Saturday, November 27, 2010

"Pandemic and Celeste"

Among other questions, Terry had asked at the previous meeting, during the discussion of Jaime Gil de Biedma's poems in Persistent Voices, what the title of "Pandemic and Celeste" referred to. Here's translator James Nolan's note about "Pandemic and Celeste" from Longing, the book of Gil de Biedma's selected poems that he translated and edited for City Lights Books in 1993:

Pandemic and Celeste: (a) The title refers to the two Aphrodites mentioned in the Symposium, symbolizing promiscuous and monogamous love. (b) Catullus, in poem VII, considers Lesbia's question: "You ask how many of your kisses, Lesbia, would be enough for me?" The answer is quoted here in the epigraph: "As numerous as the sands of Libya...or a the stars, when night is quiet, which contemplate the furtive loves of men." (c) The first stanza quotes from Baudelaire's "To the Reader": "my likeness--my brother." (d) "The poet" of the third stanza is John Donne, paraphrased from "The Ecstasy." (e) The fourth stanza quotes from Mallarme's "The Afternoon of a Fawn": "of the languor poorly savored between two people." (f) In English, it is impossible to keep the ambiguous gender of the su referring to the lover in the final stanzas. The choice should clearly be "his," although in Gil de Biedma's love poetry the homoeroticism is never explicit.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Thanks for the notes, Philip. I had been idly pondering Terry's question but hadn't got much beyond thinking of the title names as personifications. Gil de Biedma's choices are amusingly tricky. "Pandemic" is the English adjective corresponding to Plato's "common" love. The English adjective corresponding to the other Greek term, however, would be "uranian" (which of course has a quite different sense now). The Latin term to go with "Celeste" would have been, I suppose, "Vulgarus," which again introduces unwanted connotations.
I'm enjoying rereading this poem, about the great homosexual theme of promiscuity. (Not that that theme doesn't occur in heterosexuality—Giovanni: "I'd be faithless to all women were I faithful to only one"—but it's almost endemic with us, as in Auden's "Lullaby", Richard Howard's "bath" poem, etc.) Finally, however, I'm having more trouble with the pronouns than I think the poem may be worth ("I', "we", "you", "he"). The Spanish might make some of it ("tu" vs "Usted") clearer, in addition to covering or cloaking with "su".