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Favourite poems

Discussion in 'The Cave' started by Gagnrad, Jun 29, 2015.

  1. b612

    b612 New Member

    How come that you know so many poems?
  2. b612

    b612 New Member

    I hate this one. Can't really explain why.
    Probably because of my Russian language teacher who hated me.
    Once the homework was to cram this poem. Ouch...

    Aleksándr Púshkin (1799-1837)

    Prologue to ‘Ruslan and Lyudmilla’

    There’s a green oak by the bay,

    on the oak a chain of gold:

    a learned cat, night and day,

    walks round on that chain of old:

    to the right – it spins a song,

    to the left – a tale of wrong.

    Marvels there: the wood-sprite rides,

    in the leaves a mermaid hides:

    on deep paths of mystery

    unknown creatures leave their spoor:

    huts on hen’s legs you can see,

    with no window and no door.

    Wood and valley vision-brimming:

    there at dawn the waves come washing

    over sands and silent shore,

    and thirty noble knights appear

    one by one, from waters clear,

    attended there by their tutor:

    a king’s son passing by

    takes a fierce king prisoner:

    a wizard carries through the sky

    a knight, past all the people there,

    over forests, seas they fly:

    a princess in a prison pines,

    whom a brown wolf serves with pride:

    A mortar, Baba Yaga inside,

    takes that old witch for a ride.

    King Kaschey grows ill with gold.

    It’s Russia! – Russian scents unfold!

    And I was there and I drank mead,

    I saw the green oak by the sea,

    I sat there while the learned cat

    told its stories – here’s one that

    I remember, and I’ll unfurl,

    a story now for all the world…
  3. Gagnrad

    Gagnrad New Member

    Who could say why? I have heard the opening of Under Milk Wood that you posted read by Richard Burton and found it quite moving, and I don't really know why. I think it may just have been almost purely the rhythmic, almost incantatory, quality in it.

    I think you've got to have a sure hand to handle the subject matter Pushkin is there or it'll end up sounding twee. Fairy stories, as Tolkien observed, were once a mainstream part of literature but have been relegated to the nursery, where the old furniture goes. And the fairies themselves have changed in the process: they were once a little edgy and potentially dangerous.

    I think something like what Pushkin's doing could easily end up as kitsch:


    Maybe that poem hovers on on the brink a bit? But it is an English translation, and so if it does that's probably the translator's fault. I like it more on a second and third reading.

    The Hut on Fowl's Legs:

  4. b612

    b612 New Member

    Last edited: Jul 6, 2015
  5. Gagnrad

    Gagnrad New Member

    They seem mostly to have been regarded as morally neutral - not exactly wicked beings, but powerful ones you wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of. And maybe if they offered you hospitality you wouldn't want to take it: that would give them power over you.

    There are some particular motifs. One is the "changeling" - the fairies exchanging a human baby for a fairy one. Then there's the fairy lover - or even somewhat sinister seducer or seductress. Long after that period, Keats revives and uses that motif in "La Belle Dame Sans Merci":

    I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
    With horrid warning gaped wide,
    And I awoke and found me here,
    On the cold hill’s side.


    Waking up on the "cold hill's side" is a very old motif. Sometimes the returning person finds everyone he knew aged, or dead and gone.

    Even these days I believe the notion of sojourning with the fairies and not coming back quite as you went used in a humorous way in Ireland to refer to people - "he's away with the fairies". At least I think so. I wonder if @patgrif@hotmail.com would agree with that phrase being in use.

    Beliefs about the elves - the same, or similar, beings really - are still somewhat live in Iceland, too. There are certain rocks associated with tales about them that people are reluctant to move - that kind of thing. Perhaps people aren't totally sure, but they tend to play safe.


    The traditional being was very different from the modern Disney Tinkerbell.
  6. Gagnrad

    Gagnrad New Member

    By the way, in older English usage to "starve" meant to perish of hunger or cold. I expect the latter meaning was archaic by Keats' time, although I don't know. My feeling is that there are overtones of coldness in the way the term is used there, though. I think the "pale kings and princes" held in thrall by the fay have cold lips - cold because the life has drained out of them. And the sense of coldness sets the reader up for the description of the hillside as "cold" in the final line of that verse.

    I guess one could also call it an Epi-paleo poem in a way LOL. Who gets cold nowadays? Our ancestors knew what cold meant.

    Here's a cold poem: Coleridge's "Frost at Midnight"


    … Or if the secret ministry of frost
    Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
    Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

    The "secret ministry" of the frost - what a wonderfully evocative phrase! Coleridge must have been pleased to turn that one - no wonder he used it twice in the poem.
  7. b612

    b612 New Member

    Sigur Ros

    Staring Elf

    Blue night over the sky
    Blue night over me
    disappeared out the window
    my hands
    hidden under my cheek
    I think about my day
    today and yesterday

    I put on my blue nighties
    go straight to bed
    I caress the soft covers
    close my eyes
    and hide my head under the covers

    A little elf stares at me
    runs towards me but doesn't move
    from his place - himself
    a staring elf

    I open my eyes
    the crusts come off
    I stretch myself and check
    returned and everything is ok
    still there is something missing
    (like all the walls)

    Blá nótt yfir himininn
    Blá nótt yfir mér
    Horf-inn út um gluggann
    Minn með hendur
    Faldar undir kinn
    Hugsum daginn minn
    Í dag og í gær

    Blá náttfötin klæða mig í
    Beint upp í rúm
    Breiði mjúku sængina
    Loka augunum
    Ég fel hausinn minn undir sæng

    Starir á mig lítill álfur
    Breytir mér í, en hreyfist ekki
    Úr stað – sjálfur

    Opna augun
    Stírurnar úr
    Teygi mig og tel (Hvort ég sé ekki)
    Kominn aftur og allt allt í lagi
    Samt vantar eitthvað
    Eins og alla veggina

    (Starir á mig lítill álfur)
    (Breytir mér í)

    Úr stað – sjálfur
    Ég er...


    Blá nótt yfir himininn
    Blá nótt yfir mér
    Blue night over the sky
    Blue night over me

    Minn með hendur
    my hands (with my hands)

    Faldar undir kinn
    hidden under my cheek ( delete my)

    Starir á mig lítill álfur
    A little elf stares at me (Stares at me a little elf)

    See that? I just love linguistics.
    Optimalbound likes this.
  8. Gagnrad

    Gagnrad New Member

    Icelandic. I could see it was a Scandinavian language. Turns out it's Icelandic.


    It's song lyrics - and why not? One could make a good argument for saying that these days poetry has retreated into song lyrics. There's some awful trash around, but also some some really nice stuff. Christopher Ricks, the latest editor of the Oxford Book of English verse, rates Bob Dylan highly. Not a Dylan fan myself, but I should probably take a closer look.

    Have you got German, too? I hear Rilke is good, but my German is very basic.
  9. Gagnrad

    Gagnrad New Member

    Here's a translation of Horace, Odes 1.5, by John Milton. And I guess it takes a poet to translate a poet.

    What slender Youth bedewed with liquid odours
    Courts thee on Roses in some pleasant Cave,
      Pyrrha for whom bind’st thou
      In wreaths thy golden Hair,
    Plain in thy neatness? O how oft shall he
    On Faith and changed Gods complain: and Seas
      Rough with black winds and storms
      Unwonted shall admire:
    Who now enjoys thee credulous, all Gold,
    Who always vacant, always amiable
      Hopes thee; of flattering gales
      Unmindfull. Hapless they
    To whom thou untri’d seems’t fair. Me in my vowd
    Picture the sacred wall declares t’ have hung
      My dank and dropping weeds
      To the stern God of Sea.
  10. b612

    b612 New Member

    I feel like I have ADHD when I read this poem. Can't understand anything.

    No, I don't speak German.

    But take a look to this.

    My friend came for a visit and brought Inferno of Dante Alighieri. She said it was nice to read it on the plane.

    Introduction to the Divine Comedy

    The Wood and the Mountain

    When half way through the journey of our life
    I found that I was in a gloomy wood,
    because the path which led aright was lost.
    And ah, how hard it is to say just what
    this wild and rough and stubborn woodland was,
    the very thought of which renews my fear!
    So bitter ’t is, that death is little worse;
    but of the good to treat which there I found,
    I ’ll speak of what I else discovered there.

    I cannot well say how I entered it,
    so full of slumber was I at the moment
    when I forsook the pathway of the truth;
    but after I had reached a mountain’s foot,
    where that vale ended which had pierced my heart
    with fear, I looked on high,
    and saw its shoulders
    mantled already with that planet’s rays
    which leadeth one aright o’er every path.

    Then quieted a little was the fear,
    which in the lake-depths of my heart had lasted
    throughout the night I passed so piteously.

    And even as he who, from the deep emerged
    with sorely troubled breath upon the shore,
    turns round, and gazes at the dangerous water;
    even so my mind, which still was fleeing on,
    turned back to look again upon the pass
    which ne’er permitted any one to live.

    Gagnrad likes this.
  11. b612

    b612 New Member

    Why does Dante look so angry?

  12. Gagnrad

    Gagnrad New Member

    He's musing on his beloved who has finished with him and whom he sees as faithless. He thinks of her with someone else. It's always said sexual jealousy is one of the most painful emotions - but who's experienced all emotions and can say for sure? Anyway, the "slender youth" he imagines has, Horace is saying, all the pain he (Horace) has experienced in store for him, too.

    Hapless they
    To whom thou untri’d seems’t fair

    I think I lack the ability to paraphrase that in modern English. The best I could do would be something like:

    A man who's taken a fancy to you and not realised what you're like yet has got it coming.

    But … having said that … there's this problem that with poetry form and content can't be separated, and once you use different words and a different idiom you're not saying quite the same thing.

    The word "weeds" is an archaic term for clothes. Horace has hung his clothes up as a sacrifice to Neptune, the God of the sea. I'm not entirely sure why he's made a sacrifice to Neptune - and if I did I've forgotten. And maybe we can't get back into the mindset of someone who would do that anyway. But I think there's an emotional connection there with the caves and whatnot. I think he courted her down by sea - Neptune's domain - perhaps in some "pleasant cave" and on a bed of roses where he imagines her with someone else.

    He's expressing painful thoughts, but I guess his control of language means he can make something that's nevertheless beautiful of it and that takes some of the sting away. Milton, translating the ode, can't just "decode" the foreign language. He has to get inside the original poem and recreate it - or something like it.

    Thanks. I'm going to need time to read that. Many translations of Dante around - the only way I could read him.

    Now you're talking about someone who those who ought to know say is one of the very greatest of all European poets - perhaps the greatest. And interesting that Eliot should have come up earlier in the thread. A huge influence on Eliot. And Eliot's also trying to do something of what Dante had done in Four Quartets.
  13. Gagnrad

    Gagnrad New Member

    Dunno. But here's a guess: this may be late enough in time for sugar to have taken a hold, and he's cursed with badly-fitting false teeth.

    He wouldn't be alone there:

  14. Gagnrad

    Gagnrad New Member

    Actually, here's another thought.

    Dante does consign rather a lot of people to the "Inferno". IMO, it's worth noticing in this connection that his work post-dates the Great Schism and comes from a period where Western Christendom seem to have been unusually haunted by the thought of punishment after death. In Early Christianity - and in Eastern Christendom - I think people were less likely to see things in those terms. There's a very old theological view that God actually punishes no-one: all "hell" would be is turning in on yourself, refusing to accept God's love. Perhaps that's what Dostoevsky had in mind when he has a character in The Brothers Karamazov say:

    But Dante's conception, AFAICT, seems to be more like that of the courts, where the prisoner stands before the bar and punishment is handed out to him. And these, often quite gruesome penalties, always "fit the crime" in Dante's mind.

    There seems generally to have been a movement, and not perhaps a particularly attractive one, in people's conceptions in Western Europe at around this time.

    One historian has talked in this connection of Western Europe in the late medieval period as being "covered by a pall of fear":


    It's something that hasn't gone unnoticed by the Eastern Orthodox:


    The harsh system of penance that emerged in the West at that time makes sense against the background of those conceptions. You did penance to get time off in Purgatory. This was also often the motive for pilgrimage - and for going on crusade. The crusades were effectively "armed pilgrimages" - they were not "get rich quick" schemes, as historians of materialist bent have tended to assume: quite the reverse, it was actually quite an expensive undertaking. People went to get "indulgences".

    Eventually, indulgences were granted more widely - for this, that and the other. And perhaps it was at first a humane, if rather ridiculous, impulse driving that. But the temptation for the papacy to sell indulgences - particularly when building St. Peter's turned out to be more expensive than anticipated - became too great. And the papal salesmen were so outrageous in their claims that they scandalised the pious. Hence it was pretty much inevitable that at some point people would take exception. And hence the Reformation.

    There's the history of the Early Modern period in a nutshell.

    So, anyway, maybe Dante actually is angry and he's thinking about who he wants to see consigned to the Inferno. LOL
    b612 likes this.
  15. b612

    b612 New Member

    Very interesting.
    I googled Dante again after reading your post. If you take a look to Wikipedia, you will find that Dante is always shown wearing a red robe. It must have a symbolic meaning. o_O

    Gagnrad likes this.
  16. b612

    b612 New Member

    Same with Petrarch :eek:

  17. Gagnrad

    Gagnrad New Member

    What an interesting observation! Seems to be just as you say. I've no idea if the colour is significant.

    IIRC he was buried dressed in a Franciscan habit, however. I think then, as now, people could belong to the order but "live in the world".

    That'd be another interesting historical topic to think about, wouldn't it? I'm not a historian, but it seems pretty clear that Western Christendom becomes increasingly rationalistic - and also legalistic - in its theology over time and that has quite wide repercussions. Anselm of Canterbury comes up with a theory of the atonement that is effectively "forensic".

    So where I'm going is this. Right when this rather unattractive picture - which is a gloomy and guilt-provoking picture - takes hold along comes Francis of Assisi with something much gentler, more emotional and attractive.
  18. Gagnrad

    Gagnrad New Member

  19. b612

    b612 New Member

    The article below says that "red remained the favorite Middle Ages colour "...

    I'm a bit disappointed :( Probably Dante's robe colour had no meaning at all. He had nothing else to wear LOL
  20. b612

    b612 New Member

    "Here we both lie
    In helpless plight,
    Halldor and I,
    Have no power left us;
    Old age afflicts me,
    Youth afflicts you,
    You will get better
    But I shall get worse." -The Laxdale Saga (Laxdæla saga)

    Facebook,Icelandic Saga Database.
    So many interesting things in there.

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