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



by Alexander Shurbanov 

Translated by Ludmila G Popova-Wightman

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



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


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.