Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Did you know that the late and great Pope John Paul II actually wrote poetry in his 20's? I found a few, and I'm giving my own interpretation of one short piece titled Actor. The Pope, then writing as Karol Wojtyla, was also a stage actor.

Actor by Karol Wojtyla

So many grew round me, through me,
from my self, as it were.
I became a channel, unleashing a force
called man.
Did not the others crowding in, distort
the man that I am?
Being each of them, always imperfect,
myself to myself too near,
he who survives in me, can he ever
look at himself without fear?

The first line has an innate sense of some force that is about to come out roaring. That’s how the r’s in grew, round and through evoke for me. And the full-bodied assonance of the vowels in them gives a solidity to the source of that roar – something big. The repetition of me gives some emphasis to the self of the narrator: is there a multitude of himself inside of the me?

The nasals in the first half of the third line and at the beginning of the second half of it soften the anticipating roar, I feel. The susurration in the second half of the same line gives the impression of some strong wind or breath.

The line breaks at force, but it doesn’t end with it as a final word for the line or as an end-stop. This line is a run-on or enjambment, with just two words called man in the following line. And this two-word line has a very powerful end-stop. Why? Just read the line

I became a channel, unleashing a force

Make yourself pause for just a bit at the end, and then read

called man.

giving equal stress to both words.

Did not the others crowding in, distort

Notice the t and d sounds there? It sounds like a lot of people – multifarious me - are banging or thumping, doesn’t it?

The next line

the man that I am

makes me visualize the speaker trying to calm the crowd: the nasals in the stress words are very strong.

In “Being each of them, always imperfect,” the speaker speaks a little faster. Notice the pairs of non-stresses between each stressed syllable, al in always and per in imperfect. The reading of them speed up a little before the reader reaches the coming stressed syllables. It’s funny here: the rhythm would have been perfect if there was one more stress word oe syllable placed at the end of the line. Is the poet trying to imply something?

More nasal sounds in the next line, but these are rather understated, sounding as if the speaker is lowering his voice and at the same time shushing the excited crowd. The word near is significant here; there is a repeat of the same rhyme in the final word of the entire poem: fear.

myself to myself too near,

In the first half of the poem, the narrator is always referring to himself, with lots of me, myself, I am. Notice the first repetition of his self in me in the 1st line, giving some emphasis to the self of the narrator, and the final one in myself, near the end of the poem. And in between these repetitions is myself split up into my self, in line 2 – a division of the narrator into separate beings? Into a crowd of himself (or selves)? Only in the last two lines does he give over to someone other than himself; the surviving self, the remaining self.

The poem here uses rhymes to link man in 4th line to am in 6th line; force and distort are near rhymes. The word ever in the penultimate line points back the reader to the second line with the rhyming were. Near and fear in the last 3 lines close the poem.

I notice that the construction of the lines are very consistent. The lines 1,3,5 and 7 have a comma in each.

I don't know if the Pope when he wrote Actor actually intended such a reading. Anyway, the translator must have done a good job with it.

(This posting actually first appeared in my personal blog


Saturday, June 24, 2006

Blog Poll: Your opinion and feedback

We started this blog four months ago on a trial basis to see how it would develop and we have been enjoying it so far. At the same time, we are grateful to you, our dear readers for visiting our blog, and would like to solicit your opinion and feedback on the blog. Some of the things we would like to find out would be:

What do you like / dislike about our blog?
Are the write-ups interesting, helpful or too technical?
What ways can this blog be improved?

Friday, June 16, 2006


At evening, sitting on this terrace,
When the sun from the west, beyond Pisa, beyond the mountains of Carrara
Departs, and the world is taken by surprise ...

When the tired flower of Florence is in gloom beneath the glowing
Brown hills surrounding ...

When under the arches of the Ponte Vecchio
A green light enters against stream, flush from the west,
Against the current of obscure Arno ...

Look up, and you see things flying
Between the day and the night;
Swallows with spools of dark thread sewing the shadows together.

A circle swoop, and a quick parabola under the bridge arches
Where light pushes through;
A sudden turning upon itself of a thing in the air.
A dip to the water.

And you think:
"The swallows are flying so late!"


Dark air-life looping
Yet missing the pure loop ...
A twitch, a twitter, an elastic shudder in flight
And serrated wings against the sky,
Like a glove, a black glove thrown up at the light,
And falling back.

Never swallows!
The swallows are gone.

At a wavering instant the swallows gave way to bats
By the Ponte Vecchio ...
Changing guard.

Bats, and an uneasy creeping in one's scalp
As the bats swoop overhead!
Flying madly.

Black piper on an infinitesimal pipe.
Little lumps that fly in air and have voices indefinite, wildly vindictive;

Wings like bits of umbrella.


Creatures that hang themselves up like an old rag, to sleep;
And disgustingly upside down.

Hanging upside down like rows of disgusting old rags
And grinning in their sleep.

Not for me!
D.H. Lawrence


I've loved D.H. Lawrence's poetry since I also discovered him as a favourite novelist in my teens.

This poem seems to me a counterpart of another poem he wrote about animals, the much-better known Snake, which in would urge you to read if you haven't come across it before. (It's too good not to have in your head.) Both poems deal with prejudice and how it seems to be a culturally learned reaction running contrary to our instinctive selves.

The words of this poem used to floods back into my head every time I take a late evening walk here. There's always that incredibly beautiful and peaceful moment when the sun dips behind the horizon, the call to prayers unwinds melodiously from the mosque ... and the swallows are suddenly replaced in the sky by bats. Take a stroll yourselves and see!

Lawrence's poem is set in Italy. The speaker realises that this "changing of the guard" has happened until some time after the bats have taken the place of swallows.

There's much to say about the poem, but I want to leave the fun of saying it to you!

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Friday, June 09, 2006


Who stole sleep from baby's eyes? I must know.
Clasping her pitcher to her waist mother went to fetch
water from the village near by.

It was noon. The children's playtime was over;
the ducks in the pond were silent.
The shepherd boy lay asleep under the shadow of the
banyan tree.
The crane stood grave and still in the swamp near the
mango grove.
In the meanwhile the sleep-stealer came and, snatching
sleep from the baby's eyes, flew away.
When mother came back she found baby travelling the
room over on all fours.

Who stole sleep from our baby's eyes? I must know.
I must find her and chain her up.
I must look into the dark cave, where , through
boulders and scowling stones, trickles in a tiny stream.

I must search in the drowsy shade of the bakula grove,
where pigeons coo in their corner, and fairies'
anklets tinkle in the stillness of starry nights.

In the evening I will peep into the whispering silence
of the bamboo forest, where fireflies squander their
light, and will ask every creature I meet, "Can
anybody tell me where the Sleep-stealer lives?"

Who stole the sleep from baby's eyes? I must know.
Shouldn't I give her a good lesson if I could only
catch her!

I would raid her nest and see where she hoards
all her stolen sleep.
I would plunder it all, and carry it home.
I would bind her two wings securely, set her on the
bank of the river, and then let her play at
fishing with a reed among the rushes and water lillies.

When the marketing is over in the evening, and the village
children sit in their mothers' laps, then the
night birds will mockingly din her ears with:
"Whose sleep will you steal now?"

— Rabindranath Tagore

I think as Tagore's poems go , this one has a certain robustness in it's form and rhythm and I do think it reflects the unending quests in life.
The line that really stood out to me: "where fireflies squander their light"
To me this was very painful somehow - how meaningless some of our actions can be....
The poem as a whole - loved the descriptiveness - the beauty of the countryside - the detailing - I can visualise the pictures in my head.
What the whole poem itself means - I think I will wait for comments for others and round it up later!

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

"Ars Poetica"

A poem should be palpable and mute
Like a globed fruit,

As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown —

A poem should be wordless
Like a flight of birds.


A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind –

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.


A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and the two lights above the sea —

A poem should not mean
But be.

By Archibald MacLeish

I read this poem recently and it made me pause and wonder a little about what poetry is. Archibald MacLeish wrote this poem in 1926 as a kind of poetic creed of what he thinks poetry is. The title “Ars poetica” is Latin for the art of poetry, taken from a poetic treatise by the Roman poet Horace during 1A.D. describing the necessity of poetry to be brief and lasting.

Indeed, this poem appears very simple, yet seems to speak of something profound, as it strings abstract ideas and images together in a series of statements about poetry. The first part describes poetry as being “palpable”, something that can be strangely enough, physically touched and felt, just like the surface texture of a fruit in one’s hand, like the engravings of old medallions with one’s thumb; yet is paradoxically “mute” and “Dumb”. How can a poem be “mute” and “dumb” when one of chief pleasures of poetry is found in the aural delight of reading it?

It seems even more absurd when a poem is said to be “wordless”, and of all things, is compared to the flight of birds. The second part goes along in a similar vein, where the poem is described as being static in both time and space, even while the moon through its revolving motion around our earth “climbs” through the sky.

How does one make sense of all these seemingly paradoxical ideas? Well, take some time, the whole afternoon or day(s) if you need to, and linger a while with this poem, and slowly let the images and ideas sink in. Don’t rush, everything will come together gradually. *wink*

Share with me what you think...:)

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