Thursday, July 15, 2010

FIRE HORSE


TARKOVSKY’S HORSES 

   In that beauty a horse
   displays,
   standing in sun
   on a grassy field,
   which I’m traveling past in a train,
   a few days after
   my father died –
      I suddenly see him again.
   The passage of
        the greenness . . .
   With the same exalted peace
   Tarkovsky’s horses
   in Andrei Rublyov
      radiate
   in the film’s final images,
   my father is present,
   resting in himself.
   He has been shrouded
   in flames,
      and I have carried
   his urn to the burial place.
   Being is not
   being
   without pain.
   I carry him
   within me
   like a new authority.
   The tongue’s power –
       
is Eurydice.

~ Pia Tafdrup, translated from Danish by David Mcduff; World Literature Today, 2008

**

This is another example of images and events flowing together. Pia Tafdrup connects her father’s cremation with the beauty of horses, and specifically with their radiance in Tarkovsky’s film on the famous Russian icon painter. 

Note that this becomes an Orphic poem, through the invocation of Eurydice and the power of poetry. Eurydice (who may have never existed) continues to exist – first in the songs of Orpheus, then in poetry in general – is now a part of our culture. When someone we love dies, he or she can become our Eurydice.

Along with the image of the fire horse I received this quotation:

I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after. They have run through me like wine through water and changed the color of my mind. ~ Emily Bronte

** 

And here is another “horse poem,” the horse being an image of energy greater than ourselves, which is part of the definition of the sublime: Rilke’s white horse in Russia, immortalized in the twentieth sonnet to Orpheus:

But, Master, what shall I dedicate to you,
who taught all creatures to hear?
My memory of an evening in Russia,
in springtime -- a horse . . .

From the village came the white horse alone,
on one front leg the hobble,
to be alone on the meadow at night;
how the mane beat against his neck

to the rhythm of his perfect joy,
in that rudely hindered gallop.
What leaping went on in his stallion-blood!

He felt the distances and he sang and he heard --
your cycle of myths was enclosed in him.
His image: I dedicate.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus, XX, Part I

 

This poem has a peculiar tension. The horse, known to us from hundreds of poems and paintings as an image of freedom, is hobbled, dragging an awkward wooden weight that prevents him from galloping at full speed. In spite of that, the horse appears spirited and happy.  

That, it seems to me, is an image of life: we are hobbled by various circumstances. To be so “rudely hindered,” and yet capable of joy -- that’s the condition of those who refuse to be defeated by circumstances (even though, in the end, we must lose to aging and mortality; and yet that need not be called a defeat).

And this is the image that Rilke dedicates to Orpheus, the supreme poet and musician: not an image of a horse running freely, but of a horse that remains joyful in spite of hobbled.


**

Years ago near Lassen Volcanic Park I had an encounter with a horse that made the concept of the sublime more real for me. Kant defined the sublime as something that is beautiful and terrifying at the same time, since we recognize the power of an energy vastly greater than ours. The poem below describes that sublime moment.

LAST NIGHT OF THE LEONIDS


No moon. The pines like black wind
brushed the tips of stars.
Horses stood in their corral,
carved as if outside of time.

You said, “They are sleeping.”
But one horse,
the tallest, suddenly
ran toward us, a rift in the dark.

The other horses never stirred.
They slept, eternal statues. Only he
sensed us and needed to see –
shot through darkness like a marble flame.

We almost stopped breathing, struck
with pure rhythm, muscle and mind –
that shining horse starting up –
then standing still,

the frost of stars
braiding his tall outline –
And we too stood still, face to face,
in the shivering starlight.

~ Oriana © 2010

*

The sublime inspires us to live a larger life, worthy of the privilege of sharing this planet with beautiful animals. Below is an excerpt from an inspirational poem by John O'Donohue. Like most such poems, it's too abstract and too direct (“To be direct is to be inartistic” ~ Henry James) to be real poetry, but the stanzas I chose have some lines that speak to me deeply.
 

A Morning Offering

I bless the night that nourished my heart
To set the ghosts of longing free
Into the flow and figure of dream
That went to harvest from the dark

Bread for the hunger no one sees.


I place on the altar of dawn
The quiet loyalty of breath,
The tent of thought where I shelter,

Wave of desire I am shore to
And all beauty drawn to the eye.


May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.


~ John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us

It is only with aging, I think, when we finally realize that our time is running out, that we become sufficiently motivated to drop fear, depression, bitterness, and set about doing what we love doing.

It's interesting that the second stanza, minus the last line, could have been written by Zbigniew Herbert (I'm compiling my translations of his poems so I can self-publish a proverbial "slender volume" of his stunning, powerful poems)

I place on the altar of dawn
The quiet loyalty of breath
The tent of thought where I shelter
Wave of desire I am shore to


-- the first two lines read like pure Herbert:

I place on the altar of dawn
The quiet loyalty of breath


-- this could be a writing exercise, if you crave a challenge: What do you place on the altar of dawn?


***


Carine Topal:

What a moving poem!! It's stunning. I don't know his work but it shakes me up...........And the Bronte quote is so contemporary, and daring!

Hyacinth:

I love Brontë’s "dreams changed the color of my mind." It seems another attempt to discover who she is, and  the source of her poetry. 


The photo of the flaming horse you end on is breathtaking and seems to be a constellation or among them, and I  think of Pegasus but this one has no wings. As one of my professors used to say "Have a long thought."


Oriana:

Speaking of quotations, this one by Deborah Digges also goes with the image of the fire horse:

If poetry is fire, it can't be written in the fire
but sometime after, written in ashes
along the frozen road
if it be written down at all.


But wait! We have yet another fabulous offering.


BAREBACK PANTOUM

One night, bareback and young, we rode through the woods
and the woods were on fire –
two borrowed horses, two local boys
whose waists we clung to, my sister and I

and the woods were on fire –
the pounding of hooves and the smell of smoke and the sharp sweat of boys
whose waists we clung to, my sister and I,
as we rode toward flame with the sky in our mouths –

the pounding of hooves and the smell of smoke and the sharp sweat of boys
and the heart saying: mine
as we rode toward flame with the sky in our mouths –
the trees turning gold, then crimson, white

and the heart saying: mine
of the wild, bright world;
the trees turning gold, then crimson, white
as they burned in the darkness, and we were girls

of the wild, bright world
of the woods near our house - we could turn, see the lights
as they burned in the darkness, and we were girls
so we rode just to ride

through the woods near our house – we could turn, see the lights –
and the horses would carry us, carry us home
so we rode just to ride,
my sister and I, just to be close to that danger, desire 

and the horses would carry us, carry us home
– two borrowed horses, two local boys,
my sister and I – just to be close to that danger, desire –
one night, bareback and young, we rode through the woods.

   ~ Cecilia Woloch


**

Oriana:
I especially love the first three stanzas, and of course the galloping rhythm of this poem.
*
And finally, this from Lenny, in Peoria, AZ (near Phoenix)


Lenny:

In today's paper, (in addition to the anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald) was the announced theme "We're not scared of hell...we live in Phoenix" of a local street fair and flea market.  (My kind of humor)  Brings to mind the print of the flaming horse.

Oriana:

Thank you, Lenny, for inspiring me to do the Grunwald post that follows this one. As for Phoenix, "hotter than hell" is the description I heard, so I understand.



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