Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Mostly Billy Collins

by Billy Collins from The Apple that Astonished Paris

It would be easier to compile an encyclopedia
for you than to write these longhand letters
whose ink blackens the night. I write
until dawn saying I think the world of you

but they are always too short
like those two-page schoolboy essays
with The History of Mankind
underlined on the front in crayon.

My encyclopedia will ignore the research
of others and rely on personal experience.

I will walk out the front door now
with my winter hat and coat,
with my spectacles and my knotty cane.
I will describe in a clear, nimble style
everything in the world beginning with A.

Autumn Day

by Rilke

Lord: it is time. The summer was so immense.
Lay your shadow on the sundials,
and let loose the wind in the fields.

Bid the last fruits to be full;
give them another two more southerly days,
press them to ripeness, and chase
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Whoever has no house now will not build one anymore.
Whoever is alone now will remain so for a long time,
will stay up, read, write long letters,
and wander the avenues, up and down,
restlessly, while the leaves are blowing.

The Lesson
by Billy Collins

In the morning when I found History
snoring heavily on the couch,
I took down his overcoat from the rack
and placed its weight over my shoulder blades.

It would protect me on the cold walk
into the village for milk and the paper
and I figured he would not mind,
not after our long conversation the night before.

How unexpected his blustering anger
when I returned covered with icicles,
the way he rummaged through the huge pockets
making sure no major battle of English queen
had fallen out and become lost in the deep snow.

by Billy Collins

My pen moves along the page
like the snout of a strange animal
shaped like a human arm
and dressed in the sleeve of a loose green sweater.

I watch it sniffing the paper carelessly,
intent as any forager that has nothing
on its mind but the grubs and insects
that will allow it to live another day.

It wants only to be here tomorrow ,
dressed perhaps in teh sleeve of a plaid shirt,
nose pressed against the page,
writing a few more dutiful lines

while I gaze out the window and imagine Budapest
or some other city where I have never been.

My Heart
by Billy Collins

It has a bronze covering inlaid with silver,
originally gilt;
the sides are decorated with openwork zoomorphic
panels depicting events in the history
of an unknown religion.
The convoluted top-piece shows a high
level of relief articulation
as do the interworked spirals at the edges.

It was presumably carried in the house-shaped
reliquary alongside it, an object of exceptional
ornament, one of the few such pieces extant.
The handle, worn smooth, indicates its use
in long-forgotten rituals, perhaps
of a sacrificial nature.

It is engirdled with an inventive example
of gold interlacing, no doubt of Celtic influence.
Previously thought to be a pre-Carolingian work,
it is now considered to be of more recent provenance,
probably the early 1940's.

The ball at the center, visible
through the interstices of the lead webbing
and the elaborate copper grillwork,
is composed possibly of jelly
or an early version of water,
certainly a liquid, remarkably suspended
within the intricate craftsmanship of its encasement.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Carlos Drummond de Andrade

The Onset of Love
by Carlos Drummond de Andrade translated by mark strand

The hammock between two mango trees
swayed in the sunken world.
It was hot, windless.
Above was the sun,
between were leaves.
It was broiling.

And since I had nothing to do, I developed a passion for the legs of the laundress.

One day she came to the hammock,
curled up in my arms,
gave me a hug,
gave me her breasts
that were just for me.
The hammock turned over,
down went the world.

And I went to bed
with a fever of forty degrees.
And a giant laundress with giant breasts was spinning around in the greenness of

by Carlos Drummond de Andrade translated by mark strand

The poet rode the trolley drunk.
The sun came up behind the yards.
The small hotels slept very sadly.
The houses too were drunk.

Everything was a total wreck.
Nobody knew that the world was going to end
(only a child did but kept it quiet),
that the world was going to end at 7:45.
Last thoughts! Last telegrams!

Joe who listed pronouns,
Helen who loved men,
Sebastian who ruined himself,
Arthur who never said anything,
set off for eternity.

The poet is drunk, but
he hears a voice in the dawn:
Why don't we all go dancing
between the trolley and the tree?

Between the trolley and the tree
dance, brothers!
Even without music
dance, brothers!
Children are being born
with so much spontaneity.
Love is fantastic
(love and what it produces).

Dance, brothers!
Death will come later
like a sacrament.

The above poem reminds me of one by Billy Collins, who is absolutely delightful to read. There's a wonderful collection of some of his greatest poetry, called Sailing Around the Room, which houses this one called "Dancing Toward Bethlehem"

Dancing Toward Bethlehem
by Billy Collins

If there is only enough time in the final
minutes of the twentieth century for one last dance
I would like to be dancing it slowly with you,

say, in the ballroom of a seaside hotel.
My palm would press into the small of your back
as the past hundred years collapsed into a pile
of mirrors or buttons or frivolous shoes,

just as the floor of the nineteenth century gave way
and disappeared in a red cloud of brick dust.
There will be no time to order another drink
or worry about what was never said,

not with the orchestra sliding into the sea
and all our attention devoted to humming
whatever it was they were playing.

Boy Crying in the Night
by Carlos Drummond de Andrade translated by mark strand

In the warm, humid night, noiseless and dead, a boy cries.
His crying behind the wall, the light behind the window
are lost in the shadow of muffled footsteps, of tired voices.
Yet the sound of medicine poured into a spoon can be heard.

A boy cries in the night, behind the wall, across the street,
far away a boy cries, in another city,
in another world, perhaps.

And I see the hand that lifts the spoon while the other holds the head,
and I see the slick thread run down the boy's chin,
and slip into the street, only a thread, and slip through the city.
And nobody else in the world exists but that boy crying.

The Dead in Frock Coats
by Carlos Drummond de Andrade translated by mark strand

In the corner of the living room was an album of unbearable photos,
many meters high and infinite minutes old,
over which everyone leaned
making fun of the dead in frock coats.

Then a worm began to chew the indifferent coats,
the pages, the inscriptions, and even the dust on the pictures.
The only thing it did not chew was the everlasting sob of life that broke
and broke from those pages.

Your Shoulders Hold Up the World
by Carlos Drummond de Andrade translated by mark strand

A time comes when you no longer can say: my God.
A time of total cleaning up.
A time when you no longer can say: my love.
Because love proved useless.
And the eyes don't cry.
And the hands do only rough work.
And the heart is dry.

Women knock at your door in vain, you won't open.
You remain alone, the lights turned off,
and your enormous eyes shine in the dark.
It is obvious you no longer know how to suffer.
And you want nothing from your friends.

Who cares if old age comes, what is old age?
Your shoulders are holding up the world
and it's lighter than a child's hand.
Wars, famine, family fights inside buildings
prove only that life goes on
and not everybody has freed himself yet.
Some (the delicate ones) judging the spectacle cruel
will prefer to die.
A time comes when death doesn't help.
A time comes when life is an order.
Just life, without any escapes.

The above poem, by the way, not only is wonderful, but reminds me of another by William Carlos Williams, who reminds me so much of Carlos Drummond de Andrade. It's called Thursday, and here it is..

by William Carlos Williams

I have had my dream - like others -
and it has come to nothing, so that
I remain now carelessly
with feet planted on the ground
and look up at the sky -
feeling my clothes about me,
the weight of my body in my shoes,
the rim of my hat, air passing in and out
at my nose - and decide to dream no more.

And it also reminds me of an excerpt from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets.... (This excerpt, by the way, is one of my favorites in all of poetry. It's spectacular. And, it's Eliot.)

excerpt from East Coker from Eliot's Four Quartets

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

by Carlos Drummond de Andrade translated by a. capeto

Who had the idea of slicing time into pieces,
which were given the name of year,
was a genious person.
Industrialized hope
pushing it to the limits of its exhaustiveness.

Twelve months are enough for any human being to get tired and give up.

Then comes the miracle of renovation and all stars once again
we pick up another number wishing that
from now on everything will be different..

...For you,
I wish your dreams fulfilled.
The love you waited.
Hope renewed.

For you,
I wish all the colors of life.
All happiness you can smile to
All songs you can thrill.

For you in this new year,
Wish all friends to be better,
May your family be more united,
May your life be more lived.

I would like to wish you so many things.
But nothing would be enough...

So, I wish only that you have many wishes.
Big wishes and may they move you further every single minute,
on route to your happiness!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Theodore Roethke

"Art is the means we have of undoing the damage of haste. It's what everything else isn't."
--Theodore Reothke