12 August 2009

Cassar's C'est la vie

These lines from Antoine Cassar's sonnet C'est la vie (2007) have received critical attention:

Run, rabbit, run, run, run, from the womb to the tomb,
de cuatro a dos a tres, del río a la mar,
play the fool, suffer school, zunzana ddur iddur,
engage-toi, perds ta foi, le regole imparar.

Marija Grech is quoted as saying: "The deeper significance of these poems may be said to lie not simply in the more traditional meaning of the individual words or verses, but more specifically in the play with sound that the movement from one language to another generates and exploits. As the poet explains, 'the mosaics are designed not so much to be read but to be heard'."

Critics always think that they know better than poets, and in this case, I will continue this self-deception. The lines clearly are meant to be heard, but they can also be read (I use read in two senses, namely, read as in looking for meanings and read as in view or see as in visual arts). That the lines are roughly the same length shows that they look like they are parts of a poem on a page; if the text were laid out as a prose paragraph, the sounds would be the same but the lines would not look like lines of poetry. The meaning (not just the sound) is, however, also worth the reader's time:

Run, rabbit, run, run, run, from the womb to the tomb,
from four to two to three, from the river to the sea,
play the fool, suffer school, the wasp goes round and round,
get involved, lose your faith, learn the rules (English translation supplied by the website itself)

"Womb to tomb," like "four to two to three" (from the puzzle in Oedipus Rex), refers to the passing of time. "River to the sea" refers to faith (if you see a river, there must be a sea; or image to reality). "Play the fool," of course, is from Shakespeare. And so on. The allusions and references play in the reader's mind like the sounds of the words. Had the poem been written in straight English, Spanish, French, or any other language, the sounds would not have mirrored the sense. In short, the choice of mixing languages is dictated in this instance by the poem itself, not by the poet. The poem could not have been written except by a multilingual poet. The inevitability of the bond between sense and sound is aesthetic, not biographical.

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