Sunday, September 03, 2006

Greek Poetry, Just Because I Can

Okay, so I might just win "worst blogger ever" for this past week's lack of posts. I blame it on my Preeminent Federalism Scholar advisor, who assigns me hundreds of pages to read and "think about," my Prominant Interdisciplinary Scholar seminar professor (who is also advising me on my Colloquium paper), who assigned me to present Segal's "The Supreme Court and the Attitudinal Model Revisited" piece on Tuesday's seminar "because it's right up your alley," and this group of Europeans (The Itinerant Soul, Typical French Guy, and Greek Non-Sorority Sister) who have corrupted this half slacker/half workaholic American into going along with their expresso drinking, cafe-hang outing ways. All this, and I had prepare for next week's classes in advance so that I could get out of town by Thursday at 5 pm. I think this last week is aberrant (not often do I go out of town for a weekend) and so I will be back to regular posting.

So between the work and the joie de vivring, there was less time for the blog. And I speak of this blog only, not to mention guest-blogging for Feminist Law Profs and a very exciting new blog started by Dynamic Law Prof Jim Chen. For that, I duly apologize to my 100 or so faithful readers, a small but beloved elite class of lawyers, law profs, and literate laity that I can almost personally thank and apologize to.

I am taking a long weekend in "The" OC, and after two months in Liberal College Town (next to Beautiful Big City, in Awesome Part of The Country), I can definitively say that this is no longer my home. It's where my family lives, and it will always be "home" in that sense, but I no longer feel like I belong here. I am not saying I belong in Liberal College Town, which is actually way too liberal for me as I move ever closer to the center (weird, I know) except in the areas of individual rights, feminism, and anti-subordination. But I belong in Awesome Part of the Country, for now at least. I really love Beautiful Big City. And I am very fond of my new friends, who share my love of art and literature in ways even my English literature major friends back in college never did. It is wonderful to find those who care as passionately about classical music, jazz, art, and literature as I do. It's quite extraordinary to find a type of love that transcends borders, language, and cultural difference that is not romantic love or filial love. But I think it is exactly that type of love that can lead to the latter (well, at least romantic love, unless they find new ways of establishing filial ties).

Typically, when I meet people, particularly a mixed-gender group of people or male strangers, my immediate response is to go into what I call "academic" mode. I interact differently with women, in the sense that I will readily talk about family, relationships, children, etc., and will quickly "bond" with them. So generally, I prefer the company of women. I present only my intellectual self--I talk about my educational background, intellectual interests, research projects, etc. I have very closed body language. I think it is to protect the more vulnerable, or some (backward) people might say, "feminine" side of myself. I close off anything remotely personal, emotional, or sexual, crossing my arms over my chest, turning an analytic eye towards my interlocutor. The effect is to say "I am intelligent, don't think you can pull one over on me." I think I do this because I feel most secure and safe about my intellectual self, and am at my most unassailable. You want to talk about the human genome project? I've read a fair enough amount, let's talk. I talk about the "dry" topic at hand, be it law or science or sociology, etc. True, this doesn't get you many dates. But it does safeguard you from being diminished or condescended to, and it does gain you respect--at least for your intelligence.

But if the conversation can move past that, to something that is as personal to me as the topic of family, relationships, or children--that is, to the topic of art and/or literature--I change. Sociologists call this "front stage" presentation, and dance instructors call it "phrasing"-- in any case, my body language relaxes, my face becomes more open (my brow becomes unfurrowed, my lips move from a look of consternation to easy smiles), and I become more human and less of a walking/talking resume. I quite like that. I think everyone looks more beautiful when they talk about art. I think everyone's eyes become more alive when they listen to music. I think I could fall in love while talking about it. I hold the love of art and literature as a higher value than similarlity in political beliefs when it comes to friendship and love. I don't knowhow I look to others when I talk about art, but I think look a lot happier, because I am.

So here is another poem that I've been introduced to, which is "not a very good translation," but I very much like it--and I very much like my new Greek friend, who though she has a different mother tongue, is like a sister to me:

The Monogram

by Odysseas Elytis

I will always mourn–hear me?–for you, alone, in Paradise.

I

Fate, like a switchman, will turn
Elsewhere the lines of the palm
Time will concede for one moment
How else, since man loves and is loved
The heavens will perform our insides
And innocence will strike the worldWith the scythe of death’s blackness.

II

I mourn the sun and
I mourn the time that comes
Without us and
I sing of others who’ve passed
If this is true

The bodies addressed and boats sweetly gliding by
The guitars that flicker under the waters
The “believe me” and the “don’t”
One in the air and one in the music

The two small animals, our hands
That tried to climb one another in secret
The flowerpot cool through the open garden gate
And the parts of sea coming together
Beyond the dry-stone wall, beyond the hedge
The windflower you held in your hand
Whose purple shuddered three times for three days above the waterfall

If this is all true, I sing
The wooden beam and square tapestry
On the wall, the Mermaid with tresses unbraided
The cat that watched us in the dark
A child with incense and the red cross
The hour when night falls on unapproachable rocks
I mourn the garment that I fingered and the world came to me.

III

Like so I speak of you and me
Because I love you and in love I know
How to enter in like the full moon
From everywhere, about your small foot in the boundless sheets
How to pluck the jasmine–and I have the power
To blow the wind and take you in sleep through the moon’s passages and the sea’s secret colonnade–
Hypnotized tree of silvering spiders

The waves have heard of you
How you caress, how you kiss
Around the neck, around the bay
How you whisper the “what” and the “eh”
Always we the light and the shadow
Always you the little star and always I the dark vessel
Always you the harbor and always I the light shining from the right
The wet jetty and the glint on the oars
High on the vine-laden house
The bound roses and cooling water
Always you the stone statue and always I the shadow that grows
You the hanging shutter and I the wind that blows it open
Because I love you and I love you
Always you the coin and I the worship that gives it value

So much the night, so much the humming in the wind
So much the mist in the air, so much the stillness
Around the despotic seaHeavenly arch full of stars
So much your faintest breath
That I no longer have anything else
Within these four walls, this ceiling and floor
But to call for you and for my own voice to hit me
To smell your scent and for people to fear
Because people can’t bear the untried
And foreign and it’s early you hear
It’s early still in the world my love
To speak of you and me.

IV

It’s early still in this world, do you hear me
They haven’t tamed the beast, do you hear me
My wasted blood and sharp, hear me, knife
Like a ram running across the heavens
Breaking the tails of comets, hear meI am, hear me
I love you, hear meI hold you and I take you and I dress you
In the white gown of Ophelia, hear me

Where do you leave me, where do you go and who, hear me
Holds your hand above the flood
The enormous flames and volcanic lava
Will bury us, hear me, and the day will come
A thousand years later when we will be, hear me
Shining fossils, hear me
For the heartlessness of men to burnish, hear me
And throw above them in a thousand pieces
And on the waters one by one, hear me
I measure my bitter pebbles, hear me
And time is a great church, hear me
Where once the forms
Of saints
Shed true tears, hear me
The bells ring loudly, hear meI cross a deep ford
Where the angels wait with candles and funeral psalms
I go nowhere, hear me
Neither or both together, hear me

This flower of the storm and, hear me
Of love
Once and for all, we pick it
And it never comes to flower anywhere else, hear me
On another earth, on another star, hear me
There isn’t soil, there isn’t air
That we touch, the same, hear me

And no gardener was ever so lucky

To produce such a flower from such a winter, hear me
And such northern winds, only we, hear me,
In the middle of the sea
Only from the mere wish for love, hear me
Raised an entire island, hear me
With caves and capes and crags in bloom
Listen, listen
Who speaks in the waters and who cries, hear
Who seeks the other, who calls, hear
I am the one who calls and I am the one who cries, you hear me
I love you and I love you, hear me.

V

I have spoken of you in old times
With wet nurses and veteran rebels
From where your beastly sorrow comes
The brilliance of trembling water on your face
And why it must be that I come near you
I who don’t want love but want the wind
But want the gallop of the uncovered, upright sea

And none had heard of you
Neither dittany nor wild mushroom
Of Cretan highlands, none
Only God grants and guides your hand to me

Here and there, carefully around the whole turn
Of the face’s seashore, the bay, the hair
On the hill rippling off to the left

Your body in the stance of the solitary pine
Eyes of pride and of transparent
Depth, in the house with an old china cabinet
Of yellow lace and cypress wood
Alone I wait for where you’ll first appear
High on the veranda or under the garden’s cobblestones
With the horse of the saint and the egg of Easter

Like from a wrecked wall paintingBig as the little life wanted you,
To hold within a little candle the stentorian volcanic glow
So no one will have seen or heardA
nything about you in the wilderness of dilapidated houses
Neither the buried ancestors at the edge of the garden fence
Nor the old woman with all her herbs

Of you, only I, and maybe the music
That is concealed inside me but shall return more strongly
Of you, the unformed breast of twelve years
Turning toward the future and the red crater
Of you, a bitter odor finds the body
And like a pin punctures memory
And here the soil, here the doves, here our ancient earth.

VI

I have seen much and the earth to my mind seems more beautiful
More beautiful in the golden breath
The sharp stone, more beautiful
The dark blue of the isthmuses and the roofs among the waves
More beautiful, the rays where you pass without stepping
Unbeaten like the goddess of Samothrace atop the sea’s hills

Like so I have seen you and that will suffice
For all and time will be exonerated
In the wake of your passage
My soul like a green dolphin follows

And plays with the white and azure

Triumph, triumph, where I have been conquered
Before love and together
With the hibiscus and passion-flower
Go, go, and let me be lost

Alone, and let the sun be a newborn that you hold.
Alone, and let me be the homeland that mourns
Let it be the word that I sent to hold the laurel leaf for you
Alone, the lone, strong wind and the full
Pebble under the eyelid of dark depths
The fisherman who caught then threw Paradise back into Time.

VII

In Paradise I have marked out an island
Akin to you and a house by the sea

With a large bed and a small door
I have thrown an echo into the depths
To see myself every morning when I rise

Half to see you passing through the waters
Half to weep for you in Paradise.

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