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.

About Me