Offnen Augs

Offnen Augs

View down a cliff, with trees felled by the elements lying across the path beneath; the water is calm and turquoise.

Dem unverhofften
Verwitterten Warnschild
„Steile Klippen,
Hohe Brandung“
Folgte ich eilends.

Und stand da und schaute
Und wusste: Ich war.
Alles Blaugrüngrau
Saugte ich ein
Offnen Augs.

Christina Egan © 2003

 Couple holding on to a warning sign above the sea (which is calm and bluish).

Brodtener Ufer, near Travemünde on the Baltic Sea. Photographs: Christina Egan © 2014.

The couple are holding on to a sign warning of the cliff; the view downwards proves how dangerous the lower path is, where hikers have indeed got killed.

This is not a poem about Nature alone, though: it could be about life, about love, about faith… The colours of the sea, for instance, could also refer to a pair of eyes. I do not think I had seen such a sign when I wrote the poem!

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La Mer, enfin

La Mer, enfin
(Cimetière marin, Sète)

Ô vagues de vers sincères et idolâtres…
Ce vaste pan de verre d’un vert bleuâtre
Entre cieux et ombres suspendu,
Et cet essaim neigeux de tombes en marbre
Parmi les flammes géantes noires des arbres :
La Mer, enfin. J’ai vu et j’ai vécu.

Ces fleurs en bas, comme lèvres entrouvertes,
Impérissables certes, mais inertes,
Moulues de cet argile du Midi ;
Ces fleurs en haut, rosées et scintillantes,
Ces tressaillantes et minces, mais vivantes !
Le Cimetière. J’ai vu et j’ai écrit.

Christina Egan © 2016

Light-blue sky and light-green ocean in the background, white tombs in the foregrund; in the front, a flat marble slabs decorated with two large pink flowers, one in clay and one in plastic.

 

Paul Valéry’s tomb on the Cimetière marin, which has become famous through his poem. It is shown and played all day in the neighbouring art museum erected as a homage to him.

These lines are closely related to Valéry’s. The durable but lifeless flowers are of clay and plastic; the perishable but living ones blossom on the bushes around. My picture and poem were created in early January!

An automatic translation into English may convey the meaning of  my French homage to Valéry quite well — but not the music of the words!

Photograph: Christina Egan © 2016

Moment dans la mare

Moment dans la mare
(Boulogne-sur-Mer)

À la plage immense, vidée de la mer,
le vent est trempé du soleil et du sel :
caresse chanceuse de l’univers,
regard maternel rempli d’étincelles.

La mare autour des chevilles surprises,
le sable mouillé, moulé de soleil :
tout ça – l’océan et la boue et la brise –
tout est mêlé et tout est pareil.

Tout est tiède et tout est limpide,
tout est liquide autour des doigts…
Tout est un rêve réel, et le vide
commence à se combler de joie.

Il n’y a pas de bataille, il n’y a pas de triage
de quatre ou cinq éléments lumineux :
plutôt une étreinte éternelle, mariage
de plage et marée, bénit des cieux.

Christina Egan © 2016


The poem refers to the four or five elements which make up the universe, an ancient philosophical concept found in variations in many civilisations.

Greek philosophers held that war, or conflict, between the forces of nature generate everything and challenge us to greatness. I propose that the Greek elements of fire, air, water, earth — and spirit — exist, but work through interaction and union, and that humans grow most when working within and with nature.

This makes harmony instead of conflict the driving force of the universe. It is also a female philosophical approach rather than a traditional male one.

In French literature, the ‘void’ is essential, marking loneliness, mortality, and the pointlessness of life; I want to hold up the ‘void’ or ‘silence’ as an experience of peace and fulfilment, communion with the universe, and a foretaste of eternal life.

When I stood on the beach of Boulogne at sunset, the sky and the sea and the sand were gleaming in streaks of otherworldly purple and orange.

An automatic translation into English may convey the sense of these lines well, but in the original French, they are conceived to sound like music… like waves.

Ein Muster aus Muscheln / Greek Islands

Ein Muster aus Muscheln

Ein Muster aus Muscheln und Bernstein und Bein,
mit Karneol und Koralle durchsetzt,
auf lapislazuliblauem Grund:
So leuchten die Inseln im Sonnenschein,
vor dreitausend Jahren… und letzthin… und jetzt:
ein Mosaik, ein vollendeter Fund.

Vors Fenster des sinkenden Flugzeugs gespannt,
vom Guckloch des finsteren Turmes gerahmt
– nur einen Moment – nur einen Moment –
das Muster aufs wartende Auge gebannt,
die Farben ins wache Gedächtnis gemalt:
ein Bild, das nach dreißig Jahren noch brennt.

Christina Egan © 2016

Standard_of_Ur_BM_121201

Standard of Ur (2500 BC). – Photograph© The Trustees of the British Museum.

I am showing this ancient object – twice as old as our classical antiquity – because it must have inspired my poem about Greece. The images on the box are made of shell, lapis lazuli, and red limestone, but I did not remember those details or  even think of the thing. When you have the chance to go to London, do not miss out on the Sumerian galleries of the British Museum!

The longing for a return to Greece, both for the Mediterranean environment and for the ancient civilisation, is also expressed in On Eating Olives / Beim Olivenessen  and in Greek Islands  (below). There are a number of poems about Crete in German and English on this website.


Greek Islands

There is more blue in the air
between here and the horizon,
between morning and evening,
than the cup of the eye can hold.

So my soul may flow over
into the sky,
into the sea,
into this scattered paradise…

Christina Egan © 2012 


On the topic of the blue Mediterranean Sea, see also Meine blaue Mauer  and O Heimatland aus Stein und Licht. On the manifold colours of the same sea, see The Purple Sea / Das lila Meer.

dans le verre / Mother-of-Pearl

dans le verre

Glass screen with patterns in black, white and gold, resembling surf and seagulls.les couleurs de la mer
sont versées dans le verre
du présent du souvenir
faites-les resurgir

les couleurs de la mer
de l’argent jusqu’au vert
améthyste et saphir
laissez-les reluire

dans ce vers

Christina Egan © 2016


Mother-of-Pearl

The sea is not blue,
no more is the sky:
that is a child’s view,
a picture-book’s lie.

Whenever the rainbow
touches the sea,
it sprinkles a faint glow
of eternity.

From indigo ink,
to raspberry pink,
with peppermint green
and gold-leaf between…

The sea is not blue,
or grey of some hue:
the sea is a swirl
of mother-of-pearl!

Christina Egan © 2016


Photograph: ‘Rhizome’. Sculpture by Laurence Bourgeois (Lô).
Verse pattern of French poem after Jean-Yves Léopold (J. Y. L.).

The Dittany of Crete

The Dittany of Crete

I’ve found the place where red and blue,
where earth and sea and sky all meet;
I’ve even climbed the ashen rock
to pick the dittany of Crete:

to weave a spell about your eyes,
to wake your smiling silent mouth,
to share with you the flaming light
and heavy flavours of the south.

Christina Egan © 2012

Hanging oblong flowers in bright green with bright pink.

 

The ‘dittany of Crete’ is a rare wild plant, gathered as a flavouring, medicine, aphrodisiac, or love token. I tried it on Crete in a delicious and wholesome tea!

The red colour in the poem could be the pink and orange surf in the sunset, or the pink and orange beaches of Crete. The sea might be bright blue and then again bright green

Origanum dictamnus.
Photograph:
HelenaH via Wikimedia.

The Purple Sea / Das lila Meer

The Purple Sea

I’ve seen the sea turn indigo
and greyish green and brilliant blue:
the wine-red sea that Homer saw
was not a blind man’s dream — it’s true.

I’ve swum in waves of indigo,
I’ve swum in eyes of greenish grey:
the fair-eyed gods that Homer saw
may just for moments cross your way.

Christina Egan © 2015

Das lila Meer

Auch indigo färbt sich das Meer
wie gräulichgrün und leuchtendblau:
Wahr war das Weinrot des Homer –
nicht eines blinden Dichters Schau.

Im Indigo schwamm ich sogar
und auch in Augen von Grüngrau:
Ein göttlich lichtes Augenpaar,
das gibt es manchmal noch genau.

Christina Egan © 2015

The Wine-Dark Sea

Where sky and ocean form a line
of glassy indigo,
the water looks indeed like wine,
a strong and sweet Merlot.

This is the sea that heaped up rocks
and beckoned walls to rise,
the ageless mother of these flocks
of sun-enchanted isles.

This is the sea that brought the fleets
to Carthage and to Troy
on silver-green and bright-blue sheets
which wayward gods deploy.

Christina Egan © 2012

These poems refer to the debate around Homer’s strange colour names: e.g. ‘wine-coloured’ (‘oinops’) and ‘purple’ or ‘maroon’ (‘porphyreos’) for the sea; ‘green-eyed’ (‘glaukopis’) for a person or god with eyes of any fair colour.

While people in antiquity were not yet interested in describing colours and 
despite their sophisticated languages — had only very few words for them, I
believe that on occasion, these can be taken literally.

The first two poems are translations of each other. The colour adjectives oscillate between the languages, and within, just like the sea does…