Stille in nächtigem Zimmer.
Silbern flackert der Leuchter
Vor dem singenden Odem
Verdunkelt den steinernen Raum,
Und es starrt von der Qual
Des goldenen Tags das Haupt
Reglos nachtet das Meer.
Stern und schwärzliche Fahrt
Entschwand am Kanal.
Kind, dein kränkliches Lächeln
Folgte mir leise im Schlaf.
—By Georg Trakl
I've never visited Venice in the summer, when oppressive sickliness smothers the city, at least in the literature. When Venice appears in the literature of the early 20th century it is not the city of Canaletto, not the Most Serene Republic. It is not just decadent but decayed and dying, and so it is the perfect setting for a cholera outbreak (see: Thomas Mann, Death in Venice). Even Rilke's sonnet, “Spätherbst in Venedig” (Late Autumn in Venice, 1908), alludes more to past glory than present. And this view and version of Venice in art continues, through the 1973 film “Don't Look Now” to the more recent Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which can perhaps excuse its dim Venice because of its Byronic nature.
What I love about Trakl's poem are the polysyllabic words, often compound nouns, that turn verses to molasses in my mouth. “Schwärzlicher Fliegenschwarm” echoes and resonates in a way that the anemic “Black swarms of flies” cannot in its monosyllabic directness.
What can alienate readers is Trakl's mix of expressionist imagery with the symbolist's focus on colors—more so than other physical characteristics (like texture or shape or relative position to other objects). It's compulsive and yet also reminds us of adjective-laden high school and emo poetry and prose. And so much black and gold. Trakl becomes a perverse Klimt of poetry.
While Trakl is not married to a rhyme scheme he does produce a rather consistent five to seven syllables per verse—the number of emphasized syllables, which is to say, the type of foot, is a different matter, but what we notice is that Wright and Bly go to as few as four syllables in the first verse of the second stanza, but have a whole ten in the second of the first. Trakl's verses end softly because they tend to end with longer syllables—long vowels or vowel-consonant mixtures. There are exceptions; there is the unemphasized “-er” of “Zimmer” to begin the poem, for example.
And now for my daily, or at least end-of-week, set of links stolen from sites everyone already reads.
- Leonard Nimoy: Girth and Nudity, a Pictorial Mission—“He knows that he is an unlikely champion for the size-acceptance movement; body image is a topic he never really thought about before. But for the last eight years, Mr. Nimoy, who is 76 and an established photographer, has been snapping pictures of plus-size women in all their naked glory.” And: “‘The average American woman, according to articles I’ve read, weighs 25 percent more than the models who are showing the clothes they are being sold,’ Mr. Nimoy said, his breathing slightly labored by allergies and a mild case of emphysema.”
- Ashley Parker vs. Ashley Parker: Hey, Pop Idol, Surrender My Name!—We were the same age, but in every other way, I was the opposite of the preternaturally perky he-Angel: female, dark-haired, dark-humored, occasionally Goth and perpetually awkward. I fumed. I complained. And then I accepted it. Short of changing my name to Ashley Parker Devil, there wasn't much I could do.” I found the article surprisingly entertaining and amusing for something that would generally turn into pure whining or self-absorbtion.
- For Sunday, Christopher Hitchens: In God, Distrust—“Observers of the Christopher Hitchens phenomenon have been expecting a book about religion from him around now. But this impressive and enjoyable attack on everything so many people hold dear is not the book we were expecting.” Unlike the reviewer I do not fawn over Hitchens and I find him to be an annoying, self-important fraud, but perhaps that's because I haven't paid any attention to his pre-Clinton-bashing, pro-bomb-Iraq career.
- Xenu Xenu Xenu: Row over Scientology video—“Scientologists want ‘the global obliteration’ of psychiatrists, who they say were to blame for the rise of Nazi Germany. To prove their point, they showed me hideous images of people having needles stuffed in their eyeballs, of patients undergoing electric shocks and having their brains operated on.” I haven't posted a Scientology link in ages; what a shame. All hail Battlefield Earth! The problem I have with cults and cultists is something like this ... I feel in a way for the families of those who get sucked in, and the economic and at times political/judicial power of these criminal organizations is worrying, at least when you hear the horror stories, but then I remember that you have to be a f**king moron (no offense to the cognitively challenged implied) to fall for it in the first place, so my sympathy for those ex-members who lost lots of money, etc., is pretty much zilch.
What's up with the weather? I blame theantix.
Even around noon it was just 46 (almost 8C for your terrorists out there), and tomorrow is supposed to be up to 86 (30C). It was raining and windy, and gray, but now the birds are chirping and just a minute ago things brightened and I saw enough sunlight that the idea of pulling out my camera and taking photos of the contrast between sunlit and shadowy spaces appealed to me. Then it grew cool and cloudy again.
I called my mother for Mother's Day, because that's what sons who have little connection any more to their parental units do once a year, and I miss the closeness we once had until a car accident and a coma took away most everything that made our personalities similar.
And I tell myself that that is when I lost my drive, my energy, my desire to make something of my life; other times, and I'm not sure whether they're more honest times or just a different type of delusion, I'm sure it happened years earlier, perhaps as a result of life being too easy. And, finally (if I limit myself to a tripartite rhetoric), I just conclude that a lack of anything worth striving for is what doomed me.
But the world around me continues to change in small ways. First my father actually manages to make it out of the U.S. (Canuckistan 20 years ago not counting), and now my step-father gets an e-mail account. What is the world coming to?
I am now about a third of the way through “S,” which means little to most of you readers, though consider it an update for toxicfur. Up next: Sertab, the type of name that almost looks like a fake name in a novel made up by way of anagram or by spelling a regular word in reverse. I think I got 2004's No Boundaries by way of colleague C.
I have fifteen exams and fifteen essays to grade this afternoon and evening with little desire to read any of the stuff ... perhaps I should pick out those I know will be crap and get them out of the way. Then I'll just have a handful of pleasantly competent and even, potentially, creative works left when the lights outside go out and I am left with spiral energy-saving fluorescents that attract Asian beetles.
Aside: I grew up with fly tape in the barn and stalls and a big buzzing bug-zapper glowing light purple in the summer after sunset, but it was the sound not the image that was most important, the sense-memory that returned as soon as I saw Adrian “Lyne's Lolita” (1997).
Monday evening: more Heroes goodness ... but rather than ending with a semi-standard 22 episodes (20 and 13 being another common number) this season of Heroes is going to 23. Not completely unreasonable, I realize, given the number of of chromosome pairs in the human genome.
Jy called yesterday afternoon/evening to inquire about my upcoming visit, about things we should do in NY, and to update me about her meek and mild “love life”—as well as complain just a bit about her obnoxious roommate. As always there is a question about the diss—the type of thing joh3n in his nearly infinite wisdom (perhaps finite but boundless?) told me just to write in a couple weeks and finish ... several years ago. Worked for him (one wife and child later)—and I am left to ponder my future a bit. I keep putting things off ... my lease runs out at the end of July, and while I could move in with the 'rents I (and it might be the cheapest option) for a while, either while finishing and/or while on the job market, another part of me says that I need to stay in the profession to get a job, for time off is frowned upon. And I'd really rather be in Berlin or Budapest; one ex-roommate says to come to Seattle; my brother might end up in Portland; and other friends reside in East-Coastia, but nowhere do I have a job. My own fault. As everyone knows, lack-of-looks can be made up for with plenty of cold, hard cash—just observe J. Howard Marshall—but poverty is not an often-desired trait.
Enough whining ... for now.
Silence in the rented room.
The candlestick flickers with silver light
Before the singing breath
Of the lonely man;
Black swarms of flies
Darken the stony space,
And the head of the man who has no home
Is numb from the agony
Of the golden day.
The motionless sea grows dark.
Star and black voyages
Vanished on the canal.
Child, your sickly smile
Followed me softly in my sleep.
—Translated by James Wright and Robert Bly
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