Friday, July 29, 2011

an epitaph - simonides

An Epitaph
by Simonides (tr. Burton Raffel)

I, Brotachos of Crete, lie in this ground,
Where I came not to die but to buy and sell.

Monday, July 18, 2011

a song out of tune - octavio paz

A Song Out Of Tune
by Octavio Paz (tr. Eliot Weinberger

non visto color de buen verdigay
nin trobo discor ni fago deslay
          Juan Alfonso de Baena

The day is short,
                          the hour long
Motionless I retrace its steps,
climbing its minor calvaries,
I descend on stairs made of air,
and am lost in transparent galleries
--but I don't find me,
                                and I don't see you.

The day is short,                                
                          the hour long.
I see my stubborn hand that writes
its circular words on the page,
I see my shadow on the page, I see 
myself falling through the hour's blank center
--but I don't find you,
                                 and I don't see me.

The day is short,
                          the hour long.
Time drags on, hides, and peeks,
time is buried, clods of air,
time sprouts up, a column of air,
it bashes my forehead, scrapes my lids
--but I don't find me,
                                and I don't see you.

The day is short,
                          the hour long.
I walk through lots and corridors and echoes,
my hands touch you and you suddenly vanish,
I look in your eyes and suddenly vanish,
the hour traces, erases, invents its reflections
--but I don't find you,
                                 and I don't see me.

The day is short,
                          the hour long.
There is a seed asleep in time,
that explodes in the air with a burst of syllables,
it is a word, and it speaks without speaking
the names of time, yours and mine,
--but I don't find me,
                                and I don't see you.

Names are fruit that ripen and fall;
the hours immense, inside itself it falls.

the suicide - jorge luis borges

The Suicide
by Jorge Luis Borges (tr. Alastair Reid)

Not a single star will be left in the night.
The night will not be left.
I will die and, with me,
the weight of the intolerable universe.
I shall erase the pyramids, the medallions,
the continents and faces.
I shall erase the accumulated past.
I shall make dust of history, dust of dust.
Now I am looking on the final sunset.
I am hearing the last bird.
I bequeath nothingness to no one.

my mother is not dead - leonard cohen

My Mother Is Not Dead
by Leonard Cohen

My mother isn't really dead.
Neither is yours.
I'm so happy for you.
You thought your mother was dead,
And now she isn't.
What about your father?
Is he well?
Don't worry about any of your relatives.
Do you see the insects?
One of them was once your dog.
But do not try to pat the at.
It will be destroyed by your awkward affection.
The tree is trying to touch me.
It used to be an afternoon.
Mother, mother,
I don't have to miss you any more.
Rover, Rover, Rex, Spot,
Here is the bone of my heart.

who's who - w.h. auden

Who's Who
by W.H. Auden

A shilling life will give you all the facts:
How father beat him, how he ran away,
What were the struggles of his youth, what acts
Made him the greatest figure of his day:
Of how he fought, fished, hunted, worked all night,
Though giddy, climbed new mountains; named a sea:
Some of the last researchers even write
Love made him weep his pints like you and me.

With all his honours on, he sighed for one
Who, say astonished critics, lived at home;
Did little jobs about the house with skill
And nothing else; could whistle; would sit still
Or potter round the garden; answered some
Of his long marvellous letters but kept none.

you take the first street - robert desnos

You Take The First Street
by Robert Desnos

You take the first street on the right
You go along the quai
You cross the bridge
You knock at the door of the house.

The sun shines
The river flows
At a window a geranium pot trembles
An auto goes by on the other bank.

You turn around to the cheerful landscape
Without seeing that the door has opened behind you
The woman stands on the threshold
The house if full of darkness.

But on the table you see the reflection
The reflection of daylight on a piece of fruit and a bottle
On an earthen-ware plate and on some furniture
And you stay there on the threshold between the
World full of people like you
And on your droning solitude
Of the entire world.

the watcher - jorge luis borges

The Watcher
by Jorge Luis Borges (tr. Alastair Reid)

The light enters and I remember who I am; he is there.
He begins by telling me his name which (it should now be
      clear) is mine.
I revert to the servitude which has lasted more than seven
     times ten years.
He saddles me with his rememberings.
He saddles me with the miseries of every day, the human
I am his old nurse; he requires me to wash his feet.
He spies on me in mirrors, in mahogany, in shop windows.
One or another woman has rejected him, and I must share
     his anguish.
He dictates to me now this poem, which I do not like.
He insists I apprentice myself tentatively to the stubborn
He has won me over to the hero worship of dead soldiers,
     people with whom I could scarcely exchange a single
On the last flight of stairs, I feel him at my side.
He is in my footsteps, in my voice.
Down to the last detail, I abhor him.
I am gratified to remark that he can hardly see.
I am in a circular cell and the infinite wall is closing in.
Neither of the two deceives the other, but we both lie.
We know each other too well, inseparable brother.
You drink the water from my cup and you wolf down my
The door to suicide is open, but theologians assert that, in the
     subsequent shadows of the other kingdom, there will I
     be, waiting for myself.

the face behind the face - yevgeny yevtushenko

The Face Behind The Face
by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (tr. Boyars & Franklin)

Where does it live, the face behind the face?
Everyone ought
To know all that there is
About the face that is his.

People often haven't a clue
About their very own I.
Each of us makes his own
Best defence counsel.

Nero, apparently, thought
He was a poet,
Hitler thought that he
Would redeem the world from woe!

The mean man thinks:  "I am so generous".
The shallow man:  "I am profound".
Sometimes God will sigh:  "I am a worm".
The worm hisses:  "I am God!"

The worms climb arrogantly upwards.
The coward rejoices to be in the clouds.
Only the free man
                "I am a slave".

the indifferent - john dunne

The Indifferent
by John Dunne

I can love both fair and brown,
Her whom abundance melts, and her whom want betrays,
Her who loves loneness best, and her who masques and plays,
Her whom believes, and her who tries,
Her who still weeps with spongy eyes,
And her who is dry cork and never cries;
I can lover her and her, and you and you;
I can love any, so she be not true.

Will no other vice content you?
Will it not serve your turn to do as did your mothers?
Have you old vices spent, and now would find out others?
Or doth a fear that men are true torment you?
Oh we are not, be not you so,
Let me, and do you, twenty know.
Rob me, but bind me not, and let me go.
Must I, who came to travel through you,
Grow your fixed subject because you are true?

Venus heard me sigh this song,
And by love's sweetest part, variety, she swore
She heard not this till now; it should be so no more.
She went, examined, and returned ere long,
And said, 'Alas, some two or three
Poor heretics in love there be,
Which think to stablish dangerous constancy.
But I have told them, "Since you will be true,
You shall be true to them, who're false to you.'"

i brought to art - c.p. cavafy

I Brought To Art
by C.P. Cavafy (tr. Rae Dalven)

I sit and meditate.     I brought to art
desires and feelings--     some things half seen,
faces or lines;     some indistinct memories
of unfulfilled loves.     Let me rely on her.
She knows how to fashion     a Figure of Beauty;
almost imperceptibly     rounding out life,
combining impressions,     combining the days.

'a girl is going to enter your brain...' - jean-pierre rosnay

'A girl is going to enter your brain...'
by Jean Pierre Rosnay (tr. J Kates)

            A girl is going to enter your brain.  Pay attention all of you because you
will be given no information about her, except for this: she is eleven years old
on an autumn day in 1908. Her father does this, her mother does that. Of course
they are both alive at the time we are speaking of. The girl laughs, something
girls often do. You may note that her parents are French. Later she will come to
France. You come across this girl in Vienna, in an Austria still delightful at the
time we are speaking of. She is wearing black patent leather shoes; not for one
instant does she suspect what her fate will be. She is eleven years old, I’ve already written that. Some thirty years from now, with her husband, she will fight in the Resistance and be deported to Ravensbruck.
            For this one instant, for all eternity, she is laughing. She is eleven years old.
            After you have read or listened to this poem, you will be able, if you
close your eyes, to see her clearly, to hear her laughing. Nothing will escape
you, not the color of her eyes, of her hair, of her pretty little dress, of her white
            But I have written too much about this. I leave you and go back to the
streets of Vienna where flares of music float along as in a movie.
            And the girl is smiling at me, she who does not know, innocent as she is,
that she has died, as have I.
            Reader how are you doing? How do you fit into this existence?

since i was thrown inside - deniz pernin

Since I Was Thrown Inside
by Nazim Hikmet (tr. Deniz Pernin)

Since I was thrown inside,
                       the earth has orbited the sun ten times.
If you ask it:
            "Not even worth mentioning,
                       a microscopic time."
If you ask me:
           "Ten years of my life."
I had a pencil
            the year I was thrown inside.
I used it all up in a week.
If you ask it:
           "A whole life."
If you ask me:
           "Come on now, just one week."
Since I was thrown inside,
                      Osman, doing time for murder,
                                  finished his seven and a half years and left,
                                  drifted around for a while,
                                  was thrown back inside for smuggling,
                                  did six months and was rereleased,
                                  his letter came yesterday, he's married,
                                  his child will be born in the spring.
They're ten years old now,
            the children who were conceived
                  the year I was thrown inside.
And that year's trembling, long-legged colts
             have long turned into confident, wide-rumped mares.
But the olive seeds are still olive seeds,
                           they're still children.
New squares have cropped up in my faraway city
                                   since I was thrown inside.
And my loved ones
            are living on a street I don't know
                                    in a home I've never seen
Bread was white, fluffy as cotton
                       the year I was thrown inside.
Then it was rationed
and here, inside, the people beat each other
           for a pitch-black, fist-size piece.

Now it flows freely again,
but dark and tasteless.
The year I was thrown inside,
             the second war hadn't started yet,
the ovens at Dachau weren't lit,
the atom bomb hadn't dropped on Hiroshima.
Time flowed like the blood of a child whose throat's been slit.
Then that chapter officially ended,
and now the U.S. dollar speaks of a third.
Yet, in spite of everything, the days have shone
                      since I was thrown inside,
and from the edges of darkness,
          the people, pressing their heavy hands to the pavement,
                               have begun to rise.
Since I was thrown inside
              the earth has orbited the sun ten times
and just as passionately I repeat
                         what I wrote
                                     the year I was thrown inside:
"The people, who are plentiful as ants on the ground
                                  as fish in the sea
                                           as birds in the sky,
who are cowardly, courageous,
                        ignorant, supreme
                                                  and childlike,
it is they who crush
             and create,
it is but their exploits sung in songs."
                       And as for the rest,
                                 my ten-year incarceration, for instance,
                                                        it's all meaningless words.

'i walked with the ships...' - leah goldberg

'I walked with the ships...'
by Leah Goldberg (tr. Annie Kantar)

I walked with the ships and stood with the bridges,
I was cast across the street
with the elm's falling leaves.
I had autumns, a cloud glowing
near a black chimney,
and a strange name
no one could guess.

'i would like my love to die...' - samuel beckett

'I would like my love to die...'
by Samuel Beckett

I would like my love to die
and the rain to be raining on the graveyard
and on me walking the streets
mourning her who thought she loved me

grace - jeffrey mcdaniel

by Jeffrey McDaniel

Glance at a woman on a train platform.
Suddenly we've been married for years.

I know all the delicate nuances
in her nine dialects of silence.

Can pick her from a thousand others
just with a sniff of her neck.

We sit next to each other, as we always have.

Our elbows touch, like the tips of matches.
Exactly the way I remember.

When she says excuse me, this is my stop,
there is nothing awkward about it.

how could speech exhaust the meaning of speech? - nikos stangos

How Could Speech Exhaust The Meaning Of Speech?
by Nikos Stangos

The platitudes of truth --
That was the beginning.
Now we can only turn back to
Deceiving words, the first ones,

Their acts and objects
pacts of symbolic exchange,
The most commonplace facts
That lucid writers glorified.

Certainty was constantly
Renewing itself, feeding on
The only knowledge:
That that was the way.

A most transparent truth
Its domination over the real
Capable of annihilating it
Like him, born of pain.

Ah, the deceiving spirit
Suddenly like him, born of light,
The fact that merely dazzles
And takes its place out of necessity.

You sat smiling
Spoken to rather than speaking
Turned against the good, 
A false renunciation.

And where is truth,
The meaning which goes unrecognized?
A closed circuit locked in
Ceremonial lies, obsessions at night.

Parent speech -- the monologue that activates the actor:
The birth of truth is speech
Neither true nor false
Imaginary nor real.

Tonight's disclosure is
A recitation in high voice
Produced before an audience --
Mass inertia.

It is made up history
And it is like an indirect quotation:
The chorus on the stage and the spectators'
Language emulate the truth of revelation,

Promises of a future, of reality,
Questions of recollection
Against promises of the future:
The proof, the turning point, the theorem

Through which we guide our steps
From month to month,
The hidden objects,
This act then is an act of history, or

Falsehood, a sacred lie,
What has been written down.
I do not know which history, or
What meaning is reestablished,

Common wisdom proclaimed that ever age
Had found its own philosopher.
Our recent past has revealed
This to be more speculation, without dignity.

Your words bear witness now,
This turning aside from reason
In the domain of pure language,
Submitting to ambiguities.

What is this place?
Here imagination is in the monarch
In his brilliant robes,
Rules of marble spaces

Where what appears is false
And what is false is truth,
The light changing direction
As usual revealing and concealing.

Your hero is a retarded child,
The master of relations,
Who studies his gloomy space
Future catastrophes, decaying words.

This place is empty.
What is going on?
We want the meaning that eludes
In such heroic impersonations.

Come close, come close.
Unwillingly we run away.
Night gathers, gathers,
Icy winds, whirl, whirl.

A large body is cut in fragments, freshly butchered
Is floating horizontally towards us,
Its wounds dripping deep red
Denials, fresh flesh food.  

"There, there, thousands
Of infants, in their swaddling clothes
Float by, a knife plunged deeply
In each infant bosom."

This is, you say, how language functions.
Can we convince ourselves of the necessity
For such spiritual catastrophe?
We are the prisoners of a closed circuit.

Back to the function of words:
The void which speaks words
When finally the day of destruction 
Will arrive, glorious in its conceit,

An instrument of healing or
Of search in words uttered as words
Within ourselves and giving speech to void
In suspect words when silence fails --

This is the ritual of murder,
An appeal to truth
Through which other appeals
Will find -- or think they find -- a faltering expression.

Hopeless mirages, fantasies, deceptions,
The silence spoken by the void which speaks
In tongues and borrowed words.
The artifice complete.

Such gifts which are condemned to fiction,
Narrations of sleepwalkers, moments
Which look like secretive encounters
Are the birth of what we think is truth expressed in words.

The testimony of reality is heard
Invoking past ambitions, making choices
Which charter the domain
Of false and glittering transactions.

Inscriptions are deciphered, traces read,
Their meanings growing out of longings
For love, closeness, forgiveness,
Only symbolic isolations will remain, as memories.  

The structure of a sentence
In our sight, a dark, fleeting reality
And also an obsession
With meanings which resist all change.

Regression, repetition, rhetoric,
Seductive metaphors sought in a dream,
The object of desire with single phrase
Which will contain all meanings.

What we were taught were double meanings,
Unstructured texts of deep symbolic lineage,
Symptoms of language with split figures,
Ambiguous numbers which conceal the real.

Secrets then glean in their masked words
When deceit dazzles with its forgeries,
The lucid writers hiding their laws,
Authors of phantom books of random choices.

And we in our innocence, curiously to learn,
Murmuring syllables we think reveal bright actions,
Crave for a language that belongs alone to the language to language,
Speech that enunciates such longings but does not replace them.

We think we've forged symbolic pacts with language,
Creators of a world of words taken for things,
Legible structures of incestuous marriages
Of images in words, of the one truth.