A Post-Modern Tribute to T.S. Eliot

On the Threshold of his Greatness,
The Poet Comes Down with a Sore Throat

from The Next Room of the Dream
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962)

by Howard Nemerov

Enthusiasm is not the state of a writer’s soul.—Valéry.1

For years I explored the pharmacopoeia
After a new vision. I lay upon nails
While memorizing the Seven Least Nostalgias.2
And I lived naked in a filthy cave,
Sneering at skiers, all one awful winter;
Then condescended, and appeared in tails
At the Waldorf-Astoria,where I excelled
In the dancing of the Dialecticians’ Waltz
Before admiring matrons and their patrons.

Those days, I burned with a hard, gemlike phlegm,
And went up like Excelsior4 in a huff
Of seven-veiled symbols and colored vowels.
Flying from the alone to the Alone,5
My name appeared on every manifest
O.
Everything, Bhikkhus, was on fire.6
Things are so different now. My reformation,
Glittering, o’er my fault.7 . . . Anyhow,
It’s very quiet here at Monsalvat.8
The kids are singing in the cupola.9
But quietly. The good old psychopomp
Who comes to give my shots is terribly kind.
Procurasin at night in massive doses,
Repentisol next morning when I wake.
An unpretntious life, with late quartets
Among the early frescoes, a few friars
Asleep in their coffins10 off to one side,

Angles adoring11 where the jet planes wailed.
Evenings, we all eat from the same Grail.

Gin a body meet a body12
Under boo13
Under the bo
Under the bodhi tree
All is illusion,14 all is vanity15
Nobodhi there but me and me16

Metaphysics at mealtime gets in my hair.17

1 “Variety,” tr. by Malcom Cowley, in “An Introduction to the Method of Leonardo da Vinci.”
2 Ancient druidical chants of immense length. Also referred to in some early writers, as “The Small End of the Egg Wisdom.”
3 An hotel in New York City.
4 A poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
5 Plotinus, in Stephen Mackenna’s translation.
6 In the present tense in Buddha’s Fire Sermon addressed to a thousand monks at Gays Head in Magadha. See Henry Clarke Warren, “Buddhism in Translation” (Harvard, 1922), Ch. IV, Sec. 73. See also William Empson, “Poems” (London, 1935) and T.S. Eliot, “The Wast Land” (1922), Part II, “The Fire Sermon,” ad fin. Bhikkus = monks, or priests.
7 Shakespeare, “Henry IV Part One,” 1.2.236.
8 The Grail Castle. Richard Wagner, “Parsifal,” “Lohengrin,” See also Nemerov, “The Melodramatists” (1949), pp. 155 & ff.
9 T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land,” line 202: “Et O ces voix d’enfants, chantant dans la coupole!” Mr. Eliot’s note attributes the line to Verlaine, “Parsifal,” but probably the sentiment, in one form or another, goes back to antiquity. Cf. Kafka, “The Castle,” where K., telephoning for permission to enter the Castle, hears in the receiver “the hum of countless children’s voices—but yet not a hum, the echo rather of voices singing at an infinite distance.”
10 See James Joyce’s celebrated story “The Dead,” in “Dubliners.”
11 Painting by Fra Angelico in the National Gallery, London.
12 Note the increased profundity of the Burns song in the new context.
13 Cf. T.S. Eliot, “Fragment of an Agon”: “Under bam / Under the boo / Under the bamboo tree.”
14 The Buddha.
15 Ecclesiastes. The collocation of these two representatives of Eastern and Western tradition, here at the collapse of the poem, may not be an accident.
16 The Buddha achieved illumination and Buddhahood under the bo tree from the perception that all the forces of evil threatening him arose from within himself.
17 Wallace Stevens, “Les Plus Belles Pages”: “Theology after breakfast sticks in the eye.”

NOTES BY CYRIL LIMPKIN, M.A. (OXON.), FELLOW IN AMERICAN LITERATURE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF LAND’S END, ENGLAND.

Note on Notes. These notes have not the intention of offering a complete elucidation of the poem. Naturally, interpretations will differ from one reader to another, and even, perhaps, from one minute to the next. But because Modern Poetry is generally agreed to be a matter of the Intellect, and not the Feelings, because it is meant to be studied, and not merely read; and because it is valued, in the classroom, to the precise degree of its difficulty, poet and critic have agreed that these Notes will not merely adorn the Poem, but possibly supersede it altogether.

Advertisements

Stolen Moments

from Blues and the Abstract Truth
by Oliver Nelson (1961)

Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Eric Dolphy, flute; Oliver Nelson, alto, arranger;
George Barrow, baritone sax; Bill Evans, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Roy Haynes, drums.
recorded at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, February 23, 1961
on Impulse! 

 

The secret of the flower

[Die Mandelbäume in Blüte (1912)]
from Uncollected Poems ed. by Edward Snow (New York: North Point Press, 1997)
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Die Mandelbäume in Blüte: alles, was wir hier leisten können,
ist, sich ohne Rest zu erkennen in der irdischen Erscheinung.

Unendlich staun ich euch an, ihr Seligen, euer Benehmen,
wie ihr die schwindliche Zier traget in ewigem Sinn.
Ach wers verstünde zu blühn: dem wär das Herz über alle
schwachen Gefahren hinaus und in der großen getrost.

[Inflorescent Almond Trees]
[translated by DK Fennell]

The Almond Trees in bloom: the only thing we can accomplish
here is to recognize ourselves, without any residue, in worldly phenomena.

I never cease, oh happy ones, to marvel at your bearing,
With that endless wisdom you support your dwindling splendor.
If one could know how to flower, the heart would transcend all
Trifling perils and take comfort against the greatest.

“… we do not admire what we cannot understand”

Poetry
from Observations (New York: The Dial Press, 1924)
by Marianne Moore

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because they are
useful. When they become so derivative as to become unintelligible,
the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand: the bat
holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse that feels a flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician—
nor is it valid
to discriminate against “business documents and

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
“literalists of
the imagination”—above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,” shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry.

Gentle advice to a familiar stranger said only to oneself

To a Sad Daughter
from Secular Love (Toronto: The Coach House Press, 1984)
by Michael Ondaatje

All night long the hockey pictures
gaze down at you
sleeping in your tracksuit.
Belligerent goalies are your ideal.
Threats of being traded
cuts and wounds
—all this pleases you.
O my god! you say at breakfast
reading the sports page over the Alpen
as another player breaks his ankle
or assaults the coach.

When I thought of daughters
I wasn’t expecting this
but I like this more.
I like all your faults
even your purple moods
when you retreat from everyone
to sit in bed under a quilt.
And when I say ‘like’
I mean of course ‘love’
but that embarrasses you.
You who feel superior to black and white movies
(coaxed for hours to see Casablanca)
though you were moved
by Creature from the Black Lagoon.

One day I’ll come swimming
beside your ship or someone will
and if you hear the siren
listen to it. For if you close your ears
only nothing happens. You will never change.

I don’t care if you risk
your life to angry goalies
creatures with webbed feet.
You can enter their caves and castles
their glass laboratories. Just
don’t be fooled by anyone but yourself.

This is the first lecture I’ve given you.
You’re ‘sweet sixteen’ you said.
I’d rather be your closest friend
than your father. I’m not good at advice
you know that, but ride
the ceremonies
until they grow dark.

Sometimes you are so busy
discovering your friends
I ache with loss
—but that is greed.
And sometimes I’ve gone
into my purple world
and lost you.

One afternoon I stepped
into your room. You were sitting
at the desk where I now write this.
Forsythia outside the window
and sun spilled over you
like a thick yellow miracle
as if another planet
was coaxing you out of the house
—all those possible worlds!—
and you, meanwhile, busy with mathematics.

I cannot look at forsythia now
without loss, or joy for you.
You step delicately
into the wild world
and your real prize will be
the frantic search.
Want everything. If you break
break going out not in.
How you live your life I don’t care
but I’ll sell my arms for you,
hold your secrets forever.

If I speak of death
which you fear now, greatly,
it is without answers.
except that each
one we know is
in our blood.
Don’t recall graves.
Memory is permanent.
Remember the afternoon’s
yellow suburban annunciation.
Your goalie
in his frightening mask
dreams perhaps
of gentleness.

Ondaatje is the Sri Lanka-born Canadian novelist-poet best known for the Booker Prize winning novel The English Patient (1992).

Three Songs from Senegal

Stanzas from D’Autres Chants …

in Éthiopiques, poèmes
(Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1956)

by
Léopold Sédar Senghor

(pour khalam)

Je ne sais en quels temps  c’était, je confonds toujours l’enfance et l’Eden
Comme je mêle la Mort et la Vie—un pont de douceur les relie.

Or je revenais de Fa’oye, m’étant abreuvé à la tombe solennelle
Comme les lamantins s’abreuvent à la fontaine de Simal.
Or je revenais de Fa’oye, et l’horreur était au zénith
Et c’était l’huere où l’on voit les Esprits, quand le lumière est transparente
Et il fallait s’écarter des sentiers, pour éviter leur main fraternelle et mortelle.
L’âme d’un village battait à l’horizon. Etait-ce des vivants ou des Morts?

«Puisse mon poème de paix ètre l’eau calme sur tes pieds et ton visage
«Et que l’ombre de notre cour soit fraîche à ton cœur», me dit-elle.
Ses mains polies me revètirent d’un pagne de soie et d’estime
Son discours me charma de tout mets délectable—douceur de lait de la mi-nuit.
Et son sourire était plus mélodieux que le khalam de son dyâli.
L’étoile du matin vint s’asseoir parmi nous, et nous pleurâmes délicieusement.
—Ma sœur exquise, garde done ces grains d’or, qu’ils chantent l’éclat sombre de ta gorge.
Ils étaient pour ma fiancée belle, et je n’avais pas de fiancée.
—Mon frère élu, dis-moi ton nom. Il doit résonner haut comme un sorong
Rutiler comme le sabre au soleil. Oh! chante seulement ton nom.
Mon cœur est un coffret de bois précieux, ma tète un vieux parchemin de Djenné.
Chante seulement ton lignage, que ma mémoire te réponde.

Je ne sais en quels temps c’était, je confonds toujours présent et passé
Comme je mêle la Mort et la Vie—un pont de douceur les relie.

(pour khalam)

Si je pouvais haler son cœur, tel pêcheur sur la plage plane
Si je pouvais haler son cœur par le cordon ombilical.

Long mais long ce regret à la Porte du Sud—ne donnez pas à ma fierté.
Quand exulter aux cris métalliques de merles, aux pieds grondants dans les nuages?

Je suis le marigot au long de la saison. Pas une palombe n’y boit l’amour.
C’est la sapotille tépide que ronge le ver de l’absence.

Simplement saluer mon nom sur l’aile blanche de la mouette
Et je calme d’une main d’ambre le grand piaffant de ma poitrine.

(pour flûtes et balafong)

Absente absent, ô doublement absente sur la sécheresse glacée
Sur l’éphémère glacis du papier, sur l’or blanc des sables où seul pousse l’élyme.
Absents absents et tes yeux sagittaires traversant les horizons de mica
Les verts horizons de mirages, et tes yeux migrateurs de tes aïeux lointains.
Déjà le pan de laine sur l’épaule aiguë, comme la lance qui défie la fauve
Déjà le cimier bleu sur quoi se brisent les javelines de mon amour,

Écoute ton sang qui bat son tam-tam dans test tempes rythmiques lancinantes
Oh! écoute—et tu es très loin par-dalà les dunes vineuses
Ecoute les jeux qui frémissent, quand bondit rouge ta panthère
Mais écoute les mains sonores, comme les vagues sur la plage.
Ne te retient plus l’aimant de mes yeux plus fort que le chant des Sirènes?
Ah! plus le chant de l’Élancé? dis comme un feu de brousse la voix de l’Amant?

Absent absent, ó doublement absent ton profil qui ombre les Pyramides.

Translated as “Other Songs”

in Léopold Sédar Senghor, The Complete Poetry
(Charlottesville, Va: University Press of Virginia, 1991)

by Melvin Dixon

(for khalam)

I do not know what age it was, I always confuse childhood and Eden
Just as I mingle Death and Life—a tender bridge joins them.

Once I was returning from Fa’oye, having drunk deeply at the solemn
Tomb like sea cows drink at the Simal springs.
I was returning from Fa’oye, and the horror was at its peak,
It was the hour when Spirits could be seen, when the light was clear
And one had to shun the footpaths to avoid being touched
By brotherly and deathly hands. The village’s soul was beating
At the horizon. Were they the living or the Dead?

She said to me, “May my poem of peace be a calm water on your feet
And face and may the shade of our courtyard cool your heart.”
Her kind hands dressed me in a pagne of silk and esteem.
Her speech charmed me with every delectable meal—
Sweet milk of midnight, and her smile was more musical
Than her dyâli’s khalam. The morning star came
And sat with us, and we wept with pleasure.

—My beautiful sister, hold onto these golden seeds,
Let them praise the dark brightness of your throat.
They were intended for my lovely fiancée, but I have no fiancée.
—My chosen brother, tell me your name. It should resound
Loud like the sorong, shine like a sword in the sun.
Oh, just sing you name. My heart is a coffer of precious wood.
My mind an ancient parchment from Djenne.
Just sing your lineage so my memory may answer.

I do not know what age it was, I always confuse present and past
As I mingle Death and Life—a tender bridge joins them.

(for khalam)

If I could pull in her heart like a fisherman on a flat beach,
If I could pull in her heart by the umbilical cord.

Long, so long this sorrow at the South Gate—
Do not give in to my pride. When can I rejoice in the metallic cries
Of thrushes, in the grumbling feet up in the clouds?
I am the seasonal swamp. Not even a ringdove comes to drink love there.
The worm of absence nibbles the tepid sapodilla.

Just by greeting my name on the white wings of the gull,
I can soothe with an amber hand the great pounding in my chest.

(for flute and balaphon)

Gone, gone, O twice missing from this freezing dryness,
From the paper’s glaze, from the golden whiteness of the sands
Where only wild rye grows.
Gone, gone, and your Sagittarian eyes crossing the mica horizons,
The green horizons of mirages, and your eyes
Wander back to your ancient forefathers.
Already the wood flap on your pointed shoulder,
Like the spear defying the beast, already the blue shield
That breaks my love’s javelins.

Listen to your blood beating its drum in your throbbing temples
Oh! listen—and you are far way, beyond the vintage dunes
Listen to the trembling games when your blood pounces like a panther.
Oh, listen to the sound of hands clapping like waves upon the shore.
Do you still attract the magnet of my eyes stronger
Than the singing Sirens? Ah! stronger than the Wrestler’s song?
Still speak the Lover’s voice like a brushfire?

Gone, gone, O twice missing is your profile that eclipses
The Pyramids.

Notes

balaphon: percussion instrument similar to xylophone.

Djenne: Large town in Mali, an early entrepôt of Arab trade in West Africa.

dyâli: troubadour.

khalam: four stringed guitar-like instrument, used to accompany elegies.

pagne: loin cloth.

sapodilla: fruit of a slow-growing, long-lived evergreen by the same name.

Sagittarian: Characteristic of secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius).

Simal: Bombax tree; a large tree with thick trunk with deciduous leaves shed during the dry season.

sorong: multiple stringed instrument strung along a wooden arm suspended from a hollowed gourd.

Why are you like this?

Why Are You Like This?

from Bratsk Station and Other New Poems tr. Tina Tupikina-Glaessner, Geoffrey Dutton and Igor Mezhakoff-Korakin (NY: Doubleday Anchor, 1967)

by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

When the radio operator of the Morianna, head bent,
was searching for a radio beacon,
by chance he picked up on the receiver a woman’s voice:
“Why are you like this, why are you like this?”

From Amderma she shouted
across the masts and ice and barking dogs,
and like a storm it grew louder all around:
“Why are you like this, why are you like this?”

Pressing inhumanly against each other,
crunching on all sides against each other,
each ice floe wheezed to the other:
“Why are you like this, why are you like this?”

With all its being the white whale
tangled in the nets cried to the hunter
through a fountain of blood:
“Why are you like this, why are you like this?”

And he, poor fellow,
swept away by a curling wave,
whispered as he perished without trace:
“Why are you like this, why are you like this?”

Like a swine I betray you
and nothing will stop me,
while all the time your eyes implore me:
“Why are you like this, why are you like this?”

You look at me, estranged and full of hate,
already almost like an enemy,
and hopelessly I implore you:
“Why are you like this, why are you like this?”

And heart to heart, nation to nation,
every year more distrustfully
they shout through storms and darkness:
“Why are you like this, why are you like this?”

Advertisements