Archive for July, 2009

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.
— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 19-28)
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

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Fifth Poem

At the cold taste of rennet apple
on my tongue, through my whole mouth
that sucks and waits,
the bunch of flowers returns to my eyes

motionless at the damp weather of autumn,
suspended at my longing — a leafy bough
of green dear to Vortumnus
spread out in a milk basin.

Rennet apple that I bite
in this festival rest,
adagio, like a memory
of manifest sweetness.

One is enough for me: in the taste
of that instant, of that bite,
I see again in the oblique shade of the trunk
the blue pass like a bright discourse.

I abandon all on one side.
As son of earth and heir
of indisputable part,
the God poorly believed in sees me.

Mine the leaf I pull away scenting
my fingers — but more the descent
that I will remake, in a little while, thinking
about myself, under the hanging air.

Mine all the fields, in that taste
that at its height destroys and unmakes itself,
mine the odor, the stench
of the indefinite immensity.

Quinta poesia

Al freddo sapore di mela renetta,
in lingua, per tutta la bocca
che succhia ed aspetta,
ritorna negli occhi la ciocca

immobile al dolco d’autunno,
sospesa alla voglia — una frasca
di verde cognate a Vertunno
distesa nel latte di vasca.

Mela renetta che mordo,
in questo riposo di festa,
adagio, come un ricordo
di dolcezza manifesta.

Una mi basta: nel gusto
di quell’instante, di quell morso,
rivedo all’ombra oblique del fusto
passare il blù come un chiaro discorso.

Tutto abbandono in disparte.
Figliolo di terra ed erede
d’incontrastabile parte
il Dio mal creduto mi vede.

Mia la foglia che strappo odorando
le dita — ma più la discesa
che rifarò, tra poco, pensando
a me, sotto l’aria che pesa.

Mia tutta, la campagna, in quell sapore
che maturamente si distrugge e si disfa,
mio l’odore, l’afrore
dell’imprecisa immensità.
by Giovanni Papini (1881-1956)
translated by Roberta Payne

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In a Marianne Moore essay entitled “Humility, Concentration and Gusto” published in 1955, I ran across a poem that seems to foreshadow the twin towers coming down on Sept. 11. The poem is “Above the City” by James Laughlin (1914-1997):

Above the City

You know our office on the 18th
floor of the Salmon Tower looks
right out on the

Empire State & it just happened
we were finishing up some
late invoices on

a new book that Saturday morning
when a bomber roared through the
mist and crashed

flames poured from the windows
into the drifting clouds & sirens
screamed down in

the streets below it was unearthly
but you know the strangest thing
we realized that

none of us were much surprised be-
cause we’d always known that those
two Paragons of

progress sooner or later would per-
form before our eyes this demon-
stration of their
true relationship.

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Be Fair

Be fair: if you weren’t there
What would space
And the rocks be?

Your fear of not being
Makes you imitate the beasts

And your fear of missing
The movement of beasts,
Their alarm, their cries,
Makes you magnify them.

Sometimes you moan
Like nobody’s business.

Soyons Justes

Soyons justes: sans toi
Que nous serait l’espace
Et que seraient les rocs?

Ta peur de n’etre pas
Te fait copier les betes

Et ta peur de rater
Les mouvements des betes,
Leurs alarmes, leurs cris,
Te les fait agrandir.

Quelquefois tu mugis
Comme aucune d’entre elles.
by Eugene Guillevic (1907-1997),
translated by John Montague (born 1929)

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Going Back to Bed

Up early, trying to muffle
the sounds of small tasks,
grinding, pouring, riffling
through yesterday’s attacks

or market slump, then changing
my mind—what matter the rush
to the waiting room or the ring
of some later dubious excuse?—

having decided to return to bed
and finding you curled in the sheet,
a dream fluttering your eyelids,
still unfallen, still asleep,

I thought of the old pilgrim
when, among the fixed stars
in paradise, he sees Adam
suddenly, the first man, there

in a flame that hides his body,
and when it moves to speak,
what is inside seems not free,
not happy, but huge and weak,

like an animal in a sack.
Who had captured him?
What did he want to say?
I lay down beside you again,

not knowing if I’d stay,
not knowing where I’d been.
by J.D. McClatchy (born 1945)

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never was lost.

What we did not know

was how to translate it into days,
skies, landscapes,

into words for others,
authentic gestures.

But holding on to it for ourselves,
that was not difficult,

and there were moments
when it seemed clear to us
we ourselves were eternity.


ne fut jamais perdue.

Ce qui nous a manqué
Fut plutot de savoir

La traduire en journées,
En ceils, en paysages,

En paroles pour d’autres,
En gestes vérifiables.

Mais la garder pour nous
N’était pas difficile

Et les moments étaient presents
Où nos paraissait clair
Que nous étions l’éternité.
by Eugène Guillevic (1907-1997)
translated by Denise Levertov (1923-1997)

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A Good List
(Homage to Lorenz Hart)

Some nights, can’t sleep, I draw up a list,
Of everything I’ve never done wrong.
To look at me now, you might insist

My list could hardly be long,
But I’ve stolen no gnomes from my neighbor’s yard,
Nor struck his dog, backing out my car.
Never ate my way up and down the Loire
On a stranger’s credit card.

I’ve never given a cop the slip,
Stuffed stiffs in a gravel quarry,
Or silenced Cub Scouts on a first camping trip
With an unspeakable ghost story.
Never lifted a vase from a museum foyer,
Or rifled a Turkish tourist’s backpack.
Never cheated at golf. Or slipped out a blackjack
And flattened a patent lawyer.

I never forged a lottery ticket,
Took three on a two-for-one pass,
Or, as a child, toasted a cricket
With a magnifying glass.
I never said “air” to mean “err,” or obstructed
Justice, or defrauded a securities firm.
Never mulcted—so far as I understand the term.
Or unjustly usufructed.

I never swindled a widow of all her stuff
By means of a false deed and title
Or stood up and shouted, My God, that’s enough!
At a nephew’s piano recital.
Never practiced arson, even as a prank,
Brightened church-suppers with off-color jokes,
Concocted an archeological hoax—
Or dumped bleach in a goldfish tank.

Never smoked opium. Or smuggled gold
Across the Panamanian Isthmus.
Never hauled back and knocked a rival out cold,
Or missed a family Christmas.
Never borrowed a book I intended to keep.
. . . My list, once started, continues to grow,
Which is all for the good, but just goes to show
It’s the good who do not sleep.
by Brad Leithauser (born 1953)

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To David Diop, Lines 1-12

and it is true we are wounded
at the lowest point of hope
but hope in us has never beaten its wing
it rises on our human horizons
like a fresh unfolding bud
there lives in us unconquerable hope
snapping at the heels of freedom
in due course it hunts down the dawn with huge supplies
of stones
against the wall that will crack in the end
for we will not leave the smallest scrap
to the demons of despair
by Paulin Joachim (born 1931),
translator unknown

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There is No City that Does Not Dream

There is no city that does not dream
from its foundations. The lost lake
crumbling in the hands of the brickmakers,
the floor of the ravine where light lies broken
with the memory of rivers. All the winters
stored in that geologic
garden. Dinosaurs sleep in the subway
at Bloor and Shaw, a bed of bones
under the rumbling track. The storm
that lit the city with the voltage
of spring, when we were eighteen
on the clean earth. The ferry ride in the rain,
wind wet with wedding music and everything that
sings in the carbon of stone and bone
like a page of love, wind-lost from a hand, unread.
by Anne Michaels (born 1958)

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The Cats Will Know

The rain will still fall
on your sweet pavements,
a light rain
like a breath or a footstep.
The breeze and the dawn will still
flower lightly
as though under your footstep,
when you come back in.
Between flowers and window sills
the cats will know.

There will be other days,
there will be other voices.
You will smile alone.
The cats will know.

You will hear aged words,
tired words and empty ones
like the costumes put aside
after yesterday’s merrymaking.
You, too, will gesture.
You will reply words —
face of springtime —
you, too, will gesture.

The cats will know,
face of springtime;
and the light rain,
the dawn color of hyacinth,
that rend the heart
of him who no longer hopes for you,
and the sad smile
that you smile alone.
There will be other days,
other voices and awakenings.
We will suffer in the dawn,
face of springtime.

I gatti lo sapranno

Ancora cadrà la pioggia
sui tuoi dolci selciati,
una pioggia legerra
come un alito o un passo.
Ancora la brezza e l’alba
fioriranno leggere
come sotto il tuo passo,
quando tu rientrerai.
Tra fiori e davanzali
I gatti lo sapranno.

Ci saranno altri giorni,
ci saranno altre voci.
Sorriderai da sola.
I gatti lo sapranno.
Udrai parole antiche,
parole stanche e vane
come I costume smessi
delle feste di ieri.
Farai gesti anche tu.
Risponderai parole —
viso di primavera,
farai gesti anche tu.

I gatti lo sapranno,
viso di primavera;
e la pioggia leggera,
l’alba color giacinto,
che dilaniano il cuore
di chi più non ti spera,
son oil triste sorriso
che sorridi da sola.
Ci saranno altri giorni,
altre voci e risvegli.
Soffriremo nell’alba,
viso di primavera.
Cesare Pavese (1908-1950)
translated by Roberta L. Payne

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