His memories in a trunk

Reflections on literature, language(s), and music

Archive for the category “Dylan”

Driving with a few CDs

I’m just off of a 640-mile driving trip today. I’d been a few states away with family and I drove back home by myself. I listened to a little bit of music on the radio, but mostly CDs; I had no way to play the music on my phone, but fortunately I had a few physical albums with me. Here they are, in the order I listened to them:

It’s been a while since I’ve listened to this one all the way through. Excellent from the unique beginning to the ever-appreciable “Call of Ktulu.”

A lot of fun (“Is it rolling, Bob?”), as one might guess even from the album cover; very much worth listening to beside this one is the Dylan-Cash Sessions, from the same time period, and even though it’s not really a consistent album, the next one, Self Portrait almost always gets me singing.

This is not my most recent Dylan purchase (Time out of Mind and Tempest), but it wasn’t too long ago that I bought it. One of my favorite lines so far is from “Where Are You Tonight (Journey through Dark Heat)”:

I fought with my twin,
That enemy within,
Till both of us fell by the way.

I actually like most of the alternate versions (on disc 2 especially) more than the original releases. (Who can fail to find remarkable a phrase like “the boiled guts of birds”?)

These (and my thoughts) were all good company as I drove, but I did miss Tom Waits’ “Diamonds on my Windshield,” especially as I went through Wisconsin:

Wisconsin hiker with a cue-ball head
Wishing he was home in a Wiscosin bed
Fifteen feet of snow in the East
Colder then a well-digger’s ass
Colder then a well-digger’s ass

We’re not quite to snow-time yet here in the north, but we’re close.

P.S. As I write this, I’ve got the soundtrack to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on Spotify. No sense in being musically stagnant, is there? (I’ve not seen the new film yet, but I’ve read the books and seen the Swedish films.)

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On epigrams

I love gargantuan books, especially after I’ve finished reading them. It’s a unique feeling to look up on the bookshelf and see several inches of the wood occupied by a single title, whether in one or more volumes, and to remember from that sight, taking up so much of one’s vision with its many-paged mass, the myriad characters, spans of years involved, lands visited and perhaps fled, verbose and colorful description of at first seemingly irrelevant matter, &c. But there’s also a pleasure in reading-material that doesn’t take so many months (or years) to first taste — although it may take that long to really digest. I mean here short stories, plays, shorter novels, and poetry, of course, but more specifically I have in mind here the literary form of the epigram.

Epigrams take various forms in various languages, and are sometimes poetic (for example, in Greek and Latin), sometimes not. They are a convenient way for authors to give meaningful statements without full essays or treatises, although, of course, subsequent readers may be thereby inspired (or irritated!) to pen their own interpretation of the theme, in which case the little epigram will have engendered a larger progeny. While they are not the exclusive members of the club, epigrams are the quintessentially quotable bits of an author, being ready-made for such separate employment divorced from their original context (which may be more or less disjointed to begin with).

The word epigram itself is Greek — the word first meant “inscription” — and we have a huge collection of epigrams in that language in the later collection known as the Greek Anthology. (That is not to say that Greek is the earliest language in which epigrams were uttered.) These are in meter and are often somewhat longer than that which we we typically consider to be epigrams nowadays. Latin, too, has verse epigrams, notably those of Catullus and Martial, both of whom are as much a delight to read today as they always have been and always will be by appreciators of language and observers of society.

The epigram in later European literary history is not without some shining examples. I have lately been especially enjoying Nietzsche’s in Jenseits von Gut und Böse (“Sprüche und Zwischenspiele,” the fourth part = §§63-185), Wilde’s (see here for the privately printed Oscariana), and Ambrose Bierce’s printed at the end of the eighth volume of his Collected Works.

It’s worth noting, too, that the lyrics of some modern music — say, from the mid-1960s — might well be classified as at least partly epigrammatic. Examples that leap to the forefront of my mind now are “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” (if you’ve not yet heard the forceful and charging version from Before the Flood, do yourself a favor and get it in addition to the one on Bringing It All Back Home) and (maybe?) “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

Epigrams can sound very ex cathedra, and I suppose they are; not really more so than any opinionated piece of writing, that is writing that expresses some view on a subject, but epigrams are more poignantly punchy in that they’re so brief compared to a twenty- or thirty-page treatise and generally very clear in meaning (but Nietzsche’s not always so). Anybody who has a problem with the assumed authority of this or that epigrammarian is free, of course, to write his or her own epigrams in response!

Finally, epigrams composed in languages other than one’s own are veritably useful when learning the language(s) in question: they’re fodder for both cultural and linguistic enquiry, and a good exercise for the memory, not to mention suitable for addition to one’s arsenal of conversation for cocktail parties and other settings.

Any favorite epigrams or collections thereof? Please say so in the comments!

Italian with the poets I

In this inaugural post, I begin with the first sonnet from Petrarch’s Canzoniere. This is in fact what I hope will become a series on snippets of Italian poetry (Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, Tasso, and others) with some philological notes especially suitable for those studying Italian. I trust that neither the linguistic detail nor, for more advanced readers, the banality will greatly ward off enjoyment and appreciation of the post by others!

Before beginning, I can’t help but cite this verse from “Tangled Up in Blue” (4th verse in the New York version, 5th on the album):

She lit a burner on the stove and offered me a pipe
“I thought you’d never say hello,” she said
“You look like the silent type.”
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century.
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you,
Tangled up in blue.

(In the live versions from the Gospel period, it’s no longer Italian poetry, but the book of Jeremiah, with different verses referenced at different shows, that she gives him! In some earlier and later live versions, such as those from the Rolling Thunder Revue and a decade later on Real Live, he passes over this verse completely.) This “Italian poet from the thirteenth century” cannot be the fourteenth-century Petrarch (1304-1374), whose lines are discussed below, and while Dante (c. 1265-1321) is not an impossible choice, perhaps even more fitting is Guido Cavalcanti, born in the mid-thirteenth century and who died in 1300. Of course, the line may refer to no real poet. In any case, who’s gonna complain about a stove-lit pipe, a womanly conversation partner, and Italian poetry (from whatever century)?

Now to our poetic lines. The poem was first printed, as far as I know, in an edition of 1501 from the famous Venetian house of Aldus Manutius (Aldo Manuzio), printed on vellum in Aldine italics; it was edited by Pietro Bembo from Petrarch’s own manuscript. (See an actual-size reproduction of the page with this poem in pl. 23 of Martin Davies, Aldus Manutius: Printer and Publisher of Renaissance Venice [London and Malibu, 1995].)

In this and future posts on the same theme, I’ll give the text in stanzas followed by a few philological remarks that I hope will be of use and interest to Italian students. There is probably nothing necessarily original in these pedagogical bits, but if they make this poetry more accessible, a good end will have been achieved. There are and will be numerous references to Latin and French vocabulary and, less so, morphology, which are merely to highlight some similarities and differences across these languages. (I refer to Spanish, Portuguese, and other romance languages less frequently only because I have less familiarity with them.) While the commentary breaks up the text, this is only for convenience; whenever possible, the poems should, of course, be read without interruption. Texts for Italian poetry, along with translations into various languages, are easily discoverable online. For Dante, for example, see here, and for Petrarch, both the Canzoniere and the Trionfi, see here, not to mention older published volumes on Google Books or Archive.org. The just mentioned sites also include Italian recitations of certain poems. Poetry (and some prose), in whatever language, is for tasting and ruminating orally and aurally, and these proffered recitations are one way to do that.

And now, thus saith Petrarch:

Voi ch’ascoltate in rime sparse il suono
di quei sospiri ond’io nudriva ’l core
in sul mio primo giovenile errore
quand’era in parte altr’uom da quel ch’i’ sono,

Voi ch[e] you (pl.) who | ascoltate 2pl pres. indic.; L. auscultare | in rime sparse The “scattered rhymes”, a name by which all the canzoniere are known. | il suono L. sonus | quei = quelli (pl. of quello) | sospiri (sg. sospiro) “sigh” | ond’io nudriva onde here not “in order to; so that” as usually in modern Italian, but like L. unde “whence” | nudriva = nutrivo; nutrire “to foster, nurture”. As with era below, the impf. 1sg may end in -a, rather than the expected -o. That it is 1sg, however, is clear from the preceding io. | ’l core now cuore; L. cor, which is neuter, but masculine in I. | in sul mio primo giovenile errore sul = su+il. Note how Italian uses the article and the possessive pronoun together. | quand’era era here = ero (i.e. 1sg, not 3sg) | altr’uom da “another person [uomo, L. homo] than” | quel ch’i’ sono “that which I am”.

del vario stile in ch’io piango et ragiono
fra le vane speranze e ’l van dolore,
ove sia chi per prova intenda amore,
spero trovar pietà, nonché perdono.

del vario stile “in (the) various way[s]”; while sg. in I., best as pl. in E. | piango piangere “to weep” (L. plangere) | ragiono ragionare “to think, discuss” | fra le vane speranze e ’l van dolore “between vain hopes [sg. speranza] and vain sadness”; here van is short for vano. | ove “where” | spero trovar As in E. and many other languages, “to hope” is generally followed by an infinitive (trovar = trovare; cf. F. trouver). pietà Words such as this (libertà, qualità, università) go back to L. words, all feminine, ending in -as, -atis (pietas, libertas, qualitas, universitas); in French they end in (pieté, liberté, qualité, université), in German -ät (Pietät, Qualität, Universität; no *Libertät, though, for which the Germanic Freiheit is used), and in English -y (note that English has both Latinate liberty and Germanic freedom). | nonché “as well (as)” | perdono “forgiveness” (E., F. pardon).

Ma ben veggio or sí come al popol tutto
favola fui gran tempo, onde sovente
di me mesdesmo meco mi vergogno;

Ma “but” (F. mais) | ben = bene (I. and L., “well”) | veggio alt. form of vedo | or sí come al popol tutto Note elision in or(a) and popol(o). | favola L. fabula, like tabula / tavola | fui 1sg past of essere (cf. L.) | gran tempo I. gran but F. grande | sovente “often, frequently” (L. subinde) | meco = con me (L. mecum; cf the famous passage from Cicero’s Orator 45.154, in which he says that they said nobiscum, not cum nobis, “quia si ita diceretur, obscenius concurrent litterae”, i.e. sounding like cunnus!) | mi vergogno vergognarsi “to be ashamed, embarrassed”.

et del mio vaneggiar vergogna è ’l frutto,
e ’l pentersi, e ’l conoscer chiaramente
che quanto piace al mondo è breve sogno.

del mio vaneggiar vaneggiar(e) “to rave, wander”; here again, note the article (in del) used with the possessive pronoun. | vergogna (L. verecundia) is the noun of the verb we saw just above | frutto (L. fructus) one of very many examples of ct > tt | ’l pentersi now pentirsi “to repent” | ’l conoscer conoscer(e), “to know” (L. cognoscere) | chiaramente -mente is the almost ubiquitous adverbial ending, derived from L. mens in the ablative case. Here, too, we see the change chi from older cl (L. clarus; “clearly” in L. is simply clare). | che quanto “[that] how much” | piace al mondo “it pleases [piacere, L. placere] the world” > “the world likes” | sogno “dream” (L. somnium).

So much for these few humble remarks on Petrarch’s words: I hope they’ve been good for someone. Now to go back to read and reread the poem viva voce and without interruption.

Comments on the poem and the rest of the post are welcome!

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