JOHN DONNE: THE SUN RISING
Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run ?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices ;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
Thy beams so reverend, and strong
Why shouldst thou think ?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long.
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and to-morrow late tell me,
Whether both th’ Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou left’st them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, “All here in one bed lay.”
She’s all states, and all princes I ;
Nothing else is ;
Princes do but play us ; compared to this,
All honour’s mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus ;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere ;
This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere.
TRANSTROMER: BREATHING SPACE JULY
The man who lies on his back under huge trees
is also up in them. He branches out into thousands of tiny branches.
He sways back and forth,
he sits in a catapult chair that hurtles forward in slow motion.
The man who stands down at the dock screws up his eyes against the water.
Docks get older faster than men.
They have silver-gray posts and boulders in their gut.
The dazzling light drives straight in.
The man who spends the whole day in an open boat
moving over the luminous bays
will fall asleep at last inside the shade of his blue lamp
as the islands crawl like huge moths over the globe.
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TADA CHIMAKO: ALONG THE RIVERBANK
I stand someplace and watch
People without weight transported
From this bank to that
Only once are they carried across
The water is clear, finely textured yet viscous
The boatman’s oar sends up no spray
Although the passengers are spirits perhaps
All spirit seems to have left them long ago
As if caught in a deep sleep
Their mouths hang slightly open
They need no water from the river of forgetfulness
Probably their memories are already long gone
The old women look like my mother
So I probably resemble them too
Standing with mouth slightly agape
A close resemblance like one dream to another
As I gaze on them, I begin to wonder
From which side of the river I watch . . .
Meanwhile, a dragonfly perched on the helm measures
The weight of the vast afternoon on its thin wings
HARDY: A THUNDERSTORM IN TOWN
She wore a ‘terra-cotta’ dress,
And we stayed, because of the pelting storm,
Within the hansom’s dry recess,
Though the horse had stopped; yea, motionless
We sat on, snug and warm.
Then the downpour ceased, to my sharp sad pain,
And the glass that had screened our forms before
Flew up, and out she sprang to her door:
I should have kissed her if the rain
Had lasted a minute more.
WILLIAM BLAKE: LONDON
I wandered through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
A mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
In every cry of every man,
In every infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear:
How the chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every blackening church appals,
And the hapless soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down palace-walls.
But most, through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful harlot’s curse
Blasts the new-born infant’s tear,
And blights with plagues the marriage-hearse.
LEDO IVO: PROMONTORY
I always sought the profusion of the rains
and celebrated excess.
The door that opens on the clarity of lightning
divides the day into unequal parts.
But between the light and shadow there is a space
where dream and waking life join like two bodies
separated from their severed souls.
It is to this place that I return
when the rain falls in Maceió, dislodging the leaves
of the blossoming cashew trees.
The restless crabs notice in their tiny dens the changing of the world
that wavers between mud and mango roots
like two colors in a rainbow.
Cradle of tanajura ants, land threatened by thunder,
sleep-walking dunes that only walk at night,
sea that moistens the cracked lips of the sand,
wind that tears at the promontory,
far from you I’ll be in banishment.
WHITMAN: WHEN LILACS LAST IN THE DOORYARD BLOOM’D (from)
When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.
VENUS KHOURY-GHATA: FOR NOHA AL HEGELAN
At that time the earth was so high up
women hung out clouds and laundry on the same line
angels gripped their skirts to keep them from following stray souls
Everything that frequented water had a soul
clay jug, gourd, basin
buckets fished out the ones stagnating in the wells’ indifference
Every moving shadow sketched a phantom
every cock-crow became an omen
the announcer of births spoke louder than the waterfall
but more softly than the wind which had taken over the indoors and the outdoors
swelling the paltry fields
pushing back the horizon of an acre as soon as the houses shrank to the size of cages
The wise man tried not to cross its path
it would break a man for you over its knee like a straw
WILFRED OWEN: THE SEND OFF
Down the close, darkening lanes they sang their way
To the siding-shed,
And lined the train with faces grimly gay.
Their breasts were stuck all white with wreath and spray
As men’s are, dead.
Dull porters watched them, and a casual tramp
Stood staring hard,
Sorry to miss them from the upland camp.
Then, unmoved, signals nodded, and a lamp
Winked to the guard.
So secretly, like wrongs hushed-up, they went.
They were not ours:
We never heard to which front these were sent.
Nor there if they yet mock what women meant
Who gave them flowers.
Shall they return to beatings of great bells
In wild trainloads?
A few, a few, too few for drums and yells,
May creep back, silent, to still village wells
Up half-known roads.
SYLVIA PLATH: CONVERSATION AMONG THE RUINS
Through portico of my elegant house you stalk
With your wild furies, disturbing garlands of fruit
And the fabulous lutes and peacocks, rending the net
Of all decorum which holds the whirlwind back.
Now, rich order of walls is fallen; rooks croak
Above the appalling ruin; in bleak light
Of your stormy eye, magic takes flight
Like a daunted witch, quitting castle when real days break.
Fractured pillars frame prospects of rock;
While you stand heroic in coat and tie, I sit
Composed in Grecian tunic and psyche-knot,
Rooted to your black look, the play turned tragic:
Which such blight wrought on our bankrupt estate,
What ceremony of words can patch the havoc?
EDWARD THOMAS: ADLESTROP
Yes, I remember Adlestrop –
The name because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop – only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
I will tell you the dreams of my life
On this deepest of blue nights.
In your hands my soul will tremble,
On your shoulders my cross will rest.
The summits of life are lonely,
So lonely and so cold! I locked
My yearnings inside, and all reside
In the ivory tower I raised.
Today I will reveal a great mystery;
Your soul has the power to penetrate me.
In silence are vertigos of the abyss:
I hesitate, I am sustained in you.
I die of dreams; I will drink truth,
Pure and cool, from your springs.
I know in the well of your breast
Is a fountain that vanquishes my thirst.
And I know that in our lives, this
Is the inexpressible miracle of reflection…
In the silence, my soul arrives at yours
As to a magnificent mirror.
Imagine the love I dreamed
In the glacial tomb of silence!
Larger than life, larger than dream,
A love imprisoned beneath an azure without end.
Imagine my love, love which desires
Impossible life, superhuman life,
You who know how it burdens and consumes,
Dreams of Olympus bound by human flesh.
And when met with a soul which found
A bit of azure to bathe its wings,
Like a great, golden sun, or a shore
Made of light, your soul opened:
Imagine! To embrace the Impossible!
Radiant! The lived illusion!
Blessed be God, the sun, the flower, the air,
And all of life, because you are life!
If I bought this happiness with my anguish,
Bless the weeping that stains my eyes!
All the ulcers of the past laugh
At the sun rising from red lips!
Ah you will know, My Love,
We will travel far across the flowery night;
There what is human frightens, there you can hear it,
See it, feel it, life without end.
We go further into night, we go
Where in me not an echo reverberates,
Like a nocturnal flower in the shade,
I will open sweetly for you
VERNON WATKINS: POET AND GOLDSMITH
He was now alone. The lovers had wandered across
The field. About him the air fell sweet with singing.
Very close to his eyes a bird was carrying moss.
It gathered a wisp of straw, pecked, and looked up,
And flew to a secret nest. He watched the bough
Tremble. Now it was still. There was dew on the field.
Petals began to close. The roots of the elms
Held his wonder: “Be warned: about you are symbols.”
Over sea, gold distance hung in a fiery crucible.
No fingers, however cunning, could sift the grains
Of hurrying sand. Mathematical, yet inscrutable,
Each rose with the rising wave, then slipped through the hour-glass.
No shore could set a term to the curlew’s call.
The voice returned to itself round the sevenfold world
And perched on mystery. Night, like a working goldsmith,
Heard waves beat on the indestructible core.
The poet sang: "All ages bud like the sycamore.
Brown keys spin down to beginning. There are two natures.
Blest are the lost, packed hidden within life’s door
Like seeds in the husk. Yet, since a small man climbed
The crooked trunk, and groped, and sat in the branch,
The minutiae of earth are changed, and the blackbird’s praises
Are now twofold: they speak, and they speak beyond knowledge.
The dying light moved down to birth in his eyes,
And his eyes experienced music. Night was athletic;
A powerful glory tensed the proportioned skies.
And he murmured again: “One thought that is dear to love:
True characters do not age in each other’s eyes.
Indeed, we die each moment the life of another,
And there is no separation, no spear in the side,
Except in that forgetting of mutual death.”
“Unsearchable distance! The gliding avalanche
Wounds me,” he sang. Sycamore leaves against heaven
Moving, sighed. Then, as he touched one branch,
The force of his fingers entered the roots of the tree.
“Earth, cradle of riches; the speed and grace of the hunter,
Born here; plumes of the pheasant shining with dew:
They speak, singly, of inexhaustible treasure.
Night speaks, the artificer, beating out gold.”
Fish (fly-replete, in depth of June,
Dawdling away their wat’ry noon)
Ponder deep wisdom, dark or clear,
Each secret fishy hope or fear.
Fish say, they have their Stream and Pond;
But is there anything Beyond?
This life cannot be All, they swear,
For how unpleasant, if it were!
One may not doubt that, somehow, Good
Shall come of Water and of Mud;
And, sure, the reverent eye must see
A Purpose in Liquidity.
We darkly know, by Faith we cry,
The future is not Wholly Dry.
Mud unto mud! – Death eddies near -
Not here the appointed End, not here!
But somewhere, beyond Space and Time.
Is wetter water, slimier slime!
And there (they trust) there swimmeth One
Who swam ere rivers were begun,
Immense, of fishy form and mind,
Squamous, omnipotent, and kind;
And under that Almighty Fin,
The littlest fish may enter in.
Oh! never fly conceals a hook,
Fish say, in the Eternal Brook,
But more than mundane weeds are there,
And mud, celestially fair;
Fat caterpillars drift around,
And Paradisal grubs are found;
Unfading moths, immortal flies,
And the worm that never dies.
And in that Heaven of all their wish,
There shall be no more land, say fish.
NORMAN MACCAIG: PRAISE OF A COLLIE
She was a small dog, neat and fluid –
Even her conversation was tiny:
She greeted you with bow, never bow-wow.
Her sons stood monumentally over her
But did what she told them. Each grew grizzled
Till he seemed he was his own mother’s grandfather.
Once, gathering sheep on a showery day,
I remarked how dry she was. Pollóchan said ‘Ah,
It would take a very accurate drop to hit Lassie.’
She sailed in the dinghy like a proper sea-dog.
Where’s a burn? – she’s first on the other side.
She flowed through fences like a piece of black wind.
But suddenly she was old and sick and crippled . . .
I grieved for Pollóchan when he took her a stroll
And put his gun to the back of her head.
SHAKESPEARE: SONNET 104
To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I ey’d,
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold,
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turn’d,
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn’d,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah! yet doth beauty like a dial-hand,
Steal from his figure, and no pace perceiv’d;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion, and mine eye may be deceiv’d:
For fear of which, hear this thou age unbred:
Ere you were born was beauty’s summer dead.
DAFYDD AP GWILYM: THE RATTLE BAG
As I lay, fullness of praise,
On a summer day under
Trees between field and mountain
Awaiting my soft-voiced girl,
She came, there’s no denying,
Where she vowed, a very moon.
Together we sat, fine theme,
The girl and I, debating,
Trading, while I had the right,
Words with the splendid maiden.
And so we were, she was shy,
Learning to love each other,
Concealing sin, winning mead,
An hour lying together,
And then, cold comfort, it came,
A blare, a bloody nuisance,
A sack’s bottom’s foul seething
From an imp in shepherd’s shape,
Who had, public enemy,
A harsh-horned sag-cheeked rattle.
He played, cramped yellow belly,
This bag, curse its scabby leg.
So before satisfaction
The sweet girl panicked: poor me!
When she heard, feeble-hearted,
The stones whir, she would not stay.
By Christ, no Christian country,
Cold harsh tune, has heard the like.
Noisy pouch perched on a pole,
Bell of pebbles and gravel,
Saxon rocks making music
Quaking in a bullock’s skin,
Crib of three thousand beetles,
Commotion’s cauldron, black bag,
Field-keeper, comrade of straw,
Black-skinned, pregnant with splinters,
Noise that’s an old buck’s loathing,
Devil’s bell, stake in its crotch,
Scarred pebble-bearing belly,
May it be sliced into thongs.
May the churl be struck frigid,
Amen, who scared off my girl.
(translation, from Welsh)
BETJEMAN: INDOOR GAMES AT NEWBURY
In among the silver birches,
Winding ways of tarmac wander
And the signs to Bussock Bottom,
Tussock Wood and Windy Break.
Gabled lodges, tile-hung churches
Catch the lights of our Lagonda
As we drive to Wendy’s party,
Lemon curd and Christmas cake
Rich the makes of motor whirring
Past the pine plantation purring
Come up Hupmobile Delage.
Short the way our chauffeurs travel
Crunching over private gravel,
Each from out his warm garage.
O but Wendy, when the carpet
Yielded to my indoor pumps.
There you stood, your gold hair streaming,
Handsome in the hall light gleaming
There you looked and there you led me
Off into the game of Clumps.
Then the new Victrola playing;
And your funny uncle saying
“Choose your partners for a foxtrot.
Dance until it’s tea o’clock
Come on young ’uns, foot it feetly.”
Was it chance that paired us neatly?
I who loved you so completely.
You who pressed me closely to you,
Hard against your party frock.
“Meet me when you’ve finished eating.”
So we met and no one found us.
O that dark and furry cupboard,
While the rest played hide-and-seek.
Holding hands our two hearts beating.
In the bedroom silence round us
Holding hands and hardly hearing
Sudden footstep, thud and shriek
Love that lay too deep for kissing.
“Where is Wendy? Wendy’s missing.”
Love so pure it had to end.
Love so strong that I was frightened
When you gripped my fingers tight.
And hugging, whispered “I’m your friend.”
Goodbye Wendy. Send the fairies,
Pinewood elf and larch tree gnome.
Spingle-spangled stars are peeping
At the lush Lagonda creeping
Down the winding ways of tarmac
To the leaded lights of home.
There among the silver birches,
All the bells of all the churches
Sounded in the bath-waste running
Out into the frosty air.
Wendy speeded my undressing.
Wendy is the sheet’s caressing
Wendy bending gives a blessing.
Holds me as I drift to dreamland
Safe inside my slumber wear
PABLO NERUDA: LEANING INTO THE AFTERNOONS
Leaning into the afternoons I cast my sad nets
towards your oceanic eyes.
There in the highest blaze my solitude lengthens and flames,
its arms turning like a drowning man’s.
I send out red signals across your absent eyes
that smell like the sea or the beach by a lighthouse.
You keep only darkness, my distant female,
from your regard sometimes the coast of dread emerges.
Leaning into the afternoons I fling my sad nets
to that sea that is thrashed by your oceanic eyes.
The birds of night peck at the first stars
that flash like my soul when I love you.
The night gallops on its shadowy mare
shedding blue tassels over the land.
STEVENS: THE EMPEROR OF ICE CREAM
Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
Take from the dresser of deal.
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
GOENAWAN MOHAMAD: IN THE OWL PENINSULA
There always arrive in the Owl Peninsula
waves that scramble for borders
the bay’s palms, the row of rocks,
in the raucous crash
of the tide engraving a mark.
But this time the forest balm chooses the cumin colour
in the southern cove of the harbour.
when the fowls no longer flee.
While you will hear, too, the cry of the lighthouse
clashing against the mist, exposing the dark,
for the weary boats,
the drooping sails
amidst hard drizzle, pattering drizzle,
where the skyline
ceases to blue, in the swollen late afternoon.
The next morning the bay will be dried up
and they will come home, all will come home,
the lobster hunters
to the shore that is no more.
And you ask whether tomorrow you will see again
the crescent moon, moving like a tightrope walker
in a twilight circus
between the rock peaks and the elm trees.
But in the Owl Peninsula, silence
is a solemn sound,
the murmur of hickory leaves: the helmsman’s voice
over the navigation map.
And you will go there, following his direction,
as if the waves, as if the waves
were blue, grey, always—
before they leave.
SEAMUS HEANEY: MIRACLE
Not the one who takes up his bed and walks
But the ones who have known him all along
And carry him in -
Their shoulders numb, the ache and stoop deeplocked
In their backs, the stretcher handles
Slippery with sweat. And no let up
Until he’s strapped on tight, made tiltable
and raised to the tiled roof, then lowered for healing.
Be mindful of them as they stand and wait
For the burn of the paid out ropes to cool,
Their slight lightheadedness and incredulity
To pass, those who had known him all along.
R S THOMAS: THE RIVER
And the cobbled water
Of the stream with the trout’s indelible
Shadows that winter
Has not erased—I walk it
Again under a clean
Sky with the fish, speckled like thrushes,
Silently singing among the weed’s
I bring the heart
Not the mind to the interpretation
Of their music, letting the stream
Comb me, feeling it fresh
In my veins, revisiting the sources
That are as near now
As on the morning I set out from them.
GEORGIOS SEFERIADES: THE THRUSH (from)
The houses I had they took away from me. The times
happened to be unpropitious: war, destruction, exile;
sometimes the hunter hits the migratory birds,
sometimes he doesn’t hit them. Hunting
was good in my time, many felt the pellet;
the rest circle aimlessly or go mad in the shelters.
Don’t talk to me about the nightingale or the lark
or the little wagtail
inscribing figures with his tail in the light;
I don’t know much about houses
I know they have their own nature, nothing else.
New at first, like babies
who play in gardens with the tassels of the sun,
they embroider coloured shutters and shining doors
over the day.
When the architect’s finished, they change,
they frown or smile or even grow resentful
with those who stayed behind, with those who went away
with others who’d come back if they could
or others who disappeared, now that the world’s become
an endless hotel.
I don’t know much about houses,
I remember their joy and their sorrow
sometimes, when I stop to think;
sometimes, near the sea, in naked rooms
with a single iron bed and nothing of my own,
watching the evening spider, I imagine
that someone is getting ready to come, that they dress him up
in white and black robes, with many-coloured jewels,
and around him venerable ladies,
grey hair and dark lace shawls, talk softly,
that he is getting ready to come and say goodbye to me;
or that a woman — eyelashes quivering, slim-waisted,
returning from southern ports,
Smyrna Rhodes Syracuse Alexandria,
from cities closed like hot shutters,
with perfume of golden fruit and herbs —
climbs the stairs without seeing
those who’ve fallen asleep under the stairs.
HUGH MACDIARMID: ANOTHER EPITAPH ON AN ARMY OF MERCENARIES
It is a God-damned lie to say that these
Saved, or knew, anything worth any man’s pride.
They were professional murderers and they took
Their blood money and their impious risks and died.
In spite of all their kind some elements of worth
With difficulty persist here and there on earth.
GEORG TRAKL: LAMENT
Sleep and death, the dusky eagles
Around this head swoop all night long;
Eternity’s icy wave
Would swallow the golden image
Of man; against horrible reefs
His purple body is shattered.
And the dark voice laments
Over the sea.
Sister of stormy sadness,
Look a timid dinghy goes down
The silent face of the night.
DE LA MARE: FARE WELL
When I lie where shades of darkness
Shall no more assail mine eyes,
Nor the rain make lamentation
When the wind sighs;
How will fare the world whose wonder
Was the very proof of me?
Memory fades, must the remembered
Oh, when this my dust surrenders
Hand, foot, lip, to dust again,
May these loved and loving faces
Please other men!
May the rusting harvest hedgerow
Still the Traveller’s Joy entwine,
And as happy children gather
Posies once mine.
Look thy last on all things lovely,
Every hour. Let no night
Seal thy sense in deathly slumber
Till to delight
Thou have paid thy utmost blessing;
Since that all things thou wouldst praise
Beauty took from those who loved them
In other days.
KENJI: THOUGHTS OF YANG KWEI FEI
A fisherman’s boat drifts along the Wei river,
the snow softly falls on the mulberry tree.
The pools of Huaqing are filled with dead leaves now,
the wild geese have flown to the lands of lychee.
The buds of the willow glisten with silver,
the storm clouds have cleared from the peak of Mount Li.
The courtyard retains a faint scent of lotus
and the waters of Shu still flow to the sea.
TU FU: FULL MOON
Above the tower — a lone, twice-sized moon.
On the cold river passing night-filled homes,
It scatters restless gold across the waves.
On mats, it shines richer than silken gauze.
Empty peaks, silence: among sparse stars,
Not yet flawed, it drifts. Pine and cinnamon
Spreading in my old garden . . . All light,
All ten thousand miles at once in its light!