Saturday, December 3, 2016

My gaze is clear as a sunflower.

My gaze is clear as a sunflower

By Fernando Pessoa
Translated by Keith Bosley

My gaze is clear as a sunflower. 
It is my habit to walk along the roads
Looking right and left,
And from time to time looking back...
And what I see at any moment 
Is something that I have never seen before,
And I can notice very well...
I can know the essential wonder
A child knows if at birth 
It noticed it was actually being born...
I feel myself born at any moment 
To the eternal newness of the World...
I believe in the world like a marigold, 
Because I see it. But I don’t think about it
Because to think is to not understand...
The world was not made for us to think about it 
(To think is to have pain in the eyes) 
But for us to look at it and agree...
I have no philosophy: I have feelings...
If I speak of Nature it is not because I know what it is,
But because I love it, and this why:
Whoever loves knows what he loves
Nor why he loves, or what it is to love...
To love is eternal innocence,
And the only innocence is not to think...

Fernando Pessoa was Portugal's greatest poet of the twentieth century. This poem is sublime and it drives the message very clear –“ the only innocence is not to think”. The poet calls for an existence at one with the natural world around him, and see things as they are, without probing any underlying mystical or symbolic contents. It is like we becoming an intrinsic part of the natural world. We must, for instance,  learn to see a mountain not through our exaggerated thinking function but to see it only as a mountain – to see it as it is in order to be in modest harmony with it. This is a kind of lesson in unlearning. 

I think our whole problems stems from our vain and recalcitrant efforts to find answers as to why? The moment we turn into calm acceptance of what we see and experience, we usher in peace in our lives.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Off-Hand Poem

Off-Hand Poem
by Wang An-shih 

Translated by David Hinton

It’s a blessing, the ten thousand things
spoken. Don’t forget even a single line,
for I’m sending in these words a place
far from this loud world of confusion.

Wang An-shih (1021–1086 C.E.) was a remarkable figure — not only one of the great Sung Dynasty poets, but also the most influential and controversial statesman of his time. In his retirement, practicing Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism and wandering the mountains around his home, Wang An-shih wrote the poems that made his reputation. Short and plainspoken, these late poems contain profound multitudes — the passing of time, the rivers and mountains, silence and Buddhist emptiness. They won him wide acclaim in China and beyond across the centuries. And in David Hinton’s breathtaking translations, Wang feels like a major contemporary poet with deep ecological insight and a questioning spirit.

While not in the exalted ranks of such Chinese poets as Li Po, Tu Fu, Wang Wei, Wang’s poetry possesses the power to transport the reader to another time and place, far from our own “loud world.” How beautifully the poet echoes the strength of a relationship and its place in this world of confusion.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Look for Me

Look for Me

By Vladislav Khodasevich
Translated by Peter Daniels

Look for me in spring's transparent air.
I flit like vanishing wings, no heavier than
a sound, a breath, a sunray on the floor;
I'm lighter than that ray – it's there: I'm gone.

But we are friends for ever, undivided!
Listen: I'm here. Your hands can feel the way
to reach me with their living touch, extended 
trembling into the restless flame of day.

Happen to close your eyelids, while you linger…
Make me one final effort, and you might
find at the nerve-ends of each quivering finger
brushes of secret fire as I ignite.

When the poet Vladislav Khodasevich fled the Soviet Union in 1922, he left behind a country that was, with every passing day, growing more ominous. And yet in finding a way out—and outliving many of his contemporaries—Khodasevich was nearly erased from the tumultuous literary history of Russia’s long twentieth century. The publication of his Selected Poems is an essential and long-overdue tribute to this extraordinarily gifted poet.

Born in 1886, Khodasevich came of age among the famed avant-gardists of Russian poetry, but unlike the major modernists of the age—the Symbolists and the Futurists among them—he sought inspiration neither in esoteric doctrines, nor in grand pronouncements. Instead, he was determined to find meaning in the world, and each of his poems reflects this tireless, often heroic, sometimes deeply bitter engagement with his surroundings.

An innovative classicist in an era taken in by relentless experimentation, Khodasevich was hailed by many of his peers in the Soviet Union and Berlin, including Vladimir Nabokov, who wrote that Khodasevich would “remain the pride of Russian poetry as long as its last memory lives.” Brilliantly translated by Peter Daniels, and with a richly informed introduction by Michael Wachtel, “Selected Poems” is a stunning confirmation of that assessment.

Look at Me is an intensely personal poem relating to the suicide of Khodasevich's friend, Muni (Samuil Viktorovich Kissin) in March, 1916. Muni had saved Khodasevich from suicide in 1911, and the latter "reproached himself terribly for being unable to save his friend in return". 

Look for Me filters the longing for connection with his dead friend obliquely, by making Muni himself the speaker. The monologue evokes a glimmering, edge-of-vision sense of his continuing but elusive presence – as "vanishing wings", "a sound, a breath, a sunray … ". While spring, of course, is the season of rebirth, the images of fire suggest that Muni's recovery for Khodaevich will be as painful as touching fire. The hands stretched into "the restless flame of day" in the second stanza are "trembling". Ultimately, if the dead man's presence is to be felt, it will be as tassels of fire at the poet's "quivering" finger-tips. Muni seems to plead for a return to life, but simultaneously demand a sacrifice from Khodasevich. There's an echo, perhaps, of Dante in Canto 27 of the Purgatorio, encouraged by Virgil to walk through fire as the necessary, cleansing prelude to attaining Paradise and reunion with Beatrice. However, the metaphysics are not Dante's. The longed-for meeting in “Look for Me” will be attained through an effort of imagination.

Khodasevich was a realist and a sceptic, even if some of his poems, like this one, reveal trace elements of the poetic movement that preceded him, Symbolism. “Look for Me” was written at a time of political turmoil, and perhaps its incipiently violent "flame" images and haunting sense of evanescence, connect it to a revolution which, for many writers of Khodasevich's generation, brought hope and dismay in rapid succession. But it also reminds us that love and grief are forces not to be extinguished by political events, and that the hardest battles in a warzone are not always the bloodiest.

Friday, September 30, 2016

From the Diary of an Almost-Four-Year –Old

From the Diary of an Almost-Four-Year –Old

By Hanan Mikha’il Ashrawi (Palestinian Poet)

Tomorrow, the bandages
will come off. I wonder
will I see half an orange,
half an apple, half my
mother's face
with my one remaining eye?

I did not see the bullet
but felt its pain
exploding in my head.
His image did not
vanish, the soldier
with a big gun, unsteady
hands, and look in
his eyes
I could not understand

I can see him so clearly
with my eyes closed,
it could be that inside our heads
we each have one spare set
of eyes
to make up for the ones we lose

Next month, on my birthday,
I'll have a brand new glass eye,
maybe things will look round
and fat in the middle—
I've gazed through all my marbles,
they made the world look strange.

I hear a nine-month old
has also lost an eye,
I wonder if my soldier
shot her too—a soldier
looking for little girls who
look him in the eye—
I’m old enough , almost four,
I've seen enough of life,
but she's just a baby
who didn't know any better.

Hanan Mikha’il Ashrawi is a prominent Palestinian academic, poet,  politician, and human rights activist. She became known worldwide for her efforts in Palestinian-Israeli negotiation toward peace.

Someone forwarded me an image of a Syrian girl shot in the eye and that is what triggered me to post this poem which I had read in an anthology of poems from the middle east titled ‘the flag of childhood’.

This is a touching, tender poem replete with moments of  artless innocence that shows the empathetic and mature  mindset of a  four-year-old child shot in the eye.  

Friday, September 2, 2016




I've come back to the country where I was happy 
changed. Passion puts no terrible strain on me now. 
I wonder what will take the place of desire. 
I could be the ghost of my own life returning 
to the places I lived best. Walking here and there, 
nodding when I see something I cared for deeply. 
Now I'm in my house listening to the owls calling 
and wondering if slowly I will take on flesh again.

Linda Gregg is one of the best American poets. As Joseph Brodsky, the Russian Nobel Laureate, described of her- “The blinding intensity of Ms. Gregg's lines stains the reader's psyche the way lightning or heartbreak do.” 

The theme of this poem is the return of an adult to the terrain where she lived a carefree and happy life. The reminders of them are all around. The only thing is that you are not the same person. You find yourself a devitalized apparition waiting for a rebirth.

Thursday, August 25, 2016




Translated from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Bishop

In the middle of the road there was a stone
there was a stone in the middle of the road
there was a stone
in the middle of the road there was a stone.

Never should I forget this event
in the life of my fatigued retinas.
Never should I forget that in the middle of the road
there was a stone
there was a stone in the middle of the road
in the middle of the road there was a stone.

Brazil, according to no less an observer than Elizabeth Bishop, is a place where poets hold a place of honor. The Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade (October 31, 1902 – August 17, 1987) is universally recognized as the finest and most accessible modern Portuguese-language poet and, along with Pablo Neruda, a poet of the common man, writing of home, family, friends, and love.

This poem is like a joke and we are inclined, first, to smile, yet a moment of thought suffices to restore a serious meaning to such an encounter. It is enough to live truly intensely our meeting with a thing or a life-changing incident to preserve it forever in our memory.

How powerfully has repetition worked in this simple poem! Try to read varying the stress on the words and you will sense its poetic sway.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Summer Day

The Summer Day

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver is an American poet who has won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. She is a nature poet and a mystic poet rolled into one.  Her perceptive and brilliantly crafted poems about the natural landscape and the fundamental questions of life and death have won high praise from critics and readers . 

Summer Day is a lovely poem that starts with philosophical enquiries, “Who made the world?/Who made the swan, and the black bear?”. If we approach the poem literally, perhaps the poet started a summer day strolling through grass fields . She is startled by a grasshopper that leaps from the ground into her hands. That becomes a moment of supreme attentiveness that leads to a new awareness of the miracle of existence of flora and fauna around her. Like the God who is said to count every strand of our hair, Oliver turns her eyes on one specific creature and its singularity and asks, “Who made grasshopper?”. It is interesting that Oliver never answers her questions. Instead, she continues to observe the tiny visitor even more closely. It is when she stops, stoops, and examines the grasshopper that she notices its “enormous and complicated eyes”; the jaws that move “back and forth instead of up and down” in contrast to human mandibles; the rubbing of its pale forearms and that unforgettable sight: a grasshopper washing its face.

From here, the poem takes an effortless turn. The act of intensely watching this seemingly insignificant creature become allied in the poet’s mind with an attitude of prayer. She  says, “ I don’t know exactly what a prayer is”. Here she is not talking about prayer encrusted in rote words, or prayer as a communal outpouring of spirit. In Oliver’s world, the worship space is an open field. One kneels to “pay attention”. To be attentive and idle is to pray and be blessed.

The poem offers a new way of being in the world. “Tell me, what else should I have done?/Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?”/Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?." These lines hit us hard. It demonstrates our defenselessness against the flow of time. The poet feels that a way to exalt our ephemerality is to impart an exhilarating and electrifying glaze to our life.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Mattina (Morning)

‘Mattina’ (‘Morning’) 

By  Giuseppe Ungaretti

Translated by  Allen Mandelbaum


illumines me 
Ranked by T.S. Eliot as “one of the very few authentic poets” of the last century and by Allen Tate as akin to Paul Valery in his sensitivity, Giuseppe Ungaretti wrote verse that was marked by simple vocabulary, unusual lyric tension and illuminating images.

Giuseppe Ungaretti (1888-1970) was a pioneer of the Modernist movement in Italian poetry and is widely regarded as one of the greatest Italian poets of the twentieth century. His verse is renowned and loved for its powerful insight and emotion, and its exquisite music. As a  soldier, he saw action in WW I, endured a dear friend's suicide in Paris, and participated in the postwar birth of modernist French and Italian poetry and art. He eventually settled in Rome, decamping only for an academic appointment in Brazil, during which first his brother and then his nine-year-old son died. With so much tragedy in a life lived largely in a crucible of twentieth-century calamity, that he wrote frequently about death is unsurprising, nor is it wonderful that he became engaged in a profoundly tenuous search for God. His spare poetry is the difficult but deeply engaging and affecting record of his quest.

The genius of this poem is in the way it laminates the unique and the general; the way it recognises that while being illuminated with immensity may feel like a miracle to a soldier who has lived through a night – or night after night – in the trenches, it is to most people at most times just the start of another day. 

The features that render ‘Mattina’ so amenable to mass production make it a nightmare to translate. On the one hand, extreme paucity of paraphrasable content; on the other, extreme subtlety of nuance. ‘Mattina’ literally means (as translated by Andrew Frisardi)  “I turn luminous in an immensity of spaces.”’ But Ungaretti’s poem mentions no spaces and says nothing about turning. That shows how difficult and challenging it is to translate this terse verse as certain words are implicit and not explicit in the poem.

The real point of Ungaretti’s insight is the effect of vast reality of a physical universe (seen in the morning, sea or sky) on the human soul. Far from dismaying the poet, as the vastness of space had dismayed Pascal, it leaves him exhilarant, with a sense of expansion, of inner radiance. The poet is not illuminated from without by sky or sea; he illuminated himself by the contact: the fire of his own soul burns high and clear in its excitement.

This is a flash-of –lightning kind of poem supremely articulating a memorably imbibed experience: this sudden realization that, vast and brilliant as the universe may be, it is less so than the soul embracing it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Layers

The Layers

by Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

Stanley Kunitz (1905- 2006) was American Pulitzer Prize-winning poet noted for his subtle craftsmanship and his treatment of complex themes. He held the post of  the Poet Laureate of America twice, first in 1974 and later in 2000.

In this wonderful poem, the poet is meditating on how to reconcile all the losses of life. His griefs (“the slow fire trailing from abandoned campsites”) and banquet table of losses must have included friends and family members and other traumatic experiences. The poet penned this poem at a time when he was about to pull the curtain on a significant phase of his life and was aware that there were fewer milestones ahead.  As he roamed through the wreckage of his life, “a nimbus-clouded voice” guided him to “live in layers, not on the litter”. 

How are we going to live in the layers during our darkest nights of isolation and loneliness? How are we going to appreciate that “every stone on the road” is precious when our sight is obscured by pain and regrets?

“Live in layers, not on the litter” is a striking line in this poem. All of us have gone through tough and turbulent times in our life. Just like an old tree or rock leaves different rings or layers on its trunk or structure, these layers are embedded in our psyche. The bark and surface debris in a tree or rock (litter) always are meant to be shed and they are not the spots of our true existence. That is why the poet pleads us to navigate our life around layers and shove away the superficial parts of our life. Layers are the true marks that shape and strengthen our life. If we peel through our litters, we will find what is important to us; the layers that affirm our journey. These layers could be defining moments in our profession or personal life or the interactions that directed our destiny.

We become whole by having the courage to revisit and embrace all the layers of our lives, denying none of them, so that we're finally able to say, "Yes, all of this is me, and all of this has helped make me who I am." When we get to that point, amazingly, we can look at all the layers together and see the beauty of the whole. In every realm of our lives, we need to have passionate desire to experience the depths, to live in layers.

Realistic optimism with a tinge of fatalism (“I lack the art to decipher it”) linger in the last stanza. 

Source:Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2002)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Bagel

The Bagel
David Ignatow (American Poet)

I stopped to pick up the bagel 
rolling away in the wind, 
annoyed with myself 
for having dropped it 
as if it were a portent. 
Faster and faster it rolled, 
with me running after it 
bent low, gritting my teeth, 
and I found myself doubled over 
and rolling down the street 
head over heels, one complete somersault 
after another like a bagel 
and strangely happy with myself.

David Ignatow, (born Feb. 7, 1914, Brooklyn, N.Y., U.S.—died Nov. 17, 1997, East Hampton, N.Y.) was an  American poet whose works address social as well as personal issues in meditative, vernacular free verse. Ignatow worked for a time as a journalist with the WPA Federal Writers’ Project. His first book of poetry, entitled Poems (1948), was followed by The Gentle Weight Lifter (1955). Many of the pieces in the latter collection, as well as many in Say Pardon (1961) and Figures of the Human (1964), are written in the form of parables. From the 1960s Ignatow taught poetry at several American colleges. For over half a century, David Ignatow crafted spare, plain, haunting poetry pf working life, urban images, and dark humor. The poetic heir of Whitman and William Carlos Williams, Ignatow is characteristically concerned with human mortality and human alienation in the world: the world as it is, defined by suffering and despair, yet at crucial times redeemed by cosmic vision and shared lives.
Very often in your life, you are  so stiff and stressed out that you forget the essential that you were once a child. When was the last time you did something unabashedly silly? When did you run down the street, skipping, or scream on a roller coaster, climbed a tree and jumped down with puerile joy, or trip and fall in a public place? Most of the time we're buttoned up, trying to do everything we can to remain poised, but this poem removes us from all the formality a bit and reminds us of those rare moments when you realize you're in the midst of a potentially embarrassing moment but choose to laugh instead of burrow away. “And strangely happily with myself” is the way Ignatow ends the poem to change the meaning of the whole poem. Unwind and have fun with yourself.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Bar Mitzvah for My Son

Untitled Poem

By Yehuda Amichai 

Translated by Ted Hughes 

My son, in whose face there is already a sign
of eagle—
like a daring prefix to your life.
let me kiss you once again while you still love it,
softly, like this.
Before you become a hairy Esau of open fields
be for a little while
soft-skinned Jacob for my hands.

Your brain is well packed in your skull,
efficiently folded for life. Had it stayed
spread out you might have been happier,
a large sheet of happiness without memory.

I’m on my way from believing in God
and you’re on your way toward it: This too
is a meeting point of a father and a son.

It’s evening now. The earthball is cooling,
clouds that have never lain with a woman
pass overhead in the sky, the desert
starts breathing into our ears,
and all the generations
squeeze a bar mitzvah for you.

This poem by Yehuda Amichai, the greatest Israeli poet of last century, is apt for Father's day

The poem  fuses best the passionate tenderness and warmth between a father and son. Though the poem may have been written addressed to a son of age 12 or 13, I find its affection more appropriate than age. After all , our children never grow old for us. It’s a bar-mitzvah poem, a blessing (Bar mitzvah is Jewish rite of confirmation for a boy). Amichai begs to kiss his son once more, “while you still love it,” while the boy is still a soft-skinned Jacob and before he becomes “a hairy Esau of open fields.” (Esau and Jacob were sons of Isaac as per the book of genesis. The elder Esau was of hairy features and was a hunter, a man of fields. Amichai’s poems are always full of religious allusions).

The folded brain in the second stanza refers to the convolutions of the human brain, which are part of the cortex, the outer part that enables the higher functions. The folding is what lets us have such a large surface area packed into our heads. A simpler creature's brain isn't so deeply folded; it's more like a sheet. So the poet is suggesting that the same brain that enables our intelligence and consciousness also gives us the ability to be unhappy.

In the final verse, the most beautiful in this poem, he offers his formal blessing, which turns into a universal one: evening falls, and the land is cooling, and “clouds that have never lain with a woman / pass overhead in the sky”; the desert is breathing, “and all the generations / squeeze a bar mitzvah for you.” Lucky son! So many of Amichai’s qualities gather here: passionate tenderness and earnest warmth, sweet possessiveness—the eros of fatherhood—and that delicious, playful metaphorical reach, those clouds that have never lain with a woman. What would those clouds look like? The metaphor can’t be a visual similitude (although white, gauzy clouds could look somehow more virginal than heavy ones pregnant with rain). The metaphor—as similitude—almost “fails,” but it is blazingly successful in the context of the poem’s address to a young man who has not yet “lain with a woman.” And, of course, the diction gently picks up the Biblical thread of the reference to Jacob and Esau, a story that begins with a father’s blessing.

Thursday, May 19, 2016



y Rafael Alberti
translated by Charles Guenther and Hardie St Martin

I want to sing: to be a flower
in my village.
A cow of my village
to wear me in his ear.
The moon of my village
to wear me in his ear.
The rivers and seas
of my village to drench me.
A girl from my village
to pick me.
The earth of the heart
of my village to bury me.
For, you see, I'm alone
without my village.
(Though not without my people.)
(From the anthology 'Roots & Wings')

Born in 1902 , he belongs to the famous "Generation of '27” poets and is considered one of the greatest Spanish poets of the so-called "Silver Age." Recipient of many honours he went into exile after the Spanish Civil War because of his Marxist beliefs and didn't return to Spain until Franco's death. Alberti died in 1999.
I loved this poem (reminded me of the psyche of the displaced Palestinian and Syrian people ) and it captivates us from the beginning (I want to sing: to be a flower in my village) and slowly intensifies our nostalgia for the land of our beginnings by constant repetition of the word ‘village’ in each stanza.

Thursday, February 18, 2016



by Fleur Adcock

Literally thin-skinned, I suppose, my face
catches the wind off the snow-line and flushes
with a flush that will never wholly settle. Well:
that was a metropolitan vanity,
wanting to look young for ever, to pass.

I was never a Pre-Raphaelite beauty,
nor anything but pretty enough to satisfy
men who need to be seen with passable women.
But now that I am in love with a place
which doesn’t care how I look, or if I’m happy,

happy is how I look, and that’s all.
My hair will turn grey in any case,
my nails chip and lake, my waist thicken,
and the years work all their usual changes.
If my face is to be weather-beaten as well

that’s little enough lost, a fair bargain
for a year among lakes and fells, when simply
to look out of my window at the high pass
makes me indifferent to mirrors and to what
my soul may wear over its new complexion.

The contemporary New Zealand poet Fleur Adcock is renowned for her poems dwelling on themes of place, human relationships and everyday activities, but frequently with a dark twist given to the mundane events she writes about. Disarmingly conversational in style, they are remarkable for their psychological insight and their unsentimental, mischievously casual view of personal relationships.
The poem starts with the sudden onset of a blush on an otherwise aging face when a snowy cold wind caresses her face and the resultant momentary gush of youthfulness. The poet is aware that it is not going to sustain and her wish to preserve physical beauty is a futile exercise. The progressive, but inevitable, decline of her corporeal charm is an irreversible reality. The poet is so enamoured by the beauty of the places she visits that she is least concerned about her eroding physical beauty. She concludes that the enthralling view of nature from her window makes her indifferent to mirror as it is this enduring beauty outside that adds a new complexion to her soul.
Fleur Adcock teaches us something about true beauty and grace in this poem. Our vanity often conspires against our authenticity and blocks the Inner light in us. For the poet, it is the beauty of the place that awakens the Inner light and offers a remedy for her regressive charm. She thereby portrays an astonishing picture of a life that is possible, a life of wholeness, in which we can truly be what we are. The grace that Adcock unlocks is overwhelmingly appealing to the cosmetically driven man or woman exuding metropolitan vanity. Beauty around us has the power to flood our being and uplift us to the transcendent realm.
Like the poet, we can become “indifferent to mirrors”, to what our souls wear to the outside. Maybe we should forget what we cannot control and find that grace to live a life that is nourishing and fulfilling.

 ( Credits: Poems 1960-2000 by Fleur Adcock (Bloodaxe Books, 2000)

Sunday, February 7, 2016



By Attilio Bertolucci
Translated from the Italian by Geoffrey Brock

This is a year of poppies: our land
was brimming with them as May burned
into June and I returned—
a sweet dark wine that made me drunk.

From clouds of mulberry to grains to grasses
ripeness was all, in the fitting
heat, in the slow drowsiness spreading
through the universe of green.

My life half over I saw grown sons
setting off alone and vanishing from sight
beyond the prison the flight
of the swallow makes in the spent

glow of a stormy evening, but the pain
gave way humanely to the light
coming on inside the house for another meal
in air made cooler by hail

letting off steam in the distance.
Attilio Bertolucci was one of the greatest poets of Italy. Born in 1911, Attilio Bertolucci published his first book of poems at the age of 18. His second, published in 1934, was recognised and favourably reviewed by Eugenio Montale, the Nobel Laureate. There followed a period of silence, broken in 1951 by The Indian Wigwam, which won the Viareggio Prize. He has also published two bestselling volumes of a novel in verse, La camera da letto, a kind of family history about his parents and childhood, and his love for Ninetta, the mother of Giuseppe and Bernardo Bertolucci, his two famous film-director sons. A frequent cause of pleasure and also disquiet in Bertolucci's poetry is his sense of time, the calm fire of the days. The critic Paolo Lagazzi speaks of Bertolucci, although slowly bleeding to death because wounded by time, as also drawing from time 'all the gifts, colours, sweetnesses still possible - while darkness and winter advance without truce'. Attilio Bertolucci won the Montale Prize in 1989, and in 1992 the most prestigious of all Italian prizes, that of the Accademia del Lincei.
This poem can be considered as the poet’s midlife musings. It is a stage where you are mature and your children depart from your life one after another seeking their shores of contentment. The line ‘Ripeness was all" is an echo of a line in Shakespeare's King Lear: "Men must endure their going hence, even as their coming hither: Ripeness is all." It speaks to being ready for inevitable death, but also, savoring your life and making the most of every moment until the end. While the line (spoken by Edgar to Gloucester in King Lear) comes from a play about fathers and their children, there’s nothing in the poem to suggest the paternal agonies that are the stuff of Lear. Rather, the subject of this mid-year, mid-life poem is the painful but proper experience of seeing one’s children leave home and make their way into the wider world. (Where, by the way, they seem to have done pretty well as Bertolucci’s sons are both highly regarded filmmakers.)
The word “humanely” in line fourteen (the pain gave way humanely to the light) seems almost to impart personification to the entity of “pain.” It would be such a different poem were it not for that light coming on when it does—showing that, though the sons have set out alone, they haven’t left the speaker alone: the light is the sign of some ongoing companionship, which seems to ease his losses. And the storm passes, having actually improved the quality of the evening (‘air made cooler by hail’) . “Poppies” strikes the reader as a rare poem in which the bitter and the sweet find a nearly perfect balance.