POETS ON THIS PAGE: ABU’L QASIM AS’AD IBU BILLITA * JALAL UD DIN RUMI * “THE KING OF CONNACHT” [ANON. ; tr. by O’CONNOR] * DAFYDD AP GWILYM * LEWIS GLYN COTHI * FYODOR TYUTCHEV * BORIS PASTERNAK * ALEXANDER BLOK * OSIP MANDELSTAM * ANDREI VOZNESENSKY * NICANOR PARRA * VASKO POPA
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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 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
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
TO READ “ON THE DEATH OF HIS SON” BY LEWIS GLYN COTHI, c. 1450 AS TRANSLATED FROM THE WELSH BY GWYN WILLIAMS [CLICK HERE]
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
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
TO READ BLOK’S “THE VULTURE” [CLICK HERE]
NIGHT, STREETS, THE LANTERN, THE DRUGSTORE
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
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
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
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
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
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
[TO SEE ANDREI VOZNESENSKY’S POEM “AN ARROW IN THE WALL” (TRANSLATED FROM THE RUSSIAN BY RICHARD WILBUR) CLICK HERE]
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? Hello? Dial tone. Someone’s lucky number, for all I know, Is the same, worse luck, as my own. Hello! 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
JOURNEY THROUGH HELL
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 exclaimed. 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 plans. 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
THE BATTLE ON THE BLACKBIRD’S FIELD*
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
THE CROWNED ONE OF THE BLACKBIRD’S FIELD*
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