Cuckoos

A new translation of Joan Maragall’s poem about the anarchist bombing of the Barcelona Opera in 1893, and a limerick by the monkey.

The monkey has come up with a characteristically obtuse and flippant reaction to the London Bridge attack:

My head is still firmly in place, boom boom,
My arse is not next to my face, boom boom,
But peace-loving neighbours
With soft sighing sabres
Urge centring my shite in one place, boom boom.

Fortunately my repertoire consists exclusively of lyrics by wiser and more gifted souls. The poet Joan Maragall was at the opera house on Barcelona’s Rambla for Rossini’s William Tell in November 1893 when an anarchist, Santiago Salvador, threw two Orsini bombs into the stalls, killing 22 and wounding 35. Maragall’s first daughter, Helena, had been born in May, and he wove those two circumstances into the following:

Paternal

Tornant del Liceu en la nit del 7 de novembre de 1893.

Furient va esclatant l’odi per la terra,
regalen sang les coll-torçades testes,
i cal anar a les festes,
amb pit ben esforçat, com a la guerra.

A cada esclat mortal – la gent trèmola es gira:
la crueltat que avança, – la por que s’enretira,
se van partint el món…

Mirant al fill que mama, – a la mare que sospira,
el pare arruga el front.

Pro l’infant innocent,
que deixa, satisfet, la buidada mamella,
se mira an ell, se mira an ella,
i riu bàrbarament.

Paternal

Returning from the Liceu on the night of November 7, 1893.

Across the land this hatred now fiercely roars,
From twisted-throated heads gush bloody presents.
At parties now, our presence,
With chests puffed boldly out, is as for war.

At every mortal blast, the trembling people wend:
As cruelty marches onwards, so fear flees without end,
They cleave the world between them…

The father wrinkles his brow, observes his suckling son,
The mother’s dark suspicions.

But the infant, free from sin,
Who, satiated, leaves the breast grown slim,
Looks at her, and looks at him,
And gives a barb’rous grin.

Another English version by a well-known translator respects neither rhyme nor meter, as it were chopping off the legs off this great lover of rumpty-tumpty Italian opera (dixit Maria-Aurèlia Capmany), who has just walked away from death. Can’t be having that.

Spanish anarchism, like modern Islamism, promised that slaughter would usher in paradise, and states-within-the-state were improvised in 1936-7. The movement was then virtually exterminated by the local franchise of the Soviet Communist Party and Franco’s lot. Older Spanish precedent for dealing with ethnoreligious parallel polities, with their own laws and fiscality, is also not encouraging for anybody. Ya veremos.

Rhyme vs reason

Restif de la Bretonne goes one step beyond Shakespeare and says that poetry is the language of Gods and beasts, and that reason speaks in prose.

I’m neither a logician nor a Shakespeare scholar, but I think that the following from The comedy of errors means that there can be rhyme without reason, and reason without rhyme, but that the two are not necessarily incompatible:

Was there ever any man thus beaten out of season,
When in the why and the wherefore is neither rhyme nor reason?

I’ve been reading Restif de la Bretonne’s Le nouvel Abeilard recently, basically because of an interest in the fairy tales (and particularly the first known version of demi-coq) included therein. In it he goes a step further and makes rhyme and reason mutually exclusive:

–Mais, mon Ami, voila déja bien des fois que j’ai envie de te demander, Pourquoi la Rivière, le Coq, le Loup & le Renard ne parlent-ils donc qu’en rimes?
–C’est, ma chère Phylis, que la Poésie est le langage des Dieux & des Bêtes. La Raison ne parle qu’en prose.

Aka Rétif opens with an epigraph from Pope ( “The art of writing, Abeilard, was doubtless invented/By the captive loveress and the agitated lover./Everything lives by the heat of an eloquent letter/Feeling is painted by the fingers of the lover” ), so I suppose this might be another reference to our own poxy dwarf and thence heroic coupler, who in 1714 “in an ungrateful and splenetic fit” wrote

I should be sorry and ashamed to go on jingling to the last step, like a waggoner’s horse, in the same road, and so leave my bells to the next silly animal that will be proud of them. A man makes but a mean figure, in the eyes of reason, who is measuring syllables and coupling rhymes.

The same Monthly review review of some tract called Aesthetische Gespraeche also points to the blind French poet-courtier Houdar de la Motte’s campaign against the use of rhyme in tragedy, without which the French apparently regarded it “not only as unpleasing, but unnatural.” Wikipedia implies that La Motte was struggling against excess rather than against rhyme per se. Anyway, I’m off to sing trad jazz, where the issues are not in doubt.