April 30, 2013

NPM 2013 - Rabindranath Tagore

And last but not least, today, the last day of National Poetry Month, we have some poetry from the first Indian to win a Nobel Prize - Rabindranath Tagore, who was the first Indian to win the Nobel Prize; he won it in 1913 when India was still under the British empire and remains to date the only Indian to win this prize for Literature. As the poet who penned Jana Gana Mana, the Indian national anthem and Amar Shonar Bangla, the Bangladeshi national anthem, he is surely the only person whose works went on to become the national anthems of two nations!

File:Gitanjali title page Rabindranath Tagore.jpg

Rabindranath Tagore (1861--1941)... and title page from a first edition of his famous book of poems

The Gitanjali or `song offerings', with an introduction by William B. Yeats, is his famous work and I thought I would excerpt a few "songs" from it but how does one choose from a body of work which, I think, needs to be read in its entirety.

So, first-up, here is a link to the entire text of the Gitanjali, which is in the public domain according to the Berne convention since January 1st 1992.


And here are four poems from the book, from this website:

Song Unsung
The song that I came to sing remains unsung to this day.
I have spent my days in stringing and in unstringing my instrument.
The time has not come true, the words have not been rightly set;
only there is the agony of wishing in my heart.
The blossom has not opened; only the wind is sighing by.
I have not seen his face, nor have I listened to his voice;
only I have heard his gentle footsteps from the road before my house.
The livelong day has passed in spreading his seat on the floor;
but the lamp has not been lit and I cannot ask him into my house.
I live in the hope of meeting with him; but this meeting is not yet.
On the day when the lotus bloomed, alas, my mind was straying,
and I knew it not. My basket was empty and the flower remained unheeded.
Only now and again a sadness fell upon me, and I started up from my
dream and felt a sweet trace of a strange fragrance in the south wind.
That vague sweetness made my heart ache with longing and it seemed to
me that is was the eager breath of the summer seeking for its completion.
I knew not then that it was so near, that it was mine, and that this
perfect sweetness had blossomed in the depth of my own heart.

Journey Home
The time that my journey takes is long and the way of it long.
I came out on the chariot of the first gleam of light, and pursued my
voyage through the wildernesses of worlds leaving my track on many a star and planet.
It is the most distant course that comes nearest to thyself,
and that training is the most intricate which leads to the utter simplicity of a tune.
The traveler has to knock at every alien door to come to his own,
and one has to wander through all the outer worlds to reach the innermost shrine at the end.
My eyes strayed far and wide before I shut them and said `Here art thou!'
The question and the cry `Oh, where?' melt into tears of a thousand
streams and deluge the world with the flood of the assurance `I am!'


Mind Without Fear
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up
into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason
has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action---
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.


You can also read a few other poems by Tagore from my post during my 2011 NPM celebrations.

Incidentally, I don't think my father read much poetry in his lifetime and so I am pretty sure my father owned just one book of poems and that's the Gitanjali, which per a note on the first page he bought in 1960. (Will update a picture later; can't seem to find my camera right now!)

And that wraps up my National Poetry Month celebrations for 2013. I hope you enjoyed it.
I've featured 30 different poets this month many of whom have given me much pleasure over the years through their words and some of whose work I still need to read and explore more in the years to come.

I'll leave you with a link to a blog by a 10 year old I know (turns 10 later this year actually!) who taught me a thing or two about poetry -- like what a clerihew is! (His father is a very good friend of mine for over 20 years and is an amazing runer, with over 120 marathons run, but no poet! Neither does his mom read or write poetry. So this interest in poetry through some summer camps and workshops he attended last year is indeed commendable! Maybe some day 20 years from now I will feature him in a blog post all by himself, huh! ;-))

Alrighty then - now go ahead and read some poetry by this budding poet, Rishi Verma!

And do come back and visit my blog -- I hope to continue blogging about poetry, if not daily then at least once every week. This is subject to change but I am hoping I'll post one post about poetry every Friday now onwards.....

April 29, 2013

NPM 2013 - Czesław Miłosz

Today, four poems by  Czesław Miłosz, the Polish poet and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980. (Yes - two Polish poets [1] won the Nobel Prize within 20 years; quite significant given that poets receive this prize only infrequently.)

[1] Though, you can read in this interview with him in the Paris Review, that though... 

..Nobelist Czeslaw Milosz considers himself a Polish poet because he writes in that “native mother tongue,” he was not born in Poland, nor has he lived there for over half a century. Nonetheless, the poems of this sensuous mystic are inscribed on monuments in Gdansk as well as printed on posters in the New York City transit system.
A loss of harmony with the surrounding space, the inability to feel at home in the world, so oppressive to an expatriate, a refugee, an immigrant, paradoxically integrates him in contemporary society and makes him, if he is an artist, understood by all. Even more, to express the existential situation of modern man, one must live in exile of some sort.
—Czeslaw Milosz, “On Exile”

Anyway, the nationality of a poet does not really matter; only his poems do. So, on to his poems:


On Prayer
by Czeslaw Milosz

You ask me how to pray to someone who is not.
All I know is that prayer constructs a velvet bridge
And walking it we are aloft, as on a springboard,
Above landscapes the color of ripe gold
Transformed by a magic stopping of the sun.
That bridge leads to the shore of Reversal
Where everything is just the opposite and the word ‘is’
Unveils a meaning we hardly envisioned.
Notice: I say we; there, every one, separately,
Feels compassion for others entangled in the flesh
And knows that if there is no other shore
We will walk that aerial bridge all the same.


by Czeslaw Milosz

Translated By Czeslaw Milosz and Lillian Vallee
We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

                                                         Wilno, 1936

by Czeslaw Milosz

You whom I could not save
Listen to me.  
Try to understand this simple speech as I would be ashamed of another.  
I swear, there is in me no wizardry of words.  
I speak to you with silence like a cloud or a tree.

What strengthened me, for you was lethal.  
You mixed up farewell to an epoch with the beginning of a new one,  
Inspiration of hatred with lyrical beauty;  
Blind force with accomplished shape.

Here is a valley of shallow Polish rivers. And an immense bridge  
Going into white fog. Here is a broken city;  
And the wind throws the screams of gulls on your grave  
When I am talking with you.

What is poetry which does not save  
Nations or people?  
A connivance with official lies,  
A song of drunkards whose throats will be cut in a moment,  
Readings for sophomore girls.
That I wanted good poetry without knowing it,  
That I discovered, late, its salutary aim,  
In this and only this I find salvation.

They used to pour millet on graves or poppy seeds  
To feed the dead who would come disguised as birds.  
I put this book here for you, who once lived  
So that you should visit us no more.  

                                                              Warsaw, 1945


Ars Poetica?
By Czeslaw Milosz
Translated By Czeslaw Milosz and Lillian Vallee

I have always aspired to a more spacious form  
that would be free from the claims of poetry or prose  
and would let us understand each other without exposing  
the author or reader to sublime agonies.  

In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent:  
a thing is brought forth which we didn’t know we had in us,  
so we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out  
and stood in the light, lashing his tail.  

That’s why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimonion,  
though it’s an exaggeration to maintain that he must be an angel.  
It’s hard to guess where that pride of poets comes from,  
when so often they’re put to shame by the disclosure of their frailty.  

What reasonable man would like to be a city of demons,  
who behave as if they were at home, speak in many tongues,  
and who, not satisfied with stealing his lips or hand,  
work at changing his destiny for their convenience?  

It’s true that what is morbid is highly valued today,  
and so you may think that I am only joking  
or that I’ve devised just one more means  
of praising Art with the help of irony.  

There was a time when only wise books were read,  
helping us to bear our pain and misery.  
This, after all, is not quite the same  
as leafing through a thousand works fresh from psychiatric clinics.  

And yet the world is different from what it seems to be  
and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings.
People therefore preserve silent integrity,  
thus earning the respect of their relatives and neighbors.  

The purpose of poetry is to remind us  
how difficult it is to remain just one person,  
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,  
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

What I'm saying here is not, I agree, poetry,  
as poems should be written rarely and reluctantly,  
under unbearable duress and only with the hope  
that good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument.


I will leave you with this excerpt from his Nobel lecture:

Every poet depends upon generations who wrote in his native tongue; he inherits styles and forms elaborated by those who lived before him. At the same time, though, he feels that those old means of expression are not adequate to his own experience. When adapting himself, he hears an internal voice that warns him against mask and disguise. But when rebelling, he falls in turn into dependence upon his contemporaries, various movements of the avant-garde. Alas, it is enough for him to publish his first volume of poems, to find himself entrapped. For hardly has the print dried, when that work, which seemed to him the most personal, appears to be enmeshed in the style of another. The only way to counter an obscure remorse is to continue searching and to publish a new book, but then everything repeats itself, so there is no end to that chase. And it may happen that leaving books behind as if they were dry snake skins, in a constant escape forward from what has been done in the past, he receives the Nobel Prize.

What is this enigmatic impulse that does not allow one to settle down in the achieved, the finished? I think it is a quest for reality. I give to this word its naive and solemn meaning, a meaning having nothing to do with philosophical debates of the last few centuries. It is the Earth as seen by Nils from the back of the gander and by the author of the Latin ode from the back of Pegasus. Undoubtedly, that Earth is and her riches cannot be exhausted by any description. To make such an assertion means to reject in advance a question we often hear today: "What is reality?", for it is the same as the question of Pontius Pilate: "What is truth?" If among pairs of opposites which we use every day, the opposition of life and death has such an importance, no less importance should be ascribed to the oppositions of truth and falsehood, of reality and illusion.


April 28, 2013

Music for the day: Andrea Valeri

I am going to try to blog again after National Poetry Month ends on April 30th i.e. off and on I will blog about poetry but will also have posts about my other interests which cover a wide span of things from literature, music, books, and other random miscellaneous of interest that I find online.

Let us see how long this latest stint lasts; if you look at the archives, you will see that I have blogged with great regularity for periods and then gone off on hiatuses -- as either time became short but more often because I lost interest in blogging. It often becomes tough to blog with no one reading; if you blog and no one reads, did you even blog or are you talking to yourself? On that note... here's some music for this Sunday evening


It has been a hurried and tiring weekend and this music was perfect for this evening. I found it via someone who posted it in a Music group I started on Facebook some years back! I may feel like I am in Dire Straits sometimes but this version has me feeling like a Sultan! ;-)

Andrea Valeri: Sultans of Swing


Here's another track by Andrea Valeri, who I had never heard of before today. He seems to be a musician who has many youtube videos uploaded teaching guitar-picking.
Andrea Valeri: Afrisong   

~*~ *~

NPM 2013 - Seamus Heaney

Today, four poems by Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995, just the year before Szymborska who I blogged about yesterday. So, we had two poets getting the Nobel Prize back to back!

For many years now I have wanted to read his poems but have never gotten around to it. I did read many of the essays in his book The Redress of Poetry but am not familiar with his poetry at all (other than perusing through his recent book, Human Chain, couple years ago. So today provides an opportunity for me to at least read a handful of his poems.
"To redress poetry is to know and celebrate it for its forcibleness as itself . . . not only as a matter of proffered argument and edifying content but as a matter of angelic potential, a motion of the soul." - Seamus Heaney

The Harvest Bow
by Seamus Heaney

As you plaited the harvest bow
You implicated the mellowed silence in you
In wheat that does not rust
But brightens as it tightens twist by twist
Into a knowable corona,
A throwaway love-knot of straw.

Hands that aged round ashplants and cane sticks
And lapped the spurs on a lifetime of game cocks
Harked to their gift and worked with fine intent
Until your fingers moved somnambulant:
I tell and finger it like braille,
Gleaning the unsaid off the palpable,

And if I spy into its golden loops
I see us walk between the railway slopes
Into an evening of long grass and midges,
Blue smoke straight up, old beds and ploughs in hedges,
An auction notice on an outhouse wall—
You with a harvest bow in your lapel,

Me with the fishing rod, already homesick
For the big lift of these evenings, as your stick
Whacking the tips off weeds and bushes
Beats out of time, and beats, but flushes
Nothing: that original townland
Still tongue-tied in the straw tied by your hand.

The end of art is peace
Could be the motto of this frail device
That I have pinned up on our deal dresser—
Like a drawn snare
Slipped lately by the spirit of the corn
Yet burnished by its passage, and still warm. 


by Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb  
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound  
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:  
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds  
Bends low, comes up twenty years away  
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills  
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft  
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.  
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.


by Seamus Heaney

A rowan like a lipsticked girl.
Between the by-road and the main road
Alder trees at a wet and dripping distance
Stand off among the rushes.

There are the mud-flowers of dialect
And the immortelles of perfect pitch
And that moment when the bird sings very close
To the music of what happens. 

There is a famous long-ish poem by Heaney called Casualty that I was going to excerpt from but I think it should be read in its entirety at the link above or hear the poet read it here. So, I will instead end today's post with this lovely poem by him - the last line: "I rhyme / To see myself, to set the darkness echoing" sends shudders down my spine!  I hope to get to reading more of him in the years ahead.

Personal Helicon
by Seamus Heaney

for Michael Longley

As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.

One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.

A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.

Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.

Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing. 


For now, I am going to listen to this interview on PBS Newshour with Heaney after his recent book, 'Human Chain'. His Nobel lecture is also worth reading in its entirety but I'll leave you with this excerpt from the lecture.

There is another kind of adequacy which is specific to lyric poetry. This has to do with the "temple inside our hearing" which the passage of the poem calls into being. It is an adequacy deriving from what Mandelstam called "the steadfastness of speech articulation," from the resolution and independence which the entirely realized poem sponsors. It has as much to do with the energy released by linguistic fission and fusion, with the buoyancy generated by cadence and tone and rhyme and stanza, as it has to do with the poem's concerns or the poet's truthfulness. In fact, in lyric poetry, truthfulness becomes recognizable as a ring of truth within the medium itself. And it is the unappeasable pursuit of this note, a note tuned to its most extreme in Emily Dickinson and Paul Celan and orchestrated to its most opulent in John Keats, it is this which keeps the poet's ear straining to hear the totally persuasive voice behind all the other informing voices.

Which is a way of saying that I have never quite climbed down from the arm of that sofa. I may have grown more attentive to the news and more alive to the world history and world-sorrow behind it. But the thing uttered by the speaker I strain towards is still not quite the story of what is going on; it is more reflexive than that, because as a poet I am in fact straining towards a strain, seeking repose in the stability conferred by a musically satisfying order of sounds. As if the ripple at its widest desired to be verified by a reformation of itself, to be drawn in and drawn out through its point of origin.

I also strain towards this in the poetry I read. And I find it, for example, in the repetition of that refrain of Yeats's, "Come build in the empty house of the stare," with its tone of supplication, its pivots of strength in the words "build" and "house" and its acknowledgement of dissolution in the word "empty". I find it also in the triangle of forces held in equilibrium by the triple rhyme of "fantasies" and "enmities" and "honey-bees", and in the sheer in-placeness of the whole poem as a given form within the language. Poetic form is both the ship and the anchor. It is at once a buoyancy and a steadying, allowing for the simultaneous gratification of whatever is centrifugal and whatever is centripetal in mind and body. And it is by such means that Yeats's work does what the necessary poetry always does, which is to touch the base of our sympathetic nature while taking in at the same time the unsympathetic nature of the world to which that nature is constantly exposed. The form of the poem, in other words, is crucial to poetry's power to do the thing which always is and always will be to poetry's credit: the power to persuade that vulnerable part of our consciousness of its rightness in spite of the evidence of wrongness all around it, the power to remind us that we are hunters and gatherers of values, that our very solitudes and distresses are creditable, in so far as they, too, are an earnest of our veritable human being.

April 27, 2013

NPM 2013 - Wislawa Szymborska

Today, four poems by Wislawa Szymborska, the Polish poet and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996.


This excerpt is from a lovely poem via the Poetry Foundation. You can read the entire poem at the hyperlink below.

by Wisława Szymborska
Translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak


And we—unlike circus acrobats,
conjurers, wizards, and hypnotists—
can fly unfledged,
we light dark tunnels with our eyes,
we wax eloquent in unknown tongues,
talking not with just anyone, but with the dead.

And as a bonus, despite our own freedom,
the choices of our heart, our tastes,
we’re swept away
by amorous yearnings for—
and the alarm clock rings.

So what can they tell us, the writers of dream books,
the scholars of oneiric signs and omens,
the doctors with couches for analyses—
if anything fits,
it’s accidental,
and for one reason only,
that in our dreamings,
in their shadowings and gleamings,
in their multiplings, inconceivablings,
in their haphazardings and widescatterings
at times even a clear-cut meaning
may slip through.

This excerpt is from a lovely poem via the Atlantic Monthly. You can read the entire poem at the hyperlink below.

A Word on Statistics
by Wislawa Szymborska
Translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak

Out of every hundred people,

those who always know better:

Unsure of every step:
almost all the rest.


 Living in constant fear
of someone or something:

Capable of happiness:
twenty-some-odd at most.

Harmless alone,
turning savage in crowds:
more than half, for sure.

when forced by circumstances:
it's better not to know,
not even approximately.

Wise in hindsight:
not many more
than wise in foresight.

Getting nothing out of life except things:
(though I would like to be wrong).

Balled up in pain
and without a flashlight in the dark:
eighty-three, sooner or later.

But if it takes effort to understand:

Worthy of empathy:

one hundred out of one hundred --
a figure that has never varied yet.


This poem, also via the Poetry Foundation.

by Wisława Szymborska
Translated By Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak

(Read the translator's notes here.)
They say he read novels to relax,
But only certain kinds:
nothing that ended unhappily.
If anything like that turned up,
enraged, he flung the book into the fire.  

True or not,
I’m ready to believe it.

Scanning in his mind so many times and places,
he’d had enough of dying species,
the triumphs of the strong over the weak,
the endless struggles to survive,
all doomed sooner or later.
He’d earned the right to happy endings,
at least in fiction
with its diminutions.

Hence the indispensable
silver lining,
the lovers reunited, the families reconciled,
the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded,
fortunes regained, treasures uncovered,
stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways,
good names restored, greed daunted,
old maids married off to worthy parsons,
troublemakers banished to other hemispheres,
forgers of documents tossed down the stairs,  
seducers scurrying to the altar,
orphans sheltered, widows comforted,
pride humbled, wounds healed over,
prodigal sons summoned home,
cups of sorrow thrown into the ocean,  
hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation,
general merriment and celebration,
and the dog Fido,
gone astray in the first chapter,
turns up barking gladly
in the last.

And last but not least, this excerpt is from a lovely poem via the New York Review of Books. You can read the entire poem at the hyperlink below.
by Wisława Szymborska,
translated from the Polish by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh

When we first started looking through microscopes
a cold fear blew and it’s still blowing.
Life hitherto had been frantic enough
in all its shapes and dimensions.
Which is why it created small-scale creatures,
assorted tiny worms and flies,
but at least the naked human eye
could see them.

But then suddenly beneath the glass,
foreign to a fault
and so petite,
that what they occupy in space
can only charitably be called a spot.


I’ve wanted to write about them for a long while,
but it’s a tricky subject,
always put off for later
and perhaps worthy of a better poet,
even more stunned by the world than I.
But time is short. I write.


I will leave you with this excerpt from her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, in which she had this to say about the language of poetry:
The world - whatever we might think when terrified by its vastness and our own impotence, or embittered by its indifference to individual suffering, of people, animals, and perhaps even plants, for why are we so sure that plants feel no pain; whatever we might think of its expanses pierced by the rays of stars surrounded by planets we've just begun to discover, planets already dead? still dead? we just don't know; whatever we might think of this measureless theater to which we've got reserved tickets, but tickets whose lifespan is laughably short, bounded as it is by two arbitrary dates; whatever else we might think of this world - it is astonishing.
But "astonishing" is an epithet concealing a logical trap. We're astonished, after all, by things that deviate from some well-known and universally acknowledged norm, from an obviousness we've grown accustomed to. Now the point is, there is no such obvious world. Our astonishment exists per se and isn't based on comparison with something else.
Granted, in daily speech, where we don't stop to consider every word, we all use phrases like "the ordinary world," "ordinary life," "the ordinary course of events" ... But in the language of poetry, where every word is weighed, nothing is usual or normal. Not a single stone and not a single cloud above it. Not a single day and not a single night after it. And above all, not a single existence, not anyone's existence in this world.
It looks like poets will always have their work cut out for them.

April 26, 2013

NPM 2013 - Tomas Tranströmer

For the five days left, I thought of a mini-theme. I'll be posting poems by poets who have won the Nobel Prize in Literature. So, look forward to 3-4 poems each by a Nobel Prize winning poet in the 5 remaining days of National Poetry Month, 2013.

Today, four poems by the Swedish poet, Tomas Tranströmer, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2011. 

I started reading his poetry only after his Nobel prize and have been completely taken in by whatever I have read so far. It is little wonder that his poetry has won him many fans, even though read by most in translation from Swedish. For example, Teju Cole writes about how Transtromer has been one of his "ports of refuge" for many years. And this article in The Millions says it better than anything I can say: "His poems return often to moments of quiet while the world is asleep. Sometimes it’s to meditate on the secret lives of barns and trees, and at others to pin down fleeting moments that slip away as soon they happen."


Morning Birds by Tomas Tranströmer
Translated by Robin Fulton

I waken the car
whose windshield is coated with pollen.
I put on my sunglasses.
The birdsong darkens.

Meanwhile another man buys a paper
at the railway station
close to a large goods wagon,
which is all red with rust
and stands flickering in the sun.

No blank space anywhere here.

Straight through the spring warmth a cold corridor

where someone comes running
and tells how up at the head office
they slandered him.

Through a back door in the landscape
comes the magpie
black and white, Hell's bird.
And the blackbird darting to and fro
till everything becomes a charcoal drawing,
except the whit clothes on the washing-line:
a palestrina chorus.

No blank space anywhere here.

Fantastic to feel how my poem grows
while I myself shrink.
It grows, it takes my place.
It pushes me aside.
It throws me out of the nest.
The poem is ready. 


by Tomas Tranströmer
Translated by Robin Fulton


I flinch from something that shuffles slantwise through sleet,
A fragment of what is to come.
A wall broken loose. Something without eyes. Hard.
A face of teeth!
A lone wall. Or is the house there
although I do not see it?
The Future:  an army of empty houses
that grope their way ahead through sleet.


Two truths approach each other. One comes from within,
one comes from without--and where they meet you have the chance
to catch a look at yourself.
Noticing what is about to happen, you shout desperately: "Stop!
Anything, anything, as long as I don't have to know myself."
And there is a boat that wants to put in--tries to, right here--
it will try again thousands of times.
Out of the forest's dark comes a long boat hook
that's pushed through the open window
among the party guests who have danced themselves warm.


The apartment I've lived in most of my life is to be evacuated. It's already
emptied of everything. The anchor has let go--but despite the mournful
air it's still the lightest apartment in the city. Truth needs no furniture.
I've gone one round on life's circle and come back to the starting point: a
bare room. Scenes from my early life take shape on the walls like Egyptian
paintings inside a burial chamber. But they are fading. The light is too
strong. The windows have enlarged. The empty apartment is a big tele-
scope pointed at the sky. It's as quiet here as a Quaker meeting. Nothing
heard b ut the pigeons of the backyards, their cooings.  


After A Death
by Tomas Tranströmer
Translated by Robert Bly
Once there was a shock
that left behind a long, shimmering comet tail.
It keeps us inside. It makes the TV pictures snowy.
It settles in cold drops on the telephone wires.

One can still go slowly on skis in the winter sun
through brush where a few leaves hang on.
They resemble pages torn from old telephone directories.
Names swallowed by the cold.

It is still beautiful to feel the heart beat
but often the shadow seems more real than the body.
The samurai looks insignificant
beside his armour of black dragon scales.


The Couple
by Tomas Tranströmer
Translated by Robert Bly

They turn the light off, and its white globe glows
an instant and then dissolves, like a tablet
in a glass of darkness. Then a rising.
The hotel walls shoot up into heaven’s darkness.
Their movements have grown softer, and they sleep,
but their most secret thoughts begin to meet
like two colors that meet and run together
on the wet paper in a schoolboy’s painting.
It is dark and silent. The city however has come nearer
tonight. With its windows turned off. Houses have come.
They stand packed and waiting very near,
a mob of people with blank faces.


There are many more poems at this page via the Nobel Prize website. In addition to reading them soon, I also hope to read his poems in Robert Bly's recent book of poems in translation from around the world - from Pablo Neruda and Antonio Machado to Rumi, Hafez, Kabir, and Ghalib, and of course, Tranströmer. I got this book from the public library recently but had to return it before I could read it.

April 25, 2013

NPM 2013 - Z is for Zapruder

Surprisingly there were a few choices for Z -- a couple poets writing today - Matthew Zapruder, whose poems wow-ed me some years ago when I first encountered his book, Come On All You Ghosts (Copper Canyon, 2010),, and the Polish poet and translator, Adam Zagajewski, and Louis Zukofsky, both of whom I have heard about but not read at all. So, Z is for Zapruder it is.  


 Here then are four poems by Matthew Zapruder.
Come On All You Ghosts (an Excerpt)
by Matthew Zapruder

I heard a little cough
in the room, and turned
but no one was there

except the flowers
Sarah bought me
and my death’s head

glow in the dark key chain
that lights up and moans
when I press the button

on top of its skull
and the ghost
I shyly name Aglow.

Are you there Aglow
I said in my mind,
reader, exactly the way

you just heard it
in yours about four
poem time units ago

unless you have already
put down the paper directly
after the mention

of poetry or ghosts.
Readers I am sorry
for some of you

this is not a novel.
Good-bye. Now it is just
us and the death’s head

and the flowers and the ghost
in San Francisco thinking
together by means

of the ancient transmission device.
I am sorry
but together we are

right now thinking
along by means
of an ancient mechanistic

system no one invented
involving super-microscopic
particles that somehow

(weird!) enter through
your eyes or ears
depending on where

you are right now
reading or listening.
To me it seems

like being together
one body made of light
clanging down through

a metal structure
for pleasure and edification.
Reader when I think of you

you are in a giant purple chair
in a Starbucks gradually leaking power
while Neil Young

eats a campfire then drinks
a glass of tears
on satellite radio.

Hello. I am 40.
I have lived in Maryland,
Amherst, San Francisco,

New York, Ljubljana,
Stonington (house
of the great ornate wooden frame

holding the mirror the dead
saw us in whenever
we walked past),

New Hampshire at the base
of the White Mountains
on clear blue days

full of dark blue jays
beyond emotion jaggedly piercing,
Minneapolis of which

I have spoken
earlier and quite enough,
Paris, and now

San Francisco again.
Reader, you are right now
in what for me is the future

experiencing something
you cannot
without this poem.

I myself am suspicious
and cruel. Sometimes
when I close my eyes

I hear a billion workers
in my skull
hammering nails from which

all the things I see
get hung. But poems
are not museums,

they are machines
made of words,
you pour as best

you can your attention
in and in you the poetic
state of mind is produced

said one of the many
French poets with whom
I feel I must agree.

Another I know
writes his poems on silver
paint in a mirror.

I feel like a president
raising his fist in the sun.

To read the rest of this piece, purchase the Paris Reviw issue or buy Zapruder's book [Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Powell Books, Copper Canyon Press].


Kingdom Come
by Matthew Zapruder
She asked me how long it will be
until the giant black rose
she has seen in her dreams
bursts out of the ocean just beyond
the walls of the circular city
and drips molten fire on the heads
of likenesses of the smiling gods
who sent a message from outside
our solar system crying
and swearing to protect us
if we built them. Quite
a long time. Probably many
hundreds of years. First we must
build the circular walls,
then the towers and the steps.
Then we must build the satellite array
and send it into the atmosphere.
And we don't have that
technology yet. The scientists
who can dream of building it
have not yet even been born. So
for now I say to her let us live
here in this apartment and make
sounds of love on this futon
while outside the window the orange
extension cable strangles
the white and green flowering branch
and monks cry anciently on the radio.


by Matthew Zapruder

I like the word pocket. It sounds a little safely
dangerous. Like knowing you once
bought a headlamp in case the lights go out
in a catastrophe. You will put it on your head
and your hands will still be free. Or
standing in a forest and staring at a picture
in a plant book while eating scary looking wild flowers.
Saying pocket makes me feel potentially
but not yet busy. I am getting ready to have
important thoughts. I am thinking about my pocket.
Which has its own particular geology.
Maybe you know what I mean. I mean
I basically know what's in there and can even
list the items but also there are other bits
and pieces made of stuff that might not
even have a name. Only a scientist could figure
it out. And why would a scientist do that?
He or she should be curing brain diseases
or making sure that asteroid doesn't hit us.
Look out scientists! Today the unemployment rate
is 9.4%. I have no idea what that means. I tried
to think about it harder for a while. Then
tried standing in an actual stance of mystery
and not knowing towards the world.
Which is my job. As is staring at the back yard
and for one second believing I am actually
rising away from myself. Which is maybe
what I have in common right now with you.
And now I am placing my hand on this
very dusty table. And brushing away
the dust. And now I am looking away
and thinking for the last time about my pocket.
But this time I am thinking about its darkness.
Like the bottom of the sea. But without
the blind florescent creatures floating
in a circle around the black box which along
with tremendous thunder and huge shards
of metal from the airplane sank down and settled
here where it rests, cheerfully beeping.


And one last poem for today and also the last poem to end this alphabetic exercise this month.  
April Snow
by Matthew Zapruder

Today in El Paso all the planes are asleep on the runway. The world
is in a delay. All the political consultants drinking whiskey keep
their heads down, lifting them only to look at the beautiful scarred
waitress who wears typewriter keys as a necklace. They jingle
when she brings them drinks. Outside the giant plate glass windows
the planes are completely covered in snow, it piles up on the wings.
I feel like a mountain of cell phone chargers. Each of the various
faiths of our various fathers keeps us only partly protected. I don’t
want to talk on the phone to an angel. At night before I go to sleep
I am already dreaming. Of coffee, of ancient generals, of the faces
of statues each of which has the eternal expression of one of my feelings.
I examine my feelings without feeling anything. I ride my blue bike
on the edge of the desert. I am president of this glass of water.


I'll leave you with a link to Zapruder's blog, which I just found today.

We have five more days left and there will be five more posts but the theme for this month has run its course. So, no themes to follow for the remaining five days. - just five poets who I wished I had covered in the month but who got displaced by me choosing someone else whose last name starts with the same letter.

April 24, 2013

NPM 2013 - Y is for Yeats

I mentioned Yevtushenko the other day in writing about Voznesensky but given the difficulties in translating poems from Russian, I am going to go to stay away from blogging today about a famous poet of our times and am instead going to go to a very famous name from recent times who wrote poetry in English. There are some really famous Irish poets like Yeats and the Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney but unfortunately I have never gotten to them. So, this is also an opportunity for me to read a handful of poems by William Butler Yeats, one of the early poets I heard of as a kid -- his name coming up in the context of his praise for the Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore.

 William Butler Yeats (3 June 1865 – 28 January 1939)


One of the leading poetry critics of our times, Helen Vendler, has written a book about Yeats and the lyrical nature of his poems and I hope to get to it some day. (There's this NYT review of the book that you can read for now.) But for here, for now, here are four of Yeats' poems. 

A Poet to His Beloved
by William Butler Yeats

 I BRING you with reverent hands
The books of my numberless dreams,
White woman that passion has worn
As the tide wears the dove-grey sands,
And with heart more old than the horn
That is brimmed from the pale fire of time:
White woman with numberless dreams,
I bring you my passionate rhyme.


When You are Old
by William Butler Yeats

WHEN you are old and gray and full of sleep   
  And nodding by the fire, take down this book,   
  And slowly read, and dream of the soft look   
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;   

How many loved your moments of glad grace,            
  And loved your beauty with love false or true;   
  But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,   
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.   

And bending down beside the glowing bars,   
  Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled     
  And paced upon the mountains overhead,   
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.


Though I have not read and studied this longer poem by Yeats, given today's date, it would be folly to not include his famous poem, Easter, 1916 here today - a poem "describing the poet's torn emotions regarding the events of the Easter Rising staged in Ireland against British rule on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916."

Easter, 1916
by William Butler Yeats 


I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.


That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse.
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vain-glorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.


Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter, seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute change.
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim;
And a horse plashes within it
Where long-legged moor-hens dive
And hens to moor-cocks call.
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.


Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death.
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead.
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse --
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.


With this last poem I am going to go back to Helen Vendler, who "helps you hear a poem by showing you first how to see it." Poems have beats and musicality to them but sometimes the best of them have a shape to them too! (And I don't mean the trying-too-hard-to-be-cute visual poetry I see sometimes; won't even bother to link to one but you know what I mean. They distract me more often than not though I remember one particular poem by Mary Oliver had delighted by its shape and am sure there are others that some masters have achieved without trying too hard to be cute!) Anyways, listen to Ms. Vendler explain it here:
Look, for example, at Yeats’s famous World War I memorial for Major Robert Gregory, “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.” The difference between reading this elegy not as a speech, but as a poem is as simple and striking as realizing that the poem has the form of a perfect cube:
An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
by William Butler Yeats
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My county is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
From THE WILD SWANS AT COOLE (1919) in William Butler Yeats, Collected Poems
That is, the shape of it is 4 x 4 x 4. Four beats in each line. Four lines in each of the “quatrains” (each in the “perfect” rhyming order a b a b, in this case). And four quatrains (not separated here into four stanzas) in the poem.

So the one-off form of the thing is as elegantly, decisively squared away as the soldierly beat of the marching monosyllables: “fate,” “hate,” “love,” “cross,” “loss,” and the rest. Form makes a tight fit with the cool, collected thought the poem voices. The form itself is a statement of the sad but settled order in Major Gregory’s mind. So the original shape of this poem becomes virtually inseparable from its “message.” Or as Helen Vendler puts it in her new account of Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form, “By such formal means Yeats confirms that the airman’s choice is the correct one for his soul.”

More where that came from can be read here. Do read it and listen to the audio embedded at the link. There's a lot to learn from the amazing Helen Vendler. 


There are quite a few poems by Yeats to be read at the Poetry Foundation site and the Poets.org site but I'll leave you with these links with video lectures on Yeats from a course on Modern Poetry at the department of English at Yale University. What a treasure-trove these course lectures from Yale are. Thought I've known of them for some time now, I have not listened to any of the lectures for this course yet but hope to soon.
Lecture 1

Lecture 2

Lecture 3

P.S. Had to come back and add this when I found it just now on Youtube! Yeats reading some of his own poems!

April 23, 2013

NPM 2013 - W is for Wilbur

Unlike yesterday, there were a plethora of choices for today - poets I am familiar with  - old romantics like Wordsworth, whose poems have delighted me over the years to modernists like the doctor from New Jersey, William Carlos Williams, who I have read a little (but not as much as his contemporary - the insurance agent from Connecticut ;-) -  Wallace Stevens.) Then there is the true father of modern American poetry, Walt Whitman. But I decided to go with someone more local to New England - Richard Wilbur. I am not too familiar with his poetry and so thought I'd post something about him - gives me also the opportunity to explore something new as I "celebrate" poetry this month. (He has lived nearly all his life in New England. I read in an interview with him at the Atlantic that "before retiring from academic life, he taught for five years at Harvard, three at Wellesley College, twenty at Wesleyan University, and ten at Smith College. At age 92, he now splits his time between Western Mass. and Key West in Florida.")

His profile at the Poetry Foundation website says:
Wilbur “is a poet for all of us, whose elegant words brim with wit and paradox,” announced Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin when the poet succeeded Robert Penn Warren to become the second poet laureate of the United States.  He won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for his collection Things of This World: Poems in 1957 and a second Pulitzer for New and Collected Poems. He has won the Wallace Stevens Award, the Frost Medal, the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry, two Bollingen Prizes, the T.S. Eliot Award, the Edna St. Vincent Millay Memorial Award, the Prix de Rome Fellowship and many more honors, fellowships and awards for his poetry.


 Here then are 4 of his poems:

First up a poem which Phyllis Rose calls one of the "best love poems written in my lifetime" in an essay about the poet:
An aubade is a lover’s farewell song, usually sung at dawn (aube in French). This one is “sung” by the poet to a woman with whom he has naughtily spent the morning and who finally insists she must go on with her day. The poem consists of seven quatrains, the first three of which cite things she might have been doing if she were not in bed with the poet.

A Late Aubade
by Richard Wilbur

You could be sitting now in a carrel
Turning some liver-spotted page,
Or rising in an elevator-cage
Toward Ladies' Apparel.

You could be planting a raucous bed
Of salvia, in rubber gloves,
Or lunching through a screed of someone's loves
With pitying head.

Or making some unhappy setter
Heel, or listening to a bleak
Lecture on Schoenberg's serial technique.
Isn't this better?

Think of all the time you are not
Wasting, and would not care to waste,
Such things, thank God, not being to your taste.
Think what a lot

Of time, by woman's reckoning,
You've saved, and so may spend on this,
You who had rather lie in bed and kiss
Than anything.

It's almost noon, you say? If so,
Time flies, and I need not rehearse
The rosebuds-theme of centuries of verse.
If you mustgo,

Wait for a while, then slip downstairs
And bring us up some chilled white wine,
And some blue cheese, and crackers, and some fine
Ruddy-skinned pears.

P.S. The other famous song with Aubade in the title is one of my favorites and is by Philip Larkin. Do read it.


Then this lovely poem, which in the same essay, Phyllis Rose writes:
'For C.' ran initially in a Valentine’s Day issue of the New Yorker. I remember, because I was jealous and thought, “Why don’t I get valentines like that?” The poem is for Charlee, Mrs. Wilbur, the same dog-training, hard-gardening object of the poet’s affections as in the aubade of thirty years before. It contains five stanzas of six lines each, with the kind of intricate rhyming that Wilbur seems to toss off effortlessly and that his fans delight in. The first three stanzas describe dramatic farewells between movie lovers, whose passions have been intense and tempestuous, but brief. They leave each other “with stricken eye” or “weighed down by grief.”......... How Richard Wilbur and how refreshing, this celebration of long-lasting love, the “wild sostenuto of the heart,” emotion shaped and sustained by “courtesy and art.” Wilbur is the poet of the long run. Perhaps that’s why he’s such a long-running poet.

For C.
by Richard Wilbur

After the clash of elevator gates
And the long sinking, she emerges where,
A slight thing in the morning’s crosstown glare,  
She looks up toward the window where he waits,  
Then in a fleeting taxi joins the rest
Of the huge traffic bound forever west.

On such grand scale do lovers say good-bye—
Even this other pair whose high romance  
Had only the duration of a dance,
And who, now taking leave with stricken eye,  
See each in each a whole new life forgone.
For them, above the darkling clubhouse lawn,

Bright Perseids flash and crumble; while for these  
Who part now on the dock, weighed down by grief  
And baggage, yet with something like relief,  
It takes three thousand miles of knitting seas  
To cancel out their crossing, and unmake
The amorous rough and tumble of their wake.

We are denied, my love, their fine tristesse  
And bittersweet regrets, and cannot share  
The frequent vistas of their large despair,  
Where love and all are swept to nothingness;  
Still, there’s a certain scope in that long love  
Which constant spirits are the keepers of,

And which, though taken to be tame and staid,  
Is a wild sostenuto of the heart,
A passion joined to courtesy and art
Which has the quality of something made,  
Like a good fiddle, like the rose’s scent,
Like a rose window or the firmament.


Year’s End
by Richard Wilbur

Now winter downs the dying of the year,  
And night is all a settlement of snow;
From the soft street the rooms of houses show  
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,  
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin  
And still allows some stirring down within.

I’ve known the wind by water banks to shake
The late leaves down, which frozen where they fell  
And held in ice as dancers in a spell  
Fluttered all winter long into a lake;  
Graved on the dark in gestures of descent,  
They seemed their own most perfect monument.

There was perfection in the death of ferns  
Which laid their fragile cheeks against the stone  
A million years. Great mammoths overthrown  
Composedly have made their long sojourns,  
Like palaces of patience, in the gray
And changeless lands of ice. And at Pompeii

The little dog lay curled and did not rise  
But slept the deeper as the ashes rose
And found the people incomplete, and froze  
The random hands, the loose unready eyes  
Of men expecting yet another sun
To do the shapely thing they had not done.

These sudden ends of time must give us pause.  
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time. Barrages of applause  
Come muffled from a buried radio.
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.


 And I'll end with an excerpt from a longer poem
from Looking into History
by Richard Wilbur

Now, old man of the sea,  
I start to understand:
The will will find no stillness
Back in a stilled land.

The dead give no command  
And shall not find their voice  
Till they be mustered by  
Some present fatal choice.

Let me now rejoice
In all impostures, take
The shape of lion or leopard,
Boar, or watery snake,

Or like the comber break,  
Yet in the end stand fast  
And by some fervent fraud  
Father the waiting past,

Resembling at the last
The self-established tree
That draws all waters toward  
Its live formality.


P.S. In the same Atlantic interview mentioned above, I loved this answer:
I've noticed in my rereadings of your poems a kind of painterly beginning to many of them, as though you set a scene in still-life and then start it into motion. Was that deliberate?
It sounds to me like something which I would be inclined to do. I certainly don't have any theory of the poem that would incline me to start by painting in a scene and then putting it in motion, but I do know that I have a gift for making things move with words, and I like to get them traveling. I like to make their physical motion physically felt. I expect many poets incline to that sort of thing as part of a general feeling that poetry should not be abstract and immobile but should get down there amongst the things of the world and mix with them.

It is a good interview; you should read it. Also, I had not realized I have blogged about him before - but just a short poem during my previous NPM celebrations in 2011.

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