Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Behind the Seen


Fyodor Dostoevsky’s study

این دورِ و بر رندان


Tahar Ben Jelloun (born 1 December, 1944), pictured above in a 1988 photograph by Michel Deluc, with his parents, in Tangier

The opening of This Blinding Absence of Light (Cette aveuglante absence de lumière), a novel about a man imprisoned for twenty years in a Moroccan concentration camp:

‘For a long time I searched for the black stone that cleanses the soul of death. When I say a long time, I think of a bottomless pit, a tunnel dug with my fingers, my teeth, in the stubborn hope of glimpsing, if only for a minute, one infinitely lingering minute, a ray of light, a spark that would imprint itself deep within my eye, that would stay protected in my entrails like a secret. There it would be, lodging in my breast and nourishing my endless nights, there, in the depths of the humid earth, in that tomb smelling of man stripped of his humanity by shovel blows that flay him alive, snatching away his sight, his voice, and his reason.

But what good was reason there, in our graves? I mean where we had been laid in the earth, left with a hole so we could breathe, so we could live for enough time, for enough nights to pay for our mistake, left with death in the guise of a subtle slowness, a death that was to take its time, all the time men have— the men we were no longer, and those who still kept watch over us, and those who had completely forgotten us. Oh, slowness! It was the chief enemy, the one that enveloped our battered bodies, leaving our wounds open plenty of time before they began to scar over, this slowness that made our hearts beat to the peaceful rhythm of la petite mort, as though we were supposed to fade away, a candle flickering away in the distance and burning itself out as calmly as happiness. I often thought about that candle, made not of wax but of some unknown substance that gave the illusion of an eternal flame, symbolic of our survival. And I used to think about a giant hourglass, in which each grain of sand was a speck of our skin, a drop of our blood, a tiny breath of oxygen lost to us as time descended toward the abyss where we lay…’

—from This Blinding Absence of Light (Cette aveuglante absence de lumière) (2001; translated from the French by Linda Coverdale)

Below is an excerpt from Ben Jelloun’s long poem, Unidentified, much of which was based on the documented lives of Palestinians killed in the West Bank, Gaza and in refugee camps in Lebanon during the 1980s:

Abd al-Qader Hantach

April 8, 1983
He had a wife who loved to laugh three children and a donkey.
The eldest was gone
they had blindfolded his eyes and marked his shoulder with a cross.
Hassan and Nahla guarded
the house the day and the sorrowful tree of childhood.
They watched the sky unseemly host to misery.
Abd al-Qader Hantach sold sand.
They killed him on the shore with bullets
and spared the donkey.
He had known fifty-eight years and an immense season of statelessness.

—from The Rising of the Ashes (1991; translated from the French by Cullen Goldblatt)

Maria Callas - La Divina - the greatest opera diva ever, was born Dec. 2, 1923 (d. 1977)…

Maria Callas: Vissi D’arte - from Puccini’s Tosca


Dec. 3, 1883 was the birthday of twelve-tone and serialist composer Anton Webern, part of the Second Viennese School and follower of Schoenberg…

Webern has been called the Beckett of music, but I call him the Modernist version of Bach…

Variations for Piano (Op. 27), composed in 1936 by Anton Webern (born 3 December, 1883; died 15 September, 1945), and here performed by Glenn Gould (1932-1982), in the 1974 film about Gould, The Alchemist, by Bruno Monsaingeon and directed by François-Louis Ribadeau


Rainer Maria Rilke (born 4 December, 1875; died 29 December, 1926), pictured above in a photograph made circa 1905

Der Panther
Im Jardin des Plantes, Paris

Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehn der Stäbe so müd geworden, dass er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.

Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte,
der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
in der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.

Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
sich lautlos auf -. Dann geht ein Bild hinein,
geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille -
und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.

The Panther
In the Jardin des Plantes, Paris

His gaze has from the pasing of the bars
grown so tired, that it holds nothing anymore.
It seems to him there are a thousand bars
and behind a thousand bars no world.

The supple pace of powerful soft strides,
turning in the very smallest circle,
is like a dance of strength around a center
in which a great will stands numbed.

Only sometimes the curtain of the pupils
soundlessly slides up —. Then an image enters,
glides through the limbs’ taut stillness,
dives into the heart and dies.

(translated by Edward Snow)

Great broadcast on writers Joanna Macy and Rainer Maria Rilke that’s worth your listen.


Rilke’s “Widening Circles,” read by translator Joanna Macy

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.

I have been circling around God, that primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and still I don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

-From Rilke’s Book of Hours


Christina Rossetti (born 5 December, 1830; died 29 December, 1894), pictured above with her mother in an 1863 photograph by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) (1832-1898)

She Sat and Sang

She sat and sang alway
By the green margin of a stream,
Watching the fishes leap and play
Beneath the glad sunbeam.

I sat and wept alway
Beneath the moon’s most shadowy beam,
Watching the blossoms of the May
Weep leaves into the stream.

I wept for memory;
She sang for hope that is so fair:
My tears were swallowed by the sea;
Her songs died in the air.

(published in 1879)

Afanasy Fet (born 5 December, 1820; died 3 December, 1892), pictured above in an 1882 portrait by Ilya Repin (1844-1930); in the collection of The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

When Life is Torture

Die Gleichmassigkeit des Laufes de Zeit
in allen Kopfen beweust mehr, als irgend
etwas, dass wir Alle in denselben Traum
versenkt sind, ja dass es Ein Wesen ist,
welches ihn traumt

The constancy of time’s flow
in everyone’s mind proves more than anything
that we all are envoloped in the same dream of a dreaming Being.

-Schopenhauer, Parerga, II, 29.

When life is torture, when hope is a traitor,
when in the battle my soul must surrender,
then daily, nightly I lower my eyelids,
and all is revealed in a strange flash of splendor.

Like nights in autumn, life’s darkness seems denser
between the distant and thunderless flashes.
Alone the starlight is endlessly friendly—
the stars that sparkle through golden bright lashes.

And all this lambent abyss is so limpid,
so close is the sky to my spirit’s desire,
that, straight out of time into timlessness peering,
your throne I discern, empyrean fire.

And there the altar of all creation
stands still and smokes in a glory of roses.
Eternity dreams of itself, as the smoke-wreaths
vibrate with the forces and forms it composes.

And all that courses down cosmic channels,
and every ray of the mind or of matter
is but your reflection, empyrean fire,
dreams, only dreams that flit by and scatter.

And in that wind of sidereal fancies
I float like vapor, now dimmer now brighter—
and thanks to my vision, and thanks to oblivion,
with ease I breathe, and life’s burden is lighter.

(translated from the Russian by Vladimir Nabakov, 1943)


Untitled (Nude and Shadow), a 1930 photograph by Alexander Rodchenko (born 5 December, 1891; died 3 December, 1956); in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art


Fyodor Tyutchev (born 5 December, 1803; died 27 July, 1873), pictured above in an 1869 engraving of a portrait by Sergey Levitsky (1819-1898)


Now the ashen shadows mingle,
tints faded, sounds remote.
Life has dwindled to a single
vague reverberating note.
In the dusk I hear the humming
of a moth I cannot see.
Whence is this oppression coming?
I’m in all, and all’s in me.

Gloom so dreamy, so lulling,
flow into my deepest deep,
flow, ambrosial and dulling,
steeping everything in sleep.
With oblivion’s obscuration
fill my senses to the brim,
make me taste obliteration,
in this dimness let me dim.

(translated from the Russian by Vladimir Nabokov, 1941-44)


The Ecstacy of Saint Theresa, carved from marble from 1647 to 1652 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (born 7 December, 1598; died 28 November, 1680) in the church of San Maria della Vittoria, Rome


John Milton, the blind English poet, known for Paradise Lost, the story of the Fall of Man told in blank verse with Satan as the main protagonist, was born December 9, 1608 (d. 1674)…

An Epitaph on the Admirable Dramatic Poet W. Shakespeare

What needs my Shakespeare for his honoured bones
The labour of an age in piled stones?
Or that his hallowed relics should be hid
Under a star-y-pointing pyramid?
Dear son of memory, great heir of fame,
What need’st thou such weak witness of thy name?
Thou in our wonder and astonishment
Hast built thyself a live-long monument.
For whilst to th’ shame of slow-endeavouring art
Thy easy numbers flow, and that each heart
Hath from the leaves of thy unvalued book
Those Delphic lines with deep impression took,
Then thou our fancy of itself bereaving,
Dodt make us marble with too much conceiving;
And so sepulchred in such pomp dost lie,
That kings for such a tomb would wish to die.


A poem about winter by Emily Dickinson (born 10 December, 1830; died 15 May, 1886):

Winter is good — his Hoar Delights
Italic flavor yield —
To Intellects inebriate
With Summer, or the World —

Generic as a Quarry
And hearty — as a Rose —
Invited with Asperity
But welcome when he goes

“Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotion know what it means to want to escape from these.”


L’alouette lulu (The Woodlark), composed by Olivier Messiaen (born 10 December, 1908; died 27 April, 1992), as part of the Catalogue d’oiseaux, first performed in April, 1959; performed here by Martin Zehn in a 2000 recording for Westdeutscher Rundfunk

‘Far up in the sky, in the darkness, the woodlark picks off its notes from the bunch, two by two: chromatic, liquid falling pairs. Hidden in a thicket in a clearing, the nightingale replies. Contrast between the nightingale’s sharp tremolos and this mysterious voice from the heights. The woodlark, invisible, comes nearer, retreats. The trees and fields are black and still. It is midnight.’

—Olivier Messiaen



The leading Shakespearean of his generation turns 50 today: Kenneth Branagh (b. Dec. 10, 1960)…

Lately Branagh seems to have been floundering a bit, artistically - taking non-challenging parts such as Professor Lockhart in an installment of the Harry Potter franchise, playing somewhat boring ‘great men’ (Shackleton, Pres. Roosevelt…), or directing super-hero epics…

Let’s hope he returns to form with age! (In truth, I haven’t seen his version of the Walander crime series - maybe his work there is good…)

Photo: Cute young Branagh by Michael Daks, 1982 - bromide fibre print (NPG, London)


Hector Berlioz, the French composer, was born Dec. 11, 1803 (d. 1869).

Berlioz is best remembered for his colourful, programmatic Symphonie Fantastique, which depicts in music - among other things - a masked ball, a witches’ sabbath and a march to the scaffold. Heady stuff!

Hector Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique, op. 14, 4th movement (March to the Scaffold), London Philharmonic Orchestra, Zubin Mehta, cond.


Russian master narrator and dissident tower of strength, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn: Dec. 11, 1918 - 2008

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962 - the last of his works to be published in the Soviet Union) is a particularly chilling account of the denigration involved in the Soviet system of forced labour in prisons and the way the regime treated dissidents.

Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1970: “for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature”

“For a country to have a great writer is like having a second government. That is why no regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones.” — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Photo of Solzhenitsyn in prison, 1945


Carlos Gardel, the Argentinian King of the Tango - “El Zorzal”: Dec. 11, 1887 (or 1890) - 1935 (plane crash)…

The unerring musicality of Gardel’s baritone voice and the dramatic phrasing of his lyrics made miniature masterpieces of his hundreds of three-minute tango recordings….

Carlos Gardel: Volver


Nelly Sachs (born 10 December, 1891; died 12, May 1970)

Night, night

Night, night,
that you may not shatter in fragments
now when the time sinks with the ravenous suns
of martyrdom
in your sea-covered depths—
the moons of death
drag the falling roof of earth
into the congealed blood of your silence.

Night, night,
once you were the bride of mysteries
adorned with lilies of shadow—
In your dark glass sparkled
the mirage of all who yearn
and love had set its morning rose
to blossom before you—
You were once the oracular mouth
of dream painting and mirrored the beyond

Night, night,
now you are the graveyard
for the terrible shipwreck of a star—
time sinks speechless in you
with its sign:
the falling stone
and the flag of smoke.

(from Und neimand weiss weiter [1957]; translated from the German by Ruth and Matthew Mead)

The sleepwalker

The sleepwalker
circling upon his star
is awakened by
the white feather of morning—
the bloodstain on it reminds him—
startled, he drops
the moon—
the snowberry breaks
against the black agate of night
sullied with dream—

No spotless white on this earth—

(translated from the German by Michael Hamburger)


Naguib Mahfouz (Dec. 11, 1911 - 2006) was an Egyptian Existentialist novelist and Nobel Laureate, “who, through works rich in nuance - now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous - formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind” (The 1988 Nobel Prize motivation)

Mahfouz appears to be the only Literature Laureate ever from the Arab world (unless one counts Camus as an Algerian), and he is certainly not a typical representative of Islamic thinking or literary traditions. Mahfouz spoke in support of Rushdie after Khomeini’s fatwa (and denounced Khomeini as a ‘terrorist’) - as a result he himself was placed on a death list…

“History is full of people who went to prison or were burned at the stake for proclaiming their ideas. Society has always defended itself.” — Naguib Mahfouz


A collection of clips featuring trains and automobiles, taken from various films by Yasujirō Ozu (born 12 December 1903; died 12 December, 1963)


Paul Éluard (pen-name of Eugène Émile Paul Grindel) (born 14 December, 1895; died 18 November, 1952), pictured above in a 1927 photograph by Man Ray (1890-1976)


Elle est debout sur mes paupières
Et ses cheveux sont dans les miens,
Elle a la forme de mes mains,
Elle a la couleur de mes yeux,
Elle s’engloutit dans mon ombre
Comme une pierre sur le ciel.

Elle a toujours les yeux ouverts
Et ne me laisse pas dormir.
Ses rêves en pleine lumière
Font s’évaporer les soleils
Me font rire, pleurer et rire,
Parler sans avoir rien à dire.

Lady Love

She is standing on my lids
And her hair is in my hair
She has the colour of my eye
She has the body of my hand
In my shade she is engulfed
As a stone against the sky

She will never close her eyes
And she does not let me sleep
And her dreams in the bright day
Make the suns evaporate
And me laugh cry and laugh
Speak when I have nothing to say

—translated by Samuel Beckett


The second movement, marked Adagio con molto sentimento d’affetto, of the Sonata for ‘cello and piano in D (Opus 102, No. 2), composed in 1815 by Ludwig van Beethoven (baptized 17 December, 1770; died 26 March, 1827); performed here by Miklós Perényi, ‘cello, and András Schiff, piano, recorded in 2001 and 2002 for a 2004 ECM recording

‘Without any preparation whatever, we pass to the Adagio con molto sentimeno d’affetto, one of Beethoven’s most beautiful creations, the heart and soul of the entire [sonata]. The first notes, grave and deep, whispered “a mezzo voce,” at once impose rapt attention; then gradually this religious song becomes so convincing and moving that the listener is swept away, abandoning himself softly to the indefinable spiritual enjoyment it provides. Passing from the minor to the major, the voices rise to higher regions while a new episode enters in the chorale, an episode all the more welcome in its profound genius because it attains the most delightful effects of expression, and takes us for a moment from the dream into which we are to lapse again when the return is made to the minor key….’

—Eugenio Albini, writing in a 1923 issue of the Revista Musicale Italiana (translated from the Italian by Thomas Scherman)

‘Last year [i.e. 2002], I heard [Miklós Perényi and András Schiff] under one might say dramatic circumstances, just when my back pain took a turn for the worse […] I was filled with pain and apprehension. Heroically, I sat in the concert and heard nothing. I watched the two faces. And then the music began to move inside […] Gradually, the music chased away the pain — no, this is not the way it happened, it was not this romantic, but something changed inside me. I was no longer thinking that there was no room for anything except the pain, that it held sway within to the exclusion of all else, and there appeared some sort of “and yet” — in short, no solution was born, but hope. Hope and resistance.

And Schiff’s face disappeared, and Perényi’s, and Beethoven disappeared, too, and only the musical instruments remained, only the music. And I no longer think that it was anything special to be European, but I did think that after all, to be, even if it hurts, is good, indeed.’

—Péter Esterházy, in the liner notes from the above-referenced 2004 ECM disc


Paul Klee - Dec. 18, 1879 – 1940 - Swiss-born artist whose highly individual style was influenced by movements in art that included expressionism, cubism, surrealism and a heavy dose of orientalism..

Photo of Klee, 1922

Paul Klee: Fish Magic, 1925 - Oil and watercolor varnished (The Philadelphia Museum of Art)


The Rolling Stones: Wild Horses (Title and melody: Keith Richards) - from Sticky Fingers, 1971


Molly’s Song 3 - shades of crimson, for alto flute, viola, steel-string guitar, four radios, and a music box, composed between 1995 and 1996 by Rebecca Saunders (born 19 December, 1967); performed here by musikFabrik, under the direction of Stefan Asbury, for a 2001 Kairos recording

‘…and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and… yes…’

—from Ulysses, by James Joyce



The Madonna of Humility, painted between 1424 and 1425 by Masaccio (born 21 December, 1401; died, fall of 1428); in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC


Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (born 23 December, 1896; died 23 July, 1957), pictured above in St. James’s Park, London, in a photograph likely made in the 1920a

‘With a wildly excited Bendico [the Prince’s dog] bounding ahead of him he went down the short flight of steps into the garden. Enclosed between three walls and a side of the house, its seclusion gave it the air of a cemetery, accentuated by the parallel little mounds bounding the irrigation canals and looking like the graves of very tall, very thin giants. Plants were growing in thick disorder on the reddish clay; flowers sprouted in all directions, and the myrtle hedges seemed put there to prevent movement rather than guide it. At the end a statue of Flora speckled with yellow-black lichen exhibited her centuries-old charms with an air of resignation; on each side were benches holding quilted cushions, also of gray marble; and in a corner the gold of an acacia tree introduced a sudden note of gaiety. Every sod seemed to exude a yearning for beauty soon muted by languor.

But the garden, hemmed and almost squashed between these barriers, was exhaling scents that were cloying, fleshy, and slightly putrid, like the aromatic liquids distilled from the relics of certain saints; the carnations superimposed their pungence on the formal fragrance of roses and the oily emanations of magnolias drooping in corners; and somewhere beneath it all was a faint smell of mint mingling with a nursery whiff of acacia and a jammy one of myrtle; from a grove beyond the wall came an erotic waft of early orange blossom.

It was a garden for the blind: a constant offense to the eyes, a pleasure strong if somewhat crude to the nose. The Paul Neyron roses, whose cuttings he had he had himself bought in Paris, had degenerated; first stimulated and then enfeebled by the strong if languid pull of Sicilian earth, burned by apocalyptic Julies, they had changed into things like flesh- colored cabbages, obscene and distilling a dense almost indecent, scent which no French horticulturist would dared hope for. The Prince put one under his nose and seemed to be sniffing the thigh of a dancer from the Opera. Bendico, to whom it was also proferred, drew back in disgust and hurried off in search of healthier sensations amid dead lizards and manure.

But the heavy scents of the garden brought on a gloomy train of thought for the Prince: “It smells all right here now; but a month ago…”

He remembered the nausea diffused throughout the entire villa by certain sweetish odors before their cause was traced: the corpse of a young soldier of the Fifth regiment of Sharpshooters who had been wounded in a skirmish with the rebels at San Lorenzo and come up there to die, all alone under a lemon tree. They had found him lying face downward on the thick clover, his face covered in blood and vomit, his nails dug into the soil, crawling with ants; a pile of purplish intestines had formed a puddle under his bandoleer. Russo, the agent, had discovered this object, turned it over, covered its face with his red kerchief, thrust the guts back into the gaping stomach with some twigs, and then covered the wound with the blue flaps of the cloak; spitting continuously with disgust, meanwhile, not right on, but very near the body. And all this with meticulous care. “Those swine stink even when they’re dead.” It had been the only epitaph to that derelict death.

After other soldiers, looking bemused, had taken the body away (and yes, dragged it along by the shoulders to the cart so that the puppet’s stuffing fell out again) a De Profundis, for the soul of the unknown youth was added to the evening Rosary; and now that the conscience of the ladies of the house seemed placated, the subject was never mentioned again.

The Prince went and scratched a little lichen off the feet of the Flora and then began to stroll up and down; the lowering sun threw an immense shadow of him over the gravelike flower beds.

No, the dead man had not been mentioned again; and anyway soldiers presumably become soldiers for exactly that, to die in defense of their King. But the image of that gutted corpse often recurred, as if asking to be given peace in the only possible way the Prince could give it: by justifying that last agony on grounds of general necessity. And then, around, would rise other even less attractive ghosts. Dying for somebody or smoothing, that was perfectly normal, of course; but the person dying should know, or at least feel sure, that someone knows for whom or for what he is dying; the disfigured face was asking just that; and that was where the haze began.

“He died for the King, of course, my Dear Fabrizio, obviously,” would have been the answer of his brother-in-law Malvica, had the Prince asked him, and Malvica was always the chosen spokesman of most of their friends. “For the King, who stands for order, continuity, decency, honor, right; for the King, who is sole defender of the Church, sole bulwark against the disposal of property, `The Sect’s ultimate aim’ Fine words, these, pointing to all that lay dearest and deepest in the Prince’s heart. But there was something that didn’t quite ring true, even so. The King, all right. He knew the King well, or rather the one who had just died; the present one was only a seminarian dressed up as a General. And the old King had really not been worth much. “But you’re not reasoning, my dear Fabrizio,” Malvica would reply; “one particular sovereign may not be up to it, yet the idea of monarchy is till the same.”

That was true too; but kings who personify an idea should not, cannot, fall below a certain level for generations; if they do, my dear brother-in-law, the idea suffers too.

He was sitting on a bench, inertly watching the devastation wrought by Bendico in the flower beds; every now and again the dog would turn innocent eyes toward him as if asking for praise at labor done: fourteen carnations broken off, half a hedge torn apart, an irrigation canal blocked. How human! “Good! Bendico, come here.” And the animal hurried up and put its earthly nostrils into his hand, anxious to show that it had forgiven this silly interruption of a fine job of work

—from The Leopard (Il Gattopardo; originally published in 1958; translated from the Italian by Archibald Colqhhoun)


Adam Mickiewicz (born 24 December, 1798; died 26 November, 1855) in a portrait made in 1827 by Walenty Wańkowicz(1799-1842); in the collection of the National Museum, Warsaw

The Romantic

“Silly girl, listen!”
But she doesn’t listen
While the village roofs glisten,
Bright in the sun.
“Silly girl, what do you do there,
As if there were someone to view there,
A face to gaze on and greet there,
A live form warmly to meet there,
When there is no one, none, do you hear?”
But she doesn’t hear.

Like a dead stone
She stands there alone,
Staring ahead of her, peering around
For something that has to be found
Till, suddenly spying it,
She touches it, clutches it,
Laughing and crying.

Is it you, my Johnny, my true love, my dear?
I knew you would never forget me,
Even in death! Come with me, let me
Show you the way now!
Hold your breath, though,
And tiptoe lest stepmother hear!

What can she hear? They have made him
A grave, two years ago laid him
Away with the dead.
Save me, Mother of God! I’m afraid.
But why? Why should I flee you now?

What do I dread?
Not Johnny! My Johnny won’t hurt me.
It is my Johnny! I see you now,
Your eyes, your white shirt.

But it’s pale as linen you are,
Cold as winter you are!
Let my lips take the cold from you,
Kiss the chill of the mould from you.

Dearest love, let me die with you,
In the deep earth lie with you,
For this world is dark and dreary,
I am lonely and weary!

Alone among the unkind ones
Who mock at my vision,
My tears their derision,
Seeing nothing, the blind ones!

Dear God! A cock is crowing,
Whitely glimmers the dawn.
Johnny! Where are you going?
Don’t leave me! I am forlorn!

So, caressing, talking aloud to her
Lover, she stumbles and falls,
And her cry of anguish calls
A pitying crowd to her.

“Cross yourselves! It is, surely,
Her Johnny come back from the grave:
While he lived, he loved her entirely.
May God his soul now save!”

Hearing what they are saying,
I, too, start praying.

“The girl is out of her senses!”
Shouts a man with a learned air,
“My eye and my lenses
Know there’s nothing there.

Ghosts are a myth
Of ale-wife and blacksmith.
Clodhoppers! This is treason
Against King Reason!”

“Yet the girl loves,” I reply diffidently,
“And the people believe reverently:
Faith and love are more discerning
Than lenses or learning.

You know the dead truths, not the living,
The world of things, not the world of loving.
Where does any miracle start?
Cold eye, look in your heart!”

—translated from the Polish by W. H. Auden

Juan Ramón Jiménez, Spanish Nobel Laureate of Literature (1956), was born Dec. 24, 1881 (d. 1958). An advocate of ‘pure poetry’ Jiménez was awarded the Nobel “for his lyrical poetry, which in Spanish language constitutes an example of high spirit and artistical purity”…

Full Moon

The door is open,
the cricket is singing.
Are you going around naked
in the fields?

Like an immortal water,
going in and out of everything.
Are you going around naked
in the air?

The basil is not asleep,
the ant is busy.
Are you going around naked
in the house?

- transl. by Robert Bly (yesterday’s b-boy)


Actress Ava Gardner - Dec. 24, 1922 - 1990…

Foto above :Ava Gardner at 16

Tristan Tzara, Romanian-born French Dada-poet - died this day in 1963, aged 67…


Take a newspaper.
Take some scissors.
Choose from this paper an article of the length you want to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Next carefully cut out each of the words that makes up this article and put them all in a bag.
Shake gently.
Next take out each cutting one after the other.
Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.
The poem will resemble you.
And there you are—an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd. (1920)


Marlene Dietrich (Dec. 27, 1901 - 1992), German actress and singer, who appeared in approx. 50 films - the very best of which may well be Der Blaue Engel, von Sternberg’s 1930 movie of a story by Heinrich Mann…


Charles Olson, Dec. 27, 1910 - 1970 - American poet giant…


The Songs of Maximus: Song 2 by Charles Olson

And I am asked—ask myself (I, too, covered
with the gurry of it) where
shall we go from here, what can we do
when even the public conveyances
how can we go anywhere,
even cross-town
how get out of anywhere (the bodies
all buried
in shallow graves?


Osip Mandelstam (born 15 January, 1891; died 27 December, 1938), pictured above in a 1934 photograph taken by the NKVD upon Mandelstam’s first arrest for publishing poetry critical of Stalin.

‘Only to Read Children’s Books…’

Only to read children’s books,
only to love childish things,
throwing away adult things,
rising from saddest looks.

I am wearied to death with life.
There’s nothing it has that I want,
but I celebrate my naked earth,
there’s no other world to descant.

A plain swing of wood;
the dark, of the high fir-tree,
in the far-off garden, swinging;
remembered by feverish blood.

‘This is What I Most Want…’

This is what I most want
unpursued, alone
to reach beyond the light
that I am furthest from.

And for you to shine there-
no other happiness-
and learn, from starlight,
what its fire might suggest.

A star burns as a star,
light becomes light,
because our murmuring
strengthens us, and warms the night.

And I want to say to you
my little one, whispering,
I can only lift you towards the light
by means of this babbling.

(for his wife, Nadezhda)

(both poems translated from the Russian by A. S. Kline, © A. S. Kline 2000)


Pau (Pablo) Casals (born 29 December, 1876; died 22 October, 1973), performing the Suite No. 1, in G, for unaccompanied ‘cello, by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)


The Burial Service of William Croft (baptized 30 December, 1678; died 14 August, 1727), first published in his Musica Sacra of 1724

‘The whole is set in a severe style of four-part harmony, and its simple expression of the feeling of the words makes it one of the masterpieces of English church music.’

—From the Grove Dictionary of Music (Third Edition, 1953)

In his preface to the Burial Service in the Musica Sacra, Croft explained that the work is greatly indebted to the compositions of Henry Purcell (1659-1695); and, as an homage to the older master, Croft included some music of Purcell, for the sentence beginning, ‘Thou knowest, Lord…’

The Sonata in G for recorder and basso continuo, composed by William Croft (baptized 30 December, 1678; died 14 August, 1727); performed here by Il Giardinetto del Paradiso in the Bleckkirche of Gelsenkirchen, Germany, in 2008

Kaung-Ae Lee, harpsichord & ensemble leader
Annette Padberg, recorder
Gudrun Fuß, viola da gamba
Zorro Zin, theorbo


Landscape at Collioure, painted in 1905 by Henri Matisse (born 31 December, 1869; died 3 November, 1954); in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York


Odetta: Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right - from Odetta Sings Dylan


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