Caramba

death suffering from
so many defects/see
the glory of this day/the birds
singing standoffish/the
dogs’ decision they live
their unforgiving outwardness/
no astral opposed in the evening
with whereabouts unknown/
the bridge from one to what was
walked by disjointed numbers/
the being who strives to be with lamps
to tell it where to find the irises/
those who perfumed the passing
in black holes/

To Rodolfo Alonso

– Juan Gelman

(Tr. by K. M. Hedeen & V. Rodríguez Núñez)

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Lice

If the rhythm of a poem
brings wine and sways
the shadows and mama,
pick out the lice I brought home from school,
papa,
don’t take your belt off against me:
what’s blowing in a corner
is my love for you, it’s a
boy on the street
not understanding. What are you doing
there wrapped up in hates
I could never settle?
What were you punishing when
you punished me?
I’m not asking you, I’m asking me.
I know it’s too late for everything now save
this knowing of you unknown.
I’d like you at my side
in the silence you granted me
and it quiets like an ox.

– Juan Gelman

(Tr. by K. M. Hedeen & V. Rodríguez Núñez)

The Aspiration

The nonsense of sadness and
its animals
rummaging everywhere
are truer than I.
These words
are truer than I.
They are matter and not time,
in their insides there’s
a never-ending stone.
The children of men think
that wetting them with wine
will do away with their conscience, fire.
There are words waiting and no one takes them.
On their own there in flowering silence.

– Juan Gelman

(Tr. by K. M. Hedeen & V. Rodríguez Núñez)

Mandorla

In the almond – what stands in the almond?
The Nothing.
In the almond stands Nothing.
There it stands and stands.

In the Nothing – who stands there? The King.
There stands the King, the King.
There he stands and stands.

Jewish curls, no grey for you.

And your eye – whereto stands your eye?
Your eye stands opposite the almond.
Your eye, the Nothing it stands opposite.
It stands by the King.
So it stands and stands.

Human curls, no grey for you.
Empty almond, kingly blue.

– Paul Celan

When You Go

When you go,

if you go,

And I should want to die,

there’s nothing I’d be saved by

more than the time

you fell asleep in my arms

in a trust so gentle

I let the darkening room

drink up the evening, till

rest, or the new rain

lightly roused you awake.

I asked if you heard the rain in your dream

and half dreaming still you only said, I love you.

– Edwin Morgan

The North Sea (First Cycle)

l Coronation

Ho, songs! My own good songs and trusty!
Up, up! and don your arms!
Let blow the merry bugles,
And lift upon my shield
This fair young Maiden,
Who now alone shall rule
O’er all my heart as rightful Queen.

Hail, hail ‘to thee, my fair young Queen!

From the sun above thee
I’ll snatch the beaming fiery gold,
And from it weave a diadem
For thine anointed head.
From the fluttering silk of the heaven’s blue curtain,
Wherein the jewels of night are gleaming,
I’ll cut the richest piece,
And this, for coronation-mantle,
I’ll hang upon thy royal shoulder.
I’ll give thee a royal household
Of sonnets in starch and buckram,
Haughty terzains and courtierlike stanzas ;
As running footman take my Wit,
As Court-fool, my Imagination,
As Herald, with laughing tears for his bearing,
My Humour will serve thee well.
But I myself, your Majesty,
I humbly kneel before you,
Presenting on crimson velvet Cushion,
With my homage profound,
That morsel of sense
Which of her mercy she has left me still-
Your predecessor in the realm.

ll

Evening Twilight

On the wan sea-strand
Lonely I lay, and in sorrowful brooding.
The sun sank lower and lower, and flung
His red rays, glowing, on the water,
And I watched the far white billows,
In the grip of the flood,
Foaming and roaring, nigher and nigher—
Strange medley of sounds! a whispering and wailing,
A laughing and murmuring, sobbing and sighing,
Low voices, the while, a strange lullaby singing.
Methought I heard long-forgotten legends,
World-old adorable folk-tales,
That long since in boyhood
From neighbours’ children I learnt;
When, of a summer evening,
On the steps of stone by the house-door,
We squatted for quiet story-telling,
With small hearts eagerly listening
And young eyes keen for wonders;
While the fair grown-up maidens
Sat, ‘mid balm-breathing pots of flowers,
At a window over the way there,
With rosy faces,
Smiling and lit by the moon.

lll

Sunset

The red and glowing sun goes down,
Down into yon far-shuddering sea,
A world of waters, silver-grey;
Airy cloudlets tinted rosily
After him float; while, o’er against him,
From autumn’s duskily-looming cloud-veils
With sorrowful death-pale visage,
Breaks the gentle moon,
And after her, tiny sparklers,
Shimmer the stars out of space.

Once through heaven went shining,
Wedded and one,
Luna the Goddess, and Sol the God,
And the stars in multitudes thronged around them,
Their little, innocent children.

But evil tongues came whispering discord,
And parted in anger
The august and radiant wedded pair.

Now, in lonely splendour, by day
The Sun-god on high goes his ancient round,
Still, for his majesty,
Blandly worshipt, and much belauded
By proud and fortune-hardened worldlings.
But all night long
Through heaven wanders Luna,
The wretched mother,
With all her orphans, her starry children,
And she gleams in silent sorrow,
And love-lorn maidens and gentle poets
Vow to her tears and songs.

Ah, tender Luna! with woman’s heart
Ever she dotes on her beautiful spouse,
Still at even, trembling and pale,
Forth will she peer from her veil of cloud,
And after him aching she gazes,
And fain in her anguish would cry to him: ‘ Come!
Come! The children are pining for thee——’
Naught the implacable Sun-god heeds,
At the sight of his consort he flushes
His luridest crimson,
In wrath and pain;
And unrelenting he hastens down
To his widower’s bed in the sea-waves cold. .
Evil tongues with a whisper
Thus brought down such ruin and sorrow
Even on the gods, the immortals!
And the wretched gods, high-moving in heaven,
Wander in anguish
Comfortless ways without ending,
And die can they never,
But still drag with them
Their radiant sorrow.

But I, a mere man,
So lowly planted, of Death so favoured,
I’ll whine here no longer.

lV

A Night by the Strand

Starless and cold is the night,
Wide yawns the sea,
And over the sea, flat on his paunch,
Sprawls that uncouth lubber, the northwind,
And, quite at his ease, with hoarse, piping voice,
Like a peevish curmudgeon who grows good-humoured,
Chats to the water below;
And he spins mad yarns without number,
Slaughter-breathing tales of giants,
World-old Norwegian sagas;
And between-whiles, far-bellowing, laughs he, and
howls he
The magic songs of the Edda,
And runic-spell rhymes,
So darkly defiant, and potent in glamour,
That the white sea-children
Leap their highest and cheer him,
Drunk with insolent glee.

Meanwhile, on the shore’s flat margin,
Over the tide-washed, surf-wetted sand,
Strides a stranger, the heart within him
A wilder thing than wind or billows.
Where his feet fall
Sparks fly out, and crackle the sea-shells;
And he wraps him close in his mist-grey mantle,
And swiftly strides through the blustering night;
Surely led by the little candle
That pleasantly luring glimmers
From the fisherman’s lonely cabin.

Father and brother are on the sea,
And all alone by herself is left
In the cabin the fisherman’s daughter,
The strangely beautiful fisherman’s daughter.
By the hearth she sits,
And lists to the humming kettle’s
Bodeful, sweet, mysterious murmur;
And feeds the fire with sharp-crackling brushwood,
And blows it up,
Till the flickering ruddy blazes
Gleam again with magic beauty
On the face fresh and blooming,
On the tender, fair young shoulder,
So winsomely peeping
From the smock of coarse grey homespun,
And on the careful neat little hand,
As it binds the petticoat-skirt more tightly
Round her shapely haunches.

But on a sudden the door springs wide,
And at once walks in the night-wandering stranger;
Bold with love his eye reposes
On the fair and slender maiden,
Who trembling before him stands,
Aghast, like a terrified lily;
And he flings on the floor his mantle,
And laughs, and says:

‘Behold, my child, I keep my word,
For I come, and with me there comes
The good old time when the gods out of heaven
Stooped in love to the daughters of men,
And, the daughters of men embracing,
Begot upon them
Kings, and races of sceptre-bearers,
And heroes famous on earth.
But gape there, my child, no longer
Over my godliness,
And I beg of thee brew me some tea with rum;
For outside ’twas cold,
And in such a night-wind,
Gods though we be, eternal, we shiver,
And easily catch the godliest of snuffles,
And even a cough that’s immortal.

V

Poseidon

The sun’s bright beams were playing
Over the rolling waste of the sea;
Far in the roadstead glittered the ship
That waited there to bear me homeward;
Only the waft of a fair wind failed us,
And I sat in peace on a silver sand-hill
On the lonely strand.
And I read the Song of Odysseus,
That old, that ever-youthful song,
From out whose leaves, where ocean murmured,
There joyously breathed on me
The breath of the gods,
And the sunny springtime of mortals,
And the burgeoning heaven of Hellas.

My noble heart still faithfully followed
The son of Laertes in wandering and danger,
Sat beside him, heavy in spirit,
By friendly hearth-sides,
Where queens were spinning purple linen;
And helped him to lie, and craftily vanish . .’,
From giants’ caverns, and arms of sea-nymphs;
Followed him down through Cimmerian night,
And through storm and shipwreck,
Still suffering with him unspeakable sorrow.

Sighing I spoke: ‘O cruel Poseidon,
Thy wrath is dreadful!
For myself I fear
In my homeward sailing.’

The words were scarce spoken,
When up foamed the sea
And from the white-capt waves arose,
With sedge-crowned brows, the head of the Sea-god,
In scorn he bellowed:
‘ Keep a bold heart, my bardling!
I care not in the least to endanger
Thy wretched smack there,
Nor make thy life, so precious, a burden
With even a redoubtable tossing;
For thee, my bardling, I owe thee no grudge,
Thou never didst damage the tiniest turret
In Priam’s citadel holy;
No tiniest eyelash didst thou e’er singe
In the eye of my son Polyphemus,
And thee hath never counselled and kept
The Goddess of Prudence, Pallas Athena.’

Thus roared Poseidon,
And into the sea plunged back;
While, over his vulgar sailor’s joke,
Laughed under the water
Amphitrite, the buxom fishwife,
And the stupid daughters of Nereus.

VI

Declaration

Duski ly fell the evening twilight,
Wilder blustered the tide,
And I sat on the shore, and gazed upon
The white dance of the billows,
And then my breast upswelled like the sea,
And longing seized me, and deep home-sickness
For thee, thou image sweet,
That hoverest ever o’er me,
Dost call me everywhere,
Everywhere, everywhere,
In the snore of the wind, in the roar of the sea,
In the sigh of my own fond heart.

With fragile reed I wrote in the sand:
‘Agnes, I love but thee!’
But cruel billows came pouring in
Over the tender confession,
And blotted it out.
O brittlest of reeds, O sand so unstable,
O treacherous billows, I’ll trust you no more!
The heavens grow darker, my heart grows wilder,
And with strong right hand, from Norway’s forests,
I pluck the tallest fir-tree,
And plunging it deep
Into Etna’s glowing crater, and wielding
This for my fire-steeped pen titanic,
Write on the gloomy vault of heaven:
‘Agnes, I love but thee!’

Night after night, blazing on high,
Shall bum the unquenchable scripture of flame,
And myriads to come, earth’s unborn generations,
Read, rejoicing, the heavenly motto:
‘Agnes, I love but thee!’

VII

A Night in the Cabin

The sea hath its pearls for treasure,
The heavens their starry jewels,
But ah! my heart, my heart,
My heart hath its own love.

Great are the sea and the heavens,
But greater is my heart,
And fairer than pearls or starlets
Beameth and gleameth my love.

Thou young and slender maiden,
Come to my mighty heart;
My heart, and the sea, and the heavens
Are dying for utter love.

On the dark blue vault of heaven,
Where the loveliest stars are twinkling,
Oh, that I might press my kisses,
Wildly press with stormy weeping!

Those bright stars in thousands twinkling
Are the eyes of my Beloved,
Thousandfold their tender greeting
Shines from the blue vault of heaven.

To the dark vault of heaven,
To the eyes of my Beloved,
I uplift my arms devoutly,
And beseech them and implore them:

Sweetest eyes, ye gracious candles,
Oh, possess my soul with blessing,
Let my spirit fly to inherit
You and your whole heaven of blisses!

From the eyes of heaven up yonder
Golden sparks fall trembling downward,
Through the night, as Love my spirit
Fills, expands through boundless heaven.

O ye eyes of heaven up yonder,
Weep yourselves into my spirit,
Till your starry tears with radiance
Flood and overflow my spirit!

Gently rocked by ocean-billows
And the tides of dreamy musing,
I lie quiet in the cabin,
In my dark berth in the comer.

Through the open hatchway gazing,
Bright I see the stars up yonder,
The belov’d sweet eyes in heaven
Of my sweet, my well-beloved.

Those belov’d sweet eyes in heaven,
O’er my head their watch are keeping,
And they glimmer and they shimmer
From the dark blue vault of heaven.

Toward the dark blue vault of heaven
Blissfully I gaze long hours,
Till a wan white veil of sea-mist
Hides me from those eyes beloved.

On the vessel’s thin planking,
Where my dream-haunted head lies,
Batter the billows, the boisterous billows;
They welter and murmur
Aside in my ear:
‘Thou dream-befooled fellow!
Thy arm is short, and the heavens are far,
And the stars up yonder are firmly fastened
With golden rivets—
In vain is thy longing, in vain is thy sighing,
‘Twere better for thee to go to sleep.’

In dreams I saw a moorland vast and dreary,
All muffled thick with white and silent snow,
And under the white snow I lay deep-buried,
And slept the cold and lonely sleep of death.

But from the gloomy heaven above looked ever
The starry eyes upon my grave below,
Those gentle eyes! From heaven they shone victorious,
And calmly bright, and ever full of love.

VIII

Storm

Loud rages the Storm,
And he flogs the billows,
And the billows, foaming and combing,
Tower aloft, and in white water-mountains
Heave restless, forever restless;
And the good ship upclimbs them,
Eagerly toiling;
Then, suddenly plunging, she sounds
The gloomy waves’ wide-yawning abysses.

O Sea!
Mother of Beauty, the foam-born cruel one!
Grandmother of Love, have mercy upon me!
There comes hovering, scenting corpses,
That white apparition, the sea-mew;
And, whetting her beak on the topmast,
She lusts with greedy lust for the heart
That with praise of thy daughter resounds,
And which thy grandson, the little rogue,
Hath chosen for toy.

In vain are my pleading and prayer!
My call dies away in the rage of the storm,
In the noise of winds warring.
They howl, and whistle, and prattle, and roar,
Like a madhouse of sounds!
And in the lulls I hear distinctly
Siren wailing of harp-strings,
Wildest yearning of song,
Soul-dissolving and soul-lacerating;
Surely that voice I remember!

Far on the rocky coast of Scotland
Looms a castle, jutting and beetling
Grey o’er the shattering surge;
There, at a deep high-vaulted window,
Stands a woman, sickly and fair,
Ghostly fragile, and marble-pale;
And she sweeps her harp as she sings,
And the rough wind raves through her long locks rudely,
And bears her gloomy song
Over the raging waste of the sea.

IX

Calm

Calm the ocean lies, the sunbeams
Shimmering, dancing on the water,
And the ship through heaving jewels
Gently cleaves her green sea-furrow. ‘

By the tiller lies the Pilot
On his belly, gently snoring.
Patching sails beside the foremast,
Cross-legged, squats the tarry ship-boy.

Red his cheeks beneath their griming
Bum; his wide mouth sadly twitches,
And his beautiful big eyes are
Piteously o’erbrimmed with sorrow.

For the Skipper stands before him,
Raging, swearing, roaring: ‘Curse you,
You young rogue, you’ve been and robbed me,
From the cask you’ve stol’n a herring!’

Calm the ocean! From the ground-swell
Boldly leaps a smart young spratling,
Warms his little head in sunshine,
Glad with tiny tail he splashes.

But from airy height a sea-gull
Darts like lightning on the spratling,
And, his hasty prey half-swallowed,
Soars again into the azure.

X

Ocean-wraith

But I, the while, leant over the gunwale,
With rapt eyes dreamily gazing,
Far down through the water clear as crystal,
Still gazing deeper and deeper—
Till, deep in the sea’s abysses,
First like a glimmering dawn-cloud,
But ever growing clearer in colour,
Domes of churches and towers loomed upward;
And soon, as clear as day, a city entire,
Antiquated, Netherlandish,
And busy with folk.
There solemn burghers in sable mantles,
With prim white neck-ruffs and chains of honour,
And long in sword, and long in the visage,
Gravely stride through the swarming market
Tow’rd the Town Hall, high of stairway,
Where Emperors, marble phantoms,
Guard are keeping with sceptre and sword.
And near them, before long rows of houses,
With windows a-gleam like mirrors,
And quaint pyramidal pollard lindens,
Maidens walk with rustling of satin,
Slender-waisted, their flower-like faces
Framed demurely in coifs black-bordered,
Their golden tresses outrippling.
Gay attired gallants, in Spanish costume
Come swaggering to meet them, and bowing.
Aged women,
In sober old-fashioned garments,
With hymn-book and rosary in their hands,
Haste, with faltering footsteps,
To the great cathedral,
Impelled by the carillon’s pealing
And muttering organ’s tone.

Me too that far-off music grips
With its mysterious shudder!
An infinite longing, deepest sorrow
O’ersteals my heart,
My scarcely healed heart;—
I feel as though its wounds were gently
Kissed open by beloved lips,
And set once more a-bleeding—
Blood-drops, warm and crimson,
Fall slowly, slowly dripping fall
On a grey old house below there,
In the deep sea-city,
On an old and steeply-gabled house,
Tenantless now, and melancholy;
Save at the basement window
A maiden sits,
And leans her head on her arm,
Like a poor and forsaken child—
And I know thee, thou poor forsaken child I

So deep, so ocean-deep, then,
Thou hiddest thyself from me
In childish ill-humour,
And ne’er couldst again come up,
But strange must dwell in a land of strangers,
These centuries long;
And all the while, with soul full of grief,
O’er the whole wide world have I sought thee,
For ever have sought thee,
Thou ever-belov’d one,
Thou long, long lost one!
But now I have found thee—
Ay, now I have found thee again, and gaze in
Thy own sweet face,
Those eyes, so grave and loyal,
That smile so tender—
And never, never again will I leave thee,
And I come to thee, down to thee.
And with arms outstretched to enfold thee
Down will I plunge to thy heart!

Just in the nick of time here
The wideawake skipper gripped my foot,
And pulled me back from the bulwark,
And cried, maliciously laughing:
‘Devil come for you. Doctor?’

XI

Purification

Bide thou in thine own deeps of ocean,
Delirious dream,
Thou who once for many a night
Didst wring my heart with bliss deceiving,
And now, as ocean-wraith,
In day’s clear light hast come to ensnare me—
Bide thou below there for evermore;
And I fling, moreover, down to thee
All my old sins and my sorrows;
And the cap and bells of my folly,
That so long round my head have jingled;
And the cold, sleek-glistening serpent-skin,
Hypocrisy,
That all too long my spirit strangled,
The sickly spirit,
The God-belying, the angel-belying,
Unholy spirit—
Yoho! yoho! Here comes a breeze!
Up with the sails! They flutter and fill!
O’er the calm treacherous plains of ocean
Speeds the good ship, ‘
And ‘Hurrah!’ cries the soul set free.

XII

Peace

High in heaven the sun was riding,
Round him white billowy clouds.
The sea was calm,
And musing I lay in the stern of the vessel,
Dreamily musing—and, half in waking
And half in slumber, I saw the Christ,
The Saviour of men.
In white and flowing raiment
He walked, a giant shape,
Over land and sea;
His head rose high into heaven,
His hands he stretched as in blessing
Over land and sea;
While, for the heart in his breast,
The sun he carried,
The golden fire-flaming sun;
And his golden fire-flaming sun-heart
Poured forth its beams of mercy,
And its kindly all-fostering light,
Illuming and warming,
Over land and sea.

Peals of bells rang, drawing festally,
As though swans with wreaths of roses
Towed her onward, the swift-gliding ship,
And drew her in play to the shore’s green places,
Whereby men dwelt in their lofty-steepled
•Sky-scaling town.

O peace mysterious! How still the town!
At rest were the rumble and roar
Of trade, with its chaffer and swelter;
And through the clean and echoing alleys
Wandered the townsfolk, clothed in white raiment,
Palm-branches bearing.
And where two met, with sympathy
Each looked on each, and read his bosom,
And; trembling for love and sweet self-abnegation,
Each on his brow kissed the other,
Uplifting their eyes
To the sun-bright heart of the Saviour,
That shed from the heavens his crimson blood
In glad atonement;
Then, thrice-redeemed, they cried aloud:
‘Blessed be Jesus Christ!’

 – Heinrich Heine