Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Poem of the Week 1/7/2008: Elevation


Above the valleys and above the meres
over woods and mountains, clouds and ocean, past
the sun, the depths of ether, and the vast
utmost boundaries of the starry spheres,

my spirit, you are nimble in your flight,
like a good swimmer blissful in the billow;
gaily through the profound void you furrow
with an ineffable and male delight.

Fly far away from these unhealthful vapors,
go purify yourself in loftier air,
drinking, like a pure and heavenly liquor,
the clear fire brimming our limpid space.

Beyond the boredoms, the immense chagrins
which weight our foggy lives with their dark burden,
happy is he who can with vigorous wings
win to the serene and radiant gardens;

happy the man whose thoughts, like blithe larks flying
in the skies of morning, freely use their powers
--who, hovering over life, knows without trying
the tongues of silent things and of the flowers.

--Charles Baudelaire 1857
trans. C. F. MacIntyre, modified ll. 12 by S. Smith

Read this poem more than once, please!

This is a poem to be tasted, to be soared with, for Baudelaire to sing us. Oh, a longing for a purer mode, for a freedom and weightlessness that is, surprisingly at the end of the poem, rooted on the earth itself--in the tongues of silent things and of the flowers. Indeed, to bring the reader so full circle in this poem really askswhat it might mean for a person to embark on this journey--how to rise so high that one is beyond ether?

Beyond ether is God, in Aristotle's cosmology. Beneath things are heavy, weighty, foggy...

There are a few lines in this poem that I just cannot forget; in the third stanza, Baudelaire writes that we could drink, "like a pure and heavenly liquor, / the clear fire brimming our limpid space." At the very edges of our reality, or perhaps showing through its seams, what is there?

The poet has a taste of it.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Poem of the Week 12/31/2007: Ode to a Chestnut on the Ground

Ode to a Chestnut on the Ground

Out of the bristling foliage
you fell
polished wood,
glistening mahogany,
as a violin that has just
been born in the treetops
and falls
offering the gifts locked inside it,
its hidden sweetness,
finished in secret among
birds and leaves,
school of form,
lineage of firewood and flour,
oval instrument
that holds in its structure
unblemished delight and edible rose.
Up there, you abandoned
the bristling husk
that half-opened its barbs
in the light of the chestnut tree,
through that opening
you saw the world,
filled with syllables,
and down below
the heads of boys
and girls,
grasses that fluttered restlessly,
smoke that rises and rises.
You made up your mind,
chestnut, and you leapt down to earth,
burnished and prepared,
firm and smooth
as a small breast
in teh islands of America.
You fell
the ground
nothing happened,
the grass
went on fluttering, the old
chestnut tree whispered like the mouths
of a hundred trees,
one leaf fell from red autumn,
steadily the hours kept on working
upon the earth.
Because you are
a seed:
chestnut tree, autumn, earth,
water, heights, silence
prepared the embryo,
the floury thickness,
the maternal eyelids,
which, buried, will open again
toward the heights
the simple magnificence
of foliage,
the dark, damp network
of new roots,
the ancient and new dimensions
of another chestnut tree on earth.

Pablo Neruda 1954
trans. Stephen Mitchell