Byzantium

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Our Love is like Byzantium
Henrik Nordbrandt

Our love is like Byzantium
must have been
on the last evening. There must have been
I imagine
a glow on the faces
of those who crowded the streets
or stood in small groups
on streetcorners and public squares
speaking together in low voices
that must have resembled
the glow your face has
when you brush your hair back
and look at me.

I imagine they haven’t spoken
much, and about rather
ordinary things
that they have been trying to say
and have stopped
without having managed to express
what they wanted
and have been trying again
and given up again
and have been looking at each other
and lowered their eyes.

Very old icons, for instance,
have that kind of glow
the blaze of a burning city
or the glow which approaching death
leaves on photographs of people who died young
in the memory of those left behind.

When I turn towards you
in bed, I have a feeling
of stepping into a church
that was burned down long ago
and where only the darkness in the eyes of the icons
has remained
filled with the flames
which annihilated them.

Baby steps toward the world

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I remember with some trepidation and self-consciousness my very first attempts to read and make sense of French – taking everything so literally at first, taking my time with grasping idiom. It’s always a series of baby steps when transforming your brain to take in and process new languages. To really feel them and live them, you must, to paraphrase the late Derek Walcott, you must change your life. I did not change my life, and thus I’m still no expert, but better recognize the fluidity of language in a way that my grammatical and rigid approach to English never allows for.

One window (or ‘windae’, were we Scots) to crawl through to find meaning in disembodied, lifeless translation drudgery was music. As soon as I realized, as a teenager who wanted nothing more than to run away from my hometown (tout de suite), that much of my favorite music was inspired by literary greatness, I could at least immerse myself in those other worlds. Imagine, though, that somehow in the intervening years, I had completely forgotten the connection between “Les yeux des pauvres” (Baudelaire) and the almost word-for-word treatment by The Cure in “How Beautiful You Are”.

I don’t know if you can imagine how much it was like opening a window to the past, almost like time travel, to be reminded of this and to return in my mind to that time in 1988-9 when this song so deeply moved me to tears and led me to Baudelaire. And how, now in present day, having the memory reawakened when someone sent me the Baudelaire describing it as: “unutterably sad commentary on relationships and the human condition. I love it”, I am moved to find someone else is as deeply affected by the same feelings.