Reading: Female author by Sylvia Plath

An anthology has to have some Plath in it, or so they say. This one convinced me by its metaphorical precision. I would have liked it even if I didn’t know they author was Sylvia Plath (1932-1963).

All day she plays at chess with the bones of the world:
Favored (while suddenly the rains begin
Beyond the window) she lies on cushions curled
And nibbles an occasional bonbon of sin.

Prim, pink-breasted, feminine, she nurses
Chocolate fancies in rose-papered rooms
Where polished highboys whisper creaking curses
And hothouse roses shed immortal blooms.

The garnets on her fingers twinkle quick
And blood reflects across the manuscript;
She muses on the odor, sweet and sick,
Of festering gardenias in a crypt,

And lost in subtle metaphor, retreats
From gray child faces crying in the streets.

Okay, she is “one of the most celebrated and controversial of postwar poets writing in English”  (Joyce Carol Oates) and you can see why. In her poetry, life and death, lightheartedness and suicidal depression are closer together than anywhere. I am reminded of Emily Dickinson’s ‘Sordid excellence’. Playing chess with the bones of the world is something for emperors. I see a Cleopatra, a Katherina the Great. It begins to rain outside, so we’re drawn in, where she lies down and nibbles on a bonbon of sin. The word play bones and bonbon is striking. It’s a nice image of spleen.

The second strophe sounds like Hello Kitty to me. All pink, a little cabinet/drawer (highboy) and a hothouse with roses. But something is not right: We hear ‘creaking curses’.

She is writing passionately: the twinkling of her red jewelry is likened to blood. And she isn’t writing about chocolate or roses. She is inspired by the sweet en sick stench of decaying gardenia flowers in a grave. Muses-sweet and sick-crypt, here the poet enforces the immediate proximity of life and death. Thus she writes, and is – like we, her readers? – lost in subtle metaphor.

Then the perspective changes to the streets with the anonymous (gray) crying child faces. She can’t bear their sight and only in metaphor she finds some relief. But is it a dangerous relief, that only catalyzes her own death drive? She commited suicide at age 30, falling pray to depression. Can subtle metaphors indeed keep depression at bay, at least for some time?

Image Cioma Ebinama


Reading: Female author by Sylvia Plath was originally published on Meandering home


Reading: St. Sava’s Journey by Vasko Popa

The following poem by Serbian poet Vasko Popa (1922-1991) in the translation of Anne Paddington, did impress me.

St. Sava’s Journey
He journeys over the dark land
With his staff he cuts
The dark beyond him into four
He flings thick gloves
Changed into immense cats
At the grey army of mice

Amid the storm he releases his chains
And lashes the ancient oaken land
To the fixed stars
He lashes his wolves’ paws
That no trace of the dark land
Should remain on them
He journeys without a path
And the path is born behind him

St. Sava is a major historical figure of Serbia, a prince and an orthodox monk, the first Archbishop of the autocephalous Serbian Church, the founder of Serbian law, and a diplomat, according to Wikipedia. He is also known as the Enlightener and is venerated as a protector of churches, families, schools and artisans. The journey here begins with a powerful metaphor of that activity: He cuts the dark into four. He fights the grey army of mice by throwing at them what they fear most, who are they? Unbelievers?

He takes his task as enlightener of the Serbs very seriously. He releases his chains amid the storm: Does that refer to the relative independence from Constantinople and the foundation of the autocephalous Serbian Church? The metaphor of lashing the ancient oaken land to the stars is wild. And he not only enlightens the people, he must also obliterate every trace of darkness in himself (on his paws). He is what we would call a trail blazer who creates the path behind him. I’m sure this sounds more impressive in the original Serbian: “Путује без пута / И пут се за њим рађа”.

Reading: St. Sava’s Journey by Vasko Popa was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Meeting by Marina Tsvetsaeva

Marina Tsvetsaeva (1892-1941) I read Meeting in an English translation by Ilya Shambat who prepared it for the 110th anniversary of her birth in 2002.

Evening dimmed, like ourselves charmed
With this first warmth of the spring.
Stirring alive, Arbat was alarmed;
With sympathetic tenderness, the kind
Gale touched us with a tired wing.
In our souls, raised on a fairy tale,
Sorrow quietly cried for past things.

He came – so unexpected! So hurriedly –
He who helped in all things before.
And far off in a line unconsolably
The streetlamps’ radiant dots
Burned though light darkness some more…
All around flowers we bought;
We bought a bouquet.. What for?

Quietly withered away unseen garden
In the sky violet-red.
How to be saved from late trouble?
All returned. For a moment? For long?
We speechlessly looked at sun going to bed,
And Gogol nodded, thoughtful, from
The pedestal like a brother, sad.

These words, to my ears, describe the sentiment of early communist Russia. Like elsewhere in this series, I am not interested in studying the circumstances, that has been done before and one can find a lot of meritable studies on the Internet. All I want is chat about poems, say how the words work on me, an average mind living in 2017. So here I see the word Arbat, the famous Moscovian tourist street I visited once, and I have scens in my head from Master and Margarita. The first stanza expresses this weird mixture of warmth, sympathetic tenderness and alarm, sorrow.

The past: Life under the Romanovs (the fairy tale) and the lifestyle that has gone lost in the new society where everybody is afraid of betrayal. The meeting seems to be between people doing something illicit. He who helped in all things before came hurriedly. I see a man in an overcoat, a critic of the system, stealthily approaching in the light of those streetlamps lighting the darknes. I see the group buying a bouquet of flowers and I’m just as puzzled as I should be: What for?

But the unseen garden in the sky has withered away, darkness spreads. “All returned”: every night everything seems to return to the way it was when the sun goes to bed. Yes, trouble is coming, one of these nights all won’t be returned. One of these nights friends will disappear. Gogol knows, nodding from the pedestal ‘like a brother’. Gogol might have foreseen his own death from severe depression. An internal enemy had forced him to burn some of his manuscripts, while the generation of Tsetsaeva is threatened by the outer enemy of the state – but they understand each other.

Reading: Meeting by Marina Tsvetsaeva was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Verwandlung by Georg Trakl

Today I read a poem by my famous German expressionist, Georg Trakl (1887-1914). I couldn’t find a translation of die Verwandlung online, so I created one myself. There is a website where you can contribute poetry translations, and I added this one. This is what the great German, who died at 27 (sounds familiar) from an overdose of cocaine, looks like through my lense:

Along the gardens, scorched with the crimson colors of the fall:
We see the life of a diligent man.
Who carries the brown grapes in his hands,
While in his look the sullen pain descends.

In the evening: Steps sound on the dark ground
Appearing in the silence of a red beech.
A blue beast wants to bow before death
And an empty garb decays in horror.

In front of a tavern music softly plays,
A drunken face lies buried in the grass.
elderberries, soft flutes and the feminine,
around which the scent of sweet reseda sways.

I quote the German original:

Entlang an Gärten, herbstlich, rotversengt:
Hier zeigt im Stillen sich ein tüchtig Leben.
Des Menschen Hände tragen braune Reben,
Indes der sanfte Schmerz im Blick sich senkt.

Am Abend: Schritte gehn durch schwarzes Land
Erscheinender in roter Buchen Schweigen.
Ein blaues Tier will sich vorm Tod verneigen
Und grauenvoll verfällt ein leer Gewand.

Geruhiges vor einer Schenke spielt,
Ein Antlitz ist berauscht ins Gras gesunken.
Holunderfrüchte, Flöten weich und trunken,
Resedenduft, der Weibliches umspült.

So, what do we have? Autumn gardens with beautiful reddish colors and a diligent (‘tüchtig’) man who picks the newtestamentical ‘brown grapes’. The habit makes this bearable, the human condition is one of soft pain. In the evening, a blue animal (this is a recurring theme in Trakl, and I can’t help thinking of the Blue Man group and Avatar) comes to die. His soul is separated from his body, since what stays behind is an empty robe/garb (leer Gewand). Christian one might say, however: grauenvoll is the decay.

But the people don’t notice: The music that is played in front of the tavern (the autumn is not too cold) is ‘geruhig’. Someone smashed face down in the grass, and even the flutes are inebriated. This is clearly Dionysian and probably influenced by Nietzsche. The smell of reseda/mignonette is something Trakl remembers from Salzburg. The transformation is quite obviously the change from the ‘sanfte Schmerz’ of the habitual, tough life to the bacchanal that is held in denial of death.

I couldn’t get the rhyme to work in English. Perhaps you have a suggestion? Meanwhile, if you like Trakl, I found some other Trakl poems in English translation here.


Reading: Verwandlung by Georg Trakl was originally published on Meandering home


In my mind I have created a garden
populated with insects who don’t bite
and birds who don’t shit on my paper when I write
there is a lily pond, with frogs who know Bach

However, they keep quiet. This is my refuge
where nothing pierces through the surface
every ripple is merely the smile of an admirer
every distortion the promise of a silence

I sit at a table, turning all that I see
into bold and brazen words; forever
in love with language, forever beholden
to her blossoms, that lie rotting at my feet

A GARDEN was originally published on Meandering home

Person of color

A person of color walks into a bar
he gets seated on a prominent stool
and whispers “triple scotch please”
the bartender, who since the unfortunate event
two weeks ago, is a person of color too, says
right away sir and pours his drink and Nina sings
Nina Simone was a person of color, too.

You didn’t see you the gorilla walking in the background, did you?


Person of color was originally published on Meandering home