what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Words

I have always been fond of TS Eliot’s Four Quartets not only for its Zen like sense of time and the puniness of our efforts but for its references to the fragile nature of words – thus, in the first poem (Burnt Norton)
Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
decay with imprecision, will not stay in place

You can read the entire poem here
and later (in East Coker) a section I use a lot -
So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
Little wonder, therefore, that Eliot was a great admirer of a little-known poet from my home town (Greenock) in the 1940s, WS Graham who also wrote a lot about words eg
Speaking is difficult and one tries
To be exact, and yet not to
Exact the prime intention to death.
On the other hand, the appearance of things
Must not be made to mean another
thing. It is a kind of triumph
To see them and to put them down
As what they are. The inadequacy
Of the living, animal language drives
Us all to metaphor and an attempt
To organise the spaces we think
We have made occur between the words
.
These poets’ emphasis on the inadequacy of words came to mind as I thought about the 2 hours we spent last night checking the translation of the short article I had duly submitted to Revista 22. The problems started with the title – The Dog that didn’t bark. Romanian has apparently 2 ways of saying this – one of which apparently makes it clear that the dog might have been expected to bark. “Society” had caused a problem – since it has both a social and commercial meaning. The phrase “political leadership” (as in “absence of”) apparently has a stronger meaning in English than in Romanian where it seems to be a more neutral phrase. My phrase about our “becoming customers rather than citizens” needed in Romanian a clearer steer that – ie that we had not necessarily chosen the development. The most interesting was perhaps the word “meltdown” which can refer either to “thaw” (positive) or nuclear disaster!

And now my favourite Romanian poem! Titled ASKING TOO MUCH? by Marin Sorescu
Suppose that, to give a few lectures,
daily you had to commute
between Heaven and Hell:
what would you take with you?’

‘A book, a bottle of wine and a woman, Lord.
Is that asking too much?’

‘Too much. We’ll cross out the woman,
she would involve you in conversations,
put ideas into your head,
and your preparation would suffer.’

‘I beseech you, cross out the book,
I’ll write it myself, Lord, if only
I have the bottle of wine and the woman.
That’s my wish and my need. Is it too much?’

‘You’re asking too much.
What, supposing that daily,
to give a few lectures, you had
to commute between Heaven and Hell, would
you take with you?’

‘A bottle of wine and a woman,
if I may make so free.’
‘That’s what you wanted before, don’t be obstinate,
it’s too much, as you know. We’ll cross out the woman.’

‘What do you have against her, why do you persecute her?
Cross out the bottle rather,
wine weakens me, almost leaves me unable
to draw from my loved one’s eyes
inspiration for those lectures.’

Silence, for minutes
or an eternity.
Respite. In which to forget.

‘Well, suppose that to give
a few lectures you had to commute
daily between Heaven and Hell:
what would you take with you?’

‘A woman, Lord, if I may make so free.’
‘You’re asking too much, we’ll cross out the woman.’
‘In that case cross out the lectures rather,
cross out Hell and Heaven for me,
it’s either all or nothing.
Useless and vain my commuting would be between Heaven
and Hell.
How could I even begin to frighten and awe
those poor creatures in Hell -
without teaching aid, the woman?
How strengthen the faith of the righteous in Heaven -
without the book’s exegesis?
How endure all the differences
in temperature, light and pressure
between Heaven and Hell
if I have no wine
on the way
to give me a bit of courage?
from Selected Poems by Marin Sorescu, translated by Michael Hamburger. Published in 1983 by Bloodaxe Books. www.bloodaxebooks.com

1 comment:

  1. Your title background photo takes my breath away. Simply wonderful.

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