Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Poetry of Pretérito Imperfecto

The Country Clergy

I see them working in old rectories
By the sun’s light, by candlelight,
Venerable men, their black cloth
A little dusty, a little green
With holy mildew. And yet their skulls,
Ripening over so many prayers,
Toppled into the same grave
With oafs and yokels. They left no books,
Memorial to their lonely thought
In grey parishes; rather they wrote
On men’s hearts and in the minds

Of young children sublime words
Too soon forgotten. God in his time
Or out of time will correct this.

- RS Thomas

Thank you to Rev. Andy Delmege, aka "Pilgrimspace," who published this in his Wordpress blog. It is simply beautiful.

I get a lot of pleasure from poems. They are so boiled-down and precise, but they look so easy and languid. As a writer I enjoy playing with technique in prose (as you can see from the last post, I sometimes get carried away!) but I leave poetry the heck alone. There´s enough bad poetry out there already without me adding to the pile. And wonderfully, deliciously, we seem to be living in a time of poetic flowering! I keep finding more contemporary poets whose work is superb. Friends send me poems. I have a whole file of them here on my computer someplace. Poems are helping me now.  

I am taking Spanish lessons in Carrión de los Condes with a sprightly lady named Lucía. She is very good -- our very first session she went right to the heart of my problem with verbs, and we´ve been bashing our way through them ever since. It is very hard. I have skated around this for years now, and it´s time to set aside my lazy-ass excuses and just do this.

I am letting myself imagine what it will be like to sit down at El Castillo with the neighbors and just chatter. We do a form of that now, I can keep up with all the byplay and gossip and jokes, but I am not quite fluent enough to put my zinger in there at the right moment. Not yet.

I want to. I can.

I will, if I just work really hard for a while. It´s about time.

Poetry helps, especially poetry I already know. Sunday Mass is the best example. I know and love the creeds and prayers already in English, and every week, sometimes even more often, we recite them together in lovely Castilian Spanish. They are some of the most beautiful words in the world, in every language. And just look at all those verb tenses:

Señor Hijo único, Jesucristo,
Señor Dios, Cordero de Dios, Hijo del padre:
tú que quitas el pecado del mundo,
ten piedad de nosotros.
tú que quitas el pecado del mundo,
atiende nuestras súplicas;
tú que esta sentado a la derecha del Padre,
ten piedad de nosotros:
Porque sólo tú eres Santo,
sólo tú Señor
solo tú Altísimo Jesucristo,
con el Espiritu Santo, en la gloria de Dios Padre.

I want to read poems in Spanish, and the meseta novels -- I can read simple best-seller type books, but reading classical literature in Castilian still requires a dictionary nearby. I want to understand all the words of the Flemenco singers, my Diego el Cigala songs, my Buena Vista Social Club CDs (although Julia tells me nobody understands what they´re saying under all that yowling!)

I learned some poetry already from a Flamenco singer, my favorite, a woman called Carmen Linares. She sings Spanish poetry, she sets it to music. It uses all kinds of verbs, and that helps me out:


Recuerdo que cuando niño
me parecía mi pueblo
una blanca maravilla,
un mundo mágico, inmenso;
las casas eran palacios
y catedrales los templos;
y por los verdes campiñas
iba yo siempre contento,
inundado de ventura
al mirar el limpio cielo,
celeste como mi alma,
creyendo que el horizonte
era de la tierra el termino.

No veia en su ignorancia
mi inocente pensamiento
otro mundo más hermoso
que aquel mundo de mi pueblo;
¡qué blanco, qué blanco todo!,
¡todo qué grande, qué bello!  

Like Andy´s poem. Simply beautiful.
Worth working for, working toward.


Anonymous said...

Way to go, Rebekah. Currently, I am trying to pound the pluscuamperfecto into my noggin. No way could I read anything but a children's book.

Libby said...

What a beautiful post! ¡Tan linda, mi madre, y la poesía también!

strangerthanfiction said...

Wow, how cool that you can actually read a real book. I can only read children's books. Right now I am tussling with the pluscuamperfecto. Slow going this language acquisition is.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Reb. I first heard the RS Thomas in a eulogy preached by the late and great Bishop John Austin for a friend of mine. An experience not to be forgotten.

What you say about learning language is so important, isn't it? It took me nine years of lessons and immersion to get to near fluency with BSL. I've had to put Spanish on hold for a bit now as life is full. Hopefully pace for it again next year,


45N93W said...

This from Antonio Machado. I apologize in advance: it's a little too long:

Al olmo viejo, hendido por el rayo
y en su mitad podrido,
con las lluvias de abril y el sol de mayo
algunas hojas verdes le han salido.

¡El olmo centenario en la colina
que lame el Duero! Un musgo amarillento
le mancha la corteza blanquecina
al tronco carcomido y polvoriento.

No será, cual los álamos cantores
que guardan el camino y la ribera,
habitado de pardos ruiseñores.

Ejército de hormigas en hilera
va trepando por él, y en sus entrañas
urden sus telas grises las arañas.

Antes que te derribe, olmo del Duero,
con su hacha el leñador, y el carpintero
te convierta en melena de campana,
lanza de carro o yugo de carreta;
antes que rojo en el hogar, mañana,
ardas de alguna mísera caseta,
al borde de un camino;
antes que te descuaje un torbellino
y tronche el soplo de las sierras blancas;
antes que el río hasta la mar te empuje
por valles y barrancas,
olmo, quiero anotar en mi cartera
la gracia de tu rama verdecida.
Mi corazón espera
también, hacia la luz y hacia la vida,
otro milagro de la primavera.