Sunday, February 13, 2011

Alfred Schnittke Polyphonicher Tango

Rilke: The Second Elegy



Every angel is terrifying. And yet, alas,
I sing to you, almost fatal birds of the soul,
knowing what you are. "Where are the days of Tobias,
when one of your most radiant stood at that simple doorway,
dressed for travel and no longer frightening
(to the youth who peered out curiously, a youth like him).
Were the archangel now to emerge from behind the stars
and take just one downward step this way:
our own thundering hearts would slay us. Who are you?

Favored first prodigies, creation's darlings, 
mountain ranges, peaks, dawn-red ridges 
of all genesis,—pollen of a flowering godhead, 
links of light, corridors, stairs, thrones, 
spaces of being, shields of rapture, torrents 
of unchecked feeling and then suddenly, singly, 
mirrors: scooping their outstreamed beauty 
back into their peerless faces.

For our part, when we feel, we evaporate; ah, we breathe
ourselves out and away; with each new heartfire
we give off a fainter scent. True, someone may tell us:
you're in my blood, this room, Spring itself
is filled with you ... To what end? He can't hold us,
we vanish within him and around him. And the beautiful ones,
ah, who holds them back? Appearance ceaselessly
flares in their faces and disappears. Like dew from the morning grass
what is ours rises from us, the way heat rises
from a steaming dish. O smile, going where? O upturned look:
new, warm, receding surge of the heart—;
alas, we are that surge. Does then the cosmic space
we dissolve in taste of us? Do the angels
reclaim only what is theirs, their own outstreamed essence,
or sometimes, by accident, does a bit of us
get mixed in? Are we blended in their features
like the slight vagueness that complicates the looks
of pregnant women? Unnoticed by them in their
whirling back into themselves. (How could they notice?)

Lovers, if they only understood, might speak wondrously
in the night air. For everything, it seems,
seeks to conceal us. Look: the trees exist, the houses
we dwell in stand there stalwartly. Only we.
pass by it all, like a rush of air.
And everything conspires to keep quiet about us,
half out of shame perhaps, half out of some secret hope.

You lovers, secure in one another, I ask you
about us. You hold each other. Have you assurances?
It sometimes happens that my hands
grow conscious of each other, or else my weary face
takes refuge in them. That gives me a slight
self-sensation. Yet who, from something so unwarranted,
would dare conclude, "I am"? You, though, who keep increasing
through the other's rapture, until, overwhelmed, each
begs the other: "No more"—; you who amid each other's hands
flourish like vines in vintage years;
you who disappear sometimes, only because the other
grows rampant; I ask you about us. I know
you touch so fervently because the caress preserves,
because the place you cover up, O tender ones,
doesn't disappear; because, underneath, you feel
pure permanence. Thus your embraces almost promise you
eternity. And yet, after you survive the terror
of the first look, and the long yearning at the window,
and that first walk-—the one walk-—-together through the garden:
lovers, are you still the same? When you lift yourselves
each to the other's lips—drink unto drink:
O how strangely the drinker slips from the sacrament.

Remember those Attic stelae, how amazed you were at the caution
of human gestures; at the way love and parting were
laid so lightly on their shoulders, as if made of other stuff
than in our lives? And their hands, how they touched
without pressure, even though such power resides in the torsos.
Those self-mastered ones knew: we can go this far;
this much belongs to us, to touch each other thus; the gods
can grip us more forcefully. The choice is theirs.

If only we too could find some defined, narrow, 
purely human place, our own small strip of fertile soil 
between stream and stone. For even now our heart 
transcends us, just as with those others. And no longer 
can we gaze after it into pictures that soothe, or 
into godlike bodies where it finds a grander restraint.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies, translated by Edward 
Snow, North Point Press, New York, 2000

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ronsard: Amour me tue

Amour me tue, et si je ne veux dire
Le plaisant mal que ce m'est de mourir :
Tant j'ai grand peur, qu'on veuille secourir
Le mal, par qui doucement je soupire.

Il est bien vrai, que ma langueur désire
Qu'avec le temps je me puisse guérir :
Mais je ne veux ma dame requérir
Pour ma santé : tant me plaît mon martyre.

Tais-toi langueur je sens venir le jour,
Que ma maîtresse, après si long séjour,
Voyant le soin qui ronge ma pensée,

Toute une nuit, folâtrement m'ayant
Entre ses bras, prodigue, ira payant
Les intérêts de ma peine avancée.

You think I can be cured?


THE fever confined me to my bed a week. When I was able to write I assured Madame Pierson that she would be obeyed, and that I would go away. I wrote in good faith, without any intention to deceive, but I was very far from keeping my promise. Before I had gone ten leagues I ordered the driver to stop, and I stepped out of the carriage. I began to walk along the road. I could not resist the temptation to look back at the village which was still visible in the distance. Finally, after a period of frightful irresolution, I felt that it was impossible for me to continue on my route, and rather than get into the carriage again, I would have died on the spot. I told the driver to turn around, and, instead of going to Paris as I had intended, I made straight for N-----, whither Madame Pierson had gone.

I arrived at ten in the night. As soon as I reached the inn I had a boy direct me to the house of her relatives, and, without reflecting what I was doing, at once made my way to the spot. A servant opened the door. I asked if Madame Pierson was there and directed him to tell her that some one wished to speak to her on the part of M. Desprez. That was the name of our village cure.

While the servant was executing my order I remained alone in a somber little court; as it was raining, I entered the hall and stood at the foot of the stairway which was not lighted. Madame Pierson soon arrived, preceding the servant; she descended rapidly, and did not see me in the darkness; I stepped up to her and touched her arm. She recoiled with terror and cried out:

"What do you wish of me?"

Her voice trembled so painfully, and when the servant appeared with a light, her face was so pale that I did not know what to think. Was it possible that my unexpected appearance could disturb her in such a manner? That reflection occurred to me, but I decided that it was merely a feeling of fright natural to a woman who is suddenly approached.

Nevertheless, she repeated her question in a firmer tone.

"You must permit me to see you once more," I replied. "I will go away, I will leave the country. You shall be obeyed, I swear it, and that beyond your real desire, for I will sell my father's house and go abroad; but that is only on condition that I am permitted to see you once more; otherwise I remain; you need fear nothing from me, but I am resolved on that."

She frowned and cast her eyes about her in a strange manner; then she replied, almost graciously:  
"Come to-morrow during the day and I will see you." Then she left me.

The next day at noon I presented myself. I was introduced into a room with old hangings and antique furniture. I found her alone, seated on a sofa. I sat down before her.

"Madame," I began, "I come neither to speak of what I suffer, nor to deny that I love you. You have written me that what has passed between us can not be forgotten, and that is true; but you say that on that account we can not meet on the same footing as heretofore, and you are mistaken. I love you, but I have not offended you; nothing is changed in our relations since you do not love me. If I am permitted to see you, responsibility rests with me, and as far as your responsibility is concerned, my love for you should be sufficient guarantee."

She tried to interrupt me.

"Kindly allow me to finish what I have to say. No one knows better than I, that in spite of the respect I feel for you, and in spite of all the protestations by which I might bind myself, love is the stronger. I repeat I do not intend to deny what is in my heart; but you do not learn of that love to-day for the first time, and I ask you what has prevented me from declaring it up to the present time? The fear of losing you; I was afraid I would not be permitted to see you, and that is what has happened. Make a condition that the first word I shall speak, the first thought or gesture that shall seem to be inconsistent with the most profound respect, shall be the signal for the closing of your door; as I have been silent in the past, I will be silent in the future. You think that I have loved you for a month, when in fact I have loved you from the first day I met you. When you discovered it, you did not refuse to see me on that account. If you had at that time enough esteem for me to believe me incapable of offending you, why have you lost that esteem?

That is what I have come to ask you. What have I done? I have bent my knee, but I have not said a word. What have I told you? What you already knew. I have been weak because I have suffered. It is true, madame, that I am twenty years of age and what I have seen of life has only disgusted me, I could use a stronger word; it is true that there is not at this hour on earth, either in the society of men or in solitude, a place, however small and insignificant, that I care to occupy.

The space enclosed between the four walls of your garden is the only spot in the world where I live; you are the only human being who has made me love God. I had renounced everything before I knew you; why deprive me of the only ray of light that Providence has spared me? If it is on account of fear, what have I done to inspire it? If it is on account of pity, in what respect am I culpable? If it is on account of pity and because I suffer, you are mistaken in supposing that I can cure myself; it might have been done, perhaps, two months ago; but I preferred to see you and to suffer, and I do not repent, whatever may come of it. The only misfortune that can reach me, is losing you. Put me to the proof. If I ever feel that there is too much suffering for me in our bargain, I will go away; and you may be sure of it, since you send me away to-day, and I am ready to go. What risk do you run in giving me a month or two of the only happiness I will ever know?"

I waited her reply. She suddenly rose from her seat, then sat down again. Then a moment of silence ensued.  "Rest assured," she said, "it is not so."  I thought she was searching for words that would not appear too severe, and that she was anxious to avoid hurting me.  "One word," I said, rising, "one word, nothing more. I know who you are, and, if there is any compassion for me in your heart, I thank you; speak but one word, this moment decides my life."

She shook her head; I saw that she was hesitating.

"You think I can be cured?" I cried. "May God grant you that solace if you send me away--"  
I looked out of the window at the horizon and felt in my soul such a frightful sensation of loneliness at the idea that I was going away, that my blood froze in my veins. She saw me standing before her, my eyes fixed on her, awaiting her reply; all of my life was hanging in suspense upon her lips.

"Very well," she said, "listen to me. This move of yours in coming to see me was an act of great imprudence; however, it is not necessary to assume that you have come here to see me; accept a commission that I will give you for a friend of my family. If you find that it is a little far, let it be the occasion of an absence which shall last as long as you choose, but which must not be too short. Although you said a moment ago," she added with a smile, "that a short trip would calm you. You will stop in the Vosges and you will go as far as Strasburg. Then in a month, or better, in two months you will return and report to me; I will see you again and give you further instructions."  

The Confessions of a Child of the Century

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Dowland: My thoughts are wing'd with hopes

Musset: Octave meets Brigitte

ONE evening, as I was walking under a row of linden-trees on the outskirts of the village, I saw a young woman come from a house some distance from the road. She was dressed simply and veiled so that I could not see her face; but her form and her carriage seemed so charming that I followed her with my eyes for some time. As she was crossing a field, a white goat, running at liberty through the grass, ran to her side; she caressed it softly, and looked about as though searching for some favorite herb to feed it. I saw near me some wild mulberry; I plucked a branch and stepped up to her holding it in my hand. The goat watched my approach with apprehension; he was afraid to take the branch from my hand. His mistress made a sign as though to encourage him, but he looked at her with an air of anxiety; she then took the branch from my hand and the goat promptly accepted it from hers. I bowed, and she passed on her way.

(...................................................................................................)

WE walked along without a word; the wind was lowering; the trees quivered gently, shaking the rain from the boughs. Some distant flashes of lightning could still be seen; the perfume of humid verdure filled the warm air. The sky soon cleared and the moon illumined the mountain.

I could not help thinking of the freakishness of chance, which had seen fit to make me the solitary companion of a woman, of whose existence I knew nothing a few hours before. She had accepted me as her escort on account of the name I bore, and leaned on my arm with quiet confidence. In spite of her distracted air, it seemed to me that this confidence was either very bold or very simple; and she must needs be either the one or the other, for at each step, I felt my heart becoming at once proud and innocent.

We spoke of the sick woman she had just left, of the scenes along the route; it did not occur to us to ask the questions incident to a new acquaintance. She spoke to me of my father, and always in the same tone I had noted when I first revealed my name--that is, cheerfully, almost gaily. By degrees, I thought I understood why she did this, observing that she spoke thus of all, both living and dead, of life and of suffering and death. It was because human sorrows had taught her nothing that could accuse God, and I felt the piety of her smile.

I told her of the solitary life I was leading. Her aunt, she said, had seen more of my father than she, as they sometimes played cards together after dinner. She urged me to visit them, assuring me a welcome.  
When about half-way home, she complained of fatigue and sat down to rest on a bench that the heavy foliage had protected from the rain. I stood before her and watched the pale light of the moon playing on her face. After a moment's silence, she arose and in a constrained manner observed:

"Of what are you thinking? It is time for us to think of returning."

"I was wondering," I replied, "why God created you, and I was saying to myself that it was for the sake of those who suffer."

"That is an expression, which, coming from you, I can not look upon except as a compliment."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because you appear to be very young."

"It sometimes happens," I said, "that one is older than the face would seem to indicate."

"Yes," she replied, smiling, "and it sometimes happens that one is younger than his words would seem to indicate."

"Have you no faith in experience?"

"I know that it is the name most young men give to their follies and their disappointments; what can one know at your age?"

"Madame, a man of twenty may know more than a woman of thirty. The liberty which men enjoy, enables them to see more of life and its experiences than women; they go wherever they please and no barrier restrains them; they test life in all its phases. When inspired by hope, they press forward to achievement; what they will, they accomplish. When they have reached the end, they return; hope has been lost on the route, and happiness has broken its word."

As I was speaking, we reached the summit of a little hill which sloped down to the valley; Madame Pierson, yielding to the downward tendency, began to trip lightly down the incline. Without knowing why, I did the same, and we ran down the hill, arm in arm; the long grass under our feet retarded our progress. Finally, like two birds, spent with flight, we reached the foot of the mountain.

"Behold!" cried Madame Pierson, "just a short time ago I was tired, but now I am rested. And, believe me," she added, with a charming smile, "you should treat your experience as I have treated my fatigue. We have made good time and will enjoy supper the more on that account."  

The Confession of a Child of the Century

Erik Satie: Je te Veux!