Friday, September 26, 2008

Rite of Passage by Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds often writes openly about her issues with men and maleness. And while I want to take some offense to her making as much out of this anecdote as she does, I can't. It is a terrific little anecdote.

Besides, I've met her and she's extraordinarily kind.

Rite of Passage

As the guests arrive at our son’s party
they gather in the living room—
short men, men in first grade
with smooth jaws and chins.
Hands in pockets, they stand around
jostling, jockeying for place, small fights
breaking out and calming. One says to another
How old are you? —Six. —I’m seven. —So?
They eye each other, seeing themselves
tiny in the other’s pupils. They clear their
throats a lot, a room of small bankers,
they fold their arms and frown. I could beat you
up, a seven says to a six,
the midnight cake, round and heavy as a
turret behind them on the table. My son,
freckles like specks of nutmeg on his cheeks,
chest narrow as the balsa keel of a
model boat, long hands
cool and thin as the day they guided him
out of me, speaks up as a host
for the sake of the group.
We could easily kill a two-year-old,
he says in his clear voice. The other
men agree, they clear their throats
like Generals, they relax and get down to
playing war, celebrating my son’s life.

Born in San Francisco on November 19, 1942, Sharon Olds is the author of many successful books of poetry. She held the position of New York State Poet from 1998 to 2000. She currently teaches poetry workshops at New York University's Graduate Creative Writing Program.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Love Sonnet XI by Pablo Neruda

Here's a spicy one. Neruda is relentless with his sensual metaphors.


Love Sonnet XI

I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.
Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day
I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.
I hunger for your sleek laugh,
your hands the color of a savage harvest,
hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails,
I want to eat your skin like a whole almond.

I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body,
the sovereign nose of your arrogant face,
I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes,

and I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight,
hunting for you, for your hot heart,
like a puma in the barrens of Quitratue.

(Translated by Stephen Tapscott)

Here's the original, per the requests. (Thanks to anonymous)

Soneto XI

Tengo hambre de tu boca, de tu voz, de tu pelo
y por las calles voy sin nutrirme, callado,
no me sostiene el pan, el alba me desquicia,
busco el sonido líquido de tus pies en el día.

Estoy hambriento de tu risa resbalada,
de tus manos color de furioso granero,
tengo hambre de la pálida piedra de tus uñas,
quiero comer tu piel como una intacta almendra.

Quiero comer el rayo quemado en tu hermosura,
la nariz soberana del arrogante rostro,
quiero comer la sombra fugaz de tus pestañas

y hambriento vengo y voy olfateando el crepúsculo
buscándote, buscando tu corazón caliente
como un puma en la soledad de Quitratúe.

The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda led a life charged with poetic and political activity. In 1923 he sold all of his possessions to finance the publication of his first book, Crepusculario ("Twilight"). The following year, he found a publisher for Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada ("Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair"). The book made a celebrity of Neruda, who gave up his studies at the age of twenty to devote himself to his craft. He died in 1973.

Friday, September 12, 2008

And Yet the Books by Czeslaw Milosz

I love this one by Milosz...

And Yet The Books

And yet the books will be there on the shelves, separate beings,
That appeared once, still wet
As shining chestnuts under a tree in autumn,
And, touched, coddled, began to live
In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up,
Tribes on the march, planets in motion.
“We are, ” they said, even as their pages
Were being torn out, or a buzzing flame
Licked away their letters. So much more durable
Than we are, whose frail warmth
Cools down with memory, disperses, perishes.
I imagine the earth when I am no more:
Nothing happens, no loss, it’s still a strange pageant,
Women’s dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.
Yet the books will be there on the shelves, well born,
Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.

Czeslaw Milosz was born on June 30, 1911, in Szetejnie, Lithuania (then under the domination of the Russian tsarist government). He spent most of World War II in Nazi-occupied Warsaw working for underground presses. In 1980, Milosz was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He died in August of 2004.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Loving in Truth by Sir Philip Sidney

Loving in Truth is the opening sonnet of Sir Philip Sidney's great sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella. The sequence is said to record Sidney's courtship with a woman named Penelope Devereux, but was no doubt influenced by the conventions of courtly love.

When reading English Renaissance poetry, it helps me to remember that poets of the period celebrated invention. Part of the joy of reading Sidney's sonnet can be found in untangling the poem's clever syntax and extended metaphors.

Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,
That the dear she might take some pleasure of my pain,
Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,
Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain,
I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe:
Studying inventions fine, her wits to entertain,
Oft turning others' leaves, to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sunburned brain.
But words came halting forth, wanting Invention's stay;
Invention, Nature's child, fled stepdame Study's blows;
And others' feet still seemed but strangers in my way.
Thus, great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes,
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite:
"Fool," said my Muse to me, "look in thy heart, and write."

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-86) was killed while fighting in the Netherlands for the protestant Dutch against their catholic Spanish rulers. Queen Elizabeth I called Sidney "The worthiest knight that lived." If he hadn't died young, many believe he would have become the first great poet of the English Renaissance.