27 October 2012

Fern Hill

Fern Hill
                            by Dylan Thomas

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
     The night above the dingle starry,
          Time let me hail and climb
     Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
          Trail with daisies and barley
     Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
     In the sun that is young once only,
          Time let me play and be
     Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
          And the sabbath rang slowly
     In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
     And playing, lovely and watery
          And fire green as grass.
     And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
     Flying with the ricks, and the horses
          Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
     Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
          The sky gathered again
     And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
     Out of the whinnying green stable
          On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
     In the sun born over and over,
          I ran my heedless ways,
     My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
     Before the children green and golden
          Follow him out of grace.

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would
                  take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
     In the moon that is always rising,
          Nor that riding to sleep
     I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
          Time held me green and dying
     Though I sang in my chains like the sea. 


21 October 2012

The Three-Arched Bridge

by Ismail Kadare

Chapter 31

Throughout the following days he was always seeking me out, and as soon as he found me he would do what he could to bring the conversation around to the immurement of the bride. He spoke of it as if it were an event that had happened two weeks before, and as if he was charged with its investigation. Gradually he involved me too. For hours on end I could think of nothing but a semidesert place under a scorching sun, where three workmen kept building walls that could never be finished. As we talked about the legend, we carefully analyzed it strand by strand, trying to account for its darker sides and to establish a logical link between its contradictory parts.

He asked me which of the three brides had children, and whether perhaps the youngest had none, as was easy to believe, and whether this was the reason why she was the one who was sacrificed.  But I explained to him that all three had children, and I even apologized for not telling him the end of the story, in which the young wife who was immured begged her murderers (I used the actual word) to leave one breast outside the wall, so that even after her death she could suckle her child.  He nearly lost his temper at my omission, shaking his finger almost threateningly at me, and told me not to do such a thing ever again.  Because we were both of us at the time steeped in a strange world, his threat made no impression on me, although this is not something that I could normally forgive anyone.  At this point I also told him about the curse that the sacrificed wife lays on the stonework in the two famous lines:
                                                   O tremble, wall of stone,
                                                   As I tremble in this tomb!
"This can be taken in a technical way," he butted in.  "Because . . . at least bridges . . . every bridge in a way sways all the time."

This interjection on his part made no particular impression on me, but when a little later he said that immuring a person in fact weakens a structure, I interrupted:

"Tell me, please, whether you are a collector of tales or a builder."

"Oh," he said.  "I'm in no way a builder, but I've learned something about the subject from working alongside builders.  In fact, all great building works resemble crimes, and vice versa, crimes resemble . . ."  He laughed.  "For me, there is no difference between them.  Whenever I find myself in front of columns I can clearly see blood spattering the marble, and the  victim might replace a cathedral."

Whenever he left I felt dumbfounded.

One day he knocked before dawn to tell me something new that he had thought of during the night.  I was still sleepy and could barely take in what he said.  Finally I understood.  He was saying that in his opinion the youngest brother too must have told his wife everything on that unforgettable night before the sacrifice.

"How is that possible?" I said. "How could a young woman then go to the masons knowing the fate that awaited her?"

"I knew you would say that," he said.  "But I have thought of everything."  He moved closer to me.  "Listen to this.  The youngest wife agreed to be sacrificed voluntarily, because her sisters-in-law and mother-in-law had made life hell for her."

"Hmm," I said.  "Rather strange."

"There is nothing strange about it," he went on.  "Between a daily hell and immurement, she chose the latter.  Do you know what a quarrel among sisters-in-law means?  Ah, I'm sorry, you're a monk."

"But what about him?" I asked.  "What do you think about his attitude?"


"Her husband's."

"I have thought long and hard about that too.  No doubt he knew that she suffered but never imagined that matters could be so bad as to drive her to self-destruction.  So the next day, when he saw hes own wife arrive carrying the basket of food, his blood must have frozen.  What do you think?"

"I don't know what to say," I replied.  "Perhaps you are right, but perhaps it wasn't like that at all."

I was in fact certain that it had not been like that.

Whenever he came to see me, he had some new explanation.  Once he told me that the youngest brother had perhaps not told his wife the secret, not out of a desire to keep the besa with his brothers, but because he did not love his wife and had found a way to get rid of her.   Another time he suggested that perhaps the three brothers had colluded among themselves to kill the youngest wife and the whole fiction that the walls demanded a sacrifice was just a way of justifying the murder.  All his interpretations of the legend were founded on baseness, betrayal, and disloyalty, and whenever he left I would be annoyed with myself for having listened ot him.  When he departed for the last time, he had sown the seed of doubt over not only the behavior of the three mason brothers and the two sisters-in-law but also that of the mother-in-law, who in his view certainly took part in the oath, and even that of the sacrificed bride herself.  After he had left, after slinging mud at everything, not sparing even the dead, I decided I would tell him that he was free to think what he liked, but I had no desire to hear any more of his perverted speculations.  

I waited for him the next day, to tell him that his efforts to throw mud at this old tragedy were useless, because the true kernel of the legend was the idea that all labor, and every major task, requires some kind of sacrifice, and that this magnificent idea is embodied in the mythologies of many people. What was new, and peculiar to the ballad of the Balkan peoples, was that the sacrifice was not connected with the outbreak of war or some march, nor even a religious rite, but concerned a wall, a work of construction.  And this can perhaps be explained by the fact that the first inhabitants of these territories, the Pelasgians, were the first masons in the world as the ancient Greek chronicles themselves admit.

I wanted to say that in truth the drops of blood in the legend were nothing but streams of sweat, but we know that sweat is a kind of humble nameless servant in comparison with blood, and therefore nobody has devoted songs and ballads to it.  So it can be considered normal in a song to represent a river of sweat with a few drops of blood.  It is of course obvious that alongside his sweat every man sacrifices something of himself, like th youngest brother, who sacrificed his own happiness.

I could hardly wait to tell him these and other ideas, but just when I had made up my mind to speak out, he disappeared.  From that time on, I never saw him again.  

14 October 2012

The Chorus of the Secret Police

Christopher Logue 

(From a version of Antigone) 
There are many wonders on earth,
But the greatest of these is man!
We have divided the green sides of the earth
Into nations, and we utilize the land to know
And to nourish ourselves. Likewise, we cross the sea
And the changing air as easily as any room,
Even in storms, even at night, for then
We make the white stars guide us through.
Indeed, for man, the dark is brilliant, too!
Always the first among living things,
Fish, flesh, and fowl, the changing air
And mineral, we trick them into snares
Or mine them with our cunning hands until
Everything known is persuaded to obey.
So, in the evening, man sits by the fire
He has tamed, on the ground he makes fertile,
Outside, his creature, the horse that ran
Wild before he came. Oh, clever man!
And men have grown inside themselves,
Minds that move further and faster than light
Or the changing air, and men invented speech
To trap the mind as it flew and so
To hand things down; and, above all, we have learnt
The intricate civilities of government,
How to make laws, how to avoid unhealthy places,
And how to escape from the rain and the wind
Into cities of jet and ivory.
But even as he makes, whatever
He makes, and no matter how much he makes,
Man longs to destroy the thing he has made.
Finding no enemy, he becomes his own enemy;
As he traps the horse, so he traps other men,
But the others strike back, trap closing on trap;
Having eaten enough, man must next build a wall
Around whatever food is left, and other men
Must pull down that wall! So the roof gets split,
And the rain and the changing air wash away
Whatever is left of man and his cities,
When men have done with them.


                  by Louise Bogan

I had come to the house, in a cave of trees,
Facing a sheer sky.
Everything moved, -- a bell hung ready to strike,
Sun and reflection wheeled by.

When the bare eyes were before me
And the hissing hair,
Held up at a window, seen through a door.
The stiff bald eyes, the serpents on the forehead
Formed in the air.

This is a dead scene forever now.
Nothing will ever stir.
The end will never brighten it more than this,
Nor the rain blur.

The water will always fall, and will not fall,
And the tipped bell make no sound.
The grass will always be growing for hay
Deep on the ground.

And I shall stand here like a shadow
Under the great balanced day,
My eyes on the yellow dust, that was lifting in the wind,
And does not drift away.

                   by Sylvia Plath

Off that landspit of stony mouth-plugs,
Eyes rolled by white sticks,
Ears cupping the sea's incoherences,
You house your unnerving head -- God-ball,
Lens of mercies,
Your stooges
Plying their wild cells in my keel's shadow,
Pushing by like hearts,
Red stigmata at the very center,
Riding the rip tide to the nearest point of

Dragging their Jesus hair.
Did I escape, I wonder?
My mind winds to you
Old barnacled umbilicus, Atlantic cable,
Keeping itself, it seems, in a state of miraculous

In any case, you are always there,
Tremulous breath at the end of my line,
Curve of water upleaping
To my water rod, dazzling and grateful,
Touching and sucking.
I didn't call you.
I didn't call you at all.
Nevertheless, nevertheless
You steamed to me over the sea,
Fat and red, a placenta

Paralyzing the kicking lovers.
Cobra light
Squeezing the breath from the blood bells
Of the fuchsia. I could draw no breath,
Dead and moneyless,

Overexposed, like an X-ray.
Who do you think you are?
A Communion wafer? Blubbery Mary?
I shall take no bite of your body,
Bottle in which I live,

Ghastly Vatican.
I am sick to death of hot salt.
Green as eunuchs, your wishes
Hiss at my sins.
Off, off, eely tentacle!

There is nothing between us

                   by Carol Ann Duffy

A suspicion, a doubt, a jealousy
grew in my mind,
which turned the hairs on my head to filthy snakes
as though my thoughts
hissed and spat on my scalp.

My bride’s breath soured, stank
in the grey bags of my lungs.
I’m foul mouthed now, foul tongued,
yellow fanged.
There are bullet tears in my eyes.
Are you terrified?

Be terrified.
It’s you I love,
perfect man, Greek God, my own;
but I know you’ll go, betray me, stray
from home.
So better by for me if you were stone.

I glanced at a buzzing bee,
a dull grey pebbly fell
to the ground.
I glanced at a singing bird,
a handful of dusty gravel
spattered down

I looked at a ginger cat,
a housebrick
shattered a bowl of milk.
I looked at a snuffling pig,
a boulder rolled
in a heap of shit.

I stared in the mirror.
Love gone bad
showed me a Gorgon.
I stared at a dragon.
Fire spewed
from the mouth of a mountain.

And here you come
with a shield for a heart
and a sword for a tongue
and your girls, your girls.
Wasn’t I beautiful
Wasn’t I fragrant and young?

Look at me now.

07 October 2012

Forests of the Medieval World

Forests of the Medieval World

                    by Don Coles

Forests of the medieval world, that's
where the mind will wander
the three dissertation years, lucky girl --
Forest of Bleu, which crowded around
the walls of Paris and stretched 10,000 leagues
in every direction' the great Hercynian forest
of East Prussia, from which each year
334 drovers bore the logs for the fires
in the Grand Duke's castles of Rostock,
of Danzig, and furthest east of all, buarding
the borders towards the Polish marshes,
Greifswald and Wolgast. I'm so sad
I could die, you said as you left, but
my children, how could I bear it --
and I know, I know there are ways
of losing children, of seeing them stray off
among the trees even now, especially now!
Every fleet needed for its construction
the razing of an entire forest --
lost forests meeting on the tilting hills
of the Caspian, the Baltic, the Black Sea,
over the mountains of water the file of forests
comes. You face is a mobile mischief,
do you know? Your eyes mocked before
they entreated, your lips rendered
both comedy and its dark twin
in microseconds, and your tongue
harried my mouth's bays and inlets.
The Oberförstmeister of Kurland promised
the King 'at least half-fabulous' beasts
for the hunt, his forest measured
140,000 arpents and even on the swiftest mounts
horsemen could not traverse it
in a month. My mind runs fast
down its arpents and heavy corridors,
seeing no one, I should slash
tree-trunks to procure my safe return
but I can't stop. My mind is running
on pure grief and pure love, I want you
to know this. The Forest of Othe
was so still you could hear a shadow
cross a face at 60 leagues distance --
it had linked the Lyons Massif with
the Woods of Gisors but after a hurricane
levelled a million trees in 1519 the diligent
peasants moved in with ploughs and those forests
were never reunited. And
the forests of Finland, have you thought of those?
All the way to Archangel and the White Sea?
They can show you how you were
before these excuses. What can you do
about this, your exigent look said
in the dorway, I am going do you realise
I am going? And that both of us will survive this?
When the Swedes needed cash they cut down
the forests of Pomerania, the result in
many cases is sand-dunes. This for day-trippers
is nice, in your rented Strandkorb there is room
for everybody, also for dressing and undressing
when the beach is crowded. In the forests of Morois
Tristan lies with Iseult, they are waiting
for the King her husband who will tell history
they were only sleeping. In
the Black Forest dwarf trees and greenheart
still flourish -- as for the Rominter Heide
it was so huge that most of its lakes
and forests were 'held in reserve',
not listed or even mentioned, so for generations
all that those lakes and forests could do was
grow uncontrollably in the imagination. I
would take you with me into the Rominter Heide
if you would come; there
each child we must not hurt will
wear a rose in sign of her ardent, forbearing
heart, in sign of his calm-eyed ascent through
our extreme, necessary years.

From the London Review of Books, 10 August 1990.