Friday, January 27, 2012

he would not stay for me, and who can wonder? - a.e. houseman

He would not stay for me, and who can wonder?
by A.E. Housman

He would not stay for me, and who can wonder?
He would not stay for me to stand and gaze.
I shook his hand, and tore my heart in sunder,
And went with half my life about my ways.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

consolation - wislawa szymborska

by Wislawa Szymborska

They say he read novels to relax,
But only certain kinds:
nothing that ended unhappily.
If anything like that turned up,
enraged, he flung the book into the fire.

True or not,
I’m ready to believe it.

Scanning in his mind so many times and places,
he’d had enough of dying species,
the triumphs of the strong over the weak,
the endless struggles to survive,
all doomed sooner or later.
He’d earned the right to happy endings,
at least in fiction
with its diminutions.

Hence the indispensable
silver lining,
the lovers reunited, the families reconciled,
the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded,
fortunes regained, treasures uncovered,
stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways,
good names restored, greed daunted,
old maids married off to worthy parsons,
troublemakers banished to other hemispheres,
forgers of documents tossed down the stairs,
seducers scurrying to the altar,
orphans sheltered, widows comforted,
pride humbled, wounds healed over,
prodigal sons summoned home,
cups of sorrow thrown into the ocean,
hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation,
general merriment and celebration,
and the dog Fido,
gone astray in the first chapter,
turns up barking gladly
in the last.

the problem - richard siken

The Problem
by Richard Siken

The problem (if there was one) was simply a problem with the question. He wants to paint a bird, needs to, and the problem is why. Why paint a bird? Why do anything at all? Not how, because hows are easy, series or sequence, one foot after the other, but existentially why bother, what does it solve? Be the tree, solve for bird. What does that mean? It’s a problem of focus, it’s a problem of diligence, it’s supposed to be a grackle but it sort of got away from him. But why not let the colors do what they want, which is blend, which is kind of neighborly, if you think about it. Blackbird, he says. So be it. Indexed and normative. Who gets to measure the distance between experience and its representation? Who controls the lines of inquiry? He does, but he’s not very good at it. And just because you want to paint a bird, do actually paint a bird, it doesn’t mean you’ve accomplished anything. Maybe if it was pretty, it would mean something. Maybe if it was beautiful it would be true. But it’s not, not beautiful, not true, not even realistic, more like a man in a birdsuit, blue shoulders instead of feathers, because he isn’t looking at a bird, real bird, as he paints, he is looking at his heart, which is impossible, unless his heart is a metaphor for his heart, as everything is a metaphor for itself, so that looking at the page is like looking out the window at a bird in your chest with a song in its throat that you don’t want to hear but you paint anyway because the hand is a voice that can sing what the voice will not and the hand wants to do something useful. Sometimes, at night, in bed, before I fall asleep, I think about a poem I might write, someday, about my heart, says the heart. Answer: be the heart. Answer: be the hand. Answer: be the bird. Answer: be the sky.

if i could tell you - w.h. auden

If I Could Tell You
by W.H. Auden

Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose all the lions get up and go,
And all the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

an unacceptable smile - kostas montis

An Unacceptable Smile
by Kostas Montis (tr. Amaranth Sitas & Charles Dodd)

I do not know how far the rights of a mirror reach,
I do not know if a mirror
has the right to break the rules
and examine the essence,
but in any case that mirror was interfering
and would not relay the smile;
it would not reflect.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

casabianca - elizabeth bishop

by Elizabeth Bishop

 Love's the boy stood on the burning deck
 trying to recite "The boy stood on
 the burning deck". Love's the son
        stood stammering elocution
        while the poor ship in flames went down.

 Love's the obstinate boy, the ship,
 even the swimming sailors, who
 would like a schoolroom platform, too
        or an excuse to stay
        on deck. And love's the burning boy.

kites - kostas montis

by Kostas Montis (tr. Amaranth Sitas & Charles Dodd)

We are kites,
kites caught on the electric wires,
with those broken strings,
with that torn paper,
with that abandonment to the wind,
with that abandonment to mockery,
with that abandonment to the end.

those who love - sara teasdale

Those Who Love
by Sara Teasdale

Those who love the most,
Do not talk of their love,
Francesca, Guinevere,
Deirdre, Iseult, Heloise,
In the fragrant gardens of heaven
Are silent, or speak if at all
Of fragile, inconsequent things.

And a woman I used to know
Who loved one man from her youth,
Against the strength of the fates
Fighting in somber pride,
Never spoke of this thing,
But hearing his name by chance,
A light would pass over her face.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

the eyes of the poor - charles baudelaire

The Eyes Of The Poor
by Charles Baudelaire

Ah! So you would like to know why I hate you today? It will certainly be harder for you to understand than for me to explain, for you are, I believe, the most perfect example of feminine impermeability that exists.

We had spent a long day together which to me had seemed short. We had duly promised each other that all our thoughts should be shared in common, and that our two souls henceforth be but one -- a dream which, after all, has nothing original about it except that, although dreamed by every man on earth, it has been realized by none.

That evening, a little tired, you wanted to sit down in front of a new cafe forming the corner of a new boulevard still littered with rubbish but that already displayed proudly its unfinished splendors. The cafe was dazzling. Even the gas burned with all the ardor of a debut, and lighted with all its might the blinding whiteness of the walls, the expanse of mirrors, the gold cornices and moldings, fat-cheeked pages dragged along by hounds on leash, laughing ladies with falcons on their writs, nymphs and goddesses bearing on their heads piles of fruits, pates and game, Hebes and Ganymedes holding out little amphoras of syrups or party-colored ices; all history and all mythology pandering to gluttony.

On the street directly in front of us, a worthy man of about forty, with tired face and greying beard, was standing holding a small boy by the hand and carrying on his arm another little thing, still too weak to walk. He was playing nurse-maid, taking the children for an evening stroll. They were in rags. The three faces were extraordinarily serious, and those six eyes stared fixedly at the new cafe with admiration, equal in degree but differing in kind according to their ages.

The eyes of the father said: "How beautiful it is! How beautiful it is! All the gold of the poor world must have found its way onto those walls." The eyes of the little boy: "How beautiful it is! How beautiful it is! But it is a house where only people who are not like us can go." As for the baby, he was much too fascinated to express anything but joy -- utterly stupid and profound.

Song writers say that pleasure ennobles the soul and softens the heart. The song was right that evening as far as I was concerned. Not only was I touched by this family of eyes but I was even a little ashamed of our glasses and decanters, too big for our thirst. I turned my eyes to look into yours, dear love, to read my thoughts in them; and as I plunged my eyes into your eyes, so beautiful and curiously soft, into those green eyes, home of Caprice and governed by the Moon, you said: "Those people are insufferable with their great saucer eyes. Can't you tell the proprietor to send them away?"

So you see how difficult it is to understand one another, my dear angel, how incommunicable thought is, even between two people in love.

Les yeux des pauvres
by Charles Baudelaire

Ah! vous voulez savoir pourquoi je vous hais aujourd'hui. Il vous sera sans doute moins facile de le comprendre qu'a moi de vous l'expliquer; car vous etes, je crois, le plus bel exemple d'imperméabilité féminine qui se puisse rencontrer.
Nous avions passé ensemble une longue journée qui m'avait paru courte. Nous nous étions bien promis que toutes nos pensées nous seraient communes a l'un et a l'autre, et que nos deux âmes désormais n'en feraient plus qu'une; - un reve qui n'a rien d'original, apres tout, si ce n'est que, revé par tous les hommes, il n'a été réalisé par aucun.
Le soir, un peu fatiguée, vous voulutes vous asseoir devant un café neuf qui formait le coin d'un boulevard neuf, encore tout plein de gravois et montrant déja glorieusement ses splendeurs inachevées
Le café étincelait. Le gaz lui-meme y déployait toute l'ardeur d'un début, et éclairait de toutes ses forces les murs aveuglants de blancheur, les nappes éblouissantes des miroirs, les ors des baguettes et des corniches, les pages aux joues rebondies tramés par les chiens en laisse, les dames riant au faucon perché sur leur poing, les nymphes et les déesses portant sur leur tete des fruits, des pâtés et du gibier, les Hébés et les Ganymedes présentant a bras tendu la petite amphore a bavaroises ou l'obélisque bicolore des glaces panachées; toute l'histoire et toute la mythologie mises au service de la goinfrerie
Droit devant nous, sur la chaussée, était planté un brave homme d'une quarantaine d'années, au visage fatigué, a la barbe grisonnante, tenant d'une main un petit garçon et portant sur l'autre bras un petit etre trop faible pour marcher. Il remplissait l'office de bonne et faisait prendre a ses enfants l'air du soir.
Tous en guenilles. Ces trois visages étaient extraordinairement sérieux, et ces six yeux contemplaient fixement le café nouveau avec une admiration égale, mais nuancée diversement par l'âge.
Les yeux du pere disaient: "Que c'est beau! que c'est beau! on dirait que tout l'or du pauvre monde est venu se porter sur ces murs." - Les yeux du petit garçon: "Que c'est beau! que c'est beau! mais c'est une maison ou peuvent seuls entrer les gens qui ne sont pas comme nous." - Quant aux yeux du plus petit, ils étaient trop fascinés pour exprimer autre chose qu'une joie stupide et profonde.
Les chansonniers disent que le plaisir rend l'âme bonne et amollit le coeur. La chanson avait raison ce soir-la, relativement a moi. Non-seulement j'étais attendri par cette famille d'yeux, mais je me sentais un peu honteux de nos verres et de nos carafes, plus grands que notre soif. Je tournais mes regards vers les vôtres, cher amour, pour y lire ma pensée; je plongeais dans vos yeux si beaux et si bizarrement doux, dans vos yeux verts, habités par le Caprice et inspirés par la Lune, quand vous me dites: "Ces gens-la me sont insupportables avec leurs yeux ouverts comme des portes cocheres! Ne pourriez-vous pas prier le maître du café de les éloigner d'ici?"

Tant il est difficile de s'entendre, mon cher ange, et tant la pensée est incommunicable, meme entre gens qui s'aiment!

How Beautiful You Are
by The Cure

You want to know why I hate you?
 Well I'll try and explain

 You remember that day in Paris
 When we wandered through the rain
 And promised to each other
 That we'd always think the same
 And dreamed that dream
 To be two souls as one

 And stopped just as the sun set
 And waited for the night
 Outside a glittering building
 Of glittering glass and burning light

 And in the road before us
 Stood a weary grayish man
 Who held a child upon his back
 A small boy by the hand
 The three of them were dressed in rags
 And thinner than air
 And all six eyes stared fixedly on you

 The father's eyes said "Beautiful!
 How beautiful you are!"
 The boy's eyes said
 "How beautiful!
 She shimmers like a star!"
 The child's eyes uttered nothing
 But a mute and utter joy
 And filled my heart with shame for us
 At the way we are

 I turned to look at you
 To read my thought upon your face
 And gazed so deep into your eyes
 So beautiful and strange
 Until you spoke
 And showed me understanding is a dream
 "I hate these people staring
 Make them go away from me!"

 And this is why I hate you
 And how I understand
 That no-one ever knows or loves another
 Or loves another

fundamental difference - yannis ritsos

Fundamental Difference
by Yannis Ritsos (tr. Minas Savvas)

In the middle of the road they got hungry.  They sat down
     for their lunch,
there, near the grass.  A feather
from a passing bird fell on their bread.  One of them
saw it and was astonished.  He stopped.  The other
continued to eat voraciously.  There they separated.

Monday, January 9, 2012

that which remains - adriana ierodiakonou

That Which Remains
by Adriana Ierodiakonou (tr. Thanasis Maskaleris)

That which remains most
is what leaves us
     As the nothing is much
     And the little is nothing

And cylinders grind the moment
Into the finest of leaves

Sunday, January 8, 2012

i'm nobody - emily dickinson

"I'm Nobody!..." (288)
by Emily Dickinson

I'm Nobody!  Who are you?
Are you--Nobody--Too?
Then there's a pair of us?
Don't tell!  They'd advertise--you know!

How dreary--to be--Somebody!
How public--like a Frog--
To tell one's name--the livelong June--
To an admiring Bog!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

the obligation to be happy - linda pastan

The Obligation to Be Happy
by Linda Pastan

It is more onerous
than the rites of beauty
or housework, harder than love.
But you expect it of me casually,
the way you expect the sun
to come up, not in spite of rain
or clouds but because of them.

And so I smile, as if my own fidelity
to sadness were a hidden vice—
that downward tug on my mouth,
my old suspicion that health
and love are brief irrelevancies,
no more than laughter in the warm dark
strangled at dawn.

Happiness. I try to hoist it
on my narrow shoulders again—
a knapsack heavy with gold coins.
I stumble around the house,
bump into things.
Only Midas himself
would understand.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

parable of the russian émigrés - zbigniew herbert

Parable Of The Russian Émigrés 
by Zbigniew Herbert (tr. Peter Dale Scott)

It was the year twenty
or perhaps twenty-one
the Russian émigrés
came to us

tall blond people
with visionary eyes
and women like a dream

when they crossed the market-place
we used to say - migratory birds

they used to attend the soirées of the gentry
everyone would whisper - look what pearls

but when the lights of the ball were extinguished
helpless people remained

the grey newspapers were continuously silent
only solitaire showed pity

the guitars beyond the windows would cease playing
and even dark eyes faded

in the evening a samovar with a whistle
would carry them back to their family railway-stations

after a couple of years
only three of them were spoken about
the one who went mad
the one who hanged himself
she to whom men used to come

the rest lived out of the way
slowly turning into dust

   This parable is told by Nicholas
   who understands historical necessities
   in order to terrify me i.e. to convince me

late fragment - christian wiman

Late Fragment
by Christian Wiman

How to say this--
my silences were not always mine:
scrabbled hole and the dark beyond,
vaporous pond
as if water wanted out of itself,
tip of the sycamore's weird bare reach:
some latency in things leading not so much to speech
as to a halting, haunted art
wherein to master was to miss--
how to say this, how to say this  . . .

My father was a boatbuilder.
Prow of a man, his world a sea to cleave.
I learned a dangerous patience,
to navigate night, live on nothing, leave.
And my mother, her furious smallness,
her way of saying her blade, the oil and onion's hiss:
from her I learned what lies beneath.

Mystic, Istanbul, Jakarta, Dar es Salaam--
what was I meant to keep?
If the distances to which I've been given
suggest some wantless heaven
of the mind, what in me still traces
the creekbed creases
in the rough skin of the palm
of one so long, long asleep?

If I say I loved the seagull
tethered to its cry, the cypress's imprisoned winds,
speak to the brink of my hands
a moss-covered rock
soft and knobby as a kitten's skull.
If I say I loved.

Boston, Lisbon, Cardiff, Asuncion:
what name is not a horizon?
Somewhere it is evening,
light grown mild and pliable,
wielded by wave and rock,
in the shore's trees torn apart . . .

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

desert places - robert frost

Desert Places
by Robert Frost

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

The woods around it have it--it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is, that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less--
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars--on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

Monday, January 2, 2012

food for prophets - gunter grass

Food For Prophets
by Gunter Grass (tr. Anselm Hollo)

When the locusts occupied our town,
no milk came to the door, the dailies suffocated,
our jails were opened to release
all prophets.
They streamed through the streets,
3800 prophets,
talking and teaching without restriction,
and eating their fill of that grey
& jumpy mess
we called the plague.
So everything was fine and up to expectations.

Soon our milk came again; our papers reappeared;
and prophets filled our jails.