Nov 192010
 

Tithonus

The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies the swan.
Me only cruel immortality
Consumes; I wither slowly in thine arms,
Here at the quiet limit of the world,
A white-hair’d shadow roaming like a dream
The ever-silent spaces of the East,
Far-folded mists, and gleaming halls of morn.
Alas! for this gray shadow, once a man–
So glorious in his beauty and thy choice,
Who madest him thy chosen, that he seem’d
To his great heart none other than a God!
I ask’d thee, “Give me immortality.”
Then didst thou grant mine asking with a smile,
Like wealthy men who care not how they give.
But thy strong Hours indignant work’d their wills,
And beat me down and marr’d and wasted me,
And tho’ they could not end me, left me maim’d
To dwell in presence of immortal youth,
Immortal age beside immortal youth,
And all I was in ashes. Can thy love
Thy beauty, make amends, tho’ even now,
Close over us, the silver star, thy guide,
Shines in those tremulous eyes that fill with tears
To hear me? Let me go: take back thy gift:
Why should a man desire in any way
To vary from the kindly race of men,
Or pass beyond the goal of ordinance
Where all should pause, as is most meet for all?

A soft air fans the cloud apart; there comes
A glimpse of that dark world where I was born.
Once more the old mysterious glimmer steals
From any pure brows, and from thy shoulders pure,
And bosom beating with a heart renew’d.
Thy cheek begins to redden thro’ the gloom,
Thy sweet eyes brighten slowly close to mine,
Ere yet they blind the stars, and the wild team
Which love thee, yearning for thy yoke, arise,
And shake the darkness from their loosen’d manes,
And beat the twilight into flakes of fire.
Lo! ever thus thou growest beautiful
In silence, then before thine answer given
Departest, and thy tears are on my cheek.

Why wilt thou ever scare me with thy tears,
And make me tremble lest a saying learnt,
In days far-off, on that dark earth, be true?
“The Gods themselves cannot recall their gifts.”

Ay me! ay me! with what another heart
In days far-off, and with what other eyes
I used to watch – if I be he that watch’d –
The lucid outline forming round thee; saw
The dim curls kindle into sunny rings;
Changed with thy mystic change, and felt my blood
Glow with the glow that slowly crimson’d all
Thy presence and thy portals, while I lay,
Mouth, forehead, eyelids, growing dewy-warm
With kisses balmier than half-opening buds
Of April, and could hear the lips that kiss’d
Whispering I knew not what of wild and sweet,
Like that strange song I heard Apollo sing,
While Ilion like a mist rose into towers.

Yet hold me not for ever in thine East;
How can my nature longer mix with thine?
Coldly thy rosy shadows bathe me, cold
Are all thy lights, and cold my wrinkled feet
Upon thy glimmering thresholds, when the steam
Floats up from those dim fields about the homes
Of happy men that have the power to die,
And grassy barrows of the happier dead.
Release me, and restore me to the ground;
Thou seest all things, thou wilt see my grave:
Thou wilt renew thy beauty morn by morn;
I earth in earth forget these empty courts,
And thee returning on thy silver wheels.

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Nov 192010
 

Conversation with Murasaki

Murasaki – I imagined
a dye the colour of mulberries.
A burnet moth’s underwing.

She brushes past Sei Shonagon.
Sleeves in tension.
Both brushes charged with silken resistance.

When she sang it was brocade.
When she modestly whispered,
a most delicate embroidery.

‘Her sash matched her robe.
But did you notice the lining of her sleeve?
I could have laughed all evening!’

The wisteria in its tub, whose ancient stem
and transient clusters you comprehended clearly,
but which you did not know how to prune.

How many such cultivated
and also promiscuous ladies
have I wished to have been acquainted with?

Late afternoon rain,
then sun on the raspberries –
I so wanted to show you.

How vulgar would you think it
to express my predilection
for these extra yellow quinces?

Please tell me: how, culturally, could we
be more different? Yet I, with minor, bemused
reservations, am drawn entirely to your aesthetic.

So many little rules.
How delicious to break one!
We’ll mend these fragments into something.

His long night’s escapade.
Does inherited custom demand
rupture of tradition?

Dilapidated mansion. Tangled thickets.
Behind a screen,
she waits for moon-rise.

Having sunk to this obscurity
she still plies the koto.
No one behind screens to listen.

Shut in from sunlight,
she keeps company with rain and music.
Wasting beneath powder.

What happens in the Genji?
Births, fixation, death and an eroticism by subterfuge
delayed tantalisingly by the complicated exchange of waka.

The plum which in the 16th century was
supplanted by the cherry. Aesthetically staggered,
do they now blossom in competition?

Lamp light. Moon-rise.
I look up. Does the moon, too,
say I?

The floating world.
We move within it.
It. We. Tangle and illusion.

High above the city, he searches out
two things that grow together:
wild herbs and the sutras.

It is comparatively simple to satisfy desire.
But to die without studying the sutras…
Still, it makes little difference.

A poignant meditation on the doctrine of the anicca.
Then all at once
they’re playing football.

Guarding against presenting things
only in the best possible taste,
thus he expressed an asymmetrical aesthetic.

A trunk that grew lichen.
A stone that happened to
lie on the mountain.

I know how loud and irregular noises
disturbed you. I too live
in your ideal silence.

To be old and still young.
At once female and male.
We are all one prison.

You would be astonished
at the squalor of European history.
But you would have liked Jane Austen.

Spirit possession.
The hysterical luxury
of existence as two people.

No longer even dust.
Your you became
someone else’s brush strokes.

Waley on his deathbed.
Neither he nor his space.
But now equal with not-you in north London traffic.

‘Genji was dead. And there was no one like him.’
Punks eat sushi.
Mono no aware. Lacrimae rerum.

These MSN and Myspace girls whose virtual selves
fire off keyboard fantasies: they, as with Genji’s
women, gossip apprehensively behind their screens.

There they all must be
in Ambitabha’s garden, where birds and rivers
sing unintelligibly in Sanskrit.

The Bridge of Dreams joins two absolute spaces.
We rush across the surface
not knowing where we were or where we’re headed.

Hokku faxed from a tobacconist.
Syllabically hopping,
to Tokyo they yo yo.

—————

Murasaki Shikibu was the 11th century author of The Tale of Genji, which contains almost a thousand classical verses. Sei Shonagon was her contemporary and the author of The Pillow Book.

Koto: a zither-like instrument
Waka: classical verses
Mono no aware: ‘the pitiful transcience of existence’
Anicca: impermanence
Ambitabha: the Buddha of the Western Paradise or Pure Land
Hokku: 17-syllable verse

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Nov 192010
 

Shatapatha-Brahmana, I, 8, 1-6.

1. In the morning they brought to Manu water for washing, just as now they continue to bring water for washing the hands. When Manu was washing himself, a fish came into his hands.

2. The fish spoke to him: “Protect me and I will save you!” “From what are you going to save me?” Manu asked. “A flood will carry away all everything: from that flood I will save you!” “How am I to protect you?” said Manu.

3. The fish said, “As long as we are small, there is great destruction for us: fish eat fish. You will first keep me in a jar. When I outgrow that, you will dig a pit and keep me in it. When I outgrow that, you will take me down to the sea, for then I shall be beyond destruction.”

4. It soon became a ghasha (a great fish), one that grows largest (of all fish). The great fish said, “In such and such a year that flood will come. You will then attend to me and by my advice prepare a ship and when the flood has risen you will enter into the ship, and I will save you from it.”

5. After Manu had reared the fish this way, he took it down to the sea. And in the same year which the fish had indicated to him, he followed the advice of the fish and built a ship. And when the flood had risen, he entered into the ship. The fish then swam up to him, and to its horn he tied the rope of the ship, and by that means he passed swiftly up to the northern mountains.

6. The fish then said, “I have saved you. Fasten the ship to a tree; but do not let the water cut you off while you are on the mountain. As the water subsides, you may gradually descend!” Accordingly Manu gradually descended and since then the slope of the northern mountain is called ‘Manu’s descent.’ The flood then swept away all creatures and Manu alone remained here.

Matsyavatara (The Fish Incarnation) [From the Bhagavata VIII]

There was an intermediate deluge. Brahma slept for a while and the demon Hayagriva stole the Vedas. Lord Vishnu noticed this and took the form of Fish. In the Dravida country, there was a pious King, Satyavrata by name. As he was making an offering of water in the Kritamala river, the Lord appeared as a tiny Fish in the water of his palm. The Fish began to grow, and wondering at this, the King went on transferring it from one container to another. The Fish, which had finally to be deposited in the sea, told him: “On the seventh day from now, all the worlds will become completely flooded; on the flood waters, a boat will come to you; embark in it with manifold herbs and seeds and surrounded by the seven great sages and every class of living beings; a strong gale will rock the boat, but tie it to my snout with the great serpent, and as you ask me questions, I shall expound to you then the glory of Myself, the Supreme Brahman.”

Accordingly the sea swelled as huge rain-clouds poured down incessantly, rolled on and engulfed the world; the boat appeared, and also the great Fish; to its single snout, Satyavrata tied the ark. Dragging the ark over the waters, the Lord as a Fish imparted to Satyavrata the teachings about Truth which were collected in the Purana known as the Matsya (Fish). After the waters of the deluge had subsided, the Lord slew the demon Hayagriva and restored the Vedas to Brahma, who had awoke from his slumber.

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Nov 192010
 

Here are five different translations of a poem by Sappho. New discoveries have resulted in a nearly complete poem from fragment 58 and these poems are based on this new text.

The Beat Goes On

You, children, be zealous for the
beautiful gifts of the
violetlapped Muses
and for the clear songloving lyre.

But my skin once soft is now
taken by old age,
my hair turns white from black.

And my heart is weighed down
and my knees do not lift,
that once were light to dance as
fawns.

I groan for this. But what can I do?
A human being without old age is
not a possibility.

There is the story of Tithonos,
loved by Dawn with her arms of roses
and she carried him off to the
ends of the earth

when he was beautiful and young.
Even so was he gripped
by white old age. He still has his
deathless wife.

— Translation by Anne Carson. Published in NYRB, October 20, 2005.


[You for] the fragrant-blossomed Muses’ lovely gifts
[be zealous,] girls, [and the] clear melodious lyre:

[but my once tender] body old age now
[has seized;] my hair’s turned [white] instead of dark;

my heart’s grown heavy, my knees will not support me,
that once on a time were fleet for the dance as fawns.

This state I oft bemoan; but what’s to do?
Not to grow old, being human, there’s no way.

Tithonus once, the tale was, rose-armed Dawn,
love-smitten, carried off to the world’s end,

handsome and young then, yet in time grey age
o’ertook him, husband of immortal wife.

— Translation by Martin West


Those violet-wearing Muses’ lovely gifts
and tuneful lyres enjoy, O maidens dear!

My own once tender body’s hard with age;
this hair once ebony is changed to white.

A heavy heart – and slow, these faltering knees
that once would whirl me, dancing, like some fawn.

But why complain, when nothing can be done?
Necessity decrees we all grow old.

Tithonus, loved by rose-armed Dawn, we’re told,
was carried by his love beyond the world:

comely, young – but Age still found him there
in time, despite his deathless wife’s intent.

— Translation by Noetica, 2005


Sappho to Her Pupils

Live for the gifts the fragrant-breasted Muses
send, for the clear, the singing, lyre, my children.
Old age freezes my body, once so lithe,
rinses the darkness from my hair, now white.
My heart’s heavy, my knees no longer keep me
up through the dance they used to prance like fawns in.
Oh, I grumble about it, but for what?
Nothing can stop a person’s growing old.
They say that Tithonus was swept away
in Dawn’s passionate, rose-flushed arms to live
forever, but he lost his looks, his youth,
failing husband of an immortal bride.

— Translation by Lachlan Mackinnon


Sappho and the Weight of Years

Girls, be good to these spirits of music and poetry
that breast your threshold with their scented gifts.
Lift the lyre, clear and sweet, they leave with you.

As for me, this body is now so arthritic
I cannot play, hardly even hold the instrument.
Can you believe my white hair was once black?

And oh, the soul grows heavy with the body.
Complaining knee-joints creak at every move.
To think I danced as delicate as a deer!

Some gloomy poems came from these thoughts:
useless: we are all born to lose life,
and what is worse, girls, to lose youth.

The legend of the goddess of the dawn
I’m sure you know: how rosy Eos
madly in love with gorgeous young Tithonus

swept him like booty to her hiding-place
but then forgot he would grow old and grey
while she in despair pursued her immortal way.

— Translation by Edwin Morgan

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Nov 192010
 

Dina Mehta says, “My blog is my Social Software and my Social Network“. Many bloggers, including Lilia Efimova, seem to share this feeling. Dina cites the richness of content of a blog compared to a profile pages on a networking cite as the primary reason. She also points to the various back-end tools that allow her to carry on an extended, public conversation with other bloggers. Lilia sees a balance between the two, appreciating the immediacy of information that a profile on a social networking site provides, but also the depth that comes from reading someone’s blog. She summarizes it by saying: “I’m thinking about YASNs and weblogs in terms of contact management (knowing whom and how you can reach) and relation management (knowing why you do it and why they would react). For networking you need both…”

I, too, appreciate the role of both. I do, though, see some limitations to blogging, particularly for the impending mass of mainstream users:

  • While blogging itself is fairly accessible, many of the back-end tools that allow that connectivity are not. Every new blogger will most surely end up pinging weblogs.com and blo.gs, but how many will learn how to properly use Trackback, properly join and ping the Blog Network, or set up different categories in their blog to ping the proper categories at Topic Exchange? The basics of posting and linking are easy enough, but the stuff that enables blogs to be really useful as social networking tools are still somewhat exclusive to the digerati.
  • Blog conversations are NOT egalitarian, as has been discussed recently by Joi Ito, Clay Shirky, Marko Ahtisaari, et al. I’m not saying that’s “wrong”, or “bad”, just “inaccessible” for most users, compared to the openness of a discussion forum or mailing list. With blogging, you simply have to work a lot harder to be heard by anybody.
  • Reading and writing blogs can be enormously time consuming. I appreciate the rich picture I can get of someone from reading their blog, but do I really want to do that with every single person I meet? It’s completely impractical. As we point out in our book, The 5 Keys to Building Business Relationships Online, the number of people in your network and the average strength of your relationships with them are inversely proportional, constrained by the time one is willing to spend building relationships. Furthermore, different people need different balances between numbers and strength of relationship. Someone selling $15 e-books needs more people at a much lower strength of relationship than someone selling $150,000 enterprise software. Blogs are great to have there to provide the depth when wanted/needed, but they’re not as useful as a purely exploratory tool.

Bottom line: I, too, see the role both can play in building a rich and diverse social network. If you’re primarily interested in deep, long-term relationships, then your blog should be your focal point, and the profiles in the various social networking sites merely additional points of presence to invite people into the richer communication of your blog. On the other hand, if your needs are more towards a broad visibility, not just among the blogging technorati, then less frequent blog posting and more time spent in group discussion in the social networks is a better strategy. If your relationship needs are far more focused, i.e., wanting to meet people, or people in specific roles at specific companies, then business-oriented social networking sites, not blogs, are the place to do that.

They can all be part of the mix, but the portion of your time and energy spent in each platform should be aligned with what your objectives are for social networking.

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