“The Rowboat” — Robert Walser

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“The Blind Man” — Robert Walser

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“Remembering The Tales of Hoffmann” — Robert Walser

“Remembering The Tales of Hoffmann”

by Robert Walser

I was living in the tranquility of rural, provincial isolation, in the flat countryside where fields and forests lie about motionless and mute, the plains and plots of land appear endless, broad wide regions often prove to be only narrow strips, and vast estates slumber peacefully one beside the other.

Brown, yellow, red autumnal foliage, fog that mysteriously wrapped the wintry earth in veils; large, wet, fat snowflakes tumbling down into a morning-dark courtyard, a white park covered in snow, a winter village with village lads and village women and geese in the village street—all this I had seen.

I’d seen a poor, sick, unhappy day laborer forgotten by all the world, lying in her squalid bed of sufferings; I heard her sighs.

Forests, hills, plains silent and wordless in the dull hush of the gleaming winter sun. Here and there a solitary person, an insignificant little word, an isolated sound.

One day I left all this remoteness and all this silence behind and set off for the seductive gleam of the capital, where soon thereafter I saw The Tales of Hoffmann at the Komische Oper.

I felt like an astonished hayseed amid all that gleaming intoxication, the graceful, sense-beguiling tumultuousness and the blindingly elegant society gathered there.

But when the interior of the grand edifice became as silent as a tiny chamber filled with reveries and fancies of the soul, as the might and art of sound opened their divine mouths and began to sing, ring out, and resound, beginning with the overture that wheedled its way into all our souls with its bright and dark, gay and earnest melodies, only to entwine them—now constricting, now liberating from constriction—with heavenly bliss, and then soft warm song burst from the lips of the singers and songstresses, images brimming with delicate, noble, magical colors and magical figures lightly and gaily emerged to delight the eye and taste, music and painting most beautifully took possession of every heart, eye, and ear, and everything became suddenly quiet as a mouse, only to resound once more as if it wished never to stop so beautifully resounding and conquering its listeners with its desired, delightful force: pain and sounds of joy mirroring the adventure of existence, exemplifying the meaning of life, and soaring up and down the scales like angelic figures ascending and descending Jacob’s ladder!

Oh, everything was so regally beautiful and luxurious all about our tear-filled, feverish eyes and in our hearts. All of life could now cease outright or else begin utterly anew.

What a presence to partake of! Thousands of hours flowed together to form this one single hour. Yes, what a beautiful, good, meaningful evening this was.

“Odysseus” — Robert Walser

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“Hercules” — Robert Walser

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Landmarks, A Remarkable Anthology of Poetry and Prose in Translation (Book Acquired, 11.15.2013)

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Landmarks, newish from Two Lines Press, collects poetry and prose in English translation. The collection features over a dozen languages and includes a special selection on the Arab Spring. I snacked on this book over the past few weeks, reading it at random whenever a nook of free time presented itself. There are still a few selections I haven’t gotten to yet, but most of what’s collected here is superb, thanks to editors Susan Bernofsky (who you probably know from her Robert Walser translations) and Christopher Merrill.

Two Lines’ blurb:

The premiere anthology of international literature returns for its 20th anniversary with stellar new prose and poetry, headlined by a collection of writing dedicated to the Arab Spring.

Coedited by leading German translator Susan Bernofsky and celebrated poet and translator Christopher Merrill, Landmarks gives us never-before-seen work from over 20 nations. Lauded Argentine author Juan Jose Saer, widely considered the heir to Jorge Luis Borges, transforms a photo of Earth from space into a tense, alcohol-fueled meditation on emptiness. Scholastique Mukasonga’s heartbreaking story ponders how so many of her fellow Rwandans could participate in a bloody genocide. And the Soviet absurdist Daniil Kharms is found among the volume’s many poets, alongside Yehuda Amichai—widely considered Israel’s greatest modern bard—and the up-and-coming Brazilian Ana Martins Marques.

In a special section of vital new work from the Middle East, ten writers provide an artist’s insight into the momentous events of the 2010 Arab Spring. Iraqi poet Naseer Hassan reveals haunting, everyday images from his nation. Ali Al Jallawi, twice imprisoned for critiquing of Bahrain’s political regime, ponders his relationship to God. And in Egyptian writer Mona Elnamoury’s surrealist story, images of torture and terror give way to a spectacular dream beneath the folds of an otherworldly quilt.

A truly a global education, Landmarks continues two proud decades of exploring the riches of world literature and making connections between the abundance of amazing work being produced around the world.

Maybe the best feature of Landmarks is the rich insight it offers into translation. Each selection is prefaced with an introduction that offers context for the writer and the conditions of the writing, as well as the translation process itself.  The poems are printed in two languages as well—the original on the left, the translation on the right. (Prose selections only feature the first page of original language printed alongside the translation). Being able to see the form and contours of the poem next to its translation is fascinating. Even if the poem was composed in an alphabet utterly foreign to me, being able to see it in its original form still offers a sense of its rhythm. Great stuff.

Two from Ahmatjan Osman, translated from Uyghur by Jeffrey Yang:

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Robert Walser/Robert Burton (Books Acquired, 11.01.2013)

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I think this NYRB edition of Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy is the biggest paperback in the house.

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Robert Walser shorty:

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