Women's Bodies, Sex, and Tongue Twisters

I have heard quite a lot of poetry lately on the subject of women's bodies and sex—all of it by women—and I thought it might be refreshing to have a go at two higher-level related topics: the illusiveness of love and the loss of innocence. Once upon a time, if you have not forgotten how spring once blossomed, there was something called innocence; while now people seem to be born without it! And in those long-ago times of shady, tree-lined streets and lemonade on the back porch, love, not directly related to sex, was at times illusive; the hand on the knee did not imply the next strategic position, the hand on the breast.

I have also heard many political rants, mostly in the English language; ditto diary diarrhea. Rants are fine on mountain tops where no one is forced to listen, diary diarrhea in the outhouse on the meadow below. And just in passing I ask the question: Why is it that every piece of writing lacking a category gets labelled a "poem" these days? Why not a "narrative essay" or, if money seems to the motive, a "white paper?" But returing to the theme of women's bodies and sex, as expressed by women in poems, let us go in search of language both musical and poetic: the poetry of another age. Let us start with two poems, one in English and translated into Chinese, the other in German and translated into English. Perhaps they will induce a vision of love less of steak tartare and more of fine truffles.

The first poem, Never seek to tell they love, is by William Blake; it is about the illusiveness of love.

Knowing full well that patience, like innocence, is a thing of the past, I will, nevertheless, recite these two short poems in their entirety. To those quick to score or be scored, and to those preferring an angry complaint over soft music, I bid adieu.

Never seek to tell they love

Never seek to tell thy love,
    决     不    尝     试     表     达     你     的     爱,
   jué     bù cháng  shì   biǎo ​  dá      nǐ     de      ài,

Love that never told can be;
    决     不     表     达     的     爱     可     以     存     在;
   jué     bù    biǎo ​  dá     de      ài      kě     yǐ     cún    zài;

For the gentle wind doth move
    因   为   温  和 的  风   移  动
   yīn  wèi wēn  hé de fēng yí  dòng

Silently, invisibly.
     静   静 地,  看 不  见   地.
   jìng jìng de, kàn bù jiàn de.

I told my love, I told my love,
   我     表     达     了    我     的     爱,     我     表     达     了    我     的     爱,
   wǒ  biǎo​    dá      le    wǒ    de      ài,     wǒ    biǎo​   dá      le    wǒ    de      ài,
I told her all my heart;
   我     表     达     了     她     我     所     有     的     心;
  wǒ   biǎo​    dá      le      tā     wǒ    suǒ   yǒu    de     ài;
Trembling cold, in ghastly fears—
     冷     中   发   抖  的, 在  阴  森   的  恐   惧
   lěng zhōng fā  dǒu de,  zài yīn sēn  de kǒng  jù—
Ah! she doth depart.
   啊!  她 离  开.
    a!   tā   lí  kāi.

Soon after she was gone from me,
   不  久  之   后   她  离  开  了 我,
   bù jiǔ  zhī  hòu   tā   lí   kāi  le  wǒ,
A traveller came by;
   旅  行   者   来 了
   lǚ xíng zhě  lái  le;
Silently, invisibly
     静   静 地,  看  不  见  地
   jìng jìng de, kàn bù jiàn de
He took her with a sigh.
   他 带 了 她  叹  了 口 气.
   tā dài le  tā  tàn  le kǒu qì.

Do you hear the charm of the Chinese translation with its toned syllables?

Continuing with the theme of love having aspects beyond the carnal, in the poem Die Ersten Blumen by Hermann Hesse we are presented with loss of innocence. Here the poem is produced both in the orignal German and in an English translation.

  Die Ersten Blumen
   The First Flowers

Neben dem Bach
   Beside the brook
Den roten Weiden nach
   By the red willows
Haben in diesen Tagen
   Many yellow flowers
Gelbe Blumen viel
   Have just opened
Ihre Goldaugen aufgeschlagen.
   Their golden eyes.
Und mir, der längst aus der Unschuld fiel,
   And in me, who long ago fell from innocence,
Rührt sich Erinnerung im Grunde
   Deep memory stirs
An meines Lebens goldene Morgenstunde
   of my life's golden morning
Und sieht mich hell aus Blumenaugen an.
   and looks at me with bright flower eyes.
Ich wollte Blumen brechen gehn;
   I wanted to pick flowers;
Nun lass ich sie all stehn
   Now I leave them all standing
Und gehe heim, ein alter Mann.
   And go home an old man.

Do you hear the sharpness and precision of the German language, much like the sound of the harpsicord or clavier?

Note line 7 above, Rührt sich Erinnerung im Grunde. While some consider the German language itself to be a tongue twister, this line certainly qualifies as a classic tongue twister with its three ru sounds, one with an umlaut.

Over the holidays I went down to Puigcerda to visit my daughter and granddaughter in the "restive" region of Catalonia, quite restful in fact over the holidays, ranting having ceased for the moment. I was "visiting family," disengaged from travel, the writing of poetry, or anything remotely "revolutionary." I was there simply to be with "loved ones," strange as that may sound to some ears.

And at one of our long, leisurely, pre-siesta, love-fest lunches the question of pronuciation and ennuciation came up. I think that nine-year-old Isabella asked for someone to "please pass the potatoes."  Her words seemed mumbled to my aging ears. "The what?" I asked. "Speak up, kid!" She knew I was joking. "The po-ta-toes," she said playfully. She has been studying phonetics in school and normally her pronuciation is quite good or my hearing better. Whatever the case, I launched into the classic tongue twister for improving pronunciation

Peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers ...

and Isabella's mother continued with

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood ...

Isabella was charmed with these pronunciation excercises, and we even wrote them down and read them at the same time, the first word from one, the second word from the other, and so on, the result sounding something like this:

Peter How Pipper much picked wood a could peck a of woodchuck pickled could peppers chuck wood ...

We all became kids for a moment and laughed ourselves silly. And since Isabella was so charmed by tongue twisters, new to her, I sent her a list of them later on. Yes, the kid has email! So I guess she is not completely innocent.

The next day at lunch time she presented us with this one:

One-One was a racehorse;
Two-Two was one two.
When One-One won a race,
Two-Two won one two.

I was charmed and couldn't get it out of my mind for days.

But the zinger of all tongue twisters, rated "difficult" by tongue-twisters authorities, Isabella recited at dinner time:

Betty Botter had some butter, “But,” she said, “this butter's bitter. If I bake this bitter butter, it would make my batter bitter. But a bit of better butter—that would make my batter better.”
So she bought a bit of butter, better than her bitter butter, and she baked it in her batter, and the batter was not bitter. So 'twas better Betty Botter bought a bit of better butter.

This is lot easier than saying Rührt sich Erinnerung im Grunde, and it is a lot more innocent than poetry about women's bodies and sex.
By Louis Martin