Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Aryadeva on Beauty

Aryadeva was a 3rd century Buddhist monk who believed that our attachments to eternal existence, to pleasure, and to possessing the things we love, obstruct us from realising transcendent truth. Therefore, as for his previous warnings against belief in permanence and pleasure, so he tries to fob off the initiate monk from an obsession for beauty and cleanliness. He speaks merely relative truths in these introductory verses, so that we may awaken to the absolute, and experience life, happiness and beauty as they are in themselves, empty of all conceptual attachment. However, unlike for death and pleasure, the present subject makes for some awful haikus and I have been loathe to share them. Indeed, the very essence of the haiku is beauty which makes the form unsuitable, not to mention that Aryadeva seems overly concerned with the foulness of the (mostly female) body.

Days and nights I spend
On bodily attractions,
Futile in the end.

Subsisting on earth,
One craves earth, thus sense desires
Grow with indulgence.

A woman’s beauty
Is common to all, her sex
Is the same as all.

It’s not her beauty,
But how she appeals to me,
That makes me love her.

How lovely each part!
Isn’t it astonishing
What she means to me?

How virtuous she is!
Touch wood, for though I loathe sin,
No-one is perfect.

Love springs from goodness
Or else it’s a fool’s desire
For false paradise.

“Quarantine woman,”
Some say, “from sin’s temptation,
Or regret love lost.”

Old age brings remorse;
Those careless flings of youth make
Even the wise sad.

One without desires
Needs no pleasures; one caught up
Heeds not life’s pleasures.

My girl isn’t mine
To hide from others when I’m
Not romancing her.

Desire for woman
Ensures pleasure only in
Its consummation.

In a woman’s arms,
Would a man of sense say that
Pleasure came from her?

Scrabbling in the dark,
The sexual act brings relief
Like a bloody itch.

And so it goes on, but I aborted my translation at this point, and have turned all my poetic efforts since to writing praises of beauty to compensate! If you want to read the rest, you will have to look up Chapter 3 of Aryadeva's "Four Hundred Stanzas".

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Montserrat Figueras (1942-2011)

I was very sad to learn that the singer of early music Montserrat Figueras had passed away at the end of last year.

 If you have ten minutes, you might enjoy her "Song of Sibil", composed in the 13th century, that was banned for several centuries because it was in Catalan. http://youtu.be/iF1VClOAeyE

It is a liturgical piece about that day when "the eternal king will come dressed in our mortal flesh...to pass judgment on the century", ending with: "You who have heard all this, pray passionately to God with all your heart and devotion to bring us salvation".

In this short interview she gave in 2010, she discusses how her music crosses cultures and boundaries, reflecting our common aspirations. In the background she plays and sings a piece from "Francisco Javier - La Ruta de Oriente" with Jordi Savall and the Hesperion XXI ensemble.

Monday, 19 March 2012

The Lorelei (Heinrich Heine)

Poem by the 19th century German poet Heinrich Heine, later set to music by Clara Schumann, translated here into English by Mark Twain, followed by a video of the art of Albert Pinkham Ryder, born 155 years ago today, accompanied by composition "The Cloudy Road" of Yoko Kanno, also born on this day. The painting on the right meanwhile is "Calypso's Isle" by Herbert Draper.

The Beautiful Lorelei
I cannot divine what it meaneth,
This haunting nameless pain:
A tale of the bygone ages
Keeps brooding through my brain:

The faint air cools in the gloaming,
And peaceful flows the Rhine,
The thirsty summits are drinking
The sunset's flooding wine;

The loveliest maiden is sitting
High-throned in yon blue air,
Her golden jewels are shining,
She combs her golden hair:

She combs with comb that is golden,
And sings a weird refrain
That steeps in a deadly enchantment
The listener's ravished brain:

The doomed in his drifting shallop,
Is tranced with the sad sweet tone,
He sees not the yawing breakers,
He sees but the maid alone:

The pitiless billows engulf him!-
So perish sailor and bark;
And this, with her baleful singing,
Is the Lorelei's gruesome work.
Translation by Mark Twain

Thanks to Jon, a choral rendition: