Thursday, December 30, 2010

Rainbow at the end of the year

I'm looking forward to 2011 more than feeling in the mood to celebrate the year soon to be behind us. And one thing I'm really looking forward to is the centenary, in February, of Elizabeth Bishop.

Among the many celebrations will be the publication by F.S.G. of two new editions of her work. I've blogged before about Bishop as an unsung master of prose, and readers will be able to judge this for themselves in Lloyd Schwartz's new collection of her stories, essays, and reviews, called.... Prose. Saskia Hamilton (who previously co-edited Bishop's correspondence with Lowell - and who was recently celebrated in, of all things, a music video by Ben Folds and Nick Hornby) has edited the new companion edition of Bishop's poems called - in similarly dignified fashion - Poems.

Now, most of this work has been collected already in the wonderful Library of America volume dedicated to E.B., but these attractive new volumes will no doubt reach even more readers (and, for Bishop fanatics like me, will include a few things not previously published, e.g., her annotated draft of the Time-Life volume on Brazil that she later repudiated - and the complete extant correspondence between her and Anne Stevenson, who wrote the first book-length study of Bishop's work). Also, E.B. was light years ahead of us in her interest in Clarice Lispector, whom she translated; the prose volume contains Bishop's translations of three stories.

Among the many things to treasure about Bishop's work are a clutch of dazzling translations of Max Jacob.

Here's one.



It was the hour when night makes the mountains lament
And the crags creak under the footsteps of animals,
The birds flew away from the countryside like poison
To get to the sea, to get to a better horizon.
Pursuing a poet then the devil went.
The poet stared at the sea as if he were dead,
For there the sea powdered the edge of a bay
And covered the skin of the giant rocks with scales.
But Jesus, with fire shining behind his head,
Came to climb up the black crags, bearing the cross.
The poet stretched out his arms towards the Savior
And everything vanished: the somber night and the beasts.
The poet followed God for his happiness.


May you all find happiness in the New Year!

Pictured: Renee Descartes' sketch of how a rainbow is formed.

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