Monday 23 July 2018

Seamus Heaney: 'Miracle'

I was recently reading the accounts in Luke 5:17-26 and Mark 2:1-12 describing how Jesus healed a paralyzed man after he had been lowered through a gap in the roof of the house. I was reminded of the poem 'Miracle' by Seamus Heaney, inspired by these accounts, which appeared in Human Chain, Heaney's last collection in 2010. Heaney also referenced this event in 'The Skylight', part of his 'Glanmore Revisited' sequence.

'Miracle' was, I think, my favourite poem from Human Chain. It can be read from either a spiritual or a secular perspective, as it describes a miraculous occurrence, but focuses on the friends of the suffering man and all that they do to help him. Their "slight lightheadedness", caused both by their physical exertions and by the wonder of what they've witnessed, is so human. The poem is partly a tribute to Heaney's own friends who helped him after he suffered a stroke in 2006, and it reminded me that in small or large ways, we can play our own part for good and help to make things greater than ourselves come about.

Photo: Ramp up to the Rafters by Paul Sableman. Used under Creative Commons license 

Sunday 22 July 2018

Rodin and Rilke at the British Museum

I went to the Rodin and the art of ancient Greece exhibition at the British Museum (on until 29 July). It's almost impossible to go wrong with an exhibition like this: it's Rodin, it's classical Greek art, it's Rodin's history with the British Museum...what's not to like? To my surprise, I also found that the words of Rainer Maria Rilke were everywhere.

Rilke went to Paris in 1902 to write a monograph on Rodin, and subsequently became his secretary for a time and his friend. (You can read a fascinating excerpt from You Must Change Your Life: The Story of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin by Rachel Corbett, here.) All over the exhibition, writeups on the artwork were accompanied by Rilke's words on Rodin, often on the specific piece. Sometimes they made up the entirety of the writeup: this was especially moving where Rilke had written about the intensely emotional The Burghers of Calais. No one, it seems, has been able to improve on Rilke's words. This increased immeasurably my enjoyment of an already marvelous exhibition.

Here's what Rilke said on the figure of Pierre de Wissant in The Burghers of Calais:

He created the vague gesture of the man 'passing through life'... As he advances he turns back, not to the town, not to the weeping people, nor to those accompanying him. He turns back to himself ... his hand opens in the air and lets something go, somewhat in the way in which we set free a bird. He is taking leave of all uncertainty, of all happiness still unrealised... This figure, if placed by itself in some old shady garden, would make a monument for all who have died young. (Rainer Maria Rilke, 1902. Translator not named)

Thursday 19 July 2018

Poem review + recent translation at the PTC

A thoughtful review of my poem 'Carousel', recently published by Strange Horizons, appeared on Charles Payseur's Quick Sip Reviews, and you can read it here:

In translation news, I joined the Poetry Translation Centre workshop a few weeks ago to help translate an Arabic prose poem, 'Savannah' by Amjad Nasser. I was really pleased that a few sixth-formers (that's high school...ish...for the North Americans) joined the workshop with their teacher, made interesting contributions, and evidently enjoyed it.