POETS ON THIS PAGE: ABU’L QASIM AS’AD IBU BILLITA * “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 * PAUL VALERY * GUILLAUME APOLLINAIRE * NICANOR PARRA * VASKO POPA
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 the Arabic by Christopher Middleton and Leticia Garza-Falco´n
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.
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,
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,
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
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.
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
Someone is loose in Moscow who won’t stop
Ringing my phone.
Whoever-it-is listens, then hangs up.
What do you want? A bushel of rhymes or so?
An autograph? A bone?
Someone’s lucky number, for all I know,
Is the same, worse luck, as my own.
Or perhaps it’s an angel calling collect
To invite me to God’s throne.
Damn, I’ve been disconnected.
Or is it my old conscience, my power of choice
To which I’ve grown
A stranger, and which no longer knows my voice?
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
The Pretty Redhead
I stand here in the sight of everyone a man full of sense
Knowing life and knowing of death what a living man can know
Having gone through the griefs and happinesses of love
Having known sometimes how to impose his ideas
Knowing several languages
Having travelled more than a little
Having seen war in the artillery and the infantry
Wounded in the head trepanned under chloroform
Having lost his best friends in the horror of battle
I know as much as one man alone can know
Of the ancient and the new
And without troubling myself about this war today
Between us and for us my friends
I judge this long quarrel between tradition and imagination
Between order and adventure
You whose mouth is made in the image of God's mouth
Mouth which is order itself
Judge kindly when you compare us
With those who were the very perfection of order
We who are seeking everywhere for adventure
We are not your enemies
Who want to give ourselves vast strange domains
Where mystery flowers into any hands that long for it
Where there are new fires colors never seen
A thousand fantasies difficult to make sense out of
They must be made real
All we want is to explore kindness the enormous country where
everything is silent
And there is time which somebody can banish or welcome home
Pity for us who fight always on the frontiers
Of the illimitable and the future
Pity our mistakes pity our sins
Here summer is coming the violent season
And so my youth is as dead as spring
Oh Sun it is the time of reason grown passionate
And I am still waiting
To follow the forms she takes noble and gentle
So I may love her alone
She comes and draws me as a magnet draws filaments of iron
She has the lovely appearance
Of an adorable redhead
Her hair turns golden you would say
A beautiful lightning flash that goes on and on
Or the flames that spread out their feathers
In wilting tea roses
But laugh laugh at me
Men everywhere especially people from here
For there are so many things that I don't dare to tell you
So many things that you would not let me say
Have pity on me
by Guillaume Apollinaire; translated from the French by James Wright
TO SEE GUILLAUME APOLLINAIRE’S POEM “CHURCH BELLS” (TR. BY ANTHONY HECHT) [CLICK HERE]
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
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
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 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
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.