Poem: Aspen Tree – Paul Celan

Paul Celan

Paul Celan (1920-1970) is a major German-language poet of the post World War II era. He was a Romanian who lived most his life in France teaching German literature and translating French and English poets into German. His style is characterised by unconventional imagery and unique metaphor and this is where his originality lies. His human constitution was gravely affected by the events of the Holocaust. From a Jewish family himself, both his parents perished in concentration camps. He survived and lived with an anguish which spills into his poems every now and then. Here is a short poem from his collection Mohn und Gedächtnis (1952)

Translated from German by Michael Hamburger.

Aspen Tree

Aspen tree, your leaves glance white into the dark.
My mother’s hair was never white.

Dandelion, so green is the Ukraine.
My yellow-haired mother did not come home.

Rain cloud, above the well do you hover?
My quiet mother weeps for everyone.

Round star, you wind the golden loop.
My mother’s heart was ripped by lead.

Oaken door, who lifted you off your hinges?
My gentle mother cannot return.

Advertisements

Poem: Body of a Woman – Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was a titan of Latin American poetry.  He commands great influence not only among the Spanish speaking countries but throughout the world of poetry. He is known for writing surrealist poems, poems about history and blissful love poems. This poem is an example of the latter from his second collection titled “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair”

Translated from the Spanish by W.S. Merwin

Body of a Woman

Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs,
you look like a world, lying in surrender.
My rough peasant’s body digs in you
and makes the son leap from the depth of the earth.

I was alone like a tunnel. The birds fled from me,
and night swamped me with its crushing invasion.
To survive myself I forged you like a weapon,
like an arrow in my bow, a stone in my sling.

But the hour of vengeance falls, and I love you.
Body of skin, of moss, of eager and firm milk.
Oh the goblets of the breast! Oh the eyes of absence!
Oh the roses of the pubis! Oh your voice, slow and sad!

Body of my woman, I will persist in your grace.
My thirst, my boundless desire, my shifting road!
Dark river-beds where the eternal thirst flows
and weariness follows, and the infinite ache.

Poem: Fugue of Death – Paul Celan

Paul Celan

Paul Celan (1920-1970) is a major German-language poet of the post World War II era. He was a Romanian who lived most his life in France teaching German literature and translating French and English poets into German. His style is characterised by unconventional imagery and unique metaphor and this is where his originality lies. From a Jewish family himself, both his parents perished in Nazi death camps. He survived and lived with an anguish which spills into his poems every now and then. The following poem, which comes from his collection Mohn und Gedächtnis (1952),  is one of his masterpieces. It’s titled Fugue of Death – the song of death, and I absolutely love it.

Translated from German by Christopher Middleton.

Fugue of Death

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at nightfall
we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night
drink it and drink it
we are digging a grave in the sky it is ample to lie there
A man in the house he plays with the serpents he writes
he writes when the night falls to Germany your golden
hair Margarete
he writes it and walks from the house the stars glitter
he whistles his dogs up
he whistles his Jews out and orders a grave to be dug in
the earth
he commands us strike up for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink in the mornings at noon we drink you at
nightfall
drink you and drink you
A man in the house he plays with the serpents he writes
he writes when the night falls to Germany your golden
hair Margarete
Your ashen hair Shulamith we are digging a grave in the
sky it is ample to lie there

He shouts stab deeper in earth you there and you others
you sing and you play
he grabs at the iron in his belt and swings it and blue
are his eyes
stab deeper your spades you there and you others play
on for the dancing

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at nightfall
we drink you at noon in the mornings we drink you at
nightfall
drink you and drink you
a man in the house your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith he plays with the serpents

He shouts play sweeter death’s music death comes as a
master from Germany
he shouts stroke darker the strings and as smoke you
shall climb to the sky
then you’ll have a grave in the clouds it is ample to lie
there

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at noon death comes as a master from
Germany
we drink you at nightfall and morning we drink you
and drink you
a master from Germany death comes with eyes that are
blue
with a bullet of lead he will hit in the mark he will hit
you
a man in the house your golden hair Margarete
he hunts us down with his dogs in the sky he gives us a
grave
he plays with the serpents and dreams death comes as a
master from Germany

your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith.

Poem: Almost Out of the Sky – Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was a titan of Latin American poetry.  He commands great influence not only among the Spanish speaking countries but throughout the world of poetry. He is known for writing surrealist poems, poems about history and blissful love poems. This poem is an example of the latter from his second collection titled “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair”

Translated from the Spanish by W.S. Merwin

Almost out of the sky

Almost out of the sky, half of the moon
anchors between two mountains.
Turning, wandering night, the digger of eyes.
Let’s see how many stars are smashed in the pool.

It makes a cross of mourning between my eyes,
and runs away.
Forge of blue metals, nights of still combats,
my heart revolves like a crazy wheel.
Girl who have come from so far, been brought from so far,
sometimes your glance flashes out under the sky.
Rumbling, storm, cyclone of fury,
you cross above my heart without stopping.
Wind from the tombs carries off, wrecks, scatters your
sleepy root.

The big trees on the other side of her, uprooted.
But you, cloudless girl, question of smoke, corn tassel.
You were what the wind was making with illuminated leaves.
Behind the nocturnal mountains, white lily of conflagration,
ah, I can say nothing! You were made of everything.

Longing that sliced my breast into pieces,
it is time to take another road, on which she does not smile.

Storm that buried the bells, muddy swirl of torments,
why touch her now, why make her sad.

Oh to follow the road that leads away from everything,
without anguish, death, winter waiting along it
with their eyes open through the dew.

Poem: Postcard from Kashmir – Agha Shahid Ali

Agha Shahid Ali

Agha Shahid Ali (1949-2001) was a poet, translator and academic from Kashmir. He is credited with single-handedly introducing the classical ghazal to America and the West, which spurred a whole bunch of native English writers trying their hand at the ghazal. Here is a poem from his collection “The Country Without a Post Office”, about how felt when he received a postcard from his violence-ridden Kashmir.

Postcard from Kashmir

Kashmir shrinks into my mailbox,
my home a near four by six inches.

I always loved neatness. Now I hold
the half-inch Himalayas in my hand.

This is home. And this is the closest
I’ll ever be to home. When I return,
the colors won’t be so brilliant.

The Jhelum’s waters so clean,
so ultramarine. My love
so overexposed.

And my memory will be a little
out of focus, in it
a giant negative, black
and white, still undeveloped.

 

Poem: Language – Nizar Qabbani

Nizar Qabbani

Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998) was an Arab poet from Syria.  He is famous for writing about love, romance, eroticism and feminism. Many of his poems have been turned into popular Arabic songs. Here is a short poem translated from Arabic which I like for the idea of its poetic license.

Language

When a man is in love
How can he use old words?
Should a woman
desiring her lover
lie down with
grammarians and linguists?

I said nothing
To the woman I loved
But gathered
Love’s adjectives into the suitcase
And fled from all languages.

Poem: Before You Came – Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984) occupies a central place in the canon of modern Urdu poetry. He is undoubtedly the best poet in terms of craft and creativity that Urdu has produced after Allama Iqbal. He was a leftist intellectual, an academic, and a revolutionary poet who was gaoled by the state of Pakistan for his political activism.

Here is one of his poems in English translation which Southbank Centre selected as one of the 50 best modern love poems from all over the world.

Translated from Urdu in collaboration with the poet by Naomi Lazard.

Before You Came

Before you came things were just what they were:
the road precisely a road, the horizon fixed,
the limit of what could be seen,
a glass of wine was no more than a glass of wine.

With you the world took on the spectrum
radiating from my heart: your eyes gold
as they open to me, slate the color
that falls each time I lost all hope.

With your advent roses burst into flame:
you were the artist of dried-up leaves, sorceress
who flicked her wrist to change dust into soot.
You lacquered the night black.

As for the sky, the road, the cup of wine:
one was my tear-drenched shirt,
the other an aching nerve,
the third a mirror that never reflected the same thing.

Now you are here again—stay with me.
This time things will fall into place;
the road can be the road,
the sky nothing but sky;
the glass of wine, as it should be, the glass of wine.

 

Movie: Life is a Miracle (2004)

(Serbian: Život je čudo, Serbian Cyrillic: Живот је чудо); Country of production: Serbia; Language: Serbian)

I’d heard good word about the director Emir Kusturica, and since this film is set in Bosnia of 1992 during the war, I watched it.

It is a light comedy not a serious drama film. A budding footballer is called to serve in the Serb forces when the war begins just as he received a letter inviting him to join a prestigious football club. He is taken as a war prisoner. His mentally unstable mother goes with some random Hungarian she meets at a party and his father is left alone in the little house in the picturesque village.

And so it happens that a Muslim girl is taken captive and a military friend of the Serb family circumvents the protocol and brings the girl to the father so that he could use her in exchange for his captive son. But life has different designs. There begins a silly and funny series of incidents better viewed and no described, to keep spoilers at bay.

I did not like the film as much as I thought I would. The story is a drag and the content does not justify the two-and-a-half-hour run time. It could have been wrapped up within the standard one-and-a-half hour time frame.

For the film 2.5/5, but for the lead actress, Nataša Tapušković, who plays the captive Muslim girl–>

IMDb Link

 

Movie: Ajami (2009)

(Arabic: عجمي, Hebrew עג’מי); Country: Israel; Languages: Arabic, Hebrew)

This is the first Israeli film I have ever watched. The story focuses on the Palestinians living in Israel, or “Israeli Arabs” as they are called, and takes place in the Ajami neighbourhood of the city of Jaffa.

It’s not a single coherent story but based on five interconnecting and overlapping storylines of the five protagonists, four of them Arabs and one an Israeli soldier.

It’s largely about intra-Arab gang warfare, their poverty which leads them to illegal drug selling, and about the problems the Arabs face in their social lives.

A few troubled Arab youth independently gather to work at a restaurant owned by a Christian Arab in Jaffa, who is active in the Arab community and helps his fellow Arabs regardless of religion with their problems whenever he can. It is from there the troubled protagonists secretly embark on their quick money-making schemes, all of which come to naught.

I personally found the characterisation of Arabs a bit troubling. The emphasis is on intra-Arab gang warfare and the culture of honour and blood revenge, their failure to unite in their opposition to the life of ignominy and oppression they are forced to live, and their continual non-acceptance of the state of Israel even though some Arabs are citizens of Israel and carry its passport. But perhaps I’m reading too much into it. It might well be a true depiction of the lives of Arabs living in those lands.

There are two directors of this film. One is a Jewish Israeli and the other is a Christian Arab from Jaffa (Scandar Copti). There was a controversy after the film was nominated for Oscar.

The Pearl by John Steinbeck

(First published 1947)

I read this novella in two post-dinner sittings over a single Gran Habano divided by two.

A parable of human greed – that’s how I have seen it described, and this phrase fits the story to a tee.

A native Indian, a worker in the pearling trade in a small Mexican town, dives into the river In search of a pearl to pay for his son’s treatment, and accidentally finds the “Pearl of the World” – a large, round, shining beauty no one has ever seen before – and thinking he’s found a treasure that would buy him not only his son’s treatment from a spider’s poisonous sting but also his future, he revels in his glorious find and proceeds to sell the item to convert it into money.

Soon the family finds itself in the clutches of evil when the greedy of the town try to steal the prized possession from him, attack him and hurt him, and may attack his wife and his son. Ironically, the pearl which was a promise of a happy and rich future becomes a raison d’être for a series of unending misfortunes which consists of an attack of attempted murder, of burning down of his brush shack, and of the family leaving the town incognito to save their lives from the human vultures vying to steal the pearl from them.

All the while, his wife begs and implores the man to divest the pearl from his possessions but it has become an ego problem for him. He is so much blinded by the luminous dreams of a great future as not to see that that future would never dawn on their household because they do not even know if they will survive the vagaries of the circumstance the found pearl has put them in.

In its bared state, it is a simple, straightforward story. However, the characterisation of the native Indian population offers insight.

They know the cunning and dishonesty of the rich white man, in turn his imperial greed and rapacity, yet the natives have failed to devise an appropriate response to their centuries-long subjugation and their status of an inferior race which, in the eyes of the white masters, is only a shade above that of wild animals. This is illustrated when, knowing he’d be cheated, the whole tribe knowing that he’d be cheated, he still goes to the same cartel of pearl buyers who collude to keep the prices down, then buy pearls from the local divers and sell them for high profits in the pearl market of the capital.

This is offset by the man’s steely resolve to leave the town, if he must, to sell the pearl for its appropriate price. And thus he becomes a proverbial pioneer amongst his people to break the chains that bind them to their piece of land, advised against by his brother in words that convey the the threat of unknown that lies beyond the road, the madness of the capital and all that exists beyond their shore of the Gulf.

There is an unmistakeable echo of the lyrical prose of Hemingway in Steinbeck’s storytelling. I have not read much of both of them to say that definitively but, let’s say tentatively, the dream-like sense of this novella has a good deal in common with the musicality of “The Old Man and the Sea.”, a novella of Hemingway.

The cinematic scope of Steinbeck’s folkloric novella is vast and rich as if you are watching the actual scenes from the primordial landscape being played out in front of you in words, which is how I felt as I read along, not least because its first draft was originally intended to be filmed.

By my grading it should get 4/5.