Poems in Translation-3






In the pale moonlight
He carries his bride
Up that hill,
Both of them naked,
Bringing nothing but themselves.

So in all beginnings
The world is bare,
Empty, free of lies,
Dark with silence —

A silence that sinks
Into the depth of time.
Then comes light,
Man and animals.
So in all beginnings
Everything is bare,
Empty, open.

They’re both young,
Both have come a long way.
Passing through dawns bright with illusion,
Skies filled with hope,
Rivers lined with comfort,
They have come to the afternoon’s warmth,
Both of them dripping with sweat —

And standing on a barren coral reef.
So evening comes,
Bringing dreams
And a bed
Lined with gleaming coral necklaces.

They raise their heads:
Millions of stars in the sky.
This is their inheritance,
Stars and more stars,
More than could ever blink and go out.

In the pale moonlight
He carries his bride
Up that hill,
Both of them naked:
The world’s first face.

by W.S. (Willibrordus Surendra) Rendra, 1935–2009

translated from the Indonesian by Burton Raffel


When May entered the Black Current of Kinkazan Island
the sea suddenly blossomed,
shimmered like a dome of blue cellophane.
The waves, brilliantly flowing, were wincing under the midday sun
coursing ever closer to the land.
The sperm whale, after spouting once, dived deep again,
pillowed the giant weight of his head on the waters.
Enraptured by this warm current, salt-rich and silky,
he now lets his mind flow free, losing himself in boundless dreams.

That I am not a dolphin, not a grampus,
but my very self, a sperm whale,
makes me the happiest creature in the world, the whale thinks.
Ah, it's no use fighting against the present.
The whale knows nothing beyond the moment.
He is always reveling on the crest of existence.
He doesn't bother about hypothesis, he doesn't get into metaphysics.

The whale, intoxicated with dreams on the brink of slumber,
has intimations of unknown territory approaching,
is half frightened, half relieved.
Once more he reared up, and into the May sky
spouted his bellyful of the Current, almost a rainbow.
The lookout siren is hooting at Ayukawa Port on the Oshika Peninsula,
but this colossal optimist is blissfully unaware of it.

by Takamura Kotaro, 1883-1956

translated from the Japanese by James Kirkup and Akiko Takemot

The Coffeehouse Philosopher

   People differ the way one coffee bean
in a sack will differ from another
when they’re spooned into some expresso machine
to meet the fate they all come to together.

   They go round and round, behind, before,
always changing place; they’ve barely begun
when there they go through that iron door
that crushes them into powder, all one.

   So all the people live on this earth,
mixed together by fate, swirled around
and changing places, bumping along from birth.

   not knowing or caring why, some out of breath,
some taking it easy, all sinking toward the ground
to be gulped down by the throat of death.

–Giuseppi Gioacchino Belli, 1791–1863; translated from the Romanesco dialect of Italian by Miller Williams


When I watch folks of this world and see how widespread
It is for those, that pile up treasure and put on fat, to chafe
At the bit and grasp for more, the way they hunger for a safe
As broad as the ocean, and so deep, that it’d never touch the seabed,

I say to myself: ah, you herd of blind fools, bank away, bank,
Ruining your days with anxieties, lose night after night of sleep,
Do shady deals and diddle: then what? Old Granpa Time’ll creep
In with his scythe, and slice away at your bundle of plans, hank after hank.

Death’s hidden away, and hunkers inside the clock-tower;
And no one can say: Tomorrow, once more I’ll
Still hear midday ring out like today, at this very same hour.

What’s the poor pilgrim do when he takes on a rough and tough
Journey, knowing he’ll travel but for a little while?
He packs a crust or two of bread, and that’s enough.

–Giuseppi Gioacchino Belli, 1791–1863; translated from the Romanesco dialect of Italian by Peter Nicholas Dale


What are souls? They are a kind of air.
Just as winds that blow the plains and hills
are sometimes coarse and sometimes light and fair,
there are light and ordinary souls.

The first are held for royalty, popes and such,
for kings and queens and all their aunts and cousins;
the other kind, that ain't worth very much,
they're for people counted by the dozen.

This world is set on such old titles and castes,
but there's a fear inside the banquet halls
that in the next it'll turn like an apple tart.

Because Christ, and Peter his bodyguard,
are going to remember as long as God lasts
the rank of the man who put him on the cross.

–Giuseppi Gioacchino Belli, 1791–1863; translated from the Romanesco dialect of Italian by Miller Williams

The Confessor (Er confessore)

Father… - Say the confiteor. - I said it.- 
The act of contrition? - I already done it.- 
Continue, then. - I said crazy prick 
To my husband, and I lifted four bits.-
Then? - For a pot my cat broke on me 
I said before I knew it: ‘‘Goddam you!’’ 
I know, it’s a critter of God! - What else? – Well, 
I went to bed with a young man that I know.- 
And what happened there? - A bit of everything.- 
That is? The usual way, I should imagine. – 
And from the rear… - Oh, what a ghastly sin! 
Therefore, because of this young man, return, 
My daughter, with a heart fully contrite, 
Tomorrow, at my own house, around midnight.

–Giuseppi Gioacchino Belli, 1791–1863; translated from the Romanesco dialect of Italian by Harold Norse

Robert Hass: Here is the famous poem of 1948. It’s about an eel. Montale caught them as a boy. In the poem, intricately, their murky gold color is caught in light reflected from the chestnut trees of Romagna: It is an image of a world come back to life — an image, by the end of the poem, of the light in an almost mythical woman’s eyes:


The eel, siren
of cold seas, who leaves
the Baltic for our seas,
our estuaries, rivers, rising
deep beneath the downstream flood
from branch to branch, from twig to smaller twig,
ever more inward,
bent on the heart of rock,
infiltrating muddy
rills until one day
light glancing off the chestnuts
fires her flash
in stagnant pools, in the ravines cascading down
the Apennine escarpments to Romagna;
eel, torch, whiplash,
arrow of Love on earth,
whom only our gullies
or desiccated Pyrenean brooks lead back

to Edens of generation;
green spirit seeking life
where only drought and desolation sting;
spark that says that everything begins
when everything seems charcoal,
buried stump;
brief rainbow, iris,
twin to the one your lashes frame
and you set shining virginal among
the sons of men, sunk in your mire --
can you fail to see her as a sister?

By Eugenio Montale; translated from Italian by Jonathan Galassi


The Storm

      Les princes n'ont point d'yeux pour voir ces grand's merveilles,
      Leurs mains ne servent plus qu' à nous persécuter . . .
                                         (Agrippa D' Aubigné: À Dieu)

The storm that trickles its long March
thunderclaps, its hail, onto the stiff
leaves of the magnolia tree;
(sounds of shaking crystal which startle you
in your nest of sleep; and the gold
snuffed on the mahogany, on the backs
of the bound books, flares again
like a grain of sugar in the shell
of your eyelids)

the lightning that blanches
the trees and walls, freezing them
like images on a negative (a benediction
and destruction you carry carved
within you, a condemnation that binds you
stronger to me than any love, my strange sister):
and then the tearing crash, the jangling sistrums, the rustle
of tambourines in the dark ditch of the night,
the tramp, scrape, jump of the fandango. . .and overhead
some gesture that blindly is groping. . .
as when
turning around, and, sweeping clear your forehead
of its cloud of hair,

you waved to me--and entered the dark.

by Eugenio Montale; translated from Italian by Charles Wright

The Lemon Trees

Listen: the laureled poets
stroll only among shrubs
with learned names: ligustrum, acanthus, box.
What I like are streets that end in grassy
ditches where boys snatch
a few famished eels from drying puddles:
paths that struggle along the banks,
then dip among the tufted canes,
into the orchards, among the lemon trees.

Better, if the gay palaver of the birds
is stilled, swallowed by the blue:
more clearly now, you hear the whisper
of genial branches in that air barely astir,
the sense of that smell
inseparable from earth,
that rains its restless sweetness in the heart.
Here, by some miracle, the war
of conflicted passions is stilled,
here even we the poor share the riches of the world—
the smell of the lemon trees.

See, in these silences when things
let themselves go and seem almost
to reveal their final secret,
we sometimes expect
to discover a flaw in Nature,
the world's dead point, the link that doesn't hold,
the thread that, disentangled, might at last lead us
to the center of a truth.
The eye rummages,
the mind pokes about, unifies, disjoins
in the fragrance that grows
as the day closes, languishing.
These are the silences where we see
in each departing human shade
some disturbed Divinity.

But the illusion dies, time returns us
to noisy cities where the sky is only
patches of blue, high up, between the cornices.
Rain wearies the ground; over the buildings
winter's tedium thickens.
Light grows niggardly, the soul bitter.
And, one day, through a gate ajar,
among the trees in a courtyard,
we see the yellows of the lemon trees;
and the heart's ice thaws,
and songs pelt
into the breast
and trumpets of gold pour forth
epiphanies of Light!

by Eugenio Montale; translated from Italian by William Arrowsmith, Cuttlefish Bones, Norton

from “Cuttlefish Bones”

Bring me the sunflower, let me plant it
in my field parched by the salt sea wind,
and let it show the blue reflecting sky
the yearning of its yellow face all day.

Dark things tend to brightness, bodies
die out in a flood of colors,
colors in music. So disappearing is
the destiny of destinies.

Bring me the plant that leads the way
to where blond transparencies
rise, and life as essence turns to haze;
bring me the sunflower crazed with light.

by Eugenio Montale; translated from Italian by Jonathan Galassi

From Poems: Montale published by Everyman’s Library, 2020


Sometimes called fiction, short stories or prose poems, these works are uniquely great:


In vain, great-hearted Kublai, shall I attempt to describe Zaira, city of high bastions. I could tell you how many steps make up the streets rising like stairways, and the degree of the arcades’ curves, and what kind of zinc scales cover the roofs; but I already know this would be the same as telling you nothing. The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past: the height of a lamppost and the distance from the ground of a hanged usurper’s swaying feet; the line strung from the lamppost to the railing opposite and the festoons that decorate the course of the queen’s nuptial procession; the height of that railing and the leap of the adulterer who climbed over it at dawn; the tilt of a guttering and a cat’s progress along it as he slips into the same window; the firing range of a gunboat which has suddenly appeared beyond the cape and the bomb that destroys the guttering; the rips in the fish net and the three old men seated on the dock mending nets and telling each other for the hundredth time the story of the gunboat of the usurper, who some say was the queen’s illegitimate son, abandoned in his swaddling clothes there on the dock.
As this wave from memories flows in, the city soaks it up like a sponge and expands. A description of Zaira as it is today should contain all of Zaira’s past. The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.

by Italo Calvino; translated from Italian by William Weaver

from Invisible Cities, c1974 by Harcourt Inc.

CITIES & DESIRE 5: Zobeide

From there, after six days and seven nights, you arrive at Zobeide, the 
white city, well exposed to the moon, with streets wound about themselves 
asin a skein. They tell this tale of its foundation: men of various 
nations had an identical dream. They saw a woman running at night through 
an unknown city; she was seen from behind, with long hair, and she was 
naked. They dreamed of pursuing her. As they twisted and turned, each of 
them lost her. After the dream they set out in search of that city; they 
never found it, but they found one another; they decided to build a city 
like the one in the dream. In laying out the streets, each followed the 
course of his pursuit; at the spot where they had lost the fugitive’s 
trail, they arranged spaces and walls differently from the dream, so she 
would be unable to escape again.

This was the city of Zobeide, where they settled, waiting for that scene 
to be repeated one night. None of them, asleep or awake, ever saw the 
woman again. The city’s streets were streets where they went to work every 
day, with no link any more to the dreamed chase. Which, for that matter, 
had long been forgotten.

New men arrived from other lands, having had a dream like theirs, and in 
the city of Zobeide, they recognized something of the streets of the 
dream, and they changed the positions of arcades and stairways to resemble
more closely the path of the pursued woman and so, at the spot where she 
had vanished, there would remain no avenue of escape.

The first to arrive could not understand what drew these people to 
Zobeide, this ugly city, this trap.

by Italo Calvino; translated from Italian by William Weaver

from Invisible Cities, c1974 by Harcourt Inc.


Whether Armilla is like this because it is unfinished or because it has been demolished, whether the cause is some enchantment or only a whim, I do not know. The fact remains that it has no walls, no ceilings, no floors: it has nothing that makes it seem a city except the water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be: a forest of pipes that end in taps, shouwers, spouts, overflows. Against the sky a lavabo’s white stands out, or a bathtub, or some other porcelain, like late fruit still hanging from the boughs. You would think that the plumbers had finished their job and gone away before the bricklayers arrived; or else their hydraulic systems, indestructable, had survived a catastrophe, an earthquake, or the corrosion of termites.
Abandoned before or after it was inhabited, Armilla cannot be called deserted. At any hour, raising your eyes among the pipes, you are likely to glimpse a young woman, or many young women, slender, not tall of stature, luxuriating in the bathtubs or arching their backs under the showers suspended in the void, washing or drying or perfuming themselves, or combing their long hair at a mirror. In the sun, the threads of water fanning from the showers glisten, the jets of the taps, the spurts, the splases, the sponges’ suds.
I have come to this explaination: the streams of water channeled in the pipes of Armilla have remained in th posession of nymphs and naiads. Accustomed to traveling along underground veins, they found it easy to enter the new aquatic realm, to burst from multiple fountains, to find new mirrors, new games, new ways of enjoying the water. Their invasion may have driven out the human beings, or Armilla may have been built by humans as a votive offering to win the favor of the nymphs, offended at the misuse of the waters. In any case, now they seem content, these maidens: in the morning you hear them singing.

by Italo Calvino; translated from Italian by William Weaver

from Invisible Cities, c1974 by Harcourt Inc.




I shall be still stronger.
Still clearer, purer, so let
The sweet invasion of oblivion come on.
I want to sleep.

If I could forget myself, if I were only
A tranquil tree.
Branches to spread out the silence.
Trunk of mercy.

The great darkness, grown motherly,
Deepens little by little.
Brooding over this body that the soul —
After a pause — surrenders.

It may even embark from the endless world.
From its accidents.
And, scattering into stars at the last.
The soul will be daybreak.

Abandoning myself to my accomplice.
My boat,
I shall reach on my ripples and mists
Into the dawn.

I do not want to dream of useless phantoms,
I do not want a cave.
Let the huge moonless spaces
Hold me apart, and defend me.

Let me enjoy so much harmony
Thanks to the ignorance
Of this being, that is so secure
It pretends to be nothing.

Night with its darkness, solitude with its peace.
Everything favors
My delight in the emptiness
That soon will come.

Emptiness, O paradise
Rumored about so long:
Sleeping, sleeping, growing alone
Very slowly.

Darken me, erase me.
Blessed sleep.
As I lie under a heaven that mounts
Its guard over me.

Earth, with your darker burdens.
Drag me back down.
Sink my being into my being:
Sleep, sleep.

by Jorge Guillen, 1893-1984; translated from the Spanish by James Wright


You are here on earth, our Father,
for I see you in the pine needle,
in the blue torso of the worker,
in the small girl who embroiders
with bent shoulder, mixing the thread on her finger.
Our Father here on earth,
in the furrow,
in the orchard,
in the mine,
in the seaport,
in the movie house,
in the wine,
in the house of the doctor.
Our Father here on earth,
where you have your glory and your hell,
and your limbo in the cafes
where the rich have their cool drink.
Our Father who sits in school without paying,
you are in the groceryman,
and in the man who is hungry,
and in the poet--never in the usurer!
Our Father here on earth,
reading on a bench of the Prado,
you are the old man feeding breadcrumbs to the birds on the walk.
Our Father here on earth,
in the cigarette, in the kiss,
in the grain of wheat, in the hearts
of all those who are good.
Father who can live anywhere,
God who moves into any loneliness,
You who quiet our anguish, here on earth,
Our Father, yes we see you,
those of us who will see you soon,
wherever you are, or there in heaven.

by Gloria Fuertes; translated from Spanish by John Haines


God of mine, I am weeping for the life that I live;
I am sorry to clutch at your bread;
but this wretched, thinking piece of clay
is not a crust leavened in your side:
you have no Mary-candles to darken!

My God, had you been man,
you, today, would know how to be God;
but you always lived so well,
that now you feel nothing of your own creation.
The man who suffers you--is God!

Today, when there are candles in my dazed eyes,
as in the eyes of a condemned man,
My God, you will light all your lamps,
and we will play with the old dice . . .

My God, when the whole universe is thrown,
maybe the circled eyes
of Death will turn up,
like two final aces of clay.

My God, in this muffled, dark night,
you can’t play anymore, because the earth
is already a die nicked and rounded,
worn from rolling by chance,
and it can stop only in a hollow place,
in the hollow of the enormous grave.

by Cesar Vallejo, 1892-1938; translated from Spanish (Peru) by James Wright


Frederick Knieps, Physician of the Bed-Chamber to the Empress Theresa, 
resolved that his son also should be a doctor,
but the youth, having established relations with Agnes, the
         tightrope artist, 
married her and founded the circus dynasty of Knieps 
with which the newspapers are so much concerned. 
Charlotte, the daughter of Frederick, married the clown,
whence sprang Marie and Otto. 
Otto married Lily Braun, the celebrated contortionist,
who had a saint's image tattooed on her belly. 
The daughter of Lily Braun—she of the tattooed belly— 
wanted to enter a convent, 
but Otto Frederick Knieps would not consent, 
and Margaret continued the circus dynasty 
with which the newspapers are so much concerned. 
Then Margaret had her body tattooed, 
suffering greatly for the love of God, 
and caused to be engraved on her rosy skin 
the Fourteen Stations of our Lord's Passion. 
No tiger ever attacked her;
the lion Nero, who had already eaten two ventriloquists,
when she entered his cage nude, 
wept like a new-born babe.
Her husband, the trapeze artist Ludwig, never could love her 
because the sacred engravings obliterated 
both her skin and his desire. 
Then the pugilist Rudolph, who was an atheist 
and a cruel man, attacked Margaret and violated her. 
After this, he was converted and died.
Margaret bore two daughters who are the wonder of Knieps' Great 
But the greatest of miracles is their virginity, 
against which bankers and gentlemen with monocles beat in vain;
their levitations, which the audience thinks a fraud;
their chastity, in which nobody believes;
their magic, which the simple-minded say is the devil's;
yet the children believe in them, are their faithful followers, their 
          friends, their devoted worshipers. 
Marie and Helene perform nude; 
they dance on the wire and so dislocate their limbs 
that their arms and legs no longer appear their own. 
The spectators shout encore to thighs, encore to breasts, encore to 
Marie and Helene give themselves wholly, 
and are shared by cynical men; 
but their souls, which nobody sees, they keep pure. 
And when they display their limbs in the sight of men, 
they display their souls in the sight of God. 
With the true history of Knieps' Great Circus 
the newspapers are very little concerned.

by Jorge de Lima; translated from Portguese (Brazil) by Dudley Poore


The river and the serpent are mysterious, my son.
On the top of the mountain
Were two circles of the Eternal.
One circle was the serpent.
The other circle was the river:
Both precipitated,
Both came searching for man,
One to purify him,
The other to poison him..
Down there they both found
The simple man.
One offered him the Fish to feed him,
The other offered him the fruit to intoxicate him.
The river and the serpent are mysterious, my son.
From the clowds they precipitated,
Both are crawling on the earth
Like the two ways of man,
For him to choose as his guide.
The river and the serpent are mysterious my son:
They come from the beginning of things,
They run towards the end of everything
And sometimes in the water of  the river
You will find the black serpent.
Things were simple, my son,
But they became confused:
The river that washes you
Can also drown you,
For under the appearance of the river
Slides the serpent.
The river and the serpent are mysterious, my son:
In the brightening they were two circles,
From there they came uncoiled.

by Jorge de Lima; translated from Portguese (Brazil) by John Nist with the help of Yolanda Leite



In those days you were statuesque and golden,
risen out of sea-foam, glittering.
You seemed a body flung out
from the center of the sun, abandoned
by a billow on the sand.

Everything was fire in those days. Around you,
the beach blazed. Seaweed, mollusks,
pebbles sent against you by the surf—
all were reduced
to flashing shards of light.

Everything was fire, shooting stars, the beat
of the wave of heat inside you. Whether
my hand began it, or your lips,
blind sparks, flying, whistled through the air.
Season of flame, of dreams fully consumed.

Your dazzling foam engulfed me in those days.

by Rafael Alberti; translated from Spanish by Carolyn Tipton


I am a man of many rooftops.
The whitest ones are set above the sea,
ready to cast off for the sun, bearing
like sails their sheets hung out to dry.
Others open onto fields, but one, though it looks out
to mountains, opens only onto love.
It’s this roof that returns to me the most.

There love tied back the tendrils of geraniums,
trailed the jasmine and the rose along the rail,
and in the burning night might come undone
in a sudden pouring shower of cooling rain.

Far off, the peaks that bore the weight
of the great stars watched over it.
When was love ever so lucky,
and when, amidst just-sprinkled
petals, possessed
with such force by the blood?

Train whistles floated up. Tremblings
of Chinese lanterns from the fairs, live
music, and the glow of lighted trees; these all
rose up, while comets came cascading down,
filling love’s eyes in a flash
of fleeting splendor.

It was the sweetest epoch of my heart.
It all returns to me today, so distant
from where I am now, dreaming on this stump
beside a road that opens onto nothing.

by Rafael Alberti; translated from Spanish by Carolyn Tipton


Miguel Hernández Gilabert was born to poor parents on October 30, 1910 in the town of Orihuela, near Murcia, in southeastern Spain. His father, Miguel Hernández Sánchez, a herdsman and dealer in sheep and goats, took for granted that his son would soon be hard at work helping with the family business. From a very early age, Miguel was expected to perform menial tasks around the house and stable. A lengthy, enriched education was out of the question, both for economic and socio-cultural reasons; instead of starting school at the usual age, Hernández was forced for years to shepherd his father’s flock. This grueling, solitary experience had a profound impact on him. His work on the farm led him to establish a special bond with nature, and he later drew on that experience in his poetry… A gifted writer with a phenomenal memory, he survived a difficult apprenticeship; with the help and advice of close friends and mentors, he studied Hispanic literature and theater while mastering a wide variety of styles of poetry from earlier decades and other cultures. Against enormous odds, he broke loose from the severe limitations of his humble beginnings to emerge as one of the greatest and best-loved Spanish poets… On July 18, 1936 a Spanish military uprising led by Generalissimo Francisco Franco in the North African province of Melilla caused vital Spanish services, such as mail and trains, to come to a stop…  The Spanish Civil War had a disastrous effect on all aspects of life in the country, particularly those involving culture. Many of the greatest intellectuals and finest artists eventually left the country to live in exile; others, like Lorca, Miguel de Unamuno, and Machado, died at the onset or during the war; and others died not long afterward as a direct result of that brutal conflict and the subsequent savage reprisals and executions. Hernández enrolled in the well-known Fifth Regiment, part of the Republican forces fighting Franco and the Nationalists; he also joined the First Calvary Company of the Peasants’ Battalion as a cultural-affairs officer, reading his poetry daily on the radio. He traveled extensively throughout the area, organizing cultural events and doing poetry readings for soldiers on the front lines, or even pitching in where necessary to dig a ditch or defend a position. As more and more war poems flowed from his pen, he slowly approached the status of prime poet of the nation during the war years. Hernández and [childhood love] Josefina were finally married in Orihuela on March 9, 1937 in a no-frills civil ceremony… Hernández kept busy working on his poetry during the war, correcting proofs of Viento del pueblo (1937) and preparing speeches. When his propaganda unit was shifted to Castuera in Estremadura province, he took time off from his exhausting pace to see Josefina and came down with a severe case of anemia. Hugh Thomas, noted Spanish Civil War historian, mentions the accelerating pace of Hernández’s literary activities during the war years, a pace that inevitably took a heavy toll on the poet’s health and required him to rest and recuperate on several occasions… his commitment to a democratic Spain, and his inability to escape into exile after the triumph of Franco’s troops, meant that he faced a life of arrest and imprisonment. Sentenced to death at one point, his term was commuted to 30 years. Years of war and struggle had left him weakened, however, and Miguel Hernández died in prison, of tuberculosis, in 1942. –Poetry Foundation

Lullabies of the Onion

(Dedicated to his son, after receiving a letter 
from his wife saying that all she had to eat 
was bread and onion.)
The onion is frost
shut in and poor.
Frost of your days
and of my nights.
Hunger and onion,
black ice and frost
large and round.

My little boy was 
in hunger's cradle.
He was suckled on
onion blood.
But your blood is
frosted with sugar,
onion and hunger.

A dark woman dissolved 
into moonlight
spills, thread by thread
over the cradle.
Laugh, child,
you can drink moonlight
if you have to.

Lark of my house,
laugh freely.
Your laughter in my eyes
is the world's light.
Laugh so much
that hearing you, my soul
will beat through space.

Your laughter frees me,
gives me wings.
It banishes loneliness,
tears down these walls.
Mouth that flies,
heart that flashes
on your lips.

Your laughter is
the supreme sword,
conqueror of flowers
and larks.
Rival of the sun.
Future of my bones
and of my love.

The flesh flutters
as sudden as an eyelid;
life, as never before,
takes on new color.
How many linnets, 
wings beating, take off
from your body!

I woke from childhood:
don't you ever.
I wear my mouth sadly:
always laugh.
Stay always in your cradle
defending laughter
feather by feather.

You are a flight 
so high, so wide
that your flesh is heaven
just born.
If only I could climb
to the origin
of your flight!

In the eighth month you laugh
with five orange blossoms.
With five little
with five teeth
like five young
jasmine buds.

They will be the frontier
of kisses tomorrow 
when you feel a gun
in your mouth.
When you feel a burning
past the teeth
searching for the center.

Fly, child, on the double moon 
of her breast:
it is saddened by onions,
you are satisfied.
Never let go.
Don't ever know what's coming,
what goes on.

by Miguel Hernandez, 1910-1942; translated from Spanish by Philip Levine

from Antaeus, c1974


Old age in the villages. The heart with no master
Love with no object. Grass, dust, crow.
And children? In the coffin. The tree alone and dry. Woman like a log of widowhood lying on the bed.
Incurable hatred.
And children? In the coffin.

by Miguel Hernandez; translated from Spanish by Don Share



You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried like something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”

You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you.
You’ll walk the same streets, grow old
in the same neighborhoods, turn gray in these same houses.
You’ll always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there’s no ship for you, there’s no road.
Now that you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere in the world.

by C. P. Cavafy; translated from Greek by Edmund Keeley

from C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Translation Copyright © 1975, 1992 by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Reproduced with permission of Princeton University Press.


This room, how well I know it.
Now they’re renting it, and the one next to it,
as offices. The whole house has become
an office building for agents, businessmen, companies.

This room, how familiar it is.

The couch was here, near the door,
a Turkish carpet in front of it.
Close by, the shelf with two yellow vases.
On the right—no, opposite—a wardrobe with a mirror.
In the middle the table where he wrote,
and the three big wicker chairs.
Beside the window the bed
where we made love so many times.

They must still be around somewhere, those old things.

Beside the window the bed;
the afternoon sun used to touch half of it.

. . . One afternoon at four o’clock we separated
for a week only. . . And then—
that week became forever.

by C. P. Cavafy, 1863–1933; translated from Greek by Edmund Keeley

from C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Translation Copyright © 1975, 1992 by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Reproduced with permission of Princeton University Press.


As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

by C. P. Cavafy, 1863–1933; translated from Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

from C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems. Translation Copyright © 1975, 1992 by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Reproduced with permission of Princeton University Press.