07 November 2014

Northern Light in Autumn: John Pfahl

I have a special fondness for the photography of John Pfahl because my path has accidentally followed his around the northeast.  Pfahl grew up in northeastern New Jersey: he attended Syracuse University, worked in Rochester, and has lived in Buffalo, where he now teaches at the University of Buffalo. The rural-looking path in Pfahl's photograph reminds me of my walks in Delaware Park, the jewel of the Olmsted park system in Buffalo, whose design was begun by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in 1868, built on Joseph Ellicott's visionary pla for the city.  Whether it is the easternmost Midwestern city or the western outpost of the Northeast, Buffalo has good bones.

“In the fall, I believe again in poetry
if nothing else it is
a movement of the mind.
Summers ball together
In sticky lumps
spring evenings are glass beads from one mold
for standard-size youth,
winter a smooth heaviness, not even cold.
But the mind trembles
here, on the brink
the mind trembles
there is life, after all
there is life, still
unbelief is left.”
-          “Still” by Aila Merluoto, translated from the Finnish by Jaakko A. Ahokas,  Snow in May: An Anthology of Finnish Writing, Rutherford, NJ, Fairleigh Dickinson University: 1978.

“Love me
but do not come too near
leave room for love
to laugh at its happiness
always let some of my blond hair
Be free.”
 - "Love" by Maria Wine, translated from the Swedish by Nadia Christensen, The Penguin Book of Women Poets, ed. By Carol Cosman, Joan Keefe and Kathleen Weaver, New York, The Viking Press: 1979.

“Where do you go with your fury,
when the road are blpcked with words
you don’t understand
and your fear is worse
than the punishment.

Where do you go with your hate
when your mother
misconstrues your sincerity
and strangers laugh
at your games.

Do you then beat flat a field
In a box’s amenable sand
and sow
The first seed of your fury
Do you play a game
Of dead dolls.

Say to the upright men
in the world
that they must harvest
your ripened hate
and plough the field of your fury
before they will see your face.”
 -“Fury’s Field”  by Cecil Bodker, translated from the Danish by Nadia Christensen, The Penguin Book of Women Poets, ed. By Carol Cosman, Joan Keefe and Kathleen Weaver, New York, The Viking Press: 1979.

After the Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer received the Nobel Literature Prize in 2011, I began looking for works by other Scandinavian poets, so enchanting are Transtromer's poems of the poignancy that attends the passing of seasons. Here are poems that leap the language barrier just fine.  When the Atlantic Monthly stopped publishing reviews of literature in translation a few years ago, it sank into irretrievable irrelevance.  The best test of a good mind is how large a world it is willing to inhabit.

Aila Merluoto was born 1924 and attended Helsinki University.  Her first book of poems Lasimaalaus (The Stained-Glass Picture) was   a literary sensation In Finland.  Merluoto has Finnish translator of the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke.  She now lives in Sweden.
Maria  Wine was born in 1912 and published her first book of poems in 1943.  She married Artur Lundkvist, one of Sweden foremost literary critics.
Cecil Bodker was born in Frederica, Denmark in 1927 .  She worked as a silversmith before turning to writing.  She is the author of poetry, novels, and plays.  She married  and had four daughters, two of them adopted during a stay in Ethiopia.  Bodker has received several literary awards.
1. John Pfahl -  Six Oranges, 1975, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
2. John Pfahl - 79 Potomac Avenue, Buffalo, September 1981, University of California, Berkeley.
3. John Pfahl - The Great Falls on the Passaic River at Paterson, New Jersey, 1988, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.


Rouchswalwe said...

Oh, beautiful!

Jane said...

Rouchswalwe, they certainly are. There is so much good literature in translation that gives the lie to the notion that translation doesn't work.