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.

Mer de miel

 Clouds in hte sunset, looking like a bright yellow sea, an orange coast and purple sky. An optic illusion above a real coast (not visible here).

Mer de miel
(Sète)

Levez vos yeux vers ce vitrail doré,
d’un jaune plus doux, d’un jaune plus pâle possible :
une baie cernée de hauts rochers
d’un bleu brumeux… Un crépuscule paisible.

Clignez vos yeux à ce vitrail distant,
mer de miel, montagne mauve, sauvage :
tout flotte au dessus de l’horizon –
des eaux de feu, une terre de nuages !

Ce paysage d’un or incomparable
s’évanouit et passe, une image…
Ou serait ça la côte impérissable
et notre terre et mer le grand mirage ?

Christina Egan © 2016


This poem takes up an idea from ancient pagan and Christian philosophy: our world may be only a pale reflexion of a higher, perfect, world. Those ‘heavens’, however, are an inaccessible and unimaginable place — beyond our universe — for which the visible sky is only an image.

The fiery sunset which took me quite literally ‘out of this world’ occurred in midwinter on one of the northernmost beaches of the Mediterranean, at the outskirts of Sète. For a daytime poem and photograph on the sea around Sète, see La Mer, enfin.

Clouds in the sunset, looking like a bright yellow sea, an orange coast and purple sky. An optic illusion above a real coast (also visible here).

Photographs: The sky above the coast in Sète, France. Christina Egan © 2016

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.).

Views of North Sea Islands

Views of North Sea Islands Ansichten von Nordseeinseln

White cottage, steep thatched roof, covered with moss

 

Thick patches of moss
clustering on rippled thatch
like verdant islands,
like the islands we stand on:
growing in the rough grey sea.

Diagonal horizon, entirely flat between green and blue, with house in middle

Dicke Moospolster
auf dem welligen Reetdach,
gleich grünen Inseln,
gleich diesen Inseln hier,
wachsend im wilden grauen Meer.

Thatched roof, covered with moss

Red clover blossom:
tiny magenta lanterns
in the green and blue,
feeding on the salty floods
across these flat floating disks.

Diagonal horizon, entirely flat between green and blue, with house in middle

 

Rosaroter Klee:
winzige Laternen
in all dem Grün und Blau,
genährt von Salzfluten
über schwebende Scheiben hin.

Thatched roof, covered with moss

 

Huge ships approaching,
or space-ships – or are they hills,
or houses on stilts?
They are houses, hamlets, islets…
a necklace of glass beads.

 

Satellite image of a cluster of small emerald green islands

 

Da – Riesenschiffe –
Raumschiffe – oder Hügel,
Häuser auf Stelzen?
Häuser, Dörfchen, Inselchen…
eine Glasperlenkette.

English texts: Christina Egan © 2015
German texts: Christina Egan ©2016

Photographs: Christina Egan © 2014
Galerie Nieblum on Föhr; Hallig Hooge.
Satellite picture: NASA via Wikimedia.


From the flat, small, oval island of Föhr, you spot the even flatter, even smaller islands known as ‘Halligen’: their clusters of houses and trees on little dells are visible on the horizon far across the ocean.

The Halligen still get regularly flooded and are occasionally menaced by devastation. All these islands change shape over time, when the forces of wind and water eat away at their edges or add new land.

I wrote about a similar phenomenon observed on the Baltic Sea island of the Darss in Schöpfung (Darß).

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…