Thursday, April 19, 2012

The once and future Mandelstam

During a conversation with an admiring Paul Theroux, the elderly Jorge Luis Borges insisted that peace seldom inspires great art. What memorable art, the cantankerous Borges asked, had stable, peaceful nations like modern Canada ever given the world?

Borges got bored easily, especially in the decades he spent as an old and blind man, and his claim that conflict and chaos are the seedbeds of art may have been intended as a provocation, rather than a serious argument. When we consider the masterpieces created by writers, painters, architects, auteurs, and even poster-makers in early twentieth century Russia, though, it is hard not wonder whether Borges might have had a point.

Men and women like Malevich, Pasternak, Khlebnikov, Akhmatova, and Eisenstein had to cope with three revolutions, the German invasion of their homeland, a Civil War, and first Tsarist then Stalinist dictatorship, and yet they managed to produce work which still resonates around the world today. How many of us, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, would be brave enough to predict that the feted artists of our era will enjoy the same longevity? Damien Hirst may have made a lot more money than Kasimir Malevich, but his images look derivative and trivial besides the great visionary canvases of the man who invented and then went beyond absolute abstract art. James Cameron may have bigger budgets and fancier gadgets than Eisenstein enjoyed, but his Titanic looks pretty flimsy besides the Marxist master's Battleship Potemkin.

Osip Mandelstam was perhaps the most singular of all the geniuses who flourished amidst the chaos of revolutionary Russia. Raised in St Petersburg by Jewish parents, he was one of the young modernists who sought to revolutionise Russian poetry in the first two decades of the twentieth century, by replacing the over-elaborate language and cliched imagery of nineteenth century trends like Romanticism and Symbolism with work that was both crisply phrased and elliptical. From the start of his career, though, Mandelstam had a fiercely idiosyncratic understanding of the modernist mission.

Since the early nineteenth century, at least, Russian intellectuals had been divided in their attitudes toward the wealthier nations to their west. Russian governments encouraged them to study abroad, and to appropriate some of the new knowledge and technologies which had appeared in industrial societies like Britain. But while some Russian writers and thinkers looked to the West for inspiration, others reacted against what they saw as the devaluation of their own culture and people, and tried to ground their work in the Russian countryside and peasantry. The conflict between Westernism and Russophilia was exemplified by Dostoevsky, who denounced the West as decadent and proclaimed Russia the cultural and spiritual centre of the world, yet spent years in the literary salons and gambling dens of Paris and Geneva.

The division over European modernity was replicated inside Russian radical politics, as groups like the Narodniks and the Social Revolutionaries advocated agitation in the countryside and the creation of an agrarian form of socialism, while the Bolsheviks insisted on the urban working class as the main agent of revolution, and on industrialisation as the way to a new society.

Like their forebears, the modernist intellectuals of the early twentieth century agonised over their relationship with the West. Some of them thought that Russia had to be ruthlessly rationalised and modernised, so that science and industry took the place of priests and the plough. Others, like the great Futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov, insisted that the answers to Russia's many problems lay in the country's remote rural interior, with the folk stories and folk magic of peasants and nomads. After wandering deep into the woodlands and marshes of the east and also exploring dictionaries of various medieval Slavic tongues, Khlebnikov developed a dialect of his own called 'Zaum', which he thought capable not only of describing but also magically altering reality, after the manner of the imps and goblins which inhabit Russian mythology.

Osip Mandelstam opted out of the great debate between Westernising and Russophile intellectuals. Born in Warsaw to middle class Jewish parents and raised in St Petersburg, he was fascinated from an early age not with industrial northern Europe but with the ancient civilisations of the Mediterranean. Mandelstam's poetry brings together, in a strange but unaffected way, the turbulent Russia of the early twentieth century, with its barricaded streets and cavalry charges over frozen lakes, and the warm, pagan, sensual Greece of Homer and Aristophanes. The black soil of the ancient south is slipped under the blood-stained snows of revolutionary Russia. Mandelstam welcomed the overthrow of Tsarism in February 1917, and he was able to publish his poems and earn a living as a journalist during the first few years of Bolshevik rule, but Stalin's rise to power in the mid-'20s was a disaster for him.

Like so many megalomaniacal dictators, Stalin had appalling taste in art. He despised the avant-garde writing and painting which had proliferated in the early days of the Soviet Union, and he demanded that artists abide by the miserable propagandistic aesthetic known as 'socialist realism'. Suddenly the penalty for innovation was prison or death.

Late in 1933, during a walk through a frozen Moscow with Boris Pasternak, Mandelstam whispered the words to a new poem into his friend's ear:

We live, deaf to the land beneath us,
Ten steps away no one hears our speeches,

All we hear is the Kremlin mountaineer,
The murderer and peasant-slayer.

His fingers are fat as grubs
And the words, final as lead weights, fall from his lips,

His cockroach whiskers leer
And his boot tops gleam...

Pasternak turned on his heel, looked urgently at Mandelstam and said "You didn't say that - and I didn't hear it". Despite Pasternak's urgings, Mandelstam failed to suppress his criticism of Stalin, and in 1934 he was sent into exile in the small provincial town of Voronezh. Lonely and frightened, the poet had a mental breakdown, and attempted to redeem himself by producing the sort of 'Ode to Stalin' that was becoming popular amongst Soviet writers. But Mandelstam's aesthetic conscience kept interfering with his desire to placate 'the Kremlin mountaineer', and his poem evolved from a sonorous piece of grovelling into 'Lines to an Unknown Soldier', a long, anguished meditation on destruction and tyranny. Mandelstam was sent to a labour camp in Russia's far east in 1938, and seems to have died later that year. In a number of the poems he wrote in the last decade of his life the vast cold pine forest of Siberia is imagined as both sinister and somehow welcoming place. Like Homer's land of the lotus eaters, Siberia's taiga offers both sanctuary and oblivion:

The wolfhound age springs at my shoulders
though I'm no wolf by blood.
Better to be stuffed up a sleeve like a fleece cap
in a fur coat from the steppes of Siberia...

Lead me into the night by the Yenesey
where the pine touches the star.
I'm no wolf by blood,
and only my own kind will kill me.

Osip Mandelstam's continuing hold over readers far from his homeland is shown by the publication of a new book of English-language translations of his work. In a review of Ecco Press' Stolen Air: Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam for the Washington Post, Michael Dirda quotes Mandelstam's claim that 'Only in Russia' is poetry properly 'respected', because only in Russia is poetry 'so common a motive for murder'. Borges might have smiled sadly at that piece of irony.

Mandelstam's poems have not been forgotten by twenty-first century New Zealand writers. In 'Ovid in Otherworld', the final, feverish section of his 2008 novel EMO, Jack Ross quotes Mandelstam at length, as he meditates on the connections between exile and creativity.

Hamish Dewe and I discovered Mandelstam as undergraduates at the University of Auckland back in the 1990s, and over the years we've swapped copies of various editions of his work, arguing over the merits of this or that version of this or that poem.

When Hamish edited the 43rd issue of brief last year, I took the opportunity to fling numerous submissions at him, and in return received the expected series of laconically enlightening criticisms. Here's one of the poems Hamish did accept for brief #33, along with his commentary:


pick up the radio set
carry it out of the living room
walk down your street
walk past the hairdressers
the delicatessan
the park emptied punctually
at half-past five
walk into the taiga
find the fir tree
the fir tree I

find the axe growing
like a smooth perfect branch
pull the axe from its wound
swing it into the earth
break open the permafrost's empty
treasure chest

bury the radio standing up
like a horse
and cover your work with pine needles

in three thousand years a Mapuche-Hungarian miner
will pick the radio from his day's dredgings
and remember a fossilised trilobite

he will lay his ear on the sodden cloth of the speaker
and hear Ulysses returning to Ithaca
in orderly hexameters

From: Hamish Dewe

I think it is better without the first lines, starting mysteriously in medias res. With the first lines, the first stanza begins to feel either slightly quotidian or perhaps a little Gogol-surreal (a feeling reinforced by the almost shamanistic repetitiveness of some of the phrasing (find the fir tree / the fir tree I / described // find the axe).

Mandelstam as a b-boy with a ghetto-blaster on his shoulder.

Isn't it 'delicatessEn'?

Without agency, in the guise of fate, Osip transmits the gossip of the wireless century (news that stays news) into the mestizo future.

Lift the carcass to your ear, imagine you hear the sea, across which the hero attempts home. At this distance, who remembers the names of the crew, or M's siberian jailers?

Walk out of the trivial, the familiar and hence unknown, into the oracular preordained wilds. Spend your years in the wilderness to return as the voice of Mosaic Truth.

The axe is surely a much better symbol than the sword (pulled out of the stone, or revealed from the still waters of the lake) for the people's Arthurian hero (the once and future Mandelstam!)

[Posted by Maps/Scott]


Anonymous Scott said...

Oops: I gave Borges a quote from Orson Welles' The Third Man in the first version of this post, when I had him claiming that Switzerland, with all its peace and democracy, have given the world nothing but the cuckoo clock in 300 years. It is a good line.

7:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Without agency, in the guise of fate, Osip transmits the gossip of the wireless century (news that stays news) into the mestizo future.'


8:16 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Borges was wrong re war and art (if you dig into any country's "art" will find great art for sure) but your poems are both good. I could never engage with Mandelstam as much as (others of that or a similar time.) But he is good. But like Shostakovich they winge on about Stalin etc one is possible such an eccentric as Mandelstam wouldn't have fitted any society. He may have been actively anti-Communist or an agent. Stalin had large nation to keep in control and I read he tried to help Mandelstam at first but he wouldn't cooperate...

Art comes in many ways but while alt is connected to war or struggle Borges's old age spleen standing in for wisdom reminds me of all those from Europe I hear saying how lucky we are to be in NZ (it is always ultimately an insult, as they will soon say our education system is inferior and much else...Europe or places of "depth" or "history" and civilisation are always "better"...) and the inference is that because they have had wars or much "history" there is nothing here (except that somehow we are are "lucky" here or they wouldn't be here!! After all you cant eat history anymore than you can eat mountain scenery or greenness!)... but I did read that Heraclitus saw war (or conflict - struggle?) as a positive force. And Mandelstam wasn't in any war most of the time.
And Borges, great writer for sure, had as much war in his very cloistered and fairly uneventful life as a feather duster in hair salon.

Jack Ross was writing about (or through) Ovid) especially his Tristia. I hadn't realised Mandelstam had connected to Ovid and missed the connection to Mandelstam in EMO. I see now on Wiki that one of M's books was called Tristia.

Gogol is worth reading (especially his strange stories of witches and so one as well as his Overcoat story, and Pushkin (I prefer his poetry and drama to most other Russian poets) as well as Nabokov of course. I liked an early film with Julie Christie of Dr Zhivago but haven't really liked Pasternak's poems or his writing much.

But if there is a new collected edition of Mandlestam's it might be worth getting.

12:48 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

once again richard taylor shows his stalinism/maoism!

7:46 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'He may have been actively anti-Communist'

so what if he was?

richard obviously doesn't believe in free political expression!

7:47 am  
Blogger Danyl said...

Stalin had appalling taste in art

Oh, I don't know. He gave Bulgakov a break - you gotta give him credit for that.

10:45 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Mandelstam as a b-boy with a ghetto-blaster on his shoulder.'


11:16 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In theoretical physics, the Mandelstam variables are numerical quantities that encode the energy, momentum, and angles of particles in a scattering process in a Lorentz-invariant fashion. They are used for scattering processes of two particles to two particles.
If the Minkowski Metric is chosen to be , the Mandelstam variables are then defined by

Where p1 and p2 are the four-momenta of the incoming particles and p3 and p4 are the four-momenta of the outgoing particles, and we are using Planck units (c=1).
s is also known as the square of the center-of-mass energy (invariant mass) and t is also known as the square of the momentum transfer.

7:01 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I saw that entry on Wikipedia. It's strange world these theoretical physicists inhabit!

But let's be more explicit about Mandelstam:

"Mandelstam, along with Tullio Regge, was responsible for the Regge theory of strong interaction phenomenology. He reinterpreted the analytic growth rate of the scattering amplitude as a function of the cosine of the scattering angle as the power law for the falloff of scattering amplitudes at high energy. Along with the double dispersion relation, Regge theory allowed theorists to find sufficient analytic constraints on scattering amplitudes of bound states to formulate a theory in which there are infintely many particle types, none of which are fundamental.
After Veneziano constructed the first tree-level scattering amplitude describing infinitely many particle types, what was recognized almost immediately as a string scattering amplitude, Mandelstam continued to make crucial contributions. He interpreted the Virasoro algebra discovered in consistency conditions as a geometrical symmetry of a world-sheet conformal field theory, formulating string theory in terms of two dimensional quantum field theory. He used the conformal invariance to calculate tree level string amplitudes on many worldsheet domains. Mandelstam was the first to explicitly construct the fermion scattering amplitudes in the Ramond and Neveu-Schwarz sectors of superstring theory, and later gave arguments for the finiteness of string perturbation theory.
Mandelstam has stated that he has not proved that string theory is finite and that he proved merely that a certain type of infinite term does not appear in string theory.[2]
In quantum field theory, Mandelstam and independently Sidney Coleman extended work of Tony Skyrme to show that the two dimensional quantum Sine-Gordon model is equivalently described by a Thirring model whose fermions are the kinks. He also demonstrated that the 4d N=4 supersymmetric gauge theory is power counting finite, proving that this theory is scale invariant to all orders of perturbation theory, the first example of a field theory where all the infinities in Feynman diagrams cancel."

What would you do with out your dinkum:

"Regge theory of strong interaction phenomenology." ?

Eh?! Who could live without that?!! Stalin had equivocal feelings about the whole issue, but if things didn't fit I read somewhere that he just made those things go away...

But in particular I love it that:

"Mandelstam was the first to explicitly construct the fermion scattering amplitudes in the Ramond and Neveu-Schwarz sectors of superstring theory, and later gave arguments for the finiteness of string perturbation theory."


7:31 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Hidden in all that is the term "tree-level", which is clearly a code for the time OUR Mandelstam (the real one?) spent in Siberia with all those lovely trees.

7:34 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

There's an interesting discussion of 'Lines on an Unknown Solider' here:

For several years, Ilya Kutik and I have worked, from time to time, at translating Osip Mandelshtam’s “Lines on an Unknown Soldier” (1937). This poem memorializes those who died in World War I; since World War II, though, it has also been regarded as eerily prophetic regarding the nuclear bomb, because a number of the images are apocalyptic and suggest a kind of cataclysm to end all cataclysms. It opens with the idea of the air itself as an “ocean without an opening, a palpable stuff” (because of poison gas in World War I; now seen as a foreseeing of nuclear fallout after World War II) from which there is no escape but death as a kind of drowning; the sky itself is addressed as a killing presence. And Mandelshtam foresees an explosion so big that it lights up “two heavens” (the air we need to breathe, filled with poison gas, and the sky and universe beyond that) with “a blazing cloud.” He imagines that all human life has been destroyed, leaving only the uninhabited planet...

9:15 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

'Tree-level': that's a great spot Richard! I hadn't heard of the Mandelstam variables, which is not surprising, since I know zilch about physics. Mandelstam himself was apparently fascinated by Lamarckian biology, another subject about which I know nothing, and by Lamarck's notion - was it Lamarck's notion? - that the pineal gland was, at one stage in the evolution of our species, developing into a sensory organ, like the eye or ear.
This preoccupation seems to come through in a number of poems.

But I do think you have a blind spot where Stalin and Mao are concerned. With your approach to literature, you'd be the first up against the wall in Stalin's Soviet Union.

9:23 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

There's a fascinating line-by-line discussion of Mandelstam's poem against Stalin in the New York Review of Books, courtesy of the Cuban who brought the text into the Spanish language:

Jose Manuel Prieto explains the origins of the images Mandelstam used against Stalin, including his famous picture of 'greasy fingers thick as worms' and a 'cockroach moustache'.

Prieto lived in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and says the poem was well-known there...

9:34 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey here is a pile of shit to critique

Was the ancient indian war of mahabharatha a nuclear war?? Did ancient indians use weapons if mass destruction (WMD) while in the west humans were still in their primitive settlements?

The architect of modern atomic bomb who was in charge of the manhattan project was asked by a student after the manhattan explosion, “How do you feel after having exploded the first atomic bomb on earth”. Oppenheimer’s reply for the question was , “not first atomic bomb, but first atomic bomb in modern times”. He strongly believed that nukes were used in ancient india. what made oppenheimer believe that it was a nuclear war was the accurate descriptions of the weapons used in the mahabharatha war in the epic which match with that of modern nuclear weapons. Video

Mohenjadaro and Harappa
Scientists Davneport and Vincenti put forward a theory saying the ruins were of a nuclear blast as they found big stratums of clay and green glass. High temperature melted clay and sand and they hardened immediately afterwards. Similar stratums of green glass can also found in Nevada deserts after every nuclear explosion.

Radio Active Ash
A layer of radioactive ash was found in Rajasthan, India. It covered a three-square mile area, ten miles west of Jodhpur. The research occurred after a very high rate of birth defects and cancer was discovered in the area. The levels of radiation registered so high on investigators’ gauges that the Indian government cordoned off the region. Scientists then apparently unearthed an ancient city where they found evidence of an atomic blast dating back thousands of years: from 8,000 to 12,000 years.

The blast was said to have destroyed most of the buildings and probably a half-million people.
Archeologist Francis Taylor stated that etchings in some nearby temples he translated suggested that they prayed to be spared from the great light that was coming to lay ruin to the city.
Crater Near Bombay
Another curious sign of an ancient nuclear war in India is a giant crater near Bombay. The nearly circular 2,154-metre-diameter Lonar crater (left image), located 400 kilometers northeast of Bombay and aged at less than 50,000 years old, could be related to nuclear warfare of antiquity. No trace of any meteoric material, etc., has been found at the site or in the vicinity, and this is the world’s only known “impact” crater in basalt.

Indications of great shock (from a pressure exceeding 600,000 atmospheres) and intense, abrupt heat (indicated by basalt glass spherules) can be ascertained from the site.

... (it was) a single projectileCharged with all the power of the Universe.An incandescent column of smoke and flameAs bright as the thousand sunsRose in all its splendor... was an unknown weapon,An iron thunderbolt,A gigantic messenger of death,Which reduced to ashesThe entire race of the Vrishnis and the Andhakas.

...The corpses were so burnedAs to be unrecognizable.The hair and nails fell out;Pottery broke without apparent cause,And the birds turned white. After a few hoursAll foodstuffs were infected... escape from this fireThe soldiers threw themselves in streams To wash themselves and their equipment.
Now Let us analyze the facts

11:54 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Scott - that's from Wikipedia and I doubt anyone except few on this earth have any idea what that is all about!!

I studied science but I didn't really get very far with it. I liked Chemistry and some Physics and was top in Biology at school but literature and Latin were also subjects I loved.

(But there are some areas of Mathematics that only a few people know or can understand, it can get very specialized theoretical (some mathematicians who are quite brilliant don't know what some of their colleagues are doing and whether it is worth funding what they are studying!), but notice how they are using philosophical terms (phenomenology)in particle physics or cosmology.

11:55 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Lamarck was the man who classified things. I (years ago) was in the Scientific Book Club and read a history of Biology by Asimov which was a favourite book. I also recently read Richard Dawkin's latest book on evolution. I think the pineal gland responds to light and assists in the process whereby we sleep and such things...but I met up with an old friend a few days ago who is a biomedical engineer! Get your head round that one! Some of his students (or was it only one?)had been to Weta workshop to study what they were doing down there and also what my namesake was doing! This student was studying and modelling the brain etc it is all part of an international effort to coordinate medicine and biology etc (so many disciplines are involved and I asked how much the scientists and engineers connect with the arts faculties et al and there isn't much but perhaps they will call on the philosophers (hence the poets?) a bit more soon!) and imaging and engineering etc and to analyse the (functions and workings of the various) organs...but he commented to the effect that there were huge areas of information about the brain / mind they couldn't know (or didn't at this stage) friend had also met Boyd who was my lecturer one year - he did an award winning bio of Nabokov but Boyd has also written what looked like fascinating book about evolution and aspects of science and human history and was connecting it all to the role and importance of stories in human culture...hence Jack's fascination with Ovid and the Arabian nights that informs a lot of EMO and I also sue quote from Ovid's 'Tristia' in "What I have been reading ..." etc on EYELIGHT (on the latest post there is some); I would be interested in reading more about Mandelstam.

But it's interesting it was (or was thought to have been) "trying" to be an eye! Mandelstam (being aware of Tristia by Ovid cant have missed his constant references to what his "eyes saw"...some think it might have been Augustus Caesar in delicious flagrante with his step daughter or someone or it was his (explicit? love poems) one knows. That part of the brain (the pineal gland etc) was once thought of as "reptilian". But nowadays you can become instantly ridiculously well informed by going to Wikipedia which I think is great...but it's good to read other stuff. Bill Bryson's 'A History of Nearly Everything' was a book my fiend recommended. If you want to know about Chemistry (and a fascinating view of a child's development in life) a wonderful way in is 'My Uncle Tungsten' by Oliver Sachs) was a book we had both read as it happened and I hadn't seen him for about 55 years!

All mammals by the way are structured in fundamentally the same way so we are the same as rats! And cats. And bats but their fingers make up the structure of their "wings". They like us have heart attacks and cancer etc. They even worry! We even have vestigial tails. And some think a "third eye" but...not sure. They think they Tuatara had one -it by the way is a separate and unique species from the reptiles - although classification since Lamarck changes / has /is changing constantly. Plants and animals are not now necessarily separated as the definition fo what they are or are not is not clear. Plato or Socrates who have a field day demolishing the logic of science classification!

And is any of it worth it? Probably always only for a few. What deeply interests me are the terminologies and the languages used, whether "progress" is made or what it means is less important as in fundamental questions we can never know.

So it gets back to emotions the body and our consciousness and poetry.

I have only got that old translation by Brown & Merwin, and there are some great poems in that I see... but I suppose I should read his wife's book which you recommended about 18 years ago! I have it here. Stupid that I've never read it.

11:55 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In 1929, Stalin believes that the moment has arrived to strip Russia of the useless appendix of capitalism. Yevgeni Preobrazhensky, the celebrated economist, theorizes about how to use the wealth the peasantry has undoubtedly accumulated during its years of greater freedom as a platform to launch the nation’s industrialization. But forced collectivization meets with generalized rejection, the peasantry fiercely resists, and Stalin launches a terror campaign. At least six million Ukrainian peasants die of hunger. The cities fill with fugitives who speak of the horror in hushed voices. By 1934, it is clear that the country is living under the tyranny of a police state compared to which the rule of the tsars seems benign and magnanimous.

he pitches one to the belly, another to the forehead,
a third to the eyebrow, a fourth in the eye.

Кому в пах, кому в лоб, кому в бровь, кому в глаз.
However shoddy a dime-store emperor he may be, his decrees have fatal consequences: the banalization of government has become a banalization of death. The zoom-in by which the poet shows the parts of the body struck by the horseshoe/ukase resembles the close-ups in Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, where an enormous pupil looms behind the lens of a pair of pince-nez, a mouth opens in a scream, the rictus of a face fills the whole screen.

12:52 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Unlikely Oppenheimer said that. He did do the brighter than a thousand suns quote that comes from the Muhhbaratta.

Most of what you have here is discursive and unsourced.

It is true Oppenheimer knew Sanskrit. But he didn't know everything!

Note he was a theoretical physicist and he didn't pass the practical side of physics.

Nor was he a historian.

Radioactive materials exist on the earth in natural forms. There were no atomic bombs prior the first tests etc in the Manhatten Project.

The temp. At the core of earth is ~ 6000 celsius which is ~ the same as the surface of the sun.

The sun is a huge nuclear furnace that changes H to Helium (fusion not fission) and other actions it then gives out energy which is used by plants on earth.

But you can rest assured there were not atomic bombs until WWII. And we haven't had an atomic war as yet. But the forces of Evil re undoubtedly working on it!

1:28 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shouldn't poetry rhyme?

8:41 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Branches they bore of that enchanted stem,
Laden with flower and fruit, whereof they gave
To each, but whoso did receive of them
And taste, to him the gushing of the wave
Far far away did seem to mourn and rave
On alien shores; and if his fellow spake,
His voice was thin, as voices from the grave;
And deep-asleep he seem’d, yet all awake,
And music in his ears his beating heart did make. (lines 28–36)
The mariners explain that they want to leave reality and their worldly cares:[4]
Why are we weigh’d upon with heaviness,
And utterly consumed with sharp distress,
While all things else have rest from weariness?
All things have rest: why should we toil alone,
We only toil, who are the first of things,
And make perpetual moan,
Still from one sorrow to another thrown;
Nor ever fold our wings,
And cease from wanderings,
Nor steep our brows in slumber’s holy balm;
Nor harken what the inner spirit sings,
'There is no joy but calm!"—
Why should we only toil, the roof and crown of things? (lines 57–69)
The mariners demonstrate that they realize what actions they are committing and the potential results that will follow, but they believe that their destruction will bring about peace:[5]
Let us alone. Time driveth onward fast,
And in a little while our lips are dumb.
Let us alone. What is it that will last?
All things are taken from us, and become
Portions and parcels of the dreadful past.
Let us alone. What pleasure can we have
To war with evil? Is there any peace
In ever climbing up the climbing wave?
All things have rest, and ripen toward the grave
In silence—ripen, fall, and cease:
Give us long rest or death, dark death, or dreamful ease. (lines 88–98)
Although the mariners are isolated from the world, they are connected in that they act in unison. This relationship continues until the very end when the narrator describes their brotherhood as they abandon the world:[6]
Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined
On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind.
For they lie beside their nectar, and the bolts are hurl’d
Far below them in the valleys, and the clouds are lightly curl’d
Round their golden houses, girdled with the gleaming world;
Where they smile in secret, looking over wasted lands,
Blight and famine, plague and earthquake, roaring deeps and fiery sands,
Clanging fights, and flaming towns, and sinking ships, and praying hands.
But they smile, they find a music centred in a doleful song
Steaming up, a lamentation and an ancient tale of wrong,
Like a tale of little meaning tho’ the words are strong;
Chanted from an ill-used race of men that cleave the soil,
Sow the seed, and reap the harvest with enduring toil,
Storing yearly little dues of wheat, and wine and oil;
Till they perish and they suffer—some, ’tis whisper’d—down in hell
Suffer endless anguish, others in Elysian valleys dwell,
Resting weary limbs at last on beds of asphodel.
Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore
Than labor in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar;
O, rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more.

9:54 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Shouldn't poetry rhyme?

The "question" is clearly a kind of statement. It shouldn't anything. Perhaps Mandelstam was sent away because he failed to rhyme his poems!!

Quite a lot of Tennyson's poetry rhymed such as the example from "The Lotus Eaters" you give. But much of it doesn't, such as his great poems 'Ulysses' and 'Morte D'Arthur' or 'Lady Godiva' Most of Milton's "Paradise Lost" is in what is called blank verse.
Rhyme is only one device in poetry as are such formal patterns of metre such as the sonnet, the ballad, or the ode or the sestina etc

Earlier than Chaucer (much of whose poetry is in rhyming couplets and iambic pentameter) the poetry of the Anglo Saxon's rarely rhymed and used no regular metre as more modern poetry is known. I'm not sure about Latin or Greek poetry.

But strict metrical poetry with fixed rhyme schemes has long since been abandoned except for satirical purposes. Occasionally rhyme and or regular metre of some kind is employed, and it can be good. More usually there might be some other more (recent or relevant) formal device or "frame " used to structure a poem. But there are no "shoulds".

There is no rule. Poetry is not defined as words on paper that rhyme and or has a fixed metrical scheme. Poetry might be defined as language put together in interesting and challenging or simple or complex ways for emotional effect - but as to exactly what poetry is, or what it "should" be, is very much not agreed.

11:45 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

"But I do think you have a blind spot where Stalin and Mao are concerned. With your approach to literature, you'd be the first up against the wall in Stalin's Soviet Union."

I don't agree. But Stalin is not = Mao. Mao helped generate and assist building a great revolution (of course it all didn't work out to be a paradise! Strange that!). He warned against "sugar coated bullets" and indeed China has succumbed as did the USSR early in the 1920s at least to a reversion to class structures, noon democratic methods etc etc but China's revolution was really also much like the American revolution in that it produced an independent republic and freed China from occupying powers was a great move in history as were the English revolutions and the French.

Instead of fixating on the supposed "crimes" of Mao (or the peccadilloes and bad things Marx and Lenin did?) read his writings and study his ideas. He also pointed out that "A revolution is not a tea party."

This doesn't mean I have any illusions about Stalin or Mao had great ideas (unlike Stalin, but again Stalin's situation and leadership has to be put in context as does that of Lenin... as he (and Mao and the Chinese Communist Party -of which Mao was only the Chairman and not a dictator as has been claimed) faced "capitalist roaders" and the realities of a world which was and still is hostile to communism (to working people or peasants taking control of their own lives and destiny) in democracy in its true form. Mao struggled to get to that via the Cultural Revolution but he was betrayed...however that is a complex issue.
Would I want to live in Mao or Stalin's China or USSR - probably not I am dubious of the possibility of any human progress at all but one ash to see these historical events in the perspective of history taken a more complex way than: "Cromwell was evil and a King killer" or "Lenin was a mad man" or "Mao was mass murderer" etc etc These focusing on one person is bourgeois hobby and doesn't really get far except it helps anyone oped to workers taking power to come to the conclusion that it can never happen. The US had a scare campaign that went right through my childhood in the 50s and started before that against communism.

If there is ever to be some kind of true revolution some of the ideas and methods of Mao and Lenin might be used but study needs to take into account the many revolutions that have taken place world wide since at least 1848 in Europe.

I mean Cromwell was a rather hard man but who else was there to lead at that time? History takes no prisoners and if people are starving they want food first and "freedom" later. They might never want this so called freedom and stay happy (as e.g. do many Muslims) with the status quo. The world is a complex place with a lot of history.

But there are no guarantees.

Your mates the US and British are fond of using the words "democracy" and "freedom" to bash people over the heads with - be wary of these false gods.

12:35 am  
Anonymous Jono said...

Must be Osip's month, The Necklace features in this month's Atlantic.

9:53 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't see the point of this "art". The Earth will be a cinder within 1 billion years. If humans manage to survive somehere else, the current stelliferous era of the universe will finish in 1,000 trillion years. There will be no bright stars, hence no life at all, and, as matter itself will eventually disintegrate, no record of anything. Get over it.

3:45 pm  
Blogger Sensa said...

Oh yes, Osip, a modest man.

9:34 pm  

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