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Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Poetry Lesson


File:Manuel Maria Barbosa du Bocage.jpg

The Portuguese poet Manuel Maria Barbosa du Bocage (1765-1805)
: Joaquin Pedro de Souza, from História da Literatura, ed. José Marques da Cruz, 1942

Look around the room you are in or imagine another room. What is happening? Take some notes.

(But be sure not to include the circumstances that allow you the leisure for this sort of idle contemplation)

What causes the noises (or silence)?

(Adopt, for the sake of the internal demand to be writing something, a theory of causality)

What causes the light and shadows: Full moon? Bedlamp? Clouded sunlight?

(It will probably help to be a bit unclear about the light source, so as to eke out as many speculative projections as possible, thus adding the requisite dash of sensibility)

What effects does the light have on objects in the room, and on you?

(Don't attempt to fool yourself into thinking this matters to anyone, but keep in mind the fact that subjective impressions will add nuance to your expression)

Make a list of everything you can see and hear outside.

(Again, no one cares, but it's this sort of harmless cultivated irrelevance that helps reassure one's patrons)

What makes it light or dark out?

(Obvious questions deserve complicated answers: remember, this is poetry, stretch things as far as you can, and then a bit further)

Are there trees outside? What causes the leaves to move and change their colors? What effects do they have on birds and the sky and you?

(Keep in mind that everybody knows the answer to the first two questions, and nobody cares about the answer to the third -- but elaboration is to be desired, at any cost; after all, what better way is there to waste the time, while accumulating a few more lines?)

What person or event does the room remind you of? Why?

(This should be easy, like pinning the tail on the donkey, and then picking the name of someone wealthy or powerful or some event of curious yet slightly arcane significance to give the donkey)

What time of day is it?

(Don't just settle for looking at the clock, try to scrape up some aesthetically "interesting" atmospherics)

Look at one object inside or outside and describe its shape in detail. (Exaggerate if you wish!)

(No, hold that, in this business lying is everything -- exaggerate whether you wish or not!)

Write a poem from your notes.

(And then hold your breath, make nice, and await the arrival of the good fairy...)


Anonymous said...

Ok. I'll give it a try. Thank you so much also for the introduction to the life and works of Manuel Maria Barbosa du Bocage. I'm off now to Manhattan. It should be an unusual day.

TC said...

Thanks, Curtis. Yes, I too am still taking in the deep substance of the teachings of Bocage. The internal dialectics of his lecture appear to have been rather taxing upon the poor fellow, but its light and example will live on in us who follow, I reckon.

Hope your day in the city was good and that you did not get crushed by any wandering parade floats.

(A. says you're having fair weather. Here it is frozen-pipes cold. Bocage would understand.)

John B-R said...

I find this self-portrait:

Thin, blue eyes, tanned face,
His fair share of feet, middling height,
Sad face and figure,
High nose in the middle, and not small;

Incapable of staying in just one place,
Quicker to anger than tenderness;
Drinking in his pale hands, out of a dark cup,
From hellish enthusiasms a lethal poison;

Burning incense to a thousand divinities
(I mean, a thousand girls) in a single moment,
Loving the priests only at the altar,

This is Bocage, in whom some talent shines;
He himself wrote these truths,
On a day when he was bored.

I wish I had decent Spanish ...

Thanks, Tom. This is great. It's "prizable", as my word verification has it.

TC said...


Let us share the master's Portuguese original.

Magro, de olhos azuis, carão moreno,
Bem servido de pés, meão na altura,
Triste de facha, o mesmo de figura,
Nariz alto no meio, e não pequeno;

Incapaz de assistir num só terreno,
Mais propenso ao furor do que à ternura;
Bebendo em níveas mãos, por taça escura,
De zelos infernais letal veneno;

Devoto incensador de mil deidades
(Digo, de moças mil) num só memento,
E somente no altar amando os frades,

Eis Bocage, em quem luz algum talento;
Saíram dele mesmo estas verdades,
Num dia em que se achou mais pachorrento.

The refreshing candour of the verse reminds us that Bocage's work in general is surprisingly "contemporary".

One expert has compared the advanced practicum on poetic composition, as posted here, with the work of Ern Malley, in fact.

Anonymous said...

That's very funny, but poor man, so cynical and so prescient. This bit:

Make a list of everything you can see and hear outside.
(Again, no one cares, but it's this sort of harmless cultivated irrelevance that helps reassure one's patrons)

It's like he'd read the old New Yorker, but maybe life was always like that.


SarahA said...

Sometimes (I am thinking), this discipline is very good for oneself and now I must o find a shop that sells such!

TC said...


Yes, one does feel compassion across the gulfs of time.

I have it from the internet that in the Bocage archives in the National Museum in Lisbon there is a trunk full of old New Yorkers.

The lineage, it seems, continues: Copper (Poem Composed After the Manner Prescribed by Bocage) has now been unearthed by a retiring scholar toiling in an undisclosed region of South America.

It's amazing what you can find on the internet.

In fact, SarahA, it's one big supermarket.

Speaking of which, it's the season of groaning supermarkets and great gluttony here.

Today's San Francisco Chronicle headlines:


and (perhaps an "afterthought")


Anonymous said...

So their subscriptions list goes way back in time, it's older than the magazine. In theory l could get Christ a subscription to the New Yorker; a nice birthday present, except for the 1,925-year wait for delivery.


John B-R said...

My bad, Portuguese, not Spanish.

I like the idea of buying Christ a sub to the New Yorker. It reminds me of the retroactive conversion thing associated with Mormonism. (I have no idea whether Mormons really convert the dead, it's just one of those notions floating in the air that made its way into my head long ago ...)

TC said...

It's been said by theological relativists that Hell is merely the part of Heaven where the only thing to read while you wait for an appointment is a great stack of back issues of The New Yorker, and that in the tedium thus induced lay the origins of the Mormon practise of taking many wives.