Thursday, 27 November 2014

"Blaze Like Meteors": Interstellar and Dylan Thomas

Star Trails Over NASA by Zach Dischner. Used under Creative Commons license

A few days ago I went to see the new film Interstellar. I'm an enthusiast of Christopher Nolan's films (those that I've seen, which isn't all of them - but Inception is one of my favourite films and The Prestige is wonderful).  

Interstellar is a great big space epic with many nods to the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey but with a gentle approach to the human stories within it, which keeps it intimate. Matthew McConaughey was particularly good. I have to admit that the last half-hour lost me a bit. I'm all for metaphysical Hollywood with a philosophical side, but it just got a bit too weird for me in the final stages. I am still not sure if I ever saw 2001 in its entirety; I remember my family watching it on TV many, many years ago when the ending would have been past my bedtime. And although I was partly beguiled and partly horrified by HAL the computer ("I'm afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going"...and then he sings 'Daisy') I don't think the rest of the film fascinated me that much. Anyway, I later asked my parents what actually happened at the end of the film and as I recall, the answer was "Oh, they just sort of go on out into the universe". I have my doubts as to how well anyone in my family handles space films, arty films, or generally films with weird endings.

Interstellar has made it onto this poetry blog because of Dylan Thomas's 'Do not go gentle into that good night', which features prominently in the film.


On several occasions in the course of the film, the enigmatic Professor Brand of NASA recites lines from this great poem, and it makes another appearance very near the end. I'm not going to give anything away, but depending on the context, the poem becomes either inspiring or rather ominous. To me, Interstellar was in large part about survival - the survival (or not) of the human race, of course, but also: what makes life worth living? What happens to people when they are forced to survive (as in 'outlive') someone they love? Just how far (morally and/or physically) will humans go to survive?

The onward rush of the poem has always seemed to me both joyful and catastrophic, and at the same time, the villanelle form gives it a circling/returning quality. Rather mysteriously, and along with some of the language of the poem, these qualities make it remarkably suited to the theme of space travel - a hurtling rush to the stars, and a sense of being caught in orbit.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Friday, 21 November 2014

My Translation of Rainer Maria Rilke's 'Song'

I translated this French poem by Rainer Maria Rilke some time ago. It isn't a very ambitious translation, but I found it to be such a beautiful poem that I didn't want to mess around with it too much - just be faithful to it (yes, I know it's a poem, not a relationship).

You can find the original French poem after the translation.

(For anyone who might wonder or care, I promise I'm going to get back to my translations of the Rose poems very soon.)

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

You, to whom I don't confide
my long wakeful nights,
You, who leave me so gently tired,
cradling me to sleep;
You, who hide your sleeplessness from me,
tell me, can we endure
this transcending thirst
without giving in?

Remember how lovers 
are startled by a lie
at the hour of confession.

You alone can enter my pure solitude.
You become all things; you are a murmur
or an airy scent.
Between my arms, the void streams with loss.
It never held you back, and it's surely by that grace
that I hold you forever.


Toi, à qui je ne confie pas
mes longues nuits sans repos,
Toi qui me rends si tendrement las,
me berçant comme un berceau;
Toi qui me caches tes insomnies,
dis, si nous supportions
cette soif qui nous magnifie,
sans abandon?

Car rappelle-toi les amants,
comme le mensonge les surprend
à l’heure des confessions.

Toi seule, tu fais partie de ma solitude pure.
Tu te transformes en tout: tu es ce murmure
ou ce parfum aérien.
Entre mes bras: quel abîme qui s’abreuve de pertes.
Ils ne t’ont point retenue, et c’est grâce à cela, certes,
qu'à jamais je te tiens.

Translation  © Clarissa Aykroyd, 2014

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Adam Zagajewski's 'Don't Allow the Lucid Moment to Dissolve': Clinging to Lucidity

Soap Bubble by Mike Haller. Used under Creative Commons license

I've been blogging for more than three years now, which may or may not be longer than expected. One thing is certain: very few things get easier with the passage of time, whatever people may tell you - if you're like me and motivation, momentum and good habits aren't your strong points, anyway.

I have recently been wondering what The Stone and the Star is for and whether it needs to change, whether or not I should continue, whether I should dial back on the Facebook and Twitter aspects and just blog, whether I should concentrate on having 800+ Twitter followers and not worry much about the blog...etc. The fact remains that while sometimes blogging feels more like a chore than like a release, it started all this (whatever "all this" is) and in my mind, the blog still seems to be framed as one of the core points of my creative life. The other social media aspects are more peripheral.

I was reaching for a poem which might articulate some of what I've been thinking about and I came to Adam Zagajewski's 'Don't Allow the Lucid Moment to Dissolve'.

DON'T ALLOW THE LUCID MOMENT TO DISSOLVE (Adam Zagajewski, translated by Renata Gorczynski)

In this poem, the "lucid moment" is about reaching our full potential - "the level of ourselves" and "[t]he stature of a man...notched/high up on a white door". When in conclusion Zagajewski says "On a hard dry substance/you have to engrave the truth", it certainly calls poetry and writing to mind; perhaps also the visual arts, carved like Michelangelo's painful and glorious statues; or music, inscribed on the page and written in sound on air.

Beyond these, so much that is important happens because people hold on to and make a record of lucid moments. The Bible writers and prophets, whether you believe their inspiration was divine or otherwise, certainly saw the crucial necessity of recording the lucid moment. Great scientists, explorers, human rights activists and others have glimpsed and reached for them repeatedly. The "lucid moments" become a kind of ladder, or a series of lights on the roadway ('lucid' comes from the Latin for 'light'). And while blogging about poetry isn't a great deal, it can also be a small way to hold onto and to reach forward with lucidity.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

A Long Weekend of Paris and Poetry

Ten days ago I went to Paris for a long weekend. I think it was my sixth visit (between the age of seven and, er, now), but my first in a few years, and Paris is never not worth visiting. I was with a friend from London and we also met up with one of my good friends who lives in the south of France, and one of her Parisian friends. Over the course of four days there was much amazing food, speaking French, wandering and taking photos, a wonderful visit to the Louvre, bookshops, a ramble round the base of the Eiffel Tower (the queue was too long to go up), and more.

There were, of course, poetic moments. I had thought to make a Paul Celan pilgrimage to his grave (in the outskirts of Paris) and maybe his last address on Avenue Emile Zola, and the Pont Mirabeau, but in the end I just wasn't in the mood for the sadness - and I would have been reluctant to drag my friend along. The Celanian pilgrimage is still on my list to do another time, though. But as always, there were the bookshops in St-Michel, especially my favourite, Gibert Jeune. Their 'livres poche' section is to die for. I bought poetry collections by Paul Eluard, René Char and André Breton (after my recent post about liking Spanish poetry more than French poetry...I felt this was a good time to act). I could easily have gone crazy in their poetry section, and I slightly wish I had, but honestly I have more than enough French poetry at home to keep going for a while.

We also went to the lovely Shakespeare & Company, where a pianist played jazz upstairs and we squeezed through the narrow aisles packed with books. I was a little unnerved to see A Cypress Walk, the correspondence between Alun Lewis and Freda Aykroyd (my great-aunt), displayed in the war poetry section. (I still haven't read it....) 

 And there was Walt Whitman, in French, outside the shop...

In the Île de la Cité, I came across Edmond Fleg, who I didn't know. All I have learned so far is that he was a Jewish French writer who wrote much work, including poetry, closely based on the Bible and his Jewish beliefs. I'd like to learn more.

We were staying in Montparnasse, for which my mother had given me a few tips from her student days in the '60s. The hotel was pleasant and there was an amazing crêperie where we feasted a couple of times. Also notable, of course, was the Montparnasse cemetery, across the road from our hotel. We walked through shortly before collecting our bags on the last day to go to Gare du Nord, and I wanted to see Baudelaire's grave. As I craned my neck to find the exact spot, having only a rough idea from the cemetery map, a middle-aged man walked by smoking a little cigar, smiled, and wordlessly gestured at the grave of the Baudelaire family.

And of course, there were many other places and moments with their own poetry. I love Paris. It is a city that wears the darkness lightly.

 Photos © Clarissa Aykroyd, 2014