Tuesday, July 31, 2007

467. The Horses Of Achilles - C. P. Cavafy

Translated from the Greek by Rae Dalven

When they saw that Patroclus was slain,
who had been so stalwart, and strong, and young,
the horses of Achilles started to weep;
their immortal nature was indignant
at the sight of this work of death.
They would shake their heads and toss their manes,
stamp the ground with their feet, and mourn
Patroclus who they realized was lifeless–– undone––
worthless flesh now––his spirit lost––
defenseless––without breath––
returned from life to the the great Nothing.

Zeus saw the tears of the immortal horses
and grew sad. "At the wedding of Peleus,"
he said, "I should not have acted so thoughtlessly;
it would have been better my hapless horses
if we had not given you! What are you doing down there,
among woebegone humanity, the plaything of fate?
You for whom neither death nor old age lie in wait,
you are harassed by transitory calamities.
Men have implicated you in their troubles."––Yet the two
noble animals went on shedding their tears
for the never-ending calamity of death.

Monday, July 30, 2007

466. The Peace Of Wild Things - Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Friday, July 27, 2007

465. Time - Carlos Drummond de Andrade

Translated from the Portuguese by a. capeto

Who had the idea of slicing time into pieces,
which were given the name of year,
was a genious person.
Industrialized hope
pushing it to the limits of its exhaustiveness.

Twelve months are enough for any human being to get tired and give up.

Then comes the miracle of renovation and all stars once again
we pick up another number wishing that
from now on everything will be different..

For you,
I wish your dreams fulfilled.
The love you waited.
Hope renewed.

For you,
I wish all the colors of life.
All happiness you can smile to
All songs you can thrill.

For you in this new year,
Wish all friends to be better,
May your family be more united,
May your life be more lived.

I would like to wish you so many things.
But nothing would be enough...

So, I wish only that you have many wishes.
Big wishes and may they move you further every single minute,
on route to your happiness!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

464. New Year's Recipe - Carlos Drummond de Andrade

Translated from the Portuguese by Jodey Bateman

If you want to have a beautiful New Year
The color of the rainbow or the color of your peace,
A New Year beyond comparing to all the time you've already lived,
(lived badly perhaps or senselessly)
If you want to have a year
Not freshly painted with everything back on the right track,
But new in the feelings of coming to be;
Down to the heart of the things you are least aware of
(to begin with what's inside you)
New, spontaneous, you don't find it to be so perfect,
But with it you eat, you walk,
You love, you understand, you work.
You don't need to drink champagne or any other drink,
You don't need to go on visits or receive cards
(You plan to receive cards?
Send telegrams?)

You don't need
To make a list of good resolutions
To file in your bureau drawer.
You don't need to cry with regret
Over foolish things you've already done
Or to half believe
That by the decree of hope
From January onward things will change
And everything will be brightness, reward,
Justice among men and nations
Freedom with the fragrance and taste of morning bread,
Your rights being respected, beginning
With the sacred right to live.

To have a New Year
Which deserves that name
You, my friend, have to deserve it,
You have to make it new, I know that it's not easy,
But try, experiment, be conscious.
It's inside of you that the New Year
Has always been dormant and waiting.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

463. An Ox Looks At Man - Carlos Drummond de Andrade

Translated from the Portuguese by Mark Strand

They are more delicate even than shrubs and they run
and run from one side to the other, always forgetting
something. Surely they lack I don't know what
basic ingredient, though they present themselves
as noble or serious, at times. Oh, terribly serious,
even tragic. Poor things, one would say that they hear
neither the song of air nor the secrets of hay;
likewise they seem not to see what is visible
and common to each of us, in space. And they are sad,
and in the wake of sadness they come to cruelty.
All their expression lives in their eyes –– and loses itself
to a simple lowering of lids, to a shadow.
And since there is little of the mountain about them––
nothing in the hair or in the terribly fragile limbs
but coldness and secrecy––it is impossible for them
to settle themselves into forms that are calm, lasting,
and necessary. They have, perhaps, a kind
of melancholy grace (one minute) and with this they allow
themselves to forget the problems and translucent
inner emptiness that make them so poor and so lacking
when it comes to uttering silly and painful sounds: desire, love, jealousy
(what do we know?)––sounds that scatter and fall in the field
like troubled stones and burn the herbs and the water,
and after this it is hard to keep chewing away at our truth.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

462. The Poem - Babette Deutsch

The painter of Dante's awful ferry-ride
Declared the world only a dictionary,
Words, words, whose separate meanings must go wide
Unless the visionary
Compose them, so his eyes are satisfied.

The saint from Africa called every thing
A word, the world being a poem by God,
Each evil tuned to make a splendor sing,
Ordered by God
With opposites that praise His fingering.

Was Delacroix a fool? Was Augustine?
The dictionary seems a poor appliance,
With venerable terms become obscene,
Too fertile science.
We try the poem, but what does it mean?

The rhymes are slant, of course, the rhythms free
Or sprung, the figures moving through the mind
Close as a caravan across country
Often unkind.
It is magnificent in its privacy

And yet the words are there: fire, earth, ocean,
Sound, silence, odor, shape and shadow, fear,
Delight, animal, mineral, time, space, motion,
Lovely and queer,
The crystal's patience, the baboon's devotion.

The words are there; according to his powers,
The saint, the painter, gave the work a gloss,
Loving it. Anguish, as it scours, devours,
Discovering loss.
The logic of the poem is not ours.

Monday, July 23, 2007

461. Villanelle - Mad Girl's Love Song - Sylvia Plath

"I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan's men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you'd return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)"

(Thank you Jenny's Mom)

Friday, July 20, 2007

460. Villanelle - The Waking - Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

459. Villanelle - Late Summer - Marilyn Hacker

I love you and it makes me rather dull
when everyone is voluble and gay.
The conversation hits a certain lull.

I moon, rattled as china in a bull
shop, wanting to go, wanting to stay.
I love you and it makes me rather dull.

You might think I had cotton in my skull.
And why is one in Staithes and not in Hay?
The conversation hits a certain lull.

You took a fretful, unoriginal
and unrelaxing friend on holiday.
I love you and it makes me rather dull.

A sheepish sky, with puffs of yellow wool,
watches the tide interrogate the day.
The conversation hits a certain lull.

And I am grimly silent, swollen full
of unsaid things. I certainly can't say
"I love you." And it makes me rather dull.
The conversation hits a certain lull.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

458. Villanelle - Doomsday - Sylvia Plath

The idiot bird leaps out and drunken leans
Atop the broken universal clock:
The hour is crowed in lunatic thirteens.

Our painted stages fall apart by scenes
While all the actors halt in mortal shock:
The idiot bird leaps out and drunken leans.

Streets crack through in havoc-split ravines
As the doomstruck city crumbles block by block:
The hour is crowed in lunatic thirteens.

Fractured glass flies down in smithereens;
Our lucky relics have been out in hock:
The idiot bird leaps out and drunken leans.

God's monkey wrench has blasted all machines;
We never thought to hear the holy cock:
The hour is crowed in lunatic thirteens.

Too late to ask if end was worth the means,
Too late to calculate the toppling stock:
The idiot bird leaps out and drunken leans,
The hour is crowed in lunatic thirteens.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

457. Villanelle - If I Could Tell You - 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 the lions all 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.

Monday, July 16, 2007

456. Villanelle - The Right Thing - Theodore Roethke

Let others probe the mystery if they can.
Time-harried prisoners of Shall and Will--
The right thing happens to the happy man.

The bird flies out, the bird flies back again;
The hill becomes the valley, and is still;
Let others delve that mystery if they can.

God bless the roots!--Body and soul are one!
The small become the great, the great the small;
The right thing happens to the happy man.

Child of the dark, he can out leap the sun,
His being single, and that being all:
The right thing happens to the happy man.

Or he sits still, a solid figure when
The self-destructive shake the common wall;
Takes to himself what mystery he can,

And, praising change as the slow night comes on,
Wills what he would, surrendering his will
Till mystery is no more: No more he can.
The right thing happens to the happy man.

Friday, July 13, 2007

454. Villanelle - The Story We Know - Martha Collins

The way to begin is always the same. Hello,
Hello. Your hand, your name. So glad, Just fine,
And Good-bye at the end. That's every story we know,

And why pretend? But lunch tomorrow? No?
Yes? An omelette, salad, chilled white wine?
The way to begin is simple, sane, Hello,

And then it's Sunday, coffee, the Times, a slow
Day by the fire, dinner at eight or nine
And Good-bye. In the end, this is a story we know

So well we don't turn the page, or look below
The picture, or follow the words to the next line:
The way to begin is always the same Hello.

But one night, through the latticed window, snow
Begins to whiten the air, and the tall white pine.
Good-bye is the end of every story we know

That night, and when we close the curtains, oh,
We hold each other against that cold white sign
Of the way we all begin and end. Hello,
Good-bye is the only story. We know, we know.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

453. Villanelle - Two de Chiricos - Mark Strand

1. The Philosopher's Conquest

This melancholy moment will remain,
So, too, the oracle beyond the gate,
And always the tower, the boat, the distant train.

Somewhere to the south a Duke is slain,
A war is won. Here, it is too late.
This melancholy moment will remain.

Here, an autumn evening without rain,
Two artichokes abandoned on a crate,
And always the tower, the boat, the distant train.

Is this another scene of childhood pain?
Why do the clockhands say 1:28?
This melancholy moment will remain.

The green and yellow light of love's domain
Falls upon the joylessness of fate,
And always the tower, the boat, the distant train.

The things our vision wills us to contain,
The life of objects, their unbearable weight.
This melancholy moment will remain,
And always the tower, the boat, the distant train.

2. The Disquieting Muses

Boredom sets in first, and then despair.
One tries to brush it off. It only grows.
Something about the silence of the square.

Something is wrong; something about the air,
Its color; about the light, the way it glows.
Boredom sets in first, and then despair.

The muses in their fluted evening wear,
Their faces blank, might lead one to suppose
Something about the silence of the square,

Something about the buildings standing there.
But no, they have no purpose but to pose.
Boredom sets in first, and then despair.

What happens after that, one doesn't care.
What brought one here--the desire to compose
Something about the silence of the square,

Or something else, of which one's not aware,
Life itself, perhaps--who really knows?
Boredom sets in first, and then despair...
Something about the silence of the square.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

452. Villanelle for D.G.B. - Marilyn Hacker

Every day our bodies separate,
exploded torn and dazed.
Not understanding what we celebrate

we grope through languages and hesitate
and touch each other, speechless and amazed;
and every day our bodies separate

us farther from our planned, deliberate
ironic lives. I am afraid, disphased,
not understanding what we celebrate

when our fused limbs and lips communicate
the unlettered power we have raised.
Every day our bodies' separate

routines are harder to perpetuate.
In wordless darkness we learn wordless praise,
not understanding what we celebrate;

wake to ourselves, exhausted, in the late
morning as the wind tears off the haze,
not understanding how we celebrate
our bodies. Every day we separate.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

451. Villanelle - George Higgins

(Spielberg visited an inner city school in response to a class of black students who had laughed inappropriately at a showing his movie about the holocaust Schindler's List.)

When Steven Spielberg spoke at Oakland High
A custodian swept up the shattered glass,
replaced the broken clocks to satisfy

the Governor, who was preoccupied
with becoming President, with covering his ass.
When Steven Spielberg spoke at Oakland High

the District found diminishing supplies
of disinfectant and toilet paper stashed
away, so they replaced the clocks instead to satisfy

the cameras and the press that they had rectified
the deficiencies among the underclass.
When Steven Spielberg spoke at Oakland High

the students didn't seem dissatisfied
about the cover up, just happy to be out of class.
The custodian replaced the broken clocks to satisfy

this need we have to falsify
the truth in subservience to cash.
When Steven Spielberg came to Oakland High
the custodian replaced the broken clocks.

Monday, July 09, 2007

450. Colonel Mustard Between Games - Kathleen Flenniken

I find my bench in the conservatory,
nurse a scotch and this throbbing headache

and contemplate my id. I'd like to get my hands
on that wee revolver, the tiny gold wrench,

I can almost feel the knife between by fingertips.
When I'm idle I'm just a cartoon of a man,

a loser with a handlebar moustache.
I'm no smarter that Miss Scarlet in her

tawdry side-slit dress or Mr. Green,
the regrettable car salesman. These interludes

undo me. But roll the dice and everybody stares
when I enter a room––they write my name

on their detective pads. Motive, desire––
I've got it all in spades. But have I acted?

That's the hell and hardest part of this game––
the heart stays sealed, it capacities a mystery.

Friday, July 06, 2007

446. Apocalypse - Gerald Stern

Of all sixty of us I am the only one who went
to the four corners though I don't say it
out of pride but more like a type of regret,
and I did it because there was no one I truly believed
in though once when I climbed the hill in Skye
and arrived at the rough tables I saw the only other
elder who was a vegetarian--in Scotland--
and visited Orwell and rode a small motorcycle
to get from place to place; and I immediately
stopped eating fish and meat and lived on soups;
and we wrote each other in the middle and late fifties
though one day I got a letter from his daughter
that he had died in an accident; he was
I'm sure of it, an angel who flew in midair
with one eternal gospel to proclaim
to those inhabiting the earth and every nation;
and now that I go through my papers every day
I search and search for his letters but to my shame
I have even forgotten his name, that messenger
who came to me with tablespoons of blue lentils.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

445. This Was A Wonderful Night - Gerald Stern

This was a wonderful night. I heard the Brahms
piano quintet, I read a poem by Schiller,
I read a story, I listened to Gloomy Sunday.
No one called me, I studied the birthday poem
of Alvaro de Campos. I thought, if there was time,
I'd think of my garden––all that lettuce, wasted,
all those huge tomatoes lying on the ground
rotting, and I'd think of the sticks I put there,
waving good-bye, those bearded sticks. De Campos,
he was the one who suffered most, his birthday
was like a knife to him; he sat in a chair
remembering his aunts; he thought of the flowers
and cakes, he thought of the sideboard crowded with gifts.
I look at the photo of Billie Holiday;
I turn the lightbulb on and off. I envy
those poets who loved their childhood, those who remember
the extra places laid out, the china and glasses.
They want to devour the past, they revel in pity,
they live like burnt-out matches, memory ruins them;
again and again they go back to the first place.

De Campos and I are sitting on a bench
in some American city. He hardly knows
how much I love his country. I have two things
to tell him about my childhood, one is the ice
on top of the milk, one is the sign in the window––
three things–– the smell of coal. There is some snow
left on the street, the wind is blowing. He trembles
and touches the buttons on his vest. His house
is gone, his aunts are dead, the tears run down
our cheeks and chin, we are like babies crying.
"Leave thinking to the head,"
he says. I sob
"I don't have birthdays any more" I say,
"I just go on," although I hardly feel
the sadness, there is such joy in being there
on that small bench, watching the sycamores,
looking for birds in the snow, listening for boots,
staring at the begonias, getting up
and down to rub the leaves and touch the buds––
endless pleasure, talking about New York,
comparing pain, writing the names down
of all the cities south of Lisbon, singing
one or two songs––a hundred years for him,
a little less for me, going east and west
in the new country, my heart forever pounding.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

444. Unwise Purachases - George Bilgere

They sit around in the house
Not doing much of anything: the boxed set
Of the complete works of Verdi, unopened.
The complete Proust, unread.
The French cut silk shirts
Which hang like expensive ghosts in the closet,
And make me look exactly
Like the kind of middle-aged man
Who would wear a French cut silk shirt.

The reflector telescope I thought would unlock
The mysteries of the heavens
But which I used only once or twice,
And which now stares disconsolately at the ceiling
When it could be examining the Crab Nebula.

The 30-day course in Spanish,
Whose text I barely opened,
Whose dozen cassette tapes remain unplayed,
Save for Tape One, where I never learned
Whether the suave American,
Conversing with a sultry-sounding desk clerk
At a Spanish hotel about the possibility
Of obtaining a room,
Actually managed to check in. I like to think
That one thing led to another between them
And that by Tape Six or so
They're happily married
And raising a bilingual child in Seville or Terre Haute.

But I'll never know.
Suddenly I realize
I have constructed the perfect home
For a sexy, spanish-speaking astronomer
Who reads Proust while listening to Italian arias,
And I wonder if somewhere in this teeming city
There lives woman with, say,
A fencing foil gathering dust in the corner
Near her unused easel, a rainbow
Of oil paints drying in their tubes
On the table where the violin lies entombed
In the permanent darkness of its locked case
Next to the dusty chess set,

A women who has always dreamed of becoming
The kind of woman the man I've dreamed of becoming
Has always dreamed of meeting,

And while the two of them discuss star clusters
And C├ęzanne, while they fence delicately
In Castilian Spanish to the strains of Rigoletto,

She and I will stand in the steamy kitchen,
Fixing up a little risotto,
Enjoying a modest cabernet
While talking over day a so ordinary
As to seem miraculous.

Monday, July 02, 2007

443. You Reading This, Be Ready - William Stafford

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life––

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?