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Pat Jeffcoate
MV Fresher

What tells you there's a river in the dark?

Posts: 3
Lyrical query...
« : 13.11.14 at 22:43 »

I've been listening (yet again) to 'The Hollow and the Fluted Night'.  It's a beautiful image but I've always wondered: is the night both hollow and fluted; or is there one thing, a hollow, and another thing, a fluted night?  To me it suggests loneliness and fragility.  Is that all I need to know?
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S J Birkill
MV Administrator

just a sensible reserve

Posts: 838
Re: Lyrical query...
« Reply #1: 14.11.14 at 00:39 »

Hello Pat
Good to see a less familiar name posting here, and indeed with a message which raises a thought-provoking question.  
The phrase 'hollow and fluted' (without the second definite article) seems to point to a metaphorical furrowed object, the canteen of cutlery referred to in the lyric, or perhaps (as someone suggested here some time ago) to night as a curtain whose folds envelop the narrator. The 'the' opens up the alternative interpretation of two separate items, or two sides of the night with complementary characteristics, but this is generally considered a minority view.  
There was a particularly detailed discussion of this lyric in MV way back in 1999, when the question was addressed with some erudition by members Stephen Payne, Mel Powell, Pete Atkin, Sylfest Muldal, Dave Jones, Richard Moxham, and no less an authority than... Clive James himself. In MV2403, Clive writes,
« "The Hollow and the Fluted Night", as far as my  
recollection counts, is a safe that has to be blown open: no amount of  
twiddling the tumblers will ever make it click. The insoluble riddle is in  
the title line. I can't be sure at this distance, but I think I detect the  
smell of Rilke. His "Duino Elegies" knocked me off balance for quite a  
while, and although I always tried, in my own work, to stave off the  
dangerous allure of the uncrackable line, the way RMR made that very trick  
sound legitimate held a potent fascination.  At that time my German was  
nothing like good enough to read his later work without employing a  
scholarly parallel text ---it was J.B Leishmann's, as I remember --- and a  
quick scan of that handy book will probably uncover the phrase; although it  
might have come from one of the shorter poems, in which case Michael  
Hamburger's parallel-text Rilke selection might yield up the original, all  
shinily opaque and still begging to be stolen, like a brand-new BMW with  
its keys dangling from the dash-board. The one thing I can be sure of is  
that I didn't write it. I never wrote that way, so I must have nicked it.  
But of course it never feels like theft at the time. There stands the  
beautiful machine, with its engine still warm and the owner imprudently  
absent, and you just sort of, you know, get in and drive. It was destiny,  
your honour: the hand of God. And anyway, part of the result was one of  
Pete's most extraordinary melodies. »
A couple of days later, in MV2421, Richard Moxham nails the Rilke quote, from the third Duino Elegy --
"One thing to sing the beloved, another, alas!
that hidden guilty river-god of the blood.
Him she discerns from afar, her lover, what does he know
of that Lord of Pleasure, who often, out of his lonely heart,
before she'd soothed him, often as though she didn't exist,
streaming from, oh, what unknowable depths, would uplift
his god-head, uprousing the night to infinite uproar?
Oh, the Neptune within our blood, oh, his terrible trident!
Oh, the gloomy blast of his breast from the twisted shell!
Hark, how the night grows hollow and fluted.  You stars,
is it not from you that the lover's delight in the loved one's
face arises?  Does not his intimate insight
into her purest face come from the purest star?"
-- and goes on to deduce that Clive's 'hollow' and 'fluted' must both refer to the same night:
« Clearly, on the basis of this, the point must be conceded to Mel and Sylfest  
that we are dealing with two adjectives and a single noun. As for the  
implications of the title phrase - well, Rilke being Rilke, this is still a  
bit problematic, except to say that it looks as though - in the original  
context, though not necessarily in the James lyric, of course - what the  
night is supposed to be doing in becoming hollow and fluted is taking on the  
characteristics of Neptune's shell. »
Further along (MV2440) Mel Powell quotes Stephen Cohn's translation, invoking caverns and tunnels, with "chaste metaphor and explicit sexual imagery". And in MV2615, Sylfest rounds off the discussion with analysis of Rilke's use of the German verbs 'mulden' and höhlen in the original "Horch wie die Nacht sich muldet and höhlt", of which we rude mechanicals might attempt such a literal translation as "Hark how the night hollows and excavates itself".
All of this discussion can be viewed on line (should you be sufficiently interested) in the MV archives, Year 2, which occupies text file "mvdigyr2.php", linked from the members' archive page at http://www.peteatkin.com/mv/index.php .
Fascinating stuff!
Steve Birkill
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Stephen J Birkill
Pat Jeffcoate
MV Fresher

What tells you there's a river in the dark?

Posts: 3
Re: Lyrical query...
« Reply #2: 14.11.14 at 21:53 »

Many thanks for the reply.  So now I know!
Thanks also for pointing me in the direction of such an interesting and informative thread.  I'm definitely sufficiently interested to pursue it, and looking forward to doing so.
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Kevin Cryan
MV Fellow

I love Midnight Voices!

Posts: 1144
Re: Lyrical query...
« Reply #3: 15.02.15 at 19:04 »

While rereading some Rainer Maria Rilke's poetry today I recalled that in his excellent set of notes Richard Bleksley appends to The Last Hill That Shows You All the Valley he fails to notice the first line is another in which we can detect what Clive called  “the smell of Rilke".
Wer hat uns also umgedreht, daß wir,  
was wir auch tun, in jener Haltung sind  
von einem, welcher fortgeht? Wie er auf  
dem letzten Hügel, der ihm ganz sein Tal  
noch einmal zeigt, sich wendet, anhält, weilt -,  
so leben wir und nehmen immer Abschied
is rendered by Tony Kline (A.J Kline) for the Project Gutenberg translation
Who has turned us round like this, so that,
whatever we do, we always have the aspect
of one who leaves? Just as they
will turn, stop, linger, for one last time,
on the last hill, that shows them all their valley - ,
so we live, and are always taking leave.
However the J.Leishman translation - the one which Stephen Spender polished and the one with which Clive is likely to have beeen familiar - runs thus:  
Who turned us round like this, so that we always,  
do what we may, retain the attitude
of someone who’s departing? Just as he,
on the last hill, that shows him all the valley,
for the last time, will turn and stop and linger,  
we live our lives, forever taking leave.
(Rilke, R. M. (1978). Duino Elegies (trans. and eds. Leishman, J. B. & Spender, S.)
. London: Chatto & Windus
Kevin Cryan
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