His memories in a trunk

Reflections on literature, language(s), and music

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

Requiescat in pace Doc Watson

A fragment of an evening is hardly enough time to commemorate well the life — the musical part of it, at least (all most of us know) — of Doc Watson, who died today at age 89, but thankfully there’s no compulsion to do so in just one evening: we can continue to as long as we hear him hereafter. A towering figure by any estimation in both folk and bluegrass, he was known especially for his guitar-work, but I’ll be the first to affirm we’d be poorer had he only been an instrumentalist. From the early 1960s he can be seen in video from the Newport Folk Festival (which, of course, Dylan, rather younger, also took part in), where he also played with Appalachian dulcimer notable Jean Ritchie (the recording is available). Others will make other selections, but the two albums I would most recommend — thanks to nostalgia, I heartily confess — are The Essential Doc Watson and, with his son Merle (d. 1985), Down South. The shouts of approbation and jubilation you’ll hear in his live performance of “Black Mountain Rag” on the former will, assuming you’re not a heartless knave, find echoes in your own enjoyment. The latter album I distinctly recall listening to multitudinous times with my father, “Solid Gone” and “Give me Back my Fifteen Cents” being among my favorites every time (but back then we were listening to audio cassettes and so it wasn’t quite so easy to skip right to your favorite tune).

Jerome (and others) referred to the scholar known as Didymus the Blind with the name Didymus videns (Didymus the seeing), because, although he lacked physical sight, with his memory and genius he saw clearly how to use the mind and direct his soul more than many of those who do have sight as regularly considered. Doc Watson was blind, but if you listen to him handle his dear guitars and dole out his perfectly accompanying voice, you’ll find your own vision more open than it was before. Requiescat in pace Doc videns.

 

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On applejack

I’ve recently finished reading The Sun also Rises. There are a great many references to drinking, mostly wine in prodigious amounts, but also beer and Pernod. At least twice someone drinks a Jack Rose cocktail, which was unknown to me, so like a worthy explorer I looked around and found that the recipe’s main (in fact, only) alcohol is applejack, the old American colonial concoction made by freeze-distilling (hard) cider, that is, in wintertime gradually removing the chunks of ice that form in it, thus reducing its water component and strengthening everything else, including, of course, the alcoholic content. (I recall from Botany of Desire the observation that apples have not always had the predominant flavors they now have, and cider then and cider now, and by extension any applejack transmogrified therefrom, wouldn’t necessarily taste the same.) While I live in Minnesota, and could conceivably make my own applejack the old-fashioned way — assuming we actually have a proper winter next season — using some good natural hard cider (such as Crispin), it’s good to know that liquor stores also carry it already made, but given its comparative unknownness, it might take some hunting around to find. I don’t know how many brands produce applejack, but Laird’s seems to be the most widely available. According to the bottle’s label, William Laird first made a batch of it in 1698 in Monmouth, New Jersey. Laird & Co. is now in Scobeyville of the same state. Their product is said to have the residuum of six pounds of apples in every bottle, and it’s eighty proof. I’ve not tried it in any cocktail yet, or on ice, only a few sips neat. The first encounter is, of course, olfactory, one vaguely of American whiskey but with an unmistakeable overtone (not undertone) of apples. The taste, in my limited experience with it so far, at least, has sweetness, to be sure, but not too much, and its ease of potation belies, I suspect, its alcoholic strength.

Since applejack has some history to it, I thought it might be worthwhile to make a foray into some possible witnesses to its history. I’m somewhat surprised to find no reference to the libation in two dipsological books I have to hand, Kingsley Amis’ Everyday Drinking and Iain Gately’s Drink. Thanks, though, to Archive.org and Google Books, we all have impossibly voluminous libraries at our ready disposal, so I went to the latter to plunder it. The potion was known also by the names of Dew of the Orchard and Jersey Lightning, as we learn from History of the 118th Pennsylvania Volunteers Corn Exchange Regiment from their Engagement at Antietam to Appomattox (1905), p. 543. There are several other mentions of applejack in Civil War memoirs and stories. As soldiers traveled to parts of the country they’d never visited before, they learned of new local drinks, and in some places that meant applejack. One can easily imagine some folk song about applejack — along the the lines of the ecumenical (“Throw away your pills; it’ll cure all ills // Of pagan or Christian or Jew”) “Mountain Dew” for poitín; there’s another song of the same name on an analogous drink with a wholly different melody and lyrics performed by Flatt & Scruggs and perhaps others — but I’ve not come across one yet. George Arnold wrote a several-versed poem in approval of the drink (in Poems Grave and Gay, 1867, see here). Jerome Watrous’ little story “That Applejack Raid”, in Richard Epps and Other Stories (1906), pp. 138-141, has a bit on the drink. Information with an official air include a lengthy letter sent to the New York Times on applejack that was reprinted in the Internal Revenue Record and Customs Journal 25 (1879), pp. 314-315, and in journal published in London we see that the drink attracted attention not only in America: The Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry 12 (1893), pp. 169-170. Into the 20th century, St. Louis mixologist Thomas Bullock’s Ideal Bartender (1917) has at least three cocktails with applejack (I’ll certainly try the Applejack Sour).

There’s a nice post on applejack at the Cocktail Chronicles, complete with an excellent old advertisement and a sensational warning on the madness sure to consume anyone whose palate the beguiling drink bathes, and at least one of the currently available books for cider-making has some information on applejack: Anne Proulx and Lew Nichols, Cider. It’s clear from these resources, nineteenth-century to recent, that applejack was once an often drunk American drink, at least in some regions of the country. There’s no indication that it will any time soon return to its former notoriety, but the odd tippler may find it a worthwhile diversion or accompaniment.

A few lines on the devil in Old English

Some of the most appealing parts of ancient and mediaeval — I use these adjectives chronologically, not necessarily culturally — literature are descriptions of gods, heroes, monsters and warlike meetings between any combination of members of those groups. Mythic tales are full of all sorts of such engagements, not infrequently in formulaic language. Of specific battles, the struggle with and defeat of some especially unsavory baddy marks an especial milestone of victory for a hero (see further Neil Forsyth, Satan and the Combat Myth.) One such encounter is described below in one of the Old English poems from the Exeter Book, the poem known as The Panther (lines 58b-64a), in which Jesus’ victory over Satan in the Harrowing of Hell is recounted and celebrated.

                        Þæt is se ealda fēond,
þone hē ġesǣlde on sūsla grund
and ġefeterode fȳrnum tēagum,
beþeahte þrēanīedum, and þȳ þriddan dæġe
of dīgle arās, þæsþe hē dēaþ fore ūs
þrēo niht þolode, Þēoden engla,
sigora Sellend.

Vocabulary and notes

  • eald old (cf. the vowel in “elder”)
  • fēond fiend, enemy. The word is a common epithet of Satan in OE literature (cf. Bosworth-Toller 277), and Luther’s “der alte böse Feind” (from “Ein feste Burg”) also comes immediately to mind.
  • þone masc. acc. sg of the pronoun se “this, that one, he”
  • ġesǣlan to tie up, bind
  • sūsl torment. Often of hell, see Bosworth-Toller 938.
  • grund not only “ground” but, as here, also “abyss”
  • fȳren fiery, from fȳr fire
  • tēag cord, chain (cf. mod. Eng. “tie”)
  • beþeahte is pret. of beþeċċan to cover
  • þrēanīed affliction
  • þȳ masc. instr. sg. of se
  • of note the meaning from, out of, not mod. Eng. “of”
  • dīgol grave (cf. also deāgol, basically “secret, hidden”; note, too, the name of Sméagol’s (i.e. Gollum’s) erstwhile companion and the prior Ring-bearer)
  • arās pret of arīsan to (a)rise
  • þæsþe = when
  • þolian endure, suffer (the pret. here following the conjunction þæsþe probably best rendered with pluperfect)
  • Þēoden prince, lord, chieftain. Cf. the name of Tolkien’s king of Rohan, Théoden.
  • sigor victory
  • sellend giver. The phrases Þēoden engla and sigora Sellend make a nice parallelism with formal chiasm, that is, we have nominative+genitive then genitive+nominative.

Translation

He is the old enemy,
Whom the Prince of angels and victories’ Giver
Bound in the abyss of torments,
Fettered with fiery chains,
Covered with grievous afflictions,
And when for us he’d suffered three nights’ death,
On the third day from the grave arose.

Orlando Furioso and the Hulk

I recently had the opportunity to look through a 1584 Venetian edition of Ludovico Ariosto’s (1474-1533) Orlando Furioso, a classic of Italian and European literature, and a really long poem: it is written in ottava rima, an eight-line rhyming stanza with the pattern abababcc and goes for 38,736 lines, noticeably longer than the Iliad and Odyssey combined. Continuing Matteo Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato of 1495, the poem is set among the Frankish-Saracen wars with Charlemagne, with elements of the Arthurian and Carolingian cycles (“the Matter of Britain” and “the Matter of France”) fused together. This edition by Francesco Franceschi that I examined has decorative engravings (from metal) at the beginning of each of the poem’s forty-six cantos, and very brief annotationi end each one. The book is almost entirely in italic. In the copy I saw, a commentary is bound with the text of the poem itself: Alberto Lavezvola’s Osservationi sopra il Furioso, also from Venice in the same year. The annotations to the edition of the poem, Lavezvola’s Osservationi, and another book I also perused, the almost 800-page La spositione sopra l’Orlando Furioso di M. Ludovico Ariosto (Florence, 1549/50; 1549 is on the title page, June 1550 in the colophon) of Simon Fornari da Rheggio, bear witness to the close attention readers devoted to Ariosto’s work. The first English translation of the poem (also in verse), the work of John Harrington, was published in 1591; there have been a number of subsequent translations, including John Hoole’s in rhyming couplets, an excerpt of which appears below.

Orlando’s madness, which gives the poem its name — remember, too, how Achilles’ wrath, a kind of madness, is the very first thing we meet in the Iliad — is born in the wake of his learning that the beautiful Angelica, whom he’s been chasing, has run off in marriage to the Saracen knight Medoro, whom she’s healed (see the end of Canto 23). Upon seeing their joined names inscribed in trees, mountains, etc. (“Infelice quell’antro, ed ogni stelo // In cui Medoro e Angelica si legge!”), he goes mad. While it does not include, I think, many other elements of the Hulk mythology, the scene of Orlando’s entering his raging madness makes a close parallel of the Bruce Banner-Hulk metamorphosis, and when I read Ariosto’s account of Orlando’s unhinged response to Angelica’s marriage with Medoro, the Hulk is just what I thought of. Here are some lines from the event in Hoole’s rendering:

The fourth dire morn, with frantic rage possest,
He rends the armour from his back and breast:
Here lies the helmet, there the bossy shield,
Cuishes and cuirass further spread the field;
And all his other arms, at random strow’d,
In divers parts he scatters through the wood;
Then from his body strips the covering vest,
And bares his sinewy limbs and hairy chest;
And now begins such feats of boundless rage,
As far and near th’ astonished world engage.

His sword he left, else had his dreadful hand
With blood and horror fill’d each wasted land:
But little pole-axe, sword, or mace he needs
T’ assist his strength, that every strength exceeds.
First his huge grasp a lofty pine up-tears
Sheer by the roots; the like another fares
Of equal growth; as easy round him strow’d,
As lowly weeds, or shrubs, or dwarfish wood.
Vast oaks and elms before his fury fall;
The stately fir, tough ash, and cedar tall.
As when a fowler for the field prepares
His sylvan warfare; ere he spreads his snares,
From stubble, reeds, and furze, th’ obstructed land
Around he clears: no less Orlando’s hand
Levels the trees that long had tower’d above,
For rolling years the glory of the grove!
The rustic swains that ‘mid the woodland shade
Heard the loud crash, forsook their flocks that stray’d
Without a shepherd, while their masters flew
To learn the tumult and the wonder view.

Ariosto’s fantastical poem — it includes hippogriffs, for example, and a trip, not only to Ethiopia (surely fantastic at the time), but even to the moon (this was not the first trip to the moon in European literature, though: the 2nd-cent. CE author Lucian had already described such a voyage in his Greek True Story) — seems, while certainly known to and cherished by some littérateurs, generally to be on the further end of literary ken, a position undeserved. Maybe this little highlight will go some small way toward rectifying that state.

In my next “Italian with the Poets” post I’ll go through this passage with a little commentary. Till then, happy metamorphoses, into and out of madness.

Some compound words in Old English

As is well known, in lexical terms modern English is composed largely of two chief strains of distinct linguistic basis (while both are still Indo-European, of course): Germanic (the original) and Latinate (imported later either via Norman French or Latin, the latter especially for ecclesiastical and technical terms). One of the most remarkable aspects of English in all periods is its Teutonically inherited penchant for compound words, a selection of which beginning with the letters A-H I give here. Some are noun+noun, others adjective+noun (those ending in morphemes such as –līċ [“body”] > Mod.E. “-ly”, technically also compound words from an Old E. perspective, I omit). Glossaries are convenient places to grab such things from, and most of these come from the one in Robert Diamond’s Old English Grammar and Reader (Detroit, 1970). As for the orthography, palatalized c and g are ċ and ġ, as in Sweet’s Anglo-Saxon Primer. As always with Old English, those who know German or another Germanic language will find familiar friends here, and astute perusers will recognize the great grandparents of many words still in use in English. Some of the words below are clearly explained, some obvious, and some I simply give as-is.

  • ancorrāp “anchor-rope”
  • ānfloga “solitary flier”
  • ānhaga “solitary dweller”
  • ānstapa “lonely wanderer”
  • ārhwæt “glory-eager”, “glorious”
  • ātorscaða “poisonous enemy”
  • ǣfentīd “eventide, evening”
  • ǣrendġewrit “written message, letter”
  • ǣrendraca “messenger”
  • ǣrġewinn “former strife”
  • æschere “naval force, spear army” (æsc, i.e. “ash wood” is either “spear” or “viking ship”)
  • æscholt “ash-wood spear”
  • ǣtġiefa “food-giver” > “provider”
  • bānhūs “bone-house” > “skeleton”, “body”
  • bæcbord “port” (i.e. the left side of a ship)
  • beadurǣs “battle-rush” > “onslaught”
  • beaduweorc “battle-work” > “warlike deed”
  • bēagġiefa “ring-giver” > “lord”
  • bealusīþ “woeful journey, distressing experience”
  • bealuware “evil-doers”
  • beornþrēat “band of men”
  • billġeslieht “sword-slaughter” > “battle” (bill is “sword”, the second word related to modern “slay” and “slaughter”)
  • biscopstōl “bishopric, diocese” (biscop is, of course, not a native E. word, but derived from Greek ἐπίσκοπος via Latin)
  • blandenfeax “gray-haired”
  • blǣdhwæt “fruitful”
  • boldāgend “householder”
  • bordweall “shield wall”
  • brēostċearu “heart-anxiety”
  • brēostcofa “heart”
  • brēosthord “heart, though, mind”
  • brimfugol “sea bird”
  • brimġiest “sailor”
  • brimlād “sea-path”, “sea-journey”
  • brimlīðend “seafarer”
  • brimmann “seaman”
  • brūnecg “bright-edged”
  • brycgweard “bridge-defender”
  • burgsæl “town building”
  • burgwaran “townspeople”
  • būrþeġn “chamberlain”
  • byrnwiga “armor-warrior”
  • campstede “battlefield”
  • ċearseld “sorrowful abode” (ċearu “care, sorrow”)
  • cnēomǣġ “ancestor”, “kinsman” (cnēo “knee” but also “generation”)
  • collenferhþ “bold”, “brave”
  • cumbolġehnāst “banner-clash” > “battle”
  • cwideġiedd “song”, “speech”
  • cynerīċe “kingdom”
  • cynestōl “royal dwelling”
  • cynren “generation”, “kind” (the first part of the word is cynn “kind, race, family”, not cyning, “king”, the first part of the previous two words)
  • daroþlācend “spear-warrior”
  • dæġweorc “day-work”
  • dēaþdæġ “death-day”
  • dēaþsele “death-hall” > “hell”
  • dēaþspere “death-spear”, i.e. “deadly spear”
  • dōmġeorn “glory-eager”
  • drēoriġhlēor “sad-faced”
  • drēorsele “dreary hall”
  • dūnscræf “hill-cave”
  • ealdġewyrht “ancient deeds”
  • ealdorlang “lifelong”
  • ealdormann “chief”, “nobleman”
  • eallmihtiġ “almighty”
  • eardġeard “dwelling-place”
  • earfoþhwīl “hardship-time”
  • ēarġebland “sea-blending” > “turbulence of the sea”
  • earmċeariġ “wretched”
  • ēastæþ “river-bank” (ēa is “river”)
  • ēastende “east end”, “the eastern part”
  • ēasthealf “east-half”, “east side”
  • ēastlang “extending eastward”
  • eaxlġespann “where the beams of a cross come together”
  • ecghete “sword-hostility” > “war”
  • efennīehþ “neighborhood”, “vicinity”
  • eġesfull “terrible” (eġesa is “terror”)
  • ellenrōf “powerful” “courageous”
  • elþēodiġ “foreign”
  • ēorodcyst “elite troop”, “company”
  • ēorodþrēat “troop”, “host”
  • eorþscræf “earth-cave” > “grace”
  • eorþsele “earth-dwelling”, “cave-dwelling”
  • eorþweġ “earth”
  • eorþwela “wealth”, “worldly goods”
  • ēðelstōl “habitation” (ēðel “native land, home”)
  • faroþlācend “sailor”, “seafarer”
  • fǣrscaða “sudden enemy”
  • fealuhilte “golden hilted”
  • fēasceaftiġ “destitute”, “miserable”
  • felalēof “very dear”
  • felamihtiġ “very mighty”
  • feohġīfre “wealth-greedy”
  • feohlēas “wealth-less”
  • feorhbana “life-bane” > “slayer”
  • feorhbold “body”
  • feorhcwalu “slaughter”, “death”
  • feorhhūs “life-house” > “body”
  • feorrland “far-land” > “distant country”
  • ferhþgrimm “savage”, “cruel-hearted” (ferhþ is “mind, spirit”)
  • ferhþloca “breast”, “thoughts”, “feelings” (loca derives from lūcan “to close, lock”)
  • fierdlēas “army-less”
  • fierdrinc “warrior”, “soldier”
  • fierġenstrēam “mountain-stream”
  • flǣschama “body”
  • flintgrǣġ “flint-gray”
  • flōdgrǣġ “flood-gray” (flōd is “flood, tide, sea”)
  • flōdweġ “sea-way”
  • folcġefeoht “folk-fight” (folc is “people” and “army”)
  • folcland “country”
  • folcsæl “house”
  • folcstede “battlefield”
  • foldbūend “earth-dweller” > “human being” (folde is “earth, land”
  • foldweġ “earth-way” > “road”
  • forþġesceaft “creation”, “destiny”, “the future”
  • fōtmǣl “foot (measurement)” (i.e. “foot”+”time”)
  • frēamǣre “very celebrated” (i.e. “lord”+”illustrious”)
  • frēomǣġ “noble kinsman”
  • frēondlēas “friendless”
  • frumsceaft “creation”; “origin”
  • fyrnġēar “bygone year”
  • fyrnġeflita “ancient enemy”
  • fyrnstrēamas “ancient streams” > “ocean”
  • gamolfeax “old-haired” (gamol is “old”)
  • gārberend “spear-bearer”
  • gārmitting “spear-conflict” > “battle”
  • gārrǣs “spear-rush” > “battle”
  • gāsthāliġ “(spirit-)holy”
  • ġēardagas “year-days” > “time past”
  • ġēowine “departed friend”, “friend of former times”
  • ġiefstōl “(gift-)throne”
  • ġielpword “boast-word”
  • glēostæf “joy”
  • godcund “divine”, “holy”
  • godsunu “godson”
  • goldġiefa “gold-giver” > “lord”
  • goldwine “generous lord”
  • grundlēas “bottomless”
  • gryrelēoþ “terror song”
  • gūþhafoc “war hawk”
  • gūþplega “battle”
  • gūþrinc “warrior”
  • handplega “hand-to-hand fighting”
  • hasupād “dark-coated”
  • hātheort “hot-tempered”
  • hæġlfaru “hailstorm”
  • hēahfæder “high father” > “God”
  • hēahfȳr “high-fire”
  • hēahstefn “high-prowed” (of a ship)
  • hēahþungen “of high rank”
  • heardsǣliġ “unfortunate”
  • hellscaða “hell-foe” > “devil”
  • heofonrīċe “heaven-kingdom”
  • heoloþhelm “helmet of invisibility”
  • heorþġenēat “hearth-companion”
  • hereflīema “army-fugitive”
  • hereġeatwe “battle-gear”
  • herehūþ “booty”
  • herelāf “army remnant”
  • hierdebōc “shepherd-book” > “pastoral book”
  • hlāfordlēas “lordless”
  • hlēowmǣġ “protecting kinsman”
  • hlinduru “prison door”
  • hlōþġecrod “troop-throng”
  • holmmæġen “sea-might”
  • holtwudu “the trees of the forest” (holt is “wood, grove”)
  • hōpġehnāst “clashing of waves”
  • hordcofa “treasure-chamber” > “breast”, “heart”, “thoughts”
  • hornsæl “gabled building”
  • horshwæl “walrus”
  • horsþeġn “horse-thane” (title of a royal officer)
  • hrædwyrde “hasty of speech”
  • hrēowċeariġ “sorrowful”
  • hrēþēadiġ “glorious”
  • hreðerloca “breast”; “heart”
  • hrīmċeald “cold as hoarfrost”
  • hrīmġicel “icicles”
  • hringloca “coat of chain-mail”
  • hwælhunta “whale-hunter”
  • hwælhuntoþ “whale-hunting”
  • hwælmere “whale-sea”
  • hwælweġ “whale-way” > “sea”
  • hyġecræftiġ “wise”, “clever” (hyġe is “mind”, “heart”)
  • hyġeġeōmer “mind-sad”
  • hyrnednebba “horny-beaked”

While most of us probably don’t have occasion to speak often of battle onslaughts and whales as much as these compound words might allow, or think regularly about a brycgweard or heoloþhelm, we might nevertheless let many of the others enliven our own modern English! Here’s to compound words, then! Go use some!

An Italian and a German poem on quiet nature

I recently read for the first time Tasso’s (1544-1595) poem the first line of which is “Tacciono i boschi e i fiumi”, and it reminded me immediately of Goethe’s (1749-1832) famous 1780 poem known as “Wandrers Nachtlied II” (also Schubertized), which I and hosts of other students memorized in school (however much we may remember it still!). Here I want to put the two poems side-by-side.

Tasso’s words are as follows:

Tacciono i boschi e i fiumi,
E ‘l mar senza onda giace,
Ne le spelonche i venti han tregua e pace,
E ne la notte bruna
Alto silenzio fa la bianca luna;
E noi tegnamo ascose
Le dolcezze amorose:
Amor non parli o spiri,
Sien muti i baci e muti i miei sospiri.

Here’s a rough attempt at Englishing:

The woods and rivers are silent,
And the sea, waveless, lies still;
In the caves the winds hold their peace, tranquil;
In the darkish night
Deep quiet doth make the moon while white;
And we, we keep unseen
Lovely sweetnesses:
Let love neither speak nor emanate,
Let kisses be quiet, my sighs faint to hear.

Before discussing anything in either poem, I’m happily compelled to give, too, Goethe’s little poem

Über allen Gipfeln
Ist Ruh,
In allen Wipfeln
Spürest du
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.

The rhyme scheme (ABABCDDC) is mirrored exactly in Longfellow’s translation, than which I can do no better, so I give it here:

O’er all the hill-tops
Is quiet now,
In all the tree-tops
Hearest thou
Hardly a breath;
The birds are asleep in the trees:
Wait, soon like these
Thou, too, shalt rest.

The poems both conceive places of silence, and both with nature as evidence of this silence — note that what Longfellow translates as “trees” is really “forests” in German, something that serves as a verbal similarity between Goethe and Tasso, who in the first line has “boschi”, i.e. “woods” — but the most striking point of difference between the poems is that Tasso has in mind more than one person in this silence, Goethe a lone individual. Tasso not only includes among his cast elements of nature and someone(s) to experience them, as does Goethe some centuries thereafter, but lovers, albeit quiet lovers. There’s sweetness, love, and kisses, but they lie fallow at just this point, at least visibly and audibly: while these things are still there — somebody who has kissing in mind still kisses, just imperfectly compared to the real thing — no one else has any knowledge of them. These amorous matters are hidden still more with Goethe, if they exist with him at all, who in his poem shows us only nature, and nature with an addressed observer of it, who is anachronously in tune with it: the stillness of those natural representatives (hill-tops, tree-tops, birds) will soon, but not yet, reach Goethe’s observer. We know nothing of why that observer and participant is missing quiet stillness, but that doesn’t matter: as there are enough times in nature absent of tranquility, so, too, any human being who thinks about his or her life beyond the slightest film of superficiality knows those intranquil seasons and events. But as nature goes on, so does life, especially as considered beyond the individual.

As for the characters, Tasso himself, or some nonspecific narrator, at least, takes part in a role. He says “we” (noi), that is, the speaker and the lover; he speaks of “my” (miei) sighs, and the kisses, though missing any possessive pronoun, are, of course, those shared between him and his lover. There is, however, no first person, whether singular are plural, in Goethe’s lines: it’s only the singular addressee (du). Goethe (or, again, a nonspecific narrator) takes part as speaker, but he takes no otherwise scripted part in the poem.

Both of these memorable poetic bits highlight the possibility of a consonance between humanity and the rest of nature, whether that representative of humanity be lone or companioned. Whichever of the two you are now, I hope you’ll read the poems aloud, as always!

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