Tuesday, December 31, 2013



By Octavio Paz

Translated by Elizabeth Bishop

The year's doors open
like those of language,
toward the unknown.
Last night you told me: 
we shall have to think up signs,
sketch a landscape, fabricate a plan
on the double page
of day and paper.
Tomorrow, we shall have to invent,
once more,
the reality of this world.

I opened my eyes late.
For a second of a second
I felt what the Aztec felt,
on the crest of the promontory,
lying in wait
for time's uncertain return
through cracks in the horizon.

But no, the year had returned.
It filled all the room
and my look almost touched it.
Time, with no help from us,
had placed
in exactly the same order as yesterday
houses in the empty street,
snow on the houses,
silence on the snow.

You were beside me,
still asleep.
The day had invented you
but you hadn't yet accepted
being invented by the day.
--Nor possibly my being invented, either.
You were in another day.

You were beside me
and I saw you, like the snow,
asleep among the appearances.
Time, with no help from us,
invents houses, streets, trees,
and sleeping women.

When you open your eyes
we'll walk, once more,
among the hours and their inventions.
We'll walk among appearances
and bear witness to time and its conjugations.
Perhaps we'll open the day's doors.
And then we shall enter the unknown.

Poets have the power to awaken a new reality in us even about the arrival of a New Year. This has always been my most loved New Year Poem. The Poet puts a new perspective in this poem as if stepping into a New Year is like stepping into a new terrain, stepping into unknown. I love the enigma and mystery in this one that only a great poet like Octavio Paz can invoke. If only we could write a single New Year poem of this grandeur!

In every sense we invent a new day by opening a new door and that is our challenge. There must be a sense of future and a decision to invent a new reality in all of us. That is Paz's positive New Year message.

Today we stand upon the verge of the unknown. There lies before us the New Year and we are going forth to possess it. Who can tell what we shall find? What new experiences, what changes shall come, what new needs shall arise? Nevertheless, we shall enter the unknown with exhilaration and not with trepidation.

Existence is not just what has occurred. Existence is the realm of human possibilities, everything he can become, everything he is capable of. May you all discover new signs, sketch a new landscape and may 2014 invent a better YOU.

May the reality you create for yourself and for those around you be one full of promise, purpose and positivity.

May the New Year be a blessed one for all of you!

Octavio Paz

Octavio Paz was the former Mexican Ambassador to India, Nobel Laureate for Literature and one of the greatest poets of Twentieth Century.

PS: Regarding the reference to Aztec , it may be noted that Aztec feared the end of the world when a century ended and they used to perform a New fire ceremony on the eve of the new century in order to stave off the end of the world (Aztec followed a different Calendar and as per it, a century was 52 years ) .

Ref: A Draft of Shadows, and Other poems by Octavio Paz

Tuesday, December 17, 2013



by Odysseus Elytis 

Translated by:  Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard 

In these all-white courtyards where the south wind blows
Whistling through vaulted arcades, tell me, is it the mad pomegranate tree
That leaps in the light, scattering its fruitful laughter
With windy wilfulness and whispering, tell me, is it the mad 
   pomegranate tree
That quivers with foliage newly born at dawn
Raising high its colours in a shiver of triumph?

On plains where the naked girls awake,
When they harvest clover with their light brown arms
Roaming round the borders of their dreams-tell me, is it the mad
   pomegranate tree,
Unsuspecting, that puts the lights in their verdant baskets
That floods their names with the singing of birds-tell me
Is it the mad pomegranate tree that combats the cloudy skies of the 

On the day that it adorns itself in jealousy with seven kinds of feathers,
Girding the eternal sun with a thousand blinding prisms
Tell me, is it the mad pomegranate tree
That seizes on the run a horse’s mane of a hundred lashes,
Never sad and never grumbling–tell me, is it the mad pomegranate tree
That cries out the new hope now dawning?
Tell me, is that the pomegranate tree waving in the distance,
Fluttering a handkerchief of leaves of cool flame,
A sea near birth with a thousand ships and more,
With waves that a thousand times and more set out and go
To unscented shores-tell me, is it the pomegranate tree
That creaks the rigging aloft in the lucid air?

High as can be, with the blue bunch of grapes that flares and celebrates
Arrogant, full of danger–tell me, is it the mad pomegranate tree
That shatters with light the demon’s tempest in the middle of the world
That spreads far as can be the saffron ruffle of day
Richly embroider with scattered songs-tell me, is it the  mad 
  pomegranate tree
That hastily unfastens the silk apparel of day?

In petticoats of April first and cicadas of the feast of mid-August
Tell me, that which plays, that which rages, that which can entice
Shaking out of threats their evil black darkness
Spilling in the sun’s embrace intoxicating birds
Tell me, that which opens its wings on the breast of things
On the breast of our deepest dreams, is that the mad pomegranate tree?

At the beginning of his luminous career, the great Greek poet and Nobel Laureate Odysseus Elytis said: “I write so that black does not have the last word.”Black and light, sunshine and darkness, these were the two poles of Elytis’ poetry, a pendulum between passion and patience, a bewilderment stretching throughout the day. At the beginning, he was acclaimed as the poet of the sparkling Aegean .The best of his Poetry - such as The Mad Pomegranate Tree, Commemoration, Aegean Melancholy, Body of Summer, and Drinking the Sun of Corinth, distils vividly and evocatively the typical features of the Aegean scene: its closeness to the natural world, its startling colors, and its hints of the simple and the unsophisticated.
The sea and ad the Sun are so consistently celebrated as to suggest a kind of pagan mysticism, a pantheism, a worship of the god of water and light. The poet himself has said his vision is “essentially that of the marine world of the Aegean , with certain mystical extension that has its center in the midday and light”
There is a radiating quality in many of his great poems. He is a poet of sunshine, vitality, colour, and exuberance.  It was endemic in his personality, his geographical setting and spiritual awareness. I have never experienced so much light, light, light, sun, sun, sun, fire, fire, fire as in the poems of Elytis. But his greatness lies in the fact that when engaging in simplicities of such elemental features, he interpolates also his unique ingredients of the inspirational and the spiritual; so that, in the end, all of it becomes universal in its significance, and enduring in its meaning. The sun can burn and kill as well as illuminate our earth. And the dark silence can be even greater than the light. But though aware of them, Elytis was never attracted by the darker aspects of the world. That is obvious by looking at the images he returns to again and again in his poems: the Aegean sea, young men and women, or boys and girls, often naked, poppies, pebbles, vineyards, butterflies, branches, olive trees, almond trees, pomegranate tree etc.
The above one  is a lovely poem, full of song and laughter and sunlight, a celebration of the lyric spirit itself. The central image here-the pomegranate tree as a playful sprite who occasions all that is hopeful and gay , that is, as the embodiment of the mood-typifies what the poet himself has called the “personal mythology” of his verse: “Repeated metamorphoses- a girl that becomes fruit, a morning disposition that becomes a tree, an idea that becomes incarnate in a human form-create personal mythology which, without divorcing itself from feeling, finds it correlation in the world of the poet’s metaphysical experience”. The mystery of change, the transformation of the inanimate into the human and the human into something stranger is not something in poetry but in the surrealistic mode of Elytis, it acquires a rare sensibility which is in tune with the beautiful landscape of Greece.
In “The Mad Pomegranate Tree”, the poet answers to the difficult questions hanging from its branches (”Tell me, that which opens its wings on the breast of things / On the breast of our deepest dreams, is that the mad pomegranate tree?”).One has the feeling that it is the mad pomegranate tree that drives the world. The unabashed pomegranate tree dances and dances in the ear. It sings and stuns the mind  with extravagant repetitions.( ‘Tell me, is the mad pomegranate tree’). The sound of joy repeating and rushing seems to careen wildily ahead of our thought with tickling uncontrolled energy. 

Also, there is something of the frenzy of a Van Gogh painting in this - an urgency to capture the beauty of the various images, as if it would slip away if not grasped at immediately. The poem is intoxicating and invigorating at the same time, lulls you into a trance with its rhythm and repetitions but awakens you to a different world.

I simply love the lyrical surrealism that lingers in this poem. Whenever I read this poem, I gain a rare ‘ Elan vital ‘ (the current of life, the way Bergson used it). I feel that I have the heart of Bacchus to revel and rejoice; I am charged with 440 V to recklessly rush forward, to dance, to fly, to laugh around and do all the naughty things I had dreamed of.  Poetry is Viagra!

The mad pomegranate tree will continue to toss in the wind and “scatter its fruit-laden laughter” lifting up my spirits with buoyancy and bliss in my ritual for renewal.

This poem is pure Mozartian rhapsody.

Source of the poem: Odysseus Elytis: Selected Poems

Odysseus Elytis (Author), Edmund Keeley (Editor, Translator), Philip Sherrard (Editor, Translator), George Savidis (Translator), John Stathatos (Translator), Nanos Valaoritis (Translator): Viking Press

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Small Ode to a Black Cuban Boxer

Small Ode to a Black Cuban Boxer

By Nicolás Guillén

Translated by Roberto Márquez

Your gloves
cocked before a squirrel-quick body
and the punch in your smile!

Boxer, the North is hard and cruel.
The very Broadway
that like a vein bleeds out
to scream beside the ring
wherein you bound, a brand new rubber monkey,
without resorting to the ropes
or the cushions of a clinch . . .
the very Broadway
that oils its melon-mouth with fear
before your fists of dynamite
and stylish patent leather shoes . . .
is the same Broadway
that stretches out its snout, its moist enormous tongue,
to lick and glut upon
our canefields' vital blood!

It's clear
you're not aware of certain things down here,
nor of certain things up there;
for training is tough, muscle a traitor,
and one must gain-you say with joy
-a bull-like strength, to make the punch hurt more.

Your English,
only a bit more shaky than your feeble Spanish,
is good enough inside the ring
for you to understand that filthy slang
spit from the jaws of those you waste
jab by jab.

In truth, perhaps that's all you need.
And, as you certainly will think,
you've got it made.

For after all, it's great
to find a punching bag,
work off some fat beneath the sun –
to leap,
to sweat,
to swim and
from shadow-boxing to a fight,
from the shower to the table,
come out polished, fine, and strong,
like a newly-crafted cane
with the aggressiveness of a black jack.

So now that Europe strips itself
to brown its hide beneath the sun
and seeks in Harlem and Havana
jazz and son:
the Negro reigns while boulevards
Let the envy of the whites
know proud, authentic black!

Nicolás Guillén was born in the provincial city of Camagüey, Cuba, on July 10, 1902. His commitment to social justice and membership in the Communist Party made him the national poet of revolutionary Cuba.  Guillén's invocation and reliance on the vernacular musical form emerged from the creolization of African and European aesthetics. Not only was Guillén one of Cuba's foremost poets who wrote in many styles, he is regarded as one of the foremost Caribbean poets of the 20th Century.

From its broad-ranging national and Latin American roots, Guillen’s poetry achieved universal projection depicting the struggles and hopes of the men of his times. Many elements come together in his work: sensuality, humor, and the Afro-Cuban musical modalities, along with great knowledge of folklore and traditional Spanish poetry.
Rather than deploying Afro-Cuban culture as an aestheticized response to foreign influence, Guillen focused on racism at home and abroad, including racial hierarchies within black Cuban culture and racism’s attendant inequalities. Guillen was concerned about manual work and worers and also claimed the power of physical labor for his art, as in the manifesto poem “Legend” : “Our somng/is like muscle under the skin of the soul”. Numerous poems in his collections give voice to laborers themselves, many of them working in city in improvisational modes :street vendors, organ grinders, drummers, singers, guitarists, dockworkers.

 In his chronicle , “In a Jeep with the Cyclists”, Nicolas Guillen wrote: “Sports and poetry? Why not?”  “I think that, far from being at odds with poetry, there's a great amount of beauty in a stadium, a boxing ring, a baseball diamond, a tennis court, which should be expressed in poetry. Walt Whitman –such a great lover of nature- truly understood this.”
“Me? Well, I wrote Kid Chocolate an ode some time ago, in 1928; and a poem about chess and boxing, and some verses about baseball. So, I'm entitled to expect that athletes, in turn, become interested in –if they already haven't done so- poets and poetry. Perhaps, it’s not as lively as sports; undoubtedly it's more intimate, but it usually has some moments of cutting and distressing emotions… Doesn't it?”

This poem titled “Small Ode to a Black Cuban Boxer”, is dedicated to Eligio Sardiñas popularly known as  Kid Chocolate, a boxer who won many times professional world championships in Cuba.

The speaker in this one addresses the boxer directly and while  taking  note of  his “weak Spanish” and even “feebler English”  reminds him of the ties between boxing and Neo-colonial exploitation.  The speaker  underscores it  by noting that the implicitly racist Broadway that cheers when he jumps like a “modern elastic monkey” is the same predator that “stretches its snout with its enormous humid tongue/to lick up gluttonously/all the blood (Cuba’s) canefields”. These are critical images regarding the way boxers were treated in the United States and even the economic and political domination that country had on Cuba.

At the same time, the speaker admires the boxer’s strength at work-“your explosive fists"-and concedes that boxing gives him physical and psychological agency-“It’s good, after all,/to find a punching bag”. Like the activity of intellectual workers, the poem also concedes that boxing accrues cultural currency, portraying the boxer’s ability to “speak for black for real” as forceful reminder to European faddish yearnings for primitivism from Cuba and Harlem.

From : Man-Making Words: Selected Poems of Nicolas Guillen by Nicolas Guillen(Author),Robert Marquez(Author, Editor)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

With a green scarf

With a green scarf

by Marin Sorescu

translated from Romanian by Michael Hamburger

With a green scarf I blindfolded
the eyes of the trees
and asked them to catch me.

At once the trees caught me,
their leaves shaking with laughter.

I blindfolded the birds
with a scarf of clouds
and asked them to catch me.

The birds caught me
with a song.

Then with a smile I blindfolded
my sorrow
and the day after it caught me
with a love.

I blindfolded the sun
with my nights
and asked the sun to catch me.

I know where you are, the sun said
just behind that time.
Don’t bother to hide any longer.

Don’t bother to hide any longer,
said all of them,
as well as all the feelings
I tried to blindfold.

Marin Sorescu (1936-96) was a cheerfully melancholic comic genius, and one of the most orginal voices in Romanian literature. His mischievous poetry and satirical plays earned him great popularity during the Communist era of the regime, Romanians used to a culture of double speak could read other meanings in his playful mockery of the human condition. On his poetry, Sorescu said, with characteristic irony: "Just as I can't give up smoking because I don't smoke, I can't give up writing because I have no talent." But later- like hapless character from one of his absurdist dramas- the peasant-born people's poet was made Mister of culture. "If anybody except a poet were saying the things Sorescu says in his poems, he or she would be found insane. But this is what poetry should be doing, putting this kind of material into rational form”,  says Russell Edson in an introduction about his poetry.

The above poem addresses the impossibility and inanity of hiding oneself from the world and from oneself. There is an ineluctable clarity in those relations, a profound honesty that we cannot obviate, although we persistently seek to do so, whether it concerns the natural world (‘I blindfolded the eyes of the trees’, etc.) or our own emotions (‘Then with a smile I blindfolded my sorrow’).

Blindfolding does not help, however: ‘At once the trees caught me, their leaves shaking with laughter’, ‘The birds caught me with a song’, etc.

Eventually, everything he blindfolds in an attempt to hide from it, retrieves him and rubs his nose into the fact that concealing is a vain endeavor. Nature seems to ridicule him (‘leaves shaking with laughter’). Of course, nature cannot really mock anything. But its stiff resistance to our hiding efforts suffices to render it a laughing human face.

Where does the tendency to defy our unavoidable clarity in the eyes of the world and ourselves come from (a tendency apropos that originates in our most personal perspective; the I, as can be seen in sentences like ‘I blindfolded the eyes of the trees’. ‘I blindfolded the birds’, etc.)?

The poem does not directly move into an explanation of that question, but an arguable answer might go along the following lines. We habitually hide part of our thoughts, emotions, and even actions, from other people, often deliberately so when it suits us. That often seems to work. Hence it sounds natural to assay to do the same in relation to ourselves - when it suits us. The disbelief in our ability to hide ourselves from nature arises from the ease by which we mislead other people. This disbelief explains our ceaseless defiance (‘and asked them to catch me’).

Finally, there is something game like, hide-and-seek like in our attempts to hide ourselves, as if, deep down, we realize that hiding is a kind of escapism. Unsurprisingly, we always lose the game:

Don’t bother to hide any longer,
said all of them,
as well as all the feelings
I tried to blindfold.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Childhood Memory

 Childhood Memory

Antonio Machado

Translated by Willis Barnstone

A drab and chilling afternoon
in  winter. The schoolboys
are studying. Monotony 
of rain across the window glass.

The classroom. A placard
shows fugitive Cain
and Abel dead
next to a scarlet stain.

In a sonorous hollow tone
the master thunders, an old man
shabby, lean and dried up,
holding a book in his hand.

And a whole children’s choir
begins to chant the lesson:
“Hundred squared , ten thousand.
Thousand squared, a million.”

A drab and chilling afternoon
in  winter. The schoolboys
are studying. Monotony 
of rain across the window glass.

Poems are often generated by memories that haunt us—memories that suddenly return out of the blue, or memories that are familiar companions and part of the fabric of our lives—memories that are too precious and sweet not to be recorded, or that are so painful they cry out to be exorcised.

Antonio Machado, one of the great Spanish poets of the twentieth century, evokes not just the dullness of his childhood classroom, but something too of the magic in which even unpleasant memories of the past are likely to be draped. The poster of Cain and Abel; the withered teacher with his book; the children chanting their numbers; the rain beating against the windowpanes: how oppressive it all is, and how vividly it has been evoked.

The poem is not filled with generalized phrases such as "school days long ago," "Bible pictures," and "inclement weather." But it is a particular day, the weather is chilly and overcast, there are raindrops across the windowpanes. There is not simply some poster or other on the wall but a particular poster, one that is briefly—and evocatively—described.

The old teacher is sketched in quickly with specific details: he has a sonorous and hollow voice, he is withered and badly dressed, and he is holding a book in his hand. The students are not simply studying their lesson but are studying a particular lesson, one that the reader hears them reciting. Concrete, sensory details such as these allow readers to form vivid pictures in their minds of what is being described. That is how great poets and writers bring a scene to life.

Notice how simple the poem is. Neither the vocabulary nor the phrasing is at all complex or unusual. If one imagines that poetry requires exotic and dramatic subject matter, this poem disproves it and prove  that even the most commonplace experiences can be transformed into triumphant verses.

From: Border of a Dream: Selected Poems of Antonio Machado  by Antonio Machado. Translated by Willis Barnstone.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


There is an anecdote that accompanies this famous love poem by the national poet of Poland, Adam Mickiewicz. In September of 1997, a woman from Long Island called the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in Mahattan with an urgent request for an English version of Adam Mickiewicz's "To***. In the Alps in Splugen". She explained that together with her husband she once spotted this poem on the menu of a Swiss restaurant. They read the poem with great appetite and agreed that it was the ultimate expression of love. Now, remembering that impression, she wanted to place it on an invitation to her husband's memorial service. At the time, one of the two existing old English translations had to satisfy her. But her inquiry provided the impetus for translating many love poems of Adam Mickiewicz including the below by the famous pair,  Stainslaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.

This poem was written in 1829, when Mickiewicz took a trip to the Alps in the company of the poet Anthony Odyniec. During  its course, they  passed through the pass just in Splügen located on the Swiss-Italian border. It is addressed to Maryla Wereszczaka, the daughter of a wealthy landowner who lived not far from Novogrodek , with whom the poet had an   unsuccessful love affair. Though Adam met  Maryla Wereszczaka in 1819 , she later got married to the rich Count Puttkamer in 1821.

             IN THE ALPS AT SPLUGEN ,1829

by  Adam Mickiewicz

Translated by Stainslaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

No, never, you will never let me be!
You follow me on land, across the sea,
I watch your footsteps sparkle and then fade
On frozen Alpine lakes; in the cascade
I hear your voice or else I sense you near,
And look behind with longing and with fear.

Ungrateful! In these peaks so stern and proud,
Which from their depths rise up to pierce a cloud,
I tire of eternal ice and snow,
And pause as my own tears begin to flow;
I seek the Northern Star in misty blue
And Lithuania, your small house, and you.
Ungrateful! Perhaps now, queen of the ball,
You hold your merry, laughing guests in thrall
By telling tales of our long-past romance;
Or do you conquer new hearts as you dance?
Are you content now that you are adored
By your meek subjects, by that servile horde?
That pleasure wakes you, that you're lulled by bliss?
Is there, then, nothing from the past you miss?
And wouldn't you be far happier, my dear
Sharing your outcast's wanderings, being here?
I'd lead you by the hand amid these crests,
And with my songs I'd ease your weariness.
I'd plunge first into every stream we meet
To gather stones so that your dainty feet
Could cross the streams and never touch the foam.
I'd warm your hands with kisses; we'd call home
Some rustic shepherd's hut along the way,
Where we'd rest from hardships of the day.
Wrapped in my cloak beside the fireplace
You'd fall asleep and wake in my embrace.

 Source : Treasury of Love Poems by Adam Mickiewicz: In Polish and English Hardcover by  Adam Mickiewicz (Author) , Krystyna M. Olszer (Editor, Introduction) 

Monday, September 23, 2013

To Sika


To Sika

By Kofi Awoonor

(Ghanian Poet who was killed in the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi)

Remember the Christmas
when on our way from Chelsea
you fell on pavements
broke a tooth and I was mute?
Your mother thought I was cruel,
but your fall hurt me
in that all of us,
your clansmen, fell on alien ground,
Remember the morning walks
To your nanny’s
where you sulked and longed for home
the agony of flights and
the pain of separation looming
large like winter moons.
I knew I was the tempest
That will blast your youth
and misery of infancy.
Oh, I was the Abraham
Sacrificing my Isaac
waiting in vain for the ram in the thicket
for dreams long forgotten under tropical suns.
But what could I have done?
Was I not aware of coming prophecies
the final estrangement
prepared in secrecy
by the intervening gods of my household?
No. I was not seeking
an athanasia; how can I
the epilogue of my own long torment
understand the prologue I dreamed you to be?

Kofi Awoonor was born in Ghana in 1935. He is considered as one of the best known poets of Ghana, apart from being  a novelist, critic, academic and politician. He was educated in Ghana, the United Kingdom and the United States. Closely connected with the first president of Ghana, Nkame Krumah, Awoonor was forced to go into exile after a coup against Nkrumah in 1966. During the time abroad, he completed his graduate and doctoral studies. For several years, he taught English Literature at the State University of New York. In the last years, he engaged in political activities. From 1990 until 1994, he was Ghana’s Permanent Representative and Ambassador to the United Nations in New York. He  was killed during the terrorist attack in Westgate Mall in Nairobi on 21st September.

The poet Awoonor was conscious of his roots in traditional poetry and folk songs. His grandmother was a mourning singer (Like our Rudali). He uses this motif in several of his poems to express the grief of the Western-educated African looking back at his native culture. Awoonor has published several collections of poetry and two novels. In his fiction and poetry, the author often works on two levels. The first level is usually a narrative of everyday experience. The second level is a symbolic journey through a personal or political development filled with Biblical and literary allusions. The poet applies this technique to his poem “To Sika” for his daughter.

This poem contains three parts. A triplet at the center present the poet concern: “I knew I was the tempest that will blast your youth and misery of infancy.” The first and the third part of the poem consist of fourteen lines. The structure of the poem is the variation of the fourteen-line sonnet and alludes to the tradition of sonnets as expression of love. Sika is usually girl’s name which means gold or something highly appreciated. In this poem, small accidents and events of his daughter’s life are placed side by side with the father’s meditations on his faith and his fate that has called him to be a poet. The speaker of the poem had been unable to speak immediately to his child when it had been necessary. Now he is anxious to reassure the child of his tenderness and care by showing her that he recollects every details of her life: her broken tooth, her sullen mood, her fear to imminent separation. The first part addresses the child two times, “Remember the Christmas…”, “Remember the morning walks…”. The daughter’s accident and the separation of father and daughter are connected with the failure of protection by ancestral spirits and a Christian God. African spirits should protect the members of the clan when they are abroad, but “all of us, your clansmen fell on alien ground.” In the Old Testament the appearance of the substitute ram counteracts Isaac’s sacrifice. Here, however, the father has to sacrifice his daughter’s happy childhood to his vocation as poet. The central and the second part lament the father’s guilt and try to explain his apparent indifference and cruelty, “Oh, I was the Abraham sacrificing his Isaac”. The reference to Christian religion and to “prophecies” and “certainties” from the gods of the household point to a change of faith. The term “athanasia” means creed, belief. The father meditates on the question of “fate” that has called him to be a poet. The return to ancient African gods and his daughter’s presence enable the poet to move on after having been uncertain of his role as a singer for a long time. Sika is the inspiration for his poem. The child’s life lights and fuels the father’s creativity. Finally, the poet as father is able to make a poem about his silence under which he had been hiding his tenderness.

Kofi Awoonor’s poem foreground the intimacy and the privacy of the child parent relationship. He shows that fathering is filled with tenderness, responsibility and care, even though it is hidden under silence as expressed in this highly artistic poem.

 Extracted from: Poems at the Edge of Differences: Mothering in New English Poetry by Women By Renate Papke

Saturday, September 21, 2013

In the Woods

In the Woods

Ko Un

Translated by Clare You and Richard Silberg

From : The Three way Tavern by Ko Un

In the twilight woods
the child with me
held my hand tightly.
We two as one,
walked deep into the woods.

There it was,
my childhood just as I left it,

a single buck loped away

The Buddhist poet Ko Un is the best known Korean poet today.This simple poem is a philosophical meditation in the Buddhist tradition. The association between woods and childhood is something strong in many of our lives. 

The poem depicts a simple, beautiful scene  and Ko Un’s sparse, carefully chosen phrasing elevates the scene into something more significant, giving  concrete form to Buddhist concepts of what could dryly be called ‘the oneness of all being’ and also of ’eternity’. The two figures in the poem, the child and the man, walk ‘as one’ into the woods, ‘as one’ in both in the physical sense of holding hands and the mental sense of experiencing the same moment. If the ‘twilight woods’ remind us of the poet’s age – he wrote this at sixty – and of the end of life, it is well  a sense of rebirth – of his return being at the same time the child’s discovery, and of these two moments being united.

In this poem we find a concluding device which is Ko Un's most characteristic features, a closing single, isolated line which is linked to the rest of the poem yet concludes it by pointing in an unexpected, new direction, opening onto other directions, instead of giving a conventional closure. The isolated last line  is intriguingly beautiful for its simplicity and power. I find the synergy of it quite uniting the times man travel through.

Source: The Three Way Tavern: Selected Poems by Ko Un.University of California Press

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A passage from "Northern Journey"

A passage from "Northern Journey"

By Du Fu (Some texts refer him as Tu Fu)

Translated by Professor Burton Watson

A year gone by, arriving at my thatched hut,
wife and children, clothes a hundred patches:
our cries mingle with the voice of the pines;
the sad fountain joins our muffled sobbings.
The little boy we’ve spoiled all his life,
face paler, whiter than snow,
sees his Papa, turns away in tears,
dirty, grimy, feet with no socks.
By the bed my two young girls,
mended skirts scarcely covering their knees,
a sea scene, the waves chopped up,
bits of old embroidery sewn all askew,
marine monster, purple phoenix
topsy-turvy on their coarse cloth jackets.
Old husband, feeling somewhat poorly,
vomiting, runny bowels, several days laid up in bed.
But don’t think I’ve no fabrics in my bag
to save you from the shakes and shivers of the cold!
Here’s powder and mascara—I’ll unwrap them—
quilts, coverlets—I’ll lay them all out.
The face of my thin wife regains its brightness;
my silly girls start in combing their own hair.
They copy all the things they’ve seen their mother do,
step by step applying morning makeup,
taking their time, smearing on rouge and powder—
how ridiculous—drawing eyebrows this wide!
But I’m home alive, facing my young ones,
and it’s as though I’ve forgotten about hunger and thirst.
They keep asking questions, outdoing each other in pulling my beard,
but who’d have the heart to scold them?

Du Fu, the elicitor of superlatives! The Chinese scholar William Hung, who wrote the definitive book in English on Du Fu’s life and poetry, gave it the unequivocal title Tu Fu: China’s Greatest Poet. Professor Stephen Owen of Harvard, the leading American authority on Chinese poetry of the Tang period, enthusiastically seconds Hung’s estimation of Du Fu. And the American poet and translator Kenneth Rexroth, who rendered some of Du Fu’s poems in English, goes a step further to declare him “the greatest non-epic, non-dramatic poet who has survived in any language."

A  characteristic of Du Fu’s poetry that merits particular notice is his realism. The above passage taken from a long poem titled “Northern Journey,” amply illustrates it.  The poem was written in the fall of 757, when Du Fu, having incurred Emperor Suzong’s displeasure, was ordered to leave the court and travel north to Fuzhou, where his wife and children were living. The poem, 140 lines long, shifts back and forth between the political concerns of the entire nation and Du Fu’s private family affairs. The above section, lines 59 to 88, shows us the scene that confronted the poet when, after a long and difficult journey, he finally reached the country house where his family was lodging.

It would appear from the poem that at this time Du Fu had four children, two girls and two boys. The “little boy” in line 5 of my excerpt is probably his younger son, Pony Boy. It seems odd that he should turn away from his father in tears, though perhaps through some misunderstanding he thinks he has done something for which he will be scolded. The “old husband” in line 15 is, of course, Du Fu himself.

The whole passage, replete with closely observed details, has two sections of particular note. The first is Du Fu’s description of the clothes worn by the girls, garments that Du Fu’s wife has mended with patches cut from an old and probably expensive piece of embroidery. The embroidery originally depicted a seascape complete with the mythical sea monster called Tian Hu and a purple phoenix or purple phoenixes. But the pattern has now been cut to bits and sewn so that the figures are askew or upside down. The crazy quilt effect that results perfectly reflects the disruption and chaos that have descended on the Du family, and by extension on the whole of Tang China. The second notable section occurs in the latter part, when the little girls, seizing on the powder and mascara that the poet has brought for his wife, proceed to plaster their faces with it. The mood here is all gaiety and madcap humor, a brief moment of brightness before the poem quits the domestic scene and turns to solemn concerns of national policy.

Perhaps this is a scene that could transpire in any corner of the world where a father returns home after a war or long absence.

(Extracted from "Selected Poems of Du Fu" translated by Burton Watson.)