The Death Of Hamlet

It’s my translation of Zbigniew Herbert’s “Elegy of Fortinbras” (1961). Fortinbras is William Shakespeare’s fictional Norwegian prince and conqueror of Denmark. He appears in the final scene of “Hamlet.” The themes that are of interest to us now:

  • The finality of the death of the old regime
  • The imposition of martial order over a cucked country (Mister President?)
  • The unbridgeable gap between Romanticism and Realism
  • Matter and spirit

Here is the musical interpretation. It is perfect. Below is the original and translated text, with my brief commentary in bold type leading off each verse.


Verse 1. – Fortinbras confesses of his fondness for the lifeless enemy. 

Teraz kiedy zostaliśmy sami możemy porozmawiać książę jak mężczyzna z mężczyzną
chociaż leżysz na schodach i widzisz tyle co martwa mrówka 

to znaczy czarne słońce o złamanych promieniach 

Now that we’re alone we can talk Prince man to man
though you lie on the stairs and see no more than a dead ant
nothing but a black sun with broken rays

Nigdy nie mogłem myśleć o twoich dłoniach bez uśmiechu 
i teraz kiedy leżą na kamieniu jak strącone gniazda 
są tak samo bezbronne jak przedtem To jest właśnie koniec 
Ręce leżą osobno Szpada leży osobno Osobno głowa 
I nogi rycerza w miękkich pantoflach

I could never think of your hands without smiling
and now that they lie on the stone like fallen nests
they are as defenseless as before The end is exactly this 
The hands lie apart The sword lies separate The head separate
and the knight’s feet in soft slippers


Verse 2. (1:35) – His eulogy shifts to from private to public matters. 

Pogrzeb mieć będziesz żołnierski chociaż nie byłeś żołnierzem
jest to jedyny rytuał na jakim trochę się znam 

You will have a soldier’s funeral though you weren’t a soldier 
it is the only ritual I am somewhat acquainted with

Nie będzie gromnic i śpiewu będą lonty i huk
kir wleczony po bruku hełmy podkute buty konie artyleryjskie 

werbel werbel wiem nic pięknego  

There will be no candles no singing there’ll be cannon fuses and salvos 
Crape dragged on cobblestones helmets studded boots artillery horses  
drumming drumming I know it’s nothing exquisite

to będą moje manewry przed objęciem władzy
trzeba wziąć miasto za gardło i wstrząsnąć nim trochę

those will be my maneuvers as I assume control
one has to take the city by the throat and shake it a bit


Verse 3. (2:46) – On Hamlet’s errors.

Tak czy owak musiałeś zginąć Hamlecie nie byłeś do życia
wierzyłeś w kryształowe pojęcia a nie glinę ludzką
żyłeś ciągłymi skurczami jak we śnie łowiłeś chimery
łapczywie gryzłeś powietrze i natychmiast wymiotowałeś 

Anyhow you had to perish Hamlet you were not for life
you believed in crystal notions not in human clay
always twitching as if asleep you hunted chimeras
wolfishly you bit at the air only to vomit

nie umiałeś żadnej ludzkiej rzeczy
nawet oddychać nie umiałeś

you couldn’t do a single human thing
you did not even know how to breathe


Verse 4. (3:35) – Candor, judgment, a touch of envy.

Teraz masz spokój Hamlecie zrobiłeś co do ciebie należało
i masz spokój Reszta nie jest milczeniem ale należy do mnie 

wybrałeś część łatwiejszą efektywny sztych 

Now you have peace Hamlet you accomplished what you had to
and you have peace The rest is not silence but it belongs to me
you chose the easier part an elegant thrust

lecz czymże jest śmierć bohaterska wobec wiecznego czuwania 
z zimnym jabłkiem w dłoni na wysokim krześle 

z widokiem na mrowisko i tarczę zegara 

but what is heroic death compared to eternal vigilance
with a cold apple in one’s hand on a raised chair
with a view on the anthill and on the clock’s dial


Verse 5. (4:23) – The two worlds part ways.

Żegnaj książę czeka na mnie projekt kanalizacji
i dekret w sprawie prostytutek i żebraków 

muszę także obmyślić lepszy system więzień 

gdyż jak zauważyłeś słusznie Dania jest więzieniem 

Adieu Prince I have tasks a sewer project
and a decree on prostitutes and beggars
I must also elaborate a better system of prisons
since as you justly said Denmark is a prison

Odchodzę do moich spraw Dziś w nocy urodzi się  
Gwiazda Hamlet Nigdy się nie spotkamy

To co po mnie zostanie nie będzie przedmiotem tragedii

I go to my affairs This night is born
a star named Hamlet We shall never meet
what I shall leave will not be the subject of a tragedy


Coda. (5:12) – The coffin is lowered but some things are immortal.

Ani nam witać się ani żegnać żyjemy na archipelagach
A ta woda te słowa cóż mogą cóż mogą książę

It is not for us to greet each other or bid farewell we live on archipelagos
and that water these words what can they do what can they do Prince


(open thread)

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Such a Landscape

Harold Bloom memorably wrote that great literature either makes the familiar strange (Milton), or the strange familiar (Shakespeare). Let’s go with that. The landscape of Washington State was made, unforgettably, phantasmagoric in “Twin Peaks.” Poland’s landscape, the familiar roadside wildflowers and white birch forests, takes on a surreal atmosphere in “Such a Landscape,” as performed by Ewa Demarczyk in 1967.

I was curious about the background of this poem-song, and cursory search took me to what appears to be a fan-page (demarczyk.pl). There, I found a short analysis of her vocal interpretation of the song’s lyrics, which I translate here:

In this interpretation, the singer pays much less attention to the content, to the actual meaning of words. They only serve as vehicle for the building of mood. Especially, however, what becomes important in this work is the color and sound of these words… In “Landscape” Demarczyk blurs and obscures the phonics, allowing them to create a glittering, opalescent grid of sounds, interrupted once and again by a sharp syllable explosion. Her vocals, the prolonging of syllables and the special way of articulating them makes them swell with dramatic passion, creating a tense crescendo. “Such a landscape” evokes some unnamed visions, distant landscapes worthy of a Bosch’s or Böklin’s brush. Painful, perverse, and terrifying.


Ewa Demarczyk, “Taki Pejzaż” (Such a Landscape) – 1967

psy kulawe / lame dogs
stroją drogi / adorn the roadsides
diabeł dziewkom / the devil girls’
plącze nogi / legs entangles

drzewa kwiatom / trees to blossoms
kwiaty cierniom / blossoms to thorns
po marzeniach / over dreams
trupy biegną / the corpses run

taki pejzaż / such a landscape [x4]

nieraz zbrodniarz / sometimes a murderer
łzą zapłacze / sheds a tear
ślepy żebrak / a blind beggar
znajdzie pracę / finds a job

błędny ognik / an errant firethorn
ciemny parów / a dark ravine
bosy rycerz / a barefoot knight
złoty laur / a golden laurel

taki pejzaż / such a landscape [x4]

wiatry wieją / blowing winds
sosny krzywe / crooked pines
nieprzydatne / useless
lecz prawdziwe / but authentic

grajek piosnkę / a song from them
z nich wyładzi / a bard will weave
snem napoi / fill with slumber
gwiazdkę zdradzi / expose a star

będzie pejzaż / there’ll be a landscape
śpiewny rzewny / melodious wistful
taki pejzaż / such a landscape [x2]

grajek piosnkę / a song from them
z nich wyładzi / a bard will weave
snem napoi / fill with slumber
gwiazdkę zdradzi / expose a star

taki pejzaż / such a landscape [x4]

***

Lyrics: Andrzej Szmidt. Music: Zygmunt Konieczny

The Infection

Untitled, written by Lucius Somesuch:


You turned on the latest news from
Some benighted Western land
Where they welcome Moor and Arab
Upon their fabled golden sand
And in the town where sin aspired
First to raise Reason as a God
The storied Lady’s burning
To the smiles of darkling mob.
Oh the pulse it starts a pacing
As you soak in the sorry view:
Don’t you think the time is ripe yet
To shoo the black and gag the Jew?

Old Jefferson and Brutus
Show how to die or live
But the vision from the Talmud
Tends to put you in a bib
Your ideals so Medieval
They say it’s time they burn
And the Prophet hailed from Mecca
In your shrines deserves his turn.
May you appeal to the authorities?
Macron’s just there to cruise
The next exit’s round the corner:
Shoo the blacks and gag the Jews.

You can peruse the gypsy’s globe
Searching out your fate
But Bill Kristol says the synagogue
Comes first, which ends debate
The gay shepherd who asks the questions
Your anxious answer swift retires
If you bleat about the import
Of so many recent fires.
Don’t look like you get a say, boy
And the browns will beat you blue
If you make polite demurral
So shoo the black and gag the Jew.

You’ve heard the goodly promise
That you’re dear to mighty God
And shall rise again in glory
Though today you live a sod
But every hour the wicked burden
Wears another notch in your knee
Soon your sons will crawl on all fours
Your girls lost to history
Tomorrow won’t break brighter
Long as you’re beset by the devil’s crew
Cry havoc and kick the dogs out
Shoo the black and gag the Jew.


UPDATE: There is now a musical interpretation of this poem, making it a song. Here.

A Dark Original

Suburban_elk wrote song lyrics in the traditional mode:

Verse:
As I was walking out this morning
I spied a lass and fair
with silver bells upon her ankles
and marbles in her hair

Her hair was blonde and silver
and skin a milky white

Muh dick a called a to me
Let’s give this girl a fright!

Refrain:
A fright a fear
A life to lose
A love to loss my dear!
A jingle jangle signal clear
u’neath the stars tonite!

Verse:
So says I, come hither miss
let’s walk unto the wood
I’ve a present for you fair young lass
will do you milks some good!

Come and follow, trust me now
and tell not your brother where

we’ll have you back ‘fore dinnertime
and fed and groomed aright

Refrain:
A thrill to have
a love to make
what else for us to?
the flowers bloom the birds a flight
a sign for me and you!

Conclusion:
And so we went into the wood
returned from there but one
she’d not have known what waited
nor why for love begone


(c) 2019 Suburban_elk

He leaves the musical interpretation up to the performing artist:

As with most real world things, it’s in the execution … The theme featured above, dark as it is, is not an uncommon theme. The idea of getting a girl to go along with you, and then raping and killing her, is something that happens enough that they make songs about it. For instance the American Traditional, Pretty Polly

I courted pretty Polly, the live long day [x2]
then left her in the morning, before the break of day

uses a simpler chord structure of two minor chords, D-minor and G-minor 7.

The D-minor is a somber sound. The opening line of Rammstein’s great Ohne Dich (Without You) begins with the Dm chord and ends on A-minor: “Ich werde in die Tannen gehen” (I will go into the woods). The Romantic/Gothic story of an abducted object of a madman’s love comes up in Falco’s Jeanny. The late vocalist Johann Hölze had the perfect male speaking voice.

A Reply To “Imagine”

When you find himself in John Lennon’s Imagine-land and want to go home. Well, at least that was my instant interpretation. The song, in fact, was written as a continuation of Zbigniew Herbert’s poem about the Final Judgment, “At the gates of the valley” and it tells the story of a man who was overlooked by the angels who were sorting people into “those gnashing their teeth from those singing psalms,” lost somewhere between the earth and his proper place.

The song is from c. 1980. Music by Przemyslaw Gintrowski, also the vocalist on this recording. Lyrics were written by his long-time collaborator Jacek Kaczmarski. My translation is not perfect, the original has a lot of ambiguity. Musically, there are some powerful moments.

Powrót / A Homecoming

Ścichł wrzask szczęk i śpiew / The shrieks and the hymns have died down
Z ust wypluwam lepki piach / I spit the sticky dirt from my mouth
Przez bezludny step / Over the deserted steppes
Wieje zimny wiatr / Blows the cold wind
Tu i ówdzie strzęp / Here and there a shred
Lub stopy ślad / Or a buried
Przysypany / Footprint

Dokąd teraz pójdę, kiedy nie istnieją już narody /
Where do I go now, when nations no longer exist
Zapomniany przez anioły, porzucony w środku drogi /
Forgotten by angels I go, discarded along the way
Nie ma w kogo wierzyć, nie ma kochać, nienawidzić kogo /
There is no one to believe in, no one to love or hate
I nie dbają o mnie światy, martwy zmierzch nad moją drogą /
And no worlds care about me, just the lifeless dusk over my way

Gdzie mój ongiś raj / Where is my old paradise
Chcę wrócić tam / I want to go back there
Jak najprościej / The simplest way

Szukasz raju! / You’re looking for paradise!
Szukasz raju! / You’re looking for paradise!
Na rozstajach wypatrując śladu gór?! /
At the crossroads looking for trails that lead there ?!

Szukasz raju! / You’re looking for paradise!
Szukasz raju! / You’re looking for paradise!
Opasuje ziemię tropów twoich sznur /
Like rope your footprints gird the earth

Sam też mogę żyć / Me, I can live alone just fine
Żyć dopiero mogę sam / I can live well alone
Niepokorna myśl / An indomitable thought
Zyska wolny kształt / Freely finds its form
Tu i ówdzie błysk / Here and there a flash
Lub słowa ślad / Or a word’s trace
Odkrywany / Is discovered

Wszystkie drogi teraz moje, kiedy wiem jak dojść do zgody /
All paths are now mine, now that I know how to find accord

Żadna burza, cisza, susza, nie zakłóci mojej drogi /
No storm, silence, or drought will disturb me on my way

Nie horyzont coraz nowy, nowa wciąż fatamorgana /
Not the ever-retreating horizon, not any new mirage

Ale obraz świata sponad szczytu duszy oglądany /
Just the world’s panorama from the soul’s height

Tam dziś wspiąłem się / I climbed there today
Znalazłem raj / I found paradise
Raj bez granic / Boundless paradise

Jesteś w raju / You’re in paradise
Jesteś w raju / You’re in paradise
Żaden tłum nie dotarł nigdy na twój szczyt /
No mob had ever scaled this peak you’re on

Jesteś w raju / You’re in paradise
Jesteś w raju / You’re in paradise
Gdzie spokojny słyszysz krwi i myśli rytm /
Calmly listening to the rhythm of your blood and thoughts

Jestem w raju / I’m in paradise
Jestem w raju / I’m in paradise
Żaden tłum nie dotarł nigdy na mój szczyt /
No mob had ever scaled this peak I’m on

Jestem w raju / I’m in paradise
Jestem w raju / I’m in paradise
Gdzie spokojny słyszę krwi i myśli rytm /
Calmly listening to the rhythm of my blood and thoughts

Divergent Senses

That’s when two of your senses, hearing and sight in this case, are pulled apart by equally powerful stimuli. It’s like a graphic composition in which two objects compete for dominance. Not what you want normally, “too much of a good thing” is real. Pulling your attention from one side, is the perfect rock song: the twelve-string strums, the chorus, the bridge, the lyrics. And drawing your eyes, is the perfect elf woman in the video.

YouTube commenters post about both unrequited and consummated love for the song’s namesake. Also, comments from people who were inspired by Boston’s song to name their daughter Amanda. Didn’t everyone have an adolescent thing for a girl that they connected with a popular song?

Idle Thoughts On Pop Songs And The Seasons

strong men create good times
good times create weak men
weak men create bad times
bad times create strong men

Summer

June Carter, He Don’t Love Me Anymore. What’s alien in that c. 1955 video is the everyday on-air interaction between the good-natured host and his firecracker starlet guest, the young June Carter. If you imagine having a country of your own in which your public space — in this case television airwaves — belongs to you, you might envision something a bit like that exchange in which he introduces her and they pick on each other a bit.

America was a house with many rooms. One of those rooms was Appalachian hillbilly culture, perhaps one closest to my heart on account of the melodious regional accent. It’s no wonder that this is where Tom Wolfe looked for inspiration in creating the Charlotte Simmons character. And it’s no wonder that Johnny Cash fell in love with June. I once said:

[She] is a vision. Like just about every young woman, she has those little imperfections that modesty makes irresistible… That thing I said earlier about modest attire amplifying a cute girl’s attractiveness…

The decade, with its relaxed ways, was America’s summer. But every summer has its storm clouds. Vivian Liberto, first wife of then-drug addled Johnny Cash and mother of his four daughters, writes about a confrontation in which June said to her, “Vivian, he will be mine.” The rest of the story is Johnny and June growing old together. Do you believe in love?


Autumn

Angelo Badalamenti, Laura Palmer’s Theme. It’s simple and reminiscent of Erik Satie’s compositions. A bright moment happens at 1:00, a key change. Brett Favre, in the twilight of his career, was asked about his favorite football memories. He said that it’s not the championships or the victories, it’s those times just having fun with the guys in the locker room or wherever. That answer rang true with me. And there is a flip side to that — you also remember those quiet moments alone.

One such inexplicably indelible moment for me was during Army training in San Antonio, Texas in the early 1990s. Our platoon slept in a large bay with two rows of bunk beds. Listening to a local radio station on my Walkman before drifting off to sleep after lights-out, I heard a song from the Twin Peaks soundtrack. It was “Falling” with Julee Cruise.

The early 1990s was a supernova burst of American creativity, all of it animated by the dream of a world that had flickered just out of reach and then disappeared forever. Autumn is elegiac and it is the one season I’d never give away.


Winter

George Michael, Praying for Time. It would be nice if the great song were written and performed by a godly man, but that’s not what happened. It was created by a faggot who got busted at an airport toilet stall. It’s a lesson in humility for everyone, but also in hope, when a man so flawed he makes you look clean teaches you something. “Listen without prejudice” means that it’s okay to judge after listening.

Whether you’re Georgios Panayiotou or someone less cursed, you have your cross to bear. He had his, homosexuality. I have mine, a light one. The pretty girl I used to know who was diagnosed with an awful illness at 21 had hers. Maybe you have yours.

Listen to the song’s despairing, nihilistic lyrics. Keep what works for you, discard what doesn’t. Whatever George Michael was thinking of when he wrote it in 1989, it speaks to me now.

It’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope
When there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
Well, maybe we should all be praying for time

The girl I mentioned, she told me about the diagnosis that took place a few years earlier and I told her that we all have our cross to bear. After all of that, I met with her dad. He looked like a wreck. He said, “So you’re the ‘PA’ that she talked so much about.” It was a sad moment when I handed him her stuff. He signed a couple of forms where I told him I need his signature.


Spring

Johnny Cash, Children, Go Where I Send TheeWalk The Line (2005) lied about two things. One, the movie blamed Vivian for the failure of her and Johnny’s marriage. Two, it was silent on the greatest part of Johnny’s career, his Christian music. Yet the film had several good moments, the best one being when Johnny’s disgusted father Ray Cash says:

You’re sittin’ on a high horse, boy. I never had talent, I did the best I could with what I had. Can you say that? Mister big shot, mister pill poppin’ rock star. Who are you to judge, you ain’t got nothin’, big empty house, nothin’, children you don’t see, nothin’, big ol’ expensive tractor stuck in the mud, nothin’.

In the movie, that was Johnny’s rock bottom moment after which he changed his life. “Children, Go Where I Send Thee” is the best interpretation of the American Evangelical spirit in popular music. Johnny would have made a fine Marine Corps drill instructor calling cadence. It’s a fantastic performance, featuring an older June Carter and the other Carter family ladies, the Statler Brothers, and Carl Perkins. Under their captain’s command, they sing like conquerors.