Tuesday, May 31, 2011

When in Rome...

Between work, spending time with my partner and planning a wedding, I haven't taken too much time to devote to the reading, but I've finally made it through the first chapter, a whopping 64 pages, of Mr. Mommsen's The Provinces of the Roman Empire. I have to say it's just as exciting as I had imagined it to be. Though the language isn't really difficult, I find my mind wandering away from the text, and this forces me to reread sentences and paragraphs. With my limited 8th grade understanding of world geography and a complete unfamiliarity with the history and important figures of the Roman Empire, I just cannot seem to concentrate on or relate to the subject matter. That's not to say, though, that whatever I do glean from the text I don't find interesting.

The first chapter from Volume 5, Book 8 focuses on the conquests of the Roman Empire past the northern frontier of Italy under the rule of Augustus. Never having been good at memorizing dates and names, I'm overjoyed that I won't have to take a quiz over the information--as I'm sure I'd probably fail it. What I found most interesting, though, was the idea that the Romans, as a nation, felt it their right or destiny to charge into foreign territories and claim them as their own, taxing the inhabitants and setting laws for them to follow. Though I know the Romans aren't the only people to have done so in history, it's difficult to imagine today one country just waltzing into another, occupying it by means of battle, and claiming rule over it. Then again, I guess it isn't too much of a stretch from the United States and its presence in the Middle East.

Anyway, the Romans didn't always have it so easy, especially when it came to the occupation of the province of Germany. Clearly unhappy with foreign rule, the Germans rightfully revolted--sometimes being successful in their attempts and sometimes not. Though I often times found the subject matter hard to stick with while I read, Mr. Mommsen's descriptions of the events and battles, translated to English by William P. Dickson, are detailed and seem to flow at times as if they were a part of a novelized form of history. His word choice too, at times, is particularly admirable, as I sometimes needed to direct my browser to Dictionary.com. I can only hope my next reading won't be quite as laborious...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mr. Mommsen's History

I've always found history fascinating, but at the same time, I've always found history books completely and utterly boring. I don't think I did anything more than skim my history textbooks in high school, and as I entered college, it was even worse, because the books had fewer to no pictures in them! So you could imagine my excitement when I discovered that the next winner of the Nobel Prize, Theodor Mommsen, pretty much wrote history books. According to Nobelprize.org, he was recognized as "the greatest living master of the art of historical writing." So maybe reading Mr. Mommsen's work won't be too much of a snooze.

From what I read about Mr. Mommsen, or Christian Matthais Theodor Mommsen, on Wikipedia and Nobelprize.org, it sounds as if he led a pretty fascinating life--as fascinating a life one could have being a historian and professor of Roman History. He did, though, father 16 children with his wife. Wow. Among his academic achievements and all that historical research and writing, how did he find the time?! Also of particular interest was a fire in 1880 in his workroom-library that consumed several manuscripts, important writings on loan from the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, and possibly the Manuscript of Jordanes from Heidelberg University library. Those librarians must have felt pretty crunchy.

Mr. Mommsen was particularly noted for his five volume "monumental work," A history of Rome. Now, I do not plan to read all five volumes. That would take way too much time. And to admit, I don't even plan to read an entire volume. A title of Mr. Mommsen's that's most easily accessible to me is The Provinces of the Roman Empire: The European Provinces, a selection from the 5th volume, book 8 of A History of Rome. It's the only title of Mr. Mommsen's that my library owns (and one that looks as if it may be weeded it soon, as it's not very attractive and appears to not have been checked out since 2004). I could do an inter-library loan for something more, but it would take two weeks to get, and I fear this project's going to take enough time already.

Anyway, 338 pages from Mr. Mommsen sounds good enough for me. So, on to my next read...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sully's Yearnings

I can't justify just examining one poem and moving on, so I'm going to continue with Mr. Prudhomme, at least for one more post. Le Long Du Quai (Along the Quay) and Soupir (Sigh) were the next two poems that I appreciated the most of those I did find. These two poems and their English translations were included in The Ring of Words: An Anthology of Song Texts, which I obtained through Inter-library Loan. I can't tell you how much I value that service!

The most effective writing tool, for me at least, is detailed imagery--especially when someone describes something in a way I had never thought of or heard before. The first stanza of Le Long Du Quai (Along the Quay) provides two separate, yet parallel images: large ships resting in a body of water, rising and falling with the waves and women rocking cradles. I love the personification of the ships that "take no thought of the cradles / rocked by the hands of the women." The speaker goes on to explain that there will come a day when the ships will sail off, leaving behind the women who are caring after children.

I think many can understand the sadness the women feel when their lovers take off over the seas, as described in the second stanza. I'm distraught when I don't get to see my partner for a day because of our uncoordinated work schedules. I couldn't imagine waiting months to see him again! In the concluding stanza, the speaker expresses the sorrow of the those aboard the ship as well. Furthering the personification, the ships "feel their hulks restrained / by the soul of the distant cradles." I'm not a parent, but I know I would hate to be the father of a child and be absent for such an extended period of time. I would want to be there for every moment of their life possible.

The second poem, Soupir (Sigh), has a very similar theme. The word choice is simple, but the anguish of the speaker, separated from the one he loves, is demonstrated effectively, especially through the repetition of the phrase "always to love her" at the end of each stanza. The first and the last open with, "Never to see her or hear her, / never to breathe her name aloud..." I imagine two lovers separated across seemingly untraversable distances, or even across the threshold between life and death.

Though the poem isn't fraught with imagery, metaphors and similes, I find it effective in the sense that I can relate to it. Whether it has been in mourning for a loved one who's died, or in times when I've been separated from my partner for extended periods of time, I know the despair the speaker expresses when you think you may never see someone again. Though the speaker gives no hint as to which situation is the case, I find the fact that he will always love the one he's separated from endearing.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Is your vase brisé?

As a writer, I've always found it tough to write about love. I dread being trite and cliche, and whenever I try to express my feelings on paper, whatever comes out usually sounds forced and filtered--at least to my ears. However, there have been a few times that I've felt I've done a decent job. The majority of the translated poems by Sully Prudhomme that I came across have themes of love or relationships, and just like with my own poems, there are some that I appreciate and some that I would probably never share with my own lover.

Of the poems of Sully's that I've found, I like Le Vase Brisé (The Broken Vase) the most. The speaker of the poem compares the heart, wounded "by the hand we love," to a vase "cracked by a blow from a fan." Just as a crack in a vase may widen and cause it to leak, letting the water within drain and the flower in it to die, the wounded heart often "cracks by itself / and the flower of its love dies."

Because the crack is small and spreads slowly, the leak in the vase isn't suspected. The speaker points out that the heart, too, is perceived to be intact--unharmed--"in the eyes of the world." I probably appreciate this poem the most because I can relate to this image. I can recall several times when my own feelings have gone unnoticed by those around me, or when I've overlooked the anguish of another.

Sully's poem leads me to reflect on those times when my feelings do go unnoticed, and to wonder how I could be more aware of the feelings of those around me. The speaker cautions the reader to not touch the cracked vase or the wounded heart. "It's broken. Don't touch!" What would happen if someone were to do so? How could one further harm the heart? What would the repercussions be?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Excusez-moi? Je ne parle pas français...

According to nobelprize.org, Sully Prudhomme won the Nobel prize in 1901 "in special recognition of his poetic composition, which gives evidence of lofty idealism, artistic perfection and a rare combination of the qualities of both heart and intellect." Now that does sound wonderful. What's even more so, I've learned from Wikipedia, he devoted most of the prize money to the creation of another poetry prize!

As a French poet, Mr. Prudhomme understandably wrote poems in French. Now, I knew there were going to be some challenges to this immense reading project, but I didn't imagine they'd arise so soon. Having grown up in a small town with limited educational opportunities, the only foreign language that I had access to in high school was Spanish. Furthermore, in my post secondary educational pursuits, I never felt overwhelmingly encouraged to expand my linguistic horizons. In short, I have never learned to speak or read French or any other language for that matter.

What's the big deal? Why not find an English translation? Even with the understanding that works are much better in their original languages, it was my initial intention to read a full volume of Mr. Prudhomme's poetry in English. I've come to find that such a volume doesn't exist, or if it does, it's beyond the reaches of an amateur search. A quick inquiry on WorldCat.org (a wonderful network of library content that can tell you which libraries in your area have a certain title) proves that even a French volume would be difficult to acquire, as the closest libraries with Prudhomme titles are few and far between, if not across the ocean.

Nevertheless, I'm not going to let this little language barrier get in my way. With a simple search of the web, I've found a handful of Mr. Prudhomme's poems that have been translated to English: Le Long Du Quai (Along the Quay), Soupir (Sigh), Au bord de l'eau (At the Water's Edge), Le Vase Brisé (Broken Vase), and Les yeux (The Eyes). So, though these few verses are no where near a fair representation of Mr. Prudhommes work, and though I'm sure something's bound to have been "lost in translation" with each...this is where I'll begin!

Friday, May 13, 2011

What Would Alfred Read? - Introduction

So here's the plan: read at least one title (or volume of poetry or essays) by each of the winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature since its first awarding in 1901 to Sully Prudhomme, and blog my thoughts and reflections on each writer and work.

I came up with this idea when I was nearing the completion of my Master of Library Science degree in December. Having been used to a full schedule of projects and readings for school, I figured I would have all this free time after graduating. I also thought, as a librarian, it would be important to be well-read, and I figured what better reading list could there be?

Will I have a time frame for completion? Nope. No way. There's 107 Nobel Laureates, and I have no idea how long it will take me to track down and read each chosen title. I will, however, try to keep on task and maybe, just maybe, I'll finish before the next millennium...

Now, I have to be honest and say that I had initially planned to start this project in January. After graduating, though, my partner and I moved into a new apartment and we spent a lot of our time and energy trying to find a job for him. Between working at the library, spending time with my partner, cleaning and doing other housework, I just couldn't find or take the time to begin. We've all heard that saying about life being what happens while you're making other plans...

Now, though, summer is approaching, and with all the buzz about summer reading programs and projects, I have felt encouraged to begin. So here's to Sully Prudhomme, my first Nobel reading endeavor!