Sunday, October 11, 2009

Day 11: Ashore on Cape Cod

The monument above -- made of first-class, small-grained dark granite -- commemorates a visitor to Sesuit even more exotic than I was: a manatee, who apparently blundered somehow into the chilly waters of Cape Cod bay last year, causing a local sensation.

Dennis -- as the poor lost critter came to be called, after the town Sesuit is part of -- was duly rescued by a consortium of animal lovers, bundled onto a truck, and driven back to Florida. Alas, he died as soon as he got there.

Not surprising, really -- Florida is where lots of folks go to die.

One wonders whether Dennis would have preferred to die in the water, and not on a truck. I personally would not like to die on a truck, though it seems like tempting fate to say that I would rather die on the water.

I would rather not die at all, actually, thank you very much. Sea gods please take note.

One also wonders whether Dennis really blundered. Was he in fact the Columbus, the Captain Cook, the Henry Hudson of manatees? Do the manatees tell tales, around the ruined kelp beds of Florida, of a great warm sunny bay, with abundant algae and no motorboats, that lies just beyond the chilly ordeal of the northern waters? Were one but bold enough, one might find it. Did Dennis go to seek it? Did three little manatees cheer him on, like a manatee Tamino, with music by some manatee Mozart?

Zum Ziele führt dich diese Bahn,
Doch mußt du, Jüngling, männlich siegen.
Drum höre unsre Lehre an:
Sey standhaft, duldsam, und verschwiegen!

Dies kund zu thun, steht uns nicht an --
Sey standhaft, duldsam, und verschwiegen.
Bedenke dies; sei Manatee -- 
Dann Jüngling wirst du männlich siegen.    
Sorry, but I can't bring myself to print any of the translations I can find of this shivers-down-your-spine bit of Die Zauberflote. The metrical translations are incredibly dismal, and the prose translations lose all connection with the music. I bet Auden's was nice, but I haven't been able to turn it up on the web. Help me out here, somebody.

Here's to Dennis the Manatee, a fellow-mammal, and another crazy venturer into waters where he didn't belong. Sit levis tibi abyssus.


  1. I drew a blank as well, but why not comment anyway, since one can't help but find interesting stuff when googling about.

    Apropos present company, I didn't know until now that Auden was also responsible for the Rake's Progress libretto. I should have known, I suppose. I briefly misremembered seeing it performed at the Asolo, but on reflection that was L'Histoire du Soldat, not Auden at all; I think I saw Rake at La Scala (business travel can have its rewards).

    I thought I'd be clever and google for "auden magic flute manatee", and was rewarded with a hit, but the manatee reference dug up a schedule of performances at Manatee Junior College (also apropos present company).

    Mark Vonnegut (fils) called these pleasant coincidental connections "grace", which makes one more connection: Pere Kurt did an "adaptation" of Soldat, which I have not read:

  2. I got so peeved that I just ordered a copy of Auden's translation from a secondhand bookseller -- it's no longer in print, amazingly.

  3. Got my Auden. Here he is on the relevant passage:

    Your journey's end is now in sight,
    Your quest no longer may engage us.
    On, on to glory, valiant knight!
    Be patient, courteous and courageous.

    No further we your way can see;
    Be patient, courteous and courageous.
    As knight should be. Faint not, nor flee!
    On, on to glory, on to victory!

    A bit fast and loose as regards the meaning, but what the hell, it's opera -- who's listening to the *words*?