Thursday, December 15, 2011

Monsieur de Sainte Colombe’s Viol

Pascal Quignard’s All The World’s Mornings is a perfect read: a novella, which one can move through in an hour’s time, carried away by the story and by the oddity of its characters.

Monsieur de Sainte Colombe, the book main’s character, is Pascal Quignard’s fictional rendition of the real Monsieur de Sainte Colombe, a seventeenth century French composer and viol virtuoso whose mastery of the instrument is thus described:

“One of his pupils…declared that he contrived to imitate all the inflexions of the human voice: from the sigh of a young lady to the sob of an old man, from the war cry of Henri de Navarre to the soft breathing of a child trying to draw something, from the distracted groan sometimes produced by sexual pleasure to the almost voiceless gravity, deprived of nearly all force and harmony, of a man lost in prayer.”

Monsieur de Sainte Colombe’s personality is as out of his ordinary as his musical gift.

This gift appears to mark the lives of others and offers us titillating scenes in the novel: Monsieur Caignet, the king’s emissary, invites Monsieur de Sainte Colombe to perform for the king at Versailles; the offer is quickly turned down.
The king’s envoy does not leave the musician’s household right away however; he secretively spies on Monsieur de Sainte Colombe and draws a few conclusions:

“He spoke to the king, reporting the reasons the musician had put forward and conveyed to him the marvelous and complex impression that had been made upon him by the music he had listened to in that secret hiding place.”

The ‘listening in’ theme (woven throughout lines of the novel), reminds us of the scene in the garden from the Princess of Clèves and makes one wonder whether this is a literary device intentionally (and successfully) re-used in All the World’s Mornings.

Unless perhaps listening in on one another was a reflex of the Baroque era itself, as customary as parting in enmity after moments of tension (but still adhering to some semblance of etiquette):

“Monsieur de Sainte Colombe was shoving M. Caignet towards the house as he was speaking. 
They took their leave of one another with formal bows. “

The title of the novella comes from a sentence at the beginning of chapter XXVI: “All the world’s mornings are gone without recall.”

And, to end this post, another quote from this interesting book:

“What are you seeking, Monsieur, in music?”
“I am seeking regrets and tears.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"A Scattering" by Christopher Reid

The finalists for the 2011 Costa Book Awards have been announced.

Perhaps a good time to be reminded that Christopher Reid’s poetry book, A Scattering won the Costa 2009 Poetry and 2009 Book of the Year Awards. 

A Scattering is a book of transformation through mourning, a collection of poems dedicated to the author’s wife, Lucinda.

The poems in this collection are a fascinating mixture of light and shadow, courageously undertaking a voyage that resonates, alas, only too well, with the myth of Orpheus and Euridice – pain, beauty and loss intricately intertwined:

“The seed-case you picked up and showed me, remember,
                        on the tip of your finger?
Like a fractional coin, the mite
                    of a mite, dropped and forgotten and yet
so pleasingly fashioned - spiral- 
                     compact against spiral –
it seemed a talisman, fit emblem of an island
                    where labyrinths and lucky finds abound.”
(From The Flowers of Crete)

The elegance of the books stems, among others, from the simplicity with which its author gathers seemingly irrelevant details, in balanced overtones, that unveil for us the grace of a moment.

A highly effective poetic formula of ‘ less is more’ punctuated with rhetorical questions that keep the reader engaged:

“What do we gain by it –
blind to the tiger’s leap,
voiceless under the avalanche?
Somebody must know.”

(From A Reasonable Thing to Ask)

Friday, December 09, 2011

Poetic renovations

A very cool online poetry project is Project Rebuild whose initiator is poet Sachiko Murakami, a finalist for the Governor General's Award for Poetry. 

The rules of this poetry project are simple: "renovate" one of the houses by posting your own poem.

I gave it a try to with a short poem:  Stories.
(It is my own version of a poem, that was previously translated from French - much to my delight).

The formatting of the poem did not come out as I meant it to, so, I will try again with a different poem.  


Thursday, December 01, 2011

Ion Barbu and the Poetry of Riemannian Geometry

Ion Barbu - pen name for Dan Barbilian - (1895 –1961) was one of Romania's intriguing personalities: a superbly gifted mathematician and a poet. 

His contribution to the theory of mathematics, while significant, is probably less known than his poetry.

Ion Barbu's poems, wrapped up in a tight metaphoric cloud continue to escape any attempt of extracting meaning from his verses - his is a poetry often called  'modernist' and 'hermetic'.

In some of Ion Barbu's  poems, such as the one rendered below, mathematical terms appear: "groups", "sum", "inferred", "inverted". The concepts created with these words however, lead us not to equations, but to metaphors.

Some poets wrote of Elysian fields; Ion Barbu's poetry talks of spaces described by the Riemannian geometry.

Here is my translation of one of Ion Barbu's poems: 

[Out of an hour glass, inferred…]

                                            by Ion Barbu

Out of an hour glass, inferred, the depth of this calm highpoint
Seeped through a mirror inside redeemed azure
Cuts out from groups of water, through drowned celestial herds, 
A secondary game, more pure yet.

Latent nadir! The poet raises the sum of
Scattered harps, lost in inverted flights,
And songs subside: secretive, as only seas can be,
Floating off jelly fish beneath green bells.

and the original:

[Din ceas, dedus...]
                                                  de Ion Barbu

Din ceas, dedus adâncul acestei calme creste,
Intrată prin oglindă în mântuit azur,
Tăind pe înecarea cirezilor agreste,
În grupurile apei, un joc secund, mai pur.

Nadir latent! Poetul ridică însumarea
De harfe resfirate ce-n zbor invers le pierzi
Şi cântec istoveşte: ascuns, cum numai marea
Meduzele când plimbă sub clopotele verzi.

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