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Esperanto poetry (loose thoughts)

Robert L. Read's picture

The fourth annual all-Texas convention, which usually has 15-20 people is coming up. I ran a poetry slam at the last one that was really startlingly cool, because of the excellent quality of the contributions, which were just as good as the English slams that are often held at Ego's bar here in Austin. Austin is a leader (among many others) of slam-poetry, or spoken-word art, so this is high praise.

Unfortunately, I don't have anything prepared for it, and the difficulty of the business that I am trying to start probably prevents me having anyting. Next weekend is the opening of deer season, and I will go and spend many lonely hours in a deer stand. Perhaps I will come up with something. I don't really like hunting---but my grandfather loves it, and I love my grandfather, and it is his favorite way for us to be together, so every year I soldier-up and do it. It's strange to think of being together while being alone in a deer stand, but believe me, that's the way my granddad thinks of it, and at 91 he is too inflexible to change his ways and I love him too much to try to.

I admire the English-language poet Clark Ashton Smith. He forms a trio with H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. All of them led unhappy, unappreciated lives. Robert E. Howard committed suicide at a young age, and Lovecraft died of cancer in poverty relatively young. One one-thousandth of the money Hollywood has made has made making their creations into movies would have transformed their lives. Howard invented Conan the Barbarian. Lovecraft is now considered extraordinarily influential as a horror writer, although has never been really successfully brought to film, even after a dozen tries. For example, I consider Dagon, which is a remake of the story The Shadow Over Innsmouth, to have completely missed the point.

But of the three, it is Clark Ashton Smith who was the most undeniably talented. He wrote fantastic (by which I mean, about fantatic subjects) poetry in strong meter and rhyme. He, like Lord Dunsany and James Branch Cabell, is forgotten because people admire Hemingway and gritty realism. Strongly metered poetry has given way to easy, angry crap in blank verse. Sure, Bukowski is valuable, but in the end, I can only echo the unoriginal sentiment: doesn't beauty and harmony matter?

La Infana Raso, which is the crown jewel of Esperanto poetry, uses both devices. It has sections which are (relatively) free, but is often tight as a drum. Most of Auld's poetry is strongly metered. In my humble opinion (and it is really humble, as I am not yet well-read in Esperanto poetry), Auld utilized the language perfectly, and did things in Esperanto that are impossible to do in English. I do not mean that to imply that Esperanto is superior to English; I have never read anything in Esperanto that hit me the way the best of Shakespeare or Dickinson (or even Poe) does in English, but of course, Esperanto is my not my native language.

For example, Auld doesn't just rhyme the last syllable; he rhymes three syllables back. That is, the last three syllables of each line in his schemes sometimes rhymes. (He often gets two, sometimes three.) In English this would be almost impossible, or stilted doggerel. But one must understand: Esperanto is a simpler language. It has only 5 vowels, with 4 dipthongs, for a total of 9 vowel sounds. The Esperanto poet should not be ashamed of this---she should use it.

Here is the best that I have been able to do:

Dankon pro la mondkreintoj
- o - o o o - o
kiuj per heroestimo
- o - o o o - o
donos al ni pliegigon
- o - - o o - o
laux verkitaj plimensiloj.
- o - o - o - o

In English it means:
"Thanks to the world creators,
who by means of hero worship
give us more-great making things,
by authored mind improving-tools".

This would be a loose translation, as I am very freely, and perhaps inconprehensibly using the word-creation capabilities of Esperanto.
(This is meant to be the start of a poem thanking fantasts and science-fiction writers, but I only have this stanza.) I don't claim it is very good, but note that id does have a E-I-O(j) rhyme scheme (if you forgive rhyming "O" with "OI", which is partially reasonable.)

But Auld can really make this work, and in so doing he really is creating something beautiful, and something that can't possibly be translated (with the same beauty) back into English. Auld is appropriately working with his medium, the language Esperanto, to produce a compelling and powerful work. I wish I could do the same. Perhaps someday I will, but I won't do it in the next two weeks!

by Robert L. Read


Clark Ashton Smith

Aplonis's picture

While not the one to attempt a translation of poetry into Esperanto, I now have the privilege at least to do a few of his stories. I have purchased the non-exclusive right for five of these into Esperanto. The first, already underway at 65% done, is "Genius Loci", whose name I shall leave as it is, being Latin. Likely the others shall be as follows:

2. The Tale of Satampra Zeiros
3. The Double Shadow
4. The Dark Eidolon
5. The City of the Singing Flame

I will, as with the three novels by Jack Vance, distribute them on-line for free as ebooks in various formats. An artist in Sweden has already volunteered to supply cover illustrations for the whole set.

I should also note in closing that two other of his stories have long been Esperantized here:

May 11, 2016 by Aplonis, 1 year 18 weeks ago

that's not actually "rhyming", but "assonance"

Ted Alper's picture

My copy of "Parnasa Gvidlibro" is not handy -- I'll try to dig it out sometime soon, maybe this weekend -- but what you're describing -- lines of verse which end with a sequence of the same vowel sounds, with corresponding accented syllables, but without matching consonants -- is known as assonance, and is used in the poetry of many languages (though not, usually English*) -- the OED lists Old French, Spanish, and Celtic as languages in which this was done (to be honest, I cribbed this from this glossary of literary terms. )

* that is, English often uses assonance, in poetry and prose -- but usually for words that are near each other within a single line, not to match syllables at the end of the line. "dapple dawn-drawn falcon", etc.

Esperanto, of course, is free to borrow poetic techniques from any language or culture, hooray! (come to think of it, so is English)

[added in edit] ok, looking a little further, I see references to this as "rime pauvre", too -- still, I don't think it's called "rhyme" in English.

also, see this esperanto dictionary in which it's called ia "Nepura rimo"

November 2, 2006 by Ted Alper, 10 years 46 weeks ago

Vi pravas, sed...

Robert L. Read's picture

Vi pravas, certe, kaj oni estu preciza.

Tamen, mi certe pensas ke la populara uzo de la vorto inkluzivas (en la angla) ke "cat" rimas kun "bap", kaj ke "nuthin" rimas kun "McGuffin".

Se mi verkis la supro kun la vorto "assonance", mi ne certis ke multaj
homoj komprenis ĝin --- (mi certe ne, antaŭ mi legis vian klarigon ---
do dankon.)

-- Robert L. Read
read &t robertlread point net
Austin, TX, USA

November 6, 2006 by Robert L. Read, 10 years 45 weeks ago

Cxu miaj oreloj estas misfiksitaj?

Ted Alper's picture

La angla via malsamas al la mia! Laŭ miaj oreloj, "cat" rimas kun "sat" kaj "pat" kaj "fat" ktp... sed "cat" tute ne rimas kun "bap" aŭ "dam".

Kaj, en mia ĵus-trovita kopio de "Parnasa Gvidlibro", estas skribita (p 31):

La asonanco konsistas en la sameco de la solaj akcenta kaj postakcenta vokaloj, sed ne de la konsonantoj, ekz-e: tamen -- klare kria -- iras k.s. La asonanco estis uzata en la mezepoka franca poezio, ĝin plu uzadas la nuna hispana; en tiu ĉi, oni ordinare uzas unu saman asonancon je ĉiuj paraj versoj de unu poemo; katalunaj poetoj provis redoni tiun sistemon en nia lingvo, sed ili ne trovis imitantojn, ĉar tiaj asonancoj estas apenaŭ aŭdeblaj por oreloj ne kutimiĝintaj.

Je la sama paĝo, la libro plifavore priskribas pri rimoido , en kiu oni havas ambaŭ asonancon kaj similajn postakcentajn konsonantojn: vintro -- cindro foso--rozo . Mi ne scias la anglan vorton por ĉi tiu! (Eble "cat" kaj "dad" estas ĉi tia paro. Sed ili ankoraŭ ne sonas kiel rimo laŭ mi.)

November 6, 2006 by Ted Alper, 10 years 45 weeks ago

Laux la vikipedio...

Robert L. Read's picture

The wikipedia article on the term "rhyme" suggest that we are both correct. It specifically lists "assonance" as a kind of rhyme, as opposed to something different than a rhyme. However, it also makes clear that "perfect" rhyme includes the last consonant as you are describing.

I was using the term "rhyme" as it might be used by a rapper, as in "I rhymed bap with cat", which is a loose rhyme. However, I would never say "I rhymed cat with man" --- because a plosive /t/ is quite different from a nasal /n/.

-- Robert L. Read
read &t robertlread point net
Austin, TX, USA

November 7, 2006 by Robert L. Read, 10 years 45 weeks ago

Sur unu kordo

limako's picture

I couldn't find a reference for the whole story, but early esperantists were told by some critics that Esperanto was useless (or at least uninteresting) for poetry because the only words that could rhyme were words of the same grammatical category. One supposedly said, it was like playing a harp with one string. Antoni GRABOWSKI wrote the poem Sur Unu Kordo to demonstrate that you can rhyme words across grammatical categories -- indeed every rhyme is from a different catagory.



October 30, 2006 by limako, 10 years 46 weeks ago

What You Expect To Hear

donh's picture

There's another amusing anecdote about Grabowski and poetry, one I've always enjoyed. It goes something like this:

At a party where Grabowski was present, the question of Esperanto and poetry arose. There was some doubt as to whether Esperanto would be suitable for poetry or not. Finally, someone asked Grabowski to recite a piece of poetry in Esperanto. Grabowski took a piece of paper out of his pocket and began to read aloud.

Soon the audience grew restive and began to criticize the language in which the poem was written -- the rhymes were banal, the meter was poor, the language generally sounded like dog manure.

After a while Grabowski stopped reading, looked more carefully at the paper, and said: "I beg your pardon, I have made a mistake. What I was just reading to you was not in Esperanto, but in Provençal, a poem by the great poet Frederic Mistral."

People looked at each other, then allowed as to how they might not have been listening as carefully as they could have, and asked him to continue. So Grabowski turned the paper over and continued reading.

Soon people were commenting on the euphony and mellifluousness of the language, the sharpness of the rhyming, the way the meter caught you up in it. Here indeed was a language made for poets and troubadours.

After a while, Grabowski stopped and apologized again for having read the wrong thing. "What I was reading you was not Mistral's original poem, but my Esperanto translation of it."

The moral, I suppose, is that people pretty much hear what they expect to hear.

Don Harlow

October 31, 2006 by donh, 10 years 46 weeks ago

What You Expect To Hear

Becxjo's picture

Don Harlow, I love this anecdote. You are great.

October 31, 2006 by Becxjo, 10 years 46 weeks ago

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