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Archive for September, 2009

Flower Duet

Under the thick dome where the white jasmine
With the roses entwined together
On the river bank covered with flowers laughing in the morning
Let us descend together!

Gently floating on its charming risings,
On the river’s current
On the shining waves,
One hand reaches,
Reaches for the bank,
Where the spring sleeps,
And the bird, the bird sings.

Under the thick dome where the white jasmine
Ah! calling us
Together!

Under the thick dome where white jasmine
With the roses entwined together
On the river bank covered with flowers laughing in the morning
Let us descend together!

Gently floating on its charming risings,
On the river’s current
On the shining waves,
One hand reaches,
Reaches for the bank,
Where the spring sleeps,
And the bird, the bird sings.

Under the thick dome where the white jasmine
Ah! calling us
Together!

Sous le dôme épais

Où le blanc jasmin
À la rose s’assemble
Sur la rive en fleurs,
Riant au matin
Viens, descendons ensemble.

Doucement glissons de son flot charmant
Suivons le courant fuyant
Dans l’onde frémissante
D’une main nonchalante

Viens, gagnons le bord,
Où la source dort et
L’oiseau, l’oiseau chante.

Sous le dôme épais
Où le blanc jasmin,
Ah! descendons
Ensemble!

Sous le dôme épais
Où le blanc jasmin
À la rose s’assemble
Sur la rive en fleurs,
Riant au matin
Viens, descendons ensemble.

Doucement glissons de son flot charmant
Suivons le courant fuyant
Dans l’onde frémissante
D’une main nonchalante
Viens, gagnons le bord,
Où la source dort et
L’oiseau, l’oiseau chante.

Sous le dôme épais
Où le blanc jasmin,
Ah! descendons
Ensemble!
………………
Léo Delibes (1836-1891)

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Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont (Poland, 1867 to 1925)

Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont (Poland, 1867 to 1925)

Remont won the Nobel prize for his epic novel The Peasants, but here are the opening paragraphs of his novel The Comédienne, published in 1920: Bukowiec, a station on the Dombrowa railroad, lies in a beautiful spot. A winding line was cut among the beech and pine covered hills, and at the most level point, between a mighty hill towering above the woods with its bald and rocky summit, and a long narrow valley, glistening with pools and marshes, was placed the station. This two-story building of rough brick containing the quarters of the station-master and his assistant, a small wooden house at the side for the telegrapher and the minor employees, another similar one near the last switches for the watchman, three switch-houses at various points, and a freight-house were the only signs of human habitation.

Surrounding the station on all sides were the murmuring woods, while above, a strip of blue sky, slashed with gray clouds, extended like a wide-spreading roof.

The sun was veering toward the south and glowing ever brighter and warmer; the reddish slopes of the rocky hill, with its ragged summit gashed by spring freshets, were bathed in a flood of golden sunlight.

The calm of a spring afternoon diffused itself over all. The trees stood motionless without a murmur in their boughs. The sharp emerald leaves of the beeches drooped drowsily, as though lulled to sleep by the light, the warmth, and the silence. The twitter of birds sounded at rare intervals from the thickets, and only the cry of the water-fowls on the marshes and the somnolent hum of insects filled the air. Above the blue line of rails stretching in an endless chain of curves and zigzags, the warm air glowed with shifting hues of violet light.
………………………..
by Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont,
translated by Edmund Obecny

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[Often when he was advancing]

often
when he was advancing
feeling his way in the night
he was doubtful rebelled
wanted to climb back up
to the old light

but a force held him
enjoined him
to pursue
to venture
once more
once again
into the thickest darkness
of his shadow

one day
at the height of his distress
emptied of all force
driven to see that
the inaccessible would not yield
he admitted that he must
renounce it

to his great surprise
without his having
to take a single step
he crossed the threshold
came into the light
…………………
by Charles Juliet (born 1934),
translated by Louis Simpson

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Lao Tzu (c. 600 B.C.E) By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try. The world is beyond the winning.

Lao Tzu (c. 600 B.C.E) By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try. The world is beyond the winning.

Water knows how to benefit all things without striving with them.
It stays in places loathed by all men.
Therefore, it comes near the Tao.
In choosing your dwelling, know how to dive in the hidden deeps.
In dealing with others, know how to be gentle and kind.
In speaking, know how to keep your words.
In governing, know how to maintain order.
In transacting business, know how to be efficient.
In making a move, know how to choose
the right moment.
If you do not strive with others,
you will be free from blame.
……………………………….
Lao Tzu, from the Tao Teh Ching,
translated by John C.H. Wu

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Broken Promises

I have met them in dark alleys, limping and one-armed;
I have seen them playing cards under a single light-bulb
and tried to join in, but they refused me rudely,
knowing I would only let them win.
I have seen them in the foyers of theaters,
coming back late from the interval

long after the others have taken their seats,
and in deserted shopping malls late at night,
peering at things they can never buy,
and I have found them wandering
in a wood where I too have wandered.

This morning I caught one;
small and stupid, too slow to get away,
it was only a promise I had made to myself once
and then forgot, but it screamed and kicked at me
and ran to join the others, who looked at me with reproach
in their long, sad faces.
When I drew near them, they scurried away,
even though they will sleep in my yard tonight.
I hate them for their ingratitude,
I who have kept countless promises,
as dead now as Shakespeare’s children.
“You bastards,” I scream,
“you have to love me—I gave you life!”
……………………………….
by David Kirby (born 1944)

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William Butler Yeats (Ireland, 1865-1939)

William Butler Yeats (Ireland, 1865-1939)

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet,
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

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Tree

It is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.

Even in this
one lifetime,
you will have to choose.

That great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books—

Already the first branch-tips brush at the window.
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.
…………………………………
by Jane Hirshfield (born 1953)

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Jacinto Benavente (Spain, 1866-1954)

Jacinto Benavente (Spain, 1866-1954)

The following is from the prologue of his play Los Intereses Creados (The Bonds of Interest), published in 1907. The play takes place in an imaginary country at the beginning of the 17th century. The prologue is spoken by the character of Crispin: For nothing is so quickly contagious between souls as this sympathetic laughter. At times the farce also ascended to the palaces of princes, most exalted lords, through some caprice of the masters and there it was no less liberated and carefree. It belonged to everyone and addressed everyone. From the masses it gathered practical jokes, cunning turns, and sententious sayings, that philosophy of the always suffering common man, which was sweetened by the resignation which the humble felt in those days, not expecting all things from this world, and thus able to laugh at the world without hatred or bitterness. Later on, the farce made its plebian origin illustrious with lofty patents of nobility: Lope de Rueda, Shakespeare, Molière, like the amorous princes in fairy tales, raised Cinderella to the highest throne of Poetry and Art. This farce of ours doesn’t boast such a glorious lineage; a poet of today presents it to you out of the inquisitiveness of his restless mind. It’s a farce for puppets; its subject is nonsensical and it’s completely unreal. You will soon see that its entire action could never have taken place, that its characters aren’t, and don’t even resemble, men and women, but are puppets or marionettes of cardboard and rags, pulled by thick strings that are visible even in scanty light, and even to the most nearsighted. They are the same grotesque masks of that Italian commedia dell’arte, not as jolly as in the past, because in all the time that’s gone by they’ve meditated a great deal. The author is well aware that such a primitive show is not particularly worthy of a cultured audience of this day and age; and so he claims the protection of your culture as well as your good nature. The author merely requests that you make your minds as childlike as possible. The world is already old and in its dotage, but Art refuses to grow old and, to resemble a child, it pretends to stammer…. And that’s why these old-time Punchinellos hope to entertain you today with their childish pranks.

Change of scene.

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Photograph of my Room

after Walker Evans

Thirty years from now, you might
hold this room in your hands.
So that you will not wonder:
the china cups are from Serbia
where a man filled them with plum
wine and one night talked
of his life with the partisans
and in prison, his life
as a poet, Slavko, his life
as if it could not have been otherwise.
The quilt was Anna’s.
There are swatches taken
from her own clothes, curtains
that hung in a kitchen in Prague,
aprons she never took off
in all her years in America.
Since her death, the stitches,
one scrap to another
have come loose.

The bundle of army letters
were sent from Southeast Asia
during ’67, kept near a bottle
of vodka drained by a woman
in that same year who wanted
only to sleep; the fatigues
were his, it is she
whom I now least resemble.

In the trunk, the white eyelet
and cheap lace of underthings,
a coat that may have belonged
to a woman who approached me
on a street in April
saying, as it was spring,
would I spare her a smoke?

Under the bed, a pouch of money:
pesetas, dinar, francs, the coins
of no value in any other place.
In the notebooks you will find
those places: the damp inner thighs,
the delicate rash left by kisses,
fingers on the tongue, a swallow
of brandy, a fire.
It is all there, the lies
told to myself because of Paris,
the stories I believed in Salvador
and Granada, and every so often
simply the words calling back
a basket of lemons and eggs,
a bowl of olives.

Wrapped in a tissue you will find
a bullet, as if from the rifle
on the wall, spooned from the flesh
of a friend who must have thought
it was worth something.
Latched to its shell, a lattice
of muscle. One regime
is like another
said the face
of a doctor who slid
the bullet from the flat
of his blade to my hands saying
this one won’t live to the morning.

In the black cheese crock
are the ashes, flecked
with white slivers of bone,
that should have been scattered
years ago, but the thing
did not seem possible.
The rest of the room remains
a mystery, as it was
in the shutter of memory
that was 1936, when it belonged
to someone already dead, someone
who has no belongings.
………………………………………..
Carolyn Forche (born 1950)

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The Way I Learned to Write

There were words I had to leave behind,
moonlight, backward ponies.
Leaving flowers out seemed safest.
Trying for something surreal,
A trouble free rise of smoke and lavender.

No not lavender. Any shade
of purple is best left alone.
Perhaps a jaundiced smoke
rising in my poetry
would be best, although I like violet haze.

Many a summer morning,
while other folks are
eating bagels, lox,
cinnamon rolls,
I rummage through old cider houses,

find words like obdurate,
bipolar, manic, cold heeled.
But writing about love, well,
not even searches to junkyards
as far away as Peking

turn up the slightest unused vowel.
So, I make words up, create my own language.
You Chinese me in the roofy mornings.
You Japanese my legs in the spidery evenings.
Our children are the leggy offspring

of centipede afternoons. Our bedroom
is the Acropolis. You temple me backward.
I could bless you all the way to shadowland.
If we were not already steepled there,
our undergarments ruffianed off onto chairs.

You catapulted silence,
dogkissed, catlicked my paws
held my squeaks and rattles.
Where the rest had said, What’s this?
You said, it’s mine.
………………………..
by Kate Gale

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