Friday, October 31, 2008

735. True Love - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.

True love. Is it normal
is it serious, is it practical?
What does the world get from two people
who exist in a world of their own?

Placed on the same pedestal for no good reason,
drawn randomly from millions but convinced
it had to happen this way - in reward for what?
For nothing.
The light descends from nowhere.
Why on these two and not on others?
Doesn't this outrage justice? Yes it does.
Doesn't it disrupt our painstakingly erected principles,
and cast the moral from the peak? Yes on both accounts.

Look at the happy couple.
Couldn't they at least try to hide it,
fake a little depression for their friends' sake?
Listen to them laughing - its an insult.
The language they use - deceptively clear.
And their little celebrations, rituals,
the elaborate mutual routines -
it's obviously a plot behind the human race's back!

It's hard even to guess how far things might go
if people start to follow their example.
What could religion and poetry count on?
What would be remembered? What renounced?
Who'd want to stay within bounds?

True love. Is it really necessary?
Tact and common sense tell us to pass over it in silence,
like a scandal in Life's highest circles.
Perfectly good children are born without its help.
It couldn't populate the planet in a million years,
it comes along so rarely.

Let the people who never find true love
keep saying that there's no such thing.

Their faith will make it easier for them to live and die.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

734. Morning - Billy Collins

Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
the swale of the afternoon,
the sudden dip into evening,

then night with his notorious perfumes,
his many-pointed stars?

This is the best—
throwing off the light covers,
feet on the cold floor,
and buzzing around the house on expresso—

maybe a splash of water on the face,
a palmful of vitamins—
but mostly buzzing around the house on expresso,

dictionary and atlas open on the rug,
the typewriter waiting for the key of the head,
a cello on the radio,

and, if necessary, the windows—
trees fifty, a hundred years old
out there,
heavy clouds on the way
and the lawn steaming like a horse
in the early morning.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

733. Nude Descending A Staircase - X. J. Kennedy

Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh,
a gold of lemon, root and rind,
she sifts in sunlight down the stairs
with nothing on. Nor on her mind.

We spy beneath the banister
a constant thresh of thigh on thigh;
her lips imprint the swinging air
that parts to let her parts go by.

One-women waterfall, she wears
her slow descent like a long drape
and pausing, on the the final stair,
collects her motions into shape.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

732. A Portrait of the Reader with a Bowl of Cereal - Billy Collins

"A Poet . . . never speaks directly, as to someone
at the breakfast table." — Yeats

Every morning I sit across from you
at the same small table,
the sun all over the breakfast things—
curve of a blue-and-white pitcher,
a dish of berries—
me in a sweatshirt or robe,
you invisible.

Most days, we are suspended
over a deep pool of silence.
I stare straight through you
or look out the window at the garden,
the powerful sky,
a cloud passing behind a tree.

There is no need to pass the toast,
the pot of jam,
or pour you a cup of tea,
and I can hide behind the paper,
rotate in its drum of calamitous news.

But some days I may notice
a little door swinging open
in the morning air,
and maybe the tea leaves
or some dream will be stuck
to the china slope of the hour—

then I will lean forward,
elbows on the table,
with something to tell you,
and you will look up, as always,
your spoon dripping milk, ready to listen.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

731. Horace - Book II. Ode 16

Translated from the Latin by Mark Strand

When storm clouds closing in darken the sea
and cover the moon and hide the stars that might
have guided him across rough waters, the sailor
prays for peace;

the battle-weary Thracians pray for peace,
the Parthians with their fancy daggers
pray for peace, but peace cannot be bought
with purple, gold or gems;

and peace cannot be won with rank or money,
neither one can ease the soul's distress,
the worries and the nagging fears that flit
about in paneled rooms.

A man can please himself with little, a salt dish
handed down for generations can gleam upon
the table, and his sleep will not be ruined by
the sordidness of greed.

So why do we waste our time chasing down
possessions? Why do we leave home and head south
to a foreign land, a foreign sun? Who really
can escape himself?

Trouble leaps aboard the rich man's brigantine,
outruns the fastest horse, the nimblest deer,
is swifter than Eurus, the bad-weather wind
responsible for storms.

We should be happy in the here and now
and unconcerned with what the future holds;
we should blunt the edge of sorrow with a smile.
There is no perfect joy.

Achilles met with death when was young,
Tithonus lived on to be the shadow of
his former self; and fate might give to me
what it withholds from you.

Your fields are filled with lowing herds of prime
Sicilian cattle, and from your stable you
can hear the whinnies of your racing mare;
the clothes you have are made

of wool twice-dyed in African purple, whereas
it is my lot to have a smallish house,
a gift for turning Greek verse into Latin,
and scorn for the envious

Translated from the Latin by Christopher Smart

O Grosphus, he that is caught in the wide Aegean Sea; when a black tempest has obscured the moon, and not a star appears with steady light for the mariners, supplicates the gods for repose: for repose, Thrace furious in war; the quiver-graced Medes, for repose neither purchasable by jewels, nor by purple, nor by gold. For neither regal treasures nor the consul’s officer can remove the wretched tumults of the mind, nor the cares that hover about splendid ceilings. That man lives happily on a little, who can view with pleasure the old-fashioned family salt-cellar on his frugal board; neither anxiety nor sordid avarice robs him of gentle sleep. Why do we, brave for a short season, aim at many things? Why do we change our own for climates heated by another sun? Whoever, by becoming an exile from his country, escaped likewise from himself? Consuming care boards even brazen-beaked ships: nor does it quit the troops of horsemen, for it is more fleet than the stags, more fleet than the storm-driving east wind. A mind that is cheerful in its present state, will disdain to be solicitous any further, and can correct the bitters of life with a placid smile. Nothing is on all hands completely blessed. A premature death carried off the celebrated Achilles; a protracted old age wore down Tithonus; and time perhaps may extend to me, what it shall deny to you. Around you a hundred flocks bleat, and Sicilian heifers low; for your use the mare, fit for the harness, neighs; wool doubly dipped in the African purple-dye, clothes you: on me undeceitful fate has bestowed a small country estate, and the slight inspiration of the Grecian muse, and a contempt for the malignity of the vulgar.

American man of letters Franklin P. Adams (1881-1960) imitated Horace's ode in his collection of light verse In Other Words (1920).

Grosphus, a guy who's sailing in a tempest
On the Aegean when the moon is hidden --
He wants a rest, while stewing in his stateroom,
Weary and seasick.

Weary of war, what do the Thracians yearn for?
What seek the Medes, with quivers full of arrows?
What can't you buy with purple, gold or rubies?
Rest is the answer.

Not Morgan's cash, nor Rockefeller's money,
No blue-and-brass can drive away the willies
Caused by the care of elegant apartments,
Rugs and swell ceilings.

Wise the gazabe upon whose simple table
Old-fashioned truck like salt-and-pepper castors
Yet may be found. His bean is never bothered --
Sleeps like a hallboy.

Why do we fuss for one thing and another?
Why do we hike to Saranac or Newport?
How can a human leave himself behind him?
Answer: He cannot.

Worry can get a guy on the Olympic;
Worry can chase a colonel in the Army;
Swift as the wind, to use a new expression --
Care is some sprinter.

Merry and bright, the citizen who's cheerful
Won't worry much about to-morrow's breakfast.
"No one," he smiles, "who faces Time the pitcher
Wallops one thousand."

There was Achilles, cut off in his twenties,
And, au contraire, Tithonus was a hundred;
I may be lucky; you might be run over
Most any morning.

You've got a farm with fancy sheep and heifers;
You've got a mare all curry-combed and glossy;
Purple silk socks and purple fancy weskits --
You're a swell dresser.

And what has Fate, the undeceitful, slipped me?
Only a small apartment out in Harlem,
And, with a trick of turning snappy Sapphics,
Scorn for the roughneck.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

730. Horace - Book I. Ode 11

Translated from the Latin by Heather McHugh

Don't ask, Clarice, we're not supposed to know
what end the gods intend for us.
Take my advice: don't gamble so
on horoscopes of Babylon. Far better just

to take what heaven might allot us, whether
it's winters galore, and more, until we're stiff,
or only the one wintertime to end all others,
grinding Tuscany Sea with its pumice of cliff.

Get wise. Get wine, and one good filter for it.
Cut that high hope down to size, and pour it
into something fit for men. Think less
of more tomorrows, more of this

one second, endlessly unique: it's
jealous, even as we speak, and it's
about to split again . . .

Translated from the Latin by Burton Raffel

Leucon, no one's allowed to know his fate,
Not you, not me: don't ask, don't hunt for answers
In tea leaves or palms. Be patient with whatever comes.
This could be our last winter, it could be many
More, pounding the Tuscan Sea on these rocks:
Do what you must, be wise, cut your vines
And forget about hope. Time goes running, even
As we talk. Take the present, the future's no one's affair.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

729. Domestic Interior - Eavan Boland

The woman is as round
as the new ring
ambering her finger.
The mirror weds her.
She has long since been bedded.

There is
about it all
a quiet search for attention,
like the unexpected shine
of a despised utensil.

The oils,
the varnishes,
the cracked light,
the worm of permanence––
all of them supplied by Van Eyck––

by whose edict she will stay
burnished, fertile
on her wedding day,
interred in her joy.
Love, turn.

The convex of your eye
that is so loving, bright
and constant yet shows
only this woman in her varnishes,
who won't improve in the light.

But there's a way of life
that is its own witness:
put the kettle on, shut the blind.
Home is a sleeping child,
and open mind

and our effects,
shrugged and settled
in the sort of light
jugs and kettles
grow important by.

Monday, October 06, 2008

728. My Special Love In Passing - James Kavanaugh

You are my special love in passing,
My fantasy bond for times alone.
You'll never know my lips,
But our eyes have met
And said more than most eyes ever say.
We know, love,
Though we'll probably never tell
Even one another.
But I told myself
And somehow I know you told yourself
That you are my special love in passing.

I studied your lips and legs,
Know your pain and longing.
Wondered about your breasts
And the sounds you'd make in love.
I'll never know—you'll never know—
But we already know
More than most ever know
So I'll take you away to secret places,
Call to you with only waves to hear,
Or the darkness of a California sky,
That you are my special love in passing.

Friday, October 03, 2008

727. Staying at Ed's Place - May Swenson

I like being in your apartment, and not disturbing anything.
As in the woods I wouldn't want to move a tree,
or change the play of sun and shadow on the ground.

The yellow kitchen stool belongs right there
against white plaster. I haven't used your purple towel
because I like the accidental cleft of shade you left in it.

At your small six-sided table, covered with mysterious
dents in the wood like a dartboard, I drink my coffee
from your brown mug. I look into the clearing

of your high front room, where sunlight slopes through bare
window squares. Your Afghanistan hammock, a man-sized cocoon

slung from the wall to wall, your narrow desk and typewriter

are the only furniture. Each morning your light from the east
douses me where, with folded legs, I sit in your meadow,
a casual spread of brilliant carpets. Like a cat or dog

I take a roll, then, stretched out flat
in the center of color and pattern, I listen
to the remote growl of trucks over cobbles on Bethune Street below.

When I open my eyes I discover the peaceful blank
of the ceiling. Its old paint-layered surface is moonwhite
and trackless, like the Sea—of Tranquillity.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

726. May 16,1973 -Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Walter Whipple

One of those many dates
which no longer say anything to me.

Where I went that day,
what I did––I don't know.

If a crime was committed nearby
––I'd have no alibi.

The sun shone and set
without my noticing.
The earth rotated
without mention in my notebook.

It would be easier for me to think
that I died for a while
than to admit that I remember nothing,
although I was alive the whole time.

After all I was not a ghost,
I breathed and ate,
took steps
which were audible,
and left fingerprints
on the doorknobs. I was reflected in the mirror.
I wore something of a certain color.
I'm sure several people saw me.
Perhaps on that day I found something I had lost earlier,
or lost something which was later found.

Feelings and impressions filled me.
Now all that
is like dots inside parentheses.

Where I hid,
where I hung out ––
it's not a bad trick
to vanish from my own sight.

I'll jog my memory ––
maybe something in its recesses
which has been dormant for years
will awaken with a start.

I am most clearly demanding too much,
though but a second of time.