2010年8月30日 星期一

Antonio Machado, Poet

One of the poets whose poetry I worked on during my recent holidays is Antonio Machado y Ruiz more commonly called simply Antonio Machado. He belongs to a group of Spanish writers which some called The Generation of 1898. Their principal members are said to include Ramón María del Valle-Inclán, Angel Ganivet y García, Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, Pío Baroja y Nessi, José Martinze Ruiz otherwise called Azorín, one of the characters created by him and with whom he later identified himself. Amongst them, Baroja has expressly denied to belonging to the group. However the critics have simply ignored his protest!

It is  never easy to characterize the compositions of a poet who has written poems over 40 years within a short article. However, for the sake of understanding, some degree of simplification may be well be inevitable. All we can do is just to bear in mind its inadequacy. To me, Antonio Machado (1875-1939), who came from a family long associated with culture ( his elder brother Manuel with whom Machado closely collaborated, was himself a poet and his other brother José was an artist and his father Antonio Machado y Alvarez abandoned his profession to become a Spanish folk lore researcher, he himself being the son of Cipriana Alvarez Durán, the sister of Agustan Durán and of Antonio Machado y Núnez, the last of whom was the mayor of Sevilla and rector of the university of Madrid in 1870), was a man riveted by paradoxes his entire life.

Machado was born in Sevilla and lived until 8 at the Palacio de las Dueñas, the residence of Duke of Alba on the banks of the Guadalquivir River in western Andalucia, where his father occupied an adminstrative position. He was much influenced by his memories of its surrounding mountainous landscape. At 8, his family moved to Madrid . There he studied at one of the most famous and innovative schools in the whole of Spain at that time, the Institución Libre de Enseñanza in Madrid founded by the grandfather of Spanish cultural revival  Francisco Giner de los Ríos. That school was to produce such famous Spanish artists as Lorca, Buñuel and Picasso. Later, in 1889-1890, Machado attended two further secondary schools in Madrid, the Institución de San Isidro and de Cardnal Cisneros and then stopped school for about 10 years because by then, his family fortune suffered a drastic decline. During this period of self-education, he spent a lot of time at the Bibliotheca Nacional whose first director was Augustín Durán. There he could read and read. From time to time, he visited the Museo del Prado. His friends then included Ricardito Calvo, the son of one of the great actors Rafael Calvo. There he had endless cafe meetings with other intellectuals and started a periodical, edited by his brother Manuel and him. Another friend at the time was Antonio de Zayas, who later became Duke of Amalfi, a nobleman who published a book of poems in 1892 and had a play performed in a Madrid salon.They remained lifelong friends.

Shortly afer his return from a short official position in Puerto Rico because of sickness in 1893, Machado´s father died at age 43 at Sevilla. Two years later, his grandfather also died. This immediately plunged his family into financial difficulties. But this did not stop his literary interest. In 1895, through Manuel's connections, they met many other writers like Valle-Inclán and Manuel de Alejandro Sawa, learned about Parnassianism and Symbolism, the poetry of the French poet Paul Verlaine. Following his brother Manuel and his contact Enrique Gómez Carillo, he went to Paris shortly after 1890, lived in the Latin quarters, joined the bohemian circles there, working for Garnier, a French publisher of Spanish books with an enormous need for Spanish translators. There, through the introduction of his friend  Carillo, they came to know Oscar Wilde, by that time quite dejected, wandering in the city incognito. They would listen to him for hours as he gave his charming talks. In Paris, they also made the acquaintance of Anatole France and other French artists and writers and also the Greek poet Jean Moréas whose Symbolist poetry fired the imagination of the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Dario who had gone to Paris a few years earlier. Paris at that time was already in a post-Impressionist mood. They were joined there also by the Basque writer Baroja and also met Paul Fort, a young symbolist later elected by his friends as the Prince of Poets, an honor they previously accorded to Verlaine, Mallarmé and Léon Dierx. Fort also loved the theatre and made productions for which Gauguin and Bonnard painted the scenery at his Théâtre d'Art. There they staged Hugo's Hernani which the Machado brothers, collaborating with Villaespesa, later translated into Spanish.  There they also befriended the old but fiery Laurent Tailhade, the French translator of Don Quixote. Apart from this we know little of how he spent his time there.

Always, Antonio was less energetic, gay, witty, dapper than his brother Manuel and mostly stayed in the background. Antonio said he "converse(s) with the man who always goes with me/he who talks alone hopes to speak to God one day". He was timid, hesitant in speech, a bit melancholy, often absent minded and very careless about how he dressed but he liked wine, "the staircase to dreams", food and feminine companionship but was otherwise serene and noble".   He always saw life through dreams and memories. Machado was much influenced by the ideas of his predecessors like the poet Ganivet and the poet and philosopher Unamuno and also by the philosophy of the French philosopher of vitalism, Henri Bergson.  He looks at poetry as "neither hard and timeless marble/nor painting nor music,/but the word in time." and he wrote in his notebook: " The work of art evidently aspires towards an ideal present, towards the non-temporal. But in no way does this mean that a sense of the temporal can be excluded from art. The lyric, for example, without abandoning its claims to the non-temporal, must give us the esthetic sensation of the flowing of time; the flux of time is actually one of the lyric motifs that poetry tries to save from time, which poetry seeks to detemporize." and later " The poet is a fisherman...of fish capable of staying alive after being hauled out.". There were frequent discussions of trends and techniques. But Machado didn't stay too long, just four months there.

In early 20th century Spain, there were a number of important literary periodicals like Germinal, Electra, Juventud (with Picasso as art director), Helios, Renacimiento etc. new, fragile, ephemeral, vigorous, colorful, full of enthusiasm and hope, by Unamuno, Valle-Inclán and Baroja and such younger writers as Ramiro de Maeztzu, the Machado brothers and Martinez Ruiz (later Azorin), Perez de Ayala and Juan Ramon Jimenez. Machado published his first two poems in the30th March, 1901 issue of the liberal fortnightly periodical called Electra, edited and directed by Baroja but his brother Manuel Machado was also one of its founders. In these poems, two kinds of images predominate, the sound of flowing water as it splashes, glides, leaps, surges in La Fuentes and the secret galleries where the soul lingers.  In 1902, again through Carillo, Antonio got a post as vice-Consul for Gautemela in Paris and during this second one year stay in Paris, he got acquainted with Rubén Dario, whose Prosas profanas he admired. But he continued to follow a different path.

From a young age, the Machado brothers loved the theatre and had theatre friends like Ricardo Calvo and Antontio de Zayas and in 1900, he was briefly a member of the Fernando Díaz de Mendoza theatre and he would practice gestures and facial expressions before the mirror for hours. But he was never successful as an actor and only got a few lines on stage. His first book of poetry, Soleadades, published in 1903, was dedicated to De Zayas and Calvo. What is evident in this collection was his simple love of nature, his sympathy for poor beggars, and disappointed loves for virgins and yet there was already evident not only his zest for life but also his admiration of Jorge Manrique who meditated on death almost 5 centuries ago. There he was talking of lost love, hope for future happiness, feeling of alienation, roaming in quiet countryside without companion, talking to a fountain, the night and a day in spring. He had a great deal of admiration for ancient poetry of Gonzalo de Berceo of the 12th century who wanted to write "in the accents of the people" and also Lope de Vega and Calderón. But through his alter ego, Juan de Mairena, he advised others  to read Lope before Calderón "becasuse Calderón is an end, a magnificent end, the cathedral in Jesuit style of the baroque literary Spaniard. Lope is an open door to the countryside, to a field where there is much to be gleaned, many flowers for the plucking.".

According to Alice Jane McVan in her Antonio Machado (1959), Antonio had dipped into Shakespeare, Edgar Alan Poe in his readings and there was a trace of Rainer Maria Rilke in Machado and something of Heinrich Heine in his works. He especially admired and loved the poetry of Bécquer and those of Góngora but amongst the older poets, he was influenced most by the poetry of Gustavo Adolfo. He was also familiar with French poetry. But he didn't like them much. He wrote to Unamuno in 1904: "Nothing is more foolish than to think, as certain French poets may have, that mystery should be an esthetic element--Mallarmé confirms this by censuring the Parnassians for clarity in form. Beauty is not in mystery but in the desire to penetrate it.".  Later, he was to write that after Rimbaud, French poetry entered a period of disintegration. He disliked the "frigid intellectuality" of Paul Valéry as sentimental geometry or "emotional algebra" or the "algebra of poetry". According to McVan, Machado would "certainly" have read the works of the French-Belgian poets Georges Rodenbach who wrote about the countryside and of those of Emile Verhaeren, who was attracted by the thoughts of Henri Bergson and probably through the latter, Machado changed his conception of poetry and wrote about the effects of time upon human life. Throughout his life, he continued to buy French poetry and went to hear the recitation of the poetry of Paul Verlaine in Madrid and Paris and to McVan, he may consciously and deliberately try to resist his influence. In a letter to Jiménez, he wrote, "You have heard the violin that Verlaine heard." There might be another reference to him in his poem Otoño in "the chant of wind-borne fronds/of leaves dead and sere". In a review of a new work by Villa Moreno, Machado talked about the French Symbolists. He said that the melody of Verlaine was "not the music of Mozart, which still held clarity, grace and joy of Leibnitz's world, all illuminated and clairvoyant, but the music of his time, Wagner's music, the sonorous poem of total opacity of being; spelt out, it was the metaphysics of Schopenhauer." To Machado, "The line cannot sing, nor is it its office to do so, although to Verlaine, it was "la musique avant toute chose. ( music before everything else)"

Although as he continued to write, he developed more kinds of meters and forms, Machado  basically continued to write in 11-syllable which he combined with the 7-syllable lines of the old masters. Sometimes he would also use the 8-syllable line and the Alexandrine which in Spanish has 14-syllables and is not strict where the stress would fall. Apart from these, he also wrote in 6 to 12-syllable lines. He also liked rhymes and assonances. But these are impossible to convey in a translation.

It appears to me that Machado's poetry is affected chiefly by three factors: the Spanish countryside, his struggle with time and his preoccupation with fate. He would write about Andalucia,  the broad and rich Quadalquivir valley, the bare high valley of the Duero amongst the high plains and mountains of old Castile around Soria (the home country of his wife Leonor ) the dusty and chalky terra cotta of Castille, Baeza etc.In his 25 years of life as a school teacher and lecturer, he was forced to reside in three different towns and he wrote about each of them. He is deeply affected by the different landscapes. He wrote to Juan Ramon Jiménez in 1915: " I feel the weight of this provincial life (meaning Baeza) in which one ends by devouring oneself. Often I think of giving up my chair and going off on my own to live by my writing. But that would mean poverty again." To him, the Spanish countryside is not just something physical. It embodies the spirit of Spain: "So sad, they have a soul" . His feelings towards it is marked by ambivalence. On the one hand, he finds it austere, humble, barren and backward. On the other hand, he finds it stubborn, full of life, noble and beautiful. Space always conjures up in his mind memories of the landscape he witnessed and he views them philosophically. The physical countryside exists by themselves as something with its own character, opposed to man's wishes but may at the same time, take on other meanings, as the embodiment of the history of Spain. It is a peculiarity of Machado's style that he constantly reworks on more or less the same themes and the the same symbols in his poems, but with each new poem, the same theme and the same  image may take on a new meaning in the new context. 

His second preoccupation is time. To him, time is not just objective clock time, which ticks away inexorably second by second. Time is always subjective. Time expresses itself in memories of the past glory of Spain, of which little remains but the ruined walls of its castles and its folk traditions but also provoked in him hopes and longings for a better future and a revival and rejuvenation of Spanish culture. Time also expresses itself more intimately in the form of memories of lost loves of his youth, especially the memories of his teacher, his friends, and of course his teenage wife whom he married and who died just 5 years later after which he never again married, and all the others who have influenced him or his development . More imporantly, the memories of the places he visited or lived in always affected him emotionally. Thus, the time that he writes about is always subjective time, or the Bergsonian durée. Especially towards the end of his life, after he discovered Heidegger in the late 1930s, and learned about the relationship between time and existence, time became even more important. The angst or the Spanish angustia is first of of all an existential uneasiness "the fear or alarm which the ordinary anonymous man calms by trivializing it, converting it into everyday tedium" and secondly" man's ïncurable anguish in the face of man's infinite helplessness....together with a vision of the totality of our existence and a reflection of its end and conclusion; death." But paradoxically, it is precisely from facing death that man draws his strength. He writes: "it is from the existential interpretation of death--death as a borderline, in itself nothing--that we are to draw strength to face it....There is no avoiding the fact that our thought is sad. And it would be much more so if our faith went with it, if it enjoyed our most intimate allegiance. That--never!". Here we find a certain defiance against that most destructive effect of time: our mortality. Hence, we often find images of springs, streams, rivers, gushing out endlessly and flowing towards the sea, the dawns, the dusks, the seasons which ceaselessly repeat themselves each day, each year and which seem to bring a measure of hope. It is in the cyclic nature of time that Machado find grounds for the renewal of his hopes. He finds hope in the Hercliterean changes which never allows time itself to stop changing.

Closely associated with these two themes is the larger theme of fate: his personal fate, the fate of Spain and through these the fate of humanity. The universal finds expression only in the particular. In his later years, his thoughts became progressively more philosophical. He read the pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristitotle, later Descartes, Kant, Leibnitz, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and jotted down his musings in his notebooks and sometimes even in his verses like Proverbios y cantares  He reflected on such subjects as the relationship between subject and object, the self and other, reality and epistemological approaches thereto, logic and intuition, immanence and transcendence, art in theory and in history etc. Apart from merely depicting people and places in his images, his poetry is frequently imbued also with philosophical thought: the solitude of man, his sorrow at the inevitability of the passing of time, his nostalgia for past happiness and his longing for fulfilment in the future. Yet, although Spain is one of the most Catholic countries in Europe, the country which produced such mystics as St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross,the counter-Reformation against the Protestant Reformation, the foundation of the Jesuit order and more notoriously, the most fanatical Spanish Inquisition, for Machado, his solution is not religious. It does not derive at all from the mystery of the Christian God. Instead, it is a personal and partial salvation, through the tortured appreciation of the forces of time upon space and people and the always doubtful hope for a better but equally enigmatic future. After the death of his wife, he wrote to Unamuno: " I felt adoration for her, but over and above love is pity. I would have preferred dying a thousand times to watching her die...I don't think there is anything extraordinary about this feeling. There is something immortal in us that wants to die with whatever dies. Perhaps that is why God came into the world. This thought is some consolation, at times I feel hopeful. A negative faith is absurd too...today, she is more than ever alive in me and sometimes I firmly believe I shall be reunited with her."

The paradoxes Machado finds in life are never conclusively resolved one way or another. Any triumphs that he acheives are ephemeral, subjective and are as insubstantial as mere "dreams". For him, writing poetry may well be a way to love others. In one of his poems, he toys with the idea that soliloquizing with himself may show him the way to loving humankind.. He wrote in 1917: " a state of feeling is something created by the individual subject out of materials from the outer world made over in one's heart. There is always in it a collaboration of a you, i.e., of other subjects. One cannot settle for this simple formula: My heart, face to face with the landscape, produces feeling. Once produced, I communicate it by means of language to my fellow man. Face to face with the landscape, my heart would scarcely even be capable of feeling cosmic terror because even this elemental feeling needs, for its production, the distress of other frightened hearts amidst a nature not understood. My feeling in the face of external nature, which I here call landscape, does not arise without an atmosphere of fellow feeling. In short, my feeling is not exclusively mine, but ours. Without emerging from myself, I note that in my feeling, other feelings are pulsating and that my heart always sings in chorus although its voice is for me the best tempered one. The problem of lyric expression is to make it such for others as well.". The better to express more complex thoughts and feelings, Machado invented two alter egos, Abel Martin as a Sevillian philosopher and poet (1840-1889) and Juan de Mairena in a book called Juan de Mariena (Sayings, Witticisms, Notes and Recollection of an Apocrypjal Professor,)  and through their masks, he speaks of things he could not conveniently say by himself in his poetry.  

But above all, poetry is to Machado, not just words nor thoughts nor thoughts in words or images. To him, poetry is always something of the spirit: " ..the poetic element was not the word in its phonic value, nor color, nor line, nor a complex of sensation, but a deep pulsing of spirit: what the soul supplies, if it does supply anything; or what it says, if it says anything, when aroused to response by contact with the world". Reality is for him, never completely objective. Reality is preceived as real only through the media of the poet's consciousness. He seeks in such concsiousness to reconcile too his own lyric impulse with the world of ideas. He wrote in 1923 : "the poet's metaphysics need not necesarily be that which expresses the basis of his thought, as thinker, as philosopher, that is, as a man with a passion for truth, but that which suits his poetry." and in 1931, he wrote " The poet's idea are not formal categories, logical capsules, but direct intuitions of being in the process of becoming, of his own existence.". 

Whatever I may personally think about the poetry of Machado, the test of the pudding must be in the eating. I shall have to refine some of the translations of his poems I did during my recent vacation and finish translating some new ones and then publish them when I have more time. The readers can then judge for themselves.

2010年8月27日 星期五

Friday Fun

Didn't sleep a wink last night. Effect of jet lag, I suppose! What did I do?

I cleaned up  piles and piles of materials I downloaded from the internet either in preparation of various talks by different groups I was about to hear or if my interest was piqued, materials I downloaded for further reading after such talks, handouts by the various speakers on philosophical subjects, meaningful electronic correspondence I had with some of my friends, photocopies of relevant extracts from different books I borrowed from the HKU libraries, lecture notes of my Spanish lessons over the years etc. I grouped them together according to subject matter. I stapled them. Then I clipped the relevant bundles together with metal clips of various sizes and put them amongst my previous collection of such bundles. There were more than 30 such !

However, it was not all drudgery. Whilst sorting out the papers, I discovered various jokes friends sent me over the internet in the past year which I had printed out at the office before deleting them. Some of them are quite good. And not just a few of them too. Now I got a whole pile of them! Don't worry, I am not stingy. Since it's already Friday, it's as good a day as a weekend to share them with others. Here're some. And like so many good jokes,they've all got to do with a certain most enjoyable animal activity. Without further ado, here are six samples of what I found:

1.   Virginity may not be dignity. It may just be lack of opportunity!

2.    Q: Why was the 2-piece swimsuit invented?

       A:  To separate the hairy from the dairy section.

3.    A man interviewed 4 girls for the post of secretary. To be fair, he asked each of them exactly the same question. It was an extremely simple question. He said, " A lady has two mouths. What's the difference between them?"

       The first said, "One can talk. The other cannot." "Good," he said.

        The second said, " One is vertical and the other horizontal." "Good, " he said.

        The third said: "Only one is hairy, the other not." "Good," he said.

         The fourth said, "The upper one is mine. The lower is for my boss." "Um..." he said. 

         Guess who was hired?

4.      A woman was complaining to a dentist: "Dr. Johnson, it's so painful. I'd rather have a baby than have it removed."

          Dr. Johnson replied, "You sure, lady? I'll have to adjust the chair."

5.      An 85-year-old poor lady about to die went to a sexton and told him she wanted her tombstone to read: "Born a virgin, lived a virgin and died a virgin."

         The sexton said, " Ma'am, would you like an 80% discount?"

         "Sure, that'd be nice. But... what do I have to do?"

         " Simple. Just reduce the number of words because I charge by the number of words."


         "How about 'Returned unopened.'?"

6.     Two gays were looking over some travel brochures at a travel agency.

        One suggested "Let's try Greece this year."

        The other asked " Why? What's wrong with Vaseline?"

Have a nice day!

2010年8月25日 星期三


The time before holidays is always bitter sweet at most. It is sweet to tell oneself that one will soon be able to actually hold one's wife and one's children within the shield of one's arms and bosom and feel once again the softness of their skin and the warmth of their bodies. But there is no less bitterness to be swallowed before one can really take off. The joy however turbo charges one's zest to drive an even madder rush to finish the million and one things one must do before one can leave without the lurking fear of disaster striking whilst one is away. It's a bit like the final 10 metres of a 400 metre dash. Each  contemporary office worker in the service "industry" has to pay this price:  emails and letters to clients, counsel, opposite side, notices of the impending holidays, last minute rush to complete pleadings, witness statements, conveyancing requisitions for a smooth completion, telephone conferences with client, file notes  to be left for those who looking after one's files while one is away,  laundry to be done so one may appear fresh and presentable to one's family, clearing the refrigerator of all food which cannot be kept until one's return, last minute collection of stuffs from friends and relatives to bring to one's family in between the after office talks and Spanish lessons one has still to attend....The work doesn't stop until one is done packing one's valise and under that last shower as the hot water from the shower-head hits one's aching shoulder and neck muscles. It felt so good to hear the splash of the water on one's back as it streamed down one's body, like the hands of a masseuse and to let out involuntary "ooohs" or "aaahs" from one's lips, feeling the taste of a few droplets of the splashing water in one's half-open mouth! And just before one locks the door to one's flat, one has to place the plants inside the house in places where they can still have a little sunlight but not so much so as to avoid the least loss of moisture and then pour upon them as much water as would not cause their their roots to rot!

The moment in the taxi to the Airport Train terminal in Central does not necessarily put one's mind at ease. One mind's keeps turning and continues doing mental run downs of the various files one has to do, despite all the work one has already packed into those last two or three days: "Have I in my mad rush forgotten about calling client A, client B, client C etc " or written a letter to him or her or to the other side? Have I forgotten to bring a particular book? My passport? The US currency I changed during lunch time break? Have I packed that gift or that bottle of medicine for my wife which that friend or relative have asked me to bring and which I placed on the coffee table while packing the other stuffs? Will the weather in Seoul suddenly turn bad so that it becomes necessary for me to call them at the Inchon  Airport to notify them of the delay so they don't have to rush so early to the Dulles Airport? " Such thoughts whisked through my mind as the light from the passing shops in greens, reds and yellows receded quickly behind me and my eyes were blinded periodically by the bright headlamp flashes of oncoming vehicles from the opposite direction whizzing past the taxi windscreen and the side windows as if they were just so many unreal shadows laughing at this moron's last minute count down to departure. These thronging thoughts did not vanish until I heard the tiny squeaks of the wheels of the trolley as it sweved to avoid hitting other passengers as I rushed towards the lift to to the Airport Train. I was really on my way! Only when I heard the thump of my valise upon the floor of the luggage port of the train compartment was I finally able to breathe a sigh of relief! Then only did I begin to notice the quiet hum of the train and the sudden louder click-clacking rhythm as its giant wheels grated against the rails when it changed directions before resuming its dull hum and I cast my eyes over train compartment. There, the Scottish kilt patterned red ribbon I borrowed from my sister-in-law and which I tied to the handle of my suitcase to mark it off from all the other similarly colored and shaped luggages which will be rumbling along the conveying belt at the luggage pick up counter upon arival was fluttering slightly as the train hurtled on. There were two Italian young men to my left talking with typical Mediteranean hand gestures and agitated tones. A young mainland looking Chinese executive at the seat behind me was silently gawkling at the advertisements in the built in TV monitor behind the luggage compartment wall. Didn't he have anything better to do? Opposite to me was a German couple. They were reading a book and a magazine and talking quietly and from time to time, the man nodded his head anxiously towards what looked like his wife of at least 40 years. Age did not seem to have dimmed the spark of his love. Behind them was an Indian couple. The man was sleeping! I have the greatest sympathy for him. The lady sitting beside him, a rather fat dark skinned woman with a red lucky spot right at the centre of her forehead and folded in layers and layers of purple saris and with heavy gold rings on her fingers had the mobile to her ears and was talking loudly to someone, sometimes in English and sometimes in Urdu and when she talked in English, she rolled the r's unnecessarily and introduced unneeded modulation of volume, chewing the sound of the initial syllable and and raising the tone of the last with a "flourish"! Fortunately, no gold teeth showed when she was laughing! The the interior wall of the train compartment was a grayish blue, matching the colour of the cheap fibre carpet on the floor, dutifully oozing calm and serenity. However, the white glue sealing the wall panels to the corners and glass panes to the wall panels were crooked! But I don't suppose the technician did the job whilst the train was moving! Did the project manager or his asistant check before accepting commissioning? Or was it already the result of the repair technician? Heaven knows! After all, the train has been running for nearly 12 years! 

When I was done surveying what's inside the train compartment, I took out the Selected Poems of Antonio Machado's and started reading. I have always wanted to read the book but never quite had time to get to it. The time has come! I was overcome by a quiet joy. But the joy was shortlived. Ah, I must tranlate some of them. So I better not waste time! I did not. I find reading Spanish poetry an excellent way of learning Spanish. Poets are by profession or vocation experts in the use of words. They do their best to extract the last "milligram" of meaning from them. To achieve various effects, they would use different figures of speech like rhyme, alliterations, assonance ( repetition of the vowel) , anacoluthon (abrupt changes within a sentence to a second construction inconsistent with the first), anadiplosis ( repetition of a word at the beginning of a phrase with which the last one ended), anaphora (repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive lines), anastrophe (inversion of the "normal" syntactical order of words in a sentence), anthropomorphism (attribution of human motivation to otherwise inanimate objects) antiphrasis (the ironic use of a word or a phrase with a meaning opposite to its "usual" meaning), juxtaposition or parallel use of sharply differing words or phrases in a balanced way to emphasize constrast, aposiopesis (or the sudden breaking off of a thought in the middle of a sentence as though the speaker were unwilling to continue because of pain), catachresis (the strained use of one word or phrase),  chiamus ( a rhetorical inversion of the second of two parallel structure) circumlocution ( the use of many words or an indirect reference of words when a more direct one would do for creating suspense and interest) , use of double entendre (play of a word with two or more meaning), dysphemism (the use of a less disparaging or unpleasant expression by replacing it with a more neutral one), epitrophe ( the repetition of a word(s) at the end of two or more successive verses, clauses), use of images, euphemism ( replacing a more elegant and graceful word for a harsh, blunt or offensive word), euphuism ( use of very affected language) hyperbaton ( using an anastrophe or hysteron proteron to deviate from normal or logical word order for emphasis), hyperbole (an exaggeration), inversion (placing a verb before the subject or the pronoun before the verb or placing an indirect or direct object before the the verb), the use of irony (to suggest a meaning opposite to its literal meaning) the use of litotes ( to understate something postive by negativing its opposite)  metaphors (describing one thing as if it were another), metonymy (using a word or phrase associated with another to replace it eg. Beijing or Paris for the two governments) oxymoron ( using together words or terms apparently otherwise contradictory or incongruous with one another), omnomatopoeia ( using word which imitate the sound being described normally produced by the relevant object), pallilogy (repeating a word etc for emphasis), paralipsis ( suggesting by deliberate omission), personification (representing an inanimate object or an abstract concept as if it were a person), similes ( where two unlike things are likened to each other) syllepsis ( using a word to govern a number of other words which agree in number, gender or case with only one of them or with a different meaning when applied to each of the qualified words)  symbols ( use of an image to tie very different types of images and subject matter together), rhetorical devices like motifs of sound or sense or images, synedoche (where a more specific thing is substituted for a more general thing, using the part and the more specific for the more general or abstract) zeuguma ( a single word. a verb or an adjective applied to two or more nouns when its sense is appropriate to only one of them or to both but in different senses) etc . They experiment with words, play with words, sentence structures, changing nouns into adjectives and vice versa, juggling the positioning of the subjects, the verbs, the direct objects and the indirect objects. Some of them even experiment with the creation of a new words ( neoplasms).They are a kind of David Copperfield of words. In the case of Machado, because of the unusual tranpositions of the indirect and direct objects ( sometimes before and sometimes after the verb) and also because of the interpositioning of many adjectival or adverbial phrases or clauses in the long sentences and the frequent presence of rarely used vocabularies and sometimes entirely new words which Mochado made up by changing verbs into adjectives and vice versa, sometimes I had to read a stanza several times before I got the idea of what he was trying to say. Of course, I could learn Spanish in some less effortful way, just like my fellow classmates, who merely study whatever the lecturer give to us. But I can kill several birds with one stone doing it my way: I learn how the grammatical rules and words could be twisted in unsusual and innovative ways. I learn more vocabularies. I learn to explore the different meanings of the same words in different contexts and I can marvel at the skill of the poet in language use and gorge myself upon their ingenuity.

Whatever the pros and cons of my own highly idiosyncratic way of learning the Spanish language, during the process, I was joined in the train compartment by several apparently foreign born Chinese teenagers in sweat shirts, caps, short baggy pants, flip flops or sockless sports shoes at the Kowloon Station and another one at Tsing Yi Station, each with no luggage except a back pack which they would carelessly sling over one of their shoulders . They were all engrossed in playing some video games or other or texting their friends on their mobiles or i-phones or blackberries, apparently totally undisturbed by the noise of the incessant chattering coming from the direction of the Indian woman who literally never stopped talking on her mobile from the moment she sat down until we arrived at Terminal 1, in her heavily Indian-accented English! 

2010年8月7日 星期六


自說自話說得多了,有時聽聽別人說話,更能增加自已的睿智, 尤其說話的人是以一針見血而幽默見稱的李。故今朝打開電腦時,樂見好友送來我多年來極為欣賞的台灣、但現應說中國的名嘴李.的語錄,見妙不可言, 若我不與讀者分享, 似乎說不通,故現也不應再阻撓李的智慧以其獨一無二的方式與以自身的面貌與讀者碰頭:

錢:      男人要是有錢, 和誰都有緣。







           鐵飯碗真正的意思,不是在一地方吃一輩子飯,而是 一輩子到那兒都有飯吃。


過去 現在   過去 一流學生出國,二流學生考研,三流學生就業。

                     現在 一流學生就業,二流學生出國,三流學生考研。

                     過去  學生不上大學,一輩子受窮。

                     現在  學生一上大學,馬上就窮。

鬼神            人幹了點好事,總想讓鬼神知道;



人生            一個今天,勝過兩個明天。










悲觀 樂觀      對前途要看得樂觀些,對人心要看得悲觀些。



說話                說出去之前你是說話的主人 ,說出去之後你是說話的奴隸。







                        現實中用真名說假話, 網絡中用假名說真話。




2010年8月6日 星期五

A Glass of Water

It's Friday again. I'm quite tired. I have worked throughout the week. I worked particularly hard this week because I am about to go on holidays. So today, I am going to do something simple. I am going to translate a very short poem. The poem is written by another Spanish poet, Andrés Sánchez Robayna (1952 - ). Here it is with my own English and Chinese translations:

El Vaso de Agua               The Glass of Water               那杯水


el vaso no es una medida   the glass is not a measure   那杯不是尺

sino su estancia solamente  but solely its farm               祇是其居所


una terraza pide al sol:         a terrace asks the sun:       洋台問太陽:   

sólo la luz en que se basa    only the light in which it bases itself 唯所賴之光


más alto el vaso no es más alto  the higher glass is not higher杯更高亦不高

ni menos hondo si se alza     nor less deep if it is raised        被提亦不更深  


terraza alta en su mañana     high terrace in its morning      高台在其晨

o luz altiva ya le bastan        or high light already suffice for them或光高已夠


lo que reposa en él reposa   whatever rests in it rests          息居其所息    

sin ser mas cosa que mirada without being more than its looks亦不跨其觀


In this poem, the poet writes in short, precise, condensed couplets, making the most of the kind of ellipses permitted by the rules of Spanish grammar. He writes about the most common daily object possible: a glass of water. To him, the glass of water is not a simply a glass of water. It has become a step in a staircase. It is a staircase leading up to the heavens. Through this staircase, he rises up to the sky, through the rays of sunlight reflected from the surface of the water resting calmly, serenely and peacefully within that glass. Through that glass of water, he reaches as far as the sun.

The glass is transparent. So is the water. The glass and the water are transformed, they are transformed by light. It is the light of the sun god, Appollo. In Greek and classical thought, Apollo is not only a sun god. It is also the god of reason. It is the god of light. That light is the light of reason. That light is the light of reflection. Not just physical reflection as the property of light when it shines upon a surface which allows the light which hits it to return at the same angle at which it hits that surface but in another direction. It is a different kind of reflection. It is the kind of reflection which takes place within the millions of nuerons inside the human brain, hidden within the frenetic activity which each second occurs at the moment when neurotransmitters jump across the space separating them from the receptables at the end of the next dendrites. That is the moment when millions of sparks occur. Such sparks together become a giant spark. It is the spark of understanding, when things which otherwise appear chaotic and disordered suddenly assume order. That order is the order of our reasoning power. 

And what is the result of that reflection? The poet thinks that the glass is not a prison. I cannot imprison our imagination, our thoughts, our reflection. As he says, the glass is not a measure. It cannot measure our intelligence nor the full extent of our imagination. The glass is only a provisional residence for the water, which belongs to Nature and which will never for a moment cease to interact with the other phenomenon of Nature like the sun eg, through the medium of light which joins both. Perhaps the glass is sitting comfortably on a table in the terrace. So the poet's thought wanders from the glass of water where the glass was. A thought occurs. It is a question. He wishes to ask the sun a question about its light on which the sun relies to shine upon the surface of the water in the glass. Perhaps he raises the glass to inspect it in the sunlight. Another thought occurs: the glass remains a glass whether it is raised or not. It will not achieve more depth by being rasied higher by others. Then his thought goes back to the terrace. The terrace already has sufficient light. It does not need more. It does not need more by being higher than where it is.

In the final couplet, everything returns to its point of origin. Everything remains unchanged. The glass can rest where it rested. The terrace remains where it was. Everything regains its looks; its external appearance. But in the meantime, the poet's mind has made a round trip to the sun and back. It made that trip through the light of reason. A simple poem. A reflective poem. A philosophic poem. In just 5 simple couplets! Perhaps he is not talking about a glass of water. The water may be the water of life and the glass its container, our body!

This poem is taken from his poetry collection La Roca 1984. This is the first time I read any of his poems. According to the information I got from Wikipedia, he is born in the Canarias, a group of islands around Spain in the Atlantic, in 1952, got a Ph D from the University of Laguna there in 1977 and is the director of the Centre of Debate and Thinking of the Atlantic Centre of Modern Art there and an editor of the the review Literadura of Barcelona in 1976.

He is a prolific writer and from the article on him in the Wikipedia, he has the following publications:

Día de aire (Tiempo de efigies). El Ancla en la Ribera, 1970. Clima. Edicions del Mall, 1978. Tinta. Edicions del Mall, 1981. La roca. Edicions del Mall, 1984. Poemas 1970-1985. Edicions del Mall, 1987. Palmas sobre la losa fría. Cátedra, 1989. Fuego blanco. Àmbit Serveis Editorials, 1992. Sobre una piedra extrema. Ave del Paraíso Ediciones, 1995. Poemas 1970-1995. Vuelta, 1997. Inscripciones. Ediciones La Palma, 1999. Poemas 1970-1999. Galaxia Gutenberg, 2000. El libro, tras la duna. Pre-Textos, 2002. En el cuerpo del mundo: obra poética (1970-2002). Galaxia Gutenberg-Círculo de Lectores, 2003. Sobre una confidencia del mar griego: precedido de Correspondencias, en colaboración con Antoni Tàpies. Huerga y Fierro Editores, 2005

2010年8月5日 星期四

The Generation of 1927

It may happen that from time to time, a special group of poets, writers and artists would come together for a common cause and as a result their collective influence become far more important than those of other generations . The reason for this may be complex. It may be just a historical accident when for one reason or another, the circumstances are such that a special chemistry arises between and amongst the different members of the group who otherwise may be very different individuals. This happened in Spanish poetry. We have now what has been called  the Generation of 1927 or in Spanish Generación del 27. They are an influential group of Spanish  poets in the literary circles between 1923 to 1927 who came together because of a shared desire to experience and work on the Spanish poetic tradition by incorporating avant garde form and elements, looking both on the one hand backward and on the other forward. This group has also been called the "Generation of the Dictatorship" because many of their members had suffered physical and cultural attacks under the dictationship of General Franco who rose to power in the period of the Spanish Civil War which started in 1936. Their general sympathies were for the abolition of the monarchy in Spain and for the establishment of a republic . Hence they have also been called "Generation of the Republic". Because their leaders were Jorge Guillén (1893-1984) and Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936) they are sometimes also called the  "Generation Guillén-Lorca" , Guillén being its oldest author, and Lorca its youngest. Sometimes they are called the "Generation of 1925"  because the average publishing date of the first book of each author is 1925. Because they advocated some pretty advanced ideas about art in general and poetry in particular, they are sometimes also called the  "Generation of Avant-Gardes".

This group had their first formal meeting in  Seville in 1927. The occasion was the 300th anniversary of the death of the baroque poet Luis de Góngora (1561-1627). Góngora wrote in a style which has been called "culteranismo" or "gongorismo". It is characterized by the use of a great many words to suggest what was meant, but never directly what actually was meant. It plays on the ambiguity of the contexts of the words to create interest. He uses a very flowery language and invented many new words ( neologism) which previously never existed in Spanish, generally constructed or created from words with Latin or Greek roots. He also relies heavily on what has been called "hyperbaton" or an unusual or non-conventional word order as a rhetorical device to highlight the effect of certain other words e.g. by reversing the word order like placing the object before the verb or placing the adverb before the verb, the adjective before the noun etc. for emphasis. In this respect, Góngora borrowed heavily from Latin, which allows a rather loose syntactical structure, so that sometimes, the subject may be separated from the object, direct or indirect and sometimes, its verb, by very many other intervening phrases, subordinate clauses in parenthesis, but without the parenthesis marks to indicate that they are put in parenthesis. He sometimes also imitates the way the blacks or Moors in Spain speak or use words. His style was much criticized by his opponent, chiefly another baroque poet writing in the same period, Franciso de Quevedo (1580-1645), a very learned man who studied theology, Hebrew, Arab, Latin, Greek and Italian and was very much into courtly elegance, who advocated the contrary idea: what has been called "conceptismo" , aiming at clarity of expression, simplicity and elegance through using simple words, puns or word plays, so that one word may have multiple meanings in different contexts. 

It is difficult to generalize on the style of the group of poets whose main members may be argued to include about a dozen or so poets and writers namely Rafael Alberti (1902-1999), Felipe Alfau (1902-1999), Vincente Aleixandre (1898-1984), a Nobel prize winner, Manuel Altolaguirre who edited the Malaga review Litoral with Emilio Prados (1899-1962), Amado Alonso (1897-1952), Dámaso Alonso (1898-1990), Pedro Salinas y Serrano (1897-1951) Mauricio Bacarisse (1895-1931),  José Bello (1904-2008), Rogelio Buendia (1891-1969), Luis Cernuda (1902-1963), Ernestina de Champourcin (1905-1999), Juan José Domenchina (1898-1959), Gerardo Diego (1896-1987),Antonio Espina (1894-1972), Agustin Espinosa (1897-1939), Federico Garcia Lorca (1898- 1936),  Juan Gil-Albert (1904-1994), Ernesto Giménez Caballero (1899-1988), Jorge Guillén (1893-1984), Miguel Hernández (1910-1942), José Maria Hinojosa (1904-1936) who wrote the famous La Flor de California.etc.  Alberti wrote in a mainly romantic style in his early years but as he grew older wrote more and more political and social poetry.Guillén celebrated life in the present. Lorca wrote on love, the Spanish countryside, cities in Granada and later New York, gitanos in odes, sonnets and towards the end of his life in gacelas and casidas etc. Gerardo Diego was actively involved in the ultraist movement of Guillermo de Torre and Luis Borges, which sought to fight against the excesses of modernismo and eliminate useless middle sentences, (gongorism) articles, adjectives, excessive lyricism, sentimentalism, combining two or more images into one, to use evocative imagery about the machines and the modern world taking their cue from the French symbolists, to abandon all rhyme scheme, put emphasis on the layout of the words of the poem on the printed page like that advocated by Ezra Pound. Pedro Salinas wrote mainly on love. They also share certain common values with creationism of Huidobro who advocated that the poem must be something self-sufficient, always something completely new, rather like a tree being created by Nature.   

Whatever may have been their individual subject matter and styles, the generation of 1927 did their best to revive the Spanish folk tradition, folk lores and attempted to write in a popular style, but trying also to fuse the classical literary tradition with elements of the European avant garde, emphasizing the music in poetry. Some of them also adopted the baroque imagery from the Spanish folk tradition and also created some new Gothic images of the city and juxtaposed what is inside the human psyche with what is outside in the physical, natural or urban world. In different ways and to different extents they were influenced by the Surrealism of Dali, especially Luis Cernuda and some of them were influenced by Cubist, Futurist, Ultraist and Creationist ideas. They sometimes also wrote in free verse, breaking the rigid rules related to rhyming, the number of syllables and also length of poems according to the needs of the expression of emotions in the particular context of the individual poems.

In fact, the Generation of 1927 includes more than mere poets and writers. In a wider context, they also include such surrealist painters as Dali and Oscar Dominguez, the painter and sculptor Maruja Mallo, the film maker Luis Buñuel, the caricaturist K-Hito, the toreros Ignacio Sanchez Mejias (for whose death on the plaza Lorca wrote a famous Llanto as a homage ), Rodolfo Halffter and his musicologist brother Ernesto Haffter of the so-called Group of 8 and also a group of Catalan artists who called themselves the Grupo de Artistas Catalanes Independientes including such names as Roberto Gerhard, Ricardo Lamote de Grignon and the composer Federico Mompou

The Generation of 1927 was centred not only in Madrid but in spirit also in Sevilla around the review Mediodia, in the Tenerife around the Gaceta de Arte and in Malaga around the reveiw Litoral.

The Generation of 1927 suffered heavy casualties as a result of the Spanish Civil War: Lorca was murdered, Hernandez died in jail, and others like Alberti, Jose Bergamin, Leon Felipe, Luis Cernuda, Pedro Salinas, Juan Ramon Jiménez, (1881-1958) another Nobel prize winner  and Mauricio Bacarisse were forced into exile, although virtually all kept writing and publishing late into the 20th century. The war split the group. Only Dámaso Alonso remained reluctantly in Spain but Gerardo Diego surrendered and actively supported the traditionalism of Franco, mixing many elements of Spanish culture like its toreros, its church, its music and even existentialist concerns. Still others like Juan Gil-Albert withdrew within himself and explored the world of his emotions and thought as a kind of interior exile and gave support to new poets like Vincente Aleixandre. But few of them really came to terms with the regime of Franco. This was to be done by what has been called the Generation of the 50's. 





2010年8月4日 星期三

Spanish Poetry Background. 3

In the second half of the 19th century, the force of change came from South America, from a Nicarguan Rubén Dario (1867-1916), who was much influenced by Parnassianism, a French literary movement which envisaged the poet as a sculptor, seeking to turn the poem into something almost tangible, using a new and richer vocabulary, fantasy and exoticism e.g Dario's Sinfonia en gris mayor (Symphony in dark grey):

La siesta del trópico. El lobo se duerme.    The tropical siesta. The wolf  falls asleep.

Ya todo lo envuelve la gama del gris.            The gamut of grays already surrounds everything.

Parece que un suave y enorme esfumino        Seems as if a soft and huge blur

del curvo horizonte borrara el confin.             of horizontal curve will erase the boundary..


La siesta del trópico. La vieja cigarra             The tropical sieta. The old cicada

ensaya su ronca guitarra senil,                        tries its old and hoarse guitar

y el grillo preludia un solo monótono               and the cricket sings a monotonous solo prelude    

en la única cuerda que está en su violin.          with its only string which is in its violin.

Whilst the South American modernismo continued to influence younger poets like Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936), back in Spain, the people were shocked by the loss of its colonies like Cuba and Philippines from its totally unexpected defeat in the Spanish-American War which triggered  a wave of reflections about what it meant to be Spanish and what was the basis of Spanish culture and where it was going. A generation of new poets and writers like Unamuno, Baroja, Azorín, Ganivet, the so-called Generation of 1898,  began a movement of revival of Spanish culture .But the most popular and enduring poetry came from Antonio Machado (1875-1939). He wrote:

Castilla miserable, ayer dominadora                     Miserable Castille, yesterday dominant

envuelta en sus andrajos, desprecia cuanto ignora. enveloped in its rags, scorns that which

                                                                             it knows not.

WWI was a time of great cultural disturbance and renovation of the styles of art, much like the Romantic eara of the previous century following the French revolution, the revolutionary wars and the Restoration of old Europe. Everywhere, European arts were agitated by the new movements of Dadaism, Futurism and later Surrealism. In Spain and South America, a species of Futurism appeared called ultraismo, led by Guillermo de Torre (1900-7). Their aim was to reflect the spirit of the machine and technological advances, different from the poetry of either the Generation of 1898 and those of the modernista poets. There was another strain of the avant-garde called creationismo, led by a Chilean poet in Europe called Vicente Huidobro (1893-1948). He previously contributed to the Nord-Sud magazine founded by the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who, together with such other poets as Paul Valéry tried to import the ideas of Cubism into poetry, treating the poem as a self-sufficient object with its own aims, concerned only with expressing itself, and not expressing any external meaning, complementing rather than representing life. The spirit of this latter movement was well captured by the following quotation from Huidobro's "Arte poetica":

Por qué cantais la rosa, oh Poetas!    Why sing of the rose, oh poets! 

Hacedla florecer en el poema.            Make it bloom in the poem.

A varied group of poets actuated by these new ideas were loosely grouped under the title the Generation of 1927 or the Generation of 1925, the Generation of the Dictatorship. They include such poets as Gerardo Diego (1896-1987), a creationista, Pedro Salinas (1891-1951), Jorge Guillén (1893-1986), Rafael Alberti (1902-99), Vincente Aleixandre ( 1898-1984), Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) Luis Cernuda (1902-63) and Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936), the last four of whom were linked with surrealistas in one way or another. But unlike the creationistas and the ultraístas, they wanted to go back to the roots of Spanish past, to the traditional poetry of the Middle Ages, the poetry of the Golden Age and of the Renaissance.Thus in Marinero en tierra, Alberti's first collection, blended the old and the new e.g. in the poem "El aviador", the machine age met the Middle Ages:

--Madre, ha muerto el caballero             Mother, the knight of the air

del aire, que fue mi amor.                        has died, he who was my love.

Y en el mar dicen que ha muerto           And at sea, they say that he has died

de teniente aviador.                                 as a lieutenant pilot.


En el mar!                                                At sea!                                               

Qué joven, madre, sin ser                        How young, mother, without being

todavía capitán!                                       captain yet!

Alberti's contemporary, Luis Cernuda, however, followed another line, not the line of Renaissance popular poetry but of the learned idyllic, stylized pastoral poetry of Quevedo in the latter 's Egloga, elegia, oda e.g

Entre las rosas yace                                  Amidst the roses lies

El agua tan serena,                                    the water so serene,

Gozando de si misma en su hermosura;   Enjoying itself its beauty

Ningún reflejo nace                                   no reflection rises

Tras de la onda plena,                               beyond the full wave.

Fria, cruel, inmóvil de tersura.  .             Cold, cruel, immobile from smoothness.

The Spanish poets were joined in this second Golden Age of Spanish poetry by the prolific Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904-73) resident in Spain in the 1930s and also another self-taught poet from Orihuela, Miguel Hernández (1910-42). But the Spanish Civil War starting 1936 put an abrupt halt to this vigorous poetic renaissance. Garcia Lorca  was executed by the supporters of Franco in Granada just a month after the war began; Antonio Machado died during his escape across the French border in 1939 and Hernández died as a political prisoner in 1942. Like the Restoration in early 19th century, there was a restoration of the poetry of 16th century Spain by a literary journal Garcilaso as a reaction against the radicalism of the pre-Civil War poetry. However, the Civil War also brought about a renewed interest in the Spanish ballad

In the second half of the 20th century, the social poetry of the 1940s and 1950s led by Gabriel Celaya (1911-91) and Blas de Otero (1916-79) were refined by a group of writers called novísimos like Pere Gimferrer (1945-) and Guillermo Carnero (1947-). But there is another line of poetry concerned with reflecting the consumerism of the late 20th century like that of Gloria Fuertes (1918-98) e.g in her poem Galerìas preciadas whose title resemble that of a famous department store Galerìas Preciados:

Todo te viene pequeño                   Everything for you is small

--o demasiado grande--,                --or too big--

ni siquiera lo que escoges te va,      what you choose won't be given, 

todo te viene pequeño.                   everything for you is small.

Con el alma desnuda por una cosa  o otra  We beg the shopkeeper

        imploramos al Tendero.           for one thing or another with a naked soul.

Another poet Ana Rosetti (1950-) explores the exploitation of sex and the body in commercial advertising in her poem "Chico Wrangler":

Dulce corazón mío de súbito asalto.                    My sweet heart of sudden assault.

Todo por adorar más de lo permisible.                All for adoring more what is permissible.

Todo porque un cigarro se asienta en una boca All for a cigarette settling upon a mouth 

y en sus jugosas sedas se humedece.                   and for the juicy silks to be moistened.

Porque un camiseta incitante señala,                  Because a provocative T-shirt signals

de su pecho, el escudo durismo,                          from her chest, the hard shield

y un vigoroso brazo de la minima manga sobresale. and a vigorous arm protruding from

                                                                             the short sleeve.

But to Walters, this is no more surprising than in Carcilaso's Egloga primera,  depicting the Duke of Alba in a hunting expedition using military metaphors in his Renaissance poem reminding one of the equestrian portraits of Veláquez:

  replendiente, armado,                             replendent, armed,

representando en tierra el fiero Marte;   representing the fearsome Mars on earth;

agora, de cuidados enojosos                    now, free from worries

y de negocios libre, por ventura                and of free business, for venture

andes a caza, el monte fatigando              to go hunting, the tiring mountain 

en ardiente ginete que apresura                in fiery steed which presses ahead

el curso tras los ciervos temerosos.          in its path through frightened deer.

Such similarities show how often the residual effects of the past age will never fade completely in a later age, no matter how far away. No matter how hard some will like to efface the past, a tradition will take a much longer time to die. More often, traces of the past will somehow always manage to find a way to co-exist in some form or other with the present. The fingers of the past has a very long reach indeed, and often much longer than we would like to give it credit for. 

2010年8月2日 星期一

Background to Spanish Poetry.2

Luis de Góngora is at the head of one of the strongest Spanish poetic traditions. To his detractors, his style is pejoratively described as "culterano" by analogy to "luterano"( Lutheran) much attacked during the Counter-Reformation in Spain. This style is very Latin. Often, the subject and the first verb is separated from the direct and indirect object or the demonstrative pronoun is separated from its noun by a multi-line parenthesis e.g in his Fabula de Polifemo y Galatea (Fable of Polyphemus and Galatea), this is very evident:

Un montre era de miembros eminente   An eminent mountain of limbs

este (que, de Neptuno hijo fiero,            this (which, the fearsome son of Neptune,

de un ojo ilutra el orbe de su frente,     with an eye, lights up the orb of his forehead

emulo casi del major lucero)                 emulate almost the greatest light)

ciclope.                                                  cyclop.

There is much rivalry between the traditions of Góngora and Quevadocultismo and conceptismo ( a particularly concentrated form of conceptual wit which produced what has been called "conceits" as applied to the 17th century English Metaphysical poets like John Donne). In fact, Quevado might write with as much elevated baroque pomp as Góngora could write with dense word play and ingenious metaphors. To Walters, their difference are more differences of degree, not of kind. This was the Siglos de Oro of Spanish poetry and Spanish culture with such famous painters, writers, poets, clerics like El Greco, Veláquez, San Juan de la Cruz, Santa Teresa, Lope de Vega, Cervantes. San Juan de la Cruz and his teacher and fellow mystical poet Fray Luis de Leon (  poet of the unknown light, unheard music, the evening spheres) were both imbued with biblical and kabbalistic literature and Neoplatonism and had little interest in the court manners and concerns of Castiglione's Cortegiano but wrote their major poems in the lira, an Italian poetic form borrowed from Bernardo Tasso.

Between the 17th and the early 19th centuries, there is very little poetry of genuine merit except those of Sor Juan Ines de la Cruz (1651-95) who wrote Cántico espiritual.   The 18th century is the century of French classicism, the Age of Reason and the Age of Enlightenment, with emphasis on clarity and balance as if all shadow, literal or metaphorical, had been decimated but towards the end of the 18th century, there arose what could be termed  the Pre-Romantic style typified by the art of painting of Goya, the certainty and rationality gradually giving rise to doubt, skepticism, darkness, as in the poem of Alberto Lista y Aragon:

Qué horror! La fiera noche                         What horror! The fierce night

ha triplicado el denegrido manto                has tripled the besmirched cloak

de tinieblas sin fin. Huyo del cielo               of darkness without end. The nocturnal splendor

el nocturno esplendor: no hay una estrella fled from the sky: there is not a star

que con su yerta amortiguada lumbre         whose rigid subtle light

hiera la oscuridad del firmanento.              hurts the darkness of the firmament.

However even in this period of relative infertility of Spanish poetry, the balladic tradition quietly continued eg. in the romances históricos of Duque de Rivas (1791-1865) whose narrative poem set the model for later poets.

In the Romantic period, we find poems like El estudinate de Salamanca of José de Esprondceda (1808-42), which re-worked the theme of the legendary Don Juan, emphasizing the eerie atmosphere of Gothic horror and breaking the formal and metrical rhythm of the past in much shorter lines ;

Era más de medianoche,             It was past midnight.

antiguas historias cuentan,         ancient tales are telling,

cuando en sueño y en silencio    when in dreams and in silence.

lóbrego enveulta la tierra,         gloom covers the land,

los vivos muertos parecen,        the living appear dead,

los muertos la tumba dejan.      the dead leave the grave.

Era la hora en que acaso          It was the hour when each of the  

temerosas voces suenan            fearful voices sound,

informes, en que se escuchan    unformed, when hollow

tácitas pisadas huecas,             steps are heard,

y pavorosas fantasmas             and terrifying ghosts 

entre las densas tinieblas         in the dense darkness

vagan y aúllan los perros        come and the dogs howl

amedrentados al verlas.         in horror upon seeing them.

In describing the final flicker of the death of its hero, the lines are short, almost breathless, ending in a single word line:

la frente inclina          his face bent

sobre su pecho          over his chest

y a su despcho,         and despite himself,

siente sus brazos       his arms sit

lánguidos, débiles     lanquid, weak,

desfallecer.               faint.

But even in the Romantic period, the narrative ballad tradition continued by such poets as José Zorilla (1817-93) and even in the 1850s and 1860s Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (1836-1870), a Sevillian who settled in Madrid wrote a series of leyendas (legends) like the prose equivalent of the Romantic narrative poem. His verse, greatly influenced by the folk songs and the lyrics of the German poet Heine, was much fresher than those of his contemporaries like Ramòn de Campoamor (1817-1901) and Gaspar Núñez de Arce (1834-1903) whose poems are often formal and verbose e.g. La visión de Fray Martín of Núñez de Arce:

Era una noche destemplada y triste      It was a night intemperate and sad

Del invierno aterido. Lentamente        from frozen winter. Sluggishly

la nieve silencios, descendiendo           the silent snow, falling

Del alto cielo en abundantes copos,     from high heaven in abundant drops,

Como sudario fúnebre cubria               like a funenary shroud covered

La amortedida tierra. Cierzo helado     the dead earth. Icy breeze

Azotaba los árboles desnudos              whipped the trees stripped

De verde pompa, pero no de escarcha.  of green pump, but not of frost.

This type of poetry is entirely conventional, where nouns are followed by the usual predictable  adjectives, very different from the concise and understated poems of Bécquer. But after Bécquer died, his place was taken by Rosalía de Castro (1837-85) who wrote in her native Galician and in Castilian and by the poet-priest Jacint Verdaguer (1845-1902) who wrote entirely in Catalan

(To be cont'd)      

Background to Spanish Poetry.1

I have translated a number of poems from Spanish into English and Chinese some of which I have already posted in either this blog or in a previous blog but the majority of which, those related to the Spanish dramatist and poet Garcia Lorca have not yet been published. I have also given brief comments on those translated poems when I published them on the net. But never have I given any kind of historical and cultural background to any of those translated poems. Since it is now weekend and I have a little time before attending first a funeral and then a wedding, I might as well give a brief introduction. I claim no originality for what I say here. Any credit should go to  Willis Barnstone's Six Masters of the Spanish Sonnet (1993) and D. Gareth Walters' The Cambridge Introduction to Spanish Poetry-- Spain and Spanish America  (2002) which I have read and from which I have learned what little that I do about Spanish poetry.

Perhaps I should start at the beginning. But as in any historical survey, there will always be disputes as to which poem should be considered the very first "Spanish" poem. Should the criteria be the land which we now call Spain ? Should we consider Catalan or Castilian as "the" Spanish language? Catalan gradually became the chief language in Spain with the publication in 1492 of the first Spanish grammar or indeed the first book of grammar in any language, Arte de la lengua castellana by Antonio de Nebrija. But beforee then, from around the 10th century, poets of Al-Andalus (the lands occupied by  Arabs or Moors in presentday southern Spain, the moors having occupied Spain for about 800 years from the 7th century on ) had written what has been called muwashashas in Classical Arabic  and later in Hebrew that contained a final section in Vulgar Arabic or Mozarabic called kharja (literally going away) which show some resemblance to the subject matter and themes in the poetry in north-western Iberia in the 13th and 14th centuries and certain popular songs prevalent in the 15th and 16th centuries. But in 1492, the moors were driven out of Spain and the last Islamic kingdom of Granada fell before the armies of the Catholic kings in 1610, when the last moriscos (forced Islamic converts into Christianity ) rebellion in Granada was crushed and with it the loss of a valuable poetic tradition, until it was revived some 400 years later by Garcia Lorca in early 20th century by the publication of his El diván del Tamarit modelled after the Arabic or Persian casida and gacela.  In addition, there is another tradition of Galician-Portuguese in north-western Spain with the common origin of a female narrator. As in all cultures, there is an oral epic tradition. The earliest example of this is the Poema/Cantar de mío Cid, a blend of oral and written traditions, written by either a cleric, lawyer or a semi-literate minstrel, probably written at the start of the 13th century. Another is the Siete infantes de Lara which dates from around the start of the 11th century and was revised three centuries later. The third tradition is that of the villancicos which is the only one truly written in what we now regard as Spanish.

The most famous name in Spanish poetry of the 13th century is that of Gonzalo de Berceo (c 1196-1260?), a Rioja ( those who drink Spanish red will know which region) monk who wrote poetry with a different metrical scheme from that of the oral epic, for recitation, the mester de juglaria: this metrical scheme depends on rhythmic patterns, the number of rhythmic accents and length of time for recitation:

de los sos ohos    tan fuerte mientre llorando  from his eyes  so strong whilst crying  

tornava la cabeça  y estava los cantando             he turned his head  and was singing them

In Berceo’s most famous poem the Milagros de Nuestra Señora ( The miracles of our Lady) , the rhythm is obviously different:

Divan olor sovejo         las fores bien olientes       

Refrehscavan en omne las carnes e las mientes;

Manavan cada cano     fuentes claras corrientes,

En verano bien frias     en ivienro calientes     


The sweet smelling flowers  gave off their perfume

They refreshed all                the bodies and the minds

Issued from each song         bright flowing fountains

In summer so cold               in winter so warm

Here we find that the two halves of the lines ( or hemistichs) are of equal length, so unlike the oral epic lines. This is an example of what has been called mester de clericía. What is decisive is the number of syllables: each line has 7 syllables with an unchanging rhyme scheme of aaaa bbbb cccc, in contrast to the epic rhyme-scheme which relies on assonance, achieved by repetition of similar vowel sounds (vocalic rhyme). They use what is called the cuaderna vía (four-fold way). This cuaderna via metre is still being used by Juan Ruiz, the Archpriest of Hita (1282-1350?) about a century later in his Libro de buen amor, supplying connective threads between a variety of other verse forms and a constant narrative rhyme.

According to Walters, we usually think of poetry as related to nationality but in the Middle Ages, the concept of nationality was not fully developed and people in those days placed more emphasis on the poetic genre. In lyric poetry, they used the Galican-Portuguese  not Castilian language. Therefore though Berceo wrote Milagros in Castilian, the songs he wrote at the court of King Alfonso X in Galician-Portuguese. In this regard the most published songs are the Cancienero general, compiled by Hernando de Castillo, from 1511 onwards.

Another important influence on Spanish poet was Italian, due largely to political reasons arising from various dynastic alliances by kings and emperors because of the changing policies of the united crowns of Castile and Aragon and later the territorial legacy of Charles V. Italian poetry was first introduced into Spain from mid-14thth century to early 15th century by Franciso Imperial and Marqués de Santillana (1398-1458). But it was really only in the 1520s that the Italian sonnet with its hendecasyllabic line and with a rhyme scheme of abba abba cdecde became the norm. The pioneer of this form was Juan Boscán (1501/3-36), as part and parcel of the general importation of Italian Renaissance ideas into Spain,  when he met Andrea Navagero the Italian ambassasor to Spain, at the banks of the Darro in Granada, whilst accommpnying Carlos V on a state visit to Alhambra and urged Boscan, who translated Castiglione's Cortegiano prescribing courtly etiquette, to write sonnets and other forms used by good Italian authors,  on the emphasis being placed on the Aristotelian poetic of mimesis. Boscán then started to compose canzoni, ottava rima and sonetos. In this period, Spanish poets started to imitate the classical forms of ancient Greece e.g the pastoral poem of Eclogues of Theocritus and Virgil. Thus Garcilaso, an intimate friend of Boscán with a marvellous talent for words, used the Italian form to create poetry of perfect harmony e.g his Egloga tercera closely imitated Virgil’s Seventh Eclogue.

Flérida, para mi dulce y sobrosa              Flérida, for me sweet and tasty

Más que la fruta del cercada ajeno,          more than the fruit of the adjacent near

Más blanca que la leche y más hermosa   whiter than milk and more beautiful

Que'l prado por abril de flores lleno         than the April meadow full of flowers.

In 1543, the widow of Boscan published the Obras de Boscan y algunas de Garcilaso de la Vega and went through 16 editions by 1610. Gacilaso's poetry became the model of Italian poetry in Spain. He wrote 38 sonnets, 5 canciones and three églogas and an epistle in verse. His sonnets and eclogues gave Spain its ideals of Petrarchan love and Virgilian pastoral imagery. He has a painfully pure sensitivity to beauty and love and he portrays real passion beneath an exterior of pastoral and mythological allusions and disguised his Italian origin so well, following in the tradition of Provençal courtly love poetry. Garcilaso's sonnets express an elegant despair, his young man is endowed with all good qualities, handsome, high born, amorous, poetic but he constantly meets with frustration, the cruelty of time and the slow poision which is life itself. The beauty of grief is turned into an art. But his poetry was not immediately accepted. His followers were criticized as self-pitying, lacking in humor, foreign, distant from the common people and the popular anonymous songs and verse. By the end of the 16th century, the dispute between the Italianist and the Castilian forms had disappeared and we find splendid use of both formal and popular modes by the same authors like Lope de Vega, Luis de Gongora, Francisco Quevedo, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz and all the way to Antonio Machado and Federico Garcia Lorca and Jorge Luis Borges in the 20th century.

But in the meantime, it became usual to include classical allusions as illustration or as metaphors e.g Midas for greed and Icarus for rashness, a kind of literary shorthand with rich built in associations. Their model was the love sonnets of the Italian poet Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) whose Canzioniere was rediscovered in early 16th century and widely imitated by the poets of the Siglo de Oro  (Spanish Golden Age)  e.g by Franciso de Quevedo (1580-1945):

Rizas en ondas ricas del rey Midas          You laugh in rich waves of King Midas

Lisi, el tacto precioso, cuando avaro;       Lisi, the precious touch, when greedy;

Arden claveles en su cerco claro,             Carnations burn in her bright ring,

Fragrante sangre, esplendididas heridas.  Fragant blood, wonderful wounds.

The waves of Midas refers to the golden tresses of her hair. However, minas” is linked to Midas only phonetically. This kind of use is sometimes referred to as "baroque”style . But even more, the Spanish poets attempted to imitate the classical style of the Latin poets in both syntax and rules  e.g the poetry of Luis de Góngora (1561-1627) in the style called cultismo. The Spanish sonnet remains in essentially the same form until some 300 years later, it was changed by the Argentian Jorge Luis Borges, one quarter English through his paternal grandmother, when he adopted the Shakespearean sonnet rhyme scheme of abab cdcd efef gg.

(to be con’d)