Random Research: Raphael and Rilke

Every once in a while, I stop and consider how utterly reliant I am on the internet in general, and Google in particular.  O, benevolent online overlords!  Thou art the repository of so much of human thought, the cache of my own ideas, and my lady Mnemosyne.  Nor dost thou scorn to stoop and serve me, so long as my ISP does not fail me and I can limit my query to 128 characters.

But sometimes even Google, mighty Google, cannot come to my aid.

Two instances of late come to mind.

Back in April, I went to Rome with a friend.  Among the sights I appreciated most was the library of Pope Julius II, the Stanza della Segnatura, which Raphael decorated on all sides with frescoes.  The School of Athens is there (cue flashbacks to college days), as well as La Disputa del Sacramento – The Disputation of the Sacrament.

Disputa_del_Sacramento_(Rafael)

I was struck with curiosity over the scribe girl sitting next to St. Augustine (the fellow with a miter to the right of the altar, who is gesturing toward her).  Presumably she’s taking notes on the discussion of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist.
La Disputa scribe

I love her.  My practice is the same: to write down what people are saying in conversation, whether it’s in a booklet or whatever scraps of paper I have to hand, whether it’s clever or funny or erudite or just plain ridiculous.  Whoever she is, she is my representative where this picture is concerned.

Sadly, I have no idea who she is.  She might not be anyone at all; she might be a figure representing all scribes in all times and in all places, or the preservation of the doctrine of the church throughout history.  She might be the anthropomorphization of some concept: purity, truth, reason.

After scrolling through site after site in vain, I became convinced that all the Googling in the world could not illuminate this figure for me.  I headed to the library and got out every book on Raphael they’ve got, which gave me background on the putative chronology of the frescoes, and the background for how Raphael was chosen to paint them, but not much insight on the iconography he used, beyond the fact that it was ground-breaking in its animation. Roger Jones and Nicholas Penny, bless them, shared an endnote in their 1983 Raphael that Heinrich Pfeiffer explored the question in his dissertation, Zur Ikonographie von Raffaels Disputa.

It is a testament to my curiosity that I submitted a WorldCat request to get it from Montreal, despite the fact that I will need to translate the lot to get any answers from it.  Provoking!

But not, perhaps, as provoking as that other problem that plagues the internet, namely: people crediting an individual as the author of a quotation or idea or aphorism, without citing where they found it.  Then other people share it, be it truth or falsehood.  The thing becomes ubiquitous, a weed with no way to trace its forebears.

In this case, I found a poem credited to Rilke called “Blank Joy,” which of course appealed to me very greatly.  Given that he composed in German and French but not, to my knowledge, in English, I was interested in finding and translating the original.  So I checked Amazon for his titles, and took a look at their respective tables of contents.  I consulted my library’s catalog, and Wikipedia, and poetic fan sites: all the usual places.

The original German…does not appear to exist.  Or, rather, I’ve found it on three sites, but no one indicates what volume of his it was published in (was it published?  Did someone share a poem once written in a letter?).  Is it actually his?  How can we know?

So far the only solution I’ve come up with…is to request Sämtliche Werke in 12 Bänden - his complete works in twelve volumes – from the library.

I’m not sure what to take from this.  Maybe I should rely on Google less; perhaps I should consult the library and librarians therein first; possibly (probably) I should develop more vigorous and enterprising methods of research.

Or perhaps the real lesson is that I should learn German.

A Long-Unexpected Illustration

I’m hoping it won’t be stepping over any bounds to say that Thalia and her Vati have spent the past several months working on some storybooks (if so, expect redactions in the morning, I suppose).  They tell of The Noble Adventures of Georges and Jean-Luc, and are (so far as I have seen and read) charming.

The thing about them is, Thalia writes the stories and G. R. T. does the illustration.  This is, I am assured, a wise division of labor.

But.  Thalia HAS done some illustration in the past, and whilst going through some older pictures on my laptop this week, I came across proof of the fact.

There was a day, nigh-on two and a half years ago now, when the two of us declared that we would Draw Pictures of Poetic Merit for the Baby Loon (now a much older Loon!  We shall have to call her something else) and mail them to her.

The pictures were duly drawn, but were never sent.

Our apologies, dear Baby Loon.  Here they are now, better late (we hope?) than never.

IMG_3282 IMG_3284

After she had drawn Methuselah with ice cream, a camel, and a tent, and I had drawn a peacock, a pelican, a phoenix, and an albatross around a cross, we were in a sort of groove.  So we kept drawing.

IMG_3278 IMG_3279 IMG_3308

The latter pictures weren’t necessarily meant to go together, but I find it amusing that the Jameson family crest (shown here according to the whiskey brand variation; typically there are 3 ships and a bugle) and the tale of the Nancy Bell are both rather maritimey in nature.   I suppose one could indeed say that James of the Nancy Bell is indeed Sine Metu: Without Fear!  Without any Dutch courage involved, even.

“Oh, I am a cook and a captain bold,
And the mate of the Nancy brig,
And a bo’sun tight, and a midshipmite,
And the crew of the captain’s gig!”

Ich bete wieder, du Erlauchter

Here is another Rilke poem.  I read it first in Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, as translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy.  Then I read through the German, mostly to appreciate the original words (Erlauchter, rauschender, bedrängte, jetzt), the interplay of e and i vowels, the consonance, the seeming levity that comes from rhyme.

Then, in an attempt to better understand the original, I went back and forth between a dictionary, Google Translate, and the Barrows-Macy translation.  This is the result.

(If that seems like a lot of slipshod work for little profit: it is enough for me to learn that Barrows-Macy rendered “ich war,” which is literally “I was,” as “I am” – removing the contrast between most of the poem and the last verse.  The rest of it may be a passel of mistakes; nothing like lazy translations to emphasize that language is 80% pronouns and prepositions.)

Ich bete wieder, du Erlauchter,                    I pray again, you Illustrious One;
du hörst mich wieder durch den Wind,       do you hear me again through the wind
weil meine Tiefen nie gebrauchter               because from my unused depths
rauschender Worte mächtig sind.                mighty words are rushing.

Ich war zerstreut; an Widersacher                I was dispersed; to the adversary
in Stücken war verteilt mein Ich.                  my self was given in pieces.
O Gott, mich lachten alle Lacher,                 O God, I laughed all laughter,
und alle Trinker tranken mich.                      and all drunkards drank me.

Glass shards

In Höfen hab ich mich gesammelt                In courtyards I have gathered myself,
aus Abfall und aus altem Glas,                      from waste and from old glass,
mit halbem Mund dich angestammelt,          stammering to you with my half-mouth,
dich, ewiger aus Ebenmaß.                          to you, eternal in symmetry.
Wie hob ich meine halben Hände                  As I raised my half-hands
zu dir in namenlosem Flehn,                        to you in nameless entreaties,
dass ich die Augen wiederfände,                  that I might find the eyes
mit denen ich dich angesehn.                       with which I once beheld you.

Ich war ein Haus nach einem Brand,            I was a House after a Fire,
darin nur Mörder manchmal schlafen,          where only murderers sometimes sleep,
eh ihre hungerigen Strafen                           and their hungry punishments
sie weiterjagen in das Land;                         pursue them through the land;
ich war wie eine Stadt am Meer,                 I was like a city on the sea,
wenn eine Seuche sie bedrängte,                 pressed by a plague,
die sich wie eine Leiche schwer                  which like a heavy corpse
den Kindern in die Hände hängte.              hung the children in the hands.

Ich war mir fremd wie irgendwer            I was a stranger to myself as one
und wusste nur von ihm, dass er               of whom I knew only that he
einst meine junge Mutter kränkte,             once offended my young mother
als sie mich trug,                                     as she carried me
und dass ihr Herz, das eingeengte,            and that her heart, thus constricted,
sehr schmerzhaft an mein Keimen schlug.   throbbed achingly about my sprouting self.

Jetzt bin ich wieder aufgebaut                      Now I am rebuilt
aus allen Stücken meiner Schande                from all the pieces of my shame
und sehne mich nach einem Bande,            and yearn for a bond,
nach einem einigen Verstande,                     for a unified understanding,
der mich wie ein Ding überschaut,              which regards me as one thing
nach deines Herzens großen Händen           – as I yearn for the big hands of your Heart [to hold me]
(o kämen sie doch auf mich zu)                    (oh, let them draw near me)
ich zähle mich, mein Gott, und du,                I count myself, my God, and you,
du hast das Recht, mich zu verschwenden.     You have the right, to waste me.

P Stands for Paddy, I Suppose

It is St. Patrick’s Day!

So it’s the official day of reading, praying, or singing The Lorica of St. Patrick.

It is, somewhat less officially, the day of wearing the green, pledging with the claddaugh, listening to uilleann pipes, watching step dancers, drinking beer, sipping whiskey, eating potatoes and corned beef, etc., etc.

Reveling in some W. B. Yeats is a delicious part of this balanced breakfast celebration of Eire.  Here are a few poems of his:

The Wheel

Through winter-time we call on spring,
And through the spring on summer call,
And when abounding hedges ring
Declare that winter’s best of all;
And after that there s nothing good
Because the spring-time has not come -
Nor know that what disturbs our blood
Is but its longing for the tomb.

Into the Twilight

Out-worn heart, in a time out-worn,
Come clear of the nets of wrong and right;
Laugh, heart, again in the grey twilight,
Sigh, heart, again in the dew of the morn.

Your mother Eire is always young,
Dew ever shining and twilight grey;
Though hope fall from you and love decay,
Burning in fires of a slanderous tongue.

Come, heart, where hill is heaped upon hill:
For there the mystical brotherhood
Of sun and moon and hollow and wood
And river and stream work out their will;

And God stands winding His lonely horn,
And time and the world are ever in flight;
And love is less kind than the grey twilight,
And hope is less dear than the dew of the morn.

The Song of Wandering Aengus

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Und Gott Befiehit mir, daß ich schriebe

I keep reading Rilke of late.  There will be more thoughts of mine and poems of his to share later, but in the meantime, here’s one that seemed apt enough for Ash Wednesday.  Have a blessed Lenten season, my dears.

Und Gott befiehlt mir, daß ich schriebe:
And God commanded me, that I write:

Den Königen sei Grausamkeit.   Leave the cruelty to kings.
Sie ist der Engel vor der Liebe,  Without that angel barring
und ohne diesen Bogen bliebe   the way to love, there would be no arc
mir keine Brücke in die Zeit.     to be my bridge into time.

Und Gott befiehlt mir, daß ich male:
And God commanded me, that I paint:

Die Zeit ist mir mein tiefstes Weh,    Time is my deepest woe,
so legte ich in ihre Schale:                so I laid in Her bowl
das wache Weib, die Wundenmale,   the waking wife, the painted-wounds*,
den reichen Tod (daß er sie zahle),   the rich death (which he pays for)
der Städte bange Bacchanale,          the cities’ fearful bacchanalia,
den Wahnsinn und die Könige.        the madness and the kings.

Und Gott befiehlt mir, daß ich baue:
And God commanded me, that I build:

Den König bin ich von der Zeit.       I am the king of then and now,
Dir aber bin ich nur der graue          but to you I am just the gray
Mitwisser deiner Einsamkeit.           confidant of your loneliness.
Und bin das Auge mit der Braue  And I am the eye under the brow

 Das über meine Schulter schaue          …which looks over my shoulder
von Ewigkeit zu Ewigkeit.                     from eternity to eternity.

 

I confess my understanding of this poem to be limited, given that I’m working in translation and am by no means fluent in German. Any criticism or correction would be welcome.

God’s being was narrowed, in Christ, to a finite span of time; it seems to me that “time” thus becomes shorthand for saying “a human being with a mortal lifespan.”

Since God commanded me that I paint is followed by a description of woeful things laid in a bowl, I imagine the paint to be blood, dripping into a bowl from Christ’s side. His suffering the weight of the world’s sorrow allows such grievous things to be transformed into stories, song, and beauty.

*Kenning for stigmata

Five Sonnets

I needed to reread these five sonnets by CS Lewis today, so I thought I’d share them ’round.

You think that we who do not shout and shake
Our fists at God when youth or bravery die
Have colder blood or hearts less apt to ache
Than yours who rail.  I know you do.  Yet why?
You have what sorrow always longs to find,
Someone to blame, some enemy in chief;
Anger’s the anaesthetic of the mind,
It does men good, it fumes away their grief.
We feel the stroke like you; so far our fate
Is equal.  After that, for us begin
Half-hopeless labours, learning not to hate,
And then to want, and then (perhaps) to win
A high, unearthly comfort, angel’s food,
That seems at first a mockery to flesh and blood.
A Crazy Stair
There’s a repose, a safety (even a taste

Of something like revenge?) in fixed despair
Which we’re forbidden.  We have to rise with haste
And start to climb what seems a crazy stair.
Our consolation (for we are consoled,
So much of us, I mean, as may be left
After the dreadful process has unrolled)
For one bereavement makes us more bereft.
It asks for all we have, to the last shred;
Read Dante, who had known its best and worst—
He was bereaved and he was comforted—
No one denies it, comforted—but first
Down to the frozen centre, up the vast
Mountain of pain, from world to world he passed. 

Of this we’re certain; no one who dared knock
At heaven’s door for earthly comfort found
Even a door—only smooth, endless rock,
And save the echo of his cry no sound.
It’s dangerous to listen; you’ll begin
To fancy that those echoes (hope can play
Pitiful tricks) are answers from within;
Far better to turn, grimly sane, away.
Heaven cannot thus, Earth cannot ever, give
The thing we want.  We ask what isn’t there
And by our asking water and make live
That very part of love that must despair
And die and go down cold into the earth
Before there’s talk of springtime and rebirth.

Pitch your demands heaven-high and they’ll be met.
Ask for the Morning Star and take (thrown in)
Your earthly love.  Why, yes; but how to set
One’s foot on the first rung, how to begin?

The silence of one voice upon our ears
Beats like the waves; the coloured morning seems
A lying brag; the face we loved appears
Fainter each night, or ghastlier, in our dreams.
“That long way round which Dante trod was meant
For mighty saints and mystics, not for me,”
So Nature cries.  Yet if we once assent
To Nature’s voice, we shall be like the bee
That booms against the window-pane for hours
Thinking that the way to reach the laden flowers.
Bee
“If we could speak to her,” my doctor said,

“And told her, “Not that way! All, all in vain
You weary out your wings and bruise your head,”
Might she not answer, buzzing at the pane,
“Let queens and mystics and religious bees
Talk of such inconceivables as glass;
The blunt lay worker flies at what she sees,
Look there—ahead, ahead—the flowers, the grass!”
We catch her in a handkerchief (who knows
What rage she feels, what terror, what despair?)
And shake her out—and gaily out she goes
Where quivering flowers stand thick in summer air,
To drink their hearts.  But left to her own will
She would have died upon the window-sill.” 

Free bee

A Quick and Dirty Guide to Carmina Burana

It’s concert week once again!  For the next four days, the Choral Union is performing Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, so it’s looming large in my mind.  Last night, as we went to dress rehearsal, I read the translation of the Latin and Middle High German choruses to my brother.  Wouldn’t you know it: I then had an easier time singing the words, knowing more or less what they meant.  So I thought I’d share.

Go here to see the live-stream of the performance, 7:30 PM Eastern TONIGHT!

When I was in college and our choir director announced that we’d perform Carmina Burana, I was nonplussed as I’d never heard of it before.  But, as he then pointed out, every single one of us had probably heard its first movement, “O Fortuna,” at least once.  It’s very popular for any given Moment of Epic Import, so much so that it’s a bit cliché.  Typically the folks using it ignore the fact that it’s crying out at Fortune, lamenting and snarling in anger at the whims of cruel Fate.  This is how Carmina Burana begins, and it’s also how it ends – angrier than ever at the Wheel of Fortune for spinning onward.

But what about the other 23 movements?

Well.  That’s why I’m here. Continue reading

Commonalities: Louis and Lewis

I discovered a new poet a couple weeks back.  Or, as with vehicles, I ought to say “new to me;” had I been a bit keener back in Lyric Poetry class, I’d have taken note of Louis Macneice before now.  As it is, I read a story using his poem “To Mary” as an epigraph:

Forgive what I give you.  Though nightmare and cinders,
The one can be trodden, the other ridden,
We must use what transport we can.  Both crunching
Path and bucking dream can take me
Where I shall leave the path and dismount
From the mad-eyed beast and keep my appointment
In green improbable fields with you
.

This dedication of The Burning Perch to his last beloved, Mary Wimbush, is a sort of apology – according to Jonathan Allison, an apology for dedicating to her a book of poems borne of his nightmares.

Whatever he may be apologizing for, whatever their green improbable fields be, I enjoy this lyrical promise: the hope that he will indeed dismount from nightmares, perhaps gaining some new strength from having endured them, and in some wise meet with happier times.

I immediately had to read more of Macneice’s work.  And so I looked at “Bagpipe Music,” which almost sounded familiar, and found “The Sunlight on the Garden,” and some dozen others.

Macneice’s voice is distinct, but certain elements of his work reminded me of the poetry of CS Lewis.  “To Mary” ends on a much more active and optimistic note, but like Lewis’s “Infatuation,” starts a tad suddenly, employs enjambment throughout, uses the same images of night-mares (riding and ridden) and cinders.  “The Sunlight on the Garden” twists with internal rhyme, quietly ruminating like Jack’s “On Being Human.”   Then there’s “I am that I am,” with its touch of melancholy, its thoughtful and academic treatment without getting too obscure or eschewing rhyme: qualities to be found in a number of poets, to be sure, but Lewis is, as ever, lingering at the surface of my mind.

My curiosity piqued, I looked up Macneice himself.  Like Lewis, he was born in Belfast (9 years later); he too lost his mother at a young age, went to boarding school, was educated in the classics, grew to love Norse mythology, had a group of literary friends who discussed their work, gave lectures, worked with the BBC on radio broadcasts, and wrote a number of books before dying in autumn of 1963.

Louis Macneice and CS Lewis

Also, can we talk about how they were pretty easy on the eyes?

Of course, that list makes them seem more similar than was in fact the case; some bias or other must account for it.  The fact that both were thoroughly grounded in Greek and Latin, and perhaps their having lived at roughly the same time, can in all likelihood account for similarities of subject and tone. That air of melancholy they sometimes share was drawn, I imagine, from their reading of Nordic sagas and Irish mythology.

On the other hand, Macneice, unlike Lewis, abandoned his childhood faith and never returned to it.  This sets him on a different trajectory, spiritually speaking, such that he kept company with different authors, focused more of his attention on Ireland and the shadow of war, and spent more time carrying on romantic relationships.  His later work tends more toward the cynical and ironic, expressing the futility of modern life.  So for all their commonalities, and for all the beauty and complexity of Macneice’s work, I figure that Lewis is the one whose work will stick with me.