MONTALE: THE LEMON TREE
Hear me a moment. Laureate poets
seem to wander among plants
no one knows: boxwood, acanthus,
where nothing is alive to touch.
I prefer small streets that falter
into grassy ditches where a boy,
searching in the sinking puddles,
might capture a struggling eel.
The little path that winds down
along the slope plunges through cane-tufts
and opens suddenly into the orchard
among the moss-green trunks
of the lemon trees.
Perhaps it is better
if the jubilee of small birds
dies down, swallowed in the sky,
yet more real to one who listens,
the murmur of tender leaves
in a breathless, unmoving air.
The senses are graced with an odor
filled with the earth.
It is like rain in a troubled breast,
sweet as an air that arrives
too suddenly and vanishes.
A miracle is hushed; all passions
are swept aside. Even the poor
know that richness,
the fragrance of the lemon trees.
You realize that in silences
things yield and almost betray
their ultimate secrets.
At times, one half expects
to discover an error in Nature,
the still point of reality,
the missing link that will not hold,
the thread we cannot untangle
in order to get at the truth.
You look around. Your mind seeks,
makes harmonies, falls apart
in the perfume, expands
when the day wearies away.
There are silences in which one watches
in every fading human shadow
something divine let go.
The illusion wanes, and in time we return
to our noisy cities where the blue
appears only in fragments
high up among the towering shapes.
Then rain leaching the earth.
Tedious, winter burdens the roofs,
and light is a miser, the soul bitter.
Yet, one day through an open gate,
among the green luxuriance of a yard,
the yellow lemons fire
and the heart melts,
and golden songs pour
into the breast
from the raised cornets of the sun
SHAKESPEARE: There is a Willow Grows Aslant a Brook
(Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 7)
There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come,
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies and long purples,
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them:
There on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke,
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,
And mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up;
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes,
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indu’d
Unto that element, but long it could not be
Till that her garlands, heavy with their drink,
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.
LI PO: UNFULFILLED DESIRE
Part 1 (sung by the man)
I feel dim and wistful yearnings to be in Ch’ang An
In Autumn when the crickets sing by the parapets of the golden well
And the light frost makes one shiver and the bamboo mats are cold.
By the flickering flames of a solitary lamp my thoughts are like to die away.
I roll up the screen and gaze at the moon
In the empty sky with many a vain long sigh
For my flowerlike beauty who is parted from me by the clouds.
Above is the dark obscurity of heaven unfathomable.
Below the waves of the green water dash and tumble.
Heaven is high and the earth wide.
My thoughts fly on their bitter journey.
But my dream soul cannot reach its goal for the banner pass is too hard to penetrate.
Endless longing breaks my heart.
Part 2 (An answer by the woman)
The Sun’s colours fade, the flowers are covered with mist.
The moon shines pale, i am sad and anxious and unable to sleep.
I put down the Chao flute on its phoenix holder.
And i take the Shu flute and begin to sound its mandarin duck strings.
My song has a meaning but there is no one to hear it;
Would that it could follow the spring wind to the Yen-jan mountains.
I think of you so far away beyond the blue sky.
Of old times my eyes that sparkled are now full of tears.
Oh! if you doubt this aching of my heart
Here in my bright mirror come back and look at me.
ORMOND: CATHEDRAL BUILDERS
They climbed on sketchy ladders towards God,
With winch and pulley hoisted hewn rock into heaven,
Inhabited sky with hammers, defied gravity,
Deified stone, took up God’s house to meet Him,
And came down to their suppers and small beer;
Every night slept, lay with their smelly wives,
Quarrelled and cuffed the children, lied,
Spat, sang, were happy or unhappy,
And every day took to the ladders again;
Impeded the rights of way of another summer’s
Swallows, grew greyer, shakier, became less inclined
To fix a neighbour’s roof of a fine evening,
Saw naves sprout arches, clerestories soar,
Cursed the loud fancy glaziers for their luck,
Somehow escaped the plague, got rheumatism,
Decided it was time to give it up,
To leave the spire to others; stood in the crowd
Well back from the vestments at the consecration,
Envied the fat bishop his warm boots,
Cocked up a squint eye and said, “I bloody did that”.
LORCA: BALLAD OF THE CIVIL GUARD
The horses are black.
The horseshoes are black.
Stains of ink and wax
shine on their capes.
They have leaden skulls
so they do not cry.
With souls of leather
they ride down the road.
Hunchbacked and nocturnal
wherever they move, they command
silences of dark rubber
and fears of fine sand.
They pass, if they wish to pass,
and hidden in their heads
is a vague astronomy
of indefinite pistols.
Oh city of the gypsies!
Banners on street-corners.
The moon and the pumpkin
with preserved cherries.
Oh city of the gypsies!
Who could see you and not remember?
City of sorrow and musk,
with towers of cinnamon.
When night came near,
night that night deepened,
the gypsies at their forges
beat out suns and arrows.
A badly wounded stallion
knocked against all the doors.
Roosters of glass were crowing
through Jerez de la Frontera.
Naked the wind turns
the corner of surprise,
in the night silver-night
night the night deepened.
The Virgin and Saint Joseph
have lost their castanets,
and search for the gypsies
to see if they can find them.
The Virgin comes draped
in the mayoress’s dress,
of chocolate papers
with necklaces of almonds.
Saint Joseph swings his arms
under a cloak of silk.
Behind comes Pedro Domecq
with three sultans of Persia.
The half moon dreamed
an ecstasy of storks.
Banners and lanterns
invaded the flat roofs.
Through the mirrors wept
ballerinas without hips.
Water and shadow, shadow and water
through Jerez de la Frontera.
Oh city of the gypsies!
Banners on street-corners.
Quench your green lamps
the worthies are coming.
Oh city of the gypsies!
Who could see you and not remember?
Leave her far from the sea
without combs in her hair.
They ride two abreast
towards the festive city.
A murmur of immortelles
invades the cartridge-belts.
They ride two abreast.
A doubled nocturne of cloth.
They fancy the sky to be
a showcase for spurs.
The city, free from fear,
multiplied its doors.
Forty civil guards
enter them to plunder.
The clocks came to a halt,
and the cognac in the bottles
disguised itself as November
so as not to raise suspicion.
A flight of intense shrieks
rose from the weathercocks.
The sabres chopped at the breezes
that the hooves trampled.
Along the streets of shadow
old gypsy women ran,
with the drowsy horses,
and the jars of coins.
Through the steep streets
sinister cloaks climb,
leaving behind them
whirlwinds of scissors.
At a gate to Bethlehem
the gypsies congregate.
Saint Joseph, wounded everywhere,
shrouds a young girl.
Stubborn rifles crack
sounding in the night.
The Virgin heals children
with spittle from a star.
But the Civil Guard
advance, sowing flames,
where young and naked
imagination is burnt out.
Rosa of the Camborios
moans in her doorway,
with her two severed breasts
lying on a tray.
And other girls ran
chased by their tresses
through air where roses
of black gunpowder burst.
When all the roofs
were furrows in the earth
the dawn heaved its shoulders
in a vast silhouette of stone.
O city of the gypsies!
The Civil Guard depart
through a tunnel of silence
while flames surround you.
O city of the gypsies!
Who could see you and not remember?
Let them find you on my forehead:
a play of moon and sand.
OLDS: THE CONNOISSEUSE OF SLUGS
When I was a connoisseuse of slugs
I would part the ivy leaves, and look for the
naked jelly of those gold bodies,
translucent strangers glistening along the
stones, slowly, their gelatinous bodies
at my mercy. Made mostly of water, they would shrivel
to nothing if they were sprinkled with salt,
but I was not interested in that. What I liked
was to draw aside the ivy, breathe the
odor of the wall, and stand there in silence
until the slug forgot I was there
and sent its antennae up out of its
head, the glimmering umber horns
rising like telescopes, until finally the
sensitive knobs would pop out the
ends, delicate and intimate. Years later,
when I first saw a naked man,
I gasped with pleasure to see that quiet
mystery reenacted, the slow
elegant being coming out of hiding and
gleaming in the dark air, eager and so
trusting you could weep.
Nature is a temple where living pillars
Let escape sometimes confused words;
Man traverses it through forests of symbols
That observe him with familiar glances.
Like long echoes that intermingle from afar
In a dark and profound unity,
Vast like the night and like the light,
The perfumes, the colors and the sounds respond.
There are perfumes fresh like the skin of infants
Sweet like oboes, green like prairies,
—And others corrupted, rich and triumphant
That have the expanse of infinite things,
Like ambergris, musk, balsam and incense,
Which sing the ecstasies of the mind and senses
KEATS: TO AUTUMN
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
SYVIA PLATH: MORNING SONG
Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.
Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.
I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.
All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.
One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square
Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.
It begins as a house, an end terrace
In this case
but it will not stop there. Soon it is
which cambers arrogantly past the Mechanics’ Institute,
at the main road without even looking
and quickly it is
a town with all four major clearing banks,
a daily paper
and a football team pushing for promotion.
On it goes, oblivious of the Planning Acts,
the green belts,
and before we know it it is out of our hands:
hemisphere, universe, hammering out in all directions
mercifully, it is drawn aside through the eye
of a black hole
and bulleted into a neighbouring galaxy, emerging
smaller and smoother
than a billiard ball but weighing more than Saturn.
People stop me in the street, badger me
in the check-out queue
and ask, “what is this, this that is so small
and so very smooth
but whose mass is greater than the ringed planet?”
It’s just words
I assure them. But they will not have it.
HAI ZI: FACE THE SEA, WITH SPRING FLOWERS BLOSSOMING
From tomorrow on, i will be a happy person,
Grooming, chopping,and travelling around the world.
From tomorrow on, i will care for grains and vegetables.
I have a house, facing the sea, with spring flowers blossoming.
From tomorrow on, i will correspond with everyone I love,
Telling them of my happiness.
What the lighting of blessedness has told me,
I will spread to each of them.
And give a warm name to every river and every mountain.
Strangers, i’m also blessing for you,
Wish you a brilliant future,
Wish you can tie the knot with your love,
Wish you enjoy the very happiness in this earthly world.
I only wish, to face the sea, with spring flowers blossoming.
BLAKE: THE GARDEN OF LOVE
I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what i never had seen:
A chapel was built in the midst,
Where i used to play on the green.
And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And “Thou shalt not” writ over the door;
So i turn’d to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore;
And i saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be;
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires.
R.S.THOMAS: AT THE END
Few possessions: a chair,
a table, a bed
to say my prayers by,
and, gathered from the shore,
the bone-like, crossed sticks
proving that nature
acknowledges the Crucifixion.
All night I am at
a window not too small
to be frame to the stars
that are no further off
than the city lights
I have rejected. By day
the passers-by, who are not
pilgrims, stare through the rain’s
bars, seeing me as prisoner
of the one view, I who
have been made free
by the tide’s pendulum truth
that the heart that is low now
will be at the full tomorrow.
As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
angry Poseidon – don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that one on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
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 your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbours you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfumes of every kind -
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re 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 marvellous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t 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’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean
DICKINSON: As imperceptibly as grief
As imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away-
Too imperceptible at last
To seem like perfidy-
A Quietness distilled
As Twilight long begun,
Or Nature spending with herself
The Dusk drew earlier in-
The Morning foreign shone-
A courteous, yet harrowing Grace,
As guest, that would be gone-
And thus, without a Wing
Or service of a Keel
Our Summer made her light escape
Into the Beautiful
NERUDA: I EXPLAIN A FEW THINGS
You are going to ask: and where are the lilacs?
and the poppy-petalled metaphysics?
and the rain repeatedly spattering
its words and drilling them full
of apertures and birds?
I’ll tell you all the news.
I lived in a suburb,
a suburb of Madrid, with bells,
and clocks, and trees.
From there you could look out
over Castille’s dry face:
a leather ocean.
My house was called
the house of flowers, because in every cranny
geraniums burst: it was
a good-looking house
with its dogs and children.
Eh, Rafel? Federico, do you remember
from under the ground
my balconies on which
the light of June drowned flowers in your mouth?
Brother, my brother!
loud with big voices, the salt of merchandises,
pile-ups of palpitating bread,
the stalls of my suburb of Arguelles with its statue
like a drained inkwell in a swirl of hake:
oil flowed into spoons,
a deep baying
of feet and hands swelled in the streets,
metres, litres, the sharp
measure of life,
the texture of roofs with a cold sun in which
the weather vane falters,
the fine, frenzied ivory of potatoes,
wave on wave of tomatoes rolling down the sea.
And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings —
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children’s blood.
Jackals that the jackals would despise,
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate!
Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives!
see my dead house,
look at broken Spain :
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers,
from every socket of Spain
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes,
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull’s eye of your hearts.
And you’ll ask: why doesn’t his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land?
Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
The blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
In the streets!
FLECKER: THE OLD SHIPS
I have seen old ships like swans asleep
Beyond the village which men call Tyre,
With leaden age o’ercargoed, dipping deep
For Famagusta and the hidden sun
That rings black Cyprus with a lake of fire;
And all those ships were certainly so old
Who knows how oft with squat and noisy gun,
Questing brown slaves or Syrian oranges,
The pirate Genoese
Hell-raked them till they rolled
Blood, water, fruit and corpses up the hold.
But now through friendly seas they softly run,
Painted the mid-sea blue or shore-sea green,
Still patterned with the vine and grapes in gold.
But I have seen,
Pointing her shapely shadows from the dawn
An image tumbled on a rose-swept bay,
A drowsy ship of some yet older day;
And, wonder’s breath indrawn,
Thought I – who knows – who knows – but in that same
(Fished up beyond Ææa, patched up new
- Stern painted brighter blue -)
That talkative, bald-headed seaman came
(Twelve patient comrades sweating at the oar)
From Troy’s doom-crimson shore,
And with great lies about his wooden horse
Set the crew laughing, and forgot his course.
It was so old a ship – who knows, who knows?
- And yet so beautiful, I watched in vain
To see the mast burst open with a rose,
And the whole deck put on its leaves again.
OSIP MANDELSTAM: TAKE FROM MY PALMS
Lightheartedly take from the palm of my hands
A little sun, a little honey,
As Persephone’s bees commanded us.
Not to be untied, the unmoored boat;
Not to be heard, fur-shod shadows;
Not to be silenced, life’s thick terrors.
Now we have only kisses,
Bristly and crisp like bees,
Which die as they fly from the hive.
They rustle in transparent thickets of night,
Their homeland thick forest of Taigetos,
Their food—honeysuckle, mint, and time.
Lightheartedly take then my uncouth present:
This simple necklace, of dead, dried bees
Who once turned honey into sun.
YEATS: HE WISHES FOR THE CLOTHS OF HEAVEN
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams
T S ELIOT: LA FIGLIA CHE PIANGE
Stand on the highest pavement of the stair—
Lean on a garden urn—
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair—
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise—
Fling them to the ground and turn
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:
But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair.
So I would have had him leave,
So I would have had her stand and grieve,
So he would have left
As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,
As the mind deserts the body it has used.
I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft,
Some way we both should understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile and shake of the hand.
She turned away, but with the autumn weather
Compelled my imagination many days,
Many days and many hours:
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.
And I wonder how they should have been together!
I should have lost a gesture and a pose.
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze
The troubled midnight and the noon’s repose.
W.H.AUDEN: MUSÉE DES BEAUX ARTS
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
JUHASZ: BIRTH OF A FOAL
As May was opening the rosebuds,
elder and lilac beginning to bloom,
it was time for the mare to foal.
She’d rest herself, or hobble lazily
after the boy who sang as he led her
to pasture, wading through the meadowflowers.
They wandered back at dusk, bone-tired,
the moon perched on a blue shoulder of sky.
Then the mare lay down,
sweating and trembling, on her straw in the stable.
The drowsy, heavy-bellied cows
surrounded her, waiting, watching, snuffing.
Later, when even the hay slept
and the shaft of the Plough pointed South,
the foal was born. Hours the mare
spent licking the foal with its glue-blind eyes.
And the foal slept at her side,
a heap of feathers ripped from a bed.
Straw never spread as soft as this.
Milk or snow never slept like a foal.
Dawn bounced up in a bright red hat,
waved at the world and skipped away.
Up staggered the foal,
its hooves were jelly – knots of foam.
Then day sniffed with its blue nose
through the open stable window, and found them –
the foal nuzzling its mother,
velvet fumbling for her milk.
Then all the trees were talking at once,
chickens scrabbled in the yard,
like golden flowers
envy withered the last stars.
ROETHKE: ELEGY FOR JANE
I remember the neckcurls, limp and damp as tendrils;
And her quick look, a sidelong pickerel smile;
And how, once started into talk, the light syllables leaped for her.
And she balanced in the delight of her thought,
A wren, happy, tail into the wind,
Her song trembling the twigs and small branches.
The shade sang with her;
The leaves, their whispers turned to kissing,
And the mould sang in the bleached valleys under the rose.
Oh, when she was sad, she cast herself down into such a pure depth,
Even a father could not find her:
Scraping her cheek against straw,
Stirring the clearest water.
My sparrow, you are not here,
Waiting like a fern, making a spiney shadow.
The sides of wet stones cannot console me,
Nor the moss, wound with the last light.
If only I could nudge you from this sleep,
My maimed darling, my skittery pigeon.
Over this damp grave I speak the words of my love:
I, with no rights in this matter,
Neither father nor lover.
MENG HAO-JAN: THOUGHTS ON THE CHILL OF EARLY AUTUMN
The trees are bare, the wild geese have flown to the South,
The north wind is cold upon the river.
My home is by the winding waters of Hsiang Yang
Far distant from the clouds of Ch’u.
I have had my fill of homesick tears in the land of strangers;
I see a lonely sail upon the horizon and would like to follow it.
Lost at the ford, i wish to ask the way,
But there is only the vast level expanse of water and the night coming down.
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