connections goes into reverse, and the elements at the bottom of the pyramid sequentially overthrow what was above them. This is the part where the revolutionary tradition of Paris comes into play, and the history of the downtrodden masses taking to the streets from 1789 to 1968 (and even up to the present day) is portrayed with the final line literally describing what has so often happened in French and Parisian history.

The Poetry Dude

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Aunque en ricos montones

 

Today let’s enjoy Fray Luis’s sixteenth century rant against a corrupt and grasping judge. Presumably the poet or one of his circle must have been on the wrong side of this judge’s demands or decisions. Its just a pity that Fray Luis did not name the judge – but presumably his circle of readers would have known who was the target of the poem. And since this kind of situation still exists today in too many jurisdictions, we can use the same arguments of Fray Luis to highlight the corruption in public office.

 

ODA XVI – CONTRA UN JUEZ AVARO

Fray Luis de Leon

 

Aunque en ricos montones

levantes el cautivo inútil oro;

y aunque tus posesiones

mejores con ajeno daño y lloro;

 

y aunque cruel tirano

oprimas la verdad, y tu avaricia,

vestida en nombre vano,

convierta en compra y venta la justicia;

 

aunque engañes los ojos

del mundo a quien adoras: no por tanto

no nacerán abrojos

agudos en tu alma; ni el espanto

 

no velará en tu lecho;

ni huirás la cúita y agonía,

el último despecho;

ni la esperanza buena en compañía

 

del gozo tus umbrales

penetrará jamás; ni la Meguera,

con llamas infernales,

con serpentino azote la alta y fiera

 

y diestra mano armada,

saldrá de tu aposento sola una hora;

y ni tendrás clavada

la rueda, aunque más puedas, voladora

 

del Tiempo hambriento y crudo,

que viene, con la muerte conjurado,

a dejarte desnudo

del oro y cuanto tienes más amado;

y quedarás sumido

en males no finibles y en olvido.

 

 

 

From <http://www.poemas-del-alma.com/fray-luis-de-leon-oda-xvi—contra-un-juez-avaro.htm>

 

The first two and a half stanzas set up the portrait of an avaricious and grasping judge, piling up mountains of gold at the expense of others’ distress, suppressing truth, treating justice as a commodity to be bought and sold and seeking approval and acceptance from the rich and high-born We can all recognize this figure, and not only among judges. Using public office as a means of private gain goes back to the Romans and beyond and is still prevalent today, even in countries where we assume the rule of law for all is accepted. Just look at the news headlines almost any day.

 

I wonder if this poem was also associated with Fray Luis’s own imprisonment on charges of heresy – he spent about four years in prison in the mid 1570s on charges of heresy before being eventually exonerated and released.

 

The rest of the poem enumerates the unpleasant consequences for the judge of his corruption and avarice – sharp thistles in his soul, being unable to sleep at night, mortality, lack of capacity for enjoyment; the Meguera, in Greek mythology the instrument of divine vengeance, will never leave his side; and he will be unable to stop the passage of time, bringing death and the loss of all the gold he has accumulated. The judge will finish up with eternal suffering, presumably in hell, while he will be forgotten on earth.

 

I am guessing the judge would have been motivated by more immediate incentives though.

 

The Poetry Dude

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One thing that literature would be greatly the better for

Here is a poem by Ogden Nash, which is very tongue-in-cheek, mockingly protesting about the pervasiveness of simile and metaphor in literature in general, and poetry in particular. Wouldn’t it be clearer, less confusing and more straightforward to always call a spade a spade. Well, I guess this would satisfy those who see literal meaning everywhere, even in the face of obvious metaphor, but it would sure make reading literature more boring.

Nash takes his title, “Very like a whale”, from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, (Act 3, Scene 2) when Hamlet is telling Polonius what he sees in the clouds. One of them seems like a whale to Hamlet, and Polonius, humouring him replies, “Very like a whale” – we have t assume that Polonius doesn’t get the image at all. But then there is nothing more of this in the poem itself, which instead turns its ironic attention to Lord Byron’s poem “The Destruction of Sennacherib” in which the first two lines read “The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold, And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold”.

Read on to see how Ogden Nash deconstructs this, pointing out the literal ridiculousness of Byron’s metaphor…

Very Like a Whale

Ogden Nash

One thing that literature would be greatly the better for

Would be a more restricted employment by the authors of simile and

   metaphor.

Authors of all races, be they Greeks, Romans, Teutons or Celts,

Can’t seem just to say that anything is the thing it is but have to

   go out of their way to say that it is like something else.

What does it mean when we are told

That that Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold?

In the first place, George Gordon Byron had enough experience

To know that it probably wasn’t just one Assyrian, it was a lot of

   Assyrians.

However, as too many arguments are apt to induce apoplexy and

   thus hinder longevity.

We’ll let it pass as one Assyrian for the sake of brevity.

Now then, this particular Assyrian, the one whose cohorts were

   gleaming in purple and gold,

Just what does the poet mean when he says he came down like a

   wolf on the fold?

In heaven and earth more than is dreamed of in our philosophy

   there are great many things.

But I don’t imagine that among them there is a wolf with purple

   and gold cohorts or purple and gold anythings.

No, no, Lord Byron, before I’ll believe that this Assyrian was

   actually like a wolf I must have some kind of proof;

Did he run on all fours and did he have a hairy tail and a big red

   mouth and big white teeth and did he say Woof Woof?

Frankly I think it is very unlikely, and all you were entitled to say,

   at the very most,

Was that the Assyrian cohorts came down like a lot of Assyrian

   cohorts about to destroy the Hebrew host.

But that wasn’t fancy enough for Lord Byron, oh dear me no, he

   had to invent a lot of figures of speech and then interpolate them,

With the result that whenever you mention Old Testament soldiers

   to people they say Oh yes, they’re the ones that a lot of

   wolves dressed up in gold and purple ate them.

From <https://allpoetry.com/Ogden-Nash>

Nice perspective Mr. Nash – but Byron’s poem is pleasing enough to most, and we get what he meant.

Also note the rhyming couplets in Nash’s poem – sometimes he has to craft exceedingly long lines to make the rhymes work, and then some of the rhymes are pretty outrageous. The irony is that here he is following Byron, who also wrote his poem in rhyming couplets, some of which were also quite a stretch.

But its all in good fun, so let’s enjoy.

The Poetry Dude

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La ginesta altre vegada,

Here is a poem from Joan Maragall in which he goes in for extreme nature-loving, transporting himself into physical raptures of pleasure upon finding a yellow broom tree (ginesta) while hiking up a hill. The yellow broom is considered a nationalist symbol by Catalan nationaists, so this probably goes a long way towards explaining the poet’s unbridled enthusiasm for the tree. Let’s assume so at any rate, rather than any one of the more bizarre possible explanations…

 

LA GINESTA

Joan Maragall

 

La ginesta altre vegada,

la ginesta amb tanta olor,

és la meva enamorada

que ve al temps de la calor.

Per a fer-li una abraçada

he pujat dalt del serrat:

de la primera besada

m’ha deixat tot perfumat.

Feia un vent que enarborava,

feia un sol molt resplendent:

la ginesta es regirava

furiosa al sol rient.

Jo la prenc per la cintura:

la tisora va en renou

desflorant tanta hermosura

fins que el cor me n’ha dit prou.

Amb un vimet que creixia

innocent a vora seu

he lligat la dolça aimia

ben estreta en un pom breu.

Quan l’he tinguda lligada

m’he girat de cara al mar…

M’he girat al mar de cara,

que brillava com cristall;

he aixecat el pom enlaire

i he arrencat a córrer avall.

 

From <http://lletra.uoc.edu/especials/folch/maragall.htm>

 

Bu whatever the motivation, the poem describes the poet climbing a hill to meet his lover, enjoying her scent, putting his arms around her and kissing her, tying a bouquet of the yellow flowers with a piece of ivy, turning to look at a view of the sea,  and then lifting it in the air to run back down the hill. And the lover is not a girl, it is the broom tree and its yellow flowers.

 

Nature can indeed have truly inspirational powers.

 

The Poetry Dude

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Parfois, tout d’un coup, sans cause visible, s’étend sur moi un grand frisson de bonheur.

This poem on happiness by Henri Michaux is somewhat unusual in the way it deals with a fairly common theme in poetry. For there is nothing here about the causes, context or consequences of happiness. The poem focusses entirely on the sensations of happiness, the spine-tingling moment when your whole body experiences a moment of exhilaration, of plenitude, of happiness. There is no place here for reasoning, for interpretation, for justifications, it is the physical experience itself which both denotes and conveys happiness in the moment.

And at the end of the poem, look how the poet shakes it off and moves on…

BONHEUR

PAR HENRI MICHAUX

Parfois, tout d’un coup, sans cause visible, s’étend sur moi un grand frisson de bonheur.

Venant d’un centre de moi-même si intérieur que je l’ignorais, il met, quoique roulant à une vitesse extrême, il met un temps considérable à se développer

jusqu’à mes extrémités.

Ce frisson est parfaitement pur.

Si longuement qu’il chemine en moi, jamais il ne rencontre d’organe bas, ni d’ailleurs d’aucune sorte, ni ne rencontre non plus idées ni sensations, tant est absolue son

intimité.

Et

Lui et moi sommes parfaitement seuls.

Peut-être bien, me parcourant dans toutes mes parties, demande-t-il au passage à celles-ci : «

Eh bien? ça va?

Est-ce que je peux faire quelque chose pour vous ici? »

C’est possible, et qu’il les réconforte à sa façon.

Mais je ne suis pas mis au courant.

Je voudrais aussi crier mon bonheur, mais quoi dire? cela est si strictement personnel.

Bientôt la jouissance est trop forte.

Sans que je m’en rende compte, en quelques secondes cela est devenu une souffrance atroce, un assassinat.

La paraiysie! me dis-je.

Je fais vite quelques mouvements, je m’asperge de beaucoup d’eau, ou plus simplement, je me couche sur le ventre et cela passe.

From <http://www.poemes.co/bonheur.html>

The sensation of happiness is paradoxical – it has no known cause, but comes from deep inside the poet. It comes on extremely fast, but takes a long time to pervade throughout his body. He imagines a conversation between the sensation and his body parts, as it travels, but a conversation in which the poet’s conscious self can take no part. Soon the sensation becomes too strong, almost indistinguishable from suffering, as if he was being murdered or paralysed. At that point, the poet’s conscious self takes action – either take a shower or lie down to recover.

You can have too much of a good thing.

The Poetry Dude

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Dije: Todo ya pleno.

This wonderful poem by Jorge Guillen is to capture a moment when the world seems to stand still, when the poet is open to capture and appreciate the sights, sounds and smells of the world around him. It happens to be at 12 o’clock mid-day, but I think and hope we can all make this experience happen for ourselves at any hour – just stand still and let the beauty of the world raise our hearts and replenish our optimism.

LAS DOCE EN EL RELOJ

Jorge Guillen

Dije: Todo ya pleno.

Un álamo vibró.

Las hojas plateadas

Sonaron con amor.

Los verdes eran grises,

El amor era sol.

Entonces, mediodía,

Un pájaro sumió

Su cantar en el viento

Con tal adoración

Que se sintió cantada

Bajo el viento la flor

Crecida entre las mieses,

Más altas. Era yo,

Centro en aquel instante

De tanto alrededor,

Quien lo veía todo

Completo para un dios.

Dije: Todo, completo.

¡Las doce en el reloj!

From <http://www.poemas-del-alma.com/jorge-guillen-las-doce-en-el-reloj.htm>

The key to the poem, for me at least, are the two expressions of plenitude, in the first line “Todo ya plenp” and in the next-to-last line, “Todo completo”. The poet is experiencing and communicating complete, transcendental harmony with his surroundings and nothing could conceivably add to the depth and beauty of his experience. He acknowledges of course that it is an entirely personal experience – in both cases, the phrase is preceded by “Dije” – I said. Each person has to be open to receive the beauty of the world, and this is also a reminder that we can all make ourselves open to this kind of experience.

The rest of the poem are the wonderfully and economically described examples of the beauties of nature which the poet becomes conscious of, this midday, using his heightened awareness – the willow tree gently shaking in the breeze, the silvery leaves changing in colour from green to grey as the light catches them in a different way, the bird singing as it flies in the wind. All these convey love, and it is with a sense of wonder that the poet realises that he is in the center of so much beauty and able to recognise and appreciate it. Like a god.

We should all take five minutes or so every day and just open up our senses to our surroundings, without reflection, without judgement, just to appreciate and become one with our world.

The power of poetry….

The Poetry Dude

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i like my body when it is with your

Here is an ee cummings love poem, which is pretty clearly about sex – tender, loving sex, mot probably, but the intent is to convey the physical sensations of that most ubiquitous contact sport, not to go off into the higher meanings or metaphorical parallels of love.

He also uses one upper case letter to start a sentence (look at line 3).

The e e, by the way, stands for Edward Estlin.

E. E. Cummings

(1894 – 1962)

i like my body when it is with your

body. It is so quite new a thing.

Muscles better and nerves more.

i like your body.  i like what it does,

i like its hows.  i like to feel the spine

of your body and its bones,and the trembling

-firm-smooth ness and which i will

again and again and again

kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,

i like, slowly stroking the,shocking fuzz

of your electric furr,and what-is-it comes

over parting flesh….And eyes big love-crumbs,

and possibly i like the thrill

of under me you so quite new

From <http://hellopoetry.com/e-e-cummings/>

You can read this as a list of what the poet likes when he is having sex, and compare it what we may like. Or you can read it as an interpretation of what the poet may say to his lover in the aftermath of the act itself. Note that that there is only one “I like” referring to himself, in the first line, and even there it is dependent on the interaction with his lover. All the other repetitions of “I like: refer to aspects of his lover and her body. Which is as it should be.

The Poetry Dude

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