A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Friday, 20 June 2008

David Constantine

Sometimes we are fortunate enough to encounter, at just the right young and impressionable age, an influential teacher or educator in our lives. If we are unlucky, this person may turn out to be a Miss Jean Brodie. I was lucky. For this mentor in my own life was David Constantine - university lecturer, German scholar, translator and poet. This man transformed the way I thought about texts and felt about literature. Or perhaps he (in the true sense of the word 'educate' - from the Latin 'educare', meaning 'to bring out') awoke and germinated what was already within. His influence remains strongly with me even now, and I will always be grateful for it. His lectures and seminars on Goethe, on Kleist, on Hölderlin, on Büchner, on Keats, on Romantic poetry, were a revelation. Perhaps many of us have a similar story?

Among poetry circles Constantine is now very well known. He's a mainstay of the Bloodaxe poetry catalogue, and is currently working on a translation of Faust Part Two for Penguin Books (Part One was published in 2004 and is definitive). I've recently read his superb translation of another work by Goethe, Elective Affinities, that startlingly cynical early 19th century novel about order and chaos, fate and free will. Bloodaxe published his Collected Poems in 2004 and this is one of my many favourite poems from it. You can easily trace his homage to Wordsworth's Prelude in this wonderful poem.


Big river giving up what made it
It. No fighting visible
But all the colossal loss of self
Flat silent under a hemisphere
Of stillness. Then I'd only been
Three or four years on the dry land
Still wrapped in native wonder. I recall
This much: a level the lowest possible above
The sea and it
Was greening gold, sheep safely grazed, the lark
And curlew signed it differently, water
Holed and threaded it so that it blinked between
More dry than wet, more wet than dry,
An earth dissolving into steppingtufts and mud, the water
Salting. How I loved
My game of pondering a route
Dryfoot and intricate to the farthest out. I thought myself
Out there where the wavering decided on
The sea, the river,
Biggest imaginable, lapsed without any trace
And on the brink of guessing at a place
Of nowhere, nothing, no one evermore
I reached up for love's
Always waiting to be reached for hand.

I would also strongly recommend Constantine's book of short stories Under The Dam (2005).


Anonymous said...

Must read some more of his poems. This is marvellous.

Mister Roy said...