Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Ode to a Dead Carob Tree

Ode to a Dead Carob Tree

By Pablo Neruda

Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden.

We were traveling from

Totoral, dusty

was our planet,

pampa encircled

by azure sky:

heat and light in emptiness.

It was

passing through

Yaco Barranca

toward forsaken Ongamira

that we saw

horizontal on the prairie

a toppled giant,

a dead carob tree.

Last night’s


ripped out its silvery


left them twisted

like tangled hair, a tortured mane

unmoving in the wind.

I walked closer, and such

was its ruined strength,

so heroic the branches on the ground,

the crown radiating such

earthly majesty,

that when

I touched its trunk

I felt it throbbing,

and a surge

from the heart of the tree

made me close my eyes

and bow

my head.

It was sturdy and furrowed

by time, a strong

column carved

by earth and rain,

and like a


it had spread its rounded

arms of wood

to lavish

green light and shadow

on the plain.

The American

storm, the


north wind

of the prairie,

had overtaken

this sturdy carob,


strong as iron,

and with a blast from the sky

had felled its beauty.

I stood there staring

at what only yesterday

had harbored

forest sounds and nests,

but I did not weep

because my dead brother

was as beautiful in death as in life.

I said good-bye. And left it

lying there

on the mother earth.

I left the wind

keeping watch and weeping,

and from afar I saw



caressing its head.

In “Ode to a Dead Carob Tree,” Pablo Neruda feels an immediate kinship with a fallen tree. He is on his way elsewhere, but the tree stops him, he lets it stop him. This act of stopping and attending mindfully to what the present moment presents is crucial. In a sustained act of seeing, Neruda takes it all in, the fallen carob tree’s physical form, its roots “twisted / like tangled hair,” but also its kingly spirit — its heroic “branches on the ground,” its crown that radiates an “earthly majesty.”

Seeing the tree in this way, being with it, leads to an act of empathic connection: he touches the tree. It is this physical contact that allows Neruda to experience “a surge / from the heart of the tree.” Notice how easily he says “the heart of the tree” and how easily we accept it, remembering for a moment what we have learned to forget — that all things are animated by the same life force that animates us, that all things are our brothers and sisters. And then Neruda closes his eyes and bows his head in an ancient gesture of vulnerability and reverence.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019


Chairil Anwar

Translated by Burton Raffel

When my time comes
I want to hear no one's cries
Nor yours either

Away with all who cry!

Here I am, a wild beast
Driven out of the herd

Bullets may pierce my skin
But I’ll keep on

Carrying forward my wounds and my pain,
Until suffering disappears

And I won't care anymore

I want to live another thousand years

Chairil Anwar (1922–1949) was the primary architect of the Indonesian literary revolution in both poetry and prose. In a few intense years he forged almost ingle-handedly a vital, mature literary language in Bahasa Indonesia, a language which formally came to exist in 1928. Anway led the way for the many Indonesian writers who have emerged during the past fifty years. Chairil Anwar belongs to the 1945 generation writers. His writings incorporated the themes of individualism, death, and existentialism.

In the book the complete poetry of the poems and prose of Chairil Anwar, there is an anecdote of an American woman, long resident in Indonesia, who came out of anesthesia, after an operation, and heard herself singing over and over again the above poem, especially the last line, “I want to live another thousand years”

The poem itself asserts that we shouldn’t allow our life to be controlled and shaped by outside forces. One should be the dictator of one’s life and protect one’s freedom and individualistic nature. The poem was written around 1943. At that time, Indonesia had not been independent and was still under the colonization of Japan. It is possible that the writing style of this poem was influenced by the social condition at that time. 

The great translator Professor Burton Raffel (my favorite Chinese poetry translator) who passed away last year has carefully translated this poem  to give pragmatic equivalence when it comes to choosing of words and dynamic balance in the structure of the lines. The result is maintaining the power and aesthetics of the original.

Thursday, January 17, 2019



By Ko Un (Korean Poet and Nobel Prize nominee)

Translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Lee Sang-Wha

The lonesome communist José Saramago once

  said that

 joy and sorrow

 go together

 because they are not water and oil.

I nod.


Then I object:

Joy knows no sorrow.

Sorrow knows no joy.

I refuse sudden enlightenment.

All the dialogues in the world, frogs’ night-long


ultimately they’re each a monologue.

Flowers and sudden frosts on spring flowers,

each a monologue

to the very end.

What is truly amazing

is that dialogue

 has never existed in this world of greed and lust,

 no, not even once.

To the end, each and every aloneness

 is so hard-shelled it has no sense

 of having ever been alone.

 Ko Un, born Ko Untae in 1933, was the first child of a peasant family living in Gunsan, North Jeolla Province in Korea. During a time when the national culture was being suppressed under  the Japanese occupation, his grandfather taught him to read and write in Korean. When he was 12, he found by chance a book of poems by Han Ha-un, a nomadic Korean poet with leprosy, and he was so impressed that he began writing himself. He was a witness to the devastation of the Korean War. He volunteered for the People’s Army, but was rejected because he was underweight.  Many of his relatives and friends died and, during the war, he was forced to work as a grave digger. He became so traumatized that he poured acid into his ear to shut out the war’s noise, leaving him deaf in one ear.

He became a Zen Buddhist monk in the 1950s, and returned to secular life sometime in the 1960s. He has since then been considered as the preeminent Korean poet of the twentieth century and beloved cultural figure who has helped shape contemporary Korean literature, Ko Un is also a novelist, literary critic, ex-monk,  former dissident, and four-time political prisoner. His verse―vivid, unsettling, down-to-earth, and deeply moving―ranges from the short lyric to the vast epic and draws from a poetic reservoir filled with memories and experiences ranging over seventy years of South Korea's tumultuous history from the Japanese occupation to the Korean war to democracy.

 Presenting the Griffin Poetry Award, poet Robert Hass described Ko Un as “one of the heroes of human freedom in this half century, a religious poet who got tangled by accident in the terrible accidents of modern history. But he is somebody who has been equal to the task, a feat rare among human beings.”

Man's incapacity for dialogue is the theme of this poem

Ref : Un, Ko. First Person Sorrowful . Bloodaxe Books

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Breakfast (Dejeuner du Matin)


by Jacques Prévert

Translated by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

He put the coffee

In the cup

He put the milk

In the cup of coffee

He put the sugar

In the café au lait

With the coffee spoon

He stirred

He drank the café au lait

And he set down the cup

Without a word to me

He lit

A cigarette

He made smoke-rings

With the smoke

He put the ashes

In the ash-tray

Without a word to me

Without a look at me

He got up

He put

His hat upon his head

He put his raincoat on

Because it was raining

And he left

In the rain

Without a word

Without a look at me

And I  I took

My head in my hand

And I cried.

This poem by Jacques Prévert, a much loved French Poet (above all the man who wrote screenplay for “Children of Paradise”, one of the top ten films in World Cinema),  was written in 1946, one year after the end of World War II. It  reflects the nihilistic tone of many people after the war. Having suffered a humiliating invasion by the Nazis, French citizens felt disillusioned and displaced after their liberation by the United States in 1944 and at the end of the war in 1945.

Reflective of this disillusionment, the scene of this poem reveals an estranged husband and wife. They sit as one would with a stranger in a cafe at their breakfast table. In a series of clipped sentences all of which are described in past tense that often denotes a definite beginning and end—the wife describes her husband's clipped and impersonal actions, performed without any recognition of her. She describes in singsong fashion these mechanical motions of her husband, who sits across from her without appearing to take notice of her.

This poem does not contain a direct conflict. Rather, it contains a situation that obviously comes after some form of conflict, where the man who is eating his breakfast is choosing not to talk to the speaker of the poem. We watch with mesmerized attentiveness the man at breakfast time methodically pouring out a cup of coffee, drinking it, and then smoking a cigarette before leaving. Suddenly the angle is reversed, to reveal for a moment his companion, who bursts into tears. The psychological tension of their relationship is heartrendingly visible only at the end.

 Apparently nothing could be simpler, and no expert knowledge of the wider world of literature is needed for making sense of this scene. Closer analysis reveals, however, a precisely calculated pattern of repetition that creates tensions that are all the more unbearable because there is no punctuation and so the reader is forced at every stage to make impossible decisions about the way fraught situations are to be structured. At first glance, Prévert’s poetry can appear to be naive, but his verbal dexterity reveals that he knew the meaning of the old adage that the truest art is artistry concealed.