Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More Pantoum!

This is a freakishly long post for me, but i think you might find it amusing. I find it amusing. I am going to read it again right now.


Dude, I'm supposed to be writing this book that I'm writing and I'm just done with the hour of looking around the internest that starts my day and I find, instead of turning to Stay (my book in the writing), I'm turning to you to talk about pantoums. Why? Because you are handsome and cool.

You might guess pantoum was a minor cousin of the sonnet, all Elizabethan or whathaveyou, but, my freuds, it is not.

The pantun is a Malay poetic form.

Malay is a family of languages that goes back to the 7th century BC, in and around Indoanesia.

The pantun began as a tuneless love song, a completely oral art form. People started writing them down in the 15th century.

The pantoum is derived from a particular type of pantun, the pantun berkait, a series of interwoven four-line stanzas.

This pantun has four-line stanzas with an abab rhyme. It is recited according to a fixed rhythm that works in Malay so long as they keep the syllables of each line between eight and twelve.

Here’s Katharine Sim* on the form. Read this despite the resistance it excites: “The pantun is a four-lined verse consisting of alternating, roughly rhyming lines. The first and second lines sometimes appear completely disconnected in meaning from the third and fourth, but there is almost invariably a link of some sort. Whether it be a mere association of ideas, or of feeling, expressed through assonance or through the faintest nuance of a thought, it is nearly always traceable.”

* How much do I love the title of her book? It’s like jeeze we just learned the pantum, give us a break! No but seriously: Katharine Sim, More than a Pantun: Understanding Malay Verse (Times International: Singapore, 1987).

The pantun is highly allusive, dependent on shared knowledge of a symbolic code.

Here’s one, translation by Sim:

Tanam selasih di tengah padang,

Sudah bertangkai diurung semut,

Kita kasih orang tak sayang,

Halai-balai tempurung hanyut.

I planted sweet-basil in mid-field

Grown, it swarmed with ants,

I loved but am not loved,

I am all confused and helpless.


Isn't that great?

Sim tells us "Selasih" (meaning sweet basil) means "lover" -- because it rhymes with kekasih (the word for lover); and the last line, "halai-balai tempurung hanyut" literally means "a floating coconut shell at sixes and sevens."

Other frequently recurring symbols are:

flower and the bee = the girl and her lover

the squirrel (tupai) = a seducer

water hyacinth (bunga kiambang) = love that will not take root.

[I’ve never actually looked into this Sim book, I’m “translating” all this from the English yet nearly-impenetrable wikipedia entry on the Pantun.][I bet I end up buying the Sim book.]

Anywhy, how did the pantun get to be a big form in Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries?

Well, a linguist called William Marsden, published a pantun in his Dictionary and Grammar of the Malayan Language in 1812. It was delightfully sexy and when minor poet Ernest Fouinet read it he was inspired to write his own, unrhymed French version of the poem, which came out so good that Victor Hugo published it in the notes to his book Les Orientales (1829) and after that tons of French poets wrote what was now called “pantoums.” This went on for a hundred and fifty years. Want to see the poems that got all this started? You have to click on this link! A Famous Pantun.

Oh Their God wasn't that delish?! Many youths have I admired,/ but none to compare with my present choice. It's hawt.

Okay so fast forward to like, fifty years ago.

You know the way the villanelle, today, is still primarily connected with “Do not go gently into that good night”? Fifty years ago, the pantoum was Baudelaire’s “Harmonie du soir,” though it is a particularly irregular version (the stanzas rhyme abba instead of abab, and the last line, which should be the same as the first, is original). If you go look here, fluersdumal and read the English translations you’ll go WTF? Why would that be so beloved?

Click here to see a google search page that will tell you all you need to know, don't bother clicking any of the links: Look. See?

"Un ostensoir est un objet liturgique de la religion catholique, également appelée monstrance."

An "ostensoir" is a liturgical object in the Catholic religion, also called "monstrance." Ha! Now do you see why the poem was so much fun?

Harmonie du soir

Voici venir les temps où vibrant sur sa tige
Chaque fleur s'évapore ainsi qu'un encensoir;
Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir;
Valse mélancolique et langoureux vertige!

Chaque fleur s'évapore ainsi qu'un encensoir;
Le violon frémit comme un coeur qu'on afflige;
Valse mélancolique et langoureux vertige!
Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir.

Le violon frémit comme un coeur qu'on afflige,
Un coeur tendre, qui hait le néant vaste et noir!
Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir;
Le soleil s'est noyé dans son sang qui se fige.

Un coeur tendre, qui hait le néant vaste et noir,
Du passé lumineux recueille tout vestige!
Le soleil s'est noyé dans son sang qui se fige...
Ton souvenir en moi luit comme un ostensoir!

— Charles Baudelaire

Harmonie du soir

l'air du soir;
Valse (waltz) mélancolique et langoureux vertige (vertigo, pronounced verteej)!

Valse mélancolique et langoureux vertige!
Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir (altar).

Un coeur tendre, qui hait le néant vaste et noir! (a tender heart who hates the vast black nothingness!)
Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir; (the sky is sad and beautiful like a giant alter)
Le soleil s'est noyé dans son sang qui se fige. (feej!) (the sun is drowning in its blood which is congealing)!

Un coeur tendre, qui hait le néant vaste et noir,
vestige (vesteej)
Le soleil s'est noyé dans son sang qui se fige

And then this freaky last line which is what the whole poem was for, all for the word: Ostensoir!

Ton souvenir en moi luit comme un ostensoir!

The memory of you is brilliant inside me, like one of those huge gold starburst things that are part of the ritual at the altar of a Catholic church. This is particularly wonderful because the word for the huge gold starburst things is Ostensoir! which rhymes with night and darkness (soir et noir) and has the synonym of Monstrance, which sounds like monster. Ostensoir which must mean eastern night. It is an "ornamental in which the consecrated host is placed for veneration."

Do you see how much fun all this is, in the French? It is bloody and gross and sexy and sounds fantastic.

And what else was fun? Well what else was fun was what the pantun started out as, which is visible hilariously through this hilarious text over at the Classic Encyclopedia.

It's from the Encyclopedia Britanica 1911 and it is sooooo great. I have to quote it in full here. I really want you to actually read this whole thing. It is funny. All I have done is put in some paragraph breaks to encourage you to keep reading:

PANTUN (PANTOUM), a form of verse of Malay origin. An imitation of the form has been adopted in French and also in English verse, where it is known as "pantoum." The Malay pantunis a quatrain, the first and third and the second and fourth lines of which rhyme.

The peculiarity of the verse-form resides in the fact that the first two lines have as a rule no actual connexion, in so far as meaning is concerned, with the two last, or with one another, and have for their raison d'être a means of supplying rhymes for the concluding lines.

For instance:

Senudoh kayu di-rimba Benang karap ber-simpul puleh: Sunggoh dudok ber-tindek riba, Jangan di-harap kata-kan buleh.

The rhododendron is a wood of the jungle, The strings within the frame-work of the loom are in a tangled knot.

It is true that I sit on thy lap, But do not therefore cherish the hope that thou canst take any other liberty.

Here, it will be seen, the first two lines have no meaning, though according to the Malayan mind, on occasion, these "rhyme-making" lines are held to contain some obscure, symbolicaj reference to those which follow them. The Malay is not exacting with regard to the correctness of his rhymes, and to his ear rimba and riba rhyme as exactly as puleh and bulek. It should also be noted that in the above example, as is not infrequently the case with the Malay pantun, there is a similar attempt at rhyme between the initial words of the lines as well as between the word with which they conclude, senudoh and sunggoh, benang and , jeingan, and kdrap and karap all rhyming to the Malayan ear.

There are large numbers of well-known pantun with which practically all Malays are acquainted, much as the commoner proverbs are familiar to us all, and it is not an infrequent practice in conversation for the first line of a pantun- viz.: one of the two lines to which no real meaning attaches - to be quoted alone, the audience being supposed to possess the necessary knowledge to fit on the remaining lines for himself and thus to discover the significance of the allusion.

Among cultured Malays, more especially those living in the neighbourhood of the raja's court, new pantun are constantly being composed, many of them being of a highly topical character, and these improvisations are quoted from man to man until they become current like the old, well-known verses, though within a far more restricted area. Often too, the pantun is used in love-making, but they are then usually composed for the exclusive use of the author and for the delectation of his lady-loves, and do not find their way into the public stock of verses.

"Capping" pantun is also a not uncommon pastime, and many Malays will continue such contests for hours without once repeating the same verse, and often improvising quatrains when their stock threatens to become exhausted. When this game is played by skilled versifiers, the pantun last quoted, and very frequently the second line thereof, is used as the tag on to which to hang the succeeding verse.

The "pantoum" as a form of verse was introduced into French by Victor Hugo in Les Orientales (1829).


Isn't it amazing how condescending and yet admiring and knowledgeable the entry author is?

And then, as if that were not enough, in the 20th century, Americans get their hands on the pantoum and OTG, they run it into the ground!

There's no limit on its length and Americans just intuited that we could hammer in a hell of a relentless (thanks Amy Holman for the insight and word, yes, relentless!) work song, blues song, sorrow chanty.

Look at a few of these Donald Justice Pantoum. Carolyn Kizer Pantoum. Oy.

And of course, back to song. I am going to like it here.

Want to hear it? Go to 1:23 Here for the song.

I am going to like it here

Like a port in a storm it is

All the people are so sincere

There's especially one I like

I am going to like it here

And that, freuds, is the pantoum. Next up...the larch. The Larch.




Mat Wilder said...

I recently purchased Richard Howard's translation of Les Fleurs du Mal, and haven't gotten very far into it, but I looked up Evening Harmony. I like it more than the translations you linked to. (I'm pretty much a novice when it comes to poetry, but so far I've really liked everything I've read from this version.) Here is Howard's rendition:

Now comes the time when swaying on its stem
each flower offers incense to the night;
phrases and fragrances circle in the dark -
languorous waltz that casts a lingering spell!

Each flower offers incense to the night;
the violin trembles like a heart betrayed -
languorous waltz that casts a lingering spell!
A mournful altar ornaments the sky.

The violin trembles like a heart betrayed,
a tender heart unnerved by nothingness!
A mournful altar ornaments the sky;
the sun has smothered in its clotting blood.

A tender heart unnerved by nothingness
hoards every fragment of the radiant past.
The sun has smothered in its clotting blood.
In me your image - like a monstrance - glows.

The All-Seeing Eye, Jr. said...

Lovely post, JMH! Incidentally, the English word for "ostensoir" is "monstrance"--one of my favorite words! And "ostensoir" has nothing to do with eastern sky, it's from the same root as "ostensible."