Column Editor: Donna Jacobs (Retired, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC 29425)
Against the Grain V34#3
Unfortunately, the previous Booklover column had a title with a foreshadowing: “Rhyme, Russian, Revolution, and Reason.” And as events unfolded on the international front, I kept thinking about Brodsky and his statement about Anna Akhmatova’s poems: “They will survive because language is older than state and because prosody always survives history. In fact, it hardly needs history; all it needs is a poet, and Akhmatova was just that.” Maybe pondering poetry, rhythms and sounds is timely and necessary.
Of the 118 laureates listed from 1901-2021, 51 list poetry among their literature genre. At random, the following poems of four Nobel Literature Laureates were chosen for pondering:
by Frédéric Mistral (1904)
“Thou fair Marseilles, who openest on the sea
Thy haughty eyes and gazest languidly,
As though naught else were worthy to behold,
And, though the winds rage, dreamest but of gold,
When Lazarus preached to thee, thou didst begin
Those eyes to close, and see the night within,
And to the fountain of l’Huveaune speeding,
The source whereof Magdaleue’s tears were feeding,
Didst wash thy sins away; and in this hour
Art proud once more; but other storms may lower.
Forget not, then, amid thy revelries,
Whose tears they are that bathe thine olive-trees!”
by Giosuè Alessandro Michele Carducci (1906)
“Not under a steel nib that scratches in nasty furrows
its dull thoughts onto dry white paper;
but under the ripe sun, as breezes gust
through wide-open clearings beside a swift stream,
the heart’s sighs, dwindling into infinity, are born,
the sweet, wistful flower of melody is born.
Here redolent May shines in rose-scented air,
brilliant the hollow eyes, hearts asleep in their chests;
the heart sleeps, but ears are easily roused
by the chromatic cries of La Gioconda.
O Muses’ altar of green, white-capped
above the sea. Alcman leads the chaste choir:
“I want to fly with you, maidens, fly into a dance,
as the kingfisher flies drawn by halcyons:
he flies with halcyons over spindrift waves in a gale,
kingfisher, purple herald of spring.”
“Nothing Is Like Waiting Times”
by Erik Axel Karfeldt (1931)
“Nothing is like waiting times,
spring flood weeks, budding times,
no may a days spread
as the clarifying April.
Get on the last slip of the trail,
the forest gives its dull coolness
and his deep whisper to it.
I want to donate the lust of summer
for the first straws, which glitter
in a dark pine sink,
and the drill of the first thrush.
Nothing is like times of longing,
waiting years, engagement times.
No spring a shimmer spreads
as a secret heartbeat.
Rarely meet, divorce soon,
dream of everything sweet and dangerous
life in its womb bears!
Golden fruit may shake others;
I want to linger and give up,
in my garden I want to watch,
while the trees are budding there.”
by Juan Roman Jiménez (1956)
“I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
— Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?”
In addition to the enjoying the “prosody” of these poets’ wordcraft, their biographical information offers insight. Some have extensive biographical information. Others just a bit. Can one speculate on what were the influencers in their lives and thus their writing or is it a known fact? Toward this answer: 1) Frédéric Mistral — born 1830 in Maillane France. Studied law. His lifelong passion was the restoration of the Provence language. He donated his portion of the Nobel Prize money to the creation of the Museum at Arles and it’s collections from Provence. Mistral shared the 1904 Nobel Prize in Literature with José Echegaray y Eizaguirre. Mistral’s award was “in recognition of the fresh originality and true inspiration of his poetic production, which faithfully reflects the natural scenery and native spirit of his people, and, in addition, his significant work as a Provençal philologist.”; 2) Giosuè Alessandro Michele Carducci — born 1835 in Italy. He was the official national poet of modern Italy and the first Italian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. His 1906 award was “not only in consideration of his deep learning and critical research, but above all as a tribute to the creative energy, freshness of style, and lyrical force which characterize his poetic masterpieces.”; 3) Erik Axel Karfeldt — born 1864 in Sweden. Karfeldt’s biographical information does offer a bit of intrigue. It was rumored that he was offered and declined the award in 1919. He changed his name from Erik Axel Eriksson to distance himself from his father’s criminal past. In 1904, he was elected to chair #11 in the Swedish Academy; 1905 elected member to the Nobel Institute of the Academy; 1907 elected to the Nobel Committee; and finally in 1912 became the permanent secretary to the Academy. He was awarded the 1931 Nobel Prize in Literature posthumously. After 1974, the Statutes of the Nobel Foundation stipulate that a Nobel Prize cannot be awarded posthumously; 4) Juan Ramón Jiménez — born 1881 in Spain. He studied law but never practiced. Jiménez was awarded the 1956 Nobel Prize in Literature “for his lyrical poetry, which in Spanish language constitutes an example of high spirit and artistical purity.”
Jiménez’s “Oceans” ends with a poignant question for pondering and as Brodsky poses — maybe all history needs is a poet to challenge us as we contemplate and begin to live our future.