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
[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
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
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.
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? CE–127?); 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. Since Heaven and Earth both love wine, I can love wine, without shame before God. Clear wine was once called a Saint; Thick wine was once called "a Sage." Of Saint and Sage I have long quaffed deep, What need for me to study spirits and hsien? 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:
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]
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)
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.
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
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
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
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
that she knitted with her own hands
of a shepherdess,
two soft socks
you’d say they were rabbits.
I stuck my feet
with threads of
and lamb skins.Violent socks,
my feet were
made of wool,
two long sharks
of ultramarine blue
with a tress of gold,
two gigantic blackbirds,
in this manner
that for the first time
my feet seemed to me
like two decrepit
of that embroidered
the acute temptation
to keep them
or the erudite
the furious impulse
to put them
in a cage
and to feed them
and the pulp of rosey
who in the forest
yield the very rare
to the spit
and with regret
I stretched out
and pulled over them
then my shoes.And this is
the moral of my ode:
and what is good is twice
when it is two socks
made of wool
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
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:
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
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
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:
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?