Here is my first full transcreation of A New Divan into The New Divan. I decided to do it as altho the project is noble, what has been presented to the public is lacking distinctly in the art which both Goethe & Hafiz would have appreciated. Instead we have what appears to the naked eye as field notes in free verse. In its current form it is accessible to the vast majority of the English-speaking world, which is something I would like to redress thro’ the creation of a natural synthesis of all the parts into an octosyllabic, rhyming harmony. Borrowing a car for the day I headed out from Edinburgh with Daisy the dog for my whistlestop tour of the Borders. I mean, its great down there, I don’t know why folk are determined on driving seven hours to Skye, the scenery is just as resplendent & the drive is better for the Carbon footprint. After traversing the Lammermuirs we skirted Duns, paused at Hume Castle, & popped into Kelso for an hour. This is where the Teviot meets the Tweed & the riverside walk is a wide, cerebral, link-like stretch. As for the town itself, its a fine affair with a massive square & a genial atmosphere of the highest quality.
From Kelso we drove towards Morebattle, skirted it & headed through a romantic glen towards, through & beyond the house-huddle of Hownam (pronounced Hoonam). Just at the point where we hit Dere Street – the old Roman road between York & Scotland – I found myself at the foot of Woden Law, a climb of whose steep slopes afforded a windy yet spectacular view. Daisy kept up & was intrigued to watch the 6 or 7 crows/ravens hovering over sections of shale. It was a superb sensation to stumble on the defenses of the iron age hillfort, & that it had Roman additions, is situated so close to Deer Street, & of course that it was named after Cunedda’s father (see the last post) set my naturally inquisitive mind a-racing.
From Woden Law we popped into Morebattle, having a couple of coffees in a church that is in the middle of being converted into a pilgrim center for walkers of St Cuthbert’s Way between Melrose & Lindisfarne. Pilgrims had been complaining that there were not more spiritual experiences on the route, plus the coffee was really good. The priest – an Episcopalian named Margaret Pederson – came for a chat & I showed her The New Divan. She said she was familiar with Hafiz for his spiritual insight, & providing a cue for me to waffle on a bit about what I was doing with the project as I tossed off a few more lines.
Morebattle itself was a fine village, with a community shop & its own John Clare-Rabbie Burns hybrid, the peasant poet Robert Davidson. He was a farm labourer who published three volumes of his own poetry during his lifetime. He also wrote a short autobiography to accompany his third and final book of poems. This makes Davidson one of the first working men anywhere to have published an account of their lives. Given his circumstances, his achievement is a considerable one. Given his circumstances, the insight he provides into such lives and times is an invaluable one. Davidson never to have once left the Morebattle district, the small corner of the Scottish Borders in which he was born, lived and died. Davidson was a ‘day labourer’ and sometime ‘hind’ and like others from his station in life, his wages were low and somewhat uncertain. He lived his life in poverty and often on the edge of destitution. His is the authentic voice of the rural poor.
From Morebattle it was just a wee drive in the direction of Coldstream to Branxton & the fabulous Flodden battlefield. It wasn’t that fabolous for the Scottish king, James IV, who finding himself tactically outflanked by a forced English march, left his secure position on the Flodden Ridge & turned about face to meet the English from the top of Branxton Hill who were now between him & home. Obsessed with attacking in the Swiss echelon styles, & losing the artillery battle with his massive seige cannon which couldn’t handle the new elevation in time, he ordered his men to leave the relative safety of the hill summit just as the Scots would do againts Cromwell at Doon Hill, & march downslopes to attack the English. Unfortunately they wandered into uscouted marshy ground & the momentum halted, allowing the dense mass of Scots & their unwieldy pikes to be targeted by arrowstorms or hacked to pieces by the shorter but nimbler English bills. There died on the field the flower of Scottish nobility, among whom was the Scottish king himself. This is a poem I wrote about the visit penned when I got back to the ranche.
Sonnet: Upon Seeing the Merits in a Second Referendum
I go to Flodden in these bareback times,
How sad the phantoms in this sodden field,
Lamenting not them dying by their King,
But how no Scotsman dares to thrust his pike
Against the machinations of the South,
These days, when Scotia knows herself once more.
Before, I wished an island to remain,
But now, I sense a nation full reborn,
Transcending quibblings of a Quisling House
Descending into spittle-threats and farce,
For whom would want to member with a gang
Determined on a dead-end in the dark?
My song’s for Independence to redress
Those crimes ‘No’ voted for, this time I’m ‘Yes!’
It was on the field of Flodden that I also finished my first full poem for The New Divan. Its path to my pen began with Clara Janés’ Canto del Escanciador, or ‘The Song of the One Who Pours the Wine.’ Clara is a Spanish poet, & a distinguishd translator of several central & Eastern European languages, so you can see her credentials. Next up was Lavinia Greenlaw, a winner of the TS. Eliot, Forward and Whitbread Poetry Prizes
The Song of the One Who Pours the Wine
As Shiraz roses sheer upclimb
These pages thro’, so hear the chime
Sung by the Holy Fool that stands
Beside the well at dusk – these hands
Reveal the decorated cup,
As if, from it, Jamshid did sup,
Containing worlds within wine-pools
Where ripple stars, submerging jewels,
Revealing patterns unimpair’d
By fauna & by flora shar’d,
A human heart or pulseless stone?
Upon a palm leaf focus hone
In some garden botanica,
Such as the one in Padua,
When famously illustrated
The metamorph you’ll see outspread!
As formula, in chimes, upswells
From caravans & tiny bells;
All things must change, all time must pass,
But even so, as higher class
Of thinker contemplates these things,
All fixed must be in place on strings –
Prayer beads of love & science.
Pour me another cup forth-hence,
Permitting detailed inspection
Of all that swims in reflection,
I’ll read the Cosmos as a sacred text,
Accepting what I’ll see I must acknowledge next.
Keeping electrons in a trance,
By atom procharge made to dance,
Like the limitless extension
Of the waves in curv’d connexion;
Deep secrets of this circuitrie
Reveals the links twyx atomie,
When object & subject between
Sees space collapsing mezzanine.
All this is held by such perfume
Exhaled by Shiraz rose in bloom,
Love is the scent-sway, & does etch
The first & best alphabet, which
Declaring in Persopolis,
This Human grace forever is!
Yet, falls the dusk, the Holy Fool
Sings by the well’s radiant pool,
The poet plucks from blazing flames
A flicker of all things, all names,
That brand my hands, together we
Repeat his arcane sorcery;
Nature, my one joy is to connect!
Despite snatching at several of the poems during the day, & getting a few decent lines for each, it was Clara’s that I saw to the finish-line. I quite like the process actually, its quite demanding mentally to enter someone’s poetry & to make it sound satisfactorily better in both sound & sense, while adhering to the general form system I have universally imposed. It felt only natural that whenever I hit a brick wall of transcreation, after a stanza or so, I could leap like a flea to another poem & start with a fresh impulse. Why waste one’s energies trying to find the perfect line when that moment is clearly not the one intended to find it. Poetry, remember, the true essence of poetry, is a collection of the best moments. It definitely feels the right way to proceed, its the same method I used to get the openings to all 24 poems down first. I also enjoyed making a day of it, out in the field absorbing poesis, writing poetry as I went. So I hope to repeat it in the future, of which there will be 23 more days of composition!
THE STORY OF THE NEW DIVAN