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Après la bataille

Victor Hugo

Listen (to Cyrano read)

Mon père, ce héros au sourire si doux,
Suivi d’un seul housard qu’il aimait entre tous
Pour sa grande bravoure et pour sa haute taille,
Parcourait à cheval, le soir d’une bataille,
Le champ couvert de morts sur qui tombait la nuit.
Il lui sembla dans l’ombre entendre un faible bruit.
C’était un Espagnol de l’armée en déroute
Qui se traînait sanglant sur le bord de la route,
Râlant, brisé, livide, et mort plus qu’à moitié.
Et qui disait: ” A boire! à boire par pitié ! ”
Mon père, ému, tendit à son housard fidèle
Une gourde de rhum qui pendait à sa selle,
Et dit: “Tiens, donne à boire à ce pauvre blessé. ”
Tout à coup, au moment où le housard baissé
Se penchait vers lui, l’homme, une espèce de maure,
Saisit un pistolet qu’il étreignait encore,
Et vise au front mon père en criant: “Caramba! ”
Le coup passa si près que le chapeau tomba
Et que le cheval fit un écart en arrière.
” Donne-lui tout de même à boire “, dit mon père.

There is a poetic English translation floating around on the net, but I find it a little contrived, and somewhat too far from the original. You’ll find it easily if you search for “After the Battle Victor Hugo”. I really like the fact that Hugo’s text flows easily and sounds pretty natural. So I’ll give you a verse by verse, pretty much a word for word translation.


After the battle

My father, a hero with such a sweet smile,
Followed by a single soldier whom he liked amongst all,
For his great bravery and his tall stature,
Was wandering on his horse, on the evening of a battle,
Across the field covered with bodies upon which night was falling.
He thought he heard a soft noise in the shadows.
It was a Spaniard from the routed army,
Who was crawling in his blood on the side of the road,
Groaning, broken, livid and more than half dead,
And who was saying: “Something to drink! Take pity, a drink!
My father, moved, gave to his faithful soldier
A flask of rum which hung from his saddle,
And said, “Take it and give a drink to the poor wounded man.”
All of a sudden, as the lowered soldier
Was bending towards him, the man, some kind of Moorish,
Steadies a pistol that he was still holding
And aims at my father’s forehead while shouting: “Caramba!”
The bullet went so close that the hat fell off
And the horse suddenly backed off.
“Give him a drink anyway” said my father.

Around 1800, Victor Hugo’s father was a general in the armies of Napoleon which invaded most of Europe to bring liberty, equality and brotherhood to the people oppressed in the neighboring countries. Surprisingly, the locals did not alway appreciate the wonderful presents that were forced upon them by foreigners. We now know better and such mistakes would not be repeated in the 21st century, but I digress.
This is a moving story told very efficiently as a modern filmmaker would. This would have made a great Kurosawa. Three shots. The camera pans across the bloody battlefield barely lit by an evening sky. Then the camera zooms in to the wounded Spaniard that we discover, low and back lit. Then a quick action scene, the explosion of a bullet, the camera follows the hat that flies off. As the camera zooms back out to the whole landscape, the famous last line is heard in a tired and weary voice, “Give him a drink anyway”.
This poem is quite famous in French speaking countries and several verses are often quoted, most notably the last one, when someone has a generous gesture for a fallen foe, –or cynically, whenever there is wine to be served, a common occurrence.

– Cyrano

Welcome Cyrano! Looking forward to more great readings from you! :)

[blackmamba]

February 20, 2009 at 11:47 pm 14 comments

Rosh Hashanah

Aharon Shabtai

Listen (in Hebrew)

Listen (in English)

Even after the murder
of the child Muhammad on Rosh Hashanah,
the paper didn’t go black.
In the same water in which the snipers
wash their uniforms,
I prepare my pasta,
and over it pour
olive oil in which I’ve browned
pine nuts,
which I cooked for two minutes with dried tomatoes,
crushed garlic, and a tablespoon of basil.
As I eat, the learned minister of foreign affairs
and public security
appears on the screen,
and when he’s done
I write this poem.
For that’s how it’s always been —
the murderers murder,
the intellectuals make it palatable,
and the poet sings.

(translated from the Hebrew by Peter Cole)

For those of us who regularly seek solace in poems, acts of terrorism can be particularly hard to deal with, because (the deluge of poetry written in the aftermath of 9/11 notwithstanding) there just doesn’t seem to be enough good poetry about living with terrorism.

In times like these, I find myself turning to books like  J’Accuse (New Directions 2003), a collection of ‘political’ poems by Hebrew poet Aharon Shabtai. Shabtai’s poems seem matter of fact, even flippant, in tone, but beneath their nonchalance lies a deep groundswell of outrage – an outrage made all the more powerful for being directed impartially against all who traffic in hatred or hold human life cheap, whether Arab or Jew. Shabtai’s voice is the voice of a poet for whom terrorism is a fact of everyday life, and therefore something to be not dismayed by but struggled against. What you hear in Shabtai’s poems is the constant rediscovery of the balance of being human, of learning to endure the horrors of the news without either succumbing to hatred or surrendering to indifference. It is what makes these poems so unexpectedly comforting.

– falstaff

(recording courtesy: PBS)

November 27, 2008 at 8:28 pm 9 comments

Shaam

Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Listen (to Faiz read)

is tarah hai ke har ek peR ko’ii mandir hai
ko’ii ujRaa huaa, benuur puraanaa mandir
DhuunDtaa hai jo Kharaabii ke bahaane kab se
chaak har baam, har ek dar kaa dam-e-aaKhir hai
aasmaaN ko’ii purohit hai jo har baam tale
jism par raaKh male, maathe pe sinduur male
sar-niguuN baithaa hai chup-chaap na jaane kab se
is tarah hai ke pas-e-pardaa ko’ii saahir hai

jis ne aafaaq pe phailaayaa hai yuN seh’r ka daam
daaman-e-vaqt se paivast hai yuN daamna-e-shaam
ab kabhii shaam bujhegii na andheraa hogaa
ab kabhii raat Dhalegii na saveraa hogaa

aasmaaN aas liye hai ke ye jaaduu TuuTe
chup ki zanjiir kaTe, vaqt kaa daaman chhuTe
de ko’ii shanKh duhayii, ko’ii paayal bole
ko’ii but jaage, ko’ii saaNvlii ghuuNGhat khole

Translation by Agha Shahid Ali

Evening

The trees are dark ruins of temples,
seeking excuses to tremble
since who knows when–
their roofs are cracked,
their doors lost to ancient winds.
And the sky is a priest,
saffron marks on his forehead,
ashes smeared on his body.
He sits by the temples, worn to a shadow, not looking up.

Some terrible magician, hidden behind curtains,
has hypnotized Time
so this evening is a net
in which the twilight is caught.
Now darkness will never come–
and there will never be morning.

The sky waits for this spell to be broken,
for history to tear itself from this net,
for Silence to break its chains
so that a symphony of conch shells
may wake up to the statues
and a beautiful, dark goddess,
her anklets echoing, may unveil herself.

(from The Rebel’s Silhouette)

[blackmamba]

May 23, 2008 at 6:42 am 8 comments

Tanhaa’i

Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Listen (to Faiz read)

phir ko’ii aayaa, dil-e-zaar! nahiin, ko’ii nahiin;
raah-rau hogaa, kahiin aur chalaa jaaegaa.
dhal chukii raat, bikharne lagaa taaron kaa ghubaar,
larkharaane lage aiwaanon mein khwaabiida charaagh,
so ga’ii raasta tak takke har ek rah guzaar;
ajnabi khaak ne dhundlaa diye qadmon ke suraagh.

gul karo shamiin, barhaa do mai-o-miinaa-o-ayaagh,
apne be khwaab kivaaron ko muqaffal kar lo;
ab yahaan ko’ii nahiin, ko’ii nahiin aayega!

Solitude

Someone, finally, is here! No, unhappy heart, no one –
just a passerby on his way.
The night has surrendered
to clouds of scattered stars.
The lamps in the hall waver.
Having listened with longing for steps,
the roads too are fast asleep.
A strange dust has buried every footprint.

Blow out the lamps, break the glasses, erase
all memory of wine. Heart,
bolt forever your sleepless doors,
tell every dream that knocks to go away.
No one, now no one will ever return.

Tr. by Agha Shahid Ali

More Faiz.

[blackmamba]

May 17, 2008 at 12:57 am 13 comments

Paas Raho

Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Listen (to Faiz read)

tum mere paas raho
mere qaatil, mere dildaar, mere paas raho
jis gha.Dii raat chale
aasamaano.n kaa lahuu pii kar siyah raat chale
marham-e-mushk liye nashtar-e-almaas chale
bain karatii hu_ii, ha.Nsatii hu_ii, gaatii nikale
dard kii kaasanii paazeb bajaatii nikale
jis gha.Dii siino.n me.n Duubate huye dil
aastiino.nme.n nihaa.N haatho.n kii rah takane nikale
aas liye
aur bachcho.n ke bilakhane kii tarah qul-qul-e-may
bahr-e-naasudagii machale to manaaye na mane
jab ko_ii baat banaaye na bane
jab na ko_ii baat chale
jis gha.Dii raat chale
jis gha.Dii maatamii, sun-saan, siyah raat chale
paas raho
mere qaatil, mere dildaar, mere paas raho

Be Near Me

You who demolish me, you whom I love,
be near me. Remain near me when evening,
drunk on the blood of skies,
becomes night, in the other
a sword sheathed in the diamond of stars.

Be near me when night laments or sings,
or when it begins to dance,
its stell-blue anklets ringing with grief.

Be here when longings, long submerged
in the heart’s waters, resurface
and everyone begins to look:
Where is the assasin? In whose sleeve
is hidden the redeeming knife?

And when wine, as it is poured, is the sobbing
of children whom nothing will console–
when nothing holds,
when nothing is:
at that dark hour when night mourns,
be near me, my destroyer, my lover me,
be near me.

Agha Shahid Ali’s translation. From The Rebel’s Silhouette

[blackmamba]

May 13, 2008 at 5:45 pm 5 comments

Crickets

Aram Saroyan

Listen

crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets
crickets

(from Complete Minimal Poems; audio courtesy Ubuweb)

April 24, 2008 at 2:16 am 4 comments

The Iliad (Excerpts)

Robert Fagles

Listen to Fagles’ Homer lecture that is filled with excerpts from the Iliad (in mp3, in .rm for folks on dialup access)

The lecture is approximately an hour long. Fagles is an excellent storyteller who sprinkles the lecture with readings from his translation, the original Greek text and some very funny comments. Do give it a listen.

His translation at Amazon.com.

April 8, 2008 at 5:12 pm 5 comments

Alle Tage / Every Day

Ingeborg Bachmann

Listen (to Bachmann read)

Der Krieg wird nicht mehr erklärt,
sondern fortgesetzt. Das Unerhörte
ist alltäglich geworden. Der Held
bleibt den Kämpfen fern. Der Schwache
ist in die Feuerzonen gerückt.
Die Uniform des Tages ist die Geduld,
die Auszeichnung der armselige Stern
der Hoffnung über dem Herzen.

Er wird verliehen,
wenn nichts mehr geschieht,
wenn das Trommelfeuer verstummt,
wenn der Feind unsichtbar geworden ist
und der Schatten ewiger Rüstung
den Himmel bedeckt.

Er wird verliehen
für die Flucht von den Fahnen,
für die Tapferkeit vor dem Freund,
für den Verrat unwürdiger Geheimnisse
und die Nichtachtung
jeglichen Befehls.

Translation (by Peter Filkins):

War is no longer declared,
but rather continued. The outrageous
has become the everyday. The hero
is absent from the battle. The weak
are moved into the firing zone.
The uniform of the day is patience,
the order of merit is the wretched star
of hope over the heart.

It is awarded
when nothing more happens,
when the bombardment is silenced,
when the enemy has become invisible
and the shadow of eternal armament
covers the sky.

It is awarded
for deserting the flag,
for bravery before a friend,
for the betrayal of shameful secrets,
and the disregard
of every command.

I’ve been reading a lot of Bachmann recently, having just got my hands on a 2006 edition of her Collected Poems translated by Peter Filkins and entitled Darkness Spoken.

What I love about this poem is the first stanza, which seems to me to encapsulate the essence of modern warfare, the way the horrors of violence are converted into just another television feature, how routine steadily numbs us to the brutality of the truth.

[falstaff]

P.S. Today’s recording comes to your courtesy of lyrikline, where you can also fine a whole bunch of other Bachmann recordings.

April 2, 2008 at 3:20 am 4 comments

Mandalay

Rudyard Kipling

Listen (to Slaybaugh sing)

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ eastward to the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
“Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!”
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

‘Er petticoat was yaller an’ ‘er little cap was green,
An’ ‘er name was Supi-yaw-lat — jes’ the same as Theebaw’s Queen,
An’ I seed her first a-smokin’ of a whackin’ white cheroot,
An’ a-wastin’ Christian kisses on an ‘eathen idol’s foot:
Bloomin’ idol made o’mud —
Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd —
Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed ‘er where she stud!
On the road to Mandalay . . .

When the mist was on the rice-fields an’ the sun was droppin’ slow,
She’d git ‘er little banjo an’ she’d sing “Kulla-lo-lo!”
With ‘er arm upon my shoulder an’ ‘er cheek agin’ my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an’ the hathis pilin’ teak.
Elephints a-pilin’ teak
In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
Where the silence ‘ung that ‘eavy you was ‘arf afraid to speak!
On the road to Mandalay . . .

But that’s all shove be’ind me — long ago an’ fur away,
An’ there ain’t no ‘busses runnin’ from the Bank to Mandalay;
An’ I’m learnin’ ‘ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
“If you’ve ‘eard the East a-callin’, you won’t never ‘eed naught else.”
No! you won’t ‘eed nothin’ else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An’ the sunshine an’ the palm-trees an’ the tinkly temple-bells;
On the road to Mandalay . . .

I am sick o’ wastin’ leather on these gritty pavin’-stones,
An’ the blasted Henglish drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho’ I walks with fifty ‘ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An’ they talks a lot o’ lovin’, but wot do they understand?
Beefy face an’ grubby ‘and —
Law! wot do they understand?
I’ve a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
On the road to Mandalay . . .

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin’, an’ it’s there that I would be —
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

Ludwig writes,

Confessing to liking Kipling (i.e. the works) is not the most prudent thing to do. Depending on what company you are in, you may end up seeing people pull themselves together and become a bit more stiff and formal; maybe some of them will even begin to edge away from you as though they’ve found a snake in the bathtub. But what’s to be done, if you discovered Rudyard (“Kim” and “The Jungle Books” especially, but the rhymes also) before you acquired a political conscience, is it possible to not fall in love with the tales and the language? Even after the tinted glasses of political correctness have been donned, his oeuvre is compelling in the manner of the Ancient Mariner. Even if the claw like hand has dropped, the glittering eye will hold you.

So we freely confess, we like Kipling, his politics and weltanschauung be damned (if they actually do deserve to be, that is). The man had a way with language and imagination, animals have never been anthropomorphized the way they were in “The Jungle Books” (“Lion King”s may come and go…) and never will be. Above all, he had a touch for sheer _atmosphere_ that is perhaps unsurpassed. “Mandalay” is a serviceable example.

You can read it in at least a couple of ways. Directly, we dispense with the one we close our eyes and ears to and in general go “lalalalalalalalalala” at. This is obviously the political/cultural studies reading, where the poem is about imperialist exoticization of the Orient; male chauvinism; and yada yada yada.

There, that’s done. What remains is a very lyrical, very singable, enjoyable and evocative poem. Part of this admittedly has to do with the way Matt Slaybaugh sings it, the raspy drawl itself adds to the look and feel. Then there’s the language, the construction of phrase (“the temple-bells they say”, “dawn comes up like thunder”, “Ship me somewheres east of Suez” etc.), the attention to metre etc. about which someone more articulate and knowledgable should be able to hold forth on. There’s also the somewhat touching love story, of this man separated from a sweetheart and a land that he seems to be genuinely very fond of. There’s the echoes from Innisfree, about wanting to go back to a simpler happier life, and all that jazz.

All in all, we likes, and we submits for due consideration at pō’ĭ-trē. Flames may be kindly lit in the comments section, and/or directed at choultry[AT]gmail.com. Meanwhile, we’ve got to go off and so some serious daydreaming, see if we care…

some links:

[1] Commentary at The Skeptic Tank

[2] Frank Sinatra’s rendition of On the Road to Mandalay from Come Fly with Me. When the album was first released in the British Empire, this song was replaced by “Chicago”, due to objections from the Kipling family.

[3] The poem on wiki (with a couple of helpful hyper links)

[4] The Complete Collection of Kipling’s poems here.

[5] The Nobel bio and presentation speech from 1907.

Finally, Kipling on pō’ĭ-trē. Anyone wants to read my old favourite for us now? :)

[blackmamba]

March 31, 2008 at 7:50 pm 3 comments

She rose to his requirement

Emily Dickinson

Listen

She rose to his requirement, dropped
The playthings of her life
To take the honorable work
Of woman and of wife.

If aught she missed in her new day,
Of amplitude, or awe,
Or first prospective, or the gold
In using wore away,

It lay unmentioned, as the sea
Develops pearl and weed,
But only to himself is known,
The fathoms they abide.

It’s been over a year since we ran a Dickinson poem, so I thought it was about time.

I don’t know where to begin to praise this poem. I love the subversion of the message – the way the opening stanza loudly dismisses the “playthings of her life” and celebrates the “honorable work / of woman and of wife” only to have the second stanza make disappointment and suffocation seem almost inevitable. I love the arc of the poem – the first stanza rising, the second stanza losing momentum, leveling off, and the third dropping quietly to the bottom of the sea. I love the conciseness of it, the precision of the word choices (“amplitude, or awe”, “pearl and weed” “abide”), that startling ‘himself’ in the penultimate line that always takes my breath away.  And I love the music of the poem, the rhythmic perfection that makes the end rhymes (awe, away; weed, abide) seem entirely natural, the way the opening line of each stanza is a shift in gears, the subdued gentleness of those last lines with their sense of something coming softly to rest.

[falstaff]

March 5, 2008 at 5:18 am 3 comments

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