Friday, 11 July 2014

The Windows by C.P. Cavafy

In these dark rooms where I live out
empty days, I circle back and forth
trying to find the windows.
It will be a great relief when a window opens.
But the windows are not there to be found—
or at least I cannot find them. And perhaps
it is better that I don’t find them.
Perhaps the light will prove another tyranny.
Who knows what new things it will expose? 

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Nothing's A Gift by Wislawa Szymborska

Nothing's a gift, it's all on loan.
I'm drowning in debts up to my ears.
I'll have to pay for myself
with my self,
give up my life for my life.

Here's how it's arranged:
The heart can be repossessed,
the liver, too,
and each single finger and toe.

Too late to tear up the terms,
my debts will be repaid,
and I'll be fleeced,
or, more precisely, flayed.

I move about the planet
in a crush of other debtors.
some are saddled with the burden
of paying off their wings.
Others must, willy-nilly,
account for every leaf.

Every tissue in us lies
on the debit side.
Not a tenacle or tendril
is for keeps.

The inventory, infinitely detailed,
implies we'll be left
not just empty-handed
but handless too.

I can't remember
where, when, and why
I let someone open
this account in my name.

We call the protest against this
the soul.
And it's the only item
not included on the list.
~ Wislawa Szymborska ~
(Poems New and Collected 1957-1997, trans. S. Baranczak and C. Cavanagh)

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Earth Song

Earth Song

from Senegal

Listen to things more often than beings.
Hear the voice of the fire, hear the voice of the water,
Listen in the wind to the sighing of the bush:
This is the ancestors breathing.
Those who are dead are never gone;
The dead are not down in the earth:
They are in the trembling of the trees,
In the groaning of the woods,
In the water that runs, in the water that sleeps,
They are in the hut, they are in the crowd.
Those who are dead are not ever gone;
They are in the woman's breast, they are in the wailing of a child,
They are in the burning log and in the moaning rock.
They are in the weeping grasses, in the forest and the home.
Listen to things more often than beings.
Hear the voice of fire, hear the voice of water.
Listen in the wind to the sighing of the bush.
This is the ancestors breathing. 

(Traditional from Senegal, translator unknown)

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Monody to the Sound of Zithers by Kay Boyle

I have wanted other things more than lovers ...
I have desired peace, intimately to know
The secret curves of deep-bosomed contentment,
To learn by heart things beautiful and slow.
Cities at night, and cloudful skies, I've wanted; 
And open cottage doors, old colors and smells a part;
All dim things, layers of river-mist on river--
To capture Beauty's hands and lay them on my heart.
I have wanted clean rain to kiss my eyelids,
Sea-spray and silver foam to kiss my mouth. 
I have wanted strong winds to flay me with passion;
And, to soothe me, tired winds from the south.
These things have I wanted more than lovers...
Jewels in my hands, and dew on morning grass--
Familiar things, while lovers have been strangers. 
Friended thus, I have let nothing pass.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Mountain Pines by Robinson Jeffers

In scornful upright loneliness they stand, 
Counting themselves no kin of anything 
Whether of earth or sky. Their gnarled roots cling 
Like wasted fingers of a clutching hand 
In the grim rock. A silent spectral band 
They watch the old sky, but hold no communing 
With aught. Only, when some lone eagle's wing 
Flaps past above their grey and desolate land, 
Or when the wind pants up a rough-hewn glen, 
Bending them down as with an age of thought, 
Or when, 'mid flying clouds that can not dull 
Her constant light, the moon shines silver, then 
They find a soul, and their dim moan is wrought 
Into a singing sad and beautiful.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Ovid Speaks by Ovid

On this day, January 2 in the year 17 A. D. Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso) lost and exiled along the Black Sea, wrote one of the finest poems 'Ovid speaks' -

A hundred curses on this place of banishment,
back door to nowhere by the Black Sea.
The warmest day here would freeze the legs off a heron!

It’s a far cry from the cosiness and comforts of Rome.
I’m going to seed here among barbarians
with as much learning and table manners between them as a flea.

Oh for a drop of that divine elixir,
fruit of the vine that gives sparkle to words!
For liquor here there’s nothing but ice in the bottom of a jug.

Oh for the sunny slopes of those homeland vines again,
olive groves, wooded hills.
There I could live off consonants and vowels.

Scintillating Rome! Always in my thoughts,
where I juggled with life and death. There I gave colour
to humility, boldness to the sweetest sounds.

My brain will snap before I understand this Black Sea blather,
it strikes the ears betimes as the howl of wolves,
other times the wrenching of ice from itself.

Augustus it was who betrayed me and blackened my name,
but harsh though his judgement, his punishment, might seem
I swear he will not have victory over my words.

No king, no regime, however powerful
will tyrannise my poetry now or in times to come.
From age to age my poems will surge. They will speak

To rising generations in the fullness of time;
freemen who couldn’t care less about Caesar and his ilk.
This is our age, let him know it, the age of Ovid, Virgil and Horace.

But Augustus is too self-important to see
that it is by the grace of poets that he lives and breathes,
and so will it always be; it is we who fashion the ageless legislation

Of the free word, the honest word that bows not to tyranny,
the glowing commandments of poetry forever guarded by the Muse.
Forgive this hubris, this pride that has brimmed over,

Stature, name and honour have been taken from me
I’m rootless, a beggar. Thrown to the winds
the Word my only home.

Nothing to do but brandish my quill.