Libro De Amo, edited by Arieh ben Guni
In reviewing this book it is necessary to discuss its genre before going into more details. As a poet myself , from time to time I read books of poetry as a way of seeing the sort of verses that other people are writing that find themselves into publishing for one reason or another . This particular book is a book of love poetry (its title means “Book of Love) in Esperanto. How you feel about this book will depend in large part on how much of it you can understand, and what your feelings are about a book that manages to discuss many areas of love. The poems included in this work run the full spectrum of love ranging from spiritual love to carnal love to melancholy reflections on past love and praise of love poets from times past. Most of the book, perhaps predictably, focuses on physical love. I spent enough of my time trying to figure out what words were being used and being impressed at the complicated rhyming and meter that I was probably not as shocked by the content of the book as I should have been. I get the distinct feeling that this book, published in 1969, was written to shock the reader, but at this point the book has lost a lot of its sting in light of the cultural changes over the past few decades of increasing decadence and moral corruption.
The contents of the book amply demonstrate its broad scope of material. The book opens with a foreword by the editor of the work, Arieh Ben Guni, about whom I know nothing at all, except that he spends a few pages summarizing the poems in a big picture view. After this there comes a selection titled “Secret Sonnets” that include quotations about love from various writers and thinkers translated into Esperanto, more than fifty love sonnets which follow a Petrarchian approach of two quatrains and two segments in terza rima, along with a section focused on complete clarity and a short epilogue. After this comes a short section made of two cycles of poetry related to Greek myths on Hercules and the Centaurs and Artemis and the nymphs. After this comes a section of poetry focusing on the unmasking of one’s sensual desires and romantic longings. Little more detail needs to be said about that, except that some of these poems are translations from others, where the original (one poem each in English, Spanish, Italian, Latin, German, and French, all of which I was able to follow in the original) was on the left page and the Esperanto translation into striking and excellent verse was on the other page. Following this was a selection of religious poetry called “Secret Anthology” translated from Egyptian, Jewish (the Song of Solomon), Greek, Roman, French, English, Chinese, Spanish, and Japanese sources. Why the love poetry of these traditions, much of which is fairly recognizable and well-known, had to be considered a secret is beyond me. As a person who studied Chinese pillow books as a teenager, the erotic and romantic literature of the world is not unfamiliar to me, and certainly not unfamiliar to many readers far more experienced in la arto de amo as I am. The book, more than 250 pages in total length, is closed by a brief section that looks at love from a didactic as well as Renaissance perspective and citations of the sources cited from, a glossary of terms, and the table of contents, which strangely in Esperanto books often comes at the end, a convention I must admit I find somewhat odd.
So, how does one view a book like this. I am of two minds concerning the book myself. On the negative side, this book clearly revels in carnal lust and is deliberately seeking to shock those with fairly traditional standards of moral behavior. That said, the sort of love discussed here would not be improper between a husband and wife, and as someone with fairly strong romantic inclinations who has written on more than one occasion such longings in particularly graphic form this is definitely poetry that is not unfamiliar to my own material as a poet. Much of how one reads this book depends on one’s perspective–to the extent one sees this as a celebration of love in the broad scope and a recognition that passionate sexual love is not in itself wrong, I would not disagree with that, although I would not argue that simply because something is felt or desired that it is legitimate, whether I am speaking for my own longings or those possessed by others. Just because one feels attraction does not mean that one has a right to fulfill one’s longings without consequences or repercussions. This book, likely, was written with precisely that aim. On a different level, this book is abundant evidence of the richness and variety that can be found in Esperanto as a language to express poetry in a beautiful way, and therefore the book has considerable value as a cultural artifact, apart from concerns about its contents and the motives of its poets and compilers. Sometimes, books are complicated.
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