Morning Songs

An aubade is a composition about or evocative of sunrise. As popular songs go, Cat Stevens’ “Morning Has Broken” is among the prettiest. Beck’s euphonic Morning is a keeper:

Can we start it all over again this morning?
I let down my defenses this morning
It was just you and me this morning
I fought all my guesses this morning
Won’t you show me the way it could’ve been?

I’ll relate an experience that might sound like nothing much but it continues to have an effect on me a year-and-a-half later. Make of it what you will. At dawn, my father-in-law and I were passing through a little town in eastern part of Poland, he drove. It’s countryside with birch forests and tall, flower-adorned crucifixes at every crossroad.

Driving slowly through the wioska, we turn a corner and a burst of early morning’s sunlight floods everything. How to describe this. My perception opened for a moment. This lasted for a microsecond. What I saw, when we turned that corner, was a young woman pushing an infant stroller and a little boy walking with her.

They were real people, actually walking on the sidewalk and like I said, the vision was a flash but during it their silhouettes against the golden sunlight made an effect of the light being the sole reality. People who describe their near-death experience talk about an overwhelming sense of being embraced by love and for that moment, without a prelude and ending at that same instant, that is exactly what I felt.

That morning is when I stopped worrying.

“When the Morning Lights Arise” (orig. “Kiedy ranne wstają zorze”) is Franciszek Karpiński’s aubade, written c. 1800. My translation:

When the morning lights arise
To You the earth, to You the sea,
To You the elements sing:
Be praised, mighty God.

And man, without measure
Showered with Your gifts,
Whom You created and saved,
How can he not praise You?

Still rubbing my waking eyes
I at once call to my Lord,
To my Lord in Heaven
And I seek Him by me.

Some into the sleep of death have fallen
After lying down last night…
We still woke up
To praise You, God.

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A Poem About Gods

I’m discovering Zbigniew Herbert’s (1924 – 1998) poems as we speak. In one of his poems, Herbert described himself as a bard who merely knocks on doors behind which truths are revealed. Herbert’s Apollo and Marsyas below (orig. “Apollo i Marsjasz”) describes a torture-execution. In Greek myth, satyr Marsyas challenged Apollo to a music contest. The contest was judged by the Muses, Marsyas lost and was flayed alive for his affrontery in challenging a god.

As always, I recommend reading along with the musical interpretation. It’s not an inviting proposition, given the language barrier, which is why I made the line-by-line translation.

“Apollo and Marsyas” — Zbigniew Herbert

właściwy pojedynek Apollona
   the actual duel between Apollo
z Marsjaszem
   and Marsyas
(słuch absolutny
   (an absolute ear
contra ogromna skala)
   vs. immense scale)
odbywa się pod wieczór
   takes place in the early evening
gdy jak już wiemy
   and as we already know
sędziowie
   the judges
przyznali zwycięstwo bogu
   ruled in favor of the god

mocno przywiązany do drzewa
   tightly bound to a tree
dokładnie odarty ze skóry
   meticulously stripped of his skin
Marsjasz
   Marsyas
krzyczy
   cries
zanim krzyk dojdzie
   before the cry reaches
do jego wysokich uszu
   his mighty ear
wypoczywa w cieniu tego krzyku
   he reposes in the shade of that cry

wstrząsany dreszczem obrzydzenia
   shaken with disgust
Apollo czyści swój instrument
   Apollo cleans his instrument

tylko z pozoru
   only seemingly
głos Marsjasza
   is Marsyas’ voice
jest monotony
   monotonous
i składa się z jednej samogłoski
   and composed of one vowel
A
   A

w istocie Marsjasz opowiada
   in fact Marsyas relates
nieprzebrane bogactwo
   of the inexhaustible richness
swego ciała
   of his body

łyse góry wątroby
   the bald hills of the liver
pokarmów białe wąwozy
   the white digestive gorges
szumiące lasy płuc
   the murmuring forests of lungs
słodkie pagórki mięśni
   the sweet mounds of muscle
stawy żółć krew i dreszcze
   the joints bile blood and shudders
zimowy wiatr kości
   the bones’ winter wind
nad solą pamięci
   over the salt-flats of memory

wstrząsany dreszczem obrzydzenia
   shaken with disgust
Apollo czyści swój instrument
   Apollo cleans his instrument

teraz do chóru
   now the choir
przyłącza się stos pacierzowy Marsjasza
   is joined by the spinal stack of Marsyas
w zasadzie to samo A
   in principle the same A
tylko głębsze z dodatkiem rdzy
   only deeper and with a touch of rust

to już jest ponad wytrzymałość
   this is now beyond the endurance
boga o nerwach z tworzyw sztucznych
   of a god with nerves of synthetic fiber

żwirową aleją
   down the gravel alley
wysadzaną bukszpanem
   lined with boxwood
odchodzi zwycięzca
   departs the victor
zastanawiając się
   wondering if
czy z wycia Marsjasza
   Marsyas’ howls
nie powstanie z czasem
   aren’t the birth of
nowa gałąź
   a new branch
sztuki – powiedzmy – konkretnej
   of – shall we say – concrete art

nagle
   suddenly
upada mu
   at his feet falls
skamieniały słowik
   a petrified nightingale

odwraca głowę
   he turns his head
i widzi
   and sees
że drzewo do którego przywiązany był Marsjasz
   that the tree to which Marsyas is tied
jest siwe
   has turned white

zupełnie
   completely

Elegy Of Fortinbras

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 original poem “Tren Fortynbrasa” is under the YouTube video below. 

***

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
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

You will have a soldier’s funeral though you weren’t a soldier
it is the only ritual I am somewhat acquainted with
There will be no candles no singing only cannon fuses and salvos
Crape dragged on the cobblestones helmets studded boots artillery horses
drums drums I know it’s nothing exquisite
those will be my maneuvers as I assume control
one has to take the city by the throat and shake it a bit

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
you knew no human thing you did not even know how to breathe

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
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

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

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

***

This musical interpretation is perfect:

“In days of gold we dreamed on the heather”

A poem written by Lucius Somesuch, originally posted by him at Chateau Heartiste and in the comments on my blog yesterday. 

In days of gold we dreamed on the heather
Beneath Heaven’s broad splendor that brightly shone.
Tonight we writhe in highwaisted pleather
Frantically doing things best left undone.

My locks are coiffed to tres chic perfection,
My alabaster limbs with glitter flicker.
My glassy gaze gives strangers an erection,
My thoughts are distant, on liquor, twitter.

Time threatens furrows, the prudes would warn me
And Beauty’s prime prances ‘fore an open grave,
And the Air’s Dark Prince muses to harm me,
But the beat goes on, and tonight I rave.

What have I to do with maidenly prudence
Or with the matron’s fond worrisome cares?
Why should I sit all alone and rue? Dance!
I’ve got left before me many fine years!

The Invisible Worm wings on the blast
And the omens are rich that Eyes Wide Shut
Was a documentary. But I have cast
Mine with the devils’ lot. Snort a line. Rut.

— Lucius Somesuch

Nature Poems

Two Czesław Miłosz poems in translation, then a couple of compositions by Eric Satie. You will enjoy the video if you have half-an-hour to detach.

The Sun

All colors come from the sun. And it does not have
Any particular color, for it contains them all.
And the whole Earth is like a poem
While the sun above represents the artist

Whoever wants to paint the variegated world
Let him never look straight at the sun
Or he will lose the memory of things he has seen.
Only burning tears will stay in his eyes.

Let him kneel down, lower his face to the grass,
And look at the light reflected on the ground.
There he will find everything we have lost:
The stars and the roses, the dusks and the dawns.

— Czesław Miłosz, 1943

***

To Robinson Jeffers

If you have not read the Slavic poets
so much the better. There’s nothing there
for a Scotch-Irish wanderer to seek. They lived in a childhood
prolonged from age to age. For them, the sun
was a farmer’s ruddy face, the moon peeped through a cloud
and the Milky Way gladdened them like a birch-lined road.
They longed for the Kingdom which is always near,
always right at hand. Then, under apple trees
angels in homespun linen will come parting the boughs
and at the white kolkhoz tablecloth
cordiality and affection will feast (falling to the ground at times).

And you are from surf-rattled skerries. From the heaths
where burying a warrior they broke his bones
so he could not haunt the living. From the sea night
which your forefathers pulled over themselves, without a word.
Above your head no face, neither the sun’s nor the moon’s,
only the throbbing of galaxies, the immutable
violence of new beginnings, of new destruction.

All your life listening to the ocean. Black dinosaurs
wade where a purple zone of phosphorescent weeds
rises and falls on the waves as in a dream. And Agamemnon
sails the boiling deep to the steps of the palace
to have his blood gush onto marble. Till mankind passes
and the pure and stony earth is pounded by the ocean.

Thin-lipped, blue-eyed, without grace or hope,
before God the Terrible, body of the world.
Prayers are not heard. Basalt and granite.
Above them, a bird of prey. The only beauty.

What have I to do with you? From footpaths in the orchards,
from an untaught choir and shimmers of a monstrance,
from flower beds of rue, hills by the rivers, books
in which a zealous Lithuanian announced brotherhood, I come.
Oh, consolations of mortals, futile creeds.

And yet you did not know what I know. The earth teaches
More than does the nakedness of elements. No one with impunity
gives to himself the eyes of a god. So brave, in a void,
you offered sacrifices to demons: there were Wotan and Thor,
the screech of Erinyes in the air, the terror of dogs
when Hekate with her retinue of the dead draws near.

Better to carve suns and moons on the joints of crosses
as was done in my district. To birches and firs
give feminine names. To implore protection
against the mute and treacherous might
than to proclaim, as you did, an inhuman thing.

— Czesław Miłosz (1963)

***

A cold landscape generates inner heat. The Earth is a big place.

“Caligula”

This one goes out to various Western leaders.

Reading the old chronicles, poems and biographies, Mr. Cogito sometimes experiences the physical presence of long-dead persons

Caligula speaks:

of all the citizens of Rome
I only loved one
Incitatus – the horse

when he entered the senate
the flawless toga of his coat
glistened immaculate among the gutless purple-hemmed cutthroats

Incitatus had many virtues
he never gave speeches
stoic nature
I think that at night in the stables he read the philosophers

I loved him so much that one day I decided to crucify him
but his noble anatomy opposed it

indifferently he accepted the dignity of the consul
he executed his power superlatively
what I mean is, he did not do it at all

he couldn’t be persuaded into a permanent bond of love
with my fourth wife Caesonia
so unfortunately the line of emperor-centaurs was not created

therefore Rome fell

I decided to nominate him god
but on the ninth day before February
Cherea Cornelius Sabinus and other fools obstructed these sacred intentions

he calmly accepted the news of my death

he was banished from the palace and sentenced to exile

he took that blow with dignity

he died without heirs
slaughtered by a thick-skinned butcher from the town of Anzio

on the posthumous fate of his meat
Tacitus is silent

— Zbigniew Herbert (c. 1974) from his volume of poetry “Mr. Cogito”

My translation. The original poem is under Show More in the YouTube video.

The Tragedy of Compromise

A nation can be snuffed out though violence or miscegenation, but only if the genocide is complete or they might come back stronger. But can a nation survive a utopia? Huxley pondered the end of history and to my recollection, he did not account for a fissile ruling class or the material goods losing their flavor.

But in the real world, the hard edge of globalism is bruising us hard. Unless you consider the mud invasion utopian. Below is my translation of a poem about the folly of a nobleman who tired to work with the system. That’s a difficult thing to do when the system is implacable and the grievances of your constituents are absolute.

If the war gets hot, what do we fight for? For nothing less than total victory. What is total victory? Securing what’s ours. Reach for more and you are courting downfall. The meek shall…

Aleksander Wielopolski (1803 – 1877) ran Poland’s civil administration within the Russian Empire and to forestall the bloodshed that would result from the growing independence movement, he ordered a conscription of Polish nationalists into twenty-year enlistments in the Tsar’s army. That decision sparked the January 1863 Uprising, the very outcome Wielopolski wanted to avoid.

The original poem is in the YouTube video below under “Show More.” It is written in trochaic meter with an ABAB rhyme scheme.

Margrave Wielopolski

Through Saxon Square, Circassian hundreds gallop
And by the palace, a hundred campfires burn
How do you do it, Your Excellency
That you’re despised on every side?

Lord Margrave, you don’t think in lockstep
So with the Tsar you’re already suspect —
Neither Petersburg nor Moscow will trust
A Pole who has his own plans

Lord Margrave still walks the tightrope
It’s dangerous to walk so high
After all, disaster won’t spare him
Because bad luck has he, who is born here
Your contempt, no one will forgive
We’re superstitious, fervent and teary
And you’re proud, you won’t deign wallow
In the national borscht with us
Why bother splashing logic in our faces?
We did not read Hegel, sire
For us it’s Chopin, peas and cabbage
And from time to time an uprising

Lord Margrave still walks the tightrope
Abyss on the left and abyss on the right
If he avoids death by a countryman’s hand
Then he’ll leave office in disgrace
All that work, Lord Margrave, and for nothing
In vain, the forced conscription
Things will be as they must — business as usual
To battle unarmed, backbreak and welts
Lord Margrave, you won’t change a nation
Here, good sense is rarely used
And the one thing we can do truly well
Is to lose most beautifully in the world

Lord Margrave still walks the tightrope
Though awkwardly and with a wild boar’s posture
And when he falls, he’ll gain only
A traitor’s shame instead of a monument
That you fell, that’s normal Polish fate
In the end, everyone falls off that rope
Only why did you forget, Wielopolski,
That the fall must look good?

– Jerzy Czech (c. 1981)