Posts Tagged ‘poem’

The Wolf

I cried wolf in the pasture. No-one came
“This is the child,” they said, “who lied before,
who dreamt a wolf was scratching at her door,
and roused the town!” And so I took the blame.
I cried wolf in the night; they mocked my claim,
beat me and left me on the hard dirt floor
where I wept, cold and heartsick, bruised and sore,
knowing the beast they feared would come again.

My mind drifts out. A shadow on the moon,
a hunter in the night behind the storm,
I wait for the dark ending of the year.
See now, the window’s open, and the tune
the wind plays, raises hackles. I change form.
I am the wolf child. It is I they fear.

— Jan Sellers


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Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.

Befiehl den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
gib ihnen noch zwei südliche Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehre.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachsen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und word in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

— Rainer Maria Rilke

Autumn day

Lord, it is time. The summer was so long.
Now spread your shadow over the sundials,
and let the winds loose over the fields.

Make the last fruits swell to ripeness;
give them just two more southern days,
push them to perfection and chase
the last few drops of sweetness into the wine.

The one without a house cannot build one now.
The one who is alone must stay that way,
will wake, read, write long letters
and wander restlessly through the avenues
up and down, through the drifts of leaves.

[Image: Wald im Spätherbst by Caspar David Friedrich]

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from: 1940

Mein junger Sohn fragt mich: Soll ich Mathematik lernen?
Wozu, möchte ich sagen. Daß zwei Stücke Brot mehr ist als eines
Das wirst du auch so merken.

Mein junger Sohn fragt mich: Soll ich Französisch lernen?
Wozu, möchte ich sagen. Dieses Reich geht unter. Und
Reibe du nur mit der Hand den Bauch und stöhne
Und man wird dich schon verstehen.

Mein junger Sohn fragt mich: Soll ich Geschichte lernen?
Wozu, möchte ich sagen. Lerne du deinen Kopf in die Erde stecken
Da wirst du vielleicht übrigbleiben.

Ja, lerne Mathematik, sage ich
Lerne Französisch, lerne Geschichte!

— Bertolt Brecht

My young son asks me: Should I learn mathematics?
What for, I’m inclined to say. That two bits of bread are more than one
You’ll notice anyway

My young son asks me: Should I learn French?
What for, I’m inclined to say. That empire is going under.
Just rub your hand across your belly and groan
And you’ll be understood all right.

My young son asks me: Should I learn history?
What for, I’m inclined to say. Learn to stick your head in the ground
Then maybe you’ll come through.

Yes, learn mathematics, I tell him
Learn French, learn history!

— trans. Sammy McLean

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There is a cop who is both prowler and father:
he comes from your block, grew up with your brothers,
had certain ideals.
You hardly know him in his boots and silver badge,
on horseback, one hand touching his gun.

You hardly know him but you have to get to know him:
he has access to machinery that could kill you.
He and his stallion clop like warlords among the trash,
his ideals stand in the air, a frozen cloud
from between his unsmiling lips.

And so, when the time comes, you have to turn to him,
the maniac’s sperm still greasing your thighs,
your mind whirling like crazy. You have to confess
to him, you are guilty of the crime
of having been forced.

And you see his blue eyes, the blue eyes of all the family
whom you used to know, grow narrow and glisten,
his hand types out the details
and he wants them all
but the hysteria in your voice pleases him best.

You hardly know him but now he thinks he knows you:
he has taken down your worst moment
on a machine and filed it in a file.
He knows, or thinks he knows, how much you imagined;
he knows, or thinks he knows, what you secretly wanted.

He has access to machinery that could get you put away;
and if, in the sickening light of the precinct,
and if, in the sickening light of the precinct,
your details sound like a portrait of your confessor,
will you swallow, will you deny them, will you lie your way home?

— Adrienne Rich

I just found a Collected Poems of Adrienne Rich second hand today. This one is depressingly topical right now.

Plus, the best piece I’ve read on DSK: Rebecca Solnit at Guernica Magazine.

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Transcendental etude

No one ever told us we had to study our lives,
make of our lives a study, as if learning natural history
or music, that we should begin
with the simple exercises first
and slowly go on trying
the hard ones, practicing till strength
and accuracy became one with the daring
to leap into transcendence, take the chance
of breaking down the wild arpeggio
or faulting the full sentence of the fugue.
—And in fact we can’t live like that: we take on
everything at once before we’ve even begun
to read or mark time, we’re forced to begin
in the midst of the hard movement,
the one already sounding as we are born.

— Adrienne Rich

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Count the almonds

Count the almonds,
count what was bitter and kept you awake
count me in:

I looked for your eye when you opened it, no one was looking at you,
I spun that secret thread
on which the dew you were thinking
slid down to the jugs
guarded by words that to no one’s heart found their way.

Only there did you wholly enter the name that is yours,
sure-footed stepped into yourself,
freely the hammers swung in the bell frame of your silence,
the listened for reached you,
what is dead put its arm about you also
and the three of you walked through the evening.

Make me bitter.
Count me among the almonds.

— Paul Celan

trans. Michael Hamburger

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3. clodhopper, grasshopper, flip-flopper, clip-clopper, eavesdropper, corn popper, sharecropper

There’s even a hint of narrative.

From The poet’s manual and rhyming dictionary by Frances Stillman.

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(For Antoinette)

The stars still marching in extended order
move out of nowhere into nowhere. Look, they are halted
on a vast field tonight, true no man’s land.
Far down the sky with sword and belt must stand
Orion. For commissariat of this exalted
war-company, the Wain. No fabulous border

could swallow all this bravery, no band
will ever face them: nothing but discipline
has mobilized and still maintains them. So
Time and his ancestors have seen them. So
always to fight disorder is their business,
and victory continues in their hand.

From under the old hills to overhead,
and down there marching on the hills again
their camp extends. There go the messengers,
Comets, with greetings of ethereal officers
from tent to tent. Yes, we look up with pain
at distant comrades and plains we cannot tread.

— Keith Douglas

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I am stuck in traffic in a taxicab
which is typical
and not just of modern life
mud clambers up the trellis of my nerves
must lovers of Eros end up with Venus
muss es sein? es muss nicht sein, I tell you
how I hate disease, it’s like worrying
that comes true
and it simply must not be able to happen
in a world where you are possible
my love
nothing can go wrong for us, tell me

— Frank O’Hara

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From the heel
Of a half loaf
Of black bread,
They made a child’s head.

Child, they said,
We’ve nothing for eyes,
Nothing to spare for ears
And nose.

Just a knife
To make a slit
Where your mouth
Ought to be.

You can grin,
You can eat,
Spit the crumbs
Into our face.

— Charles Simic

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Among the admirers of Carmen, all
that hurrying colourful crowd
often calling her name aloud,
one, like a shadow by the wall
of Lillas Pastia’s bar by night,
stay silent, watches sombrely,
does not wait seeking sympathy,
but when the tambourine is hit
and bangles clash together, he
remembers the April sunlight,
he, under a furious storm
of chords, watches her singing form
and sees the poems he must write.

— Alexander Blok

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Entre la plus lointaine étoile et nous
la distance, inimaginable, reste encore
comme une ligne, un lien, comme un chemin.
S’il est un lieu hors de toute distance,
ce devait être là qu’il se perdait:
non pas plus loin de toute étoile, ni moins loin,
mais déjà presque dans un autre espace,
en dehors, entraîné hors des mesures.
Notre mètre, de lui à nous, n’avait plus cours:
autant, comme une lame, le briser sur le genou.

— Philippe Jaccottet

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A sort of a song

Let the snake wait under
his weed
and the writing
be of words, slow and quick, sharp
to strike, quiet to wait,
— through metaphor to reconcile
the people and the stones.
Compose. (No ideas
but in things) Invent!
Saxifrage is my flower that splits
the rocks.

— William Carlos Williams

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Junior addict

The little boy
who sticks a needle in his arm
and seeks an out in other worldly dreams,
who seeks an out in eyes that droop
and ears that close to Harlem screams,
cannot know, of course,
(and has no way to understand)
a sunrise that he cannot see
beginning in some other land-
but destined sure to flood -and soon-
the very room in which he leaves
his needle and his spoon,
the very room in which today the air
is heavy with the drug
of his despair.

(Yet little can
tomorrow’s sunshine give
to one who will not live.)

Quick, sunrise, come-
Before the mushroom bomb
Pollutes his stinking air
With better death
Than is his living here,
WIth viler drugs
Than bring today’s release
In poison from the fallout
Of our peace.

“It’s easier to get dope
than it is to get a job.”

Yes, easier to get dope
than to get a job-
daytime or nighttime job,
teen-age, pre-draft,
pre-lifetime job.

Quick, sunrise, come!
Sunrise out of Africa,
Quick, come!
Sunrise, please come!
Come! Come!

— Langston Hughes

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The Peddler

Lend me, a little while, the key
That locks your heavy heart, and I’ll give you back–
Rarer than books and ribbons and beads bright to see,
This little Key of Dreams out of my pack.

The road, the road, beyond men’s bolted doors,
There shall I walk and you go free of me,
For yours lies North across the moors,
And mine lies South. To what seas?

How if we stopped and let our solemn selves go by,
While my gay ghost caught and kissed yours, as ghosts don’t do,
And by the wayside, this forgotten you and I
Sat, and were twenty-two?
Give me the key that locks your tired eyes,
And I will lend you this one from my pack,
Brighter than colored beads and painted books that make men wise:
Take it. No, give it back!

— Charlotte Mew

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I found a small dragon

I found a small dragon in the woodshed.
Think it must have come from deep inside a forest
because it’s damp and green and leaves
are still reflecting in its eyes.

I fed it on many things, tried grass,
the roots of stars, hazel-nut and dandelion,
but it stared up at me as if to say, I need
food you can’t provide.

It made a nest among the coal,
not unlike a bird’s but larger,
it is out of place here
and is quite silent.

If you believed in it I would come
hurrying to your house to let you share my wonder,
but I want instead to see
if you yourself will pass this way.

— Brian Patten

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Vacant lot with pokeweed

Tufts, follicles, grubstake
biennial rosettes, a low-
life beach-blond scruff of
couch grass: notwithstanding
the interglinting dregs

of wholesale upheaval and
dismemberment, weeds do not
hesitate, the wheeling
rise of the ailanthus halts
at nothing–and look! here’s

a pokeweed, sprung up from seed
dropped by some vagrant, that’s
seized a foothold: a magenta-
girdered bower, gazebo twirls
of blossom rounding into

raw-buttoned, garnet-rodded
fruit one more wayfarer
perhaps may salvage from
the season’s frittering,
the annual wreckage.

— Amy Clampitt

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Two girls singing

It neither was the words nor yet the tune
Any tune would have done and any words.
Any listener at all.

As nightingales in rocks or a child crooning
in its own world of strange awakening
or larks for no reason but themselves.

So on the bus through late November running
by yellow lights tormented, darkness falling,
the two girls sang for miles and miles together

and it wasn’t the words or the tune. It was the singing.
It was the human sweetness in that yellow,
the unpredicted voices of our kind.

— Iain Chrichton Smith

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They dug and they dug, so their day
went by for them, their night. And they did not praise God,
who, so they heard, wanted all this,
who, so they heard, knew all this.

They dug and heard nothing  more;
they did not grow up wise, invented no song,
thought up for themselves no language.
They dug.

There came a stillness, and there came a storm,
and all the oceans came.
I dig, you dig, and the worm digs too,
and that singing out there says: They dig.

O one, o none, o no one, o you:
Where did the way lead when it led nowhere?
O you dig and I dig, and I dig toward you,
and on our finger the ring awakes.

— Paul Celan
(trans. Michael Hamburger)

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My sister doesn’t write poems,
and it’s unlikely that she’ll suddenly start writing poems.
She takes after her mother, who didn’t write poems,
and also her father, who likewise didn’t write poems.
I feel safe beneath my sister’s roof:
my sister’s husband would rather die than write poems.
And, even though this is starting to sound as
repetitive as Peter Piper,
the truth is, none of my relatives write poems.

My sister’s desk drawers don’t hold old poems,
and her handbag doesn’t hold new ones.
When my sister asks me over for lunch,
I know she doesn’t want to read me her poems.
Her soups are delicious without ulterior motives.
Her coffee doesn’t spill on manuscripts.

There are many families in which nobody writes poems,
but once it starts up it’s hard to quarantine.
Sometimes poetry cascades down through the generations,
creating fatal whirlpools where family love may founder.

My sister has tackled oral prose with some success,
but her entire written opus consists of postcards from vacations
whose text is only the same promise every year:
when she gets back,
she’ll have
so much
much to tell.

–Wislawa Symborska
trans. Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

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