Jane Austen, Machado, My thoughts, Nabokov, Neruda, Poetry

Tomatos, Flies, Poetry, and Randomness

Recently I finished two different books of poetry. One was Soledades, galerías, otros poemas, by Antonio Machado, which has many of his books in English too, the other is a bilingual edition of Selected Poems by Pablo Neruda.

Reading poetry in Spanish is what made me, in particular, a constant reader of poetry. Before I found that elusive line that connects poetry with our being, I just didn’t get it. I had a thick crust, layers of too much control and too little patience. Poetry could not cut through my too wannabe analytical and my impervious habits of reading. I knew that for authors of literature, one needs to get used to the style, maybe even read a few good number of pages in the dark, until shapes start to emerge, and familiarity opens your eyes. Then we can see the vision the author is communicating. But I had never applied this knowledge to poetry.

Stevenson and A.A. Milne were good, but they also stop at the threshold of our grown up door. Antonio Machado was perfect for me because he connected my childhood with my adulthood. It was chance at the time, but years have proven this to be an important event. I was given a book of Machado’s poetry for children. One poem spoke to my adolescent self, and I decided to memorize it. It was this one you see bellow, Last Night as I Was Sleeping, (this is a fabulous reading in English, and then in Spanish, and the person reciting it explains in English the Spanish verses. Enticing.) When I was reading Machado’s poetry, it felt close to my heart, and it was a moving moment the day my reading came to that very same poem I still remember.

My only small complain when I hear the English version of it, it’s how bendita ilusión is translated. Marvelous error doesn’t seem to me equivalent to bendita ilusión. An ilusión to me is not exactly an error, but I understand the poet is telling us it was his perception error, his illusion, as in a dream, what he is talking about, thus the choice in English of the adjective ‘marvelous’. After a while, it sits well in the whole of the poem, yes, I approve the expression marvelous error, ha ha ha.

This was my second time reading this collection, and as familiarity kicks in, one sees more details.

In reading, one should notice and fondle details. There is nothing wrong about the moonshine of generalization when it comes after the sunny trifles of the book have been lovingly collected. If one begins with a readymade generalization, one begins at the wrong end and travels away from the book before one has started to understand it.

According to Nabokov, reading is in the details. (That was his very reason to recommend re-reading.) Isn’t it delightful to see how this process of sedimentation occurs in our reading life, and how it help us to appreciate authors or titles that start becoming the flesh of who we are as readers.

Incidentally, I use the word reader very loosely. Curiously enough, one cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader.

It surprised me to find that Nabokov almost missed Jane Austen’s riches. After reading Pride and Prejudice, and not being impressed at all, he was ready to give up on Austen, and throw her in the trash can of all the other women writers, -of whom he had a poor opinion. And then Mansfield Park happened. I’m no expert on Jane Austen, but, granted that she left us with just 6 main books, (owed to her dying so young), it wouldn’t hurt to go pass one or two of her titles, and see what the accumulation of her varied yet consistent with her style work has to offer.

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I love tomatoes in any shape and form. This here is one of my favorite ways of eating them. I put a couple of them in the ninja blender, with a clove of garlic, and then I add a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper, and some super easy home made croutons (hard bread in the oven with some oil and spices until golden and crunchy.)

Reading Nabokov’s essay on Mansfield Park in this book of lectures, I got to see what a writer saw in another writer’s book. Nabokov uncovers the skill and structure behind the scenes of Austen’s masterpiece. At the beginning of the book, I read again his famous essay, Good Readers and Good Writers. I always want to quote it in full! (The previous quotes are from that article.)

Also, as Nabokov explains, great authors invent a universe and language of their own. If this happens in literature, this is the trademark of poetry. We need to trust our poets, and give them time. Only after we soak in their language preferences, topic obsessions, we start to enjoy and anticipate reading the next poem. Collections work well too, if they are nicely curated. They give us a nice overdose under a theme, or a time period, something that makes us hold tighter each poem, until we feel that undercurrent that helps us navigate through the pages and enjoy the ride.

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I must tell you, though, that Neruda was very different from Machado. Neruda was born in Chile in 1904, and died in Chile in 1973. Machado was born in 1875, Seville, Spain and died 1939, Collioure, France. Though Machado lived traumatic events marked by the war, (Spanish civil war was 1936 to 1939), and he also saw the death of his first wife at the age of 17, (he married when he was 34 and she just 15), his poetry is evocative, nostalgic, and tender. Neruda’s was raw, jarring, and too direct. (I had to skip some poems.) I know Neruda is known as a poet of love, but his love is not the more romantic ideal of other poets such as Bécquer, of whom adolescents are fond of, but love in the flesh. Remember his famous book is Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, and that Song of Despair is what gives away the clue of the tone of his love poems. (I’m venturing a bit, since I did not read that book, but in the Selections, there were many poems from it.) The pulse of the times was noticeable in Neruda’s poems. However, I feel a bit of an impostor talking about Neruda. I need to read his poems at least once more to continue understanding them while I enjoy them.

Both men, as men with trained eyes to look at the inconsequential, at those small things that the fool dismisses, applied ink and talent to write poems to such things as flies, (Machado’s case), and tomatoes, (Neruda’s choice.)

The Flies, by Machado

You, the familiar
the inevitable, greedy
you, vulgar flies
evoke in me things of all kinds

Oh! old voracious flies
like bees in April
old persistent flies
on the bald spot of my childish head

Flies of all times
of childhood and adolescence,
of my golden youth;
of this second innocence,
that leads to not believe in anything,
in nothing

Flies of the first boredom
in the common living room
the clear summer nights
during which my own dreams were sparked

In the loathed school as well
swift entertaining flies
pursued, chased, sought
for the love of beings that could fly

I know that you had stopped over
my dearest of toys
my big hardcover book
my love letter
over the rigid eyelids
of the dead

Inevitable, greedy ones
you don’t cultivate like bees do
you don’t shine like butterflies do
tiny yet rebellious
you, wonderer friendly flies,
evoke in me things of all kinds

And here is another interesting blog post by someone who thinks that poetry can make anything beautiful.

If anything that probably sums up both of these songs/poems; the notion of looking at things from a different angle, for one never knows where beauty, art, and nostalgia might pop up. Does this mean that everything is art? No, of course not. I don’t care how postmodern we become, not everything can be passed out as art. Can anything become art? Probably, with the right about of talent, dedication and skill, and also, by looking at things slightly differently.

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The tumbler is my favorite. The ladies at co-op gave it to us, coordinators, as a Christmas gift, and I’m always seen drinking from it. The bowl has one of my favorite simple meals, chick peas with some sauteed onion, and paprika, pepper, and salt.

 

Ode To Tomatoes by Pablo Neruda

The street
filled with tomatoes,
midday,
summer,
light is
halved
like
a
tomato,
its juice
runs
through the streets.
In December,
unabated,
the tomato
invades
the kitchen,
it enters at lunchtime,
takes
its ease
on countertops,
among glasses,
butter dishes,
blue saltcellars.
It sheds
its own light,
benign majesty.
Unfortunately, we must
murder it:
the knife
sinks
into living flesh,
red
viscera
a cool
sun,
profound,
inexhaustible,
populates the salads
of Chile,
happily, it is wed
to the clear onion,
and to celebrate the union
we
pour
oil,
essential
child of the olive,
onto its halved hemispheres,
pepper
adds
its fragrance,
salt, its magnetism;
it is the wedding
of the day,
parsley
hoists
its flag,
potatoes
bubble vigorously,
the aroma
of the roast
knocks
at the door,
it’s time!
come on!
and, on
the table, at the midpoint
of summer,
the tomato,
star of earth, recurrent
and fertile
star,
displays
its convolutions,
its canals,
its remarkable amplitude
and abundance,
no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness.

There’s analysis of the poem that point to political and historical allusions. The more I read it, the more I thought it has that added layer. I felt he chose tomatoes to personify his beloved Chile. Whether you see that there or not, it’s perfectly fine (I say to myself, -grin), to just read it and enjoy it for whatever cords it strikes.

As for the promised Randomness, the Classic Club Spin was #3, and it corresponds to Persuasion. I’ll read or listen to it, and sometime this year, I’ll top off my reading Jane Austen adventure with Sense an Sensibility. Then, once all of her main 6 books have been read once, I have the rest of my life to start reading them for real, (re-reading them.)

21 thoughts on “Tomatos, Flies, Poetry, and Randomness”

  1. Wow. There is so many beautiful ideas and thoughts to consider here, Silvia. I only read the beginning because I’m thinking on a couple things you said about how poetry connects from a LINE in it and also I love how you phrased how some poetry we “leave at the door of childhood”…I’m coming back to read the next bit soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Amy. I was trying to say a lot in a short space. You have cultivated the love of poetry in your children. I did not have that education, but casually, I had some contact with poetry, and I was able to unearth that love at a later age. Even so, I have realized it was more difficult for me to become a frequent reader of poetry by choice, than to try some difficult classic literature, or other genres. Once I connected, -by looking back into childhood, into poetry in my mother tongue, and once I decided to give it a little time, to be constant with an author or book, -and not expect immediate ‘results’, poetry started to take root, and now I can’t be without reading some. (But that’s been in the past two years only, before, I read it to my daughters more out of duty, even though we’ve loved much of it in the process.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Persuasion is the favourite Austen of those I’ve read (which I confess is not very many…) so I do hope you enjoy it. As for Nabokov, I think I agree with him about the re-reading – a book gives you so much more the second or third time around. That’s a very pretty edition of Neruda and I’m sure I have a volume by him somewhere in English (cue to go and dig in the heaps of books causing the rafters to sag)……

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    1. LOL, (I love your/our book problems!) I’m glad you loved Persuasion. And yes, re-reading is amazing. Yesterday I listened (does that count as re-reading?, it’s truly a re-listening too!) to chapters 20 and 21 of Don Quijote. While I’ve read and listen to it several times before, it’s always like new. For the first time, I perceived details, and had new thoughts on the whole book through those two chapters. Our senses are more acute when we re-read, we take in much more.

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  3. Those quotes are WONDERFUL and I’m intrigued now by his Lectures on Literature. The poems are lovely and so interesting also…your chickpea photo is lovely with the light hitting it and the steam rising. This is just such a wonderful post, Silvia. Thank you for sharing!

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  4. Pingback: The Classics Club
  5. For some reason, I just haven’t clicked much with poetry. I keep reading it though. 🙂 Maybe I need to study poetry more – that is, the grammar of poetry – and then maybe that will help me click with it more.

    The quote by Nabokov that you included in your post: “Incidentally, I use the word reader very loosely. Curiously enough, one cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader.” This is interesting. I want to think on that more. I think it was Adler in How to Read a Book that talked about the importance of doing a general reading and then re-reading. I definitely see the benefits of re-reading. Wuthering Heights is one that I definitely want to read again. I think much can be gained from reading it more than once because it is such a complex novel.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You may be right. I keep reading. Maybe one day I’ll find a poet or a collection of poetry that speaks to me. I am looking forward to reading the selection I chose for my reading challenge for poetry. It’s Dream Work by Mary Oliver. I haven’t read anything by her that I know of.

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    1. Karen, I hope you find your poet! Mary Oliver is good; maybe you will like her. And maybe you would like “How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry” by Ed Hirsch. He will give you different ways of looking at a poem, and more than that, his enthusiasm for poetry may rub off. 🙂 His anthology, Poet’s Choice is another good title; I didn’t love all of the poems he chose, but I really loved his passion and the things he found in the poetry.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Another thing that can have an amazing effect is to go to a poetry reading. Hearing live poets reciting their work is inspiring (at least it is if there is a good poet). April is National Poetry Month and there tend to be a lot of events. If you check with an independent book store in your area, you would probably be able to find a reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Sherry, thanks for the book recommendation! I will write that title down! Yes, maybe some of Hirsch’s love of poetry will rub off. LOL Silvia, you’ve written a few posts about your developing relationship with poetry (including this one) and it has been inspirational.

    I don’t know why poetry just hasn’t clicked with me much. I do really enjoy Rossetti, Stevenson, and some Frost. And I know there are some others too. I do like some of Emily Dickinson as well. But even some of Frost’s poetry I didn’t care for. You know, it’s a little embarrassing to admit this but I think it might have to do with whether it rhymes or not. Silly I know. But there it is. I think somewhere in my brain the term poetry got equated with rhyming, in having a rhythm when it’s read, and so when it doesn’t rhyme or have a definite rhythm, it doesn’t feel like poetry. And that’s really silly!! I’m shaking my head at myself!! I think a book like what you recommended Sherry could be really good….help me see and understand poetry in all it’s forms. You gals are great! I’m excited to broaden my poetry horizons!

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  8. I found what I was thinking of in Adler’s book How to Read a Book about re-reading. He talks about different types of reading, one of which is called inspectional reading. That is when you scan the book, not as in just quickly skimming over it, but as in just a general light reading of it…a pre-reading. He says: “…most people, even many quite good readers, are unaware of the value of inspectional reading. They start a book on page one and plow steadily through it, without even reading the table of contents. They are thus faced with the task of achieving a superficial knowledge of the book at the same time that they are trying to understand it.” (pg. 19) He also says, “Skimming or pre-reading is the first sub-level of inspectional reading. Your main aim is to discover whether the book requires a more careful reading.” (pg. 32) Of course he says a lot more about this particular level of reading.

    After the inspectional stage or level – where you discover what type of book it is, what it’s about, etc. – there’s the analytical stage or what he calls analytical reading. About this he says, “Analytical reading is thorough reading, complete reading, or good reading…the best and most complete reading that is possible given unlimited time.” And of course he says a lot more about that as well.

    These are just very brief comments regarding these things. Adler goes in to quite a bit of detail in his book discussing this. It makes me want to start reading the book again!

    It does get one thinking though. I’m thinking that maybe this doesn’t quite apply to fiction – or at least some fiction anyway. But a book like Wuthering Heights, I can totally see the benefit of more than one reading. The first reading gives you the storyline and how it ends and is like an introduction. Then the next time I around, I imagine one could pick up on more in the novel because it a complex book.

    Anyway, it’s definitely got me thinking even more about reading habits.

    Liked by 1 person

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