Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Onakatomi no Yoshinobu: "The deer which lives..."

The deer which lives
On the evergreen mountain
Where there are no autumn leaves
Can know the coming of autumn
Only by its own cry.

Tr. Arthur Waley. Onakatomi (921-991) was a nobleman of the middle Heian period. A remarkable and perfect poem, with the combination of simplicity and ever-expanding echoes that's sometimes found in classical Greek poetry.

Robinson Jeffers: Birds

The fierce musical cries of a couple of sparrow hawks hunting on the headland,
Hovering and darting, their heads northwestward,
Prick like silver arrows shot through a curtain the noise of the ocean
Trampling its granite; their red backs gleam
Under my window around the stone corners; nothing gracefuller, nothing
Nimbler in the wind. Westward the wave-gleaners,
The old gray sea-going gulls are gathered together, the northwest wind wakening
Their wings to the wild spirals of the wind-dance.
Fresh as the air, salt as the foam, play birds in the bright wind, fly falcons
Forgetting the oak and the pinewood, come gulls
From the Carmel sands and the sands at the river-mouth, from Lobos and out of the
Power of the mass of the sea, for a poem
Needs multitude, multitudes of thoughts, all fierce, all flesh-eaters, musically clamorous
Bright hawks that hover and dart headlong, and ungainly
Gray hungers fledged with desire of transgression, salt slimed beaks, from the sharp
Rock-shores of the world and the secret waters.

From the collection Roan Stallion (1925). Typical Jeffers in its hewn pessimism and its language that somehow both seeks and repels energy. I get the feeling Jeffers was more inspired by the sea and the rock-shores than by the birds.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Jane Kenyon: Wood Thrush

High on Nardil and June light
I wake at four,
waiting greedily for the first
note of the wood thrush. Easeful air
presses through the screen
with the wild, complex song
of the bird, and I am overcome

by ordinary contentment.
What hurt me so terribly
all my life until this moment?
How I love the small, swiftly
beating heart of the bird
singing in the great maples;
its bright, unequivocal eye.

Published 1993; the last poem in a nine-part sequence, "Having It Out With Melancholy". The sequence starts from Kenyon's use of prescription drugs against clinical depression. Melancholy will win: we sense that the illuminating serenity gained from the thrush's song will be transitory.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Nightingale [squib]

In stale blank verse a subject stale
I send per post my Nightingale;
And like an honest bard, dear Wordsworth,
You'll tell me what you think, my Bird's worth.
My own opinion's briefly this

His bill he opens not amiss;
And when he has sung a stave or so,
His breast, & some small space below,
So throbs & swells, that you might swear
No vulgar music's working there.
So far, so good; but then, 'od rot him!
There's something falls off at his bottom...

I'm trying not to repeat poets but I've just come across Coleridge's doggerel satire of his own "The Nightingale", in a 1798 letter to Wordsworth. Aside from all the metaphysics Coleridge not only had a brilliant sense of humour, but was able to bring out Wordsworth's own sense of humour, no small achievement.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Peter Kocan: Cows

Cows graze across the hill,
Measuring the day
As their shadows tell
Irrelevant time. Their gait is half-way
Between moving and standing still.

The sun is gentle on the green
Of their meadow, their mouths deep
In its heavy warmth.
A watcher could fall asleep
Into the depth
Of that untroubled scene.

From each dewdrop morning
To every day's end
They follow the cycle
Of the rhythm of the world turning
In its season. A miracle
Of normalcy is a cow's mind.

Beyond thought's prickling fever
They dwell in the grace
Of their own true concerns
And in that place
Know they will live forever
With butterflies around their horns.

Gentleness as the unattainable. Some pleasant pictures here ("Their gait is half-way between moving and standing still") and no attempt at being spectacular. Kocan, b. 1947, is a strange case of poete maudit: he attempted to assassinate the Australian leader of the federal opposition, and spent ten years in prison and in a psychiatric hospital.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Norman Cameron: Shepherdess

All day my sheep have mingled with yours. They strayed
Into your valley seeking a change of ground.
Held and bemused with what they and I had found,
Pastures and wonders, heedlessly I delayed.

Now it is late. The tracks leading home are steep.
The stars and landmarks in your country are strange.

How can I take my sheep back over the range?
Shepherdess, show me now where I may sleep.

Written in the late 1940s or early 1950s. The third in a sequence entitled "Three Love Poems". Using sheep - soft, silly, flighty but not without solidity - as a symbol of love works superbly, if Cameron intended to depict the love as domesticated yet resisting domestication.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Adonis (Ali Ahmed Sa'id Esber): The Bird

(Tr. James C. Riggan)

I listened:
a swallow over Sannin
roaring in the recorded silence
until its hoarseness,
like a razor, wounds
the city’s chill.

(Tr. Mounah A. Khouri & Hamid Alga)

I listened:
A bird on Mount Sannin
Singing on and on
Until silence prevails,
Until its song becomes
Like the blade of a knife,
Wounding, with hoarseness and weeping,
The city’s chill.

"Adonis" (b. 1930) is the foremost modern Syrian poet, long resident in Paris. The first English version above I suspect is much less faithful to the original, but has more poetry, even if the translator's choice of roaring is a puzzle. The swallow plays an unusual role: nothing is positive in this poem.

James Wright: A Blessing

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

It's been called Wright's best-known poem. Is that because of its (I use the word as neutrally as possible) sentimentality? Or because the taut nerves in the subliminal background speak of neurosis and the unattainability of the purity represented by the horses?