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Literature and Ideas

Returneth to Vomit

Head of a Dog (1930).

Angry Dog (ca. 1938–43).

Both watercolours are by Edvard Munch and based on his neighbour's dog, which he wasn't, I think, entirely enamoured with.

We all fuck up down here:
so many madmen run past
in pursuit of shadows that they're,
more often than not, impossible to tot.
We really ought to send them off to meet that dog that Aesop talked about.
It saw its prey was walking waterways,
so thought of nothing more than diving in to drown itself — and ended up
with both the prey and shadow splashed away.
Chacun se trompe ici-bas : On voit courir après l’ombre Tant de fous, qu’on n’en sait pas La plupart du temps le nombre.
Au Chien dont parle Ésope il faut les renvoyer. Ce Chien, voyant sa proie en l’eau représentée, La quitta pour l’image, et pensa se noyer ; La rivière devint tout d’un coup agitée. À toute peine il regagna les bords, Et n’eut ni l’ombre ni le corps.

Jean de La Fontaine (1621–1695)


The Sea of Sado by Shigeko Inoue (1945–).
The oasis of air
beneath the branching echo.

The oasis of ponds beneath the bright stars’ frond-furl.
The oasis of lips beneath a thicket of kisses.
El remanso del aire 
bajo la rama del eco. 

El remanso del agua 
bajo fronda de luceros. 

El remanso de tu boca 
bajo espesura de besos.

Federico García Lorca


A blindman stands still
under the balcony
beating an old rhythm
out of old cymbals.

Its dignified sadness
transfixes my heart,
which reverberates with
its own solemn sadness.

But why are his cloudy
eyes not downcast?
They’re empty, obscured.
And watch me cowedly.

What ardour’s enjoyed
behind those sockets?
What life-forceful resolve
disguises his voids?

He looks towards me —
through my marble
forehead — and sees
clandestine agonies:

I’m stuffed to the brim
with every torturous
thing that kills
me from within.
Un cieco è sotto il mio balcone:
suona su un vecchio cembalo una vecchia
danza. M'entra nel cuor, che vi si specchia,
la grazia triste della sua canzone.

Ma perchè innalza i torbidi occhi fissi
fino a me?... Sono vuoti; e pur s'asconde
non so che fiamma in quelle orbite fonde,
non so che viva, intenta ombra d'abissi.

Mi guarda: vede. — Vede, sulla mia
fronte di marmo, il mio segreto strazio:
quel che m'uccide e di cui pur mi sazio,
quel che mi seguirà nell'agonia.

Ada Negri (1870–1945)

Antarctic Rock

Over there is where everything ends
and does not end;
there, too, is the place
where everything begins.

Rivers fling themselves across the ice,
the snow and air betrothed.
No streets nor steeds to ride
or stroll. But for that building,
built out of rock.

Nobody lives in that castle.
Not even lost souls,
those that are haunted
by cold and the wind.

Over there is nothing but solitude,
the solitude of the world.
Which explains why the rock
became music itself.

It straightened its slender stature
and rose in order to scream
or to sing,
but then it stayed silent.

Only the wind,
scourge of the whistling
South Pole.

Only the blind
expanses of white
and the sound of a rainbird's cry
over the castle where nothing survives
but solitude.
Allí termina todo
y no termina:
allí comienza todo:
se despiden los ríos en el hielo,
el aire se ha casado con la nieve,
no hay calles ni caballos
y el único edificio
lo construyó la piedra.
Nadie habita el castillo
ni las almas perdidas
que frío y viento frío
es sola allí la soledad del mundo,
y por eso la piedra
se hizo música,
elevó sus delgadas estaturas,
se levantó para gritar o cantar,
pero se quedó muda.
Sólo el viento,
el látigo
del Polo Sur que silba,
sólo el vacío blanco
y un sonido de pájaro de lluvia
sobre el castillo de la soledad.

Pablo Neruda

The Soporific

Poppy Field in a Hollow near Giverny (1885) by Claude Monet.
Pick me the wild-born poppy
that grows in the wheatfield's shade.
Let them say that I’ve supped of the liquor
that closes grief-stricken eyes.

I’ve seen too much, and I’m tired
of dreams pursued by that dream.
Why must you keep me, you blood-
red season, away from the roses?

Ah, but what do shut eyelids need?
They need flowers that keep you asleep.
Cueillez-moi ce pavot sauvage 
Qui croît à l’ombre de ces blés : 
On dit qu’il en coule un breuvage 
Qui ferme les yeux accablés. 
J’ai trop veillé ; mon âme est lasse 
De ces rêves qu’un rêve chasse. 
Que me veux-tu, printemps vermeil ? 
Loin de moi ces lis et ces roses ! 
Que faut-il aux paupières closes ? 
La fleur qui garde le sommeil !

Alphonse de Lamartine (lines 11–20 of Les Pavots)

Today marks one hundred years since the armistice was signed and weapons slowly fell silent on what had been the battlefields of the First World War. The poppy signified the loss of life and offered a sanitised way of memorialising the massacres that had ended the lives of the millions (this owed much to the popularity of the poem In Flanders Fields by Canadian solider John McCrae). The poppy has also been associated with the lassitude and the sleepiness generated by its byproduct opium, especially since the time of the Romantic poets, who partook mostly in the form of laudanum, which was sold cheaply in working-class districts. The opioids were used as painkillers (and, in some cases, morale-boosters) in the trenches, a temporary escape from the wounds of war; non-medicinal use was banned in the UK by the DORA of 1916, following fears that soldiers would become too incapacitated to fight.