I love the Seferiades poem, especially the first stanza. I’ve never read his work—which do you recommend?
The Apple Orchard by Rainer Maria Rilke
Komm gleich nach dem Sonnenuntergange,
sieh das Abendgrün des Rasengrunds;
ist es nicht, als hätten wir es lange
angesammelt und erspart in uns,
um es jetzt aus Fühlen und Erinnern,
neuer Hoffnung, halbvergessnem Freun,
noch vermischt mit Dunkel aus dem Innern,
in Gedanken vor uns hinzustreun
unter Bäume wie von Dürer, die
das Gewicht von hundert Arbeitstagen
in den überfüllten Früchten tragen,
dienend, voll Geduld, versuchend, wie
das, was alle Maße übersteigt,
noch zu heben ist und hinzugeben,
wenn man willig, durch ein langes Leben
nur das Eine will und wächst und schweigt.
The Apple Orchard
Come let us watch the sun go down
and walk in twilight through the orchard’s green.
Does it not seem as if we had for long
collected, saved and harbored within us
old memories? To find releases and seek
new hopes, remembering half-forgotten joys,
mingled with darkness coming from within,
as we randomly voice our thoughts aloud
wandering beneath these harvest-laden trees
reminiscent of Durer woodcuts, branches
which, bent under the fully ripened fruit,
wait patiently, trying to outlast, to
serve another season’s hundred days of toil,
straining, uncomplaining, by not breaking
but succeeding, even though the burden
should at times seem almost past endurance.
Not to falter! Not to be found wanting!
Thus must it be, when willingly you strive
throughout a long and uncomplaining life,
committed to one goal: to give yourself!
And silently to grow and to bear fruit.
@ Graveyard Poet: i used to have a book of Seferiades poems (known as Seferis in some countries and a great favourite of Angelopoulos), and also one of Odysseus Elytis, another Greek. I don’t have particular favourites- i’d just say find what you can online, i would like to find a lot more again myself.
@ Janitor of Lunacy: that’s one of the best Rilke i’ve read, will add to one of my anthology lists
@ Janitor — beautiful Rilke. I find in Malick’s Tree of Life the same spirit which is expressed so eloquently here in The Apple Orchard.
THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD
The house of the dead
Bordered the graveyard and enclosed it like a cloister
Like dress-shop windows
Dummies instead of standing and smiling
Lay grinning for eternity
I had been two or three weeks in Munich
When first I entered by chance
That unfrequented graveyard
And my teeth chattered
Before all the bourgeoisie
Who were laid out so beautifully dressed
Swift as memory
Their eyes caught fire once more
From glassy cell to glassy cell
The sky was peopled with a thriving
And the earth boundlessly flat
As before Galileo
Was covered with a thousand steadfast mythologies
A diamond angel shattered all the windows
And the dead accosted me
With unearthly looks
But their faces and gestures
Soon grew less funereal
Sky and earth lost
Their fantastic appearance
The dead rejoiced
To see their dead bodies between them and the sun
Each laughed at his shadow and observed it
As if it were
Really his past life
Then I counted them
There were forty-nine men
Women and children
Who visibly improved in looks
And glanced at me now
With so much heartiness
So much tenderness even
That taking a liking for them
Then and there
I invited them to go walking
Far from the archways of their house
And all arm in arm
Humming martial tunes
Yea all your sins are forgiven
We left the graveyard
We crossed the city
And kept on meeting
Relatives friends who joined
The little troupe of newly dead
All were so gay
So charming so healthy
It would have taken a shrewd man
To distinguish the dead from the living
Then in the country
Two cavalrymen joined us
We welcomed them warmly
They cut viburnum twigs
Which they whittled into whistles
And gave the children
Later in a rustic ball
The couples their hands on each other’s shoulders
Whirled to the shrill sound of zithers
They hadn’t forgotten dancing
Those dead men and women
We drank too
And from time to time a bell
Announced the broaching
Of a new barrel
A dead woman who sat on a bench
Near a barberry bush
Allowed a student
Kneeling at her feet
To speak to her of betrothal
I shall wait for you
Ten years twenty if I must
Your will shall be mine
I shall wait for you
All your life
Of the world or of the other
Sang those rounds
With absurd lyric verses
That doubtlessly are relics
Oldest poetic monuments
The student slipped a ring
On the dead girl’s third finger
Here is the pledge of my love
Of our betrothal
Neither time nor absence
Can make us forget our vows
And one day we shall have a splendid wedding
In our clothes and in your hair
A fine sermon at the church
Long speeches after dinner
Said the fiancee
Will be lovelier lovelier still
Alas! the ring was broken
Than if they were of silver or of gold
Of emerald or diamond
More brilliant brilliant still
Than heaven’s stars
Than the first light of morning
Than your eyes my fiance
More fragrant still
Alas! the ring was broken
Than lilac newly flowered
Than roses thyme or sprig
Of lavender or rosemary
The musicians had departed
We continued our stroll
By a lake
We played ducks and drakes
Skimming flat pebbles
Across water that hardly stirred
Boats were moored
In a harbor
When everyone was on board
We untied them
And some of the dead rowed
In as lively a fashion as the living
In the prow of the boat that I was steering
A dead man spoke with a young woman
Who wore a yellow dress
A black blouse
With blue ribbons and a grey hat
Adorned with one small uncurling feather
I love you
As the pigeon loves the dove
As the nocturnal insect
Loves the light
Answered the living woman
Deny deny that forbidden love
I am a wife
See how my ring glitters
My hands tremble
I weep and I want to die
The boats had landed
At a spot where the soldiers
Knew of an echo answering from the shore
We asked and asked it
There were questions so extravagant
And answers so to the point
We could have died laughing
And the dead man said to the living woman
How happy we should be together
Over us the water will close again
But you weep and your hands tremble
None of us shall return
We landed again and returned homeward
The lovers worshipped each other
And by couples all with lovely mouths
They walked at unequal distances
The dead men had chosen living women
And the living men
An occasional juniper tree
Seemed like a ghost
The children rent the air
Blowing with hollow cheeks
Into their whistles of viburnum
While the soldiers
Sang Tyrolean songs
Yodeling back and forth as people do
On the mountain
In the city
Our troupe dwindled little by little
See you soon
Many entered beer parlors
Some left us
At the dog butcher’s
Where they were going to buy their evening meal
Soon I was left alone with the dead
They went straight
Toward the graveyard
Under the Arcades
I recognized them
And beautifully dressed
Awaiting burial behind the panes of glass
They were unaware
Of what had happened
But the living remembered
It was an unexpected good fortune
And so certain
That they had no fear of losing it
They lived so nobly
That those who the evening before
Looked on them still as their equals
Or even as something less
Their power their wealth and their genius
For is there anything so ennobling
As having loved a dead man or woman
You become so pure that you end up
In the glaciers of remembrance
Mingling with your memories
You are strengthened for life
And no longer do you need any one
One of Apollinaire’s many autumnal mood pieces:
Dead men’s children play
In the cemetery
Martin Gertrude Hans and Henry
No cock has crowed today
The old women
Weep as they walk
The meek donkeys
Bray hee haw and nip the flowers
That wreathe the tombstones
On this the feast of all souls
Children and wives
By each Catholic grave
The women’s veils
The clouds above them
Wave like a goat’s beard
Flame and prayer shake the air
The cemetery is a fair garden
Of gray willow and rosemary
Those we have buried come to mind
How softly you sleep in your garden graves
Beggars who died drinking beer
You who were blind as fate
And little children dead in prayer
How softly you sleep in the fair cemetery
Mayors and boatmen
And all you gypsies without passports
Life seethes in your guts
The cross shoots up at our feet
A Rhine wind hoots with the owls
Puffs out the candles the young relight them
And now dead leaves
Blanket the graves
Ghost children cry to their mothers
Ghost women yearn to walk
But I shall not let you return
Autumn is full of severed hands
No no they are leaves
They are ghost hands once cherished
Your severed hands
We have mourned so today
With the dead with their children and wives
Under a sunless sky
In a graveyard dotted with flame
Then struggled homeward through the gale
Chestnuts lay scattered along our way
Burred like the
Virgin’s wounded heart
But it is doubtful whether her skin
Was color of autumn chestnuts
Wordsworth: A slumber did my spirit seal
A slumber did my spirit seal;
I had no human fears:
She seemed a thing that could not feel
The touch of earthly years.
No motion has she now, no force;
She neither hears nor sees;
Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course,
With rocks, and stones, and trees.
translated by Robin Fulton
I inherited a dark wood where I seldom go. But a day will come when the dead and the living change places. The wood will be set in motion. We are not without hope. The most serious crimes will remain unsolved in spite of the efforts of many policemen. In the same way there is somewhere in our lives a great unsolved love. I inherited a dark wood, but today I’m walking in the other wood, the light one. All the living creatures that sing, wriggle, wag and crawl! It’s spring and the air is very strong. I have graduated from the university of oblivion and am as empty-handed as the shirt on the washing-line.
@ Peter — dig the Madrigal poem, especially the line “there is somewhere in our lives a great unsolved love.”
Another poet I’ve never read. Any recommendations?
@Graveyard Poet-do you mean recommendations as to Tomas Tranströmer poems or other poets?
Who The Meek Are Not
under burlap sacks, not peasants knee-deep
in the rice paddy muck,
nor the serfs whose quarter-moon sickles
make the wheat fall in waves
they don’t get to eat. My friend the Franciscan
nun says we misread
that word meek in the Bible verse that blesses them.
To understand the meek
(she says) picture a great stallion at full gallop
in a meadow, who —
at his master’s voice — seizes up to a stunned
but instant halt.
So with the strain of holding that great power
in check, the muscles
along the arched neck keep eddying,
and only the velvet ears
prick forward, awaiting the next order.
@ Peter — both. I’ve never read Transtromer and I’d dig hearing any other recommendations from you, as well.
Perfect wintry poem:
“We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.
And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.
That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.
O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder."
-Czeslaw Milosz (from Bells in Winter)
We have tested and tasted too much, lover-
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.
But here in the Advent-darkened room
Where the dry black bread and the sugarless tea
Of penance will charm back the luxury
Of a child’s soul, we’ll return to Doom
The knowledge we stole but could not use.
And the newness that was in every stale thing
When we looked at it as children: the spirit-shocking
Wonder in a black slanting Ulster hill
Or the prophetic astonishment in the tedious talking
Of an old fool will awake for us and bring
You and me to the yard gate to watch the whins
And the bog-holes, cart-tracks, old stables where Time begins.
O after Christmas we’ll have no need to go searching
For the difference that sets an old phrase burning-
We’ll hear it in the whispered argument of a churning
Or in the streets where the village boys are lurching.
And we’ll hear it among decent men too
Who barrow dung in gardens under trees,
Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
Won’t we be rich, my love and I, and
God we shall not ask for reason’s payment,
The why of heart-breaking strangeness in dreeping hedges
Nor analyse God’s breath in common statement.
We have thrown into the dust-bin the clay-minted wages
Of pleasure, knowledge and the conscious hour-
And Christ comes with a January flower.
Don Paterson: Waking with Russell
Whatever the difference is, it all began
the day we woke up face-to-face like lovers
and his four-day-old smile dawned on him again,
possessed him, till it would not fall or waver;
and I pitched back not my old hard-pressed grin
but his own smile, or one I’d rediscovered.
Dear son, I was mezzo del cammin
and the true path was as lost to me as ever
when you cut in front and lit it as you ran.
See how the true gift never leaves the giver:
returned and redelivered, it rolled on
until the smile poured through us like a river.
How fine, I thought, this waking amongst men!
I kissed your mouth and pledged myself forever.
Wendy Cope: Strugnell’s Haiku
The moon is up, rooks settle,
The pubs are open.
by Archibald MacLeish
A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,
As old medallions to the thumb,
Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown—
A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,
Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,
Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind—
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.
A poem should be equal to:
For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—
A poem should not mean
Dafydd ap Gwilym was the 14 century Welsh master of the Cywydd, intricate rhyming and alliteration patterns, poet of love (courtly and ribald) and nature. Sadly, his craftsmanship is lost in translation, but the spirit transfers better..
Dafydd ap Gwilym: The Sea Gull
Fair gull on the tide, indeed,
of the same hue as snow or the white moon,
your beauty is without blemish,
a piece like the sun, gauntlet of the brine.
You are light on the ocean wave,
swift proud fish-eating bird.
You’d go close by the anchor
hand-in-hand with me, sea lily.
Just like a letter you are painted silver,
you’re a nun on the crest of the sea tide.
Perfect praise of a girl, you are praised afar,
make for the curve of fortress and castle.
Gull, look for one
of the colour of Eigr on the lovely fortress.
Say my ardent words,
may she choose me, go to the girl.
If she’s alone, make bold to greet her,
be courteous to the dainty maid
for gain; say I will not live,
noble refined youth, unless I have her.
I love her, strength of complete passion,
oh men, neither Myrddin
with his fine wheaten lips
nor Taliesin ever loved a fairer one.
A sought-after girl in fine linen under copper hair,
exquisite visage perfectly formed.
Ah gull, if you get to see
the cheek of the fairest girl in Christendom,
unless I get a most gentle response
the girl will be the death of me.
Fernando Pessoa: Portuguese Sea
Oh salty sea, so much of your salt
Is tears of Portugal!
Because we crossed you, so many mothers wept,
So many sons prayed in vain!
So many brides remained unmarried
That you might be ours, oh sea!
Was it worthwhile? All is worthwhile
When the spirit is not small.
He who wants to go beyond the Cape
Has to go beyond pain.
God to the sea peril and abyss has given
But it was in it that He mirrored heaven.
L’échelonnement des haies
L’échelonnement des haies
Moutonne à l’infini, mer
Claire dans le brouillard clair
Qui sent bon les jeunes baies.
Des arbres et des moulins
Sont légers sur le vert tendre
Où vient s’ébattre et s’étendre
L’agilité des poulains.
Dans ce vague d’un Dimanche
Voici se jouer aussi
De grandes brebis aussi
Douces que leur laine blanche.
Tout à l’heure déferlait
L’onde, roulée en volutes,
De cloches comme des flûtes
Dans le ciel comme du lait.
I love the sonority and the images of this poem by Paul Verlaine. Here’s a translation:
Row upon row of hedges
billow into the distance,
like a pale sea in the clear mist
which smells of good young bayberries.
Trees and windmills
pose lightly on the delicate green
of the grass where the nimble colts
are frisking and stretching out.
The Quality Of Sprawl
of the man who cut down his Rolls-Royce
into a farm utility truck, and sprawl
is what the company lacked when it made repeated efforts
to buy the vehicle back and repair its image.
Sprawl is doing your farm work by aeroplane, roughly,
or driving a hitchhiker that extra hundred miles home.
It is the rococo of being your own still centre.
It is never lighting cigars with ten dollar notes:
that’s idiot ostentation and murder of starving people.
Nor can it be bought with the ash of million dollar deeds.
Sprawl lengthens the legs; it trains greyhounds on liver and beer.
Sprawl almost never says, Why not?, with palms comically raised
nor can it be dressed for, not even in running shoes worn
with mink and a nose ring. That is Society. That’s Style.
Sprawl is more like the thirteenth banana in a dozen
or anyway the fourteenth.
Sprawl is Hank Stamper in Never Give an Inch
bisecting an obstructive official’s desk with a chain saw.
Not harming the official. Sprawl is never brutal,
though it’s often intransigent. Sprawl is never Simon de Montfort
at a town-storming: Kill them all! God will know His own.
Knowing the man’s name this was said to might be sprawl.
Sprawl occurs in art. The fifteenth to twenty-first
lines in a sonnet, for example. And in certain paintings.
I have sprawl enough to have forgotten which paintings.
Turner’s glorious Burning of the Houses of Parliament
comes to mind, a doubling bannered triumph of sprawl -
except he didn’t fire them.
Sprawl gets up the noses of many kinds of people
(every kind that comes in kinds) whose futures don’t include it.
Some decry it as criminal presumption, silken-robed Pope Alexander
dividing the new world between Spain and Portugal.
If he smiled in petto afterwards, perhaps the thing did have sprawl.
Sprawl is really classless, though. It is John Christopher Frederick Murray
asleep in his neighbours’ best bed in spurs and oilskins,
but not having thrown up:
sprawl is never Calum, who, in the loud hallway of our house
reinvented the Festoon. Rather
it’s Beatrice Miles going twelve hundred ditto in a taxi,
No Lewd Advances, no Hitting Animals, no Speeding,
on the proceeds of her two-bob-a-sonnet Shakespeare readings.
An image of my country. And would thatit were more so.
No, sprawl is full gloss murals on a council-house wall.
Sprawl leans on things. It is loose-limbed in its mind.
Reprimanded and dismissed,
it listens with a grin and one boot up on the rail
of possibility. It may have to leave the Earth.
Being roughly Christian, it scratches the other cheek
And thinks it unlikely. Though people have been shot for sprawl.
ps, I had a few pints with Les. Lovely bloke.
I should have posted this on June 5th…
In preparation for Operation Overlord, the BBC had signaled to the French Resistance that the opening lines of the 1866 Verlaine poem “Chanson d’Automne” were to indicate the start of D-Day operations. The first three lines of the poem,
(“Long sobs of autumn violins”), meant that Operation Overlord was to start within two weeks. These lines were broadcast on 1 June 1944. The next set of lines, “Blessent mon coeur / d’une langueur / monotone” (“wound my heart with a monotonous languor”), meant that it would start within 48 hours and that the resistance should begin sabotage operations especially on the French railroad system; these lines were broadcast on 5 June at 23:15.
Les sanglots longs
blessent mon coeur
et blême, quand
je me souviens
des jours anciens,
et je pleure…
Et je m’en vais
au vent mauvais
de çà, de là,
pareil à la
Luke Kelly was a poet in his own right indeed. My favorite interpretation of any Kavanagh poem. Brilliant poem and song!
A quicky but one I absolutely adore. Read it aloud eight grade and most kids giggled under their breath because I looked up and recited the last stanza from memory. Find this to be an impeccably written poem, with deep imagery and great symbolism. The last part of the poem can be heard in Tarantino’s film, Death Proof.
“Stopping by The Woods on a Snowy Evening”
By: Robert Frost.
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Robert Minhinnick: The Fox in the National Museum of Wales
He scans the frames but doesn’t stop,
the fox who has come to the museum today,
his eye in the renaissance
and his brush in the baroque.
Between dynasties his footprints
have still to fade, between the Shan and the Yung,
the porcelain atoms shivering at his touch,
ah, lighter than the emperor’s breath, drinking rice wine from the bowl,
daintier than the eunuch pouring wine.
I came as quickly as I could
but already the fox had left the Industrial Revolution behind,
his eye has swept the age of atoms,
the Taj Mahal within the molecule.
The fox is in the fossils and the folios, I cry.
The fox is in photography and the folk studies department.
The fox is in the flux of the foyer,
the fox is in the flock,
the fox is in the flock.
Now the fox sniffs at the dodo
and at the door of Celtic orthography.
The grave-goods, the chariots, the gods of darkness,
he has made their acquaintance on previous occasions.
There, beneath the leatherbacked turtle he goes,
the turtle black as an oildrum,
under the skeleton of the whale he skedaddles,
the whalebone silver as bubblewrap.
Through the light of Provence moves the fox, through
the Ordovician era and the Sumerian summer,
greyblue the blush on him, this one who has seen so much,
blood on the bristles of his mouth,
and on his suit of iron filings the air fans like silk.
Through the cubists and the surrealists
this fox shimmies surreptitiously,
past the artist who has sawn himself in half
under the formaldehyde sky
goes this fox shiny as a silver
fax in his fox coat,
for at a fox trot travels this fox
backwards and forwards in the museum.
Under the bells of brugmansia
that lull the Ecuadoran botanists to sleep,
over the grey moss of Iceland
further and further goes this fox,
passing the lambs at the feet of Jesus,
through the tear in Dante’s cloak.
How long have I legged it
after his legerdemain, this fox
in the labyrinth, this fox that never hurries
yet passes an age in a footfall, this fox
from the forest of the portrait gallery
to engineering’s cornfield sigh?
I will tell you this.
He is something to follow,
this red fellow.
This fox I foster –
he is the future.
has seen him yet.
But they are closing
the iron doors.