Archive for the ‘ Poetry ’ Category

The secret of the flower

[Die Mandelbäume in Blüte (1912)]
from Uncollected Poems ed. by Edward Snow (New York: North Point Press, 1997)
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Die Mandelbäume in Blüte: alles, was wir hier leisten können,
ist, sich ohne Rest zu erkennen in der irdischen Erscheinung.

Unendlich staun ich euch an, ihr Seligen, euer Benehmen,
wie ihr die schwindliche Zier traget in ewigem Sinn.
Ach wers verstünde zu blühn: dem wär das Herz über alle
schwachen Gefahren hinaus und in der großen getrost.

[Inflorescent Almond Trees]
[translated by DK Fennell]

The Almond Trees in bloom: the only thing we can accomplish
here is to recognize ourselves, without any residue, in worldly phenomena.

I never cease, oh happy ones, to marvel at your bearing,
With that endless wisdom you support your dwindling splendor.
If one could know how to flower, the heart would transcend all
Trifling perils and take comfort against the greatest.


“… we do not admire what we cannot understand”

from Observations (New York: The Dial Press, 1924)
by Marianne Moore

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because they are
useful. When they become so derivative as to become unintelligible,
the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand: the bat
holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse that feels a flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician—
nor is it valid
to discriminate against “business documents and

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
“literalists of
the imagination”—above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,” shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry.

Gentle advice to a familiar stranger said only to oneself

To a Sad Daughter
from Secular Love (Toronto: The Coach House Press, 1984)
by Michael Ondaatje

All night long the hockey pictures
gaze down at you
sleeping in your tracksuit.
Belligerent goalies are your ideal.
Threats of being traded
cuts and wounds
—all this pleases you.
O my god! you say at breakfast
reading the sports page over the Alpen
as another player breaks his ankle
or assaults the coach.

When I thought of daughters
I wasn’t expecting this
but I like this more.
I like all your faults
even your purple moods
when you retreat from everyone
to sit in bed under a quilt.
And when I say ‘like’
I mean of course ‘love’
but that embarrasses you.
You who feel superior to black and white movies
(coaxed for hours to see Casablanca)
though you were moved
by Creature from the Black Lagoon.

One day I’ll come swimming
beside your ship or someone will
and if you hear the siren
listen to it. For if you close your ears
only nothing happens. You will never change.

I don’t care if you risk
your life to angry goalies
creatures with webbed feet.
You can enter their caves and castles
their glass laboratories. Just
don’t be fooled by anyone but yourself.

This is the first lecture I’ve given you.
You’re ‘sweet sixteen’ you said.
I’d rather be your closest friend
than your father. I’m not good at advice
you know that, but ride
the ceremonies
until they grow dark.

Sometimes you are so busy
discovering your friends
I ache with loss
—but that is greed.
And sometimes I’ve gone
into my purple world
and lost you.

One afternoon I stepped
into your room. You were sitting
at the desk where I now write this.
Forsythia outside the window
and sun spilled over you
like a thick yellow miracle
as if another planet
was coaxing you out of the house
—all those possible worlds!—
and you, meanwhile, busy with mathematics.

I cannot look at forsythia now
without loss, or joy for you.
You step delicately
into the wild world
and your real prize will be
the frantic search.
Want everything. If you break
break going out not in.
How you live your life I don’t care
but I’ll sell my arms for you,
hold your secrets forever.

If I speak of death
which you fear now, greatly,
it is without answers.
except that each
one we know is
in our blood.
Don’t recall graves.
Memory is permanent.
Remember the afternoon’s
yellow suburban annunciation.
Your goalie
in his frightening mask
dreams perhaps
of gentleness.

Ondaatje is the Sri Lanka-born Canadian novelist-poet best known for the Booker Prize winning novel The English Patient (1992).

Three Songs from Senegal

Stanzas from D’Autres Chants …

in Éthiopiques, poèmes
(Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1956)

Léopold Sédar Senghor

(pour khalam)

Je ne sais en quels temps  c’était, je confonds toujours l’enfance et l’Eden
Comme je mêle la Mort et la Vie—un pont de douceur les relie.

Or je revenais de Fa’oye, m’étant abreuvé à la tombe solennelle
Comme les lamantins s’abreuvent à la fontaine de Simal.
Or je revenais de Fa’oye, et l’horreur était au zénith
Et c’était l’huere où l’on voit les Esprits, quand le lumière est transparente
Et il fallait s’écarter des sentiers, pour éviter leur main fraternelle et mortelle.
L’âme d’un village battait à l’horizon. Etait-ce des vivants ou des Morts?

«Puisse mon poème de paix ètre l’eau calme sur tes pieds et ton visage
«Et que l’ombre de notre cour soit fraîche à ton cœur», me dit-elle.
Ses mains polies me revètirent d’un pagne de soie et d’estime
Son discours me charma de tout mets délectable—douceur de lait de la mi-nuit.
Et son sourire était plus mélodieux que le khalam de son dyâli.
L’étoile du matin vint s’asseoir parmi nous, et nous pleurâmes délicieusement.
—Ma sœur exquise, garde done ces grains d’or, qu’ils chantent l’éclat sombre de ta gorge.
Ils étaient pour ma fiancée belle, et je n’avais pas de fiancée.
—Mon frère élu, dis-moi ton nom. Il doit résonner haut comme un sorong
Rutiler comme le sabre au soleil. Oh! chante seulement ton nom.
Mon cœur est un coffret de bois précieux, ma tète un vieux parchemin de Djenné.
Chante seulement ton lignage, que ma mémoire te réponde.

Je ne sais en quels temps c’était, je confonds toujours présent et passé
Comme je mêle la Mort et la Vie—un pont de douceur les relie.

(pour khalam)

Si je pouvais haler son cœur, tel pêcheur sur la plage plane
Si je pouvais haler son cœur par le cordon ombilical.

Long mais long ce regret à la Porte du Sud—ne donnez pas à ma fierté.
Quand exulter aux cris métalliques de merles, aux pieds grondants dans les nuages?

Je suis le marigot au long de la saison. Pas une palombe n’y boit l’amour.
C’est la sapotille tépide que ronge le ver de l’absence.

Simplement saluer mon nom sur l’aile blanche de la mouette
Et je calme d’une main d’ambre le grand piaffant de ma poitrine.

(pour flûtes et balafong)

Absente absent, ô doublement absente sur la sécheresse glacée
Sur l’éphémère glacis du papier, sur l’or blanc des sables où seul pousse l’élyme.
Absents absents et tes yeux sagittaires traversant les horizons de mica
Les verts horizons de mirages, et tes yeux migrateurs de tes aïeux lointains.
Déjà le pan de laine sur l’épaule aiguë, comme la lance qui défie la fauve
Déjà le cimier bleu sur quoi se brisent les javelines de mon amour,

Écoute ton sang qui bat son tam-tam dans test tempes rythmiques lancinantes
Oh! écoute—et tu es très loin par-dalà les dunes vineuses
Ecoute les jeux qui frémissent, quand bondit rouge ta panthère
Mais écoute les mains sonores, comme les vagues sur la plage.
Ne te retient plus l’aimant de mes yeux plus fort que le chant des Sirènes?
Ah! plus le chant de l’Élancé? dis comme un feu de brousse la voix de l’Amant?

Absent absent, ó doublement absent ton profil qui ombre les Pyramides.

Translated as “Other Songs”

in Léopold Sédar Senghor, The Complete Poetry
(Charlottesville, Va: University Press of Virginia, 1991)

by Melvin Dixon

(for khalam)

I do not know what age it was, I always confuse childhood and Eden
Just as I mingle Death and Life—a tender bridge joins them.

Once I was returning from Fa’oye, having drunk deeply at the solemn
Tomb like sea cows drink at the Simal springs.
I was returning from Fa’oye, and the horror was at its peak,
It was the hour when Spirits could be seen, when the light was clear
And one had to shun the footpaths to avoid being touched
By brotherly and deathly hands. The village’s soul was beating
At the horizon. Were they the living or the Dead?

She said to me, “May my poem of peace be a calm water on your feet
And face and may the shade of our courtyard cool your heart.”
Her kind hands dressed me in a pagne of silk and esteem.
Her speech charmed me with every delectable meal—
Sweet milk of midnight, and her smile was more musical
Than her dyâli’s khalam. The morning star came
And sat with us, and we wept with pleasure.

—My beautiful sister, hold onto these golden seeds,
Let them praise the dark brightness of your throat.
They were intended for my lovely fiancée, but I have no fiancée.
—My chosen brother, tell me your name. It should resound
Loud like the sorong, shine like a sword in the sun.
Oh, just sing you name. My heart is a coffer of precious wood.
My mind an ancient parchment from Djenne.
Just sing your lineage so my memory may answer.

I do not know what age it was, I always confuse present and past
As I mingle Death and Life—a tender bridge joins them.

(for khalam)

If I could pull in her heart like a fisherman on a flat beach,
If I could pull in her heart by the umbilical cord.

Long, so long this sorrow at the South Gate—
Do not give in to my pride. When can I rejoice in the metallic cries
Of thrushes, in the grumbling feet up in the clouds?
I am the seasonal swamp. Not even a ringdove comes to drink love there.
The worm of absence nibbles the tepid sapodilla.

Just by greeting my name on the white wings of the gull,
I can soothe with an amber hand the great pounding in my chest.

(for flute and balaphon)

Gone, gone, O twice missing from this freezing dryness,
From the paper’s glaze, from the golden whiteness of the sands
Where only wild rye grows.
Gone, gone, and your Sagittarian eyes crossing the mica horizons,
The green horizons of mirages, and your eyes
Wander back to your ancient forefathers.
Already the wood flap on your pointed shoulder,
Like the spear defying the beast, already the blue shield
That breaks my love’s javelins.

Listen to your blood beating its drum in your throbbing temples
Oh! listen—and you are far way, beyond the vintage dunes
Listen to the trembling games when your blood pounces like a panther.
Oh, listen to the sound of hands clapping like waves upon the shore.
Do you still attract the magnet of my eyes stronger
Than the singing Sirens? Ah! stronger than the Wrestler’s song?
Still speak the Lover’s voice like a brushfire?

Gone, gone, O twice missing is your profile that eclipses
The Pyramids.


balaphon: percussion instrument similar to xylophone.

Djenne: Large town in Mali, an early entrepôt of Arab trade in West Africa.

dyâli: troubadour.

khalam: four stringed guitar-like instrument, used to accompany elegies.

pagne: loin cloth.

sapodilla: fruit of a slow-growing, long-lived evergreen by the same name.

Sagittarian: Characteristic of secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius).

Simal: Bombax tree; a large tree with thick trunk with deciduous leaves shed during the dry season.

sorong: multiple stringed instrument strung along a wooden arm suspended from a hollowed gourd.

Why are you like this?

Why Are You Like This?

from Bratsk Station and Other New Poems tr. Tina Tupikina-Glaessner, Geoffrey Dutton and Igor Mezhakoff-Korakin (NY: Doubleday Anchor, 1967)

by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

When the radio operator of the Morianna, head bent,
was searching for a radio beacon,
by chance he picked up on the receiver a woman’s voice:
“Why are you like this, why are you like this?”

From Amderma she shouted
across the masts and ice and barking dogs,
and like a storm it grew louder all around:
“Why are you like this, why are you like this?”

Pressing inhumanly against each other,
crunching on all sides against each other,
each ice floe wheezed to the other:
“Why are you like this, why are you like this?”

With all its being the white whale
tangled in the nets cried to the hunter
through a fountain of blood:
“Why are you like this, why are you like this?”

And he, poor fellow,
swept away by a curling wave,
whispered as he perished without trace:
“Why are you like this, why are you like this?”

Like a swine I betray you
and nothing will stop me,
while all the time your eyes implore me:
“Why are you like this, why are you like this?”

You look at me, estranged and full of hate,
already almost like an enemy,
and hopelessly I implore you:
“Why are you like this, why are you like this?”

And heart to heart, nation to nation,
every year more distrustfully
they shout through storms and darkness:
“Why are you like this, why are you like this?”

Three hyperlinked, annotated and translated Medieval English lyrics

(ca. 1300)

Whan I thenke thynges three
Ne may I nevere blithe be:
That oon is that I shall awey;
That other is I ne wot which day;
The thriddle is my moste care
I ne wot whider I shal fare.

Ne = no, not, neither or acts as general negative of verb it precedes.
Wot = I know. This is the irregular first person present of witen = to be certain, to know..
Thriddle is found in no Middle or Early English dictionary I can find, but its meaning is obvious from the context.
Evidently popular in its time, this poem is attested in at least five manuscripts, including the collection of New College Oxford and the Arundel collection at the British Library.
Text Notes:

The orthography of the three poems in this post was regularized by Robert D. Stevick in One Hundred Middle English Lyrics (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing, 1964). The three poems here are numbered there, respectively, 21, 64 and 36.
Hyperlinks are to the University of Michigan’s very valuable (albeit unfinished) online Middle English Dictionary.

Translation [by DK Fennell]

Three things so disturb my thoughts
and prevent my happiness.
One is that I’ll cease to be,
Another: I know not when,
The third gives me greatest fear
I don’t know where I’ll go.


Go, litel ryng  to that ilke swete
That hath myn herte in hir demeyne,
And loke thou knele doun at hir feet
Bisechyng hire she wolde not desdeyne
On hir smale fyngers thee to streyne,
Than I wyl thee seye boldely:
“My maister wolde that he were I.”

Ilke = aforementioned, or, when used with definite article or demonstrative adjective (as here) the same. Here, however, it functions as an intensifier. The modern English anagram like, which means similar rather than the very one, evidently has a different Middle English origin.
Swete = sweet, as in contemporary English. And likewise it can act as a nominalized adjective: “Sweet one.” It was often associated with associated with the most precious of religious symbols: the Virgin, the blood of Christ, etc. Oddly, the homophone swete is a noun meaning perspiration and symbolically used to describe man’s punishment from the Fall.  Man’s mortification is complete in this noun, for it also means “life blood.”
Myn my. There are twop forms for most personal adjectives: my  myn, thy / thynhir / hires, etc. When it immediately precedes the noun it modifies my is generally used, except occasionally when the noun begins with a vowel, as here. In other cases myn is commonly used.

Loke – lookLoken means to use one’s eyes. Here it is used in the sense of “see to it.”
Hir – her. Part of the pronomial pair hirhires.
Demeyne – exclusive possession; private land. Demesne is one of the key property concepts that entrenced the overclass in the feudal system. It meant that part of one’s real property that those lower were excluded from. Peasants who workedlands enfeeoffed to them by their lord were not entitled to the the use of any of the lord’s demesne. Lords themselves obtained their fee from the king. Lands retained for the king’s sole benefit were known as royal demesne.
Desdeyne – disdain; hold in ctempt. Imported with the Normans from Old French desdeignier (modern French dédaigner.
Streyne – to encircle. The word is very similar to other roots often confused in Middle English. Here it likely is a variant of streinen, meaning to fasten, tie, bind up and more figuratively to enclose (i.e., fence in) and bind (as if by an oath).
Wyl – desire; want

From manuscript in Royal collection, published in Rossell Hope Robbins, Secular Lyrics of the Xivth and XVth Centuries (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962)..

Note the clever A-B-A-B-B-C-C rhyme scheme. 

Translation [by DK Fennell]
(“To the Ring”)

Go, little ring, to that dearest sweet,
Who has my heart in her domain,.
And see to it you bow at her feet,
While begging her not to disdain,
That you on her fingers remain,
Then I would have you say boldly,
“My master would rather be me.”

(post 1300)

Al nyght by the rose, rose
Al nyght by the rose I lay;
Durste I noght the rose stele,
And yet I bar the flour awey.

Rose (n.) – rose. (plant of the genus Rosa, and especially its flower). As a symbol of great beauty it became a heraldic emblem of great families (cf. War of the Roses). In the Middle Ages “rose” could refer to a person of great beauty, of great valor, or of great goodness (especially the Virgin)
Rose (v.) -past tense of risen –  to rise and also to awake, to become alive. It carries the sense of excitement and readiness.
Durste – from durren – Io be courageous, to dare,  but also to be able to.
Lay – past tense of lien – to be recumbent, to lie down.
Noght – variant of  nought – not (adv.) nothing. (n.).

Bar – past tense of baren – to carry. With awei / awey (as here), imeans to carry away in the sense of  to steal.
Flourflower, both in the literal sense, and, in the figurative sense of maidenhead (the source of flowering).
From manuscript in the Rawlinson Collection of the Bodleian Library of Oxford University. It was published in Robbins, Secular Lyrics, cited above.

Translation [by DK Fennell]

All night by the rose, awake,
All night by the rose I lay:
I dared not steal the rose,
Yet I take the “flower” away.

Three by Yeats


He Wishes his Beloved were Dead
from The Wind Among the Reeds
(London: E. Mathews, 1899)
by William Butler Yeats

Were you but lying cold and dead,
And lights were paling out of the West,
You would come hither, and bend your head,
And I would lay my head on your breast;
And you would murmur tender words,
Forgiving me, because you were dead:
Nor would you rise and hasten away,
Though you have the will of wild birds,
But know your hair was bound and wound
About the stars and moon and sun:
O would, beloved, that you lay
Under the dock-leaves in the ground,
While lights were paling one by one.


The Old Men Admiring Themselves in the Water
from In the Seven Woods: Being Poems Chiefly of the Irish Heroic Age
(Dundrum, Ireland: The Dun Emer Press, 1903)
by William Butler Yeats

I heard the old, old men say,
‘Everything alters,
And one by one we drop away.’
They had hands like claws, and their knees
Were twisted like the old thorn-trees
By the waters.
I heard the old, old men say,
‘All that’s beautiful drifts away
Like the waters.’


from The Green Helmet and Other Poems
(Churchtown, Dundrum: Cuala Press, 1910.)
by William Butler Yeats

I had this thought a while ago,
‘My darling cannot understand
What I have done, or what would do
In this blind bitter land.’
And I grew weary of the sun
Until my thoughts cleared up again,
Remembering that the best I have done
Was done to make it plain;
That every year I have cried, ‘At length
My darling understands it all,
Because I have come into my strength,
And words obey my call’;
That had she done so who can say
What would have shaken from the sieve?
I might have thrown poor words away
And been content to live.