Saturday, 30 April 2016

Jorge Guillén: The Horses

Shaggy and heavily natural, they stand
Immobile under their thick and cumbrous manes,
Pent in a barbed enclosure which contains,
By way of compensation, grazing-land.

Nothing disturbs them now. In slow increase
They fatten like the grass. Doomed to be idle,
To haul no cart or wagon, wear no bridle,
They grow into a vegetable peace.

Soul is the issue of so strict a fate.
They harbor visions in their waking eyes,
And with their quiet ears participate
In heaven’s pure serenity, which lies
So near all things—yet from the beasts concealed.
Serene now, superhuman, they crop their field.

Tr. Richard Wilbur. Guillén stressed a sense of good which might lead to simple joy, but also carried a parallel sense of imperfection and chaos. In other words, the most basic driver and contradiction of poetry. “The Horses” comes from the human envy of the anthropomophized animal, content to graze.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Andrew McNeillie: Birds of America

I woke again… inside a dream, startled,
On an internal flight… The navigator beside me
No sooner put his flight plan down than he
Began to show me pages out of Audubon:
The Birds of America, from Original Drawings
With 435 Plates Showing 1,065 Figures.

My first thought was that we would crash.
So many foreign objects flying. I put myself into
The brace position. But he laughed and turned
The pages: so many pages, so many birds. I could hear the air
Beat with their unnameable wings, as we descended
Into the frontier morning, where a Cardinal presided

Singing in the bushes to his heart’s content.
I seemed to know at once it was a Cardinal,
A scarlet, crested, black-faced finch,
With the most melodious of voices.
I could see the sense in that, a start I might welcome in
The new world when I woke and clambered from the wreckage.

But suppose it had been a Grackle or
A Brown Thrasher from the Catbird family,
Would it have left me looking awry?
Or a Bobolink or a Cowbird? Scratching my head
At those queer birds, stumbling in the dark wood
On the road less travelled, as poets should?

From Now, Then (2002). McNeillie is British (Welsh-Scots), so this is a foreigner’s encounter with the birds of America and with the displacement of being in parts foreign. It’s the displacement of dream: whether or not McNeillie has actually been to the United States isn’t relevant. I don’t understand why at the end he brings in echoes of Dante and Frost – it seems a clashing shift in registers of irony.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Christoph Meckel: Fragment

blackbird call in twilight
suddenly, glorious, the shock
of pleasure, and
you can't get anywhere without it

Another blackbird poem. Tr. Christopher Middleton. Meckel (b. 1935 in Germany, maybe not a difficult time for a child but a difficult time for its parents) has been a hugely prolific poet and graphic artist. The blackbird does its standard duty for the earthbound.