A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Poem of the Day: Algernon Charles Swinburne

From Atalanta in Calydon 

When the hounds of spring are on winter's traces, 
     The mother of months in meadow or plain 
Fills the shadows and windy places 
    With lisp of leaves and ripple of rain; 
And the brown bright nightingale amorous 
Is half assuaged for Itylus
For the Thracian ships and the foreign faces, 
    The tongueless vigil, and all the pain. 

Come with bows bent and with emptying of quivers, 
    Maiden most perfect, lady of light, 
With a noise of winds and many rivers, 
    With a clamour of waters, and with might; 
Bind on thy sandals, O thou most fleet; 
Over the splendour and speed of thy feet; 
For the faint east quickens, the wan west shivers, 
    Round the feet of the day, and the feet of the night. 

Where shall we find her, how shall we sing to her, 
    Fold our hands round her knees, and cling? 
O that man's heart were as fire and could spring to her, 
    Fire, or the strength of the streams that spring! 
For the stars and the winds are unto her 
As raiment, as songs of the harp-player; 
For the risen stars and the fallen cling to her, 
    And the southwest-wind and the west-wind sing. 

For winter's rains and ruins are over, 
    And all the season of snows and sins; 
The days dividing lover and lover,
    The light that loses, the night that wins; 

And time remembered is grief forgotten, 
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten, 
And in green underwood and cover 
    Blossom by blossom the spring begins. 


The full streams feed on flower of rushes, 
    Ripe grasses trammel a travelling foot, 
The faint fresh flame of the young year flushes  
    From lear to flower and flower to fruit; 
And fruit and leaf are as gold and fire, 
And the oat is heard above the lyre, 
And the hoofèd heel of a satyr crushes 
    The chestnut-husk at the chestnut-root. 


And Pan by noon and Bacchus by night, 
    Fleeter of foot than the fleet-foot kid, 
Follows with dancing and fills with delight 
    The Maenad and the Bassarid
And soft as lips that laugh and hide 
The laughing leaves of the trees divide, 
And screen from seeing and leave in sight 
    The god pursuing, the maiden hid. 


The ivy falls with the Bacchanal's hair 
    Over her eyebrows hiding her eyes; 
The wild vine slipping down leaves bare 
    Her bright breast shortening into sighs; 
The wild vine slips with the weight of its leaves, 
But the berried ivy catches and cleaves 
To the limbs that glitter, the feet that scare 
    The wolf that follows, the fawn that flies. 
--Algernon Charles Swinburne


I never read this opening chorus from Swinburne's play Atalanta in Calydon without thinking of this: 

Winterstürme wichen 
Wintry storms have vanished
dem Wonnemond,
before Maytime;
im mildem Lichte leuchtet der Lenz;
in a gentle light springtime shines out.
auf linden Lüften leicht und lieblich,
On balmy breezes light and lovely
Wunder weben er sich wiegt; 
it weaves miracles as it wafts.
durch Wald und Auen weht sein Atem, 
Through woods and meadows its breath blows,
weit geöffnet lacht sein Aug'. 
wide open its eyes are smiling.
Aus sel'ger Vöglein Sange süss er tönt,
Lovely birdsong sweetly proclaims it,
holde Düfte haucht er aus: 
blissful scents exhale its presence.
seinem warmen Blut entbluhen wonniger Blumen,
Marvelous flowers sprout from its hot blood,
Keim und Spross entspringt seinter Kraft. 
buds and shoots grow from its strength.
Mit zarter Waffen Zier bewingt er die Welt;
With an armory of delicate charm it conquers the world.
Winter und Sturm wichen der starken Wehr: 
Winter and storms vanish before their stout defense.
wohl musste den tapfern Streichen 
At these bold blows, of course, 
die strenge Türe auch weichen, 
the stout doors yielded too,
die trotzig und starr uns trennte von ihm.
for stubborn and hard they kept us from the spring.
Zu seiner Schwester schwang er sich her;
To its sister here it flew.
die Liebe lockte den Lenz: 
Love decoyed the spring.
in unsrem Busen barg er sich tief;
In our hearts it was hidden deep;
nun lacht sie selig dem Licht.
now it smiles joyfully at the light.
Die bräutliche Schwester befreite der Brüder;
The sister as bride is freed by her brother.
zertrummert liegt, was je sie getrennt;
In ruins lies all that kept them apart.
jauchzend grüsst sich das junge Paar:
Joyfully the young couple greet one another.
vereint sind Liebe und Lenz!
Love and Spring are united!
--Richard Wagner, Die Walküre, Act I, scene III
(translator unknown)
Well, okay, advantage Wagner. After all, he had his music to plump up his verse. But I think a case can be made for Swinburne as an underrated poet. The rest of Atalanta in Calydon, like most English closet dramas, is fairly dull stuff. But this opening chorus, despite some heavy-footedness in its alliteration and imagery ("lisp of leaves and ripple of rain"), has some lovely moments. And its evocation of the arrival of spring anticipates Wagner's by five years.   

Swinburne's tragedy was to be born British in the age of Victoria. He wanted to be a poète maudit like Baudelaire or Rimbaud, but they do things differently in France, and at his baddest he resembles nothing more than a naughty schoolboy. His alcoholism and masochism led to a nervous breakdown, and when he recovered he became a respectable citizen and even got nominated for the Nobel Prize. Given that the Nobel people managed to overlook Joyce, Proust, Kafka, Borges, et al., we can be grateful that they didn't bite this time. 

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