Poems in Translation-1

POETS ON THIS PAGE:

“MY LOVE IS ONE AND ONLY, WITHOUT PEER” [ANON.; tr. by Foster] * “I WISH I WERE HER NUBIAN GIRL” [ANON.; tr. by John L. Foster] * ZHANG HENG * “FIGHTING SOUTH OF THE CASTLE” [ANON.; tr. by Arthur Waley] * HOMER * VIRGIL * GAIUS VALERIUS CATULLUS * DECIMUS JUNIUS JUVENALIS (a.k.a. JUVENAL) * LI PO * TU FU * LAO-TZU * FRANCIS PETRARCH * FOLGORE DA SAN GIMIGNANO * DANTE ALIGHIERI * GEORG TRAKL * FEDERICO GARCIA LORCA * PABLO NERUDA * RAINER MARIA RILKE * HUGO VON HOFMANNSTHAL * WISLAWA SZYMBORSKA * PAUL CELAN * BERTOLT BRECHT

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[My love is one and only, without peer]

My love is one and only, without peer, 
         lovely above all Egypt’s lovely girls. 
On the horizon of my seeing, 
         see her, rising, 
Glistening goddess of the sunrise star 
         bright in the forehead of a lucky year.  
So there she stands, epitome 
         of shining, shedding light, 
Her eyebrows, gleaming darkly, marking 
         eyes which dance and wander. 
Sweet are those lips, which chatter
         (but never a word too much), 
And the line of the long neck lovely, dropping
         (since song’s notes slide that way) 
To young breasts firm in the bouncing light 
         which shimmers that blueshadowed sidefall of hair. 
And slim are those arms, overtoned with gold, 
         those fingers which touch like a brush of lotus.
And (ah) how the curve of her back slips gently 
         by a whisper of waist to god’s plenty below.
(Such thighs as hers pass knowledge
         of loveliness known in the old days.)
Dressed in the perfect flesh of woman
         (heart would run captive to such slim arms),
                  she ladies it over the earth,
Schooling the neck of each schoolboy male
         to swing on a swivel to see her move.
(He who could hold that body tight
                  would know at last
                          perfection of delight-—
Best of the bullyboys,
         first among lovers.)
Look you, all men, at that golden going,
         like Our Lady of Love,
                       without peer.

                                         Ramesside Period (1292-1070 BC ca.)

by Anonymous; translated from ancient Egyptian by John L. Foster

[I WISH I WERE HER NUBIAN GIRL]

I wish I were her Nubian girl,
              one to attend her (bosom companion),
Confidante, and child of discretion:
              Close hidden at nightfall we whisper
As (modest by day) she offers
              breasts like ripe berries to evening-—
Her long gown settles, then, bodiless,
              hangs from my helping hand.
O she'll give pleasure! in future
              no grown man will deny it!
But tonight, to me, this chaste girl
              bares unthinking the delicate blush
Of a most secret landscape,
              her woman's body.

by Anonymous; translated from ancient Egyptian by John L. Foster

[CLICK HERE] for “The Bones of Zhuangzi” by Zhang Heng (78-139 A.D.) as translated by Arthur Waley

FIGHTING SOUTH OF THE CASTLE

They fought south of the Castle, 

They died north of the wall. 

They died in the moors and were not buried. 
Their flesh was the food of crows. 

"Tell the crows we are not afraid; 

We have died in the moors and cannot be buried. 
Crows, how can our bodies escape you?” 

The waters flowed deep 

And the rushes in the pool were dark. 

The riders fought and were slain: 

Their horses wander neighing.

by Anonymous, G.I24 B.C.; translated from the Chinese by Arthur Waley



[CLICK HERE] for “The Odyssey” by Homer as translated by Robert Fitzgerald


[CLICK HERE FOR STEPHEN MITCHELL’S TRANSLATION OF HOMER’S ILIAD]


[CLICK HERE FOR ROBERT FAGLES’ TRANSLATION OF VIRGIL’S AENEID]


Sparrow, the Special Delight of My Girl

Sparrow, the special delight of my girl, 
whom often she teases and holds on her lap 
and pokes with the tip of her finger, provoking 
counterattacks with your mordant beak, 
whenever my luminous love desires 
something or other, innocuous fun, 
a bit of escape, I suppose, from her pain, 
a moment of peace from her turbulent passion, 
I wish I could play like she does with you 
and lighten the cares of my sorrowful soul. 
It thrills me as much as the nimble girl 
in the story was thrilled by the gilded apple 
that finally uncinched her virginal gown.

To me that man seems like a god in heaven (51)

To me that man seems like a god in heaven,
seems—-may I say it?—-greater than all gods are,
who sits by you & without interruption
	watches you, listens

to your light laughter, which casts such confusion
onto my senses, Lesbia, that when I 
gaze at you merely, all of my well-chosen
	words are forgotten

as my tongue thickens & a subtle fire
runs through my body while my ears deafened
by their own ringing & at once my eyes are
	covered in darkness!

Leisure, Catullus. More than just a nuisance,
leisure: you riot, overmuch enthusing.
Fabulous cities & their sometime kings have
	died of such leisure.

Let Us Live and Love (5)

My sweetest Lesbia, let us live and love;
And though the sager sort our deeds reprove,
Let us not weigh them. Heaven's great lamps do dive
Into their west, and straight again revive;
But, soon as once set is our little light,
Then must we sleep one ever-during night.

If all would lead their lives in love like me,
Then bloody swords and armor should not be;
No drum nor trumpet peaceful sleeps should move,
Unless alarm came from camp of love.
But fools do live and waster their little light,
And seek with pain their ever-during night.

When timely death my life and fortune ends,
Let not my hearse be vexed with mourning friends;
But let all lovers rich in triumph come,
And with sweet pastime grace my happy tomb.
And, Lesbia, close up thou my little light,
And crown with love by ever-during night.


HANNIBAL

Throw Hannibal on the scales, how many pounds
does the great captain come to? This is he
who found the plains of Africa too small,
rich Carthage with her mercenary grip 
stretched from Gibratar to the steaming Nile
and back to Ethiopia, her stud 
for slaves and elephants. He set his hand
firmly on Spain, then scaled the Pyrenees;
when snows, the Alps, and Nature blocked his road,
he derricked rocks, and split the mountainsides
with vinegar. Now Italy is his;
the march goes on. 'Think nothing done,' he says,
'until my Punic soldiers hack through Rome,
and plant my standard over the Suburva's
whorehouses.' What a face for painters! Look,
the one-eyed leader prods his elephant!
And what's the end? O glory! Like the others,
he is defeated, then the worried flight, 
the great, world-famous client cools his heels
in royal anterooms, and waits on some 
small despot, sleeping off a drunken meal.
What is the last day of this mighty spirit
whose valor turned the known world on its head?
Not swords, or pikes, or legions--no, not these,
his crown for Cannae and those seas of blood
is poison in a ring. March, madman, cross
the Alps, the Tiber--be a purple patch
for schoolboys, and them for declamation!

by Decimus Junius Juvenalis, (55–60? CE127?); translated loosely from Latin by Robert Lowell



DRINKING ALONE BY MOONLIGHT

I

A cup of wine, under the flowering trees;
I drink alone, for no friend is near.
Raising my cup I beckon the bright moon,
For he, with my shadow, will make three men.
The moon, alas, is no drinker of wine;
Listless, my shadow creeps about at my side.
Yet with the moon as friend and the shadow as slave
I must make merry before the Spring is spent.
To the songs I sing the moon flickers her beams;
In the dance I weave my shadow tangles and breaks.
While we were sober, three shared the fun;
Now we are drunk, each goes his way.
May we long share our odd, inanimate feast,
And meet at last on the Cloudy River of the sky.

II

In the third month the town of Hsien-yang 
Is thick-spread with a carpet of fallen flowers. 
Who in Spring can bear to grieve alone? 
Who, sober, look on sights like these? 
Riches and Poverty, long or short life, 
By the Maker of Things are portioned and disposed; 
But a cup of wine levels life and death 
And a thousand things obstinately hard to prove. 
When I am drunk, I lose Heaven and Earth.
Motionless—I cleave to my lonely bed. 
At last I forget that I exist at all, 
And at that moment my joy is great indeed.

III

If High Heaven had no love for wine,
There would not be a Wine Star in the sky.
If Earth herself had no love for wine,
There would not be a city called Wine Springs.[2]
Since Heaven and Earth both love wine,
I can love wine, without shame before God.
Clear wine was once called a Saint;[3]
Thick wine was once called "a Sage."[3]

Of Saint and Sage I have long quaffed deep,
What need for me to study spirits and hsien?[4]
At the third cup I penetrate the Great Way;
A full gallon—Nature and I are one...
But the things I feel when wine possesses my soul
I will never tell to those who are not drunk.

by  Li Po, 701-762; translated from the Chinese by Arthur Waley

Pound’s English-language version of poem by Li Po [aka Rihaku]–“The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter” read here by actress Jodie Foster:

The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter

                                        After Li Po

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chōkan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.
At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever, and forever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed
You went into far Ku-tō-en, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me.
I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
As far as Chō-fū-Sa.

by  Li Po, 701-762; loosely translated from the Chinese by Ezra Pound, 1885–1972

from Pound’s Selected Poems (1957)


MY THATCHED ROOF IS RUINED BY THE AUTUMN WIND

In the high autumn skies of September
  the wind cried out in rage,
Tearing off in whirls from my rooftop
  three plies of thatch.
The thatch flew across the river,
  was strewn on the floodplain,
The high stalks tangled in tips
  of tall forest trees,
The low ones swirled in gusts across ground
  and sank into mud puddles
The children from the village to the south
  made a fool of me, impotent with age,
Without compunction plundered what was mine
  before my very eyes,
Brazenly took armfuls of thatch,
  ran off into the bamboo,
And I screamed lips dry and throat raw,
  but no use.
Then I made my way home, leaning on staff,
  sighing to myself.
A moment later the wind calmed down,
  clouds turned dark as ink,
The autumn sky rolling and overcast,
  blacker towards sunset,
And our cotton quilts were years old
  and cold as iron,
My little boy slept poorly,
  kicked rips in them.
Above the bed the roof leaked,
  no place was dry,
And the raindrops ran down like strings,
  without a break.
I have lived through upheavals and ruin
  and have seldom slept very well,
But have no idea how I shall pass
  this night of soaking
Oh, to own a mighty mansion
  of a hundred thousand rooms,
A great roof for the poorest gentlemen
  of all this world,
  a place to make them smile
A building unshaken by wind or rain,
  as solid as a mountain,
Oh, when shall I see before my eyes
  a towering roof such as this?
Then I'd accept the ruin of my own little hut
  and death by freezing.

by Tu Fu, 712-770; translated from the Chinese by Stephen Owen



FOR STEPHEN MITCHELL’S TRANSLATION OF LAO-TZU’S “TAO TE  CHING” [CLICK HERE]



SONNET 333

Go, grieving rimes of mine, to that hard stone
Whereunder lies my darling, lies my dear,
And cry to her to speak from heaven's sphere.
Her mortal part with grass is overgrown.

Tell her, I'm sick of living; that I'm blown
By winds of grief from the course I ought to steer,
That praise of her is all my purpose here
And all my business; that of her alone

Do I go telling, that how she lived and died
And lives again in immortality,
All men may know, and love my Laura's grace.

Oh, may she deign to stand at my bedside
When I come to die; and may she call to me
And draw me to her in the blessèd place!

by Francis Petrarch, 1304-1374; translated from Italian by Morris Bishop



from SONNETS OF THE MONTHS

(ADDRESSED TO A FELLOWSHIP OF SIENESE NOBLES)

MAY

I give you horses for your games in May,
   And all of them well trained unto the course,—
   Each docile, swift, erect, a goodly horse;
   With armour on their chests, and bells at play
Between their brows, and pennons fair and gay;
   Fine nets, and housings meet for warriors,
   Emblazoned with the shields ye claim for yours,
   Gules, argent, or, all dizzy at noonday.
And spears shall split, and fruit go flying up
   In merry counterchange for wreaths that drop
   From balconies and casements far above;
And tender damsels with young men and youths
   Shall kiss together on the cheeks and mouths;
   And every day be glad with joyful love.

DECEMBER

Last, for December, houses on the plain,
   Ground-floors to live in, logs heaped mountain-high,
   And carpets stretched, and newest games to try,
   And torches lit, and gifts from man to man:
(Your host, a drunkard and a Catalan;)
   And whole dead pigs, and cunning cooks to ply
   Each throat with tit-bits that shall satisfy;
   And wine-butts of Saint Galganus' brave span.
And be your coats well-lined and tightly bound,
   And wrap yourselves in cloaks of strength and weight,
   With gallant hoods to put your faces through.
And make your game of abject vagabond
   Abandoned miserable reprobate
   Misers; don't let them have a chance with you.


by Folgore da San Gimignanp, 1250?-1317; translated from Italian 
   by Dante Gabriel Rossetti



“The Inferno” by Dante Alighieri as translated by Mark Musa:



for info on Georg Trakl and his poetry click here

DE PROFUNDIS

It is a stubble field, where a black rain is falling.
It is a brown tree, that stands alone.
It is a hissing wind, that encircles empty houses.
How melancholy the evening is.

Beyond the village,
The soft orphan garners the sparse ears of corn.
Her eyes graze, round and golden, in the twilight
And her womb awaits the heavenly bridegroom.

On the way home
The shepherd found the sweet body
Decayed in a bush of thorns.

I am a shadow far from darkening villages.
I drank the silence of God
Out of the stream in the trees.

Cold metal walks on my forehead.
Spiders search for my heart.
It is a light that goes out in my mouth.

At night, I found myself in a pasture,
Covered with rubbish and the dust of stars.
In a hazel thicket
Angels of crystal rang out once more.

by Georg Trakl (1887-1914) as translated by James Wright

GRODEK*

At nightfall the autumn woods cry out
With deadly weapons and the golden plains,
The deep blue lakes, above which more darkly
Rolls the sun; the night embraces
Dying warriors, the wild lament
Of their broken mouths.
But quietly at the meadow’s end
Red clouds in which an angry God resides,
The shed blood gathers, lunar coolness.
Every road leads to blackest carrion.
Under golden twigs of the night and stars
The sister's shade now sways through the silent copse
To greet the ghosts of the heroes, the bleeding heads;
And softly the dark flutes of Autumn sound in the reeds.
O prouder grief! You brazen altars,
Today a great pain feeds the hot flame of the spirit,
The grandsons yet unborn.

by Georg Trakl (1887-1914); translated by Michael Hamburger

*Georg Trakl enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian army as a medic in 1914 at the beginning of World War I. He personally witnessed the carnage of the battle at Grodek, in which the Austrian army suffered a bloody defeat at the hands of the Russians. One evening following the battle he ran outside and attempted to shoot himself to avoid the cries of the wounded and dying; he was prevented from doing so and was sent to a mental hospital. “Grodek” was either his last poem or one of his very last poems. He died of a self-administered overdose of cocaine in the psychiatric ward of a military hospital in Cracow; while it is often assumed that Trakl chose to end his life, it is unclear whether the overdose was intentional or accidental. He was 27 at the time of his death. –Wikipedia

To see Michael Hamburger’s translation of Trakl’s “Sebastian in Dream” click here




Romance Sonámbulo (Sleepwalking Ballad)

Green, how I want you green.
Green wind. Green branches.
The ship out on the sea
and the horse on the mountain.
With the shade around her waist
she dreams on her balcony,
green flesh, her hair green,
with eyes of cold silver.
Green, how I want you green.
Under the gypsy moon,
all things are watching her
and she cannot see them.

Green, how I want you green.
Big hoarfrost stars
come with the fish of shadow
that opens the road of dawn.
The fig tree rubs its wind
with the sandpaper of its branches,
and the forest, cunning cat,
bristles its brittle fibers.
But who will come? And from where?
She is still on her balcony
green flesh, her hair green,
dreaming in the bitter sea.

--My friend, I want to trade
my horse for her house,
my saddle for her mirror,
my knife for her blanket.
My friend, I come bleeding
from the gates of Cabra.
--If it were possible, my boy,
I'd help you fix that trade.
But now I am not I,
nor is my house now my house.
--My friend, I want to die
decently in my bed
Of iron, if that's possible,
with blankets of fine chambray.
Don't you see the wound I have
from my chest up to my throat?
--Your white shirt has grown
thirty dark brown roses.
Your blood oozes and flees
around the corners of your sash.
But now I am not I,
nor is my house now my house.
--Let me climb up, at least,
up to the high balconies;
Let me climb up! Let me,
up to the green balconies,
Railings of the moon
through which the water rumbles.

Now the two friends climb up,
up to the high balconies.
Leaving a trail of blood.
Leaving a trail of teardrops.
Tin bell vines
were trembling on the roofs.
A thousand crystal tambourines
struck at the dawn light.

Green, how I want you green,
green wind, green branches.
The two friends climbed up.
The stiff wind left
in their mouths, a strange taste
of bile, of mint, and of basil
My friend, where is she--tell me--
where is your bitter girl?
How many times she waited for you!
How many times would she wait for you,
cool face, black hair,
on this green balcony!
Over the mouth of the cistern
the gypsy girl was swinging,
green flesh, her hair green,
with eyes of cold silver.
An icicle of moon
holds her up above the water.
The night became intimate
like a little plaza.
Drunken 'Guardias Civiles'
were pounding on the door.
Green, how I want you green.
Green wind. Green branches.
The ship out on the sea.
And the horse on the mountain.

by Frederico Garcia Lorca; translated from the Spanish by William Logan

The Unfaithful Married Woman

I took her to the river,
believing her unwed;
the fact she had a husband
was something left unsaid.
St. Jame's night is timely--
She would not let me wait--
The lights are put out early,
the fireflies light up late.

I roused her sleeping bosom
right early in our walk;
her heart unfolded for me
like hyacinths on the stalk.
Her starchy skirts kept rustling
and crackled in my ears
like sheets of silk cut crosswise
at once by twenty shears.

The dark unsilvered treetops
grew tall, as on we strode;
dogs barked, a whole horizon,
far from the river road.

When we had passed the brambles
and the thickets on our round,
her coiled hair made a pillow
in a hollow on the ground:
As I undid my necktie,
her petticoats left their place;
I shed my leather holster,
and she, four layers of lace.

Not nard nor snail had ever
texture of skin so fine,
nor crystal in the moonlight
glimmered with purer shine:
Her thighs slipped from beneath me
like little trout in fright,
half chilly (but not frigid),
half full of shining light.

The whole night saw me posting
Upon my lovely mare;
mother-of-pearl the saddle,
no need for bridle and spur;
and what her whispers told me
a man should not repeat
when perfect understanding
has made the mind discreet.

Dirty with sand and kisses
I brought her from the shore
as the iris poised green sabres
at the night wind once more.

To act in decent fashion
as loyal gypsy should,
I gave her a sewing-basket,
satin and straw, and good;
and yet I would not love her
in spite of what she said
when I took her to the river,
for she was not unwed.

by Federico Garcia Lorca; translated from Spanish by Rolfe Humphries

RIDER’S SONG

Córdoba.
Far away and alone.

Black pony, big moon, 
and olives in my saddle-bag.
Although I know the roads
I’ll never reach Córdoba.

Through the plain, through the wind,
black pony, red moon.
Death is looking at me
from the towers of Córdoba.

Ay, How long the road!
Ay, My valiant pony!
Ay, That death should wait me
before I reach Córdoba.

Córdoba.
Far away and alone.

by Federico Garcia Lorca; translated from Spanish by Stephen Spender and J. L. Gili

Philip Levine reads Federico Garcia Lorca’s “New York (Office and Denunciation).”  The translator is uncredited. Written while García Lorca was a student at Columbia University in 1929-30, Poet in New York is arguably one of the poet’s most important works, and a powerful testament to New York City as seen through the eyes of one of the greatest writers of the 20th century:



A visual interpretation of Pablo Neruda‘s “Ode to my Socks” by Emma Wood:

Ode to My Socks by Pablo Neruda; translated by William Carlos Williams  [Spanish Text]

Maru Mori brought me
a pair
of socks
that she knitted with her own hands
of a shepherdess,
two soft socks
you’d say they were rabbits.
In them
I stuck my feet
as in
two
jewel cases
woven
with threads of
twilight
and lamb skins.Violent socks,
my feet were
two fish
made of wool,
two long sharks
of ultramarine blue
shot
with a tress of gold,
two gigantic blackbirds,
two cannons:
my feet
were honored
in this manner
by
these
celestial
socks.
They were
so beautiful
that for the first time
my feet seemed to me
unacceptable
like two decrepit
firemen, firemen
unworthy
of that embroidered
fire,
those luminous
socks.
Nevertheless
I resisted
the acute temptation
to keep them
as schoolboys
keep
fireflies,
or the erudite
collect
sacred documents,
I resisted
the furious impulse
to put them
in a cage
of gold
and to feed them
every day
bird seed
and the pulp of rosey
melon.
Like discoverers
who in the forest
yield the very rare
green deer
to the spit
and with regret
eat it,
I stretched out
my feet
and pulled over them
the
beautiful
socks
and
then my shoes.And this is
the moral of my ode:
twice beautiful
is beauty
and what is good is twice
good
when it is two socks
made of wool
in winter.

To see the Stephen Mitchell translation of Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to the Artichoke” click here.  Please note that the English version appears on alternate pages with the Spanish.

ODE TO THE TOMATO

The street
filled with tomatoes,
midday,
summer,
the light
splits
in two 
halves
of tomato,
the juice
runs
through the streets.
In June
the tomato
cuts loose,
invades
the kitchens,
takes over lunches,
sits down
comfortably
on sideboards,
among the glasses,
the butter dishes,
the blue saltshakers.
It has 
its own light,
a benign majesty.
Unfortunately, we have to
assassinate it:
the knife 
plunges
into its living flesh,
it is a red
viscera,
a cool,
deep,
inexhaustible
sun
fills the salads
of Chile,
is cheerfully married
to the clear onion,
and to celebrate,
oil 
lets itself
fall,
son and essence
of the olive tree,
onto the half-open hemispheres,
pepper
adds
its fragrance,
salt, its magnetism:
it is the day's
wedding,
parsley
raises
little flags,
potatoes
vigorously boil,
with its aroma
the steak
pounds
on the door,
it's time!
let's go!
and on
the table, in the belt
of summer,
the tomato,
luminary of earth,
repeated
and fertile
star,
shows us
its convolutions,
its canals,
the illustrious plenitude
and the abundance
without pit,
without husk,
without scales or thorns,
the gift
of its fiery color
and the totality of its coolness.

by Pablo Neruda, 1904–1973; translated by Stephen Mitchell

HORSES

From the window I saw the horses.

I was in Berlin, in winter. The light
was without light, the sky without sky.

The air white like wet bread.

And from my window a vacant arena,
bitten by the teeth of winter.

Suddenly, led by a man,
ten horses stepped out into the mist.

Hardly had they surged forth, like flame,
than to my eyes they filled the whole world,
empty till then. Perfect, ablaze,
they were like ten gods with pure white hoofs,
with manes like a dream of salt.

Their rumps were worlds and oranges.

Their color was honey, amber, fire.

Their necks were towers
cut from the stone of pride,
and behind their transparent eyes
energy raged, like a prisoner.

And there, in silence, in the middle
of the day, of the dark, slovenly winter,
the intense horses were blood
and rhythm, the animating treasure of life.

I looked, I looked and was reborn: without knowing it,
there, was the fountain, the dance of gold, the sky,
the fire that revived in beauty.

I have forgotten that dark Berlin winter.

I will not forget the light of the horses.

by Pablo Neruda, 1904–1973; translated by Stephen Mitchell

I LIKE FOR YOU TO BE STILL

I like for you to be still 
it is as though you are absent 
And you hear me from far away 
And my voice does not touch you 
it seems as though your eyes had flown away 
And it seems that a kiss had sealed your mouth 
As all things are filled with my soul 
You emerge from the things 
Filled with my soul 
You are like my soul 
A butterfly of dream 
And you are like the word: Melancholy 

I like for you to be still 
And you seem far away 
it sounds as though you are lamenting 
A butterfly cooing like a dove 
And you hear me from far away 
And my voice does not reach you 
Let me come to be still in your silence 
And let me talk to you with your silence 
That is bright as a lamp 
Simple, as a ring 
You are like the night 
With its stillness and constellations 
Your silence is that of a star 
As remote and candid 

I like for you to be still 
it is as though you are absent 
Distant and full of sorrow 
So you would've died 
One word then,
One smile is enough 
And I'm happy; 
Happy that it's not true

by Pablo Neruda, 1904–1973; translator unknown

Neruda’s poem (also translator unknown) is read by Tom O’Bedlam:

********************************************************************************************************



The Panther

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold anything else.
It seems to him there are a thousand bars;
and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils lifts, quietly--.
An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

 by Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875 – 1926; translated from German by Stephen Mitchell

Black Cat

A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze
will be absorbed and utterly disappear:

just as a raving madman, when nothing else
can ease him, charges into his dark night
howling, pounds on the padded wall, and feels
the rage being taken in and pacified.

She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,
she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once

as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.

by Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875 – 1926; translated from German by Stephen Mitchell

EVE

Look how she stands, high on the steep facade
of the cathedral, near the window-rose,
simply, holding in her hand the apple,
judged for all time as the guiltless-guilty

for the growing fruit her body held
which she gave birth to after parting from
the circle of eternities. She left
to face the strange New Earth, so young in years.

Oh, how she would have loved to stay a little
longer in that enchanted garden, where
the peaceful gentle beasts grazed side by side.

But Adam was resolved to leave, to go
out into this New Earth, and facing death
she followed him. God she had hardly known.

by Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875 – 1926; translated from German by Albert Ernest Flemming.

For Rilke’s “The Blind Man’s Song” as translated from German by Randall Jarrell, click here

The Spanish Dancer

As in the hand a match glows, swiftly white
before it bursts in flame and to all sides
licks its quivering tongues: within the ring
of spectators her wheeling dance is bright,
nimble, and fervid, twitches and grows wide.

And suddenly is made of pure fire.

Now her glances kindle the dark hair;
she twirls the floating skirts with daring art
into a whirlwind of consuming flame,
from which her naked arms alerty strike,
clattering like fearful rattlesnakes.

Then, as the fire presses her too closely,
imperiously she clutches it and throws it
with haughty gestures to the floor and watches
it rage and leap with flames that will not die–
until, victorious, surely, with a sweet
greeting smile, and holding her head high,
she tramples it to death with small, firm feet.


by Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875 – 1926; translated from German by C.F. MacIntyre


TWILIGHT OF THE OUTWARD LIFE

And children still grow up with longing eyes,
That know of nothing, still grow tall and perish,
And no new traveler treads a better way;

And fruits grow ripe and delicate to cherish
And still shall fall like dead birds from the skies,
And where they fell grow rotten in a day.

And still we feel cool winds on limbs still glowing,
That shudder westward; and we turn to say
Words, and we hear words; and cool winds are blowing

Our wilted hands through autumns of unclutching.
What use is all our tampering and touching?
Why laughter, that must soon turn pale and cry?

Who quarantined our lives in separate homes?
Our souls are trapped in lofts without a skylight;
We argue with a padlock till we die

In games we never meant to play for keeps.
And yet how much we say in saying: "twilight,"
A word from which man's grief and wisdom seeps

Like heavy honey out of swollen combs.

by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, 1874-1929

Translated from the German by Peter Viereck

ON THE TRANSITORY

My cheeks still feel their breath: how can it be
That these most recent days, these days just past,
Are gone, forever gone, gone totally.

Here is a thing no one can wholly grasp, 
Too terrible for tears or for complaint:
That all goes by, that all goes flowing past,

And that this Self of mine, all unconstrained,
Came gliding straight to me from a small child,
Came like a dog uncanny mute and strange,

And: that a hundred years ago, I was,
And my ancestors in their death-shrouds are
As close to me as my own hair is close,

As much a part of me as my own hair.

by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, 1874-1929

translated from the German by Naomi Replansky



A Little Girl Tugs at the Tablecloth 

She’s been in this world for over a year,
and in this world not everything’s been examined
and taken in hand.

The subject of today’s investigation
is things that don’t move by themselves.

They need to be helped along,
shoved, shifted,
taken from their place and relocated.

They don’t all want to go, e.g., the bookshelf,
the cupboard, the unyielding walls, the table.

But the tablecloth on the stubborn table
—when well-seized by its hems—
manifests a willingness to travel.

And the glasses, plates,
creamer, spoons, bowl,
are fairly shaking with desire.

It’s fascinating,
what form of motion will they take,
once they’re trembling on the brink:
will they roam across the ceiling?
fly around the lamp?
hop onto the windowsill and from there to a tree?

Mr. Newton still has no say in this.
Let him look down from the heavens and wave his hands.
This experiment must be completed.
And it will.

by Wisława Szymborska; translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.

from MONOLOGUE OF A DOG: New Poems by Wisława Szymborska, translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh. English translation copyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

The End and the Beginning

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won't
straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
can pass.

Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass, and bloody rags.

Someone has to drag in a girder
to prop up a wall,
Someone has to glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it's not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.

We'll need the bridges back,
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.

Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about
who will find it dull.

From out of the bushes
sometimes someone still unearths
rusted-out arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.

by Wisława Szymborska

from Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wisława Szymborska, 2001
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, NY
Translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak. Copyright 2001 by Wisława Szymborska. All rights reserved.

To see Hitler’s baby picture click here

Hitler’s First Photograph

And who's this little fellow in his itty-bitty robe?
That's tiny baby Adolf, the Hitlers' little boy!
Will he grow up to be an LL.D.?
Or a tenor in Vienna's Opera House?
Whose teensy hand is this, whose little ear and eye and nose?
Whose tummy full of milk, we just don't know:
printer's, doctor's, merchant's, priest's?
Where will those tootsy-wootsies finally wander?
To garden, to school, to an office, to a bride,
maybe to the Burgermeister's daughter? 

Precious little angel, mommy's sunshine, honeybun,
while he was being born a year ago,
there was no dearth of signs on the earth and in the sky:
spring sun, geraniums in windows,
the organ-grinder's music in the yard,
a lucky fortune wrapped in rosy paper,
then just before the labor his mother's fateful dream:
a dove seen in dream means joyful news,
if it is caught, a long-awaited guest will come.
Knock knock, who's there, it's Adolf's heartchen knocking. 

A little pacifier, diaper, rattle, bib,
our bouncing boy, thank God and knock on wood, is well,
looks just like his folks, like a kitten in a basket,
like the tots in every other family album.
Shush, let's not start crying, sugar,
the camera will click from under that black hood.

The Klinger Atelier, Grabenstrasse, Braunau,
and Braunau is small but worthy town,
honest businesses, obliging neighbors,
smell of yeast dough, of gray soap.
No one hears howling dogs, or fate's footsteps.
A history teacher loosens his collar
and yawns over homework.

by Wislawa Szymborska

Reprinted by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. from Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wisława Szymborska. Copyright 2001 by Wisława Szymborska.



musical poem by a Holocaust survivor:

DEATH FUGUE

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at sundown
we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night
we drink and we drink it
we dig a grave in the breezes there one lies unconfined
A man lives in the house he plays with the serpents he writes
he writes when dusk falls to Germany your golden hair Margarete
he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are flashing he 
     whistles his pack out
he whistles his Jews out in earth has them dig for a grave
he commands us strike up for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink in the morning at noon we drink you at sundown
we drink and we drink you
A man lives in the house he plays with the serpents he writes
he writes when dusk falls to Germany your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith we dig a grave in the breezes there one 
     lies unconfined.

He calls out jab deeper into the earth you lot you others sing now 
     and play
he grabs at the iron in his belt he waves it his eyes are blue
jab deeper you lot with your spades you others play on for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at noon in the morning we drink you at sundown
we drink you and we drink you
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith he plays with the serpents

He calls out more sweetly play death death is a master from Germany
he calls out more darkly now stroke your strings then as smoke you 
     will rise into air
then a grave you will have in the clouds there one lies unconfined

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at noon death is a master from Germany
we drink you at sundown and in the morning we drink and we drink you
death is a master from Germany his eyes are blue
he strikes you with leaden bullets his aim is true
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
he sets his pack on to us he grants us a grave in the air
he plays with the serpents and daydreams death is a master from 
     Germany
your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith

by Paul Celan; translated from German by Michael Hamburger



A prose poem:

IF SHARKS WERE PEOPLE

“If sharks were people,” Mr. K. was asked by his landlady’s little girl, “would they be nicer to the little fishes?”

“Certainly,” he said. “If sharks were people, they would build enormous boxes in the ocean for the little fish, with all kinds of food inside, both vegetable and animal. They would take care that the boxes always had fresh water, and in general they would make all kinds of sanitary arrangements. If, for example, a little fish were to injure a fin, it would immediately be bandaged, so that it would not die and be lost to the sharks before its time. So that the little fish would not become melancholy, there would be big water festivals from time to time; because cheerful fish taste better than melancholy ones.

“There would, of course, also be schools in the big boxes. In these schools the little fish would learn how to swim into the sharks’ jaws. They would need to know geography, for example, so that they could find the big sharks, who lie idly around somewhere. The principal subject would, of course, be the moral education of the little fish. They would be taught that it would be the best and most beautiful thing in the world if a little fish sacrificed itself cheerfully and that they all had to believe the sharks, especially when the latter said they were providing for a beautiful future. The little fish would be taught that this future is assured only if they learned obedience. The little fish had to beware of all base, materialist, egotistical and Marxist tendencies, and if one of their number betrayed such tendencies they would have to report it to the sharks immediately.

“If sharks were people, they would, of course, also wage wars against one another, in order to conquer other fish boxes and other little fish. The wars would be waged by their own little fish. They would teach their little fish that there was an enormous difference between themselves and the little fish belonging to the other sharks. Little fish, they would announce, are well known to be dumb, but they are silent in quite different languages and hence cannot possibly understand one another. Each little fish that killed a couple of other little fish in a war, enemy fishes, silent in their own language, would have a little medal made of seaweed pinned to it and be awarded the title of Hero.

“If sharks were people, there would, of course, also be art. There would be beautiful pictures, in which the sharks’ teeth would be portrayed in magnificent colours and their jaws as pure pleasure gardens, in which one could romp about splendidly. The theatres at the bottom of the sea would show heroic little fish swimming enthusiastically into the jaws of sharks, and the music would be so beautiful that to the accompaniment of its sounds, the orchestra leading the way, the little fish would stream dreamily into the sharks’ jaws, lulled by the most agreeable thoughts.

“There would also be a religion, if sharks were people. It would teach that little fish only really begin to live properly in the sharks’ stomachs.

“Furthermore, if sharks were people little fish would no longer be equal, as is the case now. Some would be given important offices and be placed above the others. Those who were a little bigger would even be allowed to eat up the smaller ones. That would be altogether agreeable for the sharks, since they themselves would more often get bigger bites to eat. And the bigger little fish, occupying their posts, would ensure order among the little fish, becoming teachers, officers, engineers in fish box construction, etc.

“In short, the sea would only begin to be civilized if sharks were people.

by Bertolt Brecht; translator (from German) unknown

Marianne Faithfull performs a Kurt Weill song with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht:

MACK THE KNIFE

Oh, the poor shark
Yes, the sweet shark
It has big teeth
Buried deep
Then there's Macheath
With his big knife
But it's hidden
In his slip

And this same shark
This poor sweet shark
It sheds red blood
When it bleeds
Mackie Big Knife
Wears a white glove
Pure in word and
Pure in deed

Sunday morning
Lovely blue sky
There's a corpse stretched
On the Strand
Who's the man cruisin'
The corner?
Well, it's Mackie
Knife in hand

Jenny Towler
Poor wee Jenny
There they found her
Knife in breast
Mackie's wandering
On the West Pier
Hoping only
For the best

Mind, that fire burnt
All through Soho
Seven kids dead
One old flower
Hey there, Mackie
How is she cuttin'?
Have another
Hold your hour

And those sweet babes
Under sixteen
Story goes that
Black and blue
For the price of
One good screwing
Mackie, Mackie
How could you?

For the price of
One good screwing
Mackie, Mackie
How could you? Oh, the poor shark
Yes, the sweet shark
It has big teeth
Buried deep
Then there's Macheath
With his big knife
But it's hidden
In his slip

And this same shark
This poor sweet shark
It sheds red blood
When it bleeds
Mackie Big Knife
Wears a white glove
Pure in word and
Pure in deed

Sunday morning
Lovely blue sky
There's a corpse stretched
On the Strand
Who's the man cruisin'
The corner?
Well, it's Mackie
Knife in hand

Jenny Towler
Poor wee Jenny
There they found her
Knife in breast
Mackie's wandering
On the West Pier
Hoping only
For the best

Mind, that fire burnt
All through Soho
Seven kids dead
One old flower
Hey there, Mackie
How is she cuttin'?
Have another
Hold your hour

And those sweet babes
Under sixteen
Story goes that
Black and blue
For the price of
One good screwing
Mackie, Mackie
How could you?

For the price of
One good screwing
Mackie, Mackie
How could you?

Original German lyrics by Bertolt Brecht; translated by Frank McGuinness; music by Kurt Weill ; from the music drama: The Threepenny Opera.



TO SEE PAGE 2 OF POEMS IN TRANSLATION CLICK HERE