Saturday, April 17, 2010

A thought from Erich Fromm

If it is true that the ability to be puzzled is the beginning of wisdom, then this truth is a sad commentary on the wisdom of modern man. Whatever the merits of our high degree of literary and universal education, we have lost the gift for being puzzled. Everything is supposed to be known – if not to ourselves then to some specialist whose business it is to know what we do not know. In fact, to be puzzled is embarrassing, a sign of intellectual inferiority…to have the right answers seems all-important; to ask the right questions is considered insignificant by comparison.

Fromm, Erich: The Forgotten Language: an Introduction to the Understanding of Dreams, Fairy Tales and Myths, GROVE PRESS, INC., NEW YORK, N.Y.

Sonnets

Garcilaso de la Vega (1501-1536)

Escrito está en me alma vuestro gesto...translation:

Written upon my soul your gesture is
and everything I write desire of thee
who wrote it all along, I only read,
yet still I keep myself from you in this.

Thus I am and I will always be;
for though I see I can't contain your good,
as you exceed my fit, I still believe,
and take my faith in you as understood.

I'd not be born except for love of you,
My soul has cut your measure to its size
and made of you a habit for the soul.

I owe you all I have, and can't deny:
From you my birth, for you I live my life,
For you it is I'll die; for you I die.

Keynotes from Robert Graves and Rosalía de Castro

Robert Graves' first verse of....
To Juan at the Winter Solstice

There is one story and one story only
That will prove worth your telling,
Whether by learned bard or gifted child;
To it all lines or lesser gauds belong
That startle with their shining
Such common stories as they stray into.

---------------------------------------
...from Rosalía de Castro:

Yo no sé lo que busco eternamente
en la tierra, en el aire y en el cielo;
yo no sé lo que busco, pero es algo
que perdí no sé cuando y que no encuentro,
aún cuando sueñe que invisible habita
en todo cuanto toco y cuanto veo.

------------------------------------------------------

I don’t know what I’m eternally seeking
on the earth, and in the air and in the sky;
I don’t know what I seek, but it is something
that I lost I don’t know when and do not find,
even when I dream that invisibly it resides
in everything I touch and all I see.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz - Primer Sueño translated

FIRST DREAM


Pyramidal, funest, the earth
born shade to Heaven went forth,
of vain obelisks the aspiring point,
to scale the stars intent;
5 though their lovely lights, of course,
absent always, always twinkling,
(the tenebrous war’s
black vapors summoning
the frightened fugitive shade)
10 mocked her, with their distance,
and her dark brow vexed
at the superior convex still unattained,
the Orb of that Goddess
who three times beautiful
15 with three lovely faces being sustains,
becoming only owner
of the air that streams from her
in the dense breath she exhales;
and in the quietude content
20 of silent empire,
submissive voice alone consents,
of the nocturnal Birds,
so low, so scarcely heard,
that even so the quiet is undisturbed.
25 Slow of flight, with song off-key
and even worse of mood, admittedly,
the shamefaced Nyctimene espies
of sacred portals some small cracks,
or of the eminent cleristories
30 the most propitious little gaps
perchance to her intent might open breach,
and sacrilegious she has reached
bright sacred lamps' perennial flame,
which she snuffs out, if not defames,
35 in liquor clear the material crass
consuming, that (of Minerva's tree)
the fruit, of press aggrieved,
in dire sweat yielded to force.
And those who saw their house
40 to fields return, their fabrics weed,
to Bacchus disobedient
(and no more telling tales different,
though in horrid form quite changed, indeed),
these straightway form a mist
45 to flee from sight in frightened, foggy flight,
fowls without feather awing:
these three officious, I mean,
audacious Sisters,
whose tremendous punishment
50 of nakedness gave them dark membraned
wings, so badly dressed
a joke they are, though most funest:
these, with that hooting
minister of Pluto for a time,
55 now the augurer's superstitious sign,
solos an uncanorous
frightful choir composed,
maxims, black notes, long notes from them rose,
with pauses more than voices waiting
60 for the torpid, lazy, beat,
longer, perhaps, than the wind's slowly bating
phlegmatic spewing movement,
that such long detained, slow rhythm kept
that in the midst, perhaps, it might have slept.
65 This sad, then, inter cadent sound
of the timid, fearful flock,
solicits less attentiveness
than it persuades to somnolence;
or better: slowly, without haste
70 its obtuse spacy consonance
to restfulness seduced,
repose of members it induced
-- silence warning the “living” ones,
with here and there a sealed lip
75 from an indicative fingertip,
Harpocrates, the night, being silent;
to whose, although not harsh,
imperious, rather,
precept, all were obedient --.
80 At peace the wind, the dog asleep,
this inert, that one still,
his very atoms do not move,
of lightest, whispering sounds afraid,
though slight, a sacrilegious noise
85 would violate the sacred peace.
The ocean, too, no longer stirs,
nor rocks the swaying, restless, deep
cerulean crib with the sun asleep;
and the slumbering, always silent, fish,
90 bedded down on mats of slime,
their muddy cradles in the grime,
though mute, are mute a second time;
and that enchantress in their midst,
the tricky Halcyon who of yore
95 transformed to fish, simple lovers,
transformed herself, gets her deserts.
And those who shelter in the lee
of jagged peaks where mountainous
and rocky cliffs are less defense
100 than obscure caverns’ guarantee --,
(in shady mansions wherein they
by night may lie in the midst of day,
incognito to the certain tread
of the rustic foot of the hunter dread)
105 -- from some, ferocity deposed,
from others, fear at last reposed,
now lay down the vulgar brute,
of Nature now the beasts relax,
all to her powers in tribute
110 pay the universal tax;
and the King, who vigilant posture tries,
still does not watch with open eyes.
He of his very dogs oppressed,
monarch of yore illustrious,
115 timid now a deer
of vigilant ear
alert in the peaceful ambience
to the least perceptible bustle
that the atoms rustle,
120 his ears slant steep,
light murmurs sense,
moves them in sleep.
And in the quiet of the nest,
which of rubbish and mud unstable hammock
125 formed in the most opaque
part of the tree, sleeps curled up
the light flock, and the wind now rests
from that which cut it, winged movements.
Of Jupiter the generous bird
130 who -- Queen at last -- cannot give up
entire to sleep, considered vice,
despite her need she’ll sacrifice
to avoid omission in excess,
on one foot's perched, the other's cocked
135 and holding fast her little rock
-- alarm clock for her lightest sleep,
For should she need of it admit,
she won’t abide prolonging it,
better to interrupt, awake,
140 for the royal, if pastoral, duty’s sake.
Oh a Majesty’s taxing regimen
that even the least slip won’t pardon!
The cause, perhaps, mysterious,
the circular denotes the crown,
145 for zeal's no less continuous
than golden circle goes around.
Sleep did all, at last, possess;
all, at last, did silence take;
still the robber took his rest;
150 still the lover did not awake.
The conticinium almost past
while still the shrinking shadows last,
fatigued now of diurnal tasks
-- and not just singularly pressed
155 of zealous efforts’ ponderous
and corporal work, but weary still
of much delight (if constant, ‘twill
fatigue the sensory appetites
of their objects, even of delights:
160 for Nature ever alternates,
now weighs one while the other waits,
distributing varied exercise,
now of leisure, now of work comprised,
with fell and fickle scale she reigns
165 over the raucous world machine)--;
so thus, then, in the most profound
sweet sleep the slumbering members found,
and restless senses all abeyed,
from common exercises stayed --
170 from work, in sum, but well-loved work,
should love perchance in labor lurk --,
if not deprived, then in suspense,
and ceding to the image whence
life’s contrary portrait’s slow ambush
175 comes cowardly, traps victorious
with somnolent arms -- they, sleeping, lie
by shepherd crook and scepter high,
with no distinguishing of grade
from sackcloth to the purple made:
180 for his highness, all powerful,
no graduate exempts,
nor personage excepts,
from he who wears the triple crown,
the tiara high of sovereignty,
185 to -- hut of straw -- lives lower down;
from he the rippling Danube gilds
to the humble, humble reed huts build;
and so with wand of equal breadth
(like powerful imagery of death)
190 Morpheus’ measurements are made,
and burlap's equal to brocade.
The soul, then, in suspense
of exterior governance,
-- the material employment
195 where day, for good or bad, is spent --
can scarcely just dispense
remotely, if not all,
the death-oppressed and temporal
languid members and still bones,
200 the vegetative heat’s extensions,
the body being, in peace and whole,
a cadaver with soul,
dead to life, to death alive,
of the latter giving tardy signs
205 those beats the human timepiece gives
from the vital flywheel without hands
whose wee arterial concert stands
for a pulse that slowly manifests
well-regulated movements’ rest.
210 This, then, member king and live
center where vital spirits live,
the breathing bellows’ associate
-- lungs, like magnets, wind-attractive --
in ever equal movements bate,
215 compressing air, or then dilate
the muscular windpipe, soft and clear,
so what it circumscribes, fresh air,
resounds in the hollow ambience
and heats up with the inhaling rush
220 that activates the expelling push
that robs by bits the native heat
that for a moment may lament
a loss it can’t recuperate;
though the owner may not feel bereft,
225 if oft repeated, no small theft -- ;
these larger exceptions, then, I say,
these few but faithful witnesses
certify that life goes on,
while muted voices don’t decry
230 the sensory information, mute
-- their sole defense is no reply --
and the torpid tongue, though mutedly,
for want of speech gives them the lie.
And that of heat most competent,
235 the scientific agency
and members’ pantry, provident,
not greedy, always diligent,
does not prefer the nearer parts
nor of the furthermost forgets,
240 and in the natural quadrants notes
the portions and the quantities
and each to each prescribes the dose
from that ceaseless alembic heat
that -- merciful mediary meat --
245 between it and the humid side
its innocent substance interposed,
a process paying for in full,
because for piety, or pride,
to voracious contraries the fool
250 exposed itself -- though one excuse
he who takes up another’s cause --;
this, then, if not a Vulcan’s forge
a tempered stove for human heat,
sent up to the cerebral seat
255 such humid, very clear, vapors
of the four well-tempered humours
that they not only did not steam
the estimative’s simulacrums
given to the imagination
260 and thence, for surer custody,
in form now purer, crystalline,
delivered to officious memory,
tenacious copyist and guard,
but more, they gave to fantasy
265 a place for diverse imagery;
and so it was that crystalline
portents of Pharos now were seen,
a rare asylum, clear purview,
though at great distance it were viewed
270 (and vision was not strained at all),
for almost all of Neptune’s Realm
came clear, the distant, plowing Ships
furrow the unstable deep,
and there beneath the silver Moon
275 the number, size, and the fortune
upon the transparent, unstable plain
they risk to fate’s uncertain weal,
while winds and waters separate
their light sails and their heavy keels:
280 so, peaceful, she went copying
the images of everything,
the invisible paintbrush filling in
mental, lightless, always bright
and lovely colors, not alone
285 just figures of sublunar ones
but all the creatures, even those
who, intellectuals clear, are Stars,
and in the manner possible
the mind conceives the invisible,
290 the clever mental brush displayed
and to the soul the scenes portrayed.
Which, meanwhile, all converted to
fair essence, immaterial,
contemplated what resides
295 within of being high, the spark
whose lovely likeness satisfied;
and judging self as separate
from what, impeded by its weight
and coarse embarrassed, corporal chain,
300 the body torpidly refrains
the flight of intellect which marks
the Sphere’s immensity and heights,
and now the course finds regular
with which unequal gyre the stars,
305 the celestial bodies in their flights;
-- the fault is grave, sentence deserved,
(disturber of the rigorous peace)
for judicious study vainly made --
on the eminent (it seemed to her)
310 mountaintop where the very Atlantis,
Giant presiding over all,
submitted to a dwarf, withal,
and Olympus, on whose peaceful brow
no aura ever agitated
315 consented to be violated,
though being his skirt was undeserved:
for the clouds, the most opaque of crowns
of that loftiest corpulence,
(Volcano most august on earth,
320 a Giant erect, bids Heavenly wars)
just a dense zone
of his high eminence,
or, to his vast waist,
a rude belt that, so badly cinched,
325 the wind unties it with a flinch,
or the neighbor sun undoes with heat.
To the first region of his height,
the lesser part, I say, divides
in three his terrible rising trunk,
330 the swift could not, the Eagles’ fast
and rising flight (tracks to the Sky,
and drinking of the Sun’s bright rays,
among its lights would make his nest)
arrive; although his effort’s best
335 impulse drives him, and he flays
the two plumed sails, or talons claw
and comb as if to weave in air
a stairway of the atoms there,
and two wings break immunity’s law.
340 The Pyramids, ostentations twain
of Memphic architecture, vain
though highest, standards, if not fixed
nor tremulous, high oriflammes,
their crowns of barbarous trophies,
345 Tomb and Flag to the Ptolemies,
which to wind, to cloud, once published wide,
and may to Heaven have raised their cry
of the great and all victorious
City of Cairo, now, that is,
350 of which, because the copy’s mute,
Fame never sang nor noised abroad
her Gypsy glories, Memphic feats,
though in the breezes still, and Heaven, impressed;
these, that in leveled symmetry,
355 their stature growing to the sky
diminished so, with so much art,
the more she climbed to Heaven high,
to the viewpoint watching her Lynx eyed,
among the winds it disappeared,
360 denying sight the subtle point
that to the first Orb feigns it's joined
until, exhausted by the fright,
not just descending, but headlong,
she found herself at that wide base,
365 late or scant recuperates
her senses from the sudden faint,
a punishment that was not slight
for brazen vision’s winged attempt,
that saw the opaque bodies rest
370 not sun-opposed, but just expressed
by light, if not confederate
of sunlight, in effect confined
by brightness bathing all around,
by most lucid resplendence bound,
375 nor to trudging travelers in the heat,
to the fatigued tread, to the thin feet
ever a soothing carpet laid
of the smallest, merest sign of shade:
these, if Gypsy glories be
380 or elation's crass profanity's
barbarous hieroglyphics, blind
error, according to the Greek,
that also blind, and sweetest, bard
-- although in texts where he transcribes
385 heroic Achillean deeds,
or Ullyses' martial subtleties,
it’s not a union he’s received
from the historians, for when he cites
or catalogues from their accounts,
390 glory more than number mounts,
of whose sweet numerous series 'twere
an easier thing from The Thunderer
most feared of all, to snatch away
his fulminating Thunderbolt,
395 or as if the club of Hercules
Erroneously ever smote,
than to strike one single hemistitch
Apollo told him, propitious --
according to Homer, I say, the sentence:
400 the pyramids were material
types alone, exterior signals
of that which -- interior dimensions --
species are of Soul’s intentions;
so as in pyramidal point aspires
405 to Heaven flame’s ambitious fire,
so human mind
leaves form behind,
and now first cause desires: that’s like
the centric point where straight strikes the line,
410 if now not the circumference
containing, infinite, all essence.
These, then, artificial mounts
(though marvels, though miraculous),
and even that high Tower, blasphemous,
415 of which today unequal tongues,
though not of stone, are painful signs,
for time, voracious, can’t erase
the divers idioms render scarce
the peoples’ social intercourse,
420 and seeming difference plants among
what Nature meant for union,
their strangeness only one of tongue;
if such things now should be compared
to the lofty mental Pyramid
425 where, not knowing how, the Soul was placed
to see itself, then those would seem
so backward anyone would deem
that height as lofty as a Sphere;
because ambition yearns for height,
430 and makes a peak of its own flight,
the summit and most eminent
of its own mind it crowns, intent,
in self-promoting zeal, on
transcending self to a new region.
435 In which near-loftiness immense,
most pleasant, but yet in suspense,
suspended, and yet full of pride,
though prideful still, still stupefied,
the supreme sub-lunar sovereign Queen,
440 of cravings free and vision keen,
with fairest intellectual eyes,
sans any fear that distance raise,
or opaque obstacle oppose
that some object might interpose;
445 now freely ranged creation’s great
immensity and aggregate
incomprehensible cumulus,
which though to sight would manifest
these signal possibilities,
450 the comprehension, drugged, could not,
in excess object met defeat,
that grandeur’s such so small a force
is overcome and, coward, retreats.
But vision bold does not repent
455 of its brash project and intent
to invest unequally and vain
against that object whose essence,
o’erwhelming in its excellence
surpasses all the visual lines;
460 against the shining Sun, I say,
whose rays of fiery punishment
deride the inequality
of strength and smite such confident,
or brash exploits with ray on ray,
465 a soon wept for experiment,
(stupidity that cost so much
that even the sobs of Icarus
it drowned, albeit with tenderness --),
as understanding, in defeat
470 no less of multiplicity’s
immense and grave machinery,
(of diverse species which are found
within the spherical compound)
but also of the qualities
475 from which it shrinks: so frightened it
-- a pauper with its copy placed
upon the gray neutralities
of seas of awe, election dazed --,
equivocal bobbed in the waves;
480 and now from seeing everything
no longer can discern at all,
it puts the intellect’s faculty
in such a, so diffuse, a thing’s
incomprehensibility
485 that there she sees an axis, free
and voluble, the Sphere’s machine
that freely mounts from pole to pole,
and now the parts, and not just those
the Universe considers her
490 perfecting things, but elements
that now are not her ornament;
as those are not, which, ignorant,
the dilate body’s parts compose,
proportionately competent.
495 But like that usurper of day’s
darkness come to steal away
from visible objects all their hues,
if suddenly resplendence shines,
excessive light makes vision blind;
500 for excess contrary makes effects
in the torpid potency the bright
light of the Sun cannot admit
forthwith, its custom won’t permit --
then the very shade, which was before
505 of sight the awful barrier,
from onslaughts of the light appeals,
and now and then a raised hand seals
those weakened eyes to ease their daze
from the vacillating rays,
510 and serves -- this pious go-between --
the shade as useful instrument
so that they rehabilitate,
and slowly now those dazzled eyes
their constancy recuperate
515 and firmer functions exercise
-- a natural resource, innate science
confirmed in the experience,
a master whose, albeit mute,
rhetorical examples could
520 induce the Galens, more than one,
to take of some mortiferous bane
in well proportioned quantities
of scrupulously measured sum
the most occult and noxious traits,
525 perhaps left over by excess,
of too much heat, or of coldness,
or then by ignored sympathies
they work, or through antipathies
the natural causes may progress
530 (the admiration, in suspense,
for a cause ignored gives certain effect,
most wakefully it reinspects
empirically, and attent,
examines the brute experiment,
535 so danger-fraught, to say the least),
and so, concoctions’ poisons past,
the Apollonian science will
produce a worthy triacle,
and good may come of bad at last!
540 No other way the reeling soul
from vision's sweep of everything
retired attention, which had pored
on such diversity it ignored
how to recover, by itself,
545 of a fright that portentously calmed
its intellectual discursus,
permitting but the astonished mind
in a confused concept to find
insight’s embryo, badly formed,
550 chaos inordinate portrayed
of confused species mind essayed
-- entire disorder, flowing in,
now separate, in disarray,
and when objects seem to combine
555 swiftly dissolve in disunion,
of diverse objects full, in fine --
violent cinched diffuse things up,
but so many things, so wee a cup
(to the least, nor the lowest, measures up).
560 The sails were furled now, in effect
that unforewarned had trusted in
the treacherous sea, the blowing wind
-- and sought, most heedless, from the sea
good faith, and windy loyalty --,
565 now, scarcely reached these dire degrees,
upon the pounding mental coast
it hits the bottom, breaks apart,
the torn lateen, the shattered yard
go down, the vessel kisses sand
570 and, beaches, plank by plank, on land,
and then -- the vessel straightway mends --
the careen’s place is usurped by
reflected lines, and remiss kinds,
of suspect news, at second hand;
575 which, as in practice evident,
now judges most convenient
in single-point reductio
to take its discourse separate
and so in sequence contemplate
580 one by one in single row,
reducing to an artifice
of Categories two times five;
reductions metaphysical
(their generalities derive
585 from merely mental fantasies,
while their material refrains
from abstract discourse with disdain)
so science universal forms,
repairing, now it’s been forewarned,
590 with mental art the grave defect
of not with one intuitive act
to know, and all creation ken,
but, rather, by degrees going up,
in concepts rising, step by step,
595 till relative order it understands
in consequence, and makes of bland
comprehension mild demands
of limited vigor, so, gradually, it
secures the orderly benefit:
600 whose efforts frail, by doctrine led,
with nutrients of learning fed,
meticulous, if blandly, grow,
continuous courses of discipline’s
robust nutrition taking in,
605 and now with mightier zeal it rears
up to the glorious pallium,
lofty aspires and perseveres
as to the higher rungs it nears
-- with one by one the faculties
610 of cultivated qualities --
insensibly the peak now shines,
the sweetest end of efforts reaped
(though bitter the seed, the fruit's so fine
that even long fatigue were cheap)
615 and, mounting, valiant footsteps now
impress the summit’s lofty brow.
My understanding wished to find
some method for these thoughts of mine,
or from the least, miniscule grade
620 inanimate being ever made
(though less favored,
no less valid,
of nature's second productive cause),
then pass to the nobler hierarchy
625 that, with profound vegetal force,
the primogenitor, if coarse,
of Thetis is, who was the first
proferred the mother's fertile breast,
received attractive virtue brings
630 sweet fluid flowed from nature's springs,
that’s of nutrition natural
the sweetest aliment of all --,
and from four adorned operations
of contrary actions,
635 now attracts, now diligent segregates
the things judged inconvenient,
expels the superfluous and makes, anon,
the copy’s useful stuff its own;
and -- now researched -- this beautiful
640 instruction’s inculcative form
(adorned with meaning and, what’s more,
of imagination’s powerful
and apprehending forces full),
and so occasions just dissent
645 -- or even needs may face affront --
from that most lucid glowing spark,
inanimate Star, that in the dark
remotely glows in high splendor
-- for, even to Stars superior,
650 the humblest creature, disadvantaged,
may occasion envy, gain the vantage --;
and of this corporal knowledge made
foundation, if but feebly laid,
then marvelous to the supreme
655 triplicate composite pass,
of three harmonious lines disposed
and of the inferior forms composed
mysterious compendium:
which is a veiling hinge that’s come
660 to enthrone her elevated grace,
pure Nature
and also that less noble
creature sees herself most base:
not only of the five adorned
665 and sensitive parts, the faculties,
but also those interior ones,
the three ennobled qualities
-- for to be the mistress of all these
she was not thus adorned in vain
670 of the Powerful All-Knowing Hand --:
end of His works, the circle that closes,
the Sphere that one with earth composes
the created thing most perfect placed,
and first in the Eternal Author's grace,
675 on whom with satisfied complacence
His immensely reposed magnificence:
a creation that, most portentous,
the higher it rises to Heaven must
be sealed, this earthly mouth, with dust
680 -- of whom the mysterious image saw
that sacred Evangelical
Eagle of Patmos; whose measure staked
the stars, and soil, with equal tracks,
or in the eminent statue’s raised
685 where the noblest metal shows most prized
a rich and arrogant brow, such art,
that, being of mean material,
foundation scarcely found at all
and, slightest insult, fell apart;
690 Man, I say, all portent’s sum
to human understanding come,
who, absolute compendium,
resembles Angel, plant, and brute;
whose high lowness
695 is Nature-wrought.
Why? Perhaps most fortunate
of all, Mankind was given this weight
that loving Union consummate.
Oh, though repeated, never known
700 sufficiently, the mercy shown,
for tender mercy, when ignored,
appreciation seems too small,
or evil, then, the requital!
I would, then, these degrees attempt
705 at times. But others, I’d dissent,
excessive judging brazen gall
to discourse on these lines at all,
who of the merest, smallest things
the simplest part can’t understand,
710 not even the most easy texts
of nature’s natural effects;
who never yet had chuckling found
the ignored fountainhead and mode
by which the crystal stream runs down,
715 circumlocution blocks its road
-- to pour into the deep abyss
of Pluto, where his hideous
and yawning caverns yield sublime
to meadows where of fairest clime
720 amenable Elysium spreads
Pluto's three-form bridal bed,
while the stream relays a clear report
(a useful, if a prolix, thought,
that of her fair unravished child
725 the blond Goddess heard certain news,
when over hill and field she roamed,
the forests and the prairies combed
to find her daughter’s life, and sought
the very life, in pain, she'd lost) -- :
730 who of the brief flower knew not why
her figure’s fair fragility
is circumscribed with ivory:
nor from her mixéd colors why
-- petal white with seed confused --
735 gala fragrances suffuse:
nor why an amber breath’s exhaled,
the while a light, most beautiful
of gown explains to breezy air
that this or that fresh multiple
740 of daughter formed of pomp and ruff,
all golden profiled, fringèd stuff,
why -- when a white bud's seal is torn,
the Cyprian Goddess' sweetest wound,
then proud her flowery waste is shown,
745 unless what colors her array
albino dawn or purple dusk
has usurped with a mix, instead,
then purple's white, and snow is red:
the sunflower rising then convokes
750 those meadow flowers applause evoke:
a schoolmarm she, and doubtless vain
-- if not a worldly sign, profane --
of that active industry, feminine,
which doubly noxious makes poison
755 pretend a white semblance, wherein
a lady feigns a glowing skin.
For if from one object alone
-- thought repeated timidly --
the frightened understanding flee,
760 and cowardly discourse turn away;
if a single species’ set apart
-- as if independent of the rest,
considered unrelated, then --
yet comprehension shuns the test
765 and timid discourse flees in fear
of a dire list it cannot bear
to rush into with valiant thrust
because it fears -- oh, cowardice!
to badly know, or late, or naught,
770 how can discursus then essay
the immense and feared machinery
whose terrible and boundless freight
-- if now not at the center placed --
Atlas’ back still bears the weight
775 exceeds the strength of Hercules;
and he who of the Sphere once was
sufficient counterweight, indeed --
would he then judge less ponderous
the Sphere’s machine, of less stature
780 than the task of investigating Nature?
At others -- more industrious --
I’d judge excess of cowardice
to cede the victor's laurel ere
I'd yet to muster to the war;
785 and then I'd turn attention to
the example of that golden youth
-- bold herald of the fiery car --
and that, if unfortunate, bizarre
high impulse sets the spirit afire:
790 there where the animate motives are
-- it’s more forewarning, now, than fear --
but, opened paths for boldness there,
why, once it's tread, no punishments
suffice to move that bold intent
795 (ambition's bold intent, I mean).
Not the depths of the deepest pantheon
-- his hapless ash’s cerulean tomb --
not the vengeful, fulminating ray
removes, no matter how it warn
800 the arrogant animus, all scorn
for life, that in despite would win
its name eternalized in ruin.
Pernicious model, then, this thing:
example how repeated flight
805 of fancy can engender wings,
ambition’s self-consumed desire
-- for in that very terror’s quite
the kind of courage that’s admired --
the kind deciphers glory in
810 the characters of destruction.
O the punishment’s not published wide
not because the crime’s untried:
but politic silence’s dark intent’s
to shred the legal documents,
815 a statesman, who -- most circumspect --
a pious ignorance affects,
or then, in secret, punishments
for the excess, for the insolence,
metes out, but nary a public word
820 of the vile example's ever heard:
for evil, that of major crimes,
breeds danger when it propagates,
dilate contagion spreads betimes,
because when singular’s the blame
825 the chance of execution’s small
if the tidings are not heard by all.
But while, confused, election tossed
impossibly on reefs and rocks,
and struggled for some sense of place,
830 some notion of direction -- lost --
the heat, deprived now of its stock
of matter for the tempered flame
(though fire, tempered, just the same,
that active, most industrious,
835 consumes in fire that won’t inflame)
was waning now, and no excuse,
and, undergone the slow process,
the foodstuff all transformed, was spent
and outer substance now its own:
840 and that tumultuous boiling down
of heat and humid union
that ardent fired the marvelous cup
had now expired
(lacking its fuel) and, consequently
845 that which from it lofted up
in soporific, moist vapors
to intoxicate the rational throne
(and to its members from there drop
the sweet anesthetizing dope)
850 the soft ardors
of heat consumed,
the chains of sleep were coming loose:
and feeling want of sustenance
the extenuated member limbs,
855 restless now of resting there
neither all awoke or slept,
and little signs of hunger crept
with tardy movements, stretching, too,
and while, extending all the way,
860 the nerves fleshed out,
and restless bones
(not yet quite in their owner's sway)
turned over to the other side --
sensations came into their own,
865 still sweetly sated and refrained
of the natural anodyne,
and function, eyes half open, gained.
And from the brain, disoccupied,
all phantasmagoria fled
870 and -- as of lightest vapor formed --
to easy smoke, to wind transformed,
the figures trembled and dissolved.
Thus magic lanterns, painted so,
figures of just pretend resolve
875 on whitewashed walls, and various shades
of figure are revealed to sight
no less by shade than lantern light,
whose tremulous and competent
learnèd perspective from afar
880 in certainty makes measurement,
approved of much experiment,
so thus the fugitive shadow fades
out in the vanished splendor served
to feign a form of body there,
885 adorned of all dimensions, though
to be a surface undeserved.
Meanwhile, the Father of fiery Light
was riding near the Orient
as predetermined and foretold,
890 and bade his opposite antipode
trans-mountainous goodbyes and bright,
whose fainting light in trembling rays
makes at the point his Occident,
illumining now, our Orient.
895 But first, and fairest harbinger,
the tranquil Venus
heralds dawn,
she’s old Tithonus' lovely spouse
-- bedecked with lights, and Amazon,
900 who, taking arms against the night,
is bold, though beautiful and strong,
a mettlesome, if weepy, one --
and now she shows her lovely brow,
with matin lights her brow is crowned,
905 although a tender prelude, yet
she’s heralding the fiery planet,
crying out that troops have come,
troops of strangest glint and flash,
the more robust and veteran lights
910 reserved as rear guard for the clash --,
against that tyrant usurper
of the diurnal empire
who black laurel hosts by thousands hems
in shadow with feared night’s scepter,
915 but though of shades the governor,
why, even she's afraid of them.
But scarce the fair herald of sun,
that luminous and lovely one,
had raised her tremulous banner East,
920 with a call to arms from that ruffled corps
of soft, if bellicose, bugle birds
(an expert, though an artless, sound
of sonorous trumpets all around),
when -- like a tyrant, coward at best,
925 fearful and frightened to the last,
the sore encumbered Queen of Night
to rally her force and troops unite
opposes with her funest cape,
hastily patchworked and agape,
930 and takes fresh wounds with gashes clear
(though the outcome does not satisfy
it forms a pretext for the fear
her faint resistance can’t belie) --
and now the Queen, almost in flight,
935 yet rallies the force to save the night
and blows her bugle loud and hoarse
to gather in the black squadrons
and from the battlefield retire,
when, from the near vicinity
940 a plenitude of rays lets fly
from a brighter point of higher powers
than any beamed from Earthly towers.
In effect, the Sun now closed the gyre
it sculpted gold on blue sapphire:
945 arriving in a thousandfold
thousand points of flashing gold
-- a thousand lines, clear light, I mean,
leaving the bright circumference sheen
now rule blue Sky with yellow lines:
950 and the funest, tyrant strength of yore,
with her routed troops of empire,
retreat now, headlong, from the fray
and on their very horrors tread
as shadows trample shades away
955 to reach the Darkness just ahead,
so the routed army flees in haste,
while, hot pursued, the straggler shades
fall to sunlight fusillades.
Finally, Dusk could see, at last
960 a vision of the fugitive pass,
and -- with her zeal on the mend
from ruin forces a second wind--
and she, in that half globe where the Sun
withdrew the sheltering garrison
965 rebelling again, makes up her mind
to sieze the crown a second time,
while in our hemisphere a skein
of golden Sunlight shines again,
and with its fair judicious light
970 distributes equally and shares
with all things visible their hues,
and with this restoration makes
the exterior senses operate
more certainly, as daylight breaks
975 on the illumined World and I - awake.

translated by Elwin Wirkala

Agostina Storni: Letanías de la tierra muerta -- translation

Litany for the Dead Earth, by Alfonsina Storni


A day will come when the human race
Will have dried, as a vain plant desiccates.

And that old sun up in space will be
A carbonized torch snuffed out uselessly.

A day will come when the world around's
Lugubrious, silent and profound:

Great black shadow will surround the sphere,
And spring never come to the hemispheres;

A dead world like a blinded eye,
Forever restless sails the sky,

But fumbling in shadow and all alone
Not a song nor a cry nor a prayer intone.

Alone, with the creatures it preferred
In its breast worn out and in sleep interred.

(A mother moving on with venom pressed
from the children, dead now, in her breast.)

Not a city erect…just ruin and soot
Will shoulder the dead no longer afoot.

From way up there, black in the sky
A mountain will watch with baleful eye.

The sea, perchance a darkened block
Of ice like all else hard as rock.

And so, in hard anxieties
It will dream of ships on billowing seas,

And pass the years in hoping vain
For a single ship to plow the main.

And there where earth is all a dune,
Its beaches will dream about the moon,

And nothing from this desire will come,
For the moon’s just another mausóleum.

In vain it will want, this icy block,
To suck men under with the rocks

To hear the horrid screech of it,
As the shipwrecked beseech the infinite:

Nothing will remain; from pole to pole
The wind will sweep it all up whole:

Voluptuous Latin palaces
Miserable Beduoin refuges;

Eskimos in dark igloos,
Fine, luxurious cathedrals, too;

Black and yellow and copper skin,
White and Malay all mixed in

Will see each other beneath the earth
And ask forgiveness for so much war.

Holding hands, though underground
They’ll circle the earth as they go around.

And groaning in chorus they will sing:
¡Oh, vain and stupid suffering!

The earth was a rose garden all the time
Full of cities in their prime;

Some on the banks of rivers lay,
Others by forest lake and bay.

Between them the finest rails went
As if in hope, and confident,

Fields in flower all the while,
On plains so fresh they seemed to smile;

And instead of men who understand,
Brother against brother, knife in hand;

Women who gossip and berate,
A world that merchants populate;

Everyone against the good
Hurling mud, poisoning their food…

And now, we’re white bones in the ground
Circling in fraternal round.

And so, of the human flame bereft,
Above the ground there’s nothing left!

* * *

But who knows if some statue, mute,
Lonely stands, yet still afoot.

And thus, in deep shade, it may be the
Final refuge of the idea.

The ultimate refuge for the form
God wanted to define the norm.

And, though by subtlety oppressed,
Unknowing loveliness expressed.

A tender star perchance may see,
And sweetly question, who is she?

Who’s that brave girl stands her ground
Alone, as the dead world circles 'round?

And love her so by heaven’s instinct
Until she's fallen off her plinth.

Some nameless mercy for mankind,
And for poor earth may someday find

A passing beam an errant sun
Will come to shine, and a bright one,

Insinuating, “Tired sphere:
Dream a moment spring is here!

—Absorb my spirit, if you will
I'm the changing Universe, never still…

How beneath the earth they’ll stir
Those dead ones in its breast interred!

¡As if to reach the light divine
They'll want to fly up to its shine!

But their dead eyes will search in vain
For those red rays unseen again.

In vain! In vain! The layered stone’s
Too thick, oh, lying on those bones!...

Heaped up, defeated, now they rest,
And cannot leave their ancient nests,

And should some star espy their haunt,
There's no man left can cry: “I want!...”


Autora : Alfonsina Storni
Translated by Elwin Wirkala



There Will Come Soft Rain, by Sarah Teasdale
I post this because it's evocative of Alfonsina Storni's Litanies for the Dead Earth, and because it's evocative in itself...thanks to Simran Khurana's poetry blog, where I read it some days ago:


Here's something similar written by Sarah Teasdale.


There Will Come Soft Rain

There will come soft rain and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum-trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone

- Sarah Teasdale

See also Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains" story.