Poems in Translation-4







Up he stands
To declare the darkness done for
The bird trimmed with a poppy
Who rolls his lustrous eyes for us

With song he calls to prayer
And he complies with his call
Beating his great plumes
Flexing his shoulder knuckles

The Emperor of Persia
Perhaps wove his crown
Personally Mary the Copt
Hung pendant rings from his ears

He snatched from the peacock
His most attractive cloak
And still not comforted took
His strut from a duck

by Abu’l Qasim As’ad ibu Billita, ca. 1050; translated from Arabic by Christopher Middleton and Leticia Garza-Falco´n



I am your mother, your mother's mother,
I am your father, his father also;
look on me, see each living ancestor;
it is well you should understand your kin,
should learn who your body's bound to, should know
who they are whose house you are prisoned in.

I am your dear spouse, your wife, your husband,
I am nearer to you than your own folk,
I am what you loved, freely chose, the friend
you cannot leave--ev'n in the tomb I wait
to be your soul's only companion.... Look,
if you dare, on your mind's eternal music.

by Jalal ud din Rumi; translated from the Persian by Elizabeth Daryush


The King of Connacht*

'Have you seen Hugh,
The Connacht king in the field?'
All that we saw
Was his shadow under his shield.'

by Anonymous, 600-1200; translated from the Irish by Frank O’Connor

*The Kings of Connacht were rulers of the cóiced (variously translated as portion, fifth, province) of Connacht, which lies west of the River Shannon, Ireland. However, the name only became applied to it in the early medieval era, being named after the Connachta. –Wikipedia


The Winter

Across North Wales
The snowflakes wander,
A swarm of white bees.
Over the woods
A cold veil lies.
A load of chalk
Bows down the trees.

No undergrowth
Without its wool,
No field unsheeted;
No path is left
Through any field;
On every stump
White flour is milled.

Will someone tell me
What angels lift
Planks in the flour-loft
Floor of heaven
Shaking down dust?
An angel’s cloak
Is cold quicksilver.

And here below
The big drifts blow,
Blow and billow
Across the heather
Like swollen bellies.
The frozen foam
Falls in fleeces.

Out of my house
I will not stir
For any girl
To have my coat
Look like a miller’s
Or stuck with feathers
Of eider down.

What a great fall
Lies on my country!
A wide wall, stretching
One sea to the other,
Greater and graver
Than the sea’s graveyard.
When will rain come?

by Dafydd ap Gwilym, ca. 1350

translated from the Welsh by Dafydd Johnson and Daniel Huws


It seemed as if we did not sleep
One wink that night; I was sighing deep.
The cruellest judge in the costliest court
Could not condemn a night so short.
We had the light out, but I know,
Each time I turned, a radiant glow
Suffused the room, and shining snow
Alit from Heaven’s candle-fires
Illuminated our desires.

But the last time I held her, strong,
Excited, closest, very long,
Something started to go wrong.
The edge of dawn’s despotic veil
Showed at the eastern window-pale
And there it was,—the morning light!
Gwen was seized with a fearful fright,
Became an apparition, cried,
“Get up, go now with God, go hide!

“Love is a salt, a gall, a rue,
A vinegar-vintage. Dos y Ddw,
Vaya con Dios, quickly, too!”
“Ah, not yet, never yet, my love;
The stars and moon still shine above.”
“Then why do the raucous ravens talk
With such a loud insistent squawk?”
“Crows always cry like that, when fleas
Nibble their ankles, nip their knees.”

“And why do the dogs yip, yammer, yell?”
“They think they’ve caught a fox’s smell.”
“Poet, the wisdom of a fool
Offers poor counsel as a rule.
Open the door, open it wide
As fast as you can, and leap outside.
The dogs are fierce when they get untied.”
“The woods are only a bound from here,
And I can outjump a deer, my dear!”

“But tell me, best beloved of men,
Will you come again? Will you come again?”
“Gwen, you know I’m your nightingale,
And I’ll be with you, without fail,
When the cloud is cloak, and the dark is sky,
And when the night comes, so will I.”

by Dafydd ap Gwilym, ca. 1350; translated from the Welsh by Rolfe Humphries


Last Love

Love at the closing of our days
is apprehensive and very tender.
Glow brighter, brighter, farewell rays
of one last love in its evening splendor.

Blue shade takes half the world away:
through western clouds alone some light is slanted.
O tarry, O tarry, declining day,
enchantment, let me stay enchanted.

The blood runs thinner, yet the heart
remains as ever deep and tender.
O last belated love, thou art
a blend of joy and of hopeless surrender.

by Fyodor Tyutchev, 1803-1873; translated  by Vladimir Nabokov

Winter Night

Snow, snow over the whole land
across all boundaries.
The candle burned on the table,
the candle burned.

As in summer swarms 
of midges fly to a flame,
snowflakes fluttered
around the windowframe.

Blown snow stuck
rings and arrows on the glass.
The candle burned on the table,
the candle burned.

Shadows were lying 
on the lighted ceiling,
of crossed arms, crossed legs,
crossed destinies. 

Two shoes fell
noisily on the floor.
The night light wept 
wax drops on a dress.

Everything was lost in the
greying white snow haze.
The candle burned on the table,
the candle burned.

Draught at the candle from the corner,
the heat of temptation 
angel-like raised two wings
in the form of a cross.

Snow fell all February
and now and then
the candle burned on the table,
the candle burned.

by Boris Pasternak, 1890-1960; translated from the Russian by Richard McKane



The house next door has yellow windows.
In the evening, in the evening
Its pensive bolts screech in their hinges,
And people to its gates come streaming.

The gates are shut to hold them back,
And on the wall, and on the wall,
Someone unmoving, someone black
Counts people in the silent pall.

From high above, I hear each sound—
He calls out in a brassy tone
For all those gathered in the crowd
To bend their crippled backs again.

They will come in, fan out, and then
Heave fardels* on their backs once more,
And in the yellow windows, men
Will laugh: what fools these beggars are.

 by Alexander Blok, 1880-1921; translated from the Russian by Max Thompson

*fardels = bundles



Night, streets, the lantern, the drugstore,
The meaningless and dusky light.
A quarter of the century more-- 
All fall the same into your sight! 

You died - as it was before-- 
You have the former way to start:
The streets, the lantern, the drugstore,
Swell of the canal in the night.

by Aleksander Blok, 1880-1921; translated from the Russian by Yevgeny Bonver



A girl was singing in the choir with fervour
of all who have known exile and distress,
of all the vessels that have left the harbour,
of all who have forgotten happiness.

Her voice soared up to the dome. Glistening,
a sunbeam brushed her shoulder in its flight,
and from the darkness all were listening
to the white dress singing in the beam of light.

It seemed to everyone that happiness
would come back, that the vessels were all safe,
that those who had known exile and distress
had rediscovered a radiant life.

The voice was beautiful, the sunbeam slender,
but up by the holy gates, under the dome,
a boy at communion wept to remember
that none of them would ever come home.

by Aleksander Blok, 1880-1921; translated from the Russian by John Stallworthy with Peter France


A red glow in the sky, the dead night underground.
The pine trees imprison me in their dark density,
but unmistakeably there comes the sound
of a far distant, undiscovered city.

You will make out houses in heavy rows,
and towers, and the silhouette of buttresses,
and gardens behind stone walls sombre with shadows,
and arrogant ramparts of ancient fortresses.

Unmistakeably from submerged centuries
The piercing mind makes ready for dawning
the long forgotten roar of silted cities
and the rhythm of life returning.

by Aleksander Blok, 1880-1921; translated from the Russian by John Stallworthy with Peter France

***********************OSIP MANDELSTAM***********************

In the mid ‘20s Stalin rose to the top.  By 1930 he had published a letter announcing that “nothing should be published that was at variance with the official point of view.”  In 1933, as if silent acquiescence had become intolerable, Mandelstam composed his famous “Stalin Epigram” [see below] and read it to at least two different gatherings, clearly aware someone would probably turn him in.   Nadezhda Mandelstam, in her memoir Hope Against Hope, says in doing this, he was “choosing his manner of death.”  Perhaps the real crime, and for Mandelstam the real necessity, was what she calls “the usurpation of the right to words and thoughts that the ruling powers reserved exclusively for themselves….”   At any rate, it was like signing his own death sentence, which Mandelstam himself suggested in a kind of recklessly sanguine moment when he said to her, “Why do you complain?  Poetry is respected only in this country—people kill for it. There’s no place where more people are killed for it.”  In Mandelstam’s case, he was jailed, interrogated and eventually exiled for three years, from 1934 to May of 1937, then arrested again in May of 1938, and sentenced to hard labor.  He died in a transit camp in Eastern Siberia that December. — Betsy Sholl

The Stalin Epigram

Our lives no longer feel ground under them.
At ten paces you can’t hear our words.

But whenever there’s a snatch of talk
it turns to the Kremlin mountaineer,

the ten thick worms his fingers,
his words like measures of weight,

the huge laughing cockroaches on his top lip,
the glitter of his boot-rims.

Ringed with a scum of chicken-necked bosses
he toys with the tributes of half-men.

One whistles, another meows, a third snivels.
He pokes out his finger and he alone goes boom.

He forges decrees in a line like horseshoes,
One for the groin, one the forehead, temple, eye.

He rolls the executions on his tongue like berries.
He wishes he could hug them like big friends from home.

by Osip Mandelstam, 1891 – 1938

From Against Forgetting, edited by Carolyn Forché, translated by W.S. Merwin and Clarence Brown, published by W.W. Norton & Co. Copyright © 1989 by W.S. Merwin. Reprinted by permission of W.S. Merwin. All rights reserved.

Poems in above video: There is no need for words; Epigram Against Stalin;  Yet to die;  The Shell; I don’t remember the word I wished to say.


Not yet dead, not yet alone,
A beggar-woman my companion,
I am delighted by the immense plains,
And the haze, and hunger, and snow-storms.

I live in lovely poverty, opulent privation--
Alone and peaceful and consoled.
These days and nights are blessed,
This sinless labour mellifluous.

Unhappy he whom, like his shadow,
The dog's bark scares and the wind makes hay of.
And poor indeed he who, half-alive,
Begs favour of a shadow.

by Osip Mandelstam, 1891 – 1938; translated by James Greene


O Lord, help me to live through this night--
I'm in terror for my life, your slave:
to live in Petersburg is to sleep in a grave.

by Osip Mandelstam, 1891 – 1938; translated by Clarence Brown and W. S. Merwin



When I walk in the park or swim in the sea,
A pair of her shoes waits there on the floor.

The left one leaning on the right,
Not enough time to set them straight.

The world is pitch-black, cold and desolate,
But they are still warm, right off her feet.

The soles of her feet left the insides dark,
The gold of the trademark has rubbed off.

A pair of red doves pecking seed,
They make me dizzy, rob me of sleep.

I see the shoes when I go to the beach
Like those of a bather drowned in the sea.

Where are you, bather? The beaches are clean.
Where are you dancing? With whom do you swim?

In a world of metal, on a planet of black,
Those silly shoes look to me like

Doves perched in the path of a tank, frail
And dainty, as delicate as eggshell.

by Andrei Voznesesensky, 1933-2010; translated from the Russian by Wiliam Jay Smith



Someone is loose in Moscow who won’t stop
Ringing my phone.
Whoever-it-is listens, then hangs up.
Dial tone.

What do you want? A bushel of rhymes or so?
An autograph? A bone?
Dial tone.

Someone’s lucky number, for all I know,
Is the same, worse luck, as my own.
Dial tone.

Or perhaps it’s an angel calling collect
To invite me to God’s throne.
Damn, I’ve been disconnected.
Dial tone.

Or is it my old conscience, my power of choice
To which I’ve grown
A stranger, and which no longer knows my voice?
Dial tone.

Are you standing there in some subway station, stiff
And hatless in the cold,
With your finger stuck in the dial as if
In a ring of gold?

And is there, outside the booth, a desperate throng
Tapping its coins on the glass, chafing its hands,
Like a line of people who have been waiting long
To be measured for wedding bands?

I hear you breathe and blow into some remote
Mouthpiece, and as you exhale
The lapels of my coat
Flutter like pennants in a gale.

The planet’s communications are broken.
I’m tired of saying hello,
My questions might as well be unspoken.
Into the void my answers go.

Thrown together, together
With you, with you unknown.
Hello. Hello. Hello there.
Dial tone. Dial tone. Dial tone.

by Andrei Voznesesensky, 1933-2010; translated from the Russian by Richard Wilbur


On a saddle without a horse
I made a journey through hell. 

In the first circle I saw
A few figures reclining
On bags of wheat. 

In the second circle
Some men riding bicycles
Didn´t know when to stop
Because of the flames. 

In the third circle I saw
Only one human figure
it appeared to be a hermaphrodite.
A thin and twisted figure
Feeding crows. 

I went on trotting and galloping
Through a space of hours
Until in a forest I came upon a cabin
Where a witch lived. 
A dog tried to bite me. 

In circle four
An old man with a long beard
Bald as a watermelon
Building a little boat
In a bottle. 

He gave me a kind look. 

In circle five
I saw some students
Playing Indian hockey
With a ball of rags. 

It was savagely cold.
I had to pass the night
Keeping vigil in a graveyard
Sheltered behind a tomb
To keep from freezing. 

The next day I went on
Into some hills
I saw for the first time
The skeletons of trees
Burned by tourists. 

Two circles were left. 

In one I saw myself
Sitting at a black table
Eating the flesh of a bird:
My only companion

Was a kerosene stove.

In the seventh circle
I saw absolutely nothing
All I heard were strange sounds
I heard a horrible laughter
And deep breathing
That tore open my soul.

by Nicanor Parra, (b.1914); translated from the Chilean Spanish by  Miller Williams


For years I was doomed to worship a contemptible woman 
Sacrifice myself for her, endure endless humiliations and sneers, 
Work night and day to feed her and clothe her, 
Perform several crimes, commit several misdemeanors, 
Practice petty burglary by moonlight, 
Forge compromising documents, 
For fear of a scornful glance from her bewitching eyes. 
During brief phases of understanding we used to meet in parks 
And have ourselves photographed together driving a motorboat, 
Or we would go to a nightclub 
And fling ourselves into an orgy of dancing 
That went on until well after dawn.

For years I was under the spell of that woman. 
She used to appear in my office completely naked 
And perform contortions that defy the imagination, 
Simply to draw my poor soul into her orbit 
And above all to wring from me my last penny. 
She absolutely forbade me to have anything to do with my family. 
To get rid of my friends this viper made free with defamatory libels 
Which she published in a newspaper she owned. 
Passionate to the point of delirium, she never let up for an instant, 
Commanding me to kiss her on the mouth 
And to reply at once to her silly questions 
Concerning, among other things, eternity and the afterlife,
Subjects which upset me terribly, 
Producing buzzing in my ears, recurrent nausea, sudden fainting spells 
Which she turned to account with that practical turn of mind that 
      distinguished her, 
Putting her clothes on without wasting a moment 
And clearing out of my apartment, leaving me flat.

This situation dragged on for five years and more. 
There were periods when we lived together in a round room 
In a plush district near the cemetery, sharing the rent. 
(Some nights we had to interrupt our honeymoon 
To cope with the rats that streamed in through the window.) 
The viper kept a meticulous account book 
In which she noted every penny I borrowed from her, 
She would not let me use the toothbrush I had given her myself, 
And she accused me of having ruined her youth: 
With her eyes flashing fire she threatened to take me to court 
And make me pay part of the debt within a reasonable period 
Since she needed the money to go on with her studies. 
Then I had to take to the street and live on public charity, 
Sleeping on park benches 
Where the police found me time and again, dying, 
Among the first leaves of autumn. 
Fortunately that state of affairs went no further, 
For one time -and again I was in a park, 
Posing for a photographer-
A pair of delicious feminine hands suddenly covered my eyes 
While a voice that I loved asked me: Who am I. 
You are my love, I answered serenely. 
My angel! she said nervously. 
Let me sit on your knees once again! 
It was then that I was able to ponder the fact that she was now 
      wearing brief tights. 
It was a memorable meeting, though full of discordant notes. 
I have bought a plot of land not far from the slaughterhouse, she 
I plan to build a sort of pyramid there 
Where we can spend the rest of our days. 
I have finished my studies, I have been admitted to the bar, 
I have a tidy bit of capital at my disposal;
Let's go into some lucrative business, we two, my love, she added, 
Let's build our nest far from the world. 
Enough of your foolishness, I answered, I have no confidence in your 
Bear in mind that my real wife 
Can at any moment leave both of us in the most frightful poverty. 
My children are grown up, time has elapsed, 
I feel utterly exhausted, let me have a minute's rest, 
Get me a little water, woman, 
Get me something to eat from somewhere, 
I'm starving, 
I can't work for you anymore, 
It's all over between us.

by Nicanor Parra; translated from the Chilean Spanish by W.S. Merwin


Singing we ride over the field
To encounter the armoured dragons

Our most lovely wolf-shepherd
His flowering staff in his hand
Flies through the air on his white steed

The crazed thirsty weapons
Savage each other alone in the field

From the mortally wounded iron
A river of blood streams out
Flows upward and streams into the sun

The field stands up erect beneath us

We overtake the heavenly rider
And our betrothed stars
And together we fly through the blue

From below there follows
The blackbird's farewell song

by Vasko Popa, 1922- ; translated from Serbian by Anne Pennington


In his hands he holds his severed head
His bright shining benefaction
The sun's vice-regent
In the all-pervading dark

He stands beatific on a cloud
Barefoot in a torn shirt
Girt with the tail of a vanquished dragon

In a goblet full of blood
On his severed neck
The fragments of his sword become
Morsels of bread

Holy mother Saturday
Gives him second birth

He is alive in the crimson dewdrop
He dances in the burning circle of peonies
He sings in the blackbird's song on this field

by Vasko Popa, 1922- ; translated from Serbian by Anne Pennington

* To the Serbs the Field of Blackbirds (Kosovo Polje) was sacred ground—like Valley Forge to Americans or Verdun to the French.  This 600- year-old battleground is for many local residents a battle that might have been fought yesterday. The Battle of the Field of Blackbirds was fought on St. Vitus’ Day, June 15, 1389. Some 12,000 to 30,000 troops of the Serbian Principality under Prince Lazar Hrebeljanovi´c faced an estimated 27,000 to 40,000 troops of the invading Ottoman army under the personal command of Murad I, the reigning sultan. The battle started with Ottoman archers shooting at the heavy cavalry deployed across the Serbian front. The Serb cavalry then charged and rolled up the Ottoman left flank, but the center and right held. The Ottomans launched a ferocious counterattack in the center, driving back the Serbs. The Serb flanks held, however, until Kosovar warlord Vuk Brankovi´c withdrew from the fight with his 5,000 troops after concluding victory was hopeless. At that point the battle turned decisively against the Serbs. Prince Lazar, becoming a martyr in the eyes of his people, was slain. Many heroic poems sing of this catastrophe.  The white peonies of Kossovo are said to be stained red with blood of the fallen; and birds are said to bear news of the warriors’ defeat to their mothers, sisters, and wives.