Monday, September 1, 2014

Pablo Neruda - Poetry

Ok, this poet I know, though I haven't read any of his works before.  This is Pablo Neruda, one of the most famous poets of the 20th century.  The poem is titled, fittingly enough, 'Poetry'.

And it was at that age . . . Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don't know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I did now know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,

that fire,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
and open,
palpitating plantations,
shadow perforated,
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.

I like it.  I love the idea of the spirit of poetry descending upon an unaware boy and changing him over.  (I don't know if that's really how it works.)  We've all had times like that when something simply clicks in us and the world opens up.  This captures that moment in perfect poetic quality.  The original is in Spanish but I think that this translation works well.
I'll keep an eye out for more Neruda.

Readings for September

Two of them.

Locke: An Essay on Human Understanding (Book III, Ch 1-3, 9-11) link
Kant: Science of Right link

The Locke is pretty easy to read through.  I started the Kant last night and, well, it's going to take some effort.  Good luck!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Books Read in August

This was a rough month, or at least a very full month.  We've done a spot of camping.  We've had people going back to school in waves.  I had a meeting that may launch a very big project (fingers crossed!).  To top all of that off, my Kindle broke down a bit and I lost all of my notes on the second half of 'Paradise Lost'.  I'm now trying to figure out if I can nurse it for a couple more months or if I need to replace it sooner. 
Which isn't to say that I didn't get some quality reading in:
  • A History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell - With more Kant coming up, I thought that I needed some more grounding before I tackled him.  To that end, I read the last third of Russell's history (basically from the Renaissance on).  I found this book fascinating, especially about the Renaissance.  I'm sure I'll write about that at some time.
  • Foucault's Pendulum, Umberto Eco - Set in Milan, this book is about a group of publishers that attract some mystical writers.  For a game, they mix up the mysticism (Templars, Illuminati, Rosicrucians, etc.) and make up a 'plan', basically a long theory that explains a partial message.  Some of the mystics get wind of this 'plan' and they mistakenly believe that it's true.  Trouble ensues.  This is sometimes mentioned as 'a thinking man's 'Davinci Code'.  It's probably not fair to Eco as his book is much, much deeper and less of a thriller.
  • Black Out/All Clear, Connie Willis - This is a two part novel about a group of time traveling historians that get stuck in World War II during the blitz.  The story is interesting and well told, but the most striking thing is the behavior of the Brits during the bombing campaign.  I can't imagine what that must be like.  This was a reread for me.
Everyone is now back at school and the routine is (hopefully!) settling down again.  

Monday, August 25, 2014

More Paradise - Milton

(Sorry for the very brief posts of the last couple of weeks.  The end of the summer has been abnormally busy and my mental energies have been sorely taxed.  The kids are all back in school so things should return to normal.)

I'd like to point readers to a far better review of 'Paradise Lost' than my own effort from last week.  You can read Cleo's full review here.  It sounds like I'm not alone in finding Satan to be a sympathetic character.  I'm just following in some 300 years of footsteps.  Well, it's nice to have company.  Cleo also points out 'A Preface to Paradise Lost' by C.S. Lewis (Amazon link), which sounds like a wonderful companion piece.  It's on my wish list now and I'll let you know if/when I get a chance to read it.


I'd also like to point out some artwork that was inspired by 'Paradise Lost'.  This is the from Gustave Dore and it's simply wonderful.
You can find more here.  Simply wonderful.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Countee Cullen - Poetry

Another new poet for me, Countee Cullen.  I didn't know the poem either, 'Incident' is the name.

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, "Nigger."

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That's all that I remember.

This is another powerful poem from the Harlem Renaissance.  I can't help but feel a stab in the heart for that poor eight year old.  The idea of looking at another person and fixing a label on them is, of course, abhorrent.  I hope that someday we'll be past it.
Let me set aside the racism, though.  It's amazing how pieces of trauma focus our memories.  When I think back on my (relatively uneventful) childhood, the stories that quickly pop out in my head are those of either great pain (like a finger stuck in a door) or great humiliation.  The triumphs and good events are still there, but the memories are more muted and general.  The awful ones are sharper.  The still stick out.
I wonder why that is?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Readings for September

Two of them.

Locke: An Essay on Human Understanding (Book III, Ch 1-3, 9-11) link
Kant: Science of Right link

Some nice chewy reading.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Paradise Lost - Milton

'Paradise Lost' is Milton's epic poem regarding the Garden of Eden and man's fall from grace.  The poem also covers Satan in Tartarus (Hell) and accounts of the war he lost in heaven.  It truly is epic in all senses of the word.
I spoke with my Dad, who has taught 'Paradise Lost' on several occasions and he told me that it in its time, it was second only to the Bible in terms of popularity.  This isn't surprising.  Almost all of our modern conceptions of hell are drawn from Milton's imagery.  With Milton we get burning lakes.  With Dante, a few centuries earlier, hell was a series of frozen rings.  Now we think of Hell as a place of burning torments.
The most surprising element of the poem was how sympathetic it made Satan out to be.  I'm somewhat certain that wasn't the aim of Milton, but I'll be damned if that isn't the result.  Satan famously says that it is 'Better to reign in Hell, then to serve in Heav'n'.  I can't help but wonder if that didn't reflect some of the distrust in the Monarchy that was evident throughout England in the 17th century.  The idea of being subservient to someone else was being seriously questioned.  (This is probably just me projecting backwards, but it struck me.)
The interplay between Adam and Eve was also very interesting.  It deserves its own blog post, but I'll just mention that Milton mixes in a justification for eating the fruit that seems very close to the traditional wedding vows.  I don't know if Milton inspired the vows, or simply copied them.

Did I enjoy the poem?  Parts of it.  There were some long sections of descriptions of scenery or flora that I skimmed through.  There were sections on things like 'free will' that I'm sure were very important at the time but don't seem so very important now.  The arguments of the 1600s between Catholics and Protestants are interesting from an historical perspective but not very captivating on their own merits.