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音速 / 商禽

17 Dec

音速 / 商禽
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─悼王迎先

有人從橋上跳下來。
那姿勢零亂而僵直,恰似電影中道具般的身軀,突然,在空中,停格
了二分之一秒,然后才緩緩繼續下降。原來,他被從水面反彈回來的
自己在蹤身時所發出的那一聲淒厲的叫喊托了一下,因而在落水時也
祇有淒楚一響。

一九八七年八月二十八日 中和

Brian Turner: Elegy for Peter Hooper

17 Dec

ELEGY FOR PETER HOOPER

(novelist, poet, teacher, environmentalist)

 

A grey day in Greymouth and a gathering of people

most of whom I’ve never met and won’t again.

There’s scripture, hymns, eulogies and that undeniable

finality that never fails to reduce me to tears.

 

Time alone will fill the spaces your going’s opened up

like evening shadows stealing into the valleys

of the Grey and the Arahura that you knew and loved.

I’d like to think Westland’s laureate will one day

 

receive his due but doubt it, for writing that conveyed

a love of place, respect for people and other creatures,

and an unwavering faith in the force of patient instruction

has never been sexy in a land where cultural cringing’s

 

enduring. Add to that work which celebrated natural beauty,

advocated continuance and expressed a desire for peace,

and you were always going to be swimming against the tide.

Peter, with your calming goodwill, you were that rare

 

sort of man we call decent if not saintly. At your service

I was awash with memories and regrets

while up and down the Coast and over the mountains

a raw wind blew, and bells tolled wherever I turned.

 

Shingle ground on the shore like pebbles in a crop

and the wind off the Tasman badgered the flax

at the top of the beach where you gathered wood often.

Offshore, pickets of rain were driving into a slowly

 

heaving grey sea. I know you hoped for a longer life

in your green-painted wooden house

on the edge of the forest a kilometre or more

inland at Paroa, a stream talking constantly

 

within metres of your backdoor. Instead a friend

found you dead several days on the floor

under your bed, and it all seemed tragic and unfair,

the stingy absence of dignity or justice that fate

 

decreed for you. Now, asking Where to go from here?

and What more could I have done? – the one a puzzle,

the other futile – I think of the people who admired and maybe

even loved you, too, and never told you so because we seldom do.

 

  • from Taking Off (2001)

Calvino on Ovid’s Metamorphoses

21 Aug

This technique of metamorphosis has been studied by Sceglov in an extremely lucid and persuasive essay. ‘All these transformations’, saysSceglov, ‘concern the distinctive physical and spatial characteristics which Ovid usually highlights even in elements not subject to metamorphosis(“hard rock”, “long body”, “curved back”) . . . Thanks to his knowledge of the properties of things, the poet provides the shortest route for themetamorphosis, because he knows in advance what man has in common with dolphins, as well as what he lacks compared to them, and what theylack compared to him. The essential point is that since he portrays the whole world as a system made up of elementary components, the process of transformation — this most unlikely and fantastic phenomenon — is reduced to a sequence of quite simple processes. The event is no longer represented as a fairytale but rather as a collection of everyday, realistic facts (growing, diminishing, hardening, softening, curving, straightening, joining, separating etc.).’

Ovid’s writing, as described by Sceglov, appears to contain within itself the model, or at least the programme, for Robbe-Grillet at his most coldand rigorous. Of course such a description does not exhaust everything we can find in Ovid. But the important point is that this way of portraying(animate and inanimate) objects objectively, ‘as different combinations of a relatively small number of basic, very simple elements’ sums up exacdythe only incontrovertible philosophy in the poem, namely ‘that of the unity and inter-connectedness of everything that exists in the world, both thingsand living creatures’.

Setting out his cosmogony in the first book and his profession of faith in Pythagoras in the last, Ovid clearly wanted to provide this naturalphilosophy with a theoretical basis, perhaps to rival the by now remote Lucretius. There has been considerable discussion as to the weight oneshould attach to these professions of faith, but probably the only thing thatmatters is the poetic consistency of the manner in which Ovid portrays and narrates his world: namely this swarming and intertwining of events thatare often similar but are always different, in which the continuity and mobility of everything is celebrated.

Before he has even finished the chapter on the origins of the world and its early catastrophes, Ovid is already embarking on the series of loveaffairs that the gods have with nymphs or mortal girls. There are several constants in the love stories (which mostly occupy the liveliest part of thepoem, the first eleven books): as Bernardini has shown they involve love at first sight, overwhelming desire, no psychological complications, and demand an immediate resolution. And since the desired creature usually refuses and flees, the motif of the chase through the woods constandyrecurs; metamorphosis can occur at different times, either before (the seducer’s disguise), during (the pursued maiden’s escape), or afterwards(punishment inflicted by another jealous deity on the seduced girl).

Compared with the constant pressure of male desire, the instances of female initiative in love are rather rare; but to compensate, these are usuallymore complex desires, not sudden whims but real passions, which involve greater psychological richness (Venus in love with Adonis), often containa more morbid erotic element (the nymph Salmacis who when she sexually embraces Hermaphroditus blends into a bisexual creature), and insome cases are totally illicit, incestuous passions (such as the tragic characters Myrrha and Byblis: the way in which the latter realises her desirefor her brother, through a revelatory but upsetting dream, is one of the finest psychological passages in Ovid), or tales of homosexual love (Iphys), or of wicked jealousy (Medea). The stories of Jason and Medea open up right at the centre of the poem (Book 7) a space for a genuine romance tale,involving a mixture of adventure, brooding passion, and the ‘black’ grotesque scene of the magic philtres, which will resurface almost identically in Macbeth.

The move from one story to the next without any interval is underlined by the fact that – as Wilkinson points out – ‘the end of a story rarely coincideswith the end of a book. He will even begin a new one within the last few lines. This is partly the time-honoured device of the serial writer to whet thereader’s appetite for the next instalment; but it is also an indication of the continuity of the work, which should not have been divided into books atall, were it not that its length necessitated a number of rolls. Thisthen gives us the impression of a real and consistent world in which events which are usually considered in isolation interact with each other.
The stories are often similar, never the same. It is not by chance that the most heart-rending tale is that of the unlucky love of Echo (Book 3),doomed to repeat sounds, for the young Narcissus, who in turn is condemned to contemplate his own repeated image in the reflecting waters. Ovidruns across this forest of love stories which are all the same and all different, pursued by the voice of Echo resounding from the rocks ‘Coeamus!’‘Coèamus!’ ‘Coëamus!’ [1979]
Italo Calvino

Why Read theCLASSICS?
Translated from the Italian byMARTIN MCLAUGHLINTranslation copyright © 1999 by Jonathan Cape

pp. 34-35.

Ammons

9 Jun

Mansion

So it came time 
for me to cede myself 
and I chose 
the wind 
to be delivered to 

The wind was glad 
and said it needed all 
the body 
it could get 
to show its motions with 

and wanted to know 
willingly as I hoped it would 
if it could do 
something in return 
to show its gratitude 

When the tree of my bones 
rises from the skin I said 
come and whirlwinding 
stroll my dust 
around the plain 

so I can see 
how the ocotillo does 
and how saguaro-wren is 
and when you fall 
with evening 

fall with me here 
where we can watch 
the closing up of day 
and think how morning breaks

(A.R. Ammons, 1955)

a word written all in capitals

5 Jun

Further Question

Why do I ask where you are

if I’m not blind

and you’re not absent?

 

If I see you

go and come,

you, your tall body

ending in a voice

as a flame ends in smoke

in the air, untouchable.

 

And I ask you, yes,

and I ask you

what you’re made of

and whose you are

and you open your arms

and show me

the tall image of yourself

and say it’s mine.

 

And I go on asking, forever.

(Pedro Salinas, 1891-1951, Madrid. In W.S. Merwin, Selected Translations 1968-1978. New York: Atheneum, 1979, 17.)

 

A man spells out his tiredness.

All at once as he spells

he meets some strange capital letters,

unexpectedly alone,

unexpectedly tall.

They weigh more on the tongue.

They weigh more but they get away

faster and hardly

can they be spoken.

His heart crowds into the roads

where death is exploding.

And he meets, as he goes on spelling,

bigger and bigger capital letters.

And a great fear chokes him

of finding a word

written all in capitals

and not being able to pronounce it.

(Roberto Juarroz, 1925-1995, Argentina. Ibid., 35.)

Les Murray: Poems

30 May

Some favourite Les Murray poems.

Cockspur Bush

I am lived. I am died.
I was two-leafed three times, and grazed,
but then I was stemmed and multiplied,
sharp-thorned and caned, nested and raised,
earth-salt by sun-sugar. I was innerly sung
by thrushes who need fear no eyed skin thing.
Finched, ant-run, flowered, I am given the years
in now fewer berries, now more of sling
out over directions of luscious dung.
Of water crankshaft, of gases the gears
my shape is cattle-pruned to a crown spread sprung
above the starve-gut instinct to make prairies
of everywhere. My thorns are stuck with caries
of mice and rank lizards by the butcher bird.
Inches in, baby seed-screamers get supplied.
I am lived and died in, vine woven, multiplied.

The Fishermen at South Head

They have walked out as far as they can go on the prow of the continent,
on the undercut white sandstone, the bowsprits of the towering headland.
They project their long light canes
or raise them up to check and string, like quiet archers.
Between casts they hold them couched,
a finger on the line, two fingers on a cigarette, the reel cocked.

They watch the junction of smooth blue with far matt-shining blue,
the join where clouds enter,
or they watch the wind-shape of their nylon
bend like a sail’s outline
south towards, a mile away, the city’s floating gruel
of gull-blown effluent.

Sometimes they glance north, at the people on that calf-coloured edge
lower than theirs, where the suicides come by taxi
and stretchers are winched up
later, under raining lights
but mostly their eyes stay level with the land-and-ocean glitter.

Where they stand, atop the centuries
of strata, they don’t look down much
but feel through their tackle the talus-eddying
and tidal detail of that huge simple pulse
in the rock and their bones.

Through their horizontal poles they divine the creatures of ocean:
a touch, a dip, and a busy winding death gets started;
hands will turn for minutes, rapidly,
before, still opening its pitiful doors, the victim
dawns above the rim, and is hoisted in a flash above the suburbs
– or before the rod flips, to stand
trailing sworn-at gossamer.

On that highest dreadnought scarp, where the terra cotta
waves of bungalows stop, suspended at sky,
the hunters stand apart.
They encourage one another, at a distance, not by talk

but by being there, by unhooking now and then
a twist of silver for the creel, by a vaguely mutual
zodiac of cars TV windcheaters.
Braced, casual normality. Anything unshared,
a harlequin mask, a painted wand flourished at the sun,
would anger them. It is serious to be with humans.

Quintets for Robert Morley

Is it possible that hyper-
ventilating up Parnassus
I have neglected to pay tribute
to the Stone Age aristocracy?
I refer to the fat.

We were probably the earliest
civilized, and civilizing, humans,
the first to win the leisure,
sweet boredom, life-enhancing sprawl
that require style.

Tribesfolk spared us and cared for us
for good reasons. Our reasons.
As age’s counterfeits, forerunners of the city,
we survived, and multiplied. Out of self-defence
we invented the Self.

It’s likely we also invented some of love,
much of fertility (see the Willensdorf Venus)
parts of theology (divine feasting, Unmoved Movers)
likewise complexity, stateliness, the ox-cart
and self-deprecation.

Not that the lists of pugnacity are bare
of stout fellows. Ask a Sumo.
Warriors taunt us still, and fear us:
in heroic war, we are apt to be the specialists
and the generals.

But we do better in peacetime. For ourselves
we would spare the earth. We were the first moderns
after all, being like the Common Man
disqualified from tragedy. Accessible to shame, though,
subtler than the tall,

we make reasonable rulers.
Never trust a lean meritocracy
nor the leader who has been lean;
only the lifelong big have the knack of wedding
greatness with balance.

Never wholly trust the fat man
who lurks in the lean achiever
and in the defeated, yearning to get out.
He has not been through our initiations,
he lacks the light feet.

Our having life abundantly
is equivocal, Robert, in hot climates
where the hungry watch us. I lack the light step then too.
How many of us, I wonder, walk those streets
in terrible disguise?

So much climbing, on a spherical world;
had Newton not been a mere beginner at gravity
he might have asked how the apple got up there
in the first place. And so might have discerned
an ampler physics.

Poetry and Religion

Religions are poems. They concert
our daylight and dreaming mind, our
emotions, instinct, breath and native gesture

into the only whole thinking: poetry.
Nothing’s said till it’s dreamed out in words
and nothing’s true that figures in words only.

A poem, compared with an arrayed religion,
may be like a soldier’s one short marriage night
to die and live by. But that is a small religion.

Full religion is the large poem in loving repetition;
like any poem, it must be inexhaustible and complete
with turns where we ask Now why did the poet do that?

You can’t pray a lie, said Huckleberry Finn;
you can’t poe one either. It is the same mirror:
mobile, glancing, we call it poetry,

fixed centrally, we call it religion,
and God is the poetry caught in any religion,
caught, not imprisoned. Caught as in a mirror

that he attracted, being in the world as poetry
is in the poem, a law against its closure.
There’ll always be religion around while there is poetry

or a lack of it. Both are given, and intermittent,
as the action of those birds–crested pigeon, rosella parrot–
who fly with wings shut, then beating, and again shut.

An Essay on Man

26 May

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;

The proper study of Mankind is Man.

Plac’d on this isthmus of a middle state,

A Being darkly wise, and rudely great:

With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,

With too much weakness for the Stoic’s pride,

He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;

In doubt to deem himself a God, or Beast;

In doubt his mind or body to prefer;

Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err;

Alike in ignorance, his reason such,

Whether he thinks too little or too much:

Chaos of thought and passion, all confus’d;

Still by himself abus’d, or diasbus’d;

Created half to rise, and half to fall;

Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;

Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl’d;

The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!

–Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Man”, Second epistle, 1-18 (1734)