MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Schubert Week: Poets of the Lieder

Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin today is starting its festival devoted to the lieder of Franz Schubert, curated by Thomas Hampson. I wrote about Schubert and his poets for the program (p. 31ff).

Goethe provided the source for more Schubert songs than any other poet. A sample:

Nähe des Geliebten
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Ich denke dein, wenn mir der Sonne Schimmer
Vom Meere strahlt;
Ich denke dein, wenn sich des Mondes Flimmer
In Quellen malt.
Ich sehe dich, wenn auf dem fernen Wege
Der Staub sich hebt;
In tiefer Nacht, wenn auf dem schmalen Stege
Der Wandrer bebt.
Ich höre dich, wenn dort mit dumpfem Rauschen
Die Welle steigt.
Im stillen Hain da geh ich oft zu lauschen,
Wenn alles schweigt.
Ich bin bei dir, du seist auch noch so ferne.
Du bist mir nah!
Die Sonne sinkt, bald leuchten mir die Sterne.
O wärst du da!
Nearness of the Beloved

I think of you when sunlight
glints from the sea;
I think of you when the moon’s glimmer
is reflected in streams.
I see you when, on distant roads,
dust rises;
in the depths of night, when on the narrow bridge
the traveller trembles.
I hear you when, with a dull roar,
the waves surge up.
I often go to listen in the tranquil grove
when all is silent.
I am with you, however far away you are.
You are close to me!
The sun sets, soon the stars will shine for me.
Would that you were here!
[Translation © Richard Wigmore first published by Gollancz and reprinted in the Hyperion Schubert Song Edition]

Filed under: lieder, poetry, Schubert

Walt Whitman at 200

walt-whitman

I believe in you my soul, the other I am must not abase itself to you,
And you must not be abased to the other.
Loafe with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat,
Not words, not music or rhyme I want, not custom or lecture, not even the best,
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valvèd voice.
I mind how once we lay such a transparent summer morning,
How you settled your head athwart my hips and gently turn’d over upon me,
And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, and plunged your tongue to my bare-stript heart,
And reach’d till you felt my beard, and reach’d till you held my feet.
Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass all the argument of the earth,
And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,
And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,
And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women my sisters and lovers,
And that a kelson of the creation is love,
And limitless are leaves stiff or drooping in the fields,
And brown ants in the little wells beneath them,
And mossy scabs of the worm fence, heap’d stones, elder, mullein and poke-weed.

–Song of Myself, V

Born two hundred years ago in the town of West Hills on Long Island, Walt Whitman embodies a voice that Americans are in dire need of hearing and heeding again.

Mark Edmundson has written a perceptive reflection on Whitman’s legacy in this month’s Atlantic:
“Whitman speaks to our moment in many ways. One of them is quite simple: At a time when Americans hate one another across partisan lines as intensely perhaps as they have since the Civil War, Whitman’s message is that hate is not compatible with true democracy, spiritual democracy.”

His poetry has inspired a remarkable range of composers. Here’s a sampling of my favorites:

–George Walker, Lilacs

–Ralph Vaughan Williams, A Sea Symphony

–Frederick Delius, Sea Drift

–John Adams/The Wound-Dresser

–Paul Hindemith/When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d

Please share your own favorites!

Filed under: poetry, Walt Whitman

An Auden Birthday

Auden portrait

Today marks the 109th anniversary of Wystan Hugh’s birth. I managed to find a link to an early poem Auden wrote for his friend Christopher Isherwood’s birthday here [pdf, p. 7]:

TO A WRITER ON HIS BIRTHDAY

August for the people and their favourite islands.                                                                           Daily the steamers sidle up to meet                                                                                                           The effusive welcome of the pier…

And here’s an interview  Aidan Wasley (author of THE AGE OF AUDEN: Postwar Poetry and the American Scene) conducted with John Ashbery:

John Ashbery: I first met [Auden] when he gave a reading at Harvard, I think in the spring of ’47, perhaps … He said he preferred America, though he preferred the English countryside because it was much tidier looking… I was always a bit intimidated by him, as I think many people were.

 

 

 

Filed under: anniversary, Auden, poetry

Poem for the New Year

Filed under: poetry

Guten Rutsch!

For my non-German-speaking friends, here’s a quickie intro to this NYE idiom: “In English, the phrase would be ‘Happy New Year,’ but Guten Rutsch literally translates to ‘Good jump’ or ‘Good slide.'”

I suppose a leap of faith always is involved in trying to brush aside the bad memories of a year just passed and to greet the new one as a “blank slate.”

On the other hand, the nostalgic tendency to think about old friends, old times, is a quintessential part of the New Year’s experience. Here’s Matthew Iglesias on the connection between Robert Burns’s beloved “Auld Lang Syne” and NYE:

The speaker is asking whether old friends should be forgotten, as a way of stating that obviously one should not forget one’s old friends. The version of the song we sing today is based on a poem published by Robert Burns, which he attributed to “an old man’s singing,” noting that it was a traditional Scottish song

[…]

One reason a random Scottish folk song has come to be synonymous with the new year is that New Year’s celebrations (known as Hogmanay) loom unusually large in Scottish folk culture … Presbyterianism put down deeper roots in Scotland, leading Hogmanay to displace Christmas as the number one midwinter celebration.

[…]

An 18th-century Scottish ballad … became a midcentury American television ritual, and from there became a worldwide phenomenon — even though almost nobody understands the song.

 

 

Filed under: miscellaneous, poetry

Remembering Auden

W.H. Auden died on this day in 1973 in Vienna. And just in time to mark the great poet’s legacy: Edward Mendelson’s splendidly edited series of Auden’s complete prose writings has been completed with volumes V and VI.

“This is what scholarly publishing is meant to be,” writes the critic Michael Dirda. His review continues:

Over the years I’ve collected Auden’s books — both his own and the works he edited — and so I feel reasonably familiar with his writing. But there’s much here I’d never seen before. At the same time, these pages refresh our appreciation of, say, the poet’s introduction to Anne Fremantle’s “The Protestant Mystics” or to his own selection of Dryden’s verse by showing them as products of a busy professional life.

Moreover, Mendelson’s notes and appendices contribute illuminating, and sometimes amusing, extra-textual detail….

[E]verything [Auden] says about poetry is sharp and authoritative: “In judging a poem, one looks for two things: craftsmanship — it should be a well-made verbal object; and uniqueness of perspective — nobody but the author could have written it.”

Filed under: anniversary, Auden, poetry

Half Through the Year

half-veil

Today’s position in the annual calendar makes me think of Friedrich Hölderlin’s most-famous poem, Hälfte des Lebens. Here’s the original, followed by my inelegantly functional translation (in which I deliberately stick close to Hölderlin’s word order/syntax):

Hälfte des Lebens

Mit gelben Birnen hänget
Und voll mit wilden Rosen
Das Land in den See,
Ihr holden Schwäne,
Und trunken von Küssen
Tunkt ihr das Haupt
Ins heilignüchterne Wasser.

Weh mir, wo nehm’ ich, wenn
Es Winter ist, die Blumen, und wo
Den Sonnenschein,
Und Schatten der Erde?
Die Mauern stehn
Sprachlos und kalt, im Winde
Klirren die Fahnen.

Halfway Through Life

With its yellow pears
And laden with roses,
The shore hangs right into the lake,
O lovely swans,
And drunk with kisses
You dip your heads
Into the holy sobering water.

Alas, where shall I, come
Winter, [find] flowers, and where
The sunshine,
And shade of the earth?
The walls are standing
Speechless and cold, in the wind
The weathervanes rattle.

And Benjamin Britten’s setting:

Filed under: Hölderlin, poetry

Hughes, Shakespeare, and the Goddess

Goddess

There’s no shortage of “upstart crows” when it comes to Shakespeare studies: scholar-mavericks who challenge the self-appointed gatekeepers in academia. And it’s no surprise that (after discounting the obvious crackpots) many of these turn out to offer little more than half-baked theories that crumble under closer scrutiny.

But one of the most significant unconventional readings of Shakespeare of recent years belongs to a class of its own: the poet Ted Hughes’ Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being. Is this a truly paradigm-shifting vision or an absurdly reductive idea that sacrifices too much to in pursuit of a “hedgehog” theory?

Ann Skea offers a sympathetic portrayal of the scope of Hughs’ great project:

In his long introduction, Ted outlined the religious and psychological conflict caused by the Calvinist Puritan suppression of Old Catholicism in which the goddess of earlier pagan beliefs still flourished. The religious aspect of this conflict was particularly relevant during Shakespeare’s lifetime, but the universal psychological aspect of the suppression of natural human energies, especially sexual and imaginative energies, is clear to see.

It was in Ted’s writing on Shakespeare that what he called “the tragic equation” was explicated: the love goddess, enraged by the puritanical suppression of sexual energies, becomes the ‘Queen of Hell’ – the demonised boar who destroys the hero.

[…]

Much of Ted’s discussion of Shakespeare’s ‘great theme’ can be traced back to [Robert] Graves’ arguments in “The White Goddess,” but the psychological aspect of Ted’s “tragic equation” shows just how much he was also influenced by the work of Carl Jung.

[…]

Ted was well aware that Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being was a difficult book: difficult to write and, for some readers, difficult to read… Ted’s own knot of obsessions meant he was uniquely qualified to recognise an underlying theme that others had never noticed…Most importantly, he was a poet bringing his poetic sensibilities to the work of another poet; and in the whole body of Shakespeare’s work he recognised a progressive exploration of many of his own beliefs, difficulties and questions.

Filed under: poetry, Shakespeare, theater

Lacrimae Rerum

veiled

Yet however much we may like
The stoic manner in which
The classical authors wrote,
Only the young and the rich
Have the nerve or the figure to strike
The lacrimae rerum note.

–from A Walk After Dark, W.H. Auden

Filed under: classical art, photography, poetry

Poem for the Day

That Nature Is a Herclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection

CLOUD-PUFFBALL, torn tufts, tossed pillows ‘ flaunt forth, then chevy on an air-
built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay-gangs ‘ they throng; they glitter in marches.
Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, ‘ wherever an elm arches,
Shivelights and shadowtackle in long ‘ lashes lace, lance, and pair.
Delightfully the bright wind boisterous ‘ ropes, wrestles, beats earth bare         5
Of yestertempest’s creases; in pool and rut peel parches
Squandering ooze to squeezed ‘ dough, crust, dust; stanches, starches
Squadroned masks and manmarks ‘ treadmire toil there
Footfretted in it. Million-fuelèd, ‘ nature’s bonfire burns on.
But quench her bonniest, dearest ‘ to her, her clearest-selvèd spark         10
Man, how fast his firedint, ‘ his mark on mind, is gone!
Both are in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark
Drowned. O pity and indig ‘ nation! Manshape, that shone
Sheer off, disseveral, a star, ‘ death blots black out; nor mark
                Is any of him at all so stark         15
But vastness blurs and time ‘ beats level. Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, ‘ joyless days, dejection.
                Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. ‘ Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; ‘ world’s wildfire, leave but ash:         20
                In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, ‘ since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, ‘ patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
                Is immortal diamond.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Filed under: poetry

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