Tuesday, 5 June 2007
That Catalogue of Ships

Mandelshtam has a famous poem that he wrote in 1915, and that appeared in his book of poetry, "Kamen'" (Stone).

It goes like this in Russian:

Бессоница, Гомер, тугие паруса.
Я список кораблей прочел до середины...
Сей длинный выводок, сей поезд журавлиный,
Что над Элладою когда-то поднялся.

Как журавлиный клин в чужие рубежи
На головаx царей божественная пена...
Куда плывете вы? Когда бы не Элена,
Что Троя вам одна, аxейские мужи??

И море и Гомер все движимо любовью..
Куда же деться мне? И вот, Гомер молчит..
И море Черное витийствуя шумит
И с страшным гроxотом подxодит к изголовью...


And here is a translation of that poem:

Insomnia. Homer. Taut sails.
I've read to the middle of the list of ships:
the strung-out flock, the stream of cranes
that once rose above Hellas.
Flight of cranes crossing strange borders,
leaders drenched with the foam of the gods,
where are you sailing? What would Troy be to you,
men of Achaea, without Helen?
The sea---Homer---it's all moved by love. But to whom
shall I listen? No sound now from Homer,
and the black sea roars like a speech
and thunders up the bed.

    Osip Mandelstam, Crimea, 1915
    transl. Clarence Brown & W. S. Merwin.

Homer becomes "Gomer" in Russian. The word for "sails" is "parusa."

So the first line, transliterated, would look like this:

Bessonitsa. Gomer. Tugiye parusa. (Insomnia. Homer. Taut sails.)

Posted on 06/05/2007 1:20 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
5 Jun 2007
Won't You Be My Nabors?
Or: Not Much Travell'd in the Realms of R.E.M. Sleep
Or: Dover Sheep
For the love of the Gaseous Vertebrate, won't someone please explain this bessonnitsa thing?  Jim Nabors apparently did not cover Elvis' "Bossa Nova."  My wife's recollection that the Tom Bernard Morning Show on KQRS parodied that with "Papilloma" isn't any help.  Also useless is me Mum's repeating of rumours many years ago that Nabors sallied up the (Rock) Hudson.
And where would Gary Hart and Donna Rice have been without Monkey Business?
And do the sagas catalogue the ships for the legendary voyage of The Long Ships starring Richard Skidmark.* 
"The black sea roars like a speech" is reminiscent of "the melancholy, long withdrawing roar" by Arnold, the pig** of Green Acres -or was it by Hogzilla?
Coincidentally last night a colleague mentioned that he had worked in a VA emergency room and I then brought up the "Gomer Index."  We couldn't remember the particulars of its point system, but Wiki claims that it stands for Get Out of My Emergency Room. -Not exactly "support the troops" stuff, and maybe it was a guilty conscience which kept me awake most of last night.
Which I tried to remedy by reading a short story by some hack writer*** (distinct from the hack riders transported by Somalis from the airport):
"He started thinking of methods to induce sleep. He imagined waves rhythmically running up onto a shoreline.  Then plump gray ["sic" 'em, Gray Lady Duranty, I'm sick of typing out "rumour," "grey" and the like] sheep tumbling over a fence.  One sheep, two, three..." I suppose that long before Sophocles,(25,000 + yr.) neolithic man tried the same with sheep, bison and species now extinct tumbling over a cliff.  At least the paperback writer didn't go on and on beyond "three" - that would, as a revert might observe, be over-figging the oasis. or pudding -whatevah
*See old Russian submarine underwear changing joke
**-had a run-in with Circe?
*** just kidding