Friday, December 28, 2018

Coffee Break

Coffee Break

By Kwame Dawes

It was Christmastime,
the balloons needed blowing,
and so in the evening
we sat together to blow
balloons and tell jokes,
and the cool air off the hills
made me think of coffee,
so I said, “Coffee would be nice,”
and he said, “Yes, coffee
would be nice,” and smiled
as his thin fingers pulled
the balloons from the plastic bags;
so I went for coffee,
and it takes a few minutes
to make the coffee
and I did not know
if he wanted cow’s milk
or condensed milk,
and when I came out
to ask him, he was gone,
just like that, in the time
it took me to think,
cow’s milk or condensed;
the balloons sat lightly
on his still lap.

Kwame Dawes is famous Ghanian-American poet and current Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets

I was touched by this poem that speaks about our transitory life. It takes only a coffee break to turn us into a lifeless one.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Tactics and Strategy

Tactics and Strategy 
By Mario Benedetti
Translated by Louise B. Popkin

My tactic is

        to watch you

get to know who you are

love who you are

my tactic is

             to talk to you

and listen

build a permanent bridge

out of words

my tactic is

to find a place in your memory

I don’t know just how     or

where and when

but to find my place in you

my tactic is

                to be open

knowing you are too

and never sell each other

false goods

so that between us

there will be no secrets

                      or distances

my strategy

on the other hand

is simpler and more


my strategy is

that one of these days

I don’t know just how    or

where and when

finally        you’ll need me.

Benedetti (1920 - 2009) is regarded as one of Latin America’s most important poets of the 20th century and one of Uruguay's most prolific writers. He excelled in all literary genres: novels, short stories, poems, plays, essays, political articles, and polemical songs.

I loved this poem. The poet speaks of tactics and strategies to woo his lover. But  they are not devious or manipulative. They are soft tactics and strategies rooted in honesty and sincerity. 

 Source :  "Witness: The selected Poems of Mario Benedetti" translated by Louisa B.Popkin.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Love Song

Love Song
By Williams Carlos Williams

Sweep the house clean,
hang fresh curtains
in the windows
put on a new dress
and come with me!
The elm is scattering
its little loaves
of sweet smells
from a white sky!
Who shall hear of us
in the time to come?
Let him say there was
a burst of fragrance
from black branches.

The famous American  poet in this beautiful poem pleads his lover to set aside the daily chores and join him to indulge in love and celebrate the moment when the whole nature is bursting with intoxicating ‘little loaves of sweet smell’.

I loved the sense of urgency (come with me!) and tempo of the poem. There is a sweep of energy and imagery which are almost seductive. One can visualize the linen curtains billowing in a breeze, a woman in a white dress rushing to immerse in the burst of fragrance from black branches of the elm tree.

This is a hyper charged love poem.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Autumn Love
“A Weary Song to a Slow Sad Tune”

by Li Ch’ing-chao

trans. Kenneth Rexroth (renowned American poet)

Search. Search. Seek. Seek.
Cold. Cold. Clear. Clear.
Sorrow. Sorrow. Pain. Pain.
Hot flashes. Sudden chills.
Stabbing pains. Slow agonies.
I can find no peace.
I drink two cups, then three bowls,
Of clear wine until I can’t
Stand up against a gust of wind.
Wild geese fly over head.
They wrench my heart.
They were our friends in the old days.
Gold chrysanthemums litter
The ground, pile up, faded, dead.
This season I could not bear
To pick them. All alone,
Motionless at my window,
I watch the gathering shadows.
Fine rain sifts through the wu-t’ung trees,
And drips, drop by drop, through the dusk.
What can I ever do now?
How can I drive off this word —

I  read today this poem in the small collection of "Complete Poems" by Ching-Chao Li. How beautifully the poet captures with evocative images the loneliness and hopelessness after a possible break up from her lover!

Li Ch’ing-chao (1084–c.1151) is universally considered to be China’s greatest woman poet. Her life was colorful and versatile: other than a great poet, she was a scholar of history and classics, a literary critic, an art collector, a specialist in bronze and stone inscriptions, a painter, a calligrapher, and a political commentator. Li is reputed to be the greatest writer of tz’u poetry, a lyric verse form written to the popular tunes of the Sung Dynasty (960-1279). Her tz’u poems are fill of lucid imagery, refined and highly suggestive.

Source: Complete Poems by Ching-Chao Li (Author), Kenneth Rexroth (Translator), Ling Chung (Translator)

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Old Chinese Poem

Old Poem (Chinese)
By Anonymous

Translated by Arthur Waley (One of the distinguished early translators of Chinese Poetry) 

At fifteen I went with the army,
At fourscore I came home.
On the way I met a man from the village,
I asked him who there was at home.
“That over there is your house,
All covered over with trees and bushes.”
Rabbits had run in at the dog-hole,
Pheasants flew down from the beams of the roof.
In the courtyard was growing some wild grain;
And by the well, some wild mallows.
I’ll boil the grain and make porridge,
I’ll pluck the mallows and make soup.
Soup and porridge are both cooked,
But there is no-one to eat them with.
I went out and looked towards the east,
While tears fell and wetted my clothes

“I have aimed at literal translation,” Arthur Waley wrote in his introductory notes to One Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems (1918). “Above all, considering imagery to be the soul of poetry, I have avoided either adding images of my own or suppressing those of the original.” On the subject of rhythm, he added: “In a few instances where the English (line) insisted on being shorter than the Chinese, I have preferred to vary the metre of my version, rather than pad out the line with unnecessary verbiage.” These comments emphasize Waley’s fundamental aim: fidelity. Nothing added, nothing padded.

Fifteen is the significant age for the protagonist and underlines the pathos of the situation. The story is simple and affecting. The narrator “went with” the army at 15: when was discharged at the age of 80, he’d been in military service for an astonishing 65 years. His encounter with the neighbor is beautifully understated. Asked “who there was at home”, the neighbor doesn’t answer, but tactfully points to the near-derelict house.

The narrator’s tone remains optimistic. Rabbits and pheasants are harmless interlopers. The weeds include wild grain and mallow, an edible plant. The resourceful old man knows what to do. There are rapid, easy tense-shifts, from the past of the first 10 lines, to future and present in lines 11 and 12: “I’ll pluck the mallows … Soup and porridge are both cooked.” The narrative ordering makes psychological sense. It’s only when the old man sits down with his dishes that he realizes, in the inescapable present, “there is no-one to eat them with”. The tense reverts to the past after that, as it must, leaving unsaid regrets to echo round the time-gap.

The old soldier went out, probably leaving the meal unfinished. Gazing east, he recalled more hopeful times (“went out and looked towards the east”). The last line of the poem is painfully moving. Perhaps Anonymous wanted readers or listeners not simply to mourn a possibly wasted life and a desolate old age, but to see, beyond the page, the image of the ultimate sacrifice of a soldier.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

A poem from the book” Evening brings everything back”

A poem from the book” Evening brings everything back”

By Jaan Kaplinski 

I came from Tähtvere. It was Sunday evening.
I was the only fare to the final stop.
I stepped out. The road was silent - not a single car.
The wind had fallen silent. Only the stars
and the sickle of the new moon were shining above the river.
I felt sorry I had to go. I would have liked to step
aside from the path onto the wasteland and to stay still,
looking at this moon, these constellations, several of whom
I had forgotten again during the winter. But most of all
at the sky itself, the blue of the sky that was nearly
as deep and strange as once long ago,
twenty years ago when we were sitting and drinking wine
around a campfire in the nearby forest, and I came
back to Tartu on a village road with a girl,
arms around each other's necks.
The blue is much easier to remember
than names, titles or faces,
even the faces of those you have once loved.

Jaan Kaplinski is an outstanding Eastonian poet deserving Nobel Prize. His touching, thought provoking poems and short prose texts often masterfully reveal the mysteries underlying simple phenomena, both household and natural. Stylistically limpid, his poems ask deep questions and emphasize enigmas that surround our existence.

Getting off a bus as a lone passenger and gazing at “the stars and the sickle of the new moon”, for instance, remind the poet of a former fleeting love and make him ponder why it is easier to remember a certain “blue” of the night sky than “names, titles or faces, even the faces of those you have once loved.”

I loved the deceptive simplicity of this verse. I too remember the frames more than the faces

Friday, April 13, 2018

View with a Grain of Sand

View with a Grain of Sand

by Wislawa Szymborska
trans Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

We call it a grain of sand,
but it calls itself neither grain nor sand.
It does just fine without a name,
whether general, particular,
permanent, passing,
incorrect, or apt.

Our glance, our touch mean nothing to it.
It doesn't feel itself seen and touched.
And that it fell on the windowsill
is only our experience, not its.
For it, it is no different from falling on anything else
with no assurance that it has finished falling
or that it is falling still.

The window has a wonderful view of a lake,
but the view doesn't view itself.
It exists in this world
colorless, shapeless,
soundless, odorless, and painless.

The lake's floor exists floorlessly,
and its shore exists shorelessly.
Its water feels itself neither wet nor dry
and its waves to themselves are neither singular nor plural.
They splash deaf to their own noise
on pebbles neither large nor small.

And all this beneath a sky by nature skyless
in which the sun sets without setting at all
and hides without hiding behind an unminding cloud.
The wind ruffles it, its only reason being
that it blows.

A second passes.
A second second.
A third.
But they're three seconds only for us.

Time has passed like a courier with urgent news.
But that's just our simile.
The character is invented, his haste is make-believe,
his news inhuman.

Written by one of my all-time favourite Poets, this poem by Wislawa Szymborska, the Polish Nobel Laureate, makes us think laterally about objects and things we see and name.

 The central idea in the poem – that everything is relative – is something that we as humans often don’t reflect upon, something we forget. The poem presents the thought that, without people to give meaning to inanimate objects, they would not be important. It points out that the objects do not know their names or their purposes. Sand does not know that it is sand! It is sand to us alone – it is relative to our existence, just like all other lifeless objects.

The poem is a landscape word painting with a twist. Instead of presenting readers with a scene featuring a beach or a lake, Szymborska engages in a metaphysical exploration of physical identity and its relationship to language. We are shown (close-up) a grain of sand falling on a windowsill with a view of a lake beyond, but there is more to the poem’s subtext.

The first stanza introduces the abstract concept o naming—by beginning with “We call it a grain of sand / but it calls itself neither grain nor sand”. The speaker says that what we call sand “does just fine” unburdened by linguistic tags whatever their character, “general, particular, / . . . / incorrect or apt.” The second stanza notes, “Our glance, our touch mean nothing to it”; it is the viewer who sees the grain fall “on the windowsill.” Being unsentient matter, the grain of sand neither feels its environment nor knows it in any human sense. As the third stanza puts it, even “a wonderful view of a lake” has no self-consciousness. The view, like the grain of sand, “exists in this world / colorless, shapeless, / soundless, odorless, and painless.” The senses are what endow human views of the universe with phenomenal qualities (relating to seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, and tasting), and all human languages are born of human experience and perspectives.

Matter in itself obviously exists, but not in any indispensable contact with language: The lake’s water “feels itself neither wet nor dry,” and its waves “splash deaf to their own noise.”
The poem ends with two stanzas on the topic of time. Three seconds are said to have passed, but only the poet and her “audience” have measured and counted them. Humans invent similes (the poem’s speaker says) comparing the universe to themselves and wrap their own terms around things, likening, for instance, the passage of time to the actions of certain “characters”: e.g., “Time has passed like a courier with urgent news.” But the identities we confer on inhuman matter, space, and time—like the “courier” the poet has invented to talk about an occasion—are all “make-believe.” 

By sanitizing the relationship of language to things in this way, Szymborska makes the point that all efforts to get at and to pin down identity (essence) or history (existence in time) are projections from particular (and human) points of view: They are just as ridiculous as our efforts to communicate through mere words a true sense of self or of reality. The poem is self-reflexive and ironic in deprecating itself as well as the activity of writers more generally, but, at the same time, it manages to say something important about the ineffability of identity and about the touching human need forcommunication, achieving itself in a detached and dryly humorous sort of way.