Poems in Translation-2

POETS ON THIS PAGE:

LORENZO DE’ MEDICI *  JOHANN WOLFGANG van  GOETHE * ALEXANDER PUSHKIN * ANNA AKHMATOVA * VICTOR HUGO * JORGE LUIS BORGES * CARLOS DRUMMOND DE ANDRADE * LEOPOLD SEDAR SENGHOR * ABRAHAM REISEN * TOMAS TRANSTROMER * FRANCIS JAMMES * OCTAVIO PAZ * CZESLAW MILOSZ * ZBIGNIEW HERBERT * ATTILA JOZSEF * JANOS PILINSZKY

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[POEMS IN TRANSLATION INDEX]


“How futile every hope is, that we have”

How futile every hope is, that we have,
How illusory, all our designs,
And how crammed this world with ignorance,
We learn from our master–-the Grave.

Some think singing and dancing and parties are life,
Some let quieter matters guide their minds,
Some detest the world and its substances,
Some live in a secret they show nothing of.

Vain worries and thoughts, and diverse fates
For the whole variety of creation,
Find us, each time, straying over the earth.

Each thing has a moment-–that flits,
For Fortune’s a sickness of perpetual motion.
Nothing is still. And nothing lasts. Only death.

by Lorenzo de’ Medici (aka Lorenzo the Magnificent), 1449-1492; translated from the Italian by Ted Hughes


Erlkönig (c. 1782) [The Erl-king]

Who rides by night in the wind so wild?
It is the father, with his child.
The boy is safe in his father’s arm,
He holds him tight, he keeps him warm.

My son, what is it, why cover your face?
Father, you see him, there in that place,
The elfin king with his cloak and crown?
It is only the mist rising up, my son.

“Dear little child, will you come with me?
Beautiful games I’ll play with thee;
Bright are the flowers we’ll find on the shore,
My mother has golden robes fullscore.”

Father, O father, and did you not hear
What the elfin king breathed into my ear?
Lie quiet, my child, now never you mind:
Dry leaves it was that click in the wind.

“Come along now, you’re a fine little lad,
My daughters will serve you, see you are glad;
My daughters dance all night in a ring,
They’ll cradle and dance you and lullaby sing.”

Father, now look, in the gloom, do you see
The elfin daughters beckon to me?
My son, my son, I see it and say:
Those old willows, they look so gray.

“I love you, beguiled by your beauty I am,
If you are unwilling I’ll force you to come!”
Father, his fingers grip me, O
The elfin king has hurt me so!

Now struck with horror the father rides fast,
His gasping child in his arm to the last,
Home through thick and thin he sped:
Locked in his arm, the child was dead.

by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; translated from German by Christopher Middleton

 

TO SEE THE TEXT OF GOETHE’S “THE DEATH OF A FLY” [CLICK HERE]


‘The Prophet’

Crazed by my soul's thirst
Through a dark land I staggered.
And a six-winged seraph
Halted me at a crossroads.
With fingers of dream
He touched my eye-pupils.
My eyes, prophetic, recoiled
Like a startled eaglet's.
He touched my ears
And a thunderous clangour filled them,
The shudderings of heaven,
The huge wingbeat of angels,
The submarine migrations of sea-reptiles
And the burgeoning of the earth's vine.
He forced my mouth wide,
Plucked out my own cunning
Garrulous evil tongue,
And with bloody fingers
Between my frozen lips
Inserted the fork of a wise serpent.
He split my chest with a blade,
Wrenched my heart from its hiding,
And into the open wound
Dropped a flaming coal.
I lay on stones like a corpse.
There God's voice came to me;
'Stand Prophet, you are my will.
Be my witness. Go
Through all seas and lands. With the Word
Burn the hearts of the people.'

by Alexander Pushkin; translated from Russian by Ted Hughes

The Demons

Clouds are whirling, clouds are swirling;
Though invisible, the moon
Lights the flying snow while blurring
Turbid sky and nigh in one.
On and on through broad expanses;
Sleigh-bell tinkling—din-din-din…
Casting fearful, fearful glances
At the dark and eerie plain!

“Driver, hey there!….” “Can’t go faster:
Drifts have blown across the road;
Heavy for the horses, master,
And my lids together glued;
For the life of me, beside us,
Tracks are nowhere to be found;
It must be a demon guides us,
As he circles round and round.

“Over there: see him cavorting,
Blowing, spitting in my face;
Look—and now the horse is snorting
On the edge of the abyss;
Like some verst-pole without substance
He stood out against the dark;
Then he flashed across the darkness,
Disappearing like a spark.”

Clouds are whirling, clouds are swirling;
Though invisible, the moon
Lights the flying snow while blurring
Turbid sky and nigh in one.
No more strength to circle, barely;
Silent falls the little bell;
“What pulls up the horses?”—”Surely—
Stump or wolf? But who can tell?”

Raging blizzards, weeping, blowing;
Horses snorting in their fear;
See his eyes distinctly glowing,
As he capers over there;
Now the horses speed in frenzy;
Sleigh-bell tinkling—din-din-din…
I can see a spirits’ medley
Gather on the glimmering plain.

Endless, hideous hordes are pressing
Round us, in the moon’s dull light,
Demons whirling, flying, massing,
Like November leaves in flight.
Crowds of them! Where do they hurry?
Why so pitiful their song?
Goblin do they haste to bur?
Witch to wed they bring along?

Clouds are whirling, clouds are swirling;
Though invisible, the moon
Lights the flying snow while blurring
Turbid sky and nigh in one.
Swarm on swarm, the demons flying
Sweep the sky in endless quest,
Till their piteous screams and crying
Rend the heart within my breast…

by Alexander Pushkin; translated from the Russian by Irina Henderson

 


 Lot’s Wife

The just man followed then his angel guide
Where he strode on the black highway, hulking and bright;
But a wild grief in his wife's bosom cried,
Look back, it is not too late for a last sight

Of the red towers of your native Sodom, the square
Where once you sang, the gardens you shall mourn,
And the tall house with empty windows where
You loved your husband and your babes were born.

She turned, and looking on the bitter view
Her eyes were welded shut by mortal pain;
Into transparent salt her body grew,
And her quick feet were rooted in the plain.

Who would waste tears upon her? Is she not
The least of our losses, this unhappy wife?
Yet in my heart she will not be forgot
Who, for a single glance, gave up her life.

by Anna Akhmatova ; translated  from Russian by Richard Wilbur

 

The mysterious spring still lay under a spell…

The mysterious spring still lay under a spell,
the transparent wind stalked over the mountains,
and the deep lake kept being blue,--
a temple of the Baptist not made by hands.

You were frightened by our first meeting,
but I already prayed for the second, and now
the evening is hot, the way it was then...
How close the sun has come to the mountain.

You are not with me, but this is no separation:
to me each instant is--triumphant news.
I know  there is such anguish in you
that you cannot say a single word.

by Anna Akhmatova, Petersburg, 1917; translation from the Russian by Jane Kenyon with Vera Sandomirsky Dunham


Russia 1812

The snow fell, and its power was multiplied. 
For the first time the Eagle bowed its head — 
dark days! Slowly the Emperor returned — 
behind him Moscow! Its onion domes still burned. 
The snow rained down in blizzards — rained and froze. 
Past each white waste a further white waste rose.

None recognized the captains or the flags. 
Yesterday the Grand Army, today its dregs! 
No one could tell the vanguard from the flanks. 
The snow! The hurt men struggled from the ranks, 
hid in the bellies of dead horse, in stacks 
of shattered caissons. By the bivouacs, 
one saw the picket dying at his post, 
still standing in his saddle, white with frost, 
the stone lips frozen to the bugle’s mouth! 
Bullets and grapeshot mingled with the snow, 
that hailed ... The Guard, surprised at shivering, march 
in a dream now; ice rimes the grey moustache. 
The snow falls, always snow! The driving mire 
submerges; men, trapped in that white empire, 
have no more bread and march on barefoot — gaps!

They were no longer living men and troops, 
but a dream drifting in a fog, a mystery, 
mourners parading under the black sky. 
The solitude, vast, terrible to the eye, 
was like a mute avenger everywhere, 
as snowfall, floating through the quiet air, 
buried the huge army in a huge shroud. 
Could anyone leave this kingdom? A crowd — 
each man, obsessed with dying, was alone. 
Men slept — and died! The beaten mob sludged on, 
ditching the guns to burn their carriages. 
Two foes. The North, the Czar. The North was worse. 
In hollows where the snow was piling up, 
one saw whole regiments fallen asleep. 
Attila’s dawn, Cannaes of Hannibal! 
The army marching to its funeral! 
Litters, wounded, the dead, deserters — swarm, 
crushing the bridges down to cross a stream.

They went to sleep ten thousand, woke up four. 
Ney, bringing up the former army’s rear, 
hacked his horse loose from three disputing Cossacks ... 
All night, the quivive? The alert! Attacks; 
retreats! White ghosts would wrench away our guns, 
or we would see dim, terrible squadrons, 
circles of steel, whirlpools of savages, 
rush sabring through the camp like dervishes. 
And in this way, whole armies died at night.

The Emperor was there, standing — he saw. 
This oak already trembling from the axe, 
watched his glories drop from him branch by branch: 
chiefs, soldiers. Each one had his turn and chance — 
they died! Some lived. These still believed his star, 
and kept their watch. They loved the man of war, 
this small man with his hands behind his back, 
whose shadow, moving to and fro, was black 
behind the lighted tent. Still believing, they 
accused their destiny of lèse-majesté.

His misfortune had mounted on their back. 
The man of glory shook. Cold stupefied 
him, then suddenly he felt terrified. 
Being without belief, he turned to God: 
‘God of armies, is this the end?’ he cried.

And then at last the expiation came, 
as he heard someone call him by his name, 
someone half-lost in shadow, who said, ‘No, 
Napoleon.’ Napoleon understood, 
restless, bareheaded, leaden, as he stood 
before his butchered legions in the snow.

by Victor Hugo (1802-1885); loosely translated from the French by Robert Lowell from Hugo’s “L’Expiation.”

 A closer translation of the same poem:

Expiation [L’Expiation]

1

It was snowing. For the first time, conquered
By his conquest, the eagle bowed his head.
Dark days! Slowly the emperor returned,
Leaving behind a Moscow that smoked and burned.
It was snowing. At the end of the white plain
Another stretched, as white and vast again.
The leaders and the flags were swept away . . .
An army yesterday, a herd today.
No longer could one see the wings and center.
It was snowing. Wounded men sought shelter
In the belly of dead horses. Where they camped
One saw buglers frozen, stone mouths clamped
To copper trumpets, silent, white with frost,
Still upright in the saddle at their post.
Ball, grape, and shell were falling with the snow.
The grenadiers, surprised that they shook so,
Marched pensively, ice on the gray moustache.
It was snowing, always snowing! The cold lash
Whistled. These warriors had no bread to eat,
They walked across the ice with naked feet.
No longer living hearts, they seemed to be
A dream lost in a fog, a mystery.
A march of shadows under a black sky.
Vast solitudes, appalling to the eye,
Stretched out, mute and revengeful, everywhere.
The sky was weaving silently, of air,
A shroud for the Grand Army. And each one
Could feel that he was dying, and alone.
"Shall we ever leave this empire of the Czar?
The Czar and the North . . .The North is worse by far."
They jettisoned the guns to burn the wood.
To lie down was to die. Confused, they fled
And were devoured in the fields of snow.
One saw by mounds and ridges that below
Whole regiments were sleeping. Oh the falls
Of Hannibal! The days after Attila!
Fugitives, wounded, caissons, shafts, the mass
Crushed at the bridges as it strove to pass . . .
A hundred woke, then thousand were left sleeping.
Ney, who had led an army, was escaping,
Fighting to save his watch from three cossacks,
Every night "Qui vive!" Alerts, alarms, attacks!
These phantoms grasped their rifles . . . terrifying
Shadows were rushing towards them, crying
Like vultures. Squadrons of savage men
Struck like a whirlwind and were gone again.
So a whole army would be lost by night.
The emperor was there, he watched, upright
As a tree that must endure the woodsman's blow.
On this giant, a greatness spared till now,
Misfortune the grim woodsman climbed. Each stroke
Of the axe insulted the man, the living oak.
He trembled at the vengeances, each blow
Saw a branch falling to the earth below.
Leaders and soldiers, each in his turn fell.
While love around his tent stood sentinel,
Watching his shadow on the canvas wall,
And those to his bright star remaining loyal
Accused the heavens of lese-majeste,
Suddenly his inmost soul gave way.
Stunned by disaster, reft of all belief,
The emperor turned to God; the glorious chief
Trembled; he thought that he was expiating
Something perhaps, and contemplating
His legions of the dying and the dead,
"God of the armies," Napoleon said,
"Is this my punishment?" And from the snow
And darkness all around, a voice said, "No."

 --Part 1

by Victor Hugo (1802-1885); translated from French by Louis Simpson


THE WHITE HIND*

From what rustic ballad out of green England,
from what Persian picture, from what secret zone
of nights and days that our yesterday encloses,
came the white hind I dreamed this morning?
It lasted only a second. I saw it cross the meadow
and lose itself in the gold of an illusive evening,
a slight creature made from a pinch of memory
and a pinch of forgetfulness, a one-sided hind.
The gods that govern this peculiar world
let me dream you but not be your master;
perhaps at a bend in the deep time to come
I’ll find you again, white hind of a dream.
I too am a fleeting dream that lasts
a few days longer than dreams of meadows and whiteness.

by Jorge Luis Borges; translated from the Spanish (Argentina) by Joseph Hutchison

*On the above poem:

Borges tells Willis Barnstone that he “physically dictated the words” 
[he was blind by this time and typically dictated his writings to the 
companion who would ultimately become his wife, María Kodama] but that
he “didn’t make them up”:

“The poem was given to me, in a dream, some minutes before dawn. At 
times dreams are painful and tedious, and I object to their outrage 
and say, enough, this is only a dream, stop. But this time it was an
oral picture that I saw and heard. I simply copied it, exactly as it 
was given to me.”

“You copied it. I think the best things we do are when we yield to 
what’s there,” I blurted, “when we don’t combine or invent but yield 
to the obvious vision that is present or imminent, and we’re willing 
to uncover it, to see it, copy it. In the introduction to the Vita 
Nuova, if I remember rightly, Dante copies from his book of memory. He
is scribe of hidden memory.”

“Yes, but Dante worked perhaps not so much to retrieve the memory as 
to furnish that memory with its experience. My dream was there, one-
sided, in a flash, in the morning as I was waking.”

“You were cunning enough to receive the dream, as it was, and be its 
scribe.”

“I was cunning enough.”

from Willis Barnstone’s With Borges on an Ordinary Evening in Buenos Aires.

 

 In Praise of Darkness

Old age (the name that others give it)
can be the time of our greatest bliss.
The animal has died or almost died.
The man and his spirit remain.
I live among vague, luminous shapes
that are not darkness yet.
Buenos Aires,
whose edges disintegrated
into the endless plain, 
has gone back to being the Recoleta, the Retiro,
the nondescript streets of the Once,
and the rickety old houses
we still call the South.
In my life there were always too many things.
Democritus of Abdera plucked out his eyes in order to think:
Time has been my Democritus.
This penumbra is slow and does not pain me;
it flows down a gentle slope,
resembling eternity.
My friends have no faces,
women are what they were so many years ago,
these corners could be other corners,
there are no letters on the pages of books.
All this should frighten me,
but it is a sweetness, a return.
Of the generations of texts on earth
I will have read only a few–
the ones that I keep reading in my memory,
reading and transforming.
From South, East, West, and North
the paths converge that have led me
to my secret center.
Those paths were echoes and footsteps,
women, men, death-throes, resurrections,
days and nights,
dreams and half-wakeful dreams,
every inmost moment of yesterday
and all the yesterdays of the world,
the Dane's staunch sword and the Persian's moon,
the acts of the dead,
shared love, and words,
Emerson and snow, so many things.
Now I can forget them. I reach my center,
my algebra and my key,
my mirror.
Soon I will know who I am.

by Jorge Luis Borges;  translated from the Spanish (Argentina) by Hoyt Rogers

 



AN OX LOOKS AT MAN

They are more delicate even than shrubs and they run
and run from one side to the other, always forgetting
something. Surely they lack I don't know what
basic ingredient, though they present themselves
as noble or serious, at times. Oh, terribly serious,
even tragic. Poor things, one would say that they hear
neither the song of the air nor the secrets of hay;
likewise they seem not to see what is visible
and common to each of us, in space. And they are sad,
and in the wake of sadness they come to cruelty.
All their expression lives in their eyes--and loses itself
to a simple lowering of lids, to a shadow.
And since there is little of the mountain about them --
nothing in the hair or in the terribly fragile limbs
but coldness and secrecy -- it is impossible for them
to settle themselves into forms that are calm, lasting
and necessary. They have, perhaps, a kind
of melancholy grace (one minute) and with this they allow
themselves to forget the problems and translucent
inner emptiness that make them so poor and so lacking
when it comes to uttering silly and painful sounds: desire, love, 
     jealousy
(what do we know?) -- sounds that scatter and fall in the field
like troubled stones and burn the herbs and the water,
and after this it is hard to keep chewing away at our truth.

by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, 1902–1987; translated from the Portuguese (Brazil) by  Mark Strand

 

Don’t Kill Yourself

Carlos, keep calm, love
is what you're seeing now;
today a kiss, tomorrow no kiss,
day after day tomorrow's Sunday
and nobody knows what will happen
Monday.

It's useless to resist
or to commit suicide.
Don't kill yourself. Don't kill yourself!
Keep all of yourself for the nuptials
coming nobody knows when,
that is, if they ever come.

Love, Carlos, tellurian,
spent the night with you,
and now your insides are raising
an ineffable racket,
prayers,
victrolas,
saints crossing themselves,
ads for better soap,
a racket of which nobody
knows the why or wherefor.

In the meantime, you go on your way
vertical, melancholy.
You're the palm tree, you're the cry
nobody heard in the theatre
and all the lights went out.
Love in the dark, no, love
in the daylight, is always sad,
sad, Carlos, my boy,
but tell it to nobody,
nobody knows nor shall know.

by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, 1902–1987; translated from the Portuguese (Brazil) by  Elizabeth Bishop

 



New York

                                                             (for jazz orchestra : trumpet solo)

1

New York! At first I was confused by your beauty, by
     those great golden long-legged girls.
So shy at first before your blue metallic eyes, your frosted
     smile
So shy. And the anguish in the depths of skyscraper streets
Lifting eyes hawkhooded to the sun's eclipse.
Sulphurous your Hght and Uvid the towers with heads that
    thunderbolt the sky
The skyscrapers which defy the storms with muscles of
    steel and stone-glazed hide.
But two weeks on the bare sidewalks of Manhattan
-- At the end of the third week the fever seizes you with the
     pounce of a leopard
Two weeks without rivers or fields, all the birds of the air
Falling sudden and dead on the high ashes of flat rooftops.
No smile of a child blooms, his hand refreshed in my hand.
No mother's breast, but only nylon legs. Legs and breasts
     that have no sweat nor smell.
No tender word for there are no lips, only artificial hearts
     paid for in hard cash
And no book where wisdom may be read. The painter's
     palette blossoms with crystals of coral.
Nights of insomnia oh nights of Manhattan! So agitated
     by flickering lights, while motor-horns howl of empty
     hours
And while dark waters carry away hygienic loves, like
     rivers flooded with the corpses of children.

2

Now is the time of signs and reckonings
New York ! Now is the time of manna and hyssop.
You must but listen to the trombones of God, let your
     heart beat in the rhythm of blood, your blood.
I saw in Harlem humming with noise with stately colours
     and flamboyant smells
It was teatime at the house of the seller of pharmaceutical
     products -
I saw them preparing the festival of night for escape from
     the day.
I proclaim night more truthful than the day.
It was the pure hour when in the streets God makes the
     life that goes back beyond memory spring up
All the amphibious elements shining like suns.
Harlem Harlem! Now I saw Harlem! A green breeze of
     corn springs up from the pavements ploughed by the
     naked feet of dancers
Bottoms waves of silk and sword-blade breasts, water-lily
     ballets and fabulous masks.
At the feet of police-horses roll the mangoes of love from
     low houses.
And I saw along the sidewalks streams of white rum
     streams of black milk in the blue fog of cigars.
I saw the sky in the evening snow cotton-flowers and
     seraphims' wings and sorcerers' plumes.
Listen New York! Oh listen to your male voice of brass
     vibrating with oboes, the anguish choked with tears
     falling in great clots of blood
Listen to the distant beating of your nocturnal heart,
     rhythm and blood of the tom-tom, tom-tom blood and
     tom-tom.

3

New York! I say to you: New York let black blood flow
     into your blood
That it may rub the rust from your steel joints, like an oil
     of life,
That it may give to your bridges the bend of buttocks and
     the suppleness of creepers.
Now return the most ancient times, the unity recovered,
     the reconciliation of the Lion the Bull and the Tree
Thought linked to act, ear to heart, sign to sense.
There are your rivers murmuring with scented crocodiles
      and mirage-eyed manatees. And no need to invent the
      Sirens.
But it is enough to open the eyes to the rainbow of April
And the ears, above all the ears, to God who out of the
     laugh of a saxophone created the heaven and the earth in
     six days.
And the seventh day he slept the great sleep of the Negro.

by Leopold Sedar Senghor; translated by Arnold von Bradshaw

 



HOUSEHOLD OF EIGHT

Household of eight.Beds are two.When it gets late,What do they do?

Three with father,
Three with mother;
Limbs
Over each other.

When it's night
And they go to bed,
Mother begins
To wish she were dead.

A resting place
All her own.
Narrow--
But you sleep alone.

by Abraham Reisen, 1876-1953; translated from Yiddish by Nathan Halper


TRACKS

2 am: moonlight. The train has stopped
out in the middle of the plain. Far away, points of light in a town,
flickering coldly at the horizon.

As when a man has gone into a dream so deep
he'll never remember having been there
when he comes back to his room.

As when someone has gone into an illness so deep
everything his days were becomes a few flickering points, a swarm,
cold and tiny at the horizon.

The train is standing quite still.
2 am: bright moonlight, few stars.

by Tomas Tranströmer, 2011 Nobel prize for literature winner. Translated from the Swedish by Robin Fulton from New Collected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2011)

THE NAME

I grow sleepy during the car journey and I drive in under the trees at
the side of the road. I curl up in the back seat and sleep. For how 
long? Hours. Darkness has fallen.

Suddenly I’m awake and don’t know where I am. Wide-awake, but it 
doesn’t help. Where am I? WHO am I? I am something that wakens in a 
backseat, twists about in panic like a cat in a sack. Who?

At last my life returns. My name appears like an angel. Outside the 
walls a trumpet signal blows (as in the Leonora Overture) and the 
rescuing footsteps come smartly down the overlong stairway. It is I! 
It is I!

But impossible to forget the fifteen-second struggle in the hell of 
oblivion, a few meters from the main road, where the traffic glides 
past with its lights on.

by Tomas Tranströmer; translated from Swedish by Robin Fulton


A Prayer to Go to Heaven with the Donkeys

When I must come to you, O my God, I pray
It be some dusty-roaded holiday,
And even as in my travels here below,
I beg to choose by what road I shall go
To Paradise, where the clear stars shine by day.
I'll take my walking-stick and go my way,
And to my friends the donkeys I shall say,
"I am Francis Jammes, and I'm going to Paradise,
For there is no hell in the land of the loving God."
And I'll say to them: "Come, sweet friends of the blue skies,
Poor creatures who with a flap of the ears or a nod
Of the head shake off the buffets, the bees, the flies . . ."

Let me come with these donkeys, Lord, into your land,
These beasts who bow their heads so gently, and stand
With their small feet joined together in a fashion
Utterly gentle, asking your compassion.
I shall arrive, followed by their thousands of ears,
Followed by those with baskets at their flanks,
By those who lug the carts of mountebanks
Or loads of feather-dusters and kitchen-wares,
By those with humps of battered water-cans,
By bottle-shaped she-asses who halt and stumble,
By those tricked out in little pantaloons
To cover their wet, blue galls where flies assemble
In whirling swarms, making a drunken hum.
Dear God, let it be with these donkeys that I come,
And let it be that angels lead us in peace
To leafy streams where cherries tremble in air,
Sleek as the laughing flesh of girls; and there
In that haven of souls let it be that, leaning above
Your divine waters, I shall resemble these donkeys,
Whose humble and sweet poverty will appear
Clear in the clearness of your eternal love.

by Francis Jammes, 1868-1938; translated from French by Richard Wilbur


WIND AND WATER AND STONE

       For Roger Caillois
The water hollowed the stone,
the wind dispersed the water,
the stone stopped the wind.
Water and wind and stone.

The wind sculpted the stone,
the stone is a cup of water,
The water runs off and is wind.
Stone and wind and water.

The wind sings in its turnings,
the water murmurs as it goes,
the motionless stone is quiet.
Wind and water and stone.

One is the other and is neither:
among their empty names
they pass and disappear,
water and stone and wind.

by Octavio Paz, 1914-1998; translated from the Spanish (Mexico) by Mark Strand



Campo dei Fiori

In Rome on the Campo dei Fiori
baskets of olives and lemons,
cobbles spattered with wine
and the wreckage of flowers.
Vendors cover the trestles
with rose-pink fish;
armfuls of dark grapes
heaped on peach-down.

On this same square
they burned Giordano Bruno.
Henchmen kindled the pyre
close-pressed by the mob.
Before the flames had died
the taverns were full again,
baskets of olives and lemons
again on the vendors' shoulders.

I thought of the Campo dei Fiori
in Warsaw by the sky-carousel
one clear spring evening
to the strains of a carnival tune.
The bright melody drowned
the salvos from the ghetto wall,
and couples were flying
high in the cloudless sky.

At times wind from the burning
would drift dark kites along
and riders on the carousel
caught petals in midair.
That same hot wind
blew open the skirts of the girls
and the crowds were laughing
on that beautiful Warsaw Sunday.

Someone will read as moral
that the people of Rome or Warsaw
haggle, laugh, make love
as they pass by the martyrs' pyres.
Someone else will read
of the passing of things human,
of the oblivion
born before the flames have died.

But that day I thought only
of the loneliness of the dying,
of how, when Giordano
climbed to his burning
he could not find
in any human tongue
words for mankind,
mankind who live on.

Already they were back at their wine
or peddled their white starfish,
baskets of olives and lemons
they had shouldered to the fair,
and he already distanced
as if centuries had passed
while they paused just a moment
for his flying in the fire.

Those dying here, the lonely
forgotten by the world,
our tongue becomes for them
the language of an ancient planet.
Until, when all is legend
and many years have passed,
on a new Campo dei Fiori
rage will kindle at a poet's word.

by Czesław Miłosz, 1911–2004; from Warsaw, 1943; translated by Louis Iribarne

You Who Wronged

You who wronged a simple man
Bursting into laughter at the crime,
And kept a pack of fools around you
To mix good and evil, to blur the line,

Though everyone bowed down before you,
Saying virtue and wisdom lit your way,
Striking gold medals in your honor,
Glad to have survived another day,

Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
You can kill one, but another is born.
The words are written down, the deed, the date.

And you’d have done better with a winter dawn,
A rope, and a branch bowed beneath your weight.

by Czeslaw Milosz, 1911–2004; written in Washington, D.C., 1950; translated from Polish by Richard Lourie



ROSY EAR

I thought
but I know her so well
we have been living together so many years

I know
her bird-like head
white arms
and belly

until one time
on a winter evening
she sat down beside me
and in the lamplight
falling from behind us
I saw a rosy ear

a comic petal of skin
a conch with living blood
inside it

I didn’t say anything then–

it would be good to write
a poem about a rosy ear
but not so that people would say
what a subject he chose
he’s trying to be eccentric

so that nobody even would smile
so that they would understand that I proclaim
a mystery

I didn’t say anything then
but that night when we were in bed together
delicately I essayed
the exotic taste
of a rosy ear

by Zbigniew Herbert; translated from Polish by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott

 

THE ENVOY OF MR. COGITO

Go where those others went to the dark boundary
for the golden fleece of nothingness your last prize

go upright among those who are on their knees
among those with their backs turned and those toppled in the dust

you were saved not in order to live
you have little time you must give testimony

be courageous when the mind deceives you be courageous
in the final account only this is important

and let your helpless Anger be like the sea
whenever you hear the voice of the insulted and beaten

let your sister Scorn not leave you
for the informers executioners cowards—they will win
they will go to your funeral and with relief will throw a lump of 
      earth
the woodborer will write your smoothed-over biography

and do not forgive truly it is not in your power
to forgive in the name of those betrayed at dawn

beware however of unnecessary pride
keep looking at your clown’s face in the mirror
repeat: I was called—weren’t there better ones than I

beware of dryness of heart love the morning spring
the bird with an unknown name the winter oak

light on a wall the splendour of the sky
they don’t need your warm breath
they are there to say: no one will console you

be vigilant—when the light on the mountains gives the sign—arise 
      and go
as long as blood turns in the breast your dark star

repeat old incantations of humanity fables and legends
because this is how you will attain the good you will not attain
repeat great words repeat them stubbornly
like those crossing the desert who perished in the sand

and they will reward you with what they have at hand
with the whip of laughter with murder on a garbage heap

go because only in this way will you be admitted to the company of 
     cold skulls
to the company of your ancestors: Gilgamesh Hector Roland
the defenders of the kingdom without limit and the city of ashes

Be faithful Go

 by Zbigniew Herbert; translated from the Polish by Bogdana and John Carpenter

from Selected Poems of Zbigniew Herbert. Used by permission of Oxford University Press, Ltd. Source: Mr. Cogito (1993)

THE RAIN

When my older brother
came back from war
he had on his forehead a little silver star
and under the star
an abyss

a splinter of shrapnel
hit him at Verdun
or perhaps at Grünwald
(he’d forgotten the details)

he used to talk much
in many languages
but he liked most of all
the language of history

until losing breath
he commanded his dead pals to run
Roland Kowaski Hannibal

he shouted
that this was the last crusade
that Carthage soon would fall
and then sobbing confessed
that Napoleon did not like him

we looked at him
getting paler and paler
abandoned by his senses
he turned slowly into a monument

into musical shells of ears
entered a stone forest
and the skin of his face
was secured
with the blind dry
buttons of eyes

nothing was left him
but touch

what stories
he told with his hands
in the right he had romances
in the left soldier’s memories

they took my brother
and carried him out of town
he returns every fall
slim and very quiet
he does not want to come in
he knocks at the window for me

we walk together in the streets
and he recites to me
improbable tales
touching my face
with blind fingers of rain

 by Zbigniew Herbert; translated from Polish by Czeslaw Milosz

from Selected Poems of Zbigniew Herbert (The Ecco Press, 1985), Edited and translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott. English translation copyright © 1968 by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Scott.


THE SEVENTH

If you set out in this world, 
better be born seven times. 
Once, in a house on fire, 
once, in a freezing flood, 
once, in a wild madhouse, 
once, in a field of ripe wheat, 
once, in an empty cloister, 
and once among pigs in sty. 
Six babes crying, not enough: 
you yourself must be the seventh. 

When you must fight to survive, 
let your enemy see seven. 
One, away from work on Sunday, 
one, starting his work on Monday, 
one, who teaches without payment, 
one, who learned to swim by drowning, 
one, who is the seed of a forest, 
and one, whom wild forefathers protect, 
but all their tricks are not enough: 
you yourself must be the seventh. 

If you want to find a woman, 
let seven men go for her. 
One, who gives heart for words, 
one, who takes care of himself, 
one, who claims to be a dreamer, 
one, who through her skirt can feel her, 
one, who knows the hooks and snaps, 
one, who steps upon her scarf: 
let them buzz like flies around her. 
You yourself must be the seventh. 

If you write and can afford it, 
let seven men write your poem. 
One, who builds a marble village, 
one, who was born in his sleep, 
one, who charts the sky and knows it, 
one, whom words call by his name, 
one, who perfected his soul, 
one, who dissects living rats. 
Two are brave and four are wise; 
You yourself must be the seventh. 

And if all went as was written, 
you will die for seven men. 
One, who is rocked and suckled, 
one, who grabs a hard young breast, 
one, who throws down empty dishes, 
one, who helps the poor win; 
one, who worked till he goes to pieces, 
one, who just stares at the moon. 
The world will be your tombstone: 
you yourself must be the seventh. 

by Attila Jozsef, 19051937; translated from Hungarian by Gabor K. Tozser


János Pilinszky (25 November 1921 in Budapest – 27 May 1981 in Budapest) was one of the greatest Hungarian poets of the 20th century. Well known within the Hungarian borders for his vast influence on postwar Hungarian poetry, Pilinszky’s style includes a juxtaposition of Roman Catholic faith and intellectual disenchantment. His poetry often focuses on the underlying sensations of life and death; his time as a prisoner of war during the Second World War and later his life under the communist dictatorship furthered his isolation and estrangement.–Wikipedia

 

THE DESERT OF LOVE

A bridge, and a hot concrete road-- 
the day is emptying its pockets,
laying out, one by one, all its possessions. 
You are quite alone in the catatonic twilight. 

A landscape like the bed of a wrinkled pit, 
with glowing scars, a darkness which dazzles. 
Dusk thickens. I stand numb with brightness 
blinded by the sun. This summer will not leave me.

Summer. And the flashing heat.
The chickens stand, like burning cherubs, 
in the boarded-up, splintered cages.
I know their wings do not even tremble. 

Do you still remember? First there was the wind. 
And then the earth. Then the cage. 
Flames, dung. And now and again
a few wing-flutters, a few empty reflexes. 

And thirst. I asked for water.
Even today I hear that feverish gulping, 
and helplessly, like a stone, bear
and quench the mirages.

Years are passing. And years. And hope 
is like a tin-cup toppled into the straw.

by Janos Pilinzsky, 1921–1981; translated by the Hungarian by Ted Hughes and Csokits János

HARBACH 1944

At all times I see them.
The moon brilliant. A black shaft looms up.
Beneath it, harnessed men
haul an immense cart.

Dragging that giant wagon
which grows bigger as the night grows
their bodies are divided among
the dust, their hunger and their trembling.

They are carrying the road, they are carrying the land,
the bleak potato fields,
and all they know is the weight of everything,
the burden of the skylines

and the falling bodies of their companions
which almost grow into their own
as they lurch, living layers,
treading each other’s footsteps.

The villages stay clear of them,
the gateways withdraw.
The distance, that has come to meet them,
reels away back.

Staggering, they wade knee deep
in the low, darkly muffled clatter
of their wooden clogs
as through invisible leaf litter.

Already their bodies belong to silence.
And they thrust their faces towards the height
as if they strained for a scent
of the faraway celestial troughs

because, prepared for their coming
like an opened cattle-yard,
its gates flung savagely back,
death gapes to its hinges.

by Janos Pilinzsky, 1921–1981; translated by the Hungarian by Ted Hughes and Csokits János

PASSION OF RAVENBRUCK

He steps out from the others.
He stands in the square silence.
The prison garb, the convict’s skull
blink like a projection.

He is horribly alone.
His pores are visible.
Everything about him is so gigantic,
everything is so tiny.

And this is all.
                         The rest-–
the rest was simply
that he forgot to cry out
Before he collapsed.

by Janos Pilinzsky, 1921–1981; translated by the Hungarian by Ted Hughes and Csokits János

(From János Pilinszky, The Desert of Love. Selected Poems translated by János Csokits and Ted Hughes. Revised and enlarged edition. Anvil Press Poetry, 1989, London.)

 

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