Monday, February 05, 2007

Poetry Class! 2007!

I readily admit, I've got a soft spot for dog-poetry. I've read yards and yards of it, and I've written yards and yards of it, and I don't view it as a poor cousin the verse in general. Men have forged their relationships with dogs for as long as there've BEEN men, or dogs - such a relationship is surely worthy of a song or two. I wish that 'dog' and 'doggerel' weren't so closely linked, but there's nothing I can do about that.

So let's try this one out for our panel of severe judges and see what they make of it:


The old dog lifts his head, snaps at an insect;
Roused, attempts to get up, raggedly does so,
Hind-legs sprawling on the polished travertine,
Back hunched from lying, and pads across the floor
To find a cooler, more comfortable place.
Where would that be? Here, or else here? He noses
Beneath the curtained windows ... Nowhere pleases,
And he collapses randomly, breathing hard,
With a muffled knock of bones, out of the sun
At least.

Sunburned, robust, Elisabetta
Follows him with her eyes, leaning on a broom
(Her sweeping interrupted to let him pass),
And comments, "Ha bisogno della morte!"

That's by Robert Wells, and I kind of like it. Now let's hear why I shouldn't.


Gianni said...

"Has need of death"? Is that what that says?

I don't get that quote, maybe I translated it wrong, but otherwise I think it captures the dog train of thought perfectly. Doesn't have a care in the world, as long as he/she can get somewhere cool soon.

steve said...

Gianni doesn't quite have the Italian down right - anybody else care to dust off their high school language courses and take a crack at it?

Kevin Caron said...

"Has need of darkness/the lights off"?
"Has need of the cold"?

literally translated, I think Gianni's right, but we're clearly we're missing something.

Sam Sacks said...

I had to BabelFish the line too (another noun-to-verb courtesy of the internet!) and I gather it's part of an aphorism that goes something like "The living need the dead" or "for life there must be death," young, reddened, "robust" Elisabetta being contrasted against the old, exhausted pile-of-bones pooch. (It sounds vaguely catechismic, maybe it's a Roman Catholic saying?)
But just the fact that we have to go digging around for the meaning of the last verse of the poem, the most important verse, where all the strands are tied into its meaning, decides the question, for me, of whether its any good. What's the point of putting it in Italian, exactly? If I read it right, it's still an old saw. Is it in Italian to disguise the fact that the poem ends on a cliche?

steve said...


A) to a much greater degree than English, most Romance languages carry the noun, the DOER of the verb, INSIDE the verb ... so all these renderings without a 'he' in them make the thing sound more awkward than it really is


B) Alas, Sam is probably right. I think it might be possible that the poet was harking back to a time when he could EXPECT his readers to know Italian, but in 2007 it doesn't save the thing, I guess. Is there ANY argument to be made for the poem if the reader knows no Italian and DOESN'T have Computo translating for him? I mean, is there any way the poem works if the final phrase is - and remains - opaque to the reader?

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