Nightingales in Brest

I have been working in Brest in the art college since September. I’m like a tourist, I come here for a couple of days and then go home. The sea air, the changeable weather, remind me even more of my first home : Dublin.

One of the first things I noticed was the sound of the seagulls. Then when I had more time in the city, I noticed how calm it was compared to Paris and how I could hear the other birds.

This evening in Brest, a cool spring evening, with a beautiful long stretch in the evening, the birds were pouring forth their song. As I sat there drinking in this beautiful moment the poem by Keats that I have been trying to learn for a long time came to mind. I listened and then I read it out. I still do not know it by heart.

So here it is an imperfect version because it is not yet in my heart. I find it a difficult poem to learn because of its length and also because it is as if there is something so beautiful inside it, that I am almost wary to take apart these delicate words. The words roll over you, roll out of your mouth, feeling to me like dewy wet fronds, that you push aside to fly on the blind wings of poetry to stand in the song filled glade…

I hope you enjoy this moment. Filmed on my phone so sorry for the image quality.

Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
         My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
         One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
         But being too happy in thine happiness,—
                That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
                        In some melodious plot
         Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
                Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
         Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
         Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
         Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
                With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
                        And purple-stained mouth;
         That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
                And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
         What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
         Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
         Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
                Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
                        And leaden-eyed despairs,
         Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
                Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
         Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
         Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
         And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
                Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;
                        But here there is no light,
         Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
                Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
         Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
         Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
         White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
                Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;
                        And mid-May’s eldest child,
         The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
                The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
         I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
         To take into the air my quiet breath;
                Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
         To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
                While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
                        In such an ecstasy!
         Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
                   To thy high requiem become a sod.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
         No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
         In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
         Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
                She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
                        The same that oft-times hath
         Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
                Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
         To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
         As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
         Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
                Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
                        In the next valley-glades:
         Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
                Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

John Keats by William Hilton
John Keats by William Hilton

Saying “Demain, dès l’aube…” by Victor Hugo

“Demain, dès l’aube…”

This week I am saying a famous poem by the French poet Victor Hugo.

 

Learn poems every week

My children learn poems nearly every week  in their school (this is what they do in France) and I heard this poem and fell in love with it. There are other great poems too that they have learnt and I will share them soon too.

Boating accident

A nightmare for any parent: this poem was written by Hugo for his daughter Leopoldine, who had drowned with her husband in a boating accident. She was 19 years old at the time of her death. The accident happened four years before the poem was written.

You know that this poem is a love poem, but it is not until the second last line that you learn that the object of the poet’s love is dead. It is beautifully put together and controlled and with beautiful sonorities. It sounds very conversational in the first part of the poem. It rolls off the tongue with the simple rhyming scheme but if you look at it you can see that Hugo has cut sentences up and the rhymes happen within them.

A master at work…

Hugo is a powerful lyrical poet. He was so well known in his day that his writing affected the politics of his country. He also drew a huge amount during his life. He is a little like a more contemporary version of William Blake…

PS: I’m very busy at the moment so that is why I have not put up as many poems as the other weeks. Now it will soon be the holiday season so I will have time to learn some more poems.

Have a good Christmas!

Demain, dès l’aube…

Demain, dès l’aube, à l’heure où blanchit la campagne,
Je partirai. Vois-tu, je sais que tu m’attends.
J’irai par la forêt, j’irai par la montagne.
Je ne puis demeurer loin de toi plus longtemps.

Je marcherai les yeux fixés sur mes pensées,
Sans rien voir au dehors, sans entendre aucun bruit,
Seul, inconnu, le dos courbé, les mains croisées,
Triste, et le jour pour moi sera comme la nuit.

Je ne regarderai ni l’or du soir qui tombe,
Ni les voiles au loin descendant vers Harfleur,
Et quand j’arriverai, je mettrai sur ta tombe
Un bouquet de houx vert et de bruyère en fleur.

3 septembre 1847

Victor Hugo

Saying “Part One : Life LXXXVII” and “Forbidden Fruit. II. ” by Emily Dickinson

This week here I am saying two short poems by Emily Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886).

Fighting for Emily Dickinson

I was attacked early in the morning on Friday night returning home from a party. I was not far from my house and my two young attackers did not hurt me too much. They managed to take my mobile phone from me, an iPhone 4 (so, at the time of this writing not the greatest phone available to consumers).

Street Fighting 2017

Having fought across the street and knocked me to the ground twice and I only having been able to knock one of them to the ground briefly (by throwing him across a green Parisian wheelie bin) we proceeded across the street to continue in their plan of giving me a sound beating and thereby relieve me of more of my possessions.

The Turning Point

It was at this time that they decided to try to take my bag containing my notebooks and two books of poetry. One of them was a compilation of Irish poets (Ten Poems from Ireland) and the other was a copy of Selected Poems by Emily Dickinson. My notebooks contained various drawings of the Fox and also preparation drawings for the performance piece in Toulon.

As they tried to rip the bag from me I resisted their attacks and grabbed the bag back from them. I managed to knock their plastic bag to the ground smashing the cheap bottle of vodka to pieces. They continued to attack me and lay about me.

The Cavalry (or Angels)

…And then we all heard shouts from above. People on a balcony above were telling them to stop. And then very quickly these people rushed down to us and when my youthful attackers saw that these people were coming they decided to run off. The people on the balcony had reminded them in an indirect way of their higher selves.

The people on the balcony and I gave chase but it was a little too late. I was very lucky that those people came to my rescue. I thanked them and then made my way home. I lost a jacket and a phone. I got a couple of bruises and they got a good kick and a phone. They lost a cheap bottle of vodka. They also missed a chance to spend some quality time with me. But we may meet again and perhaps we could do all of this properly and I could read them some poems, tell them a couple of jokes.

What has been happening to them since that morning

This may sound crazy but I am going to go out on a limb here. In Ireland a long time ago, one of the worst things that could happen to you was being cursed by a poet. Now, knowing a little about language and the danger of curses (they can backfire on you) I have been blessing my two attackers actively since the attack. I feel that violence breeds violence and I think that these two young men may have been coming out of a long period of difficulty. There is very little chance of things going better for them if they continue that way. Despite the general climate of hate and hostility I still believe that they are not choosing a career here.

Black Friday

France had just gone through its version of Black Friday and I feel that these two men were hoping or dreaming that they were finally going to find the thing in my pocket that somehow would fill this gap inside themselves. I am sorry for them that the iPhone 4 was probably not worth all the danger they put themselves through.

Despite all proof to the contrary I have a feeling that they have been going through a difficult time since the attack. My kick may still be hurting them. But more than that there are strange things happening in their dreams. Their imagination has now been opened up to other possibilities. Their plan (which I am sorry to say was not very well organised – another reason why they should reconsider their career choice) definitely did not go the way they wanted it to.

Wrong script

I even managed to say to them “guys you don’t know who you’re dealing with here”. If I’d had more time I would have added in “what I do I have are a very particular set of skills” but I think that first remark really annoyed them (or scared them: same difference) and they jumped on me before I could finish off the speech.

What has happened since then is really anybody’s guess but I believe in magic- I am a Magic Freak  ( link to the music from the duo electromenager where I sang this song over ten years ago- “I’m a victim but I’m always protected, I feel sorry for my enemies so dejected”). Still, my point is that when you meet people and show them another possibility, their imagination is opened, and even if it is not, I have a feeling that there are other forces at work that are now affecting them in ways that they cannot have imagined.

Dreams

I am talking about dreams. How I don’t know but one of them, he is now remembering a childhood friend who is coming back to him in his dreams, holding his hand, coming back after all these years to play with him. His friend died, it was messed up but here he is reminding him of the beautiful golden things he could do. In another his mother (but it is not only his mother but also the poet Emily Dickinson too but he does not know that) is speaking to him, reminding him of things he had forgotten.

They are waking up and smoking spliffs trying to dampen down these dreams. But you know, Change, you cannot stop it. And that is what has been happening to these two young gentlemen since they laid hands on me. And I also laid hands on them. No punches, just a strange calm, like a dance. I held their arms, I held the ringleader by his wrist I helped him to cross the road.

Fair warning

I warned them. I gave them a chance. They decided to go ahead. So I helped them across the road.

And now, they will maybe never be able to speak to anyone about their strange dreams but their dreams are going to double, triple in intensity. Their only choice will be to turn towards the light.

Maybe I am wrong though…

What About Emily Dickinson?

So here is this week’s poem in honour of Emily Dickinson, whom I think may have enjoyed that night the sight of a poet, fighting, physically for her work ! And maybe Emily interceded with my young attackers and calmed their youthful ardour.

And the Fox?

And I will also be drawing a re- enactment of the fight by the Fox.

Why?

Because I am an artist and that is the only thing I know how to do : recycle my life. Turn the shit into something positive or at least entertaining. Maybe just an anecdote. Or a poem.

Thx Emily LOL!

Just remember : self defense = poetry books and sketch books.

 

Part One : Life
LXXXVII

Forbidden fruit a flavour has
That lawful Orchards mocks ;
How luscious lies the pea within’
The pod that Duty locks !

Forbidden Fruit.
II.

Heaven is what I cannot reach !
The apple on the tree,
Provided it do hopeless hang,
That ‘heaven’ is, to me.

The colour on the cruising cloud,
The interdicted ground
Behind the hill, the house behind, –
There Paradise is found !

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)