Thursday, September 27, 2012

'Tis the season

Yes, I'm still here, skulking around the apartment. But with a definite added quota of mental energy, even if my cold still lingers a bit.

On Monday, I received a somewhat baffling e-mail. It was from Harry and David, a corporation that would dearly love for you to think of them as just these two avuncular fruit-growers somewhere in Oregon (not the meth-lab ridden Oregon, obviously; the fruitier, lusher, more mythic part). They are kind of like Ben and Jerry, if you replace ice-cream by delicious pears, and Vermont by Oregon.

The Plain People of Ireland: Is there a point to this meandering?
Whipping Cats Management: Security! Get these rabble out of here; I thought blog policy was perfectly clear - the plebs are allowed to "contribute" only in the comments section.
Whipping Cats "Security Officer" (a pimply teen): Right-ho, guvnor!

Anyway, this missive from Harry and David was to inform me that they had prepared my "holiday gift list", and that a simple nod of acquiescence on my part (with some vital credit card info, natch) was all that was needed to send packages of happiness criss-crossing the land. As if happiness were that simple, something to be commodified and dispatched at will.

But my real point is - What the heck, Harry (and/or David)? Hold your horses there just a minute! You sent me this message on September 24th. Just what "holiday" did you have in mind here, gentlemen? Yom Kippur? Since when do I have a gift list for Yom Kippur?

I think we all know what holiday H & D had in mind. But I am going to pretend that marketing for the Christmas season is not already in full swing, and that in fact H & D were exhorting me to celebrate the arrival of autumn.

Yes, indeed. Fall is here. I wonder what the poets have to say about that. Here is John Keats, in a generally upbeat frame of mind:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,-
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
How about some Rilke?


Herr, es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren lass die Winde los. 

Befiehl den letzten Früchten, voll zu sein;
gib ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin, und jage
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein. 

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

Lord: it is time. The summer was immense.
Stretch out your shadow on the sundial’s face,
and on the meadows let the winds go loose.

Command the last fruits to be full in time,
grant them even two more southerly days,
press them toward fulfillment soon, and chase
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Whoever has no house now, will build none.
Who is alone now, will stay long alone,
will lie awake, read, get long letters written,
and through the streets that follow up and down
will wander restless, when the leaves are driven.

Translated by John Felstiner
19 February 2011
(There are many bad translations of this poem; John Felstiner's wonderful version is a jewel)
In closing, let's hand the microphone over to Monsieur Paul Verlaine, on whose home turf we will be spending the greater part of this particular autumn. Paul, what do you have for us? An "Autumn Song"? Just the ticket.
Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l'automne
Blessent mon cœur
D'une langueur

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l'heure.
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens,
Et je pleure...

Et je m'en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m'emporte
De çà, de là,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte...
Perhaps we could have that in (rough) translation?
With long sobs
the violin-throbs
of autumn wound
my heart with languorous
and monotonous

Choking and pale
When I mind the tale
the hours keep,
my memory strays
down other days
and I weep;

and I let me go
where ill winds blow
now here, now there,
harried and sped,
even as a dead
leaf, anywhere.
God, no, Paul is off his meds again!

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