The Collected Poems Of William Butler Yeats
November 3, 2002 9:50 PM   Subscribe

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

The Collected Poems Of William Butler Yeats
posted by y2karl (87 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

Well, duh, argybarg--it was an example. I just goofed up the link by copying from the wrong window. I am so embarrassed. And I came so close to that ideal MiguelCardoso one link post. Administrator hope me please.
posted by y2karl at 10:01 PM on November 3, 2002

Thanks for that y2karl, it's one of my favorite Yeats poems though I hadn't thought of it in some time. Of late, I have been thinking of his poetry more in relation to his words on the violence and chaos of his times.

I really like this W. H. Auden poem In Memory of W. B. Yeats

"...mad Ireland hurt you into poetry. Now

Ireland has her madness and her weather still,

For poetry makes nothing happen..."
posted by madamjujujive at 10:14 PM on November 3, 2002

Keats and Yates are on your side, but oh, Wiii-iii-iiilllde is on mine.
posted by cadastral at 10:17 PM on November 3, 2002

tread softly, because you tread on my dreams...
posted by azazello at 10:26 PM on November 3, 2002

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

posted by eddydamascene at 10:41 PM on November 3, 2002 [1 favorite]

And I believe it's a translation from the French of a poem by Ronsard, if I recall correctly, madamejujujive.
posted by y2karl at 10:50 PM on November 3, 2002

Thanks, y2karl. "But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, / And loved the sorrows of your changing face" is my favorite description of love.
And no kidding, eddy. I keep expecting to see someone quote that poem in relation to current events, but I haven't yet. (As a side note, someone out there needs to write a novel called "The Ceremony of Innocence.")

Here's an exhaustive, if inelegant, list of Yeats' poems.
posted by hippugeek at 10:55 PM on November 3, 2002

It appears to be an excerpt of À Hélène de Surgères...

Here it is with an earlier and more literal translation:

Quand vous serez bien vielle, au soir, à la chandelle,
Assise auprès du feu, dévidant et filant,
Direz, chantant mes vers et vous émerveillant:
"Ronsard me célébrait du temps que j'étais belle."
Lors vous n'aurez servante oyant telle nouvelle,
Déjà sous le labeur à demi sommeillant,
Qui au bruit de Ronsard ne s'aille réveillant,
Bénissant votre nom de louange immortelle.
Je serai sous la terre, et fantôme sans os;
Par les ombres myrteux je prendrai mon repos;
Vous serez au foyer une vieille accroupie,
Regrettant mon amour et votre fier dédain.
Vivez si m'en croyez, n'attendez à demain;
Cueillez dès aujourd'hui les roses de la vie

WHEN you are very old, at evening
You'll sit and spin beside the fire, and say,
Humming my songs, 'Ah well, ah well-a-day!
When I was young, of me did Ronsard sing.'
None of your maidens that doth hear the thing,
Albeit with her weary task foredone,
But wakens at my name, and calls you one
Blest, to be held in long remembering.
I shall be low beneath the earth, and laid
On sleep, a phantom in the myrtle shade,
While you beside the fire, a grandame grey,
My love, your pride, remember and regret;
Ah, love me, love! we may be happy yet,
And gather roses, while 'tis called to-day.

Pierre de Ronsard
posted by y2karl at 11:00 PM on November 3, 2002

Wow, I absolutely never knew that, y2karl. It always just seemed so much like a poem he would write to Maude Gonne. Very interesting - thanks for teaching me that!
posted by madamjujujive at 11:09 PM on November 3, 2002

If you're wondering about my second comment--I put the wrong link in my post and asked Matt to delete my 2nd and 3rd comments--it's all over there on lofi--and he did! But I wasn't very clear about the my part so argybarg's comment got clipped by accident--

Um, y2karl, maybe you don't know this, but ... that's a poem for wooing women. You murmuring that in my ear makes me feel a little ... dirty.

I certainly know that that poem applied a lovely patina to some truly overwrought romantic episodes in my college years.
posted by argybarg at 9:56 PM PST on November 3

Upon review--I didn't know it either, madamejujujive. All I knew was an attribution to the poem in The Penguin Book of Verse In Translation. It's another example of the powers of Google.
posted by y2karl at 11:14 PM on November 3, 2002

Everything that man esteems
Endures a moment or a day.
Love's pleasure drives his love away,
The painter's brush consumes his dreams;

-Two Songs from a Play

Time to dust off the neglected Norton anthology. Thanks, y2karl.
posted by eddydamascene at 11:51 PM on November 3, 2002

Ah, Yeats! After Beckett, he's the writer I've most often translated into Portuguese. He is always unusually easy to translate, depending little on the specificity of the English language - a measure of his universality and greatness.

Collected Poems (in the beautiful but cheap Everyman edition) is also the book I most frequently chose as a gift.

Here is what he sounded like, from the BBC - quite a surprise. I have a CD with readings of his poetry but it doesn't seem to be on the web.

Thanks, y2karl - I thought the poem looked wonderful on the front page.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:07 AM on November 4, 2002

W B Yeats became my favourite poet when he turned a deadly dull english class into something a lot brighter, i actually used to look forward to sitting in that old fart of a teachers classroom.

eddydamascene - That poem you quoted is by far my favourite, especially the last lines which always freaked me out a little: "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

But by far my favourite poem, has to be Easter 1916, mainly for the lines "all changed, changed utterly: a terrible beauty is born". Easter 1916

Also full text of The Second Coming (crap link, sorry, at least its not the stone roses)
Thanks for the post!
posted by kev23f at 1:32 AM on November 4, 2002

He's also got a cool tombstone with a fairly well known epitaph on.
posted by kev23f at 1:43 AM on November 4, 2002

*coughs* Um, as far as I know, Yeats didn't speak French so I don't think he could have translated a poem from the French into English. His education was fairly spotty and he was not a good student. Although now that I think about it, he was influenced in part by some of the French Symbolist poets, so... I could buy that "When You Are Old" was influenced by the Ronsard poem, but I really don't think it's a translation--the direction of each poem seems to be somewhat different. (I'll double check when I get home tonight; I have a large number of books by and about Yeats.)

"When You Are Old" was written for Maud Gonne, as were a large number of his other early poems. He was positively goofy over the woman and I've never understood why. If one reads between the lines of their correspondence (what remains--mostly Gonne's half--was published a few years ago), they apparently slept together in 1906 (iirc), after which Yeats had a nervous breakdown. I'd have a nervous breakdown after sleeping with that woman, too. She wasn't even Irish.

Yeats is my all-time favorite poet. I can never decide which poem is my favorite, though. I am quite fond of "The Circus Animals' Desertion" as well as "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death" (the only Yeats poem I can recite from memory, in fact).

One thing I've always been interested in, in terms of Yeats's entire oeuvre is how, if you look at what he concentrates on during the various phases of his life, how closely the cycles resemble his concept of the gyre--he starts out writing very personal poetry, moves into writing more public poetry, and then, at the end of his life, again writes very personal poetry (but which is very different from what he wrote at the beginning of his career).

Yeats's sisters, Susan and Elizabeth, as well as his brother Jack, also had remarkable lives. Susan and Elizabeth (know as Lily and Lolly) founded Cuala Press (it started life as part of Dun Emer, but eventually Lily and Lolly struck out on their own), and Jack is a pretty well-known painter.

Altogether, a fairly remarkable family.
posted by eilatan at 5:29 AM on November 4, 2002

Now all the truth is out,
Be secret and take defeat
From any brazen throat,
For how can you compete,
Being honour bred, with one
Who, were it proved he lies,
Were neither shamed in his own
Nor in his neighbours’ eyes?
Bred to a harder thing
Than Triumph, turn away
And like a laughing string
Whereon mad fingers play
Amid a place of stone,
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.

posted by Shane at 5:59 AM on November 4, 2002

   A Deep-Sworn Vow

OTHERS because you did not keep
That deep-sworn vow have been friends of mine;
Yet always when I look death in the face,
When I clamber to the heights of sleep,
Or when I grow excited with wine,
Suddenly I meet your face.

— William Butler Yeats, 1917
posted by rushmc at 6:56 AM on November 4, 2002

He is always unusually easy to translate, depending little on the specificity of the English language - a measure of his universality and greatness.

That seems like an odd compliment. I'd rather a poet use a language fully than hold something back so it's easily translated.
posted by rcade at 7:01 AM on November 4, 2002

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the mourning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
posted by dnash at 7:14 AM on November 4, 2002

Laforgue, anybody?
posted by matteo at 7:21 AM on November 4, 2002

Concordance to Yeats's poems.

(Just came across that—I'd never seen before. Pretty cool.)
posted by staggernation at 7:26 AM on November 4, 2002

I've always found 'The Stolen Child' impossible to resist, and that includes the beautiful musical rendition which The Waterboys included on their 'Fisherman's Blues' album.

Btw, if anybody with even a vague interest in Yeats is ever visiting this part of Ireland (the mid-west), a visit to his home at Thoor Ballylee is a must. It's a peaceful, understated and usually-overlooked towerhouse off the Galway-Ennis road, and as I recall, it provided the inspiration for his collections 'The Winding Stair and Other Poems', and 'The Tower'. It's been left pretty much as it was at the time of his death. His 'Inscription at Thoor Ballylee'("And may these characters remain, When all is ruin once again") is carved in slate at the foot of the tower. Lady Gregory's home at Coole is also just a little bit up the road, and although most of the house itself is gone, a wander around the parklands surrounding it is an equally peaceful and evocative way of passing an hour or two.
posted by Doozer at 7:33 AM on November 4, 2002

nice to read with me coffe sir, gold.
laforgue....oh, this is gonna be a good thread.
posted by clavdivs at 7:37 AM on November 4, 2002


enjoy your breakfast:

JL's handwriting

Les Complaintes (in French)
posted by matteo at 7:55 AM on November 4, 2002

Now And In Time To Be is a wonderful collection of musical renderings of Yeats's poetry--it includes the Waterboys' version of "The Stolen Child". I think the best one, though, is Shane MacGowan's drunken slurring of "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death". (I've got a soft spot for Shane MacGowan, though.)

Kindly ignore the fact that the geniuses in The Cranberries apparently do not know how to use punctuation properly; their take on the relationship between Yeats and Gonne is, um, interesting. Their song uses bits of "No Second Troy", another one of my favorites.

No one's mentioned Yeats's old-man-who-just-had-monkey-gland-implant-surgery-and-is-newly-horny poems yet... (here, here, and here)
posted by eilatan at 8:00 AM on November 4, 2002

I'd rather a poet use a language fully than hold something back so it's easily translated.

rcade: Absolutely. To compliment a poet on being easily translateable is like complimenting a wine by saying "It could have come from anywhere!" Pushkin, the greatest poet in the Russian language, loses pretty much everything in translation -- and that's a compliment. (And a good reason to learn Russian!)

Yeats didn't speak French so I don't think he could have translated a poem from the French into English.

eilatan: People frequently translate without knowing the original language (it was standard practice in the Soviet Union); you have someone prepare a literal version and explain stuff you need to know, and work from there. It's not ideal, but in a world with far more poems to be translated than linguistically qualified poets, it's necessary. It's always better to have a real poet translating, no matter how "inaccurately," than to have a lifeless academic version. Pound's renditions of Chinese poems in Cathay are among the highlights of English poetry, even though he was working from Fenollosa's notes of a Japanese scholar's commentary, made numerous mistakes, and at one point combined two poems into one.

That said, Yeat's wasn't doing a translation, more like one of Lowell's "imitations," or even "a poem inspired by..."
posted by languagehat at 8:19 AM on November 4, 2002 [1 favorite]

Matteo- Jules handwritten is better then mine (anyones is for that matter, i say this because i have appalling handwriting). nice manuscript link. I tried some quick googling for his poems in english, not much. anybody have any links on him?

my scredo for Mefi is revealed:

"Disney against the metaphysicals
and Laforgue more than they thought in him,
Spire thanked me in proposito
And I have learned more from Jules
(Jules Lafourge since then
deeps in him,..."

-Pound, 'Canto', CXVI.

I believe it was Yeats whom said to Pound, when Swinburne died, "I guess I am king of the cats now"
or something like that.
posted by clavdivs at 9:00 AM on November 4, 2002

One of my favorite poems that has not yet been mentioned is Lapis Lazuli.

And then there's dear Crazy Jane who I may take as my role model what with encroaching cronedom bearing down fast on me. Crazy Jane Talks With the Bishop slays me.

A few comments: eilatan, good point about the way his work went full circle back to the personal- thanks also for the "viagra" poems; shane, that is always one of my favorites too, and it consoled me when Bush "won" the election, ha. Miguel, what a charmed life - translating Beckett and Yeats! I liked your comment about the simplicity of his language being universal, I agree & think that's why he has wide appeal; matteo, thanks for the LaForgue links.

Great thread, great comments. I hope this might open the door to more threads in this vein upon occasion.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:04 AM on November 4, 2002

Why, thanks, languagehat, I was thinking about making the same point, albeit a dull and unsharpened point in comparison to yours. It's obviously not a translation from the French so much as an imitation.

That said, the editors for the Penguin Book of Modern Verse Translation--a book issued only in Japan as far as I know--included it, those poems of Ezra Pound's which language hat mentioned and Basil Bunting's Villon, a section of which which I posted in Miguel's Poetry thread--which gives all some academic certification as translations.

None of these poems are close to literal translations. On the other hand, none would exist without the originals in their original languages, however the poets derived them, whether from others' translations or direct. Bunting's Villon is no direct translation of Francois Villon's The Ballad of Dead Ladies--there is no line equivalent to the Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan/Where are the snows of yesteryear, for example, and yet it speaks to the same point, shares the same blood and breathes the same air. I do not think one can conceive of one without the other--and the same is true for À Hélène de Surgères and When you are old and grey and full of sleep. I guess it boils down to what your translation of translation is.

Here is a fabulous Villon page, by the way--scroll down for a variety of translations and links in English.... German, Catalan, Spanish, modern French, Esperanto, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Polish, Slovakian and Czech, too.

oh, this is gonna be a good thread.

Boy howdy, clavdivs--that's no poop, pardner!
posted by y2karl at 9:43 AM on November 4, 2002

That might have been The Penguin Book of Verse In Translation--I'm not sure. I Googled and found nothing and I can't find the copy I stashed away somewhere after wearing the covers off. All I know is my brother bought it in Japan and it expressly noted on the flyleaf that it was not for sale in the U.S. due to copyright restrictions. It came out sometime in the 70s, so I have no idea if it is now out of print.
posted by y2karl at 10:03 AM on November 4, 2002


glad you're a fan of the Son of Homer, too
posted by matteo at 10:39 AM on November 4, 2002

Lapis Lazuli is a fav of mine also. The night of 9/11, i reread alot of poetry trying to find some solace (boy howdy indeed:) and reread LL. Lapis is my favorite stone, which i believe was more valuable then gold in ancient Egypt. But the best Lapis comes from afghanistan. I highlighted this passage that night.

"...For everyone knows or else should know
That if nothing drastic is done
aeroplane and Zeppelin will come out,
Pitch like King Billy bomb-balls in
Until the town lie beaten flat.....
No Handiwork of Callimachus..."

Pound opened 'Homage to Sextus Propertius' with " Shades of Callimachus, Coan ghosts of Philetas"

Pound wrote that in 1917, Yeats wrote Lapis Lazuli in '39 (i believe) not much to it expect something I have been working on for years concerning 'Homage to Sextus Propertius' the whole poem of 'Sextus' seems steeped in reshaped Images of the past. except one or two...

..."Nor is it equipped with a Frigidaire patent;
Yet the companions of the muses keep their collective nose in my books,/ And weary with historical data, they will turn to my/ dance tune."

also ..."Or of Hector spattering wheel rims"

these images are from "Sextus"

Frigidaire, as we know, is the first mass produced refrigerator, made by a subsidiary of General Motors at that time. Frigidaire was named thus by a contest Billy Durant held to name the new product (he named it frigidaire himself, though i don't think he keep the prize money for the naming contest)

Billy Durant created General Motors in 1908, and by the 1970's, GM was the worlds largest industrial corporation...

Billy Durant created GM here in Flint, Michigan.

Hector indeed.
posted by clavdivs at 10:47 AM on November 4, 2002

(insert "crazy clav" comments here:)
posted by clavdivs at 10:48 AM on November 4, 2002

Lapis Lazuli:An interesting side note is that for the better part of nearly six thousand years the only known deposits for the gemstone lapis lazuli were those at Sar-i-Sang in a remote mountain valley in Afghanistan.
posted by y2karl at 11:30 AM on November 4, 2002

clavdivs, I turned to Yeats post-9/11 too - not right away but in the days to follow, and LL was one of the poems I thought of ...

All perform their tragic play,
There struts Hamlet, there is Lear,
That's Ophelia, that Cordelia;
Yet they, should the last scene be there,
The great stage curtain about to drop,
If worthy their prominent part in the play,
Do not break up their lines to weep.

Interesting about the afghanistan connection y2karl.

And from another poem Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen has a lot of post 9/11 relevance, including:

We, who seven years ago
Talked of honour and of truth,
Shriek with pleasure if we show
The weasel's twist, the weasel's tooth.
posted by madamjujujive at 11:47 AM on November 4, 2002

Great Caesar's ghost, y2karl, where do you come up with this stuff? Fabulous indeed -- I'll be splashing around in Catalan and Norwegian versions of Villon for a while. (He just doesn't sound right in German, somehow: "Die Ballade an den Herzog von Burgund"? Jawohl, mein Kommandant!) As for the anthology, I know it well (though my copy's cover hasn't quite come off yet); it's The Penguin Book of Modern Verse Translation, edited and with an intro by George Steiner  (Penguin, 1966), and it's available at for seven bucks should you want a prettier copy (or should anyone else be curious -- as you might gather from the state of y2karl's and my copies, it's a magnificent book). It was probably available everywhere except the US (frequently the case with Penguin); at any rate, I got mine in Argentina.

clavdivs: Man, it does my heart good to see those Pound quotes (and don't forget "In the proi-i-ide of his oi-i-ye..."). Great frigidaire info, too.
posted by languagehat at 12:12 PM on November 4, 2002

Languagehat, I would like to hear your thoughts on Joseph Brodsky's "poetry is what is gained in translation" versus Robert Frost's "poetry is what is lost in translation". Pablo Neruda is my favorite translated poet; it would be hard to argue against the universality (to borrow MiguelCardoso) of his works, and I derive much pleasure from reading him, despite the occasional inelegance of the translations. Given your command of languages, are you ever impressed when a poet seems to transcend those boundaries?
posted by eddydamascene at 12:20 PM on November 4, 2002

Bly seems to do ok with Neruda.
so a dedication to our fav Portuguese wordsmith.

..."And your other heart of those dead afternoons
is tired of looking and not finding you. And now
shadows fall on the soul"

-Vallejo, 'To My Brother Miguel'
(translated by Knoepfle and James Wright)

my fav Neruda 'ode' is 'Ode to my Socks'

i like the knitting images. reminds me of grandma.
posted by clavdivs at 12:37 PM on November 4, 2002

Here's another poem I love from that anthology--

Like one betrothed I get
Each evening a letter.
And late at night sit down to write
An answer to my friend.

Low in the sky there shines a star
Between two trunks of trees.
So calmly promising to me
That what I dream, shall be.

I am staying with white death
On my way to darkness.
Do no evil, gentle one,
To anyone on Earth.

Anna Akmatova
Translated by Natalie Duddington

posted by y2karl at 12:44 PM on November 4, 2002

eddydamascene: It's an interesting question. The Brodsky and Frost quotes represent two different ways of looking at it (and of course Brodsky is gently poking Frost in the ribs); I'm more in sympathy with Frost, but I can see what Iosif Aleksandrovich was getting at: if a translation is any good, it will have acquired a necessary addition of poetry from the resources of the target language. Theoretically, you could make a great poem out of a trifle, and it's probably been done, though no example springs immediately to mind. Brodsky is a good example of why I feel the way I do. I got to know his poetry first in translation, where I found it impressive but rather heavy and not worth the effort to read the original; when my Russian had gotten better and I met a woman who loved poetry and told me Brodsky was the only contemporary to compare with Mandelshtam, Akhmatova, etc., I gave it a go and was blown away. He's good in English, magnificent in Russian.

On the other hand, I love Milosz in translation, whereas when I try to read him in Polish (which is not one of my languages, but if you know any Slavic you can fake it) I just go "Eh" -- I'd have to immerse myself in Polish and its literature to feel his greatness there (which of course I take on trust). So I'm very grateful that his translators are so good. And to answer your question, yes, I am impressed.

y2karl: Thanks for the lovely Akhmatova version -- I really will have to dig that anthology out when I get home!
posted by languagehat at 1:41 PM on November 4, 2002

we that have thought and done,
that have done and thought,
must ramble and thin out,
like milk spilt on a stone.

new tagline for metafilter anyone ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:31 PM on November 4, 2002

you forgot the quotation marks.
posted by clavdivs at 4:23 PM on November 4, 2002


Akhmatova has inspired me by so much more than that. I consider myself very lucky to be able to read her in our native language. She is to me what Yeats is among English poets: the most heartfelt one, if not the most powerful.

You should try to read more of her, as you seem to be fascinated by exactly her style...
posted by azazello at 4:31 PM on November 4, 2002

I see my casual remark about translating Yeats has turned into a very interesting series of comments on the nature of translation. So please forgive me if I try to answer in a long-winded way, as a sign of respect for the opinions which were expressed here. ;)

The truth is I can't really make up my mind about translation in general but I do believe that, despite the traduttore, tradittore proviso, great prose and poetry can always be adequately translated, provided the two languages share a common basis. In the European realm, it would mean Greek and Latin.

Some translations are just more difficult (more choices to make) than others. I've been regularly translating English and French into Portuguese for over twenty years. I was lucky enough to cut my teeth with Beckett, no mean translator himself. He always helped me surmount every little obstacle - one day I plan to publish the correspondence, as his letters to me often went beyond the translations - and taught me that he himself never translated himself literally.

A small example: in "Not I", I was floored by the word "lacrosse", a game that doesn't exist in Portuguese. I sent him a long list of alternatives, mainly racket games, and added a few typical Portuguese games. One of them was macaca, a children's game played with pebbles and a series of squares in the form of a T. Well, darn me if he didn't reply "I like macaca". And macaca it was, although it bore no relation to lacrosse.

As long as one takes time over a translation, building a set of alternative versions, governed by an internal logic, then it is always the case that one can arrive at an adequate rendition. And by adequate I mean nothing modest - I mean something able to give a measure of the greatness of the original.

As far as Yeats is concerned; yes he is relatively easy - because his images are universal in the formal, Platonic sense. To suggest he somehow didn't explore the English language fully is, I'm sorry, ridiculous. Some poets do explore dialect and slang but I find that these aren't as effective even in their original language.

Which brings me to my main point: one doesn't need to be bilingual or know a foreign language intimately to guess whether a piece of writing will be easy to translate. In the case of Yeats (not Yeat's, languagehat!) one has only to read the poem on the front page to see that it has no excess baggage - it just moves from one emotion to another, directly and simply. Not one of those emotions is particular to Irish culture or the English language.

Whereas translating Finnegan's Wake... is more like a crossword puzzle. Bottom line: if it moves and makes sense in the original language; you can be sure it will do the same in another; as long as there's some vocabular or syntactical common ground.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:15 PM on November 4, 2002 [2 favorites]

I know a number of her poems, azazello--in English translation. You Russians treasure poetry and poets so--in that regard, we here are so uncultured in comparison. I've read that many consider Natalie Duddington's translations tend to be sentimental, although I don't think that can be said of the one above. I'm told that, in the Russian, Akmatova's poems are music.

And that, languagehat, would be the Sandburg argument in part--that the music of the mother tongue is the first thing lost in translation. I remember reading that, in the Greek, the subtleties, allusions and compressions of Pindar--notoriously the most difficult of all Greek poets to translate--are as rhythmic as Kipling or Vachel Lindsay in English.

Which is another topic in itself: I remember a passage by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi--pronounced chicks send me high, kids--in one of his books on the psychology of optimal experience, where he describes Hungarian as being one of the easiest tongue in which to translate poetry or prose from a foreign language and the hardest to translate from. Your comment about Brodsky made me think of that and wonder on the compatibilities of languages.

Here, by the way, is a great links page I found while Googling Natalie Duddington--

Russian Literature in English Translation

Oh hi, Miguel--well, here's my two bits. Now I'll post and read yours.
posted by y2karl at 6:46 PM on November 4, 2002

Regarding Pushkin: I too ploughed through both volumes of Nabokov's literal translation of Eugene Onegin; read the correspondence with Edmund Wilson; compared it to Charles Johnston's and others' translation and have generally tried to keep up with the discussion regarding Pushkin's untranslatabilty into English. Having no Russian myself, I'm bound to agree that Englished Pushkins don't begin to deserve the qualities that Russian readers invariably attribute to his work.

Other Russian poets, such as Pasternak, Akhmatova and Mandelstam, seem to surmount the hurdle, though never satisfactorily, so I'm lead to believe Pushkin is probably an exceptional exception.

The key questions in translation, as should be obvious, are the from and the into languages, so to speak. English does (much) better with Spanish and German than it does with Italian, French and Portuguese. A great writer like Jorge Luis Borges (as he himself often admitted) is probably even better in English - as, I would argue, are Garcia Marquez and Neruda. And Lorca even!

Whereas the brand new "In Search of Lost Time" translation, for instance, is still miles away from Proust's French...

Again I would say that the truly great writers (and philosophers) take the trouble, while writing, to insure their words and their meaning against the vagaries of national languages and (even more important) time.

So you get the paradox that English readers who have no other language are generally able to tell, from the translations they read (provided they're from am accommodating language), the literary quality of the originals.

Again, the "Into English" world is a particular world and not universal in any sense. With languages like French, Italian and Portuguese it's actually a barrier.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:57 PM on November 4, 2002

Oh hi Karl - same here! What a flurry, eh? No cross-purposes, though - that's the main thing. ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:00 PM on November 4, 2002

Why, I oughta...
posted by y2karl at 7:22 PM on November 4, 2002

when a man points at the moon the fool looks at the finger.
heres some "" for you to put up there, my stuttering friend.
posted by sgt.serenity at 12:02 AM on November 5, 2002 [1 favorite]

Wow. This has developed into a lovely thread indeed! I'm having to force myself not to stay up and read every comment and link.

Many thanks, everyone, but especially madamjujujive. I had never read "Lapis" before--Heaven blazing into the head--beautiful!

Auden's "September 1, 1939" , which I came across entirely by accident last fall, is almost eerily relevant to Sept 11. Fear, tragedy, politics, and skyscrapers.

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

posted by hippugeek at 12:57 AM on November 5, 2002

Clavdivs -

"...For everyone knows or else should know
That if nothing drastic is done
aeroplane and Zeppelin will come out,
Pitch like King Billy bomb-balls in
Until the town lie beaten flat.....
No Handiwork of Callimachus..."

If I'm reading your excellent contribution correctly, I fear you may be misinterpreting the 'King Billy' element of the LL passage. I am certain that Yeats did not have Billy Durant in mind in his writings, but rather King William of Orange aka. King Billy, one of the most influential and loathed figures in the history of English involvement in Ireland. The existance of Billy Durant would have had no particular relevance in an Irish context, while King Billy was, and is, the figurehead of those contemporary models of religious tolerance in Northern Ireland (sarc.!), The 'Loyal' Orange Order.

The town referred to in 'the town lie beaten flat', is almost certainly Limerick, which King Billy laid siege to and reduced to ruins in 1690-91, but failed to capture. Among other factors which contribute to his notoriety was his massacre of the defenders following the signing of the ceasefire, or Treaty of Limerick.

Yeats would have been very conscious of King Billy's place in Irish history and lore, and also of the fact that he, more than any other historical figure, epitomised the division between the Catholic and Protestant cultures on the Island - an icon to Northern Protestants, a figure of revulsion for Catholics.
posted by Doozer at 5:40 AM on November 5, 2002 [1 favorite]

my comments, concerning Durant, where keep within 'Sextus', I should have placed some comment that Yeats seemed to be playing off of Pounds Image (perhaps) rather then vice to say. Though in these parts, people referred to Durant as the "King Maker". This is good work Dozer, i learned something and you are right. It was not my intention connecting Yeats "king Billy" to Pounds image, i should have made that more clear. I guess 'LL' was relevant to me as I know Lapis is primarily an Afghan stone. But my 'Sextus' stuff stands up to historical data. If anyone spots a modern image other then the frig or splattering wheel-rim, let me know. Perhaps from 'Sextus" to 'LL', Callimachus represents something, perhaps an image shared between the two.

SS- when a man points his finger at someone, he has three pointing back at himself. But thanks for the ""
posted by clavdivs at 7:11 AM on November 5, 2002

No worries, Clav.

A few more bits and pieces you might be interested in:

In yet another use of Yeats' beloved Classical imagery, Hector was the the Trojan leader of Homer's Iliad, who was killed by the Greek leader, Achilles, and his corpse then dragged by his ankles behind Achilles' chariot, reputedly until it's wheels were bathed in his blood.

In the Greek Classics, there are actually two people called Callimachus. I suspect that Yeats was referring to Callimachus the Sculptor, whose delicate lines and careful craftmanship were the opposite to the random chaos and destruction which resulted from King William's bombardment of Limerick and other Irish towns.

Pound may well have been referring to the other guy, Callimachus the Poet, who is commonly regarded as the originator of dimeter. Believe me, I'm no expert in this, but I suspect that it is entirely possible that Yeats may not in fact have been playing-off Sextus when writing Lapus.

Notwithstanding my opinion, the links you have drawn between the two are incredibly astute by any measure, and I wouldn't be too surprised if you were proven entirely right on this. Thank you for providing new insights to chew over - I reckon threads like this are what make Me'Fi great.

And so back to work......
posted by Doozer at 8:31 AM on November 5, 2002

The third order, called Corinthian, is an imitation of the slenderness of a maiden; for the outlines and limbs of maidens, being more slender on account of their tender years, admit of prettier effect in the way of adornment.

It is related that the original discovery of this form of capital was as follows. A freeborn maiden of Corinth, just of marriageable age, was attacked by an illness and passed away. After her burial, her nurse, collecting a few little things which used to give the girl pleasure while she was alive, put them in a basket, carried it to the tomb, and laid it on top thereof, covering it with a roof-tile so that the things might last longer in the open air. This basket happened to be placed just above the root of an acanthus. The acanthus root, pressed down meanwhile though it was by the weight, when springtime came round put forth leaves and stalks in the middle, and the stalks, growing up along the sides of the basket, and pressed out by the corners of the tile through the compulsion of its weight, were forced to bend into volutes at the outer edges.

Just then Callimachus, who, for his great ingenuity and taste was called by the Athenians Catatechnos, passed by this tomb and observed the basket with the tender young leaves growing round it. Delighted with the novel style and form, he built some columns after that pattern for the Corinthians, determined their symmetrical proportions, and established from that time forth the rules to be followed in finished works of the Corinthian order.

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio:
de Architectura, Book IV

posted by y2karl at 9:41 AM on November 5, 2002

Lots to say, and last time I tried to say it the computer froze and I had to pace the streets and curse. So I'll take it in bite-size pieces this time and hope for the best.

Miguel: First off, how on earth did I miss "Yeat's"? Ouch! Good catch, and I'm going to swallow the intrusive apostrophe so that as it passes through my system the discomfort caused by its sharp curved end will remind me to always proofread my comments with utmost care.

Otherwise, in the matter of translation I fear we must agree to disagree. is always the case that one can arrive at an adequate rendition. And by adequate I mean nothing modest - I mean something able to give a measure of the greatness of the original.

I simply don't believe this; in fact I think it's demonstrably untrue. A notorious example is Pushkin's "Ya vas lyubil," one of the best-loved poems in the language and one which comes across in translation as pure rose water. Here's a version, no better or worse than most:
I loved you; and perhaps I love you still,
The flame, perhaps, is not extinguished; yet

It burns so quietly within my soul,
No longer should you feel distressed by it.

Silently and hopelessly I loved you,
At times too jealous and at times too shy.

God grant you find another who will love you
As tenderly and truthfully as I.
See what I mean? For a personal example, I once spent two years (off and on, obviously) trying to translate Baudelaire's "Le cygne," one of my favorite French poems. I had tossed off a wonderful rendition of the first stanza (forgive the self-praise), continued on for several stanzas encountering more and more difficulties, and finally ran aground with the end in sight. Believe me, I tried everything; it just didn't work, and I wasn't about to put forth a version that betrayed the original. I realize your credo is a comforting one for a translator, and perhaps even necessary while one is working, but it ain't so.

Again I would say that the truly great writers (and philosophers) take the trouble, while writing, to insure their words and their meaning against the vagaries of national languages and (even more important) time.

I have difficulty believing that great writers spend one moment thinking about "the vagaries of national languages" while they write, and if they tried I suspect they would seize up and be unable to continue (like the fabled centipede). It's hard enough to create a great work in one's own language and one's own time, what with worrying about bills, publishers, wife and kids (optional), and what that bastard who won all the prizes last year is up to; the rest of the world and future generations must fend for themselves.

Oh, and I also don't think that whether "the two languages share a common basis" has any bearing on success; as I said, Pound's versions of Chinese classics are supreme. I think whether a given text can be well rendered into a given language is an independent variable, a gift of the gods if you will, and if you make it work you thank your stars and move on to the next attempt.
posted by languagehat at 12:44 PM on November 5, 2002

Azazello: Do you prefer Akhmatova's early lyrics or her grim WWII-era poems ("Rekviem," "Poema bez geroya," etc.)?

And have you read Akunin's Azazel?
posted by languagehat at 12:47 PM on November 5, 2002

Doozer, After some sifting, i believe you are correct, Yeats was most likely (very likely) was referring to the sculptor Callimachus. Pound was referring to Callimachus the writer, librarian, etc.

In Pounds 'Sextus',

"Shades of Callimachus, Coan ghosts...And weary with historical data,..."

I believe that supports your claim, as;

"He (Callimachus) drew up a catalouge, with such copious notes that it was a full literary history."
from, 'The Columbia Encyclopedia'.

we know that when he had published 'Sextus' Pound was working on drafts for 'The Cantos' which we know, was intended to be long. (oh so long)

I was rather hasty in attempting to draw a comparison between the two Callimachus' (I love it when I'm wrong.)

Most of my limited research on 'Sextus' and the modern image has nothing to do with Yeats' 'LL'.
excellent work.

In Wardens' 'The Poems of Propertius' he gives a small biography of Sextus Propertius.

"....Whether he (Sextus) knew Vergil personally we cannot tell, but he speaks of him with admiration. relations with Horace appear to have been cool (if the "Callimachus" of Horace Ep. 2.2.91ff is in fact Propertius)."

something to gone on i suppose.
thank you for the correction, as you have given me insight to Yeats.

I count the "Hector wheel rim" as a modern Image as early auto wheels where rubber tubes held together by "wheel-rims" Safe to say that pound was using an old image coupled with a new image. (just can't figure out who a modern Hector would be using this configuration)

I reckon threads like this are what make Me'Fi great
Yes, i believe this as well.
Perhaps to continue conversation, what do you think of
Micheal O'Siadhail?
posted by clavdivs at 12:59 PM on November 5, 2002

Re "King Billy": Doozer is correct about William III, aka "Dutch William"; Yeats was using language from the old Orange song "The Boyne Water," the relevant stanza of which is "July the First, in Oldbridge Town,/There was a grievous battle,/Where many a man lay on the ground,/By the cannons that did rattle./King James he pitched his tent between/The lines for to retire;/But King William threw his bomb-balls in/And set them all on fire." (A slightly different version is here.) But Yeats also has Kaiser Wilhelm in mind.

On preview: clavdivs, thanks for putting me onto M O'S, I'd never heard of him and now I like him—he has a good Celtic way with a half-rhyme. Here's "Transit":

Urgencies of language: check-in, stand-by, take-off.
Everything apace, businesslike. But I'm happy here
Gazing at all the meetings and farewells. I love
To see those strangers' faces quickened and bare.
A lost arrival is wandering. A moment on edge,
He pans a lounge for his countersign of welcome.
A flash of greeting, sudden lightening of baggage,
As though he journeyed out only to journey home.
I watch a parting couple in their embrace and freeing.
The woman turns, a Veronica with her handkerchief
Absorbing into herself a last stain of a countenance.
She dissolves in crowds. An aura of her leaving glance
Travels through the yearning air. Tell me we live
For those faces wiped into the folds of our being.
posted by languagehat at 1:07 PM on November 5, 2002

i saw we where both in"preview" LH. (bookmarked your site last night, great stuff) Please forgive my dragging the King Billy of Yeats into Durant. It was not my intention. Though I did drag both the Callimachus' into a rather hasty comparison which there is none as i stated above. I derived Durant from my work on 'Sextus" only. Data stills holds about Durants buying the refrigeration system then naming the system 'Frigidaire'. I think that the King Billy for both poets is coincidence.

I had the honor to meet O'Siadhail and find him a great voice. I just love the "BloodAxe" crowd. I am going to try and get a copy of Raines' "A Martian..." I suppose I could try E-bay. Last time i tried to find a copy, there was no E-Bay. One had to go to Canada (to find BloodAxe Books) from what my old Lit. teacher advised. (he wouldnt part with his copy nor his notes on a book he wrote on Seamus Heaney) Shows how rusty I am.
posted by clavdivs at 1:25 PM on November 5, 2002

Damn, the cheapest copy of Martian I can find online ( is $23.36 (and it goes up steeply from there). Maybe you can do better. In the meantime you can at least read the text of the poem here (along with others of his).
posted by languagehat at 2:22 PM on November 5, 2002

once again, the finger is not pointing at anything
other than the moon.
i enjoy eating grains of corn on a sabbath.
i hope this thread lasts a long time because i feel as though i am actually learning something here, i dont
really know much about poetry so thanks everyone
for this great thread.
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:41 PM on November 5, 2002

thanks very much for the Raine link LH. I have a list, very long, as do many newbies, for things to look up and find. This was one. BloodAxes are not cheap and i may snag this up. I have the "home movie" book of his and found it good. Thanks again.

Sarge, i too have learned something. what i really like is that people here in this thread (and other meFi's) know far more about literature then I. Poets and writers have egos, goes with the territory. I believe a writer/poet should learn to curb ones ego. no shame in this.
sorry for the snark.

"Rain is when the Earth is Television"
I just go "YEAH" whenever i read that.
posted by clavdivs at 4:13 PM on November 5, 2002

languagehat: I suppose I prefer her early lyrics, but I have favorites across all her compilations... every single book of her poems has several that make me cry with longing and sorrow and joy. Indeed, they are music; no other poet I know of has shaped Russian into such melody. Her mood became progressively more downhearted over the years, and I seem to appreciate her sorrowful poems as much if not more as her loving ones; but my adoration is itself underscored by personal heartbreak (the one I love has taught me to love Akhmatova...)

Off the top of my head, here are some of my favorites (sorry for translit; Metafilter is not known to support foreign encodings...)

Horoni menya, veter (Vecher)
Bezvolno poshady prosyat... (Chetki)
Vysokie svody kostela... (Chetki)
Oni letyat, oni eshe v doroge... (M. Lozinskomu) (Belaya Staya)
Shirok i zhelt vechernii svet... (Belaya Staya)
9 dekabrya 1913 (Samye temnye dni v godu...) (Belaya Staya)

For those who can read Russian, her poems can be found on

And have you read Akunin's Azazel?
No. I've been told to more than once; I will soon...
posted by azazello at 6:04 PM on November 5, 2002

azazello: Thanks, I'll read those.

For those who are interested in the Akhmatova poem quoted above, I've discussed it (original and translations) here.
posted by languagehat at 8:59 PM on November 5, 2002

The first thing we notice is that she's switched the second and third stanzas. This, to me, is a blatant no-no; if Akhmatova had wanted the quote with its exhortation at the end of the poem, she'd have put it there. Furthermore, Duddington omits the quotation marks, making it impossible to separate the narrator's framing voice from the words she addresses to her friend.

Well...! Thanks for that link, languagehat. I wonder how often translators take liberties based on the mistaken idea that no one will check them? I once reviewed, page by page, a translation of Ulysses into Portuguese, written by Brazil's leading academician at the time, the late (and otherwise great) António Houaiss, and found whole missing paragraphs and pages.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:01 AM on November 6, 2002

Clav, LH etc. - if you're interested in picking up a couple of pretty cheap Ó'Siadháil/BloodAxe books, you could do worse than to check out the links on this site(note that €1 is approx. $1). However, Ó'Siadháil has his own home page with links to his publishers here, while a lot of his and others unpublished work is here. This is also a nifty little resource for Irish poetry.

Anyhoo, in response clav, I know very little of Ó'Siadháil's stuff, although he is something of a national luminary. I haven't found myself being drawn to his work in the same way as Yeats - not sure why, I think Yeat's imagery is stronger and I find it easier to relate to, for some reason
posted by Doozer at 2:42 AM on November 6, 2002

Miguel: Ha! That must have been embarassing for the distinguished Mr. Houaiss. May I ask how you say his name? (Waish??)
posted by languagehat at 5:25 AM on November 6, 2002

Doozer: Good God a'mighty! I just checked out the link and discovered that this is the same Micheal O'Siadhail I studied Irish with a couple of decades ago! Didn't even occur to me; I just don't put linguists and poets in the same mental drawer. clavdivs, you and I have met and been impressed by the same obscure (over here anyway) Irishman, how 'bout them apples? What a great guy (and impressive drinker); I'll have to look for his poetry books now, to set alongside his introduction to Modern Irish.

I love MetaFilter in general and this thread in particular.
posted by languagehat at 7:29 AM on November 6, 2002

he wears a mean bow-tie, thats for sure.
posted by clavdivs at 8:23 AM on November 6, 2002

Funny how people's paths cross like that, right enough!

Anyway, glad to be of assistance to anyone with an expressed interest in an Gaeilge - tá siúl agam go mbíonn an t-suim agat ins an teanga fós, LH!!
posted by Doozer at 8:26 AM on November 6, 2002

clavdivs, you and I have met and been impressed by the same obscure (over here anyway) Irishman

you mean figuratively or literally? was it at U of M if literal?
well, e-mail if you want to respond outta the blue.
I was so impressed by O' Siadhail I wrote me a little poem about his visit.

Certain room C.

He would say
They inner-connects everything.
See at my attic sill, ever loops.
please say, here's green.
Perhaps being fooled by the paper boy
is seeing every yard daily and
can it be that
my word ferals.

I'll never be Irish.


I always wanted to sent him some Woody Herman CD's.
posted by clavdivs at 9:41 AM on November 6, 2002

LH: It's pronounced who-ice. Great thread!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:20 AM on November 6, 2002

The first thing we notice is that she's switched the second and third stanzas.

Shucks, can't we just say it's an imitation? *sigh* I like that poem.
But it's ok, still, with the mental revision.

So, languagehat, on a tangent--I just read that the Farsi word for foreigner, or maybe European foreigner, is farangi--which immediately brings to mind the Ferengi of Star Trek: Next Generation. Comment, please?
posted by y2karl at 10:20 AM on November 6, 2002

y2karl: Sure, let's call it an imitation -- I like it too.

Re "fereng(h)i": I'm quite sure there's a connection; the f(a)rang(i) term, originating in "Frank," has spread over a huge part of the world -- there's a great list and discussion on LINGUIST List here, which got a reply from somebody who actually contacted Star Trek here.
posted by languagehat at 11:52 AM on November 6, 2002

I tried entering Ferenghi--Google prefers Ferengi. And I won't even get into the Ferengi as Jews controversy.

Franks, hmm--makes me think of Ibn Battuta's account of meeting Crusaders--which, alas, I can find no excerpt of online.
posted by y2karl at 5:09 PM on November 6, 2002

Can't find my Ibn Battuta (damn these double-shelved books), but he was 14th century, don't see how he could have met Crusaders. You sure you're not thinking of Usama ibn-Munkidh?
posted by languagehat at 7:06 PM on November 6, 2002

I stand corrected and is my face red. I read the above in a collection of Islamic Litereature in translation and although I am quite familiar with the passages above--can you believe I had a 7th grade English teacher who read us that passage in class, in small town Idaho no less? Anyway, the only names I remembered from that anthology were the Ibn's--Ibn Battuta, Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Hazm--the Moorish Marco Polo, the great systemic philosopher and the author of the Dove's Necklace, in that order. Now that I think of it, I must track down whoever it was that did the translation of the passage of The Dove's Necklace I read in that anthology. (Most of my books are still packed up at a friend's house since I moved last year and my memory is Swiss cheese without them to refer to...) Here's a scrap--

The fresh springing of herbs after the rains, the glitter of flowers when the night clouds have rolled away in the hushed hour between dawn and sunrise, the plashing of waters as they run through the stalks of golden blossoms, the exquisite beauty of white castles encompassed by verdant meadows—not lovelier is any of these than union with the well-beloved, whose character is virtuous, and laudable her disposition, whose attributes are evenly matched in perfect beauty. Truly that is a miracle of wonder surpassing the tongues of the eloquent, and far beyond the most cunning speech to describe: the mind reels before it, and the intellect stands abashed.

I'm really not that well read or educated, and what I know is so spotty, but of what I have read of Arabic literature in translation, the passage from which that came is a favorite. I have no idea who was the translator or when it was done but I would think it's Victorian era, perhaps, just from the over the top grandiloquence of it. I of course have no idea of how a literal translation of the original would read.

I must say, languagehat, that I am such total awe awe of you and the languages you know--my mind reels and my intellect, such as it is, stands abashed--as with Miguel's translating Finnegan's Wake into Portuguese. Ay-yi-yi-yi.... I can't even imagine it.

Here by the way, because I have them, are two more imitations by Basil Bunting, from the Latin--

first, an ode of Catallus that begins Ille mi par esse deo videtur,
which--double conceit--is an imitation of Sappho--

O, it is godlike to sit selfpossessed
when her chin rises and she turns to smile;
but my tongue thickens, my ears ring,
what I see is hazy.

I tremble. Walls sink in night, voices
unmeaning as wind. She only
a clear note, dazzle of light, fills
furlongs and hours

so that my limbs stir without will, lame,
I a ghost, powerless,
treading air, drowning, sucked
back into dark

unless, rafted on light or music,
drawn into her radiance, I dissolve
when her chin rises and she turns to smile.
O, it is godlike!

And then here's the invocation of De Rerum Natura by Lucretius--

Darling Of Gods and Men, beneath the gliding stars
you fill rich earth and buoyant sea with your presence
for every living thing achieves its life through you,
rises and sees the sun. For you the sky is clear,
the tempests still. Deft earth scatters her gentle flowers,
the level ocean laughs, the softened heavens glow
with generous light for you. In the first days of spring
when the untrammeled allrenewing southwind blows
the birds exult in you and herald your coming.
Then the shy cattle leap and swim the brooks for love.
Everywhere, through all seas mountains and waterfalls.
love caresses all hearts and kindles all creatures
to overmastering lust and ordained renewals.
Therefore, since you alone control the sum of things
and nothing without you comes forth into the light
and nothing beautiful or glorious can be
without you, Alma Venus! Trim my poetry
with your grace; and give peace to write and read and think.

--those are two of my favorite things in the world....
posted by y2karl at 11:43 PM on November 6, 2002

God I love Bunting. Thanks, y2karl, and don't feel bad about the Ibns -- it took me a while to figure out what the problem was! More impressive is the fact that you've known that stuff since 7th grade (at that point in my life, I hadn't heard of a single Arab writer; in fact my knowledge of any literature beyond the sf magazines was pretty vague).
posted by languagehat at 5:09 AM on November 7, 2002

clavdivs: Here's one back atcha:
Sixty years of life outside have made gloves of my hands.
Once they built landing strips on distant islands;
now they take dimes from strangers, and lift drinks.
I tried sending you an e-mail; don't know if you got it.
posted by languagehat at 7:07 AM on November 7, 2002

My 7th grade English teacher was a real sourball and a Stevenson Democrat--one of his favorite stories was of a friend who went to Washington during Eisenhower's administration and put a sign on the White House lawn that read This Is The Tomb Of The Well Known Soldier. As this was before Kennedy's assassination, there were no macabre overtones to that. The more I think about it, I realize how lucky I was to read that passage by Usama ibn-Munkidh.
posted by y2karl at 8:40 AM on November 7, 2002

I just have to say this thread rocks... I hadn't been back since y2karl made his why I oughta post a few dozen messages ago and I had no idea it was still going full force. I got so caught up in being depressed in politics while some of the really important things in life have been happening right here. I am looking forward to spending time here tonight after I am done this daily relentless pursuit for common wages.
Thanks for all the great posts, people!
posted by madamjujujive at 8:43 AM on November 7, 2002

Trim my poetry
with your grace; and give peace to write and read and think.

great line. (check your inbox LH)
posted by clavdivs at 10:26 AM on November 7, 2002

Great discussions! It's been some time since I've been part of such a stimulating group exchange on poetry - y2karl, clavdivs, languagehat, miguel, doozer, hippugeek, sgt.serenity, azuzello and everyone else who has added - this is just a wonderful thread and thank you.

Like y2karl, I had a great teacher when young - Mrs. McGrath, wherever you are, I thank you. She excited us with learning, and I only wish I had been a more serious student. She introduced us to Cavafy and tho I am only familiar with a few of his poems, I am fond of this one:

Even if you cannot shape your life as you want it,
at least try this
as much as you can; do not debase it
in excessive contact with the world,
in the excessive movements and talk.

Do not debase it by taking it,
dragging it often and exposing it
to the daily folly
of relationships and associations,
until it becomes burdensome as an alien life.

Languagehat, I enjoyed the translations of the Cavafy poem on your site. Are there translations of his works you would recommend. (I also feel fortunate to have your expertise, and miguel's.)

Many people talked here about simply being students or novices - well, with any luck, we all remain students throughout our lives, and how happy for me that I somehow stumbled on this great little seminar with y'all. A toast to the man who kicked it off! And that brings to mind another bit of advice from the wonderful Mrs. McGrath: Be always drunken. On wine, on poetry, or on virtue, as you will, but be drunken. (Baudelaire)
posted by madamjujujive at 9:48 PM on November 7, 2002

I love Cavafy madly and would like someday to do a book of translations; in the meantime, the best I can recommend is the Keeley/Sherrard book, which has excellent notes and is generally reliable (though in the poem quoted on my site they totally screwed up the last line: ekphansis does not mean 'perception'!) but (to my ear) completely loses the poetry of the poems, as is so often the case with academic publications. You'll have to take my word for it that my version of "Very rarely" is accurate, but I hope you'll agree that the lines have some rhythm and oomph.
posted by languagehat at 7:51 AM on November 8, 2002

Well, the thread has slipped off the front page and no one will ever see this, but it's such a perfect addition I'm going to post it here anyway. In my perusal of The Penguin Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry I ran across a James Simmons poem that just has to be here:
     A Long Way After Ronsard
       for Eileen

When time has made you wrinkled, sore and slow,
and let my caged abilities fly free,
will you feel proud when many people know
I longed for you and you rejected me?

Deaf to my wit, my anger and my prayers,
you didn't even want to lead me on.
Those nights frustration hounded me upstairs
and kept the pencil in my hand till dawn.

Reading these poems will you see how vile
you were to me, and what a paltry choice
he was—that smoother man? Or will you smile,
'Poor Jim is famous'? . . . I can hear your voice.
(Damn -- searching for a link for Simmons I found he died last year. Here's the notice:
James Simmons, poet and founding-editor of The Honest Ulsterman, died on Wednesay, 20th June, 2001. Jimmie passed away at The Poet's House, Falcarragh, Co. Donegal, which he founded with his wife Janice Fitzpatrick-Simmons six months after a tragic stroke.

Numerous Irish writers including Mebdh McGuckian, Ciaran Carson and Bernard MacLaverty were first published by Jimmie in his feisty journal. His own lyric gifts and the rich amalgam of modernity and Ulsterism which he brought to Irish writing will be much lamented.

[Friends of Jimmie Simmons gathered happily in November 2001 to raise funds for the Children's Hospital in Belfast where his son Ben received treatment for some time after his birth. Ben and Janice were both present at the evening of poetry and music.])
posted by languagehat at 8:47 AM on November 11, 2002

« Older Loopland   |   The Hand of Karl Rove Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments