segunda-feira, setembro 28, 2015

Super Moon: Lunar Eclipse 28.09.2015

Setting up the equipment:

Camcorder Canon HD (15x zoom 4.1-61.5mm) for the recording;

(Borrowed) Nikon p600 (it belongs to the bridge/superzoom cameras, but it's not a reflex; the 60x=1440mm analogic zoom gives out powerful photos);

Skymaster Telescope (D = 90mm, F = 920mm): to "see" the men on the moon...

Before the fun started:




The fun started:

As I've recently read the Shakespeare sonnets, I can't help quoting 107 directly from Vasco Graça Moura's book:

Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come,
Can yet the lease of my true love control,
Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom.
The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured,
And the sad augurs mock their own presage;
Incertainties now crown themselves assured,
And peace proclaims olives of endless age.
Now with the drops of this most balmy time,
My love looks fresh, and Death to me subscribes,
Since, spite of him, I'll live in this poor rhyme,
While he insults o'er dull and speechless tribes:
   And thou in this shalt find thy monument,
   When tyrants' crests and tombs of brass are spent.

For those of us who know their Shakespeare, in King Lear we also have a "full moon":

"As I stood here below, methought his eyes
Were two full moons; he had a thousand noses,
Horns whelk’d and waved like the enridged sea:
It was some fiend; therefore, thou happy father,
Think that the clearest gods, who make them honours
Of men’s impossibilities, have preserved thee."

Of course, Othello knows all about the moon making "men mad":

What, now?
What? Just now?

It is the very error of the moon,
She comes more nearer earth than she was wont
And makes men mad."

I'm going to sleep content now...

domingo, setembro 27, 2015

Extreme Awfulness: "Make Me" by Lee Child

Published September 8th, 2015.

I'm going to write a pastiche à la Lee Child. It's going to be fun:

He looked at her.
She looked at him.
They both climbed up the stairs without saying a word to each other.
He said nothing.
He tried unlocking the door, but the key didn’t fit.
She looked at him again wondering what the hell was going on.
He said nothing.
He tried to force the door open with his huge and capable hands.
She looked at him with admiration.
He was finally able to open the door using a tooth pick he had picked up during dinner.
Without looking at him she walked through the door ahead of him.
He said nothing.
The hotel room was stuffy.
He hanged his immaculate shirt on a chair so as to be able to show off his chiseled body complete with bulging biceps and ripped abs.
She looked at him with an uncertain look.
He stretched and said nothing.
She averted her eyes embarrassed.
He stretched some more and kept on saying nothing.
She turned about and left the stuffy room.
He stretched some more this time with one hand behind his back.
He said nothing because he had no one to say anything to.
Instead he looked around and didn’t see her.
He wondered.
He said nothing but kept on thinking without saying nothing.
Should I get dressed?
I think I’m catching a chill.
No. Maybe a chilli would be nice.
Uhm. Nice France.
What? Where is she, he thought in wonder?
Why did she leave?
Did she go to Nice?

(*someone falling off a bed*)

NB: Even with my brain almost completely turned off, this time around I just simply couldn’t... I must try my hand at writing one of these. I believe they’d be a huge success as well…No “guilty pleasure” can withstand this extreme awfulness…

sexta-feira, setembro 25, 2015

Leadership is Like Sex: "Becoming a Technical Leader" by Gerald M. Weinberg

Published 1986.

“Over the years, the biggest lesson we have learned from our workshops is that becoming a leader is not something that happens to you, but something that you do.”

“Leadership is like sex. Many people have trouble discussing the subject, but it never fails to arouse intense interest and feelings.”

The essays in the book:

What is leadership anyway?
Models of leadership style
A problem-solving style
How leaders develop
But I can’t because.
The three great obstacles to innovation
A tool for developing self-awareness
Developing idea power
The vision
The first great obstacle to motivating others
The second great obstacle to motivating others
The problem of helping others
Learning to be a motivator
Where power comes from
Power imperfection and congruence
Gaining organizational power
Effective organizational problem-solving teams
Obstacles to effective organizing
Learning to be an organizer
How you will be graded as a leader
Passing your own leadership tests
A personal plan for change
Finding time to change
Finding support for change

I lead an IT Business Unit for almost 8 years (in a SAP R/3 environment). Some of what Weinberg talks about resonated with me. Weinberg’s approach is as much about therapy and self-help as leadership. The best part of it is when Weinberg explores the reasons why he’s even writing the book at all. “Introspection” is the keyword here and I agree with it. If one wants to be a leader, one has to be visualize it. It seems bullshit, but it really works. I can vouch for it... It’s not a snake oil pitch…

I’ll try some introspection as well and try enumerating why I like writing book reviews/essays:

  • Try something new -> App development for Android and Python
  • Keep on trying something new -> the blog serves this purpose (not being afraid to go outside my comfort zone, and try to incorporate something new in mind mindset, otherwise I risk getting overtaken by those who do)
  • Writing about stuff -> my blog serves this purpose
  • Learn about blogging -> my blog serves this purpose
  • Have a personal journal –> (Weinberg suggests that I should keep a journal, say five minutes per day, and use this to trace output as the starting point for debugging my life and work…I’ve done this on and off through the years. Maybe it’s time to do it more consistently.
  • Promote awareness by putting forth ideas -> my blog serves this purpose
  • Pipeline of things to do/done -> my blog serves this purpose

As you can see, the book is as much about patterns of influence and self-improvement as it’s about technical management. 

This people is excellent for people stuck in disempowering environments, and in the dysfunctional management behavior that creates them. To work in a successful ecosystem, there needs to be a culture of empowerment, support from the executive staff, and a set of definitions as to what we’re supposed to do.

On the other hand, having now been in the IT industry for some time I've seen many different things under the sun. I've a very particular idea on what it takes for someone to be a Technical Leader. The technical leader is rarely a person who has up-to-date skills. Many times someone moves his or her way up the chain to technical leader, perhaps having been an IT architect in "another life". 

Unfortunately in IT, technology moves really fast and things change damn quickly. If someone was a developer say 5 years ago and now primarily does technical leadership, well, things have changed greatly since this person did software development. But since the technical lead hasn’t done coding software or architecture for a while his or her skills are really frozen in time to when they last did either of the roles I mentioned. 

As an exception to this rule there are some technical leaders who actually keep up-to-date with skills, i.e., on the side they keep on practicing and learning new stuff. For my part, I always try to be on top of stuff technology-speaking, be it development, or other stuff. If one is not up to speed in terms of current technology trends what ends up happening is that the technical leader makes decisions for the practice that are based on old ideas. This greatly hurts the Praxis...

I've always thought the Technical Leader must have a lot of coding skills up his or her sleeve. In this case, God is not in the details, but in the code... At the end of each year every coder, engineer, or whatever you call yourself worth his or her salt should ask whether he or she's making adjustments to the structure of the solutions being developed and also constantly learning new coding techniques. 

The best developers and Systems Engineers are people constantly learning and incorporating those changes into new solutions and this should also be the case with technical leaders.

There are some extremely adjustable and great people to work with, but the majority are just "sticks-in-the-mud". Avoid them at all costs...

quinta-feira, setembro 24, 2015

To Sonnetate or not to Sonnetate, that is the Question: "Os Sonetos de Shakespeare" by William Shakespeare and Vasco Graça Moura

Published 2003.

NB: VGM = Vasco Graça Moura; "Os Sonetos de Shakespeare" = The Shakespeare Sonnets.

I’ve always wanted to read VGM’s take, not only because of the sonnets, but also because of VGM’s “translation”. What VGM did was not really a translation. Why? Read on.

Before I proceed with the review, it’s necessary to clarify that the system versification of English is different from the method used in Portuguese. In English, the prosodic unit is the foot, which contains a number of syllables; in the typical foot, there is only one stressed syllable. The most used by Shakespeare verse, the iambic pentameter, consists of five feet, each foot being one iamb - an unstressed syllable followed by a marked one. In the poetry of the Portuguese language, the verses are divided into syllables, some sharper, and other unstressed. Because in the iambic pentameter we have five feet of two syllables each, there is a rooted belief among translators and scholars of the English-speaking poems in pentameter verse should be translated into decasyllables, thus allowing a formal equivalence between the two systems. However, many translators have chosen the Alexandrine, on the grounds that the English is much more concise than the Portuguese and therefore to express all ideas contained in the original - that is, so there is semantic equivalence – we would need to use longer lines. From that point of view, the most important being: “In a poetic translation should we go for formal correspondence or semantics? Must we choose one of the two or can both be achieved?

Vasco Graça Moura’s translation has several glaring omissions, the most important of them occurring in verse eight from Sonnet 1, "Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel" translated as "cru inimigo de ti, teu ser desamas". There is nothing in the sonnet that can justify the inclusion of "Cru" (raw) in addition to "teu ser desamas". Another big glaring misinterpretation happens in the last verse: "To eat the world's due" becomes "Comas tu o devido"; I don’t understand to what/whom “devido” refers.

VGM made lots of lexical changes, and one of them seems to have been caused by another interpretation error: "buriest thy content", i.e., “bury your content” has been translated as "te enterras a contento". Strange choosing…

Every time I write about Shakespeare, I try putting into words why I love Shakespeare so differently than other writers.  I’ve read many of the plays year after year.  But I never tire of them, they never become familiar...they are always a visit to a mysterious world.  That world teaches me a great deal about people, all different kinds of people.  But it also teaches me all kinds of things about myself, all layers of myself as if I enter a Dream World, i.e, Shakespeare's Dreams.  But I also encounter spirits beyond this world.  Because of Shakespeare, I love fairies.  Sadly, our culture always reduces that word to homosexuality.  Shakespeare of course may have meant that interpretation on one level, he may also have been referring to alchemists or Rosicrucians.  But I also think that he, like Yeats, believed in a supernatural world, and knew people who saw "real" fairies and or practiced magic as in Prospero's Book.  So when I "enter" a Shakespearean play, it is like reading the Bible or the scriptures of other religions.  I know that I will have to stretch myself to deal with all the forces of the universe from the most ethereal and beautiful to the crass and stupid and crude.  Shakespeare asks us to explore the whole realms of all the universe, not just the ones where we feel comfortable.  And we are always exploring, in awe, discovering what is ultimately mysterious which neither we nor he can fully understand.  But he takes us by the hand and leads us into these amazing mysteries that show us what it means to be human...and divine...and evil...and in love, and in grief. 

During the last years, I finally realized that Shakespeare was writing most of his plays to an audience who had lived through the plague.  20,000 people died in London in just one year of plague.  I knew that fact, I guess, with my mind; but I finally allowed that grief into my heart.  Shakespeare was writing Romeo and Juliet and Midsummer Night's Dream perhaps after his own 11 year old son had died, Judith's twin, Hamnet.  So he writes these plays to try to resurrect his own son, to give life to his only son. Shakespeare gives these plays to an audience filled with grieving mothers and husbands and brothers and friends who have lost people on the level of English people in a war like WWII.  These people are learning how to live in the midst of grief which shakes the foundations of their lives.  Maybe that is why I always feel I am in a mystery, confused, needing jokes, and yet horrified by cruelty and transported as if by magic.  I am never clear about what Shakespeare thinks.  But I know that I am at the foundation of all life when with Lear I hold Cordelia in my arms.  And no one, not even death or a stupid government or religious wars can ever take her from me...never, never, never, never, never.  The pentameter rocks us like a lullaby in our inconsolable grief until we find rest.
Reading the 154 sonnets in a row, I've been thinking over the last week about the very transparent link between the second balcony scene in R & J and two sonnets -- 50 -- 51 ("How heavy do I journey on my way..." and "Thus can my love excuse the slow offence..."). It is almost as though Romeo could have written both sonnets as he was fleeing to Mantua -- both knowing that he has to be hasty, and hating the speed, and imagining the speed and joy with which he would be returning one day... They are also connected by the idea of "relativity of time" (Juliet says in the second balcony scene: I must hear from thee every day in the hour,  For in a minute there are many days -- and that variable perception of time depending on the state of mind is also the theme of the sonnets).
I thought I'd just type in one of my favourite Shakespeare sonnet.  I'll type it from memory in hopes that any mistakes I make might be helpful in pointing out where I might be misreading the lines (perhaps stressing the wrong syllables, or getting the rhymes wrong:

Sonnet 33

Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye
Kissing with the golden face the meadows green
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face
And from the forlorn world his visage hide
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace.
Even so, my sun one early morn did rise
With all triumphant splendor on my brow,
But out alack! he was but one hour mine:
The region cloud has masked him from me now.
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth,
Suns of the world may stain when heaven's sun staineth.

As I said, I've often wondered whether this particular sonnet is about Shakespeare's son, Hamnet. I have no “evidence” to support this idea, but the possible pun in line 9, as the sonnet makes a shift, the pun on sun/son, is one of the most common puns throughout Shakespeare's plays (the man never thought of a pun he could resist writing down).  If the sonnets were written in the early 1590s, as is usually thought, the timing would be right.  Hamnet died in 1596, at the age of 11.  One of the most beautiful passages in all of Shakespeare, from the play King John, is sometimes thought to be the father's tribute to that son:

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief? 

Prologue to Act II, begins:

"Now old desire doth in his death bed lie,
And young affection gapes to be his heir;
That fair, for which love groan'd for, and would die,
With tender Juliet matched, is now not fair."

Etc. (read it, read it read it!)

Being a lover of Shakespeare's sonnets, I was mesmerised by the very beautiful ("unpublished") sonnet that is the Prologue to Act II. Reading VGM’s decisions, I also decided to take this sonnet and appraise it.
This sonnet is expressive, powerful and magnificent. It describes succinctly how Romeo and Juliet have progressed from previous loves and family feuds (as "foe") to where they are now.
It also explains their dilemma (as foe) and why neither wants to give a firm commitment of love (at the start) - "Being held as foe, he may not have access". Juliet with "means much less" needs another ploy to meet with Romeo to discuss their plans. We find she uses the nurse as her agent.
This prolonged agony and exchange is the making of the romantic drama that follows.
How much simpler (but a much poorer story) it would have been had Romeo just jumped up on the balcony, embraced her and they had eloped (galloped off into the sunset!).

And my attempt at sonnetering using the iambic pentameter:

Poor Manuel is disappointed,
A car break-down on the way
His introduction to Shakespeare goes un-anointed,
But Stratford-upon-Avon is there to stay.
Man you need to persevere,
Life's too short for frustration.
So get your act into gear,
Following Shakespeare is your station.
Shakespeare is performed everywhere
There is no need to pine and stare.
Jump on the internet, go to a movie
These formats can be quite groovy.
There's no need to let disappointment survive
Get out and let your enthusiasm thrive.
(A sonnet by any other name would smell as sweet!)

Reading the sonnets the question I always pose to myself is not why did Shakespeare use the iambic pentameter, but rather why he did in some verses break the pattern. Does this matter? Who cares if one syllable or another is stressed? What difference does it make if one line rhymes and another doesn't? Reading the 154 sonnets in a row can reveal particular meanings and emphases, particularly when there is a variation. If one looks at the line opening of sonnet 66: "Those lips that Love's own hand did make", I noticed that the first word begins with a stressed syllable, breaking the usual pattern. What did he want to say by drawing our attention to the pattern here? Perhaps we are supposed to feel how truly in love the speaker of this line is. Who knows?

5 stars for the sonnets. 3 stars for the translation. 4 stars overall.

And the question remains:

To sonnetate or not to sonnetate, that is the question.

Vasco Graça Moura's Day.

quarta-feira, setembro 23, 2015

Red Poetry: "Praça da Canção" by Manuel Alegre, José Rodrigues (drawings), Paula Morão (introduction)

Published 2007.

Trova do vento que passa

Pergunto ao vento que passa
Notícias do meu país
E o vento cala e desgraça
O vento nada me diz.

Pergunto aos rios que levam
Tanto sonho à flor das águas
E os rios não me sossegam
Levam sonhos deixam mágoas.

Levam sonhos deixam mágoas
Ai rios do meu país.
Minha pátria à flor das águas
Para onde vais? Ninguém diz.

Se o verde trevo desfolhas
Pede notícias e diz
Ao trevo de quatro folhas
Que morro por meu país.

Pergunto à gente que passa
Por que vai de olhos no chão.
Silêncio – é tudo o que tem
Quem vive na servidão.

Vi florir os verdes ramos
Direitos e ao céu voltados.
E a quem gosta de ter amos
Vi sempre os ombros curvados.

My attempt at translating the first 6 stanzas into German:

Kleines Lied vom vorüberwehenden Wind

Ich bitte den vorüberwehenden Wind
Um Nachricht vom meinem Land.
Der Wind verschweigt das Unglück,
Der Wind verrät mir nichts.

Ich frage die Flüsse, auf denen
So viele Träume treiben.
Die Flüsse beruhigen mich nicht,
Sie nehmen meine Träume, lassen mir den Schmerz.

Sie nehmen meine Träume, lassen mir den Schmerz,
Ihr Flüsse meines Landes,
Ach, mein Heimatland am Saum des Wassers.
Wohin du treibst, das sagt mir keiner.

Wenn du den grünen Klee entblätterst,
So bitte ihn um Nachricht.
Dem vierblättrigen Klee gibt zu verstehen,
Ich sterbe für mein Land.

Ich frage die, die mir begegnen,
Warum sie ihre Augen senken.
Sie schweigen, das ist alles, was dem bleibst,
Der in der Knechschaft lebt.

Ich sah die grünen Zweige blühen
Dem hImmel zugewandt und ganz gerade.
Jedoch, wer Herren über sich erträgt
Den sah ich immer mit gebeugten Schultern.

Translation has always been a passion.

As I was translating this poem from Portuguese into German, Novalis came to mind. For him there are three types of translation: grammatical, mythical, and modifier. The grammatical translations would be the translations in the usual sense. They have pots of erudition, but only discursive capacities are at stake. Mythical translations are the ones requiring a style at its most elevated level, and they present us with the most perfect character of the work at hand. They don’t give us the perfect work of art, but rather its ideal. On the other hand, with the modifying translations we have, when authentic, the supreme depiction of the poetical spirit. In fact, the translator using this type of translation must be a poet as well, in order to be able to give us the idea of the whole in several forms, i.e., the poet-translator must be the Poet of the Poet, and simultaneously be able to let the alter-ego speak according to his or her own idea, as well as portraying the idea of the poet in translation.

I’ve never been either a Poet or a translator. That pretension is not mine. This was a translation by an Engineer, not by a writer. For me translation is something I do to be able to get closer to the Thing I’m reading. It’s one of the techniques I use when I’m close-reading something. The higher the degree of inter-penetration between me and the work of the author, the more I’m able to write about it. That’s the reason a lot of my book reviewing is interspersed with translations.

In this aspect I feel closer to German than English. I see my time rendering one language into another as hours out of the world, alone with fascination with language, with the German language, and the author at hand. With English I’m not able to do that. I’ve always thought German is the ideal language to express thought. My paradigm is the beauty of the diction by Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, or Andreas Scholl. Of course when one goes to the German of Austria, what I hear around me not always matches the paradigm of absolute perfection...

NB: "Praça da Canção" = Song Square.

segunda-feira, setembro 21, 2015

I sing therefore I am: "One Day, One Choir - Singing for World Peace"

Following on the footsteps of last year's celebration, this world-wide singing event, this time taking place in Portugal at Campo Grande's Church, happened once again, also with the participation of our own choir of "N. S. do Amparo" (see picture above with N. S. do Amparo's choir members, myself included).

When I sat down to write this post I kept wondering. Why do I love choir singing? Does the question make any sense at all? Do I ask myself why I walk and talk and eat? Maybe the question should be "Why shouldn't I love singing in a choir" instead. For me singing sacred songs is first and foremost a way of giving voice to a strong emotion and sharing it with the world. On top of that, choir singing makes me feel good in several ways: lots of times when I’m engaged in something physical and enjoyable like walking, cycling or singing the oxytocin is released in my blood stream and I get "high"...I believe singing should be part of the national health service...Another reason for loving singing with others is that singing this way creates something which is greater than the individuals involved. This is one of the cases wherein the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Last but not least, and because music came before language, music and singing in particular it's a fundamental aspect of the human condition, encoded into our human genome. We all feel the drive to sing, but not all of us feel prepared to break down barriers.  I started singing as a tenor when I met my wife, who's a wonderful contralto, and I never looked back.

When I hear Scholl singing Händel's "Ombra mai fu" (I've had the pleasure of hearing Scholl singing live several times, the last time in 2012 at Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, and he always delivers the goods...), we can understand why singing is one of the most important human endeavours. On hearing Bach I feel as if I am now fully satisfied since I have seen my Redeemer...Wenn ich Bach höre, bringt es mir die Tränen in die Augen...

At the end of the event, and as bonus, we had a free style performance at the organ by none other than Professor Leonor Cadete. Father Feytor Pinto commented at the time he didn't know he had a pipe organ in his church capable of producing such a strong and full of emphasis sound...

This year's event recording hasn't been made available yet. To whet one's appetite, here's "Laudate Dominum" from last year's performance. Also the full event can be found here.
NB: Rilke expressed it beautifully: "Gesang ist Dasein".

domingo, setembro 20, 2015

The Meaning of Poetry: "Folhas Caídas e Flores sem Fruto" by Almeida Garrett

Published 2014 (reprint).

"Folhas Caídas e Flores sem Fruto" = Fallen Leaves and Fruitless Flowers".

Almeida Garrett (1799 – 1854)

Barca Bela

Pescador da barca bela,
Onde vais pescar com ela,
Que é tão bela,
Oh pescador?

Não vês que a última estrela
No céu nublado se vela?
Colhe a vela,
Oh pescador!

Deita o lanço com cautela,
Que a sereia vanta bela…
Mas cautela,
Oh pescador!

Não se enrede a rede nela,
Que perdido é remo e vela
Só de vê-la,
Oh pescador.

Pescador da barca bela,
Inda é tempo, foge dela,
Foge dela,
Oh pescador!

At school learned a lot of things: running in the hallway, eating crap, dangling pencils from my nose, pop my gum, fake a burp, paraphrase and summarize. Once in a while I also got acquainted with some poetry. "Barca Bela" was one of those poems I used to know by heart. Not anymore. Let me say straight away that I learned poems at school at a very young age. When I was at the primary school we did at least a poem a week from the very beginning. That was the way for me to know a lot of Portuguese poetry. It was nice to get myself reacquainted now with this poem and with a lot of Garrett's poetry as well (Along the years Garrett's poetry was never one of my favourites). I still remember my first contact with poetry at school. I had to learn by heart one of the verses from this poem. After toiling for some time, I got to recite it in class. I remember the teacher asking me what it meant, and I also remember what I said: "Mas professora, a poesia não significa nada." ("But teacher, poetry doesn't mean a thing"). What do I think about Poesy now and Garrett's poetry in particular? I've never assumed that there is such a thing as the meaning of a poem. Nor have I ever assumed that poems contain the same species of meaning sentences do, or that meaning in poetry consists in the making of a kind of statement, i.e., the laying out of discrete bits of information. Is it the metaphoric thing? Nope. I've never thought metaphors have anything to do with it poetry-wise (I could mention a few poems without metaphors; this alone made skeptical of the very idea). On top of that I've always thought metaphors can be embarrassing (like jokes do) because sometimes no one gets them...So, what's the deal with poems? For me it's not important what a poem means. What is really important is that figuring out a poet's true purpose is impossible. For me what really matters is what we do with a poem. And not what it means. It goes without saying that the more I know a particular author (Shakespeare comes to mind), the more I'll be able to enjoy his work.  That's one of the reasons I enjoy translating poetry. It allows me to get in closer contact with what the poet is trying to "convey".

Wonderful poetry always begs me to include pieces of myself in the way I interpret a poem. That's the way it should be (I'm not including here the so-called "modern poetry", which is a different beast altogether).

And here’s my attempt at translating “Barca Bela” into German, using my favourite language for translating the untranslatable:

Schönes Boot

Fischer mit dem schönen Boot,
Wohin fährst du fischen?
Denn es ist so schön,
Oh Fischer!

Siehst du, wie der letzte Stern
Sich im Dunst verschleiert?
Hol die Segel ein,
Oh fischer!

Wirf das Netz behutsam aus!
Denn die Nixe singt so schön…
Ganz behutsam,
Oh Fischer!

Wenn sie sich im Netz verfängt,
Sind verloren Ruder und Segel
Schon bei ihrem Anblick,
Oh Fischer!

Fischer mit dem schönen Boot,
Noch ist Zeit. Drum flieh vor ihr,
Flieh vor ihr,
Oh Fischer!

NB: I’ll leave to you, dear reader, the interpretation of the poem. I know what it means to me. But what is really important is what it means TO YOU. “Barca Bela” is still one of favourite poem in Portuguese. The rest of Garrett’s poetry not so much. Romantic poetry, as far I’m concerned, needs something more…

sexta-feira, setembro 18, 2015

Gesang ist Dasein: "Rilkeana" by Ana Hatherly

Published 1999.

In the past I’ve bought this book two times. Last week I bought it again, for the third and last time. I lent the other two, but for the life of me I cannot remember to whom they went. The one I’ve just bought won’t leave home…

Every time I read this book (I’ve read it several times) I always come back to Rilke (no surprise there…). But more than coming back to Rilke, I always wonder what Poesy does for me that Prose doesn’t. What does it represent, i.e., what kind of world does it depict, and what kind of operational forms does it use to transform our everyday experience into something esthetic pleasing, and so forth. I’ve looked for the answer everywhere (and I mean really everywhere: poets, in the poesy itself, interviews with poets, etc.) After this “quest”, I came back to Rilke, i.e., I decided to drop anchor. I’ve re-read Rilke several times, in several languages (in German most and foremost, but also in English, and in Portuguese). Reading Rilke, Trakl, Heine fell into disuse. Not to me. They’re not “fast food” poesy-wise. Their digestion is difficult and they don’t leave us at rest with the world. When I read them I’m not exactly looking for Daseinsfreude, the joy of the days to come. What I find in Rilke is a poet who traverses the ruins and debris to find the sublime greatness of the human soul. They are the poets of misery, sadness, impotence, terror, anguish, and darkness. We all have a few of those within ourselves…

In Portugal Rilke has always been a major influence: Sophia de Mello Breyner e Andresen, António Ramos Rosa, Herberto Helder, Fiama Hasse Pais Brandão, and Fernando Guimarães to name just a few. For a People worshipping Fado, that’s to be expected.

In the Elegies we have those ethereal beings we call angels. In our western tradition they represent the redemption of Man. They save us, they pick up our debris and what's left of us. And yet, these angels, who are the mediators between life and death, the invisible (transcendence) and the visible (Earth), are also terrible beings because they carry within themselves an intrinsic darkness. Rilke's angels celebrate existence and language through the only way available to them: the singing ("Gesang ist Dasein"). In Rilke Singing and Being are merged. This merging is what allows me to find a door into Rilke's poesy. The language of Poesy should be nothing but mystic in its essence. Why? We can only be "saved" through the use of poetic language, aiming at the wholesomeness of our nature, i.e., at an absolute and redeeming utterance-ness of being.

Hatherly was able to produce echoes of Rilke in Portuguese in a way I haven’t seen done before. In a very Rilkean way, she uses the beginnings of the 10 Elegies to sort of deviate, but not really doing it in the end.

Rilke’s 10 line beginnings that Hatherly uses to “deviate from/recreate” his poesy:

-          Wer, wenn ich schriee (I)
-          Jeder Engel ist schrecklich (II)
-          Eines ist, die Geliebte zu singen
-          O Bäume lebens
-          Wer aber sind sie, sag mir, die Fahrenden
-          Feigebaum, seit wir lange schon ists mir bedeutend
-          Werbung nicht mehr, nicht Werbung, entwachsene Stimme
-          Mit alle Augen sieht die Kreatur das Offene
-          Warum, wenn es angeht, also die Frist des Daseins
-          Dass ich dereinst, an dem Ausgang der grimmigen Einsicht

She also translates into Portuguese “Die Engel/The Angels/Os Anjos” (from the book “Das Buch der Bilde/o Livro das Imagens”):

Todos têm uma boca lassa
E as claras almas sem limites.
E em seus sonhos por vezes perpassa
Uma saudade (talvez de pecado).

Quase todos parecidos uns com os outros
Nos jardins de Deus estão calados
Como se fossem inúmeros intervalos
Em sua força e sua melodia.

Mas quando desdobram suas asas
Despertam uma tal vibração
Como se Deus com sua vasta criadora mão
Folheasse o obscuro Livro do Início.

The original written by Rilke is much prettier:

Sie haben alle müde Münde
und helle Seelen ohne Saum.
Und eine Sehnsucht (wie nach Sünde)
geht ihnen manchmal durch den Traum.

Fast gleichen sie einander alle;
in Gottes Gärten schweigen sie,
wie viele, viele Intervalle
in seiner Macht und Melodie.

Nur wenn sie ihre Flügel breiten,
sind sie die Wecker eines Winds:
als ginge Gott mit seinen weiten
Bildhauerhänden durch die Seiten
im dunklen Buch des Anbeginns.

My attempt at translating directly from German into English for the benefit of my English-speaking friends:

The Angels

They all have tired mouths
And bright, boundless souls.
And a longing (as if for sin)
Sometimes goes through their dream.
They all nearly look alike;
In God’s Garden they are quiet,
Like many, many intervals
In his strength and melody.
Only when they spread their wings
Are they wind awakeners:
As if God with his wide sculptor’s hands
were browsing through the pages
of the dark book of beginnings.

Can it get any better than this?

quinta-feira, setembro 17, 2015

Infant, Schoolboy, Lover, Soldier, Justice, Pantaloon, and Oblivion: “Soul of the Age” by Jonathan Bate

Published 2009.

There are devotees of Wagner, Madre Teresa, and Cristiano Ronaldo; my fate has been Shakespeare.

“I like to think that Shakespeare would have adopted a similar procedure if he had been commissioned to write his own biography,” says Bate. Uhm…Really? Narcissism on Bate’s part? Maybe only someone with Bate’s background would be able to tackle a project of this magnitude. The “seven ages” approach allows Bate to make absorbing inferences about Shakespeare’s life, motives, and work, while being cognizant of the speculative nature of his endeavour.

This was one of the books that slipped through my fingers when it came out in 2009.

What did I love the most about Bate’s book? His ability to go on tangents, but not going too far off topic. His inclination to ramble needs to be balanced with editing, basically. His tendency is to go way too far … He loves the Proustian, circling sentence. But that’s this ability that makes it a joy to read him when it comes to writing about Shakespeare. One gets so immersed in this way of writing that sometimes it’s difficult to come out of it to breathe…His writing is not about soundbites, like much of writing about Shakespeare. Bate’s was able to throw light into the extraordinary effect that Shakespeare’s works have had on us and on other creative artists down the ages.

This one of the few books about Shakespeare wherein I was able see him as one of the many writers in 16th/17th Century England. Immersion is the keyword here. All those little details about Shakespeare's England, allowed me to place him firmly in his time: on top of that, the book works well also when it shows him to be a chronicler of his time.  I've always thought about Shakespeare as being perhaps not just the best writer of our times, but also as the best mirror to his own (and our) time, without blocking the view with his own image.  I've written extensively about this elsewhere. Shakespeare is within his world, and yet surprisingly intellectually and philosophically detached from it; his work can show it to us, and paint a picture of our human nature, and yet it does not include his own views and preferences in it.

Bate's discussion of love in Shakespeare (the sonnets in particular; I'm thinking of re-reading Vasco Graça Moura's bilingual edition, just to refresh my memory, and enjoy two wonderful poets communicating with each other), is one of the best I have ever read, his digression on Plutarch’s Parallel Lives if one wants to know where Shakespeare learned about Roman history (Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus), his take on the importance of Ovid’s storytelling ability to Shakespeare’s own writing (using Bate’s words, Shakespeare “filched” some of Golding’s linguistic jewels from the English version), his brilliant analysis of how King Lear enacts a criticism of traditional rationalistic tenet on the subject of suffering is nothing short of masterful, his reading on Montaigne, "True translation, Montaigne implies, is an art less of philological exactitude that of creative conversation. The true translator 'ins' or enters the imagination of the foreign author in order to convey the 'idea' of him (in the platonic sense of the word), while at the same time he produces 'closely-jointed' sense and pithy phraseology that is worthy of his own language.”  (Vasco Graça Moura once again comes to mind, when I think about his renderings into Portuguese from German and English), his reading on Hamlet based on Montaigne’s writings, “[sex] is a matter everywhere infused; and a Centre whereto all lines come, all things looke” (I must get my hands on Florio's translation of  Montaigne).

The comparison between Lope de Vega and Shakespeare came also as a surprise. Just for this fact alone it was worth reading Bate’s book. He makes a very strong case for the contingencies of life. In another universe should we be talking about a Spanish “Shakespeare” instead of an English one? This is one of my recurring themes when it comes to Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s originality was not about voicing the commonplace ideas of his age and reason, but it was all about his invention in terms of turning those “ideas” into literature/theatre.

When I thought there's nothing under the sun, a book like this one comes along. It showed me something different about Shakespeare and his England, even if I thought I'd read most of it before, like I have. Making lush connections between Shakespeare’s plays, what we know of his life, and the beliefs and practices of his 16th/17th century England, Bate comes pretty close to achieving a sense of Shakespeare’s presence as any other biographer ever has. I think I know what Hamlet thinks, but do I know what Shakespeare thinks?  As with all good literature, no writer encompasses his or her characters, and no character is its author.  The mark of the good writer is his ability to show us very little about the process of internalization. That's Shakespeare for you (or me).

What a wonderful journey it has been that has elated my heart with a mind-boggling imagistic universe. I'll always be keen to admire the worth of Shakespeare and I'll always will be because he always manages to impart all those passionate, dismal, remarkable, foil and melancholy expressions of life that always use to linger in my mind. Bate’s book deeply reinforced this notion of mine.

This year I developed an Android App with the most famous soliloquy of all time: "To Be or Not To Be", and I gave myself the task of memorizing it because I also had a "part" in it. The process was hugely intense, because in order to speak Hamlet's words, I'd to think Hamlet's thoughts, and those are dark thoughts indeed. It was uncanny to consider that these words, written by a man hundreds of years ago, have been repeated somewhere on this planet perhaps every day since. Powerful stuff. Like a virus.

“Read him, therefore, and again, and again.”

NB: John Ward, we’ll never forgive you for not visiting Judith Quiney, Shakespeare’s surviving daughter at the time…Your known diary would have something more to tell us about Shakespeare…