Thursday, December 22, 2011

from "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," lines 1921-1978

from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, lines 1921-1978, by the [anonymous] Pearl-poet 

Original text in Middle English:

And þenne þay helden to home, for hit watz nieȝ nyȝt,
Strakande ful stoutly in hor store hornez.
Þe lorde is lyȝt at þe laste at hys lef home,
Fyndez fire vpon flet, þe freke þerbyside,
Sir Gawayn þe gode, þat glad watz with alle—
Among þe ladies for luf he ladde much joye.
He were a bleaunt of blew, þat bradde to þe erþe,
His surkot semed hym wel, þat softe watz forred,
And his hode of þat ilke henged on his schulder;
Blande al of blaunner were boþe al aboute.
He metez me þis godmon inmyddez þe flore
And al with gomen he hym gret and goudly he sayde,
‘I schal fylle vpon fyrst oure forwardez nouþe,
Þat we spedly han spoken, þer spared watz no drynk.’
Þen acoles he þe knyȝt and kysses hym þryes
As sauerly and sadly as he hem sette couþe.
‘Bi Kryst,’ quoþ þat oþer knyȝt, ‘Ȝe cach much sele
In cheuisaunce of þis chaffer, ȝif ȝe hade goud chepez.’
Ȝe, of þe chepe no charg,’ quoþ chefly þat oþer,
‘As is pertly payed þe porchas þat I aȝte.’
‘Mary,’ quoþ þat oþer mon, ‘myn is bihynde,
For I haf hunted al þis day and noȝt haf I geten
Bot þis foule fox felle—þe Fende haf þe godez! —
And þat is ful pore for to pay for suche prys þinges
As ȝe haf þryȝt me here þro, suche þre cosses
           So gode.’
      ‘Inoȝ,’ quoþ Sir Gawayn,
      ‘I þonk yow, bi þe rode,’
      And how þe fox watz slayn
      He tolde hym as þay stode.

With merþe and mynstralsye, with metez at hor wylle,
Þay maden as mery as any men moȝten—
With laȝyng of ladies, with lotez of bordes,
(Gawayn and þe godemon so glad were þay boþe),
Bot if þe douthe had doted oþer dronken ben oþer.
Boþe þe mon and þe meyny maden mony japez,
Til þe sesoun watz seȝen þat þay seuer moste;
Burnez to hor bedde behoued at þe laste.
Þenne loȝly his leue at þe lorde fyrst
Fochchez þis fre mon and fayre he hym þonkkez
‘Of such a selly sojorne as I haf hade here.
Your honour at þis hyȝe fest þe Hyȝe Kyng yow ȝelde!
I ȝef yow me for on of yourez, if yowreself lykez,
For I mot nedes, as ȝe wot, meue tomorne,
And ȝe me take sum tolke to teche, as ȝe hyȝt,
Þe gate to þe Grene Chapel, as God wyl me suffer
To dele on Nw Ȝerez Day þe dome of my wyrdes.’
‘In god fayþe,’ quoþ þe godmon, ‘wyth a goud wylle
Al þat euer I yow hyȝt halde schal I redé.’
Þer asyngnes he a seruaunt to sett hym in þe waye
And coundue hym by þe downez, þat he no drechch had,
For to ferk þurȝ þe fryth and fare at þe gaynest
           Bi greue.
      Þe lorde Gawayn con þonk
      Such worchip he wolde hym weue.
      Þen at þo ladyez wlonk
      Þe knyȝt hatz tan his leue.

Modern English translation by Marie Borroff:

And then they headed homeward, for evening had come,
Blowing many a blast on their bugles bright.
The lord at long last alights at his house,
Finds fire on the hearth where the fair knight waits,
Sir Gawain the good, that was glad in heart.
With the ladies, that loved him, he lingered at ease;
He wore a rich robe of blue that reached to the earth
And a surcoat lined softly with sumptuous furs;
A hood of the same hue hung on his shoulders;
With bands of bright ermine embellished were both.
He comes to meet the man amid all the folk,
And greets him good humoredly, and gaily he says,
“I shall follow forthwith the form of our pledge
That we framed to good effect amid fresh-filled cups.”
He clasps him accordingly and kisses him thrice,
As amiably and as earnestly as ever he could.
“By heaven,” said the host, “you have had some luck
Since you took up this trade, if the terms were good.”
“Never trouble about the terms,” he returned at once,
“Since all that I owe here is openly paid.”
“Marry!” said the other man, “mine is much less,
For I have hunted all day, and nought have I got
But this foul fox pelt, the fiend take the goods!
Which but poorly repays those precious things
That you have cordially conferred, those kisses three
           so good.”
      “Enough!” said Sir Gawain;
      “I thank you, by the rood!”
      And how the fox was slain
      He told him, as they stood.

With minstrelsy and mirth, with all manner of meats,
They made as much merriment as any men might
(Amid laughing of ladies and lighthearted girls,
So gay grew Sir Gawain and the goodly host)
Unless they had been besotted, or brainless fools.
The knight joined in jesting with that joyous folk,
Until at last it was late; before long they must part,
And be off to their beds, as behooved them each one.
Then politely his leave of the lord of the house
Our noble knight takes, and renews his thanks:
“The courtesies countless accorded me here,
Your kindness at this Christmas, may heaven’s King repay!
Henceforth, if you will have me, I hold you my liege,
And so, as I have said, I must set forth tomorrow,
If I may take some trusty man to teach, as you promised,
The way to the Green Chapel, that as God allows
I shall see my fate fulfilled on the first of the year.”
“In good faith,” said the good man, “with a good will
Every promise on my part shall be fully performed.”
He assigns him a servant to set him on the path,
To see him safe and sound over the snowy hills,
To follow the fastest way through forest green
           and grove.
      Gawain thanks him again.
      So kind his favors prove,
      And of the ladies then
      He takes his leave, with love.

Source of the original text – The Complete Works of the Pearl Poet, translated with an introduction by Casey Finch, with facing-page Middle English text edited by Malcolm Andrew, Ronald Waldron, and Clifford Peterson.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993, pp. 294-296.

Source of the translation – The Gawain Poet: Complete Works, edited and translated by Marie Borroff.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010, pp. 246-247.

Bourguignomicon: Christmas feast as the thing we do to stave off death. Listen to the urgency-of-evoking-beauty the poet imparts with his alliterative lines.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"Horse Piano" by Anna McDonald

                               HORSE PIANO

The idea is to get a horse, a Central Park workhorse.

A horse who lives in a city, over in the hell part of Hell’s
   Kitchen, in a big metal tent.

You have to get one who is dying.

Maybe you get his last day on the job, his owner, his

You get his walk back home at the end of the day,

some flies, some drool. You get his deathbed, maybe.

And then, post mortem, still warm, you get the vet or else
   the butcher

to take his three best legs. And then you get the taxidermist
   to stuff them

heavy, with some alloy, steel, something.

Next day you go over to Christie’s interiors sale and buy a
   baby-grand piano,

shabby condition but tony provenance, let’s say it graced the
   entry hall

of some or other Vanderbilt’s Gold Coast classic six.

And you ask the welder you know to carefully replace the
   piano legs

with the horse legs, and you put the horse/piano somewhere
   like a lobby,

and you hire a guy to play it on the hour, so that everybody
   will know

how much work it is to hold anything up in this world.

Source of the text - The New Yorker, December 19 & 26, 2011, pp. 116-7.

Bourguignomicon: With deceptive ease, the poet animates the beauty & monstrosity of joining two beautiful things as a metaphor for poetry (or life) itself.

Monday, December 5, 2011

"Indian Winter" by Linda Kunhardt

               Indian Winter

        Why does Mama wear
Indira’s red and green earrings?

        A jinx is the inverse
            of Jewish artichoke;

        kinship is the transverse
            of no opinion coke.

        Flambé is the reverse
            of Papa’s poker chips;

        touché to the universe
            of acquiescent lips.

        For the same reason she wears
 silent Nehru jacket, holy Nehru jacket.

Source of the text – Poetry, December 2011, p. 229.

Bourguignomicon: This verse-collage toys with style & substance; we get consonance-activated couplets bracketed in a Christmas-y question-and-almost-answer.

Friday, December 2, 2011

"The Dacca Gauzes" by Agha Shahid Ali

The Dacca Gauzes

          . . . for a whole year he sought
          to accumulate the most exquisite
          Dacca gauzes.
          —Oscar Wilde/The Picture of
                                  Dorian Gray

Those transparent Dacca gauzes
known as woven air, running
water, evening dew:

a dead art now, dead over
a hundred years. “No one
now knows,” my grandmother says,

“what it was to wear
or touch that cloth.” She wore
it once, an heirloom sari from

her mother’s dowry, proved
genuine when it was pulled, all
six yards, through a ring.

Years later when it tore,
many handkerchiefs embroidered
with gold-thread paisleys

were distributed among
the nieces and daughters-in-law.
Those too now lost.

In history we learned: the hands
of weavers were amputated,
the looms of Bengal silenced,

and the cotton shipped raw
by the British to England.
History of little use to her,

my grandmother just says
how the muslins of today
seem so coarse and that only

in autumn, should one wake up
at dawn to pray, can one
feel that same texture again.

One morning, she says, the air
was dew-starched: she pulled
it absently through her ring.

Source of the text – Agha Shahid Ali, The Half-Inch Himalayas.  Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1987, pp. 15-16.

TJB: Precolonial textile; fineness as artisanal & spiritual virtue. This gently compressed lyric compares life to fabric, the gauzier the better.

"A ciascun'alma presa e gentil core" by Dante Alighieri

A ciascun’alma presa e gentil core
nel cui cospetto ven lo dir presente,
in ciò che mi rescrivan suo parvente,
salute in lor segnor, cioè Amore.
Già eran quasi che atterzate l’ore
del tempo che onne stella n’è lucente,
quando m’apparve Amor subitamente,
cui essenza membrar mi dà orrore.
Allegro mi sembrava Amor tenendo
meo core in mano, e ne le braccia avea
madonna involta in un drappo dormendo.
Poi la svegliava, e d’esto core ardendo
lei paventosa umilmente pascea:
appresso gir lo ne vedea piangendo.

English translation by Dino S. Cervigni and Edward Vasta:

To every captive soul and gentle heart
into whose regard shall come the present words,
so that they in return may inscribe their views,
greeting in their lord, who is Love.
Almost had passed a third of the hours
of the time in which to us every star shines,
when to me appeared Love suddenly,
the memory of whose being gives me terror.
Joyous to me seemed Love, holding
my heart in hand, and in his arms he had
my lady wrapped in a cloth asleep.
Then he wakened her, and this burning heart
to the frightened one he humbly fed:
afterward I saw him turn away weeping.

Source of the text – Dante Alighieri, Vita Nuova, edited and translated by Dino S. Cervigni and Edward Vasta. Notre Dame: The University of Notre Dame Press, 1995, pp. 50-51.

Bourguignomicon: After an elaborate epistolary opening we receive Dante’s vision: Love, which brings terror; joy, then weeping; & of course, an edible heart.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Sections I-XII of "Complete Thought" by Barrett Watten



The world is complete.

Books demand limits.


Things fall down to create drama.

The materials are proof.


Daylight accumulates in photos.

Bright hands substitute for sun.


Crumbling supports undermine houses.

Connoisseurs locate stress.


Work breaks down to devices.

All features present.


Necessary commonplaces form a word.

The elements of art are fixed.


A mountain cannot be a picture.

Rapture stands in for style.


Worn-out words are invented.

We read daylight in books.


Construction turns back in on itself.

Dogs have to be whipped.


Eyes open wide to see spots.

Explanations are given on demand.


Brick buildings shut down in winter.

A monument works to change scale.


False notes work on a staircase.

The hammer is as large as the sun.

Source of the text – In the American Tree, edited by Ron Silliman.  Orono, ME: National Poetry Foundation, University of Maine at Orono, 1986, pp. 40-41.

TJB: Which is a complete thought: sentence, stanza, or poem? Juxtaposition thrives in these simple, flat-declarative, often-transitive sentences.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Of Bronze - and Blaze -" by Emily Dickinson

Of Bronze - and Blaze -
The North - tonight -
So adequate - it forms -
So preconcerted with itself -
So distant - to alarms -
An Unconcern so sovereign
To Universe, or me -
Infects my simple spirit
With Taints of Majesty -
Till I take vaster attitudes -
And strut opon my stem -
Disdaining Men, and Oxygen,
For Arrogance of them -

My Splendors, are Menagerie -
But their Competeless Show
Will entertain the Centuries
When I, am long ago,
An Island in dishonored Grass -
Whom none but Daisies, know -

Source of the text – The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Reading Edition, edited by Ralph W. Franklin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998, p. 142.

Bourguignomicon: Ars poetica borealis. This lyric posits the northern lights as an ideal poetic stance—arrogant & grand—unlike the poet’s little mixed bag.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Joseph Conrad’s Last Novel (Which Is Comprised Entirely of Face Colors Used in His Previous Novels)" by Molly Brodak

Joseph Conrad’s Last Novel (Which Is Comprised
Entirely of Face Colors Used in His Previous Novels)

Cinnamon, Nut Brown, Yellow, Lemon Yellow,
Fatty Yellow, Shiny Yellow, Healthy Creole White
Which is Never Tanned by its Native Sunshine,
Clear, Twice as Sunbaked as Before, Shabby Gold,
Thinly Blue, Off-Black, of Too Much Swedish Punch,
Cooling Silver, Negrish, White as the Snows of Higuerota,
of Half-Raw Beef, of Rippling Copper, Semi-Translucent,
Waxy, Brick Dusty, of Quivering Leather, of Wet Hair,
Refreshingly Green, Poisonously Green, of Sodden Lead,
Dazzling Like a Ballroom with an Earthen Floor,
Invisibly Coloured, of Horn Powder, of a Hopeless Bird,
Besmeared with Tobacco, Exceedingly Rusted, of Crumbs,
Cigaresque, Betrayingly Pink, of Varied Loathsome Colors.

Source of the text – Molly Brodak, A Little Middle of the Night.  Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2010, p. 57.

TJB: Face book. Amid this garden of delights, it’s hard to be sure if we’re more impressed by Brodak’s loom-work or Conrad’s turns of phrase.

"It sifts from Leaden Sieves" by Emily Dickinson

It sifts from Leaden Sieves -
It powers all the Wood -
It fills with Alabaster Wool
The Wrinkles of the Road -

It scatters like the Birds -
Condenses like a Flock -
Like Juggler’s Figures situates
Upon a baseless Arc -

It traverses yet halts -
Disperses as it stays -
Then curls itself in Capricorn -
Denying that it was -

Source of the text – The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Reading Edition, edited by Ralph W. Franklin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998, p. 129.

Bourguignomicon: Snow litany. The white stuff assumes a rich presence with 3 active verbs each in stanzas 1 & 2 and paradoxically-paired verbs in the third.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"predawn," part six of "The Volcano and the Covenant" by Alicia Suskin Ostriker

6. predawn

ruach, ruach, the language to say it
ruach, ruach, wind, spirit, breath
spirit of god on the deep’s face
spirit of god moved on the face
of the deep, spirit

spirit was moving, spirit was moving
ruach elohim
the face of the deep waters moved
first it was dark darkness was on it
the face of the deep darkness was upon it
then the spirit came the wind came
the breath came and it moved

it moved, the breath came
and it moved
ruach it


what did the stars do
the stars sang for joy
what did the hills do
they leaped like young rams

what does the day do
it tells the next day
what does the night do
whisper to the next night

what shall I do

Source of the text – Alicia Suskin Ostriker, the volcano sequence.  Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002, p. 99.

Bourguignomicon: Creation-aubade. The wind-of-God meets face-of-the-deep, luxuriating in the dark waters & King James sounds of Gen 1:2, ending in questions.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

from "Upon the translation of the Psalms by Sir Philip Sydney and the Countess of Pembroke His Sister" by John Donne



Eternal God, (for whom who ever dare
Seek new expressions, do the circle square
And thrust into straight corners of poor wit
Thee, who art cornerless and infinite,)
I would but bless thy name, not name thee now;
And thy gifts are as infinite as thou;
Fix we our praises therefore on this one,
That, as thy blessed Spirit fell upon
These psalms’ first author in a cloven tongue,
(For ‘t was a double power by which he sung
The highest matter in the noblest form),
So thou hast cleft that Spirit to perform
That work again, and shed it here upon
Two by their bloods, and by thy Spirit one,
A brother and a sister, made by thee
The organ, where thou art the harmony,
Two, that make one John Baptist’s holy voice,
And who that Psalm, Now let the Isles rejoice,
Have both translated and applied it too,
Both told us what, and taught us how to do.

Source of the text – The Poems of John Donne, from the text of the edition of 1633, revised by James Russell Lowell with the various readings of the other editions of the seventeenth century, and with a preface, an introduction, and notes by Charles Eliot Norton, Volume II.  New York: The Grolier Club, 1895, p. 176.

TJB: A refusal to wit. Should Donne’s warning against naming God apply to either of the sibling-translators (on whose behalf Donne praises God)?

Friday, November 18, 2011

"Junk" by Richard Wilbur


        Huru Welandes
                                      worc ne geswiceσ?
        monna ænigum
                                       σara σe Mimming can
        heardne gehealdan.

An axe angles
                               from my neighbor’s ashcan;
It is hell’s handiwork,
                                          the wood not hickory,
The flow of the grain
                                         not faithfully followed.
The shivered shaft
                                     rises from a shellheap
Of plastic playthings,
                                         paper plates,
And the sheer shards
                                         of shattered tumblers
That were not annealed
                                             for the time needful.
At the same curbside,
                                          a cast-off cabinet
Of wavily warped
                                    unseasoned wood
Waits to be trundled
                                        in the trash-man’s truck.
Haul them off! Hide them!
                                                 The heart winces
For junk and gimcrack,
                                            for jerrybuilt things
And the men who make them
                                                      for a little money,   
Bartering pride
                                like the bought boxer
Who pulls his punches,
                                            or the paid-off jockey   
Who in the home stretch
                                              holds in his horse.   
Yet the things themselves
                                               in thoughtless honor
Have kept composure,
                                            like captives who would not
Talk under torture.
                                      Tossed from a tailgate
Where the dump displays
                                                its random dolmens,
Its black barrows
                                    and blazing valleys,
They shall waste in the weather
                                                        toward what they were.
The sun shall glory
                                     in the glitter of glass-chips,
Foreseeing the salvage
                                            of the prisoned sand,   
And the blistering paint
                                            peel off in patches,
That the good grain
                                       be discovered again.
Then burnt, bulldozed,
                                           they shall all be buried   
To the depth of diamonds,
                                                 in the making dark
Where halt Hephaestus
                                            keeps his hammer
And Wayland’s work
                                          is worn away.

Source of the text – Richard Wilbur, Collected Poems 1943-2004.  Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 2004, pp. 261-2.

TJB: Trash invective. Wilbur’s essayistic ramble in alliterative accentuals captures the hard sounds but not the fury of its Anglo-Saxon models.

from "To Penshurst" by Ben Jonson

from “To Penshurst” lines 22-75

The lower land, that to the river bends,
Thy sheep, thy bullocks, kine, and calves do feed;
The middle grounds thy mares and horses breed;
Each bank doth yield thee conies; and the tops
Fertile of wood, Ashore and Sidney’s copps,
To crown thy open table, doth provide
The purpled pheasant, with the speckled side;
The painted partridge lies in every field,
And for thy mess is willing to be killed;
And if the high-swoln Medway fail thy dish,
Thou hast the ponds that pay thee tribute fish,
Fat agèd carps that run into thy net,
And pikes, now weary their own kind to eat,
As loth the second draught or cast to stay,
Officiously at first, themselves betray;
Bright eels that emulate them, leap on land,
Before the fisher, or into his hand.
Then hath thy orchard fruit, thy garden flowers,
Fresh as the air, and new as are the hours:
The early cherry, with the later plum,
Fig, grape, and quince, each in his time doth come;
The blushing apricot, and woolly peach
Hang on thy walls, that every child may reach.
And though thy walls be of the country stone,
They’re reared with no man’s ruin, no man’s groan;
There’s none that dwell about them wish them down,
But all come in, the farmer and the clown,
And no one empty-handed, to salute
Thy lord and lady, though they have no suit.
Some bring a capon, some a rural cake,
Some nuts, some apples; some that think they make
The better cheeses, bring them; or else send
By their ripe daughters, whom they would commend
This way to husbands, and whose baskets bear
An emblem of themselves in plum or pear.
But what can this, more than express their love,
Add to thy free provisions, far above
The need of such? where liberal board doth flow
With all that hospitality doth know!
Where comes no guest but is allowed to eat,
Without his fear, and of thy lord’s own meat;
Where the same beer and bread, and self-same wine,
This is his lordship’s, shall be also mine.
And I not fain to sit, as some this day
At great men’s tables, and yet dine away.
Here no man tells my cups; nor, standing by,
A waiter doth my gluttony envy,
But gives me what I call, and lets me eat,
He knows, below, he shall find plenty of meat;
Thy tables hoard not up for the next day,
Nor, when I take my lodging, need I pray
For fire, or lights, or livery; all is there,
As if thou then wert mine, or I reigned here;
There’s nothing I can wish, for which I stay.

Source of the text – Poetical Works of Ben Jonson, edited by Robert Bell.  London: John W. Parker and Son, 1856, pp. 92-3.

TJB: Good housekeeping. In sumptuous yet not-excessive couplets Town Mouse praises his client Country Mouse’s sumptuous yet not-excessive living.

About Me