23 January 2011

The poet's duty: Faulkner vs. T.S.Eliot

Not long ago I read an interesting article about what William Faulker (1897-1962) said in the speech he delivered on December 10, 1950, in Stockholm, when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was convinced that men are inmortal, not because they live literally forever, but because they have a soul, a spirit that is capable of endurance even in the hardest times. He went on to say that the poet has the responsibility to lift men's hearts and help them "endure and prevail". Here is his quote:

"I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poets, the writers, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poets voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."

Faulkner's view of a poet's role differs very much from T.S. Eliot's views (1888-1965). As Eliot stressed in a 1943 lecture the poet's duty "is only indirectly to the people: his direct duty is to his language, first to preserve, and second to extend and improve." I have the feeling that Eliot's main interest is in the language and he does not seem to pay attention to what many may regard as the social function of poetry.

Anyway, today I am including the first lines of  Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Afred Prufrock" 

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.


And one of Faulkner's very few poems that I have managed to find online 

If there be grief, then let it be but rain,
And this but silver grief for grieving's sake,
If these green woods be dreaming here to wake
Within my heart, if I should rouse again.
But I shall sleep, for where is any death
While in these blue hills slumbrous overhead
I'm rooted like a tree? Though I be dead,
This earth that holds me fast will find me breath.

9 January 2011

The pleasure of listening

I think it was Heraclitus the one who said that the majority of people do not listen or speak properly.  I am sure he was right. Actually, I have the feeling that most people speak more than listen to others. Me too, I am afraid. However, last Friday I spoke very little and listened most of the time. 

Like most Fridays, I went for a drink with some of my friends. Sometimes we just meet, have a  short talk and go back home. Some other times, we get involved in deep conversations from which I learn a lot. Last Friday, it was one of those days that I enjoyed listening to a person who had many interesting things to say. A friend of mine came along with a university student from Vietnam who had come to Warsaw with an international grant and was planning to stay  until summer. All she said about her country, her culture, her way of understanding life was amazing. It was so different to the way I see my own reality that I felt she was talking to me about things that happen in another world. Some of my colleagues seemed to dislike the way the conversation was leading to and went to another bar. However, I stayed there because listening to her was pure pleasure. Time flew very fast. 

I forgot about time and I missed the last bus home. So, I had to look for the night bus and then walk home. On my way home, a couple of verses of  PL IV crossed my mind, the ones that I am posting below. 
Do not ask me what time I got back !

Paradise Lost book IV, 639-640

With you conversing I forget all time,
All seasons and their change, all please alike.

5 January 2011

New Year´s Resolutions for 2011

Like every single year, I have written a short list with some of the things I want to do in 2011. I know that many people consider this a bit silly. However, it helps me carry out my plans, ideas and goals. In order to write my resolutions for 2011, I have tried to be practical and objective because it does not make any sense to write things that are impossible to get or to do. 
So, these are some of the things that I´d love to fullfil by the end of 2011:

1. I would like to improve my Polish.
2. I would like to start learning a new foreign language (perhaps Swedish or French).
3. I would love to lose a few kilograms :)
4. It would be great to finish writing what I started a year ago.

2010 is gone and it won´t be back.

A Song for New Year's Eve
by William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)

Stay yet, my friends, a moment stay—
     Stay till the good old year,
So long companion of our way,
     Shakes hands, and leaves us here.
          Oh stay, oh stay,
One little hour, and then away.

The year, whose hopes were high and strong,
     Has now no hopes to wake;
Yet one hour more of jest and song
     For his familiar sake.
          Oh stay, oh stay,
One mirthful hour, and then away.

The kindly year, his liberal hands
     Have lavished all his store.
And shall we turn from where he stands,
     Because he gives no more?
          Oh stay, oh stay,
One grateful hour, and then away.

Days brightly came and calmly went,
     While yet he was our guest;
How cheerfully the week was spent!
     How sweet the seventh day's rest!
          Oh stay, oh stay,
One golden hour, and then away.

Dear friends were with us, some who sleep
     Beneath the coffin-lid:
What pleasant memories we keep
     Of all they said and did!
          Oh stay, oh stay,
One tender hour, and then away.

Even while we sing, he smiles his last,
     And leaves our sphere behind.
The good old year is with the past;
     Oh be the new as kind!
          Oh stay, oh stay,
One parting strain, and then away. 

2011 is already here to stay with me 12 months and I am planning to make the most out of it.
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