Monday, January 30, 2017

Federico García Lorca / Ditty of First Desire

Ditty of First Desire
by Federico García Lorca

In the green morning
I wanted to be a heart.
A heart.

And in the ripe evening
I wanted to be a nightingale.
A nightingale.

turn orange-colored.
turn the color of love.)

In the vivid morning
I wanted to be myself.
A heart.

And at the evening's end
I wanted to be my voice.
A nightingale.

turn orange-colored.
turn the color of love.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Shakespeare / Sonnet 116

Sonnet 116

by William Shakespeare 
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Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

In this staple of wedding ceremonies, "mind" probably means something nearer to what we mean by the word "spirit". Or we have a more modern term that covers it: "soul-mate". From this poem we can, as is so often the case, give the last word to Shakespeare, a succinct characterisation of the wish for enduring love: "Love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds."

John Stammers
Wednesday 9 February 2011 10.26 GMT

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Ted Hughes / the poet who is coming in from the cold

Ted Hughes

Ted Hughes: the poet who is coming in from the cold

by Robert McCrum
Sunday 9 May 2010 00.05 BST

Twelve years after his death, the former poet laureate is back in favour, writes Robert McCrum

omething is happening to Ted Hughes. It's not just that he's about to be put into Poets' Corner, though that's a clue, but more to do with his "myth" as a poet in the largest sense.

When writers die, great or small, they and their work usually dip into limbo for about a generation, a posthumous re-evaluation takes place and then posterity takes over. Or not. Many writers are deservedly forgotten.
There's a parallel case with Graham Greene. For perhaps 15 years after his death in 1991, you could not readily find his oeuvre in bookshops. Lately, however, his work is being rediscovered. Greene now seems like an important voice from the 20th century, perhaps neglected as a man but alive as a great English novelist.

Ted Hughes is different. His life has long been the stuff of movies and legend. Ever since the death of Sylvia Plath in 1963 and his subsequent destruction of her final journal, Hughes has been stretched out, like Prometheus, for the vultures of academic and feminist criticism to peck at his heart and liver.
In 1984, his career took a more tranquil path when he became poet laureate, following Betjeman. It is said that Her Majesty was strongly attracted to him and loved to discuss fishing, horses and dogs with her court poet. Predictably enough, his literary career now seemed behind him, locked up in landmark volumes such as The Hawk in the RainCrow and Moortown.
Then, after a long period of quiescence, Hughes walked into his publishers one day with the poems known as Birthday Letters. Rarely has a single collection so transformed an already established writer's reputation. Hughes had finally bared his wounds and addressed the tragic complexities of the Sylvia question. Almost everyone was delighted. The literary sensation of 1998, Birthday Letters became front-page news, a bestseller and, finally, an acclaimed prizewinner.
Tragically, in the same year, before he could savour his rehabilitation, Hughes died from the complications surrounding his treatment for colon cancer. At his funeral, his friend Seamus Heaney expressed the love so many had for the poet laureate: "He was a tower of tenderness and strength, a great arch under which the least of poetry's children could enter and feel secure. His creative powers were, as Shakespeare said, still crescent." A great memorial service followed. A recording of Hughes reading "Fear no more the heat o' the Sun" echoed through Westminster Abbey, a fitting prelude to that inevitable posthumous limbo.
Somehow, the shade of Hughes has broken free. Not only has the poet's reputation continued to grow, he now seems more than ever to be one of the 20th century's English literary giants. The publication of a lifetime's correspondence was a turning point, revealing a new dimension of wisdom and vulnerability mixed with a timeless Yorkshire stoicism. Hughes was always a great letter writer, with a strong, unforgettable hand. Christopher Reid's edition of the letters accelerated the process of re-evaluation.
Below the radar, there have been other additions to the portrait of the artist as a young man contributing to this new sense of his importance. In 2009, Jim Downer, an artist friend, published Timmy the Tug, a children's book written by Hughes in the 1950s when Hughes was sharing rooms on the edge of Bloomsbury with, among others, the young Peter O'Toole.
Downer's edition contained some memories of Ted and Sylvia, hinting at a rather different picture from the myth. Last month, this invaluable text was joined by an exceptional memoir, Memories of Ted Hughes, 1952-63 by his Cambridge friend Daniel Huws (Five Leaves, £5.99), published in an exquisite paperback edition by the contemporary designer Richard Hollis.
Huws believes "Ted's character has been traduced" by the "highly distorted picture" derived from Sylvia's letters and journals. For him, Hughes is an enthusiastic, romantic figure, a young undergraduate "dressed in grey flannel trousers and a black corduroy jacket".
This tantalising fragment will make any Hughes fan impatient for Jonathan Bate's projected biography. Letters, memoirs, a renewed sense of the poet's importance: the time is ripe for that life of Hughes.

It should be a shoo-in for Larkin at Oxford

In the contentious world of English poetry, nothing should ever be taken for granted. A straightforward contest to become the Oxford professor of poetry between Geoffrey Hill and the neurologist Sean Haldane has become complicated by the late appearance (via Facebook) of a performance poet, Steve Larkin, who has racked up close to 300 supporters via social networking. With numbers like these, Larkin the Second should have a good shot at the post, which is usually decided by fewer than 500 voters. Larkin makes some other contenders look like Tennyson or Milton. Soon, the academic electorate (Oxford's MAs) will become nostalgic for the thrilling, turbulent days of Ruth Padel's brief tenure last year.

It's party time for publishers everywhere

This year's title trend is for books with a "party" theme. First, my colleague Andrew Rawnsley's enthralling New Labour bestseller The End of the Party (Penguin) was followed by Rupert Thomson's brilliant memoir, This Party's Got To Stop (Granta). Now the latest contender, The Party (Allen Lane), Richard McGregor's book about "the secret world of China's communist rulers", appears to be as nostalgic as Thomson's, and strangely similar to Rawnsley's, describing an organisation that is "deeply secretive, hostile to the law, unaccountable to anybody other than its own internal tribunals and primed to think the worst of its enemies".

Thursday, January 5, 2017

John Berger / Migrant words


In a pocket of earth 
I buried all the accents 
of my mother tongue 

there they lie 
like needles of pine 
assembled by ants 

one day the stumbling cry 
of another wanderer 
may set them alight 

then warm and comforted 
he will hear all night 
the truth as lullaby 


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

John Berger / Leavings

John Berger

by John Berger
Brightest guests have gone 
Green furnishings are down, 
Shadeless light condones 
Black frost on window panes. 

Where lovers and grasses 
Spent their seeds 
Over iron crevices 
Ice now makes the beds. 

Yet indulge no regret. 
Mouse eye of robin, 
Creeping silence, 
These cautious lines, 

Bear witness still 
In their circumvention 
To the constant 
Tenancy of man. 


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Rare JRR Tolkien poem The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun to be republished


Rare JRR Tolkien poem The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun to be republished

Early version of Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings can be seen in this take on a medieval Breton ballad, out of print for 70 years
Alison Flood
Thursday 14 July 2016 11.54 BST

A poem “from the darker side of JRR Tolkien’s imagination”, which hints at an early version of the elf queen Galadriel from The Lord of the Rings, is due to be published for the first time in more than 70 years this November.
Tolkien’s The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, which was published in 1945 in literary journal The Welsh Review and has been out of print ever since, is a lengthy poem in the tradition of the medieval lay, inspired by the Celtic legends of Brittany. It tells of a couple who are desperate for a child. Aotrou visits a witch “who span dark spells with spider-craft, / and as she span she softly laughed”. She gives him a potion and his wife bears twins. But riding through the forest, he meets the witch again. Now transformed from a “crone” into a beautiful woman, the Corrigan – a generic Breton term for a person of fairy race – says he must marry her or die.
He refuses and dies three days later. His wife then dies of grief. “And if their children lived yet long, / or played in garden hale and strong, / they saw it not, nor found it sweet / their heart’s desire at last to meet.”
HarperCollins, which will publish the poem along with Tolkien’s other poems about the Corrigan on 3 November, called it “an important non Middle-earth work to set alongside his other retellings of existing myth and legend”. These include The Story of Kullervo, a teenage Tolkien’s retelling of a Finnish epic poem, and his 200-page poem The Fall of Arthur.
According to Humphrey Carpenter’s biography of the author, the earliest manuscript for The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun (Breton for “lord and lady”, explains Carpenter) is dated September 1930.
HarperCollins said: “The sequence shows the Corrigan’s increasingly powerful presence, as she takes an ever more active role in the lives of Aotrou and Itroun … She would finally emerge, changed in motive and character but still recognisable, in The Lord of the Rings as the beautiful and terrible Lady of the Golden Wood, the Elven queen Galadriel.” It added that the poem comes “from the darker side” of Tolkien’s imagination.
In the poem, the Corrigan’s voice is described as “cold / as echo from the world of old, / ere fire was found or iron hewn, / when young was mountain under moon”, echoing the cold beauty of Galadriel.
Tolkien scholar Verlyn Flieger, a professor emerita at the University of Maryland, is editing and introducing the new edition, which also includes a new preface from Christopher Tolkien. Flieger called it “dark, powerful, compelling, a significant departure from the Tolkien we think we know”.
It is derived, said Flieger, “from a well-known folkloric tale-type of the human who strays into the Faerie world and who pays the price, such as the ballads of Tam Lin and Thomas Rhymer”. Although there are Irish and Welsh versions of the story, she says that Tolkien’s version is closest in subject matter to the Breton ballad Lord Nann and the Corrigan, which the author owned a copy of.
With a flurry of “new” works by Tolkien released over the last decade, from 2007’s Middle-earth story The Children of Hurin, to the 2014 release of his translation of Beowulf, The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun “is worthy of publication now for several reasons”, said Flieger. “First, it is a fine example of Tolkien’s poetic power and his ability to handle different verse forms – in this case the octosyllabic rhyming couplets of French romance, which he also used for The Lay of Leithian from his own legendarium.” The Lay of Leithian is a long poem telling the story of Tolkien’s Middle-earth characters Beren and Lúthien.

The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, said Flieger, vividly shows the author’s interest “in paganism and in the dark side of what he called Faerie, the perilous realm or Otherworld of enchantment.” She said it will also give Tolkien’s readers “his most developed example of a folklore archetype I will call The Dark Lady, the beautiful but malevolent fay or fairy who preys upon humans, and thus foreshadows his Guinevere, described as ‘fair as fay-woman in the world walking for the woe of men’.”
In his JRR Tolkien: Author of the Century, Tom Shippey writes that the poem is animated by the question of how far a believing Christian could go “in dealings with pre- or non-Christians”. While the poem is derived from a late Breton ballad, he writes, “what seems original to Tolkien is the poem’s stern morality”, because in Tolkien’s version the death of Aotrou “is deserved, or at least prompted by [his] attempt to sway Providence by supernatural forces”.
“Aotrou’s sin lay not in submitting to the Corrigan,” he writes. “It lay in having any dealings with her at all.”