Tag Archives: poet

The Courage of Your Own Nudity

“The beauty of women has, all through my life, been my most potent inspiration, and I pitied every man who was wasting his time on less urgent concerns.”
Alexander King presents Peter Altenberg’s Evocations of Love (61)


Don Juan painting by Alexander King

I don’t remember having new books on my bookshelves as a child. I do lovingly recall a few heavily used  wonders: Pocahontas and  the Greek Myths by Edgar and Ingrid Parin D’Auliare, a book of Russian Fables by Pushkin with fantastically wonderful drawings of Russia, my sister’s collection of Ant and Bee books that I coveted. When I recently went to the library to pick up a book I had apparently requested using my fancy new library search skills I was immediately reminded of those childhood books.

Children are disgusted with almost nothing, and this is their wonderful, unconscious romanticism. They’re as drunk with life as a lover, who would unhesitatingly drink the water in which his sweetheart has just washed her face. (33)

Over-sized, interspersed with whimsical drawings in fine red pen by the author, the battered,  cover-less book whose faded name on the spine was unintelligible, immediately fascinated me. Not least of all because I had no memory of ordering it nor any idea of why or what it could be.

Just remember that neither you nor anyone else is part of the mass. Maybe sheep and geese are, but I’m not too convinced of that, either.  After all, you have to suffer all your deep sorrows individually, and even your rare joys are profoundly personal; and nothing in your life, as far as I can see, manifests itself mass-wise, except dreary verbal cliches with which you exculpate your lack of thought and initiative. (28)

Over at Wuthering Expectations there is a Buch Party on German and Austrian literature; after examining the book in question for a full ten minutes I felt confident guessing that I had got the name from that blog. I could go back and look again, do my “homework,” but I am terrified that I will find ten more books to impulsively request and add to the pile of books-to-read-before-due towering on my desk.

Altenberg was an Austrian poet who died in 1919, Evocations of Love is a compilation of some of his vignettes and musings with lovely commentary by Alexander King who knew and clearly adored him. Very understandable, considering Altenberg’s enormously sincere, funny, and youthful outlook on life and people. His attitude is so infectious I didn’t mind laughing boisterously in public reading what looks like a child’s book. In fact, that’s the only way to do it.

Woe to those who are lucky in love! They are denied the joyous, painful, slow accumulation of yearning which finally fulfills itself in the heart’s ultimate ecstasy. They have been cheated out of the most valuable gift that life has to offer.
Whom does Don Juan, flitting from flower to flower, actually cheat? He cheats himself. (90)

The stories are very short, and wonderfully funny. My favorites were La Zeerlina in which Altenberg sets up an old age fund piggy bank for a beautiful starlet. In the Service of Beauty is too funny to spoil, you will have to seek this gem out for yourselves. And then there is My Night of Indulgence, somehow Mr. Altenberg has been privy to my own fantasy night of indulgence. Too bad we can’t do it together. On second thought he is probably best loved from a distance, I have the feeling that Mr. Altenberg loved falling in love rather more than being in love.

“Do you think,” he said, “that to act in this way is correct, in principle?”
“Certainly,” I said. “In matters of the heart, the only principle is to have no principles.” (74)

The man is divine, simply after my own heart, the entire book is an absolute delight. I look forward seeking out and  reading his poetry, to hell with my towering pile.

*Title of post from page 60: What is my great artistic credo? Listen to your heart, and don’t be afraid of giving off unexpected sounds. Have the courage of your own nudity.

Drawing by Peter Altenberg pg. 23

Drawing by Peter Altenberg pg. 23

That’s Not My Name

The fictions of my imagination (as it later developed) may weary me, but they don’t hurt or humiliate. Impossible lovers can’t possible cheat on us, or smile at us falsely, or be calculating in their caresses. They never forsake us, and they don’t die or disappear. – Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (142)

nhIt’s such a nice day that I don’t even feel like dreaming. I enjoy it with all the sincerity of my senses, to which my intelligence bows. (128)

The pressure of always having to explain ourselves is immense. This is a constant struggle in my life. Fernando Pessoa is a man that rejected the premise and yet embraced the challenge. The Book of Disquiet, which has quite captured me,  is a book of internal concerns, but whose? The more I read the more I am curious to know the man- Pessoa. Not the projected heteronyms that he is famous for, but the man. I have the feeling he would be impossible to know, and would start to make one doubt knowing anything at all.

And yet, I know that feeling. There is the me here, and the me there. The me that my friends see, and the me that wants to be. Late at night, as I struggle with my covers and contemplate whether or not I am cold or have to pee, there is sometimes-  just me. The ridiculousness of this situation, which is essentially life,  is what Pessoa perfectly captures.

My God, My God, who am I watching? How many am I? Who is I? What is this gap between me and myself? (187)

Perhaps because I am a woman who has had more than one name, I am more keenly sensitive to the point. There are four that accompany me. But if I only take the first, Jessica- there are many variations. I am Jessica, and yet that is the name that I associate with being in trouble. Jess is short and somewhat dismissive. Only one person ever called me Jessie, I could have loved him just for that, but he did not press the point. I think if Fernando Pessoa had been named Frank he would not have been capable of the identity shifts that he excelled in.

And since I now know beforehand that every vague hope will end in disillusion, I have special delight of already enjoying the disillusion with the hope, like the bitter with the sweet that makes the sweet sweeter by way of contrast. (169)

I’m not at all sure who wrote this book. It’s that voice inside you that is a water tap left on- the one that wants to retreat so far from it all that it is not even a matter of wanting or not wanting to have hope. It is the space above where there is no wanting or not wanting: that is the feeling that is fully articulated in this mesmerizing compilation of  musings.

Inside, things are different than they appear outside. Pessoa uses a single stream of focus to drive this point home. If I take a little bit of me and run, run, run away with it- but would I have the nerve?  I could not be so selfish to devote myself to the absolute fleshing out of all my facets. I am sure they are not that interesting, not even to me. But Pessoa insists they are. His, mine and yours. It is our parts that join us. I am all these things and none of them too.

Today I was struck by an absurd but valid sensation. I realized, in an inner flash, that I’m no one. (227)

Time for a Dolorous Interlude:

Reductio ad absurdum is one of my favorite drinks. (252)

Oh, I’ll drink to that.

* Penguin Classic edited and translated by Richard Zenith

A Trance of Fancy

                                                              So I loved a dream?
My doubt, a mass of ancient night, concludes
in many a subtle branch, which, since the real woods
remain, proves, alas! what I offered to myself
as triumph was the ideal lack of roses.
Let’s think it over…

-Stéphane Mallarmé, from The Afternoon of a Faun

The meaning of lorca


I will give everything away
and weep my passion
like a lost child
in a forgotten tale.
from Minor Song, Lorca


If I were to invent my own language, my word for sad would be lorca. It has a melancholy sound that suits the plaintive tone I would wish the word to embody. In my language, if you say a word, the important thing will be to really feel the word as I intend you to feel and understand it.

Sonnet of the Sweet Complaint

Never let me lose the marvel
of your statue eyes or the accent
that by night the solitary rose of your breath
places on my cheek.

I’m afraid to be on this shore
a trunk without limbs, and what I most regret
is not to have flower, pulp or clay
for the worm of my suffering.

If you are my hidden treasure,
if you are my cross and my wet sorrow,
if I am the dog of your dominion,

do not let me lose what I have won
and adorn the waters of your river
with leaves of my alienated autumn.

– Federico García Lorca

In Collected Poems of Federico García Lorca revised bilingual edition edited by Christopher Maurer there are hundreds of poems by this delicate poet. His use of imagery (bright crowd of the winds…) is breathtaking as in the last stanzas of the poem Weathervane, his lorca, is mine, and he will break my heart one line at a time, but generously restore the spark word by word:

Things that go away never return-
everybody knows that.
And in the bright crowd of the winds
there’s no use complaining!
Am I right, poplar, teacher of the breeze?
There’s no use complaining!

   Without any wind
– Look sharp!-
Turn, heart.
Turn, my heart.

The celebrated Spanish poet’s work has the rare veracity of timelessness. He lived from 1898 to 1936, I actually rechecked the dates on the bio after I read one poem, because there is nothing stuffy or old fashioned in his use of language, or in his exposed vulnerability. There is no indication from his poems that he is separated from us by time or culture. At just under one thousand pages this is quite the tomb to haul around for a breath of words to sooth one’s soul, but it is worth its weight, and then some.

And if we’re tricked by love?
Who will inspire us
if we’re sunk by dusk
in the true knowledge
of Good that might not exist
and Evil that beats close by?

-from Autumn Song