Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Juxtapositions: Mallarmé and Ferry

Cat Bay on Lake Superior near Eagle Harbor, Michigan.

Summer Sadness (1864)*
Stéphane Mallarmé (translation mine)

The sun on the sand, ah sleeping wrestless,
In the gold of your hair warms a wash so listless,
And while on your hostile cheek incense sears,
It mixes a love potion in with your tears.

About this white flare the changeless quietness
Has made you say, aggrieved—oh my cowardly kiss—
"We shall never be a single mummy here
Beneath the glad palms and desert frontier!"

But your tresses are a lukewarm river,
Where our soul obsession drowns without a shiver
And finds that Nothingness that you know not.

I shall taste the teary mascara near your eyes,
To see if it knows how to give the heart that you make beat
The senselessness of the stones and of the sky.

Lake Water (2012)
David Ferry

It is a summer afternoon in October.
I am sitting on a wooden bench, looking out
At the lake through a tall screen of evergreens,
Or rather, looking out across the plane of the lake,
Seeing the light shaking upon the water
As if it were a shimmering of heat.
Yesterday, when I sat here, it was the same,
The same displaced out-of-season effect.
Seen twice it seemed a truth was being told.
Some of the trees I can see across the lake
Have begun to change, but it is as if the air
Had entirely given itself over to summer,
With the intention of denying its own proper nature.
There is a breeze perfectly steady and persistent
Blowing in toward shore from the other side
Or from the world beyond the other side.
The mild sound of the little tapping waves
The breeze has caused—there’s something infantile
About it, a baby at the breast. The light
Is moving and not moving upon the water.

The breeze picks up slightly but still steadily,
The increase in the breeze becomes the mild
Dominant event, compelling with sweet oblivious
Authority alterations in light and shadow,
Alterations in the light of the sun on the water,
Which becomes at once denser and more quietly
Excited, like a concentration of emotions
That had been dispersed and scattered and now were not.
Then there’s the mitigation of the shadow of a cloud,
And the light subsides a little, into itself.

Although this is a lake it is as if
A tide were running mildly into shore.
The sound of the water so softly battering
Against the shore is decidedly sexual,
In its liquidity, its regularity,
Its persistence, its infantile obliviousness.
It is as if it had come back to being
A beginning, an origination of life.

The plane of the water is like a page on which
Phrases and even sentences are written,
But because of the breeze, and the turning of the year,
And the sense that this lake water, as it is being
Experienced on a particular day, comes from
Some source somewhere, beneath, within, itself,
Or from somewhere else, nearby, a spring, a brook,
Its pure origination somewhere else,
It is like an idea for a poem not yet written
And maybe never to be completed, because
The surface of the page is like lake water,
That takes back what is written on its surface,
And all my language about the lake and its
Emotions or its sweet obliviousness,
Or even its being like an origination,
Is all erased with the changing of the breeze
Or because of the heedless passing of a cloud.

When, moments after she died, I looked into
Her face, it was as untelling as something natural,
A lake, say, the surface of it unreadable,
Its sources of meaning unfindable anymore.
Her mouth was open as if she had something to say;

But maybe my saying so is a figure of speech.

Other juxtapositions:
Ovid and Anne Sexton
Sappho and Philip Sidney
George Herbert and John Berryman 
Walt Whitman and Wisława Szymborska 

*French text: 
Le soleil, sur le sable, à lutteuse endormie,
En l’or de tes cheveux chauffe un bain langoureux
Et, consumant l’encens sur ta joue ennemie,
Il mêle avec les pleurs un breuvage amoureux.

De ce blanc flamboiement l’immuable accalmie
T’a fait dire, attristée, ô mes baisers peureux,
« Nous ne serons jamais une seule momie

Sous l’antique désert et les palmiers heureux ! »

Mais ta chevelure est une rivière tiède,

Où noyer sans frissons l’âme qui nous obsède

Et trouver ce Néant que tu ne connais pas.

Je goûterai le fard pleuré par tes paupières,
Pour voir s’il sait donner au cœur que tu frappes
L’insensibilité de l’azur et des pierres.

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