Jump to content

Romantic poetry, to like or not to like.


Recommended Posts

I've never been a huge fan of romantic poetry, it often seems cheesy, unrealistic, overdone, and generally like a cop out poetry subject to me, but recently while studying Arabic I discovered the texts of Mahmoud Darwish. He's a Palestinian poet who writes about his home country and about the war, and love is also a subject that comes up in his poetry. I was shocked to discover that one of my favorite poems by him was a love poem about a woman he was separated with due to the war in Palestine. It's called Rita and the rifle.


If any of you speak Arabic, this is the text (sorry it's from the left,  I'm on my phone and it's being weird):


بين ريتا وعيوني . . بندقيه
والذي يعرف ريتا ينحني
لإله في العيون العسليه
وأنا قبلت ريتا
عندما كانت صغيره
وأنا أذكر كيف التصقت
بي وغطت ساعدي أحلى ضفيره
وأنا أذكر ريتا
مثلما يذكر عصفور غديره


آه ريتا


بيننا مليون عصفور وصوره
ومواعيد كثيره
أطلقت نارا عليها . . بندقيه
إسم ريتا كان عيدا في فمي
جسم ريتا كان عرسا في دمي
وأنا ضعت بريتا . . سنتين
وهي نامت فوق زندي سنتين
وتعاهدنا على أجمل كأس واحترقنا
في نبيذ الشفتين
وولدنا مرتين


آه . . ريتا


أي شيء رد عن عينيك عيني
سوى إغفاءتين
وغيوم عسليه
قبل هذي البندقيه
كان يا ما كان
يا صمت العشيه
قمري هاجر في الصبح بعيدا
في العيون العسليه

كنست كل المغنين وريتا
بين ريتا وعيوني . . بندقيه


Here is a rough translation of the poem in English:


Between Rita and my eyes there is a rifle
And whoever knows Rita kneels 
and prays
To the divinity in those honey-colored eyes
And I kissed Rita
When she was young
And I remember how she approached
And how my arm covered the loveliest of braids
And I remember Rita
The way a sparrow remembers its stream


Ah, Rita


Between us there are a million sparrows and images
And many a rendezvous
Fired at by a rifle
Rita's name was a feast in my mouth
Rita's body was a wedding in my blood
And I was lost in Rita for two years
And for two years she slept on my arm
And we made promises
Over the most beautiful of cups
And we burned in the wine of our lips
And we were born again


Ah, Rita!


What before this rifle could have turned my eyes from yours
Except a nap or two or honey-colored clouds?
Once upon a time
Oh, the silence of dusk
In the morning my moon migrated to a far place
Towards those honey-colored eyes


And the city swept away all the singers
And Rita
Between Rita and my eyes — A rifle


i think it's beautiful, and it manages to pull me in and make me sympathize with this man in a way that no other love poetry has.


Are there any love poems you like? What do you think of this one? Is love poetry as a subject overdone? Is it a cop out subject?


I want to hear what the rest of you think.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

I really like that poem. Although I assume some of its beauty might be lost in the translation, I still appreciate the English version for all its worth. I find that although I don't like when the media romanticizes everything (no pun intended), I tend to appreciate poetry, whether it be about romantic love or not. Definitely not always, as there is plenty of either poorly written or sickeningly cheesy stuff (that tends to accumulate in places like pop songs on the radio), but a lot of classics or even well-written words of today I'll give due respect.


For example, I have a book of Shakespearean sonnets that I enjoy perusing through on occasion. I bring this up because yes, many of his works are about romantic love for another person, but the writing is so eloquent and there is so much you can empathize with. For one thing, the poems aren't the easiest to glean meaning from. I love poems that are difficult to decipher. It's kind of like having ice cream (hell yes :aroicecream: ), because, in order to avoid a brain freeze, you have to take small bites and pace yourself. You can't just binge through literature like this; in order to truly enjoy a poem, I find reading a little at a time allows me to process and fully appreciate each part. Second, I find I can empathize with romantic poetry. Although I never want a relationship nor am I hopelessly falling in love with some damsel in a tower, their core feelings of love and loss ring true beyond the shallow depths of romance. When an author writes well enough, I can relate, and the love they feel for a significant other reminds me of my love for my family or close friends. On a rare occasion, however, an author can write so well that I truly can sympathize with them, just as you were saying for this poem above. So, it's not every day that I say "Wow! I want to curl up and read romantic poetry!!", but when I do occasionally stumble across something good, I tend to enjoy it.

TL;DR I'm a huge english nerd who enjoys romantic poetry only when it's well written and not entirely shallow.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 7/30/2017 at 10:29 PM, Kickaxe said:

Are there any love poems you like?

In general, I don't like love poetry that much. Still, it's a genuine expression of emotion and so I usually enjoy it much more than romantic story plots where even if it's well written, you nearly hear the cogs grinding of a lean, mean romance-dispensing machine.


Roughly 25% of Les Fleurs du Mal, which is my favorite volume of poetry, are love poems. If it were 100% I would have a different favorite…


But some are so “off” that I really like them. For example (yeah, I'm not very original here…) the famous number XXIV, in its English translation (by James McGowan):


I love you as I love the night’s high vault
O silent one, o sorrow’s lachrymal,
And love you more because you flee from me,
And temptress of my nights, ironically
You seem to hoard the space, to take to you
What separates my arms from heaven’s blue.


I climb to the assault, attack the source,
A choir of wormlets pressing towards a corpse,
And cherish your unbending cruelty,
This iciness so beautiful to me.


okay, that's doesn't fit the traditional conception of love, next example…


Number XXXVI, “Le Balcon”:


The Balcony


Mother of memories, mistress of mistresses,
O thou of all my pleasures, all my debts of love!
Call to your mind the gentle touch of our caress,
The sweetness of the hearth, the charming sky above,
Mother of memories, mistress of mistresses!

Evenings illumined by the ardour of the coal,
And on the balcony, the pink that vapours bring;
How sweet your bosom to me, and how kind your soul!
We often told ourselves imperishable things,
Evenings illumined by the ardour of the coal.

How beautiful the sun! How warm the evening beams!
How endless is the space! The heart, how strong and good!
On bending towards you, o beloved, o my queen,
I thought that I could breathe the perfume of your blood.
How beautiful the suns! How warm their evening beams!

Then we would be enclosed within the thickening night,
And in the dark my eyes divined your eyes so deep,
And would drink your breath, o poison, o delight!
In my fraternal hands, your feet would go to sleep,
When we would be enclosed within the thickening night.

I have the art of calling forth the happy times,
Seeing again my past there curled within your knees,
Where should I look for beauty, languorous and sublime,
If not in your dear heart, and body at its ease?
I have the art of calling forth the happy times!

These vows, these sweet perfumes, these kisses infinite,
Will they be reborn from a gulf we cannot sound,
As suns rejuvenated take celestial flight
Having been bathed in oceans, mighty and profound?
— O vows! O sweet perfumes! O kisses infinite!

On 7/30/2017 at 10:29 PM, Kickaxe said:

What do you think of this one?

I like the political message of it very much. The translation sounds really beautiful sometimes, but also has its rough parts, like:

And whoever knows Rita kneels 
and prays
To the divinity in those honey-colored eyes



“divinity” may be the optimal choice here, but I guess, whatever is used in the original, it sounds much better (okay, I'm not even a native English speaker...).

The 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei by Eliot Weinberger is a very nice book that explores the problems of translating Chinese poetry into the “hostile environment of Western languages”. Much recommended. Arabic may be not as problematic as Chinese, yet I fear it comes close. But you're the expert. ;)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

@Kickaxe was my post so great that it left you speechless? :D


Whatever you wanted to write, please note that I didn't want to criticize the translator. For this, I would have at least to know Arabic.


I think it's undeniable that the quoted lines sounded a bit rough – sorry that I can't join the others in this thread with unreserved admiration. Overall, the beauty of the original still shimmers through in the translation. But even the most skilled translators can't overcome the problem that if they're humble and strive to preserve meaning (which they should), such compromises are nearly unavoidable.

Link to comment
Share on other sites



Oh my goodness I typed out a whole thing and then it just posted nothing?


Probably my fault somehow, I had like three drinks and then tried to post it so I take full responsibility for anything that went wrong there. Anyway, what I was going to say was:



I'm by no means perfect at speaking Arabic, and I didn't do the translation myself, but I am confident I can give a good explanation of the line in question if you would like!


The line is: 


لإله في العيون العسليه (Lillah fi alaiyoon al'asaiyah)


The first word is لإله (Lillah) which is actually the word الله (Allah) meaning "God," and the prefix ل (Li) meaning "to, for, or belonging to."


The second word is في (fi) and simply means "in". It can also mean on, or some other things, but here it definitely means "in".


العيون (alaiyoon) translates literally into "the two eyes" but it's not difficult to specify number in Arabic. There are different rules for dual and plural, so to use a regular plural would imply that she had more than two eyes. For this reason saying "the two eyes" is just as convenient and casual as it would be to say "the eyes" in English.


العسليه (al'asaiyah) means "the honey".


When you have a definite noun followed by a definite adjective in Arabic they form one definite object. So when you have what is literally "the two eyes the honey" in English, the most accurate translation would really be "the two honey eyes".


So strictly speaking, a completely literal translation would be "to the God in the two honey eyes". But this sounds really weird, and is really weird. The syntax just doesn't work. "The God" is changed to divinity, because it's used in the same metaphorical sense that we use that word. We don't say that God is literally in things in English, we say something is divine. If we do talk about God in something we usually refer as the spirit of the trinity as well, but that's not how it's used so divinity works better.


"The two honey eyes" is changed as well. First they remove the unnecessary "two" since English doesn't have dual rules so simply saying "the eyes" works better. Then they specify "honey-colored" instead of just saying honey. That way we don't think her eyes are literally made of honey.



Whew, that was fun to rewrite. Hopefully someone will find it interesting.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you for taking the time to rewrite it, it was very interesting.

It seems Arabic poetry is extraordinarily difficult to translate. And we run into such problems already with a free verse translation (I assume that the original “Rita and the Rifle” was not written in free verse)!


Even if the languages are not so far apart, there's always so much lost…


In the original poem XXIV above, for example, the content1 stands in quite a contrast to the traditional versification (as it is usually observed with Baudelaire). In the English translation, the French alexandrines are done away with. Instead McGowan reduces the length of the line for using a iambic pentameter. I guess, one can't realistically demand more. But so much is lost by this...


1 I honestly feel guilty for posting something so creepy and dark, especially in the same thread as the completely kind-hearted poem by Mahmoud Darwish. But I just found it too remarkable to resist. I like it for the sheer audacity of maxing out the obsessive component, which many love poems still have, to the point it becomes more a stalking poem in the format of a love poem. (Okay, I'm done. We already have enough rants about romantic love here.)


Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't read all that much poetry anymore (don't have the time for it, like most other literature, unfortunately--dang you, college), but I never really got into love poetry. I do quite like anti-love poetry, though:


Spinster (Sylvia Plath):

Now this particular girl
During a ceremonious april walk
With her latest suitor
Found herself, of a sudden, intolerably struck
By the birds' irregular babel
And the leaves' litter.

By this tumult afflicted, she
Observed her lover's gestures unbalance the air,
His gait stray uneven
Through a rank wilderness of fern and flower;
She judged petals in disarray,
The whole season, sloven.

How she longed for winter then! --
Scrupulously austere in its order
Of white and black
Ice and rock; each sentiment within border,
And heart's frosty discipline
Exact as a snowflake.

But here -- a burgeoning
Unruly enough to pitch her five queenly wits
Into vulgar motley --
A treason not to be borne; let idiots
Reel giddy in bedlam spring:
She withdrew neatly.

And round her house she set
Such a barricade of barb and check
Against mutinous weather
As no mere insurgent man could hope to break
With curse, fist, threat
Or love, either.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

19 hours ago, Dodecahedron314 said:

I do quite like anti-love poetry

you write about it as if it were a common genre… if only!


“Hand not in Hand: An Anthology of Anti-Love Poems”

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just for fun, another “love poem” which I literally stumbled when googling for “tensor algebra”. Maybe you like it… I suspend judgment on it. :D

Love and Tensor Algebra

from "The Cyberiad" by Stanislaw Lem

Come, let us hasten to a higher plane
Where dyads tread the fairy fields of Venn,
Their indices bedecked from one to n
Commingled in an endless Markov chain!

Come, every frustrum longs to be a cone
And every vector dreams of matrices.
Hark to the gentle gradient of the breeze:
It whispers of a more ergodic zone.

In Riemann, Hilbert or in Banach space
Let superscripts and subscripts go their ways.
Our asymptotes no longer out of phase,
We shall encounter, counting, face to face.

I'll grant thee random access to my heart,
Thou'lt tell me all the constants of thy love;
And so we two shall all love's lemmas prove,
And in our bound partition never part.

For what did Cauchy know, or Christoffel,
Or Fourier, or any Bools or Euler,
Wielding their compasses, their pens and rulers,
Of thy supernal sinusoidal spell?

Cancel me not - for what then shall remain?
Abscissas some mantissas, modules, modes,
A root or two, a torus and a node:
The inverse of my verse, a null domain.

Ellipse of bliss, converge, O lips divine!
the product o four scalars is defines!
Cyberiad draws nigh, and the skew mind
Cuts capers like a happy haversine.

I see the eigenvalue in thine eye,
I hear the tender tensor in thy sigh.
Bernoulli would have been content to die,
Had he but known such a² cos 2

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...