Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Puisi-Poesy Valentine

Personally, Valentine's Day does not figure much in my calendar, but how could Puisi-Poesy let this day pass in silence? Being single and not having particularly romantic thoughts for anyone today I thought that I'd dedicate a post for our beloved poets and you the reader:
"À Une Passante"

The deafening road around me roared.
Tall, slim, in deep mourning, making majestic grief,
A woman passed, lifting and swinging
With a pompous gesture the ornamental hem of her garment,

Swift and noble, with statuesque limb.
As for me, I drank, twitching like an old roué,
From her eye, livid sky where the hurricane is born,
The softness that fascinates and the pleasure that kills,

A gleam... then night! O fleeting beauty,
Your glance has given me sudden rebirth,
Shall I see you again only in eternity?

Somewhere else, very far from here! Too late! Perhaps never!
For I do not know where you flee, nor you where I am going,
O you whom I would have loved, O you who knew it!

Charles Baudelaire in Fleurs du Mal, trans. Geoffrey Wagner.
(Psst: if you think French is la langue d'amour, listen here.)
Readers of cultural criticism may recall Walter Benjamin's writings on Charles Baudelaire's poems, how he describes a poet who is in perpetual state of shock when confronted with the metropolitan crowds of Paris, a poet whose response to the same anxieties that plagued William Wordsworth who tells us in this excerpt from his autobiographical The Prelude:
How oft, amid those overflowing streets,
Have I gone forward with the crowd, and said
Unto myself, "The face of every one
That passes by me is a mystery!"
Thus have I looked, nor ceased to look, oppressed
By thoughts of what and whither, when and how,
Until the shapes before my eyes became
A second-sight procession, such as glides
Over still mountains, or appears in dreams;
...was the exact opposite. "It is the phantom crowd of the words, the fragments, the beginnings of lines from which the poet, in the deserted streets, wrests the poetic booty," says Benjamin, describing the urban poet as a flâneur whose purpose is "to endow this crowd with a soul...[whose] encounters with it are the experience that he does not tire of telling about."

My reference to Wordsworth is only to provide the contrast to Baudelaire's poem, for where Wordsworth is baffled by "how men lived / Even next-door neighbours, as we say, yet still / Strangers, not knowing each the other's name.", Baudelaire himself seemed to be enraptured by the city, and on one occasion, as we see even the glance of anonymous woman passing by inspires awe—"The softness that fascinates and the pleasure that kills"—and delight, as if the he was reborn! Because yes! one glance is enough to affirm to the poet that he was also an individual and deserves love, just as he ecstatically proclaims his love for the unknown woman.

For isn't it the feeling of awe that should inspire poets? Awe in the face of an obliterating assault to the senses ("The deafening road around me roared", the hustle and bustle of a city) and to retrieve from it some semblance of memory, if only a fleeting glimpse. Recently, in the comments to "Flight", Sharanya describes her experience of being hyper-aware of everything she observes, and I concur that this must be so: a poet must find ecstasy of the moment and convey to the reader who "...throbbest life and pride and love the same as I", says Whitman.

And so to you, dear reader, poets offer the gift of words wrought of passion. Give a poem to a loved one today, or even to a stranger (here is Whitman's 'To You': "Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me? /And why should I not speak to you?") ... or, at least, if you're a singleton like me, be content and smile, for there may be someone there giving you a second glance as you pass by, feeling 'The Catch', whispering on the edges of language: Car j'ignore où tu fuis, tu ne sais où je vais, / Ô toi que j'eusse aimée, ô toi qui le savais!

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Blogger dreamer idiot said...

What an apt poem for any lonely hearts out there... especially those who yearn for love amidst the loneliness of cities.

Reading the poem, I can vaguely remember the times when I saw a sweet-looking beautiful girl passing me on the street, in the mall or sometimes on the train... but alas, I am too shy to ever venture to approach her, haha.

Machinist, a very insightful comparison between Wordsworth and Baudelaire, few people would even think of putting them together; what's more, you have also searched out the appropriate passages and lines that link them. Very scholarly, yet very accessible.
Anyway, I'll be waiting to see if a girl comes to sweep you off you feet by this time next year, Haha.

11:46 PM, February 13, 2007  
Anonymous Kenny Mah said...

Some days I feel more like Wordsworth did. How entrapped one feels living in this big, cold city! Strangers pass me by all the time, such violent demeanours, such beauty so swiftly gone.

But there are days, when desire overwhelms me, and courage comes without a bottle or prayer, and I call upon you, stranger, hi, hello, my name is...

Thank you, Machinist, for this post. On a day like this, it is good to not feel lonely when one is already alone.

1:23 PM, February 14, 2007  
Blogger Madcap Machinist said...

DI, in modernist crit one finds the Wordsworth vs Baudelaire motifs cropping up from time to time. As cities sprouted in the move from agriculture to industry you can roughly make out two reactions from poets regarding city life: like Wordsworth, hating it; or like Baudelaire, making the best of it.

but one way or the other, see how frustrated both of them felt?

I think it would have been unlikely that I'd have the stamina to read Wordsworth's The Prelude otherwise... through others' writings I could just skim through the books and pick out the more interesting parts.

Still, it's the boon of hours of dedicated reading and I'm happy to just regurgitate it here, popularizing some of the critical theories in a way.

You should remember that line by Whitman next time you're feeling shy. I think I'll take my own advice too! :-)

Kenny certainly enjoyed it; I see you dedicated a poem to our Bibliobibuli!

Most days I feel like Baudelaire...but mostly because Wordsworth doesn't quite work me up so much; I get hit by bolts of lightning on the streets every other day... ah...

5:53 PM, February 14, 2007  
Anonymous lil ms d said...


bah. humbug.

3:25 PM, February 15, 2007  
Anonymous MeiFon said...

Hi. I'm a TESL student. I was looking for Cecil Rajendra poetry review to do a poetry recital assignment when I found your blog. It was a great help especially the poems in this blog rarely have reviews.

I need all those 'experts' out there to help me to comment on this poem by Cecil Rajendra. I had spend hours to understand it but still fail to. I am not sure whether it is a love poem or a hate poem. So here it goes.

Malaysia Love Poem

Were all the hills in Malaysia
in one huge mountain piled
Muntahak on Tangga
Chintawasa, Chanah
And Tahan on top
And all between us
I'd climb them climb them
To reach you
O, how I love you!

Were all the streams in Malaysia
In one great river joined
Kemaman, Kurau
Temengor, Tembelin
And the Nenggiri in flood
And all between us
I'd swim them siwm them
To reach you
O, how I love you!

Were all the kampongs in Malaysia
in one great village linked
Merchong and Mengkarak
Kelujong, Kenanga
Senengar, Senggora
And all in flames
I'd jump them jump them
To reach you
O, how I love you!

p.s. See you Saturday
If there's no football

There is the poem. :-) Who is you? Is Cecil expressing his love to Malaysia or is it in sarcastic tone? Please help me. ASAP. God bless all and Happy Chinese New Year!

9:46 AM, February 19, 2007  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Well, you're in good CNY ‘luck’, because I just decided to check my e-mail, though it's Chinese New Year. What's more, I'm the one who posted Rajendra poem.

The poem is pretty simple, really. I won't give you any answers, but leave you clues. Firstly, poems usually do not state or 'say' things directly, they give linguistic 'clues' instead. In most cases, the speaker of the poem is NOT the poet him/herself. This is an important distinction to make. The speaker is persona or a character, if you like. Similarly, the person being spoken to could be anyone, another character (imagined person), God, a tree or the poet’s own conscience. So, try to figure not (‘You’ in the poem is definitely not Malaysia).

When you read through the first stanza, what comes to your mind? Analyse its syntactical structure.

Were all... I'll...

What forms the basis of this syntactical structure, and what is it that is being expressed?

Read the other stanzas. What do they express? Do you notice a pattern between them? Is some form of rhetorical method being employed (eg. hyperbolic)?

Finally, the last two lines. What does it say (... if...)? What is the tone of the words here? Contrast the tone of the earlier three stanzas and the final two lines. Is there a shift or change in tone? If there is, what does this change signifies or ‘mean’?

Happy Chinese New year!

12:04 PM, February 19, 2007  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Oh yeah, you may have a typo in the poem. Tuhan is probably Tahan for Gunung Tahan.

12:07 PM, February 19, 2007  
Blogger Miao said...

I am surprised that you have never had any prior proper education in literature - you write so beautifully and you dissect poetry with such wonderful precision that I am completely in awe.

1:14 AM, February 20, 2007  
Anonymous MeiFon said...

Wow. Thanks for the help! God bless.

10:02 AM, February 21, 2007  
Blogger Madcap Machinist said...

DI, that's a great reading guide!

Meifon, good luck for your paper! My thoughts about the poem:

The poem sounds like it was written by the numbers--a schoolbook poem--and the last word, 'football' turns the poem on it's head.

It's all just a merry jest it seems :)

But for all the hyperbole, imagery of this poem is rather limp. Mountain, Water, Fire; and to get the last image he puts together a great village and sets it on fire! Ha-ha.

Nothing exciting here.

One might find this poem slipped between the pages of a textbook she lent to her heartthrob-classmate-- who's got a thing for poetry :-)

2:34 AM, February 22, 2007  
Blogger enar arshad said...

if i dont love him
why should i care
of his affairs
yet if i love him
should i let him be

5:10 PM, February 22, 2007  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

hey - good conversation! i thoroughly enjoyed the machinist's choice of valentine poem ... all the what ifs of the perfect stranger passing you by in the street, all the near misses of our lives ...

7:40 AM, February 23, 2007  

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