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Posts Tagged ‘poetry

Enough of science and of art

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From Coleridge and Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads:

THE TABLES TURNED; AN EVENING SCENE, ON THE SAME SUBJECT.

Up! up! my friend, and clear your looks,
Why all this toil and trouble?
Up! up! my friend, and quit your books,
Or surely you’ll grow double.

The sun above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow,
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife,
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music; on my life
There’s more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
And he is no mean preacher;
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by chearfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man;
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Misshapes the beauteous forms of things;
—We murder to dissect.

Enough of science and of art;
Close up these barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

Written by uncudh

April 1, 2010 at 12:58 pm

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The Loves of the Triangles

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One of the most bizarre poems in the English language is surely “The Loves of the Triangles”, which is a parody of an almost equally bizarre poem, “The Loves of the Plants“, by Erasmus Darwin.  The following excerpt describes the erotic tendencies of the different conic sections: parabolas, hyperbolas, and ellipses.  I imagine that if parents knew just how dirty geometry can be, we would not be allowed to teach the subject in high schools!

And first, the fair PARABOLA behold,
Her timid arms, with virgin blush, unfold!
Though, on one focus fix’d, her eyes betray
A heart that glows with love’s resistless sway,
Though, climbing oft, she strive with bolder grace
Round his tall neck to clasp her fond embrace,
Still e’er she reach it from his polish’d side
Her trembling hands in devious Tangents glide.

Not thus HYPERBOLA:—with subtlest art
The blue-eyed wanton plays her changeful part;
Quick as her conjugated axes move
Through every posture of luxurious love,
Her sportive limbs with easiest grace expand;
Her charms unveil’d provoke the lover’s hand:—
Unveil’d except in many a filmy ray
Where light Asymptotes o’er her bosom play,
Nor touch her glowing skin, nor intercept the day.

Yet why, ELLIPSIS, at thy fate repine?
More lasting bliss, securer joys are thine.
Though to each fair his treacherous wish may stray,
Though each in turn, may seize a transient sway,
‘Tis thine with mild coercion to restrain,
Twine round his struggling heart, and bind with endless chain.

The full text can be found in The Poetry of the Anti-Jacobin, which is available for free download on Google Books.

Written by uncudh

December 14, 2009 at 11:32 pm

Posted in literature, math

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Napkin thieves in ancient Rome

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Apparently Romans got pretty upset when people would steal napkins from their dinner tables.  Catullus, at any rate, didn’t care for the practice.  He wrote, not one, but two poems berating someone for swiping napkins at dinner.  From Catullus 12 (Green’s translation):

Your left hand, friend Asinius, you provincial,
works its michief while we drink and gossip,
snitching napkins from distracted guests.  You
think this trick is smart?  So dumb, you can’t see
just how dirty your game is, how unlovely?
[…]
Either, then, you give me back my napkin,
or else you’ll get a scad of scathing verses.
It’s not so much the price that’s made me angry:
this was a gift, a memento from my comrade,
top-line real native hand-towels, that Fabullus—
and Veranius—sent me all the way from
Spain: so I must love them just as much as
sweet Veranius and my dear Fabullus.

Written by uncudh

October 25, 2009 at 8:40 pm

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Sigurd as the “chosen one”

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We have previously made some remarks concerning Tolkien’s recently published Lays of Sigurd and Gudrun.  One thing I neglected to mention was Tolkien’s one major departure from his sources: namely, his portrayal of Sigurd as the “chosen one” of the gods, whose presence at the Last Battle will determine its outcome and the future of the world to follow.  The Norse Poetic Edda begins with the famous poem Voluspa, which describes the prophecy of the Seeress concerning the Ragnarok, or the Doom of the gods.  Tolkien begins his Lay of Sigurd with his own version of the Voluspa; however, he inserts several stanzas describing the role of Sigurd in the Last Battle:

If in day of Doom
one deathless stands,
who death hath tasted
and dies no more,
the serpent-slayer,
seed of Odin,
then all shall not end,
nor Earth perish.

This conception of Sigurd is not at all present in any of the Norse texts.  One wonders why Tolkien felt it necessary to introduce such an element into the mythology.  Christopher Tolkien points out in his commentary to the Lay the connections to his father’s own imagined mythology, in particular to the tale of Turin Turambar:

This mysterious conception […] reappeared as a prophecy in the Silmarillion texts of the 1930s: so in the Quenta Noldorinwa, ‘it shall be the black sword of Turin that deals unto Melko [Morgoth] his death and final end; and so shall the children of Hurin and all Men be avenged.’

In general, the parallels between Sigurd and Turin are of course quite clear:  Turin as the Dragon-slayer, the wearer of the Dragon-helm, etc.

Written by uncudh

October 24, 2009 at 2:38 pm

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The death of love

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Arguably the greatest long poem (mahakavya) in classical Sanskrit is Kalidasa’s Kumarasambhava (or “The Birth of Kumara”), which tells the tale of how the warrior god Skanda (the “Kumara” of the title) came to be born.  Once, the gods were suffering greatly from the attacks of the demon Taraka.  Unable to defeat Taraka, the gods approached the creator-god Brahma to ask for his help.  Specifically, the gods asked for a general who could lead them to victory against Taraka.  Brahma told the gods that they must find a way to convince Shiva the Destroyer to marry Parvati, the daughter of the mountain god.  The child of Shiva and Parvati would be the general that they were looking for.  However, Shiva was deeply absorbed in meditation and would not easily be tempted into marriage.  The gods approached Kamadeva, god of love (armed, like his Greco-Roman counterpart, with bow and arrow), and requested that he use his unique abilities to make Shiva fall in love with Parvati.  Kamadeva agreed, and went to the mountaintop where the god Shiva was engaged in meditation.  Shiva, however, sensed the intrusion of the love god.  Kalidasa describes what happened next (the Clay Sanskrit Library edition 3.69-72):

Then Three-eyed Shiva,
through his self-control
powerfully suppressing
the disturbance of his senses,
wished to see the cause
of his mind’s disturbance
and sent his gaze in all directions.

He saw Self-born Love ready to attack,
his lovely bow drawn right back
to form a circle,
his fist resting
at the corner of his right eye,
shoulder hunched,
left foot arched.

Enraged by the violation of his penance,
his frown made his face
dreadful to behold,
and from his third eye
a sparkling, blazing fire
suddenly flew forth.

“Lord, hold back your anger,
hold back!”—
even as the cries of the wind-gods
crossed the sky,
that fire born from the eye of Shiva who is Being,
reduced to ashes Intoxicating Love.

His corporeal form having been disintegrated by the fire emanating from the mystical third eye of Shiva the Destroyer, Kamadeva, the god of love, is henceforth known as Ananga, the Bodiless God.

Written by uncudh

September 7, 2009 at 7:39 pm

The grief of Gudrun

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Apparently, Tennyson’s poem “Home They Brought Her Warrior Dead” was inspired by a translation of the First Lay of Gudrun from the Poetic Edda. Here is the Tennyson poem:

HOME they brought her warrior dead:
She nor swooned, nor uttered cry:
All her maidens, watching, said,
‘She must weep or she will die.’

Then they praised him, soft and low
Called him worthy to be loved,
Truest friend and noblest foe;
Yet she neither spoke nor moved.

Stole a maiden from her place,
Lightly to the warrior stepped
Took the face-cloth from the face;
Yet she neither moved nor wept.

Rose a nurse of ninety years,
Set his child upon her knee—
Like summer tempest came her tears
‘Sweet my child, I live for thee.’

The Eddaic lay begins (Hollander trans.):

Erst Gjuki’s daughter     unto death was nigh
as o’er Sigurth she sate     sorrowfully;
she whimpered not,     nor her hands she wrung,
nor wept, either,     as do women else.

Went to the widow     wise earls kindly,
the heavy heart     of her to ease;
nor yet Guthrun     her grief could weep,
in her bosom through     her heart would burst.

Curiously, in the Norse lay, it is not the placing of her child on her knee that causes Gudrun to finally express her grief, but rather it is the uncovering of Sigurd’s corpse that causes her to burst into tears.

Written by uncudh

June 8, 2009 at 11:30 pm

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Tolkien’s Lays of Sigurd and Gudrun

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I spent the day reading Tolkien’s recently published The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun (rather than working or doing something else productive).  The book consists of two “lays” written in the style of the Norse Eddaic poems.  The first is the “Lay of the Volsungs” and tells the legend of Sigurd; the second is the “Lay of Gudrun” and tells the legend of the downfall of the Niflungs.  Each poem is an attempt to organize the material of the Eddaic lays concerning Sigurd and the Niflungs respectively into a single coherent narrative.

Since Tolkien is trying to compile material from several complete works into a single poem (or rather, two poems), the narrative in his version is necessarily extremely terse and compressed.  E. V. Gordon notes in his Introduction to Old Norse with regards to the compilation of the prose Volsungasaga that “each of the poems that [the saga author] used was a complete tragedy, and the result of joining them is accumulated horror”—a remark that could potentially apply to Tolkien’s compilation as well.

Due to the extreme compression of the narrative in Tolkien’s poems, the work can be somewhat difficult to follow.  Christopher Tolkien notes in the introduction that “it must also be said that his poems are not at all points easy to follow, and this arises especially from the nature of the old poems that were his models.”  I would imagine that Tolkien’s poems may be near incomprehensible to folks not already familiar with the Sigurd legend from the principal Norse sources (poetic Edda, Snorra Edda, and Volsungasaga).  However, Christopher Tolkien provides a very helpful commentary, which mostly serves to place Tolkien’s narrative choices within the context of his sources.  Even with the commentary, I’d say it’s still a tough read.

For my part though, I found the work fascinating, and I thought that the poetry was excellent.  Here is one stanza from the “Lay of the Volsungs” (II.24):

Through and through them
thrice went Sigmund;
as grass in Gautland
grimly mowed them.
His shield he shed:
with shining sword
smoking redly
slew two-handed.

Written by uncudh

May 13, 2009 at 1:13 am

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