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

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

Natalism for your people: what you get when you have a country of your own

There are fancy residential developments in European cities that are planned to encourage family-formation, but in the end it’s a row of empty swing sets. Family-friendly facilities alone aren’t going to get our young people to have kids. White natalism requires these three things:

  • Economic incentive; or at the very least, freedom from economic disincentives: “we can’t afford a neighborhood with good schools”
  • Cohesive demographics: Diversity + Proximity + Police Enforced Antiracism = bad money drives out good.
  • A sense of having a future: the feeling that you own your public space, writ-large, goes a long way toward that.

I am omitting cultural aspects of modernity such as feminism and birth control because they are more or less constant across Europe and her diaspora. Apparently, all that it takes to stay a step ahead of modernity is to have your own government:

More than 402,000 children were born in Poland in 2017, the highest number in “many years”, the country’s family and social policy minister said on Friday. Poland’s socially conservative Law and Justice party, which came to power in late 2015, aims to ease the burdens of child rearing by giving families with two or more children a handout of [tax-free] PLN 500 (USD 134, EUR 116) a month per child. Poorer families receive the allowance even if they have just one child. 

The banner art on Polish government’s social services web site:

5001

Over here in America, we break our backs so that black single moms and illegal-alien mestizas can roll up to the register and pay nothing for a $200 cart of groceries. Frankly, what’s a government that tweets about record-low African-American and Hispanic unemployment — while never, ever, saying one goddamned time that White People (or Heritage Americans, or Americans of European Stock, or White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, or Pre-1965 Whites, or Descendants of 1776 Revolutionary Colonists, or Real Americans) so much as exist. A government that denies you while effusing love for your ethnic rivals.

One challenge is scale. The United States of America is big, geographically. It’s become a bilingual, multi-racial bureaucracy spanning a continent.

It Grew On Me

Last week I featured the 1969 hit “Kwiaty Ojczyste” (The Flowers of my Land) by Czeslaw Niemen and described that song as “trippy and jazzy, anachronistic and timeless.” That post also includes translated lyrics, which celebrate the beauty of flowers across Poland’s regions. Soaring vocals by female backup singers carry the song over the threshold of greatness.

The video above is a 2015 cover performance of that classic by young artist Natalia Przybysz. At first, I wasn’t sure how to take that performance but I had a feeling that it would grow on me… I played it again.

The cover follows the same structure as Niemen’s original: two verses, instrumental solo, repeat of second verse, choral outtro. Both versions include the “na na na” chorus at key moments, which then goes full-bloom in the outtro. The cover is well done, keeping the spirit of the original in a contemporary execution. I only wish the cover version outtro were as long as Niemen’s. It really is the heart of that song.

I was right, I couldn’t stop playing the above video several times over. “It grew on me” might be the best compliment that can be given to a musician. A lot of songs wow you at first hearing but then quickly play themselves out. This one is a better experience with each listen.

I also like her interpretation of those choral vocals. In Niemen’s version, his female backup singers do that part. Przybysz leads that chorus in her cover version, which makes sense because she has a female voice. The band’s male guitarists back her on it.

There are other videos of her covering “Flowers of my Land.” Those were performed at more humble settings — smaller stages, clubs. She’s severe and “feminist-looking” in the video at the top of this post, but in other performances she smiles and banters with the audience.

Also in 2015, she performs at a small stage in Lublin. Something the eye can’t ignore is the odd way in which her left hand hovers and moves around over her lower abdomen. Could be nothing, could be connected to her unwanted pregnancy of that same year.

She sports a casual look in track pants and a plain white t-shirt in that concert. Artsy Chick from this celebration of female beauty.

Not being familiar with Natalia Przybysz, I did a cursory web search. Her other songs are what you can call contemporary pop and she comes across as someone with feminist inclinations. You can see that in her appearance in the 2015 performances. She shows a softer edge three years later, in this 2018 performance at a club in Poznan. Friendly talk to the fans, longer hair.

Top search results bring up her revelation that she traveled abroad in 2015 to have an abortion. (She has two children and doesn’t rule out having a third one, as goes a magazine interview; it’s not clear if she’s married). Such a confession is big deal in Poland, where abortion is illegal and broadly condemned; another pop star’s career tanked after a similar revelation. As to what she had done, Przybysz said “I really didn’t want that child.”

I took that biographical tangent because I’m outside looking in, and the question of common national culture interests me. There is no lack of liberalism in Poland’s pop industry and like in any Western country, there is some amount of ideological polarization. By what I had checked out, Przybysz struck me as a Lillith Fair’esque artist.

Yet what compelled me to not outright ignore her is the fact that she puts so much heart into Niemen’s “Kwiaty Ojczyste.”

I found it remarkable that at least by superficial appearances, here is a Millennial pop singer whom you wouldn’t expect to be reverent of tradition, yet she pays such homage to a beloved classic, no less so that it’s an apolitical song that celebrates the beauty of her country.

Certain national memories unite people across ideological divides. Nation Wreckers seek to corrupt those bonds of common identity so that nothing holds a people together when mundane political disagreements divide them. You can’t build a globalist empire without breaking the natural and exclusionary bonds that connect people within nations. You can’t wreck a nation without (((exploiting))) the sinful but otherwise self-correcting impulses of its people, such female rebelliousness.

Music is sub rational, the performer and the listener transcend material reality when the song strikes their natural harmonic. For me, it’s in that long choral outtro in “Kwiaty Ojczyste,” both in Niemen’s original and Przybysz’ reinterpretation. In that meditative White Energy moment you wordlessly, in streams of something that merges with a higher reality, envision great possibilities in the name of eternal life.

“The Flowers Of My Land”

As with literary epics, there are popular songs that rise to the level of an epic. November Rain has the length, the expanse of consciousness, the presence of higher reality beyond the mere lyrics.

Czesław Niemen (1939 – 2004) hailed from Poland’s pre-war eastern Borderlands, or Kresy. He was an ethnic Pole from present-day Belarus and sang with that regional accent. The 1960s were his peak years as a recording artist and he’s best remembered for the hippie aesthetic of that era. Nuclear annihilation weighed on everybody’s mind, whatever side of the Cold War divide one’s accident of birth. He was heavily influenced by American blues and jazz, as you’ll hear in this song.

At around 30 years old for reasons I don’t recall now, I got drunk in my apartment and played The Flowers Of My Land on repeat loop until all the lights went out. It’s a song worth taking another look at. Those flowers — are they a metaphor?… what is this land… what is this “my“…

The song is both trippy and jazzy, anachronistic and timless. That choral female accompaniment carries it over the threshold of epic.

Enjoy. The two verses end at 2:45, and that’s followed by a hypnotic two-minute saxophone solo. Then, like a burst of sunlight after 4:35, the chorus kicks in. The second verse is repeated and then the long choral outro becomes the heart of this song.

Kwiaty Ojczyste / The Flowers Of My Land
Czesław Niemen (1969)

Kwiaty nad Wisłą mazowieckie / Flowers on the banks of the Vistula river
Stokrotki, fiołki i kaczeńce / Daisies, violets and marigolds
Zielone wierchy nad Warszawą / Green treetops over Warsaw
Kwieciste nad domami wieńce. / Floral gardens around the homes.
Kwiaty znad Odry, gąszcze, róże, / Flowers by the Odra river, thickets, roses,
Stukolorowe pióra pawie / Colorful peacock feathers
W parkach Szczecina i Opola / In the parks of Szczecin and Opole
W małych ogródkach pod Wrocławiem… / In little gardens by Wrocław…

Kaliny, malwy białostockie, / Cranberry bushes, hollyhocks from Białystok,
Lubelskie bujne winogrady, / Lublin region’s lush vines
Dziewanny złote pod Zamościem / Golden mulleins near Zamość
I w Kazimierzu białe sady. / And white orchards in Kazimierz.
Kwiaty nad Wisłą, Narwią, Bugiem, / Flowers by the Vistula, Narew, Bug rivers,
Zbierane w słońcu, przy księżycu / Harvested in the sun, by moonlight
Kocham was kwiaty mej ojczyzny / I love you, flowers of my homeland
Nad Odrą, Wartą i Pilicą… / By Odra, Warta and Pilica rivers…

Motley Fairs

I love that stuff — the song at the end of the post. One of my early memories is hearing the Maryla Rodowicz song “Kolorowe Jarmarki” (Motley Fairs) on dad’s car radio in 1977 while driving past exactly such a market near Gdansk on vacation there. The song is in the tradition of farewell-to-summer odes that reverberate with larger nostalgia for one’s youth, like Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer.” The next time I heard “Motley Fairs” was at 32.

Rodowicz’s songs are on YouTube, except that one. I did, however, find a cover by a contemporary Ukrainian artist I am not familiar with, Diana Osipchuk.

Her version rocks it out, whereas Rodowicz’s original 1977 song has a “country carnival” sound. Osipchuk does a nice job. What also interests me, is the tangent on ethnic diversity.

Specifically, the diversity among similar peoples. A foreigner will not tell a Yank from a Reb, but every American can. Similarly, there is a difference between Poles and Ukrainians despite the fact that we’re similar in look, language, and culture. Mushroom foraging in forests, for example, is a beloved pastime of all Slavs. Every kid in Poland and Ukraine knows wild mushrooms by name and knows the difference between a prized delicacy and something that will kill you.

Poland has accepted many Ukrainian immigrants over the recent years. Not good, we are two different nations. We’ve done horrific things to each other. That’s the past and the guilty are dead. No more brother wars. Following the hard-fought Poland-Ukraine game in the 2016 World Cup, the players from the opposing sides customarily shook hands, but then swapped their jerseys in a gesture of fraternity.

Ukrainians too, have their internal divisions.

So here is the song. Things that strike me about the cover-version performance:

Polish being a foreign (albeit similar) language for her, she sings it with a heavy accent. Non-native speakers, even other Slavs, have difficulty enunciating the clear vowels and the crisp clusters of Polish consonants. Other than micronation dialects within Poland itself (Kashub, Silesian, Highlander), Slovak is the closest language to Polish. We communicate easily in our respective languages.

At 3:19, she adds an alternate refrain in Ukrainian. I wonder if others pick up on this up too: once in her native language, she vocalizes much more freely.

Anyhow, a high-energy, charming cover. Дуже добре!

Kolorowe Jarmarki (Motley Fairs)
1977 original, 2014 cover below

Kiedy patrzę hen za siebie / When I look far back 
W tamte lata co minęły / At those years that passed
Kiedy myślę co przegrałam / When I think of what I lost 
A co diabli wzięli / And what the devils took
Co straciłam z własnej woli / What I lost on purpose
A co przeciw sobie / Or gave up in spite of myself
Co wyliczę to wyliczę / Whatever I’ll count, I count
Ale zawsze wtedy powiem / But I’ll always say
Że najbardziej mi żal / That what I miss the most is…

Refrain:
Kolorowych jarmarków, blaszanych zegarków / Motley fairs, tin watches
Pierzastych kogucików, baloników na druciku / Feathery cockerels, balloons on a wire
Motyli drewnianych, koników bujanych / Wooden butterflies, rocking horses
Cukrowej waty i z piernika chaty / Cotton candy and a gingerbread house

Tyle spraw już mam za sobą / So many things are now in the past
Coraz bliżej jesień płowa / Ever closer the pale autumn
Już tak wiele przeszło obok / So much has passed me by
Już jest co żałować / So much to long after
Małym rzeczom zostajemy / To the little things we remain
W pamiętaniu wierni / Faithful in rememberance
Zamiast serca noszę chyba / Instead of a heart I think I bear
Odpustowy piernik / A church-feast gingerbread 
Bo najbardziej mi żal / Because what I miss the most is…

[Refrain x2]

[Alternate refrain in Ukrainian added in this cover version at 3:19]