Saturday, August 25, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 53.3 (John Steinbeck)

Of Mice and Men & Cannery Row
Steinbeck, John
Of Mice and Men & Cannery Row

This one is pretty beat up. I am not sure where or when I acquired it. I have a vague memory of having read it, lost it, picked up another copy. But this is a vague feeling not supported by any real memory. Whatever "real memory" might mean. I was going to say "factual evidence" but realized that that would mean a clear memory which, no matter how clear, would have to be suspect on some level. On the other hand, a price tag or an inscription or something along those lines might actually constitute evidence. There is no evidence here.

During my Steinbeck summer I read and loved this book. The character of the kindly, cultured old professor was inspirational to my young, aspirational self. I very much wished that I had someone to invite me over for dinner and explain things like classical music and Sanskrit poetry. I never did have one someone like that. Most of what I eventually read and learned I pieced together myself, with help from lots of people along the way. I never had a mentor, per se, is what I am saying.

I remember being particularly moved by a translation of a Sanskrit poem that forms the emotional center of the story. It goes like this:


Black Marigolds
Even now If I see in my soul the citron-breasted fair one Still gold-tinted, her face like our night stars, Drawing unto her; her body beaten about with flame, Wounded by the flaring spear of love, My first of all by reason of her fresh years, Then is my heart buried alive in snow. Even now If my girl with lotus eyes came to me again Weary with the dear weight of young love, Again I would give her to these starved twins of arms And from her mouth drink down the heavy wine, As a reeling pirate bee in fluttered ease Steals up the honey from the nenuphar. Even now If I saw her lying all wide eyes And with collyrium the indent of her cheek Lengthened to the bright ear and her pale side So suffering the fever of my distance, Then would my love for her be ropes of flowers, and night A black-haired lover on the breasts of day. Even now My eyes that hurry to see no more are painting, painting Faces of my lost girl. O golden rings That tap against cheeks of small magnolia-leaves, O whitest so soft parchment where My poor divorced lips have written excellent Stanzas of kisses, and will write no more. Even now Death sends me the flickering of powdery lids Over wild eyes and the pity of her slim body All broken up with the weariness of joy; The little red flowers of her breasts to be my comfort Moving above scarves, and for my sorrow Wet crimson lips that once I marked as mine. Even now They chatter her weakness through the two bazaars Who was so strong to love me. And small men That buy and sell for silver being slaves Crinkles the fat about their eyes; and yet No Prince of the Cities of the Sea has taken her, Leading to his grim bed. Little lonely one, You cling to me as a garment clings; my girl. Even now I love long black eyes that caress like silk, Ever and ever sad and laughing eyes, Whose lids make such sweet shadow when they close It seems another beautiful look of hers. I love a fresh mouth, ah, a scented mouth, And curving hair, subtle as a smoke, And light fingers, and laughter of green gems. Even now I remember that you made answer very softly, We being one soul, your hand on my hair, The burning memory rounding your near lips; I have seen the preistesses of Rati make love at moon fall And then in a carpeted hall with a bright gold lamp Lie down carelessly anywhere to sleep. Even now I mind the coming and talking of wise men from towers Where they had thought away their youth. And I, listening, Found not the salt of the whispers of my girl, Murmur of confused colours, as we lay near sleep; Little wise words and little witty words, Wanton as water, honied with eagerness. Even now I mind that I loved cypress and roses, clear, The great blue mountains and the small grey hills, The sounding of the sea. Upon a day I saw strange eyes and hands like butterflies; For me at morning larks flew from the thyme And children came to bathe in little streams. Even now I know that I have savoured the hot taste of life Lifting green cups and gold at the great feast. Just for a small and a forgotten time I have had full in my eyes from off my girl The whitest pouring of eternal light ...

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