Saturday, December 31, 2005

50. TWO MASKS UNEARTHED IN BULGARIA - William Meredith

for Kolyo Sevov

When God was learning to draw the human face
I think he may have made a few like these
that now look up at us through museum glass
a few miles north of where they slept
for six thousand years, a necropolis near Varna.
With golden staves and ornaments around them
they lay among human bodies but had none.
Gods themselves, or soldiers lost abroad---
we don’t know who they are.

The gold buttons which are their curious eyes,
the old clay which is their wrinkled skin,
seem to have been worked by the same free hand
that drew Adam for the Jews about that time.
It is moving, that the eyes are still questioning
and no sadder than they are, time being what it is---
as though they saw nothing tragic in the faces
looking down through glass into theirs.
Only clay and gold, they seem to say,
passing through one condition on its way to the next.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

49. IN PRAISE OF MY SISTER - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczcak and Clare Cavanagh

My sister doesn't write poems.
and it's unlikely that she'll suddenly start writing poems.
She takes after her mother, who didn't write poems,
and also her father, who likewise didn't write poems.
I feel safe beneath my sister's roof:
my sister's husband would rather die than write poems.
And, even though this is starting to sound as repetitive as
Peter Piper,
the truth is, none of my relatives write poems.

My sister's desk drawers don't hold old poems,
and her handbag doesn't hold new ones,
When my sister asks me over for lunch,
I know she doesn't want to read me her poems.
Her soups are delicious without ulterior motives.
Her coffee doesn't spill on manuscripts.

There are many families in which nobody writes poems,
but once it starts up it's hard to quarantine.
Sometimes poetry cascades down through the generations,
creating fatal whirlpools where family love may founder.

My sister has tackled oral prose with some success.
but her entire written opus consists of postcards from
vacations
whose text is only the same promise every year:
when she gets back, she'll have
so much
much
much to tell.

Friday, December 23, 2005

48. To A Stranger Born In Some Distant Country Hundreds Of Years From Now - Billy Collins

I write poems far a stranger who will be born in some distant country hundreds of years from now. – Mary Oliver

Nobody here likes a wet dog.
No one wants anything to do with a dog
that is wet from being out in the rain
or retrieving a stick from a lake.
Look how she wanders around the crowded pub tonight
going from one person to another
hoping for a pat on the head, a rub behind the ears,
something that could be given with one hand
without even wrinkling the conversation.

But everyone pushes her away,
some with a knee, others with the sole of a boot.
Even the children, who don’t realize she is wet
until they go to pet her,
push her away
then wipe their hands on their clothes.
And whenever she heads toward me,
I show her my palm, and she turns aside.

O stranger of the future!
O inconceivable being!
whatever the shape of your house,
no matter how strange and colorless the clothes you
may wear,
I bet nobody there likes a wet dog either.
I bet everybody in your pub
even the children, pushes her away.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

47. Ithaka - C. P. Cavafy, 4th Translation

Translated from the Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

46. Ithaca - C. P Cavafy, 3rd Translation

Translated from the Greek by ?

When you set out for Ithaka
Ask that your way be long,
Full of adventure, full of instruction.

The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
Angry Poseidon -- do not fear them;
Such as these you will never find
As long as your thought is lofty,
As long as a rare emotion
Touch your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
Angry Poseidon -- you will not meet them
Unless you carry them in your soul,
Unless your soul raise them up before you.

Ask that your way be long,
At many a summer dawn to enter --
With what gratitude, what joy!
Ports seen for the first time;
To stop at Phoenician trading centers,
And to buy good merchandise.
Mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
And sensuous perfumes of every kind.
Buy as many sensuous perfumes as you can,
Visit many Egyptian cities
To learn and learn from those who have knowledge.

Always keep Ithaka fixed in your mind;
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But do not in the least hurry the journey.
Better that it last for years
So that when you reach the island you are old,
Rich with all that you have gained on the way,
Not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.

Ithaka has given you the splendid voyage.
Without her you would never have set out,
But she has nothing more to give you.
And if you find her poor,
Ithaka has not deceived you.
So wise have you become, of such experience,
That already you will have understood
What these Ithakas mean.

45. Ithaca - C. P. Cavafy, 2nd Translation

Translated from the Greek by Edmund Keely

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon -- do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber, and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca on your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at he island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have undestood what these Ithacas mean.

44. Ithaca - C. P. Cavafy, 1st Translation

Translated from the Greek by Rae Dalven

When you start on your journey to Ithaca,
then pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
Do not fear the Lestrygonians
and the Cyclopes and the angry Poseidon.
You will never meet such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your body and your spirit.
You will never meet the Lestrygonians,
the Cyclopes and the fierce Poseidon,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not raise them up before you.

Then pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many,
that you will enter ports seen for the first time
with such pleasure, with such joy!
Stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and corals, amber and ebony,
and pleasurable perfumes of all kinds,
buy as many pleasurable perfumes as you can;
visit hosts of Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from those who have knowledge.

Always keep Ithaca fixed in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for long years;
and even to anchor at the isle when you are old,
rich with all that you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would never have taken the road.
But she has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not defrauded you.
With the great wisdom you have gained, with so much experience,
you must surely have understood by then what Ithacas mean.

Friday, December 16, 2005

43. How To Regain Your Soul - William Stafford

.
Come down Canyon Creek trail on a summer afternoon
that one place where the valley floor opens out. You will see
the white butterflies. Because of the way shadows
come off those vertical rocks in the west, there are
shafts of sunlight hitting the river and a deep
long purple gorge straight ahead. Put down your pack.

Above, air sighs the pines. It was this way
when Rome was clanging, when Troy was being built,
when campfires lighted caves. The white butterflies dance
by the thousands in the still sunshine. Suddenly, anything
could happen to you. Your soul pulls toward the canyon
and then shines back through the white wings to be you again.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

42. GARGOES - John Masfield

.
Quinquireme of Noneveh from distant Ophir
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory
And apes and peacocks.
sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-grove shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amethysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke-stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March Days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
fire-wood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

Monday, December 12, 2005

41. THROW YOURSELF LIKE SEED - Miguel de Unamuno

translated by Robert Bly

Shake off this sadness, and recover your spirit;
sluggish you will never see the wheel of fate
that brushes your heel as it turns going by,
the man who wants to live is the man in whom life is
abundant.

Now you are only giving food to that final pain
which is slowly winding you in the nets of death,
but to live is to work, and the only thing which lasts
is the work; start then, turn to the work.

Throw yourself like seed as you walk, and into your own
field,
don’t turn your face for that would be to turn it to death,
and do not let the past weigh down your motion.

Leave what’s alive in the furrow, what’s dead in yourself,
for life does not move in the same way as a group of clouds;
from your work you will be able one day to gather yourself.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

40. THE ILLITERATE - William Meredith

.
Touching your goodness, I am like a man
Who turns a letter over in his hand
And you might think this was because the hand
Was unfamiliar but, truth is, the man
Has never had a letter from anyone;
and now he is both afraid of what it means
And ashamed because he has no other means
To find out what it says than to ask someone.

His uncle could have left the farm to him,
Or his parents died before he sent them word,
Or the dark girl changed and want him for beloved.
Afraid and letter-proud, he keeps it with him.
What would you call his feeling for the words
That keep him rich and orphaned and beloved?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

39. A Ritual To Read To Each Other - William Stafford

.
If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not to recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give ¬¬- yes or no, or maybe¬¬—
should be clear; the darkness around us is deep.

Monday, December 05, 2005

38. A True Story

.
The old lady leaves the old farm house.
November gray
Dry clouds
Cold browns
Walks to the white mail box.
Typical white farmers mail box standing
along the empty road in brown November.
Thinking of her favorite brother
who left Kingsville for South Africa.
Sixty years a gone.
Sixty years without.
The minding love.
She had received a letter saying her brother had died
his children were sending him back to back to Kingsville
to be buried with those he left.
The grave prepared, the minister ready.
Opening the mailbox there was a shoe box.
Opening the mailbox there was a shoe box.

The minister, the caretaker, the old lady
stand over the open grave.
Their words surrounding the small box.
Home again!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

37. SEPTEMBER 1, 1939 - W. H. Auden

.
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-Second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offense
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow,
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on by work,”
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages;
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

36. BE NOT AFEARD - Caliban

.
Be not afeard,
the Isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs
that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears,
and sometime
voices
That if I then had wak’d after long sleep
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming
The clouds methought would open
and show such riches
Ready to drop upon me,
that when I wak’d
I cried
to dream again.

Friday, December 02, 2005

35. RELATIVES - Carl Dennis

.
“Remember your father, the wolf,”
The lecturer says.
“Chewed by its appetite, it chews its prey.
It howls with fear in the woods,
Beyond blame or praise.
Drop food in your children’s cages
When they follow commands,
And they’ll all be good.”

During the lecture, it was later learned,
Crows were observed tumbling in loops
Over North Dakota.
Two dogs, at leisure on a beach in France,
Ran a race to a rock.
In the Indian Ocean,
Thirty leagues down,
Men in a diving bell heard the anthem
Of a school of whales—an hour’s concert
Sung to some eager listeners miles away.

Remember your old cousins,
Those fish who crawled from the sea
When the seafood was plentiful
And the land bare.
Think of the voices they strained to hear
As they chose to hobble on tender fins
Painfully in the sun’s glare.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

34. Drinking Cold Water - Peter Everwine

.
Almost twenty years
Since you put on your one good dress
And lay down in the shale hills of Pennsylvania.
What you expected from life was nothing much,
And it came
And so it was.
In California I mourned and then forgot,
Though sometimes, in a mirror,
I saw someone walk from the weeds,
Stepping from a shine of water,
And it was you, shining.

Tonight I brought my bundle of years
To an empty house.
When I opened it, a boy walked out,
Drinking cold water, watching the
Moon rise slim and shining over your house.
Whatever it was I wanted
Must have come and gone.

Twenty years, grandmother.
Here I stand
In the poverty of my feet,
And I know what you’d do:
You’d enter your black shawl,
Step back into the shadows of your hair.
And that’s no help tonight
All I can think of is your house—
The pump at the sink
Spilling a trough of clear
Cold water from the well—
And you, old love,
Sleeping in your dark dress
Like a hard, white root.