Tuesday, September 11, 2018



    Night gave way to day
    As we lay here dreaming.
    Raising my head to check
    The time I looked about,
    While all the dogs still
    Slept, and out the window
    At the rising light,

    Trees, the mountains
    And everything else that
    Became visible.  A little
    Later Jessica followed me
    Downstairs.  We went out
    Back to take a closer look
    At what the morning held.

    Why is it on such mornings
    A guileless suggestion
    Will epitomize political
    Deceit, and cringing, faddish
    Twitters?  A mourning dove
    Begins a lament.  A dog in the
    Next yard emits a single bark.



    Counting back, 100, 99, 98,
    My stepfather over-ruled my
    Mother and bought me a Monarch
    Bike; so at 12 I could ride for
    The first time free of
    Her oversight where counting
    Forward was not an option.

    Two years later he
    Encouraged a philosophy
    Student and fellow church
    Member to talk me
    Into a better view of the world.
    Instead I told him the
    Multitudes of my thinking.

    Ninety-five, ninety-four –
    I woke hearing an antagonist
    Daring me to apply this furious
    Energy to mankind’s good.
    So remembering only that from
    My nightmare, I took
    Up the challenge

    Of his presuppositions.  I made
    A point to stop there and
    Wait.  Let whoever keeps
    Track go ahead.  I’m weary
    Of the frenetic nights of turmoil --
    Rewriting the scripts of every
    Remembered word and deed

    As though I’d have a chance
    In another life to do it
    Right, or the courage
    To step out in the sureness
    Of a cadence-count
    Drill instructor who
    Has no double mind.

    For this little while
    My mind still reeks of
    Multivariate forces forming
    Webs too bedraggled
    To break apart and form a simple
    Life; so if that’s all there is it will
    End in peace.  If not, then war



    I sat dreaming
    Till Jessica’s shrill
    Bark brought
    Me awake.
    I’ve never counted
    On the good will of
    Those who drive

    On the 405
    Worth having.
    They hurry ahead;
    So if I hang
    Back in my
    With images of

    Geese flying
    Obliviously past,
    What will it count?
    Or if I
    Busy myself
    With the dictates
    Of these dreams?

The Evangelists

    What of the others
    Left down below?
    We told each other
    We hadn’t power
    To save them all, nor
    Feed a multitude --
    Just these few

    Up here who we
    Could see in deck
    Chairs sunning themselves
    Like us shielded from the
    Push and pull
    Of faulty planning.
    We sighed at the others’

    End and drank the
    Dregs of
    We slept and had
    Nightmares, and
    Let our lives
    Slip away.

Friday, September 7, 2018

The poetry of Giacomo da Lentini

Giacomo da Lentini, The Complete Poetry translation and notes by Richard Lansing, publish by the University of Toronto Press in 2018

I wasn’t impressed with the poetry as translated by Lansing (Professor emeritus from Brandeis).  He has the scholarly qualifications, but his poetry seems pedestrian.  Of course, the original by Giacomo may be to blame, I don’t know.

An introduction was written by Akash Kumar (Assistant professor from University of California at Santa Cruz).

I was well into The Canzoni and Discordo when I learned that the latest scholarship indicates that this is actually a translation made by Giacomo of the Occitan canso ‘A vos, midontc, voill retrair’ en cantan” by Folquet de Marselha.  The translator Lansing implies this is an original poem of Giacomo’s and merely based upon the poem by the Occitan poet Folquet, but Akash Kumar in his introduction writes “We are confronted with an even more explicit moment of translation in the canzone Madonna, dir vo voglio, in which Giacomo translates the entire first two stanzas of Occitan poet Folquet de Marselha’s canzone . . .  But Giacomo does not merely turn one form of vernacular poetry into another; he works to create greater logical coherence in his canzone, transforms Folquet’s recourse to a philosophical principle into a zoological example from the natural world, and moves beyond the bounds of Folquet’s poem by adding three additional stanzas.”  So, I suppose, we are to take this as a case similar to Edward Fitzgerald’s in which he translated the poetry of Omar Khayam, but so improved upon the original that one loses sight of whatever it was that Omar wrote and admires what became of it in the hands of Fitzgerald.  But in the case of Folquet’s canzone, the Giacomo improvement isn’t clear to me and I can only judge by the poetry in English; which isn’t impressive (IMHO).

Why should we care about Giacomo of Lentini?  Because, according to Akash Kumar, he is the putative originator of the Sonnet.  Kumar finds a reference in Dante’s Purgatorio in which he credits the notaro [Giacomo was a notary in the court of Frederick II] , Dante himself, and one other with the creation of the new school of Italian poetry.
In the section Tenzoni I thought at first that Giacomo had written both sides of these debates, but not so.  The Abbot of Tivoli really did write the three sonnets that Giacomo responded to with sonnets of his own.  The same is true of sonnets written by Iacopo Mostacci and Pier de la Vigna (who achieved posthumous fame by being placed in the seventh circle of Hell by Dante for having committed suicide).  

I was finally appreciative of a few of the 38 sonnets written by Giacomo.  In sonnet 24, I was surprised to discover Giacomo exasperated:

My lady, your expression raised in me
The hope of gaining love and your good will,
. . .
But now you seem annoyed, so it is strange
That I, not having sinned, should make amends,
While you have seldom put your sail to use,
Just like a skipper who’s incompetent,
I really think it’s ignorance,
A knowledge lacking steadiness
That varies with each new caprice;
So you aren’t master of yourself
Nor of one in whom virtue’s firm,
And you won’t find true happiness.

In poem 30, Giacomo writes,
A love so noble seized my heart
That I despair of its success:
To choose to love a bird of prey . . .

And in poem 32, Giacomo writes
. . . But, Love in you I find the opposite,
Like someone who is full of perfidy,
Since at the start you don’t at all seem rank,
Then down the road you bare your evil hand:
You’re least endeared to those who serve you best,
So I declare you lord of treachery.

Most of the poems are properly admiring, and in accordance with the standards of Courtly Love, but in 36 I wonder if Giacomo doesn’t put himself at risk when he writes,
She has no fault of any kind
Nor any peer, nor ever had,
Nor will, such is her flawlessness;
I think if God had it to do,
He could not so engage his thought
As to create one just like her.

The Abigensian Crusades decimated Occitania between 1209 and 1226 and Giacomo would probably have been alive during at least the latter part of that crusade.  Other Crusades were to follow ending with one against Aragon in 1285.  So I wonder if an inquisitional priest wouldn’t have found fault with Giacomo for saying that creating a woman just like his love was something impossible for God to do.