Monday, 27 April 2015

Poetry Revisited: Die Zeit – Time by Gabriele von Baumberg

Die Zeit

(aus Sämmtliche Gedichte: 1800)

Die Zeit zerstört und baut Paläste,
Streut bunte Blumen auf die Flur:
Verschlingt des Nachruhms Überreste,
Und läßt dem Enkel keine Spur.

Mit unersättlichem Behagen
Nagt sie am Denkmal mancher Gruft;
Zwar mildert sie des Unmuths Klagen
Durch sie zerfließt der Gram in Luft.

Oft nährt, oft löschet sie die Flamme,
Die Leidenschaft am Busen birgt;
Oft untergräbt sie schlau am Damme
Womit Vernunft entgegen wirkt.

Sie kann, was Menschen selten können,
Sie setzet Schranken jedem Schmerz,
Vereint oft, was die Menschen trennen,
Gießt Balsam in das wunde Herz.

Zwar wieget sie die stärksten Triebe
In Schlummer ein, nach Sturm und Braus,
Doch die Erinnrung erster Liebe
Tilgt selbst die Ewigkeit nicht aus!

Gabriele von Baumberg


(from All Poems: 1800)

Time destroys and builds palaces,
Scatters gaudy flowers on the meadows:
Swallows the remains of posthumous fame,
And leaves no trace to the grandchild.

With insatiable pleasure
It nibbles at the mounument of many a crypt;
Though it alleviates discontent’s complaints
It makes grief dissolve into air.

Often it nourishes, often it kills the flame
That passion holds at its bosom;
Often it undermines cleverly on the damm
What reason uses to counter.

It can, what people seldom can,
It sets barriers to every pain,
Often unites, what people separate,
Pours balsam on the wounded heart.

Though it lulls the strongest passions
To slumber, after storm and stress,
But the memory of first love,
Isn't even effaced by eternity!

Clumsy literal translation
by Edith LaGraziana 2015

Friday, 24 April 2015

Book Review: Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz
Here in Europe and in America knowledge about Egypt is mostly limited to history which is a pity because the country didn’t cease to exist with the death of Cleopatra in 30 B.C. In fact, Egypt is an important power in Northern Africa and the Islamic world today although she seldom makes the headlines unless in the context of terrorist attacks, wars and revolutions. Western-style literature doesn’t have a long tradition there, and yet, there are writers like Tawfiq Al-Hakim, Naguib Mahfouz, or Bahaa Taher (»»» read my review of Sunset Oasis) who are known worldwide. Today I’m reviewing the novel Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz, the Egyptian laureate of the 1988 Nobel Prize in literature, which revolves around the simple residents of an old street in 1940s Cairo when the country was under British protectorate and thus involved in World War II.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Poetry Revisited: Upon Graciosa, Walking and Talking by Q.

Upon Graciosa, Walking and Talking

(from Green Bays: 1893)

When as abroad, to greet the morn,
I mark my Graciosa walk,
In homage bends the whisp'ring corn,
Yet to confess
Its awkwardness
Must hang its head upon the stalk.
And when she talks, her lips do heal
The wounds her lightest glances give:—
In pity then be harsh, and deal
Such wounds that I
May hourly die,
And, by a word restored, live.

Q., real name Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch

Friday, 17 April 2015

Book Review: Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai is a country of contrasts, very modern in many aspects and backward in certain others. Until 1947 she was part of the British Empire and it can hardly be surprising that despite Mahatma Gandhi’s influence the way into independence wasn’t always and everywhere peaceful. Above all the conflict between Hindus and Muslims, which led to the foundation of two countries – India and Pakistan – instead of only one, often burst out in violence… and as a matter of fact, it keeps smouldering until today. It goes without saying that the events of the time had an impact on the lives of ordinary people, too, as shows the novel Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai. The book, that a young friend from Hong Kong gave me last year, tells the story of a family of four orphaned siblings who were coming of age during those years of change and were estranged from each other by the choices they made.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Poetry Revisited: Spring Song by Edith Wharton

Spring Song

(from Verses: 1878)

The first warm buds that break their covers,
The first young twigs that burst in green,
The first blade that the sun discovers,
Starting the loosened earth between.

The pale soft sky, so clear and tender,
With little clouds that break and fly;
The crocus, earliest pretender
To the low breezes passing by;

The chirp and twitter of brown builders,
A couple in a tree, at least;
The watchful wisdom of the elders
For callow younglings in the nest;

The flush of branches with fair blossoms,
The deepening of the faint green boughs,
As leaf by leaf the crown grows fuller
That binds the young Spring's rosy brows;

New promise every day of sweetness,
The next bright dawn is sure to bring;
Slow breaking into green completeness,
Fresh rapture of the early Spring!

Edith Wharton

Friday, 10 April 2015

Book Review: The Return of the Caravels by António Lobo Antunes week I was in the mood for Portuguese literature and decided to review a book by António Lobo Antunes. My first choice was Tratado das Paixões da Alma (Treatise on the Passions of the Soul), but as so often I was annoyed to find that it hasn’t been translated into English. Easter just past (or ahead in the Orthodox Christian Churches) it would have felt odd to talk about a book half set on Christmas Eve, so I ruled out The Splendor of Portugal. At last I turned towards The Return of the Caravels by António Lobo Antunes which offers a delirious fusion of Portugal’s rise to and fall as a colonial power between the sixteenth century and 1974. The seedy old colonists who return to Lisbon after many decades away are at the same time the former discoverers and great names of Portuguese history.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Poetry Revisited: Flood-Tide of Flowers by Henry Van Dyke

Flood-Tide of Flowers



The laggard winter ebbed so slow
With freezing rain and melting snow,
It seemed as if the earth would stay
Forever where the tide was low,
In sodden green and watery gray.

But now from depths beyond our sight,
The tide is turning in the night,
And floods of color long concealed
Come silent rising toward the light,
Through garden bare and empty field.

And first, along the sheltered nooks,
The crocus runs in little brooks
Of joyance, till by light made bold
They show the gladness of their looks
In shining pools of white and gold.

The tiny scilla, sapphire blue,
Is gently seeping in, to strew
The earth with heaven; and sudden rills
Of sunlit yellow, sweeping through,
Spread into lakes of daffodils.

The hyacinths, with fragrant heads,
Have overflowed their sandy beds,
And fill the earth with faint perfume,
The breath that Spring around her sheds.
And now the tulips break in bloom!

A sea, a rainbow-tinted sea,
A splendor and a mystery,
Floods o'er the fields of faded gray:
The roads are full of folks in glee,
For lo, -- to-day is Easter Day!

Henry Van Dyke

Friday, 3 April 2015

Book Review: Mr. Fortune's Maggot by Sylvia Townsend Warner
Today is Good Friday and I thought that this might be the right moment to feature kind of a Christian read. The protagonist of the novel that I picked for my review is an Protestant missionary on a remote islet in the South Seas, but the plot revolves less around religion than it is about love and the harm that the influence of western civilisation can do, especially in combination with the belief in its supremacy. The topic undoubtedly is a serious one, and yet Mr. Fortune’s Maggot by Sylvia Townsend Warner isn’t a stern book at all. It’s a satire of missionary zeal to convert the savage to true faith and western life-style. The novel is set before the Great War of 1914-18 when there still were untouched spots on our planet, thus long before the world had shrunk to the size of a computer screen.