Monday, January 22, 2018

Bomb Crater Sky
by Lâm Thị Mỹ Dạ
Translated by Martha Collins and Thuy Dinh

They say that you, a road builder
Had such love for our country
You rushed out and waved your torch
To call the bombs down on yourself
And save the road for the troops

As my unit passed on that worn road
The bomb crater reminded us of your story
Your grave is radiant with bright-colored stones
Piled high with love for you, a young girl

As I looked in the bomb crater where you died
The rain water became a patch of sky
Our country is kind
Water from the sky washes pain away

Now you lie down deep in the earth
As the sky lay down in that earthen crater
At night your soul sheds light
Like the dazzling stars
Did your soft white skin
Become a bank of white clouds?

By day I pass under a sun-flooded sky
And it is your sky
And that anxious, wakeful disc
Is it the sun, or is it your heart
Lighting my way
As I walk down the long road?

The name of the road is your name
Your death is a young girl’s patch of blue sky
My soul is lit by your life

And my friends, who never saw you
Each has a different image of your face.

The Vietnamese poet Lam Thi My Da is the author of five collections of poems in Vietnam, as well as Green Rice (Northwestern University Press, 2005), translated by Martha Collins and Thuy Dinh. Widely recognized as one of Vietnam’s major poets, she is the recipient of two awards from the Vietnamese Writers’ Association and the highest honors from the National United Board of Vietnamese Literature and the Arts. She comes from Quang Binh Province, in the central part of Vietnam, an area that saw a great deal of fighting during the war.

Set in the Vietnam War, this heart wrenchingly beautiful poem reminds us that bomb craters are never empty, but, for the people whose lives they affect, they are filled with everything and everyone they destroy. The poem is an elegy for a fellow female soldier who was blown apart by a bomb.

Friday, January 5, 2018



By Miklos Radnoti
Translated by Steven Polgar, Stephen Berg and S.J. Marks

Maybe if I were a child again…
Or could go crazy.

The world getting bigger and bigger…
Then I would play and float,
then the sun would blaze again,
then the distance would explode with light.

The net of logic opens
And shuts again.
I would be a child, but memory hurts.
Nettles sting like splinters in my tiny fingers.
And leaves grow high on the mulberry tree.

Or maybe I could be a nice madman
And live in yellow house high among yellow
flowers, a small bell tied around my neck…

But I just look around. The ditch is here.
I walk and think and stand, then walk again.
And wait for longer and longer winters.


But don't leave me, delicate mind!
Don't let me go crazy.
Sweet wounded reason, don't
leave me now.

Don't leave me. Let me die, without fear,
a clean lovely death,
like Empedocles, who smiled as he fell
into the crater.

Miklós Radnóti (1909-1944) was probably the greatest among the world’s Holocaust poets, murdered by the retreating Hungarian Army at the close of the Second World War. His poetry has won a robust international reputation and made him a beloved figure in World Poetry.

Miklos Radnoti's poems have an anguished intimacy and intensity, a supreme humanity. This learned Hungarian poet, killed during World War II at the age of 35, clung to the classical values of the Western tradition at a time when those values were radically imperiled. 

In Radiotin’s late poems, despair and insanity are countered by the aesthetic and moral ideals of antiquity: the clarity of poetic form, the virtues of reason and the philosophical rectitude of Stoicism.

His poems were deeply felt and thoroughly modern -- filled with his sense of anxiety, uncertainty and fate. He was an avant-garde classicist who, in a mad time, was terrified of madness, as in this great poem "Maybe . . . "

(Note Palinode means a poem (here a stanza) in which the poet retracts a view or sentiment expressed in a former poem. Extracted from “Clouded Sky” New and Revised poems of Miklos Radnoti. A detailed review of his poems by yours truly is  there in Goodreads.) 

Radoti with his wife before the war