His memories in a trunk

Reflections on literature, language(s), and music

Archive for the tag “nature”

Aranea aestiva

From late summer till now our front porch has been the residence of a golden silk orb-weaver, a large and beautiful spider (genus Nephila) that spins strong strands in great webs. Her web has had four settings, it being accidentally damaged twice, and she having moved it of her own accord another time. She is around 9cm at the longest, but with her legs not fully extended. There was a diminutive male around briefly, but he has long since disappeared. The pictures speak for themselves, but more is here, and for some related folklore, be sure to note the Jorōgumo (aka “whore spider”)!

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Taken soon after she arrived. Comparatively smaller than in the later photos.

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Preparing to dine on a bumblebee. From time to time you could hear crunching as she worked on the insect’s body.

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Recent photos, mostly snow

This is on a very frozen lake. I like it because there is a focus on the children (all on the left side), but that it also gives a hint as to how huge the sky can seem in Minnesota.

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Pre-de-corking of some French wine. Nothing particularly meaningful about 2006 as opposed to its neighboring years, but I thought it would make a cool shot.

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I took this a few days ago for my mother, who lives in a place where snow rarely falls. It doesn’t quite show how the snow sparkled like glitter, both in the air and on the ground, but there is some of it. The morning sun is just peeking in at the top of the photo, and the tree casts its spreading shadow all the way to the viewer’s feet.

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This ice-hole — be careful how you pronounce that — forms several times every winter at a place where melting snow and ice from the roof drip onto the inches of snow on the ground, itself too thick to be easily erased. This one, here full deep and reaching to the rocks below, even shows the no-longer-frozen snow giving in to gravity, a drop at a time.

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A couple of large books, so large that they must rest supinely. If this doesn’t make you love old-style numerals, I don’t know what will.

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This is one of my favorite photos that I’ve taken in the past year or so. Again on the frozen lake. He has stopped and seems to look at the chapel ahead, and he’s surrounded by snow, ice, cold. He stands out in his yellow mantle. No one else is near. Is he wondering what’s in the chapel, why it’s there, whether to go on ahead? Is he tired, glad, surprised, disappointed? Is he on a pilgrimage to this place, or does the planned end of his road lie elsewhere, this building in the woods an unexpected find? Is he the first one to come to it, or does he know there are others there?

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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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