Friday, May 29, 2015

Woman Knitting

Woman Knitting


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



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



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.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Last night while I was sleeping

Last night while I was sleeping

 Antonio Machado

Translated by Willis Barnstone

Last night while I was sleeping
I dreamed—blessed illusion!—
a fountain flowed
inside my heart.
Water, tell me by what hidden
channel you came to me
with a spring of new life
I never drank?

Last night while I was sleeping
I dreamed—blessed illusion!—
I had a beehive
inside my heart,
and from my old bitterness
the gold bees
were contriving white combs
and sweet honey.

Last night while I was sleeping
I dreamed—blessed illusion!—
a fiery sun glowed
inside my heart.
It was fiery, giving off heat
from a red fireplace.
It was the sun throwing out light
and made one weep.

Last night while I was sleeping
I dreamed—blessed illusion!—
that it was God I held
inside my heart.

This is a wonderfully inspiring poem by  Antonio Machado, one of the greatest  poets of Spain’s Generation of ’98

It doesn’t feel confessional; it’s not a complaint; we don’t sense the self-obsession of so many confessional poems.Can we look at our vulnerable, unrepeatable life and recognize it as a life of grace? Antonio Machado proposes that while we so sleep into the depth of many nights, we also foster a great dream-a blessed illusion- that inside our own heart there is a beehive alive with transformation. We recoil in shame and hide our mistakes and failures, while somewhere inside the beehive of our heart, there is honey being hatched from our failures. If we can dare to live completely, into our failures and allow them into full reality, and prepare ourselves to suffer inappropriate shame rather than neurotically deflect it toward fear and anger, then great sweetness can sprout where all was bitter. Bitterness held with integrity and humor turns out in the fullness of time to have a quality of ineffable sweetness that nourishes everyone who comes in contact with it; the bitter is transformed into life-bestowing blessedness.  The image-white combs of sweetest honey formed entirely in the dark- is calm and matter-of-fact, and no one else seems to be able to do that.

I liked the structure of the poem and the way it builds to its final night of a revelatory dream. Simple but effective.

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

Saturday, May 16, 2015


by Czeslaw Milosz

Translated by Robert Hass
Don't run any more. Quiet. How softly it rains
On the roofs of the city. How perfect
All things are. Now, for the two of you
Waking up in a royal bed by a garret window.
For a man and a woman. For one plant divided
Into masculine and feminine which longed for each other.
Yes, this is my gift to you. Above ashes
On a bitter, bitter earth. Above the subterranean
Echo of clamorings and vows. So that now at dawn
You must be attentive: the tilt of a head,
A hand with a comb, two faces in a mirror
Are only forever once, even if unremembered,
So that you watch what it is, though it fades away,
And are grateful every moment for your being.
Let that little park with greenish marble busts
In the pearl-gray light, under a summer drizzle,
Remain as it was when you opened the gate.
And the street of tall peeling porticos
Which this love of yours suddenly transformed.
Czeslaw Milosz, the great Polish poet and Nobel Laureate, had an uncanny ability to transform the union of man and woman into an extraordinary moment in time. This love poem has an uncommonly erotic and yet wholesome quality. It could be the first night of Adam and Eve (Don’t run anymore reminds me of them) or that of a newly married couple lying in the bridal chamber. The poet seems to comfort them, waking them in ‘in a royal bed by a garret window’, raised above the bitterness of earth, two happy lovers living fully in their moment of love. The poet reminds them to be attentive to the simple things that often goes unnoticed (I loved that tilt of head and the image of the woman combing and the man lying in bed captured in mirror as one image).
From somewhat a lofty perspective, though full of compassion and understanding, the poet celebrates the coming together of a man and woman, whose love for each other, after all, an echoe of divine love and has the power to transform the ‘peeling porticoes’ of this ordinary world into something garden-fresh and enduring.
Painting : William Blake

Friday, May 15, 2015

I Shall Paint My Nails Red

I Shall Paint My Nails Red
By Carole Satyamurti
Because a bit of colour is a public service.
Because I am proud of my hands.
Because it will remind me I'm a woman.
Because I will look like a survivor.
Because I can admire them in traffic jams.
Because my daughter will say ugh.
Because my lover will be surprised.
Because it is quicker than dyeing my hair.
Because it is a ten-minute moratorium.
Because it is reversible. moratorium.
Because it is reversible.
Carole Satyamurti is a British poet and sociologist. She will be known to posterity for her verse re-telling of the Mahabharata, titled Mahabharata: A Modern Retelling, which was published by WW Norton in March 2015 (One of the landmark book publication events of 2015.. A book that will be talked about in the months to come.)
At the first reading, the above poem may seem a bit feminist and narcissistic. But that is not the case. It is a poem that has deeper meaning and the color symbolism invites many interpretations (Red is the color of passion, rage, courage etc) . The poem follows an alliterative pattern. The first two lines show that the woman is highly self-confident and doesn’t shy away from a bold colour like ‘RED’. In the first line she seems to think a woman’s role is to look good and brighten her environment while the second line asserts her self-esteem.
The third line symbolizes her femininity and the fourth suddenly reflects on a wounded past. In the fifth line, she is in indulgent, in a humorous way, in self-admiration, but it can also be indication that she is independent. I am also reminded here of Red Cross/ Red Crescent vehicles that acquires prominence in a traffic jam.
The sixth line refers to her motherhood and the reaction of her daughter (who may not be happy with the colour, considering her age) and the seventh refers to her romantic side as a woman in a society and how it would react to red nails.
The Ninth line says colouring one’s nail is faster than dyeing one’s hair. Perhaps she means here the ability to adapt to different situations (emphasized in the final line). In the tenth line, she says a woman will love the break of 10 minutes of moratorium – meaning break – as it is something she can do to occupy herself.
The final line is the key – ‘reversible’ means she can always remove the varnish unlike a tattoo or surgery (which are irreversible). She can change her appearance in a subtle way to please herself but the results are always reversible. . Individual, women or men, are frequently judged my actions or impulsive behaviours that are temporary. There are a lot of things in life that are irreversible. But the last line allows us that despite the flaws we intentionally or unintentionally exhibit, we have the possibility to make a change. It is a calculated move of Satyamurti to put this line at the end thereby conveying a separate message of its own.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Birth of the Foal

 Birth of the Foal

By Ferenc Juhász 

translated from the Hungarian by David Wevill

As May was opening the rosebuds,
elder and lilac beginning to bloom,
it was time for the mare to foal.
She’d rest herself, or hobble lazily

after the boy who sang as he led her
to pasture, wading through the meadowflowers.
They wandered back at dusk, bone-tired,
the moon perched on a blue shoulder of sky.

Then the mare lay down,
sweating and trembling, on her straw in the stable.
The drowsy, heavy-bellied cows
surrounded her, waiting, watching, snuffing.

Later, when even the hay slept
and the shaft of the Plough pointed south,
the foal was born. Hours the mare
spent licking the foal with its glue-blind eyes.

And the foal slept at her side,
a heap of feathers ripped from a bed.
Straw never spread as soft as this.
Milk or snow never slept like a foal.

Dawn bounced up in a bright red hat,
waved at the world and skipped away.
Up staggered the foal,
its hooves were jelly-knots of foam.

Then day sniffed its blue nose
through the open stable window, and found them –
the foal nuzzling its mother,
velvet fumbling for her milk.

Then all the trees were talking at once,
chickens scrabbled in the yard,
like golden flowers
envy withered the last stars.

This poem, written by Ferenc Juhász, one of the greatest Hungarian poets, narrates tenderly , yet powerfully, the story of the birth of a foal. Juhasz contextualizes it in such a way that  the birth of the foal achieves a sort of cosmic dimension. The very heavens bless the moment of the foal's birth and dawn celebrates it by gamboling about and waving. The strength of this context is in such details, within a metaphorical framework, which bestow a human kind of consciousness  onto the inanimate. 

The poetic language is challengingly rich and sensuous, yet  at the same time accessible and witty.  Ferenc Juhász transforms a common event-the birth of an animal-into a glorious affirmation of life and thus imparting universal appeal.

Source : Sandor Weores and Ferenc Juhasz - Selected Poems (Penguin Modern European Poets series)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

To My Mother

To My Mother
by Mahmoud Darwish
I long for my mother’s bread
My mother’s coffee
Her touch
Childhood memories grow up in me
Day after day
I must be worth my life
At the hour of my death
Worth the tears of my mother.

And if I come back one day
Take me as a veil to your eyelashes
Cover my bones with the grass
Blessed by your footsteps
Bind us together
With a lock of your hair
With a thread that trails from the back of your dress
I might become immortal
Become a God
If I touch the depths of your heart.

If I come back
Use me as wood to feed your fire
As the clothesline on the roof of your house
Without your blessing
I am too weak to stand.
I am old
Give me back the star maps of childhood
So that I
Along with the swallows
Can chart the path
Back to your waiting nest

Happy Mother's day to all the mothers who drive this world burning the fuel of love.
The above one is an utterly beautiful and heart wrenching poem written by the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish who died in 2008. His transition was mourned widely in the Arab world.
Darwish was the first Palestinian to receive a state funeral since Yasser Arafat in 2004. “He was the master of the word and wisdom, the symbol who expressed our national feeling, our human constitution, our declaration of independence,” said President Mahmoud Abbas in the funeral speech. His fellow Palestinians embraced his poetry as the voice of their suffering.
Darwish famously penned Arafat’s speech to the United Nations in 1974 when the late Palestinian leader said, “I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.”
The above poem has been set to music by many singers and has almost become a national anthem of Palestine.
“I must be worth my life
At the hour of my death
Worth the tears of my mother”
That’s what most of us strive to achieve in a deeply subconscious way.
The last stanza (‘give me back the star maps of childhood’) conveys an intense yearning to return to mother's lap and childhood.
The above poem can be interpreted as symbolic address to the homeland also, speaking to a woman but at the same time , in a symbolic subcontext, referring to Palestine, imagined not only as the beloved, but also as the mother to whom all Palestinians want to return.
(Painting : Mother and Child by Picasso)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Great Springtime

Great Springtime 
by Ko Un

Translated by Translations by Brother Anthony of Taizé, David R. McCann and Kevin O’Rourke

Warm east winds blow,
the earth is melting.
It’s a sight to open
the eyes of the blind
Kids are clustering
close like chicks, underground insects
are wriggling restless too.
Just look! The fish rising
from deeper water
are using their backs
to break the ice!
How on earth
Can heaven keep silent?
The wild goose fathers
are leading their broods
away towards the Sungari River.
Now in this land
wonders are happening.
One great springtime is coming!

Born in Kunsan, North Chplla Province, Ko Un is without question the most prolific writer of twentieth-century Korea. He has published numerous collections of poems, gatherings of poems on various subjects, as well as fifteen—or more—volumes in the series Maninbo (Ten thousand lives), dedicated to making a record of every person he has ever met. His novels, notably including Hwapm kypng (The Garland Sutra; 1991), have been best sellers. He has been publishing a long narrative poem on the Korean War and has  published two books of poems about his journeys to North Korea. His translated collection of Zen poems, Mupnya (Whaaat?), was published with an appreciative forward by Allen Ginsberg. Ko Un has also published essays, newspaper columns, and articles at a rate quite impossible to keep up with.

Formerly a Buddhist monk, then an activist leader of Korea’s democratization movement, and then imprisoned for his efforts, Ko Un has worked ceaselessly in bearing witness to the lives of individuals, to Korea’s political and cultural life, and in bringing the realm of literature to its necessary, direct engagement with all that life demands and imposes.

This is a beautiful, celebratory poem heralding the arrival of spring and the zillion seen and unseen flurry of activities taking place in nature. 


by Po Chu-I
Translated by David Hinton

Finally, after almost forty years of life,
I have a girl. We named her Golden-Bells,
and its been a year since she was born.
Saying nothing, she studies sitting now,
but it seems I'm no sage-master at heart.
I can't get free of this trifling affection:
I know it's only a tangle of appearance,
but however empty, it's bliss to see her.
I'll worry about her dying. Spared that,
I'll worry about finding a good husband.
All those plans to find a mountain home:
I guess they'll wait another fifteen years.
Generally acclaimed as one of China's greatest poets, Po Ch-i (772-846 C.E.) practiced a poetry of everyday human concerns and clear plain-spoken language. His poems are famous for its spiritual depths and reflect both his life-long devotion to Taoist and Ch'an (Zen) Buddhist practice.
This simple poem reflects the mindset of parents. All parents constantly worry about their children, irrespective of their age and gender, and I was pleasantly surprised to note this unease and anxiety, steeped in love, beautifully reflected in this ancient poem of Po Chu-I .
In real life, his only daughter later passed away at the age of three , ominously manifesting his worries.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I do not mind the embrace

I do not mind the embrace

By Taban lo Liyong (Ugandan Poet)

I do not mind the embrace
I do not mind the kiss.
You can in fact do anything with me.
I am already weak-
        the veil is gone
        the hair has tumbled in disarray
        my nipple is turgid
        my private part is already wet—
In fact to leave me in midstream is bad enough.

But it is afterwards—
         when you’ve squeezed your last drop
         when you’re snoring your satisfied head off
         when, as Aristotle says, you've purged your emotion
That my hell begins:
          my curling up like a centipede
          my vulva squeezing and yawning…
          my refusal to see your face again
          my detestation of man for prevailing over me
          my self-hatred for having let myself go
          my self-hatred for having failed myself yet again…
It is after that my torture begins.

Taban Lo Liyong, one of the most stimulating figures in East African writing, was born in Uganda in 1938. He was the first African to receive a Master of Fine Arts degree from the famous Writers Workshop of the University of Iowa. Taban Lo Liyong's poetry bounces with insulting agility across one's prejudices. It doesn't all have to be taken seriously, but the wit stings when it hits.

This segment from a longer poem takes imaginative leap and presents the poet as a woman, sexually unfulfilled, angry with her husband or lover for his deeply unconscious sense of privilege and superiority. Does the male poet recognize himself in the woman’s description of how men are? Perhaps, it reflects the sentiments  and  bottled-up emotions of obedient women in many parts of the world too.