Sunday, December 10, 2017
Thursday, April 24, 2014
by David Shames
Sunday, June 30, 2013
Fortunately, many locals and concerned individuals and groups from Chile and around the world are working to defend it. The Fundación Futaleufú Riverkeeper is a Chilean foundation leading the fight to protect the watershed and its communities. For their inaugural digital newsletter, they asked me to translate parts of Pablo Neruda's poem, "The Rivers Emerge". It is from Canto General, his epic reinterpretation of the history of the Americas. As a construction worker told me once in Chile, as I was interviewing him for our Neruda documentary, "The importance of Canto General is that it shows us the history of the Americas from a different point of view, from the point of view of the people themselves, not the history told by the conquerors. Yes, we could call it the “history told by the conquered.” (For more on the documentary featuring that worker please see www.pablonerudafilm.com. He, the poem, and much more on Canto General and all that is discussed here in Mark Eisner's new biography, Neruda: The Poet's Calling)
The poem "The Rivers Emerge" comes at the beginning of the book, part of Neruda's pre-Colombian Genesis tale, where all is pure and man himself is the earth. Following his mythological vision of the creation of North and South America, this poem tells how the rivers emerged onto the surface of the earth, how intrinsically they and the land are bound together....
Coming of the Rivers
Beloved of rivers, assailed by
blue water and transparent drops,
apparition like a tree of veins,
a dark goddess biting into apples:
then, when you awoke naked,
you were tattooed by rivers,
and on the wet summits your head
filled the world with new-found dew.
Water trembled about your waist.
You were fashioned out of streams
and lakes shimmered on your forehead.
From your dense mists, Mother, you
gathered water as if it were vital tears,
and dragged sources to the sands
across the planetary night,
traversing sharp massive rocks,
crushing in your pathway
all the salt of geology,
felling compact walls of forest,
splitting the muscles of quartz.
Los ríos acuden
Amada de los ríos, combatida
por agua azul y gotas transparentes,
como un árbol de venas es tu espectro
de diosa oscura que muerde manzanas:
al despertar desnuda entonces,
eras tatuada por los ríos,
y en la altura mojada tu cabeza
llenaba el mundo con nuevos rocíos.
Te trepidaba el agua en la cintura
y te brillaban lagos en la frente.
De tu espesura madre recogías
el agua como láfrimas vitales,
y arrastrabas los cuaces a la arena
a través de la noche planetaria,
cruzando ásperas piedras dilitadas,
rompiendo en el camino
todo la sal de la geología,
cortando bosques de compactos muros,
apartando los músculos del cuarzo.
Translation from the Spanish by Waldeen, as published in Asymptoe Journal's blog
**New decade Jan 5, 2020 edit/update: the original 2013 post featured a translation I rendered somewhat on the fly to get it out for Futaleufú Riverkeepers and others after Leonardo DiCaprio's social media post about the 2016 victories in Patagonia's wild rivers. I believe I conveyed the meaning well enough, but I did it in haste. Recently, though, I read Jonathan Cohen's excellent piece on the writer and dancer Waldeen von Falkenstein, one of Neruda's first important English language translators. Published in Asymptote, not only does he feature her translation of the poem above, but points out the flaws in my rushed rendition.
Jonathan is a poet-translator and scholar I respect greatly. I also cherish his New Directions collection of William Carlos Williams' translations of Spanish and Latin American verse.
Unfortunately, the translation of mine that he read was hastily written and posted on the blog we had (maybe will still have going at) redpoppy.net and in this graphic by Futaleufú Riverkeeper as we were trying to quickly build on Leonardo DiCaprio's shout out about the 2016 victories defending Patagonia's wild rivers. I believe I conveyed the meaning well enough, but by not having the time, and failing more so to go back later to correct it--forgetting how what's posted on the web can stay forever. He was correct, and so I have replaced it, with the link to his article in Asymptote Journal with her translation that he has recovered.
He is correct in writing that, "Unlike Waldeen’s translation, the other translations, though close to the literal meaning of Neruda, are less than faithful to his work’s poetic quality, becoming prosaic." So I've replaced it, and hope you'll follow this link to Asymptote's exclusive first-ever publication of Waldeen's translation, recovered by Mr. Cohen, along with his rich essay about Waldeen's life and translation work, here.
(In my Neruda: The Biography of a Poet, I actually used Waldeen's translation of Neruda's seminal “Let the Rail-Splitter Awake” as it first appeared in English, in an awesome 1950 Masses & Mainstream volume)
-and alas, hopefully needing no translation, my gratitude again to people like Mr. Cohen selflessly working to recover and defend the richness of the legacy of the verse we have all inherited, along with those working to recover, preserve the wild living poetic powers of the rivers that Neruda sung about, Futaleufú Riverkeeper, Patagonia Sin Represas, Bernardo Reyes (and the NRDC) Patrick J. Lynch, Rocio Gonzalez, among, of course, so many others, and for that resonating shout-out and everything else he does for the earth, Leonardo DiCaprio.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
A prominent voice of the wide-open poetry movement that began in the 1950s, Lawrence has written poetry, translation, fiction, theater, art criticism, film narration, and essays. Often concerned with politics and social issues, Ferlinghetti’s poetry countered the literary elite's definition of art and the artist's role in the world.
In 1953, with Peter D. Martin, he founded City Lights Bookstore, the first all-paperback bookshop in the country, and by 1955 he had launched the City Lights publishing house.
The bookstore has served for half a century as a meeting place for writers, artists, and intellectuals. City Lights Publishers began with the Pocket Poets Series, through which Ferlinghetti aimed to create an international, dissident ferment. His publication of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl & Other Poems in 1956 led to his arrest on obscenity charges, and the trial that followed drew national attention to the San Francisco Renaissance and Beat movement writers. (He was overwhelmingly supported by prestigious literary and academic figures, and was acquitted.) This landmark First Amendment case established a legal precedent for the publication of controversial work with redeeming social importance. (taken from www.citylights.com)
In 2004, City Lights published The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems, which I edited, and includes translations from such great poets as Robert Hass and Forrest Gander. Lawrence wrote the preface.
Lawrence has given us permission to quote from his long title poem from the book, which is lyrical literary activism, using the power of poetry towards social change:
From the groundbreaking (and bestselling) A Coney Island of the Mind in 1958 to the "personal epic" of Americus, Book I in 2003, Lawrence Ferlinghetti has, in more than thirty books, been the poetic conscience of America. Now in Poetry As Insurgent Art, he offers, in prose, his primer of what poetry is, could be, should be. The result is by turns tender and furious, personal and political. If you are a reader of poetry, find out what is missing from the usual fare you are served; if you are a poet, read at your own risk—you will never again look at your role in the same way.
I am signaling you through the flames.
The North Pole is not where it used to be.
Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest.
Nemesis is knocking at the door.
What are poets for, in such an age?
What is the use of poetry?
The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.
If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this means sounding apocalyptic.
You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non-American, you can conquer the conquerors with words.
If you would be a poet, write living newspapers. Be a reporter from outerspace, filing dispatches to some supreme managing editor who believes in full disclosure and has a low tolerance for bullshit.
If you would be a poet, experiment with all manner of poetics, erotic broken grammers, ecstatic religions, heathen outpourings speaking in tongues, bombast public speech, automatic scribblings, surrealist sensings, streams of consciousness, found sounds, rants and raves--to create your own underlying voice, your ur voice.
If you call yourself a poet, don't just sit there. Poetry is not a sedentary occupation, not a "take your seat" practice. Stand up and let them have it.
Have wide-angle vision, each look a world glance. Express the vast clarity of the outside world, the sun that sees us all, the moon that stews its shadows on us, quiet garden ponds, willows where the hidden thrush sings, dusk falling along the riverrun, and the great spaces that open out upon the sea . . .high tide and the heron's call. . . . And the people, the people, yes, all around the earth, speaking Babel tongues. Give voice to them all.
You must decide if bird cries are cries of ecstasy or cries of despair, by which you will know if you are a tragic or a lyric poet.
If you would be a poet, discover a new way for mortals to inhabit the earth.
If you would be a poet, invent a new language anyone can understand.
If you would be a poet, speak new truths the world can't deny.
If you would be a great poet, strive to transcribe the consciousness of the race.
Through art, create order out of the chaos of living.
Make it new news.
Write beyond time.
Reinvent the idea of truth.
Reinvent the idea of beauty.
In the first light, wax poetic. In the night, wax tragic.
Listen to the lisp of leaves and the ripple of rain.
(C) Lawrence Ferlinghetti
For the rest of the poem, and the whole book, buy it at Lawrence's City Lights Books. There's also a podcast there of Lawrence reading a series of his thoughts on the book.