Saturday, November 24, 2007

Mock On, Mock On, Voltaire, Rousseau

by William Blake

Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau:
Mock on, mock on: ‘tis all in vain!
You throw the sand against the wind,
And the wind blows it back again.

And every sand becomes a Gem,
Reflected in the beam divine;
Blown back they blind the mocking Eye,
But still in Israel’s paths they shine.

The Atoms of Democritus
And the Newton’s Particles of Light
Are sands upon the Red Sea shore,
Where Israel’s tents do shine so bright.

* * *

Typical Blake: doesn't care about atoms or photons, but cares very much about spiritual things. That's a good thing, so far as it goes--though I might add that caring about atoms doesn't preclude caring about scripture. Like any good Chestertonian, I care about both.

I've been reading Derrida, lately, and the poem is apt for him too: he really is throwing sand into the wind. The man makes no sense to me at all. Unfortunately, I've got to make sense, 6-8 pages of sense, out of him by next Friday.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Eres tu

by Juan Carlos Calderón

Como una promesa, eres tú, eres tú,
Como una mañana de verano,
Como una sonrisa, eres tú, eres tú,
Así, así, eres tú.

Toda mi esperanza, eres tú, eres tú,
Como lluvia fresca en mis manos,
Como fuerte brisa, eres tú, eres tú,
Así, así, eres tú.

Como mi poema, eres tú, eres tú,
Como una guitarra en la noche,
Todo mi horizonte eres tú, eres tú,
Así, así, eres tú.

Eres tú como el agua de mi fuente,
Eres tú el fuego de mi hogar.
Eres tú como el fuego de mi hoguera,
Eres tú el trigo de mi pan.

* * *

You are like a promise
Like a summer morning,
You are like a sunrise,
That's the way you are.

You are all my hope,
Like a fresh rain in my hands
You are like a strong breeze,
That's the way you are.

You are like my poem,
Like a guitar in the night,
You are all my horizon,
That's the way you are.

You are like the water of my fountain,
You are the fire of my hearth.
You are like the flame of my pyre,
You are the wheat of my bread.

* * *

I don't usually post songs, but this one, by the Basque band Mocedades, is one of my favorites and worth the trouble of translating. I think it is still beautiful, even without the music (which, by the way, is wonderful). Unfortunately it doesn't translate all that well, so if you can piece out the Spanish, you'll get more out of it even if you don't know the language well.

What is so special about it is the imagery. Each image could be the inspiration for a sonnet. Think, for example, about what it means to call someone your horizon, or the fire of your hearth. My favorite might be the "strong breeze"-- how a person can just blow through your life, but not like a damaging wind, but a spring or autumn breeze--strong, but not biting.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Her Praise

by William Butler Yeats

She is foremost of those that I would hear praised.
I have gone about the house, gone up and down
As a man does who has published a new book,
Or a young girl dressed out in her new gown,
And though I have turned the talk by hook or crook
Until her praise should be the uppermost theme,
A woman spoke of some new tale she had read,
A man confusedly in a half dream
As though some other name ran in his head.
She is foremost of those that I would hear praised.
I will talk no more of books or the long war
But walk by the dry thorn until I have found
Some beggar sheltering from the wind, and there
Manage the talk until her name come round.
If there be rags enough he will know her name
And be well pleased remembering it, for in the old days,
Though she had young men's praise and old men's blame,
Among the poor both old and young gave her praise.

* * *

Sorry it's been so long since I last posted! I've been working very hard lately on my book. If it's good, I guess you all will get the benefit of it eventually. If not--well, you've been very kind not to complain.

I just got a biography of Maud Gonne, the woman Yeats loved and admired. She seems to have been quite a woman--Yeats was far from her only admirer. As he points out, many have blamed her, and yet her goodness to the poor led to their unadulterated praise. She worked tirelessly to help evicted Irish tenants keep their land, and when this proved impossible, she helped provide for somewhere for them to live. She was not even Irish herself, but English, and at least at first she was still Anglican. But it seems that she could not turn away from such obvious need.

This poem is a twist on a common experience: when we're proud of something, we try to lead the conversation around and get ourselves a little (well-deserved) praise. But Yeats is far more proud of Maud than he is of himself. All he wants is to hear her praised, and not hear people wasting their time talking of other things "as if some other name ran in their heads." No, he wants them to think only of her--as he does.