Columns of Amethyst – Brief poems by T. E. Hulme

Thomas  Ernest Hulme (T. E. Hulme) was born at Gratton Hall, Endon, Staffordshire on the 16th September 1883. He grew up in an affluent household with chauffeurs, gardeners and a big house. He was educated at Newcastle-under-Lyme High School where he was a prominent member, nicknamed “The Whip”, of the school debating society. He studied at St John’s College, Cambridge, where he read mathematics. He founded a group called the Discord Club which indulged in provocative bad behaviour and certain disreputable activities after the Boat Race in 1904 led to him being sent down. After his expulsion a mock funeral was held in his honour, seemingly the longest such funeral ever seen in Cambridge. He later returned to Cambridge to study philosophy, but was again expelled after some explicit love letters to an under aged girl were discovered. He then studied at University College London for a time before travelling through Canada where, as he put it, the first time I ever felt the necessity or inevitableness of verse was in the desire to reproduce the peculiar quality of feeling which is induced by the flat spaces and wide horizons of the virgin prairie of Western Canada. He moved to Brussels where he learned French and German. While there he acquainted himself with the works of the French philosopher, Henri Bergson, which led him to develop the ideas which led to the creation of “Imagism” in poetry.

Hulme was noted for his truculence. Over six feet tall with a ruddy complexion, and what Wyndham Lewis called an “extremely fine head” and “legs like a racing cyclist”, his arguments were often physical as well as philosophical. He once fought Wyndham Lewis over a girl, Kate Lechmere. Although the fight had started indoors, when it moved outside in Soho Square, Hulme hung Lewis upside down on the railings by his trousers. His inclination for physical violence and intemperate arguments was aided by a knuckle-duster made for him by the sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. There are strong suggestions from his  biographers that this knuckle-duster was also used to pleasure his lovers. A non-smoking, teetotalling Tory, he loved sex and boiled sweets, and he preferred suet pudding and treacle to cigarettes and alcohol.

in London, in 1908, he established the Poets’ Club, a group who met once a month to discuss and share poetry and prose, and there he advanced his poetic ideas of image particularly in his celebrated  “Lecture on Modern Poetry”, a manifesto of sorts for the Imagist movement. Eventually he grew tired of the Poets’ Club and established a new group that met at the Cafe Tour d’Eiffel where he attempted to create a new English poetry embracing the attitudes of pre-war England. Ezra Pound was part of this group. There was a fractious relationship between the two men with Pound often claiming credit for Hulme’s contributions to Imagism. His interest in poetry declined by 1910 and this led to the dissolution of the Cafe Tour d’Eiffel group. However, he continued to write literary criticism and journalism.

He became increasingly obsessed with the impending world war and when, on August 4, 1914, it was announced that Great Britain had declared war on Germany, after the German Army invaded Belgium on its way to attack France, Hulme entered military service and joined the Honourable Artillery Company. He was sent to the Western Front. His defence of that war irked Bertrand Russell who called him  ‘an evil man’, following their heated public debate over the War in national newspapers. He wrote of his war experiences in his diary: It’s not the idea of being killed that’s alarming, but the idea of being hit by a jagged piece of steel. You hear the whistle of the shell coming, you crouch down as low as you can and just wait. It doesn’t burst merely with a bang, it has a kind of crash with a snap in it, like the crack of a very large whip. They seem to burst just over your head, you seem to anticipate it killing you in the back, it hits just near you and you get hit on the back with clods of earth and (in my case) spent bits of shell and shrapnel bullets fall all around you. I picked up one bullet almost sizzling in the mud just by my toe… What irritates you is the continuation of the shelling. You seem to feel that 20 minutes is normal, is enough – but when it goes on for over an hour, you get more and more exasperated, feel as if it were ‘unfair’. However, he added a postscript: I’m getting used to this kind of life and as long as I don’t get hurt or it doesn’t rain too much, don’t mind it at all.

He was wounded in April 1915 and sent home. In March 1916 he was commissioned into the Royal Marine Artillery and was sent to the Royal Naval Siege guns on the Belgian coast. Initially he enjoyed a quieter war. However the fighting intensified and, on 28th September 1917, he was killed  while manning a gun near Nieuport in  Flanders when he was blown to bits by a direct hit from a shell. He was thirty-four years old. He is buried in the Koksijde (Coxyde) Military Cemetery, Belgium. His headstone carries the inscription “One of the War Poets”.

 

 

THE POETRY OF T. E. HULME

T. S. Eliot admired Hulme’s small poetic output, about 25 poems totalling some 260 lines. He praised him as the author of two or three of the most beautiful short poems in the language, calling him the forerunner of a new attitude of mind, which should be the twentieth-century mind, if the twentieth century is to have a mind of its own. His poems “Autumn” (see below) and “A City Sunset”, both published in 1909,  have the distinction of being considered the first Imagist poems. His search for a ‘dry, hard, classical verse’ to replace the tired Romanticism of much late Victorian and Georgian poetry, inspired the Imagist movement, supposedly founded by Ezra Pound in 1912. The Complete Poetical Works of T. E. Hulme  first appeared in 1912, at the back of Ezra Pound’s volume Ripostes and contained just five poems, none of them longer than half a page, and the total running to just 33 lines. Yet those five poems ignited the modernist revolution in English poetry, a revolution that embraced brevity, precision of image and language, understatement, free verse and topical everyday experience. 

A philosophical concept of “image” lay at the root of Hulme’s poetic philosophy which incorporated elements of Bergson’s philosophy. Image, he argued, was the untouched material of experience that could be artistically represented in poetry. He was inspired also by Gustave Kahn, a French symbolist poet, who had written about free verse in his book Premiers poemes (1897). Khan’s poems resisted following stringent rules of meter, rhyme, and rhythm; instead, it meandered with the mind of the writer.  Hulme was clear on what he wanted from poetry: I want to speak verse in a plain way as I would of pigs: that is the only honest way. Although Ezra Pound often gets the credit for founding the Imagist movement, (along with English poet Richard Aldington and American poet Hilda Doolittle) and writing the influential ‘A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste’, the ideas had already been formulated by Hulme years earlier. Although Pound and Hulme were associates, Pound later minimised the role Hulme had played in the formation of Imagist practice. However, Pound did acknowledge his significance when he wrote that Hulme set an enviable example to many of his contemporaries who have had less to say. Whatever poetic limitations Hulme’s (and Pound’s) philosophy have, the poetry of T. E. Hulme deserves a modern audience.

 

 

Brief Poems by T. E. Hulme

Autumn

A touch of cold in the Autumn night—
I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded,
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.

***

Above the Dock

Above the quiet dock in mid night,
Tangled in the tall mast’s corded height,
Hangs the moon. What seemed so far away
Is but a child’s balloon, forgotten after play.

***

from Fragments

Old houses were scaffolding once 
and workmen whistling.

***

Three birds flew over the red wall
into the pit of the evening sun.
O daring, dooméd birds that pass from my sight.

***

Raleigh in the dark tower prisoned
Dreamed of the blue sea and beyond
Where in strange tropic paradise
Grew musk…

***

Her skirt lifted as a dark mist
From the columns of amethyst.

***

This to all ladies gay I say.
Away, abhorréd lace, away.

***

The lark crawls on the cloud
Like a flea on a white belly.

***

The mystic sadness of the sight
Of a far town seen in the night.

***

Sounds fluttered, 
like bats in the dusk.

***

The flounced edge of skirt, 
recoiling like waves off a cliff.

***

Down the long desolate street of stars.

***

The bloom of the grape has gone.

***

When she speaks, almost her breasts touch me.
Backward leans her head.

 

 

LINKS

Extracts from T. E. Hulme: Selected Writings.

The Poetry Foundation Page on T. E. Hulme.

Ten short poems by T. E. Hulme.

Five fascinating facts about T. E. Hulme.

T. E. Hulme: The First Modern Poet?

An essay by Alan Jenkins on the TLS blog.

Celery Stalks – Brief poems by Anakreon

Anakreon, sometimes written Anacreon, (/əˈnækriən/; Greek: Ἀνακρέων ὁ Τήϊος; c. 582 – c. 485 BC) was a Greek lyric poet, born at Teos in Ionia, now Sighalik in Turkey, around 582 B. C. After the capture of Sardis by the Persians in 541 B.C., he fled to Abdera in Thrace. Later the Tyrant of Samos, Polykrates,  invited him to teach his son music and poetry and he became a poetic luminary of the court of Samos. In return for his patronage and protection, Anakreon wrote many complimentary odes about the tyrant. According to John Addison, writing in 1735, Anakreon once received a treasure of five gold talents from Polykrates, and couldn’t sleep for two nights in a row. He then returned it to his patron, saying: “However considerable the sum might be, it’s not an equal price for the trouble of keeping it“.

After the murder of Polykrates in 522 B.C., Anakreon  was invited to Athens by Hipparchus, brother of the reigning Athenian tyrant Hippias, who sent a fifty oared galley to convey him over the Ægean. There he became acquainted with the poet Simonides, and other members of the brilliant circle which had gathered around Hipparchus. After the assassination of Hipparchus in 514 B.C. he moved to Thessaly for a short period, but soon he returned to Athens (by that stage a democracy) where he was apparently forgiven his earlier friendships with the tyrants. He finally settled in Abdera, and died in the eighty-fifth year of his age, choked (according to an anecdote of Pliny the Elder) by a grape-stone which he swallowed in a draught of new wine.

For many years , Anakreon was popular in Athens, where his statue was to be seen on the Acropolis, alongside that of his friend Xanthippus, the father of Pericles. According to Pausanias, that statue depicts him as drunk. On several coins from Teos he is represented holding a lyre in his hand, sometimes sitting, sometimes standing. A marble statue found in 1835 in the Sabine district, and now in the Galleria Borghese, is said to represent Anakreon.

 

 

THE POETRY OF ANAKREON

Anakreon wrote all of his poetry in the ancient Ionic dialect. Like all early lyric poetry, it was composed to be sung or recited to the accompaniment of music, usually the lyre. Although he wrote six books, what survives today are merely lyric fragments. As Guy Davenport puts it succinctly, “These fragments are all that survive of a poet whose fame and stature arise from a collection of poems he did not write.”  The poet who inspired Belleau, Ronsard, Herrick, Ben Johnson, Thomas Moore and many others was not the Anakreon whose poems were first printed in Paris in 1554. It took until the nineteenth century to discover that this “poet” was  an imitation, probably prepared in Alexandria by Aristarchus in the second century, by a group of unknown poets in homage to their inspiration. These sixty poems now known as The Anacreonata were written as a tribute and not as a deception, although they are thought to exaggerate the frivolity and exuberant eroticism of his work. “What we have of the real Anakreon,” as Davenport puts it, “is precious little, and that is in fragments: six ruins of lyrics on papyrus that has been visited by the rat and the maggot, 155 brief quotations from other writers, mainly grammarians, and one line, partly conjectural, written on a vase painting.

Anakreon’s poetry concerned such themes as love, infatuation, unhappiness, wine, celebrations, festivals and, of course, celery. According to Willis Barnstone, the most remarkable feature of the poetry is “its varying tone of playfulness, sophistication, detachment or irony.” Despite his reputed fondness for wine, he disliked vulgarity and excess, preferring to write in a formal and elegant manner, with an ironic enjoyment of life and language.

 

TRANSLATING THE FRAGMENTS OF ANAKREON

I have used two sets of translations below. Willis Barnstone in his Greek Lyric Poetry (in Modern English Translation) states “My intention has been to use a contemporary idiom, generally chaste, but colloquial as the occasion suggests.” While the poems of Anakreon are without titles, he offers the following justification for their inclusion:  All the poems included here have titles, yet few of these are traditional in the Greek. Why use titles then in English translations? …The titles here are mainly informational, based on contextual information or on common ancient allusions with which a modern reader may be unfamiliar. Hopefully, titles will serve to replace lengthy footnotes and make poems more complete.”  Equally colloquial, although in a more idiomatic and more alliterative manner, are the translations of Guy Davenport who, in Anakreon: Complete Poems offers everything (fragmentary phrases included) that has survived.  Initially I have paired the translations but I also include a few extra from Davenport for which there are no Barnstone equivalents. Also, below the original Greek of the celebrated epitaph on Timocritus, and alongside the work of Barnstone and Davenport, I have added two translations, both attributed to Francis Fawkes, and some further translations of this brief poem.

Aside from the epitaph on Timocritus, I have not been able to source the originals on-line and append them to the translations as I have managed in my posts on Archilochus, Sappho, Hadrian, Catullus, Martial, Thomas Campion’s Latin poems and John Owen, the Welsh poet who wrote in Latin. If you can help me add these, I can be contacted through the Contact page or through the Comments box below.

 

 

Brief Poems by Anakreon

 

TRANSLATIONS BY WILLIS BARNSTONE AND GUY DAVENPORT

DICE

The dice of love are
shouting and madness.

W. B.

___

Toss knucklebones with Eros;
Madness and confusion every throw.

G. D

***

KNOCKOUT

Eros, the blacksmith of love,
smashed me with a giant hammer
and doused me in the cold river.

W B

___

Eros the blacksmith
Hammers me again,
Striking while I’m hot,
And thrusts me sizzling
In the ice-cold stream.

G. D.

***

THE PLUNGE

Lord! I clamber up the white cliff
and dive into the steaming wave,
O dead drunk with love.

W. B.

___

I climb the white cliff again
To throw myself into the grey sea,
Drunk with love again.

G. D.

***

ON A CONSERVATIVE LOVER

I love and yet do not love.
I am mad yet not quite mad.

W. B.

___

I am perhaps in love
Again, perhaps not,
And crazy to boot.
No, not crazy.

G. D

***

ON STREETWALKERS

Although we call these women loose,
they tighten their thighs around thighs.

W. B.

___

Twining thigh with thigh.

G. D.

***

A WAY TO THE HEART

Come swiftly
and rub aromatic myrrh on her breasts;
the hollow cave around her heart.

W. B.

___

Can myrrh rubbed on a chest
Sweeten the great round heart inside.

G. D

***

DECEMBER

We go through Poseidon’s month.
Ponderous clouds sag with water
and furious storms break out
collapsing the rain earthward.

W. B.

___

In the month of Posideion,
When the clouds are fat with rain,
Wild storms bring us Zeus.

G. D.

***

VACILLATION

The bird flashes back and forth
between the black leaves of laurel trees
and the greenness of the olive grove.

W. B.

___

(Spring wind) shakes
The darkleaved laurel and green olive tree.

G. D

***

ENCOUNTER

I looked at her and took off
like a frightened cuckoo bird.

W. B.

___

Like the cuckoo,
I made myself scarce
When she was about.

G. D.

***

PREPARATION

Let us hang garlands of celery
across our foreheads
and call a festival to Dionysos.

W.B.

___

Garlands of celery around our brows,
We’re off to celebrate the Dionysia.

G. D.

 

 

Καρτερὸς ἐν πολέμοις Τιμόκριτος, οὗ τόδε σᾶμα·
  Ἄρης δ᾽ οὐκ ἀγαθῶν φείδεται, ἀλλὰ κακῶν.

 

TRANSLATIONS OF THE EPITAPH ON TIMOCRATUS

TIMOCRATUS adorns this humble grave —
Mars spares the coward, but destroys the brave.

The tomb of great Timocritus behold!
Mars spares the base, but slays the brave and bold.

Both are attributed to Francis Fawkes (1720-1777)

___

This Tomb the brave Timocritus contains;
Mars’ Envy only spares
The trembling Coward whom his Sword disdains,
Not him who nobly dares

Joseph Addison (1672-1719)

___

Here sleeps the valiant Timocritus free from life’s sorrows and cares;
Ares spares not the brave, only the coward he spares.

Judson France Davidson

___

This is the tomb of Timocritus, a stanch man in the wars; for it is the craven, not the brave, that are spared by Ares.

J. M. Edmonds

___

Of brave Timocritus this is the grave:
The War-God spares the coward, not the brave.

C. M. Bowra

___

Good soldier was Timokritos, whose grave
This is. War spares the coward, not the brave.

Andrew Robert Burn

___

Epitaph on Timokritos
A valiant warrior moulders in this grave,
Ares spares the cowards, not the brave.
Raymond Oliver
____

ON A HOPLITE

Here, the tomb of Timokrotos, a hero in the wars.
It is the coward whom Ares spares – not the brave.

Willis Barnstone

___

He was a soldier in the wars
Timokritos. This is his grave.
Sometimes unkind Ares kills
Not the cowards but the brave.

Guy Davenport

 

 

SOME TRANSLATIONS BY GUY DAVENPORT

Sweetly singing
Swiftly serving
Swallow.

***

The talents that tantalised
Talented Tantalos (tantalize me)

***

Show me the way to go home.
I’m drunk and I need to go to bed.

***

Lovely, too lovely,
And too many love you.

 

 

LINKS

The Wikipedia entry on Anacreon.

The Britannica entry on Anacreon.

Anakreon: Complete Poems by Guy Davenport

The Works of Anacreon, Sappho, Bion. Moschus and Musaeus; Translated by Francis Fawkes.

The Works of Anacreon Translated into English Verse by Joseph Addison.

 

Toadstools – Brief Poems by Fred Chappell

Fred Chappell (born May 28, 1936 on a farm near Canton, North Carolina) is a poet, novelist and critic. He taught at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, where he was an English professor, for over 40 years. While working there he helped establish the MFA in writing program and received the O. Max Gardner Award for teaching. He was the Poet Laureate of North Carolina from 1997 to 2004. Retired from teaching, but still continuing to write, he now lives with his wife, Susan, in North Carolina.

Fred Chappell is a versatile southern man of letters who has written more nearly thirty books in a variety of genres, including at least 15 books of poetry, eight novels, and several volumes of short stories and criticism. According to The Los Angeles Times, “Not since James Agee and Robert Penn Warren has a southern writer displayed such masterful versatility.”  He has won numerous poetry awards including the Roanoke-Chowan Poetry Cup which he won three times beginning in 1971, the Bollingen Prize, which he shared with John Ashbery in 1985, the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry in 1996, and the T. S. Eliot Prize. 

The Académie Française awarded his 1968 novel, Dagon, the Prix de Meilleur des Lettres Etrangers. Although initially celebrated for his prose, Chappell’s poetry has gained a steady reputation and a loyal readership. Of his move from prose to poetry, he had this to say: Now for the first time I could begin to think directly about the most important intellectual and artistic endeavor in the world: the composition of poetry.” His most ambitious work is Midquest (1981),a four-volume poetic autobiography,” as the poet himself described it. He has also published numerous collections of poetry since Midquest, including Spring Garden: New and Selected Poems (1995), Family Gathering (2000), Backsass (2004), and Shadowbox (2009). C (1993) marked a change of approach, containing 100 poems that are briefer, more humorous and more accessible than his previous poems. Although the C of the title refers to the Roman numeral 100, it is also the first letter of his surname and, as he once noted, also represents the imperative mode of the verb “to see.” Fred Chappell continues to write poetry which he calls “the noblest secular endeavour that the human mind undertakes.”

 

C

In an earlier post, Salt – Brief Poems by J. V. Cunningham,  I describe how, in the 1970’s,  I first encountered A Century of Epigrams.  It was only recently I came across the poetry of Fred Chappell and his slim volume C which also contains a century of epigrams. I managed to source a copy of the book from an English retailer, Bookbarn International. I was not disappointed. Michael McFee contrasts the epigrams of Cunningham and Chappell: “Cunningham’s epigrams may be more classically classical than Chappell’s, more intensely chiseled, but they also seem less human somehow, less accessible and fun to read.” Here I disagree. While Cunningham’s epigrams may be more classical, they are no less human, no less accessible and no less “fun to read.” Their “wit” may be more traditional, but they are humorous in a different manner. And while they may lack the self-deprecatory tone of Chappell’s epigrams, they have a deeper sense of rhyme, rhythm and classical proportions. McFee is right to invoke the spirit of Ogden Nash (see my post Squibs – Brief Poems by Ogden Nash) and to call Chappell a “subversive formalist” with a sense of mischievousness. And while I prefer Cunningham’s rigour and Nash’s fluidity, I do enjoy the loose, unbuttoned, satiric and demotic style Fred Chappell has mastered. I hope you do too.

TRANSLATIONS

As Michael McFee noted of C, “Of the hundred epigrams included, twenty-eight of them – over a quarter of the total poems – are translations or versions of epigrams written by other poets at other times.” When it comes to translating classical (and modern) epigrams, I prefer the work of Chappell to Cunningham. The range is broader and the style looser and more suited to the poets chosen. I have provided a brief sample below to give a flavour of the Fred Chappell art of translation. Chappell, himself, is modest when it comes to his abilities with the classical poets: “I’m from a generation that was cheated of a classical education. If you want to learn those languages, you have to start young, at six or seven. I’ve had Latin halfway and like to refresh myself from time to time. I’ve never had much Greek. The Greek translations I’ve done have been partially faked.”  Whatever about their accuracy, their humour, their brevity and their contemporary references ensure that they will continue to attract readers to a poet who has modelled his epigrammatic style on the influence of a Latin model. Martial (whose work is dealt with in another post,  Bedside Lamps – Brief Poems by Martial) is invoked in the initial Proem and remains a ghostly presence in this intriguing collection.

Brief Poems by Fred Chappell

EPIGRAMS

CHIPMUNK

Don’t blink, or
I’m gone,
Slow thinker.

***

EPITAPH: THE POET

I never truckled.
I never pandered.
I was born
To be remaindered.

***

EPITAPH: THE PLAYBOY

It was wine and women
That did me in.
If I get a chance
They’ll do it again.

***

UPON A CONFESSIONAL POET

You’ve shown us all in stark undress
The sins you needed to confess.
If my peccadilloes were so small
I never would undress at all.

***

TOADSTOOL

He’s the oddest fellow
Ever was made,
Lifting his white umbrella
To ward off shade.

***

SEX MANUAL

We’ve followed instructions to the letter,
Pausing at diagram 82.
“Aren’t we there yet?” one of us queries.
But in this position I can’t tell who.

***

COMING HOME

Even the sunlight is a smell you remembered.

(This poem is also included on the Monostich post)

***

LITERARY CRITIC

Blossom’s footnotes never shirk
The task of touting his own work.

***

LITERARY CRITIC

Peter Puffer piped a pack of poets into
Undeservedly prominent public view:
Then, just to prove the power of his pen,
Provokingly piped them pouting out again.

***

OVERHEARD IN THE TEAROOM

“Marianne, my dear,
I’ll say this for Ruth:
Though she never tells the truth
Her lies are quite sincere.”

***

GRACE BEFORE MEAT

Bless our corn pones, Lord. But let us dream
They might be black currant muffins with strawberry jam and clotted double Devon cream.

***

UPON AN AMOROUS OLD COUPLE

This coltish April weather
Has caused them to aspire
To rub dry sticks together
In hopes that they’ll catch fire.

***

THE EPIGRAMMATIST

Mankind perishes. The world goes dark.
He racks his brains for a tart remark.

***

From C, by Fred Chappell, copyright 1993 by Fred Chappell, published by Louisiana State University Press.

 

 

TRANSLATIONS

EPITAPH: JUSTICE

The poet Hipponax lies here.
In justice, this is only fair.
His lines were never dark or deep.
Now he enjoys (like his readers) sleep.

from the Greek of Theocritus

***

AGRICULTURE

You’ve planted seven wealthy husbands
While the bodies were still warm.
You own, Chloë, what I’d call
A profit making farm.

from the Latin of Martial

(Further translations of the Latin poet are available on the Martial post)

***

FOR THE TOMB OF THE LITTLE DOG ZABOT

Your house was small, your body but a puplet;
A shoebox was your grave, your epitaph this couplet.

from the Italian of Petrarch

***

MORNING LIGHT

Immensity
Illumes me.

from the Italian of Giusseppe Ungaretti

***

THE SWALLOWS

in nifty capitals of black satin
they’re typing out the aubade
daybreak just dictated

from the Italian of “Farfa”

***

From C, by Fred Chappell, copyright 1993 by Fred Chappell, published by Louisiana State University Press.

 

 

LINKS

The Poetry Foundation page for Fred Chappell.

“The Epigrammatical Fred Chappell” by Michael McFee; an article in the Southern Literary Journal.

C is published by the LSU Press.

C is available to buy on the amazon.co.uk  site.

C is available to buy on the amazon.com site.

An interview with Fred Chappell by Okla Elliott.

An interview with Fred Chappell by William Walsh

Vintage Wine – Brief poems by Thomas Campion

Thomas Campion (1567-1620) was born in London in 1567 “upon Ash Wednesday, and christened at St. Andrews Church in Holbourne.” His father John was a clerk of the Court of Chancery and a vestryman of St. Andrew’s. He died in 1576 and the sum of £50 was spent on his funeral. The following year Thomas’s mother, Lucy, remarried. In 1580 she, too, died. Orphaned at the age of fourteen, he was sent by his stepfather to Peterhouse as a “gentleman pensioner” and at seventeen he left Cambridge University without taking a degree. A year later he entered Gray’s Inn; it is presumed to follow in his father’s profession. However, there is no evidence of his ever practising law. (His distaste for the profession is evident in his Latin epigrams.)  At Gray’s Inn he made many artistic friends and performed in plays and masques.

By 1597 Campion had associated with the chief players in the development of the English lute song. He contributed a dedicatory poem to John Dowland’s  First Book of Songs or AyresThis was Dowland’s first collection and also the first English publication in a new genre. Along with  Dowland (ca. 1563-1626), Campion was one of the most prolific composers of English lute songs, or Ayres. Unlike most composers of songs, he wrote all of the poems he set to music himself. In 1601 he was significantly involved in the publication of Philip Rosseter’s Book of Ayres. By 1604 Rosseter was the king’s lutenist and remained active in court entertainment throughout most of King James’s reign. He was Campion’s best friend. Their book was presented for publication by Rosseter, and it was he who wrote the dedication to Campion’s friend and supporter Sir Thomas Monson, but Campion contributed the first twenty-one songs and is almost certainly the author of the brief but groundbreaking treatise on song presented as an address “To the Reader.”

Further biographical details are scant. On 10 February 1605, Thomas Campion received his medical degree from the University of Caen. While in France, he may have participated in the siege of Rouen with Lord Essex in 1591. He returned to London where he began practicing as a doctor at the age of forty. The most dramatic event of his life was his involvement in the death in the Tower of London of Sir Thomas Overbury. Campion confessed to having received the sum of £1,400 as an intermediary for his patron, Sir Thomas Monson. However, it was accepted that he was unaware “for what consideration it was paid” and he was exonerated.

Campion is thought to have lived in London until his death, at the age of fifty-three, on March 1st, 1620.  He is reputed to have been treating the sick during the outbreak of the plague. He was apparently unmarried and had no children. He was buried the same day at St Dunstan-in-the-West in Fleet Street. His will, made on the day of his death, bequeathed “all that he had” to his friend, the lutenist, Philip Rosseter, with whom he had produced his first Booke Of Ayres in 1601. He “wished that his estate had bin farr more.” It amounted to £22.

 

THOMAS CAMPION ON PROSODY AND RHYME

There are constant battles among poets and critics over what is proper and poetic in matters of prosody. An intriguing recent book by James Matthew Wilson,  The Fortunes of Poetry in an Age of Unmaking, looks at such matters in contemporary American poetry. In Campion’s time the question of prosody and rhyme became pertinent. Various Elizabethan writers had addressed the problem – Ascham, Gascoigne, Harvey, Spenser, Sidney and, in 1602, Thomas Campion in his Observations in the Art of English Poesiewherein it is demonstratively prooved, and by example confirmed, that the English toong will receive eight severall kind of numbers, proper to it selfe, which are all in this booke set forth, and were never before this time by any man attempted.” While others had shown that English poetry could stand on its own feet (pardon the pun) Campion sought to revive “classical numbers” or a quantitative versification where the syllables are arranged according to their length and duration rather than according to accent or stress, as was common in the poetry of his contemporaries. The practice of writing in Latin, as well as his musical interests, had, no doubt, coloured his views of how to arrange his words metrically.

His views on rhyme were also controversial at the time, although John Milton, at a later time, would endorse them in his own fashion, and they would meet with much greater agreement today. Campion believed rhyme to be a rhetorical figure which ought “sparingly to be used, lest it should offend the ear with tedious affectation.” He argued that the search for rhyming words “enforceth a man oftentimes to abjure his matter and extend a short conceit beyond all bounds of art.” These views, allied to his attempts to blend English poetry with classical metrics, led Samuel Daniel, in 1603, to compose his reply, A Defence of Rhyme.

I side with Daniel.

 

THE LATIN EPIGRAMS OF THOMAS CAMPION

In common wth many poets of his age, (see my post on the brief poems of John Owen) Campion wrote Latin epigrams. These enjoyed an enormous vogue in Elizabethan times. He wrote almost 500 of the brief poems. His 1595 collection, Poemata,  contained 129 epigrams. A second edition of his poetry in 1619 consisted of two books of epigrams: the first book consisted of 225 new epigrams; the second book consisted of 228 epigrams of which almost a hundred were reprinted, some with revision, from the earlier book. (The 1595 edition was printed by Richard Field of Stratford-on-Avon, who also printed Shakespeare’s Lucrece and Venus and Adonis, the 1619 one by E. Griffin.)

Campion defined the epigram in the preface to his A Book of Ayres (1601): What Epigrams are in Poetrie, the same are Ayres in musicke, then in their chiefe perfection when they are short and well seasoned.  The seasoning he mentions in one epigram (see Epigram 1.34 below) is pepper. The influence of Catullus and Martial is acknowledged. Their subject matter includes lusus…mollis…iocos…levis (pleasant mockery, lighthearted joking). Campion’s approach is light-hearted as he explains, I haur written diuers light Poemes in this kinde which, for the better satisfaction of the reader I thought conuenient here in way of example to publish. They were popular in his day. In 1598 Francis Meres placed him among those who have attained good report and honourable advancement in the Latin empyre.  His friend, Charles Fitzgeffrey, considered him second only to Sir Thomas More as an English writer of Latin epigrams. However, in 1595, William Covell, while praising the epigrams, disliked their extreme licentiousness.

They are still worth reading today.

 

TRANSLATING THE EPIGRAMS OF THOMAS CAMPION

I have not been able to discover many translations of the epigrams so I took the liberty of translating them myself. I took other liberties too. These translations differ in three major respects from the originals.

Metrics: While Campion used classical metrics in his Latin poems, I have confined myself to the classic English couplet using iambic pentameters.

Rhyme: While Campion disdained rhyme, as mentioned above, I have used it throughout these translations.

Proper nouns: While Campion uses common Roman names, I have used contemporary Christian names.

Forgive me.

Brief Poems by Thomas Campion

TRANSLATIONS BY CONOR KELLY

From The First Book of Thomas Campion’s Epigrams

8  IN VILLUM 

Discursus cur te bibulum iam musaque fallit?
Humectas mentis lampada, Ville, nimis.

To Vincent

Good talk, good verse elude you when you’re pissed.
And why? It is your lightning mind you’ve dissed.

***

10. IN MATHONEM

Ebrius uxorem duxit Matho, sobrius horret,
Eui nunc in sola est ebrietate salus.

About Matthew

When he was drunk, Matthew married with speed.
Sober, he saw his wife; now drink’s his need.

***

40. DE HENRICO 4 FRANCORUM REGE 

Henricum gladio qui non occidere posset,
Cultello potuit: parva timere bonum est.

On Henry IV, King of France

He who could not kill the king with a sword
Used a dagger. Small things have their own reward.

(Ravaillac assassinated Henri IV in 1610. Campion writes about this event at greater length at de Pulverea Coniuratione.)

***

51. IN TABACCAM 

Cum cerebro inducat fumo hausta tabacca stuporem,
Nonne putem stupidos quos vapor iste capit?

On Marijuana

Since dope induces stupor in the brain
Can I not call these dopeheads dumb, insane?

***

63. AD LAURAM 

Egregie canis, in solis sed, Laura, tenebris;
Nil bene fortassis non facis in tenebris.

To Laura

You sing with beauty, Laura, in the dark.
You have another aura in the dark.

***

74. DE SENECTUTE 

Est instar vini generosi docta senectus;
Quo magis annosa est, acrior esse solet.

On Old Age

Old age is like those famous vintage wines
that turn to Vinegar. Age has its signs.

***

113. AD PONTICUM 

Suspecto quid fure canes cum, Pontice, latrent
Dixissent melius, si potuere loqui?

To Pat

Dogs bark, Pat, when they think someone’s a thief.
What could they say of you, if they could speak?

***

139. IN POETASTROS 

Sulphure vicenda est prurigo poetica nullo;
Sed neque Mercurio, quem fugat illa deum.

On an Amateur Poet

Neither sulphur nor mercury can cure
Your wild poetic itch. It is impure.

(Mercury was already employed as a supposed remedy for syphilis, especially by Paracelsus and his followers.)

***

149. AD ARETHUSAM

Cernitur in nivea cito, si fit, sindone labes;
Formosis eadem lex, Arethusa, datur.

To Arianna

A stain on fine white linen is quite plain.
The same is true of women. Be not vain.

***

159. AD EURUM

Qui compotorem sibimet proponit amicum,
Compos propositi non erit, Eure, sui.

To Eugene

To think the man you drink with is a friend,
Eugene, is folly you should apprehend.

***

183. IN GAURUM

Perpetuo loqueris, nec desinis; idque molestum
Omnibus est, et scis; sed tibi, Gaure, places.

To Gar

You’re always talking, Gar, you never stop.
It bothers others, but it is your prop.

***

206. IN HEBRAM

Difficilis non est, nec amantem respuit unum;
Unum vero unum vix amat Hebra diem.

About Hermione

She never turns a single man away.
She loves them all, but hardly for a day.

***

209. AD PHILOCHERMUM

Quaeris tu quare tibi musica nulla placeret;
Quaero ego, cur nulli tu, Philocherme, places?

To Phil

You wonder why no music pleases you.
Do you please someone, Phil? I wonder who.

***

221. AD MARIANUM 

Prudens pharmacopola saepe vendit
Quid pro quo, Mariane, quod reprendis. 
Hoc tu sed facis, oenopola, semper.

To a Patient

A careful chemist sometimes cures your ills,
But a wine-merchant’s produce beats all pills.

 

From The Second Book of Thomas Campion’s Epigrams

65A. IN COTTUS

Ille miser Cottus quid agit nisi cassa canendo
Ut placeat nulli dum placet ipse sibi?

About Conor

What can poor Conor do but sing in vain.
Who is there, but himself, to entertain?

***

82. AD CASPIAM

Nescio quid aure dum susurras, Caspia,
Latus sinistrum intabuit totum mihi.

To Cameron

What you whisper in my ear is so dumb
the left side of my body has grown numb.

***

129. IN GELLAM

Tactam te ad vivum sed nunquam, Galla, fateris,
Vah, quota pars carnis mortua, Galla, tuae est!

About Julie

Julie, you claim that you’ve never been laid.
Part of your body has thereby decayed.

***

180. IN MARCELLINAM

Larvas Marcellina horret, lemuresque, sed illa
Nil timet in tenebris si comitata viro est.

About Marcella

Marcella fears ghosts, goblins and the night;
but when she’s with a man, she’s not uptight.

***

208. IN LIBRARIOS

Impressionum plurium librum laudat
Librarius; scortum nec non minus leno.

On Booksellers

Booksellers praise books for new editions
as pimps praise whores for new positions.

***

220. IN LIGONEM

Funerea vix conspicimus sine veste Ligonem:
An quia tam crebri funeris author erat?

About Lawrence

Lawrence, the doctor, often wears black clothes.
Is it because his patients now repose?

 

OTHER TRANSLATIONS BY STEPHEN RATCLIFFE

From The First Book of Thomas Campion’s Epigrams

34. DE EPIGRAMMATE

Sicut ex acre piper mordax epigramma palato
Non omni gratum est: utile nemo negat.

Concerning the epigram

Like sharp pepper, the epigram refuses
To please all palates: none deny its uses.

***

58. IN NERVAM

Dissecto Nervae capite, haud (chirurge) cerebrum
Conspicis; eia, alibi quaere; ubi? Ventriculo.

On Nerve

Nerve’s head dissected (Surgeon) seems to lack
A brain; so look again; where? his stomach.

***

95. IN MORACHUM

Mors nox perpetua est; mori proinde
Non suadet sibi nyctalops Morachus,
In solis titubans ne eat tenebris.

On Morachus

Death is perpetual night; half blind
Morachus is thus disinclined
To die, in lonely shadows twined.

(The first words of this epigram of course echo Catullus v.6, nox est perpetua una dormienda. The first song in A Booke of Ayres (1601) is an expanded translation of this poem.)

***
97. DE FRANISCO DRACO

Nomine Dracus erat signatus ut incolat undas;
Dracum namque anatem lingua Britanna vocat.

Concerning Francis Drake

By name inhabitant of oceans, Drake:
Because a duck in English is a drake.

***

131. AD CHLOEN

Mortales tua forma quod misellos
Multos illaqueet, Chloe, superbis:
Hoc sed nomine carnifex triumphet.

To Chloe

Chloe, for your beauty’s pride
Many wretched men have died;
Hangman be now satisfied.

***

From The Second Book of Thomas Campion’s Epigrams

18. TO MELLEA

Anxia dum natura nimis tibi, Mellea, formam
Finxit, fidem oblita est dare.

On Mella

While nature – anxious – made Mella too
Beautiful, She forgot to make her true.

***

(These translations – first published in Poetry magazine May 1977)

 

ANOTHER TRANSLATION BY RAYMOND OLIVER

From The Second Book of Thomas Campion’s Epigrams

93. IN BRETONEM

Carmine defunctum, Breto, caute inducis Amorem;
Nam numeris nunquam viveret ille tuis.

On (Nicholas) Breton

You truly write of Love “killed by a song”.
(Love, in your verse, could not have lived for long.)

 

 

LINKS

Thomas Campion’s Latin Poetry.

The First Book of Thomas Campion’s Epigrams (Latin).

The First Book of Thomas Campion’s Epigrams (English Translations).

The Second Book of Thomas Campion’s Epigrams (Latin).

The Second Book of Thomas Campion’s Epigrams (English Translations).

A large selection of Thomas Campion’s poems, masques and criticism.

Extracts from The Latin Poetry of English Poets by J. W. Binns.

The Poetry Foundation page on Thomas Campion.

 

Dangerous Pavements – Irish Haiku

Irish haiku.  It may sound like an oxymoron but there is no more contradiction in the term than there is in American haiku. And, as I have discussed in various posts, there is an array of poems and poets that can be classed under that rubic from Richard Wright, who wrote thousands of these short poems in the last years of his life, through Allen Ginsberg, who created a form of haiku know as American Sentences, to Jack Kerouac,  who created his own form of American haiku which he called pops. The Irish haiku developed later and tends to be more restrained. The prominence of haiku in Irish poetry today is due, in large measure to the Russian-born Anatoly Kudryavitsky, editor of Shamrock Haiku Journal and compiler of the haiku in the classic anthology, Bamboo Dreams (Doghouse Books, 2012). In his introduction he asks and answers  the question: should we speak of an Irish haiku tradition? One can argue that the concerns of haiku writers and the poetic devices they choose to use are similar all over the world, and have been since the times of Basho. This doesn’t prevent us from customarily defining such schools of haiku writing as Japanese, American, Australian, English, French, or – dare we say it? – Celtic. And it isn’t the local subject but rather the poetic traditions of the locality that matter. This determines the way the poets work with the material, not to mention that the material itself may vary a lot, as the nature can be strikingly different in various parts of the world. Despite the variety of English-language haiku being written in Ireland, the Irish haiku movement is much closer to the Celtic stream than to the English one, or simply should be regarded as a part of the former. E.g. the Irish haijin often use indirect metaphors, which is rather typical of Celtic haiku – and of Japanese, of course. Seamus Heaney, who has probably written the classic Irish haiku (see below) stated in The Guardian of 24 November 2007 that since the times of the imagists the haiku form and the generally Japanese effect have been a constant feature of poetry in English. The names of Basho and Issa and Buson have found their way into our discourse to the extent that we in Ireland have learnt to recognise something Japanese in the earliest lyrics of the native tradition.

 

IRISH HAIKU – A PERSONAL RESPONSE

My attitude to the traditional haiku in English is somewhat like that of Marianne Moore towards poetry; I, too dislike it.  Some of my reservations are explored on the post devoted to erotic haiku. Reading it, however, with something less than contempt, I can find in Irish haiku, if not a place for the genuine, a place, beyond all the Irish fiddle-fiddle,  for the wry, the witty, the evocative and, sometimes, the artful. In some, those of Francis Harvey and Pat Boran, a strong sense of place and landscape adds to the evocation. Paul Muldoon is often disdained by the purveyors of the classic haiku, but his use of rhyme and contrast brings a classic epigrammatic sensibility to bear on the Japanese form. Pat Boran also uses rhyme and has offered, as quoted below, a prosodic approach to the genre. My favourite Irish haiku is that of Seamus Heaney, quoted below in two versions, one from the Bamboo Dreams anthology (with accompanying photograph) and one from his Seeing Things (Faber and Faber, 1991) collection with the title 1.1.87.  The latter I tweet on New Year’s Day every year.

 

Irish Haiku – Brief Poems

Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967)

Patrick Kavanagh wrote a single haiku, probably not suspecting that it was a haiku. In his haiku, the first line is actually the title of the poem. Perhaps that is why Kavanagh did not realize he had written a haiku since haiku are not known for having titles.

Corn-crake
a cry in the wilderness
of meadow

***

Juanita Casey (1925-2012)

The first Irish poet to write haiku as we know them was Juanita Casey. A travelling woman born in England of Irish parents, she spent a significant part of her life in Co. Galway. She started composing haiku in late 1960s, and a few of them appeared in her 1968 collection titled Horse by the River (Dolmen Press, 1968), followed by a few more that found their way to her 1985 collection, Eternity Smith (Dolmen Press, 1985).

Burning leaves . . .
the face once again
feels summer

***

The pickers
have left one plum . . .
Hey, wind

***

Four crows on four posts
across a field of mustard—
a chord for summoning foxes

 

Francis Harvey (1925-2014)

Francis Harvey’s poetry was firmly earthed in the Donegal landscape that was his home for much of his life. Moya Cannon has referred to him as “a Basho-like figure”.  Donegal Haiku (Dedalus Press, 2013) a sequence of haiku, inspired by his beloved Errigal, was published in the last year of his life.

Sleeping, I think of
Errigal and Mount Fuji,
The shape of my dreams.

***

Myself and my dog
skirt a mountain to avoid
a man and his dog.

***

The wind and the rain.
The wind and the rain again
and again. Ireland.

***

Snow on the mountain.
Crowsfeet and your first white hair.
The end of autumn.

***

Five crows in a tree.
The wind ruffles their feathers.
The leaves of my book.

***

I watched him that day
take his last walk on the strand.
The tide was ebbing.

***

He was so obsessed
with death he began sending
mass cards to himself.

***

Not a breath of wind.
The vanity of clouds
in the lake’s mirror.

 

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)

1.1.87 

Dangerous pavements.
But I face the ice this year
With my father’s stick.

(as it appears in Seeing Things (Faber and Faber, 1991)

 

Dangerous pavements . . .
But this year I face the ice
with my father’s stick

(as it appears in the image above)

***

The Strand

The dotted line my father’s ash plant made
On Sandymount Strand
Is something else the tide won’t wash away.

 

Michael Longley

Haiku

During the power-out
Maisie wondered: “Where is me?
I have disappeared.”

***

feathers on water
a snowfall of swans
snow water

***

Cowslip

haiku beginning with a line of Barbara Guest

The way a cowslip bends
Recalls a cart track,
Crushed sunlight at my feet.

***

More brief poems by Michael Longley are available on the Snowfall post.

 

Michael Hartnett (1941-1999)  

In his 1975 book A Farewell to English (Gallery Press, 1975) Michael Hartnett declared his intention to write only in Irish in the future, describing English as ‘the perfect language to sell pigs in‘. A number of volumes in Irish followed. 1985 marked his return to English with the publication of Inchicore Haiku, (Raven Arts Press, 1985) the first ever collection of haiku and senryu by an Irish poet. It contains 87 poems written according to the 5-7-5 format. They vary from the awful to the artful.

Somewhere in the house
a tap gushes out water –
sounds of someone else.

***

In a green spring field a
brown pony stands asleep
shod with daffodils

***

The tap drops a tear,
the bulb thinks it’s a crocus.
I am full of salt.

***

I hear a cockroach
wipe its feet and run across
the carpet’s drumskin.

 

Paul Muldoon

Paul Muldoon’s haiku are ludicrous, in the best sense of that word. The purists may cavil at his insistent use of rhyme but it brings the haiku form into a tradition it no way resembles. Like much of his poetry, the haiku are witty and whimsical.

A muddle of mice.
Their shit looks like caraway
but smells like allspice.

***

A small, hard pear falls
and hits the deck with a thud.
Ripeness is not all.

***

Behind the wood bin
a garter snake snaps itself,
showing us some skin.

***

Like most bits of delf,
the turtle’s seen at its best
on one’s neighbor’s shelf.

***

Completely at odds.
We’re now completely at odds.
Completely at odds.

***

More brief poems and more haiku by Paul Muldoon are available on the Muddle of Mice post.

 

Dennis O’Driscoll (1954-2012)

Dennis O’Driscoll was an Irish poet, essayist, critic and editor. His book on Seamus Heaney, Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney is regarded as the definitive biography of the Nobel laureate. In each of his nine collections he has a set of short poems he has called Breviary. Some of these poems are haiku.

the blackness of
the cemetery blackbird,
its song an octave lower

***

crab-apple windfalls
at the cemetery wall
no one collects for jelly

***

Dusk

blue jeans fade
she slips
into a sequined gown

***

Snow

earth is plaster cast
a red fox trickles
down the mountain path

***

More brief poems by Dennis O’Driscoll are available on the Breviary post.

 

Pat Boran

Pat Boran’s haiku sequence, Waveforms: Bull Island Haiku (Dedalus Press, 2015), explores the flora and fauna of Dublin Bay’s Bull Island, a land mass formed by the changing currents in the bay after the construction of the North Bull Was in an effort to improve access to the port. These rhyming haiku observe the interplay of bird, human and plant life on the island, at the edge of Ireland’s capital city. The book is illustrated by the author’s own photographs of the island, taken over the course of a year of daily visits. Discussing his  compositional method, he writes, when it came to the rhythm, I wanted something that was as close as possible to everyday speech, but also something that wouldn’t push against the haiku’s natural (to me) division into three lines and, usually, two linked images or ideas. After some experimentation I found that a predominantly trochaic (heavy-light / heavy-light …) rather than iambic (light-heavy / light-heavy …) metre was the most comfortable fit.

nowhere left to hide
a lone crab scuttles between
islands of stillness

***

evening approaching
curlews stilt-walk
on their reflections

***

Two boys with a kite
made from twigs and plastic bags.
Wind shrugs: “Oh, all right.”

***

The first drops of rain
strike the concrete bathing hut –
colour once again.

***

Let the day recur;
to the watercolourist
everything’s a blur.

***

Walking the mudflats,
I pass a stranger. We nod.
And leave it at that.

***

Waves themselves, their wings
flashing silver when they turn
as one – the starlings.

***

Old man in a car
staring out to sea, Tosca
singing from the heart.

 

Gabriel Rosenstock

Gabriel Rosenstock has written poetry in the Irish language which he has also translated into English. He has also written erotic haiku some of which are available on the Nipples post.

waxy glistening of leaves
sometimes i’d come
along your thigh

***

even the butterfly
takes a rest
on the hammock

***

a single magpie
swallows a beakful
of its reflected self

***
was it a kingfisher?
a splash turns blue
into silver

***

an egret stands in a lagoon
the squelch of clothes being washed
against slab rocks

 

 

Anatoly Kudryavitsky

inside the empty shell, snail’s dreams

***

Leo Lavery

I shut the history book
and the shooting
stops

***

Michael Massey

talking it out
again
with my absent wife

***

Paula Meehan

The First Day of Winter

My head in the clouds
in the bowl of Akiko’s
mother’s white miso.

***

Joan Newman

dead pheasant
spread for flight—
maggots celebrate

***

Justin Quinn

cotoneasters in winter:
unleaved they show
skeletons of sole

***

John W. Sexton

daffodils rot
in the vase
their shadows bloom

 

 

Patrick Chapman

debutante flowers—
red and white skirts hitched up,
waiting for a bee

***

Michael Coady

ravens from the heights
throw shapes above the belfry—
deep-croak rituals

Throw shapes = dance (Hiberno-Engl.)

***

Gabriel Fitzmaurice

a rotting tree stump
in the middle of the woods
mushrooms with new life

 

 

LINKS

Haiku in Ireland – an essay in The Irish Haiku society web site.

Irish Haiku – a selection edited by Anatoly Kudryavitsky

A review of Bamboo Dreams: An Anthology of Haiku Poetry from Ireland ed. Anatoly Kudryavitsky

Another review (by Roberta Beary) of Bamboo Dreams: An Anthology of Haiku Poetry from Ireland ed. Anatoly Kudryavitsky

Irish Haiku Society web site

Shamrock Haiku web site.

The complete Inchicore Haiku by Michael Hartnett.

A selection of haiku by Gabriel Rosenstock.

Pat Boran discusses his interest in haiku and presents extracts from his collection of haiku.

 

 

Shooting Stars – Brief Poems by Ko Un

Ko Un, born Ko Untae in 1933, was the first child of a peasant family living in Gunsan, North Jeolla Province in Korea. During a time when the national culture was being suppressed under  the Japanese occupation, his grandfather taught him to read and write in Korean. When he was 12, he found by chance a book of poems by Han Ha-un, a nomadic Korean poet with leprosy, and he was so impressed that he began writing himself. He was a witness to the devastation of the Korean War. He volunteered for the People’s Army, but was rejected because he was underweight.  Many of his relatives and friends died and, during the war, he was forced to work as a grave digger. He became so traumatized that he poured acid into his ear to shut out the war’s noise, leaving him deaf in one ear.

He became a Zen Buddhist monk in the 1950s, and returned to secular life sometime in the 1960s. During that period he published his first collection of poems, Otherworld Sensibility, and his first novel, Cherry Tree in Another World.   From 1963 to 1966 he lived on the remote island of Jeju-do, where he set up a charity school, and then moved back to Seoul. However, dependent on alcohol and not at peace, he attempted to poison himself in 1970. After the South Korean government attempted to curb democracy by putting forward the Yusin Constitution in late 1972, he became very active in the democracy movement and led efforts to improve the political situation. Ko Un became an activist opposing the harsh and arbitrary rule of South Korea’s president, President Park Chung-hee. His dissident activities led to several terms of imprisonment and torture. One of those beatings in 1979 impaired his hearing even further. In May 1980, during the coup d’état led by Chun Doo-hwan, Ko was accused of treason and sentenced to twenty years’ imprisonment, although he was released in August 1982 as part of a general pardon.

Life now became quieter and in 1983 Ko Un married Sang-Wha Lee, a professor of English Literature, who was eventually to become co-translator of several of his books. The democratization of South Korea in the late 1980s finally gave Ko Un the freedom to travel to other countries. After being granted a passport in the 1990s, Ko visited North Korea, India, Tibet, and the United States. In 2000, he shared his poetry at the Korean unification summit in Pyongyang and spoke at the United Nations Millennium Peace Summit. From 2007, he served as a visiting scholar in Seoul National University, where he gave lectures on poetry and literature. Since 2010, he was associated with the International Center for Creative Writing at Dankook University.

 

THE POETRY OF KO UN

Ko Un has published more than 100 books, including translations of his poetry into more than a dozen languages. English translations of his poetry include First Person Sorrowful (2013, translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Lee Sang-Wha), This Side of Time (2012, translated by Clare You and Richard Silberg), What?: 108 Zen Poems (2008, translated by Allen Ginsberg), and The Three Way Tavern: Selected Poems (2006, translated by Clare You and Richard Silberg). His 30-volume Maninbo, or Ten Thousand Lives (2005, translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Lee Sang-Wha), based on a project he began while in prison, was born of an effort to write a poem for every person he has met.

His poems range from the epigrammatic (see below)  to the epic, often using the rhythms of informal speech. In a 2012 interview for the Guardian, he discussed how surviving the Korean War affects his work, stating, “I‘m inhabited by a lament for the dead. I have this calling to bring back to life all those who have died. Freud says the dead have to be left dead. Derrida said the dead are and should be always with us, not abandoned. I’m on Derrida’s side. I bear the dead within me still, and they write through me.” Presenting the Griffin Poetry Award, poet Robert Hass described Ko as “one of the heroes of human freedom in this half century, a religious poet who got tangled by accident in the terrible accidents of modern history. But he is somebody who has been equal to the task, a feat rare among human beings.”

Many of the poems below are taken from his book, Flowers of a Momenta collection of 185 brief poems. The translations are by his regular translator, Brother Anthony of Taizé, this time with the assistance of  Young-Moo Kim and Gary Gach.

 

BROTHER ANTHONY OF TAIZÉ

Brother Anthony of Taizé (An Sonjae) was born in Truro (Cornwall, UK) in 1942. He studied Medieval and Modern Languages at Oxford. In 1969 he joined the Taizé Community in France, a monastic order composed of men from the Protestant, Anglican and Catholic traditions dedicated to spreading the message of trust and reconciliation. After three years’ service in the Philippines, in May 1980 Brother Anthony joined other brothers in Korea, invited by the late Archbishop of Seoul, Cardinal Kim Sou-Hwan. Brother Anthony began to translate modern Korean literature in 1988, and since then has published a wide variety of works from classic Korean authors. He is one of the foremost living translators of contemporary Korean poetry, with over 26 titles to his credit. Besides Ko Un, he has translated books of poetry by Ku Sang, Kim Kwang-kyu, Midang, Ch’on Sang-pyong, Shin Kyong-nim, Kim Su-young, Lee Si-young, Chonggi Mah and fiction by Yi Mun-yol and Lee Oyoung, and nonfiction by Mok Sun-ok. In 1994, Brother Anthony became a naturalized Korean citizen, taking on the Korean name An Sonjae, Sonjae being the Korean form of Sudhana, the ‘little pilgrim’ of the Buddhist scripture The Gandavyuha Sutra. He received the Korean government’s Award of Merit, Jade Crown class, in October 2008 for his work in promoting knowledge of Korean literature in the world. He currently lives in Seoul where he is Emeritus Professor, Department of English Language and Literature at Sogang Univesity, Seoul, where he has taught since 1980. Has written numerous books and articles about English literature.

 

 

Brief Poems by Ko Un

TRANSLATED BY BROTHER ANTHONY OF TAIZÉ
(with Young-Moo Kim and Gary Gach)

 

One rainy spring day
I looked out once or twice
wondering if someone would be coming by.

***

Wings on one side torn off
a fly crawls awkwardly away

Todays come to an end

***

April 19
The first snake of spring emerged
and died!

I have lived too long!

***

Rowing with just one oar
I lost that oar

For the first time I looked round at the wide stretch of water

***

We went to Auschwitz
saw the mounds of glasses
saw the piles of shoes
On the way back
we each stared out of a different window

***

A baby dragonfly perches on a bullrush tip
The entire world surrounds it, watching

***

Outside the cave the howling wind and rain
Inside
the silence speech of bats filling the ceiling

***

A photo studio’s shop window
A woman who cannot bear children
gazes smilingly at a photo of a one-year-old child

***

In the very middle of the road
two dogs are coupling

I take another route

 

A Shooting Star

Wow! You recognized me.

***

At the foot of a hill where children are playing
a dainty stream babbles
It does not realize that very soon
it will be the sea

***

“I’ve come, dear,
the harsh winter’s over now”

His wife’s tomb laughs quietly

***

Two Beggars

Two beggars
sharing a meal of the food they’ve been given

The new moon shines intensely

***

Some say they can recall a thousand years
Some say they have already visited the next thousand years
On a windy day
I am waiting for a bus

***

A Single Word

Too late.
The world had already heard
my word
before I spoke it.
The worm had heard.
The worm dribbled a cry.

***

The sun is setting
A wish:
to become a wolf beneath a fat full moon

***

I have spent the whole day talking about other people again
and the trees are watching me
as I go home

***

Exhausted
the mother has fallen asleep
so her baby is listening all alone
to the sound of the night train

 

 

LINKS

The Ko Un home page

Brother Anthony’s home page.

The Wikipedia page on Ko Un

The Poetry Foundation page on Ko Un.

The Ko Un page on the Poetry Chaikhana site.

An interview with Ko Un in the Guardian.

Flowers of a Moment: the Google Books text.

An article by Brother Anthony of Taize on the poetry of Ko Un

An extensive bibliography the work of Ko Un.

The Ko Un page of the Bloodaxe Books site.

 

 

 

Blue Aerogrammes – Brief Poems by Cid Corman

Cid (Sidney) Corman (1924 – 2004) was an American poet, translator and editor, most notably of the magazine Origin. He was a seminal figure in the history of American poetry in the second half of the 20th century. Cid Corman was born to Ukrainian parents in Boston where he grew up and was educated. From an early age he was an avid reader and showed an aptitude for drawing and calligraphy. He was excused from service in World War II for medical reasons and graduated from university in Boston in 1945. He studied for his Master’s degree at the University of Michigan, where he won the Hopwood poetry award.  After a brief stint at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he spent some time travelling around the United States, returning to Boston in 1948.

Cid Corman ran poetry events in public libraries and started the country’s first poetry radio program. In 1952, he wrote: “I initiated my weekly broadcasts, known as This Is Poetry, from WMEX in Boston. The program has been usually a fifteen-minute reading of modern verse on Saturday evenings at seven thirty; however, I have taken some liberties and have read from Moby Dick and from stories by Dylan Thomas, Robert Creeley, and Joyce.” This program featured readings by Robert Creeley, Stephen Spender, Theodore Roethke and many other Boston-based and visiting poets. He also spent some time at the Yaddo artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs. It was about this time that Corman changed his name from Sydney Corman to the simpler “Cid.”

In 1951, Corman began Origin in response to the failure of a magazine that Robert Creeley had planned. The magazine typically featured one writer per issue and ran, with breaks, until the mid-1980s. The magazine also led to the establishment of Origin Press, which published books by a wide range of poets as well as by Corman himself and which remains currently active. In 1954, Corman won a Fulbright Fellowship grant and moved to France, where he studied for a time at the Sorbonne. He then moved to Italy to teach English in a small town called Matera. By this time, he had published a number of small books, but his Italian experiences were to provide the materials for his first major work, Sun Rock Man (1962). At this time he produced the first English translations of Paul Celan, even though he didn’t have the poet’s approval.

In 1958, Corman got a teaching job in Kyoto in Japan where he continued to write and to run Origin magazine. There he married Konishi Shizumi, a Japanese TV news editor and began to translate Japanese poetry, particularly work by Bashō and Kusano Shimpei. In Kyoto they established CC’s Coffee Shop, “offering poetry and western-style patisserie.” He was a prolific poet until his final illness, publishing more than 100 books and pamphlets. In 1990, he published the first two volumes of his selected poems, OF, running to some 1500 poems. Volume 3, with a further 750 poems appeared in 1998 and further volumes are planned. Several collections of wide-ranging essays have been published. His translations (or co-translations) include Bashō’s Back Roads to Far TownsThings by Francis Ponge, poems by Paul Celan and collections of haiku.

Cid Corman did not speak, read or write Japanese, even though his co-translation with Susumu Kamaike of Bashō’s Oku No Hosomichi is considered to be one of the most accurate in tone in the English language.

He died in KyotoJapan on March 12, 2004 after being hospitalized for a cardiac condition since January 2004.

 

 

BLUE AEROGRAMMES, POEMS AND TRANSLATIONS

I am old enough to remember aerogrammes, those thin sheets of  blue paper which, when folded neatly, could be used to send fairly lengthy letters to international destinations. They preceded the rise of the internet and the development of email. Cid Corman used them regularly and with great ingenuity. Billy Mills, in an article in the Guardian, describes  “the role Cid played as the hub of a global virtual community of writers and artists, one that far pre-dated the advent of the internet and email. He orchestrated this community through the good old postal system by following a very simple rule he set for himself: every letter he received was either answered within 24 hours of arrival or not at all. He typed his answers on blue Japanese aerogrammes and every square inch of space was used, down to the poems specially written for the occasion and placed on the front of the envelope, next to your name and address.” Bob Arnold has selected  and edited some of these poems and printed them, with an introduction, in  The Famous Blue Aerogrammes. Longhouse, 2004. Some are reprinted below.

Cid Corman described his own poems as direct. In conversation with Philip Rowland he had this to say,  I write what I call direct poetry: if you have to ask somebody to explain the poem then I’ve failed. As mentioned above, he was very prolific. His literary executor, Bob Arnold, (whose own poetry features in  Fortune Cookies – Brief Poems by Bob Arnold) has done much to keep his reputation alive. Not only has he published The Famous Blue Aerogrammes (Longhouse 2016) but he has also published  a selection of poems and translation in The Next One Thousand Years (Longhouse, 2008). He is due to publish the final volumes of OF (Longhouse) containing 1,500 poems over 850 pages.

 

Brief Poems by Cid Corman

Some Haiku

If these words
dont remember you—
forget them.

***

The leaf at last gets
the drift of wind and so
settles for the ground.

***

Azaleas gone and
hydrangea trying to make
a show of it yet.

***

HELLO!
How do you do? How
do you? How-do-you-do-you?
You’re asking too much.

***

I wear the mask of
myself and very nearly
get away with it.

***

In the shadow of
the mountain the shadow of
any bird is lost.

***

There is no end and
never was a beginning – so
here we are – amidst.

***

Your shadow
on the page
the poem.

***

Rain-drops. Each
makes a point
of silence.

 

Some Poems

Poetry becomes
that conversation we could
not otherwise have.

***

Assistant

As long as you are here –
Would you turn the page?

***

The Call

Life is poetry
and poetry is life — O
awaken — people!

***

There’s only
one poem:
this is it.

***

What were you
expecting?

What more is
there than this?

***

We are all
part of what’s

going on
to have gone.

***

THE COUNSEL

Live with the living
Die with the dying
And there you are: here.

***

What have I
to do with

you beyond
being with?

***

A COUPLE

She keeps coming home
to me – of all things – and I
remain home for her.

***

It isnt for want
of something to say—
something to tell you—

something you should know—
but to detain you–
keep you from going—

feeling myself here
as long as you are—
as long as you are.

***

 

from The Famous Blue Aerogrammes

Has it ever
occurred to you
you’re what is oc-
curring to you?

***

You are here – just as
I had imagined –
imagining me.

***

Nothing ends with you —
every leaf on the ground
remembers the root.

***

We wear out
but the sky

looks as new
as ever

***

Everything is
coming to a head — meaning
blossoms yet to fall.

***

WOMAN

She waters
the plants downstairs
from upstairs —
so does the rain.

***

The cry
of all cry –
silence

***

So that

when

was

now

will be

***

FIREFLY

I wonder. Is it
mere curiosity or
just a quiet glow?

***

The sun is
my shadow

I shall not
want — it

leadeth me

***

OMENKIND

The weight of

a falling

leaf upon

your shoulder.

***

So many black flies
getting into the house and
making us killers,

***

When am I going
to lose my leaves and find I
am the poetry?

 

Translations from Sappho

You make me think
of a sweet
girl seen once
picking flowers

***

Spring dusk

Full moon
Girls seem

to be

circling
around

a shrine

***

Come and I’ll
have fresh pillows
for your rest
***

Overjoyed
yes, praying
for such a
night again

***

Am I to
remind you,
dear

that complaint
aint right where
poetry

lives?

***

Further translations of Sappho by Cid Corman, together with the original Greek, are available on the Sappho (fragments) page.

 

Translations from the Japanese of Sengai (1750-1837)

Crown or grid iron —
there’s nothing to think about —
only all to use.

***

Over Everest
the same old moon shares its light
as clear as ever
but only for eyes ready
to see the darkness clearer.

***

Moon empty
sky shine
water deepened
darkness

***

Yes or no —
good or bad —
you have come

to this house.
Here is your
tear — your cake.

 

Translations from the French of Philippe Denis

I was present this morning when a
blossoming tree sweetly escaped.

For what refusal or acquiescence
was the head of the tree nodding
over my page?

***

The word snow used wildly.
I feel the difficulty of it.

Those mornings when we toss about
on one wing!

***

To be enchantingly alone. But does
that make any sense?

What we are, we are, most of the time,
thanks to what hasnt completely occurred.

 

LINKS

The Poetry Foundation page on Cid Corman with an extensive bibliography.

The Wikipedia page on Cid Corman.

Some haiku by Cid Corman on the TAO site.

A selection from The Famous Blue Aerogrammes.

Original Cid, an article in the Guardian by Billy Mills.

An obituary by Michael Carlson in the Guardian.

Cid Corman in conversation with Philip Rowland. Part One

Cid Corman in conversation with Philip Rowland. Part Two

Gregory Dunne on Cid Corman and translation.

A selection of Cid Corman books from the Longhouse Press.