Afternoons and Fauns

Why is it when you see something for the first time, you are suddenly inundated with more of them? This week quite by accident I ran into this video of Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun, which I had never heard before, and posted it on Facebook. (This is nice to play in the background while doing other things.)

Then, last night I was reading an introduction to French poetry, and discovered that the poet Stéphane Mallarmé also wrote a poem called L’Apres-midi d’un Faune, the original “Afternoon of a Faun” that inspired all the rest of them.  Mallarmé’s original poem is published with drawings by Manet.  French here, English translation here, description of poem at wiki. Briefly, the faun falls asleep and dreams of nymphs. Then Mallarmé writes his poem, French poet Paul Valéry calls it the greatest poem in French literature, and it becomes a landmark in the history of French symbolism. Then Debussy writes his orchestration, followed by several ballets by Vaslav Nijinsky and others, which become of great significance in the development of modernism.

I don’t think I’m in the mood for it after all.

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Translating Hafiz

What is a “translation”?

I recently came across a reference to the 14th century  Persian poet Hafiz (thanks, paulinelaurent!) who recommended the book The subject tonight is love, translated by Daniel Ladinsky. Wanting to explore Hafiz further, I googled for some texts of his poems and found a few examples of the Ladinsky poems here. Here is one:

Damn Thirsty


The fish needs to say,

“Something ain’t right about this

Camel ride –

And I’m

Feeling so damn


[*disclaimer:  I am thoroughly enjoying this particular Camel ride.—N]


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Lorca: Waltz in the Treetops

Vals en las Ramas

Cayó una hoja
y dos
y tres.
Por la luna nadaba un pez.
El agua duerme una hora
y el mar blanco duerme cien.
La dama
estaba muerta en la rama.
La monja
cantaba dentro de la toronja.
La niña iba por el pino a la piña.
Y el pino
buscaba la plumilla del trino.
Pero el ruiseñor
lloraba sus heridas alrededor.
Y yo también
porque cayó una hoja
y dos
y tres
Y una cabeza de cristal
y un violín de papel
y la nieve podría con el mundo
una a una
dos a dos
y tres a tres.
Oh duro marfil de carnes invisibles!
Oh golfo sin hormigas del amanecer!
Con el numen de las ramas,
con el ay de las damas,
con el croo de las ranas,
y el geo amarillo de la miel.
Lllegará un torso de sombra
coronado de laurel.
Será el cielo para el viento
duro como una pared
y las ramas desgajadas
se irán bailando con el.
Una a una
alrededor de la luna,
dos a dos
alrededor del sol,
y tres a tres
para que los marfiles se duerman bien.


a quick translation:

Waltz in the Branches

A leaf fell
and two
and three.
A fish swam across the moon.
Water sleeps an hour
The white sea a hundred.
The woman
was dead on the branch.
The nun
sang inside the grapefruit.
The girl
went by pine to the pineapple.
And the pine
searched for the triple quill.
But the nightingale
cried its wounds all around.
And myself as well
because a leaf fell
and two
and three
And a head of crystal
And a violin of paper
and snow had power over the world
one by one
two by two
and three by three.
Oh hard ivory seed of invisible meats!
Oh gulf without ants of the sunrise!
With the muse of the branches,
with the “oh!” of the women
with the “croo” of the frogs,
and the earthy yellow of the honey.
A torso of shadow will come
crowned with laurel.
The sky will be for the wind
hard as a wall
and the torn off branches
will go dancing with it.
One by one
around the moon
two by two
around the sun,
three by three
so that the ivory seeds sleep well.


from Federico Garcia Lorca, Canciones y  Poemas para Niños.

This might also be a good place to post a link to the Spanish dictionary at the Real Academia Española.

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Yosano Akiko’s Sea of Death

From languagehat’s A Draft of Mandelstam thread come two tantalizing translations of a poem by Yosano Akiko about the Sea of Death, one apparently a traditional translation of Russian to English and the other an original translation from Japanese:


They told me that the road I took
would lead me to the Sea of Death;
and from halfway along I turned back.
And ever since, all the paths I have roamed
were entangled, and crooked, and forsaken.

read (and Bathrobe):

Sono michi o zutto yuku to

If to go by that road until the end

Shi no umi ni ochikomu to oshierare,

To the sea of death you will come I was told

Chūto de hikikaeshita watashi,

Midway I turned around

Hikyō na rikō-mono de atta watashi,

being me, weak and rational.

Sore irai, watashi no mae ni wa

Since then before me

Eda-michi to

crossroads and

Mawari-michi to bakari ga tsuzuite iru.

detours only continue.

In Japanese with transliteration:



Sono michi o zutto yuku to
Shi no umi ni ochikomu to oshierare,
Chūto de hikikaeshita watashi,
Hikyō na rikō-mono de atta watashi,
Sore irai, watashi no mae ni wa
Eda-michi to
Mawari-michi to bakari ga tsuzuite iru.

…and I can’t resist the Google Translate version:


I go with the path by
Education is to drop into the sea of death,
I’m halfway 引返Shita,
I am clever, who has been unfair,
Since then, in front of me
Crossroads and
Continues to occupy only detour.

More by the same poet:

Translations of seven poems by Kenneth Rexroth, some of them quite, mm…, I suppose NSFW.  I rather like this one:

Not speaking of the way,
Not thinking of what comes after,
Not questioning name or fame,
Here, loving love,
You and I look at each other.

and this has echoes of Omar Khayyam:

This autumn will end.
Nothing can last forever.
Fate controls our lives.
Fondle my breasts
With your strong hands.

Here are two more translated poems along with a short biography.

The appearance of her first book, Tangled Hair (Midaregami), in 1901, created a scandal, not only for its explicit female sexuality but for its complexity & presumed unintelligibility within the framework of the traditional tanka form. As a by now acknowledged masterwork of “Japanese romanticism,” already influenced by symbolist & other fin-de-siècle European writing but drawing as well from older Japanese & Chinese sources, it provided a vehicle for women’s liberation – a “battleground poetry,” in Janine Beichman’s phrase, not as a form of rant, but as Yosano described it, writing of her own “first poems,” “I realized that if women didn’t really exert themselves they would never mix with men on an equal footing. That was the first time I made a poem.” The resulting innovations – both in tanka (five-line closed verse) & in “new-style” poetry – went beyond most poets of her time: a use of multiple voices (male as well as female); an unprecedented focus on the naked body derived, it was said, from European painting & from the erotic side of the ukiyo-e (floating world) tradition of print-making; & a sense of mystery & ambiguity, created by formal means (“asymmetry, ellipses, and numerous allusions”), that she called shinpi & that Beichman delivers further as “the palimpsestic effect.” Her work, as it moved into the new century, was voluminous; by Kenneth Rexroth’s count, “she wrote more than 17,000 tanka, nearly five hundred shintaishi (free verse [poems]), published seventy-five books, including translations of classical literature, and had eleven children.” She was also an active pacifist & a socialist sympathizer, who openly opposed Japan’s military adventures in the twentieth century, as in a fiercely anti-war poem addressed to her brother (1904), which brought denunciation as “a traitor, a rebel, a criminal who ought to be subjected to national punishment.”

Some excerpts from Tangled Hair are online here.
And here are some more (thanks, read).

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Lorca by moonlight

Does Federico Lorca’s gypsy poem La Casada Infiel (which I ran through Google Translate here) take place in the moonlight or in the dark? And can you see colors in the moonlight?

To answer these and other nycthémèrish questions, I set out a few hours after the start of the full moon Friday night to take some pictures, and ended up at the confluence of, er, Wolf Lake and Indian Creek.  Yeah, Chicago has some real world-class rivers and lakes, and undoubtedly more prestigious confluences, and maybe some day I’ll take the trouble to conduct experiments on those too, but this one is within walking distance.  I have also seen a wolf here with my own eyes, so quite possibly this is a lycanthropic stream, although I’m not sure of the effects of last century’s reversal of the stream to flow into the Calumet River on any of its magical properties.  Probably the same as before.

I used a hundred-dollar camera (Cannon Powershot 560), timed exposures, and no tripod. The photos are more, or maybe less, associated with a line or phrase in the poem.  More details after the photos.


yo me la llevé al río
[I took her to the river]

Se apagaron los faroles y se encendieron los grillos.

[The lanterns were extinguished. The crickets were kindled.]

como ramos de jacintos

[like hyacinth buds]

me sonaba en el oído

[they sounded in my ear]

como una pieza de seda

[like a piece of silk]

Sin luz de plata en sus copas

los árboles han crecido

[without the silver light in their crowns, the trees have elongated]

y un horizonte de perros

ladra muy lejos del río.

[a horizon of dogs barks far in the distance]

bajo su mata de pelo

hice un hoyo sobre el limo

[under its mat of hair I made a hole over the inundated terrain]

Ni nardos ni caracolas

tienen el cutis tan fino

[neither petals nor shells have skin so delicate]

ni los cristales…

[not crystals…]

…..con luna

[…in the moonlight]

relumbran …


… con ese brillo

[…with such shining]

como peces sorprendidos

[like surprised fish]

montado en potra de nácar

[mounted on a mother-of-pearl steed]

sin bridas y sin estribos

[without bridles or stirrups]

La luz del entendimiento

[the light of understanding]


And here is a gratuitous photo of the full moon at the end.

The objects brought to the lake were materials from this and other Lorca poems:

  • silk–one a light blue-green, and the other with a black and white pattern
  • crystals–manufactured crystal globes, a natural crystal polished in the shape of an egg (a crystal will reverse print), and a natural white pointed crystal with facets
  • silver colored hand of Fatima and blue protective eye with beads
  • a dark purple crystal from Mount Sinai, a metal key chain with a picture of the pope on it blessed by the pope, a cross of Ethiopian silver, red and yellow Palestinian-style cross stitch, and a paper straw sewing basket with a blue satin lining, none of which photographed successfully in the moonlight.

Yes, I could see color; I was wearing blue jeans and green sneakers, and could determine the colors of both in the moonlight.

The shell was a conch (in the Carribean pronounced conk) from the thrift store–they were popular tourist items in the last century and are now scarce. The flower was a moonflower from the back fence.  I photographed some of my irises but they didn’t really turn out or look very scary.

I started out by walking around Wolf Lake by way of the alleys on the south end, but there was a lot of ambient light, nothing good to rest the camera on for timed exposures, and not very good access to the lake, not to mention no river as in the poem. So once again I ended up sneaking into the park after hours.  After taking pictures for some time, I suddenly became aware that it was late, and I was alone in the middle of deserted park in a dangerous city. As if to underscore the need for alarm, I saw a movement close to me.  Not Lorca’s barking dogs or the intruders they were presumably barking at, but a raccoon lumbering under the foot bridge.  Then came a huge splash on the other side of the creek.  Turtle?  At night? Or a surprised fish?  At any rate, the vegetation suddenly seemed unfriendly and it seemed wise to leave the park as quickly as possible and move towards the road where there was still some occasional traffic.  As I left the park area, a stranger in a silver sports car stopped and offered me a ride. I declined with a wave of the camera and he quickly drove off.

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Koran 13:11

Does Allah help those who help themselves? This Koranic ayah was cited in Rajaa Alsanea’s Girls of Riyadh. I have used it as the subject of a small Sura Koran, the framed calligraphy art favored by a people whose religion discourages graven images.  You find the framed verses in homes, always over the door leading outside. The Arabic text is: إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا۟ مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ


Verily, Allah does not change a people’s condition until they change what is in themselves.
(The Chapter of Thunder), Verse 11




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More raw Lorca: “La monja gitana”

More Lorca from the closet:

A few weeks ago I was googling Lorca– I forget why—particularly this poem about the gypsy nun. I ‘m posting it here mostly because the introductory offer of Word 2007 that came with my netbook just ran out and this is the fastest way I can think of to get the text in a place where I can look at it.  The first part is in Spanish, the second part in English (courtesy of Google translate, hence the odd word choices) and the last part is my personal reaction, mostly just thinking out loud not done yet, but will probably be some photos of bees on clematis once WordPress fixes their current image editing problems. Mostly my thinking out loud stuff stays in the back room, but once I published one by mistake briefly and someone actually enjoyed it and was puzzled when I unpublished it again,  so FWIW, this one gets published.


A José Moreno Villa

Silencio de cal y mirto.
Malvas en las hierbas finas.
La monja borda alhelíes
sobre una tela pajiza.                    4

Vuelan en la araña gris
siete pájaros del prisma.
La iglesia gruñe a lo lejos
como un oso panza arriba.           8

¡Que bien borda! ¡Con qué gracia!
Sobre la tela pajiza
ella quisiera bordar
flores de su fantasía.                      12

¡Qué girasol! ¡Qué magnolia
de lentejuelas y cintas!
¡Qué azafranes y qué lunas,
en el mantel de la misa!                16

Cinco toronjas se endulzan
en la cercana cocina.
Las cinco llagas de Cristo
cortadas en Almería.                      20

Por los ojos de la monja
galopan dos caballistas.
Un rumor último y sordo
le despega la camisa,                       24

y al mirar nubes y montes
en las yertas lejanías,
se quiebra su corazón
de azúcar y yerbaluisa.                   28

¡Oh, qué llanura empinada
con veinte soles arriba!
¡Qué ríos puestos de pie
vislumbra su fantasía!                     32

Pero sigue con sus flores,
mientras que de pie, en la brisa,
la luz juega el ajedrez
alto de la celosía.                                 36


google translate:


José Moreno Villa

Silence of lime and myrtle.
Hollyhocks in the fresh herbs.
The nun embroiders thatched
wallflowers onto a canvas.                 4

Fly in the gray spider
seven birds of the prism.
The church growls in the distance
like a bear belly up.                              8

How good side! How funny!
On the straw-colored fabric
she would embroider
flowers of her fantasy.                      12

What a sunflower! What magnolia
sequins and ribbons!
What crocuses and what moons
on the tablecloth of the Mass!        16

Five sweetened grapefruit
in the nearby kitchen.
The five wounds of Christ
cut in Almeria.                                      20

Through the eyes of the nun
two horsemen gallop.
A rumor last and deaf
he takes off his shirt                            24

and looking at clouds and mountains
stiff in the distances,
your heart breaks
sugar and verbena.                              28

Oh, what a steep plateau
twenty soles up!
What rivers standing positions
sees its fantasy!                                     32

But still with her flowers
while standing in the breeze,
light plays chess
top of the lattice.                                  36


And now–two gratuitous bees:

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