Archive for October, 2014

Give me

a few words

for a woman

to sing

a truth

allowing us

to build a house

without worrying

before night comes

Markus Kutter

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Voici des fruits, des fleurs, des feuilles et des branches
et puis voici mon coeur, qui ne bat que pour vous;
ne le déchirez pas avec vos deux mains blanches,
et qu’à vos yeux si beaux l’humble présent soit doux.

Here are fruits, flowers, leaves, and branches
and here, too, is my heart, which beats only for you;
do not tear it to pieces with your two, white hands,
and may the humble present be sweet to your so beautiful eyes.

Paul Verlaine
trans. Stacey Mastrian


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The fish is waiting

the one and only
in whose eyes I see
the fish

in the mountains
the mountains on the sea
the wilderness full

the dogs pulling the sledge
tracks under the ice
on the smelly asphalted road

my mother’s mothers

and stories
that stutter and stutter
the same groove over the nail
from birth to grave

the masks that shine
are being washed down by
the long odour of the sweat

wilderness is saturated

the fish

Jessie Kleeman
Aalisagaq utaqquivoq

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I miss the snow.

Last fall, I was in California for the first time in many years. I rejoiced not to be freezing or seeing snowflakes in mid-October, which is usual in both Chicago and Denver (where I had been living). But I also began to miss the snow. It has such power to transfigure the landscape, overnight, and make it shining, white, and beautiful.

The other day, I met poet Greg Glazner, and I recently read a poem of his about snowfall. It made me think of the silence of snow but also the music of winter, which humans inevitably play to protect their hearts from cold. Here is the poem …

In Whose Unctions

By now the snow is easing
the live nerves of the wire fence
and the firs,
                              softening the distances it falls through,
laying down a rightness,
as in the spackled whites,
the woodgrains of a room’s hush
                                                                  before music,
before a lush legato in whose unctions
the excruciations ease,
                                            as in the first
thick arrhythmics from the hardwoods
                                                                        of the late quartets,
whose dense snow of emotion,
                 whose violins and cellos,
desiring the exhilarations of changes,
                                                                          turn loose an infusion
of wintry music, all sideslip and immense descent,
repetitions, evolutions
salving down into the still air,
                                                         the wound,
the listening.
Greg Glazner
from Poetry (February 2012)

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On Thursday, I went to hear Benjamin Kreith give a solo violin performance at the Mondavi Center, where he played as part of the Shinkoskey Noon Concert series. The beginning of the program featured sestinas by Ezra Pound and Dante Alighieri, both of which Pound later set to music that he composed for the violin: “Sestina – Altaforte” and “Al poco giorno.”

Dantes_Inferno_Canto_28-1The first, “Altaforte,” is a dramatic monologue in the voice of Bertrand de Born, a twelfth-century French lord, a troubadour, and a man whom Dante placed in his Inferno, in the eighth circle of hell, in the ninth bolgia, with the sowers of discord. Ezra Pound respected Bertrand de Born as a poet, translating some of his French songs, but his dramatic monologue imagines him along the lines that Dante did:  as one who sowed discord and reaped war. Pound wrote the poem in 1909 and first performed it about that time. Later, Pound composed violin music to accompany the sestina.

This past Thursday, Kreith provided a recording of Pound’s reading at Harvard in 1939. Then he played Pound’s music, and it is, on the violin, as uncomfortable as the voice of the poem. Another version, with piano and vocals, can be heard partially here.

The sestina is spoken in Bertrand de Born’s voice to his jongleur (singer), Papiols, and reveals Born’s bloody-mindedness. A commentary on the poem is available from The Modernism Lab.


LOQUITUR: En Bertrans de Born.
Dante Alighieri put this man in hell for that he was a stirrer up of strife.
Judge ye!
Have I dug him up again?
The scene is at his castle, Altaforte. “Papiols” is his jongleur. “The Leopard,” the device of Richard Coeur de Lion.


Damn it all! all this our South stinks peace.
You whoreson dog, Papiols, come! Let’s to music!
I have no life save when the swords clash.
But ah! when I see the standards gold, vair, purple, opposing
And the broad fields beneath them turn crimson,
Then howls my heart nigh mad with rejoicing.


In hot summer have I great rejoicing
When the tempests kill the earth’s foul peace,
And the lightnings from black heav’n flash crimson,
And the fierce thunders roar me their music
And the winds shriek through the clouds mad, opposing,
And through all the riven skies God’s swords clash.


Hell grant soon we hear again the swords clash!
And the shrill neighs of destriers in battle rejoicing,
Spiked breast to spiked breast opposing!
Better one hour’s stour than a year’s peace
With fat boards, bawds, wine and frail music!
Bah! there’s no wine like the blood’s crimson!


And I love to see the sun rise blood-crimson.
And I watch his spears through the dark clash
And it fills all my heart with rejoicing
And pries wide my mouth with fast music
When I see him so scorn and defy peace,
His lone might ‘gainst all darkness opposing.


The man who fears war and squats opposing
My words for stour, hath no blood of crimson
But is fit only to rot in womanish peace
Far from where worth’s won and the swords clash
For the death of such sluts I go rejoicing;
Yea, I fill all the air with my music.


Papiols, Papiols, to the music!
There’s no sound like to swords swords opposing,
No cry like the battle’s rejoicing
When our elbows and swords drip the crimson
And our charges ‘gainst “The Leopard’s” rush clash.
May God damn for ever all who cry “Peace!”


And let the music of the swords make them crimson!
Hell grant soon we hear again the swords clash!
Hell blot black for always the thought “Peace!”

Ezra Pound

“Al poco giorno” is in radical contrast to “Altaforte.” It is based on an Italian love sonnet by Dante, and the music is both subtler and sweeter. The song has been recorded on the album Ego Scriptor Cantilenae: The Music of Ezra Pound (2003), featuring conductor Robert Hughes:  the first thirty seconds as well as the entire song may be heard online. On the relation between the poem and the music, see this commentary.

AL POCO GIORNO by Dante Alighieri

I have come, alas, to the great circle of shadow,
to the short day and the whitening hills,
when the colour is all lost from the grass,
though my desire will not lose its green,
so rooted is it in this hardest stone,
that speaks and feels as though it were a woman.

And likewise this heaven-born woman
stays frozen, like the snow in shadow,
and is unmoved, or moved like a stone,
by the sweet season that warms all the hills,
and makes them alter from pure white to green,
so as to clothe them with the flowers and grass.

When her head wears a crown of grass
she draws the mind from any other woman,
because she blends her gold hair with the green
so well that Amor lingers in their shadow,
he who fastens me in these low hills,
more certainly than lime fastens stone.

Her beauty has more virtue than rare stone.
The wound she gives cannot be healed with grass,
since I have travelled, through the plains and hills,
to find my release from such a woman,
yet from her light had never a shadow
thrown on me, by hill, wall, or leaves’ green.

I have seen her walk all dressed in green,
so formed she would have sparked love in a stone,
that love I bear for her very shadow,
so that I wished her, in those fields of grass,
as much in love as ever yet was woman,
closed around by all the highest hills.

The rivers will flow upwards to the hills
before this wood, that is so soft and green,
takes fire, as might ever lovely woman,
for me, who would choose to sleep on stone,
all my life, and go eating grass,
only to gaze at where her clothes cast shadow.

Whenever the hills cast blackest shadow,
with her sweet green, the lovely woman
hides it, as a man hides stone in grass.

Dante Alighieri (translated by A.S. Kline, 2008)




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