Oriana, 1861 by Frederick Sandys (1829–1904)
“Ballad of Oriana”
She stood upon the castle wall, Oriana:
She watch’d my crest among them all, Oriana:
She saw me fight, she heard me call,
When forth there stept a foeman tall, Oriana,
Atween me and the castle wall, Oriana.
The bitter arrow went aside, Oriana:
The false, false arrow went aside, Oriana:
The damned arrow glanced aside,
And pierced thy heart, my love, my bride, Oriana!
Thy heart, my life, my love, my bride,Oriana!
Oh! narrow, narrow was the space, Oriana.
Loud, loud rung out the bugle’s brays, Oriana.
Oh! deathful stabs were dealt apace,
The battle deepen’d in its place, Oriana;
But I was down upon my face, Oriana.
They should have stabb’d me where I lay, Oriana!
How could I rise and come away, Oriana?
How could I look upon the day?
They should have stabb’d me where I lay, Oriana
They should have trod me into clay,Oriana.
O breaking heart that will not break, Oriana!
I’ve been slowly enjoying the poems and collages that comprise Jiří Kolář’s collection A User’s Manual (in English translation by Ryan Scott). There are 52 poems and collages here. Each poem is a kind of surrealist recipe, a set of commands that I’ve been trying to follow (in my imagination, I mean).
The book itself is beautiful—hardback with full color and black and white illustrations, it fits perfectly with the aesthetic that its publisher Twisted Spoon has been developing for ages now.
Here’s Twisted Spoon’s blurb:
Written in the 1950s and ’60s, the “action poems” comprising a A User’s Manual were published in their complete form in 1969 when they were paired with the 52 collages of Weekly 1967, the first of Kolář’s celebrated series in which he commented visually on a major event for each week of
the year. Taking the form of directives, largely absurd, the poems mock communist society’s officialese while offering readers an opportunity to create their own poetics by performing the given directions. The collages on the facing pages to the poems are composed of layered documents, image cutouts, newspaper clippings, announcements, letter fragments, reports, or decontextualized words, oftentimes forming concrete patterns or the outlines of figures, to create a sort of “evidential” report on the year. Text and image taken together, the volume displays Kolář’s enduring interest in extracting poetry from the mundane to demolish the barrier separating art from reality, or even to elevate reality itself through this dual poetics to the level of art. What art historian Arsén Pohribný wrote about Weekly 1968 equally applies to Weekly 1967: it “shocks with its abrupt stylistic twists” and is “a Babylonian, hybrid parable of multi-reality.” The volume also includes the complete Czech text as an appendix.
“Ode to Dirt”
Dear dirt, I am sorry I slighted you,
I thought that you were only the background
for the leading characters—the plants
and animals and human animals.
It’s as if I had loved only the stars
and not the sky which gave them space
in which to shine. Subtle, various,
sensitive, you are the skin of our terrain,
you’re our democracy. When I understood
I had never honored you as a living
equal, I was ashamed of myself,
as if I had not recognized
a character who looked so different from me,
but now I can see us all, made of the
same basic materials—
cousins of that first exploding from nothing—
in our intricate equation together. O dirt,
help us find ways to serve your life,
you who have brought us forth, and fed us,
and who at the end will take us in
and rotate with us, and wobble, and orbit.
“All Hallow’s Eve”
Be perfect, make it otherwise.
Yesterday is torn in shreds.
Lightning’s thousand sulfur eyes
Rip apart the breathing beds.
Hear bones crack and pulverize.
Doom creeps in on rubber treads.
Countless overwrought housewives,
Minds unraveling like threads,
Try lipstick shades to tranquilize
Fears of age and general dreads.
Sit tight, be perfect, swat the spies,
Don’t take faucets for fountainheads.
Drink tasty antidotes. Otherwise
You and the werewolf: newlyweds.
Body my house
my horse my hound
what will I do
when you are fallen
Where will I sleep
How will I ride
What will I hunt
Where can I go
without my mount
all eager and quick
How will I know
in thicket ahead
is danger or treasure
when Body my good
bright dog is dead
How will it be
to lie in the sky
without roof or door
and wind for an eye
With cloud for shift
how will I hide?
“Anecdote of the Prince of Peacocks”
In the moonlight
I met Berserk,
In the moonlight
On the bushy plain.
Oh, sharp he was
As the sleepless!
And, “Why are you red
In this milky blue?”
As if awake
In the midst of sleep?”
“You that wander,”
So he said,
“On the bushy plain,
Forget so soon.
But I set my traps
In the midst of dreams.”
I knew from this
That the blue ground
Was full of blocks
And blocking steel.
I knew the dread
Of the bushy plain,
And the beauty
Of the moonlight
As sleep falls
In the innocent air.
From Actual Air (Open City, 1999)
From Actual Air (Open City, 1999).
From Actual Air (Open City, 1999)