miércoles, mayo 13, 2015

Remembering Karl Maurer (1948-2015)

          1977. A newly-wed, I got to Kennedy airport where my two brothers in law--the oldest and the youngest--were supposed to be waiting for us. Christopher had told me back then that he was certain that as soon as I met his older brother Karl I would fall in love with him. The idea made me laugh-- as in love as I was, I thought it preposterous. Coming out of customs into the welcome area, I immediately recognized my two brothers in law and felt incredible relief to see them surprised and smiling at me with more than approval. Karl would become, for the next few years while we were in Philadelphia, my only and best friend, my first English teacher, the occasional nanny of my two kids... like the time when they were taking a nap and he came and said, “Estrella, I'm taking them to the park.” “No....”  But away they went. There were also times when I asked him to watch them, and heard, “I’m too busy.”  My two kids, Danny and Pablo, grew up loving him.
          The English lessons were challenging at first, considering that I knew not a word of English, something that Karl chose to ignore. Every night after dinner, for two or three hours, there he was reading poetry, explaining it to me, and me trying to look smart and interested, though I understood nothing, until the day I realized that I could follow the poems, and manage to express some ideas about them.
          “That’s right, Estrella! That’s right!”
Love you forever.
With my son Danny.

Caroline Mia Maurer


         To me, our most vivid impressions of a person, and perhaps the most long lasting come from our senses.
            I could recognize Karl's scent in a heartbeat: it consisted mainly of tobacco, Altoids and old books. Running home from school the first day of summer vacations and entering the elevator was enough to be certain he had arrived.
            His hands were elegant and strong. Whenever he touched my forehead I couldn’t keep my eyes open--they would close so that no other sense could intrude on poor fragile tact (I think sight can destroy delicate moments like that! that’s also why in a real hug, or during a beautiful song, our eyes almost involuntarily shut). I wished that the moment would last forever. I felt such security and warmth. Even though, he wasn’t the most physically loving person, I do think he was actually one of the most affectionate persons, for his affection was never oppressive or overwhelming, and actually kind of made me feel for seconds like flying, like the wind. He was immensely free. I recognize that in myself as well. And I see and feel also that life is harder sometimes when your spirit is like the wind, with all its intensity, passion and stubbornness. He was much braver than I am of course. He was also strange, sensitive, bright, talented, funny, and honest.
            He didn’t like sentimentality or ‘taking walks down memory lane’, as he would call it, which was at times difficult for me to understand. During the past years I would bring on my visits pictures, or tried to make him watch videos of us when we were little. Treasures for me that he quickly rejected. Now I can see why his concept of memory lane is dangerous, or rather, unnecessary. My childhood, like his, was full of magic, a magic that can only very rarely be glimpsed in a photograph or a video. It is true of our Volvo adventures; when the four of us climbed into that mattress in the strong old station wagon and drove deep into the south of Chile, getting lost while accompanied by the starriest of skies --these are secret moments that can only exist somewhere in Felipe, Barbie, Karl and I. We need not travel to memory lane and seek them; they are already part of who we are.  
            There are few things I loved more than to hear his voice, reading to me. He had a gift for storytelling--he did it with such preciseness and tenderness, knowing exactly how to change the tone of his voice for different characters. He knew how to explain things to children. He never underestimated my capacity for understanding complex things, even if this process would take years. I remember how he moved his hands while reading The Innocent Voyage, to explain the way handsome ships were built, demanding of me to imagine them. He pushed me to think and to learn how recognize truth and beauty in books and to disregard, all abstract language, (gobbledygook as he would call it), He showed me how to write using the ear; he told me never to sign my name on anything that wasn’t worthy of it.

            This past year in November I brought to Irving The Baron in the Trees by Calvino, and asked him if he could read it to me. For years I had so longed to hear his voice reading to me again; so momentarily I could return to being a little girl, curled up against him. He tried, but his shortness of breath beat us, and when I saw he was beginning to struggle I offered to read to him. But I felt clumsy and had to stop to ask him what this or that word meant, with my limited knowledge of English. But he said he enjoyed it, and as I had learned I could always count on his honesty, I kept going. We took Calvino up during this past week in the hospital and by his bedside. Now it was always me reading to him. I was terrified that we wouldn’t get to finish it. But we got to the final chapter of the novel at the same time we reached the final chapter of his life. Both endings were dignified, sad, and beautiful. The Baron, ill at the top of the tree catches a glimpse of a hot air balloon that English aeronauts were experiencing with along the coast of Italy. "The dying Cosimo, at the second when the anchor rope passed near him, gave one of those leaps he so often used to do in his youth, gripped the rope with his feet on the anchor and his body in a hunch, so we saw him fly away, taken by the wind, scarce breaking the course of the balloon, and vanish out to sea". I held his hand while I read these last few words and suddenly lost some of the fear, for I understood so many things in one second, and thanked the nature of life, chance and decision for being so exact and so beautiful.
            Since 2:52 pm Monday May 4th I’ve felt the world suddenly deprived of half its color and beauty. I sit now and I type on his computer, feeling almost like an intruder, being careful not to move an inch of what he left intact--his served cup of coffee, his scribbled notes (which I feel tempted to keep forever as treasures) his half opened bottle of wine, the dried up hand picked flowers in an improvised but beautiful cup, the smell of his books, the elegance of his mess, the presence of his spirit. I have never felt such piercing grief. But at the same time I also feel a certain kind of comfort that he has such a rich legacy and that I will be able to reread and reread it all during the rest of my lifetime.
            For after all, in a way he is, like Borges, like Balde, like Auden, like Frost, like Sor Juana, like Hardy, like all his beloved companions-- like every great poet-- immortal.

Since his death on May 4, at his home in Dallas, Karl’s family, students, colleagues, and friends have tried to express the love they felt for him as father, teacher, and friend. 

“He graduated from Dartmouth with an almost perfect transcript, winning a full two-year fellowship to Oxford, about which I bragged to my friends, who had never heard of Oxford.  We have another picture of him taken there, standing in his robes in the fading October sunshine, smiling quizzically into the camera, smoking a cigarette, the smoke drifting over his high forehead and beautiful brown hair.”   --Holly Maurer-Klein, from words spoken at Karl’s funeral service, St. Patrick’s church, Philadelphia   

 Holly Maurer-Klein
...The week before I traveled to Dallas, I found a photo album containing pictures of Karl taken before I was born.  As a baby he glowed, with peach skin, huge bright blue eyes and soft yellow hair. He was one of those babies that seem sent from another planet with a message.  He was so beautiful people reached out to touch his silken hair.   As the oldest, he rated a full album, black-and-white prints mounted on black matte paper, his age to the month noted carefully in my mother’s round hand; in the pictures her arm curves lovingly around him; both she and my father have that fascinated, cautious, and awestruck look of first-time parents.
          Later, teenage crew-cut Karl stands in the driveway, wearing one of those striped cotton t-shirts that boys wore in the ’60’s, handsome as a prince, hands on his hips, feet on the ground, a baseball glove in one hand, the sun behind him.  He was a pitcher; from the heart of the field he fired the balls home, hard, right where they should go, over the plate.  Bone thin, he didn’t sweat.  He had a bad temper.   I remember arguments on our front lawn that he always won with my other brothers.  He fired apples at them the same way he threw a baseball.   
          He had a nickname that we never used to his face, only when we were talking about him fondly to one another:  Lark.  He and Christopher, or “the big kids” as my mother called them, were a year apart. They always spoke quietly and intently to one another, and were connected in a way the rest of us were not, to them or to each other.  I seem to remember that Christopher made up an anagram for Karl’s name, Rumer A. Lark, which in a shortened form became the name we little kids, I and my younger brother Tim and my older brother David, gave him.  It seemed perfectly appropriate.  Karl was beautiful and high flying and free.   He could draw.  He played the violin.  His handwriting was sharp and clear.  He wrote with a fountain pen.  He had a beautiful singing voice.
          When he wasn’t around, I would visit his room, which smelled like cigarettes, and books, and tea.  His beautiful handwriting was everywhere, on scraps of paper.  In blue ink.  From a bottle.   When I was ten he taught me how to draw a tree.   “Just look at it, Holly.”
I looked and tried to draw.
          “No.  Look at it again more closely.”
            I looked and drew again.
            “You’re still not looking!” he exclaimed impatiently. 
When I finally did as I was told, I realized that the tree branches were not fat and black like slugs, as I had drawn them, but thin and shaded with gray, and they weren’t geometric shapes but branched like rivers, with little tributaries and streams, random and playful.
          All of us younger children, and later his two children, and my own -- were drawn to him like moths to flame.  He wasn’t physically affectionate, but he knew how to talk to children, and really look at them, and, when he was inclined, to listen.  When he tired of us, as he always did, suddenly, he dismissed us; he didn’t have a parent’s weary tolerance for dullness and routine. . . .

Karl and Felipe

 Christopher Maurer

... These words from Petrarch seem to me to describe Karl and his relation to poetry:
“these beloved works have so entered into me, implanted not only in memory but in my very marrow, uniting with my talent itself, that even if I never  . . . read them again they would grow there, putting roots into my innermost soul.”   Karl took poems to heart, knew them by heart, shared them with all his heart, urgently and lovingly.
     I will read two of the poems he translated and left in our hands in the last days of his life.   These are by Anyte of Tegea, the first poet (he told me) to write poems about untamed nature and epitaphs for animals, like this one for a dolphin which has been stranded on the beach and will never return to the ocean. Karl's words and Anyte's:

No longer ever delighting in navigable seas
     shall I up-fling my neck, leaping out of the deeps,
nor ever next to the beautiful beak of a well-tholed ship
     shall I snort rejoicing at my figurehead,
but onto the land the sea’s brilliant wetness thrust me
     and here on this bit of shore I lie.

“Every one of [Anyte’s] little poems is a jewel,” Karl wrote. “But beyond that they have a strange power.  When they describe (though with such restraint!) the terrible, they have a kind of healing power.  . . . They somehow solace –they help one calmly to accept pain and death.  But the reason, I think, is that they never describe just a part of life -- but all of it.  [In the] one about the dead dolphin [are] both death and the bliss of being alive, at its most blissful: the two things simultaneous.  It's that that causes us to lose our fear.” 
     ...In the hospital we spoke about the “viator” Anyte addresses, for we are all wayfarers, and this world, este mundo “es camino para el otro”, though Karl and I never, or seldom, talked about what ‘el otro’ or ‘lo otro’ might be.  Another poem, in Karl's translation:  

Stranger, rest your worn limbs under this elm. For you,
      sweetly rustles a breeze among the green leaves.
Drink the rushing cold of the spring: for wayfarers
      in the boiling heat this repose is dear.

Karl, creator and sharer of so much beauty, rest in peace!

Karl’s University of Dallas webpage is here, with some of his essays and translations, including his Jacobus Balde. Here is his amazing compendium of  Websites Useful to Classicists . . .”   Years ago, students collected these sayings from one of his Greek classes, and these from his Latin class. Here is his answer to the question "Why Study Classics?"

Karl y Mia

11 comentarios:

Rebekah Spearman dijo...

I returned to a translation that Karl and I worked on together of Horace I.24. I don't know if he'd like it (in fact, he probably wouldn't; he praised the first stanza highly, but I always struggled with the others). He pushed me to search, search, search for the right words. Sometimes, it felt as though you could never do something well enough, but ultimately it was a kind of charity and praise, that he would not be satisfied by something less than good.

Quis desiderio sit pudor aut modus

tam cari capitis? praecipe lugubris

cantus, Melpomene, cui liquidam pater

vocem cum cithara dedit.

ergo Quintilium perpetuus sopor

urget, cui Pudor et Iustitiae soror

incorrupta Fides nudaque Veritas

quando ullum inveniet parem?

multis ille bonis flebilis occidit,

nulli flebilior quam tibi, Vergili;

tu, frustra pius, heu non ita creditum

poscis Quintilium deos.

quid? si Threicio blandius Orpheo

auditam moderere arboribus fidem

num vanae redeat sanguis imagini,

quam virga semel horrida

non lenis precibus fata recludere

nigro conpulerit Mercurius gregi?

durum; sed levius fit patientia

quidquid corrigere est nefas.

Where may be the modesty or measure

In longing for so dear a head? O muse,

Whom father gave a limpid voice and lyre,

Teach mournful tunes to me.

Now that sleep forever presses Varus,

Will Modesty and sister Right or Faith

Untouched and naked Truth ever find

A one like him? Oh no.

He died, a grief to many men, my Vergil,

To none more grievous though than you; now him

You piously demand in vain, a check

Deposited with the gods.

So what? If you could play even more sweetly

Than Thracian Orpheus on his guitar,

Which even trees obeyed, would blood return

To his empty shade

When death's rough rod already down has driven

Him into the flock and locked the gate

He won't unlock? It's hard; keep going on;

Lighter will be what's gone.

Kit dijo...

Rebekah, thank you for this tribute to Karl, of ‘limpid voice and lyre.’ I would love to have studied Horace with him.

Daniel Orazio dijo...

Dear Estrella,

Thank you for putting this page together. What a pleasure to read again your husband's astonishingly beautiful words, and Holly's as well -- and what pleasure, too, to read your own words about my dear professor and your dear brother-in-law. You had said outside the church that he was your first English teacher. How I loved reading more about that time. This is delicious: "That's right, Estrella! That's right!" How well I can hear him saying that.

The pictures: they bring so much joy! In the Dartmouth photo, he looks so much like Felipe. The photo with your son is simply delightful, and in the first photo he looks like the Karl Maurer I knew, just 10 years younger: alert, alive, brilliant, with unkempt hair.

Thank you kindly for linking to my poor words (my article). It is an honor.

Did he know how much we loved him? I hope he did. God rest his soul.

Many, many thank yous,
Daniel Orazio

estrella dijo...

Daniel, I am sure he must have known that you guys loved him. What I can tell you - of this I am very sure - is that his students were the center of his life. He always spoke of you all with such candor and pride. Since you are in Boston, I am hoping that we will get together.
Yes, on that photo, he was visiting Carlos Cortinez, Felipe’s grandfather, who was in the hospital at that time.
Well, now he knows how much we love him...

estrella dijo...

Thank you so much for this expressive and lovely message and for the translation.
What an appropriate poem. Thanks for sharing it with us.
I can see him smiling at you.
Keep in touch.

Elvira dijo...

Sí ha sido cruel abril con vosotros. Qué tristes quedan las palabras. Preciosa la evocación de Horacio que ha hecho Rebekah. Qué bonito exponer a todos lo que fue trabajado juntos entre ella y Karl. Mi querida Dickinson también sabía expresar estos estados de ánimo. Os deseo levedad en el dolor, así como amor en la memoria de Karl.

Kit dijo...

Gracias por tus palabras, Elvira; no habia pensado en Dickinson, pero encuentro un poema maravilloso sobre el dolor, y sus efectos, y hasta cuAndo dura.

I note that Some – gone patient long –
At length, renew their smile –
An imitation of a Light
That has so little Oil –

I wonder if when Years have piled –
Some Thousands – on the Harm –
That hurt them early – such a lapse
Could give them any Balm –

A mi hermano le habria gustado.
Un abrazo

Elvira dijo...

Precioso, Kit.

Manuel Montero dijo...

Querida Estrella, vengo a tu blog después de una errancia que solamente ha empezado (con varios cambios de cuenta google y facebook sucesivos y más que eso ). Con todo y que era errancia venía ilusionado de contarte que mi novia actual Margarita Bokusu Mina (Patricia) ha publicado su tercera novela en Bubok, una plataforma de libros autoeditados. Me encuentro con estas tristes despedidas y espero que a pesar de la nostalgia siempre en cuarto creciente podamos todos tirar para adelante y seguir nuestros soliloquios con derecho a amigos. Un dia de estos vengo y te pongo mi prólogo o un estracto de lo que escribe Patricia, que creo que te puede interesar. Besos

estrella dijo...

Gracias, Manuel. Ese dia vendra. Ya ves que estoy paralizada en cuanto a la escritura

Anónimo dijo...