Monday, November 23, 2015

“There Is No God” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

[This essay is a redaction of Shelley's first pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism (1811) to serve as a note to the line in Queen Mab, "There is no God" (1813). The Necessity of Atheism is greatly expanded and considerably modified in thought and style. A careful study of the two essays will throw some light on Shelley's developing mind during the two crowded years between them. Locke's influence dominates The Necessity while Hume and Holbach are the important sources of the Note.]
This negation must be understood solely to affect a creative Deity. The hypothesis of a pervading Spirit co‑eternal with the universe remains unshaken.

A close examination of the validity of the proofs adduced to support any proposition is the only secure way of attaining truth, on the advantages of which it is unnecessary to descant; our knowledge of the existence of a Deity is a subject of such importance that it cannot be too minutely investigated; in consequence of this conviction we proceed briefly and impartially to examine the proofs which have been adduced. It is necessary first to consider the nature of belief.
When a proposition is offered to the mind, it perceives the agreement or disagreement of the ideas of which it is composed. A perception of their agreement is termed belief. Many obstacles frequently prevent this perception from being immediate; these the mind attempts to remove in order that the perception may be distinct. The mind is active in the investigation in order to perfect the state of perception of the relation which the component ideas of the proposition bear to each, which is passive. The investigation being confused with the perception has induced many falsely to imagine that the mind is active in belief—that belief is an act of volition—in consequence of which it may be regulated by the mind. Pursuing, continuing this mistake, they have attached a degree of criminality to disbelief; of which, in its nature, it is incapable; it is equally incapable of merit.
Belief, then, is a passion the strength of which, like every other passion, is in precise proportion to the degrees of excitement.
The degrees of excitement are three:
The senses are the sources of all knowledge to the mind; consequently their evidence claims the strongest assent.
The decision of the mind, founded upon our own experience, derived from these sources, claims the next degree.
The experience of others, which addresses itself to the former one, occupies the lowest degree.
(A graduated scale, on which should be marked the capabilities of propositions to approach to the test of the senses, would be a just barometer of the belief which ought to be attached to them.)
Consequently no testimony can be admitted which is contrary to reason; reason is founded on the evidence of our senses.
Every proof may be referred to one of these three divisions: it is to be considered what arguments we receive from each of them, which should convince us of the existence of a Deity.
lst. The evidence of the senses. If the Deity should appear to us, if He should convince our senses of His existence, this revelation would necessarily command belief. Those to whom the Deity has thus appeared have the strongest possible conviction of His existence. But the God of theologians is incapable of local visibility.
2nd. Reason. It is urged that man knows that whatever is must either have had a beginning, or have existed from all eternity; he also knows that whatever is not eternal must have had a cause. When this reasoning is applied to the universe, it is necessary to prove that it was created—until that is clearly demonstrated we may reasonably suppose that it has endured from all eternity. We must prove design before we can infer a designer. The only idea which we can form of causation is derivable from the constant conjunction of objects, and the consequent inference of one from the other. In a case where two propositions are diametrically opposite, the mind believes that which is least incomprehensible; it is easier to suppose that the universe has existed from all eternity than to conceive a being beyond its limits capable of creating it; if the mind sinks beneath the weight of one, is it an alleviation to increase the intolerability of the burden? [1]
The other argument, which is founded on a man's knowledge of his own existence, stands thus: A man knows not only that he now is, but that once he was not; consequently there must have been a cause. But our idea of causation is alone derivable from the constant conjunction of objects and the consequent inference of one from the other; and, reasoning experimentally, we can only infer from effects causes exactly adequate to those effects. But there certainly is a generative power which is effected by certain instruments; we cannot prove that it is inherent in these instruments; nor is the contrary hypothesis capable of demonstration. We admit that the generative power is incomprehensible; but to suppose that the same effect is produced by an eternal, omniscient, omnipotent being leaves the cause in the same obscurity, but renders it more incomprehensible.
3rd. Testimony. It is required that testimony should not be contrary to reason. The testimony that the Deity convinces the senses of men of His existence can only be admitted by us if our mind considers it less probable that these men should have been deceived than that the Deity should have appeared to them. Our reason can never admit the testimony of men who not only declare that they were eye‑witnesses of miracles but that the Deity was irrational; for He commanded that He should be believed; He proposed the highest rewards for faith, eternal punishments for disbelief. We can only command voluntary actions; belief is not an act of volition; the mind is even passive, or involuntarily active; from this it is evident that we have no sufficient testimony, or rather that testimony is insufficient, to prove the being of a God. It has been before shown that it cannot be deduced from reason. They alone, then, who have been convinced by the evidence of the senses can believe it.
Hence it is evident that, having no proofs from either of the three sources of conviction, the mind cannot believe the existence of a creative God; it is also evident, that, as belief is a passion of the mind, no degree of criminality is attachable to disbelief; and that they only are reprehensible who neglect to remove the false medium through which their mind views any subject of discussion. Every reflecting mind must acknowledge that there is no proof of the existence of a Deity.
God is an hypothesis and, as such, stands in need of proof: the onus probandi rests on the theist. Sir Isaac Newton says: Hypotheses non fingo, quicquid enim ex phaenomenis non deducitur hypothesis vocanda est , et hypothesis vel metaphysicae, vel physicae, vel qualitatum occultarum, son mechanicae, in philosophia locum non habent. [2] To all proofs of the existence of a creative God apply this valuable rule. We see a variety of bodies possessing a variety of powers; we merely know their effects; we are in a state of ignorance with respect to their essences and causes. These Newton calls the phenomena of things; but the pride of philosophy is unwilling to admit its ignorance of their causes. From the phenomena, which are the objects of our senses, we attempt to infer a cause, which we call God, and gratuitously endow it with all negative and contradictory qualities. From this hypothesis we invent this general name to conceal our ignorance of causes and essences. The being called God by no means answers with the conditions prescribed by Newton; it bears every mark of a veil woven by philosophical conceit to hide the ignorance of philosophers even from themselves. They borrow the threads of its texture from the anthropomorphism of the vulgar. Words have been used by sophists for the same purposes, from the occult qualities of the peripatetics to the effluvium of Boyle and crinities or nebulae of Herschel. God is represented as infinite, eternal, incomprehensible; He is contained under every predicate in non that the logic of ignorance could fabricate. Even His worshippers allow that it is impossible to form any idea of Him; they exclaim with the French poet,
Pour dire ce qu'il est, il faut être lui‑même. [3]
Lord Bacon says that atheism leaves to man reason, philosophy, natural piety, laws, reputation, and everything that can serve to conduct him to virtue; but superstition destroys all these, and erects itself into a tyranny over the understandings of men; hence atheism never disturbs the government, but renders man more clear‑sighted, since he sees nothing beyond the boundaries of the present life.
Bacon's Moral Essays [A paraphrase from "Of Superstition."]
La première théologie de l'homme lui fit d'abord craindre et adorer les élémens même, des objets matériels et grossiers; il rendit ensuite ses hommages a des agens présidens aux elémens, à des génies inférieurs, à des héros, ou à des hommes doués de grands qualités. A force de réfléchir il crut simplifier les choses en soumettant la nature entière à un seul agent, a un esprit, à une âme universelle, qui mettoit cette nature et ses parties en mouvement. En remontant des causes en causes, les mortels ont fini par ne rien voir; et c'est dans cette obscurité qu'ils ont place leur Dieu; c'est dans cette obscurité qu'ils ont placé leur Dieu; c'est dans cette abîme ténébreux que leur imagination inquiète travaille toujours à se fabriquer des chimères, qui les affligeront jusqu'à ce que la connoissance de la nature les détrompe des fantômes qu'ils ont toujours si vainement adorés.
Si nous voulons nous rendre compte de nos idées sur la Divinité, nous serons obligés de convenir que, par le mot Dieu, les hommes n'ont jamais pu désigner que la cause la plus cachée, la plus éloignée, la plus inconnue des effets qu'ils voyoient: ils ne font usage de ce mot, que lorsque le jeu des causes naturelles et connues cesse d'être visible pour eux; dès qu'ils perdent le fil de ces causes, ou dès que leur esprit ne peut plus en suivre le chaîne, ils tranchent leur difficulté, et terminent leur recherches en appellant Dieu la dernière des causes, c'est‑à‑dire celle qui est audelà de toutes les causes qu'ils connoissent; ainsi ils ne font qu'assigner une dénomination vague à une cause ignorée, à laquelle leur paresse ou les bornes de leurs connoissances les forcent de s'arrêter. Toutes les fois qu'on nous dit que Dieu est l'auteur de quelque phénomène, cela signifie qu'on ignore comment un tel phénomène a pu s'opérer par le sécours des forces ou des causes que nous connoissons dans la nature. C'est ainsi que le commun des hommes, dont l'ignorance est le partage, attribue à la Divinité non seulement les effets inusités qui les frappent, mais encore les événemens les plus simples, dont les causes sont les plus faciles à connôitre pour quiconque a pu les méditer. En un mot, l'homme a toujours respecté les causes inconnues des effets surprenans, que son ignorance l'empêchoit de démêler. Ce fut sur les débris de la nature que les hommes élevèrent le colosse imaginaire de la Divinité.
Si l'ignorance de la nature donna la naissance aux dieux, la connoissance de la nature est faite pour les detruire. A mésure que l'homme s'instruit, ses forces et ses ressources augmentent avec ses lumières; les sciences, les arts conservateurs, l'industrie, lui fournissent des secours; l'expérience le rassûre, ou lui procure des moyens de résister aux efforts de bien des causes qui cessent de l'alarmer dès qu'il les a connues. En un mot, ses terreurs se dissipent dans la même proportion que son esprit s'éclaire. L'homme instruit cesse d'être superstitieux.
Ce n'est jamais que sur parole que des peuples entiers adorent le Dieu de leurs pères et de leurs prêtres: l'autorité, la confiance, la soumission, et l'habitude leur tiennent lieu de conviction et de preuves; ils se prosternent et prient, parce que leurs pères leur ont appris àse prosterner et à prier: mais pourquoi ceux‑ci se sont‑ils mis à genoux? C'est que dans les temps éloignés leurs legislateurs et leurs guides leur en ont fait un devoir. "Adorez et croyez," ont‑ils dit, "des dieux que vous ne pouvez comprendre; rapportez‑vous en a notre sagesse profonde; nous en savons plus que vous sur la divinité." "Mais pourquoi m'en rapporterai‑je àvous?" "C'est que Dieu le veut ainsi; c'est que Dieu vous punira si vous osez résister:" "Mais ce Dieu n'est‑il donc pas la chose en question?" Cependant les hommes se sont toujours payés de ce cercle vicieux; la paresse de leur esprit leur fit trouver plus court de s'en rapporter au jugement des autres. Toutes les notions religieuses sont fondées uniquement sur l'autorite; toutes les religions du monde défendent l'examen et ne veulent pas que l'on raisonne; c'est l'autorité qui veut qu'on croie en Dieu; ce Dieu n'est lui­même fondé que sur l'autorité de quelques hommes qui prétendent le connoître, et venir de sa part pour l'annoncer à la terre. Un Dieu fait par les hommes a sans doute besoin des hommes pour se faire connoître au monde.
Ne seroit‑ce donc que pour des prêtres, des inspirés, des métaphysiciens que seroit reservée la conviction de l'existence d'un Dieu, que l'on dit neanmoins si necessaire à toute le genre humain? Mais trouvons‑nous de l'harmonie entre les opinions théologiques des différens inspirés, ou des penseurs répandus sur la terre? Ceux même qui font profession d'adorer le même Dieu, sont‑ils d'accord sur son compte? sont'ils contents des preuves que leurs collègues apportent de son existence? Souscrivent‑ils unanimement aux idées qu'ils présentent sur sa nature, sur sa conduite, sur la façon d'entendre ses prétendus oracles? Est‑il une contrée sur la terre où la science de Dieu se soit réellement perfectionnée? A‑t‑elle pris quelque part la consistance et l'uniformité que nous voyons prendre aux connoissances humaines, aux arts les plus futiles, aux métiers les plus meprisés? les mots d'esprit, d'immatérialité, de création, de prédestination, de grace; cette foule de distinctions subtiles dont la théologie s'est partout remplie; dans quelques pays, ces inventions si ingénieuses, imaginées par des penseurs qui se sont succédés depuis tant de siècles, n'ont fait, helas! qu'embrouiller les choses, et jamais la science la plus nécessaire aux hommes n'a jusqu' ici pu acquérir la moindre fixité. Depuis des milliers d'années des rêveurs oisifs se sont perpétuellement relayés pour méditer la Divinité, pour deviner ses voies cachées, pour inventer des hypothèses propres à développer cette énigme importante. Leur peu de succès n'a point découragé la vanité théologique; toujours on a parlé de Dieu: on s'est disputé, l'on s'est égorgé pour lui, et cet être sublime demeure toujours le plus ignoré et le plus discuté.
Les hommes auroient été trop heureux, si se bornant aux objets visibles qui les intéressent, ils eussent employé à perfectionner leurs sciences réelles, leurs lois, leur morale, leur éducation, la moitié des efforts qu'ils ont mis dans leurs recherches sur la Divinité. Ils auroient été bien plus sages encore, et plus fortunés, s'ils eussent pu consentir à laisser leurs guides désoeuvres se quereller entre eux, et sonder des profondeurs capables de les étourdir, sans se mêler de leurs disputes insensées. Mais il est de l'essence de l'ignorance d'attacher de l'importance à ce qu'elle ne comprend pas. La vanité humaine fait que l'esprit se roidit contre les difficultés. Plus un objet se dérobe à nos yeux, plus nous faisons d'efforts pour le saisir, parce que dès‑lors il aiguillone notre orgueil, il irrite notre curiosite, il nous paroît intéressant. En combattant pour son Dieu, chacun ne combattit en effet que pour les intérêts de sa propre vanité, qui de toutes les passions humaines est la plus prompte a s'alarmer, et la plus propre à produire de très grandes folies.
Si, écartant pour un moment les idées fâcheuses que la théologie nous donne d'un Dieu capricieux, dont les décrets partiaux et despotiques décident du sort des humains, nous ne voulons fixer nos yeux que sur la bonté prétendue, que tous les hommes, même en tremblant devant ce Dieu, s'accordent à lui donner; si nous lui supposons le project qu'on lui prête, de n'avoir travaillé que pour sa propre gloire, d'exiger les hommages des êtres intelligens; de ne chercher dans ses oeuvres que le bien‑être du genre humain; comment concilier ces vues et ces dispositions avec l'ignorance vraiment invincible dans laquelle ce Dieu, si glorieux et si bon, laisse la plupart des hommes sur son compte? Si Dieu veut être connu, chéri, remercié, que ne se montre‑t‑il sous des traits favorables à tous ces êtres intelligens dont il veut être aimé et adoré? Pourquoi ne point se manifester à toute la terre d'une façon non équivoque, bien plus capable de nous convaincre, que ces révélations particulières qui semblent accuser la Divinité d'une partialité fâcheuse pour quelques‑unes de ses créatures? Le toutpuissant n'auroit‑il pas donc des moyens plus convaincans de se montrer aux hommes, que ces métamorphoses ridicules, ces incarnations prétendues, qui nous sont attestées par des écrivains si peu d'accord entre eux dans les récits qu'ils en font? Au lieu de tant de miracles, inventés pour prouver la mission divine de tant de législateurs, revérés par les différens peuples du monde, le souverain des esprits ne pouvoit‑il pas convaincre tout d'un coup l'esprit humain des choses qu'il vouloit lui faire connôitre? Au lieu de suspendre un soleil dans la voùte du firmament; au lieu de répandre sans ordre les étoiles, et les constellations qui remplissent l'espace, n'eut‑il pas été plus conforme aux vues d'un Dieu si jaloux de sa gloire et si bien intentionné pour l'homme; d'écrire d'une façon non sujette à dispute, son nom, ses attributs, ses volontés permanentes, en caractères ineffaçables, et lisibles également pour tous les habitants de la terre? Personne alors n'auroit pu douter de l'existence d'un Dieu, de ses volontés claires, de ses intentions visibles. Sous les yeux de ce Dieu si sensible, personne n'auroit eu l'audace de violer ses ordonnances; nul mortel n'eût osé se mettre dans le cas d'attirer sa colère: enfin nul homme n'eût eu le front d'en imposer en son nom, ou d'interpréter ses volontés suivant ses propres fantaisies.
En effet, quand même on supposeroit l'existence du Dieu théologique, et la réalité des attributs si discordans qu'on lui donne, l'on ne peut en rien conclure, pour autoriser la conduite ou les cultes qu'on prescrit de lui rendre. La théologie est vraiment le tonneau des Danaïdes. A force de qualités contradictoires et d'assertions hazardées, elle a, pour ainsi dire, tellement garroté son Dieu qu'elle l'a mis dans l'impossibilité d'agir. S'il est infiniment bon, quelle raison aurions‑nous de le craindre? S'il est infiniment sage, de quoi nous inquiéter sur notre sort? S'il sait tout, pourquoi l'avertir de nos besoins, et le fatiguer de nos prières? S'il est partout, pourquoi lui élever des temples? S'il est le maître de tout, pourquoi lui faire des sacrifices et des offrandes? S'il est juste, comment croire qu'il punisse des créatures qu'il a remplies de foiblesses? Si la grace fait tout en elles, quelle raison auroit‑il de les récompenser? S'il est tout‑puissant, comment l'offenser, comment lui résister? S'il est raisonnable, comment se mettroit‑il en colère contre des aveugles, à qui il a laissé la liberté de déraisonner? S'il est immuable, de quel droit prétendrions­nous faire changer ses décrets? S'il est inconcevable, pourquoi nous en occuper? S'IL A PARLÉ, POURQUOI L'UNIVERS N'EST‑IL PAS CONVAINCU? Si la connoissance d'un Dieu est la plus nécessaire, pourquoi n'est‑elle pas la plus évidente, et la plus claire. —Système de la Nature, London, 1781. [4] [Shelley quotes verbatim, errors and all, scattered paragraphs from Volume Two, London edition (1771), principally from pages 16‑18, 27, 319‑326, as though they were consecutive. ]
The enlightened and benevolent Pliny thus publicly professes himself an atheist: Quapropter effigiem Dei formamque quaerere inbecillitatis humanae reor. Quisquis est Deus (si modo est alius) et qua cunque in parte, totus est sensus, totus est visus, totus auditus, totus animae, totus animi, totus sui. . . . Imperfectae vero in homine naturae praecipua solatia ne deum quidem posse omnia. Namque nec sibi potest mortent consciscere, si velit, quod homini dedit optimum in tantis vitae poenis: nec mortales aeternitate donare, aut revocare defunctos; nec facere ut qui vixit non vixerit, qui honores gessit non gesserit, nullumque habere in praete­riturn ius, praeterquarn oblivionis, atque (ut facetis quoque argumentis societas haec cum deo copuletur) ut his dena viginti non Sint, et multa similiter efficere non posse. Per quae declaratur haud dubie naturae potentiam id quoque esse quod Deum vocamus. [5]
            Plin. Nat. Hist., cap. de Deo.
The consistent Newtonian is necessarily an atheist. See Sir Mr. Drummond's Academical Questions, Chapter iii.
Sir W. seems to consider the atheism to which it leads as a sufficient presumption of the falsehood of the system of gravitation; but surely it is more consistent with the good faith of philosophy to admit a deduction from facts than an hypothesis incapable of proof, although it might militate with the obstinate preconceptions of the mob. Had this author, instead of inveighing against the guilt and absurdity of atheism, demonstrated its falsehood, his conduct would have been more suited to the modesty of the sceptic and the toleration of the philosopher.
Omnia enim per Dei potentiam facta sunt: imo quia naturae potentia nulla est nisi ipsa Dei potentia. Certurn est nos eatenus Dei potentiam non intelligere, quatenus causas naturales ignoramus; adeoque stulte ad eandem Dei potentiam recurritur, quando rei alicuius causam naturalem, sive est, ipsam Dei potentiam ignoramus. [6] Spinoza, Tract. Theologico‑Pol. chap. i, p. 14. [Shelley's Note.]
1.  See Holbach's Système, 1.31‑39, for a similar argument.
2.  "I do not invent hypotheses, for whatever is not deduced from phenomena should be called an hypothesis; and a hypothesis, whether of metaphysics, or physics, or occult qualities, or mechanics, have [sic] no place in philosophy.
3. "To say what he is, one would have to be he."
4. For a translation of this quotation see Appendix D(a).
5. For the translation of the quotation see Appendix D(b). Shelley's text differs slightly from the Loeb. This quotation, lacking the first sentence, is given in A Refutation of Deism.
6. For a collation of Shelley's text with that of Spinoza and translation see Appendix D(c).

SOURCE: Shelley, Percy Bysshe. “There Is No God” (1813), in: Shelley's Prose, edited by David Lee Clark (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1954), pp. 97-102.

On Polytheism (1819?) by Percy Bysshe Shelley
“I Will Beget a Son” by Percy Bysshe Shelley
A Fragment of A Refutation of Deism by Percy Bysshe Shelley
[A Refutation of the Christian Religion] (1814?) by Percy Bysshe Shelley
A Fragment on Miracles (1813-1815) by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Essay on the Devil and Devils by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Kanto por la angloj
[Song to the Men of England] de Percy Bysshe Shelley
[To—, 1821] de Percy Bysshe Shelley
Odo al la Okcidenta Vento
[Ode to the West Wind] de Percy Bysshe Shelley
The Necessity of Atheism by Percy Bysshe Shelley
A Defence of Poetry and Other Essays by Percy Bysshe Shelley

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Baruch Spinoza by Jorge Luis Borges

Bruma de oro, el Occidente alumbra
la ventana. El asiduo manuscrito
aguarda, ya cargado de infinito.
Alguien construye a Dios en la penumbra.
Un hombre engendra Dios. Es un judío
de tristes ojos y de piel cetrina;
lo lleva el tiempo como lleva el río
una hoja en el agua que declina.
No importa. El hechicero insiste y labra
a Dios con geometría delicada,
desde su enfermedad, desde su nada,
sigue erigiendo a Dios con la palabra.
El más pródigo amor le fue otorgado,
el amor que no espera ser amado.

A haze of gold, the Occident lights up
The window. Now, the assiduous manuscript
Is waiting, weighed down with the infinite.
Someone is building God in a dark cup.
A man engenders God. He is a Jew.
With saddened eyes and lemon-colored skin;
Time carries him the way a leaf, dropped in
A river, is borne off by waters to
Its end. No matter. The magician moved
Carves out his God with fine geometry;
From his disease, from nothing, he's begun
To construct God, using the word. No one
Is granted such prodigious love as he:
The love that has no hope of being loved.

SOURCE: Borges, Jorge Luis. "Baruch Spinoza" [from The Unending Rose], translation by Willis Barnstone, in Borges' Selected Poems, edited by Alexander Coleman. (New York: Viking, 1999), p. 383.


Las traslúcidas manos del judío
labran en la penumbra los cristales
y la tarde que muere es miedo y frío.
(Las tardes a las tardes son iguales.)

Las manos y el espacio de jacinto
que palidece en el confín del Ghetto
casi no existen para el hombre quieto
que está soñando un claro laberinto.

No lo turba la fama, ese reflejo
de sueños en el sueño de otro espejo,
ni el temeroso amor de las doncellas.

Libre de la metáfora y del mito
labra un arduo cristal: el infinito
mapa de Aquel que es todas Sus estrellas. 


 The Jew's hands, translucent in the dusk,
polish the lenses time and again.
The dying afternoon is fear, is
cold, and all afternoons are the same.
The hands and the hyacinth-blue air
that whitens at the Ghetto edges
do not quite exist for this silent
man who conjures up a clear labyrinth—
undisturbed by fame, that reflection
of dreams in the dream of another
mirror, nor by maidens' timid love.
Free of metaphor and myth, he grinds
a stubborn crystal: the infinite
map of the One who is all His stars.

(translated by Richard Howard, César Rennert)

Good poem from a canadian poet!

“Por favor, no más poesía”, de Derek Beaulieu

La poesía es el último refugio de lo poco imaginativo.
La poesía tiene poco que ofrecer
fuera de la poesía misma. Los poetas eligen ser
poetas porque no tienen el impulso
de ser algo mejor.
Los lectores son aforismos de un libro.
Toda la mala poesía surge de sentimientos genuinos.
Ser natural es ser
obvio y ser obvio es ser poco artístico.
La poesía, lamentablemente, sabe que es
poesía,  mientras que la escritura
no siempre sabe que es escritura.
El arte es una conversación, no una oficina de patentes.
Los poetas, en una ignorancia supina
acerca de la capacidad de compartir – al
contrario de acumular – sus textos, están ignorando
potencialmente la innovación
artística más importante del siglo XX: el collage.
¿Qué está en riesgo? Nada excepto
por su propia obsolescencia.
Si no compartes, no existes.
Esperamos de los gásfiter, electricistas, ingenieros y médicos,
que tengan tanto
un vocabulario específico y especializado,            
como también que estén en la
vanguardia de los nuevos avances
en sus respectivos campos,
pero despreciamos a los poetas que hacen lo mismo.
Los poetas son juzgados ahora no por la calidad
de su escritura sino por la
infalibilidad de sus opciones.
No haber sido popular en la educación media
no es razón suficiente para
publicar libros.
Los poetas inmaduros imitan, los poetas maduros roban.
En teoría, no hay diferencia entre teoría y práctica.
Pero, en la práctica, sí la hay.
La reglas son pautas para gente estúpida.
En poesía celebramos la mediocridad e ignoramos la radicalidad.
La poesía tiene más que aprender del diseño gráfico,
la ingeniería, la arquitectura,
la cartografía, el diseño automotriz,
o de cualquier otro tema, que no sea poesía
propiamente tal.
No se le debiera decir a los poetas que escriban
sobre lo que saben. Ellos no saben
nada, por eso son poetas.
La Internet no es algo que desafía quiénes somos
o cómo lo escribimos es quienes
somos y como escribimos.
Los poetas – al ser poetas –
son simplemente los últimos
en darse cuenta de este hecho.
Si escribir un poema es inherentemente trágico,
es porque es difícil creer que el
autor no tiene nada mejor que hacer.
Es inherentemente trágico porque todavía
elegimos una forma anticuada
como medio de argumentación.
Si tuviéramos algo que decir, ¿elegiríamos el poema
–con su audiencia fragmentada
y su falta de diversidad cultural–
como escenario para anunciar esa opinión?
Por favor, no más poesía.

Traducción de Carlos Soto Román

en Seen of the Crime: Essays on Conceptual Writing, 2012

                  Poetry is the last refuge of the unimaginative.
                  Poetry has little to offer outside of poetry itself. Poets chose to be poets because they do not have the drive to become something better.
                  Readers are a book’s aphorisms.                 
                  All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling. To be natural is to be obvious, and to be obvious is to be inartistic. Poetry, sadly, knows it’s poetry, while writing doesn’t always know it’s writing.
                  Art is a conversation, not a patent office.
                  Poets in ostrich-like ignorance of the potential of sharing—as opposed to hoarding—their texts, are ignoring potentially the most important artistic innovation of the 20th century: collage. What’s at stake? Nothing but their own obsolescence. If you don’t share you don’t exist.
                  We expect plumbers, electricians, engineers and doctors to both have a specific and specialized vocabulary and be on the forefront of new advancements in their field, but scorn poets who do the same.
                  Poets are now judged not by the quality of their writing but by the infallibility of their choices.
                  Having been unpopular in high school is not just cause for book publications.
                  Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.
                  In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is.
                  Rules are guidelines for stupid people.
                  In poetry we celebrate mediocrity and ignore radicality.
                  Poetry has more to learn from graphic design, engineering, architecture, cartography, automotive design, or any other subject, than it does from poetry itself.
                  Poets should not be told to write what they know. They don’t know anything, that’s why they are poets.
                  The Internet is not something that challenges who we are or how we write, it iswho we are and how we write. Poets—being poets—are simply the last to realize the fact.
                  If writing a poem is inherently tragic it is because it is hard to believe that the author had nothing better to do. It is inherently tragic because we still choose an out-dated form as a medium for argumentation.
                  If we had something to say would we choose the poem—with its sliver of audience and lack of cultural cachet—as the arena to announce that opinion?
                  Please, no more poetry.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

David Was a Rapist, Abraham Was a Sex Trafficker

David Was a Rapist, Abraham Was a Sex Trafficker
My family and I were driving to the movie theater recently and Game of Thrones came up in our conversation. Having never read the book or seen the HBO show, but figuring reviews and trailers gave me all I needed to know, I pontificated, “Game of Thrones is popular only because it’s about sex and violence.” To which my son Noah responded, “Sex and violence—sounds like your books, Dad.”
The reason I write about sex and violence is that the Bible—especially the Old Testament, where I spend most of my time—talks about sex and violence. A lot. It includes stories of fornicators, adulterers, prostitutes, polygamists, ethnic cleansing, fratricide, infanticide, and other forms of cruel activity.
But the Old Testament is also full of sexual violence. We read of rapists, pimps, and other perpetrators of sexual exploitation. The Bible, then, is not that different from Game of Thrones—or better yet, the news. Every day we seem to hear about sexual assaults on college campuses, in the military, and even in churches. Sadly, many of us are no longer shocked when we hear such horrific news.
This reality makes studying sexual violence in Scripture all the more pressing. Paul said all of Scripture—including what we might consider the R-rated stories of the Old Testament—is God-breathed and can train us in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16–17). It’s not that we skip over such stories, but that we tend to use euphemisms when telling them. We don’t pay close attention to the details, and as a result miss what the biblical authors intended to communicate. Stories not just of prostitutes, adulterers, and fornicators, but also of sexual predators and human traffickers, teach us profound lessons about God and his grace. He came to redeem all people, even those who are sexually violent, as the genealogy of Jesus shows.

Abraham: The Pimping Patriarch

The first story we tend to euphemize is that of Father Abraham. Abraham—the second man mentioned in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ family history—gets off to a great start by obeying God’s call to leave his homeland. But not all was well with the patriarch. We give him due honor for his astounding faith. And sure, we recognize he slept with his wife’s female servant. But when describing how he trafficked his wife, we soften the details.
Shortly after arriving in Canaan, he leaves for Egypt to avoid a famine. Because of Sarah’s beauty—at age 65—he orders her to tell the Egyptians that she is his sister and not his wife. That way no one will kill him in order to marry her (Gen. 12:12–13). Since Abraham and Sarah were half-siblings, the message was half true. But since their prime relationship was that of husband and wife, it was half false.
Upon arrival, the Egyptians praise Sarah for her good looks, just as Abraham had predicted, and Pharaoh takes her into his harem. To thank Abraham for sharing his “sister,” the ruler rewarded him richly with animals and male and female servants. While the text is somewhat vague, the language that Pharaoh “took her” suggests sexual engagement.
God called Abraham to be a blessing to all families of the earth, including his own. But he does the opposite here. He was more concerned about his own safety than his wife’s wellbeing and dignity. (And Abraham repeats this cowardly, selfish act in Genesis 20.) Sarah must have felt betrayed, and Pharaoh suffered because of Abraham’s deception: God sent plagues to punish Pharaoh for taking Sarah as his wife (Gen. 12:17). The only one “blessed” in this scenario is Abraham. He essentially trafficked his wife and profited richly, and it didn’t take long for sexual exploitation to creep up again in his family.
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Tamar: The Pious Prostitute

Abraham’s great-grandson Judah had three sons. The oldest son, Er, married a Canaanite woman named Tamar, but he was wicked in God’s eyes, so God killed him (Gen. 38:7). Judah then told his second son, Onan, to “go into” Tamar in order to perpetuate Er’s line. Levirate marriage—in which the oldest brother of a deceased man is obliged to marry his brother’s widow—troubles many of us today, but it was common for the ancients and was later codified for God’s people (see Deut. 25:5–6).
Onan did go into her, but whenever he slept with her, he “spilled his semen on the ground” so she wouldn’t get pregnant (Gen. 38:9). The reason? Onan knew the offspring would not be his, but his older brother’s. That meant Onan would not get the firstborn’s inheritance. Onan’s behavior—sexually exploiting Tamar while depriving her of the dignity of motherhood—was wicked in God’s eyes, so God killed him, too.
Noticing a pattern with his sons, Judah decides not to give Tamar to his third son, Shelah. Judah tells her to live as a widow in her father’s household. So when Tamar realizes Judah is doing nothing to continue Er’s line, she schemes a creative plan. Shortly after Judah becomes a widower, Tamar dresses up like a prostitute and sits along a road on which she knows Judah will soon travel. Judah sees her and assumes she’s a prostitute, not his sneaky daughter-in-law, so he approaches her and promises to pay the standard fare (a goat), which he would send later. She agrees, but only if he gives her some collateral now. He hands over the ancient equivalent of his wallet—a signet, cord, and staff—and he “goes into” her. She finally conceives, and Er’s line survives.
However, when Judah discovers that Tamar is pregnant—not knowing that he is the father—he orders for her to be killed. Since Tamar is pregnant with twins, his command will involve the execution of not only his daughter-in-law, but also his own children. It looks bad for Tamar, until she sends a message with Judah’s possessions, saying, “I am pregnant by the man who owns these” (Gen. 38:25). Judah then exclaims that his prostituting daughter-in-law is more righteous than he.
Judah was a deceptive, sexually immoral, and hypocritically judgmental father-in-law. But after this episode, he is a changed man. Later, he offers himself as a slave in place of his youngest brother, Benjamin, to the man in charge of the grain in Egypt—his brother Joseph—whom he had sold to slave traders 22 years earlier (Gen. 44:33). Unlike Judah, Tamar was simply attempting to do what was right—albeit, she did so imperfectly. God killed Er and Onan for their wickedness, but protected and blessed Tamar.

David: The Raping Monarch

The Old Testament includes several rape stories, including the gang rape of the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19) and the rape of Tamar—who was probably named in honor of Judah’s daughter-in-law—by her half-brother Amnon, the oldest son of King David (2 Sam. 13). But perhaps the most notable is one that most people don’t associate with rape: David and Bathsheba.
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The story is familiar. David is at home in Jerusalem when he should have been off at war with his men and the army of Israel. Walking around on his roof one evening, David notices an attractive woman, Bathsheba, bathing. He summons her, they have sex, and she conceives. When David’s plans to cover up the scandal fail, he has her husband, Uriah, killed in battle.
David messed up—big time. But we soften the story by reducing the affair to consensual adultery. Some say Bathsheba must have known David was watching her, so she could have resisted him. In the 1951 film David and Bathsheba, Bathsheba wants David to be enticed.
But why blame her? She could have been fully clothed and using just a bowl. The text doesn’t say she was naked. And the text doesn’t say she knew she was being watched. Finally, women generally didn’t say no to men—not in ancient societies like theirs. And subjects certainly didn’t say no to kings. While the first half of the story is ambiguous about the extent of her guilt, the second half is pretty clear about who is to blame.
The text and the characters point the finger at David. God blames David. “The thing David had done displeased the Lord” (2 Sam. 11:27). The text doesn’t say the thing “they” or “David and Bathsheba” did. Just David.
The prophet Nathan blames David. Nathan tells a story about a rich man who stole and slaughtered his poor neighbor’s ewe lamb in order to feed a hungry guest (2 Sam. 12:1–4). Blaming Bathsheba, even in part, would be like blaming the ewe for getting eaten.
David blames David. At the end of Nathan’s story, David says the man—who represents him in the parable—deserves to die (2 Sam. 12:5). Based on the huge power differential between the king and his subject, it’s more accurate to call this power rape rather than adultery. Bathsheba couldn’t say no. She didn’t even have a choice.

Coming Clean

Sexual violence was rampant in the ancient world, as it is today. And the biblical authors didn’t ignore stories of sexual violence or euphemize the details. Rather, they narrated the stories of sexual violence and exploitation in depth—so much so that in Tamar’s case, readers wonder, What’s this long interruption about Tamar doing in the middle of the Joseph story? And while the New Testament praises the good deeds of men like Abraham and David, it doesn’t sweep their sin under the rug.
Ancient genealogies often boasted impressive fathers, ignored forgotten mothers, and omitted anything embarrassing. But Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew deviates from the typical formula. It includes four women, which would have been considered weird. But the weirdness gets taken to astronomical levels as we examine who these women were. The first woman mentioned isn’t Eve, Sarah, or Mary, but the pious prostitute Tamar. The second woman, Rahab, is another prostitute. The third is a widow, Ruth—whose act of uncovering Boaz’s feet was gutsy and unconventional, to say the least. And the fourth woman is referred to simply as “the wife of Uriah”—the power rape victim Bathsheba.
Many pastors and authors like to signal out the women in Jesus’ genealogy, all of whom appear to be Gentiles. But we don’t talk about Abraham and David—who were perpetrators, not victims, of sexual sin. When it comes to discussing sex scandals, we apparently feel more comfortable talking about women than men. And we’re skeptical—sometimes even condemnatory—of the victim.
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The Old Testament, however, gave the victim the benefit of the doubt. Deuteronomy 22:25–27, for instance, outlines what should happen if an engaged women is raped in a rural setting. It’s straightforward: If a woman is raped in the countryside, the man deserves to be killed. And the woman’s testimony is good enough to convict the perpetrator. Unlike our legal system, the Mosaic Law assumes the woman’s innocence. The situation isn’t exacerbated by an unjust legal system that exonerates perpetrators.
God instituted laws like this so that his covenant people would protect women. Unfortunately, not every woman is protected, as is evident in our world day to day. Men in power—including some who have faith in God—use their position to sexually exploit or abuse powerless women. Abraham chose to profit by pimping his wife. Judah and his son Onan exploited Tamar; Judah even planned to kill her. And David leveraged his political authority to have what seems like a one-night stand with Bathsheba—even though he already had plenty of wives to satisfy him.
God used his power to intervene on behalf of these powerless women. He sent plagues to seize Pharaoh’s attention, which led to Sarah’s deliverance. He killed Onan and used Tamar to oppose Judah. And he sent Nathan to confront David for taking his neighbor’s “ewe lamb.”
God protected these women from further exploitation, but why didn’t he get involved earlier? Why doesn’t he protect women today who are raped on college campuses, at churches, or at home by their male relatives? I don’t know. As we see in Scripture, divine intervention doesn’t always come. God protected Lot’s daughters from the rapists of Sodom (Gen. 19:1–29), but he didn’t protect Lot from his daughters (Gen. 19:30–38) or the Levite’s concubine from the rapists of Gibeah (Judges 19).
It will always be a mystery to us why God chooses to protect a victim in one situation but not in another. But we do know that God expects his people to act on his behalf whenever we can. One way we can do that is by supporting organizations like International Justice Mission that rescue and protect trafficking victims. Churches can partner with local organizations to fight against sexual abuse. And we need to give victims the benefit of the doubt. They need our love and support.

Discipline or Forgive?

Given the severe consequences of egregious sexual sins like rape, how is it that David got off the hook? He not only survived—remember the Mosaic Law required rapists to be killed—but also remained on the throne. Politicians and pastors today would surely lose their positions for such misconduct.
The short answer is that David repented. After Nathan’s parable, David confessed, “I have sinned” (2 Sam. 12:13). He later wrote a psalm of repentance in which he appealed to God’s grace:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. (Ps. 51:1)
David deserved death, but God granted him grace and forgiveness.
But how do we reconcile this with other instances in the Old Testament where a repentant sinner is still put to death? Think of Achan, who was killed even after acknowledging that he had taken booty from the city of Ai, something God specifically forbade (Josh. 7). Perhaps one reason Achan was not spared was that his crime resulted in the loss of more lives (36 Israelite soldiers) than David’s cover-up scheme, which cost the life of Uriah and only a few of his fellow soldiers. Perhaps it was also because David was a man after God’s own heart, who repeatedly risked his life to defend God, God’s glory, and God’s people (1 Sam. 17; 23; 24; 26). However, the text doesn’t clearly explain why God chooses to mete out capital punishment in some instances (Achan; Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6; the stick-gatherer on the Sabbath in Numbers 15:32–36; Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1–11) and to show mercy in others (David; Cain in Genesis 4; the woman caught in adultery in John 8).
Ultimately, we can’t say definitively why God chose not to kill David. The fact that David was spared does not mean, however, that David’s sin had no ramifications. It certainly did. Bloodshed, fratricide, and rebellion marked the later years of his reign (2 Sam. 13–1 Kings 2). Two of his sons, Amnon and Absalom, were also rapists—and both of them were killed, though the text doesn’t explicitly state that God did the killing. But God had told David through the prophet Nathan that judgment would fall upon his house (2 Sam. 12:10). This announcement got David’s attention and likely prevented him from repeating these sins of rape and murder.
The consequences for sexual violence are severe indeed, but God’s mercy toward repentant sinners is even greater. When we talk about sexual violence and help victims, we need to remember that God’s grace is far more powerful that human sin—as egregious and damaging as it can be. Scripture teaches that when humans behave badly, God behaves graciously. He not only forgives repentant sinners, but also gives aid, strength, and healing to victims of abuse. Jesus, the offspring of both victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse, came to redeem not only their lives but ours as well.
The gospel tells us that no one is beyond the reach of God’s redemption. To be sure, the sin of perpetrators of sexual violence needs to be taken seriously. We cannot ignore sexual violence when it arises in our communities. We should acknowledge these tragedies for what they are, and address them appropriately. If a member of a church confesses a crime like rape, for instance, it will need to be reported to the police immediately. But we also need to proclaim to them the message of God’s forgiveness, knowing that God calls us to extend his grace to people taking big risks in confessing their sin. And we are wise to realize that even severe consequences of sin are opportunities to experience God’s grace and redemption (Heb. 12:7–11). God disciplines his children and uses human judgment as a part of his care for them.
Scripture teaches us that God works in and through messed up people—even ones with some of the worst sexual baggage we can imagine. Scripture doesn’t avoid talking about sexual violence. Nor does it use euphemisms to soften the severity of sexual abuse. It presents reality as it is. Sin has tragic consequences. But God works in and through consequences to work out redemption.
David T. Lamb is associate professor of Old Testament at Biblical Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and author most recently of Prostitutes and Polygamists: A Look at Love, Old Testament Style (Zondervan).

Monday, November 16, 2015

About Beethoven

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Was the Romantic Beethoven Really a “Radical Evolutionary”?

Of all the standard myths and accepted truths of the life and music of Ludwig van Beethoven, the idea of the “Romantic” Beethoven—the embodiment of Germanic sturm und drang and 19th century revolution—clings the most. In a massive new biography, Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph, Jan Swafford hopes to tear away that and many more myths to rediscover the real man and artist buried beneath. “Beethoven was not a Romantic, and he never called himself a revolutionary,” Swafford asserts. “He based much of what he did on tradition, models, and authorities, and he never intended to overthrow the past. He was an evolutionist more than a revolutionist. Call him a radical evolutionary, one with a unique voice.” Using his own unique voice as biographer of great composers, Swafford traces the life and art of Beethoven in eye-opening, rational detail and gives you a more human, more fascinating portrait of Beethoven the radical evolutionary than even the Beethoven the Romantic of legend.
A composer himself, Swafford’s written weighty and well-received biographies of American composer Charles Ives and German composer (and heir to Beethoven) Johannes Brahms, but neither of those biographies match the task Swafford sets for himself in Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph. A titanic, thousand-page achievement about one of the great titans of music and Western civilization, Swafford’s latest biography recognizes, as he puts it, the “great danger in that kind of ubiquity” Beethoven’s achieved, which results in “[m]any present-day books [that] concern ideas about Beethoven rather than Beethoven himself.” In Swafford’s “composer’s-eye view of a composer,” he purposely avoids “two words that are all too familiar in biographies of artists: genius and masterpiece.” Stripped of those now-meaningless superlatives, Swafford restores the Beethoven of flesh and blood struggling to learn the craft of music and then how to make that craft into something new and his own, all while dealing with the day-to-day desires for love, family, and friendship.
“Music was the one extraordinary thing in a sea of the disappointing and ordinary,” Swafford writes of Beethoven’s early life. “Reared as he was in a relentless discipline, instinctively responsive to music as he was, the boy never truly learned to understand the world outside music.” As much as Beethoven was a “radical evolutionary” in music, in life he never overcame the personal arrested development of his youth. In the first few hundred pages of this biography, we get a sense not just of the failures of Beethoven’s upbringing, but also of how growing up in that time and place set in motion the artist he would become. “Music was everywhere,” Swafford says of late 18th century Bonn, Beethoven’s birthplace. Although only 12,000 people lived in Bonn, it provided a whole universe of musical opportunities, from the folk songs of the commoners, to the professional musicians such as his Kapellmeister namesake grandfather and musician father (who failed to keep the Kappelmeister job and shifted his ambitions to young Ludwig), to rulers such as Max Franz, Beethoven’s first patron and financier of his first trip to Vienna. “If in the larger world Bonn was too much a backwater for a musician to find wide fame,” Swafford writes, “it was still a town as good as any in which to learn the art. Beethoven was not the only virtuoso to emerge from Bonn as if out of nowhere to dazzle the capitals of music.” Swafford swats away Beethovian exceptionalism not to diminish him but instead to explain just how he and his art came to be more clearly and believably than generic “genius” labels can.
Swafford writes with a great warmth and personality of Beethoven’s early years, setting up beautifully many of the conflicts and triumphs to come. Too often dismissed as a mere footnote, Beethoven’s early teacher Christian Gottlob Neefe finds new life in Swafford’s text as one of the great Schwärmers of the period—an enthusiast not just of music, but also of poetry, literature, philosophy, and how all those elements intersected in the politics of the age. One of the “cultish few” in the late 18th century who recognized the mostly forgotten J.S. Bach’s “stature and the importance and the synoptic quality of his Well-Tempered Clavier,” Neefe brought Beethoven into the cult of Bach as well, resulting in Ludwig becoming not only, as Swafford suggests, one of the first non-Bachs to learn keyboard by practicing The Well-Tempered Clavier, but also a key inheritor of the Bach tradition of composition so as to build upon that foundation in the future. “Teaching the boy the WTC from the age of ten or eleven may have been the single most important thing Neefe did for him,” Swafford concludes.
Aside from Beethoven’s musical development (dependent not only on the influence of Bach, but also that of nearer contemporaries Mozart and Haydn), we get many pictures of Beethoven’s arrested personal development from letters and accounts of friends. “Beethoven craved companionship, love, stimulation intellectual and spiritual, but other than people to play and publish and listen to his music, for most of his life he would never truly need anybody,” Swafford suggests. Throughout, Swafford keeps the psychoanalysis of his subject to a minimum, harking back on his pet peeve of books with ideas about Beethoven rather than about Beethoven himself. When Swafford writes about Beethoven’s raptus—the trance-like state friends remarked upon when he was most lost in his musical world—you feel as if you were there, listening to the improvisations flowing from the virtuoso’s fingers. Likewise, when Swafford gets to the “anguish” promised in the title, he does so with his own verbal virtuosity free of melodrama: “his body became his most virulent, most inescapable enemy. His livelihood, his creativity, his spirit were under siege by a force that did not care about his music, his talent, his wisdom.” When Beethoven’s deafness robs him of his career as a piano virtuoso (and the accompanying income), the reality of his desperation to compose and publish to make money deflates all previous biographies trumpeting the triumphs too loudly.
All the triumphs are here, of course. Swafford hits all the highlights with masterful set pieces on the Third or “Eroica” Symphony, the courage of the Heiligenstadt Testament, Missa solemnis, and the utopian Ninth Symphony.  Thanks to Swafford’s earlier set-up, Beethoven’s admiration of Napoleon as a benevolent dictator akin to those of his youth helps make the “Eroica” more logical to modern minds. But whereas others focus almost exclusively on the politics of the Third Symphony, Swafford shows how the music conveys the journey of a hero, any hero, coming into his or her own. Giving example of developed as well as discarded ideas for the symphony, Swafford takes us inside the mind of Beethoven as his musical essay on being and becoming itself comes into being. For those who cannot read music, Swafford’s published excerpts can look daunting, but with a little work and a good CD collection, anyone can follow Swafford’s journeys through Beethoven’s journeys. The payoff is more than worth it. Writing of the “Ode to Joy” finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Swafford momentarily (and justifiably) waxes poetic: “There’s something singularly moving when this man—deaf and sick and misanthropic and self-torturing, at the same time one of the most extraordinary and boundlessly generous men our species has produced—greets us person to person, with glass raised, and hails us as friends.” There are many such moments when you’ll want to raise a glass not just to Beethoven, but also to the Beethoven Swafford brings to us.
Whereas early portraits of Beethoven (such as the one above) showed us the dynamic performer and composer in action, later portraits painted after he became a living legend often showed him raising his eyes to heaven as if communicating with the divine. “In fact,” Swafford counters, “it was the characteristic stare of a deaf man straining to hear.” If you’ve ever rolled your eyes at the mythologizing and mischaracterizing of the Beethoven story, Jan Swafford’s Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph will keep your eyes on the prize of a fuller understanding of the humanity of this artist that celebrated humanity as an abstraction while unable to deal with humans as individuals. I found myself wanting to wrap my arms around Beethoven by the end, but mentally stopped short knowing that he never could or would accept any embrace. Today, Beethoven might be labeled a savant or autistic for his low emotional IQ paired with his high musical aptitude, but in his day he faced such emotional trauma on top of his physical pain alone but with grace and courage. Swafford erases the Romantic revolutionary Beethoven for good while giving us an evolutionary Beethoven that invites us to learn and maybe even evolve in our own humanity from his story.
[Image: Joseph Willibrord Mähler. Portrait of Beethoven (detail), 1804-1805.]

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Frensh Poetry / Poesía Francesa

Paul Éluard


Twenty-Four Poems


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Translated by A. S. Kline © 2001 All Rights Reserved
This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.



I speak to you over cities

I speak to you over plains

My mouth is against your ear

The two sides of the walls face
my voice which acknowledges you.

I speak to you of eternity.

O cities memories of cities
cities draped with our desires
cities early and late
cities strong cities intimate
stripped of all their makers
their thinkers their phantoms

Landscape ruled by emerald
live living ever-living
the wheat of the sky on our earth
nourishes my voice I dream and cry
I laugh and dream between the flames
between the clusters of sunlight

And over my body your body extends
the layer of its clear mirror.


Easy and beautiful under

your eyelids
As the meeting of pleasure
Dance and the rest

I spoke the fever

The best reason for fire
That you might be pale and luminous
A thousand fruitful poses
A thousand ravaged embraces
Repeated move to erase themselves
You grow dark you unveil yourself
A mask you
control it

It deeply resembles you
And you seem nothing but lovelier naked
Naked in shadow and dazzlingly naked
Like a sky shivering with flashes of lightning
You reveal yourself to you
To reveal yourself to others

Talking of Power and Love

Between all my torments between death and self

Between my despair and the reason for living
There is injustice and this evil of men
That I cannot accept there is my anger

There are the blood-coloured fighters of Spain
There are the sky-coloured fighters of Greece
The bread the blood the sky and the right to hope
For all the innocents who hate evil

The light is always close to dying
Life always ready to become earth
But spring is reborn that is never done with
A bud lifts from dark and the warmth settles

And the warmth will have the right of the selfish
Their atrophied senses will not resist
I hear the fire talk lightly of coolness
I hear a man speak what he has not known

You who were my flesh’s sensitive conscience
You I love forever you who made me
You will not tolerate oppression or injury
You’ll sing in dream of earthly happiness
You’ll dream of freedom and I’ll continue you

The Beloved

She is standing on my eyelids

And her hair is wound in mine,
She has the form of my hands,
She has the colour of my eyes,
She is swallowed by my shadow
Like a stone against the sky.

Her eyes are always open
And will not let me sleep.
Her dreams in broad daylight
Make the suns evaporate
Make me laugh, cry and laugh,
Speak with nothing to say.

Max Ernst

In one corner agile incest

Turns round the virginity of a little dress
In one corner sky released
leaves balls of white on the spines of storm.

In one corner bright with all the eyes
One awaits the fish of anguish.
In one corner the car of summer’s greenery
gloriously motionless forever.

In the glow of youth
lamps lit too late.
The first one shows her breasts that kill the insects that are red.


For the splendour of the day of happinesses in the air

To live the taste of colours easily
To enjoy loves so as to laugh
To open eyes at the final moment

She has every willingness.


After years of wisdom

During which the world was transparent as a needle
Was it cooing about something else?
After having vied with returned favours squandered treasure
More than a red lip with a red tip
And more than a white leg with a white foot
Where then do we think we are?

Nearer To Us

Run and run towards deliverance

And find and gather everything
Deliverance and riches
Run so quickly the thread breaks
With the sound a great bird makes
A flag always soared beyond

Open Door

Life is truly kind

Come to me, if I go to you it’s a game,
The angels of bouquets grant the flowers a change of hue.

The Immediate Life

What’s become of you why this white hair and pink

Why this forehead these eyes rent apart heart-rending
The great misunderstanding of the marriage of radium
Solitude chases me with its rancour.

Lovely And Lifelike

A face at the end of the day

A cradle in day’s dead leaves
A bouquet of naked rain
Every ray of sun hidden
Every fount of founts in the depths of the water
Every mirror of mirrors broken
A face in the scales of silence
A pebble among other pebbles
For the leaves last glimmers of day
A face like all the forgotten faces.

The Season of Loves

By the road of ways

In the three-part shadow of troubled sleep
I come to you the double the multiple
as like you as the era of deltas.

Your head is as tiny as mine
The nearby sea reigns with spring
Over the summers of your fragile form
And here one burns bundles of ermine.

In the wandering transparency
of your noble face
these floating animals are wonderful
I envy their candour their inexperience
Your inexperience on the bed of waters
Finds the road of love without bowing

By the road of ways
and without the talisman that reveals
your laughter at the crowd of women
and your tears no one wants.

As Far As My Eye Can See In My Body’s Senses

All the trees all their branches all of their leaves

The grass at the foot of the rocks and the houses en masse
Far off the sea that your eye bathes
These images of day after day
The vices the virtues so imperfect
The transparency of men passing among them by chance
And passing women breathed by your elegant obstinacies
Your obsessions in a heart of lead on virgin lips
The vices the virtues so imperfect
The likeness of looks of permission with eyes you conquer
The confusion of bodies wearinesses ardours
The imitation of words attitudes ideas
The vices the virtues so imperfect

Love is man incomplete

Barely Disfigured

Adieu Tristesse

Bonjour Tristesse
Farewell Sadness
Hello Sadness
You are inscribed in the lines on the ceiling
You are inscribed in the eyes that I love
You are not poverty absolutely
Since the poorest of lips denounce you
Ah with a smile
Bonjour Tristesse
Love of kind bodies
Power of love
From which kindness rises
Like a bodiless monster
Unattached head
Sadness beautiful face.



In A New Night

Woman I’ve lived with

Woman I live with
Woman I’ll live with
Always the same
You need a red cloak
Red gloves a red mask
And dark stockings
The reasons the proofs
Of seeing you quite naked
Nudity pure O ready finery

Breasts O my heart

Fertile Eyes

Fertile Eyes

No one can know me more
More than you know me

Your eyes in which we sleep
The two of them
Have cast a spell on my male orbs
Greater than worldly nights

Your eyes where I voyage
Have given the road-signs
Directions detached from the earth

In your eyes those that show us
Our infinite solitude
Is no more than they think exists

No one can know me more
More than you know me.

I Said It To You

I said it to you for the clouds

I said it to you for the tree of the sea
For each wave for the birds in the leaves
For the pebbles of sound
For familiar hands
For the eye that becomes landscape or face
And sleep returns it the heaven of its colour
For all that night drank
For the network of roads
For the open window for a bare forehead
I said it to you for your thoughts for your words
Every caress every trust survives.

It’s The Sweet Law Of Men

It’s the sweet law of men

They make wine from grapes
They make fire from coal
They make men from kisses

It’s the true law of men
Kept intact despite
the misery and war
despite danger of death

It’s the warm law of men
To change water to light
Dream to reality
Enemies to friends

A law old and new
That perfects itself
From the child’s heart’s depths
To reason’s heights.

The Curve Of Your Eyes

The curve of your eyes embraces my heart

A ring of sweetness and dance
halo of time, sure nocturnal cradle,
And if I no longer know all I have lived through
It’s that your eyes have not always been mine.

Leaves of day and moss of dew,
Reeds of breeze, smiles perfumed,
Wings covering the world of light,
Boats charged with sky and sea,
Hunters of sound and sources of colour

Perfume enclosed by a covey of dawns
that beds forever on the straw of stars,
As the day depends on innocence
The whole world depends on your pure eyes
And all my blood flows under their sight.


On my notebooks from school

On my desk and the trees
On the sand on the snow
I write your name

On every page read
On all the white sheets
Stone blood paper or ash
I write your name

On the golden images
On the soldier’s weapons
On the crowns of kings
I write your name

On the jungle the desert
The nests and the bushes
On the echo of childhood
I write your name

On the wonder of nights
On the white bread of days
On the seasons engaged
I write your name

On all my blue rags
On the pond mildewed sun
On the lake living moon
I write your name

On the fields the horizon
The wings of the birds
On the windmill of shadows
I write your name

On each breath of the dawn
On the ships on the sea
On the mountain demented
I write your name

On the foam of the clouds
On the sweat of the storm
On dark insipid rain
I write your name

On the glittering forms
On the bells of colour
On physical truth
I write your name

On the wakened paths
On the opened ways
On the scattered places
I write your name

On the lamp that gives light
On the lamp that is drowned
On my house reunited
I write your name

On the bisected fruit
Of my mirror and room
On my bed’s empty shell
I write your name

On my dog greedy tender
On his listening ears
On his awkward paws
I write your name

On the sill of my door
On familiar things
On the fire’s sacred stream
I write your name

On all flesh that’s in tune
On the brows of my friends
On each hand that extends
I write your name

On the glass of surprises
On lips that attend
High over the silence
I write your name

On my ravaged refuges
On my fallen lighthouses
On the walls of my boredom
I write your name

On passionless absence
On naked solitude
On the marches of death
I write your name

On health that’s regained
On danger that’s past
On hope without memories
I write your name

By the power of the word
I regain my life
I was born to know you
And to name you


Ring Of Peace

I have passed the doors of coldness

The doors of my bitterness
To come and kiss your lips

City reduced to a room
Where the absurd tide of evil
leaves a reassuring foam

Ring of peace I have only you
You teach me again what it is
To be human when I renounce

Knowing whether I have fellow creatures


I am in front of this feminine land

Like a child in front of the fire
Smiling vaguely with tears in my eyes
In front of this land where all moves in me
Where mirrors mist where mirrors clear
Reflecting two nude bodies season on season

I’ve so many reasons to lose myself
On this road-less earth under horizon-less skies
Good reasons I ignored yesterday
And I’ll never ever forget
Good keys of gazes keys their own daughters
in front of this land where nature is mine

In front of the fire the first fire
Good mistress reason
Identified star
On earth under sky in and out of my heart
Second bud first green leaf
That the sea covers with sails
And the sun finally coming to us

I am in front of this feminine land
Like a branch in the fire.

Our Life

We’ll not reach the goal one by one but in pairs

We know in pairs we will know all about us
We’ll love everything our children will smile
At the dark history or mourn alone

Uninterrupted Poetry

From the sea to the source

From mountain to plain
Runs the phantom of life
The foul shadow of death
But between us
A dawn of ardent flesh is born
And exact good
that sets the earth in order
We advance with calm step
And nature salutes us
The day embodies our colours
Fire our eyes the sea our union
And all living resemble us
All the living we love
Imaginary the others
Wrong and defined by their birth
But we must struggle against them
They live by dagger blows
They speak like a broken chair
Their lips tremble with joy
At the echo of leaden bells
At the muteness of dark gold
A lone heart not a heart
A lone heart all the hearts
And the bodies every star
In a sky filled with stars
In a career in movement
Of light and of glances
Our weight shines on the earth
Glaze of desire
To sing of human shores
For you the living I love
And for all those that we love
That have no desire but to love
I’ll end truly by barring the road
Afloat with enforced dreams
I’ll end truly by finding myself
We’ll take possession of earth

Index of First Lines