Archive for Poetry

Child of Europe

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on April 14, 2016 by telescoper

The poet Czeslaw Milosz was the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. He was born in Lithuania, in 1911, to a family of Polish origin.  He experienced at first hand the suffering caused by the Nazi terror and genocide, the war, and later, Stalinist tyranny.  His Nobel Prize citation states that he ” with uncompromising clear-sightedness voices man’s exposed condition in a world of severe conflicts”. This example of his poetry, written (I believe) in Poland in 1945, is a particularly powerful example.

1

We, whose lungs fill with the sweetness of day,

Who in May admire trees flowering,
Are better than those who perished.

We, who taste of exotic dishes,
And enjoy fully the delights of love,
Are better than those who were buried.

We, from the fiery furnaces, from behind barbed wires
On which the winds of endless Autumns howled,
We, who remember battles where the wounded air roared in paroxysms of pain,
We, saved by our own cunning and knowledge.

By sending others to the more exposed positions,
Urging them loudly to fight on,
Ourselves withdrawing in certainty of the cause lost.

Having the choice of our own death and that of a friend,
We chose his, coldly thinking: let it be done quickly.

We sealed gas chamber doors, stole bread,
Knowing the next day would be harder to bear than the day before.

As befits human beings, we explored good and evil.
Our malignant wisdom has no like on this planet.

Accept it as proven that we are better than they,
The gullible, hot-blooded weaklings, careless with their lives.

2

Treasure your legacy of skills, child of Europe,
Inheritor of gothic cathedrals, of baroque churches,
Of synagogues filled with the wailing of a wronged people.
Successor of Descartes, Spinoza, inheritor of the word “honor,”
posthumous child of Leonidas,
Treasure the skills acquired in the hour of terror.

You have a clever mind which sees instantly
The good and bad of any situation.
You have an elegant, skeptical mind which enjoys pleasures
Quite unknown to primitive races.

Guided by this mind you cannot fail to see
The soundness of the advice we give you:
Let the sweetness of day fill your lungs.
For this we have strict but wise rules.

3

There can be no question of force triumphant.
We live in the age of victorious justice.

Do not mention force, or you will be accused
Of upholding fallen doctrines in secret.

He who has power, has it by historical logic.
Respectfully bow to that logic.

Let your lips, proposing a hypothesis,
Not know about the hand faking the experiment.

Let your hand, faking the experiment,
Not know about the lips proposing a hypothesis.

Learn to predict a fire with unerring precision.

Then burn the house down to fulfill the prediction.

4

Grow your tree of falsehood from a small grain of truth.
Do not follow those who lie in contempt of reality.

Let your lie be even more logical than the truth itself,
So the weary travelers may find repose in the lie.

After the Day of the Lie gather in select circles,
Shaking with laughter when our real deeds are mentioned.

Dispensing flattery called: perspicacious thinking.
Dispensing flattery called: a great talent.

We, the last who can still draw joy from cynicism.
We, whose cunning is not unlike despair.

A new, humorless generation is now arising,
It takes in deadly earnest all we received with laughter.

5

Let your words speak not through their meanings,
But through them against whom they are used.

Fashion your weapon from ambiguous words.
Consign clear words to lexical limbo.

Judge no words before the clerks have checked
In their card index by whom they were spoken.

The voice of passion is better that the voice of reason.
The passionless cannot change history.

6

Love no country: countries soon disappear.
Love no city: cities are soon rubble.

Throw away keepsakes, or from your desk
A choking, poisonous fume will exude.

Do not love people: people soon perish.
Or they are wronged and call for your help.

Do not gaze into the pools of the past.
Their corroded surface will mirror
A face different from the one you expected.

7

He who invokes history is always secure.
The dead will not rise to witness against him.

You can accuse them of any deed you like.
Their reply will always be silence.

Their empty faces swim out of the deep dark.
You can fill them with any features desired.

Proud of dominion over people long vanished,
Change the past into your own, better likeness.

8

The laughter born of the love of truth
Is now the laughter of the enemies of the people.

Gone is the age of satire. We no longer need mock
The senile tyrant with false courtly phrases.

Stern as befits the servants of a cause,
We will permit ourselves only sycophantic humor.

Tight-lipped, guided by reasons only,
Cautiously let us step into the era of the unchained fire.

by Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004).

Far Out

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on March 14, 2016 by telescoper

Beyond the dark cartoons
Are darker spaces where
Small cloudy nests of stars
Seem to float on air.

These have no proper names:
Men out alone at night
Never look up at them
For guidance or delight,

For such evasive dust
Can make so little clear:
Much less is known than not,
More far than near.

by Philip Larkin (1922-85)

 

 

Geometry, by Rita Dove

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on February 23, 2016 by telescoper

I prove a theorem and the house expands:
the windows jerk free to hover near the ceiling,
the ceiling floats away with a sigh.

As the walls clear themselves of everything
but transparency, the scent of carnations
leaves with them. I am out in the open

and above the windows have hinged into butterflies,
sunlight glinting where they’ve intersected.
They are going to some point true and unproven.

by Rita Dove

 

Luminary, by R.S. Thomas

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on February 14, 2016 by telescoper

My luminary,
my morning and evening
star. My light at noon
when there is no sun
and the sky lowers. My balance
of joy in a world
that has gone off joy’s
standard. Yours the face
that young I recognised
as though I had known you
of old. Come, my eyes
said, out into the morning
of a world whose dew
waits for your footprint.
Before a green altar
with the thrush for priest
I took those gossamer
vows that neither the Church
could stale nor the Machine
tarnish, that with the years
have grown hard as flint,
lighter than platinum
on our ringless fingers.

by R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)

 

The Owl

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on February 7, 2016 by telescoper

Downhill I came, hungry, and yet not starved,
Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof
Against the north wind; tired, yet so that rest
Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof. 

Then at the inn I had food, fire, and rest,
Knowing how hungry, cold, and tired was I.
All of the night was quite barred out except
An owl’s cry, a most melancholy cry. 

Shaken out long and clear upon the hill
No merry note, nor cause of merriment,
But one telling me plain what I escaped
And others could not, that night, as in I went. 

And salted was my food, and my repose,
Salted and sobered too, by the bird’s voice
Speaking for all who lay under the stars,
Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice.

by Edward Thomas (1878-1917)

Mathematicians at Work

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on January 29, 2016 by telescoper

hunker down on their hands and knees
and sniff the problem
poke it with ungentle fingers
rub it raw with steel wool
wad it up in a ball and cackle
then pound it flat with little mallets
watch it rise like dough (uh oh)
resume its original shape
screech, swing at it with hatchets
spatter the walls with oozing fragments
stare horrified at the shattered bits
reassembling themselves, jump up
attack the problem with icepicks
gouge holes six inches deep
and seven inches across
(chew the mangled matter
spit it out and belch) kick the thing
into a corner, remove their belts
and beat it senseless, walk off
with the answer in their pockets.

by Judith Saunders

Storm Warnings

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on December 28, 2015 by telescoper

The glass has been falling all the afternoon, 
And knowing better than the instrument 
What winds are walking overhead, what zone 
Of grey unrest is moving across the land, 
I leave the book upon a pillowed chair 
And walk from window to closed window, watching 
Boughs strain against the sky

And think again, as often when the air 
Moves inward toward a silent core of waiting, 
How with a single purpose time has traveled 
By secret currents of the undiscerned 
Into this polar realm. Weather abroad 
And weather in the heart alike come on 
Regardless of prediction.

Between foreseeing and averting change 
Lies all the mastery of elements 
Which clocks and weatherglasses cannot alter. 
Time in the hand is not control of time, 
Nor shattered fragments of an instrument 
A proof against the wind; the wind will rise,
We can only close the shutters.

I draw the curtains as the sky goes black 
And set a match to candles sheathed in glass 
Against the keyhole draught, the insistent whine 
Of weather through the unsealed aperture. 
This is our sole defense against the season; 
These are the things we have learned to do 
Who live in troubled regions.

by Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)

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