It’s winter now. As I write out a description of leaves being picked up by a blackbird looking for worm and insects, somewhere in the back of my mind is an ancient Chinese poem about leaves. In looking, there is Rilke’s
- Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
- Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
- wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
- und wird in den Alleen hin und her
- unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.
…wake, read, write letters long to friends
And will the alleys up and down
Walk restlessly, when falling leaves dance.
Check out the five versions in the links in the Rilke post to see how hard it is to translate ‘walking’, alleys’, ‘ leaves’.
If you have read Le Ton Beau de Marot by Douglas Hofstadter, you will appreciate these.
In checking around to see what people thought of the Hofstadter, here are a few ifs, buts, and whyfors:
Ma Mignonne is not Rilke, sure. But that wasn’t Hofstadter’s point. In any case it was a poem linked to his wife, Carol. The third commenter in the Everything2 entry, “Teleny”, describes Le Ton Beau de Marot as having ‘ more than a whiff of the infirmary about it. But what is therapeutic to write is not always easy or pleasant to read, especially when the stench is that of the asylum. ‘, concluding: ‘ warm bright spots in a muddy catacomb.’ But she gets it, too, because she writes finally:
The main issue seems to be, having discarded the traditional views of religion and philosophy in favor of hard skepticism, he’s now faced with the age-old paradox of love continuing even after the object of this love has become a collection of decaying organic material. Since he cannot rely on the comfort of an afterlife, or even (as Dante himself seemed to indicate) of her qualities reflecting a greater good, and cannot bear to think of himself having so human an emotion as grief, he’s fallen back on reinventing the wheel of superstition. If only he could convey….in just the right words…remember her…in just the right circumstances, just the right moment… if he could translate this poem, her favorite, with just the right shades of meaning.. then, perhaps (his madly grieving mind seems to be saying)… she might…live again?