29 April 2012


          Avete in voi li fiori e la verdura
                            Guido Cavalcanti

You have in you the flowers and the green grass:
And what is shining or is fair to see:
Light of the sun your own light doth surpass:
Who has not seen you, worthless wight must be!

And in this world of ours, no creature is
So full of pleasure and delightfulness:
If any man fear love, new courage his,
Seeing your face, so much himself to bless!
The ladies all, that bear you company,
For your dear sake, are pleasing to my sight,
And I would beg them of their courtesy,
To do you honor, each to strive her best,
And in your sovereignty to have delight
Since of them all you are the loveliest.
                                          Trans. G. S. Fraser
    Avete in voi li fiori e la verdura,
        E ciò, che luce, o è bello a vedere.
        Risplende più che'l Sol vostra figura;
        Chi voi non vede, mai non può valere.
    In questo mondo non ha creatura
        Sì piena di beltà, nè di piacere:
        E chi d'Amor temesse, l'assicura
        Vostro bel viso, e non può più temere.
    Le donne, che vi fanno compagnia
        Assai mi piacen per lo vostro amore;
        Ed io le prego per lor cortesia,
    Che, qual più vi faccia onore,
        Ed aggia cara vostra signoria,
        Perchè di tutte siete la migliore. 

     * * * * * * * * * *

     Al poco giorno e al gran cerchio d’ombra 
                          Dante Alighieri 
To a short day and a great ring of shadow
have I come alas! and a whitening of hills,
as they lose color with the clouded grass.
And still my passion does not change its green,
so fast it is in the hard soul of stone
that looks and speaks and heeds me like a woman.
And in the same way this springtime woman
stands frozen like the snow in shadow'
because she is not moved, no more than stone
is, when the sweet weather warms the hills
and turns them back again from white to green 
to cover them with little flowers and grass.
When she wears her hair in a garland of grass,
our minds are charmed away from every woman
save her who mingles curled yellow and green
so neat that Love comes to stand in shadow,
Love who fixes me between small hills
more firmly than mortar fixing stone.
Her beauty dearer than a precious stone
works a wound not cured by healing grass,
and I have fled through plains and past the hills
with hope to save myself from such a woman;
yet her dazzle gives no rest in shadow
cast by wall or knoll or leafy green.
I have sometimes seen her dressed in green
so made she might have then provoked in stone
the love I suffer even for her shadow:
therefore in the fairest meadow grass
I craved to see her lovesick as ever woman
was -- and bounded by the highest hills.

But rivers will return to run uphill 
sooner than, for me, this damp green
wood take fire, as should a pretty woman
so could I bring myself to sleep on stone
a lifetime and roam and feed on grass
only to watch her garments set a shadow.

And when the hills throw their darkest shadow,
under such green beauty this young woman
melts it, vanished like a stone in grass.
                                 Trans. Sonia Raiziss and Alfredo de Palchi.
Al poco giorno e al gran cerchio d’ombra
son giunto, lasso!, ed al bianchir de’ colli,
quando si perde lo color ne l’erba;
e ’l mio disio però non cangia il verde,
si è barbato ne la dura petra
che parla e sente come fosse donna.

Similemente questa nova donna
si sta gelata come neve a l’ombra;
che non la move, se non come petra,
il dolce tempo che riscalda i colli
e che li fa tornar di bianco in verde
perché li copre di fioretti e d’erba.

Quand’ella ha in testa una ghirlanda d’erba,
trae de la mente nostra ogn’altra donna;
perché si mischia il crespo giallo e ’l verde
sì bel, ch’Amor lì viene a stare a l’ombra,
che m’ha serrato intra piccioli colli
più forte assai che la calcina petra.

La sua bellezza ha più vertù che petra,
e ’l colpo suo non può sanar per erba;
ch’io son fuggito per piani e per colli,
per potere scampar da cotal donna;
e dal suo lume non mi può far ombra
poggio né muro mai né fronda verde.

Io l’ho veduta già vestita a verde
sì fatta, ch’ella avrebbe messo in petra
l’amor ch’io porto pur a la sua ombra;
ond’io l’ho chesta in un bel prato d’erba
innamorata, com’anco fu donna,
e chiuso intorno d’altissimi colli.

Ma ben ritorneranno i fiumi a’ colli
prima che questo legno molle e verde
s’infiammi, come suol far bella donna,
di me; che mi torrei dormire in petra
tutto il mio tempo e gir pascendo l’erba,
sol per veder do’ suoi panni fanno ombra.

Quandunque i colli fanno più nera ombra,
sotto un bel verde la giovane donna
la fa sparer, com’uom petra sott’erba.
From An Anthology of Medieval Lyrics, ed. Angel Flores (1962). 

22 April 2012

Baudolino crosses the Sambatyon

It was indeed the river of stone, as they realized when they arrived at its banks, dazed by the great din that almost prevented them from hearing one another's words. It was a majestic course of rocks and clods, flowing ceaselessly, and in that current of great shapeless masses could be discerned irregular slabs, sharp as blades, broad as tombstones, and between them, gravel, fossils, peaks, and crags.
       Moving at the same speed, as if driven by an impetuous wind, fragments of travertine rolled over and over, great faults sliding above, then, their impetus lessening, they bounced off streams of spall, while little chips now round smoothed as if my water in their sliding between boulder and boulder, leaped up, falling back with sharp sounds, to be caught in those same eddies they themselves had created, crashing and grinding. Amid and above this overlapping of mineral, puffs of sand were formed, busts of chalk, clouds of lapilli, foam of pumice, rills of mire.
       Here and there sprays of shards, volleys of coals, fell on the back, and the travelers had to cover their faces so as not be be scarred. . . . By then, for two days, they had seen above the horizon an impervious chain of high mountains, which loomed, almost blocking their view of the sky, crammed as they were in an ever narrower passage, with no exit, from which , way, way above, could now be seen only a great cloud barely luminescent, that gnawed the top of those peaks.
       Here, from a fissure, like a wound between two mountains, they saw the Sambatyon springing up: a roiling of sandstone, a gurgling of tuff, a dripping of muck, a ticking of shards, a grumbling of clotted earth, an overflowing of clods, a rain of clay, a gradually transformed into a steady flow, which began its journey towards some boundless ocean of sand. . . . Then, more and more impetuous, the Sambatyon subdivided into myriad streamlets, which penetrated among mountainous slopes like the fingers of a hand in a clump of mud; at times a wave was swallowed by a grotto, then from a sort of rocky passage that seemed impassable, it emerged with a roar and flung itself angrily toward the valley . . .
       There were cataracts that plunged down from dozens of rocky eaves arranged like an amphitheater, into a boundless final vortex, an incessant retching of granite, an eddy of bitumen, a sole undertow of alum, a churning of schist, a clash of orpiment against the banks. And on the matter that the vortex erupted towards the sky, but low with respect to the eyes of those who looked down as if from the top of a tower, the sun's rays formed on those silicious droplets an immense rainbow that as every body reflected the rays with varying splendor according to its own nature, had many more colors than those usually formed in the sky after a storm, and, unlike them, seemed destined to shine eternally, never dissolving.
       It was a reddening of haematrites and cinnabars, a glow of blackness as if it were steel, a flight of crumbs of aureopigment from yellow to bright orange, a bluness of armenium, a whiteness of calcinated shells, a greening of malachite, a fading of liothargirium into saffrons ever paler, a blare of risigallam, a belching of greenish earth that faded into dust of crusocolla and then transmigrated into nuances of indigo and violet, a triumph of aurum musivum, a purpling of burnt while lead, a flaring of sandracca, a couch of silvered clay, a single transparence of alabaster.

Umberto Eco, Baudolino: A Novel.  Translated by William Weaver. (from pp. 357-360)

15 April 2012

Three American sonnets to be read aloud

from American Sonnets: an anthology
David Bromwich, editor.

Robert Frost
Never again would birds' song be the same.

He would declare and could himself believe
That the birds there in all the garden round
From having heard the daylong voice of Eve
Had added to their own an oversound,
Her tone of meaning but without the words.
Admittedly an eloquence so soft
Could only have had an influence on birds
When call or laughter carried it aloft.
Be that as it may, she was in their song.
Moreover her voice upon their voices crossed
Had now persisted in the woods so long
That probably it never would be lost.
Never again would birds' song be the same.
And to do that to birds was why she came.

Delmore Schwartz
The Beautiful American Word, Sure.

The beautiful American word, Sure,
As I have come into a room, and touch
The lamp's button, and the light blooms with such
Certainty where the darkness loomed before,

As I care for what I do not know, and care
Knowing for little she might not have been,
And for how little she would be unseen,
The intercourse of lives miraculous and dear.

Where the light is, and each thing clear,
Separate from all others, standing in its place,
I drink the time and touch whatever's near,

And hope for day when the whole world has that face:
For what assures her present every year?
In dark accidents the mind's sufficient grace.

William Meredith
The Illiterate

Touching your goodness, I am like a man
Who turns a letter over in his hand
And you might think this was because the hand
Was unfamiliar but, truth is, the man
Has never had a letter from anyone;
And now he is both afraid of what it means
And ashamed because he has no other means
To find out what it says than to ask someone.

His uncle could have left the farm to him,
Or his parents died before he sent them word,
Or the dark girl changed and want him for beloved.
Afraid and letter-proud, he keeps it with him.
What would you call his feeling for the words
That keep him rich and orphaned and beloved?

08 April 2012

Wittgenstein's Mistress

by David Markson. 

In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street.
      Somebody is living in the Louvre, certain of the messages would say, Or in the National Gallery.
      Naturally they could only say that when I was in Paris or in London.  Somebody is living in the Metropolitan Museum, being what they would say when I was still in New York.
      Nobody came, of course.  Eventually I stopped leaving the messages.
      To tell the truth, perhaps I left only three or four messages altogether.
      I have no idea how long ago it was when I was doing that.  If I were forced to guess, I believe I would guess ten years.
     Possibly it was several years longer ago than that, however.
     And of course I was quite out of my mind for a certain period too, back then.
     I do not know for how long a period, but for a certain period.
     Time out of mind.  Which is a phrase I suspect I may have never properly understood, now that I happen to use it.
     Time out of mind meaning mad, or time out of mind meaning simply forgotten?
     But in either case there was little question about that madness.  As when I drove that time to that obscure corner of Turkey, for instance, to visit at the site of ancient Troy.
      And for some reason wished especially to look at that river there, that I had read about as well, flowing past the citadel to the sea.
     I have forgotten the name of the river, which was actually a muddy stream.
     And at any rate I do not mean to the sea, but to the Dardanelles, which used to be called the Hellespont.
     The name of Troy had been changed too, naturally.  Hisarlik, being what it was changed to.
     In many ways my visit was a disappointment, the site being astonishingly small.  Like little more than your ordinary city block and a few stories in height, practically.
    Still, from the ruins one could see Mount Ida, all of that distance away.
    Even in late spring, there was snow on the mountain.
    Somebody went there to die, I believe, in one of the old stories.  Paris, perhaps.
    I mean the Paris who had been Helen's lover, naturally.  And who was wounded quite near the end of that war.
    As a matter of fact it was Helen I mostly thought about, when I was at Troy.
    I was about to add that I even dreamed, for a while, that the Greek ships were beached there still.
    Well, it would have been a harmless thing to dream.

* * * * * *
      Lately I have often merely stopped typing and then started again, without putting in that it is tomorrow.
      . . .
      Something I doubtless did put in, somewhere, is that I once knew a great deal about many painters.
      Well, I knew a great deal about many painters for the same reason that Menelaus must surely have known a great deal about Paris, say.
      Even if I seem to have skipped Rogier van der Weyden and Jan Steen.
      Somehow I would also appear to know that Bach had eleven children, however.
      Or perhaps it was twenty children.
      Then again it may have been Vermeer who had eleven children.
      Though possibly what I have in mind is that Vermeer left only twenty paintings.
      Leonardo left fewer than that, perhaps only fifteen.
      Not one of these figures may be correct.
      Fifteen paintings do not seem like very many, especially when several of them are not even finished.
      Or are deteriorating.
      Then again it is perhaps quite a lot if one is Leonardo.
      Actually Vermeer left forty paintings.
      Brahms had no children at all, although he was known for carrying candy in his pocket to give to the children of other people, when he visited people who had children.
      And at least we have finally solved the question as to which life of Brahms it was that I read.
      Surely a history of music written for children, and printed in extraordinarily large type, would place emphasis on the fact that somebody being written about in that very book was known for carrying candy in his pocket to give to children when he visited people who had children.
      Even if Brahms had not done this very often, surely it would have been emphasized there.
      In fact it is not even impossible that Brahms hardly ever carried candy in his pocket to give to children.
      Very possibly Brahms did not even do this more than once in his life, and the entire legend was based on that single incident.
      Helen ran off with a lover only once in her life herself, and for three thousand years nobody would ever let her forget it.
      Here is some candy, children, Brahms doubtless said, once.
      Brahms gave candy to children, somebody write.
      The latter statement is in no way untrue. Any more than it is untrue that Helen was unfaithful.
      Although when one comes right down to it, who is to say that Brahms may even have not liked children?
      Or even disliked them, to the extreme?
      As a matter of fact quite possibly the only reason Brahms ever gave candy to any of them, even the once, may have been so they would go away altogether.
      Actually, Leonardo did not have children either, although nothing appears to have been said about candy either way, in his instance.
      Still, so much for your basic legend.

* * * * * *
     Have I mentioned that I have taken to building fires down hear the water, after my sunsets, incidentally?
     I have taken to building fires down near the water, after my sunsets.
     Now and again, too, looking at them from a distance, what I have done is to make believe for a little while that I am back at Hisarlik.
     By which I really mean when Hisarlik was Troy, of course, and all of  those years and years ago.
     So that what I am more truthfully making believe is that the fires are Greek watchfires, where they have been lighted along the shore.
     Well, that certainly being a harmless enough thing to make believe.    
     Oh. And I have been hearing The Alto Rhapsody again also, these days.
    Which is to say the real Alto Rhapsody this time, what with all of that having finally been sorted out.
     Even if it is still hardly the real one either, naturally, being still only in my 
      But still.
     And at any rate it is far too chilly this morning to be fretting about inconsequential perplexities of that sort.
     In fact it is far too chilly to be typing here to begin with, actually.
     Unless I might wish to move the typewriter closer to my pot-bellied sove, some way.
     Although what I really ought to do before doing that is to go out to the spring again, to tell the truth.
     Having completely forgotten about the rest of my laundry, which is spread across various bushes.
     So that by now there could very well be some new skirt sculptures out there, even.
     Even if Michelangelo would not think them that, but I think them that.
     And even if I will more probably leave the rest of the laundry where it is until I am feeling less tired, on the other hand.
     Doubtless I will not trouble to move the typewriter, either, when one comes down to that.
     Once I had a dream of fame.
     Generally, even then, I was lonely.
     To the castle, a sign must have said.
     Somebody is living on this beach.

  (pages: beginning 7-8, 123-125, conclusion 239-240)

NYTimes review of Wittgenstein's Mistress.

01 April 2012

Amorgos, Part 6

Nikos Gatsos
How much I loved you only I know
I who once touched you with the eyes of the Pleiades
and covered you with the mane of the moon and we danced in the
summer fields
on the stubble and we ate together the mown clover
the great dark sea with so many pebbles around your throat so many
colored stones in your hair.

A boat comes into shore a rusted windlass creaks
a column of blue smoke in the rose of the horizon
like the lacerating wing of the crane
armies of swallows wait to welcome the brave
bare arms with anchors tattooed on their shoulders wave
the cries of children jumble with the babbling of the west wind
bees fly in and out about the nostrils of the herds
Kalamatan silks flutter
and a distant bell streaks the sky indigo
like the voice of a simandron travelling through the stars
So many eons fled

from the soul of the Goths from the domes of Baltimore
from the great monastery of lost Agia Sophia.
But on the high mountains who are those who watch
with motionless eye and serene face?
That dust in the air the echo of what burning?
Isn't it Kalyvas fighting, or Leventoyannis?
Perhaps the Germans have attacked the Maniotes, unarmed?
Neither Kalyvas fights nor Leventoyannis,
Nor have the Germans attacked the Maniotes, unarmed.
Silent towers are watching a haunted princess
peaks of cypresses companion a dead anemone
quiet shepherds play their morning songs on a linden flute
a mindless hunter fires a musket at doves
and an old forgotten windmill
with a needle of dolphin sews its disintegrating sails
and with a fair northwest wind comes down the slopes
as Adonis came down the path to say a "Good evening!" to Golfo.

Year after year I wrestled with ink and mallet my tormented heart
with gold and fire to make you an embroidery
a hyacinth from the orange tree
a flowering quince to comfort you
I who once touched you with the eyes of the Pleiades
and covered you with the mane of the moon and we danced in the
summer fields
on the stubble and we ate together the mown clover
great dark loneliness with so many pebbles around your throat so many
colored stones in your hair.

Trans. DGW.   
For the complete Amorgos, and the Greek text.