Sunday, December 31, 2017


By Dennis O'Driscoll

Tomorrow I will start to be happy.
The morning will light up like a celebratory cigar.
Sunbeams sprawling on the lawn will set
dew sparkling like a cut-glass tumbler of champagne.
Today will end the worst phase of my life.

I will put my shapeless days behind me,
fencing off the past, as a golden rind
of sand parts slipshod sea from solid land.
It is tomorrow I want to look back on, not today.
Tomorrow I start to be happy; today is almost yesterday.


Australia, how wise you are to get the day
over and done with first, out of the way.
You have eaten the fruit of knowledge, while
we are dithering about which main course to choose.
How liberated you must feel, how free from doubt:

the rise and fall of stocks, today’s closing prices
are revealed to you before our bidding has begun.
Australia, you can gather in your accident statistics
like a harvest while our roads still have hours to kill.
When we are in the dark, you have sagely seen the light.


Cagily, presumptuously, I dare to write 2018.
A date without character or tone. 2018.
A year without interest rates or mean daily temperature.
Its hit songs have yet to be written, its new-year
babies yet to be induced, its truces to be signed.

Much too far off for prophecy, though one hazards
a tentative guess—a so-so year most likely,
vague in retrospect, fizzling out with the usual
end-of-season sales; everything slashed:
your last chance to salvage something of its style.

from New and Selected Poems. Anvil Press Poetry, Ltd.

Dennis O'Driscoll (1 January 1954 – 24 December 2012) was an Irish poet, essayist, critic and editor. Regarded as one of the best European poets of his time, Eileen Battersby considered him "the lyric equivalent of William Trevor" and a better poet "by far" than Raymond Carver.

The poet starts the poem on an optimistic tone by writing off the present moment, wishing away his past of “shapeless days” (i.e., “the worst phase of my life”), demanding something better — “Tomorrow I start to be happy; today is almost yesterday.” He expects that "the morning will light up like a celebratory cigar."

The second stanza is an enjoyable read. The poet is jealous of the fact that sunrise in Australia (and hence New Year) would be ahead of Ireland (because of the time difference and hence many businesses get finished before it even starts in the western world) and mulls over the advantages of it. He strikes a dark note at the end of the stanza stating that “our roads still have hours to kill”

Gradually the poet comes to somber tone in the third stanza when he realizes that he may not actually put his shapeless days behind him. The poet who wrote this poem around 2002 imagines the year 2018 (a random year he chose at that time as many events to unfold in 2018 were a mere conjecture for the poet ) would be most likely a "so-so year". The same monotony of year-end sales and people’s mad rush to grab what they had wanted would prevail. Thus the initial expectancy of the speaker that he would be able to change for the better fades towards the end. 

Sadly, the poet passed away in 2012, long before the year 2018 he had dreamed about.

Notwithstanding the skewed optimism of the poet, May I wish all my readers a fabulous New Year filled with fun to all of you

Friday, December 29, 2017

After Someone's Death

After Someone's Death
By Tomas Transtromer
Translated by Robin Fulton

Once there was a shock
that left behind a long pale glimmering comet’s tail.
It contains us. It blurs TV images.
It deposits itself as cold drops on the aerials.

You can still shuffle along on skis in the winter sun
among groves where last year’s leaves still hang.
They are like pages torn from old telephone directories—
the names are eaten up by the cold.

It is still beautiful to feel your heart throbbing.
But often the shadow feels more real than the body.
The samurai looks insignificant
beside his armor of black dragon scales.

Tomas Transtromer (2031-2015), the
Swedish poet, is acclaimed as one of the most important Scandinavian poets since the Second World War. He won the  2011 Nobel Prize for Literature.

 How beautifully the poet in this poem has captured the death of someone dear to him with unusually striking imagery. The transient nature of life is vivid in comet's tail and the short line‘It contains us’.

Only a great universal poet can transmute a transition into an everlasting memory. An apt eulogy poem for a funeral toast.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Midday 88

Midday 88

by Cees Nooteboom 
Translated by Herlinde Spahr and Leonard Nathan

It takes so little:
An afternoon of burnished hours
that will not fit together
and himself broken up by himself
sitting in various chairs
with almost everywhere a soul or a body.
In one part of the room is night.
In another, time past, vacation and war.
On the ceiling the sea touches the shining beach,
and no hand that controls all this,
no equerry, no computer,
only forever the same self, selfsame he,
someone, somebody scattered,
the uncollected man in converse with himself,
dreaming and thinking
present, invisible.
Someone who was going to eat and sleep later.
Someone with a watch and shoes.
Someone who left.
Someone who was going to leave.
Someone who stayed on for a while.

This poem is a meditation on our fragmented experiences leading to one's uncollected identity. Many of us can reconstruct fragments of lives lived intensely, and now lost, crystallized in memory or in the detail of many landscapes or encounters in life. Perhaps we leave a part of our soul in the animate and inanimate things we are intimately connected.

Cees Nooteboom (1931-) is the best known Dutch author, known mostly for his novels (the only novel I have with me is 'The following Story') and travel writing. He has been on the list of potential Nobel Prize winners for a long time.

Magnolia Basin

Magnolia Basin
By Wang Wei
Translated by Tony Barnstone; Willis Barnstone and Xu Haixin

On branch tips the hibuscus bloom
The mountains show off red calices.
Nobody. A silent cottage in the valley.
One by one flowers open, then fall.
(Calices-Plural of Calyx , outermost part of a flower)

Wang Wei (701-761 C.E.) is often spoken of, with his contemporaries Li Po and Tu Fu, as one of the three greatest poets in China's 3,000-year poetic tradition. Of the three, Wang was the consummate master of the short imagistic landscape poem that came to typify classical Chinese poetry. He developed a nature poetry of resounding tranquility wherein deep understanding goes far beyond the words on the page―a poetics that can be traced to his assiduous practice of Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism.

This is a poem of exceptional quietism. Here is an unmentioned viewer who records the scene is swallowed up in the quiet emptiness of a pure text of nature. Hibiscus blossoming on the branches turn the mountains red. There is nobody about; a cottage in the valley is silent and abandoned. “One by one flowers open, then fall”: this is the only motion in all the mountains. Yet if this is so, then who is there to see it?

Perhaps death’s hold over us limits our perspective, rendering us unable to experience even a decent trace of wonder all around us. I loved the economy of this poem where the movements of the words and the brush synchronize. Life blooms whether anyone notices, then is gone, without fanfare or anguish. His poem affirms the natural course of life. Yet Wei’s hibiscus plant will have flowers next year.

This is remindful of Wallace Stevens’s first way of looking at a blackbird (Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird)

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

Monday, May 22, 2017


By Henrik Nordbrandt

Translated by Thom Satterlee

In my dream I found the screw
that held everything together.
But in my search for the screw
the instruction book was lost
and when I finally found the instruction book
a cogwheel was missing
and a gadget, the name of which I've forgotten.
I knew that I was busy
but not why.
I knew also that I should return
but not where.
The instruction book was blue and illustrated
with a picture of a sleeping man
who smiled in his sleep.
The cogwheel was like normal cogwheels
and the gadget a regular old gadget.
The screw that held everything together
was naturally unusual,
but not as unusual, as you would expect.
When I'd finally gotten it set in place
and everything was assembled
I discovered that my wife had left me
and my children were grown up.
The bills for unpaid subscriptions
lay in a great heap on the table.
So I smashed everything and started all over again.

Long overdue for the Nobel Prize, the Danish poet Henrik Nordbrandt is the greatest among all the contemporary Scandinavian poets living today.
I love the above poem. In unusual metaphors, he conjures up a world where loss and fulfillment occur simultaneously. “The Screw,” begins with the speaker claiming: “In my dream I found the screw / that held everything together.” In the poem the speaker busies himself with figuring out how to assemble the gadget that the screw holds together, and once he completes the task he discovers that “my wife had left me / and my children were grown up.” At the conclusion acts of construction and deconstruction coalesce: “So I smashed everything and started all over again.”

Source : The Hangman's Lament: Poems by Henrik Nordbrandt
Painting by Salavador Dali

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Lullaby for my mother

By Blaga Dimitrova

Translated by Ludmilla Popova-Wightman

In the evening I smooth her sheets
Covered with deep wrinkles.
Her hand,
withered by giving,
pulls mine towards the night.

Half-asleep, barely able to speak,
she says in a childish voice
so naturally,
I become my mother’s mother.

A cataclysm, a reversal
Of the earth’s axis—
the poles flip over.
What was I doing? I don’t have time
for philosophical musings.

I dry her impatiently—
A skill, I've learnt from her.
“Mommy” she whispers guiltily,
remembering her naughtiness.
Cold air blows in the window.

The heating pad. The glass. The pills
I adjust the lampshade.
“Mommy, don’t go away!
I am afraid of dark! “
Who is losing her mind, she or I?

Heavy with pain and fever, crying,
she waits for me to take her 
in my arms. Two orphans cuddle
in the winter cradle.
Which am I?

Wake me up early tomorrow!
I am afraid, I’ll oversleep!
Dear Lord, is there something
I have forgotten?
Who will be late, she or I?

Mommy, my child, sleep!
my baby…

There is often a reversal of roles that takes place in life when parents age and previous relationships are reversed. Thus we find the famous Bulgarian poet Blaga Dimitrova eloquently writing in her "Lullaby for My Mother" of this poignant situation. 

I have been recently reading . "I Remain in Darkness" by the famous French Novelist Annie Ernaux , an extraordinary evocation of a grown daughter’s attachment to her mother, and of both women’s strength and resiliency. It recounts Annie’s attempts first to help her mother recover from Alzheimer’s disease, and then, when that proves futile, to bear witness to the older woman’s gradual decline and her own experience as a daughter losing a beloved parent. This poem somehow seems to complement that reversal of the roles I find in in Annie’s memoir.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Presented to Wei Pa, Gentleman in Retirement

by Tu Fu 

translated by Burton Watson

Life is not made for meetings;
like stars at opposite ends of the sky we move.
What night is it, then, tonight,
when we can share the light of this lamp?
Youth — how long did it last?
The two of us grayheaded now,
we ask about old friends — half are ghosts;
cries of unbelief stab the heart.
Who would have thought? — twenty years
and once again I enter your house.
You weren't married when I left you;
now suddenly a whole row of boys and girls!
merrily greeting their father's friend,
asking me what places I've been.
Before I finish answering,
you send the boys to set out wine and a meal,
spring scallions cut in night rain,
new cooked rice mixed with yellow millet.
Meetings are rare enough, you say;
pour the wine till we've downed ten cups!
But ten cups do not make me drunk;
your steadfast love is what moves me now.
Tomorrow hills and ranges will part us,
the wide world coming between us again.

It was with immense sadness I learned about the death of Professor Burton Watson. His "The Columbia book of Chinese Poetry” was my first introduction to Chinese Poetry. Notwithstanding many other later translators like David Hinton, this fine volume of Chinese poetry has remained as my all-time favourite anthology of Chinese Poetry. 

How beautifully has Tu Fu, one of the greatest Chinese poets of Tang Dynasty,  written this parting toast to his friend and how nimbly Professor Burton Watson has translated it! The passage of time, which is the theme of the poem, is captured with immaculate emotional intensity in this lovely poem. Rest in peace Professor Watson. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Oh, to be alone

Oh, to be alone

By Radmila Lazić 
Translated from the Serbian by Charles Simic

Oh, to be alone
Without your footsteps, your voice.
Oh, to hear the silence like the growing
Of a dark flower in a corner of a room.
Oh, to be in the quiet of things and the quiet mind.
Oh, to be alone
Without your footsteps, your voice.
Oh, to hear only the beating of your heart,
Keeping quiet like a mushroom in a damp forest.
Oh, to stretch across the bed
Like a broken branch.
Oh , to snuggle up to the silence
Like a leaf to the wet pavement.
Oh, to be alone
Without your footsteps, voice and your body,
Covered with silence, wrapped in it.
Oh, to hear the night thicken.
Oh, to lie wide awake
While a ray of moonlight falls on the bed
Like a cold sword.
Oh, to hear the silence like a shriek of the owl.
Oh, to be without your voice, your body
As if laid out in a tomb.

When I started reading the first poetry collection in English , “A wake for the Living “, of the celebrated Serbian Poet Radmila Lazic, I was spellbound by the eloquence and intensity of her lyrics. Her poetry is replete with strikingly original imagery and metaphors. She knows how to use words that make one heart to move to another. How beautifully she has crafted this poem on the intensity of absence of someone dear to her . We are lucky that another fine poet recognized her talents and chose to translate them.

Ref: A Wake for the Living by Radmila Lazić . Translated from the Sebian by Charles Simic. Gray Wolf Press, SaintPaul, Minnesota.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017



By Blaga Dimitrova
Translated by Ludmilla G Popova-Wightman
A meeting, ardent and tender
A pocket full of two whispering hands.
The wind whistles by our branch
and pushes hard to separate us.
Pressed to each other, we make space for it
at our side. We search each other’s eyes
for the saviour moon, drowning in clouds.
Close to us a rodent hollows a tree trunk.
Love, when did you turn into hate?
Deep in the pocket, a clenched fist.
Snakes hiss in our grey hair..
Our deaf hands don’t speak to each other
our wolf eyes turn away..
And only in my dream sometimes emerges
a tender moon, drowning in clouds.
Didn’t the rodent reach the tree trunk’s heart?

The Bulgarian poet Blaga Dimitrova (1922-2003) is the most loved and celebrated poet of her country. Her poems are intimate, subdued, thoughtful and caring. They are at once cerebral and sensual. I loved the below poem that shows the flowering and decadence of love through beautiful imageries and apt symbols.
(From Scars : Poems by Blaga Dimitrova , Ivy Press)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The gift

The gift

By Herberto Padilla 

Translated by Alastair Reid and Andrew Hurley

I have bought these strawberries for you.
I wanted to bring you flowers,
but I saw a girl biting into
strawberries in the street
and the thick sweet juice
ran over her lips so that
I felt her avid warmth
was like yours,
the very image of love,
We have lived out years
struggling with sharp winds,
the ancient stench of ruins,
but always there was fruit,
the very simplest,
and there was always a flower.
So that even though these strawberries
are not the most important thing in the universe,
I know that they will swell your joy
like the glee of falling snow.
Our son smiling melts it in his hands
as God must do with our lives.
We have put on overcoats and boots,
and our numb red skin
is another image of the resurrection.
Creatures of the diaspora of our time,
Oh, give us, God, the strength to go on!

The name of Heberto Padilla is synonymous with the censorship and intolerance to intellectuals of the Castro regime in Cuba. For many writers in Latin America and Europe, the "Padilla affair" of 1971 marked the end of their support for the Cuban revolution because of the heavy-handed way it dealt with criticism and dissent expressed in one man's poems.

Born in Puerta de Golpe, in the western Cuban province of Pinar del Río, Padilla devoted himself to poetry from an early age. He was, at first, an enthusiastic supporter of the revolution which saw Fidel Castro and his guerrilla army sweep the dictator Fulgencio Batista from power in January 1959. However, Padilla soon began to take a more critical view of life in Castro's Cuba and in 1968 he was placed under house arrest. In 1971, as the political climate in Cuba worsened still further, he was interrogated for a month by the security police. A petition, signed by such prominent figures as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Susan Sontag, was organised to protest at Padilla's treatment. And, in a continent where the literary and the political were inextricably intertwined, a writer's position on the Padilla affair became an easy way of defining their sympathies.

In 1980, Senator Edward Kennedy secured his release to the US, where he was hailed as a hero by President Ronald Reagan.

This is a heart-warming poem .The poet, being a creature of the diaspora of our times, knows how to find joy in simple things in life. I have always thought that even the simplest gift can be made memorable so long as you can have nice story to wrap it . The strawberry here becomes a metaphor of joy that can lighten the sadness and sufferings of life.

(Source : Legacies : Selected Poems of Herberto Padilla published by Farrar. Straus. Giroux)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A poem by Meng Chiao

A poem by Meng Chiao

Translated by David Hinton

Though few of our fellow humans grieve,
the birds and beasts all call out in sorrow,
and however senseless they seem at first,
they've reached into the depths of heaven.
No child means no tears when you sicken,
no father no one to suffer your memories.
Why separate family from everyone else?
To do it, people use the rites like a knife,
so you died alone, buried without mourners,
I kept lament to myself, hid this worry,
and let other hands lift you into the grave.
How can I praise their devotion now, your
sincerity? Lost, lost -- a childless old man
like another feather lost among the molt.

( Note: molt is a clutter of feathers left by birds)

Until the age of forty, Meng Chiao (A.D. 751--814) lived as a poet-recluse associated with Ch'an (Zen) poet-monks in south China. He then embarked on a rather unsuccessful career as a government official. After his retirement, Meng developed an innovative poetry style that made him a consummate poetry master. His is an experimental poetry of virtuosic beauty, a poetry that anticipated landmark developments in the modern Western tradition by a millennium. With the T'ang Dynasty crumbling, Meng's later work employed surrealist and symbolist techniques as it turned to a deep introspection. His late work is singular not only for its bleak introspection and "avant-garde" methods, but also for its dimensions.

I was reading a lot of his “Late Poems” tonight and this poem, steeped in immense sadness , about a loner captured my heart. It also made me think of the fate of millions of refugees severed from their near and dear by the tragedies of our times.