Poems in Translation


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


“The Odyssey” by Homer as translated by Robert Fitzgerald


“The Aeneid” (Book 1) by Virgil as translated by Robert Fagles:


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


“De Profundis” by Georg Trakl (1887-1914)

as translated by James Wright


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.



Romance Sonámbulo (Sleepwalking Ballad)

By Frederico Garcia Lorca

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
thirsy dark brown roses.
Your blood oozes and flees a
round 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.

Translated by William Logan


Black Cat

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875 – 1926

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.

Translated by Stephen Mitchell.



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.

—Wisława Szymborska


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.


—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.

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