Thursday, December 17, 2015

A mad poem addressed to my Nephews and nieces


A mad poem addressed to my Nephews and nieces

by Po Chu-i (772-846)

Translated by Arther Waley

The World cheats those who cannot read;
I, happily, have mastered script and pen.
The World cheats those who hold no office;
I am blessed with high official rank.
Often the old have much sickness and pain;
With me, luckily, there is not much wrong.
People when they are old are often burdened with ties;
But I have finished with marriage and giving in marriage.
No changes happen to jar the quiet of my mind;
No business comes to impair the vigour of my limbs.
Hence it is that now for ten years
Body and soul have rested in hermit peace.
All the more, in the last lingering years
What I shall need are very few things.
A single rug to warm me through the winter;
One meal to last me the whole day.
It does not matter that my house is rather small;
One cannot sleep in more than one room!
It does not matter that I have not many horses;
One cannot ride on two horses at once!
As fortunate as me among the people of the world
Possibly one would find seven out of ten.
As contented as me among a hundred men
Look as you may, you will not find one.
In the affairs of others even fools are wise;
In their own business even sages err.
To no one else would I dare to speak my heart.
So my wild words are addressed to my nephews and nieces.

This poem was written in 835AD when the great Chinese poet Po Chu-i was in his late sixties. In Imperial China everybody who could read and write tried to get into the civil service. Those who succeeded were guaranteed a job for the rest of their working days and a substantial pension at the end of them. This is a lovely poem about contentment in life (As fortunate as me among the people of the world/ Possibly one would find seven out of ten./As contented as me among a hundred men/Look as you may, you will not find one). 

Since there is an element of boastfulness in what he says,  it may not all be literally true in the factual sense. But the poet is certainly right in asserting that contentment is the principal ingredient in every happy state.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Opposition


Opposition

Kaneko Mitsuharu 

Translated by Geoffrey Bownas and Anthony Thwait

In my youth
I was opposed to school.
And now, again,
I’m opposed to work.

Above all it is health
And righteousness that I hate the most.
There’s nothing so cruel to man
As health and honesty.

Of course I’m opposed to the Japanese spirit
And duty and human feeling make me vomit.
I’m against any government anywhere
And show my bum to authors’ and artists’ circles.

When I’m asked for what I was born,
Without scruple, I’ll reply, ‘To oppose’.
When I’m in the east
I want to go to the west.

I fasten my coat at the left, my shoes right and left.
My hakama I wear back to front and I ride a horse facing its buttocks.
What everyone else hates I like
And my greatest hate of all is people feeling the same.

This I believe: to oppose
Is the only fine thing in life.
To oppose is to live.
To oppose is to get a grip on the very self.

Mitsuharu Kaneko (1895–1975), one of the most prominent poets of twentieth-century Japan, is unique in many different ways.  He was arguably the only poet in Japan who continued to write anti-war poems during the Second World War. In addition, he was an outsider to the homogeneous Japanese society, spending many years abroad and, more importantly, retaining the eyes and mind of an exile even after returning home. Furthermore, Kaneko was exceptionally intellectual for a Japanese poet, although his vast knowledge of classical Chinese and Western literature was usually concealed by his unpretentious, down-to-earth style.

This poem reflects his anti-establishment and rebellious attitude to everything that is considered as normal by the vox populi.  Each stanza in the poem debate antithetical urges of  the poet and expresses his disdain of all conventions. His outlook is summarised by the lines, “When I’m in the east, I want to go to the west”. These lines suggest his constant longing for what he isn’t already exposed to.

The key to understanding the poem is in the final line, “to oppose is to live”. By opposing against the default lifestyles that have been defined by society as “normal”, a person is able to see the world and live a life from a different perspective and give expression to his true creative urges. Over the years, society has established what is considered as the “normal” way of life. Society established schools, ethics, and what is known to modern man as “right” or “wrong”. The way the world works has mostly to do with what has been created by people as part of different evolutions and revolutions. To subjugate oneself to traditions, rules, conventions and customs is to tame one’s innate spirit. It is this aspect that the poet passionately pinpoints here.

The final line of the poem poignantly expresses his defiant spirit: “To oppose is to get a grip on the very self. Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” bears some similarity in its theme to this one.



Friday, December 4, 2015

From the Stoop


From the Stoop

By Tarjei Vesaas
Translated by Roger Greenwald

The shadows creep in across the clearing
like cool, quiet friends
after a burning day

Our mind is a silent
kingdom of shadow.
And the shadows creep inward
with their friendly riddles
and their twilight blossoming.

The first shadow-tips
reach our feet.

We look up calmly:
Are you here already,
my dark flower.

Tarjei Vesaas, one of Scandinavia's greatest fiction writers, has been less well known as a poet. Roger Greenwald, the leading translator of Scandinavian poetry, has impeccably translated Vesaas’ poems in the award winning book ‘Through Naked Branches’.  Tarjei Vessas’  poems are often narrative and carry  symbolistic overtones even when the apparent canvass is rooted in rural landscape. There is a sense mystery and an element of angst apparent in many of his poems. His poems are intuitive and allusive in their theme and development. Aspects such as man’s alienation, search for meaning, gloominess of existence, death, search for meaning in life are captured more with an acute aural sensibility than visual (Roger Greenwald  states in his insightful introduction that Vesaas is more fascinated by the mute and aural elements in nature than visual)  in many of his poems. Through his allegiance to Norwegian  Oral traditions, Vesaas crafts stunning and deeply perceptive poems with sparse vocabulary, pregnant pauses,  mystical and associative imageries, murmurs and assonances. 

This poem starts on a benevolent tone and gradually builds up with playful adjectives and imageries (friendly riddles/ twilight blossoming)  to a somber finale with that racking question –‘Are you here already, /my dark flower.’



From : Through Naked Brances : Selected Poems of Tarjei Vesaas. Translated by Roger Greenwald. Princeton paperbacks

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

I TRY GOING OUT TO THE LANTERN FESTIVAL & QUICKLY RETURN





I TRY GOING OUT TO THE LANTERN FESTIVAL & QUICKLY RETURN
by Mei Yao-ch'en
translated by David Hinton
If I stay home, the gloom only gets worse,
so I go out and wander the festival for fun,
but rich and poor alike stroll beside wives,
driving any joy further and further away.
Once you’re old, anything’s overwhelming
I want to keep on, but it’s wearing me out,
so I go back home to the children, and no one
says a word. You can smell the acrid grief.
Last year they went out with their mother,
smeared on paint and rouge just like her:
now she roams the Yellow Springs below,
and they’re dressed in tatters, faces dirty.
Remembering how young they both are,
I hide my tears, not wanting them to see,
push the lamp away and lie facing the Wall
a hundred sorrows clotting heart and lung.
Mei Yao-ch'en (1002–1060) was a poet of the Sung dynasty. He was one of the pioneers of the "new subjective" style of poetry named 'P'ing-tan' which became the touchstone of Sung poetry. 'P''ng-tan' literally means even 'even and bland' and 'ordinary and tranquil' for a P'ing-tan poem enacts the spiritual posture of idleness in the movement of the poem. Like this poem, it takes experience as it is, without straining to extract from it profound emotional insights. As a result, the poem tends to be realistic, plainspoken, free of exaggerated poetic sentiment, calm and subdued whatever the topic, descriptive and socially engaged.
Mei Yao-ch'en wrote many poems which are celebrations of ordinary life and also touching verses mourning the deaths of his first wife and several of his children. This poem mourns the death of his wife. He visualizes his wife wandering in the Yellow Springs (The Chinese term for Hades or the Underworld), while his children, in the absence of their caring mother, wander bedraggled and unkempt. The poem poignantly paints the plight of a soul saturated with sadness and also the lugubrious ambience that prevails in a home where the mother has passed away, leaving everything in disarray.
From : Calssical Chinese Poetry . Translated by David Hinton


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Scorched Maps


Scorched Maps
by Tomasz Rozycki
Translated by Mira Rosenthal
For J. B
I took a trip to Ukraine. It was June.
I waded in the fields, all full of dust
and pollen in the air. I searched, but those
I loved had disappeared below the ground,
deeper than decades of ants. I asked
about them everywhere, but grass and leaves
have been growing, bees swarming. So I lay down,
face to the ground, and said this incantation—
you can come out, it’s over. And the ground,
and moles and earthworms in it, shifted, shook,
kingdoms of ants came crawling, bees began
to fly from everywhere. I said come out,
I spoke directly to the ground and felt
the field grow vast and wild around my head.
Tomasz Rozycki is one of the finest Polish poets living today.This poem originates from a trip he undertook to Ukraine when he visits an area where his forefathers lived before the Second world war. The poet's ninety-year-old grandmother—when she found out he was going there for the first time so many years after the nightmare of the war—wanted him to tell her if there was any sign of her house left, even though she didn’t have much illusion that there would be.
Many families were resettled from that area after the Second World War because of the agreement between Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt, who won the war. At that time the borders of Poland were shifted west, and the Poles who lived in the area that was lost to the Soviet Union were transported by freight train west to Pomerania and Silesia, where I live today. These changes affected several million people, who had to abandon their homes, neighbors, traditions, memories, and God knows what else—everything that had happened on that ground for centuries.
The Second World War in particular afflicted those living in this area, Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, Armenians—everyone who had helped form the unusual mosaic of cultures and languages there over the centuries. They experienced the terror of Soviet occupation—mass executions and the transportation of millions of victims to the Gulag and forced labor camps deep within Russia—which met with the terror of the Nazis as the Germans, in a systematic way during the extermination of the area’s population, prepared their future “living space.” Inconceivably, at the same time a brutal domestic war continued between Ukrainian nationals, who cooperated with Hitler during the period, and the Polish resistance—a war in which neighbors murdered neighbors and the number of victims and the atrocity of what happened calls to mind ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. The poet's family was one of those that experienced all of the terror and mourned each of the victims.
The mournful silence of the place that he arrives in search of his roots, overwhelms the poet. He lies on the ground and makes this poignant incantatory plea to all his forefathers buried there to come out as the terror regimes are over and they can now live safely.
From "Colonies" Tomasz Rozycki . Translated by Mira Rosenthal. The introduction about this poem is from the poet's preface to it published by PEN America.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

but there are true memories as well


but there are true memories as well

by Mircea Ivănescu  

Translated by Adam J Sorkin and Lidia Vianu

once i walked around carrying a memory,
gripping tight in my hands so it couldn't escape me.
across the floor.i polished it with my coat sleeve,
i wasn't worried. my memories are rubber balls-
they never break. only, if they escape me,
out of my grasp, they can roll a long way-
and i myself am much too indolent to give chase, or even
stretch myself to limits, to reach a hand
lower and lower and retrieve the memory.
i prefer simply to pick up another. and this might be false.
once, as i said, i too walked around carrying a memory
in my arms-- (and thought, with a wicked
grin , that in a well-known book i forget who it was
walked in hell carrying his own head to light 
the way), and isn't this more or less the same thing?

 Mircea Ivanescu is one of the most original of all Romanian poets. Deceptively self-contained, refined,  gently ironic and stylishly parodic, Mircea Ivanescu's poetry is a source of intrigue and fascination. A noted translator of English and German literature including James Joyce's monumental text Ulysses and works by Franz Kafka and William Faulkner, Ivanescu is regarded as one of Romania's most important contemporary writers.

 Centring on a wide cast of characters, including his alter ego 'mopete', Ivanescu's idiosyncratic, lyrical sensibility offers allusive, comic and elegiac meditations on our common lot. Often his poetry is punctuated by moments of the absurd.

Reading his poems, one is amazed at the variety of themes that he handles.vMost of the poems have  no decisive beginning point, no pronounced closure as well.They unfold like dreams and are disjointed and often have no climax. They are replete with characteristic imageries such as absence, darkness, night, cold, snow, frozen time, memories, winter, fog, death, regret etc. The above is a sampler.

Memories are kind time machines that take us backwards. They have huge staying power and some of them could be like lanterns in our dark times.They can be key to our future as well.

The line in this poem referring to the incident of a character carrying head in his arms is from Divine Comedy where Bertran de Born, carries his severed head like a lantern (a literal representation of allowing himself to detach his intelligence from himself), as a punishment for (Dante believes) fomenting the rebellion of Henry the Young King against his father Henry II.


(Source : LINES POEMS POETRY by Mircea Ivănescu  .Translated by Adam J Sorkin and Lidia Vianu. UPP Press)


Saturday, November 14, 2015

My love, don't believe



 My love, don't believe

By Bartolo Cattafi 

Translated by Dana Gioia


My love, don’t believe that today

the planet travels on another orbit,

it is the same journey between old

pale stations,

there is always a sparrow flitting

in the flower beds

a thought grown stubborn in the mind.

Time turns on the face of the clock, it joins

a trace of fog above the pine trees

the world veers into the regions of cold.

Here are the crumbs on the earth,

the embers in the fireplace,

the wings,

the low and busy hands.

Bartolo Cataffi (1922-1979) was born in the province of Messina, Sicily, but worked in Milan with brief vacations in his hometown. He began writing after a medical discharge from the army in WW II , and continued to write up to the time of his death of cancer at age 57. He published several award-winning collections during his lifetime

Cattafi's concerns are often philosophical: how to find significance in the fleeting moments of brief lives when surrounded by an infinity of time and an omnipotent universe. He tackles these issues with a dry humor, a semi-ironic belief that everything and everybody are special despite how routine, predictable, and common much of existence is. It can be the landscape of depression, those never-ending dilemmas without resolution. But usually he toughs it out by sheer physical effort, the optimism of fresh beginnings, a shaky belief in the improbable or impossible or that time-honored weapon against death: the erotic.

This poem describes the experience of a tension between the poles of temporal and eternal being, not an objective cognition either of the poles or of the tension itself. Whatever may be the status of man as the subject of the experience, he does experience in his soul a tension between two poles of being, of which one, called temporal, is within himself, while the other lies outside of himself, yet cannot be identified as an object in the temporal being of the world but is experienced as being beyond all temporal being of the world.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

BIRTHDAY


BIRTHDAY

by Angel Gonzalez

Translated by Steven Ford Brown and Gutierrez Revuelta

I notice it: how I'm slowly getting
less certain, confused,
dissolving in the daily
air, coarse
tatter of myself, frayed
and ragged at the cuffs.

I understand: I've lived
another year, and that's a hard thing to do.
To move one's heart almost a hundred
times a minute every day!

Just to live a year one has to 
die over and over.

(from Astonishing World: Selected Poems of Angel Gonzalez)

Ángel González Muñiz (September 6, 1925 – January 12, 2008) was a major Spanish poet of the twentieth century. 

Time is something mysterious, beyond human comprehension and control. Yet, human beings are so fond of measuring it for practical reasons. This poem that measures the slow impact of time on physical and psychological aspects of our persona is typical of it. Its primary effect is to keep the reader poised between assent and dissent. The speaker's comparing himself to a worn-out part of clothing (frayed and ragged at the cuffs),  is credible to his reader when he describes how time and experience have aged him.

But in explaining why he is frayed, his credibility itself wears thin. ThIs reasoning conflicts with common sense perceptions of what makes one feel eroded by life. What seemed suitable as a concrete metaphor (the person as a garment that wears out) has become all too concrete and physical. Not only does the speaker overemphasize precise numbers (hundred times), which gels with the birthday aspect since it is also often tagged with a number, but he attributes complex aging process to a single facet of physical existence insufficient to explain his psychic disorientation. The involuntary beating of the heart- a basic animal level of aliveness- has little to do with the emotional wear and tear that the reader accept. In attributing the stress on one more year to a single aspect of being alive, the speaker suddenly turns the attention to the ennui of existence itself. The speaker is trapped in a meaningless world where his life is a living death can be understood as an expression of the absurdity of human existence.  


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Goat


The Goat
by Umberto Saba (Italian Poet)
Translated by Geoffrey Brock
I've spoken to a goat.
She was alone in the field, she was tethered.
Sated with grass, drenched
with rain, she bleated.
Her steady bleating bothered
my own grief. And I replied-at first
in jest, then because the voice of grief
is one unchanging everlasting note.
This was the voice
moaning out of the solitary goat.
Out of that goat with its Semitic face,
came grievances regarding every evil,
from every throat.
I love poetry were the conscious personal presence of the poet adds impact to the poem. There exists a permeable membrane between the inner and outer realities of the poet. Expressing this interplay effectively requires not only skill and sensitivity but also self-awareness.
This is a poem of revelation, hinging on the moment where the speaker bleats back at the goat--"at first in jest, then because the voice of grief/  is one unchanging everlasting note." It is also a moment of recognition, as mockery turns to empathy.
From here the recognition of the universality of this primal sound of pain opens outward, as the speaker recognizes the goat as having a "Semitic" face. Saba was of Jewish descent and forced to flee his native Italy due to fascist racial discrimination laws instituted during World War II. Here he not only sees the goat as one of his "people" ethnically but recognizes the sound of pain within its bleat as representing "grievances regarding every evil,/from every throat."
The poem effectively explores the interplay between the outer experience of the lonely goat and the inner experience of the speaker's own pain through this moment of well-observed revelation. The moment is also well-observed outwardly, as the recognition of the universality of pain is not forced down upon the poem through artificial means--it is drawn out through the external description of both man and goat.
In this way, Saba gives us a poem with a certain veracity akin to the bleating itself. He is alive to the experience of man and goat, reporting the interplay between inner and outer, between the "I" and the observed goat, in a way that does not feel forced. Instead, through this recognition and report, we are given a powerfully symbolic account that feels genuine, and strikes us as a momentary but essential remark on the human (and animal) condition.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Meaning of Simplicity


The Meaning of Simplicity

by Yannis Ritsos


Translated by Rae Dalven
 
I hide behind simple objects so you may find me,
if you do not find me, you will find the objects,
you will touch those objects my hand has touched,
the traces of our hands will mingle.

 
The August moon gleams like a tin kitchen kettle 

(what I am telling you becomes like that),
it lights up the empty house and silence kneeling in the house
silence is always kneeling.

Every single word is an exodus
for a meeting, cancelled many times,
it is a true word when it insists on the meeting.

One of Greece’s most prolific and widely translated poets, Yannis Ritsos (1909-1999) was born in Monemvasia. He lost his mother and an older brother to tuberculosis when he was young, and later contracted the disease himself. A lifelong, committed Communist, he fought in the Greek Resistance to the Axis occupation, sided with the Communists in the Greek Civil War, and subsequently spent years in detention centers and camps for political prisoners. The dictatorship of 1967-1974 landed him in internal exile yet again. Despite these many obstacles, Ritsos wrote more than a hundred volumes of poetry, plays, and translations. In 1976 he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize. In his prolific output, he is at par with Pablo Neruda.

This poem is amazing. I read it as the parting note of a lover (needn't be that way) and the last lines are poignant.




Wednesday, August 26, 2015

FLOWERS IN A VASE


FLOWERS IN A VASE

by Alexander Shurbanov 

Translated by Ludmila G Popova-Wightman

FLOWERS IN A VASE-
invalids with amputated limbs
but faces still young, still fresh—
do they continue to feel
their severed roots,
do they think
they still draw sap
from deep within the living earth,
or do they know, do they know
they are doomed
and their smiles—
only a gift to us,
only a mask
hiding their great pain
only a beautiful lie,
without which life itself
would wilt?

A good poet has always an eye to see a reality beyond the apparent reality.The Contemporary Bulgarian Poet Alexander Shurbanov observes life with a contemplative and somewhat amused eye. His poems are watercolors of people, animals and nature; they show us something we haven't seen ourselves; they surprise and delight. Buried in his impressions are his philosophical musings, which don't impose, but quietly and unobtrusively introduce us into his vision of the world. I am sure, you won’t view a flower vase the same way after reading this beautiful poem. How effectively he connects it with life itself at the end!

Painting: Lilacs in a Vase by Edouard Manet ( French Impressionistic painter and contemporary of Claude Monet)


Sunday, August 16, 2015

WHAT HAVE I LEARNED


WHAT HAVE I LEARNED

By Gary Snyder

What have I learned but
the proper use for several tools?

The moments
between hard pleasant tasks

To sit silent, drink wine,
and think my own kind
of dry crusty thoughts.
-the first Calochortus flowers
and in all the land,
it's spring.
I point them out:
the yellow petals, the golden hairs
to Gen.
Seeing in silence:
never the same twice,
but when you get it right,
you pass it on.

Gary Snyder is an immensely popular poet belonging to the Beat Generation whose work is taken seriously by other poets. He is America's primary poet-celebrant of the wilderness, poet-exponent of environmentalism and Zen Buddhism. He has also made excellent translations of many Chinese poets.
There are times when we are confounded by the grand scheme of things, the meaning and purpose of it still unfolding and still frightfully elusive, and we ponder whether our life has made any point to others around us. In this beautiful poem, the poet points out a flower to his kids, showing them the yellow petals, the pollen-laced hairs. What use am I as a father or teacher if I don't involve myself in conveying tiny moments of instruction, perhaps elucidating a phenomenon in nature or the use of a fruit or tool, to my progenies or students? Snyder suggests that our purpose in this world lies in knowing the names of things and ‘the use of a few tools’, and then passing that knowledge, the craft of our culture, to the next generation.
For a writer, pen and paper are his tools and in every detail of observation of life and jotting his ‘crusty thoughts’, he may use it to his advantage. Snyder modestly claims in this poem to know only “the proper use for several tools,” how to recognize the “yellow petals, the golden hairs” of the Colachortus flower, and to enjoy contemplation while sipping wine “between hard pleasant tasks”. Having made a lifetime of mistakes, one hopes to have learned something, and as one gets older one realizes that the only way to keep anything is to pass it on.

This could be an inspiring poem for teachers.



Thursday, August 13, 2015

Midsummer Festival, Wandering Up as Far as the Monastery



Midsummer Festival, Wandering Up as Far as the Monastery
By by Su Tung-P'o

Translated from the Chinese by David Hinton


I was going wherever I happened to go,
giving myself over to whatever I met

when incense drew my recluse steps to
mats spread open and pure, tea poured.
Light rain delayed my return, quiet
mystery outside window lovelier still:
bowl-dome summits blocking out sun,
grasses and trees turned shadowy green
Climbing quickly to the highest shrine,
I gazed out across whole Buddha-realms,
city walls radiant beneath Helmet Peak
and cloudy skies adrift in Tremor Lake.
Such joy in all this depth and clarity,
such freedom in wide-open mountains,
my recluse search wasn’t over when dusk
cook-smoke rose above distant villages.
Back home now, this day held in mind
shines bright and clear. I can’t sleep,
and those monks are sleeping awake too
sharing a lamp’s light in ch’an stillness

How often we wish to go wherever our feet take us and see whatever we wanted to see? The poet has written this poem after such a solitary walk among a mountainous province. The joy of resting in a wayside tavern with tea and watching the surrounds, mountain peaks and Buddhist monasteries, its stillness serenity, are captured in all its richness in this poem. The reader senses as if he had taken a walk with the poet. The poet feels so energized and invigorated by what he has seen that he can’t even sleep when he is back home.

Su Tung-P'o (1037-1101), one of the greatest poets of Sung Dynasty, was a civil servant who traveled to numerous political posts throughout the state. Hence, much of his poetry is a catalogue of his travels--their diverse landscapes, inhabitants, songs and folklore. With his lyrical precision and astonishing eye for detail, Su Tung-P'o renders the Chinese countryside and mountain landscape with a vivid particularity as evidenced in this poem.
Note: Ch’an is Chinese translation of the Sanskrit word ‘Dhyana’ or meditation
Source: Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China By David Hinton

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

WILD GEESE


WILD GEESE
By Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Life dishes out many disconsolate and crestfallen moments in everyone’s life. Constant contact and observation of nature can be restorative and offer wisdom to learn and move forward. These nature experiences cannot be rationally defined. But perhaps most essential is the feeling of a universal rhythm of which we are a part of. In this poem of Mary Oliver's, good and evil, guilt and despair, are proper to the human world, but beyond that there is a larger world and its very existence calls us to transcend our human worries.
Mary Oliver is a marvellous American poet. She disarms us in the beginning itself by stating that ‘You do not have to be good’ and to be spiritually worthy and you don’t have to crawl on your knees asking forgiveness. How softly she tells us to move forward without regret and with calm acceptance of life in the subsequent lines that are full of candour, empathy (tell me about despair, yours and I will tell you mine) and practicality. Yes, we need to love and trust ourselves about what we feel as good and whatever we feel as nourishing to us, irrespective of spiritual dogmas and perspectives others impose on us. The image of Wild Geese’s unwavering decision to return to its nest is apt here. They really know where they truly belong to even after a splendid summer and cosiness in another place. Each of us has a place in the family of things. This poem teaches us about finding one's place in the world and accepting life for what it is. Loved every bit of this inspiring poem. Poetry is Viagra.


Saturday, July 4, 2015


BUTTERFLY ON A PIN
by Blaga Dimitrova
Translated by Ludmilla G.Popova-Wightman
You don’t know real loneliness
if you don’t know closeness.
The road to great solitude
passes through great love.
A measure of the immense
horizon of loneliness
is the embrace from which
You extricate yourself.
Imagine how many times
the narrow circle of this embrace
fits into the cosmic circle of loneliness.
you are impaled exactly in the center

a live butterfly on a pin.
Wrench yourself out! try to fly
with the pin piercing your heart.
The space confronting you is boundless.
Freedom has the salty taste of sea
                        and solitude.
Blaga Dimitrova (1922–2003) was one of Bulgaria’s most loved and celebrated poets.Blaga’s poems are intimate, subdued, thoughtful and caring. Many of her poems dwell on the scars (having lived in the communist era) she has endured in life. I chose this poem as it is indicative of her sensibility and minimalist poetics. Behind every scar there is a story. But in her poems, it is rather implied than told. Maybe the censorship required her to adopt this mode. The above poem begins and ends with scar statements. Yet the poem is inspirational as we know there are many around us who try to 'fly with the pin piercing your heart'. I loved the economy of her words in describing it.
From Scars: Poems by Blaga Dimitrova

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Be Beautiful, Noble, Like the Antique Ant


"Be Beautiful, Noble, Like the Antique Ant"
by Jose Garcia Villa
Be beautiful, noble, like the antique ant,
Who bore the storms as he bore the sun,
Wearing neither gown nor helmet,
though he was archbishop and soldier:
Wore only his own flesh.

Salute characters with gracious dignity:
Though what these are is left to
Your own terms. Exact: the universe is
Not so small but these will be found
Somewhere. Exact: they will be found

Speak with great moderation: but think
With great fierceness, burning passion:
Though what the ant thought
No annals reveal, nor his descendants
Break the seal.

Trace the tracelessness of the ant,
Every ant has reached this perfection.
As he comes, so he goes,
Flowing as water flows,
Essential but secret like a rose.

Jose Garcia Villa, the greatest Filipino poet of the last century, fervently believed  in the first line of any poem to hook the reader.The characteristic of the opening line acting like a coiled cobra is evident in this wonderful and inspiring poem.

He uses an antique ant as an inspiring example to portray the perfect character that humans can observe and learn. He advocates us to be beautiful and noble like the antique ant that survives heat and storm with its bare body, exposing its fragile naked flesh, without any protection. Perhaps the little creatures of this universe may be the universal examples for humans to get inspired and lead a passionate life.Yes, we too can strive for this perfection; speak with moderation, without making noise about our ideologies and thoughts and without leaving a loud trail behind.
Ref: Doveglion by Jose Garcia Villa; Penguin Edition

Friday, May 29, 2015

Woman Knitting



Woman Knitting

By Ý NHI

Translated by Marilyn Nelson

In the chill afternoon
a woman sits by a window, knitting.
She seems so patient and so anxious.
Patient, for she has the rest of her life.
Anxious, for these may be her last moments.
No sighs.
No smiles.
Is it grief she hides,
or happiness?
Is she filled with hope,
or doubt?

She never looks up.
Does she look back to first meeting,
or to last parting?

Does her knitting hide sorrow or joy?
Or is it hope or worry in her eyes?

In the chill afternoon
a woman sits by a window, knitting.
Under her feet,
a roll of wool, a coiled blue globe,
slowly unravels its circles.

Y Nhi was born in Quang Nam Province in 1944, and studied literature at Hanoi University. She has  published five poetry collections and won the National  Book of the Year Award in 1984.  Y Nhi is associated with the Vietnam-American war period but has become better known as a postwar poet. She is one of very few female poets who have attracted the attention of readers by referring to the fate of women in Vietnam. Her poems are among the most modern in emotion and form. Ý Nhi's poetry is characterized by the softness, silence, and loneliness of a woman who last experienced great loss, such as love, in her  life.  Her work often carries a tone of sadness and sorrow.

Source: Six Vietnamese Poets Edited by Neuyen Ba Chung and Kevin Bowen. Curbstone Press



Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Watch



Watch

By Giuseppe Ungaretti

Translated by Patrick Creagh

A whole night through
thrown down beside
a butchered comrade
with his clenched teeth
turned to the full moon
and the clutching 
of his hands
thrust into my silence
I have written
letters full of love

Never have I clung
so fast
to life

Giuseppe Ungaretti was one of the greatest Italian poets of 20th century. Being my favourite Italian poet, I had featured  two of his poems earlier. He is a poet of minimalism. Just after Italy’s entry into World War I in 1905, Ungaretti was sent to the Northern Italy which witnessed some of the war’s bloodiest battles. The ever-present tension  in war and the acute awareness of being close to death sharpened his sensibilities and purified his poetry to the essentials.

 This poem, which has an ascetic quality, is an example of his potent verse where the images come into sharp focus in all its sad irony and intimacy.


Source: Giuseppe Ungaretti :Selected poems (Penguin European Poets series). Painting by Goya

Source: Giuseppe Ungaretti : Selected poems (Penguin European Poets series). Painting by Goya

Saturday, May 23, 2015

GARDEN FRAGRANCE



GARDEN FRAGRANCE

by Lam Thi My Da

Translated  by Martha Collins and Thuy Dinh

Last night a bomb exploded on the veranda
But sounds of birds sweeten the air this morning
I sense the fragrant trees, look in the garden
Find two silent clusters of ripe guavas 

The above is an understated and beautiful little four-line poem by the Contemporary Vietnamese poet Lam Thi My Da, which suggests that war may test the truth of Keats's claim but does not refute it ( I mean here-: A thing of beauty is a joy forever:/ Its loveliness increases; /It will never pass into nothingness. )

Like a tiny metaphysical poem by Marvel or Donne, the quatrain creates an argument that hinges on the word ‘but’ at the start of the second line.

Despite all the odds and tragic happenings around, the poem shows man’s capacity to imbibe joy from nature and appreciate nature’s power to nourish, rejuvenate and restore us. The positive image of cluster of guavas nicely contrasts with the negative of cluster of bombs. Yes, Some shape of beauty moves away the pall/From our dark spirits.(Keats)

Ref: Six Vietnamese Poets: Edited  by  Nguyen Ba Chung (Author), Kevin Bowen (Author).Curbstone books.