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March 27, 2009
Stations of the Cross #3 is probably Fernando Pessoa's most quoted poem by those who read him in English translation. I have issues with the English rendering of the poem by Peter Rickard, as I think, he clung to close to the original syntax of the Portuguese in the final two lines. It's a 14 line poem and if it suggests a sonnet, it's more akin to Petrarch's eight and six; than to Shakespeare's quatrain's & couplet.
It's the changing nature of the persona in the poem that I find so interesting. As a Station of the Cross, Jesus is speaking at the same time, as Boabdil, the last Moorish King of Granada and Pessoa himself. The reader moves through all of these figures who are being exposed to the same emotional torrents at entirely different times. The opening stanza suggests that Christ is "remembering" the exile of Boabdil which actually took place 1,400 years later. If the reader chooses to locate the voice in Pessoa than it's chronological, but if they prefer, as I do, to locate the voice in Christ it cuts a much more interesting sensibility. I believe both readings are intentionally juxtaposed as part of Pessoa's struggle.
I first saw this poem in the 1980s, I often considered Christ
"remembering" all the subsequent history that moved forward from his
death. He remembered from
Perhaps in former time I was, not Boabdil,
But merely his last look from the road
the face of the
A cold silhouette beneath the unbroken blue...
exodus is one of the most operatic moments in history and the heart break of
the Moor fires the legends of
you've been divorced; evicted from your home and family, you may be able to
channel the feelings of Boabdil as he watched Isabella and Ferdinand move into
his quarters in the
Pessoa, who was a man of many names and many personae, ends his poem with those great six last lines.
What I am now is that imperial longing
For what I once saw of myself in the distance...
am myself the loss I suffered...
And on this road which leads to Otherness
in slender wayside glory
The sunflowers of the empire dead in me...
These tragic images flow through Christ, Boabdil and Pessoa simultaneously; a fusion of religion, history and poetry.
smart with your love," my friend chided,
"Find solid ground for the circle it clears."
could make a case that Shelomo Ibn
Gabirol (1021 to 1058) suffered the early incarnation
of the soul that tore just as violently through the life of Arthur Rimbaud. In
the brief bio that introduces Gabirol's selection in
The Dream of the Poem, Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain 950-1492
(Princeton University Press), Peter Cole, the anthology's editor and
translator, describes a man who was writing "accomplished poems by 16,
important ones by 19." The portrait Cole paints is of a physically ugly
man who lived in constant pain due to an unknown illness and who did not suffer
Though he wrote philosophical treatises and many other poems, I have found myself stuck on the lines above since I first encountered Cole's translations on a trip to Andalucia a couple of years ago. The image of love clearing a circle conjures up two aspects of love; the sexual ritual of clearing space to make love and secondly, the clearing of space for a home, and by extension, a family.
That in itself would make the lines worth remembering, but the image also addresses the power of love in an individual, the singular focus of it, so strong that it creates a circle of clarity within the confusions and distractions of life. That emotional focus that is so overpowering when we first fall in love; maybe it's that focus that is so captivating.
It's believed that Gabirol's family may have been dislodged from
March 5, 2009
In today's New York
Times, Jori Finkel
writes of Edward Hopper's enormous influence on our culture and
quotes the owner of a
I won't attempt to describe Hopper's impact on others, but I know that his paintings have given me an approach to the situations I find myself in all of the time as a travel writer in strange lands. When you travel alone, and frequently, as I do, you often find yourself in an interior zone that feels much like what comes out of one of Hopper's urban scenes. You're in a cafe, a hotel lobby or buying a newspaper and you're somehow inside of but not part of the social dance going on around you. Simultaneously isolating and comforting, there is a tangible relief in not being attached to your own history.
It calls to mind the Objectivist poetry of Charles Reznikoff. His most famous line describes how the ruins of a building can create that otherworldly feeling.
have left the door and the staircase,
now leading to the empty room of night
When we rip ourselves out of our normal contexts, we are essentially leaving only the door and the staircase of our lives. As in the poem above, that often frames the edge between where our thoughts & observations border on the big mysterious night beyond.
A few years
ago, drinking beers in a ramshackle roadside bar in
It was a friendly, disanimated conversation between two disconnected lives, looking out from the tangle of their own stories, for a relief from those stories.
March 1, 2009
from Unacknowledged Legislations, unacknowledgedlegislations.blogsopt.com,
by permission of the author.]