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Jules Laforgue in the Far West

2014 June 27
by Jesse McCarthy








girl with car




Michelangelo Antonioni, Scenes from Zabriskie Point, 1970 [Color Film Stills]



by Jules Laforgue

People have told me about life in the Far-West,
And my blood has groaned: “If only that were my country!…”
Without class in the old world, to live without faith or law,
Desperado! Over there, over there, I will be king!…
Oh! Over there to scalp myself of my European brain!
To swagger, to become once again a virgin antelope,
Without literature, a boy of prey, citizen
Of chance and spouting Californian slang!
A vague and pure settler, stockbreeder, architect,
Hunter, fisherman, gambler, up above the Pandectes!

Jules Laforgue, translation from Walt Whitman Among The French, Betsy Erkkila. New York: Princeton University Press, 1980.






On m’a dit la vie au Far-West et les Prairies,
Et mon sang a gémi : « Que voilà ma patrie!… »
Déclassé du vieux monde, être sans foi ni loi,
Desperado ! là-bas; là-bas, je serais roi!….
Oh là-bas, m’y scalper de mon cerveau d’Europe!
Piaffer, redevenir une vierge antilope,
Sans littérature, un gars de proie, citoyen
Du hasard et sifflant l’argot californien!
Un colon vague et pur, éleveur, architecte,
Chasseur, pêcheur, joueur, au-dessus des Pandectes!
Entre la mer; et les États Mormons! Des venaisons
Et du whisky! vêtu de cuir, et le gazon
Des Prairies pour lit, et des ciels des premiers âges
Riches comme des corbeilles de mariage!….
Et puis quoi ? De bivouac en bivouac, et la Loi
De Lynch ; et aujourd’hui des diamants bruts aux doigts
Et ce soir nuit de jeu, et demain la refuite
Par la Prairie et vers la folie des pépites!….
Et, devenu vieux, la ferme au soleil-levant,
Une vache laitière et des petits-enfants….
Et, comme je dessine au besoin, à l’entrée
Je mettrais: « Tatoueur des bras de la contrée! »
Et voilà. Et puis, si mon grand cœur de Paris
Me revenait, chantant : « Oh! pas encor guéri!
« Et ta postérité, pas pour longtemps coureuse !…. »
Et si ton vol, Condor des Montagnes-Rocheuses,
Me montrait l’Infini ennemi du comfort,
Eh bien, j’inventerais un culte d’Âge d’or,
Un code social, empirique et mystique
Pour des Peuples Pasteurs, modernes et védiques !….
Oh ! qu’ils sont beaux les feux de paille! qu’ils sont fous,                                                                                                                  Les albums ! et non incassables, mes joujoux !….

Jules Laforgue, La Revue Indépendante  (April, 1888)

Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014)

2014 June 5
by Jesse McCarthy

Maya Angelou


Caged Bird

By Maya Angelou

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Maya Angelou, “Caged Bird” from The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (Random House Inc., 1994)

Bearden pond

Romare Bearden, Tapestry “Recollection Pond” (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1976)



By Paul Laurence Dunbar

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting—
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!


Paul Laurence Dunbar, “Sympathy” from Lyrics of the Hearthside (1899, rep. The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. New York: Dodd, Mead, & Co., 1913)


The Map

2014 May 8
by Jesse McCarthy


Ortelius, Nova Francia from “Typus Orbis Terrarum,” 1570,  [detail]


The Map

by Elizabeth Bishop


Land lies in water; it is shadowed green.
Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges
showing the line of long sea-weeded ledges
where weeds hang to the simple blue from green.
Or does the land lean down to lift the sea from under,
drawing it unperturbed around itself?
Along the fine tan sandy shelf
is the land tugging at the sea from under?

The shadow of Newfoundland lies flat and still.
Labrador’s yellow, where the moony Eskimo
has oiled it. We can stroke these lovely bays,
under a glass as if they were expected to blossom,
or as if to provide a clean cage for invisible fish.
The names of seashore towns run out to sea,
the names of cities cross the neighboring mountains
-the printer here experiencing the same excitement
as when emotion too far exceeds its cause.
These peninsulas take the water between thumb and finger
like women feeling for the smoothness of yard-goods.

Mapped waters are more quiet than the land is,
lending the land their waves’ own conformation:
and Norway’s hare runs south in agitation,
profiles investigate the sea, where land is.
Are they assigned, or can the countries pick their colors?
-What suits the character or the native waters best.
Topography displays no favorites; North’s as near as West.
More delicate than the historians’ are the map-makers’ colors.


From North and South, Houghton Mifflin, 1946



Poets as Roommates: nugget from the Elizabeth Bishop Paris Review Interview



I heard a story that you once spent a night in a tree at Vassar outside Cushing dormitory. Is it true?


Yes, it was me, me and a friend whose name I can’t remember. We really were crazy and those trees were wonderful to climb. I used to be a great tree climber. Oh, we probably gave up about three in the morning. How did that ever get around? I can’t imagine! We stopped being friends afterwards. Well, actually she had invited two boys from West Point for the weekend and I found myself stuck with this youth all in—[her hands draw an imagined cape and uniform in the air]—the dullest boy! I didn’t know what to say! I nearly went mad. I think I sort of dropped the friend at that point . . . I lived in a great big corner room on the top floor of Cushing and I apparently had registered a little late because I had a roommate whom I had never wanted to have. A strange girl named Constance. I remember her entire side of the room was furnished in Scottie dogs—pillows, pictures, engravings and photographs. And mine was rather bare. Except that I probably wasn’t a good roommate either, because I had a theory at that time that one should write down all one’s dreams. That that was the way to write poetry. So I kept a notebook of my dreams and thought if you ate a lot of awful cheese at bedtime you’d have interesting dreams. I went to Vassar with a pot about this big—it did have a cover!—of Roquefort cheese that I kept in the bottom of my bookcase . . . I think everyone’s given to eccentricities at that age. I’ve heard that at Oxford Auden slept with a revolver under his pillow.