26 August 2012

The Anna Mary Letters to Hans Christian Andersen

The Anna Mary Letters to Hans Christian Andersen

                             by Stephen Gray

    I.                                    Ulva Cottage
                                           1 January 1869
Dear Mr. Anderson.  My name is Anna Mary.
Last-born of Mary my mother, deceased
Of the desert fever while I was but a 'wee bairn'; 
I am but ten, too young to remember her voice.
I do like your fairy tales so much -- the tin soldier and the ugly,
Ugly duckling.  I would like to go and visit you.
When Papa comes home from Africa I intend
To ask him to take me.  I live where he began
As a piecer of cotton, threading those bales . . . 
Long enough to join us over six thousand miles;
What with the water-thrust and water-damp 
The Clyde is perfect for the manufacture of cloth;
Without cotton my dolly'd have no clothes.
I'm sure he will agree.  In the New Year.

  II.                                        17 June 1871
Four of his children in this cottage on the Clyde; good and damp
Enough to drive the cotton, even if it's not Victoria Falls.
I send you the photo of my Papa and me:
His arm is about me and mine about my dolly.
I would like you to notice my hoop-skirt and pantaloons,
But not my face and hair scooped away, ugly still;
Papa draws back breath and calls me 'sprightly' now;
If you ask me he's forgotten the meaning of his own hearth;
He says we're sickly and weak, bad seed,
But he's the one won't kiss for bad teeth, rotten tongue;
He was born here, he should know; we were born
In the wildest desert so generous, where a man may breathe indeed.
He said bright Denmark was out of the qustion:
Only dark Africa calls, where he may make himself
A paradise away from this, his woven wet hell.

  III.                                      24 September 1874
O Hans Andersen, You will have seen from the papers
How the tale has no magic ending for us, quack quack.
My father is the one Mr. Stanley found out there
And he could not persuade him to return to us.
Robert's gone, Thomas and Ossie too --
Poor seed, this little mermaid never will swim;
What great, great sorry I have had this year.
I did expect Papa to take me to your Copenhagen.
Instead of going the different places I fully intended
With Papa, I have been obliged to take the sad journey to London
To see what's left of him buried in Westminster Abbey.
We had all wreaths of full white flowers
To lay on his coffin; our Queen sent one too
From out of her palace with deepest regrets.
I am the only one of our seed left alive now'
We shall be threadbare, me and my toy;
Don't you think flowers are so beautiful,
Ice-white and wound in a heart --
The shape of the continent where his lies?

  IV.                                          30 October 1874
Back at our industrious Blantyre:
Papa's two faithful servants were here last week
To visit me.  Many interesting things they told
About Papa and one of them, called Chuma, made
A model grass hut in which he placed my doll
As an example, to show the position where
Father knelt and died; and Susi endlessly
Fussed with the bed to get it exactly correct.
Quack quack, my dear.  What else can I say?
Susi says they brought his remains back from Ilala
Only to prove to the consul at Zanzibar no black man
Poisoned him; he died of his own disease.  Tin god.
You're the one who understands
And I am your sincere friend. 

From the London Review of Books, 28 January 1993.
The correspondence between Anna Mary Livingstone and Hans Christian Anderson extended over five years.  Thirteen letters remain.

19 August 2012

A Dance to the Music of Time

A Dance to the Music of Time, Nicholas Poussin, ca. 1638.

August à la Poussin

                  by Louis MacNeice

The shutter of time darkening ceaselessly
Has whisked away the foam of may and elder
And I realise how now, as every year before,
Once agan the gay months have eluded me.

For the mind, by nature stagey, welds its frame
Tomblike around each little world of a day;
We jump from picture to picture and cannot follow
The living curve that is breathlessly the same.

While the lawn-mower sings moving up and down
Spirting its little fountain of vivid green,
I, like Poussin, make a still-bound fête of us
Suspending every noise, of insect or machine.

Garlands at a set angle that do not slip
Theatrically (and as if forever) grace
You and me and the stone god in the garden
And Time who also is shown with a stone face.

But all this is a dilettante’s lie.
Timés face is not stone nor still his wings,
Our mind, being dead, wishes to have time die
For we being ghosts cannot catch hold of things.

12 August 2012


  Piere Vidal

               by W. S. Merwin
I saw the wolf in winter watching on the raw hill
I stood at night on top of the black tower and sang
I saw my mouth in spring float away on the river
I was a child in rooms where the furs were climbing
and each was alone and they had no eyes no faces
nothing inside them any more but the stories
they never breathed as they waved in their dreams of grass
and I sang the best songs that were sung in the world
as long as a song lasts they came by themselves to me
and I loved blades and boasting and shouting as I rode
as though I was the bright day flashing from everything
I loved being with woman and their breath and their skin
and the thought of them carried me like a wind
I uttered terrible things about other men
in a time when tongues were cut out to pay for kissing
but I set my sail for the island of Venus
and a niece of the Emperor in Constantinople
and I could have become the Emperor myself
I won and I won and all the women in the world
were in love with me and they wanted what I wanted
so I thought and every one of them deceived me
I was the greatest fool in the world I was the world’s fool
I have been forgiven and came home as I dreamed
and have seen them all dancing and singing as the ship came in
and I have watched friends die and have worn black and cut off
the tails and ears of all my horses in mourning
and have shaved my head and the heads of my followers
I have been a poor man living in a rich man’s house
and I have gone back to the mountains and for one woman
I have worn the fur of a wolf and the shepherd’s dogs
have run me to earth and I have been left for dead
and have come back hearing them laughing and the furs
were hanging in the same places and I have seen
what is not there I have sung its song I have breathed
its day and it was nothing to you where were you.

Piere Vidal Old
                   by Ezra Pound

When I but think upon the great dead days
And turn my mind upon that splendid madness,
Lo! I do curse my strength
And blame the sun his gladness;
For that the one is dead
And the red sun mocks my sadness.

Behold me, Vidal, that was fool of fools!
Swift as the king wolf was I and as strong
When tall stags fled me through the alder brakes,
And every jongleur knew me in his song,
And the hounds fled and the deer fled
And none fled over long.

Even the grey pack knew me and knew fear.
God! how the swiftest hind's blood spurted hot
Over the sharpened teeth and purpling lips!
Hot was that hind's blood yet it scorched me not
As did first scorn, then lips of the Penautier!
Aye ye are fools, if ye think time can blot

From Piere Vidal’s remembrance that blue night.
God! but the purple of the sky was deep!
Clear, deep, translucent, so the stars me seemed
Set deep in crystal; and because my sleep
Rare visitor came not, the Saints I guerdon
For that restlessness Piere set to keep

One more fool's vigil with the hollyhocks.
Swift came the Loba, as a branch that's caught,
Torn, green and silent in the swollen Rhone,
Green was her mantle, close, and wrought
Of some thin silk stuff that's scarce stuff at all,
But like a mist where through her white form fought,

And conquered! Ah God! conquered!
Silent my mate came as the night was still.
Speech? Words? Faugh! Who talks of words and love?!
Hot is such love and silent,
Silent as fate is, and as strong until
It faints in taking and in giving all.

Stark, keen, triumphant, till it plays at death.
God! she was white then, splendid as some tomb
High wrought of marble, and the panting breath
Ceased utterly. Well, then I waited, drew,
Half-sheathed, then naked from its saffron sheath
Drew full this dagger that doth tremble here.

Just then she woke and mocked the less keen blade.
Ah God, the Loba! and my only mate!
Was there such flesh made ever and unmade!
God curse the years that turn such women grey!
Behold here Vidal, that was hunted, flayed,
Shamed and yet bowed not and that won at last.

And yet I curse the sun for his red gladness,
I that have known strath, garth, brake, dale,
And every run-away of the wood through that great
Behold me shrivelled as an old oak's trunk
And made men's mock'ry in my rotten sadness!

No man hath heard the glory of my days:
No man hath dared and won his dare as I:
One night, one body and one welding flame!
What do ye own, ye niggards! that can buy
Such glory of the earth? Or who will win
Such battle-guerdon with his 'prowesse high' ?

O age gone lax! O stunted followers,
That mask at passions and desire desires,
Behold me shrivelled, and your mock of mocks;
And yet I mock you by the mighty fires
That burnt me to this ash.

Ah! Cabaret! Ah Cabaret, thy hills again!

Take your hands off me! . . . [Sniffing the air.
Ha! this scent is hot!

05 August 2012

Olympics: For Theron of Akragas

For Theron of Akragas,
Winner in the Olympic chariot-race, 476 BC

                                    by Cameron Hawke Smith

                                     Herakles in pursuit of the doe
                                     with the golden antler
                                     came to the land
                                     beyond the north wind's home

                                     and wondered
                                     at the forest of dark green
(for which there is no word in Greek)
and the round eye of the moon
gazed at him

a sweet urge came upon him
to fetch that primal greenness
and make shade for the racetrack

where the garden
with the consecrated altars of Zeus
was naked of trees and exposed
to the sun's caustic rays

and now athletes
hot from the chase
and crowned
by the Arbiter of Games
carry that forest on their victors' heads

For Theron of Akragas,
Winner in the Olympic chariot-race, 476 BC
Olympian 3
                                  by Pindar 

 1. I aim to please the guest-loving tydarids,
     golden-haired Helen, too,
while I pay honor to famous Akragas and
rouse up for Theron the hymn of Olympic victory owed to the tireless
hooves of his team! Once more the Muse
     stands at my side as I search out a
new-fashioned mix of Dorian dance with

voices that celebrate triumph.  Crowns
    fixed in my hair mark a
ritual duty of joining the elegant
tones of the lyre with a shout from the pipe and a pattern of
   words in due praise of
Hagedisamos' brave son, and
   Pisa commands me as well.  Songs
travel from there, god-sent and destined for

ep. him on whose brow the strict Elian judge,
following Harakles' ancient rule,
   places a wreath of gray olive to
bind in his hair -- leaves from the tree
   brought long ago by Amphitryon's
son from the shadowy sources of
   Ister to serve as best
emblem of games at Olympia, once his

2. words had persuaded the men of Apollo who
   live beyond VZoreas.
He made his plea in good faith, wanting a
tree for the famed grove of Zeus, as shade to be shared by the
   crowd, and as a badge of 
valiant success. His father's altars once
   hallowed, the eye of the midmonth
moon had shone full upon him from her golden

car as on Alpheos' banks he established a sacred
   judging of games and a
festival, every four years, but no splendid
trees as yet grew in that field by the Kronian Hill --
   Pelops' domain.  To him the
precinct seemed naked, enslaved to the sharp
   rays of the sun, and in that
moment his heart had urged him to go

ep. back to the Istrian land where Orthosia,
horse-driving daughter of Leto, had
   earlier met him, come from Arkadia's
ridges and glens, forced by Eurystheus
   (and by the oath of his father) to
bring back the hind whose horns were of 
   gold, the gift that Taygeta 
offered to Artemis with her inscription.

3. Chasing that doe, he'd glimpsed the land that lies
   back of the chill winds of 
Boreas and he had stood there in silence,
stunned by the trees.  A sweet longing to plant just such
   trees at the turn of his twelve-lap
course later seized him, and now he is
   glad as he visits that Elean
festival, joining the twin sons of Leda!

To them, when he went to Olympos, he left the 
   care of his glorious
contests of muscle and chariot skills.
My heart commands me say that these same horse-loving
   Tyndarids now bring
glory to Theron and to the Emmenid tribe,
   who, of all men, have most frequently
welcomed these heroes at their friendly feasts,

ep. piously keeping the rites of the Blessed.  If
water is best, gold the most honored of
   all man's possessions, so it is
Theron who reaches the outermost
   edge of success, moving from home to
Herakles' pillars! No wise man goes
   further, nor even the 
unwise.  I'll not attempt it -- I'd be a fool

Cameron Hawke Smith, from Modern Poetry in Translation 3/17: Parnassus (£9.95).

Pindar from  Anne Pippin Burnett, Pindar: Odes for Victorious Athletes, (JHUP, Baltimore, 2010).