Some people make pies from fruit, others crumbles and yet others poems. Just recently, I was re-reading a selection of poetry by the Bengali poet Jibanananda Das which i found on the Internet some time back and one poem in particular struck me:
When once l leave this body
Shall I not come back to the world?
If only I might return
Upon a winter’s evening
Taking on the compassionate flesh of a cold tangerine
At the bedside of some dying acquaintance.
I was quite taken aback by this association of tangerines with death. Thinking about it, i realise that like most British people of my generation and background i connect them with Christmas. When i was a child that was the only time we ever ate them. They have always conjured up ideas of plenty, celebration, lightheartedness and hope. Now, juxtaposed with that is a picture of deathbed. For some reason i imagine the occupant’s hand to be cold and damp, like the tangerine itself.
Jibanananda Das was a great favourite of mine when i was at university. The slightly alien quality of his world resonated with me and i loved his sensual and yet sinister imagery: his poems were full of deer, grass and hands. The language was strange and oblique which appealed to me: i felt for once my lack of understanding of Bengali didn’t put me at such a disadvantage. In fact, it thrilled me that i could feel his distinctive style.
Another poet i discovered around the same time – actually probably a year or two earlier – and who appealed to me for similar reasons was Francis Ponge. His style was different: the poems were like free verse essays, almost extended dictionary definitions of the objects at their centre. One of my favourites was about blackberries:
Aux buissons typographiques constitués par le poème sur une route qui ne mène hors des choses ni à l’esprit, certains fruits sont formés d’une agglomération de sphères qu’une goutte d’encre remplit.
Noirs, roses et kakis ensemble dur la grappe, ils offrent plutôt le spectacle d’une famille rogue à ses âges divers, qu’une tentation très vive à la cueillette.
Vue la disproportion des pépins à la pulpe les oiseaux les apprécient pue, si peu de chose au fond leur reste quand du bec à l’anus ils en sont traversés.
Mais le poète au cours de sa promenade professionnelle, en prend de la graine à raison : « Ainsi donc » se dit-il, « réussissent en grand nombre les efforts patients d’une fleur très fragile quoique par un rébarbatif enchevêtrement de ronces défendue. Sans beaucoup d’autres qualités, – mûres, parfaitement elles sont mûres – comme aussi ce poème est fait. »
Or, in English :
On typographical bushes constituted by the poem along a road which leads neither beyond things nor to the spirit, certain fruits are formed by an agglomeration of spheres filled by a drop of ink.
Blacks, pinks, khakis, all on a cluster, they look more like members of an arrogant family of varying ages than a very lively temptation to pick them off.
Given the disproportion of the seeds to the pulp, birds find little to appreciate, so little in the end remains by the time it has travelled from the beak to the anus.
But the poet on his professional walk mulls this over in his mind: “Clearly,” he says to himself, “the patient efforts of a very delicate flower succeeds to a large extent although protected by a forbidding tangle of brambles. Lacking many other qualities – blackberries are perfectly ripe – the way this poem is ready.”
(tr. Serge Gavronsky)
Very French! I’m not sure how i would feel about a poem like this if i encountered it for the first time now, but at the time i was enchanted by the way in which Ponge made ordinary things seem strange and perplexing; the way he made you look at things close up and at the same time distance yourself from them, so that you saw them for what they were and not for what they were to you. Blackberries reminds me of one of a postcard i have on my bookcase which shows a shoal of sperm captured under a microscope. It’s really rather pretty and people often ask what kind of ‘fish’ they are.
From a minute examination of blackberries to the raspberry as metaphor. This is a poem by my beloved Solveig von Schoultz:
Portrait of a raspberry
Just as raspberry runners travel under the sand
and put out new shoots each year
he had travelled
far from his beginnings, had forgotten
and since he only lived in his outpost,
his remotest rootlet, thought he was new
and singular to the species.
If he’d turned round
he’d have seen similar bushes the whole way:
even in the mother-bush the one he was.
(tr. Anne Born)
We might just as easily say: very Nordic. Schoultz uses images from nature throughout her poetry and in a very simple, yet powerful way. All these ordinary things, she seems to say, all these ordinary lives and ordinary sorrows which go unnoticed and yet matter so much. I can never put into words how much i love her poetry or why i love it so much. It’s often the way though: love eludes analysis just as admiration attracts it.
And that brings me to the final poem by the Turkish poet Oktay Rifat, a new poet to me. I picked up a book of his work during my recent trip to Turkey. The poem is about his love for his wife – but it does mention an apple!
To my wife
You bring coolness to the halls
A sense of space to rooms
To wake in your bed in the morning
Gives me daylong joy
We are two halves of the same apple
Our day and night
Our house and home are one
Happiness is a meadow
Where you tread
It springs to life
Loneliness comes from the road you go down
(tr. Ruth Christie & Richard McKane)
Four poems more or less about fruit: tangerines, blackberries, raspberries and an apple. Imagine a crumble made from those!
I read the tangerine poem quite differently. I imagined someone dying in a hot country, and so grateful for the cool, juicy delicious tangerine. Although he called it a ‘winter evening’ – which to me means a refreshingly cool evening, not a very cold one. Few people in Bengal would have had refrigerators at that time, so the winter evening was needed to cool the tangerine. There’s no permanent association of tangerines with death, I think just the idea of something soothing and delicious, and therefore an act of compassionate giving.
Logically, you’re quite right; but my brain obviously got sidetracked by its existing associations for the words in the poem. This is interesting to me as it highlights how each of us inevitably reads a subtly different poem.
Btw, thank you for taking the time to comment. It’s always good to get feedback and fresh perspectives.
I always learn and discover so much when I read your blog. Great selection of fruit based poems. Have anything related to crumbles?
Strangely, few poets seem to have been inspired to write about crumbles. Perhaps you might like to remedy this dearth yourself?
Eyoki—I liked the fruit poems a great deal. Tangerines at a deathbed were a shock at first, but the word “compassionate” is key—when I thought a moment, I got the image of something cool and welcome against the forehead of the sufferer.
I always enjoy your writing. Bill
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