Tindergarden is the Ode to a Nightingale – choose your own Word of the Year

tender is the night in the Upper Palatinate

Word of the year: How about Tindergarden?

Or if that doesn’t grab your fancy, what about Hopfen-Smoothie? That’s a euphemism for beer, as Hopfen is the German word for one of beer’s essential ingredients. 

No? I’ve got at least one more. Here’s Posttruth for you. 

We’re already deep into the holiday season, and soon enough we’ll be subjected to Word of the Year nonsense before we stumble into the new year. 

I’m still chuckling at Tindergarden, which is a comical play on the word Kindergarden. Your garden of acquaintances you met on the dating platform tinder? There’s a word for that now. 

Lucky us. 

Tender is the Night

And when I think of that soft & gentle dating app, I’m immediately making jokes playing on the word ‘tender‘. Jackson Browne singing in my ear, and I’m a preteen again. Completely unaware of tenderness. The very thought was lost on me. 

Then my thoughts meander to the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel of the same name. Should reread that damned thing at some point. But then I remember that the title Fitzgerald used was actually ganked from a Keats poem. 

And who wouldn’t agree that we could all use just a bit more decent poetry in our lives. Here’s Ode to a Nightingale:
Ode to a Nightingale

By John Keats

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains 

         My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk, 

Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains 

         One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk: 

‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot, 

         But being too happy in thine happiness,— 

                That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees 

                        In some melodious plot 

         Of beechen green, and shadows numberless, 

                Singest of summer in full-throated ease. 
O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been 

         Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth, 

Tasting of Flora and the country green, 

         Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth! 

O for a beaker full of the warm South, 

         Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene, 

                With beaded bubbles winking at the brim, 

                        And purple-stained mouth; 

         That I might drink, and leave the world unseen, 

                And with thee fade away into the forest dim: 
Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget 

         What thou among the leaves hast never known, 

The weariness, the fever, and the fret 

         Here, where men sit and hear each other groan; 

Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs, 

         Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies; 

                Where but to think is to be full of sorrow 

                        And leaden-eyed despairs,

         Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes, 

                Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow. 
Away! away! for I will fly to thee, 

         Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards, 

But on the viewless wings of Poesy, 

         Though the dull brain perplexes and retards: 

Already with thee! tender is the night, 

         And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne, 

                Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays; 

                        But here there is no light, 

         Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown 

                Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways. 
I cannot see what flowers are at my feet, 

         Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs, 

But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet 

         Wherewith the seasonable month endows 

The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild; 

         White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine; 

                Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves; 

                        And mid-May’s eldest child, 

         The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine, 

                The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves. 
Darkling I listen; and, for many a time 

         I have been half in love with easeful Death, 

Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme, 

         To take into the air my quiet breath; 

                Now more than ever seems it rich to die, 

         To cease upon the midnight with no pain, 

                While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad 

                        In such an ecstasy! 

         Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain— 

                   To thy high requiem become a sod. 
Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird! 

         No hungry generations tread thee down; 

The voice I hear this passing night was heard 

         In ancient days by emperor and clown: 

Perhaps the self-same song that found a path 

         Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home, 

                She stood in tears amid the alien corn; 

                        The same that oft-times hath 

         Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam 

                Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn. 
Forlorn! the very word is like a bell 

         To toll me back from thee to my sole self! 

Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well 

         As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.

Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades 

         Past the near meadows, over the still stream, 

                Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep 

                        In the next valley-glades: 

         Was it a vision, or a waking dream? 

                Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep? 

 

Oliver Sacks has died and I can’t get Rilke’s Der Panther out of my head

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Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehn der Stäbe
so müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.

Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte,
der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
in der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.

Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
sich lautlos auf –. Dann geht ein Bild hinein,
geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille –
und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.’

I can’t help it. Oliver Sacks is dead, and there are a myriad of thoughts shooting through my brain. I want to write about all of them.

Actually, I’d rather brew a pot of coffee and settle in to watch each of said thoughts explode into the room. The same way I did with a percussionist friend I knew in college who turned me on to a particular man who mistook his wife for a hat. That’s not even the best Oliver Sacks connection – just the first one I knew.

Later I read his ponderings on music and the ways it impacts our brains – fascinating stuff. Stuff with which to brew another pot of coffee, I assure you.

I’ve read so many obituaries and essays today about how important he was to this or that writer or thinker or scientist, and I want to link to every last one of them. I wish I could take you on a tour through my obsessive day of Oliver Sacks devotion, but I’m afraid it wouldn’t do his memory justice. Having said that, I think he might’ve moderately appreciated the attempt to tie in all these disparate ideas that’re still overloading my brain.

Instead, I’m just going to get a tad bit obsessive about Der Panther, which is the German poem I’ve included above. Although I was well aware of his poetry before I saw the film Awakenings, Rilke’s words grabbed me and shook me out of a weird slumber. In the hands of Robin Williams’ character, I was thoroughly jostled by the image of the big cat pacing back and forth in his cramped cage.

This isn’t normally a place where I allow myself to analyse poetry, so I’m loath to go down that road. Although it’s tempting, I’m more inclined to provide a few links and let you go there if you’re so inclined.

First of all, quite an impressive selection of translations can be found at Alternate Translations of The Panther by Rainer Maria Rilke, and if you’d rather have a ‘Best Of’, here’s Der Panther: Six Ways of Looking at a German Poem. There’s a nice article by John Banville in The New York Review of Books called Study The Panther!

As he says there, ‘…Rilke had no illusions about the solitariness of the artistic project, or its difficulty…‘, and that’s where my thoughts finally settle in the darkest corner of the night as I continue to consider Oliver Sacks.

I could wax philosophic about how he faced his death and expressed himself so exquisitely in the process. Were I to do so, I’d certainly focus on that last stanza and how he recently announced his illness so publicly and fearlessly. Instead, I’ll just wrap this up with the Stephen Mitchell translation of the poem:

‘His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold anything else. 
It seems to him there are a thousand bars;
and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides 
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils lifts, quietly–. 
An image enters in, 
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.’

travelling with Out of True as it was intended

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So, one day in the mail, this little green book arrived. Poetry?

Who reads poetry these days?

Oh, I know. Guy Clark does. He says this in one of my favourite of his songs:

Here’s a book of poems I got
From a girl I used to know
I guess I read it front to back
Fifty times or so
It’s all about the good life
And stayin’ at ease with the world
It’s funny how I love that book
And I never loved that girl

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Then I went to London, where I met @elaine4queen and this is a photo of her upon first seeing my copy of Out of True. As good as it is, it’s even better with a cuppa.

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Then there was sleeping and such…upon awakening, it turned out Poppet ‘ad been readin’ a bit of poetry on her own while I wasn’t looking. How twee is that, innit?

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Here’s where our Elaine finally takes a gander at the ol’ book itself. She’s awestruck. ‘That’s some top shelf poetry there, I tell you what!’ I hear her exclaim.

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Then later I was in another café in London and I met this lovely couple from Edinburgh. Although I had my copy of Out of True with me, we didn’t talk about it. There’s no real reason for me to include this photo…I just liked them.

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Here’s a photo of the book and my copy of Myrtle Takes Tea in the same café that I was with the Scottish couple.

And finally, a photo of the book on a pile of money with a baritone ukulele. Because it’s my damned blog and I can do whatever I want here.

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Before I forget: the poet is Amy Durant. She’s a friend. A good poet, but an exceptional friend. You can read her daily musings at Lucy’s Football (lucysfootball.com), and although her posts are long and rambling and often have only a very thin connection to reality, she’s that sort of writer you should keep an eye on.

She’s going somewhere – that Amy Durant. Those crazy eyes? ALL. THE. CAPS. She’s going somewhere, for reals. Luckily, she’s promised to take us with her.