Friday, August 29, 2008

713. Epic - Patrick Kavanagh

I have lived in important places, times
When great events were decided, who owned
That half a rood of rock, a no-man's land
Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims.
I heard the Duffys shouting "Damn your soul!"
And old McCabe stripped to the waist, seen
Step the plot defying blue cast-steel -
"Here is the march along these iron stones."
That was the year of the Munich bother. Which
Was more important? I inclined
To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin
Till Homer's ghost came whispering to my mind.
He said: I made the Iliad from such
A local row. Gods make their own importance.

Monday, August 25, 2008

712. One Empty Island - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

Island where all becomes clear.

Solid ground beneath your feet.

The only roads are those that offer access.

Bushes bend beneath the weight of proofs.

The Tree of Valid Supposition grows here
with branches disentangled since time immemorial.

The Tree of Understanding, dazzlingly straight and simple,
sprouts by the spring called Now I Get It.

The thicker the woods, the vaster the vista:
the Valley of Obviously.

If any doubts arise, the wind dispels them instantly.

Echoes stir unsummoned
and eagerly explain all the secrets of the worlds.

On the right a cave where Meaning lies.

On the left the Lake of Deep Conviction.
Truth breaks from the bottom and bobs to the surface.

Unshakable Confidence towers over the valley.
Its peak offers an excellent view of the Essence of Things.

For all its charms, the island is uninhabited,
and the faint footprints scattered on its beaches
turn without exception to the sea.

As if all you can do here is leave
and plunge, never to return, into the depths.

Into unfathomable life.

Friday, August 22, 2008

711. "Are You Mr. William Stafford?" - William Stafford

"Are you Mr. William Stafford?"
"Yes, but...."

Well, it was yesterday.
Sunlight used to follow my hand.
And that's when the strange siren-like sound flooded
over the horizon and rushed through the streets of our town.
That's when sunlight came from behind
a rock and began to follow my hand.

"It's for the best," my mother said—"Nothing can
ever be wrong for anyone truly good."
So later the sun settled back and the sound
faded and was gone. All along the streets every
house waited, white, blue, gray: trees
were still trying to arch as far as they could.

You can't tell when strange things with meaning
will happen. I'm [still] here writing it down
just the way it was. "You don't have to
prove anything," my mother said. "Just be ready
for what God sends." I listened and put my hand
out in the sun again. It was all easy.

Well, it was yesterday. And the sun came,
It came.

Monday, August 18, 2008

710. Epithalamion For A Second Marriage - Stephen Dunn

If you, X, take this woman, Y,
and if you, Y, take this man, X,
you two who have taken each other
many times before, then this
is something to be trusted,

two separate folks not becoming halves,
as younger people do, but becoming
neither more nor less than yourselves,
separate and together, and if
this means a different kind of love,

as it must, if it means different
conveniences and inconveniences, as it must,
then let this good luck
from a friend act like grease
for what may bet be difficult, undefined,

and when the ordinary days of marriage
stretch out like prairie,
here's to the wisdom which understands
that if the heart's right
and the mind at ease with it

the prairie is a liveable place, a place
for withstanding all kinds of weather,
and here's to the little hills
the ones that take you by surprise,
and the ones you'll need to invent.

Friday, August 15, 2008

709. The Hospital - Patrick Kavanagh

A year ago I fell in love with the functional ward
Of a chest hospital: square cubicles in a row
Plain concrete, wash basins - an art lover's woe,
Not counting how the fellow in the next bed snored.
But nothing whatever is by love debarred,
The common and banal her heat can know.
The corridor led to a stairway and below
Was the inexhaustible adventure of a gravelled yard.

This is what love does to things: the Rialto Bridge,
The main gate that was bent by a heavy lorry,
The seat at the back of a shed that was a suntrap.
Naming these things is the love-act and its pledge;
For we must record love's mystery without claptrap,
Snatch out of time the passionate transitory.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

708. It Is Marvellous to Wake Up Together - Eliazbeth Bishop

It is marvellous to wake up together
At the same minute; marvellous to hear
The rain begin suddenly all over the roof,
To feel the air clear
As if electricity had passed through it
From a black mesh of wires in the sky.
All over the roof the rain hisses,
And below, the light falling of kisses.

An electrical storm is coming or moving away;
It is the prickling air that wakes us up.
If lightning struck the house now, it would run
From the four blue china balls on top
Down the roof and down the rods all around us,
And we imagine dreamily
How the whole house caught in a bird-cage of lightning
Would be quite delightful rather than frightening:

And from the same simplified point of view
Of night and lying flat on one's back
All things might change equally easily,
Since always to warn us there must be these black
Electrical wires dangling. Without surprise

The world might change to something quite different,
As the air changes or the lightning comes without our blinking.
Change as our kisses are changing without our thinking.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

707. Patrick Kavanagh: An Annotated Exequy - L. E. Sissman

Well, Kavanagh, you've gone and done it, died
The way you said you would, propped up with pride
And penury in a dim nursing home
In Dublin, not in Monaghan. The morn-
Ing newspapers1 said what you said they would,2
Not mourning, so it's nice and tidy. Good.
But wait. I'm here to say a thing or two
About a lovely man I never knew
Who lived in lodgings next door to despair,
And caught the winter light in Gibson Square,3
and walked alone in crumbling Islington,
And saw the setting of the Irish sun
On the potato fields of Monaghan
Across the ocean wild and wide, a home
To be escaped from the returned to, where
Calves called for his deft hands, and up the stair
The mother lay in her bare, crucified
Chamber, as old and constant as the tide
In rising and receding to and from
The complicated presence of a son,
Or else his absence. Absent in a slum
Of Dublin or of London, he conveyed
His country to the city, which he made
New with his patient peasant heart and hand
And urbane horn-rimmed head. Of course he'd stand––
And be stood ––– too much drink in darkling bars
And wake up to the anthem of the cars
And lorries of the morning. But he got
On with the serious business of what
An artist is to do with his rucksack
Of gift, the deadweight that deforms his back
And drives him on to prodigies of thought
And anguishes of execution, bought
At all cost of respectability
And all expense of nice society,
Until, alone, he faces homely him,
The only other tenant of his room,
And finds the world well lost.4 Well Kavanagh,
Possession being nine points of the law,
I find you guilty of possession of
The mortal spirit of unstinted love
For all things animate and otherwise,
And of the fatal talent to devise
Live poems expressing it, transcending all
Obituaries which record your fall.5

1 The morning newspapers and the radio
Announced his death in a few horrid words:
–– a man of talent who lacked the little more
That makes the difference
Between success and failure
–– "Portrait of the Artist"

2 Reputation for Eccentricity
Said to Have Overshadowed
Talents as a Writer
–– Obituary in the Times

3 I'll show you a holier aisle ––
The length of Gibson Square
Caught in November's stare
That would set you to prayer
–– "News Item"

4 And I also found some crucial
Documents of sad evil that may yet
For all their ugliness and vacuous leers
Fuel the fires of comedy. The main thing is to continue,
To walk Parnassus right into the sunset
Detached in love where pygmies cannot pin you
To the ground like Gulliver. So good luck and cheers.
–– "Dear Folks"

5 He's finished and that's definitely.
–– "The Same Again"

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

706. The Seance - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Walter Whipple

Chance shows her tricks.
She pulls a glass of cognac from her sleeve
and seats Henry on it.
I enter the bar and stand dumbfounded.
It's Henry and no one else
than the brother of Agnes' husband,
and Agnes is a relative
of Sophie's aunt's brother-in-law.
It turned out that we have a great grandfather in common.

Space in the fingers of fortune
expands and contracts,
lengthens and shortens.
It was just a tablecloth
and now it's like a handkerchief.
Guess whom I met,
and where, in Canada,
and after how many years!
I thought he was no longer living,
and he's in a Mercedes.
Or on a plane to Athens.
Or in a stadium in Tokyo.

Chance turns a kaleidoscope in her hands.
Billions of colored glass particles flash.
Suddenly Hansel's piece of glass
crashes with Gretel's.
Imagine, in the same hotel.
Face to face in the elevator.
In the toy shop.
At the corner of Szewska and Jagiellonska Streets.

Chance is wrapped in the cape.
Things are lost and found again.
I came across something involuntarily.
I bent down and picked it up.
I look, and it's that spoon
from a stolen set.
If it weren't for the bracelet
I would not have recognized Ola,
and I happened on that clock in Plock.

Chance gazes deeply into our eyes.
Our heads begin to get heavy.
Our eyelids droop.
We feel like laughing and weeping,
for it's incredible --
from the fourth B on this ship,
there must be something to it.
We feel like screaming
how small the world is,
how easy to grasp
with open arms.
For a short while yet we are filled with joy,
both illuminating and deceiving.

Monday, August 04, 2008

705. Because We Are Not Taken Seriously - Stephen Dunn

Some night I wish they'd knock,
on my door, the government men,
looking for the poem of simple truths
recited and whispered among the people.
And when all I give them is silence
and my children are exiled
to the mountains, my wife forced
to renounce me in public,
I'll be the American poet
whose loneliness, finally, is relevant,
whose slightest movement
ripples cross-country.

And when the revolution frees me,
its leaders wanting me to become
"Poet of the Revolution," I'll refuse
and keep a list of their terrible reprisals
and all the dark things I love
which they will abolish.
With the ghost of Mandelstam
on one shoulder, Lorca on the other,
I'll write the next poem, the one
that will ask only to be believed
once it's in the air, singing.