Poems in Translation-3

POETS ON THIS PAGE: W.S. RENDRA * TAKAMURA KOTARO * GIUSEPPI GIOACCHINO BELLI * EUGENIO MONTALE * JORGE GUILLEN * GLORIA FUERTES * CESAR VALLEJO * JORGE DE LIMA * JOSEPH VON EICHENDORFF * HANS MAGNUS ENZENBERGER * EDUARD MORIKE * CHRISTIAN MORGENSTERN * HEINRICH HEINE * HERMAN HESSE * C. P. CAVAFY

[PREVIOUS PAGE OF TRANSLATIONS]

[NEXT PAGE OF TRANSLATIONS]

[RETURN TO POEMS IN TRANSLATION INDEX]

THE WORLD’S FIRST FACE

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,
Existence,
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


WHALE SPOUTING

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 Takemoto


Villon’s Epitaph (Ballade Of The Hanged Men)

O brother men who after us remain,
Do not look coldly on the scene you view,
For if you pity wretchedness and pain,
God will the more incline to pity you.
You see us hang here, half a dozen who
Indulged the flesh in every liberty
Till it was pecked and rotted, as you see,
And these our bones to dust and ashes fall.
Let no one mock our sorry company,
But pray to God that He forgive us all.

If we have called you brothers, don’t disdain
The appellation, though alas it’s true
That not all men are equal as to brain,
And that our crimes and blunders were not few.
Commend us, now that we are dead, unto
The Virgin Mary’s son, in hopes that He
Will not be sparing of His clemency,
But save our souls, which Satan would enthrall.
We’re dead now, brothers; show your charity
And pray to God that He forgive us all.

We have been rinsed and laundered by the rain,
And by the sunlight dried and blackened too.
Magpie and crow have plucked our eyeballs twain
And cropped our eyebrows and the beards we grew.
Nor have we any rest at all, for to
And fro we sway at the wind’s fantasy,
Which has no object, yet would have us be
(Pitted like thimbles) at its beck and call.
Do not aspire to our fraternity,
But pray to God that He forgive us all.
Prince Jesus, we implore Your Majesty
To spare us Hell’s distress and obloquy; 
We want no part of what may there befall.
And, mortal men, let’s have no mockery,
But pray to God that He forgive us all.

by Francois Villon, 1431-1463?

translated from the French by Richard Wilbur

Ballade of Forgiveness

Brothers and sisters, Celestine,
Carthusian, or Carmelite,
Street-loafers, fops whose buckles shine,
Lackeys, and courtesans whose tight
Apparel gratifies the sight,
And little ladies'-men who trot
In tawny boots of dreadful height:
I beg forgiveness of the lot.

Young whores who flash their teats in sign
Of what they hawk for men's delight,
Ape-handlers, thieves and, soused with wine,
Wild bullies looking for a fight,
And Jacks and Jills whose hearts are light,
Whistling and joking, talking rot,
Street-urchins dodging left and right:
I beg forgiveness of the lot.

Excepting for those bloody swine
Who gave me, many a morn and night,
The hardest crusts on which to dine;
Henceforth I'll fear them not a mite.
I'd belch and fart in their despite,
Were I not sitting on my cot.
Well, to be peaceful and polite,
I beg forgiveness of the lot.

May hammers, huge and heavy, smite
Their ribs, and likewise cannon-shot.
May cudgels pulverize them quite.
I beg forgiveness of the lot.

by Francois Villon
translated from the French by Richard Wilbur

[CLICK TO SEE FRANCOIS VILLON’S “BALLADE OF THE LADIES OF TIME PAST” (TR. BY RICHARD WILBUR)]  CLICK ARROWS AT SIDE OF FIRST PAGE TO SEE MORE


Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (20 June 1786 – 23 July 1859) was born in Douai [Flanders]]. Following the French Revolution, her father’s business was ruined, and she traveled with her mother to Guadeloupe in search of financial help from a distant relative. Marceline’s mother died of yellow fever there, and the young girl somehow made her way back to France. At age 16, back in Douai, she began a career on stage. In 1817 she married her husband, the actor Prosper Lanchantin-Valmore.

She published Élégies et Romances, her first poetic work, in 1819. Her melancholy, elegiacal poems are admired for their grace and profound emotion.

Marceline appeared as an actress and singer in Douai, Rouen, the Opéra-Comique in Paris, and the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels, where she notably played Rosine in Beaumarchais’s Le Barbier de Séville. She retired from the stage in 1823. She later became friends with the novelist Honoré de Balzac, and he once wrote that she was an inspiration for the title character of La Cousine Bette.

The publication of her innovative volume of elegies in 1819 marks her as one of the founders of French romantic poetry. Her poetry is also known for taking on dark and depressing themes, which reflects her troubled life. She is the only female writer included in the famous Les Poètes maudits anthology published by Paul Verlaine in 1884. A volume of her poetry was among the books in Friedrich Nietzsche’s library.–condensed from Wikipedia.com

IN THE STREET

                         on a day of funerals at Lyon*

THE WOMAN

We have run out of money to bury our dead.
The priest is there, figuring what the price will be,
And the corpses stretched out, holed by artillery,
Want a shroud, a cross, remorseful words to be said.

Murder is king. The victor whistles as he goes
To the Treasury, to be paid for blood he shed.
He has shed plenty, but his hand is not tired
From fighting. There was no fighting at all, God knows.

God picked up each soul like a perishing flower.
Women and children went flying up to the skies,
And men…there they are, in blood up to their eyes.
Angry souls, too many to be borne by the air.

They don’t want to leave their members behind, the dead.
The priest is there, figuring what the price will be,
And the corpses stretched out, holed by artillery,
Want a shroud, a cross, remorseful words to be said.

Those who are still alive do not know where to go.
A paid sentinel in the middle of the way,
Death is a soldier who aims and they take away
The rebel who would stand witness tomorrow.


THE WOMEN

Let us take our black ribbons, and wear one on the arm.
It has been forbidden to take the pale remains
Of our murdered. They have heaped them on the stones.
God bless them all! They were all of them unarmed.

*funerals at Lyon: Lyon was again convulsed by violence when, during the French Revolution, the citizenry rose up against the National Convention and supported the Girondins. The city was besieged by Revolutionary armies for over two months before surrendering in October 1793. Many buildings were destroyed, especially around the Place Bellecour, while Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois and Joseph Fouché administered the execution of more than 2,000 people. –Wikipedia.com

APART

Do not write. I am sad, and want my light put out. 
Summers in your absence are as dark as a room. 
I have closed my arms again. They must do without. 
To knock at my heart is like knocking at a tomb. 
              Do not write! 

Do not write. Let us learn to die as best we may. 
Did I love you? Ask God. Ask yourself. Do you know? 
To hear that you love me when you are far away, 
Is like hearing from heaven and never to go. 
              Do not write! 

Do not write. I fear you. I fear to remember, 
For memory holds the voice I have often heard. 
To the one who cannot drink, do not show water, 
The beloved one’s picture in the handwritten word.
              Do not write! 

Do not write those gentle words that I dare not see, 
It seems that your voice is spreading them on my heart, 
Across your smile, on fire, they appear to me, 
It seems that a kiss is printing them on my heart.
              Do not write!

COMPLAINT ON THE OBLIVION OF THE DEAD

Ladies and gentlemen
Whose mother is no more,
The old gravedigger
Scratches at your door.

    Six feet down
    Is a dead man's place;
    He hardly ever
    Shows his face.

You blow smoke into your beer,
You wind up your love affair,
Yonder crows chanticleer,
Poor dead beyond the pale!

His finger at his temple,
Look at Grandpa half asleep,
Sister busy with her knitting,
Mother turning up the lamp.

        One who is dead
    Is quite discreet,
        He goes to bed
    Right in the street.

The meal was good, was it?
Now how is everything?
The little stillborn
Get almost no fondling.

On one side of your ledger
Enter the cost of the dance;
On the other, the undertakers fee
To make your books balance.

        Life's a ditty
    With a hey-nonny-no.
        Eh what, my pretty,
    Do you find it so?

Ladies and gentlemen,
Whose sister is no more,
Open up for the gravedigger
Who raps at your door.

Show him no pity,
He will come all the same
To drag you out by the heels
When the moon is full.

    Importunate wind,
    Howl on.
    Where are the dead?
    They're gone.

by Jules Laforgue, 1860-1887; translated from French by William Jay Smith

ANOTHER COMPLAINT OF LORD PIERROT

The one who keeps me informed how a woman feels, 
I shall say to her first, with my least frigid air, 
“The sum of the angles of a triangle equals 
Two right angles, my dear.”

And if this cry escapes her: “God, how I love you!”
“God rewards his own.” Or sadly contemplative: 
“Keyboards have a heart. My theme is always of you.”
I: “All is relative.”

With blazing eyes, aware of being tedious:  
“Ah, you don’t love me! But so many others do!” 
 I with an eye racing toward the Unconscious: 
 “Well enough, thanks. And you?” 

“Let’s see which can be more faithful.” “What’s the idea?” 
“The one who loses wins.” Then another couplet:  
“Ah, you would be the first to grow tired, I swear . . .”  
“Go ahead. Place your bet.”  

Finally, still pretending that I don’t believe,  
If one evening she should die, and not make a fuss,  
I shall say, “How so? We had what it takes to live!  
Then it was serious?”

by Jules Laforgue, 1860-1887; translated from French by Louis Simpson


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

GREED

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

THE SOUL

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

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

FROM `COLLECTED POEMS, FROM 1916-1956″ REPRINTED BY PERMISSION OF FARRAR, STRAUS & GIROUX, INC.

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

[CLICK TO SEE JORGE GUILLEN’S “THE HORSES” (TR. RICHARD WILBUR)]

I WANT TO SLEEP

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


Prayer

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


THE ETERNAL DICE

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


THE BIG MYSTICAL CIRCUS

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 
          thereafter, 
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 
          Circus. 
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 
          armpits. 
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

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


[CLICK HERE TO SEE “ON MY CHILD’S DEATH” BY JOSEPH VON EICHENDORFF, 1788-1857 (Trans. W. D. SNODGRASS)]

THE DIVORCE

At first it was only an imperceptible quivering of the skin –
‘As you wish’ – where the flesh is darkest.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ – Nothing. Milky dreams
of embraces; next morning, though,
the other looks different, strangely bony.
Razor-sharp misunderstandings. ‘That time, in Rome –’
I never said that. A pause. And furious palpitations,
a sort of hatred, strange. ‘That’s not the point.’
Repetitions. Radiantly clear, this certainty:
From now on all is wrong. Odourless and sharp,
like a passport photo, this unknown person
with a glass of tea at table, with staring eyes.
It’s no good, no good, no good:
litany in the head, a slight nausea.
End of reproaches. Slowly the whole room
Fills with guilt right up to the ceiling.
This complaining voice is strange, only not
the shoes that drop with a bang, not the shoes.
Next time, in an empty restaurant,
slow motion, bread crumbs, money is discussed,
laughing. The dessert tastes of metal.
Two untouchables. Shrill reasonableness.
‘Not so bad really.’ But at night
the thoughts of vengeance, the silent fight, anonymous
like two bony barristers, two large crabs
in water. Then the exhaustion. Slowly
the scab peels off. A new tobacconist,
a new address. Pariahs, horribly relieved.
Shades growing paler. These are the documents.
This is the bunch of keys. This is the scar.

by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, translated from German by Michael Hamburger

HONG KONG 1997

Have you seen the builders of this city,
illiterate acrobats climbing up skyhigh
on bamboo scaffolding?
Have you bought the cheapest jeans
and slept in the most expensive beds on earth?
Did you cough in the incense-filled temples
and smell the clouds of French perfume
hanging over the sewers?
Have you heard the clatter of gambling dens
and the roar at the stock exchange?
And the tourists, did you notice them
rubbing their eyes, exhausted from shopping,
like giant pink shrimps
behind tinted bus windows?

No. This town, in which a thousand flowers wither,
which has got over its Great Leap Forward
long ago, is beyond belief. It is a phantom,
a portent, a hallucination, a science-fiction opera,
a miraculous fake.

by Hans Magnus Enzenberger, 1929- ; translated from German by Anni Dyck

[CLICK HERE TO SEE “FORSAKEN GIRL” BY EDUARD MORIKE, 1804-1875 (trans. RANDALL JARRELL)]



Anxiety for the Future

Korf, whom worry easily attacks,
Can already see the skies
Filled by balloons of every size,
So all day he prepares whole stacks
Of draughts for bylaws and statutes
Of a society for resolute
Maintenance of a zone designed
To keep balloon-egress confined.

Yet even now he can smell doom:
His club already falls behind;
The air, it seems to him, goes blind,
All the landscape turns gloom and tomb.
Therefore he puts down his pen,
Turns on the light (they all will, THEN!)
And goes at once to Palmstrom's place;
They sit together, face to face.

After four long hours, finally,
This nightmare is overcome.
First to break the spell is Palmstrom:
"Be a man now, Korf;" says he,
"You've got hold of the wrong era;
As yet, this is a vain chimera
That tricks your intellect away,
Bobbing over your head today."

Korf recovers his own clear sight–
No one is flying in the golden light!
He snuffs his candle, silently;
Then, points to the sun suddenly
And speaks: "If not today, sometime!
One day you will no longer shine,
At least for us–it makes one's teeth
Chatter–the masses underneath! . . ."

Thereafter, von Korf once again
Sits in his room and takes his pen
Drawing up a vast design
For the protection of sunshine.

by Christian Morgenstern, 1871-1914; translated from the German by W. D. Snodgrass

SUMMONS

Korf receives one day from the coppers
one of those B-9 forms, so-called because they aren't:
Who? Where? How? Why? And other such stumpers and stoppers.

Married? Single? Divorced? Separated? Other?
(Supply all relevant and requisite documentation
to support these claims.) And the Maiden Name of your Mother?

Visa? Permit de sejour? Papieren? Pass?
Credit rating? Or bluntly and plainly, are you a legitimate person
or are you perhaps nothing? A no-one? A member even of the torturable 
      class?

Failure to fill out the form will subject the subject
to penalties only some of which are specified hereinunder—
forfeitures, fines, confinement, etc. Signed, Oberuntergruppenfüher 
      Hecht.

Clearing his throat, with a discreet, "Korf!" he replies, "I insist,
on my right, notwithstanding any covenants and codicils to the 
      contrary,
and as the party of the first part, to deny that I officially exist."

Agape, aghast, a-gasp, the deputy superintendent clutches in what 
      could be a coronary.

by Christian Morgenstern, 1871-1914; translated from the German by David R. Slavitt

MAIDS ON SATURDAY

They hang them over the ledge,
The carpets large and small;
In their minds they start to beat
Up masters, one and all.

Wild with satisfaction,
In rage and berserk,
They cool their souls off for
One week full of hard work.

They beat an infernal rhythm
Until their canes split;
Ears at the front of the house
Take no account of it

But in the back are wailing,
Torn by punch and by thump,
The runners, the Persian pillows,
The eiderdown, German and plump.

by Christian Morgenstern,1871-1914; translated from the German by Lore Segal and W. D. Snodgrass. From Poets Translate Poets: A Hudson Review Anthology, edited by Paula Deitz, with an introduction by Mark Jarman. © 2013 by Syracuse University.

PALMSTROM

Palmstrom, standing beside the brook,
Unfolds a handkerchief wide and red
On which a mighty oak is shown
And someone with an open book.

Blow his nose?—he would not dare!
For he belongs to that sort of men
Who are so often, nakedly,
Stricken by beauty, unaware.

What he has only just outspread,
Tenderly, now, he has to close;
No sensitive spirit will condemn
Him, marching on with unblown nose.

by Christian Morgenstern, 1871-1914; translated from the German by W. D. Snodgrass


DEATH IS THE  TRANQUIL NIGHT

Death is the tranquil night.
Life is the sultry day.
It darkens; I will sleep now;
The light has made me weary.

Over my head rises a tree
Wherein sings the young nightingale.
It sings of constant love.
Even in this dream I hear it.

Heinrich Heine, 1797-1856; translated from German by Louise Bogan

TO THE WORLD WE MUST APPEAR

To the world we must appearA most peculiar couple:The lady is weak in the legs,Her lover can barely hobble.

She is an ailing kitten,
He sick as a dog, and I think
Their heads should both be examined
By some responsible shrink.

"I am a lotus blossom"
Is the notion fixed in her brain,
While her pallid companion
Fancies himself The Moon.

She opens her little cup
Awaiting the lunar bonanza,
But instead of the life-giving touch
All she will get is a stanza.

Heinrich Heine, 1797-1856; translated from German by Francis Golffing


A SWARM OF GNATS

Many thousand glittering motes
Crowd forward greedily together
In trembling circles.
Extravagantly carousing away
For a whole hour rapidly vanishing,
They rave, delirious, a shrill whir,
Shivering with joy against death.
While kingdoms, sunk into ruin,
Whose thrones, heavy with gold, instantly scattered
Into night and legend, without leaving a trace,
Have never known so fierce a dancing.

by Herman Hesse; translated from German by James Wright

DEPARTURE FROM THE JUNGLE

With my suitcase, I sit on the beach;
Below me, on the streamer, Indians,
Chinese, Malayans are shouting,
Laughing loudly and trading their knickknacks.

Behind me, feverish nights, and days
Of glowing life, that even now I carry
Carefully as treasures in my deepest thoughts,
As though I still wet my feet in the jungle stream.

I know many countries and cities are still waiting,
But never again will the night of the forests,
The wild fermenting garden of the earliest world
Lure me in, and horrify me with its magnificence.

Here in this endless and gleaming wilderness
I was removed farther than ever from the world of men-–
And I never saw so close and so clearly
The image in the mirror of my own soul.

by Herman Hesse; translated from German by James Wright

 

WITHOUT YOU

My Pillow gazes upon me at night
Empty as a gravestone;
I never thought it would be so bitter
To be alone,
Not to lie down asleep in your hair.

I lie alone in a silent house,
The hanging lamp darkened,
And gently stretch out my hands
To gather in yours,
And softly press my warm mouth
Toward you, and kiss myself, exhausted and weak-
Then suddenly I'm awake
And all around me the cold night grows still.
The star in the window shines clearly-
Where is your blond hair,
Where your sweet mouth?

Now I drink pain in every delight
And poison in every wine;
I never knew it would be so bitter
To be alone,
Alone, without you.

by Herman Hesse; translated from German by James Wright


THE CITY

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 the 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.

THE AFTERNOON SUN

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 the 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.