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 Hadžiselimović, one of the founders of Samizdat.
Beyond the bright cartoons
Are darker spaces where
Small cloudy nests of stars
Seem to float on air.
These have no proper names:
Men out alone at night
Never look up at them
For guidance or delight,
For such evasive dust
Can make so little clear:
Much less is known than not,
More far than near.
Philip Larkin, March 8, 2021
No! Revolution never crossed your mind!
For the kids who never made it through the schools
the Northern working class escaped the grind
as boxers or comedians, or won the pools.
Not lucky, no physique, too shy to joke,
you scraped together almost 3 weeks’ pay
to buy a cast-off uke that left broke.
You mastered only two chords, G and A!
That’s why when I’ve heard George Formby that I’ve wept.
I’d always wondered what the thing was for,
I now know was a plectrum, that you’d kept,
but kept hidden, in your secret condom drawer.
The day of your cremation which I missed
I saw an old man strum a uke he’ll never play,
cap spattered with tossed dimes. I made a fist
round my small change, your son, and looked away.
Tony Harrison, March 5, 2021
him: he couldn't
believe it (jesus
told him; he
him, and general
told him: i told
him; we told him
(he didn't believe it, no
sir) it took
a nipponized bit of
the old sixth
el; in the top of his head: to tell
Edward Estlin Cummings, March 1, 2021
I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed.
Inaction, no falsifying dream
Between my hooked head and hooked feet:
Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.
The convenience of the high trees!
The air's buoyancy and the sun's ray
Are of advantage to me;
And the earth's face upward for my inspection.
My feet are locked upon the rough bark.
It took the whole of Creation
To produce my foot, my each feather:
Now I hold Creation in my foot
Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly –
I kill where I please because it is all mine.
There is no sophistry in my body:
My manners are tearing off heads –
The allotment of death.
For the one path of my flight is direct
Through the bones of the living.
No arguments assert my right:
The sun is behind me.
Nothing has changed since I began.
My eye has permitted no change.
I am going to keep things like this.
Ted Hughe, February 26, 2021
Take off your shoe.
The last children’s size.
The glue’s instructions
in laughably small letters,
you’ll have to read yourself.
over the mussed wet shoe.
We’ll scuff the rubber surface
let the chemical process work into the crack.
our bodies too are made from the oxygen and carbon
of prehistoric stars.
Distant, lonely stars.
You talk about your mom.
So put your fi nger on the knot
we’ll tie the laces around the glued sole.
A shooting night,
A crazily tied shoe.
The last children’s size.
Petr Hruška (translated by Matthew Sweney), February 22, 2021
THE TOOME ROAD
One morning early I met armoured cars
In convoy, warbling along on powerful tyres,
All camouflaged with broken alder branches,
And headphoned soldiers standing up in turrets.
How long were they approaching down my roads
As if they owned them? The whole country was sleeping.
I had rights-of-way, fields, cattle in my keeping,
Tractors hitched to buckrakes in open sheds,
Silos, chill gates, wet slates, the greens and reds
Of outhouse roofs. Whom should I run to tell
Among all of those with their back doors on the latch
For the bringer of bad news, that small-hours visitant
Who, by being expected, might be kept distant?
Sowers of seed, erectors of headstones...
O charioteers, above your dormant guns,
It stands here still, stands vibrant as you pass,
The visible, untoppled omphalos.
Seamus Heaney, February 19, 2021
WHAT THEY WANT
Vallejo writing about
loneliness while starving to
Van Gogh’s ear rejected by a
Rimbaud running off to Africa
to look for gold and finding
an incurable case of syphilis;
Beethoven gone deaf;
Pound dragged through the streets
in a cage;
Chatterton taking rat poison;
Hemingway’s brains dropping into
the orange juice;
Pascal cutting his wrists
in the bathtub;
Artaud locked up with the mad;
Dostoevsky stood up against a wall;
Crane jumping into a boat propeller;
Lorca shot in the road by Spanish
Berryman jumping off a bridge;
Burroughs shooting his wife;
Mailer knifing his.
– that’s what they want:
a God damned show
a lit billboard
in the middle of hell.
that’s what they want,
that bunch of
Charles Bukowski, February 15, 2021
This celestial seascape, with white herons got up as angels,
flying high as they want and as far as they want sidewise
in tiers and tiers of immaculate reflections;
the whole region, from the highest heron
down to the weightless mangrove island
with bright green leaves edged neatly with bird-droppings
like illumination in silver,
and down to the suggestively Gothic arches of the mangrove roots
and the beautiful pea-green back-pasture
where occasionally a fish jumps, like a wildflower
in an ornamental spray of spray;
this cartoon by Raphael for a tapestry for a Pope:
it does look like heaven.
But a skeletal lighthouse standing there
in black and white clerical dress,
who lives on his nerves, thinks he knows better.
He thinks that hell rages below his iron feet,
that that is why the shallow water is so warm,
and he knows that heaven is not like this.
Heaven is not like flying or swimming,
but has something to do with blackness and a strong glare
and when it gets dark he will remember something
strongly worded to say on the subject.
Elizabeth Bishop, February 12, 2021
I wish you were here, dear,
I wish you were here.
I wish you sat on the sofa
and I sat near.
The handkerchief could be yours,
the tear could be mine, chin-bound.
Though it could be, of course,
the other way around.
I wish you were here, dear,
I wish you were here.
I wish we were in my car
and you'd shift the gear.
We'd find ourselves elsewhere,
on an unknown shore.
Or else we'd repair
to where we've been before.
I wish you were here, dear,
I wish you were here.
I wish I knew no astronomy
when stars appear,
when the moon skims the water
that sighs and shifts in its slumber.
I wish it were still a quarter
to dial your number.
I wish you were here, dear,
in this hemisphere,
as I sit on the porch
sipping a beer.
It's evening, the sun is setting;
boys shout and gulls are crying.
What's the point of forgetting
if it's followed by dying?
Joseph Brodsky, February 8, 2021
There were no undesirables or girls in my set,
when I was a boy at Mattapoisett –
only Mother, still her Father’s daughter.
Her voice was still electric
with a hysterical, unmarried panic,
when she read to me from the Napoleon book.
Long-nosed Marie Louise
Hapsburg in the frontispiece
had a downright Boston bashfulness,
where she grovelled to Bonaparte, who scratched his navel,
and bolted his food – just my seven years tall!
And I, bristling and manic,
skulked in the attic,
and got two hundred French generals by name,
from A to V – from Augereau to Vandamme.
I used to dope myself asleep,
naming those unpronounceables like sheep.
Having a naval officer
for my Father was nothing to shout
about to the summer colony at “Matt.”
He wasn’t at all “serious,”
when he showed up on the golf course,
wearing a blue serge jacket and numbly cut
white ducks he’d bought
at a Pearl Harbor commissariat . . .
and took four shots with his putter to sink his putt.
“”Bob,” they said, “golf’s a game you really ought to know how to play,
if you play at all.”
They wrote him off as “naval,”
naturally supposed his sport was sailing.
Poor Father, his training was engineering!
Cheerful and cowed
among the seadogs at the Sunday yacht club,
he was never one of the crowd.
“Anchors aweigh,” Daddy boomed in his bathtub,
when Lever Brothers offered to pay
him double what the Navy paid.
I nagged for his dress sword with gold braid,
and cringed because Mother, new
caps on all her teeth, was born anew
at forty. With seamanlike celerity,
Father left the Navy,
and deeded Mother his property.
He was soon fired. Year after year,
he still hummed “Anchors aweigh” in the tub –
whenever he left a job,
he bought a smarter car.
Father’s last employer
was Scudder, Stevens and Clark, Investment Advisors,
himself his only client.
While Mother dragged to bed alone,
and grew more and more suspicious,
he grew defiant.
Night after night,
à la clarté déserte de sa lampe,
he slid his ivory Annapolis slide rule
across a pad of graphs –
piker speculations! In three years
he squandered sixty thousand dollars.
Smiling on all,
Father was once successful enough to be lost
in the mob of ruling-class Bostonians.
As early as 1928,
he owned a house converted to oil,
and redecorated by the architect
of St. Mark’s School . . . Its main effect
was a drawing room, “longitudinal as Versailles,”
its ceiling, roughened with oatmeal, was blue as the sea.
nineteen, the youngest ensign in his class,
he was “the old man” of a gunboat on the Yangtze.
Robert Lowell, February 5, 2021
I've got the children to tend
The clothes to mend
The floor to mop
The food to shop
Then the chicken to fry
The baby to dry
I got company to feed
The garden to weed
I've got shirts to press
The tots to dress
The can to be cut
I gotta clean up this hut
Then see about the sick
And the cotton to pick.
Shine on me, sunshine
Rain on me, rain
Fall softly, dewdrops
And cool my brow again.
Storm, blow me from here
With your fiercest wind
Let me float across the sky
'Til I can rest again.
Fall gently, snowflakes
Cover me with white
Cold icy kisses and
Let me rest tonight.
Sun, rain, curving sky
Mountain, oceans, leaf and stone
Star shine, moon glow
You're all that I can call my own.
Maya Angelou, February 1, 2021
MOTHER, AMONG THE DUSTBINS
Mother, among the dustbins and the manure
I feel the measure of my humanity, an allure
As of the presence of God, I am sure
In the dustbins, in the manure, in the cat at play,
Is the presence of God, in a sure way
He moves there. Mother, what do you say?
I too have felt the presence of God in the broom
I hold, in the cobwebs in the room,
But most of all in the silence of the tomb.
Ah! but that thought that informs the hope of our kind
Is but an empty thing, what lies behind? –
Naught but the vanity of a protesting mind
That would not die. This is the thought that bounces
Within a conceited head and trounces
Inquiry. Man is most frivolous when he pronounces.
Well Mother, I shall continue to think as I do,
And I think you would be wise to do so too,
Can you question the folly of man in the creation of God?
Who are you?
Stevie Smith, January 29, 2021
WHEN I WENT TO THE FILM
When I went to the film, and saw all the black-and-white
feelings that nobody felt,
and heard the audience sighing and sobbing with all the
emotions they none of them felt,
and saw them cuddling with rising passions they none of
them for a moment felt,
and caught them moaning from close-up kisses, black-and-
white kisses that could not be felt,
It was like being in heaven, which I am sure has a white
upon which shadows of people, pure personalities
are cast in black and white, and move
in flat ecstasy, supremely unfelt,
David Herbert Lawrence, January 25, 2021
Morning, a glass door, flashes
Gold names off the new city,
Whose white shelves and domes travel
The slow sky all day.
I land to stay here;
And the windows flock open
And the curtains fly out like doves
And a past dries in a wind.
Now let me lie down, under
A wide-branched indifference,
Shovel-faces like pennies
Down the back of the mind,
Find voices coined to
An argot of motor-horns,
And let the cluttered-up houses
Keep their thick lives to themselves.
For this ignorance of me
Seems a kind of innocence.
Fast enough I shall wound it:
Let me breathe till then
Its milk-aired Eden,
Till my own life impound it-
Slow-falling; grey-veil-hung; a theft,
A style of dying only.
Philip Larkin, January 22, 2021
It is the whales that drive
the small fish into the fiords.
I have seen forty or fifty
of them in the water at one time.
I have been in a little boat
when the water was boiling
on all sides of us
from them swimming underneath.
The noise of the herring
can be heard nearly a mile.
So thick in the water, they are,
you can't dip the oars in.
And all those millions of fish
must be taken, each one, by hand.
The women and children
pull out a little piece
under the throat with their fingers
so that the brine gets inside.
I have seen thousands of barrels
packed with the fish on the shore.
In winter they set the gill-nets
for the cod. Hundreds of them
are caught each night.
In the morning the men
pull in the nets and fish
altogether in the boats.
Cod so big – I have seen –
that when a man held one up
above his head
the tail swept the ground.
Sardines, mackerel, anchovies
all of these. And in the rivers
trout and salmon. I have seen
a net set at the foot of a falls
and in the morning sixty trout in it.
But I guess there are not
such fish in Norway nowadays.
On the Lofoten Islands –
till I was twelve.
Not a tree or a shrub on them.
But in summer
with the sun never gone
the grass is higher than here.
The sun circles the horizon.
Between twelve and one at night
it is very low, near the sea,
to the north. Then
it rises a little, slowly,
till midday, then down again
and so for three months, getting
higher at first, then lower,
until it disappears –
In winter the snow is often
as deep as the ceiling of this room.
If you go there you will see
near the falls and on the bridges
They will stand there for hours
to catch the fish.
Near the shore
where the water is twenty feet or so
you can see the kingflounders
on the sand. They have
red spots on the side. Men come
in boats and stick them
with long pointed poles.
Have you seen how the Swedes drink tea?
So, in the saucer. They blow it
and turn it this way then that: so.
great drooping nose, eyes dark-circled,
the voice slow and smiling:
I have seen boys stand
where the stream is narrow
a foot each side on two rocks
and grip the trout as they pass through.
They have a special way to hold them,
in the gills, so. The long
fingers arched like grapplehooks.
Then the impatient silence
while a little man said:
The English are great sportsmen.
At the winter resorts
where I stayed
they were always the first up
in the morning, the first
on with the skis.
I once saw a young Englishman
worth seventy million pounds –
You do not know the north.
– and you will see perhaps huldra
with long tails
and all blue, from the night,
and the nekke, half man and half fish.
When they see one of them
they know some boat will be lost.
William Carlos Williams, January 18, 2021
Though the road turn at last
to death’s ordinary door,
and we knock there, ready
to enter and it opens
easily for us,
all the long journey
we shall have gone in chains,
fed on knowledge-apples
acrid and riddled with grubs.
We taste other food that life,
like a charitable farm-girl,
holds out to us as we pass –
but our mouths are puckered,
a taint of ash on the tongue.
It’s not joy that we’ve lost –
wildfire, it flares
in dark or shine as it will.
is common happiness,
plain bread we could eat
with the old apple of knowledge.
That old on – it griped us sometimes,
but it was firm, tart,
The ashen apple of these days
grew from poisoned soil. We are prisoners
and must eat
our ration. All the long road
in chains, even if, after all,
we come to
death’s ordinary door, with time
smiling its ordinary
Denise Levertov, January 15, 2021
MY SWEET OLD ETCETERA
my sweet old etcetera
aunt lucy during the recent
war could and what
is more did tell you just
what everybody was fighting
isabel created hundreds
hundreds) of socks not to
mention shirts fleaproof earwarmers
etcetera wristers etcetera, my
mother hoped that
i would die etcetera
bravely of course my father used
to become hoarse talking about how it was
a privilege and if only he
could meanwhile my
self etcetera lay quietly
in the deep mud et
eyes knees and of your Etcetera)
Edward Estlin Cummings, January 11, 2021
So when she hears him clearing his throat
every few seconds she’s aware what he’s raking
‘s death off his mind; the next attack. The threat
of his dying has her own hands shaking.
The mangle brought it on. Taking it to bits.
She didn’t need it now he’d done with pits.
A grip from behind that seems to mean don’t go
tightens through bicep till the fingers touch.
His, his dad’s and his dad’s lifetime down below
crammed into one huge nightshift, and too much.
He keeps back death the way he keeps back phlegm
in company, curled on his tongue. Once left alone
with the last coal fire in the smokeless zone,
he hawks his cold gobful at the brightest flame,
too practised, too contemptuous to miss.
Behind the door she hears the hot coals hiss.
Tony Harrison, January 8, 2021
THE MOTIVE FOR METAPHOR
You like it under the trees in autumn,
Because everything is half dead.
The wind moves like a cripple among the leaves
And repeats words without meaning.
In the same way, you were happy in spring,
With the half colors of quarter-things,
The slightly brighter sky, the melting clouds,
The single bird, the obscure moon –
The obscure moon lighting and obscure world
Of things that would never be quite expressed,
Where you yourself were never quite yourself
And did not want nor have to be,
Desiring the exhilarations of changes:
The motive for metaphor, shrinking from
The weight of primary noon,
The A B C of being,
The ruddy temper, the hammer
Of red and blue, the hard sound –
Steel against intimation – the sharp flash,
The vital, arrogant, fatal, dominant X.
Wallace Stevens, January 4, 2021
NEW YEAR ON DARTMOOR
This is newness: every little tawdry
Obstacle glass-wrapped and peculiar,
Glinting and clinking in a saint's falsetto. Only you
Don't know what to make of the sudden slippiness,
The blind, white, awful, inaccessible slant.
There's no getting up it by the words you know.
No getting up by elephant or wheel or shoe.
We have only come to look. You are too new
To want the world in a glass hat.
Sylvia Plath, January 1, 2021