Posts Tagged ‘Poetry’

Casa Guidi Windows, A Poem in Two Parts. By Elizabeth Barrett Browning. ISBN: 9781517563943
https://www.abebooks.co.uk/products/isbn/9781517563943

We may now, and at long last, be arriving at the time for the proper appraisal and appreciation of the works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

She was a phenomenal writer, astute, very knowledgable, and very much her own person. The writing is consummate. At one point she was under consideration as the new Poet Laureate, upon the death of William Wordsworth.

1

The Casa Guidi Windows is a long two-part poem, set in Florence in 1848/9 to 50, at the time of the Risorgimento.
The work begins with hearing a child’s voice singing outside her window.
What does he sing, because it would have to be a he?
He sings O bella liberta. O bella!
And instantly the writer is caught up in the tumulus moment of the outpouring of hope and enthusiasm for the future that spread through Florence and parts of Italy at the time.
The writer is transported by the reunification spirit, and takes the reader on a reeling ride through the passionate cause and its expressions, the carnival atmosphere.

It continues ‘...on notes he went in search
So high for, you concluded the upspringing
Of such a nimble bird...’
Firstly we have here the little child fore-fronting the work, figuring the innocent rightness of the cause. There is also the deeper image of a that of a choir boy here, innocent and yet fervent.

I wrote above, it would have to be a he. But not necessarily. Conventions of the time would make the figure male – and so when Robert Browning published Pippa Passes (1841) he was indeed breaking the mould. Here was another child, singing beneath windows. And this child’s innocence revealed the iniquities of time and place as she passed from dwelling to dwelling on New Year’s Day.
(What also is interesting here is that this poem was set in Asolo, Veneta. This is where their son Edward. ‘Pen’, later retired to, and was buried.)

There is also in this child under the windows the Rousseau-esque child of nature.
And also the traditional image of the skylark rising into the sky, its passion and song transporting it into higher realms. Is this Shelley’s Blithe Spirit?

It is as though this great movement of the people was ‘ordained’, or if not that, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning had far too much respect for intelligence to fall for that, it was that a spirit was moving the people beyond and out i.e. they are transported, of their ordinary lives.
The abstractions of ‘liberty,’ ‘freedom’, though, how realisable in human terms were they then?
Are they now?

Then comes the writer’s martialling of Florence’s luminaries, from Dante, Petrarch, Machiavelli, to Renaissance painters, sculptors, thinkers, writers, the Medici down to Savonarola, to Galileo and on.

If you search out her apartment at the time: Casa Guide, in Florence – and I urge that you do so –
https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Casa+Guidi+Firenze/@43.7649241,11.2456479,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x132a51546a37a4eb:0x300cb57880079df2!8m2!3d43.7649241!4d11.2478366

you will see her first floor apartment is at a meeting of ways: Piazza de’ Pitti, Via Maggio, Via Mazzetta, Via Romana. And how very narrow all those roads and streets are!
She writes of both herself and Robert Browning watching the marches from their window, the banners, the ordered processions.
If you do use the map, the Casa Guidi is not as shown, but in the Piazza S Felice, next door to Mesticheria Ferramenta Casalinghi: the domed doorway with their names over the top.

So let’s look at that term Risorgimento. The whole work is suffused with references, both old and contemporary. And very few of them are now part of our general knowledge. At her time, how informed her readership was!
No internet, no social media, TV, radio, records… just journals and news paper reports. And schooling.
And here is one area of interest with both Robert and Elizabeth Moulton-Barret (her full unmarried name): both were tutor-taught. That, and with their own voracious reading. That reading could be wayward at times, but it was wide, and deep into character and subject.
We read here, in mid 1800s, a revealed thirst for psychological knowledge, for the conditions and means of what it is and demands, being human in their time.

There is a huge area of knowledge she references here that few readers of our time could possibly access. We are in need of a good research, and notes to the poems. We, with Google at our finger-tips.
What? You mean it is not infallible?
The earlier Wordsworth edition (1994) of the Collected Poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning does seem a fuller, more complete collection, and includes the Casa Guidi Windows. The latter, 2015 edition, with introduction by Dr Sally Minogue, does not; though it does does carry notes to the poems, and has a good and useful Introduction.

So, where were we with the poem? Part One is full of the enthusiasm of the events, refracted through meditations on happenings, characters, and assessments of their qualities.
Historically it was the period that Pope Pius’ constitution for the Papal States added to the weakened position of the French King Louis Phillipe. In the poem we see and hear the great crowds, orders of society, pass the windows to cheer his eminence, Pope Pius.

In Part Two she deals with the failure of the movement, for an Italy still only part free of Austrian claim. In Part Two we come to her contemporary Duke of Tuscany, Grand Duke Leopold: the buck stopped there, and with King Louis Phillipe. Even Pope Pius is under scrutiny; he was no longer the reformer, and his concerns for his flock found wanting.

2

The great strength in the piece, I find, is her ability to express that hope and enthusiasm as fully as her position allowed: invalid, foreigner, comparatively affluent, educated, but also a mother, with newborn baby.
And also to be able to examine and also express the feelings of loss in its failure.
To explore that hope and the ramifications of the hope for Italy of the time, and then also to take on the failure of the venture, the failure of those hopes. To express that, also – the passion and the sorrow.
Do not get me wrong, this is not a heart-wrench work, it is considered, factual at times, meditative, enthusiastic… it ranges over so many emotions and states of mind.

It is also a very literary piece.
Many contemporaries will find this not to their taste. It is not written for the voice, but for the silent reading. This allows its language greater scope.
The whole poem is structured carefully in iambic pentameter, with all the iambic licences of catalepsis etc. The poem is rigorously rhymed, but this does not read as external ornament because she positions her end rhymes just so that the rhymes express the salient terms used to rhyme.
Writing this way entails occasional juggling of line structure; and the period’s writing mores allow the ‘thee’s’ and ‘thou’s’, archaisms we now draw a breath at. The writing structure entails concentrated expression; at times it requires re-reading to get the meaning.
For myself, I love the slight changing of writing positions this produces. It gives a greater richness to the writing. It appears many-facetted.

It is end-rhymed throughout, ABABACDCDCD etc. Writing for rhyme like this allows the writer to tweak a line, a thought, and so we find that instead of following through descriptions we explore qualities.

She writes of,
… all images
Men set between themselves and the actual wrong,
To catch the weight of pity, meet the stress
Of conscience, – since ‘t is easier to gaze long
On sad masks and mournful effigies
Than on real, live, weak creatures crushed by strong.

In a TV interview Seamus Heaney commented on his own rhyme-use, saying that writing to rhyme ‘develops the thought‘.

So, what really went wrong with the great surge of the Risorgimento? She writes:


Record that gain, Mazzini – Yes, but first
Set down thy people’s faults; set down the want
Of soul-conviction; set down aims dispersed.
And incoherent means, and valour scant
Because of scanty faith, and schisms accursed
That wrench the brother-hearts from covenant
With freedom and each other.

This might just as well be every political cause.
The People.
Yes, but the Leaders never really know what The People want, because what they want is so diverse (witness the reasoning of the gilet jaunes, for one), and what the Leaders want so narrow that none can live there.
Some have called this a Political Poem, with all the dubious connotations of that description. But it is more than that, and she aimed for more than that.
She aimed for a poem about humanity.

3

In her Advertisement To The First Edition, she wrote that she, the writer, takes shame upon herself for having believed, like a woman, some royal oaths, and lost sight of the probable consequences of some obvious popular defects.
To be fallible, get things wrong sometimes, to not be afraid to show one’s vulnerabilities, is to be human, complex, inconsistent-but-hoping-for-consistency, is to aspire to wholeness.

The like a woman is there to disarm, and as such is a considered proto-marketing device. She was wholly aware of her readership.

Wiki (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Barrett_Browning) writes:

In the correspondence Barrett Browning kept with the Reverend William Merry from 1843 to 1844 on predestination and salvation by works, she identifies herself as a Congregationalist: “I am not a Baptist — but a Congregational Christian, — in the holding of my private opinions.” 

The Congretationalists of her time held very interesting views on self improvement:

the picture of the philistine Dissenters drawn by the poet and critic Matthew Arnold in Culture and Anarchy (1869) contains a measure of truth, it underestimates the zeal for self-improvement and the desire for a richer life that existed in Victorian Congregationalism.
https://www.britannica.com/topic/Congregationalism

That ‘richer life‘ is written out here in Casa Guidi Windows, in the developments of her thoughts and ideas.

In her publication history the Casa Guidi Windows follows her Sonnets From The Portuguese, and is followed by the masterpiece, monumental, Aurora Leigh.

And yet, reading the Sonnets From The Portuguese, now, we get a sense, especially in those early sonnets, that she had come to some kind of dark place with no way out: leaning on her gravestone, waiting; could see no future.
The meeting with Robert Browning stirred her, helped break the dead-lock.
She was a woman of great integrity.

Read generously, I say; read to appreciate, explore, understand.
Read slowly; savour her language, her sensibility.
Read to tune-in to the writing, to her concerns, the emotional and intellectual landscapes she opens to us.
Meet with her here, in her work.

That is really the best gift she has for us, and we, in our turn and time, for her.

You may also like:
Two-Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, by Fiona Sampson. Publisher : Profile Books; Main edition.
ISBN-10 : 1788162072

Sur(rendering), by Mario Martin Gijon. Published by Shearsman Books, 2020. Translated from the Spanish by Terence Dooley.
ISBN 978 1 84861 704 9.

Every writer will know the difficulties of their craft, finding the right word, the one with the nuances, cadences, sound, and syntactical relatedness to the whole.
How do you express many variations of an experience in, say, one word? 
The Spanish poet Mario Martin Gijon, in this new dual-language book, Sur(rendering) (originally published in Spanish in 2013), gives an example:

compusimos 

And so, how does a translator then convey just what the writer means? Translation theory attempts the conclusion that there can only ever be a rendering of the work, if you like, a work based on the original. Look at that ‘rendering’ word, with its breakdown into rend, render….

Terence Dooley, renders the Spanish term ‘compusimos’, with its roots similar to English ‘compose’, as in write, as

(w)ri(gh)ting

And so, look at that term, with its wright, write, and also the contextual sense of right-ness of two people together. And that is the ‘write’ of the author’s presence in the work.

The whole poem in Spanish is seven short lines, and this degree of concentration/consideration could only work in short pieces:

Contra viento y marea (recuerdo comun)

siempre unidos

di

   vertidos

del mun

                do

                     loor

compusimos

The translation:
into the wind, against the tide (shared memory)

always one

two

a(muse)d

in(fuse)d

in the hurt

            earth

             we t(w/o)o

(p)raise

            (w)ri(gh)ting

The book, Sur(rendering), consists of four sections of such concentrated poems that respond to the breakdown, loss, rediscovery, celebration and re-establishment of a relationship. The form and meaning-concentration portray the switch-back emotions, momentary doubts, self-doubts, feelings of unworthiness, of regressive anger, in a phrase the whole gamut of the whirlwind emotions that can occur in such an experience.
The form and meaning are one.
This is the aim, and rare success, of poetry to attain this level of reciprocity.

padecir la espera is rendered as hearing the w(a/e)i(gh)t, and it is surprising how the mind tunes into the usages, reads their equivocations and shuttling meanings. They do not encumber but enhance.
Another short poem: five lines –

enardecerme
para enardecirte
en al ard(ol)or
que me (re)ce
tu aus(es)encia

is Englished as:

(h)ard(ou/e)r
to (ki/ca)ndle
in you the cand(i/e)d
fire fanned
by your incandescent
(ab/es)sence

We get a sense of the music of the piece in the Spanish original, the careful rhythm, the silence and space in and around the piece that is full to brimming with potential expression.

So, how does this use of words differ from, say, punning on a word? There is a more elaborate system in use, for one. For two, the intent in use of words yoking together/bringing forward meanings, has far greater semantic range.

The last section poems incorporate lines, phrases from the poems of Paul Celan, in the original German. The translator has kept that, but added A short note on quotes at the end of the book, citing sources.
I had first thought he had used these refererals to Paul Celan because of that author’s technique and skill in ‘coining’ (Terence Dooley’s phrase) new words. In Paul Celan’s case he was purportedly making a usable German language, that is, remaking an oppressor’s and destroyer’s vocabulary into one laden with conscience and responsibility.

One excerpt is from Paul Celan’s early poem Corona, translated as ‘It is time’; it is used because it illustrates his referral-use, though. Corona is from the period of Paul Celan’s full relationship with Ingeborg Bachmann, and the line comes at the end of the poem, that is, the defining emotive stance that the development of Corona achieves: a statement of readiness, stating the need for grounded fulfillment i.e. commitment.
It is apposite and entirely appropriate to the usage by Mario Martin Gijon.

Recent translations by Terence Dooley:
10 Contemporary Spanish Women Poets, translated by Terence Dooley, Shearsman

What Was It?

Posted: February 24, 2020 in John Stammers Page
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‘Venetian ‘merchants’, besieging Athens’
their artillery scoring Acropolis hits. 
Imagine it.
                       Sneering; 
we were always good at that.
Commerce and culture, ‘Bean-counters, 
and creators, makers.
’ 
Both bear our scrutiny.

How these thin columns hold their lintel
of argument. The frieze of warriors
that overlays bare stone, chisel marks,
the industries of art – overlaying
the sophist’s forgotten blind alleys,
with only the successful, useful
remaining.

                    What was my argument, again?
I forget, my concentration overlaid 
by an artillery of marketing 
and contemporary concerns, moments.

Chain

Posted: January 3, 2020 in Chat
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Each day’s like a chain that hangs from its cloud.
Tuesday was clumsy, loose, not reaching ground;
today is fine-spun, hall-marked, many linked –
each link frames a dimension of life.

Broken chains are dangerous, lash out
whenever air stirs, clouds mass, trees bend,
and no storm breaks. How many died, do you think,
their lost days clashing overhead?

These chains connect us, we would not be
without them. They themselves could be
the finest spun, glinting, and delicate.

But they are not.

Every time you turned the street turned with you:
the languages, distractions, sales, and somewhere
a street band. You turned and the current flowed
around you, through you; kept moving. The window display
was there for you. Streets of bodies eddying, surged.

You still felt their tug in a doorway. Turned, and
lifted away; it fell from you. You rose
quickly and above it all; shop lights far below.
Rose past cornices, pigeon spikes, to colder air;
the smells of fast food, music, muting.

A sudden panic; the city lights indistinguishable –
you were rising faster, ‘How will I breathe?’
Higher, higher to break through to sudden
openness, emptiness,
and strung there
were huge chains of lives, channelled
across darkness — people connected, singly,
as far as sight was possible.

A policemen next to you, his difficult face;
the barrista who snubbed you, the shop assistant
who had seemed distant,  all there together,
connecting.  And listening revealed
high tones, metallic, different timbres. The planets,
ringing in the openness.

Linked lines of lives stretched from planet
to planet and the sun’s radiance. All connected,
attuned  to a vast, opening sense
of awareness, completion.

 

Cafe/Coffee Poems

Posted: November 24, 2019 in Chat
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CAFE

The city is bored; he sits by the door
of a main street café, twitching with espresso;
mind glazed by incessant passing,
dulls to dissatisfaction too extended
to sustain its edge. He convolutes the image:
he is a silent tongue in the street’s mouth,
continually attempting to
articulate its existence, and failing.

The café plays a muted loop,
an orchestration of Alanis Morrisette,
an unresolving melody
that is always on the point of developing
but does not. Now he connects:
a violinist with the Halle,  recognises this,
it was his holiday money;
a television commercial paid for school fees.

The year has been good,
but he is worn, fighting to remain
where he has fought to be.

COFFEE

This is part of the magic of the coffee cup:
to pour milk, not even cream, to leave it
concerned with toast, a pastry,
to turn to it and catch the point where

a perfect spiral, perfectly balanced,
holds for a moment, then dissolves again,
breaks down into ellipses, warping
into tangents and parentheses –
white hands framing a troubled face.

Someone who did not quite make it.
I know him well.
I live my life amongst ellipses.

 

A cub reporter he was cobbling up
in the hot Turkish sun
that dries and chaps noses, lips,
the freckly European skin,
how soldier’s flake out under canvas
sapped by flies, and inaction.
‘At first,’ he wrote, ‘the skirmishing
kept them sweet, but adrenaline’s
as much a drug, a poison, as any
you can buy on the Turkish street.’

‘Now month on month, while the season closes,
shops close, and beaches are deserted,
they’re still here, still camped among
the growing dunes of cans, skirting
the latrine’s no-go areas.
The last flight gone they linger, inert
in airports with low-slung rifles,
assertive in bars, or hammer, drunk,
on closed doors late at night.’

And the horror stories the military
could not hold down: the travel guide
dragged off was more lucky murdered
than others they took.

Now sub-editor, on his desk
a new cub’s update on his winning story:
Contacts inside say the soldiers’ home-pay
is used by top brass to invest outside.
And so when stocks fall
cheques bounce, families… fail.

From his high window, watched
as developers bulldozed
an office block in the next lot.
His favourite Turkish restaurant
cordoned off; he sipped coffee
from a plastic cup; a superstore ciabatta.
The photo of his wife fell flat;
his coffee a telephoto lens
focusing in, focusing out, as a rumble
shook the superstructure.
Some hot-head cowboy contractor
had not secured the foundations
.

 

HER FRIEND SAID

Posted: September 13, 2019 in Chat
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reversing her beloved Beetle to angle it better,
the parking-space side-on, and the pampered Chrysler
there unexpectedly. Inevitably
the exchange of insurance, names and addresses.

To be weighed against a feather, judged, then passed on.

And he was late for the lecture he was giving,
and she for the first paper of her exam.
Aged sixty; sitting her Egyptology: she had applied
for a post in the city museum already. He was lecturing
in Quantum Physics, some current thinking.
They met, parted; lives stalled, and then restarted;
crossed lines diverging into complex futures.
The story starts where it stops, they walk out of shot.

The correct positioning of the hieroglyph
in the cartouche, she would say, is crucial to the meaning.
For him, the pilot wave spreads out, a pulse,
until meeting an obstacle, is then registered as a particle.
These lives that cross, but do not meet.
By mapping out trajectories we think to identify natures;
weigh what we observe; judge; then pass on.
All are part of the same point.

APPS

Posted: June 23, 2019 in Chat
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Something is speaking, but you don’t know the language.
Your body does, trips you, its knowledge
coding through into nerves of muscle, to balance.

You will need an app to help you stop, listen.
What is it saying?  It’s saying
you’re stretched beyond your limits, a wire spring
about to buckle. It’s saying
listening is no good, but there’s still time
to save the debilitated, ruined.

Listen, and then act
by stopping doing.

Falling is just the beginning.

Tie

Posted: April 20, 2019 in Chat
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New blue silk tie blowing over his suit jacket shoulder;
he fought it back, tangling with name tag, document folder.

She tugged the points of her faux-bolero jacket, lifting chin
to face-down the Chief Accountant; he told her ‘None can win.’

Her thought ran, ‘I can.’ The execs looked on, nervous:
go-getters, surfers of recession. No one now remembers,

presumes their own time unique. The superstructure
remains the same; the built-in success, then failure.

Opens the car’s door he had barely begun to pay for;
checks his Blackberry, and watches investments fall.