Omer

 

Every Monday and Friday since July 2016, we publish a poem or prose text from our 'translation workshop'.

We've named this section of the site "Omer", in memory of Omer Hadziselimovic, one of the founders of Samizdat.

AVE CAESAR

No bitterness: our ancestors did it.
They were only ignorant and hopeful, they wanted freedom but wealth too.
Their children will learn to hope for a Caesar.
Or rather--for we are not aquiline Romans but soft mixed colonists--
Some kindly Sicilian tyrant who'll keep
Poverty and Carthage off until the Romans arrive,
We are easy to manage, a gregarious people,
Full of sentiment, clever at mechanics, and we love our luxuries.

 

Robinson Jeffers, February 21, 2020

 

 

 

CROW'S THEOLOGY

Crow realized God loved him -

Otherwise, he would have dropped dead.

So that was proved.

Crow reclined, marvelling, on his heart-beat.

 

And he realized that God spoke Crow -

Just existing was His revelation.

 

But what Loved the stones and spoke stone?

They seemed to exist too.

And what spoke that strange silence

After his clamour of caws faded?

 

And what loved the shot-pellets

That dribbled from those strung-up

mummifying crows?

What spoke the silence of lead?

 

Crow realized there were two Gods -

One of them much bigger than the other

Loving his enemies

And having all the weapons. 

 

Ted Hughes, February 17, 2020

 

 

 

HISTORY OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

 

       The Sun's in its orbit,
          yet I feel morbid.


Act 1
Prologue

Ladies and gentlemen and the day!
All ye made of sweet human clay!
Let me tell you: you are o'kay.

Our show is to start without much delay.
So let me inform you right away:
this is not a play but the end of the play

that has been on for some eighty years.
It received its boos and received its cheers.
It won't last for long, one fears.

Men and machines lie to rest or rust.
Nothing arrives as quick as the Past.
What we'll show you presently is the cast

of characters who have ceased to act.
Each of these lives has become a fact
from which you presumably can subtract

but to which you blissfully cannot add.
The consequences of that could be bad
for your looks or your blood.

For they are the cause, you are the effect.
because they lie flat, you are still erect.
Citizens! Don't neglect

history! History holds the clue
to your taxes and to your flu,
to what comes out of the blue.

We'll show you battlefields, bedrooms, labs,
sinking ships and escaping subs,
cradles, weddings, divorces, slabs.

Folks! The curtain's about to rise!
What you'll see won't look like a Paradise.
Still, the Past may moisten a pair of eyes,

for its prices were lower than our sales,
for it was ruining cities: not blood cells;
for on the horizon it's not taut sails

but the wind that fails.

 

Joseph Brodsky, February 14, 2020

 

 

 

EDWARD LIR

Left by his friend to breakfast alone on the white
Italian shore, his Terrible Demon arose
Over his shoulder; he wept to himself in the night,
A dirty landscape-painter who hated his nose.

The legions of cruel inquisitive They
Were so many and big like dogs: he was upset
By Germans and boats; affection was miles away:
But guided by tears he successfully reached his Regret.

How prodigious the welcome was. Flowers took his hat


And bore him off to introduce him to the tongs;
The demon's false nose made the table laugh; a cat
Soon had him waltzing madly, let him squeeze her hand;
Words pushed him to the piano to sing comic songs;

And children swarmed to him like settlers. He became a land.

 

Wystan Hugh Auden, February 10, 2020

 

 

 

ALONE

Lying, thinking

Last night

How to find my soul a home

Where water is not thirsty

And bread loaf is not stone

I came up with one thing

And I don't believe I'm wrong

That nobody,

But nobody

Can make it out here alone.

 

Alone, all alone

Nobody, but nobody

Can make it out here alone.

 

There are some millionaires

With money they can't use

Their wives run round like banshees

Their children sing the blues

They've got expensive doctors

To cure their hearts of stone.

But nobody

No, nobody

Can make it out here alone.

 

Alone, all alone

Nobody, but nobody

Can make it out here alone.

 

Now if you listen closely

I'll tell you what I know

Storm clouds are gathering

The wind is gonna blow

The race of man is suffering

And I can hear the moan,

'Cause nobody,

But nobody

Can make it out here alone.

 

Alone, all alone

Nobody, but nobody

Can make it out here alone.

 

Maya Angelou, February 7, 2020

 

 

 

IN THE STUDY

He enters, and mute on the edge of a chair

Sits a thin-faced lady, a stranger there,  
A type of decayed gentility;  
And by some small signs he well can guess  
That she comes to him almost breakfastless.  
"I have called -- I hope I do not err --  
I am looking for a purchaser  
Of some score volumes of the works  
Of eminent divines I own, --  
Left by my father -- though it irks  
My patience to offer them." And she smiles  
As if necessity were unknown;  
"But the truth of it is that oftenwhiles  
I have wished, as I am fond of art,  
To make my rooms a little smart,  
And these old books are so in the way."  
And lightly still she laughs to him,  
As if to sell were a mere gay whim,  
And that, to be frank, Life were indeed  
To her not vinegar and gall,  
But fresh and honey-like; and Need  
No household skeleton at all.  

 

Thomas Hardy, February 3, 2020

 

 

 

MARY'S SONG

 

The Sunday lamb cracks in its fat.

The fat

Sacrifices its opacity. . . .

 

A window, holy gold.

The fire makes it precious,

The same fire

 

Melting the tallow heretics,

Ousting the Jews.

Their thick palls float

 

Over the cicatrix of Poland, burnt-out

Germany.

They do not die.

 

Grey birds obsess my heart,

Mouth-ash, ash of eye.

They settle. On the high

 

Precipice

That emptied one man into space

The ovens glowed like heavens, incandescent.

 

It is a heart,

This holocaust I walk in,

O golden child the world will kill and eat.

 

Sylvia Plath, January 31, 2020

 

 

 

THE PAST IS THE PRESENT

 

If external action is effete
and rhyme is outmoded,
I shall revert to you,
Habakkuk, as when in a Bible class
the teacher was speaking of unrhymed verse.
He said - and I think I repeat his exact words -
"Hebrew poetry is prose
with a sort of heightened consciousness." Ecstasy affords
the occasion and expediency determines the form.

 

Marianne Moor, January 27, 2020

 

 

 

SEPTEMBER 1, 1939

 

I sit in one of the dives

On Fifty-second Street

Uncertain and afraid

As the clever hopes expire

Of a low dishonest decade:

Waves of anger and fear

Circulate over the bright

And darkened lands of the earth,

Obsessing our private lives;

The unmentionable odour of death

Offends the September night.

 

Accurate scholarship can

Unearth the whole offence

From Luther until now

That has driven a culture mad,

Find what occurred at Linz,

What huge imago made

A psychopathic god:

I and the public know

What all schoolchildren learn,

Those to whom evil is done

Do evil in return.

                                                                                                  

Exiled Thucydides knew

All that a speech can say

About Democracy,

And what dictators do,

The elderly rubbish they talk

To an apathetic grave;

Analysed all in his book,

The enlightenment driven away,

The habit-forming pain,

Mismanagement and grief:

We must suffer them all again.

                                  

Into this neutral air

Where blind skyscrapers use

Their full height to proclaim

The strength of Collective Man,

Each language pours its vain

Competitive excuse:

But who can live for long

In an euphoric dream;

Out of the mirror they stare,

Imperialism's face

And the international wrong.

 

Faces along the bar

Cling to their average day:

The lights must never go out,

The music must always play,

All the conventions conspire

To make this fort assume

The furniture of home;

Lest we should see where we are,

Lost in a haunted wood,

Children afraid of the night

Who have never been happy or good.

                                           

The windiest militant trash

Important Persons shout

Is not so crude as our wish:

What mad Nijinsky wrote

About Diaghilev

Is true of the normal heart;

For the error bred in the bone

Of each woman and each man

Craves what it cannot have,

Not universal love

But to be loved alone.

 

From the conservative dark

Into the ethical life

The dense commuters come,

Repeating their morning vow;

"I will be true to the wife,

I'll concentrate more on my work,"

And helpless governors wake

To resume their compulsory game:

Who can release them now,

Who can reach the deaf,

Who can speak for the dumb?

 

All I have is a voice

To undo the folded lie,

The romantic lie in the brain

Of the sensual man-in-the-street

And the lie of Authority

Whose buildings grope the sky:

There is no such thing as the State

And no one exists alone;

Hunger allows no choice

To the citizen or the police;

We must love one another or die.

                                      

Defenceless under the night

Our world in stupor lies;

Yet, dotted everywhere,

Ironic points of light

Flash out wherever the Just

Exchange their messages:

May I, composed like them

Of Eros and of dust,

Beleaguered by the same

Negation and despair,

Show an affirming flame.

 

Wystan Hugh Auden, January 24, 2020

 

 

 

SESTINA

 

September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.
 
She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house 
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,
 
It's time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle's small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac
 
on its string. Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.
 
It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.
 
But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.
 
Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.

 

Elizabeth Bishop, January 20, 2020

 

 

 

HOWL

III

 

Carl Solomon! I'm with you in Rockland

where you're madder than I am

I'm with you in Rockland

where you must feel very strange

I'm with you in Rockland

where you imitate the shade of my mother

I'm with you in Rockland

where you've murdered your twelve secretaries

I'm with you in Rockland

where you laugh at this invisible humor

I'm with you in Rockland

where we are great writers on the same dreadful typewriter

I'm with you in Rockland

where your condition has become serious and

is reported on the radio

I'm with you in Rockland

where the faculties of the skull no longer admit

the worms of the senses

I'm with you in Rockland

where you drink the tea of the breasts of the

spinsters of Utica

I'm with you in Rockland

where you pun on the bodies of your nurses the

harpies of the Bronx

I'm with you in Rockland

where you scream in a straightjacket that you're

losing the game of the actual pingpong of the abyss

I'm with you in Rockland

where you bang on the catatonic piano the soul

is innocent and immortal it should never die

ungodly in an armed madhouse

I'm with you in Rockland

where fifty more shocks will never return your

soul to its body again from its pilgrimage to a

cross in the void

I'm with you in Rockland

where you accuse your doctors of insanity and

plot the Hebrew socialist revolution against the

fascist national Golgotha

I'm with you in Rockland

where you will split the heavens of Long Island

and resurrect your living human Jesus from the

superhuman tomb

I'm with you in Rockland

where there are twenty-five-thousand mad com-

rades all together singing the final stanzas of the Internationale

I'm with you in Rockland

where we hug and kiss the United States under

our bedsheets the United States that coughs all

night and won't let us sleep

I'm with you in Rockland

where we wake up electrified out of the coma

by our own souls' airplanes roaring over the

roof they've come to drop angelic bombs the

hospital illuminates itself imaginary walls col-

lapse O skinny legions run outside O starry

spangled shock of mercy the eternal war is

here O victory forget your underwear we're free

I'm with you in Rockland

in my dreams you walk dripping from a sea-

journey on the highway across America in tears

to the door of my cottage in the Western night

 

Allen Ginsberg, January 17, 2020

 

 

 

POEM IN THREE PARTS

1

Oh, on an early morning I think I shall live forever!
I am wrapped in my joyful flesh,
As the grass is wrapped in its clouds of green.

2

Rising from a bed, where I dreamt
Of long rides past castles and hot coals,
The sun lies happily on my knees;
I have suffered and survived the night,
Bathed in dark water, like any blade of grass.

3

The strong leaves of the box-elder tree,
Plunging in the wind, call us to disappear
Into the wilds of the universe,
Where we shall sit at the foot of a plant,
And live forever, like the dust.

 

Robert Bly, January 13, 2020

 

 

 

NO THINGS

 

This love for the petty things,

part natural from the slow of childhood,

part a literary affectation,

 

this attention to the morning flower

and later in the day to a fly

strolling along the rim of a wineglass —

 

are we just avoiding the one true destiny,

when we do that? averting our eyes from

Philip Larkin who waits for us in an undertaker’s coat?

 

The leafless branches against the sky

will not save anyone form the infinity of death,

nor will the sugar bowl or the sugar spoon on the table.

 

So why bother with the checkerboard lighthouse?

Why waste time on the sparrow,

or the wildflowers along the roadside

 

when we should all be alone in our rooms

throwing ourselves against the wall of life

and the opposite wall of death,

 

the door locked behind us

as we hurl ourselves at the question of meaning,

and the enigma of our origins?

 

What good is the firefly,

the droplet running along the green leaf,

or even the bar of soap spinning around the bathtub

 

when ultimately we are meant to be

banging away on the mystery

as hard as we can and to hell with the neighbors?

 

banging away on nothingness itself,

some with the foreheads,

others with the maul of sense, the raised jawbone of poetry.

Billy Collins, January 10, 2020

 

 

 

MY LAST DUCHESS

 

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,

Looking as if she were alive. I call

That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands

Worked busily a day, and there she stands.

Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said

“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read

Strangers like you that pictured countenance,

The depth and passion of its earnest glance,

But to myself they turned (since none puts by

The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)

And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,

How such a glance came there; so, not the first

Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not

Her husband’s presence only, called that spot

Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek; perhaps

Fra Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps

Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint

Must never hope to reproduce the faint

Half-flush that dies along her throat.” Such stuff

Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough

For calling up that spot of joy. She had

A heart—how shall I say?— too soon made glad,

Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er

She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.

Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,

The dropping of the daylight in the West,

The bough of cherries some officious fool

Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule

She rode with round the terrace—all and each

Would draw from her alike the approving speech,

Or blush, at least. She thanked men—good! but thanked

Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked

My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name

With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame

This sort of trifling? Even had you skill

In speech—which I have not—to make your will

Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this

Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,

Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let

Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set

Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse—

E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose

Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,

Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without

Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;

Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands

As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet

The company below, then. I repeat,

The Count your master’s known munificence

Is ample warrant that no just pretense

Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;

Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed

At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go

Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,

Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,

Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

 

Robert Browning, January 7, 2020

 

 

 

DREAM SONG 149

 

The world is gradually becoming a place

where I do not care to be anymore. Can Delmore die?

I don't suppose

in all them years a day went ever by

without a loving thought for him. Welladay.

In the brightness of his promise,

 

unstained, I saw him thro' the mist of the actual

blazing with insight, warm with gossip

thro' all our Harvard years

when both of us were just becoming known

I got him out of a police-station once, in Washington, the world is tref


and grief too astray for tears.

 

I imagine you have heard the terrible news,

that Delmore Schwartz is dead, miserably & alone,

in New York: he sang me a song I am the Brooklyn poet Delmore Schwartz

Harms & the child I sing, two parents' torts'

when he was young & gift-strong.

 

John Berryman, January 3, 2020