HOW TO START A POETRY EPIDEMIC – by Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996)


Cheers, fellow cosmic wanderers! For all of you who thirst for beauty and crave for poetry, I’ve selected some precious words from Joseph Brodsky’s essay “An Immodest Proposal” which might just nourish and enchant ya’. It’s filled with funny and imaginative ideas on how to kickstart an Epidemic of Poetry in our often grayish urban landscapes, pumping up our expressive skills, creative faculties and overall rate of epiphanies. Brodsky jokes around with the plan of widespread production and consumption of condensed human creativity as a means to plant the seeds of collective evolution and linguistic metamorphosis. These excerpts were extracted from On Grief and Reason (New York, 1995, Farrar Straus Giroux), which is truly a pet-book in my personal library and one of the most cherished treasures I brought with me as souvenirs from Toronto’s BMV Books, a place which deserves a ton of heartfelt “bravos!”. Voilá:

 Brodsky“Poetry must be available to the public in far greater volume than it is. It should be as ubiquitous as the nature that surrounds us, and from which poetry derives many of its similes; or as ubiquitous as gas stations, if not as cars themselves. Bookstores should be located not only on campuses or main drags but at the assembly plant’s gates also. Paperbacks of those we deem classics should be cheap and sold at supermarkets. This is, after all, a country of mass production, and I don’t see why what’s done for cars can’t be done for books of poetry, which take you quite a bit further…”

* * * * *

“Moreover, if the government would recognize that the construction of your library is as essential to your inner vocation as business lunches are to the outer, tax breaks could be made available to those who read, write or publish poetry. The main loser, of course, would be the Brazilian rain forest. But I believe that a tree facing the choice between becoming a book of poems or a bunch of memos may well opt for the former.”

* * * * *

“In my view, books shoud be brought to the doorstep like electricity, or like milk in England: they should be considered utilities, and their cost should be appropriately minimal. Barring that, poetry could be sold in drugstores (not least because it might reduce the bill from your shrink). At the very least, an anthology of American poetry should be found in every room in every motal in the land, next to the Bible, which will surely not object to this proximity, since it does not object to the proximity of the phone book.”

* * * * *

“Poetry is the supreme form of human locution in any culture. By failing to read or listen to poets, a society dooms itself to inferior modes of articulation – of the politician, or the salesman, or the charlatan – in short, to its own. It forfeits, in other worlds, its own evolutionary potential, for what distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom is precisely the gift of speech. The charge frequently leveled against poetry – that it is difficult, obscure, hermetic, and whatnot – indicates not the state of poetry but, frankly, the rung of the evolutionary ladder on which society is stuck.”

* * * * *

“If nothing else, reading poetry is a process of terrific linguistic osmosis. It is also a highly economical form of mental acceleration. Within a very short space a good poem covers enormous mental ground, and often, toward its finale, provides one with an epiphany or a revelation. That happens because in the process of composition a poet employs – by and large unwittingly – the two main modes of cognition available to our species: Occidental and Oriental.  (…) In other words, a poem offers you a sample of complete, not slanted, human intelligence at work.”

JOSEPH BRODSKY
(1940-1996)
Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

Read also some of his poems:
Song of Welcome and Verses in April

bRODSKY

Advertisements

“I Look Into My Glass” & “The To-Be-Forgotten”: Two poems by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

image_t6

I look into my glass

I look into my glass,
And view my wasting skin,
And say, ‘Would God it came to pass
My hearth had shrunk as thin!’

For then, I, undistrest
By hearts grown cold to me,
Could lonely wait my endless rest
With equanimity.

But Time, to make me grieve,
Part steals, lets part abide;
And shakes this fragile frame at eve
With throbbings of noontide.

* * * *

The To-be-forgotten

I
            I heard a small sad sound,
And stood awhile among the tombs around:
“Wherefore, old friends,” said I, “are you distrest,
            Now, screened from life’s unrest?”
II
            —”O not at being here;
But that our future second death is near;
When, with the living, memory of us numbs,
            And blank oblivion comes!
III
            “These, our sped ancestry,
Lie here embraced by deeper death than we;
Nor shape nor thought of theirs can you descry
            With keenest backward eye.
IV
            “They count as quite forgot;
They are as men who have existed not;
Theirs is a loss past loss of fitful breath;
            It is the second death.
V
            “We here, as yet, each day
Are blest with dear recall; as yet, can say
We hold in some soul loved continuance
            Of shape and voice and glance.
VI
            “But what has been will be —
First memory, then oblivion’s swallowing sea;
Like men foregone, shall we merge into those
            Whose story no one knows.
VII
            “For which of us could hope
To show in life that world-awakening scope
Granted the few whose memory none lets die,
            But all men magnify?
VIII
            “We were but Fortune’s sport;
Things true, things lovely, things of good report
We neither shunned nor sought … We see our bourne,
            And seeing it we mourn.”

Thomas Hardy

Read other poems by the same author:

“Water Never The Same”, a sonnet by Jean-Baptiste Chassignet (1571-1635)

Starry_Night_Over_the_Rhone

Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone

WATER NEVER THE SAME

Beside a flowing river sit and gaze,
And see how it perpetually runs
In wave on wave, in many thousand turns,
As through the fields it takes its fluid ways.

Thou’lt never see again the wave which first
Flow’d by thee; water never the same;
It passes day by day, although the name
Of water and of river doth persist.

So changes man, and will not be tomorrow
That which he is today, he cannot borrow
That strenght which time doth alter and consume:

Until our death one name we do retain;
Although today no parcel doth remain
Of what I was, the name I still assume.

* * * * *

ASSIEDS-TOI SUR LE BORD D’UNE ONDANTE RIVIÈRE

Assieds-toi sur le bord d’une ondante rivière :
Tu la verras fluer d’un perpétuel cours,
Et flots sur flots roulant en mille et mille tours
Décharger par les prés son humide carrière.

Mais tu ne verras rien de cette onde première
Qui naguère coulait ; l’eau change tous les jours,
Tous les jours elle passe, et la nommons toujours
Même fleuve, et même eau, d’une même manière.

Ainsi l’homme varie, et ne sera demain
Telle comme aujourd’hui du pauvre corps humain
La force que le temps abrévie et consomme :

Le nom sans varier nous suit jusqu’au trépas,
Et combien qu’aujourd’hui celui ne sois-je pas
Qui vivais hier passé, toujours même on me nomme.

JEAN-BAPTISTE CHASSIGNET
English translation by Frank Warnke

* * * * *

Poets previously published @ Awestruck Wanderer:

“Ah, Are You Digging On My Grave?” – A poem about Life and Death, by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

pet-sematary-847513l

Ah, Are You Digging On My Grave?
Thomas Hardy

“Ah, are you digging on my grave 
          My loved one? — planting rue?” 
— “No, yesterday he went to wed 
One of the brightest wealth has bred. 
‘It cannot hurt her now,’ he said, 
          ‘That I should not be true.'” 

“Then who is digging on my grave?
My nearest dearest kin?”
— “Ah, no; they sit and think, ‘What use!
What good will planting flowers produce?
No tendance of her mound can loose
Her spirit from Death’s gin.’ “

“But some one digs upon my grave?
My enemy? — prodding sly?”
— “Nay: when she heard you had passed the Gate
That shuts on all flesh soon or late,
She thought you no more worth her hate,
And cares not where you lie.”

“Then, who is digging on my grave?
Say — since I have not guessed!”
— “O it is I, my mistress dear,
Your little dog, who still lives near,
And much I hope my movements here
Have not disturbed your rest?”

“Ah yes! You  dig upon my grave . . .
Why flashed it not on me
That one true heart was left behind!
What feeling do we ever find
To equal among human kind
A dog’s fidelity!”

“Mistress, I dug upon your grave
To bury a bone, in case
I should be hungry near this spot
When passing on my daily trot.
I am sorry, but I quite forgot
It was your resting-place.”

* * * * *

You might also enjoy, as companion piece,
THOMAS HARDY’S Afterwards (poem)
(With comments by JOSEPH BRODKSY
)
* * * * *

And if these words have turned you gloomy, cheer up a bit,
cherished readers, with The Ramones’s Punk Hymn…

The Myth of Prometheus: a poem by Goethe, a painting by Rubens, music by Schubert and Hugo Wolf…


Prometheus (1774)
by Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)


Hide your heavens, Zeus,
in cloudy vapours
and practise your stroke, like a boy
beheading thistles,
on oaktrees and mountain summits;
still you must leave me
my steady earth,
and my hut, not built by you,
and my hearth,
whose warm glow
you envy me.

I know nothing more pitiful
under the sun than you Gods!
You feed your splendour
pathetically
on expensive sacrifices
and the breath of prayers
and would starve, were not
children and beggars
fools full of hope.

When I was a child,
not knowing out from in,
I turned my bewildered gaze
to the sun, as if there might be above it
an ear to hear my sorrow,
a heart like mine
to have mercy on the afflicted.

Who helped me
against the overweening Titans?
Who rescued me from death,
from slavery?
Was it not you, my holy glowing heart,
who did it all?
and young and good, deceived,
glowed thanks for rescue
to the slumberer in the heavens?

I, worship you? What for?
Did you ever relieve
the ache of the heavy-laden?
Did you ever wipe away
the tears of the terror-stricken?
Was I not hammered into the shape of Man
by almighty Time
and eternal Destiny,
my masters, and yours?

No doubt you supposed
I should hate life,
flee to the desert,
because not every
blossom of dream became fruit?

Here I sit, make men
on my own pattern,
a breed to resemble me,
to suffer pain, to weep,
to feel pleasure and joy,
and, like me,
to pay you no attention!

* * * * *

Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
Translated by D.M. Black
Modern Poetry in Translation
New Series, No. 16 (2000)
Read it in German or Portuguese

Prometheus depicted in a sculpture by Nicolas-Sébastien Adam, 1762 (Louvre)

Prometheus depicted in a sculpture by Nicolas-Sébastien Adam, 1762 (Louvre)

Music by Hugo Wolf (1889):

Music by Franz Schubert (1819):

* * * * *

Poets previously published on Awestruck Wanderer:

Precious Poetry – 4th Edition – Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”

frost

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

* * * * *

“Complete Poems of Robert Frost”

frost2
Download e-book (16 mb)

Previously on the Precious Poetry series of this blog:

#01 – Emily Dickinson
#02 – Joseph Brodsky
#03 – John Donne