Monday, November 30, 2020

If one could tell one’s heart…


 If one could tell one’s heart…

by Jaroslav Seifert

Translated by Ewald Osers

If one could tell one’s heart:

                       don’t rush!

If one could bid it: Burn!

The flame is dying.

          Only a slipper now,

only a hand,

                only a thimble now

before the key turns, opening the door

through which we pass with tears

for that terrible beauty

                     called Life.

Don’t feel ashamed. Lord Jesus also wept.

Last night the stars shone so brilliantly.


But why should a single blade speak of


When there is grass?

               I do apologize,

I only want a few words.


When I collapsed with pain

and death already was licking its finger

to snuff out

the small red flame of blood,

came the one woman who was closest to me,

knelt down beside me

                 and bent low

to breathe, with her long kisses,

her breath into my lungs, as to a drowned man.


And he, already leaving

            opened his eyes again

and desperately with his hands hung on

to her shoulders and hair.


May be it’s possible to live without love—

But to die without it

       is sheer despair.


Just one more little leaf,

            just one more grain,

only a pinhead’s worth!

So I can just a little longer stagger

In the balmy attraction of womanhood,

which draws us close and leads us away,

          seeks and passes,

urges and restrains,

        strikes down and rises up,

binds and loosens,

         caresses and kills,

wing and anchor

        fetter and ray,

rose and claw to the end.


Poet Jaroslav Seifert was the first Czech to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1984. His poetry is worth reading, reciting, and memorizing for its rich texture. He was a poet in love with humanity, in love with nature, in love with cities, in love with beautiful women young and old, indeed, in love with all true things. He lived through two world wars, and two brutal occupations, suffered mightily at the hands of ignorant and cruel men, and yet managed to keep his humanity and his dignity, find joy amidst the cruelties of this world, and live life to the fullest.

This love poem written when he was ill is heart-wrenchingly beautiful. The contrary emotions in conjugal bliss is beautifully evoked in the last stanza. I am going to write these lines in my heart:

“May be it’s possible to live without love—

But to die without it

       Is sheer despair.”

Painting : Le Couple by Picasso 


Thursday, November 12, 2020




By Nathan Zach

Translated by Tsipi keller
Look, as we promised each other,
we changed nothing and the world
is as wonderful as it was, the rain
tarries this year, but it will come:
it will come as long as we're still here.

Look, as we agreed,
I am in one place, you in another.
We didn't become one, which is also natural,
and in your weakness and in mine
there looms a promise, too:
after memory forgetfulness is all.

And if the road already may incline downward
in the famed sloping print of life's curve,
it does, in some sense, aspire upward,
and aspiration is a great thing in life,
on this, too, we agreed, you surely remember.

 And if now I'm alone and aching and ailing more than ever,
this, too, was a choice,
if not always conscious. And if you too are alone,
it makes my loneliness less just
and this should sustain you as well.

 How fortunate that we've agreed on so little:
on parting, on loneliness and fear, the basic certainties,
and there's always something to return to,
you will see how young we will be in the end,
and the end, when it comes, will be almost just.
And everything, you will see, will be almost welcome.

Natan Zach is one of Israel's most celebrated and influential contemporary writers. Along with the works of Yehuda Amichai and Dan Pagis, Zach's poetry is a defining fixture in the landscape of postwar modernism and Hebrew-language poetry and poetics. He passed away on Nov 6, 2020.

Nathan Zach’s poetry is both complex and astringent, a poetry that bears witness to the existential dilemmas of the human condition. His modes are those of pervasive irony and wit. Zach's is not an art of elegance, but one of rigorous perspective and distinction. 

This romantic poem is tinged with cynicism. The theme is about parting of lovers on certain conditions agreed upon previously. Its narration is utterly devoid of sentimentality.

Painting: Jewish Bride by Rembrandt

Monday, November 9, 2020




By T’ao Ch’ien

Translated by David Hinton

 Spending an idle 9/9 at home, I think fondly of how the day’s name sounds like it’s saying ever and ever. Autumn chrysanthemums fill the dooryard. But without wine, their blossoms promising ever-lasting life are useless, so I trust my feelings to words.


Life too short for so many lasting desires,

people adore immortality. When the months


return to this day of promise, everyone

fondly hears ever and ever in its name.


Warm winds have ended. Now, dew ice-cold,

stars blaze in clear skies. And though


the swallows have gone, taking their shadows,

calling geese keep arriving. Wine dispels


worries by the hundred, and chrysanthemums

keep us from the ruins of age. But if you


live in a bramble hut, helplessly watching

these turning seasons crumble – what then?


My empty winejar shamed by a dusty cup, this

cold splendor of blossoms opens for itself


alone. I tighten my robe and sing to myself,

idle, overwhelmed by each memory. So many


joys to fill a short stay. I’ll take my time

here. It is whole. How could it be any less?


T’ao Ch’ien (365–427 A.D.), also known as T'ao Yuan-ming, stands at the head of the great Chinese poetic tradition like a revered grandfather: profoundly wise, self-possessed, quiet, comforting. T’ao was the first writer to make a poetry of his natural voice and immediate experience, thereby creating the personal lyricism which all major Chinese poets inherited and made their own. And in the quiet resonance of his poetry, a poetry that still speaks today’s language, they recognized a depth and clarity of wisdom that seemed beyond them.

T’ao Ch’ien dwelled in the Great Transformation (ta-hua), earth’s process of change in which whatever occurs comes “of itself” (tzu-jan: literally “self-so,” hence “natural” or “spontaneous”). But T’ao was much more than a romantic enthralled with the pastoral. He settled on his secluded farm because earth’s Great Transformation was perfectly immediate there, because there he could live life as it comes of itself, as it ends of itself. When he spoke of leaving government service and returning to the life of a recluse-farmer, he spoke of “returning to tzu-jan.” He took comfort in death as an even more complete return, a return to his “native home.” Although he grieved over loss and dying because he knew the actual to be all there is, he also knew that whatever is alive, himself included, ceases to be as naturally as it comes to be.

T’ao’s return to tzu-jan was also a return to self. His poems are suffused with wonder at the elemental fact of consciousness, and at the same time, his poetry of dwelling initiated that intimate sense of belonging to the earth which shapes the Chinese poetic sensibility.

I hope the above poem written on the day 9/9 of Chinese Calendar exemplifies all the essential aspects of his poetry. How many of us feel the whole in the surrounds we live?

 Ref: Selected Poems of T’ao Ch’ien. Translated by David Hinton. Copper Canyon Press