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.

TO DOROTHY

 

You are not beautiful, exactly.

You are beautiful, inexactly.

You let a weed grow by the mulberry

And a mulberry grow by the house.

So close, in the personal quiet

Of a windy night, it brushes the wall

And sweeps away the day till we sleep.

 

A child said it, and it seemed true:

"Things that are lost are all equal."

But it isn't true. If I lost you,

The air wouldn't move, nor the tree grow.

Someone would pull the weed, my flower.

The quiet wouldn't be yours. If I lost you,

I'd have to ask the grass to let me sleep.

Mervin Bell, May 29, 2020 

 

 

 

THE GREEKS ARE COMING!

 

Little islands out at sea, on the horizon

keep suddenly showing a whiteness, a flesh and a furl, a hail

of something coming, ships a-sail from over the rim of the

       sea.

 

And every time, it is ships, it is ships,

it is ships of Cnossos coming, out of the morning end of

      the sea,

it is Aegean ships, and men with archaic pointed beards

coming out of the eastern end.

 

But it is far-off foam.

And an ocean liner, going east, like a small beetle walking

     the edge

is leaving a long thread of dark smoke

like a bad smell.

David Herbert Lawrence, May 25, 2020 

 

 

CREMATION

It nearly cancels my fear of death, my dearest said,
When I think of cremation. To rot in the earth
Is a loathsome end, but to roar up in flame – besides, I
          am used to it,
I have flamed with love or fury so often in my life,
No wonder my body is tired, no wonder it is dying.
We had a great joy of my body. Scatter the ashes.

 

Robinson Jeffers, May 22, 2020 

 

 

ORPHEUS


What does the song hope for? And the moved hands

A little way from the birds, the shy, the delightful?

        To be bewildered and happy,

        Or most of all the knowledge of life?

 

But the beautiful are content with the sharp notes of the air;

The warmth is enough. O if winter really

       Oppose, if the weak snowflake,

       What will the wish, what will the dance do?

 

Wystan Hugh Auden, May 18, 2020

 

 

 

THE PLAIN SENSE OF THINGS

 

After the leaves have fallen, we return

To a plain sense of things. It is as if

We had come to an end of the imagination,

Inanimate in an inert savoir.

 

It is difficult even to choose the adjective

For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.

The great structure has become a minor house.

No turban walks across the lessened floors.

 

The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.

The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.

A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition

In a repetitiousness of men and flies.

 

Yet the absence of the imagination had

Itself to be imagined. The great pond,

The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,

Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence

 

Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,

The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this

Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,

Required, as a necessity requires.

 

Wallace Stevens, May 15, 2020

 

 

 

ANGEL OF BEACH HOUSES AND PICNICS

 

Angel of beach houses and picnics, do you know solitaire?

Fifty-two reds and blacks and only myslef to blame.

My blood buzzes like a hornet's nest. I sit in a kitchen chair

at a table set for one. The silverware is the same

and the glass and the sugar bowl. I hear my lungs fill and expel

as in an operation. But I have no one left to tell.

 

Once I was a couple. I was my own king and queen

with cheese and bread and rosé on the rocks of Rockport.

Once I sunbathed in the buff, all brown and lean,

watching the toy sloops go by, holding court

for busloads of tourists. Once I called breakfast the sexiest

meal of the day. Once I invited arrest

 

at the peace march in Washington. Once I was young and bold

and left hundreds of unmatched people out in the cold.

 

Anne Sexton, May 11, 2020

 

 

 

FIGHTING FOR JERUSALEM

 

The man who seems to be dead

With Buddha in his smile

With Jesus in his stretched out arms

With Mahomet in his humbled forehead

With his feet in hell

With his hands in heaven

With his back to the earth

Is escorted

To his eternal reward

By singing legions

Of what seem to be flies

 

Ted Hughes, May 8, 2020

 

 

 

HAZARDOUS OCCUPATIONS

Jugglers keep six bottles in the air.
Club swingers toss up six and eight.
The knife throwers miss each other's
ears by a hair and the steel quivers
in the target wood.
The trapeze battlers do a back-and-forth
high in the air with a girl's feet
and ankles upside down.
So they earn a living till they miss
once, twice, even three times.
So they live on hate and love as gjpsies
live in satin skins and shiny eyes.
In their graves do the elbows jostle once
in a blue moon and wriggle to throw
a kiss answering a dreamed-of applause?
Do the bones repeat : It's a good act
we got a good hand. . . . ?

 

Carl Sandburg, May 4, 2020

 

 

 

I HAVE STARTED TO SAY

 

I have started to say

"A quarter of a century"

Or "thirty years back"

About my own life.

 

It makes me breathless

It's like falling and recovering

In huge gesturing loops

Through an empty sky.

 

All that's left to happen

Is some deaths (my own included).

Their order, and their manner,

Remain to be learnt.

 

Philip Larkin, May 1, 2020

 

 

 

THE NIAGARA RIVER

 

As though

the river were

a floor, we position

our table and chairs

upon it, eat, and

have conversation.

As it moves along,

we notice — as

calmly as though

dining room paintings

were being replaced —

the changing scenes

along the shore. We

do know, we do

know this is the

Niagara River, but

it is hard to remember

what that means.

 

Kay Ryan, April 27, 2020

 

 

 

HISTORY OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, 1900

1900. A quiet year, you bet.
True: none of you is alive as yet.
The '00' stands for the lack of you.
Still, things are happening, quite a few.
In China, the Boxers are smashing whites.
In Russia, A.P.Chekhov writes.
In Italy, Floria Tosca screams.
Freud, in Vienna, interprets dreams.
The Impressionists paint, Rodin still sculpts.
In Africa, Boers grab the British scalps
or vice versa (who cares, my dear?).
And McKinley is re-elected here.
There are four great empires, three good democracies.
The rest of the world sports loin-cloths and moccasins,
speaking both figuratively and literally.
Upstaging "Umberto's" in Little Italy,
in the big one Umberto the Ist's shot dead.
(Not all that's written on walls is read).
And marking the century's real turn,
Friedrich Nietzsche dies, Louis Armstrong's born
to refute the great Kraut's unholy
"God is dead" with "Hello, Dolly."

The man of the year, though, is an engineer.
John Browning is his name.
He's patented something. So let us hear
about John's claim to fame.

(John Moses Browning)

"I looked at the calendar, and I saw
that there are a hundred years to go.
That made me a little nervous
for I thought of my neighbors.
I've multiplied them one hundred times:
it came to them being all over!
So I went to my study that looks out on limes
and invented this cute revolver!"

Joseph Brodsky, April 24, 2020

 

BEING BUT MEN

 

Being but men, we walked into the trees

Afraid, letting our syllables be soft

For fear of waking the rooks,

For fear of coming

Noiselessly into a world of wings and cries.

 

If we were children we might climb,

Catch the rooks sleeping, and break no twig,

And, after the soft ascent,

Thrust out our heads above the branches

To wonder at the unfailing stars.

 

Out of confusion, as the way is,

And the wonder, that man knows,

Out of the chaos would come bliss.

 

That, then, is loveliness, we said,

Children in wonder watching the stars,

Is the aim and the end.

 

Thomas Dylan, April 20, 2020

 

 

 

THE WAKING

 

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   

I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.                                             

I learn by going where I have to go.             

 

We think by feeling. What is there to know? 

I hear my being dance from ear to ear.         

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.    

 

Of those so close beside me, which are you?     

God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there, 

And learn by going where I have to go.        

 

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how? 

The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;      

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.       

 

Great Nature has another thing to do           

To you and me, so take the lively air,             

And, lovely, learn by going where to go.      

 

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.    

What falls away is always. And is near.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

I learn by going where I have to go. 

Teodore Roethke, April 17, 2020

I REMEMBER

 

It was my bridal night I remember,
An old man of seventy-three
I lay with my young bride in my arms,
A girl with t.b.
It was wartime, and overhead
The Germans were making a particularly heavy raid on
Hampstead.
                      What rendered the confusion worse, perversely
Our bombers had chosen that moment to set out for Germany.
Harry, do they ever collide?
I do not think it has ever happened,
Oh my bride, my bride.

 

Stevie Smith, April 13, 2020

 

 

 

THE LAST WORDS OF MY ENGLISH GRANDMOTHER

 

There were some dirty plates
and a glass of milk
beside her on a small table
near the rank, disheveled bed--

Wrinkled and nearly blind
she lay and snored
rousing with anger in her tones
to cry for food,

Gimme something to eat--
They're starving me--
I'm all right--I won't go
to the hospital.No, no, no

Give me something to eat!
Let me take you
to the hospital, I said
and after you are well

you can do as you please.
She smiled, Yes
you do what you please first
then I can do what I please--

Oh, oh, oh! she cried
as the ambulance men lifted
her to the stretcher--
Is this what you call

making me comfortable?
By now her mind was clear--
Oh you think you're smart
you young people,

she said, but I'll tell you
you don't know anything.
Then we started.
On the way

we passed a long row
of elms. She looked at them
awhile out of
the ambulance window and said,

What are all those
fuzzy looking things out there?
Trees?Well, I'm tired
of them and rolled her head away.

 

William Carlos Williams, April 10, 2020

 

 

 

OLD PEOPLE`S HOME    

 

All are limitory, but each has her own

nuance of damage. The elite can dress and decent themselves,

     are ambulant with a single stick, adroit

to read a book all through, or play the slow movements of

     easy sonatas. (Yet, perhaps their very

carnal freedom is their spirit’s bane: intelligent

     of what has happened and why, they are obnoxious

to a glum beyond tears.)  Then come those on wheels, the average

     majority, who endure T.V. and, led by

lenient therapists, do community-singing, then

     the loners, muttering in Limbo, and last

the terminally incompetent, as improvident,

     unspeakable, impeccable as the plants

they parody. (Plants may sweat profusely but never

     sully themselves.)  One tie, though, unites them: all

appeared when the world, though much was awry there, was more

     spacious, more comely to look at, it’s Old Ones

with an audience and secular station.  Then a child,

     in dismay with Mamma, could refuge with Gran

to be revalued and told a story.  As of now,

     we all know what to expect, but their generation

is the first to fade like this, not at home but assigned

     to a numbered frequent ward, stowed out of conscience

as unpopular luggage.

                                        As I ride the subway

     to spend half-an-hour with one, I revisage

who she was in the pomp and sumpture of her hey-day,

     when week-end visits were a presumptive joy,

not a good work.  Am I cold to wish for a speedy

     painless dormition, pray, as I know she prays,

that God or Nature will abrupt her earthly function?

 

Wystan Hugh Auden, April 6, 2020

 

 

 

AWAKING IN NEW YORK

 

Curtains forcing their will   

against the wind,

children sleep,

exchanging dreams with   

seraphim. The city

drags itself awake on   

subway straps; and

I, an alarm, awake as a   

rumor of war,

lie stretching into dawn,   

unasked and unheeded.

 

Maya Angelou, April 3, 2020

 

 

 

DISTANT RAINFALL

 

Like mourning women veiled to the feet

Tall slender rainstorms walk slowly against

gray cloud along the far verge.

The ocean is green where the river empties,

Dull gray between the points of the headlands,

purple where the women walk.

What do they want? Whom are they mourning?

What hero's dust in the urn between the two

hands hidden in the veil?

Titaness after Titaness proudly

Bearing her tender magnificent sorrow at her heart,

the lost battle's beauty.

 

Robinson Jeffers, March 30, 2020

 

 

I DREAMED THAT IN A CITY DARK AS PARIS

 

I dreamed that in a city dark as Paris  

I stood alone in a deserted square.   

The night was trembling with a violet   

Expectancy. At the far edge it moved   

And rumbled; on that flickering horizon   

The guns were pumping color in the sky.

 

There was the Front. But I was lonely here,   

Left behind, abandoned by the army.   

The empty city and the empty square   

Was my inhabitation, my unrest.   

The helmet with its vestige of a crest,   

The rifle in my hands, long out of date,   

The belt I wore, the trailing overcoat   

And hobnail boots, were those of a poilu.   

I was the man, as awkward as a bear.

 

Over the rooftops where cathedrals loomed   

In speaking majesty, two aeroplanes

Forlorn as birds, appeared. Then growing large,   

The German Taube and the Nieuport Scout,

They chased each other tumbling through the sky,   

Till one streamed down on fire to the earth.

 

These wars have been so great, they are forgotten   

Like the Egyptian dynasts. My confrere   

In whose thick boots I stood, were you amazed   

To wander through my brain four decades later   

As I have wandered in a dream through yours?

 

The violence of waking life disrupts

The order of our death. Strange dreams occur,   

For dreams are licensed as they never were.

 

Louis Simpson, March 27, 2020

 

 

 

I REMEMBER

 

By the first of August

the invisible beetles began

to snore and the grass was

as tough as hemp and was

no color - no more than

the sand was a color and

we had worn our bare feet

bare since the twentieth

of June and there were times

we forgot to wind up your

alarm clock and some nights

we took our gin warm and neat

from old jelly glasses while

the sun blew out of sight

like a red picture hat and

one day I tied my hair back

with a ribbon and you said

that I looked almost like

a puritan lady and what

I remember best is that

the door to your room was

the door to mine.

 

Anne Sexton, March 23, 2020

 

 

 

THE READER  

She is going back, these days, to the great stories

That charmed her younger mind. A shaded light

Shines on the nape half-shadowed by her curls,

And a page turns now with a scuffing sound.

Onward they come again, the orphans reaching

For a first handhold in a stony world,

The young provincials who at last look down

On the city’s maze, and will descend into it,

The serious girl, once more, who would live nobly,

The sly one who aspires to marry so,

The young man bent on glory, and that other

Who seeks a burden. Knowing as she does

What will become of them in bloody field

Or Tuscan garden, it may be that at times

She sees their first and final selves at once,

As a god might to whom all time is now.

Or, having lived so much herself, perhaps

She meets them this time with a wiser eye,

Noting that Julien’s calculating head

Is from the first too severed from his heart.

But the true wonder of it is that she,

For all that she may know of consequences,

Still turns enchanted to the next bright page

Like some Natasha in the ballroom door—

Caught in the flow of things wherever bound,

The blind delight of being, ready still

To enter life on life and see them through. 

 

Richard Wilbur, March 20, 2020

 

 

 

DUTCH MISTRESS

 

A hotel in whose ledgers departures are

more prominent than arrivals.
With wet Koh-i-noors the October rain
strokes what's left of the naked brain.
In this country laid flat for the sake of rivers,
beer smells of Germany and the seaguls are
in the air like a page's soiled corners.
Morning enters the premises with a coroner's
punctuality, puts its ear
to the ribs of a cold radiator, detects sub-zero:
the afterlife has to start somewhere.
Correspondingly, the angelic curls
grow more blond, the skin gains its distant, lordly
white, while the bedding already coils
desperately in the basement laundry.

 

Joseph Brodsky, March 16, 2020

 

 

 

FIRST DEATH IN NOVA SCOTIA

 

In the cold, cold parlor
my mother laid out Arthur
beneath the chromographs:
Edward, Prince of Wales,
with Princess Alexandra,
and King George with Queen Mary.
Below them on the table
stood a stuffed loon
shot and stuffed by Uncle
Arthur, Arthur's father.

Since Uncle Arthur fired
a bullet into him,
he hadn't said a word.
He kept his own counsel
on his white, frozen lake,
the marble-topped table.
His breast was deep and white,
cold and caressable;
his eyes were red glass,
much to be desired.

"Come," said my mother,
"Come and say good-bye
to your little cousin Arthur."
I was lifted up and given
one lily of the valley
to put in Arthur's hand.
Arthur's coffin was
a little frosted cake,
and the red-eyed loon eyed it
from his white, frozen lake.

Arthur was very small.
He was all white, like a doll
that hadn't been painted yet.
Jack Frost had started to paint him
the way he always painted
the Maple Leaf (Forever).
He had just begun on his hair,
a few red strokes, and then
Jack Frost had dropped the brush
and left him white, forever.

The gracious royal couples
were warm in red and ermine;
their feet were well wrapped up
in the ladies' ermine trains.
They invited Arthur to be
the smallest page at court.
But how could Arthur go,
clutching his tiny lily,
with his eyes shut up so tight
and the roads deep in snow?

 

Elizabeth Bishop, March 13, 2020

 

 

 

THE BALL POEM

 

What is the boy now, who has lost his ball.

What, what is he to do? I saw it go

Merrily bouncing, down the street, and then

Merrily over—there it is in the water!

No use to say 'O there are other balls':

An ultimate shaking grief fixes the boy

As he stands rigid, trembling, staring down

All his young days into the harbour where

His ball went. I would not intrude on him,

A dime, another ball, is worthless. Now

He senses first responsibility

In a world of possessions. People will take balls,

Balls will be lost always, little boy,

And no one buys a ball back. Money is external.

He is learning, well behind his desperate eyes,

The epistemology of loss, how to stand up

Knowing what every man must one day know

And most know many days, how to stand up

And gradually light returns to the street,

A whistle blows, the ball is out of sight.

Soon part of me will explore the deep and dark

Floor of the harbour . . I am everywhere,

I suffer and move, my mind and my heart move

With all that move me, under the water

Or whistling, I am not a little boy.

 

John Berryman, March 9, 2020

 

 

 

THERE WILL BE NO PEACE

Though mild clear weather

Smile again on the shore of your esteem

And its colours come back, the storm has changed you:

You will not forget, ever,

The darkness blotting out hope, the gale

Prophesying your downfall.

 

You must live with your knowledge.

Way back, beyond, outside of you are others,

In moonless absences you never heard of,

Who have certainly heard of you,

Beings of unknown number and gender:

And they do not like you.

 

What have you done to them?

Nothing? Nothing is not an answer:

You will come to believe - how can you help it? -

That you did, you did do something;

You will find yourself wishing you could make them laugh,

You will long for their friendship.

 

There will be no peace.

Fight back, then, with such courage as you have

And every unchivalrous dodge you know of,

Clear on your conscience on this:

Their cause, if they had one, is nothing to them now;

They hate for hate's sake.

 

Wystan Hugh Auden, March 6, 2020

 

 

 

118 
 
My friend attacks my friend! 
Oh Battle picturesque! 
Then I turn Soldier too, 
And he turns Satirist! 
How martial is this place! 
Had I a mighty gun 
I think I'd shoot the human race 
And then to glory run! 

Emily Dickinson, March 2, 2020

 

 

 

THINGS SHOULDN'T BE SO HARD

A life should leave

deep tracks:

ruts where she

went out and back

to get the mail

or move the hose

around the yard;

where she used to

stand before the sink,

a worn-out place;

beneath her hand

the china knobs

rubbed down to

white pastilles;

the switch she

used to feel for

in the dark

almost erased.

Her things should

keep her marks.

The passage

of a life should show;

it should abrade.

And when life stops,

a certain space —

however small —

should be left scarred

by the grand and

damaging parade.

Things shouldn't

be so hard.

 

Kay Ryan, February 28, 2020

 

 

 

AUTOBIOGRAPHY AT AN AIR-STATION

 

Delay, well, travellers must expect

Delay. For how long? No one seems to know.

With all the luggage weighed, the tickets checked,

It can’t be long... We amble too and fro,

Sit in steel chairs, buy cigarettes and sweets

And tea, unfold the papers. Ought we to smile,

Perhaps make friends? No: in the race for seats

You’re best alone. Friendship is not worth while.

 

Six hours pass: if I’d gone by boat last night

I’d be there now. Well, it’s too late for that.

The kiosk girl is yawning. I fell stale,

Stupified, by inaction — and, as light

Begins to ebb outside, by fear, I set

So much on this Assumption. Now it’s failed.

 

Philip Larkin, February 24, 2020

 

 

 

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