Archive for the 'poetry' Category

Beggar Old

A strange little childhood memory about Percy Bysshe Shelley and me.

It was 1990 or so. I lived in Moscow and studied in the fifth or six grade in a special school with deepened learning of English, which means that English is taught from the second grade, almost every day, and by good teachers. In case it isn’t clear, it’s very good.

The English teacher asked everyone to choose an English poem, to learn it by heart and to recite it in class. I didn’t quite know what to choose, and my parents suggested I phone a relative who knew English well. He suggested Summer And Winter by Percy Bysshe Shelley:

It was a bright and cheerful afternoon,
Towards the end of the sunny month of June,
When the north wind congregates in crowds
The floating mountains of the silver clouds
From the horizon—and the stainless sky
Opens beyond them like eternity.
All things rejoiced beneath the sun; the weeds,
The river, and the cornfields, and the reeds;
The willow leaves that glanced in the light breeze,
And the firm foliage of the larger trees.

It was a winter such as when birds die
In the deep forests; and the fishes lie
Stiffened in the translucent ice, which makes
Even the mud and slime of the warm lakes
A wrinkled clod as hard as brick; and when,
Among their children, comfortable men
Gather about great fires, and yet feel cold:
Alas, then, for the homeless beggar old!

If it looks very difficult and bleak for a ten year old elementary schools student, then it’s because it is, indeed, difficult and bleak.

I don’t remember how exactly did he get the poem’s text to me. He lived in another neighborhood of Moscow, quite far away. It was 1990, so he didn’t email it, of course. He didn’t photocopy it, either. I remember that it was handwritten. Maybe he sent it as a letter or maybe my parents met him and he gave it to them after manually copying from a book.

I don’t have the slightest idea why did that relative choose this poem. He spoke to me on the phone and explained all the difficult words, but he didn’t explain what’s special about it. Is it famous? Does he love it dearly for some personal reason? Does it have a relevant social message? Maybe—just maybe—we were supposed to choose something related to seasons or weather?

A day later I showed this to my English teacher and she was shocked by the difficulty and offered something much simpler. I don’t remember what it was, but I followed her advice. I did, however, remembered the last line with “alas”, and “beggar old”.

I’d love to speak to this relative some day and ask him what was he thinking.

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Kas buvo tai nebus

In the last couple of years i fell in love with Israeli literature, especially poetry – from Y. L. Gordon, H. N. Bialik and S. Chernihovski, through N. Alterman and J. Amihay all the way to the present days’ M. Arad and D. Manor. Because of this – among some other things – i decided to study for a minor degree in Hebrew and not in Chinese.

In school i learned about Israel’s poetry like this: There was a literature teacher. We started to study Bialik. She said: “There are common meters – amphibrach, anapaest, iambus, dactyl, and so on, and according to the program you are supposed to study them now, but it is hard for you, and i am not in the mood, so we won’t do it.” She hardly even mentioned Chernihovsky, Shlonsky, Alterman and Avidan – they are, according to her, also “hard, and you can do fine without them”. And so i received the reasonable 75 grade in the matriculation exam in literature in an Israeli high school, but in fact hardly studied any Hebrew literature at all, and for nearly ten years after the school didn’t read a single Israeli book, and not much foreign ones, either.

So now i am replenishing this. At the university i was quickly taught the basics of poetic meters and devices, and suddenly realized what a terrible crime that teacher committed. Without understanding these mostly simple rules it is very hard to read poetry. And he who learns them a little, becomes more educated and opens for himself a new exciting world.


The complete collected works of David Avidan are being released these days. I saw the book in the shop and thought – to buy or not buy? Previously, Avidan seemed very hard for me. I looked through a few pages and understood – now i’ll be able to enjoy it. I looked at the table of contents and all of a sudden saw a title of a poem in Latin letters, and not in English – “Kas buvo tai nebus”. It seemed familiar, i thought that it was Latin, but no, obviously not Latin. And after a moment i realized that it was in Lithuanian: “What was, shall not be”. Here is an attempt in translation:

Two Lithuanians, remembering their mother tongue
Less than they remember
Their mother, meet in a cool evening
In an open coffee house and begin
Remembering. How does one say
The past in Lithuanian? Really, how does one say
The past in Lithuanian? Very awkward, indeed
Very uncomfortable. Maybe there is
Someone here in this nice environment, within a radius of a
Kilometer or two who will be able to fix
This depressing linguistic short circuit? But
The time is very late, and all
The Lithuanians, who arentdeadyet are already asleep.

How does one say sleep in Lithuanian?

1964

(The poem may have been already translated into English, maybe even by Avidan himself. As for “arentdeadyet” – Avidan often stuck words together as a literary device.)

I don’t know what prompted Avidan to write such an unusual poem. Lithuanians, as far as i know, preserved their language much better than did most peoples of the USSR. But perhaps he spoke of the Lithuanians in America or in Israel.

But i bought the book, of course.

Aloud

I already mentioned this brilliant song—Arcade Fire’s “No Cars Go”.

And i already mentioned reading rock lyrics aloud.

Try this. Read aloud the lyrics of “No Cars Go”. Important: If you know the melody and the beat, forget them and just read it:

We know a place where no planes go,
We know a place where no ships go,

Hey!
No cars go.
Where we know.

We know a place no space ships go,
We know a place where no subs go

Where we know.

Go! — Don’t go!

Us kids know
No cars go
Where we know.

Hey!

It’s totally Dr. Seuss.

English Poetry

Hadar asked me to entertain her.

So i read aloud lyrics from Neil Young’s Zuma to her. No music – just recited poetry.

They are quite beautiful to read aloud. Try it.

It’s really fine poetry. Simple to understand, rhymes well. It’s something with which people can easily identify. Hadar said that she didn’t realize that he writes songs about love, too. Me neither.

I sincerely hope that these lyrics will be studied in English classes everywhere. The English language deserves it.

I Gotta Move

Oh no.

He came from my home town
He was a prophet
Some kids they put him in the ground
Got coffee
Got donuts
Got wasted
Erased head
And what do they say?
He’s not afraid of the present tense
And talking back is a bad defense
I gotta move
I gotta break
I gotta get me cross the lake
I gotta move

Bother.

Puten!!

Vladimir Mayakovsky, the most famous poet of the Russian revolution, a rare case of an artist who had talent in addition to strong political beliefs, wrote this poem in 1914:

Послушайте!
Ведь, если звезды зажигают –
Значит – это кому-нибудь нужно?
Значит – кто-то хочет, чтобы они были?
Значит – кто-то называет эти плевочки
жемчужиной?

Translation:

Listen!
After all, if someone lights up the stars –
Then – someone needs it?
Then – someone wants them to be?
Then – someone calls those gobs of spit
A pearl?

I read Vladimir Putin’s interview, where he says that it is a “true tragedy” that he is “the only true democrat in the world” and that “since Gandhi had died, there’s no-one to speak to.”

Now i’m not saying that it is especially stupid or wrong; There’s a lot of hypocrisy in the European and the American version of “democracy”, and Putin stings them nicely, accusing the US of alleged torture in Guantanamo and very rightly accusing the EU of double standards in the issues of Kosovo and Transnistria.

Still, it makes me feel uncomfortable. So the only thing i could really think of when i read it was: “After all, if the president of the largest country in the world talks bloody crap, then – someone needs it?”

If you read Russian, see also this story on Vladimir Vladimirovich™ (if you haven’t already).

There’s a songbird who sings

I dreamt that a friend of mine took a piece of cake i was eating and threw it to the trash. I got unbelievably mad and tried to explain to him that let alone the robbery, i totally hate throwing food to the trash. He was quite indifferent and said that the cake was disgusting. I had to make a point, though, so i spilled a little water on his head. The funny thing is that a similar thing actually happened once – i spilled a little beer on a friend who was pissing me off (no, i didn’t drink any beforehand).

When that didn’t help, i turned to the Internet. The Internet always helps, doesn’t it? I’ll show you how bad it is to throw food away, i thought! So i started using a very old version of Netscape Navigator on a Mac. It was very annoying, not because the version was so old, but because it was configured in such a way that with every key i pressed, the computer played an annoying sound. I tried to turn it off, but couldn’t find where. Then i found out that it’s not even Netscape Navigator, but Konqueror. After a couple of minutes i started realizing that even when i don’t press any keys the annoying sound goes on. It was a nasty fucking bird outside the window.

Songbird
Ця-ця-ця-ця-ця-ця!!!

You probably know this lovely little poem:

I woke early one morning,
The earth lay cool and still
When suddenly a tiny bird
Perch on my window sill,

He sang a song so lovely
So carefree and so gay,
That slowly all my troubles
Began to slip away.

He sang of far off places
Of laughter and of fun,
It seemed his very trilling,
brought up the morning sun.

I stirred beneath the covers
Crept slowly out of bed,
And gently lowered the window
And crushed its fucking head.

I’m not a morning person.

Hantouli upside down
حنتولي

Well, i tried to take a picture of it instead, but it flew away, so i took a picture of another one, who looks quite the same, but not as annoying. Exhausted, i lay on the grass and took a picture of my cat Hantouli, which is the last thing that this blog was really missing.

P.S.: Blogger’s spell checker doesn’t recognize the words “fucking” and “blog”.


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