Friday, October 30, 2020

She cried that night, but not for him to hear


She cried that night, but not for him to hear

 By  Stanisław Barańczak

Translated by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh


    She cried that night, but not for him to hear.

    In fact her crying wasn’t why he woke.

    It was some other sound; that much was clear.


    And this half-waking shame. No trace of tears

    all day, and still at night she works to choke

    the sobs; she cries, but not for him to hear.


    And all those other nights: she lay so near

    but he had only caught the breeze’s joke,

    the branch that tapped the roof. That much was clear.


    The outside dark revolved in its own sphere:

    no wind, no window pane, no creaking oak

    had said: “She’s crying, not for you to hear.”


    Untouchable are those tangibly dear,

    so close, they’re closed, too far to reach and stroke

    a quaking shoulder-blade. This much is clear.


    And he did not reach out — for shame, for fear

    of spoiling the tears’ tenderness that spoke:

    “Go back to sleep. What woke you isn’t here.

    It was the wind outside, indifferent, clear.”

I have always known Stanisław Barańczak as a great translator of Polish poetry into English. He along with Clare Cavanagh translated the poetry of the great Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska which finally led  her to win the Nobel Prize. I had forgotten the fact that Stanisław Barańczak himself was a hugely admired Polish poet. Yesterday I was reading Adam Zagajewski's essay collection titled “Slight Exaggeration” and came to know that Wislawa Szymborska once read the above poem of Stanislaw Barańczak  in a literary function. That is how I located the above poem.

Baranczak was a prominent representative of the Polish "New Wave" and is generally regarded as one of the greatest translators of English poetry into Polish and Polish poetry into English. He received the PEN Translation Prize with Clare Cavanagh in 1996. Stanisław Barańczak died at the age of 68 after prolonged battle with Parkinson's disease in Massachusetts on December 26, 2014.

The above intimate and poignant poem was written during his bedridden days. How subtly and beautifully he conveys the muffled sobbing of his wife dispelling it as “breeze’s joke “and the tapping of a branch on roof. Everything is minified in this one but enough to convey an ocean of anguish and helplessness. 




Thursday, October 8, 2020



My sister spent a whole life in the earth.
She was born, she died.
In between,
not one alert look, not one sentence.
She did what babies do,
she cried. But she didn’t want to be fed.
Still, my mother held her, trying to change
first fate, then history.
Something did change: when my sister died,
my mother’s heart became
very cold, very rigid,
like a tiny pendant of iron.
Then it seemed to me my sister’s body
was a magnet. I could feel it draw
my mother’s heart into the earth,
so it would grow
Louise Gluck, the American poet Laureate of 2003-2004, has won the 2020 Nobel Prize for literature, as announced today evening, for “her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal”.
Her beautiful poems encompasses the natural, human, and spiritual realms, and is bound together by the universal themes of time and mortality. With clarity and sureness of craft, Gluck's poetry questions, explores, and finally celebrates the ordeal of being alive.
“Lost Love” represents the speaker as a victim of a family tragedy. She is the one lacking love and attention from parents too involved in their grief over another daughter’s early death:
“ Something did change: when my sister died,
my mother’s heart became
very cold, very rigid,
like a tiny pendant of iron. “
The poem describes how the speaker’s childhood was in effect stolen by the sister, who took her mother’s affection with her into the grave.


Saturday, October 3, 2020

Why Can’t I Be Your Body?


 Why Can’t I Be Your Body?

 By Elias Nandino

 Translated by Don Cellini

Why can’t I be your body
on top of my naked body
to hug myself
and feel the fire traveling
up my thighs through you?

Why can’t I be your eyes
so they can cry with mine
in the shade of my chest
and crack the silence
with beads of water?

Why can’t I be your hands
to play with mine
and run them across my body
like toys pushed by the wind
to invent a new caress?

Why can’t I be your mouth
to kiss myself in the fire
you have sparked on my lips
and feel that I am the one
pouring himself into the other?
Why can’t I live your life
to feel what I feel
deep within your chest
and watch you approaching me
like an image in the mirror?

I want to be both glass and wine,
the roots and the branches,
the riverbank and the current,
the bell and its sound,
the fuel and its flame.

Keep sleeping without seeing me,
awake here beside you.
I fly into the flight of your dream
to be so close to you
I breathe through your body.

Elias Nandino (1900-1993) was a Mexican poet who made his living as a surgeon and physician. He published twenty volumes of poetry in his lifetime, work often focused on solitude, eroticism, and love. In recognition of his dedication to teaching and assisting young writers, the National Young Poets Prize in Mexico is named in his honor.

Because his love poems are not addressed to any particular individual, they have sometimes been labeled narcissistic and this poem has echoes of it though its source is the memory of an encounter with his lover. When Nandino writes that he wants to see his beloved “like an image in a mirror,” One might conclude that this label is correct. The theme of love is often addressed in contrasting pairs of presence and absence in many of his poems. For example, in another poem titled “My First Love,” he writes,  “And in the blue that hides the evidence/I discover your unforgettable face,/ and suffer the presence of your absence.”

Source : Elías Nandino: Selected Poems, in Spanish and English
by Elías Nandino,Don Cellin (Translator)