This is the landscape of the Cambrian age:
This shore was here before man. Every tide
My two thin boys balance on Elvan stone
Esta é a paisagem da idade câmbrica:
xisto, quartzo azul, placas de ardósia estriadas
de ferro e chumbo; pedra-sabão, formações de calcite;
nas poças há peixes cor de areia, caranguejos
aveludados como algas, camarões transparentes como água.
Esta praia estava aqui antes do homem. Com as marés
regressa o mar, flutua o sargaço,
os animais-flor incham e curvam-se sobre seres
arrastados. inertes, alimento apenas: arcaicos e esquecidos.
Meus dois filhos franzinos equilibram-se no rochedo de Elvan,
atentos, debruçados sobre os seus alfinetes e cordéis,
com os pés molhados e brancos, lábios salgados, pele queimada pelo vento
e observam com curiosidade e compaixão:
ao largo, o Tempo e o Acaso esperam.
surprise: I like it.
A primeira surpresa: agrada-me.
Agora, haja o que houver, algumas coisas
que eram assustadoras deixaram de o ser:
por exemplo, não morri cedo. Nem perdi
o meu único amor. Nenhum dos meus três filhos
se viu forçado a abandonar ninguém.
Não me digam que esta gratidão é complacente.
Todos nos aproximamos da mesma escuridão
que para mim é o silêncio.
Saber isto torna ainda mais vivo
o meu deleite pelas frésias de Janeiro,
pelo café quente e o sol de Inverno. Assim
dizemos, juntos, num momento de ternura:
cada dia que for ganho à escuridão
é tudo o que podemos celebrar.
In water nothing is mean. The fugitive
Na água nada é banal. A fugitiva
entra no rio que a lava e a liberta;
os pensamentos desenredam-se como algas
de seda verde: avança pela corrente
tão à vontade como as criaturas da água fria
nadam por entre pedras musgosas, ramagens
escuras, botas e latas que o rio também leva.
As árvores sussurram. Ela sente as suas sombras.
Imagina-se limpa como um peixe,
fugidia, solitária, muda. Eis a sua prece:
celebrar a paz com a sua natureza monstruosa.
Suppose I took out a slender ketch from
under the spokes of Palace pier tonight to
catch a sea going fish for you
or dressed in antique goggles and wings and
flew down through sycamore leaves into the park
or luminescent through some planetary strike
put one delicate flamingo leg over the sill of your lab
Could I surprise you? or would you insist on
keeping a pattern to link every transfiguration?
Listen, I shall have to whisper it
into your heart directly: we are all
supernatural / every day
we rise new creatures / cannon be predicted
Se eu pegasse num pequeno barco esguio
atado ao cais e esta noite
te oferecesse um peixe do alto mar
ou se pusesse óculos de aviador e asas
e descesse entre as folhas do sicómoro até ao jardim
ou se, iridiscente pela força dos planetas,
pousasse uma perna de flamingo na janela do teu laboratório
ficarias surpreendido? ou insistirias em que
tem de haver um modelo para todas as transfigurações?
Ouve, terei de segredar
ao teu próprio coração: todos somos
sobrenaturais / e em cada dia
erguemo-nos como novos seres / imprevisíveis
My answer would have to be music
which is always deniable, since in my
silence, which you question, is only a landscape
of water, old trees and a few irresolute
birds. The weather is also inconstant.
Sometimes the light is golden, the leaves unseasonable.
And sometimes the ice is red, and the moon
hangs over it, peeled, like a Chinese fruit.
I am sorry not to be more articulate.
When I try, the words turn ugly as rats and
disorder everything, I cannot be quiet,
I want so much to be quiet and loving
If only you wanted that. My sharpest thoughts
wait like assassins always in the dry wheat. They
chat and grin. Perhaps you should talk to them?
A minha resposta deveria ser música,
o que é sempre discutível, visto que ao pores em dúvida
o meu silêncio esqueces como ele é só uma paisagem
de água, velhas árvores e alguns pássaros
indecisos. Também o tempo é inconstante.
Doura-se por vezes a luz e as folhas nascem fora de época.
Por vezes o gelo é vermelho e um fruto
sem casca parece-se com a lua suspensa.
Perdoa-me por não me explicar melhor.
Quando o tento, as palavras parecem ratazanas
e tudo estragam; não consigo estar calada,
queria tanto ser meiga e conservar-me em silêncio
se assim o quisesses. Os meus pensamentos mais cortantes
aguardam como assassinos nas searas secas. Sussurram,
com esgares. Não será com eles que te deves entender?
The dead are strong.
That winter as you wandered,
the cold continued, still
the brightness cut
my shape into the snow:
I would have let you go!
Your mother blew
my dust into your lips
a powder white as cocaine,
my name, runs to your nerves
and now I move again in your song.
You will not let me go.
The dead are strong.
Although in darkness I was lost:
and had forgotten all pain
long ago: in your song
my lit face remains
and so we go
over pools that crack
like glass, through forests shining
black with twigs that wait
for you to wake them, I return
in your praise, as Eurydice’s
ghost I light the trees.
The dead are strong.
A path of cinders, I remember,
and limping upward
not yet uprooted from
my dream, a ghost
with matted eyes, air-sacs
brain, I staggered
Orpheus, when you first
called, I pushed
the sweet earth from my mouth
and sucked in
all the powders of volcanic ash
to follow you
that crumbling slope
to the very last ridge –
where I saw clumps of
yellow camomile in the dunes
and heard the applause
of your wild mother
crying good, my son, good
in the fumes of the crater.
When the wiring sputtered
at my wedding feast
she was hectic, glittering;
her Arabian glass
burst into darkness
and her flesh shimmered.
She was still laughing, there,
on that pumice edge
with all Apollo’s day behing her
as I saw your heavy
shoulders turn. Your lips move.
Then your eyes.
and I lay choking Orpheus
what hurt most then was
your stunned face
cruel never to be touched
again, and watching
a blown leaf in your
And the curse of all future
poets to die by
rope or stake or fire falls there
on these mindless creatures
no longer human their toes
grow roots and their knees are
gnarled – their arms branch leaves:
who will release them?
Their flesh is wood.
As dreamers now together
we forget Apollo’s day
that cruel light in which at last
all men become shadows;
and we forgive even those
dead gods, who sleep among us.
For all their gifts, not one
of them has power to summon us.
In this green silence
we conceal our one true marriage.
ALGUMAS DAS CANÇÕES PARA EURÍDICE:
Os mortos são poderosos.
Nesse Inverno enquanto vagueavas
o frio persistia, e o brilho
a minha forma na neve:
por mim deixar-te-ia livre.
A tua mãe soprou
as minhas cinzas nos teus lábios,
pó branco como cocaína,
meu nome, que percorre os teus nervos
e de novo caminho na tua canção:
tu não me deixas livre.
Os mortos são poderosos.
Embora nas trevas me perdesse
e tivesse esquecido há muito
a dor, na tua canção
fica o meu rosto iluminado
e assim vamos
sobre charcos que estalam
como vidro, pelas florestas que brilham
negras, nos seus rebentos à espera
de ti para os despertar, regressando
no teu hino e, como espectro
de Eurídice, incendeio as árvores.
Os mortos são poderosos.
Recordo um caminho de cinzas
que subi trôpega,
ainda não desenraizada
do meu sonho, fantasma
com olhos sujos, sacos de ar
atrás de ti,
Orfeu, quando primeiro
me chamaste, cuspi
a doce terra da minha boca
as poeiras da cinza vulcânica
para te seguir
pela encosta a esboroar-se
até ao último socalco
onde encontrei tufos
de camomila amarela nas dunas
e ouvi os aplausos
da tua indomável mãe,
a poderosa Calíope,
gritando é assim, ó meu filho,
entre os vapores da cratera.
Quando os fusíveis crepitaram
na festa da minha boda
ela ficou agitada, faiscante;
a sua taça da Arábia
explodiu como a noite
e toda a sua carne cintilou.
Continuava ali, a rir,
na vertente de pedra-pomes
com o dia de Apolo atrás de si
e vi os teus ombros pesados
voltarem-se. Os lábios estremeceram.
Depois os olhos
e eu ali sufocada. Orfeu:
o que mais me feriu então
foi o teu rosto assombrado,
para sempre cruel,
intocável, e ver
como uma folha levada pelo vento
nos teus olhos assassinos
E a maldição de todos
os poetas juntos que vão ser enforcados
ou queimados há-de descer
sobre os que estão desatentos;
já não humanos, pelos seus pés
nascem raízes e são os joelhos
e braços como ramos ou folhas:
quem os vem libertar?
É de madeira a sua carne.
Adormecidos, agora juntos,
esquecemos ambos o dia de Apolo,
aquela cruel luz em que todos os homens
finalmente se tornaram sombras;
e perdoamos mesmo àqueles
deuses mortos que repousam ao nosso lado.
Apesar de todos os seus dons, nenhum
deles poderá sequer chamar-nos,
porque neste verde silêncio
escondemos a nossa única, verdadeira união.
Forgotten, shabby and long time abandoned
in stubbled fur, with broken
teeth like toggles, the old gods are leaving.
They will no longer crack the
tarmac of the language, open generous
rivers, heal our scoured thoughts.
They will only blink, and we move on, and
tomorrow no one will remember their songs
unless they rise in warning, as when
sudden planes speed overhead
crossing the sky with harsh accelerating
screams. You may shiver then
to hear the music of the gods leaving.
is waiting for the boy Octavius.
They don’t like losers.
And the gods are leaving us.
Esquecidos, andrajosos e há muito abandonados,
cobertos de roupas de pele gastas, com os dentes partidos
e manchados, os velhos deuses partem.
Nunca mais irão fender
o alcatrão da linguagem, nem abrir generosos
rios, ou curar os nossos pensamentos descarnados.
E passam sem pestanejar; amanhã
ninguém recordará o seu canto
a não ser que se ergam advertindo-nos, como
súbitos aviões que nos sobrevoem velozes,
cruzando o céu com gritos cada vez
mais agudos. Então podeis tremer
ao ouvir a música dos deuses que partem.
que espera o jovem Octávio
não gosta de vencidos.
E os deuses estão a abandonar-nos.
PARK PARADE, CAMBRIDGE
in memory of Elizabeth Bishop
Your thoughts in later years must, sometimes,
have visited this one-time lodging house,
the wood then chocolate brown, the plaster
veined, this bedroom floating over
spongy grass down to a shallow river.
As a mild ghost, then, look with me tonight
under this slant roof out to where
the great oak lies, its foliage disguised
with flakes of light. Above us, clouds
in these wide skies remain as still as sandbars.
Sleeplessly, together, we can listen
to the quiet song of water, hidden
at the lock, and wait up for the first
hiss of cycle tyres and whistling builders.
Fellow asthmatics, we won’t even cough
because for once my lungs are clean,
and you no longer need to fight for breath.
And though it is by chance now I inherit
this room, I shall draw both tenderness and strength
from the friendly toughness of your spirit.
PARK PARADE, CAMBRIDGE
Em memória de Elizabeth Bishop
Nos últimos anos os teus pensamentos
devem ter visitado esta antiga pensão:
as madeiras, então da cor de chocolate,
o estuque já fendido, o quarto a flutuar
sobre a erva molhada até ao rio.
Esta noite, como um espectro suave, olha comigo,
sob este tecto esconso, para onde se ergue
o grande carvalho com a ramagem velada
por flocos de luz. No vasto céu, as nuvens
estão imóveis como bancos de areia.
Despertas, podemos as duas ouvir
a tranquila canção da água oculta
na represa, e aguardar o primeiro
silvo dos pneus, o assobio dos pedreiros.
Ambas asmáticas, nem sequer tossimos
porque desta vez tenho os pulmões limpos
e tu não precisas sequer de respirar.
E embora por acaso herde o teu quarto,
encher-me-ei de força e de bondade
colhidas na terna firmeza do teu espírito.
It was a winter evening
on quiet streets, a young girl
running in broken shoes
over the snow. She goes
hurrying to a lover,
to heal their quarrel.
Her hot face is wet
with a fever of 102º.
Next week, in the hospital,
she whispers again and again:
“your lips are salt” and
“the snow is blue”
A NEVE AZUL
Lembro-me que numa tarde de Inverno,
pelas ruas calmas, há uma jovem
que corre com sapatos velhos
sobre a neve. Vai apressada
ao encontro de um amante,
para que tudo comece de novo.
O seu rosto está húmido,
ardente, cheio de febre.
Na semana seguinte, no hospital,
murmura repetidas vezes:
“Os teus lábios são salgados”, e
“a neve é azul”.
“Os teus lábios são salgados”, e
“a neve é azul”.
Where is that I wonder?
Is it the book-packed house we plan to sell
with the pale green room above the river,
the shelves of icons, agate, Eilat stone
the Kathe Kollwitz and the Samuel Palmer?
Or my huge childhood house
oak-floored, the rugs of Autumn colours, slabs of coal
in an open heart, high-windowed rooms,
outside, the sunken garden, lavender, herbs
and trees of Victoria plum.
Last night I dreamed of
my dead father, white-faced, papery-skinned
and frailer than he died. I asked him:
- Doesn’t all this belong to us? He shook his head,
bewildered. I was disappointed,
but thought I woke with salt on my lips then
and a hoarse throat, somewhere between
the ocean and the desert, in an immense
Mexico of the spirit, I remembered
with joy and love my other ties of blood.
Onde fica isso, pergunto a mim própria.
E a casa cheia de livros, que pensamos vender,
com a sala verde-pálido sobre o rio,
as prateleiras com ícones, ágata, pedra de Elath,
a Kathe Kollwith e o Samuel Palmer?
Ou a minha enorme casa de infância
de soalho de carvalho, tapetes com cores outonais, pedaços de carvão
na lareira aberta, quartos com altas janelas,
lá fora, o jardim fundo, alfazema, ervas
e ameixieira de frutos vermelhos.
Na noite passada sonhei
com o meu falecido pai, de rosto branco e pele ressequida,
mais débil do que no instante em que morreu. Perguntei-lhe:
- Isto tudo não nos pertence? Abanou a cabeça,
desorientado. Fiquei desapontada,
mas embora acordasse com sal nos lábios
e a garganta áspera, algures entre
o oceano e o deserto, num imenso
México do espírito, lembrei-me
com alegria e amor de que existem ainda outros laços de sangue.
Do not look backward, children.
A sticky burning sea still lies below.
The harsh air stings like sand
and here among these salty pillars
the unforgiving stand. Take
the mountain ledge, even though
it crumbles into dust. Walk or crawl,
you must let the rocks cut into your feet without pity.
And forget the smoking city. God punishes regret.
Não olhem para trás, meus filhos.
Um mar viscoso e ardente fica lá em baixo.
O ar áspero fere como se fosse areia
e aqui, por entre estes pilares salgados,
estão os que não perdoam. Segurem-se
ao rebordo da montanha, mesmo que
se desfaça em pó. Caminhem ou rastejem,
deixem que as rochas firam os pés sem piedade.
E esqueçam a cidade fumegante. Deus castiga os que se arrependem.
Yesterday, I flew in over the landscape
my grandfather tried to farm near Montreal.
There was ice in the stubble, hard snow
and flat spaces that made me flinch
to imagine the winter below.
Now in mountain country in Colorado
the snow’s whiteness has us catching our breath,
rejoicing at the violence of sunlight here;
and even at night when so many storms gather
enjoying the flash on the snow.
Why do mountains soothe us? They should alarm.
Instead, their snows seem to induce in us
a queer spirit of compassionate calm:
as if their beauty lit our thought so sharply
we become equal to the threat of harm.
CAMPOS DE NEVE
Ontem voei sobre os campos
que, perto de Montreal, meu avô tentou cultivar.
Havia gelo pelo restolho, neve dura,
e extensões planas: senti-me tremer
ao imaginar, lá em baixo, o Inverno.
Agora no Colorado, ao longo das montanhas,
toda esta brancura faz-nos suster a respiração,
regozijamo-nos aqui com a violência da luz solar;
e mesmo à noite quando se aproximam as tempestades
sentimos o prazer da luz intensa sobre a neve.
Por que nos acalmam as montanhas? Deviam assustar-nos.
As neves parecem originar em nós
um estranho espírito de compassiva calma,
como se, intensa, a sua beleza iluminasse o pensamento
e a qualquer ameaça nos tornasse indiferentes.
SOME UNEASE AND ANGELS
Even in May now with so many yellows:
falling burberry, broom, birds with
feathers like wild tobacco, hot sun;
some unease disturbed me, some
music of notes pitched too high even for
dogs or prisoners, or the sick, as if there
were messengers asleep in the grass like pollen
waiting to rise up in sudden flower
angels or darker sentinels, closing in on us
all year, unkillable presences, they are
waiting to shrivel us even now, if we dare to
lift their hoods and confront them without fear.
ALGUM DESCONFORTO E ANJOS
Mesmo agora, em Maio, ao calor do sol,
com todo o amarelo do tojo, da giesta,
e das aves cujas penas são como a flor do tabaco;
algum desconforto me invadiu, algumas
notas de música estridentes, mesmo para
cães ou prisioneiros ou doentes, como se houvesse
mensageiros a dormir na erva, pólen
à espera de se erguer numa flor súbita,
anjos ou sentinelas negras, envolvendo-nos
sempre, indestrutíveis presenças à espera
de nos fazer murchar se um dia ousarmos
desvendar o seu rosto, e enfrentá-los sem medo.
The gaunt lady of the service wash
stands on the threshold and blinks in the sunlight.
Her face is yellow in its frizz of hair
and yet she smiles as if she were fortunate.
She listens to the hum of cars passing
as if she were on a country lane in summer,
or as if the tall trees edging this
busy street scattered blessings on her.
Last month they cut a cancer out of her throat.
This morning she tastes sunshine in the dusty air.
And she is made alert to the day’s beauty,
as if her terror had wakened poetry.
A mulher pálida e magra da lavandaria
está à porta e pestaneja com a luz do sol.
Com o rosto amarelo e o frisado do cabelo,
ela ainda sorri, como se estivesse feliz.
Ouve o zunido dos carros que passam
como se estivesse no campo em pleno Verão,
ou como se as grandes árvores que ladeiam esta
rua agitada lhe derramassem bênçãos.
No mês passado tiraram-lhe um cancro da garganta.
Esta manhã ela saboreia o sol na poeira do ar.
E ali fica atenta a tudo que é belo,
como se no seu terror despertasse a poesia.
In the resonance of that
lizard colour, mottled like stone from
Eilat, with blue fruit and patches
of mud in it: my thoughts scatter
over Europe where there is water
and sunlight in collision, and green is
the flesh of Holbein’s coffined Christ, and
also the liturgical colour of heaven.
In England: green is innocent as grass.
Na ressonância desta
cor de lagarto, manchada como uma pedra
de Eilat, com o azul dos frutos e nódoas
de lama: os meus pensamentos derramam-se
sobre a Europa onde o sol
embate na água; é o verde
de Holbein na carne de Cristo morto
e também a cor litúrgica do céu.
Na Inglaterra o verde é inocente como a erva.
“THE ONLY GOOD LIFE IS LIVED WITHOUT MIRACLES”
Under hot white skies, if we could,
in this city of bridges and pink stone live gratefully
here is a lacework of wooden ghosts from New Guinea
Etruscan jewels, beetles with scales of blue mineral.
Bad news follow us, however. I wonder if
anyone walks sanely in middle age. Isn’t there
always some desperation for the taste of one last
miraculous fruit, that has to be pulled from the air?
“A ÚNICA VIDA BOA É VIVIDA SEM MILAGRES”
Pudéssemos viver com gratidão nesta cidade
de pontes e pedra rósea, sob céus quentes e brancos:
aqui os fantasmas da Nova Guiné em renda de madeira, as jóias
etruscas, os escaravelhos com escamas de mineral azul.
Más notícias nos perseguem, todavia, Pergunto-me
se podemos ser sensatos na meia-idade. Não haverá
sempre uma ânsia de provar um último
fruto milagroso, que tem de se arrancar do ar?
THE MAGIC APPLE TREE
Sealed in rainlight one
November sleepwalking afternoon streets
I remembered Samuel Palmer’s garden
Waterhouse in Shoreham, and at once
I knew: that the chill of wet
brown streets was no more liberal
than the yellow he laid there against
his unnatural blue because
together they worked upon me like
an icon infantine
he called his vision so it was
with the early makers of icons, who
worked humbly, choosing wood without resin.
They stilled their spirits before using the gold
and while the brightness held under the kvass
their colours too induced
the peculiar joy of abandoning restlessness
and now in streets where only white
mac or car metal catches the failing
light, if we sing of
the red and the blue and the texture of goat hair,
there is no deceit in our prophecy:
for even now our brackish waters can
be sweetened by a strange tree.
A MACIEIRA MÁGICA
Envolta em luz de chuva ao caminhar
sonâmbula pelas ruas numa tarde de Novembro,
lembrei-me do jardim de Samuel Palmer,
Waterhouse ou Shoreham, e de repente
soube que o frio das ruas
húmidas e pardas não era mais literal
do que o amarelo por ele sobreposto em contraste
com o seu azul irreal, porque
em conjunto essas cores me impressionaram
como um ícone; pueril
- chamou ele à sua visão; era assim
para os antigos artífices de ícones,
que humildes trabalhavam a madeira sem resina.
Apaziguavam o espírito antes de usar o ouro
e enquanto o brilho perdurava sob o kvass
também as suas cores transmitiam
a singular alegria de abandonar a inquietação
e se agora, nas ruas onde só branco
das gabardinas ou o metal dos carros recebem
a luz ao cair, cantarmos
o vermelho, o azul e a textura do pêlo de cabra,
não há qualquer ludíbrio na nossa profecia:
podem ainda hoje as nossas águas salobras
ser purificadas por uma estranha árvore.
Traduções para Português: Médium e outros poemas. Elaine Feinstein; tradução colectiva (a) (Mateus, Abril-Maio 1994), revista, completada e apresentada por Fernando Guimarães e Maria de Lourdes Guimarães. Quetzal, Lisboa, 1995. 37 pp.
Fernando Pinto do Amaral
Fiama Hasse Pais Brandão
António Manuel Pires Cabral
Maria de Lourdes Guimarães
Your old hat hurts me, and those black
fat raisins you liked to press into
my palm from your soft heavy hand:
I see you staggering back up the path
with sacks of potatoes from some local farm,
fresh eggs, flowers. Every day I grieve
for your great heart heart broken and you gone.
You loved to watch the trees. This year
you did not see their Spring.
The sky was freezing over the fen
as on that somewhere secretly appointed day
you beached: cold, white-faced, shivering.
What happened, old bull, my loyal
hoarse-voiced warrior? The hammer
blow that stopped you in your track
and brought you to a hospital monitor
could not destroy your courage
to the end you were
uncowed and unconcerned with pleasing anyone.
I think of you now as once again safely
at my mother’s side, the earth as
chosen as a bed, and feel most sorrow for
all that was gentle in
my childhood buried there
already forfeit, now forever lost.
“Write something every day, she said”,
“even if it’s only a line,
it will protect you”.
How should this be?
Poetry opens no cell,
heals no hurt body,
brings back no lover,
altogether, poetry is
powerless as grass.
How then should it defend us?
Only by strengthening
our fierce and obstinate centres.
And old poet has come to the Festival,
his books lie over the table, we all
marvel at him. He is already sure
of his place in the history of literature.
I watch his weariness, the way
his eyes flicker without envy
over the students with everything still to do.
Against probabilities, I should like to
believe in the perfection of his life
yet I observe: he has a young wife.
A Pebble on Your Grave
It’s easy to love the dead.
Their voices are mild. They don’t argue.
Once in the earth, they belong to us faithfully.
But do they forgive us?
Our crabby failure to understand
their complaints, our manifest indignation
as words of blame. Once, I remember
you broke off some angry
exchange to say unhappily:
“I don’t want your silly grief
after I’m dead, it’s now
I need your pity.”
From: The TLS n.º 5358, DECEMBER 9, 2005
Не суждено, чтобы сильный с сильным
Strong doesn’t mate with strong.
It’s not allowed in this world.
So Siegfried missed Brunhilde,
in marriage fixed by a sword.
Like buffaloes, stone on stone,
in brotherly hatred joined,
he left their marriage bed, unknown,
she slept, unrecognised.
Apart, in the marriage bed.
Apart, in ambiguous language.
Apart, and clutched like a fist.
Too late. And apart. That’s marriage.
More ancient evil yet:
Achilles, Thetis’ son
crushing the Amazon
like a lion, missed Penthesilea.
Think of her glance, when felled
from her house in the mud,
she looked up at him then
and not down from Olympus.
And afterwards, his passion was
to snatch his wife back from darkness?
But equal never mates with equal.
And so, we missed each other.
Translation by Elaine Feinstein
By Vivian Eden
Elaine Feinstein is a British writer, in the most expansive sense of the word "writer" - poetry, fiction, biography, plays and screenplays, journalism - and in a somewhat restricted sense of the word "British." But more about that anon.
Last week she was visiting Israel, "for the fourth or fifth time." This time, she came under the auspices of the British Council, gave a workshop for poets writing in English at Kibbutz Shefayim and spent most of her time in Tel Aviv, visiting old friends, among them Natan Zach. Other poets who were her friends here are now gone - Yehuda Amichai, T. Carmi, Aryeh Sachs.
Mostly, the talk was of her "Collected Poems and Translations" (Carcanet, 2002, 370 pages, 14.95 pounds sterling), a selection from about 40 years of poetry, from which she gave a reading in the garden of the British Council in Jerusalem last Wednesday.
Perhaps the best way to understand what Feinstein thinks about all kinds of things is through the poems themselves. But first - clarification of how to read this poetry. A key tenet of one of her professors of literature at Cambridge, F.R. Leavis, who was very influential from the 1930s to the `70s, is that while poetry must be about life, it does not explain a specific life.
Another truism of academic literary criticism is that a distinction must be made between the poet himself - or herself - and the "speaker" who is the "I" of the poem. In the case of the poems in this collection, however, it seemed absolutely transparent that - apart from certain long, narrative poems - the poet and the speaker are one, and the poems are about the poet's life. It was necessary to ask, though, as a courtesy, whether this poetry can be read as autobiographical.
Feinstein: "Definitely. I don't use personae, except when declared."
The writer as poet
(from "City Music," 1990)
"Write something every day," she said,
"even if it's only a line,
it will protect you."
How should this be?
Poetry opens no cell,
heals no hurt body,
brings back no lover,
is as powerless as grass.
How then should it defend us?
Only by strengthening
our fierce and obstinate centers.
"I wrote this at a difficult time of life. I suppose I've had lots of difficult times, though not by certain standards. I was about to go off to California and a very good friend of mine (writer Emma Tennant) gave me that bit of advice. I asked myself - what does writing offer? You could be shot in Russia," said Feinstein, and no amount of writing could save you or get you out of prison.
"That poetry is `as powerless as grass' is almost literal," she continued. "Grass, like poetry, is offered. It is there to be consumed. It has the strength of renewing, and no - I didn't have Walt Whitman in mind. After I thought the advice over, I realized that writing itself strengthens your eye."
In this poem, there are two verbs that are almost synonymous - "protect" and "defend" - yet the first of them seems like a feminine activity and the second seems like a masculine activity.
Feinstein: "Yes, poetry is a defense that's almost an attack. It helps the poet most, but also readers. Reading also gives resilience. The evidence for this is Russia, in the camps, where people learned poetry by heart. It helps people survive."
The First Wriggle
(From "Daylight," 1997)
Going to buy milk from the corner shop
on a Tuesday in August with the warm rain
tasting of roses, I suddenly felt an
illicit moment of good fortune: a freedom
in which poems could happen.
It's rather like the grander forms of creation.
Worms on Mars should surprise nobody;
life will form, wherever there's opportunity.
"Poems arise. I can't say I'm going to write a poem now. I always have four or five on the go, a phrase or a sentence with richness. Unlike with a novel, or a biography, where the story carries me along, in a poem you must be more passive. Anna Akhmatova talked about waiting for the Muse to come, but for me it's not so grand. The poem just rises. I catch a few words and write them down in a little notebook when I travel, and on the computer, at home, but in the end I always write poems by hand. I can do it anywhere, in trains, or traveling.
"How do I know a poem is alive and good? It's like jazz - you always know."
Like this last poem, many of Feinstein's lyrics are, in a very British way, set in precise meteorological conditions, which take on metaphorical force: "mysterious as April," "Sealed in rainlight one / November," and in a poem entitled "In Praise of Flair": "That whole wet summer I listened to Louis Armstrong."
"Poetry is the ultimate selfishness. A novel or a biography earns money, but poetry is only for me."
Another recurring feature of Feinstein's work is thought about scientific matters as reflected through the poet's mind. Her late husband, Arnold Feinstein, an eminent Cambridge immunologist and chemist, died last November after a long illness. Of "The First Wriggle," she relates: "After my husband retired, we talked a lot about science. We had more time. I thought about how life happens. All you need is some carbon atoms and some water at the bottom of the sea ..."
Also characteristic of Feinstein's poetry is the movement between indoors and outdoors. In "In Praise of Flair," as in the following poem and others, the moment of poetic possibility seems to occur on this cusp.
(from "Daylight," 1997)
Dissolute, undressed, indoors, we argue
about the old days, how once there was
a time for such pursuits
and how the tender words were spiced
with garlic and rosemary, like
the flesh of a young lamb.
- Is poetry something between
cookery and sacrifice? I murmur
as we pack the goods for market.
- Be quiet. Look. The beech trees are golden,
the air has autumn in it, and the street
lies rain-washed and clean in October sun.
"I also wrote this poem at a very difficult time. The discomfort came from a sense of being trapped. "Dissolute" here is in the sense of not fully alive, not in the sense of corruption. Here, I'm arguing with the Muse, about why I am unable to write. There's a subliminal sense of someone else being there, but it's really the Muse."
You seem to have many poems that evoke food. Do you cook?
"I like cooking, especially for friends."
"Do you sacrifice?"
"It's a kind of dedication, putting poetry first. One sacrifices attention to other people. Writing poetry is so selfish."
Yet your poetry so often builds up to a kind of tenderness and forgiveness, as in "Freedom" (from "Gold," 2000):
are out, I wander round the flat,
eat fruit, read newspapers and do
surprisingly less work. No doubt of that.
So what am I missing? Are you right to claim
a blown up effigy, sitting in a chair
would be the same?
Not quite. The poem's space may
seem to offer its own escape, but I still need
the goad of words that find their mark.
When I look down through glass
to see you getting out of a black cab,
frazzled, hair wild, and raincoat open,
fumbling for change, and know that
you are neither lost nor hurt - it's brief,
but what I feel is passionate relief.
"The people around me don't always forgive. My children did though, and my husband encouraged me."
The poet as mother
(from "In a Green Eye," 1966)
You eat me, your
nights eat me ...
I kiss your
soft feet mindless:
your shit slides out
smelling of curd cheese.
Feinstein has three grown sons, a mathematician, a journalist and a musician, but they used to be small children and, like her husband, other members of her extended family and her friends, they have always peopled her work. Speaking about this poem to Michael Schmidt in an interview for Poetry Nation Review, she said: "It used to embarrass audiences. At first I minded the discomfort because the poem wasn't written to shock. It was an important poem for me, a way of yoking two disparate parts of myself together."
In Jerusalem, she added: "Yes, this was the first time I wrote without inhibition. Now there's no linguistic taboo, but then, in the late 1950s, `shit' was an unusable word. I wasn't shocked when I found myself using that word - I was happy. I was a very loving mother, if not particularly well-organized. I couldn't always find their gym kit - I should have known where their shoes were, but I never doubted they love me. I've written many poems about my children. One of them attracted more poems than the others, but he has forgiven me."
The poet as translator
(from "City Music," 1990)
Tough as canvas, Marina, your soul
Was stretched out once against the gale
And now your words have become sails.
You travel far into a darkness
I don't plead for since I can't aspire
to join your spirit on that Christian
star whose fire is green and cool
in your imagination of heaven.
Mothers, Marina, yours and mine, would
have recognized a bleak and dutiful spirit
in each other: we were supposed to
conquer the worlds they had renounced.
Instead, we served poetry, neither of us
prepared either for marriage or the solitary life.
Yours was the lyric voice of abandon
only sobered by poverty and homesickness.
Once or twice I felt the same loneliness,
but I can never learn from you, Marina,
since poetry is always a question of language,
though I have often turned to you in thought as if
your certainties could teach me how to bear
the littleness of what we are on our own
without books, or music, or even a pen;
or as if your stern assurance of the spirit
could preserve us on that ocean we sail alone.
In 1971, Feinstein published "The Selected Poems of Marina Tsvetayeva" (Oxford University Press). In 1987, the third edition (Dutton's) was chosen as The New York Times Book of the Year.
Feinstein has said that Tsvetayeva enabled her to write openly, because she doesn't feel embarrassed about sounding undignified, a quality that she has related to, being somewhat of an outsider to British reticence. All four of Feinstein's grandparents were Russian Jews from Odessa. She grew up in the north of England and won an "Exhibition" - "a poor man's scholarship" - to Newnham College at Cambridge University, where she read (or as Americans would say, majored in) English.
"Key phrases," she has said of Yiddish, "remain. Shrugs. Insults, Jokes. I'm not a good linguist. I'm not a Russianist, for instance. I'm a very nervous Russian speaker."
How did you first encounter the poetry of Tsvetayeva, which seems to have had such a great impact on you, and how did you decide to translate it?
"By accident. I was lecturing at the University of Essex and I was looking for a way into a certain lecture. I picked up Boris Pasternak's `Safe Conduct' and he talked about a woman poet he regards as soaring above all of us - and he wasn't a modest man. I couldn't find her poems in translation so I asked my friend Angela Livingston to make literal translations of three lyrics from `Poem of the End.' I took risks - she gave risks, and took a different path. I sent the poems in to a little magazine, with a circulation of maybe 100, and I got back two letters, one from Penguin and one from Oxford University Press, inviting me to do a volume of versions. I put aside my doctoral thesis, which would have been about Olsen and the Black Mountain poets, but hundreds of people were doing that. I never did write a thesis."
Your translations of Russian poetry have been criticized because you ignore rhyme.
"I took great liberties. I had a long argument with Brodsky about rhyming, but in the end he quite liked my translations. And they've been in print for more than 30 years."
The friend as biographer
(from "Gold," 2000)
The last days of October were dark and wet ...
The weather got into our dreams in the figure
Of Ted Hughes. One of us, asleep in a chair,
spent the night wandering around his
Devon house, staring through
picture windows in the storm,
unable to find a way outside.
In my mind he was standing in our old
Cambridge kitchen, his face like mountain stone,
his presence solemn and kind. He bestowed
a gift of abalone shells, without ceremony.
This morning, on the telephone,
His sister called to tell us he had died.
It was almost as if his spirit
in its passing, had casually touched
a synapse. He never needed to stir
to draw attention in a room, the magnet
of his being pulled everyone to him;
now his after-image flashed within us ...
Feinstein's most recent book is a biography of Ted Hughes: "Ted Hughes - The Life of a Poet" (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2001). She has written other biographies, of Bessie Smith, Tsvetayeva, D.H. Lawrence and Pushkin, and is now working on a biography of Anna Akhmatova. The biography of Hughes, who died on October 28, 1998, must have been a substantially different kind of project as he was someone she knew and liked.
"Ted was a good and loyal friend. His sister Olwyn was my agent for a time. I didn't need to be nasty to Ted. Everyone else was. There was a story to tell and he never told it himself until `Birthday Letters.'"
"Birthday Letters" (1998) was Hughes' last book. In the poems, Hughes for the first time addressed his marriage to American poet Sylvia Plath who committed suicide in 1963 by gassing herself in her kitchen after Hughes had left her for a German-born Jewish woman, Assia Wevill, who spent part of her childhood in Tel Aviv. In March, 1969, Wevill also committed suicide by gassing herself, along with their young daughter, Shura.
Feinstein: "A friend rang me about three weeks after Ted died and asked whether I would be interested in writing [a book about him] for Norton's. I said I'd think about it - I was in the middle of another biography, and I knew it would be an absolute mine field. But there is a story - Ted's story, from a little Yorkshire village boy to poet laureate and good friend of the Queen Mother - an extraordinary progress.
"I enjoyed doing it. There's a large archive at Emory University in Atlanta, and I know all his friends. People spoke freely and spoke out. Some people spoke out more fully. And some people spoke out and I didn't use their words."
Did you also have dreams about him when you were writing the biography?
"It's strange that we both had dreams about him when he died, but I didn't dream about him while I was doing the writing. I'm not clairvoyant."
poet as Jew
(from "Daylight," 1997)
We like to eat looking at boats. At night
in Jaffa Harbor, the whole sea is alight
with glow worms of the local fishermen's floats.
My English friend has blue flirtatious eyes
and feels no danger. Her intrepid forbears
first explored, then colonized the planet.
Now over Yemenite eggplant and fried dough
we talk about the Roman exploitation
of Caesarea two thousand years ago
and find the history easy to agree.
Politics here and now are another matter.
The scared, open faces of the soldiers
look like oppressors to her, while my inheritance
- Kovno, Odessa, packing and running away -
makes me fear for them, as if they were sons.
So I can't share the privilege of guilt. Nor could
she taste the Hebrew of Adam in
the red earth here: the iron, salt and blood.
"This is an important poem for me. I never wanted to be labeled a Jewish poet and I realize that I am one when I come to Israel with the British Council with an English poet, who is guilty. Colonial guilt, so she sees Palestinians as victims. Because of that she saw soldiers as oppressors. I looked at them - and they looked like my sons. We couldn't feel the same."
In the poems in the collection that touch upon Judaism - there's a seder poem, and a Rosh Hashanah poem and lots of poems about relatives - it seems that your Judaism is more a matter of identity than of faith, a kind of extension backward and forward in time. In an early poem, "Song of Power," which begins: "For the baiting / children in my / son's school class who / say I'm a witch," you write:
my strangeness earns me
I now invoke, for
all Gods are
anarchic even the Jews'
outside his own laws, with
his old name confirms me, and I
call out for the
strange ones with wild hair
all the earth over to
make their own coherence,
a fire their children
may learn to bear at last
and not burn in.
"Yes, for me being Jewish is familial. Tribal, I suppose, an extended family."
In response to a question from a member of the audience in the garden of the British Council as to whether she would be writing about what is happening here, Elaine Feinstein replied: "I'm writing about the Diaspora, about the movement of the liberal intelligentsia, especially in France. I see it as my responsibility to address this issue rather than problems here - which are many."
Two of Elaine Feinstein's novels have been translated into Hebrew: "Loving Brecht" (Ma'ariv Publishers, 1999) and "Lady Chatterley's Confession" (Hed Artzi, 1999).
Published: 11 September 2012
laine Feinstein, poet, novelist, biographer, editor and translator, was in mid-career when “The Refugee” was printed in the TLS in 1982. Later, it appeared as the second in a nine-part poem sequence, “Nine Songs for Dido and Aeneas” in Badlands (1986), a collection reflecting on the experience of exile, ideas of home and displacement in foreign cities.
Born in Bootle in 1930, Feinstein is sometimes claimed as a Liverpool poet, though she grew up in Leicester and has spent years in Cambridge and London. Family stories and the Russian-Jewish traditions of her grandparents, all from Odessa, fed her imagination with tales of places beyond Britain and the inter-war years. This world is glimpsed in “The Refugee”, in which Aeneas conjures for Dido “our squares and streets, the glass / like falls of water”, the gilding and scents of a cosmopolitan, perhaps composite, native city. Even on “dark afternoons / the trams grinding on wet rails”, the poet’s short, rich lines convey an impression of bustling activity, aural and tactile in detail, evoking café life and the rush-hour. There is, however, always a tendency towards resignation and loss: “such a babble of Empire / now extinguished, we can / never go home, Dido, / only ghosts remain”.
Seeking models for her poetry, Feinstein explored the speech-patterning of William Carlos Williams and Charles Olson and translated Russian women poets, particularly Maria Tsvetayeva, who “enabled me to write openly. Because she doesn’t feel embarrassed about sounding undignified”. Feinstein uses the stanza as a framing device, containing episodes; she permits lulls in the rhythm within and between lines, while her diction suggests the sighs and gestures of a lament, the song of the exiled.
After Europe, all winter the days rushed through me as if I were dead, the brown sea pouring into the cities at night, the rain-smell of fish,
and when you ask for my story, how we came to be blown along your dock-streets, pocked and scuffed, in rags, I remember only the lasthot light, at the railside.
How to make you imagine our squares and streets, the glass like falls of water, the gold-leaf in the opera houses, there were summer birds golden as weeds,
the scent of coffee and halva rising from marble tables, and on dark afternoons the trams grinding on wet rails round the corners of plaster palaces
such a babble of Empire now extinguished, we can never go home, Dido, only ghosts remain to know that we exist.
ELAINE FEINSTEIN (1982)
April 3 2015
Since the poet Elaine Feinstein was born into a family of Jewish immigrants from Odessa “and moreover a woman” it is hardly surprising, she says, that she began her career by looking for a tradition “that could accommodate the voice of an outsider”. She found this in the lyricism of American Modernists such as William Carlos Williams and Charles Olson and also, crucially, in the candour and passion of the Russian poet Marina Tsvetayeva, translations of whose work she began to publish in 1971. This unadorned directness also chimed well with “the gibing lilt of the Liverpool voice” that filled her childhood and to which she attributes “a sceptical dislike of the pretentious” and an abiding distrust of any music “that drowns the pressure of what has been felt”. It is to these qualities that critics and fellow poets have responded in the course of her long career as a poet, translator, biographer and novelist. Ted Hughes, of whom Feinstein wrote a biography in 2001, said that “her simple, clean language follows the track of the nerves. There is nothing hit or miss, nothing for effect, nothing fake. Reading her poems one feels cleansed and sharpened”. For Michael Schmidt, “her metonomies are not literary gestures, her images are literal laden”.
This is especially true of “The Medium”, from her fourth collection (1973), in which Feinstein addresses the deep question of poetic inspiration in a series of almost throwaway ruminative remarks. Here, the apprehensions of the poet are like the powerful feelings by which the medium is gripped when she lets in whatever clamours for utterance from beyond – the beautiful, “irresolute” images whose life is threatened by translation into words. But although the poem rejects the easy articulateness of her “sharpest thoughts” (“perhaps you should talk to them?”, she suggests, if you want that kind of meaning), it moves with a kind of firmness through its own “always deniable . . . landscapes”, mediating between what we can name and what we can’t.
My answer would have to be music which is always deniable, since in my silence, which you question, is only a landscape.
of water, old trees and a few irresolutebirds. The weather is also inconstant. Sometimes the light is golden, the leaves unseasonable.
And sometimes the ice is red, and the moonhangs over it, peeled, like a chinese fruit. I am sorry not to be more articulate.
When I try, the words turn ugly as rats anddisorder everything, I cannot be quiet, I want so much to be quiet and loving.
If only you wanted that. My sharpest thoughtswait like assassins always in the dry wheat. They chat and grin. Perhaps you should talk to them?
Elaine Feinstein (1972)