13 examples of my favourite poetry III

Coming to the next installment of my attempt to bring before you 13 examples of my favourite poetry without any digressions or extraneous information – ummm, well not too many digressions or extraneous information. But considering that in the last two posts, I have only managed to provide three examples out of 13, I will definitely try to stick to my subject.

The example I quote now is from a seminal figure of English Romanticism. I happend to come across it in a very old and detailed books I had (I hope I still have) at least two decades ago. When I considered writing the post, this was one which straightaway came to my mind while that phrase – “faith’s transcendent bower” is firmly emprinted on my mind. But read the fragment for yourself.

Still glides the Stream, and shall for ever glide;
    The Form remains, the Function never dies;
    While we, the brave, the mighty, and the wise,
We Men, who in our morn of youth defied
The elements, must vanish;—be it so!
    Enough, if something from our hands have power
    To live, and act, and serve the future hour;
And if, as toward the silent tomb we go,
    Through love, through hope, and faith’s transcendent dower,
We feel that we are greater than we know.

The poet is William Wordsworth and the poem is titled Valedictory Sonnet to the River Duddon.

Now, its again time to switch traditions but I will not go very far in space – just across the English Channel but yes temporally, a few decades to come to a poet identified as a seminal part of the Symbolist movement in French letters and one of the greatest exponents of fin de siècle poetry. I allude to Paul Verlaine.

This 1866 poem has a curious history. Almost seven decades later, the first part of the first verse was used as a code signal to a Resistance group in occupied France to convey the Allied invasion was a matter of a few days, while the second signalled it could be expected within 24 hours. That is how I learned of it when I read a condensed version of Cornelius Ryan’s epic “The Longest Day” in a Readers’ Digest collection. It is:

Les sanglots longs       
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon cœur
D’une langueur

or for you all,

The long sobs
Of the violins
Of Autumn
Wound my heart
With a monotonous

And the second verse

Tout suffocant        
Et blême, quand 
Sonne l’heure, 
Je me souviens 
Des jours anciens 
Et je pleure 
All choked up
And pale, when
The hour chimes,
I remember
Days of old
And I cry.

Now, staying in the same epoch and area but taking a work owing its inspiration to a 12th century astronomer-poet, we come to the quatrains of Omar Khayyam as rendered by Edward Fitzgerald. As has been said much, Fitzgerald took enormous liberties in his “translation” and to be correct, it was more of an adaption. However I have raised these issues elsewhere and here I will say that E.F.’s main accomplishment was popularising Khayyam – in not only the Western world but even in his own country.

That said, I will give some examples of Fitzgerald’s version of some of the quatrains. You may have read some of them here earlier but then…. I have restricted myself to four…ummm five, trying to give a few meaningful ones as well as new ones. The purpose is to introduce the Tentmaker to those who have not heard of him.

Shortly I will be giving some of the quatrains in their original language…. but it might take some time.  But for now…. some from Fitzgerald’s first translation (he made five altogether, if you would want to know).

Now the New Year reviving old Desires,
 The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires,
   Where the WHITE HAND OF MOSES on the Bough
 Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires.

Then to the rolling Heav’n itself I cried,
 Asking, “What Lamp had Destiny to guide
   Her little Children stumbling in the Dark?”
 And–“A blind understanding!” Heav’n replied.

Ah, fill the Cup:–what boots it to repeat
 How Time is slipping underneath our Feet:
   Unborn TO-MORROW and dead YESTERDAY,
 Why fret about them if TO-DAY be sweet!

But leave the Wise to wrangle, and with me
 The Quarrel of the Universe let be:
   And, in some corner of the Hubbub coucht,
 Make Game of that which makes as much of Thee.

And when Thyself with shining Foot shall pass
 Among the Guests Star-scatter’d on The Grass,
   And in Thy joyous Errand reach the Spot
 Where I made one–turn down an empty Glass!


That brings up the first half-dozen. Another half-dozen and one left to make the good number 13 left.

To be continued….


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