Friday, February 08, 2008

Verse Contradictions

A very long time ago, a friend of the family's named Dorothy Brady introduced us to the game of finding pairs of proverbs with opposite meanings, such as "He who hesitates is lost"/"Look before you leap." More recently it occurred to me that one might do the same thing with pairs of poems, ideally both by the same poet. My one example so far—my wife thinks she pointed it out to me twenty-some years ago—is a pair of sonnets by Millay.

Part of the argument of "Oh, think not I am faithful to a vow" is summed up in the line "Were you not lovely I would leave you now."

While the argument of "Love is not blind" is

"Well I know
What is this beauty men are babbling of;
I only wonder why they prize it so.

Which reminds me of a quote that I thought was by Heine but now cannot find a source for:

"Why should I be always of my own opinion?"

Can anyone offer other such pairs of poems? A source for my quote?


At 2:56 AM, February 09, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Swedish poet Esaias Tegnér (1782 - 1846) provided an example. In his poem "Hjälten" (The Hero), he celebrates heroic strength as the great transformational force in the world. In "Det Eviga" (The Eternal) he knocks heroic strength as something ephemeral and inconsequential.

There seems to be no English translation of either poem. Here are some excerpts, roughly and rhymelessly translated by your humble commentator...


So the strong shapes his world with the sword
so word of his deed flies like eagles;
but one time the wandering sword will break
and the eagles be felled in their flight.
What violence may build is fleeting and short
like a storm in the desert it dies away.




See, around the forceful spirit
mighty wings will always grow.
Is the eagle thus to blame?
Does the tempest ask, when roaring
if it troubles an amorous couple?
The old can not endure forever,
and habit's tired lessons
should not be endlessly repeated.
What has mouldered must fall
and the healthy, new
grow out of the destruction.

At 8:41 AM, February 09, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't recall having read that particular quote which you think might be by Heine. I tried a couple of translations into German, but didn't find anything on google. Neither did I find anything in a couple of quotation databases.

At 8:37 AM, February 10, 2008, Blogger dmandman said...

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At 7:09 AM, February 11, 2008, Blogger Curious said...

Thomas Hardy:

The Sub-Alterns

"Poor Wanderer" said the leaden sky...



"If but some vengeful God would ...

At 10:10 AM, February 11, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

Thanks for the two Hardy poems--I had read the second but not the first, and they definitely the pattern.

At 2:26 PM, February 11, 2008, Blogger Troy Camplin said...

Don't forget Whitman's "Do I contradict myself?" But perhaps posing paradoxes is what poetry does? I do so quite often in my poems. I even have a poem titled "The Comfortless Comfort"

At 8:26 AM, February 12, 2008, Blogger David said...

Paul Carus, in Truth on Trial, attributes "I am not always of my own opinion" to a "dear old German friend of mine."

At 5:26 PM, February 12, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Led Zepplin's first album has two songs, one after the other, where the lyrics contradict amusingly:

The song "Good Times Bad Times" ends with "I dont care what the neighbors say, I'm gonna love you each and every day. You can feel the beat within my heart. Realize, sweet babe, we ain't ever gonna part."

The next song, called "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" opens with, "Babe, baby, baby, Im gonna leave you. I said baby, you know Im gonna leave you."

Talk about fickle.

At 12:11 AM, February 27, 2008, Blogger hobbified said...

Well, anonymous, if you're going to open that door, here's one in a similar vein that I've found amusing.

The Doors' Waiting for the Sun has the dirge-like "Summer's Almost Gone":

We had some good times,
But they're gone
The winter's coming on
Summer's almost gone

Followed immediately by the uptempo waltz "Wintertime Love":

Come with me, dance my dear
Winter's so cold this year
And you are so warm
My wintertime love to be

Seems Jim is a bit fickle himself.

At 3:10 AM, February 27, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 3:10 AM, February 27, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 1:46 PM, February 29, 2008, Blogger Joe said...

I'm guessing Donne would be a good source of such pairs, since most of his art consisted of finding witty ways to use sophistry to argue falsities.


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