Thursday, December 30, 2010

from "The Testament" lines 413-444 by Francois Villon

from The Testament

Puis que papes, roys, filz de roys
Et couceus en ventres de roynes
Sont ensevelis mors et frois
En autruy mains passent leurs regnes
Moy povre mercerot de Renes
Mourray je pas? Oy, se Dieu plaist
Mais que j'aye fait mes estraines,
Honneste mort ne me desplaist.

Ce monde n'est perpetuel
Quoy que pense riche pillart
Tous sommes soubz mortel coutel
Ce confort prent povre viellart
Lequel d’estre plaisant raillart
Ot le bruit lors que jeune estoit
Qu’on tendroit a fol et paillart
Se viel a raillery se mettoit.

Or luy convient-il mendier
Car a ce force le contraint
Regrette huy sa mort et hier
Tristesse son cuer si estraint
Se souvent n’estoit Dieu qu’il craint
Il feroit ung orrible fait
Et advient qu’en ce Dieu enfraint
Et que luy mesmes se desfait.

Car s’en jeunesse il fut plaisant
Ores plus riens ne dit qui plaise
Tousjours viel cinge est desplaisant
Moue ne fait qui ne desplaise
S’il se taist affin qu’il complaise
Il est tenu pour fol recreu
S’il parle on luy dit qu’il se taise
Et qu’en son prunier n’a pas creu.

      English translation by Galway Kinnell:

Since popes, kings, and kings’ sons
Conceived in wombs of queens
Lie dead and cold under the ground
And their reigns pass into other hands
I a poor packman out of Rennes
Won’t I also die? Yes, God willing
But as long as I’ve sown my wild oats
I won’t mind an honest death.

The world won’t last forever
Whatever the robber baron may think
The mortal knife hangs over us all
A thought which consoles the old-timer
Who was well known in his day
For the gaiety of his wit
Who’d be thought a dirty old man
If in old age he tried to poke fun.

Now he’s got to go begging
Necessity obliges it
Day after day he longs to die
Sadness so works on his heart
Often but for the fear of God
He’d commit a horrible act
And it may yet happen he breaks God’s law
And does away with himself.

For if he was amusing once
Now nothing he says gets a laugh
An old monkey is always unpleasant
And every face it makes is ugly
If trying to please he keeps quiet
Everybody thinks he’s senile
If he speaks they tell him “Pipe down
That plum didn’t grow on your tree.”

Source of the text - Villon, Francois.  The Poems of Francois Villon, translated with an introduction and notes by Galway Kinnell.  Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1977, pp. 52-55.

TJB: Senile pendu. A gob of spit in the face of self-slaughter, this speech uses oddly exact rhymes & long phrase-clusters to speak its peace.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"Pretext" by Stephen Rodefer


Then I stand up on my hassock and say sing that.
It is not the business of POETRY to be anything.
When one day at last they come to storm your deluxe cubicle,
Only your pumice stone will remain.  The left trapezius for now
Is a little out of joint.  Little did they know you came with it.
When nature has entirely disappeared, we will find ourselves in Stuttgart.
Till then we're on the way.  The only way not to leave is to go.
The gods and scientists heap their shit on Buffalo and we're out there,
Scavenging plastic trees.  When nature has entirely disappeared,
We'll find ourselves in the steam garden.  Evening's metonym for another
Beady-eyed engineer with sexual ideas, who grew up eating animals.
Do you like the twelve tones of the western scale?  I prefer ninety.
I may work in a factory but I slide to the music of the spheres.
My job is quality control in the language lab, explaining what went
Wrong in Northampton after the Great Awakening.  So much was history.

My father is a sphinx and my mother's a nut.  I reject the glass.
But I've been shown the sheets of sentences and what he was
Really like remains more of a riddle than in the case of most humans.
So again I say rejoice, the man we're looking for
Is gone.  The past will continue, the surest way to advance,
But you still have to run to keep fear in the other side.
There is a little door at the back of the mouth fond of long names
Called the juvjula.  And pidgeon means business.  It carries
Messages.  The faces on the character parts are excellent.
In fact I'm having lunch with her next week.  Felix nupsit.
Why should it be so difficult to see the end if when it comes
It should be irrefutable.  Cabin life is incomplete.
But the waterbugs' mittens SHADOW the bright rocks below.
He has a resemblance in the upper face to the man who robbed you.
I am pleased to be here.  To my left is Philippa, who will be singing for me.

Source of the text - Rodefer, Stephen.  Call it thought: selected poems.  Manchester, England: Carcanet Press, 2008.

TJB: Disjunct footsie. Although each sentence could be the first line of a different text, the many modifiers imply something precedes each one.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"a song in the front yard" by Gwendolyn Brooks

a song in the front yard

I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.
I want a peek at the back
Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows.
A girl gets sick of a rose.

I want to go in the back yard now
And maybe down the alley,
To where the charity children play.
I want a good time today.

They do some wonderful things.
They have some wonderful fun.
My mother sneers, but I say it’s fine
How they don’t have to go in at quarter to nine.
My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae
Will grow up to be a bad woman.
That George’ll be taken to Jail soon or late
(On account of last winter he sold our back gate).

But I say it’s fine. Honest, I do.
And I’d like to be a bad woman, too,
And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace
And strut down the streets with paint on my face.

Source of the text - Brooks, Gwendolyn.  The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks, edited by Elizabeth Alexander.  New York: The Library of America, 2005, p. 4.

TJB: Queen Anne front. There is irony in a song yearning nurserylike for the alley but which could only have been written from the front yard.

Monday, December 27, 2010

"The Red Hat" by Rachel Hadas

The Red Hat

It started before Christmas. Now our son
officially walks to school alone.
Semi-alone, it's accurate to say:
I or his father track him on the way.
He walks up on the east side of West End,
we on the west side. Glances can extend
(and do) across the street; not eye contact.
Already ties are feelings and not fact.
Straus Park is where these parallel paths part;
he goes alone from there. The watcher's heart
stretches, elastic in its love and fear,
toward him as we see him disappear,
striding briskly. Where two weeks ago,
holding a hand, he'd dawdle, dreamy, slow,
he now is hustled forward by the pull
of something far more powerful than school.

The mornings we turn back to are no more
than forty minutes longer than before,
but they feel vastly different flimsy, strange,
wavering in the eddies of this change,
empty, unanchored, perilously light
since the red hat vanished from our sight.

Source of the text - Hadas, Rachel.  Halfway Down the Hall: New and Selected Poems.  Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1998, p. 20.

TJB: Boy-heroics. These couplets capture a child’s growth & parents’ mixed feelings, bending many active clauses to passive until a fine ending.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"Whan the turf is thy tour," anonymous Middle English lyric

Whan the turf is thy tour

Whan the turf is thy tour
And thy put is thy bour,
Thy fel and thy white throte
Shullen wormes to note.
What helpeth thee than
Al the worlde wenne?

Notes [from Stevick]:

2. put = pit, i.e., grave
3. fel    skin
4. Shullen wormes to note    worms shall have for their use (or purpose)
6. worlde wenne    joys, pleasures of the world; (?) to win the world

Notes [from Stevick Glossary]:

bour    abode, chamber, dwelling-place, bower

Source of the text - One Hundred Middle English Lyrics, Revised Edition, edited by Robert D. Stevick. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1994, p. 12.

TJB: Anti-dailiness. With rotting-courtly images & surprising-intricate metrics the poet predicts the obvious & asks an easy-to-dismiss question.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day, Being the Shortest Day" by John Donne

A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day, Being the Shortest Day.

‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks.
   The sun is spent, and now his flasks
   Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
      The world’s whole sap is sunk:
The general balm th’hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed’s feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compar’d with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring:
   For I am every dead thing,
   In whom love wrought new alchemy.
      For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness:
He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;
   I, by love’s limbeck, am the grave
   Of all, that’s nothing. Oft a flood
      Have we two wept, and so
Drown’d the whole world, us two; oft did we grow
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else; and often absences
Withdrew our souls and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death (which word wrongs her)
Of the first nothing the elixir grown;
   Were I a man, that I were one
   I needs must know; I should prefer,
      If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love; all, all some properties invest.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

But I am none; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
   At this time to the Goat is run
   To fetch new lust, and give it you,
      Enjoy your summer all.
Since she enjoys her long night’s festival,
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year’s and the day’s deep midnight is.

Source of the text - John Donne's Poetry, edited by Donald R. Dickson.  New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007, pp. 115-116.

TJB: Existencelessness. Our speaker goes to such extravagant lengths to say he’s nobody sans her it seems losing her has made him purer, godlier.

Monday, December 20, 2010

from "Pythagorean Silence" by Susan Howe

from Pythagorean Silence


age of earth and us all chattering

a sentence       or character

steps out to seek for truth      fails

into a stream of ink          Sequence
trails off

must go on

waving fables and faces        War
doings of the war

manoeuvering between points

any two points          which is
what we want     (issues at stake)

bearings and so

holes in a cloud    are minutes passing
which is

view      odds of images swept rag-tag

silver and grey

seconds    forgeries engender
(are blue)       or blacker

flocks of words flying together      tense
as an order

cast off to crows

Source of the text: Pythagorean Silence by Susan Howe.  From In the American Tree, edited by Ron Silliman.  Orono, ME: The National Poetry Foundation, Inc., 1986, pp. 356-357.

TJB: Languagists of Avalon. Omniscient, firmly apposed, the poem claims myth & poetry are fleeting moments of order amid the human chatter-chaos.

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