Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Reflections in suspense

I believe there are greater
human rights than matrimony,
which is after all a social
convention, revolting as it
may be to withhold it from
anyone. This condition of a
right as a human, not a so-
cial attribute, distinguish-
es it from a baseball bat, 
a law. And we do, continu-
ously, observe it is the
reality of human right, not
what we do with it, which
generates confusion, ambiv-
alence, and sometimes fear.
Beneath all that, there is 
only the brittleness of
tautology, for all to see:
the assertion that there is
no right, because there is
no discrimination, only god.

Thus, among the trust-
worthiest of human respon-
ses, one to another, em-
pathy impresses one as the
masterpiece of philosophy
as well as of marital tech-
nique. A great revolution
which we have been privi-
leged to witness, some to
advance, is in the break-
ing down of the anguish of
separation, under the per-
sistent, sublimely uninten-
ded press of catastrophes
of discrimination. A study
of feeling is irreversible.

Our eyes have seen it. And
we are sustained by those
who give away how they love,
this luminance in everyone.

   From time to time it seems her form and smile,
   sweet and angelic, grow less harsh toward me,
   the air of her fine face
   clears like the sky, her happy eyes grow brighter.

   These sighs, what are they doing with me now,
   that used to come from sorrow
   and once made very clear 
   the desperate, anguished nature of my life?
   Happens I turn my face in her direction
   to try to ease my heart,
   it seems that Love is there
   lending his aid and taking up my cause.

   Yet I don't think this war is going to end
   or any tranquil peace come soothe my heart:
   my passion burns the more
   the more I'm tempted by my hopefulness.

Francesco Petrarca
1304 - 1374
The Poetry of Petrarch
  Sonnet 149
David Young, translation
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004©


  1. "Yet I don't think this war is going to end
    or any tranquil peace come soothe my heart:
    my passion burns the more
    the more I'm tempted by my hopefulness."

    Battles won ... but the war? A war not of our making but, a war, nonetheless. The older I get, the more cynical I am about priests and their acolytes.

    Beautiful, though, this sonnet by Petrarch.

    1. It is great to have your companionship on this occasion, because a sidelight on this poem is one you will wryly and wisely appreciate; a translation by David R. Slavitt, published by Harvard 8 years later, casts a much more explicit darkness in this concluding hopefulness. I think the poem as David Young translates it, is one of the most intelligent constructions I've read, on this subject, and certainly expresses the brighter among the interpretations available. Yet my thoughts are also much "tempted" here by Vico, at least as regards the philosophical underpinnings of empathy, i.e., what we can know truthfully about others, distant in time or condition. Like you, I prefer not to declare premature victories, even as I am more and more hopeful for fewer resemblances to war. But I will be happy for your visit today.

  2. Replies
    1. I freely confess to having hoped you would visit today, and not just for this remarkable sonnet. Thank you for your presence, which I do urge readers to explore at your proteanly worthwhile page; and for the brisk encouragement!

  3. it is human rights-given and taken. I celebrate, yet I weep at the stolen vote that is too precious-hard fought for still. one day down, next day up. how does an obviously politically charged Supreme Court manage to be so self righteous in their decision making. that anyone hold another man's vote-or hand in marriage hostage-is distasteful in this muggy climate we live in-it's oppressive. Yet-you my friend are always sublime with words.pgt

    1. Thank you for your visit and comment. A way with words is well enough distributed in the visitors' box, today, to give very generous cover to incidental sproutings in this ground, but I thank you for the encouragement. I confess also to have invited you, too, to participate in one or another of the themes of this posting, for the visible reason of your commitments and less visible reasons which I value. We have come to the end of another Court term marked by the vengeance which brought us more than half of its sitting Justices, and it is inevitably dispiriting to observe how pettily but doggedly a solid core of 4 of them serve the will of discredited and deposed political masters, against this Court's own illuminations of liberty at mid-century. All over again we are hearing the crocodile tears of Felix Frankfurther, in his unyielding resistance to the incorporation of the Bill of Rights upon State and local governments, in the case of a lady damaged by an overweening pharmaceutiicals company, which had the wit not to own the patent which injured her. We are hearing the helplessness of the pre-Warren Court majority, in the Alito-Scalia plurality in capitulation to compulsory self-incrimination in Texas, as if the plain meaning of their powers and obligations utterly eludes them. But, as you say, we hear undocumented divinings that the South is nice again, notwithstanding the most voluminous allegations of electoral fraud in memory, brought forward in the last election. And, inevitably, we hear the unctuous condescension of the incurable bigot vote in the Windsor decision, that "the truth" of homophobia is not really so simple. But all of these matters, and others like them, are not to be hoisted upon your innocent acceptance of the invitation to come and share good will.

      But I must note, that your page has the resilient hopefulness of the writer of this sonnet, because this is not simply true, it is the solvent we depend on, against the persistent obduracy in unfairness in wielding the "too precious-hard fought" instruments for justice ever entrusted to a Court.

  4. Replies
    1. Thank you for accepting the invitation to come by. I remember, you've seen the Dylan posting before. I hope its revival here is not so crude as self-quotation -- as with the Petrarch and these pictures, I had nothing to do with it. Petrarch, too, I possibly should have noted, wished this sonnet to be sung as a ballad - and we take it up, and understand.