Al ver mis horas de fiebre 

For the 61st of his sequence of rhymes, Spanish romantic poet Gustavo Adolfo Becquer meditates on his own insignificance, or, if you prefer, indulges in an extended expression of self pity. From sickness through death, burial and posterity, nobody will care for or even remember this poet. Well, today’s blog post proves that idea wrong, 150 years or so later…

Rima 61

Gustavo Adolfo Becquer

Al ver mis horas de fiebre

e insomnio lentas pasar,

a la orilla de mi lecho,

¿quién se sentará?

Cuando la trémula mano

tienda, próximo a expirar,

buscando una mano amiga,

¿quién la estrechará?

Cuando la muerte vidríe

de mis ojos el cristal,

mis párpados aún abiertos,

¿quién los cerrará?

Cuando la campana suene

(si suena en mi funeral)

una oración, al oírla,

¿quién murmurará?

Cuando mis pálidos restos

oprima la tierra ya,

sobre la olvidada fosa,

¿quién vendrá a llorar?

¿Quién en fin, al otro día,

cuando el sol vuelva a brillar,

de que pasé por el mundo

quién se acordará?

From <http://www.poemas-del-alma.com/rima-lxi.htm>

The poem describes a gradual descent from fever to death and oblivion for the poet, with at each stage nobody who cares, nobody who notices and ultimately nobody who remembers. Each four line stanza describes one step in this lonely and forlorn process in which the poet ends up completely forgotten by all, even if each stanza ends with the question, asking who will be there, who will weep, who will remember, the answer is understood. But the world will continue and the cycle start again, with another day, another poet, and so on, and so on…

The Poetry Dude

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Four Seasons fill the measure of the year;

Shakespeare famously told of the seven ages of man, and here is Keats simplifying man’s time span down into four seasons, and cramming it all into a sonnet. Each season is neatly encapsulated in one stanza. To make this analogy work, you have to start with the season of Spring, which of course, departs from the calendar year, which starts in winter.

The Human Seasons

BY JOHN KEATS

Four Seasons fill the measure of the year;

     There are four seasons in the mind of man:

He has his lusty Spring, when fancy clear

     Takes in all beauty with an easy span:

He has his Summer, when luxuriously

     Spring’s honied cud of youthful thought he loves

To ruminate, and by such dreaming high

     Is nearest unto heaven: quiet coves

His soul has in its Autumn, when his wings

     He furleth close; contented so to look

On mists in idleness to let fair things

     Pass by unheeded as a threshold brook.

He has his Winter too of pale misfeature,

Or else he would forego his mortal nature.

From <https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/44472>

So now we know – Spring is the time of lusty action; summer of contemplation; autumn of introspection; and winter of approaching mortality. This is both intuitively appealing and also sufficiently flexible that all can adapt it to their own circumstances (50 is the new 20 etc…). The irony of course is that Keats himself never got much beyond Spring, setting the template for a Romantic poet by dying in his mid-20s.

The Poetry Dude

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Marot, voici (si tu le veux savoir)

Today’s wonderful poem, from sixteenth century French court poet Clement Marot, is in the form of a note to himself, listing the sources of happiness, a kind of check-list of what he needs for contentment in life. If you like, it is an earlier version of that 1980s song by Ian Dury and the Blockheads, “Reasons to be cheerful, part3”.

There is more than a hint in a couple of places that the poet is apt to forget all this and not count his blessings – in the first and the next to last line, where the qualifier, “if you want to know” is added in, clearly meaning that there are times when Marot perhaps dwells too much on misfortune and life’s setbacks.

De soi-même

[Epigr IV,4]

Clement Marot

 

Marot, voici (si tu le veux savoir)

Qui fait à l’homme heureuse vie avoir:

Successions, non biens acquis à peine,

Feu en tout temps, maison plaisante, et saine,

Jamais procès, les membres bien dispos,

Et au dedans, un esprit à repos,

[Contraire à nul, n’avoir aucuns contraires,

Peu se mêler des publiques affaires,]

Sage simplesse, amis à soi pareils,

Table ordinaire, et sans grands appareils,

Facilement avec toutes gens vivre,

Nuit sans nul soin, n’être pas pourtant ivre,

Femme joyeuse, et chaste néanmoins,

Dormir, qui fait que la nuit dure moins,

Plus haut qu’on n’est ne vouloir point atteindre,

Ne désirer la Mort, ni ne la craindre:

Voilà, MAROT, si tu le veux savoir,

Qui fait à l’homme heureuse vie avoir.

 

From <http://clementmarot.com/epigrams.htm#De_soi-même_>

My top three of these sources of happiness?

  • ‘Sage simplesse, amis a soi pareils”
  • “Facilement avec toutes gens vivre”
  • “Femme joyeuse”

The Poetry Dude

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No importan los emblemas

This is a delicate poem from Vicente Aleixandre of love lost, of the contrast between real feelings or sensations and mere symbols or words. The poet is grappling to come to terms with his loss and falls back on the parallel with the sea and the waves, or rather the contrast between the ebb and flow of the waves on the beach, and the  lost love which will never return

 

Como la mar, los besos

 

No importan los emblemas

ni las vanas palabras que son un soplo sólo.

Importa el eco de lo que oí y escucho.

Tu voz, que muerta vive, como yo que al pasar

aquí aún te hablo.

 

Eras más consistente,

más duradera, no porque te besase,

ni porque en ti asiera firme a la existencia.

Sino porque como la mar

después que arena invade temerosa se ahonda.

En verdes o en espumas la mar, se aleja.

Como ella fue y volvió tú nunca vuelves.

 

Quizá porque, rodada

sobre playa sin fin, no pude hallarte.

La huella de tu espuma,

cuando el agua se va, queda en los bordes.

 

Sólo bordes encuentro. Sólo el filo de voz que

en mí quedara.

Como un alga tus besos.

Mágicos en la luz, pues muertos tornan.

 

Vicente Aleixandre

 

From <https://tocandoloscorazones.wordpress.com/2016/08/10/como-la-mar-los-besos-vicente-aleixandre/>

 

Delicate, wistful, tasteful, beautiful – a love poem which touches this reader’s heart.

 

The Poetry Dude

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They are rattling breakfast plates in basement kitchens,

Quite often, TS Eliot’s poems remind us that they are from a period in time, in this case the years of the 1920s and 1930s, a time when the middle and professional classes in England, people like bank managers, accountants and the like, could still live in town-houses with servants’ quarters, in the attic or in the basement, and have a housemaid, a cook and perhaps a butler in their service. This poem is evocative of that era, combining it with an atmospheric depiction of the foggy and run-down, slightly disheveled streets of suburban London.

 

The point of view is that of the poet, gazing out of the window of his house, and describing not only what he sees but also the underlying atmosphere of despondent middle-class England, in decline.

 

Morning at the Window

T.S. Eliot, 1888 – 1965

 

They are rattling breakfast plates in basement kitchens,
And along the trampled edges of the street
I am aware of the damp souls of housemaids
Sprouting despondently at area gates.

The brown waves of fog toss up to me
Twisted faces from the bottom of the street,
And tear from a passer-by with muddy skirts
An aimless smile that hovers in the air
And vanishes along the level of the roofs.

 

From <https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/morning-window>

 

The rattling of breakfast plates in basement kitchens are those of the servants washing-up their employer’s breakfast plates before embarking on the rest of the day. This done, the housemaids begin to emerge at the gates, perhaps to go out on shopping errands, or to sweep the porch – their souls are damp, reflecting the fog and rain of London, and their movements and outlook are despondent.

 

In the second stanza, the poet surveys the street rather than the houses – he sees faces through the fog and notes the mud on the skirts of some passer-by navigating the wet and dirty street. Her smile is aimless, irrelevant and rather hopeless, indicating a stoic acceptance rather than any inner joy.

 

The scene is cheerless and grim, but quite English of its time. Eliot lived in Kensington, now a very upscale part of London, but if you walk there today, you can indeed envision the scene described.

 

The Poetry Dude

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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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