An Illusory Intertwingling of Reason and Response

Literary: Anything waxing literary and Classical goes here. Occasionally I’ll put up a post which is entirely or largely a poem. Those go in Poetry. I even sometimes (though I would be the first to tell you that “literary criticism is bunk”) post some critique.

Tafel :: literary :: poetry

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Idea of Her

written October 15th, 2004

The idea of her
(simply thinking: not seeing)
is a thought in general:
the archetype of all I am
and believe
and dream.

She as specific is as a glass
darkly beaming
(and I the Sultán of Mirrors)
what I think she is.

Any She would do, I suppose,
were she content not to
but to be what I
(foolish and deluded)
believe her to be.

But shouldn’t every woman do that anyway?

I was looking through one of my old notebooks yesterday and ran across the above piece. It was written in the fall of 2004, and somehow escaped my notice until now. (In fact, until I'd read it through, I had no recollection of it — and half thought that I'd copied it out of a book.)

It's mostly satire aimed at myself, so consider that before you start complaining about what a narrow-minded chauvanist I am.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Still a Moon

Many a star I strew across my path,
and rolling, bouncing, running, laughing,
roll they past.

The very dimmest — least aglow —
sit, ’till shooed,
but ne’er a bright.

On I tread, tracking ever,
ere a-sky they flee,
but no more see.

In pity I would stop and weep,
but still a moon walks with me.

* Thanks to L.E., who rescued this for me. I've mislaid a lot of writings over the years, and have rarely gotten them back.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Translation of Baudelaire's "Harmonie du soir"

Debussy's "Prelude from Book I, No. IV", "Les sons et les parfums ournent dans l'air du soir", is in interpretation of Charles Baudelaire's "Harmonie du soir", from Les Fleurs du mal. I recently heard the piece performed by Oni Buchanan as part of her "Poetry in Piano" tour, and was highly disappointed to find that, of all the English translations available, not one was both poetic and true to the spirit of the original.

Of course, it's always better to read literature — particularly poetry — "in the original Klingon"*; however, Broca's speech area of the brain being what it is, this is regrettably seldom possible for all but a small subset of readers.

Thus, translations. However, a translation must remain true in every way possible to the original work. This is doubly important in poetic works, since subtleties of language often carry immense gravity.

For instance, in the poem below, "Harmonie du soir", mystico-sacred imagery is mingled with a nearly Classical æsthetic and a profoundly-disturbing picture of death. Much of the interplay between these three themes is carried on the connotations of words, rather than their literally-translatable definitions.

I've taken the liberty to approach this piece with lexicon and poetic sense in hand, and no particular education in French literature and the exegesis thereof, and propose that the translation below, while departing slightly in wording from a literal translation, remains truer in spirit to to Baudelaire's original both in form and meaning.

“Harmonie du soir”

From Les Fleurs du mal, by Charles Baudelaire

Voici venir les temps où vibrant sur sa tige
Chaque fleur s’évapore ainsi qu’un encensoir;
Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir;
Valse mélancolique et langoureux vertige!

Chaque fleur s’évapore ainsi qu’un encensoir;
Le violon frémit comme un cœur qu’on afflige;
Valse mélancolique et langoureux vertige!
Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir.

Le violon frémit comme un cœur qu’on afflige,
Un cœur tendre, qui hait le néant vaste et noir!
Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir;
Le soleil s’est noyé dans son sang qui se fige.

Un cœur tendre, qui hait le néant vaste et noir,
Du passé lumineux recueille tout vestige!
Le soleil s’est noyé dans son sang qui se fige . . .
Ton souvenir en moi luit comme un ostensoir!

“Evening Harmony”

From Flowers of Evil, by Charles Baudelaire; Tr. Keith Beckman

Now twilight, when, shivering on its stem,
Ev'ry blossom, censer-like, smoulders;
Sounds and odours turn in the evening air;
Melancholy waltz! Languorous vertigo!

Ev'ry blossom, censer-like, smoulders;
The violin quivers as a love-afflicted heart;
Melancholy waltz! Languorous vertigo!
The sky is sad and beautiful like an immense tomb.

The violin quivers as a love-afflicted heart;
A gentle heart, hating the vast and black Void!
The sky is sad and beautiful like an immense tomb;
The sun has drowned in its own thickening blood.

A gentle heart, hating the vast and black Void,
Of the luminous past hoards any vestige!
The sun has drowned in its own thickening blood . . .
Your memory shines in me like a sacred urn.

Just a few notes on the translation. First, lines one and two are departures in wording from the literal French. However, the meaning is identical, and the imagery comes across more accurately in English such, than in a literal translation.

The same goes for the double-exclamation in lines four and seven: "Melancholy waltz and languorous vertigo!" is much less evocative than the equivalent French. "And" is such a weak word . . .

"Love-afflicted heart"? Well, the French literally translates to "a heart one afflicts", meaning "another's heart afflicted by one's spurning of its love". I'm still toying with this stanza, because no English translation (this one as well) keeps the personal grasping-point of "a heart one afflicts".

Line eleven is perhaps the greatest departure from previously-published translations. "Reposoir" is almost always rendered as "altar", in keeping with the religious imagery of the piece. However, this rendering has the unfortunate effect of confusing its interpretation by implying a sacrifice of the sun. One literal translation comes closer to the goal by using simply the coldly descriptive "resting-place". Rendering "reposoir" as "tomb" brings across the original idea of a dead sun leaving the dolorously-lovely night in his place.

The final line is a difficulty. An "ostensoir" is nothing but an urn or vessel holding the Eucharist for consecration: in English the Catholic term is "monstrance". However, few besides a large minority of Roman Catholics have heard and could define "monstrance". Likewise, "Host", used by two translations, falls on unperceiving ears more often than otherwise. While I still think it seems overly objective and lacking the colour of the rest of the piece, "sacred urn" is a rendering which both communicates the true meaning of "reposoir" to as large an audience as possible, and yet is immediately recognizable as the Monstrance to a well-versed Catholic.

If you have any comments on my translation (which is rather quick-and-dirty — I only gave it ten minutes), I'd love to hear them.

Thursday, May 05, 2005


Yours is a friendship I would die to keep,
and I may.

To love and not be sated,
but live pinioned as companion
(with never more than simply
enough hope to pin me down)
might kill —

and in cessation of existence,
my dying lips would breathe
of thee.


I hope it rains like this all night. I’d like to go to sleep to it.

When my soul to weeping turns,
a dull and pleasant gloom
steals o’er my soul; and there I learn
true pleasure from the pain.
When before I shunned it,
now I glory in the rain.

A thunderstorm is always nice, especially in light of the depressingly fair and even weather we’ve been having recently. And we’re in the thick of it: I was outside and watched a tendril of lightning pry through the air, touch the ground, and instantly embolden before losing all existance in twenty seconds of thunder. Blind and deafened, I exulted in the water and sound.

The rain that on my head she falls,
her fog that ’round me shrouds
the world in closer gath’ring walls:
these my muses be.
’Twixt all that sorrow tells me,
all but love soon palls.

A whistle of wind, catlike (in a stormy, caterwauling way) follows on the tail of the thunder. Such a wonderfully and duly depressing sound is ambrosia to my soul now: the strains of love unrequited and nearly-requited and even (dare I think?) unwittingly (“Spring Fever”-like) requited are wearing on me even among their pleasance.

The whisper now rides with the wind,
and my love shall surely mend.
I savour now the siren-song:
pariah’s right’s not lightly won.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever have her. No matter, really. It is not the having her which is necessary, but the desiring — that nigh-on holy respectful worship of the Eternal Feminine* embodied in her.

I shall hear what’s death to hear;
be succoured by the night.


* By this, I of course mean the concept of the Woman as I regularly expound here. I consider myself one of the few of the old guard who still worship women as they deserve to be worshipped.

The poem intercalated here was originally written on December 25th, 2001, and has been tentatively titled (though I in general despise titles) “Siren’s Rain”.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

“The Tragedy: La Dame aux Camélias

from Baby Bell and Other Poems
by Thomas Bailey Aldrich

La Dame aux Camélias, —
I think that was the play;
The house was packed from pit to dome
With the gallant and the gay,
Who had come to see the Tragedy,
And while the hours away.

There was the ruined Spendthrift,
And Beauty in her prime;
There was the grave Historian,
And there the man of Rhyme,
And the surly Critic, front to front,
To see the play of crime.

And there was pompous Ignorance,
And Vice in flowers and lace;
Sir Crœsus and Sir Pandarus, —
And the music played apace.
But of all that crowd I only saw
A single, single face!

That of a girl whom I had known
In the summers long ago,
When her breath was like the new-mown hay,
Or the sweetest flowers that grow;
When her heart was light, and her soul was white
As the winter’s driven snow.

And there she sat with her great brown eyes,
They wore a troubled look;
And I read the history of her life
As it were an open book;
And saw her Soul, like a slimy thing
In the bottom of a brook.

There she sat in her rustling silk,
With diamonds on her wrist,
And on her brow a gleaming thread
Of pearl and amethyst.
“A cheat, a gilded grief!” I said,
And my eyes were filled with mist.

I could not see the players play:
I heard the music moan;
It moaned like a dismal autumn wind,
That dies in the woods alone;
And when it stopped I heard it still, —
The mournful monotone!

What if the Count were true or false?
I did not care, not I;
What if Camille for Armand died?
I did not see her die.
There sat a woman opposite
With piteous lip and eye!

The great green curtain fell on all,
On laugh, and wine, and woe,
Just as death some day will fall
’Twixt us and life, I know!
The play was done, the bitter play,
And the people turned to go.

And did they see the Tragedy?
They saw the painted scene;
They saw Armand, the jealous fool,
And the sick Parisian queen:
But they did not see the Tragedy, —
The one I saw, I mean!

They did not see that cold-cut face,
That furtive look of care;
Or, seeing her jewels, only said,
“The lady’s rich and fair.”
But I tell you, ’t was the Play of Life,
and that woman played Despair!

Friday, February 11, 2005

Only I

Pity me not.
I’m walking the way I chose —

If never there comes one
knowing enough to come,
if never false
gives way to what is true,
I’ll be.

Autumn may fall upon my soul
and find me . . . me,
and none beside.

If Winter saw me leading one
blind and free of thought,
in shame I’d cry, and drop her hand,
and wish I were only I.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005


In pain of mind and lame of word
her lovely, icèd claws
by image grip my view.

Though not in self I solace find,
a calm steals o’er my skull
and numbs my pain of love.

For longer than forever now
I wait to satiate
my thirsty soul of her.

If only I’d a vilja sought,
my soul arrest could find,
for only for forever
would she flee.