Sunday, 30 June 2013

Rilke's Rose Poems In Translation, V

Rose photo © Yoshi Kosaki, 2013.

After a long hiatus, I am trying to get back to the translations I'd been working on of poems from Rilke's sequence of Roses poems in French.

I only have one to offer this time - V, which I'd skipped over last time. You can read I and II here, III and IV here, and VI here.

More soon, I hope.

THE ROSES (Rainer Maria Rilke, translated from French by Clarissa Aykroyd)


Abandon upon abandon,
tenderness upon tenderness...
Your hidden self unceasingly
turns inward, a caress;

caressing itself, in and of its own
reflection illuminated.
Thus you've invented the tale
of Narcissus sated.



Abandon entouré d'abandon,
tendresse touchant aux tendresses...
C'est ton intérieur qui sans cesse
se caresse, dirait-on;

se caresse en soi-même,
par son proper reflet éclairé.
Ainsi tu inventes le thème
du Narcisse exaucé.

Translation © Clarissa Aykroyd, 2013.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Alun Lewis's 'Raider's Dawn' By Way of Hardy's 'In Time of "The Breaking of Nations"'

John Constable, A ploughing scene in Suffolk (A summerland), c 1824

When I lived in Canada, I was quite often asked if I was any relation to Dan Aykroyd, the Canadian actor. I am not - he belongs to the other branch of Canadian Aykroyds, who seem unrelated to my family (and furthermore, he pronounces it Ack-royd while we pronounce it Ayk-royd - which has caused no end of confusion over the years.) Living in England, I seldom get asked about Dan Aykroyd but I do get asked occasionally about author Peter Ackroyd (no relation) and very occasionally about artist Carry Akroyd (also no relation.)

A few days ago I went to the London launch for George Szirtes's Bad Machine (which is excellent) and chatted with a gentleman who I had met previously at one or two literary events, and also saw online occasionally on George's Facebook page (which is a bit like an online literary salon.) He asked me about my name and we chatted a bit about the people I wasn't related to. Later that evening, this gentleman messaged me through Facebook to say that at his local train station that evening, where people left books to trade, he had come across a copy of World War II poet Alun Lewis's letters to Freda Aykroyd and had wondered about the surname, given our conversation.

I was quite surprised by this coincidence, because I actually do have a family connection to Freda Aykroyd. She was the wife of my great-uncle W R Aykroyd, who was then the director of the Nutrition Research Laboratories in southern India. Freda Aykroyd and Alun Lewis met in 1943 and fell in love. Lewis's death in 1944 from a self-inflicted gunshot is thought to have been a likely suicide, and it is also thought that the affair had something to do with it. I have not read the letters, which were published as A Cypress Walk, but it seems that both were very aware that they were betraying spouses who they loved, and apparently Lewis's awareness was particularly acute. All the evidence suggests that he was also very much in love with his wife, Gweno.

The coincidence was made a bit stranger by the fact that this copy was signed by Juliet Aykroyd, who is Freda and Wallace's daughter and thus another of my distant-ish cousins, who also helped with the editing of the letters, I think. The people who were directly involved in the drama either died before I was born, or were sufficiently distant relatives that I would never have met them, and thus the story is on mostly an intellectual level for me. It is a strange, sad story to have in the family, though. I am quite unable to find such developments in people's lives romantic; just sad, mainly.

This rather long-winded anecdote did remind me that I have wanted to write about one of Lewis's poems, 'Raider's Dawn', and one of Thomas Hardy's, 'In Time of "The Breaking of Nations"', for some time. Here, first, is the Hardy poem, written during World War I, in 1916:


Only a man harrowing clods
  In a slow silent walk,
With an old horse that stumbles and nods
  Half asleep as they stalk.

Only thin smoke without flame
  From the heaps of couch grass:
Yet this will go onward the same
  Though Dynasties pass.

Yonder a maid and her wight
  Come whispering by;
War's annals will fade into night
  Ere their story die.

Alun Lewis's World War II poem can be found here:

RAIDER'S DAWN (Alun Lewis)

The title of the Hardy poem makes reference to Jeremiah 51:20 ("Thou art my battle axe and weapons of war: for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms.") The counterpoint to Lewis's reference to "Paper on paper,/Peter on Paul" - the falling of fragile pages from a Bible - is very interesting.

Essentially, I haven't come across anything to directly confirm it (if anyone has, please let me know) but I am absolutely convinced that these two poems are related. It seems to me almost impossible that Lewis wouldn't have come across Hardy's poem, and that 'In Time of "The Breaking of Nations"' wasn't either a conscious or a subconscious inspiration for 'Raider's Dawn'. The poems seem to reflect each other almost like mirror images.

The major difference is, of course, in the conclusions that the poets reach. Hardy saw that the war was changing the world around him, but he chose to focus on the eternal things that would outlive war; love, the basics of human survival, and so on. In Lewis's poem, ominously, the lovers are "Eternity's masters,/Slaves of Time", no longer lost in their own world, but observing the fall of bodies into mass graves. The concluding image of the "blue necklace" on the "charred chair" is especially haunting, and depressing. For me it seems to conjure up thoughts of the deserted house after the pogrom, or the aftermath of the atomic bomb. 'Raider's Dawn' seems to become the dark shadow of 'In Time of "The Breaking of Nations"', the final loss of innocence in World War II which began with World War I.

The John Constable painting above, incidentally, was chosen simply because Hardy's poem makes me think of Constable's paintings.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Peter Porter's 'Thomas Hardy at Westbourne Park Villas': A London Journey Into Darkness

Portrait of Thomas Hardy by William Strang, 1893.

I have this week come across a couple of poems inspired by Thomas Hardy, or invoking him in some way. One of the poems was 'Thomas Hardy Considers the Newly-Published Special Theory of Relativity' by the science fiction writer Brian Aldiss. The other was this poem by Australian poet Peter Porter, who made London his home for much of his life. I came across it while looking for London poems of light or of darkness, knowing that I'd overwhelmingly find the latter.


I used to live in West London not very far from Westbourne Park Villas, and near other streets and areas associated with Hardy. I sometimes walked down Westbourne Park Villas. There is an awareness that comes to me when I know that a writer or someone personally significant lived in a place. It is perhaps related to the feeling I get when I look at a manuscript in the writer's own hand. I feel as though they are still there.

Hardy's poetry has both a luminous clarity and an emotional gloom. In Porter's beautiful poem, as so often in London poetry, the dark and the light work off each other, but the overall effect gives way to the darkness. The final lines seem to fall with a clang like an iron portcullis.

    The watchful conspirator against the gods
Come to the capital of light on his own grim
Journey into darkness; the dazzle would tell
    Him these were the worst of possible odds -
ordinary gestures of time working on faces the watermark of hell.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

"Sweet Fire the Sire of Muse": Gerard Manley Hopkins Turns the Volume Up to 11

TO R.B. (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

The fine delight that fathers thought; the strong
Spur, live and lancing like the blowpipe flame,
Breathes once and, quenchèd faster than it came,
Leaves yet the mind a mother of immortal song.
Nine months she then, nay years, nine years she long
Within her wears, bears, cares and moulds the same:
The widow of an insight lost she lives, with aim
Now known and hand at work now never wrong.
Sweet fire the sire of muse, my soul needs this;
I want the one rapture of an inspiration.
O then if in my lagging lines you miss
The roll, the rise, the carol, the creation,
My winter world, that scarcely breathes that bliss
Now, yields you, with some sighs, our explanation.

Gerard Manley Hopkins seems to be at or near the top of a lot of people's lists, whether of favourite poets, or most influential, or whatever list they choose. I find him amazing, but frankly overwhelming - his poetry is so intense both sensually and spiritually that I get overloaded quite quickly when I read him. His poetry, almost unrecognised and unpublished in his Victorian lifetime, was very innovative for its time and has gone on to be massively influential. I hear echoes of him in so many poets. Ted Hughes's 'The Hawk in the Rain' descends in a straight line from 'The Windhover'. Dylan Thomas also reminds me very much of Hopkins (though I'm equally unprepared to comment on either of them.)

I came across this poem, 'To R.B.', quite recently and loved it. R.B. was the poet Robert Bridges, who I recently crossed paths with as he edited an anthology of heroic poetry during World War I which Mallory took with him to Everest. Robert Bridges was a close friend of Hopkins and encouraged his poetry, and later edited and published collections of Hopkins' poems after his death.

The poem itself is pretty stunning, an inspired ode to inspiration. I must confess that the line "Sweet fire the sire of muse, my soul needs this" had me picturing Hopkins as the lead singer of...well...a hard rock/metal band with almighty riffs, bombastic tunes, and exceptionally good lyrics. Couldn't you just hear Robert Plant, Axl Rose, Freddie Mercury, Matt Bellamy, Sammy Hagar, Geoff please stop me...) belting out those lines?

Surrender to the Facebook (Plus a Giveaway)

Some of my lovely blog readers already know that I have a Facebook page which supports this blog, but I just wanted to flag it up again to those who are Facebook'd but may not know about the page. Any "likes" are much appreciated. (And if you want to tell your friends how wonderful The Stone and the Star is, whether in blog form or Facebook form or all forms, that's fine too.)

I use the Facebook page not only to post links to blog entries, but also bits of poetry news, quotations or links to poems which have caught my fancy, occasional photos of poetry-related landmarks I see while wandering about...

Once in a while (ie. about twice a year) I do something like give away a book on the Facebook page. I'm planning to do that later today - probably late evening UK time - so this might be a good time to navigate over there.

Some day I may be on Twitter, but for now I just think of how much time I already spend on Facebook, and it makes me think again...

Monday, 3 June 2013

...And Then One Day I Realised That I Loved Sudanese Poetry

I recently attended another Poetry Translation Centre workshop, which I've just occasionally been able to go to, where we (poets, translators, poet translators) translate a poem collaboratively. This time it was a poem by Ateif Khieri, an important Sudanese poet writing in Arabic (and now sadly exiled in Australia).

It was a fun evening. We ended up laughing quite a lot, which was a surprise, as it's not a particularly humorous poem. You can judge for yourself and read the poem, 'Exhortation to the Village (8)', on this link. (This is the final translated version, but there are also links to the original Arabic, and to the more literal early translation which we worked from.


There were a number of things about this poem which really got under my skin. The literal translation, which I had looked at quickly before the workshop, had something about it that reminded me of Paul Celan. I think it was the element of the surreal, and the sense that a really deep engagement with the original language and the meaning of the words, and some background about the poem's cultural roots, would help immensely. I mean, all of this is probably very much the case for most translation of poetry - but more so in some cases.

Sarah Maguire led the workshop as usual (I also love her own poetry), and we were really fortunate to have Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi there, who is friends with Ateif Khieri and whose own Sudanese Arabic-language poetry is, I hope, just about to take...everyone by storm. He and the first translator Samuel Wilder, and others in the workshop with a knowledge of Arabic, were able to help us with a closer engagement. The depth of meaning in many of the Arabic words is remarkable and this made the translation very challenging, but very interesting and rewarding.

The other thing that got me about 'Exhortation to the Village (8)' was simply a very, very strong feeling of familiarity. It came over me particularly with these lines:

After two streets of grief
I know
and treacherous paths toward the lord

The whole poem seems to find an intense, almost traumatized meaning (either positive or negative) in the details that surround the poet, in everyday life. And I still don't know what is familiar about it - whether it reminds me of another poem, or whether it is a less specific emotional familiarity.