Sunday, September 18, 2016

Chimed Poetry

The Koran was born as an oral document, in a largely preliterate society -- many Muslims maintained that the Prophet himself was without letters.   This “scripture” (as we call it, with print-culture bias) is in its natural element when recited aloud in public, by an expert in cantillation (tajwîd).  

The language of the text itself  lends itself naturally to such vocal performance, since, although it is not poetry (the verses are of greatly disparate length, and there is no meter), and though the verses to not exactly rhyme in a way characteristic of English or German,  they do (one might say) chime, showing assonance and consonance.
Readers of translations (or, strictly, “versions” or “interpretations”, as Muslim scholars insist) of the Koran, get no sense of this.    Nor should such a “chiming” version be undertaken in any rhyme-rich language, for the work as a whole.  Still, to give a flavor of it, here is an imitation or rhyming impression of the opening prayer of the Koran, the fâtiha:

To thee -- to thee -- our voice we raise --
Lord of the Worlds -- in hymns of praise.
Fount of all mercy  till End of Days,
Thee we entreat, our staff and stays.
Show us the straight path, midst welter of ways:
not that of the curse’d, nor of him who strays.


The canonical Latin prayers of the Historical Church  do not rhyme, nor show meter.   From the Creed:

Credo in unum Deum,
Patrem omnipotentem,
factorem cæli et terræ,
visibilium omnium et invisibilium.

But the later, popular prayers of the Middle Ages  often do.   Here is the Stabat mater, which is trochaic tetramater  and in strophic form:

Stabat Mater dolorosa
Iuxta crucem lacrimosa,
Dum pendebat filius.
Cuius animam gementem
Contristatam et dolentem
Pertransivit gladius.

O quam tristis et afflicta
Fuit illa benedicta
Mater unigeniti
Quae maerebat et dolebat.
Et tremebat, cum videbat
Nati poenas incliti.


For verse translations (in English, French, and German) of St. Francis’ hymn to Brother Sun, try this:

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Found Epigram

From time to time, we’ve posted (shaped) fragments of prose, that could well be taken as verse:  the genre of found poetry.
Now here, from the pen of Amy Davidson in the current New Yorker, a patch of reportage that would do honor to a novel.   Re Hillary Clinton being grilled for the nth or rather n+1st time, on some largely artificial scandal or other, nurtured by her foes:

Her expression was one of hard bemusement, as though she were watching someone struggle with a math problem  she had long since worked out.

(Such nuggets are not rare in The New Yorker;  we reproduce this one  just because of the math angle.)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sleepy//Insomnia monostich

In the forest,
night opens slow-ly      like a   y a w n   .   .    .     .       .

[Evelyn Waugh, reporting from Brazil, 1932.]

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Pampas glimpses

The country was dead flat
dead flat and featureless

dead       flat
flat       . . .   . . .   . . .


heaps of bones,    picked white by the ants,
by the ants
by the ants       ants
ants ants ants ants ants ants ants ants ants ants ants
ants ants ants ants ants ants ants ants ants ants ants ants ants ants
ants ants ants ants ants ants ants ants ants ants ants ants ants ants ants ants ants

[Evelyn Waugh, reporting from Brazil, 1932;
the original lines have been massaged  by our crack team of accredited editors.]

Thursday, September 8, 2016

African sun-sky monostich

sunlight   clearer than daylight;
there is something of a moon about it.

[Evelyn Waugh, reporting from Kenya, 1931;
you probably had to be there.]

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Abyssinian Epigram

The Emperor passes
in a great red car,
surróunded by cántering láncers.

[Evelyn Waugh, reporting from Addis Ababa, 1930;
prosodic tashkil  added editorially.]

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Deep Tweed monostich

So  home !      beneath
the orange-trees,
through the deep darkness
that smelled like tweed …

[Inspired by:  Evelyn Waugh, “A Pleasure Cruise in 1929”;
slightly redacted for assonance.]

Disjecta membra

Scraps  from a single paragraph  of The Green Hat (1924):

Her eyes were stronger than mine,
even as wind  is stronger than air.
… silk the colour of daylight …
I took hold of the sword in my mind  with both hands,
but was not strong enough to lift it.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Labor Day indeed

The human year needs public holidays, each with its own import, to give structure to the cycle of experience, the way a body needs a skeleton, which would else be a flabby blob.  The traditional Church is rich in these;  we in the secular world need cherish what few we’ve got.

For long, the Labor Day weekend served as a sort of Mardi Gras, marking the end of the lotus months of summer, a last family fling before knuckling down to to the autumnal duties of work and school.   That role has been undermined by lobbies that, in many places, have contrived to start up the school year prematurely.   (In our area, thus jumping the gun  proved especially pointless, as we've had a streak of sultry weather, and some classes had to be cancelled on that account.) Kudos to the governor of Maryland for putting a stop to that.

For the roster of our posts concerning public holidays, click here.
For labor matters, here.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Ashes to Ashes monostich

The blue smoke floated up  and was  lost  along  the wind.

Requiescat in pace

[From:  the funeral scene in Aldous Huxley, Those Barren Leaves (1925), p. 337]

Tone Poem

the ghosts were playing oboes,
not for the sensual ear,
in the ruined sepulchres.

[Source: Aldous Huxley, Those Barren Leaves (1925), p. 299.
Behold the open notes of ghosts and oboes!]

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Ur-Erde monostich

   The soil of the hills  was red,
   like that from which God made Adam.

[Source: Aldous Huxley, Those Barren Leaves (1925), p. 276.
Read while traveling in Australia’s “Red Centre”.]

Friday, September 2, 2016

Sunrise monostich

   the poplar trees   threw shadows
   longer than themselves

[Source: Aldous Huxley, Those Barren Leaves (1925), p. 249.
A familiar phenomenon, curiously expressed.
Cf. the idiom "punching above their weight".]

And compare:

From the crest of the Ciminian mountains
they first saw the sun.

[id., p. 331]

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Minimalist Limerick

Once a lady
pretty shady
   broke wedlock,
   robbed the poor-box
and ran off with Father O’Grady.