Recenzo: Esperanta Antologio (Don HARLOW)

Esperanta Antologio: Poemoj 1887-1981

Edited by William Auld

Rotterdam: Universala Esperanto-Asocio, 1984. 887p.

reviewed by Don Harlow

   Poetry derives from milieus in which writing is uncommon and printing unknown. Absent the printed word, the meter and rhyme of poetry are what give words and ideas a stylistic framework that makes them easier to memorize, to pass on from generation to generation without change. It is no accident that the tribal works presented in Tibor Sekelj's Elpafu la Sagon are couched in poetic language. So too we can see that in our own linguistic background the earliest popular tales and legends (e.g. Beowulf) are poetry, while the contemporary prose works (the venerable Bede) were aimed at a literate, educated, clerical class. The decline of poetry in the English-speaking world followed the coming of the printing press; Shakespeare, who wrote a century later, was perhaps the last of those who aimed his poetic works at the masses. By the end of the seventeenth century the ballad had largely been replaced by the short story, the epic poem by the novel. For memorization becomes unimportant in an era of mass literacy and printing; and prose is much less demanding on the writer than poetry in terms of inventiveness and creativity.

   All of which raises an interesting question: why has poetry been the major literary form in Esperanto, a language used far more in its written than in its spoken form, the only language in the world (with the possible exception of Icelandic) with a 100% literacy rate, throughout its first century of existence? The Esperanta Antologio, here presented in its second incarnation, is a celebration of this rather strange fact.

   The book, the editor informs us, contains a total of 706 poems by 163 authors from 35 countries of the five continents. I will try here not to repeat those things that have already been reported by others, but will recommend the interested reader to Gaston Waringhien's excellent review (Esperanto, December 1984, pp. 201-203); those who are interested in the earlier edition might also refer to the same author's essay "De unu antologio al alia" (in Kaj la ceter' -- nur literaturo, Antwerp: Stafeto, 1983, p. 167). But I would like to add a few interesting observations about this new book.

   Seventy-three of the authors are new to this edition. Twelve of these were born more recently than any of the earlier authors (one -- Mauro Nervi -- was not even born when the first edition appeared), but Auld has not stinted other from earlier periods. Consider the following words:

Mallaŭta voĉo de l' venonta vintro
  Tra nia norda lando ekmurmuras;
La floroj velkas sub ĉielo griza,
  Hirundamikoj aliloken kuras.

   Would you believe that when Clarence Bicknell, the "new" Esperantist poet who wrote that verse was born, Martin van Buren was president of the United States, Texas was an independent republic, and the first settlers were heading west over the Oregon Trail?

   Yet there are plenty of recent poets who were either born late or bloomed late. The average date of birth for poets in this edition has advanced ten years from the first edition -- from 1896 to 1906. Beside the Zamenhofs and Kalocsays and Schwartzes and Baghys of the earlier edition, still well-represented here, we have the Giorgio Silfers and Eva Tofalvis and Mauro Nervis and Armand Sus who had not even been heard of twenty-six years ago.

   Pace the editor, not all five continents are represented here, unless New Zealand is to be considered a part of the Australian landmass. Africa is represented by one poet (Edwin de Kock), North America by three, Latin America by six. The numbers are generally higher than in the first edition, but not proportionately so.

   One interesting increase is in the number of Esperanto poets whose native languages are Asian. The Chinese poet S.-J. Zee, present in the first edition and best known since for his work as compiler and translator of El Ĉina Poezio, has been joined by his young fellow countryman Armand Su. And Ito Saburo, the only Japanese poet in the first edition, now has no fewer than eight colleagues, including such well-known luminaries as Miyamoto Masao and Ueyama Masao. Interestingly enough, although several of these poets became known to the Esperanto world through haiku published in the late sixties and early seventies, not one of them was born later than 1913. Does this mean that the younger Japanese Esperantists are not interested in poetry? Or do the Japanese consider that poetry springs more from age and wisdom and less from youth and inspiration than we in the West do?

   The first paragraph above implied, though it did not state, that poetry, to be proper, should appeal to the ear rather than the eye. Most of the poetry in this book fits that criterion; but there are a few "poems" that include typographical tricks aimed strictly at the eye. See particularly Miyamoto Masao's "Mozaike" (pp. 702-704) and William Auld's "La Infana Raso VIII" (pp. 395-398). The minor trick of indentation in Nicolino Rossi's "Al Vjetnamio" (pp. 765-766), on which appreciation of the poem fortunately does not depend, is ruined by the fact that the poem is split between opposite sides of the same leaf. Whether such tricks are justifiable in poetry is a question which I personally would be tempted to answer in the negative.

   Most of the poetry here, though, is eminently suitable for reading aloud: Esperanto clubs please note. William Auld's "Ebrio" is a good example of a poem that can be appreciated only upon hearing it declaimed.

   The level of poetic style is generally high, as you would expect from a carefully-selected anthology. The heinous crime of adasismo (rhyming on identical suffixes) is nowhere terribly evident, even in the earlier poetry; in Kofman's long "Filino de Iftah" (pp. 17-22), for instance, out of ninety-nine verse pairs only six are adasistic. As Auld has elsewhere pointed out, L. L. Zamenhof himself is perhaps the greatest culprit in this regard. See also Aurel Boia's satirical "Odo al Adasismo" (pp. 821-823).

   One poetic "innovation" which may seem strange to the English-trained ear should be remarked. Many Eastern European poets (and more than a third of those represented in this volume fall into that class) consider a rhyme on the stressed vowel to be sufficient compensation for lack of a rhyme on the grammatical ending. So we have, for instance, such pairs as palaj/cimbaloj (Kofman, p. 19) and karnon/varman (Ljubin, p. 215). Unlike adasismo, this is considered acceptable (though not necessarily recommended) practice in Esperanto.

   ELNA members will find pp. 663-667 of particular interest (Jes, Dorinjo, temas pri via poemo!). And all readers, when they grow tired of the serious poets, should turn to the selections from Raymond Schwartz, or perhaps to pp. 687-688, where they can read Bertram Potts' "Rakontu, Kara Avĉjo", from which this is a typical verse:

Rakontu, kara Avĉjo, pri kiam vi vin trovis
  en krokodila buŝo profunde de rivero
kaj kiel vi strangolis la beston kaj ne povis --
  ĝis kuŝis ĝi senviva! -- leviĝi por aero!

   In his afterword Auld defines four periods of Esperanto poetry, as opposed to his triune division in the first edition: primitive romanticism (1887-1921; but read Auld's definition on p. 835 and then turn e.g. to the Brazilian poet L. H. Knoedt, pp. 753-755); mature romanticism (1921-1931; this would obviously include Kalocsay's seminal Streĉita Kordo); Parnassism (1931-1956); the period of strongest influence of the Parnasa Gvidlibro); and postparnassism (1956-1982). Other classifications are possible; my own would be based on the major publishers of poetry during the period in question (Esperantistoism, Larevuoism, Literaturamondoism, Stafetoism, Fontoism ... maybe). After reading this book, you are welcome to create your own.

   Is this a "good" book in terms of its poetic content? My answer would have to be a qualified "yes." Most of the poets represented have mastered their medium -- an impressive achievement, considering that every single one of them wrote this poetry in what was to him/her a foreign language. The poems published here are stylistically superior and, in most cases, enjoyable to the ordinary reader. However, I don't wish to claim that any of this is great poetry. Auld's Infana Raso, several selections from which are printed here, is outstanding; but it cannot be said that Esperanto has given the world its equivalents of Chaucer, Milton or Shakespeare. Perhaps it will never do so. Which brings us back to our original question: why has poetry been Esperanto's strongest and most successful literary form in an age when prose dominates?

   In the first paragraph I suggested that "prose is much less demanding on the writer than poetry in terms of inventiveness and creativity." It is a serious flaw in most languages that they actually punish inventiveness and creativity; just when the small child learning the language thinks that he has figured out the rules, along comes an irregularity to disabuse him (such response to generalization, when applied to rats in cages in the form of mild electric shocks, can lead to schizophrenic behavior, or worse). In such languages poetry is an expensive luxury for the individual, and only the most enthusiastic ever get fully involved with it; and even then poetry often degenerates into the "free verse" so common in Berkeley coffee shops. Esperanto, on the other hand, is perhaps the world's only language that not only rewards but demands inventiveness from the speaker. It is then understandable that the Esperanto-speaking writer would find the creation of poetry less difficult and more attractive than his ethnic-speaking counterpart. Because this point is intrinsic to the structure of the language, I expect that it will not change in the future.

   Given an equal choice between prose and poetry, however, even in Esperanto prose remains the easier route for the ordinary would-be author. In the past the market has not permitted such an equal choice. There were few outlets for prose in Esperanto-land; but any Esperanto magazine or bulletin could and usually would publish a poem; and space restrictions in the language's literary magazines made poetry much more attractive than prose. Today, however, the prose market is rapidly expanding. As recently as 1978 the original Esperanto novel was usually greeted as an outstanding addition to the Esperanto literature (the first Esperanto novel was published in 1907; over the next seventy years no more than fifty appeared). Today, however, a number of new novels appear every year, many of them "popular" rather than "ltierary" in nature (e.g. Dorval's Jaĥto veturas for ... kaj veturigas la morton, Lorjak's Eŭlalia, or Nemere's Febroj, as opposed to Ŝtimec's Ombro sur interna pejzaĝo, to mention only books that have apepared within the past few months). Chances are that this expanding prose market will lead Esperantist authors to devote more of their time to prose and less to poetry. So the development of Esperanto poetry may be cut short before Esperanto actually produces any "great" poets ... and Esperanta Antologio, in this or its next edition, may conceivably be remembered as the definitive anthology of Esperanto poetry.

   Missing from the book, and sorely missed: a more complete description of the history of Esperanto poetry (Auld recommends to the reader his Enkonduko en la originalan literaturon de Esperanto, as do I); a glossary of unfamiliar terms; and a list of sources for the various poems. Missing but not particularly missed: John McIntyre's occasional illustrations which "decorated" the earlier edition. Reto Rossetti's woodprint frontispiece of Zamenhof is by now, and will remain, a tradition. The printing is excellent and the binding attractive; for both we owe thanks to the Chinese Esperantists, who printed the book for UEA. Any similarity between the Esperanto Jubilee emblem on the cover and the ecology symbol from the 1970s is, of course, purely coincidental. Completists might like to know the print run; there is no indication of this in the book.

   In sum, a well-produced volume containing a massive selection of material which is not only historically important to the Esperanto movement, but also, for the most part, esthetically pleasing and enjoyable. If you like poetry, this is one of the two books available in Esperanto that you really must have. (1)


(1) This was, at the time of writing, obviously Kalocsay's Tutmonda Sonoro, a two-volume anthology of his translations from global poetry. In the same category I now might see fit to add Grabowski's El Parnaso de Popoloj. Since the time of writing, two other books have appeared that deserve to enter this canon: Rossetti and Vatré's Trezoro, a two volume anthology of Esperanto prose, and Auld's very well put together single-volume Nova Esperanta Krestomatio, a showcase of Esperanto prose and poetry, both original and translated.

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